August 11, 2015

Nissa's Aurora


Welcome to Nissa Week!

After four weeks of looking at the Origins planeswalkers, it's finally time to talk about the green member of the cycle. And though Nissa has already proven to be plenty powerful in Standard tournaments, showing up in a variety of midrange and ramp decks, today we're going to be looking at something that's a little more off the beaten path—and filled with Nissa flavor to boot!

It's time to experience The Great Aurora.

The Great Aurora is one of my card designs, and it shows off a key moment for Nissa: Lorwyn's transformation into Shadowmoor. It's about light shifting to darkness—and things will likely become quite dark for your opponent indeed when The Great Aurora comes about!

Let's take a look at what we'll be working with today:

WKM's Aurora Ramp

The Battle Plan

The goal of ramp decks tends to be simple: ramp up your mana, then land a cavalcade of large threats that will fell your opponent. Ideally you can fire off your large threats in time to put a stop to any beatdown and have enough of them that you can overload control.

This deck runs on those basic principles, but it does things a little bit differently.

One plan for this deck, certainly, is just to fire off a string of huge creatures. Gaea's Revenge can chop away at an opponent's life total faster than chefs dice carrots on a cooking show.

However, there's there's another plan involving a big green sorcery that's quite literally a game-changer: The Great Aurora.

The Great Aurora | Art by Sam Burley

Unlike a lot of recent ramp decks, which are all about finding green mana symbols and charging up your Nykthos, this one wants to have a lot of combined permanents and cards in hand. And while the deck does contain Nykthos—that card's too strong not to include—the deck actually wants to ramp up its lands rather than purely its mana.

Once you land a huge Aurora, what do you do right away? Play Gaea's Revenge, of course! It can't be countered and it can't be targeted by most removal spells, meaning it's going to come in and slash your opponent for 8 damage right away. Plus, since your deck is built to use The Great Aurora and your opponent's likely isn't, you should have an advantage after you resolve it.

So, what tweaks might need to be made? Well, for one, I don't think the white is necessary—and more on that coming up. There are also some ways to tighten up the ramp engine that's being used and make it even better.

Ready to see what changes are in store? Let's go!

Deck Breakdown

Which cards can stay and which ones can go on a voyage elsewhere? Let's look through the deck card by card and discuss!

Since the dawn of Magic, players have been throwing down turn-one Forests and using them to cast Elves. Over 20 years later, some things have stayed the same.

While this deck prefers to ramp "safe" mana sources—namely lands—because they won't easily perish to a stray Lightning Strike, Elvish Mystic is too good not to use here. It speeds you right into your numerous three-drops on turn two, and makes the deck hum much more effectively. I'll keep all four.

Since the dawn of Born of the Gods, players have been throwing down turn-three Forests and using them to cast Coursers. Over a year later, some things have stayed the same.

. . . Okay, so that version doesn't quite have the same ring to it. But all the same, Courser is a staple of Standard green decks, and is particularly good in this strategy! Because of all the actual ramping of lands, Courser can generate a hearty amount of life. Additionally, playing lands off the top of your library means you're not playing them from your hand, which means your Great Aurora will be even larger!

I definitely want all four of these.

When it comes to choices to ramp out, Gaea's Revenge is one of the harder ones to get off the board. Perhaps you can trade in a green mirror match, but otherwise it's a tricky one to fight back against. What makes it particularly win out as the card of choice here is that it is so good post-Aurora, since it can slam in and be very hard to react to. You want to draw one after you cast The Great Aurora, and it is your large creature of choice here, so I'll keep the four of them.

Gaea's Revenge | Art by Kekai Kotaki

Builds toward your game plan early game? Check! Serves as a threat late game? Check! The well-rounded Nissa ensures you hits your land drops, and then becomes a huge problem for your opponent later on, whether you want to churn out creatures or just ramp further. I can appreciate having three of them, because you can't cast two copies early, but I certainly wouldn't want any less. Nissa is fantastic!

I adore the World Eater. He smashes in for 5, eats your opponent's creatures, and looks cool in the process—all for the low price of four mana.

In decks that rely more heavily on Nykthos, Paul K. Ranos is a staple. But here, I'm not sure it's quite as crucial. It doesn't really fit into your game plan of ramping some lands early and then reshaping the world. I like having a creature in this slot that can deal some damage, but I think there's one that might fit in a little better: Whisperwood Elemental.

Whisperwood creates multiple creatures, meaning he'll leave a mark on the game even if your opponent does untap and cast Hero's Downfall. Additionally, it works better with your plan of casting The Great Aurora and it also protects Gaea's Revenge. And while it does cost five rather than four, the difference isn't as huge in this deck as in some others, thanks to Nissa's Pilgrimage.

It's a straight swap: two Polukranos for two Whisperwood Elementals.

Elvish Mystic makes the cut because it only costs one, and ramping from one mana to three mana is a huge push in this deck. The Satyr isn't quite as strong or as relevant. And while this deck's lack of things to do on turns one and two isn't ideal, the Satyr isn't the card I want here to turn that around. It's time to go on a voyage, Satyr.

This deck as submitted features a splash, primarily for Secure the Wastes—more on that later—but it also plays around with Dragonlord Dromoka. And while I can appreciate wanting a few more top-end threats, unless counterspells are really prevalent in your metagame, I don't think this Dragonlord is necessary over other cards you could be playing.

Instead, I'd rather have something else. The card of choice? Hornet Queen! Not only is it strong on its own, it also produces five permanents with which to fuel The Great Aurora. Perfect!

While Hornet Queen is an addition I want to make, its younger protégé, Hornet Nest, isn't quite as necessary here. While cute, one main deck copy doesn't accomplish that much—and even though it's a good effect to have around, I'd rather sideboard it. Goodbye, Hornet Nest!

Because one Nissa just isn't enough, this deck features the Magic 2015 version as well! And while she doesn't add any other permanents to the board (well, unless you count the ultimate), she does two things very well: She acts as a ramp spell, since this deck features a ton of forests, and she serves up extra hasty threats immediately after you cast The Great Aurora. Exactly one of her is the number I want, just to provide a little more of both her functions.

It ramps you. It replaces itself. If you have spell mastery, it even nabs you another card. And all while having "Nissa" in the name to boot! This card is a massive no-brainer here; I definitely want all four.

Additionally, this deck could use a couple more ramp spells to cast early. Explosive Vegetation is just such a card. It pushes you from four to six, meaning if you have a land, you can cast Gaea's Revenge the next turn, and it puts two lands onto the battlefield. I'll add two Explosive Vegetations to go alongside the four Pilgrimages.

Nissa's Pilgrimage | Art by Matt Stewart

Secure the Wastes plays very well with The Great Aurora, providing a bunch of permanents right before you cast the Aurora and also serving as a way to finish the game. However, the problem I have with it is that it's only good when you're already in a good position—and this deck only has so much room for cards like that. Additionally, it's the only white card left and cutting it would free up some room in my mana base. Goodbye, Secure!

Finally, the deck's namesake. The key to making this work is that you want most plays you make to generate at least two total cards between the board and your hand, making the number this will go off for constantly climb higher. Once you cast it, you should be much better set up to make use of it then your opponent.

Since many of the other card choices were made around this card, I'm not going to go too in depth—but it is certainly a cornerstone of this deck. There are only three because of how expensive it is to cast, but make no mistake—it is important to this strategy.

If used properly, this card is a real game changer. Early on, it's not that effective of a ramp spell. However, as the game progresses, it can put a ton of lands onto the battlefield and set up your Great Aurora to be truly titanic.

And it gets better.

A card I'd like to add in is Dictate of Karametra. There are a couple reasons why it's good here in particular. For one, it's a Heartbeat of Spring that often only benefits you. If you flash it in and then cast The Great Aurora, it wipes the Dictate off the board—meaning your opponent never gets to take advantage of it. (And even if you have to wait a turn, you'll still wipe whatever they play off the board too.)

But, as I alluded to earlier, The Great Aurora doesn't really want to be ramped into too early, since you want to have a lot of permanents and cards when you cast it. However, you'll note that The Great Aurora doesn't empty mana pools—so if you have a ton of lands and flash in the Dictate, you can float mana all the way through to after the Aurora happens, meaning you can probably dump most of your hand in the process.

But, getting back to the card in question, Animist's Awakening is really where Dictate of Karametra can go crazy.

Imagine something like this:

Turn 1: Elvish Mystic

Turn 2: Nissa's Pilgrimage

Turn 3: Dictate of Karametra on your opponent's end step

Turn 4: Animist's Awakening for eight

Turn 5: The Great Aurora, floating tons of mana!

It only becomes more absurd once you've hit spell mastery and those lands immediately untap! You can potentially chain through a cycle of Great Auroras, casting Dictates and Awakenings on each iteration.

The key here really is the flexibility, though. The difference when compared to Secure the Wastes—also an X spell with similar functions—is that you can fire off an Animist's Awakening early to ramp you as well. I want three in total.

With all of those changes made, that brings the decklist to:

Gavin Verhey's In the Forest of the Night

This deck is explosive. Once the ramp engine starts, it's going to be hard for your opponent to keep up!

A big note for this strategy: Elvish Mystic is very strong. While you don't need it by any means, Elvish Mystic means a lot given the deck's curve and is a card you really want to see in your opening hand. This definitely affects my mulligan decisions.

Other than that, have fun with this one! Enjoy!

McArtor's Mentions

Each week on McArtor's Mentions, I feature some of the other great decks sent in to me. Let's take a look at the various takes on Nissa, shall we?


Shant Krikorian's Revolutionary Elves

FROGUE'S Nissa Devotion

Budgeting for the Best

Phew! We made it around all five of the Origins planeswalkers with unique, flavorful decks for each of them! We did it. Thanks for all of the awesome themed decks over the past several weeks! They have been a lot of fun to work on.

So, what's up next? Well, it's time for a popular request I haven't done recently: budget deck building! It's time to look at Standard on a budget. Here's what I'm asking for this week:

Format: Standard

Restrictions: Your deck is on a budget. For a loose definition, consider budget to contain few rares and very few, if any, mythic rares.

Deadline: Monday, August 17, at 6 p.m. Pacific Time.

Submit all decklists by emailing me at

Decklists should be submitted with YOURNAME's DECKNAME at the top. Underneath should be one card per line, with just a leading number. For example:

12 Mountain

4 Firedrinker Satyr

3 Ash Zealot

4 Lightning Bolt

. . . and so on. Please don't use anything but a space to separate the card numbers and names—don't write "4x Lightning Bolt," for example. Well-formatted decklists have a much better chance of being read and making it into the column. Poorly formatted decklists are more likely to be ignored. If I can't read your decklist, I certainly can't talk about it!

If you're trying to play Magic from a budget perspective, this is a great opportunity to send in what you've been using. It should be a fun week!

In the meantime, if you have any thoughts or questions at all, please send them my way! It's always great to hear from you. Just send me a tweet or ask me a question on my Tumblr and I'll be sure to see it.

I'll be back next week as we take an exciting jump into Modern! Talk with you again then!




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