FFfreaky Friday – The Oakland Zoo

I arrived in San Jose yesterday and it’s as amazing as I thought it would be. The weather may not be as warm as I would have thought it would be in California, but it is much better than below freezing! After a night of testing Standard with the crew down here, I realized I didn’t know as much about the format as I hoped. The Grand Prix this weekend is another story. I feel good about Extended. Here’s what I’ll be playing:

I know this isn’t an ordinary Zoo list. Most of the decisions that went into this list are designed to help it compete against Dark Depths and Zoo mirrors. I found the shell of this list in one of the “Decks of the Week” from Wizards.

The reason I want good match ups against Depths and Zoo is because they are the only Tier 1 decks in the format. There are many decks available, but when it comes to sheer power and consistency, these decks keep taking home the victories. After you find something that has an edge in both these match ups, however, you still need to be able to compete with the rest of the field.

This is where this list shines. Ranger of Eos isn’t what most people would consider a main deck spell. He is really good against the Zoo mirror, but can fall short in some of the other match-ups out there. I can’t even begin to argue how much I hate drawing him against any of the fast combo decks, but he isn’t too bad against some of the control decks in the environment.

While Ranger is bad, though, the other new additions thrive. Against non-Dredge combo decks in this format, Woolly Thoctar and Negate are really good. Thoctar might cost three mana, but he packs a punch not many can follow. Games end rather even without the aggressive curve of Domain Zoo.

I’ll go over the match ups to give you an idea how some games play out.


There are two ways Zoo mirrors usually go. In one way, a player gets an early lead with a few of their best beaters and has a removal spell for every creature his opponent plays, while his opponent is removal light. Games can be won with this type of tempo, but most end up as big attrition wars. It isn’t surprising that two decks running 20-some creatures and 12 to 16 removal spells would get into this situation.

The advantage this deck has in the mirror match is that most of its spells are better than average against it’s opponents. Only one removal spell doesn’t kill any creature on the board, while most lists run Lightning Bolt, Lightning Helix, or Tribal Flames. This means there are less chances to have dead removal against a big creature.

The other thing that is nice about this list is that it has eight powerful three-drops. Woolly Thoctar outclasses every creature in the Zoo match up except Knight of the Reliquary and Baneslayer (if people are still running her). Having a bunch of creatures that pack a bigger punch starts making your opponents two-for-one themselves to deal with the threats you present. Once the game slows down a bit, clear card advantage will show through, giving you more options than your opponent.

Negate isn’t the strongest in the mirror match. I have definitely won some games on the back of that card, but it is only good when you have it late and you’re both in a close top-deck war. The problem with this scenario is that any piece of creature removal is probably better at that point.

-4 Negate
+1 Ranger of Eos
+ 3 Umezawa’s Jitte

After sideboarding, this 60 is really good against most generic Zoo lists. Ranger + Jiite are really strong at winning the long game. Plus, the deck has enough early game to get to the point where you can drop true threats. Against Domain Zoo it is really important to remember that you are the control player in this match up. Damage prevention is important. The easiest way to lose is if they get too far ahead on the board or in the damage race.

Dark Depths Thopter Combo

This matchup is really interesting. This version of Zoo has a tougher time simply running over the competition, but it has a high number of spells that answer most of DD’s threats. Negate is really good at slowing them down for a turn since they usually only play one spell a turn. Bant Charm kills both sides of the combo, which makes it a very valuable piece of removal.

It’s hard to explain how this matchup plays out since it always is dependent on how your opponent wants to play it. You are going to try to get a few creatures on the board and attack, while using your spells to help control the game. Keeping a hand with some disruption is good, but if you find an aggressive draw on the play you cannot mulligan it for removal. Negate will usually not be a surprise since they do play a lot of hand disruption and should see it coming.

-4 Lightning Bolt
-2 Ranger of Eos
-1 Woolly Thoctar
+ 3 Damping Matrix
+ 4 Meddling Mage

This is how I sideboard for game two if I do not know what style of deck they will turn into. It has a few more answers to either problem and a much better curve at attacking. I don’t like having to take out Bolt since Dark Confidant is such a powerful spell in their deck, but something has to come out and you still have eight removal spells for him and Marit Lage.

If your opponent boarded into a very controlling UB deck and took out some copies of either one or both combos, I would gauge that and if you get another game against him bring back in a few Rangers. Some Depths players find that if their Zoo opponent is going to dilute their deck to the point that getting multiple threats on the board is difficult, they will play a bad control deck. Ranger will help fight the attrition war they want to play.

Meddling Mage is an important tool in this match up. It is hard to decide what the best card to name is, but I can guarantee any spell can be named. Don’t be afraid to not name a combo piece. Sometimes when you are holding Path to Exile, naming Muddle the Mixture is your only way to win. This can stop the DD player from countering your only piece of removal.

Red Deck Wins

This is an important match up to learn. It is mostly dependent on you which deck wins. Figuring out how to stay aggressive while deciding whether to fetch basics or tapped lands is difficult. You don’t want to take much damage from your lands, but sometimes it isn’t that bad since [card]Negate[/card] can give you a turn you wouldn’t have had before.

-2 Ranger of Eos
-1 Bant Charm( On the Draw) Path to Exile ( On the Play)
+3 Umezawa’s Jitte

This isn’t much of a sideboard, but it isn’t that important since the odds are in your favor if you play correctly.

RG Scapeshift

Negates really help against Scapeshift. Before, it was hard to decide when the correct game plan was to Path their creatures, but now it is an easy decision when you have a Negate. I have lost a few games to double Punishing Fire + Groves, but that will happen to the deck anyways. It is important to stay aggressive against Scapeshift since they are basically an aggro deck with four “I win” cards.

-2 Ranger of Eos (On the draw; -2 Woolly Thoctar on the play)
-4 Lightning Bolt
+4 Meddling Mage
+2 Umezawa’s Jitte

I bring in two Jittes since they will try to win games on the back of their own Jittes. Meddling Mage is a great card here – use it to name good cards like Bloodbraid Elf the turn before they can play him, or Scapeshift itself in the late game when they do not have removal left in hand.

Do not be afraid to use Path to Exile against this deck. It may give them the chance to combo a turn faster, but if you don’t kill their creature with an efficient piece of removal you won’t be able to get through the Finks and Goyfs fast enough to kill them.

Cascade Combo

I don’t know if Hypergensis or the Living End deck will see any play, but we have four Negates and four Meddling Mages to take care of them.


Well this is one of the toughest match ups you’ll play. It’s so tough I decided to find four slots to hate it even when I don’t know how big it will be in the metagame. I don’t know why I have the scare right now, but I think Dredge has a chance to come back again for this Grand Prix. The hate isn’t there anymore and everyone is worrying about other decks. I don’t even know if four cards in the sideboard are enough to defeat Dredge, but since I find it more important to have them than anything else they are there to stay.


This is another relatively difficult deck to beat. The first game is much harder, but a lucky Negate with some pressure can quickly mop them up. Try to deal with Heritage Druids the moment they hit play. Nothing good can come from them having that creature.

-2 Ranger of Eos
-2 Bant Charm
-2 Negate
-1 Woolly Thoctar

+4 Meddling Mage
+3 Umezawa’s Jitte

I don’t know if I have sideboard for this matchup correct yet, but this is what I have been doing. Negate and Bant Charm are good at times, but sometimes they’re terrible. They’re never good in multiples. Since we are bringing in more removal, it’s important to keep in a few of each, but take out the extras. The obvious strategy post-board is to get a Jitte and start bashing. Elves may be really good at winning against no hate, but if you have a Meddling Mage and an active Jitte they lose quickly.

Like I said earlier, this deck list isn’t the best list out there, but is the best at the job I want it to do. I like having a list with advantages against the mirror and Dark Depths and this does that. If anyone is going to the Grand Prix this weekend, check out the ChannelFireball booth. I’ll be hanging out there from time to time and would like to meet anyone daring enough to pick this list up and battle with it the next day. Good luck!

Brad Nelson
FFfreaK on MTGO
[email protected]

28 thoughts on “FFfreaky Friday – The Oakland Zoo”

  1. @Nick: right, except for the stuff that really turns the deck on: shock lands, goyf and jitte in the board.

  2. Standard and Extended are vastly different though, extended is mostly combo while standard is mostly midrange or control.

  3. @Nick: Too bad that is irrelevant. Why aren’t people playing it in standard then (except for goyfs)? The most important part of the deck isn’t standard legal.

  4. Been working on a Blue-based Zoo deck for a while now, and my results have shown me that I want Mana Leak, not Negate, as my game-one Counterspell. I also think your mana curve is counterproductive to leaving mana untapped to use those counters… being a Zoo deck makes you want to play a creature turn one and turn two, but the Negate and Bant Charm are suggesting you keep mana untapped, which is really problematic with eight three-drops. Sure, Noble Hierarch helps all of this by adjusting when you can play your three-drops, but I think that’s too much strain for its broad shoulders to have to bear.

  5. It looks like a bad Bant deck with a red splash, for bolt and Thoctar…

    Why don’t you play 10 strong 1 drops (Nacatl, Loam Lion, Kird ape, proportions according to your manabase)? Then, you could keep your mana open for Disrupts or removals, and still being very aggressive.

    Nevertheless, your SB seems interesting with bokuja bog which you can fetch throught KotR.

  6. Zoo doesn’t need shocklands to have a decent manabase. It’s viable in Standard. Goyf and Jitte don’t have replacements, but you can just run other stuff in their place. It’s a different format, you run the key cards from each one.

  7. The shocklands do more than fix mana: Sacred Foundry fetched with an Arid Mesa or Steam Vents helps Nacatl be 3/3 out of the gate.

    /captain obvious

  8. Zoo does need shocklands.
    Without them its creatures are smaller, the deck gets slower. I wouldn´t even say it´s the same deck even if 49/60 cards are the same. Nacatl for example isn´t even very good in Standard.

  9. The deck itself looks pretty solid, but the list is a mess. Next time, please organize it a bit better. It’s a lot easier to read when you sort by creatures, spells, and land. Optionally, sort by CMC within those categories to help see the mana curve.

    There’s really no excuse for a list starting, “Ranger, Negate, Tarn.” It’s not even like you lumped in combos like “Grove x 4, Punishing Fire x4.”

  10. i honestly had to get up and go vomit when i saw this list. the organizational skills necessary to write that list in that way is mind boggling…

    good read tho

  11. I know I’m an extended format idiot, but I’ll ask the obvious question on my mind anyway: Why wouldn’t this list pull the Fountain and a Bolt for the Grove/Fire combo?

  12. The Grove/Fire combo requires 4 copies of Fire to be effective, and at least 2 Groves as the only tutor you have is Knight of the Reliquary to fetch Grove. The combo is much better late game where you can give them 1 life and get 2 Fires back. I’m guessing he just didn’t want the early game tempo loss to fit in 4 fires.

  13. @Marc,

    The deck plays 4 Negates in the maindeck. The manabase is too tight to remove any blue. Negate > Grove/Fire, basically.

  14. People should really give up on playing Negate or Wizards might belive it´s a accually a good card and keep printing it instead of something useful like Mana Leak o.O

  15. This list isn’t very…reactive. Have you ever played a GU aggro deck in a format? It plays early drops, then uses a bit of countermagic to keep the opponent out of the game. The current format is pretty hostile to decks packing zero answers for combos, so “dumb zoo” is probably not a very good option. I will be honest, and say that my Zoo list will look much different than this, but Brad is trying to do something here that many people never think about, or at least until they reach for their sideboard.

  16. Excelent Deck!

    I used after you ended with 4-0 in a daily event and i find it amazing!!!

    I suggest everyone to give it a try!

    Also: try to customize it according to your metagame, it’s preaty easy to pack even more disruption without losing agressive power against a predicted field.

    Amazing deck!

  17. Pingback: MTGBattlefield

  18. Yeah, I dont get the hate towards counterspells in a Zoo deck. I have been playing a similar albeit IMHO a rather faster version for a while and instead of negate I have been running remand MD as the tempo is just overwhelming game one. AS a one of target for RoE I have the miser Bushwhacker which can end games you normally wouldn’t and I think its an undervalued target for zoo personally.

    What I think too many are missing is the counter magic is not in the deck for any control reasons. Its only there to really give you a pseudo time-walk against decks that are fast enough, which is why I personally side with remand the extra card is often essential and its only really there to buy you at most 2 turns. which is in 80+% of the cases wayyyy more than enough time.

    At quick glance I think I saw you narrowly missed day two? I may be mistaken, but either way the deck is solid, I would suggest the switch and slightly speeding up your end games by dropping the cumbersome thoctars and Knights with smaller critters and Tribal flames. AS that has been doing ridiculously well for me, with something of a 75-85% against Depths thopter and really solid matchups across the board, sans Bant since they usually do what you are trying to accomplish a little bit more often since they have bigger critters that land about the same time and better counter magic.

  19. no offense but i think approx 60% of the comments here sound like they’re written by the author himself… this is frrrreeaaakkkyyyy indeed

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top