What does it mean when we say something in Magic is broken?
The first era of broken cards came from a time where the designers of Magic were finding their footing and didn't quite understand the effect of dramatically undercosting spells. These cards simply did so more for so much less mana than everything else at the time. The Power Nine became iconic for the kind of hyper-efficiency that could only exist while a game developer was still wrapping their head around their own creation:
The next era of broken Magic cards came during the Urza's Saga block. These cards lacked the raw efficiency of the Power Nine. Instead, they fundamentally altered the way you would play a game of Magic. The game stopped being about gathering resources and managing threats and just became about finding the best way to do the most broken thing. Often this broken thing involved manipulating the number of cards and mana you had access to in dramatic fashion. Some of these spells offered refunds in mana upon their resolution, essentially rendering them "free":
The third heyday of broken cards was Mirrodin block. Again, unfair resource manipulation and free cards were the order of the day:
In recent times, it feels like broken has become another synonym for "good" or "above rate". Look at post-Mirrodin block bannings.
There's an argument to be made that none of these cards are broken in the traditional sense. The closest contenders are Felidar Guardian and Aetherworks Marvel, but these cards could be moved to other contexts and be completely acceptable. They both existed alongside problematic dance partners in Saheeli Rai and the Eldrazi. The other recently banned cards are powerful options that, while clearly unhealthy for gameplay and better than comparable options, still were interested in doing the type of actions that occur in a typical game of Magic-gathering resources, attacking, etc.
Problematic? Unhealthy? Banworthy? Sure.
But broken? I'd say no.
The fact that the lexicon has evolved to describe cards like Rouge Refiner as broken leaves me at a bit of a loss when talking about the star of today's deck:
Because Wildness Reclamation is Urza's Saga style broken. Patrick Chapin hammered home the point yesterday, and I'm not surprised he picked up on this one. After all, he was one of the people maximizing the broken cards in Urza's block back in the day.
As was the key in Urza Block, the format should begin with figuring out the best way to maximize a card which is free to cast and has the potential to grant you access to resources on an unbelievable scale. How about a deck that can combo off and take all the turns as early as Turn 4 while gaining a substantial amount of life along the way?
Oh, you also get a three-mana mass removal spell.
The things this deck can do are just jaw-dropping. Here, our opponent had a nice little aggressive Golgari start. We managed to stay alive only with the help of a couple of Revitalize.
Here's how we started our Turn 6.
Here's how it ended.
Guess we didn't need that sweeper.
Let's do the card by card breakdown thing:
To consent to playing the game a turn behind by virtue of your fourteen tapped lands, you have to generate some serious synergies elsewhere. Our Gates will do exactly that, but don't sleep on the incidental lifegain from Plaza of Harmony. Arch of Orazca is a key inclusion for working the last few non-Nexus cards out of your deck and maximizing the multiple untap steps that Wilderness Reclamation will grant us. I think a third Gruul Guildgate is a reasonable inclusion, possibly over the fourth Breeding Pool.
While Wilderness Reclamation may be the most broken card in our deck, the first copy is so powerful that even though copies stack, the second one is often redundant. Wilderness Reclamation unlocks every other card in your deck. It allows you to spend your main phase aggressively searching for your payoff cards, and your end step (or your opponents end step) casting them. It allows you to cast Nexus of Fate with only four lands on the battlefield. It grants multiple Arch of Orazca activations. All your Turn 4 and 5 wins are built on Wilderness Reclamation.
4 Nexus of Fate and 3 Emergency Powers
Our payoff cards, our entire gameplan is based on getting to the point where we can cast these cards multiple times. Emergency Powers is easily the most controversial inclusion in this deck, as I've heard people suggest that blue card draw such as Search for Azcanta and Chemister's Insight is just better. Emergency Powers does a far better job of letting you "go for it" in risky spots. I've won plenty of games off just seven lands and a main phased Emergency Powers that put a Wilderness Reclamation onto the battlefield. People see reshuffling your graveyard in a deck that's trying to reduce to just Nexus of Fates as problematic, but with the addition of Guild Summit, a large percentage of your deck become cantrips as the game goes on. If you've set up Wilderness Reclamation and a Guild Summit, you're not worried about shuffling Revitalizes, Growth Spirals, and Circuitous Routes back into your deck.
Using Emergency Powers also gets you access to additional copies of your win conditions, which allows you to spend them aggressively in the early game and still find an attacker when you have amassed an arbitrary number of turns. First drafts of Nexus of Fate decks that I crafted deserved criticism for including Emergency Powers over the blue card drawing spells. This version properly utilizes the flashy Timetwister analog.
It's interesting that both of our payoff cards are callbacks to the Power Nine. Magic designers love creating new versions of these effects because they inspire excitement in players. The main way they safely reprint these spells is by increasing mana costs and imposing timing restrictions.
Nexus of Fate and Emergency Powers, when played in conjunction with Wilderness Reclamation, essentially ignore these safety valves. You can cast Emergency Powers on your opponent's end step and get the first shot at a new seven-card hand, even if you've used your mana proactively during your main phase. To say nothing of the fact that Nexus of Fate actually returns itself to your deck ( I've certainly said my piece on this in the past ). The core mana engine of this deck is broken, and it uses that brokenness to gain access to other overpowered effects. This is the reason that playing this deck can occasionally feel like playing Vintage.
The true reason for committing to the Gate manabase, Guild Summit is the best draw engine a deck like this can hope for. Sometimes it's just your tap out draw spell, sometimes you will leave mana open to look for specific answers, but most importantly, it turns a bunch of your lands and your Circuitous Routes into cantrips. This is critical as you reach the lategame, and every single additional card can mean the difference between life and death. With Wilderness Reclamation, you can chain multiple Guild Summits across multiple turns and still get your end step Nexus of Fates off. Congratulations, you've probably won the game or passed the turn back having swept your opponent and plus 21 life. GG.
4 Revitalize, 2 Gates Ablaze
Here's our interaction. We're just need to hold on a few extra turns in the face of aggression. Revitalize does that and gets us to our payoffs faster. Gates Ablaze is an incredible sweeper where you're willing to put in the effort, and every drop of mana efficiency this deck can offer us is critical. You'll be thankful your sweeper costs three instead of five when you also want to cast a Nexus of Fate on the same turn.
Our end game obviously requires significant mana investment. These cards synergize beautifully with the other aspects of our deck and do so much more than just ramp us. Gift of Paradise functions as additional life total insurance while making our Plaza of Harmony a five-color land. Growth Spiral crucially cantrips on its own, digging to Nexus of Fate and Emergency Powers, and Circuitous Route transforms into a draw two with a Guild Summit on the battlefield while it powers up each future copy of Guild Summit. It also works potentially dead draws out of our deck as we seek to chain Nexus of Fate turns.
1 Warrant // Warden, 1 Hydroid Krasis
Our win conditions. One selling point of this deck is that it closes the game very quickly after it has garnered control. You make a flyer, queue up a bunch of extra turns, and attack for lethal. None of this Teferi tucking nonsense here. Because we have access to Emergency Powers, you can safely expose your threats to removal. Even if your Hydroid Krasis faces a Vraska's Contempt or Conclave Tribunal, you'll still be able to use Warden to make 4/4 flyers and close out the game. I like how small this package is, and the fact that our kill conditions effectively contribute to our A-plan of surviving to take all the turns is a huge boon. Without access to fogs, Teferi is just too fragile in all non-end game situations. I don't want to pay five mana to draw a single card. Our deck aims bigger than that, and Teferi is playing small ball.
Despite occasional "mathy" turns where you must figure out exactly how much damage your opponent can potentially do if you pass back to them, this deck is fairly simple to play. Stay alive. Accelerate your mana. Draw cards. Cast big spells. In that order. If you achieve these things, you will win the game.
A very important note. Because a card is the most broken card does not in and of itself make it the best possible card to be playing. This deck, and indeed the vast majority of strategies which will attempt to exploit Wilderness Reclamation to its fullest, will be hyper linear (though I think Wilderness Reclamation is good enough to be a value inclusion and not the focal point of several other decks). Linear strategies will be vulnerable to Negate, Disdainful Stroke, timely enchantment removal, Unmoored Ego, and a host of other answers. As deckbuilders, we will have to find ways to maximize Wilderness Reclamation decks that are forced to operate in their fail state. Unchecked versions comboing on Turn 4 are well and good, but these decks will have to present reasonable plans after being targeted.
As of now, I've been playing this deck only on Arena in best-of-ones. This is basically easy mode for a deck like this, and if someone is going to find success at SCG Indianapolis this weekend, they will need a sideboard that is ready to adapt in games 2 and 3. Here's my current first draft of a sideboard. If I were playing SCG Indianapolis as opposed to commentating on it, all my efforts would be focused on refining this sideboard.
I want a proactive plan for sideboard games when I expect opponents to overload on Negate and Duress, and Gatebreaker Ram backed up by Gates Ablaze can offer exactly that. A misers Settle the Wreckage is a little extra insurance against decks trying to get by solely on aggression and an out to the problematic Tajic, Legion's Edge. Unmoored Ego is our trump against opposing Nexus of Fate decks or any other combo-based weirdness. Finally, Knight of Autumn is versatile enough to get us points in a host of sideboard matchups. It's not the best tool for any one job, but in Week 1 it will be important to stay flexible.
It could be that the deck wants to lean even harder on the aggressive Gate theme and pack some copies of Gate Colossus. The card strikes me as underpowered though, and that's coming from someone who's happily sleeving up Guild Summit. Other options include Mass Manipulation, Angel of Grace, Lyra Dawnbringer, Carnage Tyrant, Expansion, Banefire, Cleansing Nova, additional copies of Hydroid Krasis, Dawn of Hope, and Teferi.
A benefit of your deck construction is that it's basically a big mana deck with plenty of card draw and only seven dead cards if your combo kill is invalidated. This gives you a lot of flexibility when it comes to potential transformational sideboard plans. If you can identify a curveball that squeezes your opponent in just the right fashion, you can iron out a lot of the linearity inherent in a strategy like Nexus of Gates. When you find the secret sauce, come find me at SCG Indianapolis.
Actually, nevermind. I'm sure I'll be able to find you, doing your Top 8 profile before the elimination rounds.