Spoiler season is getting off to an unusual start this time. Wizards confirmed that the leak I previously mentioned was real, which means my alarm is more justified than before. Additional testing hasn't changed my mind on Venerated Rotpriest. Wizards has also stated that they're just going to forge ahead with their spoiler schedule as if nothing had happened. Corporate stubbornness at work. That said, there are plenty of cards we haven't seen yet, and another has caught my eye.
Thinning the Herd
The leak and reaction to it aside, this spoiler season has caused a lot of angst among the Vorthoses in the Magic community. The storyline is leading to a lot of planeswalkers (both the beloved and not) being functionally killed off as they are compleated, becoming Phyrexians. This has considerable mechanical and gameplay implications (and will prove our strategic focus today), but more players are focused on the story implications, particularly for the future.
Personally, I'm unconcerned. Partially that's because I learned to not care about Wizards' storytelling, as it is abundantly clear that their only story beat is setting a plane on fire. Also, this is a Hasbro property. They have a history of burning down setting and characters for the sake of thinning out their toy lines. Most players won't know this, but back in 1986, Hasbro released the first Transformers movie. The cartoon had been a runaway success, but the movie was a complete flop.
A significant part of the problem was that the movie was intended to be the transition from the old toy line to the new one. To make that happen, Hasbro literally killed off huge numbers of the original cast. Frequently in horrible ways. Nerds who were alive for the original airing tell me it was a deeply traumatic experience. I wouldn't know, as I wasn't alive back then. I suspect that the intention with Phyrexia: All Will Be One is the same: clear out the old characters to introduce new ones and force players to like them.
The Failed Anti-Villian
For those following Magic's storyline, Nahiri is a controversial character. She's clearly intended to be an anti-villain, but she's never been effective enough to really gain traction. Her role has been to have a conflicting goal to the protagonists, make the situation worse through vindictive self-righteousness, and then lose humiliatingly. Which is good news for the Multiverse, as Nahiri's been compleated, which can only mean that the Phyrexians are doomed to failure as well.
Nahiri has history in Modern, but has never really panned out. Anyone else remember when Nahiri, the Harbinger into Emrakul, the Aeons Torn was supposed to be the next Splinter Twin? This Phyrexian Nahiri has some similarities with Harbinger, which isn't a big vote of confidence. However, the context of Modern is very different today, and I think the Unforgiving has potential.
The Key Ability
First thing's first: Nahiri, the Unforgiving has shades of Oko, Thief of Crowns as a (potentially) three-mana planeswalker with no minus abilities and two plus abilities. Of course, Wizards did learn from Oko, and Nahiri's abilities are downgrades. The first is interesting, ensuring that the biggest creature can't attack Nahiri, and can also pick off creatures if you have blockers. The second is standard rummaging, most notable in being straight card draw with an empty hand. However, on their own, the abilities are pretty mediocre.
It's the last ability that's interesting. Creating temporary copies of dead creatures and equipment is fairly unique on its own, but add in that it can be used every turn and suddenly Nahiri becomes a value engine. Value engines are always worth investigating, and while I don't know how this plays out in other formats, in Modern there's some solid value to be had.
The Obvious Home
The line "creature or Equipment card" immediately brought Hammer Time to mind. Based on the discussion I've seen so far, that's true of most players. However, Boros Hammer is not a thing anymore to the best of my knowledge. I distinctly remember a few lists running Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer at some point in the last two years, but not anymore. Most lists are either mono-white or white-blue. Some will splash green for Haywire Mite but they never stray far.
After some testing, I don't think that Nahiri is something Hammer Time wants. Hammer wants to be attacking for massive damage on turn three, and Nahiri doesn't remotely facilitate that plan. Having Pierce was more likely to be relevant than Nahiri, so this particular deck is never going to beat out UW Hammer.
The Reality (Chip) of the Situation
Overall, I'd say that if drawing cards is a thing Hammer Time wants to do, Chip is the right call. It not only synergizes with Stoneforge Mystic and Puresteel Paladin, but on average will draw more cards more quickly than Nahiri can even dream. That's one big strike.
However, the biggest is simply that using Nahiri's 0 ability was underwhelming. Animating Stoneforge and immediately getting and playing Kaldra Compleat is pretty good, but that was also only occasionally possible. The best use was getting back Paladin to immediately equip a creature and swing for the win. However, getting any other creature was a waste of time. Also, it was never correct to discard an equipment to set up reanimation, despite Wizards' design intentions.
Worse, there was never a situation where animating an equipment was a good deal. Nahiri grants the creature or equipment haste, but not Nettlecyst or Kaldra's germ token. Thus, there's no way to get a free attack out of them. Getting Colossus Hammer or Shadowspear was only good if the means to equip it were out, at which point one attack with either wouldn't close the game. I can conceive of times that wouldn't be true, but it seems to me that Nahiri just isn't a good fit in Hammer Time.
Getting Full Value
Trying to utilize the full text line didn't go well, so I decided to cut it down to just creatures. I have been playing around with midrange Boros shells similar to the one Aspiringspike posted for ChannelFireball last week. The problem with my lists and a problem I had with Spike's list is that they feel very mid, even for midrange. The linked list from Spike is not really aggro, it's not really combo, and doesn't have the power to play Jund's game.
However, Nahiri might change that. It is a needed source of card filtering since this type of deck floods easily. When played for four mana, Nahiri can also immediately animate an evoked incarnation, which can be a huge swing. Thus, I proxied up and tested this list:
This deck is still flawed. However, there is tremendous potential here. Nahiri did exactly what I wanted her to do. While the mana curve is still awkward (and this deck desperately needs more disruption), having card filtering fixed the worst floods and provided a kind of bridge between the good early game and fairly mediocre late game. I'm not sure if Seasoned Pyromancer was better than Nahiri in this role or not, but having the option for both was most welcome.
More importantly, in grindy creature matchups, it was utterly backbreaking to simply sit there with Nahiri and zero her for as long as there were targets. Hitting the one- and two-drops was admittedly quite bad, except for one occasion where a cloned Giver allowed an attack for lethal. However, hitting the high drops yielded an avalanche of card advantage that easily turned games around.
The best target was Seasoned Pyromancer, followed by Fury. The latter is second because Pyrokinesis isn't always relevant, despite Fury being the better threat. Ranger-Captain of Eos and Solitude were far more niche, and given the kind of anemic clock, the latter could be a liability. The stream of value can't last forever and extra life can be extra turns. However, the unlimited grinding potential of the deck leaves me to believe that I'm onto something here. There are just some questions to answer.
The biggest: how exactly is this deck better than Rakdos Scam? Both have a similar Incarnation value attack-plan, but Rakdos' is much faster and disruptive. My deck's plan is far grindier, but that doesn't always matter. It's comparatively top heavy in order to accomplish this plan, and since all the removal are incarnations it's possible to run out of gas before the value engines are online. Again, there's enough potential to keep investigating the deck but Scam casts a long shadow.
Then there's the issue of Ragavan. This deck really wants to connect with Ragavan early. All the actually good cards cost three or more, and there's no acceleration in white or red. Without that treasure token, the deck is really clunky and slow. It might be possible to smooth out the curve with more two-drops, but I suspect it might be better to lean into the deck's grind plan.
This would entail dropping the other one-drops and Ranger-Captain in favor of more removal. It would also need prison pieces to beat non-creature decks. I'm currently investigating the possibility, but that does mean I'm leaning more into Ragavan than ever. Which isn't a problem in theory, but remember that Ragavan is atop the Banning Watchlist. I'm not sure this kind of deck would survive a ban, which makes me question the whole direction.
The more non-rare One cards are spoiled, the more it becomes clear that this is a very powerful set. I've already discussed two cards for Modern in depth, concluding that there is real potential for both to make the cut somewhere. And there are still lots of other cards in the set. This could lead to a major shakeup in the near future.