Welcome cyberspace traveler to my official primer on Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind. My name is Rowan and I've been playing Magic The Gathering since Rise of the Eldrazi and among other things spend my free time designing custom cards. If you're curious, you can see my full gallery here. Among formats, I've been playing Commander almost exclusively. I enjoy this format because it's an eternal format. It allows creation of flavorful decks using nearly any card printed. It's one of the more challenging formats mainly because of the sheer number of options. Also, having access to otherwise restricted or downright banned cards is awesome. Niv-Mizzet is my favorite commander so you'll be hard pressed to find someone more qualified to explain how it works.
A well known top tier commander like Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind more or less demands a competitive build. When he enters the battlefield, he's the kind of commander that screams "Answer me now or die!" It's an all or nothing kind of arrangement because people will not hesitate to hate you out of the game even if the only asset you have is an island and Niv costs 6UURR to cast! If you aren't playing against comparably powered decks, the game turns into a game of Archenemy, with you vs 3 other decks. If you want to win, you are going to need those beastly cards like Cyclonic Rift, Counterbalance, Dream Halls, and Show and Tell. You'll need to find every way you can to break the format. If you aren't willing to build a competitive deck, Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind isn't your commander because it comes with the job description.
Personally, I would never replace Firemind for another commander because the hate that he "draws" is the crucible in which this deck has evolved. Even though I still get hated out from time to time, the deck is so fun for me I don't really care if I win or not. My ego is sufficiently stroked by the fact that my deck could stand up to three other competitive decks for as long as it did.
Firemind's Fury is the result of about three years of playtesting on cockatrice, late night commander gatherings, and at home against my other decks. Through countless revisions, it has slowly evolved into what it is now: a rapid fire, hyper focused, efficient, non-creature based, control/combo deck. In other words, it's a grossly competitive monster that will eat your opponent's hopes and dreams and then excrete them onto their faces. If you don't want to pilot a deck that makes people rage quit and send you death threats, go and find a different primer. For example, this deck is capable of winning on turn one, time walking on turn two, and repeatable one sided board-wipes.
But don't worry, I've created a toned down budget/casual/non-infinite version below the main deck list using Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius as the leading dragon. Feel free to remove anything else you deem to be unfair, but don't come crying to me if you lose. Also, you don't HAVE to win. If the game state piques my interest, I'm liable to cycle away those game winning spells for the sake of continuing the game. I'll also allow my assets to get removed even though I can counter the removal just as a personal challenge. Can the deck recover? Often it does. Sometimes it's more satisfying to deny yourself those early wins and know that you have complete control over the rest of the game.
Quite simply, Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind is the most competitive Izzet commander. He's a bad*** awesome dragon full of flavor and attitude. He transmutes card advantage directly into damage in such an elegantly simple way. Niv is lazy. Niv is conceited. Niv is impulsive. But he's also powerful, brilliant, and deadly. Izzet is one of the funnest color combos and Niv is an exemplary representation of both colors.
CURIOUSER AND CURIOUSER...
To go infinite or not to go infinite? That is indeed the question when choosing whether or not to pilot Niv-Mizzet and one of the first ones you should ask yourself. Many people find infinite combos to be "un-fun" because they essentially allow you to win instantly if not countered or disrupted in some way. Niv is notorious for infinite combos and this build is no exception.
My deck is often simply referred to as "that combo deck." People fear (and/or hate) the combos that he enables, namely Curiosity, Mind Over Matter, Ophidian Eye, and Tandem Lookout. And rightly so - they are infinite combos that allow you to draw your entire library! So, even if you choose to exclude the infinite draw combos from your personal Niv build (AND THEY ARE OPTIONAL!), be prepared for some major hate right off the bat - possibly from all players at the table.
Personally, I've chosen to include only one of the infinite draw combo cards. Curiosity. That's because these cards rely on Niv being in play, recovered from summoning sickness, granted haste, or the ability triggered by a secondary draw effect (such as Faithless Looting). Half the time you will have to wait until your next turn to make use of Niv either because of mana restriction or lack of a way to trigger the combo. It's incredibly fragile because any kind of creature or enchantment removal, and heaven forbid, a counter! Will stop the combo from going off. Curiosity is the most efficient combo card available.
If you do manage to pull it off, the combo is usually game winning. Curiosity is mostly a last resort however rather than a primary win condition. By itself, it can't kill all players at the table since you'll have less than 99 cards in the deck (however casting Timetwister to reshuffle will work if you have the mana). It does enable an Inner Fire/Comet Storm win pretty reliably.
To address the issue of infinite combos in general as being un-fun, I'd have to disagree. There are plenty of infinite combos in every color combination and also plenty of ways to deal with them, thanks to instant removal and control. I take pride in disrupting other people's infinite combos. If two decks are equally equipped, there can be some epic games indeed.
If you don't wish to use infinite combos, I strongly urge you to consider a different general such as Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius whom I feel to be the more casual alternative to Firemind. This will alleviate misplaced hate. Also, there are plenty of alternatives to the infinite combos that are nearly as powerful. You can use the empty slots to load up on more counters, early draw, or handcycling. It's up to you. If this path suits you, take a look at the alternate decklist posted beneath the main one.
You can also just put Firemind into the deck and use Dracogenius as a casual front. This is a bit deceptive however and only works once, so I don't recommend it.
A lot of players new to UR throw together an izzet deck that is scattered and therefore ineffective, and their choice of commander is arbitrary or based on flavor alone. But before you build your deck put some consideration into what kind of deck you actually want to build and which izzet commander will do the best job commanding it. This will make it a lot easier to swap things you need for things you don't. It will streamline the deck and focus your win conditions.
Here I'll list what I would personally do with each izzet commander, complete with an example decklist. Because these decklists are almost entirely theoretical (and therefore likely suboptimal), I'll also link to a couple other lists created by players who actually pilot these commanders.
Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind - the most competitive choice IMO and who this particular primer is all about. This deck is non-creature based and handcycling is an integral theme as is heavy control and supporting combos.
Melek, Izzet Paragon - Melek arguably makes the best counter-burn commander. With the right cards you will be doing a lot of damage for very little mana investment. Add in Dream Halls and some respectable draw and you have a powerful and fun win condition. He's also one of the only commanders that can support an Izzet token themed build. O.o
Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius is a decent alternative to Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind and worth some discussion. If you hate infinite combos and decide not to use them but still to make an izzet deck that draws a lot of cards, I would definitely recommend Dracogenius over Firemind for a couple of reasons.
1. Lower profile means less hate. There are no 2 piece infinite combos with Dracogenius like there are with Firemind. HOWEVER Mind Over Matter still combos with Dracogenius, you just need a mana source that produces UR. Two Gilded Lotus would work nicely (effectively "Discard 2 cards: Draw 3 cards") Or even Izzet Boilerworks but I hate that land.
2. He's much better in a vacuum than Firemind. He can draw more cards on his own and can do more damage - killing small creatures and pinging away at your opponents. Unlike Firemind, Dracogenius can draw you cards and still attack. He's a 5/5 vs a 4/4 so he's a bit more durable.
The infinite combos with Firemind, although clunky and fragile are just killer IF you can pull them off. The damage done by the draw is really just icing. Once Niv has his library in hand it's over. For example: Inner Fire and Comet Storm will end the game.
In addition, Firemind encourages a handcycling build where Dracogenius offers no benefit from cards like Timetwister and Wheel of Fortune. Handcycling is very powerful and combined with the right cards it has the potential to do A LOT of damage for very little mana investment.
Turn 5 and 6 wins are typical with Firemind's Fury. It just takes a lot of ramp and tutors to make it work. The deck doesn't depend on the infinite combos to win but the infinite combos certainly do enable some early wins which you cannot do with Dracogenius.
Generally speaking, Dracogenius is the more casual alternative, while Firemind is the more competitive choice.
"Niv-Mizzet's genius and vanity reverberate throughout the mirrored halls of Nivix."
First, I want to give credit to FireStorm4056. His decklist pointed me down the path that brought this deck to where it is now. He's recently made some shiny upgrades to his thread and I highly recommend checking it out: http://forums.mtgsalvation.com/showthread.php?t=300196 Firestorm discusses multiplayer strategies in depth and offers ways to beat the other deck archetypes in more detail than I do here.
I've tried to keep this primer concise - more of springboard to create your own unique version - but please let me know if I need to further explain anything. And I apologize in advance for any discrepancies. Please bring them to my attention and I'll fix them ASAP.
NOTE: I don't actually own all the cards in the primer list. For example, Timetwister and Mana Drain will probably never see my sleeves. But that's OK. The deck doesn't need them to crush your opponents. They are listed there because they are legal and are simply better than the alternatives. The cards in the primer are meant to be the very best they can be for what Firemind's Fury is trying to do: Win.
Themes of Firemind's Fury
Control - What would blue be without it? Adequate counterspell backup is important to ensuring our combos go off. It's also our first line of defense against other blue decks and our opponents more powerful plays.
Combos - While I don't exactly have the most complicated or obscure combos, the deck does rely on some powerful ones as win conditions or the means to get me there.
Hand Superiority - This is accomplished through ridiculous amounts of draw and handcycling. Card advantage is the surest way to victory.
Ramp - This deck has an above average amount of artifact ramp and is a major reason why this is a competitive build. It can stand toe to toe with dedicated green ramp decks through extra turns and pile of artifact ramp.
Time Manipulation - "A skilled Izzet chronarch can carry out an epic vendetta between the fall of one hourglass grain and the next." With cards like Time Warp, and Time Spiral it's fair to say that Niv Mizzet can bend time to his will for the win.
1. Insane card advantage. This deck draws more cards than any deck I've ever played or played against. Card advantage wins games consistently and it's never situational. And it's also the funnest way to play the game.
2. Efficient. Where card advantage is king, efficiency is queen. The majority of your cards need to be useful both early AND late game. My average casting cost (ACC) fluctuates around 2 - 2.5.
3. Speed. To be competitive, you need speed. You get speed through ramp. With 16 non-land sources of mana this deck is incredibly fast.
4. Combos! In EDH, your deck needs to combo with your general's strengths but not be reliant upon them to win. Besides Curiosity, I have several others that I've listed in latter sections. But rather than throwing in a shotgun spread of combos, I've focused on several that I've found to be most effective.
5. A good balance between answers (counters and removal) and raw power (ramp, extra turns, draw). I know some decks that are close to being 1/3 ramp. I also know some decks that are 1/3 counters and removal. In general, more speed means less answers, and vice versa. Finding the sweet spot between the two extremes has been a challenge but hundreds of plays has yielded a pretty workable balance. Basically it means having a lot of both, and cutting anything extraneous.
1. I've sacrificed some flexibility for speed, and some speed for flexibility. So very occasionally, I'll be scarce of counters or removal, or even get out-ramped by another deck. You can add more ramp or more answers depending on your playgroup.
2. This is a very competitive deck mainly because of how fast it is, the powerful combos that it runs, and the counters/blue shenanigans. Turn 1 and 2 wins are possible. Turn 3 wins are occasional. Turn 5 or 6 wins are typical. HOWEVER, if you're playing with comparatively powered decks, games can last much longer.
3. This deck is capable of winning without Niv ever seeing the table and often does! This is mostly because of his relatively high and color heavy cost. When I cast him, it's usually already too late for my opponents or I'm about to win with an infinite combo. If you enjoy attacking with, enchanting, or equipping your general, I would choose a different general. Again, I think Dracogenius would be better suited for this kind of play since he can attack and still draw cards.
Primarily I want you to notice the average casting cost (ACC). What does that value mean? It means this deck is efficient. The individual spells may not be all that powerful solo, but in combo they are deadly. It also means I generally get very nice castable opening hands.
Also notice the mana curve. My effective curve looks a bit better. Generally you want it to look be a nicely shaped hill with the peak being at CMC of 2-3.
Next take a look at the color weight. It's about 70% blue - 30% red.
Lastly, deck price. At about $2,500 (considerably more if you're prone to buying foils and promos like I am) this is definitely NOT a budget deck and I would be unlikely to purchase it in its entirety. The most expensive cards are Timetwister, Intuition, Force of Will, Volcanic Island, Mana Crypt, and Mana Drain and can be substituted for cheaper stuff if you're not playing online. The fetchlands and duals of course aren't cheap either. They make the deck better but I would say they aren't all necessary.
It's certainly possible to put together a very competitive version of Firemind's Fury for less than $500. My personal paper deck, even without a lot of the more expensive stuff listed in the primer (sans mana crypt, mox diamond, all of the fetches, force of will, intuition, show and tell and many others), continues to dominate the competition. It's just so flexible and powerful that not much can stop it. I attribute its success mostly to the handcycling, ramp, and counter support. Having 30 cards in hand at pretty much any given time is also nice.
The cards are ordered in ascending order of CMC within category of function. The number listed before the cards is the CMC
"The mizzium-sphere array drove her mind deep into the thought field, where only the rarest motes of genius may be plucked."
I realize the deck above isn't going to be realistic for a lot of people and/or doesn't suit their playstyle. So I created this alternate version. I've removed all the infinite combos, as well as any cards that are worth more than $10 a pop. The deck still retains its themes though and plays more or less the same. You can adjust the amount of ramp/counters/extra turns/draw/removal according to your preference. It's flexible.
Note: This deck uses Dracogenius as a commander because, generally speaking, Firemind draws too much hate. You can still use him if you want, but just be aware of his reputation and maybe explain that this deck is just a casual version.
Note: Dream Halls is a very competitive card when used properly. You can choose to keep it or use something different if it's too powerful for your tastes.
This deck works very simply. It's all ramp and draw + a few counters/removal and some tutors. Essentially, this deck focuses on drawing as many cards as possible as quickly as possible then comboing out, unless a win condition presents itself sooner. All the other cards in the deck allow these combos to happen quickly and with minimal interference.
Early Game (Turns 1-3):
This is probably the most essentially part of the game for us. These early turns can mean the difference between a win and a loss.
Ideally, the first couple of turns are used to lay down ramp, hand cycle, and do some hand improvement with the cheap draw. If you've got cheap global hand cycling such as Windfall, Wheel of Fortune, or Winds of Change that's great because it means we can screw with our opponents' carefully mulliganed hands, after casting anything useful in our own hand.
Fortunately, it's hard to get a bad opening hand with this deck, especially with this format's mulligan rules. But, make sure you have at least a couple lands, some ramp, and some cheap draw or handcycling, maybe a counterspell or two. Don't be afraid to mulligan away anything that's over 3-4 cmc. We can dig or tutor for it again later.
Good opening hands:
Mountain, Mana Crypt, Wheel of Fortune - even though we're missing 4 cards, this is a great opening hand. We'll get to destroy our opponent's mulliganned hands and get a brand new set of 7 cards with plenty of mana to cast it.
Scalding Tarn, Island, Mox Opal, Sol Ring, Windfall, Mystic Retrieval - with this hand you can pop a fetchland, lay down some essential ramp, and then cast Windfall, all on turn 1. Mystic Retrieval will allow another Windfall casting in a couple of turns. This is a very nice hand indeed and even better than the first.
Command Tower, Island, Faithless Looting, Recoup, Time Warp, Helm of Awakening, Chaos Warp. - 2 lands are risky to keep but as long as you've got some cheap card draw it shouldn't be a problem. We're going to pitch Recoup and Time Warp into our graveyard for later use using Faithless Looting since we can't make much use of them this early. On turn 2 we'll cast Helm of Awakening and then on turn 3 we can flashback FL again for only 1R even if we didn't get a land.
Restraint is the name of the game. If you attempt to go for a win, make sure you have the means to do it. You want a couple of hard counters, some nice mana accel, maybe a board wipe and your method of drawing a bunch of cards. If you fail to win this turn, you will likely become the biggest threat at the table and those hordes of soldiers/goblins/saprolings will start bee-lining towards YOU!
Be especially leery of casting Niv. He will be seen as a huge threat regardless of the rest of your board position or the size of your hand. You often don't need him to win anyway. Alternatively, you can cast him to bait removal and counters, then go for your bigger play. Something that makes this deck awesome is that there is always a back up plan.
Save your counters and removal for only the most relevant threats, to protect your own assets, and to ensure that your combos go off. This isn't a dedicated control deck. Its strength lies in its speed, so you should ignore the vast majority of plays your opponents make. You should use your mana to cast ramp and draw cards.
Having a huge hand can be a bit mind boggling. Don't freeze up. Remember your win conditions, use tutors if you need to, cast the moxen, and make sure you have enough mana open for counters, etc.
Late Game (Turns 7+):
If you're still playing, the deck must either be having some hard luck or your opponents have countered your win conditions. That's okay and rather expected! If you had already won, the game wouldn't be very fun would it? This is where things get interesting and where the real game begins. Cyclonic Rift is a awesome card to have now. If your library is looking slim, try to re-shuffle your graveyard with Time Spiral or Timetwister or alternatively recast key spells using our recursion options.
If you've attempted a win and failed, you're likely being hated out or maybe you aren't perceived as a threat anymore. Act accordingly.
"To those in tune with the Firemind, there is no difference between knowledge and flame."
Handcycling is an integral part of your path to victory so lets discuss it.
My esteemed colleague FireStorm4056 claims to have invented handcycling. While I'm not sure that this is entirely true, I couldn't agree with his definition more. Handcycling is "The abuse of powerful, efficient, and aggressively costed Timetwister effects for the purpose of generating overwhelming card advantage, dominating the boardstate, rushing to victory, and having fun." I consider handcycling to be any card that allows you to trade an old hand for a new one. Timetwister, Wheel of Fortune, and Windfall are some of the more classic examples.
My philosophy is that Niv fits handcycling rather than handcycling fitting Niv. Why is this? It's because handcycling in and of itself is very powerful, under-utilized, and under-rated. It allows you to cycle through your deck and play the cards you need at that specific point in the game. At its best it's almost like having your whole deck in your hand at once (and many times you actually do). Also, you will notice that all the handcycling cards are either red or blue. Niv can make use of handcycling better than any other general because he deals direct damage whenever you draw.
So let's break down some of the benefits of handcycling:
Gives us access to more of our deck at an efficient cost - Cast Tolarian Winds and/or Winds of Change to dig for what you need. Have half your deck in hand but missing both Omniscience and Dream Halls? Cast Winds of Change. Generally speaking, unless you're lucky, you'll only have 2 or 3 relevant cards in every 7 card hand. So why not cast those cards, then cycle the rest away for later use? Most decks cannot do this. They're more or less stuck with the hands they have. Handcycling lets you take some of the luck away from the game. Handcycling should really be called hand control.
Gives you more card advantage than your opponents 90% of the time - because you are the one casting these effects, you are the one in control. This works similarly to cards like Balance, Wrath of God, and Aluren. You cast these effects when you you can benefit the most - when your hand is smaller than your opponents, when you have 6 lands in hand, when you have Recoup in hand and can access the discarded cards later, or when you are digging for answers or win conditions, or maybe all of the above!
Trigger Niv's damage ability efficiently - Aside from the infinite combos, handcycling is the single most efficient way to trigger Niv's ability. With just R I can cast Winds of Change with 30 cards in hand to deal 30 damage.
Shuffle and discard enemy tutors - when timed correctly we can effectively prevent our opponents from keeping their tutors.
Handcycling effects like Wheel of Fortune and Reforge the Soul fill your graveyard for later recursion - With four recursion cards in the deck, this is an efficient way to grant ourselves access to more of our library.
Handcycling effects like Time Spiral and Timetwister protect us from decking ourselves, save us from enemy mill strategies, and shuffle our opponents' recursion fodder back into the deck. - This is pretty relevant since decking ourselves is a real danger sometimes. Also we're not the only ones using a recursion strategy. A well timed Living Death can really mess things up.
Combo with bounce effects to cycle away our opponents' boards - Cast Cyclonic Rift and then handcycle - pretty straight forward and also totally evil. Who ever said black was the cruelest color?
When cast early, you can really screw with your opponents hands. - A turn one Windfall can be truly devastating to all your opponents, replacing their carefully mullianged hands with uncastable landless hands.
There are two distinct classes of handcycling. Draw 7 and replacement. Among those class types there are 2 subtypes: shuffling and discard. Discards are nice because they are generally cheaper to cast. The shuffle type are necessary because they let you reuse your deck. You should have all 4 types in your deck and plenty of them.
Draw 7 Type:
The draw 7's allow you to refill your hand quickly after casting a bunch of spells. They are excellent cards to have in your starting hand and very nice early draws (the cheaper ones). In addition to refilling your own hand, they tend to screw up your opponents carefully mulliganed and tutored hands. They aren't so great in late game because you'll already have a large hand. Without Sphinx in play you will be netting less cards.
Replacement handcycling is great in combo with Niv because you'll likely deal the most damage. With just R and a full hand of cards you can cast Winds of Change and deal a ton of damage to some very unfortunate critters or players. They are great to have in your hand late game when your hand is huge, but not as good early game. In addition they combo with Alhammarret's Archive to double your handsize.
While not true handcycling (since your whole hand isn't being cycled, they still allow you to trade what you don't need for what you do. These are all awesome cards to have in the first few turns (the most crucial part of the game) and help give me that little extra boost or recover from a bad mulligan. They are also the most numerous type but I will attempt to list most of the relevant ones for you.
To comprehend the power of this strategy imagine if Faithless Looting was R: Draw 4 cards, and Wheel of Fortune was 2R: Draw 14 cards. That's almost what's happening when you have effects that let you cast things from your graveyard just like they were in your hand. It's a powerful tool on our path to victory.
Being able to recur things from our graveyard means that we have the opportunity to cast them more than once. In a format where you can only have a single copy of each card, this gives us a leg up. For example, repeatedly casting handcycling effects, tutors, or board wipes makes for some insane advantage. It also grants us some much needed lategame resiliency.
Once you understand how this works, you will be casting Wheel of Fortune followed by Tolarian Winds on turn 4 or 5 just to start filling your graveyard with recursion options later. You also won't mind discarding key cards because you trust that you'll be able to get them back later. If I top deck Enter the Infinite on the first turn and discard it to Faithless Looting, my opponents will often forget that it's there until I cast it for the win using one of my recursion spells.
Graveyard recursion is also a natural protection against decks designed to discard your hand or mill you to death. Just got smacked in the face by Nicol Bolas with 30 cards in hand? Likely one of those cards was Mystic Retrieval, or Recoup. You should at least be able to deal with the threat. Just got Traumatized and then Mind Funeraled? You should thank your opponent for giving you access to more than half your library.
Worth noting, Intuition becomes even more broken when you can actually cast all 3 spells that you fetch. Recoup + 2 sorceries that you need = win. Recoup can only target sorceries, but don't worry. Most of the relevant spells we have are sorceries. A good combo is usually two draw sevens and recoup. You'll be able to repeatedly hand cycle triggering Niv's ability and find key cards.
Need I explain why Snapcaster Mage is included? He has flash! He can target instants! And he's a frickin 2/1 creature! Just disgustingly broken for 1U.
Call to Mind - this is just a simple and powerful effect at an efficient cost. Is it as good as Snapcaster? Nope but it comes close because flashback doesn't work with Omniscience. I also don't have the cast the recurred spell immediately.
"9/22/2011 Only instant and sorcery cards in your graveyard when Past in Flames resolves will gain flashback. Instant and sorcery cards that are put into your graveyard later in the turn, including the resolving Past in Flames, won't gain flashback."
Also according to the rulings, Casting Comet Storm from your graveyard using flashback is perfectly legit. You can choose a value for X as well as pay kicker costs. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
Mystic Retrieval - This plays very nicely with handcycling effects. Being able Cyclonic Rift repeatedly is just downright degenerate.
Academy Ruins - This can be nice protection against artifact removal. It also lets you topdeck key pieces of ramp from your graveyard if they've been milled or discarded.
Here's the but:
Now, in a perfect world we would be home free but graveyard hate exists. Bojuka Bog, Relic of Progenitus, Nihil Spellbomb, Tormod's Crypt, Leyline of the Void, Rest in Peace, and countless other nasties will try to nuke our graveyard and render our recursions spells useless! Don't hesitate to counter these spells when they pop up, especially if you know you're going to lose key cards. Bojuka Bog is especially despicable because it can't be responded to and is an auto include in just about every deck running black. I've considered running Extract or Jester's Cap for the sole reason of removing this card!
"The only action worth taking is one with an unknown outcome."
Counterbalance, for just UU manages to become a grossly overpowered control engine that demands removal. On the other hand, it's very political because its ability is a may. You can pick and choose what you want to attempt to counter. It also forces your opponents to play around it, changing their gameplan. They might not play as efficiently as they could - deciding to play that 2 drop instead the 3 drop because they know the 3 drop will get countered.
Fun fact: Counterbalance can actually counter spells with Split Second because you are neither activating an ability or playing a spell. Counterbalance is a triggered ability.
Unlike the majority of control spells it actually gives you card advantage over time. Even if you only counter one relevant spell with it, it's on par with Counterspell in terms of card advantage for mana invested.
Rhystic Study also has some nice synergy with Counterbalance. People might let you draw cards and hope that you won't counter their spell. It's a bit sadistic because allowing Niv-Mizzet to draw cards is usually just as detrimental to our opponents in the long run than countering their stuff. Additionally, since Rhystic is a may, if you have Future Sight on board you can choose to draw or not in order to get a second chance at countering something.
Academy Ruins can be used to put the desired cmc card from your graveyard on top.
But be careful, your opponents will almost assuredly try to hate you out of the game for playing this single card depending on their prior experience with it. If you are fighting against creature based decks, they have a good chance of successfully dealing lethal damage, so make sure you have the board-wipe capability to back this up if you decide to attempt it. And that is of course one of the many beauties of this deck. If you don't want to cast it, handcycle it away or discard it!
WIN CONDITIONS AND NOTABLE COMBOS:
Combos are awesome because they fully utilize the card's potential. Two cards together become much better together than when on their own, but your combos shouldn't RELY on having the other pieces. They should be good solo. They also all work in concert toward the goal of winning as quickly as possible.
I consider a win condition to be anything that says "I win now." It has to be something that's going to clearly kill your opponents regardless of life totals or how many opponents you have. This list is probably not exhaustive of all the ways this deck can combo out, but if you can think of something I've missed, let me know!
Inner Fire (or any source of arbitrarily large amounts of mana) + Comet Storm. This is my primary win condition. Because it's totally non-permanent based it's much harder to stop. It's also the simplest and says "I win" very loudly and clearly. If you are using Inner Fire as the mana source, you only need 3R to cast it and enough cards in hand. If you don't have quite enough cards in hand you might be able to recur Inner Fire for what you are lacking using Call to Mind, Recoup, Past in Flames, etc...
Dream Halls or Omniscience + Mindmoil + Niv-Mizzet, The Firemind + a decent hand size. It's not immediately apparent how this works, but basically you can hand cycle indefinitely for free, resulting in near infinite damage from Niv. This is the most flashy win condition but also totally permanent based. I really like how it just totally transcends the idea of drawing cards and using mana to cast them. Niv is rather spendy to cast. He's at the top of my curve, so hard casting him without dream halls in play is to be avoided. If however you don't have Dream Halls/Omniscience, you can still pull off a win. It's pretty likely that you will handcycle into one of these anyway.
A lot of handcycling + Niv - Sometimes you just can't get your primary win conditions to stick and you just need to hand cycle until everyone dies. It's kind of tedious to do all the shuffling and drawing, so this isn't the ideal way to win. Mindmoil can do this, but it's not hard to chain and recur handcycling cards for lethal damage either.
Cyclonic Rift or any bounce effect + any handcycling = epic removal
Alhammarret's Archive + any handcycling card = massive draw. Wheel of Fortune becomes 2R: draw 14 cards. Winds of Change becomes R: double your handsize. You can very quickly deck yourself with Alhammarret's Archive so be careful! Add Mindmoil and you have "Whenever you cast a spell, double your handsize." This is a very very dangerous combo so be careful! If you think you're going to deck yourself, just Chaos Warp it, or you can cast All is Dust. Pyroblast or Red Elemental Blast are the most efficient ways to get rid of it if you happen to be running those cards.
God Hands (possible turn 1 wins):
The simplest way to win on turn one is to lay down Omniscience using Show and Tell and then cast Enter the Infinite. You only need an island and Mana Crypt to get 2U. I fully expect at least one of these cards to be banned in Commander within the next couple years so don't get comfortable with this play. It's dastardly and you should do it at least once just to see the look of disapproval on your opponents' faces.
But you don't even necessarily need Enter the Infinite. You can also hand cycle into your win conditions using other spells. It all depends on what your opening hand is. But Dream Halls or Omniscience is a must. Another thing you should be able to do is chain extra turns until you find what you need.
Now that you've managed to win on turn one, congrats on being a complete dick. Now politely excuse yourself from the game and allow the rest of the non-combo casual people to play their game. GLORY TO NIV-MIZZET!
"As brilliant as a cut diamond, and with just as cruel an edge."
Just like any deck, Firemind's Fury is susceptible to other deck archetypes and gets shut down by certain cards. Often the best defense is a good offense. Superior speed and card advantage is the surest way to beat any other deck. But our second best line of defense against these decks is our removal and control suites. These aspects of the deck's structure can be tailored to best combat your opponents. Refer to the sideboard section for specific recommendations.
First, lets discuss specific archetypes and how to deal with them. I'll also list some of the stereotypical commanders that tend to embody these strategies.
Heavy and quick aggro - Krenko, Mob Boss, Kaalia of the Vast, Aurelia, the Warleader, and Ezuri, Renegade Leader - A well built aggro deck will knock us out pretty quick if we don't stall them. You'll want to repeatedly bounce their armies and counter key spells until you can build enough card advantage to control the game. Swapping in more ways to deal with massive hordes of creatures is advisable.
Combo - Sharuum the Hegemon, Arcum Dagsson, Maelstrom Wanderer and Scion of the Ur-Dragon Although any commander could be sporting infinite game winning combos (most competitive decks will) these commanders are notorious for them. They can win out of nowhere and if you don't have counters or removal in hand there is nothing you can do about it. Familiarize yourself with the game winning combos they use and shut them down. Don't hesitate to swap in Jester's Cap and Fabricate if you are really serious about stopping these decks.
Insane ramp - Radha, Heir to Keld, Azusa, Lost but Seeking, Omnath, Locus of Mana, and Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger it's possible to get outramped by any deck but you can reasonably assume that any commander with built in ramping capabilities will be running some heavy ramp and high cost, hard hitting spells to make use of it. Again, superior card advantage is the solution. Once you you have a lot of cards in hand you have the means to control the game and win.
Well built mill decks - Wrexial, the Risen Deep, Oona, Queen of the Fae, and Szadek, Lord of Secrets - a well built mill deck will exile the cards that it mills and do so efficiently and quickly. Because of the deck's combo nature, the more key cards we lose the closer we get to being unable to win the game. Yet again, superior card advantage and speed is the key to beating this strategy.
Now lets discuss specific cards that tend to hurt Firemind's Fury. These kinds of cards tend to fall into a few specific categories.
These cards come in two flavors. Cards that hurt you when you draw and cards that punish you for cards already in your hand. Both, quite unsavory. The good news is that these cards are pretty uncommon outside of a deck that uses them specifically as a win condition. Grixis decks (UBR) are the mostly likely to run these cards. Watch out for Crosis, the Purger, Nicol Bolas, and especially Nekusar, the Mindrazer.
This is the antithesis of card draw and usually isn't a huge problem in a multiplayer format but you should be aware of it. Typically, discarding effects will be combined with other cards that punish you for discarding such as Liliana's Caress
Although not a serious threat it will go a long way towards handicapping the deck. That's because this deck burns through a lot of cards very quickly - often discarding 10-20 cards when digging for something or trying to deal damage. A well timed graveyard exiler can forever sever us from game winning spells and important removal and control.
For a combo deck this is a relevant threat. Fortunately, Firemind's Fury has several routes to victory. It takes either a kicked Sadistic Sacrament or a ridiculously high storm count on Bitter Ordeal to even come close to crippling this deck. They would have to exile Dream Halls, Omniscience, Curiosity, Enter the Infinite, Consecrated Sphinx, Mindmoil, Alhammarret's Archive, Inner Fire, Comet Storm , and MOST OF MY HANDCYCLING to actually take me out of the game. Hard to do, but still damaging and worth countering if it is attempted.
"We can't beat the necromancers in numbers or raw power. We must beat them with ingenuity and timing."
Sideboards aren't typically a feature of the format, but I like my deck to be adaptable to whatever playgroup I tend to spar with. My sideboard is essentially a special page in my binder that I reserve for cards that are overly situational to maindeck but powerful against certain opponents. You will be constantly trying to balance raw power and speed against control and answers. There really is no perfect sweet spot. It depends on your playgroup and each game you play.
Other blue decks are typically your toughest opponents because of the control magic they tend to run. These are your best answers to blue.
If you're facing off against another strong commander don't hesitate to swap in Hinder or Spell Crumple to tuck it. I don't maindeck them because they are slightly subpar in comparison to what I'm running but commander tucking is oftentimes worth the cost. It can all but cripple some decks.
And if you really want to shut things down for your opponents:
Time Stop - a nice alternative to one of the extra turn cards in more control oriented playgroups. It's a good answer to a lot of more competitive problems such as infinite creature hordes, infinite turns, etc...
Trickbind or Stifle - Some really good control here. But most of the time you will want a hard counter. This is not always the case however and you want something with a little more finesse.
Foil, Daze - If someone is trying to pull off ultra early wins, these are a great backup to Force of Will.
If you are routinely getting hosed by a certain combo or card you can swap in Extract and/or Jester's Cap for some library hate. Both of these cards can be recurred for multiple uses. Jester's Cap is especially nasty with Academy Ruins. Extract has the advantage of being castable on the first turn and easily copied or recurred. If you really want to go overboard there is always Denying Wind.
Mana Vault (1) - The use-once artifacts allow explosive first and second turns, while still managing to be useful lategame.
Sapphire Medallion (2) - Don't underestimate this one. It can really kick things into high gear.
Helm of Awakening - while not exactly true mana accel it does allow me to cast spells earlier and more of them. It's also a integral piece of an infinite draw combo.
Thran Dynamo (4) - 4 for 3 is pretty solid overall for something that can be untapped normally.
[float=right][/float]Volcanic Island - Dual lands are necessary so you don't get color screwed. Volcanic Island and Steam Vents are classified as "Island/Mountains" so they are legal targets for the fetchlands.
Oboro, Palace in the Clouds - As long as you have 1 open, this land is indestructible. In a pinch you can also use it to filter for an additional U
Reliquary Tower - I don't typically mind discarding since if I draw that many cards, half of them are lands anyway. I can get back the handsize next turn, but since Tower also taps for mana, I don't mind including it.
Chaos Warp - Incredible catch-all removal for that one permanent that is really screwing things up. You'll find yourself targeting your own Alhammarret's Archive occasionally to avoid decking yourself.
Comet Storm - A major combo piece and great in its own right.
Cyclonic Rift - This beauty is just nuts. It can easily win you the game just from pure card advantage. I also LOVE how I can hand-cycle the bounced stuff away. It's the bane of token decks, planeswalker decks, and pretty much any deck that relies on permanents.
All is Dust - Don't underestimate the power of "sacrifice" vs "destroy" Regeneration and indestructibility won't help. Being colorless means it's a perfect answer for things like Contamination that lock you out of your colors or things that prevent you from casting a certain color of spell (i.e. Iona, Shield of Emeria) All is Dust doesn't hit artifacts which make up more than half of the permanents in the deck. In fact, the few colored permanents that we do have you won't mind sacrificing to get rid of what you need to. This is a great all round panic button that can be recurred from your graveyard for multiple board wipes.
Pact of Negation - Don't forget to pay! Izzet tends to be forgetful. Lost plenty of games with this
Past In Flames - This gives me a lot of options. If it didn't have flashback itself I probably wouldn't add it but I typically have a lot cards in my graveyard. It's nice to flashback a storm of card draw to dig for what I need or deal a lot of damage from Niv. It's also great to flashback stuff like Evacuation or Chaos Warp when I desperately need them.
Tutors make your deck more reliable and adaptable.
In a format where you can only have one of each card and you have 99 cards in your deck, being able to grab a specific card when you need it is quite powerful.
Personal Tutor - allows us to set up miracle cost castings as well as grab any sorcery in the deck.
Gamble - Drawing a lot of cards means that this tutor represents very little risk for us.
Merchant Scroll - this gets Cyclonic Rift 90% of the time, but there are other good targets.
Trinket Mage - Sol Ring is such a powerful card that Trinket Mage is pretty much mandatory. He can also grab any of the moxen or Mana Vault. Better than fabricate because he's a chump blocker and can potentially be reused with Evacuation or your opponents' mass bounce spells
Mystical Tutor - Basically becomes an Imperial Seal in this deck since I run so many instants and sorceries. Best targets depend on stage of game. It's nice to grab a Wheel of Fortune to screw with people's carefully mulled hands or later to grab Inner Fire. So many options.
Long-Term Plans - this deck has a lot of ways to pluck that card right out of my library, often at instant speed. This is one of the only tutors that can get Consecrated Sphinx or key enchantments like Omniscience and Counterbalance.
Time Spiral - Shuffling your graveyard is essential to not decking yourself and reusing your cards. The untap is just incredible and makes the 4UU cost very worth it.
Mindmoil - Mindmoil is an amazing card in it's own right even without Niv on board. It's the ideal of handcycling IMO. Pick the best card in your hand for the current situation, cast it and draw a new hand. Pick the best card in THAT hand.... etc... I'm thinking its actually worth tutoring up early to dig for what I need. This + Alhammarret's Archive = dangerous awesomeness.
[float=right] Winds of Change - extremely cheap for the effect and RED yay.
Scroll Rack - The second cheapest handcycling card in the deck. The fact that it doesn't trigger damage from Niv makes up for its low cast and repeatability. You can use it to set up miracles and trade what you don't want for what you do, again and again in a very controlled manner. Just follow up with a tutor or a fetchland to get rid of the bad topdecks
Windfall - Windfall is one of my favorite handcycling cards because it fits both types. Early on it refills your hand just like the draw 7.
Sensei's Divining Top - Derp. I guess I've always had a bias against this card because of how much longer it made games last. But... I can fetch this with trinket mage if I already have sol ring in hand. It can help me set up miracles and recover from a less than ideal opening hand. It gives me a free draw with just tap. In combo with fetchlands it's simply beastly. It's all but immune to removal. Strictly better than Ponder.
Impulse - The fact that you aren't actually drawing a card is a drawback, but this digs really deep for the cost. Gets rid of useless top decks.
Curiosity - This is sort of this deck's equivalent to a nuclear weapon. Normally, you don't want to use it, but when you're facing 8.5 trillion 5/5 trampling squirrels it's there. I dig the new art on this. Very sinister.
Rhystic Study - Really nice 2nd or 3rd turn drop. Good against other decks that cast spells. Even if you draw 2 or 3 cards with it, it's worth it.
Consecrated Sphinx - One of the MVPs of the deck and should be banned in Commander. Seriously. With this in play, you are almost guaranteed to draw 49 cards with Wheel of Fortune or any of the other draw 7. Even if you don't have a handcycling card, you'll have drawn at least 6 cards by the time your turn rolls around (if it doesn't get exiled into oblivion)
Alhammarret's Archive - This slot used to be Thought Reflection but at a significantly cheaper cost and tutorable by my artifact tutors, it's almost strictly better. It makes Winds of Change "R: Double your hand size."
Enter the Infinite - this is a big stupid blue card. I sorta wish it was never printed, but its effect is exactly what this deck is trying to do. If you use Dream Halls to cast this it should be game over. And with all the ramp in the deck, hard casting it happens. Sure, the cost is horrendous, but I can almost always hand cycle it or discard it. It's actually a pretty common target for my tutors.
Izzet Charm - I put this in the misc section because it simultaneously serves 3 functions in the deck at once: Targeted Removal, Control, and Hand Filtering. I own a foily.
Inner Fire There are a few reasons I love this card and consider it to be a centerpiece of the deck. You won't find it in any other competitive Niv-Mizzet build and yet it allows reliable wins without our commander on the table.
It allows my primary 2 card non permanent based win condition that is very hard to stop.
It's very simple. There won't be any drawn out arguments as to why you won using it.
It's cheap. When I can win using only 3R I'm happy.
It's obscure and flavorful. People expect me to always go infinite with Niv and Curiosity. Inner Fire is a nice surprise.
Dream Halls - This is arguably one of the most important cards in the deck. It's an integral part of what makes this deck so dang powerful. I consider it to be Omniscience for only 3UU because my hand is typically so full of cards, the discarding isn't a hindrance to using the ability. Once I have this out, the game is pretty much over. Protect this card and only cast it if you can make use of it right away!
Omniscience - With Gamble being the only reliable tutor for Dream Halls, having essentially a second copy is beneficial. It's also one sided and doesn't require a discard, but the mana cost is a bit restrictive at 7UUU! With so much ramp, hard casting it is also doable but it's a classic target for Show and Tell.
Extra turns are great. Why? They transport your board position into the future, and effectively allow you to win sooner. They are one of the best targets for Twincast and Reverberate. One of the most disgusting things this deck can do is cast Temporal Mastery for its miracle cost on turn 2 or 3 and then copy it. There are several combinations of cards that will allow this, but one that allows it on the second turn is Mystical Tutor, Twincast, Mox Diamond, Mana Crypt, Island, any land, Mox Opal. This is a Time Stretch for only 1UUUU - half the cost.
Dream Halls of course allows you to chain extra turns like a champ.
Time Warp - standard and affordable extra turn spell
"Diametrically opposing energies in self-sealed plasmodermic bubbles make great pets!"
CANDIDATES FOR INCLUSION:
I'm always trying to optimize this deck - to make it play more consistently as well as stand up to various high powered decks. Trimming fat, streamlining, and upping power level is a constant process. The following are a list of cards I really like and am currently testing.
Future Sight - This is one card I really want to find space for. Combos with fetchlands and other shuffle effects to control the top card. This is also especially nice with Dream Halls. You can chain spells pretty much indefinitely as long as you have something to discard. Also, with the average cmc of the deck being so low, even without Dream Halls we'll be burning through a lot of cards. This is essentially "Play a card: Draw a card" It also combos with Sensei's Divining Top for "1: Draw a card" Mystical Tutor and Personal Tutor become a lot better when you can play the tutored card immediately. Basically, there's no reason not to include this.
Ignorant Bliss - I'm a big fan of nifty red spells like this. If any deck can make use of this it's Firemind's Fury. It's nice that it replaces itself, however you pretty much need to have Reliquary Tower on board or Leyline of Anticipation if you want to combo it with a wheel effect. Sadly, I think it's a little too awkward and situational to be included.
Gush - This card just screams combo and value. Firstly, drawing two cards for "free" is pretty dang good. It also provides discard fuel for cards like Foil (sacrifice two islands: draw two cards and counter target spell) and Forbid. It can increase my hand size by 4 for free which is relevent for Inner Fire and replacement handcycling (i.e. Winds of Change) combined with Alhammarret's Archive. With cards like Brainstorm and Scroll Rack I can swap those two islands for new cards. Lastly, it can actually ramp my mana: tap 2 islands - return them to my hand and play one. This is UUU with only 2 lands [considering the number of blue cards in the deck that cost 3 (Windfall, Trinket Mage, Intuition etc...), this is pretty relevant] . Bonus: since it's an instant I can cast this in response to a land wrath and save my islands! I'd love to find a way to squeeze this in. My only real concern (and this is a big one) is that early game I usually won't want to return 2 islands to my hand and I certainly won't want to hard cast it, while lategame drawing 2 cards (even for free) is underwhelming.
Tolarian Winds - pretty efficient handcycling. helps fill up my graveyard for later recursion. Sometimes it's nice NOT to give my opponents new hands and just do my own thing.
Time Reversal or even Diminishing Returns - More draw 7s would not be unwelcome and would help make the deck more consistent. The latter has 2 major drawbacks: the obvious exile top 10 cards thing which hurts a combo deck like mine and the "...draw up to 7 cards" clause which means that with Consecrated Sphinx on board, I probably won't be drawing half my deck if people are smart (but drawing no cards at all is still fine by me). Time Reversal ers on the steep side in terms of CMC but I would still gladly pay 5 for the effect.
Capsize, Boomerang, Cryptic Command, or Wipe Away - A bit more targeted removal/control might be welcome. These have the advantage of being able to bounce lands which is just a nasty strategy to increase the resources gap between you and your opponents. However, they might be better options for a 1v1 deck.
Mystic Retrieval - Mystic Retrieval has the possibility of card advantage. You can cast a spell a total of 3 times with this, which few other cards (barring combos) can do. 3 Chaos Warps, 3 Wheel of Fortunes, 3 Inner Fires, or 3 Counterspells sound pretty good. I don't have to use them immediately either unlike flashback effects. I won't mind discarding it early to use it again later at a cheaper cost, but when I do top deck it later in the game I'll gladly pay the 3U cost to get back some removal or to refill my hand with a draw 7. It would be nice if it was an instant though at that cost.
Chandra Ablaze - My no planeswalker rule still stands but she really has some synergy with the deck and only takes 2 turns to ultimate. I've considered making a planeswalker variation of the deck with cards like Propaganda and Evacuation to help protect them and a couple of cards like Savor the Moment, Inexorable Tide and Tezzeret's Gambit to help them ultimate faster. It would sort of unfocus the deck I think but it would sure be fun to play If I did that I might just go all out and do a 5 color deck since that would give me access to all the things. Only problem would be $$$$
Lotus Bloom - 7 mana on turn 4 is good but I feel like I'd prefer something a little bit more permanent.
Hurkyl's Recall - What makes this card interesting is that I can target my own stuff which could be useful to protect myself from mass artifact removal. With artifacts that produce more mana than they originally cost such as Mana Crypt, Sol Ring, and the Moxen I'd actually be netting mana with it, so it's a little less situational than Vandalblast. In 1v1 this might be strictly better. Additionally, due to the wording I could use this to steal back stolen artifacts. And since the artifacts are bounced, I can cycle them away if I choose.
Rebuild - Another option for instant artifact control. I really love that it has cycling. It doesn't have quite the finesse that Hurkyl's Recall does but it hits everything.
Plagiarize - The artwork is trippy as f***. But this is a seriously evil card when combined with any handcycling effect. It's also a nice response to that 9UUMind Spring, or even Enter the Infinite. I think this would be better in a 1v1 deck though.
Swerve - This little gem packs a lot of utility for just UR. It's also nice to imprint on my chrome mox and makes good discard fodder for Dream Halls. Overall a great card and maybe worth of sideboarding at the very least.
Memory Lapse - Another incredibly efficient counter. I can cast any of my library shuffling effects to get rid of the countered spell for good.
Sunder - Rather nasty land wrath. Could be useful if I have a superior board position. i.e. ramp, some enchantments, niv. but maybe a bit win more and pretty situational.
Fabricate - Getting that sol ring into play early is important!
Helm of Awakening - This deck casts a lot more spells per turn than most decks, so I think I'd be coming out on top with it. (The benefit would be measured by how much mana YOU save by casting it as opposed to how much your opponents save.) It's just never managed to be one of those deck essentials for me.
Hall of the Bandit Lord - very occasionally, Niv not having haste is a problem. Would it be too much to ask for this NOT to come into play tapped??
Chromatic Lantern - If you can't afford the fetches and the duals, this is the next best thing. It's not exactly explosive ramp, but I love that it turns my colorless utility lands into Volcanic Islands. My gut feeling though is that it's a bit too costly for the benefit IN THIS DECK. I mean, the moxen are free and give the same amount of accel. I also don't have that many colorless lands. It would be much much better in a 5 color deck or a deck without so many fetchlands and duals.
Blatant Thievery - While I don't run much thievery in the deck, this can be pretty devastating in multiplayer. I could see myself stealing ramp mostly, but also dangerous creatures or enchantments. At the very least it gets you 3 extra lands. Twincasting this would be so brutal. But at the cost, I'm feeling it's a bit win more.
"What some see as "distracted" is really "fathoming the unfathomable.""
Various removal and other counters - If your deck is fast, you don't need as much of it. I'd rather be fast than be paranoid of other people's decks.
Memory Jar - I know this thing is powerful but it doesn't really fit my playstyle. It has several major disadvantages over my other sorcery based handcycling cards. Because the effect isn't permanent you have to wait a turn to use it effectively.
High Tide - While spell based mana accel is cool, I just don't have enough islands to make it work.
Anvil of Bogardan, Spellbook, Venser's Journal, Library of Leng - Takes up valuable space without offering significant advantage. I generally don't mind discarding. If I have a large hand it's likely I'll be able to win that turn anyway because of the free mana accel. If you don't have free mana (i.e. Mana Crypt, moxen) then you may want to use one of these for some extra insurance (i'd recommend spellbook out of the above options).
Mind Over Matter, Ophidian Eye - while these cards are basically instant wins they aren't too great without Niv in play. Curiosity is the most efficient infinite combo so I keep it, but it's more of a last resort than a primary combo.
Maze of Ith - a land that doesn't tap for mana seems terrible to me. I'm usually not worried about creatures anyway.
Homeward Path - too little colored lands is a bad thing, and Niv rarely gets stolen. Sphinx would probably be more typically targeted, but still, I really try to limit my colorless lands because that is a terrible reason to lose a game.
Lightning Greaves, Clout of the Dominus - Without very many creatures in the deck, these will often be a dead draws. Niv doesn't usually hit the battlefield unless I can win that turn or the next turn or I just really need to draw an extra card. At that point, Niv can usually be protected by counters. Haste is really nice on Niv, but not totally necessary.
Basilisk Collar - yes this is amazing with niv, but just like boots, useless without niv in play. I also consider it to be a bit win more. If the deck has played like it should, I won't need the life gain and creatures can be removed with my other removal spells.
Cerebral Vortex - honestly a decent and very flavorful card. It's not quite powerful enough though. I would often be casting it on myself though early on so it becomes worse than Faithless Looting and later it isn't better than my other combos.
Whirlpool Warrior has been in and out. The card rubs me the wrong way for some unexplainable reason. Maybe just because it's a creature with sort of sucky art? Also I don't think it's actually any better than the current handcycling cards I have.
Meishin, the Mind Cage is pretty awesome BUT it costs 7 to put down! I'd like to think that by the time I have that much mana I won't need to worry about creatures attacking me because I'll be about to win. I'd rather put something in that card slot that will help me win sooner so I don't NEED mind cage.
Shattered Perception has a couple of "drawbacks" (meaning not synergistic with the deck). The cards are discarded instead of shuffled. It only can affect you so it doesn't combo with Sphinx.
Hive Mind enables some interesting combos but it also screws with my win conditions - comet storm and molten psyche. I think it would be awesome in a different kind of deck though.
Teferi's Puzzle Box - although I love this thing for flavor alone it's just a little too clunky. This deck is sorcery and instant based rather than permanent based. Also it's an effect that you can't really control.
Spiraling Embers - A "win more" card. If I have enough cards in hand to win with this card, I can also win in other more effective ways.
Epic Experiment - The threshold of mana that it takes to be any good is pretty high and I could probably be casting more effective things with that mana. Being able to copy it makes it a bit more viable but it's still not worth the spot IMO
Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius - Not included as per preface discussion. I have more effective methods of drawing cards in this deck.
This deck has gone through countless revisions but is definitely still a work in progress. Some of the more recent changes are listed here.
-1 Phyrexian Metamorph +1 Recoup - actually pretty happy with this swap. With the recent revision affecting legends, metamorph lost a lot of its appeal. More often than not, it copied my gilded lotus, which was fine, but often not a game changing effect. Recoup on the other hand offers me a lot of value and goes a long way towards being a second Snapcaster.
-1 Vesuva +1 Strip Mine - similarly to metamorph, Vesuva has lost a lot of its appeal. Coming into play tapped it has the potential to seriously set me back. I've already got plenty of dual lands so it's not really needed for color production. Some land hate is still needed though so Strip Mine is going in. It's tutorable with Tolaria West.
-1 Ponder +1 Sensei's Divining Top - after playing around with the top I've concluded that it's just a card advantage powerhouse. It goes a long way towards making the fetchlands even more broken. Ponder is great, but Top is just much better.
-1 Recurring Insight +1 Omniscience - With Gamble being the only reliable tutor for Dream Halls, having essentially a second copy is beneficial. With so much ramp, hard casting it is also doable and it's a classic target for Show and Tell. Although I like Insight a lot, when it comes down to it, unless copied, you're only drawing 7 for 4UU the turn you cast it. While it is amazing to flash in with Leyline of Anticipation, handcycling is just more efficient. Out of 99 strong cards, this was one of the weaker ones.
-1 Vandalblast +1 Call to Mind - artifact hate is more of a sideboard thing I've decided. It's not always a problem. Call to Mind gives us some nice recursion options. It plays a lot better with Omniscience and Dream Halls than the flashback cards.
-1 Devastation Tide +1 Evacuation - The instant speed is really what makes Evac amazing. You can maindeck both if you want even more board control. I just found that Tide had the annoying side effect of bouncing my more expensive permanents too often. You don't want to be casting Thought Reflection or Gilded Lotus twice if you can help it.
-1 Island +1 Riptide Laboratory - Yeah, I know it's colorless. Only time will tell if it tips the scale too much but I think between the fetchlands and the duals we should be OK. Laboratory has some great synergy with the wizards in the deck: Niv-Miizet, as well as Snapcaster Mage, Trinket Mage, and Archaeomancer.
Forbid ---> Counterbalance - forbid was one of my weakest control spells. Counterbalance is a lot more competitive at a smaller cmc and has a lot of synergy with the rest of the deck.
6/20/14 Turnabout --> Cryptic Command - Command is just the better card here. At the same cmc you get something that can counter, prevent combat damage, bounce ANY PERMANENT, and cantrip. The primary purpose of Turnabout was to untap all my artifacts late game to basically take another turn but that's not crucial to me winning - it just lets it happen a bit faster. It has very little use to me early.
Leyline of Anticipation --> Future Sight - While Leyline of Anticipation certainly makes the deck work better it just doesn't have enough effect on the game to justify a card slot without some sort of cantrip. It's a convenience similar to something like Spellbook or Library of Leng. Future Sight on the other hand can catapult me to a win fairly quickly. If I cast just 3 top decks it's already better than Jace's Ingenuity. The fact that it combos with Helm of Awakening and Sensei's Divining Top is a nice bonus.
Forbid --> Counterbalance - My thinking here is that if Counterbalance counters just one relevant spell it's already done as much for me as Counterspell out. It changes the gamestate unlike most other spells. Yes, it could potentially paint a huge target on my head but I like things that do that. It means they are strong cards. Forbid was often just a Cancel
Twincast --> Tolarian Winds - Although I'm loath to cut Twincast and Reverb I think they weren't serving me as well as they might in a different kind of deck. They were often dead cards. Tolarian Winds on the other hand gives me some nice handcycling redundancy. It's cheap and at instant speed can be quite useful. We actually want to discard things in this deck for graveyard recursion purposes and Tolarian Winds is an efficient way to do that.
Reverberate --> Call to Mind - I like the redundancy multiplying effect that graveyard recursion has. Call to Mind is a powerful effect at a competitive cost. It plays well with Omniscience and Dream Halls and I don't have to cast the recurred card immediately.
Archaeomancer --> Mystic Retrieval - Without Evacuation in the deck Archaeomacer lost a lot of her appeal. Retrieval is just awesome with handcycling effects and is certainly the better card by itself in this deck.
Standstill --> Thirst for Knowledge - Standstill didn't really fit within this deck's theme. I'm not trying to stall the game, I'm trying to win early. I found that I was often the one that wanted to pop standstill. It was hurting me more than it was helping. Thirst for Knowledge on the other hand gives me an effect that I've come to love - the efficient draw/discard that synergizess so well with graveyard recursion. Also the fact that Thirst for Knowledge is itself an instant is a huge bonus. Instant card draw is very very nice.
Gilded Lotus --> Long-Term Plans - Lotus was a hard cut and I wouldn't do it if this list wasn't already grossly competitive. At 5 mana I want to be curving into my Time Warp spells and casting the groundwork for my win conditions. Long-Term plans is useful to me earlier than Lotus is and it's the only tutor that can grab Consecrated Sphinx or Thought Reflection. I wouldn't consider LTP unless I thought I could reliably get to the tutored card when I need it. But half the deck is designed to do just that, often at instant speed. LTP is yet another way to tutor up removal or combos when I need them.
Venser, Shaper Savant --> Merchant Scroll - This is the wrong deck for Venser. He's not living up to the potential that he has in other decks, specifically creature based or flicker abuse decks. As such, his cost of 4 is too high. I would much rather have a Mindbreak Trap or Cryptic Command in my hand. For that reason I swapped in Merchant Scroll. It's yet another way for me to get Cyclonic Rift when I need it, but can also get Mystical Tutor or Intuition or even Tolarian winds. Being able to grab any other counterspell is also nothing to laugh at. Since just having Force of Will in hand is enough to stop a lot of decks from doing anything relevant. Additionally, lowering my average cmc and decreasing my creature count are two things I can get behind.
Molten Psyche --> Careful Consideration - I'll be honest, Psyche is a card that I'm never that excited to see. I can't remember the last time I actually won using it. It's just never something I would tutor for. Early game when I don't have metalcraft, it's just subpar compared to Winds of Change. I'm not dead set on Careful Consideration but instant speed card draw is very nice in a control deck. It also works nicely with Consecrated Sphinx. It's just a solid midrange draw spell.
Careful Consideration --> Fact or Fiction - FoF digs deeper than Careful Consideration for the same CMC. This is a combo deck so we are really looking for specific cards and specific times. The pitched cards can still be recurred.
Past in Flames --> Evacuatin - I think it's finally time for Past in Flames to come out. It just wasn't efficient enough compared to the other recursion cards we're running. Evacuation can give us a little more insurance that we don't get swarmed. Evac can also be tutored for fairly easily just like Cyclonic Rift.
Izzet Signet --> Sapphire Medallion - I think this is a pretty solid upgrade. Ever since the reprint I've been using the Medallion and it really kicks things into high gear.
"CASUAL" VS. "COMPETITIVE" - A PERSONAL PHILOSOPHY:
The basic complaint I hear a lot is "Competitive games are short and unfun." I mainly hear this from people who are either new to the game, or new to the format, or who haven't been piloting their decks very long. These folks have most likely been on the receiving end of a well honed competitive deck. They don't have the experience to know that "competitive" games can easily be longer and funner than some "casual" games - it just depends on the quality of the decks that are brought to the table, and this is something that is gained with a lot of practice.
[float=right][/float]There are a few reasons why I enjoy more competitive play.
1. I enjoy the creative and intellectual challenge of building decks. Although I do enjoy the game itself a lot, the process of honing and perfecting my decks is also a big reason why I play MTG.
2. I don't have enough patience to spend more than one hour on a single game.
3. Competitive games are more exciting. I enjoy playing against opponents who know their decks and know the cards. Anticipating those infinite combos, epic counter wars, obscure but effective combos. Winning at 1 life. Coming back from having all my artifacts or lands nuked. That's what I think is fun.
One thing I love about Magic is the rock paper scissors aspect of it. For every combo there is a counter, for every permanent there's a piece removal that will do the trick. The same can be said for individual decks. Combo dies to aggro, aggro dies to control, etc... When Consecrated Sphinx hits the battlefield, there are hundred and one ways to get rid of it. This fundamental aspect of the game is something to keep in mind while playing. Nobody is invincible. Nothing is unstoppable.
I would say that your attitude while playing is what matters most. This is a GAME! You also don't HAVE to make the very best plays every turn. For example, if you have a stellar opening hand, you can resist going all out for the sake of the game if you want. Let the table dictate your plays. If everyone else only has played a single land for their first turn, don't lay down Mana Crypt, Mox Diamond,Volcanic Island, and then play Windfall. Even though that may be the best play, it would put you leagues ahead of the rest of the table and make it a 1 vs 3 game. You generally don't want that. But if you hold back, you must also RESIST the impulse to say "Oh, I could have won turn 3.... blah blah blah."
From experience, the best games are to be had when each deck is playing at relatively the same competitiveness level. So the best advice I can give is to go find yourself a playgroup with comparably powered decks.
Hello fellow non-infinite combo Niv player. COOL DECK!! Check out my version in my sig. It's much more casual oreiented but wins multi-player gams a lot!! Everything I was going to suggest for your deck you either included or covered in your primer.
Edit:I had forgotten about Inner Fire. I just ordered a foil one on eBay (for $1). I will try and fit it in when it gets here.
Cool deck man! Much more competitive than what I would play (I don't think I could win until turn 8 or 9) but still really cool.
I couldn't find it on your list but Memory Jar can be a pretty powerful draw 7. It might be a bit expensive at 5 but it works like a charm for me. If you dump your hand you can use it to refil for a turn.
Thanks much guys! Yeah, this deck has become pretty competitive. Mainly because I'm a perfectionist I guess. It just keeps evolving. I could probably cut down the price quite a bit though and not lose a lot of its power. But since I primarily play online it's not an issue right now.
Hey, I really am liking your list here. I've personally never played EDH but am thinking about getting into it. I'm not sure how cutthroat competitive my local group is. I don't think they are casual, but I definitely don't think they are playing the top tier generals and focus more on having a good time than winning every game. Would you suggest cutting certain aspects to this deck if it was to be taken to a more casual environment? I ask this because I've always wanted to build Niv because he is such a combo oriented general and I love combos in Magic, but I also don't want to be winning every game and have my group hate me for it.
Hey zmattk! Thanks for stopping by It's tough because EDH is by nature a more casual format but at the same time I have this personal drive to perfect the deck. To make it work as well as possible.
I would say that your attitude while playing is what matters most. This is a GAME! You also don't HAVE to make the very best plays every turn. For example, if you have a steller opening hand, you can resist going all out for the sake of the game if you want. Let the table dictate your plays. If everyone else only has played a single land for their first turn, don't lay down mana crypt, mox diamond, volcanic island, and then play windfall. Even though that may be the best play, it would put you leagues ahead of the rest of the table.
From experience, the best games are to be had when each deck is playing at relatively the same competitiveness level. The funnest games I've played have been where people were making really competitive plays and playing good cards. I had to struggle to keep up and the game could have gone in any player's favor at any time.
Spendy decks are generally much more competitive for obvious reasons. If you actually want to build this deck irl, I would recommend taking out all the cards that are worth more than 10 bucks a pop. If you have something that's worth more than that, go ahead and add it in, but don't purchase it.
You can also probably take out the extra turn cards, Time Stop, and reduce the number of counter spells.
Hey thanks for responding. One of my reasons for building the deck irl is because I own the fetches and Volcanic on top of Niv being an absolute amazing card. And I don't think I would mind owning something like a CE Timetwister for this either. There are some cards I"m looking to add to your list, not because I think your list is suboptimal, but I just have a place in my heart for things like Arcanis, Jace, and Top/Future Sight even thought they might not be the best choices. But I think you have one of the better Niv lists I've seen and I really hope you stick with it so that I have a competent player to compare card choices with once I have this deck finished. I will probably test your list on MWS until I have a better feeling for the deck. A few things I think you might be able to use are Pyroblast/REB and Personal Tutor. I'm not expert on the deck though or EDH in general so you might have your own reasons not to play these. Also what are your thoughts on Temporal Mastery once AVR is out? I think it could replace on of the higher mana "Time Walks" due to the fact we will almost never have it in our opening hand. Thanks again!
Thanks for the input. Pyroblast and Red Elemental Blast are good cards no doubt. They are on my possibilities list. But right now, with the variety of different decks I play against, I would much rather see one of my blue hard counters in hand than one of these. Simply because they are TOTALLY USELESS cards in my hand if I'm playing against Kaalia of the Vast, Korlash, Heir to Blackblade, and Radha, Heir to Keld, or any number of other awesome non-blue generals.
If I added them, I would probably have to swap them for one of these:
and I'm not ready to do that yet. Probably if I were going to enter into some kind of tournament or a really competitive game or even just a primarily blue play group I would add them since most competitive decks run at least some blue.
The hard fact is that Temporal Mastery has a cmc of 7. Time Warp is 5. Final Fortune is just 2. There's just no comparison. I generally only cast an extra turn card when I am about to win anyway. That being said I can see the miracle mechanic being used in decks that can actually abuse it (with Scry or Sphinx of Jwar Isle or something similar).
Thanks for the input! I was missing an island, haha.
Meishin, the Mind Cage is pretty awesome BUT it costs 7 to put down! I'd like to think that by the time I have that much mana I won't need to worry about creatures attacking me because I'll be about to win. I'd rather put something in that card slot that will help me win sooner so I don't NEED mind cage.
Shattered Perception has a couple of "drawbacks" (meaning not synergistic with the deck). The cards are discarded instead of shuffled. It only can affect you so it doesn't combo with Sphinx.
The reason I categorize all the cards in the deck by function is so I can compare what I already have to a possible inclusion.
Here are all the replacement class of hand-cycling cards that I currently have:
Do you not like Personal Tutor or Merchant Scroll in this deck? I understand Personal Tutor is card disadvantage, but it can search for combo pieces and works well when Niv is out. I also think Whirlpool Warrior is worth consideration because you can get 2 uses out of him for 4 mana.
Thanks for the input. I've chosen the transmute tutors over Personal Tutor and Merchant Scroll because of the flexibility the former offer me (can search for artifacts and critters). Also they can be cast as normal in a pinch and the transmuted card goes to hand. Merchant scroll actually MIGHT be a possibility since it also goes to hand. I'll have to try it out maybe.
Transmute can't be countered.
Whirlpool Warrior has been in and out. The card rubs me the wrong way for some unexplainable reason. Maybe just because it's a creature with sort of sucky art? Also I don't think it's actually any better than any of the following replacement type hand cycling cards:
Just wanted to give people a heads up about a few changes I made to the deck as well as my take on some of the cards from Avacyn Restored.
Arcane Melee - With 39 instants and sorceries total (60% of non-land cards) I feel that this deck can make pretty dang good use of this card. It will give me a very distinct edge against creature and artifact based decks (or basically any deck that runs less instants and sorceries than I do.
The new Miracle cards Reforge the Soul and Temporal Mastery seem quite promising with Mystical Tutor and Personal Tutor. It took me a while to see that synergy but I think it could work. Sure they have a much higher vanilla cost than their counterparts but I think a lot of the time I'd be casting them for their Miracle cost in combo with the tutors. At the very least I will probably use Reforge the Soul in place of Timetwister in my paper deck. It seems strictly better than Time Reversal which is what I was GOING to use >.>.
Devastation Tide - Possible replacement for Oblivion Stone. The only real permanents I have are my mana ramp. So, cast this - get rid of all those pesky permanents on the other side of the battlefield. Replay all my mana ramp, then cast a hand-cycling card. Golden. Also, if I can manage to cast it for its miracle cost it's just crazy good because I'll lose very little tempo. Also, if I happen to unsummon Snapcaster Mage or Phyrexian Metamorph, or a tapped Mana Vault or Grim Monolith it actually gives me further advantage. I like this a lot.
- 1 Time Reversal + 1 Thran Dynamo --- Smooths out my curve a bit better. Can't overdo the artifact ramp really. Those explosive first turns are just too good to miss out on. I wish there were more numerous cheap draw 7s similar to Wheel of Fortune and Windfall
- 1 Trickbind + 1 Sprialing Embers --- heh. heh. heh. This card makes me smile Trickbind is a bit too much on the control side for this deck I think. Often it would be a dead card in my hand. Embers would very rarely be dead card. Would be nicer at instant speed. Even at an average of 7 dmg for 3R isn't too bad, but likely it will do a lot more. Increasing Vengeance.
- 1 Remand + 1 Last Word --- I like Remand A LOT but I find myself missing Last Word for combo-ing out with a lot of blue players at the table.
- 1Time Warp + 1 Quicken --- Gonna try this out for a bit.
- 1 Sudden Shock + 1 Grim Monolith --- SPEEED! Also I added sudden shock to my sideboard because it was too situational to be really useful.
-1 Quicken +1 Turnabout --- I love quicken but it can often be a dead card in my hand. I don't have any major combos with it. Turnabout has a lot more utility I think and has the potential to save my butt or get me those few extra mana so I can combo out sooner.
-1 Dizzy Spell +1 Parallel Thoughts --- Parallel Thoughts is awesome in combination with hand-cycling for obvious reasons. It's also a very viable answer to mill - just exile your graveyard shuffling cards. It can even act as a mini mana severance (not the best use of it though lol) Also if I add Devastation Tide I will be able to re-use it.
I have been working on a UR deck with dream halls and two cards I have added to help deal with the hate you draw after casting dream halls are teferi and defense grid. Do you find them not necessary, as with one blue player at the table it becomes very hard to resolve spells after dream halls and with wheel effects.
Thanks for the comment. I would say that Teferi probably deserves a spot in my sideboard alongside Pyroblast and Red Elemental Blast so thanks for the suggestion!
My only issue with Teferi is that he draws a lot of hate from the other players for obvious reasons. I don't want the game to turn into a 1 vs 3 game. He's also a creature so he dies to removal pretty quickly. Best to play him when you're about to combo out.
Defense Grid seems pretty viable without Dream Halls in play but it hurts you if your opponents aren't also playing blue.
I'm running 9 counters (not including ReverberateTwincast, and Time Stop) which is usually enough to protect myself. If I cast dream halls I generally have a ton of cards in hand and make sure I have more than a few counters including Last Word
Also, I don't rely on Dream Halls to win. If there are a lot of blue players at the table I can usually find another way to win.
So have you done any testing with any of the cards from Avacyn Restored yet and what are your thoughts on what to replace for them? I really like the idea of Tamiyo with Insurrection for crazy card draw
I'd really like to find a way to squeeze in a Tamiyo as well. I think Tibalt would be a great addition to both of our decks but she's so fragile seeing as neither of us have many creatures to block with.
I just got a Gamble and am adding it to my list. Does it work well for you and is it worth a spot? My usual playgroup has (hopefully temporarily) disbanded and we used Legacy (as well as the EDH) banlist but since we are no more, I finally added a Mystical Tutor.
@zmattk: Yeah, I discussed AR cards a post or two above (in the spoiler box).
@DJ: Yeah Tamiyo might replace... something, idk yet. posssssibly recurring insight but idk, that card wins me games and it gives me immediate card advantage. Tamiyo's ultimate takes 4 turns to activate. I guess I'll just have to test her out.
Tibalt on the other hand doesn't really seem all that useful to me. Possibly better in a grixis type deck.
Gamble is good when used wisely. If your deck works like mine, you'll be casting it when you have 10 to 99 cards in your hand Also, with library of leng out it becomes much much more castable. Tutors are essential to keep your deck flexible and to grab your combo pieces.
EDIT: Okay, since AR is now on gatherer I've made the swaps:
-1 Thran Dynamo +1 Arcane Melee - with such a high percentage of instants and sorceries this can be very good. With Mindmoil in play it's a bit bonkers. Works very nicely with counters also. I'm going to try it out and see if I like it.
-1 Drift of Phantasms +1 Tamiyo, the Moon Sage - not TOO happy about this swap. The cmc's aren't equal swaps. Drift is pretty nice to have so I can get my combo stuff or removal. But I definitely want Tamiyo in because she's awesome for this deck.
I would appreciate any input you might have. These swaps really screwed up the perfect mana curve that I had :/ so that doesn't sit well with me at all, lol.
Some noteworthy changes today. I decided to maindeck the blue hate. Mostly because it's rare that a playgroup wants to play with sideboards, and also because most competitive decks will have some blue. The beauty of this deck is that I can cycle them away if I don't need them. Better safe than sorry I'd say.
Arcane Melee didn't play well, and neither did Tamiyo :/
-1 Parallel Thoughts +1 Psychic Possession - Possession is back in! The tutor was too high costed. I found myself always tossing it. The aim of this deck is get as big a hand as possible as quickly as possible. Possession can help do that better than Parallel Thoughts.
-1 Tamiyo, the Moon Sage +1 Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir - I really wanted to like Tamiyo, but I just don't think she's right for the deck. Her ultimate is very tempting but how often will she survive to use it? Her second ability really DEPENDS on if your opponent has a horde of creatures to be good. There are better ways to draw cards.
Library of Leng and Reliquary Tower are my only no max hand-size cards. I use library of leng not only for the no max hand-size but also to combo with my hand-cycling since I can choose what to keep with the discards. I find myself casting it quite often. It SUCKS to discard that handsize that you work so hard for. It's important to keep a lot of cards in hand for Inner Fire and many of the others such as Mindmoil.
It's also just a real pain to have to discard... takes too much time away from the game.
Although, most of the time, it's true, I don't need it since when I get the very large handsize I can USUALLY combo out that turn. I'm not SUPER paranoid about losing my hand, but Library is so efficient that I think it warrants a spot. I'll usually cast it before casting Gamble just as insurance.