Video Daily Digest: The Naya Zoo Crew

Is Wild Nacatl really an “ex-Banned-List bust?” A recent Magic Online result has Ross Merriam rethinking the one-mana 3/3!

Zoo decks are among the most iconic in Magic’s history. Taiga plus Kird Ape was the first “combo” to see high-level play and it remains competitive to this day, only now it’s supplemented by the previously banned Wild Nacatl and the highly relevant Narnam Renegade.

These sorts of efficient creature decks haven’t been able to remain consistent players in the metagame, mostly because they don’t have the necessary interaction to compete with the highly synergistic aggressive decks like Humans and Affinity.

Zoo decks in Modern have mostly stuck with the tried and true Lightning Bolt and Path to Exile for their removal needs but perhaps they aren’t thinking big enough. Zoo decks win in creature matchups by dominating combat with bigger, more efficient bodies. Kird Ape and company nearly all have three toughness if you time your fetchlands well and find the right combination of shocklands. Once you do so, matching up against Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and company isn’t too difficult.

But once those decks get going, you’re in trouble, so what other removal can decks full of three-toughness creatures cast? First is Pyroclasm, a frequent sideboard card in these decks that looks quite good the way the current Modern metagame stands. The second is a much more recent printing, Reckless Rage, which can tag creatures that get out of range of your other red spells without giving the opponent another land.

The only problem here is that these additional removal spells don’t go upstairs, a key factor for hyper-aggressive Zoo decks when playing against control. Smuggler’s Copter picks up a lot of slack here, letting you loot away superfluous removal spells against reactive decks to keep the gas flowing, and because you get to decide when it becomes a creature, you have some control over when your opponent has an opportunity to answer it.

Decks like this are typically weak to Snapcaster Mage plus Lightning Bolt, but what is the 2/1 body on Snapcaster Mage going to do? Lightning Bolt trades for most of your creatures, but those are mostly one-drops anyway, so you’re rarely losing tempo on the exchange. Thus, without any cheap card advantage, you can run over most reactive opponents, while other creature decks fall victim to your superior creature quality.

Wild Nacatl was the first in a long line of cards getting unbanned in Modern to much fanfare, only to end up as disappointments. It’s time to reverse the trend and show people what one-mana 3/3s can do.