Welcome to the Jungle: Sideboarding Versus the Aggressive

Welcome back, everybody!

I assume since you are here you want to learn how to sideboard with my Zoo deck against the more aggressive decks in Modern. If not, tough luck. Against these decks, you want to start off as the control deck and stabilize before transitioning into being the beatdown to close the game.

The Deck

[deck title= AZooni (Big Zoo) ]
[Creatures]
4 Wild Nacatl
4 Noble Hierarch
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Qasali Pridemage
4 Scavenging Ooze
4 Knight of the Reliquary
2 Thrun, the Last Troll
[/creatures]
[Spells]
4 Path to Exile
4 Lightning Bolt
2 Lightning Helix
2 Ajani Vengeant
[/spells]
[Lands]
4 Wooded Foothills
4 Windswept Heath
4 Arid Mesa
2 Stomping Ground
1 Temple Garden
1 Sacred Foundry
1 Horizon Canopy
1 Kessig Wolf Run
2 Forest
2 Plains
[/lands]
[Sideboard]
2 Spellskite
3 Blood Moon
2 Choke
2 Ancient Grudge
1 Deflecting Palm
1 Bow of Nylea
2 Batterskull
2 Engineered Explosives
[/sideboard]
[/deck]

Sideboard Breakdown

[card]Blood Moon[/card]

Blood Moon is a fantastic card out of the sideboard and is there to give you free wins or stall the game until you can reach a dominant position. This card is a must against all three-or-more-color decks and can even dominate two-color decks.

[card]Choke[/card]

If your opponent plays [card]Island[/card]s, you play Choke. I don’t think it can be any clearer than that.

[card]Spellskite[/card]

I really like Spellskite. It stonewalls aggro early on and can help you win the burn matchup. I like Spellskite especially in game three of the control and Pod matchups to protect your [card]Blood Moon[/card]s and [card]Choke[/card]s from their removal.

[card]Engineered Explosives[/card]

Board sweepers are really good and Explosives is no different. If they play creatures, you should play Explosives.

[card]Batterskull[/card]

Burn, midrange, control: all of these are matchups where Batterskull can shine. It is your most resilient threat (next to Thrun) and when paired with your creatures can be very potent.

[card]Ancient Grudge[/card]

Good versus artifacts.

[card]Bow of Nylea[/card]

I think this card is the best card in my sideboard. Every ability on the card is good. The graveyard one, although you use it the least, can be very strong. It lets you bottom some strong cards from your graveyard, and with your large amount of fetch lands, you can shuffle and redistribute your used powerful spells back into your deck.

[card]Deflecting Palm[/card]

If you expect to get hit with a lot of damage from a single source, play this card. Creatures holding [card]Cranial Plating[/card], Tron’s creatures, Bogles, Ascendancy Combo (choose the creature, and yes, you can choose Caryatid) are great sources for this card to choose. Palm also has bonus points versus Burn, where it basically acts as an extra [card]Lightning Helix[/card].

To Begin, Let’s Start Off With UR Delver

UR Delver is a very interesting matchup that I feel lands in the favor of Zoo 60 percent of the time. The main goal for Delver is to play a tempo game versus you. To counter that, you should try to kill every creature they play on sight and try to go wide with your threats. An uncontested creature from them can spell the end for you, but as long as you have two or three blockers and some of your 12 removal options, you should be fine.

Sideboard out: 4 [card]Qasali Pridemage[/card], 3 [card]Scavenging Ooze[/card]

Sideboard in: 2 [card]Choke[/card], 2 [card]Engineered Explosives[/card], 2 [card]Spellskite[/card], 1 [card]Bow of Nylea[/card]

Out of their sideboard, I would expect counterspells and maybe combust for Knights.

Pro tip: [card]Insectile Aberation[/card] has a converted mana cost (CMC) of 0, and therefore will die along with [card]Young Pyromancer[/card] tokens to [card]Engineered Explosives[/card].

Next Up At Bat: Burn

[Deck Title=Burn]
[Creatures]
4 Goblin Guide
4 Monastery Swiftspear
4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
4 Boros Charm
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Skullcrack
4 Lava Spike
4 Rift Bolt
4 Treasure Cruise
2 Shard Volley
2 Searing Blaze
[/Spells]
[Lands]
5 Mountain
4 Scalding Tarn
4 Wooded Foothills
2 Arid Mesa
2 Steam Vents
2 Sacred Foundry
1 Stomping Ground
[/Lands]
[Sideboard]
3 Destructive Revelry
4 Dragon’s Claw
2 Searing Blood
2 Smash to Smithereens
[/Sideboard]
[/Deck]

Burn is one of your rougher matchups, and can be a deterrent to playing Zoo, but after you learn the matchup, it isn’t that bad. I would consider it 45 percent pre-board, and post-board it is completely draw dependent on your end.

In game one of each match, once you find out your opponent is playing Burn, you want to try not to kill yourself with your lands. Basic lands are your best friends, making [card]Windswept Heath[/card] your best fetch. Every single creature that they play is worth killing with any removal spell you have, so don’t be picky. [card]Scavenging Ooze[/card], [card]Lighting Helix[/card], and [card]Ajani Vengeant[/card] are how you stay alive in game one, so please try your best not to get [card]Skullcrack[/card]ed.

Sideboard out: 4 [card]Qasali Pridemage[/card], 2 [card]Path to Exile[/card]

Sideboard in: 2 [card]Batterskull[/card], 1 [card]Bow of Nylea[/card], 1 [card]Deflecting Palm[/card], 2 [card]Spellskite[/card]

Just like your plan versus Delver, you are going to try to stonewall their aggressive creatures. Spellskite helps block the aggressive starts and subtracts one damage from most burn spells (except when coupled with Hierarch and you are able to pay the blue mana to activate its ability). [card]Deflecting Palm[/card] is basically another Lightning Helix in this matchup—it is better than your other cards so you play it. [card]Batterskull[/card] and [card]Bow of Nylea[/card], if unanswered, basically read, “You win the game.”

Pro Tip: Although you board them out for games two and three, you should remember that Qasali Pridemage kills [card]Eidolon of the Great Revel[/card].

Affinity for Affinity

[deck title=Affinity]
[Creatures]
2 Etched Champion
2 Master of Etherium
2 Memnite
3 Steel Overseer
4 Arcbound Ravager
4 Ornithopter
4 Signal Pest
4 Vault Skirge
[/creatures]
[spells]
4 Cranial Plating
4 Mox Opal
4 Springleaf Drum
3 Ensoul Artifact
3 Galvanic Blast
[/spells]
[Lands]
1 Island
4 Blinkmoth Nexus
4 Darksteel Citadel
4 Glimmervoid
4 Inkmoth Nexus
[/lands]
[Sideboard]
2 Thoughtseize
1 Whipflare
2 Ancient Grudge
1 Gut Shot
1 Dismember
1 Nature’s Claim
1 Blood Moon
2 Spellskite
1 Relic of Progenitus
1 Grafdigger’s Cage
1 Torpor Orb
1 Etched Champion
[/sideboard]
[/deck]

Affinity is a race, and one you are primed to lose. Disruption and killing all of their threats is key to winning this matchup. [card]Qasali Pridemage[/card] is a three-mana removal spell that sometimes sits around to block, but if your board is full of them, you are doing something wrong. One-for-one removal on key threats and two-for-oneing your opponents when they use [card]Ensoul Artifact[/card] are your best ways to get any semblance of card advantage. [card]Scavenging Ooze[/card] is a champ and helps you stick a big threat while you try not to die.

Sideboard out: 2 [card]Thrun, the Last Troll[/card], 2 [card]Ajani Vengeant[/card], 1 [card]Noble Hierarch[/card]

Sideboard in: 2 [card]Engineered Explosives[/card], 2 [card]Ancient Grduge[/card], 1 [card]Deflecting Palm[/card]

Engineered Explosives and Ancient Grudge are how you get your card advantage here. The same thing is true here as in the previous matchups: you just try not to die until you can close out the game. Kill everything on sight, and if they crack in with a [card]Cranial Plating[/card] or even just an Ensouled Artifact, throw it back at their face.

Pro tip: Be mindful of [card]Arcbound Ravager[/card]. You can use removal to coax them into going all in on a creature if you have another removal spell to kill its target. Never let a [card]Steel Overseer[/card] untap or you will lose the game.

Brainstorm Brewery is a Great Place for Merfolk

[deck title=Merfolk]
[creatures]
4 Cursecatcher
4 Silvergill Adept
4 Master of the Pearl Trident
4 Lord of Atlantis
1 Phantasmal Image
4 Merrow Reejerey
2 Kira, Great Glass-Spinner
3 Master of waves
[/creatures]
[spells]
4 Aether Vial
4 Vapor Snag
2 Spell Pierce
4 Spreading Seas
[/spells]
[lands]
14 Island
4 Mutavault
2 Cavern of souls
[/lands]
[sideboard]
2 Grafdigger’s Cage
4 Gut Shot
2 Spellskite
2 Steel Sabotage
2 Swan Song
3 Tidebinder Mage
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

Merfolk is a matchup that is never close. If you let them develop a board, you can plan on getting blown out, while if you keep their board clear and don’t let them establish three lords, you should be fine. I don’t have a percentage for this matchup because it is so draw-dependent, but I feel favored.

Sideboard out: 4 [card]Qasali Pridemage[/card]

Sideboard in: 2 [card]Choke[/card], 2 [card]Engineered Explosives[/card]

Post-board, you really just want to Choke them out or decimate their board with Explosives, but otherwise play the same as game one. If they are on a UW build rather than a mono U build you can bring in Blood Moon to decimate them. 

Bogles, AKA Your Worst Nightmare

[deck title=Bogles]
[Creatures]
4 Slippery Bogle
4 Gladecover Scout
4 Kor Spiritdancer
[/creatures]
[Spells]
2 Path to Exile
4 Spider Umbra
4 Rancor
4 Ethereal Armor
3 Hyena Umbra
1 Spirit Link
3 Spirit Mantle
4 Daybreak Coronet
2 Unflinching Courage
[/Spells]
[Lands]
4 Razorverge Thicket
4 Temple Garden
4 Windswept Heath
3 Sunpetal Grove
1 Dryad Arbor
1 Forest
1 Plains
1 Wooded Foothills
[/Lands]
[Sideboard]
2 Supression Field
1 Grafdigger’s Cage
2 Relic of Progenitus
1 Torpor Orb
4 Leyline of Sanctity
1 Rest in peace
2 Stony Silence
1 Nature’s Claim
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

You have four cards to interact with this deck, period. Prepare for a beating and losing game one. I’d call it a 10-percent chance to live past turn five in game one.

Sideboard out: 2 [card]Ajani Vengeant[/card], 2 [card]Lightning Helix[/card], 4 [card]Lightning Bolt[/card]

Sideboard in: 2 [card]Spellskite[/card], 2 [card]Engineered Explosives[/card], 3 [card]Blood Moon[/card], 1 [card]Deflecting Palm[/card]

I leave [card]Path to Exile[/card] in for games two and three over [card]Lightning Bolt[/card] because it gives me a way to deal with [card]Kor Spiritdancer[/card], but I think they are interchangeable if you would rather burn faces.  Your game plan post-board is to stick an early [card]Spellskite[/card] to steal their enchantments or to [card]Blood Moon[/card] them out of the game ASAP. It doesn’t matter if you lock yourself out, either—just hope you draw basics before them. Explosives is your reset switch on one or two, usually to try and rip apart their Voltron. Good luck, because you will need it.

Pro tip: Funerals and coffins are a waste of money, just get cremated because there wont be anything besides a bloody pulp to see at a viewing.

Little Zoo: It Ain’t No Big Zoo

[Deck Title=Little Zoo]
[Creatures]
4 Wild Nacatl
4 Steppe Lynx
4 Tarmogoyf
2 Scavenging Ooze
2 Qasali Pridemage
4 Knight of the Reliquary
4 Ghor-Clan Rampager
[/creatures]
[Spells]
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Path to Exile
4 Lightning Helix
[/Spells]
[Lands]
4 Arid Mesa
4 Wooded Foothills
4 Windswept Heath
3 Horizon Canopy
2 Temple Garden
2 Stomping Ground
1 Forest
1 Kessig Wolf Run
1 Misty Rainforest
1 Sacred Foundry
1 Plains
[/Lands]
[Sideboard]
1 Scavenging Ooze
1 Grafdigger’s Cage
2 Ethersworn Canonist
3 Molten Rain
2 Wear//Tear
1 Magma Spray
2 Boros Charm
1 Ancient Grudge
2 Stony Silence
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

Historically, Big Zoo was built to prey upon Little Zoo, and that is what you do. I played this exact matchup at SCG Worcester in the quarterfinals and got a quick 2-0 victory. As long as you don’t get blown out by a [card]Ghor-Clan Rampager[/card], you should be able to win game one off of having more [card]Scavenging Ooze[/card]s.

Sideboard out: 4 [card]Qasali Pridemage[/card], 4 [card]Noble Hierarch[/card]

Sideboard in: 3 [card]Blood Moon[/card], 2 [card]Batterskull[/card], 1 [card]Bow of Nylea[/card], 2 [card]Engineered Explosives[/card]

In games two and three, you should just kill them. Sweep their board and play stronger and more resilient threats until they die. Thrun is a card they have a lot of trouble with, and locking them out with a Blood Moon is just GG.

Now You Know

Thank you all for reading. I’ll be back soon with another installment, where I will talk about sideboarding against more midrange and control-oriented decks. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments and I will try to get to them as soon as I can.

About the Author
I am a full time student at Hampshire College and a Modern format specialist. I have been playing Big Zoo since the unbanning of Wild Nacatl. I hope you enjoy my writing and through it I can help us all improve and people and players in the Magic community.

3 comments on Welcome to the Jungle: Sideboarding Versus the Aggressive

  1. Davide says:

    Last weekend i played GP Madrid.
    Firt of all: is really, really, really important go to a GP with 2 bye, on the last 2 match i lost because I was totally die and y played two bad matches!
    I closed 5-4, I thinks the deck is really good in the actual metagame, probably I’m going to change 2 Kor firewalker for 2 Spellskite.
    Firewalker is pretty game versus Burn and Delver but is too specific for those matchup, Spellskite is also good versus Boogle and other matchups, like you write.
    Thank you a lot for yours suggestions!!
    Davide

  2. Brian says:

    Can we get one of these for current standard?

    1. Max Perlmutter says:

      . Are you asking for a series like this on standard? I don’t feel qualified to speak about standard because frankly I don’t know the format or what deck I even want to play and reading the articles and opinions of Brad Nelson, Jeff Hoogland, and other standard specialists would be more beneficial to you.

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