New Ramp With Nikya Of The Old Ways

Think building around something this powerful is easy? Guess again! The restriction is making for a lot of creative deckbuilding in Commander, and Bennie is the latest (and greatest!) to take a shot!

Ravnica Allegiance
has hit the shelves, cards have been ordered, and decks are being tweaked
with all the cool new stuff! I’m very excited about trying out a bunch of
brand new cards, especially the new legends we have to build Commander
decks around. I’ve written about some of them already, so make sure to
check out the links at the bottom of this article. Today, we check in on
the Gruul guild and see what’s going on with this powerful Centaur Druid:
Nikya of the Old Ways!

When Nikya of the Old Ways is on the battlefield, your lands become
super-charged and mana concerns fade away. Instead of worrying about having
enough mana, you start worrying about having enough to do with all the
mana. Having this level of mana ramp attached to a legendary creature you
can always have access to from your command zone is huge, so of course
there has to be a drawback.

And it’s a doozy-you can’t cast noncreature spells. Ouch! At first, I
thought this wouldn’t be a big deal, but when I started looking at only
creature cards and land cards to fill out the deck, I realized how tough a
restriction that really is. Just at the tip top of your mana curve, that’s
no Sol Ring, no Skullclamp. No Sylvan Library, no Lifecrafter’s Bestiary.

Now, there’s nothing in Nikya’s text that says you can’t have noncreature
spells in your deck. Nikya isn’t always going to be on the battlefield, and
you could even add in ways to sacrifice creatures so you could tap a bunch
of lands for mana with Nikya on the battlefield, sacrifice Nikya, and then
cast some huge spell. There’s probably something really gross you could do
with that sort of setup. But I could also see some clunky draws where you
keep draw spells you can’t cast and Nikya keeps sitting on the battlefield
looking silly. So, no, the deck I’m going to build today is going to
embrace both sides of Nikya, the good and the bad. Just creatures and
lands. Let’s do it!

Mana Ramp

Myriad Landscape Sakura-Tribe Scout Sakura-Tribe Elder Budoka Gardener Incubation Druid Llanowar Scout Shaman of Forgotten Ways Wayward Swordtooth Solemn Simulacrum Oracle of Mul Daya Seedborn Muse Ulvenwald Hydra

For ramp I want to focus on getting lands onto the battlefield, because
with Nikya on the battlefield each extra land drop represents two more
mana. Sakura-Tribe Scout and Llanowar Scout can tap to drop an extra land,
but Budoka Gardener is extra nice because it will flip and turn into an
awesome mana sink, cranking out giant Elemental creature tokens. Shaman of
the Forgotten Ways doesn’t drop lands on the battlefield, but it can help
cast creatures and its formidable ability is fairly easy to activate in
this deck.

Seedborn Muse is an absurd Magic card-we’re seeing a cut-rate version
hitting Standard like a ton of bricks in Wilderness Reclamation-but is
simply backbreaking in this deck, given any sort of mana sink at all.

Creature Control

Arena Maze of Ith Ulvenwald Tracker Walking Ballista Nightshade Peddler Jaya Ballard, Task Mage Latulla, Keldon Overseer Arashi, the Sky Asunder Jiwari, the Earth Aflame Duplicant Steel Hellkite

We usually rely on spells to deal with opposing creatures, so I need to dig
deeper if I can only use creatures and lands. Luckily, we can use the fight
ability on Arena and Ulvenwald Tracker, there’s the one-shot exile ability
of Duplicant and potentially reusable narrow sweepers with Steel Hellkite’s

I also like the Spellshapers Jaya Ballard, Task Mage and Latulla, Keldon
Overseer. Note the Oracle text on these two cards says they can do damage
to any target, so planeswalkers are valid choices.

The two channel creatures Jiwari, the Earth Aflame and Arashi, the Sky
Asunder can function as spells in your hand if you need to, but I’d
personally want to have both of them on the battlefield as awesome mana
sinks. It just depends on the urgency of need at the time.

Non-Creature Control

Hammer Mage Scavenging Ooze Viashino Heretic Polis Crusher Glissa Sunseeker Sunder Shaman Acidic Slime Bane of Progress World Breaker Woodfall Primus

We’ve got a fair number of red and green creatures that provide us with
ways to deal with non-creature cards. Hammer Mage, Viashino Heretic and
Glissa Sunseeker provide excellent artifact control, Polis Crusher can put
the kibosh on enchantments, and Sunder Shaman can choose either. Bane of
Progress blows up all the enchantments and artifacts in a glorious fury of
destruction! Acidic Slime, and World Breaker extends the pinpoint
destruction to lands too. Then there’s Woodfall Primus which could destroy
a planeswalker too.

Mana Sinks

Kessig Wolf Run Tilonalli's Summoner Duskwatch Recruiter Tattermunge Witch Rhonas the Indomitable Genesis Hydra

Okay, so destroying stuff our opponents are doing make a pretty good use of
all that extra mana, but what if we’d rather be advancing our own game
instead? Mana sinks to the rescue! I like Tilonalli’s Summoner here since
with Nikya it’s incredibly easy to gain the city’s blessing and you can
really start cranking out Elemental tokens. Duskwatch Recruiter is an
awesome card that just gets even better when you have tons and tons of
extra mana, so long as it doesn’t transform.

I can’t wait to see how big of a Genesis Hydra I can cast…

Card Draw

Arch of Orazca Sea Gate Oracle Mikokoro, Center of the Sea Throne of the High City Dryad Greenseeker Magus of the Wheel Nissa, Vastwood Seer Tireless Tracker Heartwood Storyteller Beast Whisperer Masked Admirers Vizier of the Menagerie Genesis Runehorn Hellkite

Speaking of drawing cards, we’ve got a bunch of great ways to do just that
both with our lands and creatures. Tireless Tracker is awesome, but since
we’ve got a lot of cards that put extra lands onto the battlefield, the
Clue-making trigger can really keep the cards flowing.

Magus of the Wheel and Runehorn Dragon give us a Wheel of Fortune effect
when we need it, and Genesis provides us with “card draw” that just happens
to be the best creature in our graveyard.

Protect Your Team

Endless Sands Yavimaya Hollow Sylvan Safekeeper Temur Sabertooth Jolrael, Empress of Beasts Soul of New Phyrexia Spearbreaker Behemoth

The problem with playing a deck with nothing but creatures and lands is
that Commander players nearly always play a fair number of cards that
destroy all creatures-from Wrath of God to Blasphemous Act, resetting the
battlefield is a necessity. So, I want to include a fair number of ways to
protect against that. Soul of New Phyrexia serves that role perfectly for
the low-low price of five mana for the turn, a cost that is normally too
prohibitive but is no big deal in this deck. I also like Jolrael, Empress
of Beasts as a good rattlesnake-if the control player wants to destroy all
creatures, let’s discard two cards to turn all of that person’s lands into
creatures in response. Ouch!

Spearbreaker Behemoth, Temur Sabertooth, Yavimaya Hollow, and Endless Sands
all help save your creatures in a more limited fashion.

Utility Creatures

Groundskeeper Vexing Shusher Dawnstrider Feldon of the Third Path Courser of Kruphix Bramble Sovereign Anger Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker Ruric Thar, the Unbowed Nullstone Gargoyle Kozilek, the Great Distortion

Dawnstrider gives us a threat of a Fog effect that can wave a player away
from an all-out lethal assault so that we never really have to discard a
card to use it a lot of the time. Groundskeeper’s ability is a nice way to
feed the fair number of Spellshapers we have in the deck if we’ve a basic
land to discard.

Bramble Sovereign is a potent card that I’ve not been too impressed with
yet because it is so mana-intensive, but I think it’s going to do a lot of
heavy lifting in this deck, and I look forward to casting something like
Acidic Slime, copy it with Bramble Sovereign, and then copy it with
Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. And then if it dies, you can still copy it with
Feldon of the Third Path!

Ruric Thar, the Unbowed and Nullstone Gargoyle have potent downsides to
anyone playing non-creature spells, and lucky for us, we have the mana to
easily cast them and no non-creature spells!

Of course, the biggest prize in our non-creature deck is Kozilek, the Great
Distortion, which refills your hand and provides you with some measure of
control over opponents who wish to stop your creature shenanigans. Oh, and
the 12/12 body doesn’t hurt either-not you, anyway.

Access to Non-Creature Cards

Dualcaster Mage Zealous Conscripts Hellkite Tyrant

I was originally thinking I’d play cards like Etali, Primal Storm thinking
I’d be able to play cards from my opponents to get access to non-creature
spells, but then I realized that you’re still casting the cards from the
trigger and Nikya prevents that. Dualcaster Mage lets you get in on the
action from an instant or sorcery spell, and Zealous Conscripts can let you
borrow an opposing permanent that might be nice to use. The real gem here I
think is Hellkite Tyrant, which can attack and permanently steal artifacts
from your opponents.

Utility Lands

Dark Depths Thespian's Stage Miren, the Moaning Well Urza's Factory Winding Canyons Mirrorpool Magus of the Candelabra Ramunap Excavator

Last up, some nice utility lands, some of which can act as spells or
generate a useful effect. Magus of the Candelabra can untap some of these
lands to get extra uses out of them, but of course most of the time you’re
going to use it to leverage even more mana out of your lands-just think, if
you play a sixth land the turn after you’ve played Nikya, you could
generate eighteen mana out of them with Magus of the Candelabra.

Sweet deck! But wait, there are too many cards. I’ll start by looking at
our mana curve:

1 mana:

2 mana:

3 mana:

4 mana:

5 mana:

6 mana:

7+ mana/X-spells:

72 total cards plus 40 lands (we want to keep making our land drops) equals
12 cards too many, so we need to make some cuts! Let’s see what we can
trim, starting with the top of our curve.

This was incredibly tough, but I literally agonized over all the other
cards that cost six mana or more. Endbringer was a relatively easy cut, but
then I was looking at Ruric Thar and Nullstone Gargoyle as occupying
similar space and decided to stick with Nullstone Gargoyle instead. I’m
definitely open to opinions on this though, please let me know what you

Two more tough cuts here. I like the idea of using Zealous Conscripts over
and over with Kiki-Jiki or Feldon, but without those cards the effect is
relatively small ball. I can see lots of battlefield states where I’d not
want to use Jiwari’s channel ability, and can see where the ability to
damage a non-flying creature could be not at all what’s needed.

Both of these require a successful attack to do anything useful, and I feel
that some of the other cards in the deck can handle a single enchantment or
artifact more reliably. I like the other four mana cards better.

Heartwood Storyteller seems like a slam dunk, but then it occurred to me
that helping my opponents draw cards off each other to dig for mass removal
is probably not in my best interest. The other two cards are perfectly
fine, but when ranking all the other three mana spells from highest to
lowest on my want list, they fall to the bottom.

I have other cards in the deck that do what Incubation Druid and Llanowar
Scout do so I’m okay cutting them. I hate to lose the Fog ability of
Dawnstrider, but it occurred to me that I’m probably not going to be
without blockers for a mass of attackers so I think it’s a moderately safe
cut. I thought about Vexing Shusher but I like being able to push creatures
through counterspells, and I also thought about Tattermunge Witch, but I
felt dumping a bunch of mana into its ability could be game-ending.

Okay, so here’s how the deck ended up:

Nikya of the Old Ways
Bennie Smith
Test deck on 01-28-2019

Creatures (56)

Lands (42)

Magic Card Back

So, what do you think? What sort of choices do you disagree with? Are there
any cards that I overlooked?

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Deck Database

Below I’ve got links to decks I’ve written about going back to January
2017. If you want to read the associated article, just put “Bennie Smith”
and the commander name into the Google and it should pop right up. I’ve
written a lot about Commander – and Magic in general – so if you want to
explore further the

StarCityGames.com® article archives

have my articles all the way back to January 2000!

Ravnica Allegiance

The Haunt of Hightower

, Teysa Karlov

Prime Speaker Vannifar


Rakdos, the Showstopper

SCGCON Winter 2018 (stay tuned for decklists!)

Yuriko, the Tiger’s Shadow

, Grothama, All-Devouring; Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis; Feldon of the Third
Path; Ramos, Dragon Engine; Inalla, Archmage Ritualist; Prossh, Skyraider
of Kher; Brago, King Eternal

Ultimate Masters

Garna, the Bloodflame

Guilds of Ravnica

Niv Mizzet, Parun


Emmara, Soul of the Accord


Lazav, the Multifarious (decklist in the comments)


Tajic, Legion’s Edge


Etrata, the Silencer


Izoni, Thousand-Eyed

Commander 2018

Aminatou, the Fateshifter


Xantcha, Sleeper Agent


Lord Windgrace


Brudiclad, Telchor Engineer

Core Set 2019

Sai, Master Thopterist


Goreclaw, Terror of Qal Sisma


Vaevictis Asmadi, the Dire


Chromium, the Mutable


Grothama, All-Devouring


Teshar, Ancestor’s Apostle


Grand Warlord Radha


Arvad the Cursed


Muldrotha, the Grave Tide


Slimefoot, the Stowaway


Yargle, Glutton of Urborg


Squee, the Immortal


Firesong and Sunspeaker


Jodah, Archmage Eternal


Tiana, Ship’s Caretaker

Masters 25

Hannah, Ship’s Navigator

Rivals of Ixalan

Azor, the Lawbringer


Etali, Primal Storm


Nezahal, Primal Tide


Zacama, Primal Calamity


Tetzimoc, Primal Death


Zetalpa, Primal Dawn


Ghalta, Primal Hunger


Grusilda, Monster Masher


Dr. Julius Jumblemorph


Vona, Butcher of Magan


Tishana, Voice of Thunder


Admiral Beckett Brass


Gishath, Sun’s Avatar

Commander 2017

Nazahn, Revered Bladesmith


Inalla, Archmage Ritualist


Mirri, Weatherlight Duelist


O-Kagachi, Vengeful Kami


Mairsil, the Pretender


Taigam, Ojutai Master

Hour of Devastation

Razaketh, the Foulblooded


Zur, the Enchanter

(Mummy’s Curse),

Djeru, With Eyes Open


The Locust God


Karona, False God

(All the Deserts), Nicol Bolas,

Neheb, the Eternal


Oketra the True


Temmet, Vizier of Naktamun

, Atogatog
(Cartouches & Trials),

Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons


Samut, Voice of Dissent


Rhonas the Indomitable


Hazoret the Fervent

Kaladesh Block

Yahenni, Undying Partisan

, Nicol Bolas,

Child of Alara

(5 Color Energy),

Rishkar, Peema Renegade


Kari Zev, Skyship Raider


Sram, Senior Edificer

Commander 2016

Breya, Etherium Shaper


Atraxa, Praetors’ Voice


Tymna the Weaver // Ravos, Soultender

Other Commander Decks

Anafenza, the Foremost

(shutting down shenanigans),

Momir Vig, Simic Visionary

(no green creatures),

Kytheon, Hero of Akros

(Tribal Gideon),

Tasigur, the Golden Fang

Commander Strategy

Let’s Talk About Lands

Who Should I Attack?

Targeted Removal in Commander