The Zoo Keepers

Posted in Top Decks on March 14, 2013

By Jacob Van Lunen

Jacob Van Lunen began playing Magic in 1995. He has participated in organized play at every level of competition and was a member of the winning team at Pro Tour San Diego in 2007, thanks to an innovative draft strategy. As a writer, Van Lunen has had more than three hundred Magic strategy pieces published

Welcome back to Perilous Research,'s exclusive Magic Online column. Two weeks ago, I took a look at the latest wave of aggressive decks for Modern. Gruul and Naya aggro decks seemed to be taking the format by storm. I made a few predictions about the coming evolution of the Modern format.

Now, two weeks later, we have a solid pool of data and we'll be able to take a look at the latest wave of Modern decks. Modern seemed defined before the rise of Zoo-style aggro. There were Jund decks, Tron Decks, midrange creature strategies, and combo decks. The new aggro decks are able to consistently end games by the fourth turn and, as a result, they pushed most combo decks out of the format. Ancient Grudge was an obvious sideboard choice for these base-red-green decks, so the format's old aggro flagship, Robots, quickly fell into obscurity. Today, I'm going to take a look at some of the format's major players and talk about the changes that have been made in the last week or two in attempts to stave off Gruul, Boros, Naya, and Red aggro decks.


Two weeks ago, I predicted that Jund players would be moving away from Lingering Souls in favor Kitchen Finks. This means the Jund deck no longer needs to be running white lands. This makes them less susceptible to Blood Moon and means they'll ultimately be taking less damage from their lands. Additionally, Kitchen Finks is one of the absolute strongest cards against the new Gruul Deck, almost always soaking up two cards and netting 4 life in the process. Here's an example of what the new Jund deck looks like:

Kitchen Finks

oivanyu29's Jund

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Birthing Pod

Birthing Pod decks have been successfully using cards like Kitchen Finks, Spellskite, and Wall of Roots for quite a while now. It's no surprise that these decks would be well positioned as the format became more aggressive. Thragtusk has seen scattered sideboard play in these strategies for some time, but now we're beginning to see a lot more Thragtusks, especially in the Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker versions of the Birthing Pod deck. Here are some up-to-date Birthing Pod lists for Modern:

Birthing Pod

garltik's Kiki-Pod

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p073n7473's Melira Pod

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The Raka decks have always been a problem for the most aggressive creature strategies. These decks pack four copies of Lightning Bolt, Lightning Helix, Path to Exile, and Snapcaster Mage. This makes things difficult for decks that want to be attacking, especially when the Raka deck is able to be on the play. After sideboarding, the deck basically becomes a pile of removal spells and Snapcaster Mages when playing against the most aggressive decks. This may seem like a nightmare matchup, but the Raka anti-aggro plan is easily dismantled with a little bit of ingenuity.

Lightning Bolt
Snapcaster Mage

I played Gruul at a recent PTQ and found myself playing against the Red-White-Blue deck four times over the course of the day. I condone sideboarding down to sixteen land when playing against Raka as an aggro deck. The Raka decks usually play twenty-five lands, and they take out all their card-drawing against aggro decks because it's "too slow." By sideboarding down to sixteen lands you'll often find yourself in a situation where it's turn six or seven and the Raka deck has six lands in play while you, the aggro player, have two lands in play and two creature breaking through for some damage. Sure, if the Raka player draws Batterskull or enough Snapcaster Mages, this plan is going to be foiled, but it's a lot better than just entering a gun fight with a sword. Here's an up-to-date Raka control list:

stu55's RWU

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RUG Vial decks have seen scattered popularity since last year's Magic Player's Championship , where the deck performed beautifully. The deck lost popularity as Jund picked up a lot of steam, but the Jund decks look different now and the rest of the format has evolved in such a way that the RUG Vial decks seem perfect. The deck can struggle with aggressive decks in Game 1 if it doesn't draw a Lightning Bolt, but the deck can pretty much ignore a Kitchen Finks and post-board it can bring in a host of Spellskite, Threads of Disloyalty, and a board sweeper or two to absolutely crush aggro. The deck has one of the most impressive endgames in the format. Late in the game, the deck can assemble an Æther Vial on three, Eternal Witness, and Cryptic Command to soft-lock the opponent. Cryptic Command can bounce Eternal Witness and counter a spell, then Æther Vial can put the Eternal Witness back into play, returning the Cryptic Command back to your hand.

Threads of Disloyalty
Aether Vial

bhamrick's RUG Vial

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Hexproof Enchantments

The Aura deck became less popular as players began playing four copies of Liliana of the Veil and Back to Nature became a sideboard staple. With Jund decks becoming less popular and Back to Nature going back to nature we're beginning to see a lot more Daybreak Coronets at the top tables of Magic Online events. This deck absolutely smashes the aggressive decks and there's virtually nothing that aggro can do about it unless it wants to dedicate sideboard slots specifically to the matchup. Here's the latest list to go undefeated in a Daily Event:

Daybreak Coronet
Back to Nature

pie's Ghost Pants

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Lifegain Decks

Martyr of Sands is still probably one of the most cost-effective cards in Modern if your deck can reliably reveal five or six cards for the ability. The rise of aggressive strategies has encouraged many players to experiment with lifegain in Modern. In the past, we've seen a lot of Ajani's Pridemate decks perform well when the format got aggressive. Here's a list:

Martyr of Sands
Ajani's Pridemate

agre09's White Weenie

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The release of Gatecrash introduces a new Martyr of Sands strategy thanks to Vizkopa Guildmage. Suddenly, Martyr of Sands revealing seven cards is actually lethal. This is, without a doubt, my favorite recent deck to come out of Magic Online. The deck absolutely crushes anything trying to play fair and the sideboard could be adapted to play more discard to help in the combo matchups. Squadron Hawk helps the deck always have a fistful of white cards to reveal for Martyr of Sands and Ranger of Eos keeps your life total healthy or ends the game quickly with a few gigantic Serra Ascendants. Expect this deck to pick up some steam in the coming weeks. This is what I'd be playing if I were to venture off to a Modern tournament this coming weekend.

Vizkopa Guildmage
Ranger of Eos

CML's Orzhov Lifegain

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The latest phase of the Modern metagame is extremely hostile for the aggressive decks that rose to power a couple weeks ago. Moving forward, we can expect combo and Jund to perform well against midrange decks that are focused on surviving early creature onslaughts. New archetypes like Orzhov Lifegain seem like they have real potential to perform well. More controlling versions of Gifts Ungiven strategies may also perform well if aggro decks are pushed out of the format entirely.

Remember to keep your finger on the pulse of the format by checking Magic Online Daily Event results and you should be able to stay on top of things and perform well.

Knowledge is power!


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