If you have listened to The GAM Podcast for the last two months or so, looked at my Twitter feed, or really had any form of interaction with me whatsoever, you're aware that there's a card from Core Set 2019 that I haven't stopped talking about.
Nexus of Fate is the latest version of an effect that has existed in Magic since the Alpha days. Card text instructing a player to take an extra turn has been done to death over the years, and developers have gotten very good at properly costing and balancing "Time Walks." Part the Waterveil, Temporal Mastery, Walk the Aeons, and many others have come and gone without having a tremendous impact on their respective Standard formats. But when I saw Nexus of Fate, alarm bells started ringing loudly and incessantly. Nexus of Fate demanded my attention for three specific reasons:
- The ability to take an extra turn is generally not available at instant speed. Being able to assess your opponent's decisions to determine whether you can take a turn off from affecting the battlefield is a huge boon. Furthermore, playing a Nexus of Fate on your opponents' end step and getting access to two consecutive turns with all your mana available is very different from the traditional "Time Walk" paradigm, where the first of your two consecutive turns is generally consumed by casting the "Time Walk" itself. Not with Nexus of Fate. It was very easy to envision situations where you would be able to both deploy and receive multiple activations of planeswalkers and sagas. Speaking of planeswalkers, let's not forget that Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is uniquely able to function as a ramp spell when casting instants.
- I have a long-running love affair with cards that can function as "incidental win conditions." Incidental win conditions are cards which serve the dual function of advancing your primary plan, while eventually ending the game. The most recent incidental win condition I had built around was Teferi, Hero of Dominaria in U/W Control. Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is in the deck to draw cards and answer your opponent's permanents, but the fact that a Teferi tucking itself back into your library can eventually win you the game fundamentally changes the way you're able to build U/W Control decks in both Modern and Standard. In much the same way, Nexus of Fate can be included in a deck to allow you to make extra land drops, use planeswalker abilities multiple times, and generally benefit from all the upside an extra turn can provide. This is all well and good, but the real beauty of Nexus of Fate is in the shuffle clause. Nexus of Fate returning to your deck virtually assures that if the game continues long enough, you will get to take all the turns. If there's a planeswalker or some other recursive threat left somewhere in your deck, you will win the game.
- As the game progresses, the shuffle clause also ensures that a larger percentage of your deck will be comprised of Nexus of Fates. This is so impactful for a card like Nexus of Fate that you're almost always happy to draw and cast. In addition, once you enter the midgame, Standard has several engines that can be used to see an increased number of cards every turn. I just knew Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin was going to be turning up a lot of Nexus of Fates.
In the days after Nexus of Fate was previewed, my brain started absolutely overflowing with potential deck ideas. Then someone in The GAM Podcast Discord dropped the bomb on me.
I was completely dumbstruck. Standard-legal cards that aren't available in booster packs are a newer thing in the modern era of Magic. Until Nexus of Fate, it seemed as if Wizards of the Coast was carefully restricting the power level of such cards and was aware of the potential issues created by pushing these cards to tournament-playable levels. The first buy-a-box promo, Firesong and Sunspeaker, seemed like a fine introduction to the new program. It was an eye-catching commander for lovers of more casual forms of Magic, and buyers of Dominaria boxes were pleased to receive a little bonus with their purchase. However, everyone correctly surmised that the card was never going to make headway in competitive play.
But Nexus of Fate… Nexus of Fate was the one card I couldn't wait to build decks around. I was sure it could singlehandedly revitalize the Turbo Fog archetype. I was positive the interactions with Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and The Mirari Conjecture were, at least in a vacuum, among the most powerful things you could be doing in Standard. The fact that this was the buy-a-box card led me to question my analysis though. I started talking with people about the card, and it seemed like everyone was indifferent at best. It wasn't like people thought Nexus of Fate was trash; they just didn't see where it fit in to a very refined and very powerful Standard format.
I needed to find the ever-elusive "truth" of the situation, so immediately upon the release of Core Set 2019, I loaded up my Magic Online account with tickets and got ready to hit the leagues. There was just one problem. Nexus of Fate wasn't in booster packs. On Magic Online, this meant that the card was only available in treasure chests. Surely, it was just a matter of time before I was able to pick up Nexus of Fate for just a couple of tix. A day passed. And another. And another. It wasn't that Nexus of Fate was expensive. You literally could not find copies of the card on Magic Online. For some reason, the "drop rate" of Nexus of Fate was set incredibly low. It was almost as if someone wanted to make sure it was difficult for players to acquire the card prior to the Pro Tour.
When Nexus of Fate finally began to show up for sale, it was prohibitively expensive for a completely unproven buy-a-box promo that almost no one else believed was Standard viable. At least, it would be prohibitively expensive if I had any common sense at all. Thankfully, I don't, and I ponied up $140 dollars for a playset of a card that had a host of indicators pointing to its unplayability.
I hit the Standard leagues with a U/G version of Turbo Fog that relied on looping The Mirari Conjecture with Blink of an Eye, eventually finding a singleton copy of Saproling Migration to kill your opponent. My first game, I drew my entire deck and took all the turns on my natural turn 7.
I would finish the league 3-2, timing out in both matches I lost. Two of my three wins were 2-0s where I won game 2 with only seconds on the clock. It didn't matter. I had found satisfaction that the card was viable, and I could finally make peace with my assessment. I was content to sell my Nexus of Fates and wait a few days for more copies to hit Magic Online and bring the price down, so I could continue working on the archetype.
Sadly, the price of Nexus of Fate never came back down, at one point skyrocketing to $90. While I mourned my overly hasty sale, I started to wonder: was Nexus of Fate's price a portent of a breakout performance at the Pro Tour?
It seems like three players and their teams independently concluded that Nexus of Fate is exactly the card Bant Nexus needed to become a player in Standard. The variations across the lists are to be expected when a new macro-archetype is being fleshed out. I think as time goes on, the odd cards like Bounty of the Luxa; Oath of Teferi; Nissa, Steward of Elements; and possibly even Karn's Temporal Sundering will begin to leave the default build. The core of Teferi, Karn, ramp, draw spells, fogs, and Nexus of Fate is strong enough to stand on its own without the embellishments.
While we don't have access to official records of individual players in the tournament, David Williams was kind enough to clue us all on just how well his version of the deck performed.
Lots of requests for the list and SB guide so here ya go. I think Ben Rubin and I went 22-6. Deck was absurd. Thanks to @gabnassif for the initial list and @herberheezy for the tightening up of the deck. #PT25 pic.twitter.com/3Zp1aIjG8v— David Williams (@dwpoker) August 5, 2018
I'm not surprised by David's success, as his list strikes me as the most refined of the three. Perhaps the most telling thing about the place this deck occupies in the format is David's suggested sideboard plans against three of the top decks in the format: Mono-Green Aggro, R/B Aggro, and G/B Constrictor.
That's right, absolutely nothing. The way this deck plays Magic is so fundamentally difficult for these creature-based decks to interact with that you don't need a sideboard to Haze of Pollen them into submission. This frees up sideboard slots to attempt to address the far more difficult matchups of U/W Control and Mono-Blue Paradoxical Outcome. While I love David's usage of the Baral, Chief of Compliance plus Negate plan for mirrors, control, and combo matchups, I do think Carnage Tyrant is better equipped than Nezahal, Primal Tide to be the surprise threat out of the sideboard. Ultimately, I'm splitting hairs. This is a beautifully built deck, and one that I anticipate will see increased play over the next few weeks. While decks should be able to find successful adaptations to counter a strategy like Bant Nexus, adjustments take time, and we could be headed for an even bigger breakout weekend for Nexus of Fate.
Which begs the question, where does a successful Pro Tour appearance for Nexus of Fate leave us? As I write this article, the Core Set 2019 buy-a-box promo is the most expensive card in Standard on Magic Online and in paper. While treasure chests can be adjusted on Magic Online, there aren't any more Nexus of Fates being printed, and I believe we have not even come close to the ceiling for the price of paper Nexus of Fate. Furthermore, the card only exists in foil versions, which carries its own unique set of problems.
Is it possible that no one involved with the creation of Core Set 2019 recognized Nexus of Fate as a card with potential Constructed applications? The folks who create Magic are, to a person, almost certainly far better Magic players than I am. Amongst all the talented folks at WotC, I have to believe someone spotted Nexus of Fate as an intriguing build around. The odds of a buy-a-box promo making it out the door without someone being aware that it could potentially spawn a new archetype seem miniscule.
If this wasn't a mistake, then the printing of Nexus of Fate suggests that WotC is okay with cards that aren't included in booster packs being playable in Constructed. Unfortunately, this is far more problematic than a single development error.
Magic cards will cost what they will, and some card must be the most expensive. The problem is that Nexus of Fate essentially created a new rarity overnight. There's no precedent for a card like this, and we have no clue where its price will ultimately settle. Ultra-Mythics have existed in other card games. Sometimes they were only available as prizes to tournament participants or included in magazines. Sometimes, they were buy-a-box promos. Whatever the distribution method, they almost always proved to be a horrible idea. With Nexus of Fate, Magic has begun to walk down this road for the first time since the days of Mana Crypt. Will the next staple removal spell be included as a pack in with the Ravnica Dungeons and Dragons books? Is the next must-have planeswalker only going to be available to the top 500 Magic: Arena players?
These are unlikely hypotheticals, but the rules of rarity are changing before our eyes. I'm excited to play some games with Nexus of Fate this week. I'm less excited to learn how much I will be paying to do so.