Let’s get topical, everybody!
As you probably know, this month saw a round of new bannings and unbannings in Modern. And among the unbanned was our good friend Wild Nacatl. For those of you who don’t remember a time when Wild Nacatl was the centerpiece of a deck, you’ll be glad to know it enables an entirely affordable deck core by then name of Zoo.
This is it, right? This is the dawn of affordable Modern decks! Look at that, a powerhouse lineup of creatures, all printed at common or uncommon! I mean… yes, Zoo tends to run a lot of Tarmogoyfs. And it runs Knight of the Reliquary, which has been climbing in price ever since Wild Nacatl was unbanned (and since Deathrite Shaman was banned), to the point where it will soon price itself out of budget decks. But surely with an affordable twelve-creature base like that, we can put something together; this column is all about finding budget substitutions for the expensive elements of a deck, right?
Well, ordinarily yeah. Tarmogoyf, Knight of the Reliquary… we can work around those. The problem is those supposedly cheap creatures. Sure, they cost very little. Wild Nacatl is up to a few bucks apiece since it got unbanned, but it’s all still well within the range for a budget deck.
Unfortunately, to maximize the utility of those creatures, you’re going to need specific land types on the board at a moment’s notice. To get two land types out in one turn, you’re going to need shocklands. And to get three types out by turn two with any sort of reliability, you’re going to need fetchlands. Which means… let’s see, pull out my adding machine, punch some numbers, pull the comically large crank on the side, unspool a long sheet of paper… screw it, let’s skip straight to the part where we throw the adding machine out the window, because this deck is just too goddamn expensive, no matter how you slice it.
So what happens, then? Do we just give up on this deck? Not as such, no. But what we are going to have to do is strip down what we want out of this deck, and build it up in an entirely different way.
Now the way I see it, this is a pretty straightforward Naya aggro deck; the shocks power the Apes and Cats, the fetches in the graveyard pump the Goyfs and the Knights, and in the end you’ve got a big pile of large creatures for very little mana investment.
So let’s take that as our starting point. Go big for little, preferably in Naya colors. We want to crank out big creatures very quickly, and overpower our opponent.
While when I was writing my last column, I googled some Glittering Wish decks to see what was out there. Not because I wanted to copy anybody, but because if I come across a deck that’s too close to what I was thinking of, I scrap the idea, specifically so I can avoid accidentally copying somebody. At the very least, if I wind up using someone else’s idea, I want to be able to give credit where it’s due. And in my searches, I came across this deck, which introduced me to this combo:
Okay, now we’re cooking. As bases for a deck go, this is something a budget player can get behind. Total cost for a playset: a little over three dollars.
The combo should be self-explanatory. Kavu Predator gets larger when your opponent gains life. Fiery Justice gives your opponent five life, making Kavu Predator huge. But doesn’t that lifegain cancel out any advantage you gained?
Absolutely not. Put a pin in the lifegain for a second, and look at what Fiery Justice does: the card is like a giant-size Electrolyze. In the early game, it’ll wipe out your opponent’s entire side of the board. A few turns in, and it’ll take out a full-strength Tarmogoyf and another target besides. If there’s more damage than creatures, you can send the leftovers at your opponent, or redirect it to their Planeswalker. And the only downside is a few points of life for your opponent; a price that’s more than worth paying for such a huge effect. And if you can turn that downside into a strength, like Kavu Predator does, and we’re talking about a seriously devastating swing in the board state.
As an added bonus, this combo gives us an incentive to replace a Zoo deck’s usual playset of Path to Exile with some cheaper alternatives. With a Kavu Predator on the board, Condemn and Oust turn into powerhouses. Tuck your opponent’s creature, clearing the way for your increasingly large Kavu.
I might add that when your opponent’s entire mana base relies on fetchlands, Oust goes from a handy utility to a downright hilarious card. If only it was an instant, but I suppose we can’t have everything.
But presumably this creature-based deck is not going to hinge around one set of Kavu Predators. Thankfully, Naya is full of basic creature staples that can round out our deck.
Can you even say enough good things about Kitchen Finks? It’s a reasonably powerful body for three mana. It’s hybrid, so it’s easily cast, even with our fetchless mana base. It’s hard to kill in one shot. And you gain four life before it really goes anywhere, which is going to carry a lot of weight when it comes to evening out the lifegain we’re giving to our opponent.
As we’ve discussed before, this card’s greatest success these days is as a combo piece in Melira Pod. But you shouldn’t forget that it’s a solid creature choice in its own right.
Figure of Destiny
With all the lifegain for your opponent, this deck won’t end games as quickly as an aggro deck would like to do. There’s a solid chance the game will go to mid-game, and an aggro deck without a draw engine tends to run out of steam when it hits mid-game. It sits there without anything to do, while its opponent continues to build their board state. But Figure of Destiny comes down for one, starts (for all intents and purposes) as a 2/2, and gives you a place to invest your mana if the game goes long. You can start with a feisty little beater on turn one, and wind up with a major threat on turn six.
An honorable mention goes to Student of Warfare, which I considered for the deck, but didn’t use. True story! But if you’re looking for a card that can be pumped up with that one extra mana you might have handy at the end of any given turn, it’s another option.
A 4/4 for three mana is serious business. We’ve discussed in the past that the appeal of Tarmogoyf is that it’s basically a 4/5 for two mana. One extra white mana in the cost is well worth the fact that the Smiter can’t be countered. On top of that, it’s immune to Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek. And our elephant friend loves to see an opponent’s Liliana of the Veil hit the board. Honestly, just loves it.
So let’s mix in a few of those utilities and spot removals Naya does so well, and put it all together:
Lincoln Park Zoo
The expensive Zoo decks are going to storm out of the gate faster than this deck. They’ll drop a 3/3 creature on turn one, and follow it up with a ready-to-grow Tarmogoyf on turn two. But on a good draw you’ll be ready to clear their board right out from under them, and drop your own huge creatures right back on their head. And you’ll do it for a fraction of the cost.