Journey Into Nyx Legacy Set Review

Two-time SCG Legacy Open finalist Drew Levin talks about the new Journey into Nyx cards he’s excited to try out in Legacy once the latest set is released next Friday.

Let me tell you the story of how I got hooked on playing Magic. You know, not just "I saw these cards, and the game was enjoyable so I kept playing," but really knowing that this game is for you. That moment. I still remember it.

I was in eighth grade. Every lunch my best friend David and I would walk to the convenience store a few blocks away (it was a very relaxed sort of middle school), buy a booster pack of the latest set, and work on what amounted to our Pauper Block Constructed decks with whatever in-color rares we happened to own.

He had a Soldier deck, and I had a Zombie deck. Legions had just come out. I had read the books (but not the set spoiler), so I knew that Akroma and Phage were going to be the big important characters in this set. Neither of us knew what either of them did. But he wanted the Angel, and I wanted the Zombie.

He opened Akroma, Angel of Wrath about five seconds before I peeled back the wrapper on Phage the Untouchable. Like the small children we were, we immediately put them in our decks and played with them.

Fast forward a few months. I began to notice that I couldn’t beat his Akroma, Angel of Wrath with my mono-black deck in its current construction, and I went digging through my collection for ways to kill it. I came back the next day with a plan.

You must understand that this Zombie deck of mine was slow and grindy. It played roughly like you would expect a Sam Black deck to—tons of sacrifice outlets, cards that die for value, that sort of thing. Carrion Feeder, Nantuko Husk, Festering Goblin—that whole package. But I had found my secret weapon against Akroma, and I happened to own four of it already.

The moment that I announced Patriarch’s Bidding with a 12/12 Nantuko Husk in play and three copies of Noxious Ghoul in the graveyard, I knew I was hooked. I knew that the good lord had put me on this earth to return Zombies from the graveyard and give my opponent’s team -12/-12. I had the utter thirteen-year-old joy of explaining that my Ghoul triggers would kill his protection from black Akroma and that my Nantuko Husk was going to attack for 24. I was hooked.

I tell you this story by way of breaking some bad news. Folks, Replenish Constellation is not going to be a real deck in Legacy. Yes, I saw Doomwake Giant, and eighth-grade me spent hours and hours trying to play it. I tried so hard—I really did—but Replenish Constellation is so much worse than so many other decks that already exist in Legacy. Here’s why:

  • It’s a slow deck that needs the graveyard, so it’s worse than Dredge and Reanimator.
  • It’s a slow multicolor creature deck that relies on cross-permanent synergies, so it’s worse than any existing tribal deck.
  • It’s a combo deck that rarely kills them on the turn that you cast your four-mana spell, meaning that it’s worse than Show and Tell and Storm.
  • It’s a graveyard deck where the engine and the combo pieces have no interactive synergies (as opposed to Dredge, where most of the cards that discard cards also create multiple dredges), so it’s way worse than Dredge.
  • Even in Modern it’s a Living End deck that doesn’t have ways to filter through the expensive chaff early in the game for value unlike all of the cyclers, so it’s arguably worse than a Modern deck.
  • Deathrite Shaman. Always Deathrite Shaman.

Believe me, if there was a way to make this work, I would be all over it. I have loved Patriarch’s Bidding since before I knew what the JSS was. You better believe that if there was a way to make any kind of Bidding type strategy work in Legacy, I would be on it. Unfortunately, constellation comes up short.

With that said, there are a number of cards that I’m incredibly excited about playing in Legacy. I’ll save the best for last because there are so many things that I want to do with two-mana blue (and/or black) Humans in Legacy. For starters though let’s talk about some role players. First up is Eidolon of the Great Revel:

The comparison is positively straightforward. This is Pyrostatic Pillar on a 2/2 for two—no negatives, just a static Shock whenever someone casts a Legacy-playable spell that doesn’t immediately win the game. I think this will be the Tunnel Ignus that Legacy players have been waiting for. I think it has upside that could bring it up to "red Thalia" level, but I want to see it in action first.

The reason I’m riding so high on Eidolon is that red decks in Legacy have had issues picking fights with combo decks. All the tools exist to fight combo decks, but the sideboard is only so big. Lava Spike tends to lose game 1 heads up against Dark Ritual or Exhume, so it’s an uphill battle already. Eidolon has the potential to change that dynamic. It arrives at a good time in the game, punishes people for casting cantrips, punishes people for killing it, and definitely punishes people for trying to cast a bunch of cheap spells in a turn.

With all due deference to Patrick Sullivan’s Red Box review, here’s how I envision a Burn maindeck incorporating Eidolon of the Great Revel:

I’m a strong advocate for Grim Lavamancer in Burn since it’s basically a Jayemdae Tome with an activation of one mana—you’re not exactly running out of cards before your opponent runs out of life. Besides, once you’re planning on playing Eidolon of the Great Revel, playing more creatures isn’t really a "cost" as long as those creatures win games when they survive.

One of the fundamental tensions of Legacy Burn is how many creatures you want to play since Burn’s value proposition entails blanking some number of opposing cards. For many points in the deck’s history, the opposing cards it was trying to blank were creature removal. Once you commit to playing Eidolon of the Great Revel, however, that’s no longer the case, and the argument for Grim Lavamancer becomes stronger with that addition.

Beyond that decision the only real tension is between Price of Progress and Searing Blaze. I don’t think people are going to question the sixteen three damage for one mana "Bolts"—Lightning Bolt, Rift Bolt, Chain Lightning, and Lava Spike—and Fireblast is one of the best reasons to play so many Mountains. Between those twenty cards, Goblin Guide, Grim Lavamancer, and newcomer Eidolon of the Great Revel, there are only eight slots left.

There are three real choices for the last two four-of slots: Flame Rift, Price of Progress, and Searing Blaze. Flame Rift paces the field on two-mana burn, offering a consistent rate for two Shocks stapled together. Searing Blaze offers a Lightning Bolt stapled to pinpoint removal spell, which isn’t great against combo decks or Miracles but which can be a lifesaver against Elves, any flavor of Delver, any tribal deck, any fair creature deck, and especially against Stoneforge Mystic.

Price of Progress offers little against combo decks that can fetch a basic land (which is all of them), offers little against Deathrite Shaman (the green ability can outpace Burn), and offers little against decks with Daze. However, none of that is the important part. The most important part about Price of Progress is that it is substantially worse against better players. Bad players may walk into a Price of Progress for six or more, whereas strong players will almost always keep you from casting a Price of Progress for more than four and can often further reduce their exposure.

When you’re battling people in later rounds who are more experienced and know how to play against Price of Progress, your deck will be worse. It’s hard to accept that kind of value deterioration. Is it a fine sideboard card in some cases? Sure. Is it a card that I would maindeck? Not these days.

Circling back to the primary point of this exercise, however, I believe that Eidolon of the Great Revel will give Burn the capacity to beat combo decks in game 1 situations, thus meaningfully improving its odds against a given Legacy field. How strong a Pyrostatic Bear will be remains to be seen, but I have high hopes.

Moving along to more mundane and borderline playable cards, we have Aegis of the Gods.

There isn’t a ton to say about Aegis—it’s an enchantment, so Enlightened Tutor can find it. It attacks for two, protects you from discard spells and Tendrils of Agony, protects itself from Liliana of the Veil’s -2 and Searing Blaze, and is not going to beat any white two-drop in Legacy for a maindeck slot. If Golgari Charm or Zealous Persecution targeted, Aegis of the Gods would be very well positioned, but as it stands, it’s right on the fringe of Legacy playability.

I’ve seen a lot of people talk about Godsend in Legacy, what with Tinker costing two mana nowadays and being white.

The discussion goes like this:

Them: "Godsend is the answer to True-Name Nemesis that we’ve been waiting for!"

Me: "How so?"

Them: "You find it with Stoneforge Mystic, put it in, and attack with it, and they can’t block with their Nemesis or it gets exiled!"

Me: "Right, so you spend seven mana to create a 4/5 unblockable creature. Why not find Sword of Fire and Ice, make your creature similarly unblockable, and draw cards while shooting down their team?"

Them: "I’m not sure."

Me: "Also, on an open board that card is literally a less castable Vulshok Battlegear. You want to play an Equipment that isn’t Umezawa’s Jitte or Batterskull or any of five Swords or even Elbrus, the Binding Blade (yes, I want to make that work so badly), and you want that card to be Vulshok Battlegear?"

Them: "Yes."

Me: "Sorry, I don’t see it."

I’m open to more compelling cases, but "Whispersilk Cloak plus Vulshok Battlegear at best" isn’t really doing it for me. If the Equipment also had some kind of Lure or Provoke ability on it, we could talk. As it stands this is Whispersilk Cloak stapled to Vulshok Battlegear, and ain’t nobody buying that in Legacy.

There are two cards beyond Eidolon of the Great Revel that I think will see a real amount of play in Legacy and one other that will either see no play or will inspire multiple decks. First up is the shoo-in candidate for Legacy playable:

City of Brass is a Legacy staple, seeing play in The Epic Storm and Dredge. I believe that Mana Confluence is a contender in TES and will absolutely see play in Dredge. The reason why it will see play in Dredge is simple—every successful Dredge deck over the last year has played four copies of Cephalid Coliseum, four copies of City of Brass, and four copies of Gemstone Mine, yet all of them have lost games because they have failed to draw an opening hand with a land in them. Being able to more consistently discard a dredger will improve Dredge’s equity over a tournament. If we were to imagine what a slow, consistent, and brutal Dredge deck might look like when it plays sixteen lands and grinds people out, I think this is a good starting point:

Short, sweet, and to the point—this is the style of Dredge deck that Richard Feldman has advocated for literal years. He has argued that Dredge’s core game plan is fundamentally superior to most of what Legacy is doing if you actually get to play in the games. Mana Confluence gives the rest of us a chance to battle test his theory.

This deck won’t kill people on turn 2 very often at all, as it lacks the explosive openers provided by Lion’s Eye Diamond and Breakthrough. The addition of lands thirteen through sixteen depolarizes your range—that is, most of your games involve you presenting a line of attack that is of similar power to most of your other games. Think of it as having a deck full of nines in a game of war. You’re not going to beat their king with your ace, but you’ll beat every average and below average draw that they have. More importantly, you won’t lose games because you can’t do anything. That’s a big deal.

Whether or not this deck has enough raw power to stand up to today’s graveyard hate is a real question, but it raises another. How would you build a Dredge sideboard if you knew that you could actually cast the cards in it? Having twelve five-color sources is a big upgrade from eight, and it makes cards like Nature’s Claim far more reliable. It’s an open question as to whether Mana Confluence Dredge is better than Lion’s Eye Diamond Dredge, but I have a feeling we’ll see the answer sooner rather than later.

The other card that I think is just too good to not see play in Legacy is Master of the Feast.

We have a very easy and direct comparison for Master of the Feast in Legacy. Ready?

Let’s compare the two.

Tombstalker is a card that will eventually cost two mana, needs the graveyard, and is used primarily in midrange and control decks to blunt the assault of smaller creatures. Very early in its Legacy tenure, it was played as a four-of by Bayou aficionados Dan Signorini and Anwar Ahmad:

Anwar’s article on the evolution of black strategies in Legacy can be found here. It is an excellent read on how a particular strategy has evolved over time to incorporate certain cards and adjust to the presence of others.

Anwar’s core point about Tombstalker—that it’s an ultimately inexpensive card that can get past ground stalls and close games quickly—is incredibly appealing in today’s Legacy metagame of "can I beat a True-Name Nemesis?" He mentions that Tombstalker is truly maximized by pairing it with Eternal all-star Dark Ritual, which I support.

Master of the Feast looks a lot like Tombstalker in that respect—it’s a huge flier, can be cast off of Dark Ritual, and asks you to play a lot of black cards. So what black cards are we playing? What are the best black cards in Legacy?

Discard spells obviously. But one of the biggest weaknesses of black decks in Legacy has been the annoying tendency for other people to have draw steps, and here we have a card like Master of the Feast that gives our opponent even more draw steps. Hardly an ideal situation, right?

Well, except that Master of the Feast gives our opponent a card just as we gain the opportunity to take it away. After all, one of the biggest downsides of discard is that it’s useless if they don’t have any cards in hand. In the context of "already having dead discard spells in hand," Master of the Feast has a smaller drawback than you’d think. Sure, they can draw exactly Swords to Plowshares and kill Master of the Feast, but they can also draw a sorcery or a creature or a land or a planeswalker that we can hit with a discard spell after attacking for five.

So what does this deck look like?

If you thought that you could get away from large undercosted black fliers by skipping Saturday’s SCG Standard Open, you might have another thing coming. This is mono-black at its best —Dark Ritual and Deathrite Shaman for acceleration, Dark Confidant and Liliana of the Veil to get ahead, twelve discard spells to disrupt them, cheap removal, and eight 5/5 fliers to close things out quickly.

Could you add Tarmogoyf and Abrupt Decay to this deck? Sure. Is it advisable? I don’t know—it makes Dark Ritual a lot worse, and that’s a real consideration in a deck that’s interested in bursting out of the gates. I’ll be real with you. I wanted to get an Erebos, God of the Dead in here somewhere, but that seems a little ambitious. I am all about twelve discard spells plus eight 5/5 fliers, though, so if you enjoy casting Dark Ritual for value, I would start with this shell and tweak the numbers from there.

The creature in the Journey into Nyx spoiler that got the majority of my attention however was Disciple of Deceit.

Let’s start off with the downsides:

All of those are pretty obvious downsides. What are the upsides?

  • If you get to trigger its ability once, you’re probably going to be able to do so again.
  • Giving any of your cards Transmute: 0 is a huge deal.

Let’s start with the most obvious straightforward deck for Disciple of Deceit: a blue and black "good stuff" deck that plays a lot of conditionally powerful cards.

This is a pretty straightforward small creature BUG deck. It has generically powerful cards all the way down the list, has all sorts of disruption, and has Disciple of Deceit. Here are the lines of play I’m envisioning with Disciple:

You get the idea. There are tons of ways to add value to a deck like this. For instance, Unearth, as Todd Anderson showed us three years ago:

But I want to go even deeper. Disciple of Deceit is capable of assembling some pretty sweet combos. For example, look at this list:

Disciple of Deceit can help assemble Nivmagus Elemental plus Flusterstorm plus Clout of the Dominus, trading in one part for another. If you’re facing down a Tarmogoyf, you can ditch the cute stuff and just find a Death’s Shadow. But really the cute "discard one conditional spell for another" blue decks are just the tip of the iceberg. I believe there is a real deck that has wanted Disciple of Deceit for a while. I think it looks like this:

This deck has a ton of stuff going on. A somewhat exhaustive list:

I have no idea how anyone sideboards against this deck. What do you name with Pithing Needle or Phyrexian Revoker? What do you save your removal for? Is graveyard hate good? What kind? What could this deck possibly sideboard?

I thought Artificer’s Intuition was good, but that was before I saw Disciple of Deceit. Discarding a Sword of the Meek to find Thopter Foundry is real nice, and we’re not even at the part of the story where we discard a spare Mox Opal to find Lion’s Eye Diamond. This deck looks super fun, and I can’t wait to play it at some point in the near future.

For the time being, though, I’ll be flipping my schedule to accommodate publication demands. This Thursday you’ll be reading about Battle of Wits in Legacy, and next Tuesday you’ll see me play some heads-up queues with that gigantic pile of cards. You can expect this pattern to continue until I write another one-off article (like a set review). I wanted to clarify that for all of you who were hoping to wake up and see a Battle of Wits article in this space today—it’s coming, is going to be awesome, and will arrive later this week. See you then!