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By: olaw, Oliver Law
Apr 22 2013 12:12pm
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Welcome to another edition of Becoming A Modern Man!  In this article, I will be looking at Gruul Zoo, an aggressive GR deck that uses a lot of tools from Gatecrash and other recent sets.

My main deck is essentially the same, except I'm using Verdant Catacombs over Misty Rainforest as Rainforest is the only Zendikar fetchland I don't have a playset of (fun fact!).  I also tweaked the sideboard to the cards that I had available. 



Goblin Guide
Goblin Guide
One of the most powerful and aggressive one drops in the history of Magic.  Any aggressive red deck in Modern will usually be running 4 Goblin Guides and this deck is no exception.

Kird Ape
Kird Ape
1 mana for a 2/3 is pretty good deal and it also plays around removal spells such as Pyroclasm and Electrolyze.  Kird Ape is also very good at evolving Experiment One (below) as it's 3 toughness means it can evolve a 2/2 Experiment One.

Experiment One
Experiment One
Experiment One is one of the new Gatecrash cards that finds a home in this deck.  Thanks to the Evolve mechanic, Experiment One can grow over the course of a game and in this deck very rapidly.  It generally tops out at a 3/3, as Ghor-Clan Rampager is the only creature bigger than that, but given that can happen as soon as Turn 2 that's no bad thing.

Grim Lavamancer
Grim Lavamancer
Grim Lavamancer is the last of the one-drops in the deck.  Lavamancer can remove creatures that get in the way of your attackers or just dome your opponent for 2 when the occasion calls for it.  The main problem with Lavamancer is that this deck doesn't throw a lot of cards into the graveyard, apart from fetchlands and maybe Lightning Bolt/Dismember although you'll usually want to use those sparingly.  On a number of occasions I've had a Lavamancer in play with no cards in my graveyard which is pretty poor.

Burning-Tree Emissary
Burning-Tree Emissary
Burning-Tree Emissary isn't very exciting on it's own but it can lead to some very explosive turns where you drop the majority of your hand onto the board.  Emissary into Experiment One and Kird Ape or Emissary into Stormblood Berserker/Flinthoof Boar are just a few good examples of plays you can make off of the Emissary.

Flinthoof Boar
Finthoof Boar
Flinthoof Boar is basically always a 3/3 thanks to Stomping Ground which makes it a powerful 2-drop.  It's also a nice topdeck as you can drop it, give it haste and attack immediately.  Playing Boar from the mana given by a Burning-Tree Emissary is one of the more powerful plays in the deck and can leave you with a lot of power on board very early on.

Stormblood Berserker
Stormblood Berserker
This was the card being used by the initial list but I think a lot of more recent lists are replacing the Berserker with Tarmogoyf.  I can't argue with that too much as Goyf certainly promises a bigger creature, although in the early game there is a chance that it will be smaller than you'd like due to the fact that this deck doesn't put a lot into it's graveyard in the early game.

Ghor-Clan Rampager
Ghor-Clan Rampager
Rampager is a really nice new card from Gatecrash.  I think it's far and away the best Bloodrush card and as an uncounterable Colossal Might during your combat or a 4/4 Trampler for 4, Rampager is almost always a relevant draw.


Rancor is an amazing aura and can really deliver the beats quickly.  As you will see in some of my matchups, something as simple as putting a Rancor on a Goblin Guide can go a long way to helping you win the match.

Lightning Bolt
Lightning Bolt
Best burn spell ever!  Early removal or damage directly to the face if you get your opponent low enough.  Honestly I don't think there's going to be too much argument against the inclusion of this card.

More powerful removal.  Good at taking big defence creatures out of the way, such as Spellskite or Wall of Roots.  These types of creature can cause you big problems as they slow you down a lot.


Stomping Ground
Stomping Ground
Stomping Ground is very important to our manabase as it gives us both our colours and gives both Kird Ape and Flinthoof Boar their bonuses from a single land.

Verdant CatacombsArid Mesa
The Fetchlands help you find your Stomping Grounds which are important for the reasons I've discussed above.

Copperline Gorge
Copperline Gorge
Another good dual for our deck and as we don't need much more than 3 mana the fact it comes into play in the late game isn't particularly relevant.


Mark of MutinySmash to SmithereensAncient GrudgeMagus of the MoonArc TrailSkullcrackVines of Vastwood

  • Mark of Mutiny can steal an imposing creature from the other side, make it that little bit bigger, and make a big alpha strike.  Mark is useful if your opponent is playing some big and troublesome creatures.
  • Smash to Smithereens and Ancient Grudge are your artifact hate cards.  Smash is good as it keeps pressure on your opponent but against a deck with multiple artifact threats Ancient Grudge is the superior card.  You probably want some sort of balance between the two cards.
  • Magus of the Moon is my substitute for Blood Moon.  Blood Moon effects can be very powerful in Modern as there are various complicated manabases and also decks like Tron.  Blood Moon would probably be superior as your opponent will probably be maxing out on removal against you but Magus is a reasonable substitute and can attack which is useful.
  • Arc Trail is a good way to get a two for one as the format is filled with 1-toughness and 2-toughness creatures.  Particularly good against decks like Birthing Pod that use accelerants and small creatures.
  • Skullcrack is our lifegain hate as we definitely don't want our opponents gaining too much life.
  • Vines of Vastwood is not a card I've found a lot of use for and I would happily scrap it from the sideboard.  I'm not really sure when you bring it in.  In theory it can protect your creatures from removal but you will often want to be using all your mana during your turn.

Excluding the fetchlands, this deck is pretty cheap to put together, particularly if you have most of the Standard legal cards already.  However, I wouldn't go so far as to call it a budget deck considering the cost of the fetchlands which are very desirable in this deck as fetching an early Stomping Ground can be very important.

Main Deck

4 x Verdant Catacombs= 37.28
4 x Arid Mesa= 32.00
4 x Stomping Ground= 19.16
4 x Goblin Guide= 10.56
4 x Copperline Gorge= 5.08
3 x Dismember= 4.35
4 x Rancor= 4.32
4 x Kird Ape= 2.16
2 x Grim Lavamancer= 1.48
4 x Flinthoof Boar= 0.92
4 x Burning-Tree Emissary= 0.60
4 x Experiment One= 0.48
4 x Stormblood Berserker= 0.48
4 x Ghor-Clan Rampager= 0.44
4 x Lightning Bolt= 0.32
Total: 119.63 tix


2 x Magus of the Moon= 7.68
2 x Smash to Smithereens= 1.36
3 x Skullcrack= 0.33
3 x Vines of Vastwood= 0.24
2 x Mark of Mutiny= 0.10
2 x Arc Trail= 0.06
1 x Ancient Grudge= 0.02
Total: 9.79 tix

Grand Total: 129.42 tix


Our first matchup is against a Jund deck.  This is an interesting matchup.  They certainly have a lot of problematic cards, including a heavy amount of removal and even some life gain in the form of Deathrite Shaman.  However, Jund decks can also be a little suicidal with cards like Dark Confidant, Thoughtseize and a dual heavy manabase which is something we can take advantage of.

Our second matchup is against Affinity.  Our decks are both very aggressive but I think generally their deck running at full steam beats ours, as you can see in Game 2.  Cards like Etched Champion and Cranial Plating kind of lean things in their favour but they do have to put quite a few pieces together to get things going, which is certainly to our advantage.  Post-board we can bring in our Smash to Smithereens and Ancient Grudge from the sideboard which helps.  It's very easy for us to hate out Affinity with our deck but as the deck isn't very popular at the moment there isn't too much point dedicating that many slots to it in the board.

Our third matchup is against Valakut.  In theory this is a good matchup but they have decent ways to stall you or can even blow you out if they are running cards like Firespout or potentially even Pyroclasm.  If all goes according to plan you'll be able to beat them down before they can hit enough lands for a Scapeshift kill.

Our fourth and final matchup is against Mono-Blue Tron.  I think generally Tron decks are better matchups than Scapeshift matchups.  Most Tron decks aren't prepared for this kind of early aggression, at least not pre-board.  Mono-Blue Tron in particularly has difficulty interacting in the early turns which is where this deck thrives.  Obviously, an early Wurmcoil Engine is pretty much game over but otherwise things look pretty good.

This deck reminds a lot of Goblins in Modern, which honestly isn't a good thing.  The deck lacks consistency and tends to win early or not at all, rarely being able to come from behind to take a win.  The fact is as soon as they drop something that deals with your various 2-power guys you're in a bad way.  A play as simple as turn 3 Kitchen Finks can put this deck into a terrible position that it will really struggle to come back from. 

I did enjoy playing some of the new Gatecrash cards in Modern but overall I'm not too impressed by this deck.  I think there are a number of decks that take a similar approach to this deck but do it better, such as Infect and Affinity.  These are decks that also have explosive hands but have a bit of extra longevity.  Cards like Invisible Stalker for Infect and Etched Champion and Cranial Plating for Affinity ensure that these decks aren't just shut out of the late game.  I feel like Gruul Zoo has fewer good answers to an opponent who was stabilised and for that reason I don't think it's a deck I would choose to play.

That's just my opinion and people are still putting up results with this deck so maybe I'm missing something.  Kraftwerk managed to take first place in a Modern Premier Event with the following list:

Gruul Zoo
Kraftwerk (1st Place) Modern Premier #5264238 on 04/08/2013
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Experiment One
4 Flinthoof Boar
4 Ghor-Clan Rampager
4 Goblin Guide
4 Kird Ape
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Vexing Devil
  32 cards

Other Spells
3 Dismember
4 Lightning Bolt
2 Tarfire
  9 cards
4 Copperline Gorge
1 Forest
4 Misty Rainforest
2 Mountain
4 Scalding Tarn
4 Stomping Ground
19 cards


I'd be interested to hear any thoughts other people have about the Gruul Zoo archetype in Modern.  For me though, it's not where I'd like to be.

That's all for this article.  The next Becoming A Modern Man will be looking at UWR Splinter Twin, all going to plan.  Until then feel free to check back over the previous articles in this series.

Thanks for reading,

Oliver Law (olaw on MTGO)


What about Jund Zoo? by BlippyTheSlug at Mon, 04/22/2013 - 13:30
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This thought has been kicking around in my head recently:

Why not splash B (You're already running Dismember), and run Deathrite Shaman instead of Grim Lavamancer?
Same 2 damage, plus lifegain, plus provisional mana dork, plus he's a 1/2 instead of a 1/1...

I'd be leery of replacing by Paul Leicht at Mon, 04/22/2013 - 14:04
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I'd be leery of replacing Grim Lavamancer with Deathspeaker Shaman for the simple reason that you don't always get to choose which mode Shaman will be in add that to the must have black mana and or green mana to operate and it changes the deck's play dynamic. Not saying it is wrong to do so but I'd want to fiddle with the mana structure too.

That's an interesting idea by olaw at Tue, 04/23/2013 - 02:22
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That's an interesting idea Blippy. I think Paul's probably right that you would need to tweak the manabase somewhat as you really only want the black mana activation of Deathrite - all going to plan at least. Overall, I'm not sure I want Deathrite enough to make it worth the changes you'd have to make. Really I'm not too keen on Lavamancer in the first place and wouldn't mind cutting it for something a little more impactful.

Updated list by pryite199 at Mon, 04/22/2013 - 16:37
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Honestly your list looks alot like an older version of what Grapplingfarang was running in modern for a while. I talked to him for most of the evolution of the deck list he ran which ranged from Faithless Looting into Vengevine or Myr Superion both of which abuse Burning-Tree Emissary. Id work with either of those ideas first before using Grim Lavamancer main.

I like the idea of using by olaw at Tue, 04/23/2013 - 02:36
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I like the idea of using Vengevine. If the card wasn't so overpriced I would happily give it a go in this deck. It seems like a solid addition.

Myr Superion probably needs more support than just Burning-Tree Emissary. I think most decks running it also play something like Priest of Urabrask in order to cast it more consistently. I think this type of strategy is probably more suited to a Vengevine-based deck.

For awhile, I was trying a RG by RexDart at Mon, 04/22/2013 - 20:40
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For awhile, I was trying a RG aggro list inspired by the old Dryad Sligh deck (which morphed into Goyf Sligh after TSP, and into contemporary Zoo after Alara.) After the Nacatl ban, I thought it seemed a logical thing to try. The idea was that I could cut the plains from Zoo, since Nacatl was out and I didn't really want KotR which was bad in the meta at that time, and have a more stable mana base. As Modern evolved, the white sideboard cards became very good and it was too limited. I also found that it was, as you suggest, kind of just a bad version of other aggro decks -- though I'm always more suited to an aggro deck with a solid amount of burn, which I had.

Anyhow, the list looked like this:
4 Stomping Ground
4 Verdant Catacombs
2 Scalding Tarn
4 Arid Mesa
6 Mountain

4 Tarmogoyf
3 Grim Lavamancer
4 Quirion Dryad
4 Kird Ape

4 Lightning Bolt
3 Seal of Fire
2 Tarfire
4 Incinerate
4 Rift Bolt
4 Magma Jet
4 Lava Spike

I really like the potential of Burning-Tree Emissary to give the deck some added explosiveness. I think you could easily start with that sort of list, cut a few spells to make room for Emissaries, and maybe have a somewhat competitive list.

I am a big fan of Lavamancer in general, but I concede that he might not be in a great position right now. He absolutely tears up decks like Merfolk single-handed, but when most of the small threats are hexproof he's "just" a way to dome your opponent for 2 on a regular basis. That's nice but maybe not as good as other options.

That looks like a really by olaw at Tue, 04/23/2013 - 04:13
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That looks like a really interesting list. A burn deck with some bigger and more threatening creatures. Seems like a solid idea to me. I think your deck has a considerably different strategy to Gruul Zoo with the heavy emphasis on burn but it looks like a solid list.

This isn't really my by Kumagoro42 at Tue, 04/23/2013 - 04:47
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This isn't really my territory because fast aggro is gross to me, but didn't the Standard version of this use Domri Rade? It seems his kind of deck.

Domri Rade is a potential by olaw at Tue, 04/23/2013 - 12:37
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Domri Rade is a potential option though I'm not sure I want him in this deck as he doesn't really add to your clock. The key here is really to win fast and the type of incremental advantage that Domri gives you I think is more suited to slightly more midrange creature-based strategies in my opinion.

I could be wrong though as I haven't played with Domri yet. Generally I don't think I rate him as highly as others.

I haven't been able to play by RexDart at Wed, 04/24/2013 - 11:16
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I haven't been able to play with Domri yet (just ordered them this week for the new Gruul deck I'm building in paper.) But I have watched some matches with him, and he puts a ton of pressure on control to deal with him quickly because his ultimate is tough to beat. He might be good out of the board in that capacity, if you can keep your creature total high post-board. He would give you that way to win even once your creatures were outclassed, like you were talking about with Affinity going to the Etched Champion plan if the initial rush fizzles out.

The only problem I see with that off the top of my head is that some of the Modern control decks have combo finishes or pseudo-combo finishes (like Gifts Ungiven) that can win out of nowhere, which would negate the pressure Domri naturally applies by ticking up towards the emblem every turn.