Wait! Before you close this tab, yes, this is a Modern Niv to Light article. Many of you may know Niv to Light from its success in Pioneer, but it’s been making the rounds in Modern, too. If, like me, you’ve played the Pioneer version of this deck, it’s worth giving the Modern equivalent a look — especially if your goal is to go over the top of other midrange decks.
One question that I like to ask myself before I pick up a deck is, “What does this deck do? What makes this worth playing?” Niv fills the role of “midrange deck that beats other midrange decks” — similar to the role that Eldrazi Tron plays in Modern. Any deck that isn’t trying to win as fast as possible is going to end up in hot water once Niv-Mizzet Reborn draws a fist full of cards. Oh yeah, and you also get a 6/6 with flying on top of that.
The more “fair” Modern gets, the better Niv tends to get; Jund and Uro piles are the natural prey of Niv-Mizzet Reborn. Fair midrange decks also tend to be good when fast combo decks are unpopular, and the current conditions in Modern are just right for Niv to strike.
Niv to Light, by Tyler O’Brien
1 Abrupt Decay
4 Abundant Growth
2 Assassin’s Trophy
3 Bring to Light
1 Drown in the Loch
3 Kaya’s Guile
4 Lightning Helix
1 Supreme Verdict
1 Sword of Feast and Famine
1 Sword of Fire and Ice
3 Teferi, Time Raveler
4 Wrenn and Six
1 Breeding Pool
1 Godless Shrine
1 Hallowed Fountain
1 Indatha Triome
1 Ketria Triome
4 Misty Rainforest
1 Overgrown Tomb
4 Prismatic Vista
2 Snow-Covered Forest
1 Snow-Covered Island
1 Snow-Covered Mountain
1 Snow-Covered Plains
1 Snow-Covered Swamp
1 Stomping Ground
1 Temple Garden
1 Verdant Catacombs
4 Windswept Heath
3 Wooded Foothills
One challenging thing about building these Five-Color Niv decks is narrowing down the list of cards you could include in your deck. After all, most powerful gold cards fit the bill. I did some poking around and eventually settled on this list by my friend Tyler O’Brien, a Five-Color Niv aficionado. Tyler has put a lot of work into tuning this list, and it felt surprisingly smooth compared so many of the other versions that I’ve tried. Not surprisingly for anyone who’s played Yorion in Modern, sometimes playing 80 cards instead of 60 can be a good thing.
The individual cards in this deck are often fairly interchangeable — and, truth be told, I could probably write an entire separate article talking about them all. In the interest of brevity, I’m going to cover the types of cards that are essential to a well constructed Niv deck so you can get started playing this deck on MTGO.
Every Five-Color Niv deck has three main pillars: mana acceleration, threats, and interaction.
Building a mana base for a five-color deck presents a number of challenges. You don’t want to take too much damage from your lands or play too many tapped lands that enter the battlefield tapped, lest you be run over by more aggressive decks. And, of course, you’ll also want to make sure you have enough sources of each color to cast all your spells reliably. The secret to an effective five-color mana base is to primarily use a mix of fetch lands and shock lands, with a few tapped tri-lands added for good measure.
A fetch/shock mana base makes it easy to get all the colors you need when you need them. Unfortunately, that comes at quite a hefty price: paying three life every time you want to make a play. Having access to untapped sources of multiple colors is still quite important, which is why this list includes sixteen fetch lands and six shock lands. Early in the game when you’re trying to develop your mana or interact, having access to all of your colors whenever you want them is key. Fetch lands also play very well with Wrenn and Six to make sure you have smooth and functional mana.
To balance things out a bit, the deck includes a handful of Triomes from Ikoria. Fetchable tri-lands are already a huge addition to a five-color deck, but the added benefit of being able to cycle them when you’re flooding is enormous. After all, you won’t always need an untapped land, and it’s nice to be able to search these up instead of having to guess which colors of mana you’ll need in the future. We only see two Triomes in this specific list, and unsurprisingly, they both tap for green mana to support our early mana-acceleration spells.
Four copies of Abundant Growth and three copies of Birds of Paradise do a lot of heavy lifting in the early turns for this deck. Additionally, both these accelerants let you jump up the curve to cast your more expensive and impactful spells — something that Gruul Midrange does very often to keep up with leaner decks.
Basic lands are also important to include for a variety of reasons. Untapped lands that don’t cost you any life are at a premium when you’re trying to avoid getting run over by aggressive decks. They’ll also give you some amount of protection from Blood Moon, Field of Ruin, and Path to Exile. That said, you certainly can have too many of them; five or six is likely the correct number to ensure you draw them about as often as you’ll need them.
Quality threats that punch above their weight class are essential to the success of any midrange deck. Stoneforge Mystic is one of the hottest midrange game plans in Modern right now given how effective it is at different stages of the game. Typically, Stoneforge is part of a seven-card package: 4 Stoneforge Mystic, 1 Sword of Fire and Ice, 1 Sword of Feast and Famine, and 1 Batterskull.
Sword of Fire and Ice is a beating against Izzet Prowess if you can successfully equip it to something; it allows you to keep your foot on the gas while either killing a creature or forcing your opponent to use their turn saving it. Similarly, against control decks that lack creatures, a Howling Mine that also deals an extra four damage every turn is huge.
Batterskull is similarly good against both aggressive strategies and interactive decks alike. A turn three 4/4 with vigilance and lifelink can stymie an awful lot of aggression, and it’s also nearly impossible for interactive decks to deal with if the game goes long.
Sword of Feast and Famine will protect anything that holds it from a good amount of the removal in Modern, all while giving a huge boost in mana to a traditionally mana-hungry deck. The ability to cast a Niv-Mizzet, hit with Sword of Feast and Famine, and start casting the cards you just drew is a powerful synergy.
Stoneforge Mystic is far from the only powerful threat in Five-Color Niv; the deck’s namesake, Niv-Mizzet Reborn, leads the pack on that front. A 6/6 flyer rules the sky in Modern, and when it draws a new grip of cards, it often means game over for your opponent. Not only do they have to find a way to avoid losing to Niv — who dodges a lot of the common removal spells in Modern — they have to deal with the next threat to come down if Niv finds a Bring to Light.
The biggest test for any midrange deck is how well it can interact profitably with a wide variety of threats. Drown in the Loch, Abrupt Decay, and Assassin’s Trophy form the backbone of Five-Color Niv’s interaction suite, and they’re all excellent answers to just about any permanent in Modern. Kaya’s Guile also answers a lot of problems: it removes a large creature against Eldrazi Tron or Death’s Shadow, gains life, provides a body against aggressive decks, and even nukes the graveyard in game one against Dredge.
This list is also full of silver-bullet answers to Modern’s heavy hitters. Lightning Helix shores up the Prowess match-up, taking down most small-to-mid-sized creatures while buying you time to turn the corner. Teferi, Time Raveler can clean up problem permanents while preventing those pesky blue decks from countering your haymakers. Supreme Verdict can be a real beating when you can find it with Bring to Light, and since you only have a single copy, the risk of drawing it against creature-light opponents in game one is relatively low. Five-Color Niv has the board well taken care of with this suite of disruption; the only real problem is combo decks, but we can address that in sideboarding.
I Get by With a Little Help From My Companion
There are a couple different versions of Five-Color Niv floating around: some with Yorion, Sky Nomad in the companion slot and some without. Personally, I think that the Yorion versions are better than the 60-card versions — they have access to additional tutor targets, the space to accommodate the Stoneforge Mystic package, and a much less strained mana base.
In a toolbox deck like Five-Color Niv, a wide variety of tutor targets will give you relevant lines of play in most situations. Renegade Rallier will allow you to grind through long games by buying back most of the permanents in the deck. Huntmaster of the Fells lets you go wide, interact with the board, and pad your life total against aggressive strategies; it’s truly a nightmare for decks like Humans. Bloodbraid Elf can provide some instant pressure while bringing another card along with it, which is a pretty sweet deal.
Yorion also makes it easier to meet the strict color requirements in a five-color deck. If you’re playing 30 lands in an 80-card deck, you can get away with playing basic lands, since you have a lower chance of drawing them than you would playing 60 cards.
Yorion provides a ton of long-game value in a shell where nearly every card could benefit from being blinked. Plus, as mana-hungry as Five-Color Niv can be, a deck with 37 mana sources is certainly prone to flooding; having a Yorion in your back pocket can pull you back into a game where you’re behind or seal up a game when you’re at parity.
The Five-Color Niv sideboard is built with aggressive and combo decks in mind. Three copies of Fatal Push, an additional Kaya’s Guile, and Kunoros, Hound of Athereos all provide additional backup to the already solid core of main deck removal.
Force of Negation, Mystical Dispute, Kambal, Consul of Allocation, and Unmoored Ego will all ensure your combo opponent has a miserable time trying to resolve their key spells until you can overwhelm them with board presence.
Veil of Summer, Mystical Dispute, and Boil are there to make control player’s lives difficult. Being able to protect a Niv-Mizzet for one mana with either Veil of Summer of Mystical Dispute is often going to be game-ending, as Niv will put you significantly ahead on value.
Crumble to Dust is notably for Field of the Dead, the natural predator of slower midrange decks, but it also has plenty of use against Tron and Amulet Titan. Tron will nearly always lose on the spot to an early Crumble, and while the same can’t be said for Amulet, nailing a Simic Growth Chamber will often make their life quite difficult.
Hopefully, I’ve given a solid starting point to join forces with my favorite five-color dragon! If you like the look of this list, be sure to check out Tyler’s Twitter (@tylerjjobrien) and let him know that I sent you. If you have any questions or comments for me, or just want to keep up with my other content, you can find me on Twitter at @RappaciousOne. I’ll catch you all next week with some more Modern content!
Michael Rapp is a Modern specialist who favors Thoughtseize decks. Magic sates his desire for competition and constant improvement.