Thirst for Knowledge – The Truth About Nissa Revane

Visit the StarCityGames.com booth at Grand Prix Minneapolis
Wednesday, November 11th – Once upon a time, I did a set review for Shards of Alara, and in that review I foolishly bashed on Elspeth, Knight-Errant, asserting that she was just a “four-mana Angelic Blessing.” So, as one might guess, I know what crow tastes like. A month or so back, I said that “I was wrong about Elspeth, but I just don’t see it with Nissa.” … Oops.

Once upon a time, I did a set review for Shards of Alara, and in that review I foolishly bashed on Elspeth, Knight-Errant, asserting that she was just a “four-mana Angelic Blessing.” So, as one might guess, I know what crow tastes like. It really isn’t so bad after you’ve had it a few times, honestly, which is definitely a good thing for anyone who writes about our fine game. Sometimes you’re totally right, and then other times you’re wrong. And still other times, you’re dead wrong.

Ironically enough, my next serving of that delicious crow is from the hands of yet another planeswalker, and again it’s one of those pesky ones with two “+1” abilities. I guess I didn’t learn from last time, because Nissa Revane is clearly better than I gave her credit for. A month or so back, I wrote about her and said that “I was wrong about Elspeth, but I just don’t see it with Nissa.” Again, oops.

Now, Nissa has been appearing in lists for a week or two, but it took a $5K to put her on the center stage. The decklists from before were all RG or GW, and looked a little something like this:

RG Elves

4 Bloodbraid Elf

4 Elvish Visionary

4 Elvish Archdruid

4 Llanowar Elves

4 Nissa’s Chosen

4 Druid of the Anima

4 Sarkhan Vol

4 Garruk Wildspeaker

4 Nissa Revane

8 Forest

4 Mountain

4 Kazandu Refuge

4 Oran-Rief, the Vastwood

4 Rootbound Crag


4 Great Sable Stag

3 Eldrazi Monument

4 Goblin Ruinblaster

4 Chandra Nalaar

Note: I don’t know the name of the pilot of this deck — I was shown the list by several people, and I didn’t know where to find the Top 8. This list won a Magic League tournament, from my understanding, but my apologies to the pilot whose name I couldn’t find.

The idea was always deceptively simple: play mana guys, lay planeswalkers, and absolutely crush face. The Red in this list is almost exclusively for Bloodbraid Elf, which admittedly isn’t even that exciting in the archetype given that cascading into a Druid of the Anima or a Llanowar Elves is less than exhilarating. Sarkhan Vol is also representing Red in the deck, as are the Chandras (I love that card) and Ruinblasters. None of those cards are bad at all, and Sarkhan Vol even seems really strong considering that it hastens your tokens, steals Baneslayers, and pumps your team, but overall Red was never even that powerful in the deck. You know it’s a sad day when the format’s elf deck might actually be better without Bloodbraid Elf, but on the other hand I’d say it’s an improvement over “cascade into Blightning, swing for three.”

There were other versions of the deck that eschewed Red in favor of White for Path to Exile and Qasali Pridemage, while others maindecked as many as four Eldrazi Monuments. Some also played maindeck Great Sable Stag and zero Druid of the Anima. The buzz was that the deck(s) could beat Jund, and pretty efficiently at that, so naturally the last couple weeks have been all about this deck (at least from what I had been hearing and seeing).

This past weekend, however, the StarCityGames.com $5000 Standard Open in Nashville was utterly demolished by Nissa Revane. Star City’s own Todd Anderson made a Top 8 appearance, as did someone else familiar…

That’s right — not only did Todd recently get married, he got married to a woman who not only wins FNMs, but also 5Ks. I know many of us would kill to date/marry a girl who thinks “I still had all these” is funny (somehow I think Gavin will know what I mean), but this is just insane. A big congrats to you both!

Moving on, let’s see what’s new here. First of all, this deck is mono-colored, without a trace of either Red or White. That certainly helps the manabase, which lets us not feel bad about playing four Oran-Riefs, and that’s a very good thing. The mana wasn’t bad before by any means, but most of the lists only had eight or so ways to play a first-turn Llanowar Elves, and that was just inefficient. Oran-Rief being the only tapped land helps a great deal, and we definitely want four of those in this deck — making Garruk tokens 4/4s and even our small 1/1s later in the game into at least Grizzly Bears never hurts.

We lose some functionality in the sideboard, but it’s not all bad. We’ll never stumble on mana, and we can focus on doing exactly what Green does best: smash. Eldrazi Monument is the focal point here, as it does a number of things for the deck. On one hand, it acts as a pseudo-Overrun like it does in Zendikar Limited, and it also gives us infinite blockers against Baneslayer Angel (a card this deck could otherwise not do much about). While it’s very true that the alternative in any situation involving Baneslayer is just to win before that card really does much of anything (that is, pop Garruk and just overwhelm your opponent), I think having indestructible fliers gets that job done a lot better.

One of things I really like about Eldrazi Monument is that it makes a boring Green deck pretty absurd. I mean, think back at all the Green decks you’ve ever played, both in Constructed and just for fun. Not since Rancor has the color really been able to go mono-colored and not be absolutely terrified of Wrath of God. With the Nissa deck, are you really all that afraid of their sweepers? How many of the decks playing sweepers actually have a way to deal with your Monument, even post-board? That card was usually just good game in testing, and I suspect it would be far more degenerate in this much faster and efficient version of the deck.

The other part of Eldrazi Monument’s place in this deck that tickles my fancy is how much better it makes Nissa. And no, I’m not even talking about the fact that she herself creates an infinite sac outlet for the Abyss ability on Monument. I’m talking about how it powers up her ultimate. I mean, dumping a bunch of dudes onto the battlefield (I had to write this three times to finally not put “into play” here) is sick and all – and also very Green — but let’s be real honest: that’s just asking for you to get wrecked. Granted, you’d never want to put all your men out there with it (unless you were sure they “didn’t have it”), but the greatly increased chance to draw land there on out was certainly awkward. However, Monument actually makes her ultimate realistic. I’ve found that if she makes it through one turn without being Bolted or Pulsed, she actually gets to her ultimate fairly reliably. And when that happens, if I have a Monument in play, I don’t feel awkward at all about thrusting lethal onto the board. Sure, you probably won’t need that many more 3+ power indestructible fliers, but sometimes you need to break through a wall (such as in the mirror).

Concerning the rest of the deck, it just plays a lot of good Green cards that simply haven’t gotten enough love. Master of the Wild Hunt? Yes, and yes please. That is one seriously good man, and I am more than excited to throw that guy into the ring when I sleeve up next. The Noble Hierarchs are a tad awkward to me given that you need to generally accelerate to four, not three, and so the additional Llanowar Elves don’t do too much for me. I’m assuming the idea was that a turn 2 Archdruid is just very hard to beat, and I suppose I can definitely see where that may be absolutely true. The exalted bonus isn’t that relevant past the third turn, either, as a deck like this doesn’t want to be swinging with one guy a turn. So, well, I don’t think I’m particularly fond of the Hierarchs in the list, but then again this is mostly just observation.

The other card that caught my eye was Acidic Slime, a card I simply adore. I took Conley’s advice and played it in Mannequin Jund back during the Austin PTQ season, and feel in love with its versatility. It still lets you blow up lands in this format, and serves as a pseudo Ruinblaster in the match-ups where he’s good and then can also be brought in for the mirror to destroy opposing Monuments. Mycoloth, too, finally sees some play again after his long hiatus after Extended last year, which is pretty exciting in and of itself. Windstorm is undoubtedly for Sphinx of Jwar Isle and Baneslayer Angel, and is a card that we couldn’t play if we were running Bloodbraid Elf. The maindeck Ant Queens are also very nice, as they either pump out threats and just swing for five or they let you pay 1G on your upkeep rather than sac a guy to Monument.

Okay, so the deck won a $5K. There were three lists of it in Top 8 (the two identical ones from Todd and Kali, and then a third GW version), but how good is it actually? Well, that’s a difficult question. It gives a lot of decks fits, but it’s very beatable. For example, Eldrazi Monument makes the control decks like Cruel Control and 5C Cascade very sad, but those decks could play cards like Bant Charm to act as removal and then a means to destroy Monument in the event that it hits play. You can always Pithing Needle Nissa and Garruk, and Maelstrom Pulse still blows up tokens all day long. Still, the deck is very resilient for a Mono-Green deck. Garruk has always been very good at providing such resilience, but cards like Master of the Wild Hunt and Ant Queen that make a constant stream of threats all on their own make it very hard for most decks, even those playing unfair cascade cards, to keep up. Gaining board position on this deck is quite difficult, so out-manning them is not the right answer. I would guess that cards like Marsh Casualties will play some sort of role in keeping the deck on its toes, but even then we’re looking at two spells just to take down the 2/3s and 3/3s that the deck spits out each turn.

So, really, we’re looking at the best Mono-Green deck in… well, a very long time. Part of that is due to M10’s push for slight power creep in Green’s creatures, but most of it belongs solely to Nissa. Nissa Revane is quite honestly an absurd card, and I was sorely mistaken about her. While Nissa’s Chosen is far from impressive on its own, as a 3/4, 4/5, or 5/6 (thanks to Archdruid, Oran-Rief, or Monument), it’s downright scary. Add to that the fact that you must Path it to actually deal with it, it quickly becomes clear why three of these decks smashed their way into Top 8. How does Jund beat creatures that don’t actually die? Better still, how does it beat a deck that makes a ton of unkillable guys that can gain eight or more life a turn? I’ve spoke with a few people that think that Jund will just adapt to beat this deck, but how does one go about doing that? I don’t currently know the answer to that question, but I’ll certainly try to find out. All I know I that stopping Nissa is the key, and I don’t think Thought Hemorrhaging her from their deck is the most efficient way to do that (since that isn’t going to stop them from taking the free turn and stepping way ahead of you in tempo).

So what is the truth about Nissa Revane? The truth is, she’s probably the best planeswalker in Zendikar. In fact, that really doesn’t need to be said — I think these results go without saying. I have not played Nissa yet in a single deck that didn’t make me love the card each time I played it. Lifegain is such a powerful thing in this format, and she packs it in absolutely spades. It’s hard to say if she’s actually better than Garruk, but she definitely is in this deck. I initially didn’t like her because she was far too narrow, and maybe she is, but in the correct context she’s simply a stunning card. Standard might be a bit stale due to all those boring Jund decks and 0/1-sporting aggro decks, but Nissa might make things a bit more fun. Worlds is still a little way off, and States even further, but I would be a fool not to think that Nissa will play a role in Standard from here on out. Whether or not Jund finds a way to beat the deck is a moot point — this archetype has some seriously strength, and playing with nothing but Forests again is truly an exciting concept to me.

Next week I’ll undoubtedly have a Nissa Stompy list of my own and hopefully some solid data on how to take down the deck. I’m a little embarrassed that I’m now doting on a card I initially scoffed at, but I guess we live and learn. I’d like to see if Nissa could work as efficiently in other settings and formats (somehow wrote something a few weeks ago about Nissa in Extended), so if anyone in the forums has some ideas to throw at me I’d love to hear them. I’m also looking forward to reading Todd’s article next week about the $5K, which should give both me and all our readers a better insight into what his reasoning was behind his card choices.

But for now, a warning: watch out Standard, because the truth about Nissa Revane is that she’s actually just the sickest ever.

Until next time…

Chris Jobin
Team RIW
Shinjutsei on MTGO and everywhere else