August 11, 2015

Gen Con Nissa

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Welcome to Nissa Week! Of all the planeswalker-themed weeks, I've been looking forward to this one more than a Canadiens vs. Leafs game![1] As soon as I was informed this would be Nissa Week, I knew what I was going to write about. The deadline for my articles is one week before they are published, so while Gen Con is long past for you, I was in Indianapolis enjoying "The Best Four Days in Gaming" just yesterday. I knew going in to Gen Con that I wanted to build a couple more decks. Naturally, when I saw Nissa, I knew who my next commander was going to be. In previous weeks, I've talked about a variety of topics relating to each creature and planeswalker, but I have yet to do a play-by-play. What better place to do that than Gen Con?

The Build

Much of this Nissa build is not my own. StarCityGames.com writer Bennie Smith wrote about his Nissa list a week or two before I started building, so I used it as a basic template. Bennie is a great deck builder, and he created a solid framework. From there I added in a few cards that I wanted to try out, and a few others that really only worked in a Monocolored Commander build (this was my first monocolored Commander deck). I pulled out a few cards, simply because I didn't have them or knew that I couldn't get them in time for Gen Con. The decklist is below.

Seeing the Forest for the Trees

COMMANDER: Nissa, Vastwood Seer

If you'd like to see my ugly mug and hear my thoughts on the cards, I did a Deck Tech with Uriah Oxford of CMDRDecks. Uriah did a great job editing my incoherent ramblings. If you are interested in other Commander decks, Uriah likely has a Deck Tech video covering your commander of choice.

Introductions Are in Order

From left to right:

Me—your fearless leader. You probably know me as the writer of Serious Fun, or that guy with the ridiculous face.

Andrew Magrini (@A_Magrini): Andrew was my guide through the harrowing world of Gen Con. He always seemed to know the quickest way to get somewhere, and then always found the shortest line. We shared a hotel room and practically every meal. Magrini is truly one of the "good guys" in Magic, as well as a dangerous Commander player. The New Yorker was running Damia, Sage of Stone as his commander, and his deck made things miserable for the rest of us.

Erik Tiernan (@Erik_Tiernan): Erik writes for the website GeneralDamageControl.com. The GDC crew was at Gen Con en masse; they had even rented a house, there were so many of them! Erik and I didn't get to chat as much as I wanted to (a running theme for me throughout Gen Con). Watching him pilot his Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter deck, it was obvious that he has played a few games of Commander and knows this game inside out.

Uriah Oxford (@CMDRDecks): Uriah is something of a Magic machine. Despite doing several Deck Techs, he was around for Commander games and a Conspiracy Draft. He has an amazing knowledge of most Magic cards. While I was reaching around the table to see what cards could do, Uriah already knew and seemed to know what each deck was going to do next based on the cards on the table. Uriah chose Dragonlord Atarka as his commander.

The Game

The early rounds went pretty much as you would expect: lots of ramping and extra land drops. I managed to play Nissa, Vastwood Seer on turn three, and swung with her on turn four. In the early turns, the best play with Nissa is to find a Forest when she enters the battlefield, then try to get her killed as quickly as possible. Nissa is just a 2/2 creature once you find a Forest, if you don't have seven lands on the battlefield. I'd rather be able to find another Forest, so getting her killed in order to recast her made good sense. Especially since I usually had the mana necessary to pay the extra two mana required to cast her a second time.

While I was trying to get to seven mana, everyone else was ramping as well. Uriah made the first big play of the game, dropping an early Dragonlord Atarka—taking out my Masked Admirers, which I had on the board as a way to prevent the early damage that always seems to find anyone without a blocker. He was a little worried about the recursion, but I could have told him that he needn't be. I had other stuff in hand that I wanted to get out first, so the Masked Admirers would be sitting in my graveyard for a while.

Andrew cast Realms Uncharted, and it became obvious that he was playing the control game. One of the lands he revealed was The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale. The ability to force everyone with creatures to pay one mana every turn for each creature they control guarantees fewer creatures on the battlefield and neutered growth for your opponents. It also signals pretty clearly that you don't have many creatures yourself. With Damia's ability to refill your hand, your chances to control multiple players improves. I wasn't sure what he was going to do, but I knew he was operating on a different axis than the rest of us, and that is rarely a good thing.

Erik was up next with Archangel of Thune. The card works particularly well with his commander, Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter, but for whatever reason, I did not see the connection. I suspect Uriah's Dragonlord was drawing my full attention. The Archangel provides life and counters for your creatures—two things Vish Kal loves.

Uriah laid down some of the first big points of damage in the game. He had cast Harbinger of the Hunt to go with his commander, and swung both in at Andrew for 12 points of damage.

At this point, the game started to get fast and furious. Erik played Vish Kal and I followed it up with Sylvan Offering for five. With the board state getting more packed and confusing, I decided having some blockers and creatures to at least make it look like I was in the game was probably a good idea. I chose Andrew to receive the Treefolk and Elves, since he had no creatures and his deck suggested that he wouldn't have a use for them anyway. I think this was my first big misplay of the game. With Vish Kal out, Erik could have made good use of the tokens, sacrificing them to Vish Kal to take out Uriah's flying creatures (which I still could not block). He could have used them against me, but in hindsight, that seems very unlikely. A poor play on my part.

Uriah just kept coming with the big Dragons. Next up was Scourge of the Throne. I don't recall which player had the highest life total at this point, but I believe Erik and I were probably both still at 40. Since I didn't have a way to stop the flyer, I figured I would be the first to get hit for 6 from the Scourge—but Erik had other plans, leaving us all In Garruk's Wake.

The joy of wiping the board clean of creatures except your own is a wonderful thing. Erik attacked Uriah for 10 points of commander damage, a huge swing in a game that Uriah seemed to have pretty much under control. At that point, Erik was in the driver's seat with a large Vish Kal and a life total that seemed poised to climb ever higher.

I played out the Nissa that Erik had so kindly put in the Command Zone with In Garruk's Wake, finally hitting my seven lands and flipping her. I chose to use her -2 ability and get a little creature protection for Nissa. I would describe this as my second misplay. The only creatures on the battlefield were Erik's creatures, and they could fly. I could see at this point that Andrew was not going to try to kill with creature damage, and Uriah appeared to be playing a deck with mostly flying Dragons. A 4/4 creature without flying or reach was not going to protect Nissa, Sage Animist. Even drawing the extra card with Nissa, I was not a threat to anyone in the game. Uriah's Dragons and now Erik's Vish Kal were the dangerous players on the battlefield. I could have left Nissa unprotected, and nothing would have happened, other than I would have drawn another card. A poor move on my part.

Nissa's Expedition | Art by Dan Scott

After a few irrelevant turns, Andrew played Curse of Echoes, targeting himself. Unfortunately for Andrew, this turned out to be a misplay, as he didn't realize it said "may." He was clearly hoping to force us into playing spells that would either help him or hurt us, but it didn't work out that way. In spite of the misplay, he soldiered on, opting to play Doomsday. The rest of us decided not to do that. I'm not sure if that was a mistake on my part or not, since I could guarantee five particular cards, but I didn't feel confident enough to be able to choose which cards to use with a deck that was still very new to me.

At this point, I'm not sure if Andrew became the prime target or not. With only five cards, a part of you hopes that he'll just run out his deck and die, but everyone knows he is going to include cards that will get him the win, he just needs to draw them.

Erik opted to live dangerously. After Uriah played Tooth and Nail entwined to get Balefire Dragon and Xenagos, God of Revels, Erik manages to load Vish Kal with counters and take out Xenagos. On his next turn, he played Bloodsoaked Champion and sacrificed it to Vish Kal. With Vish Kal attacking, but before blockers were declared, he used the raid ability on Bloodsoaked Champion to bring him back and sacrifice him again and again to do enough commander damage to kill Uriah.

Andrew's next turn saw him play Hive Mind. Now I knew things were going to get crazy, since he could force us to play spells. Erik pumped up Vish Kal on his turn and killed me with 21 commander damage. I was a little surprised to get taken out at this point. It seemed pretty clear that Andrew was the one that needed to be eliminated right away, since there was going to be a combo coming and he had almost no cards left in his library, it seemed insane to let Andrew get another draw. I didn't think I was much of a threat, but Erik was concerned and opted to take me out. I must have been doing something more threatening than I remember.

Andrew finally saw the combo come out. He played a Chromatic Lantern and countered it with Pact of Negation. Erik was forced by Hive Mind to copy the Pact. He had no way to pay the cost on his upkeep, so he conceded.

The Analysis

I'm happy with the early results. The Deck Tech I did with Uriah was after a few games with Nissa at Gen Con, and it lists a few cards that are likely to get cut. I will definitely be adding Journeyer's Kite, but I'm not sure what else will replace the other cuts. The deck was fun and did win another game, but I think adding a little firepower couldn't hurt. Nissa is a commander that helps you ramp and draw cards, but she isn't going to win you the game herself. She helps you cast the other cards in your deck, and they get you the win. I'm interested to hear your suggestions for improving the deck's early game and adding some late game punch.

Bruce Richard

@manaburned

Mtgseriousfun@gmail.com


[1] That's Canadian for "big rivalry game."



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