Turning the Green Sun Blue
📅 May 05, 2023•
⏱️19 min read
I'm old and my wrists hurt.
Hello legacy gamers! My name is fishduggery and if you recognize me from MTGO, hello! (If you recognize me from twitter, I'm deeply sorry).
I'm a relative latecomer to legacy, starting by borrowing a good friend's Canadian Threshold (great deck, better podcast) deck for a couple years starting in the Deathrite era. I played Delver right up until after the Wrenn and Six ban (sleep sweetly my princess) and the advent of MH2. Have you seen the cost of Ragavan? I also have a dark and shadowed history as a commander player, leading to my interest in Food Chain, Aluren and other Bad Green Enchantment Based Decks ™.
But somewhere deep in the dark Oko age, I found the light of the Green Sun and never looked away.
This is the ideal playset. You may not like it, but this is what peak performance looks like.
Blue Zenith piles have been around for a bit, combining the toolbox-y threat density and acceleration of Maverick with the selection and cowardice of Brainstorm + Force of Will decks. Historically, mashing up two existing decks can either go incredibly well and you have Cephalid Life, Tarmo-Twin or Thopter-Depths! Orrrrrrrrrrr you end up with a diluted mess like Death's Shadow and Taxes (I'll save that list for my next article).
The modern iteration of Blue Zenith has its roots back in late 2019/early 2020, and Yorion took even longer to catch on. Lists looked a lot more like “Big BUG control” or “Snowko with Zenith” and less like the current splashy Bant. Early innovators in the field were kauffj, dazai, McWinSauce, and yehua, among others (apologies to any Zenith gamers I may have overlooked here, it's surprisingly hard to dig for lists sometimes).
After Oko, Thief of Crowns and Arcum's Astrolabe got the axe, things took some time to settle. Thankfully people like kauffj were deep in the brew mines looking at 1 cmc land auras. Abundant Growth supplanted Utopia Sprawl, and the average Zenith list started to take shape.
Abundant Growth is a lot more than just a mana fixer and bad cantrip. It's insurance in a world of Wastelands, and an incredible draw engine with Yorion. In a long game, the presence of Growth and Yorion can combine to put you up 4-5 cards. This card makes the deck.
Probably the most memorable and highest profile performance of the deck was cftsoc3 with this list which looks positively deranged in an open field, but proved to be genius in the small showcase field full of Delver of Secrets.
I am not here to say this is the best deck in the format, far from it. I am here to say it's a lot better than the haters say, and more importantly, that it's an absolute blast to play.
Huh that's a weird place for a comma. I'm sure that won't come up later.
Zenith's game plan can boil down to a single word: Flexibility. With an 80 card maindeck filled with bullets, answers, and haymakers, you can react to anything. You might be turboing out your collector ouphe vs combo. Maybe you're finding Ramunap Excavator to capitalize on their mana stumbles. Sometimes you're playing patiently and squeezing every drop of value out of your Endurances and Ice-Fang Coatls vs control. Flexibility is key, with enough time and Mana you can MacGuyver (or sometimes MacGruber) your way out of any situation.
As mentioned earlier, I was a commander player, now I'm a legacy player. Yes we exist. Zenith is the closest you can come to playing commander in legacy (if you hate commander, ignore this part). You've got a ton of one-of's. Your opponents are taking psychic damage from reading your cards. You're comboing random legendary creatures in ways you never thought possible. You are ascending.
If you have a pet card, you can probably play it here. Hornet Queen, Primeval Titan, Questing Beast, Omnath, Locus of Creation, even Slogurk the Overslime! Atraxa, Grand Unifier was printed and the deck gained another angle with Natural Order. MOM brought Thalia and the Gitrog Monster, and the madmen among us are trying Slimefoot and Squee or Dina and Zimone. It's real sicko hours over here. With FIRE design, each new set has some absurd green based legend, and you just slam them into play with no regard for 'reasonable mana costs'.
In actuality the real reason to play Zenith is the existence of Delver. If you want to beat up on Delver, Shadow and other tempo decks, this is your deck. Take a look at my matchups from the recent challenge:
R1 UR Delver 🐸🐸— pissduggery (@pissduggery) May 1, 2023
R2 UR Delver 💀🐸🐸
R3 Death's Shadow 🐸🐸
R4 Glimpse Elves 💀🐸🐸
R5 Reanimator 🐸🐸
R7 Green Cloudpost 🐸💀💀
QF Death's Shadow 🐸💀🐸
SF Lands 🐸🐸
Finals Green Cloudpost (Same player as R7, Revenge!!) 🐸🐸
Having 20-25% of an average field be your best matchup is a pretty good place to be. You can easily blank Wasteland, play around Daze, and gain enough life to stay well out of Delver's range. You're also happy playing vs various control piles, you just go bigger and longer than them. Here Yorion almost plays like an Ancestral Visions, eventually drawing you 2-4 cards in a long game. You eat blue for breakfast, or like a soup, a blue soup.
Time is a big strike against this deck. Online, you need a fast rig and to have zero distractions. If you have a child or a pet you are already dead. In paper? You have to bring the shortcuts early, call slow play in the first 5 minutes or you will pick up draws. The best part of a paper Zenith game is when you've drawn 20 cards and can shuffle a 'normal' deck.
If you're in a no-PVP zone like the Pacific Northwest where people ignore delver and build decks purely on vibes? You're probably going to have a rough time with the matchup lottery. Decks that spew their hand and go wide can be a nightmare for you, 8-cast and Painter are really rough when they have a fast draw. Variance also gets you when you're up against combo round after round. You have the tools to put TES or Doomsday down, but you have to mulligan aggressively and have luck on your side. Sometimes you just draw white cards and die.
Zenith is incredibly customizable: Do you want to play more mana dorks and Natural Orders? How about topping your curve with Primeval Titan and Field of the Dead to really put the screws to control decks? What Zenith bullets do you want to play? Which are good enough to play 2x?
Currently I see Zenith as having 3 major builds: Basic, NO and YES (Yorion Ephemerate Spellseeker). Within these you have differences between the paper and MTGO versions (because WOTC hates us legacy players, duh).
Prior to Atraxa, Grand Unifier, I was a Basic bitch. I would have said Natural Order had NO appeal for me. Now that we have a better Griselbrand, I'm becoming a NO Gamer. Here's the list I won the 4/30 challenge with:
THALIA RIDES AGAIN!— pissduggery (@pissduggery) May 1, 2023
Spiked the Sunday Legacy challenge with my old faithful 5C Zenith. Natural orders got me out of a few tight spots, nice to have a hammer to drop when you need a tight turnaround. Matchups in reply. pic.twitter.com/CXgJ6vsgPC
Part of the issue with Zenith is you don't have sweepers, and your splashy plays require setup. Commonly you can semi-stabilize, land one of your 3 or 4 drops and just die anyways. Natural Order for Atraxa helps solving these issues by going way over the top. No need for a sweeper if you can play offense and defense with a 7/7 lifelink. You've got plenty of fodder for NO as well, through the challenge I sacrificed Ice-Fangs, Dryads, Endurance, and Insect tokens. There's definitely risk but you're less all-in than other NO decks.
Travis Hobrla has written an incredible guide for YES here: Yorion Spellseeker Ephemerate deck guide YES is even more difficult to play in a timely manner, and has a lot of extra microdecisions due to Spellseeker and Eternal Witness. I'll leave the Ephemerate loops to the smart players. I'm here to attack with 4/4 green idiots.
Legacy players will literally go Spellseeker > Ephemerate > blink Seeker > GSZ > Ewit > return Ephem > Ephem Ewit get Ephem and blink Seeker > Orim's Chant, then cast upkeep Chants on the opponent every turn while keeping the blinking loop going instead of going to therapy. pic.twitter.com/5LR2KTJgKD— Maxtortion (@maxtortion) March 27, 2023
Offline, we gain access to a pair of Tyranids. Mawloc is the obvious banger here, and I've played as many as 3 maindeck. It's an odd card to Zenith for, as it'll suicide on a flipped delver, and can't kill much else, but once you cast it with as a 4 mana 4/4 that kills a Dragon's Rage Channeler or use excess carpet mana to eat their Murktide Regent and draw a card, you're laughing. The rise of Snuff Out has made me really wary of Mawloc however, as removal in response to the fight ability means you get nothing for your mana.
Toxicrene is a great bullet with multiple applications. Obviously it's great vs Lands-based strategies, but it's also fantastic vs Delver. You have the ultimate blocker that turns off their Wastelands/Mystic Sanctuary all while fixing your mana. If I'm playing Toxicrene it's usually in the board however, because it runs contrary to your waste/fetch looping with Life from the Loam or Ramunap Excavator.
Zenith generally has the following cards as stock, and I would be hard pressed to make any changes to the following:
30 Lands - 12 Fetches, 5 Snow Basics, 5 Duals, 3 wasteland, 1 Karakas, 1 Dryad Arbor
This leaves you 3 flex spots in your manabase. You can add a Triome if you're stretching your mana with more red/black/gold cards or messing around with Leyline Binding. Boseiju is close to being stock, and I've been very impressed with Otawara. Generally your basics are 2 forests, 2 islands, 1 plains, and your duals are all the green duals (Trop, Savannah, Bayou, Taiga) plus Tundra. I sometimes play Volcanic island to support a larger red splash.
12 cantrips, 8 removal spells, 4 Force of Wills
The usual Brainstorm/Ponder/Swords to Plowshares/Prismatic Ending/Force of Will making up 20 cards applies here. Zenith is also playing Abundant Growth. This card is the glue holding the deck together, and an incredible amount of otherwise unkeepable hands become snap keeps when you have an Growth. Some of the Zenith players have been experimenting with 1-2 Leyline Bindings over Prismatic Endings. It's great to be able to answer Murktide Regent, as well as being more mana efficient in general.
4 Green Sun's Zenith, 4 Ice-Fang Coatl, 3 Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath
These are your bread and butter and how you bridge the gap from early game to when you start dropping bombs. Ice-Fang and Uro keep your blue and green counts high for your pitch spells as well. I don't want the Jeskai players to come for me, but if you're playing control and not playing Uro, what are you doing?
Birds of Paradise/Carpet of Flowers, Ramunap Excavator/Life from the Loam, minimum 2 Endurance, Grist, the Hunger Tide, Collector Ouphe, Omnath, Locus of Creation
I consider these to be the stock 'bullets', all with their own usage. Birds/Carpet help catapult you ahead on mana. Loam is more efficient, but Excavator can be found easily. Both give you a way to maximise your brainstorms, abuse your channel lands, wastelock your opponents and explode with Uro/Omnath. I've played everywhere from 2-4 Endurance maindeck, and pretty much every 95 I build has all 4. Grist and Ouphe are bullets to combat specific boardstates/lock up a game. Omnath might look goofy and cuttable, but this card has so much power and ability to salvage games that might seem unwinnable. Play the Omnath, love the Omnath.
If you accept all of this as stock, you're at 74 cards meaning you've got 6 flex spots. Some options here are:
- Another mana dork or Carpet of Flowers
- Leyline Binding/more removal, more Mawlocs
- Natural Orders & Atraxa
- Leovold, Omnath #2, Minsc & Boo, Thalia & Gitrog, Slogurk, Questing Beast etc.
- Force of Negation
- More Endurances
- Field of the Dead & Primeval Titan
- Other utility lands
- Fable of the Mirror-Breaker
A lot of the decision-making with regards to the flex slots will come down to personal preference. Sometimes a specific meta or top deck will have you doing a larger rework. For example, before the last bans I tried out playing more Noble Hierarchs to steal the initiative. If Jeskai with lots of planeswalkers is on the uptake, Questing Beast and Primeval Titan have more merit. Our local paper meta has lots of non-delver creature decks, so I'm happy packing extra Mawlocs.
In the majority of matchups, you're going to be the control deck. Generally I look at opening hands in this context. Can I make my opening land drops? Do I have the right colors? Does this hand do anything before turn 3? Standard stuff.
Most hands with Abundant Growth and the ability to fetch a basic Forest are keeps. Zenith for Dryad Arbor on turn 1 is generally correct, and definitely the play if you have 2 Zeniths. A hand with Zenith + Abundant Growth is the dream, where you can Arbor on 1 with a basic, and use the Dryad to play Growth on your basic the following turn.
Following that you're leveraging your cantrips, removal spells and dorks to stay alive moving yourself towards one of your winning states. These are usually one of the following:
- Escaping and untapping with Uro
- Casting Yorion to flicker and draw 2-3 cards
- Doing a big Omnath landfall turn
- Casting Natural Order
Often these plans intertwine, where Uro triggers Omnath, or Omnath + Fetch lets you immediately cast Yorion. Basically you're gaining a lot of life, drawing a heap of cards, and putting enough beef on the table to open Omnath's Outback Steakhouse.
Editor's Note: A FREE sideboard guide? in THIS economy???
We've all played enough against delver by this point to know the basics: fetch your basics, play around daze, don't wasteland them, etc. These are just as true here. Additionally here are some less obvious tips that help me in the matchup:
- Mainphase the Ice-Fang/Endurance (sometimes). A surprise snake is pretty unlikely to eat their creature in the early/midgame, so mainphasing one to hit a land drop/draw Abundant Growth or Ponder. Likewise you want to mainphase Endurance when you smell a Murktide lurking and you don't have an answer to it.
- Grist is good. If you can land Grist on an empty board you've created a real problem for the delver player. You're pretty much guaranteed to kill their next two creatures, or eat up some bolts that would wreak havoc on your snakes.
- Consider your mana, ensure you can efficiently cast Uro/Omnath. Games can be won or lost on whether you can escape Uro on time or make your land drop after Omnath. Make sure your early sequencing doesn't kill you. Also make sure you're aware of Surgical postboard, a game without Uro is a lot harder to win.
- Go Forceless. Your blue cards are too precious to pitch to force post board. There's almost nothing delver can land that 1 hit kills you, so drop all your forces and enjoy the free card advantage post board.
- Atraxa is castable. Resolving a 7cmc blue spell postboard vs delver might seem insane, but you have 3 carpets, and can Zenith for silly amounts.
- Beware the 0 cost removal. Snuff out and Submerge are both insane vs us. Generally there isn't much way to mitigate these beyond finding low risk lines with our creatures. If I have a choice between playing a creature to the board vs removing their creature I'll generally take the latter so I don't lose a bunch of life for guessing wrong. Additionally Unholy Heat is very good vs us, try to use Endurance to blow them out if you suspect heat.
Common board plans vs Delver and Shadow. Atraxa is out vs Shadow just because of the risk of Reanimate.
Control can be a great matchup, try to identify what flavor they're on asap because that determines how you should play it.
- Karakas is king. If they're a Minsc pile, Karakas is good for obvious reasons, but even just against the Tundra decks Karakas will save your Uro/Omnath/Leovold and give them fits.
- Pressure the walkers. One of the easiest ways to lose vs control with this deck is to get stuck under a Narset or even worse punked out by Day's Undoing. Try to land an EOT endurance or Ice-Fang and keep PWs in check. Remember that Dryad Arbor can sneaky kill a Teferi that downticked on their turn.
- Watch out for sweepers. Do you need to play the Ramunap Excavator this turn? Can you wait to play Omnath and get full value? Patience can give a lot of value here.
- Set up the big Yorion. Try not to expose Yorion to countermagic until both players are pretty exhausted. If you can land Yorion and flicker multiple abundant growths, that's lights out. If you spew Yorion into a pyroblast for no reason, you just lost your biggest advantage.
- Cut a rug. You can absolutely shame a 4C control player by fetching all non-islands into their Carpet of Flowers. Remember that Leovold is not housebroken, he poops all over their carpet.
Painter can be really really tough. They can slam fable and leave you in the dust, or fury your board out of nowhere, all while threatening the combo.
- Ouphe isn't invincible. Painter now generally plays 3ish bolts main, and 4 Fury. If landing Ouphe doesn't cut them off mana entirely, wait until they've spent some removal first.
- Hold Wasteland for Saga. I've learned this one the hard way, don't get cute and kill a random Great Furnace if you can't recur your wasteland.
- The combo isn't that scary. You've got a lot of tools to disrupt Painter-Grindstone. Boseiju and Otawara are uncounterable answers, you can endurance yourself after activation to get an untap (and hopefully kill the painter!) and you're a Plow deck. Postboard if you have Gaea's Blessing you can basically ignore the combo.
- Four is the magic number. Always consider what a Fury will do to your board. Ouphe + Arbor + Ice-Fang? You're dead. Endurance + Uro? Nice Try.
- We're going in naked. Cut the Forces. Yep they can slam fable turn one, they can Fury you into next week, but you're never winning a match where you trade 2 blue cards for a Pyroblast.
This match feels the most like a slot machine with two people pulling it. One the one hand you have maindeck Collector Ouphe. Maindeck! Ouphe! Collectoring! On the other hand they can just do the 8Cast thing and draw 40 extra cards and kill you with saga tokens.
- Ouphe will often surprise them G1, and they don't have an answer for it outside of Force and Otawara. Postboard you have to protect it vs Dismember as well. If you have an Ouphe/Zenith draw, try to hold a force to protect the little guy.
- Karakas and Wasteland are key cards in the matchup. Karakas blanks Emry and slows down Sai. Wasteland keeps you safe vs Saga and sometimes lets you completely shut off their mana if you have an Ouphe in play.
- You've got great hate in this matchup, don't keep middling cantrippy hands postboard. It's easy to get chalice'd and just lose on the spot. Common board plan for 8Cast. Ice-Fangs might sound nice vs saga but generally it's too little too late, plus you're fetching your duals to cast red and black spells.
It might not look it, but I consider Reanimator a great matchup for Zenith. You've got 8-9 pitch cards post board, plus plows and Karakas. Current builds of reanimator feel more midrangey so you're not just dead if they put a creature into play.
- Bring in the Pyros. Unless you can confirm otherwise, assume they're on the Show and Tell plan. Don't get got.
- Mind your blue and green counts. Ice-Fang might not do a lot in the matchup, but it is a card that pitches to both FOW and Endurance.
- In G1 don't keep a hand with Atraxa unless it's the nuts. Again, don't get got. Common board plan for reanimator. Keep some endings if they're doing the Dauthi Voidwalker thing.
These can be rough matchups, you're generally unfavored, hopefully you've identified your opponent early and can play accordingly.
- Attack their mana. Some key wastelands and a Collector Ouphe can get em dead quick.
- Avoid plains and islands. Be cognizant of the existence of Carpet of Flowers and Massacre, and avoid the relevant land types when fetching if you can.
- Be aggressive. Every life counts. Look for opportunities to fetch dryad arbor to deal some extra points.
- Leovold is amazing here. I've decided lots of doomsday games with a turn 2 Leovold. Look for your opportunities and play accordingly.
These vary widely depending on their build and kill condition and lead to some very complicated and rewarding games. You're very resilient vs Stage-Depths, have a rough time vs Karakas, are strong vs wasteland and port, but have a definite weakness vs Punishing Fire and Tabernacle.
- Wasteland defensively, until it's time to wasteland offensively. Generally your wasteland will be acting as a check vs a fast Marit Lage, but eventually you're going to have to start wasting their Maze of Ith or Karakas to start killing them. Try to build a big turn where you can Loam/Ramunap multiple times.
- Beware the Bog. Getting your Uro bogged is fine, getting your Uro and a couple wastelands bogged is problematic, getting your Uro, wastelands and Loam bogged is disastrous.
- Kill Reclaimer on sight. Nothing good happens if they untap with reclaimer.
Death & Taxes is really rough, as there's next to no end to their lineup of creatures. Generally I find it's better to be proactive and try to exhaust their removal instead of their creatures.
- Wastelands are for Karakas, then Port, and nothing else. Don't get tempted to blow up a random Eiganjo, you'll regret it.
- Primeval Titan and Field of the Dead are huge in this matchup, with them you have incredible late game inevitability, without you're liable to get swarmed to death.
- Cage and Containment Priest are coming in, be ready. Consider shaving down on Natural order, consider holding your Prismatic Ending if you have a Zenith heavy draw.
- Fetch your duals, pray they miss on Wastelands. Abundant Growth is the least safe it's ever been. They can Flickerwisp your basic, or just Skyclave or Loran the Growth.
- Plague engineer and Leovold really shine in this matchup, think about when you want to expose your black land.
Your winrate is directly tied to two things: their build, and the number of white cards you draw. Against the nightmare builds you can trade removal for creatures and pull ahead with a good draw. It isn't easy but it's possible. With combo elves you're living or dying on whether you can counter their Glimpse/NO.
- Thalia & Gitrog is great disruption here, especially vs the Glimpse builds.
- Plague Engineer is your best card postboard. They'll try desperately to kill it with Grist or decay. Prevent what you can.
- Their mana sucks. Wasteland loops can do a lot of work with 1-2 removal spells.
- Watch out for Opposition Agent. Careful with your fetching, and try to keep plow up while you cast Zenith.
Depends on the build. You're very resilient vs Moon effects with your basics and Growths. You care less about chalice, and can either remove it or outright ignore it. Initiative is less scary at 4cmc, as you can get a snake down in time to challenge them. Black stompy is probably the easiest of the bunch, as your artifact hate and wastelands are better.
- Against Moon Stompy, generally prioritize your basic forest, then plains. Forest to cast your other fixers, plains to cast Prismatic Ending for X=3.
- Often you can let Chalice on 1 resolve if your hand has reasonable plays past that. Force the threat. Pull a Rorschach on them.
So what does the future hold for Zenith? It's a deck with lots of flexibility, unexplored avenues, and (at least that I'm aware of) no centralized place of development like a Discord. Ideally this article is a bit of a conversation starter, and gets some fresh eyes on the deck. I consider myself experienced with the deck, but in no way an expert. The one thing I do know, is WOTC will continue to print silly gold legends with G in their mana cost, and I'll be excitedly throwing them into the deck.
Hopefully this article has inspired you to give Zenith a spin, if you want to ask any questions or share your findings, hit me up on twitter @pissduggery.
Big thanks to Min and Max for hosting, the Nerdbirds for feedback, woluc for always hitting my DMs with spicy lists, and all the usual Thursday Stronghold crew for sharpening my steel.