Bending Nissa Revane


Nissa Revane ∙ Dependencies ∙ Andre Coimbra ∙
Top 8 Magic Destiny ∙ … and Nissa Revane

I know I have hinted at this notion of bending Nissa Revane a couple of times… From Top Decks to here on the blog. The joke is that you can’t really break Nissa (she isn’t that good)… But you can certainly try to break her, and get halfway to your goal; hence, the bend.

Most of what I have to say about Nissa pre-dates her spectacular finishes at the recent Star City $5,000 tournament by the Andersons et al, so you can actually make the argument that Nissa is breakable. My original position, though, was that even if she is good, she has some undeniable problems. Consider Blightning.

Start scratching your head.

Think about Blightning, or Lightning Bolt, or… whatever. Nissa can be a profitable 2/3 machine (kind of like “make a 2/3, force the opponent to discard a very good card”) but her super normal vulnerability makes it very difficult to keep her on the table. Ergo, difficult to really “break” her.

If you are dead set on playing a Nissa deck, you would probably consider Kali Anderson’s deck before the one I advocate later in this post, but there are still some interesting things to talk about (especially the history surrounding this deck in time, and the domino effect it created for me and eventually Andre Coimbra).

Nissa Revane

For Reference: Eldrazi Green – Kali Anderson

3 Eldrazi Monument

3 Ant Queen
4 Elvish Archdruid
4 Elvish Visionary
3 Garruk Wildspeaker
3 Great Sable Stag
4 Llanowar Elves
2 Master of the Wild Hunt
4 Nissa Revane
4 Nissa’s Chosen
2 Noble Hierarch

20 Forest
4 Oran-Rief, the Vastwood

1 Eldrazi Monument
3 Pithing Needle
4 Acidic Slime
1 Great Sable Stag
1 Mold Shambler
3 Mycoloth
2 Windstorm

This straight Green version is much more focused on Oran-Rief, the Vastwood and all relevant jones than my deck.

Here is my Nissa deck (or at least “the” Nissa deck that BDM and I used for some telling testing the week before the Nashville 5K):

Naya Elves:

3 Ajani Vengeant
4 Bloodbraid Elf

4 Elvish Archdruid
4 Llanowar Elves
4 Nissa Revane
4 Nissa’s Chosen
4 Turntimber Ranger

4 Lightning Bolt

4 Baneslayer Angel

6 Forest
2 Graypelt Refuge
4 Jungle Shrine
2 Kazandu Refuge
1 Mountain
1 Oran-Rief, the Vastwood
1 Plains
4 Rootbound Crag
4 Sunpetal Grove

4 Goblin Ruinblaster
4 Acidic Slime
4 Great Sable Stag
3 Path to Exile

This Nissa Revane deck might be a little outdated based on two different implementations of separate strategies that have come since (the Eldrazi Green deck as an alternate Nissa Revane deck, and Naya Lightsaber as a better Naya deck), but the reason I figure it is interesting to talk about (still) is the notion of dependencies.

I think that for the past 16 years we have been approaching the idea of deck design — all of us, or most, anyway — from a fundamentally flawed perspective. I have been developing an alternate theory for how all decks are built (which sheds light on what should be the best decks, I think), but that is a topic for another time; I just want to focus on one principle of deck design for now, that of dependencies.

Dependencies are the tax that get tacked onto decks for the privilege of playing certain cards. For example the cards Flooded Strand, Arid Mesa, Ranger of Eos, and Nissa Revane are all compelling cards, and all have certain dependencies attached to them. The first two cards do almost nothing without a Plains to find, and the latter two don’t do quite nothing, but they are certainly below the power curve if they don’t have some kind of Mogg Fanatics and Nissa’s Chosen to work with.

Dependencies are why Marsh Flats and Verdant Catacombs are so much worse in Standard where you have to play actual Plains, Swamps, and Forests, relative to Extended, where you can actually get a Mountain of sorts with either card; just look at the mana base of a Domain Zoo deck: It might have fewer than ten mana producing lands, total… But will rarely, if ever, get caught with its pants down on the mana dependencies. Each non-mana producing land can get a variety of different lands in the deck, with tremendous overlap; even if there is only one Blood Crypt, say, a variety of differnt lands would be able to find it. In Standard, we have a much more difficult time tuning mana bases built around these lands because if we have four Arid Mesas, we probably have to play a bare minimum of four to five Mountains and Plains to justify… and even then, we will often get caught napping on mana. The games in Standard simply take longer, so we are more likely to draw deeper, and therefore, see more of our decks, et cetera.

Any Nissa deck has a fundamental set of dependencies on Nissa’s Chosen. Even if you don’t play all four copies of Nissa Revane, you probably play all four Nissa’s Chosen, because otherwise, Nissa is even less bendy than ususal.

In this deck I elected to try to go for a very explosive Ultimate on Nissa, and crammed my deck full of Elves that I thought might help do the job.

Playing Red was important to me because of the potential to his all my Elvish Archdruids and all my Bloodbraid Elves in a single turn. The possibility for that combination is arguably the strongest of all the reasonably costed Planeswalkers: 20+ damage coming in from a single effect. That was what had me geeked on Nissa… So I invested in Elves well beyond Nissa Revane’s fundamental dependencies.

The result was a playable but far from optimal Naya deck.

I originally tried straight G/R until I realized that I was just going to get blown out by Baneslayer Angels if I didn’t have them myself. However at the same time, I realized I could play arguably the strongest of the Planeswalkers, Ajani Vengeant, in my Nissa Revane deck (go figure). While the Nissa deck itself was not ready for prime time, it certainly set the stage.

I was quite excited about this deck and ran a several hours long playtest session with Brian David-Marshall at Top 8 Magic. You can listen to much of it. These sections have specifically to do with the Naya Nissa deck:

Later in this same session we played the Conqueror’s Pledge deck that Evan Erwin was advocating at the time. I loved Evan’s concept but disliked the implementation, and somehow decided that I was going to go from a creature-based Conqueror’s Pledge deck to a nearly creatureless Planeswalker-Tokens deck. Here is another look at Nissa Revane:

G/W Planeswalkers

4 Armillary Sphere
2 Wildfield Borderpost

3 Garruk Wildspeaker
4 Nissa Revane
4 Nissa’s Chosen

3 Ajani Goldmane
4 Baneslayer Angel
2 Conqueror’s Pledge
4 Day of Judgment
1 Elspeth, Knight-Errant
2 Martial Coup
1 Oblivion Ring

6 Forest
4 Graypelt Refuge
1 Oran-Rief, the Vastwood
3 Path to Exile
8 Plains
4 Sunpetal Grove

4 Great Sable Stag
4 Celestial Purge
4 Luminarch Ascension
2 Martial Coup
1 Path to Exile

I wanted very much for this deck to be any good.

I played it and played it… But it wasn’t.

That doesn’t mean we didn’t learn anything. Between the two decks we actually learned quite a bit… Which resulted in the now-wildly successful Naya Lightsaber.

From the Naya Nissa deck, we got the double-up land destruction package (still BDM’s favorite bit), which eventually helped Andre Coimbra win the World Championship.

The second deck actually taught me to be less fancy. The G/W Nissa deck is so motherloving fancy. By the time I pared down to what became Naya Lightsaber, all the frills were gone. The G/W version showed me what a dead end a Nissa deck with no exciting Ultimate could be; this, in a sense, transformed into Ranger of Eos, which has its own dependencies, but especially in the case of Wild Nacatl, bore dependencies with very low costs indeed. Ultimately I just pared down to the best cards, trying to deploy them in the fastest, most consistent, way possible. The end result: The best deck and a World Champion in my friend Andre Coimbra.

If you dial back to the podcast referenced above, hit up Part Seven (I told you the session was some hours long). BDM and I finish playing with Mono-Cascade (Black Baneslayer) and BDM of course loves it (what’s not to love)… But the last thing we talk about is Andre calling me up for a deck for Worlds. At that point, I hadn’t yet designed Naya Lightsaber… and I don’t know that I would have if not for hanging out with Brian that night. It was really a combination of things… Mostly testing out ideas that weren’t good enough — but were in compatible colors, doing less broken if somewhat more consistent things with Bloodbraid Elf — that got the ball rolling.

I hope you’ll join me in congratulating our 2009 World Champion!

(According to him, I’m “the man”).

And for reference:


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#1 Worlds 2009 went down in style! « The Exploration on 11.23.09 at 10:38 am

[…] duel” in the finals, Coimbra took it down in three with his Naya Lightsaber deck (Mike Flores is one happy man) versus David Reitbauer of Austria (playing Jund). Coimbra took himself to the finals after he […]

#2 MTGBattlefield on 11.24.09 at 6:31 am

Bending Nissa Revane…

Your story has been summoned to the battlefield – Trackback from MTGBattlefield…

#3 Markwerf on 11.28.09 at 10:51 pm

I find it somewhat annoying to see you call ‘Naya lightsaber’ the best deck. Kudos to coimbra for playing excellent and winning worlds but the standard deck is just NOT good. Naya in itself is an alright archetype though not really spectacular, which is also shown in analysis from the standard portion of worlds. Coimbra himself only did 4-2 there for example and on average the archetype did really bad. The matchup agianst jund is actually one of the reasons for this because it’s NOT a good matchup. It’s not bad either but jund is favored slightly just because they have more card advantage and can deal with any threat you lay basically efficiently while you can’t with blightning, broodmate and malakir bloodwitch. The best plan is offcourse the mana denial plan which worked fantastically for coimbra leading to 6 straight wins against jund and the title.
This however leads me to your list and why coimbra got lucky. The mana sucks.
ruinblaster needs double red and fast yet the deck only plays 11 red sources. Hierarch needs turn 1 green, yet only 4 lands do that.
Bad mana happens more and can still lead to fine decks with power making up for it. However there is one bigger flaw even,
bloodbraid elf and hierarch both benefit from three drops hugely. Afterall cascading into a 3-drop or playing one turn 2 is the best thing you can do, yet the deck only plays thoctar. Knight of reliquary is also in the same colors which is easy to play, you already play 4 fetches anyway adding 4 or 5 more is easy. An easy cut is path to exile, not only are 4 in this metagame where you dont want to fix people’s mana for free or ramp them not good, it’s also often a horrible cascade target (no target, or you played elf turn 3 and dont want to target). Furthermore this deck tends to trump other threats by just playing a better one, path is not neccesary as a 4-of, 2 is better. Against a big part of the meta you swap it out for celestial purge anyway. For the matchups where you DO need extra removal that isn’t purge like the mirror you can just bring in some o-rings. A better cascade and deals with baneslayer just as well. Also very good against turbofog, eldrazi green and most monoW emeria decks.
Anyway enough of a rant, the deck is still ok it’s just suboptimal. Calling it the ‘best deck’ while it’s far from that just itched me to write this.

#4 admin on 11.29.09 at 10:19 pm

It is honestly shocking to me how bad the analysis of this matchup you see on the Internet is.

People are so invested in this idea that Jund has more card advantage that they simply do not see how the matchup plays out. Then again, they probably don’t understand how card advantage works.

First of all, the notion that Jund is favored even slightly is unsupportable. Blightning is very powerful but the decks escape Stage One and go to a point where both decks are playing big threats off the top. Naya has more threats, and its most significant threats are far more powerful at a point in the game where Blightning no longer has any effect beyond a Lightning Bolt to the jaw. The matchup does not occur in the hand, it occurs on the table.

I don’t know what you think of as “bad” but Jund averaged 50% in the Swiss portion.

The mana analysis of Lightsaber is also quite terrible.

As far as I can tell you have just regurgitated drivel expelled by a bunch of whiners who actually have no interest in investigating the actual best decks in the format. The mana of Lightsaber is actually quite stable. It has to be structured a certain way in order to make the cards work (Rootbound Crag, Wild Nacatl)… It doesn’t really matter if there are only four Forests. You seem to think that Noble Hierarch loses efficacy after turn one; in fact, if you play it on turn two, you still have the fastest Bloodbraid Elf in the room, and a turn four Baneslayer Angel ain’t bad, either.

However if you look at the total math, you will see that there are many positive avenues to advantage beyond the superficial optimal draw… and they are all faster and better than what other decks in the format offer. You should instead look at how devastating a turn one Hierarch is — which is on the bonus — rather than lamenting the percentage of the time it does not occur.

It might be more interesting to discuss things like why these vastly favored Jund players all had Sprouting Thrinax in their decks after sideboarding. It isn’t even a card any more when there are Celestial Purges and Great Sable Stags in the Naya deck. The fact that their supposedly more powerful deck was packing an almost impossible to play Gnarled Mass after sideboarding means that they probably don’t understand the matchup and you should stop listening to them about who is supposed to win it.

Naya is a flat-out better deck. It’s faster, it has better threats, and when the decks fight, Naya has more bigger stuff. Naya is better against decks like RDW and Bushwhacker, which are challenging or very difficult to beat for Jund. Naya never loses to Fog, whereas Jund is quite clearly challenged by Fog. Jund has a 50% matchup with Jund. All evidence shows that Naya beats Jund, especially in multiple-game matches. I really don’t see how this is even an argument. Naya is both a better deck and better positioned in the metagame.

#5 Five With Flores » What Makes Bestial Menace the Coolest? on 01.24.10 at 9:35 pm

[…] modern inheritor to those decks, Mono-Green Eldrazi / Nissa Revane decks can LEGO Monument to Menace in two ways (the latter with the poor 1/1 Snake token likely […]

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