Metagaming is Hard

If this is popular, avoid playing Zoo.
Ah, Los Angeles. My experience in that city was unlike anything I've ever known. Then again, I grew up in rural upper Michigan, and now live in mild-mannered Tucson. So when, on Friday evening, we get within 100 yards of our hotel, but don't actually arrive at the place for nearly an hour, I'm a little shocked. When, at 3:30 a.m. Monday morning, after all the Magic events are done and our group is getting ready to turn in for the night, a hooker shows up at our door, thinking we called for her, I'm a bit more shocked. When our room gets a call at 4:00 that same morning by a woman running an “escort service” who is all upset that we apparently turned away the hooker—I mean escort girl—twice that evening (I only knew of the once, but then we didn't get back to our room until midnight, so maybe she came by when it was empty), I'm really shocked. But then, after all that, I do feel a bit more worldly.

But, my experience in LA isn't why you're here. You're most likely here to read a report on the Grand Prix. Well, if you're even remotely interested, you already know I didn't win. I didn't top eight. And (you may not have known this one) I didn't even make day two. You see, unlike Standard, which has a simple metagame, Extended's metagame is a fluid thing and can change from tournament to tournament. So what might be a strong deck choice at one tournament, ends up being a poor one at the next.

For example, in a Standard tournament, Faeries is always a good choice. It's a strong deck, and has tools to handle anything in the field. Same goes for Monored Demigod. Same for Kithkin. But now, in an Extended tournament, Zoo might be a good choice. If the field is composed of a lot of Elves decks or (in my experience) Faeries decks, Zoo is a very good choice. But if the field is composed of a lot of TEPS (The Extended Perfect Storm, a storm deck using Mind's Desire and Tendrils of Agony, in case you didn't know) and Black/Green Death Cloud decks, then Zoo may not be a very good choice.

So, I went to Los Angeles with Zoo, thinking Faeries would be more popular and Death Cloud would be less popular. My bad. Here's my list:

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

Desperate Ritual? Surprise!
So, a couple things on there could stand to be addressed. Like, no Oblivion Rings in the deck. I chose to use Bant Charm instead for a couple of reasons. First, it's an instant. Although O-Ring can take out more permanents, I felt the greater flexibility for when it could be played was more important. Second, it's not an enchantment, making it better in the mirror match. My opponent's Duergar Hedge-Mage can't save a Tarmogoyf that I took out with the Charm like he can with a Goyf O-Ringed. Third, it can counter spells. In the Faeries matchup, that actually turned out to be pretty good. In the mid-game, when you get to five lands, it lets you to try and force the burn spells through. Also, it can stop TEPS from going off, which I found immensely useful during the PTQ on Sunday.

Another thing that should be addressed are the four Mogg Fanatics and the four Seal of Fires. I was absolutely determined to not let Elves stomp all over me. It rocked in Berlin, then floundered at Worlds, but Dredge did something similar last year, and people let it go nuts. I was not going to suffer that fate. Looking back, I should have known that the popularity of Faeries would reduce the Elves numbers, and I could have lightened my maindeck hate for the little green men by a couple cards.

Can I play him and Thoughtseize?
The last thing that may raise some eyebrows are the missing Tidehollow Scullers. Why aren't they in my deck? They are amazing, I would never argue against that. But, I wanted to run the Thoughtseizes more because of two of the decks I would play them against: Faeries and Black/Green Death Cloud. Both of those decks can take out a 2/2 for two easily, which gives them their card back. In playtesting, I found that the Sculler was very high up on the “creatures to kill” list, so I wanted to play the card that would get rid of the threat for real. Of course, Sculler can pull a Life from the Loam out of the game, which Thoughtseize can't do. But when the same deck runs seven or eight maindeck spot removal spells that kill the Sculler, the Loam doesn't really feel gone.

All that said, my deck performed alright. Over the course of three days (I played in one grinder the night before) and fifteen matches, I went up against Death Cloud three times, TEPS three times, Faeries twice, a red/green Loam Assault deck, a red/green splash white for Helix aggro deck, only one Affinity deck, one Lightning Bolt.dec, one All-In Red, one Bant Aggro, and one red/white Slide type of deck, though I never saw it play an Astral Slide, only Lightning Rift. That's a lot of Magic to write about, so I'm going to break this up into two articles. And rather than focus on any one tournament, I'm going to focus on archetype matchups instead. This time, I'll look at the matchups I only had one-of. Next time, I'll focus on Death Cloud, TEPS, and Faeries. Onto the matches.

Zoo vs. R/G/w Aggro

Against decks that expect to take six
damage from their own lands? Strong.
He won the roll and got to play first, which is really important in these matchups. Game one, we both keep all seven cards, and he opened with Kird Ape on one, a Seal of Fire and a Mogg Fanatic on two, with a Keldon Marauders and a second Fanatic on three. I opened with my own Ape on one, a Seal on two (letting my second land come into play tapped to preserve some life), and a Goyf on three. Things went alright for me, and I got most of his board cleared, but he dropped a Sulfuric Vortex, which put me on a short clock, made even shorter by the presence of his Seal of Fire. I didn't have enough time to win.

Game two, I boarded in my Kitchen Finks for the Bant Charms. That was a mistake. I should have boarded them in for the Dark Confidants, which, in these kinds of matchups, quickly become dead draws. You can't risk the life loss. I also boarded in my enchantment removal for a couple of my little pingers (Seals and Fanatics), as they can't fight off Apes, Kitties, or Marauders.

Game two was a lot like game one, only he didn't hit the Vortexes, which gave me the time to keep up the pressure and hit with bigger burn spells (he has no burn spells in that deck that can compete with Tribal Flames for sheer damage output).

Game three, things got rough. He came out with a one- and two-drop. So did I. Then he played a Molten Rain, which screwed over my mana base. I had an Umezawa's Jitte, and it did well, but he kept playing stuff and I couldn't. I never really get back into the game after the land destruction.

One of Zoo's greatest weaknesses is its land base. Almost entirely non-basic, with most of the actual mana-producing lands being one-ofs, land destruction can screw up your base so that you don't have the right colors available, and Blood Moon can almost lock you out of a game by itself. If you're going to play Zoo this extended season, be prepared for some frustrating games.

Zoo vs. R/G Loam Assault

This was much like the Black/Green Death Cloud decks, and revolved around the card advantage engine that is Life from the Loam and the Onslaught cycling lands. It also ran Countryside Crusher, which is awesome in a deck running 27 or so lands and Loam. He can get big.

I won the roll, though, and got to keep my opening seven. I came down fast with Kird Ape, Mogg Fanatic, and burn. He did a turn three Firespout to clear my board, but I simply rebuilt, burned his creature drop, and then burned him out of the game.

Changes Life from the Loam's text to:
Deal 2 damage to target creature or player.
Deal 2 damage to target creature or player.
Deal 2 damage to target creature or player.
Game two, I boarded in my Thoughtseizes and my Hedge-Mages, as I figured he would be running the Seismic Assault. I pulled my Seals and some of my Fanatics for them, leaving the Bant Charms in to deal with fat Crushers. He came out a little slow, while I came out with an Ape on one, and a Fanatic/Thoughteize on two. He cycled into an Engineered Explosives, but didn't have the mana to activate, so I took it out with a Hedge-Mage on my next turn. But a Kitchen Finks bought him some time, and he soon landed an Assault. With a Loam online, too, he burned out my board, then burned me out of the game.

Game three, I had the nuts hand. Two fetch lands, a Kird Ape, a Wild Nacatl, a Goyf, a Lightning Helix, and a Bant Charm. I was on the play. I thought I was gold. I never drew a third land. He played a turn two Wall of Roots (boarded in for Zoo), and I had to swing into it then finish it with a Helix. Then he dropped a Ghost Quarter, screwed up my land, and stuck a Crusher soon after. Oh yeah, the Crusher dug through land to get him an Engineered Explosives as well. Sad face for me. With the third land, I could have Charmed his wall, kept up the pressure, and burn him while making creature drops, instead of having to choose between the two.

In the end, the Crusher lived up to his name. I really think I could have won this matchup, as the green/red version of the deck felt weaker than the black/green version against Zoo, but what can you do?

Zoo vs. Affinity

This match was actually right on the heels of the Loam Assault match. It was during the GP, and I was 3-0 going into the Loam matchup, 3-1 going into this one.

He won the roll and chose to play (duh), and I had to mull to six. He opened with an Arcbound Worker off of some artifact land, and I came out with my Nacatl. Then he played a Springleaf Drum and a Thoughtcast, and I came in for three, then dropped a Kird Ape. Turn three, he dropped a Blinkmoth Nexus and three Myr Enforcers. Freaking Affinity decks. My turn three Kird Ape didn't seem like such a hot play, and his Cranial Plating really felt like overkill to me.

Don't underestimate Affinity. Run these.
As for boarding, in came the Hedge-Mages and the Ancient Grudges, out went the Fanatics. I ended up having to mull to five cards, but the hand was three fetch lands and two Grudges. I kept. I played like a control deck, and then dropped a Wild Nacatl and a Goyf to run the beats. He had a good hand, with Myr Enforcer and a pair of Master of Etheriums, but two Grudges is just about all you need to beat Affinity.

Game three, I made a colossal mistake. My opening hand was tight, with three fetch lands and a nice curve. But that curve was all creatures. I even thought about mulling to artifact hate, but decided, nah. Dumb. That's what I am. I made good plays, with two Nacatls and a Goyf, but he was Affinity. His creatures are just as big, if not bigger, and they're free. I never drew into my artifact hate (I was even running eight in the deck, after board), so I was never really in game three.

Let my mistake be a lesson: if you're playing Zoo, and you're up against Affinity, you're the control deck. Mull to your artifact hate. You can't win without it.

Zoo vs. Lightning Bolt.dec

This is the nightmare, right here. Even Blood Moon can be fought through, but this deck is so fast, and it hits Zoo where it's weakest: life total. And even more so than other matchups, going first is important. I didn't. We both mulled to six game one, he opened with a Spark Elemental, and I knew I was in trouble. Out came my Ape. He dropped a Blinkmoth Nexus and Lava Spiked me. I dropped a Nacatl and got there for two. He played a land and passed. I swung in. He blocked with his Nexus and then Shrapnel Blasted my face, putting me at 6 life. I played another critter, but it didn't matter. He drew a card, putting him up to three, laid a Great Furnace, a Mogg Fanatic, then a second Shrapnel Blast. Good game.

Thankfully, the deck can't run its namesake.
I boarded in my Finks for my Bant Charms. Again, I wasn't thinking. I should have boarded out my Confidants, as they are always dead, and the Charm can at least counter a Shrapnel Blast. In fact, last game, I had a Bant Charm in hand, but was betting on him not getting another Blast, so I played a creature. Whoops.

I got to play though, and I opened with my own Fanatic. He takes out Sparky pretty well. He started with a suspended Rift Bolt. I was pretty slow, with only a Seal on two, and a Helix on three (targeting his Marauder that he dropped on two), which was great as it gave me some life back. He put down the Sulfuric Vortex on three, putting me on a clock and taking away the life gain. It didn't matter. Over the next two turns, I hit him with two Tribal Flames, and the Seal put him down to 2 life. His own Vortex finished him off.

Game three, he came out with Sparky on one, hit me with a Lava Spike and suspended a Rift Bolt on two, then dropped the Vortex on three. I, by comparison, did nothing on one, dropped Seal of Fire on two, and a Goyf on three. He dropped a second Vortex on four, and I only had one turn left to get him. Sadly, I had no burn in my hand—just a pair of Kitchen Finks and another Tarmogoyf. What sucks is that had I one Tribal Flames and one Lightning Helix, I could have dropped him to 4 and let the Vortexes go the distance for me again. But, I didn't.

Like I said, this match is brutal, and I'm beginning to think that life gain is bad boarding against it. As soon as they hit the Vortex, it turns my life gain off, and I need to drop one of the Hedge-Mages if I want to use it.

Zoo vs. All-In Red

This matchup was a lot of fun. I never playtested against it, so I didn't really know what to expect, but the match was intense. I won the roll, and we both kept our opening hands--sort of. He mulled, but he mulled a hand with six Mountains and a Serum Powder in it, so he got a new hand of seven and did some land thinning at the same time. Game one, I opened with a Kird Ape. He opened with the Deus of Calamity off of some red mana acceleration. Yikes.

If you cant play this...
I realized I had an out, though, and I dropped a second Kird Ape and a Seal of Fire. Now, I could take out the Deus. But I made a critical mistake here. In my quest to get domain (all five basic land types), I didn't dig up a dual land with a Forest, having a Sacred Foundry and a Steam Vents. Did I, and do I, feel dumb about that. He swung, and I let him kill a land. He hit the Vents. Next turn, I played a fetch land and passed. He came in again, I dug up a Stomping Grounds and blocked with an Ape, then Lightning Helixed and Sealed the Deus.

From there, I proceeded to beat with the Ape, and felt okay with my earlier flub, as I still had a creature to play with (I wouldn't have if I had gotten my Forest on time, as I would have double blocked). Also during this time, I dropped a Seal of Fire and another creature. Then he accelerated into a Demigod of Revenge. I didn't draw any burn, and he outraced me to the finish. Shoot. Had I not forgotten that Forest, I would have traded Apes and a Seal for the Deus, and drawn into the Helix and Seal later to take out the Demigod. Of course, that's not guaranteed, but it seems possible.

For boarding, I pulled out the Seal of Fires and put in the Thoughtseizes. Game two, I'm still playing first, and I hit him with a turn one Thoughtseize. His hand is just about neutered, and I get out a couple of creatures and run the beats. This game went pretty fast, and he was never really in it, as it took him too long to get something on the board. But by then, it was too late; I had reach with burn.

...then play this!
Game three, he mulled to five and kept. My hand was decent (an Ape and two Goyfs), so I kept my seven. He laid a Mountain on one and passed. Now, I agonized over a decision that I ultimately punted. Do I play the Ape and try and be quick, or do I do nothing on turn one except get my one basic Forest in case he has Blood Moon? I went with the Ape. Why? Because, I thought having the critter down if he happened to drop a turn two Deus would be better. Of course, that logic is bogus, as I could have played a turn two Goyf to slow down the Deus for a turn, then followed up with an Ape/Goyf combo to kill it the next turn.

Either way, he plays the Blood Moon on turn two. I get lucky and get an drop an Umezawa's Jitte next, proceeding to go to down with my equipped Kird Ape. He ends up dropping a Chalice for one later, which pretty much turns off the rest of the plays I could make, barring the miser move of drawing my Forest. I hit him with the Ape, putting him to 13 life, and putting the Jitte up to six counters. Next turn, the Ape swings for lethal. He has nothing in hand (he told me so), and draws for turn. Rip. Down comes his own Jitte. Well, I gained a crap ton of life, but it didn't matter too much. He dropped a Simian Spirit Guide, and his monkey was bigger than mine. A couple turns later, he also dropped an Empty the Warrens for a few goblins, and I couldn't keep up, as I never drew a second Jitte once.

That's been five match reports, and I haven't won a single one. Now, you may be asking yourself, how badly did I do in LA? Well, I played one match on Friday night in one of the grinders, scrubbing out in the first round (that was against the R/G/w Aggro deck). I went 4-3 in the Grand Prix, but I had two byes, so really, I went 2-3, then dropped. I kind of wish I hadn't dropped, despite having no hope in making day two, as it would have been good practice for me. In the PTQ I played in one Sunday, I went 5-4. So out of the fifteen matches to report, I lost 8, giving me a losing record. I need to practice a lot more with Extended if I want a chance at qualifying for Honolulu at all.

But stick around, I've got two more matches for you still.

Zoo vs. R/W Slide-ish

I called this opponent's deck Slide-ish because I never actually saw an Astral Slide, only Lightning Rifts. I won the die roll and we both kept our seven. I came out with a Kird Ape, and he started off with just land. Turn two, I made my Nacatl drop (just drawn it), and on his turn, he made a Sacred Foundry with a Lightning Helix, killing my cat. This is pretty much how the whole game went. I would get something down, and he'd kill it with a Lightning Helix. The man dug a lot with cycling cards, and did all his damage to me with a Lightning Rift. I did right around 23 points of damage to him that game, but he drew all four Lightning Helixes and had a couple of Renewed Faiths, one of which he hard-cast. That's a lot of life gain.

It's not Astral Slide, but it's still worth
He never really played anything worth Bant Charming, so I pulled them and a few of the Seals for the Thoughtseizes and the Hedge-Mages. Game two, I came out with some fast beats, but he put me under a Blood Moon and killed one of my guys. No worries. Out came a Jitte, and an Ape carried that thing all day. It took a few turns—I wanted to make sure that he didn't do something like Helix my 1/1 Ape in response to the pumps from the Jitte—but my monkey went the distance.

Game three, I came out a little slow, but it was okay. He came out with an early Lightning Rift, and a Duergar Hedge-Mage killed the enchantment on my third turn. Throughout the course of the game, he saw two Martyr of Sands and a Lightning Helix to slow me down, but I only saw four lands all game. If you've ever played with Zoo, you know what that means. My hand was all gas. Creatures to play behind his removal. Burn spells to finish him off. It was nice.

My friends whom I playtest with have a joke about Zoo. A lot of the times, we call it Land.dec. Despite the fact that it only has 21 lands, and 12 of them are fetch lands, which thin it out, I always seem to draw at least 6 lands. I don't know what it is; I don't know why I constantly get land flooded. But, it makes those games where I only see four lands seem like quite the treat.

Zoo vs. Bant Aggro

In case you don't know, Bant Aggro is a white/blue/green mid-range deck that makes use of really good three drops, as well as some good (annoying) spells like Chord of Calling and Momentary Blink. My opponent won the roll, and opened with a turn one Birds of Paradise. I didn't actually know what he was playing at the time, so I played it safe. Turn one, Seal of Fire aimed at the Birds. He had nothing on turn two, and I played my Dark Confidant. From then on, I drew gas: one drops like the Nacatl, burn. It didn't matter. It was all good. He tried to slow me down with a Kitchen Finks—and I suppose, it did slow me down a little—but I fought through it and burned him out of the game.

Really annoying when teamed with Finks.
As I wasn't entirely sure what he was playing yet, and I didn't know if anything in my board would be better than what was already in my deck, I didn't do any sideboarding. Game two, he opened a bit slow, and so did I. On turn two, he dropped a Wall of Roots, and on turn three, he put down two Goyfs. But there was only land in both bins at this point, so at the end of his turn, I Helixed one. Now, Goyfs can be tricky. If you hit it with a burn spell, that spell will go in the bin before it dies (instants and sorceries go in the graveyard as the last part of resolution, then state-based effects are checked). I knew this, and I knew the Helix would put the Goyf up to a 2/3, but it'd still die. No worries. So then I untapped and threw a second Helix at the second Goyf.

My opponent almost put it in the bin. Then he looked at his graveyard. Then I felt like the biggest retard ever. How the hell did I forget about the fact that I just put a creature in the bin? How did I overlook the fact that Goyf was now a 3/4? I felt my face get all hot from blushing and everything. At least the opponent was cool about it, telling me not to worry about it and that he'd made just as dumb mistakes earlier. I mean, I know some Magic players who would absolutely tear into you for making such a big blunder.

I can't say whether that play cost me the game or not, but I was certainly behind on board, and now on cards. I never really caught up, despite my pretty good hand. When my opponent started using Chord of Calling to dig out an Eternal Witness, and used the Witness to resurrect the Chord, I knew it was all over.

Game three, my hand was decent. It was a Seal, two Helixes, a Bant Charm, a Goyf, and two fetch lands. Rather than call it awesome, I call it decent because it had the potential to peter out. Then my opponent mulled no five and things were looking good. I dropped my Seal on one. My opponent dropped a Birds. I looked down at my deck and silently wished to hit something awesome, like a Confidant. Rip. Hello, Bob.

I dropped my card advantage and killed the Birds with the Seal. Bob hit a Wild Nacatl on turn three, and I drew a third Helix. My opponent made something decent, and I remember needing to hit my third land so I could Bant Charm it. Bob gives me a Tribal Flames, and I draw a Windswept Heath. Yah! My opponent couldn't stay in it. His mull to five with my lucky Bob rip pretty much sealed it away.

Zoo: be ready for it.
Until Next Time

I hope this run down on the matches is as enlightening to you as it is to me. Looking back on it has shown me some play strategies that I wish I had known in LA. Like, against All-In Red, Zoo wants to trade creatures with their Deus, and save its direct damage for either ending the game or killing off a later game Demigod. And, this is one I should have known as I playtested a fair amount against Swans, if you're up against Blood Moon, get out your basic land as soon as you freaking can.

Now, I'm not sure, but I think one of the editors wanted these articles quickly, so the second half may be coming out next week, as opposed to two weeks from now. Hopefully, you'll tune in then, where I'll go over a number of matches between Zoo and Death Cloud, TEPS, and Faeries.


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