Deconstructing Constructed – Naya Zoo PTQ Report and Breakdown

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Wednesday, March 4th – I played a PTQ this past weekend. I showed up with Naya Burn, went 5-1-1, and missed Top 8 on breakers. Virtual Top 8s are the worst kind. Today’s article will be in two sections. The first will be a quick tournament report and some thoughts on the deck I played. The second will the details of the deck and boarding plans in various matches.

Today’s article will be in two sections. The first will be a quick tournament report and some thoughts on the deck I played. The second will the details of the deck and boarding plans in various matches. Before I start in on the details, let me congratulate Charles Gordon for winning the nor-cal PTQ with U/G Faeries, and LSV for coming oh so close to a second Pro Tour win in six months.

I played a PTQ this past weekend. I showed up with Naya Burn, went 5-1-1, and missed Top 8 on breakers. Virtual Top 8s are the worst kind. This is what I sleeved up to go to battle. Thanks go out to Mike, Richard, and JP for loaning me the cards I needed.

Quick and dirty report:

Round 1 — Richard, TEPS
Richard is the same one who loaned me Mutavault right before the tournament, so this is awkward. Although it ends up being a boon for him anyway since he hasn’t finished writing out the decklist and probably would’ve gotten a game loss for tardiness against anyone else.
G1: I try goldfishing him out with a turn 4 kill, but Richard throws out a Desire for six on turn 3. He hits nothing but mana, lands, and Ponder, but that’s enough as he has a second Desire in hand, which easily crushes me.
G2: Ethersworn Canonist shuts him down to the point where his only relevant play is an Empty the Warrens for six Goblins. He’s overwhelmed by my dorks and burn shortly after.
G3: Pillar and burn get there.

Round 2 — GWB Loam
G1: I mulligan and he eventually gets Jitte and I don’t. Zoo just can’t handle that.
G2: He mulligans and just gets run over by turn 1 Nacatl, turn 2 Goyf, turns 3 & 4 burn.
G3: I eat a turn 1 Thoughtseize which takes my Nacatl, but the Goyf in hand, plus topdecked Goyf give me enough board presence to take the game over, despite Smother killing one. I get Jitte out and once Kird Ape and Canonist take the board I can shift Jitte on offense and defense and take over. A late Putrefy eats Jitte, but he’s lost too many blockers to stop me from alpha striking with the team and finishing with burn.

As an aside, I’d like to time out to say how much Thoughtseize hurts this deck. Losing your Nacatl to turn 1 Thoughtseize drastically lowers the damage output of your opener; and losing your best card on turn 1 or 2 is the equivalent of taking a mulligan, possibly worse. More on the mulligan issue later.

Round 3 — Faeries
G1: I see a billion Hellspark Elementals, which force through plenty of damage, and I get him to 1 life. After that Jitte takes over and I simply can’t kill him.
G2: I get a great early rush of guys and win quickly.
G3: I take a mulligan and he gets stuck on 2 lands until turn 5 allowing me to power out enough early game pressure to win right before Sower and Jitte can turn the game around. Almost throw the game away by not playing around a Venser with Mutavault.

Round 4 — Bant
G1: He has early Rhox War Monk and I have no way to deal.
G2: I run him over with a Nacatl and Goyf after Rhox War Monk is sent plowing, er, pathing.
G3: Mulligan and keep a sketch 6 carder and die without doing anything relevant.

Round 5 — TEPS
G1: I mulligan and keep expecting to die on turn 5, but all he does is Tendrils me for 14 on turn 7 and I kill him a few turns later.
G2: I get blown out when my Pillar is Remanded and I subsequently die.
G3: He can’t beat a resolved Pyrostatic Pillar plus attackers.

Round 6 — Noah, TEPS
Noah and I get paired up pretty much every PTQ, and I’ve beaten or drawn with him every time. We both know what’s in each other’s decks, and he knows I’ve already beaten two TEPS decks today. We I.D. Playing for fun he smashes me 3 games in a row. Whoops.

Round 7 — Zoo
G1: Lose the Goyf war to Tribal Flames and a Jitte means I can’t climb back into it.
G2: Play a long drawn out attrition war with almost mirrored boards which I eventually win via Path and Jitte.
G3: He mulligans to 4 and I don’t.

Final record:
5-1-1 matches
11-6-1 games

I miss Top 8 on tiebreakers with Noah right above me also missing out. Turns out there were two more guys in the bracket we hadn’t noticed before with the same record in round six, and it destroyed our chances at making Top 8. No idea where all the non-intentional draws came from.

As far as the deck goes, I was very happy with the 75 I sleeved up with the exception of two lands and maindeck Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]. Sideboard-wise, this was the happiest I was with it in a long time, and I used every single card in it at one point or another, with an eight-card swap that was used in the majority of my matches.

Really, the only issue I had with the manabase, despite running only 9 fetches instead of the usual 11-12, was the basic Plains constantly screwing up my openers. I had three mulligans because of Plains + a non-Fetch, non Stomping Ground land, and in only one game did I feel the need to fetch Plains. I ran the Plains so I could cast Path in the Zoo mirror without losing a ton of life, or fetch it up if I got Pathed, but it didn’t come up very often in testing and it was just terrible for my mana in general. I would definitely dump the Plains for the 3rd Sacred Foundry.

Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] was by no means bad, but it just took up slots with which I think you could do better. Dealing four for 1RR isn’t bad, and getting the life-loss deal from cracking fetches and playing untapped shocklands works really well at times. The biggest problem I had with it was that it simply didn’t do enough; against Bant and Zoo, I’d rather have it be Flame Javelin so I can kill x/4 creatures. Against combo it doesn’t matter, and versus Faeries it’s just like any other burn spell. I’m pretty sure if you just want another burn spell for these slots. Flame Javelin is worth the occasional mana annoyance, and if you want an impact card, two Umezawa’s Jitte give you more bang for your buck.

As one possible reworking, I’ve considered replacing the cheap burn and Pulses with a mixture of Path to Exile and either Incinerate or Lash Out. Path’s drawback is negligible in many of the situations where you’d be using it, and a Lash Out can just be tremendous value against Nacatl, Venser, Sower, etc. If Nacatl connects twice in any ‘fair’ game of Magic (i.e. non-combo) you happen to be playing, you’ll win a very high percentage of those games and Path helps get you there.

Don’t get me wrong, I do like the Tarfire / Seal of Fire configuration, but my main issue is that the most relevant guys tend to be x/1 or 3/3 and bigger. Really, the only dork I have a lot of issues with that has just two toughness happens to be Kitchen Finks, which is his own unique problem. Speaking of which, if Finks in the maindeck becomes the main mirror trump, you could justify Magma Spray rather easily. You almost never throw two to the dome unless it’s the winning two damage, and removing a turn 3 Finks for one mana is often a coup.

Ethersworn Canonist is the other sore thumb in the maindeck, and I’m sure many assume it’s there simply so I had extra room in the board, or so I could get lucky game 1 against TEPS. You would then be correct, mostly. If you want extra action against the mirror instead of combo, then run Kitchen Finks over the two maindeck Canonist, otherwise leave it as is.

I saw a copy of the newer version of Naya Burn Prosak was playing on Magic Online and he was running the Canonists main. I gave them a shot, and they aren’t really awful since they can carry the Jitte and can be surprisingly disruptive against normal decks as well as combo. Yes, you have to get a bit lucky to see the card before you die against combo, but Magma Jet also helps get you there. At least you have a shot against their good hands, other than winning the die roll and getting a turn 4 goldfish… assuming they don’t win on turn 3. Once you go up to four post-board along with Pillar, combo is surprisingly beatable, whether it be Elves or TEPS.

Magma Jet over Incinerate doesn’t even feel like a real argument to me anymore. Being able to set-up your topdecks by clearing garbage off the top or making sure you hit that 3rd land for Vortex is just far more relevant to me than one extra damage. It may not be the optimal 2nd or 3rd turn play for the deck, but shockingly you don’t get the curve out draw every single game. It also has some actual value in the combo match by helping you dig toward your sideboard cards.

As for the rest of the deck, the only remaining choice of real interest is Hellspark Elemental. I ran these largely because I thought they were an upgrade over Keldon Marauders after the 100th freaking time they got chump blocked by Mogg Fanatic or Spellstutter Sprite (or ate a Spell Snare). Let me say that these guys are amazing against Faeries… they pretty much always get in for 5-6 damage, or a card and 3 damage. Is it more mana? Sure. However, it’s a card that Faeries simply can’t deal with for value, pretty much always having to waste a card at some point. If you draw two, you don’t even need to bother with other burn spells. Against combo it’s awful, but what isn’t, and against other aggro decks it acts the same as Marauders. I’ll admit that sometimes you get more overall damage at a lower cost with Marauders, but the situations where you do have dropped dramatically as the season has progressed.

Now onto the main point of contention I have for the maindeck. If you don’t expect a high number of Faeries players, cut Mogg Fanatic. I ran 4 in the main specifically because I saw a lot of Fae and Bant decks before the tournament started, and he’s really good there. In the Green aggro mirror, Fanatic is miserable, and against Affinity or TEPS he’s a joke. Still, unless there’s some big meta shift toward Zoo/Naya over Fae, I expect Fanatic to be the norm in all maindecks.

Sideboard-wise I think this is pretty much the norm, and really all Naya decks should have some combination of Path to Exile, Umezawa’s Jitte, Ancient Grudge/Shattering Spree, and Pyrostatic Pillar; Sulfuric Vortex as well if a set isn’t maindeck. My most common board package was the following:

3 Path to Exile
3 Ancient Grudge
2 Umezawa’s Jitte

Path helps clear out all the annoying defensive creatures for W, and Grudge with Jitte means you probably aren’t going to lose the Jitte war against other aggressive decks. Although I would’ve brought in a 3rd Jitte if I ran it, I would refrain from going overboard with the pointy stick in post-board games. Not only is everyone prepared to fight that war now, but you really only have a few real combat-worthy creatures to hold the stick. Sure, any random Fanatic or Mutavault is pretty sick once Jitte has counters, but otherwise your combat-worthy guys are Nacatl, Kird Ape, and Goyf, which are the main targets for creature removal in the mirror. Everyone else swings once and dies, so prepping the board is important before just laying Jitte out there and expecting it to auto-win.

If I was going to redo the sideboard, I might cut the 4th Grudge for the 2nd Kataki, War’s Wage or the 3rd Jitte. Alternatively, if you don’t like Kataki and just want to rock quad Grudge, you could cut the Kataki for the 4th Path, which is just amazing against any and all creature decks.

4 Ancient Grudge
3 Pyrostatic Pillar
3 Path to Exile
2 Umezawa’s Jitte
2 Ethersworn Canonist
1 Kataki, War’s Wage

Anyway, here’s boarding and general notes.

(If they have Shackles / Threads in addition to Sower) -4 Tarmogoyf, -2 Ethersworn Canonist
+4 Ancient Grudge, +2 Umezawa’s Jitte

(If they only run Sower) -2 Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author], -2 Magma Jet, -2 Ethersworn Canonist
+4 Ancient Grudge, +2 Umezawa’s Jitte

(If they run Tarmogoyf main) -2 Ethersworn Canonist, -2 Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author], -4 Magma Jet
+3 Path to Exile, +3 Ancient Grudge, +2 Umezawa’s Jitte

You side out Goyfs if you think it’s likely they’ll be getting stolen. Your game-winning percentage is pretty high even without Tarmogoyf (despite being amazing), but drops to nearly nil if you lose Goyf to the Fae player for more than a turn. Even with this many Grudges, I’m not willing to lose to some guy playing last week’s tech of Shackles or Threads of Disloyalty. Just become a G/R bad burn deck that has outs to Jitte and that’s usually good enough. If they only have Sower then I’m willing to just alter my play slightly.

The big fight you have in both games is the Jitte war. Fae likely has no chance of beating you if they can’t steal a Tarmogoyf or get Jitte resolved and hitting over multiple turns. You have six ways of directly eliminating the threat, four of which are reusable, and a lot of stall tactics in the meantime. Keep Jitte off the board and you’ll more than likely win a longer game unless they resolve multiple Visions.

Mind you, this changes drastically if they run maindeck Tarmogoyf and the match goes from favorable to meh. There’s really only three ways Fae can win this match, the first being Faeries having Goyf out and you being unable to deal with it. The second is losing the Jitte war and being unable to gain any real traction to make up for the life gain or turnaround in possible racing damage. Finally you can just lose fairly to the deck if you get a slow start and they just overwhelm you with card advantage and bad creatures. Typically, this point only happens when you mulligan though, so it isn’t really a concern compared to the other two.

Essentially, what I do is remove some of the worse burn in the match (Pulse doesn’t hit guys, and Jet is within Spell Snare and Spellstutter range) and bring in the only good way I have to deal with their set of Goyfs. Really, the only advantage you have is sometimes the Fae player has to run Goyf out there early and you can sneak down a Vortex.

-4 Sulfuric Vortex, -3 Hellspark Elemental, -2 Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author], -1 Kird Ape
+3 Pyrostatic Pillar, +3 Path to Exile, +2 Umezawa’s Jitte, +2 Ethersworn Canonist / Ancient Grudge

This is all about stopping them from comboing you out game 1. Pre-board games aren’t really hard unless they have the nut draw, and you really have nothing against that. Post-board you can shut down the combo via Canonist or Pillar, with the latter being the best option since it goes along with your racing plan and isn’t killed by Viridian Shaman. Past that you have a billion removal spells and your own Jitte to keep things interesting. You can bring in Grudges over extra Canonist to deal with opposing Jitte, and that might be the right call in general. Pretty favorable match-up, even if they run the White for Proclamation of Rebirth and Forge-Tender.

-4 Sulfuric Vortex, -2 Seal of Fire, -2 Tarfire
+3 Ancient Grudge, +3 Path to Exile, +2 Umezawa’s Jitte

Meh. Keep all Jittes dead and try to save Path to Exile only for Tarmogoyf. The one mana ‘removal’ is tempting until you notice it kills approximately 4 creatures in the average Zoo deck. Cards like Canonist and Hellspark aren’t particularly good, but the former carries a Jitte and can sometimes disrupt tempo while Hellspark pretty much always gets in for three or trades for Fanatic. Yes, it sucks if a Tarmogoyf gets loose. If you cast it on turn 4 they still won’t block it because they fear the removal spell in hand.

Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] is interesting in this match because it can turn a losing game around if you have it in hand. Eight damage is usually half of the opponent’s life after land damage is taken into account. It isn’t particularly hard to set-up a situation where you fall to two or three life in the mirror and set up an end-of-turn Pulse, return, main-phase Pulse win. It also can be cast for full value on turn 3 if instead of playing basics you fetch out your normal duals and willingly drop down to 12-14 life. This version of the deck isn’t particularly suited toward winning the mirror, so cards with even marginal upside end up staying in here.

If you replace Seal or Tarfire with Magma Spray, feel free to keep those maindeck simply because they beat Finks outright.

-4 Sulfuric Vortex, -3 Hellspark Elemental, -2 Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author], -1 Tarfire
+4 Ancient Grudge, +3 Path to Exile, +2 Umezawa’s Jitte, +1 Kataki, War’s Wage

You get run over game 1 usually, unless they kept a heavy mana hand; nothing else to say about this part of the match. Post-board you get a ton of removal that’s actually good against them, and Kataki, which is huge. Really any two-power guy backed by either Kataki or multiple removal spells will usually get you there. Ravager and Plating are obviously the biggest threats, but Myr Enforcer will likely be the most obnoxious creature on the table. Most of the time you don’t necessarily want to spend a card killing him, because he’ll never single-handedly beat you, but he outclasses anything that isn’t a Tarmogoyf. Unless you already have the Seal of Fire out, you have to weigh how much damage you’ll be doing over the next two turns versus the possibility of yet another threat in the Affinity player’s hand.

Horrible game 1 and a reasonable post-board game-plan that gets significantly better the more Kataki you run in the board.

-4 Sulfuric Vortex, -1 Mogg Fanatic
+3 Pyrostatic Pillar, +2 Ethersworn Canonist

If you know the opponent is on TEPS for the first game, mulligan unless you have a hand that has a reasonable chance of goldfishing turn 4 or includes Ethersworn Canonist. You’ll lose unless they simply can’t combo off for whatever reason.

Post-board is simple: bring in your anti-combo measures and mulligan until you see one. This match is atrocious from an objective standpoint, but you win a lot more than you should due to their own instability and hands where you simply do too much damage before they can find an Echoing Truth and the resources to combo off.

For those of you running Canonist + Gaddock Teeg as a sideboard plan, get a new one. Many TEPS players are switching to Volcanic Fallout to beat creature-based anti-combo cards, since it deals with different multiples.

That’s about it on Naya Zoo, and I highly recommend it to anyone that isn’t planning on piloting Fae at their next PTQ. Before I go though, here’s a bonus list that made Top 8 of the same PTQ I attended.

This is a really straight-forward and interesting design. It combines the fat of midrange with some of the best Zoo cards, and glues it together using Noble Hierarch and Birds of Paradise. I would absolutely hate to play against this kind of deck with Zoo, and I can’t imagine Affinity would be happy playing against this beast post-board either. Yet another unique design path to consider for a season already filled with a huge variety of decks.

Josh Silvestri
Team Reflection
Email me at JoshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom