Positive EV – Thopter Depths Versus Domain Zoo: The Domain Zoo Perspective

Grand Prix: Oakland!

Thursday, February 11th – Yesterday, Antoine Ruel brought us the Thopter Depths perspective on the Extended battle with Domain Zoo. Today, it’s Manuel Bucher’s turn to set the record straight on behalf of the dedicated aggro menagerie. With Zoo a main player in the format, and Thopter Depths the deck to beat, this article is great preparation for GP: Oakland!

Another week, another match-up, and once again I am playing Zoo against Antoine Ruel. This week, it’s not Charming Zoo. Instead, I am playing the more aggressive Tribal Zoo. I’ve started playing a lot of aggro decks recently, and therefore I am not too unhappy getting some more experience with one of the best aggro decks in the format. This deck has been around for such a long time, and it’s probably going to be part of the metagame until the shock lands leave the format.

First, the decklist: it’s Kyle Dembinski’s Tribal Zoo build, with which he managed to make Topv4 at a PTQ for San Juan, in Garden City. I also made some minor changes.

1 Stomping Ground

1 Temple Garden

1 Godless Shrine

2 Marsh Flats

4 Misty Rainforest

4 Scalding Tarn

1 Steam Vents

4 Arid Mesa

1 Sacred Foundry

1 Plains

1 Forest

4 Loam Lion

4 Steppe Lynx

4 Wild Nacatl

1 Kird Ape

2 Quasali Pridemage

4 Tarmogoyf

4 Knight of the Reliquary

2 Ranger of Eos

4 Lightning Bolt

4 Path to Exile

4 Tribal Flames

2 Lightning Helix


3 Deathmark

1 Slay

1 Ancient Grudge

4 Meddling Mage

1 Lightning Helix

3 Damping Matrix

1 Umezawa’s Jitte

1 Ghost Quarter

I think most of the decklist is pretty standard. Worldwake is now here, and we’ve been able to test with the new cards; I thus added Loam Lion to the deck instead of Kird Ape. The card is not a huge upgrade at all, but it feels like it is a little easier to cast, pushing the deck more towards a Green/White base deck splashing Red for burn. The Kird Ape is the only card I would change after the games I played against Antoine for the article, and I’d cut it in favor of Goblin Guide. The Goblin might be slightly worse in your opening hand, but it opens a new world for Ranger of Eos. Kyle’s deck was running a second Stomping Ground and a Mountain, which I cut for two more Misty Rainforest. The Rainforest is searching for both your perfect shocklands in form of Steam Vents and Temple Garden, while the second Stomping Ground loses a lot of appeal when the deck has more White spells than Red ones. The Mountain was cut to make the mana even better, but it might lose you some games in the mirror match. Therefore, if you expect a ton of Tribal Zoo in your metagame, I suggest cutting a Scalding Tarn to replace the basic Mountain.

The sideboard now features Damping Matrix, which I expect most Zoo decks to run in the current metagame, simply because Thopter/Depths is such a huge part of any tournament. I also added the singleton Ghost Quarter to the sideboard, which is found in most of the Zoo decks anyway, and I don’t really see a reason not to run it. I did cut some of the artifact removal, as you gain a lot of equity against Thopter/Depths with the Matrix and therefore don’t need the extra Grudge or the extra Pridemage to make the matchup more comfortable.

As a reminder, here’s the decklist Antoine was playing:

The Preboard Games (14 Wins, 10 Losses)

The matchup doesn’t have as much interaction as expected. And your main goal, assuming you know that your opponent is playing Thopter/Depths, should be to goldfish him. There is only a single card that is worth playing around, therefore you should just run out your most optimal play. That is, of course, unless the card that is worth playing around comes into the game: Muddle the Mixture. One of the main goals of the Depths player will be to create a 20/20 indestructible flying token with the counterspell as backup. With you creating so much pressure, he has to do this over two turns. If you are facing a board similar to following:

Sunken Ruins
Dark Depths
Vampire Hexmage

… you should always burn the Vampire with a non-lethal burn spell if you have Path to Exile in hand. This forces him to combo off immediately, and he won’t be able to protect the huge game-winning token. If you don’t have the Path, never concede in that spot, as your opponent might combo off at sorcery speed, allowing you to topdeck Ghost Quarter (more relevant in post board games, unless you are main decking the pseudo Wasteland).

If your opponent manages to get Thopter Foundry online, you shouldn’t concede either, as you always have outs in drawing one of your Pridemages (and many more cards post board). If you overload your board, especially if you have Ranger of Eos, it usually forces him to chump block a fair amount, so you are able to win against the combo even if he gets it online for several turns. This might not be true in the Tezzeret deck that was played earlier this season, but the Dark Depths/Thopter deck has much less mana available each turn.

Fetching for Godless Shrine should be your lowest priority and, if you are able, you should always fetch the Steam Vents first. Even though you don’t have any Blue or Black spells main, your opponent is often kind enough to give you the fifth basic land type in form of a Swamp, as their list usually plays four Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoths.

Be aware that you can deal an extra two damage with Path to Exile and Steppe Lynx if you have a guy that’s blocked or is unable to attack this turn. You shouldn’t go for the style kill, and decide to Path your own guy and not your opponent’s Dark Depths token, as he could simply respond with a Slaughter Pact.

The sideboard:

+3 Damping Matrix
+4 Meddling Mage
+1 Ancient Grudge
+1 Ghost Quarter
-4 Lightning Bolt
-2 Lightning Bolt
-2 Ranger of Eos
-1 Godless Shrine

All the cards that get sideboarded out are almost blanks in the main deck. The burn spells are decent in fighting Muddle the Mixture, which is a situation that doesn’t come up often enough for them to stay. I cut the Godless Shrine because your opponent is providing you with Swamp, but it is the sketchiest cut. You are making your deck slightly more expensive, and cutting a land might be the wrong approach; cutting a Knight of the Reliquary instead might be slightly more solid.

The Post-Board Games (19 Wins, 7 Losses)

In the games after sideboarding, the Thopter/Depths opponent doesn’t do a lot differently from game 1. I expect them to have some more spot removal, and show up with more parts of the Thopter Combo as fetching for them could easily be to slow. Your game plan, however, is changing a fair amount. By adding disruption cards over burn spells, your game plan of winning as quickly as possible gets updated by a more solid plan: winning a turn later, but disrupting their early game.

Meddling Mage
If you are playing first, you never need to play it on your second turn — if your opponent didn’t start with a turn 1 Thopter Foundry, then you should name Sword of the Meek. It is much better to build up more pressure and adjust to his second turn play by naming the perfect card with Meddling Mage. No matter what, you should play Damping Matrix before the Wizard. If you don’t have a Matrix, and he plays a second turn Thopter Combo piece, you should name the other part of the combo if you don’t have an artifact removal spell to disrupt it. If you have one of the artifact removal spells, you should just name Vampire Hexmage. The same counts if he didn’t play any combo piece on his second turn. On the draw, it is very similar, but you are not able to play Damping Matrix instead. Again, if you have an artifact removal spell or Damping Matrix available, you should play Meddling Mage on Vampire Hexmage assuming he played a part of the Thopter combo. If you’ve got several Meddling Mages, you should wait before dropping the second until he is transmuting for a card, and then simply name that card, literally Time Walking your opponent. The Wizard plays a little differently in the late game when you both are out of gas. It is often right to just name the part of the combo your opponent hasn’t already played, assuming the part that has been played is not Vampire Hexmage.

Damping Matrix doesn’t affect most of your board, but be aware that you also can’t activate your Qasali Pridemage and Knight of the Reliquary abilities, but you are still able to use Ghost Quarter.

Overall Game Impressions
I pretty much support the results we had in the games, and I expect this deck to have good results in the match-up. The Thopter/Depths deck has a ton of trouble dealing with the amount of early pressure you are presenting, especially when supported by disruption. The adjustment to the deck I would make is to cut Meddling Mages for Thoughtseize, making the match-up worse against Thopter/Depths but giving you more equity against Scapeshift combo. This also allows you to adjust your manabase a fair bit, making it more Deathmark/Slay friendly, and giving you more equity in the creature match-ups.

Updated decklist…

Steam Vents doesn’t make a lot of sense anymore, as it is hard to fetch with the addition of Verdant Catacombs over Misty Rainforest. Therefore, the Blood Crypt plus Hallowed Fountain mix seems logical.

After playing the deck in this match-up, I think it is a very good choice for the upcoming events, as it is a deck that will always have good equity no matter what your opponent is playing, and can easily punish bad draws or overwhelm unprepared opponents. If you expect more Charming Zoo, then adding Slaughter Pact to the mix is an interesting choice, and might be worth cutting the Lightning Helixes for it. Also, most people won’t expect the card, and you might easily steal several games from unaware opponents.

Thanks for reading. Good luck at the PTQs and Grand Prix: Oakland. I won’t be playing in the GP, as I’m focusing more on my preparation for the Pro Tour. But I might see you in San Diego.

Manu B