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Elan Vital

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Wikipedia defines “Elan Vital” as French philosopher Henri Bergson’s (somewhat vague) explanation for the reason life and consciousness exists. Apparently, his detractors translated this from the original French to the English term “vital force”. Thanks Wikipedia! Now, I don’t know about early 20th century philosophical explanations for life’s mysteries, but I do know one thing that drives my continued existence: Spoiler Season! In case you needed a fresh infusion of “Elan Vital”, Nissa’s new incarnation on Kaladesh seems to have you covered.

Wow. Not a bad look for Nissa here in the new set. 5 mana is a lot to pay for a Planeswalker, but Nissa can protect herself immediately, go to the dome and start bashing with animated lands, or start bringing back her dead friends from the graveyard to go to work. Not only that, but her ultimate goes off after ONE TURN! You don’t generally see that outside of funky Doubling Season brews in Modern, but I’ll leave those kinds of ruminations to the really creative brewmasters.

Now, I’m looking at Nissa at first and seeing a huge trump in Jund/Abzan mirrors in Modern. I wouldn’t even be shocked if she showed up in sideboards of various midrange Green decks a la Kiki Eldritch Evolution/Chord. Any new card that can give you a draw engine like that is absolutely worth looking at, and Planeswalkers are especially awesome in Modern sideboards because so few of them see play in the format, so the answers to them are often few and far between. We saw it with Nahiri, the Harbinger immediately, as Jund decks shifted to more Dreadbores and Maelstrom Pulses to try to get a bead on the Lithomancer before she summoned Emrakul.

Nissa can create an insurmountable advantage in grindy matchups with her ultimate in a shorter time than Nahiri, and she protects herself quite well to start off. I don’t know for sure if Nissa is going to ever be more than a one-of in Modern sideboards, especially because Nahiri has raised the profile of Planeswalkers in Modern to the point where the various fair decks are more prepared to deal with them, but I can easily imagine being beaten by a Nissa ultimate if I were to choose to go with a fair deck at my next Modern GP.

Let’s put down Modern and pick up the format where this version of Nissa can potentially become a powerhouse. Standard already has a G/W Superfriends-esque deck in its (postboarded) G/W Tokens deck, and Nissa would do an admirable job there. Unfortunately, the Vastwood Seer version of Nissa is leaving Standard, and that card was key in bridging the gap and ensuring that G/W Control (postboard G/W Tokens became a pseudo-control deck!) was able to make its land drops up to and past number five.

I don’t know exactly where to start with a post-rotation Naya Superfriends deck, but I wouldn’t hate something along the lines of the following:


The problem here is, we can’t really go over the top. You want to go over the top, though? We can call up the Gatewatch and see if they’ll come through.


We really don’t want the Shadows over Innistrad dual lands in these decks because we will often need our fifth and sixth lands to come into play untapped in order to cast a big ‘walker and break the game open against aggressive strategies.

But let’s be a little less idealistic with the potential of the new Nissa. Given the fact that you’re playing against a real opponent who is going to try to stop you from executing your gameplan, you may find that Nissa serves her purpose very well as a big Eternal Witness for your other flashy permanents, using her -3 ability. The best way to start big Eternal Witness loops is . . . you guessed it, filling your graveyard! Although Den Protector was super nice because it let you bring back Traverse the Ulvenwald (a.k.a. Standard-legal Green Sun's Zenith), Nissa can potentially do better if you have other awesome Planeswalkers to bring back. Let’s see if Nissa can’t slot herself into a Temurge or Jund Delirium strategy. (And even if she isn’t going to make the main deck, as I am suggesting, you can bet that she’ll show up in sideboards for those grindy midrange mirrors.)


(Note: This deck’s mana base will have to be reconfigured when the new dual lands are revealed, but we’re just sketching things out for now!)

It’s kind of cool that you can use Nissa’s -3 to loop Elder Deep-Fiends for even more hot Time Walk action, and I’m sure that we’ll end up seeing more of that sort of nonsense, but we also need to see what sort of sweepers we gain for a deck like this. As of right now, we’re sort of priced in to playing Kozilek's Return, which is fine if a bit pedestrian at this point.

Unfortunately for all of those people who love it when a single deck has an apparent stranglehold on a format, Collected Company will be rotating. For the rest of us, it’s time to party! Nothing is more exciting than when the Bant deck gets to open up some of its tired old deck-building restrictions and embrace some new cards that were boxed out by the creature requirements necessitated by the card Collected Company. Though Archangel Avacyn probably gets the nod for the 5-drop slot over Nissa preboard, you can board in the Nissa when you have a slow opponent and no need to keep in a ton of cheap removal spells.


Again, the mana base is something we’re going to have to work on. That being said, perhaps it is safer for us to just stick to Green and White for a good old fashioned Little Kid deck, and take it back to Magic the way Richard Garfield intended.


(Probably have some sideboarded cheap removal such as Puncturing Light)

Good old fashioned Magic.

I really hope the Ice Age painlands get reprinted, as they would allow us to consider including Thought-Knot Seer, Eldrazi Displacer and Reality Smasher in this deck, but as of right now I have no basis to consider including them.

Now, for my final brewing trick, I’ll remind the reader about the fact that earlier in the article, I mentioned wacky Doubling Season brews that I could never hope to replicate . . . but there is one card in Standard that might just go together really nicely with a Nissa, and even let her ultimate right away.

Oath of Gideon protects your precious Planeswalkers, creates tokens for your Gideon or small Nissa to pump, and allows your big Nissa to immediately turn into a personal Horn of Greed! Let’s see if we can’t figure something out to abuse that interaction…


I’m certain that by the time this article drops, we’ll have a better sense of the upcoming set. Of course, once we have a few more previews that new information should make these initial sketches look about as bad as the ones I made back in preschool that my mom still hangs on our refrigerator . . . (anyone else’s mom still do this?)

Clearly, the baseline for what is possible in any format is the mana-fixing available to the players. Without a firm knowledge of what lands we’ll have access to, it’s tougher to plan out which colors our Super-Friends brews should contain. (Not to mention, the loss of Languish means Black-based midrange decks are struggling to find their identity.) One thing I know for sure, though, is that no matter what dual lands Wizards offers us in Kaladesh, at least a few of them will be turning into angry 5/5 elementals when they are imbued with the “Elan Vital” that Nissa commands. And who knows? Maybe you’ll be feeling some of that sweet, sweet vital force when you resolve a Nissa of your own. I know I will.

Thanks for reading,

Ben “40-card” Friedman


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