Guild Mages of the Izzet Laboratories like to control the battlefield from afar by using their spell slinging abilities to ensure that potential problems never come to fruition. Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind accomplishes this by abusing the inability of your opponents to know what is in your hand before it is too late.
I have been playing Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind for a little over four years now. (In fact, Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind was the first card ever I purchased.) This current list is a reflection of my growth as both an EDH and general magic player. While this list works best for me, there are many different ways the deck can be built. I chose for the overarching theme of this deck to be combo/control.
Why You Should Play this Deck
You enjoy heavy interaction with the stack.
Your preferred method of winning is through infinite combo.
You enjoy your power and presence coming mostly from your hand and not permanents on the field.
You enjoy drawing a lot of cards.
Playing a wide variety of planeswalkers makes you smile.
You would rather play things on your opponents’ turns than your own.
Why You Should Not Play this Deck
You like to turn creatures sideways.
You don’t like being the primary focus of 3+ other people.
You enjoy using high impact permanents over the course of multiple turns.
You don’t enjoy playing longer games.
You prefer to cast your commander and use it frequently throughout a game.
You don’t like the idea of struggling to remove permanents that have already resolved.
The point of this deck is to do everything you can to survive the early game while preserving as many of your resources as possible. Then as you move into the mid and late game you begin to take control of the entire table before you combo off to kill everyone and win the game.
Niv-Mizzet, the Combo Mind
Experienced players of EDH are no strangers to this combo or deck. No matter how strongly or weakly you build it, you will always be the primary target in an EDH pod due to the ease and consistency of the combo.
The combo is simple: Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind + Curiosity or Ophidian Eye draws your entire deck, winning the game. Both of these enchantments read the same: “Whenever enchanted creature deals damage to a player, that creature’s controller may draw a card.” This, when combined with Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind’s effect, allows you to draw your entire library. You will not deck yourself since both enchantments say “may,” allowing you to end the card draw whenever you need to. You can then send damage at any player equal to the number of cards you drew; however, this may not be enough. If it is not, you then use your Whirlpool Warrior to draw the same number of cards twice more before casting and using Elixir of Immortality to create an infinite loop of damage.
The Many Roads to Victory
While it may appear that your primary focus should always be on resolving Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind and comboing off as soon as possible, this is not always the case. There are four other cards in this deck that can be used to amass such a dominant board presence that your combo will be inevitable.
Ordinarily, you should not expect to ult a planeswalker, especially in a multiplayer game. With the massive +4 from Karn Liberated and the –X board wipe from Ugin, the Spirit Dragon however, you stand a much better chance at actually getting there. While the Karn ult usually forces a surrender, Ugin’s ult can often ramp with enough resources to close out a game almost immediately. To put it in perspective, I’ve never ulted a Karn or Ugin and not won the game. I’m not discounting the other planewalkers’ ults (especially Mind Sculptor and Moon Sage) but those walkers have a much harder time of ulting.
Another way to combo off is through extra turns. Temporal Mastery and Time Warp are very strong spells that you often need to use during the mid-game to help maintain or gain an advantage over the entire table. However, nine times out of ten casting Expropriate (a new card from Conspiracy: Take the Crown) or Time Stretch actually just wins you the game. Time Stretch offers plenty of resources to safely cast Niv, ensuring your combo. Expropriate works similarly by giving you at least one extra turn while potentially stealing something from each opponent, which creates a massive advantage over the table. If anyone decides to give you a second or (for some unknown reason) a third turn, then Expropriate becomes an even better Time Stretch.
Early Game and Primary Weaknesses
When pulling an opening hand it is most important to consider what you are up against. If you find yourself sitting at a table with a fast aggro deck such as Ruric Thar, the Unbowed (which happens to be one of these worst match-ups for this deck) or Marath, Will of the Wild, you’re going to want to look for a few specific types of cards. Opening hands that have at least one to two early draw effects, some sort of anti aggro card, and counter magic for their commander are crucial for surviving into the mid-game. If your opponents seem to be a little slower or more focused on combo/control themselves, you are still looking for similar cards with a few key differences. Having a planeswalker, more mana intensive card draw, or Vandalblast/Shattering Spree in your opening hand are very strong cards to have. In general, you need consistent land drops with steady card draw against all match-ups.
You should almost always keep a hand with early mana rap such as Sol Ring or Mana Crypt. The exception would be if you had little to no colored lands in hand. With enough experience, any hand with that contains Sensei’s Divining Top and at least one land that enters untapped can also be ideal. Ultimately, you’re looking for mana ramp, consistent land drops, and a plethora of card draw to get to the late game as quickly as possible. During the early game, mainly between turns three to six, maybe seven, the only time you should ever be tapping out is to cast a counterspell, spot removal, Rhystic Study, or a mana rock.
The biggest weakness of this deck is when a problematic permanent resolves. However, this is what things like Cyclonic Rift and Reality Shift are for. Enchantments can also be problematic for us, namely: Aura of Silence.
“Aura of Silence is the bane of this deck to the point where it deserves its own paragraph.“
Aura of Silence is the bane of this deck to the point where it deserves its own paragraph. This card increases the cost of both combo enchantments and has an activated ability that can destroy either of those enchantments at instant speed. When this enchantment is on the field you have two options: either find cyclonic rift to bounce and then counter it upon the recast, or find Summary Dismissal to exile Aura of Silence’s activated ability. Otherwise, you’re at the mercy of another player, something you never want to have happen. You must then sit and wait for another player to either destroy Aura of Silence or play an Artifact or Enchantment that warrants activating Aura of Silence’s ability. While other players will often destroy the Aura due to its oppressive nature, players with more experience will realize how much this enchantment hurts you and will do their best to play around it. This is one of the few times you should ever use your counter magic politically by exchanging a counterspell for a removal of Aura of Silence. Ideally, Aura of Silence should never resolve in the first place.
When it comes to planeswalkers I have adopted the philosophy that you should play them with the intention of only getting one activation. More often than not, planeswalkers will absorb damage that would otherwise be directed to your life total. Adding to this, players might be more inclined to attack another player to “spread the love” after you have just lost a planeswalker. This is beneficial since you will quite frequently dip into your life total for things like Ancient Tomb, Boseiju, Who Shelters All, and Mana Crypt. This is where the politics of EDH tend to favor the combo/control player (that’s you!) since losing a permanent can convey a hindered board state thus directing people’s attention elsewhere. Do be warned, after playing this deck a few times against the same people this becomes less effect. People who commonly play against me know that both me and my planeswalkers must die.
As I worked towards fine tuning the deck by adding in Cavern of Souls and Riptide Laboratory, I realized I could be benefiting more off these lands by adding in a few more wizards. It just so happens that Archaeomancer, Taferi, Mage of Zhalfir, and Venser, Shaper Savant are extremely potent wizards that fit perfectly into the deck. Infinite turns are possible using Archaeomancer, Riptide Laboratory, and any extra turn effect that does not exile itself; however, this is not Archaeomancer’s primary function. Archaeomancer should normally be used to recover a potent or necessary spell and then block whatever big dumb Xenagos-enhanced green fatty that looks your way. There are only two non-wizard creatures in the deck: Consecrated Sphinx and Whirlpool warrior.
The Counter Magic
If there is one thing I’ve learned from playing control in EDH, it is that you must fully commit yourself to doing it. This is because people tend not to like control. (You will not make friends with this deck). If you’re not absolutely prepared to control an entire table and keep it fully controlled, you’re only going to get to cast two to three counter spells before you die to someone you’ve annoyed because you have no means of maintaining your position over them. For this reason, every single card has to work towards controlling the table. Playing a little bit of control style magic simply will not cut it in a 3v1, which you will almost always find yourself in.
So why so heavy on the counter magic? The answer is simple: counter magic is the most effective and versatile form of removal in the game. In this list, there are fifteen counter spells, in addition to a Snapcaster Mage and Venser, Shaper Savant. In general you should only need one (maybe two) counterspell(s) when you go to combo off. If you find yourself consistently needing more than one, you might be comboing off at the wrong time. The majority of the counter spells are there to protect yourself from the rest of the table. With so few permanents and such a mana and draw intensive strategy, there are a few rules I’ve developed when playing this deck:
“In general you should only need one (maybe two) counterspell(s) when you go to combo off. If you find yourself consistently needing more than one, you might be comboing off at the wrong time.“
Always leave two blue and one other mana open with at least one card in hand at all times to at least bluff that you have counter magic even when you do not. After your playgroup as seen this deck more than once or twice, they will generally be suspicious of counter magic which should force them to play more conservatively. The most satisfying part is when they attempt to call your bluff and fail, resulting in one sad puppy.
Avoid tapping out completely out at all costs. While you do run Force of Will and Pact of Negation, these are some of your best spells to have when you try to combo off, so they should only be used as a last resort. When you do tap out, players tend to (and should) take advantage of your lack of mana to advance their board state. You will then have to deal with whatever nonsense everyone else is capable of vomiting onto the board.
“Never counter something to solely help another player.“
Never counter something to solely help another player. If someone is casting something that does not directly impact you, do not counter it. While countering something upon someone else’s request might make you an ally to one person, it will also make you an enemy to another. Chances are that your new ally is also in no position to help you fight off your new enemy if they just asked you for help. What then ends up happening is somewhat of a 2v2 situation where you are the primary focus of the other two players. While you may have gained an ally, it will only be temporary since you still threaten the entire table simultaneously.
In general, you never counter a tutor since you should aim to counter what they tutor for. There are exceptions to this rule: if the tutor finds more then one card, if the person tutoring is playing counter magic, or when facing a tribal deck on the prowl for their Cavern of Souls.
Practice your threat assessment. Remember that you are not the only person at the table playing. Chances are if something is a problem for you, it is also a problem for the other two players facing it. This is especially true in the early to mid game. Make sure you are not working too hard and exhausting all of your resources, or else you will have little to nothing when you try to combo off. Allow everyone at the table the opportunity to use their own counter magic and spot removal as well.
Not Up to Snuff: Cards that Don’t Make the 99 Cut
All of the cards mentioned below were play tested to a certain extent and just did not cut it for me. This is to not say that they will no work for you and your playgroup, but for what I am trying to accomplish with this deck, they just are not strong enough. These cards are not listed in any specific order.
The first thing to address is cheaper counter magic vs. the four and five converted mana cost (CMC) counter spells. At one point in time, Dispel, Negate, Stifle, Swan Song, and Turn Aside were all considered; however, their specificity was too risky and caused me to lose games. Additionally, when all you’re doing is casting counter magic, mana rocks, and planeswalkers, you can afford to let your “bombs” be higher CMC counter magic. I do no play any counter magic like Mana Leak because it loses potency in the late game. Mystic Confluence is the exception due to its versatility. I also refuse to play any counter spell that benefits my opponents in any way such as Arcane Denial.
Double Negative vs. Counterflux: Both are extremely color intensive; however, Double Negative’s ability to counter two things instead of one has never been relevant. Often times its strict color cost would prevent me from casting another counter spell making it vulnerable to being countered itself. Meanwhile Counterflux does not have to worry about being countered, and its overload ability is highly relevant against Mizzix of the Izmagnus, Melek, Izzet Paragon, and Sharuum the Hegemon Combo/Storm decks.
Reality Shift vs. Chaos Warp: Chaos Warp offers more versatility while Reality Shift comes at a CMC of two instead of three. Chaos Warp has a chance to pull something off the top of an opponent’s library whereas Reality Shift will always manifest a 2/2. The benefit to Reality Shift making a 2/2 is that it can potentially pull a relevant spell from their deck. Chaos Warp also runs the risk of flipping something like an eldrazi titan (a little too frequent of an occurrence in my play group if you ask me) and is at a CMC of three, which I try to reserve for counter magic if I can. Ultimately I took Reality Shift over Chaos Warp for this reason.
Anything that interacts with Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind in a way that does not directly contribute to winning the game also does not make the cut. Things like Willbreaker are slow, greedy, and just give people an additional reason to spot remove Niv.
Arcanis the Omnipotent ? Azami, Lady of Scrolls ? Talrand, Sky Summoner ? All are wizards that were considered at one point or another but are just too slow. You might ask how is Arcanis slow and Niv is not? The difference is that Arcanis must see a untap step to be productive whereas Niv just needs to resolve for us to win the game.
Arjun, the Shifting Flame ? Mindmoil ? Other wheel effects? I do not play these cards because I generally like my hand. Time Spiral is an exception because it is a free spell upon resolution and shuffles everything in. Whirlpool Warrior usually is just used to combo but also shuffles things in when used in a pinch.
Jace Beleren ? I almost immediately rule out any card that benefits my opponents in any way. For that reason, -1 to draw one card at three mana is just not worth it. Additionally, anything at CMC of three must have a substantial impact on the field at all times, else I would rather just run counter magic or mana ramp in its place.
Capsize ? It does not make the cut because I do not make infinite mana. Bouncing is only temporary and I only do it when I absolutely have to. Six mana to bounce on buyback is also too mana intensive in my opinion.
Goblin Electromancer or any other card that synergizes with instants and sorceries? They are either overkill, too slow, or not good enough and I would rather just run another counterspell in its place.
Laboratory Maniac ? I’m just not trying to win that way. If I were to play him, chances are I would cut the Elixir of Immortality. The result would be the same regardless; however, Elixir of Immortality is a card I can use in the mid-game. Lab Maniac is just a combo piece that is a dead draw until you are prepared to win, at which point you would draw him anyways.
Mulldrifter ? Three mana to draw two cards at sorcery speed just does not cut it for me. Its evoke cost is also where most of my counter magic sits, and I try to avoid interfering with that. Rhystic Study and Long-Term Plans are the only spells at a CMC of three that are not counter magic or ramp that applies a static pressure on all of my opponents.
Omniscience ? Enter the Infinite? I do not play Omniscience anymore because I would often find myself casting it and saying past turn. This is mostly due to the ever-shrinking number of permanents in the deck, and there were many times where it was a dead draw. It was replaced by Expropriate which costs one less and has much more of an immediate impact on the game. I do not play Enter the Infinite because I only ever cast it under an Omniscience.
Propaganda ? While an extremely strong early game card, it loses potency the longer the game lasts which is suppose to be something you want to happen anyways.
Swiftfoot Boots? Trying to equip boots before comboing means one more mana that my opponents can just respond to. Playing Niv preemptively and equipping boots is greedy which screams “board wipe me.” If I play Niv with no intention of comboing immediately, it means I’m either crazy desperate, or fully prepared to protect him while he is on the field.
Tandem Lookout ? There are 2 reasons I don’t run this card: the first is having three different curiosity effects dilutes the control of the deck. The second is I just do not like creatures all that much.
Chaos Decks: Usually you have a good match up against these decks as the chaos just stalls your opponents while you set up to win. Just make sure to counter their Confusion in the Ranks and Possibility Storm and you should be fine.
Combo Control Decks: Probably your most interesting match-up. Due to the sheer amount of counter magic run in this deck I typically have found that if played correctly you will end up the winner. Exceptions to this are Edric, Spymaster of Trest and Sharuum the Hegemon decks. Both tend to be extremely consistent decks much like this one but at a much faster pace.
Fast Aggro/Blitz Style Decks: As mentioned earlier, this is the deck’s worst matchup. If your opponent is casting upwards of three to four spells by the time you can afford to cast one counterspell, you’re going to be in trouble. Opening hands must certainly contain turn one through three plays.
Glass Cannon/Voltron Aggro Decks: Probably the most boring of match-ups. Either these decks kill you too quickly, or you have the two to three counter spells to keep their few relevant creatures off the field. Opening hands should look similarly to those prioritized for Fast Aggro/Blitz Style Decks.
Graveyard Interaction/Combo: Since this is generally a tougher match-up, you want to make sure your Dissipate, Summary Dismissal, and Void Shatter are used on very relevant targets. A well placed Time Spiral can also afford you a win when you sweep their graveyard back up into their deck. Otherwise, the things you counter just keep coming back.
Group Hug Decks: Tricky to deal with. It can be hard to control players who are drawing three cards a turn and playing two lands. Players also will not look kindly to you countering something that only “benefits” the table, quickly turning you into the bad guy. Politics will play an important role in these games, and you must make sure to have counter magic ready for the group hug deck combo.
Mid-Range and Token Aggro Decks: Usually not too hard of a match up. Try to make sure you have at least one board wipe handy with a counterspell for the token player’s enchantments, and you should be fine.
Pillow Fort/Prison Decks: Usually not a problem to play against as they quickly draw the attention of other players for playing static effects that stop people from playing the game. The longer the game goes the better it usually is for you. Just be careful of the prison turning into stacks effects, and you should be fine. Also be wary of unique enchantments that pillow fort decks often tend to run. BEWARE THE AURA OF SILENCE!
Finally, this kind of deck can be extremely aggravating to play against, and so it should be played sparingly, especially against friends. You should not constantly subject your playgroup to it game after game, as games can be rather frustrating if not closed out quickly. The deck also takes a lot of practice as with so few creatures and permanent based removal, you must be very good at threat assessment with what comes in and out of the stack at all times. Note that the deck is extremely unforgiving as one false move and it can all come crumbling down. Anyone who knows what they’re doing, or who is in your playgroup and has learned what this deck is about, will know that any opportunity that presents itself is an opportunity worth taking.
For anyone who has stuck with me this far I hope you have learned a thing or two from reading about my strongest deck. I encourage you to take the time to build and refine a deck until it is nearly perfect just as I’ve done with this build of Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind.