I played UWR Delver in Grand Prix Lincoln, but losing my last round to miss Day Two left me unsatisfied with the deck. This was a problem, since Wizards took away those troublesome rating and planeswalker invites that everyone but me was complaining about, and my only hope for Barcelona was winning a Modern PTQ.
I knew I wanted to be aggressive, and that would probably involve [card]Steppe Lynx[/card] in some form or another, but hopefully I could find a deck with a higher threat density than Delver. I remembered Brandon Nelson had some experience with Boros, having won a PTQ with the deck last Extended season (and crushing Yours truly with GW in our match for Top 8). I asked him for a list, and he shipped me the following:
[deck]4 Arid Mesa
4 Marsh Flats
4 Scalding Tarn
4 Sacred Foundry
1 Eiganjo Castle
4 Steppe Lynx
4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
4 Figure of Destiny
4 Plated Geopede
4 Grim Lavamancer
2 Aven Mindcensor
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Lightning Helix
4 Path to Exile
3 Magma Jet
1 Elspeth, Knight-Errant[/deck]
The list looked good, and a lot more focused than what I was messing around with. He managed to fix the [card]Goblin Guide[/card] problem nicely (the problem being that Goblin Guide sucked), and the threat count was good and high. I tested some matches, and the deck felt strong.
I also tested Zoo, and I liked how a pile of 2/3 [card]Kird Ape[/card]s matched up against Affinity’s creatures, as well as having access to [card]Ancient Grudge[/card] in the board. The decks were close in power level, but I felt Zoo had slightly better threats. The only problem was, I had a pile of open slots, which I pushed [card]Molten Rain[/card]s into to help the Tron and Jund matchups. To further punish Tron, as well as give me a maindeck out to [card birthing pod]Pod[/card], I shaved a [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] to fit in three [card]Aven Mindcensor[/card]s.
While I have a lot of experience testing Zoo in Legacy, I’ve never touched the archetype in Standard, Modern, or Extended, and I wasn’t confident in any of my decisions. Fortunately, Owen T had been crushing with the deck both online and in real life events, dubbing the deck 45% Zoo in reference to its lackluster matchups across the board. He answered my call for help, confirming that I should be running four [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] and that both [card]Aven Mindcensor[/card] and [card]Molten Rain[/card] sounded terrible.
I met his advice halfway, going back to four [card]Tarmogoyf[/card]s and moving the [card]Molten Rain[/card]s to the board (both correct for that tournament.) [card]Aven Mindcensor[/card]s I tanked on for a while, but the card had been too good for me to cut. Just look at this list of Modern cards it hoses:
-[card]Chord of Calling[/card]
-[card]Ranger of Eos[/card]
-[card]Eye of Ugin[/card]
All this on a 2/1 flyer with flash? The card tested well, so I stuck with it.
The night before the tournament, the car of me, Jeremy Stowe, Joe Bernal, and James Bush all got together to test some games and get our decks ironed out. James was also on the [card]Molten Rain[/card] plan for his Delver sideboard, which gave me some confidence in my own decision.
This is the deck I registered:
[deck]4 Arid Mesa
3 Misty Rainforest
3 Marsh Flats
3 Scalding Tarn
2 Sacred Foundry
1 Stomping Ground
1 Temple Garden
2 Horizon Canopy
4 Steppe Lynx
4 Kird Ape
4 Loam Lion
3 Grim Lavamancer
3 Aven Mindcensor
3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
1 Figure of Destiny
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Path to Exile
4 Lightning Helix
4 Molten Rain
3 Ancient Grudge
2 Thrun, the Last Troll
2 Thorn of Amethyst
1 Oblivion Ring[/deck]
The [card]Figure of Destiny[/card] was filler, and I was glad I didn’t draw it all day long. It probably should’ve been the fourth [card thalia, guardian of thraben]Thalia[/card] (as both Owen and Brandon recommended). The card is that important.
R1: Vs. a Friend
I got paired against James Bush, my friend on UWR Delver that I mentioned earlier. He doesn’t grind as much as the rest of us, due to work and such, but he plays MODO a ton and has a strong technical game. Do you have a friend that watches your games and tells you how sloppy you played? James is that friend for me.
I wasn’t happy to play a member of the car, and especially not him. We’d played some test games and he seemed to win all of them. He won the die roll, but flooded while I swarmed. Game two was similar. I thanked my good fortune and wished him luck in the softer bracket.
One thing James did that I didn’t agree with was board in [card]Molten Rain[/card]s on the play. Our curves are so low that a [card]Stone Rain[/card] effect seems like too little, too late as far as disruption goes.
R2: Vs. the Scariest Deck of All Time
I lost the die roll, but had a decent hand. That didn’t matter when he killed me on turn four with a [card]Tooth and Nail[/card] fetching [card emrakul, the aeons torn]Emrakul[/card] and [card]Flame-Kin Zealot[/card].
In game two he dropped some walls to stem the bleeding, but I had a pile of [card]Aven Mindcensor[/card]s to attack through the air. Eventually, he had to blind Tooth and Nail, hitting an [card]Obstinate Baloth[/card] in the top four cards of his library. That wasn’t enough.
Game three I started beating down with an Aven Mindcensor while he ramped. I tried to stop him as best I could, [card]Molten Rain[/card]ing a random land and killing a wall. At my end of turn, he dropped to four to [card]Dismember[/card] my Aven.
“Costs two with Thalia,” I said.
“Yeah, I paid,” he said, using his [card]Wall of Roots[/card].
His eyes were bright, and I was nervous. He untapped and slammed a land off the top, then tapped his mana sideways.
“Nine for Tooth and Nail.”
Oh man, I thought. He can search now, and I’m just dead. He picked up his library, and at this point several of the 10 people watching the match pointed out that an entwined Tooth costs 10 with a Thalia in play. A judge was called, and we backtracked.
R3: Vs. a Mull to Oblivion
Round three I got paired against UW Tron, but I put the player on [card]Splinter Twin[/card] for some reason.
“Are you a baseball fan?” I asked.
“I only mention it because you look like a Twins fan. What do you say, do you like Twins?”
He chuckled, but didn’t do the momentary freeze people do sometimes when you nail it, and I kept a hand without [card]Path to Exile[/card].
My opponent mulled some, and I played [card]Kird Ape[/card]s. They got there.
R4: Vs. Seismic Loam
Round four I played against Seismic Loam, the deck that Bronson won GP Lincoln with, though my opponent said he’d been working on it before the GP.
In game one I cast some [card]Kird Ape[/card]s, and his [card]Flame Jab[/card]s didn’t do much.
I boarded out most of my X-1s for [card thrun, the last troll]Thruns[/card] and [card]Molten Rain[/card]s. He boarded in [card]Darkblast[/card]s.
R5: The Return of the Bad Pun
Since this was a seven round PTQ (how lucky,) round five was my win and double-draw in.
My opponent opened with a blue-red dual, and I repeated my Twins pun from round three. He froze for a second, a real deer in the headlights. Not that it mattered, since the game was already well underway and I wouldn’t have shipped my hand since it had a [card path to exile]Path[/card]. I ended up drawing a couple too many irrelevant cards, and he went off with [card]Dispel[/card] backup.
In game two I had an aggressive [card thalia, guardian of thraben]Thalia[/card] draw, and he didn’t get both halves of the combo together.
Game three he mulled on the play, and my opener included double [card]Combust[/card]. I had seen [card]Stomping Ground[/card], so I knew he was on the Matt Sperling version with [card]Vines of Vastwood[/card]s, but he would need two of those and the combo to go off.
That didn’t happen.
R6: Vs. the McDonalds Run
I ID with Robert Graves, who I lost to once in a Legacy Open. Nice guy, and a decent player. He’d beaten two members of the Chicago crew from two different cars, both on Jund. Easy game for a Tron player. Where was all the affinity?
R7: Vs. a Friendly Chap Who Really Wanted to Draw In
In the last round, it looked like multiple X-2s would make it into the top eight, and three of my friends were fighting in that bracket, so I played out the last round. Meanwhile, Joe and James get paired in said X-2 bracket, and James got scooped to because he had better breakers.
My opponent was on Affinity, which was sad because I wanted to see that deck in the Top 8. My testing proved accurate, and I was able to control his board while swarming him with threats. Post board, [card]Ancient Grudge[/card] cemented my game plan, and I never felt threatened.
The Top 8 is held up for an investigation, which results in a double DQ for collusion. The people who turned in the conspirators were also in the X-2 bracket. This left a sour taste in some of my friends’ mouths, and I heard more than one player imply they wouldn’t have called a judge if a Top 8 wasn’t on the line. I’m not a fan of cheating, drama, or DQs, but at least that let James squeeze in at eighth seed. My last round opponent ended up seventh, so my crushing was pointless, and meant that I had to face James in the first round.
I’ve gotten a lot better at breaker strategy, but I have a long way to go.
Quarterfinals: Vs. a Friend (Again)
This time I won the die roll, and chose to draw.
“You’re going to draw?!” James said.
“This had better work out for you, or you’ll never hear the end of it.”
I thought back to our car, and the good-natured trolling that makes each of our road trips a blast. I knew that if I lost this match, every Magic-based argument I had for the next several years might end with “Oh, just like you should always draw with Zoo, right Caleb?” James gave good advice. I had to win that match.
I lost the first game a scant card, a tempo, an untap step away. James looked confidant.
“Do you think Steppe Lynx is worse on the play?” I muttered. “Fewer draws towards land.”
I stared, morosely, at my sideboard. This is what some might call bush-league antics. James, thinking he would be on the draw, boarded out his [card]Molten Rain[/card]s. We presented.
“Draw,” I said.
Again, James looked surprised, but he only nodded this time. The game went long, [card]Combust[/card] was a sweet answer to [card delver of secrets]Delver[/card], and a [card thrun, the last troll]Thrun[/card] let me circumvent his removal and maneuver combat favorably.
He brought his Molten Rains back in, but didn’t see them in game three. Again the game went long, and we had a stare down between a Thrun and a [card geist of saint traft]Geist[/card]. If either of us attacked, we were at risk of getting blown out by a [card]Lightning Helix[/card] and another removal spell, letting the opponent win the red zone and the game. Eventually, he blinked first, and I had the last removal spell. The rest of my car was incredulous.
“How did you manage to scum James twice? Wasn’t that a good matchup for him?” Joe asked.
“I got to draw four of the five games,” I said.
Semifinals: Vs. the Knappster
John Knapp is known among Legacy enthusiasts for developing Knappstill, an old Standstill control deck with Scepter Chant woven in. It was no secret that he was on UW Tron, as he plays Tron (or control) in every format possible.
He started game one with a mulligan, but ramped out decently. Around turn three or four I realized that, with his ramp curve, he probably didn’t have gas and was relying on topdecks. I dumped my hand and he didn’t have the Wrath.
Game two was interesting. He cast [card gifts ungiven]Gifts[/card] at sorcery speed, playing around the [card]Aven Mindcensor[/card] he’d seen on my deck list before the start of the round. I did the math several times, then gave him a [card]Repeal[/card] and a [card]Baneslayer Angel[/card], dumping [card]Timely Reinforcements[/card] and [card]Path to Exile[/card] in the graveyard. I got another hit in before he dropped the Baneslayer with one land up. I had a hand of double [card]Lightning Bolt[/card] with a [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card] in play, and he was at 10. I pinged him down to eight at the end of turn, then flashed him my hand on my upkeep.
“I’m not scooping,” he said.
Strange, I thought, but I went through the motions. He had a [card]Dispel[/card] for the second Bolt, and I was dead. After the match, I heard a story about a round he’d played in the swiss where he had a game-winning [card emrakul, the aeons torn]Emrakul[/card]. He hadn’t seen anything fishy in game two, but he waited anyway. Next turn, he went for it with a mana up for Dispel. His opponent tried to [card]Mindbreak Trap[/card] and lost.
In game three I held [card thalia, guardian of thraben]Thalia[/card] for a turn so that I could curve out with [card]Molten Rain[/card], which tied him up with Wrath effects in hand. I was on to the finals.
After two long, grindy matches the judge watching me looked as tired as I felt.
“Strange that the Zoo deck is taking so long…” he said, yawning.
I shrugged. I was playing at a reasonable pace, and it wasn’t my fault that my opponents were making me work for my wins.
Finals: Team Mythic’s Revenge?
My opponent sat down with his friends next to him, all in Team Mythic shirts. I knew he was running hot, because he’d beaten my [card]Splinter Twin[/card] opponent from round five by drawing his miser’s [card]Combust[/card].
I’d tested versus Jund, and I knew it was a good matchup if I could flood the board well enough, but for some reason I kept a hand that was low on threats and weak to [card]Thoughtseize[/card]. I guess I was tired.
“At least it was quick,” the table judge said, brightening.
I opened a grip of triple [card]Molten Rain[/card], a [card]Tarmogoyf[/card], and lands for game two. He stuck a [card]Dark Confidant[/card], but it didn’t find him the lands he needed and he died.
I kept a strong one for game three while he mulled to six, but his draw was strong against mine. I Molten Rained a [card]Twilight Mire[/card], his only green source, and redirected the damage to kill his [card liliana of the veil]Liliana[/card]. He had a second Twilight Mire, a second Liliana, and a pair of [card bloodbraid elf]Bloodbraid Elves[/card] with exactly four lands for the rest of the game.
I extended my hand and wished him good luck in Barcelona. I’ve lost in the finals before, and it was easier this time.
I would definitely play Zoo again. All day it felt like my opponents had to keep hands that didn’t auto lose to Tron, Jund, or Splinter Twin, and I snagged a lot of free wins by playing a pile of [card]Kird Ape[/card]s.