Recurring Nightmares – Return to Nyx

Everyone is talking Journey into Nyx this week, and with good reason. With the prerelease behind us, and along with it the first opportunity to both play with the new set in Limited and first opportunity to bring a new Journey brew to Constructed, players are in full-on devour mode when it comes to the hottest new cards. Of course, this has a lot to do with the fact that Journey appears to be an awesome set full of rich flavor, strong cards, and interesting mechanics.

In order to talk about what I’m excited for in the coming weeks, I want to take you all back in time, giving you some insight into where that excitement comes from, and then we’ll head back to the future to play with some great new tools.

In the first article I wrote for ChannelFireball, now lost to the annals of server resets, I introduced myself with a brief set of bullet points, including the following:

  • I have an unreal fascination with the card Lim-Dul’s Vault. When Mystical Tutor got banned in Legacy, I did a happy dance for my favorite card. Then I realized I lost a German one, and had to pay $7 for a fourth copy. We currently aren’t speaking. Lim-Dul owes me an apology, and I don’t expect I’ll be getting it anytime soon.

It’s been a long time since I had an opportunity to sleeve up a Lim-Dul’s Vault (though I may be rectifying that soon, stay tuned!), but the most important sentiment that I can demonstrate from this bullet point is that I have a deep-rooted fascination with the Dimir guild, the tricksiest guild of them all.

When Return to Ravnica block brought us back into the world of guilds, I was excited for two reasons. First, I am unapologetically anticipating a reprint of Coiling Oracle, and hoped that the return to Simic could bring that about. Second, I was interested to see how Wizards would reconcile their choice to make Dimir the guild of “mill” with the fact that mill is a terrible strategy, and hoped to see something a little more interactive come out of the guild. Unfortunately I was left disappointed, as the majority of the focus of the guild was on the opponent’s library, but there were a few diamonds in the rough that managed to see play. Cards like Nightveil Specter, though not appreciated during the Standard format of Innistrad Block, has been a staple in the format since the introduction of devotion in Theros. The fact that it’s one of the better Thieving Magpies of late has as much to do with the card’s success as the mana cost does, though the cost is certainly the primary draw. The fact that Specter is the only card from the Dimir Guild that sees regular Constructed play is telling, and I feel like Wizards missed the mark with the guild. When your guild has a secondary attribute of drawing cards, and none of the cards get played, well, you either did a great job of constraining the power level, or did a bad job of making good cards.

With the release of Born of the Gods, I had a second hope for the guild, as the inclusion of Phenax, God of Deception offered a new set of UB cards to add to the mix. Unfortunately, Phenax turned out to be little more than a trap, and despite my best efforts I couldn’t find a way to make the Dimir God a real card.

My first (and maybe best) attempt was in the midst of an adaptation of the Mono-Black Devotion deck:

There are some obvious problems with this list, but there were some choices that I think paved the road to where I want to be with it moving forward.

Now that we’ve introduced Journey into Nyx, we may finally have the tools to use some of the cards from the Dimir guild to their best abilities, and to give some of them a moment in the sun. There are a few of the new set’s cards that make me salivate.

Dakra Mystic – This creature is priced at exactly the cost I want it to be, unlike the much more expensive Bane Alley Broker. While it doesn’t create card advantage in the traditional sense, it does allow you to determine who is “winning” on the deal, and then use that knowledge to determine if you are comfortable with your opponent drawing the card or not. In a way, this reminds me of Zur’s Weirding, a card that I had a brief love affair with in old-old Extended. The 1/1 body isn’t particularly impressive, but at just one blue to cast, the Mystic is totally reasonable as an upgraded Merfolk of the Pearl Trident.

Sigiled Starfish – In a similar vein to Dakra Mystic above, the fish allows you to filter your draws, ensuring you’ll be able to keep a steady stream of powerful spells when you need them, or helping you find the next land drop you need to keep your deck functioning at high-capacity. The 0/3 body blocks many of the early plays from aggressive red and green decks, and helps you find your way into the midgame where you can take over with your quality spells.

Brain Maggot – In a format where Duress and Thoughtseize are legal (read: all formats in Magic currently), Brain Maggot is both excellent and mediocre. I don’t know that there are many decks interested in playing 12 hand disruption spells, but there are decks that want 8, and sometimes you’d prefer to attack with your Duress. The upside of having access to so many hand disruption effects is that you aren’t necessarily forced into taking a removal spell with the Maggot, because you can strip them from the opponent’s hand with the other spells first, making it more likely that the Maggot will turn into a true answer. By the time the opponent finds another removal spell, you may be in a position to force them to use it on another creature. Maggot isn’t the most efficient creature to use in a deck with few other creatures, but in a deck where you can stretch the opponent’s removal thin, it can be better than a Duress.

Let’s skip to the deck list, and we’ll come back around to the rest of the interesting additions:

The idea of this deck is to break Notion Thief. Or, to break the symmetry of some of the more balanced cards in the deck via Notion Thief. As the only other card in the Guild that’s seen real play, Notion Thief was mostly used as a kind of “gotcha” card that was amazing in response to a Sphinx’s Revelation, but with the introduction of Journey into Nyx, I think the card finally has a critical mass of spells that work well without him and are bonkers with him.

Dictate of Kruphix is one of the better Howling Mine variants we’ve seen, as tacking flash onto the spell allows you to reap the rewards from the added draw step prior to the opponent, meaning you’re only at parity with them at worst, and up a card at best (not counting the -1 card from playing the Dictate, of course), where Howling Mine puts you down a card or even at best. Combining the Dictate with Notion Thief creates a one-sided Font of Mythos, which is obviously going to be a must-answer from the opponent. The fact that you can curve into it at instant speed is quite excellent, as well.

The combination of Notion Thief and Whispering Madness is one that was pointed out as soon as the pair were revealed, with the summary of “Mind Twist them, Timetwist you.” It’s an interaction that is begging to be exploited, but up to this point hasn’t had a home. Unfortunately it costs a large amount of mana and effort to make worthwhile, hence the minimal number of copies Madness. The potential for the blowout makes me want to include at least a singleton, though I would never base the deck around that interaction.

The real highlight (at least in my view) is the inclusion of Master of the Feast. As a 5/5 for 3, Master is well above the curve in terms of raw power. The drawback unfortunately tends to allow your opponent to find an answer to the Demon much faster than it’s capable of closing out a game. Still, you’ll probably see no small number of them gracing the tables at your local Standard event, because the card is still excellent, possibly even on par with Desecration Demon. The tag-team of Demons is an enormous amount of power to curve into, and most of your decks should have a plan to interact with this duo. With Notion Thief in play, the drawback of Master becomes a bonus, as instead of the opponent getting the card, the Demon becomes a 5/5 flier for three that acts as more of a Bloodgift Demon than a Gutwrencher Oni.

Though we did discuss it before, I would be remiss in failing to mention the excellent interaction between Dakra Mystic and Notion Thief. For one mana, you see the opponent’s next draw and draw two of your own. This is a reasonable price, I’d say.

The removal and counterspell suite that rounds out the deck list is intended to give you the most opportunities to interact with your opponent during their turn, in order to capitalize on the fact that you’re likely outdrawing them 2:1 or more. Cards like Dimir Charm are excellent in this situation, as they have the capability of being situationally excellent, even if they aren’t always the best at everything. Warped Physique is particularly strong in a format full of indestructible Gods, as it happens to be one of the few spells that can off an active Thassa and an opposing Nightveil Specter alike. There aren’t many decks that can take advantage of this spell, but this one should nearly always have a full (or close to full) grip, and that means Physique leans much closer to Hero’s Downfall than Eye Gouge. Syncopate may not be the right tool for the job, I think I’ll have to put some work in to determine exactly which counterspell I want to round out the list with, but at first glance I wanted a card that scaled to answer any of the issues that may arise on our opponent’s turn, but doesn’t require us to keep three mana up at all times. Since much of our game plan is happening on the opponent’s turn anyway (between Mystic, Dictate, Notion Thief, and all the removal) it may be better for us to just commit to Dissolve as the hard counter and be done with it.

I would imagine the sideboard of this deck would be focused on fine-tuning the removal and counterspell suite to target specific matchups, and would of course include a number of Duress to round out the 7 maindeck hand disruption spells and fully obliterate UW control. The nice part about having a deck like this one that tends to have a multitude of 2-ofs is that the sideboard becomes a more natural extension of the main deck. You have an opportunity to fine-tune the 75 as a comprehensive whole, rather than focus on a specific matchup or weakness within the deck itself. The sideboard becomes more of a dynamic model of “remove the weakest 15 cards” rather than a static “three in, three out.” I’d start with this board, and move from there.

In certain matchups, going for an aggressive Demon plan will be superior to trying for a combo-focused Thief strategy, and boarding out a set of Starfish for Demons (or perhaps some of the more do-nothing cards like Whispering Madness) will allow you to go over the top with the Demon twins.

As the metagame shapes up and the best decks rise to the top (or reestablish themselves as the top), tuning an effective sideboard becomes easier. In the early phases of a new format, there are plenty of unknowns to factor in, and boards are at least partial guesswork.

I’m quite excited to see if there is a real deck that finally opens the format up to Notion Thief as an offensive strategy, rather than a reactive board card for the best card in the best deck. I think Journey into Nyx finally brings the plan together, and I can’t wait to try it myself.

Best of luck at your prereleases this weekend!


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