Tag Archives: Zoo

Hype, and testing Grixis in Standard

When it comes to Magic: The Gathering, hype is a strange beast. With the universal language of the internet greasing the wheels, a magic meta can spin out of control in a mere 24 hours. I fell into this trap last night playing in the latest online ptq. Today I’m going to take a look at what transpired over the 24 hours leading up to the PTQ and how I bought into the hype and got burned, and then address some of the same issues I’m dealing with in preparing my friend on the Pro Tour for PT San Diego.

Two weeks ago when I top 8′d my first PTQ, the meta was pretty much one deck: Dark Depths / Thopter (DDT). In the two weeks leading up to that tournament, DDT was absolutely dominant and top 8′s were littered with the list all over MTGO. I was more than happy to sleeve up a very fast zoo deck to beat them to the punch; it was such a good meta-call that I could play sloppy whilst drunk and on no sleep and still go 7-1 losing only to running turn 1 blood moons- but I digress.

The last two weeks have seen the online, Extended meta get mixed up a little bit more. There was a bit more dredge, some faeries, and a little zoo but most of the good players online were still playing DDT. I had tested some different zoo builds in that time and mainly not done great, but I finally settled on one with maindeck meddling mages with damping matrix in the sideboard and 3-1′d a daily event the night before the ptq.

When I looked at the decklists from the event the next day, there were a LOT of zoo decks that 3-1′d or better. And then I caught the lists fromt he Premiere event that started at midnight on Thursday morning and six of the top eight decks were zoo with Knight of the Reliquary, most with maindeck Jitte and one with main deck Blood Moon!

Well my friends and I went into crisis mode: we needed Deathmark in the sideboard; I needed Jittes, probably in the maindeck; my Goblin Guide had to be Knight now that it was going to be outclassed. My Gmail inbox was overloaded during my Thursday workday and the two hours after work leading up to the PTQ was crafting the perfect deck to beat Zoo and probably still be good against DDT.

Guess how many Zoo decks I faced: ZERO.
I even dropped a match to DDT, something I’d only done once and mainly do to mulligans.

Would three maindeck Meddling Mage gotten me past my gauntlet last night? Perhaps, I did face Hive Mind, Pox Rock and Thopter Foundry three times. Did Jitte win me any games? Nope. Did I attack once with Knight of the Reliquary last night? Septuple Nope.

I bought into the hype, and I got burned.

A card that has received a ton of Standard buzz lately is Jace, The Mind Sculptor. I’m expecting to have to face this guy tonight at Friday Night Magic as I battle for 90 in store credit so that I can buy my own 1.5 Jaces.

I have had the opportunity to play with and against the Mind Sculptor on Magic Workstation and so far I’m not buying into the hype.

My friend Jason Ford is Qualified for San Diego after his top 50 finish in Austin and we’ve been testing the balls off of Grixis and the new blue cards in Worldwake and here is some of the things we’ve found.

Treasure Hunt is doing just what you want it to. It’s smoothing out your draws and getting you a spell. Sometimes it flips another treasure hunt and it’s kind of lame and sometimes it gets you through three land and hits Earthquake after your opponent cast Martial Coup and has you dead on board.

Calcite Snapper is better than advertised. I’ve been loving this card. It locks down a board that can’t swarm, and when you’re packing 4 Lightning Bolt and 4 Terminate you can probably keep the swarm down. Then, when your opponent over-extends to push through, you can earthquake his team or drop a land and beat in for four.

Then there’s the aforementioned Jace. We’ve played a bunch of games with Jace and I think a blue deck won when he hit the table once, maybe twice. He’s not easy to protect as a Jund player can simply hold his Blightning or Maelstrom Pulse for when a Planeswalker hits the table. And unless you’re scrying for one right when he hits the table (which isn’t very gamebreaking) and Lightning Bolt will do.

Grixis, mainly, has not been cutting it. The deck is no Jund. It can do some fun stuff and has some strong cards but it has struggled to get the win. After some games there are always times where an Earthquake here would’ve won it, or if this Cruel ultimatum was a Sphinx of Jwar Isle the Blue deck likely would’ve won, but Jund doesn’t normally have those games where it couldn’t draw enough to win. What Jund does is unfair, what Grixis does isn’t.

One thing We’ve taken to doing with some of our standard builds is make a list with a bunch of singletons in it, so that we’re constantly hitting different “game plans” and generally get a taste for things that are working and arent. I would say that counters are not working right now, and spot removal is. I think if you’re playing blue and red, then you should pack Double Negative in your 75 because it’s at worst a cancel.

A couple more things about Grixis: you can leave Mysteries of the deep on the bench, you’ve only got 4 fetches in the deck and while instant speed is good, you’re better off just playing divination if you want to draw two cards.

Cruel Ultimatum isn’t that good. When your only 7 creatures have shroud, there’s a damn good chance you’re not getting a guy back from your graveyard. And playing things like Architects of Will is not even remotely the same as packing Mulldrifter like in the days of yore. A number of times the Grixis player has cast Cruel Ultimatum and still lost because it’s not that hard to play around discarding three cards, and in Jund when almost every creature you play is actaully two creatures, sacrificing one doesnt matter.

The thing that is ending games for Grixis is Sphinx of Jwar Isle. No he does not beat Baneslayer Angel but you have answers for that guy in Terminate and Jace. The only thing Jund has for this guy is double blocking with Broodmate Dragon (unless you’re dead on board already), which is pretty darn narrow.

There is some Buzz about using Everflowing Chalice to get you to Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker but that just further turns on your opponent’s maelstrom pulses. I know I’m focusing a lot on Jund right now, but if you’re not beating Vampires with this deck you need to see if you can beat Jund and UWR and we started with Jund. Grixis couldn’t beat it so we mostly moved on.

This is the list I would run if I was going to sleeve up Grixis, using Cruel Ultimatum Only in the Board. This might get you through Jund, but vamps and other control decks are still a major issue.

My opinion is that the blue decks are going to have trouble finishing games no matter what. Sphinx of Jwar Isle is clearly the answer in my eyes, it’s just a matter of getting to him.

For the record, I would just play Jund. Jund may have some issues with Ajani Vengeant and UWR (though I did get a 9/9 Raging Ravine to take out some Wall of Denials), but for the most part Jund isn’t losing much. I’ve been using Jund and beating the control decks at a steady clip, doing it without Great Sable Stag to boot. A lot of your removal is dead against these control decks obviously, but savvy Jund players are terminating their Sprouting Thrinax with Oren Rief out to make a little army in their opponent’s end step to push through damage and kill planeswalkers.

Thanks for reading,

Mike Gemme
Bobbysapphire on MTGO

San Juan PTQ Top 8 Report – Tribal Zoo

When I found out that I was going to be able to write about cards for a real website on commission after ten years of playing cards, I swore I wasn’t going to allow myself to be one of those writers who drums up his personal life with exuberant stories of booze, broads and ballyhoo. However, my first PTQ top 8 happened to be occur when I was completely wasted, built my deck wrong, and stayed up 32 hours straight: From .08 to top 8.

My Magic weekend started at FNM, which was a draft event. We had three full pods and I split in the finals of mine with the guy I had beaten to get into the top 8 of New Hampshire States last month snagging $35 in credit. I didn’t do anything that night because I had to get up at 630 to make it to Boston for the first flight of the Pre Release so that I could do two and win as many Worldwake packs for team drafting in San Diego as I could. (I have a bad, bad habit of opening packs too often. So far I’ve only opened two Worldwake packs and I have 12 left so, if you see me in SD scrounging for packs, you know that I’m back off the wagon).

I get home around 10:30 (you can read about my escapades here) and immediately crack Lienenkugel Fireside Nut Brown (my favorite seasonal beer) and make some calls to see what’s what. My friend Steviegets is heading out to some bars with his babe, my brother is partying at college and my friend Justin is going to bed early so he can play in the 4am PTQ [/foreshadowing].

I decide to meet up with Steve at the bar and get there first grabbing a Guinness and wandering around for a few until he gets there. Though I’m Italian, I’m currently addicted to Guinness and my liquor or choice is Jameson’s Irish Whiskey; my grandmother would not approve.

Once Steve showed up with his gal and her friends things got a little saucier, apparently some girls were there for a bachelorette party at a random townie bar in central Massachusetts with a limo… so making fun of them was an immediate ice-breaker. Though it was my birthday in a couple days steve refused to do any shots with me, but one of his babe’s friends was into it and we ended up racing jagerbombs. I wish I could remember a lot after that, but the next thing I knew it was 2am in the morning, Steve was gone, the Jagerbomb girl was gone, I was in no shape to drive and I somehow remembered to close my tab that just happened to have all the jagerbombs on it (even when girls say they’re gonna split, they often don’t and I got burned).

I end up getting a ride home from a girl who does not like me and makes no qualms about bitching me out the entire ride home for what happened the last time we saw each other (censored) but let’s just say I took her out for Lobster dinner and never called her again.

So it’s about 3am and Justin is already up for the ptq and he’s amped up to play dark depths/foundry (DDT from here on out). I’m drunk talking to him online and also talking to my buddy and Pro Tour dream crusher Jason Ford who is at college in Minnesota and also wasted. He’s telling me about how he just spent about 70 tix putting Faeries together to play in the ptq. Well I’m jealous and I’m awake (and have been since 6:30) so now I’m playing in the ptq. I steal a bunch of zoo stuff from my friend andy’s account and sent him a pretty simple email: “I stole the zoo deck to play in this _____ ptq.”

So I’m building the deck and I realize that I need a hallowed fountain, so I go back on and take the hallowed fountain because I want [card]meddling mage [/card in my sideboard. here’s the list I ended up with:

Notice the omission of the hallowed fountain. Meaning that I had only one blue source for my 4x meddling mage in the sideboard. Notice that there are only 20 land in a 4x steppe lynx deck.

Here’s the Sideboard

Everyone and Everyone have been playing DDT online lately and I had been talking about extended at the PreRe and how I thought fast zoo would be a great answer to that as I felt it could really get in there if it could survive the first few rounds. This sideboard is pretty standard and every card did work for me during the tournament at some point.

Well it’s 4am and I’m already dead tired, dreaming about things that I can do in between rounds to stay awake but really hoping that I don’t do mediocre and stay up all day for no reason.

Round 1 vs. Failtego – Scapeshift w/ blue

Game 1 I keep Goyf, Path, Lynx and 4 land.

I lead with lynx and he casts condescend my goyf on 2. Next turn I drop Kird ape and Goblin Guide and hit in, pathing his tribe elder to get more damage in, seeing as it’s going to fetch him a land anyway. He refeals firespout and repeals my guide. On his turn he casts firespout, I beat in with goblin guide on mine. He gets to 7 land and casts scapeshift and I win.

I board in meddling mages for paths and some ghost quarters in the off chance I can catch him without a basic mountain when he goes off.

Game 2 I keep a 1 lander with lynx, 2 lightning bolt, goyf, goblin guide and tribal flames

I lead with the guide. I draw a land on 2 and lay the goyf. I get him down to 8 and he firespouts and I rip my second tribal flames, playing both in consecutive turns to finish him out.

Game 3 I mull to 5 and keep Nactl, Teeg, Helix, Meddling Mage, which is a pretty bad 5 but if I draw 1 land I can get everything going. Unless that land is Ghost Quarter which was my first draw. My second draw is a verdant catacombs and I run gaddock teeg into remand two turns in a row. I finally land teeg after playing a goblin guide and beating in with it revealing scapeshift on the top. So in my end step I ghost quarters him to take him off mana or take shift off the top. Luckily he searches up the land buying me time and I’m able to get in for the win with gaddock teeg/meddling mage beats.


Round 2 vs. Backstreet playing hive mind.

I keept 3 land, flames, goblin guide and gaddock teeg x2.

I rip goyf with my first draw and decide to play it on turn 2 thinking that hive mind cannot possibly combo off on turn 2. Obviously the guy has rite of flame, seething song x2, hive mind, pact of the titan and I lose with 2 teegs in my hand.

Game 2 I keep 3 land, guide, goyf, helix, lynx.

That’s a pretty gassy hand and I beat up on him pretty fast. He can’t go off on turn 3 and I kill him on turn 4 as a result. No interactions.

Game 3 I keep 3 land, 2 goblin guide, steppe lynx, medding mage

He leads with telling time on turns 1 and 2. I go goblin guide and reveal a firespout so I drop meddling mage naming firespout. On my turn 3 I rip a kird ape and drop lynx, ape, guide and he’s got one turn to combo off and doesnt and I win on turn 4.


Round 3 vs. Nullname playing smallpox.

I keep 2 land, teeg, path, lynx, might of alara in game 1.

He wins the roll and thoughtseizes gaddock teeg away. I drop my links and he casts cry of contrition on it and then putrify to strip my hand. I draw another teeg and play it, next turn I beat in with might of alara to do some damage. He drops Kitchen Finks to recoup a bit then duresses me. I double bolt him in response to get him to 1 but he putrifies teeg and drops a goyf and I cannot catch up to two swings in a row with Goyf/Finks/Treetop Village.

I board in ancient grudges for the rack but that’s about it.

Game 2 I keep a one lander, which wasn’t smart but since he hadn’t cast smallpox in game 1 I kind of forgot about it. I kept: 1 Land, kird ape, tarmogoyf, goblin guide, lightning bolt, path, ancient grudge which is a pretty sweet one.

So i lead with kird ape and turn 2 I put the goblin guide out there. He smallpoxes and I lose the guide and my only land. So my board is just one GIANT kird ape. I don’t know if you’ve ever had just one creature on table, but they expand it to your whole board on MTGO and it’s pretty funny. He’s got no hand at this point so it’s draw, beat for 1, go. Eventually, I draw a bloodcrypt before I have to discard and he topdecks a goyf and starts beating in. I draw a second land, fetch up white and path it. I drop my own goyf which gets answered with a kitchen finks, which I path. He casts cry of contrition leaving me with just helix in my hand. I beat in with goyf before he can come up with a removal and end it next turn.


Round 4 vs. Gmomemo playing All in Red

This guy ended up with the Whammy (9th).

I didn’t rewatch these games, they were too painful.

Game 1 he hit an early deus, I pathed it and beat in before he could do anything other than cast a late blood moon.

it’s about this time I realized I just ran Juza’s list which runs a basic mountain and not a basic forest, which pretty much bones this deck. It was my friend Justin’s idea to start running basic forest in this over the mountain and I wish I thought of it when I was drunk 4 hours ago.

Game 2 he casts a turn 1 blood moon on the play and I can’t do anything but lose.

Game 3 I have meddling mage in my opener, I lay a land but have no play. He gets another turn 1 blood moon and I never play a spell. Lame.


Here’s where my fast zoo vs. DDT theory will burn or bust (spoiler warning: it burns) out as I face 3 copies of the deck in a row.

Round 5 vs. BadDrafter playing DDT

The first game of this match is missing but I remember not playing around EE very well and still winning off of a topdecked path to exile to kill his token when I was otherwise (obviously) dead.

for all three of these games my boarding plan was as follows:

-2 might of alara
-4 steppe lynx
-1 mountain
-1 scalding tarn
-3 Gaddock Teeg

+3 Ghost Quarters
+4 Meddling mage
+3 Ancient Grudge
+1 Yixlid Jailer

Game 2 was a shitshow. I kept Nacatl, Flames, Meddling Mage, Goyf, Helix and 2 lands. He opens with double bob. I have no drop but I name meddling mage on thopter on turn 2. He EEs killing both his bobs and my meddling mage and goyf, leaving me with just Nacatl. He drops hexmage and depths but doesnt crack the token… which a lot of ppl don’t do (I used to not do it, but I learned that there’s usually not a reason to hold it in a lot of cases). Short story: I topdeck ghost quarter, play it, and beat him down with the nacatl and burn before he can find another way to beat me.


It’s about this time that I realize that my car is in the middle of downtown Worcester, MA and I need a ride. I call steve to come get me to bring me to my car and we get back to my place with seconds to spare. he goes home to shower and get coffee and will come back later on.

Round 6 vs. SipitHolla w/ DDT

Again game 1 is missing, but I know I won the game, I’m just not sure how.

Game 2 I have to mull to 4 and never get anything going. he gets the thopter combo when he’s still at 14 and I really just lose. (this is the only game in the swiss portion of the tournament that I lose to DDT)

Game 3 I keept Land, Land, Goyf, Ape, Flames, Ancient Grudge.

I lead with ape and follow it up with goyf. These guys beat in uncontested for a bit and then I cast tribal flames to put the nail in the coffin.


Round 7 vs. Fabian playing DDT

Game 1 I keep land x2, Kird ape x2, Bolt x2, Lightning Helix

I drop my apes and start beating in, eventually I get him to 11 with 3 lands in play and he drops hexmage and depths and pops the token. Luckily I’m still holding my two bolts and my helix, and I topdeck tribal flames for the overkill.

Unfortunately game 2 was missing from my replays =(. I do remember that I almost ran out of time and got disconnected, and reconnected with less than a minute left. I had Meddling mage on Engineered Explosives with a nacatl and then a second meddling mage, steve and I couldn’t really decide what to name. I thought thopter but he said it didnt matter (thought I can’t remember why), turns out he did have a thopter and it slowed me down a bit, but I was able to drop Yixlid Jailer beats to finish the game with less than 30 seconds left.

So now I’m in round 8 and kind of freaking out. I’ve been close to a top 8 before, but then I’d been well rested, I’d eaten and hydrated during the day. At this point it’s about 11:30 am and I’ve been up for 29 hours. In between rounds I’ve done stupid shit like dishes, trying to sleep (which didn’t happen once) and talking on the phone to justin and jason. I even played some standard games in the casual room but that just made me more tired.

Round 8 vs. Sergio_Dominaria playing Mystical Teachings

I keep 7 with Kird ape, Land x2, Teeg, Goblin Guide, Steppe Lynx and Might of alara.

I lead with ape which he paths. Then I drop lynx and beat in with it plus might. he drops engineered explosives so I attack and he pops it, then I play tribal flames to get him to 2 and drop a kird ape that I was holding back from when he dropped Engineered Explosives. I swing in with the ape but he plays teaching for Path to Exile tapping out. I drop Gaddock Teeg and he has nothing and Teeg does the last two.

I keep in the Teegs for this game but bring in Meddling mages, Tormod’s crypt and ancient grudges.

In game 2 I keept Kird ape x2, goyf, lightning bolt, flames and 2 land.

my first draw is tormod’s crypt, so I lay it and kird ape, then I pop a fetch hoping to play my goyf but he plays shadow of doubt to stop me so I just lay the second ape. Next turn I swing and he paths one (kind of counter intuitive to his shadow of doubt play) and I fetch up a plains and bolt him and pass. I draw a second goyf so I run the other one out there to get mana leaked in my second main phase. I keep pounding away at him with my kird ape which he decides to repeal. I then drop Teeg and Kird ape holding Flames, Helix and Goyf.

Teeg and Kird ape beat him down to 7 and he drops finks to go to 9. So I helix it in my end step and pop tormod’s crypt with the trigger on the stop so it can’t persist. I rip Goblin guide and swing to drop him to 3 then Drop my goyf hoping to draw out a counter but the goyf sticks and I have 10 attack on table with a tribal flames that can do 4 damage, but he still has 2 mana up so I pass. He taps 5 for baneslayer angel which now puts him out of range of my attacks. I rip meddling mage and drop it, he thinks for a bit and lets it stick. I have a decision to make: he has two mana up. I have seen one counter all game and that’s mana leak, so the odds would say to name spell snare. The odds always end up screwing me, but I name spell snare anyway and go for it with the flames and I win and I’m in the top 8.

I decide to take a shower but keep all the same clothes on, but I feel I might’ve washed most of my luck off of me. I won round 8 very quickly and it was a long wait to top 8. We went over the decks and in the top 8 were five DDT decks, my zoo, the mystical teachings I beat in round 8 and the UB control deck that went 8-0.

I finish in third after swiss and get paired against Tezzerator, the guy that beat my friend in round 4. He’s playing DDT.

I keep Lynx, Lynx Goyf and lands on the draw and rip a goyf so my luck is obviously still around. I lead with lynx and decide to go for the blitz after I rip might of alara and swing for 8, but he has the repeal, so I just redrop Lynx and pass. I swing and drop Lynx and a goyf on 3 with him at 18. He taps out his four lands to play thopter and sword. I play a fetch, cast tribal flames and swing for 12 to put him on 2 and finish him off with a bolt, dealing 18 damage in one turn. Suck on that Loam Lion.

So obviously my luck is still with me and I’m feeling really good after that total asskicking…….

Game 2 I Keep goblin guide, keeping 3 land, bolt, meddling mage, goyf

my first draw is helix. and I lead with the guide. He reveals depths. Turn 2 I swing in and he reveals hexmage, so I cast meddling mage naming Hexmage, which he deathmarks. I goyf then lay a freshly ripped ghost quarters. He deathmarks the goyf and I swing in with goblin guide which he repeals. He drops the thopter combo while at about 14 life and I can’t touch him from there.

I’m pretty bummed that my hot hand got stomped so quickly, but I have high hopes as that’s the only game I’ve lost where I haven’t had to mull to 4 vs. this deck…………………………………

Game 3 I mull to 5 and probably should’ve kept but boy my brother and steve convinced me that I couldn’t win with it, so I kept going to 4 and didnt hit a land. I never got to play a spell that game despite the game going for like 10 turns and my ptq run was over.

After losing, my focus and adrenaline went away and I felt really sick, like hungover. I was up for 32 hours straight, I got wasted and sobered up in an 8 hour span of wakedness (something I think your body usually recovers from when you sleep) and I crashed hard.

Some thoughts about zoo. I’ve ran with it a little bit since then and while it has been good vs. DDT, other things are still out there that give it problems.

One strategy I’ve seen work is to put damping matrix (some people have them in the main, this might be a stretch) and Bloodbraids to try and give yourself more chances to get it out. Damping matrix does blow out DDT a bit, but it’s not that hard to play around because DDT runs Echoing Truth and Into the Roil which bounce it and can be searched out by muddle.

If I were to continue running this list, I’d stick with Steppe Lynx over Loam Lion because of it’s explosiveness. I know I also errantly ran 20 lands, but I’ve run 21 lands since then and have been wholly disappointed as to how much flooding I’ve faced. I know I ran really hot in this ptq and had some really lucky topdecks and got past opponents who I played poorly against, but I felt the deck gave me a lot of chances to do that. I also wouldn’t run might of alara anymore, because of repeal and echoing truth being really popular right now.

That’s it for me.

Mike Gemme
Bobbysapphire on MODO