Brutal honesty time. I don’t think Magic: the Gathering is that good a game to play. At its worst it’s financially exclusive, repetitive, out of the player’s control, and adversarial. Playing the game means sitting still for long periods of time. All of this is a recipe for, at times, bringing out the worst in people.
But still, there are 12 million players. I am one of them. And I have been playing the game for the majority of my life. I am still dedicated to this game.
But if the game isn’t that good, why are there so many players? Why do you play?
Well, I can only speak for myself here. For me, playing Magic: the Gathering is merely a means to an end.
The pull to Magic: the Gathering is deckbuilding. That is its greatest feature. It is an outlet for ideas. It is an outlet for creative vision and expression. There’s nothing quite like it in any other game. There are games that let you pick your board and your pieces, but none of them rival Magic.
Since the rules and game itself quickly hits a limit in complexity, cards themselves have to be complex. They have to be very complex. As the years pass, we have more and more complex cards that interact with old cards in unforeseen ways. Deckbuilding options cascade. Configurations become exponential. You could get lost in this world forever and never even play a game of Magic.
Now, I did experience Magic: the Gathering through playing the game. I did experience Magic with my brother as an opponent. I did experience Magic at the shop for FNM. I did experience Magic through Magic Online in the evenings. But none of that really meant much.
I mostly experienced Magic by myself, or, more accurately, I experienced it with the game itself. I experienced it in the bus and in the back of class. I experienced it at 8 a.m. walking around the cafeteria in college. And I experience it when I try to close my eyes at night and go to sleep.
Puzzle pieces fit together. Interactions measured. Curves sorted. Threats and mana calculated. And the perfect deck—built!
Only problem is I need to play a game to test if it’s actually perfect.
And that is why I play Magic!
Eyes on Modern
As most of you know, I’ve been playing a lot of Modern. Some of that is in preparation for the fast approaching Pro Tour Born of the Gods. Bust mostly it’s because Modern is huge and relatively unexplored. It’s a playground.
Now, obviously there are constraints. There are metagames.
There is Jund.
But at the initial stages of daydreaming it help to see no limits, to see no constrictions, to see no metagame.
All of this is my way of saying that I built an awesome deck that can’t beat Jund. Basically. If that’s a turn off, I understand, but this one is a little bit special.
For starters, I think it might have the fastest average goldfish kill of any deck in Modern. It is extremely fast and fairly consistent. It rattles off turn 3 and 4 kills. We can configure for turn 2 kills if we want. The only deck that can compete in uninteractive speed is the green infect deck.
This deck is also extremely budget… kind of. I mean, the deck is rareless and almost entirely commons. The issue is the mana base, but we can get around that, and if we do, we’re potentially looking at a blistering fast deck for $20. It might not beat Jund, but I think it’s still something special.
Grixis Nivix Blitz
Nivix Blitz was my second favorite Standard deck of 2013, behind Fogdoor. The deck was built around using [ccProd]Nivix Cyclops[/ccProd] with [ccProd]Artful Dodge[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Boros Charm[/ccProd] for an unblockable 20 damage on the 4th turn.
Well, Modern has a lot more options for making a consistent and fast deck with the same goal of sending through an unblockable one-shot creature.
Grixis Nivix Blitz
[ccDeck]3 Steam Vents
4 Scalding Tarn
3 Misty Rainforest
3 Blackcleave Cliffs
3 Darkslick Shores
1 Watery Grave
1 Blood Crypt
4 Sleight of Hand
4 Serum Visions
4 Gitaxian Probe
4 Inquisition of Kozilek
4 Apostle’s Blessing
4 Artful Dodge
4 Tainted Strike
4 Assault Strobe
4 Kiln Fiend
4 Nivix Cyclops[/ccDeck]
Do I really believe 20-8-8-8-8-8 is the perfect ratio for building this deck? Kind of. It’s more about asymmetry making my eyes bleed. I mean, I would be open to the idea that 19 lands is correct BUT OH MY GOD THE PILES WOULD BE UNBALANCED MY EYES MY EYES.
Yeah, actually, it’s kind of a problem—but hot mama that picture is just beautiful. It’s a work of art.
[ccProd]Kiln Fiend[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Nivix Cyclops[/ccProd] are clearly the best threats here. Both reach 10 power with just 3 spells, which means 1 [ccProd]Tainted Strike[/ccProd] or [ccProd]Assault Strobe[/ccProd], 1 [ccProd]Apostle’s Blessing[/ccProd] or [ccProd]Artful Dodge[/ccProd], and 1 anything is generally a clean kill. If we’re missing a Strike or Strobe we could lay an additional creature. If we are missing an [ccProd]Apostle’s Blessing[/ccProd] or [ccProd]Artful Dodge[/ccProd]—well, maybe they don’t have creatures anyways. Really it doesn’t take much for a kill.
If there’s a weakness to the current deck configuration it’s that 8 creatures is not very many. We might not need any of the specific spells, or even any spells from a specific pile, but we for sure need a creature. So why not more?
Well, the issue is that the alternatives aren’t very good. The first best alternative is [ccProd]Wee Dragonauts[/ccProd].
The issue with [ccProd]Wee Dragonauts[/ccProd] is that the output is so much worse. Where [ccProd]Kiln Fiend[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Nivix Cyclops[/ccProd] take 3 spells for a kill, the Dragonauts take 5 spells for a Strobe kill and 4 for a [ccProd]Tainted Strike[/ccProd] kill. That’s significant enough that I’d rather just run more selection to find our creatures.
The next alternative is [ccProd]Nivmagus Elemental[/ccProd]
[ccProd]Nivmagus Elemental[/ccProd] can potentially be a turn 2 kill, but it demands so much. A [ccProd]Nivmagus Elemental[/ccProd] requires 6 spells for a Strobe kill and 5 for a [ccProd]Tainted Strike[/ccProd] kill… and since all of those spells had to be exiled, it might take even more to make a Nivmagus connect.
The only way to make [ccProd]Nivmagus Elemental[/ccProd] work is a la Gerry Thompson—you have to play a bunch of 0-mana spells and [ccProd]Ground Rift[/ccProd]. Me personally, I don’t want to play those spells.
[ccProd]Nivix Cyclops[/ccProd] has since been printed, and if Gerry had the option of playing it instead I imagine he would have.
Here we have 8 of the most efficient damage doubling spells in Modern. Either costs a single mana. [ccProd]Tainted Strike[/ccProd] gets around life gain. It doesn’t get any better than that.
There are other options as well, such as [ccProd]Fling[/ccProd], [ccProd]Fatal Frenzy[/ccProd], and [ccProd]Boros Charm[/ccProd]. But none of those cost 1 mana and I think 8 is plenty.
Here we have 8 of the most efficient spells to give our creature evasion. [ccProd]Artful Dodge[/ccProd] is great because the flashback can be the additional spell we need for a kill. [ccProd]Apostle’s Blessing[/ccProd] is great because it also protects our creatures from interactive spells.
The next best option is [ccProd]Distortion Strike[/ccProd].
The issue with [ccProd]Distortion Strike[/ccProd] is first that the +1 doesn’t affect the math at all. Also, we don’t really ever want to plan for a next turn. We’d like to kill them this turn, and [ccProd]Artful Dodge[/ccProd] is much better for that.
An all-in deck like this really benefits from knowing what the opponent is holding. If they are holding something that can break our combo up, it’s better to know that before throwing away 4 cards and a turn on a [ccProd]Lightning Bolt[/ccProd]ed [ccProd]Kiln Fiend[/ccProd]. With the information, we can wait and dig for some kind of protection.
Inquisition of Kozilek[/draft]
[ccProd]Gitaxian Probe[/ccProd] is a no-brainer, as since it is also a 0-mana spell it can allow us to get a turn 3 kill with a [ccProd]Kiln Fiend[/ccProd] even if we miss our land drop.
[ccProd]Inquisition of Kozilek[/ccProd] is great. I’m not sure this is better than [ccProd]Thoughtseize[/ccProd], as each has its pros and cons, and perhaps a mix is better. But the effect is exactly what the deck wants. It allows the deck to get a turn 3 or 4 kill through light disruption from the opponent, or to buy a little bit of time by breaking up the opponent’s draw.
Sleight of Hand[/draft]
Selection is perhaps the greatest incentive to play this deck. While [ccProd]Serum Visions[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Sleight of Hand[/ccProd] are much worse than their Legacy cousins, they are still quite good. They allow us to get away with only 8 threats, only 8 doubling spells, only 8 evasion spells, only 8 vision spells. They find what we need, and they also pump up our creatures once they are in play.
The deck might be wrong in that it has too many lands. 20 is a lot for a deck with so much selection and such a low curve, and the deck definitely has a tendency to flood rather than to screw.
My reasoning is that you generally need 3 at least 3 lands to get a kill, but you can also get a kill if you have 6 lands. It seems better to be flooded than to be screwed.
However, perhaps there is an alternative option here, and that alternative is [ccProd]Simian Spirit Guide[/ccProd].
[draft]Simian Spirit Guide[/draft]
For now, I am going to play with lands, but I am thinking [ccProd]Simian Spirit Guide[/ccProd] might be better than some hard mana sources. It might result in us mulliganing more, but it would also result in us killing turn 2 way more. This monkey might be worth the squeeze.
A lot of people have been telling me I need to play [ccProd]Mutagenic Growth[/ccProd] in this deck. Personally I think the effect is extremely weak. Our creatures take 3 spells to reach 10 power—hopefully one of them is a damage doubler and another is an evasion spell. That third spell could be anything. Anything would be a kill. So why [ccProd]Mutagenic Growth[/ccProd]? It’s only effect is that it costs 0 mana. If you want a 0-mana spell, play something with an effect. Why not [ccProd]Gut Shot[/ccProd] or [ccProd]Slaughter Pact[/ccProd]? Because all of our other cards are better.
[ccProd]Mutagenic Growth[/ccProd] can team up with [ccProd]Tainted Strike[/ccProd] to get to 10 power, but once we play an evasion spell, we are on 13. Perhaps the only use of the card is for [ccProd]Lightning Bolt[/ccProd] protection, but I don’t think that does enough.
Budgeting Grixis Nivix Blitz
Some of you may be drooling at the prospect of putting this deck together for cheap. It’s basically all commons after all, and even if it doesn’t beat Jund, we can’t ask for everything from our budget deck.
So what’s the best way to get the price down?
First of all, we can adjust the spell base by playing [ccProd]Duress[/ccProd] instead of [ccProd]Inquisition of Kozilek[/ccProd].
[ccProd]Duress[/ccProd] isn’t so much worse because we are generally hoping to pull a removal spell anyways.
From there we are going to have to adjust the mana base. The best bet is probably [ccProd]City of Brass[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Gemstone Mine[/ccProd]. From there we could fill out the mana base with [ccProd]Darkslick Shores[/ccProd], [ccProd]Blackcleave Cliffs[/ccProd], and [ccProd]Simian Spirit Guide[/ccProd]s.
Building a Sideboard
The last thing I want to talk about is building a sideboard for this deck, and I really don’t have a good answer yet.
My first experiences playing with this deck were that sideboarding directly cost me games. I would try to “improve my matchup,” but all I was doing was making my deck worse.
As such, I advise against sideboarding from this deck very much at all. It’s the type of mostly non-interactive deck that struggles to function the more it is stripped and watered down.
That doesn’t mean sideboarding with this deck is wrong—clearly it is going to be useful. It just means we are going to have to be especially discerning in deciding when to change the deck.
As such, I would only sideboard the most devastating cards: [ccProd]Pyroclasm[/ccProd], [ccProd]Thoughtseize[/ccProd], and [ccProd]Hurkyl’s Recall[/ccProd]/[ccProd]Shatterstorm[/ccProd] for starters. If a card is merely okay it should not be sideboarded.
At this point, you might be asking about that Jund matchup. Perhaps we can patch it up with our last few sideboard slots? I don’t think so, I don’t think it’s really worth the effort. We are likely to lose game 1 and boarding in some [ccProd]Young Pyromancer[/ccProd]s just means if they draw a hand with no removal we are going to give them extra time to find it.
I would start with something like this:
2 Hurkyl’s Recall
4 Surgical Extraction
So there you have it. Deckbuilding is the tops, and playing Magic is necessary for testing out the theories. Grixis Nivix Blitz is fast. The sky is blue. Hello and Good Luck.