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 [card]Tribal Flames[/card] ,and even had [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] 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:

[deck]4 Lightning Bolt
4 Path to Exile
4 Kird Ape
4 Loam Lion
4 Steppe Lynx
4 Tribal Flames
4 Lightning Helix
3 Snapcaster Mage
4 Tarmogoyf
3 Knight of the Reliquary
4 Arid Mesa
4 Scalding Tarn
4 Misty Rainforest
1 Stomping Ground
1 Steam Vents
1 Sacred Foundry
1 Blood Crypt
1 Breeding Pool
1 Hallowed Fountain
1 Temple Garden
1 Plains
1 Forest
Sideboard
4 Mindbreak Trap
3 Thrun, the Last Troll
3 Sulfur Elemental
3 Ancient Grudge
2 Deathmark[/deck]

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 [card]Knight of the Reliquary[/card] and [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] 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 [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] 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 [card]Knight of the Reliquary[/card] wasn’t even good when I really wanted him, because Jund decks could just [card]Terminate[/card] or [card]Maelstrom Pulse[/card] it, and any other deck loved it when my creatures costed 3 mana. I would only really recommend Knight if you play stuff like [card]Noble Hierarch[/card], 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.

[deck]4 Arid Mesa
1 Blood Crypt
1 Hallowed Fountain
2 Marsh Flats
4 Misty Rainforest
1 Plains
1 Sacred Foundry
4 Scalding Tarn
1 Steam Vents
1 Stomping Ground
1 Temple Garden
2 Geist of Saint Traft
3 Grim Lavamancer
4 Kird Ape
4 Loam Lion
4 Steppe Lynx
4 Tarmogoyf
2 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Lightning Helix
4 Path to Exile
4 Tribal Flames
Sideboard
3 Ancient Grudge
3 Mana Leak
2 Mindbreak Trap
2 Oblivion Ring
2 Sulfur Elemental
2 Thrun, the Last Troll
1 Torpor Orb[/deck]

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 [card]Thalia, Guardian of Thraben[/card]. It’s exactly what the deck wanted. It helped against the slower control decks, was amazing against combo like a sort of [card]Ethersworn Canonist[/card] that can protect itself (by making [card]Lightning Bolt[/card] cost 2 instead of 1), and being a reasonable attacker on its own stopping [card]Bloodbraid Elf[/card] 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 [card]Kitchen Finks[/card] no problem. [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card] did everything Knight of the Reliquary did but way better ,and let me have more Hexproof creatures after sideboard for when I added [card]Thrun, the Last Troll[/card], which was my best plan against anti-Zoo decks that aimed to win with an abundance of creature kill.

[card]Grim Lavamancer[/card] was a great addition with the rise in popularity of stuff like Faeries and Melira. All day the [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card]s 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 [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card] against that guy…”

[card]Mana Leak[/card] 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 [card]Blood Moon[/card] 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 [card]Tribal Flames[/card] 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 [card]Kitchen Finks[/card] or [card]Deceiver Exarch[/card]. 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.

[deck]4 Lightning Bolt
4 Path to Exile
3 Seal of Fire
4 Grim Lavamancer
4 Kird Ape
4 Loam Lion
4 Steppe Lynx
4 Lightning Helix
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
4 Marsh Flats
4 Scalding Tarn
4 Arid Mesa
2 Misty Rainforest
2 Stomping Ground
2 Sacred Foundry
1 Temple Garden
1 Mountain
1 Plains
Sideboard
4 Leyline of the Void
3 Thrun, the Last Troll
3 Ancient Grudge
2 Oblivion Ring
2 Sulfur Elemental
1 Torpor Orb[/deck]

The main change is a shift from [card]Tribal Flames[/card] to [card]Seal of Fire[/card]. I was using [card]Tribal Flames[/card] most often to kill dumb creatures like [card]Delver of Secrets[/card], [card]Goblin Guide[/card], [card]Birds of Paradise[/card], [card]Dark Confidant[/card], [card]Melira, Sylvok Outcast[/card], [card]Bloodbraid Elf[/card], and [card]Kitchen Finks[/card]. It was suggested to me to run 2 [card]Seal of Fire[/card] and 1 [card]Tarfire [/card]to have more fuel for my get-lucky-[card]Tarmogoyf[/card]s, but I think [card]Seal of Fire[/card] 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 [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card]s so much that just having more cheap burn was a big selling point for me.

The 4th [card]Thalia, Guardian of Thraben[/card] was added because I wanted it in basically every opening hand. Turn 1 [card]Steppe Lynx[/card] 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 [card]Leyline of the Void[/card] with the rise of [card]Life From the Loam[/card] decks. [card]Relic of Progenitus[/card] is better, but it hurts my own [card]Tarmogoyf [/card]and [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card] too much. Stuff like [card]Tormod's Crypt[/card] and [card]Nihil Spellbomb[/card] seemed less effective overall, and I liked the Leyline since it shut off [card]Pyromancer Ascension[/card]. I don’t love having to sideboard in Leyline against storm because sometimes they can just win with [card]Empty the Warrens[/card], but it still seems totally worth it because it can invalidate [card]Pyromancer Ascension[/card] and [card]Past in Flames[/card].

I’m still a big proponent of [card]Thrun, the Last Troll[/card] 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. [card]Ancient Grudge[/card] is still a solid 3-of to sideboard since the affinity matchup isn’t amazing, and I like to sideboard it in against [card]Birthing Pod[/card]s and [card]Spellskite[/card]s. [card]Oblivion Ring[/card] is still here to deal with [card]Kitchen Finks[/card], [card]Liliana of the Veil[/card], and [card]Tarmogoyf [/card]among other things. [card]Sulfur Elemental[/card] for [card]Lingering Souls[/card] and token strategies and lastly [card]Torpor Orb[/card] 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.

Owen Turtenwald
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