Taking Zoo To The Finals Of Pittsburgh

Dan Musser fell to Gerry Thompson in the finals of the Pittsburgh Legacy Open but defeated a steady stream of opposition on his way to the top with Zoo. Find a good list for Richmond this weekend!

(Shakes hands with Brian Braun-Duin)

“Good luck in the Top 8,” I said, slightly disheartened, as I lost my bubble match on the first day of the StarCityGames.com Pittsburgh Open Weekend. It was the first time I’d ever been in contention for the elimination rounds of an SCG event all the way into the final round, and it felt good to make it that far. Losing in the last round took me all the way from 10th to 18th place, missing out on the top 16 prize.

Let’s rewind a bit. My tournament started off with a disappointing 1-1 before I fired off six wins in a row, taking me to 10th place as the final round paired. With just over 400 people, it was an awkward nine rounds, and only a couple matches were able to draw confidently. My breakers from my mediocre start, plus the fact that I was paired down, meant that I would be forced to play for my seat in the Top 8. Well…I’ve already told you how that worked out for me. I was disappointed with how my Standard tournament ended, getting so close to the Top 8 and not making it. This was mostly because I did not think I could do nearly as well in the Legacy portion. It turns out I was wrong.

Let’s rewind just a bit more. If you have read two paragraphs already and have not stopped reading, then this would be a good point to introduce myself. My name is Dan Musser (Start saying it like Muscle and finish it off with how you would say Sir; listening to the coverage guys say my name was frustrating. No offense, Ari, Adrian, and Judges!), and I play Magic: The Gathering fairly regularly at a semi-competitive level. I live in the Akron-Cleveland area of Ohio and frequent PTQs and most GPs within 10 hours driving distance. Pittsburgh marked my fourth SCG Open Weekend this year. If Magic were a job, my resume would look something like this:

6 PTQ Top 8s, one win (played at PT Paris 2011)
1 GP Day Two (Columbus 2010)
1 States Top 8 (Pittsburgh 2009)
Level 3 SCG Player’s Club (multiple top 32s, a top 16, 3rd in a Draft Open, and 2nd in Legacy Open)
Qualified for the $75k Invitational in Chicago via a local qualifying tournament

Which doesn’t seem like much, but is pretty decent considering I played my first PTQ around the release of Alara Reborn. I am 26 years old with a Master’s Degree in Applied Mathematics and have a full-time job teaching math to college students. I also own a house and have a girlfriend, not to mention a brand new kitty named Esper! But enough of both excuses and introductions, on to Sunday!

I had planned on playing some version of Zoo for Sunday, as Zoo is the deck I have been playing since last year’s GP in Columbus. However, I struggled deciding on a build for this weekend. Should I play Caleb Durward’s Blue Zoo from SCG Cincinnati? Blue Zoo seems more like a whole different style of deck, and I was not sure I would be able to play it successfully given near zero testing. How about Pat Sullivan’s super aggressive one-drop Zoo from the SCG Invitational or Pat Cox more midrange Zoo that actually won the SCG Invitational? Cox’s build seemed worse than the one-drop version if there was going to be a lot of combo, but Sullivan’s list is generally worse against decks with, say, Tarmogoyfs and other big dudes. All I wanted to do was attack with kitties and burn faces.

I decided that I would just play some kind of Almost-Really-Fast-But-Still-Able-To-Deal-With-Opposing-Goyf Zoo:

I wanted to run Path in the main to make sure I could deal with opposing Goyfs. This was one of “one-drop” Zoo’s biggest problems and something that I had issues with while playing a list closest to Pat Sullivan’s. I also wanted to make sure I played a burn spell that could get around Mental Misstep, since I knew NO RUG would be popular, and I needed to make sure I could reliably keep them on zero creatures.

Lightning Helix to the rescue! This card gets around Mental Misstep and can even win a race with Progenitus! Not to mention it’s insane in any mirror match or versus other aggressive strategies.

It is also worth noting that I ran a full set of basics and two Wastelands. Wasteland is actually more like a spell in this deck than a land. Zoo is known for punishing slow starts and inconsistent draws, and this card just helps you push that edge even farther. There is no question why Wasteland is pulling $70+ dollars; it literally wins you some games all by itself. This is why I also decided I wanted a full set of basics in the deck.

All these decisions brought me eerily close to Pat Cox list from his latest SCG article, with the exception of maindeck Qasali Pridemage and Wasteland. I love me some kittens, but looking at the results from SCG Seattle, it did not seem necessary for him to be in the main. Plus, I was already straining my mana base with Lightning Helix AND Wasteland AND basics; adding maindeck Qasali Pridemage would just be asking for trouble. Naturally this leads me to my sideboard:

2 Qasali Pridemage (now asking for trouble) – There are still Stoneforge Mystics and Mono-Blue Control decks and all kinds of reasons you could want this guy; he made the 75 regardless of being hard to cast.

1 Ancient Grudge – This was like the 3rd Pridemage but infinitely easier to cast and harder for the opponent to deal with.

4 Red Elemental Blast – This seems pretty standard now, good in all kinds of matchups from Merfolk to Hive Mind to MUC and even decent against Reanimator it turns out!

2 Tormod’s Crypt – My nod to Dredge and Reanimator.

2 Phyrexian Metamorph ­Progenitus and Emrakul are still big problems, but even better, this guy is Goyf 5-6! He is just a good creature if your opponent has any creatures bigger than your cats and monkeys.

2 Gaddock Teeg – I knew NO RUG would be a presence this weekend and wanted another card vs. them, even if my matchup is not terrible. Stopping Zeniths and NO and even Forces is nice. Not to mention he gives you extra game against Dredge and is insane against the obviously present (more foreshadowing) Pattern of Rebirth/NO/Hulk.

1 Path to Exile – I never ever want to lose to opposing Goyfs…ever.

1 Umezawa’s Jitte – Just an insurance card versus opposing creature decks. Either kills their Jitte or kills all their guys.

Hopefully there are enough words to describe some of the decisions on my card choices. I just tried to pick cards with a wide variety of uses and hoped for the best! As it turns out, I was pretty sure I was going to be right about Sunday being worse than Saturday after my first round loss to…

Round 1 – Brian Coval, Bloodbraid Elf RUG

RUG is generally a good matchup for Zoo, and the Bloodbraid Elf version is usually even better than NO since they can’t run any Daze or Mental Misstep.

The theory turned out to be true when I wrecked him game one. He was never really in the game, and I was able to resolve many creatures and keep most of his dudes off the table with burn spells. The unfortunate part about this match was that I thought he was actually playing NO RUG, since I never really gave him the chance to get to four mana…

In – 2 Metamorph, 2 Teeg, 1 Path
Out – 4 Goblin Guide, 1 Lightning Helix

Game 2 Brian was able to lock me out of the game with a super early Jitte followed by many a Bloodbraid Elf into Ancestral Vision and/or Brainstorm, and he eventually stole my Goyf with a Sower of Temptation! It’s worth noting again that I had no idea he was Bloodbraiding this game and was playing around unnecessary cards like Misstep and Daze…it’s sad when you win game one too fast.

In – 2 Red Elemental Blast (Visions, Sower, Jace, Force, Clique, Ice)
Out – 2 Gaddock Teeg (whoops!)

Game 3 I had to mulligan on the play and kept a very sketchy six in Wooded Foothills, 3 Lightning Bolt, 1 Chain Lightning, 1 Path to Exile. My flawed reasoning was that I could kill all of his creatures until I drew one, but I definitely should have mulled to five. Brian landed a turn 2 Sylvan Library and proceeded to filter his draws every single turn of the game while I drew my first creature, a Kird Ape, on something like turn 8 or 9 after he played multiple Bloodbraids and Goyfs and Vendilion Cliques and was probably holding something like 100 Lightning Bolts from the infinite cards he had drawn with nothing to use them on…frown. Needless to say I killed a million of his dudes but couldn’t keep up with his card drawing with no pressure on my side, and he was able to Jace me out of the game.


Round 2 Piper Avalokita, NO RUG (for real this time!)

Piper turned out to be a friend of my friend John Sava who top 16s every weekend with Athens/Kronenberger Mono-Blue Control, and we had a jovial bit of chit chat before we got down to bizniz… (Unfortunately John didn’t top 16 this weekend…sorry buddy!)

I won game one and forgot most of the plays besides the following in game two. My board was Wild Nacatl, Grim Lavamancer, Plateau, Taiga, Savannah to Piper’s Goyf, Noble Hierarch, untapped Volcanic, and untapped Misty Rainforest. There were instants and lands in Piper’s yard and nothing but lands in my yard. I had Chain Lightning in hand and decided that I could Chain Lightning his Goyf and remove the Chain and a land with Lavamancer to kill his Hierarch while making the Goyf smaller and killing it too…seems sick right? Unfortunately he fetched for a second Volcanic Island and copied the Chain Lightning targeting my Lavamancer. I was unsure where the actual Chain Lightning was at this point in the game, and we called a judge. I asked if I could activate the Lavamancer to remove the Chain Lightning from my graveyard before the copy killed my Lavamancer, and he said the Lavamancer would die and then the Chain Lightning would be in the graveyard. His Goyf lived; my Lavamancer died; and I lost the game soon after.

My normal board play for NO RUG is:

In – 2 Gaddock Teeg, 1 Path, 2 Metamorph
Out – 4 Goblin Guide, 1 Lightning Helix or Chain Lightning depending on my mood

After recalling that, all I can really remember is that I nutted him out game 3 with some insane dude; dude, burn your dude; dude, dude, burn your dude, draw.

After our match, the judge came back and told us that he was wrong about his ruling and that Chain Lightning creates a copy Chain Lightning that gets put on the stack and resolves separately from the original Chain Lightning, which would allow me to remove it with the Lavamancer in time to kill both his creatures. Good thing I won!


Round 3 Ben Sturtz, Reanimator

We sat down and got to business pretty quickly. It turned out Ben was playing Reanimator, which generally steamrolls Zoo.

Game one I started off with a Kird Ape into Wild Nacatl and Loam Lion, and all he could find was an Inkwell Leviathan, which was not enough to race my army of animals backed up by burn.

In – 2 Tormod’s Crypt, 1 Path to Exile, 2 Phyrexian Metamorph, 3 Red Elemental Blasts
Out – 4 Lightning Helix, 4 Tarmogoyf (not sure if this is right, but these don’t seem to be fast enough)

Game two I was on the draw, and I kept a hand with Metamorph and Tormod’s Crypt and a one-drop with some lands. I played my land and played Crypt, and he let it through with a groan, Misstepping my one-drop on the next turn. Unfortunately, I couldn’t draw into enough pressure, and he was able to force me to use the Crypt with a reanimate on an Elesh Norn. Next turn, he cast Animate Dead for a Jin-Gitaxias, and I had no choice but to pray I could Metamorph it. He let it resolve, sending both to the yard.

However, after drawing seven, he was able to put together another reanimate on Jin-Gitaxias. All I had on board at this point was a Kird Ape, and I got to topdeck a Goblin Guide while he was gripping seven a turn. My new hope of winning this game turned into decking him, trying to race Jin-Gitaxias killing me and hoping he was not ballsy enough reanimate another dude. Here was where things got interesting…and apparently illegal!

Ben cast Exhume, and I thought I had found an opening to race his card drawing; it looked like he was going to get back Sphinx of the Steel Wind, since his other choice was Hapless Researcher, and I had a Metamorph in the yard! In my head I thought I would copy his Sphinx and then try to trade with it if he blocked. Then I would be at enough life to race his dwindling deck. Well it turned out that both cards came into play at the same time, and it was not actually possible to copy the Sphinx… What is super unfortunate is that neither of us knew this, and the game continued as is, with no one telling us that it was actually not possible. Anyway, he attacked, and I traded with the Sphinx, going to seven after Jin hit me. Then the worst happened…he Reanimated his Sphinx AND Show and Tell-ed a Blazing Archon into play. He passed the turn with nine cards left in his deck, and I died.

We proceeded to game 3 where I started off with a Kird Ape, to his uncracked fetchland. I played Wild Nacatl and attacked for two; he cracked his fetch and cast Brainstorm, which I responded to with Red Elemental Blast and saw him immediately deflate. Turns out he was banking on that Brainstorm pretty hard and passed the next turn with no plays. I proceeded to add to my board, and he bricked again and died on my turn.

I was actually happy (after the fact) that I lost the game where we had an illegal play. Winning in that fashion would be really dishonorable. But now I know more, and you know what they say about knowing…

Anyway, the next four rounds were a series of bittersweet events as I battled friends, comrades, and acquaintances.

Round 4 Erick Stone, Trainwreck aka Black/Green Cabal Coffers/Staff of Domination Deck

Erick is another friend of my friend Bobby Kovacs who is a Lands master and Top 32ed this weekend. Erick told me what he was playing and is a somewhat casual player and was surprised that he was 2-1 with a deck he borrowed the night before from Bobby.

Game one he killed all of my creatures with everything from Damnation to Innocent Blood to Diabolic Edict to Maelstrom Pulse and was able to assemble double Cabal Coffers after drawing a million cards with a Scepter of Domination. Finally he Beseeched the Queen for a Consume Spirit and hit me for 22!

In – 2 Gaddock Teeg
Out – 2 Path to Exile

I was pretty sure he played almost no creatures. Game two, he killed the first handful of creatures I played. Luckily I had a few more creatures than he had removal and was able to get him to zero before he locked me out with his staff.

Game three, he got stuck on only black lands with no Coffers and was able to Innocent Blood and edict my first two creatures. After that I landed two Wild Nacatls and proceeded to pray he doesn’t rip a green source for the Maelstrom Pulse likely in his hand. Sure enough, he bricked on land number four AND green land long enough for me to claw him to death. Afterwards he showed me Maelstrom Pulse, Damnation, and Pernicious Deed…talk about getting lucky!


At this point the StarCityGames.com Louisville Legacy open Champion, MUC innovator, Ginger Twin, testing partner, road trip mate and friend, Chris Kronenberger, lost his first round of the day and told me we were paired together…sad pandas.

Round 5 Chris Kronenberger, NO RUG

We were testing the match the night before, and he was rolling me when I was playing the one-drop Zoo version akin to Pat Sullivan’s list. I could never kill a Tarmogoyf, of which he played a thousand thanks to Green Sun’s Zenith. Anyway, the version I decided on for the actual tournament was much better equipped to deal with such things, and we started our battle.

Game one Chris was able to deal with enough of my early guys to land a few Tarmogoyfs, one of which turned into a Progenitus that I was in no position to race, and we moved to game two.

Sideboarding is same as round 2.

Game two was a long battle where I landed an early Lavamancer and was able to keep him off of all his creatures, even his Goyfs! When he was at about ten, he ripped a Zenith and tapped five to get a Thrun, which is bad news for my Lavamancer/Goyf board with no cards in hand.

Luckily he couldn’t really swing in, and I had a few cards in my yard to start burning him with Lavamancer. I got him to eight, and he ripped another Zenith for Goyf, and his board got to the point where he could start attacking with Thrun with his one card in hand. The next couple turns got me some fetchlands to keep my burn-him-to-death dream alive, and I was able to get him to two with zero cards in my yard or hand.

At this point he swung with Thrun when I had a Goyf and Lavamancer out and no cards in my hand. Goyf was a 3/4 and would die if I blocked Thrun, giving me a large number of outs to kill him with Lavamancer or a burn spell on my next turn. Unfortunately I didn’t block and just took the damage, going to ten, which caused him to Natural Order his Thrun into a Progenitus and pass the turn. Now I had to draw a burn spell, or I was dead…I ripped a fetch.

So I was literally dead on board and decided to swing with Goyf into his Goyf + Progenitus for fun. Chris did the unthinkable. For some reason he thought I had some uber-next-level plan, and he snap blocked with Progenitus, killing my Goyf, and I physically threw my fetch into my yard and tapped my Lavamancer. I felt like a JEDI, PEW-PEW MIND BULLETS!

Obviously Chris went on immediate life tilt but felt better (after the match) when I pointed out that had I played correctly and blocked with the Tarmogoyf, I would have won anyway.

Chris was on FBT (Full-Blown Tilt) for game 3 and kept a Forest, double-Hierarch hand and scooped shortly after me killing the second one having not drawn a second land with my Kird Ape and Nacatl out.

Sometimes when you punt, they punt right back! It sucked to have to knock a friend out of Top 8 contention, but every once in a while, luck pairs you against a buddy even in a room of 200.


Speaking of luck…

Round 6 Jonathan Benson, R/B Goblins

Jonathan is another of the friends I was there with this weekend. He and I have been playing together for a couple years, and we even play local FNMs together. Getting paired against another really good friend was a dagger indeed. The Top 8 would be out of reach for at least one of us after this round (not me!).

Game one started with me fetching a Taiga and playing a Kird Ape. Since I knew he had Tarfire, I did not want to drop the Nacatl in my hand. Jon played a fetch, cracked it, played Aether Vial, and passed. Next turn I played a fetchland and dropped the Nacatl, which I instantly regretted since now he could Tarfire in response to my fetching up a Plateau. I attacked and passed without fetching, hoping he would tap out on his turn. He just played a Lackey and said go, leaving mana open. I drew and couldn’t find another land, so I have to attack and crack my fetch before damage. Jon obviously responded with Tarfire on the Nacatl, which I responded to with a sigh.

I dropped a Tarmogoyf to block and finish the turn. Jon Vialed in a Warren Instigator at the end of turn. He thought for a minute on his turn, dropped a Goblin Chieftain, and passed to my 4/5 Goyf. I drew and swung into his Instigator/Lackey/Chieftain board with the Ape and Goyf. He took it all, going to nine.

I passed the turn with double Lightning Helix and a Lightning Bolt in hand and figured that even if he got insane with his free Goblin triggers next turn, I could still just burn him out. Jon put Vial on four, cheated in a Ringleader, and proceeded to reveal Mountain, Vial, Mountain, Lackey. He attacked with his Lackey and Instigator, cheating in another Lackey and another Instigator and then played his last card, which was another Lackey! I Helixed him at the end of turn and bricked on my land draw. I thought for a minute and just attacked with the Goyf. Jonathan blocked with the Chieftain and Ringleader, and I contemplated wasting a burn spell for the 2-1 but decide it was smarter to just kill him when he gave the turn back and allowed the Goyf to trade with his two creatures. Sure enough, Jon couldn’t find something insane on his draw step and passed. I show him the burn spells, and we went to game 2.

In – 1 Path to Exile, 1 Umezawa’s Jitte, 2 Qasali Pridemage
Out – 4 Goblin Guide (You must take this card out at all costs; it pumps Incinerators)

I had to mulligan for game two but started off with an early Lavamancer. We played draw-go for a little while. I was attacking with the Lavamancer and playing around Pyrokinesis like a master. My hand was Jitte, Goyf, Lavamancer, Path, Helix, and I had no real reason to play another creature. Jon couldn’t find any creatures he felt like throwing in front of my Lavamancer, nor could he find a Tarfire or Warren’s Weirding.

Eventually I decided I needed some pressure and decided to drop a Nacatl, at which point he went for the two for two with Pyrokinesis. I then dropped my second Lavamancer and Goyf. Jonathon found a Tarfire and a Weirding to knock out both of my creatures, and I was left to play the Jitte and pass. At this point, I continued to rip Loam Lions and Qasali Pridemage for four turns in a row and worked up enough Jitte counters to fight through his Siege-Gang Commander (which I Pathed) and tokens to seal the game.

I was lucky enough that Jon kind of telegraphed the turn he wanted to tic his Vial up to five and was able to kill the Vial with my Pridemage with his “add a counter” trigger on the stack. If I were paying enough attention, I would have probably destroyed it on my turn instead of waiting for his upkeep. This allowed me a couple more turns before his Siege-Gang would come into play, since he waited for seven mana so he could at least sac one Goblin and play around a removal spell.


Well I had to play against two really good friends so far; there was no way I could possibly play against anyone else I know…

Round 7 Mark Sun, NO RUG

I was introduced to Mark about a year and a half ago by none other than Jonathon Benson! Wow the world sure is small (or maybe just Pittsburgh). Mark and I are not bestest buddies or anything, but we talk and hang out at GPs and Open Weekends and whatever PTQs he feels like going to. He is an awesome dude, and it’s unfortunate he lives all the way down in Columbus; otherwise we would probably hang out more.

We were called to a feature match at the Garruk table (aka the fake feature match table next to where the judges keep all their snacks). Mark knew what I was playing and sat down dejected, since it is generally viewed as a bad matchup for him. (Foreshadowing: he is right.)

I won the die roll and got a pretty aggressive start. Unfortunately I do not recall much of game one, other than I won it pretty easily.

In – 2 Metamorph, 2 Teeg, 1 Path
Out – 4 Goblin Guide, 1 Lightning Helix

Again I do not really remember much of game two besides how it ended. Mark was able to Natural Order into a Progenitus when I was at 17, and he was at 10. My board was a Grim Lavamancer (summoning sick) and a Phyrexian Metamorph that had copied a Tarmogoyf and was a 4/5. After he made his Progenitus, I had Lightning Helix and Jitte in hand with five or so lands in play. I shot him with the Helix and put life totals at 20 to 7. On my turn, I played and equipped the Jitte to my MetaGoyf and passed the turn. Mark drew and thought for a second before attacking me down to 10 and passing.

I shot him with the Lavamancer and sent him to five during his end step. On my turn, Mark stopped me during my upkeep to tap my Jitte’d MetaGoyf with an Ice. I draw a blank, equipped my Jitte to the Lavamancer, and swung in for a measly one. Jitte triggered, and I had two counters to go up to 14 life if need be, enough to live through his next attack even if he ripped a Bolt! Mark drew for his turn and scooped shortly after.

We contemplated his options of waiting to use Ice on my attack step to see if I would have switched the Jitte over to my Lavamancer without him reacting the way he did on my upkeep. I am pretty sure I would have thought to equip it to the Lavamancer since I had lethal on board, and he tanked for a few seconds on his turn; he had to have some sort of trick.


Going into the last round and looking at the standings, I was in 8th place, and my opponent was in 7th. Drawing would be close to suicide, and we decided that we had to battle it out. I was pretty disappointed that this was the case, since I was in this exact same position the day before; being 7-1 and unable to draw into the Top 8 is quite depressing. I was pretty sure that if I failed my bubble match for the second day in a row, I would be tilting pretty hard for quite some time.

Round 8 Riley Curran, Elves with Mirror Entity

I had no idea who my opponent was for once!

Riley started off the game with a Forest followed by a Zenith for Dryad Arbor, which made me think he was running NO RUG. I started off by cracking a fetch and burning his land/creature with a Chain Lightning. Next turn Riley played another land and cast a Fauna Shaman. I was out of burns spells, so this time I had to waste a Path to Exile on his Shaman, since I was pretty sure that if he got that Shaman going, I would lose pretty quickly. I followed that up with a Wild Nacatl and passed.

Riley played his fourth land and tapped out for a Sylvan Messenger (Elf Ringleader) and revealed land, Chord of Calling, land, Mirror Entity. We called a judge just to make sure he actually got to keep the Entity, and he passed the turn to me. I attacked through his Messenger and added a Goyf and Loam Lion to the board. He played an Archdruid and a Fauna Shaman, but I had a burn spell for his lord, and he was too far behind to play catch up with the Shaman and fell to my random animals.

In – 1 Jitte, 1 Path, 2 Gaddock Teeg (Doesn’t seem too exciting but is way better than Goblin Guide)
Out – 4 Goblin Guide

Game two was a pretty big blowout on my side this time. He landed a turn-two Jitte, and I was unable to rip my copy and could only keep his creatures at bay for so long. He took over with something embarrassing like a Priest of Titania and proceeded to build an insurmountable number of counters on his sword (note: I don’t think Priest of Titania is an embarrassing card, just the fact that it was the last creature he had to start killing me with…frown).

Game three I was back on the play and tried to hold back a smile as I looked at my opening hand of Wild Nacatl, Kird Ape, Loam Lion, fetch, fetch, Lightning Bolt, Chain Lightning. These are just the kind of hands that decks like Elves cannot beat.

I started off with Nacatl. He played something—to be honest I don’t even remember what creature it was;I just killed it and played Kird Ape. Turn two he played another creature, probably Fauna Shaman, but to be honest I again don’t recall, since it was only on the board for as long as it took me to untap, burn it, and play my Loam Lion. He sighed and played an Archdruid. I untapped, swung out; he didn’t block, and I showed him two burn spells, and he showed me his handshake.


It was pretty amazing to start 0-1 and finish 7-1, and when I heard the final standings being called, the first thing they said was…”In first place, with 21 points, Dan Musser,” which is a pretty good feeling if you’ve ever had it happen. I was getting waves of congratulations from all of my friends, even the ones I had to knock out of contention.

Friend and SCG grinder/writer Jonathan Sukenik came over and let me know I would be playing his friend Jesus (not the deity), who was running Combo Elves with Intuition/Vengevine. Jonathan then proceeded to ask me every three minutes for the next half hour if I had filled out my Top 8 player profile yet. Aside from winning the trophy, filling out the profile form is apparently the best part of Top 8ing, according to Jonathan. In a cruel twist of irony, for some reason or another, the Top 8 profile forms were never distributed, and we did not get to fill them out…Sorry Jonathan.

I decided that since I was playing Combo Elves, and had just beaten Elves, that I would no sir the eight-way split (which I am sure others also did) and battle it out!

Quarterfinals Jesus (Christ) Causing, Combo Elves with Intuition/Vengevine

I wasn’t really sure how good the whole Intuition package would be against me… (Foreshadowing: it’s a beating.)

Game one Jesus was on the play and started off with Forest, Zenith for Dryad Arbor, go. I had the option to either Path his Dryad Arbor, which seems terrible, or cast a Kird Ape, which seems slightly less terrible. Jesus played a fetchland and said go. I attacked with Kird Ape and added a Tarmogoyf to the board and passed the turn again. During my end step, Jesus cast Intuition for three Vengevines and followed up on his turn by casting a Quirion Ranger, playing a Gaea’s Cradle, and casting the other Vengevine, bringing two back from the yard and swinging for 12…insane.

On my turn I attacked with my Kird Ape and kept open my Vengevine to block and planned on Pathing one of his Vengevines. I forgot that he could untap his Vengevine with the Quirion Ranger and now was forced to Path it on my turn. I left open enough mana to Lightning Helix something on his turn, but he had enough mana to empty his hand and swarm me with something like Visionary into Archdruid into Wirewood Symbiote…prompting my scoop phase.

Before I get to sideboarding, I need to give you a small personal history lesson. I forgot to tell you of my most impressive accomplishment to date. Of all the Top 8s I have made in my meager career, I have lost in the quarterfinals an astonishing five times (4 in PTQs and 1 at States). (Foreshadowing: NOT THIS TIME!)

In – 1 Path to Exile, 1 Umezawa’s Jitte, 2 Red Elemental Blast (for Intuition)
Out – 4 Goblin Guide (this card is really bad against other creature matches FYI)

My memory for game two is a bit fuzzy, but I remember being behind with a Grim Lavamancer and maybe a Kird Ape out. His board was pretty impressive with something like Quirion Ranger, Elvish Visionary, Wirewood Symbiote, Fauna Shaman (summoning sick), 2 Nettle Sentinel, and 2 Heritage Druid. During his end step, I killed his Symbiote, which prompted him to return his Visionary to his hand and untap something.

On my turn I had the option to either drop a Wasteland and take out his Cradle—which was one of his two lands, leaving a red open to use the Lavamancer—or play a Tarmogoyf and leave up mana for the Lavamancer. I decided that it was better to just add to my board, since he could probably get pretty close to aggro-ing me out soon, and he only had Visionary + one other card in his hand. I chose the Tarmogoyf route and Lavamancered his Fauna Shaman before passing the turn.

He replayed the Visionary, played a Vengevine, and attacked with everything except Quirion Ranger and a Heritage Druid. I blocked a Nettle Sentinel with my Goyf and took seven. On my turn I ripped a Path to Exile and snap cast it on his Vengevine, then used Path and the last card in my graveyard to take out his Quirion Ranger. I used my Wasteland to finally get rid of his Cradle, swung in with the Goyf, and then passed the turn in a fairly comfortable position. He dropped his second Cradle (good thing I didn’t Waste it earlier) and played his Visionary, drew, and passed the turn. From then on I was able to keep most of his creatures off the board with Lavamancer and kill him with Tarmogoyf and Kird Ape.

I re-sideboarded for game three. I figured that it was better to spend zero mana than hold up one red to basically accomplish the same task (stopping Vengevine).

In – 2 Tormod’s Crypt
Out – 2 Red Elemental Blast

To say that game three was fair would be like saying Jace, the Mind Sculptor is fair…it would just be a lie. My opener was everything I could ask for: double Nacatl, Kird Ape, Bolt, Helix, fetch, fetch. I proceeded to play a threat every turn and burned every creature he played for the first three turns until he had to start chumping to stay alive.


Turns out Elves is a great matchup for Zoo, at least as long as you run 15 removal spells in the main… After my quarterfinals match, someone told me I was probably playing against Gerry Thompson with his BUG Control list. So I and my friends worked out a possible sideboard strategy, and then I learned at the last possible minute that I was actually playing against someone else.

This someone else happened to be the talk of the tournament, Felix Lapan. Felix went undefeated in the Swiss rounds and was piloting a Pattern of Rebirth/Protean Hulk/Natural Order list of his own creation.

It would be somewhat of an understatement to say that I had very little idea how to interact with his deck, at first. To my great advantage, we were allowed to see each other’s decklists for about three minutes before we started playing. I quickly devised that his goal would be to ramp up on mana with either Zenith/Dryad Arbor, Birds of Paradise, or Ancient Tomb and then land a Pattern of Rebirth or cast Natural Order. This was very annoying since if he went for Natural Order, my game plan was to keep every green creature off the board. However, if he went for Pattern of Rebirth, the optimal play was to wait until he cast it on something and then kill it in response. Unfortunately, these two plans fight each other.

This match was covered by Glenn Jones, but I will give you some of the details that were floating around in my head during the match.

Semifinals Felix Lapan, Pattern/Hulk

Game one started off with a mulligan from each of us. Felix was on the play and started off with a basic Forest and Birds of Paradise. My only removal spell was a Path to Exile, so I played Savannah into Loam Lion and passed the turn. Felix played another land and another Birds, threatening to get dirty next turn. Still lacking any sort of burn, I attacked and played a Taiga and Wild Nacatl.

Now is where I am pretty sure I made my one and only misplay this match. During Felix’s upkeep, he had Forest, Bayou, Birds, Birds. I knew that the only basic in his whole deck was that Forest, so I reasoned that I could basically set him back a turn if I Pathed one of his Birds. I basically thought that since I was getting such value from the Path to Exile, it was a decent play.

In reality, it would accomplish nothing since if Felix had any land in his hand, he still had four mana no matter what I did and could cast either of the spells that help him win. Luckily for me, all Felix did was add yet another Bird to the board and play a fetch. I failed to rip a burn spell once again and attacked for five and cast another Loam Lion. Felix was able to take advantage of my misplay on his next turn when he cast Pattern of Rebirth on one of his untapped Birds. At this point, I read the Pattern and asked for the Oracle text on Protean Hulk and decided that if he blocked my Nacatl and took four from my other kitties, he would be at nine life but able to get whatever creature he decided.

If he got the Hulk, he had to still find a way to kill it before he could go off, but I still couldn’t get through the 6/6 body. I was still not quite sure how he killed me with the Hulk, but I know that it is basically a one-card combo of some sort (I soon found out…).

Anyway, I didn’t attack and waited to see if I could draw another Path to Exile or enough creatures/burn to kill him in one attack. Felix ended up drawing double Cabal Therapy. I responded by Bolting him, but unable to interact in any other way, Felix was able to sacrifice his Birds to get a Hulk and flashback the Therapy to go off with his Hulk. The combo that he killed me with involved Reveillark, Mogg Fanatic, Body Double, and Carrion Feeder, which allowed him to cycle in a bunch of Mogg Fanatics for as much damage as he wanted…I asked him if he wanted to just kill all my creatures, but he declined…

In – 2 Gaddock Teeg, 2 Tormod’s Crypt, 1 Path to Exile
Out – 4 Tarmogoyf, 1 Goblin Guide

Game two I was on the play, and Felix had to mulligan to six again. Zoo might not be one of the best decks in Legacy, but it sure is one of the most consistent, since most of your cards are basically the same; all of your hands are usually awesome.

My starting was Wild Nacatl, Goblin Guide, Bolt, Chain Lightning, Lavamancer, Taiga, fetch. For any deck that likes to use creatures, this hand is nearly unbeatable. I led with Nacatl, and he cast Gitaxian Probe into Cabal Therapy for my Grim Lavamancer. I played Goblin Guide and attacked him down to 13 on turn 2!

Next turn Felix tried to set up some defense and mana ramp with Wall of Tinders and Birds of Paradise, but I Bolted his wall on his end step. During my turn I swung right through his Birds, putting him to six from some fetches and proceeded to Chain Lightning his Birds before casting my peeled Lavamancer. Felix once again tried to get some board presence by Zenithing for Dryad Arbor and adding a Wild Cantor to the board. I just attacked right into his creatures, forcing him to chump and then used the Lavamancer to burn away his Dryad Arbor prompting Felix to scoop.

Game three Felix was on the play again and had to take a mulligan once again. My hand was obscene again with Wild Nacatl, Grim Lavamancer, Bolt, Helix, Path, and two fetches. This game started really slowly for Felix, as his first three plays of the game were three fetchlands. I started off with my trusty Nacatl, of course, and followed it up turn two with Grim Lavamancer after drawing another Bolt.

On Felix’s turn three he cast Slaughter Pact on my Grim Lavamancer after counting how much damage he thought I could do. I attacked him down to 14 and passed the turn with Bolt, Path, Chain Lightning, and Lightning Helix all in hand. Felix fetched down to 11 and decided to pay for his Pact, which resulted in the same thing had he forgotten, since he was tapped out, and I had lethal burn in hand with Nacatl on the board. He played a fourth land, cast a Wild Cantor to block, but I Path to Exiled it. I Lightning Helixed him on his end step, taking him to 8. During my turn I attacked with Wild Nacatl and burned him with both types of Lightning to advance to the finals.


There were now only two people left in the tournament: myself and someone by the name of Gerry Thompson. It would appear that Mr. Thompson had a pretty decent Standard tournament, finishing in 1st place, and was looking to repeat that performance in the Legacy portion.

Finals Gerry Thompson, BUG Control (Team America-ish)

The last time I tested against a BUG list was actually during Day 1 of GP Providence. I was playing against this rather well-known player by the name of David Ochoa…I was able to get extraordinary lucky and was able to cast double Price of Progress when he tapped out for Jace on turn 4, dealing ocho with each price…get it?

This time around, both my and Gerry’s deck were quite different, and this match was probably the most uninteresting one I played all weekend. Glenn Jones covered this match as well, and you can probably read it in about 30 seconds.

Game one, we were both super light on lands. Gerry had infinite Wastelands, with one colored source, and I had a basic Forest and Mountain. At some point I was able to Wasteland his only colored source, but he was able to beat me down with his two 2/3 Tarmogoyfs before I was able to find a second red source to burn him out.

In – 2 Phyrexian Metamorph, 1 Path to Exile, 4 Red Elemental Blast
Out – 4 Chain Lightning, 3 Goblin Guide (Since he is more of a control deck, this was a mistake)

Game two, I had to mull to five since both of my openers contained only one non-basic land each. My five-card had was three land, double Goyf. Gerry was able to deal with both my Goyfs, even though I got a good trade of Helix for his Goyf at one point. He then landed a Jace, backed up by Vendilion Clique, and proceeded to leave me cards he could deal with until my library was exiled.

Gerry had agreed to splitting the cash prize before we started playing. I lost the trophy, but it was great being able to play in the finals and on camera. I wish the games had gone a little better, but at least I didn’t Bolt any Leeches or Wasteland my own Mutavault.

Congratulations to Gerry having a fantastic weekend. I was glad that if I had to lose to someone at the end, it was the guy who decided to win BOTH tournaments that weekend.

I would definitely say that Zoo is strong right now, but keep it fast. Versions that are trying to get big with Knight of the Reliquary or Stoneforge Mystic are far too slow to keep up with the combo decks going around. If Gerry’s deck is adopted and starts seeing a good amount of play, it might be a good idea to put some Price of Progress back in the board. Game one is not that bad against them, but game two they are able to dump all of their situational cards for more removal and play the one-for-one game until they start drawing extra cards with Brainstorm or Jace.

Thanks for reading my Epic Tournament report. I didn’t mean for it to be this long, but as I started writing things, I would remember more and more, and you have just read approximately 7,710 words!

Good luck and have fun,