The Enlightenment of Narset
- Gianluca Aicardi
With her Ikorian incarnation, Narset, the set's third planeswalker, has come full circle, regaining all the colors of the Jeskai Way. What does this entail for the neuro-atypical kung-fu heroine? More importantly, what does it mean for the control decks that choose to embrace her Triome?
The main inspiration behind Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths comes from the silver screen, namely the Japanese kaiju movies — and to a lesser extent, their Hollywood roots. The homage to a different brand of Far Eastern cinema makes an appearance as well, with the one of the planeswalker cards devoted to the soulful Narset. Articles about her never fail to mention how she's a commendable representation of a person on the autism spectrum — as surmised by the published stories where she appears — something deeply progressive as far as fantasy characters from tabletop games go. But another less frequently discussed element of her design originates from the Chinese wuxia films, the genre popularized to Western audiences by movies like Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) and Zhang Yimou's Hero (2003). Narset never looked like a mystical martial artist as much as she does in the art for Narset of the Ancient Way.
This new Narset planeswalker card is her third after Dragons of Tarkir's Narset Transcendent and War of the Spark's Narset, Parter of Veils. It also returns to the colors of her initial creature form, Narset, Enlightened Master, from back when she was a khan of the Jeskai and then, in the rewritten timeline, Dragonlord Ojutai's favorite student. To be fair, once she was made into a planeswalker, Narset was always given the colors that were more convenient for the set at hand.
That's the only reason she was involved in Ikoria, too, where, story-wise, she makes for little more than a glorified cameo. She's not linked to the warring friendship between Lukka and Vivien, she's just decompressing after the tribulations of the war. Ikoria's designers planned to take advantage of the set's wedge structure to create their first ever Jeskai-colored planeswalker, and Narset was simply the most fitting character for that job.
The resulting card is not going to be as memorable as the controversial, monocolored uncommon from War. But it's definitely better designed than her first 4-mana outing, which was truly underwhelming: a minus to copy a spell one turn later? A plus that perhaps will draw you a card but half the time merely makes you peek at the top of the library? An ultimate that against certain strategies might well do absolutely nothing? Azorius Narset couldn't really deliver on the promise of a high-kicking seeker of knowledge. Luckily, her reconnection with red mana on Ikoria, and five more years of R&D experience in designing balanced planeswalker cards, was able to do the trick.
The new Narset strongly implies a role within a Jeskai Control deck. She helps you cast noncreature spells in Jeskai colors, and replenishes your life total in the process, hinting at the operation of a nonaggressive deck that's trying to keep aggro at bay. More so, she has a unique way to defend herself, killing opposing creatures and, most notably, enemy planeswalkers through a special form of deadly looting. Here it's important to point out how the discard is entirely optional; you can just have her draw you a card if there's nothing worth targeting with her kung fu. But there might also be synergies to find by adding extra value to the classic Izzet routine of digging into the deck while pitching cards to the graveyard to fuel later shenanigans. Indeed, it's been noted that this Narset feels more blue-red than Jeskai; her only white flavor is the lifegain on the plus, which is a minor aspect. Or you can just ditch other planeswalkers then reanimate them with Elspeth Conquers Death.
Be Where You Are
In the current metagame, Jeskai is mostly represented by Yorion Lukka, which doesn't have much use for three-color Narset. She neither provides creature tokens nor a way to dig for pieces, whereas her monocolored self does the latter, and is in fact featured in those lists.
But once we renounce Lukka's combo component, restoring Jeskai to a more natural control shell, we get to something the new Narset feels perfectly at home in. And so many of these cards are even incidentally flavorful! Plenty of words like "mystical", "epiphany," and "enlightenment" here:
|Jeskai Control by TomoDachiRob, 5-X at MagicFest Online Qualifier|
All in all, it's not a particularly complex build to grasp. As any control deck of this era, the functional core is composed by the dynamic duo of Teferi, Time Raveler and the other Narset. They combine card advantage, selection, a bit of board control, and the crucial hosing of any attempt of the opponent to play the same game. We have a few counterspells with Absorb and Mystical Dispute, and some spot removal in Scorching Dragonfire, preferred over other options for its ability to prevent nasty things to come back from the graveyard and to take out opposing planeswalkers. Omen of the Sea is the draw smoother of choice, while the main defense against aggro is instant classic Shatter the Sky, which is mandated to go off on turn four in most board states, even when facing Lukka. Hence the conspicuous amount of lands, as missing one of the first four land drops equals to almost certain death when piloting this kind of deck.
The juicy part comes with Narset of the Ancient Way herself. The deck doesn't rely on the mystic as a centerpiece, as even her shock-ing ultimate is not impactful enough to be game-winning on its own. Its clock is too slow and it still requires other cards to function. But everything she does nicely dovetails with what the deck is trying to accomplish. The minus is particularly apt, because it allows Narset's controller to weaponize specialized cards that might not prove much useful in certain matchups, like a sweeper against control, or Elspeth Conquers Death when Lurrus of the Dream-Den is the opponent's elected companion.
Speaking of which, this is a list with no creature cards in it. Shark Typhoon is the main finisher, but those flying Sharks are just tokens created by a triggered ability. So it's a textbook case of Kaheera being employed with no orphans to guard, thanks to the loophole in the wording of its companion clause. The anthem ability won't be exploited at all, but there's no reason to say no to a semi-free 3/2 that can buy us time on turn three if we can't sweep on four. The only real sacrifice it forces us to make is Bonecrusher Giant // Stomp. Last but not least, arguably the most exciting card in the deck, alongside new Narset, has to be Inspired Ultimatum. Once you commit to pure Jeskai, you might as well go all the way and play the least situational of the Ikorian Ultimatums. Five cards, a removal, and some life? Or maybe even a lethal burn to the face? Can't say it doesn't feel alluring. It's certainly never unwelcome, once those seven mana are online.
If this is not enough Narset for your taste, you can look at the more Narset-heavy Jeskai Superfriends list by CovertGoBlue, and then watch the video with deck tech and gameplay. Narset's old Tarkir friend Sarkhan is at the helm, but eight copies of the truth-seeking ascetic should satisfy even the most passionate of her fans.
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