The “Zoo deck” is a classic, timeless archetype that dates back to the earliest days of Magic. The concept is simple enough: play all of the best aggressive creatures and back them up with burn spells.
The goal is to quickly deploy creatures and blitz through with as much fast damage as possible before your opponent can profitably block. From there you can leverage your burn spells to either remove your opponent’s blockers or go upstairs to kill them with direct damage.
Here is my take on the Modern Zoo Deck:
By Brian DeMars
The formula that I used to finalize my list was that I wanted all of my creatures to cost one mana and everything else to be a burn spell. Simple, direct, and to the point.
Selling Points for Burn Zoo
• Burn Zoo has one of the most consistently fast goldfish draws in Modern. You can expect most draws to win on turn 4 and the deck wins on turn 3 a lot more than you’d think.
• The deck is proactive and punishes players for skipping a beat. If they stumble on mana, make a mistake, or can’t interact with you at any point in the game they typically lose on the spot.
• The majority of mana bases are built around shock and fetchlands which means most opponents are going to be dealing some damage to themselves to cast their spells on time. Painful mana bases play right into Burn Zoo’s hands.
• The deck has more favorable matchups than unfavorable ones.
The “YEE-HAW” Nut Draw:
One reason that I want all 1-drop creatures is to optimize my ability to execute “the nut draw,” of having three 1-drop creatures in play by the end of turn 2. It is very difficult for most decks to come back from this kind of early board presence and pressure.
The biggest difference between my list and the common Naya Burn decks are that I essentially swap out all of the Eidolon of the Great Revels for a playset of Kird Ape. There is a reason I opted for this switch and it isn’t just because I have a soft spot for Arabian Nights cards.
I cut all of the Eidolons and replaced them with Kird Apes:
Eidolon is a powerful card but it is at its best in a straight Burn deck rather than a Zoo deck. Kird Ape, Wild Nacatl, and multicolored Charms lead Zoo to play a painful shock/fetch mana base that typically takes 6 damage from its first two land drops. The card is much better at trading blows with an opponent in a straight red or RW burn deck with a less painful mana base.
Secondly, I think that Eidolon is much worse in Modern than it is in Legacy. In Legacy, decks are filled with cantrips and Eidolon is fantastic at punishing cards that don’t directly impact the board. In Modern everything is more proactive and people play more spells that don’t trigger Eidolon. In particular, Siege Rhino is a commonly played card that completely embarrasses Eidolon. The fact is lots of decks don’t really care about the RR creature: Tron, Twin, and decks reliant on delve threats all have plenty of spells that ignore it.
The monkey, on the other hand, is half the mana and none of the liability. It also has 3 toughness which allows it to live through Pyroclasm, which is very important.
I’m packing the full 4 copies of Skullcrack in the sideboard so that I have the option to become a better Burn deck after sideboard. One thing that I’ve noticed over time playing the deck is that people tend to counter this strategy in two different ways:
• They overload on removal to attack our fast creatures.
• They overload on life gain to beat burn.
In both of these scenarios Skullcrack comes in handy. We can sideboard out some number of creatures in order to bring in more burn spells. The fact that we have access to 8 burn spells that counter life gain is absolutely huge post-sideboard against cards like Kitchen Finks, Timely Reinforcements, and Feed the Clan.
The other aspect of the deck that I’ve changed slightly from the conventional builds is the mana. Many version favor playing more lands, fewer fetches, and even Copperline Gorge to mitigate the pain from the lands. I think the draw to play significantly less consistent mana in order to mitigate damage revolves around the Eidolons that others tend to play.
Favorable, Coin Flip, and Unfavorable Matchups
Modern is full of finely tuned, game winning machines. The decks are so good that any deck is capable of beating anything else. When I talk about “good” matchups, I’m just speaking in a very general sense that it’s better than 50%.
Favorable matchups (better than 50%):
Tron, UR Twin, Grixis Twin, Grixis Control, Lantern Control, Scapeshift.
Coin flip matchups (about 50%):
Jund, UWR Twin, Burn, Big Zoo, Storm.
Unfavorable matchups (less than 50%):
Basically everything Abzan color (Midrange, Doran, and Collected Company), slightly disadvantaged against Affinity.
You’ll notice that against the favorable matchups our 1-drop creatures really shine. The decks we are good against are typically very weak against a bum rush of little creatures.
As we get into the close and unfavorable matchups it becomes clear that these are matches where Goblin Guide and Kird Ape are not at their strongest. Typically these are grindy, midrange-y creature decks where we want to board out creatures and bring in Skullcrack, removal, and more burn spells.
The cool thing about the Burn Zoo deck is that it is so fast and so proactive that it can really steal a match from even its worst matchups with relative ease. I like to play decks where it feels like I’m in every single game and that I’ve got a legitimate chance to win, and Burn Zoo certainly meets that criteria for me.
I think some version of this deck is a pretty easy include in any Modern testing gauntlet and I could see this deck putting up some nice finishes at the upcoming Modern Pro Tour in Atlanta. It is certainly a deck to be reckoned with to say the least!
Another cool thing about sleeving up a deck like Burn Zoo is that it is a trip down memory lane. Zoo decks have been a huge part of Magic history since the beginning and a deck like Burn Zoo is just the latest chapter in an ongoing story.