Unified Strike 4: Zoo in Legacy and Modern

Hi all,

It’s been quite some time since I’ve done one of these Unified Strike articles, and it’s been even longer since I have felt that I was able to create competitive decks between formats that share so many cards.

Everyone has been sick of the song “Blurred Lines” for a while now, I’m sure. It has long been worn out on the radio, but when it was getting regular play, it didn’t take long to wear on the general public.

Now, the lines between Modern and Legacy are blurred, and the Magic reading, writing, and playing community is getting sick of the cause of the blurriness: [c]Treasure Cruise[/c]. Everyone is writing about banning it, keeping it, playing it, and beating it. Personally, I enjoy the latter, and that’s where we are today.

Two decks are oppressively common on MTGO now because of [c]Treasure Cruise[/c]: Burn and U/R Delver. I genuinely believe that if you create a strategy that is consistently good against these, then you receive a free round or two in a Daily Event. You can also quickly accumulate some packs and profit even in 2-man queues provided that said packs sell for 3 or more tickets.

Looking through Legacy archives and old articles, and theory-crafting in general, I believe that a Zoo variant can crush Delver. It was known to have a good Delver match-up in its day, and the prevalence of other decks kept it at bay in the meantime. Now that Delver is the top-dog in Legacy, Zoo can make a comeback. In addition, Zoo can race Burn in both formats, easily on the play, and its sideboard can equip the player to embarrass Burn.

Chalice of the Void Variants

Zoo has shown promise lately in Modern, albeit in various forms. Most commonly, we find a deck that MTGGoldfish has dubbed “Chalizoo,” seemingly designed by the user Atomic.

[d title=”Atomic Zoo”]
Land
4 Arid Mesa
1 Forest
1 Kessig Wolf Run
1 Plains
2 Raging Ravine
4 Sacred Foundry
1 Slayers’ Stronghold
1 Stirring Wildwood
3 Stomping Ground
1 Temple Garden
4 Wooded Foothills

Creatures
2 Fleecemane Lion
4 Kird Ape
4 Loxodon Smiter
3 Qasali Pridemage
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Wild Nacatl

Other Spells
4 Chalice of the Void
3 Dead & Gone
4 Lightning Helix
2 Pyroclasm
4 Volcanic Fallout

Sideboard
4 Destructive Revelry
2 Engineered Explosives
2 Gaddock Teeg
1 Naya Charm
1 Patrician’s Scorn
1 Rule of Law
2 Scavenging Ooze
2 Selesnya Charm[/d]

Note to self: 3 toughness plus Volcanic Fallout

This deck applies insane amounts of pressure while applying extremely effective hate for a lot of decks. [c]Chalice of the Void[/c] effectively shuts down Delver if it resolves, and against Burn, it buys you a lot of time.

[c]Volcanic Fallout[/c] is the best card in the deck by far, and it’s what we’re going to keep in mind with our original creations. First of all, it is an uncounterable way to clear the board of [c]Insectile Aberration[/c] and Elemental tokens with [c]Young Pyromancer[/c]. Secondly, its stops Burn’s most dreaded opener of [c]Goblin Guide[/c] turn 1 and [c]Eidolon of the Great Revel[/c] turn 2 ([c]Pyroclasm[/c] is of course great here too). Finally, the reach is significant enough to point out. Zoo is easily built to have creatures that withstand the fallout, and the applied pressure continues.

Now let me be clear here: [c]Tarmogoyf[/c] is a painful card to cut. You nearly have to play against [c]Anger of the Gods[/c] and UWR Control full of [c]Lightning Helix[/c] and [c]Lightning Bolt[/c] a few times to realize it, but it really hurts not to play the guy. You can make arguments for the removal all you want, including the prevalence of hate resulting from [c]Treasure Cruise[/c] and other factors, but at the end of the day, it is a budget decision.

That being said, the user powellgol successfully did bring a Chalizoo deck without Tarmogoyfs to a 3-1 finish on November 2. His creature base replaces the 4 [c]Tarmogoyf[/c] with 2 [c]Flinthoof Boar[/c] and 2 [c]Boros Reckoner[/c]. I don’t know whether these two are best, but again, results are results. Interestingly, also, this deck included 1 [c]Overgrown Tomb[/c] in the main in order to play [c]Slaughter Games[/c] in the sideboard. I’m not so sure this deck is weak enough to [c]Scapeshift[/c] to justify this change, but that certainly is the answer if so.

Domain Zoo

Domain Zoo is a pre-existing archetype in Legacy and Modern, and it has more reach than any other aggro deck, period. The most recent Zoo finish is from user echecetmat35 on November 9. Interestingly, his deck runs no [c]Tarmogoyf[/c] but does include [c]Treasure Cruise[/c]. The combination of [c]Tribal Flames[/c] and [c]Snapcaster Mage[/c] is sure to finish an opponent off after fighting over resources and board position.

Be warned; losing [c]Tarmogoyf[/c] did not make this deck cheap:

[d title=”Echecetmat35 Domain Zoo”]
Lands
1 Breeding Pool
2 Flooded Strand
1 Forest
1 Godless Shrine
1 Hallowed Fountain
1 Island
4 Misty Rainforest
1 Overgrown Tomb
1 Plains
1 Sacred Foundry
1 Steam Vents
1 Stomping Ground
1 Temple Garden
1 Watery Grave
4 Windswept Heath

Creatures
3 Geist of Saint Traft
4 Noble Hierarch
3 Seeker of the Way
2 Snapcaster Mage
4 Wild Nacatl

Other Spells
4 Chalice of the Void
4 Lightning Helix
2 Mana Leak
4 Remand
1 Sword of Fire and Ice
3 Treasure Cruise
4 Tribal Flames

Sideboard
2 Abrupt Decay
2 Forked Bolt
2 Inquisition of Kozilek
3 Molten Rain
2 Path to Exile
2 Slaughter Games
2 Stony Silence[/d]

With very few spells with converted mana cost 1 of its own, this deck very comfortably plays a [c]Chalice of the Void[/c] at one counter, and [c]Seeker of the Way[/c] is a fascinating inclusion as well. There are a lot of strong cards included here that give the deck a lot of resiliency in any metagame; it’s no wonder the user succeeded, and if he continues to play the deck, I think it would easily 4-0 a number of events.

One-Drop Zoo

I wouldn’t give this deck much attention because I think that there are a few poor excuses for not playing [c]Tarmogoyf[/c] in it (that don’t include running [c]Treasure Cruise[/c]), but user dwilliams1990, apparently born ten years after THE D Williams (poker and Magic enthusiast) did make some money with this list:

[d title=One-Drop Zoo]
Land
4 Arid Mesa
2 Forest
2 Mountain
2 Plains
2 Sacred Foundry
2 Stomping Ground
2 Temple Garden
4 Wooded Foothills

Creatures
4 Experiment One
4 Ghor-Clan Rampager
4 Goblin Guide
4 Kird Ape
4 Loam Lion
4 Wild Nacatl

Other Spells
4 Boros Charm
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Lightning Helix
4 Path to Exile

Sideboard
2 Choke
4 Destructive Revelry
4 Leyline of Sanctity
2 Stony Silence
3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben[/d]

One thing you gotta hand the guy: this deck is certainly the most consistent, and it also is fast.

One should never make the mistake, though, to suggest that one drops necessarily are faster than others. Even if you have three creatures out at the end of turn two instead of curving out with three over the course of another turn, the latter probably allows you to operate above removal and be less susceptible to blowouts.

In addition to the above criticism, I think Modern and Pauper aggro players alike are chronically playing too few land. I may play too many, but especially in a deck with three colors that has specific land requirements for its creatures to be good, I find it hard to believe that less than 22 is the right number.

Alright, now, to my own things. First I’ll share a random brew. There are lots of ‘cats’ in the Zoo archetype, so let’s try this.

[d title=”Drinkard Kitty Zoo”]
Land
4 Arid Mesa
4 Cavern of Souls
1 Forest
1 Kessig Wolf Run
1 Mountain
1 Plains
2 Sacred Foundry
2 Stomping Ground
2 Temple Garden
4 Windswept Heath
2 Wooded Foothills

Creatures
2 Brimaz, King of Oreskos
2 Fleecemane Lion
4 Loam Lion
2 Qasali Pridemage
4 Steppe Lynx
4 Wild Nacatl

Other Spells
4 Boros Charm
4 Chalice of the Void
4 Lightning Helix
2 Pyroclasm
4 Volcanic Fallout [/d]

As long as [c]Cavern of Souls[/c] is in play, none of your creatures can be countered, even by your own [c]Chalice of the Void[/c]. This deck should have a very easy time dealing with [c]Delver of Secrets[/c] and company, and the Burn match-up is manageable as well.

Well, that was fun, but if I had to make a choice for the cheapest Zoo deck that transcended the Modern and Legacy formats, it would be the following.

Modern

Here I’m putting together my favorite elements of Zoo in the archetypes above, without [c]Tarmogoyf[/c] for budget reasons.

[d title=”Drinkard Modern Zoo”]
Land
4 Arid Mesa
2 Forest
1 Kessig Wolf Run
2 Mountain
2 Plains
3 Sacred Foundry
2 Stomping Ground
2 Temple Garden
4 Windswept Heath

Creatures
4 Kird Ape
2 Hooting Mandrills
4 Loam Lion
4 Loxodon Smiter
2 Qasali Pridemage
4 Wild Nacatl

Other Spells
2 Boros Charm
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Lightning Helix
2 Path to Exile
2 Pyroclasm
4 Volcanic Fallout

Sideboard
1 Bow of Nylea
2 Choke
4 Destructive Revelry
1 Fracturing Gust
4 Kor Firewalker
1 Phyrexian Unlife
1 Rest in Peace
1 Stony Silence[/d]

This deck adheres to the [c]Volcanic Fallout[/c]-survival rule in order to compete against Public Enemy #1. I simply have to play [c]Hooting Mandrills[/c] or [c]Become Immense[/c] to take advantage of the graveyard, and without [c]Ghor-Clan Rampager[/c] or trample effects, I believe the former is better. 3 toughness is important for our creatures to survive against our own deck, but 4 toughness is important to survive most opponents’ removal.

Generally, you want to play just enough creatures to apply pressure, and depending on what the opponent is playing, hold back mana and cards to interact and bluff. After you have access to all three colors, fetch Mountains unless you expect [c]Blood Moon[/c].

The sideboard has a lot of high-impact cards that would be redundant at more than 1-of, so I’m keeping them that way. Against Burn, we side out 2 [c]Boros Charm[/c], 2 [c]Hooting Mandrills[/c], and 2 [c]Lightning Bolt[/c] for 4 [c]Kor Firewalker[/c], [c]Bow of Nylea[/c], and [c]Phyrexian Unlife[/c]. Aim for sources of white mana with your fetches in games 2 and 3, and don’t get caught with a Firewalker in hand that you can’t play.

Against Delver, we want to bring in [c]Choke[/c], [c]Rest in Peace[/c], [c]Bow of Nylea[/c], and the 4 [c]Kor Firewalker[/c]. We remove 2 [c]Qasali Pridemage[/c], 2 [c]Boros Charm[/c], 2 [c]Path to Exile[/c], and 1 [c]Kird Ape[/c].

This deck has great match-ups against Delver, Affinity, Pod, Bogles (post-side), and rogue aggro things like Soul Sisters. The match-ups against Burn, BG, and opposing midrange decks are even, and combo matches that don’t care about life-total or specific permanents, like Storm and Ad Nauseam, can be bad. The great thing about this deck is that in its 75 are plenty of pieces of board control and pressure. Even the worst matchup can be won if the opponent stumbles on mana.

The Legacy Port

Again, Delver has spread throughout all formats, so if we build a deck to beat it in Modern, it should work relatively well in Legacy. I have put this through some 2-mans with promising results.

[d title=”Drinkard Legacy Zoo”]
Land
4 Arid Mesa
2 Forest
1 Kessig Wolf Run
2 Mountain
2 Plains
3 Plateau
2 Savannah
2 Taiga
4 Windswept Heath

Creatures
4 Kird Ape
4 Loam Lion
4 Loxodon Smiter
2 Qasali Pridemage
2 Scavenging Ooze
4 Wild Nacatl

Other Spells
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Lightning Helix
4 Path to Exile
2 Pyroclasm
4 Volcanic Fallout

Sideboard
3 Kor Firewalker
1 Krosan Grip
3 Pyroblast
3 Red Elemental Blast
3 Tormod’s Crypt
2 Warmth [/d]

Burn is more powerful in Legacy, so we’re going with the more-powerful hate in [c]Warmth[/c]. Combined with [c]Kor Firewalker[/c], we should have that match. My only 2-man against Burn seemed to be a budget deck because it had [c]Vexing Devil[/c], but I won it in an easy 2-0. Now that the deck is propped up on its creatures, having big blockers helps you in the life race.

Elves is an easy match-up if you can get the game to turn 3. [c]Volcanic Fallout[/c] and all your burn spells are golden here.

You have the same strength here as you do against U/r Delver in Modern.

Unfortunately, even though Delver is ruler of the Legacy and Modern roosts, Legacy is still more diverse than Modern. There are a lot of decks that this deck is particularly cold to. You often lose badly to 12-Post, [c]Show and Tell[/c], Reanimator, Ad Nauseam Tendrils, and other fast combo. Your sideboard is geared to handle as much as possible, but there is only so much 15 cards can do in such a format. You do have a lot of hope with these strong matchups and the consistency of an aggro deck, though.

I really love these decks, and it has been a fresh air of interactivity after playing Bogles, Burn, and Infect for a while. It is wonderful not to have matchups that you easily win or miserably lose, but some even matchups and other good ones. I hope you try it out. Either way, good luck, have fun.

-drinkard