Conflux: Naya Domain Review (Part 1 of 2)
Thus far in our Conflux reviews, we’ve looked at each deck not only on its own merits, but how it compares to its predecessor in Shards of Arala. But to get a sense of Naya Domain, we’ll need to go back further still- to October of 2000.
It doesn’t take much digging to realise that by design a number of Magic sets essentially fill in the formula of “X matters.” In Zendikar block, for instance, “X” was land. Scars of Mirrodin? Artifacts. In designs such as these, one element of Magic gameplay is elevated to a role of mechanical prominence, giving R&D the chance to delve deeper into the design space of that particular element of the game. For 2000’s Invasion, the X was ‘colour.’ A storyline follow-up to Mercadian Masques and its expansions, the tale centered on Urza and the crew of the Weatherlight as they sought to fight off the Phyrexian invasion of Dominaria.
It was the mechanical side of things, however, that is of most interest to the tale at hand, and this becomes the story of Barry Reich. Barry isn’t a name that immediately springs to the minds of many Magic players (if at all), but his Magic pedigree is quite impressive. The first ever game of Magic was played between Barry and Richard Garfield. Barry was not only a playtester for Alpha, but he further playtested 1995’s Ice Age and 1996’s Mirage. And he designed an unpublished set- Spectral Chaos- which heavily relied upon colour as its theme and had cards that cared about the number of basic lands you had in play. Sound familiar?
So when Wizards R&D was casting about for ideas on how to make a true multicolour environment for Invasion, they looked to the past. Not only at published sets, like Legends (the originator of the multicolour ‘gold cards’) and Stronghold (the last set to actually print them), but also at an unpublished one. Spectral Chaos. And while it wouldn’t be until 2009’s Conflux that the “number of basic lands you have in play” mechanic would be given a name- domain– it did help usher in the game’s first-ever five-colour preconstructed deck in Spectrum.
Spectrum established the now-familiar pattern of the archetype. Use the ramping ability present in Green to help set up a “toolbox” type deck which can fetch the basic lands of the other four colours, then play spells and effects that become undercosted when you have the right land types in play. Spectrum was followed by Domain was followed by Pandemonium, all within the same block. The concept would then go dormant for four years, resurfacing again as sunburst from Mirrodin block’s Fifth Dawn expansion. Sunburst took the yet-unnamed domain mechanic and localised it onto artifacts and artifact creatures, giving them +1/+1 or charge counters on them for every colour of mana spent in casting them. This was a slight twist on the original- rather than caring about the land types, it was interested instead in the mana. The sunburst-themed deck was named- imaginatively enough- Sunburst.
As the third set of the block, Fifth Dawn was the end of the road for design space in the original Mirrodin. Three years later, however, we catch sight of the five-colour deck again, resurfacing in Lorwyn’s Elemental’s Path. This time, the deck’s colours were not the deck’s oerarching theme, but rather it was a tribal deck based on a tribe which spanned all five colours of Magic: the Elementals. Relying upon artifacts and nonbasic lands for its mana fixing, the deck didn’t so much reward the diversity of land/mana types so much as force it as means to the end of playing a spectrum of Elemental creatures. No, the next time we’d see domain return in a meaningful way was in the set which finally gave it an official name. 2009’s Conflux. And as we’ll see, it invokes the spirit of the original, and in that sense is a sequel not only to Shards of Alara’s Naya Behemoths, but also to Spectrum.
Broken No More
Ordinarily we tend to begin our deck analyses with an inspection of the deck’s creatures, for they are typically the primary win condition of the deck. That’s just as true with Naya Domain, but if you’re going to want to play your creatures to their fullest potential, you’ll first want to understand how to get the most out of the deck’s lands, and that begins with an understanding of domain.
To begin with, unlike the other decks of Shards and Alara and Conflux, Naya Domain does not include the uncommon three-colour nonbasic land of the shard, in this case Jungle Shrine. Instead, it trades the Shrine in for something much more useful here- a third Terramorphic Expanse, a perfect method to fetch whatever land you happen to be missing. You also have a total of six other cards in the deck that will help round out your mana base.
As you’d expect, Rampant Growth makes an appearance here, and indeed you get two of them. Sadly, Harrow would not be reprinted until the following block (Zendikar), but this certainly helps. A pair of Sylvan Bounties continue the cycle we’ve seen with expensive cards that have basic landcycling, such as Absorb Vis and Traumatic Visions. Inarguably less useful than the other two, the full-flavour version of this spell does nothing more than give you a large chunk of life, leaving you no closer to victory than you were before you tapped down the six lands needed to pay for it. Still, the basic landcycling redeems them into valuable additions of the deck, and you’ll be glad to see them early.
Next we have the domain-in-a-box card of Shard Convergence. Custom-built for the purpose, this is one of the strongest cards in the deck because it ensures you’ll be able to get the most out of almost any subsequent play. The only danger comes in the addition of four more cards to hand, which can easily put you over the seven-card-limit. Most would argue, though, that that’s a nice problem to have. The final card is the Kaleidostone. Less useful because it doesn’t help with domain (it’s not a land), it still can help fix your manabase for a turn if you need some quick mana fixing to cast a spell you don’t yet have the land for. That it replaces itself in your hand when cast makes it a reasonable card here, for you lose little other than two mana if you never find need to draw upon it.
Ferocious and Deadly
In return for all this trouble, Naya Domain offers you massive beaters and powerful effects at a fraction of what you’d ordinarily otherwise pay. For instance, take the Matca Rioters. Playing them early might net you a 2/2, though as the game progresses they’ll soon grow into a 5/5 beatstick- quite a steal for three mana! Consider next the Aven Trailblazer, a creature whose toughness is fixed by domain. No matter when played, the Trailblazer promises 2 power in the air, but again as the game goes on and you find more of your basic land types, it gets more and more resilient to damage. On the opposite end of the spectrum are the Wandering Goblins, whose toughness is set at 3 but whose power is tied to your land. 10 more power for six mana (pumping them twice) is a steal, and certainly well within reason for the means of this deck.
Beyond that, the deck also has an Ember Weaver at the three-drop slot, a 2/3 Spider which incorporates Conflux’s twist on “caring about colour” whereby it gains an ability if you control a permanent of a complimentary colour (in this case, Red). And right about now is when we hit our “Behemoth suite”- after all, this is a Naya deck, and the gargantua haven’t just up and disappeared to pastures greener.
Oh wait, they have.
With the shards of Alara converging, the massive monsters of the Nayan jungles have begun ranging further and further afield. As far as Naya Domain is concerned, so long as that ‘afield’ means your opponent’s life total, then the more the merrier! Indeed, you get a full half-dozen to select from, each filling its own particular role or niche. Here’s a quick bestiary:
Woolly Thoctar: With this bruiser coming down as early as turn 3, it can lay plausible claim to being the deadliest of the breed based on its swiftness alone.
Beacon Behemoth and Vagrant Plowbeasts: Both of these creatures have buffs that can be applied to others of their ilk. And if you manage to raise up the power of one of your smaller creatures, they can benefit as well- these special abilities only care about hte target’s power, not its type.
Meglonoth: The rare and mighty Meglonoth is nasty on both halves of the red zone. On offense, its trample all but ensures that every point of its power is going to good use, either on your opponent’s blocker or on their life total- and sometimes both. On defense, it turns the tables on your aggressor, sending some damage headed back their way. And since it has vigilance, it can be doing both for you every turn until it’s dealt with or your opponent’s destroyed.
Kranioceros: A somewhat more fragile 5/2, the Kranioceros can pump up its toughness if you’ve managed to secure a source of White mana, and its only limit is the amount of mana you have at your disposal.
Paleoloth: Your deck’s other rare, the Paeloloth gives you card advantage by returning dead creatures from your graveyard to hand whenever you cast another of his size. This works with any of the other gargantua, and if you’ve hit your full domain spread of basic lands, the Matca Rioters will trigger it as well.
The Combined Strength of All Five Planes
The noncreature support package for Naya Domain is fairly compact, but does give you the usual options you’d expect. There’s a modest removal suite consisting of a Pacifism, a Path to Exile, and a Drag Down. The latter takes advantage of domain, and can take down a 5/5 creature for three mana at instant speed if you’ve hit the full land spread.
A pair of Spore Bursts are a little less exciting. At best you’ll be getting five power for four mana broken up over five creatures, so it’s not quite the same bargain we’ve seen with other domain cards. There are no sacrifice outlets in the deck, so this really is a case of what you see is what you get- a gaggle of 1/1 Saprolings. Finally, you get some creature augmentation with a Might of Alara, a Giant Growth variant which taps into the domain mechanic. There’s also a Manaforce Mace, which as equipment acts like a longer-lasting Might of Alara.
And that’s all we have for the sixth five-colour precon deck in Magic’s history. Use your early turns to establish your mana base and hit as many basic land types as you can, then flip the switch by casting spells and creatures that get stronger thanks to domain. Once you’ve enough mana to spare, begin summoning your gargantua and rumble your way to victory.
It’s a fine game plan, but how does it do when put to the test? Join us next time when we find out.