It’s been about two years since my last article. During 2004-2005, I was very competitive when playing Magic. I slowed down in 2006-2007, and played very casually in 2008-2009. It is tremendously difficult to remain competitive in Magic, especially when you live in a country where you don’t have forty countrymen qualified for each Pro Tour, unlike the Japanese and Americans. It really makes a difference. While I had to switch my priorities to university, as my studies were getting tougher every year, my undying love for Magic carried me forward. I found that the mentality of switching gears from Competitive to Casual play helped rekindle my enjoyment for the game. When you play nothing but Competitive Magic, you tell yourself that every mistake costs you money, and that puts a great pressure on your shoulders to avoid such circumstances. When you play Casual Magic, you are able to play at a relaxed pace and achieve a peaceful state of mind… and you inadvertently make fewer mistakes. Even if you do, you can get over it and proceed to play solidly in the next game without worrying too much. In fact, this is the mentality that brought me my third Pro Tour Top 8, when I finished 3rd at the 2009 World Championships with a homebrew Naya Aggro deck.
Initially, I was planning to skip Worlds, due to lack of time for practice and lack of understanding of the format. My exams ended a week prior to Worlds, and the rest of the National team was flying to Rome a couple of days earlier to do some sightseeing. This meant that I only had approximately 2-3 days to prepare for three different formats, and it made sense that I had slim chances of making money in this event. Fortunately, my brother Joe won Nationals this year, making it his second National Champion title. He was preparing and testing various decks with other fellow members and people from our card store, Eternal Magic. Usually, Joe and I always end up with different decks because I always prefer playing control and he always prefer playing beatdown or combo. However, in order to build a good list for a control deck, it often requires a great deal of time testing and identifying the types of deck in the format, which I don’t have the luxury to do so in that time. There is no doubt that when you can’t find time to practice, the best option is to play beatdown decks. Joe had been testing the Naya for a couple of weeks, and he claimed that it has a good chance against Jund, which is the best deck in the format. After some persuasion from friends (and Joe), I decided to play Worlds… but if I’m honest, my true intention was to enjoy the trip. I had totally no expectation of winning anything.
I had already planned on playing simple decks for both Constructed days. For Standard, I would either be playing Naya Aggro or Eldrazi Green. For Extended, I was set on playing Kibler’s winning Zoo deck from Austin. For Limited, I had some experiences at a local PTQ (which I won), and I took time to read a dozen of Olivier Ruel “Drafting With” column articles, trying to understand his picks and rationale. His articles and picks helped me a lot for the draft portion in Worlds. I ended up leaving Malaysia for Rome without many real card testing sessions under my belt, and I did my final testing in Rome with the rest of the Malaysians. Without further ado, here’s the Naya Aggro, which I piloted in Worlds:
- 2 Ranger of Eos
- 4 Woolly Thoctar
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 4 Bloodbraid Elf
- 4 Great Sable Stag
- 4 Goblin Guide
- 4 Lotus Cobra
My list is about 95% identical to that of the other Malaysians, as we have slight differences in choices of land and planeswalkers. The other Malaysians played 1 Sunpetal Grove and 1 Rootbound Crag, while I played 2 Rootbound Crag. Some played Elspeth instead of Ajani Vengeant. I would now like to write a brief explanation on my choice of cards, since this deck is rather different to most of the existing decks.
The Lands (22):
4 Jungle Shrine
I’ll start with Jungle Shrine, since I believe this is the best land in the deck. Initially, the earlier version of the deck only played 2 Jungle Shrine. Two slots of enters-the-battlefield-tapped lands were devoted to 2 Teetering Peaks for a damage boost, but I felt the added consistency of multiple colored mana was significant in a three-color deck. I also wanted to have Jungle Shrine in my opening grip all the time. Any time you are pleased to see a card in your opening grip, you should play four copies.
4 Ancient Ziggurat
I consider these to be Jungle Shrines 5 to 8, and they are the lands that make a reliable manabase that can cast turn 1 Noble Hierarch or Goblin Guide. It also helps to cast the colored-mana intensive-creatures like Great Sable Stag and Woolly Thoctar.
2 Rootbound Crag
My decision was to play two M10 dual lands, but I was undecided on the colors. Eventually, after dozens of trial opening grips, I decided Rootbound Crag was slightly better because you already have more White mana sources through Noble Hierarch, and there is more emphasis in casting early Red spells as compared to White spells. For example, you would want to cast Lightning Bolt on turn 1 or 2 to kill an early guy, whereas you would want to cast Path to Exile on turn 5 to kill a Baneslayer Angel or something big.
3 Arid Mesa, 2 Misty Rainforest
At first glance, it seemed like a no-brainer inclusion to have 4 Arid Mesa in the deck. However, take note that the deck only plays 2 Mountain and 1 Plains as Arid Mesa’s targets. I would feel quite stupid if I ever drew the third or fourth copy of Arid Mesa when unable to fetch anything, so playing three copies instead of four minimizes such circumstances. The 2 Misty Rainforest are actually Forests, and the inclusion is to boost the explosive draw fueled by Lotus Cobra. You can play a third copy in exchange for a Forest if you want to get the most out of the Cobra.
4 Forest, 2 Mountain, 1 Plains
Obviously you need to have at least one of each type of basic land in your color, in a format filled with Path to Exile. The number of basic lands in this deck was influenced by the number of fetchlands in the deck.
The Creatures (26):
4 Noble Hierarch, 4 Goblin Guide
In an aggro deck, one-drops are very significant in determining damages swings. Noble Hierarch “deals” damage by providing implied damage through its exalted ability, and by casting your guys early. Goblin Guide sets a very, very fast clock on your opponent. If you are on the play with an opening grip of Ancient Ziggurat, Noble Hierarch, and Goblin Guide, always play the Guide on turn 1 and the Hierarch on turn 2 for more damage. Even if your opponent gets a free land from the Guide, he will have to discard unless he has a turn 1 play.
4 Lotus Cobra
Here’s a thing about Lotus Cobra… If you are mana screwed, you are not getting any help from the snake. If you have a normal draw, you are getting ahead in the game. If you have a fetchland to go with him, you are exploding into the game. One of the best possible draws with Cobra is turn 1 Hierarch, turn 2 Cobra plus fetchland into Woolly Thoctar, dealing tons of damages on turn 3 with Bloodbraid Elf, Colossal Might, or removal on potential blockers.
4 Great Sable Stag, 4 Woolly Thoctar
One of the main reasons this deck was created was to defeat Jund, and Great Sable Stag sure does contribute a lot in this equation. You should not be hesitant to cast him early just because the Jund player has 4 Lightning Bolts in the deck. If he has the Bolt, he would happily target your one-drops or Lotus Cobras. If the Stag is the first creature you cast, it is still a statistically better choice to play it over Woolly Thoctar on turn 3. Stag is only stymied by 4 Bolts, whereas Thoctar can be killed with Terminate, Maelstrom Pulse, and blocks from Putrid Leech and Sprouting Thrinax. On the other hand, Woolly Thoctar is the best size-stats-to-mana-ratio creature you’ll find in Standard. A 5/4 for three mana is unbelievably huge, and it hits very hard and very early in the game. You will find many games are won by this beast if your opponent does not have a removal spell immediately.
4 Bloodbraid Elf, 2 Ranger of Eos
These represent the card advantage and tempo machine in the deck. Everyone knows Bloodbraid Elf is awesome, so nothing has to be said about him. Ranger of Eos provides card advantage as well as multiple degree of attacking angle. He can fetch two Goblin Guide to add four hasty damage in addition to your on-board monsters, or he can fetch 2 Noble Hierarch and make blocking very unprofitable for your opponent when you are playing a battle of attrition. It is almost always wrong to fetch one of each, because these creatures have better synergies in multiples rather than as singles. Your goal should always be to force as much damage as possible with Goblin Guides, or to make blocking as unprofitable as possible for your opponent with Noble Hierarch.
The Spells (12):
3 Colossal Might
This is Joe’s pet card. He won Nationals with Red/Green Aggro similar to this Naya build, also utilizing Colossal Might as the ultimate damage boost. This card has a lot of value when your opponent doesn’t know your deck has it, but it decreases in value when your opponent knows you are playing it. For example, say your opponent is at 5 life and you have a Woolly Thoctar in play, while your opponent has a Broodmate Dragon and its twin in play. If you swing, I would say most of the time your opponent will make the conventional block with one dragon and expects a trade. He wouldn’t even think of the possibility of double blocking, because everyone knows what’s being played in Constructed decks. And there you go, Colossal Might for the win.
1 Ajani Vengeant
As good as Colossal Might may sound, it is still a pump spell, which is situational and may get clogged in your hand for a while before you have the opportunity to use it. I wouldn’t want to play with the fourth copy in my deck. Some Malaysians played Elspeth as the fourth Colossal Might substitute, but I prefer Ajani Vengeant as the ninth removal spell. It also saves one sideboard slot, since I plan to have Vengeant in the sideboard anyway. Vengeant is good against midrange creature decks and Blue control decks, and mediocre against Jund.
Matchup Analysis — Sideboard Strategy
This is the best deck in the format, and hence the most important matchup that you will have to test. The sideboarding strategy also varies greatly, depending whether you are on the play or on the draw.
On the play:
On the draw:
When you are on the play, you can be very aggressive in the matchup, with good removal and additional troublesome guys. Colossal Might is also slightly better than removal on the play.
When you are on the draw, Goblin Guide is awful due to the additional removal spells they are bringing in. Also, they would not have to discard even if they hit a land if you played him on turn 1. After sideboarding, they will have more removal, such as Jund Charm, Burst Lightning, etc, but none of these can kill Baneslayer Angel. This gives you an opportunity to come out on top if your opponent runs out of Terminate or Maelstrom Pulse. Colossal Might is also strictly worse than removal on the draw.
I would use Manuel Bucher version as a reference for this matchup. This is a terrible matchup for Naya in game 1, and while it improves after sideboarding, the matchup is still about 60-40/55-45 in their favor. I was very, very lucky to take game 1 from Bucher, with an insane hand that killed him on turn 4. I played turn 2 Woolly Thoctar, hit him twice with some exalted damage from Hierarch… this, plus one fetchland damage from Bucher and 2 Lightning Bolts to the head, deals exactly 20 damage on turn 4.
At first glance, it seems that the entire sideboard (except for Celestial Purge) can be used in this matchup. However, after further testing, it shows that we are the beatdown player (as always), and Wall of Reverence is useless despite it seeming like a good blocker for opposing Baneslayer Angels, on paper at least. Goblin Ruinblaster is also redundant in this matchup. More than half of Bucher’s deck produces mana; he has 23 lands and 10 mana-producing guys which cost one and two mana. It is better to play a solid attacker or a removal spell than a 2/1 which could hardly push through any damage. Goblin Guide is completely redundant in this matchup, and I don’t even want to have a single copy in my deck despite the ability to tutor via Ranger of Eos. Great Sable Stag is only great at pushing damage through Rhox War Monk. However, your opponent can still attack you to offset the damage by Stag. If you held it back, Great Sable Stag is not serving a purpose in your strategy as the aggressor, and you are clearly not winning the game.
Meanwhile, you have to use your removal spells cautiously. Your Path to Exile and Oblivion Ring should always target, if possible, Knight of the Reliquary and Baneslayer Angel, because these are the cards that will win them the game. They can’t win with Rhox War Monk or Emeria Angel, although they might look attractive. Stay focused on the game plan. Meanwhile, if you have the option of using Lightning Bolt on their mana producer and accelerating yourself, you should always accelerate yourself. If you don’t have that option, then you should always kill their mana producer.
I did not play against it at Worlds, but initial testing shows a favorable matchup towards Naya. Both players have aggression, but you have better creatures and mid-game cards like Bloodbraid Elf. After sideboard, the matchup gets even better.
After sideboard, both players will be boarding in slower creatures and more creature removal. Goblin Guide and Great Sable Stag are the most redundant cards in this matchup, and hence you should board all of them out. Colossal Might is also not very efficient against a deck with 4 Bolt and 4 Path, plus several copies of Burst Lightning. I only board in 2 Celestial Purge because they only kill a limited number of creatures in this matchup, but it is still strictly better than the cards that were boarded out. The lone Uril is better than the third Celestial Purge. The Oblivion Ring is there to fight opposing Baneslayer Angels and Elspeth, Knight-Errants. The Baneslayer Angels and Walls of Reverence give you the lifelink creatures and fatties in this matchup. I believe this matchup will be determined by the player that can keep a Baneslayer Angel on the battlefield, so always try to keep a removal spell available.
Various Blue Based Control decks
I have the fewest sideboard cards for this matchup, simply because I expect very few Blue decks to exist in this format. I have to admit I did not do much testing for this matchup, but expect mass removal spells from any Blue control deck… don’t explode into this matchup. At the very least, make sure you explode cautiously, considering fully the type of mass removal they might have. For example, Grixis Control only has Pyroclasm as mass removal, and hence there is no fear in playing multiple Stags or Thoctars, whereas the White control deck has Day of Judgment, and you have to keep your waves of creatures in check.
Overall, this deck is quite easy and fun to play, as long as your follow your goal to maximize damage. Card advantage is not so important; instead, gaining tempo and winning the damage race should be your main priorities. At Worlds, I went 4-2 with the deck, losing to Paulo’s Jund in a future match when I made the brutal mistake of prioritizing card advantage. There was a point at which I fetched 2 Goblin Guides and decided not to attack with them into a complicated board. In the end, I ended up losing the game while he sat at 1 life. The other match loss came at the hands of UWR Control.
If I were make changes to the deck for this Saturday’s StarCityGames.com $5,000 Standard Open in St. Louis, I would cut all the Colossal Mights for Oblivion Rings, and cut an Ancient Ziggurat and a Forest for two Sunpetal Groves. As I said above, Colossal Might loses some value when people expect it, and thus they are able to block correctly. Oblivion Ring solves a lot of problems for the deck, such as Baneslayer Angel and Knight of the Reliquary. If one of these creatures sticks around, it will be very difficult for you to push through damage. I really love the feeling of holding an Oblivion Ring when I have a bunch of guys on board, not fearing a Baneslayer Angel or random permanent would ruin the day.
I hope you enjoyed the article and learned more about the deck. Do voice out your opinion about the deck in the forum, and I am looking forward to reply. If anyone plays this deck at the StarCityGames.com $5,000 Standard Open in St. Louis on Saturday, be sure to let me know how you did!