January 14, 2020

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Niv-To-Light: A Delightful Time in Pioneer

Over the past few weeks I've been working my way through my past Standard decks of the Pioneer legal years. I've been looking for some brews and inspirations, especially with the new set Theros Beyond Death on the horizon.  And I came across almost a year of deck building that included the Battle for Zendikar build around rare Bring to Light. The card has always be a great time, and has occasionally had some competitive decks created around it, most recently in Modern Niv-Mizzet Reborn has been the search target of choice. So if it's good enough for Modern with a lot of tinkering, it could just be good enough for Pioneer.

The Land Base

My first challenge was to brainstorm a land base. Pioneer has huge challenges for mana base deck building that Modern does not. The day 1 banning of the onslaught/khans fetches definitely creates a huge hurdle that Modern doesn't have. As an aside I love the banning of these fetch lands for the format in general. But that's a completely different discussion for another article. So I looked at the rainbow lands available to me the ones that stood out initially were Aether Hub, Mana Confluence and Fabled Passage these lands are able to provide and untapped mana of any colour with some cost or restriction.

At this point I built my first version. For the sake of preventing you from laughing, I won't be sharing that list. In the 4 matches I played, I probably cast about 7 spells. So I turned to searching the internet for decklists, hoping that someone had found a list with a functional mana base. At this point I found that Magic Hall of Famer and streamer Gabriel "Yellowhat" Nassif had been streaming a build of Niv-to-Light in Pioneer. I found a copy of his decklist, along with a mana base, and mana fixing spells that I could use for a shell. I was then able to pick spells and removal to have a list for some spellslinging.

Here is my list at the moment https://tappedout.net/mtg-decks/niv-to-light-pioneer-1/?cb=1578922838.

The missing piece in my original attempts to create a functioning mana base was Nylea's Presence, an innocuous enchant land card from original Theros. Giving lands all land types is absolutely amazing in this deck. Other than the obvious fixing of your mana, it saves resources like life and energy that would otherwise be needed for Mana Confluence and Aether Hub.

The Removal Package

So I had what was a definite upgrade in my land base but what spells do I pick? There are hundreds of two coloured cards to choose from that all suit many different needs and answer different threats.

My first thought was removal. I wanted wrath effects with "Chonky Red" becoming a larger part of the meta so I settled on Supreme Verdict. It's a wrath, two coloured and uncounterable so I was sold immediately. Abrupt Decay and Assassin's Trophy were my next two inclusions. They can answer a large amount of creature and non-creature threats so they popped to the top of my list. Niv-Mizzet Reborn has an interesting etb that I needed to start keeping in mind at this point. When it enters I look at the top 10 cards for up to 10 cards in the different Ravnica Guild colour pairs. So if I was going to keep adding removal a diversity of mana costs is what I needed. Luckily just last year we had a new Ravnica block so there were an abundance of removal spells in the multicoloured pairs. Justice Strike has done some work in standard and I know a few Modern Niv players that have been using it so wanted to try it out. Despark was next it has been the standout of my spells so far. It answers a wide variety of creatures, planeswalkers and in my pet deck it exiles Omniscience.

At this point I was missing a few colour pairs and to add value to my deck I wanted to raise the possibility of getting the most cards from my Niv-Mizzet Reborn. Kolaghan's Command is one of the most flexible spells in the format, and the mode to regrow my Niv's seem like enough value so I couldn't pass it up. Ral's Outburst was next. It's a War of the Spark uncommon that I drafted highly, serving as card selection and removal. Silumgar's Command I came across at my LGS while I was picking up cards for this deck and perennial great card. Kolaghan's Command has 4 modes, each of which has niche use but in combination create a powerful but overlooked spell. I rounded out the mainboard with Dreadbore and Deafening Clarion. I kept running up against a pesky Grixis planeswalker deck and wanted more interaction.

The Rest of the Deck

Creatures and planeswalkers were next. I didn't want too many creatures as I felt relying on Niv-Mizzet Reborn was the best option. Currently the Modern version has been playing Tolsimir, Friend to Wolves, so I quickly jammed a copy in my deck. It provides two bodies for attacking and blocking, gains life and fights the wolf token against an opponents creature. I went back to Nassif's list and saw he was playing a Hostage Taker. It seemed like a sweet inclusion and the EDH player in me wanted this, so it made the cut. I rounded out the deck with Teferi, Time Raveler. Making my somewhat fragile deck uncounterable seemed like something I couldn't pass up and the thought of an instant speed Bring to Light is everything I wanted to do with this deck.

I jammed a few games without a sideboard to see what my deck's biggest weaknesses were. As with the main board I settled on having a wide variety of answers for just about any possible archetype. I added a few more copies of mainboard cards Deafening Clarion, Despark, Supreme Verdict, Selesnya Charm and Teferi, Time Raveler. I have big concerns about aggro matchups and Teferi is an extremely powerful card and I wanted more copies. Dovin's Veto , Kambal, Consul of Allocation, Teferi, Hero of Dominaria made the cut to help with control matchups. Lavinia, Azorius Renegade and Unmoored Ego earned their spots by beating combo and having great match ups against the Lotus Storm deck.

So I had a list and I was off to play my first paper tournament. We played 4 rounds and they went as follows:

Round 1: Kethis Combo

Game 1: They started out with Hope of Ghirapur and Diligent Excavator I knew almost immediately what they were on. I fixed my mana early with Nylea's Presence used Kolaghan's Command to kill the Hope and shock their Liliana, the Last Hope. I stole their next Diligent Excavator with Hostage Taker and followed up with turn 5 Excavator and Kethis, the Hidden Hand and started milling their library with multiple copies of Hope of Ghirapur out of their graveyard. They milled most of their library and set up for their win the next Turn.

Game 2: I boarded some removal out made sure to put Unmoored Ego into the deck as well as Lavinia, Azorious Renegade.  I removed Lazav, the Multifarious with a quick Dreadbore, which they then followed that up with Emry, lurker of the Loch. Diligent Excavator combo'd off before I found my fifth land. This matchup seems very bad but definitely gives me another sweet deck to look at in the future.

Round 2: G/B Lands Originated by Sam Black

Game 1: I decayed an early Crucible of Worlds and followed it up with a Niv-Mizzet Reborn that grabbed a Deafening Clarion that cleaned up Ramunap Excavator and a Tireless Tracker. A few attacks with Niv and a timely Oath of Kaya burned them out.

Game 2: I boarded in Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and another Time Raveler. I wasn't sure how to board and a mull to 6 wasn't a great start to the game. They started with Sylvan Advocate, Wayward Swordtooth, and Tireless Tracker. I cast Hostage Taker and grabbed the Swordtooth to ramp out my lands. And that was about the end of the game.

Game 3: I had creature removal that paired well with their starting hand and dropped a turn 5 Niv-Mizzet Reborn which found an Unmoored Ego. I exiled their decks Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger and without that looming over me I was able to win the game without too much trouble.

Round 3: Bogles

Game 1: I can put this simply, without totem armour this game wrapped up quickly to a Supreme Verdict.

Game 2: A Selesnya Charm ate an aura'd up Adanto Vanguard and the game ended quickly after.

Round 4: Mono-Green-Stompy

Game 1: They over extended after I Abrupt Decay a turn one mana dork, and a Supreme Verdict ended game one quickly to their concession.

Game 2: I boarded in the extra verdicts and Despark, but they mulled to 5 due to land issues. I was able to set up a nice board presence with Teferi, Time Raveler and picked apart their hand with an instant speed Thought Erasure. The game ended quickly after Niv hit the field, filling my hand back up with multi-coloured goodies.

Final Thoughts

All in all I think this is a good deck. The continual printing of two colour cards means that it will always get new tools.  As well, being able to easily adjust to the changing meta is an asset in an ever-changing format. But most importantly it is so much fun, grabbing 3+ cards of Niv-Mizzet Reborn feels like cheating. I would highly recommend picking up some Niv's and having a great time.

Until next time, I'm looking forward to updating Lotus Field with Underworld Breach. I recently put in my first pre-order for a few of those and man I'm looking forward to casting them.

Alex Frank