Once again, I am playing the Tribal Zoo deck against a Thopter combo deck piloted by Antoine. However, this time his deck doesn’t feature a ton of rather slow tutors and the Dark Depths / Vampire Hexmage combo. I don’t expect the matchup to be bad for Zoo, as it is very hard for the Zoo deck to have a bad matchup unless the opponent’s deck is built specifically to beat Zoo. Unlike the rather easy matchup against the Depths/Foundry deck, I expect the games to be harder post-board because White has a ton of good answers to fast starts in the format, while Blue/Black-based decks struggle to find anything better than Deathmark. My choice of deck list was simple: it’s the version I posted in the previous article in which I played against Antoine. As a reminder, here is the deck list.
- 4 Tarmogoyf
- 2 Ranger of Eos
- 4 Wild Nacatl
- 4 Knight of the Reliquary
- 2 Qasali Pridemage
- 1 Goblin Guide
- 4 Steppe Lynx
- 4 Loam Lion
I expect the games to go like a usual Beatdown versus Control matchup. My plan for the first games will be to goldfish the early turns and then, if the situation allows it, I’ll play around some of the counterspells like Spell Snare or Mana Leak. I will not play around any Wrath effects, as there are not enough of those for me to really worry about him having one at any given time. If he does, it will obviously be good for him.
The decklist Antione is playing:
The Preboard Games (13 wins with 9 wins on the play, 11 losses)
Having a one-drop didn’t turn out as important as it did in the Baneslayer Zoo versus Fae matchup, or the Tribal Zoo versus Thopter/Dephts matchup. Both on the play and on the draw, having a creature on turn 2 is fast enough if your draw is creature-heavy. The three-damage burn spells are very close to blanks, and Path to Exile is more or less a total blank. There are a few scenarios in which it does something, such as using it like a burn spell if you have multiple Steppe Lynxes, or to fight one of the Thopter tokens if they don’t have enough mana to produce a ton of them. Tribal Flames is decent, but gets a lot better in multiples. Still, the card is not super-exciting. An all-star in the games was Ranger of Eos and, looking back at the games, I think I could’ve won one or two more if the singleton Goblin Guide was a Goblin Bushwhacker instead. The Goblin Guide is providing very poor results in this particular matchup, as it doesn’t really end up in a race, and it’s even worse if the control player can deal with all your threats. If you have Goblin Guide, you are providing them with more solutions, as they will draw fewer blanks, and that doesn’t make up for the two extra damage you will get in over a Loam Lion.
The card you should definitely attempt to save from countermagic is Qasali Pridemage. It is able to delay his win condition for several turns. The amount of Thopters he is able to produce in a single turn can stall the board for a few turns, but they are usually not enough for a win immediately. Killing a Mox or one of the artifact lands can be decent if your opponent is missing land drops, but before it is proven that he is, or if it’s my third turn on the play, I wouldn’t sacrifice this powerful weapon to try and randomly screw my opponent.
-3 Lightning Bolt
-2 Lightning Helix
-4 Path to Exile
+1 Ghost Quarter
+3 Damping Matrix
+1 Ancient Grudge
I tried to remove as many of the blank spells as possible, but one of the Lightning Bolts ended up staying in for want of something better. Keeping two Path to Exiles might be better than bringing in Ghost Quarter, as your opponent might be running Kitchen Finks and/or Baneslayer Angel.
The Postboard Games (9 wins with 4 wins on the play, 17 losses)
The results show a pattern, but they are far from definitive. During the games we played post-board, I mulliganed unusually often, and I got stuck on one or two lands a great deal. I don’t think the Blue/White deck is a huge favorite, but I think it is a slight favorite. They don’t have as many dead cards as you, and their solutions are fast and effective enough to give the Zoo deck a fair amount of trouble.
In the first few post-board games, Antoine was boarding in Pulse of the Fields. If you are on the Tribal Zoo side, you should not worry about that card at all, and if you are a Tezzeret player with a copy or two of the card in your sideboard, I suggest you don’t bother boarding the card in against Tribal Zoo at all. With all the splash damage from Fetchlands, Shocklands, and other effects like Thoughtseize (or even Dark Confidant), it is very unlikely that you’ll play the card more than once.
The Thoughtseizes I boarded in for the matchup were very disappointing. The majority of the time it was forcing them to discard a solution for one of my threats, but I would Time Walk myself by casting it, as I would spend one mana which doesn’t help me curve out perfectly… Thus my opponent doesn’t need to play a solution for an additional threat. If there is a decent amount of U/W Control style decks in your metagame, you should definitely get rid of the Thoughtseizes in the sideboard and replace them with better disruption, especially disruption that counts as a threat as well, like Meddling Mage or additional Qasali Pridemages. The card Thoughtseize itself plays pretty simply: you just target a solution to one of the threats you have in hand, if he doesn’t have another way of dealing with it. It is very good at protecting your Damping Matrix.
Damping Matrix itself is decent, but not exactly awesome, unlike it is in the Thopter/Depths matchup. The Blue/White player has a lot of solutions to your threats, and preventing them from winning doesn’t help a lot if you are not able to win yourself. Eventually he will draw a solution to the Matrix, and you’ll lose in a heartbeat. When he doesn’t manage to get rid of all your threats, and when his only answer is the combo, the card is amazing (for obvious reasons). But with the amount of non-threat cards you are running post-board, including Thoughtseize, Tribal Flames, and the Matrix, it becomes surprisingly easy for him to get rid of all your threats. This makes the Matrix decent, but still worse than most attacking threats.
Qasali Pridemage is a lot better in post-board games than in pre-board games, for two reasons. The first is that, with a Matrix on the table, Oblivion Ring is not a good enough solution for the combo-stopping artifact. The second reason, which is less obvious, is that most of your threats that trade with his Kitchen Finks usually don’t if you have the exalted bonus from the Pridemage. This makes Kitchen Finks a lot worse against you, and you are almost at the point where you almost don’t care about the card at all.
Ancient Grudge was one of the cards that was either absolutely fantastic or useless. In the games where Antoine drew one of the artifact lands, or had to play Chrome Mox, the card was excellent, especially when Antoine was playing first. In the games where he wasn’t drawing any artifact mana at all, the card was very close to a blank. Playing Qasali Pridemage over the flashback instant might be a lot more solid, but if you need to win the tournament, in a one-slot PTQ for example, I think playing Ancient Grudge might provide you with more first places.
After playing these games, I would definitely switch back to Meddling Mages over Thoughtseize. You might lose value against Scapeshift Combo, but that deck doesn’t seem that huge a part in the metagame right now. When the disruption you are playing is a threat at the same time, it is so much harder for your opponent to deal with both your threats and disruption. I wouldn’t mind trying Goblin Bushwhacker over Goblin Guide, but I could see it being worse in some matchups, like Faeries. One of the few synergies Goblin Guide had in the post-board game was when it was combined with another singleton, Ghost Quarter. When your opponent is revealing a solution for a threat for which he doesn’t have another solution, Ghost Quarter gets upgraded to Strip Mine.
After discussing Zoo Style decks in a number of articles, I am now sure that you should adjust your sideboard to your metagame, and that there is no definite solution. A lot of cards you can bring in are just a lot better in a few matchups, even though they have a very similar effects as other cards you could be playing instead.
Next week I will be talking about my Pro Tour matches in San Diego. I played Jund to a decent, but not great, result. Playing the deck was the most skillful Magic I’ve had to play in a while, and I especially loved playing the Jund mirrors. More about that next week.
I hope you enjoyed the article. Good luck!