Last time, I discussed the Standard RUG deck I played at the StarCityGames.com Invitational, but now we get to the good stuff: Legacy Zoo. For those of you who
don’t know, I’m somewhat of a Wild Nacatl aficionado. Zoo has been my pet deck for quite a few years now, ever since Chris Woltereck
pointed out to me the cool interaction between Boros Swiftblade and Gaea’s Might (though at that point, we called the deck Gaea’s Might Get
There). I played Zoo in my first Pro Tour (Berlin). I Top 8ed a GP for the first time with Zoo (Oakland). Anyway, you get the idea. I really enjoy
playing this deck.
So while I might have had a little trouble figuring out a Standard deck, what I was piloting in Legacy was a foregone conclusion. I actually tested
this format a good bit, since there was a Legacy GP prior to the Invitational. Huge thanks to Pat Price for lending me both physical and Magic
Online cards for the deck. (Writing that sentence reminded me I should probably return those, sorry Pat!)
I played the following list to a Top 8 finish in the StarCityGames.com Open Atlanta:
- 4 Kird Ape
- 3 Grim Lavamancer
- 4 Tarmogoyf
- 4 Wild Nacatl
- 3 Knight of the Reliquary
- 3 Qasali Pridemage
- 2 Loam Lion
- 2 Stoneforge Mystic
And the deck was pretty great for that tournament. Aside from the Bojuka Bog, I used all of the sideboard cards more than once. Ben Stark and I played
a very similar list to poor finishes in the Orlando Open, so I knew I had to adapt to the new metagame created by Mental Misstep.
We talked about the deck quite a bit in the week leading up to GP Providence, with Ben wanting to make the deck more and more aggressive. He
essentially wanted a burn deck with Wild Nacatls. He suggested a lot of variations on this theme, but the gist was “Knight of the Reliquary
stinks; let’s just cast one-drops and burn them.” The exact lists he suggested were somewhat ridiculous, but he certainly pushed me in the
right direction, and my final deck ended up as a compromise between what I had done well with and what he wanted to play. He actually switched to
Merfolk right before the GP and didn’t do very well, but I ended up in top 64. While this is not an incredible finish, it did show me that the
list was getting much closer to being correct.
The maindeck from the GP was actually the same as what I played in the Invitational, but I still had a bunch of sideboard cards for combo decks: three
Ethersworn Canonists and three Mindbreak Traps. After siding those cards in zero times in a fifteen-round GP, I figured out that combo was not exactly
a popular choice in the post-Mental Misstep Legacy metagame. So I cut those cards for the Invitational and ended up with this:
As you can see, there is no Knight of the Reliquary. Knight is great against other green-based creature decks, since games often get to a point where
you’re trying to get the biggest guy on the board so you can start attacking. But these types of decks are not particularly popular at the
moment, and he is pretty miserable against other decks. You do not need such a large creature in most matchups, and he costs a ton. You could cast
three Wild Nacatls for that much mana!
What does cutting Knight let us do? Add even more one-drops of course! As you can see, we have the full eight Kird Apes in this deck. Many people have
asked me “why not Steppe Lynx?” Well, Steppe Lynx is terrible in Zoo. Look at this deck: it runs twenty lands. Ideally, you want to draw
about 2.5 lands per game. That does not exactly fit with Steppe Lynx. Also, you have to play Lynx early to get any use out of him, and there are many
times you do not want to lead with an 0/1. If they’re playing Goblin Lackey, you need a 2/2 (soon a 3/3) or 2/3 on turn 1. If they’re playing Goblin
Guide, you need a 2/3. If they’re playing Merfolk, you need a 1/1 that kills their entire deck.
So we have the fifteen one-drops. What about two-drops? Well Tarmogoyf is an obvious inclusion, since he is huge, cheap, and awesome. (When I proxy
Tarmogoyf, I typically write 10/10 in the bottom right corner.) Qasali Pridemage is also just a great creature. He deals with many problem cards and
allows you to attack for four on turn 2. We only run three because you want to see approximately one a game. Starting with a one-drop on turn 1 and two
one-drops on turn 2 is almost always better than casting a Pridemage on turn 2. Stoneforge Mystic allows you to have a late game against the decks
where you need one, without having to run any expensive cards. You never want to draw more than one, and you almost always have something better to do
on turn 2. Hence, only two copies of the card.
Jitte with Stoneforge in an aggro deck is probably an obvious inclusion. But the Sword of Body and Mind is somewhat unconventional. The large creatures
in the format (at least the ones that people legitimately cast) are almost exclusively green. Sword lets you attack past these creatures, while
creating an army on your side of the table. It is also good against Jace, since they cannot bounce an equipped creature. One thing to keep in mind is
that some decks make use of their graveyard, so do not fetch Sword up against them. The mill ability is almost never relevant, unless it pumps your
As you can see, we have eleven burn spells in this deck. In future versions, it will probably be twelve. I won most of my games during this tournament
by burning my opponent out. It might seem curious that there are three Chain Lightnings and four Lightning Helixes, since Chain Lightning is
“better.” But the instant speed is fairly relevant against things such as manlands, Equipment, Vialed in Merfolk lords, and Vendilion
Clique. The one mana is typically not relevant, since there are very few things you need to burn on turn 1, and you still have seven ways (plus Path to
Exile) to do that. Another good thing about Lightning Helix is that it cannot be Mental Misstepped. It’s nice to have the option to cast Helix when you need a burn spell to resolve (say, to kill a Goblin Lackey or a Merfolk lord that has been Vialed in to screw up your combat). When burning
people out, I always led with the one-mana spells because I knew if those resolved, the Helix would almost assuredly finish them.
There are three Path to Exiles in the deck because you need to move “too large to burn” creatures out of the way sometimes. Such creatures
are less common than they used to be, so it’s possible we can go down to two Paths. I sometimes see people run Swords to Plowshares in this slot.
That’s definitely a nonbo in your super aggro deck, and you should not run that card until you have maxed out on Paths. The land you’re giving them is
very rarely relevant, since for cards to be viable in Legacy, they generally have to be pretty cheap. Besides, several decks don’t even run
nonbasics. One exception where the land is relevant is the Stoneforge decks running Batterskull. Stoneforge will never ever live to cheat
Batterskull into play against your burn spells and Grim Lavamancers. But you do not want to help them cast the five-drop that’s now stranded in their
Now let’s take a look at the sideboard:
Sword of Fire and Ice
This comes in against Merfolk and Goblins. In both cases, it’s switched in for Sword of Body and Mind. There is a U/R control deck with Lavamancers
around; you obviously want this card against them too. You also side this in (while keeping in the other Sword as well) for the Zoo mirror. Zoo mirror
matches are typically about having the last threat standing, and any piece of Equipment will help make even your smaller creatures threats.
The main purpose of this is to kill Progenitus and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. It’s also fine to side in against other green creature decks, since you can
copy their creature that’s probably larger than yours—though it is certainly less exciting here, since it makes their Pridemages removal spells.
Ranger of Eos and Elspeth, Knight-Errant
These are for the Zoo mirror, mostly. Casting a four-drop with twenty lands can be a little rough, but the games go long enough that it should not be a
real issue. Getting two more Nacatls to tip a clogged board in your favor is usually good enough to win the game. Elspeth can create blockers to help
you catch up if you are behind and start killing them if the board is relatively even.
Basically any matchup that you expect to come down to attrition, you want these cards, especially Elspeth. People do not run a lot of ways to interact
with planeswalkers in Legacy. Elspeth also has some fringe benefits, such as getting around Moat or a recurring Mishra’s Factory via Crucible of
Grip is clearly good against any deck with a lot of artifacts, such as Metalworker or Affinity. But the main purpose is to kill Batterskull. You have
plenty of ways to kill Stoneforge, and you have Qasali Pridemage to (sometimes) kill Batterskull already, but it’s nice to have a way to deal with the
card that gets around both counterspells and the bounce ability. You cannot afford to run more than one copy, since it’s situational. You’ll likely
lose the game if you have multiple dead cards in hand.
I am not necessarily sold on this card, but I wanted to try it out against the blue decks packing a lot of counterspells. It is also obviously awesome
against Merfolk, but you do not need any help there. I did have a situation come up where Gerry was low enough for three burn spells to kill him, but I
wanted to wait on a fourth in case he had a counter. I drew a Pyroblast, and it served the same purpose, allowing me to safely go in for the kill.
Swords to Plowshares and Path to Exile
These come in against creature decks or decks that run giant guys such as Tarmogoyf, Knight of the Reliquary, and Tombstalker. I know I said earlier
that Swords is not very good in our deck, but hey I ran out of Paths!
This card is almost good enough to maindeck, but Qasali Pridemage’s versatility wins out. Pretty much if your opponent has spells that
Teeg stops, you want him in your deck. He is awesome against the U/W Stoneforge deck, stopping Force of Will, Jace, and hardcast Batterskull. Many
combo decks rely on casting a card costing four or more, so Teeg gives you at least some way to interact with them (since the dedicated combo hate has
been cut from the board).
Thrun, the Last Troll
I added this guy right before the Legacy portion started because several people told me he was good, and I wanted to try him. I do not think Thrun is
actually good. He is slow, and the only time I drew him, I would have been better off with literally any other spell. You’re rarely going to have four
mana on turn 4 in this deck. And against the decks where you want Thrun, you also don’t want the game to last long enough for you to have four
lands in play.
This card won me more than one game against blue decks. I either sandbagged it until they were tapped out for Jace or cast it to get a Force of Will
out of their hand so I could resolve an actual threat. It is possible you want a third, since you want it every game in the matchups where it is good.
I only ran two because you do not want opening hands with multiple copies of Choke in place of actual threats.
The first four rounds of the tournament were Standard. After a 3-1 start, I was ready to play some Zoo. I am drawing a blank on the details of a few of
the rounds, and I apologize for that. The tournament was over a week ago now, and I have played quite a few matches since then.
Round 5 Gerry Thompson playing U/W (no Stoneforge)
I put Gerry on playing some sort of U/W deck, but I am unsure if he has adopted Stoneforge or not. Game 1 I get him low with creatures, but he gets
back into the game with a Jace, the Mind Sculptor bouncing my lone creature every turn. I have a Chain Lightning that I can redirect to Jace, but I
decide to deal the damage to him to put him in burn range. This may have been a mistake, since it allows the game to last longer. A few turns later, I
have drawn another Chain but am hesitant to cast it in case he has drawn a counter. Eventually he has an Ancestral Vision about to go off, so it is now
or never. I lead with an irrelevant creature hoping to draw a counter and then cast the lethal Chain Lightning.
Game 2 plays out fairly similarly, except I need to cast three burn spells instead of one. I have all three in hand and a Gaddock Teeg in play to stop
Force of Will, but I decide to hold off until I draw a fourth burn spell. He has an Elspeth in play that has clogged up the board too much for me to
attack, but it is not yet threatening to kill me. I eventually draw a Pyroblast, which serves the same purpose as a burn spell in this situation. It
turns out he has nothing, and he seems surprised that I bothered playing around anything with Teeg in play, since he had already cast two of his Mental
Missteps. But I figured he could have a Swords to Plowshares on Teeg to free up Force of Will or just have a third Misstep.
Round 6 Andrew Pekios with U/W Stoneforge
I am sorry, I do not remember much of this match except that game 2 a Gaddock Teeg stranded a Batterskull in his hand after I killed his Stoneforge.
Round 7 Josh Jacobson with U/W Stoneforge
I win game 1 with a relatively fast start and a burn spell to finish him off. Game 2 he casts Jace, the Mind Sculptor into my empty board, so I may be
in trouble. Luckily, I have the Choke to take advantage of his tapping out. We play draw go a little, but soon enough I am able to kill both Jace and
Josh tells me after the match that he thinks he misplayed because he could have cast Elspeth, Knight-Errant instead of Jace. That probably would have
been good enough to kill me the way the game played out, but it is hard to say that it is wrong to cast Jace when your opponent is doing nothing. I
suppose Choke is a relatively common sideboard card, so it is probably correct for him to play around it when possible.
Round 8 Ben Swartz with Dredge
Ben tries to figure out what deck to put me on so he can decide if he should play or draw. Then he remembers that Orrin told him what I was playing.
Thanks, Orrin! His making this decision tells me two things: he is playing Dredge, and I’m about to be 6-2. This matchup is pretty miserable. You
don’t have a lot of ways to interact with them, and they kill much faster than you do. You do side in Gaddock Teeg to stop Dread Return, but they
can get you with Ichorid plus Bridge from Below as well.
People often say that the matchup must be okay since you can kill your own guys to get rid of Bridge from Below. So basically, they think 2-for-1ing
yourself to get rid of a card they incidentally put in the graveyard is a winning proposition. Yes, you do sometimes have to do this. But it certainly
does not mean you want to face Dredge.
Anyway, he dispatches me fairly handily both games; though game 2 he is helped by a misplay on my part. I play a Gaddock Teeg to join a Kird Ape and
Grim Lavamancer on the board, only to have all three get Firestormed away. I was previously unaware that Firestorm was even a Magic card, so I am not
really kicking myself for not playing around it. But it is certainly something to be aware of in the future. If I had kept the board as is, I likely
would have won, since the game ended with him at relatively low life.
Round 9 Sam Stoddard with Bant (without Natural Order)
I think this is typically a close match. There is a lot of interaction, and you just get to actually play Magic. However in this particular match, I
draw about seven lands (of my twenty) per game. So needless to say, he beats me pretty easily. I do manage to slow him down with Gaddock Teeg game 2,
but once he finds a way to kill it, several Green Sun’s Zeniths and a double Stoneforge Mystic turn make short work of me.
Round 10 Tim Frank with B/W Stoneforge
I do not know the actual name of this archetype, but he is playing a deck with cards like Dark Confidant, Stoneforge Mystic, Vindicate, etc. Basically
it contains all of the good black and white cards.
Game 1 he casts Stoneforge Mystic for Batterskull. I kill the Stoneforge, leaving Batterskull stranded in his hand. He follows up with a Dark
Confidant. I have a choice here: I can Path to Exile the Confidant or cast Grim Lavamancer and wait a turn to kill it. In many cases, it is correct to
just Path here. But I know he has Batterskull in hand, and I don’t want to ramp him into it. Keeping the Path will also let me kill the Germ token,
when Batterskull does hit play. He does not hit a land off of Confidant, and a few turns later, he is stuck on four mana. Good thing I held back the
I do not remember game 2 very well, except that the game ended when I burned his creature in response to his equipping a Sword of Fire and Ice.
Round 11 Max Jacob with Merfolk
Merfolk is your best matchup by a mile, so I am pretty happy to be sitting across from it. All of the spells in your deck are either a card that kills
one of their creatures or a creature that is bigger than each of theirs. Plus, you have Grim Lavamancer. By the way, it is often correct to lead with
another one-drop, even if you have the Lavamancer in hand. This will either draw the counter or show you that they likely do not have it. It’s not as
if they can let a Wild Nacatl resolve on the off chance that you have Lavamancer next turn.
Game 1 I Zoo him pretty good. Game 2 gets to a point where Max’s board is two Mutavaults and a Vial on three versus two or three creatures on my
side. He double-blocks a Nacatl with the Mutavaults, and I Bolt one before damage. In response, he Vials in a Kira, Great Glass-Spinner to try to
counter the spell. Unfortunately for him, that is not how Kira works. The ability triggers when the creature is targeted, and Kira was not in play when
I targeted the Mutavault. What he could have done was Vial in Kira and then activate his Mutavaults and block. He does not have much action
after this, and I kill him a couple of turns later.
One side note here: if you play Aether Vial in your deck, please actually put the Vial trigger on the stack. So many of my opponents just tap Vial and
put a guy into play. It’s pretty likely I would want to respond, in case it’s a lord that will make your guys too large to burn. Or if Kira worked the
way my opponent thought, I would like to respond there as well.
After the match, Max jokingly complains that I played correctly and didn’t let him Wasteland me out. One of the few ways Merfolk can beat you is
to Wasteland you out of the game. Don’t let this happen to you. Against any deck with Wastelands, what you fetch up is dependent on how many
lands you have in hand. If you only have a couple of lands, you usually need to get basics, even if your Nacatl will be smaller for a few turns. If you
have three lands, at a minimum get one of each dual land so a single Wasteland cannot keep you off of a color. However, I typically just get one of
each basic in this spot. If you have an excess of lands, then you want to get nonbasics in the hope that they Wasteland one. Assuming you have lands in
hand, your losing a land is basically meaningless (your curve stops at two), and they will have set themselves back a turn.
There were now three more rounds of Standard, which I 2-1ed. This left me with a record 10-4. Two of the four X-4s made Top 8, and thanks to my 6-1
start, I was one of them. I ended up in eighth, which was great for me because first place (Dan Jordan) was playing Merfolk!
Glenn already did a great job covering the Top 8 matches, so I will not give the play by play again. But I will go over a few of the interesting
choices and plays.
Quarterfinals Dan Jordan with Merfolk
StarCityGames.com coverage can be found here.
In game 2 I make a pretty stupid misplay. I allow a Cursecatcher to resolve before attempting to Lightning Bolt a Merrow Reejerey. He of course
sacrifices the Cursecatcher to counter the spell. I likely would have still lost the game since he was rolling me, but I was mad at myself nonetheless.
Game 3 shows why Kira, Great Glass-Spinner is sometimes just not good enough. The ability is obviously insane against Zoo, but the card does cost
three, and you may have amassed quite the army by then. He ends up having to trade both of his Kira for Pridemages and succumbs to the kitty cat parade
shortly thereafter. (Yeah that’s right, Glenn; I’m stealing your phrase.)
Semifinals Mike Jacob with NO RUG
StarCityGames.com coverage can be found here.
Before the match, I tell MJ that really the only way I can lose is to a resolved Natural Order. He says that he almost never casts that, since he has
to take a different and worse line of play to set it up. Then when he gets to five lands, he fetches up a Dryad Arbor and casts Natural Order. I
jokingly tell him that he lied and move on to the next game.
In game 2 there is a point where I attack with a Kird Ape, Loam Lion, and Wild Nacatl into a 1/2 Tarmogoyf. He blocks a Loam Lion and goes to crack his
fetchland with no other untapped lands in play. I Lightning Bolt the Tarmogoyf in response to the fetch, though I also could have waited until he
Bolted the Wild Nacatl (which still happened, of course). It’s a beautiful thing when you manage to kill a Tarmogoyf with a burn spell, but do not let
them blow you out with a removal spell on your guy, turning Goyf into a 3/4. This is why I did not attempt to burn the Goyf before combat. If he did
not block with the Goyf or kill one of my guys, it also would have been safe to go for the Bolt.
In games 2 and 3, he does not have Natural Order, so I get to move onto the finals!
Finals Jim Davis with Goblins
StarCityGames.com coverage can be found here.
Game 2 he mulligans to five, but I get pretty mana-flooded, so we actually have a game. The most interesting play of this game is when I attack with a
Loam Lion, and he attempts to Gempalm Incinerator it with three Goblins and an Aether Vial in play. He is at eleven life, and I have three burn spells
in hand. I can burn a guy in response, to make my Loam Lion live, but he can potentially Vial a fourth Goblin into play at this point. If that happens,
I’ll now be six damage short of killing him. Plus, even if the Loam Lion gets through to put him to nine, I’ll now only have six damage of burn left in
hand. He has three creatures in play (that have attacked last turn), so I know Loam Lion will never get through again.
I decide that I have to let Loam Lion die and hope that I draw another burn spell (or a Grim Lavamancer). I draw a Tarmogoyf the following turn to
prevent him from attacking and then draw the final burn spell. I lead with three one-mana spells, knowing that even if he has Mental Misstep, he won’t
arbitrarily counter one when at eleven or eight life. Once he is at five he thinks about countering my Lightning Bolt, but I flash the Lightning Helix
to show him he is dead even if he does and has another Misstep.
And just like that, I won the tournament! I had Top 8ed a couple of GPs before, but this was my first win at a major event, and it felt great. It was
also a huge confidence boost heading into the Pro Tour and almost certainly aided in my performance there.
Going forward, there are a couple of changes that can be made to the deck. The Stoneforge package has been great for me in the past but was not really
pulling its weight that weekend. I could certainly see cutting Stoneforge Mystics for the fourth Grim Lavamancer and Chain Lightning. I would still
leave in the miser’s Jitte, but the Sword could be an open slot as well. You are losing basically your whole late game if you do this, though. So
I would want to try this version out before registering it in a tournament.
Thrun also should be cut, since he basically did nothing. What you replace him with kind of depends on your expected metagame. It could be another
Choke, Pyroblast, Ranger of Eos, or Elspeth. I went over what cards are good against which matchups earlier in the article, so refer to that.
Megan just informed me that Hive Mind won the last Open. If you are worried about this deck, then you can perhaps add Ethersworn Canonist back into
your sideboard. Though really all this does is give you a turn to kill their Hive Mind, since they can just cast a single Pact the following turn, and
you’ll be unable to pay. And you do still have Teeg to stop them from hardcasting the enchantment. Honestly every deck is going to have some bad
matchups, and this sounds like a pretty awful one for Zoo. It dodges the combo hate that you typically would play: Canonist and Mindbreak Trap. You are
probably better off accepting the bad matchup than warping your sideboard trying to make it slightly better.
Hopefully you enjoyed reading this report as much as I enjoyed writing it. (In case you didn’t pick up on it, I really like Zoo.) I am
still in Japan sightseeing for a few more days, but I’ll be bringing you a PT report in the near future. Next stop: Kansas City!
P.S. Thanks Kitt and Megan for hanging onto my trophy and giant check, so I didn’t have to lug them around for two weeks. You guys are the best!