Spoiler season is upon us, and regardless how you feel about the seemingly never-ending spoiler season that exists within Magic, that train won’t stop.
In any competitive game, there will always be opinions of how good or bad something is from a competitive standpoint. In some games, this distinction can be fairly easy to make, as the stats are cut-and-dry. Magic, and other TCGs have a distinct difference from games like shooters and MOBAs in that evaluation of new additions to the meta can be rather difficult. The interaction between a new set of cards and the thousands of cards that already exist in the format far outweigh the interaction between a new MOBA character and the existing 100 characters. As such, no player base representing a competitive game can be as divisive in power-level evaluation as Magic: The Gathering. Today, IslandGoSAMe and Bradcifer will be showcasing the nuances of card evaluation by taking two sides on a planeswalker that has been spoiled for Streets of New Capenna to much hype by the Magic community.
Enter Ob Nixilis
With Streets of New Capenna comes an art deco-laden gangster movie with an urban utopia setting. As of writing, it’s been less than 24 hours since spoiler season began, but we’ve already been shown all of the new mechanics of New Capenna, as well as the trio of planeswalkers that inhabit the plane. Elspeth, Vivian, and Ob Nixilis are here to cause fun or trouble for players on either side of the table. All three deserve their own deep dive on playability within Pioneer, but today we’re here to focus on the big bad himself, Ob Nixilis, the Adversary.
Ob Nixilis, the Adversary is the first Pioneer-legal three-mana Rakdos Planeswalker, which is a pretty big deal in and of itself. On the surface level, his abilities seem rather medium. Featuring a +1 that gives the option to the opponent to discard a card or lose two life, a -2 that creates a Devil Token with the ping any target death trigger we’ve become accustomed to with this creature type, and a -7 ultimate that draws a target player seven cards in return for seven life.
So, why are so many incredibly high on this card? Well, Ob Nixilis has an additional casting cost of Casualty X, meaning As you cast this spell, you may sacrifice a creature with power X. When you do, copy this spell and you may choose new targets for the copy. The copy comes in with X loyalty and isn’t legendary, which means you’re getting two planeswalkers for the price of three mana, and a sac effect proc. Now, that +1 ability looks a lot more appealing, presenting the potential of your opponent taking four life every turn or needing to discard two cards. Creating multiple bodies to protect your Ob Nixilis, as well as the possibility of getting to his ult rather quickly depending on what you sac for his Casualty cost. When pulling double duty like this, things can quickly get out of hand for your opponent.
Where does Ob Nixilis want to be played? Well, I think there is some fun build-around potential in the idea of trying to use his ultimate as fast as possible – playing with cards like Rotting Regisaur for an immediate ult, for example. Rather than think about this high ceiling of sacrificing something like Rotting Regisaur to have that immediate ultimate, let’s take a look at a more reasonable position for Ob Nixilis: an already well-established archetype that desperately wants our purple demon friend.
A deck seemingly made exactly for him, it looks to play the long game and ping your opponent over and over, sacrificing creatures to trigger Mayhem Devil, and honestly making your opponent pretty miserable. In Rakdos Sac, there are plenty of cards coming down to offer consistent sac fodder to create our Ob token. Cauldron Familiar, Voldaren Epicure and Bloodtithe Harvester all come down turns one and two and curve out nicely into Ob Nix. Another nice curve is having a turn one Epicure/Familiar, turn two Oni-Cult Anvil, saccing the Blood Token for a 1/1 Construct, and turn three playing Ob Nix, saccing said Construct Token.
What makes a deck powerful in any format is consistency. You could have the most powerful cards in Magic in your deck, but if your deck lacks consistency, you won’t win. The thing that makes Rakdos Sac so efficient is the fact that it’s a nice and linear gameplan, with a plethora of options to curve out and offer redundancy in the deck. What you’re doing with Ob Nix is throwing in an on theme gameplan into an already established and consistent deck, while seemingly doing nothing to alter said consistency at the cost of playing the new card. He just slots right in – a premier plug and play. Not only this, but the archetype has so many potential cards available in Pioneer, that there can be ways to alter the deck to make Ob Nix even better. Rakdos could look to expand its one-drops and play things like Shambling Ghast, or even take a page out of its own book from recent iterations and play the new Unlucky Witness from New Capena. A 1/1 for one mana that has a similar effect to Experimental Synthesizer: when it dies you may exile the top two cards of your library and, until the end of your next end step, you may play one of them. Initially, I’d start to look elsewhere for another one drop, as the restriction of only being able to play one out of the two exiled cards – as well as it being only until the end of your next end step – seems lacking in flexibility. Though, Anvil itself has a fair amount of restrictions on it and that turned out to be one of the top cards from Neon Dynasty! I wonder if anyone was able to predict that…
Another home I’m excited to try Ob Nixilis out in is some variation of Rakdos Midrange. I understand that initially it seems out of place in the current builds of those decks, as they look to take a more traditional approach focusing on hand disruption, kill spells, and sticky threats to control the board. But, the deck does play a slew of Planeswalkers to help support the controlling of boardstate. I feel that with some tweaking, Ob Nixilis can find a home fairly comfortably in the 75. Drawing multiple copies is a bit less annoying as Fable of the Mirror Breaker and Bloodtithe Harvester offer some ways to discard unwanted additional copies. Chandra, Torch of Defiance sees a fair amount of play in the deck, but from some discussion I’ve had with some fairly prevalent MTGO grinders, we’ve come to the suspicion that Chandra is a bit of a trap. I propose that Chandra is dropped in favor of Ob Nixilis, lowering the curve a bit and providing a potentially more sticky planeswalker(s) for your opponent to face down. In doing so, I’m interested in looking at slightly beefing up our one and two-drop slots to have some more sac fodder as well as protection for Ob Nix. For this role, I have a few ideas.
Magmatic Channeler and Bloodthirsty Adversary are cards that see play semi-consistently in the deck already, and both can provide points of card advantage in the early and late game. Cemetery Gatekeeper is an efficient card that I’ve enjoyed in Mono-Red that serves as an Eidolon of the Great Revel effect as well as being a form of graveyard hate, while the first strike is a nice added bonus as a blocker. Ash Zealotis simply a decent body with built in graveyard hate, though both she and gatekeeper are meta calls and potential sideboard cards. As for one-drops, I mentioned Shambling Ghast earlier, which is an excellent sacrifice target for the casualty cost. Other cards I would want are ones that replace themselves in some way, and one odd ball pick I found was Grim Initiate. A 1/1 Zombie for one with first strike that Amasses 1 when it dies. Probably too cute, but a fun consideration nonetheless.
Don’t get me wrong, I think Ob Nixilis is a super powerful card. UWx Control and other midrange decks will NOT be able to deal with this threat effectively, and it WILL run away with the game. UW Control especially will fold to this card, because in that deck’s current form, the only way to deal with an opposing planeswalker is to counter it on the way down, pressure it with a Wandering Emperor, or tuck it with a Teferi, Hero of Dominaria -3. None of these ways are efficient, because we get two copies of this card on the stack at the same time. They can only pressure so much – counter so many spells. This card will single-handedly swing these matchups from ‘slightly unfavored’ to ‘heavily favored’ if you play at least three copies in your deck.
The issue with Ob Nixilis, however, is how he plays out in other matchups. Imagine you’re playing against Mono Red Aggro. You have a great start, casting a Voldaren Epicure on turn one, into an Oni-Cult Anvil on turn two, sac your Blood Token to make a Construct Token and drain one life. These are the starts that red decks usually cannot beat. Your opponent looks distraught. They think to themself “all my opponent has to do here is deploy any additional threat – anything at all – and they will completely stall this board”. When you cast your Ob Nixilis, you see the opponent’s eyes light back up, because all you did was put a planeswalker into play that pressures your opponent’s life total. Even if the non-copy Ob downticks to make a Devil token, all you did was create a blocker, and make your opponent lose two life. That’s it. If this is your turn three play against any form of aggressive deck, you WILL get run over, as you essentially are taking a whole turn off.
If you couldn’t tell by my pessimism towards this obviously broken card, I like to think of myself as a bit of a realist regarding card evaluation. There is no doubt in my mind that this card will see a lot of play. I am a bit worried however, about how prevalent it will be in the maindecks of a specific archetype in Rakdos Sacrifice. If I had to take a guess, I suspect that these decks will be playing the full playset in their 75 due to how much this card will swing the UW Control and other slower midrange matchups, but all four copies will not be in the maindeck. This is the type of card that does nothing in some matchups, and since Rakdos Sacrifice only has a small amount of Blood Tokens to loot away dead cards, you really want all of your cards to be impactful to a cohesive gameplan. This is why these decks have moved away from Fatal Push in the maindeck in favor of Thoughtseize or Experimental Synthesizer – cards that will always have relevancy in a game. The likely outcome is that Rakdos Sacrifice will play two or three copies in their maindeck, and relegate the other one or two copies into the sideboard slots, taking away other cards you traditionally brought in against control or midrange decks, such as Virus Beetle, Duress, or Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger. Kroxa, especially – his time is up. Kroxa was a reasonable plan against the control decks until UW started to play three or even four copies of Rest in Peace in their sideboard, functionally shutting down the Cat/Oven synergy in this deck and removing a lot of the resilience. Kroxa does close to nothing against this card, while Ob Nixilis laughs in your opponent’s face, saying “nice enchantment. You still only have three turns to deal with me before the amount of damage I deal will be too much to beat”
That’s A Wrap
Card evaluation is one of the most difficult things about this game we know and love. Players will always have varying opinions regardless of format, skill level, and overall Magic experience. Though that is one of the more beautiful aspects of the game, as no matter what, there will always be a representation of two sides of the same coin. In reality, those two sides are more consistently seen as the two sides, the edges on the faces of the presidents, every little divot running along the side, and someone thoughtlessly chewing on the coin. No matter where you stand, the only way to ever be proven right or wrong is to simply pick up the cards, and play.