I love building decks. You might know this about me. I started when I was just five years old.
I used to be sitting glassy-eyed in the back of class building decks in my head. I would come home and build them. And then I would go to sleep and decks would come together in my head. I would recall them after waking up. Sometimes they were good. Most of the time they were crazy and horrible. Basically the same as my awake deckbuilding.
And now, somehow, magically I am making them for a living. Who could have predicted that dedicating all of my time to something I was passionate about would prove fruitful? Well, I could have predicted that. If you love something, pour yourself into it. Maybe it will pay off in a decade. The only way to find out is to wait a decade—if it doesn’t, you could either quit or try another decade.
I tried a second decade, and here I am.
Last Monday night, I put together a [card]Nivix Cyclops[/card] deck. I took it the Magic Online 2-mans without a sideboard and started 7-1. Later in the week I put together a sideboard and won back-to-back 8-mans. I decided then that I would play in a PTQ. On Saturday we drove to Portland where I finished in the Top 8. These are good results.
It’s rare that I am this compelled to play tournament Magic, and it’s rare that I build a deck that immediately wins this much. These are results that I expect others will replicate.
People have been asking me how the deck came about. I know some recent followers believe that my decks are unoriginal, cherry-picked form reader submissions. I have only used a reader-submitted deck as a starting point a few times in my two decades of deck building, and this deck is like the majority.
It was inspired by a deck I built as a 16-year-old for the Junior Super Series. I found myself returning to the game from a hiatus at 3 a.m., with a qualifying tournament in 7 hours. As I scoured the old spoiler for the new set I discovered [card]Wee Dragonauts[/card], and was able to build a competitive deck around the card and purchase the entire list for less than $30 in the morning. I didn’t lose a game that tournament.
Playing with [card]Nivix Cyclops[/card] and [card]Armed // Dangerous[/card] in my first DGM draft rekindled fond memories of that deck. I decided [card]Nivix Cyclops[/card] must be a Standard deck—and now here we are.
Obviously, it wasn’t all me. A lot of great minds helped this deck come together through the stream this past week, and I recognize that. I’ve also heard of a RUG version gaining popularity, but I have purposely ignored looking at alternate lists in order to protect myself from anchoring bias.
Short story is this: there are a lot of [card]Nivix Cyclops[/card] decks out there. This is OUR [card]Nivix Cyclops[/card] deck.
[deck]3 Glacial Fortress
2 Hallowed Fountain
4 Steam Vents
4 Sulfur Falls
2 Clifftop Retreat
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Artful Dodge
4 Faithless Looting
4 Pillar of Flame
4 Thought Scour
4 Boros Charm
4 Izzet Charm
4 Searing Spear
4 Snapcaster Mage
4 Nivix Cyclops[/deck]
Playing this deck is like playing another format. The amount of selection and options it provides is unparalleled in Standard. The deck is primarily 1- and 2-mana instants and sorceries with 2-3 modes, which means an amazing use of mana. It has a powerful punch kill that has to be respected—a [card]Nivix Cyclops[/card] represents 20 unblockable damage.
I know some of you guys are already thinking of changes you want to make while reading this (or not reading this). Some of you will play a few games, lose, and make changes. Now, it’s possible you’ve immediately discovered something I haven’t, but realize I have spent over 30 hours working on this deck. It’s not necessarily perfect, but everything has a purpose.
If you don’t like something, don’t understand something, or find yourself losing, hit me up. I will try to answer your questions and help you. The answers are mostly already in the deck. This is okay and to be expected. The deck is foreign and difficult, and even the best players will have misunderstandings at first while playing it.
Izzet Blitz Card Choices
Each of these pack a massive punch. [card]Guttersnipe[/card] represents 2 extra damage per spell, and [card]Nivix Cyclops[/card] represents 3 extra damage per spell if it doesn’t get blocked. This adds up to 20 really quickly, considering our deck is primarily 1-2 mana spells, many of them highly efficient burn spells.
One of the most common ways to lose with this deck is by drawing many cards without seeing one of these guys. The solution could be to find another comparable threat, but there really aren’t any out there, and if we have too many we dilute the power of these guys when we do draw them. Eight is a lot, and we have a lot of selection, so most of the time we will have one of these guys early in the game.
Pillar of Flame
Each of these works fantastically with [card]Nivix Cyclops[/card] and [card]Guttersnipe[/card].
With [card]Guttersnipe[/card], [card]Pillar of Flame[/card] does 4 damage for one mana, [card]Searing Spear[/card] does 5 for two mana, and [card]Boros Charm[/card] does 6. This is a tremendous amount of damage, and even [card]Thragtusk[/card] decks can get burned out from 30.
With [card]Nivix Cyclops[/card], Pillar and Spear are both great at clearing the way for an angry, enormous Cyclops.
[card]Boros Charm[/card] gives Cyclops double strike, which adds up to 20 with two other spells. People don’t like to die at 20, but it’s happening.
[card]Boros Charm[/card] also protects both [card]Gutternsipe[/card] and [card]Nivix Cyclops[/card], which is an important alternate function against cards like [card]Abrupt Decay[/card] and [card]Supreme Verdict[/card].
[card]Faithless Looting[/card] is amazing in this deck. It allows us to keep a wide range of hands, and always have use for our mana. Even if we end up down a card, we end up with the cards we need.
It provides massive fuel for our threats, attacking the opponent’s life total while turning lands into more damage spells.
It allows us to play fewer lands, and draw fewer lands in the late game. It allows us to always have options, and always play Magic. It is amazing.
[card]Izzet Charm[/card] does 3 things really well: First, it’s another [card]Faithless Looting[/card]. It gives us consistency in our early game selection. Sure, we are down a card, but we get the cards we want, and we can get value out of discarding cards anyway.
[card]Izzet Charm[/card] is also another [card]Pillar of Flame[/card]. It allows us to play 12 removal spells main, which means a LOT of early answers for small threats like [card]Champion of the Parish[/card], [card]Stromkirk Noble[/card], and [card]Arbor Elf[/card].
[card]Izzet Charm[/card] is also a counter spell. This is at it’s best against [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card] decks, but it can also catch [card]Unburial Rites[/card] and [card]Unflinching Courage[/card]s, which can be game-breaking.
[card]Izzet Charm[/card] is an amazing card in this deck.
[card]Artful Dodge[/card] is great with both of our threats. With [card]Guttersnipe[/card] it lets us turn each blue mana into 2 damage, while sneaking [card]Guttersnipe[/card] through for 2 damage. Two [card]Guttersnipes[/card] go bananas with [card]Artful Dodge[/card].
[card]Artful Dodge[/card] is at it’s finest with [card]Nivix Cyclops[/card]. If they tap out, [card]Artful Dodge[/card], flashback [card]Artful Dodge[/card], [card]Boros Charm[/card] (for double strike) is 20 damage with the Cyclops. Conveniently, most opponent’s start at 20 life. Nice!
[card]Artful Dodge[/card] also provides value for our Looting effects. It takes the sting off of Looting and discarding spells.
[card]Thought Scour[/card] keeps the deck humming. It gives us a spare use for our blue mana, which helps us hit land drops in the early game and go to the face with our threats later.
It provides nice value with [card]Faithless Looting[/card], [card]Artful Dodge[/card], and [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card].
[card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] gives a tremendous amount of redundancy and flexibility. It allows us to play 16 removal spells, 12 loot effects, and 8 [card]Boros Charm[/card]. Sure, it’s expensive, but it’s worth it.
The body is also nice. It can block to save time or represent extra damage with [card]Artful Dodge[/card]. It almost always has a use, and I have never sideboarded even one out.
We play 20 lands, which isn’t a lot for a deck that really wants to hit it’s third land. We do have 12 early draw spells to dig, and we never need more than 5 lands, even in 20-turn games.
The deck has been skewed to be red-heavy and untapped-red-heavy. We need red more than blue, and we need to cast our Pillars on turn 1 sometimes.
The deck is also skewed to be shock-heavy over M13 lands. This is because we function better on all shocklands than on all M13 lands.
Izzet Blitz Sideboard
When building a sideboard, the first thing to consider is what cards come out and when. I played (and won) many matches before I even considered building a sideboard, because we had to identify what cards didn’t perform where. A card being “good” in a matchup is not enough justification to play it in the sideboard, as there need to be cards to cut.
Against the hyper-aggro decks filled with small creatures, we have a legitimate chance of grinding them down to nothing with our 12 removal spells, Snapcasters, Cyclops walls, and dig. If we can do that, the kill can be anything. Thus, [card]Artful Dodge[/card], [card]Boros Charm[/card], and [card]Guttersnipe[/card] aren’t particularly important against aggro. They allow us to win a race, but killing all of their stuff is preferable to a race. This means we want 12 cards in our board for aggro.
Against the extreme control decks without any creatures, our main vulnerability is running out of threats. If our [card]Guttersnipe[/card] or [card]Nivix Cyclops[/card] doesn’t survive, a lot of our cards just don’t matter. [card]Artful Dodge[/card], [card]Pillar of Flame[/card], and [card]Searing Spear[/card] fall under this category, which means we want 12 cards in our board for control.
Against the midrange decks and big creature decks (or the majority of the field), our plan can’t adjust too much. We can’t grind them out, so we need to be fast. We can expect a slight increase in removal, so [card]Faith’s Shield[/card] will be a good card to have, even if we don’t necessarily have weak points to board out.
So we want 12 cards for aggro, 12 cards for control, and several Faith’s Shields in 15 slots. If we assume we’re okay with using Faith’s Shield for aggro and control, we want 8 other cards in our sideboard that are good against both aggro and control.
These 8 cards are:
[draft]3 Boros Reckoner[/draft]
Boros Reckoner is a brick wall vs. hyper aggro, and an upgrade over a burn spell vs. control.
[draft]3 Ral Zarek[/draft]
Ral Zarek contributes to our control plan vs. aggro and a non-creature route to victory vs. control.
[card]Harvest Pyre[/card] can kill the big creatures like [card]Ghor-Clan Rampager[/card], and represents a potential 1-shot kill vs. control in combination with [card]Boros Reckoner[/card].
[card]Moorland Haunt[/card] allows us to get value in the longer games we can expect as the control deck vs. hyper aggro and as the aggro deck vs. the control decks.
With [card]Faith’s Shield[/card], we now have 9-10 cards versus both aggro and control, with a need for 2-3 more, with 5 sideboard spaces left.
For aggro we play these 3:
Against aggro we want as many ways to interact on turn one as possible. This card is great at sniping Stromkirks and Champions before they get out of hand. It also works nicely at picking off multiple threats and weakening big threats.
This card could be another [card]Boros Reckoner[/card], but I am more comfortable playing long games vs. hyper aggro with at least one powerful way to gain life in the deck. This card kills big threats like [card]Ghor-Clan Rampager[/card] while putting our life total back to a comfortable range.
Additionally, we play these 2 for control:
[draft]Jace, Memory Adept[/draft]
Here we have another non-creature threat that can potentially win on its own. Five is a lot, but games go long. This card was originally a [card]Runechanter’s Pike[/card], but I found my control opponent’s bringing in [card]Rest in Peace[/card], making that plan less effective.
This card looks a little strange, but it does some important things. It helps us hit our land drops, and provides value for our Lootings and Thought Scours. We also remove some fuel for [card]Guttersnipe[/card] and [card]Nivix Cyclops[/card], and [card]Think Twice[/card] is a nice way to feed these guys. It could be a [card]Desperate Ravings[/card], but that card makes me uncomfortable.
That makes 15 cards. Let’s take a look at how the deck looks in the matchups now!
Izzet Blitz vs. Hyper Aggro
Our primary game plan is to kill all of their things. We can race them pretty nicely as well, which means a good game 1 matchup. However, getting our Guttersnipe burned while trying to race can be costly, so losses can be prevented by focusing on killing everything.
This is how our deck should be configured against hyper aggro with small creatures:
Izzet Blitz vs. Control
The main concern with beating control is in making sure our threats stick and survive. Without a [card]Guttersnipe[/card] or [card]Nivix Cyclops[/card], it becomes hard to count to 20 life, and especially hard if they add on to 20 with a [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card]. There will be plenty of games where we will stick and protect a threat and win, but in the games that we don’t, our [card]Artful Dodge[/card]s and pure burn spells are useless.
This is how our deck should be configured when playing against control:
We are now much less reliant on sticking a Guttersnipe or Nivix Cyclops, and can cut our inflexible burn. We also can now attack from different angles with planeswalkers and Reckoner/Pyre.
Izzet Blitz vs. Midrange and Big Creatures
Our primary combo plan against midrange and big creature decks (the majority of the field) can’t be adjusted too much. We can’t wipe all their threats, and we can’t include any extra threats that provide the same level of pressure as [card]Guttersnipe[/card] and [card]Nivix Cyclops[/card]. We can expect some amount of removal though, so it’s nice to have [card]Faith’s Shield[/card], even if we don’t particularly want to cut anything in our main.
This is how the configuration of the deck should look against midrange and big creature decks:
Izzet Blitz Mulliganing
I have regularly seen people mulligan this hand. Not only would I never mulligan this hand, but I also can’t believe that people would. Why do you think mulliganing this hand will give you a better chance of winning?
The main purpose of playing [card]Faithless Looting[/card] is to keep hands like this and turn bad 7s into good 6s. If you mulligan this hand, you might get a good 6, you might get a mediocre 6, or you might get another mulligan. You might get a [card]Faithless Looting[/card] which means playing with 5 cards. Or you might get the same hand, mulligan again, and play with 4 cards. It’s hard to win from 4 cards.
[card]Faithless Looting[/card] is the smoother. Sometimes it doesn’t work, but neither does mulliganing.
If this hand is a mulligan, [card]Faithless Looting[/card] shouldn’t be in the deck. If [card]Faithless Looting[/card] doesn’t belong in this deck, the deck is neither consistent nor powerful anymore.
Either keep this hand, or play another deck.
This hand is a keep just like the Looting hand. The main difference is if both of the lands for this hand happen to come into play tapped, it could be a potential mulligan, depending on what else is in here. We are at our best playing a threat on turn 3. A loot on turn 3 into a threat on turn 4 is often too slow.
This hand is close and I usually keep these. Sure, sometimes you don’t get there, but you get so many looks. You have to have a little faith with keeps and remember that you get to draw 1 card every turn. With so many Lootings in our deck, we can turn our awkward draws into great draws, but we can’t get extra cards very easily either.
Pillar of Flame[/draft]
This hand is really tough, but I would actually mulligan most of the time. It has everything, but it doesn’t have a red source, and it has no way to draw extra cards. Maybe we draw red sources and we have an awesome hand, but if we don’t we do nothing.
No-red hands are the main category of hands I mulligan. This hand happens to be just about the best of those, so it is borderline. Anything worse than this is a for-sure mulligan.
Izzet Blitz Tips and Tricks
There is so much going on here that a Tips and Tricks section can’t do much to replace practice.
[card]Boros Charm[/card] has 3 common modes.
[card]Izzet Charm[/card] has 3 common modes.
[card]Pillar of Flame[/card] and [card]Searing Spear[/card] have a secret 3rd mode of turning on [card]Faith’s Shield[/card] fateful hour.
When you take into account that we loot and Snapcaster most games, it’s just too much. There’s so much going on that practice is the only answer. However, a little bit of theory will go a long way toward helping you win.
The hardest decisions with this deck are deciding how and when to loot. How does looting contribute to our plan? If we have a clear path to a 3rd turn threat, there usually isn’t a reason to loot or Scour in the early turns, even if it means our mana is wasted. The main purpose of these cards is to set a threat up by either digging for the threat or digging for a land.
In general, it’s correct to wait on Looting to see extra cards and directly fuel our threats starting on the 4th turn. In general, it’s correct to treat [card]Izzet Charm[/card] as an extra Looting first, and a removal spell or counter spell second.
If you plan on doing work with this deck, I recommend playing a lot. I also recommend watching some of my live or recorded streams with this deck. I also recommend hitting me up if you have any questions. You won’t be disappointed.
Adjusting Izzet Blitz
I know a lot of people are going to want to add this card to the main deck after seeing it in all the post-sideboard configuration. Keep in mind, [card]Faith’s Shield[/card] always comes in for something different, so there isn’t always an obvious swap. Also keep in mind opponents will have more removal post-board than main, so [card]Faith’s Reward[/card] is always better in game 2s than game 1s.
It’s in the sideboard for a reason. However, if you must, the 4th Searing Spear is the cut.
Izzet Blitz PTQ Report
After beating Bant Hexproof in the Swiss twice, I was paired against it for a third time in the single elimination Top 8. This is what happened:
Questions!! Comments!! Think there’s something I forgot??
P.S.: Thanks to all my opponents for being good sports. I’m not going to stop sharing!
(Correction, 6/10/2013 9:32 p.m. PST: This article originally included the wrong image for sideboarding vs. midrange decks.)