Rule of Law – Designing Naya in Modern

Today I’ll take you through, card by card, the deck I went 7-2-1 with at PT Philly (finishing 33rd).

Here’s the decklist:

[deck]4 Kavu Predator
4 Knight of the Reliquary
4 Noble Hierarch
3 Tarmogoyf
1 Qasali Pridemage
1 Eternal Witness
1 Gaddock Teeg
1 Beast Within
4 Boom Bust
1 Fiery Justice
4 Oust
4 Green Sun’s Zenith
3 Punishing Fire
1 Arena
3 Arid Mesa
1 Dryad Arbor
1 Forest
1 Ghost Quarter
4 Grove of the Burnwillows
1 Horizon Canopy
2 Misty Rainforest
1 Plains
1 Sacred Foundry
1 Stirring Wildwood
2 Stomping Ground
2 Tectonic Edge
2 Temple Garden
2 Verdant Catacombs
2 Baneslayer Angel
1 Beast Within
1 Bojuka Bog
1 Damping Matrix
1 Fiery Justice
1 Linvala, Keeper of Silence
1 Obstinate Baloth
3 Path to Exile
2 Seal of Primordium
2 Thoughts of Ruin[/deck]

The Creatures

4 [card]Kavu Predator[/card]

I hated the one-drops that didn’t make mana in this format. I tried [card]Wild Nacatl[/card]s, [card]Kird Ape[/card]s, some [card]Loam Lion[/card]s or [card]Goblin Guide[/card]s or [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card]s, but nothing was impacting the gamestate against [card]Cloudpost[/card]s or Combo. Asking the early creatures to really shine vs combo is asking a lot, but solving the Cloudposts issue started with adding [card]Kavu Predator[/card]. One of the reasons [card]Goblin Guide[/card] was pretty unplayable in Philly was [card]Glimmerpost[/card]. If a Cloudpost player cast [card]Primeval Titan[/card] or [card]Scapeshift[/card] and found some [card]Glimmerpost[/card]s, you could basically never win “playing fair.” As soon as I had the ability to cast or [card]Green Sun’s Zenith[/card] for [card]Kavu Predator[/card], things changed. For a long while I only played 2, since it was still just a Grizzly Bear vs non-post decks when you didn’t draw a Grove. When MJ suggested the card [card]Oust[/card] (which I’ll get to later), that all changed and I was pretty sure I’d be playing 4 Kavus.

In addition to being great against [card]Glimmerpost[/card], Predator also allows you to somewhat ratchet up on the Goyf/Knight/Zenith scale. If the other deck has 12 “fatties” and you have 15 or 16, you often have the edge, since the dynamic of who has more is so important in those matchups.

4 [card]Knight of the Reliquary[/card]

The easiest deckbuilding decision by far. You can’t cut one ever, even to try it out for just one game. One of the best cards in the format and also a key piece to a lot of other stuff we’re trying to makes this not only a 4-of, but the most common Zenith target after turn 1. Other cards in the deck like [card]Arena[/card], [card]Tectonic Edge[/card], and [card]Ghost Quarter[/card] are very powerful even in limited quantities because of the Knights.

4 [card]Noble Hierarch[/card]

I felt Nacatl was bad, and Knight was the key, so my natural 1-drops are mana dudes. Our choices are [card]Noble Hierarch[/card], [card]Birds of Paradise[/card], and [card]Green Sun’s Zenith[/card] for [card]Dryad Arbor[/card]. I didn’t play Birds because I only had room for 8 1drops and the Birds is the weakest in anything even resembling an aggro deck. If the deck really needle double red early I’d play birds, but it doesn’t.

3 [card]Tarmogoyf[/card]

When Michael Jacob suggested cutting a [card]Tarmogoyf[/card], I had to admit I hadn’t considered it. I was guilty of making an assumption early (that Goyf was too important vs other Goyfs to cut one) and then not reevaluating that assumption when the deck changed. With 4 [card]Kavu Predator[/card] there was less of a need for 2 drops and less of a need to maintain numbers against other Goyf/Knight/Zenith decks. Adding an [card]Eternal Witness[/card] instead of the 4th Goyf meant that in those mirror-ish matchups, we could probably dig up a fatty or an Oust for their fatty when we drew the Witness, so it wouldn’t cost us all that much.

1 [card]Qasali Pridemage[/card], 1 [card]Gaddock Teeg[/card], 1 [card]Eternal Witness[/card]

It isn’t essential that you play a bunch of “bullets” to Zenith for in this particular deck, since grabbing [card]Knight of the Reliquary[/card] is so powerful. Even the [card]Eternal Witness[/card] is barely worth running as a bullet because grabbing Knight is so good. With Pridemage and Teeg however, you have unique effects (disenchant and shutting off big spells) that you need to be able to tutor for. Cards like [card]Kitchen Finks[/card], [card]Obstinate Baloth[/card], and [card]Realm Razer[/card] are things you’ll occasionally want, but not enough to warrant their inclusion.

The Spells

1 [card]Beast Within[/card]

Cards I considered at various points were [card]Stone Rain[/card], [card]Nature’s Claim[/card], [card]Journey To Nowhere[/card], etc. [card]Beast Within[/card] does a good impression of all these cards. It’s too slow to run a bunch of, but having one or two around is very useful.

4 Boom//Bust

4 [card]Kavu Predator[/card] lets you be competitive vs. Cloudpost, but going into this event, I wanted more that just being competitive, I wanted to WANT to get paired against Cloudposts. I tried Boom//Bust early on and fell in love. Boom was playing a lot like [card]Sinkhole[/card], and I would have still played 4 copies of the card Boom with no second half. However, having the second half (Bust) steal games is a decent amount of value added. In the PT I frustrated many opponents with Boom and won a game outright with Bust that might have been hard to win without it (against RG Cloudpost). Vs Infect, which we tested a good amount, having something that interacts with the Nexus on your turn while it’s not animated was tremendously useful.

I initially had a couple of [card bloodbraid elf]Bloodbraid Elves[/card] to try and cascade into the Boom//Bust. Over several games with the card, however, it was too bad to stay in the deck. Hitting [card]Noble Hierarch[/card] or Zenith always sucked, and even hitting an [card]Oust[/card] was bad some of the time. If you’re paying 4 mana in this particular format, you have to get a big return on that investment. Bloodbraid wasn’t providing it consistently.

1 [card]Fiery Justice[/card], 4 [card]Oust[/card]

I expected a lot of Splinter Twin decks and Cloudpost decks (I didn’t expect as many [card]Rite of Flame[/card] decks as there was, which was my mistake), I didn’t want too many sorcery speed ways to interact with creatures. Since I was playing “land death” as Conley would say, [card]Path to Exile[/card] didn’t make sense in the maindeck. [card]Oust[/card] and [card]Fiery Justice[/card] could kill an [card]Overgrown Battlement[/card] or [card]Dryad Arbor[/card] to slow down the opponent, [card]Path to Exile[/card] could not. I regret not having played 2 [card]Fiery Justice[/card] and 3 [card]Oust[/card] rather than 4 and 1. [card]Oust[/card] performed well for me at the PT, but [card]Fiery Justice[/card] really really shined. If the opponent is playing any of [card]Dryad Arbor[/card], [card]Noble Hierarch[/card], [card]Memnite[/card], [card]Dark Confidant[/card], or [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card], it is very easy for them to get blown out by [card]Fiery Justice[/card]. Even with no [card]Kavu Predator[/card] in sight, if you kill 2 to 3 cards with your one spell, it can very hard for the opponent to recover. Vs decks without creatures, [card]Fiery Justice[/card] acts as a [card]Lava Axe[/card] with 1 Predator out, or a [card]Searing Wind[/card] with 2 predators out. Target the opponent and deal all 5 damage to them. They gain 5 life and break even, but your [card]Kavu Predator[/card]s grow +5/+5 each, so the effect is direct damage this turn and the same thing every turn until they deal with the predator(s).

4 [card]Green Sun’s Zenith[/card]

My selection for best card in the format is [card]Green Sun’s Zenith[/card]. If they made a split card “[card]Llanowar Elves[/card]//4 mana [card]Knight of the Reliquary[/card]” or “[card]Llanowar Elves[/card]//7 mana [card]Primeval Titan[/card]” people would go ape**** complaining that the card was too powerful. Now imagine it splits 6 ways into Elves, Knight, [card]Gaddock Teeg[/card], [card]Quasali Pridemage[/card], [card]Eternal Witness[/card], [card]Obstinate Baloth[/card]” You get the idea. And by the way, [card]Dryad Arbor[/card] is even better than [card]Llanowar Elves[/card] in this deck because it can be targeted with your Boom//Bust or Knight of the Reliquary. In fact, it often should be the first thing you sacrifice with those cards. It takes it off the board so the opponent’s [card]Firespout[/card] or [card]Lightning Bolt[/card] can’t take it out later.

3 [card]Punishing Fire[/card]

A lot of people remarked that [card]Punishing Fire[/card] wasn’t going to be that good in this format. I disagreed with that sentiment and also felt that the fact people held that sentiment increases [card]Punishing Fire[/card]’s value. When people expect [card]Punishing Fire[/card] to be good, they build around it. If they expect it to be poor, they can play decks like affinity and Birthing Pod without losing too much sleep about the fact that [card]Punishing Fire[/card] is very good against them. I also found that by Boom’ing this land or that land, you could sometimes shrink a Nacatl or Ape into range. I also felt that “interactive” creatures like [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card] and [card]Dark Confidant[/card] and [card]Gaddock Teeg[/card] and [card]Quasali Pridemage[/card] were better than [card]Kird Ape[/card] in this format, so [card]Punishing Fire[/card] was less likely to have no targets.

Interesting Lands

1 [card]Arena[/card]

Michael Jacob was looking through Gatherer to find lands that would make his [card]Primeval Titan[/card] trump other Primeval Titans. He brought up [card]Arena[/card] as an option, and I really liked the idea. Chapin then said we all considered this card in Austin, but MJ and I didn’t remember that conversation, and besides, we might have been wrong in Austin or the situation could be different now. Because I thought Splinter Twin would be the most popular of the combo decks, a land that turned [card]Knight of the Reliquary[/card] into a combo-stopper was really attractive. In the PT, [card]Arena[/card] was worth having. I did indeed beat a Splinter Twin player with it and also an affinity player. I think I boom//busted it away the only time I drew it vs a deck that didn’t have targets. Getting to say “choose your champion” or “I’ll make [card]Knight of the Reliquary[/card] fight” is pretty fun. It’ll probably be less fun after we’ve all played Innistrad a lot, but oh well.

1 [card]Ghost Quarter[/card], 2 [card]Tectonic Edge[/card]

The decks mana is very good, it’s only 3 colors in a rav + fetch (which I hate) environment. That allows us to play some colorless lands at low cost. [card]Tectonic Edge[/card] and [card]Ghost Quarter[/card] are playable cards in this format with no tutoring, and with [card]Knight of the Reliquary[/card] they are essential inclusions. Many times in testing and at the PT I would cast Boom targeting a forest or plains, respond by sacrificing the land to [card]Knight of the Reliquary[/card], tutor up a [card]Tectonic Edge[/card], Kill one of their other lands, and then resolve the Boom. If they had 4 lands, you’ve used 1 card in your hand and only a couple mana to leave them with only 2 land.

1 [card]Stirring Wildwood[/card]

Do not play [card]Treetop Village[/card] instead of this card. The white mana is helpful and being able to block flyers is helpful. Activating for 1 less and having trample are not as good as those other benefits.

The Sideboard

2 [card]Baneslayer Angel[/card]

The entire time I was working on Naya I had a tremendous sense that this tournament was going to be just like Pro Tour Austin in 2009. I was working on a [card]Knight of the Reliquary[/card] + [card]Punishing Fire[/card] deck that could interact with combo, Chapin and Nassif were working on control and combo, and Paul liked Affinity. In Austin I went 7-2-1 in constructed with Rubin Zoo, went 3-3 in draft, and finished in the top 50. In this PT, I went 7-2-1 in constructed, went 3-3 in draft, and finished in the top 50. I kept using lessons we learned in Austin to inform decisions this time around. People weren’t expecting [card]Punishing Fire[/card], it would be worth playing. Aggressive decks had to be worried about combo, they couldn’t play enough removal to keep up with Goyf Knight and Baneslayer. Baneslayer is also the right kind of lifegain because it stops [card]Inkmoth Nexus[/card] as well (by blocking it). If you just sideboard in a million [card]Obstinate Baloth[/card], you can very easily lose to Plating + Nexus or Ravager + Nexus.

1 [card]Beast Within[/card]

The same reason it’s a good catchall in the main, it works in the sideboard. You don’t want too many because it is rarely the least expensive or best solution to the problem you’re facing, so having more targeted answers is a better general plan. The 1 [card]Beast Within[/card] has a lot of overlap, however, which helps you line up the “in vs. out” in various matchups. For example, if I play a [card]Nature’s Claim[/card] instead of the [card]Beast Within[/card], I have 1 fewer card to bring in vs Zoo when I have to take out all my land destruction.

1 [card]Bojuka Bog[/card]

One of my two losses in the Modern portion of the tournament was to [card]Living End[/card], and the [card]Bojuka Bog[/card] didn’t save me. But that’s not really what it’s for. If you play vs. other [card]Knights of the Reliquary[/card], the player who has a Bojuka Bog can beat opposing Knights without killing them. That’s worth 1 sideboard slot when added to the ability to interact with stuff like [card]Pyromancer’s Ascension[/card] and [card]Living End[/card].

1 [card]Damping Matrix[/card]

This is a testament to my fear of [card]Splinter Twin[/card], and my inability to appropriately predict that [card]Rite of Flame[/card] decks would be another popular Steam Vents deck. [card]Rule of Law[/card] was the last 2 cards I cut from my Sideboard, and [card]Damping Matrix[/card] should have been cut first. It is a great piece to have vs. Twin (the best piece really) since it shuts off the combo and the Spellskites, letting you pick off combo pieces as they play them, so if they find a bounce spell for the Matrix, they can’t always go off immediately. [card]Torpor Orb[/card] works too, but doesn’t affect [card]Spellskite[/card] or [card kiki-jiki, mirror breaker]Kiki-Jiki[/card] making blockers. It’s a minor difference.

1 [card]Fiery Justice[/card]

Even with 1 more maindeck, as I suggested, I’d still play one of these in the board. Where it’s good, it’s great.

1 [card]Linvala, Keeper of Silence[/card]

This is a card I wanted to squeeze into the maindeck but couldn’t find the room for. Playing it over [card]Arena[/card] was discussed at length, but I went with [card]Arena[/card]. Out of the Sideboard, she still was able to grab the spotlight for me. One game against Cloudpost, my opponent played an [card]Overgrown Battlement[/card] to go with his [card]Dryad Arbor[/card] and [card]Wall of Roots[/card]. When I cast Linvala on my turn, it was the equivalent of casting a 3/4 Flying double-[card]Nekrataal[/card] [card]Avalanche Riders[/card]. Vs Birthing Pod, she had a similar impact, shutting down both [card]Birds of Paradise[/card] and [card]Wall of Roots[/card], which prevented a big [card]Chord of Calling[/card].

1 [card]Obstinate Baloth[/card]

There are arguments for [card]Loxodon Hierarch[/card], but I think the odds of being [card]Thoughtseize[/card]d or [card]Death Cloud[/card]ed are high enough to make Baloth the choice for Zenithable life points. Finks is worse because the only reason not to get Knight is because you really need the life, so you’re better off getting all 4 life immediately.

3 [card]Path to Exile[/card]

This is an important sideboard trick: when you aren’t playing an “obvious” card in the maindeck because it interacts poorly with something else in the maindeck (Path interacts poorly with Boom, or it could be that in a deck with 3 [card]Gaddock Teeg[/card] you can’t play [card]Green Sun’s Zenith[/card], etc.), you should consider sideboarding in the “obvious” card in matchups where you board out the non-compatible piece. Here, against aggressive decks you really want Path and really don’t want Boom//Bust, so it’s a perfect swap.

2 [card]Seal of Primordium[/card]

Splinter Twin can’t tap you off it, Poison can’t [card]Pact of Negation[/card] or [card]Slaughter Pact[/card] it. It interacts with [card]Pyromancer’s Swath[/card] and [card]Pyromancer Ascension[/card]. It is good vs Affinity. All this adds up to a very effective Sideboard card.

2 [card]Thoughts of Ruin[/card]

My weakest sideboard card. Brian DeMars was playing this over Boom//Bust in his Naya deck before we met up in Pittsburgh (Brian tested with us for the week before the PT and was helpful in getting the Naya deck ready for tournament play. Congrats to him on finishing 12th at the PT and locking up Level 3), and the sideboard copies are something I never really got around to testing much. It’s obviously pretty good against Cloudpost, but it’s just so narrow and also isn’t fast enough to stop the good Through the Breach draws. As a replacement, I would perhaps try adding more Teegs to stop [card]Empty the Warrens[/card] and Through the Breach, or maybe an addition Teeg and something that stops [card]Firespout[/card] and [card]Blazing Shoal[/card] and Bounce like [card]Vines of Vastwood[/card].


Here are some decks that I brewed up in testing for Philly, a truly crazy experience where time was a limiting factor and cardpool seemed bottomless at times. The following lists were all emailed by me to our playtest core group (Gerry Thompson, Michael Jacob, Gabriel Nassif, Paul Rietzl, Patrick Chapin, and myself).

Some of these decks will be really stupid, but if you don’t email these lists to your friends, you can end up sinking more time into bad brews or missing a great idea or two, even if the deck has no chance.


[deck]4 Spellweaver Helix

4 Mystic Speculation

4 Time Warp

4 Preordain

4 Ponder

4 Gitaxian Probe

3 Exhaustion

3 Cryptic Command

3 Gigadrowse

4 Compulsive Research

4 Misty Rainforest

4 Scalding Tarn

15 Island[/deck] [card]Exhaustion[/card] is a really powerful card. Just had to get that off my chest. [card]Mystic Speculation[/card] and [card]Time Warp[/card] on a [card]Spellweaver Helix[/card] lets you cast another copy of Speculation with buyback to take infinite turns. The cool thing about this deck is how good all the combo pieces are even when you don’t have the combo put together. Speculation lets you Scry 3, either once or with buyback. [card]Time Warp[/card] is [card]Time Warp[/card], and [card]Exhaustion[/card] can slow down the opponent and/or get imprinted on a helix to really slow them down. When you imprint the [card]Time Warp[/card] and Speculation on the Helix, but you don’t have the second speculation, sometimes you can just cast a [card]Time Warp[/card], which lets you cast a Speculation in addition to taking an additional turn, and eventually you find the 2nd speculation. This deck was a couple pieces of resilience away from being competitive. What I mean by that is that it just didn’t beat [card]Qasali Pridemage[/card] or [card]Gaddock Teeg[/card] or [card]Seal of Primordium[/card] enough of the time to be played over something like [card]Empty the Warrens[/card] or Twin. Hibernation in the maindeck or sideboard would help a lot if anyone is looking to pick up the pieces and move forward, but I think this is just a bad version of the Steam Vents combo decks.


[deck]4 Fertile Ground

4 Utopia Sprawl

4 Twiddle

4 Dream’s Grip

4 Rite of Flame

4 Seething Song

4 Dragonstorm

2 Peer Through Depths

4 Bogardan Hellkite

1 Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund

4 Preordain

4 Ponder

2 Breeding Pool
3 Izzet Boilerworks

2 Island

1 Steam Vents

1 Forest

4 Scalding Tarn

4 Misty Rainforest[/deck]

This list was pretty bad, but very fun. At one point in considering [card]Dragonstorm[/card] brews, we needed to find a way to kill a player who had gained 25 life, or perhaps even 700,000 life, and then decide if that was a feasible addition to the deck.

TRIVIA: With only 4 dragons all entering the battlefield this turn (and no other spells in hand or permanents in play, let’s say), can you figure out how to kill someone who is at a billion life in Modern?

ANSWER: 1 [card]Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon[/card], 2 [card]Jugan, the Rising Star[/card], 1 [card]Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund[/card].


[deck]4 Noble Hierarch
4 Knight of the Reliquary
4 Tarmogoyf
2 Kavu Predator
4 Green Sun’s Zenith
1 Lotus Cobra
1 Qasali Pridemage
1 Kitchen Finks
1 Eternal Witness
1 Acidic Slime
4 Boom Bust
4 Go for the Throat
3 Punishing Fire
2 Life from the Loam
4 Grove of the Burnwillows
4 Arid Mesa
3 Verdant Catacombs
2 Stomping Ground
1 Temple Garden
1 Sacred Foundry
1 Blood Crypt
1 Overgrown Tomb
1 Treetop Village
1 Ghost Quarter
1 Tectonic Edge
1 Forest
1 Mountain
1 Plains
1 Dryad Arbor[/deck]

Here you can see what I thought might be necessary to work around not having Path, as well as how many Zenith “bullets” I wanted to try out. Not playing [card]Horizon Canopy[/card] in a list with Loam AND Knight would have been a criminal offense, but I fixed that soon after I posted the list.


[deck]4 Birthing Pod
1 Deceiver Exarch
1 Entomber Exarch
1 Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
1 Reveillark
2 Avalanche Riders
1 Acidic Slime
1 Frost Titan
1 Phantasmal Image
2 Momentary Blink
4 Kitchen Finks
4 Lotus Cobra
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Knight of the Reliquary
1 Obstinate Baloth
4 Noble Hierarch

When I post a list with [LANDS] instead of a real manabase, it means it is very preliminary, often just a sketch of an idea or two. Here we see that I wanted [card]Momentary Blink[/card] to work as a complement to ETB triggers, and as a way to protect kiki/exarch, and I also respected the [card]Avalanche Riders[/card] [card]Birthing Pod[/card] deck Nassif was already testing. We never tried this list, so it remains far away from being tuned and competitive. I still believe [card]Momentary Blink[/card] is a potentially playable card.


[deck]4 Knight of the Reliquary
4 Noble Hierarch
3 Qasali Pridemage
4 Tarmogoyf
1 Kitchen Finks
1 Obstinate Baloth
1 Gaddock Teeg
1 Acidic Slime
4 Green Sun’s Zenith
3 Bant Charm
3 Mana Leak
4 Path to Exile
2 Spell Pierce
2 Hokori, Dust Drinker
1 Forest
1 Island
1 Plains
3 Breeding Pool
1 Celestial Colonnade
1 Hallowed Fountain
4 Misty Rainforest
4 Razorverge Thicket
1 Stirring Wildwood
1 Tectonic Edge
1 Ghost Quarter
1 Temple Garden
2 Verdant Catacombs
1 Dryad Arbor[/deck]

Again we see there is no [card]Horizon Canopy[/card], I don’t know why I always forgot that card when brewing. Latest lists I sketched out would include Canopies and also Bribery, a card I thought could swing both Cloudpost and Knight v. Knight matchups. The initial sketch seen here is basically a showcase for the idea of playing Hokori with counters and path.


4 amulet
3 Trinket Mage
1 map
1 pithing needle
4 titan
4 gsz
1 oracle of mul daya (want the azusa back also, lost a game to naya cuz didn’t have it)
1 sak tribe elder
3 scapeshift
1 summer bloom
3 compulsive research
1 kozilek
1 ulagab’smom
1 emrakul
4 explore
4 simic growth chamber
3 glimmerpost
4 cloudpost
4 vesuva
4 misty
1 verdant
2 forest
1 island
2 breeding pool
1 tectonic edge
1 horizon canopy
1 eye of ugin

UlaGab’sMom is Ulamog in his corporeal form, Nassif’s mom. Keeping things light never hurts in a mailing list, and sure enough a few emails later we ended up yelling at each other for not updating everyone with new lists fast enough. This list began with many [card]Summer Bloom[/card]s and got trimmed to 1 as other things needed to get shoved in like Needle and [card]Compulsive Research[/card]. Notice that I did eventually remember to include [card]Horizon Canopy[/card] in decks. Fool me twice, ca..can’t get fooled again.

-Matt Sperling
-mtg_law_etc on twitter


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