Last updated on April 16, 2021
Masked Vandal | Illustration by Jason A. Engle
It’s time to cover what many players regard as the evolution of Gruul adventures: Naya adventures. What brought upon this evolution, you might ask? That would be Showdown of the Skalds, often seen as an underpowered version of Escape to the Wilds.
But why is Naya adventures better than its Gruul counterpart? It honestly depends on the meta and your preferred playstyle. Gruul is the faster deck of the two, playing more copies of Embercleave. That being said, I value the grinding ability of Naya. Especially against Yorion and up and comer Rakdos midrange decks.
Which one is better head-to-head? Giant Killer and Bonecrusher Giant help you deal with pesky threats to prevent early aggression. Beyond that, you can use Showdown of the Skalds to generate card advantage and give you a chance to play the long game. Putting counters on your creatures also allows them to better block opposing creatures.
I want to make it clear that I’m not saying that Naya would beat Gruul in every game, but I believe that Naya is favored of the two. I won five games against Gruul, while I only lost two other matchups. But that’s enough talk. Let’s get into the meat of it.
Branchloft Pathway | Illustration by Titus Lunter
This deck functions like a midrange deck. It uses the adventure package and its powerful late-game tools like Showdown of the Skalds and The Great Henge to generate card advantage and go over the top. This grindy aspect of the deck gives it an edge over other creature decks that often allow it to overpower them.
It’s fast enough to beat greedy decks like Sultai ramp early on without sacrificing the late game aspect when a single The Great Henge can win the game if left unanswered.
The Adventure Package
This deck shines when it comes to fully using Edgewall Innkeeper’s abilities because it plays a total of 16 adventure creatures. When compared to Gruul’s meager eight adventures, it’s a clear improvement. The Innkeeper was already amazing in Gruul, so you can imagine how good it’ll be here in Naya.
Bonecrusher Giant is an auto-include in any red deck, stomping your opponent’s creature on turn 2 and then untapping and playing a 4/3 body. Quite an efficient spell.
Lovestruck Beast is a huge body capable of blocking opposing creatures really well. It also provides you with a turn 1 blocker against more aggressive strategies. But the best thing about the Beast is how it helps power out The Great Henge. A turn 4 Henge is backbreaking against most strategies.
The more I play this deck, the more I fall in love with Giant Killer. Beyond being an efficient removal spell capable of shutting down large creatures, it’s a cheap adventure card that pairs up well with Edgewall Innkeeper. It’s also cheap enough to be cast-off a Showdown of the Skalds on turn 5. Tapping creatures to swing for lethal is always good and this little guy has killed giants. Give him the respect he deserves and play four in the mainboard.
Most people think Shepherd of the Flock is only used to bounce Showdown of the Skalds so it can be used again. While that’s definitely a very strong interaction that pushes the deck over the top, Shepherd does have some other uses.
First, it protects your creatures from removal spells which is especially important for its blowout potential if your opponent uses an adventure card. Beyond that, it can be used as a card draw engine when paired with Edgewall Innkeeper by looping itself. If you have a Shepherd in hand and one in play, you can bounce the one in play back to your hand with Usher to Safety. This ability comes in very handy in the late game where every extra card drawn from Edgewall Innkeeper will put you closer and closer to winning.
With Rakdos midrange on the rise, variants that run Ooze are faring better. Especially because this 2-drop allows you to deal with Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger. Beyond that, it gives you a way to deal with rogues by decreasing your graveyard size while growing to an unmanageable size. The +1/+1 counters make it immune to Heartless Act, too.
The Great Henge
If you were absent from the last Standard environment, then you haven’t witnessed the power of the Henge. I’ve often won games and came back from situations where I had little to no chance of coming back thanks to the absurd power level of this card. The fact that we play three in the mainboard should give you an idea of how powerful it is, especially when paired with Lovestruck Beast and Kazandu Mammoth.
The other busted artifact from Throne of Eldraine. If you’re up against a mono red aggro deck, you have to include at least one copy of the cleave. Not only does it make blocking harder for your opponent since they always have to keep Embercleave in mind, it can win you any game out of nowhere.
Why are we playing only one copy if it’s that powerful? This deck’s focus isn’t aggression. It focuses on grinding. The most common scenario in the late game is a clogged board where Embercleave will shine and give you the advantage when attacking.
Arni Slays the Troll
I’ve been experimenting with this card and have found it to be pretty useful as a one-off in the mainboard. A removal spell that double up as ramp and a permanent pump effect is really good.
I’ve played this numerous times, untapped, and dropped The Great Henge thanks to the pump ability. Gaining life also comes in handy in aggro matchups but with most of the meta not being this aggressive, I think one copy is enough.
Showdown of the Skalds
The main reason we’re splashing white. Generating card advantage and making your creatures bigger; who can say no to that? What puts it over the top in this deck is the previously mentioned interaction with Shepherd of the Flock.
I recommend playing the full playset. It’s not wrong to play this at later turns, but make sure you have enough mana to bounce it in case your opponent has a way to remove it.
Sometimes getting double red is hard in this deck. But, hey, worst case scenario you can use this spell as your second red source. And the best-case scenario is you decimate your opponent’s board.
Just like Scavenging Ooze, Klothys, God of Destiny helps you deal with rogues and Rakdos midrange. Again, with how often Rakdos midrange comes up on the ladder, I encourage having two copies of Klothys in the sideboard.
Why are we playing Masked Vandal over Embereth Shieldbreaker? Because artifact hate isn’t the only thing that the meta currently needs. You need a versatile way to deal with Showdown of the Skalds and The Great Henge with so many copies of them flying around. The Showdown is our top priority since you don’t want it to be recured with Shepherd of the Flock. Gruul aggro typically slides The Akroan War in which is pretty good against your strategy, so we need to deal with yet another enchantment. This makes dealing with enchantments a priority over dealing with just artifacts.
Ox of Agonas and Phoenix of Ash serve as our anti-rogues’ strategy. Phoenix can also be used as anti-control tech, but I don’t think this is currently feasible with Extinction Event being the sweeper of choice.
I’ve mentioned this before in my Neostorm guide, but the best sideboard strategy is to diversify your threats post-board. That’s exactly what Vivien, Monsters’ Advocate provides you with. After your opponent taps out to deal with your board, you can resolve a Vivien that’ll not only pressure your opponent with 3/3 beasts but also allow you to tutor for utility creatures. Some other players run Elspeth Conquers Death in this slot, but I honestly find Vivien to be the more useful of the two.
This matchup shouldn’t scare you. I might even argue that you’re slightly favored.
Klothys, God of Destiny provides you with graveyard hate. Ox of Agonas and Phoenix of Ash punish your opponent for milling you. Last but not least, Glass Casket gives you additional cheap removal and the exile effect is great since your opponent can’t get these cards back with Lurrus of the Dream-Den.
Make sure to side out your copies of Giant Killer. It’s mostly useless. Shepherd of the Flock is also much weaker in this matchup, so feel free to pull out all four copies. Last, make sure to take out your copies Embercleave, Arni Slays the Troll, and Bonecrusher Giant.
You’re going to sideboard similar to how you would in a Gruul adventures matchup. The winner here is whoever can generate the most card advantage, whether through Showdown of the Skalds or The Great Henge.
Take out one copy each of Embercleave and Shepherd of the Flock to bring in your two copies of Masked Vandal and you should be good. You don’t need to bring in Glass Casket since your opponent will already be bringing in artifact removal to deal with your Henge, making siding in the Casket a bit counterintuitive.
Aggression is the name of the game. Keep your opponent on their feet with early creatures and then end the match by resolving Vivien, Monsters’ Advocate or The Great Henge. They’ll have an especially hard time dealing with Showdown of the Skalds, so make sure to use it to its full power.
This matchup can prove to be tricky, but I believe this deck is better at grinding out the late game. Make sure to replace Giant Killer and one Shepherd of the Flock with Klothys, God of Destiny and Glass Casket to deal with Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger.
This matchup is all about grinding and getting to the late game.
Klothys, God of Destiny is hard for them to remove so it’s a good idea to slide both copies in. Vivien, Monsters’ Advocate increases your chances of winning as well and you can bring in either two copies of Ox of Agonas or Phoenix of Ash.
I usually lean into the Ox since it refills your hand and would’ve already accomplished its job even if it’s exiled. We aren’t bringing in the full four copies, since it forces you to discard your hand, something you can’t always do if you’ve been saving Showdown of the Skalds in your hand.
I don’t blame you if you still choose to play Gruul aggro, since both are decent ladder strategies. I’d still recommend Naya over Gruul but, again, your preferred playstyle is also important when making the decision.
If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments down below! I’d be more than happy to help a fellow Esper mage! You can also pop on over to our Discord if you want a longer discussion instead. And if you don’t have it yet, you absolutely need to get our MTGA helper app, Arena Tutor. It’s great.
Good luck, and see you on the ladder!
Kazandu Valley | Illustration by Grzegorz Rutkowski