Last weekend, as I was testing some new tweaks to Affinity, I was paired against a deck that was unlike anything I had seen before. It started off like a regular Zoo deck with Wild Nacatl, but then moved into unusual territory with a seemingly random Gitaxian Probe, and finally went into full-blown combo mode with Death’s Shadow and Temur Battle Rage. I had no idea what the hell was going on, but the deck intrigued me, and I set out to track down a deck list.

Amongst the recent Modern Daily 4-0 deck lists, I found these two.

PTPaul’s Modern Suicide Zoo, 4-0 in a Modern Daily on June 3

__matsugan’s Super Crazy Zoo, 4-0 in a Modern Daily on April 30

These lists share three common angles of attack:

  1. Make Death’s Shadow into an enormous creature for just 1 black mana. The deck already takes a lot of damage from its mana base, and cards like Gitaxian Probe help to get your life total even lower, so it’s not hard to attack with, say, a 7/7 by turn 3.
  2. No Death’s Shadow? No problem! Just overwhelm the opponent with a lot of early drops, spearheaded by Wild Nacatl. It’s the age-old Zoo plan, and it still works.
  3. If the board stalls out or if a faster clock is needed, then combine pump spells with Temur Battle Rage to one-shot the opponent.

Although both lists have these three angles in common, they differ in their final slots.

PTPaul’s version has more staying power in the midgame. With Thoughtseize, Dark Confidant, and Tarmogoyf it can try to play a value game similar to Jund or Abzan. The pump spells in the list are Ghor-Clan Rampager and Vines of Vastwood, which have multiple modes that offer extra options inside and outside of combat.

__matsugan’s version (which is similar to the version of drinkard, another Magic Online player who has put up decent performances with this archetype) is more explosive. With additional 1-drops in Monastery Swiftspear and Steppe Lynx, plus Lightning Bolt to burn down the opponent, turn-three kills are surprisingly common. The pump spells in the list are Become Immense and Mutagenic Growth, which offer the highest possible rate of raw damage output for their mana cost.

An Interesting Opening Hand

The deck is not trivial to pick up and play. Mulligan decisions, for instance, can be tough, and the card draw spells complicate matters even further. Take a look at this hand, for example, which I saw after winning my first die roll:

Opening hand

Should we keep? It’s very hard to tell without knowing what’s on top of our deck. If there’s a 1-mana or 2-mana creature in our top five cards (which happens with 85% probability) then this hand is fine, but if there isn’t, we’re losing for sure. I ended up keeping this hand, but it’s a risky proposition.

On a side note, this hand offers some interesting Mishra’s Bauble tricks. The trick is that you can peek at your own top card before doing anything else. If you see a creature, then you can draw it with Gitaxian Probe and be happy. If it’s not a creature, then you can shuffle your library with Verdant Catacombs and get a fresh draw with Gitaxian Probe. Hence, Mishra’s Bauble can offer relevant card selection.

So Which Version is Better?

I played a couple of games with both versions. With one, I went 0-4. With the other, I went 6-0.

The version that yielded the 6-0 was… the more aggressive version with Steppe Lynx and Lightning Bolt! The other version (with Dark Confidant and Thoughtseize) often still couldn’t compete in the midgame and couldn’t steal as many games with explosive openings. Here are a few gameplay videos with the aggressive version that worked much better for me:

Videos

The deck is fast enough to beat other combo decks, although Burn gave me a lot of problems. Sometimes you can give them a taste of their own medicine with Death’s Shadow, but our deck just deals so much damage to itself. Phyrexian Unlife or Leyline of Sanctity can help after sideboard, as can Nourishing Shoal exiling Hooting Mandrills, but it’s still tough. I think the white enchantments are better against Burn, but only against Burn. Overall, I prefer the green cards because Hooting Mandrills is also good in various other matchups, dodging removal spells and trampling over tokens.

Ideas for Improvement

In the main deck, I’m not sure we want 4 Steppe Lynx, 4 Mutagenic Growth, or 4 Lightning Bolt because drawing multiples can lead to clunky draws. I would consider going down to 3 of each and adding a few Tarmogoyf or maybe even Thoughtseize for variety. Also, I haven’t had trouble with the mana base yet, but I would consider cutting a fetchland for a Stomping Ground because I can imagine various hands where I would like to fetch Stomping Ground.

In the sideboard I would add 2-3 copies of Stony Silence. I hate to say it, but it’s one of the best sideboard cards in Modern as it singlehandedly beats Affinity (and it can slow down Tron). I prefer it over Ancient Grudge or Pact of Negation. In general, with a deck like this, you can’t board in too much without diluting the deck, so the more high-impact cards you have in your sideboard, the better.

Conclusion

This deck plays a bit like a worse Infect deck, but it is better at capitalizing on painful opposing mana bases and it has the surprise factor going for it. The deck has been around in small numbers for a few months, but it befuddled me the first time I played against it. Fortunately, you now know what’s up. I don’t expect it in large numbers at the Modern GPs, but it’s a viable deck, so watch out for Temur Battle Rage and Death’s Shadow!