Last weekend I had the pleasure of playing with Niv-Mizzet, Parun in Sealed Deck at Grand Prix Mexico City, where it easily led me to a 9-0 finish. Standard is a different ballgame, but Niv-Mizzet is an absurd card to untap with. It mows down opposing battlefields with incredible ease while drawing more cards than you can reasonably use. It recovers and turns games around in ways that are extremely reminiscent of The Scarab God, and I suspect it's currently underplayed in Standard.
That said, we need to acknowledge the real forces that are holding Niv-Mizzet back. First, Izzet is a little lacking in the sweepers department, since Sweltering Suns was replaced by Deafening Clarion, which is a troublesome splash, but I think Fiery Cannonade currently isn't getting enough respect. Second, Niv-Mizzet is fantastic against all manner of instants and sorceries, but fails against permanents that answer it, and Ravenous Chupacabra and Conclave Tribunal are both heavily played right now. I think those are the two biggest strikes against Niv-Mizzet.
What Niv-Mizzet has going for it is, that outside of Kraul Harpooner, all the good answers can be stopped by Disdainful Stroke, so if you can get to eight mana--easiest with the help of Sarkhan, Fireblood--you can potentially cast Niv-Mizzet and protect it with Disdainful Stroke. It's also powerful enough that you could consider protecting it with Dive Down, but that's a lot narrower.
Merely being powerful isn't a great reason to play something - though it's a pretty good reason to test it. The question is, given that people are playing cards that match up well against it, why would we want to play this? The best answer, I think, is Experimental Frenzy. Red is very good, and to beat it, you need to turn the corner very quickly. Niv-Mizzet shuts the door on red almost instantly, and that's the direction control decks need to move if they're going to make it in this Standard format.
So, what should a deck with Niv-Mizzet look like? There are several options. So far, we've mostly seen it in small numbers in Jeskai decks, where it's a fine tool, but nothing special, as Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is already doing most of the closing for us, and we don't want to make the deck much clunkier. I think Niv-Mizzet really shines in Izzet, Grixis, or Dimir.
Dimir making the list might surprise you, so let's start there:
This deck has two ways to get Niv-Mizzet onto the battlefield: It can either copy it with Lazav, the Multifarious or it can return it to the battlefield with Concoct. To do that, it needs to get Niv-Mizzet into the graveyard, which it can accomplish either via a lucky surveil or by discarding it to jump-start Radical Idea or Chemster's Insight.
The great thing about turning Lazav into Niv-Mizzet is that you can do it at the end of your opponent's turn, meaning you won't have to tap out while your opponent can cast sorcery-speed answers, which will make it very easy for you to counter the good answers like Ravenous Chupacabra and Conclave Tribunal.
This deck is designed to protect Niv-Mizzet with discard, Dive Down, and countermagic, which means that it's also well-positioned to protect the much cheaper Thief of Sanity, which can carry you to victory pretty easily if you can protect it for a few turns without dying.
What I like about this deck is that thanks to Lazav (with Niv-Mizzet) and Thief of Sanity, it has a powerful lategame and won't run out of things to spend mana on, but it has a low curve in that everything you're going to cast costs four mana or less (except one Concoct). This allows the deck to play smoothly and keep pace early, but then overpower opponents going long. This is especially good against opposing control decks, where getting under them and resolving powerful threats, then leaving mana to counter their expensive plays that try to get them back in the game is an optimal strategy.
The sideboard for this deck is also fantastic. Duress and Negate support three different enchantments to help grind your opponent out in Arguel's Blood Fast, Search for Azcanta, and Disinformation Campaign. You're a deck with few creatures that can bring in sweepers in Golden Demise and Ritual of Soot, which only answer small or cheap creatures, but fortunately, you have countermagic and hard removal in the form of Cast Down and Vraska's Contempt for bigger creatures. Thoughtbound Phantasm can keep ahead of early attackers and is especially important for blocking Vine Mare.
This deck goes for a more brute force approach, combining Nicol Bolas, the Ravager with The Eldest Reborn to pressure your opponent's resources. The Eldest Reborn is another way to get Niv-Mizzet onto the battlefield while you're completely untapped, which allows you to immediately take an explosive turn, taking advantage of Niv-Mizzet's Recycle effect and additional damage output.
Mox Amber is a card that never really found a home in Standard, but I think it's worth trying a copy here, as you have Lazav and Sarkhan, and even if you don't turn it on until you have Nicol Bolas, that can still ramp you into a turn 5 Niv-Mizzet. While the mana is obviously quite a bit worse in this deck, it still shouldn't be bad, and it's nice to be able to cast all your spells.
The sideboard here takes a slightly different approach, going for the more powerful Experimental Frenzy over the cheaper enchantments, and bringing in Expansion to fight opposing spell-based decks, where Expansion has a lot of utility and Explosion allows you to pick a fight on your opponent's turn.
Hostage Taker should play very well against removal-light decks like Selesnya. The Dimir deck could play more expensive cards like this, but because of its emphasis on countermagic, I like sticking with cheaper sideboard cards. This deck is planning to tap out more, and it's just looking for optimal threats to overpower its opponent, so Hostage Taker is a better fit.
While I expect that this mana is functional, I really like to try to keep my deck to the minimum number of colors whenever possible, so I'm more interested in Izzet than Grixis. I think there are a lot of different ways to approach Izzet.
This is a straightforward control approach that uses Crackling Drake and Niv-Mizzet as finishers around a base of counterspells, removal, and card selection. Actual numerical card advantage like Chemister's Insight is minimized, focusing instead on cards like Opt that fuel Crackling Drake and Search for Azcanta. The deck relies on those for card advantage or a quick end to the game, especially with the help of Niv-Mizzet.
Spell Swindle is pricey, but it immediately ramps you to plenty of mana to cast Niv-Mizzet with Sinister Sabotage up, which should be game-ending. If you don't have Niv-Mizzet, it can also fuel a huge Explosion, which can also comfortably seal a game.
This deck plays more instants and more reactive cards, so Experimental Frenzy is a worse fit than it was in Grixis. Instead, this deck uses artifacts for its cheap permanent threats, which help get to a point where Niv-Mizzet can be cast with plenty of mana untapped, and Treasure Map generally plays very well with Spell Swindle.
Silent Gravestone is fantastic against Golgari. It protects the instants in your graveyard from Deathgorge Scavenger, but more importantly, it turns off all of their recursion; Memorial to Folly, Golgari Findbroker, Find, Grim Menagerie, and The Eldest Reborn all lose the ability to bring back creatures, which makes them very easy to beat on a one-for-one basis, especially if their deck is now filled with dead or weakened cards.
Another way to build Izzet is to focus more on incidental damage:
This deck is really about Arclight Phoenix, which it should make excellent use of. Risk Factor is also great here since it will be very hard for your opponent to evaluate just how risky taking the damage is. It also plays very well with Expansion.
Niv-Mizzet is merely a sideboard card here, but it's serving an important role. The burn is only effective at killing your opponent if you can send most of it at them. If you need to use most of the burn for creatures, your clock won't be very effective so in those spots you can side out Risk Factor and Arclight Phoenix, and bring in removal and Niv-Mizzet. You're not concerned with having anything to protect Niv-Mizzet because you're bringing it in against people who will be very bad at answering it.
Silent Gravestone is extremely important here, since you need your removal to be effective against recurring threats and your own graveyard cards are both important and protected by Silent Gravestone, which doesn't get in the way of using any of them.
The most important points here, as I see it are these:
- Niv-Mizzet is busted if you can untap with it. Lazav, The Eldest Reborn, and Spell Swindle all allow you to spend mana at times that make it easy to end up with Niv-Mizzet on the battlefield while you have open mana.
- Silent Gravestone is a fantastic hidden gem against Golgari, especially in Izzet. The most recent Magic Online 5-0 lists feature a single copy in one deck. I expect this to change, and I expect Golgari to suffer once this catches on.
- Izzet doesn't require splashing for Deafening Clarion. Fiery Cannonade should be able to cover enough of your bases when combined with other removal.