At the Gathering – A Trip to the Zoo

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Wednesday, January 13th – With Extended in full swing, I think it’s a good time to start examining the existing archetypes of the format. Today, I want to look at the different builds of Zoo that exist, how each differs in its game plan, possible keys to look for in both the new set, and possibly old favorites.

With Extended in full swing, I think it’s a good time to start examining the existing archetypes of the format. Today, I want to look at the different builds of Zoo that exist, how each differs in its game plan, possible keys to look for in both the new set, and possibly old favorites.

To start with, we’ll look at four different Zoo builds.

The first is Rubin Zoo, which debuted to a first place finish at Pro Tour: Austin.

Rubin Zoo aims to win the Zoo war by having bigger and better creatures. Exalted is one way, and Baneslayer Freaking Angel is another. Furthermore, it utilizes the powerful removal engine of Punishing Fire and Grove of the Burnwillows to great effect. When I first saw the combo, I immediately disregarded it, because all it did was 1 net damage for 3 mana. I did not consider the uses it had for Removal, and how much more powerful that made your creatures, in that they were free to swing in for larger amounts. The ability of Knight of the Reliquary to find any land, not just basic or even basic land types, allows you to find answers to certain threats, namely Ghost Quarter in most situations, but also a key Grove of the Burnwillows, or even a fetchland to grow your Knight. Outside of that, the deck runs efficient burn and removal in Lightning Bolt, Path to Exile, and Lightning Helix. Noble Hierarch pulls double duty for Mana Acceleration and Exalted bonuses, to help you win Goyf wars. Qasali Pridemage pulls triple duty, being a semi-efficient attacker, exalted pumper, and Artifact/ Enchantment removal. The deck has an incredible amount of synergy, and an absolutely beautiful sideboard for the metagame of the time.

Next up is Tomoharu Saitou’s Super Naya Zoo list from last year’s Extended Grand Prix, which took first place back- to- back in Singapore and then Kobe.

Obviously, there’s been a rotation of fetch lands since that time, and the singleton Choke has also rotated, but otherwise the majority of the deck is still legal. The deck runs efficient, cheap creatures, with the reload of Ranger of Eos to gain card advantage. Gaddock Teeg is still an elegant answer to many of the format’s threats, especially given the rise of Scapeshift in popularity, and in combination with Ethersworn Canonist provides strong combos resistance. Knight of the Reliquary allows the deck a measure of defense against Dark Depths in addition to Path to Exile. Rubin Zoo is largely an evolution of this, but some of the key pieces are still viable.

Next up, we have Domain Zoo, an evolution of the old Gaea’s Might Get There decks of old that now largely choose to run Domain for Tribal Flames and Dark Confidant. The benefits of Tribal Flames are largely the ability to go big with 5 damage to the face for only 2 mana. The most recent list I could find was Adrian Sullivan from spoiler season, which was mostly speculative on the Goblin Guide, so I cobbled one together.

I’ve tried to stay in a pretty stock list, creatures and burn with a smidge of removal. It’s possible Jitte belongs somewhere in the 75, but I’m pleased with this initial build. Might of Alara is a strong surprise card, capable of changing math and ending games in a devastating manner. It may be right to remove it, but right now I think it has enormous surprise value. The land base needs to be tested, as it’s mostly just cobbled together, but I definitely believe that Ghost Quarter package is a good one for the sideboard. Knight of the Reliquary is very strong in this build, allowing you to get domain by surprise on occasion. I considered adding one Watery Grave, to quickly go from three to five, potentially even mid-combat, but am not sure if its surprise value is strong enough, and wanted to avoid gimmicks for what is supposed to be a fairly stock list. One card I considered but dropped is Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender, who is amazing against Scapeshift, but only marginal in a lot of other matchups. This list is most likely not optimal, but is a decent composite to examine.

Finally, the last Zoo variant I wanted to cover is the “Fast” Zoo or “light” Zoo. I refer to it as Teflon Zoo, and it typically runs light on lands and casting costs. Nothing more than 2 mana, and only about 18 lands. Here is a current iteration.

Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender was added in place of Ethersworn Canonist to combat combo matchups, namely Scapeshift, but also works decently well against Zoo and other decks with Red. The game plan of this zoo deck is to put you in lethal range quickly and efficiently, and then count on a higher threat density to draw the finisher. Typically, you want to expend the resources you have as fast as possible, so that you aren’t left with a glut of resources and a lack of methods to use them. It also counts on the widespread use of fetch and shock lands helping you along the way. Thopter Foundry / Sword of the Meek combo is very strong against this build, for its ability to gain life and blockers, which is why Kataki is so devastating in the sideboard. Nonetheless, it is a bad matchup.

Looking at the lists, what should we then be looking for in Worldwake? I think that breaks down simply into a few areas.

1. Lands: We’re always on the lookout for good lands to use in the manabase, and Worldwake will be no exception. We’ll definitely want to keep an eye out for lands with basic land types. I doubt they’d make it in Worldwake, as it’d be far more sense in Alara, but something like this could set the domain builds ahead:

Wooded Plateau
Land: Mountain Forest Plains
Wooded Plateau comes into play tapped
When Wooded Plateau comes into play, lose 2 life
T: add R, G, or W to your mana pool.

Still overpowered, but you’re hopefully getting the idea.

2) Critters: The second thing to look for will be efficient creatures. In the last 15 months, we’ve had Wild Nacatl, Knight of the Reliquary, Baneslayer Angel, Noble Hierarch, and Qasali Pridemage. That’s just for Zoo! Expect to see more efficient creatures coming in Worldwake. Expect that at least a few of them will be at your local PTQ and on the Grand Prix circuit.

3) Burn/Removal: Any kind of burn or on-color removal would be a great boon to the deck as well. I doubt we’ll see any improvement there from Worldwake, as Path to Exile is pretty much amazing, but perhaps an improvement to the burn suite is coming.

Finally, I want to look at an existing card that may help us out, or at the very least be worth considering.

Given the rise in popularity of Tezzeret decks with Thopter Swords combo, as well as grove of the Burnwillows, I think that Kavu Predator might be worth consideration. He works well at combating life-gain, and in the Rubin Zoo deck, can get large enough that a single Elspeth jump could make it lethal. He’s extremely efficient, although subject to bounce effects and removal like anything, I think he’s an excellent inclusion, but testing is needed to make sure. The ability to pump mid-combat seems nice, though, and he does have built-in trample.

Another card that may help is Behemoth Sledge, for its ability to both swing life totals and to trample through, although I think it might be a little too slow for the current metagame. Perhaps a sideboard slot for midrange deck matchups.

Finally, I wanted to point out one important thing that we’ve seen in the past few years. Since the printing of Baneslayer Angel, it has been in the winning deck list in both Pro Tours. Since the printing of Tarmogoyf, it has been in every legal Constructed Pro Tour champion’s deck with the singular exception of LSV’s winning Elves list from Pro Tour: Berlin. Just some food for thought.

Until next time, this is Jeff Phillips, reminding you: Don’t make the Loser Choice.