That seemingly innocent three color combination single handedly changed my life forever.
When Shards of Alara was set to be released I was ecstatic. I love the flavor of Shards, I love the interesting and unique aspects of each shard. They all have their cool parts and different players are drawn to different shards. For me it was always Naya. The sweet cat people roaming the forested regions filled with gigantic behemoths looming around every corner. Naya is like a fantasy novel come to life in a game that I love to play. Wild Nacatl is the embodiment of this shard in my opinion, not five power matter. It was my favorite card from that set for so long and I played it every moment I could until it rotated out of Standard.
Naya has been a deck in my eyes since the first tournament it was legal, States 2008. Back then I was battling in the top 8 with my Wild Nacatls, Figure of Destiny and Rip-Clan Shamans. I fought Five Color Control and Red Deck Wins with Sarkhan Vol into Siege-Gang Commander or Ranger of Eos. I played versions of the deck with almost a dozen planeswalkers, and ones with almost none.
When Standard rotated I ported the deck over. Early on I did not have the configuration right and had a tough time defeating the evil empire of Jund. Once Worldwake was released the rest of the magic community finally embraced Naya as a real deck in the form of Boss Naya. Though we did not have the same list, my team and I were only a couple cards off from that breakout deck list. I was among the first to top 8 with Boss Naya playing the Cunning Sparkmage package main deck.
Even though its namesake was no longer legal, still I worked on it when Shards of Alara rotated out of Standard. In this new format dominated early by Valakut and UB Control, Naya fell over and over again until I was forced to lie in wait for the right time to strike again. That time is now my friends. Gather, my fellow Naya supporters! Now is the time!
Finally with CawBlade, and all its versions, dominating every tournament, it is now time for the Naya resurgence. CawBlade has a tough time dealing with the basic strategy of playing Fauna Shaman and tutoring for Vengevines. The Red version has an okay time with their Lightning Bolts, if they can cast them, but it is basically not played anymore. The Black version has a better shot with Inquisition of Kozilek and maybe a few removal spells but Naya still is not a deck they want to be facing down all day. Some players think that Fauna Shaman is too slow right now, but that is simply not the case. Certainly if you try to play the deck the same way as when we all had access to Bloodbraid Elf, you may run into some problems with it being too slow but different versions of decks require you to play differently. In Standard today Fauna Shaman's primary goal is not to pitch Vengevines, it is to search for them! Hardcasting Vengevines is the way to go for fighting just about every deck in Standard right now.
Where’s the decklist already? Well, I’m not going to show you a decklist. I am going to show you two.
Star City Games 5k Top 8 Decklist:
So what makes the version I’ve been working on different? Well, before what made it different was the main deck Acidic Slimes but those have been pretty much universally adopted by now. They are sweet against all the equipment and artifacts running around, they happen to wreck Pyromancer Ascension if by chance you are the one that has to play that guy at the tournament, and blowing up lands right now is really good too. The actual difference though is my Lightning Bolts. We all know how amazing Bolt is but sometimes we forget how necessary it is. It helps your early game against other aggressive decks and it kills guys in response to equipping. That can be such a blowout. If nothing else, when you kill a guy in response to the equip, you are basically giving yourself a Time Walk and a huge advantage in the game. Bolt also helps give even more reach to finish games and helps deal with Planeswalkers better as well. In case you didn’t know it, Lightning Bolt does a heck of a lot in a game of Magic.
Of course we all know how awesome Lightning Bolt is but the real question is, why then does the list that has been doing so well not play it? The reason is that they hope to go over the top with threats in that also count as sweet removal in the form of Sunblast Angel and Inferno Titan. The thing that I am not sure players realize is that there are threats that need answers immediately that can’t wait that long like Lotus Cobra.
The other differences are in the singletons that I play over the ones they played. I am a big fan of Baneslayer Angel in Standard right now. She is great in many of the matchups and I think worthy of a spot in the main deck as well as an additional spot in the side board. Many of the singletons that other players include like the Precursor Golem and Hero of Oxid Ridge I never had in my list. Sure I can see their value initially but those are cards that are much better when your opponent does not know you have them. Now that players are familiar with this list, those two cards in particular have less value in my opinion.
What about matchups?
Well basically any version has a decent matchup against the mass of CawBlade players. Remember to save those Squadron Hawks for the late game to recur the Vengevines you hardcast. You have access to the Acidic Slimes to blow up their equipment so when they tap out for their Planeswalker make sure you take advantage of the opportunity. The straight UW version has kind of a hard time dealing with Cunning Sparkmage. I usually save them until after they play their first Day of Judgment unless I need them to force through damage. I have debated whether the right number of to be playing is two or three, so that is something to keep in mind.
All the other aggressive decks are basically fought the same way. Use your Lightning Bolts early to kill their guys and block a lot until they run out of resources and you can play a big threat like Baneslayer, Titan, or Sunblast. You have so much card advantage that it’s pretty easy to make it to the late game and just take it over. They basically have to kill you early to have a shot. Blocking with Fauna Shaman is even ok if you are trading with a guy, so don’t be afraid to do that.
The ramp decks are the hardest for Naya to deal with. They do to you what you do to the aggro decks. They just get their mana so quickly and start casting huge threats that are hard to deal with. The goal here is to play all three Acidic Slimes as quickly as possible while attacking them as fast as you can. Sword of Feast and Famine helps a lot now and so do the Bolts. The real advantage in these matchups though is the sideboard. My team and I discovered something while we were testing GW Quest. Silence. No not you silly, the card. There were a few players that had Silence in the side boards of their Quest decks. In addition to the fourth Acidic Slime, if you bring in your set of Silences, they let you progress your game while not letting your opponent do anything. It depends on the game but usually it is correct to start playing your Silences on their turn four. If they miss a land drop though, you can punish them by not being able to catch up with their ramp spells.
Overall I have been quite impressed with the resurgence of Naya in the metagame. It is quite good and even the bad ramp matchups have now become quite manageable. As with any deck, you should make some changes to suite your play style, but both of those lists are quite solid. Naya is certainly should be a consideration for Regionals (National Qualifier).
Next week, I will be talking about another Standard deck you should consider if you want to qualify for Nationals. Personally, I love the Naya deck. Also, I am confident that if you can enjoy playing Naya half as much as I do, it will be one of your favorite decks of all time.
Until next week, remember to unleash your force on Standard!