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Niv-Mizzet, Guildpact in Commander

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Today I'm going to dive into a build that is both new, and also strangely familiar.

Niv-Mizzet is a Dragon who has seen many printings in the history of Magic. Its first three versions were in Izzet colors, as a legendary Dragon Wizard. In 2019 Niv-Mizzet appeared in War of the Spark as Niv-Mizzet Reborn, a five-color Dragon Avatar. Last year in March of the Machine we got another 5-color incarnation as Niv-Mizzet, Supreme.

The two-color Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind and Niv-Mizzet, Parun both combo with Curiosity, Tandem Lookout or Ophidian Eye, and Parun saw heavy play for its ability to draw you cards when anyone casts an instant or sorcery spell. Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius is no slouch either, and can kill the table if you make infinite Red and Blue mana with its ping ability.

Reborn is notable for being a decent Food Chain commander, and Niv-Mizzet, Supreme is notable for being the first version of Niv-Mizzet that... isn't particularly notable.

I built and played Niv-Mizzet Reborn when it came out, and wrote a column about the build which you can read here. Niv Reborn has you reveal the top 10 cards of your library on ETB and you choose a card from each color pair among them to put into your hand. I enjoyed seeing how evenly dispersed the color pairings in my deck were and how many cards I could grab with each enter-the-battlefield trigger, even if the deck wasn't really all that powerful.

Today's subject reminds me a lot of that.

Niv-Mizzet, Guildpact

Niv-Mizzet, Guildpact is a 5-color Dragon Avatar with flying and "hexproof from multicolored". That last part simply means it cannot be targeted by any multicolored spell or an ability that comes from a multicolored source. It isn't protection, so it can still be blocked by multicolored creatures and it can be damaged by a multicolored source of damage. That's nice but it won't protect from everything.

The bulk of Niv's textbox is where things get really interesting. Whenever it deals combat damage to a player, it deals X damage to any target, target player draws X cards, and you gain X life, where X is the number of different color pairs among permanents you control that are exactly two colors. Niv-Mizzet, Guildpact really loves his guilds and he'll reward you for playing a wide range of 2-colored permanents.

Building Reborn was a fun exercise in trying to include an even dispersal of 2-colored Magic cards, but Niv-Mizzet, Guildpact really only cares about permanents. You can feel free to run as many 2-colored instant and sorcery spells as you like, but if you want to maximize his combat damage trigger you're going to want to focus on permanents. That means anything that stays on the battlefield.

My first draft of this deck was made with cards I had lying around, and I soon realized there were too many important pieces that I was missing to be happy with the deck I'd end up with. I didn't have a spare Birds of Paradise or Bloom Tender, for example, and I didn't want to tear apart my old Ramos, Dragon Engine deck to free up my five Borderposts.

After that initial work of going through my collection and setting aside cards, I switched gears and decided to build the list online with the cards that felt like they made the most sense. You may not agree with all of my choices, but let's take a look at what I came up with.

Patterns Fall Apart

You might think the best way to build a commander like Niv-Mizzet, Guildpact, is to figure out how the deck wants to win the game, and then to utilize Niv's card draw ability to try to draw into that wincon. I'm sure there are great wincons that involve 2-colored permanents, but I decided to take a simpler approach.

My first list started as a list of the four best cards I had available in my collection for each color pairing. They had to be permanents, and I wanted to aim towards having a lower mana curve so I'd have a better chance at playing a bunch of them out. I'm likely never going to deal 10 damage, gain 10 life and draw 10 cards, but that is my best-case scenario.

I ended up with forty cards that felt like an interesting starting point, but I decided to scrap that effort and restart the experiment without restricting myself to cards I had lying around. If nothing else, I've got a lot of decks so I've got a lot of good cards that are already spoken for.

My second attempt started with three cards for each color pairing. I often build decks in an 8 x 8 pattern, but for this build I took three of those "slots" and kept them at eight cards and took the other 5 slots and split them in half. Instead of filling those 10 half-slots with four cards each, I started by filling each slot with three 2-colored cards from the same guild (color pairing). With three cards for each of the 10 guilds, I still had 10 open spots in my build process.

Fieldmist Borderpost
Chromatic Lantern
Bloom Tender

I filled five of those spots with borderposts, thereby filling five of my half-slots. These old 2 color artifacts are not great in most decks, but in the right build they can really shine. One of those decks is Ramos, Dragon Engine. Ramos will get two +1/+1 counters for casting a borderpost, even if I pay 1 mana and return a basic land to my hand. I'm hoping this is another deck that can put these old artifacts to good use.

I filled the other five spots with cards that would help me to fix my colors. Chromatic Lantern, Chromatic Orrery, Joiner Adept and Prismatic Omen are all in the mix, and I put Bloom Tender in the fifth spot because I wanted it in the list.

From there, I filled out the three 8-card slots with ramp, removal and odds and ends. The ramp had a focus on mana dorks that could tap for any color of mana. The removal focused on spells that only required one color, with an emphasis on spells that were one mana because they're simply more efficient.

My third slot was a few cards short, as I wanted to edge up closer to 40 lands than I usually run. An 8 x 8 build pattern leaves you with a paltry 36 spots for lands, so I usually steal a few of those spots.

Swiftfoot Boots
Niv-Mizzet Reborn
Jodah, the Unifier

I started with Swiftfoot Boots and Lightning Greaves, though I'm sure this deck will suffer at tables where removal is flying around like crazy. If you see a ton of removal in your games, you may want to adjust this list to add more protection.

I decided to run Niv-Mizzet Reborn, as it could easily put a few cards in my hand with its enter-the-battlefield trigger. I also added Jodah, the Unifier, as half of my creatures are legendary. I could easily see running more, but if I leaned in that direction too far, I'd have to ask myself why Jodah wasn't in the command zone.

Some decks are simple builds, but in this case my usual 8 x 8 pattern fell apart pretty quickly. It became 8 x 3 and 4 x 10, and then it became 8 x 3, 4 x 5, 3 x 5 and... well, you get the idea. I didn't end up with a neat assortment of equally represented color pairings, but that's OK.

In Search of a Theme

I was very tempted to lean into a theme when building this deck over and above 2-colored permanents, but the only one I could come up with was Dragons. There are a lot of great 2 colored dragons in Magic, but leaning into Dragons would mean shooting my deck's average mana value into the stratosphere, and that would actively hurt my plan to try to flood the zone with 2-color permanents. I love the idea of 2/c Dragons for a more casual meta where you'll have the time to build up and play those big boys, but for this deck I wanted to be leaner and more efficient.

Let's take a look at each guild and how I represented it in the deck I brewed up.

Deathrite Shaman
Kwain, Itinerant Meddler
Baleful Strix

You don't get much more efficient than Deathrite Shaman. It's a 2-color creature that costs 1 mana, and it's even capable of generating mana of any color. For Golgari I'm also running Leyline Prowler and Belbe, Corrupted Observer. The former is a mana dork with deathtouch and lifelink that can tap to add 1 mana of any color. The latter is a legendary Zombie Elf who gives each player two colorless mana at the beginning of their postcombat main phase for each of my opponents who has lost life this turn. That's a mouthful, but this deck ended up with a hug subtheme that Belbe is happy to be a part of.

Kwain, Itinerant Meddler might be a little too huggy for some of you. This legendary Rabbit Wizard taps to let each player draw a card, and each player who does also gains 1 life. My second Azorius card is the hybrid mana Judge's Familiar, which is a flying 1/1 bird that can sacrifice to counter target instant or sorcery unless its controller pays 1 mana. Ishai, Ojutai Dragonspeaker rounds out this guild's contribution to the deck and represents a potentially serious combat threat if it's out long enough. Ishai is 1/1 flying Bird Monk that gains a +1/+1 counter whenever an opponent casts a spell.

Dimir is represented by Baleful Strix, Notion Thief and Consuming Aberration, all of which are great additions to the deck. Strix draws me a card when it enters the battlefield, and it has flying and deathtouch so it should help keep attackers at bay. Notion Thief has flash and will steal any extra card draw my opponents might try to get. Consuming Aberration will Mind Grind my opponents every time I cast a spell, and has a power and toughness equal to the number of cards in my opponents' graveyards.

Kutzil, Malamet Exemplar
Vexing Shusher

Niv-Mizzet is going to want to go to combat as often as possible and my first Selesnya entry will help protect him. This 3/3 Cat Warrior prevents my opponents from casting spells during my turn. Kutzil really wants me to deal combat damage with creatures that have a power boost, but protecting Niv-Mizzet by locking my opponents out of my turn is enough. My hug subtheme gets a couple of great additions in Glunch, the Bestower and Selvala, Explorer Returned.

Gruul would have contributed at least three Dragons if I were willing to have a much higher average mana value for this deck. I ended up including only one, Dragonborn Champion, a four mana Dragon Warrior who will give me card draw whenever a source I control deals 5 or more damage to a player. Vexing Shusher is my cheapest Gruul card, weighing in at 2 hybrid Gruul mana. It can't be countered and for the cost of a red or green mana, I can make target spell uncounterable. One of my few noncreature guild cards in this list is my third Gruul entry, Rhythm of the Wild. This enchantment will make my creature spells uncounterable and will give my nontoken creatures riot, so they can enter with either a +1/+1 counter or haste.

Quandrix Cultivator
Sarkhan, Soul Aflame
General Ferrous Rokiric

My Simic slot is made up of two all-stars and Quandrix Cultivator, a four mana Turtle Druid who does a passing imitation of Solemn Simulacrum, sans death trigger. The all-stars are Thrasios, Triton Hero and Fathom Mage. Both can draw me cards and really shine when you build around them. They should be able to pull their weight in this deck.

That dream of a Dragon deck surfaces again in my first Izzet card. Sarkhan, Soul Aflame is a three mana Human Shaman who reduces the cost of my Dragons by 1 mana. That might help with Niv-Mizzet's commander tax, even if it doesn't help with his WUBRG casting cost. On the turn I play my commander I'll be able to make Sarkhan a copy of Niv so I can attack and try to get Niv's combat damage trigger. I'm also running Firkraag, Cunning Instigator, a 3/3 dragon that can give me some goad triggers and possibly some +1/+1 counters and card draw down the line. My third Izzet creature is The Locust God, which might combine really nicely with Niv-Mizzet's card draw to give me a bunch of 1/1 Blue and Red Insect creature tokens.

Borosis a tricky color for this deck, as the temptation to run cards like Gisela, Blade of Goldnight and Aurelia the Warleader is high. I again aimed for lower mana costs and found a three-mana gem in General Ferrous Rokiric. This Human Soldier will give me a 4/4 Golem artifact creature token whenever I cast a multicolored spell. I plan to do that as often as possible. I'm also running Tajic, Legion's Edge, who prevents all noncombat damage that would be dealt to other creatures I control, and precon staple Iroas, God of Victory, who prevents all damage that would be dealt to attacking creatures I control.

Kardur, Doomscourge
Kambal, Consul of Allocation

My last two guilds are Rakos and Orzhov. Rakdos is represented by Kardur, Doomscourge, Mayhem Devil and Stormfist Crusader. Kardur will goad my opponents' creatures, Mayhem Devil will ping players for sacrificing permanents, and Stormfist Crusader simply gives everyone card draw on my upkeep, at the cost of 1 life.

My three Orzhov cards are Kambal, Consul of Allocation, Liesa, Forgotten Archangel and Tymna the Weaver. Kambal is the opposite of a hug card, gaining me life and punishing opponents for casting noncreature spells. Liesa will give me a little recursion and will keep any of my opponents from getting up to graveyard shenanigans with their creatures. Tymna the Weaver hardly needs an introduction. This legendary Human Cleric will give me X card draw at the cost of X life where X is the number of opponents who were dealt combat damage on my turn.

Flying Under the Radar

I'm optimistic about the amount of card draw I've been able to include in this list, but I'm a little wary of my lack of truly big threats. Even if I'm not able to connect with my commander, I should have a decent chance at drawing into my deck and playing interesting cards. My hope is that if I'm not presenting a really scary threat from my commander and I play a few hug cards I'll be able to fly under the radar a bit and make it to the mid and late game.

Niv-Mizzet, Guildpact EDH | Commander | Stephen Johnson

Card Display

I'm still very intrigued by the possibility of brewing up a Dragon-focused Niv-Mizzet, Guildpact deck, but there are other builds that might have been equally fun. You might not be aware but there are a ton of 2-color auras including a bunch that have hybrid mana in their casting cost. Steel of the Godhead might be familiar to you, but it's just one card in a 10-card cycle and there are lots of other interesting ones you could run.

Tuning this list up or down will probably start with the mana base. When you're building in five colors there are lots of ways to get things done. Many deckbuilders would shy away from playing as many basic lands as I've thrown into today's list, but running more basics does help keep the costs down. I chose to lean a little towards green because of the number of green mana dorks and ramp cards I included. You should load in whatever 5/c manabase you can afford so long as you've got a relatively broad coverage of all five colors and you're staying within your budget.

Final Thoughts

I was able to play this list in an online Tabletop Simulator game. I got very lucky towards the end of the game and pulled out the win, but it's hard to say that I earned it. I did get to see Belbe put in work by encouraging my opponents to swing at anyone other than me. The key card of the game was probably Swiftfoot Boots, as it kept my commander well protected for most of the game. A lucky draw into Consuming Aberration and an extra Borderpost positioned me to be able to swing 6 in the air and then kill the last player with ping damage from Niv's combat damage trigger.

I'm still of the opinion that Niv-Mizzet, Guildpact is a pretty fun low-to-mid powered commander that can and will win games, but you really do need to commit to a boardstate full of 2/c permanents to get the most out of him. I drew three and four cards but never got more than that with any of my triggers and was never close to having to discard cards at the end of turn.

If you leaned into a voltron strategy, possibly by leaning on the many two-colored auras that are available in our card pool, you might be able to close out games a bit faster. As I was playing in a lower powered game, I wasn't trying to kill anyone quickly, but rather see how long I could live and maybe eke out a win at the end. I managed to do that in the deck's first game but as I said, I got very lucky and I easily could have seen myself get knocked out.

That's all I've got for today. Thanks for reading and I'll see you next week!

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