Naya Love Me

Osyp Lebedowicz tells you about the Naya deck that he recently played to a PTQ win and why you should consider it for SCG Standard Open: Baltimore.

I’ve never really been a guild kind of guy. I’ve always been way more into the shards, and my favorite shard has always been Naya. I’ve played all different forms of Naya, from control shells using Astral Slide to combo-oriented versions playing Birthing Pod. Naya is just so much fun to play and allows for plenty of options because the creature quality is usually so good.

I’ve watched a lot of Standard over the past few months while doing commentary for the StarCityGames.com Open Series and Grand Prix Miami, so I have a pretty good understanding of the format but don’t get too many opportunities to actually play it. I wasn’t able to attend as many PTQs in my area as I would’ve liked, and I can’t stand playing on Magic Online because I just don’t have the temperament for it (just ask my neighbors, who assume I just murdered someone every time I accidently click F4).

However, there was a StarCityGames.com Invitational in New Jersey close to my neck of the woods coming up, so I decided I should probably get some actual practice in and not just theorize about the format.

Standard is pretty wide open, and as Reid Duke mentioned in an article last week, when there isn’t a best deck, it’s often best to just play what you know. For me, the choice was clearly Naya. In particular, Pete Ingram’s Naya list from Grand Prix Miami was the one I was most focused on.

I clearly have a predilection for Naya, but I think it has a lot of things going for it you should consider even if it’s not your style:

1. Naya has arguably the best creature selection at every point on the curve, and that’s really something most decks just can’t compete with (particularly at the three slot). Loxodon Smiter and Boros Reckoner are not just the two best three-drops in the format but actually give a lot of decks fits.

2. The title for best creature in Standard has changed hands many times in the past year. Back during Pro Tour Gatecrash, you could make a case for Boros Reckoner simply because of how it affected the format and deck selection. Thragtusk will certainly always be in the conversation because of how durable it is, and Angel of Serenity was top dog during the reign of Reanimator. However, right now, for my money, the best creature in Standard is Thundermaw Hellkite. When you have beatdown decks running it as well as control decks sideboarding it because of its ability to close out games quickly, you know there’s something special about it.

3. The deck is capable of being very aggressive, but its threats are much more durable than a traditional beatdown deck like Naya Blitz.

4. Domri Rade on turn 2 can simply be too unfair in certain matchups.

So I decided to play Naya at a StarCityGames.com Invitational Qualifier at my local store, Get There Games, in Staten Island. I ended up making Top 8 and went on to defeat Junk Reanimator, Jund, and Bant Hexproof to win the tournament.

With the Invitational a few weeks away, I knew what deck I wanted to play. However, M14 was now going to be legal, so I wasn’t sure how the deck would be impacted. Ultimately, I decided that Scavenging Ooze was really the only card worth including, so that’s the only card from M14 I added. This is what I ended up playing at the Invitational:

I went 3-1 in Standard on day 1, losing to Andrew Shrout Big Red deck and his maindeck Burning Earths. On day 2, I went 2-2, losing to Jund in a very frustrating game 3 and Bant Hexproof, which is always a frustrating loss by the sheer nature of the deck.

Overall, I was disappointed because I really felt like my losses to both Big Red and Bant Hexproof could’ve been avoided if my sideboard had been better. I really didn’t value Unflinching Courage highly enough and overvalued cards like Boros Charm and Rest in Peace.

After the Invitational, there wasn’t another Standard PTQ in my area for a couple of weeks. Prior to that the World Championship and several Opens would take place, so I was sure the format would change once again. Sure enough, Worlds made an impact on our current Standard metagame, as Kibler’s G/R deck showed us a way to be aggressive, durable, and exploit Burning Earth. This was huge because it forced all of the U/W/x players to reconsider their options. Team CFB also decided to add Lifebane Zombies to their Jund deck (something they picked up from Grand Prix Calgary), which opened people’s eyes to the possibilities of that card. When I saw both those decks, the first thing that came to mind was:

"Ok, how will this impact Naya?"

With regards to Kibler’s G/R deck, I was actually excited because not only did his deck appear to have a bad matchup with Naya (by Kibler’s own admission) but it gave me even more of an excuse to load up on Unflinching Courages in the sideboard, something I wished I’d done at the Invitational.

The Lifebane Jund list was another story; I wasn’t filled with nearly as much excitement. On paper, it seemed like Jund just added another weapon against Naya. They could strip my hand of solid threats like Loxodon Smiter and Ghor-Clan Rampager as well as put pressure on my Domri Rade. However, when I actually tested the matchup, it played out better for me than the games I played against the Reid Duke list. The three most common scenarios that occurred when I lost to Jund with Naya were: 

1. They had a curve of Farseek into Huntmaster of the Fells into Thragtusk and then had plenty of removal for the rest of my creatures.

2. A timely midgame Bonfire of the Damned from them left my board obliterated, and I couldn’t rebuild fast enough.

3. Olivia Voldaren went unchecked for too long.

In all those scenarios, a Lifebane Zombie wouldn’t really do much other than maybe help them win more, and Reid’s original list just seemed better suited to win those ways.

I also noticed something else that I didn’t realize previously. Domri Rade isn’t very good against Jund. At both the IQ and the Invitational, I left in my Domri Rades because I just assumed since Jund is a midrange control deck that a three-mana planeswalker would naturally be good against it. However, the more games I played against Jund, the more I noticed that Domri only helped me in games where I was already far ahead.

In all my games against Jund, there was only one where my Domri went unchecked and I managed to go ultimate and win that way. In general, though, trying to grind out a Jund deck with Naya didn’t seem nearly as effective as just trying to be aggressive. So as strange as it seemed to me, I decided I would board out my Domri Rades against Jund. Once I came to that conclusion, Lifebane Zombie attacking my Domri wasn’t an issue.

Looking at the results of Worlds, it appeared as though Kibler’s deck was one of the few with a winning percentage above 50%, while the Lifebane Jund lists didn’t perform very well. Going into the PTQ, I figured G/R would probably be very popular, and there was a chance people might run Bant Hexproof as a way to combat that. Either way, that was perfect for me because it meant I could run four Unflinching Courages and three Ray of Revelations in my sideboard and have my bases covered for both decks.

This is the list I settled on for the PTQ:

I ended up winning the PTQ. I won’t bother going through all the details (because I’m old and can’t remember them all), but I would like to walk through how I sideboarded for the key matchups.

Against Jund

I personally think Reid’s Jund list that features no Lifebane Zombie is the optimal list and a more difficult matchup, but my plan against either list is the same. Game 1 against Jund can be close, and it usually comes down to whether or not they have a better curve than you do. You don’t rely on ramping up as much as they do, so I think you’re in good shape, but it is still going to be close. My board my plan was:

+2 Selesnya Charm, +2 Assemble the Legion

-4 Domri Rade

My logic was simple. You have plenty of good threats, so just bring in two more powerful cards and some versatile removal spells and try to minimize the three scenarios I listed above. My plan worked well enough; I beat Jund the three times I played it in the PTQ, and in the finals I beat it in both games 2 and 3. I think my strategy was sound.

The only change I would make is taking out the Assemble the Legions and replacing them with Hellriders. I’ve played Assemble the Legion in my sideboard for four tournaments, and all four times I’ve regretted it. I’m tired of trying to make fetch happen. It always seems like it’s going to be awesome, but in reality it only helps you win the games where your opponent is either totally unprepared or just floods out. Hellrider is a card I always thought would be good in Naya (particular with Voice of Resurgence in play), and boarding in an additional haste creature is something I’d want against all the control decks I would’ve boarded in Assemble against anyway. Plus it fits the theme of my post-board strategy against Jund better than Assemble does:

Be aggressive!

Against G/R Aggro

Game 1 can be close because they have a lot of haste creatures and even if you draw a Boros Reckoner, if you’re back peddling a Ghor-Clan Rampager can just run over it anyway and not slow them down very much. Ultimately, game 1 will likely come down to who is on the play; however, you have more ways to stabilize than they do. After board is where things swing heavily in your favor. The Unflinching Courages are clearly huge, as are the additional Selesnya Charms, but the Ray of Revelations are also very useful. They’re not likely to board in Burning Earth against you, but they’re almost certainly going to be bringing in Volcanic Strength, so having that Ray can be a huge swing. I played this matchup twice and beat it both times with this plan.

+4 Unflinching Courage, +3 Ray of Revelation, +2 Selesnya Charm

-4 Domri Rade, -2 Bonfire of the Damned, -2 Ghor-Clan Rampager, -1 Voice of Resurgence

People kept asking me why I was boarding out Bonfire of the Damned against a creature deck like G/R, but to be honest it’s just not very good against them. Sure, you may blow them out with a late-game miracle, but the games you lose are when they get a hyperaggressive start and you can’t stabilize or have an unchecked Thundermaw Hellkite. Bonfire of the Damned really doesn’t help you in either of those scenarios. Whenever you’re unsure about what cards matter in what matchups, just step back, be objective, and think about how those games play out and how you end up losing. That usually helps me focus on what matters and what doesn’t.

Against Bant Hexproof

You have to get pretty unlucky to lose this matchup. Hexproof generally has a difficult time against decks that are aggressive, let alone decks that are aggressive and can answer their enchantments and also play Bonfire of the Damned.

+4 Unflinching Courage, +3 Ray of Revelation, +1 Electrickery

-4 Domri Rade. -2 Mizzium Mortars, -2 Ghor-Clan Rampager

Like I said at the beginning, I don’t think there’s a best deck in the format, but if you like Naya or expect a lot of G/R in your metagame, I would give this deck a shot because it’s consistent, it has answers to a variety of decks, and, most importantly, it’s proactive.