Building Around Nissa And Other Big Amonkhet Bombs

Someone had to say it! Gerry Thompson reminds you that Amonkhet will shake Standard up, no matter what happens to the format’s banned list, and he’s bringing the brews to prove it ahead of SCG Atlanta!

Having access to everything in Amonkhet means it’s go time. I’m operating under the assumption that the Banned and Restricted announcement set for next week will yield no changes to Standard, which I think is a safe bet.

Let’s start with the good stuff!

While looking for a home for Nissa, Steward of Elements, I couldn’t help but think of Four-Color Saheeli. It’s a deck that already plays planeswalkers, has creatures, and also appreciates additional land drops. However, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows, as Four-Color Saheeli also plays a high density of planeswalkers and other spells that Nissa can’t hit.

With the above list, Nissa, Steward of Elements has a 61.6% chance of hitting a creature or land, assuming she has four loyalty (although it’s more like 62.7% if you don’t count the Nissa already on the battlefield). It should be noted that the Scry 2 helps set up the zero ability, so maybe these numbers are actually fine.

You could potentially build a slightly different Nissa, Steward of Elements / Felidar Guardian deck, although it’s worth noting that the two themselves aren’t a combo, which is unique when combining Felidar Guardian with planeswalkers.

It might seem like Nissa is an obvious inclusion, and while I’m tempted to believe that’s true, I also know enough to be skeptical. Another strike against Nissa is that we can’t play Walking Ballista. Both function as mana sinks, which could be great for some decks, but not as necessary in this deck.

Let’s try another version.

For Nissa, Steward of Elements to truly shine in Four-Color Saheeli, the creature and/or land count has to rise, and once that happens, it actually opens us up to some additional possibilities other than Nissa. Eldritch Evolution is one of those options.

If I wanted to rebuild Four-Color Saheeli with Nissa, Steward of Elements in mind, this is what it would look like. I’m not entirely sure how correct this is, but it’s certainly interesting. I looked for a way to cut the energy package entirely, as Attune with Aether eats up valuable Nissa slots, but couldn’t find anything that looked promising.

Eldritch Evolution is a card that continues to get better with each new set, but I’m unconvinced that it’s worth playing. It’s possible to build with Nissa, Steward of Elements and Eldritch Evolution at the same time, but it might not be the smartest thing to do. While there are theoretically more hits for Nissa in the deck, those hits are expensive tutor targets, so it’s unclear how often they’ll actually count as hits.

Heart-Piercer Manticore is almost certainly worse than Chandra, Torch of Defiance, but it hits with Nissa and Eldritch Evolution. Maybe if the creatures had a little more power, it would be worth exploring more. Having a way to take out a planeswalker without sacrificing your position could potentially be game-breaking.

There are two new cards that make for interesting sideboard options.

Glorious End has a few uses. There’s the obvious combo with Gideon of the Trials (which isn’t in play here, but could be). Then there’s the potential for you to utilize your extra turn by stopping a lethal attack, stopping them during their upkeep before they can play something like Walking Ballista, or using it to counter something like a Fumigate.

Obviously there’s a big cost here, as you have to win the game on the very next turn. If there’s any deck in the format that can do that, it’s this one, but it’s still risky to use. You don’t want this in every matchup, but it could even be worth trying maindeck.

Haze of Pollen could help in the mirror or give you an extra turn against an aggressive deck, should you be on the full combo plan. I generally don’t support being all-in on the combo post-sideboard against anyone, as you’ll probably be facing a mountain of hate. Still, if you just need to time to stabilize, this could be the way to do it.

Festering Mummy was the exact card I was looking for to add to Zombies! With twelve one-drops, playing the various lords looks more and more appealing, as does Dark Salvation. Before, going wide wasn’t really an option as your plays were mostly restricted to one thing per turn. With this new, lower curve, we can actually try to swarm the battlefield, making global pumps more effective.

With Glorybringer, Archangel Avacyn, Torrential Gearhulk, and Verdurous Gearhulk being a big part of the format, I’m very happy to try Dark Salvation and Grasp of Darkness instead of Fatal Push. Fatal Push is still great, but if I have the option of playing less conditional removal, I’m going to take it. Most decks want to sideboard in more removal in certain matchups anyway, and I don’t think this will be any different.

Whether or not this can stand up to Mardu or Four-Color Saheeli is still in question, but we have a fast clock and some disruption, so at least we got the recipe right. I’d be concerned that you could get outclassed in both matchups, plus you run the risk of losing your important cards, like Lord of the Accursed, to a removal spell, which could invalidate your creatures against their larger blockers. We still have Metallic Mimic and things like Dark Salvation and Cryptbreaker to break stalemates, so who knows.

This archetype is always going to suffer from having too many playable cards. Finding the correct build is going to be difficult, especially since everything is very close in power level. As always, I’m tempted by the madness / Hazoret the Fervent synergies.

Flameblade Adept gives you a consistent number of early plays, which helps R/B dramatically. Past that, we have Bloodrage Brawler as a powerful two-drop and Hazoret the Fervent to close out the game. It’s difficult to justify not trying out the new madness tools.

Bloodhall Priest is just as good as ever, but I’m only playing three. Drawing multiples is usually poor, plus it’s kind of a clunky top-end. Combined with Hazoret the Fervent, we have enough of that already.

Lightning Axe is another great card that I’m not playing, but that’s basically because of how tough it is to fit in the artifact synergies with Inventor’s Apprentice alongside the madness enablers. If, for whatever reason, we wanted to remove the artifact stuff like Key to the City and Pia Nalaar, we’d had enough room for a potentially powerful madness deck. Soul-Scar Mage could be a fine replacement.

My main issue with that is once you go down that road, you still have over ten artifacts you want to play anyway, which makes it hard to justify not working a little bit to get Inventor’s Apprentice in the deck. Plus, the manabase definitely benefits from having Spire of Industry. Keeping Unlicensed Disintegration active is a huge boon as well.

One card that could probably sub in for Hazoret the Fervent and do quite well is Heart-Piercer Manticore. Given the aggressive nature of the deck, Hazoret seems much better, but I could totally see a different version utilizing Heart-Piercer Manticore or at least using it as a sideboard card for grindy matchups. While the Saheeli deck didn’t have many creatures with high power for their casting cost, this deck has plenty of that.

Regardless, once I think about it, I kind of need to build it.

The biggest pickup for the full madness version is Haunted Dead. You can discard it early to Bloodrage Brawler or Lightning Axe and use it to clear out the rest of your hand, making for a quick hellbent. Hazoret the Fervent, Lupine Prototype, and Bloodhall Priest greatly appreciate that.

I’m playing fewer lands overall because there are no mana sinks like Pia Nalaar or Key to the City. If I’m stuck on land, I can probably discard extra cards to Haunted Dead. Still, this deck might prefer to be mana flooded rather than mana screwed.

Olivia, Mobilized for War might be the best card for the archetype that I’m not playing in either version. Cut//Ribbons is also great, but I wanted Lightning Axe in this version instead.

You might think that Nissa, Steward of Elements would fit right into B/G, but again, her less-than-ideal interaction with Walking Ballista and expensive creatures is a turn-off. At least the splash is very easy.

I want to play Crocodile of the Crossing so badly! The -1/-1 counter theme is so counter-intuitive with Winding Constrictor, though. Maybe it’s a sideboard card for midrange and control. Either way, it’s a very powerful card, and one that I’ll definitely be trying to play with.

If something were to revitalize this deck, it will probably be Rhonas the Indomitable. Having another cheap, huge threat that always provides a way to break through stalled battlefields seems incredible.

Nissa might be kind of a stretch here; even if you manage to put an Elder Deep-Fiend onto the battlefield, are you even “doing it?” Still, the scry is a wonderful setup tool for this deck and can even set up the zero ability for next turn.

There’s not a lot of new stuff here except for Honored Hydra doing a Roar of the Wurm impression if you manage to put it into the graveyard with Vessel of Nascency or Grapple with the Past. A singleton Noose Constrictor might serve the deck well, as wanting a discard outlet for Kozilek’s Return or Honored Hydra would probably come up.

One of the things I learned while building this deck is that Gnarlwood Dryad is effectively a removal spell, except that it’s one you can hit off Nissa. Maybe that’s not a super-relevant interaction for this deck, but it could be somewhere else.

This is just an updated list from last week, but I think I’m coming around on a lot of things. Casting Anticipate is generally worse than cycling stuff and control decks would rather play a high land count with off-color cycling lands than a low land count.

Galestrike is a mostly defensive card that seems quite good here. Removing a threat at instant speed, especially on the cheap, can’t really be overstated. It’s not a permanent solution, but you don’t need permanent answers to everything. Eventually, you’re going to overwhelm them with Torrential Gearhulk or Fumigate. All you need is time.

Four Glimmer of Genius isn’t enough sometimes, so I could see playing a Hieroglyphic Illumination or two. The opportunity cost is low enough, but if I want an additional card drawer, I want to try Pull from Tomorrow first.

Drake Haven is a potentially great possibility, but I like where this is going in general.

This deck is missing some pieces. For example, this deck could really use Reflector Mage as a creature that also removes a threat, but then again, I don’t necessarily want to live in that world. Perhaps playing without Declaration in Stone or something else that removes a threat is a mistake, but this is the hardest I’ve tried to make Nissa, Steward of Elements legitimately great.

Crocodile of the Crossing looks very good, especially with Baral’s Expertise and Thraben Inspector. Once you get that initial hit for five in, you should be able to keep them off tempo with things like Tamiyo, Field Researcher.

The big lesson here should be that building a three-color manabase centered on the Fortified Village cycle alongside the new cycling lands looks very doable.

We call this next one the Sam Black deck.

Sacrificing things for value doesn’t seem powerful enough, so what if we were both sacrificing things and putting -1/-1 counters on them for value?

Plague Belcher and Crocodile of the Crossing are two of the biggest threats in the set, as they hit hard and there are enough ways to mitigate their drawbacks. Sometimes, like with Bontu the Glorified and Doomed Dissenter, they have upside. Draining people out with Zulaport Cutthroat is fun and everything, but attacking them with large monsters is probably a better plan.

Matter Reshaper could potentially be incredible here, but I didn’t want to mess with the mana too much. Plus, with Bontu, Catacomb Sifter, and Yahenni, Undying Partisan, the three-drop slot is crowded already, and Matter Reshaper is certainly the worst of those.

How good is Bone Picker? Playing a couple seems relatively free, but is there a way to build the deck so we could play the full playset? I can imagine turns where you would have multiple Bone Pickers, the ability to sacrifice something, but not necessarily the mana to play them all. To that end, I think I want to play them in low numbers, but I could be wrong.

R/G is similar in playstyle to R/B, although it has a slightly more intensive madness / discard theme with Noose Constrictor and Honored Hydra. The Flameblade Adept / Noose Constrictor combo is a powerful one, and not something your opponent can leave on the battlefield for very long.

There might be a Jund list utilizing my Bant manabase as a template. Scrapheap Scrounger and Unlicensed Disintegration would be huge pickups, basically the only black cards you’re super-interested in. Green itself is kind of a splash, plus both of the in-color Shadows lands are red, so you have plenty of ways to deploy your one-drops on curve.

This is the deck I’ve spent the least amount of time researching, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m missing something obvious.

Three Closing Notes