After an entire new Magic set has been previewed, the first thing I do is look through the cards and use my best judgement to gauge the impact they will have on Standard. It’s always interesting to try to predict which of the top decks are going to benefit the most, and surge even further ahead, or which of the fringe decks are going to get the boost they need to take one of the top spots away. In this article, I’ll give you my initial impressions of some of the cards in Journey into Nyx and my predictions for how some of Standard’s current staples will be affected.
Functionally, Banishing Light is a reprint of Oblivion Ring, except without being able to use “tricks” to keep the permanent exiled forever. After years of playing with Oblivion Ring and Detention Sphere, we have to come to know how powerful this effect is. It is really nice for the white decks without blue, as they once again have access to it.
The question that is of the most personal interest to me is: Once Banishing Light hits Standard, are decks with both white and blue going to be more interested in playing Banishing Light, Detention Sphere, or a mix?
Perhaps the most interesting thing to consider when deciding between the two is that Banishing Light can exile opposing Detention Spheres, and vice versa. For a deck without a lot of permanents, like Esper Control, it’s possible the best build would have a split of something like three Detention Sphere and one Banishing Light, or maybe even four Detention Sphere and one Banishing Light. In control decks, the ability to remove multiple copies of the same creature against an aggressive deck, or multiple copies of Underworld Connections or Pack Rat is very important. In Esper, the ability to remove opposing Detention Spheres isn’t nearly as important. You’re typically getting back Jace, Architect of Thought or Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, both of which are very good cards, of course. But usually those matches revolve around Sphinx’s Revelation and Aetherling. Sometimes you really do need to remove one specific Detention Sphere, or at the very least it would be nice to. Because control mirrors often go very long, something like a 3/1 split might be good in the Esper decks, so that you have the ability to try to find your one Banishing Light if you need it.
From a deck like Bant Planeswalkers, though, I think Banishing Light will turn out to be the better choice. In control mirrors, the Bant deck is able to apply a lot of pressure with permanents, because of the extra planeswalkers, and being able to remove opposing Detention Spheres will be much more useful there. It will create problems for the opposing control player as they have a finite number of answers to deal with resolved planeswalkers, and now you have answers to their answers. It will leave the Bant player a little worse off against Pack Rat, but even Pack Rat has started to see a small decline. (Although, if people start cutting Detention Spheres in favor of Banishing Light, I’d expect that decline to subside or perhaps even reverse.)
With a lot of very powerful enchantments floating around Standard, people have begun to play one or more copies of Revoke Existence in their sideboards. Revoke Existence has the added benefit of being able to exile an artifact, but there aren’t many artifacts to be found. The only artifact that I can think of that sees regular play is Pithing Needle. In addition to being able to remove all the copies of a God from your opponent’s library, Deicide has the added and arguably more important benefit of being an instant. All these factors combined will likely make Deicide the enchantment removal spell of choice.
Reprisal is a neat addition to Journey into Nyx. It gives white decks an easy way to remove diverse threats, for example Polukranos, World Eater and Desecration Demon, with a single cost-efficient card. The biggest issue I see with Reprisal is that it can’t deal with Stormbreath Dragon, which is one of white’s biggest problems. For that reason, I’d expect decks with access to black as well as white to still rely on cards like Doom Blade or Ultimate Price. But for a deck like white-based Boros Aggro, Reprisal could help solve a lot of problems.
Here’s the first Esper list I want to try after Journey into Nyx is released:
This is how I’d update Saito’s Bant Planeswalker deck with Journey into Nyx:
This looks one of the most fun cards in Journey into Nyx to try to abuse. If you could build a deck with 30 enchantments, which is actually possible given the number of creatures from Theros block that double as creatures, you are very often going to be able to find three cards off Kruphix’s Insight. But even in a deck with 15 enchantments, you are getting more than one enchantment on average, while also having the added bonus of filling up your graveyard.
I have been playing Green/Black Dredge in Standard a bit recently and really like the deck. Although I’m not sure I’ll be able to get the enchantment count quite high enough to make Kruphix’s Insight better than Commune with the Gods, I am certainly going to try.
With a fair amount of good discard spells in current Standard, Brain Maggot is an interesting addition. A throwback to Mesmeric Fiend, it can act as a discard spell, temporarily, until your opponent is able to remove it. The question is: when do we want to play Brain Maggot over a card like Duress?
There are pros and cons to Brain Maggot being a creature. The biggest pro, of course, is that it is able to attack. In a very aggressive deck, having cheap creatures, even with 1 power, is a reasonable strategy when they have as much utility as Brain Maggot does. On the flip side, if you take a card like Supreme Verdict out of your opponent’s hand using Brain Maggot instead of a card like Duress, then they are able to remove your Brain Maggot, you have only delayed the problem rather than dealing with it. Brain Maggot is a permanent that adds 1 to your black devotion. While he isn’t a good fit in the black devotion decks as they currently exist, as for the most part the only benefit they get from devotion is more life from Gray Merchant of Asphodel, or turning the odd Erebos into a creature, Brain Maggot will be better in a deck with either Atheros, God of Passage or Pharika, God of Affliction. In both cases, the fact that Brain Maggot is a creature not only helps with devotion but also in another way with each of the respective Gods.
In addition to being a creature, Brain Maggot is an enchantment. This can work for you or against you as well. In general, most decks will not have a way to make use of the fact that Brain Maggot is an enchantment, and it will simply be easier to kill. But combined with something like Kruphix’s Insight or Eidolon of Blossoms, Brain Maggot’s value goes up considerably.
Nyx Weaver is a card I’m not 100% sure on quite yet. The ability to put two cards in your graveyard could prove to be very strong in combination with Pharika, God of Affliction. Also, you can use Nyx Weaver to gain a bit of card advantage if you’re able to bestow onto it. By effectively “forcing” your opponent to spend a card to remove Nyx Weaver, you are able to, mana permitting, exile it, and return another of your threats from your graveyard to your hand. Only getting a 2/3 body for three mana is a bit pricy though, so those bonuses have a lot of work to do to make up for it. The fact that Nyx Weaver is an enchantment itself is something that should not be overlooked either, as it will be another card that will be able to be chosen when casting Kruphix’s Insight. I’m going to try a couple of these at first and go from there.
Pharika, God of Affliction
Pharika, God of Affliction is a card that I think is going to end up being a lot better than it looks. One thing that is the sign of a very good card is one that is good both when you’re the aggressor and when you’re the defender. Against aggressive decks, if you are able to put some creatures into your graveyard in the first few turns, Pharika can quickly set up a brick wall of deathtouch Snakes. Without spending cards to kill your 1/1 tokens, it will be very hard for the opponent to get through on the ground.
On the other hand, against slower, more controlling decks, like Mono-Black Devotion or Revelation Control decks, Pharika is a constant threat to make one, two, or even more Snakes at instant speed at the end of your opponent’s turn. It shuts off Devour Flesh if you leave mana up, as well. Until Journey into Nyx, we’ve only seen one God that costs three mana: Thassa, God of the Sea. Now, Pharika (and Athreos) joins the club. This is especially important, because on the play against mono-black, you will actually be able to get the Pharika into play before it’s able to be stripped from your hand by Lifebane Zombie. The same goes for hitting play before it’s able to be countered by Dissolve. On the draw, those are still issues, and of course Thoughtseize and Syncopate, respectively, can still cause Pharika to meet a similar fate, but that’s a fact of a life. One of Mono-Black Devotion’s biggest threats is Desecration Demon. Pharika matches up very well there too, as you will likely be able to continually make Snakes and keep the Demon from attacking or blocking.
Although Blue Devotion and Black Devotion have both been two of the most popular decks in Standard since its inception, I really don’t feel like Journey into Nyx adds much to either of those decks. Other than Brain Maggot, no cards jumped out at me as even warranting consideration to be included in either one. They have both been among the leaders of the field in Standard for a long time now, though, so hopefully Journey into Nyx will shake things up a bit. I’m really looking forward to see how the new Standard will unfold.
As for me, I’m in full-fledged Block Constructed/Theros Block Draft mode until the Pro Tour in Atlanta in a few weeks. I have a really good feeling about this one. I’m very happy with my play over the past five or six months. I’m very happy with my preparation in general since my return to Magic—I’m preparing now better than I ever have. And most of all, I am exceptionally happy with my team and my teammates. I’m really looking forward to attempting to knock it out of the park with the Pantheon in Atlanta.