Warlock Zoo is still as strong as ever, and AlwaysLucky got Top 100 NA Legend with it in Season 27. Thanks to AlwaysLucky for allowing us to re-host his guide, check him out on Gamer Sensei to get coaching lessons!
I. Background to the Deck II. Deck Description III. Matchup Mulligans IV. Key Card Analysis
To all Zoo enthusiasts; you can all rejoice now because there is a new highly consistent and viable Zoo deck on ladder again! After the release of WOTOG, many Zoo mains felt that the deck had largely dropped off from its peak. The reason for this belief is the fact that the original Zoo deck had lost many of its essential tools. Gone were the powerful deathrattle minions such as Haunted Creeper and Nerubian Egg. Sure one could say that Possessed Villager does satisfy the deathrattle slot. However, it fills the one mana slot, while the other two deathrattle cards were at the two mana slot. Another crucial aspect that Zoo lost was Enhance-o-Mechano. While this card was not universally played in all Zoo decks, it served as a great finisher. So the old variant of Zoo is now dead, is all hope lost?
Well not exactly. One thing that allows Zoo to be a consistent top meta deck is the fact that it can adapt to any meta. Using this mindset, me and some other high level Zoo players have crafted a new brew of Zoo. We piloted this new list to finish top 100 legend in June. It was not an easy grind by any means. Different variants of Warrior infested the ladder with just a few hours left in the season. However, the unique tech choices in the deck allowed it to maintain a 60%+ winrate during this period. Without further ado, let’s talk about the deck!
II. Deck Description
Many hearthstone players will recognize that Zoo is largely a board control type of deck. Sure it has many early drops, but I would certainly not categorize it as an aggressive deck. The reason that Zoo has such a low curve is that it wants to grab the board from turn 1. While Zoo has the board, the many buffs in the deck can further snowball that advantage. Once Zoo loses the board though, it often has a hard time coming back into the game. However, players also have to be cautious to not overextend. Therefore, there exists an intricate balance on the precise amount of minions that a player should have on the board at all times.
Unlike more aggressive decks like Aggro Shaman and Pirate Warrior, Zoo is never a deck to just want to push face damage. The only time that Zoo does push face damage is when the board is void of opposing threats. Minions such as Imp Gang Boss and Possessed Villager have very low attack points for their mana value. However, they allow for insanely favorable trades because of their durability. The fight for the board usually starts on turn 1 and lasts until turns 4-6. Zoo will however tend to lose control of the board because of the powerful AOE board clears that other decks have. That is where cards like Power Overwhelming and Leeroy Jenkins come in. They serve as finishers that can be played from the hand when the Zoo has no board.
One large advantage that Zoo has over aggressive decks is the fact that it never runs out of steam. There are two main reasons for this. The first comes from the innate nature of the Warlock hero power. Whenever any Warlock player runs out of cards, they can use their hero power to gain additional ones. Being such a low curving deck as Zoo, this scenario happens quite often. This is also one of the reasons why Doomguard is not being run in this deck. Doomguard is a great body but it sacrifices card advantage in order to be played. Other classes depend on cards such as Quick Shot and Divine Favor to replenish their hand. These cards are all quite situational.
The second reason is due to the release of a card called Forbidden Ritual. It is not unlikely that a Zoo board would get completely destroyed during the game. Cards such as Brawl and Flamestrike do the job quite well and are played in many top meta decks. However, with only one card, the Zoo can regain the board by filling it up with 1/1s.
III. Matchup Mulligans
There are three types of cards for mulligans. Cards we keep, cards we do not keep and (GC) cards we keep if we already have a good curve.
Recommended Mulligans (From highest priority to lowest priority)
- Druid: Flame Imp, Voidwalker, Possessed Villager, Dark Peddler (GC), Imp Gang Boss (GC), Darkshire Councilman (GC)
- Hunter: Flame Imp, Possessed Villager, Knife Juggler, Dark Peddler (GC), Imp Gang Boss
- Mage: Flame Imp, Possessed Villager, Dire Wolf Alpha (GC), Imp Gang Boss (GC)
- Paladin: Flame Imp, Voidwalker, Dark Peddler, Imp Gang Boss (GC), Darkshire Councilman (GC)
- Priest: Flame Imp, Voidwalker, Abusive Sergeant (GC), Dark Peddler (GC), Knife Juggler (GC)
- Shaman: Flame Imp, Possessed Villager, Voidwalker, Abusive Sergeant, Soulfire
- Warlock: Flame Imp, Possessed Villager, Dark Peddler (GC), Imp Gang Boss (GC)
- Warrior: Flame Imp, Possessed Villager, Dark Peddler, Imp Gang Boss
- Rogue: Flame Imp, Voidwalker, Dark Peddler, Darkshire Councilman (GC)
IV. Key Card Analysis
Forbidden Ritual – This card is the best way to replenish the board after a devastating board clear by an opponent. Be careful about using this before your opponent plays certain cards though. Against Warrior, it is important be wary of Ravaging Ghoul. Against Tempo Mage, it is important to be wary of Flamewaker. Forbidden Ritual also synergizes with many other cards in the deck. The card can be used to proc juggles from Knife Juggler. It can also be used to buff your Darkshire Councilman. I would however never recommend keeping this card in your mulligan. Mana for mana, the 1/1s summoned are less valuable than the minions that are run in the deck.
Power Overwhelming – This card is insanely versatile. It allows a zoo player the ability to trade up into a bulky minion. Also it is +4 damage that could be used to lethal an opponent. This card is very similar to Soulfire. However, it requires there to be a minion on the board to proc. Therefore, if your opponent is close to lethal and you have a Soulfire in your hand, it might be right to PO a minion and send it to face. If you do not believe that you will stick a minion next turn or if you believe your opponent may make a huge taunt, then this is the play. Power Overwhelming functions as a pseudo-Blessing of Kings, but for a much cheaper cost. The obvious downside is that the minion will die, but most times you would PO a low value anyways.
Soulfire – In the last year, this card has rotated out of the Zoo deck. However, it may be correct to start playing it again. Back in its hayday, Soulfire was a zero mana card and almost played universally. However, the mana increase led to less use. In this current mana, there are many valuable 4 hp minions that need to be killed. Some examples include the Totem Golem in Shaman, Flamewaker in Tempo Mage, and Frothing Berserker in Warrior. Like Power Overwhelming, Soulfire acts as a +4 for a possible lethal.
Abusive Sergeant – This has always been a staple in all Zoo decks. It helps to trade up with the +2 atk buff. One complaint that many people have about the card is that it’s a weak turn 1 play. That is certainly true, so sometimes it may be better to throw Abusive Sergeant back in the deck if you already have a strong mulligan. However, when your hand is abysmal and you are itching for a 1 drop, it may just be right to keep it. One reason why the card is so good is because it gives +2 atk for only 1 mana and keeps a body. Cards like Blessing of Might and Cold Blood perform similar functions but does not stick an additional body.
Flame Imp – I like to call this card Dr. 1. It is simply the king of 1 drops. It contests the 1 drops of many opposing tier one decks. If you go first, you can just drop the Flame Imp and your opponent may not be able to play the Tunnel Trogg or Mana Wymn that they have in their deck. Also Flame Imp beats opposing Voidwalker start. It is simply the best stated 1 drop now that Zombie Chow has rotated out of the game. A thing to remember is that Flame Imp is a battlecry minion and has negative synergy with Brann Bronzebeard. I have made the mistake as recent as two days ago and it definitely cost me the game.
Voidwalker – Another 1-drop is this 1/3 taunt. It has similar functionality to the Flame Imp, but usually lures the opposing player into a false sense of security. With a buff from either the Dire Wolf Alpha or the Abusive Sergeant, the Voidwalker can easily take out opposing player’s 1-drop or 2-drop. Against specific matchups like Aggro Shaman, the taunt provides an important body to mitigate as much damage as possible. There have been several games where I dropped the Voidwalker against something like a Savannah Highmane and had it soak up 6 damage that otherwise would have gone strictly to my face.
Possessed Villager – This is the only deathrattle minion that Zoo now plays. It is a great body to play on turn 1 because most decks will just ignore it. While most people would rather prefer to get Voidwalker or Flame Imp, this little guy can cause havoc if it is left unchecked. It has the ability to trade up to another 1 drop without killing itself completely. I personally run this card over Argent Squire because it has better synergy with Knife Juggler and Power Overwhelming.
Crazed Alchemist – This card has really become the MVP for the deck. There have been an influx of high value taunt minions in the meta as of late. Cards like Ancient of War oftentimes pose a large problem to most Zoo decks. There is just no way for Zoo to get past the taunt without sacrificing board or having PO in hand. Well this card does an effective 5 damage to cards like that. It also one shots Doomsayer which is also another problem card for zoo. With buff cards such as Abusive Sergeant and Dark Iron Dwarf, there are many potential tricks that can be done with Crazed Alchemist.
Dark Peddler – This is the most versatile card in the new zoo deck. It allows the Zoo player the possibility to search for a +4 damage card or an amazing 1 drop. The discover mechanic is being used to its full potential here. Dark Peddler is actually one of the better 2 drops to play on turn 2 also. It can bait out early removal such as Fiery War Axe or Frostbolt. This is insanely useful as provides an almost 2 for 1. The Zoo player gets the 2 mana body and a 1 mana card while the opponent had to waste 2 mana to get rid of the Dark Peddler.
Dire Wolf Alpha – I personally never used to play Dire Wolf Alpha because I believed the card was unhelpful. However, Zoo now runs 8 1 drops. It is useful in helping to trade up from as early as turn 2. It is especially useful with Possessed Villager as there are oftentimes many opposing minions which have exactly 2 hp. Knife Juggler– This is possibly one of the most frustrating cards in the game. On one hand, it could cost a zoo player the game because of a poorly timed face juggle. However, it can also snipe 1 hp minions on the opposing side of the board. While it may cause headaches, the upside of the card warrants it to be played in this list.
Brann Bronzebeard – This is a unique tech that many people have rotated out of their own Zoo decks. The reason that I put Brann Bronzebeard into this deck is that opponents will often have trouble removing him early. And if they do remove him, they would have to sink a bit of removal to do so. If Brann is left on the board, it can lead to a lot of snowball battlecries. One example is with Defender of Argus.
Darkshire Councilman – This card recently came out in WOTOG. It is a great 3 mana minion. However, it requires the zoo player to invest 3 mana into it and hoping that it does not die. I particularly do not want to play the card on turn 3. Kor'kron Elite does quite well against it. I usually like to play Darkshire Councilman in conjunction with other minions so that it does not get one shot without impact on the board.
Imp Gang Boss – I genuinely believe that Imp Gang Boss is the best card in a Zoo deck. The reason being is that it is not really a 2/4. If allowed to continuously trade, it can become a 4/6 or 5/7 in value. It also works in great conjunction with Knife Juggler. The 1/1 minions that it summons can also be used with buff cards to trade up. In the Zoo mirror, this is the best card to have. Sometimes I would be inclined to keep it in my mulligan if the rest of my hand curves out well.
Dark Iron Dwarf – See my explanation for Abusive Sergeant. This does provide a better body and is sometimes the correct standalone turn 4 play. It can usually contest most 3 and 4 drops alike so it is a definite play in this deck. The substitute for this card is Gormok the Impaler but they both have their distinct advantages and disadvantages.
Defender of Argus – Argus is one of those cards that may seem not too effective at first glance. However, there is a different way to look at the card. It is a weak 2/3 body. When it comes on the board, it gives a +2/+2 buff which is applied immediately. The way to look at the buff is that it basically comes in as a charge. Overall that makes Argus a “4/5 body”. That is pretty great but it requires you to have at least two minions on board before being able to play it.
Leeroy Jenkins – This is the finisher for the deck. Most of the time, Leeroy Jenkins is used as method to lethal your opponent. However, sometimes it is correct to use it as a trading mechanism when you have no other play. Another use for Leeroy is to play it as a tempo play and just charge face while killing off the two 1/1 whelps.
Sea Giant – This is a great card in the mirror. Most Zoo mirrors will feature a substantial amount of minions on both sides of the board, making Sea Giant a pretty easy play. Sea Giant can sometimes get stuck in your hand but playing it for 1 or 2 mana is great too. Always remember to play Sea Giant before you start trading or else you may mess it up. Playing 1 drops before Sea Giant will not affect the card’s cost.
Thanks everyone for reading up on the guide. I will post more about matchups later. I also offer coaching for $15 per hour. You can book me here
My battle tag is AlwaysLucky#11105 if you have questions about the deck or want coaching. Looking forward to seeing more ZooLock on ladder hopefully!