Wow, an article about Zoo in…2022? No, you haven’t fallen into some kind of time hole back to 2015. Modern Domain Zoo is, dare I say, good again.
Wild Nacatl is back at it, Ragavan is simply a superior monkey to Kird Ape and if you squint hard enough, Territorial Kavu looks like Tarmogoyf. Plus, the upgrades continue, Leyline Binding is much better than Path to Exile and you could argue that Stubborn Denial is better than Mana Leak. Let’s see what everything looks like all put together.
Ragavan’s reputation precedes it, and for good reason. Ragavan is in the conversation for the best creature in Modern, and is almost certainly the best one mana creature in the format. This monkey can take over a match on its own when unimpeded, making it a natural fit in any aggressive deck with red mana.
Wild Nactl, a once banned, now reformed one drop makes up the other half of the early aggression dynamic duo for Domain Zoo. Wild Nacatl may look odd on the surface given how many powerful cards have been printed recently, but it’s the next best one drop for pushing damage.
You may expect to see Dragon’s Rage Channeler alongside Ragavan, as that is a common sight these days, but adding Mishra’s Bauble and additional sorceries make it come at more of a cost than Wild Nacatl.
Packing a punch
Nishoba Brawler, Territorial Kavu and Scion of Draco make up the two mana creatures. Interestingly, they’re also the majority of the recent additions. It is important that these two drops remain aggressive to follow up Ragavan and Wild Nacatl, but also be able to contend with more expensive cards going up the curve.
Nishoba Brawler may just look like a draft uncommon — and it is — but serves exactly the same role in Modern as it does in Limited: be big and cheap. A 5/3 trampler for two mana is a great rate, and it’s often what Nishoba Brawler will be.
Brawler is great for sneaking in some early points of damage to put the opponent in range of being finished off by burn spells. I suspect if Brawler didn’t have trample that this spot would go to Tarmogoyf, but it does, which means our favorite Lhurgoyf has to stay home.
Territorial Kavu fills a similar role as Nishoba Brawler — big and cheap. It is often going to be a two mana 4/4 or 5/5. Unlike Brawler, Kavu loses trample, but it gains some toughness and an attack ability, which can either exile a card from a graveyard or rummage.
Neither ability is game winning on its own, but one of them will always be relevant. Plus, it’s stapled to a two mana 5/5. It is worth noting that you need to be careful deploying multiple Kavus against blue decks, as Dress Down can ruin your day if it hits multiple Kavus.
And OK, I get it. Scion of Draco isn’t really a two drop. But it does hit that rate enough of the time that I’m counting it!
A 4/4 flier for two mana is a great deal, and it is even better with the bonus paragraph of extra value. Scion of Draco is excellent at forcing through damage, either by virtue of its own evasion or by making combat difficult for blockers. Not for nothing, Scion of Draco completely dodges Prismatic Ending, one of the best removal spells in Modern.
Burn them down
Can they profitably double block or will Lightning Bolt blow them out? Can they afford to take a hit instead of chump blocking, or will Tribal Flames finish them off? Two, fully powered Tribal Flames over the course of a game will go a long way toward earning you a win, just by the amount of damage you can get out of one card.
Leyline Binding and Dromoka’s Command make up the rest of the removal spells for Domain Zoo.
Leyline Binding is a known quantity at this point. You aim it at something that you don’t like and it goes away. In a deck with Domain in the name, you might be able to guess that Leyline Binding will be right at home. It’s good at disrupting opposing plans or just clearing the way to attack.
Dromoka’s Command is a bit farther off the Modern radar at this point. There hasn’t been a Selesnya creature deck in the market for a versatile removal spell in some time, which is likely why this card hasn’t shown up much. Whether it is blanking a burn spell, fighting a creature, pumping a creature or offering another main deck way to interact with enchantments, Dromoka’s Command kind of does it all.
That’s right — Remand and Stubborn Denial. Zoo gets access to counterspells, and they’re actually good. Remand has fallen by the wayside since the printing of Counterspell and Archmage’s Charm, but Domain Zoo is easily aggressive enough to capitalize on the tempo that Remand can generate.
Having Remand for an evoked Fury or Solitude is a blowout. Not only did the opponent lose a card while you remained card neutral, but they may not be able to evoke their creature again. Remand is also strong against the Cascade decks. The last thing Living End wants is a copy put into their hand.
Those who have followed me for a while know that Stubborn Denial is one of my favorite cards, so naturally I tried it when I saw that there was an aggressive Domain deck. Stubborn Denial is great against all three cascade decks running around, Creativity and Burn. All of these archetypes are popular, and I’m thrilled to have strong one mana interaction to use against them.
Having a plan for your mana when you look at your opening hand is important when playing Domain Zoo. If you don’t have a one mana spell you want to play on turn one, you usually want to fetch either Indatha Triome or Xander’s Lounge, and follow up by pairing them with either Steam Vents or Temple Garden, respectively. This will make sure you have all five types for Domain, and that you can cast all of your spells on turn two.
However, if you have a Ragavan or Wild Nacatl to play on turn one, you’ll want to get an appropriately colored shock land. Keep in mind that you want access to Naya colors on turn two if you have a Nacatl. Going triome on turn one into a complimentary shock on turn two also enables Scion of Draco on two, so just be sure to map out what you’re planning on doing and what mana is needed for those plays.
The sideboard for Domain Zoo doesn’t have anything out of the ordinary. Flusterstorm is primarily for cascade, Creativity and other combo decks — but it has a place against Burn and Murktide, too.
Veil of Summer is kind enough to tell you what decks it is good against. Anything with a lot of blue or black interaction is going to hate the way Veil of Summer looks — I guarantee it.
Hidetsugu Consumes All is primarily there for Hammer, but anything with a lot of one mana permanents is unlikely to be happy to see this one. This saga is also graveyard hate, but it is slow. That means it’s good enough to bring in against graveyard decks since you’ll likely have enough cards without text, but I wouldn’t lean on it in those matchups.
Teferi, Time Raveler is going to be great against cascade decks and Murktide primarily.
Force of Vigor is another kind card that tells you to bring it in against artifacts and enchantments. Popular spots include Hammer, Amulet and Breach.
Dromoka’s Command is like a Swiss army knife. If there are important but small creatures that need to die, it is good. Against decks like Murktide or Burn, which base their removal around red spells, it can be used for protection. Against Urza’s Saga decks, Dromoka’s Command can be a Stone Rain with more upside.
Finally we have Fury, which is great against most creature heavy decks, but it really excels when it is likely to kill multiple creatures. Hammer is a great example of the perfect target.
Domain Zoo is a surprisingly well rounded deck for how aggressive it is, which is very appealing to me. As a player that likes having a fair bit of agency throughout the match, but who also wants to finish rounds on time, Domain Zoo is perfect.
This archetype is fast and powerful enough to beat up on the slower decks, but it has enough interaction to be a good choice against the combo decks, too. I’m sure Domain Zoo has some tuning left to be done, but I’m excited to work on it in the near future.
As always, you can find me on Twitter at @RappaciousOne for questions, comments and feedback. I’ll see everybody back here soon!
Michael Rapp is a Modern specialist who favors Thoughtseize decks. Magic sates his desire for competition and constant improvement.