The Return of Wild Nacatl

Posted in Top Decks on November 6, 2015

By Luis Scott-Vargas

Luis Scott-Vargas plays, writes, and makes videos about Magic. He has played on the Pro Tour for almost a decade, and between that and producing content for ChannelFireball, often has his hands full (of cards).

Wild Nacatl has gone on a wild ride in Modern. It was great when the format was first introduced (my team played Wild Nacatl decks in both Modern Pro Tours in 2011, to some pretty wild results), then it got banned, and then, after a few years off, it got unbanned. After sitting out of Modern for three years, Wild Nacatl didn't exactly have a triumphant return. It was unbanned in February of 2014, and didn't make a huge impact afterward. It seemed that the format had grown too hostile and too powerful for this one-drop, despite it being banned for the majority of the format.

Still, as the saying goes: Every cat has its day.

Just last weekend, a full sixteen (!) Wild Nacatls were in the Top 4 of Grand Prix Porto Alegre, which is a pleasant surprise to those who like attacking with 3/3s on turn two. The even cooler thing was that Nacatl showed up in three distinct decks, one of which I'm especially interested in. Just for reference, here was the Top 8 of that GP:

  • 1 Naya Zoo—Winner
  • 2 Naya Burn
  • 1 Bant Zoo
  • 1 Living End
  • 1 Red-Green Tron
  • 1 Blue-Red Twin
  • 1 Green-White Hexproof

This is a fairly interesting set of decks, but we are here to talk Wild Nacatl, so talk Wild Nacatl we shall.

Despite there being three different decks sporting Wild Nacatl (with Naya Burn being represented twice), all of these decks have one thing in common: They want to attack. You don't put Wild Nacatl in your deck and not want to attack, because that's what Wild Nacatl does. It is efficient, powerful, and, ultimately, vanilla. It possesses no other ability besides very good stats (a 3/3 for one mana is no joke), so if you see a deck with Wild Nacatl, pressuring the opponent will be on that deck's agenda.

That doesn't mean there can't be a spectrum, and these three Nacatl decks do each have a varying level of aggression they strive for. Let's start with the winner:

Marcos Paulo de Jesus Freitas's Naya Zoo—Winner, GP Porto Alegre

Download Arena Decklist

This decklist brings me back. This is the archetypal Wild Nacatl deck I played before it was banned, and seeing Elspeth, Tarmogoyf, Nacatl, and Lightning Bolt team up again is awesome. There are some new additions, too, as Dromoka's Command and Collected Company give the deck a flexible removal spell and a powerful threat, but the core of the deck is exactly what I think when I hear "Wild Nacatl."

Level of Aggression: On a scale from "Mild" to "Wild," I'd say this is "Agitated." It's not completely Wild, but it's definitely a few notches above Mild.

Wild Nacatl, Tarmogoyf, and Loxodon Smiter can let the deck curve out nicely, and Lightning Bolt and Path to Exile can clear the way for it to attack without stopping. Bolt even sometimes finishes the opponent off, and if you draw all these cards, the deck can look very aggressive. However, it also has cards such as Scavenging Ooze, Knight of the Reliquary, and Voice of Resurgence, which give the deck a solid plan going into the late game. Between Path, Bolt, Qasali Pridemage, Ooze, and Dromoka's Command, it's possible for Naya Zoo to deal with all the opponent's threats and win with just one uncontested creature.

That flexibility is powerful, and it's why this deck is willing to be a little slower than one of the other Nacatl decks we are going to look at.

You Should Play This Deck If: You expect a lot of "fair" decks. This deck isn't doing anything broken, and isn't fast enough to beat some of the truly broken decks (like Amulet Bloom or Goryo's Vengeance). Where this deck shines is when people are playing decks like Splinter Twin, Grixis Control, Naya Burn, and other decks that don't do inherently busted things.

The next deck showed up twice, and is more of a common Modern contender.

Vagner William Casatti's Naya Burn—Top 8, GP Porto Alegre

Download Arena Decklist

The Burn strategy is one I expect to see at every Modern tournament. People just love casting Lava Spike, and it turns out that it is as effective as it is single-minded.

I feel like I just described this deck's game plan by saying the words "Lava Spike," but there's a little more to it, and that's where Wild Nacatl comes in. The combination of Nacatl, Goblin Guide, and Monastery Swiftspear gives this deck some real recurring damage sources, and that's critical to protect against mulligans or mana flood. If the deck was literally 20 lands and 40 Lava Spikes, some games it just wouldn't be able to deal 20 damage; creatures help protect against that. If any of the creatures hit twice—especially Nacatl—the game is almost over, and they combine especially well with Atarka's Command. Essentially, Nacatl is a Lava Spike on wheels (paws?), and as such fits perfectly into this deck's plan.

Level of Aggression: Wild. It's hard to imagine getting more aggressive than this.

All this deck does is attack, with the minor ability to kill creatures as more of an afterthought than anything the deck wants to do. If you are pointing burn anywhere but your opponent's head, you are usually unhappy about it.

You Should Play This Deck If: You want a consistent experience. Burn is rarely the best deck but never the worst, and fits reasonably well into just about any Modern metagame. It is fast enough to race even the unfair decks, yet resilient enough to get past disruption from the fair ones. It usually won't beat any deck's best draw, but the draw from the burn side will be within a very tight range, and that range is good enough to destroy anyone who stumbles.

Much like Wild Nacatl is a 3/3, there are three different Nacatl decks to look at, and the last one is the newest and most interesting.

Caio Amaral's Bant Zoo—Top 8, GP Porto Alegre

Download Arena Decklist

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a couple different Knight of the Reliquary plus Retreat to Coralhelm decks, and it's awesome seeing somebody put the combo to work. The decklist Caio Amaral used is a very cool-looking one, and I like the idea of adding Retreat and Geist of Saint Traft to a normal Naya Zoo deck. That's a different take than I predicted, but it seems like a very effective one.

First, let's go over the combo:

If you untap with Knight and Retreat in play, you get to go off in a very cool way. Every land the Knight searches out lets you untap the Knight, which means you can use the Knight as many times as you have Plains or Forests in your deck. Additionally, every fetch land (Windswept Heath and the like) that you get gives you an extra landfall trigger, which means you can also tap all your opponent's creatures, or untap your mana creatures to generate mana. At the end of all this, you have a gigantic Knight of the Reliquary, and your opponent has no untapped creatures—which means you get to smash for a ton.

The awesome thing about that combo is that Knight of the Reliquary is just a good Magic card on its own (as shown by it being a part of the GP-winning list despite having no sick combos involved). Retreat is a little less good, but still does something, and the combination will win you the game in most situations. Compare that to Splinter Twin, where Twin is mostly a dead card and Deceiver Exarch and Pestermite are more like Retreat, in that they do something but aren't really playable. Instead of "dead card plus bad card," you have "good card plus bad card," and that's a significant upgrade. Clearly the Twin combo is also worth playing, but it's good to note that this combo costs you way less in terms of deck-building space.

Besides the combo, this operates very much like the Naya Zoo deck we just looked at. It plays creatures, attacks, and has some removal spells to take care of blockers. Geist of Saint Traft is a powerful addition that is basically free once you are playing blue, and gives you another easy way to win games.

Level of Aggression: Closer to Mild than Naya Zoo, but still aggressive.

The addition of more mana creatures and Retreats makes this deck a little less of a beatdown deck, but it can still curve out with Wild Nacatl and Tarmogoyf. Having the combo backup plan is nice, though drawing a Retreat in an otherwise aggressive hand isn't optimal, even if it can tap blockers.

You Should Play This Deck If: You want to play Naya Zoo but expect more unfair decks. This fares a little better against unfair decks because it can win on turn three with the Knight/Retreat combo, but otherwise it's very similar to the Naya Zoo deck. If you anticipate needing the ability to race such decks, this does do that—though I'd still look elsewhere if there are too many unfair decks in the field.

It's good seeing new faces in Modern, even if they are new old faces. I missed Wild Nacatl, and adding more decks to the mix is never a bad thing.


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