"Perfect. Now do it again."
That is the fitting flavor text of Naban, Dean of Iteration, one of the most powerful new Wizards in Dominaria. If all your creatures are Wizards, it is basically a Panharmonicon for half the cost! Today we're going to brew together with Naban, exploring a bunch of different possibilities for utilizing this powerful effect in Modern.
The most important characteristic of our deck is that it needs to involve Wizards and enters-the-battlefield abilities, either attached to the Wizard or at least triggered by the Wizard. Snapcaster Mage, for instance, has a pretty cool ability that triggers upon his entering the battlefield. And since he is also a Wizard, Naban's ability causes the ability to trigger twice, allowing you to flashback two spells instead of just one. They don't have to be attached to the Wizard, though. For instance, Champion of the Parish triggers off any Human entering the battlefield, so Naban himself would double trigger Champion of the Parish and so would Snapcaster Mage and any other Human Wizard.
When looking at the list of Wizards with ETB abilities, a lot of them are Merfolk, a lot are Humans, and a lot are Faeries. There are also some with unique build-around abilities such as Venerated Teacher and Academy Researchers. In other words, there is quite a bit to explore, so let's start with Merfolk Wizards.
These are the playable Merfolk Wizards with enters-the-battlefield triggers:
Augur of Bolas
Harbinger of The Tides
Master of Waves
Tidebinder Mage is not really a main deck card, but it's a powerful sideboard option. Wistful Selkie is great at providing devotion for Master of Waves, as well providing us an extra card (or two) to get us to that fourth land to cast it. Silvergill Adept is great as is and doesn't really need any assistance other than to play a sufficient number of other Merfolk spells. Harbinger of The Tides is good enough on its own, but it can be even better if we have ways to tap creatures. Something like Merrow Reejerey would work well, even though its trigger is a cast trigger and therefore will not copy itself from Naban. It will also pump our team though, which is a welcome ability. Augur of Bolas is the card on this list that really requires some dedicated deck building space to accommodate.
If we choose to include the Augur of Bolas, cheap spells seem like the way to go, such as:
Serum Visions and Opt would allow us to play a lower land count while providing cards to hit with the ability on Augur of Bolas. Unsummon can be used to rebuy our own creatures so we can get another instance of their triggers or it can be used defensively to break up opposing combos or to buy us tempo. Disrupting Shoal is a way to disrupt the opponent while doing something with the extra cards we accumulate from Silvergill Adept and Wistful Selkie.
We probably cannot afford to play Aether Vial if we play all these non-creature spells, so here is approximately where this leaves us with the Merfolk build:
[As a side note, if we tried to port this deck to Legacy we could play Land Grant as an additional hit for Augur of Bolas to find Tropical Island. This would allow us to play even fewer actual lands.]
If we give up on Augur of Bolas, we could cut the non-creature spells and play Aether Vial and more creatures. The first one I would add is Phantasmal Image since that enters the battlefield as a copy of whatever it is targeting and therefore triggers off Naban as long as we are copying a Wizard. And since we are playing mostly creatures, adding a few extra lords would accelerate our clock.
If we decide to abandon the Merfolk plan, we could instead go in the Humans direction. There are lots of reasonable Human Wizards:
Merchant of Secrets
Sea Gate Oracle
Venser, Shaper Savant
Ok, so maybe I'm using the term "reasonable" a bit loosely for some of these, but when it comes to deck brewing it is better to start with too many ideas rather than too few. Of these, I see a few different directions to go with the deck:
1. Heavy spells for Snapcaster Mage
2. Heavy auras for Academy Researchers and Auramancer
3. Levelers for Venerated Teacher
4. Artifacts of the appropriate size for Treasure Mage, Trinket Mage or Trophy Mage
5. Turbo bounce with Reflector Mage, Aether Adapt and Venser, Shaper Savant
6. Turbo card selection with Merchant of Secrets, Sea Gate Oracle and Omenspeaker
If we go the spell-heavy route for Snapcaster Mage, we could basically play the same spell package we did in the Augur of Bolas Merfolk build:
We could then add whatever support cards we want to this starting point, whether that be the bounce package with Reflector Mage, Aether Adapt, and Venser, Shaper Savant, the card selection direction with Merchant of Secrets, Sea Gate Oracle, and Omenspeaker, or the Trinket Mage direction. If we went the Trinket Mage direction, I think I would build it something like this:
Vendilion Clique triggering twice off Naban seems really sweet, as does Master of Waves. Trinket Mage triggering twice to go find a pair of Walking Ballistas – or even better – a Walking Ballista and a Basilisk Collar, sounds sweet too!
I'm not really sure what to do with Academy Researchers and Auramancer, but I'd imagine it likely has something to do with self-milling auras into your graveyard to put on the Academy Researchers. I'll leave that one as an open challenge to anyone reading this who feels creative enough to make it happen.
There are not a lot of levelers to choose from, but I think we have enough to try to make it happen. Here is a mono-blue version:
We could also try to make it green-blue:
Perhaps the most promising direction, in my opinion, is to add white for Champion of the Parish and Thalia's Lieutenant to get double triggers off their abilities whenever a Human Wizard enters the battlefield under our control.
An interesting interaction with this deck is that if you already have a Naban, Dean of Iteration on the battlefield, you can play the second copy to trigger your Champion of the Parish and your Thalia's Lieutenant. The abilities stack before state based effects check, so additional copies can be put to good use. It's entirely possible that cutting Mantis Rider is not worth it, but we need enough Wizards to make Naban worth it and that means playing something like Sea Gate Oracle, which makes us less tempo-oriented and more attrition-based. You could always add Mantis Riders to the sideboard too.
We could also give up on the secondary tribal theme and just go straight Wizards, which would allow us to add the following creatures to the previous lists of Merfolk Wizards and Human Wizards:
Champion of Wits
Sower of Temptation
Champion of Wits feels like an auto include in the Academy Researchers plus Auramancer build, for whoever is working on that. It lets you dig into more action while also putting auras in the graveyard for Auramancer. It can also put spells in your graveyard for Snapcaster Mage if you go that route.
Sedraxis Alchemist is interesting because it bounces a nonland permanent, so it's kind of like a mini Venser in that it can bounce artifacts, enchantments and planeswalkers. If we play those and Vensers, we could give ourselves a lot of game against decks like Bogles.
Thornscape Battlemage could be part of a multicolor build. It gives us some extra creature removal and also artifact kill. Can you imagine double kicking this with Naban, Dean of Iteration on the battlefield against Affinity? I'll play this 2/2 and kill your Cranial Plating, your Master of Etherum, your Vault Skirge, and your Signal Pest. That's a straight up five-for-one!
Another really cool card with some nice Naban, Dean of Iteration synergy is Sower of Temptation. It enters the battlefield and triggers twice, so you can choose two different creatures. You gain control of each of them for as long as you control Sower of Temptation.
Puppeteer Clique is also pretty neat, though perhaps too expensive and too narrow for Modern nowadays. There isn't much payoff for going tribal Faerie Wizards since Spellstutter Sprite and Mistbind Clique don't really profit off having their triggers doubled. Vendilion Clique and Sower of Temptation benefit greatly though, so perhaps that is enough? Maybe a Blue-Black Faeries deck that also plays Snapcatser Mage could be a good home for Naban. It could look something like this:
As you can see, there are lots of potential uses for Naban, Dean of Iteration in Modern. The card is costed very efficiently for what it offers, so it certainly feels powerful enough for Modern. And the depth of the card pool in Modern is such that there is no shortage of support cards for Naban. The question isn't "Is Naban good enough for Modern?" The question is what is "What is the best way to utilize him?" Hopefully the ideas we explored today help you to figure out that perfect fit for Naban.
"Perfect. Now do it again."