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April 15, 2014

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Journeying into Nyx Standard

I love spoiler season.

Every spoiler season without fail I find myself staring at my computer screen filled with endless different Notepad documents, concocting list after list of new decks in an attempt to take advantage of standards newest potential powerhouse cards. And boy do we have some sweet new cards for us to look at! I can honestly say that the cards that have been spoiled so far are quite exciting.

Starting things off we have my favourite card spoiled so far: Athreos, God of Passage.

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Now THIS is a card! As we’ve seen with Thassa, God of the Sea, three mana for a god is a very powerful spot on the curve to be. Athreos passes the mana cost test without question. Stats seem to be less important when evaluating the gods (since they’re often not creatures while in play), but a 5/4 body is quite solid. As a creature, Athreos blocks and takes down the majority of standards premier ground creatures. Rounding things out, Athreos’s ability is quite nasty.

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Combine this ability with cheap, value creatures and we have a legitimate strategy that will be a pain to do battle against. To get the most out of Athreos’s ability, we want to be pressuring our opponents life total early so our opponents get caught up in some tricky lose/lose situations. This brings us to another juicy new card that I think has the potential to be quite good: Underworld Coinsmith.

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Constellation is a cool new mechanic in Journey to Nyx that allows us to get extra value when enchantments enter play. Now a Grizzly Bear that gains us a life whenever an enchantment enters play under our control is relatively unexciting, but having the second ability to turn that life gain into your opponents losing life is something I can get behind. Adding two devotion towards Athreos is a nice bonus as well. Now to fully take advantage of Underworld Coinsmith’s constellation ability, I want to fill my deck with powerful bestow creatures that can have affect in the early game and late game. For the early game we’re getting another great card out of Journey into Nyx: Gnarled Scarhide.

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Two power for one mana is always very sought after, and the ability to be good at four mana as well pushes Gnarled Scarhide into the realm of premier one-drops. It triggers our Coinsmith upon entering play and pressures our opponents life total early, playing well with Athreos.

Two colour decks as of late have been known for having terrible mana bases. Luckily Journey into Nyx is solving that problem for us with a new City of Brass variant: Mana Confluence.

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Having a good manabase is critical for success in current standard. Stumbling on mana even for a moment can cause you to fall behind the mono coloured top dogs too much to have any hope of coming back. Mana Confluence fixes our mana perfectly, at a price of course. In the Athreos deck I’m considering, our life total is a lot less relevant than our opponents, so paying one life to use Mana Confluence doesn’t hurt us too dramatically.

This is where I would start my list:

BW Athreos

Creatures (26)
Athreos, God of Passage
Cartel Aristocrat
Eidolon of Countless Battles
Gnarled Scarhide
Herald of Torment
Obzedat, Ghost Council
Spiteful Returned
Underworld Coinsmith

Lands (25)
Godless Shrine
Mana Confluence
Mutavault
Plains
Temple of Silence
Swamp

Spells (9)
Orzhov Charm
Spear of Heliod
Thoughtseize

The long awaited return to standard of Cartel Aristocrat is finally upon us. Cartel Aristocrat in theory plays quite well with Athreos and I plan on taking full advantage of that. This list goes big on enchantment creatures to get the most out of Underworld Coinsmith and to give us a strong late game with bestow. I’m not sure if Obzedat, Ghost Council is necessary in this deck because our late game is already quite strong with our bestow cards, but on the other hand it could just be too powerful to not include. The amount of devotion Obzedat provides is ridiculous and will play very well with Athreos. If we cut Obzedat from the main deck, I can see cutting two lands as well to be replaced with four Tormented Hero. Tormented Hero would provide us with a more aggressive early game as well as a relevant Heroic ability that definitely will come into play with all of our bestow creatures. Needless to say that I think strategies that take advantage of Athreos, God of Passage will be quite powerful in standard.

Next up we have the new Planeswalker Ajani, Mentor of Heroes.

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Players always get very excited when new Planeswalkers are spoiled, and for Ajani, Mentor of Heroes I believe all the hype is warranted. Having two +1 abilities is not common place among Planeswalkers, and it just so happens that both of Ajani’s +1’s are quite good. Gaining 100 life as an ultimate is quite hilarious and I like it a lot, but I don’t think Ajani’s ultimate is the best part of the card. If I’ve had Ajani in play long enough to use his ultimate, I should ideally be winning the game anyway. But I mean gaining 100 life sounds like so much fun, am I right? I want to play Ajani in a deck that can fully take advantage of both +1’s, so immediately I’m looking at a midrange strategy.

Junk Midrange has been growing in popularity as of late on MTGO, and I think that list is a good starting point for an Ajani deck.

Here’s where I would go with the list:

Junk Ajani Midrange

Creatures (18)
Courser of Kruphix
Obzedat, Ghost Council
Polukranos, World Eater
Reaper of the Wilds
Scavenging Ooze
Sylvan Caryatid
Voice of Resurgence

Lands (25)
Forest
Godless Shrine
Overgrown Tomb
Swamp
Temple Garden
Temple of Plenty
Temple of Malady
Temple of Silence

Spells (17)
Abrupt Decay
Ajani, Mentor of Heroes
Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
Hero’s Downfall
Thoughtseize
Underworld Connections
Vraska the Unseen

The list is pretty straightforward with nothing too mind blowing; powerful early creatures in Voice of Resurgence, Scavenging Ooze, and Courser of Kruphix, with Reaper of the Wilds, Polukranos, World Eater and Obzedat, Ghost Council as your heavy hitters. Elspeth, Sun’s Champion and Vraska the Unseen join Ajani in the Planeswalker category, Elspeth being the card that most obviously plays very well with Ajani. I would expect to see a lot of decks similar to this one in standard come Journey into Nyx.

If we want to go a different route than Junk with Ajani, Mentor of Heroes, Bant could also be a good option.

Bant Ajani

Creatures (15)
Archangel of Thune
Courser of Kruphix
Kiora’s Follower
Polukranos, World Eater
Sylvan Caryatid

Lands (26)
Breeding Pool
Forest
Hallowed Fountain
Island
Mutavault
Plains
Temple Garden
Temple of Enlightenment
Temple of Mystery
Temple of Plenty

Spells (19)
Ajani, Mentor of Heroes
Detention Sphere
Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
Jace, Architect of Thought
Kiora, the Crashing Wave
Sphinx’s Revelation

This list goes big on Planeswalkers playing 12, with an array of mana creatures to help get them into play early. Playing Bant also gives you access to Detention Sphere and Sphinx’s Revelation, and I shouldn’t have to explain why these two cards are good. I opted not to play Supreme Verdict or counterspells to go more of a midrange route rather than controlling, but I can see Ajani being decent in both archetypes. Playing a midrange strategy simply makes Ajani’s first +1 ability better since it has more targets. Expect to see a lot of players jamming Ajani, Mentor of Heroes wherever they can.

Last but not least, the UR god Keranos, God of Storms has peaked my interest.

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I can honestly say that this card is difficult to evaluate. Starting things off we have 5 CMC, which MIGHT be a little too high for the ability we get. Turning every land we draw into another card and every non-land into a lightning bolt is very tempting. I do admit that I’ve been looking for a way to play UWR in standard for a while now, and Keranos might be the card I’ve needed to make it viable.

A tempo shell is where I would begin in a Keranos deck:

UWR Keranos

Creatures (11)
Boros Reckoner
Frostburn Weird
Keranos, God of Storms

Lands (25)
Hallowed Fountain
Island
Mountain
Sacred Foundry
Steam Vents
Temple of Enlightenment
Temple of Epiphany
Temple of Triumph

Spells (24)
Azorius Charm
Boros Charm
Detention Sphere
Izzet Charm
Jace, Architect of Thought
Mizzium Mortars
Ral Zarek
Turn // Burn
Warleader’s Helix

We have creatures in Frostburn Weird and Boros Reckoner to hold the fort early in the game, both of which conveniently add a solid amount of devotion toward Keranos. Ral Zarek has been underplayed since its printing, and I think the Planeswalker may finally have found a home beside Keranos. Turn // Burn was my favourite card coming out of Dragon’s Maze, and playing it again is something I’ve been dying to do. Boros Charm and Azorius Charm are both included in this list mainly because I want to gain infinite life with Boros Reckoner. Is this too cute? Probably. Do I care? NOPE. Both cards are fine on their own and if I just so happen to have an opportunity to gain infinite life then you damn well know I will. This deck probably won’t be a tier 1 strategy in the meta game but it definitely seems sweet and I’d have a bunch of fun playing it.

Journey into Nyx is starting to look like one of the most exciting sets we’ve had in a while. Unlike what happened with Born of the Gods, standard is going to be shaken up by JOU, and I for one cannot wait. Until next time, happy brewing!