The Dragonmaster’s Lair – Naya in Standard

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Thursday, December 3rd – With States this weekend, and the StarCityGames.com $5000 Standard Open in St. Louis the week after, Brian Kibler wades into the Standard metagame and investigates the state of Naya. He looks at Coimbra and Soh’s builds, and offers up one of his own…

In the week leading up to my departure for Worlds, I still had very little idea what I was going to play. I’d been through any number of decks and nothing seemed like it could hold up against the twin threats of Jund and Boros. While I was on the lookout for any potential ideas, I got a message on Twitter from none other than Mike Flores encouraging me to look at his newest creation he’d posted on his blog — his “Naya Lightsaber” deck.

You’ve probably all seen it by now, since Andre Coimbra piloted it to victory at this little tournament in Rome a few weeks back, but for reference:

At first glance, I liked the ideas behind the deck. In particular, I felt like it looked like the perfect deck for Baneslayer Angel, since it has a number of other creatures that can present legitimate threats on their own and soak up removal, leaving the coast clear for her majesty the queen when she makes an appearance. I liked the heavy low-cost removal suite backed up by the lifegain of Ajani Vengeant, since one of the biggest problems for all of my previous Baneslayer Angel decks had been rolling over to Boros with slow draws.

In the last playtest session Ben Rubin and I had before leaving for Rome, I proxied up this deck with high hopes. The deck was certainly capable of powerful things – Noble Hierarch into Woolly Thoctar demands an answer, and fast. The curve felt decent, although I felt like I was running into mana troubles reasonably frequently, and in particular having trouble getting Wild Nacatl up and running. In fact, it was quickly clear that Wild Nacatl just wasn’t cutting it. Without the ability to make him 3/3 in the early game, Nacatl just got outclassed too quickly, and even in those games in which he did get to full size, he wasn’t exactly impressive against Putrid Leech and Sprouting Thrinax. Ben wasn’t a fan of Ranger of Eos with or without Nacatl in the deck, but I felt like the ability to Ranger for Noble Hierarchs alone was powerful enough to include a few Rangers in the deck at least. We tried a few iterations of the deck without the Nacatl package, but in our limited time before leaving for Worlds, the deck got shelved and never really got picked up again.

Of course, you all know what happened next – Andre Coimbra went on to win worlds with the exact list we’d been messing with. Despite his win, the deck has not received the accolades that one might expect. In his article last week, Marijn Lybert said that he felt like he had gotten very unlucky to lose in his Quarterfinal match against Andre, and many commentators have pointed to the fact that had Bram Snepvangers not sideboarded out his second Goblin Bushwhacker, than Andre very well may not have made it through that match either.

So is Naya Lightsaber a good deck? It’s hard to say, I think. It’s hard to use the Top 8 results as a good barometer for the deck’s actual matchup chances if you were to play it in States this weekend, both because it’s a very small sample size and because those matches were played 3/5 rather than 2/3, and by many accounts much of the strength of the Naya Lightsaber deck against Jund is the result of bringing in a whopping 12 sideboard cards. My own testing with the deck prior to worlds was limited and didn’t involve many sideboarded games, so the description of the deck as a “Jund-slayer” seemed very much off to me, but with so many sideboard slots devoted to public enemy #1, the matchup should certainly get much better after sideboarding. But even if it is a good deck, perhaps it can still be improved on.

It is also interesting to note that Andre seemed to come to much the same conclusion that I had regarding Wild Nacatl during his run at Worlds, at least in his matches against Jund. The Ranger/Nacatl package came out after sideboarding in both his Quarterfinal and Final matches. In that case there were a lot of juicy cards to replace it with, while in other matchups there are not. The setup is okay against Boros, since even a 2/2 Nacatl can trade with a Goblin Guide or Elite Vanguard to stop some early damage, but it’s hardly impressive there. A savvy Boros player will run over your Wild Nacatls with landfall creatures easily, or use Earthquake to clear away your whole team before coming in for a lethal strike.

Of course, Naya Lightsaber was not the only Naya deck in the Top 8 of Worlds – it just won and thus garnered the most attention. Falling by the wayside in the other semi-final was Terry Soh take on the shard:

Terry’s deck, at first glance, seems absolutely bizarre. Goblin Guide? Lotus Cobra with no big creatures in the main deck? Colossal Might? Ancient Ziggurat? What’s going on here?

My initial reaction to Terry’s build was that a lot of it just seemed bad, and from Terry’s sideboarding in the Top 8, it seemed like he agreed with at least some the cuts I’d make. Goblin Guide in particular just seems amazingly out of place here. Yes, he has Rangers to get them (though only 2), but in a deck that isn’t as single-mindedly aggressive as Boros, their drawback and the fact that they get outclassed so quickly makes them seem rather unimpressive, especially with only 8 lands in the deck that can cast them on the first turn.

It was when I started looking at the mana in the deck, though, that I started to find some things I liked. My initial reaction to Ancient Ziggurat was that it seemed unnecessary and out of place when the deck has access to so many other mana fixers, but when I started to think about it my experiences with the mana in Naya Lightsaber made me think twice. Filling your deck with tap lands, Arid Mesas, Mountains, and Plains makes it very difficult to consistently play a Noble Hierarch on the first turn. The tempo advantage gained from a first turn Hierarch is huge, as is the improved ability to play cards with color intensive costs like Great Sable Stag and Goblin Ruinblaster. Sure, in order to play Ancient Ziggurat you lose some of your ability to play non-creature spells like Ajani Vengeant in a timely fashion, and you certainly make Wild Nacatl worse, but we wanted to get rid of him anyway, right?

I like Colossal Might in theory, since it can seriously punish a Jund player for trying to get tricky with Bituminous Blast or Lightning Bolt on your turn, as well as turn trades like Woolly Thoctar for a pumped Leech into complete blowouts. That said, it’s a card that can easily contribute to threat light hands, which can be a serious problem for a deck that’s already committing a lot of slots to removal effects. It’s also often a bad cascade hit, and puts pressure on our Ancient Ziggurat manabase. All told, I don’t think it makes the cut in my build.

Lotus Cobra is a strange card. It seems totally out of place in Terry’s deck for game one, although I can totally see it being a reasonable card once Baneslayer Angel is in the deck. I suppose a Lotus Cobra into Ranger of Eos/Goblin Guide draw is fairly explosive, but playing a full 4 2/1s for 2 in the hopes of getting that kind of draw seems a little strange. One problem for Lotus Cobra is that for an aggressive or midrange green deck it is clearly not as attractive as Hierarch and such a deck can only afford to commit so many slots to mana production. In this hybrid deck we’re building, I think the ability to Lotus Cobra out a Baneslayer is very attractive, as is even the less explosive acceleration of allowing third turn Bloodbraid Elves or Goblin Ruinblasters after sideboarding. Rather than build a “Lotus Cobra deck”, I think it’s entirely reasonable to play a few Lotus Cobras with the potential for explosive draws with them, but being just as happy if they are effectively a Birds of Paradise a few times over the course of a game.

One card that I’m thrilled to have the potential to accelerate into is Master of the Wild Hunt. Despite its role in disgracing my home nation, I have become a huge fan of Master in recent months. If your opponent does not remove the Master immediately, it can absolutely dominate the board very quickly. It’s certainly not as powerful here as it is in the Eldrazi Green deck that can support four copies of Oran Rief, the Vastwood, but even 2/2 wolves can get out of hand quickly. Incidentally, it also gives you a reasonable answer for Malakir Bloodwitch, a card that has been showing up in more and more Jund sideboards that is particularly hard to handle when Ancient Ziggurat makes kicking Burst Lightning a difficult proposition.

This brings us to a list that looks something like this:

This sideboard in particular is largely speculative, but intended to showcase the sort of things that I feel like you can safely do with an Ancient Ziggurat manabase. Ruinblaster in particular I think is excellent in this sideboard since you have both the aggressive creature base and the mana acceleration to really punish your opponents for falling behind. Wall of Reverence is fantastic against Boros, although you may want to try to fit some Burst Lightning in your sideboard as well to give you a better shot of slowing down their aggressive draws, since you’re most vulnerable to them in the early turns before you can start playing big creatures. Perhaps Grizzled Leotau, as ManuB played, is a reasonable choice if you need more action against them. It’s possible the deck wants Celestial Purge against Jund, as well, but I wanted to explore some less commonly used options for the sake of this article, at least.

The Qasali Pridemages and Realm Razers were what I came up with in my search for reasonable cards this deck could play against the TurboFog decks, as well just as cards that have some utility in the field in general. Pridemage is a great all around card to solve problems you may not have thought of, too – it provides protection against Eldrazi Monument, Honor of the Pure, Oblivion Ring, and others just in case, but it does so in a way that doesn’t clunk up your hand with a narrow removal effect when you’re trying to beat down, and also doesn’t mess with your cascades from Bloodbraid Elf. Realm Razer seems pretty junky, but can put the brakes on anyone who’s trying to do something crazy, like TurboFog or Crypt of Agadeem/Unearth decks, as well as giving you a serious threat against a control deck that decide to tap out on their own turn.

I’m probably not going to be playing in States this weekend, but if I do, I’ll most likely play something like this. It’s definitely my style, and seems to fix what I didn’t like about both of the top finishing Naya decks at the World Championships while combining each of their strengths into one monster filled package. For all of those who do compete — good luck! If you decide to pilot this deck, I’d love to hear how you do.

Until next week…