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Commander Showdown — The Locust God vs Niv-Mizzet
A Plague of Locusts Upon Your House
Hour of Devastation is almost upon us, and there are some awesome preview cards on the horizon. We’ve seen Theros gods and Amonkhet gods before, but we’ve never seen plague gods. Scorpions and scarabs are terrifying, but the one that frightens me most is The Locust God.
This giant insect will cost you six mana for a 4/4 with flying, and like any pesky insect, it’s very tough to kill. Unlike previous gods, the new deities from Hour of Devastation don’t have indestructible. Instead, they return to their owner’s hand after they die, to be cast afresh without the burden of commander tax.
In addition, The Locust God boasts one of the scariest abilities I’ve seen in a while: whenever you draw a card, create a 1/1 insect token with flying and haste. Abilities that care about players drawing cards are exceptionally dangerous. Just ask anyone who pilots a Nekusar, the Mindrazer deck, or anyone who’s recently played against Kydele, Chosen of Kruphix. Drawing cards is what blue does best, so we can expect this thing to make a lot of tokens. It even has an extra ability to draw and discard a card if you need help getting that engine running.
Of course, a red-blue 4/4 with flying for six mana that cares about drawing cards sounds pretty familiar…
Hailing from the original Ravnica set, Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind has a bone to pick with our new locust friend. Niv doesn’t waste his time with tokens; he’d rather do the damage himself, pinging his opponents whenever you draw a card. He can even target creatures that annoy him, something The Locust God can’t do. Plus, instead of paying mana to loot, Niv taps to draw a card, triggering his own ability. This makes him one of the coolest Prodigal Sorcerers out there.
So how will the new god compete with the Izzet guild leader? Let’s take a look.
Curiosity Killed the Cat…and My Opponents
Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind has long been famous for his nigh-infinite combos with cards like Curiosity. This handy little aura draws you a card whenever the enchanted creature deals damage. Since Niv-Mizzet deals damage whenever you draw a card, combining the two of them lets you draw your entire library, dealing massive amounts of damage along the way.
It’s worth noting that enchantments like Curiosity and Ophidian Eye are may abilities, so you can stop drawing cards whenever you desire. Other enablers, like Tandem Lookout, are mandatory triggers, so you could deck yourself out if you aren’t careful. For more safety (and more money, unfortunately) some Niv-Mizzet players prefer Mind over Matter, which can untap Niv-Mizzet by simply drawing the cards he draws for you.
Since this is EDH, we have a lot of cards in our libraries, which makes this combo very dangerous. However, since this is EDH, we have multiple opponents, each with 40 life, which makes this combo very problematic. If you have three opponents, that’s 120 life you have to blaze through, and unless you’re cheating, your library is definitely not big enough to mow down your opposition. That’s why Niv-Mizzet players tend to run additional insurance in their decks:
You may not have enough cards in your library to ping everyone to death individually, but Psychosis Crawler spreads the love to each opponent simultaneously. With Niv’s combo, the Crawler turns 70 cards in your library into 70 life lost from each opponent, which is just obscene. Additionally, the infamous Laboratory Maniac shows up in 40% of Niv-Mizzet decks, changing the combo’s weakness into its strength. Not enough cards in your library? No worries, the Maniac will reward you for it.
There are other ways to work around the combo, too. Your library may be too small to win the game when everyone’s at 40, but if life totals are low enough, drawing those 70 cards might be enough to take them out after all. To that end, Windfall effects help get the ball rolling. Combined with a draw-doubler like Alhammarret’s Archive, a single wheel can put opponents into the perfect range to be mowed down by a combo. Particularly helpful are the spells that don’t discard your hand, but put it back into your library, so you don’t run out of cards. Winds of Change and Mindmoil stand out as good examples. Better yet, Time Reversal will reset your library entirely, so you won’t run out of cards to draw. Cracking an Elixir of Immortality or discarding a Kozilek, Butcher of Truth can help as well. Since Niv draws approximately one bazillion cards, some players also use Omniscience, to cast all those spells for free. If you’re clever enough, you can find ways to set up Niv for a win, despite the number of cards in your library.
Invoking the Firemind
Okay, just one last thing before we get to The Locust God. We’ve talked a lot about Niv’s big combo, but a combo is only a handful of cards in the 99. If we want to see how the big scary insect compares to Niv-Mizzet, we need a good sense of Niv’s entire library, so let’s take a look at his average decklist.
Average Niv-Mizzet Deck
Niv-Mizzet’s list is low on creatures and high on spells, which is unsurprising. I’m intrigued by the presence of Gilded Lotus. Mana rocks like this can be found in a lot of non-green decks, but that’s not the only reason Niv-Mizzet cares about mana rocks. The deck really needs Niv-Mizzet to get going, so ramping him out quickly is important. What’s even more important is keeping up leftover mana for a counterspell.
There are seven or eight different counterspells in Niv-Mizzet’s average deck, and all of them are there to protect him from harm. Everyone knows the Curiosity combo, which means ol’ Niv will have a great big target on his head. There are almost no other cards in his deck that do what he can do, so without him, the deck loses its engine and sputters to a halt. Keeping your commander alive is paramount, and counterspells help keep that glass cannon from shattering apart.
In true Izzet fashion, Niv-Mizzet decks hover on the line between immediately winning you the game and immediately losing you the game. Prepare your combos with precision, and handle them with care, or the deck might blow up in your face.
What the Hekma?
Okay, now we can talk about The Locust God. If you skipped straight to this section of the article, I can hardly blame you. I’m excited to talk about him, too. I just wanted to provide some context for his competition.
A few decks have already been made here on EDHREC for The Locust God, and in them, we see a lot of the same cards as Niv-Mizzet: Windfall, Fateful Showdown, Jace’s Archivist, and the like. Both of these commanders love to draw cards, after all, and these spells can draw lots of cards for a low mana cost. The Locust God makes creatures instead of pinging, though, and there are plenty of new cards to take advantage of all those tokens.
When drawing cards creates creature tokens… and your creature tokens draw you more cards… it’s hard not to get giddy just thinking about it. Bident of Thassa and Coastal Piracy are stellar cards to enable this engine. The tokens have haste, too, so you don’t have to wait a full round in fear of a Wrath of God before they start dishing out the pain.
The real standout, though, is Skullclamp. Equipping this to an insect token draws you two more cards, which makes you two more tokens. That’s just insane. Combine it with an Ashnod’s Altar and you start getting really nutty. Sacrifice one token to the Altar, pay one mana to equip the Skullclamp and draw two cards, making two new tokens, one of which can be sacrificed to the Altar–you get the idea. You draw your entire library and get a bunch of mana as you go. That Laboratory Maniac is rearing his crazy head again.
In fact, there are a number of combos The Locust God enables. Playing Intruder Alarm + Bonded Fetch (or Merfolk Looter, or Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind) creates as many insect tokens as you like. Azami, Lady of Scrolls + Xenograft turns each of your hasty insects into a wizard, so you can tap them to draw even more cards and make even more insects! This here Locust God is shaping up to be quite the combo commander in its own right, just with slight variations on the combos Niv-Mizzet introduced. (If only the locust could play Dire Undercurrents, things would really go crazy!)
With so many creatures entering the battlefield, though, combos aren’t the only way to win:
If you’ve ever played against a Purphoros, God of the Forge deck, you know how fast those games can go. Purphoros, Impact Tremors, and Warstorm Surge can absolutely melt life totals in the blink of an eye. Pairing these two gods together, a single Brainstorm becomes six damage to each opponent, a rate that frankly makes Nekusar, the Mindrazer jealous.
Meanwhile, Mana Echoes blows my mind. With this and our insect overlord on the table, drawing seven cards off a single Wheel of Fortune will net you 28 mana. No joke, 28 mana, because the tokens count themselves. Be prepared for the hate to come your way, because every single opponent will want to kill you dead before you can take advantage of this glorious synergy.
Oh, and speaking of creature types…
Shared Animosity and Coat of Arms are powerful tribal cards, and while this may not be a tribal deck, all those insects do share a creature type. Dropping either of these will make your insects crazy buff. The Locust God takes the typical Izzet gameplan and twists it a bit. Red-blue doesn’t usually like to do combat, but the locust is a combat specialist. Niv-Mizzet doesn’t bother with combat; for him, each card drawn is one damage, plain and simple. The Locust God, however, can drop a tribal artifact and turn each card drawn into one, three, or even seven points of damage.
This isn’t to say that The Locust God is 100% better. It just interacts with the game in a different way. Think of it like the Lorwyn card Hostility. The damage output has the potential to be higher, but that also brings along a new set of weaknesses, such as Propaganda effects, or Authority of the Consuls. What’s more, The Locust God has combos, but they may be harder to set up than Niv-Mizzet’s, because they need a few more pieces, while Niv just needs a single Ophidian Eye to go full throttle.
Since the set isn’t even out yet, there aren’t many decks for The Locust God here on EDHREC, so an average decklist might not be very illuminating. Instead, I hope you won’t mind if I throw my hat into the ring and come up with my own idea for a plague-of-locusts deck. Check it out:
Most of the list looks like Niv-Mizzet’s: wheel effects, draw spells, some counterspells to keep the commander protected. I tried to capitalize on the creature-creating aspect of the deck as much as I could. I’ll go into more detail about specific cards in the next section, but for now, I think I should sum up the Commander Showdown with this:
Niv-Mizzet is a combo-tastic but fragile deck, highly dependent upon the commander to work properly. The Locust God is similarly combo-tastic, but is actually more analogous to a Purphoros, God of the Forge or Krenko, Mob Boss deck, rapidly filling the field with creatures. Many players were surprised that locusts would have a red-blue color identity, but the frenetic swarm this commander summons forth is chaotic in a perfectly Izzetonian way.
Cards to Consider
As stated previously, for this section I’d like to go over some of the noteworthy inclusions in the decklist I made above. Some of these cards might slip under most player’s radars, but I encourage you to give them a second glance. While I’m at it, I’ll include some under-the-radar cards for Niv-Mizzet decks too.
The Locust God
- Opposition is perfect to keep attackers off your back and blockers out of your way. Think of it as the blue Glare of Subdual. If you get enough tokens, it even locks down lands, really sealing in your victory. The new Invocation artwork even shows a swarm of locusts, so it’s perfect for this deck!
- Credit Voucher. This is a weird one, but bear with me for a second. There are a lot of wheel effects out there, some better than others. I think this one’s highly underrated, for four reasons: first of all, you can activate it at instant speed; second, you don’t have to get rid of your entire hand if you have spells you’d like to keep; third, it can stay on the battlefield, rather than disappearing with the rest of your hand when you cast a different wheel spell; and fourth, it’s castable with entirely colorless mana, something you’re likely to have a lot of if you’re running Ashnod’s Altar. There’s a lot to like, and I think more players should give it a shot.
- Vicious Shadows is one of the scariest cards I’ve ever seen in a token-based deck. This card almost puts Omnath, Locus of Rage to shame. Say you got out five or six tokens last turn, and now your opponents are hoping to wipe the board to get rid of your dangerous-looking army. That Damnation looks a lot less appealing when it could wind up dealing the caster 20 damage afterward. This is a cruel but effective way to keep your board safe–by threatening explosive retaliation to any player who tries to destroy it.
- Breath of Fury. This enchantment puts in a ton of work in a Tana, the Bloodsower deck, and it does a fair share here too. Combined with a Coastal Piracy, you can combo into an inordinate number of combat steps. If you’ve also got a Shared Animosity, those power-boosting triggers will stack each combat, making the insects insurmountably powerful.
- Cephalid Coliseum. Don’t forget the lands! The damage this land deals to you is negligible, and the ability to loot three cards for two mana is really useful. Putting spells in your land slots always feels awesome, so give this one a try.
- Dream Halls is bonkers in a wheel deck. As mentioned previously, some players use Omniscience in Niv-Mizzet decks, to play all the spells they draw for free. Dream Halls is basically the same effect, but for half the mana. You usually end up discarding the cards in your hand already for a wheel effect, after all, so why not discard one more to save on some mana? With this on the field, you can cycle from a Time Reversal into a Wheel of Fortune into a Fateful Showdown without spending anything all. If that’s not enough to persuade you, try this one on for size: Dream Halls does not care where you cast the spell. Omniscience specifies your hand, but the Halls will let you cast your commander for free from the command zone.
- Psychic Possession only shows up in a scant 130 decks total on EDHREC, and that is just wrong. This card is insanity when paired with wheel effects. Sure, you skip your draw step, but you’ll draw a card whenever the enchanted player draws cards, so who cares? You’ll still get one card a round when they draw their card for the turn. Throw is on the player with a Rhystic Study and things start to look really nice. Best of all, when you cast your Reforge the Soul, you’ll draw fourteen cards. Fourteen. Cards.
- These are a bit cheeky, but I’m honestly a fan of Basilisk Collar and Willbreaker in a Niv-Mizzet deck. The Collar is a little tough to stick to Niv, because he’s often given shroud by Lightning Greaves to keep him alive, but if you do manage to attach it, it’s crazy good. Very few creatures will be able to survive a constantly-pinging Niv with deathtouch. Taking control of those creatures with Willbreaker sounds hilarious too. If you really want to be a pest, Dismiss into Dream gets around indestructibility! The point is, Niv-Mizzet can target creatures, and it seems prudent to take advantage of that ability, particularly to take out aggressive creatures coming your way.
- Stubborn Denial is a counterspell I’m surprised sees so little play. Keeping Niv-Mizzet alive is paramount to his deck, and he has exactly 4 power, so this card effectively becomes a Negate for one mana. It can’t counter creatures, and it doesn’t do much without Niv on the battlefield, but since the things you most want to counter are removal spells that target Niv-Mizzet, Stubborn Denial is the perfect counterspell for the job.
- Neurok Stealthsuit is a blue-aligned super-budget replacement for Lightning Greaves, but in this deck, why not run both? While you’re at it, check out Clout of the Dominus. I can’t stress enough how little this deck does without its commander, and these are great ways to make sure he stays safe.
- Finally, I’m giving a bonus recommendation this week, for both decks, because I am absolutely stunned that this card doesn’t show up on either commander’s EDHREC page: Memory Jar. This card does broken things, and if you play it out before you cast your commander, it can be a free wheel the turn you cast the commander in question. Like Dream Halls, I think players are hesitant about cards that provide symmetrical effects for all players, but unless an opponent has a Vedalken Orrery (another card Niv should run) they’re not going to get much of a benefit from a Memory Jar activated on your turn. This is a genuinely excellent card, and it’s a grave injustice for it not to show up on either commander’s EDHREC page.
The Locust God approaches, and from what I can tell, it means serious business. Niv-Mizzet is a proud dragon, though, so I think he’ll be able to hold his ground pretty well. Both offer some awesome combos, and I really love the new strategies the locust provides for Izzet decks. Hour of Devastation looks intense, and with amazing cards like The Locust God, it’s guaranteed to shake up the EDH format just as much as Nicol Bolas has shaken up Amonkhet.
So which commander would you play? What Showdown should be next? Let me know below.
Til next time!