The Fall of Babylon (1819) by John Martin. Arena Rector by Ryan Pancoast.
After last week's dip into a more competitive Fblthp, the Lost build, I'm back to building decks at a lower power level. The goal may always be to win the game but when you build for a more casual meta you wind up having many more options for what you can run in a deck. You can run weird, odd, and even bad cards that play well for your commander of choice and you don't have to worry quite as much about whether those cards are fast or efficient. You can get more creative, and, in my opinion, you can have more fun with your deck-building.
Today's build is going to be a look at Niv-Mizzet Reborn.
Fellow CoolStuffInc.com writer Abe Sargent and I have been at odds over which commander is better for building a five-color deck - Niv-Mizzet or Ramos, Dragon Engine. While I fall on the side of Ramos, I definitely can see why Niv-MIzzet Reborn has folks so excited. Card draw is the holy grail of abilities to look for in a new Commander and Niv-Mizzet has a unique and spicy take on filling up your hand.
Meet Niv-Mizzet, Reborn
This is the fourth incarnation of Niv-Mizzet and the first to not have an Izzet color identity.
This 6/6 legendary flying Dragon Avatar costs and has the kind of ability that will really shape the way you build his deck. When he enters the battlefield you reveal the top 10 cards of your library and you put into your hand one card for each unique 2-color pairing among those cards. You don't get to take cards that have a 3, 4 or 5 color identity - only 2-color cards will qualify. Guilds matter to Niv-Mizzet. The cards you don't take into your hand go on the bottom of your library in a random order.
Niv-Mizzet's focus on 2-color cards is going to make me want to play a ton of 2-color cards, but it is also going to make me want to play a fairly even spread of those cards. While running 30 Boros cards in Niv-Mizzet might be ill-advised for many reasons, having Niv-Mizzet reveal a bunch of them won't help me to draw more cards. I want to have my multicolored cards be as spread out among the guilds as possible to maximize the card draw I get from my commander.
These kinds of requirements are going to shape my decision-making and may help to curb the competitiveness of the deck I wind up with. For some, that might even be annoying or even disqualifying but I love this kind of challenge. It's why I loved building Ramos, Dragon Engine and I expect this build to be just as interesting.
Niv's Color Problem
I really want to spread out my cards among all 10 guilds so that I can try to minimize the number of times I get two of the same guild when Niv enters the battlefield and reveals 10 cards. That means I'll try to structure the deck so that I can cover all my bases but also include every guild as evenly as possible.
Because I'm including a number of 5-card cycles, my approach is going to look something like this. The chart below is really just the initial concept I'm going for. My final card choices will definitely scramble a few of these categories.
I won't run every dragonlord, as Dragonlord Kolaghan doesn't work well in EDH and Dragonlord Atarka is underwhelming. I'll fill in with other dragons and that should take care of the left side of the chart. For some reason both sets of cycling cards happen to be in the same guild colors as the dragonlords and their instant-speed Command spells. The right side of the chart is going to be much less organized. I'll run more than one Golgari () card that qualifies as an "answer" and I'll probably run more than one Simic () card that provides draw and/or ramp. As long as I'm trying to address these kinds of key issues and I'm keeping an eye on the colors the cards are in, I should be OK.
The goal will be to wind up with four or five cards in every color space. If I can end up with 45-50 two-color cards in this list I should be able to reveal an average of four or five cards when Niv-Mizzet Reborn enters the battlefield. I'm not up for doing the math on how likely it is that I'll have two cards in the same guild color but my gut feeling is that I'll wind up drawing three or four cards on average.
My guess is that when this deck doesn't work, it will be because of issues around getting the mana to cast Niv-Mizzet. In the games when I can cast him, my problems will revolve around having too many cards and not enough mana. That's a great problem to have, but it means recursion will be really important.
Getting Five Colors
While any deck in Green can run cards like Rampant Growth, Cultivate, and Kodama's Reach and one could argue that all decks should run artifact ramp like Sol Ring and Mana Crypt, none of these staples work especially well with Niv-Mizzet. The first three and any other Green ramp will require you to start out with Green mana. The last two and any other artifact ramp that only produces colorless mana will fail to help with Niv-Mizzet Reborn's base casting cost. All of them will fail to catch Niv's attention and I really want to maximize my card draw when Niv hits the table.
Early testing of this deck convinced me that my biggest issue will be getting lands so I've decided to run a few more lands than usual in this list. Green ramp spells will be dead early cards if I don't start with a Green mana source and in a five-color deck that's far from a certainty, so I'm going to try replacing them with lands instead.
When I first looked at Niv-Mizzet my first thought was that finally I have another general who will make Borderposts worth running!
For those who don't know, the Borderposts are a cycle of artifacts that enter tapped and can tap for either of two colors. They are in Dimir (), Selesnya (), Gruul (), Azorious () and Rakdos () colors.
These artifacts are nigh-unplayable in most decks, but they work well in Ramos, Dragon Engine. You can pay one mana, bounce a land to your hand and cast them to put two +1/+1 counters on Ramos. Often you'll be happy to then play that land as your land drop for the turn in the mid or late game.
For Niv-Mizzet it would be wonderful to have more cards that he can reveal and put in your hand when he enters the battlefield, but the Borderposts don't actually provide ramp. They're not terrible in Niv, but they are better in Ramos by a long shot and I decided not to run them in this list. Niv-Mizzet has no wiggle room in his casting cost. You absolutely have to have a mana of each color to cast him.
Instead of playing Borderposts, I decided to take a long look at cards with land cycling.
This is a cycle of five 2-color cards in Azorius (), Dimir (), Rakdos (), Gruul () and Selesnya () colors that all have the ability to pay two mana, discard the card and tutor for a basic land. They were included in the 2016 Commander precon decks. None of them are amazing but all of them are situationally good, a tad overpriced, and most importantly, they will go into my hand if Niv-Mizzet reveals them.
There is also a cycle of five 2-color cards in the same guild colors that all have the ability to tutor for one of two specific types of lands. While I wish they weren't in the exact same colors as the basic land cycling cards, they provide the flexibility to either drop a body on the floor or go get a land. Again, Niv-Mizzet will see them and put them in my hand.
It's worth noting that these cycling cards also do not represent ramp.
They are going to serve the essential function of helping me get the lands I need to hopefully cast my commander by turn five or six, but they aren't going to accelerate me toward that goal. A competitive deck would require some degree of mana acceleration but I'm strangely happy to have an excuse to play weird old cards that are only really great in certain builds.
I'm going to want to run some color fixers like Joiner Adept and Chromatic Lantern even though Niv won't see them when he enters the battlefield. It's worth mentioning that I absolutely had to include the Mono-White Smothering Tithe. It's ridiculously good at generating mana and you can crack your Treasure artifact tokens for any color mana, making it a great fit in a five-color deck.
Including Kaleidostone might seem silly, but I expect there will be games where I can drop this with an unhelpful combination of lands and use it to cast my commander. It won't help for future castings, so it might be on the bubble of cards to replace if it doesn't wind up helping often enough.
If I'm running Kaleidostone it's also worth running the two lands that can help create mana. Cascading Cataracts and Crystal Quarry are great in Najeela, the Blade-Blossom as ways to allow you to play for her ability. They'll serve us well in this deck to help pay for Niv-Mizzet's inflexible mana cost.
I've got a basic plan for the mana base. I'll rely on a high land count and my land cycling cards to make sure that I can get my commander out on time. In the mid-to-late game those cycling cards can help me keep dropping lands or I can just cast them as regular spells. The final build of this deck will run all 10 shock lands so the land-type cyclers have more flexibility. The first draft of this deck, included below, uses the 10 tricolor lands that enter the battlefield tapped.
Maximizing Card Draw
Every card I include that isn't two colors is going to reduce the effectiveness of my card draw engine, and most of the ETB helpers I might want to include aren't going get put in my hand by Niv-Mizzet. That doesn't mean I shouldn't run them.
If getting to look at 10 cards is good, getting to do it two times is twice as good. Panharmonicon will double my enter-the-battlefield triggers. Conjurer's Closet will let me flicker Niv-Mizzet on the end step, giving me a look at another 10 (or 20) cards every turn. While that will remove any enchantments attached to my commander and any equipment will fall off of him, I'll still enjoy being able to equip and swing with Blade of Selves. At a four player table I'll have two token copies of Niv-Mizzet enter the battlefield and immediately die to the legend rule. Each one will still enter the battlefield, so I'll get another 10 cards revealed from each of the two ETB triggers.
Brago, King Eternal and Deadeye Navigator are both repeatable ways to generate more enter-the-battlefield triggers from my commander. I could run a bunch of instants that can exile my commander and either have him return immediately or at the end of turn, but for this draft my plan is to leave those out. Most of them are one-color spells so they wouldn't help me to add spells that Niv will see.
Choosing a Direction
Niv-Mizzet gives me a lot of flexibility in what kind of deck I want to build.
Artifacts and any strategy that is overly reliant on cards with a single color in their color identity won't take me far.
A Voltron strategy might seem like a good idea at first. Conqueror's Flail and anything that gives double-strike is going to give you a lethal threat on anyone without flying or reach blockers. The fly in the ointment of a Voltron approach is that winning will get much harder if I'm faced with losing all of Niv's auras and having to reattach equipment every time I want to flicker him. There are lots of great helpful cards in two colors like Steel of the Godhead that would work well with a commander-damage approach. Voltron is tempting as heck, but I think for this draft I've got better plans.
Another very tempting direction to take Niv-Mizzet is Storm. Both Epic Experiment and Thousand-Year Storm are two-color spells and there's a wealth of removal in two colors that could make a Niv-Mizzet Storm deck work really well. While a Ramos Storm deck uses his ability to make mana as a built-in mana battery to power through a ridiculous number of spells in a single turn, I don't see Niv-Mizzet as being able to sustain a turn of storming off quite as well. The flicker spells and mana generation spells are predominantly one color, which means Niv is never going to put them in your hand. Manamorphose might be two colors, but Seething Song, Cabal Ritual, Dark Ritual and many others would just find themselves at the bottom of the library.
As I mentioned at the outset, my answer to this question wound up being a simple one. I'm taking apart my Ur-Dragon deck and it just so happens that a lot of dragons are in two colors. I can run the Dragonlords and have lots of viable flying threats to chip away at my opponents.
The three shown above are great, but Dragonlord Kolaghan and Dragonlord Atarka are a bit underwhelming in our format so I'm going to replace them with Bladewing, the Risen and Savage Ventmaw. For the second slot of dragons I'm going to run Ojutai, Soul of Winter, Silumgar, the Drifting Death, Kolaghan, the Storm's Fury, Atarka, World Render and Dromoka, the Eternal.
I'm not going to include any of the earlier versions of Niv-Mizzet because of their heavy reliance on Blue and Red mana, but Spellbound Dragon will join the party. When he attacks you draw and discard a card and he gets +X/+0 where X is the converted mana cost of the discarded card. Those high-CMC land cycling cards might make for great discard fodder for an attack with Spellbound Dragon. Most of them cost five or six mana, and discarding Treacherous Terrain would let this little dragon hit for 11 damage.
Playing all these dragons means that I'm probably building a weaker Niv-Mizzet deck that I have to build.
It's worth noting that more competitive deck-builders have been experimenting with Food Chain combos to make infinite mana so you can infinitely cast Niv-Mizzet, draw all of your two-color cards and presumably draw into a wincon. Despite the fact that none of the Food Chain combo pieces are two-color, that's actually a really smart approach to building a competitive Niv-Mizzet deck. I may eventually tinker with a build like that, but in this deck we'll be going to combat and "playing fair".
As I indicated in the deck color chart at the start of this column, I'm running each of the Dragonlord's Command spells. They're modal, have a relatively low casting cost and give me some flexibility. They are also a thematic choice, but beyond those five spells we have an awful lot of room to build an interesting deck.
With no dragons to pull from four of the guilds, I was happy to find some lower CMC helpers to throw into this list.
While Glissa's casting cost doesn't leave any wiggle room for other colors of mana, having a way to recur artifacts may prove really useful. If we play a Conjurer's Closet, Blade of Selves or even my pet card - Ramos, Dragon Engine, it will be nice to have a way to get those back out of our graveyard.
This deck might wind up giving us a full hand and not enough mana, so I expect that Jhoira of the Ghitu should pull her weight in this deck. For two mana we can suspend a card and put time counters on it. Each upkeep we remove a time counter and when we remove the last one we get to cast the spell. If we've got 10 cards in hand and six mana available, we might want to suspend three high-CMC cards and hope the game will go long enough that they'll end up getting cast.
Rashmi, Eternities Crafter will let us reveal the top card of our deck when we cast our first spell each turn. If the revealed spell has a lower CMC we can cast it for free. If we don't cast it, we put it into our hand. Since many of our spells have a fairly high CMC, we should be able to occasionally grab some really good value with Rashmi's trigger.
I'm also running Taigam, Ojutai Master so that my Dragons (and instants and sorceries) can't be countered. I've got 1 mana dork in the form of the War of the Spark's Leyline Prowler, which can tap for 1 mana of any color and has both deathtouch and lifelink.
Of course not all "goodstuff" comes in the form of creatures. There are plenty of other two-color spells worth including in today's list.
It was hard to pick cards to fill out this list with when I had all of the 2-color spells ever printed to choose from, but I decided to lean towards reliable, well-costed staples. Assassin's Trophy and Windgrace's Judgment both help fill out the Golgari () spots. Boros Charm, Deflecting Palm, and Waves of Aggression will go into the Boros () spots. Urban Evolution, Growth Spiral, and Bounty of the Luxa will step in for Simic ().
For counterspells I'm running Render Silent and Ionize, and it is worth noting that the five Dragonlord Command spells have a variety of modes including the ability to counter spells. Stitch in Time is just goofy fun, but I'll enjoy casting it and every now and then I should flip into an extra turn. Righteous Authority is a way to give ourselves more card draw, and that is always important.
This deck feels very, very different from any deck I've ever built due to its heavy reliance on cycling cards and the high land count. Early testing does make me feel like the cycling plan works, and works well. I'm not missing many land drops and if the table isn't too fast and I can make it into the mid or late game I should be in a good position to have some fun.
Niv-Mizzet Reborn | Commander | Stephen Johnson
- Commander (1)
- 1 Niv-Mizzet Reborn
- Creatures (26)
- 1 Sanctum Plowbeast
- 1 Atarka, World Render
- 1 Bladewing the Risen
- 1 Brago, King Eternal
- 1 Deadeye Navigator
- 1 Dragonlord Dromoka
- 1 Dragonlord Ojutai
- 1 Dragonlord Silumgar
- 1 Dromoka, the Eternal
- 1 Glissa, the Traitor
- 1 Igneous Pouncer
- 1 Iroas, God of Victory
- 1 Jhessian Zombies
- 1 Jhoira of the Ghitu
- 1 Joiner Adept
- 1 Kolaghan, the Storm's Fury
- 1 Leyline Prowler
- 1 Ojutai, Soul of Winter
- 1 Pale Recluse
- 1 Ramos, Dragon Engine
- 1 Rashmi, Eternities Crafter
- 1 Silumgar, the Drifting Death
- 1 Savage Ventmaw
- 1 Spellbound Dragon
- 1 Taigam, Ojutai Master
- 1 Valley Rannet
- Instants (14)
- 1 Ancient Excavation
- 1 Assassin's Trophy
- 1 Atarka's Command
- 1 Boros Charm
- 1 Deflecting Palm
- 1 Dromoka's Command
- 1 Growth Spiral
- 1 Ionize
- 1 Kolaghan's Command
- 1 Ojutai's Command
- 1 Render Silent
- 1 Silumgar's Command
- 1 Sylvan Reclamation
- 1 Windgrace's Judgment
- Sorceries (7)
- 1 Grave Upheaval
- 1 Migratory Route
- 1 Rampant Growth
- 1 Stitch in Time
- 1 Treacherous Terrain
- 1 Urban Evolution
- 1 Waves of Aggression
- Artifacts (8)
- 1 Blade of Selves
- 1 Chromatic Lantern
- 1 Commander's Sphere
- 1 Conjurer's Closet
- 1 Dragon Arch
- 1 Kaleidostone
- 1 Panharmonicon
- 1 Sol Ring
- Lands (40)
- 4 Forest
- 4 Island
- 4 Mountain
- 4 Plains
- 4 Swamp
- 1 Arcane Sanctum
- 1 Cascading Cataracts
- 1 City of Brass
- 1 Command Tower
- 1 Crucible of the Spirit Dragon
- 1 Crumbling Necropolis
- 1 Crystal Quarry
- 1 Exotic Orchard
- 1 Frontier Bivouac
- 1 Haven of the Spirit Dragon
- 1 Jungle Shrine
- 1 Mystic Monastery
- 1 Nomad Outpost
- 1 Opulent Palace
- 1 Reliquary Tower
- 1 Rogue's Passage
- 1 Sandsteppe Citadel
- 1 Savage Lands
- 1 Seaside Citadel
- 1 Unclaimed Territory
Mina and Denn, Wildborn and other creatures and spells that will help me play extra lands might make sense, and I could see myself running more of the guild Charms, but I think this is a pretty solid start. I expect the deck's worst games will be the ones where I simply don't draw into the colors I need to cast my spells. That can happen with any deck, but in a deck where I'm leaning away from playing single-color spells and artifacts it may wind up being an issue.
My mana base might seem a little odd at first glance. The reason behind my perfectly even dispersal of basic lands is that I've got a set of 20 full art lands from the Unstable expansion set. I was running them in a Horde of Notions deck that I had pulled apart and it made sense to put them into this list. They are way too pretty to be gathering dust in a storage box.
Am I optimistic that this deck is going to be wildly successful?
Sadly, no - but I think it will be fun! In a casual meta it win its share of games and will probably give you way more cards than you'll know what to do with. That's not a bad problem to have and I think it will be a neat deck to play for a few months until I decide to take it in another direction. I'm betting that I'll build a Storm version next before I try out a Food Chain combo build. I've built a ton of different versions of Ramos, Dragon Engine and I'm sure I'll do the same with Niv-Mizzet Reborn.
I still think Niv-Mizzet is better in a Ramos deck than Ramos will be in a Niv-Mizzet deck, but the bottom line is that they are both fantastic 5/c commanders and will serve each other really well. If you'd enjoy reading a back-and-forth debate between myself and Abe Sargent in the spirit of the old Reese's Peanut Butter Cups ad, please let us know.
"You put your Ramos in my Niv-Mizzet deck!"
"YOU put your Niv-Mizzet in my Ramos deck!"
I could see that being a fun topic. We at CoolStuffInc.com aim to please. If that or any other topic seems like it would be a fun read please suggest it in comments and there's a good chance we'll give it a shot.
That's all I've got for today. Thanks for reading and I'll see you next week!