Swing And A Nissa

Matt Higgs tries a handful of new ideas starring everyone’s favorite new planeswalker! Check out some of these Nissa brews to see if you think any could lead to viability and success at #SCGKC!

In the humid July heat of the Ohio River valley, I long for the cooling air of winter.

Thankfully, M15 gave us a real Christmas in July; it’s jam-packed full of goodies, like a loaded Christmas tree, which is a welcome thought in this summer swelter.  I can see it now: lots of Constructed playable gems dangle from the branches, and big presents for the strongest archetypes rest proudly beneath the tinsel.  For brewers though, we just like to play with the box the gift came in. 
Although the set gave literally dozens of new cards to spawn new brews and enhance old ones, the splashiest cards of the set have gained the most attention: the planeswalkers.  Out of the six mythic planeswalkers in this set, four are brand new.  While I know that each has gotten its own good and bad hype, my personal favorite is Nissa, Worldwaker.

Nissa, who has always seemed to be a fan favorite from a character/flavor perspective, returns as a less narrow version of her former self, where she reigned as the casual elf queen for years.              
Now, her only boundary seems to be the Forest and basic land limitations on two of her abilities.  Again, players have dismissed her due to these “restrictions,” limiting her effectiveness to either a mono-green build or for her first animation ability alone. 
But that’s not the whole story.  In fact, I believe that Nissa can function well in a mono-green Nykthos shell as well as in a deck that pairs with green with every other color in its own time.  For the first color, M15 gave us a freebie in Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth.
This bizarrely-timed reprint smooths out mono-black’s awkward double Mutavault draw, but it also turns every land that a deck involving Nissa would use into a Swamp.  More than any other basic land type, Forests and Swamps love their own.  As potentially the best combination of each, here’s a tentative list for Nissa’s darker side.

The plan in a black Nissa shell involves leveraging the power of using both Forests as Swamps and Swamps as Forests to maximize your mana potential while maintaining the consistency necessary to be a reliable engine of pain.  With such a firm Forest base, casting ramping and fixing will be as easy as if you were doing it in a mono-green list.

Elvish Mystics aren’t nearly as important in this list, so they’re not here and neither are Sylvan Caryatids.  Instead, Voyaging Satyrs let us untap lands that will provide more than just one mana.  We’re searching for the essential lands necessary to make this deck great.  Courser of Kruphix is especially helpful here, giving you an extra draw step to find the all-important Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth.  Similarly, Satyr Wayfinder, a card normally allocated to reanimator and graveyard-matters decks, gives us a warm body and another chance to find the essential legendary land.  Crypt Ghast seems like a no-brainer when ramp and Swamps are involved.  Moreover, the Ghast can be resolved after untapping four Forests which, with any luck, are Swamps too.  As soon as you untap with your five or six lands, you’ll be staring at double-digit mana with which you can execute your destructive plan.  With all this mana, Polukranos, World Eater becomes a powerful, unstoppable cannon.

In the spell category, Corrupt is the stand out.  While mono-black devotion gets their Corrupt with a 2/4 body stapled to it, this relies only on the number of Swamps you control.  Imagine using Nissa’s final ability, emptying every basic land from your deck and dealing a full twenty damage with just one Corrupt!  Hero’s Downfall costs three mana from any source when you’ve got your Swamp-maker out, and Underworld Connections is also easy to cast; Voyaging Satyr can untap it too, in case you need to dig a little deeper.  A singleton Plague Wind In Garruk’s Wake seems pretty bonkers when you ramp it out.  You can cast it with a Crypt Ghast or a Nissa, Worldwaker, making it a reliable, must-have answer to an impending swarm of creatures or superfriends.

In reality, most cards in this deck directly support the nine planeswalkers that run the show.  I’ve included an entire playset of Nissa, Worldwaker both to guarantee the draw but also because she will most likely die at the first opportunity.  She’s essentially free too, so you won’t even lose tempo from recasting her and ticking her up to untap some Forests.

Liliana Vess, thanks to Underworld Connections, can effectively be a Demonic Tutor, finding the exact card for the situation whether it’s a Corrupt, In Garruk’s Wake, or the planeswalker for which this sweeper was named. 

Garruk, Apex Predator is on everyone’s mind, but many believe his cost is prohibitively expensive in most decks.  I firmly disagree, citing the ability for mono-green Nykthos decks to generate massive amounts of green mana for Polukranos and Nylea activations.  Adding a single black mana to the pot shouldn’t be too hard.  Vraska the Unseen answers nonland permanent problems, and she can act as her own win condition in empty board states.  I did include Liliana of the Dark Realms too, as she can go search up a Swamp (read: Overgrown Tomb). She’s also an immense pump or removal spell if she activates right away, sending a lowly Voyaging Satyr through the stratosphere at your opponent. 

Four Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth is just asking for trouble, but given how important it is for this deck to function, I can’t help but feel it’s necessary.  If you have an extra in hand, just animate your in-play copy with Nissa, swing and/or block, then play your extra copy.  You effectively lose nothing in those situations.  Otherwise, we’re maximizing our Forest count; no Temple of Malady or Llanowar Wastes here.  You’re either on the all-Swamp plan or you’re getting to it; there’s no in-between.

This deck seems like it can seamlessly integrate two very different plans thanks to the reprinting of a powerful black land, but what about the other colors?

Blue has something that, while not exactly as good as a legendary land with no real downside, comes down early and keeps things up with very little additional upkeep.  Just by himself, Realmwright can make every land you control a Forest.

In this list, we’re relying heavily on the patent pending “Realmwright Resolution Plan.”  The deck is a blue deck for all intents and purposes, so the green cards come out of nowhere.  Tidebinder Mage will pin a creature more times than not these days, whether it’s just a simple Elvish Mystic or a mighty Stormbreath DragonVoyaging Satyr makes its return.  It’s still better than Sylvan Caryatid.  Because green is the splash from a land perspective, if I got a Caryatid, my land is already fixed.  Instead, I want to utilize the untapping nature of the Satyr to maximize value. 

Master of Waves is the secret to the blue version of Nissa’s worldwaking adventure.  Resolving Nissa, Worldwaker then untapping four lands to lay a healthy Master of Waves seems like it might be the most exciting play in Standard.  Three singletons exist, each as potential targets for the deck’s playset of Chord of CallingScourge of Fleets gives you all the benefits of having a bunch of Islands and Forests, providing you a one-sided Whelming Wave that leaves a 6/6 behind.  Master Biomancer is a good planning move; Chord for it, then resolve Master of Waves for a terrifying army-in-a-box.  Prophet of Kruphix is something great to find to allow a healthy, flash-oriented resolution spree at your opponent’s end step or a particularly large Chord.

Chord of Calling and Fated Infatuation serve similar functions.  If your Realmwright is about to meet a grizzly fate, tap your Forests and the Realmwright (or some other creatures, like your horse Elementals from Master of Waves) to search for a new one.  If they’re using Bile Blight, float the green mana then cast the Chord on resolution of your opponent’s spell.  Similarly, Fated Infatuation either copies your doomed Realmwright, a devotion producer like Tidebinder Mage (I loved copying this with Cackling Counterpart last summer), or even a Master of Waves for maximum value.  Copy that Scourge of Fleets if your opponent stubbornly replays their board too!  Dissipate appears as, in my mind, the best counterspell available to a deck that’s not too concerned with scrying.  You don’t need anything special to use it either, unlike something like Plasm Capture or Mystic Genesis which might have implications if you don’t have the Forest engine online. 

This list seems to only need three Nissa, Worldwaker; there’s not much ramp to get you there sooner, so you have some time to draw her.  Although untapping four Forests lets you cast Master of Waves, it also lets you cast either of two four-mana walkers.  Jace, Architect of Thought, which can be cast without Realmwright, helps dig you deeper or survive a swarm.  Kiora plays on the fact that the deck plays so many lands.  The more you have, the more effective each of your spells are.  She can keep something on lockdown too, which is particularly helpful when dealing with tough creatures. 

There are several more green sources here than the previous deck had black sources.  Realmwright is just a 1/1, after all; it’s important to have a back-up plan for those times when you just can’t stick a Fugitive Wizard!  Their supertype doesn’t matter, either.  Unlike the previous deck, where all the lands were Swamps but not all were Forests, Realmwright green-washes everything.

Although the other two colors don’t have an all-land fixer like that (Chromatic Lantern only changes the mana they add, not their land type), both red and white have significant offerings for our elven powerhouse.

Instead of the typical synergy engine that Nissa generally assists, she’s all power here.  Moving more towards the Nykthos plan, heavy green devotion creatures side with hard-hitting spells and scary top-end destruction.

The creature suite is fairly familiar so I won’t touch on it much, however, Borborygmos Enraged gets his chance to rumble here.  Because of Nissa’s powerful ability to continually untap lands, this deck can function on significantly fewer lands than normal, though there are more than enough to go around for the purposes of hurling at your foes and their critters. 

The spell suite is familiar too.  Mizzium Mortars is still one of the best Flame Wave variants this side of Zendikar, and Bramblecrush is still a favorite of mine.  Here, it’s Nissa’s “untap four Forest” follow-up play.  Use it to smash a Nykthos, an Underworld Connections-enchanted Swamp or a pesky Detention Sphere.  You can even give Garruk, Apex Predator a taste of his own medicine.

The card I’m really excited to try is Aggressive Mining.  With Borborygmos online, you don’t care about the lands you have; you just want more rocks to throw.  If you absolutely have to play a land, however, Bramblecrush can smash it up, say, if you need to gain a life from a Courser of Kruphix trigger to avoid death.  Non-traditional ways of getting lands into play, such as Nissa’s ultimate, still work, and it’s likely that after sweeping their creatures away with Mizzium Mortars, she’ll have the breathing room she needs to get there.  Xenagos, the Reveler is an alternative source of mana too, and control matchups still have trouble dealing with 2/2 haste creatures.  Alongside Nissa, Worldwaker, her animated lands count as extra mana too, so remember that when it comes time to activate him.

The land base is simplified here; sixteen basic Forests give Nissa plenty of fodder for her untap or ultimate ability.  We don’t need an extra Mountain or red source; if need be, Burning-Tree Emissary or Xenagos can provide them.

White was potentially the most difficult color to incorporate Nissa, but a Chord of Calling-centric list with tokens driving an effective convoke seemed like a fair place to start.

Ornithopter is one of my favorite Magic cards.  I’m not sure why; it may be that I loved the palette of color in the Mirrodin art or the fact that you can cast something for free, but this little booger has always a favorite of mine.  Here though, it’s all business.  When you’re building a Chord of Calling deck, Ornithopters provide you free “X” mana.  The number of Ornithopters has flexed a lot in deckbuilding, and I’m not sure what the right number is.  On the back of an Elvish Mystic, you can Chord for another Mystic on turn 2 if you want.  Burning-Tree Emissary is here as a free Chord of Calling inclusion (provides three mana for GG when considering Chord), plus it adds to Nykthos as usual. 

White does allow us to include Voice of Resurgence, an excellent Chord enabler.  Sylvan Caryatid, as opposed to the more familiar Voyaging Satyr, is really needed to fix here.  Voyaging Satyr, along with nine other singleton creatures, can be searched up with Chord.  The inclusion of one each of Hornet Queen and Trostani’s Summoner is intentional; Trostani’s Summoner provides ten power while Hornet Queen only provides six, albeit evasive.  I could see a scenario where an army of 2/2s comes charging in, and you’d rather have two of your generated creatures live.  The rest fulfill a specific role and can all be cast if drawn inadvertently.  Angel of Serenity, a long-outdated reanimation enabler, seems like a brilliant Chord target, especially at instant speed.

Nissa sides with Ajani Steadfast this time, allowing a pump of the team upon resolution.  Nissa likes Ajani too, who pushes her closer to her terrifying ultimate.  Nissa adds fuel to Chord of Calling, letting you get one of your simpler search targets right away or giving you an enormous boost to a game ender.

Life’s Legacy is a card that has massive potential.  You can use it to cycle a Burning-Tree Emissary, eat one half of an Armada Wurm (I recommend the token half), or an immense Worldspine Wurm which will then shuffle back into your deck for another summoning!  You can chomp on a Voice of Resurgence or Soul of Theros just to use its ability anyway.  Nissa’s animated lands also do the job in a pinch.  With Ornithopters providing an “empty” draw step, it’s important to muscle out some draw where you’re able.

Nissa, Worldwaker has a ton of potential. Every mode can be relevant in a variety of decks, and she provides invaluable, hard-to-target ramp for those lofty Timmy spells you’ve been dying to cast.

I’ll be joining my friends over at State of the Gathering for their weekly show this week on Twitch; join us on Thursday at 9:00 PM EDT for some M15 Constructed discussion at twitch.tv/stateofthegathering!

Next week, we take to the skies!  Until then, how have you bent Nissa’s identity to suit your needs?  What’s the coolest thing you can cast with four mana after you play her?