Magic Origins will be officially released in just one month, at which point it will join the Standard card pool. There is a change in store for Standard's future. Magic Origins spoilers have already begun and there are some exciting cards already revealed. Of particular intrigue is the new cycle of legendary creatures that turn into planeswalkers in a style reminiscent of Innistrad double-faced cards, including, Nissa, Vastwood Seer, Liliana, Heretical Healer, Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, and Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh.
Nissa, Vastwood Seer and Liliana, Heretical Healer, have captured my attention, so today I'll explore some of the possibilities they bring to Standard.
What Does Nissa, Vastwood Seer Do?
When Nissa, Vastwood Seer enters the battlefield, it generates card advantage because it
provides a Forest and leaves a 2/2 creature behind. It creates two pieces of cardboard to work with for the price of one. Seeking card advantage is quest woven through the very fabric of Magic: The Gathering and it can be especially valuable in Standard, where games are often long and won through a war of attrition, so Vastwood Seer is worth exploring.
The land searching effect of Nissa, Vastwood Seer is similar to that of Civic Wayfinder and Borderland Ranger, only it doesn't find any kind of basic land. Both of these creatures saw some Standard play in past formats, so it's not a huge stretch that Nissa, Vastwood Seer could be competitive in Standard today, especially considering it can do something those creatures could never turn: turn into a planeswalker!
When Nissa, Vastwood Seer is in play, and you play a land beyond your sixth in play, it will turn into the planeswalker Nissa, Sage Animist, which can be used immediately. Nissa, Vastwood Seer conveniently searches for a land, so it has synergy with itself in that it provides the fuel to fulfill its own requirement to turn into a planeswalker. As the game goes on, Nissa, Vastwood Seer becomes better, and in late-game situations any topdecked Nissa, Vastwood Seer will effectively be a topdecked Nissa, Sage Animist, plus a Forest.
Nissa, Sage Animist has an assortment of card advantage generating abilities.
The +1 ability effectively reads "draw a card," except any drawn lands will be put into play. This mana ramp effect won't be particularly important once there are seven or more lands in play, but it has a positive impact nonetheless. Nissa, Sage Animist has relatively low starting loyalty, but even if it dies, the +1 ability means it will have generated card advantage. The defensive nature of many green creatures means that Nissa, Sage Animist will often have creature shields that allow it to sit in play and generate card advantage over a number of turns, perhaps building towards the ultimate ability.
I expect the go-to ability of Nissa, Sage Animist will be its -2 ability, which generates a legendary 4/4 Ashaya, the Awoken World token. This token is a significant tempo play that creates a piece of board presence for offensive or defensive purposes, and this -2 ability is yet another way to generate card advantage. After a -2, Nissa, Sage Animist remains in play with one loyalty, where it Threatens to generate more card advantage on subsequent turns with its +1 ability.
With the powerful -2 ability pressuring loyalty downward, I expect the ultimate of Nissa, Sage Animist to be more of an afterthought, as it is on most planeswalkers, but creating six 6/6 creatures is quite powerful and almost certainly game-ending. This ability serves as a way to break board stalls, especially in those situations where generating a 4/4 token won't necessarily have a tangible impact and ticking loyalty upward to dig for new cards is preferred.
Nissa, Vastwood Seer is a legendary creature, so there can only be one in play at a time. It's possible to just play extra copies and put one copy into the graveyard, but it's best to get some value from the 2/2 creature, like trading in combat, sacrificing the card for some other effect, or luring an opposing removal spell.
How Do We Use Nissa, Vastwood Seer?
Nissa, Vastwood Seer will be best in decks with a healthy Forest count. Nissa, Vastwood Seer will only be effective in the late game if there is an ample supply of Forests to find. Green is a deep and wide color in Standard, so there are many potential directions in which to take the card.
The most logical card to go with Nissa, Vastwood Mystic is Courser of Kruphix, which helps provide a flow of lands on the way to the seven. It's also an excellent blocker that slows down the pace of the game and creates some time and space for Nissa, Sage Animist to operate.
I see Nissa, Vastwood Seer going hand-in-hand with Elvish Mystic. I used the combination of Llanowar Elf and Civic Wayfinder together in a past Standard Elf deck to great success, and there's no reason why it should not be effective now. The sequence of turn one Elvish Mystic, turn two Nissa, Vastwood Seer is an excellent start to a game, creating a relevant piece of board presence with a 2/2 creature and setting up the next turn's land drop. Nissa, Vastwood Seer allows for the deck to keep a wider range of hands, and will help the deck to more reliably hit land drops into the mid game.
It's important to make some use of the 2/2 body of Nissa, Vastwood Seer, otherwise it's a clunky card that doesn't advance the board in a meaningful way. I see Nissa, Vastwood Seer functioning well as another piece of board presence alongside the package of Deathmist Raptor and Den Protector, perhaps with Satyr Wayfinder as well. The ground-clogging effect of these creatures is necessary to ensure games go long enough to enable Nissa, Sage Animist. Den Protector megamorphing and returning a destroyed Nissa, Vastwood Seer is an impressive stream of card advantage, even more so when Nissa, Vastwood Seer immediately turns into Nissa, Sage Animist and then draws a card or creates a 4/4 token.
What About Collected Company?
As a three-mana creature, Nissa, Vastwood Seer can be used alongside Collected Company. Collected Company has already seen success with Deathmist Raptor and Den Protector so it's no stretch to add Nissa, Vastwood Seer to the mix.
Obviously the missing cards are four Nissa, Vastwood Seer.
What Is There to Do with All of These Extra Forests?
While playing land after land to enable Nissa, Sage Animist is a noble goal, it's important to actually do something with all of the extra mana available along the way.
Ugin, the Spirit Dragon is the single most powerful card in the format, and it's the first place my mind wanders to when I think about the best way to take advantage of the extra Forests from Nissa, Vastwood Seer. It goes over top of all forms of board presence in the format, and will win many games singlehandedly.
The seven mana Hornet Queen comes to mind as a great green creature that's an effective way to win the game against many decks. If we splash into red, Dragonlord Atarka is an even more powerful seven mana option.
Nissa, Worldwaker is very powerful and makes sense in a deck with many Forests, but keep in mind that with the legendary rule it actually interferes with Nissa, Sage Animist.
Can We Get Lands into Play Any Faster?
Most forms of mana acceleration in Standard are creatures, but Explosive Vegetation offers an interesting way to enable Nissa, Sage Animist ahead of schedule. Explosive Vegetation is especially interesting because it goes directly from four to six lands, which means the seventh land can be played the following turn. A deck built around this interaction might look something like this:
Again, Nissa is the four-of that is missing.
What Does Liliana, Heretical Healer Do?
Unlike Nissa, Vastwood Seer, which immediately generates card advantage, Liliana, the Heretical Healer requires its controller to go through a hurdle to unlock its card advantage capabilities. When a nontoken creature its controller controls dies, Liliana, Heretical Healer will turn into a Liliana, Defiant Necromancer and generate a 2/2 Zombie Token. This token effectively replaces the creature that died to trigger the ability, so meeting the requirement is an efficient use of resources. This token also conveniently protects the planeswalker from attackers.
Like Nissa, Sage Animist, Liliana, Defiant Necromancer offers its own assortment of card advantage generating abilities. The +2 ability, which like Liliana of the Veil's +1 ability makes each player discard a card, is not true card advantage because it affects both players, but its controller is presumably better positioned to break the parity. The -X ability on Liliana, Defiant Necromancer Reanimates a destroyed or discarded creature. It won't always have a target, but it will be effective in a deck with small creatures. It will be best when X=2, returning a creature to play while leaving the planeswalker in play. The massive +2 ability is useful for bolstering loyalty, so it could theoretically be used on something like Siege Rhino. Alternatively, the planeswalker can be immediately cashed in with an X=3 on a more powerful creature.
Liliana, Defiant Necromancer also comes with a powerful ultimate ability, providing a token that reads, "Whenever a creature dies, return it to play under your control at beginning of the next end step."-8 is a steep cost, but the +2 ability means the ultimate can be triggered just three turns after getting the planeswalker into play. This ability impacts all creatures on both sides of the table, and the ability will be impossible for the opponent to grind through.
I can't forgo discussing the stats of Liliana, Heretical Healer herself as a 2/3 lifelink creature. Two power won't quickly kill an opponent, but the lifelink ability makes it a powerful tool against aggressive decks, red decks especially. The three toughness makes it a relatively robust blocker, and it also survives Drown in Sorrow and Seismic Rupture.
How Can We Use Liliana, Heretical Healer?
Because Liliana, Heretical Healer is a legend, one trick is that we can use one copy of Liliana, Heretical Healer to trigger another copy! Any second copy in play will die, which will trigger the remaining copy to turn into Liliana, Defiant Necromancer.
Liliana, Heretical Healer will be best in a deck with lots of creatures, especially expendable creatures, and especially those with creatures that can sacrifice themselves or other creatures. Exploit may be a promising avenue. Another creature dying will require some dedication to sacrifice effects, because relying on creatures dying in combat won't be enough to fully utilize the ability.
One promising card to pair with Liliana, Heretical Healer is the sacrifice outlet Butcher of the Horde, a powerful creature in its own right. Merciless Executioner also holds promise.
Liliana, Heretical Healer is a Human creature, and that means there are some potential tribal human synergies. Obelisk of Urd is one of the best tribal payoffs in Standard, and a card Tomoharu Saito hinted could be competitive in Standard with his Monoblack Human Aggro deck. Here's Liliana, Heretical Healer slotted into that archetype:
Can We Play Nissa, Vastwood Seer and Liliana, Heretical Healer in the Same Deck?
We can try.
There are many more new Magic Origins cards to come, any one of which could benefit these planeswalkers. Jace, Vryn's Prodigy and Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh will each spawn many brews of their own, as will the still unspoiled (as of this writing) Gideon.
What ideas do you have for using Nissa, Vastwood Seer? What about Liliana, Heretical Healer? Have you made any of your own brews with these cards, or with Jace, Vryn's Prodigy or Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh? Share your ideas and questions in the comments section!