The bagel place was out of bagels. The pizza place was out of pizza. The line at the chicken place looked 40 minutes long. I’d just lost a two-game match in round four to Green/Red Tron in which first Emrakul and then Sundering Titan plus All is Dust left me without permanents at the end of each game.

I fought the urge to mentally check out. As you might know, I won 10 of my next 11 matches to finish Grand Prix Charlotte 13-2, but lost the tiebreaker coin flip to finish in 10th place. I’ve now eliminated any doubt about qualifying for Worlds, and have an outside shot at captaining the American team at the Magic World Cup.

But after round 4, I was mostly just starving.

The truth is, I wasn’t very optimistic going into Grand Prix Charlotte. I tried Merfolk, Tribal Zoo, some Tron variants, Grixis Delver, Hate Bears with Collected Company, Blood Moon control decks, Affinity, Jund, and some other random brews. None of them impressed me much. I put together a Collected Company Zoo list and it did impress me, but it wasn’t doing anything too special. I couldn’t makes tons of mana, deal infinite damage, gain infinite life, or make infinity Faeries. It was basically just Zoo, but with Collected Company providing another angle of attack and allowing you to compete against grindy attrition strategies packed with removal.

While not fancy, it was also resilient and redundant. I mentioned multiple times that basically nothing has to go right for the deck to win. All the cards are good and you have multiple solid options at every spot in the curve. Moreover, despite being “just Zoo” the deck actually has a very high power level, playing 5 of the top 10 cards in Modern (in my opinion): Tarmogoyf, Lightning Bolt, Noble Hierarch, Collected Company, and Wild Nacatl (maybe a slight stretch) and other rock-solid cards like Path to Exile and Scavenging Ooze.

Other people have been playing similar decks to mine on Magic Online, so I don’t claim to have invented putting Collected Company in a Naya deck. Here are some of the differences you’ll see and why I went the way I did.

Card Choices

  1. I played 1 Birds of Paradise where some others have 0. I think having the 9th one-drop is important to make sure you get the ball rolling. Turn-two Knight of the Reliquary is a very powerful proactive play that I wanted to maximize my chances of achieving. This deck is naturally resilient to mana flood with fetches thinning your deck, Kessig Wolf Run, and Horizon Canopy. I want to be able to operate when there is a Magus of the Moon or Blood Moon in play. Finally, I felt like 22 land plus Hierarchs was just a little light to consistently be able to cast my Collected Companies.
  2. The full 4 Loxodon Smiters. The two main grindy strategies in the format are Grixis and Liliana-based BGx. Smiter is the perfect countermeasure against both and is great against people who rely on damage-based removal spells like Lightning Bolt, Kolaghan’s Command, and Electrolyze. Yes, I did get to put Smiter directly into play off a Liliana +1 during the Grand Prix.
  3. I ran 3 Qasali Pridemage, 3 Scavenging Ooze. Most people played 2/2 or 3/2 of these valuable utility creatures but I decided to make room for 3 of each. Pridemage is good against Tron, Affinity, and Twin, and has surprising random utility (I used it to kill Ghostly Prison in multiple matches). Scavenging Ooze is exceptionally well-positioned. From controlling Tarmogoyfs to opposing Knights to Snapcaster Mage, to keeping them off delve, it has an incredible number of applications in Modern. It’s also a source of incidental life gain in a deck that would otherwise have no way to win long games against Burn. Playing more of these creatures allowed my deck to have a small disruptive element that is often missing in Zoo strategies, especially when combined with Collected Company.
  4. My sideboard was filled with killers. Ancient Grudge is great against Affinity, but to really ruin their day you want Stony Silence and Kataki. It’s nice to have Fulminator Mage against Tron or Amulet, but Blood Moon and Magus of the Moon are better. Hallow and Feed the Clan give you big percentage points against Burn, but they almost never beat Kor Firewalker. Wherever possible, I tried to think of the most hateful cards in the matchups I feared the most and then used those. I didn’t worry about cards with multiple applications/splash damaging various archetypes. My sideboard was great for me all weekend.

Here is the deck I played at Grand Prix Charlotte:

Naya Zoo

I told my team UltraPro teammates in our forum: “Lately I’ve been pretty sure I had the best deck in the field going into tournaments. I hold no such belief today” and “To clarify, I’m very sure the deck I’m playing is the best choice for me for this event. I’m just not certain it’s the best deck.”

Well, the deck worked out and I see no reason why it can’t remain a player in Modern moving forward.

Tips and Tricks

  • Generally, if you are choosing between playing a mana creature or a Wild Nacatl turn one, play the mana creature (especially if you already have a Smiter or Knight in your hand). While you are a beatdown deck in some sense, you almost always need your 3- and 4-casting-cost cards in order to win. This will also allow you to use your mana more efficiently in the early game, as you won’t have to waste turn 2 or 3 by playing a Hierarch.
  • If your opponent has access to red mana, try to wait until Knight of the Reliquary would be at least a 4/4 before committing it to the board. There is no reason to run her into Lightning Bolt.
  • Against blue decks, almost always lead with Loxodon Smiter, especially if they have 4 mana or more and could have Cryptic Command. The exception is when you can play Wild Nacatl as well. Then, it is sometimes best to lead Nacatl which they will probably allow for fear of Knight. Then you play the uncounterable Smiter.
  • As a default, it’s best to say go and cast Collected Company on your opponent’s turn. Before sideboarding, the exception is when you are attacking with only one creature. Then, you should Collected Company before combat in order to hit more exalted triggers. After sideboard in certain matchups, strongly consider casting Collected Company at your earliest opportunity. Kataki, War’s Wage, Magus of the Moon and Kor Firewalker are all cards that you would like your opponent to be facing before they start their turn. If you are in a good position against a deck that might have mass removal, consider holding on to your Collected Company to reload after a wrath.
  • When in doubt, just attack with your Knight(s) of the Reliquary. You don’t have a full toolbox with Ghost Quarter, Sejiri Steppe, and Bojuka Bog. Just mash them. This is not a deck that rewards you for getting too cute.

Sideboard Strategy and Guide

In general, I hate sideboarding guides. I think they dumb down the game, make people lazy, and ignore nuance. Is Grim Lavamancer good against Jund? The answer is complicated. It’s good against Dark Confidant, a naked Scavenging Ooze, and can control their Tarmogoyfs. It’s also great against Huntmaster of the Fells. But it also ends up shrinking your own Tarmogoyfs and Knights of the Reliquary, is useless against Olivia Voldaren and increases your vulnerability to mass removal spells like Damnation or Anger of the Gods. It’s more fluid than it appears.

So what I’m saying is, take this with a grain of salt.

Burn

In

Out

Affinity

In

Out

Grixis Delver

In

Out

Note: If they have Gurmag Angler AND Tasigur, you probably don’t want to board out any number of Path to Exile. Here you can actually shave Wild Nacatls.

Jund

Out

RG Tron

In

Out

Note: On the play, I like 1 Kataki over the 4th Loxodon Smiter

Amulet

In

Out

Twin AND Grixis Control

In

Out

Elves

In

Out

It’s difficult to say at this point what changes I’d make to the deck moving forward. It’s very well-tuned and, other than Storm, has no legitimately awful matchups. That said, the big mana decks and combo can be problematic if they have the right draw, so it’s reasonable to consider additional copies of Magus of the Moon or Blood Moon in the sideboard if you expect to face them frequently. If Storm or Ad Nauseam gain favor, consider 2-3 Ethersworn Canonists (which you can of course find with Collected Company).

I had a blast playing this deck in Charlotte. It has really revived my enjoyment of the Modern format. I hope you like playing it too.