Modern Horizons 2 Has Taken Zoo From Pretender To Contender

It’s been a long time since Zoo has dominated Modern but Michael Majors believes it’s time to dust off those Wild Nacatls thanks to Modern Horizons 2.

Scion of Draco, illustrated by Andrew Mar

It’s finally time for me to talk about Modern Horizons 2.  I’m much more excited for this set than the normal release, having worked on it in a leading role and it being an opportunity to take our learnings from the first Modern Horizons and hopefully do it bigger and better.  Whether we really nailed it is to be seen of course as Modern adopts over the next few months, but I’m really proud of the work our team did on the set and so far the response has been incredible and overall, frankly, a lot more positive than I expected, which I’m extremely thankful for.

Today, I’m going to be talking about Domain Zoo strategies.  It was one of my personal goals for Modern Horizons 2 to prop up Domain Zoo, and in particular the viability of attacking and blocking with some large creatures that have text boxes that aren’t entirely predicated on pairing them with all the cheapest cards (particularly instant and sorceries).

Disclaimer: Some of these decks will probably be somewhat close to decks that were in the Future Future League (FFL), but many cards went through many iterations, and frankly there’s no way I can remember exactly what we played with after a very long year-and-a-half (and the first giveaway is that my mana bases are probably going to need significant iteration).  It was a goal of mine for these types of strategies to be a viable and fun option in the format, but this isn’t me saying “here are the decks I/we intended for you to play.  That’s generally the nature of my content these days — here are the things that bounce between my ears and I hope it leads other folks to inspiration or to have fun and be competitive.  I basically never say “this is the best thing” for a reason; I’m extremely confident and feel that my experiences are adequately far removed from my experiences with cards during FFL, as the development process and reality essentially never line-up.

So that all being said, the FFL went through a lot of iteration on these cards and for now, with the information we had at the time, I’m happy with them.

Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer Territorial Kavu Scion of Draco

Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer is definitely getting the largest eye-brow raises from the audience so far, and while it does have a strong collection of abilities, my philosophy on the card was and is essentially the following:

  • Incentives for attacking with creatures are relatively low in Modern right now, unless in aforementioned “Storm-style” Prowess strategies or Burn.
  • Uncontested, Ragavan is likely to deal less damage than current comps for one-mana red creatures that see play in Modern.  In other words, if you couldn’t kill Goblin Guide or Monastery Swiftspear either, you’d probably be dead as well.
  • While Ragavan does have an awesome text box, it doesn’t naturally just stack on top of those aforementioned cards and it isn’t clear that it provides too much redundancy (although time may prove me wrong).
  • Generally, if folks are playing creatures and incentivizing other decks to get more reactive or simply put blockers in their decks, the format slows down and gets more interactive (generally net good things for any format).

What nobody wanted, however, was just to push all the power into the cheapest cards possible that asked little to nothing of you.  Thus, a lot of effort was spent on getting Territorial Kavu and Scion of Draco into a good spot.  In traditional old school Zoo strategies, Tarmogoyf doesn’t typically stack up, being a 2/3 or 3/4 most of the time, which just isn’t an acceptable power level in Modern these days, and it simply requires constructing another style of deck that’s interested in being more disruptive — see traditional Jund, Jund Death’s Shadow, etc.  

That said, it isn’t the most interesting thing in the world for your incentives to just put nothing but raw stats in your deck, so it’s my hope that the small amounts of utility on the Kavu and Draco will add meaningful texture to the games that they’re involved in and make the format more fun.  Scion of Draco, in particular, while I think a bit weaker than Ragavan or Territorial Kavu, does have a really exciting set of abilities, and the pressure the team put on the card to make sure that it wasn’t just a pile of stats led to it being a much cooler card in its final form.

Hopefully these tidbits have been interesting, but if you’re just looking for decklists, we’re finally there.

This is the “purest” old school Zoo deck I’ll be sharing today.  It’s curve is super low, its spells are extremely high-impact with Tribal Flames and Might of Alara, and it’s generally prioritizing speed over any disruptive qualities.  

I love the idea of Ragavan alongside a Domain Zoo mana base letting you piece together weird ways to cast your opponent spells and increasing the range of dynamic gamestates.  Although it’s unlikely, it’s possible that you could generate infinite life off your opponent’s Heliod combo over successive hits, or cast something bizarre as Primeval Titan.  The range of potential experiences alongside the power to compete is really my hope for the card.

Hexdrinker is another card I suspect that will become friends with Ragavan, and folks are starting to include both in their mockups for new Jund Death’s Shadow decks.  It makes sense, as it’s an early threat that leverages the extra mana and here we’re incentivized to try to split our one-drops between R and G for the sake of Burning-Tree Emissary.  Old school additions like Experiment One are certainly capable of being larger, but Hexdrinker still strikes me as the stronger card given its ability to allow you to play long games.

Otherwise, there’s nothing too crazy going on.  Depending on how you want to build your Zoo deck, you can now pick up Lurrus, but I still think there’s plenty of incentive for you to entertain the new mythic Elemental Incarnations after sideboarding as your hate cards of choice.  Perhaps it would be wise to adopt a bigger plan in general with Wrenn and Six accompanying the pair.

I won’t spend too much time here, but this is almost card-for-card the deck that Brad Nelson posted in his preview article for Territorial Kavu.  This was essentially the final iteration of Zoo before Death’s Shadow evolved into the more disruptive Jund and Grixis, ultimately kicking out Domain Zoo.

That said, it’s even more aggressive and creature-focused than before, and I could easily see this being where things land when all is said and done.  Notably, Brad (probably because it hadn’t been previewed), left out Flame Rift from the deck, which strikes me as a huge pick up for this strategy.  I’m not exactly sure you can play four copies, but it does a ton to give the deck a critical mass of reach and power up Shadow and Scourge of the Skyclaves.

General Ferrous Rokiric was BBD’s pet card during FFL, and while I believe he explored a lot of interesting Jeskai strategies with the card the most, I also think it can serve an interesting role in Zoo.

General Ferrous Rokiric

Structurally, this is most similar to the deck I played way back when at Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch.  While no match for fully powered Eldrazi, I always thought that deck never quite got the love it deserved.  To power up the General, we have to make some small concessions, but not many, Dryad Militant is passable on rate and has non-zero utility with its ability, and Brad seems to think Brushfire Elemental is more than passable, so who am I to argue.  The biggest appeal, however, is that the General is not only a great card for going big and overperforming your opponent in long contests, but it’s extremely strong with Reckless Bushwhacker.  Even if you only untap and play Burning-Tree Emissary and Reckless Bushwhacker, that’s a ridiculous amount of power generated, and Bushwhacker draws have long been unappreciated.

This is basically Naya Zoo making small splashes to power up Territorial Kavu to respectable levels.  I’m not exactly sure how deep you’re supposed to go since I’ve only included Thoughtseize in the sideboard as a splash, but I could see adding blue or simply not touching the additional cards at all.

Finally, here’s where we throw most of the accepted rules out the window and try something brand new.

For pretty clear reasons, hexproof and lifelink are the strongest keywords granted by Scion of Draco.  It’s also no coincidence that the strongest keywords are the hardest to leverage.  The goal here is clearly to be more in the “go-bigger, protect the Queen style” of aggressive midrange.  I’m not exactly sure how successful this will be, but I do know that Omnath, Locus of Creation is very powerful and every card in this deck is strong.

Scion of Draco is excellent both preemptively and after playing Omnath, the former cutting off the range of interaction your opponent can have before the Elemental is able to rebate your mana.  Scion, Kavu, and even just Hexdrinker are all extremely powerful follow ups to Omnath’s mana ability, building you huge battlefield presences that are difficult to deal with.  In particular, I’m pretty fond of the fact that Hexdrinker is perfectly suited to getting to its Protection from Instants mode, as well as just being a generally strong sink for the ability on the whole.

Having sixteen threats that turn on Stubborn Denial makes it a pretty easy inclusion, but I admit we’re definitely paying some tax to include Thoughtseize in this deck.  I think it’s probably worth the cost once we’re committed to playing Draco anyway and Territorial Kavu being able to rummage away your more situational cards when they’re weaker is a nice bonus.

This is definitely the most experimental and unrefined of the strategies today, but this looks like a really cool way to leverage these cards in a different type of shell that still makes sense Jegantha putting an aggressive slant on the Niv-Mizzet Reborn type strategies so-to-speak.

I’m going to end today with a quote, because it makes me happy to hear, and I hope you agree, even beyond Week 1. 

Regardless of its legacy, there’s no question that Week 1 of Modern Horizons 2 is shaping up to be a deckbuilders paradise.

-Bryan Gottlieb