Thirst For Knowledge – Congregation Zoo and a Look at Rise of the Eldrazi

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Wednesday, April 7th – At the time of writing, the Extended season is officially over for me. There is still another PTQ in the Midwest next weekend, but I don’t really have the means to make it to Chicago. I’m actually a little bummed about it too, since I finally found a deck that I felt good about: Congregation Zoo.

At the time of writing, the Extended season is officially over for me. There is still another PTQ in the Midwest next weekend, but I don’t really have the means to make it to Chicago. I’m actually a little bummed about it too, since I finally found a deck that I felt good about: Congregation Zoo.

By now, you’ve all heard about this deck. Congregation Zoo was developed by RIW’s own Kyle Boggemes and DJ Kastner, and is basically just a traditional Zoo deck with a Congregation at Dawn package built into it. I caught wind of the deck last Thursday, and the idea seemed really solid. Here is the list I was given:

We didn’t have a lot of time to work with the deck, and I specifically had to basically theorize what I thought was going to work and what wasn’t because I had a night class on Thursday and wouldn’t be able to devote much time to it and get enough sleep. My initial feeling was that the manabase was a little awkward, but my friend Jon pointed out to me that playing basic Islands wasn’t unheard of in Zoo decks this season by any means, and we’d need the additional Green sources (Breeding Pool over Steam Vents) to be able to reliably cast Congregation. Once I was past that, I dove deeper into the kind of cards I wanted to battle with.

Now, last week I mentioned how ineffective Lightning Bolt can be in the Zoo deck, and so I quickly decided that I wanted to play Lightning Helix instead. However, I didn’t think we needed a full grip, or even three maindeck — since I had the Congregation package, I didn’t need as much for the mirror as I normally would. I dropped the Bolt count to zero and inserted two copies of Helix in their place, and spent the extra slots maindeck on some one-ofs for Congregation. Magus of the Moon was an obvious decision, and I suggested a Ranger of Eos as well. The way I saw it, Ranger let us make stacks like this in the mirror: Bloodbraid Elf, Eternal Witness, Ranger of Eos. I mean, Witness could just be a Knight of the Reliquary or maybe a Pridemage if they’ve got a Jitte, but the idea is that Ranger gave us just another way to boost our hand with the use of just a single spell. Considering how important card advantage is in the mirror, this seemed like a strong approach.

Looking at the sideboard I was given, I knew that I wasn’t okay with just the single Damping Matrix. If I can’t fetch my one-ofs, I felt like they were more or less a waste of space. The only exception to that was if I was just adding to cards already in the maindeck (like a fourth Path or something), but that’s just standard sideboarding. Now that I had maindeck Helixes, I didn’t need two in the sideboard — one would probably be enough, and so I cut one of those. The Congregation seemed so awkward in the sideboard, too, since in almost every match-up I had a stack of creatures that I’d want to pile on top of my deck (okay, in all my match-ups), and so we added the Congregation into the maindeck and added a land to offset the additional four-drop (Ranger) and the higher dependence on four mana (another Congregation).

Here is what I registered:

As you can see, the changes in the maindeck from the original version are as follows:

-1 Eternal Witness
-4 Lightning Bolt
-1 Bant Charm
+1 Ghost Quarter
+2 Lightning Helix
+1 Magus of the Moon
+1 Ranger of Eos
+1 Congregation at Dawn

The only change that I’m not sure was correct was the Eternal Witness, primarily because with only one in the deck my “unending stacks” weren’t really all that… unending. My thought, though, was that if I made a stack like Bloodbraid Elf, Knight, Witness, would I really need to do it again? That is, after casting Congregation again, wouldn’t just putting Ranger of Eos in place of the Witness be better? Of course, this thought process didn’t account for the times where I needed a Path to Exile or a Helix, in which case Witness would obviously be better. I’m sure I would have ran into that situation many times had I actually been able to play games with the deck, but as luck would have it I didn’t get a chance and I might have made a mistake there in the deckbuilding.

The sideboard, though, I was happy with. Upping the Matrix count was reassuring against Thopter/Depths, and Boom/Bust gave me a good amount of game against any of the format’s combo decks. I know last week I said that moving Boom/Bust to the sideboard was working backwards, but it’s worth noting that in this case I did so to make room for Congregation at Dawn, which may or may not be just an overall upgrade.

Aside from the Path and Helix, the rest of the sideboard is built for Congregation at Dawn. One Mage was cut to make room for other cards, and I ditched the Finks for the same reason. We kept the War Monk over the Finks due to its ability to gain you life continuously, even if that life wasn’t immediate. It also was much, much harder to kill, so that was another strength. The Magus of the Moon stayed in the sideboard despite already having one maindeck, but that was mostly because Moon effects are very good in Extended right now. It made sense.

What might not make sense, though, is Kor Hookmaster. Here was the scenario: Jon mentioned to me how he wanted some way to clear blockers or deal with problem creatures, and the best we could come up with was Mogg Fanatic. The problem was that, for less than four mana, there was basically nothing outside of something like Torch Slinger that was going to be able to do what we wanted. After some tanking, I ran off for a bit and returned with Hookmaster. It certainly didn’t kill a creature or do much on its own (a 2/2 in a 3/3’s world), but it did shut off Knights for a turn and keep Baneslayers, Tarmogoyfs, and other fatties tapped long enough to force damage through. In addition, when you stack it under a Bloodbraid Elf with Congregation you can essentially make one of your preexisting creatures unblockable, since you’re tapping down one of their blockers. I’m still not sure if there isn’t something better, but it actually accomplished the tasks I needed it to, so I really can’t complain.

The last addition to the sideboard was Samurai of the Pale Curtain. I didn’t expect much Dredge, and without it I was dead in the water to that deck. Bojuka Bog is far too slow if you’re relying on Knight to get it into play, and Samurai is better against other decks as well (Samurai is often just as slow as Bog versus Dredge, but we can Congregation on turn 3 and stack Samurai on top — in addition, Samurai stops their combo indefinitely as long as they cannot kill or bounce our man, whereas Bog is a one-shot deal). Against Thopter-Sword, for example, few creatures hose the combo as efficiently. Gerry Thompson mentioned it as a card that’d he want in his sideboard of this deck, and I must agree wholeheartedly. It was very good in the one match-up where I got to use it, much as I had expected it would be.

If you look at the list that Gerry used to make Day 2 at the Grand Prix in Houston, his deck was quite a bit different (which is interesting to see, since our decks started out very similar but wound up pretty different as a result). He had a Baneslayer Angel maindeck, three Eternal Witness, and an equipment package in the sideboard via Stoneforge Mystic. I had considered Mystic as well, but because I was playing Boom/Bust I didn’t have space for it. Maybe I should have given that more thought?

In any case, the deck is very good. At the PTQ, I started off the first few rounds undefeated (even the exact 75 in the second round), but then I started to… draw. I mean, it’s one thing to lose when playing Zoo… but to draw more than once? I ended up with two draws by the end of the event (I played an additional round past my first loss to try and pick up another win for rating), and lost twice to the Columbus-born Lightning Angel Zoo deck. Despite the tech of Congregation, I suppose 3/4 fliers are still pretty good against my deck, and I had nothing to stop them with aside from Charms and Paths — neither of which I drew in a large enough quantity to stop the onslaught of Angels. My draws came from a mirror match (in which I misfetched for an Island off a Path — not sure if I could have won that game if I had fetched correctly, but either way it was the wrong play) and a Thopter Combo deck. I suppose that’s the breaks.

Despite not making Top 8 with the list, I feel like it’s a great direction for the deck. I urge you to give it a shot for the last PTQ, and also to keep a firm eye on it for next season. Something tells me we won’t have any less of a need for an edge in Zoo mirrors than we do now, and Congregation lets us have exactly that. Still, for more on this deck (such as how the idea was put into motion), Kyle is the guy you want to look for.

Before I call it a day, let’s take a look at some Rise of the Eldrazi spoilers, shall we?

All Is Dust
Tribal Sorcery — Eldrazi (Mythic)
Each player sacrifices all colored permanents he or she controls.

Brian Kibler is very excited about this card, and I share his enthusiasm. So many decks in the future will make use of this card, and it’s important to note that at $15 (pre-sale) it’s an absolute steal. Get them now, because if the past is any indication, giving any color access to sweepers (and not just sweepers, but complete board-clearers) is utterly nuts. I could easily see this one becoming the “chase” card of the set, since beyond the monstrous 10+ mana mythic Eldrazi themselves, there isn’t that much to get overly excited about so far.

Gideon Jura
Planeswalker — Gideon (Mythic)
[+2]: During target opponent’s next turn, creatures that player controls attack Gideon Jura if able.
[-2]: Destroy target tapped creature.
[0]: Until end of turn, Gideon Jura becomes a 6/6 Human Soldier creature that’s still a planeswalker. Prevent all damage that would be dealt to him this turn.

Gideon is very difficult to evaluate, primarily because he is also a creature. It is not often that we can consider Planeswalkers as tools to go on the offensive themselves, but Gideon can do it. If we play Gideon in a control deck, he can act as a sort of Fog effect that will often cause him to be destroyed (though he would need to be hit for 8 in order for that to happen), he can blow up attackers, or he can help finish the opponent off after a Day of Judgment. However, more importantly, Gideon is stellar in aggressive decks, and probably even better than he will ever be in decks like UW Tapout. This guy can draw the attention of all of their creatures, allowing for an alpha strike on your next turn. The best? If defended well, he can be part of it. Gideon is such a powerful card that I would expect to see lots of Bloodbraid Elves being played post-combat in the future just so the Jund player doesn’t die to an army of guys the following turn. When Bloodbraid Elf is being played strictly as a blocker, you know you’re on the ropes. Should you pick up Gideon now? Well, maybe not. I’d wait to see how much support White decks get, since the presale price of Gideon is already very high — I highly doubt it will go much higher, so playing it safe and waiting a bit probably won’t do much harm.

Student of Warfare
Creature — Human Knight (Rare)
Level Up: W
[Level 2-6]: First strike (3/3)
[Level 7+]: Double strike (4/4)

Whoa. Figure of Destiny is still a superior card, but this is probably going to end up being the best creature in the set (overall, as Chapin is right that Emrakul is the “best” creature to ever have on the battlefield). Ranger of Eos has never looked so good to me, and I’d wager that Craig Wescoe and Cedric Phillips have already started testing White Weenie with four of these guys and a slew of White Knights, Kor Firewalkers, and Devout Lightcasters. Sign me up for that too, since there’s just something sweet about incredibly high-powered White creatures for one mana.

I know there are lots of other cards I could talk about, but I’m not sure what to make of some of them yet. Obviously the Umbras are insane in Limited, and Boar Umbra and Hyena Umbra have some serious Standard applications, but beyond that I’m not sure about the set. Sarkhan could be very powerful in Jund, sure, but only if you have a Thrinax in play or a Broodmate in hand. The Eldrazi could be very sick in a Summoning Trap deck (both in Standard and Block, though in Block I think the deck would have a defender subtheme with Mnemonic Wall and Overgrown Battlement), but it’s too soon to tell. I’ll update my opinions as cards are spoiled!

Until next time…

Chris Jobin
Team RIW
Shinjutsei on MTGO