Shards of Alara: Naya Behemoths Review (Part 1 of 2)
It’s our last stop on our tour of the plane of Alara, and this one’s going to be big. No- huge. Wait… gargantuan! That’s right, today we’re visiting Naya, the shard where going big isn’t just a philosophy, it’s a necessity. Like Esper, the mechanical distinctiveness of this shard isn’t keyworded. There’s no equivalent of unearth or exalted or devour here. Rather, Naya takes a “size matters” approach, giving you a raft of massive fatties as well as cards that care about power. Indeed, with over half your creatures weighing in with a power of 5 or greater, Naya specialises in doing one thing, and that’s smashing your opponent’s head in. As we’ll see, the bulk of the deck is engineered to either do that itself, or to help you do that.
We’ll begin, fittingly enough, with the creatures.
Forces of Nature
If the deck is packed with fat, expensive beaters, there is at least some comfort to be had in knowing that Naya Behemoths properly taps into its Green abilities and delivers additional ways to accelerate your mana development. Thus, the heavy back-end curve isn’t quite as alarming as it looks:
The early drops of the deck are placed with two objectives in mind- help you develop your mana base, and stall the board a little while you race for your gargantuans. A pair each of Wild Nacatl and Cylian Elves gets you an early body to the board, as often as not to deter your opponent from some early action. That said, with the right draws your Nacatl can be a 3/3 beater on turn 3 and might well get some early shots in through the red zone.
The Naya Battlemage pulls a sort of double duty here. Not only can she tap down your opponent’s best attacker early, to keep things slow and drawn out, but she can then do the same to your opponent’s best defender once you have some force on the board. Her +2/+0 ability won’t often be as relevant, since your beaters are already huge and few of them have trample- but it bears noting that she can help a fully-grown Wild Nacatl get to that critical 5-power threshold to benefit from being a pseudo-behemoth. Finally, the deck brings a pair of Druids of the Anima, an upgraded Llanowar Elves that give you the full Nayan range of mana to choose from. As one of the deck’s ramping options, these can be critical to success.
All this, of course, is the mere appetizer, for now we begin the main course: Naya’s behemoths!
The simplest of these is the Woolly Thoctar, a 5/4 vanilla body whose greatest virtue is its very cheap cost. Remember those “right draws” which would permit your Wild Nacatl to become a 3/3 on turn 3? Those same draws will land you this monster, and you’ll occasionally live the dream of cruising to victory on its back while your opponent is caught developing and without removal in hand. Although its difficult casting cost won’t always cooperate, hands down nothing else in this class is even close to being this cheap.
Next up on our sliding scale of complexity is the Bull Cerodon. This one costs six mana, and while it only needs two coloured mana (one White, one Red), those are the two lesser colours of the deck (remember, each of the Shards of Alara decks has a manabase of 7 lands of your primary colour, and three each of the lessers). While there will be times you’ll have to sit on this one until you get the right mana spread, by the end-stage of the game most times you should be doing fine.
Finally, we have the Cavern Thoctar, the last of these “independent contractors” who bring nothing but size to the table. Although you’ll not often be seeing a ton of Red mana to really take advantage of its firebreathing ability, its still a very easy-to-cast and rather efficient beatstick.
The final four of the behemoths are where the synergy of the deck lies, for each of them have a cheap activated ability that can extend to any target creature with a power of 5 or greater. The Rakeclaw Gargantuan can give your beaters first strike, and Naya Bahemoths packs in a pair of them. The Mosstodon will often be even more useful- his gift to the world of giants is trample. Finally, we have the deck’s premium foil rare. Spearbreaker Behemoth, who is not only indestructible itself, but can rander your other gargantuans indestructibility as well.
Any pilot of this deck will have to take comfort in the sheer monstrousness of the deck’s creatures, for as you’ll see this deck does virtually all of its talking in the red zone.
Delivered by Claws and Rage
First the bad news: despite the options of both Red and White, Naya Behemoths has a grand total of one removal spell (two if you count Naturalize’s artifact/enchantment hate). The good news is that the removal is Blaze, which has the added versatility of being a finisher and win condition all by itself. But that’s all you get- anything else you kill, you’ll be doing it through creature combat, and you’re all but powerless against Battlemages and other utility creatures. The answer to them is the same as your answer to flyers- blitz past them with your beatsticks.
Towards that end, Naya Behemoths gives you a few tools to advance this goal. A pair of Giant Growths are de rigueur, while you get some mana ramping/fixing in the form of twin Rampant Growths and Gifts of the Gargantuan. The latter has the added bonus of frequently fetching you another creature. Finally, the deck’s second rare appears in the form of Titanic Ultimatum. Only the second of the five Shards of Alara decks to come complete with its Ultimatum, this is far less of a misfit here than for hapless Grixis Undead due to all the mana ramps/fixes the deck packs to help squeeze out your behemoths. As you might expect, if you manage to get the spell off it’s likely to end the game, or get you very, very close. Although it’s the same as a mulligan in your opening hand, this card will close games here rather than lead you on a will-o’-the-wisp-like chase as with the Grixis deck.
So there you have it! With beaters and lots of them, Naya Behemoths has an almost-admirable single-mindedness to it with regards to its game plan. Stall out the early board a little while you develop your mana base, accelerate with spells and creatures that set up your heavy casts, and start unloading your behemoths as early as turn 3. Swing into the red zone over and over until one or the other of you lies broken and bleeding. Simple, right?
Join us next time when we take these gargantuans into the field, and see how they fare.