So we’ve been able to review Lukka, Bound to Ruin, Nahiri, the Unforgiving, and Vraska, Betrayal’s Sting as compleated walkers, and Kaya, Intangible Slayer and The Eternal Wanderer as one of our heroes, but we have yet another phyrexian to analyze – Nissa, Ascended Animist!
So Nissa is going to be one of the tougher walkers to analyze right off the bat as it can’t just “compleat” (is that how I would phrase it) once, but twice to be a five mana, six mana, or seven mana walker! So to break that down even further, we have a five mana walker with 3 loyalty, a six mana walker with 5 loyalty, or a seven mana walker with 7 loyalty. The latter two are definitely reasonable rates for the mana, but I will say 3 loyalty for a five mana walker definitely feels a bit low, especially when you need to pay 4 life on top of it.
For Nissa’s +1, we have an extremely powerful token generator. Generating tokens is generally a minus ability or even a zero, so having this be a plus ability is very good. Furthermore, even for the five mana version, the first +1 would create a 4/4, the six mana version would make a 6/6, and the seven mana version would make an 8/8. Those are some big stat lines!
The -1 is simple, Naturalize. Not the most exciting, but in a format with so many good artifacts and enchantments, I think this is deceptively good. A solid ability on a five mana planeswalker and not amazing on a six or seven mana walker, but I’m not one to shy away from some utility.
Finally, Nissa has an ultimate that’s truly a big finish. You get a scaling Overrun, but instead of scaling based on creatures or creature size, it’s the number of Forests you control. This would seem to incentivize playing with just Forests, but since this would count any land with the Forest typing, this would be good in most two color decks as well. Obviously, for anyone who knows a thing or two about Overrun, this can easily be game winning. If you’re Mono Green, this should kill every time, but even if you only have three Forests out, this will likely kill with a sizable board. The interesting part here is that it’s a -7. If you play this for five mana, it’ll take a full five turns (including the turn you cast it) to activate, for six mana it would be three turns, but for seven mana, you can do it instantly. This would be hard to reach for five mana, but if you’re casting it for that much, you’re probably more interested in using the plus and minus one instead.
So we have an extremely versatile walker, but will this be enough to help Green decks make a comeback in Standard?
This is a rough evaluation to give as Nissa is so so so close to being a really great walker, but I think there’s just a little too much going against it. I’m very happy with the +1 and even reasonably happy with the -1. Both seem like great abilities and being able to tick up to create a blocker, and then threaten to keep doing that or blow up any artifacts and enchantments they might play is really strong. The ultimate isn’t the easiest to use, but is definitely really powerful in its own right as well. So what’s my issue with it then? The cost.
If this were a five mana walker inherently, this would be very strong, or even a six mana compleated walker, it being seven mana is the issue for me. This is definitely good for a five mana planeswalker, but one you also have to pay 4 life to play? That’s a much worse deal. Paying four life against any strategy that’s actively pressuring your life total is a really tall ask, and while I get the versatility needs to cost something, that’s just a lot. On the flip side, I don’t think this is embarrassing as a six mana planewalker either as you can create some big Horrors at that point, but with all expensive noncreatures, working them around all the countermeasures this Standard has isn’t easy. Finally, while the ultimate is powerful, it is a bit at odds with what decks would realistically want Nissa. So you have an ultimate that incentivizes you having a reasonably wide board to get the game winning effect you’re after, but to ultimate quickly, you would need seven mana. What deck is looking to do both of those things at the same time? If you’re going wide, you’re probably looking to play cheap cards, but if you want to deploy a seven mana planeswalker, you’re probably playing a slower deck. To make matters tougher, the ultimate is contingent on the number of Forests you have. There’s no way you’re playing this in a monocolored deck, so we have to look towards two or three color, however, if you’re three color, then kiss any chance of the ultimate being impactful good bye. So we can assume a two color deck is the best place to use the ultimate, and in the average game, lets assume that you can make the ultimate anywhere from a +3/+3 to a +5/+5. Definitely solid, but if you’re on the lower end of that, you’re going to need more creatures to make that work, and you need to reach that ultimate in the first place! So what if we nix trying to use the ultimate and just use it as a utility walker in a two/three color deck? Then we’re back to the same problem of this being good as a five mana walker, but a tougher sell when you have to pay 4 life. The text on Nissa is strong and I could see a lot of potential use, but the cost just feels to prohibitive for any of them to be more useful than something else you could play. With all this in mind, I think Nissa is a super cool design, but one that just misses the mark.
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