A Comprehensive Look at Nahiri Jeskai in Modern
For how big of a percentage it is of the field, I’m surprised Nahiri Jeskai isn’t getting more coverage in Modern. I understand that it is both relatively new and somewhat underperforming since then, but I ascribe a lot of that to misunderstandings about how the deck should be built and played. I’ve done a lot of brewing in Modern and this deck is by far the hardest to pilot that I have come across in years. It’s one of those things where a small, subtle mistake early can cost you dearly later in terms of unseen percentage points that are hard to pin down. Decks that are more susceptible to these types of mistakes rather than more obvious ones such as combat errors are harder to learn.
Another limiting factor is actually the round clock, which is why you’ll see these decks perform much more respectably online than in real live tournaments. Without access to chess clocks, it can be extremely difficult to finish matches on time. But this is a subject for a future article. For now, let’s go over the deck card-by-card using the list I played at Grand Prix Los Angeles.
The namesake of the deck. Four may seem like overkill but it’s pretty important to have one, and the redundant copies almost never go to waste. It can clog your hand if you draw multiple early, but it’s well worth that risk. The first copy often dies anyway, as against Lightning Bolt decks they’ll have a couple to throw at it, and against creature decks, you’ll often have the first one come down and eat a creature and soak up a bolt or an attack. If your first copy doesn’t die, then your second copy can be discarded to it the turn after anyway, so you’re not locked out of a card all game if the game type doesn’t lend itself to the initial copy ending up in the graveyard.
The worst card in the deck. If it was just a little bit less effective, I’d happily play a Pia and Kiran Nalaar or Sun Titan, but I don’t think we’re quite there. The problem with Emrakul is that it gives you a card in your deck that you never want to draw, which is normally a minor annoyance, but in a control shell designed to milk the value out of every last card, it becomes problematic. Especially considering you have a good number of cards that don’t do much early already, such as Ancestral Visions and Nahiri, and adding another just makes it that much more likely that you’ll run across hand combinations that leave you actionless. All that being said, it’s important to have your Nahiri ultimate close the game out, and there are plenty of decks that if you didn’t annihilate 6 and/or deal 15, you would not live to play on.
It should also be noted that the graveyard shuffle ability can be a blessing and a curse. Sometimes, it will put a bunch of action back in your deck and help you edge opponents out in long games. Other times it will turn off your Snapcaster Mages or set you up to draw the fifteen drop again.
I think that playing these cards is one of the biggest draws to this deck. They let you exchange resources extremely cheaply at instant speed while you wait for your Ancestral to tick down or your Nahiri to tick up. Great with Snapcaster Mage, has uses in almost every match-up, and allows you to preserve your life total and not fall behind on board.
Pure value. You have plenty of cheap things to use it with and lets you pace the mid-turns to your advantage. Pressures planeswalkers, lets you burn opponents out, makes your sideboard cards better, slices, dices, etc. They are a little bit on the expensive side (minimum 3 mana) and are weak to both Spell Snare and Remand, but Thiago is well worth those costs and risks.
Speaking of Snare, I think this is one of the absolute best cards in the format, and I think it’s silly that people only play 2 or 3. All you have to do is look at the top decks and realize that not only does Snare always have targets, but that they are often the most important cards in those decks/matchups. There are of course outliers, one being Tron, where it’s less useful, but those are certainly the exceptions (and even there you can nab a Sylvan Scrying or Pyroclasm from time to time). Snapcaster Mage, Tarmogoyf/Scavenging Ooze, Cranial Plating/Arcbound Ravager/Steel Overseer, Remand/Negate/Mana Leak, Atarka’s Command/Boros Charm, Thalia/Voice of Resurgence, Young Pyromancer/Dark Confidant, Pyromancer’s Ascension/Goblin Electromancer/Manamorphose or Rituals, Goryo’s Vengeance, the list goes on.
It is so important to have one early that I think any number other than 4 is simply incorrect. It’s not like they become dead later on, and you can always just discard them to Nahiri if it comes to that, but more often you’ll be actively seeking them out and using Snapcaster Mages on them.
Slightly longer, Mana Leak is the type of card that our brains bias in favor of because it remembers when we hit that Kitchen Finks we couldn’t answer and forgets when it rots in our hand as we die to cheap spells and creature-lands. The anti-synergy with Path to Exile is common, and the fact that Leak is so prevalent just means people know to play around it. Not to be results oriented, but at the GP I had multiple Leaks cast against me and a good number of them were paid for, at which point a second Leak or Snapcaster had to be used or the spell just resolved. And at the same time, I had people playing around Leak against me despite [happily] not having it.
I could write an entire article on why Remand is so great, but I’m sure I would be yelling into an echo-chamber at that point (let me know if this is not the case, as I’d happily write it). It is one of the best and most important cards in any sort of control mirror/matchup and is great against a lot of the midrangey decks as well. That being said, the steep diminishing returns on the extra copies, the way the deck’s early-game mana plays out, and the fact that the metagame is moving towards decks where they are particularly ineffective (Merfolk vs Affinity finals et al) makes me want to go down to three copies, maybe even two moving forward. But still zero Leaks.
The cornerstone of the deck, the card that makes it work. There are a couple of conceits you have to make in order to play with it, but they were well worth it. All of that cheap interaction is only effective if you have a way to convert a mana and time advantage into winning positions, and that’s what drawing three cards does. One of the important things it does is let you refrain from using lots of mana on a key turn to pull ahead like something more in the vein of Compulsive Research would do. This lets you immediately spend that burst of cards to keep from falling behind, or to force your opponent’s hand without having to blink first by tapping some lands to cast your spell.
People toy with 2 copies but I’d argue that this is very much a 0 or 4 type of card, as you want it early. Suspending an Ancestral on turn 1 feels great while suspending one on turn 5 feels terrible. Boarding a couple out to tighten up your early game interaction is a legitimate strategy, but in game one you don’t have the forms of hyper-impactful interaction against linear strategies necessary to pull this off. Because of that, you need lots of card advantage early and often to roll over the linear matchups. And the non-linear matchups are ones where Ancestral is at its best anyway! Things like control mirrors and midrange matchups like Jund.
Besides the obvious time considerations, the fear of playing with Ancestral is that you’ll expend your resources surviving on equal footing while it ticks down, then it goes off and you just hit lands and more air–often in the form of more Ancestrals–then die while up a bunch of cards. Nahiri is great for exactly this, turning those extra cards into gas while also helping you further your own position, something that cards like Compulsive Research don’t do. Nahiri can not only help you stabilize a position but give you really strong counter-pressure while you convert your resource advantage into meaningful interaction.
When I first posted my list, one of the most common questions I got was about the 4-3 Ancestral/Serum split: why those numbers, if I liked it, etc. I think this question is a fairly normal one, as you’ll often see people playing the inverse numbers and rarely see blue decks with less than 4 Serum Visions. It’s also a fairly natural comparison; they’re both cards that cost exactly U that do some sort of card-drawing. Hell, they even have similar names!
All of that being said, I think that question shows a deeper lack of understanding of the functions of these two cards. Yes, I am playing 4 Ancestral Visions and 3 Serum Visions, but it is not a 4-3 split. By that I mean if I were to cut an Ancestral, it would not be for a Serum, and vice versa (were the 5-of legal).
This harkens back to the age-old distinction between velocity and card advantage–a subject I discuss ad nauseum–and their respective roles in deckbuilding. Just like you would not compare Compulsive Research and Thought Scour, nor should you conflate these two. Ancestral’s job is to give you raw material, as much of it as possible with which to do what you please. Serum’s job is slightly more dynamic, but simply put, it is to balance your draws and help find what you need when you need it. Early, it either helps make sure you hit your land drops or helps find the right type of cheap interaction for that threats being posed to you. Late, it helps find your more powerful end-game cards. Post-board it gets even better in linear matchups, helping find those key pieces of hate.
It gives you something to do with an otherwise random card and [theoretically] an unused/unusable mana into an option advantage in the form of additional information and added selection.
Serum is good with Ancestral because they have complimentary skill-sets, and another word for ‘complimentary’ is ‘antipodal’ which is a tip-off that they aren’t interchangeable, despite the aesthetic similarities.
Drawing multiple Serum Visions can really hamstring your early game, and even late it doesn’t serve as much of a purpose as you’d want of something taking up slots in your deck. Most of them that I cast were just lowering the shields a bit to make sure I hit a land drop, at which point the last copy should almost certainly just be another land.
There are a couple of flex slots and Electrolyze filled one pretty much throughout the process of finalizing the list. It’s the perfect one-of where you can dump it fairly easily since it cycles [at instant speed, very important] but is massively impactful when it is good. Three mana for an instant-speed 3-for-1 is more than a little over the barrier of playability and comes up often enough to justify its inclusion in the list. The incidental damage of throwing it at a dome to cycle is not negligible either in a lot of matchups, and being able to kill a good percentage of important potential targets outright is just gravy.
The other key attribute to the one-of is that it plays with Snapcaster Mage. That way, if it does come up and is high-impact, then you get to use it twice!
This is a slot that came down to the wire. Anger of the Gods was underwhelming and I didn’t think I was controlling enough to play Timely Reinforcements or aggressive enough to play Vendilion Clique, so Helix was the compromise. A fifth bolt to double-team-takedown a Nahiri, help stay out of burn range of other Snapcaster Bolt decks, obviously great against aggressive strategies, plays excellently with Snapcaster Mage, and saves a sideboard slot. It played admirably and I was happy to have it main.
You may be surprised to hear me say–almost as surprised as I was to learn–that the almighty, all-powerful Cryptic Command was one of the worst cards in the deck. I was rarely super excited to have it and often boarded it out. The one-of copy follows a similar role as the Emrakul where having it in your deck is extremely high value, but you never really want to actually draw it. It’s a theory-inclusion, if you will. So much weird stuff happens in Modern that having one card that does it all gives you a lot of flexibility for the low, low price of a single card slot. A hard counter, a super-fog, and a bounce spell are effects that aren’t always necessary [or even good] but when they come up, there’s no substitute. It got me out of a couple jams that I don’t think any other card in Magic could have, but a vast majority of the time I bounced a land and drew a card on their end step. Then boarded it out.
I think it’s just barely worth playing the one, even if it is a fairly dreadful card, but the idea that people purposefully put even more copies into their deck baffles me. And keeping it in vs the mirror too, as if I’m not going to gleefully Dispel it at a huge mana advantage. If you aren’t playing Ancestral Visions, I understand the need to generate advantage on those mid-late turns, but Ancestral is better at doing that, and if you have Ancestral then you don’t need more expensive, slow, value cards in your deck!
I see some weird fetch splits in some builds but I think being able to suspend Ancestral Visions on one without bolting yourself is too important to mess around with swapping out any of the blue fetches. The mana colors can be a little demanding, thus the somewhat painful manabase, but you do enough at instant speed that you can usually fetch a tapped dual on end step after not being forced to counter something often enough to mitigate that.
There are also relatively few decks that genuinely care about your life total in Modern, which alleviates a lot of the pressure.
A huge mistake I see a lot of people make is cracking fetches when they don’t need to. If you have to get a dual and don’t want to take damage, fine, but next time you play with the deck ask yourself if you really should fetch now or not. Make yourself justify it rationally rather than auto-piloting their end-step. In control mirrors, I don’t want to thin my deck since I want to make more land drops. In pretty much every matchup, I don’t want to pay life I might not have to since it’s possible I’ll never need to use every single one of my lands in a turn. Or maybe they’ll play an Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth and let you use it pain-free.
Maybe it looks like I should get a dual here but then you get double-tec-edged or Fulminator Maged and don’t have white anymore.
Maybe I think you’re thinning your deck but really I Scry’d two lands to the bottom so I’m diluting your deck.
Maybe I’ll get a key card Vendilion Cliqued to the bottom of my deck and want that shuffle effect.
Maybe they’ll attack me with a Goblin Guide and give me a partial Scry.
One that comes up a lot is I’m going to have to shuffle this Emrakul back at some point this game, and I’d be greatly diluting my deck by putting these lands in my graveyard before doing so.
I could literally do this all day, just come up with scenarios where you could get punished for activating your fetchlands when you don’t have to. Sure there are plenty of reasons you should crack them when you can, most common of which is to get your colors without costing more life, but beyond that there’s not much more reason to do so. That is, unless you’re facing a Leonin Arbiter/Aven Mindcensor deck, in which case get your mana as quickly and safely as you can!
The Mountain is so that you can cast your Lightning Bolts painlessly against Goblin Guides and the like. The Plains is the same for Path to Exile but also a lot of sideboard cards against aggro decks such as Stony Silence against Affinity and Timely Reinforcements and Celestial Purge against Burn/Zoo, and even the second white for Supreme Verdict against the more creature-oriented aggro builds such as GW and Elves.
The Plains is also clutch against Blood Moon, as it’s fairly natural to already have an Island or two, and obviously your red spells are castable, but white is what you really need. Your sideboard answers to Blood Moon are both white in the form of Celestial Purge and Wear//Tear, but also Nahiri herself can just come down and blow it up if you have the Plains. I think Blood Moon is actively terrible against this deck and wouldn’t bring it in were the roles reversed, but I’ve had a ton of opponents try and Blood Moon me out of a shockingly wide variety of decks to know that it’s always a possibility.
As I said before, the painless untapped blue is crucial for Ancestral Visions to be effective, and with people trying to Blood Moon you out, it doesn’t hurt to have the extra basic. A more realistic reason for the third Island is that a lot of games involve you fetching some basics early to operate, then getting things Path to Exiled and Ghost Quartered later on and being able to get a land each time is an unseen form of value that can be game-deciding in those uber-late game positions.
The third Island is also significant for being the slot where a Sulfur Falls would go. This is usually a conceit made for stepping around Island-hate, but there aren’t many Boils running around these days, and I doubt it would be that effective anyway. And Choke is not only relatively weak but also plays straight into Nahiri anyway. The not having to take damage from this dual is nice, where your sequence on the play can be [fetch] Island, suspend Visions, turn two Sulfur Falls, Lightning Bolt your thing and hold up Spell Snare. But that’s pretty corner-case and marginal. Much more likely to happen and be impactful is that you fan an opener of Colonnade, utility land, Sulfur Falls and can’t suspend your Ancestral Visions on one.
This third Island is also where a lot of people find room to go down to 24 land, but I strongly advise against this. So much so that I’m far more prepared to play with 26 than I am with 24. When you suspend an Ancestral Visions, all you want to do while it ticks down is make your land drops. This is because you’ll need all that mana to use the cards you draw when they come to make up for the lost time. This is partially where Serum Visions comes in, but also just the raw higher land count makes it easier to spend your mana exchanging but still hitting those land drops.
The drawback of playing more lands is of course flooding out, but between Ancestral drawing, Serum scrying, and most importantly Nahiri rummaging, it’s rare to actually end games with a fistful of lands. Especially because a lot of those lands have uses (which we’ll talk about shortly) and you have cards like Snapcaster Mage that are particularly mana-hungry. Hitting all of your land drops is the number one thing you can do to gain an edge in control mirrors, all the way into turns nine, ten, and beyond. And the easiest way to lose to aggro decks is missing a land drop early and having your Ancestral come off but not having time to catch up on board.
I know I say it far more often than people want to hear it, but players really just don’t run enough lands.
In addition to being Blood Mooned, another ineffective strategy people try to utilize against this deck is attacking the Nahiri/Emrakul front directly. Something like Pithing Needle on Nahiri can be pretty effective. Slightly less effective but still decent is Grafdigger’s Cage against Snapcaster Mages that also stops Nahiri ultimate. Incredibly ineffective–but still something I faced a surprising amount–is Slaughter Games on Nahiri. And of course sometimes you’ll just be against a Relic of Progenitus or Surgical Extraction and have Emrakul get tagged.
Or, if you’re me, you boarded out the Emrakul because people kept doing stuff like this anyway and you were sick of drawing it in tight games.
Whatever the case may be, having a way to kill the opponent without having to dedicate extra slots is invaluable. Having to dilute your control deck with Pia and Kiran Nalaars and Batterskulls is far from ideal, both in terms of how those games play out, and in the devastating opportunity cost of those sideboard slots. Colonnade is a fantastic win condition that doesn’t cost slots and can serve multiple functions.
It flies, so it can’t be chumped or dominated on the ground. It hits hard, killing in only a couple of turns when you have burn and their manabases hurt. It has a four-butt, allowing it to shrug off the ubiquitous Lightning Bolt and wrestle with a lot of the creatures you’ll face in Modern. It really is just a fantastic Magic card.
I think it’s so good that I played all four despite talking about how important turn one untapped blue mana is! Increasing your chances of having one in play by the time the opponents would think about trying to get Planeswalkers into play changes the whole dynamic of what protecting it entails. And when you have the usual two copies, protecting one against removal is vital, whereas if you have four you can let them Path it, be up a land, and still have plenty of threats left. In particular, a lot of the decks that attack your ability to Nahiri them out are the same decks that have things like Terminate, and not having to use a valuable Spell Snare on a glorified Stone Rain can be key.
It’s one of the most important cards in the mirror, and in a ton of post-board matchups, and doesn’t cost a slot. I think four is absolutely correct.
Most of the stock builds I see play two Ghost Quarters or a GQ and a Lighthouse in their utility land slots. I will start by saying I think Lighthouse is terrible in this deck. The idea of being able to churn your raw material [via Ancestral Visions] into refined quartz [also known as meaningful interaction] is a good one, but not at that price. You already have a 4-of Planeswalker who does exactly what Lighthouse does, except it also kills stuff and/or wins the game! It’s not just that Lighthouse is redundant, it’s that it’s also inefficient!
The killing blow comes from the imbalance of utility in varying matchups: Against decks you’d want to dig to your relevant things, Lighthouse is far too slow, expensive, and the colorless land is debilitating. In matchups where you have time to develop with a colorless land and spend 4 mana multiple times to card select, your selection is greatly devalued based on the inherent principles of the matchup at hand! Better explained through this hypothetical: what are you discarding to your Lighthouse in the control mirror? Lands? No way, mana advantage is hugely important! Spells? Then what’s the point? What are you looking for? At that point, card count is so much more important than card selection that the Lighthouse is near irrelevant anyway, and that’s its best case scenario!
This isn’t a combo deck that needs to find its pieces or an aggro/midrange deck that needs higher spell counts and has no use for excess mana. So the looting is already greatly capped, then you add the fact that you’re already playing a bunch of spells that do exactly this and you wonder why you aren’t getting more out of that colorless mana slot.
I went with Tec Edge over GQ for two reasons: One is that the mirror is one of the matchups where this most comes up in the form of killing Colonnades or squeezing their blue mana on key turns. For the former use, Tectonic Edge is clearly far superior economically. For the latter use, Ghost Quarter doesn’t even help you!
Against Tron, I’d say Tectonic Edge is just as effective if not better than Ghost Quarter. For starters, they often have the three tron lands and a colored source. And even if they have straight tron, the only things they can cast are Wurmcoil Engine that is ineffective against you or Karn which is obviously great but what can you do. To go up the ladder to Ugin and Ulamog they’re going to have to turn on your Tec Edge. Even Worldbreaker needs a Chromatic object to have been in play to not require a fourth land.
The biggest impacts for Ghost Quarter being cut for Tectonic Edge come from Affinity and Infect, both of which have key lands you need to kill, often early/ASAP, and rarely have 4 lands in play. That’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make based on how much more effective the Tec Edges are in the other matchups, but based on your metagame this card choice may be optimal to reverse.
Building a sideboard for this deck is near-impossible, as the Modern format is wide open and full of completely different linear strategies that must be attacked from different angles, and then you also have a bunch of control mirrors of varying flavors and midrange decks looking to pounce the imbalanced, etc etc.
The maindeck is built to be efficient and flexible, so taking cards out is harder than usual, as there aren’t too many obvious cuts for a lot of matchups. And since you see such a huge percentage of your deck in every game, each exact card choice matters that much more than it might out of the sideboard of something like Burn or Affinity. If the sideboard allocation for this deck was 21 cards instead of 15, I’d still have to leave some worthy candidates on the sidelines. It’s just the nature of the format. Getting to play that one sideboard slot main in the form of Timely Reinforcements or Anger of the Gods (or in my case, Lightning Helix) is so useful because sideboard real estate is scarce and valuable. Same goes for only having to play 0-1 alternate win conditions instead of 2-3 thanks to the manabase I played over ones I see other people using.
The best card in my sideboard. Affinity is a close but favorable matchup that you are going to face multiple times in a long Modern tournament like a Grand Prix. Tron is a bad deck and a worse matchup, but Stony Silence at least gives you a good shot. There are also a bunch of fringe decks that it is particularly effective against, and in a format like Modern where you could have to play against literally anything and everything, having cards that you’re playing anyway have incredibly high-impact uses in an additional small percentage of matches is not something to be ignored. Whether it’s Lantern, an Eggs redux, or a Tezzerator style Thopter-Sword deck, Stony Silence can be lights out.
The differences are fairly clear, but I’d say that Dispel is the far superior card. Most of the things that you’re Negating that you couldn’t Dispel, you have other ways of fighting (Planeswalkers with damage, suspend cards with Remand, etc). Having something that costs one instead of two in a counter-war is the difference between day and night. This has been historically true in Magic, but applies especially now.
1. Snapcaster Mage means that you could be talking about the difference between 3 and 4 mana, which is even more significant.
2. Snapcaster Mage means that you could be talking about saving a mana in two different fights, or the difference between 4 and 6 mana total.
3. Spell Snare is so prevalent and effective that Dispel is often superior to Negate even when mana isn’t an issue
4. Counter-wars used to be initiated whenever someone blinked, but nowadays with Ancestral Visions being a key card which is on a timer, fights are happening much earlier in the game when both players have ~4 mana instead of when both players have 9+.
I think if you were to play a sharper counter main, such as Logic Knot or just a straight up Negate, you could easily get away with shaving a Negate from the board, but I would find it difficult to go below 2 Dispel and still play the mirror straight-up.
All of these mana utilization things are also reasons why something like Counterflux is absolutely not the answer. I’ve had people confidently and triumphantly Counterflux my spell only to see me Remand the target.
Another great inclusion. Passable against aggressive decks and a lot of midrange decks (Liliana of the Veil, Dark Confidant, Siege Rhino, etc). Kills the Blood Moon people keep bringing in for some reason, and can help attack Nahiri in a way that preserves your countermagic.
This felt good enough to play the second copy, but really this is a card that is more flexible than it is impactful, which is the inverse of what you should look for when it comes to sideboard cards in Modern. The one-of is likely worthwhile as it is a good catch-all that lets you board out that stupid Cryptic Command and have game against a variety of decks, but the second copy was likely better off as a third Stony Silence all things considered.
The one alternate win-condition slot. It’s not even really that necessary, but this card is so good that it’s probably worth playing anyway, and then the ability to kill someone who tries to mize you out with ineffective hate cards is just gravy. This is the ultimate trump for the mirror, as they won’t have any sweepers in their decks and you’ve hopefully got them low on direct damage in your Nahiri skirmishes in the midgame. It’s really difficult to overcome once she lands, but it’s obviously not the easiest card to get to land, so bear that in mind.
Not only is Elspeth the best trump, it also trumps the other trumps. I had an opponent confidently Bribery my Emrakul (that probably should’ve been in my sideboard anyway, or could’ve easily been in my hand, either of which would’ve been embarrassing for him); it was after I won a fight on my own end step to protect my Nahiri with an Ancestral Visions at one. I was confident I should fight then to protect my planeswalker so that I’d have all my mana back to fight over the Ancestral if I have to, and force my opponent to face two looming threats with whatever he had left. If it was Elspeth, I probably would have lost, or at least been even. But it was Bribery for Emrakul [fortunately enough] which I then Elspethed away and won easily.
The added utility of the resilient win condition/trump is also important. Batterskull can gain some life theoretically, but that can be hard to make happen when relevant. Pia and Kiran Nalaar is great in a lot of matchups but not very effective against others. Kerenos is not only slow and mediocre, he also begs to be value-owned by a Nahiri or Celestial Purge. Elspeth is the only one that sidesteps all of that while still being hyper-efficient and with versatility.
In short, A+ card, far superior to the alternatives. Except perhaps for:
This is an interesting piece of tech via Gerry Thompson which causes a fundamental shift in how the mirror actually plays. By turning your super reactive, uber-slow control deck into a proactive Counter Slivers strategy, you change all of the pivot points while maintaining the initiative and preserving the utility of a huge chunk of your deck by changing the focus away from long games and absurd counter-wars into a simple, short game of “protect the queen” where there is little if any actual threat to the queen in question.
This is a plan that I absolutely adore and want to try but haven’t played with or against it yet, so it’s hard to say anything about it with too much confidence at this juncture. However, I can speculate that if people have Dispels and Negates and Elspeths, they will die to this. I can also say that time management issues in the mirror (which are VERY real) become much less troublesome when they’re dead by turn 7. It even perfectly kills a plussed Nahiri in a single attack!
There are also a handful of decks that are hard to get into that dominated position that control decks generally need to win, but it’s easy enough to have some game against them in the meantime. If instead of creating a dominant position being necessary, you just need a couple of turns of reprieve, then those matchups go from massively unfavorable to almost even. I’m talking about things like Tron and Scapeshift.
The other card I was considering using to break open the mirror was Catch // Release, which seems like a far more effective version of the aforementioned Bribery plan. Let them resolve Nahiri and plus it twice, then steal it and Emrakul them out. There are a couple of concerns to this, the first of which is its vulnerability to cards you’ll see a lot of in the mirror such as Negate and Vendilion Clique. Also, the gametypes where you envision Catch // Release working just don’t happen in practice because players are very passive and protective with their Nahiris.
Then there’s the Emrakul itself. I’d much prefer to sideboard it out and not have to worry about it, but the Catch // Release plan requires you to keep her in your deck. And not only that, but if you draw her early then your whole plan falls apart. Though I suppose “Kill your ready-to-Ult Planeswalker, put a Snapcaster in play with haste, that bounces end step” is probably still a good use of a card and three mana.
I think three lifegain spells is about where you want to be, so playing a Helix main and two Timely board is where I ended up, but those numbers could be played around with a bit. I also don’t hate the idea of playing more cheap instants over expensive sorceries, ala more Helix and Rest for the Weary instead of Timely. I cast a lot of the sorcery and I think I only got creatures once, and while that was likely a difference-maker in that game, I came a lot closer to dying because I gained 6 life instead of 8, or had to jam it into open mana and hope I didn’t get Skullcracked.
You’re going to have all of your removal for their creatures anyway, and the difference between 2 mana at instant speed and 3 mana at sorcery speed is the difference between being able to fight their Atarka’s Command with Snares and Negates vs just dying to them. And that’s not even to mention that Snapcastering a Timely Reinforcements is pretty terrible: 5 mana, sorcery speed, and with a creature in play making it extremely unlikely you get tokens. I’d much rather it be a Rest for the Weary at that point.
And with more and more UR Delver strategies posing threats to your life total, something like Helix being not embarrassing to have in your deck can give you the life cushion needed to turn the corner.
Now this is a split! Three cards that functionally do very similar things but are slightly different. When you see numbers like this, it means one of two things: Either the deckbuilder had no idea which was better and was hedging, or the deck has a lot of card selection and recursion (always look for the Snapcasters) and each spell has slightly varied uses. I’d say this time it was 20%/80%.
Clasm is cheaper and important to get early against the super low to the ground decks as well as having a higher chance of being Snapcastered in a relevant timeframe. Anger gets that third damage in, key against Wild Nacatl and friends, and exiles, which is important for Kitchen Finks and the like. Verdict kills everything (and can’t be countered, though that’s generally less important since there aren’t many decks with fat creatures and countermagic) but is more expensive. Important against various large beasts such as Loxodon Smiter and Tarmogoyf, as well as things with protections such as Etched Champion, Kor Firewalker, and Phyrexian Crusader.
And there you have it, a six-thousand word dissection of my GP:LA Nahiri Jeskai deck. After having played a million rounds with it, this is what I would have run if I could do the tournament over again:
1 Celestial Purge
1 Lightning Helix
1 Rest for the Weary
1 Wear // Tear
3 Stony Silence
1 Anger of the Gods
1 Supreme Verdict
1 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
1 Vendilion Clique or Crumble to Dust (something to come in against the mirror and Tron, ideally with other uses as well)
Thanks for reading.