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Modern Domain Zoo

Léo "Moudou" Bartolomé
29/12/2023 · 13 min read
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Domain Zoo Post-Bans

When your first name is Leo and you’re born early August, you morally have to keep an eye on the Zoo.

Zoo had a hard time for the past few months in Modern. According to the stats given by Aliquanto, which is the best and most reliable data we can hope for, Zoo rocked a staggering 40%-ish winrate against Rakdos Evoke, and felt heavily disfavored against Beans (although there was too little data to actually confirm this, Zoo being very unpopular). Not where you want to be!

But of course, things have changed, and less than a week after the bans, Zoo was one of the best performing decks at GP Barcelona that very week-end. Very recently, I myself have made Top 8 in an MTGO Challenge with this list:

Is the menagerie back on top?

Zoo’s Pros and Cons

Why would you want to play Zoo:

  • Zoo is a proactive deck with a few cheap reactive spells, which means it strikes a balance between a repetitive strong pattern and room to adapt to the opponent.
  • Zoo is a deck that is very average in terms of difficulty: it will be rather easy to learn, but it will also somewhat reward intelligent gameplay.
  • It has a lot of 45-55% match-ups across the board, meaning metagame shifts will probably never truly kick it out of the format. It is also never completely helpless, which makes it easily enjoyable in the long run.
  • It has good Rhinos and Murktide match-ups, as well as a very decent Yawgmoth one. The metagame is still a bit of a muddle right now, due to the bans and the Wizards of the Coast website constantly crashing and not providing much data, but these three match-ups are definitely among the most popular right now.
  • It is very likely the best Jegantha deck available. Jegantha can play a big role if it comes to it, enabling Stubborn Denial and counterplaying Blood Moon, and is not that rare to actually play a Colossapede to smooth out the balance between reactive and proactive spells.

Obviously the deck isn’t broken or anything, and there are a few caveats:

  • There will be non-games. As a 5 colored deck with 21 lands, you are bound to run into drastic mulligans, mana deaths and color deaths. As a deck seeking a careful balance of pressure and disruptions, there will be times when you draw all pressure and lose to a quicker combo, or no pressure at all and lose to someone eventually setting up their game plan. Thankfully, these cases are far and few between, but they will happen, likely more than you’d like.
  • As a proactive deck with a delicate balance, there isn’t much room for innovation. This might seem counterintuitive for a deck with 5 colors and no other constraint than “Play Jegantha”, but it is actually the case. More on that in a bit.
  • Something you might not know is that decks with 45-55% match-ups are a lot less likely to spike than decks with 70/30 match-ups. Without getting into the mathematical ramifications of this, this means that you might feel “stuck” in the long run, where you’ll likely have many above-average performances but few truly remarkable ones.

The List

Without further ado, here is my current list:

Domain Aggro. Builder: Moudou.MTGO - Magic Online
Top8
(6 - 2)
75%
in MTGO Modern Challenge 96 #12596674 [125 Players] 16-Dec-2023
MTG Decks Maindeck (60)
Creature [23]
3  Orcish Bowmasters   $59.99
4  Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer   $49.99
4  Nishoba Brawler   $0.35
4  Territorial Kavu   $0.69
4  Scion of Draco   $2.99
4  Wild Nacatl   $0.69
Instant [8]
4  Stubborn Denial   $1.79
4  Lightning Bolt   $1.29
Sorcery [4]
4  Tribal Flames   $0.39
Enchantment [4]
4  Leyline Binding   $15.99
Land [21]
1  Breeding Pool   $21.99
4  Flooded Strand   $32.99
1  Overgrown Tomb   $14.99
1  Sacred Foundry   $21.99
1  Savai Triome   $19.99
1  Steam Vents   $16.99
1  Temple Garden   $14.99
4  Windswept Heath   $29.99
4  Wooded Foothills   $34.99
1  Zagoth Triome   $21.99
1  Plains   $0.01
1  Forest   $0.01
Sideboard [15]
3  Rest in Peace   $1.29
2  Hidetsugu Consumes All   $3.49
3  Reprieve   $1.49
1  Jegantha, the Wellspring   $1.29
2  Tear Asunder   $3.49
2  Chained to the Rocks   $0.79
2  Flusterstorm   $27.99
Buy this deck:

$314.06 Tix @cardhoarder   $7.85 / Week @cardhoarder   $832.34 @tcgplayer   $990.63 @cardkingdom  


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Main Deck Card Choices

Zoo Main Decks are not very movable. As I mentioned, the balance between pressure and disruption is a delicate thing. Out of the Main Deck, 57 cards are more or less unmovable, including the manabase. Most of the choices are actually self explanatory: there is little synergy in the deck to discuss, the cards are just good. The biggest source of synergy for the deck is that you want to have all five basic land types in play by turn 2 or 3, and that should get your deck going.

You want to have all five basic land types in play by turn 2 or 3

The True Choice: Orcish Bowmasters

The only true choice that had to be made was my three Orcish Bowmasters. I settled on this choice because I was expecting some decent amount of Murktide and Living End in response to the good results Rhinos had put up the week before in Barcelona. It’s not great against Rhinos, which was the deck to beat, but that match-up is also pretty OK even without these three slots being dedicated to it, so I felt safe playing the Main Deck this way.

To be fair, I was very unsure it was the right call, but got rewarded with the right match-ups, notably three Creativity (that really should not be that popular!), two Murktides and one UB Tolkien Control. I also beat Rhinos once, and lost to Burn in the quarterfinals, where Bowmaster was surprisingly good because Scion of Draco gives it Lifelink and I found that hilarious! So there is definitely some confirmation bias here, things could really have gone the other way, but I’m not complaining.

Other Options

The other options in that slot are, in my mind, well encapsulated by two MTGO grinders:

Preordain VS Bowmasters

BlackBeltMtg has worked on Zoo for a long time now, and he plays Preordain instead of Bowmasters.

This move is a sensible one because late-game, it can help you dig for exactly the right response that will unlock the board, or the final burn damage you have been missing, as well as providing a little help in the mid-game if you feel you lack either some pressure or some disruption. This is a very generalistic approach, one that should be equally OK in any state of the format.

Reprieve VS Bowmasters

DackFyden has brewed all sorts of five-colored decks in the past and naturally has an opinion on Zoo as well: in his mind, you should play Reprieve in that slot.

While Dack is very enthusiastic about card, saying it is relevant in 5 of the 6 most expected match-ups, I am not entirely sure which 5 or 6 match-ups he is referring to. From my humble experience, it is very relevant against Rhinos, Living End and Amulet, medium against Tron, and bad against Murktide and Yawgmoth. As such, I consider it a very metagame-centered approach, which is not something I like to do when I can avoid it, but I respect those who think they can predict the upcoming metagames.

My Choice

In comparison, my own choice feels a bit in the middle: I was hoping to shore up some of the match-ups I expected to find, but not at the cost of general card quality, I still wanted a card that was at least somewhat good in most places.

As a small note, I’d love to play Fire/Ice in that slot, but it cuts you off from Jegantha and that’s more important.

There are probably a few minor choices to discuss from the Main Deck (such as Nacatls and Brawlers) but overall everyone seems to agree that this configuration is the best you can have today.

The Sideboard

Now that the Main Deck is out of the way, let’s talk about the sideboard. It’s the opposite of the Main Deck: there, only one card is truly unmovable, and that’s Jegantha.

Apart from that, have fun. The deck has access to every color and has no silly restrictions such as "no creatures or artifacts" or "no spells with mana value 2 or less." The Jegantha clause isn't a true issue because, even without Jegantha, you'd prefer to avoid spells with twice the same mana symbol for the sake of your mana base. Endurance, Chalice of the Void, and Force of Vigor are the only significant cards you're missing out on, but you've got all the next best things.

Sideboarding: A Few Considerations

Here are a few considerations I would try to keep in mind when building a sideboard:

  • Be wary of oversideboarding. As I keep saying, you need a mix of pressure and disruption, and you are inevitably going to remove pressure for extra disruption when sideboarding. You are not built to go full control, so make sure you don’t accidentally bring in 12 cards for any given match-up (looking at you, Hammer Time).
  • This means you want very powerful spells, even if they are very niche. Generalisation is alright of course but be careful when applying it.
  • Try to balance the different colors. You are going to play games with 2-3 lands most of the time, so it’s very common to have access to only one land giving you one color. If you lean too hard on that color in your sideboard, you are going to be unable to play two spells a turn, which can be an issue in many match-ups, even more so if you have to keep mana open but don’t use it because your opponent didn’t play into the response.

Apart from that, go wild!

My Current Sideboard

As you have seen, my sideboard so far looks like this:

Tear Asunder

Moon is unsurprisingly an issue, but I wanted a card that could do something even if they didn’t draw Moon. Wilt would have been another option, as well as Boseiju, Who Endures but for this time I felt like I wanted to deal with The One Ring as well. Close call I think, noe that was not rewarded this time but oh well.

Reprieve

As I mentioned, this is a good card in a selection of match-ups I want to be prepared for, so here we are.

Flusterstorm

It handles Burn rather well, notably Palm, while also being an efficient countermeasure to cascade spells (we do pressure them enough that they won’t have the time to play too much around it).

Hidetsugu Consumes All

One of the most common ways we lose to Rhinos is when they have a lot of them, four or more usually. Hidetsugu Consumes All deals with that, and also handles Hammer Time rather well, a match-up that I feel deserves some respect despite not being very popular at the moment.

Unlicensed Hearse

You know ;)

Chained to the Rocks

To be perfectly honest, I had two extra slots and no idea what to put there. I felt that with Rakdos Evoke not completely gone and still being a tough matchup, it could be reasonable to add a few extra removal spells. BlackbeltMtg has floated the idea of playing Prismatic Ending as a way to give Amulet even more respect, and I feel that would be a smart move if there were more Amulet decks in circulation. But as it stands, I feel like I respect Amulet enough, considering its current presence in the field, so I wanted to try and cover another difficult matchup.

I am not sure this is the best configuration for the sideboard, and I might never know either given all the possibilities available to us. But so far this has been good to me, and even if it should evolve it makes a wonderful starting point

I can’t really go over every option I chose not to include so feel free to ask in the comments why I left this or that aside, I’lll be happy to answer.

Sideboard Guide

Murktide

Not much to say on this one, be wary of Dress Down and Blood Moon and keep applying pressure. The match-up is very pleasant to play, for what it's worth, and requires a good understanding of how tempo works in Magic.

Yawgmoth

The game plan is to prioritize removing everything on their half of the board, before playing any creature. That very much means your Tribal Flames will target an Ignoble Hierarch if they have to, and not your opponent. At some point your removal will have run out but you should have a big enough step ahead to win the game.

Rhinos

This might be a case of over sideboarding, but on the other hand, Bowmasters, Bolts and Nacatls are all reaaaally bad here…

Rakdos

Even without Fury on their end, the match up is rough: they have a lot of removals, Blood Moon, and our deck does not come back easily from a “scammed” Grief. If you can get a threat to stick good for you, but else you have to slow them down as mich as possible since your late game is slightly better than theirs. There is the option to keep some Denials and get some Brawlers out as well, which overall accomplishes the same thing, both cards are good when things are already good in the match up.

Amulet

Amulet can theoretically combo off on turn 3 but there are lots of ways to avoid that, and honestly if you can keep them from having 3 Amulets at once you should be good to go.

Burn

This is just a race. If they have experience in the MU they will not attack with their Goblin Guide into your Ragavan because Ragavan is amazing at racing against Burn (it sort of attacks for 5, in a way). You are overall unfavored because you will bleed to death on turns 1 and 2, but it is not without hope. Be wary of Deflecting Palm if you can afford to.

Hammer Time

This is a hard one, one where we don’t want to oversideboard even though we really could. It's all about making headway, killing their stuff and ff but maintaining pressure is equally important. It can get really tricky, so stay focused.

Living End

I think on paper we should have the match-up, because Ragavan is such a heavy lifter and we do have some countermagic and a great sideboard, but it gets really close. As usual, Violent Outburst + Force of Negation is nigh impossible to play around, but apart from that make sure you always have mana up and early beaters. Kavu is interesting in that it lets you bin your own creatures or exile the ones from your opponent’s graveyard, but I found there was more value in just trying to recycle your bad cards into good ones as you would in any match up rather than be fancy about it. Your creatures will likely never match up well against theirs, so it’s a safe bet to not want to fight on that ground.

Conclusion

I hope you've enjoyed this primer! I believe Zoo is an excellent deck at the moment, with ample room for growth in both deckbuilding and gameplay. Play skillfully, and you can achieve a very respectable 55% win rate across any field. In my opinion, Zoo is just a fantastic deck to play at almost any time, so go ahead and give it a shot!

If you liked this article maybe you will also find interesting on of the following ones Getting ready for the Vintage Qualifier: Doomsday Cheatsheet & Sideboad Guide

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Léo "Moudou" Bartolomé
MTG Theory specialist
Moudou might not have many accomplishments to his name, but his numerous articles have helped many understand the basics of some of the most important theories in Magic. He now returns after a break to share some more timeless knowledge.

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Published: 2023-12-29 00:00:00
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