Blake on Block: Naya and a Spicy Brew

Blake on Block: Naya and a Spicy Brew

Jun 27, 2014

This is the home stretch for Theros Block. Grand Prix Manchester was the last major paper event in the format, which will now be almost completely MTGO based. In this article I’ll go over the online metagame now that it’s slightly more settled and address the last major deck type I haven’t covered, Naya. I’ve also been working on a G/w Strength from the Fallen deck for anyone looking for something a bit more spicy. Lastly, I’ll talk about the Block decks making the move into Standard and the prospects for Theros cards next year.

Naya Midrange

In single set Block, Green Red monsters pretty quickly emerged as the best deck. Polukranos, World Eater and Stormbreath Dragon were much harder to kill – even Black decks had at most 4 Hero’s Downfall. Sylvan Caryatid, Xenagos, the Reveler tokens and Red removal held down the various Heroic and Mono Black Aggro decks. To break the mirror White was splashed for Elspeth, Sun’s Champion using Nylea’s Presence while still maintaining a similar strategy.

Naya is the most aggressive of the Green midrange decks. Stormbreath and Xenagos provide hasty reliable damage. This is accentuated in post-board games against other midrange decks where Purphoros, God of the Forge makes stabilizing the board with card advantage very difficult. Even without the wombo combo with Elspeth, an extra two points of damage here and there can mean an opposing Prognostic Sphinx is pinned back for fear of a Purphoros-pumped alpha strike.

In the weeks since the Pro Tour the Naya lists look very much like they did beforehand. Mono Black has still been a relevant part of the metagame and playing six Red removal spells is appropriate. Here’s what I believe is the best version:

Naya Midrange
by NerdpopBrett
Theros Block Daily #7190528

Lands (24)
Forest
Mana Confluence
Mountain
Temple of Abandon
Temple of Plenty
Temple of Triumph

Creatures (17)
Courser of Kruphix
Polis Crusher
Stormbreath Dragon
Sylvan Caryatid
Voyaging Satyr

Spells (19)
Banishing Light
Destructive Revelry
Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
Lightning Strike
Magma Jet
Xenagos, the Reveler
Sideboard (15)
Anger of the Gods
Ajani, Mentor of Heroes
Banishing Light
Bow of Nylea
Fated Conflagration
Glare of Heresy
Hammer of Purphoros
Magma Spray
Purphoros, God of the Forge
Revel of the Fallen God

An alternative build resembles Patrick Chapin’s Pro Tour Junk list with Ajani, Mentor of Heroes, Brimaz, King of Oreskos and Fleecemane Lion in place of the Red removal spells. If I were looking to play Naya in a hypothetical large paper tournament, I would play this version. You want to have a chance in the Courser of Kruphix attrition battles and need more threats and fewer copies of Lightning Strike. Online, where Mono Black is more popular than both BUG control and Chapin Junk, I think playing the Red removal is correct.

How good is Naya? It has become an increasing proportion of the cashing decks on MTGO with over 25% compared to around 15% for Mono Black. In the endless midrange mirrors of the Pro Tour it seemed like Junk had a slight edge and all three were fairly competitive, so why the different metagame now?

I feel like there are two reasons this has become the midrange deck of choice. First, it’s the most proactive and MTGO players like to be more aggressive (especially the multiqueueing grinders who most frequently occupy the top tables in these events). Secondly, it’s better suited against Mono Black than Junk or BUG, almost entirely because of its two mana removal. Junk is also the most expensive deck in the format so we can imagine some resistance there. BUG control is a very hard deck to play – a control deck with expensive removal, lots of tap lands and no wrath or finisher to wrap up the game. Prognostic Sphinx is not an easy card to play optimally, either. It is not shocking that MTGO players cannot achieve the same results as the pros with this list.

You can probably play this exact list for the next three months of Theros Block events and have no problems. If Aggro subsides, I think BUG gets better. If not, Naya will likely remain the best option to cash a three or four round online event. What other options are there?

Green White Strength from the Fallen

Before Journey into Nyx, the graveyard decks in Block were reanimator-based. As in the Unburial Rites decks of last year’s Standard, this combo was supplemented with a reasonable midrange plan. Strength from the Fallen offers a different approach – a repeatable pump that can reach incredible proportions backed by Eidolon of Blossoms and a Constellation set up.

Commune with the Gods and Satyr Wayfinder are your primary enablers and you need as many creatures and enchantments as possible so deckbuilding is highly constrained. Lands can be replaced by mana dorks (of which there are many at two mana in Block). This permanent heavy mana generation plan suggests using Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, so being as close to Mono Green as possible is preferable.

Devotion has played almost no part in Block Constructed thus far. The Devotion cards exist but almost all the enablers are in earlier sets in Standard. One drops are scarce in general and mana symbols are very hard to come by. Now at least the card pool is as large as it can get and Mono-colored decks have a better chance to be able to fill out their 60 cards.

There are two inherent weaknesses to playing Mono Green Strength. Firstly, you have almost no access to removal other than Polukranos, World Eater. Secondly, your aggro match ups are extremely poor. In some formats playing green creatures is enough to shut down aggressive strategies, but that’s not the case in Theros Block. Courser of Kruphix and Sylvan Caryatid are format staples already and the beatdown decks are built around beating them. Heroic goes wide with Akroan Crusader and Launch the Fleet or builds up and protects a giant evasive creature. Mono Black has Agent of the Fates, Pain Seer and discard to accumulate value and a dangerous Bestow late game. Gumming up the ground with bodies is not always enough.

As far as removal goes, Banishing Light is the obvious solution to splash. The deck isn’t going to be able to play a large quantity of removal, so each has to be able to answer most threats. The card is certainly answerable and leaves Stormbreath Dragon as a big problem, but often stalling can be enough for Strength or Blossoms to pull you ahead.

Green White Strength from the Fallen
by BlakeNJudge

Lands (21)
11 Forest
Mana Confluence
Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
Temple of Plenty

Creatures (25)
Boon Satyr
Courser of Kruphix
Eidolon of Blossoms
Nylea, God of the Hunt
Polukranos, World Eater
Satyr Wayfinder
Sylvan Caryatid
Voyaging Satyr

Spells (14)
Banishing Light
Commune with the Gods
Kruphix’s Insight
Strength from the Fallen
Sideboard (15)
Ajani, Mentor of Heroes
Archetype of Courage
Banishing Light
Bow of Nylea
Consign to Dust
Hunt the Hunter
Nylea’s Disciple
Polukranos, World Eater
Skyreaping
Unravel the Aether

Satyr Wayfinder is the perfect card for this deck. Being able to dig efficiently for Nykthos is something Standard devotion decks would love to be able to do. It fills the graveyard and keeps your creature ratio high. A 1/1 body is more than relevant when you finish games with Strength from the Fallen or Nylea, God of the Hunt, too.

It may be that 3 copies of Nykthos may be correct given how Wayfinder finds it, but Block is a slow format and I found there were often games where I could use the extra copy for relevant value.

In testing I found the Naya match up to be quite poor. Elspeth, Sun’s Champion and Xenagos the Reveler can be beaten, but Polis Crusher and Stormbreath Dragon are back-breaking. They have removal for Eidolon of Blossoms so you can’t rely on your synergies and they’re aggressive enough that you often don’t have time to properly develop your graveyard.

Splashing Black for Thoughtseize and more efficient removal is certainly a possibility, but once you start trying to play Hero’s Downfall I think you’re better served just playing Junk. This is the deck that takes advantage of Nylea, God of the Hunt and Nykthos and Junk Constellation is the deck that plays more reliable but less explosive cards.

This main deck is quite lacking on win conditions. Thoughtseize can leave you with a hand of mana dorks and very little action. Unfortunately playing more copies of Polukranos, World Eater is not that appealing against a sea of Black removal and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion. It may be that moving Ajani, Mentor of Heroes to the main deck is correct and this is something I’ll investigate in the next few weeks.

I found myself boarding in Nylea’s Disciple quite often. They’re your best card against the aggressive decks and I even found myself trying the card against Naya. Dealing with their threats is an impossibility, but given time Strength is certainly capable of invalidating their defences.

The card pool in Block is now large enough that decks have some flexibility. They are more objectively powerful too, to the point where synergies discovered in Block can compete in Standard. At this time of year I always find myself wanting to try my favorite lists in Standard, souped up with new toys.

Block Decks in Standard

Standard has been stagnant for a long time. The Mono Black and Mono Blue decks have been almost unchanged since just after Pro Tour Theros. Bw and Bg midrange decks supplement the black base, but they typically just add a finisher or two and some more flexible removal. Mono Blue in particular could not evolve if it wanted to; there are almost no other playable creatures to support Master of Waves and Thassa, God of the Sea. If you want to tweak the deck to respond to a change in the metagame, you can’t.

Part of the reason so few new decks emerged over the course of the year was how absurdly front loaded the Constructed cards were in this block. Born of the Gods contributed almost nothing other than Bile Blight, Courser of Kruphix and three Temples. Journey into Nyx was a little more potent, but was still a small set adding cards to a Standard card pool almost at its largest. What chance is there for cards to compete with the well tuned UW or Mono Black decks?

The problem is that the strong Green creatures of Theros block match up very poorly against three of the crucial cards in Standard:

Playing out Sylvan Caryatid, Courser of Kruphix and more creatures that don’t beat down efficiently is not as reliable a game plan in Standard. This is not to overstate the important of Sphinx’s Revelation decks, but their presence shapes how decks are constructed. The Block environment is extremely unusual in that it had neither a very consistent aggro deck nor any kind of late game strategy to overwhelm Green midrange. Combined with the endlessly mentioned lack of a conventional sweeper, the decks in Block may not be the decks that succeed in Standard.

In the last few weeks though, a couple of distinctly familiar strategies have cropped up. The first is the GB or Junk Constellation deck using Eidolon of Blossoms in combination with Doomwake Giant and Mana Bloom.

Jund Constellation (Standard)
by Edel
Standard Daily #7190371

Lands (25)
Blood Crypt
Forest
Golgari Guildgate
Mutavault
Overgrown Tomb
Swamp
Temple of Abandon
Temple of Malady
Temple of Malice

Creatures (21)
Brain Maggot
Courser of Kruphix
Doomwake Giant
Eidolon of Blossoms
Pharika, God of Affliction
Sylvan Caryatid

Spells (14)
Abrupt Decay
Hero’s Downfall
Mana Bloom
Primeval Bounty
Underworld Connections
Sideboard (15)
Bile Blight
Doom Blade
Duress
Golgari Charm
Nylea’s Disciple
Rakdos’s Return
Thoughtseize
Ultimate Price
Vraska the Unseen

Whereas a deck like Jund monsters uses a mix of heavy hitter creatures and value Planeswalkers, Eidolon of Blossoms offers a different way to beat Supreme Verdict. Almost all of the creatures you commit to the board have some kind of additional value. You can grind out wins with Pharika, God of Affliction or Primeval Bounty where heavy hitters are needed or overwhelm your opponent with card advantage.

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Even without Eidolon of Blossoms, Courser of Kruphix and Underworld Connections are a combo themselves. It’s my belief that this is one of the most powerful interactions in Standard. Yes, there is symmetry with the life loss and life gain, but the synergy is much deeper than that. These cards were made to work together. Being able to control your additional draw is perfect to be able to hit land drops with Courser. When you have a card advantage engine in place all you want is to be able to cast your cards. Sphinx’s Revelation is so potent because it provides its own stalling mechanism in the form of lifegain. Courser, Connections and Blossoms are less powerful independently, but they’re all much cheaper and provide more immediate board presence.

I have played games against Revelation decks with this kind of strategy where by Turn 15 I was deeper in my library than them. Courser, Connections and Planeswalkers can overwhelm even large Revelations if the opponent doesn’t have the right mixture of answers. Mono Black only has Connections to get ahead on cards and you have answers to it. Here’s a picture of a deck I tried shortly before Journey into Nyx was printed (hence no Temple of Malady), also the second Block deck that’s been seen in Standard in the last few weeks:

BUG Value

You can never win enough, in my opinion.

BUG Control (Standard)
by Sam Black

Lands (27)
Breeding Pool
Forest
Mutavault
Swamp
Overgrown Tomb
Temple of Deceit
Temple of Malady
Temple of Mystery
Watery Grave

Creatures (12)
Aetherling
Courser of Kruphix
Prognostic Sphinx
Scavenging Ooze
Sylvan Caryatid

Spells (21)
Abrupt Decay
Devour Flesh
Jace, Architect of Thought
Hero’s Downfall
Kiora, the Crashing Wave
Underworld Connections
Thoughtseize
Sideboard (15)
Dark Betrayal
Doom Blade
Devour Flesh
Duress
Golgari Charm
Lifebane Zombie
Negate
Scavenging Ooze
Silence the Believers

Sam Black is an extremely strong deckbuilder and always appears willing to experiment. Recently he posted videos of an attempt to play an upgraded version of the BUG control deck both Channel Fireball teams played at Pro Tour Journey Into Nyx. Jace, Architect of Thought replaces Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver and the removal options are cheaper, but otherwise this is very clearly the same strategy – value creatures and Planeswalkers with spot removal to leverage your advantage.

What chance something like this becomes the control deck of next season? That depends entirely on what sweepers and late game cards are printed. The Aggro decks of Theros are not so explosive that they cannot be dealt with by spot removal. Heroic and Mono Black tend towards building up one threat rather than playing three one drops in the first two turns. It may be that next year’s Standard has no 4 mana wrath and a creature based control deck can flourish. Not only does Courser of Kruphix get more attractive if it’s not getting swept away, but without an efficient wrath it may be that control decks are forced to commit more to the board to deal with threats.

Over the coming weeks I’m going to investigate different takes on Strength from the Fallen and keep an eye on ways Naya may change to deal with more mirror matches. Revolution may be at an end but there will always be new ways to take advantage of the changes in metagame.

As always, feel free to let me know any comments below, Twitter or Magic Online (BlakeNJudge). You may also more than occasionally find me in Twitch Magic chat rooms (BlakeNJudge).

Blake Campbell (BlakeNJudge)
Twitter: BlakeNJudge

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