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Next Ironroot Chef: Battle Nin, the Pain Artist

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Commander (2015 Edition) is upon us, and it couldn’t be a better time for flavor. With throwbacks to old characters and stories, Commander releases have become annual adventures into Magic creative.

It’s almost painful to wait until this Friday’s release, which is exactly why our chairman, Nate Holt, chose an indelible delight to unleash upon our next two Ironroon Chef–to–be contenders.

This week features the other half of our entrants into the Next Ironroot Chef showdowns. Matthew Nielsen is a longtime student who’s studied Magic since Mercadian Masques. Russel Lee edged out competitor Nielsen by following the game since Urza’s Saga, challenging himself to go wild with the craziest cards in the game.

Can either stand up to the pinch of plotting down flavor?

Nin, the Pain Artist

Whose cuisine can be supreme first? This is The Next Ironroot Chef: Battle Nin, the Pain Artist!

Competitor Matthew Nielsen

Nin’s Ink: Finest tattoos, piercings, and body modification in the Multiverse

Unspeakable Symbol
From basic branding to intricate Ravnican magemarks (our specialty) to exotic ancient Tarkiran and Theroan designs, if you want a personal look that will last even longer than the memory of the pain, visit to Nin’s Ink.

When you come, Nin’s various assistants, all well qualified and enthusiastic, will help you prepare for your experience, but rest assured the work itself will be done only by the Pain Artist herself.

Although Nin performs most of her work with the traditional needle, other instruments are available for more specialized operations, and her operating theater is state of the art. As Nin is a pain artist, numbing doses are unavailable; however, for weaker customers, secure restraints can be provided.

Pithing Needle

If you’re still uncertain, listen to some of Nin’s satisfied customers:

“When Griselbrand contracted Nin for my Infernal Scarring, I was skeptical at first. Shouldn’t a demon make its own scars? Now, though, I’m glad I listened. You can really tell the care she puts into each cut, how much she enjoys the process. I’ve had her touch up the other three’s scars, too, ’cause—don’t tell them this—but demons have no sense of style. Nin, though, she’s a real artist.”

— Liliana Vess, repeat customer

“When I was cursed and turned into Phage, it really messed up my tribe’s facial tattoos, but no one dare come close enough to fix them. Thank Urza for Nin. She wouldn’t let a little chance of death stand between her and pain—ahem—I mean, her craft.”

— Jeska, Warrior Adept

“Hurloon accept no other.”

Hurloon Minotaur, as the rest of the tribe nods in unison

Infernal Scarring

Stop by the Rakdos Carnarium for a public demonstration, and then make an appointment at our main branch location near the Rakdos guildhouse (they’re our best customers, after all). Multiple locations and entrances from the undercity are also available for customers who need special discretion.

Mountains should be Ravnica: City of Guilds #302, Islands should be Ravnica: City of Guilds #292, and Swamp should be Ravnica: City of Guilds #295.

Remember: Pain is beauty entering the body.

Competitor Russel Lee

Little is known about Nin, the Pain Artist save that she was found broken and scarred in the lair of unspeakable atrocities. Rescued from what would have certainly been a slow and torturous death, no one suspected that Nin harbored a terrible secret. The young woman that she was before was gone, and in her stead was the ancient artificer once known as Ashnod.

Thought dead at the hands of Gix, Ashnod escaped death by transferring her consciousness to another vessel using a rudimentary Mindslaver of her own device. Later, adapting mind-shifting techniques (Thalakos Deceiver, Soul Seizer/Ghastly Possession), Ashnod has been able to live for millennia, attempting to slake her Thirst for Knowledge.

Some of her favorite tools remain the same . . . 

 . . . while others have evolved over ages of Compulsive Research:

Though preferring to work alone, she often enlists minions to assist her in menial tasks such as subject procurement (Willbender, Beguiller of Wills) and bone-breaking (Bonebreaker Giant, Oracle of Bones, Whipkeeper). She has gained potent magic over the ages, but much of it is twisted by her studies, rendering her able to turn Bone to Ash, cause a Suffocating Blast, and even cause Dream Fractures.

Metal Mastery
Ashnod remains a master artificer, bending metal and sinew to her very whims. Whether Reshaping, Transmuting Artifacts, or simply destroying defective work with a Shattering Pulse, she displays an utter Metal Mastery. Often, she tries her devices out on her favorite Stuffy Doll, seeking perfection before putting them through their paces.

She is fond of mementos, keeping a Jar of Eyeballs next to her workspace, along with other bric-a-brac she has accumulated through the years and planes. While not a Planeswalker herself, a Planeswalker’s (Venser’s) Journal is among her prized possessions. Ashnod has also been to myriad planes in her long life, often favoring towers (Command Tower, Desolate Lighthouse, Arcane Lighthouse, Reliquary Tower), ruins (Academy Ruins, Buried Ruin, Kher Keep), and locales strong in blue and red mana. She has preyed on the naiveté (Chandra), curiosity (Tamiyo), or outright greed (Dack) of a Planeswalker to visit other planes, discarding entire lives behind her in search of new ways to wrench the secrets out of the very marrow of her subjects.

Another reason she scours the planes is the loss of Tawnos, perhaps the only living being she cared about. He lives on as a Solemn Simulacrum, tended by Diaochan, Artful Beauty, only recently freed from her Biting Tether in the inevitability of Ashnod-now-Nin’s predations call for vengeance, leaving behind another meek girl, tortured by a ruthless monster.

Nin, the Pain Artist ? Commander | Russel Lee

  • Commander (0)

  • Stuffy Doll (Time Spiral)
  • 1 Island (Limited Edition Beta with red tint)
  • 2 Island (Urza’s Saga #338)
  • 1 Island (Mirrodin #292)
  • 1 Island (Innistrad #253)
  • 2 Mountain (Limited Edition Beta with blue-blue sky)
  • 2 Mountain (Urza’s Saga #345)
  • 1 Mountain (Mirrodin #302)
  • 1 Mountain (Innistrad #259)

The Vote

Below, you can read the judges’ scoring to see how Nate and Stybs cast their ballots. However, this is your chance to score the winner of Battle Nin, the Pain Artist.

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The Judging

Nathan Holt @walktheplanes

Nate’s the host of Walking the Planes, a documentary series about Magic: The Gathering with a healthy dose of sketch comedy (for value).

Nate’s Judgment

Matthew Nielsen

Bloodletter Quill
I read your decklist and smiled ear to ear. I pictured all the cards in my head. I knew exactly what you were going for. So when I read your description—Nin's Ink—I pumped my fist. Well done. When the flavor of a decklist leaps off the page without even needing an explanation, you know you have a handle on serious flavor. I'm not talking about just card names either. The artwork on Vedalken Anatomist, the face tattoos on Phage and Hurloon Minotaur . . . this was a well-illustrated theme.

You chose a strong interpretation and went all-in on that direction. It's funny, but also pretty cool. I never thought of Nin as a tattoo artist, but . . . of course she is. And it's amazing how much support for that theme you found in cards old and new. I hope to never have a Bloodletter Quill scratch across my skin. But it needs to happen; I hope it's Nin who does it!

Creativity: 3

Boldness: 3

Adherence to the theme: 3

Russel Lee

Ashnod's Altar
Unlike Matthew, your brew looks less like a commercial and more like a Dutch still-life: a portrait of a woman in a room, surrounded by her past. And her pain—not just physical pain, but emotional pain . . . spiritual pain . . . and, of course, the pain she inflicts on the innocent. So the Dutch still-life has a touch of medieval horror as well. It's dark and beautiful.

The other side of this coin is that the deck comes across as a hodgepodge of stuff. I get it. It's all part of her story. But the story is muddy to me. The events, the character relationships . . . I'm not sure they come across as strongly as you had hoped. It seems a bit abstract for my taste. And "hodgepodge" isn't a strong central theme.

Creativity: 2

Boldness: 2

Adherence to the theme: 3

Adam’s Judgment

Adam Styborski @the_stybs

Adam is the Content Manager for Gathering Magic. He's a casual player at heart and weekly columnist for MagicTheGathering.com. He also travels the country for Pro Tour and Grand Prix coverage, and he shares his Pauper Cube everywhere.

Matthew Nielsen

Tattoos have been symbols of taboo and power for thousands of years. Nin, the Pain Tattoo Artist didn’t have the same ring to me when I read your rundown. However, your words were more convincing.

The mix of visual elements to drive a cohesive narrative is tough when you’re reaching across Magic’s long history. Art and style and direction make plunging into flavor-by-art a tough approach. I found your thoroughness and dedication thoughtful and considerate and, most importantly, convincing for me.

I dug in to find what flaws I could, but I found myself debating semantics in a circle. For your first shot at chefdom, I’m sincerely impressed with your efforts. I’ve only awarded one perfect score to this point, and now I’m issuing my second:

Creativity: 3

Boldness: 3

Adherence to the theme: 3

Russel Lee

Like competitors before you, I hold a high bar to using props for storytelling. Integrating the flavor of a card with the secret ingredient is a difficult, multi-level goal. While I appreciate the overall taste of what you prepared, I agree with Chairman Holt: There’s some murkiness and missing clarity of flavor to turn a fine submission into an outstanding dish.

Whether it’s more time drilling down into distilling what you really want to illustrate—ensuring it’s a continuous piece of the true taste of the secret ingredient—your score reflects the potential you’re hinting at. I expect you to truly show it next time.

Creativity: 3

Boldness: 2

Adherence to the theme: 2


Voting closes midnight Thursday, and the first winner will be announced Friday (11/13/2015). Follow @IronrootChef on Twitter for the final score and victory announcement and to share your ideas for secret ingredients. Chairman Holt will continue to use your suggestions to challenge our culinary challengers to the core.

Next week is our first elimination faceoff. Roberto Moser is looking to put his lessons to practice facing off against the fallen from this week’s competition. Will either claim his first victory? Who can put down the biggest step forward in skill?

Follow us as the search for the next Ironroot Chef continues!


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