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By: Arctic_Ghost, Arctic_Ghost
Jan 10 2023 10:05am
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For those who may be new, in Magic the term “Zoo” usually refers to an aggro deck consisting of Naya colors (I could easily be wrong but this is how I always interpreted it). I first heard the term back when Pro Tour Honolulu was taking place. What Zoo plays is usually the best aggro creatures that green, white and red have to offer with a little bit of burn, removal and maybe some pump spells to help clear the red zone or finish the game. Throughout history we have seen many different versions and many different creatures played.

The name “Tribal Zoo” comes from the card Tribal Flames. Years ago when the Extended format still existed, we were able to play the dual lands from the original Ravnica block along side fetchlands. This allowed us to make Tribal Flames usually always be 5 damage for 2 mana which was quite a lot as both a burn spell and removal spell. We were also able to play more colors and morph Naya Zoo into a “Domain” deck which is still played in Modern today.

We have seen “Tribal Zoo” or “Domain Zoo” in Pauper many times over the years in many different forms, but the list we will be looking at today took 5th place in the Fuguete Champ 113 tournament and was piloted by the player Nesson. I am a little excited to talk about today because Zoo has always been a guilty pleasure of mine. Let’s rock!


Wild Nacatl – At common level nothing is more aggressive in the 1 drop slot than Wild Nacatl when it comes to pure stats. The issue is you need both a Plains and Mountain in play for it to have 3 power and toughness. However, the good thing is that you don’t need basics, you just need the types. This means that dual lands such as Arctic Treeline will count towards Nacatl getting bigger.

Kird Ape – Before Wild Nacatl was printed, Kird Ape was a very feared creature. While yes it is true that you had plenty of creatures with 2 power in the 1 drop slot, Kird Ape has 3 toughness when you have a Forest in play and that was a lot years ago. In Magic today, Kird Ape isn’t anywhere near as impressive as it once was, but it is still the next best thing to Wild Nacatl when it comes to aggressive 1 drops for a Zoo deck.

I want to say that Zoo is more of a midrange aggro deck unlike Red Deck Wins or Stompy. While you are very aggressive, your creatures and spells can also help control the game against other aggro decks, while also being able to finish the game off against slower decks quickly. This is what makes a creature like Kird Ape good in this type of deck. You are a few turns slower than the usual aggro decks of the format, but in return you get creatures that are bigger and can be a tiny bit harder to get rid of for certain archetypes.

Kor Skyfisher – Still one the best creatures in Pauper period and will probably be for quite some time. In addition to the flying and good stats, you have 8 enchantments that draw cards which we will talk about later that you can combo with as well.

Sunbathing Rootwalla – Now this one is interesting. Its ability is expensive, but hitting for 7 is a lot. I am not sure moving forward I will like this card, but so far it seems decent.

Burning-Tree Emissary – An all-star in the classic style of Red Deck Wins, we see an appearance here as it can give you the potentially to have completely broken opening hands. I am a fan of the 2 copies.

Aura Gnarlid – You have 10 Aura cards in the deck and Gnarlid can grow extremely quickly to have 5 power and beyond. Honestly Gnarlid can win games by itself. Again I like having 2 copies here but I know in the future I will want to find room for a third.

Jewel Thief – I hope we see more of this card in the future as I think its a really good creature in the format. In this deck it is quite good, giving you some ramp and being extremely aggressive.

Matca Rioters – A sort of Tarmogoyf in its own right, this is regularly a 5/5 for 3 mana. The issue when building Tribal or Domain Zoo decks is you only have so many spots to fit cards and you just can’t fit them all. You also don’t want to load up on 3 drops because you don’t want to be too slow. That is why you see 2 copies of most of the creatures.

(Lightning Bolt;M11) – I don’t think anyone is surprised to see this here, but I think one could make an argument for maybe playing 2 copies because you might not need the extra reach and making room for something like Journey to Nowhere for more removal, you could make all the basics Snow lands and add Skred or you could even add a couple copies of Sarulf's Packmate for more things to do on turn 2. At the end of the day, you can’t really go wrong.

Tribal Flames – The namesake of the deck, I almost wish you could play 5. Now you may be saying to yourself, “how do you actually get domain in this deck? I don’t see any Swamps or Islands?”. A card we will discuss later called Nylea’s Presence will help with that.

Savage Swipe – A fantastic removal spell that also helps you get in a bit more damage.

Rancor – Good old Rancor. Helping people win games in Pauper since the beginning.

Abundant Growth and Nylea's Presence – They both draw a card which is awesome. While Growth is here to help us curve out and cast out spells, Nylea’s Presence does the same, but has an even bigger role to play. Presence turns any land it enchants into all 5 basic land types and yes, that does count for Domain spells.

The Manabase

The Manabase isn’t too special and I like it that way as for an aggro deck to be good in Pauper, it can’t be too slow. We see 2 of each dual land and then the rest are basics. I like this manabase and would not change it as you don’t need gimmick lands or tech lands. You just want to curve out.

The Sideboard

Benalish Sleeper – I am personally not a big fan of this card. It is an Edict effect and that is good. It can also be a creature to bring in against a control deck where something like Savage Swipe might not be good and against a Tolarian Terror, it can be a slight upgrade in power if you sacrifice a Kird Ape. My personal issue is that for its stats, it is a weak creature and as an Edict effect I feel like it just isn’t great. I would rather have something like Circle of Protection: Red or Standard Bearer or just straight up have Chainer’s Edict as I think these are better sideboard cards for highly played archetypes. Again these are my personal feelings.

Gorilla Shaman – I am feeling like that is a big no Affinity.

Lone Missionary – Missionary isn’t played too often these days but it is still a good card. It helps you play the sort of control role against aggro decks and it is great against Burn strategies. It also combos well with Kor Skyfisher. This slot depends on your meta and how you approach certain matchups.

Relic of Progenitus – Graveyard hate is always a good thing to have access to.

Smash to Dust – This is an interesting one. It is a sorcery which kinda sucks, but it can do 3 different things that are good against a wide variety of matchups. A card like this is great for smaller metas where you have a good idea of what will show up and what you need to prepare for but it can also be good in a Challenge type of size if you predict the meta correctly.

Verdict and Final Thoughts

I will always love Zoo decks and I personally love this list. It has some things I would change due to personal preferences but overall it is still really cool. Zoo decks are historically a great archetype for those who want to meet in the middle between aggro and midrange type of decks. I think this list is a great start.

In today’s Pauper meta, I do feel however that Zoo is not at its best as removal is so cheap, decks are so fast and the control decks have win conditions that are hard to get rid of while also coming down quickly. It will be difficult for Zoo to get over on any of the established meta decks, but that does not mean I think Zoo is bad. I just think it isn’t well positioned right now and while you do have access to all 5 colors so that you can prepare for everything, at the same time, you can’t do everything.

Do I think you should play this deck? For the leagues or a local meta I think this deck is a lot of fun, for Challenges however, I think this deck will have a tough time. I am sure a Zoo deck can find its way to a top 16 or even a top 8, but how consistent will it be at doing that is the question.

I think I can compare this archetype to Affinity. Both have strong creatures but Affinity has much more card advantage and can do some dirty game play, while Zoo is a bit more honest and a bit easier to get ahead of. It is true that Affinity has a ton more hate cards, but as we have seen throughout mtg history, that doesn’t keep Affinity down for long.

In my opinion, Zoo is a great choice in a primarily aggro dominated meta because you can go bigger at about the same pace as something like Stompy or White Weenie while being able to be a midrange-control deck against something like Elves or Goblins. In today’s Pauper meta, this isn’t the case from what I see.

However, with all this being said, as always, do remember my words are not gospel. I will always encourage you to try a deck that I bring you despite my personal feelings. Remember that results will vary and always remember to practice!

Would you like to compete in a free Pauper tournament with some great prizes? Head on over to Gatherling.com on Tuesday nights at 8pm EDT and play in our weekly Pauper Classic Tuesday's event! Join the chat #PCT to chat with us and feel free to find most of the competitors on Discord!

Thank you so much for reading. Best of luck to you in your next tournament and I’ll catch you all next time!