Modern Horizons 2 just released last week, but its immediate impact has already shaken the Modern format the moment it became legal on Magic Online. Since then, Cardmarket writers have been covering almost every new card and archetype that emerged: You can find an article on Urza's Saga, another article on the various Asmoranomardicadaistinaculdacar shells … In my previous article I even I talked about how Legacy changed with the set. I strongly recommend you read all the great content we publish every week.
I want to use this article to celebrate the comeback of an old beloved keyword—a keyword that encourages players to run all five colors of Magic in the same deck: the one and only domain. However, domain cards are not in fact the only new cards that benefit heavy multicolor strategies. Without further ado, let's check up on every five-color strategy and on the power boosts they received!
Let's begin with a fact: Branding Magic strategies is sometimes problematic. One of the best examples is Affinity. The deck that emerged during the Mirrodin cycle took its name from the keyword on their creatures, but years passed, and the archetype played in Modern didn't have any affinity cards anymore, yet the name remained the same.
So when I say Tribal Zoo, that could mean nothing to you, since "Zoo" harks back to the early days of Magic when colorful aggressive decks packed Kird Ape and Savannah Lions. Likewise, you might assume that the "Tribal" part implies a focus on a specific type of creature (Merfolk, Elves, Goblins) when it actually refers to Tribal Flames, up to now the most prominent representative of the domain mechanic in Modern.
A few years ago, Tribal Zoo decks were among the best aggro strategies in the format, especially after Wizards lifted the ban on Wild Nacatl. Along with some cheap cards from Alara block, this is how a typical five-color shell looked like back in 2016:
|Tribal Zoo by Eric Vandenoever, SCG Milwaukee, 2016|
Domain cards first appeared during the Invasion cycle and at that time it wasn't even a keyword. Cards like Tribal Flames or Gaea's Might simply cared about each basic land type among lands you controlled. Later, in 2008, Shards of Alara branded the keyword and gave us a new take on Gaea's Might called Might of Alara that combined with Nacatl and later Noble Hierarch to found the Tribal Zoo archetype.
Regarding the game plan, it's pretty straightforward: deploy some early threats as fast as possible during the first turns and try to close up games quickly with cheap direct damage and pump spells. Historically, the deck has always been based in Naya, meaning green for beefy creatures, white for removal and red for direct damage are the foundation colors. But since domain demands the presence of each basic land type for full value, blue and black can contribute small splashes. In the list above for example Geist of Saint Traft works as a hexproof beater, while Snapcaster Mage rebuys Tribal Flames and Lightning Bolt.
Now let's take a look at how the strategy has evolved after five long years. Recent additions from Modern Horizons 2 finally managed to breathe new life into the archetype.
|Tribal Zoo by AHammer, Modern Challenge #12302283|
At first glance, the deck's concept remains intact: half of the cards are threats, around thirty creatures, then there's removal that doubles as finisher, and finally twenty lands. Looking at the spell suite, nothing much has changed as Bolts and Flames cannot be improved upon. However, the former creature selection has suffered from massive power creep over the years, leaving only Noble Hierarch and sometimes Tarmogoyf as the old folks in current brews. Instead, we have a bunch of new cards to look at.
Ignoble Hierarch: a new take on the original Human Druid from Conflux, transformed into a Goblin Shaman supporting Jund colors. Adding red mana is a huge upside in this deck since almost half its cards are of this color, while black is only used for some sideboard purposes. Most lists run the full playset backed up with a couple of Nobles, to ensure the five colors available from turn two on. Personally, I can't see the strategy without both mana dorks.
Territorial Kavu: I have loved Kavus since they first appeared in Invasion. Back then, Horned Kavu was the best you could ask for at two mana, whereas in 2021, you get a 5/5 that also comes with two triggers, either looting away bad cards or hating on graveyard-based strategies, which comes very handy against decks like Dredge, Living End, or flashback cards. For the most part, Territorial Kavu replaces Tarmogoyf in Domain Zoo, although it has some unexpected weaknesses like being affected by Blood Moon.
Scion of Draco: like father like son! The original Draco from Planeshift apparently had a baby at some point, with a more affordable cost and better abilities. Once you have gathered the five basic land types together, it virtually becomes a two-mana 4/4 flier that improves the rest of your creatures, with trample for green creatures and hexproof for blue ones the most interesting ones. The Scion's downsides are obviously its affliction with the artifact type making it easier to kill plus the fact that it will be the primary target of opposing removal. But other than that, it's the third pillar for the strategy.
Other multicolor creatures: Most lists make use of the amazing cascade duo of Bloodbraid Elf plus the new addition Shardless Agent, since they are both immediate two-for-ones that benefit from Scion of Draco. Not a universal, but a common inclusion is General Ferrous Rokiric. Creating 4/4 Golems left and right, it's a threat that snowballs out of control the longer it remains in the battlefield, and protection against the most common spot removal (Bolt, Path to Exile, Fatal Push) means it doesn't leave the battlefield quickly.
Since the archetype just emerged during the last few weeks, there isn't a case-closed, set-in-stone version yet as I am writing this article. From what I have seen so far, two main variants exist. The creature-heavy one packs thirty, including monocolored creatures like Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer to maximize the number of one-drops and even Tarmogoyf for some extra muscle. The second variant increases the number of spells with the addition of Manamorphose and a copy of Wrenn and Six, improving General Ferrous's ability and the cascade creatures by cutting off the mana dorks. The deck slows down this way, but you're getting rid of bad topdecks in the late game and also enable Chalice of the Void out of the sideboard.
One near-mandatory inclusion is Mantis Rider since it's hasty, evasive and gets hexproof from Scion of Draco. Some other spicy inclusions are: Anafenza, the Foremost if you expect a lot of graveyard-based opponents, specifially the new Food decks; a singleton copy of Omnath, Locus of Creation; and you can even count on Jegantha, the Wellspring as your loyal companion.
Aside from the improved creature base, one thing stands out when comparing the old and the new build: the land selection has gained a lot with the Triome cycle from Ikora: Lair of Behemoths, allowing you to assemble the five basic land types on just two lands. The 2016 version needed at least three shock lands to achieve that in the most painful way. Generally speaking, the Triomes with black are the best choices, since normally the strategy doesn't include black cards in the main, so Indatha, Savai, and Zagoth are the common ones, joined by a plethora of shock and fetch lands.
Before Modern Horizons 2 reinvented the metagame, the go-to five-color shell in the format was Niv to Light, a pretty successful midrange strategy that packed the best multicolored spells in the format in an eighty-card pile with Yorion, Sky Nomad as its companion. Recently, two cards from Strixhaven gave the deck a bit of an extra push. Vanishing Verse added another flexible two-mana removal from the Silverquill combination while Prismari Command also made the cut replacing Kolaghan's Command as a more efficient artifact removal that also speeds up your five-mana payoffs a turn by creating a Treasure token. Now it also gained two cards from Modern Horizons 2.
|Niv to Light by TheBigMoke, 7th at Modern Challenge #12302283|
General Ferrous joinks the ranks to team up with all the deck's multicolored spells. In fact, it's more like creating the ranks, with an army of Golem tokens now serving as an alternative win condition. Vindicate shows up in the sideboard as a flexible spot removal that can hit problematic lands without Assassin's Trophy's drawback, improving the matchup against Tron, Amulet Titan, and dealing with the scary Urza's Saga.
Another deck running five colors has also taken advantage of Modern Horizons 2 additions. Bring to Light Scapeshift didn't gain any multicolor spells, but it did pick up what may as well be one of the best and most impactful spells in the whole set.
|Five-Color Scapeshift by Mad-Ramon, 5-0 at Modern League, June 15|
Indeed, we find Prismatic Ending replacing Path to Exile as the early white removal spell of choice. In my short experience over the last weeks, I have grown to love Ending for its flexibility, cheap cost, and variety of decks it improves. It's basically a targeted version of Engineered Explosives, able to exile early threats, even colorless ones like Aether Vial for a single mana. In five-color decks, Prismatic Ending can even target expensive permanents like Jace, the Mind Sculptor and it works well with Omnath's second landfall ability, so I envision the card as a Modern staple moving forward, in all kinds of both main decks and sideboards.
The list above also includes Solitude, which has found a place in some experimental Five-Color Elemental decks as well. Five-Color Humans has of course already added Shardless Agent, and finally Kiki-Jiki variants are happy to have Imperial Recruiter and Ignoble Hierarch.
This concludes my review of the most colorful exploits of Modern Horizons 2. While the set's long-term impact is still unclear—Urza's Saga could yet earn a hit from the banhammer—I am confident Hierarch, Kavus, and Scions are a safe choice moving forward. I am hoping to have a lot of fun with them in the months to come, and I'm sure you will enjoy them too!
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.