Card Spotlight: Green Sun’s Zenith in Modern? (Part 2)

This article will act as a continuation of yesterday’s examination of Green Sun’s Zenith in Modern. We took a look at it’s role in Legacy and how it stacked up against cards currently legal in Modern. Today we will go over the best creatures to play alongside GSZ. Then I will present the Legacy lists that I have ported to Modern and my takeaways from testing them against the current best decks.

The Best Creatures to Zenith
#1 Dryad Arbor
This card is the primary reason that GSZ is banned. You can read most of my thoughts on this “combo” in Part 1. The greatest strength of GSZ is that the floor is effectively Llanowar Elves; though it is not an Elf. The typical one drop options in Green, mana dorks, are much less effective when played on Turn 2 at double the cost. So without Dryad Arbor, GSZ would not be relevant until Turn 3 and a much less effective card as a result. Honestly, I am not sure that GSZ would see significant play if not for Arbor but we will touch on that more in Part 3. Every GSZ deck should run a copy of Dryad Arbor in the maindeck.

#2 Scavenging Ooze
Locking horns with Tarmogoyf for the format’s second best Green creature, behind Noble Hierarch, Ooze is much better in Zenith decks. Goyf is simply an efficient beat stick while Scooze is a scalpel meant to neuter specific strategies. Arguably, all GSZ decks should have at least one Scooze somewhere in the seventy-five. It is featured in the vast majority of Chord decks as two-in-one sideboard hate for graveyard decks and aggressive decks. You could argue that Scooze is worth having against most of the decks in Modern. It is a legitimate win condition that also lightly disrupts opposing gameplans. In GSZ decks it will come into play at two mana less, ignoring Convoke, so that it can be activated twice immediately. A Modern GSZ package should always have a Scooze in the sideboard, if not the mainboard.

#3 Reclamation Sage / Knight of Autumn
The “Disenchant with a body” cards already see significant play in Modern and GSZ would make them even more common. For years Sage was the only option and performed admirably in the role but was mostly restricted to toolboxes. Knight arrived late last year but has already carved a niche for itself. We spoke about it at length in a previous article but the gist is that it is extremely versatile and reasonably efficient. As a result it sees play in non-toolbox decks and displaces Sage in any deck that can cast it and does not care about the Elf creature type. GSZ also allows Knight to destroy a Blood Moon without the need for a Plains. There will always be troublesome artifacts and enchantments in Modern so I would be very surprised to see a GSZ deck that does not run one of these cards in the seventy-five.

Legacy in Modern
Modern Maverick
Lands (23)
1 Field of Ruin
6 Forest
1 Gavony Township
2 Ghost Quarter
1 Horizon Canopy
1 Plains
1 Tectonic Edge
2 Temple Garden
4 Windswept Heath
4 Wooded Foothills
Creatures (27)
1 Azusa, Lost but Seeking
3 Birds of Paradise
4 Courser of Kruphix
1 Dryad Arbor
1 Gaddock Teeg
4 Knight of the Reliquary
4 Noble Hierarch
1 Ramunap Excavator
1 Scavenging Ooze
1 Knight of Autumn
2 Tireless Tracker
4 Voice of Resurgence
Spells (10)
2 Collected Company
4 Green Sun’s Zenith
4 Path to Exile
Sideboard (15)
1 Bojuka Bog
2 Eidolon of Rhetoric
1 Knight of Autumn
3 Stony Silence
2 Surgical Extraction
1 Scavenging Ooze
1 Settle the Wreckage
1 Dromoka’s Command
2 Collected Company
1 Worship
75 Cards Total

I am a huge fan of Legacy Maverick so this was the GSZ deck I was most excited to test. GW Valuetown was the Modern equivalent but it never broke out beyond the SCG Tour and even there has not been seen for some time. It wants to generate value via land drops, multiple per turn, and Ghost Quarter the opponent into oblivion in the lategame. To continually do this they need Ramunap Excavator in play and to do it quickly they also need Azusa. However, it does not want to draw multiple copies of either card because they are somewhat lackluster outside of those lategame scenarios. So they are restricted to small numbers and the deck hopes to Company into them. At its core this is a hatebear deck but it has no way of finding a specific creature for the situation at hand. GSZ is the card that this deck truly wants.

The toolbox creatures are effective but not to the point that the deck wants Chord. GSZ has felt like a very significant upgrade. You find what you need, when you need it. The Strip Mine plan is more legitimate and the white mana opens the deck up to a better toolbox. Picking apart the opponent’s mana is trivial when you can use Ghost Quarter three times in a single turn. Gaddock Teeg and Knight of Autumn have put in a ton of work in specific matchups as well. Arbor does its typical Llanowar Elves impression but also can help Knight of the Reliquary by providing sac fodder that will not be missed. The list feels quite solid with only Voice feeling underwhelming in the current format.

Overall, I would welcome this deck in Modern and it truly is not personal bias. I will admit that it decimates Midrange and Control a bit harshly. Also most aggro decks struggle with the playset of Courser. It would likely be a high tier deck but does not feel like it would be too dominant. Combo decks are not easy matchups by any means and the Phoenix matchup feels close. At the end of the day it is a value-centric creature deck that lacks a nut draw of any kind. It is a great deck but I do not feel that it is a culprit for GSZ remaining on the banned list.

Elves
Lands (18)

4 Blooming Marsh
3 Cavern of Souls
4 Forest
4 Gilt-Leaf Palace
2 Horizon Canopy
1 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
Creatures (34)
1 Beast Whisperer
4 Dwynen’s Elite
4 Nettle Sentinel
4 Elvish Archdruid
2 Elvish Clancaller
4 Elvish Mystic
1 Reclamation Sage
1 Ezuri, Renegade Leader
1 Dryad Arbor
4 Heritage Druid
4 Llanowar Elves
4 Shaman of the Pack
Spells (8)
4 Collected Company
4 Green Sun’s Zenith
Sideboard (15)
2 Assassin’s Trophy
2 Damping Sphere
1 Reclamation Sage
1 Scavenging Ooze
2 Thoughtseize
4 Leyline of the Void
1 Chameleon Colossus
1 Essence Warden
1 Sylvan Messenger
75 Cards Total

The most obvious GSZ deck without a doubt is Elves. Going into the testing phase I asked myself, “Does swapping Chord for GSZ make much of a difference?” The answer is a resounding “Yes”. One of the annoying things about Elves in Modern currently is that the ideal opening hand has three mana on Turn 2 but if you mulligan too aggressively, your lords and Shamans lose much of their potency. This leads to many Elf players scraping the bottom of the barrel for additional mana dorks; Elves of Deep Shadow for example. While Arbor is not an Elf, it will accelerate you when you GSZ into it on Turn 1 allowing you to mulligan less. When this play is unnecessary, GSZ can become any Elf you need.

Beast Whisperer in particular has really impressed me. When a Heritage Druid comes down it becomes trivial to draw and play an absurd number of Elves followed by a Shaman of the Pack. GSZ can set this up reliably and find the finisher once it gets going.  It also provides access to high quality sideboard Elves like Essence Warden and Chameleon Colossus. These cards struggle to make the cut in current Elf decks because when played with Chord they show up too late or cost too much mana, respectively. GSZ can start Warden’s lifegain train at half the cost relative to Chord, not considering Convoke, and do so on Turn 2 with no acceleration necessary. Colossus is a solid card against Shadow and GBx but seven mana even in an Elf deck is a steep cost. Five is much more palatable and it has overperformed in testing.

This deck has been extremely powerful in testing. It is very similar to current Elves, a fairly consistent deck, but is much more consistent. Mulligans have been extremely rare because if we have GSZ we have access to early acceleration or a top end card. As long as the hand has a land or two and a GSZ it does not matter much what the other spells are. As a critical mass deck, Elves benefits greatly from taking few mulligans. This leads to the deck being faster on average as well; the nut draw is not any faster but the average is. The options and efficiency are quite overwhelming so I am still optimizing lines of play. It is possible that this cheap tutor effect would enable a combo build but I have not brewed such a list. Either way, I do not think I would be comfortable with this deck in Modern.

Wrap-Up
Even looking at only two decks, I am not sure that GSZ could be unleashed without warping the format. Modern Maverick is solid and I would be happy to have a new deck in the format. However, there is little reason to choose it over Elves; it would be one of the top decks in the format and probably the very best. These are not the only  GSZ decklists that we have tested though. We would like to hear what you think Modern’s best GSZ deck would be in our discussion group. Or if you would like to take a swing at writing content for the site you can contact us directly here. I will be back tomorrow to present additional decklists as well as my conclusion on whether it should remain banned. Until then my friends.

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