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Sullivan Library: Izzet Nexus


One of the most notable things that can happen in Magic is parallel development.

You work on a deck. Simultaneously, someone else works on the deck. And in more rare circumstances, someone else does as well.

When this happens, it is usually a time to take notice.

This really does happen all of the time. During these moments, we don't often attribute the discovery of a particular deck to a singular individual. While we can say with certainty some claims about deck attribution - the original Stompy deck, for example, was created by Bill Macey and Paul Gallagher, or my PT Dragons of Tarkir ub Control deck was clearly mine - there are other archetypes out there that are hard to pin down. Who created Modern Burn? Who created the current takes on Jeskai Control in Modern?

The reason we can't simply pin these down to an individual is there is too much flowing in the zeitgeist of certain decks that makes it clear there is something to be explored. When Steel Leaf Stompy decks were all created, the flow of information gathered up and decks were made and iterated via collective intelligence quite rapidly. I have no idea if the Turbo Fog decks that cropped up at the Pro Tour were related to or descended from the Bant Ramp Nexus of Fate deck that I made, but since it was the first 5-0 I'm aware of with Nexus of Fate, it's certainly possible.

In my article on that Nexus of Fate deck, I mention that I was talking with my friend Zac Elsik about Nexus of Fate, and that he and I exchanged some ideas. I'd been tinkering with a ur Nexus of Fate deck that was more controlling than the Bant Ramp deck, and he shared with me the list he'd been working on. Later that month, I would play against his deck at an online PTQ, where I was lucky enough to be experienced playing my own version and aware of Zac's version, and I used that knowledge to barely eke out a victory in the match.

Fast forward to last week, and I get a message from my friend and occasional teammate Ryan Saxe, asking if I'd ever tried out ur Nexus of Fate. I mentioned that I had done so, and he expressed shock that the archetype hadn't gotten more attention, because he'd been working on it for Magic Arena, and the deck had been shockingly good for him, and he hadn't even felt like he'd done much with it.

This was enough for me to stop what I was doing and blow the dust off of my old list.

As I said, when you get parallel development going on, you need to sit up and take notice.

All three of us had come to the deck independently. I looked at Ryan's build, I looked at my old build, and I looked at Zac's build, and I rethought about all that I'd learned since Pro Tour 25th Anniversary. At that event, the Turbo Fog deck had emerged, and I hadn't revisited my build of Izzet Turns since then, preferring to focus on the Bant Ramp Nexus deck.

Let's look at all three decks, starting with Zac's.

Zac's list had originally been a Chandra, Torch of Defiance deck, and it won by controlling the table, then eventually killing the opponent with Chandra's ultimate or with kicked Fight with Fire reused a few times. One of the places where the deck struggled, however, was that Chandra, Torch of Defiance isn't particularly great in conjunction with countermagic. Your best Chandra decks are more able to turn the exile +1 ability into active card drawing, and that doesn't jive very well with Syncopate or Disallow.

Zac solved this problem by getting rid of Chandra in favor of Dynavolt Tower. When it comes to Nexus of Fate, once you get going into the world of endless turns, you can kill with any old card. The details don't matter. Way back in 1997, Dan Bock (who still played in tournaments and made decks) called this concept "Scryb Sprite Recursion" - it didn't matter how inconsequential the kill was in certain decks, because once the game had progressed to that point, you could literally just cast and recast Scryb Sprite and win the game.

Even though Dynavolt Tower is vulnerable to Abrade, this is still an exciting path to victory. A Dynavolt Tower is likely going to be very effective in helping one establish control, and in the control war, it is a very dangerous card to face down. A Teferi, Hero of Dominaria can't live in the face of an untapped Dynavolt Tower with sufficient energy to shoot twice: if you tick Teferi up, two shots will kill it; tick it down to remove the Tower, and one shot will kill it.

One of the other exciting things about this deck is that it has a lot of critter removal. This makes the combo aspect of the deck more safe - Jaya Ballard doesn't do anything to a troublesome board, nor does Nexus of Fate, so that is a lot of slots taken up to accomplish an endlessly overwhelming end game. Killing everything is one way to make that work.

Compare this approach to the one that was shared with me by Ryan.

Ryan's list was also a control deck, and far more similar to where I had ended up. While his list had included Chandra as one means to end the game, it also included Torrential Gearhulk, which is, of course, a very powerful card in its own right, but also a potential finisher. One especially powerful option that it could give was to play on the opponent's end of turn to target Commit from Commit // Memory and play the Memory, so that you could be fully untapped with seven fresh cards, and often go right into winning the game with Nexus of Fate.

An element that he had included that I had not yet incorporated, but was already making use of in my Bant Ramp Nexus deck, was a few Deserts. Hostile Desert is just a great card in this deck. Jaya Ballard and Search for Azcanta often mean that there are a few random lands just sitting in the graveyard waiting to be consumed; adding in Ipnu Rivulet can be disruptive to the opponent by nixing their cards you've Commit-ted, but also can create fuel for the Hostile Desert. Perhaps most importantly, in a late game, you can use Ipnu Rivulet on yourself to dramatically shrink your deck so that Nexus of Fate is more saturated in your library.

After going over my older list, and both Ryan and Zac's list, I updated my own version, and then sent it out into the world in the capable hands of my friend Ian DeGraff. He crushed a small local tournament with the deck, and after playing it more online, we conferred, and I ended up at the following list:

There is a lot about this deck that is a creation of the melding of the minds of Ryan, Zac, and I, as well as the feedback from my friend and collaborator Ian. I'm really happy with how this deck ended up, and what it is capable of accomplishing.

It runs a little more of the board control elements, like Zac's build. At the same time, it has more of an eye towards being more midrange, like Ryan's. Ian made me aware that there were just some fundamental issues with my prior build that could be fixed (not enough Red mana, a need for greater board control like Zac).

One of the most incredible things about this deck is just how rapidly things spin out of control with a Jaya Ballard active in play. Jaya Ballard's rummaging through a deck means that at about 30 cards left, you will almost always win the game if you are able to untap; at about 40 cards left, you are more than likely to do so. That is far more potent than Turbo Fog when it comes to wrapping up a game. I've gone down to three copies just because I came to realize, despite how powerful it is, I don't want to see the card in my opening hand unless I'm going to follow it up with a Sweltering Suns immediately, or I've managed to hold the game down so that it can safely be cast otherwise.

Karn, Scion of Urza and Chandra, Torch of Defiance both can end the game and pull you ahead in cards. However, as a repeated source of card advantage, they have the added bonus of shrinking your library, so that once you get to the point that you're ready attempting to take all of the turns, you're more able to do so. The fourth Chandra, Torch of Defiance is replaced by a first Karn, Scion of Urza so that you're more able to take advantage of multiple Planeswalkers in play at once.

The removal package (Abrade, Magma Spray, Sweltering Suns, Banefire, Commit) are an attempt to balance versatility and speed. Sweltering Suns is incredibly impressive when cast via Jaya Ballard, but if you're looking for more oomph, you could probably replace one with a single Hour of Devastation, as long as you don't mind putting your Planeswalkers more at risk.

Banefire is the newest addition to the deck, with an extra copy in the sideboard. It serves as a reasonable turn two play against aggressive decks, but also can be another answer to a Teferi, Hero of Dominaria which has established itself on the board. This has been such an important card versus a combination of Bomat Courier, Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, when the sideboard copy was proposed, it just made sense.

The card advantage package (Search for Azcanta, Hieroglyphic Illumination, Glimmer of Genius, Chandra and Karn, Jaya Ballard, Memory) are all tailored to the needs of the deck. Glimmer of Genius is clearly the most powerful-per-cost card, but that needs to be balanced against the real needs of the deck to simply manage to stay alive - hence Hieroglyphic Illumination for those moments where you need to just cycle now and Commit // Memory, so that you can answer a card off of the table now, if need be, and get the cards later. Search for Azcanta isn't often a three-of, but in Nexus of Fate decks, this has become fairly standard, and with good reason, as the eleven mana mark can sometimes be the end of the game.

This deck has been a joy to work on with my three friends. I'm glad that Ryan brought up that he'd been having initial success with his version, and that long ago, Zac had shared his early work on the deck with me. Playing my own version, and then getting valuable feedback from my from Ian ended up molding the deck to where it is today.

There isn't much time left in the current Standard, but this deck is a real joy to play, and feels a bit more like playing real Magic than playing most of the other Nexus of Fate decks. I'm sure you're going to enjoy playing it as much as I have.

- Adrian Sullivan

@AdrianLSullivan on Twitter