This week I wanted to talk about an updated version of my Zoo list for Modern. I’ve written a couple articles on the subject and am very familiar with the deck at this point. I started out a while back with a list we all played at worlds, where I advocated playing all 5 colors to support Tribal Flames ,and even had Snapcaster Mage as a way of rebuying the powerful sorcery to burn people for the most amount of damage allowable. The list I suggested months ago looked like this:
This deck was good but not great. Once I realized there was a serious lack of aggressive decks out there and much more combo and Urzatron I made the call to cut Knight of the Reliquary and Snapcaster Mage for cards that were less powerful overall but cheaper, and cards I actively wanted in my opening hand. I found myself mulliganing a lot with this version, and when I was on 6 I would have to keep anything with lands, sometimes reduced to just casting a Snapcaster Mage on turn 2 so I could have some form of pressure. Giving up that kind of value made me die a little inside, so changes needed to be made. Also Knight of the Reliquary wasn’t even good when I really wanted him, because Jund decks could just Terminate or Maelstrom Pulse it, and any other deck loved it when my creatures costed 3 mana. I would only really recommend Knight if you play stuff like Noble Hierarch, or if you expect more Zoo mirrors than I would expect now.
Around the time of GP Lincoln, the first Modern GP ever, I was pretty well locked in on Zoo based on how much I played with it and the time I invested on the list. With a GP every weekend I couldn’t justify trying to reinvent the wheel and pick a new deck and start over from scratch. So I took what I knew and I tried to prepare it for what I expected. I even dubbed the deck 45% Zoo, because I would always joke that the deck was 45% against every deck in the field, but I would find ways to win matchups that I was seemingly unfavored in. I mean, surely you get more than 5 percentage points when you play well and have a good sideboard and your opponent plays poorly, right? I started off 9-0 and had all sorts of thoughts racing through my head about how my playtesting had paid off, and how maybe the metagame had shifted and now Zoo was a good choice and I just hit the jackpot waiting it out. All my changes seemed to be for the better and the deck ran like a well-oiled machine. Here is the list I used for that tournament.
Well now, things get a bit awkward as day 2 did not go as expected (and that is putting it very lightly). Anyone who plays a lot of tournaments will understand that sometimes, you just don’t win. It doesn’t matter if you make all the right decisions, sometimes it just wasn’t meant to be. Day 2 of Grand Prix Lincoln, for me, was one of those days. I just couldn’t catch a break and finished up 1-5 for t64. I mean, in the end top 64 is not a horrible result, its actually about average for what I would expect to have happen at a GP, considering I have 3 byes and I have to be better than the average player who I get paired against. But when you start 9-0 you set your sights on something a little better than top 64.
Either way I liked the list I used, and I loved Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. It’s exactly what the deck wanted. It helped against the slower control decks, was amazing against combo like a sort of Ethersworn Canonist that can protect itself (by making Lightning Bolt cost 2 instead of 1), and being a reasonable attacker on its own stopping Bloodbraid Elf in its tracks (and making the spells cast off Bloodbraid cost more, making him effectively a 5 mana card and not 4) while also bashing through Kitchen Finks no problem. Geist of Saint Traft did everything Knight of the Reliquary did but way better ,and let me have more Hexproof creatures after sideboard for when I added Thrun, the Last Troll, which was my best plan against anti-Zoo decks that aimed to win with an abundance of creature kill.
Grim Lavamancer was a great addition with the rise in popularity of stuff like Faeries and Melira. All day the Grim Lavamancers were solid gold for me, as almost no decks I got paired against could remove them and the 2 damage they did were incredibly relevant. I got paired against Elves, Melira, and Faeries. He was an all-star and when I was losing I would frequently say to myself “if only I could have started with a Grim Lavamancer against that guy…”
Mana Leak was pretty good as an anti-combo card that I could use against Splinter Twin and Storm combo, though I admit it can be bad sometimes against Storm. It’s basically at its best when you have a good clock already and force them to go off before they are comfortable, and when you can do that it is a very effective card against them. Against Splinter Twin it’s just always awesome, you don’t have to wait for them to combo or get blown out by Blood Moon or Firespout, so you just play your game and leave it up when you can and anything you counter is gonna be sick.
After the GP I realized Tribal Flames just sucks. It was basically the only reason I was playing all 5 colors and I don’t think I ever burned anyone out from a high life total with it, I always just used it to kill creatures and it was barely efficient at doing that. Plus, it wasn’t even handling the most problematic creatures like Kitchen Finks or Deceiver Exarch. I suggested a 3-color list to Caleb Durward who managed to place 2nd at a PTQ with the deck, he wrote about it a couple weeks ago on this site.
And after all that I still managed to catch the bug and start brewing again on Magic Online despite having no real reason to playtest the modern format. I playtested, tweaked, and tuned my way to this, my most recent list of zoo which I recommend to anyone who has a PTQ left to play.
The main change is a shift from Tribal Flames to Seal of Fire. I was using Tribal Flames most often to kill dumb creatures like Delver of Secrets, Goblin Guide, Birds of Paradise, Dark Confidant, Melira, Sylvok Outcast, Bloodbraid Elf, and Kitchen Finks. It was suggested to me to run 2 Seal of Fire and 1 Tarfire to have more fuel for my get-lucky-Tarmogoyfs, but I think Seal of Fire is so much better with Thalia and against Melira decks that I would prefer to still run just that. Seal itself can be a little low-impact when it isn’t targeting a creature, but honestly that doesn’t happen all that often, and I added it because I loved the Grim Lavamancers so much that just having more cheap burn was a big selling point for me.
The 4th Thalia, Guardian of Thraben was added because I wanted it in basically every opening hand. Turn 1 Steppe Lynx into turn 2 Thalia could just shut out so many nonaggressive decks that I wanted to maximize my chances of getting that opening. The card is just so powerful and demands an answer so often that being legendary isn’t nearly as much of a drawback as it seems. Ok kill it, I’ll just play another!
As for the sideboard I chose to add 4 Leyline of the Void with the rise of Life From the Loam decks. Relic of Progenitus is better, but it hurts my own Tarmogoyf and Grim Lavamancer too much. Stuff like Tormod's Crypt and Nihil Spellbomb seemed less effective overall, and I liked the Leyline since it shut off Pyromancer Ascension. I don’t love having to sideboard in Leyline against storm because sometimes they can just win with Empty the Warrens, but it still seems totally worth it because it can invalidate Pyromancer Ascension and Past in Flames.
I’m still a big proponent of Thrun, the Last Troll in the sideboard of Zoo. Basically any matchup where my opponent sideboards in more than 3 cards against me I hope to draw Thrun every game, and feel like I can’t lose if I do. He’s awesome against Jund, Zoo, Delver, and Loam. Ancient Grudge is still a solid 3-of to sideboard since the affinity matchup isn’t amazing, and I like to sideboard it in against Birthing Pods and Spellskites. Oblivion Ring is still here to deal with Kitchen Finks, Liliana of the Veil, and Tarmogoyf among other things. Sulfur Elemental for Lingering Souls and token strategies and lastly Torpor Orb for Splinter Twin and Melira.
If you’re looking for something aggressive, strong, new, and easy to play then I absolutely recommend my new updated list of Zoo.
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