Thursday, 6 July 2017

Archetype Breakdown: Zoo

Wild NacatlZoo is a good solid deck that is a fairly common tier one archetype. It is one of the most variable in terms of colour composition yet is pretty much the most linear deck in the meta. I define zoo in cube as Gr(x..). It is a green base you pair with some red and potentially other colours too. You can be just RG or all five colours yet still be a very similar deck. There are pros and cons to all the various colour options in terms of what they offer however the driving factor should be your mana base. A zoo deck is only as good as its mana and so unless you have a really good amount of fixing for your various extra colour options you shouldn't be forcing it. When in zoo picking up lands is the priority, there is no point picking up those Golgari cards if you don't have any GB duals. Zoo is by far and away the deck where you will most often pick a land over a spell that you would play main. You tend to wheel a lot of things, especially the powerful gold stuff. If you take more lands that is even more the case. You have enough redundancy in powerful threats across the various colours you end up in that taking the lands is what it is all about. They in turn should drive your actual spell picks.

Bloodbraid ElfThe premise with zoo is to curve out making the best, largest and most powerful tempo threats and plays that the game of magic has to offer. The deck is quite quick but certainly not the quickest. It is not a sprinter so much as a freight train that will just use sheer momentum to force through anything. Zoo is good against aggro because the threats it has quickly outclass the ones in most other aggressive decks. They are also good against control decks as each of their threats is substantial enough to need dealing with. Zoo should be incredibly threat dense. It is typically about 50% creatures including the lands. I almost always play 17 lands in any 3 or more colour list which leaves about 3 slots for removal, tricks and anything else you might want to cram in.

Curve wise you are looking to be fairly even in the 1-4 range with a couple of garnish cards in the five slot and nothing higher. What, if any ramp you have should determine the spread in the 1-4 slots, with a couple of early ramp cards I would look to have something like a 5-6-6-4-2 curve. This however is highly effected by your mana sink cards. The more things like utility lands you have the more you will want to shave off the top. Generally this is a good way to go. The man lands are very much one of the great strengths of zoo in cube.

TaigaSac lands, original duals and shock lands should be picked over basically everything. The dual man-lands, and things like pain lands and quick lands should be picked over all but the very best zoo cards. To a point I will pick filter lands and check lands over a lot of solid playables as well. The issue with these types of land is that they suffer the more you have of them. Ideally I wouldn't have more than two of either. If you are not willing to pick lands over your top playables then probably avoid zoo. Notably this archetype is much weaker in cubes that are light on dual lands. If all a cube has to offer is duals, shocks, sacs and the man lands you are going to need basically all of them across three colours to have a suitable mana base and that is unlikely to happen. You mostly want GX dual lands. You can go GRx and use some double red cards but mostly I try to stick to single colour cards outside of green. Double colour non-green cards are not far off playing another colour in terms of the support they need.  If I am three or more colours I will very much let the lands that come my way determine what the x is in my Grx zoo deck. You will often have to pick all the lands you see early and then work out which 2 of the 4 non green colours you are actually looking to go. This will require really good memory of what is getting picked. Sometime you will find that all your gold stuff and lands are coming back and all or most of the GX options are somehow open. These are the only occasions you should ever go more than three colours in a draft. Mostly you will have to do some fighting, either force people out of colours they were considering or straight up be in the same pairing as someone.

Windswept HeathZoo is fairly easy to play. You curve out with the biggest and best threats and turn them sideways! You often don't have loads of options on what to play if you want to be as mana efficient as possible and due to how beastly your dorks are the combat step isn't taxing in most games either. All your guys are just bigger than all theirs so you don't have to worry so much about how they are blocking. While zoo might be easy to play (the hardest part is making the right lands drops!) the deck is actually very hard to draft. Getting the right balance of threats to go with your lands and reading the draft so as to best choose your colours. This list below will highlight the more common and the better cards for zoo. Ultimately you can throw most things in and they are fine. Any old dork is not the worst, obviously you are looking for the most powerful and most tempo, often the result of lots of stats. There are a lot of cards I haven't mentioned that you can play. Playing an off theme card you can reasonably expect to cast is better than a bomb that you can't. Playing a mildly sub par dork for curve reasons is reasonable too. Even when most of your picks are lands in the draft you still rarely struggle for playables due to having so many colours and being able to house anything resembling a threat!

One Drops

Experiment OneWild Nacatl 9.5

The definitive zoo card and the main reason to be Naya colours. I frequently see RG lists splashing Savannah (and perhaps a Stirring Wildwood) just so Nacatl is able to shine. A one mana 3/3 with no drawbacks or ongoing upkeeps is simply nuts. Nacatl overtakes the damage output of the mighty Goblin Guide on its third attack, quicker than any other dork. Being that much fatter from the outset also makes it much more likely to continually attack or evade removal. Wild Nacatl sets the bar for zoo one drops really high and as such zoo typically runs a lot less one drops than other aggro lists. Despite being your best card you should still pick the lands over this. Nacatl is narrow enough that you really should expect it to return if zoo is a good way to go.

Experiment One 9.5

This is so highly rated for several reasons. One is that it is a rare example of a one drop threat than can become a very significant threat. It can do so quickly and without further mana investment. It is also a rare example of a one drop threat with some resilience to removal. There are not many one drops than can pack enough punch to perform that well in Zoo but this is certainly one of them. Cascade dorks really help power this up. Another big part of what makes this good is the fact that it is a green one drop and as such vastly easier to play on turn one. Most of the other top rate one drops are non-green and as such significantly narrower and harder to fit in.

Loam LionKird Ape / Loam Lion 7.5

Good solid one drop dorks assuming you have the appropriate duals and sacs to turn them on reliably. Kird Ape is a much more all round playable card and as such is more common to see in cubes but they are, as with most cards in Zoo, as good as your mana base is. These are solid and robust like the Nacatl but not quite so punchy!

Goblin Guide 6

Pretty small by zoo standards and a little too easy to block and kill with most other things in cube. Zoo doesn't want to have to waste time removing things in the way, it just wants to power through them and Goblin Guide is not so good at that. He is still good in the deck as he is always a beastly turn one play and with the haste he will typically sneak round wide in the late game as more pressing things need blocking.

Steppe LynxKessig Prowler 6

This is a pretty weak card but it is the 3rd best aggressive green one drop without a significant drawback. It is pretty feeble as a 2/1 and won't get lots done against other creature decks. That being said it will still get something done most of the time if made early. It is cheap and it represents as a more dangerous threat should things wind up going long. I'd much rather be playing this than be light on one drops. I would also much rather be playing this than a generic non-green 2/1 for 1 even if that card was better than the Prowler as most now are.

Steppe Lynx 8.

I want to rate this higher but you just don't get the sac lands for this to consistently be a 4/5. It is usually a 4/5 once and a 2/3 the rest of the time which is still incredibly potent. With 3 sac lands this is good, with 4 or more it is insane. With none it is still fine but not exactly exciting, worse than the Kird Apes in that situation.

Warden of the First TreeFigure of Destiny 4

Easier to cast than most other non-green one drops however this thing is not really what you want in a zoo deck, even a Naya one. The mana you have to invest in this means it is never that good of a tempo play. A two mana 2/2 or a five mana 4/4 hardly count as value for mana. You are trying to curve as it is so this thing just gets in the way. There are better mana sinks, better one drops and better threats. Without a great mana base, likely including filter lands, you will struggle to even make this a 4/4 when you want to.

Warden of the First Tree 4

While this is a green one drop it is not really what you want. It is still demanding on non-green mana and it is really a 3 mana card. The point of making a one drop is to get ahead If you then skip your two drop because you have to make your Warden relevant you are somewhat defeating the point. The abilities on this card are much more suited to midrange decks than aggressive ones too.

Avacyn's PilgrimBird of Paradise 9.5

I have found that a small amount of ramp goes a very long way in zoo. Only play the premium stuff if you can and never play more than 3, perhaps 4 ramp cards. You still want to do stuff on turn one but you don't want to make a poxy 2/1 and there are only so many one mana 3/3s out there! Birds fixes better than anything else and is well known for being a good ramp card! Usually the best thing you can make turn one in the zoo deck. A mana extra each turn for the rest of the game is often worth more than the 3 damage a turn Nacatl achieves.

Noble Hierarch 9

So this is slightly better than Birds when it is fixing at least two colours for you (including green). Sadly this never fixes for red which is you most most common and best second colour. Exalted does a good amount of work in the Zoo deck, it is on theme and certainly more valuable than flying from birds.

Arbor ElfAvacyn's Pilgrim/Elves of Deep Shadow 7

If you want white mana/black these are pretty good, if not then they are not worth it. For ramp to really cut it in zoo it not only needs to be decent ramp but it also needs to fix. You rarely play a Llanowar Elf in zoo as getting more green when you already have it isn't super helpful. An off colour Pilgrim is about as good as Llanowar Elves in zoo.

Arbor Elf 7

When you have perfect mana then these are really strong. When you don't have at least one copy, ideally two of every forest based dual you are playing the colours of and a chunk of sac lands to find them this is a little too unreliable at both fixing and ramp to be good but when you do it is often better than Bird of Paradise.

Llanowar Elves and Co. 5

Orcish LumberjackGenerally these are as good as Boreal Elf in this archetype. They offer some ramp but no fixing and weak stats. The more double green costs you have in your list the higher value these become. While not great I would generally rather play these than most generic 2/1 dorks, certainly those outside of green. I would always rather have some of these Elves to play in my list than risk not having enough one drop plays as well. Not really what you want, they restrict you a little on your options later down the line but still, way better than nothing.

Orcish Lumberjack 6

A little bit all in and overkill but this thing does do tempo like no other card. Five manas worth of stuff coming at you turns two and perhaps again turn three is just totally unfair. You need specific answers and asap when you face off against turn two Thundermaw, Gearhulk or Nissa. Even a couple of 2/3 drops is a huge board development. You need the forest count to make these work but that is usually fine. Great if you have a weaker deck than usual or you are in a meta full of uninteractive decks.

Cloudfin RaptorDeathrite Shaman 9.5

This is usually worth playing even if you don't have access to black mana. This is fairly reliable ramp and fixing with your high sac land count and it offers some Scavenging Ooze style disruption against dorks in the bin. Once you have even a dash of black mana the disruption increases and you have a tool that offers some rare reach in the list. It is pretty easy to pickup a random fetchable black dual land and it is also very possible to simply find your black mana on the back of a Lotus Cobra or Birds of Paradise. If you are already playing black and have the high sac land count this becomes the best one drop utility card over Birds. It is pretty close when you just have that dash of black and the sac lands.

Cloudfin Raptor 8

One of the best, if not the best, non-green one drop you can run. It isn't as punchy as a Steppe Lynx but it is far more consistent in its size and brings flying to the table! This pretty reliably makes it to a 3/4 if made on turn one and can get to silly sizes in the deck. The difficulty with this is being a blue one drop you have to have a lot of quick blue mana for it to be great. This means you are heavier into blue but there are not tonnes of other blue things you want for a typical zoo deck. It is a weak late game draw but most of your one drops are in zoo. You have enough weight in your top end to be able to eat the odd bad draw.

Mother of RunesGrim Lavamancer 5

Not really what you want but better than being shy on cheap plays, removal and reach. This isn't always good, you need things like sac lands or some discard/self mill things to fuel it properly. Zoo is inherently a lot worse at powering this than RDW or the many other cheaper, more spell based decks that typically play him. Where this has an advantage in zoo is as an ongoing source of removal or even reach. Typically a zoo deck will only have a couple of ways to kill things and so a Grim can easily double your ability to kill things and bring a lot in that regard. He is significantly weaker in zoo if paired with other things like Deathrite which desire the use of things in the bin as fuel.

Mother of Runes 6.5

Fine card but not as busted as she is in some other places. She is a tempo set back to make and a hard card to lay early without great mana. When you make her and curve out with good stuff following her then you are in great shape against most creature decks. Against decks with ping, or mass removal  a Mother can cost you dearly. Like many older cards, quite high variance.

Monastery Swiftspear 1

Its a trap! Don't play this, the best value it will give is if your opponent assumes it will be good and wastes removal on it. This is triggered by a handful of things making it little better than a Raging Goblin in zoo. While this may well be one of best ever aggressive creatures  it rather sucks in zoo. Context is everything!

Two Drops

Lotus CobraLotus Cobra 10

I think this is the best non land card in the deck assuming you have some sac lands as well to go with it. This is an extra attacking body, fixing and ramp, not infrequently double ramp. I have had a number of utterly obscene openers in zoo and they all involve this card. You can develop an incredibly large board very fast with this. A turn three five drop when you are already under pressure is no laughing matter either!

Rattleclaw Mystic 5.5

The poor mans Lotus Cobra. I suspect Channeller Initiate will take the spot of this card in due course but that isn't exactly a big deal as this is already the reserve card for that slot. You really don't want much in the way of two mana ramp as you want to just be making threats by that stage. This isn't able to attack and produce mana nor can it produce all the colours. It continues to fall short of Lotus Cobra in that it can only offer two mana extra once and only in a really clunky way that is hard to have accelerate you. Playable but not good. The most value you get from this is bluffing a Den Protector...

Voice of ResurgenceVoice of Resurgence 8.5

While this isn't an insane tempo play being just a 2/2 it is a royal pain to play against. Shutting down instants is just a good bit of disruption this card adds. What really makes this an issue is the fact it makes such a potent threat when it dies. You can chump attack with this and they will just chose to take 2 rather than incur the Crusader of Odric in a lot of cases. Voice is value, disruption and protection. While it isn't a front loaded tempo play at all it ultimately is once you have token(s) from it.

Fleecemane Lion 8

Mostly this is a Watch Wolf which is ok. Although not a patch on Nacatl that is still a pretty decent pile of stats for the mana. It is relatively hard to handle in combat at that stage and just that little bit harder to kill than your average two drop. While the ability is not the most commonly used it is still pretty terrifying. Once monstrous the Lion is one of the most hardy creatures in the whole game able to avoid or endure almost every form of removal on offer. The only real way to answer this if monstrous is to have something bigger in play it can't get through. This card represents that little bit more inevitability than a lot of others you can play. They might be holding off the 3/3 version fine but they will still know that the 4/4 mode will eventually happen and they will need a plan for that too.

Strangleroot GeistQasali Pridemage 9

Hard hitting on its own, able to buff other attackers and offering some nice safety against artifacts and enchantments without compromising your tempo or consistency. As you are such a linear deck you can be shut down pretty hard with the odd card like a Vedalken Shackles or a Moat. Answers to such things that don't impose any compromise are of huge value for zoo.

Strangleroot Geist 8.5

This is the front loaded version of Voice of Resurgence. It has no disruptive options, generally it is less stats than what Voice brings but it has haste allowing for that much more tempo, damage and surprise. Like Voice it also has a disincentive to kill as it comes back scarier. This is value and protection but it is also perfectly on theme for your deck as an aggressive efficient threat.

TarmogoyfTarmogoyf 6.5

One of the better decks for the Goyf in cube but it still falls a little short here. Being so creature heavy and not really aiming to fill up the yard at all this thing is rarely bigger than a 2/3 by your own doing. Against the right opponent this will be unreasonably big however it does run the risk of being a bit of do nothing in the early game and so I would generally look for a more consistent card. Nice and easy to cast is a big help for the Goyf in Zoo but this is more curve padding than something you auto include.

Scavenging Ooze 7

This isn't great as a two drop as it is pretty small to start with. There are two things that carry this card as it is not the most on theme of the options available. One is that like the Fleecemane Lion this thing will eventually become a problem and thus will need dealing with at some point. Taxing removal options of your opponent is a big strength of Zoo and Ooze contributes to that well being a cheap yet ultimately threatening card. The second thing carrying this card in zoo is the disruption. Graveyard removal is a big deal in cube, it is a pretty hard counter to a number of things going on in a number of different archetypes. Ooze gives you a Quasali Pridemage style piece of interaction that doesn't harm the redundancy or power of your deck.

Sylvan AdvocateSylvan Advocate 8

This thing is proving quite the house in a wide array of archetypes with zoo not being an exception. This has the early game consistency that Tarmogoyf lacks. Yes, this isn't better than a 2/3 for quite some time but that is OK. This kills most other one and two drop dorks in combat and lives to tell the tale. While vigilance isn't the most on theme ability this card really helps you secure the early game against those decks lower to the ground than you. It lets you apply pressure while remaining pretty safe. The Advocate also promises a lot of value come the late game should they not be able to deal with it. This makes it like Fleecemane and Scavenging Ooze except it will not cost you any mana to get the power up. While a capped +2/+2 might not sound great you should be packing some man lands, perhaps even a Nissa or some other way to get lands into combat. Double Crusade for your land dorks on top of a 4/5 dork you only paid two mana for and probably already got plenty of value from seems to end games with ease. Zoo is a man land heavy deck which makes Advocate that much more threatening.

Plated GeopedePlated Geopede 6

A bit too polar for my liking. This will win you games when it gets to attack a couple of times as a 5/5 first strike however it will also lose you games when it is a 1/1 late game top deck, when they get to feed it the limp end of an Arc Trail, when you miss a land drop etc. I like consistency and so I steer clear of this card. If you think you have a sub par deck then running this is a good way to steal games. If you have a good deck you shouldn't need this.

Voltaic Brawler 8

High powered card for the mana and perfectly on theme for the deck. You shouldn't need more than a couple of hits with this for the game to be over and so this is really very close to a two mana 4/3 trample! In a lot of other places I found this card to be underwhelming as it is so poor a blocker or it doesn't have enough energy to carry on being effective for as long as it needs to. In zoo you are rarely in need of blockers as your board is so powerful and you hit so hard that once you get going you don't require many combat steps for the game to be done.

Voltaic BrawlerVerteran Motorist 3

A little flimsy for a 2 mana investment and has no green in the cost making it pretty hard to cast early. Obviously the scry is lovely but sadly this is causing more problems than it is solving with the card quality. Just play greener fatter dorks if you can.

Dark Confidant 7

This used to be a big name in zoo and a huge reason to consider black. These days you have so much potential value from the threats that you don't need to play limp creatures in other colours to draw cards. This is still an incredibly powerful card but it isn't a high tempo play. You will beat slower value decks even harder with cards like this but it will be at the cost of your matchup against aggressive decks. This is still perfectly playable but it is no longer a reason to go black by itself. Keeping your low toughness dorks to a minimum is nice as it lets you attack into more things more reliably.

Coiling OracleCoiling Oracle 6

This shouldn't be as good as it is in the deck but I always seem to hit it with a cascade or have Lotus Cobra in play with it. You don't play Explore, you don't play Elvish Visionary yet the Oracle seems to perform well. It is always value, it is sometimes a nice bit of ramp and it generally has some relevance as a 1/1 getting in a bit of free damage. I think it is the various things it scales with such as Atarka's Command, landfall etc that make it a good support card for the deck as it is clearly a somewhat off theme card.

Looter il-Kor 6.5

Arguably better than Dark confidant in this list now. The loot is some utility, the evasion makes the body more relevant than a 2/1 a lot of the time and the draw costs no life. Typically you are getting enough value from your threats that you don't need to be drawing extra cards, it is more about improving your ability to curve out well and for that purpose this is every bit as good as the Confidant. This gains value should you pack equipment.

Flinthoof BoarFlinthoof Boar 8.5

This is exactly the thing! This is either a 3/3 haste for 3 or a vanilla 3/3 for 2. Both of those are things a zoo deck wants and so this is two kinds of good card that ensure you are curving efficiently. It is a little harder to turn on than a Kird Ape but if your mana base is good enough for a zoo deck it should support the Boar. This is one of the less powerful cards on offer but it is every ounce on theme and helps so much with your consistency on top of that resulting in something you always play when you can.

Duskwatch Recruiter 4

Fine filler but barely ever reaching its potential. If made on curve this is a Grizzly Bear and nothing more. If you flip it things are going badly for you and if your opponent flips it you probably would have won with the Grizzly Bears! This only really comes in late game where you can attack with man lands and not lose too much tempo on not playing anything. By the time you are running out of things to play you will not really be able to win  just off the back of drawing cards for 2G. Yes this is a mana sink but it isn't getting you any tempo for the mana investment and is too expensive to really pull you ahead given the kind of strategy this deck wins using. You might be able to steal a game by digging for an evasion dork or troubleshooting creature but that is about the best you can hope for. Cost reduction is lovely in principle but on this it is about as useful as the morph mana on Rattleclaw Mystic...

Burning-Tree EmissaryBurning Tree Emissary 4

If you have a high enough count of two drops that you can play off the back of this usefully on turn two then it is a fantastic card. Without any ramp or even that premium cards you can have 8/8 of stats in play on turn two. Sadly this isn't able to cast a lot of the best two drops and so this is rarely useful. When it isn't giving you that burst start it is just a Bear and that is very weak. You probably want like 6 other 2 drops this can make which is pretty unrealistic.

Borderlands Explorer 5

This is OK but generally only a countermeasure to bad mana bases. The best zoo decks play a single basic to combat Path to Exile and Wastelands. Unless this can fix all your colours it isn't exciting. If you are replacing good dual lands with basics to accommodate this it likely isn't needed. There can be some mild discard synergy in a zoo deck and this is one of the better support cards for that but it isn't all that exciting or necessary so don't waste too much effort worrying about it.

Kari Zev, Skyship RaiderKari Zev, Skyship Raider 7.5

I have been impressed with this card so far in zoo. This is a 3/4 for 2 while attacking with a smattering of first strike and menace. There is little value to be had from killing the 2/1 and it is very tough to take out Kari Zev herself in combat. It turns out blocking and killing a 1/3 first strike menace is incredibly demanding on resources, you need two fairly substantial dorks to do so and you do run the risk of getting blown out with a trick or spot removal card. This is doubly so when you are under pressure from other things and do not have blockers to go round. Kari Zev is cheap, easily cast, robust and powerful. She has really good scaling with cards like Atarka's Command and will just apply a lot of pressure on her own for the mana.

Selfless Spirit 8

Another impressive newer card. This thing just sits there applying pressure and representing a tedious counter to disruption. This card is especially good against decks relying on mass removal as they are forced into using spot removal on this thing first. Despite being at its best in those places the card is still very annoying to play against regardless of your deck. It hits every turn for two in the air and protects the bigger more valuable dorks in combat and from removal.

Selfless SpiritHeir of Falkenrath 5

This thing is pretty good but I would have to be heavy black and probably also have some mild discard synergy going on before this looks better than filler. Evasion is nice for the cheaper dorks to have as it helps them to retain relevance in the later game. That being said, your general aim is just to muscle through with meaty dorks. This only needs the flying as it has a low toughness, I would much rather just have a 3/4 ground dork that didn't cost me a card in a zoo list and there are many options on things close to that you can play.

Abbot of Keral Keep 2

This is pretty weak in the zoo list. The prowess is low value for one as you have so little things triggering it. Secondly and more relevantly you are a curve deck and this is a terrible card to curve with. For this to be good you have to play it with something else and that is really hard to do with a relatively high and linear curve. Typically you will have around 4 things on any any CMC you can play which means you have quite poor odds on being able to play a thing and very poor odds on being exactly mana efficient when using the Abbot. You can't sensibly make this on 2 either. The best case is making this on turn 3 and hitting a land or a one drop. Just play a more powerful three drop is my advice.

Avatar of the ResoluteAvatar of the Resolute 6.5

This is a nice solid beater. Trample is lovely for zoo, it is the archetype where trample is closest to flying in terms of value. The reach is far less relevant but it sure as hell doesn't make the card worse! What really pushes this card in zoo is the +1/+1 counter synergy. You just have a lot of dorks and cards that get, have or put +1/+1 counters on things and that makes this a bit bigger and better on average. This is a fine 2 drop when you have nothing else however it is able to scale up a little better than most two drops which just helps to keep your deck really consistent and high power level. This is almost always more threatening that a Tarmogoyf in the early game and despite not growing as large or as reliably into the late game, a 5/4 trample is largely going to outperform a vanilla 7/8 in zoo. The double green casting cost isn't as bad as you think. You typically only have a couple of lands that don't produce green mana. Certainly far less non-green sources than you will have sources of other colours you are playing. This means a GG card is usually easier to play than any given GX card and vastly easier than something like a Veteran Motorist. The more cheap double green cards you have in your list the higher the value of Llanowar Elves and co.

Grim FlayerGrim Flayer 5

Trample, card quality and perhaps even a 4/4! This card would be nuts if you had any real hope of consistently triggering the delirium in zoo. Sadly lands and creatures are all you can really hope for unless you work really hard at it or get very lucky. This thing is nuts when good but a bit too much of a Grizzly Bears in zoo most of the time.

Rakshasa Deathdealer and Lotleth Troll 5

Neither of these cards really cut it either. One is too card hungry and the other too mana hungry, they just end up as two power beaters too much. If you wan't regeneration just play some Boa... Such cards are decent but not really on theme for zoo. You want things sufficiently big to not need regenerating. You also want to tap out to curve.

Putrid LeechPutrid Leach 7

Here we go, finally a GB two drop that does what you want in a Zoo deck. It is a lovely curve play and it is big and hard hitting. It would generally be better as a 4/4 that cost you 2 life whenever it attacked or blocked as it is very vulnerable to 2 damage at instant speed and that can often keep it in Bear mode. A small setback for what is one of the better reasons to be in black in a zoo list.

Stoneforge Mystic 7.5

This is annoying as ever. If you get one or two good equipment then it becomes very playable. Having Stoneforge opens up the possibility of running Batterskull too which is always a brutal value/tempo play. While equipment can be good, especially the free kind, it is not all that necessary in zoo. The idea is to already have the biggest things in play and so making them even bigger loses some value. Especially when you can get massive tempo blowouts when trying to use equipment in the face of disruption. Equipment eat up valuable non-threat slots in your deck and should be played with extreme caution and reserve.

Heart of KiranSmuggler's Copter 8

Not 100% on theme but easily good enough that you probably throw this in any zoo list. All decks merit free loots. This may not always be the easiest or cleanest to crew in zoo but it is easy enough to remain a great card. It isn't nearly as much tempo as it looks but it still gets loads of value from the flying and the general meatyness relative to cost. Avoid playing vehicles and equips in the same zoo deck, if you do limit yourself to one of each ideally.

Heart of Kiran 7

A bit clumsier to crew than the Copter but surprisingly this turns out to be a very good tempo play. If Copter can be considered meaty for the mana this thing is just a beast. While the power of this minus the crew cost leaves less power than with Copter many other factors offset this significantly. You will often overcrew the Copter while that rarely happens with Heart. The larger single body of Heart is much more durable to removal and combat and gets that much more work done towards your only real goal. Heart also enables more in the way of pseudo haste with its larger crew turning all your bigger non-hasting dorks into much better cards. Heart also scales really abusively with any planeswalkers. When you can leave all your dorks for attacking, use a planeswalker and smack in the air for 4 with your two drop in a turn it all tends to get a bit too much. Heart is much more on theme than Copter in a zoo deck and much more dangerous and powerful of a card. I have rated it a little lower as it is a little more demanding in how you can play it and also a less consistent card.

Scrapheap Scrounger 7

A great little two drop. This thing eases mana issues somewhat and is a good source of tempo and value. Weaker against aggressive decks lacking the ability to block or haste to offset that but really oppressive against the slower decks. You don't have to be black to run this, just a dash here and there and you will get a good return on this card. No black mana from any sources and this is low grade but on theme filler at least.

Three Drops Threats

Kitchen FinksKitchen Finks 8.5

Not massively on theme as you don't really care about life. If the red decks try and race you you just crush them so they have to burn away some of your dorks which greatly reduces their clock and reach. Lifegain isn't bad against them obviously but you don't need it to have the edge. This is basically just a resilient dork. You get 8 total stats for your three mana which is decent, they are focused on the power end and front loaded too which all helps. Finks helps you control the board and apply pressure safely. You can extend further with cards like this and when you want to be curving out having cards that you don't need to consider holding back with is great.

Boggart Ram Gang 7.5

The standard zoo beater. Zoo decks love a three mana three power haste dork and this is one of the classic ones. This has probably seen more play in zoo decks than any other three drop in my cube although much of that will be down to age. It is still a strong card but there are now a lot of alternatives that are generally going to be better. Even the vanilla Brazen Scourge has some real perks over the Ram Gang. It is all much of a muchness really, they are all just pretty good cards for the zoo deck. You are super happy to be padding out your curve with 3 power hasting three drops.

Dreg ManglerDreg Mangler 7.5

This and to a lesser extent Mournwillow are the Golgari offerings of Boggart Ram-Gang style cards. Dreg Mangler is the best of the two colour ones on offer and the scavenge is far better than the wither and far more likely to be active than the delirium! The issue with Dreg Mangler and co is that black is now the least common colour to see in zoo lists. Good solid cards but just not commonly seen.

Mantis Rider 9 (but not really)

Last in the large group of 3 mana 3 power haste dorks we have this beast. If you can cast this on turn 3 consistently then play it every time. Sadly that amounts to not very much of the time at all. Zoo is green base so you have to get some quite specific duals to reliably play this on cue. You are also at least a four colour deck when you are packing this in your zoo list. The body is absolutely one of the best threats for this kind of deck, it would still be one of the best if you took away the vigilance! It is just one card though, it is not worth harming the rest of your list to force this in. If it fits in play it but otherwise don't bother.

Shardless AgentShardless Agent 10

This is the best reason to be in blue. The card is bonkers, I rate it just a little higher than the Bloodbraid itself. You still see the Bloodbraid more often as red is a much more common pairing in zoo but the Agent really gets it done. Firstly it comes out a turn quicker and is therefore able to impact the game more and incur more of a momentum swing in your favour. Secondly the cascade is that much more consistent. Agent hits a little over 1.5 CMC of card on average which is at least 75% of potential fulfillment. Bloodbraid on the other hand hits much closer to 2 CMC on average which is more like 66% fulfillment of potential. One has a better cascade for the cost and comes out a little quicker and the other has a better body. Ultimately they both offer the most direct value and the most front loaded tempo of any of the cards that offer both such things.

Tireless Tracker 8.5

A nice solid dork than ensures you have basically unending gas while it is in play. This is like a more powerful Scavenging Ooze minus the disruption. While a great card this is a little slower than the typical zoo dork what with having 3/2 starting stats on a three drop and only growing at a rate of +1/+1 per 2 mana spend extra. This is never a good tempo card but is isn't poor tempo, particularly for such a potent value generator and late game threat. You also get a lot of value out of the growth potential, as you do with Ooze and all cards like it, without having to actually spend the mana on it. If you attack with a 3/2 tracker into a 2/4 with a clue and two mana up they are not blocking most of the time.

Savage KnucklebladeSavage Knuckleblade 7

This might look like the posterboy for zoo but it practice this guy is far fairer than you might think. Most of the time this is just a curve shifted Flinthoof Boar, either a three mana 4/4 or a 4/4 with haste for four. It doesn't rely on the mountain to be big but it does require a 3rd colour and two more coloured mana pips to do the equivalent versions. While Flinthoof is great in the 2 and 3 slots that power doesn't stretch as well into the 3 and 4 slot. A 4/4 with haste for four is substantially below the power level of all the other good zoo four drop threats. Flexibility is nice but the cost of it on Knuckleblade is larger than it appears. The pump and the bounce are nice perks but generally they cost too much mana to be that effective. The blue is pretty good for grindy control games where you can use this card like an Aetherling but few get to that stage. The green is quite nice for representing the trick and making this less appealing to block but again, not all that many games against zoo get to the stage where they have three mana spare.

Rogue RefinerSprouting Thrynax 6.5

A good solid card, certainly more exciting than the Woolly Thoctar! This card is pretty good in the grindier games where it offers a little more relevant value than Kitchen Finks. It has some nice scaling with a wide array of effects due to the large number of tokens you can get from it too. Where this falls down a little is by being quite a low tempo play initially.

Rogue Refiner 7

I pretty much disregard the energy aspect of this card. In cube it seems highly unlikely you are getting any significant value from it although it certainly isn't any sort of drawback. This is just a three mana 3/2 that draws you a card right away. It is a fairly weak tempo play but only compared to the nutty high tempo cards zoo likes to play. For a value card this is actually very high tempo, only really being bested by the cascade cards. This will really help those decks needing to curve to win. Just getting that extra card makes so much difference to your odds of playing an on curve card on turn four. In that regard the Refiner increases the archetypes consistency more than you can get with the cascade cards and their inability to find lands.

Knight of the ReliquaryKnight of the Reliquary 6

A bit slow for my liking but this thing has a number of different perks it offers. One is simply that it can be huge. It is not uncommon for this to be 4/4 when it first hits the deck. It can usually pump itself by another +2/+2 on first activation by finding a sac land if it needs to. Good man lands or top rate utility lands increase the value of this. Sadly the cube has little room for some of the cutest utility lands that you can pair this with. In a constructed cube setting you can get a fair bit more value out of this card. I dislike the way this card is either applying pressure or it is offering utility and value, you can't do both at once and you can't do either right away.

Boon Satyr 6

Pretty brutal but a little clumsy overall. This is insane against a midrange deck where you get to play it for five in combat and beast them. Against quicker decks you are often forced into making this as a dork for three and that is pretty sucky, especially if they are red and can just Shock it. Against control decks you rarely find you are getting that much out of the five mana mode although the flash does rather improve the three mana mode in that matchup. This card having such a wide range of performance would be something I would use to hedge against a specific meta or have as a board tool rather than want to include blind. A nice way to help out delirium effects too!

Boon SatyrCourser of Kruphix 8

This card is not aggressive at all and as such is pretty off theme for the deck. That turns out not to be a problem as the card is so damn good you typically find you want to play it anyway. While not aggressive itself this card does do a number of things you do want in zoo. It is massive aid in making your land drops. When you really need to get to four mana and ideally want to lay lands all the way upto five Courser is your main man! Courser is also just a big solid thing. It is meaty and offers a lot of board presence and is hard to kill. Its low threat level combined with the high toughness means it does tend to get in consistent combat damage. On the flip side it is a great tempo play when you are on the back foot. A few decks are cheap and aggressive enough to go under zoo and outpace it. Courser is a huge help in fighting those matchups. You still have to race the aggressive decks ultimately and so being able to sit back with your Courser and gain value while sending in you offensively focused dorks is a highly effective way of winning races.

Yasova DragonclawYasova Dragonclaw 6.5

A decently aggressive body for the cost complete with a fairly devastating Threaten ability. This thing can utterly man-handle people. It is one of the few cards where you get more out of using the ability than you do from playing stuff in your hand. The downsides of this thing are that it is on the vulnerable side, on the situational side and most typically very broadcast.

Rishkar, Peema Renegade 8

Even without the mana aspect this card would be pretty playable in zoo. It is just the mini Verdurous Gearhulk. A 4/4 for three that lets you buff other things with half those stats if you wish thus gaining you some pseudo haste or scaling with other abilities. The mana aspect is also good even if it isn't why you play this card. Rishkar turns a surprising number of your dorks into mana dorks without even having to put counters on them herself. This gives you a lot of potential to get creative with your curving, do some burst plays or employ late game value and reach effects far before their normal time. Missing a low value attack on a turn to flop out two things instead of one on a turn due to the Peema mana may well be the way to go in some situations.

Thalia, Heretic CatharThalia, Heretic Cathar 8.5

Oddly this thing kind of gives all your guys haste relative to your opponents creatures who gain a super summoning sickness! Ultimately it is more value than actually giving haste as so many of your good threat already have haste. Thalia means they are a little more tied up on mana than they would like and anything they make takes a turn before it can block! This thing owns creature based decks super hard. It pretty much owns up any creature at all if it is aiming at being defensive. Even planeswalker tokens get wreaked by this. It forces through a lot of damage and hits plenty hard itself. The first strike makes her hard to block or kill in combat. Very tedious to play against.

Blade Splicer 7

This is just a big filler card. It is 4/4 of stats for 3 over two bodies and with a significant chunk of first strike. This has some good synergies, it is OK value and decent tempo.

Flesh CarverBygone Bishop 5

This is more of a weenie or midrange card. It is too much value and too little smackdown to be what a zoo deck is really looking for. If I am playing a two power three drop for any value reasons I want that value to at least not cost me additional mana.

Flesh Carver 7

A highly underrated card and a pretty brutal threat. At its base level this is an OK all round card. It is some tempo, particularly if used to trade in combat. It is some value and it is much more of a threat than it seems. The evasion is pretty relevant as is the ability to sac dorks and grow in size. A sac outlet offers a lot of counterplay to various effects. Oddly this thing is like an all round better version of Knight of the Reliquary. It is a three mana 2/2 that offers a serious threat after some messing around and/or some value and utility. The Flesh Carver has a much more acceptable low end performance. It can act as a threat while also offering its value and utility and should you invest some time into making it big the evasion and subsequent larger token both make it a lot more effective, safe and worthwhile than messing around with a Knight.

Goblin RabblemasterGoblin Rabblemaster 7

If it is offensive you want this is probably the most that way of the three drops. The goldfish damage output of this card is pretty unrivaled. It offers a little bit of immediate tempo and value and requires either a blocker or an answer for its first attack. This thing murders decks light on board development and/or answer cards. It is weaker against midrange decks looking to dump dorks on the board that easily trade with the Goblin and eat up its tokens.

Pia Nalaar 5.5

The chip damage this thing offers isn't all that significant for zoo lists and neither is the potential mana sink. There are far better ways to stop blockers than Pia so the only reasons you should be playing this in a zoo list is when you are super light on playbles or you have a lot of ways to abuse lots of bodies. Although she is a good card she isn't offering things you really need.It is a little awkward to make good use of her given the style of your deck.

Serendib EfreetSerendib Efreet 7.5

Mmm, meaty. Meaty and flying! Pretty shocking to have more than one playable beatdown tempo dork in zoo from the first couple of years of magic cards (this and Kird Ape). Most tempo dorks are far more recent. Anyway, this thing is just very well statted. Not much competes with it in the air before five mana. Even less at three or less mana. You lay this and they can't attack, then you swing back harder and they can't block.

Vendillion Clique 5

Offensively this is arguably better than the Efreet however it is a lot more vulnerable and offers basically no defense on the board. What makes this weak is mostly the double blue casting cost. You have to be super heavy blue to be able to consider this. At least if you can play double blue cards you can probably play Cloudfin Raptor as well. The disruption on this is OK, as is the option to make it into card quality but it is only really good against spell heavy decks. A good way to hedge against combo and control if you are heavy blue but very weak against aggressive and a lot of midrange decks.

True-Name NemesisTrue-Name Nemesis 6

All the same double blue issues as the Clique. This hits hard and reliably, it also gives you a very sturdy blocker. These are basically the things Efreet offers and so between the flying (effectively it is just reach in this comparison) and the single blue versus the double blue the Efreet is the more consistent card. True Name also brings hexproof to the table however that isn't actually all that relevant unless you happen to be packing equipment. (Equipment makes True Name a lot better!). Spot removal isn't great against zoo, all their threats are good, a lot give value in other ways, either haste or making/leaving behind tokens, cascading and so on. If you try and just one for one a zoo deck with spot removal you are going to lose. Slowly. It is mass removal that most scares zoo and True Name is only any use against red damage based mass removal. You are better off with a Thrynax, Finks or Fleshcaver in your three slot if you are hedging against removal.

Vial Smasher the FierceHanwier Garrison 7

The other Rabblemaster. Just being a bit meatier overall makes this a little better in zoo than in other lists. The minor initial damage and value from Rabblemaster is great in the decks like RDW but that is far less relevant for zoo. Hanwier is a little safer to removal and can attack safely that bit more often to make it at least as good as Rabblemaster, likely a smidge better.

Vial Smahser the Fierce 7

You have no real abuses for this dork in zoo. You are not playing Fireblast or Force or Will for example. You have very few instants. The general best case for this is just to untap with it still in play and make a four drop and then do the same again the following turn. Absolute best case he gets to swing in for 2 as well! That is enough to make this guy pretty terrifying. It is potentially massive damage and likely still decent damage that is entirely unstoppable. This needs killing and it needs it pretty fast. It is not the best tempo play and can leave you vulnerable to removal making it a little on the polar side. The weaker your deck and the less removal you expect to face the better this is.

Fanatic of XenagosLingering Souls 8.5

If you can make black and white mana you play this. That is pretty much the rule for every cube deck that isn't a combo deck. The card is just that level of good. I am doing a rotisserie draft as I write this. I am an affinity deck and I am facing an Abzan player with a Pernicious Deed and yet I think their Lingering Souls is actually their best card against me...  You don't see this loads in zoo decks as they are rarely black and white. The most common is to see them in Naya lists that very lightly splash for it and Deathrite so that they have no fully dead cards when they can't find the black mana. Lingering Souls isn't good tempo but it is flexible, good value and very hard to deal with. It forces through a lot of damage and gives great control over the skies.

Fanatic of Xenagos 7

Cheap and fat and trample. I hate giving my opponent choices but at least they are all bad with this one. You always get a high value tempo dork. Quite powerful for what it is and that is a very on theme card.

Four Drop Threats

VengevineBloodbraid Elf  10

One of the defining zoo cards. Typically deck defining cards are cheap ones not four drops and so that really goes some distance to showing how nuts this thing is. It is about the most front loaded as you can get for a card that is offering both tempo and value. The tempo is pretty massive and the value is about a direct a two for one as you can get outside of cards like Council of the Soratami! Zoo is the perfect deck for the Elf to shine in. The relatively high curve and redundancy within the deck gives you good odds on hitting an appropriate high value thing. It is not uncommon that Kird Ape is the lowest power card in your deck making the worst case for Bloodbraid a 5/5 over two bodies, half with haste and the removal of a bad draw from your deck. If the worst hit is still better than most of your other 4 drops we don't really need to go into how silly it is when you hit a top notch three drop with it... One thing to note with the Elf is that it makes a number of cards much weaker in your list. Situational removal and creature buff cards specifically. If you play a Bloodbraid onto an empty board and hit a Rancor you are very sad. If they have an empty board and you hit removal you are sad too. Having removal or combat tricks that have other more generic applications such as Selesnya Charm helps ease this problem.

Saskia the UnyieldingVengevine 8

A super annoying card to handle. This hits hard and fast and it is a bugger to deal with. Countermagic is of little use against it as is non-exile removal. Unless you can exile this you basically have to race it or make something that can permanently stand in its way. In a list with about half dorks it is super easy to recur this from the bin. So much so that you will chose to discard this whenever you can in the aim of getting it out quicker and cheaper. Indeed any discard outlets you might happen to have in your list greatly improve the value of Vengevine. I am totally happy playing this without any discard outlets but if I happen to have a couple I start to really want this. Due to the narrow range of things you want in zoo lists the number of suitable discard outlets is greatly reduced but you do still wind up with some now and again.

Bruse Tarl, Boorish HerderSaskia the Unyeilding 6.5

Nicknamed Saskia the Uncastable by my cube group (rather meanly I think!) this four colour beast is rather silly. She probably is one of the most powerful reasons to go black these days in zoo. That being said she is just a four drop and so I probably wouldn't bother with her even if I had the fixing unless I had other good black stuff I wanted to play. If you do play her she is pretty game ending. She hits like a truck herself and makes anything else you have also incredibly hard hitting. Once Saskia hits they will be forced into blocking and because of your dorks general size that should work out super well for you. She ends a lot of games Craterhoof Style (there and then) and the rest she wins more Sublime Archangle style.

Bruse Tarl, Boorish Herder 7

This relatively unknown dude is pretty nasty in a zoo list. He comes down and instantly gets value and then represents a pretty scary threat going forwards. He is a little like Hellrider except that he works better with fewer yet fatter dorks. RW is also easier than RR in a zoo lists (assuming you are Naya) due to fetches for previous casts. Bruse will ultimately trade into a 3/4 or larger but he will have incurred so much of a swing in just two attacks that you should be able to win. The reason this guy isn't an auto include is that you do really need to have a 3 or more power dork in play when you make him else he isn't enough of a swing.

Ghor-Clan RampagerGhor Clan Rampager 9.5

Really this should be in the tricks section as mostly this is discarded for the bloodrush. This is one of the best zoo cards that there is. This is a very potent combat trick that has none of the conventional drawbacks of combat tricks. When you get to use it for Bloodrush you incur a massive tempo swing. It is usually brutal enough to win the game. They use one of their bigger dorks to kill one of yours and suddenly yours is living, theirs is dead and they still take as much damage as if they hadn't blocked! Zoo is the best deck for combat tricks as it has the most dependency on tempo and has the highest value dorks on average in the aggressive decks. Most other combat tricks are bad with cascade effects or over cost such that they don't give that brutal tempo swing you are after. There is also the very real chance your combat trick is a dead card. Most of the better ones manage to avoid this but Rampager does it best. A 4/4 trample is pretty on theme. It is not powerful compared to the things you pay four mana for (except a hasted Knuckleblade which is surprisingly comparable!) but it is still nominally pretty hefty and not outside the range of castable things. I have won plenty of games just making this and turning it sideways. A zoo deck with this card is incredibly dangerous and hard to play against. It is a card that makes you more powerful without any cost to your consistency. Always play this if you can.

Falkenrath AristocratFalkenrath Aristocrat 9

This is a lethal card. It does a far better job of being a True-Name Nemesis than True-Name Nemesis does. This reliably gets in for four right away and it can be milked for a little more damage output if needed. You may have noted that scaling up creatures evenly as we did from Flinthoof to Knuckleblade does not go so well for the high cost thing. Well, that logic applies backwards so that when you shave of a mana and a power from Thundermaw Hellkite you end up with a better card! It is super hard to shift the Aristocrat so his low toughness is pretty negligible. You are usually relying on bounce, tap, -X/-X, or exile effects to stop this. Even steal effects are not great against it as it can toilet itself. You really don't need humans for this to be good and it is pretty hard to avoid them anyway! Play this whenever you have the colours. A great reason to be in black.

Surrak, the Hunt CallerSurrak the Hunt Caller 8.5

This thing is pretty big and usually has haste himself. Despite lacking evasion Surrak is big and quick enough that you are generally OK with it. You would be OK playing a vanilla 5/4 haste for 4, likely even a conditional self haste like this. What obviously breaks this card is the ongoing haste he gives to basically everything else in your deck. A lot of your best cards already have haste  but that isn't as much the point as you might think. Even if you only have haste dorks in hand your opponent still has to respect what you might have and that makes Surrak pertty hard to play around. It makes him a very high level threat thus baiting out desperate or inefficient removal. If you hit them for five and then they spend their turn dealing with it you are ahead and pretty happy with things. Thats basically a four mana Time Walk with five damage thrown in!

Fleetwheel CruiserSiege-Rhino 7

Nice and solid but rarely seen in zoo lists. Once you are all these colours you are probably a midrange deck rather than an aggressive one. If you are aggressive you are likely to be four colours with red in the mix. If you do happen to have the colours for this you play it. That is true if you are an aggressive zoo list, a midrange thing or a control deck though... This has pseudo haste with the drain as well for that little bit of  extra tempo injection. It is a well statted dork that is super hard to shift or get involved in combat with. It is slow compared to some of the things you play at the top end but sufficiently powerful you are happy to take that mild mild hit.

Fleetwheel Cruiser 6

This has some significant pros and cons in the zoo list. This is initially a 5 power trampling hasted four drop which is great. This is relatively easy to trade with in combat but it still gets through some damage. It is safe against sorcery speed creature kill including most mass removal. That is a big deal and pretty desirable in a zoo list. The issue is that it ties up one of your other dorks to use after the first go. You don't typically have enough little utility dorks to meet the crew cost so you will be using an actual threat to do this. Best case you are using a one drop that can no longer profitably attack however worst case you don't have dorks and you have a dead card. Sure, your "threat" survived the Wrath but given none of your dorks did that doesn't seem to be relevant yet! With a lot of dorks in the archetype having haste already it is much harder to efficiently crew this than it might seem. It is slightly above the level of threat you can find on a creature for four mana but a slight power gain isn't worth the inconsistency as much as it is for the cheaper vehicles.

Xenagos, the RevelerRestoration Angel 7

Not a super aggressive card but one that is sufficiently potent that you are happy to play it. The body is decently sized and will do good things for you just a little bit slower than most of your other four drops. The value of the Angel really kicks in when you get to reset things like Kitchen Finks, save a dork from removal or perhaps even trigger a good EtB effect again. You have a fine card at worst and a pretty swingy one now and again. Very good against control decks.

Xenagos, the Reveler 4

Although quite aggressive and with some immediate impact 2/2 haste dorks just don't get much done. Goblin Guide is good on turn one, it is far less so on turn four. As a threat this is comparable to something like a Rabblemaster only a mana and a colour more and rather easier to deal with. The ultimate is pretty irrelevant on this one too as you are just winning with the other abilities before it is close to a thing. The question is then, is this worth it for the mana production?  Generally the answer is no. If you are a little top heavy this can be nice to burst out but if that is the case you early game is the issue and as such Xenagos is likely not producing much mana or even living that long.

Elspeth, Knight-Errant
Elspeth, Knight Errant 7

Double white is a serious consideration when looking at Elspeth. You really really want to play her in any zoo list but most of them are sensible to pass on her. With a great mana base and a heavy white component, ideally with some assistance in fixing from dorks, you will be well set to play her. Then you have a beastly threat that pushes through loads of damage, offers good value and is a real pain to kill. She is fantastic against control and midrange and still one of the better planeswalkers against weenie decks.

Sublime Archangel 6.5

The other premium white weenie finisher (with Knight-Errant) is also very good. It comes with all the same provisos as Elspeth and her double white but if you are able to support her she will do good work. She packs a good punch right away and then offers brutal evasive damage to close the game. Her weakness is to removal where she can be taken out before netting any value and is often taken out before she gets to attack herself. This is kind of necessary as one hit from her and that is usually enough to be game.

HellriderHellrider 6

Red is generally a little more heavily catered for in zoo making the double red a little easier than double white but it is still absolutely something you need to consider before you play a card like this. Hellrider is pretty good but he has all the same weaknesses as Sublime without any significant perks over her. The main difference is Hellrider lacks flying making his 3/3 body rather less valuable. As it is such a high value effect you are often forced into leaving Hellrider back so it isn't killed in combat and this makes him a little lame. In zoo your dork has to be pretty insane in other ways if it doesn't make the 2xCMC = power + toughness bar. This is a fine high powered top end card to play but it isn't a perfect fit in zoo. More a suitable stand in when sorting out a curve.

Hero of Oxid Ridge / Shaman of the Great Hunt 4

I put these together because they pretty much do the same thing. They are 4/2 haste dorks for 4. The Hero is a little more immediate impact but the Shaman is easier to cast leaving them about the same in my books. Both are aggressive and powerful but with only 2 toughness apiece they are just not what you want in zoo. If you don't bother killing the one drop 2/1 then these cards are looking like a poor play. What you actually want is a seldom played card the;

Goldnight CastigatorGoldnight Castigator 5

This thing might well be better than Hellrider in zoo as well as many iterations of RDW. This is exactly the kind of thing you want in zoo, hard hitting and well statted with immediate impact. This is the other mini Thundermaw. It is basically a 4/5 flying haste for four. The drawback is rarely that much of an issue as by that stage you should have them under so much pressure they are locked into chumping and trading with blocks. That is of course against the non-red decks. You can more safely play this in RDW as you are the main red player. When you are red with zoo you are taking so little away from RDW that it is wide open and sensibly should be picked up. This might be great in 6/7ths of your games but it will often be unplayable in the remaining 1/7th. That is the main reason you don't see this in cubes that often but this card has a lot of game.

Flametongue Kavu 4

Four is an unfair assessment of this card. If you take out a 3 or 4 toughness guy with this is great. If you can give it haste as well it is about as good as you can get. The issue this has is that mostly in cube dorks are very small or very big. Few sit in the good value from Flametongue range. If you take out a 2/1 or something you haven't gained much at all. A good threat would get more done. When you are facing off against a Wurmcoil Engine you wish your Flametongue was a real removal spell that did something! When FTK runs good it is Bloodbraid good but most of the time it might as well be a Flame Imp for all it gets done. The real killer is when it is dead in hand and you can play it at all. That is when you start cutting this card. Nice sideboard tool but a risky run main. Two toughness is low by the standards of the one drop threats in zoo...

Hero of BladeholdHero of Bladehold 5

Hard hitting and not too limp on stats to get stuck in most of the time. While battle cry isn't huge value in zoo it is still decent, better than exalted by a good chunk on average. The Hero ensures that his battle cry gets value. One hit is savage, two is generally game. In a lot of ways this is just an inflated Hanwier Garrison. The stat increase helps this to attack but the overall package is worse. Double white is a real turn off and paying four for any 3/4 that does nothing when it comes in is pretty poor showing for a zoo deck. Better than a 4/2 do nothing but still. That being said, if an FTK hits your Hero you have basically lost.

Polukranos, World Eater 6

This guy does fat very well. He also does an OK job of doubling up as a spot of light removal if he sticks. Lack of evasion would devalue this a lot but the monstrous allows you to clear up chumps if needed making this a pretty appealing and on theme all round package. It is not as quick as a number of the other four drops but it is one of the biggest and affords some value too.

Huntsmaster of the Fells 5

This guy is quite potent but wildly unreliable and somewhat off theme. In the dream situation where your opponent fails to do anything and his first attack is as a flipped 4/4 you win but a win more card isn't what you are after. Without flipping this card is naff, you get a pair of 2/2s for four mana, one of which you have to be very precious with and can't get into combat, and you get some life you don't care about. In a list with no five drops and ideally lots of man lands too you can look to flip this yourself without too much hurt but why bother when you can just play better cards and not have to trouble with flipping things.

Five Drops

Thundermaw HellkiteThundermaw Hellkite 9.5

Certainly the most tried and tested five drop in this slot. Recently some potential contenders to Hellkite for power have arrived in the five slot but it is too early to tell if the king has been dethroned! Hellkite is exactly what you want from your top end. It is immediate and reliable damage on the back of a well statted creature. Thundermaw has a little bit of bonus value and consistency with its EtB effect as well. This has a nutty quick clock and it is hard to stop. This card remains one of the most frequent game closing cards in the cube. Most archetypes will happily play it but zoo is the one it is best suited to.

Verdurous Gearhulk 9.5

So far this is proving to be as effective as Thundermaw at closing a game. The Gearhulk is much bigger and has much more utility. It is slightly less consistent in its initial deployment as you only get effective haste with the four +1/+1 counters should you have attackers ready to go upon which to place them. That being said, it does not take long for the 8/8 trample to play catch up on that potential four damage missed! This thing is easier to cast than Thundermaw in zoo and it has more potential synergies. Very impressive and dangerous card.

Wolfir SilverheartWolfir Silverheart 6

This now seems really sad compared to Gearhulk. The card does a lot of the same things as Gearhulk, some even better, but it is far less effective at getting through damage and that is what these cards are really for. Things that give trample hugely improve the Wolfir. Past about five power it doesn't make much odds how much power you have, either you are getting chumped or getting through is winning the game.

Creeperhulk 8.5

This is what you play in zoo decks when you want a Craterhoof Behemoth. While this rarely comes down and pumps a bunch of other attackers on the same turn for that burst surprise kill this does tend to end the game if you untap with it. It is a substantial 5/5 trample on its own which is fine and it turns everything else you have into potential 5/5 tramplers as well. This is a great way to offset playing a lot of mana/utility/token dorks. While most five drops are concessions to winning on turn six at the earliest (without ramp) the Creeperhulk as a five drop does nothing that turn unlike Hellkite and Gearhulk. As such it really is not as good for improving your goldfish. A good anti midrange card but probably the most demanding of the appropriate support cards (ramp dorks) of any top end threat you might play.

CreeperhulkArchangel Avacyn 7

Untested in zoo somehow as yet! This is a pretty slow card, even more so than the Creeperhulk. As a five drop the double white is substantially less of a problem than it is for cheaper cards. I won't touch a WW card, I'll massively avoid a 1WW card. There are a couple of 2WW cards good enough for me to risk it but by the time we are at five mana I am rather less concerned about it. As Avacyn is proving more potent than even the 2WW bombs I can't see her being anything but nuts in zoo. She will wreak control and she will wreak everything else as well. You will be playing a slightly longer game and so removal and value get a little better in a list with this in it. While zoo decks probably don't need this at all I would absolutely rather throw this in than a low powered filler card.

Nissa, WorldwakerNissa Worldwaker 7.5

This is another one of those utterly game ending card that is just so hard to beat like Archangel Avacyn. This is one of the most aggressive planeswalkers, certainly the most of the good ones. She makes terrifying threats every turn that are hard to stop and hard to deal with. She is a little linear but that is totally fine in zoo. The issue with Nissa is not her power level or threat level both of which are about as high as you can go. The trouble is that unless you have six mana when you play her you cannot hit right away with a 4/4 land. You really want to do that. If you do that she is like a better version of Gearhulk. Making her and just making a tapped 4/4 is fine but it isn't adding immediate pressure. A better use of a five mana cast of Nissa is to untap some lands and make a 3 or 4 CMC card. This requires you to have a good selection of duals with the basic land types and an appropriate thing to play from hand. It isn't reliable in itself but does help with the overall consistency of the card. Vital Force is more able to apply pressure the turn you make it but she is so much of a weaker threat overall with the lands returning to just lands and not having trample. Nissa Worldwaker is another relatively slow five drop due to somewhat being a six drop. She is best with lots of forest dual lands and at least some ramp. She is a great counter to tenacious decks, interactive decks and just a great tool to throw in if you lack reach.

Thragtusk 4

This is weak in zoo, don't play it. This life is not what you are after and a three toughness, no evasion five drop is not threatening. It is easy to block and kill and the token is only OK. You can play this is you lack playables but any cheaper card that is also playable is going to do a lot more for you.

Skysovereign, Consul FlagshipSkysovereign, Consul Flagship 6

Not the perfect high end but offering a few nice things to supplement the general sloth and mild conditional nature of this card. This is a decent tempo swing and interactive tool. Making it is OK, better than making a Creeperhulk for example, perhaps even better than a Vurdurous Gearhulk assuming you hit good with the Flagship or the Hulk has to give itself the love. Once you start attacking with it the value is great, it is very much like getting in with a flying inferno Titan. The damage and tempo is so great you barely notice your crew requirements. That is assume you meet them. When you don't is when this card becomes a liability. This is far far safer than an FTK and generally more powerful but it does require a little attention. Most zoo decks are so full of dorks and man lands than if you make a Flagship you are really unlucky if you can't crew it the following turn even if you eat a wrath or something. The issue is when you have to spend all your mana to make a man land to crew it thus failign to develop your board. This is when you can lose with Flagship without them directly dealing with it.


Path to ExilePath to Exile 8

One of the most commonly seen as it is so cheap, effective and unrestricted. You don't need hard removal early as zoo as your stuff is bigger and so this is much more suitable for zoo than Swords to Plowshares is. Path has a less immediate and less relevant tempo cost than Swords in zoo. Cheap is still great even if you don't want to use it early. It means you can if the situation calls for it or when you come to use it late you can still make something pretty big at the same time. I don't often want more than one hard removal spell in my zoo list but this is the best in that role. Swords is more like a 7 in zoo.

Lighting Bolt 9

Generally the best removal spell in the game over the first couple of turns and still one of the best well into the midgame. The extra bit of reach this can give going face pushes it above the premium spot removal in zoo lists however the less good burn does fall off in value more rapidly. Shocks are pretty unexciting in zoo.

Tribal Flames
Tribal Flames 9.5 (assuming full domain)

You don't tend to see the full on five colour zoo lists in cube as zoo is so needy on the good lands. For that to happen you would need the only other green player(s) at the table to be mono. If you do get the five colour zoo list this is one of your best possible cards. Two mana, five damage, any target. I shouldn't need to go on.

Other Burn 7.5 (for a Searing Spear lvl card)

Burn is fundamentally great in magic. If you are red and playing zoo you should look to have at least one burn spell in your list. Burn can easily be most of your non-threat budget. They are almost always good tempo and increase your consistency with their removal/reach dual purpose. While cost is relevant the effect is a big deal for zoo more so than most. I almost always play any 2 mana 3 damage spell over a 1 mana 2 damage option. You don't care much about the really small things as your stuff is that much bigger. You are doing damage in much bigger chunks as well meaning the difference between two and three is again that much more relevant when it comes to the reach. Heavy red isn't great so unless I have beautiful mana I will play Searing Spear over Searing Blaze. In general you don't want any sort of conditional cast things on your burn like Fireblast of Stoke the Flames. Split burn is more of a sideboard thing for Zoo. Arc Tail is only killing small things which often you don't care about, it is only when you are actually falling behind to the small things you really want those kinds of tools. Arc Trail is still potent enough you probably always play it when you have it but it is a little lower value in zoo than most and a little more polar in performance than usual there too.

Selesnya CharmAbrupt Decay 6

A nice rounded removal card that keeps you safe against a selection of nasty things beyond just creatures. The issue with this card is that it is rarely good tempo, you get a one mana advantage at best. It is also not great at solving the serious problem cards as they tend to cost four or more. Playable but I'd much rather more effective removal or just a threat.

Selesnya Charm 8

Now this little card gets the job done in a lot of ways. It is a hard removal spell for dealing with those really serious dorks that can actually outclass your things. This kills Titan's and Wurmcoils and the like. It is also a combat trick which is perhaps where it has even more value in the list. While not quite as punchy as the Rampager this still offers enough of a stats boost to swap around who lives and dies in specific block. The trample also helps with forcing through damage as well. Lastly this card also has threat mode, all be it a 2/2 token... This can help a little with going wide, curving out, avoiding cascade disappointment or just adding extra things to the board that were not accounted for so as to take out planeswalkers or something. This card offers basically all the kinds of utility you want in your zoo deck and it does so without being situational.

DismemberDismember 7.5

Cheap, easily cast and pretty hard hitting as soft removal goes. This takes out most things and those it doesn't outright kill it ensures that they will be dying and doing little else should they get involved in combat. Great card, even if your not black. Probably the second best pure creature removal spell for the list.

Dromoka's Command 7.5

A surprisingly good card given how rarely you use half the modes. This is mostly just putting on a +1/+1 counter and fighting although apparently that is a four mana sorcery speed affect so apparently this is really really good vaule! That or Hunt the Weak is laughable... This is often a two for one as a mild combat trick with the counters and a removal effect in the fight. It is really hard work playing around this card and actually ever blocking something. Against a zoo deck if you are not blocking you are probably not winning. I have seen this counter a Bonfire of the Damned, that ended that game. I have also seen it taking out a number of enchantments, mostly Courser of Kruphix. Very nice utility card indeed but hard to find space for both this and Selesnya Charm.

Domri RadeFire / Ice  6

Actually a little low impact to be at its best in zoo. The burn is low and so Fire is only exciting against the super low to the ground and weenie decks. Ice is good because it is versatile and cycles. You really really don't want to pay two mana to cycle in zoo and so for Ice to be good you have to relevantly tap something with rather kills the value and consistency of the card. Still very good but not the auto include we come to expect Fire / Ice is everywhere.

Domri Rade 6.5

Quite effective and dangerous but a little slow and off theme. The fight is the best thing about Domri as you have big dorks that fight well. The value is OK but you really don't play things like Phyrexian Arena in zoo and just using the +1 on Domri is basically a bad version of that. His -7 is a serious threat but it is only super late game. It is rare that Domri gets to 7 loyalty and the game is still close so while being a good ulti it isn't too relevant in the ratings. The best Domri's are the ones that come down, kill a thing, then replace themselves with a +1 and finally kill another thing. Great against midrange and not weak against control or midrange, just a little slow and off theme.


Mutagenic GrowthMutagenic Growth 5.5

This is a pretty good pump spell as it is impossible to play round, not easily broadcast and something you can curve with no problem. Where this falls down a little is that it is only a combat trick and not even a heavy hitting one. This will be a low value or even dead card in more situations than you would like. Something like a Selesnya Charm is far less damaging to your consistency with its other utility. The killer for this is cascade cards, you barely ever want to cascade into this and you almost always want any cascade dork you can fit in your list. I will play this if I have no cascade clashes and I have no other pump spells but that means mostly I don't.

Boros Charm  6

A bit of an oddball card. This is kind of a combat trick and kind of a direct face damage card. It is also a counterspell for removal! All the things it does are pretty powerful and all of them are things you certainly can want in a zoo deck. The issue is that despite having so much functionality the card is still pretty narrow. You don't want to be leaving mana up for the counterspell mode. You don't want to play this early or proactively as it is a one shot damage effect and so making a threat is going to better in the long run. You don't often have enough spell slots in your zoo list for this to get a look in but it is an appropriate and powerful card none the less.

Atarka's CommandAtarka's Command 8.5

Somehow this thing is coming out at the top of the pile for two colour gold spells you might want in your zoo deck. It is a more reliable combat trick than Boros Charm and typically does a lot more face damage. It is immense fun using the land drop mode to trigger surprise landfall. When a Steppe Lynx hits you for eight you probably lose. The lifegain prevention isn't irrelevant either. As a finisher card this is cheap, on theme and highly efficient damage return for mana. As a general utility card it also finds itself easier to use and more useful than a Boros Charm.

Garruk, Wildspeaker 7

Although this is kind of a threat in that it can make 3/3 dorks the reality is that this is a threat because of the Overrun and that means it is more a utility card It is a bad threat when you slowly churn out 3/3s but it does make it a lot less narrow than Overrun. Garruk is bats because you can make him turn four, then make another 2 drop and then should they fail to clear you board or take loyalty off the Garruk you will likely just kill them outright. Best with high dork counts and things that produce multiple dorks.

Umezawa's JitteUmezawa's Jitte 7.5

Annoyingly this is pretty decent in zoo as I hate the damn thing so much. This card solves a lot of problems for you and creates a lot for them. It is tempo however you need it once you get to charge it and with lots of hardy dorks and tramplers getting this charged is easier in zoo than most. You really want this to be a four drop for you and should really be put in that slot. Making it on turn two or three is better than doing nothing but it is totally awful none the less.

Sword of Fire and Ice 4

This is that much more unwieldy, off theme and harder to gain reach from than the Jitte that it really isn't something I want to be running. This is a lot better with fliers in your list but not so much that this becomes good when you have a certain mass of them. Only play this if you are going to struggle with casting things due to a crappy mana base or if you have really low quality threats. A good deck should never want this. I don't even think a Stoneforge would be enough to swing me over to playing this in the majority of cases.

Skullclamp 6

Not too hard to get some use from while still curving but not a tempo card at all. This is great against control decks where they won't be able to beat your value but it isn't really on theme and doesn't help you in the races as much as you need it to. This should really be a sideboard tool for zoo at best.

I should really also talk about the utility lands as they are also threats. Wolf Run is amazing but is a big deal on your mana. I'll be 17 lands with any man or utility lands really but Wolf Run is the main contributor. It gives you massive inevitablity against many decks, it is the best mana sink and is able to turn all your things into relevant threats. I always want this but am not always able to safely include it but would still give it a solid 9.

Needle SpiresThe dual man lands are generally quite good and the colour they offer is usually the most important thing. Wildwood and Ravine are the two best as they are green and the right sort of body. Colonnade and Tarpit are also great as every but harder to fit in and less often seen. Needle Spires is surprisingly good, any buffs or tricks scale best with it. Treetop Village is also great. I would rather have a fixing man land but if I have room on top or instead I will be happy to include it. Still one of the better offensive manlands and on of the more efficient for mana cost to effect. I'll pick an on dual colour man land above all but the best lands and cards making them 8.5-9 region. The 2/2s are more in the region of a weak dual land, say a 7.5.

As you can see, most of the obvious playable cards are pretty comparably ranked. You have the few premium and rare things that get the 9+ ratings, a few really potent on theme 8ish cards and then most of the rest of the deck will be in the 6-7 range and in that range you have much choice. The rating is't really that relevant. Ideally you want to pick lands and 8+ cards but when you can't you should absolutely look to pick the thing your deck is most missing in terms of CMC. A 6 rated three drop is a better pickup, even early in the second pack, that another 7 rated card in a CMC range you already have some cards in.

So, lastly we have some example lists. While I didn't spend ages on the deck building I did try and give near optimal examples of the mana bases for the more complicated ones. I couldn't even properly solve the five colour one, I think I was trying to be too greedy on good man lands. Its not far off as it is but I would like two man lands in it. I did a final straight RG list. While I call this Stompy rather than zoo it is essentially the same deck. You can tone it down and you get closer to a RDW list but the one I have given is very much a zoo list in two colours. Usually it is what happens when no obvious 3rd colour presents itself or when it comes to building you have less fixing and good cards in your third colour than you thought and staying 2 is probably better.

Naya Zoo
Kird Ape
Kird Ape
Loam Lion
Experiment One
Wild Nacatl
Steppe Lynx
Avacyn's Pilgrim

Lotus Cobra
Voice of Resurgence
Quasali Pridemage
Fleecemane Lion
Flinthoof Boar
Lightning Helix
Selesnya Charm
Sylvan Advocate
Scavenging Ooze

Tireless TrackerKitchen Finks
Thalia, Heretic Cathar
Tireless Tracker

Bloodbraid Elf
Bruse Tarl, Boorish Herder
Ghor Clan Rampager
Elspeth, Knight-Errant

Verdurous Gearhulk

17 Lands


Stomping Ground
Stirring WildwoodTemple Garden
Sacred Foundry

Arid Mesa
Wooded Foothills
Windswept Heath

Raging Ravine
Stirring Wildwood
Needle Spires

Copperline George
Razorverge Thicket

Karplusan Forest
Wooded Bastion


Rattleclaw Mystic

Temur Zoo

Noble Hierarch
Cloudfin Raptor
Experiment One
Birds of Paradise
Kird Ape
Lightning Bolt

Rattleclaw Mystitc
Coiling Oracle
Looter il-Kor
Borderland's Explorer
Kari Zev, Skyship Raider
Fire / Ice
Borderland ExplorerFlinthoof Boar

Shardless Agent
Savage Knuckleblade
Rogue Refiner
Flamewing Phoenix
Ahn Crop Crasher

Bloodbraid Elf
Ghor Clan Rampager

Thundermaw Hellkite

17 Lands

Volcanic Island
Kessig Wolf RunTropical Island

Stomping Ground
Volcanic Island
Breeding Pool

Scalding Tarn
Misty Rainforest
Wooded Foothills

Raging Ravine
Kessig Wolf Run
Wandering Fumarole

Yavimaya Coast
Karplusan Forest

Deathrite ShamanMountain

Five Colour Zoo

Birds of Paradise
Deathrite Shaman
Wild Nacatl
Experiment One
Arbor Elf
Noble Hierarch

Lotus Cobra
Tribal Flames
Dark Confidant
Strangleroot Giest
Voice of Resurgence
Dark ConfidantQuasali Pridemage
Flinthoof Boar

Mantis Rider
Shardless Agent
Lingering Souls
Reflector Mage
Rishkar, Peema Renegade

Bloodbraid Elf
Surrak, Hunt Caller
Falkenrath Aristocrat
Siege Rhino
Saskia, the Unyeilding

17 Lands

Mantis RiderPlateau
Tropical Island
Badlands (the dodgy last land added...)

Stomping Ground
Temple Garden
Breeding Pool
Overgrown Tomb

Arid Mesa
Wooded Foothills
Windswept Heath
Verdant Catacombs
Misty Rainforest

Celestial Colonnade

Boggart Ram-GangForest

A Straight RG Version

23 Spells

Orcish Lumberjack
Llanowar Elves
Experiment One
Goblin Guide
Lightning Bolt
Kird Ape

Kari Zev, Skyship Raider
Strangleroot Giest
Flinthoof Boat
Rishkar, Peema RenegadeAtarka's Command
Voltaic Brawler

Boggart Ram Gang
Tireless Tracker
Rishkar, Peema Renegade
Hanwier Garrison
Domri Rade

Ghor-Clan Rampager
Bloodbraid Elf
Sarrak, the Hunt Caller

Thundermaw Hellkite

17 Lands

No comments:

Post a Comment