Feature Article – Playing Zoo at Grand Prix: Madrid

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Friday, March 26th – Marijn Lybaert rocked to Grand Prix: Madrid with a Zoo deck and a desire for fun. While his Grand Prix performance didn’t set the world alight, he did learn some valuable lessons about beatdown in Magic’s Hottest Format. He shares his thoughts on the deck, and his play-by-play game walkthroughs, today!

As opposed to most other Belgians, my decision to go to Madrid was fairly easy. I love me some good old Legacy, and I just happen to like Spain more than most people. Little did I know this GP was going to be the biggest tournament ever. I guess I should have expected it…

My journey started Thursday morning. For unknown reasons, I had decided to book a flight with Ryanair, a company that sells low cost fares which are unbeatable. At least that’s what they try to let you think. First of all, they fly from Charleroi instead of Brussels (which takes another hour of public transport for most people in Belgium). On top of that, they make you pay if you want to take any luggage. They do have some good stuff too, though. They let you pick your place in the plane, for example, which, if you are smart enough, guarantees a nice woman sitting next to you. They also happen to have an in-flight magazine with ‘The Girls From Ryanair,’ which is just what you need when the nice looking girl next to you happens to be not so nice. On top of that, they arrest people for carrying spiced pork sausage in their hand luggage, and not for the knife they bring with it (true story). My flight from Charleroi to Madrid also happened to be a blast. We were flying on the same day as the soccer game FC Valencia — FC Brugge, and half our plane was filled with hooligans from Brugge. When one of them ordered a beer (which comes at the low cost of 5 euros), he paid by putting the money between the stewardess’s breasts. The look on her face was priceless.

Anyway, I was in Madrid to play Legacy. In preparation for the GP, I had played two GPTs, both with Zoo. The reason why I played Zoo was not because I thought it was the best deck, but because it was the deck which I could play without making numerous mistakes. It’s a pretty stupid excuse, but GPs in Europe tend to end near midnight on Saturday and start at 8am on Sunday, so I didn’t want to pick something with which I wasn’t familiar. One of the Belgians had a good Ad Nauseam list, but it had Doomsday in it and that card is simply too complicated for me. Every time I drew it I knew I could win, but I wanted to cycle it instead. I could also choose to play a version without Doomsday, but I’m pretty sure the version with Doomsday is just miles better, and I couldn’t see myself playing an inferior list. On top of that, I’d have to figure out how to sideboard all by myself with a deck I didn’t even know.

So if Ad Nauseam wasn’t going to seal the deal, I guess Wild Nacatl would have get me there. The idea of attacking with 3/3s in a format where people can kill you on turn 1 didn’t seem the best ever. But then again, I expected a good amount of Merfolk and Goblins at the GP, which were two of my best matchups. There weren’t a lot of Zoo lists floating around, so I had to base my list on the one Tom Ross used to win the StarCityGames.com Legacy Open in Dallas.

Here’s what I ran at GP: Madrid:

I don’t claim to be the Legacy Master, but I do play some tournaments from time to time, and there are also a lot of Legacy players in my area which are always willing to help me out. So I do have an idea of what’s going on, but the only problem was that none of the Belgians who had come to GP: Madrid planned on playing Zoo. I had to figure out things mostly by myself. For GP: Madrid, we were staying at a hostel and, coincidence or not, the place was filled with Magic players from all over the world. On Thursday and Friday I played a bunch of games, and to be honest, I wasn’t winning a whole lot. There were about 30 players at the hostel, and none of them was playing Merfolk. The place was filled with Rock, Enchantress, Dredge, Pro Bant, and a bunch of weird decks I had never seen before. I wasn’t playing any Sylvan Library at that moment because I felt the card was not what you wanted in a beatdown deck, but when I tried it out versus Rock and Pro Bant it turned out to be awesome. Against most slow decks the life loss doesn’t really matter, and this card turns into Ancestral Recall for 1G on the first turn you play it, and a free Sensei’s Divining Top on all of the next turns. I didn’t know what to cut for it, but while playing against all those different decks I noticed that Grim Lavamancer wasn’t very good against most of them. I decided to go down to 2 Grim Lavamancer without really realizing what an impact that had on my Merfolk matchup. My sideboard was build to beat ANT (Ad Nauseam Tendrils), Dredge/Reanimator and the mirror.

4pm, Round 4 against Filipe Manzano.

I’d been awake for 9 hours at this point, but had yet to play my first match of the day. Things were going really slowly with so many people, but at least I chose to play Zoo and not Ad Nauseam.

My first opponent was a friendly guy from Portugal who was playing Pro Bant. I won the die roll and kept a hand with 2 Loam Lion, Tarmogoyf, Qasali and some lands. His draw was rather slow and I was able to beat him down to 4 life when he played Natural Order fetching Progenitus. I was holding Lightning Bolt at that time, so any burn is good, but I draw another guy instead. I can Lightning Bolt him now and put him at 1 or attack, kill his Tarmogoyf while attacking, and have him dead next turn unless he has two creatures. He also had a Hierarch, with which he would have to chump that turn. I chose the second option, but when he had 2 guys on the next turn he was still at 4 life, and I lost some turns later when he assembled Counterbalance + Top. I believe I would have won this game if one of my 2 Lions was a Wild Nacatl.

I sideboard 2 Red Elemental Blast and 1 Swords to Plowshares for 3 Chain Lightning.

This game didn’t take very long, and still I managed to screw it up completely. My draw was slow, and since he kept his 7 without thinking, I had the idea he was already holding Natural Order. On his turn 2, he played a Qasali Pridemage and followed it up a turn later with Noble Hierarch. I was holding double Path at that time, and had a Qasali myself, and a Loam Lion. I wanted to attack with both so I Path to Exiled his Pridemage, swung for 4, and used the second Path on his Noble Hierarch in an attempt to keep him off Natural Order into Progenitus. He looked a little confused at my play, and when he fetched a Dryad Arbor with the Misty Rainforest he had in play, I realized my mistake. Progenitus came in next turn, and I was basically drawing dead.

What I should have done is attack with Qasali and Loam Lion and hope that he would have blocked with his own Qasali. That way I could have killed his Hierarch and Dryad Arbor (if he fetched in my turn, like he did) and hope he didn’t have an extra guy to go with his Natural Order. He did have a Tarmogoyf on the next turn, but at least I could have tried…

5:15pm, Round 5 against a girl from Spain (De Nova De La Mata Si, according to sideboard.com)

I hope Si doesn’t mind if I call her Simona for the rest of this article. I can’t believe her real name is Si, and Simona looks like a well-suited name for this woman.

Simona was playing Merfolk and mulliganed into Mutavault + spells game 1. She drew her second land, another Mutavault, the turn after she died. I wasn’t 100% sure what she was playing at that moment, as she had only played a Force of Will fetching a Daze, but she was kind enough to show me the next five cards she would have drawn.

I sideboarded in 1 Umezawa’s Jitte, 1 Swords to Plowshares, 2 Red Elemental Blast for 2 Gaddock Teeg and 2 Chain Lightning.

Game 2 was weird. Simona played turn 1 Aether Vial but forgot to put a counter on it on her second turn. That didn’t stop her from drawing two Mind Harness, but things were still looking good. My board was Wild Nacatl + Loam Lion versus her Vial (with three counters by that time), Silvergil Adept and my Knight of Reliquary. She was holding one card so I killed the Knight with Lightning Bolt (she could pay for another 5 turns) and attacked with both my guys. At the end of my turn she flashed a 7/7 Wake Thrasher in play, and suddenly things were looking really bad. My next two draws featured lands, and we were on to game 3. If I hadn’t killed the Knight I could have killed the Wake Thrasher and probably would have won, as she drew only useless guys after that and would have had to give my Knight back eventually. I still think it was the correct play, as she was dead within 2 turns.

The last game was pretty dramatic. I mulled into Windswept Heath, triple Loam Lion, Goyf, Bolt. I’m still not sure if I should have kept, but I did. My turn 1 Savannah got Wastelanded and I never drew another land after that. Had I gone for a Plains instead of Savannah, I might have won because I drew Path to Exile two turns later, and perhaps could have tricked Simona by making my Loam Lions 2/3 during combat. I don’t think triple Loam Lion on their own can get me there with just one land, so searching up Plains was probably better.

6:30pm, Round 6 against Roberto Manchado from Spain

Awake for 11.5 hours and yet to win a match that day… but when I rolled 20 to go first, I just knew the tide had turned. I was playing against Dream Halls. Not really the matchup I was hoping for, but I wouldn’t give up so quickly; I just needed to draw my Gaddock Teegs.

And so I did. Both games I drew Gaddock Teeg and he never got rid of them until it was too late. In game 1 he killed it with Bogardan Hellkite (off a Show and Tell), but he was dead next turn. In game 2 my opponent played a turn 1 Lim-Dul’s Vault and kept the first 5 he saw. I was a little bit worried but could still hope he had made a mistake and didn’t play around my turn 2 Gaddock Teeg. And that is exactly what happened. It turned out he had Force of Will and Dream Halls in his first 5 cards but didn’t put the Force on top. My Teeg connected and rode me to victory.

Here is how I sideboarded: +2 Ranger of Eos +2 Red Elemental Blast -3 Chain Lightning -1 Path to Exile

Sideboarding Ranger of Eos might seem weird, but if he goes for Show and Tell I can put it into play for free and fetch up 2 Wild Nacatl which might give me a chance to win the race versus his big guy.

Yay! Only 7pm and I had won my first match. Nothing would stop me now.

7:45pm, Round 7 against Gonzalez D from Spain

I rolled 20 again, but so did Gonzalez. Sigh. Good thing I won our second attempt. Gonzalez was around 40 years old and was from a small town in Spain. He happened to play Legacy every week in his town, and had brought maybe the nicest deck I encountered during the whole weekend.

Game 1, G.D. was stuck on one mana after I killed his Birds and he couldn’t profit from his Survival of the Fittest. I thought he was just running some sort of Bant + Survival deck until he discarded Magister Sphinx to search Shield Sphere with his survival. I had no clue what was going on but he was already low on life and I killed him 2 turns later.

I obviously didn’t know how to sideboard but figured it had to be some sort of Reanimator so I sideboarded in my Bojuka Bog and one Tormod’s Crypt.

Game 2 was one of the best games I played for a while. Gonzalez his deck was on full speed when he yet again resolved a turn 2 Survival. He fetched up Anger, than Sharuum, than Magister Sphinx and finally Tidehollow Sculler to protect his combo. Good thing I was holding Lightning Bolt and 2 Path to Exile so he couldn’t go for it yet. On his next turn Gonzalez played Shield Sphere, got Goblin Welder with Survival, and played it. I had about 10,000 options at that time. I had drawn Qasali Pridemage so could kill both his artifacts in response to the Goblin Welder, and kill him next turn. I only had 2 mana left though so I couldn’t play my Path to Exile anymore if I did that. If I didn’t kill his two artifacts he would get Sharuum into Magister Sphinx (going back to 10 life), and I could kill those two but that would let him have an active Welder. I could also kill one of his big guys and the Welder, but that way I couldn’t get passed his other 5/5. Needless to say I had no clue what to do. I decided to go for the first plan and pray he didn’t have anything else. One Exhume later we were on to game 3.

The last game was rather stupid, as Gonzalez stumbled on mana again I killed him before he could do anything.

After the match, he showed me all the combos in his deck. Apparently he was also running Progenitus and Loyal Retainers in his deck. Gonzalez was all smiles though, and was happy he could drop to catch the bus and go home after an exhausting day.

9pm, Round 8 against Christian Donner from Germany

I was getting really tired and I screwed up big time this round. I made at least 3 crucial mistakes, and they probably cost me the match.

Christian was playing Aggro Loam, but somehow I managed to win game 1 after that he destroyed all my guys and lands with Devastating Dreams. He just kept drawing lands while I drew land, land, Goyf, land, Knight of the Reliquary.

In game 2 and 3 he twice tricked me with Wasteland (making my Nacatls smaller) and I forgot to play my Tormod’s Crypt before I killed his Kitchen Finks so it came back, gained him 2 life, and killed my 2/2 Nacatl. I probably made another 10 mistakes that round, and as a result the games weren’t very close. I dropped, rather disappointed.

Despite going 2-3, I still feel like Zoo is a good choice in Legacy. My sideboard was build to beat ANT, Dredge/Reanimator, and the mirror, but I didn’t get to play any of those decks. I might have won versus Merfolk if I had gotten a bit more luck, and I lost the last round because I played really badly.

My list was fine, but it definitely needs 4 Grim Lavamancer. I would probably cut a land and a Chain Lightning for it. The sideboard seemed okay, although it could have used something extra against Merfolk. Probably Volcanic Fallout or some extra Red Elemental Blasts (which are also good in a number of other matchups).

Luckily, Madrid was a blast. On Sunday I had a lot of fun gunslinging (inventing a French, an English, and a Belgian version of Rock Paper Scissors), and the people I was with were just awesome. I’m already looking forward to the next 2000+ Legacy GP!

Thanks for reading!