Brewing in the Zoo: The Birth of “Pokemon Invitational”

“Pay no attention to that (wo)man behind the curtain.” – The Wizard of Oz (sorta)

At this point folks I’m starting to wonder if I have a disease. It must be an illness of the mind, a malady that prevents me from playing nice with the other children at recess. I’m not even sure there’s a medical term for it, but I have a deep-seated, overwhelming urge to punch people in the mouth at Magic tables. I don’t mean literally; they’ll arrest you for this sort of behavior and there’s no way someone as crazy as I am would survive prison for any extended period of time. No ladies and gentlemen, I get my bloodsport fix by playing Modern Magic. While I’m sure some would disagree, to me Modern is the ultimate heavyweight fight in Magic. You don’t have time to dance; two decks square off and trade vicious blows with ridiculously powerful cards until someone staggers. Standard may be a wrestling match, Legacy a delicate ballet of combo decks and [card]Force of Will[/card]s but Modern is definitely a Mike Tyson fight; 30 seconds of thunder and some blood on the canvas. As a Magic player, this is my wheelhouse and until recently I was playing the deck I felt had the best knockout punches in the format: Jund. In my opinion there was no better 1-2-3 combination in Modern than [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card] into [card]Liliana of the Veil[/card] into [card]Bloodbraid Elf[/card]. Unfortunately the DCI agreed and [card]Bloodbraid Elf[/card] isn’t in the format anymore. Overall, this was probably the best decision for the health of Modern; BBE was seeing more and more play all the time and she was definitely suppressing aggro and control strategies simultaneously.

This left me without a deck for the remainder of the PTQ season and I was forced to scramble to find something elswild-nacatle. I tried new versions of “Jund” decks but as I’d initially suspected the loss of [card]Bloodbraid Elf[/card] had morphed Jund into something that no longer interested me. Without the Elf, Jund was a grindy control deck that tried to mix and match answer cards until the opponent’s hand was emptied. While this may be a perfectly viable strategy for some, I felt it was underpowered and most definitely not about punching people in the mouth. I moved on to Junk and then BUG before I realized that I just didn’t like Midrange Decks in Modern without [card]Bloodbraid Elf[/card]. While these decks were capable of some explosive draws they were equally capable of durdling around for four turns playing answer cards before flooding out or drawing stone nothing. They were far too dependent on [card]Dark Confidant[/card] for card advantage and [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card] for mana acceleration. When my opponent went out of his way to kill those creatures, these decks simply fell apart. Frustrated, I began tweaking a Jund list to become more and more aggressive until it suddenly dawned on me that I was actually building a “new” type of Zoo deck.

I should warn you that the article you are about to read is about brewing a new kind of Zoo deck in Modern. This is important because I have not actually played this deck in a sanctioned Magic tournament. While from a theoretical standpoint I’m sure this deck is fundamentally sound and it has performed well in playtesting; it is still unlikely to be a completely finished product at this point. The important part here is the process that went into brewing the deck and how you can brew potential variations of your own. Personally I’m growing less and less interested in writing articles about decklists and more interested in writing about how you can build your *own* quality decklists. It is my hope that by sharing the process that went into building my deck I can inspire others to go out and make their own brews. If the decklist we examine below suits you, please feel free to copy it wholesale but I’d much rather you tweak up your own version and try that out instead.

Building a Mystery:

For those of you new to the Modern format the term Zoo is probably quite confusing. At this point the definition has grown to encompass virtually any 3-5 color aggro deck that runs some cheap dudes, and the standard Bolt, Helix, Path removal package. Many of the “Zoo” decks in this format have eschewed aggressive 1 drops altogether and as a result look a lot more like 5 color mid-range than anything an old-timer like myself would call Zoo. From a traditional perspective however Zoo is usually a hyper efficient aggro deck built around under-costed 1 drops and [card]Tarmogoyf[/card]. For an archetypal example take a look at Pat Cox’s Zoo deck from the fall of 2011:

[deck title=Pat Cox PT Philadelphia, Modern Constructed]
[Land]
4 Arid Mesa
1 Blood Crypt
1 Forest
1 Godless Shrine
1 Misty Rainforest
1 Plains
1 Sacred Foundry
4 Scalding Tarn
1 Steam Vents
1 Stomping Ground
1 Temple Garden
4 Verdant Catacombs
[/Land]
[Creatures]
2 Gaddock Teeg
2 Grim Lavamancer
4 Kird Ape
4 Loam Lion
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Wild Nacatl
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Lightning Helix
3 Path to Exile
4 Thoughtseize
4 Tribal Flames
[/Spells]
[Sideboard]
2 Aven Mindcensor
2 Deathmark
1 Elspeth, Knight-Errant
3 Ethersworn Canonist
1 Gaddock Teeg
1 Path to Exile
2 Qasali Pridemage
1 Ranger of Eos
1 Rule of Law
1 Sword of Body and Mind
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

Now to be fair, this wasn’t the best Zoo deck at that Pro Tour. Team ChannelFireball tore up the tournament with a Blue variant called “Counter-Cat” and ultimately I believe this is why WotC banned [card]Wild Nacatl[/card]. In my opinion however Pat’s deck is a more pure expression of traditional Zoo:

  • He has 12 powerful 1 drops
  • His deck is split almost evenly between Lands, Spells and Creatures
  • The entire build curves out at 2 mana pre-sideboard

Of course Pat didn’t win the Pro Tour; Samuele Estratti did with a [card]Splinter Twin[/card] build. Additionally once the DCI stepped in to ban [card]Wild Nacatl[/card], Zoo was forced to adapt or die. For the most part it simply died and despite the brave efforts of many brewers, Zoo ceased to be a real presence in the format for a while. These barren times were eased with the printing of [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card] but Zoo wasn’t really back as a player in the format until WotC added [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card] to the mixture. Geist is powerful, but a turn two Traft backed up by a seven point [card]Tribal Flames[/card] is absolutely monstrous here in Modern. As a Jund player I have lived in fear of this opener for the past five months and I knew that if I was going to brew up a Zoo deck this combination would definitely be part of the equation.

Steve_Argyle_Deathrite_Shamantest-featuredOnce I’d decided to build around [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card] and Traft the question became how to support them with the rest of the build. As I’ve mentioned in other articles, mulling is something of a tricky science here in Modern. Most of the best decks do in fact mulligan well because of the preponderance of cheap, powerful spells in the format. Unfortunately due to sheer greed and a lack of easy ways to generate card advantage it’s actually extremely difficult to mull towards specific cards in the format. You simply aren’t shipping hands with good opening cards and all your colors to find a specific knockout opener or meta card. Additionally, even if I were to mull towards these cards every game there’s a good chance my opponents would figure it out eventually and just kill the Shaman. I’m not going to turn my nose up at a turn three Geist but the truth is that he’s infinitely more powerful if you cast him on turn two. Finally of course, a maindeck Pyro would completely blow me out if my only opening line was Deathrite into Traft.

The trick was to keep the deck fast without depending on the Geist. There were plenty of cards that worked well with my established best line in place but I felt they were mostly unnecessary. Assuming you kept the path clear of blockers, Traft would win the game by himself and so I immediately rejected cards like Elspeth and [card]Restoration Angel[/card] as off topic. What I wanted was another 1-2-3 punch that could be executed as quickly as possible; preferably while being immune to [card]Pyroclasm[/card]. This naturally lead me to towards [card]Kird Ape[/card] and [card]Loam Lion[/card] but it was actually a new card from Gatecrash that completed the trifecta; [card]Experiment One[/card].

Now before you get excited please allow me to state for the record that [card]Experiment One[/card] is more of a Nacatl-like substance than [card]Wild Nacatl[/card]. The basic idea is to lead with a turn one Experiment and then bring down two other one drops on turn two that evolve it to a 3/3. In this way the 3 toughness on [card]Kird Ape[/card] and [card]Loam Lion[/card] becomes extremely relevant and if you play your cards right you end up with three creatures in play on turn two that can’t be “Pyro’d”. The downside is that a late game [card]Experiment One[/card] is the worst possible topdeck unless by some miracle you’re holding onto a couple of dudes to evolve him. Of course, this problem is substantially mitigated when you play [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card] because the 4/4 Angel will in fact grow your Experiment.  Trust me, a 4/4 one drop that can shrink to regenerate is nothing to sneeze at but even if you just cast him before you attack with Traft, it’s easy to get value out of a topdecked [card]Experiment One[/card].

After settling on my optimal lines the rest of the deck started to get a little clearer. I knew I’d be running some combination of [card]Path to Exile[/card], [card]Lightning Bolt[/card] and [card]Lightning Helix[/card] to clear the path for Traft. I also knew that I was going to need at least eight Fetchlands to power the [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card] and ideally I wanted to splash a Black source to eventually activate him. Once it became clear that the deck would eventually establish Domain, it was hard to turn down the raw power of [card]Tribal Flames[/card] as a finishing option. Finally I decided to add [card]Goblin Guide[/card] as a way to generate speed and consistency in the early game. This allowed me to lead with [card]Experiment One[/card], cast [card]Goblin Guide[/card] and then an Ape/Lion to present the fastest possible clock on turn two and I was pretty excited once I saw this line in action.

The Shadow of Doubt:

Unfortunately the last few slots threw a monkey wrench into the gearbox. At first I’d settled on [card]Tarmogoyf[/card]Tarmogoyf to round out the deck but he vastly underperformed in early iterations of the build. For starters, there are only 4 card types in the deck: Instants, Lands, Creatures and four copies of [card]Tribal Flames[/card] (Sorcery). Further complicating matters; the deck actually just hates [card]Tarmogoyf[/card]. The overall greed of the build generally forces [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card] to exile lands every turn, one of your best removal spells doesn’t put a creature in the Graveyard (Path)and you tend to hold back [card]Tribal Flames[/card] until the very last turn of the game. In practice this meant that my [card]Tarmogoyf[/card]s were often 3/4‘s, sometimes 2/3’s and never 5/6’s without my opponent’s help. Goyf wasn’t actively bad in the deck but he wasn’t good either and this sent me scrambling over the next week for another answer.

This was a volatile time for the build as I began to try every on-color power card that cost three or less in the format to round out the deck. Thalia went in, which in turn demanded I remove [card]Tribal Flames[/card] which itself forced a reworking of the mana base. This version was good against midrange and combo but lacked the punch to outrace aggro and was basically stone dead if they managed to cast a sweeper. I started messing around with the removal numbers to accommodate [card]Loxodon Smiter[/card] and eventually ended up with a deck that was 18 land, 29 creatures and a whole lot of pain. Unfortunately this pain was mostly shared; the exotic manabase required to support such a low land count frequently left me on 11 life without any help from my opponent. At some point I’d changed the deck so many times that all the games were beginning to blur together and I was losing confidence in the build. I needed some help and I turned towards a small group of brewers, friends and teammates to help me solve the puzzle.

With a Little Help from My Friends:

Once these guys set me straight the road ahead became very clear. [card]Tribal Flames[/card] was simply a better card than Thalia and since they were mostly incompatible she had to go. Once I’d settled on [card]Tribal Flames[/card] as the 3rd line of attack, I knew I wanted to get [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] into the deck somehow. This necessitated a move to 19 land to increase our chances of hitting four mana which then made it possible to consider [card]Dark Confidant[/card]. I ultimately decided on a 2/2 split of the Invitational cards but this might be incorrect; I’ve been tempted to try three [card]Dark Confidant[/card]s and a single Snappy at times. The basic idea is that Bob helps us draw more [card]Tribal Flames[/card] (or burn in general) while Snappy lets us reuse the copies we’ve drawn.  With these final modifications in place I build the manabase and ended up with the concoction you see below:

[deck title=Pokemon Invitational]
[Creatures]
4 Deathrite Shaman
4 Experiment One
4 Kird Ape
4 Goblin Guide
2 Loam Lion
2 Snapcaster Mage
2 Dark Confidant
4 Geist of Saint Traft
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
4 Lightning Bolt
3 Path to Exile
4 Lightning Helix
4 Tribal Flames
[/Spells]
[Land]
4 Arid Mesa
4 Misty Rainforest
2 Scalding Tarn
1 Plains
1 Forest
1 Blood Crypt
1 Breeding Pool
1 Godless Shrine
1 Sacred Foundry
1 Steam Vents
1 Stomping Ground
1 Temple Garden
[/Land]
[Sideboard]
15 Mountain
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

To be fair, this exact version of the deck may not be perfect. As I mentioned earlier I’m not sure [card]Dark Confidant[/card] isn’t just better than [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] in a deck with so few lands. It’s nice to have the option of casting the same [card]Tribal Flames[/card] twice but in practice this only happens when you’re about to win. The issue for me is that Snapcaster also tends to recycle a lot of [card]Lightning Bolt[/card]s and [card]Path to Exile[/card]s along the way; Bob is probably better with [card]Tribal Flames[/card] but Snapcaster is infinitely more versatile. Additionally I am somewhat disappointed with having only six 2/3’s in the build to grow [card]Experiment One[/card] and I have been tempted to cut a Path or maybe even a Helix to get back to three Loam Lions. Finally the manabase is a glorious mess; at least half of the time I’ve spent on this deck has involved reworking which shocklands you can fish off which fetches depending on which line of play you’re trying to pursue. Ultimately I settled on the above 19 land for the following reasons:

  • I couldn’t run 20. Originally I stared the deck with 20 lands and found myself habitually flooding. At first, I assumed this was variance but after trying it on 18 and examining my mana curve there was evidence to support the idea that 20 was too many. Unfortunately 18 land would only allow us to run nine fetches and [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] demanded four mana sources in play so I settled on 19 total land.
  • I wanted enough basics to have a hope of playing through a surprise [card]Blood Moon[/card]. While not ideal, the inclusion of a Plains and a Forest makes it possible to cast [card]Ray of Revelation[/card] or [card]Qasali Pridemage[/card] post sideboard after the Moon had been cast. This is also why I didn’t bother including a Mountain.
  • I needed an even number of Red, Green and White sources to facilitate the ridiculous draws our one drops could generate while simultaneously making it possible to cast either Bob or Traft on time. As result the deck contains four lands that produce our primary colors and two lands each for Bob/[card]Deathrite Shaman[/card] and Traft/[card]Snapcaster Mage[/card].
  • I preferred to play as many Fetchlands as possible in order to never be caught with a DRS in play and no way to make Traft on turn 2.
  • I wanted to avoid sending myself to 9 life with my own Fetches/Shocks. For the most part I accomplished this objective but due to variance it still happens once in a while.

pokemon

When the dust settled I looked at the deck I’d created and smiled a bit with inward pride. Naturally all mothers think their babies are beautiful but I was impressed with the deck’s raw power and remarkable synergy. All three primary paths to victory (Traft, Weenie Swarm and [card]Tribal Flames[/card]) blended perfectly together while still allowing me to play with a number of cards that were also individually powerful. This is important because it allows Zoo to remain viable in the face of faster, more aggressive aggro/combo decks like Affinity and Infect. These decks depend almost entirely on synergy but are typically very fragile and have horrible sideboards. Zoo isn’t the best topdeck build in Modern but it certainly isn’t the worst and with a genuine 5 color manabase you can run virtually *any* 3CC or less sideboard card in the format. In a moment of pure self indulgence I decided to name the deck “Pokemon Invitational” in honor of the Evolve mechanic, the fact that you “gotta catch all 5 mana types” and because Bob and Snappy are Invitational cards. This is pretty corny but somehow the cheesy nature of the name seems to fit the deck perfectly.

Reinventing the Wheel:

Of course, this isn’t the only way you can build the deck; as I mentioned above I tried a ridiculous number of cards in the deck’s “open” slots with various degrees of success. If you broke the deck down to just its skeleton it would probably look like this:

4x [card]Experiment One[/card]
4x [card]Goblin Guide[/card]
6x 2/3 Beatstick (Ape/Lion)
3x [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card]
3x [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card]
2x [card]Path to Exile[/card]
4x [card]Lightning Bolt[/card]
3x [card]Lightning Helix[/card]
4x [card]Tribal Flames[/card]
18x Land: at least 9 of which should be Fetchlands.

Naturally, shaving the numbers on key spells like Shaman, Traft, Path and Helix creates a problem in its own right but the above list represents the “essential” cards you probably can’t live without. I guess you could play [card]Steppe Lynx[/card] in the [card]Experiment One[/card] slot but I’ve never been fond of being completely dependent on Fetchlands to attack, myself. The question then becomes what can you do with those remaining nine slots? Unfortunately it’s a complicated question because as soon as you pick one card it greatly influences your remaining choices. If you wanted to add [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] for example, you’d probably need to find at least two more Sorceries. There are a number of attractive three drops in the format that work well in the deck but adding any of them requires you to reinsert [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card] and a 10th Fetchland. Nobody said this was going to be easy, let’s take a look at some possible “variations” of this decktype:

“Ack Hans Run Remix”

+4 [card]Tarmogoyf[/card]newtarmo
+2 [card]Call of the Conclave[/card]
+1 [card]Inquisition of Kozilek[/card]
+1 [card]Thoughtseize[/card]
+1 Fetchland (And swap a [card]Blood Crypt[/card] for an [card]Overgrown Tomb[/card] in the Shocks)

This version is built to maximize the effectiveness of [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] and increase your up-front Damage potential. You could also add a Sword just to get a potentially killable artifact but I wouldn’t bother. The [card]Thoughtseize[/card]/IoK split is about making your opponent think you might have more discard than you do and saving you a little life. You could make this a 2/2 Split and skip the Calls but that’s less cute/less good for [card]Experiment One[/card].

“Boros Remix”

+3 [card]Boros Reckoner[/card]Boros-Reckoner
+2 [card]Boros Charm[/card]
+1 [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card]
+1 Fetchland
+2 [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card]

Everyone and their moms are brewing with [card]Boros Reckoner[/card] and Charm, why should we miss out on all the fun? This version of the deck is more explosive but also more dependent on a [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card] surviving to untap. Personally, I feel [card]Boros Charm[/card] is a great sideboard card for Zoo but if you wanted to maindeck it, this is probably how you’d do it.

“After Dark Remix” 

+4 [card]Dark Confidant[/card]td171_bob
+1 [card]Lightning Helix[/card]
+1 Fetchland
+1 [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card]
+2 [card]Tidehollow Sculler[/card]

This is a Black Zoo deck that allows for more discard and control effects in the sideboard. We’ve reinserted the Shaman and Helix to help offset Bob and Sculler is just Zoo’s version of [card]Thoughtseize[/card].

“Little Things that Kill Remix”

+2 [card]Loam Lion[/card]vexing
+2 [card]Path to Exile[/card]
+4 [card]Vexing Devil[/card]
+1 [card]Ranger of Eos[/card]

Just a warning, this deck needs at least three [card]Gaddock Teeg[/card]s in the sideboard to function. [card]Engineered Explosives[/card] and more frighteningly [card]Chalice of the Void[/card] do in fact exist. Theoretically, this deck could operate on 17 lands but I’m not sure I’d even bother with the [card]Ranger of Eos[/card] in that case.

“Waterworld Remix”

+3 [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card]
+1 [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card]snapcaster
+1 [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card]
+1 Fetchland (and rework the Shocks to get at least 1, maybe 2 more Blue sources)
+1 [card]Unified Will[/card]
+1 [card]Spell Pierce[/card]
+1 [card]Elspeth, Knight-Errant[/card]

This version ventures into “Counter-Cat” territory without giving up the essential aggressive openers. The downside is; the deck is more dependent on the Shaman/Traft combo to win and it’s hard to cast even minimal counters in a deck that wants to vomit its hand onto the table.

“Here Come the Elephants Remix”

+1 [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card]smiter
+1 Fetchland
+3 [card]Loxodon Smiter[/card]
+2 [card]Path to Exile[/card]
+2 [card]Rancor[/card]

I’m fond of this version of the deck; it combines the best parts of Tribal Zoo and the best elements of Bigger Zoo builds without relying heavily on Exalted. Frankly I have very little faith in Exalted in a format with so much good removal and while I like cards like [card]Noble Hierarch[/card] and [card]Qasali Pridemage[/card] on their own I have no desire to build entire decks around them. Once again this deck is dependant on DRS to throw down three drops and I might be tempted to drop the 4th path or maybe even a [card]Goblin Guide[/card] just to get back to 20 lands.

As you can see there’s no shortage of ways to mix and match the various spells you can run in a 5 color Zoo deck in Modern. No doubt many of you are thinking of cards I didn’t try as you read this and frankly that’s part of what makes Zoo so strong in a new/unknown format. Assuming a rough skeleton of just over 30 cards it’s possible to attack virtually any metagame in Modern but for now I’ve chosen to focus on simply improving this deck’s power, synergy and damage potential. My thinking here is that early in a new format (significant bans plus the addition of Gatecrash) you want to be the person asking the questions more than the person providing the answers. Eventually that will change however and Zoo’s manabase and strong chassis lead me to believe it will adapt just fine. Really; Zoo is the new Jund.

I’ll have a Side of Screw You:

This brings us to the sideboard and as I’m sure you already guessed I was joking about running 15 Mountains in the list above. Frankly, I’m trolling the people who skim through my articles and post in the comments; forgive me just this once folks? =) Jokes thaliaaside, it’s difficult to properly build a sideboard for a new format without playing in a bunch of tournaments. Unfortunately, due to health concerns and my inability to score rides to events this option isn’t available to me and therefore I’m forced to build diverse sideboards in a vacuum. This is fine as a starting point but again I urge you to tinker with your sideboard and even maindeck as you start to figure out what *your* environment looks like. There’s no point in building a deck to win a Pro Tour in San Diego if you’re going to be taking it to a Grand Prix Trial in Ohio; build your deck to win the games you will actually play.

To me, the primary decision required to figure out the sideboard for Pokemon Invitational is to decide if you’re a Thalia Deck or a [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] deck. What I mean is, do you intend to sideboard in creatures (which work well with Thalia) or are you going to focus on cheap instants (which work well with [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card]). This decision is important because in a deck with 26 creatures and only 15 spells it’s significantly easier to switch creatures in and out of the sideboard than it will be to use spells. This suggests a bunch of cheap Hate Bears (like Thalia) would be the easier sideboard but the downside is this makes you “answer” cards vulnerable to removal. If I we’re going down the Thalia road my sideboard would look something like this:

3 [card]Gaddock Teeg[/card] Stops [card]Engineered Explosives[/card], [card]Chalice of the Void[/card] and [card]Supreme Verdict[/card]/[card]Wrath of God[/card]/[card]Damnation[/card]. This card is important regardless of which type of sideboard you run.
3 [card]Thalia, Guardian of Thraben[/card] – We’re bringing this in against Combo and some midrange decks. This card shapes many other decisions in the sideboard; if we’re building around [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] she obviously can’t be here.
3 [card]Qasali Pridemage[/card] – Standard Enchant/Artifact Hatebear
2 [card]Kataki, War’s Wage[/card] – We’re slower than Affinity, which forces us into a control role in games 2 and 3.
2 [card]Tidehollow Sculler[/card] – [card]Thoughtseize[/card] for decks that run Thalia
2 [card]Spellskite[/card] – Splash hate for Infect and Boggle

Unfortunately this isn’t perfect; I’m tempted to cut the Kataki’s for a couple of [card]Rest in Peace[/card] just in case I’ve read the demise of combo incorrectly. This combination of cards does however allow us to easilytd41_gaddockSplash board out Snapcaster and [card]Tribal Flames[/card] to bring in a variety of effective Hate Bears in most of our matches. The upside is that this makes it easy for us to become a Thalia based-beatdown deck in games 2-3 while the downside is we lose the reach from [card]Tribal Flames[/card]/Snapcaster. This type of sideboard is also easy to modify because at this point it’s easy to find a cheap creature based option to combat nearly any deck in the format. If for example [card]Scapeshift[/card] becomes a major player we could easily include [card]Aven Mindcensor[/card] while if Tempo/Control decks were to dominate I’d turn towards [card]Grand Abolisher[/card]. Naturally all of these answers are vulnerable to removal but in this sort of deck we’re likely to be presenting more problem creatures than our opponents can possibly handle in a single game.

While there’s nothing wrong with the Thalia deck, I personally would rather be a [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] deck post board. This approach allows us to play a 3rd Snapcaster in the sideboard and 2 copies each of up to 7 key cheap instants/sorceries to help fuel our engine. The downside is that we must be more precise with our choices in this type of sideboard because we can’t just turn unneeded answer cards sideways for damage.  Additionally since many Zoo decks do run [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] it’s possible our opponents will board in graveyard based meta cards, which isn’t great news for our [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card]s. If I were going to build this kind of sideboard it would look something like this:

1 [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] – The engine that lets us run the rest of this sideboard
2 [card]Gaddock Teeg[/card] – You still need to beat Sweepers/Explosives/Chalice.
2 [card]Boros Charm[/card] – Hates sweepers
1 [card]Ray of Revelation[/card] – Hates out enchantments with no Snapcaster Required
1 [card]Back to Nature[/card] – Back up [card]Ray of Revelation[/card]; Boggle Destroyer.
1 [card]Ancient Grudge[/card] – Hates out artifacts with no Snapcaster Required
2 [card]Rakdos Charm[/card] – Awkward but effective answer to a variety of Graveyard based combo decks and works as a backup [card]Ancient Grudge[/card]
2 [card]Unified Will[/card] – Utility Counterspell, very difficult to use with Snapcaster unless you have a [card]Deahtrite Shaman[/card] in play as well
2 [card]Thoughtseize[/card] – The most effective Discard spell in the format
1 [card]Devour Flesh[/card] – Hexproof/Emrakul meta.

Of course, both of these sideboards were built in a relative vacuum for an environment that may exist only in my head. In fact it’s highly likely that if I were going to a tournament this weekend I’d throw together some combination of the two lists you see above. This is because once again I need to build my sideboard (and deck) to win the games I will actually play and not “games in a vacuum.” I can’t stress enough how important it is to build your deck with the event you’ll be entering in mind if you are serious about playing competitive Magic on any level. I’d even advise doing so if you’re playing in something as meaningless as a FNM with a $5 entry fee; small time gambling is still gambling and there’s no reason to burn our money.

Well gang, there you have it; a detailed account of my journey from rejected Jund Jockey to the completion of my newest Zoo Brew. Truthfully, I know that many of you will copy this deck wholesale and then keep or reject it based on your own testing results. That’s fine; I’ve been known to do the same when I needed a quick change of pace for an upcoming tournament. It is however my sincere hope that by focusing on and revealing the process by which this deck was built, I’ve helped you become a better deck-builder in some way. Winning lists will come and go as formats rotate and new cards are printed; the ability to build a fundamentally sound Magic deck will stay with you for the rest of your life. As always, thanks for reading folks and keep it weird.

-nina

PS – I would like to thank Scott MacCallum, Luis Acosta, Seth Burn, Isawa Chuckles and Team Dickwolf for all of their help in building and tuning this deck. It’s a good thing to have such talented friends isn’t it? =)