Deck Spotlight: Suicide Zoo

Today we are shining a spotlight on a classic deck that has seen a resurgence as of late. Death’s Shadow first burst onto the Modern scene as a Temur Battle Rage, Become Immense combo deck. The Gitaxian Probe ban and the printing of Fatal Push pushed it aside for the Grixis builds. However, here we are in 2019 and Suicide Zoo is back with Top 8 finishes at GP Bilbao and SCG Cleveland. Four-color goodness and Turn 3 wins await you within.

Lands (18)
1 Forest
1 Blood Crypt
4 Bloodstained Mire
1 Godless Shrine
1 Overgrown Tomb
1 Sacred Foundry
1 Stomping Ground
4 Verdant Catacombs
4 Wooded Foothills
Creatures (20)
4 Death’s Shadow
4 Monastery Swiftspear
4 Street Wraith
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Wild Nacatl
Spells (22)
4 Mishra’s Bauble
3 Become Immense
2 Dismember
2 Lightning Bolt
3 Mutagenic Growth
4 Temur Battle Rage
4 Thoughtseize
Sideboard (15)
2 Hooting Mandrills
1 Ancient Grudge
2 Assassin’s Trophy
2 Faith’s Shield
2 Fatal Push
1 Claim
3 Collective Brutality
1 Duress
1 Inquisition of Kozilek
75 Cards Total

The Build
It’s amazing to me that Suicide Zoo has been a deck since 2015. In it’s infancy, the deck had access to Gitaxian Probe which was the perfect enabler. Casting Gitaxian Probe meant you lowered your life total for Death’s Shadow, cast a non-creature spell for Prowess on Monastary Swiftspear, and added a sorcery to your graveyard for Become Immense. It cannot be stated how big of a loss Gitaxian Probe was for the deck. With all that being said, it would be easy to think that Death’s Shadow Aggro would have died with the banning. But we all know that what doesn’t grow dies and what dies grows the Tarmogoyf.

Suicide Zoo is a deck that feels like Infect and Jund had a baby. While capable of blisteringly fast kills, it is also often times able to dominate the board with it’s large creatures. This combination of explosive power and the ability to play a more midrange game has kept the deck afloat despite the bannings. Similar to the other Death’s Shadow decks, the deck has the ability to play a large threat and back it up with discard. Picking off a key piece of targeted removal often gives enough time for the large creature to attack for lethal. In order to play the most powerful threats, DSA plays a four color manabase. While the core of the deck is Jund colors, controlling a Plains is required to get full value out of Wild Nacatl. This also gives the deck access to Faith’s Shield. I could probably write a book on the applications of Faith’s Shield alone for this deck. The most obvious place this card comes in is in the Burn matchup. Outside of that, it functions as your version of an unkicked Vines of Vastwood in matchups like GBx. One final interaction to keep in mind with the card is that protection provides evasion. This tech is incredibly useful in the tribal matchups. For example, choosing protection from white vs Humans can often lead to them being totally unable to block your massive threats. Running a four color manabase certainly has its cost but they are very worth it.

Temur Battle Rage is the all-star in this deck. It enables many of the blisteringly fast kills that the deck is capable of. Turning on the ferocious clause is generally not an issue for the deck and gaining trample for the large beaters is incredibly important to negate the effectiveness of chump blocking. Become Immense absolutely loves to be paired with Temur Battle Rage. Any creature that lives after gaining +6/+6 and double strike is going to be a force to be reckoned with. Become Immense and Tarmogoyf fight a little bit over your graveyard at times which can be awkward, but generally does not provide too much tension in the deck. Generally, DSA is not super reliant on its graveyard. In the main deck, we only have six cards that care about the graveyard at all. In the sideboard, there are a few more in Hooting Mandrills, flashback on Ancient Grudge, and the new tech in Claim//Fame. In general, Hooting Mandrills and Become Immense tend to be a one for one swap. Hooting Mandrills tends to come in in matchups that are very removal heavy. Mandrills is the only creature, outside of hard casting Street Wraith, that does not die to Fatal Push in the deck. Generally, these matchups are bad for Become Immense because casting it leaves you open to two-for-ones. With cards like Mishra’s Bauble and Street Wraith paired with incredibly cheap mana cost cards always keeps your graveyard filled.

Mutagenic Growth is incredibly solid in this deck. It adds prowess triggers, puts Wild Nacatl and Monastery Swiftspear out of Lightning Bolt range, and the pump always pairs nicely with Temur Battle Rage. Free spells tend to be incredibly powerful and Mutagenic Growth is no exception. For Shadow it is a 0 mana +4/+4 with half of that growth being permanent. Our other Phyrexian mana spell is Dismember which provides incredible utility for the deck. While it can’t kill everything, Dismember is able to remove large threats with high converted mana costs like Gurmag Angler. Additionally, paying four life to cast it can help enable large Death’s Shadows early. Thoughtseize is your discard of choice for the main deck for a similar reason. Generally, decks tend to run some number of Inquistion of Kozilek. This is because the loss of life tends to be more relevant than being limited to only taking cards that cost three or less. Modern tends to be  a very low casting cost format, but it is also an incredibly diverse format. There are definitely times, especially in the mid to late game, where Inquistion’s restriction can be real. Death’s Shadow turn Thoughtsieze’s drawback into a bonus which makes it the perfect option for this deck. There are more discard spells in the sideboard which can help aid that gameplan.

There are some matchups where you want to load up on discard. Combo matchups in particular are places where the deck probably wants all six discard spells. That being said, it is not always correct to load up on discard. Sometimes it can be better to replace Thoughtsieze. The Burn matchup in particular is one place where it’s better to swap Thoughtsize for Inquistion and Duress. In a similar vein, Collective Brutality is incredibly good in the Burn matchup as well. Gaining life and stripping their hand of a burn spell is incredibly powerful. It plays a similar role in the Izzet Phoenix matchup as well. Continuing on with the sideboard, the deck plays Assasin’s Trophy and Fatal Push to give it more interaction post board. Assasin’s Trophy is a nice catch-all. Giving the opponent an untapped basic land is a real drawback, but it is generally less important than picking off a key permanent. Fatal Push is the best black removal spell in Modern so it should not be  a big surprise to see it here.

Forest is a bad Magic card in this deck. It is almost entirely there to get value off of Path to Exile, Field of Ruin, Assasin’s Trophy, and any of the other cards that give basic lands as there draw backs. In matchups where none of these things happen, it can be correct to sideboard out Forest. In fact, the deck used to play the Forest in the sideboard but there are enough relevant cards now to keep it in the main. Yes, I know that I am currently being one of those people advocating sideboarding out lands. This is typically a bad practice and should not be done without solid reasons. Forest does not do enough in this deck. It does not provide life loss for Death’s Shadow which is very significant. While you have fourteen Green spells; three of them are Phyrexian, two of them cost six mana, and four of them require a Plains and a Mountain for full effect. Forest is there to ensure that cards that give basic lands still have drawbacks. It is correct to sideboard it out in matchups where that is not relevant such as Affinity; as long as they are not stuck in 2014 and playing Blood Moon. The deck is a fairly cohesive unit so it is best to not over sideboard. Forest is one of the places that you can get away with turning one of the bad cards in a matchup into a more relevant piece. Adding Tarmogoyf to the main deck has made Forest significantly better, but not enough to keep it in without other upside. While the deck has evolved, Forest being bad has stayed the same.

Suicide Zoo is a deck that has evolved over the years. Small tweaks, innovations, and new cards have kept the deck relevant in spite of a changing Modern landscape. It will be interesting to see if Horizons gives the deck any new toys to play with. What cards on on your Horizons wishlist? We would love to talk about 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. As always, we will be back with another article on Monday. Until then my friends.

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