With a Modern Grand Prix and Open recently in the books and more big Modern events right around the corner, this format seems to be a current hot topic. The aggressive decks of Modern have been performing much better than they had been a few months ago. Burn is of course one of the fastest creature decks in the format, but Wild Nacatl in general has been getting a lot of love. These creature decks dominated Grand Prix Porto Alegre, while beating decks that are supposed to be good against Burn and Zoo type strategies. Here is the winning list from that Grand Prix, played by Marcos Paulo de Jesus Freitas:
This archetype can be classified as Naya Collected Company or Big Zoo. What makes the bigger Zoo decks stand out is the addition of the three-mana creatures in Knight of the Reliquary and Loxodon Smiter. This deck plays so many threats that it is very difficult to effectively answer each and every one of them. This is what makes a pure control deck poorly positioned at the moment. The deck is also able to play two copies of Collected Company to continue the stream of creatures. There are not only more creatures in this sort of deck when compared to smaller Zoo decks and Burn, but they have larger sizing as well.
It makes a lot of sense that this is the deck that won the Grand Prix, as traditionally the recipe for success in the creature on creature matchups is to have slightly larger creatures than the opponent. This deck is somewhat similar to Naya Burn, but is favored in the matchup. Voice of Resurgence is a card that hasn't been seeing a ton of play, but it does a lot of things very well. This card can chump block and buy time versus a super aggressive start from the opponent, or provide insurance against a card like Liliana of the Veil. The creatures in this deck don't only attack and block, they have other uses as well.
There are two copies of both Scavenging Ooze and Qasali Pridemage, but remember it feels like more than that because of Collected Company. It is hard to find a hole in the creature base, or the spell suite for that matter. While the Path to Exiles and Lightning Bolts are the obvious removal spells you want, Marcos has not stopped there. Alongside the two copies of Collected Company there is a Dromoka's Command. Dromoka's Command seems reasonable here, and can randomly blow your opponent out if they have an enchantment in play. Even just preventing a burn spell can be the difference in a game. However, it is important to not get carried away with the noncreature spells, as the deck is playing Collected Company.
Marcos wasn't the only one playing a Big Zoo style of deck. Caio Amaral had a different take on how to build around Knight of the Reliquary. Here we see the combo of Knight of the Reliquary plus Retreat to Coralhelm in full effect:
We have a deck that makes full use of Noble Hierarch as it is playing four colors, and is able to do so pretty easily. The fetch land and shock land manabase plus the mana creatures means this deck will not stumble on mana very often. The deck not only has Noble Hierarch to accelerate out the three mana plays, it also has Birds of Paradise. Playing one of the three-drops on turn two can just be too explosive for opponents to overcome. Geist of Saint Traft is a card that is clearly very powerful, but not too many decks can make good use of the card. This deck however loves casting Geist of Saint Traft; it might in fact be the scariest card in the deck. Slower decks will usually just fold to a resolved Geist of Saint Traft.
Here there are ways of making sure Geist of Saint Traft gets through, so that it doesn't simply get blocked by something like a Snapcaster Mage. Elspeth, Knight-Errant is the big four-mana play, and being able to pump Geist of Saint Traft while giving it flying is very powerful. Elspeth, Knight-Errant is yet another card we haven't seen in a while, but really shines with all of the big creatures that have no form of evasion. This planeswalker can also just churn out tokens, and is very difficult for a deck like Jund to deal with, if there is not a Maelstrom Pulse immediately available. The tap mode on Retreat to Coralhelm is also a good way to deal with pesky blockers, so it has other functions than just the combo with Knight of the Reliquary.
For those that aren't already aware the combo involving Knight of the Reliquary plus Retreat to Coralhelm is pretty sick. This combo is good enough for Legacy play, so it is no joke. With both an active Knight of the Reliquary and a Retreat to Coralhelm in play you can essentially continually untap the Knight of the Reliquary with Retreat to Coralhelm, while sacrificing as many forests and plains as needed. There are additional Retreat to Coralhelm triggers that can be used to tap down blockers, so normally one attack from an absurdly large Knight of the Reliquary will end the game on the spot. Besides this interaction Retreat to Coralhelm can untap Noble Hierarch and generate a bunch of mana, and don't forget that the card allows you to scry one! While clearly Retreat to Coralhelm isn't strong on its own, this is the right deck to play it in.
So there are certainly plenty of options in terms of Big Zoo type strategies, but don't worry, there are also great options for finishing games even faster! Let's take a look at the winning deck from the SCG Open in Dallas; this deck doesn't mess around. The Red/Green Aggro deck played by Wesley Blanchard is just about as explosive as it gets, here is the list:
While this deck isn't filled with actual burn spells it does have Burning-Tree Emissary alongside a host of cheap one-mana and two-mana creatures. In fact the curve tops out at two, much like a burn deck, and Atarka's Command is absolutely fantastic as the three damage and bonus given to the creatures is huge. Looking at the one-drop slot there is Wild Nacatl, so yes the deck does have white mana in it, though there aren't any actual white cards. Wild Nacatl is simply the best one-drop in the format though and the cost of putting a couple white shock lands in the deck is not very high. Beyond Wild Nacatl you would think a deck like this would be playing cards like Goblin Guide or Monastery Swiftspear right? That is not the direction Wesley has gone.
Instead of the more traditional creature package, Wesley has Experiment One and Vexing Devil. What is interesting is that most of the time this deck would actually rather play turn one Experiment One, than Wild Nacatl, as it is very easy to grow the Experiment One. Think about the following sequence: turn one Experiment One, turn two Burning-Tree Emissary followed by a Wild Nacatl (after fetching for a white source) and a Vexing Devil. This would allow you to attack for four with the Experiment One on turn two while having a bunch of other threats in play. Experiment One can also regenerate itself which provides some insurance versus sweepers like Supreme Verdict. Vexing Devil is a card that hasn't seen a ton of play recently, but the fact that it can help grow Experiment One while being sort of a burn spell at the same time is pretty cool. The majority of the time the opponent will choose to take four from the Vexing Devil if they can, as a one-mana, four-power creatures are pretty unfair.
Even if you don't have one-drops to play off the Burning-Tree Emissary trigger you can of course play another Burning-Tree Emissary, or one of the other two-drop creatures, which are Tarmogoyf and Flinthoof Boar. Tarmogoyf is an obvious addition to the deck, but Flinthoof Boar isn't. It is nice to play Flinthoof Boar on turn three to be able to give it haste, but either way it is a solid two-mana threat. Beyond the creature suite there is a host of not only burn spells, but pump effects too.
Atarka's Command and Lightning Bolt need no explanation, but moving beyond that Wesley has made some intriguing choices. Rather than play more burn or creatures he has gone for Dismember as a way to take care of larger threats, plus Mutagenic Growth and Vines of Vastwood. I have seen Mutagenic Growth played in this style deck before, though Vines of Vastwood is a bit more unusual. It is a sweet one-of, but on the other hand it's not clear that slot wouldn't be better served as something else. Eidolon of the Great Revel is in the sideboard because it doesn't work that well with Burning-Tree Emissary, but there will be matchups where you really want access to it, especially when on the play. Ghor-Clan Rampager seems like a card that could be worthy of inclusion in the maindeck, but instead it is in the sideboard for not only more pump, but also a way to give creatures trample.
So the last deck that truly does light people on fire, and one that I have a lot of experience with, is Burn. The version of Burn that I made Top 8 of Pro Tour Fate Reforged with didn't have green cards maindeck, however Atarka's Command was not in the format at that time. There is a reason why Naya Burn has been doing so well, the deck is great and it is the best version of the Burn archetype at the moment. This list was played by Vagner William Casatti to a second place finish at Grand Prix Porto Alegre:
Recently the trend has been moving towards playing more creatures in Burn than have been in the deck traditionally. Goblin Guide, Monastery Swiftspear, and Eidolon of the Great Revel are the staple creatures. There should undoubtedly be four copies of all of these. Normally there are also one or two copies of Grim Lavamancer, and here we see two. Grim Lavamancer doesn't burn your opponent out quickly, but if left unchecked it can get out of hand, and pinging opposing creatures is nice too. Wild Nacatl is the best one drop in the format, and while you do have to go out of your way a little bit, it is worth playing here.
Some versions have Copperline Gorge to help make the manabase a little smoother. It doesn't make that much sense to play all the shock lands that Vagner is; I would rather have more fetch lands. Still even with all the shock lands, the manabase is great as long as you draw more than one land. Since versions like this play eighteen creatures, some of the burn spells do end up getting cut. Here we see only two copies of Searing Blaze. While I personally love Searing Blaze there is an argument that can be made against the card, as versus some decks there are no creatures at all, or the creatures have more than three toughness. The card is great, but the fact is that there will be times when it is a dead card.
Burn is a major deck in Modern, and certainly one that is tough to beat. I expect to see more life gain effects moving forward, or these aggressive decks will continue to perform exceptionally well.
Thanks for reading,