A lot of the time, when we test for big events, we end up with one or two “team decks.” Mythic Championship Cleveland wasn’t like that—no one was truly confident about a deck, so most people played whatever they were most comfortable with. The most played deck in our group was the U/R Phoenix deck LSV Top 4’d with, but we also had people on Esper, White Weenie, Sultai, G/W Tokens, Mono-Red, and even a sole representative with Jund Warriors (shoutout to Frank Karsten). For me, the deck I was most comfortable with was Simic Nexus.
By the point I got to Cleveland, I already knew I liked this deck a lot. I had even played a large number of games with it on stream. The part I had a problem with, however, was the sideboard—I was a great game 1 deck but not a great game 2 deck. I felt like all the options people played were pretty bad, and I was confident we could come up with sideboard plans that were superior to anything on the public radar. I decided that most of my week would then be spent trying to come up with perfect sideboard plans for our deck, which would clearly result in me winning the PT with a broken deck.
After testing, I was proven half-right. All the options people were playing were indeed pretty bad, but we were utterly incapable of coming up with stuff that was better. We tried a lot—even cards like Dryad Greenseeker made an appearance in our sideboard at some point—and we found that, as a general rule, the more we sideboarded the worse our deck became. At one point Matt Nass tried resubmitting his main deck for post-board games and had more success than any sideboard configuration we were trying.
The biggest problem in all of our testing was White Weenie. White Weenie had a very fast clock, multiple pieces of removal, and sideboard counterspells. The post-board games were a nightmare. I played a set of 20 post-board games versus Siggy, tried different configurations, and when the dust settled, the result was 19-1 in his favor.
As the tournament neared, it became clear that we would not be able to come up with a great sideboard plan. Most people who liked the deck started defecting, and U/R Phoenix started to build some momentum among my teammates. In the end, though, I just didn’t like the deck. I felt the mana was inconsistent, I flooded a lot, and I was just too reliant on having multiple Arclight Phoenix in the top 20 cards of my deck.
More importantly, I wasn’t beating Sultai with it at all, which didn’t bode well for my ability to do well at the tournament. Everyone else said Sultai was a good matchup, but I kept losing to it in ways that made sense. Sometimes you can discount a large number of games because you know something weird happened (obviously, if you don’t draw a second land then it doesn’t mean the matchup is bad), but my games against Sultai all seemed relatively normal and I was still not coming out ahead. It’s definitely possible I was playing the deck badly, but it was late enough at that point that I figured I wouldn’t learn a better way to play before the tournament started, and people didn’t seem to get what was wrong in my games so no one could really teach me.
In the end, I decided to stick to Nexus. I felt we had a good list, if not a good sideboard, and I knew how to play the deck. Combo player and basketball shorts extraordinaire Matt Nass also registered the Nexus deck, and Tom Martell was going to as well but ended up having very last-minute regrets and changed to U/R Phoenix at 11:58.
This is the list we registered:
4 Breeding Pool 4 Hinterland Harbor 4 Memorial to Genius 3 Stomping Ground 7 Island 4 Forest 4 Kraul Harpooner 3 Jadelight Ranger 2 Biogenic Ooze 2 Hydroid Krasis 3 Search for Azcanta/Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin 4 Growth Spiral 2 Blink of an Eye 2 Sinister Sabotage 4 Chemister's Insight 4 Wilderness Reclamation 4 Nexus of Fate - Foil - Buy-a-Box Promo 4 Root Snare 3 Negate 1 Crushing Canopy 4 Opt 3 Expansion/Explosion
Why Expansion // Explosion?
Originally, the deck list had Depose // Deploy, which was a pretty good card. We kept running into some problems with it, though, either due to simply being unable to kill the opponent through multiple blockers/removal, or due to being unable to cycle it in matchups where creatures weren’t present (such as Esper or the mirror). Eventually, we decided to try Expansion // Explosion in that slot, and it turned out to be pretty good. By the end, we were all pretty convinced that Expansion // Explosion was the best kill condition available. It was just a very versatile card—the front half could copy Opt or Chemister’s Insight (either yours or the opponent’s) or it could help you fight counter-wars (especially good post-board but also relevant game 1 versus Mono-Blue and Esper), and the second half was just a payoff by itself. We only had three Stomping Grounds, but it wasn’t uncommon to just play a Reclamation, untap, and cast a huge Explosion, which was significantly more powerful than casting Krasis (if you have 5 lands and Reclamation, Explosion draws 6 cards. Krasis draws 1, so it’s really not comparable). I do like Krasis a lot more post-board, when people are fighting for spells with Negate and Duress and when you have more Thief of Sanities to block, so I board it in quite a lot.
I also don’t love only having two win conditions, even if you have Blinks and Sinister Sabotages to protect them. Against Esper, you run the risk of playing one for value in the mid-game and getting the second one Thought Erasured, for example.
The rest of the deck is pretty clear-cut, but I want to highlight the mana base. This deck almost always wants to draw land. It needs a lot of lands to function and cannot afford to stumble. Given that you have all this card drawing and four Memorial to Genius, we found 26 lands to be the optimal number. I think if you really, really want to you can play 25, but I strongly believe that playing 24 lands is criminal.
I also strongly dislike Simic Guildgate. The deck has good enough colored mana as-is (especially if you play more lands, but even if you don’t), and having another land that enters play tapped and doesn’t have a basic land type is very punishing. A lot of the time you’re stuck on three and really need to draw your fourth land. Having that be a Gate loses you the game on the spot.
I am aware that Michael Bonde made Top 8 with 24 lands and 2 Guildgates, but I really think it’s a big liability.
Here are the matchups:
Sultai is a very good matchup pre-board (as is any other sort of midrange deck, like B/R). They basically require a very good draw plus a bit of bad luck from you to win. The key here is that you are not under pressure, so there should be no rush to get Wilderness Reclamation in play. One of the only ways you lose is exposing that (and to a lesser extent Search for Azcanta) to Vivien Reid. The usual play pattern against this deck is to never play Reclamation into their 5 open mana. If you don’t have an answer to Vivien (Sabotage, a backup Reclamation, or a Blink to bounce the Reclamation) then you should wait until you have six lands so you can play Reclamation and Nexus in the same turn.
Sideboard games are tougher, and range from slightly favorable to even depending on their sideboard configuration. A lot of people also don’t know how to sideboard in this matchup (for example, they should bring in all their Kraul Harpooners to beat you down, and at least shave on Hydroid Krasis, but not everyone will do that).
Jadelight Ranger is a card that raises some eyebrows, but we tested it and found it to be pretty efficient in this matchup. The way you lose post-board is to a clock plus disruption, and Jadelight trades with any of their early creatures, which buys you a ton of time, while also keeping you up in resources.
Mono Blue is a bad matchup, but I don’t believe it’s as bad as people think it is. You’re unfavored, and you’re not going to win if they curve a creature into Obsession into two counterspells, but you can certainly compete with their medium or bad draws.
In this matchup, resolving Wilderness Reclamation is paramount. This usually means surviving until you have 6 mana so you can at least pay for Spell Pierce, or fight over it with Expansion. I will almost never slam a Reclamation into 1 open blue mana.
It’s also worth noting that if you’re going to play Root Snare, it’s best to do it on their upkeep. Not only are they less likely to be able to fight for it, but you can also randomly kill Curious Obsession against a distracted opponent (since they must attack to keep it alive, but most people’s default is to not attack when you Fog).
Taking out Opt isn’t ideal, but I really don’t know what else to take out. On the play, I like having the third Negate in (for the third Opt) because it counters Curious Obsession. You can also have Crushing Vines if you want, though it’s not great in this matchup.
The matchup post-board can be very weird, because Kraul Harpooner is either an all-star or useless depending on their draws. If people copy Autumn Burchett’s list, then that’s good for you, because it only plays one Mist-Cloaked Herald and that’s the one that they would like to start with since it dodges Harpooner. If they get Curious Obsession going on Herald you’re really not going to win, though, as they have too many counterspells post-board and they will certainly draw them if they draw two a turn.
Esper is a good matchup game 1 because you have inevitability. If the game goes long, you just start casting Nexus of Fates at the end of their turn and they are very powerless to stop you. The way you lose games are to a very early Teferi to which you have no answer, or to them removing all your kill conditions. For example, if the game goes super long, you could run into a scenario where you use an Expansion // Explosion to force something through early on, then you use a Sinister Sabotage on a Teferi, they use Thought Erasure on another of your Expansion // Explosions, and now all of a sudden all they have to do is keep two counterspells up for the rest of the game and you cannot win. Most of the time, however, it doesn’t come to this and you win game 1.
Post-board they improve a lot, and the game becomes kind of even. Thief of Sanity is a nightmare because you’re bringing in a lot of cards that are good against yourself, like Negates—if they hit you a couple of times with Thief, it’s just game over. Kraul Harpooner is a great answer, though, because it can’t be Duressed preemptively and because if they flip it with Thief it doesn’t do anything for them (unlike Crushing Canopy, which is excellent to steal). Kraul Harpooner also pressures planeswalkers, and alongside Jadelight Ranger can kill them if they have a slow, Negate-heavy draw.
I believe White Weenie is your worst matchup. Game 1 is very 50-50, and the person on the play will usually win, but they have the advantage if they have Deputy of Detention on top of Conclave Tribunal since you’re often far enough behind that you have to play Reclamation and hope they can’t remove it.
Post-board things become way more complicated because they bring in four or five counterspells and you bring in, well, nothing. Krasis isn’t even good versus them, but Expansion isn’t either.
We tried a variety of sideboard strategies (such as Druid of the Cowl, Atzocan Archer, Biogenic Ooze, Dryad Greenseeker, Crippling Chill), and nothing really worked because they go too big too quickly. Against a deck like Sultai, they will play a 3/2, then a 4/3, so if you block their 4/3 with your own you buy a lot of time. A deck like White Weenie attacks for 2, then 6, then 10, then 20, so stopping one creature just isn’t enough and ends up buying no turns. I really thought blockers like Druid and Archer would be good, but they just weren’t. In the end we resigned ourselves to our fate and agreed we were probably going to lose to White Weenie and shouldn’t devote any sideboard slots to it (though I actually beat it 2-0 in the tournament).
The Nexus mirror is all about Reclamation—whomever resolves it almost always wins. You should do everything in your power to resolve yours and not let them resolve theirs. Once you gain a large mana advantage it’s very hard to lose, as your opponent can’t even tap out to cast Chemister’s Insight on your turn or you’ll cast Nexus and then they will never untap again.
If you’re playing against the Temur Reclamation deck without Nexus, then that’s actually a very easy matchup because they can resolve anything short of an Expansion // Explosion for lethal and still lose to Nexus. In that matchup, you can tap out, but if they tap out they lose, and you can just cast Nexus on their end step because they don’t have a way to punish you (whereas Nexus mirrors will just cast their own Nexus at that point).
I think having a minimalist approach in this matchup is the best way to go. We thought about boarding in some creatures (Jadelight mainly) to be able to apply pressure, but the games aren’t actually that slow, and they don’t apply that much pressure. Forcing them to act seems like a good thing, but someone ends up acting before Jadelight would kill them almost all the time anyway.
Overall, I thought the list was pretty good, and accomplished what it tried to accomplish—it beat the midrange and the control decks while losing to the aggro decks. If you like the play style, I think it’s better than the Krasis or the Depose // Deploy version.
Right now, I don’t believe this deck is well positioned. Mono-Blue just won the Mythic Championship, so people are going to be either playing it or trying to beat it, and both of those are bad for you. I don’t think Mono-Blue is that horrible of a matchup, but it’s still bad, and the two decks that come to mind as being good versus Mono-Blue are White Weenie and red decks, which are also bad matchups. If people react to Mono-Blue by playing slow B/R decks, then Nexus prays on those, but I don’t think that’s what’s going to happen right at this moment. So if you have a huge tournament coming up, I’d probably not play Nexus there, but once the metagame settles back to normal (for example, if people play WW to beat Mono-Blue, then other people will play Sultai to beat WW…), then I think Nexus is good.