Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Choosing your creatures & Karl's Zoo

Sup guys! :)

I’m sunk into the recliner, got my pentium 4 shitbox plugged into the big screen TV, southern comfort & coke with ice in hand, life’s pretty sweet. Just mowed the lawn and repaired the basketball ring, worked out how to turn on the house’s AC, that’s enough productivity for one day :P Time to think about magical cardboard and the many ways I can rearrange it...
A challenge which arises in highlander more often than in any other format is: choosing between cards of almost equal power level. What are the best 6 burn spells? What are the best 6 counterspells? This really depends on your deck's style and finding the answer takes a lot of testing. The same goes for creatures. There are so many creatures out there, it's hard to make the correct choice. So, I thought I could help out :)

The situation is: You've got a long list of creatures that you want to play and you're deciding which ones to play and which ones to omit. Here are some criteria in order of importance, that can help you decide.

1st Selection criteria: Does this creature suit my deck’s strategy?
The America Football coach walks across his new freshmen recruits like a sergeant. What’s this? There’s a kid in a wheel chair here. Go home son, you can’t walk! Get out of my aggro deck Wall of Omens, you can’t attack!
Think of how your deck is trying to win and decide if the creature fits your strategy. A few examples to give you a better idea:

Control example - You're playing counterspells because you want to have an answer to everything, therefore you don't want to tap out for a creature until your opponent has cast all their threats. Often a threat will sneak through your counterspells so any creature you play needs to clean up that threat. By this stage your opponent will probably have removal in hand also. So, your creature needs resilience against removal (hex proof, protection or produce some tokes when it enters/leaves the battlefield. You also need to get your opponent to 0 life. Your creature has a job to do! On the plus side you probably have about 5 or 6 mana to play with by this stage. Grave Titan is a good example of a control creature. To a lesser degree there's Wurmcoil Engine, Hornet Queen,  Consecrated Sphinx, Broodmate Dragon etc...

Aggro Example - Your deck's plan is to kill your opponent as fast as possible before they either:
·        Get to enough mana to cast their big powerful spells.
·        Overwhelm you with card advantage.
·        Combo off
So your creatures need to be attacking your opponent for as much damage as possible.  You don't want to be playing high cost, slow cards like Baneslayer and you don't want to be casting slow acting creatures like Orhan Viper.

2nd Selection Criteria: Does this creature fit my curve?
To check this, sort your deck into 3 piles:
·        Spells that you would always cast immediately if you and your opponent were top decking onto an open board.
·        Other spells
·        Lands
Ensure you have enough 'pile one' cards of each mana cost. If the creature you're considering has a mana cost that you already have heaps of, then you should change it to a creature with a mana cost you're short on. You need the minimum number of cheap threats to reliably draw them. Otherwise you'll fall behind in the early game. You also want to maximise the power of your deck which involves playing just enough big spells that you don't get stuck with them in hand. Finding the right balance takes a lot of testing.

3rd Selection criteria: Reducing weaknesses
Examples of what I'm talking about:
·        You're playing a deck with lots of creatures. You're going to be weak to Wrath of God. If you're deciding between Loxodon Smiter and Kitchen Finks, you can choose Kitchen Finks to reduce your weakness.
·        You might be wanting to add another 2 drop but not increase your weakness to Engineered Explosives; Porcelain Legionnaire is your man.
·        You haven't got much instant creature removal or instant artifact removal so you're weak to Umezawa's Jitte. Therefore, creatures with First Strike should increase in value for you.

Think about the Metagame. If you predict there will be a lot of Zoo decks then you'll want creatures that kill 2/3's. If you predict lots of mana elves then you'll want to avoid 1 toughness creatures.

4th Selection Criteria: Feel
This criteria isn't as 'real' as the others but I think it's important. 'Feel' is all about whether you like the card.
·        You might have a fond memory of it.
·        You might think it's underrated and want to prove its worth.
·        You may prefer outrageous high risk/high reward cards. 
I wouldn't recommend 'liking the art' as a reason to play a card. If you don't want to play a card cause it looks shit, go get a different print of it or alter it with a sharpie.
These little things all contribute to the pride you have in your deck and your motivation to do well with it.

Ok, hopefully that helps you out if you're having trouble deciding on your creatures. The criterion are pretty translatable for non-creatures as well. I've already typed enough though, so you'll have to translate yourself :P

Onto section two! When people ask me stuff about highlander, the most common question I get is: “Would you be able to help me with my deck?”. Mmmyes, mmyes I can help you with your deck and the way I’m going to do it is:
·        I’ll analyse one deck per blog post (which will still include the usual random highlander topic).
·        First  decklist posted in the comments of each blog post will be the deck that I’ll analyse in my next blog post.
·        Please post a deck that you’ve already built and had some games with. Include your side board as that is obviously very important. Last blogging, Karl posted his list so here I go :)

Karl didn't include his sideboard but that's ok. He said he changes it heaps depending on who's in the room. A great policy if you're confident you know what everyone else is playing.
No one has played highlander Zoo more than Karl, here's his list:

Noble Hierarch
Loxodon Smiter
Stomping Ground
Skyshroud Elite
Knight of the Reliquary
Strip Mine **
Temple Garden
Figure of Destiny
Scavenging Ooze
Burning-Tree Shaman
Kessig Wolf Run
Steppe Lynx
Strangleroot Geist
Rith’s Charm
Karakas *
Grim Lavamancer
Stoneforge Mystic *
Oblivion Ring
Barbarian Ring
Dryad Militant
Tin Street Hooligan
Treetop Village
Scalding Tran
Wild Nacatl
Qasali Pridemage
Arid Mesa
Loam Loin
Green Sun’s Zenith
Ranger of Eos
Flooded Strand
Kird Ape
Boros Charm
Elspeth, Knight-Errant
Bloodstained Mire
Steelshaper’s Gift
Umezawa’s Jitte *
Ghor-Clan Rampager
Sacred Foundry
Wooded Foothills
Mental Misstep
Porcelain Legionnaire
Marsh Flats
Windswept Heath
Lightning Bolt
Misty Rainforest
Verdant Catacombs
Swords to Plowshares
Sword of Fire and Ice
Path to Exile
Skullclamp *

I like how Karl always tries out new cards in his deck. Always trying to improve and mix it up. The way everyone should approach life in my opinion. You can see he's trying out Boros Charm and Ghorclan Rampager. Both look pretty good on paper. I mentioned them in my last blog entry (Gatecrash highlander playables). It's funny that just last night I lost a game in draft to my opponent Boros Charming his Ghorclan Rampager for the win.

Karl's list is well refined so there's not an overwhelming number of things to mention (which is good)

Boros Charm
Flexible , I can't imagine too many scenario's where it won't be useful. This is purely a support card however, so Karl needs to be sure to keep his creature count high. I've owned Karl so many times with Pernicious Deed. Boros Charm now gives him an out.

Ghorclan Rampager
Another flexible card. There is almost no pump in highlander so this guy will really catch people off guard. It's funny how this guy wears a Sword of Fire and Ice really well yet you can't Bloodrush your other dudes wearing a Sword. This guy helps Karl answer Goyf which can be a real problem for his deck.

Tinstreet Hooligan
This guy's a great card, but if Karl wanted to cut a card in the future, it could be this guy. All the big artifacts you want to kill typically come out turns 4 and 5 e.g. Jitte, Sword of Fire and Ice, Vedalken Shackles, Skullclamp. So you really want your artifact kill spells to sit on the same spots in your curve that your opponents' artifacts sit.

Ranger of Eos
Another great card but cuttable. He can be a little slow vs combo and he's 'more of the same' if you know what I mean. Like, Karl is weak to a 4/5 or bigger and Ranger of Eos isn't going to beat a 4/5. Perhaps it's worth trying a planeswalker instead: Ajani Vengeant or Garruk Relentless. Maybe even Jeska, warrior adept, I've tried her out in mono-red and she was great.

No Flinthoof Boar? (Freddy Flinthoff)
This guy's gotta be the next card in if Karl cuts a card.

No Aven Mindcensor?
Mindcensor is just such a wrecker against control and combo. Karl doesn't like it because of its small body vs aggro. I still like it against aggro, it flies over and shuts down their fetch lands, green sun's zenith, knight of the reliquary, stoneforge mystic, steelshaper's gifts blah blah. Mindcensor gets a lot better the earlier you play it, which leads me to my next comment.

Stripmine Vs Mox
Karl's currently play 6 points so mox and stripmine are interchangable. I don't think there are any other good ways to spend his points. Maybe playing Stripmine lets him play Enlightened Tutor. Enlightened Tutor would only be a sideboard card against decks with almost zero artifact/enchantment kill.
The most obvious difference between Stripmine and Mox is $$$$, but let's disregard that assuming that Karl will be able to borrow any Mox he wants. If he asks to borrow cards the night before rather than his usual 4 hours before, then he won't have any trouble :P
Stripmine and Moxen are such different cards it's hard to compare them. I'm just gonna list a bunch of things to consider and Karl can make his own mind:

·        Stripmine doesn't cast your spells well so most of the time you're going to be saccing it.
·        Vs aggro; you'll be one mana down on them (the tapping of the stripmine) but there's a chance they kept a land/colour light hand.
·        Vs control; they'll often hold up 2 mana for a counterspell and not be able to cast it when you stripmine them. You lose 1 mana from tapping the stripmine but they lose 2 mana from not bring able to cast the counterspell. = +1 mana = sweet. 
Some control decks will spend turns 1-3 digging for answers and drawing cards whilst you're casting creatures. Keeping them off that 4th mana (wrath, venser, planeswalkers, etc) for a turn gives you another swing with the creatures you've got.
·        Vs combo; they're often playing 5 colours so you have a good chance of colourscrewing them.
·        You can find Stripmine with Knight of the Reliquary which is nice.
·        Stripmine can still hit key cards later in the game where Mox won't do anything.

·       Typically lets you cast an extra threat each turn until you run out of gas. This is a mox's main function and it is huge. Say you get to play an extra 2power one-drop turn one and an extra 2power one drop turn 2. By turn four (the turn that combo decks typically kill you or control decks starts casting 2 for 1 spells) you've racked up an extra 10 damage.
·        Moxes do nothing late game.
·        Moxes let you get your hosing cards down faster (aven mindcensor, thalia, burningtree shaman etc)

Alternatively Karl could play Blue for Timewalk :P I suppose then he'd add Geist of Saint Traft and Snapcaster Mage and the deck would completely transform from there....

Figure of Destiny
Figure is an awesome card. I haven't seen Karl ultimate it yet though. Karl has a few lands which hold back Figure. They are: Forest, Treetop Village & Kessig Wolfrun. Karl really wants to play a forest incase he's playing against non-basic hate and because of path to exile. I don't know how Kessig Wolfrun plays but it's sweet with Sword of Fire & Ice and trampling over with a huge Knight of the Reliquary. Can't say I like Treetop Village that much. It can lose you a mana early by entering the battlefield tapped, the reverse of my mox example. So you'll lose ~6 damage compared to playing an untapped land.

Karl's playing 24 lands. Entering the numbers into a hypergeometric calculator, that's ~86% to draw 2 or more lands in your opening hand, which isn't that high. That calculation also counts hands with 5+ lands and hands missing critical colours. Also, 2 of his Karl's lands are Stripmine and Wasteland, so I think Karl should add 1 or 2 lands to his deck. Maybe Horizon Canopy? Razorverge Thicket?

Ok, that's about all I have to say. Hope this helps you Karl. I'm interested to hear your thoughts on my suggestions.

See you Thursday or at some big interstate tournament :)


  1. Nick's B/G Control

    Hey Luke! This is something I've been tinkering with, played a bunch of games on cockatrice but I don't yet own it in real life. Trying to build a control deck without blue. I don't know a lot about highlander, so it's probably pretty bad. Interested to hear your thoughts.

    1 Bloodghast
    1 Vampire Nighthawk
    1 Phyrexian Metamorph
    1 Phyrexian Obliterator
    1 Skinrender
    1 Shriekmaw
    1 Thragtusk
    1 Grave Titan
    1 Wurmcoil Engine
    1 Duress
    1 Inquisition of Kozilek
    1 Mental Misstep
    1 Sensei's Divining Top
    1 Skullclamp
    1 Thoughtseize
    1 Abrupt Decay
    1 Bitterblossom
    1 Demonic Tutor
    1 Diabolic Edict
    1 Dismember
    1 Liliana of the Veil
    1 Maelstrom Pulse
    1 Pernicious Deed
    1 Putrefy
    1 Garruk Relentless
    1 Lashwrithe
    1 Snuff Out
    1 Batterskull
    1 Beseech the Queen
    1 Bayou
    1 Bloodstained Mire
    1 Bojuka Bog
    1 Cabal Coffers
    1 Forest
    1 Marsh Flats
    1 Misty Rainforest
    1 Overgrown Tomb
    1 Polluted Delta
    11 Swamp
    1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
    1 Verdant Catacombs
    1 Volrath's Stronghold
    1 Wasteland
    1 Wooded Foothills
    1 Doom Blade
    1 Go for the Throat
    1 Vampire Hexmage
    1 Vampiric Tutor
    1 Damnation
    1 Animate Dead
    SB: 1 Darkblast
    SB: 1 Nihil Spellbomb
    SB: 1 Pithing Needle
    SB: 1 Gatekeeper of Malakir
    SB: 1 Phyrexian Revoker
    SB: 1 Shadow of Doubt
    SB: 1 Faerie Macabre
    SB: 1 Perish
    SB: 1 Phyrexian Crusader
    SB: 1 Virtue's Ruin
    SB: 1 Leyline of the Void
    SB: 1 Nekrataal
    SB: 1 Choke
    SB: 1 Krosan Grip
    SB: 1 Phyrexian Arena

    1. You will probably humiliate creature decks, but you have almost no game against combo or control.

      Bloodghast is a strange choice for the MD. Unless you are a master and can draw Bloodghast + Clamp every game like it's nothing.

      Sylvan Library is very good, it's a free top every turn that can draw you cards against slow decks that don't put pressure on you.

      Mind Twist is probably a better use of points than Vampiric Tutor.

      I am not seeing what Vampire Hexmage does.

      Gatekeeper of Malakir is MD card.

      Hymn to Tourach. Play it.

    2. Haha, I actually just cut Hymn to fit the 25th land I should have had in there. Perhaps I should put it back in. Bloodghast has been a bit lacklustre, but seems like an efficient threat against counterspell decks. I also used to run Mind Twist, but found it just got countered every time. I used to have Dark Depths with Hexmage, but cut it and just kept mage in as a Planeswalker killer. Cheers for the advice.

    3. Hymn is better than Duress in most matchups, and you don't actually have a great deal of card advantage so you should take it where you can get it.

      I like Bg as a concept, but Bloodghast and Hexmage should not be in the same maindeck as Grave Titan and Wurmcoil. Against the blue decks the 6 drops are bad and against aggressive decks the Bloodghast doesn't do what you want it to, while I don't think Hexmage really does anything impressive in any matchup.

      Obliterator is also the only reason to be playing such a black focused deck, and he isn't actually that good unless you expect a heavily creature based meta. It's good against creature decks but with access to so much removal those decks should be a massive problem anyway, against control it's just a 4 mana dork. Adding white gives you access to Lingering Souls (good vs aggro and blue based control), Stoneforge mystic, Vindicate, BW Sorin, Swords to Plowshares, Path, Steelshaper's Gift etc...

    4. I've been brewing a Bg control for a while, takes a very different route than your deck. Sylvan Library is nuts, I also play Mirri's Guile (nice synergy with Life from the Loam). Top deck manipulation is so important.

      Bloodghast I've found kinda meh. Even alongside Liliana of the Veil/Smallpox/Pox, his inability to block is really annoying. Man I love Nether Spirit!

      I've added white specifically for Swords to Plowshares, Enlightened Tutor, Vindicate (mostly for PW's), Lingering Souls, Knight of the Reliquary (not fun dredging this tho with Nether Spirit in the graveyard, getting around this with Volrath's Stronghold kind of helps), Armageddon, and Flagstones of Trokair. So I can absolutely recommend a white splash, if only for Swords/Vindicate/L. Souls.

      Hymn to Tourach is an auto include in anything black for me!

      Lol, even dabbled in a red splash for Ajani Vengeant and Aura Barbs in the board for Enchantress (burn you for 12, nice Blood Moon!).

      I'm going to get my friends enchantress list for your next article. It seriously sucks balls and I'd love to see it do better.

    5. Hm, including some more graveyard synergy in my deck could be pretty good- life from the loam seems really good with volrath's stronghold, and the raven's crime combo seems good against control. Could go more midrangey, run goyf, etc

      I'm never going to out-control blue decks, so running faster, more resilient threats is probably better than getting my 6-drops countered and being tempoed out. But still having enough removal to deal with aggro decks.

      The white splash for knight of the reliquary seems pretty sweet in that case, and souls- just trying to figure out whether its worth having to get all the lands for the couple of extra cards. Probably.

    6. This comment has been removed by the author.

    7. I suggest you play windswept heath. so much better than a swamp when your playing top.
      you should also consider that you have no ramp and that you current mana base suggests that you will not have 6 mana until turn 7 or 8.
      Tutors aren't the best when your doing fair things ie. playing a creature or removal spell and it gets much worse when you almost always have to wait a turn or two for one yourself. Demonic tutor is probably the only one I think you should ever be playing in this kind of deck.
      I also think that your point would be better spend on Sol Ring and Mox Jet as these will help you establish your board.
      Bojuka Bog. just cut it; tapped lands suck and sorcery removal for graveyard is terrible.
      also cut Cabal Coffers lands that don't add mana in the first three turns of the game are extremely bad in this fast format.
      Pernicious Deed is good just be wary of you own permanents. hitting your own clamp sucks.
      Skinrender so bad against control.
      cards to consider:
      Geralf's messenger
      Glissa, the traitor
      Gatekeeper of Malakir (value)
      Nightveil Specter (I love this card!)
      Deathrite Shaman (this card is insane)
      Vraska the Unseen (PW are good)

      Good luck with the deck :D

    8. Thanks! I've actually changed it a fair bit with the help of Andy Atkinson, it's more of a midrange deck now with better ramp, Luke has the latest list so should be critiquing that instead. Good suggestions for cards though, hadn't thought about some of those.

  2. 26 lands seems very high for an aggro deck playing Noble Hierarch. I've been running 24 lands + Hierarch in Zoo (including strip + waste), and it has been ok so far. Although I despise Karakas, Kessig Wolf-Run and Barabarian ring in Zoo, since they add a lot to bad mana draws and Wolf-Run is only good at point in the game that Zoo doesn't want to be playing (Turn 5+). In place I play Horizon Canopy, Copperline Gorge and Razorverge Thicket. I hate playing one-colour non-basics in a deck running Strangleroot Geist and Figure of Destiny. Treetop and Stirring Wildwood are decent, and I prefer them to Wolf-Run if you anticipate grindy matches.

    I don't like Tin-Street Hooligan. As you pointed out, it's either a Goblin Piker or you hold it in your hand and try to get a sorcery speed Shatter at some point, which is not maindeckable unless you expect lots of Tinker. I think it is far inferior to the split-card Watchwolf/Boggart Ram-Gang that is Flinthoof Boar.

    For 4 drops, I like Bloodbraid, there are some bad cascades (Path/Swords when they have no creatures, GSZ) but the times you cascade into Knight of the Reliquary/Goyf or Plow their Baneslayer more than make up for it. Hellrider is ok, I prefer it it Jeska if you want a hasted 4 drop but can't handle the tilt of Bloodbraid being mediocre 10-20% of the time.

  3. thanks for analyzing my deck Luke. It's always good to get a fresh set of eyes on it.

    So in regards to my deck I have decided to try out Torch Fiend as a Tin Street Hooligan replacement as i feel that it is crucial to have the artifact remove for most match ups.

    oh and if anyone in Melbourne has a foil Chor-Clan Rampager please trade it to me :D .

    1. I prefer Torch Fiend to Tin-Street since the 2 for 1 that you get from Tin Street isn't hugely relevant (2/1 is often pretty bad by the time you are playing the card), however I've never felt that the format required MD hate beyond Pridemage, which you can Green Suns for anyway so you have 2 pieces MD already, plus O-Ring, so going from 3 answers to 4 by playing a 2 mana 2/1 isn't work the downgrade in creature quality IMO.

  4. Deathrite shaman
    Birds of paradise
    Noble hierarch
    Tinder wall
    Xantid swarm
    Phantasmal image
    Cavern harpy
    Spellstutter sprite
    Stern proctor
    Mesmeric fiend
    Wall of roots
    Elvish visionary
    Arctic merfolk
    Coiling oracle
    Cloud of faeries
    Wall of blossoms
    Court hussar
    Vendilion clique
    Wood elves
    Whirpool warrior
    Sea gate oracle
    Man o-war
    Parasitic strix
    Imperial recruiter
    Raven familiar
    Shardless Agent
    Eternal witness

    Vampiric tutor***
    Demonic tutor***
    Enlightened tutor*
    Diabolic intent
    Chord of calling
    Eladamri's call
    Rhystic tutor

    Polluted delta
    Windswept heath
    Wooded foothills
    Flooded strand
    Verdant catacombs
    Scalding tarn
    Misty rainforest
    Tropical island
    Volcanic island
    Underground sea
    Watery grave
    Breeding pool
    City of brass
    Gemstone mine
    2 Forest


    Orim's chant
    Aether adept
    Gilded drake
    Faerie macabre
    Bone shredder
    Vexing shusher
    Spell pierce
    Harmonic sliver
    Mental misstep
    Jace, the mindsculptor

    1. Probably turning the rhystic tutor into a clutch of the undercity. Dicing up between shusher, swarm and chant mainboard atm. Currently at swarm. Still tuning the sideboard.