X Marks the Spot
Nissa, Steward of Elementals is the first X spell planeswalker ever printed. We have never seen a planeswalker like this! And now Nissa is a SImic card! Blue looks good on you, girl!
Nissa is one of my favorite cards they have printed in the last few sets. It is a card advantage engine that scales later into the game and can do fundamentally broken things by putting creatures directly into play.
The baseline for Nissa is as a 3 mana planeswalker; it is best to get her into play and have her start churning out card advantage. Later in the game though, you can sink extra mana into her and try to have her survive on a cluttered board. For 8 mana, she can ultimate immediately and smack the opponent for 10. This flexibility is huge for the viability of the card in standard and has never been seen on a powerful planeswalker like this.
Nissa’s abilities are not insanely flashy. She cannot protect herself beyond putting a creature into play off of her zero ability but that is basically impossible to have happen if she comes down on turn 3. The real strength of Nissa is having her come into play and plus to scry 2 to set up using her 0 loyalty ability the next turn to put the top card into play, whether it is a land or a 3 mana creature. This line of using her plus 2 into using her 0 the following turn is the line of play that you want to make most often with Nissa. Having her in play over the course of multiple turns allow you to dig deeper into your deck and is very good with additional scry or library manipulation like Saheeli Rai. This card is reminiscent of Courser of Kruphix; it’s advantage can snowball out of control and smooths out the draws over the course of many turns. Nissa, if able to find creatures to put into play, can even add additional creatures to block for her.
Using Nissa as a ramp spell is also a legitimate strategy. Using her plus 2 on turn 3 to find a land and then using her 0 on turn 4 allows you to play a 5 drop a turn early. When that 5 drop is something like an unexpected Glorybringer, Verdurous Gearhulk or Skysoveriegn, Consul Flagship, that is a big game. In a dedicated ramp deck, Nissa’s scaling loyalty is also stronger and ramp decks utilize the scry 2 ability better because the difference in quality of their cards is so wildly different depending on the game state.
Nissa creates a lot of decisions with her scry 2 and 0 ability the following turn. Most often, the Nissa player wants to keep both cards on top and rearrange them in a way to guarantee a hit the following turn. The decisions get really interesting though when the Nissa player sees two below average cards on top. Should they guarantee the hit and keep both? Or bottom the bad cards and either scry again next turn or go with the blind flip? Obviously, this is all context dependent and will depend game to game. Decisions that vary game to game are what make Magic engaging and awesome to see on planeswalkers. A lot of planeswalkers feel very prescribed in their decisions but Nissa goes outside of that paradigm. Her “prescribed” line of plus 2 into 0 even requires a lot of decisions in sequencing and evaluating your place in the game.
Building a deck to use Nissa to the best of her abilities isn’t very restrictive. To set up the scry 2 into the 0 ability, the top 2 cards of the deck need to either have a land card or a creature that costs 3 or less mana. Half of the cards in the deck need to be hits for this to happen; but most Standard decks have at least 23 lands which leaves you needing to play 7 creatures that cost less than 3. Now we want to probably play more than that so we can have options more often when scrying 2 with Nissa but that just illustrates how often Nissa will be able to find a card in the top 2 she can put into play the following turn.
The real struggle with Nissa is going to be able to stick it on an even board, especially on the draw. Her abilities and card advantage may be too slow to hang against a deck like Mardu Vehicles. I think the format will be shaken up by the printing of Manglehorn but there will still be a good aggressive deck to punish Nissa and if it is a large part of the format, Nissa may be relegated to sideboard play. Against decks that can’t pressure Nissa, a turn 3 Nissa on the play may just be game over. Adding a free creature or extra land every other turn is most likely too much for a control deck to overcome and the scaling of her loyalty plays better in a longer game. Even if she is Ruinous Path’d immediately, the scry 2 is an okay bonus to get in a card for card trade. Depending on the format, Nissa, Steward of Elementals will either be a maindeck engine card or a control slayer out of the sideboard if the format is too hostile to planeswalkers with low loyalty.
This deck is not ground breaking but it shows how well Nissa can fit into a creature shell. I am not sure if this is a good place to go in the format if Cat combo and Mardu Vehicles are still the best decks but it just shows how powerful Nissa is. Even an 8 mana Nissa ultimating and smacking the opponent for 10 is a reasonable option in this deck. Nissa could even fit into the 4 color Cat combo deck.
Nissa is a unique card, just like a lot of the cards in Amonkhet. There are a ton of awesome cards that I am excited to build around. White aggro and Red aggro got some interesting additions as well more Zombie tribal cards. My fear is that none of it will matter though. Cat Combo got some solid tools and Mardu Vehicles seems to still be better than any of the new options. I am open to things really changing with the release of Amonkhet but I am afraid that nothing will be different. Wizards, please ban Felidar Guardian. Get it over with and give us a clean slate to brew and build for.
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