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THE ORIGINS OF ZOO (interview with Zak Dolan)

di Jacopo Borrelli - 08/06/2016

THE ORIGINS OF ZOO (interview with Zak Dolan)


We have all heard about the Zoo deck, but do we know everything about it?

When it was born? What was its main purpose? Which cards it consist 

The first Zoo deck played in a international MtG Event has been the famous Lestree’s Zoo.

The first MtG World Championship has held at GenCon '94 at the MECCA Convention Center in Milwaukee, WI. It was the biggest tournament at that time: 512 people filled a hall and played Single-Elimination for three days until a single player stood above them all: Zak Dolan became the first World Champion of Magic.

The final match has been played between him and Bernard Lestree, a guy who had the fame of “best player in Europe”.

Mr. Lestree has been the 1994 French National Champion and he's considered a legendary man for all the Old School 93/94 players.

He got the second place using the deck he created: the Lestree's Zoo.

Later, at the first ever Pro Tour (PT New York 1996), he got in the final, where he lost against Michael Loconto.




Let’s have a look to his deck in the details:


Kird Ape    

Birds of Paradise     

Argothian Pixies     

Whirling Dervish     

Ancestral Recall     

Time Walk     

Control Magic     

Psionic Blast     

Lightning Bolt     

Chain Lightning     




Mind Twist     

Demonic Tutor     

Chaos Orb     

Icy Manipulator     

Black Lotus     

Mox Jet     

Mox Sapphire     

Mox Ruby     

Mox Emerald     

Mishra's Factory   


Tropical Island     

Volcanic Island     


City of Brass     

Serendib Efreet     




City in a Bottle     


Control Magic     


Lestree’s deck was one of the first technologically advanced decks as it used the most efficient cards possible was teched out.




Kird Ape  : a turn-one 2/3 simply by having a Taiga, Tropical Island or Bayou in play is for sure a big deal.

Imagine to cast two or three apes in the first turn.. it's going to be a hard game for the opponent!


Birds of Paradise  : there's no need to describe that creature.. very helpful to accelerate your deck, especially when you need different mana colors.


Argothian Pixies  : a big problem for every Mishra’s Factory, Juggernaut, Su-chi and all the other artifact creatures out there.


Whirling Dervish  : a beautiful innovation against Mono-black Deck or The Abyss, and it gets stronger and stronger if the opponent has no ways to block it.




The Power Nine consist of six artifacts and three blue cards, so it's hard to play without its most powerful cards.

In the Zoo deck you can find two of them:


Ancestral Recall  : three cards straight to your hand! You can draw cards to shot lightning bolts in your enemy’s face, aswell as other creatures to cast.


Brian Weissman, the father of The Deck, said that the secret of every MTG deck is the cards advantage (and that is one the reasons of Zak Dolan’s victory).


Time Walk  : an extra turn, no words.


Blue color lacks of removals, but there are some utilities.


Control Magic  : if you can't remove a strong creature casted by your opponent you can always steal it!


Psionic Blast  : the perfect way to remove a Serra Angel or a Serendib Efreet.. or simply to close the game.





Lightning Bolt  : no need to describe it.. 3 instant damages for one red mana.. a card that you can use in all manners.


Chain Lightning  : another bolt, but this time is a sorcery, so use it wisely..


Fireball  : perfect for a big damage. You can remove a strong creature or many smaller ones, or a classic way to finish off the game.




Regrowth  : as the card illustration suggests, it represents the rebirth, the hope. A good chance to take what you need from your graveyard and solve matters or to play a restricted card again.


Channel  : a piece of one of the most insane combo. Combine it with Black Lotus, Fireball and one red mana from a land in your first hand and the result will be only one: flawless victory (and your opponent's disappointed face).




Mind Twist  : the worst nightmare of all players: “must discard X cards at random”.


Demonic Tutor  : we think that it should be the “P10”, alongside the Library of Alexandria. Search your library for the card that you need to play in that particular step of the game. What else?




Chaos Orb  : unavoidable.. but train yourself to flip it! ;)


Icy Manipulator  : you can tap any land, artifact or a creature.  It can help you to paralyze big creatures or to damage your opponent by tapping his City of Brass.



Serendib Efreet  : a 3/4 with flying for 2+U, one of the strongest creature out there.


Disintegrate  : a very useful card to remove a creature from the game or to do serious damage directly to your opponent.


Lifeforce  : a great help against black spells.


Tsunami  : blue cards are everywhere, so are islands. But it is also a risk for this deck that includes 8 islands.. you must pay attention to cast it.


City in a Bottle  : a perfect card to destroy Arabian Nights cards like City of Brass, Juzam Djinn, Serendib Efreet, Library of Alexandria.. honestly it's strange to see it in a Zoo sidedeck.


Flashfires  : the best card against white decks that have a lot of removals like Sword to Plowshares, Wrath of God, Disenchant or Circle of Protections.


Control Magic  : one more copy to add in case of crowded decks!


Forcefield  : a powerful artifact that can protect you where your creatures can’t do it.




The Old School 93/94 format has put the Lestree's Zoo back in the game.
Jacopo Borrelli (Magic Time Ravenna) is one of the first players that began to play it in the Oldschool 93/94 local format. He has built an interesting version (adding 4x Serendib Efreet in the main deck) and he got in some final match in his local store.



Another Lestree's Zoo player is Marco Rocchi, who won two Old School tournaments consecutively: the Promotional Tour 2015 in Piombino and the famous Ovinospring 2015.

His deck list is very similar to the original, but it has an interesting side:


Piombino Sideboard:


Energy Flux    



Serendib Efreet    


Red Elemental Blast    

Blue Elemental Blast  

Ovinospring Sideboard:

Serendib Efreet    



Blue Elemental Blast  

Red Elemental Blast    

Control Magic    




Both of those sides are solid against “The Deck” and all the decks that use artifact creatures, thanks to cards like Energy Flux, Crumble, REB and BEB.

We can find a Lestree's Zoo in the Top8 also at the N00bcon 8, stopped by the future world champion Martin Berlin during the semifinals.




As every deck, the Zoo has some weak points, especially against cards like The Abyss, Wrath of God, Moat, Swords to Plowshares, aswell as Circles of Protection and Blood Moon (cause of its 100% non-basic lands mana base).




I think that Lestree's Zoo is the best aggro deck in the history of Magic.

We can find Zoo decks in almost every format: Modern , Legacy, Pauper, Vintage, Oldschool 93/94.

I don’t have words to describe my emotions when I play old cards from the origins of MtG or when I see the name “Zoo”.. my mind goes to the past where there weren’t perfect-size, sleeves, Alpha and Beta pimping, where a Kird Ape was a great creature, but people preferred Sea Serpent because it was bigger…




Nowadays not many players use Zak Dolan’s deck, while Lestree's one is still alive.

Nevertheless Lestree didn't get lot of popularity and his name disappeared, while Dolan is still known by many players.
I had the luck to talk with him and I asked him few things about the past!

Zak is a nice and humble man, and I think that he has been a genius to bluff and trick with his opponents who didn’t know his deck during his climb to the final.

He was convicted that the favourites are not always the winners.. and in 1994 he was right.


Hi, Zak!


1) Had you ever seen the Zoo deck before the GenCon 94 tournament?

None of the Americans had seen Bertrand's deck or anything like it prior to the tournament... and because you couldn't change your deck during the tournament, once you saw it, it was too late.  Sure, there were channel/fireball decks, but nothing really very good.  I kind of saw what he was playing in the earlier rounds of the tournament because people were pretty impressed with Bertrand's deck and with his skill with Chaos Orb and occasionally, you could hear an OOOH or an AHHH... when he got a first turn kill.

In fact, nobody had seen any of the European decks.  And they were all MUCH better than what the Americans brought to the tournament.  I was the ONLY non-European to beat one of the European players at the tournament.  Three of the four semi-finalists were non-Americans.  And only four non-Americans were in the tournament, one of whom had already been eliminated by Bertrand.


2) What do you think about the Zoo?

I think it was the first deck that really took the "meta" into account.  He had a couple strange cards in there that took me a while to figure out why he was playing them.  But once I saw what the other European players were running, it made much more sense.  He had Argothian Pixies.  A pretty crappy card.  UNLESS... EVERYONE ELSE who matters is playing Dark Ritual + Juggernaut.  Then, it suddenly becomes quite strong.  Which was the deck that I played against in the semifinals.  Dark Ritual, Juggernaught, Juzam Djinn deck.  Black / Red beatdown.   Because then the Argothian Pixies are a cheap card that you can get out to save your butt from Juggernaught.  And Whirling Dervish?  A cheap card that you can use to block Juzam Djinn.

In fact, before the World Championships, none of the Americans thought much of Juzam Djinn.  It was considered a junk card.  Now, of course, we know it was not junk.  I watched the price of Juzam Djinn go from $5 to over $100 in a very short amount of time.  I almost collected them because I liked the picture.  Now I wish I had done so... 100 Juzam Djinns would have been worth a lot more than the 135 elder dragon legends that I actually collected -- which ended up getting reprinted in Chronicles, trashing their value.

The Zoo deck attempted to get out a creature immediately and take control of the board, to always stay ahead on life, just waiting to draw channel/fireball to finish.  It used cheap blockers to block the main threats from the other good decks, and Chaos Orb to blow up anything it couldn't deal with easily.


3) A lot of players think that you have been a lucky man in that tournament. My opinion is that your deck tricked your opponents into thinking you had counterspells. How important for you are luck and strategy in the game?

It tricked people into thinking I had counterspell.  Lots of people played more cautiously than they needed to play -- because they hadn't seen the deck, but they had seen a LOT of decks that ran 12 or more counters.

The other innovation in my deck was to not have very many creatures.  A lot of players had anti-creature spells... which then sat in their hand and didn't do much, because I didn't have very many creatures.

So with them waiting to avoid a counter, and waiting to cast creature destruction... I was able to set up the lock that I wanted to win.


4) What do you think about Lestree? What betrayed him in the final with you?

He asked his teammate who had just lost to me what he thought of my deck, and his teammate answered, "le meillieur", French for "the best".  I think they didn't know I spoke French.  *grin*  So, because of that remark, Bertrand was already a bit intimidated going into the finals.  But likewise, I was intimidated a bit as well.  He had an all  black-bordered deck -- something I decided I wanted to do as well and ended up emulating.  He had a reputation for quick and sudden kills.

When I lost the first game, I was able to get back into it mentally by thinking, OK, I'll sideboard, and that will help.  I was confident in my sideboard and my ability to swap in meaningful cards against him.

I also had a laugh when I figured out why there were 61 cards in Bertrand's deck.  He planned to rip up his Chaos Orb and scatter the pieces to destroy all the opponent's cards, and then still have a legal 60 card deck afterwards.  However, the judges decided that wasn't going to be allowed, so he ended up not doing that.  He had planned ahead in case it was legal, though!


5) Why did you retire from the world of Magic? Do you miss the game? Would you like to redo the ending as a celebration in memory of the old days when Magic was “only Magic”?

I retired when big money started getting into the tournaments, and people started cheating in order to win.  I wanted to test my skill against other people's skill at the card game -- not my skill against other people's ability to cheat.  I tend to be fairly trusting, which meant that I wasn't very good at catching cheaters.  I didn't really have anything to prove, after winning four tournaments in a row (including the world championships) and beating 33 straight opponents in best of 3 type I magic.  I wanted to play a game where skill determined the winner, and honor mattered more than money.  

I found that game in Legend of the Five Rings.  The highlight of my L5R career was winning a "sword" tournament, where the winner got an ornamental sword as the prize.  I beat the #1 ranked Yogo Junzo player in the world in the finals of the tournament with my Crab Oni deck, so I was quite happy with that outcome.  The best part was where my opponent said, "If you have another sneak attack / deadly ground, you deserve to win", whereupon I played sneak attack / deadly ground and won.

I am sad that I sold my cards when I did. I should have kept them another ten years. I wish I still had my black border type I deck, that would be fun to whip out and play against modern decks once in a while for kicks.

I don't really have much desire to play Magic at the moment. I'm quite happy playing Hearthstone. I do wish there were more people playing L5R, V:TES (formerly Jyhad), Netrunner, and other CCG's. I like a bit of variety.

6) Do you have good memories of that day? Do you have any photos for this interview?

I have some good memories of the day. The crowd chuckling as we spread our cards out a bunch so that Chaos Orbs couldn't hit more than one card at a time. The shock of winning. The guys who made play mats giving me a play mat in the quarter finals as a gift, because they thought I had the most interesting and coolest deck and they wanted me to win. Which I did.

I don't have any photos other than what WOTC took that is on the web.

And I lost the do-rag (skull and crossbones) that I wore during the championships on a canoe trip, sadly.

I still have the trophy. Jack Lewis Stanton has offered me $100 for it. I might take him up on it.


- Magic Time staff would like to thank Zak Dolan and the ideator Giuliano Callegari and revisionist Federico Mouch Bocchini


We have all heard about the Zoo deck, but do we know everything about it? When it was born? What was its main purpose? Which cards it consist of?

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