Good Game: Is it Wise to Go to the Zoo?

by Andrew Hanson

Last week, I talked to you about how I did with Zoo against a slew of decks at the Grand Prix in LA, and a PTQ on Sunday (I scrubbed out day one). This week, I'm gonna narrow the match reports to just three deck types: Death Cloud, Faeries, and TEPS. First, some deck lists.

Here's the deck I ran that weekend:

ZooMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
1 Blood Crypt
4 Bloodstained Mire
1 Breeding Pool
1 Forest
1 Godless Shrine
1 Overgrown Tomb
1 Sacred Foundry
1 Steam Vents
1 Stomping Grounds
1 Temple Garden
4 Windswept Heath
4 Wooded Foothills

4 Dark Confidant
4 Kird Ape
4 Mogg Fanatic
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Wild Nacatl

Other Spells
4 Bant Charm
4 Lightning Helix
4 Seal of Fire
4 Tribal Flames
3 Umezawa's Jitte

If you think any of my choices are weird, look at last week's article, where I discuss them.

The first matchup I'd like to talk about is Faeries. Faeries is an interesting metgame choice, with great game against fast decks like Zoo and Elves. A turn one Engineered Explosives can stop an elf-combo cold, and it slows down the initial rush from Zoo, killing off Kird Apes and Wild Nacatls. Then, after it slows down the opposition with its cheap board sweepers or counter spells, it drops Control Magic-esque effects with Threads of Disloyalty and Vedalken Shackles, stealing later creature drops, like Tarmogoyf. And the deck can also shift to aggro with a Spellstutter Sprite carrying an Umezawa's Jitte, which still has the side-effect of locking Elves out of the game.

Now, I'm not sure of the exact deck lists that my two Faeries opponents used, but to give you a general idea of what the Faeries decks look like, here's the one from Worlds that one of my friends copied for the GP:

FaeriesMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
1 Academy Ruins
1 Breeding Pool
1 Hallowed Fountain
10 Island
4 Mutavault
3 Riptide Laboratory
1 River of Tears
1 Steam Vents

4 Spellstutter Sprite
3 Vendilion Clique
2 Venser, Shaper Savant

Other Spells
3 Chrome Mox
1 Cryptic Command
3 Engineered Explosives
4 Mana Leak
3 Repeal
4 Spell Snare
4 Thirst for Knowledge
2 Threads of Disloyalty
3 Umezawa's Jitte
2 Vedalken Shackles

Zoo vs. Faeries, Match One

This guy murderizes elves and faeries.
This one was actually my first match in the Grand Prix. My opponent won the roll and we both kept our opening seven. He came out with only land on turn one, but it was telling enough that I knew he was playing Faeries. So I dropped a Mogg Fanatic on turn one. The goblin is great against the Fae, as he can pop a Spellstutter before its trigger resolves, which means the faerie's target may no longer be legal, thus your spell is not countered. The next couple turns involved him holding back mana to counter my threats, and me holding back burn in case he dropped a Vendilion Clique.

On turn three, he went for the Clique at the end of my turn, and I Lightning Helixed it. He did nothing on turn four, leaving mana open as blue decks are wont to. On my turn, I played a Dark Confidant. No responses. He wasn't holding Spell Snare or Mana Leak. He never played an early Explosives. His opening hand must have been Faeries galore, which the Fanatic did a fine job making nearly worthless.

At the end of my turn, he went for a second Clique. I played a second Lightning Helix. Turn five, he put a body on the table, and he needed to if he wanted a shot in this game. He dropped a Glen Elendra Archmage. On my turn, I tried to Bant Charm the 2/2 flier, but the Faerie countered it, of course. I finished off the Archmage with my Fanatic, and got in there with my Confidant, dropping a Kird Ape on my second main phase.

The Archmage can be annoying, because it's either going to be a 2-for-1 in the Faeries favor, or it's going to chump block for a turn or two, buying the control deck much needed breathing room. I think it's too important for Zoo to keep the pressure up in this matchup, so I opt for the 2-for-1. On his next turn, he dropped an Explosives set for one, and a Venser, Shaper Savant to bounce my Confidant. That was annoying. I Bant Charmed Venser (that's right, my second one) to prevent any shenanigans with Riptide Laboratory, and then got in there with my ape.

His Explosives couldn't save him, though. I had the Confidant still in my hand as well as a Nacatl, which came down after the artifact swept my one-drop away. It took a few turns to finish—he hit a second Explosives—but I hit a third Helix, and at that point, I don't think he had a chance.

For boarding, I took out my Tarmogoyfs (they're not that fast, and give him a great target for a later Threads), one of my Seal of Fires (they're good for killing Faeries, but I need my one-drops to attack), and all four Tribal Flames (it's a decent finisher, but I want my burn to work at instant-speed in this matchup). In went three Gaddock Teegs to turn off the Explosives, two Duergar Hedge-Mages to whack his Threads and Shackles and Jittes, and four Thoughtseizes, as it can neuter his hand on turn one.

Not in the list above, but pretty good tech
for the fae.
He dropped only land on turn one, and I dropped a Nacatl. Nothing but land from him on two, and I decided to push him, see if he had a counter spell, and played my Dark Confidant. Nothing. Turn three, he played Firespout. Nice. My turn three, I played a third fetch land, got an untapped dual land, and Thoughtseized him. Who needs life, right? But his hand was sufficiently weak that I dropped my second Dark Confidant. He went land-go again, and I tried a Seal of Fire on my turn. It got Spellstuttered. But the Umezawa's Jitte I dropped didn't. And next turn, I played both a Mogg Fanatic and a Gaddock Teeg to equip.

He just kept playing lands, and Bob kept drawing me gas. My life did get dangerously low at one point (3 life, which means if Bob turns up a Charm, I'm dead), but I drew a Helix and had counters on my Jitte, so I wasn't worried.

I won the match, which made me happy as it put at 3-0 in the Grand Prix (it was my first match, but I had two byes). And it makes me happy now, because unlike last week, where I wrote about five losses before I wrote about a win, I get to start off with a win. Of course, that means losses are still to come...

Zoo vs. Faeries, Match Two

This matchup was also part of the GP, round six. I won the roll, and we both kept our opening seven. I opened with a Seal of Fire, and he opened with just a land. Turn two, I dropped Dark Confidant. He just dropped land again. I went for a Goyf on three, but it got Mana Leaked. Same for the Umezawa's Jitte I tried for on four. But I did get to stick an Ape that same turn. Sadly, my opponent had the Explosives. Bye bye Ape and Seal (which I set off to hit him for two).

Two of these, and it doesn't matter what
life you were at.
The next turn, though, I got in with Bob, dropped a Fanatic, and hit my opponent with a Tribal Flames, putting him down to 7 life. He dropped a Mutavault, but when I attacked next turn, he didn't want to block with it. Instead, he played Thirst for Knowledge in response to my Helix and dug up a Spell Snare. Sad for me, right? But I had a second Tribal Flames and burned him out on my next turn.

I did the same boarding for this match as I did in the other Faeries matchup. We both mulled to six, and he opened up with land. I had a Wild Nacatl. He did just land on turn two. I had a Dark Confidant and an Umezawa's Jitte in hand, but he had counter-mana open, and I didn't want to lose either of those cards. So I played a land, swung, and passed turn. He missed his land drop, and passed. I played Lightning Helix at the end of his turn, hoping to bait out a counter. Spell Snare. Yah!

I made the Jitte play and came in for some more. But, on his next turn, he played a Chrome Mox and an Engineered Explosives. Bye bye, kitty. At least I got to make my Dark Confidant play. He dropped a Mutavault in response and passed turn. I made my third land, chucked a Tribal Flames at him, and then took two from his man-land on his next turn. But then I dropped a Gaddock Teeg and a second Dark Confidant. Even if he ripped the Explosives, he couldn't play it anymore. On my next turn, the Confidants kicked my butt down to 6 life, but I had a full hand, and enough burn to seal the game.

This matchup is actually supposed to be hard for Zoo, but even in my playtesting, Zoo seemed the favored deck. I think part of it was that my Zoo had a few key differences from the other decks: the full four Mogg Fanatics, the full four Seal of Fires, and the Bant Charms (which were really useful in playtesting, though they didn't make much of an impression in these two matches). The Fanatics and Seals go a long way in turning the tide, as Faeries doesn't run many creatures, and I can kill what they do try to play. This is especially good against the Spellstutter Sprites.

Zoo vs. TEPS, Match One

First, here's a what a TEPS deck might look like (it's Luis Scott-Vargas's deck):

TEPSMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
3 Cascade Bluffs
4 Dreadship Reef
3 Flooded Strand
2 Island
3 Polluted Delta
3 Steam Vents

4 Desperate Ritual
2 Electrolyze
4 Lotus Bloom
4 Manamorphose
4 Mind's Desire
4 Peer Through Depths
4 Ponder
4 Remand
4 Rite of Flame
4 Seething Song
2 Sleight of Hand
2 Tendrils of Agony

My first matchup against this deck was on Sunday, in the PTQ. I don't remember who went first in the first game, though I don't think it really matters, at least as far as the reporting goes. Against Zoo, TEPS just waits to combo off the turn before Zoo can kill it, whether it's turn three or turn five. I came out with a turn one Ape. My opponent started this game hitting himself for three with a fetch land and a Steam Vents, so he could play a Ponder. He hurt himself a little over the next two turns with more Steam Vents and digging cards, while I pinged away at him with the monkey and a Lightning Helix. But two damage adds up quick, and he was in single digits by his turn four. So he went for it.

Probably not.
Funny story about this one, actually. I hadn't ever tested against TEPS before this (like I said last time, it's hard to read Extended's metagame), but I had tested against Swans. And that's what I thought I was playing against. When he played a Rite of Flame with only three land in play, I thought he was just trying to get his Swans of Brynn Argoll online, despite the fact that Swans doesn't run mana accelerators like that (just Chrome Moxes and Simian Spirit Guides). When he played a Desperate Ritual next, I had to stop and think. What was he trying to do? Get his Swans out and Chain of Plasma them?

Then it hit me. This wasn't Swans. It was TEPS. Boy, did I feel silly. But I told him to hold on while I thought. He only had two other land up. I doubted he was ready for a counter spell from Zoo of all decks. So I played the Bant Charm, countering the Ritual. His face went from confusion to disbelief to anger, and he scooped up his board.

As for boarding, I put in my Gaddock Teegs and Thoughtseizes, pulling out my Jittes (they're kinda slow) and my Goyfs (same reason). The Teegs are good for shutting down big spells like Mind's Desire and Tendrils of Agony. Game two, he came out the same way, but I had a turn one Nacatl followed by a turn two Gaddock Teeg. It went to turn five this time, and he tried to go off. This time, he went Seething Song into a Manamorphose. I could have countered them, but he still had mana back, and I didn't want to risk my Teeg to an Echoing Truth or Chain of Vapor, so I let it resolve. My opponent adds UU to his mana pool and draws a card, playing it immediately. Another Manamorphose. He leaves his pool the same, draws a card, and plays it immediately. Manamorphose. Okay...I let it resolve. He draws, and lays the fourth Manamorphose.

What in the world? Well, I stop and think about it. Sure, if I were playing TEPS and drew into that, I'd throw it out there just to up the storm count. But something nagged at me, said he wasn't just building storm, but was digging for something. So I played my Bant Charm and countered his Manamorphose. If he had the nuts in his hand, I could still lose, but intuition said I was safe.

He got mad again, asked why I didn't do that earlier, and scooped. Looking back on it now, I don't know why I didn't do it earlier. I could have just countered the Seething Song, and stopped him cold. Sure, if he had the counter to my counter, he would have gone off. But, if had the counter, I was dead anyway. At the time, I took his comment as an angry outburst, but maybe I'm just a noob.

Zoo vs. TEPS, Match Two

Counters the accelerator. Destroys the
Bloom on the upkeep. Gives Zoo game
against TEPS.
Really, these TEPS matchups go like this: if I don't have the Bant Charm, he goes off the turn before I kill him, and wins or peters out. In this second matchup, game one, he went off, and drew into his kill spell on his last ponder. Without it, he would have fizzled, but he got it. Game two, I did the same boarding as in Match One and rushed him. He tried to go off, but his Mind's Desire for five hit nothing. By the way, I never knew their could be so much drama around something as mundane as cutting someone's deck (we didn't use the Desire shortcut here). Game three, I was hiding behind a Teeg and kept the Bant Charm back to protect my advisor (it was the first time I'd seen the card all match, so I thought I had the ace up the sleeve).

He started to go off, and had the resources that a Bant Charm wouldn't have stopped him (read: Lotus Blooms). So he ramped up his mana, and started digging, Ponders drawing into Ponders. Finally, with his last dig spell (again), he hit two Mind's Desires and a Tendrils. Of course, he couldn't play them, and I had my Charm to guard Teeg. But he just dropped a Pyroclasm—a sorcery, and not something the Charm can counter. Crap.

Zoo vs. TEPS, Match Three

This one was at least a little tense. I won the roll and came out with a Nacatl on one, and a Goyf on two. He made his Lotus Bloom play on turn one. Turn four, after I knocked him down to 6 life, his Bloom came into play. He only had the three land, so I Bant Charmed the Bloom on his upkeep. He did a mini-storm thing off the Bloom's mana, running through Manamorphoses to dig, and used his Dreadship Reef to drain his mana pool. Then, on his main phase, he made the fourth land play to hit me with a Tendrils (storm count six) for 14. It put me down to 1 life, and him back up to 20. Unfortunately for him, my Goyf was huge now. He didn't draw the second Tendrils on his next turn, and I had him dead before he got a second draw.

I did the same boarding as Match One. The second game wasn't really close. Turn one, I hit him with a Thoughtseize. I followed it up with with Gaddock on two, and had a third Thoughtseize on turn three. He simply didn't have any game, and I got there with burn and a couple of critters.

This matchup is a tricky one. Zoo has some answers for TEPS (like Gaddock Teeg and Thoughtseize), and puts them under so much pressure. But TEPS is solid, and it can combo off on turn three if need be. And because Zoo kicks its own butt with lands, TEPS doesn't need the storm count to get that large before Tendrils becomes a lethal spell.

Zoo vs. Death Cloud, Match One

Oh, this matchup is painful. Death Cloud runs life gain, board sweepers, and a slow card advantage engine to bury Zoo. When Zoo wins, it's fast and close. When it loses, the game drags on, and you know you already lost, but you keep playing just in case you get lucky and rip those back-to-back Tribal Flames. Here's a decklist, so you have an idea of what's going on:

Death CloudMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
4 Barren Moor
1 Bloodstained Mire
1 Breeding Pool
2 Forest
2 Ghost Quarter
2 Overgrown Tomb
2 Snow-Covered Forest
1 Snow-Covered Mountain
2 Snow-Covered Swamp
2 Swamp
4 Tranquil Thicket
2 Twilight Mire
3 Wooded Foothills

4 Kitchen Finks
4 Sakura-Tribe Elder

Other Spells
4 Death Cloud
4 Engineered Explosives
4 Life from the Loam
4 Putrefy
3 Raven's Crime
1 Slaughter Pact
3 Smother
1 Worm Harvest

Game one, I came out running, but he had the spot removal and sweepers. I got him down to 4 life before he stabilized the board. He started beating me for two damage a turn, and when he got me to 2 life around turn 100, I ripped a Lightning Helix to buy me one more draw and put him to 1 life. I didn't see the burn spell.

This guy came in so much, I'm pretty sure
that he's moving to the maindeck.
As for boarding, it's actually quite similar to TEPS. I put in the Thoughtseizes (if I can pull out an Engineered Explosives, it could buy me enough time to win) and the Teegs (no Explosives, no Damnation, no Worm Harvest). Out come the Jittes again, because if I actually get to keep a creature on the board, Death Cloud usually loses. And out came the Bant Charms, as they are practically dead against this deck.

Game two, I came out running again. Only this time, he didn't have the tools to slow it down enough. I got him down to 8 life by turn four, and he dropped a Kitchen Finks to slow me down. I hit it with a Seal and a Fanatic, got in there for six, then Tribal Flamesed him down to 1 life. I had another burn spell in hand, so when he didn't hit me with a Raven's Crime, it was over.

Game three, I started off with a Thoughtseize, and here's what I see: 2 Darkheart Slivers, a Sakura-Tribe Elder, two Ravenous Baloths, and a Worm Harvest. I made him discard the Baloth. All the others eventually saw play. I did 23 points of damage to him that game, but he gained 12 points of life, and it came down to the Worm Harvest. I couldn't fight through the tokens.

It was the way he stole a win through Worm Harvest that makes me want to test Jund Charms in the board. That card can both remove his bin, stopping Loam and dropping the worms generated to zero, and can sweep the board for two, leaving most of my beaters alive and clear for attack.

Zoo vs. Death Cloud, Match Two

Game one, it looked like to be a typical game between these two decks. I beat him down to burn range, ran out of gas, and he swept the board clean. But, before he could get his life back up, I got lucky and ripped the Tribal Flames. Go burn!

Game two, his life never even dropped below twenty. God, I can't even remember what he gained all that life with, but I think it was just Baloth after Finks after Finks after Baloth. Or something like that. At one point, he was at 31 life. To make a long game short, I was never in it.

Game three, I opened with a Thoughtseize, and pulled out the board sweeper. Turns two and three, I made creature drops, then hit him with another Thoughtseize. It sucks that I can't disable the Life from the Loam engine with a Thoughtseize, but the engine is slow. So when I pull his creature-hate out, it puts him under a tight clock, and Loaming doesn't really help him that much. Plus, the Death Cloud decks run something like 27 lands, so his odds of drawing blanks are high. He did get one Baloth down near the end, but I swung out and had the burn to finish him off even after the life gain.

Zoo vs. Death Cloud, Match Three

Say hello to Loams five through eight.
It would actually be more appropriate to title this matchup as “Zoo vs. Gifts Rock”. The kid had a touch of blue in the mana base to support Gifts Ungiven, which is really good. Game one, he won the roll, and everything went bad for me. He Smothered my first creature, hit my second dude with a Putrefy, and then used a Damnation in a one-for-one on my Dark Confidant. His life dropped to 11, then went back up to 14, then back down to 10 by the time he killed me. Oh, I never connected with a creature once, all game. Most of that damage came from his own lands, with eight of it coming from me (a Tribal Flames and a Helix).

Game two, I at least got to hit him with some creatures. But his deck, unlike some of the other Rock/Death Cloud builds I saw earlier, ran a metric expletive-ton of spot removal, as well as maindeck Damnations. I couldn't keep a board to save my life (or end his), and with the bit of life gain he ran (Finks, Baloth), my burn couldn't get there, either. It really felt like I was beating my head against a brick wall. Oh well.

If you are thinking about running Zoo at all this Extended season (there's still two months left of PTQs), then you should seriously consider packing hate for the Rock/Death Cloud decks. What form does that hate take? I'm not entirely sure—I'm still pretty new to Extended. But I think Jund Charm is decent. It can get rid of their graveyard to stop a Loam engine, or to act as a counter spell for Worm Harvest. If they already have some worms out to chump block against your Nacatl, Ape, or Goyf, the Charm also functions as a board sweeper, but doesn't kill your main threats. It can also be a decent card to board against Elves, assuming someone tries to steal a PTQ with the deck (other than Faeries, decks are lightening a lot of their elf-hate), but you have to stall them until you have three mana in play.

In a recent interview with Brian David-Marshall, Luis Scott-Vargas mentioned that it's important to play against the field. What he was referring to is deck choice. In LA, LSV reasoned that most decks out there wouldn't be ready to tangle with TEPS, and he was right. He did the same reasoning to win in Berlin with Elves. For this Extended season, that seems like a smart way to play, but what will the metagame look like? Will people be running TEPS, like LSV? I would say some, but don't bet too heavily on it. Last year, it was a monoblue control deck that won the Grand Prix that kicked off the Extended season, but the PTQs were dominated by Dredge, a deck that got hated out by the pros.

So for this season, I would say get ready for everything (duh), and really focus on the tried-and-true choices. Zoo will be popular (it always is). If Zoo is big, I expect that Rock/Death Cloud decks will be, as well. Faeries will probably continue to be the blue deck of choice. Don't discount Affinity as a viable deck and threat. As for the combo decks, well, we'll see which ones become popular. With Extended, this metagaming thing is really hard.


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