Shared Discovery – Zoo in Legacy by Rob Wagner

Shared Discovery – Downtime: The Alternative NQ Huddersfield Report by Rob Wagner


Hi all, if you’re like me and many in the mtgUK chatroom then you like to watch the StarCityGames Open coverage at the weekend. The Sunday events are always Legacy, and as with the Standard Opens it seems that only a handul of players are any good so they always make the top 8. You might walk away with a skewed impression of what good Legacy decks are simply because the good players always do well and so the decks they choose to play are the ones which get called successful.

What if there’s a deck out there that is good, but unsuccessful – merely because the good players in the coverage don’t play it? It turns out there is, and it gets dismissed by a lot of players for no real good reason. This deck is about 55% against the field from all those same SCG Opens, regularly goldfishes a win on turn 4 which can easily be supported by a bit of light disruption, and for me has taken 80% match wins over 45 event matches (not playtesting).

The Hero:

Here’s my current list:

3 Grim Lavamancer
3 Steppe Lynx
4 Wild Nacatl
4 Goblin Guide
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Qasali Pridemage
2 Gaddock Teeg
3 Knight of the Reliquary

4 Lightning Bolt
4 Path to Exile
4 Lightning Helix

2 Horizon Canopy
3 Basics (one of each)
3 Plateau, 2 Taiga, 1 Savannah
1 Karakas
4 Arid Mesa, 4 Wooded Foothills, 1 Heath">Windswept Heath

2 Elspeth, Knight Errant
2 Krosan Grip
3 Ethersworn Canonist
1 Gaddock Teeg
2 Umezawa’s Jitte
3 Ravenous Trap
2 Swords to Plowshares

I’m pretty confident with all the numbers as the format currently stands and New Phyrexia really doesn’t bring anything to the deck, but it does bring a new enemy – Mental Misstep

Mental Misstep and You:

There are two obvious questions about Mental Misstep which should be discussed in considering Zoo’s continued playability:

  1. Does it hurt us?
  2. Can we play it ourselves?

The answer to the second question partly follows from the answer to the first one. So, to begin – does Mental Misstep hurt us? A list of all the cards in our deck which it counters is:

where I have grouped the cards essentially by function.

The first three are among the most aggressive creatures ever printed and are the core reason to play a deck like Zoo. Some Zoo players run Kird Ape and/or Loam Lion and while I don’t like those cards they enter the discussion equally. The sort of deck which wants to counter these creatures is the one which doesn”t want to quickly lose to a fast assault. This is usually slow control and/or combo. A combo deck which is running Misstep is diluting its own route to victory so although it slows us down more, I don’t believe it is a good card for them to use in the first place since it is so narrow in its role of protecting the combo. A control deck which wants to stop a fast aggression is something like Counter-Top, and our best creatures against that sort of deck are actually the Qasali Pridemages which give tremendous backup to an assault with any old random assortment of beaters. Losing one random beater is annoying, but it is not inherently a great long-term plan for the control deck. In short, a Misstep against our aggressive creatures is a good play when the Misstep is in their hand, but it is likely taking up a slot in our opponent’s deck that would often be better used as something else.

The second one – Grim Lavamancer – is a card which is especially good against Merfolk and other cheap creature decks. Its inability to really beat down quickly is mitigated by its long term card advantage potential and its utter dominance in certain matchups. Any non-blue deck will have to pay 2 life so we get some damage in – this doesn’t help as much as you might like but it’s not nothing. I believe that Merfolk has the most to gain from the Misstep in this way because Zoo’s best game plan is to kill every single Lord (creature which gives the others +1/+1) on sight and then win in combat all day. Zoo’s best tools for this are Lavamancer, Lightning Bolt and Path to Exile which all cost 1 mana, but Merfolk has always had counters for those spells – and you always have to wonder which card they are cutting from their deck to make up for it. This is a route in which the Misstep actually does hurt us since it used to be that they either had the Force of Will or they didn’t, and you were definitely up a card that way – it’s really easy to play around Daze if you want to.

Lastly the removal spells, the Bolts are great against weenie style creatures (Merfolk/Goblins) and the paths are better against Tarmogoyfs and Knight of the Reliquarys. I’ve discussed the use of Lightning Bolt in the previous paragraph as helping take over the Merfolk matchup, but the decks Path to Exile shines against are slightly different. These tend to take the form of Bant decks or Team America (black-blue-green) decks with Tarmogoyf and some other fatty like Knight or Tombstalker. Path is great here as a one-for-one trade with their biggest creature and these decks are naturally Blue, so can support the Misstep quite well. I think this is where Misstep hurts the Zoo deck the most because it really is imperative that we win the big creature fight and having a no-mana answer to this is really bad for us. The 2 damage they take if they have no mana also tends to not be that great for us because they still have a big creature so we will find it hard to push through damage.

Can we play it ourselves?

As far as addressing whether or not we play our own Mental Missteps, we have to consider which cards we would want to counter. The best one mana cards which are good against Zoo are the following:

Most of these are simply a one-for-one trade and having a card stuck in hand to take the place of the one-for-one isn’t enough to make up for the times where it just sits in your hand not actively trying to kill your opponent. As far as countering the cards in the Dark Ritual decks goes, this is an attractive option but I think the best we can do is try to be as aggressive as possible and I just don’t see it being a better option than the two mana sideboard creatures or the Mindbreak Trap which tends to do the same job as a Misstep but is more versatile.


In conclusion:

I think that Mental Misstep could be good against Zoo by slowing us down enough for a combo deck to win but I don’t see it really helping control enough. In other words, it makes our worst matchups slightly worse but doesn’t really affect us in other matchups and so Zoo should still be a deck to choose in Legacy tournaments. The reason for this is largely the opportunity cost that decks which choose to run it incur – what exactly are they cutting for it?


A quick shout-out to fellow mtgUK writer Andy Pemberton for our victory in the local 2HG Launch Party :D

Rob Wagner

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