Deep Analysis – Swans versus Zoo

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Thursday, January 1st – The Extended PTQ season starts this coming weekend, and the two of the more promising contenders are Swans Combo and good ol’ Zoo. Today’s Deep Analysis sees Richard Feldman take us through a plethora of intricate games and decisions from the Swans perspective. If you’re looking to run the funky two-card combo deck, this is the article for you!

Going into Grand Prix: LA, the two most buzzed-about Extended decks are Mono-Blue Wizards and Zoo. After a bit of testing I quickly became a fan of the Mono-Blue deck, but really wanted some way to break open the mirror. I wasn’t satisfied with anything I came up with, but along the way I noticed I didn’t really have any thoughts on how I could beat a Swans player packing Pact of Negation and Gigadrowse.

Naturally, my next question became: is Swans a deck that can beat both Mono-Blue and Zoo? With 2 Explosives, 4 Firespout, and 3 Blood Moon all cards that could be boarded out without disrupting the combo, card drawing package, or countermagic, I was pretty confident Swans could sideboard its way into an awesome Mono-Blue matchup even if game 1 was not phenomenal.

As for the Zoo front and beyond, I had no experience with the deck – which needed fixing! Zoo was clearly the place to start; if I was getting hammered by Zoo, I didn’t see much point in continuing.

For a primer on the deck, I direct you to an article by its most successful pilot.

For those of you unfamiliar with the combo – LSV’s article assumes you know it already – here’s how it works: cast Chain of Plasma on your Swan, then discard a card (yes, you must have one spare card in hand when going off) to copy the Chain and target the Swan again. The Swan’s trigger will be put on the stack before the second Chain, so you’ll draw three cards and can then discard one to the second Chain copy.

You repeat this until you have drawn most of your library. At that point you will have several Chrome Moxen and Simian Spirit Guides in hand, as well as a Conflagrate. You can use the Moxen or Spirit Guides to get some Red mana if you were tapped out, then cast Conflagrate for zero (at a cost of R) and flash it back (at a cost of RR), discarding at least 30 cards and dealing the opponent as much damage. If the opponent is representing mana to counter your Conflagrate when you go off, remember to play as many Moxen as you have to first so that you can Mana Leak or Spell Snare back. (If you forget to play them before Conflagrating, you won’t exactly get the chance to drop them in response.)

Onward to the games!

I think it’s a lot easier to read opening hands when I give each card its own line as opposed to listing them all out in a sentence (though please speak up if you prefer the other way), so I’m going to stick with that.

Game 1

Opening hand: (on the play)

Thirst for Knowledge
Thirst for Knowledge
Chain of Plasma

This type of hand is exactly why so many people hate Ponder. If I can Ponder into two lands, the theory goes, this hand is sweet! However, a quick reality check will reveal that you are not at all likely to see two lands in your top three cards. You’re much better off shipping this hand; Ponder is a red herring here. The next six:

Chrome Mox
Chrome Mox
Blood Moon
Spell Snare

Gross. This hand’s only action is to try and get there AIR-style with a second-turn Blood Moon blowout (I’m on the play, so there’s no chance of topdecking a Red source for the turn 1 Moon). Once again my hopes and dreams rely on Ponder, although in this case the odds are much better because I just need to see one Red source or one Red card in the top three. Do I think I can do better than this from a five-card hand? Honestly, I do not. I’ll keep.

I play Island and Ponder into Island, Engineered Explosives, Swans. Bad news – no Red source for Blood Moon. So do I shuffle and hope to mise a Red source, or switch gears and keep what I have?

Well, my hand is Blood Moon, Spell Snare, and two Chrome Mox. If you can find a way to combine that with Island, Engineered Explosives, and Swans of Bryn Argoll to do something strong, I bow to your superior Kung Fu. We’ll “mulligan” those three and randomly draw… Flooded Strand! Got there on the Red source.

Zoo leads with Wooded Foothills into Temple Garden and Wild Nacatl.

I draw a second Spell Snare, imprint it on a Chrome Mox, and fetch out a Steam Vents with which to cast second-turn Blood Moon. My hand is now Spell Snare and Chrome Mox, and the life totals are 17 apiece.

Zoo beats me to 15 with Nacatl and then plays Kird Ape and a tapped Blood Crypt.

I draw Cascade Bluffs and play it. At this point I’ve shut down my opponent’s ability to cast spells and am just hoping to topdeck something like Firespout, Chain of Plasma, Thirst for Knowledge, or Swans. Even Simian Spirit Guide would be pretty good here.

Zoo plays Wooded Foothills and attacks me to 12.

I draw another Chrome Mox and pass.

Zoo hits me to nine and plays Godless Shrine.

I draw Thirst for Knowledge and cast it right away. I hit two Firespouts and a Ponder, obviously discarding Chrome Mox.

My juiced-up hand is now Ponder, Spell Snare, two Firespouts, and my fourth Chrome Mox.

I have only an Island untapped here; should I Ponder or leave mana up for Spell Snare? Well, my opponent has four lands, but they all tap for only Red. What’s the worst that can happen? Obviously the absolute worst is that he has two Incinerates in hand, and I could have Spell Snared them, but that doesn’t seem likely given how uncommon Incinerate is in Zoo. Tribal Flames is decently likely, but even if he swings and casts two of those, I am still alive and kicking at 4 life instead of 6. I’ll Ponder instead of leaving mana up.

Ponder reveals two Polluted Deltas and a redundant Blood Moon. Noooo thanks. Shuffle them away and cantrip into Engineered Explosives – much better.

Zoo knocks me to six and passes.

I draw Island, play it, and Firespout the board away. I have two Islands up, Spell Snare in hand, and Engineered Explosives, Firespout, and a spare Chrome Mox in reserve. Things are looking up.

Zoo draws and passes.

I draw Watery grave and lay it.

Zoo plays Mogg Fanatic.

I draw Chain of Plasma – halfway there! – and decide to end the Fanatic’s life. Which makes more sense as the murder weapon here, Explosives or Firespout?

For my money, Firespout – if he topdecks a Plains and Oblivion Rings my Blood Moon, my only out to however many Tarmogoyfs he follows it up with will be my lone Spell Snare. I’d much rather have two outs to that guy than just one, and every other creature I can think of dies to either Firespout or Explosives. I Spout the Fanatic, drop to five when it pings me, and pass.

Zoo plays Sacred Foundry and passes.

I draw Island and play it.

Zoo draws Kird Ape and plays it.

I draw Polluted Delta and play it. Do I Explode the Kird Ape here? Well, I am at 5. If he is holding two Seal of Fire equivalents, and I do not Explode it, I am dead. On the other hand, not Exploding it gives me another turn (two, if he’s not holding two Tribal Flames) to topdeck a better answer like Simian Spirit Guide, and – thanks to my new Watery Grave – Explosives with Sunburst 3 provides an out to Plains into Oblivion Ring.

Of all these possible scenarios, him being able to burn me out around Spell Snare seems like the most likely threat to manifest, so I’ll Explode the Ape and pass.

Zoo draws and plays Tribal Flames on me for one. Do I counter it, or save the Spell Snare for later?

Remember the plan. If I’m concerned about him burning me out after a one-point Kird Ape attack, I am just as concerned about a one-point Tribal Flames; I counter it.

I draw and play Swans, then Chain of Plasma it for the kill.

This game is a perfect example of why it’s not so crazy to keep an all-in-on-Moon hand. Even on turn 2, it’s an absolutely backbreaking play against Zoo, Tron, Faeries, and sometimes even Mono-Blue.

Game 2

Opening hand: (on the draw)

Chrome Mox
Chain of Plasma
Thirst for Knowledge

At first sniff, this hand smells a bit pungent. It’s got the one Conflagrate, which is rarely castable for any kind of profit, and has no disruption whatsoever.

However, the hand does have its merits. With so much as one more land – and two Ponders can easily make that happen – you have turn 2 Thirst for Knowledge, and Conflagrate to pitch to it (true, along with something else) if you don’t see an artifact. It is definitely nice that Conflagrate is one of those rare combo finishers that still gets you there even if it ends up in the graveyard before you go off.

This hand is odd, but considering it already has one combo piece, and given how much of it I can cash in for choice cards on the top of my library, it doesn’t seem worth mulliganing. I’ll keep.

Zoo mulls and then opens with Bloodstained Mire into Stomping Ground and Kird Ape.

I draw Swans, like a master. Now I just need to ramp to four mana and watch out for Oblivion Ring. I play my Island and Ponder into Polluted Delta, Spell Snare, and another Ponder.

On the surface, the correct way to resolve the Ponder seems simple. I have found the land I was looking for, so I can just stick to my original plan of turn 2 Thirst for Knowledge with a Ponder in reserve. However, I have a much better opportunity here. Suppose I take Spell Snare into my hand and put the land on top, then I play Chrome Mox and imprint my other Ponder. With the land on top, I still have turn 2 Thirst coming up, but now I can also Spell Snare my opponent’s turn 2 play. If he has Tidehollow Sculler in his hand, this could be absolutely critical.

According to the new plan, I put back Ponder, then Delta, then Spell Snare and cantrip into the latter. I then play Mox, imprint Ponder, and pass.

Zoo hits me down to 18 and then fetches out a Godless Shrine with which to play Tarmogoyf. Do I Spell Snare it?

I cannot possibly answer this question without looking at least a turn ahead. How much damage will I take if I let it resolve? A quick look at the graveyard reveals that Goyf is a 2/3 at the moment, thanks to Ponder and fetchlands… but how big will it be next turn? Well, if I don’t play Snare now, I will either cast Thirst for Knowledge next turn or Spell Snare on a creature. Either way, the Instant will put the Goyf up to 3/4, and if I actually counter something, it will be up to 4/5.

That means I’ll take either five or six on the attack from the Ape and the Goyf, dropping me to 13 or 12. Even if he plays absolutely nothing on his following turn, I’ll go down to eight or six on the following turn, and will undoubtedly die on the turn after if he has so much as one burn spell. This could happen even faster if he has big enough plays on his next two turns.

So if I let the Goyf resolve, I have a maximum of three turns to live unless I topdeck Explosives or something to get rid of it.

In other words, it’s pretty damn bad if I let Goyf resolve. How bad is it if I Snare the Goyf and then he plays Sculler next turn? Well, he’ll certainly take a combo piece – probably Chain, since if he takes Swans and I draw a “redundant” Chain I’ll use it to kill Sculler and then combo, whereas if he leaves me with a Swan and I draw another, I’m not really out of the woods. So how bad is this hand, minus a Chain of Plasma?

Honestly, not too bad. I can draw into Explosives, Firespout, or even just five mana sources (remember, I’m holding Conflagrate, which is in fact a burn spell) to kill it, and my Thirst next turn can help dig for any of these. So even if he has “the nightmare two-drop” next turn and I am without my Snare, I’m not too bad off, whereas if I do not Spell Snare this Tarmogoyf, I am dead in three turns.

I Spell Snare the Goyf and take the beats down to 16 from the Ape.

I untap and draw the Delta, as planned. I play it and pass. There’s no point in Thirsting mainphase when I could represent countermagic mana instead.

Zoo plays nothing, and just passes the turn – obviously holding Lightning Helix. This play represents a lot of burn in hand; I have to expect a Tribal Flames here next turn. Importantly, Zoo misses the third land drop, meaning even if there is an Oblivion Ring in my opponent’s hand, he has to topdeck another land to play it. I go to Thirst on end step.

To pay for Thirst, I need to crack Polluted Delta. I’m at 13 after I activate it; do I drop to 11 to fetch out a Red source while I have the chance, or do I hope to draw into a non-pain Red source (my ways to accomplish this are: 2 Simian Spirit Guide, 1 Cascade Bluffs in the deck, plus combos like Chrome Mox and Firespout)? The risk is that if I Thirst into straight Blue sources, I can play my Swans next turn but will lack Red mana to cast Chain on the following turn.

The really scary part is, I just noted that my opponent has a burn-heavy hand. If I drop to 11, he can Helix me down to eight, hit me down to six with Kird Ape, and then finish me off with something to the effect of land, Tribal Flames, Mogg Fanatic, or even just land into Tribal Flames if I have to fetch again next turn to play my Swans. None of those options are open to him if I just fetch out Island here, and I will definitely live for at least two more turns.

However, keep in mind that my opponent is lacking a third land. No matter what, he cannot Tribal Flames for five without Steam Vents, so at a bare minimum, he has to topdeck a land to burn me out next turn.

I have a phenomenal chance of being able to cast Swans next turn, as I will see four cards between the Thirst and my next draw step. Since I know my opponent needs to have O-Ring in hand and a land on top to Ring my Swans, I will definitely play them if I hit the fourth land.

So let’s say I fetch Steam Vents, do all that stuff, and my opponent swings with Kird Ape. Will I block with Swans? If I do, he will forfeit two damage, and once again definitely cannot burn me out that turn, even if he has the fetchland and the Tribal Flames, unless he also has a Seal of Fire or Tarfire. However, if I do this, I give him two draws with which to potentially find an Oblivion Ring or a land, whichever he needs. Alternately, if I do not block, and if I fetched on the previous turn (or if he has Mogg Fanatic), I am dead if he topdecks his way into a Steam Vents on his turn.

Walking through all these options, it seems that my highest chance of death here comes if I fetch out an Island and do not hit one of my (very few) pain-free Red sources. None of my opponent’s ways to punish me for fetching Steam Vents are as likely to get me, so I fetch out Steam Vents.

Thirst sees Spell Snare, a second Thirst, and Flooded Strand. Got the land! I pitch Conflagrate and Spell Snare; Snare isn’t doing me any favors when I’m tapping out next turn, and this way if he O-Rings my Swan next turn or plays Sculler or something, I still have a backup Thirst to recover with. After I pitch my cards, he Helixes me as expected.

I untap and draw Condescend. At this point I have already figured out my play for this turn and all the risks involved, so I go for it. I fetch out an Island, dropping to seven, and tap out for Swans.

Zoo draws and attacks with Kird Ape. Again, I decided my play here a turn ago; I do not block. Zoo does not have another land, but casts Tribal Flames for four to burn me to one life. I am quite sure if I let him untap I will be burned out, but he will not get another untap step this game.

Instead, I untap and cast Chain on my Swans to go off and kill him.

This game showcases the speedy combo potential of Swans. It’s been a very long time since Trix was in Extended, but two-card combos for a reasonable amount of mana have not gotten any less busted. If you recall, the opening hand I kept was basically a mulligan already due to Conflagrate, and had nothing but one combo piece and a bunch of draw spells going for it. However, that was enough for me to not only go off on turn 4, but — critically – to also counter a turn 2 Tarmogoyf that would have killed me by turn four otherwise.

As an aside, did you notice how every single turn, including turn 1, I had to analyze all my opponent’s possible plays on the following turn in order to make an informed decision? Thinking ahead is always important in Magic, but rarely do you get to see the consequences of failing to do it illustrated so sharply; had I not taken the Spell Snare and imprinted Ponder on the Mox, or had I not chosen to Snare the Goyf even though I had Sculler in mind when I played the Mox, I would have died on turn 4. The fetchland decision turned out to be immaterial, as I Thirsted into another fetchland, but had I Thirsted into an Island or Chrome Mox instead, I would have been dead had I not played it the way I did.

This is also a classic example of why most of the decks in Extended are playing Chrome Mox – even against the “fair” beatdown decks, the games can be over in the blink of an eye.

Game 3

Opening hand: (on the play)

Steam Vents
Chrome Mox
Thirst for Knowledge

This hand would be a quick mulligan if Condescend were Mana Leak, but as it stands, I like it. If I imprint Firespout, I can Condescend my opponent’s first two plays, then Thirst (I’ll surely have found a land after two bouts of Scry 2). Thirst should draw me into a Swans for speedy combo potential. Keep.

I lead with Steam Vents untapped and Mox imprinting Firespout. (I won’t expect the Spout to be much help after two Condescends stop his first two plays.)

Zoo plays Steam Vents and passes. Awkward.

I draw a second Thirst and pass without a third mana source. Even more awkward.

Zoo plays Kird Ape without dropping a second land, and I Condescend it, seeing Steam Vents and Chrome Mox – both of which I keep. Obviously he then has Overgrown Tomb into Nacatl while I am tapped out.

I draw Steam Vents and play it untapped.

The opponent plays basic Plains and knocks me to thirteen, then plays Mogg Fanatic and passes. I Thirst on end step, seeing Mox, Watery Grave, Island. I pitch the Mox.

My draw is Conflagrate. I could use it to kill Mogg Fanatic here, but my mana is much better spent saving up for a Thirst or Condescend. I play Island and pass.

Nacatl and Fanatic hit me to nine. Zoo plays Bloodstained Mire and Tribal Flames. Obviously I cannot let it resolve, as if I do, I am dead next turn to his attack step. I tap out to counter it, Scrying away both Spell Snare and Polluted Delta. Bloodstained Mire fetches out Blood Crypt and is used to cast Seal of Fire.

I untap and draw another Spell Snare. Frown. If I Conflagrate the Mogg Fanatic, I will not be able to cast Thirst for Knowledge this turn, so that is out of the question. If I Chain of Plasma the Nacatl, my opponent will fork it to my head (meaning I end up at the same life total I would have had after an attack), at which point even a two-point burn spell will kill me. Since I will take at least three either way, I’ve just got to play my Watery Grave and pass, hoping Thirst draws me into both a mana source and a Swans so I can kill him next turn.

Zoo knocks me to five, with Seal of Fire out, and passes. I Thirst on end step, seeing two Swans and a Mana Leak. That puts me partway there, but I still need a mana source from my draw step.

I untap and draw Chain of Plasma and die. As it happened, Zoo had Lightning Helix in hand anyway, so even if I had drawn the mana source, I would have died in response to Chain.

It was definitely a mistake to keep that opening hand. I put too much stock in the assumption that the opponent would have a turn 1 play, and when he didn’t, the fact that I was unable to Condescend his first two plays really put me behind.

The biggest mistake was underestimating the effect of land, Mox, go on my opponent’s turn 1 play – in hindsight it seems obvious that if I open with this, he will play a pair of one-drops on turn 2 if he has them (and the odds of him having them are not terrible) rather than playing anything at all turn 1. Yup, should have sent that one back.

Game 4

Opening hand: (on the draw)

Polluted Delta
Polluted Delta
Thirst for Knowledge
Blood Moon

On the play, I would look a bit harder at this, but on the draw it is just dreck. My first play would be turn 2 Condescend for one, and then turn 3 Blood Moon or Thirst for Knowledge. Way too slow. Ship it back for a one-lander, and then the following five:

Polluted Delta
Spell Snare
Chain of Plasma
Thirst for Knowledge

As five-card hands go, this one is top-shelf. I have disruption, a combo piece, card draw, and lands to play them all!

Zoo takes a mulligan and leads with Blood Crypt into Mogg Fanatic.

I draw Steam Vents and play Island.

Zoo beats with Fanatic, then plays Windswept Heath into Temple Garden and Jitte, which I Spell Snare.

I draw Ponder and cast it, seeing two Spell Snare and Thirst for Knowledge. I would love another Spell Snare here, but do not want the other two cards as much as I want to dig for Swans. I take the Snare and put the Thirst and the other Snare back, then play Delta and prepare to shuffle.

Zoo hits with Fanatic and plays Shadow Guildmage. I crack Delta for Island (I think it’s more important to keep double Blue after a Blood Moon than to set up a future Explosives by fetching Watery Grave or Breeding Pool here) on end step, to shuffle away the unwanted cards from Ponder.

I untap and draw Firespout. With only two power on my opponent’s board, I am more interested in Thirsting here than in Spouting, so I play Steam Vents untapped and pass.

Zoo hits with two guys and passes with Helix mana up. I Thirst on end step, seeing another Firespout, an Island, and another Thirst. I certainly do not need two Firespouts, so I pitch one and contemplate what else to discard. My choices are Island, Thirst for Knowledge, my last Firespout, Spell Snare, and Chain of Plasma. I am digging for my combo here, so I don’t want to pitch the Chain or the Thirst. Since my opponent appears to be in burn mode already, I expect Tribal Flames and will want to keep Spell Snare.

As to Island versus Firespout, Firespout costs three mana and will not save me much life on this board, but Island helps me get closer to the magical six mana required to play Swans and go off in the same turn. If my opponent has Oblivion Ring, that could be really important. Pitch the Spout. Still on my end step, I am Helixed down to thirteen.

I untap and draw Simian Spirit Guide. Not what I was looking for, but still strong. Now if I Thirst into Swans and a land, I can definitely go off next turn. Play Island and pass.

Zoo attacks me to 11 and casts Tribal Flames. What’s my play?

I have been saving this Spell Snare explicitly for Tribal Flames, so I know I’m going to counter it.

…or do I? What if I cast Thirst for Knowledge first, and I see Swans, land, land? If I have already cast my Spell Snare, I have to pitch two cards from among Swans, land, land, Chain of Plasma, Simian Spirit Guide. Any way you slice that, I do not have six mana to go off next turn without a topdeck—and, more importantly, I won’t have the extra card in hand required to start the Chain of Plasma loop.

If, on the other hand, I cast Thirst in response to Tribal Flames and find what I need to go off, I can just pitch Spell Snare and my spare Thirst card (land number two or whatever else it might be), let the Flames take me to six, and win next turn. Naturally, if Thirst does not turn up what I need, I can still Spell Snare the Flames.

Thirst in response, seeing Breeding Pool, Flooded Strand, Spell Snare. Didn’t get there.

So now what do I pitch? With no card draw left in my hand, I am in topdeck mode; I have to dig in for a control role. I pitch the two lands to keep Simian Spirit Guide for blocking, then Spell Snare the Tribal Flames.

I untap and draw a redundant Chain of Plasma, which is not horrible. If the opponent plays a one-drop, especially Nacatl, it will be nice to have an answer.

Alternately, I could cast it right now to kill one of the 1/1s and then hold off the other with the 2/2 Guide next turn. If I did, which would I target, Mogg Fanatic or Shadow Guildmage?

If I go for Mogg Fanatic and my opponent sacrifices it in response, he cannot fork three damage at me, and if he lets it resolve so that he can fork the damage, I have made him discard a business spell (his hand is all business, as he has been missing land drops) and miss out on a point of Mogg Fanatic damage. If I do this, he can get past my impending 2/2 blocker by doming me directly with the Guildmage, but that will cost him a point of mana every turn when he is stuck on two lands, only one of which is a Red source. That sounds fine by me; I’d target the Fanatic.

Alternately, I can just play the Simian Spirit Guide. If I do, my opponent will crash Mogg Fanatic into it and kill it with damage on the stack if I block, but what if I don’t block? Well, then I’ll still keep taking one point of damage from Fanatic attacks over the next few turns (instead of Guildmage attacks), except he’ll be able to keep the one point of extra Mogg Your Dome damage in the bank. Definitely blocking, then.

One last thing to consider is that keeping the Guide in my hand does put me closer to six mana, although at this point I’d probably need to topdeck land, then Swan—in that order—for that to matter, since I am certainly playing a Swan as soon as I draw it here, no matter my mana situation.

It’s clear that playing the Guide and blocking will save me the most life, and the drawbacks seem pretty minimal, so I do that, leaving Spell Snare mana up.

Zoo casts Tarfire on my Guide (didn’t expect that!) and battles with both men. I am down to nine. Zoo then plays Flooded Strand, cracks it for Steam Vents, and plays Tribal Flames. I Spell Snare it.

I untap and draw Island. Do I play it here? If I do, the only play it would enable next turn would be Thirst into Firespout, but if I don’t, I can cast Chain of Plasma on something, then if he forks it, I can fork back. That doesn’t seem useful; I’m at nine life with Mogg Fanatic and Shadow Guildmage out. If I offer him the chance to fork twice, it will put me in easy burn range.

Speaking of which, now do I cast Chain of Plasma? If I do, I will kill a creature that can deal me, at most, two damage next turn, and I will take three damage for my troubles. That’s not worth it; I play the Island and pass.

Zoo beats me to seven and casts Tribal Flames to take me to two. I am several different flavors of dead next turn unless I draw Firespout or Engineered Explosives.

I draw Polluted Delta and die.

Zoo had a weak six-card hand to my five cards, but I still could have gotten there had I a Swan in the top third of my deck or a Blood Moon by turn 5 or so. Impressive!

This is the type of game where Mono-Blue outshines Swans; had those two copies of Chain of Plasma at the end of the game been any kind of utility creature – Vendilion Clique, Spellstutter Sprite, you name it – I would have dealt with the Fanatic and the Shadow Guildmage and would probably be up on cards and still in the game.

On the other hand, had the game dragged on for several more turns, a string of lands might have made Mono-Blue lose its grip, whereas a topdecked Swan on any but the final draw step of the game would have ended the game in favor of Swans. (Zoo didn’t have the Oblivion Ring, as it happened.)

Game 5

Opening Hand: (on the play)

Steam Vents
Chrome Mox
Engineered Explosives
Blood Moon
Thirst for Knowledge

Interesting. My instinct is to reach for my mulligan pistol, but this hand has a surprising amount of potential. Considering how many decks fold to early Blood Moon, and considering I’m on the play, a hand with nothing more to it than turn 2 Blood Moon plus Engineered Explosives to mop up whatever one-drop slipped through… can actually get there against a lot of decks.

On the flip side, if my opponent’s first-turn play indicates no fear of Blood Moon (e.g. Forest-go, Island-go, or Mountain-go), I can imprint Blood Moon instead and cast a turn 2 Thirst with an artifact to pitch (though I’d keep the Explosives no matter what if it was a Forest-go). That’s not nearly as busted an opening, but it is still okay, and I don’t think I can justify going to six over a hand that is either “busted” or “okay” depending on my opponent.

Island, go!

First out of the gates for Zoo is Stomping Ground and Kird Ape.

I draw another Chrome Mox, which is no help at all. I really wanted a spell here! I imprint Thirst on the Mox and play the Steam Vents untapped, then Blood Moon.

Zoo plays Overgrown Tomb and attacks me for one.

I draw another Mox. Do I Explode the Kird Ape here?

If I don’t, I might be able to catch a Mogg Fanatic or a second Ape in a turn or two. More relevantly, if my opponent plays Plains and Oblivion Ring on Blood Moon, I will want to explode actual threats like Tarmogoyf. That’s scary enough to at least deter me long enough to see what my opponent’s third-turn play is. Pass.

Zoo plays Windswept Heath and dings me with the Ape again.

I draw Ponder and play it, seeing Simian Spirit Guide, Ponder, and Thirst for Knowledge. All of those are good here! I take the Thirst and pass.

Zoo battles, then plays Windswept Heath and Seal of Fire. If he’s got a Plains coming, it will have to be off the top. I Thirst into Spirit Guide, Ponder, and Island, and pitch a Mox.

My draw is Cascade Bluffs. I Ponder into Breeding Pool, Blood Moon, Swans. Again, all of these are fine. With a backup Blood Moon I don’t have to worry about Oblivion Ring, and I can just kill him with a couple of Swan attacks from this position. I take the extra Moon and put the Swans on top.

If I just play Swans and hold onto my Explosives here, Zoo will Seal of Fire the Swans and draw two cards, one of which might be Oblivion Ring. I would be well-served to get that Seal out of there beforehand, especially when I can take out Kird Ape in the process for free.

I play Island and Explosives, detonating them for one immediately. Seal of Fire shoots me in response. I do not play Blood Moon this turn, because if I do, and he has the Plains and one Oblivion Ring, he will hold it for my Swans and I will be stuck with no action (and having used up two Ponders, a Thirst, and a Swans already) while he topdecks Who-Knows-What. No reason to give him outs here.

Zoo plays Bloodstained Mire.

I draw Swans and play them, along with Cascade Bluffs.

Zoo plays Wooded Foothills.

I draw Firespout, which would be an awesome card-drawer if I had Green mana. Instead I just beat for four and play Simian Spirit Guide.

Zoo casts Tribal Flames on the Swans to draw a card, then plays Flooded Strand.

I draw Condescend and knock Zoo to eight. I play Chrome Mox and imprint Blood Moon, so I can Condescend any attempts to Oblivion Ring my Swan even if he topdecks a land.

Zoo draws and plays Windswept Heath.

I draw and play Steam Vents untapped (so I can still Condescend Oblivion Ring if need be), then attack for two short of lethal.

Zoo draws and concedes.

This one was just a simple Blood Moon massacre. Zoo was never in this game at all.

Game 6

Opening hand (on the draw):

Flooded Strand
Flooded Strand
Spell Snare
Mana Leak
Chain of Plasma
Chain of Plasma

I’m fine with this hand. I have two pieces of countermagic, a combo piece, a poor man’s Incinerate, and a healthy dose of land. Keep.

Zoo plays Stomping Ground and Kird Ape.

I draw Spell Snare and play Island.

Zoo beats for two, then plays Bloodstained Mire and Kird Ape.

I draw Blood Moon and play Flooded Strand. Things are looking solid!

Zoo beats for four, then plays Temple Garden and Confidant. I Spell Snare it. Zoo plays Seal of Fire, and I crack my Strand for Steam Vents.

I draw Thirst For Knowledge, then play Flooded Strand and crack it for Island to play Blood Moon.

The board stands with me at 12 life, with Blood Moon, two Islands, and Steam Vents out. Zoo has three lands, two 1/1 Kird Apes, and Seal of Fire. Not bad!

Zoo beats me to ten and plays Jitte. Bad news.

I topdeck Firespout like I was born to do it. Man! Here I thought I was going to have to blow a Chain or two. I wipe the board and pass.

Zoo draws and ships it back.

I draw Conflagrate and pass.

Zoo still has no action. I Thirst on end step, drawing Explosives, Island, Watery Grave. I have an artifact — Explosives – should I pitch it?

If I decide not to, I could instead ditch some combination of Conflagrate, the spare Chain of Plasma, and land. Explosives is a reliable answer to Jitte, which makes it intriguing to keep around, but let’s be honest here – with Spell Snare, Mana Leak, hardcast Conflagrate, and a spare Chain, and Zoo with no castables and in topdeck mode, I do not have to worry about that Jitte. At this point I’d rather keep hold of my lands and make sure I can play my Swan around Oblivion Ring if need be.

I pitch Explosives and untap to draw another Firespout. I play Watery Grave and pass.

Zoo still has nothing.

I draw Swans. Do I play them with five lands out?

Certainly not. I have no reason at all to do that. I am at 12 life facing down Seal of Fire and Jitte with Mana Leak and Spell Snare in hand. If Zoo does anything I care about, I will easily deal with it, buying me another turn or two to topdeck the sixth land. On the other hand, if I just run the Swan out there and Zoo has been sandbagging Plains plus Oblivion Ring, I might actually lose this game.

Zoo plays Windswept Heath.

I draw Spell Snare and discard Conflagrate, the eighth card in my hand.

Zoo plays Wooded Foothills.

I draw Island and go off.


I ended up finishing the set 7-3, with two more close games (I barely lost one and barely pulled the other out), and another Blood Moon blowout.

I’m not sure how much space I’ll need to devote to the Mono-Blue matchup, but I’m pretty sure if I were to put any sideboard card in against Zoo beyond the fourth Blood Moon, it would be Magus of the Moon. Once that guy’s in play, Zoo has probably two cards (2 Seal of Fire, or 1 Seal and 1 Tarfire) that can kill it, and I don’t see them holding open Lighting Helix mana on their second or third turn “just in case.” They will, however, have Thoughtseize and possibly also Sundering Vitae, so redundant Blood Moon effects would definitely be awesome. I’d probably cut some combination of Condescends and Mana Leaks (in that order) to make room for as many copies of Magus as I could justify in the board.

The mirror is interesting, as it doesn’t matter whose Swan is in play, either player can combo off it. If you play your Swan and then Chain it in response, I will Chain in response to your Chain and we will have a counter war. (If you don’t play Chain right away, I will Chain on your end step and the same thing will happen.) If I win that war (and keep in mind you are down four mana and a card from having cast the Swan), I will draw 40 cards or so, and will easily use Spell Snare (or Pact of Negation – with two Simian Spirit Guides in hand, I’ll certainly be able to pay next upkeep) to counter your Chain while it is still on the stack. That said, I’m not sure I could see boarding out actual Swans for more control cards – there are already so many dead cards I’d want to board out first.

Between Ancient Grudge and Blood Moon (perhaps Magus?) for Tron and Affinity, and Firespout, Explosives, and a grip of counters for Elves (though I do need to watch out for Choke), I can’t think of any matchups I’d really be afraid to be paired against. I guess maybe G/B Death Cloud might be scary, but I have trouble taking such a mercilessly slow deck seriously in this format, even though it has put up a couple of high finishes.

Swans feels very solid. It has a creepy amount in common with the U/R Trix deck Kai Budde used to win his billionth Pro Tour (New Orleans) – Blue countermagic and card draw, Red removal, and a two-card combo, and it all seems to work very smoothly together. Count me in.

See you next week!

Richard Feldman
Team :S
[email protected]