Naya Is The Best Esika’s Chariot Deck In Innistrad: Midnight Hunt Standard

Do Esika’s Chariot decks need a third color in Innistrad: Midnight Hunt Standard? GerryT makes the case for Naya as an MTG mirror-breaker.

Esika’s Chariot, illustrated by Raoul Vitale

Why does it seem like things are always like this? 

Werewolf Pack Leader Briarbridge Tracker

Esika’s Chariot Wrenn and Seven

Green has the best threats at each spot along the curve, they each provide card advantage, and no other color comes close. The saving grace is the cards are simply very good and adequate answers exist. It’s just a shame the other colors don’t come close to having a package as robust as this. 

Gruul Werewolves is the simplest choice, although the Werewolves themselves don’t strike me as particularly good. We needed to finish the preview season with another strong card or two and got pretty much nothing instead. Plus, the core of Jaspera Sentinel and Magda, Brazen Outlaw is too strong and I’d recommend playing it in any green deck if possible.

Once we determine that Jaspera Sentinel and Magda are correct to pair with Esika’s Chariot, what’s next?

I tried each flavor of Gruul, all of which were fine, but I felt like I could do better. Splashing spot removal like Infernal Grasp is reasonable. You even get things like Orcus, Prince of Undeath as a clever solution to Scute Swarm. For the most part, it felt like those problems could still be handled with a well-built Gruul deck, even if the answers weren’t as clean. 

Going back to basics was next. If the four cards above are the reasons for green’s success, did we need red? More importantly, what were we gaining by removing a color? Blizzard Brawl is excellent cheap interaction that Gruul couldn’t play. Plus, we’d get four Faceless Havens. Overall, I liked the deck quite a bit, although the lack of haste and difficult-to-remove threats was concerning against control decks. Despite the benefits from the snow package, Gruul still seemed superior. 

Splashing counterspells into Gruul is becoming more common, although that’s not a clean solution to your problems. I’d rather have more permanents that are immune to sweepers than trying to line up a Disdainful Stroke against one. It’s not difficult to splash, so it’s easy for people to get tempted, even if it’s for things that are ultimately unnecessary. 

If Gruul is the best version in a vacuum, then we should look for solutions to the mirror and other decks that try to go over the top. Given everything I know, Naya seems like the best way to do that. My confidence level isn’t 100%, especially given how quickly things can change. I already have some reservations about Naya, but if you’re trying to beat Gruul mirrors, there’s no better option.

Why no Wrenn and Seven? With a pile of removal and mana acceleration, you can’t lean on a single threat to win you the game, even if it’s as powerful as Wrenn and Seven. You’d much rather have Showdown of the Skalds and Moonveil Regent. I’m not playing any five-drops at all because of how much better the four-drops are in this deck. Plus, Showdown of the Skalds wants you to keep your mana curve as lean as possible. My threats are incidentally immune to Burning Hands, which should also count for something.

Brutal Cathar Skyclave Apparition

Both Brutal Cathar and Skyclave Apparition are excellent cards against creature decks. I’ve gone back and forth on which one is actually better since they both have their upsides. Skyclave Apparition deals with Esika’s Chariot directly but is much harder to cast. The reason I eventually settled on Brutal Cathar is its ability to remove tokens from Wrenn and Seven, allowing you to attack down the planeswalker itself. For the most part, we beat opposing Esika’s Chariots by going wider and taller than our opponents. It’s usually more important to be able to remove a Wrenn and Seven token.

Our Jaspera Sentinels are certainly weaker than when we also had Edgewall Innkeeper and Lovestruck Beast. Having Magda and Prosperous Innkeeper means we can still double up on two-drops on Turn 2 though. For the most part, I want Jaspera Sentinel as a way to get four mana on Turn 3 and to have extra mana to cast spells from Showdown of the Skalds and Moonveil Regent. There’s also the synergy with Magda, which any deck with green and red mana should probably be utilizing.

Rockfall Vale and the like are incredible dual lands and it’s unfortunate that Jaspera Sentinel prevents us from playing more of them. Twelve sources of Turn 1 untapped green mana are probably enough, but I’m erring on the side of caution with thirteen. If you want to be slightly greedier, you can add the fourth Lair of the Hydra. It’s a premium threat against any control deck and you’ll want to draw multiples if possible. Sadly, there needs to be some consideration for Field of Ruin, which means playing two basic lands. 

Werewolf Pack Leader is fine in this deck. You have roughly the same amount of green sources as Gruul (or more in some instances), but you don’t necessarily want to be pigeonholed into playing your Pathway as a green source on Turn 2. For the most part, you’d rather have one of each green, red, and white mana on the battlefield than trying to assemble double green on Turn 2. 

Werewolf Pack Leader Ranger Class

With so many noncreature permanents and less early pressure, Ranger Class isn’t as strong in Naya as it is in Gruul. That said, you still want another two-drop, it’s a fine mana sink, and gives you another powerful threat against control decks. If you wanted to cut them for another Tangled Florahedron and something else, I’d be fine with that. 

Clarion Spirit traditionally takes up the two-drop slot in decks like these, but it’s much weaker without the Adventure package. You won’t be getting a token until Turn 3 and even that’s a rarity. I tried them alongside Intrepid Adversary as a way to go wide but it didn’t work out. 

Each card in Naya provides value, mana, or both. In Standard, you can’t ask for a better recipe. So far, my main issue has been decks that can go over the top. Storm the Festival decks are fine, except for the occasional Scute Swarm getting out of control. Thankfully, many of the lists are inexplicably cutting the card. The other issues are with control decks or black midrange decks with Blood on the Snow.

Toski, Bearer of Secrets is high-variance. It’s your best card against Azorius Control but tends to get swept up with everything else against Dimir Control because of The Meathook Massacre and occasionally Crippling Fear. Ideally, I’d have a control plan that doesn’t revolve around something as swingy as Toski, but there isn’t a great answer. 

Elite Spellbinder and Reidane, God of the Worthy are solid, but in order to win, you’ll probably need to resolve a four-drop. It’s not difficult for them to keep a counterspell up, so having something uncounterable can dramatically swing the game, even if your opponent is playing Dimir. Arlinn, the Pack’s Hope is probably the best option for four-drops against control, although it’s still difficult to resolve. You could try forcing it through with Elite Spellbinder or even try something like Curse of Silence. Using Toski seems much easier though.

Inferno of the Star Mounts

One card with a ton of upside is Inferno of the Star Mounts, but it’s less effective in Naya because you’re not putting on as much pressure as Gruul does. It’s not uncommon for them to take the six, kill it, and still be at a healthy life total. If you have Arlinn, Wrenn and Seven, and a copy or two of Light Up the Night, playing Inferno of the Star Mounts as your top-end makes more sense. Reckless Stormseeker and Goldspan Dragon also help apply haste pressure. 

Portable Hole is necessary for not getting run over against the aggro decks. If you expect a field with many aggro decks, a third Portable Hole would be awesome. You could even try playing a copy maindeck.

Malevolent Hermit is the best card against control decks, so it’s worth considering even if it isn’t in our colors. You could splash Duress or Malevolent Hermit rather easily if you wanted to alter the manabase slightly. Having access to Jaspera Sentinel, a pile of Treasures, and a plethora of dual lands makes it seem like anything is possible. As I mentioned, I’d rather avoid unnecessary splashes if I can avoid it, although it might be worth it at some point.

Playing Bant isn’t entirely out of the question either. You certainly lose access to some powerful four-drops, which means you’re giving up your edge against other green decks. Alrund’s Epiphany can blunt that to some degree, but it doesn’t particularly matter if your battlefield isn’t better than your opponent’s. 

VS Gruul Aggro


Ranger Class Ranger Class Tangled Florahedron Tangled Florahedron Magda, Brazen Outlaw


Portable Hole Portable Hole Burning Hands Burning Hands Thundering Rebuke

For the most part, you want to accelerate your mana, stay alive with Prosperous Innkeeper and Brutal Cathar, and eventually bury your opponent in card advantage. 

Against aggro decks, Showdown of the Skalds usually feels clunky in the first game. After sideboarding in a pile of removal, the game will slow down, making Showdown of the Skalds more palatable. Also, you’ll want a card advantage engine to provide more removal. Since you’ll be spending your early turns removing threats, your mana acceleration matters less. 

I like Tangletrap as a sideboard card and you should definitely be playing it over Plummet. However, most Gruul decks are moving toward Wrenn and Seven and moving away from Dragons. At the moment, I’d rather have Burning Hands or Thundering Rebuke. Fateful Absence is in the sideboard as a catch-all and could very easily be something else that you could bring in against opposing green decks. I would caution on overloading on spot removal in those matchups though. 

If you’re playing against Mono-Green Aggro❄, I’d sideboard mostly the same way. Reidane, God of the Worthy is solid against Mono-Green Aggro❄ because of their snow manabase. Sometimes they’ll have things like Unnatural Growth or Wrenn and Seven, which makes it even better. Oddly, Moonveil Regent is worse against Mono-Green Aggro❄ than Gruul because their removal consists of fight cards, not burn spells. If you want a slot for something else or would prefer to keep in Magda, I would look at cutting Regent. 

VS Azorius Control


Brutal Cathar Brutal Cathar Brutal Cathar Brutal Cathar Prosperous Innkeeper Prosperous Innkeeper Prosperous Innkeeper


Elite Spellbinder Elite Spellbinder Elite Spellbinder Toski, Bearer of Secrets Toski, Bearer of Secrets Reidane, God of the Worthy Reidane, God of the Worthy

If your control opponent is playing Dimir instead of Azorius, Skyclave Apparition probably won’t have many targets. You could also shave a Shatterskull Smashing on the draw if you wanted. If they have a bunch of planeswalkers or Iymrith, Desert Doom, you’ll probably want Fateful Absence. 

VS Selesnya Festival


Ranger Class Ranger Class Prosperous Innkeeper Prosperous Innkeeper


Cinderclasm Cinderclasm Reidane, God of the Worthy Reidane, God of the Worthy

Naya is much better at getting onto the battlefield than Selesnya is, so you only need to be worried about their game-breakers. If you have an answer to Scute Swarm or they’re not playing it, you should be fine. They might be able to win with a Doomskar, so try to be wary of that. Storm the Festival can be powerful in the right circumstances but a Brutal Cathar can keep the pressure on. 

If they shift dramatically into a control deck, you can turn to Elite Spellbinder and Toski for help.

VS Orzhov Midrange


Brutal Cathar Brutal Cathar Brutal Cathar Prosperous Innkeeper Prosperous Innkeeper


Elite Spellbinder Elite Spellbinder Elite Spellbinder Reidane, God of the Worthy Reidane, God of the Worthy

This is similar to the Naya matchup, except you know that they’ll have a sweeper at some point. Toski can be good here, but having to dance around Shambling Ghast makes it feel like a liability at times. 

VS Mono-White Aggro❄


Moonveil Regent Moonveil Regent Ranger Class Ranger Class Tangled Florahedron


Portable Hole Portable Hole Cinderclasm Cinderclasm Thundering Rebuke

So far, Mono-White Aggro❄ has many variants. Thankfully, Naya’s plan is solid against all of them. Your three-drop creatures should be able to stop them from getting too much traction, so you’ll probably only lose to Maul of the Skyclaves, if it’s even in their deck.

VS Izzet Dragons❄


Skyclave Apparition Skyclave Apparition Brutal Cathar Brutal Cathar Prosperous Innkeeper Prosperous Innkeeper Prosperous Innkeeper


Elite Spellbinder Elite Spellbinder Elite Spellbinder Reidane, God of the Worthy Reidane, God of the Worthy Thundering Rebuke Fateful Absence

I haven’t seen too many copies of Izzet Dragons❄ and the ones I have seen are inexplicably not playing Burn Down the House. They have counterspells, but Wrenn and Seven is still an issue for them. Regardless, it bodes well for Naya, since you can often go wide in Game 1 and they’ll have very little recourse. Crush the Weak or Cinderclasm can come in for Game 2 though. If they do have a plethora of interaction, the best way to beat them is with Toski and trying to clear their blockers.

So far, I’ve enjoyed Standard with Innistrad: Midnight Hunt. Something has to be the best and it could be much worse than a pile of solid green cards. My first goal was to find the best deck and I’ve done that with Naya Aggro. Some of the matchups are close but you have the tools to succeed. Next up, I’ll be exploring the various brews to see if I can find something that breaks the format entirely!