Updated: Apr 12
Welcome to MTG Meta Breakers! This series is devoted to helping you take on some of the most common decks in Standard (aka “the meta”).
Whether you’re looking to climb the competitive ladder on Arena, want to win your local Friday Night Magic (FNM), or are just sick of getting beat, you’re in the right place.
For the purposes of this series, we’ll assume that all games are in best-of-three format. This allows you to sideboard against your opponent. When hoping to take down the metagame, sideboarding is your best friend.
Without further delay, let’s dive in!
One of the most unlikely lists that's risen to prominence in the wake of Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty, Naya Runes has turned the metagame on its head.
What was dominated by Izzet Turns and Mono-Green just a few months ago looks completely different. In fact, those decks are basically non-existent at this point.
Naya Runes centers on the game-breaking value provided by the combo of Jukai Naturalist and Runeforge Champion along with Kaldheim's various rune enchantment auras. The addition of cards like Hallowed Haunting, Showdown of the Skalds, and Kami of Transience helps this deck grind through long games. Meanwhile, Michiko's Reign of Truth and Generous Visitor let the deck snowball into a victory as early as turn three.
It's a potent combination that has helped this deck rise to notoriety on the Arena ladder. Despite a poor showing at the Neon Dynasty Championship last weekend, Naya Runes still accounts for nearly 14 percent of the metagame according to data from MTG Goldfish.
In this article, we'll cover how you can dismantle this popular deck by understanding its key cards, play lines, and vulnerabilities. From there, you'll be ready to pick up easy wins on the ladder.
Let's get started.
Understanding Naya Runes Decks
Naya Runes is far from the first aura-focused deck in Standard. Last rotation saw All That Glitters and several supporting pieces from Theros: Beyond Death form a powerful build.
Although Naya Runes isn't a true auras deck, it does work similarly. It also plays out like a combo deck, given that it can potentially end the game the same turn it assembles its key strategy.
As mentioned, this deck has two key cards at its core. Jukai Naturalist is the first—a new card from Neon Dynasty. It reduces the cost of each enchantment by a generic mana.
Runeforge Champion from Kaldheim is next. It changes the casting cost of rune cards to one generic mana. When played in tandem with the Naturalist, you can cast runes for free.
This not only buffs your creatures with lifelink, haste, and trample, it also allows you to draw a card. If you keep drawing runes, you can keep casting them for free.
If you've also got a card like Kami of Transience, Michiko's Reign of Truth, or Generous Visitor in play, there's a good chance you can close out the game immediately. Even without the supporting cast, you'll be left with a very threatening board state.
The three cards mentioned previously take this deck from good to great. They simply snowball value when you do things you already want to be doing.
Both Kami of Transience and Generous Visitor reward you with a +1/+1 counter each time you cast an enchantment. Meanwhile, Michiko's Reign of Truth gives one of your creatures a massive buff on two consecutive turns for each enchantment you have in play.
Not to mention the fact that playing runes allows you to draw a card. This keeps your hand full at all stages of the game, even if you're dumping multiple cards onto the battlefield for free each turn.
Resilience for the Long Game
Unlike some aura-based strategies, Naya Runes can grind out a long game and still come out on top. Part of this is thanks to an incredible amount of lifegain. Jukai Naturalist comes with lifelink already while Rune of Sustenance lets you give it to any creature.
However, life isn't all this deck has going.
Showdown of the Skalds provides incredible value in the late game. It helps you dig for key combo pieces and supporting creatures. At the same time, it buffs your creatures with a +1/+1 counter each time you cast a spell during its second and third chapter. In a deck that wants to cast lots of spells, that's huge.
Finally, Hallowed Haunting is a piece that sees play in some builds. It lets you flood the battlefield with big spirits each time you cast an enchantment. Get enough on the battlefield and your army will gain flying and vigilance as well.
High Priority Targets
Although Naya Runes can snowball out of control in a hurry, it isn't invincible. This deck is incredibly powerful, but it relies heavily (too heavily in many cases) on a few key cards.
Instant speed removal can cripple the deck as it tries to combo off with a Runeforge Champion and/or Jukai Naturalist. Destroying or exiling a card that your opponent has just buffed up is a devastating blow. If you can do this once or twice in a match, that's usually enough to cripple the deck.
As such, focus your efforts on disrupting the Naturalist/Champion combo at all costs. Your ability to do so is usually a direct correlation to your odds of winning.
Meanwhile, if you have exile removal in your deck, try and save it for Kami of Transience. Recurring it from the graveyard lets your opponent stick around in games they have no business in. If you can exile the spirit deer, do it.
Although they're tempting, try to ignore the likes of Generous Visitor, Kami (without exile), and runes that aren't being cast for free. If you can disrupt the main combo / value engine of the deck, these supporting players aren't going to cost the game in most scenarios.
Cards that Beat Naya Runes Decks
As mentioned, instant-speed removal is incredible against Naya Runes. In fact, it's the reason why the deck performed so poorly at the Neon Dynasty Championship. Players came packing plenty of interaction to deal with the list, keeping it out of the Top 8 (and essentially all conversation).
In the current meta, things like Infernal Grasp, March of Otherworldly Light, and Fateful Absence are top tier. They are cheap, effective, and flexible. Cards like Vanishing Verse, Abrade, and Fading Hope are also solid, but aren't quite as good.
It doesn't hurt to have a board wipe or two in your pocket if your deck allows it. This can help clean up the leftovers after instant-speed interaction deals with the main combo.
Finally, two all-stars against this deck are worth mentioning—Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Archon of Emeria.
Okay, okay, Thalia might not be an all-star. Still, she can slow this deck down by negating some of the discount provided by Runeforge Champion and the Naturalist. An early blocker with first strike can also discourage some attacks at the start of the game.
Archon of Emeria is an undisputed silver bullet against Naya Runes, however. It forces each player to only cast one spell each turn. This effectively shuts down the Naturalist/Champion combo and cripples the deck. Without the ability to flood the board, Naya Runes is almost laughable.
There's a great chance that whatever one spell you're playing is better than the one spell they get to cast.
Meanwhile, the fact that Archon makes nonbasic lands enter tapped is a sweet bonus. Since Naya Runes is stretching its manabase, it plays a of pathways and Innistrad dual lands. Those coming in tapped can slow the deck down even further.
Since the runes deck doesn't run much (if any) removal in an attempt to stay lean, a single Archon can absolutely win the game.
If you're looking to stay aggressive and need a leg-up in the runes matchup, there are a few ways to get there. In Gruul colors, Burning Hands is a solid addition. It preys on everything but Runeforge Champion, letting you shut down the combo more often than not. Meanwhile, Blizzard Brawl is still an all-star in mono-green lists that can afford to run snow lands. It's less efficient than instant-speed removal, but can clear the way for your bigger creatures and stop the combo.
Finally, it should go without saying that Farewell and other sweepers are good in this matchup. You just need to have enough other removal to live until those later turns so you can clean up the board.
Essentially, the biggest mistake you can make when playing against Naya Runes is not running removal in your deck. Without it, you're almost guaranteed to lose. Pure aggro decks won't be able to overcome the lifegain. Midrange decks with no removal will struggle to set up in time.
That said, the timing of your removal can be key to this matchup. As we've discussed, it's crucial to prioritize the Naturalist and Runeforge Champion. If you can target one of them while a rune is on the stack, that's an even bigger boost since you'll be denying card draw at the same time.
Wasting removal on other targets can cost you the game if your opponent combos and you have no interaction in hand.
Best Matchups Against Naya Runes
As noted, both aggro and midrange lists have been having trouble dealing with Naya Runes if they aren't packing the right removal. That said, control builds have a fairly strong matchup. Given the amount of exile and instant speed removal available right now, dealing with the Runes deck is fairly straightforward.
In the current meta, two decks standout as strong performers against Naya Runes. Arguably the best is Orzhov Control. The deck packs plenty of removal in the form of Vanishing Verse, Infernal Grasp, and March of Otherworldly Light. Meanwhile, it has access to board wipes like The Meathook Massacre, Path of Peril, and Crippling Fear to clean things up.
Cards like Lolth, Spider Queen, Sorin, the Mirthless, and Wedding Announcement help you generate extra value and card draw to keep up. After a few pieces of well-timed removal, Orzhov can quickly take over and overwhelm the leftovers of the Rune deck.
Meanwhile, Jeskai Hinata / Control also has a decent matchup. Removal like Abrade, March of Otherworldly Light, and Fateful Absence are effective at shutting down the rune cascade. Tempo plays like Fading Hope and counters like Jwari Disruption help slow down the game until you can stick a bigger threat. Once you resolve a Lier, Hinata, or Goldspan, things start looking good.
A Magma Opus wreaks havoc on your opponent while Lier lets you replay your spot removal. The overwhelming value provided by the Jeskai deck is usually too much for Runes to match unless you don't find any early removal.
The mono-white list featuring four-of Thalia and Archon is also a nightmare for runes to deal with as we've discussed.
While these decks are basically built to beat Runes, any deck that packs efficient removal can certainly compete. If you're expecting to see a lot of Naya Runes, be sure to bring plenty.
Naya Runes has taken the meta by storm thanks to the explosive starts and grindy value it provides. However, for a deck that's seeing such a large amount of play, it is surprisingly vulnerable.
There are plenty of ways to counter this matchup. Focus on removal and choosing the right targets. Timing is also important as you'll have plenty of chances to blow your opponent out when they are trying to equip a rune.
It will be interesting to see how this deck holds up as the meta adjusts for it. If the Neon Dynasty Championship is any indication, Runes may have trouble in the weeks to come. That said, it could also adjust and find a way to hang strong.
How do you feel about the Naya Runes matchup? Got a way to take down this meta monster? Let us know in the comments below or on social media!
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