The first time I played against Nahiri, the Harbinger, I fell in love. Well, more accurately, first I fell into a deep pit of despair. Hopeless is the best description I can give of the feeling when your opponent casts a turn four Nahiri, the Harbinger behind a stabilized board. Six loyalty off the bat? Are you kidding me? Nahiri, the Harbinger puts her opposition into a serious bind where no matter what they do they have to make a significant sacrifice. Dealing with Nahiri, the Harbinger means devoting some serious resources. If you don't, the threat of her -8 looms over the rest of the game. And all the while, Nahiri, the Harbinger is gaining incremental advantage via persistent hand sculpting and graveyard stocking. Good luck with that.
The very next morning I was on a mission: build the best Nahiri, the Harbinger deck I could. My initial build had been Jeskai, but I now knew that Nahiri, the Harbinger truly shines on a stabilized board. Finding reasonable blockers in Jeskai proved challenging, so I shifted my energy to finding a Naya configuration. After all, if large creatures is what you want, green's where you turn.
Three toughness is a great number for stability in the early turns of this format and green has an ample number of early three toughness creatures withouteven delving into the ranks of creatures that we would rather not play. No marginal cards for Nahiri's crew, we get to play with all-stars like Sylvan Advocate and Deathmist Raptor.
Let's consider Nahiri's role as a provider of synergy. Obviously, she is a fantastic madness enabler. My initial builds had four copies of Avacyn's Judgment and four copies of Fiery Temper, but The Fiery Tempers quickly left when I realized that the deck wanted to be base green/white, and the Avacyn's Judgments slowly left as I came to realize that Nahiri, the Harbinger is much better at enabling synergies like Deathmist Raptor than madness spells. By virtue of being a Planeswalker, Nahiri, the Harbinger has a target on her head. People really want to kill Planeswalkers, even when they shouldn't. Trying to cast madness spells with Nahiri, the Harbinger means being willing to use them in spots where they aren't fantastic because you aren't sure you will be able to later. Set it and forget it synergies like the one with Deathmist Raptor, on the other hand, are absolutely perfect for what Nahiri, the Harbinger wants to do.
The main breakthrough in the development of this deck was the addition of Oath of Nissa. The list of cards I wanted to play with included Deathmist Raptor, Nahiri, the Harbinger, Archangel Avacyn, and Chandra, Flamecaller. Oath of Nissa allows the deck to consistently cast all of these spells, despite their double-colored requirements. And yes, those are three copies of Declaration in Stone. In Magic, like in life, sometimes you're wrong — and I was wrong about Declaration in Stone. I played three copies in Baltimore, and going forward, I would play the fourth. Remember all that talk about wanting to play Nahiri, the Harbinger onto a stabilized board? Turns out cheap unconditional removal is really good at stabilizing boards. Surprise.
Relative to the average deck, you should mulligan your two-land hands more and your five land hands less. You use your mana well throughout most of the game, and you don't want to miss a land drop till turn five at the very least, ideally not until turn six. That being said, the deck is powerful enough to mulligan well and you should not be afraid to do so. Five, on the other hand, makes it pretty hard to have enough raw cards to play the lands you need to cast your powerful spells. Mulligan marginal sevens, keep marginal sixes. Sylvan Advocate, Deathmist Raptor, removal spells, and Nahiri, the Harbinger are the spells you most want to see in your opening hand. Aside, that is, from Oath of Nissa, which is just fantastic at smoothing out draws.
Because your goal is to play a two drop or a three drop (preferably both), think through when to play Oath of Nissa. Often the deck is faced with the choice of turn one Needle Spires or Oath of Nissa. Turn one Oath of Nissa into turn two Sylvan Advocate is ideal when it looks like you will be taking turn three off, and turn one Needle Spires into turn two Oath of Nissa is great when you don't have a two-drop. If your lands are functional and you have your two and three all set up, hold the Oath of Nissa. Play your Shadow lands before Forests, and play Battlefield Forges before Forests whenever possible. Holding Forests or Canopy Vistas as long as possible ensures that the maximum number of lands enters the battlefield untapped throughout the course of the game.
Your goal in the early game is to reach a stable position. Oddly, you don't care that much about preserving your life total. You want stability for the sake of Nahiri, the Harbinger, not for the sake of staying alive. You want to put them into a position where in order to swing at Nahiri, the Harbinger, they will have to chump attack with a creature or two. Trading a Sylvan Advocate for a 3/2 when it's just attacking your life total means that next turn, the 2/2 gets to attack Nahiri, the Harbinger for free. By taking three to the face, you either hold back the 2/2 for another turn or get to eat it if your opponent really wants to hit Nahiri, the Harbinger for three. Nahiri, the Harbinger can take three. Nahiri's a champ.
Don't be afraid to use your removal early. Ideally, we will buy our cheap interactive spells back with Den Protector. Giving our opponent early clues isn't a concern either; we are ecstatic if they use two mana on their third or fourth turn to draw a card. The deck also has far more removal than it may appear to at first glance, as Nahiri, the Harbinger is a versatile removal spell herself. There are odd cases that occur in the midgame where it's right to hold a Nahiri, the Harbinger in hand to ensure that she will be able to remove a particularly troublesome threat that would just kill Nahiri, the Harbinger if you played her first (Westvale Abbey comes to mind).
And now, dear reader, is where we leave the realm of the things I think I know. You'll note that the list I provided was the list I played in Baltimore, nary an update to be seen. Not that I don't have ideas on how to improve it, to the contrary, I have several. What I don't have, yet, is anything actionable. This deck has not yet had the benefit of huge amounts of play, just my small local playgroup and one tournament. So if you're interested in the future of this Nahiri Naya strategy, buckle up. We have some work to do.
First, my intuition says that the fail rate of the deck is a tad too high. Three-color manabases are not great in Shadows over Innistrad Standard and this deck's red splash, light as it is, is causing some issues. One potential idea within this realm is Vessel of Nascency. Vessel of Nascency could provide that last little bit of draw smoothing the deck wants, and even provides some Deathmist Raptor synergy. The downside is that it is an enchantment and makes our Oath of Nissa more likely to whiff. Further, we really want to play to the board turns two and three, not crack a Vessel of Nascency. A 26th land is an alternative possibility, if much less exciting.
But the fail rate question is mundane and uninteresting. The interesting mana question is how to adjust to the fact that mana in this deck (and this format) will enter the battlefield untapped much more early in the early game than it will in the late game. That didn't seem like a big deal to me at first — after all, the early game is where untapped lands really matter. But this is a Den Protector deck, constructed as I would have constructed such a deck in previous formats. The seventh land entering tapped might not be a big deal for some decks, but it's a huge deal for a Den Protector deck. Den Protector is good at using a ton of mana every turn, but my late game turns have felt a little hamstrung by super-late lands entering the battlefield tapped. This is a more open-ended question, but I think we need to reconsider how we build Den Protector decks for these new, less agile late-game manabases.
Sylvan Advocate is a great two-drop, but Den Protector is not. On the play you can rarely use a removal spell as a two-drop, which means the only spell you are happy to cast is Sylvan Advocate. We need more, but the options aren't fantastic. I have seen Duskwatch Recruiter do great things, but the goal is to stabilize the board for Nahiri, the Harbinger. A 2/2 is only so good at this. The answer might be Hangarback Walker, but I have been unimpressed with that card in Shadows over Innistrad Standard.
Last but not least, the high-end of this deck may still be a little off. Chandra, Flamecaller has been hit-or-miss. Sometimes her effect on the board is huge and she's the only card I want to draw, and sometimes she's incredibly anemic. Maybe more spicy Nahiri, the Harbinger ultimate targets would be better, like a Linvala, the Preserver or Dragonlord Dromoka. Or maybe the deck just doesn't actually want as many high-costed spells, and would rather use these spots to improve its fail rate or play more two-drops. It's food for thought, and I'd love to hear yours.
Thanks for reading,