If you’re a fan of Gabriel Nassif’s stream, and let’s face it—who isn’t?—then you’ve seen the yellowhat streaming with a Blue Zoo deck quite often lately. After a viewer submitted his brew in the chat, Nassif took it for a test run despite his initial reservations about the deck. At various points in time in Modern Competitive Leagues, he had a win rate at or above 80%. That’s pretty insane.
This happens to be a deck I know quite a bit about, even if I have never played this version. For those of you who have been around since the beginning of Modern, you may remember Pro Tour Philadelphia in which Josh Utter-Leyton and most of the rest of Team ChannelFireball played a Blue Zoo deck. The key card in this deck, however, was Green Sun’s Zenith. The Zenith let us play a Dryad Arbor to fetch an extra mana creature on turn 1 or to get bigger creatures later in the game. The rest of the deck really hasn’t changed since that PT 6 years ago, yet it’s finding some real success. Let’s check it out.
Turn-1 Wild Nacatl is still a strong play in Modern. The Cat was banned at various points in the format, but it hasn’t made a splash lately. A 3/3 creature for 1 mana puts real pressure on the opponent and means that you don’t need to commit too many threats to the board. By doing this, you can leave more mana open on your opponent’s turn after the early stages of the game.
Whether a turn-1 Nacatl or turn-1 Noble Hierarch is the superior play is hard to determine. Both are excellent and having this kind of power on the first turn is what sets this deck apart. You’re playing a large number of 3-drops, so accelerating them out is great, and pumping your attacking creature is a fantastic ability in this deck.
Tarmogoyf is one of the best creatures ever printed, but I’ve never actually seen someone play 4 copies when it’s as mediocre as it is here. Granted, a 3/4 creature for 2 mana is still a fine rate, and if the opponent happens to have artifacts or sorceries going to the graveyard then that’s fantastic, but that’s all you’ve got here. This deck has 24 creatures, 12 instants, 22 lands, and just 2 planeswalkers, so you’re not making ‘Goyfs huge on your own. The idea here is that you need Tarmogoyf to have game against other Tarmogoyf decks, and it’s still a fine threat, but this is not the same creature it is in Jund Shadow decks.
Voice of Resurgence’s stock is high. Blue decks and instant-speed interaction are both on the rise, and Voice plays well against opponents attempting to slow you down in this way. Playing well against Fatal Push and other removal spells makes Voice a solid threat. Qasali Pridemage as a 1-of in a deck that doesn’t have any card drawing or Green Sun’s Zenith is a little bizarre, but it’s nice when you play the matchups where Pridemage is great and you happen to draw it.
Knight of the Reliquary is your heavy-hitter. You don’t have too many utility lands as you’re playing a 4-color deck, but you can still cash in some Horizon Canopies or grow Knight to the 5/5 or 6/6 range before getting aggressive. Using it as additional mana is also a useful tool.
The only real addition the deck received over the past 6 years beyond Voice is in Spell Queller, but this is a huge one. This is your payoff for playing some 1- and 2-mana creatures that have 3 power as you can force through relevant chunks of damage while keeping your opponent off of their game plan. Queller being a flying threat to both block against a card like Inkmoth Nexus or use evasion to finish off your opponent is often relevant.
You get to play lots of removal and ways to go to the face in this deck. Lightning Bolt and Lightning Helix do a great job of clearing the way or dealing the last 3-9 points of damage. Path to Exile can clear for any bigger threat, and Bant Charm is a versatile removal spell that also doubles as a counter for instants.
Your final haymaker is Elspeth, Knight-Errant. You don’t see this Elspeth in Modern much anymore, but she can do some real work by building up an army and sending them to the skies. This is a great way to give the deck some extra reach, as even if Tarmogoyf can only get 3 power, giving it +3/+3 and flying is still often enough to end the game.
Cheap countermagic in the sideboard to go with 4 colors of versatile Modern answers means that Blue Zoo has game against just about anything in the format. Just looking at some of the strongest options from Modern’s inception can bring about an effective tool years later!