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Week One: A Glimpse of Nova


When Ravnica Allegiance was fully revealed, Nova went to work with figuring out where we wanted to be in the new format. With a multitude of awesome and powerful cards the team was excited to dive in. This article will be about where we ended up after testing in week one.

The major thing we've learned is the format is quite fast. Be prepared for players to come out of the gate swinging. Nexus of Fate has instilled a fear amongst players to apply pressure or have a great game plan against the deck.

Let's begin.

First we started with one of the best cards in the format Skewer the Critics. A mostly one mana burn spell gives new reach that the burn decks didn't have previously. Trying to use cards like Experimental Frenzy to get over that last hump is no longer needed when your deck is filled to the brim with burn spells. Even more impactful than Skewer is Light Up the Stage. We found this card to be far and away one of the best cards from the new set. Spectacle is trivial to turn on and Light Up the Stage is basically a Red Thoughtcast. The card is that good. Here's where I ended up with Red after taking the shell Ally created for us.

There's a lot of fire with this deck and it wins FAST. Since we've 'lowered' the curve and Light Up the Stage lets you see a stupid amount of cards we've lowered the amount of mountains played in the deck. Doing so allows us to try and avoid the downside to this deck of flooding out. While some decks are good at capitalizing on flood the Red deck is unable to really recover from most of those situations. While Light Up the Stage and The Flame of Keld can work overtime trying to stress the deck doesn't end up panning out. While being blistering fast there are some draws that are hard to overcome. The deck still suffers from the inability to manage larger creatures and life totals (even with all the extra draw) and while some members elected to play this deck I was a bit concerned with trying to fight through all the Green decks. However it is possible the power level is so high between Light Up the Stage and Skewer that it doesn't matter. I'm not quite sold but wouldn't be surprised if this takes down quite a few tournaments.

On the subject of Red decks I found Theater of Horrors to be an absurd card. A mix between Experimental Frenzy and Outpost Siege, this cost efficient Enchantment has its own win condition tacked on. While I was enamored with plenty of other decks I felt confident coming back to this if everything failed.

The Rakdos Guildgate sucks but I'm overly concerned about casting four Theaters and so I'm alright taking the chance on this one.

Rix Maadi Reveler is awesome in this deck as a way to filter early to ensure we find all the lands or spells we need to keep going, and drawn in the mid to late game can be a Bedlam Reveler and help close out the game. This deck is wonderful at grinding as well because of Theater, but Theater can also help close out a game quickly.

The next card some of the team wanted to review was Prime Speaker Vannifar. Birthing Pod was quite the powerful effect in Standard last go around and this time it's quite a bit weaker. Fortunately the rest of Standard's power level is more balanced and a tiny bit lower so I thought a card like Vannifar would fit in quite nicely. The major concern when building these 'Pod' style decks is creating a main deck that works well on its own without Vannifar. Trying to create a deck that felt good on its own without Vannifar ended up making some weird looking piles that tried to utilize Vannifar as a value engine instead of trying to build the best Vannifar strategy. This is what Harlan came up with:

This deck feels very classic in terms of how the Overgrown Tomb decks have felt in the past but it doesn't have the same oomph at the end. Muldrotha, the Gravetide is a fantastic card but doesn't hit nearly as hard as Carnage Tyrant. Out of all the cards, the card that stood out the most was actually Biogenic Ooze. It's a bit tough to kill if you've presented enough threats and it gains immediate value. Sine Vannifar didn't feel like it was making much of an impact and the more dedicated variants felt significantly weaker we decided to can this strategy early on and try other decks.

Personally I think I'm leaning more toward trying a Four-Color variant of the deck in the future. Vannifar does something unique and potentially busted in Standard and I think a bit more time for Red to be pushed out of the format a bit and for decks to slow down will cause these kind of strategies to rise up. Until then it was best for us to shelve this and work on better strategies.

Sometimes to look forward we have to start in the past. The White Aggro decks started to dominate toward the end of last season and I was curious how it lined up with some new toys. Heroic Reinforcements is an incredible card as is Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice and Lava Coil. But I wondered if we shifted around the deck a little more and changed the support color to Blue how that could change the decks dynamics a bit. Dovin, Grand Arbiter is in a weird spot where I think to be impactful you need the right mix of aggressive pressure with something great to find off the ultimate. The tokens deck wasn't great for this as you didn't attack against a lot of the creature decks and didn't apply enough pressure to really make use out of the ultimate. It had some nice, powerful cards but it was easy to get clunked up and unable to really cast spells.

Here's where I ended up.

Ajani's Pridemate gets the nod here as it pairs very well with a Dovin minus giving you a ton of different ways to trigger it. Having it be a massive creature early on can make blocking a nightmare for any opponent. Based on some of the decks I've seen, removal has been looking kind of sparse outside of Red and with all the pressure this deck applies it's hard for an opponent to gain any leverage. Splashing Blue also gives us access to Deputy of Detention and sideboard counterspells. The sideboard cards make Nexus and Control decks easier to beat and Deputy of Detention is an easy slam dunk pick. The card helps us keep aggression up while also clearing the path. Killing Tokens is awesome but locking away a Planeswalker or an enchantment that was normally difficult to deal with was choice. Deputy of Detention is awesome and I think this is the kind of deck it will truly shine in while being flexible in plenty of other decks.

At the beginning of January we had enough cards spoiled that I posted about seven deck lists in our team Discord and several of them included the card Hydroid Krasis. It's the card I personally believed was the best in the set regardless of what else got spoiled after. In many ways the card reminds me of Sphinx's Revelation. The first Krasis may only draw one to two cards but the second and subsequent third keep the door shut really tight on your opponent. I thought of different variations of how to build with Krasis and ended up deciding that I wanted to draw a reasonable mix of Lands, impactful creatures, and great spells. The only two decks that fit this bill are Temur and Sultai. What I'm going to share are preliminary lists where I started.

The Temur deck felt nice but ended a little too heavy on enchantments. I tried weaning off them a bit but the deck felt a bit reliant on ensuring the creatures paired well with the enchantment and the numbers all felt wonky to figure out. Domri was impressive, but hard to build around. You need to have a reasonable mix of removal to protect yourself and clear blockers but enough creatures to hit with Domri's minus and to make use out of any enchantment you play. The Temur deck in this iteration also had trouble dealing with other Krasis and the Mono-Red decks. Due to the tension in deck-building constraints, I moved on quickly to the Sultai variant where I felt there was already a stronger base involved with the old Golgari shell from last season. A big bonus to playing Krasis in this shell is it fills all the requirements I had previously for what I wanted to draw off Krasis. Additionally, the Golgari deck is fairly good against midrange mirrors and does what it does fairly consistently. While the deck is a tiny bit underpowered as a whole, Krasis should help raise that bar a bit. There were some changes I wanted to make and I'll post my list at the end, but to curb the suspense I played Sultai Midrange since in my testing I felt it was one of the best decks.

On the topic of Teferi decks, there were a few places we wanted to start. We tried Nexus but quickly realized that not only did it have a massive target on its back, it had enough of a fail rate that we weren't too interested in exploring it more. So instead we looked at more pure control decks.

In another effort of moving backward to go forward I revisited an old favorite of mine in Azorius Control. This one is the same old tune. Kill your opponents creatures counter spells then kill them with Terferi or Patient Rebuilding.

This deck ended up being extremely medium. Even in your good matchups you're not that far ahead which is a major concern for the deck. The format just seems too fast and unforgiving for this kind of control deck to work well. I'd recommend splashing a third color for Esper.

Kaya is more impressive than she looks. Gaining a ton of life against the creature decks helps get you out of range of a Haste threat, burn spells, or even Banefire. Post board Basilica Bell-Haunt thrashes the Mono-Red deck and is pretty reasonable against other aggressive strategies. It makes me wonder if the card is playable outside of the sideboards of would-be control decks.

Next down on the list of blasts from the past is Merfolk. I was curious if we'd get anything that would make it better and turns out we got quite a few new toys. Breeding Pool is an incredible benefit for the deck and Frilled Mystic, Benthic Biomancer, and Incubation // Incongruity are awesome additions. Will got to work on a decklist and here's what he came up with.

The stand out here is likely Wildgrowth Walker. During testing, Will discovered Mono-Red could be easier to manage with a bunch of life gain and that massive threats made creature mirrors easier too. Without a bunch of lords the deck could feel a bit underpowered but had a great Nexus matchup and decently good Red matchup and as those started out as the most popular decks in the format, Merfolk seemed like a fine choice. However we moved off this quickly as overall it just felt weak. While it did some nice stuff it fell a little short against bigger creature decks. Because of this it was shelved to look into later.

I was personally enamored with Bant for awhile. After deciding Hydroid Krasis was the best thing to be doing I wanted to look for ways to abuse it. While I prefer Sultai, Bant offered a LOT of ways to maneuver and play differently. Both Hadana's Climb and Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants provided a way to get value out of cards like Incubation Druid and Growth-Chamber Guardian. To me, this deck was also capable of making great use of Deputy of Detention, either buying you time to Krasis or acting as a solid removal spell for cards you might not otherwise be able to deal with. Splashing White also gives us access to some great creatures like Knight of Autumn (great against Wilderness Reclamation if they give you a turn or wonderful against Red to give you time), Shalai to help protect your creatures and Lyra Dawnbringer to put games way out of reach. I'm not quite sold on Trostani in this deck just yet but it seems like it could provide a ton of value.

The standouts in this list are almost certainly Jadelight Ranger and Dive Down. I added Jadelight Ranger as a way to ensure we're hitting our land drops and colors as well. When paired with Hadana's Climb it can be another trivial way to flip it and get cracking. Overall I consider it a role-player to hold the deck together and ensure you're not losing to missing lands. Without Elvish Mystic, missing lands is supremely detrimental.

As everyone knows Harlan is a Steam Vents guy through and through and you won't be surprised at what he brought to the table.

Pteramander has been nothing short of fantastic for the deck. A cheap threat that can grow out of range quickly can leave this deck looking soft into attacking for upward of 20 damage over the course of one to two turns. Being a cheap threat means you can lean on the a lower CMC deck and spend more time spinning your wheels as it will build to something quicker. The Drakes decks of the past have felt clunky but this one is well refined and has a pointed game plan. Harlan tried to get me to audible to this deck and while he might do it still I'm a little too locked into my current strategy.

Next up is something I thought was a meme deck built by Brad Carpenter, but it ended up having some real chops. This 'Jund' Chainwhirler deck looked really odd but does one thing very well and that's demolish creature decks. Bosating some of the best removal and the combo of Chainwhirler and Status, it's easy to manage large board states. You're much more likely to hold Chainwhirler to extract maximum value but having Find // Finality means you're always likely to be able to re-buy in the mid to late game.

While Brad enjoyed the deck, I wasn't thrilled with how it looked and decided to just stay away from it and let someone else figure it out. Playing something you enjoy is going to be important and Brad said if it's all creature decks this deck is going to crush them all. Fixing control might be a bit tougher and there's no way to really manage flooding outside of Rix Maadi Reveler. I'd be interested in trying Treasure Map or Theater of Horrors main deck, but Brad has made the deck look good and it boastx a great Green matchup. On occasion the burn deck can get a little out of range and the Shocklands don't feel good to have against the more aggressive decks.

While there are QUITE a few decklists in here, I would like to point out that there were EVEN more I could have put in and talk about but this article is already way too long for my liking. Instead I'll leave you with what is likely to be the final version of the deck I brought with me to SCG Indy to battle with. Hope this gave you some insight into where we were looking and some of the decks we've worked on.