Tribal Zoo

5
Posted December 6, 2016 by Abdullah Elhawary in Nerdy Bits

Modern is a quite static format, from the perspective that the best decks are well established and very few new decks can break into the top tier. A few years ago, Burn and Zooicide were not the premier aggro decks of Modern, but rather 4-5 color Tribal Zoo. Over the last few months, I have seen Tribal Zoo pop up once a week or every two weeks in the 5-0 bracket of Competitive Modern Leagues on Magic Online. Tribal Zoo isn’t a new deck by any stretch, but rather one that has existed in some form since the birth of Modern in 2011. However, in the last two years, it has vanished from the map – UB Mill decks show up more often to Grand Prix’s and SCG Opens than Tribal Zoo despite not being nearly as powerful. The current modern meta might be ripe for the picking from Tribal Zoo’s perspective.

Tribal Zoo by Rednose47 (5-0 Competitive Modern League 11-28-2016)

Maindeck:

Lands (21):
2x Arid Mesa
2x Bloodstained Mire
1x Blood Crypt
1x Forest
1x Hallowed Fountain
1x Overgrown Tomb
1x Plains
1x Sacred Foundry
1x Steam Vents
1x Temple Garden
1x Stomping Ground
4x Windswept Heath
4x Wooded Foothills

Creatures (22):
2x Grim Lavamancer
4x Noble Hierarch
4x Wild Nacatl
2x Snapcaster Mage
4x Tarmogoyf
3x Geist of Saint Traft
1x Thalia, Heretic Cathar
2x Qasali Pridemage

Sorceries (4):
4x Tribal Flames

Instants (9):
3x Path to Exile
4x Lightning Bolt
2x Lightning Helix

Planeswalkers (4):
2x Chandra, Torch of Defiance
2x Tamiyo, Field Researcher
Sideboard:

1x Engineered Explosive
1x Dispel
2x Natural State
1x Path to Exile
1x Ancient Grudge
1x Gaddock Teeg
1x Negate
1x Spellskite
2x Unified Will
2x Wheel of Sun and Moon
1x Kitchen Finks
1x Timely Reinforcements

Card choices:

Manabase:

87

It seems odd to discuss a deck’s manabase, especially in a format like modern, but this deck does have access to all 5 colors of mana and an intricate piece of the puzzle is making sure you fetch the right colors on the right turns. Despite the lack of any Black spells in the entire 75, you do have access to both Blood Crypt and Overgrown Tomb which facilitate Tribal Flames for 5 damage or a color for Engineered Explosives postboard. The prevalence of various aggro decks like Burn and Zooicide in addition to the bevy of Blood Moon decks means that you have to be careful with your life total and basic fetching. It is also noteworthy that there are no basic Islands or Mountains in your deck, so Snapcaster Mage, Geist of Saint Traft and all the burn spells will cost you 3 life if you have no sources of Blue or Red mana available. By far the most important turn 1 play in this deck is Noble Hierarch, since it provides 3 out of your 4 main colors, allows you to play a turn ahead of schedule and makes your threats larger from the Exalted trigger. Lastly, keep track of what fetchable lands are left in your deck at any certain point and what fetchlands can get them because there is nothing worse than pinging yourself to shuffle your library (unless you’re playing Legacy Miracles).

Threats:

wild-nacatl-cropped

Tribal Zoo, as the name indicates, loves to kill the opponent and kill them fast. The deck plays two of the most efficient threats in Modern – Tarmogoyf, a 2 mana 4/5 on average, and Wild Nacatl, a one mana 3/3 most of the time. The threat base also includes Geist of Saint Traft which can pile on serious pressure if it has a clear path with almost no fear due to Hexproof. You do have to be wary of its nemesis, Liliana of the Veil, out of Jund and Abzan. Additionally, there a few utility creatures that serve as disruption whilst you pressure your opponent in the forms of Thalia, Heretic Cathar and Qasali Pridemage. Thalia punishes decks a lot of Modern decks for playing non-basic lands by forcing them to play a turn behind schedule while ensuring that a Tarmogoyf or Lingering Souls doesn’t just blank your attack the following turn. Despite these upsides, the legendary drawback as well as its relatively high casting cost prevents Thalia from being more than a one of in this deck. The other utility creature, Qasali Pridemage, gives the deck more play against cards like Blood Moon, Engineered Explosives, Journey to Nowhere, Inkmoth Nexus, Eidolon of the Great Revel, Spellskite and the various artifacts in Affinity, Tron and Lantern Control. It also provides an Exalted trigger on top of relatively good stats making it a fine fit for the deck.

Burn/ Removal:

176

In my opinion, this deck’s best selling point is in its reach, or the ability to burn your opponent out after they have stabilized the ground. Tribal Flames is a busted Magic card with Domain – as it turns out, 5 damage for 2 mana is an absurd rate and can completely steal games. Furthermore, in a format with Burn, Infect, Suicide Bloo and Zooicide that use their life totals as a resource, Tribal Flames can just end the game. Those decks, with the notable exception of Burn, don’t have the capacity of simply burning the opponent out, giving Tribal Zoo a more explosive game plan. In addition to Tribal Flames are Modern staples Lightning Bolt, Lightning Helix, Snapcaster Mage and Grim Lavamancer. These cards all steal the game or remove blockers in order for your Creatures to keep attacking. It is also worth mentioning Lightning Helix also mitigates some of the damage that your manabase does to you, which is what earns it a slot despite its relative inefficiency. Grim Lavamancer is also an all-star against Infect, since you don’t have to cast removal spells to remove their threats and alongside Snapcaster Mage turns your graveyard into a resource. Your burn/ removal suite is rounded off with the best removal spell in Modern right now, Path to Exile, which doesn’t need any introduction.

Planeswalkers:

image

The inclusion of Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Tamiyo, Field Researcher may seem odd at first but they are what drew me into testing the deck. They provide something that iterations of Tribal Zoo in the past lacked: a late game plan. These Planeswalkers can do it all for 4 mana; remove blockers, provide card advantage and threaten a game-winning ultimate. Although some people may be drawn by the power of the card advantage portion of these walkers, I found their ability to temporarily or permanently remove a blocker or two either allowed my creatures to connect for lethal or turn the burn spells in my hand into game winners. Chandra and Tamiyo also allow the deck to attack on a completely different axis, which spreads your opponents resources too thin, preventing them from efficiently executing their plan. An example of a cute little play these Planeswalkers facilitate is casting Chandra, Torch of Defiance and plus-ing her to cast Tribal Flames. Another sweet play is plus-ing Tamiyo, Field Researcher on your opponents creatures as to remove them from combat or generate card advantage for you if they do block.

How to Play the Deck:

Similar to the Naya Zoo decks in modern, your gameplan is to maximize the damage that your creatures do on the first few turns of the game since they are the repeatable sources of damage. This involves pointing your burn spells at your opponent’s creatures in order to pile on damage – this will net you damage. After attacking for the first few turns of the game, the ground will start to get locked up or empty depending on whether your opponent is on the control or creature plan, but that’s fine because this is where your deck’s reach kicks in. On average, your deck can do at least 8 points of direct damage to your opponent every game which, considering your early attacks and them losing life to their manabase, should be enough to win you the game. A common line of play is suiciding your Geist of Saint Traft into their blockers to do 4 damage from the angel; a line that is especially appealing if you have another Geist of Saint Traft stranded in your hand. Additionally, getting cards in your graveyards fuels Grim Lavamancer and allows it to peck at your opponent’s life total. The sideboard falls under the Gerard Fabiano school of Magic with access to 12 different cards that allow you to improve your any of your matches by a few percentage points whilst not diluting your deck as over-sideboarding isn’t a feasible option.

Match & Sideboard Guide:

Infect:

A match that is a pure race with the difference being you have access to interaction and they have access to protection spells. The keys here are Grim Lavamancer, not getting too cute with your removal and remembering that Qasali Pridemage can take down Inkmoth Nexus. Infect can’t usually beat Spellskite, barring a Dismember or Twisted Image but remember that you cannot redirect Blossoming Defense or Pendelhaven activations to Spellskite. Another thing to keep in mind that Vines of Vastwood can be redirected to it and that doesn’t prevent you from redirecting more spells to Spellskite that turn.

In:

1x Path to Exile
1x Spellskite
1x Engineering Explosives
1x Dispel

Out:

2x Chandra, Torch of Defiance
2x Tamiyo, Field Researcher

Dredge:

This is also a good matchup for you, because your kill is usually faster and you can flood the board with creatures that are larger than their’s. You also get access to cards that hose their strategy postboard. An important thing to remember is to fetch in such a way to make sure that you’re not just dead to them discarding their hand to Conflagrate.

In:

2x Wheel of Sun and Moon
1x Path to Exile

Out:

2x Chandra, Torch of Defiance
1x Tamiyo, Field Researcher

Jund/ Abzan:

One of your more challenging matches you’ll play because of their cheap disruption and efficient creatures, however; their manabases do a decent amount of damage to them. Your planeswalkers can also be an avenue to victory since GBx decks struggle to get planeswalkers out of Abrupt Decay range off the board. Unified Will shines out of the sideboard because they usually don’t play around it and can hit their high impact cards like Lilian of the Veil and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. Spellskite also does a good job of soaking up a removal spell or preventing them from casting Lightning Bolt on a creature. Based on what you see from their deck, it is defensible bringing in another Path to Exile, especially if you’re up against the versions of Jund and Abzan that run Grim Flayer.

In:

2x Unified Will
1x Kitchen Finks
1x Spellskite

Out:

2x Qasali Pridemage
2x Grim Lavamancer

Affinity:

Another match where you are trying to goldfish a kill, but Affinity has slightly more reach/ removal in the form of Galvanic Blast. Grim Lavamancer and Qasali Pridemage are your best cards in the match as they can pick off key threats for a low mana investment. Other than that, your focus should be on killing them as fast as possible and saving your removal/ burn for either finishing them off or taking out a creature wearing Cranial Plating. Overall the matchup is slightly in your favor in game 1 and gets a lot better postboard.

In:

1x Engineered Explosives
2x Natural State
1x Ancient Grudge

Out:

2x Chandra, Torch of Defiance
1x Tamiyo, Field Researcher
1x Tribal Flames

Zooicide:

One of your best matches by far because your deck inherently has a lot of burn in it and their manabase includes 0 basics in game 1. Additionally, your threats are as cheap and naturally line up well against their creatures with the exception of Death’s Shadow. Your main avenue to victory is basically hitting them once or twice with a creature, letting them do the damage to themselves and finishing them off with a burn spell or two.

In:

1x Engineered Explosives
1x Path to Exile
1x Dispel
1x Spellskite
1x Kitchen Finks
1x Timely Reinforcements

Out:

2x Chandra, Torch of Defiance
2x Tamiyo, Field Researcher
2x Qasali Pridemage

Burn:
This match lasts 4-5 turn cycles at most but there are a lot of factors at play in the match. The most important of these is Eidolon of the Great Revel which can either be your best friend or your worst nightmare. This deck and Tribal Zoo have the same gameplan but because our creatures are bigger than their’s, I believe Tribal Zoo has a slight edge pre-board. Lightning Helix and Tarmogoyf are among your best cards in the match in game 1 since they require 2 cards from the Burn deck to answer.

In:

1x Negate
1x Path to Exile
1x Dispel
1x Spellskite
1x Kitchen Finks
1x Timely Reinforcements

Out:

2x Chandra, Torch of Defiance
2x Tamiyo, Field Researcher
2x Geist of Saint Traft

Tron:

GR and GW Tron is a great matchup as they have always suffered against fast zoo decks due to their lack of early board presence, counterspells or consistent removal. Consequently, you don’t gain a lot of sideboard cards because the matchup is already extremely favorable. The key really is not going too overboard with sideboarding.

In:

1x Gaddock Teeg
1x Negate

Out:

2x Grim Lavamancer

Jeskai/ Grixis Control:

A rough matchup especially against Jeskai since they have life-gain stapled onto a removal spell in the form of Lightning Helix. Fortunately, these control decks have shied away from any real counter magic outside of Cryptic Command in the mainboard, meaning that you can burn them out consistently. Geist of Saint Traft, Thalia, Heretic Cathar and your planeswalkers are your best threats in the match. Postboard you can become an aggro-control deck with cheap counterspells to back up your powerful threats.

In:

1x Negate
1x Gaddock Teeg
1x Dispel
1x Spellskite
1x Unified Will
1x Kitchen Finks
Out:

2x Qasali Pridemage
3x Path to Exile
1x Lightning Helix

Bant Eldrazi:

The matchup assessment is extremely dependent on their draw – a turn 2 Thought-Knot Seer off an Eldrazi Temple is very difficult to beat. Fortunately, the deck’s slower draws are extremely beatable. Path to Exile and Tribal Flames can remove their key threats and the sideboard doesn’t really offer much. In this match, your planeswalkers can do some serious work in leveling the playing field (or in this case battlefield).

In:

1x Path to Exile
1x Kitchen Finks

Out:

2x Geist of Saint Traft

GR Titan/ Titan Shift:

Similar to Affinity, Burn, Infect and Zooicide, this match is a pure race since both decks really won’t interact with each other at all, which favors you because your kill is usually a turn or two faster. Access to counterspells postboard makes your match up a lot better.

In:

1x Negate
1x Gaddock Teeg
2x Unified Will

Out:

2x Qasali Pridemage
1x Path to Exile
1x Grim Lavamancer

Lantern Control:

It’s somehow fitting to leave Lantern Control for last because it’s the strangest deck in Modern by a country mile. That being said, if they stumble early on finding their lock pieces (especially Ensnaring Bridge) the game is a walk in the park. Postboard, you get a lot of cheap artifact destruction and counterspells for their lock pieces.

In:

1x Engineering Explosives
2x Natural State
1x Ancient Grudge
1x Unified Will

Out:

2x Lightning Helix
3x Path to Exile


About the Author

Abdullah Elhawary