Our Un’Goro Discard Zoo Warlock deck list guide will teach you how to pilot this popular Season 38 deck! Our guide features mulligan, play, and card replacement strategies!
Zoo Warlock is one of the most popular archetypes in the history of Hearthstone. It’s a tempo deck that puts a lot of emphasis on early game board control, minion positioning and efficient trading.
This specific build, Discard Zoo Warlock, was popularized after Karazhan. Due to an unfriendly meta, it wasn’t played last expansion. It seemed that the situation has changed this expansion, but as it turned out, the current one isn’t much better. Things might still change later down the expansion, but I wouldn’t be too hopeful, the deck has a lot of bad matchups and only a few average/good ones.
The build in this guide was created by Zanananan, it’s most commonly seen on the ladder and probably the strongest one right now.
UPDATE – ZOO WARLOCK IN MAY 2017, SEASON 38
No changes to the deck, Zanananan’s build is probably the strongest one on the ladder right now, or at least very close. People don’t really experiment with new Zoo builds a lot, because the deck is severely underpowered in the current meta. While it’s still relatively viable at the lower ranks, nearly no one plays it in Legend. Midrange Paladin, Taunt Warrior, Freeze Mage etc. are all bad matchups. The only real reason to play this deck right now is to counter the Quest Rogues, because it’s one of the best matchups for the deck (around 70/30 in the Zoo’s favor).
Sadly, no Warlock list stands out in the current meta. If you want to climb the ladder, you should probably look for a different deck (or well, different class).
Discard Zoo Warlock Mulligan Strategy & Guide
I’ll divide the mulligan section into two – against fast decks and against slow decks. Fast decks are generally the Aggro decks (e.g. Pirate Warrior) or high tempo Midrange decks (e.g. Midrange Hunter). Slow decks are slower Midrange and Control decks.
Vs Fast Decks
- Mulligan heavily for 1-drops. It’s really important to start with turn 1 play against Aggro, missing turn 1 can often mean you lost the game. Luckily, with 10 1-drops in the deck it’s almost impossible not to have anything to play on turn 1 if you mulligan properly. When it comes to priority, it depends on the exact deck you’re facing. If your opponent plays a lot of 1/1’s in the early game, the 1/3 minions and Fire Fly have the highest priority. If you need to kill something bigger, e.g. then Flame Imp might be the better choice. But ultimately it doesn’t matter that much which 1-drop you open with, you just want to have one.
- If you’ve got your 1-drop already, then you want to keep 2-drops. I’d say that Dire Wolf Alpha and Ravasaur Runt are the best ones if you mulligan heavily for 1-drops and you’re going second (then you can play two 1-drops on turn 1 and one of those on turn 2). If you’re going first, then Darkshire Librarian or Knife Juggler are better. Knife Juggler gets extra value if your 1-drop was Possessed Villager, because you can sometimes answer some 1 health minion with the juggle after spawning the second part or try to go for a 50/50 on a 2 health minion
- Soulfire – This card can be a keep sometimes. Early tempo is very important in Zoo and Soulfire is an insane tempo card. 1 mana for 4 damage is great. But since you Discard a card, it’s not always a good keep. So, you keep it either if you have Malchezaar’s Imp in your opening hand (then you can play Imp + Soulfire on turn 2) or if you play in a matchup when you really need to answer some early game 3+ health minion and Soulfire is the best way. E.g. against Pirate Warrior, you really need to kill their turn 3 plays and Soulfire is the highest tempo way to do that.
- You don’t keep 3+ drops in your mulligan, because they’re either too slow (Devilsaur Egg, Darkshire Councilman), aren’t guaranteed to hit on curve (Defender of Argus, Ravenous Pterrordax) or are just too expensive (Doomguard). I’ve seen some people keeping Silverware Golem with a Soulfire, but that’s a big gamble – if you don’t hit it, then you’re stuck with a 3 mana 3/3 in your hand.
Vs Slow Decks
- In slower matchups, you can be a little bit greedy with your mulligan. 1-drops are still your highest priority and I toss away 3-drops when I don’t have 1-drops, but at the same time, if you have a 1 -> 2 -> 3 curve, then you can leave it. For example, Darkshire Councilman is a good keep if you have turn 1 and turn 2 plays, because even though it’s slow, it can snowball really well after 1-2 turns of not being answered.
- The truth is that you almost can’t be wrong with the mulligan in slower matchups. As long as you don’t keep any 4+ mana cards and try to curve out, you should be fine. When it comes to low cost cards, Soulfire is generally not a good keep in slow matchups, because there won’t likely be a high priority target to hit it and discarding a card is a much bigger disadvantage – you want to have as many cards as possible. Minion curve is better.
- You can also think about keeping the Devilsaur Egg -> Ravenous Pterrordax curve, even at the cost of missing a 1-drop. It’s a really high power play and if you get the right adaptations, it can just win the game. E.g. 5/5 + 7/7 on turn 4.
- Besides that, the matchup heavily depends on the exact matchup. For example, against Priest, Flame Imp has a higher priority, because it counters the turn 1 Northshire Cleric. It’s pretty much impossible to list which 1-drop is best in which matchup, so it mostly comes with the experience.
Discard Zoo Warlock Play Strategy
When it comes to learning how to play Zoo Warlock, there are 3 most important things. One – trading efficiently. Current board state is important, but you also need to have the future turns in mind. When doing trades this turn, you want to think about the potential minions your opponent can drop next turn, or about the removals they can be holding. Two – positioning. Yes, it’s pretty interesting, because it’s one of the only decks in the game where positioning really matters. Both Dire Wolf Alpha and Defender of Argus affect adjacent minions, so putting the right minions in the right place can be a matter of winning or losing the game. And third – knowing then to shift the gears. Even in slow matchups you want to focus on the board control early, but after a certain point you need to start dealing face damage. Knowing when to do that and how to set a proper clock is important.
You can’t say that Zoo is good or bad against Aggro, because it heavily depends on the deck you’re specifically talking about. Zoo Warlock is the master of early game board control. Which means that the deck should have a solid win rate against Aggro decks that rely on early board presence. You should be able to consistently wrestle board control back from them, and then not let them do anything. At the same time, Zoo is pretty bad against Aggro decks that can pretty much ignore board control and just rush your face. With limited defensive options and Life Tap (which deals damage to your Hero) being a vital part of your strategy, those matchups can be really challenging.
You win those matchups by overwhelming them on the board in the early game. Dealing face damage is NOT important early, there will be time for that. At first you want to do as much efficient trading as possible. If you kill an opposing minion while yours survives, that’s a small victory. If you kill a 2-drop with a 1-drop, that’s another small victory. Those things don’t really matter individually, but after a while those small advantages should stack and you should win board control.
But overall, no matter what Aggro deck you face, you want tempo. Opening with a 1-drop is absolutely necessary. It’s not that bad if both of you skip a 1-drop, but if you don’t have one, but your opponent does, you’re already playing from behind and that’s something you don’t want. Zoo is REALLY bad at playing from behind, you have pretty much no comeback mechanics and if you lose the board, only a clutch Doomguard (especially one that discards Silverware Golem) can save you.
Most of your minions are disposable, but there are some you really want to protect. Dire Wolf Alpha is one of them. While it’s not as powerful as Flametongue Totem, it still makes your minions trade up. A Dire Wolf Alpha that stays on the board for 3-4 turns is amazing and gives you so much advantage. But at the same time, it’s only a 2/2 minion by itself, so it’s really easy to kill it. Same goes for the Knife Juggler. This one, instead of making your trades better, stacks with the amount of minions you play. The longer it stays on the board, the more value it gets. Similarly to Dire Wolf, it gets tons of value/tempo over time, but it’s also a 2/2 minion that’s very easy to kill. The best way to protect those is to put a Taunt on the board. Voidwalker is your best cheap option, but Defender of Argus is even better. If you Taunt two minions while having Wolf or Juggler on the board, they become really hard to kill.
In fast matchups, Defender of Argus is MVP, because it forces the opponent to trade instead of going face. You save health, you control the board etc. When playing against Aggro, you most likely want to Taunt the two highest health minions, so try to keep them together. But to be fair, Taunting two of anything is already good. Sometimes you’ll be forced to play Taunt on a single minion, because there will be no better option.
Turn 5 Doomguard is a very common option against Aggro. Sure, you rarely have emptied your whole hand, but it doesn’t matter that much. The tempo this card gives is insane. You have a huge minion that you can immediately attack with. It might seem that discarding 2 things is too big of a cost to do that, but think about it this way. If you don’t swing the board, your opponent can start punching you in the face. The more he punches you, the lower you get. The lower you get, the harder it gets to use your Hero Power. The harder it gets to use your Hero Power, the less cards you can get. So while you lose cards immediately, the tempo you gain this way might save your health which might allow you to use your Hero Power to draw cards, which you might have not been able to do otherwise.
Against board-oriented Aggro decks, including mirror matchups, games should be decided around turn 5-6. The player with the board advantage usually wins the whole game. And the “face rush” Aggro matchups are decided by how much health you still have when you’ve taken the board control completely and started hitting him. If you’re low, they might still finish you with burn, even though you’ve taken the board.
If you’re under a lot of pressure health-wise, let’s say that Pirate Warrior attacks your Hero with weapons all the time and you get lower and lower, while you have no way to Taunt up, you can go for a desperate play and try to race him. It won’t work a lot of the time, but sometimes you will get the right cards and win that race. Without Taunts, it’s probably your only option. One Defender of Argus on two big minions can save your skin, but if you don’t draw it, you have to improvise.
Slower, Control games are generally harder to play correctly than Aggro ones. Your game plan is a bit different, since the games are significantly slower. Your opponent won’t likely put too much pressure early, but will answer your threats instead. You need to refill your hand as much as possible, try to not play into AoE etc. But first things first.
The first way to win vs a slow deck is just curving out. This win condition depends solely on your opponent drawing poorly, but it happens, so why not try to use it? Having a slow start might be acceptable in those matchups, but high tempo opening is still better. You plan to play minion after minion, flood the board on turn 4-5 and start putting serious pressure. Now, there are two ways this plan can go. Either your opponent can have the answers for your early game minions, a big AoE for after you get some solid board OR he might not have any good early answers and you just put so much pressure that you win the game. The latter doesn’t happen that often, but it sometimes does, so from time to time you end up with a really quick win.
First option is more likely, so most of the time after your board gets answered you want to take the game a little bit slower. The thing that have always destroyed Zoo are AoE spells. Depending on the matchup and the kind of AoE they run, you can play around it in a few ways. First one is trying to keep your minions above the AoE range. Let’s say that you face a Shaman. First AoE you play around is Maelstrom Portal, so keeping your minions at 1 health is just a bad idea, because your whole board can get wiped by one stupid 2 mana AoE. Then, the second one is Lightning Storm. In that case, it’s safe to keep minions at 3 health or above – 3 is not too safe, because of a possible Spell Damage or a 50/50 roll, but 4+ should be good enough. And the third one, in Elemental decks, is Kalimos, Primal Lord – you play against it also by keeping your minions above 3 health. How can you do that? Well, sometimes instead of taking a good trade with your high health minion, you can decide to sacrifice your small health guys to not play into the AoE. You can also buff some minions with Defender of Argus. Darkshire Councilman and Doomguard are your best anti-AoE minions, as they have high health and are out of range of most of the AoEs. However, they’re more vulnerable to single target AoEs, so you want to back them up with 2-3 small minions to be in a good position against either of those.
Another way to play around AoE is to always have some sticky minions on the board. Those include Possessed Villager, Devilsaur Egg and Ravasaur Runt or Ravenous Pterrordax with certain adaptations (Deathrattle into 2x 1/1 or Divine Shield make them more sticky). This way if your opponent AoEs your board, you should still have something left alive to take the initiative with. If you think that your opponent might be holding onto the AoE, you might actually NOT pop those and keep them with their Deathrattles/Divine Shields. While it might make the trades more awkward, at the same time it makes your opponent’s AoE harder to use correctly.
If you have no sticky minions or no high health minions to play around AoE, there is one general rule. You want to have enough minions to put pressure, but not enough to play into the AoE. Let’s say 3-4 minions with ~6-8 attack total should be enough. If you go all in and dump your whole hand on the board, AoE will destroy you completely. But if you don’t pressure your opponent enough, single target removals will be enough to hold the board and you will give them more time to draw AoE. You want to hit that sweet spot for them to feel threatened and force an AoE on a pretty weak board, then when they’ve used their AoE already you can be more confident about playing more stuff and putting more pressure.
Remember that you hit your power spike in the mid game and after that you start to get weaker and weaker, while your opponent gets stronger. You don’t want to draw out the game too long. because at one point you’ll be putting a 2/2 and 1/3 on the board, while your opponent plays a huge minion that you can’t possibly answer and just crushes your small guys. It basically means that as the game goes, you want to get more and more aggressive. Even though board control is seemingly your #1 priority, at one point you can stop doing that. Stop trading (take only the best possible trades, like 1/1 into 4/1), stop playing around AoE, start flooding the board and face rushing. It’s a desperate move, but if you don’t do that, you will just slowly lose the game and get nowhere. It doesn’t give you a high chance to win and it’s easy to counter, but at the same time, it’s still better than dragging on the game and losing 5 turns later.
- While perfect positioning is pretty hard, here is the quick tip on how you should position your minions. You want to stack big minions together, let’s say on the left side. Those are your likely Defender of Argus targets so you want to keep them together and you can keep them away from the Dire Wolf Alpha targets, because you rarely need to buff their attack. Then on the left, but after the big minions, you want to play your “sticky” minions – with Divine Shields or Deathrattles that spawn something. You DON’T want to put them in the middle, because they break the Dire Wolf chains. For example, let’s say that you have Fire Fly, Possessed Villager and second Fire Fly (from left to right). There is no way you can affect all 3 of them with a single Dire Wolf, so you can do a maximum of 5 damage with that board. But if Possessed Villager was on the left, you could deal up to 6 damage with the same board. After your sticky minions, you want to play all the small stuff you might want to trade off that isn’t sticky – Fire Flies, Voidwalkers etc. Then on the rightmost side you can also play a single sticky minion, because it won’t break the Chain. It might sound a bit complicated, but it’s really easy after a bit of practice.
- Remember that Silverware Golem always spawns on the right side of your minions, so keep that in mind when positioning other stuff.
- Zoo Warlock is better at operating with low hand sizes because of the discard effects. Try to narrow your hand down to only a single discard card or discard card + Silverware Golem before playing it. After that, each turn you first see your draw. First check whether it’s a discard card or not. If it’s a discard card, you can play it without any downside, since you have no other cards to discard – you usually do that. Play it before tapping, because now drawing a second discard card might ruin your day. If you have enough mana to Life Tap, do it after playing the discard card. If the card you drew at the start of your turn wasn’t a discard card, it all depends on how much mana it costs compared to what you have. E.g. if you have a 5 mana and that’s a 4 mana card, just play it, because by tapping you risk losing a whole turn. And if you have enough mana to play it after the Tap, you always want to life tap FIRST. Maybe it turns out that you draw a better card which you want to play more and you won’t have enough mana after playing whatever you drew first.
- If you have a Ravenous Pterrordax in your early hand, try to set up the right board for it on turn 3. The card is really powerful, but it’s also clunky if you have only big minions on the board. The best set-up is obviously Devilsaur Egg, but you don’t always have it. So if you have a turn 4 Pterrordax, instead of playing a turn 3 Darkshire Councilman you might want to play a 2-drop and a 1-drop instead. It gives you a higher chance to have something to eat, because you really don’t want to eat your big 3-drop.
- If you have nothing else to do, play that Silverware Golem from your hand. Of course, it’s better to discard it, but it makes no sense to float the mana instead of playing your 3 mana 3/3. I’ve seen some people who are always keeping it for the discards and while sometimes it’s a good idea, most of the time you play it if it’s your only viable play (e.g. if your alternative is dropping Argus on the empty board).
Zoo Warlock Card Substitutions
Zoo Warlock is one of the cheapest decks in the meta. This specific build runs no Legendaries at all, so it’s really good for F2P players. I’ve seen multiple builds using Patches the Pirate (with Bloodsail Corsair) or Clutchmother Zavas, but as you can see, they aren’t really necessary.
The deck runs two cards from One Night in Karazhan expansion – Malchezaar's Imp and Silverware Golem. Those, however, are crucial to the Discard theme of the deck. If you don’t have them, you might try playing the classic, non-Discard version instead. But I’ll be honest that I haven’t seen a single one in the current meta yet, so I don’t have a viable deck list at hand! 🙁
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Good luck on the ladder and until next time!