Before the printing of M13, I was convinced that Naya Aggro was the most well positioned of the tier Standard decks. Martin Juza Top 8′d a Grand Prix with the archetype, and Kibler went on record saying it crushed Delver convincingly.
My own testing matched Kibler’s, and I saw a variety of good MTGO ringers crushing with Naya Pod. There was a good month where if Spikes asked me what to play, I told them “Naya.”
That month continues. Here’s the list I’m excited about:
On the whole, the deck is amazing. Its mana is awesome, it can main deck Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, it plays all the best value creatures, and it has a multitude of ways to break parity in the mid- to late game. Birthing Pod gives the deck some resiliency against random control decks, as well as powerful topdecks to bury the creature mirrors. With the printing of M13, the deck has more goodies, shoring up some of its weaknesses.
Thragtusk is a new five-drop that, when blinked with Restoration Angel, can quickly turn a race into a rout. He leaves value behind in a Pod chain, and he’s resilient to removal. When I first saw the spoiler, I thought that this value-stuffed card would be bonkers. In reality, it’s much closer to fair than I realized. Remember that you’re playing five mana for this guy, and five is a lot. I can see him being played in multiples, but the card doesn’t constitute a powerful reason to play green in and of itself.
Elvish Visionary, innocuous as it may be, is miles better than Strangleroot Geist. The tenacious spirit has its good qualities, but in the end it’s a 2/1 in a field of 3/3 [card blade splicer]Golem[/card] tokens. It doesn’t help that the opponent’s Phantasmal Image copying your Geist tends to be better than your actual Strangleroot, thanks to undying. If they copy an Elvish Visionary, however, bully for them. They get the same thing you did, only theirs can’t be blinked with a Restoration Angel.
Drawing cards is sweet. Cantripping helps hit your land drops in the early game and avoid flood in the late game. When rebuilding my board after a sweeper, Visionary is often my best draw. Chaining dudes together is what the deck is about, and Visionary does that better than anything.
Sometimes, Visionary not being a Human for Cavern of Souls is relevant, but in that case the Geist would’ve been straight up uncastable. After a few days of running the deck through the gauntlet, I’m ecstatic with the switch.
I’m running two one-ofs that have nothing to do with the Pod chain: Oblivion Ring and Bonfire of the Damned. Bonfire is difficult to cast early, which is a problem, but fortunately it’s better late. By running singletons of both cards, I ensure I don’t draw multiples early on, reducing the number of times I am hindered by my own [card thalia, guardian of thraben]Thalia[/card]. The longer the game goes, the greater chance I’ll see my miser—hopefully breaking up a stalled board and taking the game.
Speaking of stalled boards, the format involves a lot of Blade Splicers and Restoration Angels, which reliably leads into some mid-game stare offs. This deck thrives in that environment, as it has both Gavony Township and the Pod chain into Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite to break parity.
Aggressive Naya decks have a great game against the Delver deck because they can support Thalia. With both Thalia and mana dorks demanding Gut Shots, Delver rarely has enough to go around. On top of that, Naya has many redundant threats, as opposed to the low threat count of Delver.
This is Naya Pod’s worst matchup. As the burn deck of the format, Zombies can consistently keep green decks off of mana dorks. When backed up with the pressure the black deck produces, it’s hard for Naya to recover.
Thragtusk is your best creature. Getting that guy out and blinking it a few times should run away with the game. Just like fighting Zombies in the movies, the trick is survival.
I’m boarding Celestial Purges because Pillar of Flame, while cheaper, is actually harder to cast most of the time, as the deck has more white sources than red. The other big reason is Phyrexian Obliterator, which can be a pain to deal with otherwise. Also, there’s a [card thundermaw hellkite]new giant Dragon[/card] that taps down flying blockers, and Purge answers that guy nicely.
I cut a Pod and a Township. This reduces inevitability, but living to see the next turn is more important in this matchup.
Naya and RG Aggro
The various control archetypes are too varied to cover in detail, but I have tested the deck against a few of them to promising results. Some are definitely worse than others, but in general Thalia wrecks face. There’s a dance to control matchups where you apply just enough pressure to win through a Gideon Jura or Sun Titan chain, but not enough to get blown out by a sweeper. Sometimes, you have to play into one or the other, but that’s the nature of Magic. Flash threats, value creatures, and Pod give you a lot more play than the average creature deck.
Sideboarding depends on the variant of control. In general, I cut Geist-Honored Monk and shave a [card huntmaster of the fells]Huntmaster[/card], for the fourth [card thalia, guardian of thraben]Thalia[/card] and the Acidic Slime, but the Bonfire count can be adjusted based on the presence of Lingering Souls. Zealous Conscripts can break games against decks that depend on tapping out for a [card gideon jura]Gideon[/card] or Wurmcoil Engine.
Game one is winnable, but rough. Sometimes you win the die roll, and a turn two Thalia shuts them down. Sometimes they win the die roll, and a Slagstorm blows you out. If the game ends up going late, for whatever reason, the [card elesh norn, grand cenobite]Elesh Norn[/card] should trump whatever they’re doing.
Since the sweepers are the real problem, loading up on Threaten effects is not going to provide positive numbers for this matchup (though it helps). Zealous Conscripts taking a Titan is only nine damage, and you need to deal the extra eleven somehow. To get there, threats resilient to Ramp’s removal are necessary.
Bonus Section: Diddling with Talrand
“The seas are vast, but the skies are even more so. Why be content with one when I can rule them both?”
When he was first spoiled, Talrand made my eyes bug out like Roger Rabbit. Free flying tokens? That’s crazy value! I remembered the days of [card meloku the clouded mirror]Meloku[/card], and how good a blue creature that spits out a hoard of evasives can be.
A lot of people (myself included) have spent the past weeks gushing about the card, and there are a few UG lists floating around that also use Quirion Dryad. The only person who seemed to approach the card with any hesitation was Patrick Chapin, who pointed out that a four mana 2/2 is a bit more fragile than people seem realize.
Naturally, Talrand was the first of the spoiled cards that I started testing. I tried a couple of promising builds, a UR Delver and a Mono-U Delver, and got a harsh lesson in reality. If they can answer your Delver of Secrets, they can probably answer this guy too. Even if you get a token out of him before he gets Doom Bladed, is a token on turn five what a Delver deck needs? That’s the turn you could be playing and equipping a Sword, after all.
This is a format of Whipflares and Slagstorms and Doom Blades. Sure, you can drop a pile of Gitaxian Probes and Gut Shots to make an instant army. However, by turn four haven’t you generally cast all of your Gut Shots and Probes? On average, I’d say a Talrand deck will be able to consistently make one or two Drakes by turn five. Even if all goes according to plan, that still isn’t that impressive. After all, Talrand himself is only a 2/2 without flying, making his base stats much worse than either Meloku or Emeria Angel. After playing with the card, it reminds me more of Pyromancer Ascension than anything else.
I could be wrong about this, since both cards thrive on a critical mass of spells, but Talrand doesn’t belong in Delver decks. [card geist of saint traft]Geist[/card], Restoration Angel, and Blade Splicer also cost more than Delver, but they provide different degrees of resiliency, which is necessary for an expensive threat. Talrand might be able to grind someone out, but so can Moorland Haunt—and with much less risk.
If you still feel like trying this guy out in Delver, be sure to name Wizard off your Cavern of Souls, instead of Human.
Talrand is a one-card engine, and such engines have ways of finding homes. However, I don’t think we’ve found that shell yet.
Here’s the type of deck I see Talrand fitting into:
The Temporal Mastery engine works very well with Talrand. This is a deck that can stock up on spells, thanks to Think Twice and Desolate Lighthouse, and secure the win over a flurry of extra turns. In that sense, it plays like a combo deck, and Talrand’s ability to churn out flying Drakes might be compared to Thopter Foundry‘s incremental wins in the old Time Sieve/Open the Vaults deck. Make a few tokens, take an extra turn, attack for a few damage, and so on. This list is primarily control spells, so it “goes off” less consistently and less thoroughly than Time Sieve did, but 2/2 Drakes take less work to get there than 1/1 Thopter tokens.
Now, this idea might be too cute to be effective. I remember when Pyromancer Ascension got printed, and people tried to make it work in Cruel Ultimatum decks. Ascension was overkill there, and fragile to boot. In the end, it needed its own dedicated deck to function properly. Talrand might be similar.
That’s all for this week. While I was hoping to play 8x Temporal Mastery in the Standard and Legacy portions of the St. Louis Open this weekend, I’m biting the bullet and jamming a pile of Elvish Visionarys instead.
Good luck, everyone.