This deck is totally out of control. Busted, Broken, but is it "Bad for Magic?"
Dramatic title aside - I am concerned that the "Bant Fog" archetype has lasted as long as it has in Standard. Sure, on any given day, any deck can beat any other deck, but there is still cause for concern surrounding the interactions between Wilderness Reclamation and Nexus of Fate. Was the intention of R&D at WOTC to provide players with a recursive loop (nearly infinite) as powerful as this? Could it be that Magic: The Gathering is so heavily dependent on Teferi, Hero of Dominaria being "good," that we are seeing these combos emerge? How did the research and development teams think Wilderness Reclamation would be used - exactly? Ooze tokens? Electrodominance? Some other fairly benign and reasonable mechanic that generates tokens? Certainly not Nexus...right?
Well too bad, folks, because what you have in Wilderness Reclamation and Nexus of Fate is a deck so powerful, it may not be dethroned for quite some time. Standard has to address the "solitaire" scenario this deck creates; I know that people are already adjusting and tuning to deprive their opponents from Wilderness Reclamation, but given the player base's inability or unwillingness to brew and innovate at competitive levels, and the most recent banning of Krark-Clan Ironworks due to dominance. I think the WC/NoF combo will shortly be in the cross-hairs, due to widespread abuse. The above list won the MTGO Standard Premiere on 2/3/2019. Congratulations to Luckesh!
Always the Wilds Return...
Piloting this list is a blast. Once you settle into a groove, and begin understanding the main line of the deck, you will find that what you are playing is a form of Solitaire. You really only deviate from your line when your opponent tries to disrupt your fun. What's more important here, is that the core combo (mentioned in previous paragraphs, and here-to referred to as the "core combo" for the remainder of the article - Wilderness Reclamation and Nexus of Fate) is being found in everything from Simic to Sultai to Temur to 4-Color builds. While being "fun to play," this deck also should generate alarm to any of you who desire a balanced and robust Standard format. As of right now, in terms of competitive Standard options for answers to Wilderness Reclamation we have: Cindervines, Knight of Autumn, and Thrashing Brontodon, and...counterspells.
Let's take a moment to evaluate the current Standard meta in-depth: Hydroid Krasis.
Okay, now that we've dialed into the meta we need to evaluate other possibilities, and I am currently finding myself devoid of answers. It's not fair to say that the core combo is outright dominating Standard, but I'll go out on a limb here, and say that the core combo will dominate SCG Dallas on February 9th. I wouldn't be the slightest bit surprised if Sultai variants give Nexus decks a run for their money (and if red/white/RW aggro variants & Gates show up as well), but I don't know that much innovation will occur between now and this weekends tourney.
All the Learning of a Long-Forgotten Age...
The ability to "Storm" is revered as the most powerful mechanic in the game. Casting multiple cheap spells and drawing additional cards undeniably produces win conditions. In a deck so so powerful as the one represented by our core combo - it is no surprise that we are pseudo-storming into our win condition with Nexus decks. The more potential draws we can generate means we have more of a chance to draw our Nexus, cast it, and repeat. Both Search for Azcanta and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria are among the most dominant cards in Standard, and the above list utilizes them well to set up the combo.
We are starting to approach that point, with Search, where I believe this card has run its course. It's almost starting to feel like a bad joke - the kind your friend tells you at every single FNM tournament; the obligatory joke you have to laugh at because you don't want to be rude. We should be able to play around this card at this point, but it can be challenging in a format so desperately starve for land destruction options. Note to WOTC: bring back Stone Rain. Teferi, I'm okay with. I get that Planeswalkers are supposed to be impressive. I fee like Teferi is balanced. I feel like Teferi is a manageable issue from the other side of the table. But, Search and Teferi in tandom, used as a catalyst to achieve infinite turns using the core combo is oppressive. The draw and scry function of this deck is bonkers, the Impulse effect on a flipped Azcanta makes getting to your next Nexus too easy. The result is a deck which is going to (may) dominate Standard.
A potion is no substitute for a skilled surgeon...
Filter, filter, draw, draw. That's what we are doing early and often in an effort to lock in our core combo. Magic: The Gathering is a game designed around drawing cards. There is a great deal of balancing and mathematics in assuring that a certain number of draws should statistically yield the cards you are wanting. A flipped Azcanta aside, the remainder of what this deck utilizes to win games and lock in the core combo is a cantrip base. I use this word a lot: cantrip. A spell which is one or two mana to cast, that does something and draws you a card. Cantrips act as fuel for our graveyard in Bant Nexus. We get to flip into Azcanta the Sunken Ruin earlier, and find our core combo pieces.
Growth Spiral may be one of the best commons ever printed. I've said it before and I'll say it again, any two mana instant that allows us to draw a card, replacing itself, and play a "land" (not just a basic land), is incredible, has multiple uses, and will become a staple mechanic in the future of #MTG. Opt allows us to scry (filter), generally on our opponent's endstep, and draw, more fuel for the core combo. Revitalize gives Bant Nexus the ability to stabilize in life total, a draw, and can be played at instant speed. All three of these "cantrips" can be played at instant speed. In a deck that untaps its mana during the endstep, well, you can see where I'm going here. Cast, draw, cast, draw, cast Nexus on held priority after the Wilderness Reclamation trigger resolves. TAKE AN EXTRA TURN. It may be too easy to be considered "good." Auto-Pilot: [ON] Off
The roots run deep under stone and street...
Root Snare. At least we aren't staring down the barrel of 8 or 12 copies of Fog here. Of course, running that many combat damage prevention cards in a deck like this would be counter-intuitive to taking multiple turns - every turn. Make no mistake, the goal is to draw into Nexus, play it turn after turn, and slowly demoralize your opponent with a Teferi emblem. Preventing combat damage is a valid strategy, I have no problem with the frustrations it generates. However, being able to leverage Root Snare to time walk our opponents entire turn away, and let's face it, combat steps are our turns in most cases, we are adding layers of defense here that give this deck even more ways to play solitaire. This deck can be downright disheartening to play against.
Theoretical universal limits, and ways to circumvent them...
Ravnica Allegiance does give us a tremendous amount of firepower in a new card called Depose // Deploy, and I like this card. On the one side, a great stagnation mechanic to allow us to avoid damage, and draw a card, and on the other more life gain to stabilize and chump blockers to mitigate potential threats, guaranteeing we are getting to our core combo. A perfect fit for Bant Nexus.
If 4 mana-Draw two cards spells weren't bad (good) enough already in Kaladesh block, one need only play Chemister's Insight to understand how dynamic a recursive, instant speed, draw spell like this is. By the way - are you noticing a theme about this deck? Everything is cast at instant speed; all of our draw spells, fogs, life gain, "cantrips," can be played as we hold priority during our endstep ahead of the Wilderness Reclamation trigger. Why not, right? Why not exploit the synergies available to us to win? I mean, I'm not opposed to winning games of Magic, I'm not hard-set against Bant decks, or trying to poo-poo on this nearly-infinite turns deck. What good does it do? The only logical response to a dominant deck is to build in answers, or play it.
Havoc is a small price to pay for data...
In last weeks podcast, I go on a lengthy rant about Hydroid Krasis; a rant specifically detailing my loves and woes with a card as authoritative as this. About how cards with this many positive attributes tend to essentially be the only cards people play in the competitive scene. We are seeing just that; it's simple - if you can't beat it, use it. But where is the artistry - the balance?! You know what the best thing about Hydroid Krasis is? It dies to Cast Down. Sideboarding into this Jellyfish Hydra Beast is perfect for this deck list; frankly, its about the misdirection. In today's meta I don't know that you could really "surprise" me by casting this creature, but at least we are having our opponent bring in answers to the core combo, and not the Krasis after game one. In fact, the rest of the sideboard options for this deck list (which is only one of many many flavors of the core combo) are aimed at spinning our deck toward more of a aggro archetype. The next four cards are deliberately chosen to answer commonly played cards which could potentially introduce an impasse to us in playing solitaire.
Crushing Canopy is a deliberate answer to Niv-Mizzet, Lyra, Doom Whisperer, the Drakes, Pteramander, etc...The fringe benefit of being able to hit an enchantment is secondary in my opinion. Knight of Autumn can shut down burn strategies with life gain, chump and trade in a pinch, and clobber artifacts and enchantments. Knight of Autumn is an all-star, I love this card. Value town.
Lyra is Baneslayer Angel, and we all know how incredibly effective a flying, lifelink, first strike creature can be, both as a way to stabilize and a way to outright win the game. Negate is the age old answer to non-creature spells; at this point Negate is so entrenched in Standard, and reprinted so often that it will take an entirely new card to likely displace it. A hard counter is a hard counter; preserve the core combo!
Making sense of the last 7 minutes...
I am a big proponent of WOTC using the banhammer as sparingly as possible. That is until we approach an event horizon where 60% of the player base is all playing the same combo. Kind of like the end of the energy cycle in Kaladesh before they banned Attune with Aether. Sure, Wizards wanted us all to play energy decks, but not the same energy deck, not the same exact deck list in large-scale tournaments.
I have tested several versions of Wilderness Reclamation and Nexus of Fate decks. I can assure it, this combo is very easy to pilot once you have mastered the priority strategy during endstep. This combo is incredibly powerful. It requires interaction that several of the creature based strategies do not have. It plays its own game.
Is Bant Nexus ruining Standard? No, not yet. Could it? I think there's a chance. Of course, I could be an alarmist nerd crying wolf over a deck that is perfectly balanced and placed for a diverse and robust Standard meta. But, I'm not. Wise up, buttercup.
I'd love to hear your opinion on my rant this week, and I hope you have an opportunity build and play this deck if you haven't yet. It is incredibly fun - even though at this point, I refuse to play it.
Until next time, play a land, take an extra turn at your endstep, and say GO.