It's been a long time since I've had anything worth writing to you all about. Recently, I've had a string of less than stellar results. Losing is a funny thing. Everyone understands that variance is a real thing; it allows for us to beat those that are much more talented than we are. Magic would get boring very quickly if we were immediately drawing dead to those that are better than us.
On the flip side, variance can also be the reason that we lose to those that we perceive to be worse than we are. The trap that we have to avoid is immediately blaming luck, variance, or karma as the reason that we lose. There will be times where your opponent will have a timely topdeck, ruining the carefully sculpted board state that you 'masterfully' created, but you need be introspective after each loss to figure out what you did incorrectly. Making mistakes, particularly game ending ones, gives you the opportunity to learn from things that you did wrong. You have to be open to criticism, especially from yourself, to become a better player.
This longwinded intro is to say that I've done a lot of losing lately, which made me have to a take a good, long look at exactly what I was doing. The abundance of opportunities that we have available to us in terms of competitive tournaments to attend is both a blessing and a curse.
It's funny to think about what can break you out of a rut. I went to tournaments almost out of habit for the past two months, rarely enjoying the actual games I played. As I was looking for an interesting list to run at the StarCityGames.com Legacy Open in Baltimore, I stumbled upon Gerry's article from last Friday. In it, Gerry went over a few decks that he was considering for multiple formats. Almost as a throwaway, he posted a very interesting U/B Tempo list featuring Nivmagus Elemental. Needless to say, I was excited to play an off-the-wall kind of deck, and I wasn't disappointed with how much fun I had.
You can watch my deck tech here.
So I guess we should have a conversation about my love affair with Nivmagus Elemental. When the card was first spoiled, I immediately took a liking to it. It wasn't hard to see the potential of the card with Modern in mind, especially its synergy with Phyrexian mana spells and storm cards. At Pro Tour Return to Ravnica, we took Nivmagus Elemental the combo route. We would build up to a huge turn with the goal being to boost Nivmagus up to deal lethal to our opponents with either Tainted Strike or Assault Strobe. While the Pro Tour didn't pan out as well as I'd hoped, I was hooked on to Nivmagus as a card to keep my eye on.
This Legacy deck with Nivmagus takes an interesting direction, one that's different from the combo deck that we played at the Pro Tour. It has very clear ties to another deck that I'm familiar with, the one that we played at the last SCG Invitational.
You can definitely see the evolution from the Atlanta list to the one that I piloted in Baltimore. The green was removed to make room for Nivmagus Elemental and ways to boost it with cheap Phyrexian mana spells as well as Flusterstorm, an additional layer of disruption and a very cost effective way to make your Elementals huge.
In a vacuum, we're not dealing with the more powerful cards that Legacy has to offer. Gut Shot, Gitaxian Probe, and Watery Grave in particular might seem a little out of place when you have much more 'powerful' spells at your disposal. However, we take what is normally a disadvantage, paying life, and make it how we further our game plan.
The goal of this deck is to play one of our one mana creatures and make that creature into something that our opponent can't deal with. Death's Shadow is a creature that you really have to work for. It's pretty common to begin a game by cracking a fetch, getting Watery Grave, then Thoughtseizing them on turn 1, starting the game at fifteen life to set up an early Death's Shadow.
Delver of Secrets has been a Legacy staple for some time now, and we have a full 30 spells that can flip it.
Cool Tricks with Nivmagus
It takes some time to get used to playing with Nivmagus. Some tricks are fairly easy; your free spells can all be pitched in response to direct damage or blocks. Others are harder to figure out. Here are just a few neat things that you can do with Nivmagus.
- When your spell is countered with Nivmagus on board, don't forget that you can exile it to get some value. You might have wanted the effect of your spell, but two +1/+1 counters is a fine hedge.
- With Flusterstorm, resolve each storm copy separately. If your opponent chooses to not pay for the first copy, immediately exile the remaining copies for full value.
- You can Daze your own spells, exiling Daze and using the land you returned as part of the cost to let you keep some of the one landers that you will run into.
- If you need the boost, you can Snuff Out and target your own Nivmagus. Paying four life and exiling Snuff Out gives you a boost of six power if you have Death's Shadow and Nivmagus in play.
Like most blue decks in Legacy, we rely heavily on our free countermagic to disrupt the more unfair decks that populate this format. Force of Will, Daze, and Thoughtseize give us the time that we need against the combo decks and protect the few creatures we have. Flusterstorm gives us additional countermagic while being the best way to boost Nivmagus.
Because we rely mostly on zero and one mana spells to win the game, we can cheat a bit on land. Much like RUG Delver, we can be functional with one to two lands. I've touched on why we want Watery Grave, and the rest of lands are pretty straightforward.
One thing to keep in mind is that we can shift the fetches to accommodate a Dryad Arbor if Liliana of the Veil becomes more of a concern. Other than that, you can pretty much interchange any of the blue fetches to operate smoothly.
Like every deck, there are certain matchups that have cards that are difficult to deal with. With this deck, there are a few in particular.
Both of these Return to Ravnica cards pose a serious threat to our plan. Normally, creature removal would not be a huge issue, but both of these sidestep our normal counter measures by being uncounterable. Because of this, we have to get creative in how we deal with them. Thoughtseize is the best way, removing them before they have a chance to affect our board, and Clout of the Dominus gives us a way to prevent win conditions from meeting an Abrupt end.
Counterbalance is a hard enough card to beat, but because our win conditions all cost one, if they ever get the full combo on board, we're pretty much hard locked. They simply need to draw a card with Top and replace it with the card on top of their library to keep us locked out of the game. The best way to combat this is to be preemptive with discard, Pithing Needle on Top, or to not let one of their combo pieces resolve.
Explosives set to one can keep us from ever being able to stick a threat outside of a flipped Delver of Secrets. Our normal means of combating such a problem are complicated by the fact that most decks playing EE usually have Academy Ruins to continually bring them back. Pithing Needle is your best option to prevent Explosives from locking you out of a game.
Swords to Plowshares is a huge problem for decks relying on Death's Shadow. The threat of Swords makes it difficult to commit more than a single copy of Death's Shadow to the board because if a single one of them is Plowed our life will immediately goes thirteen, killing the other copy. Be wary of committing more to the board than absolutely necessary against decks with Swords.
With the problem cards identified, let's look at how you should sideboard in some of the more common matchups.
On one hand, you won't have to work very hard to make your Death's Shadows huge. I would recommend not paying life for anything unless you're planning on killing them with a Shadow that turn or know exactly what's in their hand. Use your Probes and Thoughtseizes to get a feel for what you have to play around and pay close attention to your life total. You should be able to get them on a short clock, but keep in mind that they can kill you out of nowhere with their own combination of cheap spells.
This can change if they are more creature-based. Gut Shot and additional Thoughtseizes are good candidates to be removed if they have Figure of Destiny and other creatures to attack you with. Outside of that, Snuff Out is your biggest dead card in this matchup, and you get to bring in a real powerhouse against them in Erayo. Playing and flipping an Erayo should be your main route to victory since it's very difficult for them to actually have enough cards to deal 20 to you.
Don't make it easy on them by going overboard on damaging yourself. Save your countermagic for the spells that will actually kill you and use an early creature to put a clock on them. Follow those steps and you should find this to be a fairly easy, if somewhat tense, matchup.
I was asked about this matchup, and I actually find it to be fairly favorable. You have plenty of ways to kill their Delvers and Tarmogoyfs, and your Nivmagus Elementals and Death's Shadows can easily trump their own creatures, including Nimble Mongoose. They have no real way to deal with our threats outside of Pyroblast from the board, so if you can stick a Nivmagus and have the ability to grow it you can ride it to victory.
None of their spells are worth the cost of two cards from your hand, so Force is an easy cut. Daze is always worse on the draw, and RUG can really punish you from getting behind on developing your board. On the play, you can still usually extract value from Daze, so I would cut the Flusterstorms since you have no good targets for them and you don't need a whole lot to make Nivmagus trump any of their creatures.
Clout provides good protection for the Pyroblasts that should be coming in against you, Ghastly Demise gives you more ways to kill their not Nimble Mongoose creatures, and Ensnare provides you a way to break through if they clutter the board. Another favorable matchup.
This is one of the most difficult matchups. Many of the problem cards that we identified earlier are a huge part in their game plan. You will have to have an early threat and hope that you can kill them before they're able to stabilize the board. Once they have control of the game, it's next to impossible to break through.
Again, Swords, Supreme Verdict, Engineered Explosives, and Counter-Top are all things that you have to worry about in post-board games. I wouldn't recommend bringing in the other Clouts since you have two already and need a lot of your spells to stay in to combat them and to flip an early Erayo. You should name EE with Pithing Needle the majority of the time, with Top being a close second. Play tight and hope for the best, but this is definitely not an easy one for this deck.
Matches play out similarly to the RUG matchup, but you have to worry about Pernicious Deed, Abrupt Decay, and sometimes heavy hitters like Tombstalker. Your creatures should outclass theirs, but Clout is huge to protect your threats against their targeted removal. Don't let them resolve a board sweeper and you should be fine.
If you're looking to play something that's not only a ton of fun but also has a lot of very complicated lines you can take, I would highly recommend giving this a shot. There's a great deal of tension in every game that you play. Knowing what your opponent's plan is plays a big part in how aggressive you can be with pitching spells to your Nivmagus or how much damage you can deal yourself to increase the size of your Death's Shadow. Fortunately, we have the ability to see a lot of our opponent's hand through the use of Gitaxian Probe and Thoughtseize. This knowledge allows us to plan a few turns ahead, get a feel for the texture of the game, and lets us know when we can turn up the heat against our opponents (and ourselves.)
This weekend is the last StarCityGames.com Open Series before the Invitational in Los Angeles. If you've been on the fence about heading out to an Open Series event, I highly recommend it. Getting invited to the Invitational is both an honor and great monetary value. I can't make it to Las Vegas, but I'm definitely excited to be heading out to Los Angeles for the last Invitational of the year. Hopefully, I'll see a lot of you there!
As always, thanks for reading.
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