Nahiri, the Harbinger has had some ups and downs since her debut in Shadows over Innistrad. Well, there have been more downs than ups. Nahiri, the Harbinger has been in a weird spot during her short time in Standard. She's red and white, two colors associated with aggro decks, yet is not a Planeswalker that aggressive strategies are looking to play. Nahiri, the Harbinger was made for control decks. She has a plus ability that allows her to filter useless cards away, a minus ability that kills something, and an ultimate that can fetch a win condition. No one wants to ultimate Nahiri, the Harbinger and grab a creature that won't win the game on the spot. For that reason, Nahiri, the Harbinger has seen little to no play in Standard so far.
Nahiri, the Harbinger has found a home in Modern, particularly Jeskai Control. Jeskai is a strong color combination in Modern but the deck always felt like it was missing something. Two weeks ago, popular streamers like Paul Cheon and Jeff Hoogland were streaming Nahiri, the Harbinger decks in Modern. While I can't speak for how they felt about their decks I can say that after watching them play I realized that Nahiri, the Harbinger is great in Modern. This theory was proven true by Pete Ingram who won the Indianapolis Open with his take on Jeskai Control. It looks like Nahiri, the Harbinger is here to stay and today I'm going discuss her role in Standard.
The main strength of Nahiri the Harbinger is that she improves your hand while increasing her loyalty. She does this by trading your useless cards for stronger ones. This is the main reason why Nahiri, the Harbinger was made for control. Control decks sometimes suffer from having drawn the wrong answers at the wrong times, and that's why control is often weak in new metagames.
Card draw is not very strong in Standard right now. The main way that control decks gain extra cards in their hand is through Planeswalkers. With card draw as weak as it is, Nahiri, the Harbinger is a great way to improve hand quality in control decks.
Nahiri, the Harbinger also has amazing synergy with madness cards. Nahiri, the Harbinger provides a free madness outlet. Many of the madness outlets in Shadows over Innistrad require some mana or a target that you may not have access to, like Tormenting Voice or Lightning Axe. Nahiri, the Harbinger is a free madness outlet, which is really valuable, especially when you are casting an expensive madness spell and have more things to do during your turn.
Nahiri's -2 ability is great in Standard, more so than in Modern. In Standard you will have many targets for her second ability. The primary win condition in Standard is creatures, and there are also lots of enchantments that see quite a bit of Standard play. Besides being able to hit practically any creature (sorry Avacyn), Pyromancer's Goggles and Stasis Snare are prime targets for Nahiri's second ability.
One thing that Nahiri, the Harbinger is great at in Modern but is severely lacking in Standard is a useful way to win off of her ultimate. Emrakul, the Aeons Torn is the best possible thing you can search up, but theres nothing close to that impactful in Standard.
In Standard, Nahiri, the Harbinger is better at using her first and second abilities and I don't really see her ultimating much. However the option to do so should be present in the deck we're trying to build.
After doing a little brewing I came up with the following list.
Red madness cards are strong and they haven't really found a home in Standard yet. We have some great, constructed-level enablers, specifically Tormenting Voice and Lightning Axe. Nahiri, the Harbinger provides us with a great outlet for madness. In these colors they are really the only outlets worth playing specifically for madness. Chandra, Flamecaller is technically a madness outlet, her other abilities are more likely to see use..
With these eight consistent madness outlets, we are playing playsets of both Fiery Temper and Avacyn's Judgment. Avacyn's Judgment is a card that is great but has not gotten much love yet, and it's definitely overshadowed by Fall of the Titans. It's really tough to say which of these spells are better. They both have great synergy with Pyromancer's Goggles and they both require some setup. What Avacyn's Judgment has going for it is its versatility. You can kill a Jace, Vryn's Prodigy or a pair of 2/1s out of the Mono-White Humans deck and doing that requires zero setup. Fall of the Titans is really only good when you can surge it, but when you do cast it with surge, it's stronger than Avacyn's Judgment. In theory, Avacyn's Judgment is the stronger card because it can be played early, but that's not how it's been playing out in practice. In a deck with four Nahiri, the Harbinger, Avacyn's Judgment seems like the better choice.
Fiery Temper is great in this deck. You have so many opportunities to madness with it, and even as a three-mana spell it's pretty reasonable. It's also six damage with Pyromancer's Goggles!
The colorless Eldrazi make up the backbone of the deck and are our primary win conditions. Right now it's really difficult to build a Standard burn deck and in this creature-heavy format, you're never going to have the time to burn the opponent out while also handling their creatures. Eldrazi are the most mana-efficient creatures in Standard and are both disruptive and hard to deal with. We're playing four Thought-Knot Seer and four Reality Smasher and have included four Matter Reshaper in the sideboard.
Matter Reshaper is the most important sideboard card. The deck in its current form is weak to the Esper Control decks. It just doesn't have enough early pressure to be competitive against those decks. Matter Reshaper has been amazing for me in post-sideboard games against all versions of Esper. They are not great against the heavy creature decks, so they weren't worth the maindeck slot.
The deck's manabase can support the colorless Eldrazi very easily. You already want to play four Battlefield Forge anyway, and playing four Shivan Reef will not hurt you very often as the format is not as fast as it was when Atarka Red was around. Since this deck is primarily a control deck, you can get away with playing slow, enters-the-battlefield tapped lands like Evolving Wilds which can find Wastes.
As I've mentioned earlier, while ultimating with Nahiri, the Harbinger is not really what you want to be doing with her, you at least want to have the option to do so. The best Nahiri, the Harbinger ultimate target is Reality Smasher. It's a great play on turn five or after a Nahiri, the Harbinger ultimate. You don't even mind returning it to your hand and recasting it later because it has haste.
Our other option for Nahiri's ultimate is Pyromancer's Goggles. Yes, Nahiri, the Harbinger can fetch up an artifact. It's not usual that an artifact can win the game on the spot, especially in Standard, but if there is one artifact that can do it, it's Pyromancer's Goggles.
One cool play the deck has access to is to add mana with Pyromancer's Goggles, ultimate Nahiri, the Harbinger to get a second copy of Pyromancer's Goggles, keep the new Pyromancer's Goggles, tap it, and then use the new mana to copy a red spell three times. There are some pretty insane plays available with that line.
This is only the surface of exploring what Nahiri, the Harbinger can do in Standard. A burn/madness deck seems like the most obvious direction to take her in, but she can play different roles in other decks. I've been having some good results with this Nahiri, the Harbinger deck and I encourage you to try it out! Next week I'll be doing some more Nahiri, the Harbinger brewing and hopefully can come up with more sweet things to do with her in Standard. Until next time, happy brewing!
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