Brewing With Nissa, Steward Of Elements

Nissa, Steward of Elements is the first X-spell planeswalker, and it got the mind of Matt Higgs racing! Check out his eccentric brew that incorporates alternate win condition Approach of the Second Sun!

As is always the case with the progression of preview season, a whole lot has changed since last week. Way back then, I had drafted a red deck that I was excited about. Since then, it’s gotten tons of new toys.

The Hammerhand reprint, honestly, was probably my favorite of any of them. As it stands at the moment I’m pondering my next deck, we have roughly half of Amonkhet to work with, with new previews each and every day. While we’re probably still missing a couple of key players in the new format, we’ve got enough to get a picture of what it will look like.

As was the case a year and a half ago, the premier card of the set’s got mad sideburns.

While initial speculation is volatile and easily influenced, there’s little doubt that Gideon of the Trials will be the premier card of the set. It’s low-cost, singularly powerful, and you want multiple copies. Combined, these attributes comprise a chase mythic. Gideon of the Trials has already reached $49.99 here on StarCityGames.com, and while I might be hesitant to endorse many pre-order asking prices, that seems pretty close to correct given its power level. Gideon of the Trials can function in a vacuum, so with cards that support it, it may be nigh-unstoppable.

I can see a lot of decks that look like this.

Yeah, you’re right, this deck isn’t very good. Three Gideon, Martial Paragon would be more realistic. He is a five-drop, after all.

Okay, I’m kidding. A little bit.

But I’m not here to talk about Gideon; I’m here to talk about another planeswalker.

Well, hmm…no, it won’t be her today, but stay tuned, because I dig Liliana, Death’s Majesty quite a bit. Let’s take a look at another planeswalker from this set, potentially the last one to be revealed: Nissa, Steward of Elements.

Nissa’s blue now?

As I’m sure is the case, planeswalkers changing colors is a careful design decision, but this one makes sense. Nissa seemed more blue, if she had to be any other color, and here, her abilities still line up very well with green’s identity.

Nissa, Steward of Elements is our first “X-cost” planeswalker, and it’s been a long time coming. It makes logical sense that you can convert variable mana into damage (Fireball), creature power (literally any Hydra), or an amount of life (Stream of Life), but converting it into loyalty counters has long been on my design back burner. With the potential that was possible, and the expectation placed upon being the first of its kind, Nissa, Steward of Elements is a winner, folks.

Three-mana planeswalkers have historically been pretty strong, and continue to be so (see Saheeli Rai; Liliana, the Last Hope; and even her most recent iteration, Nissa, Voice of Zendikar). Nissa, Steward of Elements can come down that early and provide a variety of functions from great library manipulation to a free, albeit lucky land drop. Considering the past, there are many instances where I’d happily pay extra mana to have my planeswalker come down with more loyalty counters. Now that we have that wish in a powerful package, let’s look at what we can do with it.

The way I see it, from a deckbuilding perspective, Nissa, Steward of Elements can be the center of two different decks: one that pushes her ultimate ability and one that pushes her second, zero-cost ability. While I like her second ability a good deal and will likely use it considerably over the next year of Standard, I want to focus on her ultimate and her +2 ability, which lean towards a more controlling strategy.

Nissa’s ultimate is no joke, and because it’s an ultimate that they won’t see coming (assuming she’s not on the battlefield already), that’s ten evasive, hasty damage that’s likely going right for the face. Do that twice and you’ve got the game. Now, admittedly, relying on putting sixteen mana and two cards into this prospect is not terribly attractive, as there are many more efficient strategies out there. Take that red deck last week. Assuming you curve out, you’ve got them dead with maybe one single-use card and ten or eleven mana spent.

Thankfully, planeswalkers have dedicated support for just a few months longer in the series of Oaths taken by each member of the Gatewatch.

With enough support, we can bring down the cost considerably while providing solid support and library manipulation to the rest of a gameplan that includes Nissa, Steward of Elements in this fashion. With her scrying ability and – wait a minute. I have a thought.

I’ve been writing these articles for a while now, and I know when I’m being a bit optimistic. There’s no way I can kill them with even twelve mana invested (assuming I have the relevant Oaths out) and two Nissa, Steward of Elements. No, what we can do instead is cast two seven-mana sorceries! See? I’ve learned my lesson.

This interesting little spell has “casual player” written all over it. Pros (I don’t think) will touch this basically do-nothing sorcery with a ten-foot pole. But I am a casual player. And I am not Brad Nelson or Todd Anderson or any of our other show ponies. I get to decide.

Approach of the Second Sun is about as bad on paper as it could be. You’re spending seven mana to gain as much life. You can do that for way cheaper, and chances are, you won’t get to cast it twice, right?

Well, with enough digging, maybe.

The format contains a number of different ways to slough cards off the top of your deck. Perhaps the most universally relevant is Fertile Thicket, a bottom-of-the-barrel common from Battle for Zendikar. Within this land, we can clear off most of the top of my deck. Crack a scry or a draw and you’ve got that Approach of the Second Sun right back in your hand. Is it a longshot? You bet.

This deck, so far, appears to only court blue a little, so a green and white focus will allow me to play enough basic lands to be consistent.

Man, two expensive win conditions? Sign me up!

Renegade Rallier needs to stop being so awesome. Okay, it shouldn’t; this is my kind of card. Here, Renegade Rallier can return many neat things, including a duplicate Oath of Nissa or Oath of Ajani; Unbridled Growth (which itself can trigger revolt, letting you just draw two if you need to); Sylvan Advocate; and, yes, Nissa, Steward of Elements. This is only the second planeswalker Renegade Rallier can target, and while it’s not going to do much on its own, with Oath of Gideon, Nissa will actually stay on the battlefield with one loyalty counter, letting you scry immediately or, if you’re living life on the edge, use her 0 ability.

Felidar Guardian also works overtime, flickering lands, planeswalkers, enchantments, or even other creatures, triggering revolt the whole time. Sylvan Advocate is a solid beatstick that’s within range of both Dusk//Dawn and Renegade Rallier. Tamiyo, Field Researcher has historically worked well with this crew, too. Finally, Spell Queller is the anti-shenanigans card. Counter any Gideon, Saheeli Rai, Aetherworks Marvel, and most Vehicles! I also like that you can return it to your hand with Dusk of Dusk//Dawn. I have to be honest; that new split card seems underhyped right now.

Most of the planeswalker synergies are obvious, but I like four Nissa, Steward of Elements because, even though there are four, you can scry away extra copies. Her +2 gets her to ultimate range swiftly, so even an idle one in hand will be called up soon enough.

A combination of cycling duals from Amonkhet and Fortified Village makes up for our fixing. I like the cycling duals in a prominent place here because Renegade Rallier can get them from the graveyard after cycling them. Similarly, I can play Fertile Thickets early and on-curve, and if I hit a basic, I can activate Nissa to get an extra land drop. Felidar Guardian can blink them when I need another trigger, either to find a land drop or to put cards that aren’t Approach of the Second Sun on the bottom.

This deck tested decently, and sticking to primarily two colors worked quite well. This was my first time playing the new cycling duals like Irrigated Farmland and Scattered Groves. While I will say that the two-mana cycling cost was surprisingly expensive, they greatly changed my line and order of play. Playing it as a dual was my most common line, but I had to consider how to use those resources nonetheless.

Nissa, Steward of Elements was also bizarre, as your timing and sequencing mattered much more than normal. Your decision trees usually went something like, “Do I cast Nissa now on a somewhat idle turn at a low loyalty, hope she survives, and plus her to tune my draws and get her to ultimate range, or do I wait to cast her with the ultimate ready and drop my shields?” Even a small amount of solo testing shows me that this new Standard, even though it will contain everything we have right now, will be quite different.

Nissa, Steward of Elements will likely find herself in a deck that solidly incorporates each of her three powerful abilities, though we still need more of the set and considerable testing to find the right list and even how to play her with the best lines. The big question now is which planeswalker will end up seeing more play: Gideon of the Trials, or Nissa, Steward of Elements? Only the sands of the hourglass can tell.

This set already has excellent internal and metagame synergies, much more than I can ever share in one article. Nissa, Steward of Elements has plenty herself. What was the first thing you thought of when you saw her this week, and where has your brewing taken you?