Beginning The Journey Into Nyx

In this week’s article, Sam has some fun brewing up a few decks with new cards from Journey into Nyx, Magic’s latest set that will be released in just a couple of weeks.

I have an absolutely terrible track record when it comes to predicting which cards will be good before playing with them. I think this is because I always get carried away with the potential the new cards represent. I want them to be good and want to build all the decks the new cards ask me to, and I don’t want to bother grounding myself in the realities of the preexisting metagame that almost always trump a handful of new cards.

For example, with Journey into Nyx I don’t want to figure out the best ways to update G/R/x Monsters, U/W/x Control, Mono-Red Aggro, Mono-Blue Devotion, and Mono-Black Devotion. Deep down I know most of those will probably be most of the best decks, but I want to focus on all the sweet new possibilities. Sometimes I lose track of the fact that I’m exploring doomed options because I like doing that, and I get carried away with how sweet the new decks look and trick myself into thinking they might actually be good.

I want to build every permutation of a three-color Hidden Strings heroic aggro deck, ignoring the fact that my goal here will often involve tapping Mana Confluence three times in a turn. And I want to build several different enchantment-based decks to take advantage of cards like Eidolon of Blossoms, Kruphix’s Insight, and maybe even Sphere of Safety. I’m open to going even deeper—perhaps a Notion Thief deck with Master of the Feast and Dictate of Kruphix.

Without building it, I know that the twelve shock land, four Mana Confluence aggro decks will all lose to R/W Burn, almost all lose to U/W/x Control, and likely all lose to Mono-Red Aggro, and I don’t have any decks in mind that they’ll beat. But I can finally build a mana base that lets me cast all these sweet cards I’ve wanted to use together.

How can that be bad? Very easily? Oh . . .

I knew that I wanted to acknowledge this fact about myself in this article, but from here I’m undecided on if I want to write an indulgent article about all the decks I wish would be good and ignoring the actual metagame. (As an aside, do you have any idea how sweet Modern would be if people only played the decks I wish were good instead of decks that are actually good? I wish there was a way to make a format where everyone actually did sweet things) Instead I could write a more useful but less fun article about how to overcome my bias and make realistic predictions about the utility of upcoming cards. The good news for the second article is that this set is deep and powerful enough that even if I limit myself to only talking about cards that might actually succeed in the real world, there’s still plenty to talk about.

I suppose the second article would be largely about building good habits, and while we don’t have the whole set, it’s difficult to know for sure what might be good. Dismissing an idea without really looking at it isn’t a great habit anyway. I think the best compromise is to look at the sweet new decks and try to evaluate how they might stack up against real decks.

I actually think green-based enchantment midrange might be a real deck. One of the big questions is Chromanticore or no, and of course I lean yes. Let’s take a stab at it, acknowledging that this deck is very likely to get a few more tools from Journey into Nyx.

4 Ethereal Armor
4 Sylvan Caryatid
4 Mana Bloom
4 Underworld Coinsmith
4 Courser of Kruphix
1 Pharika, God of Affliction
4 Detention Sphere
4 Kruphix’s Insight
4 Eidolon of Blossoms
3 Chromanticore
1 Primeval Bounty
4 Mana Confluence
4 Temple of Plenty
4 Temple of Malady
4 Temple of Mystery
2 Watery Grave
1 Temple Garden
2 Plains
1 Swamp
1 Godless Shrine
3 Nyx-Fleece Ram
4 Thoughtseize
2 Golgari Charm
3 Unflinching Courage
3 Skylasher

This deck is weird and has a lot of options. I really wanted Archangel of Thune with so many instances of "gain one life," but I just couldn’t justify it over Chromanticore when I can find Chromanticore with Kruphix’s Insight.

Pharika, God of Affliction is awesome here. I’m surprisingly good at making it a creature since I have a lot of green symbols that are great at staying in play along with Underworld Coinsmith, and the ability to make Snakes triggers Eidolon of Blossoms and makes sure that I’ll have creatures to enchant with Ethereal Armor or Chromanticore while powering up Ethereal Armor. There’s a good chance I’ll actually want more than one Pharika, but I do like trying to dodge the legend rule when I’m potentially drawing so many cards. Kruphix, God of Horizons might also be worth considering, but I think it’s weaker than the other five-mana options.

This deck is very much a midrange deck, most analogous to G/R/x Monsters. I have eight permanents that generate mana, Courser of Kruphix, some removal, and some big threats. My big four-mana play is much easier to kill but replaces itself immediately, and I have a three-mana card draw spell that draws over three spells on average in place of Domri Rade. I’m a little slower, but I have more card advantage and more life gain along with Ethereal Armor, which is potentially very explosive. Altogether it doesn’t look strictly worse, but I don’t know that it’s better.

I was shockingly close to including Nyx-Fleece Ram in the maindeck until I realized that Underworld Coinsmith is probably just better. I like the Ram a lot as a body to enchant and as a blocker against red decks though.

I’m kind of amazed that I managed to build a deck like this that doesn’t contain Eidolon of Countless Battles or Hopeful Eidolon. I don’t think either of them should be in it, but I like both cards a lot so I’m a little surprised by my discipline.

A similar deck could be built without Chromanticore, but I’m not convinced that there’s any reason to do that since once you’re a three-color green enchantment deck, I’m pretty sure you want twelve cards that generate any color of mana anyway.

Another decision I feel really good about is playing twelve Temples and only four shock lands. With Mana Confluence, I’m paying more life and playing fewer tapped lands anyway, so I’m much less likely to want to Shock myself and scrying is great. I actually put a lot of thought into the mana base. You’ll notice that the deck is playing no Forests and all green Temples, though most of its spells are green.

I wanted to maximize my lands that tap for either white or black to use Underworld Coinsmith, and this deck wants play a green land tapped on turn 1 every game since it doesn’t have anything to cast on turn 1 and wants to play an accelerator on turn 2. All my green spells cost colorless mana, unlike my white spells, so Plains and Swamps made more sense than Forests. I also didn’t want too many of any one land type, as drawing two of the same basic gets in the way of Chromanticore.

The sideboard is mostly looking to beat aggro decks, especially red ones, and I’m leaning on my card advantage against control decks. I have a slight Elspeth, Sun’s Champion problem, but Detention Sphere helps a lot there.

The next deck I want to look at is enchantment-based aggressive W/B. We’ve seen a bunch of W/B Aggro decks before, and I believe a lot of them are still good. I think Athreos, God of Passage is great, but it competes with Xathrid Necromancer for occupying a similar strategic space and space on the mana curve. The solution I want to look at is to move away from the Human theme toward the enchantment theme and cut Xathrid Necromancer for Athreos.

4 Soldier of the Pantheon
3 Hopeful Eidolon
4 Gnarled Scarhide
2 Judge’s Familiar
4 Ethereal Armor
3 Hero of Iroas
3 Cartel Aristocrat
4 Underworld Coinsmith
4 Spiteful Returned
2 Orzhov Charm
3 Athreos, God of Passage
1 Gift of Orzhova
4 Mutavault
4 Godless Shrine
4 Temple of Silence
5 Plains
5 Swamp
1 Mana Confluence
4 Thoughtseize
3 Spirit of the Labyrinth
2 Doom Blade
3 Dark Betrayal
3 Lifebane Zombie

Cartel Aristocrat isn’t an enchantment, unlike Spirit of the Labyrinth, but I like having a creature to enchant that I can protect. I’m optimistic about Underworld Coinsmith here—I have 22 enchantments to trigger its life gain, and it provides two devotion to Athreos while being much easier to cast than something that costs WW or BB due to my even split of basic lands. I’m also very optimistic about the reach that it offers in a deck like this.

There are a lot of three-mana cards I’d like to try—Eidolon of Countless Battles, Herald of Torment, Spear of Heliod, Hero’s Downfall, Agent of the Fates, more copies of Gift of Orzhova, maybe even Godsend, but space at three is very limited.

I considered Xathrid Necromancer for the sideboard since I still have fourteen Humans, but in addition to Athreos I can already bestow eleven of my creatures to help play around Supreme Verdict. I had Eidolon of Countless Battles in the deck until the last moment when I realized I’d forgotten Spiteful Returned, which I think plays much better against Supreme Verdict and fits well with the aggressive nature of the deck and reach from Underworld Coinsmith.

This deck isn’t necessarily trying to go very big; it’s just trying to get a lot of damage in early and then force through the last points with Underworld Coinsmith, Cartel Aristocrat, and Spiteful Returned. Athreos plays really well with Spiteful Returned, as opponents who can block it have to either take five to kill it or take two every turn, neither of which they’re terribly likely to be able to do.

This deck looks good to me on paper, but there are so many options for W/B Aggro that it’s very hard to know if this is the best direction without testing it fairly extensively.

The last deck I have to look at is U/W/R Heroes. I know it’s probably doomed, but I just can’t resist.

I have no idea if this deck is any good.

There’s no reason to hedge—I just don’t know. I’m sure that it’s terrible against black since I have to commit two cards to a card to make it do anything and then they can kill it and I have no real way to get ahead. It’s possible that I can race other things, though of course I’m leaning very heavily on Boros Charm against control and game 1 likely won’t go well. I suspect this deck is fun but bad, and there’s some chance that Sage of Hours overperforms.

It’s also possible that the Ordeals overperform and that I find I want the full four of each, as they’re really good once I get one of them off. It’s possible that Nivmagus Elemental is the wrong way to go and I should just have fewer spells, all the Ordeals, and more of the two-mana heroes. I suspect I’d want Hidden Strings either way since it’s just so good at targeting my guys to generate counters and tapping blockers seems pretty valuable here.

Another way the deck could go is to try to take advantage of strive. I don’t think this is the right creature base for it, but Launch the Fleet might be interesting as an enabler, as could Setessan Tactics if we want to be green. It’s also likely that we haven’t seen all the strive cards yet, and one of them might be perfect for a deck like this.

Soon I’ll have to look at the world as it really is, but with so many sweet new cards in just the first third of Journey into Nyx, it’s fun to imagine what might be.