When Mirrodin Besieged came out, approximately everyone I know asked me the same question:
“So how sick is Green Sun's Zenith in Legacy?”
And you know what? I had no idea. I knew it would be much better than simply being an Eladamri's Call that puts a creature into play for one more mana. There has to be a deck that makes good use of this card, I thought to myself. My friends would excitedly tell me that Zenith for zero gets Dryad Arbor, that Zenith for one gets Heritage Druid or Nettle Sentinel, and that Zenith for six gets Primeval Titan. Sure, but there has to be more to this card. I don't want to tap three mana on turn 3 and go get Tarmogoyf. Not excited, sorry.
It was in Indianapolis where I finally had my answer. I knew how to make a Green Sun's Zenith deck worth playing. When Glenn Jones asked me what card in Mirrodin Besieged deserves more discussion, I told him the truth. He replied, “Yeah, but everyone's already been talking about that card.” I smiled.
“They can go a lot deeper.”
With many thanks for inspiration to Mike Keller, I give you:
- 4 Elvish Spirit Guide
- 2 Fyndhorn Elves
- 2 Llanowar Elves
- 1 Scryb Ranger
- 4 Tarmogoyf
- 1 Terastodon
- 1 Wall of Roots
- 1 Wickerbough Elder
- 1 Progenitus
- 1 Dryad Arbor
As with Dragon Stompy, Zenith Stompy owes much of its playability to the presence of Elvish Spirit Guide. Without ESG, this deck's already-tenuous colored mana situation would be downright atrocious.
Really, all of the Ancient Tomb/City of Traitors decks have issues with getting enough colored mana. This can't be surprising – they play eight colorless lands – but it's a very real constraint in the deckbuilding process. Since this deck's trumps are all double green, colored mana is at even more of a premium. When you're building a deck with two-mana lands, don't neglect your colored sources – you still want a minimum of seventeen colored mana sources, as you do with your normal decks.
So what does this deck do? It has the four Chalices of the Void and four Trinispheres typical to nearly every aggressive Ancient Tomb deck, but that's where the disruption ends. From there, we can divine two major plans of attack:
Plan number one: Kill them with a giant green monster.
This is about as dedicated a Natural Order deck as you're likely to see. It has no shortage of combination draws to cast Natural Order on turn 2 and will almost always cast an in-hand Natural Order by turn 3.
Whereas some people like a turn 2 or 3 Wurmcoil Engine or Steel Hellkite as a threat in its own right, I don't. I don't want to give them four turns to hit their out; I want to give them two. Oh, and I want them to have to deal with a Trinisphere, too.
Natural Order is the reason why the deck is playing the awkward Elves instead of Chrome Moxen. Yes, you'll still be setting Chalice of the Void at one. Yes, drawing a one-mana Elf after that happens is fairly uncomfortable. You know what's more uncomfortable, though? Not having a green creature to sacrifice to Natural Order. That's just the worst.
To further the Natural Order plan, I've included two two-mana Zenith targets in the deck. A Zenith getting your Scryb Ranger or Wall of Roots costs 2G. Conveniently, this is exactly the sort of mana you can get from a two-mana land plus an Elvish Spirit Guide on turn 1. On turn 1, you'll want to get Wall of Roots, buying yourself infinite time against any aggressive deck while setting up Natural Order.
The Scryb Ranger is a little more cerebral. Against a deck like Merfolk, your Progenitus may be able to be raced. By having a pro-blue flier for Zenith to get, you cut off their out of “attack back with a huge, flying Coralhelm Commander.”
Scryb Ranger also contributes to ameliorating the deck's colored mana woes by occasionally untapping Llanowar Elves to produce a second green mana. In a pinch, of course, Ranger can untap itself while bouncing your Forest, allowing you to replay it for your second green mana. It's a small creature, but it has a lot of utility.
Scrolling down the list of one-ofs, you might lift an eyebrow at the boom-boom split. There are two reasons why the deck diversifies its Natural Order targets. The first is that you don't always want Progenitus.
For example, if you're casting Natural Order on turn 3 with your opponent at 18, it's good to have the option to put lethal on the table and force them to have an answer to your Elephant squad. Sure, don't do it if they've got an untapped Tundra, but there are definitely situations where Terastodon is superior. Ensnaring Bridge and Moat, anyone? Remember the cardinal rule: always leave yourself outs.
The second reason is that the deck can actually cast or Zenith for its Terastodon in a long enough game. It's not common, but it's not a huge corner case. We are playing a mono-green deck in Legacy, after all.
Of course, Green Sun's Zenith shines much more in the deck's second plan:
Plan number two: Beat them down.
As it turns out, playing four Tarmogoyfs and four Green Sun's Zeniths means that you can see a lot of Tarmogoyfs over the course of the game. If they throw an obstacle in your way, you can Zenith for Wickerbough Elder, blow it up, and have a 4/4 to show for your efforts. If they don't throw an obstacle in your way, you can still Zenith for Elder and attack for three.
The real captain of the beatdown plan, however, is Mr. Call of the Herd himself, Garruk Wildspeaker. Creating a nigh-unending stream of 3/3 Beasts and pausing only to untap some lands and enable an enormous Zenith, Garruk is a house in this sort of deck. I mean, think about the lands you're untapping! “Target my Ancient Tomb and my City of Traitors.” Yeah, Zenithing for Terastodon just got a lot more realistic.
Of course, it would be impossible to talk about beating down in Legacy without mentioning the best equipment to ever see print. The three Umezawa's Jitte are incredibly important, both as ways to gain life back lost to Ancient Tombs and as removal spells for troublesome creatures such as Dark Confidant and Goblin Warchief. Sure, it's nice to have a Progenitus every game, but things don't always go according to plan. When plopping a 10/10 into play isn't in the cards, having Umezawa's Jitte is a pretty good backup plan. After all, this is a green deck. Just attack them!
That's about all I've got for you on Ancient Tomb and City of Traitors. I hope you've enjoyed the series as much as I have and, if nothing else, have been inspired to take a closer look at a pair of underappreciated lands in Legacy. I'll be keeping it to Fridays for the near future, but look for me at a StarCityGames.com Open near you. If you're going to an Open Weekend, look for me. Don't be shy about introducing yourself – I promise, I'm always good for a conversation about Legacy! For those of you going to DC, I'll see you bright and early tomorrow morning. After all, I've got to keep a trophy or two in my hometown.