Modern is a format that rewards players for choosing decks that win as quickly and efficiently as possible. The top decks to prepare your 75 cards against are Burn, Affinity, Grixis Delver, Twin, Abzan, Infect, and Bloom Titan. The latter two are most capable of exploding and winning by turn 3. Burn and Affinity are less explosive but more consistent at winning by turn 4. Splinter Twin is a “slower” combo deck that wins on turn 4 or later, but it has means of controlling the opponent until the pieces come together. Delver and Abzan are capable of winning quickly or grinding the opponent out.
Aside from these top lists, Bogles, Collected Company Elves, Merfolk, G/R Tron, and other lists are fairly linear. For purposes of this article series, I am using “linear” to describe decks that have a limited number of decisions to make in the early turns where decision-making is critical. When plays open up, the decisions are likely irrelevant. Of the above list, Tron is likely the least linear, but once you figure out a few nuances, its early turns are very similar.
This month I decided to qualify for MOCS. It will be the first time since I got MTGO two years ago that I have attempted to do it, and at this article’s writing, I am 13/15 the way there. I have earned these points, easily might I add, on the back of a Modern linear strategy: Suicide Zoo. I am profiting while playing in 8-man queues and maintaining a 60% win rate.
Suicide Zoo (Modern)
4 Marsh Flats
4 Wooded Foothills
2 Arid Mesa
1 Verdant Catacombs
1 Bloodstained Mire
1 Windswept Heath
1 Overgrown Tomb
1 Temple Garden
1 Sacred Foundry
1 Blood Crypt
4 Wild Nacatl
4 Death’s Shadow
4 Steppe Lynx
2 Monastery Swiftspear
1 Hooting Mandrills
4 Street Wraith
Other Spells (24)
4 Gitaxian Probe
4 Mutagenic Growth
4 Mishra’s Bauble
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Become Immense
4 Temur Battle Rage
4 Nourishing Shoal
3 Hooting Mandrills
2 Ancient Grudge
2 Faith’s Shield
While the deck is explosive and extremely consistent at turn three kills, it also plays through a lot of disruption. I am undefeated in 3 ranked matches against Twin, and I am highly favored in the Abzan matchup as well. The deck has a surprising ability to go wide for so few creatures because of all the cantrips, and all you need is one opening to end the game.
This deck is more powerful than the sum of its parts. Consider the resources that you use which are unlike any resource pools that any other deck takes advantage of:
- Land-drops, particularly from fetch-lands, enabling ferocious and explosive power from Steppe Lynx.
- A low life total produces a lethal Death’s Shadow.
- Cards in graveyard enable the casting of Hooting Mandrills and Become Immense.
- Non-creature spells power up Monastery Swiftspear.
Each of these cogs rotate together very smoothly and powerfully. When you are making your land drops, you are building your graveyard and lowering your life total. Cyclers like Street Wraith and Gitaxian Probe lower your life total and increase the graveyard resource. Comboing out with Temur Battle Rage and Become Immense naturally powers up Monastery Swiftspear as well.
Because of the interaction between these resources, it is very inadvisable to make any changes to the deck. Many people are tempted to change the land base or bring in Goblin Guide, but both of these changes create a marginal increase in consistency with a huge collapse in explosiveness. The deck is a brick wall that stands strong but needs all of its components.
The next question that comes to everyone’s mind when they see Become Immense is “Why not just play Infect?” After all, Become Immense and a creature deals 70% of the damage needed to kill with Infect and only 33% of the damage needed to kill with regular damage. To answer this, I say that this our opponents’ Modern mana-bases are dealing damage to them, that our creatures have more durable backsides, and we play more creatures than Infect can. I have played with Infect, and I have played with Suicide Zoo, and the latter is the more consistent early killer.
Your opening hand is critical, and what’s more is that there are many question marks in your opening hand. You have twelve cantrips, and when examining your seven, it is impossible to tell what those twelve will become once you’ve kept. You have to mulligan hands without creatures, and if you suspect Thoughtseize or Inquisition of Kozilek, even one creature can be suspect. What’s more, Death’s Shadow and Hooting Mandrills have varied reliability in the early game. Any hand with 1-2 creatures and 1-2 land is a snap keep. Remember that you can go aggro the old-fashioned way without a combo piece.
The best fetchlands to play in this deck have the same color configurations of the shocklands that you do not play. Since we do not play Godless Shrine or Stomping Ground, the fetchlands we have 4 of will fetch any shock in the deck. The design for the rest is to have a balance between the shocks, but the best configuration to have on turn 2 is Temple Garden and Blood Crypt. The reason is that often you want Steppe Lynx on turn one and need access to Wild Nacatl mana and Death’s Shadow or Monastery Swiftspear mana on turn 2.
Mishra’s Bauble is the most misunderstood card in the deck. With 13 fetchlands, you can use Mishra’s Bauble to draw a card and give yourself some security knowing that you are drawing a card you want. Take a look at your own top card before activating a fetchland, and you can decide whether you want to pick it up with Gitaxian Probe or Street Wraith. If not, wait until after shuffling. Additionally, Mishra’s Bauble can be activated on your opponent’s upkeep to see what they are drawing and play around it. The card that you draw from this activation will be safe from discard spells.
Aside from bauble, I see many people misplaying the other cantrips. My advice to you for the early game is that if you already know what you are playing that turn, then there is no need to cantrip. Needlessly cycling Street Wraith and Gitaxian Probe open you up to crippling Thoughtseizes and Inquisition of Kozileks. I’ve smiled as many opponents target me with discard, placing Street Wraith in the graveyard, only for me to topdeck Wild Nacatl and proceed with the beatdown undeterred.
Besides these cantripping mistakes and directions to take your lands, your first two turns are spent widening out your board. A creature has to get through blockers to combo off.
The combo is Temur Battle Rage and Become Immense. Because you are playing a 48 card deck, this is assembled with relative ease. Even without the pair of cards, either one is often enough to deal lethal damage. Many games will be won with Temur Battle Rage alone on a creature targeted also by Mutagenic Growth or just on a Death’s Shadow.
I do not want to advertise this deck as the turn 3 deck of the format that always accomplishes this feat. I win many games on turns six through as high as thirteen. Unlike other aggro decks, this deck does not fold if the opponent survives past turn 4. Any opening creates a kill, and your opponent will not be making good trades with Death’s Shadow in the late game.
Before I move on to other decks I will look at matchups playing this deck.I’ll show you my numbers against decks in the metagame and tell you how the games play out. Some of them might not be what you think. After that, I will explain the sideboard and tell you how I side in different matches. Continue to Linear Primers: Suicide Zoo, Part 2.