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A Star is Born

A Star is Born

It seems like every week a new Standard deck or some new synergy gets discovered and everyone loses their minds over it. Last week it was Boros Aggro. Izzet Phoenix was the hot deck before that. This week it’s the first place Jeskai Control from Grand Prix Milwaukee featuring multiple copies of Expansion / Explosion and Niv-Mizzet-Parun. Those two cards clinched several games due to the inherent synergy of drawing a bunch of cards with Niv-Mizzet in play. While it seems a little simple on the surface, building your entire endgame around something that straightforward gives the deck an “oops, I win” turn not unlike the old Splinter Twin decks from ZEN-SOM Standard. Granted, the sheer mana costs of these cards forced the deck into more of a control shell to reach that conclusion, but what would happen if we tried to accelerate the process by using Green instead of White?

 

Temur decks haven’t exactly been popular as of late due to not having access to Breeding Pool or Stomping Ground until the next set, so these manabases are fairly atrocious. Fortunately, Guilds of Ravnica saw fit to reprint arguably the best colour fixer we’ve had in years: Chromatic Lantern. With Lantern in play, all of our lands tap for any colour, so you could have a manabase of all Swamps and still cast March of the Multitudes and Crackling Drake. This mitigates the shakiness of having to run so many basic Forests in order to cast our early ramp cards by letting us tap them for Blue or Red in the late game when Niv-Mizzet is a factor.

                              

As far as actual threats go, we’re looking to take advantage of all the mana we’re generating by dropping some of the biggest haymakers the format has to offer. Pelakka Wurm is a nightmare for creature decks to square up against. Its size, life gain, and death trigger make it so you net some card advantage coming and going. It’s a creature that demands an immediate answer, otherwise it threatens to end the game in three swings, and it even has trample to make blocking a headache for our opponents. Granted, it is susceptible to Vraska’s Contempt but it is able to go toe to giant, serpentine body with Carnage Tyrant, and that isn’t something a lot of creatures can boast.

There have been plenty of articles extolling the virtues of Niv-Mizzet, Parun. Initially, his daunting mana cost caused him to be largely unplayable, but the sheer power of his abilities meant that the mana cost was the only way for it to not be completely broken. Not only can this not be countered, but any time a player casts an instant or sorcery, you draw a card. Also, like previous Niv-Mizzets, whenever you draw a card you can deal one damage to any target. This staples a Lightning Bolt to Chemister’s Insight, machine guns down boards of weenies, and can pick off planeswalkers so you don’t have to waste time attacking them. Everything about Niv-Mizzet, Parun is a powerhouse, and if he weren’t legendary I would be running the full playset. While something of a removal magnet, Niv-Mizzet can clog up your hand in multiples so for now I’m starting with only three copies. However, that isn’t set in stone, and I can easily see myself adding in the final copy later on down the line. The only major problem is that without Chromatic Lantern in play, the amount of Forests we’re running can make it difficult to curve into, but given the other ramp spells we have to colour fix, if we prioritize getting Blue and Red sources it isn’t too difficult to set up.

To actually finish off the opponent, we have two copies each of Banefire and Expansion / Explosion. Banefire has skyrocketed in popularity as an uncounterable way of picking off those last chunks of life. Given the sheer amount of ramp we have, firing off a Banefire for 10+ damage is a regular occurrence with this deck, and with a shockland or some Niv-Mizzet pings it can easily one-shot an opponent out of the game. To further bolster the X damage plan, Expansion / Explosion is a terrifying card with and without Niv-Mizzet in play. On the surface, this acts as either a copy effect on an opposing counter or draw spell, or can burn something and draw us a bunch of cards. This gets downright silly is when we have a Niv-Mizzet in play, as each card we draw will cause Niv-Mizzet to trigger, effectively dealing double the damage!

Finally, we need ways to actually interact with the board while we’re ramping into colossal game-ending threats. River’s Rebuke and Star of Extinction are easily the two highest impact sweepers in our colours, and we can easily ramp into these as early as turn 4 if we need to. River’s Rebuke plays in a similar vein as Cyclonic Rift in that it’s a one-sided board wipe that sets most decks back significantly. Any deck looking to play a bunch of things and attack is a sitting duck against River’s Rebuke as it undoes several turns of work with ease, effectively acting as multiple Time Walks against midrange decks. This also has the honour of being one of the few cards capable of answering Lich’s Mastery, so it has even greater value against the Rainbow Lich deck that took down SCG Charlotte just a few weeks ago.

For something with a bit more “boom”, Star of Extinction is pretty much the definition of overkill. Not only does it answer a pesky land like Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin, it also does 20 damage to each creature and planeswalker. 20 damage, in case you weren’t paying attention, is enough to kill everything this side of Marit Lage, so it’s safe to say that the board is going to be empty when you fire this off. Furthermore, this is pretty much the only way to answer multiple planeswalkers at once, which is huge now that Golgari midrange has started running Vivien Reid, Karn, and several Vraskas in the maindeck. Star of Extinction is the thermonuclear device you drop when your opponent has played just a few too many things for your liking, and as we are committing just the bare minimum to the board, the sheer value of this card is staggering.

With our payoff cards in place, we need to figure out the best ways to ramp into them. Chromatic Lantern is fine, but we need other ramp cards to act as support. So far, the best options are Circuitous Route, Gift of Paradise, Gilded Lotus, and Grow from the Ashes. Of these I opted for Circuitous Route and Gift of Paradise because they offered the most ramp for the least amount of mana. Gift of Paradise lets one of our lands tap for two of any colour so we can turn a Forest into a Cascade Bluffs and even gives us three life to fend off aggro decks, while Circuitous Route can tutor up our two copies of Izzet Guildgate to ensure we colour fix properly. I initially tested two Gilded Lotus and while it was terrific for the turns where we fired off an X spell, costing five mana on its own often left me vulnerable if I had to tap out to cast it. Conversely, Grow from the Ashes was the card I as going to cut Circuitous Route for as it put the land into play untapped, and we could cast it kicked in the late game and get two lands instead. However, I found that despite being more flexible, I had enough ramp spells at three mana, and casting Grow from the Ashes for five to get a pair of lands felt silly when I could cast Circuitous Route for one mana less and always get two lands. This is probably the slot that I’m going to flip back and forth on the most, but for now I’m content with my selections.

Rounding out the deck are Treasure Map, Chemister’s Insight, and Shivan Fire. Treasure Map gives the deck a little more control over our draws for a couple turns, and then turns into ramp and additional card draw after the third use, so we can take advantage of both sides pretty easily. Chemister’s Insight is one of the best draw spells in Standard right now and getting to draw two cards twice at instant-speed is great for digging for threats and netting card advantage at every opportunity. Finally, Shivan Fire is probably the safest soft answer for creatures available in our colours. Normally Shock or Lightning Strike would take these slots, but given the popularity of Crackling Drake, being able to deal four damage gives Shivan Fire a huge leg up over the competition. As well, the unkicked side to Shivan Fire handles some of the biggest weaknesses of the maindeck. White Weenie thrives on two toughness threats, so picking off an early Skymarch Ascendant can save you several life. Thief of Sanity is also problematic since it can use our own bombs against us, so having a cheap way to get rid of one before it can hit us is huge. I originally had Root Snare in this spot since it could stall out a big attack before firing off River’s Rebuke or Star of Extinction, but I found that more often than not I’d prefer to actually get rid of one threat than sit around and get chipped by an early body.

The sideboard is a little muddled, but it’s primarily designed to be able to pivot against both aggro and control since our midrange matchup is so good. Fiery Cannonade, Fight with Fire, and the fourth Shivan Fire are my go-to for aggro decks, with Fight with Fire pulling double duty against the various X/4s in Izzet Drakes. I tend to cut back on River’s Rebuke and Banefire to make room for these since their threats are often cheap enough that they can just play them all again after being bounced, and I’d much rather lean on Niv-Mizzet to machine gun with Explosion as a win condition rather than set up a giant Banefire. For control I bring in Negate, Expansion / Explosion, Carnage Tyrant, and Nezahal, Primal Tide. Negate and Expansion can be used to fend off opposing counterspells that would otherwise disrupt our early ramp, and having the potential to end step Explosion someone is always a great way to put a control deck on the backfoot, so I like having the additional flexibility. Carnage Tyrant and Nezahal add to the maindeck package of big, dumb, uncounterable threats. Sticking one of these early can often be game over against a control deck, and Nezahal compliments Niv-Mizzet nicely by also drawing cards whenever a control opponent does anything. To fit these cards I tend to board out River’s Rebuke and scale back on Star of Extinction in these matchups since they tend to not have as many threats on board.

Playing this deck has been an interesting experience to say the least. The sheer power of the bombs gives you a tremendous edge over most midrange decks, and the ability to reset the board as needed is a total blowout considering how many archetypes involve dumping cards onto the table. In addition, having so many uncounterable threats makes dedicated control matchups a breeze since everything past a certain point is going to resolve and wreak havoc. So far the biggest weakness I’ve found is drawing the wrong half of the deck, or just plain not seeing your payoff cards, but there’s enough card draw in the mid to late game that you can mitigate that in slower matchups. I have to say that I’m happy with where the deck is at, and while there is still room for more fine tuning, Temur Ramp is a blast to play.