Back-to-back weeks where I’m writing about weird combo decks? Isolation has finally cracked me.
Thanks to cards like Shark Typhoon and Alrund’s Epiphany, Titans’ Nest is actually a reasonable option in Standard. I usually checked in with the card during most set releases to see if we got any new toys, but neglected to do so with Strixhaven.
Standard’s recent surge in Titans’ Nest shenanigans started with a Tweet.
You might see a decklist like this and wonder if it’s actually any good. Well, consider this article my official vouch for the archetype. Not only is it a heavy favorite against Sultai Ramp (Yorion), Strixhaven Standard’s best deck, but it’s also solid against everything else. To top it off, it’s easily the most deck in Strixhaven Standard. In a rock/paper/scissors Standard format, having a palate-cleanser is nice.
Decks built around Titans’ Nest have no infinite combo. You don’t even get a powerful finisher like Emergent Ultimatum that will probably win the game on its own. However, you do get to use Titans’ Nest as a way to effectively give your cards delve, which is obviously powerful. What do we do with it though?
You use Thirst for Meaning and Rain of Revelation to tear through your deck, find your key cards, and fill your graveyard. Eventually, you use Titans’ Nest to hard-cast a Shark Typhoon and Alrund’s Epiphany in the same turn. It’s not an infinite combo and has some potential to fizzle, but even after a turn or two of abusing Titans’ Nest, you should be very far ahead.
The best thing about this deck is that you don’t have to do much of anything. You can sit back, draw some cards, kill some creatures, and eventually pick a window to do some cool stuff. These are the best types of combo decks! You get to wait until the last possible moment to try and do your thing, which means there’s no rush. There’s no racing to Emergent Ultimatum or trying to Transmogrify as soon as possible. You have time to sculpt your plan and pick the best spot.
My list is clean and has excellent sideboard plans. If you want to try this deck, start here.
One of the quests I’ve been on since the release of Strixhaven is finding a deck that actually has game against a resolved Emergent Ultimatum. The more controlling Yorion, Sky Nomad decks certainly fit that bill but it got harder for them when the Ultimatum decks picked up Professor Onyx. Now they can find Onyx; Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor; and Alrund’s Epiphany with Emergent Ultimatum, putting the control deck in a precarious position. Any other deck in the format usually loses to some combination of Alrund’s Epiphany, Kiora Bests the Sea God, and Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider.
If you had a deck that could still win through an Emergent Ultimatum, you’d be able to devote space toward beating up on Dimir Rogues, Adventures, and aggro. Well, that’s what we’re doing here.
When I built previous versions of this deck, they always contained Cultivate and I see now why that was a trap. In theory, it seemed like an obvious, automatic inclusion. You wanted to make your land drops and the extra piece of cardboard gave you an extra card to discard. In reality, you’re much better off using that mana to draw cards and keep up with the aggro decks. Being able to operate mostly at instant speed is relevant against the format’s plethora of blue decks too. Ditching Cultivate was the key toward tuning this deck. Both JS2mtg and Bassamu are very smart.
Anyway, back to Professor Onyx. Some lists play two copies since it’s easy to see the upside in the archetype. If you untap with Titans’ Nest and Onyx, you might not win the game immediately, but you’ll be at a high enough life total that no one should be able to touch you. After playing a bunch of matches, I wasn’t disappointed with Onyx, but I didn’t find her to be entirely necessary. We have enough top-end and don’t necessarily need an extra value card. There are very few reasons to play a win condition other than Shark Typhoon.
There will probably be metagames where two copies are warranted. Onyx is a fine value card against Sultai mirror matches and can really help you stabilize against aggressive decks. Overall, you don’t need her, at least right now. If you wanted to shave her for a Curate, Eliminate, or something similar, I would understand.
As I mentioned earlier, Sultai Titans’ Nest is so good against Sultai Ramp (Yorion) that you can afford to skew your deck toward beating the difficult matchups, namely Mono-Red Aggro❄, Mono-White Aggro❄, and Dimir Rogues (Lurrus). You can play less air and more spot removal, and devote your sideboard to fight those decks as long as you have your Nest package and some disruption.
Heartless Act is the best removal spell, so we start with four copies. It kills the small stuff and bigger stuff like Goldspan Dragon, and is solid against people trying to cheat in Velomachus Lorehold or Koma, Cosmos Serpent. I can’t see a reason for playing fewer than four copies, despite the occasional instances of playing against opponents that can put counters on their creatures. The versatility is too important.
One of the less-played cards in my list is Witherbloom Command. I’m not attached to it but it’s tested well so far. You can kill many early creatures and it fits the gameplan. The versions I started with often played Curate, which made the deck feel like it had too much air, whereas Witherbloom Command allows you to slow your opponent down while filling your graveyard. It’s also one of the few cards that can be a removal spell against aggro while staying relevant against Sultai Ramp. Interacting with their ramp is difficult in general and Witherbloom Command can destroy Wolfwillow Haven, giving you an extra turn to set up.
That said, Witherbloom Command isn’t without its downsides. The deck is hungry for blue mana, especially once Titans’ Nest is on the battlefield. Colorless mana ceases to be an issue and you’re often capped by how many blue sources you have. With Witherbloom Command, you’ll often be forced into making an extra green or black mana with Fabled Pathway or the Pathways, which could hurt you later. It hasn’t quite come up yet but I know it’s inevitable.
Dead Weight has some upsides, namely being able to discard to Thirst for Meaning and shrinking a creature permanently. Downsizing a Lovestruck Beast to delay The Great Henge or kill a Fireblade Charger without taking damage are cool, but is it better than the instant speed from Lash of Malice? I don’t think so, especially when you’re on the draw. Being able to kill a Seasoned Hallowblade or Robber of the Rich on the draw and still cast Strategic Planning on Turn 2 is very powerful.
To top off the removal suite, I have three Extinction Events and one Shadows’ Verdict, with more copies in the sideboard. Extinction Event is more palatable in current Standard, even if Shadows’ Verdict is more powerful. All of the decks are fast and we’re not ramping, so Shadows’ Verdict is too slow. The immediate impact of Extinction Event translates toward more wins, even if you’re not able to kill everything. All you need to do is buy some time.
VS Sultai Ramp (Yorion)
Since your opponent has Binding the Old Gods, this isn’t a matchup where I would jam Titans’ Nest at the first opportunity. You’re much better off waiting for them to cast an Emergent Ultimatum and have a big turn afterward.
With your wall of countermagic and card advantage, you’re a huge favorite. One of the ways to potentially lose is by not having an answer to an Esika’s Chariot or Elder Gargaroth, so make sure you respect those cards. If that seems to be part of their gameplan, keep in an extra Heartless Act.
VS Dimir Rogues (Lurrus)
Standard’s go-to sideboard cards against Dimir Rogues typically involve escape, but unfortunately it’s not as easy when your deck revolves around resolving Titans’ Nest.
My gameplan involves trying to brute force Titans’ Nest onto the battlefield. Elspeth’s Nightmare is already one of the strongest possible cards against them and, together with Duress, you can typically render their countermagic irrelevant. Once Titans’ Nest is on the battlefield, their milling becomes a huge drawback. You can even shrink their creatures. It should be an easy victory at that point.
The trade-off to playing Witherbloom Command over something like Dead Weight maindeck is that it’s less good against Dimir Rogues. Both get sideboarded out, so it’s not a huge loss.
VS Temur Adventures
The matchups against Sultai Ramp and Dimir Rogues are both fun but facing Temur Adventures is my favorite. They’ll try to kill you early, although the games can easily devolve into draw-go. You have to correctly balance the right defensive tools against their creatures while respecting their countermagic.
Jamming an unprotected Titans’ Nest is usually fine since they rarely have a hard answer. It might give them a target for Petty Theft but it might be better to make them spend it early rather than later. Judge the situation and make sure you’re not costing yourself a ton of tempo.
I like having a couple copies of Negates for their Adventure spells, namely Petty Theft. Nothing else allows you to protect a Titans’ Nest or Shark token from Petty Theft and that tempo loss can be huge. There’s also the off-chance that they’re playing the Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast version or will keep in bigger spells like Alrund’s Epiphany. In the mid-game, they’ll likely start with the Adventure side of Bonecrusher Giant and Lovestruck Beast, which means Negate can often trade with those cards as well.
VS Mono-Red Aggro❄ / Mono-White Aggro❄
The aggro matchups are easy to play. You can safely jam Titans’ Nest in most instances, as long as you’re not dead on the following turn. Focus on slowing them down and eventually you’ll go over the top of them.
I haven’t had a chance to test it yet, but Lovestruck Beast could be a stronger sideboard card against aggro than Lash of Malice. My concern is that lowering the mana curve would be a bigger boon than the power level from Lovestruck Beast.
We were all probably hoping Strixhaven would change Standard more than it has so far. Given that there hasn’t been much of a reason to focus on Standard recently, we’ll likely see some cool stuff pop up eventually. In the meantime, take this very solid, very cool Titans’ Nest deck as a blessing. Standard finally has a fun new contender.