Being Reactionary

I tend to handle new sets in a reactionary way, meaning I focus on how the new set will impact the status quo. Last week I viewed Journey into Nyx through the lens of Black Devotion, the Standard deck I've been playing for the last seven months or so. As the deck sitting at the top of the Standard heap in terms of popularity if not success, it has the most to lose of any archetype. With a target on its head, Black Devotion must stay well ahead of its competition if it wants to thrive in the new metagame. Naturally I was intrigued as to how this archetype is impacted by Journey into Nyx, and the clear first thing to do was analyze the potential for any new cards to enter the archetype. If you haven't done already so please check out that article. I went through analyzing each new card and its potential for inclusion in Black Devotion. The focus is on the process, which is applicable to every archetype at every new set release.

The conclusion from that article is that the new set doesn't really provide much to Monoblack Devotion, though Brain Maggot is a possibility; since writing I've also given a lot more credit to the idea of running a singleton Silence the Believers over one of the other removal spells. Journey into Nyx also provided Temple of Malady, which means all colors now have equal opportunity to be splashed in Monoblack Devotion.


Being Progressive

New sets also mean new cards and new ideas, so taking a progressive look at the new set is also important. I've done my fair share of homebrewing. Three weeks ago when the spoiler was still coming together, I got excited by Dawnbringer Charioteers. I wrote an article about designing a UW Heroic deck based off of Ken Yukuhiro's GP Beijing UB Heroic shell, the deck I had recorded videos with the week before.

Two weeks ago I dug into the spoiler, and I shared a bunch of new Journey into Nyx brews based around the heroic mechanic, including a hyper-aggro Monowhite Heroic deck, an over-clocked UW Heroic deck, an update to the Dawnbringer Charioteers deck from the week before, and even my attempt at a combo deck abusing Sage of Hours. Check those articles out if you haven't done so!

Since I wrote those articles one of the most exciting heroic creatures of all time has been spoiled, Tethmos High Priest. In this removal-laden Standard format, this white necromancer is exactly what the Heroic deck needs to win an attrition battle. It's a fit into any of the Heroic decks I've shared, and I think it will be just as effective as a potential sideboard card as it is a maindeck inclusion. All of the Heroic decks are filled with cheap Heroic creatures to return, and I think Tethmos High Priest gives Heroic decks a real shot at hitting the top-tier of Standard sometime this year.


A Look 'Round the Web…

What I've seen since last week is a whole flood of Journey into Nyx set reviews. Of course there are the usual articles by the major authors at the big retail sites, TCGplayer.com and myself included, but a quick Google search reveals dozens of websites, stores, and blogs in the game. I've even seen reviews from websites that aren't solely focused on Magic, whether they be about games or even news in general. The game we love is growing bigger with every new release.

As with anything on the internet, there are lot of misinformed opinions and simply wrong information regarding Journey into Nyx and the new Standard format, but I've also been impressed by some really good stuff out there. As the game grows and evolves so does our understanding of it, and I've seen some very high-quality pieces focused on Journey into Nyx, including limited reviews, competitive Standard homebrews, updates on old archetypes with well-thought out strategies for a new perceived metagame, and even videos playtesting the new format. In years past these sort of quality articles might take weeks to appear, but now we are seeing them even before the set is officially released. With competitive, high-stakes events occurring every weekend these days, it's never been more important to prepare early.

Today I wanted to share my own thoughts on everything Journey into Nyx, including analysis of some preliminary tournament results and opinions on some of the common threads I've seen weaved online.


Journey into Nyx Standard Tournament Results

Even though last week was the prerelease, and the set won't be officially released for a few more days, enterprising players have already been playing with Journey into Nyx online. No, not Magic Online, but through various third-party platforms. Magic-League has already been holding tournaments with the new set legal, and today I want to share some decklists along with what they teach us about the new format:

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The takeaway here is that Prophetic Flamespeaker is the real deal, and it's already making an impact in Standard. The card is very powerful, and with double strike it hits much harder than mere Ophidian ever could. It is essentially two Shadowmage Infiltrator for the price of one, and in a red deck with so much removal it's going to hit early and often. It's the sort of card that must be removed immediately. The beauty of this card is that it's great when being aggressive and when taking the control role with creature removal, so it goes a long way towards making red a flexible, multi-faceted color. Prophetic Flamespeaker is a whole lot of power in one card, and if this deck is any indication, it's going to be a player in Standard.

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This Esper control deck got a lot of negative comments on Magic-League, but the pilot made some very good rebuttals, and after looking into it more I see what it has going for it. The thing that stands out here is clearly the new card, Brain Maggot. Beyond that card this is a relatively stock Esper control deck with all the usual suspects. Brain Maggot draws a lot of attention, and it is poor synergy with Supreme Verdict, but it has some strengths.

Esper is primarily a tap-out control deck with many expensive sorcery-speed spells, creatures, and planeswalkers. This particular version has cut Syncopate and some of the Dissolve, replacing them with Brain Maggot. This change moves the deck more towards tap-out control for fighting against the field. Brain Maggot is quite strong in the control matchups, and it's an excellent speed bump against aggro. In a control deck filled with come-into-play-tapped lands, Brain Maggot may be a better choice than the painful Thoughtseize.

The other thing of note is a set of Nyx-Fleece Ram in the sideboard. This card doubles as a blocker and continuous Stream of Life against the Boros Burn deck, and it's going to be great against other aggressive decks including Monored Aggro and Monoblack Aggro.

In a new world, thinking outside the box and pushing existing archetypes to the extreme is the sort of mentality that can lead to success.


Innovating Naya Auras

I have been reading a whole lot about Naya Auras, and it seems as if every author on the internet has their own opinions about it. The deck has been a solid performer on Magic Online for the past few months and even reached the Top 8 of the Standard Grand Prix in Cincinnati. I don't see why we need red at all. One of the biggest complaints with the deck is the poor mana, and while many are excited about the addition of Mana Confluence, I am interested in going the other direction and trying out a straight GW Selesnya Auras deck.

The red cards everyone can agree on are the flexible Boros Charm, the creature-buff enchantment Madcap Skills, and the pseudo-red Chained to the Rocks.

Boros Charm is essentially just played as a Counterspell for Supreme Verdict, though it also provides some reach. I am not sure playing an answer for Supreme Verdict is completely necessary in the maindeck, and I'd be fine playing something like Rootborn Defenses or Mend in the sideboard. What really seems interesting is the new Ajani's Presence. This deck can throw all its enchantments onto one hexproof creature, so for just one mana Ajani's Presence is an effective solution to Supreme Verdict.

Madcap Skills is a large buff and provides evasion, so it's quite good, but I think this deck can function without the card if it gets a bit more creative and dips into the other enchantments it has available.

Chained to the Rocks exemplifies everything that is wrong about the three-colored mana base, and Mana Confluence only makes it worse. This card has to go, but luckily Banishing Light can fill in and do some heavy-lifting to solve the creature removal issue. Selesnya Charm is another card that can do serious work in removing the most important creatures like Desecration Demon, Thassa, God of the Sea, and Polukranos, World Eater.

One of the potentially most impactful Journey into Nyx cards for Standard is Bassara Tower Archer, which gives a shot in the arm to the Naya Auras Archetype. The additional four hexproof creatures fill in the hexproof creature curve, which already had a one-cost and three-cost creature, so the deck is more reliable now than ever before.

Ajani, Mentor of Heroes also seems excellent in the Auras deck. One of the biggest problems the deck can have is being flooded and running out of action, and this planeswalker ensures that this will never happen. The card advantage ability is tailor-made for the Auras deck, which is based around creatures and enchantments to buff them. The ability to add +1/+1 counters is also ideal in a deck filled with hexproof creatures to reliably carry the counters. Ajani, Mentor of Heroes gives this deck a great amount of firepower to fight a long attrition battle, and I think this helps to make up for the raw speed lost in moving away from red. Additional card choices will have to keep this in mind.

The move towards the GW deck is meant to create a more consistent, robust deck.

I was digging deeper into the deck and had the idea of using a card I had not even considered: Eidolon of Blossoms. I drew a parallel between this card and Kor Spiritdancer, which is the key engine piece holding the GW Auras deck together in Modern. Eidolon of Blossoms does not offer the same +2/+2 synergy with auras and it's twice the cost, but on the other hand it triggers itself and will draw a card immediately. It also has synergy with more than just enchantment auras, so it works with things like Banishing Light to create a quasi-control deck. With the move towards a slower, more robust Hexproof deck, I think Eidolon of Blossoms is the perfect candidate for inclusion.

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The manabase is built based on the guidelines shared in the Frank Karsten mana article I often cite. With 20 green sources and 13 white, this configuration will ensure the deck hits a white mana on turn two with 90% reliability and two green mana on turn two with 90% reliability, though tap-lands and scry one do a bit to change the math. It's possible the deck wants to cut some guildgates and live more dangerously, but this is where I'm at to start.

Compared to the red list, we've lost the flexible Boros Charm, but we've gained Eidolon of Blossoms, which adds a synergistic piece to puzzle and gives the deck a much more robust strategy overall.

We've lost the hyper-aggressive Madcap Skills but replaced it with the robust and flexible Boon Satyr. This gives the deck a lot of power along with being a combat trick and excellent end-of-turn follow-up to an opposing Supreme Verdict. Another great aspect is that once in play enchanting a creature, it falls off and stays in play even in the face of removal like Supreme Verdict. Another option is to forego Boon Satyr and go the more aggressive route with a playset of Forced Adaptation as a cheap enchantment cog to take advantage of the increased hexproof count and the engine nature of Eidolon of Blossoms.

We've lost the cheap Chained to the Rocks for the more-flexible-but-consistent Banishing Light, which can hit planeswalkers and other problem permanents as well as creatures.

Bassara Tower Archer fits in over Fiendslayer Paladin, which was just impersonating a hexproof creature, and two Witchstalker. The deck does not need the full 12 hexproof creatures, and with Banishing Light the three-drop slot is already clogged.

Selesnya Charm, which doesn't synergize well with the main strategy of creatures and enchantments, moves to the sideboard.

We've also replaced the aggressive Ajani, Caller of the Pride for the synergistic Ajani, Mentor of Heroes.

I've also added a land to accommodate the additional four and five-drops.

I've based the sideboard off of the stock Naya sideboard, along with some Journey into Nyx updates. I'd like to try Dictate of Heliod, which is a powerful card in general and seems like a valuable surprise against many opponents.

I am interested in hearing other thoughts and ideas regarding the Auras deck so share anything you may have. As always, turn to the comments section with any questions and I'll do my best to answer!

-Adam