Regular participants of the SCG Tour® have been in a for a treat for the first few weeks since Ravnica Allegiance's release. With SCG Indianapolis in the books already and SCG Dallas on the horizon, there's already been a ton of opportunity to play with the powerful cards from the latest set in high stakes events.
As we head into SCG Dallas, players have significantly more of an idea of what Standard is starting to look like. The format is still very much in its infancy, and it remains to be seen if a new, broken deck lies lurking, waiting to be found. As for myself, my attention has shifted very little from where it was in the early days of testing for SCG Indianapolis. I'm a firm believer that the broken deck of my dreams is right in front of my face, and it's all about building it correctly.
I am, once again, talking about Nexus of Fate.
On the Monday prior to SCG Indianapolis, I covered what information I had with limited testing and knowledge of the rest of the format as a whole, casting a wide net in terms of what to expect heading into the first weekend of the format. Now we have a lot more to work with, with an SCG Open, a couple Standard Classics, and some data from Magic Online to figure out where the format is starting to head to. I took this information back with me into the lab to flesh out some philosophies and approaches towards building Nexus of Fate decks moving forward.
As a baseline, the first thing I wanted to identify was a scale for how all-in different decklists featuring Nexus of Fate were going and figure out the strengths and weaknesses of each. Let's start on the all-in end of the axis and work our way back.
The goal of this version of the deck is to utilize as fast of a combo kill in the first game of the match as possible, then pivot much more in the sideboard games to a different kind of deck. Against the midrange and control decks, Niv-Mizzet, Parun serves as an excellent alternate win condition.
The de facto midrange and control decks of Standard right now are Sultai and Esper, respectively, and this sideboard makes a heavy nod to each. You can alternate the deck into being much less combo centric and turn it more into a midrange deck with a combo finish after sideboard, depending on what you see fit. Lists like this typically don't interact as much game 1, which means that it's on your deck to hum properly (and quicker than your opponent's) in order to steal the first game of the match.
In the list above, I went with a Temur manabase as opposed to a Bant one. Bant utilizes Teferi and some slightly better sideboard options, especially for the aggressive decks that can sometimes run you over before you're able to stabilize in favor of some velocity. Let's shift there and take a look at a slightly less all-in version, like my list from the Indianapolis Open a week or so back:
This list maintains a faster gameplan in the first game. If it wasn't clear, Expansion//Explosion is very important at speeding you towards looping Nexus of Fates in game 1, usually winning the game once you've established the Nexus loop:
Expansion // Explosion does quite a bit in the Nexus deck. The front half in Expansion is incredibly flexible and can lead to some powerful plays if it copies the right spell at the right time. A lot of the time, it's very good at copying a counterspell to become a virtual copy of Negate to help power through your important spells. If you're Nexus-less but have an untouched Wilderness Reclamation on the battlefield, you can use one of the two copies to gas up on a ton of cards to help push you into the endgame before you use the second copy to kill your opponent. This list attempts to preserve the powerful white sideboard cards and use Teferi, Hero of Dominaria as a midrange card advantage engine that quickly becomes a problem if not answered. This list brings a tad bit more consistency to the table in exchange for speed.
Another list that has been catching my eye is a list that fits still in the more midrange role while keeping the Nexus of Fate combo as the centerpiece of the deck:
From my understanding, this deck is the work of a group of individuals dubbed the Weekend Warriors, a small team trying to make their name on the SCG Tour®. I admire the work this group has put into this list, as a good amount of thought seems to have gone into the it. The maindeck still plays a series of "stepping stone" cards to facilitate card draw and mana ramp, and even attacks from a rarely seen angle with a miser's copy of Murmuring Mystic as both a win condition and defensive option. Hydroid Krasis makes an appearance as well in the maindeck rather than a sideboard plan. Krasis is often a fantastic topdeck when you run out of card draw spells and start to run out of things to do as the game approaches its conclusion, and I imagine it can steal some games on its own without the help of Nexus of Fate.
This is a list I have had little personal experience with, but I imagine the slightly smoother mana in conjunction with more pointed interaction, like Blink of an Eye, work well. A part of me wants to maybe try experimenting with an extra copy or two of Murmuring Mystic since it's very strong in some of the Nexus decks' more problematic matchups, like Mono-Red and the white aggressive decks.
The next list I want to cover is a list that pushes almost as far away from the all-in aspect of Nexus of Fate decks as they can possibly go. Incidentally, it's the most interesting take on the archetype, and has the most to talk about.
I am, of course, talking about Nexus of Gates!
First popularized by Bryan Gottlieb, this version of the deck is quickly growing in popularity due to its much more difficult to attack gameplan. Rather than focusing around Wilderness Reclamation, Nexus of Fate, and potentially Teferi, the Gates-matter cards are all unique and very much worth the payoff when utilized:
One aspect of the Gates version of Nexus decks that the other ones don't utilize as well is a maindeck sweeper. Gates Ablaze serves as a fantastic catchup card to keep the battlefield in check, as it only costs three mana and will typically take care of just about any creature due to how well the card scales as you play more and more Guildgates. Only costing three mana helps mitigate the fact that a lot of your lands enter the battlefield tapped, and it's not uncommon to be playing a turn behind on mana as a result.
Archway Angel, Gatebreaker Ram, and to an extent Gate Colossus - which is usually only seen in non-Nexus Gate decks - are all above rate creatures for their mana cost and do an excellent job of winning the game for you. Archway Angel, while costing six mana, usually gains you between ten to twelve life per trigger when you resolve it, which lets you crawl back into games against some of the more aggressive decks. Gatebreaker Ram is a hilariously simplistic and powerful win condition that will usually counteract your opponent's sideboard plan of counterspells and hand disruption to handle the Nexus of Fate engine.
The glue that really keeps this deck together, however, is Guild Summit.
Guild Summit serves many different purposes in the Gates deck. For starters, it tends to overload your opponents on ways to handle both it and Wilderness Reclamation, leaving them to die to one or the other burying them in card and/or mana advantage. The fact that Guild Summit is flexible in all phases of the game makes it a powerhouse, as you can cast it on turn 3 or 4 to start accruing a few extra cards here and there, or cast it late as an enormous three-mana draw spell that can net you an entire new hand of cards. Also, the enters the battlefield effect works incredibly well with Wilderness Reclamation to allow you to cast Nexus of Fates during the end step that you found from the trigger.
Also, you haven't lived until you cast a Circuitous Route to go get a couple Guildgates with Guild Summit on the battlefield. It is a deeeeeeeelight and even the win conditions have gone ahead and diversified themselves a bit more than the usual Nexus decks:
Neither of these cards are new to Nexus decks in general, but here we see Hydroid Krasis make a four-of-in-the-maindeck appearance as one of the ways to grind opponents out with the cast trigger. Since Nexus of Gates goes a little deeper on the ramp spells by also playing Circuitous Route alongside Growth Spiral, it becomes a lot easier to cast huge Krasis much earlier than other Nexus decks can.
In conclusion, if we tie everything together, we see that the Gates version attacks on a much larger number of angles than the other Nexus decks, and as a result, it ends up being much sturdier and difficult to attack, especially in the sideboarded games.
I do, however, think that the deck's biggest weakness is itself. Sometimes you draw a whole boatload of Gates and die because you play a turn behind the entire game, sometimes you're short a color you need, and sometimes since you operate so slowly in the early game, if your ramp spells or Guild Summit don't resolve early, you can quickly become overpowered by decks like Esper Control before you can set up your engines.
That being said, I think this issue is slowly diminishing as players continue to play and tune the deck. Versions of this deck have been doing well more and more recently, and even made the top 4 of the online Mythic Champion Qualifier last weekend. I look forward to tooling with this version myself to see if it can be broken.
Looking up and down the spectrum of Nexus of Fate decks, it's obvious that there's an absurdly high amount of customization when it comes to constructing the right mix of card advantage, mana advantage, and win condition cards. As such, it becomes a fairly difficult task to figure out exactly what is the most robust version of the deck and how to leverage it against the metagame. I truly think that if Nexus of Fate decks have a long-term stay in this format, we'll see a very tuned version of one of the above lists show up at the Mythic Championship in Cleveland.
Until then, I know I'll be in the lab myself, trying to crack the code.