Karn, the Great Creator | War of the Spark
4, Apr, 24

Two Leylines Unite to Help Revive Dead MTG Archetype!

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Article at a Glance

Since the ban of Karn, the Great Creator in Pioneer, it’s safe to say that mono-green Devotion has faltered. Despite putting up occasional results, the Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx and Storm the Festival core has been significantly weakened in the format.

When Leyline of the Guildpact was first spoiled, there was some hype around its ability to singlehandedly fuel Nykthos. Its presence even offers players the potential to cast Cavalier of Thorns on turn two. However, this strategy was a bit inconsistent, and the payoff for assembling a boatload of mana just wasn’t the same without Karn in the mix.

Interestingly, though, the combination of Leyline and Nykthos has been getting some buzz in Modern. A unique take on mono-green Devotion put up a solid performance this weekend in a Magic Online Modern Challenge, making use of some potent upgrades that aren’t legal in Pioneer. Despite the power discrepancy between Pioneer and Modern, the emergence of this shell in Modern shows just how strong Leyline, Nykthos, and Karn are together.

Classic Devotion Elements

Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx | Theros

All things considered, this deck doesn’t actually stray too far from the traditional elements of the Pioneer Devotion decks of old. Kicking things off, we have the one-mana accelerants. Instead of Llanowar Elves and Elvish Mystic, we see Utopia Sprawl, Delighted Halfling, and Ignoble Hierarch fill this role. While these are minor upgrades, they still accomplish the same goal of adding an early ramp element to the board.

We also see very similar win conditions available in the Modern version. Both Cavalier of Thorns and Storm the Festival act as excellent pieces of top-end to accelerate into. These cards also synergize quite nicely together. Cavalier is a great card to hit off of Storm the Festival, and Cavalier can mill copies of Storm to Flashback later. Even with a hefty Flashback cost of ten mana, Nykthos does a ton of heavy lifting.

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Karn Package

Karn, the Great Creator

Of course, the major mana sink this deck makes use of once you have Nykthos going is Karn, the Great Creator. Karn is an excellent card when you have a lot of mana to work with. Grabbing Cityscape Leveler or Sundering Titan can spell doom for the opponent. With a big enough Devotion count, however, you can actually combo-kill your opponents thanks to the existence of Pestilent Cauldron in the sideboard.

The combo revolves around a few key cards: Nykthos (with a high Devotion count), two copies of Karn between the battlefield and graveyard, and two copies of Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner between the graveyard and the battlefield. First, you start by grabbing The Chain Veil from your sideboard with Karn and untapping Nykthos with Kiora to float a bunch of mana. Then, activate The Chain Veil, letting you float even more mana and grab Pestilent Cauldron with Karn.

From there, you can utilize the back side of Pestilent Cauldron, Restorative Burst, to grab copies of Kiora and Karn from your graveyard, while gaining four life as a bonus. Use your floating mana to cast Karn and Kiora (make sure to keep the newly played copies via legend rule). You can use Kiora to untap Nykthos and Karn to grab Pestilent Cauldron from exile once again.

Keep casting Restorative Outburst, looping copies of Karn and Kiora between the graveyard and battlefield. You will end up with infinite life and infinite mana in the process. Eventually, you can cast the front side of Pestilent Cauldron and use it to mill the opponent’s whole deck!

What’s nice about Karn is that it is powerful in a wide range of matchups. Having access to the combo is great, as you won’t need to enter combat at all to win. In some matchups, getting to grab hate pieces like Cursed Totem against Golgari Yawgmoth or Ensnaring Bridge against Hammer Time can be backbreaking. The combination of power and versatility makes Karn an elite finisher.

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Uniqueness of the Modern Shell

Scion of Draco

Where the Modern version of this archetype differentiates itself from traditional Pioneer variants is with the lack of three-drops. Part of what made the Pioneer deck so scary was the ability to slam Old-Growth Troll or Polukranos Reborn on turn two. This alone was rather problematic for midrange decks of the format to deal with.

In Modern, neither of those cards make an appearance. Only two copies of Kiora can be found as well. At first glance, this might seem a bit strange, but it makes a lot of sense when the existence of Leyline of the Guildpact and Leyline of Abundance are factored into the equation. Leyline of the Guildpact provides an easy path to generate four Devotion for Nykthos.

If you begin the game with Leyline of the Guildpact, playing either Sunken Citadel or a mana dork turn one and Nykthos on turn two will enable you to play a four-drop. Even without Nykthos, Leyline of Abundance and a turn one mana dork can get you to four mana on turn two.

As such, this deck is more focused on powering out Karn and The One Ring ahead of schedule instead of Old-Growth Troll or Polukranos. You’ll also find a playset of Scion of Draco here to further maximize Leyline of the Guildpact. The most important three-drop this deck plays is Archdruid’s Charm to help make sure you have consistent access to Nykthos.

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Competing in a High-Powered Environment

Grief

The biggest downside to playing this deck in Modern is having to contend with potentially busted starts from the opponent. At the end of the day, this deck is still mono-green, meaning its interaction is limited. With the full Karn tutor package, you also don’t have room to play playsets of cards like Force of Vigor or Endurance to help swing some otherwise poor matchups. With this in mind, a turn one Grief+Ephemerate from Esper Goryo’s or a turn one Amulet of Vigor out of Amulet Titan can be too much to overcome right off the bat.

Luckily, this deck can have some explosive starts of its own. We all know the power of Leyline of the Guildpact and Scion of Draco by now, but Leyline+Nykthos is an amazing combination in its own right. Any slower deck or strategy that relies on Creature-based combat likely matches up poorly against Cavalier and Storm the Festival, and getting to slam Karn or The One Ring turn two is certainly strong. Given the deck’s lack of interaction, you are more reliant on these quick starts, so make sure to mulligan aggressively.

At the very least, it’s cool to see strong cards like Nykthos and Karn still get respect, even if it’s in a different environment. This isn’t the most competitive shell, and if you expect a lot of fast combo decks, I’d recommend looking elsewhere. Nonetheless, there are certainly metagames where this deck will shine. For mono-green Devotion fans who have become discouraged in Pioneer and want to break out Karn and Pestilent Cauldron once more, definitely give this deck a chance.

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