February 8, 2017

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Going Rogue: Big Monkey Zoo

Hello and welcome back to Going Rogue, where winning isn’t the goal but it often happens anyway.

It’s no secret that I prioritize the flashy over the reliable. I find winning with style to be so much more satisfying than winning consistently – I like card selection, flicker effects, and stack shenanigans, and apparently advocate for blue in 73% of my published brews.

But sometimes – just sometimes – it can be fun to simply smash face.

How boring, right? Well, if the game rolls out a certain way, yes, we are just going to outsize our opponent on-curve, and crash in for as much damage as possible each turn. But if the game rolls out another way, we might be swinging for ten as early as turn two.

Did he just say turn two?

Collected Company is undeniably one of the most impactful card to affect the Modern format in the past several years, forcing a total rethink of the way we see every creature card that costs three or less. But there has been one extremely critical creature that has gone overlooked in this spectrum: Simian Spirit Guide.

                   

While typically only found in combo decks like Ad Nauseam or early Blood Moon control strategies, “SSG” is a careless oversight in the world of Collected Company beatdown strategies. In the best of situations, it enables us to fire off a CoCo at a point so early in the game that it is almost impossible to lose from. And in the worst of situations, it’s still a free 2/2 when hit with CoCo, because that slot in the deck would have otherwise been a land or a Birds of Paradise, and therefore a whiff. Furthermore, with four copies of each, CoCo’s card advantage and SSG’s inherent card disadvantage balance out perfectly.

It might look ridiculous to run a Scathe Zombies in a big creature beatdown deck, but the fit and sheer explosiveness potential are both undeniable. Our goal is to accelerate maximum power onto the board by any means necessary.

Smashy, Smashy

Since we’re in the business of maximizing power, I think it’s time to turn our attention to Modern’s neglected #1 big, dumb beater:

This is the kind of thing this deck is about. Nothing fancy except the numbers in the bottom right corner. Woolly Thoctar is the biggest threat that you can hit off a Collected Company but also reliably cast. (Sorry, Skaab Ruinator. I still love you.)

The next most important card to look to is Lightning Bolt, on both sides of the board.

For us, it’s an efficient way to clear pesky blockers from holding our behemoths back, while offering a critical bit of late game (read: turn 5) reach.

With our opponents in mind, it was an equally critical card to consider in this deck’s creation, as sidestepping Modern’s most versatile instant with a parade of x/4 creatures is a serious advantage. This deck doesn’t draw any extra cards, but often a key element of staying ahead is forcing opponents to expend two resources to neutralize one of ours. Being bolt-proof is part of that.

Of course, Fatal Push is now a thing, and it seems so far that Revolt is easy enough to trigger to assume that even our army of three-drops are going to be susceptible over half of the time. It’s a bit of a thorn in our sides, but with the hidden upside of forcing an opponent to take damage off a fetch, not all is lost.

Finally, a smashy deck wouldn’t be a smashy deck if it didn’t have a way to force through a wall of Lingering Souls.

                   

Every point of damage helps, and once our army has hit the table, all our mana use gets focused into pushing extra points through. With four copies of Collected Company and Knight of the Reliquary, our odds of running out our single copy are extremely high, and having this card available on-demand is a crucial part of winning many matchups.

The list

But enough talky-talky, we’re here for smashy-smashy. Let’s take a look:

Alex’s Big Monkey Zoo

Creatures: (32)
Birds of Paradise
Noble Hierarch
Wild Nacatl
Qasali Pridemage
Scavenging Ooze
Tarmogoyf
Brimaz, King of Oreskos
Loxodon Smiter
Kitchen Finks
Knight of the Reliquary
Woolly Thoctar
Simian Spirit Guide

Spells: (9)
Lightning Bolt
Collected Company
Path to Exile

Land: (19)
Windswept Heath
Wooded Foothills
Arid Mesa
Stomping Ground
Sacred Foundry
Temple Garden
Horizon Canopy
Kessig Wolf Run
Forest
Plains

Sideboard: (15)
Banisher Priest
Stony Silence
Jotun Grunt
Magus of the Moon
Loxodon Smiter
Qasali Pridemage
Kitchen Finks
Aven Mindcensor
Lightning Helix

Let’s set aside the selections for a moment and remember that this is effectively a non-interactive deck that is looking to maximize attack power as early as possible. So first, let’s look at some simulations I’ve run around the key card, Collected Company.

To assess impact, I ran 200 simulations on casting Collected Company with the above main deck, and came to an average total power of 6.55, and hitting two or more creatures 93% of the time. It had a failure rate (defined as three or less total power) of 11%, a “meh” rate (four or five power) of 13%, and a success rate (six or greater power) of 76%. Not bad at all.

Capture

Next, I ran some statistical functions in excel to calculate the probability of accelerating a Collected Company out ahead of schedule (turn 3 or earlier), both on the play and on the draw. The results show that CoCo will come down on turn three 31.4% on the play or 43.0% on the draw, turn two 10.4% on the play or 14.5% on the draw, and the turn one dream via three Simian Spirit Guides will happen a whopping once or twice per thousand tries. (Bear in mind that the odds of drawing a Collected Company at all in the first three turns is only about 50%, so you’re actually quite a bit more likely to cast it early than “on-time”.) Throw some aggressive mulligans into the situation and you have yourself untapping fairly reliably with eight or more power on turn four.

When you’re not living the CoCo dream, you are still going to be capable of ramping out a 3-drop on turn two about 75% of the time, so the secondary dream still smashes pretty hard.

(For those interested, some assumptions were made here. Birds of Paradise and Noble Hierarchs cast on turns one or two were assumed to survive the turn. Tarmogoyf was assumed to have a power of three, and Brimaz, King of Oreskos and Knight of the Reliquary were assumed to have a power of four. It was also assumed that the player would not take a mulligan.)

Aside from a smattering of artifact, enchantment, and graveyard interaction, and some land tutoring, the cards in the main deck don’t really do anything other than turn sideways, so I think it’s safe to assume I can skip a tactical breakdown and move onto the sideboard – which really isn’t much less linear.

The Sideboard

Linear strategies don’t want to dilute their angle when it comes to side-boarding, which is why almost every effect you see here in the sideboard comes stapled to an at-least-halfway-respectable body. Most don’t need explanation, but a few may:

Jotun Grunt is a strong answer to Dredge and Grim Flayer, both out-sizing the threat while disabling the graveyard that fuels them. The fact that he expires to his own effect after two or three upkeeps typically isn’t relevant.

Banisher Priest is hardly a Modern mainstay, but was chosen over Fairgrounds Warden and Fiend Hunter for its extra point of power. It comes in against Eldrazi and Tron as the reactive half of its Magus of the Moon duo.

More copies of Loxodon Smiter helps put pressure on decks that rely on counterspells to hold off Collected Company, and Lightning Helix comes to help pick off opposing mana dorks or keep the race alive against Burn.

Wrapping Up

In testing, this deck has brought me great shame in the sense that it has outperformed most of my more creative takes on the game. It turns out that turning huge creatures sideways is a perfectly valid strategy, and has a respectable chance in just about every matchup due to its speed. Meanwhile, it’s toughest matches (Control, Tron, Eldrazi) have great sideboard answers.

The really neat thing about it is that it can fairly easily be morphed into a budget-ish (read: under $500) deck by swapping out the Tarmogoyfs, Noble Hierarchs, Horizon Canopy, and Arid Mesas for more affordable substitutes like Kalonian Tusker, more Birds of Paradise and even Llanowar Elves, and more Khans of Tarkir fetches. It’s also very friendly to the beginner player as its execution is about as simple as it gets.

All in all, this has turned out to be a pretty sweet list to sleeve up and take to a local event. Let me know your thoughts in the comments, and as always – have fun, and may the force be with brew.