Linear Primers: Suicide Zoo, Part 1

become immense

Hi all,

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.

Background

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.

[d title=”Suicide Zoo (Modern)”]
Land
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

Creatures
4 Wild Nacatl
4 Death’s Shadow
4 Steppe Lynx
2 Monastery Swiftspear
1 Hooting Mandrills
4 Street Wraith

Other Spells
4 Gitaxian Probe
4 Mutagenic Growth
4 Mishra’s Bauble
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Become Immense
4 Temur Battle Rage

Sideboard
4 Thoughtseize
4 Nourishing Shoal
3 Hooting Mandrills
2 Ancient Grudge
2 Faith’s Shield[/d]

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:

  1. Land-drops, particularly from fetch-lands, enabling ferocious and explosive power from [c]Steppe Lynx[/c].
  2. A low life total produces a lethal [c]Death’s Shadow[/c].
  3. Cards in graveyard enable the casting of [c]Hooting Mandrills[/c] and [c]Become Immense[/c].
  4. Non-creature spells power up [c]Monastery Swiftspear[/c].

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 [c]Street Wraith[/c] and [c]Gitaxian Probe[/c] lower your life total and increase the graveyard resource. Comboing out with [c]Temur Battle Rage[/c] and [c]Become Immense[/c] naturally powers up [c]Monastery Swiftspear[/c] 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 [c]Goblin Guide[/c], 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 [c]Become Immense[/c] is “Why not just play Infect?” After all, [c]Become Immense[/c] 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.

The Game-plan

Turn Zero:
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 [c]Thoughtseize[/c] or [c]Inquisition of Kozilek[/c], even one creature can be suspect. What’s more, [c]Death’s Shadow[/c] and [c]Hooting Mandrills[/c] 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.

Opening plays:
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 [c]Godless Shrine[/c] or [c]Stomping Ground[/c], 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 [c]Temple Garden[/c] and [c]Blood Crypt[/c]. The reason is that often you want [c]Steppe Lynx[/c] on turn one and need access to [c]Wild Nacatl[/c] mana and [c]Death’s Shadow[/c] or [c]Monastery Swiftspear[/c] mana on turn 2.

[c]Mishra’s Bauble[/c] is the most misunderstood card in the deck. With 13 fetchlands, you can use [c]Mishra’s Bauble[/c] 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 [c]Gitaxian Probe[/c] or [c]Street Wraith[/c]. If not, wait until after shuffling. Additionally, [c]Mishra’s Bauble[/c] 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 [c]Street Wraith[/c] and [c]Gitaxian Probe[/c] open you up to crippling [c]Thoughtseize[/c]s and [c]Inquisition of Kozilek[/c]s. I’ve smiled as many opponents target me with discard, placing [c]Street Wraith[/c] in the graveyard, only for me to topdeck [c]Wild Nacatl[/c] 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.

Finish Him!

The combo is [c]Temur Battle Rage[/c] and [c]Become Immense[/c]. 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 [c]Temur Battle Rage[/c] alone on a creature targeted also by [c]Mutagenic Growth[/c] or just on a [c]Death’s Shadow[/c].

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 [c]Death’s Shadow[/c] in the late game.

Conclusion

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.

-drinkard

 

The Splinter Twinquisition and Modern Rogue Decks

splinter twin

Hi all,

I dare not get too detailed in my historic exposition here, but I also refuse to go on without explaining that title. Dan, the fan of history himself, could go much more in-depth, I’m sure.

When I read “Spanish Inquisition,” I wonder, what is being asked? Essentially, it seems that Jews, Muslims, and even the free masons were asked, at the threat of torture and execution, “Will you convert to Christianity?”

The Magic: The Gathering parallel for Modern, if I can be so bold, can be drawn with the cards [c]Splinter Twin[/c] and [c]Eidolon of the Great Revel[/c]. The latter is found in Burn decks which keep the Modern critical turn at four or below. If your deck begins to operate after that then you are setting yourself up for failure.

Some fringe decks, though, operate perfectly fine beginning on turn one, and they can win on turn four. These decks must answer to the Splinter Twinquisition.

Can you survive this line of play?

Turn 1: [c]Lightning Bolt[/c] your creature or [c]Spell Snare[/c] your spell if on the draw.
Turn 2: [c]Remand[/c] or [c]Mana Leak[/c] your next spell.
Turn 3: Ignore what you do or tap down your attacker with [c]Deceiver Exarch[/c].
Turn 4: [c]Splinter Twin[/c]

If not, then you will be tortured and executed.

What conclusions can we draw from this?

1) Aggro decks cannot curve out.

Gone are the days when a heap of aggressive creatures can be piled into a deck with a curve. If you aim to play a one-drop, then a two-drop, then a three-drop, then a four-drop, here is what will happen. The first will be bolted, the second will be countered, the third will be ignored, and the fourth will be too late. You will lose without having dealt any damage to your opponent, even though you are an aggro deck.

Instead, I believe that aggressive creature strategies need to top their curve out at 2, though I will concede that [c]Geist of Saint Traft[/c] is good in a pinch. After playing 1-3 creatures at converted mana cost one or two, you need to have the flexibility of choosing to interact or to apply more pressure.

2) Discard, counters, and hard removal are king.

For a brief period, it seemed that blue was off the map after [c]Treasure Cruise[/c] was banned, right before everyone realized that [c]Splinter Twin[/c] was amazing. This is when the influx of turn three decks exploded onto the Modern scene, and Modern is lousy now with Amulet Bloom, Infect, Affinity, and Storm. Simple [c]Spell Pierce[/c]s can solve a number of these problems, but without the Izzet Delver shell to play them, well, no one was. Even though [c]Island[/c] is back en vogue, these fast combo decks have found their place in the metagame and still have enough prey to keep winning.

3) Locking the opponent out is not likely.

Permanent-based hate such as [c]Blind Obedience[/c], [c]Torpor Orb[/c], [c]Favor of the Mighty[/c], [c]Suppression Field[/c], and [c]Ghostly Prison[/c] all are converted mana cost two or above. Do you see why these would be bad against Twin? [c]Spell Snare[/c] on the draw, and [c]Remand[/c] and [c]Mana Leak[/c] on the play.

The Modern metagame is divided into two camps: decks with linear aggressive strategies that can win on turn four or before, and; decks that can apply the brakes and grind the opponent out.

Keeping these three new rules of Modern in mind, here are two new brews for the current Modern metagame.

Brew #1: GI Joe

seeker of the way

One could say I have a soft spot for [c]Become Immense[/c]. I brew around it quite a lot. Equally loved in my heart is [c]Temur Battle Rage[/c]. If you want to win by turns three and four, these two are reliable ways to do so.

Be warned, this deck has more triggers than even [c]Norin the Wary[/c] can shake a stick at.

[d title=”GI Joe (Modern)”]
Land
4 Arid Mesa
4 Flooded Strand
2 Hallowed Fountain
1 Steam Vents
2 Sacred Foundry
1 Mountain
1 Plains
1 Island

Creatures
4 Seeker of the Way
4 Monastery Swiftspear
3 Lagonna-Band Trailblazer
4 Favored Hoplite
3 Nivmagus Elemental

Other Spells
4 Assault Strobe
3 Temur Battle Rage
4 Mutagenic Growth
4 Unstable Mutation
4 Artful Dodge
4 Apostle’s Blessing
3 Titan’s Strength

Sideboard
4 Stubborn Denial
2 Echoing Truth
2 Electrickery
1 Pyroclasm
2 Boros Charm
4 Dismember [/d]

Here we have an aggressive deck that is not as hurt by [c]Lightning Bolt[/c] or [c]Spell Snare[/c] into [c]Remand[/c] and can win before [c]Splinter Twin[/c] hits the table. Against Burn, few things are more satisfying than attacking with a prowessed [c]Seeker of the Way[/c] with [c]Unstable Mutation[/c] enchanting it. Give it double strike for more fun, gaining 16 or so life in the process.

The sideboard is equipped to apply a little bit of hate to the decks that want to ignore and race you, and a little bit of hate against the decks like [c]Splinter Twin[/c] and [c]Scapeshift[/c] that would remove your threats and beat you. [c]Stubborn Denial[/c] and [c]Boros Charm[/c] (which may belong in the main) protect you from mass removal.

Brew #2: Delver Shadow Port from Legacy

stubborn denial

I really want to play [c]Stubborn Denial[/c]. I like what Patrick Chapin did with [c]Thought Scour[/c] and [c]Mishra’s Bauble[/c] in his Esper Delve deck at the Pro Tour, even if he went completely defeated. In the face of so many linear strategies, I think a few discard spells combined with counters should leave them looking embarrassed.

I’ve sung Ferocious’s praises before. Although it looked at first like a Limited-only effect, it is relevant even in Modern. While looking through creatures whose stats began with “4/”, I came across [c]Illusory Angel[/c] and thought it synergized well with [c]Gitaxian Probe[/c], [c]Mishra’s Bauble[/c], and [c]Stubborn Denial[/c]. Here is my first draft.

[d title=”Drinkard Ferocious Control (Modern)”]
Land
4 Polluted Delta
4 Flooded Strand
3 Watery Grave
1 Drowned Catacomb
4 Island
2 Swamp

Creatures
3 Death’s Shadow
4 Gurmag Angler
3 Tasigur, The Golden Fang
2 Illusory Angel
2 Tombstalker

Other Spells
4 Stubborn Denial
4 Thoughtseize
2 Spell Pierce
4 Mishra’s Bauble
4 Thought Scour
4 Gitaxian Probe
4 Dismember
1 Slaughter Pact
1 Darkblast

Sideboard
2 Deathmark
2 Drown in Sorrow
2 Steel Sabotage
2 Dispel
2 Inquisition of Kozilek
2 Engineered Explosives
1 Darkblast
1 Spell Snare [/d]

This deck certainly doesn’t care about getting a particular land tapped down by [c]Deceiver Exarch[/c] and [c]Pestermite[/c]; your [c]Dismember[/c] is not picky. You leverage your life lost and high-volume graveyard into creatures that apply a lot of pressure and turn on your counters. Between the discard and the counters, your life total shouldn’t be a problem before your fatties clean the opponent up.

Conclusion

I like thinking on these two ends of the Modern spectrum, the blazing fast decks (that I tend to enjoy playing) and the creeping grinders. I think that either of these could get your name published by a nice “3-1” in a Modern daily.

-drinkard

Season’s Beatings 2: Element of Surprise

Hi all,

Merry Christmas! This is my last article of 2014, so here are some of my resolutions.

-Continue to avoid Jell-O.
-Learn a Jellyroll Morton song on piano.
-Cash with a deck cheaper than any other I can find on results sites. This gives me a budget of $10 in Modern because of an Elf-tribal aggro deck that placed years ago. As of this week, I have $21 to work with in Legacy. A player ran Burn with neither [c]Eidolon of the Great Revel[/c] nor [c]Goblin Guide[/c] to a 3-1 finish. For these lists, refer to the links at the end of this article.

I have no idea what I can do with either of those budgets at the moment. Check back with me in a year; I work well under a budget.

What draws players to budget Magic is enough content for an article series, I’m sure. The articles could cover strategy, economics, sociology, psychiatry, the gamut. Suffice it all to say, if you run across a list with two digits before the decimal point, it catches your attention. This week, MTGO user Asthenic’s Mono Red Elementals deck is that list. Take a look for yourself:

[d title=”Asthenic Elementals (Modern)”]
Land
16 Mountain
1 Smoldering Spires

Creatures
3 Flamekin Harbinger
4 Kiln Fiend
4 Nivmagus Elemental

Other Spells
4 Apostle’s Blessing
4 Assault Strobe
4 Gitaxian Probe
4 Ground Rift
4 Gut Shot
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Mutagenic Growth
2 Noxious Revival
2 Titan’s Strength

Sideboard
4 Young Pyromancer
4 Dragon’s Claw
3 Clout of the Dominus
2 Vandalblast
2 Pyroclasm[/d]

Phyrexian mana spells have really been popular lately, and their volatile price peaks and troughs are evidence of their power without a definite home. I like the deck; it is rather soft, but the element of surprise is enough to steal a few game ones in a Daily Event. By the time your opponent knows what you’re up to, they’re regretting their early-turn decisions while shuffling up for game 2. The sideboarding plan is surely a mess, and I would enjoy better Affinity hate, some number of [c]Sudden Shock[/c], and maybe even a [c]Surgial Extraction[/c] or two. Regarding the main-deck, I personally hate to see 17 land outside of Pauper, and I suspect that Pauper players are chronically using too few lands themselves. Your [c]Kiln Fiend[/c] plan requires 2 lands on turn 2 to be effective, and the math just isn’t there.

The history of this deck begins with Gerry Thompson, who piloted a Rakdos list of the same archetype to a high finish for a Return to Ravnica Pro Tour event. Most recently, Dejohne Umtuch placed second at the SCG Premier IQ Portland with a list that replaces the [c]Flamekin Harbinger[/c] with copies of [c]Death’s Shadow[/c] to reduce tempo loss and have more threats. Additionally, Khans sweethearts [c]Monastery Swiftspear[/c] and [c]Treasure Cruise[/c] join the party. The former is yet another combo enabler with the free spells, and the latter gives us enough gas to keep the pedal to the metal. Here is Dejohne’s deck:

[d title=”Dejohne Death’s Shadow (Modern)”]
Land
2 Blackcleave Cliffs
4 Blood Crypt
2 Bloodstained Mire
2 Polluted Delta
1 Steam Vents
4 Sulfurous Springs
1 Watery Grave

Creatures
3 Death’s Shadow
3 Kiln Fiend
3 Monastery Swiftspear
3 Nivmagus Elemental

Other Spells
3 Apostle’s Blessing
1 Dismember
3 Gut Shot
3 Lightning Bolt
4 Mutagenic Growth
3 Tainted Strike
2 Assault Strobe
4 Gitaxian Probe
2 Ground Rift
4 Thoughtseize
3 Treasure Cruise[/d]

What a wild assortment of amounts these cards have! I’m convinced that all the 3-ofs must be the either the result of so much or so minimal testing. If I saw this list outside of the event results, I would probably tell myself that someone just wanted to play all of the cards with no regard for when they drew how many of them.

The greater strike I have against this deck, or the reason that it is so tainted in my opinion, is … did you figure it out? That’s right: [c]Tainted Strike[/c]. In the old haymaker lists, you had three creatures to attack with at the most: [c]Kiln Fiend[/c], [c]Nivmagus Elemental[/c], and [c]Death’s Shadow[/c]. Whenever any of these creatures reached nine power, [c]Tainted Strike[/c] dealt a lethal blow in its one swing.

This deck is different. Here, our plan B is to build lethal incrementally using [c]Monastery Swiftspear[/c], and it’s a darn good plan, especially with the support from [c]Treasure Cruise[/c]. In a format where mana-bases deal five damage to their players, let’s take advantage of being the deck that can most quickly deal 15 more. Let’s not allow our opponent to be functionally at 25 life before the game begins, dealing 19 points of regular damage with Swiftspear and 10 more with a [c]Death’s Shadow[/c] targeted by [c]Tainted Strike[/c]. It works for Affinity, but that’s a different animal altogether.

So, taking a more streamlined, regular damage approach, here is my build of Grixis Elemental combo:

[d title=”Drinkard Elementals (Modern)”]
Land
4 Blood Crypt
4 Bloodstained Mire
3 City of Brass
4 Polluted Delta
1 Steam Vents
1 Watery Grave

Creatures
3 Death’s Shadow
3 Kiln Fiend
4 Monastery Swiftspear
4 Nivmagus Elemental

Other Spells
4 Apostle’s Blessing
2 Assault Strobe
4 Gitaxian Probe
4 Ground Rift
4 Gut Shot
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Mutagenic Growth
3 Treasure Cruise

Sideboard
4 Not of this World
2 Rakdos Charm
2 Shattering Spree
4 Thoughtseize
3 Young Pyromancer
[/d]

After tinkering around with the list, I can definitely understand the number of three-ofs. I may drop [c]Assault Strobe[/c] altogether, as many Pauper U/R Delver Fiend players have done. It may prove to be overkill. On the other end of the spectrum, I may be too greedy by dropping the maindeck [c]Thoughtseize[/c]. The thing is that I don’t expect there to be a faster combo, and [c]Apostle’s Blessing[/c] plus the regular suite of pump effects protect our creatures.

The sideboard is my favorite part of the deck. We get another free spell in [c]Not of this World[/c]. It has been used in [c]Dark Depths[/c] Legacy combos to protect Cthulhu, and similarly it can save a [c]Kiln Fiend[/c] after two others instants or sorceries have resolved, a [c]Death’s Shadow[/c] when we are at six life, or a [c]Nivmagus Elemental[/c] after three activations. We bring these guys in to support [c]Apostle’s Blessing[/c] in the matchups where we expect to see [c]Path to Exile[/c] and even [c]Slaughter Pact[/c].

It’s not the cheapest deck I could enter into a Modern Daily Event, but it would probably be the most fun. Enjoy the free spells, and enjoy the free wins!

-drinkard

PS:
As promised, here are the benchmarks for cheapest decks (that I’ve found anyway) in Modern and Legacy:

User mlschultz’s absurdly cheap Elf Lord deck in Modern:
http://www.mtgpulse.com/event/8514#116529

User alexstrasza_95’s 20 ticket Legacy burn deck:
http://www.mtggoldfish.com/archetype/legacy-wbr-16153#online