Welcome to the Jungle!

Hello, everybody! I’m back, but this time, instead of a tournament report, I am here to teach you how to play Big Zoo in Modern.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o1tj2zJ2Wvg]

It All Started Here

To give you all a background of where this deck came from, I’ll give you my background as a player. I was introduced to Magic: The Gathering by two of my teachers in my sophomore year of high school. This was when I was going through a very bad, depression-filled period of my life. Magic gave me an outlet where I could have fun showcasing my creativity in my own style.

From the beginning, I was trying to find a way to play insanely large creatures while still playing silver-bullet cards to help me beat my friends. A memory that I now look back on fondly was when a friend built a deck based around [card]High Tide[/card] and the “free” mechanic featured on blue cards in Urza’s Saga block. I eventually got sick and tired of the deck and played a deck with four copies of each of [card]Red Elemental Blast[/card], [card]Pyroblast[/card], and [card]Choke[/card], along with every creature in the deck having protection from blue. Unbeknownst to me, this was my first foray into what is now my favorite part of Magic: metagaming.

The summer of 2013 is when I finally took the plunge into competitive Magic. I had seen Brian Kibler’s Hate Bears decklist from Worlds earlier that summer and I had fallen in love with it. I traded every card I owned that was worth any money, and by September, I had GW Hate Bears built and was ready to take on Modern. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing at first, but in time, I learned how to properly tune my main deck and sideboard to help me maximize my matchups. I started to finally make the top eight of a bunch of Grand Prix Trials in preparation for Grand Prix Richmond.

A Fateful Meeting

In February 2014, I was introduced to my friend [card]Wild Nacatl[/card] right when she got back from her long vacation. We hit it off pretty quickly. I ended up lucking into a GPT win for Richmond at the last possible moment with a crude Zoo list, a lot of luck, and the help of my friend Barrett running blocker for me and giving me a quarterfinals concession. On Thursday, March 6, 2014, the day before I had to drive down to my first Grand Prix ever, I finalized my decklist, with the help of  some friends and the best players in my area.

[Deck title=Old Zoo*]
[Creatures]
4 Noble Hierarch
4 Wild Nacatl
4 Tarmogoyf
3 Qasali Pridemage
2 Scavenging Ooze
4 Knight of the Reliquary
3 Loxodon Smiter
1 Thundermaw Hellkite
[/creatures]
[Spells]
4 Path to Exile
4 Lightning Bolt
2 Lightning Helix
1 Naya Charm
2 Ajani Vengeant
[/spells]
[Lands]
4 Verdant Catacombs
2 Misty Rainforest
4 Arid Mesa
2 Stomping Grounds
2 Temple Garden
2 Sacred Foundry
2 Forest
2 Plains
1 Mountain
1 Kessig Wolf Run
[/lands]
[Sideboard]
1 Thundermaw Hellkite
1 Batterskull
1 Scavenging Ooze
2 Rule of Law
2 Ancient Grudge
2 Stony Silence
2 Combust
2 Spellskite
2 Engineered Explosives
[/sideboard]
[/deck]

*This list is so bad and so out of date. You can read my report that I wrote up for Reddit here

After losing my first two rounds of the tournament, I was 2-2 and looking at elimination. Long story short, I ended up closing out the tournament with a 9-1-1 record, finishing at 11-3-1 and in 75th place. I had fallen in love with my deck and I was hooked on Zoo.

Since Richmond, I have played different iterations of Zoo in tournaments at least once a week in a mix of small local affairs, Star City Games IQs, and whatever other Modern tournaments I could find within a reasonable driving distance (80 to 120 miles in my case).

Now for the Reason You Came Here

With how the Modern metagame has shifted since Khans of Tarkir, I feel that my deck is no longer my rogue pet deck and is poised to make a real dent in the format. Now let’s break it down.

[deck title=Current 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]

I have made one change since SCG Worcester: I replaced [card]Grafdigger’s Cage[/card] with [card]Spellskite[/card].

[card]Noble Hierarch[/card]

Noble Hierarch is my mana dork of choice for this deck. Although it doesn’t cover all of your colors, it can help power out turn-two Knights and turn-three Thrun or Ajani. Its exalted triggers are fantastic for helping win a Tarmogoyf battle, and when facing down an [card]Ensnaring Bridge[/card], she can crawl under and still get in damage. Although for budgetary reasons you may play [card]Birds of Paradise[/card] over Hierarch, the power-level dropoff is insane.

[card]Wild Nacatl[/card]

What more could you ask for from only one green mana? Wild Nacatl is some of the best early pressure in the Modern format and can win games by itself. Nacatl is an integral part of the deck’s early game and is still a solid top deck late in the game when you want a threat.

[card]Tarmogoyf[/card]

This is #bigdumbidiot, also known as the greatest creature ever printed. It is a threat at every point in the game, and if you need me to explain how good Tarmogoyf is to you, then you shouldn’t be playing Modern.

[card]Scavenging Ooze[/card]

This little Ooze doesn’t stay little for long. I have found this card alone can make bad matchups winnable. Against [card]Living End[/card], which is one of Zoo’s worst matchups, an early Scavenging Ooze can neuter them. In the BGx matchup, it boils down to who is able to have their Ooze stick around the longest. Being relevant versus [card]Kitchen Finks[/card] is also just value.

[card]Qasali Pridemage[/card]

This card is fantastic! Because [card]Splinter Twin[/card], [card]Birthing Pod[/card], and Affinity decks still run around in Modern, you need four of this cat. The synergy of him killing himself and Scavenging Ooze eating him is fantastic and provides a lot of the disruption you need in the format so you can hang around long enough to kill your opponents. He is my most sideboarded-out card, although when he is relevant, all four need to stick around.

[card]Knight of the Reliquary[/card]

Brian Kibler has great taste in cards, and his signature covers the text box of my Knights, annoying my opponents who basically never remember its abilities (yes, of course, I explain it and offer to call a judge for oracle text). This deck of mine is built around Knight and making her huge. We will address my mana base further down, but basically, she is the reason I run every single land in my deck. A beatstick, combat trick, and mana accelerant all rolled into one, I feel Knight is the best card in the deck.

[card]Thrun, the Last Troll[/card]

At GP Worcester, I got beat badly by a Jund deck packing main-deck Thrun. I figured if you can’t beat them, join them, so for awhile I replaced one of my [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card]s. As BGx died and Delver started to take over, I realized Thrun was a near unbeatable threat as long as you had the mana to regenerate. He is now no longer a refugee of Mirrodin and has found a home.

[card]Lightning Bolt[/card]

Lightning Bolt is the premier removal spell in Modern. It is quite rare to find a red deck in the format that isn’t packing at least three or four somewhere in its 75. Always bolt the bird or other mana dork that they play in the early game, and close the game out by hitting their face.

[card]Lightning Helix[/card]

Lightning Helix in this list is just Bolts five and six, with an obvious upside versus Burn, Delver, and other aggressive strategies.

[card]Path to Exile[/card]

What Lightning Bolt is to red, Path to Exile is to white. Path is a card that should be saved to deal with troublesome creatures, like anything with four or more toughness that can’t be killed in combat.

[card]Ajani Vengeant[/card]

Like most of this deck, Ajani is a pet card of mine. Because this deck has very little card advantage, I like running two to four planeswalkers in each of my builds. I was running [card]Chandra, Pyromaster[/card] for most of the summer, but with the metagame change and how many two-or-more-toughness creatures are running around, I felt swapping her for Ajani would be stronger. Since most Delver and Burn decks are light on mana, you can sometimes drop him and immediately mana screw them, or just use him as a four-mana [card]Lightning Helix[/card] that they need to waste an attack step on killing. He is very good right now and will be as long as blue decks are popular.

Mana Base Time

[card]Wooded Foothills[/card]

[card]Windswept Heath[/card]

[card]Arid Mesa[/card]

[card]Stomping Ground[/card]

[card]Temple Garden[/card]

[card]Sacred Foundry[/card]

[card]Forest[/card]

[card]Plains[/card]

[card]Kessig Wolf Run[/card]

[card]Horizon Canopy[/card]

I don’t feel like I need to do a card-by-card breakdown here, as it should be pretty easy to understand. I play [card]Knight of the Reliquary[/card], and because of that, I play 12 fetch lands. The basic lands that I play are only Forests and Plains. This helps not only provide more fodder for Knight to sacrifice, but it also helps me play around or with [card]Blood Moon[/card] post sideboarding. [card]Kessig Wolf Run[/card] is a premium combat trick and [card]Horizon Canopy[/card] is for when you need an extra card to get back in the game. Learning all of the tricks with Knight is the quickest way to master the deck.

Next week, we’ll cover sideboarding. Thanks for reading and let me know if you have any questions or comments!

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.

11 comments on Welcome to the Jungle!

  1. Bertille says:

    Woah, so cool, I like your deck! Can I replace Tarmogoyf with Wild Nacatl’s white brother?

    1. Max Perlmutter says:

      You can try playing Loam Lion (Kird Ape would be better in this shell). You will lose a lot more if you don’t play Tarmogoyf. You have to be okay with that and know the deck will not be as good and you will lose some matchups because your decks power level will be dropping off drastically.

  2. Davide says:

    this weekend i’ll going to play GP Madrid with this deck, I tested versus UR Delver and Burn and it seems to be a good chioce, for me the big problem is versus Scapeshift, how do you play versus this deck? Can you win only with Blood moon and Choke?

    What do you think about a split of 1 Chandra and 1 Ajani MB?

    This is my SB:
    2 Blood Moon
    2 Stony Silence
    1 Combust
    1 Sowing salt
    2 Choke
    1 Bow of Nylea
    2 Kor Firewalker
    1 Torpor Orb
    1 Ancient Grudge/1 Wear//Tear
    1 Volcanic Fallout/ 1 Bonfire of the damned
    1 Unravel the AEther/1 Wear//Tear

    What do you think? I want to try to cover all the possible matchup for the GP.

    1. Anonymous says:

      Its funny that Scapeshift is coming up as a bad matchup for you. In my testing I’ve found it to be in my favor although the games can go either way. An early Blood Moon or Choke will kill them post board. Game one you want to be as aggressive as possible and Thrun is your best friend here. Your sideboard looks solid, personally I prefer mine but if it works better for you you should obviously play what works for you.

      I was playing Chandra for awhile until I switched back to Ajani and personally I feel like Ajani is a much better choice in the current Modern metagame.

    2. Max Perlmutter says:

      The other comment is me I just forgot to add my name.

  3. Anonymous says:

    What are your thoughts on Ghor-Clan Rampager? Possibly over 1-2 Pridemages.

    1. Max Perlmutter says:

      So Ghor-Clan Rampager is a funny card. You are either blowing someone out with it or getting blown out when you try to use it. I prefer it in a more Little Zoo style deck where it can be both a pump spell and the top end of your curve. In Big Zoo I see it as a pump spell when you would prefer a body and when you would cast it as a body it would be competing with Thrun. I have played with it before and I just don’t like it right now. I definitely feel Pridemage puts in too much work to get cut down to any number less than 3 and 4 just adds consistent disruption.

      My best advice is test it and see what works for you!

  4. Ed says:

    How insane is Scavenging Ooze in a Delve-filled world? It’s got to feel really good, right? I’m excited about converting to this from Domain Zoo

    1. Max Perlmutter says:

      Scooze is pretty nifty. It does its role well and can take over games. if you have extra mana to hate on delve cards then that is just a bonus.

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