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Against the Odds: 9 Nazgul vs. Modern


Hello, everyone. Welcome to episode 382 of Against the Odds. Last week, we had a Lord of the Rings Against the Odds poll, and perhaps unsurprisingly, Nazguls took home a commanding win. As such, we're heading to Modern today to see if we can win by playing a bunch of Nazguls and being tempted by the Ring as much as possible! Is [[Nazgul] just another meme card that lets you break the "you can only play four copies of a card in your deck" rule, or can its power to grow itself and all of our other Wraiths when we're tempted by the Ring let it compete with all the brokenness of Modern? Let's find out on this week's Against the Odds!

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Against the Odds: Nazguls

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The Deck

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When Nazguls won the poll, our primary game plan was pretty obvious: play as many Nazguls as possible as quickly as possible and hope that they can snowball themselves into a Wraithy win. Exactly how best to support this plan wasn't exactly clear. I considered a Heartless Summoning build with Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines to double up the Nazguls' enters-the-battlefield trigger. While the plan seemed like it could work, Nazgul also felt like the worst card in the deck, which was awkward. Next, I tried a version of Nazguls built around Bloodbond March, with the idea being we would aggressively fill our graveyard, cast a single Nazgul, and get all of the other copies back from the graveyard at once to build a massive board. I actually played an entire league with the deck but didn't manage to do the Bloodbond March thing a single time, so I decided it probably wasn't worth it. Finally, I ended up with what might be the most obvious plan for Nazguls: using Collected Company to cheat them into play!

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At first glance, Nazgul doesn't look all that impressive as a three-mana 1/2 deathtouch. But in practice, it plays a lot better than it reads. This is because of the combination of its enters-the-battlefield ability of having the Ring tempt us and the fact that it grows all of our Wraiths (which mostly means all of our Nazguls, but we have a couple of sneaky Wraiths in our deck as well) when we're tempted by the Ring. In practice, this means that our first Nazgul is actually a 2/3 deathtouch, which still isn't exciting. But if we can ever get two or more Nazguls on the battlefield together, they actually get pretty scary because they will see and pump each other.

A really easy example of this is Collected Company. Let's say we CoCo and hit two Nazguls. They'll both enter the battlefield, and we'll be tempted by the Ring twice, which will cause each Nazgul to trigger twice to put two +1/+1 counters on all of our Wraiths, which ends up being four +1/+1 counters. So, a CoCo into two Nazguls basically gives us two 5/6 deathtouchers, which is actually pretty powerful, even by Modern standards. And if we happen to have another Nazgul or Wraith on the battlefield, they'll get massive as well!

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Backing up our Nazguls are eight mana dorks. Apart from speeding up our Collected Company, these cards also work really well with the Nazguls themselves. If we can play a Birds of Paradise or Ignoble Hierarch on Turn 1, we'll have enough mana to play our first Nazgul on Turn 2 to start the Nazgul Wraith snowball.

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We've also got some backup "the Ring tempts you" cards to grow our Nazguls. Remember, Nazgul's ability to put a +1/+1 counter on all of our Wraiths triggers whenever we are tempted by the Ring, not just when a Nazgul enters the battlefield. As such, we can use cards like Gollum, Patient Plotter, Smeagol, Helpful Guide, and Call of the Ring to help grow our Nazguls. We also have Carrion Feeder as a sacrifice outlet since both Gollum and Smeagol need creatures to die to be tempted by the Ring. Also important, all of these creatures are cheap enough that we can hit them with Collected Company. If we are going to play Collected Company in our deck, we need to get as close to 30 "hits" (creatures with mana value three or less) in our deck as possible, which means we are more or less committed to filling our deck with cheap creatures. So in some ways, Gollum, Smeagol, and Carrion Feeder are doing double duty in our deck by supporting both of our best cards.

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Rounding out our main deck are our Wraiths. Unfortunately, Wraiths themselves are horrible—there are only a handful in all of Magic, and they are either overcosted rares or underpowered commons. The good news is that Changelings like Masked Vandal and Mutavault are technically Wraiths, so they will grow from our Nazgul triggers. Masked Vandal is also oddly good in Modern at the moment because everyone is playing The One Ring, and its ability to exile an artifact when it enters the battlefield is a super-clean answer to the mythic artifact.

The Matchups

From a meta perspective, the matchups for Nazguls are pretty straightforward: we do well against fair creature decks because Nazguls quickly grow massive and can dominate the battlefield. On the other hand, we struggle against fast combo decks and probably control, although we didn't really play against any control decks. The problem against combo is that with our best draws (involving a mana dork, multiple Nazguls, and Collected Company to find more Nazguls), we're winning around Turn 5, while most Modern combo decks are winning a turn or two before that. Against fair decks, winning on Turn 5 is perfectly fine because Nazguls are shockingly good blockers thanks to deathtouch, but combo doesn't really care about some random deathtouch bodies on the battlefield. 

The Odds

All in all, we went 3-3 in Modern leagues with Nazguls, giving us a 50% match-win percentage, which is great considering we're playing Nazguls! (You're probably wondering why six matches when a league is five matches. You might have noticed that in our first match, we were playing the 62-card special. Apparently, I messed something up while importing the deck and ended up with two extra cards. After winning that match, I dropped from the league, fixed the deck, and started a new league going 2-3, giving us a 3-3 record overall. Maybe the 62-card special version is actually the best version?)

In all honesty, I came away from our matches impressed by the power of Nazguls. If we can stick two or three, they actually snowball into a win surprisingly quickly. While I wouldn't go as far as to predict that they'll be a real deck in Modern, I do think Nazguls are the best "you can play more than four copies of me in your deck" creature we've seen so far. 

The most disappointing part of the deck was the backup "the Ring tempts you" cards. Gollum, Patient Plotter and Smeagol, Helpful Guide didn't do a ton, and they sometimes led to some clunky draws since they are legendary (like that one game where we somehow drew all four Smeagols by, like, Turn 4). On paper, having more "the Ring tempts you" creatures to grow the Nazgul seemed good. But in practice, the deck would probably be better if it just played some generically good Collected Company hits rather than more Lord of the Rings cards. One possibility would be adding more Changelings to work with the Nazguls. While there aren't a ton of appealing options, I was really impressed by the Nazguls' ability to quickly grow Wraiths into real threats, which might mean cards like Changeling Outcast or Realmwalker would actually be good enough for the deck, even though they are somewhat underpowered on their own.

All in all, Nazguls were way better than I expected, to the point where I kind of want to keep brewing around them. While they aren't quite fast enough to beat the strongest combo decks in the format, they do get big surprisingly quickly, and if we can hit two of them, they might actually be the best Collected Company creatures in the entire format, as strange as that sounds! If we ever get more good Wraiths, look out—Nazguls could actually end up a real threat in Modern!

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.



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