Card Spotlight: Green Sun’s Zenith in Modern? (Part 3)

We are finally here folks. It is time to close the book on Green Sun’s Zenith in Modern and at 5,000 words on the topic, I feel like I have written one. Yesterday’s entry presented the the creatures and Legacy decks that would make an appearance in Modern with GSZ. Today we will look at the Modern decks that already see play but would be powered up by a GSZ unban. Then I will finally reach my conclusion on whether we can unban it.

Modern’s Zenith
Lands (19)
1 Forest
4 Horizon Canopy
1 Plains
4 Razorverge Thicket
3 Temple Garden
4 Windswept Heath
2 Wooded Foothills
Creatures (13)
1 Dryad Arbor
4 Gladecover Scout
4 Kor Spiritdancer
4 Slippery Bogle
Spells (28)
4 Daybreak Coronet
4 Ethereal Armor
2 Green Sun’s Zenith
2 Gryff’s Boon
2 Hyena Umbra
4 Path to Exile
4 Rancor
4 Spider Umbra
2 Spirit Mantle
Sideboard (15)
1 Dromoka’s Command
2 Gaddock Teeg
1 Glistener Elf
4 Leyline of Sanctity
2 Rest in Peace
1 Scavenging Ooze
2 Seal of Primordium
2 Stony Silence
75 Cards Total

Once we covered the Legacy transplants, we turned our attention to decks that already run Dryad Arbor. Currently it only sees Modern play as an emergency fetchable body in Bogles and Infect; more on the second one later. Bogles has been a fine Modern deck since the printing of Ethereal Armor. When the metagame is slow and nobody is prepared, it typically has a breakout performance. But just as suddenly as it arrives, it falls off when the format speeds shifts again. The two key issues with the deck are speed and consistency. It typically wins on Turn 4  but it has little interaction and is surprisingly soft to interaction that is not targeted removal. The larger issue though is the lack of consistency. The deck really wants to begin every game with a Hexproof creature but there are only two that are actually worth running. As a result it must mulligan very aggressively but it usually needs three or four auras and two lands to win so it is dangerous to do so. This leads to a high number of one land keeps and reliance on topdecks. GSZ can provide a slight boost in each department.

I was initially quite excited to add GSZ to Bogles but it was just a modest power boost. The deck does not have to mulligan as often and it now has access to acceleration. Initially I had four and ran fewer Spiritdancers but it did not feel optimal. Two copies has been more favorable and they do benefit the strategy. It allows the deck to put a Hexproof creature into play more consistently but at two mana this line is just a worse Silhana Ledgewalker. But as a split card between Llanowar Elves (Arbor), worse Ledgewalker, and three mana Gaddock Teeg it has been a worthy inclusion. A one land Bogle hand with GSZ is typically a keep and a two land no Bogle hand is as well. As a result, the deck on average has more cards in hand to start so Kor and Ethereal have been even better than usual. The Arbor ramp has been useful at times, such as playing Kor with an aura on Turn 2, but more often it just allows us to keep one land hands. Looking back I think the increased access to Arbor means that it is okay to cut Leyline entirely if an additional board slot or two is committed to the Burn matchup.

This deck is definitely just fine; though most players would prefer not to face it very often. The consistency boost has been a significant boon in testing but the speed boost is surprisingly small. The Turn 3 win is still extremely unlikely and the Turn 4 is only a bit more common. The toolbox from the sideboard has not impressed me much. Gaddock Teeg was solid as always but he is not as amazing as he was six months ago. Scooze just felt mana intensive and, despite being tutorable, it should just be an additional Rest in Peace. The Glistener Elf actually has stolen some games against non-interactive combo decks though. A significant number of Modern decks lack targeted removal postboard against this deck so the Elf can act as a Bogle with Double Strike. It may be a bit too cute but I think it is a worthy one of. I enjoyed the testing experience a lot but I think GSZ would just take the deck from Tier 3 metagame call to a Tier 2 contender; nothing to worry about here.

Lands (27)
6 Mountain
2 Forest
3 Cinder Glade
4 Stomping Ground
4 Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
4 Windswept Heath
4 Wooded Foothills
Creature (11)
1 Courser of Kruphix
2 Dryad Arbor
4 Primeval Titan
4 Sakura-Tribe Elder
Spells (22)
2 Anger of the Gods
2 Explore
2 Khalni Heart Expedition
2 Flame Slash
2 Lightning Bolt
4 Scapeshift
4 Search for Tomorrow
4 Green Sun’s Zenith
Sideboard (15)
1 Ancient Grudge
2 Chalice of the Void
2 Damping Sphere
1 Scavenging Ooze
2 Relic of Progenitus
1 Shatterstorm
2 Tireless Tracker
1 Carnage Tyrant
1 Caustic Caterpillar
1 Thragtusk
1 Abrade
75 Cards Total

I am going to start by saying that this is the best GSZ deck and a massive barrier to a potential unban. I will be honest and say that I was skeptical of this one going in, but it has been absurd. My skepticism lead to laziness in the early testing. I just added GSZ and an Arbor to a recently successful list and took it for a spin. Even then I was quite impressed. The only issue I have had in the past with Titanshift decks was the low speed and low interaction. They are terrifically consistent and their gameplan wins games without question. As the early testing went on it began to dawn on me that GSZ into Arbor was the best ramp effect in a deck built around ramp effects. Turn 1 Suspend Search for Tomorrow is the best start for the current lists. Turn 1 GSZ into Arbor gives you a land as well but that land produces mana a turn earlier and shows up immediately for Scapeshift in the lategame.

Being able to turn one mana into a land for Scapeshift at will has been pretty huge. As stated previously, GSZ is so good because it is powerful both early and late. This deck takes it up a notch by appreciating Arbor both early and late. It appreciates having three mana on Turn 2, as most decks would, but mana dorks contribute nothing to Scapeshift. With GSZ in the deck they have a Turn 1 mana dork that contributes to the necessary seven lands and it makes a world of difference. It can be frustrating with Anger but it is well worth it and against some decks a Turn 2 Anger is huge. Titan being able to find a blocker as well as edict protection has been quite nice as well. The deck definitely felt better but it was still winning on Turn 4, almost always, while lacking interaction. This led me to rebuild the deck in a way that wanted to patch the weaknesses with GSZ. The GSZ toolbox is quite nice but it does not provide high quality interaction for fast decks.

The build above is more focused on speed. Farseek had felt disappointingly slow compared to the cards around it now and only one Arbor felt like too few. The split of Explore and Khalni have felt amazing in here. Thanks to GSZ into Arbor the deck is able to cast these cards before even playing the second land in their hand. This is now a twenty-nine land deck, with four cards that find additional ones at just one mana, so in testing these cards have not failed even once. I have always had a land for Explore and Khalni always went off a turn later; sometimes even on Turn 2.  The deck is now able to win on Turn 3 with some regularity. I think that if I put together a third draft I would trim two of the red damage spells for an additional copy of each of these high speed ramp spells. In conjunction with this we must remember that GSZ is additional lategame Titans and enables a much more efficient toolbox than Summoner’s Pact ever did. My only complaint is that Arbor can be removed in response to a Scapeshift so careful play is a must. Titanshift is already a good Modern deck but GSZ takes it straight to the moon. Every matchup tested felt positive but I think if we ran it against Storm or Infect it could struggle. Either way, this deck cannot be Modern legal.

Other Test Decks
We also tested the other current Arbor deck; Infect but the GSZ version was a failure. As explained above, Noble Hierarch is not a quality use of GSZ. This leaves us with Glistener Elf, the worst Infect creature, coming down later and at double the cost. Viridian Corrupter has some utility but four mana is very high for this deck. Lllanowar Augur seemed promising but Giant Growth was quite bad when played as a Sorcery at two mana and telegraphed a turn ahead. Simply put, Blighted Agent is the main reason to play Infect and GSZ cannot find it. Greater access to acceleration and reinforcement against edicts is nice but it did not feel optimal; though Infect in general does not line up well against the top decks in the format currently.

Some last minute testing was also conducted with Amulet Titan based on the Titanshift success. Full disclosure: I have little experience with the deck so I may be incorrect. I jammed in four GSZ for the flex slots and cut Khalni Garden for Dryad Arbor. It seemed like a power increase but it was a far step down from Titanshift with GSZ. I do believe that in current Modern, Amulet Titan is better than Titanshift. However, GSZ is an amazing card and Titanshift leverages it better than any other deck; though Elves gave it a run for its money. I think a GSZ unban would effectively kill this deck. This may be the reduced diversity that WotC was talking about all of those years ago.

The Final Word
It really pains me to say it but Green Sun’s Zenith must remain banned in Modern. Elves and Titanshift are significantly stronger than anything currently available in Modern when they have GSZ. I personally would be more interested in playing Maverick or Bogles, and they would be at an acceptable power level, but I cannot see them being solid choices when the other two GSZ decks are available. They are faster, more consistent, and harder to grind out than the builds currently being played in Modern. Take a look at your favorite Modern deck, whatever it is, then consider how much better it would be if it had a split card between Turn 1 acceleration as well as its top end and, as a result, does not have to mulligan as often. I love Green creature decks and I want this card unbanned more than any other but I cannot recommend it for the sake of Modern. It would homogenize Green strategies and dominate the format.

The key culprit is Dryad Arbor. There are no other Green creatures that lack a mana cost. The one drop options, outside of Elves, are quite poor. GSZ doubles their mana cost and if they are a mana dork, the vast majority are, they will not break even on mana production until Turn 4. So without Arbor, GSZ is pretty irrelevant before Turn 3 and you will have to tap out to use it at that time. This leads many to question, “Shouldn’t we just ban Arbor and unban GSZ then?”. First of all, swap bans are an often-mentioned idea but they have no basis in past actions or statements from WotC. That being said, it is a good question. Arbor sees play as a singleton in only two decks. With Arbor banned I do believe that GW Maverick and Elves would still benefit from GSZ; likely landing in Tier 2 and 1 respectively. I do think that this and the greater topic of swap bans is best saved for a future article. Let us know of any suggestions you have in the meantime.

I wish that I could recommend that they unban GSZ but it is just too powerful for Modern. I now understand why it would prevent them from printing powerful Green creatures in the future. With all of this considered, we would like to hear what your thoughts are on GSZ in Modern 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. We will be back tomorrow to pull together all of the results from SCG Regionals; we are still waiting on one more. Until then my friends.

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