Of all the Theros cards spoiled so far, Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx is the one that I am most excited about. Since mana is the backbone of Magic, I always look at the lands first when trying to digest the impact of a new set. And Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx is one heck of a land. In devoted mono-color decks, it can generate absurd amounts of mana, as exemplified by the following scenario:
Turn 1: Play Forest and [card]Elvish Mystic[/card].
Turn 2: Cast [card]Burning-Tree Emissary[/card] into Burning-Tree Emissary. Devotion to green is now 5. Play Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx and (using the red and green mana left over from Burning-Tree Emissary) tap it for five green mana. Pause to tell your opponent that this is Standard. Not Legacy, not Modern, but Standard. And yet, you have five green mana on turn two. Casually play a second turn [card]Kalonian Hydra[/card] and pass the turn.
Turn 3: Wait, our opponent hasn’t conceded yet? Then let’s continue. Tap Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx for seven green mana. Play a second Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx (losing the first one to the legend rule) and go up to twelve mana. Cast [card]Worldspine Wurm[/card] because why not.
This is obviously a Magical Christmas Land scenario, but it serves to illustrate an important Magic lesson that I have learned over the years: never underestimate lands that can tap for more than one mana.
I grew up playing Magic in a world where [card]Gaea’s Cradle[/card], [card]Serra’s Sanctum[/card], and [card]Tolarian Academy[/card] were legal. Those lands allowed for insanely fast starts, second-turn combo wins, and explosive mana production. They were partially responsible for the much-dreaded “Combo Winter” of 1998-1999, and some of them had to be banned. This forever imprinted the power of efficient mana production in my mind.
Since then, I have watched as lands that tap for more than one mana dominated format after format. I’ve seen artifact decks ramp into a second-turn [card]Covetous Dragon[/card] with [card]Ancient Tomb[/card] and [card]City of Traitors[/card]. I’ve used [card]Havenwood Battleground[/card] to speed up [card]Aluren[/card] combo decks by a full turn. I’ve attacked with humongous [card]Nantuko Shade[/card]s thanks to [card]Cabal Coffers[/card]. I’ve run [card]Tinder Farm[/card] in various combo decks, ranging from [card]Balancing Act[/card] to [card]Mind’s Desire[/card]. I’ve seen [card]Cloudpost[/card] and Urza lands enable a fourth-turn [card]Tooth and Nail[/card]. And I crushed Onslaught Block Constructed with 4 [card]Temple of the False God[/card]. That land didn’t even tap for mana early on, but it was still incredibly powerful!
I can’t even think of a multiple-mana land that didn’t make its way into Constructed. And when I look at Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, I see a multiple-mana land with virtually no downside at all: it does not come into play tapped, it does not damage its controller, it does not have to be sacrificed, and it always taps for a colorless mana.
There are some conditions to fulfill before you can net multiple mana, but the same was true for [card]Urza’s Power Plant[/card], [card]Temple of the False God[/card], [card]Cabal Coffers[/card], and [card]Gaea’s Cradle[/card]. It’s all about designing a deck that can abuse it. In the right deck, Nykthos will be extremely powerful.
How to abuse Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx?
You need two things: devotion and a mana sink.
Decks that devote themselves to abusing Nykthos will require a lot of same-colored permanents. After all, at 3 or less devotion, Nykthos breaks even at best. You can filter mana into a different color, but that’s it. Things start to get interesting at 4 devotion: you get one additional mana, which is [card]Ancient Tomb[/card] territory. 5 devotion yields two additional mana, which is like a [card]Cabal Coffers[/card] with five Swamps or a [card]Gaea’s Cradle[/card] with three creatures. At 6 or more devotion, it gets downright ridiculous. To ensure a high devotion count, you need a permanent-heavy build with cards like [card]Kalonian Tusker[/card] and [card]Boros Reckoner[/card]. Enchantments and planeswalkers that stick around after a [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] may be even better.
As for mana sinks, [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card] and [card]Rakdos’s Return[/card] immediately come to mind. However, instants and sorceries don’t turn on Nykthos, so I don’t think those are ideal fits. I prefer to use permanent cards as mana sinks. The activated abilities of Nylea, God of the Hunt; Polukranos, World Eater; Thassa, God of the Sea; and [card]Aetherling[/card] are all perfectly acceptable. And that’s just in Standard. I’m sure that Commander players won’t have any difficulty finding a good mana sink.
How many copies to play in your deck?
Nykthos’s only shortcoming is that it is legendary. The new legend rule does transform excess copies into useful rituals, but drawing multiples is still not desirable. To answer the question of how many copies you should include in your Standard deck, let’s take a look at lessons from the past. Historically, legendary lands have come in three different flavors.
The first category consists of utility lands (such as [card]Shizo, Death’s Storehouse[/card]; [card]Eiganjo Castle[/card]; and [card]Academy Ruins[/card]) whose abilities were nice, but not powerful enough to risk drawing a second copy. Accordingly, they were usually played as 1-ofs.
The second category consists of lands with major upsides (such as [card]Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth[/card] in a deck with [card]Tendrils of Corruption[/card]) that were usually played as 2-ofs or 3-ofs. These lands substantially helped advance a deck’s game plan, so drawing a second copy was an acceptable risk, but you still didn’t need four of them.
The third category consists of combo lands (such as [card]Dark Depths[/card] and [card]Tolarian Academy[/card]) that spawned an entire deck around them. Those lands were played as 4-ofs, as their decks had a hard time winning without them.
As for Nykthos, its category will depend on your deck. A blue-white control player could run a single copy on the off-chance that he draws a lot of [card]Detention Sphere[/card]s. But I’m sure you are more interested in Standard brews that fall into the second and third category.
Devoted Green[deck]4 Experiment One
4 Elvish Mystic
1 Dryad Militant
3 Scavenging Ooze
4 Kalonian Tusker
4 Burning-Tree Emisarry
1 Gyre Sage
3 Domri Rade
1 Renegade Krasis
3 Polukranos, World Eater
3 Nylea, God of the Hunt
4 Kalonian Hydra
1 Worldspine Wurm
4 Stomping Ground
4 Temple of Abandon
3 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
This deck is responsible for the scenario I described at the beginning of this article. My build is fairly straightforward: loads of green permanents and several mana sinks.
Devoted Infinite Mana Combo[deck]4 Hidden Strings
4 Sensory Deprivation
1 Nivmagus Elemental
4 Nivix Guildmage
4 Frostburn Weird
2 Tidebinder Mage
3 Thassa, God of the Sea
4 Nightveil Specter
1 Izzet Staticaster
3 Jace, Architect of Thought
2 Ral Zarek
1 Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius
4 Izzet Guildgate
4 Steam Vents
4 Blood Crypt
4 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
This deck may look like a regular blue devotion deck, but there is an infinite mana combo in there, too. It is a little convoluted, so let me explain.
• Step 1: Suppose that, on turn 5 or so, your devotion to blue is 7 and your devotion to red is 1. Among other permanents, you have [card]Nivix Guildmage[/card], Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, [card]Steam Vents[/card], and 2 Islands in play.
• Step 2: Tap both Islands and activate Nykthos for 7 blue mana, and tap Steam Vents for 1 red mana.
• Step 3: Cast [card]Hidden Strings[/card] targeting anything. Copy it with Nivix Guildmage, untapping Steam Vents and Nykthos, Shrine to Nix. You now have 2 blue mana left in your pool.
• Step 4: With the original Hidden Strings still on the stack, tap Nykthos for 7 blue mana and tap Steam Vents for 1 red mana. Copy Hidden Strings with Nivix Guildmage, untapping Steam Vents and Nykthos, Shrine to Nix. You now have 4 blue mana left in your pool.
• Step 5: Repeat Step 4 a million times. You now have 2,000,006 blue mana in your pool.
• Step 6: With the original Hidden Strings still on the stack, tap Nykthos for 1 red mana and tap Steam Vents for 1 red mana. Copy Hidden Strings with Nivix Guildmage, untapping Steam Vents and Nykthos, Shrine to Nix. You now have 2,000,001 blue mana and 1 red mana in your pool.
• Step 7: Repeat step 6 one hundred times. You now have 1,999,501 blue mana and 101 red mana in your pool.
• Step 8: Activate the first ability of Nivix Guildmage 49 times to loot through your entire deck. Make sure to hold on to [card]Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius[/card]. You now have 1,999,403 blue mana and 52 red mana in your pool.
• Step 9: Cast Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius. You now have 1,999,399 blue mana and 50 red mana in your pool.
• Step 10: Activate Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius 50 times targeting your opponent. (Decline to draw cards.) Ding![draft]Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius[/draft]
When mortals sleep and dream on Theros, they are said to “visit Nyx,” the proverbial land of night and the home of the gods. When I visit the Shrine to Nyx, I’m dreaming of casting third-turn [card]Worldspine Wurm[/card] and generating infinite mana.