Last updated on November 23, 2021
Bring to Light | Illustration by Jonas De Ro
The Pioneer metagame changes weekly as top decks get attacked and new decks form and refine. The format’s major staples have shifted radically since it originated two years ago thanks to new sets, bans, and targeted adaptations. One of the longest standing decks that’s still a player in challenges and PTQs every week is Niv to Light.
Powerful midrange strategies can shift answers and threats to respond to any top deck while retaining a core advantage over most aggro decks. We see it a lot in Magic as top players gravitate towards these midrange decks where format knowledge and versatility reward play skill and deck tuning.
All deck styles are present in Pioneer including linear aggro, un-interactive combo, midrange, and full control. It can get difficult to answer everything with such a wide metagame.
One hallmark of Niv to Light is using Bring to Light to enable a suite of silver bullets in the main deck to help matchups that should be rough before board. Cards like Shadows’ Verdict, Slaughter Games, and The Scarab God all act to attack different decks but Niv to Light can run “five” copies of each effect without ruining the deck’s composition in matchups where these bullets aren’t effective thanks to Bring to Light.
Let’s dive into this list to see the general composition of this powerful midrange deck!
Niv-Mizzet Reborn | Illustration by Raymond Swanland
Drowned Catacomb x2
Glacial Fortress x2
Indatha Triome x2
Overgrown Tomb x2
Raugrin Triome x3
Rootbound Crag x2
Sunpetal Grove x2
Zagoth Triome x3
Current Niv to Light builds leverage a rebuilt mana base to make sure you’re more consistent in casting the many powerful multicolored spells present in the deck. The deck’s core is made of three-to-four-of cards like Bring to Light, Sylvan Caryatid, and Niv-Mizzet Reborn, while otherwise using one-to-two-of cards that are more situationally powerful.
Most midrange decks use the sideboard to customize their strategy against the field. But with your ability to find every card in the deck, Niv to Light gets to attack the meta in game 1 and then improve against the field post-board.
Bring to Light
Why does one card require its own mini-section? Well, if the name of the deck didn’t give it away, the primary reason this deck functions is Bring to Light.
It acts as the major payoff to playing five colors since you have access to your entire deck like many toolbox decks of the past. Having five or more copies of important singular effects allows you to radically shift your deckbuilding week-to-week to address specific matchups.
Slaughter Games can instantly deal with certain combo decks. Tolsimir, Friend to Wolves is a backbreaking answer to small aggressive creatures. Shadows’ Verdict can wipe out decks like Rakdos () Arcanist and leave them incredibly short without a board or graveyard. These are all silver bullets that have come in and out of Niv depending on the meta.
Bring to Light allows you to snowball in all matchups, whether that takes the form of Niv-Mizzet Reborn reloading your hand and applying pressure, Omnath, Locus of Creation gaining you life and presenting a blocker that’s difficult to answer, or a wrath effect to stifle aggressive decks in their tracks.
Bring to Light is the most powerful and versatile card in the deck, but it requires an understanding of the list and format to maximize its potential.
The deck’s second namesake, Niv-Mizzet Reborn, acts as this deck’s card advantage engine and primary win condition. A 6/6 flyer is difficult to answer cleanly for any non-black deck in the format and even then it’s rarely a card positive trade.
The deck leverages multicolored cards to draw between two and four cards each time Niv triggers with its enter the battlefield (ETB) ability. This makes 1-for-1 trades hugely favorable for Niv decks since answering a Niv always sets your opponent behind overall and finds you next copy of Bring to Light, ensuring the next copy of Niv.
This engine of chaining Niv into Niv makes it incredibly difficult to win once the first Niv resolves for most decks. It’s the backbone of this strategy.
Sylvan Caryatid is the best pure ramp card in Pioneer. Cards like Llanowar Elves and Elvish Mystic work well in decks trying to accelerate from one mana to three mana. Where Caryatid shines is decks trying to go from two to four mana, decks that need mana fixing, decks that want to reliably block 2-power creatures, and decks where you need your mana creatures to survive removal.
Niv to Light wants all these things and you would definitely run eight Caryatids before you ever used Growth Spiral if you could. The quality of hands where you have a turn 2 Caryatid are lightyears ahead of hands without it.
While Niv to Light is the deck’s name, many of the top-end threats are replaceable with one another unless you need a specific effect. Spiral tries to replicate the effectiveness of Caryatid but there really isn’t any debate on which you’d rather cast on turn 2 in a format littered with small creatures.
The old mana base used Fabled Passage to fix mana and abused Omnath, Locus of Creation’s two-land-in-a-turn clause to ramp out two threats in one turn. With the updated mana base relying less on Passage and basics, Omnath became a nice silver bullet for against aggressive match ups.
The lifegain staves off decks like burn and vampires for a turn or two and the game ends if Omnath lives for more than one turn. While there are less ways to get the two-land trigger, Growth Spiral can still manage to help ramp out those explosive two threat turns.
A silver bullet against other midrange decks and decks that use the graveyard for recursive creatures. The Scarab God started in the sideboard but eventually found its way into the main after the format moved further away from pure combo.
Having access to a recursive 5/5 locks out aggro decks and the rebuying of threats like Niv or Omnath often locks up any close game. While I rarely ever Bring to Light for The Scarab God, having a diversity of threats is important. Especially in a mirror where both players can Slaughter Games Niv.
Remember cascade week? Well, WotC quickly fixed that, but the interaction between Bring to Light and Valki, God of Lies never changed. You can Bring to Light for two colors and get a 7-mana planeswalker that’s incredibly hard to answer.
While you sometimes draw Valki, running it out as a creature and trading slows the game down enough that you can potentially find Kolaghan’s Command to rebuy your planeswalker late into the game. On an equal board, Tibalt, Cosmic Imposter dominates like few other threats in the format.
Removal and Wrath Package
Since you have zero counterspells in the main deck, you need ways to answer any type of threat that comes down. Except for cards like Esika’s Chariot or Jeskai Ascendancy, Dreadbore can handle it all.
Tagging planeswalkers or threatening creatures alike, it’s easy to double-spell with Dreadbore and another piece of removal at just . Especially post-board, the cheap efficiency allows you to answer a threat and hold up an instant-speed spell.
Abrupt Decay is a multiformat staple for a reason. It kills any non-land three mana value or less, can’t be countered, and hits most threats out of aggro decks while having live targets against control and combos like Ascendancy.
While this is an easy cut in matchups like Lotus Field, Decay can bail out even the worst of positions if you only need to ensure a single target dies.
A flexible spell, Kolaghan’s Command allows you to rebuy your creatures in the late game to ensure you never run out of fuel. It also manages to answer smaller creatures and artifacts at a good rate. Given this deck no longer plays Oath of Kaya, this is your only form of reach in game 1.
You need to cast K-Command or Bring to Light for Command as a shock to win close games a non-zero amount of time. There’s also the draw step discard mode that comes up in mid-to-late games, so keep all of this card’s modes in mind as the game progresses.
Between mono green, Boros burn being exclusively red permanents, mono black aggro, and vampires, along with plenty of other important mono-colored cards, Verse is incredibly flexible. While there are some matchups, especially the mirror, where this card falls flat, it often overperforms.
Deafening Clarion works well at clearing smaller creatures off the board while giving huge swings of life if you already have a Niv, Omnath, or Scarab God in play. The wrath side is the major reason to play this card, but the times where you undo six damage against burn instantly breaks their ability to steal games.
Extinction Event is a fail-safe to answer wide boards and specific creatures that make your life difficult. Many decks overload on 3-drop creatures like Archon of Emeria that can cause issues. Being able to sweep up the problematic creature and any other odd or even costed threats respectively is another way Niv manages to mitigate aggressive decks and contain single-threat decks like auras.
Solar Blaze is a newer addition to the main-deck wrath package. In places where Clarion may not kill larger creatures, having a second more unconditional sweeper is important.
You can’t play Shadows’ Verdict thanks to your companion, so having a second way to deal with a large, offensively minded board is important. But unlike Verdict, killing off threats that outpace on mana value can often help swing mirrors and other matchups where your opponent goes slightly larger post-board.
A solid form of card filtering that plays a major role in midrange decks finding their important answers and not flooding on misaligned cards. Nahiri, the Harbinger also answers problematic permanents and soaks damage. Another instance of a card that does a little of all the right things including fetching Niv, Omnath, or Scarab God if you manage to get Nahiri to eight loyalty.
Drawing cards and ramping are both great effects in this style deck. You’re trying to get a Triome on turn 1 and either Growth Spiral or Sylvan Caryatid on turn 2 so you untap on turn 3 with four mana in this build.
As the only way to trigger Omnath’s two-land ability, Spirals have value later in the game churning through the deck’s high land count. Much like the Scapeshift decks of old Standard, you want to use Spiral to look for a land if you need to but ideally wait until you can ensure a free land before you cast it.
You want to play this on turn 3 or later to make sure you get two cards out of the deal. The later you cast this card the better you can filter for specific threats or answers to close out the game. Saving Iteration for the right spots can be crucial in winning close games that progress into later turns.
Older versions of Niv played cards like Tolsimir, Friend to Wolves and Shadows’ Verdict which meant you couldn’t use Jegantha, the Wellspring. Unlike Jeskai Ascendancy, you only play Jegantha as an additional threat.
While the mana can be useful in casting two spells in a turn, you mostly just want to ensure you don’t run out of threats, especially deep into game 1. All your threats close the game quickly and sometimes you just need to commit to racing with big dumb idiots and Jegantha does that quite well. Never underestimate a 5/5 body against most the format.
The Land Base
While the threats in a deck like Niv to Light matter and so do the spells, nothing causes you more loses early in your days with this deck than miss-sequencing your lands or misunderstanding what lands come in untapped when. Work through the process of learning what lands tap for which colors and how to maximize your colors left over after casting a spell.
Start with basics, move to duals, then Triomes, and finally Mana Confluence or Sylvan Caryatid. This is especially important after casting a Niv-Mizzet Reborn or Bring to Light and refilling your hand because it takes longer to snowball the game if you can’t cast the cards you just found.
A 5-color deck uses all five Triomes. You lean heaviest towards green since your 2-drops need it. It would be incredibly difficult to form a functional mana base without access to these lands. The numbers will all switch if we ever complete the cycle of Triomes, but they’re mostly stable for now.
Shocks and check lands galore! You want all your turn 2 lands to come into play untapped thanks to the number of Triomes. If you have a Triome and a check land in your opening hand, odds are good you’ll have between three and five colors with two untapped lands for turn 2.
The addition of extra check lands came about with the removal of Fabled Passage and the high basic land count. This shift works to ensure a tap land on turn 1 can unlock your spells on turn 2. You should be unlocked to cast a Niv-Mizzet Reborn or Bring to Light for five by the time you’ve got five lands down.
Rainbow lands in a 5-color deck. Not much else to say. While Mana Confluence frees up your mana, the points of life add up quickly and you still want to minimize your use. Playing it early can also lead to an issue with check lands, so figure out when and how to use Confluence or you’ll end up losing a few games you’d otherwise win.
Tips and Tricks
- While you can’t mulligan as aggressively as some decks, the power level of your individual cards allows for some mulliganing to look for green lands, 2-drops, and a payoff or two.
- Midrange decks need a knowledge of the format. You need to know the range of decks you could be facing if your opponent shows you a companion. If your opponent shows Lurrus of the Dream Den and you keep a clunky hand with no interaction, you’re likely to die. Conversely, if they show a Kaheera, the Orphanguard and you keep all your removal, you might die to Teferi without putting up a fight.
- Master the mana base. I mentioned it before, but you’ll be at a disadvantage if you mess up a turn sequence with this deck. While this list quickly takes over around turn 5, you can’t come back if you’re too far behind, and land sequencing massively contributes to your tempo.
- Learn what sets of cards will show up together in Niv to Light piles. Dreadbore and Kolaghan’s Command. Bring to Light and Growth Spiral. Solar Blaze and Nahiri, the Harbinger. Keep in mind that you can only ever find one card in each color pair, so knowing what options exist helps to craft a gameplan of how to win.
- Don’t be afraid to race. Three Niv-Mizzet Reborn hits and a Kolaghan’s Command or a shockland is 20 damage. While you’re favored in many mid- to late-games thanks to Niv, many decks in Pioneer can win with few resources if you don’t have counterspells or other interaction already in hand. Learn when you’re the beatdown and when you’re just brick wall-ing their team.
- You have access to every multicolored card in Pioneer; don’t be afraid to experiment with different flex spots or silver bullets. The best prepared version of Niv to Light will change week to week and if that’s your version, you can sail to a Top 8 in any event.
- You need to keep some greed pile hands where missing a land or getting Thoughtseize’d really hurts. Understand that you play a lot of mana sources and prioritize getting resources into play. If an opponent Thoughtseizes your threat but you have five lands in play, you can draw another six or seven valuable threats. If you lose your Sylvan Caryatid or Growth Spiral, though, you may not get to enough lands to punish their discard heavy hands.
Fatal Push is the single most efficient removal spell in the format. While the versions with Fabled Passage get more milage out of Push, you only need to address the earliest creatures to bridge into the wrath part of your gameplan. Push also helps a lot in protecting your life total through mitigating shocks.
You can play a black Triome on turn 1 and a tapped shockland turn 2 to kill an opponent’s creature or Growth Spiral into a black check land and kill a creature as a bonus. Don’t count on Push turning tough matchups, but it further stalls aggressive decks.
Go Blank is the premier discard spell for greed pile decks, graveyard decks, or spell-based combo decks. A clean 2-for-1 at the worst of times, multiple Blanks can instantly swing the advantage in your favor if you catch Arclight Pheonix, Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger, or slow down Treasure Cruise. Almost any matchup where your opponent uses the graveyard or wants to have more cards in hand than you after turn 5, Go Blank helps to apply pressure from multiple angles.
Knight of Autumn
A multicolored card that can answer artifacts and enchantments, Knight of Autumn is primarily helpful against burn decks where the lifegain or +1/+1 counter modes also serve you well. Matchups where you kill something like Chained to the Rocks and trade with a creature are hard to lose.
You play a ton of spells that have blue. Your opponents have their own copies of Mystical Dispute and other forms of interaction. You want to protect your threats or force through answers on key turns in the early game.
You’re looking to protect your threats or prevent them from sticking their own threats in the midgame. While Dispute mostly helps build tempo advantage, it’s backbreaking against control decks or other midrange piles when used on a key turn.
Decks with cards like Treasure Cruise, Chart a Course, or Teferi, Hero of Dominaria all hate Notion Thief. It threatens planeswalkers or life totals and can force your opponent to tap out going into your turn with five mana available. It’s exceptionally potent against decks like Lotus Field and Jeskai Ascendancy Combo where their number of answers are limited but they need to draw cards to win.
Counterspell decks can sometimes win the tempo battle by countering your one spell per turn until you run out of threats, and they can sneak in a Teferi or Dig Through Time. Surrak Dragonclaw is a pile of stats that quickly ends the game and protects your follow-up threats.
Either your next creature resolves or your opponent spends resources in their end step, giving you a chance to resolve a threat with Mystical Dispute backup. Bring in a card like Surrak if you’re running low on clock since it can end the game quickly, snowballs out of control, and most decks have issues answering it for one card.
How to Beat Niv to Light
Mana Confluence | Illustration by Richard Wright
Aggressive starts backed up with discard or protection can obliterate Niv to Light. Decks like Mono Black Aggro often punish Niv to Light’s one important spell by applying recursive pressure and then discarding the wrath or threat.
Combo decks are generally good against Niv to Light, especially with this current configuration. Lotus Field is a major predator for this build without Slaughter Games in the current 75. Creature combo can stall out against Niv to Light, but decks like Naya Winota that are immune to Vanishing Verse and sorcery-speed removal the turn they cast Winota, Joiner of Forces can kill out of nowhere.
Decks with single-card kill conditions that come down on their turn are another good option. Bolas’ Citadel can instantly end the game when it resolves for Jund Citadel and there are only two Verses to answer it. Otherwise you’ll often die from lack of early pressure on their life total.
Burn hands backed up with Rolling Vortex to stop Bring to Light and lifegain are especially brutal. A card like Culling Ritual can help to sweep up the board and Vortex, but most lists no longer run any copies.
Izzet Phoenix is a good matchup except for Crackling Drake. Either Maximize Velocity or Kazuul’s Fury combo will steal games that otherwise feel safe. You’ll usually hit Drake over Arclight Pheonix if you run Slaughter Games since there are plenty of answers to a 3/2 including your own, bigger flyer.
Spirits on the Play can easily out-tempo Niv to Light, but you’ll eventually 1-for-1 them out of the game unless they have an aggressive start backed by Mystical Disputes, Spell Queller, or other tempo cards.
Niv to Light has gone through plenty of iterations. While some of these cards were in the list and now float in and out, be sure to keep them in mind as you consider the meta at hand.
- Shadows’ Verdict
- Tolsimir, Friend to Wolves
- Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
- Rakdos’ Return
- Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger
- Prismari Command
- Slaughter Games
- Dovin’s Veto
- Aether Gust
- Grafdigger’s Cage
Vanishing Verse | Illustration by Chris Seaman
Niv to Light acts as the midrange gatekeeper of the Pioneer format. While the deck has great weekends and poor showings, consistent pilots take this deck to top 8 week after week. Work to master this deck and the intricacies of its construction and you’ll easily see the wins roll in.
My first Pioneer Challenge top 8 came from Niv to Light, so the deck holds a special place in my heart. Sometimes you win just by virtue of having access to a lot of removal, wraths, and a dragon, but the games where you find the razor’s edge are just as exciting with this deck.
I always recommend players pick up Niv to Light since it always shows up in Challenges and PTQs. It may not be the best deck for any given weekend, but the times that it is the best deck, watch out or you’ll quickly find yourself staring down a 6/6 flyer with little hope of survival.
Let me know what you think of toolbox-style decks enabled by cards like Bring to Light or Chord of Calling? Do these style of decks interest or bore you? Let me know in the comments down below or over on Draftsim’s Twitter.
Thanks so much for reading!