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By: olaw, Oliver Law
Nov 21 2012 12:02pm
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Nivmagus Elemental and friends

Hello!

Welcome to another edition of Becoming A Modern Man! In this article I will be looking at one of the new decks to emerge from Pro Tour Return to Ravnica, that deck being Gerry Thompson's Elemental Combo deck.

Elemental Combo
Pro Tour Return to Ravnica Decklist by Gerry Thompson
Creatures
4 Kiln Fiend
4 Nivmagus Elemental
2 Flamekin Harbinger
6 cards

Other Spells
4 Tainted Strike
4 Slaughter Pact
4 Mutagenic Growth
4 Gut Shot
4 Ground Rift
4 Gitaxian Probe
4 Apostle's Blessing
3 Thoughtseize
2 Assault Strobe
33 cards
Lands
4 Blackcleave Cliffs
4 Scalding Tarn
3 Blood Crypt
3 Arid Mesa
2 Gemstone Mine
1 Mountain
17 cards

Kiln Fiend

I am playing virtually the same list, however, I've swapped out the Thoughtseizes for Inquisition of Kozilek and put Duress in the sideboard.  This is simply because I do not own Thoughtseize and they are an expensive card, however, SecherTech went 4-0 in a Daily taking this approach.  The deck is very heavy on cards that make you lose life and swapping Thoughtseize for Inquistion for that reason seems legitimate.

Elemental Combo
SecherTech (4-0) Modern Daily #4485704 on 10/28/2012
Creatures
2 Flamekin Harbinger
4 Kiln Fiend
4 Nivmagus Elemental
6 cards

Other Spells
4 Gitaxian Probe
4 Ground Rift
4 Gut Shot
4 Mutagenic Growth
4 Slaughter Pact
4 Tainted Strike
4 Apostle's Blessing
3 Inquisition of Kozilek
2 Assault Strobe
33 cards
Lands
4 Arid Mesa
4 Blackcleave Cliffs
2 Blood Crypt
4 Gemstone Mine
3 Mountain
17 cards

Kiln Fiend

My list is essentially the same as the above but I am running Gerry T's manabase of 3 Arid Mesa and 3 Blood Crypt.

DECK TECH
It would be somewhat amiss of me to make a deck tech for this deck without first referring to you to the deck tech Wizards did at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica with Gerry Thompson himself.

If you don't fancy Gerry T's take on the deck then, as usual, I've written my own take on the cards involved.

The Elementals

Nivmagus Elemental
Nivmagus Elemental

Nivmagus Elemental is the reason that this deck has come into existence.  In many ways this card feels like it turned up late to the party.  This card would have been really powerful in Standard if the Phyrexian mana spells were still around.  However, as those have rotated out the fun of this card is largely reserved to Modern.

One thing to note when playing this deck is that you don't always have to make Nivmagus massive for it to be effective.  Nivmagus Elemental does a pretty good impression of a Tarmogoyf when you exile a couple of spells to it and sometimes that's enough.  Another note to make is that Nivmagus Elemental is the best creature to combine with Ground Rift as you can exile each Storm copy of the spell, whereas Kiln Fiend's ability (see below) will only trigger when you cast the spell and not for the copies.

Kiln Fiend
Kiln Fiend
Kiln Fiend is the other elemental referred to in the title of the deck.  Kiln Fiend is also a massive fan of free spells that allow it to do ridiculous amounts of damage.  Which creature is preferred for the combo will depend on what spells you have in hand.  Nivmagus Elemental has a little more versatility as it's growth is permanent but Kiln Fiend grows a lot faster making it a much easier early kill with Assault Strobe or Tainted Strike.

Flamekin Harbinger
Flamekin Harbinger
Hands without either of the two creatures above are not really worth keeping unless mulliganing again will put you in an even worse state.  That's where Flamekin Harbinger comes in as a tutor for either of your Elementals.  It's not the best tutor as it only puts the card on top of your deck rather than in hand but Gitaxian Probe can help you in that regard.  Also, if your opponent has a lot of hand disruption then it can be better for your Elemental to be on top of your library, if you are not going to be able to play it straight away.

Spells

The Instants
The instant speed spells as a rule are better in this deck than the sorcery speed spells.  This is because you can use them to protect your Nivmagus Elemental at instant speed in response to a removal spell.

Slaughter Pact
Slaughter Pact
Slaughter Pact is an instant speed free spell that can be played provided there is another creature out.  Nivmagus is happy to target itself as it will simply exile the spell and get two +1/+1 counters.  It's also important to note that if you exile the Slaughter Pact you don't have to pay the Pact's cost on your upkeep, so you don't need three mana out or to win on that turn to use it.

Apostle's Blessing
Apostle's Blessing
This is the first Phyrexian mana spell of many we will be looking at.  What sets it apart is that is costs 1 mana.  Apostle's Blessing is a good in a number of ways.  Most importantly it is a great way of protecting your Elemental from removal spells such as Path to Exile or Abrupt Decay.  However, Apostle's Blessing can also go on the aggressive when your opponent controls creatures that all share a colour, allowing you to get past your opponent's defences.

Gut Shot
Gut Shot
Gut Shot is a free Phyrexian mana spell.  Mostly you'll be using this to exile to Nivmagus or pump your Kiln Fiend.  Sometimes you might want to use it to kill off a 1 toughness blocker but more often I find that I'm targeting my own creatures to get a bonus out of it.  There may be times when the 1 damage will be relevant though.

Mutagenic Growth
Mutagenic Growth
Mutagenic Growth is another free Phyrexian mana spell, however, it also has added utility when it comes to Kiln FiendKiln Fiend is a little vulnerable at 2 toughness and unlike Nivmagus Elemental it cannot increase its toughness on its own.  Therefore, Mutagenic Growth serves as protection for Kiln Fiend against burn spells such as Lightning Bolt.  It's also important to note that, unlike Nivmagus Elemental, Kiln Fiend gets it's +3/+0 bonus as well as the +2/+2 bonus from Mutagenic Growth meaning you get double pumps on it when attacking.  As Nivmagus exiles Mutagenic Growth it only gets two +1/+1 counters and no other benefits.

Tainted Strike
Tainted Strike
Tainted Strike is an interesting inclusion in this deck.  It's far from essential to the deck but it does give you the opportunity for some early victories.  As hopefully you will see in the gameplay videos, Tainted Strike on a Nivmagus Elemental or Kiln Fiend will end the game in very short order.

The Sorceries

Gitaxian Probe
Gitaxian Probe
Probe is an interesting card as it's probably the card I am most often conflicted about when playing it with a Nivmagus Elemental out.  Firstly, there is the possibility that you will draw into more free spells.  Secondly, seeing your opponent's hand can be useful in this deck.  You can see if they have any early answers to your creature and adjust your play in such a way that it won't simply blow you out.

Assault Strobe
Assault Strobe
Assault Strobe in theory has the same potential as Tainted Strike for helping quick wins, however, in my experience this doesn't happen as often as I would like.  Perhaps if Strobe was an instant I would like it more but generally this is a card I'm fine with siding out.  Undoubtedly there will be games where it is relevant but definitely think Tainted Strike is the preferred choice in this department.

Inquisition of Kozilek
Inquisition of Kozilek
Inquisition can make sure that the coast is clear for your elementals to get in and finish your opponent.  It hits the various problematic removal spells like Path to Exile which just be auto-losses if you don't take the proper precautions. 

Ground Rift
Ground Rift
Ground Rift is a card that really shines in this deck.  I didn't even know this card existed before coming across this decklist but it is just perfect for this deck.  Nivmagus Elemental is able to exile each Storm copy of the spell and quickly becomes massive if you have played a couple of spells prior.  Surprisingly though, Ground Rift isn't just Nivmagus fodder.  It's ability to prevent non-flying creatures from blocking can be crucial when you need to get past blockers, particularly with Kiln Fiend and it's measly 2 toughness.

Lands

Blood Crypt
Blood Crypt
Blood Crypt gives you access to both of the colours you need for this deck.  All the other coloured spells in the deck are Phyrexian mana spells and you don't care too much about your life total so Blood Crypt is perfect.

Scalding TarnArid Mesa
Scalding Tarn/Arid Mesa
The Zendikar fetches find your Blood Crypts and also thins your deck of lands.  This deck can run decently on as little as 1 land so avoiding unnecessary land draws is definitely an advantage if you can get it.

Gemstone Mine
Gemstone Mine
Gemstone Mine is another helpful non-basic, which doesn't hurt your life total like Blood Crypt.  It provides you with any colour you want, which can even help you cast your Phyrexian mana spells if you have a low life total.  Also, the fact it runs out of counters isn't too significant as the game should hopefully be over early, all things going to plan.

Sideboard
The sideboard is an interesting affair.  Personally I don't think the deck sideboards particularly well and I tend to try and stick with the most of the cards I have, however, there are a few tweaks and changes I will make.

PyroclasmClout of the DominusDismemberDuressInquisition of KozilekFlamekin HarbingerFaithless Looting

  • Pyroclasm isn't perfect in this deck but it is primarily used against Delver decks and potentially Infect also.  These are decks that may cause you trouble though fortunately Delver is not nearly as popular as it once was. 
  • Clout of the Dominus is good against decks that have a high level of spot removal as on a Nivmagus it not only boosts its power and toughness but also gives it Shroud.  Shroud doesn't affect the use of its ability so Clout works to protect you from spot removal without hindering your progress to much.  Obviously it means you can't use your Nivmagus as a target for your spells but shouldn't be too much of a problem.
  • Dismember is another almost free spell.  I guess this would be useful against decks that put up big defenses early, such as Tarmogoyf or Wall of Roots.
  • Duress and Inquisition of Kozilek give you more hand disruption to protect your combo.  These are actually my favourite cards in the sideboard as additional disruption can be very useful.
  • The extra Flamekin Harbingers I believe are used in matchups where Kiln Fiend is not as effective as these allow you to go all in on the Nivmagus Elemental strategy more effectively.
  • Faithless Looting helps out the strategy discussed above as it helps you find your Nivmagus. 

COST
I was hoping that I could deliver you a budget list but sadly this isn't the case.  Zendikar Fetchlands aside the cost of this deck isn't too bad.  Sadly, I'm not sure if there would be efficient way of replacing the fetches in this deck and that is a big expense to bear.  Scalding Tarn particularly seems to have seen a very big increase in price since I last checked.  Apart from the lands, the vast majority of the spells in the deck are commons or uncommons and grabbing a playset of these won't set you back too far.

4 x Scalding Tarn= 44.00
3 x Arid Mesa= 13.98
4 x Slaughter Pact= 13.84
3 x Blood Crypt= 10.29
4 x Gemstone Mine= 5.88
4 x Blackcleave Cliffs= 5.08
3 x Inquisition of Kozilek= 0.81
4 x Gut Shot= 0.80
4 x Mutagenic Growth= 0.60
2 x Flamekin Harbinger= 0.34
4 x Nivmagus Elemental= 0.32
4 x Kiln Fiend= 0.32
4 x Apostle's Blessing= 0.32
4 x Tainted Strike= 0.08
4 x Ground Rift= 0.08
2 x Assault Strobe= 0.08
Total: 96.82 tix

Sideboard
2 x Dismember= 1.20
2 x Flamekin Harbinger= 0.34
4 x Clout of the Dominus= 0.32
1 x Inquisition of Kozilek= 0.27
1 x Faithless Looting= 0.15
3 x Pyroclasm= 0.09
2 x Duress= 0.06
Total: 2.97 tix

Grand total: 99.79 tix

GAMEPLAY


In this match I took on what looks to become the next big thing in Modern, Spirit Jund.  As Gerry T mentioned in his deck tech, this deck doesn't generally have a great matchup against Jund and the addition of Lingering Souls for blockers probably doesn't help.  However, we managed to perform well here.

In Game 1, I am on the play and search up a Nivmagus Elemental with a Flamekin Harbinger to start my turn.  A Thoughtseize from my opponent doesn't hit anything too relevant and I draw and play my Nivmagus next turn.  I hold off on playing my spells to try and take advantage of my Ground Rifts and to play around a removal spell.  A Terminate eventually shows up for my opponent to kill my Nivmagus but I draw into a Kiln Fiend to replace it.  My opponent attempts to Bolt my Fiend but I use a Mutagenic Growth to save it.  Having saved my resources from earlier in the game I am able to use my Ground Rifts to bypass his Tarmogoyf.  A Bloodbraid Elf cascardes into Inquisition of Kozilek for my opponent but by that point it is too late and my final Ground Rift allows me to deal the final points of damage.

Game 2 I don't think I played particularly well as I could have protected my Nivmagus from Lightning Bolt by exiling Gitaxian Probe.  Whether or not he had more removal in hand I don't know but it didn't seem like it.  I was soon punished for my mistakes with a couple of Tarmogoyfs and the beatdown they put on me put the game out of my reach in pretty short order.

In Game 3, I play quite conservatively but I have Nivmagus and Kiln Fiend.  My opponent removes Nivmagus with an Engineered Explosives but get in with my Kiln Fiend.  Thanks to Ground Rift I continue to get in for damage past his creatures.  Rule of Law means that I can't play multiple spells in a turn which is frustrating but I get my opponent down to 2 with a Dark Confidant on his side of the field.  Dark Confidant draws my opponent into a 2 mana spell and I win.


In this matchup I face the mirror match.  This seems like a bit of a coin toss but good play can help.

In Game 1, I mulligan to 5 and don't feel great about my chances.  However, I am on the play and drop a Turn 2 Kiln Fiend.  My opponent plays a Turn 1, Flamekin Harbinger searching up a Nivmagus but I am able to take the win on turn 3 thanks to a Tainted Strike and an Apostle's Blessing to get past his blockers.

In Game 2, my opponent's main failure was not understanding double strike properly which led him to go all out on an attack where I was able to simply block and prevent the damage.  From there I dropped a couple more Kiln Fiends and managed to finish the game off with the second Kiln Fiend.


My third matchup is against Valakut.  Valakut seems like a good matchup provided you can wrap things up by around Turn 4, which is easy enough with their lack of resistance.  GR Tron is also a pretty good matchup provided they don't get an early Karn Liberated.

In Game 1 I don't get off to the fastest of starts but a Flamekin Harbinger finds a Nivmagus Elemental which I play out on Turn 2.  My opponent plays a Sakura-Tribe Elder as a potential blocker.  I kill off the Tribe-Elder with a Slaughter Pact and get up a good Storm count for my Ground Rift allowing me to hit my opponent down to 3.  I was wrong in the video about the fact I should have exiled Slaughter Pact as it wouldn't have made real any difference.  My opponent played another Sakura-Tribe Elder which meant I could only knock him down to 1 on my next attack but fortunately they didn't have a Scapeshift or anything game ending.

In Game 2, we mulligan to 6 and play out a Turn 1 Nivmagus Elemental.  My opponent tries to Pyroclasm is away but I have a Slaughter Pact which I target at my Nivmagus and exile, making it a 3/4 and so it survives the Pyroclasm.  Again I play a little conservatively which is probably my main fault with this deck and decide to Duress and attack for 3, saving cards to Storm off with my Ground Rift.  My opponent Explores and plays a Prismatic Omen.  I make a 9/10 Nivmagus on my turn and attack him below 9.  My opponent has one more turn but despite having a Scapeshift isn't able to do the necessary damage either to me or my Nivmagus and concedes.

CONCLUSION
The Elemental Combo deck is decent deck but it's foundations feel quite shaky.  The deck is pretty high variance and you will win some games on Turn 2/3/4 and some games you will mulligan to 4 and lose automatically or they will have removal for your one Elemental and you will never draw another.  I'm not really convinced that there are many reasons for choosing this deck over the very similar Infect deck, which is currently a lot more popular.  I haven't got round to building an Infect deck yet but I feel like it is a lot more versatile in that it has more creatures and Inkmoth Nexus as another angle of attack, which is not susceptible to cards like Abrupt Decay. 

Ultimately, the deck is a high risk/high reward type of strategy, sometimes it will pay off handsomely and sometimes it will fail miserably.  Personally, I'm inclined to believe that the Infect deck, although involving similar risks, is the superior option for this type of strategy.  Elemental Combo is weakened considerably by its reliance on just two creatures as its win condition.  Infect has more options and is just more versatile and would be my preferred option.

8 Comments

This basically looks and by Paul Leicht at Wed, 11/21/2012 - 13:18
Paul Leicht's picture
5

This basically looks and operates like Som Standard infect with some interesting additions. That it can go off turn 2 is pretty insane as there aren't many decks that can do that consistently. (Eggs?)

I was aware of the list from several friends playing it but haven't really been paying attention to its progress. Thanks for sharing.

Thanks! by olaw at Wed, 11/21/2012 - 13:43
olaw's picture

Thanks for the comment and the positive review Paul!

I agree that the deck draws a lot of comparisons to Infect and those comparisons are very fair.

The deck can win on Turn 2 which is pretty impressive though I'd hesitate to say it can do it consistently.

In terms of how the progress of the deck has gone, it had some early success but that seems to have waned considerably. I haven't seen much of it in the Daily results recently and I think, as I mentioned in the article, people are preferring the Infect deck over the Elemental Combo lists.

Regardless, it is still an interesting and fast deck and pretty fun to play provided your don't have to make too many mulligans.

Nivmagus seems to play nicely by IntrinsicMatt at Wed, 11/21/2012 - 16:42
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Nivmagus seems to play nicely with all the 0 mana pacts. I wonder if it might be an option in a hivemind deck. Maybe sideboard it in to give the deck a secondary attack. Though it just might gum up the works. I agree that infect is probably the better turn two kill deck, but the artwork on nivmagus is too awesome not to play it. How can anyone hope to defeat Ironman. :)

Thanks for the by olaw at Wed, 11/21/2012 - 17:32
olaw's picture

Thanks for the comment!

That's actually a really good point. I never thought of that. Doesn't seem like too bad a plan! Though I suppose the strategies aren't exactly compatible, in that if you use all your Pacts to pump Nivmagus you won't have the Hive Mind win. I like your thinking, might have to give that a go sometime.

Also agreed that the art on Nivmagus is sweet! :)

This deck makes me all kinds by KaraZorEl at Wed, 11/21/2012 - 21:24
KaraZorEl's picture

This deck makes me all kinds of excited. I want to build this now. I love the idea here.

I built this deck the other by Xaoslegend at Thu, 11/22/2012 - 15:26
Xaoslegend's picture
5

I built this deck the other day trying to make an Heirloom version. In my set review of RTR I gave Nivmagus Elemental 5/5 for power level since he just looked so absurd offhand. He's like an agressive version of Psychatog. It's not hard to see the potential of the card. (My heirloom version has the Clouts of the Dominus as well, before I saw this list), nice to see it making some waves in Modern.

I agree that Nivmagus' power by olaw at Thu, 11/22/2012 - 17:32
olaw's picture

I agree that Nivmagus' power level is very high and I think if it had been printed during Scars Block it would have had some very serious applications in Standard. Sadly, I don't think the support is there in Standard but I'm sure he could be a deck in Heirloom.

I've missed playing Heirloom and really need to take part in a PRE sometime soon.

The group is always there, by Xaoslegend at Thu, 11/22/2012 - 18:13
Xaoslegend's picture

The group is always there, quite independent of my involvement these days, though I do like to show up and try a new brew now and again. In the classic event a few Sundays ago I managed to abuse Forbid with exile into darkness in basically a monoblue control build to take the win. Getting hatching plans, abjure and perilous research to work was pretty satisfying. I really like the monogreen deck mihahitlor and Cathomas are often running, atm we have a pretty powerful suite of monogreen cards legal in the classic event, Dungrove elder, Rancor, Strangleroot Geist, Garruk 1.0 ect. Its certainly been the most consistently well performing lately though next rotation it will lose a lot i think. On fridays theres the standard event and on Saturdays the rotating block format as well (kamigawa atm).