Brewed Up: Tribal Flames Zoo

This past weekend was a sight to behold in Modern with SCG Philly, GP Bilbao, and GP Tampa all taking place. While many players are concerned about the continued dominance of Phoenix, we are not here to beat a dead horse. When looking over the results I was beyond excited to see Tribal Flames Zoo finally had a breakout performance. This deck picked up some steam when BBE was unbanned but disappeared just as quickly. However, in the hands of David Csente the deck fought its way into the Top 32 of Grand Prix Bilbao.

Decklist
Lands (22)
4 Arid Mesa
1 Blood Crypt
1 Breeding Pool
1 Forest
1 Godless Shrine
1 Hallowed Fountain
1 Plains
1 Sacred Foundry
1 Steam Vents
1 Stomping Ground
1 Temple Garden
4 Windswept Heath
4 Wooded Foothills
Creatures (24)
4 Bloodbraid Elf
2 Ghor-Clan Rampager
2 Knight of Autumn
4 Mantis Rider
4 Noble Hierarch
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Wild Nacatl
Spells (14)
1 Boros Charm
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Lightning Helix
1 Path to Exile
4 Tribal Flames
Sideboard (15)
2 Blessed Alliance
1 Cindervines
2 Damping Sphere
2 Knight of Autumn
3 Leyline of the Void
3 Lingering Souls
1 Path to Exile
1 Shalai, Voice of Plenty

The Build
This is a deck that is incredibly near and dear to my heart. I have played a ton of Tribal Zoo both in paper and on MTGO since the printing of Mantis Rider. I will never forget the first time I beat Tron off of a Lightning Bolt, Tarmogoyf, Mantis Rider curve. The manabase may look like a mess with all of the singletons but I promise that it is surprisingly consistent. The combination of fetches and shocks is set up so that whichever fetchland you have access to any color you need. To play the manabase effectively you must know your priorities and the blindspots of each fetchland. In order you prioritize Green, Red, White, Blue, and Black. Green is required for most of your spells but at the end of the day this is a Wild Nacatl deck so having some form of Mountain and Plains in play is critical as well. The Blue is only necessary for Mantis Rider so you want it but it is not 100% necessary at all times. In Game 1 the Black lands are only there to reach the fifth point of damage with Tribal Flames so you do not have to worry about it much. The fetches can find any color but they do have blindspots. Windswept Heath misses Blood Crypt and Steam Vents. Wooded Foothills misses Godless Shrine and Hallowed Fountain. Arid Mesa misses Breeding Pool and Forest. The Forest will make you want to rip your hair out, sometimes taking you off of Helix and Mantis, but it is a necessary evil in here. Typically you just want to assemble two shock lands that generate the four non-Black colors with Red coming from one land and White coming from the other; Temple Garden with Steam Vents or Stomping Ground with Hallowed Fountain.

David has a great list and has really made a lot of subtle decisions that contributed to his success. The power level of the cards is extremely high at the cost of significant life payment; similar to Shadow Zoo. Unlike Shadow Zoo, low life totals are not desirable so we can mitigate this issue with proactive lifegain in Lightning Helix and Knight of Autumn.  The deck has blazing fast go wide starts but with Goyf, Mantis, and BBE it can ride a single, high-value threat to victory. With eight burn spells and eight haste threats, it is extremely difficult to stabilize against this deck. I think Tribal Zoo lines up well with many of the major players in the current modern metagame. The deck provides a combination of potent threats, reach, and flexibility that gives it a lot of potential going forward.

Matchups
Tribal Zoo thrives against midrange strategies. GBx variants tend to be some of the best matchups for the deck. Noble Hierarch allows your Tarmogoyf’s outsize opposing Tarmogoyfs while on the attack. Your burn suite allows you to close out the game and Boros Charm is an all-star. The indestructible mode of Boros Charm stops every removal spell outside of Path to Exile out of Abzan. Only playing one copy makes it incredibly hard for opponents to play around leading to potential for massive blowouts. G/B/x tends to deal a fair bit of damage to itself which makes the 4 and 5 damage burn spells even more potent. Straight Green/Black tends to be the worst matchup of the G/B/x variants for Tribal Zoo but it is still very winnable. They take less damage from their manabase and they also play other land destruction like Field of Ruin. Despite all of that, cards like Lingering Souls and Bloodbraid Elf are still able to swing the matchup in your favor most of the time. In addition to G/B/x, Tribal Zoo also does well versus other top decks in the format.

Tribal Zoo is also well positioned versus Dredge. Before the printing of Creeping Chill, this matchup felt very favored for Tribal Zoo. Your creatures outsize theirs and are able to dominate the board. Mantis Rider is an all-star in this matchup and is incredible at breaking board stalls. After Creeping Chill was added, the matchup got a lot harder. They now have a way to gain life and they also got additional reach to close out games. The matchup is still very winnable though. David’s inclusion of 3 Leyline of the Void definitely helps to swing the matchup back in Tribal Zoo’s favor. Even if they are able to remove it, starting the game with Leyline followed by any large threats puts you incredibly far ahead. While Drege has traditionally been a good matchup for Tribal Zoo, David has managed to really improve some traditionally bad ones.

Burn has always been somewhat of a nightmare matchup for Tribal Zoo. It has a much less painful manabase than Tribal Zoo and is a little faster. David has managed to really improve this matchup through a few key card choices. The full set of Knight of Autumn in the 75 are definitely a big help in the matchup. Shalai is a card that they basically have to remove with either multiple burn spells or Path to Exile. Although it is only a one of, it is the type of card that can completely swing a game. These two additions alone should make the matchup much closer than it had been previously. In addition, David chose to run Blessed Alliance which is incredible in this deck. Burn is just one of the many applications of the versatile instant.

When I picked this deck up, Humans was the deck to beat in the format. Tanner and I played the matchup countless times and it always felt very close. Although tribal strategies have fallen off a bit, they are still widely played in the format. The single best sideboard card in these matchups is Blessed Alliance. All three modes of Blessed Alliance are relevant. One piece of tech to note is that you do not have to target your own creatures with the untap ability. This means that you can target an opposing Phatntasmal Images to force the opponent to sacrifice it. Tribal strategies are another place where Noble Hierarch really shines over Kird Ape variants. Exalted allows your Mantis Rider to attack through opposing Mantis Riders. The burn suite is a removal suite in these matchups and the extra mana helps cast multiple in the same turn. Where Tribal strategies have fallen off, Phoenix strategies have taken over.

There is no getting around it. Izzet Phoenix is the highest performing deck in the format. Naturally, the question is how good is Tribal Zoo versus Izzet Phoenix? The answer is that I do not think this deck is the silver bullet that everyone has been looking for. Izzet Phoenix has the ability to put out some absolutely explosive draws, Thing in the Ice can be a huge problem, and Blood Moon can lead to free wins. That said, I do not feel like the matchup is terrible. Tribal Zoo’s threats line up well against Izzet Phoenix’s removal suite. Tribal Zoo also has many explosive draws that can kill as early as turn 3. There is definitely a fighting chance in the matchup for Tribal Zoo, but it does not seem like the deck ready to dethrone Phoenix.

Tribal Zoo seems to line up well against a lot of the upper echelon of Modern. It is not without its weaknesses though. Spell based combo decks can be an issue for the deck. Since the banning of KCI, these strategies seem to be on the decline which bodes well for Tribal Zoo. U/W control is another matchup that can be very difficult. They are very good at attacking the five color manabase and it can be hard to get under them since Tribal Zoo is slightly bigger and slower than something like Burn. While still a format pillar, U/W has fallen a bit from where it was last year. All of these things help to put Tribal Zoo into a very solid spot. I do not think Tribal Zoo is just a blip on the radar. It has many positive things going for it in the current Modern format. This finish may not motivate people to pick it up, but it will always be 75 good cards that can compete at the top tables.

Wrap-Up
After it flared up and fizzled with the BBE unban, we are very happy to see this deck finally break out on the big stage. Despite the crazy look I can assure you that it has serious legs and now it has a Top 32 finish to prove it. Are you thinking of taking it for a spin? We would love to talk about tuning it in our discussion group. Or if you would like to take a swing at writing content for the site you can contact us directly here. We will be back tomorrow with the sweetest brews from this past weekends tournaments. Until then my friends.

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