On Tuesday, July 24th I signed into my computer to continue my preparation for Pro Tour 25th Anniversary. Thus far, my preparation had consisted of playing a league or two with each of the decks I saw as a potential player in the Standard metagame. My lean at this point was U/W Control, a deck I had played in the first Grand Prix of the previous season and had enjoyed the feel of playing. I'd tried a few spicy additions like Chromium, the Mutable from Core Set 2019, but concluded that a fairly boring version was still optimal.
And then I read a post in our forum from brewmaster Gabriel Nassif, "This fog deck went 10-3 against R/B, I think it merits serious consideration." I perused the list and was at the same time excited and horrified. It had Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, my favorite card in Standard; it was ramping into Teferi, something I'd always wanted to try but never found a good shell for; and it was certainly off the radar. But what about all those fogs!?
What I had a really hard time getting out of my craw was the notion that we'd be playing a white and blue creatureless deck without lots of Fumigates and Settle the Wreckages. Somehow fogs would be better? It didn't make much sense to me.
But I had plenty of time to fall back on my U/W Control deck and explore Gab's project a little. We confirmed that the deck was indeed strong against R/B Aggro and absolutely brutal against Mono-Green Aggro as long as they weren't splashing for counterspells. Next, I played my U/W deck against Gab, in what would result in five long drawn out games. I won 4-1 with U/W Control, which elicited a comment like "Okay, bad matchup" from Gab. But actually, from my side, it hadn't felt lopsided at all. Game 1 seemed all about how many dead cards were drawn, and the sideboarded games felt very intricate which meant room for us to have an edge because Bant Nexus would be novel to most of our opponents.
At the risk of diverting us from playtest-storytelling, I think this highlights a lesson that a lot of gamers could stand to learn: that is, you simply don't have time to conclusively test every matchup for your deck and get a statistically significant result from your data. You might rack up 100 games in a few key matchups (which we probably did in ensuring Bant Nexus was good against R/B) which is great. But paying attention to the intuitive feel of games, what the matchup hinges on, and whether you feel favored or not is key to efficient playtesting. If you're testing in-house - that is, not in a league on Magic Online - be sure to get feedback from your opponent as well. While you're at it, try and switch sides in the middle of the matchup so it's not just you advocating your deck. See how your opponent handles some of the subtleties of playing the deck and you might be pleasantly surprised. Playtesting is not just data-gathering, it's also an experience of learning the flow of the games and synthesizing your impressions of the matchup with the actual results that you and your teammates are getting.
As we continued to test Bant Nexus, it became my frontrunner and we started to see its matchups like this:
- VS Mono-Green Aggro: 85% match unless they have blue, in which case it's 45%.
- VS R/B Aggro: 55-80% depending on their configuration. More direct damage and discard and small haste creatures were their potential salvation.
- VS U/W Control: Probably even.
- VS Grixis Midrange: Really bad if they have lots of counters and discard. Winnable if, like most Grixis lists, there are drowning in dead cards game 1.
- VS Mono-Blue Paradoxical Outcome: A poor matchup where we needed a plan.
I also came to understand that because we were leveraging an advantage engine as ludicrously powerful as Teferi, a cheap and reliable (if not so powerful) escape plan like Root Snare was actually quite reasonable. And since we had no plans of gaining control of the battlefield from the combat perspective, it often didn't matter whether we Fumigated most of their creatures or not- one annoying Hazoret or Scrapheap Scrounger could easily do us in.
On that note, I benefited during several Pro Tour 25th Anniversary attack steps from players navigating around Settle the Wreckages- which weren't even in my deck but were gifting me packets of life from the spooky sidelines.
This isn't to say that Bant Nexus is completely divorced from the gamestate; simply fogging until it can repeatedly cast Nexus of Fate, ultimate Teferi, exile the opponent's side of the battlefield, and proceed to an academic win. Many games do play this way, and we win with Karn tokens, sideboard creatures, or just decking them by repeatedly putting Teferi on top of our deck. But one of the most interesting parts of playing the deck is deciding when we really need to take every last turn of the game, and when we can instead hit the pause button.
For example, perhaps we're facing R/B Aggro and they have a hoard of creatures and Chandra, Torch of Defiance on the battlefield and a Cut in their graveyard. We're at a low life total and if we pass the turn now, we'll simply lose to direct damage from Chandra and the Cut even if we have a fog for their creature onslaught. Our hope, then, is that either we get to keep Time Walking forever, or that we can both get Chandra off the table and gain enough life to survive the Ribbons aftermath. Luckily, this isn't so hard because we have Gifts of Paradise in our deck, and Teferi (that dirty dog!) has a second ability which puts permanents two-down from the top of their owners' library. Thus, we can often play as a soft combo deck that starts to go off and accumulates enough advantage that even if we fizzle, there's often a plan B like the one I described.
As I said, Teferi is the primary engine of the deck. But because he's legendary, he often needs a little help. Most lists you see will have Search for Azcanta and Karn, but after that people seem to disagree on what else to include. I played a Bounty of the Luxa and The Mirari Conjecture, whereas David Williams skipped the Bounty of the Luxa, and Raphael Levy's group skipped both!
I haven't sufficiently tried their replacements: Nissa, Steward of the Elements and Oath of Teferi. But both seem very reasonable--Nissa in a field with less aggressive decks and the Oath in matchups like the mirror where you will have more threats than they can hope to counter and racing becomes key.
You may have played against this deck or are envisioning trying it yourself and wondering a little bit about the physical mechanics. Other than the annoyance of tapping seven lands and clicking to submit your mana for Nexus of Fate again and again (I enjoy Magic Online and look forward to them improving this situation), the online experience with this deck is quite smooth. Do not be fooled into thinking this will immediately translate into live play! In fact, I did several time trials of going off and found that not only did it take an uncomfortably long time, but I frequently committed a game rules violation, forgot if I'd played a land, or if I'd activated a planeswalker yet this turn.
I'll admit that smooth mechanics and clean gameplay are not strengths of mine, but I did come up with a crutch that might help you if you 're similarly concerned. While I was going off in the Pro Tour, I was very careful to make a horizontal line of all my engine cards (those just discussed), according to the order in which I planned to use them. This meant Search for Azcanta first on the left (it happens on upkeep), Bounty of the Luxa and/or The Mirari Conjecture second, Teferi third, and Karn fourth. After I'd used each one, I'd turn it 45 degrees to the right (like a half-tap) and then be clear that I'd already used it.
I still made a few game rules violations on the weekend, but this little system probably saved me from imploding. A few notes: remember during your untap step to 'unhalf-tap' these permanents as well, or your previous tracking will sabotage your turn; also, when you look at your card for Search of Azcanta, get in the habit of putting the card back on top of your library (rather than straight into your hand) when you keep it. Without this habit, you run the risk of skipping your chance to flip your Search to the more powerful back side, because once the top card is in your hand, you're in your draw step and the window to flip Search is over.
How did we do with the deck? My understanding is that six players brought the deck and recent accounts put the winrate at 73%. David Williams and I fared a bit better, going a combined 22-6. Not bad.
So where does Bant Nexus go from here? From looking at the results of the Pro Tour, there will be a big uptick in Teferi decks, both fog and U/W Control. This means that maindeck countermagic is probably necessary. Mono-Blue Paradoxical Outcome seems to be out of favor, so we don't need to worry about it as much, and green decks also seem to be on the downtick. We also need to be weary of dedicated hate cards like Lost Legacy, Insult, and Sorcerous Spyglass (scary stuff, if you ask me). All that considered, here's where I would start in testing Bant Nexus moving forward:
VS R/B Aggro
VS Mono-Green Aggro
VS Grixis Midrange
VS U/W Control
VS Mono-Blue Paradoxical Outcome
VS Bant Nexus
- Nezahal, Primal Tide is awesome. You might want two.
- Commit is a great card, especially against opposing Nezahals and for getting unpleasant permanents off the battlefield.
- Oath of Teferi is a card. I haven't tried it, but others have liked it.
- Torrential Gearhulk, with Supreme Wills in our deck, is a card that looks worth trying out of the sideboard.
- It's possible that the card draw suite I played at the Pro Tour is better than this version. In that case you will want one or two copies of The Mirari Conjecture. My favorite matchup for this card is when the opponent has discard, as it can singlehandedly rebuild your game.
Final Notes On Sideboarding
- I've got a few Manglehorns coming in against R/B Aggro and Mono-Green Aggro. The hedge here is against Sorcerous Spyglass, which seems like the common hate card you'll face out of these decks because it has applications in other matchups they might face. Manglehorn also kills Bomat Courier, a strong card against Bant Nexus, as well as Heart of Kiran and Scrapheap Scrounger, which appear in both decks.
- Another important consideration is time on the clock. If you need a quick win, lean toward keeping Nissa and the Karns in your deck. If you are up 1-0, this isn't a concern because once you go off, achieving a Teferi lock will be as good as a quicker kill in almost all circumstances.
Going forward I think Bant Nexus puts pressure on the metagame but will not be a dominant force. In other words, it had great matchups at the Pro Tour, but if people want to hate it out or play a deck that is good against it, they will. Play if it you think you will still face a lot of Mono-Green Aggro splashing black for Scrapheap Scrounger and R/B Aggro; or play it if your local metagame features a lot of players who have tilted their decks toward those archetypes. Another favorable scenario is if people have gone to less common decks like God-Pharaoh's Gift or Zombies which happen to be almost completely combat-oriented and are thus vulnerable to a deck like this.
If you like accelerating out Teferis, this is your chance!