Naya Runes: A Guide to the Coolest Deck in Standard
Can I share with you a great tragedy? There is rarely a playable storm deck in Standard. Well, unless you count Kaya Treasure storm—which you shouldn’t, because I did say playable (I’d know, I really tried to make it good). However, Kamigawa Neon Dynasty has gifted us with a deck capable of some truly explosive storm-style turns that is actually among the top tier decks in Standard. Let’s talk about Naya Runes.
At its most basic, the deck is built around the powerful interaction between Jukai Naturalist and Runeforge Champion. Runeforge Champion makes all of your Runes cost 1 and Jukai Naturalist makes all your Runes cost 1 less; thus, together, all of your Runes cost 0. Since the Runes all draw a card on arrival, this can let you rapidly burn through your deck, building up large, lifelinking, trampling creatures while you do so.
The rest of the core consists of Generous Visitor and Kami of Transience, which mean that every time you cast a Rune or any of the deck’s other many enchantments, your creatures grow at an alarming rate.
With all of that said, the power of the deck is actually at the top of its curve: Showdown of the Skalds. We’ve seen Showdown in a few different decks since it was released, and it has always been good, but I’ve never seen it as insane as it is in this deck. Drawing four cards is always great, but the +1/+1 counter ability on the second two chapters goes nuts in a deck full of (potentially) free cantrips that also trigger other +1/+1 counter effects. This is the card that really enables the “storm” turns, as it provides you the gas to go off and then the payoff for casting a million spells.
That’s the core of the deck, so let’s take a look at the full list that I’ve been playing and we’ll discuss the rest of the slots:
The four flex slots are the two copies of Hallowed Haunting and the two Tamiyo’s Safekeeping. Hallowed Haunting is another way for the deck to “go big”. The upside of this card is in matchups like BW Midrange where you just want more threats, but it is weaker against control decks where an expensive card leaves you vulnerable to cheap countermagic. I’ve previously played Borrowed Time in this slot (many lists seem to run Touch the Spirit Realm—I think that card is awful due to not hitting Planeswalkers etc.), but the deck rarely needs removal, it just goes bigger than every other deck. If your meta has lots of Hinatas and counterspells, add Borrowed Time; otherwise, I’ve been liking Hallowed Haunting.
Now, here’s my possibly hot take on the archetype: I firmly believe you want a couple of copies of Tamiyo’s Safekeeping in the maindeck. The deck’s main weakness is getting its creatures removed, either in response to Runes (so you don’t get the card draw) or after you’ve Voltron’d up one massive creature. Safekeeping is a super flexible maindeck answer to this problem, able to protect you from exile removal (unlike Valorous Stance), sweepers (unlike Snakeskin Veil), and even just getting tangled in combat. I’ve been very happy with two copies in the maindeck and another two in the sideboard that I bring in in basically every matchup.
Tips and Tricks
Firstly, mulligans. Don’t keep one-land hands. Due to the low curve of the deck, it can be tempting to think that you can work off a low land count, but that’s not the case. The deck really wants to cast a lot of spells in one turn, which typically requires a healthy land count. Additionally, mulligan any 7-card hand that doesn’t have a 1- or 2-drop. Starting your game with a turn-3 Runeforge Champion is just not fast enough.
Next, land sequencing. One of the trickiest things with the deck is its mana base due to having the full 12 Pathways that each require a decision that will have effects for the rest of the game. Your first priority is having plenty of access to green mana—you potentially want your second green before your first red. You next want to make sure you’ve got your white mana sorted, and then at some point your red mana. The only red cards are Showdown of the Skalds and Rune of Speed, and the Rune often costs 1 due to Runeforge Champion. Once you’ve got one red land, you can put the rest of your pathways on green and white, as you’ll often need multiple of these.
Be aware of your opponent’s removal options when deciding where to put your +1/+1 counters and Runes. For example, against decks with hard removal (e.g. BW midrange, mono W aggro) you want to spread your counters and auras around as evenly as you can. Against decks with damage-based removal (such as the URx control decks and mono G aggro), once you get above 4 toughness you can mostly load up on one creature (though be careful of Fading Hope against blue decks).
Runeforge Champion can search your graveyard for Runes. If the Rune that you want is in your graveyard, it’s better to get it from there than your library since you will then have a better chance of drawing into more Runes on your storm turns.
Showdown of the Skalds is better on turn 5 than turn 4, since you can play your 5th land and often a one-drop off the Showdown cards. However, it’s often best to wait a turn before playing your Showdown cards, even if you can cast them the turn you play Showdown, because the +1/+1 counter abilities often allow you to just “storm off” on the following turn.
You can put your Runes on any permanent, including your lands. This comes up sometimes where you load up Lair of the Hydra while it’s a land and then animate it later, but also when you are just missing action and need the cantrip. However, I would advise against just spewing off your Runes onto your lands in search of a creature, because if you find that creature you won’t have anything to do with it. Sometimes it’s necessary because you’re under pressure, but I usually prefer to just wait if I can.
Always look for lethal. Between the counters from Generous Visitor, Kami of Transience, and Showdown, plus the trample on Kami or from Rune of Might, you can often surprise kill your opponent from even a fairly high life total and through some blockers.
Matchups and Sideboarding
Vs BW Midrange and BW Control
These two decks are very similar in my mind—the midrange version plays more creatures like Luminarch Aspirant and Edgar, Charmed Groom, while the control version plays a Lesson and sacrifice package (with Eyetwitch, Professor of Symbology, and Deadly Dispute), more removal, and more Planeswalkers.
The data indicates that these are very strong matchups for Runes, but personally I’ve found them to be quite close. In general, their creatures and Planeswalkers don’t matter that much, it’s their plentiful removal spells that can cause trouble.
Try to keep The Meathook Massacre in mind as you play—if you have a Tamiyo’s Safekeeping in hand, it may be better to grow one creature out of range of the sweeper. At other times, if your opponent is struggling for lands, you can grow all of your creatures out of range of the Massacre without exposing one particular threat to targeted removal. If you already have 2-3 creatures in play, sandbag that extra copy of Generous Visitor, even though if might give you more power this turn.
This matchup is always very grindy. The question is can they remove all of your creatures before you storm off and kill them. I’ve found the answer is usually yes in game 1, but no in game 2, but either way, it won’t be quick.
- Out: 4 Commune with Spirits, 1 Rune of Speed
- In: 2 Tamiyo’s Safekeeping, 1 Wedding Announcement, 1 Esika’s Chariot, 1 Brilliant Restoration
We are basically sideboarding in more protection for our threats and cards that produce multiple additional threats for a long game.
Vs UR Control/Dragons and Jeskai Hinata
Again, these two decks are very similar, both basically playing as UR Control decks but with the Hinata deck splashing white and running the Hinata + Magma Opus combo and sometimes Show of Confidence.
However, the decks have radically different matchups against Naya Runes. The straight UR Control decks are very good matchups for us. Runes is just way too fast and way too explosive for counterspells and burn spells to keep up with. The Jeskai Hinata deck, however, is really tough, purely because of Hinata herself. Hinata’s ability taxes all of our Runes, making all of them cost 1 more and significantly hindering out ability to “go off”. We really need to get Hinata off the board, which is only doable with Eiganjo in the maindeck and only the 3 Valorous Stance in sideboard—and that’s not accounting for the Hinata deck’s protection spells for its key permanent.
If Jeskai Hinata is a big part of your local meta and you want to play Runes, I would recommend swapping out the Hallowed Hauntings for Borrowed Times and potentially shifting your sideboard a bit as well.
Remember to play around Jwari Disruption!
- Out: 2 Hallowed Haunting, 1 Rune of Sustenance, 4 Commune With Spirits
- In: 2 Tamiyo’s Safekeeping, 3 Valorous Stance, 2 Elite Spellbinder
Mono White Aggro
This. Matchup. Sucks.
Seriously, it’s about as bad as a matchup can be in Standard. Thalia slows us down immensely and stops us comboing, Archon of Emeria stops our deck from functioning entirely, Skyclave Apparition and Brutal Cathar add bodies while exiling our creatures, and that’s not even getting to threats like Luminarch Aspirant or Intrepid Adversary. And our deck has no to minimal removal. It’s just a nightmare.
If your local meta is filled with Mono White Aggro, I would advise you against playing Naya Runes. I don’t think there are tweaks you can make to the deck that are going to lead to you having anything other than a miserable time.
- Out: 4 Commune with Spirits, 2 Hallowed Haunting, 1 Showdown of the Skalds
- In: 2 Tamiyo’s Safekeeping, 2 Portable Hole, 3 Circle of Confinement
Try to save your removal for Thalia and (especially) Archon of Emeria. So long as those stay off the board, it is possible to go big with a lifelink creature and get a win that way.
Vs Naya Runes
The mirror is crazy. Neither player has much removal maindeck, so both players just try to storm off as hard and as fast as possible. You usually want to go hard on one creature rather than spread the love around.
Postboard things get more interesting, because both players get access to removal and Tamiyo’s Safekeeping. You will want to be more careful with your creatures and are usually better of spreading the love around. In the end, the player who draws the most copies of Showdown of the Skalds and Hallowed Haunting is usually going to win.
- Out: 4 Commune With Spirits, 2 Rune of Speed, 1 Jukai Naturalist
- In: 2 Tamiyo’s Safekeeping, 2 Portable Hole, 3 Circle of Confinement
That’s everything about Naya Runes! If you pick up the deck, or are thinking about putting it together, feel quite free to shoot me any questions on Twitter, I’d be more than happy to talk about playing the deck. I would recommend giving it a go, it is absolute blast.
You can reach me on Twitter @Calm_Mirror and I also co-host a drafting channel on Youtube called Draft Punks, so if you’re into draft, we would love to have your company there as well.
Til next week!