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By: walkerdog, Tyler Walker
Jan 07 2009 9:49am
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In my last article, I talked about how constructed is the way to win tickets on MTGO. A lot has been said, on various sites, about Extended Zoo. I’ve read matchup analysis from both sides, and studied and played different builds. After studying the information that has been assembled, I built my own copy of the deck, and headed to the eight-man Queues on MTGO.

Zoo was the deck to beat going into PT: Berlin. It was a very powerful deck pre-rotation, and the only thing the deck lost was it’s namesake, (Gaea’s Might) (Get There). In exchange, it picked up Wild Nacatl which has quickly become a contender for “Most absurd one-drop ever”, although it’s power level is definitely lower than other contenders/pretenders for the throne, making it probably in the top 10, but not much higher on the list. Tidehollow Sculler was another big hit for the deck, and Ethersworn Canonist continued the tradition of “Grizzly Bears with an effect” as a way for Zoo to slow down combo.

With a pedigree of GP wins last season (Congrats again Raph Levy) and likely an INCREASED power level to the deck for this season, Zoo was sure to be a significant portion of the PT T8. Except it wasn’t. As we all know now, Elves! showed up and took over, with LSV pulling out two hard matches in the quarter and semi-finals, then stomping in the finals. Elves! was five out of eight Top Eight entries. What caused this format dominance? Well, when you have a somewhat un-realized combo deck that a portion of the field ignores feeling that their burn can probably disrupt, but they’re wrong, then you end up with what we saw at Berlin, a bunch of incorrectly built Zoo decks for that tournament.

Since then, Zoo has re-claimed its throne (or a large portion of it at least), adapting to include Mogg Fanatic and Seal of Fire mostly to give more turn one disruption that still fits the aggressive gameplan and feed Tarmogoyf. I had already been running these cards when the PT occurred, however, this wasn’t due to an awareness of Elves! but was rather the result of not owning Figure of Destiny but wanting twelve-plus one-drops and some versatility. When people reported that Elves! crushed Zoo and was broken, I was puzzled. I’d played against it in the queues, and while it was a strong deck that you had to be very careful against, it was manageable.

I defended Zoo AND Elves! by explaining that Zoo just needed to be changed up a little to beat Elves. This was met with some derision, in that you had to “weaken” the deck to win against a matchup, which was apparently obvious proof that Elves! was broken. I stood firm in the belief that making changes that made Zoo STILL the best deck was a good thing, and I would continue to play the deck.

Elves had a month or so of high amounts of queue appearances, but slowly dwindled down to almost non-representation. In the mean-time, Seismic Swans and Faeries have been on the rise, with a smattering of random/tier 1.5/jank/meta-choices like Doran, Death Cloud, Desire Combo, Dragonstorm, All-In Red, and Burn. Now, I’m not bad-mouthing any of these decks. They all have good and bad matchups. For my purposes though, I wanted a deck for the queues that puts up solid results. I need a high power-level, which I feel like you get from only All-In Red, Swans, Zoo, and Fae (and maybe Dragonstorm), and consistency which I feel like Zoo, Fae, Swans and Death Cloud have.

I enjoyed Zoo last season and have an affinity for beating down (speaking of that, I neglected to mention Affinity, another acceptable choice, and actually probably one I would recommend for queues), so I decided I would continue to play Zoo. Over the last couple of weeks, I quickly made a solid profit in tickets by beating up Elves! a lot and Fae some, but losing to A.I.R., Swans, and Doran sometimes.

Three days ago, I took apart my deck and rebuilt it. Now, these aren’t MAJOR changes, but I feel like they’ve been giving me VERY good results, so I’d like to go over them. I felt like my losses to A.I.R. were mostly my own fault: My deck was built ignoring that Blood Moon effects ARE in the format, and that was how the A.I.R. players were beating me. Swans was much the same. Blood Moon was too often their easy out. Finally, in some Fae, Burn, and Doran matchs, it felt like I was taking too much damage from land and they could simply out-aggro me. I realize that Burn is “supposed” to have a favorable matchup against Zoo, but the deck is so awful out of context (It’s a stack of strong burn, and how many times has that been GOOD in MTG?) that I figured there were ways to beat it too.  Keep in mind that this list is my proposed solution to the meta that I have been encountering in the MTGO Queues, and that this is a continuation of my suggestions on how to turn a profit on MTGO.  Here's my proposed list:



First, I cut the Islands and Blue from my deck. While doing that extra point of damage on the Tribal Flames and having access to Blue disruption was nice, it just didn’t justify the extra damage you had to take ALONG with the fact that it made your mana a bigger mess. Cutting the Islands from the deck allowed me to add some basics to the deck. In fact, this turned out to be a huge upgrade. With one basic Forest, Swamp, and Plains, suddenly it was VERY hard for A.I.R. to beat me. Most of their wins come when they stick you with a Blood Moon effect, neutering most of your deck, and this allows them to beat you down at their convenience. Being able to pop a sac-land in response to a Moon-effect on the stack lets you keep up with them, and pressures them to drop a turn 1 fatty to be able to have a chance. This doesn’t make them a bye, but it definitely makes you able to handle them.

With the lack of Elves! appearing in queues, I cut the Mogg Fanatics for some Tattermunge Maniac. The Maniac combines with Kird Ape and Wild Nacatl to form a triumvate of one-drops, giving me twelve all-told. This is important on several fronts. Against Burn, the normal M.O. is for you to burn yourself for four-six points of damage with lands on your first two turns, and maybe more, sometimes just to drop a 1/1 and a 2/1 (that hurts you too). Now you are almost sure to have a 2/X one-drop, and probably a second one-drop for turn two… which allows you to take 3-4 damage from your lands, giving you a little edge. The other factor here is that having a 2/X on turn one gives you the ability to actually race with Burn instead of being outrun by their burn. With this configuration I’ve won multiple games when Burn would drop a Sulfuric Vortex and then get wrecked by my beatdown for two turns while they just can’t finish me because I don’t keep taking damage from my lands like most Zoo builds have to do to keep up. Having the basic lands also allowed me to avoid taking pain in some situations as early as turn one (By fetching a Forest to drop a Maniac or a Wild Cat).

A.I.R. is also a deck you’re normally a dog to. However, now you have an option for them Blood Mooning you… Maniacs can be played after the Moon, basics before-hand, AND burn make those plays all kind of average. I also put in three copies of
Rift Bolt as a way to squeeze more burn in… and it worked very well. All-In’s best play is either Dues or Slogger against you… so being able to suspend a Bolt, then let it hit and burn the guy again gives you an easy way to clear out their threat. While A.I.R. still isn’t easy, it’s much more beatable with this configuration. Finally, I’ve been with SB Terrors for a while now, and been VERY satisfied with them… fetch that Swamp and Terror whatever fatty they drop!

Swans is the other tough matchup that I was trying to address with these changes, and while it’s probably the match I fear the most of the three, it has improved too. Blood Moon again is beatable with the addition of a healthy amount of basics, you can outrace them with all your cheap one drops ensuring you WILL be hitting them for two from turn two on, and Terror helps to kill Swans. The Forge-Tenders in the SB are pretty strong against them too.

After taking a break from this article to play a few more queues, I want to re-emphasize how much of an edge you have on Burn. I just played another five matches (in six queues, including back-to-back in one queue) and won every match, dropping only two games by my count (Might have been a third, I’m forgetting, I was flying high on 151 and Bombay Sapphire, so it was a little hazy). I mention the influence of certain mind-altering substances not to promote substance abuse in our youths, or further MirrorMage’s alcoholism, but to drive home the point that I was probably making loose plays left and right, and was still beating members of well-known clans and highly rated players running Burn. And by loose I do my bad. I did indeed sacrifice a Forge Tender to try to stop a Flames of the Blood Hand. Yea. Awkward. Lost that game.

“Zoo really isn’t supposed to beat Burn. It’s like a bye for Burn.” Approximately 50% of my Burn opponents tell me this (or something like it) in a disbelieving manner during/after another bye match against a Burn deck. Obviously, I should probably lose a match to them at some point, but so far so good.

My sideboard changes every day or so, but right now I’m running four Burrenton Forge-Tender, four Terror, three Thoughtseize, and four Ancient Grudge. Forge Tenders give me the extra SB edge for the burn matchup, while allowing me to have something to fight Swans with. Terror is for the mirror and anywhere else Goyf might show up, and for Swans. Ancient Grudge is the most effective Affinity hate that still hits Faeries/MonoU control for their important artifacts. Thoughtseize I use in control and combo matches.

If Elves! re-appears as a force in the meta, I’d recommend bringing back four Mogg Fanatic in place of the current Maniacs, but until then, damage to the face remains relevant. If Blood Moon goes away from the meta, AND Burn disappears, I would advocate a return to a 5C mana-base with one or zero basics, but until that happens, it will pay to play the deck as I have it configured.

I hope you enjoyed this, and let me know of any results you have!


Basics/Fetchs by walkerdog at Thu, 01/08/2009 - 00:22
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Fetchs also cost more pain.  I missed other people using Vitae.  It's ok I guess, but not a must-have by any means.

by iceage4life at Wed, 01/07/2009 - 21:59
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If you think the Vitae tech is from Sanchaz you need to look at the worlds coverage again.  I'm also amazing that you were unaware of Hedge-Mage and how awesome it is.  I also see pretty much zero reason to run more than one of each shock land.  Fetches are much more flexable and get basics.

by Anonymous(Unregistered) (not verified) at Wed, 01/07/2009 - 17:38
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1) A 20% weaker Tribal Flames.

2) No Tidehollow Sculler.

3) Rift Slowbolt.

4) Tattermunge Maniac over better, less suicidal options.

5) Basic Swamp messing with x% of your starting hands.

6) No O-Ring/Sundering Vitae anywhere.

1+2+3+4+5+6 = worst Zoo list ever.

by Anonymous(Unregistered) (not verified) at Wed, 01/07/2009 - 17:44
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What decks are you facing running Explosives, Shackles, Threads, Smother?  Are UB fae popular on MTGO now?  Smother doesn't even seem that good against this deck.

You say that Vortex is no good versus this deck because of the number of one drops.  Most Zoo lists have at least 12 one drops.

by blandestk at Wed, 01/07/2009 - 17:44
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I guess he must be lying about the win streak then.

by Bazaar of Baghdad at Wed, 01/07/2009 - 20:23
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To follow up on my other post, I think my other 2 suggested lands should just be more fetchlands (#s 9 + 10), probably Windswept Heaths

Good points and bad points. by walkerdog at Wed, 01/07/2009 - 20:55
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I like BoB's proposed mana-build, although I'd avoid Mutas.

Maniacs:  I've explained why I run them in the article.  Going to an above question, most Zoo lists run 12+ one-drops, but most do NOT run 12+ TWO-power one-drops.  At the end of the article I talked about possibly swapping them.

The bigger point of the article was the slight tweaks to the mana-base that have won me a ridiculous amount of games.  If you're siding Terror, you want a basic swamp.  If not, it's fine to cut it for a fetch or even another Sacred Foundry (Or possibly one U-producing to get a little more gas off Flames).

I love how Sanchez proposed Vitae and suddenly it's the only acceptable card to run... when a better mana-base negates the need for it.  ORing is not a must-have.  I don't really want a more vulnerable Vindicate that can't hit lands.  I don't mind if you do, but I don't run it.

I do have 3 Hedge Mages in my SB now.  He's so versatile.  Cut Terror for it, and bumped Thoughtseize to four.

Thanks for reading.

by Bazaar of Baghdad at Wed, 01/07/2009 - 15:40
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With the R/G/B/domain configuration and 20 lands, I would run:

4 Wooded Foothills, 4 Bloodstained Mire (both fetches get mountains - utilize that)

4 Stomping Ground (your best dual)

1 Sacred Foundry, 1 Blood Crypt (mountains),

1 Steam Vents (even if you play no blue spells)

1 Overgrown Tomb (both fetches can get this, fortunately)

1 Forest (your best basic during Blood Moon times)

1 Plains (O-Ring for Moon yes, but probably not so important, the Dwarf, possibly Sculler, etc.)

2 other lands - doesn't much matter (Mutavaults perhaps), Swamp is pretty pointless since you don't really want to play those black spells post Moon anyways

Adding up to 2 more lands like the other Mutavaults can have the benefit of reducing mulligans without major meaningful flooding.  I only mention this, not recommend it.

by blandestk at Wed, 01/07/2009 - 13:14
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Personally I thought this article and its contents were well-described and well thought out.  I'm constantly amazed at how negatively people react to a different idea on a deck.  It's almost like running a basic swamp instead of a shockland is like a writer has told someone they abducted and tortured his or her mother.  These articles are not about measuring our anatomy, it's about sharing ideas and love for the game.  But it's constantly filled with people who think they know the "correct" way a deck should be constructed.  Disagreement is great and constructive, but it doesn't need to be a smear fest.  I thought every decision that is "weird" was explained pretty well.  If you disagree, just state it, you don't need to denegrate a selection.

Enjoyed the article! 

I understand by walkerdog at Wed, 01/07/2009 - 15:07
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Good points all around:  Vindicate and terminate were two other cards that did hit Zoo.  I tend to forget that.

The reason for Maniac as the deck is currently conceived is to beat the combo decks (12 2+/xs one-drops) along with helping beat Blood Moon effects.  Figure is fine in this slot, but the usually tight races mean a lot of the time you don't have time to pump him even once.  If you run Lions or Isamaru or Squire, you're opening yourself up to the Moon again. Bad times.

Fanatic is fine when you want to beat elves, but they don't like Maniacs very early either.  In talking with a friend on MTGO, he pointed out that my list is some-what slighish, rather than Zooish, in that I'm just trying to burn the opponent out at the end.

I never have issues with Vortex, due to the high 1-drop count, as I mentioned in the article.  The Bant-focused Zoo decks perform pretty meh in general, so I'd skip them. 

I'm up past 20 wins in a row as Burn, and honestly, the only TOUGH matchup for this build is Elves (and if you see them coming, switch to Fanatics, as I said), and some of the DEDICATED board control decks, packing EExplosives AND Thread AND shackles AND smother.

Saying it's one of the worst you've ever seen then asking how it's good against matchups I've already explained makes you look sort of silly.

by Towelie1(Unregistered) (not verified) at Wed, 01/07/2009 - 12:01
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Yeah, this list is really weird. You should really be playing Mogg Fanatic over Maniac. Even if Elves is not common, it's still good against faeries. If you really insist on playing another 2 power guy, then Isamaru is better. I would also replace the bad burn spells with Tidehollow Scullers and Oblivion Rings. Oblivion Ring is a good out to Blood Moon, as you seem to be very concerned with AIR. I'm not sure why you are so worried about that deck. I rarely see it in PEs, but I guess it might be more common in the queues. O-Ring would also let you drop the basics besides 1 plains. Sculler is really awesome. Your main deck doesn't have any way to interact with combo decks. It is good against Swans and other random combo decks you might run into like storm. You should also really be playing at least 12 fetchlands and no more than 1 of each shockland.

by iceage4life at Wed, 01/07/2009 - 10:02
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Um that list looks like one of the worst I've ever seen.  Tattermunge Maniac??  Isamaru, Mogg Fanatic, Squire, Figure all seem much better.  Basic swamp with 4 ways to fetch it seems fairly loose.  Not to mention 2 Temple Garden 2 Stomping Ground.  Rift Bolt fits in with the Maniac as just so much weaker than spells normally run in the deck.  You also can not kill an opponent who is on five with Tribal Flames.  That seems like a mistake.  You can change your deck to beat All in Red and burn if you want without running an awful maindeck.  You deck also seems to have zero ways to kill a Threads (or Vortex from burn, never have issues with that card?).

P.S. A much bigger loss for Zoo than a pump spell is Vindicate.  That card is so good in the deck and would be amazing this season.

P.P.S. Frankly if you want to beat burn, mirror, and AIR then i'd recomend the Bant focused Zoo decks which have weaker plans v Mono U and Elves!