Arctic_Ghost's picture
By: Arctic_Ghost, Arctic_Ghost
Feb 21 2023 1:13pm

Zoo has existed in Modern for quite some time. It has evolved quite a bit over the years as well, from an aggro deck, to a 5 color play all the best creatures deck, to playing cards like Death’s Shadow and now to the list we will talk about today which happens to be my personal favorite in all the years I have piloted Zoo.

The list we will talk about today got 1st place in the Modern Challenge that took place on 1 28 2023 and was piloted by the player STRONKSMASH. Alright I won’t waste any time with this one. Let’s rock!

Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer – This is, in my opinion, most likely the best 1 drop every printed. If left unchecked, this card alone can snowball a game out of control and lead to your victory. The most broken part of it, is that it can do it from as early as turn 2. I think this card is not replaceable in this deck.

Wild Nacatl – Arguably this is the most aggressive you can get for a 1 drop. However, I believe once you have gone passed your opening hand, Nacatl is easily outclassed and becomes somewhat of a dead draw. I think this card can be replaced but it depends on your approach to this deck. Currently as of writing this I am trying Noble Hierarch and I’ve been liking it. Often times when playing this type of Zoo deck, I find myself getting punished for not playing a slower game and being a little slower out of the gates is not what Nacatl wants to be doing. However, with Hierarch, the exalted helps and the ramp can also be very good.

Nishoba Brawler – A 5 power creature that has Trample and it only costs 2 mana. That alone can win games. It does kind of suck that it only has 3 toughness, making it easily dead to a simple Lightning Bolt, but if it gets through once or twice, you are extremely happy. Sometimes, although rare, your Tarmogoyf may not be very big and this makes up for it.

Tarmogoyf – Goyf might not be the best creature of all time anymore, but being a 4/5 or 5/6 for 2 mana is still solid for a deck like this. In this form of Zoo, you are more of an aggressive Midrange deck and that is where a card like Tarmogoyf shines because it allows you to play both an aggressive offense and a good defense.

Territorial Kavu – On average this should be a 5/5 for 2 mana which is already good. However, it also helps you see extra cards or it helps you control the graveyard, which in Modern can be a huge help as the graveyard is a big part of the game plan for a lot of decks in the format.

Scion of Draco – This is a 4 power creature with flying that will often cost 2 mana if you assembled your mana correctly. It also gives your creatures Trample as they are all green, which can be quite devastating for a lot of decks in the format because your creatures are so big.

Lightning Bolt – Even in Modern, Lightning Bolt is still one of the best spells.

Stubborn Denial – This will often be a copy of Negate that will only cost 1 mana. This is another reason I love Noble Hierarch as it allows you to function quite well on 3 mana if need be.

Tribal Flames – In Modern this card is still just as powerful as it can be in Pauper. For 2 mana, you get to deal a quarter of your opponents life and trust me that is a clock your opponent will be very worried about.

Dromoka’s Command – Each option on this card is quite good in the current format, especially because Leyline Binding is played in quite a number of decks.

Leyline Binding – A version of Swords to Plowshares that deals with almost anything. Leyline Binding may be one of the most powerful spells we have seen printed for Modern in quite some time. This is just my opinion.

The Manabase

Zoo manabases are a tricky thing to get right. I say this because your goal is to try and have Domain as quickly as possible while still curving out. With the help of the Triome lands, you can easily achieve Domain this way, but you need to plan accordingly because they come into play tapped.

This is another reason I like Noble Hierarch. With Hierarch you can have Domain on turn 2 and still play a 2 drop instead of having to play slow. Although as I said earlier, with this type of Midrange Zoo approach, you can be a little slow.

The average Zoo manabase should have 12 or 13 fetches at maxed in my opinion. 1 Forest is crucial to get under Blood Moon and I think the 1 Plains is also needed because it helps you cast Leyline Binding as well as help you cast Wear/Tear out of the sideboard.

I would personally not play more than 3 Triome lands at max. I think 2 is fine and 3 is as far as I would stretch it. You just can’t afford too many lands that come into play tapped. Zagoth Triome is the best Triome to have because it gives you both your splash colors of Blue and Black while being a Forest to help you cast your main spells. Savai Triome is the other Triome is choice here because it helps you with your other 2 minor colors of Red and White while also giving you the Swamp you need for Domain. I personally would not play anything passed these 2 Triomes.

In the end, A Zoo manabase highly depends on the cards you play and how heavy you are with your splash colors. There is no clear manabase that is perfect and you will need to develop/evolve it as you go.

The Sideboard

Blossoming Calm – This can be good against certain combo decks and it can be okay against Burn. I personally have not liked this card too much. It may be that I have not run into many situations where I thought this card was good. I also personally don’t bother too much with the Burn matchup. I think Burn is your worse matchup and there are better cards to have in the sideboard if your plan is to beat Burn. It can also be good against Rakdos with all the Thoughtsieze effects they have, but again I have not been too impressed.

Flusterstorm – This can be good against a plethora of different archetypes. I haven’t found a particular matchup where it specifically shines for this particular archetype, but it is good to have access to for control and/or combo decks.

Hidetsugu Consumes All – This card can be backbreaking for certain archetypes as the first 2 parts are quite relevant against a lot of matchups. The creature side of it isn’t all that exciting, but does its part.

Jegantha, the Wellspring – Here is your Companion. Jegantha isn’t particularly amazing, but it is a 5 power creature you can get at any point in the game. It can be especially helpful if you flood out a little. Jegantha isn’t necessary, but it can be helpful to have.

Teferi, Time Raveler – Teferi is devastating for control deck that is trying to use counterspells. It can also be relevant against certain types of combo decks such as Living End because Teferi makes it so your opponent can Cascade, but they will not be able to cast the spell they get off Cascade.

Unlicensed Hearse – Graveyard hate that can also attack for a lot of damage. This will do a lot of work for you. If you feel this card is not doing the trick, you can replace it with Rest in Peace in my opinion but you won’t get the same game play you would with Hearse.

Unmoored Ego – This is great against combo decks. There is a little issue as blue and black are your splash colors, so you might have to go all in casting this spell and mess your curve up a bit. This is another reason I like Noble Hierarch.

Wear/Tear – A great and flexible spell for any artifact or enchantment destruction you may need.

Final Thoughts

My favorite thing about Zoo in Modern is that you have the tools to do pretty much anything you want and build the deck in just about any way that you want. Currently as of writing this article, this is the most popular way to build Zoo and I love it.

In this build, you get to play high power creatures for an extremely cheap mana cost, you get access to 2 of the most powerful burn spells in the format and you have access to play all 5 colors so you can play anything you have to within reason. There isn’t much not to love with playing Zoo.

However, Zoo does come with its faults. Like most Zoo decks of old, it does not have a ton of card advantage to win the late game. It also isn’t hard to get under Zoo with a deck like Izzet Murktide which is very popular at the moment. The strength of Zoo is that if you get to untap with an early threat, it only takes a few turns to win the game, but there is a point you can go passed where if you fall behind, you might not be able to come back. I would say Zoo’s biggest problem is that for the most part, it plays a little to “fair” compared to most of the top tier decks of the format.

Do I think you should play this deck? I think Zoo is a fine choice but sometimes, you can just lose to one of the top tier decks. As I said, with Zoo, you are for the most part playing a “fair” game. You are trying to curve out and play normal magic. With decks like Hammer Time, Creativity and many others, they are trying to either combo out extremely early and have the protection to back it up or they can easily control the game and combo you out in the late game.

Izzet Murktide is a different beast. The issue with this deck is that it is a control deck that has a ton of cheap spells and can play many of them in the same turn. They also can draw a lot of cards quickly and just snowball the game in their favor.

Is Zoo a badly positioned deck? No not necessarily. The issue I find with Zoo is that it is a deck that rewards you preparing for a particular meta game. The real question is, what does Zoo bring to the table that a deck like Hammer Time or Izzet Murktide doesn’t for the same amount of work put into it? For that answer, you will need to test and do a lot of practice.

However, with all this being said, as always, do remember my words are not gospel. I will always encourage you to try a deck that I bring you despite my personal feelings. Remember that results will vary and always remember to practice!

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Thank you so much for reading. Best of luck to you in your next tournament and I’ll catch you all next time!