After playing Historic almost every single day this month, I have a few takeaways:
- There are many viable archetypes for playing this format competitively.
- Phoenix is still there as one of the biggest contenders, sharing the spotlight with UWx Lotus Field, Selesnya CoCo variants, Jeskai and GBx Food.
With this reasoning, I started brainstorming about the best ways to tackle the format and then I realized:
- Niv-Mizzet Reborn has an extremely good match against Phoenix.
- Niv is also good against Selesnya CoCo.
- Even if Niv matches against Jeskai and Food can be hard, this archetype has access to every single card of the game thanks to our 5c mana base, letting us balance the odds against these decks post sideboarding.
Some research on the archetype also made me realize that the deck received an upgrade with Historic Horizons in the form of Territorial Kavu, an amazing creature that could easily be a turn two 5/5 that also fixes our hand. So, why isn’t this deck that popular? Well, even if it doesn’t look like it, 5c Niv was the 5th most common matchup for me this month. Maybe other players realized this before, but now we also know that Niv-Mizzet is the best metagame deck to the format right now.
Building the deck wasn’t an easy task. In the past, Niv had two popular variants, the one with Drown in the Loch and the one without it, both with their own advantages. In the end, the list I brewed, tested and become really happy with is a kind of combination of both. I didn’t include Drown and Green plays a central part in our plan.
If you are familiar with the archetype, there are some things that you might notice about this list. First of all, we go back to the very first iterations of the deck and play 4 Growth Spiral. The more I studied the archetype the more I read/heard that Expressive Iteration has to be at 4, mostly because it’s a great way of making land drops effectively. This deck really wants to put a land into play every single turn. Yes, Iteration looks into our top 3, but the best way to play this card is during turn three where we can play Iteration and put a land into play with the effect of the card. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a reason why this card is super popular in every format, but here I realized something, we play 18 two mana cards…
Why did this become relevant? Well, let’s present an example; if we don’t play Kavu on turn two and our opponent passes with their lands open, what do we do with our mana? Mostly nothing… Lightning Helix and Vanishing Verse are going to be sitting in our hand, and playing Expressive Iteration on turn two could be good, even if is just some kind of Anticipate, but it would be sub-optimal. Growth Spiral was in this archetype before for a reason, and after testing I realized how important the card is. It not only gives us another proactive play beside Kavu, it also helps with assuring our land drops (like Iteration) and ramping us at the same time, while replacing its self at the same time. Then, with 4 mana available on turn 4, we open a very wide fan of options for us, thanks to our mentioned 18 two mana cost cards.
We don’t cut Expressive Iteration, the card is amazing, but in this configuration with Growth Spiral, 2 are enough. We play 27 lands and 6 two mana cards that help us hitting those land drops consistently.
Now lets talk about this little fella. Territorial Kavu became a staple in the Pioneer iteration of this archetype since its release, and the same happened when this Kavu arrived to MTGA. Here we play 11 shocklands and 11 triomes, you won’t believe how many times this would be a 5/5 for two (yes, bigger than Tarmogoyf in many cases). That’s not all… it’s not only a heavy beater and an extremely great blocker, it also fixes our hand by cycling cards and it also can exile cards from graveyard, something that would be great against Phoenix and Food, two of the big contenders in the format.
The release of this Kavu could even be the reason that the archetype resurfaced as a viable option in the format. Regardless, this card ties into the reasoning behind Growth Spiral. If we want green mana available on turn two for Kavu, is there another way of taking some advantage of that? Spiral was the clear answer.
Another very important point about this list is that it’s optimized for maximal Niv-Mizzet Reborn payoff. We run at least one card of each Ravnica guild into our mainboard:
- Azorius: Teferi, Hero of Dominaria.
- Orzhov: Vanishing Verse.
- Boros: Deafening Clarion and Lightning Helix.
- Selesnya: Yasharn, Implacable Earth.
- Dimir: The Scarab God.
- Izzet: Expressive Iteration and Prismari Command.
- Simic: Hydroid Krasis and Growth Spiral.
- Rakdos: Kolaghan's Command.
- Golgari: Maelstrom Pulse.
- Gruul: Territorial Kavu and Klothys, God of Destiny.
It’s very common to see Niv lists with Thoughtseize, Fatal Push, Inquisition of Kozilek, etc. Even if these cards are good, most of the time we are going to prefer to play a triome on turn one. Thinking about this made me realize that trying a different approach could be feasible: Triome on turn one, two mana spell on turn two, three mana spell or two two mana spells on turn three and then Niv on turn 4. All of this thanks to Growth Spiral. With this as our goal, maximizing Niv became an extremely good strategy. Niv normally gives 2-3 cards, but in my case, I had opponents conceding just after seeing how many cards Niv gave me.
Many cards on the list are old acquaintances of the archetype, but our approach has some considerations to take note of. Most of the time, Klothys, God of Destiny wasn’t included, but with our list prioritizing Green and thanks to how good Klothys is against Phoenix and Food, we play it without a doubt. Most of the time Selesyna doesn’t have representation, and when it does, Tolsimir, Friend to Wolves tends to be there.However, thanks to our Jegantha, the Wellspring approach, Tolsimir (and cards like Time Wipe) can’t be there. On the other hand, Yasharn, Implacable Earth can go with Jegantha, and is also extremely good against Food, so one also reached our final list.
When it comes to Rakdos, many players are now using Olivia, Crimson Bride. She can reanimate a Niv late in the game, giving us high amounts of pressure and gas at the same time, but after a while I realized that I was feeling comfortable playing one Kolaghan's Command instead. Yes, Olivia can seal the game in a blink, but an extremely flexible card like Kolaghan's Command helps us in a very wide variety of scenarios. There are a lot of 2 toughness creatures in the format that we can kill with 2 damage, it can recover a Kavu, a Krasis or even a Niv, we can make UWx, Izzet, and Jeskai discard, and probably more importantly, just like Prismari Command, it can destroy Witch's Oven.
Finally, before moving to the sideboard guide, I think the last most noticeable thing about the list is the full set of Vanishing Verse. There’s two main reasons behind this. First, Heliod CoCo is Tier 1, stopping them exiling Heliod, Sun-Crowned is amazing. Second, the card has too many good targets overall to just play two. Trail of Crumbs, Arclight Phoenix, Cauldron Familiar, Serra's Emissary, and the list goes on.
Note: For Bo1 purposes: +1 Deafening Clarion / -1 Klothys. We like having an additional board wipe for aggro decks.
Almost after 100 matches this month in Historic ladder, there are clearly 5 predominant archetypes above all others. UWx Lotus Field, Jeskai Creativity, Selesnya CoCo, Phoenix and the mirror match. Even if Food was just 6% of my matches, I can’t stop thinking that it’s clearly a tier 1. Let’s tackle these six matches.
UWx Lotus Field
|+2 Dovin's Veto||-3 Deafening Clarion|
|+2 Thought Erasure||-2 Vanishing Verse|
|+1 Raff Capashen, Ship's Mage|
We take out Clarion because it’s almost a dead card in these matchups, and even if Vanishing Verse has good targets, they’re very few so just 2 works great. Dovin's Veto and Thought Erasure are extremely good in this matchup. It’s extremely important to remember that they play Stifle, something that can stop Niv’s payoff so be careful if they have a blue source untapped. Also, Strict Proctor could stop Niv, but in this case we have many ways of dealing with it.
Raff could be very good at letting us play Niv at instant speed but we have to pay attention to one big detail. Teferi, Time Raveler is now legal again, and he can stop us from casting spells during their turn. The Teferi, Time Raveler re-balance could push UW even more into the meta, but here is the key: use Dovin's Veto and Thought Erasure for protecting Territorial Kavu. This line of play can make things easier for us.
We sideboard very similarly to UWx, but there is a different reasoning behind the cards. If Dovin's Veto counters Indomitable Creativity our opponent is going to struggle a lot trying to win. Do your best to try and save Veto for Creativity. Thought Erasure could disable our opponent’s curve by taking out a Unexpected Windfall, a turn 3 Iteration, etc. If we draw Thought Erasure during mid or late game then we can go for Creativity.
Kaya is in our sideboard because of how good she is against Phoenix and Food, but here she fulfills two roles. She can exile Mizzix's Mastery from the graveyard or problematic Mizzix's Mastery targets, and at the same time, she can get rid of crab and treasure tokens, preventing Creativity from resolving (or at least locking the game while played for x=2).
Speaking of multiple Serra's Emissary, one of the pros is that we have different ways to interact with them. Maelstrom Pulse is a sorcery, Vanishing Verse is an instant. If they choose creature, we have ways to destroy/exile the angels, and if they chose sorcery and/or instant, we have many creatures that can attack for lethal even if they have 1 blocker. The key is to prevent Creativity from resolving for X=2. Use Helix for killing a crab token or Commands to destroy a treasure if necessary.
|+2 Grafdigger's Cage||-1 Kolaghan's Command|
|+1 Deafening Clarion||-1 Prismari Command|
|+2 Culling Ritual||-1 Yasharn, Implacable Earth|
|+1 Solar Blaze||-1 Klothys, God of Destiny|
|-1 The Scarab God|
|-1 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria|
I’ve been mentioning Selesnya CoCo in this column instead of Heliod Company because GWu Angels is also there, and even if it’s less popular, many of the plans against Heliod work against Angels too. The only difference would be that Solar Blaze doesn’t kill Bishop of Wings, Righteous Valkyrie or any of the uncommon 1/3 ones. But with at least 16 other creatures that could be removed with Solar Blaze I would use the card against Angels either way.
We take out all the slow cards or cards that we don’t want to top deck and side in 4 board wipes + two cages that help us stop our opponents from recovering after we remove all their early threats with spot removal. The Scarab God and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria are good during the mid and late stages of the game, but I think that we have enough threats for sealing the game after stabilizing with Territorial Kavu and Niv-Mizzet Reborn therefore more removals are preferred.
|+2 Grafdigger's Cage||-1 Yasharn, Implacable Earth|
|+2 Dovin's Veto||-1 Prismari Command|
|+1 Kaya, Orzhov Usurper||-1 Kolaghan's Command|
|+1 Kunoros, Hound of Athreos||-1 The Scarab God|
|-2 Growth Spiral|
This is one of our very favored matchups. Our removal configuration deals perfectly with their threats. We play 4 Vanishing Verse in game one and checks almost every creature (for good) except for the occasional 1-2 copies of Crackling Drake and Sprite Dragon. Lightning Helix is amazing here too.
Both of our Orzhov sideboard cards are great for diversifying our threats and stopping Phoenix deck mechanics. Kaya, exiles two cards per turn, and even if they tend to do their Phoenix shenanigans during their turn, with Kaya on the field they have a very rough time. That’s not all, Kaya can also get rid of Dragon's Rage Channeler with her -1. Don’t overlook the ultimate, the -5 could deal large amounts of damage and it just needs 2 turns of +1 to enable it. We exile cards from the graveyard with Territorial Kavu (our best friend in this match) and Klothys, God of Destiny. Speaking of, be very careful while doing it. Preventing them from having delirium is key for protecting Kavu and Niv from Unholy Heat.
|+2 Dovin's Veto||-3 Deafening Clarion|
|+2 Thought Erasure||-4 Vanishing Verse|
|+1 Solar Blaze|
|+1 Raff Capashen, Ship's Mage|
|+1 Yasharn, Implacable Earth|
Our approach to the archetype has some advantages in the mirror match. First, our Niv will tend to have bigger pay offs, Solar Blaze is a board wipe that effectively kills every opposite creature, and playing 4 Growth Spiral can let us win the “who plays Niv first race” almost every single time.
Yasharn is here because we need one more card to side-in (all Clarion and Verse have to go out). We prefer this over Kunoros because it survives Helix.
|+2 Grafdigger's Cage||-3 Deafening Clarion|
|+1 Yasharn, Implacable Earth||-1 The Scarab God|
|+1 Kaya, Orzhov Usurper||-3 Growth Spiral|
|+1 Kunoros, Hound of Athreos|
|+2 Culling Ritual|
I almost never like to take out Growth Spiral, but in cases like this, making room for answers that help us navigate thru the match is preferred over accelerating us. Similarly, while The Scarab God can remove a card from a graveyard it’s too slow for our purposes.
Meanwhile, every other card we side-in has a better time turning off the opposing deck strategy. Cage and Kunoros do wonders stalling the cat plan. Same goes for Kaya while Yasharn completely dismantles everything Food archetypes are trying to do.
Culling Ritual is amazing here (and in any Lurrus match). It’s something like: “Destroy all non land permanents on your opponent’s side of the field”. Just like that.
Something that makes this Niv iteration better than others against this type of decks is that now we play main graveyard hate in the form of Territorial Kavu + our copies of Klothys and Yasharn. Without a doubt these are great times for Niv.
Tips and Tricks
- There’s no other deck where land sequencing matters more. Take your time deciding which land to play, even during your first turn.
- Some people play this deck with the new Innistrad slowlands. Back in the day checklands were preferred. We play a combination of both. Checklands that can enter into the battlefield untapped with any triome in the field, assuring us our turn 2 plays, and slowlands for the combinations of other color pairs when needed, letting us have a turn 2 and turn 3 with untapped lands in many games.
- Do your best of avoiding the autotapper. Click on your lands to decide which colors do you want to use.
- Remember that Hydroid Krasis has trample.
- Be very careful playing Territorial Kavu, one different land on turn one or two could mean the difference between having a 5/5 or not.
- Don’t forget that Yasharn searches for a basic Forest and a basic Plains. We have both to let this boar help us with mana if needed.
- When Niv-Mizzet Reborn reveals two cards with the same color combination, don’t forget to click on the one you want.
- You can chose both effects with Deafening Clarion. Wiping the board plus gaining 5 or 6 life hitting with Kavu or Niv is the difference.
- It’s not a secret that Expressive Iteration is better on turn 3.
- There are many good yet not common plays with Maelstrom Pulse. It can get rid of all the food tokens at the same time, it’s a sorcery, something that helps against Serra's Emissary, it can destroy enchantments. Use it wisely.
- Both commands (Prismari and Kolaghan’s) can destroy Witch's Oven.
- When facing other aggro decks, Kunoros could make the difference with its lifelink and menace, buying us lots of time.
- There are many other applications for Raff Capashen, Ship's Mage. You could put him in along with Kaya, Kunoros or Yasharn in some matches besides the one I mentioned, this to give them flash and make them avoid sorcery speed removal. He also gives flash to Teferi.
- Tapping Jegantha, the Wellspring = Casting Niv.
There’s moments when we feel stuck, without energy, and then… out of nowhere, a ray of light appears. I was playing Merfolks, but even with a good overall win rate, I was passing through a losing streak. For me, Niv-Mizzet Reborn was that light. It was not only incredibly fun to play, it was also very satisfying working into the archetype for this column and getting myself back on track.
5c is probably one of the best metagame decks in the current Historic meta. Great against Phoenix, it got better against Food than before, has plenty of options against any other decks and is extremely adaptable to meta shifts thanks to the fact that it plays all the colors. Also, it’s very intuitive to play in what spells matter and land sequencing. Without a doubt it helps us became better players, making us take better decisions about even what land we put into play every turn.
The biggest barrier probably is that it’s not a cheap deck (44 rares/8 mythics), but let me assure you one thing. It’s a deck that you will not regret crafting, and it’s also a deck that is going to be competing with the other Tier 1 for a long time.
Until the next time, don’t forget to smile at least once every day. ^ -^