Duel Decks: Nissa vs. Ob Nixilis

Posted in Feature on August 1, 2016

By Katie Allison

Katie is a copy editor and occasional writer for DailyMTG, as well as a longtime Magic player with a fondness for giant green creatures. She especially loves Commander, despite having the patience of a fruit fly, and might glare at you if your turn takes too long.

It's safe to say that Nissa Revane and Ob Nixilis do not get along. Really, really don't get along. They can't agree on anything—if Nissa said pizza was delicious, Ob Nixilis would call it the foulest dreck to ever plague the Multiverse.

While the Eldrazi were the (absurdly) big villains of Battle for Zendikar block, Ob Nixilis was also on the plane, plotting from the shadows to regain his Planeswalker spark. Trapped on Zendikar for centuries from the combined effects of the plane's wild mana and a hedron embedded in his forehead, he grew to actively loathe the world itself.

Nissa, by contrast, has a deep bond with Zendikar. It's more than just her homeworld; it is her friend, her protector, her ward. She is the only one who can speak to its very soul. When, in the midst of her desperate fight to save the plane from the Eldrazi, she came upon Ob Nixilis trying to consume the last of its life force, she attacked him. Though he was larger, stronger, and more experienced, Nissa's agility and resourcefulness, bolstered by Zendikar's wild mana, allowed her to overcome the Demon and protect the essence of the plane. But Ob Nixilis, although wounded and defeated, was still alive—and he is not the sort to forget a grudge.

Even their magical abilities are polar opposites. Nissa is an animist who speaks to the land itself; she can nurture life and restore vitality, or call massive elementals of earth and plant matter to fight at her side. Ob Nixilis's magic, on the other hand, consumes and destroys life. It's not even death magic, per se, like that wielded by Liliana—it's more like anti-life magic. He can weaken his enemies and erode solid matter, and he even consumes the life energy of other beings to increase his own power. No matter what circumstances they met under, Nissa and Ob Nixilis could never be anything but enemies.

Their vast differences take center stage in the upcoming Duel Decks: Nissa vs. Ob Nixilis, available September 2. Ob Nixilis's deck is mono-black, full of destruction and life loss. It offers plenty of ways to remove your opponent's creatures and bring your own back from the graveyard, mirroring Ob Nixilis's own essence-draining power. Nissa's deck is mono-green and overflowing with life. It can drop useful Elves early and ramp its way to massive Elementals in just a few turns, much like how Nissa herself can channel the feral power of nature to great effect. Both decks have plenty of tricks at their disposal, and I put them to the test by sitting down and playing both sides of this conflict.

I started off piloting Ob Nixilis and pretty quickly got worried, as my opponent assembled an impressive ground force before I could lay down so much as a single blocker. But one Giant Scorpion was enough to stem the tide, at least for a little while, and I used the breathing room to begin my demonic plotting.

My creatures were largely outmatched in both size and quantity, but they made up for it by making combat unattractive for my opponent in a variety of ways. The Scorpion and its fellow deathtouchers basically sat around, periodically yelling "Come at me, bro!" at Nissa's creatures and occasionally trading with the biggest ones. Blistergrub valiantly held the ground alone for a few turns because my opponent couldn't afford to both lose 2 life and put the third and final counter on my Quest for the Gravelord. Gumming up the ground like that allowed me to survive long enough to start casting my big Demons and start swinging away!

Some of the black deck's tricks are totally self-contained. My opponent looked pretty happy when I cast Priest of the Blood Rite at 6 life...and then much less happy when I cast Altar's Reap on my Priest, negating the downside, keeping the Demon, and getting two cards out of the deal.

I also enjoyed playing with Unhallowed Pact—reanimating my own creatures was great, but the best was when I cast it on my opponent's Cloudthresher and followed up with a Doom Blade on said Cloudthresher.

And of course Ob Nixilis Reignited himself is the centerpiece of the deck, complete with excellent new art. Here he gets an action shot, and looks as dangerous as a perennially pissed-off Demon Planeswalker should. His ability to clear the board and keep your hand full is as powerful as ever, and the rest of the deck works wonderfully around him.

A couple of other cards have also received the new-art treatment: Doom Blade and Ambition's Cost. With the menacing red and black encroaching from the edge of Doom Blade's image, it's easy to imagine that it represents Ob Nixilis himself annihilating an enemy.

After all the death and destruction, I was happy to switch to Team Nissa for a little while (the secret password is just whisper-shouting "Ashayaaaaa!"). I'm a green mage at heart anyway, so sitting down with a deck full of Forests and their denizens felt right.

You know what feels great? Having something to play on the first turn—especially when that something is a Scythe Leopard. In fact, it felt so great that I played a second Scythe Leopard on turn two (side note: those namesake scythes on its limbs must make it really hard to walk—maybe the Leopard just uses them to cling to trees and fall on its prey's head?).

On turn three, I made my land drop, triggering both my Leopards' landfall abilities, then cast Wood Elves (complete with new art by Josh Hass), dropping another Forest on the battlefield and triggering landfall again. In total, my double Scythe Leopards hit for 6 damage on turn three, which is a pretty explosive start by any measure!

Another card that's surprisingly strong in this deck is Crop Rotation. Beyond being able to cash in a basic Forest for a Khalni Garden (and the Plant token it generates), it also provided an instant-speed way to trigger landfall, essentially functioning as a one-mana combat trick that pumped multiple creatures. It also comes with some delightfully literal new art that makes me imagine a grizzled old farmer-mage sighing and telling his apprentice, "Bartholomew, how many times to I have to tell you that 'crop rotation' means something different out here?"

A lot of Nissa's creatures are pretty small individually, but they have a lot of ways to get scarier in a hurry—including with the help of Nissa herself! Nissa, Voice of Zendikar is the all-star of the deck, alternately spitting out Plant tokens to hold the ground and adding +1/+1 counters to the whole team. A motley crew of 1/1 Elves and 0/1 Plants only takes a few turns to become an unstoppable army when Nissa is around! Like her nemesis, Nissa also got some cool new action-shot art, in which she truly does look like a force of nature.

There are also, of course, plenty of creatures in this deck that don't need any help to be big and scary. Nissa has always had a bond with Elementals, magical creatures formed from earth, plants, and magical energy. They fill the top of the mana curve in this deck, and they are often just what you need to finish off the game.

My personal favorite is probably Thicket Elemental, but I'm pretty biased, since this bad boy singlehandedly won me a game. Pro tip: wait to cast it until you can pay the kicker! Then you basically get to "cascade" to another creature, except better, because it doesn't check the converted mana cost of the second creature. So casting a Thicket Elemental, paying the kicker, and dropping my Oran-Rief Hydra for free was so awesome it kind of felt like cheating. And no, my opponent did not survive the following turn.

Whether you're already missing Zendikar or you just want to play some super-fun Planeswalker grudge matches, you can pick up Duel Decks: Nissa vs. Ob Nixilis on September 2 at your favorite local game store. Happy dueling—and don't forget to kick your Thicket Elementals!


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Ob Nixilis

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