The Long & Winding Road – Don’t Feed the Animals: Top 8 with Legacy Zoo

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Monday, April 19th – The last two times I played Legacy, I tried two different Dredge builds, and wasn’t happy with either of them. It could be that I’m too used to the Vintage version, but I found that I was struggling with a number of things…

The last two times I played Legacy, I tried two different Dredge builds, and wasn’t happy with either of them. It could be that I’m too used to the Vintage version, but I found that I was struggling with a number of things. For one, the deck felt inconsistent. Unlike game 1 with the Vintage version, where as long as you find Bazaar of Baghdad via mulligan or Serum Powder, you’ll probably win, the Legacy version needs to mulligan into a hand that contains at least one land, a dredger, and a discard outlet, plus preferably another draw spell on top. The builds that are designed to do this consistently are slower and vulnerable to combo decks, while those that are designed to be explosive are more prone to mulling into oblivion. With both versions, I found myself taking an unacceptable number of mulligans.

I also found that my match-up against some blue decks was worse than I expected; for example, Merfolk can be a tough match-up if your opponent knows what they’re doing. Testing against Dreadtill (an admittedly unpopular deck at the moment) was also eye-opening, as my opponent was able to counter draw spells, Stifle Coliseum, and use Explosives to control tokens while setting up a fast win via Dreadnought. Not encouraging. The Trinistax match-up is definitely unfavorable, as Ghostly Prison and Magus of the Moat make life difficult, and a preemptive Chalice of the Void on 1 or Trinisphere makes playing any draw spells impossible; the Draw, Discard, Dredge plan doesn’t really work against a deck with Ghostly Prison as you need to play out lands just to be able to attack.

Games two and three with Legacy Dredge, your task is even harder, because now your opponent has the knowledge that you’re on Dredge plus potentially some mix of sideboard hate. I find Vintage Dredge to be relatively easy to sideboard because those builds tend to run cards that are outside the “engine” and are meant for disruption (such as Leyline of the Void and Chalice of the Void), but this isn’t really true of Legacy Dredge. Because the deck doesn’t focus on Bazaar, the entire deck is more or less “engine” parts and you’re guaranteed to be fielding a less effective version in sideboarded games.

My local shop, Alternate Universe — Blue Bell, has started to run regular Legacy events that are drawing around forty players, and I needed to turn around a deck choice pretty quickly for the tournament on 3/13. What I really wanted to play was the Tezzeret deck that made top 8 at the SCG Open in Indy, because I suspect this deck could be more than a flash in the pan. It looks like a competitive combo-control deck that needs minimal investment into dual lands, which is exactly what the format needs to combat some of its more hyperbole-prone worriers. This deck should appeal to some of the Extended players from this past season, in particular.

Unfortunately, I didn’t play much Extended so my familiarity with Thopter / Sword is minimal, and this is the type of deck that rewards some knowledge of the meta-game and practice against a gauntlet. I’m going to come back to this deck at some point in the future, but I didn’t really have the time to invest for this tournament.

Instead, I went back to an old favorite: Zoo.

Playing mostly Vintage for the past nine months hasn’t left me much time to play real, aggressive beat-down decks; when I’m honest with myself, I’m most comfortable sending monsters into the red zone and finishing people off with burn spells. Zoo is one of the few decks I’ve kept up with in Legacy; the evolution of the deck is really interesting to me. What some might dismiss as a mindless beat-down deck has become an intricate web of synergy over time, as Wizards has continued to print cards that push the strategy forward. Here’s what I played:

A few notes about this build…

1 Gaddock Teeg and 1 Umezawa’s Jitte — I was struggling to find room for all the sideboard cards I wanted, specifically a third Gaddock Teeg, three Mindbreak Trap, and fourth Tormod’s Crypt. Based on the results from the Grand Prix and SCG Open, I expected Reanimator and Storm Combo to be in the field, and Dredge has been quite popular at these tournaments thus far. Sylvan Library is poor against all of these decks. Past history at these events also showed less Counter/Top decks that I’d expect at something like an SCG Open, so given all of this, I made the choice to cut Sylvan Library and played a Teeg and Jitte in the main to open up room in the sideboard. As I played against no control decks in the Swiss, this ended up being a good choice, but don’t consider this some sort of definitive statement on Sylvan Library. The card is very good, and it has great synergy with a number of cards in the deck, especially Steppe Lynx and Knight of the Reliquary. The next time I play Zoo, I’m probably going to include a singleton Sylvan.

4 Steppe Lynx — I haven’t played nearly enough games to determine whether this slot is best served by Steppe Lynx, Kird Ape, or Loam Lion, but thus far I’ve been pretty pleased with Lynx. The fact that Lynx has some drawbacks is often negated by the fact that it is swinging for 4 damage a turn, or more, throughout the early game. Playing a high count of fetch lands and Knight of the Reliquary lets you keep the damage flowing into the mid-to late-game. If you connect with Lynx twice for four damage before it gets swept off the board, you’re up 4 damage on a Loam Lion / Kird Ape, and this is most likely to matter in match-ups like ANT, CB/Top, or Landstill where that early pressure is paramount to your ability to win. Lynx also gives you a number of mid-combat tricks that can help you win games you probably have no business winning; things like mid-combat use of Knight of the Reliquary, or even playing a Path on your own creature to pump the Lynx, will often sneak past opponents that haven’t played against this build and are familiar with Kird Ape instead.

3 Grim Lavamancer — I know a lot of people play four. It’s not hard to understand why, as Lavamancer is one of the best cards in this deck. It is deceptively powerful. There are some match-ups, such as Merfolk and Zoo, where getting active Lavamancer out immediately gives you a massive advantage; he’s also one of the best cards to sneak into play early against a control deck. Against any deck with Tarmogoyfs, Lavamancer is a critical piece of control to get advantage out of your Goyfs while minimizing the power of your opponent’s. Lavamancer also shines in some of the more “random” match-ups you may experience in Legacy. At this event, Lavamancer won me a game against Elf Aggro that was over as soon as I played a fetchland into Lavamancer on turn one, as the Lavamancer proceeded to kill creatures on the next four turns of the game. Despite all of this, I’ve been relatively happy with three simply because I found myself with one Lavamancer active and top-decking a second Lavamancer in too many games when I ran the full set.

2 Lightning Helix — These are probably the worst cards in the deck, but they’re still solid in a number of match-ups. I used to play Fireblast in this slot, but I wanted extra removal as a nod to the popularity of Zoo and Merfolk as well as the lack of synergy between Teeg and Fireblast.

Manabase — This manabase is not optimized at all, as I didn’t really change anything from the previous build (with Kird Ape) into this one (with Steppe Lynx). I’ve seen lists that no longer run Horizon Canopy, which seems fine, but I think Canopy is still solid in this deck. I was never upset to draw them during the tournament. I’d probably run the mana like this next time:

3 Plateau
2 Taiga
1 Savannah
1 Forest
1 Plains
1 Mountain
2 Horizon Canopy
4 Wooded Foothills
4 Windswept Heath
2 Arid Mesa

3 Price of Progress — I’ve been an advocate of this card for a long time. There are match-ups where it is a bad call, but it really shines in the match-ups where you want it; you also get value out of playing it in the main because people no longer expect it. I actually won both of my games against Zoo on the back of PoP, as well as game 1 against Landstill in the top 8.

3 Path to Exile — I made this choice simply on the diversity of the format, with the fourth in the sideboard. I utilized the sideboarded Path in three of seven match-ups on the day, so I felt three was correct for this specific tournament, but there are definitely metagames where I’d just rock all four in the main.

Sideboard — This sideboard worked relatively well for what I was trying to accomplish. I cobbled it together based on the Zoo sideboards from a few different large events. It doesn’t give you a ton of cards for any specific deck, but it gives you options against pretty much everything.

To give some background for those unfamiliar with Legacy Zoo, this is a deck that has come into its own over the past twelve months. Many of the key cards were released in Shards block. Wild Nacatl gives the deck a 3/3 creature for one mana, backed up by Qasali Pridemage; the Pridemage can let you swing in for four damage on turn two with a first-turn Nacatl. Pridemage allows you to pack main-deck removal to Counterbalance, Ghostly Prison, Trinisphere, and any number of other annoying Enchantments or Artifacts without giving up an ounce of aggression. Path to Exile was also a key printing as it gives the deck a one-mana instant removal spell like Swords to Plowshares, but in the specific case of Zoo, the life-gain provided by Swords was an issue; the tempo provided by Path isn’t nearly as important.

The recent printing of Steppe Lynx gives Zoo another weapon, and one that interacts very well with a deck playing many fetch-lands; with this shell in place, Knight of the Reliquary begins to shine. Not only is it a great beater, typically a similar power/toughness to Woolly Thoctar in the early game and capable of being much larger in the late game, but Knight also provides a way to search fetch-lands out of the deck to continually power-up both itself and Lynx. If Knight isn’t needed for combat, this graveyard full of lands provides ammunition for Grim Lavamancer; it also gives you a way to fuel Lavamancer without ham-stringing your Tarmogoyfs.

On to the actual report.

Alternate Universe Legacy Showdown III — 3/20/2010

I played Dredge in the first AU Legacy Showdown, opening up 3-1 before losing my last two rounds. I missed the second due to family obligations, but I was excited to get back into Legacy as I’m hoping to play it more in 2010. There were 37 players, resulting in six rounds of Swiss with a cut to top 8.

Round 1 — Win 2-1 vs. John with Dredge (1-0)

I know John’s playing Dredge, so I’m a little concerned; I know I have a full set of Tormod’s Crypt in the sideboard, but game 1 is usually pretty rough.

Game 1: We both keep our opening hands. I have my singleton Gaddock Teeg in my hand, so if John’s hand is slow or banking on playing a Breakthrough after turn two, I have a shot. Unfortunately for me, John’s hand is very good. He plays a Careful Study on turn one, into a Cephalid Coliseum and another Study on turn two, followed by a Breakthrough. I play my Teeg, but John’s got the Coliseum active and Dredges out the majority of his library. He can’t play Dread Return, but he has all four Bridges, and after a few Cabal Therapies, I’m staring down an army of twelve 2/2 zombies. I can’t possibly race that, and I lose.

Sideboard against Dredge:

Out: -3 Price of Progress, -2 Knight of the Reliquary, -2 Lightning Helix

In: +4 Tormod’s Crypt, +1 Umezawa’s Jitte, +2 Gaddock Teeg

Game 2: I mulligan my opening hand into a strong six-card hand that has a Tormod’s Crypt and a Wild Nacatl. I also get a Grim Lavamancer active, which gives me the ability to hold off John’s Bridge from Below tokens by killing my own creatures. The Tormod’s Crypt buys me a few turns, and at that point John’s forced to start chump-blocking my attackers for no gain. With the Crypt out of the way, he Dredges out a good chunk of his library, so I kill a Steppe Lynx with Lavamancer to break the remaining Bridges, and then throw some burn at John’s Narcomoebas. With just a few Bloodghasts coming into play next turn, John can’t race me and I win game 2.

Game 3: For game three, I sideboard out one Pridemage and one Lynx for two Pyroblast. Pyroblast is mediocre against Dredge but can buy you time against Dredge by countering draw spells like Breakthrough. Lynx is somewhat weak against Dredge on the draw as they’re likely to have chump blockers. John leads off game three with a Pithing Needle naming Tormod’s Crypt, while I lead off with Grim Lavamancer. John does some Dredging this game, but just Dredges into more Dredgers and not much action. I get some attackers going, and when he finally hits some Bridges, I break them immediately so that he has to Cabal Therapy me for no value. I break another set of Bridges using Qasali Pridemage to destroy the Pithing Needle, and promptly rip Tormod’s Crypt. With most of his deck Exiled and some Bloodghasts in play that can’t block, John’s unable to stop my Wild Nacatl and Tarmogoyf from punching through for the win.

Round 2 — Win 2-1 vs. Kevin with Zoo (2-0)

Game 1: I win the die roll and promptly take a mulligan to six. My six card hand is pretty strong, but only has one land. Unfortunately, it takes me some time to find another. However, I hit several Bolts and Paths, and am able to keep Kevin’s side of the board relatively clear of threats until we both move into top-deck mode. Unfortunately, he continues to hit creatures and wins the game while on ten life.

Sideboard against Zoo:

Out: -1 Gaddock Teeg, -1 Price of Progress

In: +1 Umezawa’s Jitte, +1 Path to Exile

I didn’t really bring much for Zoo, as the deck was surprisingly unpopular at the last few Legacy tournaments I played in Pennsylvania. I tried to make it look as if I’d brought in more cards.

Game 2: I have an aggressive start this game, and play a Wild Nacatl into a Lightning Helix to punch in for some early damage. The board clogs up with creatures, but I have an active Lavamancer, Chain Lightning, and Price of Progress. Kyle ends up with a fourth non-basic in play, and I’m able to Lavamancer at end of turn, Lavamancer again on my main phase, and Price of Progress for 8 damage to win the game.

Game 3: This game, I try to represent additional sideboarding in the hope that Kyle will think I’m taking out my remaining copies of Price of Progress on the draw. Kyle and I trade some early damage; we use Path on each other’s larger creatures. I get in with a Lynx equipped with Jitte, which is promptly destroyed by a Pridemage. Kyle plays a Sylvan Library, which I destroy with my own Pridemage. The game then comes down to top-decks, and while Kyle draws more land, I keep hitting gas: Wild Nacatl, Tarmogoyf, then another Nacatl. Kyle goes to eight life, then seven as he attempts to stem the bleeding using removal and blockers. Unfortunately for him, I draw Price of Progress and that ends the game immediately.

Round 3 — Win 2-0 vs. Lucas with Dredge (3-0)

Game 1: I have no idea Lucas is on Dredge, as both of my opening rounds went close to time, leaving me little chance to scout. Lucas knows I’m on Zoo. We both keep our starting hands, and Lucas is on the play and leads out with a Tireless Tribe. It becomes apparent that although Lucas has Dredgers, and discard outlets, he has no draw spells. I’m eventually able to play out enough creatures to start punching through the Tireless Tribe, and Lucas doesn’t really hit much of anything off his slow-dredges outside of more dredgers, land, and more discard outlets. I burn out his Narcomoebas while he has no Bridges, that’s game.

Sideboard vs. Dredge: Same as above (round 1)

Game 2: On the play, Lucas keeps again, and leads out with Cabal Therapy naming Tormod’s Crypt, which is in my hand. That makes me feel a lot worse about my chances, but it turns out that Lucas has no Dredgers. So, I just play out my hand and keep sending the team. Lucas eventually draws a Breakthrough and plays it with x=1, but I get very lucky and he whiffs on Dredgers again, which effectively ends the game.

Round 4 — Win 2-0 vs. Mark with Aggro Elves (4-0)

Game 1: I know I’m paired down this round, but I have no idea what Mark’s playing. I keep a somewhat mediocre hand of four lands, Grim Lavamancer, Chain Lightning, and Knight of the Reliquary. This ends up being one of the best hands possible once it becomes clear that I’m against Elf Aggro. I play the Lavamancer and pass, while Mark plays a Llanowar Elf. I Chain Lightning the Llanowar, and pass, and then use the Lavamancer to kill another Elf. Knight of the Reliquary comes into play and means that I’ll be able to use Lavamancer over and over again; Knight can use it’s ability to find fetch lands, which I can then crack immediately, guaranteeing me two cards in my Graveyard each turn. I figure out that Mark’s not on Elf Combo when his third-turn play is Elvish Champion. Lavamancer keeps the board clear, and as Mark is unable to establish a board presence, this is a one-sided game.

Sideboard vs. Elf Aggro:

Out: -1 Gaddock Teeg, -1 Steppe Lynx

In: +1 Umezawa’s Jitte, +1 Path to Exile

Game 2: This game is relatively similar to the first game, except my hand is considerably more aggressive and I don’t have Lavamancer. I Lightning Bolt Mark’s first Elf, and Chain Lightning the second while playing out Wild Nacatl. Mark gets stuck on two lands, while I play a second Nacatl and Jitte. Jitte goes active and that effectively ends the game, as the Jitte counters will keep Mark’s side of the board clear.

At 4-0, I’m hopeful that I can draw into the top 8.

Round 5: Lose 0-2 vs. John with Belcher (4-1)

Game 1: I’m paired down again this round, and as John is 3-1, he unsurprisingly wants to play. I take a mulligan game 1, and John leads out with a naked Belcher with two permanent mana sources in play. On his first draw, he doesn’t hit a mana source. I play a Gaddock Teeg. If John misses again and I can hit a Pridemage, I’ll have stolen this game. John draws, and again misses a playable mana source. I draw… Price of Progress. When John draws again, he hits a mana source and activates Belcher, which doesn’t reveal Taiga in time for me to get another turn.

Sideboard vs. Belcher Combo:

Out: -3 Path to Exile, -3 Price of Progress

In: +3 Mindbreak Trap, +2 Gaddock Teeg, +1 Krosan Grip

Game 2: My opening seven has three lands, two Lightning Bolt, and two Chain Lightning. That’s not remotely good enough. My six card hand has only Forest for mana, and no one drops. Also not good enough. My five card hand is Mindbreak Trap, Wild Nacatl, Grim Lavamancer, Tarmogoyf, and Gaddock Teeg. I decide to keep this, since Mindbreak Trap gives me a shot. John keeps, and I pass the turn to him immediately. He draws, and plays out his hand into a Charbelcher, which I Exile with Mindbreak Trap. Unfortunately I don’t draw any land, and a few turns later John plays an Empty the Warrens for 8. I finally draw a land but I’m not able to race eight Goblin tokens, and I lose. Still, I’m hopeful that I can intentional draw in round six to lock up a spot in the top 8.

Round 6: Win 2-0 vs. Mykie with Natural Order Rock (5-1)

Game 1: I get paired down again this round and have to play it out against Mykie, who is 3-1-1 with Natural Order Rock, a deck that is relatively solid against Zoo. My opening hand is very good, while Mykie has to mulligan, and I get immediate pressure going with Wild Nacatl, and then burn out Mykie’s Birds of Paradise like its 1995. Eventually Mykie is able to Natural Order into a Terastodon, and blows up his own lands to create an army of angry elephants. Unfortunately he’s down to nine life, so I tag him with Lavamancer, chump block the 9/9, then tag him with Lavamancer again and throw over some burn to end the game.

Sideboard vs. Natural Order Rock:

Out: -2 Qasali Pridemage, -1 Price of Progress

In: +2 Gaddock Teeg, +1 Path to Exile

Game 2: I don’t have much for Mykie’s deck, but Gaddock Teeg is excellent as it shuts down Natural Order and can divert Mykie’s removal spells from better targets like Tarmogoyf and Knight of the Reliquary. Mykie has to take another mulligan, and leads off with a Birds of Paradise, which I again burn out with Chain Lightning. He then plays a Dryad Arbor, representing mana screw. I Lightning Helix the Arbor, and Mykie can’t find enough mana to operate. To make matters worse, I have Gaddock Teeg, while Mykie draws into runner-runner Natural Orders, and that’s all she wrote.

At 5-1, I’m the top seed after the Swiss rounds, despite having an opponent’s match win percentage of under 50%. This was a strange set of matches to play, for a number of reasons. I didn’t have to play against a single blue control deck, and also didn’t play against any Merfolk. Oddly enough, I also played against exclusively decks that I’ve actually played myself in Legacy tournaments over the past six months, which is very lucky. One of the tougher parts of playing Legacy is that you can lose percentage points in match-ups due to unfamiliarity with a particular deck or strategy. Knowing the game-plans and, more or less, the deck-lists of my opponents made me feel much more comfortable throughout the day.

Quarterfinals: Lose 1-2 vs. Josh with Landstill (5-2)

Josh is one of the top-rated Eternal players in Pennsylvania, and to my knowledge, always plays Landstill in Legacy. He’s also a constant fixture in the top 8s of these tournaments, although he snuck in today at 4-2. This is unfortunate for me, as I’m sure his deck packs a lot of troublesome cards for Zoo. I’m banking on winning game one with Price of Progress.

Game 1: We both keep, and Josh is on the play. I play a Steppe Lynx on turn one, which gets in for four damage on turns two and three as Josh is preoccupied with my subsequent plays. I Chain Lightning him down to nine, at which point he taps out to Wrath of God away the board. I take a shot at a Price of Progress with him running low on cards, and it resolves, taking him from nine life to one. Although I have no board, winning from here is as simple as compiling threats for a few turns, as Josh is unable to use fetch lands or use the alternate cost of Force of Will. I burn him out of the game a few turns later.

Sideboard vs. Landstill:

Out: -1 Umezawa’s Jitte, -1 Steppe Lynx, -1 Path to Exile

In: +2 Gaddock Teeg, +1 Pyroblast

I honestly haven’t tested against Landstill in something like 18 months, so I have no idea what sideboard maneuver I should have tried here; Gaddock Teeg seemed to make sense against a deck that’s packing Wrath of God, Force of Will, Engineered Explosives, and Nevinarryl’s Disk. Krosan Grip might be worthwhile as it hands Disk and Crucible as well as careless use of Explosives, but I didn’t want to cut Path to Exile as Josh had both Tarmogoyf and Scute Mob.

Games 2 & 3: I’ll keep these brief as they kind of blur together. For game 2, I mulligan into a mediocre six-card hand that has solid spells (including Lightning Bolt and Chain Lightning) but just a Horizon Canopy and Mountain for mana. If I lead out with Horizon Canopy, I have no first-turn play, but can potentially cast Gaddock Teeg or Pridemage on turn two. If I play Mountain, I can Lightning Bolt Josh at end of turn, and optimistically play the Goyf, Lavamancer, or Wild Nacatl I hope to draw, but run the risk of no play on turn two. I ultimately chose Mountain, which is 100% incorrect. With my mana progression screwed up, I deploy my threats far too slowly and lose. Obviously I drew a fetch land on turn two, followed by another and then another, so had I played the Canopy immediately, my game progression would’ve been much smoother. For game three, I have to mulligan again, and my six-card hand has no one-drops again, and I go on a bit of tilt from there and play my threats impatiently. I had a Pyroblast I could have and should have used to back up one of them, but didn’t, and Josh countered and then played a Standstill, which locked things up.

Obviously, I’ve got a lot of testing to do against Counterbalance and Landstill decks before I’m in good form for any of the larger Legacy events. Still, Zoo felt like a great choice on the day and I’ll probably play it again in my next Legacy tournament. I liked having a Jitte in the main because it is so relevant in the Merfolk and Zoo match-ups, but I’d probably either cut the Teeg or move it to the sideboard in place of one Sylvan Library.

Grim Lavamancer was outstanding all day, while Price of Progress was relatively weak; I still really like the card, and it won me three games during the tournament, but because I played some match-ups where it isn’t strong (Belcher, Dredge, mono green Elf Aggro, Natural Order Rock), it got sideboarded out a lot. Still, the deck that won this event was more of a Goyf Sligh deck that packed nineteen creatures and twenty burn spells including 4 Price of Progress, and I’m sure that helped him get past Lands in the semi-finals as well as Landstill in the finals.

Steppe Lynx was great in some games and quite poor in others, but that’s to be expected of the card; I probably should have cut at least Horizon Canopy for another fetch. There are also builds that make better use of Knight by playing one or two Treetop Village, or a Wasteland in the sideboard to handle Tabernacle. These are things I might test out for the next tournament.

I think most people respect Zoo at this point, as it has proven itself with strong finishes in the last two GPs as well as the StarCityGames.com Legacy Opens; still, it behooves you to test with and against the newer Steppe Lynx version of the deck, as there are differences in how it plays compared to the Kird Ape / Loam Lion builds.

I had a great time playing a real aggro deck again. One of my favorite things in Magic is playing a deck like this, and firing off a, “What’re you at?” at end of turn, and watching the look on my opponent’s face when they suddenly realize that 12 life might not actually be enough to see another turn.

I’m looking forward to my next Legacy tournament. If I had to play Zoo again today, I’d probably play this (keeping in mind that Zoo still seems to be a small part of my local meta):

Matt Elias
[email protected]
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