Editors Note: This week’s article is brought to you by Connor Mullaly. Congrats on the great showing Connor, and thanks for sharing your journey with us. 

This past weekend, I made it to the finals of the Lotus Box League Modern 1K playing 5C Niv-Mizzet. This was a really fun tournament, so I want to give a big shout-out to Lotus Box for organizing and to mtgmelee.com for creating such a great platform for us to play Magic during these times.

I have been playing 5C Niv for about a week on Magic Online- I haven’t had much else to do but Modern since I’ve been stuck at home. Will Pulliam has been working hard on the deck, and I learned about it from his Twitter (@Will_Pulliam) where he’s been sharing lists and sideboard guides. The deck is incredibly powerful, with some of the most powerful multicolored spells and great ways to find them all.

Recently, the Modern format has felt like a midrange arms race: all of the Uro/Arcum’s Astrolabe decks have been adding more planeswalkers and trying different ways to go over the top of one another. Before this tournament, I had also been working on Bant Snow (with Win Condition’s own Sean Mogelgaard), but it felt like there were going to be a lot of Boils in the field and I wasn’t confident in my ability to beat them.

The Niv-Mizzet deck preys on these midrange decks by going over them: it plays flexible answers like Assassin’s Trophy and Kaya’s Guile and uses Niv-Mizzet Reborn as a Mulldrifter to go over the top. Glittering Wish gives you game against combo decks in game 1. The deck feels strong right now because of the prevalence of midrange decks, but it could fall off if there is an uptick in fast combo or Tron. Here’s the list I played:

5C Niv by Connor Mullaly

Creatures: (7)
Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath
Klothys, God of Destiny
Niv-Mizzet Reborn

Artifacts: (4)
Arcum’s Astrolabe

Instant and Sorceries: (18)
Thoughtseize
Assassin’s Trophy
Lightning Helix
Glittering Wish
Kaya’s Guile
Unmoored Ego
Supreme Verdict
Bring to Light

Planeswalkers: (6)
Wrenn and Six
Teferi, Time Raveler

Lands: (25)
Pillar of the Paruns
Prismatic Vista
Arid Mesa
Flooded Strand
Wooded Foothills
Verdant Catacombs
Polluted Delta
Snow-Covered Plains
Snow-Covered Island
Snow-Covered Swamp
Snow-Covered Mountain
Snow-Covered Forest
Godless Shrine
Breeding Pool
Blood Crypt
Steam Vents
Temple Garden
Sideboard: (15)
Veil of Summer
Teferi, Time Raveler
Ashiok, Dream Render
Kaya’s Guile
Unmoored Ego
Niv-Mizzet Reborn
Supreme Verdict
Boil
Wheel of Sun and Moon
Assassin’s Trophy
Dovin’s Veto

Going forward, I would recommend Will’s winning decklist (or any updates that he posts). He has been working on the deck more than I have and will be more in-tune with the metagame. After this weekend, I think I would go down 1 Uro and 1 Klothys. Uro is necessary to have as a secondary threat, but everybody is playing graveyard hate right now and drawing multiples can clog up your hand if you can’t escape one of them. Aggro decks like Burn and Prowess aren’t highly represented right now, and Uro is one of your best tools for beating them. Klothys was powerful (and Will used it to beat me in a mirror earlier this week), but it isn’t fast enough against the decks where you need lifegain or impactful enough against the decks where you need inevitability.

Tips for Playing Niv:

  • Don’t be afraid to mulligan to 5! The most important thing to look for in an opening hand is functional mana. Early interaction is important, but don’t keep any hands that need to “get there,” especially not ones that are land-light. Wrenn and Six makes it so that mulligans rarely hurt you: make sure you can cast your spells!
  • Have a plan for your Glittering Wishes. Glittering Wish gets boarded out in many matchups, especially when you don’t need silver bullets. In the tournament, I kept it in vs. Storm because I had too many cards that were impactful (and situational) and in the mirror, to protect one Niv-Mizzet from my opponent’s Unmoored Ego.
  • Use Ashiok on yourself. Most matchups will not come down to decking. There are some blue matchups that will, but most of the time you want to target yourself when you activate Ashiok. This has the added benefit of preventing your opponent from protecting their graveyard with a Veil of Summer
  • You can’t Bring to Light for artifacts or planeswalkers! It feels like you can get anything with it, but it only finds creatures, instants and sorceries. I made this mistake in the finals-don’t be like me!

The Tournament

I’m going to give a round-by-round breakdown of my matchups and what I felt was important in them. I’ll share some thoughts on sideboarding, but stay flexible and adapt to what you see from your opponents

Round 1: GB Titan, 2-1

In game 1, our best plan is to get rid of their Primeval Titans with Unmoored Ego. Failing that, we can try to race with Niv, but it’s hard to race an early Primeval Titan. If we Ego their Titans, they can still win with Karn, the Great Creator and Dryad.

uckily, we have a lot of spot removal to answer these and neither are very explosive without the mana boost that Titan brings along. With Lattice banned, Karn doesn’t get any artifacts that are lights-out against us, so one activation isn’t the end of the world. Postboard, we get to bring in Ashiok and Boil to shut down their more powerful effects, as well as a second Unmoored Ego. I made a mistake in game 2 when I used Kaya’s Guile to exile my opponent’s graveyard, forgetting that they could rebuy their Walking Ballista with any future Karns they drew.

In: 2 Boil, 2 Ashiok, 1 Assassin’s Trophy, 1 Niv-Mizzet Reborn, 1 Unmoored Ego, 1 Dovin’s Veto
Out: 2 Glittering Wish, 1 Uro, 2 Teferi, 1 Klothys, 1 Supreme Verdict, 1 Lightning Helix

Round 2: Michael Mapson on GB Titan, 2-0

I had heard these tournaments were stacked, but it’s round 2 and I’m already up against a Modern specialist with a Grand Prix finals to his name. In Game 1, I Thoughtseized his Karn leaving him with only ramp spells in hand. I drew Glittering Wish for Unmoored Ego the turn before he would have been able to Titan me and Niv-Mizzet took over the game from there. Game 2 went the same way: I Thoughtseized his Summoner’s Pact, tutored for an Ego on turn 5 and he never drew another threat card.

Round 3: Humans, 2-0

This has felt like one of Niv’s best matchups. We play Wrenn and Six, sweepers, and varied removal spells so we don’t lose to Meddling Mage. The games are fairly straightforward: prioritize their largest creatures and Meddling Mages with your removal, and kill a creature with Wrenn and Six almost any time it’s possible. In both of these games, I was able to stem the early tide with removal and eventually stabilize with a Niv-Mizzet or a sweeper.

One of the important things to remember is that Thalia also taxes the spell that Bring to Light casts. If you try to cast a noncreature spell with it, you’ll end up needing a total of 7 mana. Veil of Summer coming in out of the sideboard is something I’m unsure about, but I think that we have more bad cards in our maindeck than good cards in our sideboard. It protects us from Kitesail Freebooter, Deputy of Detention and Reflector Mage (which I don’t think opponents should leave in, but they might). I think it ultimately comes down to which card you think is better between Veil and Thoughtseize. Right now I lean toward Veil, but I’m open to being wrong about that.

In: 1 Kaya’s Guile, 1 Assassin’s Trophy, 1 Supreme Verdict, 1 Niv-Mizzet, 2 Veil of Summer
Out: 2 Glittering Wish, 1 Unmoored Ego, 2 Thoughtseize, 1 Teferi

Round 4: Humans, 2-1

I had a close decision in Game 1 that ended up costing me, but I think I stand by it. My opponent had a Freebooter (took Lightning Helix), a Mantis Rider and an Aether Vial on 2. I had a Wrenn and Six at 5 loyalty (they had decided to swing at me), and in my hand was a Teferi, an Assassin’s Trophy and another Wrenn and Six.

My opponent activated the Vial in my end step and I Trophied the Mantis Rider in response. Because my opponent had shown they cared most about my life total (especially because I knew about 2 Kessig Malcontents in his deck), I was concerned with preserving it and letting the other cards in my hand deal with Freebooter down the road. Their next turn, my opponent took my Teferi with another Freebooter and my W6 with a Deputy, leaving me with no way to get back my Lightning Helix. I boarded the same way I did in round 3, and was able to grind out my opponent (who flooded out quite a bit) in games 2 and 3 to move to 4-0 on the day.

Round 5: Will Krueger on Dredge, 2-0

This is a matchup where you need to aggressively mulligan for hate. The tournament had open decklists, so I mulliganed an otherwise functional 7 to find a 6 with Unmoored Ego. Will mulliganed to 4 and kept a hand that was reliant on Shriekhorn. Luckily for me, he didn’t have a very explosive start. On turn 3, I was able to Ego away his Life from the Loams, as they were his only dredgers.

Uro can be very strong in this matchup: we have enough removal that they will often need to burn us out unless their draw is very explosive, and it can race in combination with our removal. I used Uro to stabilize the board and Kaya’s Guile to seal the game.

This is a matchup where I am not certain about my sideboard plans. Will Pulliam recommended leaving in Glittering Wishes on the play and taking them out on the draw. When you leave them in, leave a copy of Ashiok and a copy of Wheel of Sun and Moon in your deck. Other than that, I like bringing in the Guile, the Verdict and the second Unmoored Ego. I think that Teferi and Assassin’s Trophy are poor in the matchup.

In game 2, I kept a 5-card hand of Thoughtseize, Polluted Delta, Uro, and 2 Wheel of Sun and Moon. Will led on a Shriekhorn, but I was able to Thoughtseize his Cathartic Reunion. From there I hit my land drops, and he devoted two turns to a Blast Zone to get rid of my Wheel. In response, I was able to exile his graveyard with Kaya’s Guile and then play the 2nd Wheel. From there, my Uro was enough to deal with the creatures he was forced to cast from his hand.

Round 6: Amulet Titan, 2-0

This was a matchup I was worried about coming into the day. The games play out similarly to the BG Titan matchup, but Amulet allows them to be more explosive. In game 1, I was lucky enough to have a turn-3 Unmoored Ego to take away my opponent’s Primeval Titans (I can’t recommend this strategy enough: draw your good cards! And if you don’t have them, mulligan!) and had enough removal to answer their Dryad of the Ilysian Groves. My opponent was able to get a few Field of the Dead activations, but I was able to go over the top with Uro and Niv-Mizzet.

I sideboarded the same way I did against the BG decks. In game 2, I needed to get a little lucky. I mulliganed to 5 and kept a hand with 2 lands, Wrenn and Six, Niv-Mizzet and a Boil. My opponent’s draw wasn’t particularly explosive: they played an Azusa on turn 3 and had enough mana in play to Titan me on turn 4. Luckily for me, they played a Dryad and gave it haste to attack my Wrenn and Six. I untapped and cast Boil: Niv-Mizzet was able to stabilize from there. If my opponent had cast a Karn or a Primeval Titan, I would have been in trouble, but sometimes they draw the wrong half of their deck.

Round 7: Will Pulliam on 5C Niv, 0-2

The mirror is a difficult matchup to play and a lot of different things matter. Wrenn and Six is very important, because you never want to miss a land drop. Teferi is important to shut off your opponent’s Bring to Lights, and your removal spells need to be carefully prioritized. Time is also a very important factor: the games go quite long.

I had played against Will in a league earlier that week, and he won our 3-game set with 40 seconds left on his clock. Knowing that, plus the nerves of being the main camera match, caused me to play too quickly in game 1 and not consider all my options. I used Assassin’s Trophy on a Wrenn on turn 2, which I now believe to be a mistake. The card advantage it would provide did not end up being as important as how much it let him ramp. I cast an Uro on turn 3, so I could have been a turn ahead of his development instead of at parity. Will used Unmoored Ego to extract my Niv Mizzets and then used his Bring to Light to find a Kaya’s Guile, which dealt with my Uros and knocked me out of game 1- except for the fact that I drew Glittering Wish the very next turn! I excitedly cast my Niv, but it only found a Lightning Helix. It prolonged the game a few more turns, but Will’s Niv Mizzet drew him more cards and I ended up falling too far behind.

Game 2 was very grindy: we both Thoughtseized each other and drew a lot of cards off of Niv. We traded resources for a few turns, but I found my 2nd Niv-Mizzet before he did. He was able to bounce it with Teferi and Unmoored Ego it away, but at that point I had 7 spells in hand to his Glittering Wish and uncastable Mystical Dispute. In game 3, I kept a 6-card hand that could cast Wrenn and Six on turn 2, but only if I played Arcum’s Astrolabe on turn 1, leaving myself vulnerable to Thoughtseize (I also had the option of holding up Veil of Summer). I chose to cast the astrolabe and Will (who played an astrolabe of his own) Thoughtseized me and took my Wrenn, which ended up hurting me down the road. I made another play which I believe to be wrong this game, but I’m not entirely sure and want to think more on it before writing about it. I don’t remember exactly how I sideboarded for this matchup, but I’m pretty sure it was wrong. If you’re curious, go check out the vods on the TeamLotusBox Twitch page or their YouTube channel to see how Will sideboarded- he would have done a much better job than me.

Round 8: Infect, 1-2

On the surface, Infect seems like a very good matchup for us. We have Wrenn and Six plus a lot of removal. However, after playing several games I believe it is difficult for us. While we have a lot of interaction, it all costs 2 or more mana. Infect is a tempo deck at heart and wins the game by being more mana efficient than its opponents. We usually cannot cast 2 meaningful spells in the same turn until turn 4, which is usually what is necessary to stand a chance.

In game 1, I kept a 7 that may have been greedy on the draw: it had 4 lands, 2 Niv-Mizzets and a Wrenn and Six. I decided to keep based on the strength of Wrenn in the matchup, but now that I think more about it I think you need 2 pieces of interaction, especially on the draw. On the play I would be happy about it, but as it was they had a Vines of Vastwood for my first Wrenn activation and killed me soon after.

In game 2, I kept a 7 that featured Thoughtseize, Assassin’s Trophy and Supreme Verdict: about as good as it gets. My opponent mulliganed to 3 and conceded to my Thoughtseize. Wasted!

In game 3, my opponent had a turn 3 win backed up by protection. I had 2 removal spells and a Teferi, but that sometimes isn’t good enough on the draw. Had I been more disciplined with my mulligans in game 1, I might have been on the play in game 3 and been able to win.

I finished the swiss at 6-2, but I didn’t really sweat making the Top 8. I had played against 3 people who finished at 7-1 and I knew that at least one person at 6-2 would make it in (there were no IDs allowed in this tournament), so I was confident that my tiebreakers would get me there. Regardless, I was still thrilled when the final standings went up and I saw myself in 7th place. It was an honor to be included in such a star-studded top 8: Emma, Caleb and Will Pulliam are excellent players who I have looked up to for years, and Will Krueger and Tangrams are some of the most dominant Modern players Magic Online has seen over the last year.

Quarterfinals: Caleb Scherer on Storm

This was one of the matchups I was hoping to dodge in Top 8. I won’t give a blow-by-blow of Top 8 matches, because they’re all posted on Twitch or YouTube if you want to go back and see what happened (Caleb streamed this match, and the others were featured). In this matchup, it is very important to have a mixture of pressure plus disruption. There were times when I could have played a hate piece, but I decided instead to slam Niv-Mizzet and cross my fingers that I wouldn’t get punished. We don’t have hard hate pieces that lock them out of the game, all of them only slow them down. Therefore, we need to end the game as quickly as possible.

In game 1, Caleb had a quick Empty the Warrens and I didn’t find a Supreme Verdict to survive. In games 2 and 3, a combination of disruption and Caleb stumbling on mana was enough to get there. For sideboarding, most of the combo hate in the sideboard had some applications against Storm, and I didn’t have enough room for all of it. I decided to leave in my Glittering Wishes to give me some flexibility, because I knew that Caleb slowed down with Aria of Flame and Fact or Fiction postboard. This is a matchup where I don’t like Uro. Devoting two full turns to casting a threat just leaves us too vulnerable, so I cut them.

In: 2 Veil of Summer, 1 Wheel of Sun and Moon, 1 Dovin’s Veto, 1 Ashiok
Out: 1 Klothys, 1 Wrenn and Six, 3 Uro

Semifinals: Tangrams on Uroza

In this matchup, it is important to manage their creatures (especially the card advantage engines) and hit land drops. Eventually, our more powerful spells will go over the top of theirs. When using Kaya’s Guile as removal, it is almost always correct to exile their graveyard instead of gaining life or making a spirit, to limit the threat of future Uros. We fall behind by them snowballing: try to limit their ability to draw multiple cards with Emry or to protect their Urza with counterspells. Wrenn and Six is important, because they have a hard time removing it and we want to make all of our land drops in order to cast two spells in a turn through their counterspells. I was able to execute this plan against relatively weak draws from my opponent in games 1 and 3. In game 2, my opponent got out an early Gilded Goose and an Emry, and I was forced to cast Boil on an already-developed board. I wasn’t able to force anything powerful through their lack of mana and they rebuilt quickly.

Finals: Will Pulliam on 5C Niv-Mizzet

The finals. This was the third time Will and I had played this matchup, (the second in the tournament) and I was determined to finally get one on him. Game 1 was easy: he mulliganed to five and stumbled on mana, and I had a relatively good draw with a Wrenn, a Teferi and a Bring to Light. I made a mistake this game: I knew his hand was Trophy, Trophy, Bring to Light and I used my 2nd Bring to Light to try and get a Teferi, forgetting that I couldn’t get planeswalkers. Instead I got a Thoughtseize and left him with 2 Trophies in hand vs. my full grip of spells.

In game 2, I made a mistake that would cost me this tournament. Both of us had starts that were relatively slow, with turn 2 Wrenn and Six being the only meaningful action. On turn 4, I resolved an Unmoored Ego to take away his Niv-Mizzets, which also revealed that his hand was lands and a Bring to Light. I untapped on turn 5 with his Wrenn at seven loyalty and poised to ultimate: mine was at six. I was convinced that I needed to use the Teferi I had in hand to dig for an Assassin’s Trophy to stop the Wrenn emblem. I cast it, leaving up 3 mana to pay in case of a Mystical Dispute (I didn’t know it, but he had drawn Dispute off of my Ego). I then cast an Astrolabe and bounced it to my hand with Teferi to draw cards. It registered in my head that my Wrenn could keep his in check, but for some reason I didn’t think that was good enough: I was scared he would draw a Trophy of his own and then get to the emblem.

This was obviously a very bad play, and ended up costing me the game. At that point, we were well into our 11th round of the day, and I was too tired to think clearly. Had I simply plussed my Teferi and damaged his Wrenn with my own (which I ended up doing anyways), his entire hand would have been shut off by Teferi blanking Bring to Light and I could have easily won the game. Will then beat me in a pretty grindy game 3, where we traded counterspells and Niv Mizzets for the first five turns. However, Will had a 2nd copy of Niv-Mizzet, as well as more lands than I did. I tried to keep up, but I was eventually overwhelmed by all of his planeswalkers. I know that fatigue isn’t a good excuse, it just means that I will need to work harder and make sure that the next time an opportunity is in front of me, I don’t let it go like that.

I want to say thanks again to Team Lotus Box for putting on such a great tournament. Congrats and thank you to Will for building such a fun and dominant deck, thank you to Win Condition for giving me an opportunity to write about my run and finally, thank you Paul Muller for helping me to prepare for the event. If you have any questions or want to talk about the deck, hit me up on Twitter where you can find me @MullalyConnor. Until next time, thanks for reading!