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We've got full information on Amonkhet, and all we need is one more piece to the puzzle before the real work on Standard can begin. Monday brings updates to the Banned and Restricted list, which could determine the fate of Standard for the next few months, and, if I'm being honest with myself, whether or not I am interested in the format. The “Splinter Twin” combo of Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian has gone on long enough, and we're ready for a change. It was a mistake that they've already admitted, so now let's just fix it and move on. Whether or not Gideon, Ally of Zendikar makes an early exit is still up in the air.
But I'm not here to talk about those cards. Today we're talking about Amonkhet, and the potential it has to impact the Standard format. Without Felidar Guardian or Gideon, Ally of Zendikar running around, the space of playable Standard cards goes through the roof. And if those cards get banned, you can expect a lot of cards from Amonkhet to make a difference. There are many cards that scream “build a deck around me,” and quite a few versatile threats to be tinkered with. On top of that, many of those cards cycle, making for some interesting decision trees in sculpting your hand and how the rest of the game plays out. How long should you hold onto your Censor? Is Curator of Mysteries better as a 4/4 flier or as another random card?
But while the cards in Amonkhet do offer a variety of different play patterns, the fact that they have cycling means they'll be inherently weaker than the cards we already have access to. Factor in that this set was built with a different rotation schedule in mind (Battle for Zendikar block should be gone) and you'll understand why we're in a bit of a pickle. If neither Felidar Guardian nor Gideon, Ally of Zendikar gets banned, which of these cards can compete with either of them?
So What If....
What if they didn't exist? What if we lived in a world where more than two or three decks were viable in Standard? So today, in order to accurately determine the playability of these new cards, we're going to work under the assumption that they will be banned on Monday. If that doesn't happen, then hopefully these cards will still be good enough to create some new archetypes, or even spawn new ones in the face of the overwhelming pressure. I pray for the former, but we'll just have to wait a few more days and see what happens.
Of all the cards from Amonkhet, this one has me the most excited to build around. Not only can it generate a hefty amount of card advantage, but three-mana planeswalkers are often heavily undervalued until people realize their full potential. While this card doesn't easily fit into a deck with removal, I could see it becoming a staple in midrange Temur or Sultai decks. It doesn't seem all that difficult to put extra mana to good use these days, but the upside of being able to hit a creature like Rogue Refiner just seems ludicrous.
The play pattern of this card is also pretty interesting. Assuming you're casting it onto an empty battlefield on the third turn, I think the correct way to use it involves the scry mechanic first, followed by the 0 ability. That almost ensures that you'll be able to get an extra card out of the deal. That also keeps your Nissa, Steward of Elements out of Walking Ballista range. Obviously, the decisions on how to use your Nissa, Steward of Elements change based on the matchup, how you build your deck, and how you're going to sequence your next few turns. If you could really use a ramp effect, putting five mana to good use on the following turn, then gambling a little on the 0 ability is probably worth it.
What I like most about Nissa, Steward of Elements is how versatile it can be. If you're able to pressure your opponent in the early turns, squeaking out damage and putting them to ten life or lower, then her ultimate is insane. And if they're not at ten life or less, the Ultimate still has value if your opponent has a planeswalker or two on the battlefield. The fact that the Elementals she makes have flying is sweet, even if you don't get to keep them around afterwards. While the ultimate is probably the least exciting aspect of Nissa, Steward of Elements, the fact that it is there when you need it is a big deal. Sure, eight mana is a lot to invest into a glorified Giantbaiting, but the fact that you have the option is what makes it so relevant.
No matter how you build your U/G/X deck, I think Nissa, Steward of Elements should have a place. If you can protect her with removal or blockers, it shouldn't be difficult to translate the gained advantages into a win. Extra mana or threats will be tough for most decks to beat. Here is a sample list for Nissa, Steward of Elements in a Temur Energy shell.