From time to time there are decks that exist in Standard that are nothing more than a collection of the best rares and mythics in a certain color combination. These decks are jammed full with all the best cards in the format and what they may lack in synergy they make up for by having an exceptionally high power level.
These decks often exist right before a rotation. That's when the highest quantity of cards is legal in Standard and we find the most potential to build a pure "best cards" deck.
We are near a rotation. It just so happens that such a deck exists. I believe it to be the best deck in the format. I am talking of course about Wolves and Angels or as it is more commonly known Naya.
Naya takes the most aggressively costed creatures in the format and pairs them with one of the best blowout spells ever printed in Bonfire of the Damned. The end result is that you have a very powerful streamlined deck that can overpower anything your opponent is doing.
Thankfully Naya not only boasts a high overall power level—it also has great synergy between all of its cards. Mana creatures allow you to hard cast Bonfire of the Damned and accelerate you into your powerful plays a turn earlier but they also serve as reasonable threats later in the game with Gavony Township Mikaeus the Lunarch and Birthing Pod. Restoration Angel is a powerful evasive threat that also provides you with an extra card worth of value when it combines with other creatures like Huntmaster of the Fells Blade Splicer and Elvish Visionary. I don't even need to talk about how sick it is to Restore a Thragtusk. One Tusken Raider is usually enough to put your opponent away. Multiples are just dirty.
Naya is a deck I have been working on for a while. I started playing with the deck when I got sick of losing to it all the time on Magic Online. At the time I was playing Esper Midrange and I felt like the matchup should be favorable for me but kept losing anyway. In retrospect it's easy to see why the matchup wasn't good. Naya had better threats than I did they got more value out of their Restoration Angels than I did and they had Bonfire as a trump while I had cards like Lingering Souls that just made me even more vulnerable to Bonfire.
Once I jumped ship to Naya it didn't take very long playing the deck to fall in love. I spent time tuning the deck in anticipation of M13 and the goodies it had to offer. Once M13 came out I tested out various cards from the set with mixed levels of success. Ultimately the only M13 card that passed the final test was our favorite 5/3 Beast for five. This time I'm not talking about Molder Beast but rather: Thragtusk. He's pretty good. Who knew? It turns out that everyone knew.
Last week I finally got to put my tuning to the test when I played in a PTQ with Naya. It was the first time I had played with the deck outside of Magic Online which took some getting used to. Let's just say I very nearly didn't miracle a number of Bonfires! I also didn't bring tokens which is a mistake when you're playing Huntmaster Blade Splicer and Thragtusk. I would encourage you to bring tokens and dice if you're going to play this deck.
On the drive to the PTQ I spent a lot of time deliberating over whether or not I wanted to play Birthing Pods in my list or not. That night I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn't fall back asleep. I spent that time deliberating over whether or not I wanted to play Birthing Pod. I eventually fell back asleep and proceeded to dream about Birthing Pod and then I woke up and deliberated some more about whether or not to play Birthing Pod. I turned on the TV. It was Star Wars Episode 1. I deliberated on whether or not I wanted to watch the Pod racing scene.
I never actually figured out exactly how I wanted my list to look by the time the PTQ started and whether or not I wanted Pods. The thing about Birthing Pod is that while it is a very powerful card it also encourages you to play suboptimal cards to provide you with options when you want to Pod up the chain.*
You want to trim some numbers here and there so you have bullets at every mana cost to Pod into. That's all well and good but what about the games where you don't draw a Birthing Pod and you're stuck with a Wurmcoil Engine in hand a pile of dead mana creatures and your opponent is sitting on three Vapor Snags? I bet you can't side that Wurmcoil out fast enough.
Maybe I'm just a simple man but all I want to do is play as many copies as I can of all the best cards in the deck. I want four Huntmasters four Restoration Angels four Bonfires and four Blade Splicers. I don't want to trim those numbers for too many silver bullets to Tutor for. Sure I'm going to lose the random game where I need to Pod a Sophic Centaur into a Rotted Hystrix but how many games am I going to lose when I draw too many random bullets and not enough Huntmasters and Restoration Angels? Probably more.
Eventually I decided to run two Birthing Pods for value but I didn't cut out any of the best cards. Here is the list I ran:
- 1 Phyrexian Metamorph
- 1 Wurmcoil Engine
- 4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Blade Splicer
- 3 Borderland Ranger
- 2 Elvish Visionary
- 4 Huntmaster of the Fells
- 4 Restoration Angel
- 1 Thragtusk
- 1 Wolfir Silverheart
- 1 Mikaeus, the Lunarch
The deck was powerful. I went 6-0-2 into Top 8 before losing the first round of Top 8 to a mull to four in the mirror. I liked the deck and yet something still didn't seem right. I needed to figure out a way to make the Pods work better or cut them entirely.
I had fairly mixed feelings about the effect of Birthing Pod on the deck. It was very good in some matches but it was mediocre in others and some of the Tutor targets I had for Pod were very underwhelming. I ended up siding out the Pod package a lot and it made me often wish I had never even bothered to play it.
At the same time I know how powerful it is and it can really take over a game completely if your opponent can't deal with it. I won a few games solely on the back of Birthing Pod. I was worried that by cutting it entirely I was limiting my options and reducing the power of the deck.
I really liked the card Birthing Pod but I didn't like the few one-of Pod targets I had. If only there was some way I could just play Pod and not play any silver bullets…
- 4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Blade Splicer
- 3 Borderland Ranger
- 2 Elvish Visionary
- 4 Huntmaster of the Fells
- 4 Restoration Angel
- 1 Thragtusk
- 2 Wolfir Silverheart
- 2 Mikaeus, the Lunarch
Voila! This is my current list and I am quite happy with it. It's a no frills no-nonsense Naya that doesn't try to get cute. It just kills the opponent.
And believe me there are many ways to kill opponents. Let me discuss a few of the common methods:
Ship 'Em Then Ship It
This is a bit of a dicey game plan. That is to say that it involves placing lots of +1/+1 counters on your creatures. The plan here is to turn all your guys sideways then activate Gavony Township to put counters on all your guys and then pass the turn.
It's a quite simple yet effective game plan. This is also your most common route to victory. This plan is an excellent way to break board stalls in the Naya mirror or against other creature decks.
This game plan involves using Birthing Pod and Restoration Angel along with cards like Blade Splicer and Huntmaster of the Fells to bury your opponent with virtual card advantage. Every time you Restoration Angel or Pod one of these creatures you get about a card's worth of value and if you can do this even just once a turn it can be very tough for your opponent to recover without a board sweeper.
This plan is great against decks like Zombies that aim to one for one you out of the game and then win with the extra value they get from cards like Geralf's Messenger or Blood Artist. If you can transform a Huntmaster against them to kill one of their creatures and then use Restoration Angel to transform it back it will be very hard for them to beat you.
This game plan is all about leveraging the mana advantage you get from Birds of Paradise and Avacyn's Pilgrim along with the clock your hardest hitting creatures like Blade Splicer and Wolfir Silverheart can provide to kill your opponent before they are capable of getting their game plan off the ground. Bonfire is often very good in hands like this because it allows you to clear out chump blockers so your fatties can easily connect with your opponent.
This strategy is most powerful against ramp decks or control decks but it can also be devastating against slow draws from archetypes like Zombies or the Naya mirror.
This game plan is the most important one in your arsenal. It takes a lot of practice and skill to pull off correctly but the basic idea is to draw Bonfire of the Damned late in the game.
I would like to reiterate that it's of paramount importance to practice this game plan a lot before trying to pull it off in game. Without putting a lot of effort into this technique it can be difficult to gauge just how much time to spend slow rolling the miracle reveal.
For maximum tilt factor always try to call out for Bonfire in your upkeep so that when you draw it (and you will) your opponent thinks you were even luckier than you actually were.
Key Cards: Lands Bonfire of the Damned
Now that I've talked a bit about some of the game plans you want to execute with the deck I'd like to talk about the card choices themselves.
Do not play less than eight of these. It might even be right to play Llanowar Elves as extra copies of these. I can never advocate playing less than the full set of both of these cards. I really cannot stress enough how important these are to your success with the deck. They allow you to execute your game plan much more smoothly by providing acceleration and color fixing in a deck that needs both.
Both of these cards are fairly unassuming all-stars in the deck. They are the glue that holds the powerful cannon together. Both also have great synergy with Restoration Angel by providing you with the ability to draw cards or get more lands if you need either of those effects.
Even without Birthing Pods in my deck I would play both of these cards. They both are important ways to improve your early game consistency and make sure your draws are smooth.
I've spoken about this guy a number of times but he is an all-star against decks that aren't Delver or don't play lots of board sweepers. He's so good that I've added a third copy to the sideboard.
This card always feels underwhelming in practice but when you look back after a game you will see that it either prevented a huge amount of damage dealt a good bit of damage or allowed you to create an overwhelming board state with Restoration Angels.
Don't play less than four copies. A lot of lists skim down on this guy to two copies or even one. I can't stress enough how wrong I think that is. He is excellent against green creature decks Zombies and Delver. Even against control decks he's a clock that you don't have to overextend with. Wolf Run Ramp is the only matchup I can think of where he isn't particularly good.
The times that the Naya mirror isn't decided by Bonfire of the Damned or Gavony Township it's frequently decided by Huntmaster of the Fells. If you play a Huntmaster of the Fells in the mirror match it is generally the correct play to simply pass your next turn to kill one of your opponent's mana creatures regardless of what other plays you can make instead. This play becomes a giant blowout if you also have a Township or Restoration Angel to use as well.
One of the best cards in the format she does everything you want her to do. She lets you flip Huntmaster of the Fells and still cast a card and she doubles your clock by "saving" a Blade Splicer. She protects your creatures from removal is a surprise blocker or attacker and dodges sorcery speed removal. She blocks Delvers and has evasion to break board stalls. Need I continue? Don't play less than four!
These are the two best five-drops right now in my opinion. There are a lot of options to play in the five-drop slot and what is best is going to change whenever the metagame does but as long as we're looking at a lot of green creature decks performing well these are going to be the cards you want.
I am playing two copies of Silverheart and only one Thragtusk. That is because I actually believe right now that Silverheart is the better card. That may come as a surprise. I know that I would never have guessed this prior to testing games with the deck but all I can say after playing hundreds of games with the deck on Magic Online is that Silverheart has simply performed the best.
Silverheart breaks open the green creature mirrors in a way that none of the other five-drops can. He is resilient to Bonfire and makes another creature resilient as well. He can sometimes attack through clogged boards or otherwise trade for 3-4 creatures. He makes your bonfires immediately lethal when he clears out blockers. Bonded with a Birds of Paradise or Restoration Angel he gives you a quick and viable evasive clock to break ground stalls.
Silverheart is also the best five-drop against ramp decks and I like him against control decks as well because he demands an immediate answer or they die. He can frequently get in for four "haste" damage by bonding with a creature precombat while they are tapped out.
"Nice rip lucksack."
"I can't believe I'm going to lose to a lucky topdeck."
"I can't believe how unlucky I am."
–Every opponent I have cast Bonfire against
I have become much luckier since I started playing four copies of Bonfire in my deck. Sometimes I draw this card that I play four copies of and I know that it's really lucky of me to do so but I will win the game as a result. It feels really good to get lucky!
You too can become lucky at Magic by following my one-step process: play Bonfire of the Damned.
One thing I would like to point out is that Bonfire is very good when you hard cast it on five or seven mana as well. You don't have to miracle the card for it to be effective. When I see lists that play less than four copies my first thought is that perhaps the person hasn't played with Bonfire before. I can't imagine playing with less than four copies of the best card in the format.
As for the sideboard one of the great things about playing a three-color deck is that you have access to a number of options. Want to play Hero of Bladehold? Want to play Wurmcoil Engine and Elesh Norn to go with your Birthing Pods? You certainly can do so. I don't think Hero is very good right now but if the metagame shifts back to Wolf Run Ramp and control decks being prevalent then Hero will become good again as well.
The most important suggestion I can make is to sideboard based on game plans and not individual cards. For example my sideboard plan against the Naya mirror match is to try to minimize the effect of their Bonfires. This involves bringing in Arc Trails to kill their mana creatures and lessen their ability to cast Bonfire. It involves using Mikaeus to grow my team out of Bonfire range and it includes using Wolfir Silverheart to also grow my creatures out of Bonfire range. Bonfire is the most important card in the mirror match and rather than try to just sideboard in and out "good cards" for the matchup I have a specific plan I want to execute: win the bonfire fight. This also applies to game play as well. One incentive to immediately flip a Huntmaster in the Naya mirror is so they cannot Bonfire it as easily. Sometimes it is correct to not choose to Restoration Angel it as well to play around Bonfire.
My plan for the Delver matchup is similarly about minimizing the effectiveness of certain cards. In this case I want to reduce the impact of Vapor Snag and Gut Shot. For that reason I would never side out something like Borderland Ranger because I need that card to fix my mana if they Gut Shot my one-drops. I will however side out Mikaeus the Lunarch because if you cast him at X=1 he is vulnerable to Gut Shot and at any other casting cost he is vulnerable to Vapor Snag without giving you any immediate value. I want to bring in cards that do provide immediate value like Geist-Honored Monk and Thragtusk.
In closing I want to state that as long as the metagame is saturated with other green decks Delver and Zombies Naya will be one of if not the best deck in the format since it has a favorable matchup against all of those decks. If the metagame shifts and control decks and ramp decks return in force then it's certainly possible that Naya will no longer be very good or will have to adapt to fight them.
Until that point I intend to play the deck. The PTQ I played last weekend was the easiest PTQ I have ever made Top 8. It's not that my opponents were poor players or that I played against bad decks. I did not play against a single rogue deck in the tournament. It's simply that this deck is so powerful and is so easy to win games with. And on top of that you have an "oops I win" button in Bonfire of the Damned that can sometimes steal a game even when things look completely unwinnable.
I will be playing the deck this weekend at the SCG Standard Open in Washington DC. Hopefully I can do Huntmaster and friends proud.
Thanks for reading and may you always Miracle a Bonfire the turn before your opponent has lethal.
BBD on Magic Online
*How to impress your friends at the water cooler on Monday: when they ask what you did over the weekend tell them you almost got busted "Podding up a chain." You will gain instantaneous 'gangsta' cred.