Thursday, 27 February 2014

Welcome to the Jungle.

I played Zoo at the PT. It didn’t go well. Limited didn’t go well either.

I still think this is the best Zoo deck. But given  that 3 people played the deck and the other two hated it, maybe its time to let go. 

The List:
4 Wild Nacatl
4 Kird Ape
4 Loam Lion
4 Experiment One
4 Tarmogoyf
2 Flint Hoof Boar
3 Mutagenic Growth
4 Ghor-Clan Rampager
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Path to Exile
4 Tribal Flames

4 Verdant Catacombs
4 Misty Rainforest
4 Arid Mesa
1 Forest
1 Hallowed Fountain
1 Steam Vents
1 Blood Crypt
1 Temple Garden
1 Sacred Foundry
1 Stomping Ground

3 Pyroclasm
3 Scavenging Ooze
1 Destructive Revelry
1 Ancient Grudge
1 Ray of Revelation
1 Combust
1 Torpor Orb
1 Thrun, the Last Troll
1 Sword of WaP
1 Harm's Way
1 Stony silence.

On this Zoo deck:
16 one drop zoo makes you a 50/50 deck where 15% of the time you draw 3 one drops and they are just dead. You also get a bunch of free wins against people who just didn’t really respect zoo. The main question is why this is better than a bigger version of zoo.

Going large is a lot less effective in the mirror these days. It used to be that a 4/4 (or 4/5) blocking a 2/3 or 3/3 was always a 2 for 1. Mutagenic Growth and Rampager changed that. All of the sudden your opponent often has to block on turn 3 or 4 with his 5/5 knight and you are going to blow him out.

People were also focused on fighting Zoo with permanents so I wanted to have the best reach possible. Once the board gums up you often need to be able to deal 5-8 damage off of two cards. Enter Rampager/Tribal Flames. We tested the mirror a bunch and felt that the added instability/damage from lands was basically the never deciding factor in the mirror. Against most big decks you are the aggressor (and life is not relevant) and against the other smaller decks flood/screw and helixes were the most important things. Taking an additional 2 from your lands wasn’t a big deal.

3 drops in general suck because you end up having to build a manabase which wants to get to 3. This means you can’t operate on 1 or 2 effectively and when you flood you draw 5 or 6 lands instead of 4 or 5. I think 3’s also generally are a trade off between resilience and speed. For an open format I generally want speed.

Maindeck I wanted to be immune to 2 power creatures (electrolyze/grim lavamancer/magma spray) being relevant by themselves. E.g. I didn’t want the front half of voice, back half of Finks or other random 2-power dudes to do anything against me by themselves. Thus there are no Goblin Guides or Burning Tree Emissarys. In most matchups you are fast enough without them.

The biggest sideboard innovation came from Todd. His suggestion of Pyroclasm was excellent in a variety of very close matchups: Affinity, Pod, BW Tokens, UR Pyromancer. It was also randomly decent against things like Boggles. In those matchups they are often relying on chumping while stabilizing or racing. Being able to clear multiple blockers (for two mana) is often enough to swing the game.

You can’t really bring out more than 5 cards in any matchup with this deck, so the rest of the sideboard is to provide you with some disruptive cards that cover almost any and every matchup. You can have insane 4 drops for the UWR matchup because they path you.

I had concerns with 3 matchups:
1) Burn.
2) UWR.
3) Twin decks built like our team’s. Tempo twin decks (such as ones that top 8ed) are much easier to beat because Spellskite is the real problem card. Didn’t think most people would play the more combo-ish version.

The Manabase is a work of art. Avoiding the chronic Steam Vents + Scalding Tarn combo that seems perennial in almost every tribal flames deck.

On Deck Selection:
The reason the top pros didn’t do well (in my opinion) is because even if you found the best archetypes with 3-5 days to go it didn’t matter. You weren’t going to be able to play/build them proficiently. Not having experts in the "hard" decks also made some of the fringe strategies seem better than they probably were. For example I know that going into the week of testing I thought that Scapeshift crushed Pod. I still think its favorable but much closer than I previously thought.

2-3 days before the PT I thought Pod was the best deck. But, after watching Josh McClain, talking to Sam Pardee and trying a few games for myself, I realized I couldn’t play it. I just don’t have the intuition to be able to pilot the deck with anything close to optimality.

In addition to Pod, I was confident we also had the best Affinity list (courteousy Alex Majlaton), the best Burn deck (courteousy Glenn McIelwain and team refinements), the Best Zoo deck (me and Todd) as well as the best Twin list (Glenn again).

Burn: This was our best anti Zoo deck. But it was a bit of a glass cannon and I (pretty much alone on the team) thought there was a good chance that Zoo would be a small part of the metagame (~10%) or not at the top tables.

Affinity: Early in testing we were all looking at cutting affinity hate or playing more generic cards (e.g. Destructive Revelry over Stony Silence). We didn’t think affinity would be a big player. When everyone starts believing that, it becomes the perfect time to robot some people. I am not good at affinity so it wasn’t really an option for me. It also turned out that other people kept their affinity hate for the most part.

Twin: For the metagame Face to Face was testing I thought Glenn had broken it. It was a better version of Burn as far as I was concerned. The all in Twin version had much better game vs Zoo and sacrificed against U-Control decks and Thoughtseize decks. Neither of which I thought would be big players (but I was open to being wrong here). However after testing a few games I was miserable. I think in 10 games I won 1. It was a weird headspace where I couldn’t beat the deck and I couldn’t win with it. I was drawing 3 Splinter Twins in every game or missing 4th land drops. My mind said the deck was great, my practice said it sucked. On the other hand I was confident in every card choice for Zoo.

Zoo: From our testing even the decks built to beat Zoo only won 40% of the time. And doing so contorted your deck to be worse against everyone who wasn’t trying so hard. Thus I thought the top tables would just be the versions of decks where they didn’t try so hard to beat Zoo (and that is essentially what Sam/Jacob/Josh did). Unfortunately most people decided to just jam 3 Anger of the Gods main and it didn’t hurt them because everyone was doing it.

Going forward I would be okay playing this deck again. The only matchup I wouldn’t want to play against for sure in the top 8 was Sean’s deck. Storm might also be bad, but I assume it will be unplayable in the near future as people go back to having some hate for it. I have no idea how Blue Moon plays out, but I know they have a lot of cards I normally don’t mind seeing across from me. Maybe their LD is good enough.

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