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How to Run the Zoo (Part 2)
In my previous article, “How to Run the Zoo (Part 1),” I discussed the basics of the Zoo archetype: it’s strengths in the meta, basic strategy, and win conditions. In this article, we are going to take a deeper dive into the Zoo deck. I will highlight some key cards, some possible replacements for those players who may not have all the cards in my Zoo deck list, and mulligan strategy. While what follows is robust, it is by no means exhaustive. One of the most interesting qualities of the Zoo deck is its flexibility. No one choice is correct at all times. I would urge you to use what follows as an outline, but not a treatise. Only after hundreds of games with any deck can you truly understand the matchups, and the ins-and-outs of a deck.
Zoo is not a deck built around one card (e.g. Secret Paladin’s Mysterious Challenger, RenoLock’s Reno Jackson, or Miracle Rouge’s Gagezon Auctioneer). Instead, Zoo relies on a number of relatively small but powerful cards working in conjunction. As such, no one card in the deck is irreplaceable. No one card will “break the deck.” That said – there are certainly a number of strong cards that provide the deck with the upmost of flexibility and resiliency that makes Zoo such a formidable deck to pilot. Understanding which cards are powerful, and why, will improve your game leaps and bounds.
A 2/2 minion introduced in the newest League of Explorers expansion without much hype, Dark Peddler has surpassed all expectations, and is now essentially an auto-include in all Warlock decks. While the Peddler does not provide much in terms of raw stats as a 2/2, its true power comes in his battlecry: “Discover a 1-mana card.” Warlock has, plain and simple, some of the best 1-mana cards in the game. The ability to pick up a mortal coil, or an extra a power overwhelming, flame imp, or Voidwalker can quite literally be the difference in some games. Struggling to find a turn three play in your opening hand? Fear not! That Peddler will enable you to play a two-drop and your discovered card on turn three. Need that last bit of burst at the end of the game? Let Peddler find you a Soulfire to finish off your opponent. With the inclusion of Brann Bronzebeard, you can take advantage of your Peddler’s battlecry twice, potentially leading so some incredible burst damage. Peddler is the best example of the flexibility of the Zoo deck, and should be kept in your opening hand almost without exception.
Nerubian Egg may be one of the most misunderstood cards by beginners in Hearthstone. A 0/2 for 2-mana seems entirely underwhelming, even if you do get a 4/4 body after it dies. Most beginners simply shrug and assume their opponent will never kill the card. However, to a learned player with a Zoo deck, a Nerubian Egg is a truly top-tier card. Zoo decks typically run at least five different buffs for the Egg (Abusive Sergeant, Power Overwhelming, Defender of Argus, and Dire Wolf Alpha). The Egg, when used properly with these buffs, should be be able to clear an opponent’s minion, leaving behind the 4/4 body and whatever minion was used to buff the egg originally.
What can I say about Knife Juggler that hasn’t already been said? If you’re not playing a control deck you should be playing two of these every time. The Juggler has good stats, and an almost unfair ability, especially when luck is on your side. Knife Juggler is particularly brutal in the Zoo deck. Sure, he’s great to slam down on turn two or three behind a Voidwalker. He’s even better when you already have a Haunted Creeper or Imp Gang Boss in play. But what makes him almost unfair in the Zoo deck is the final card on this list, Imp-losion
Imp-losion is both the most exhilarating and frustrating card in the zoo deck. This RNG-based spell can be your best friend or worst enemy. As zoo’s only source of “removal” you must pick your spots wisely before using it. For example, many players make the mistake of coining out this card on turn three right before a Druid’s turn four swipe or a Paladin’s turn four Consecration. The best use of Imp-losion is pairing it with Knife Juggler to unleash a torrent of knife throws and imps. Just be careful and make sure you don’t overcrowd your board before using this (you might have to trade some other minions in first).
Potential Card Replacements
Overall, the zoo deck is relatively cheap. While you do sometimes find Legendries like Loatheb, this deck is far easier to craft than the pricey Control Warrior. However, there are always budget options for some of those pricier cards.
The idea is here is to find a charger to finish off your opponent. Look for other charging minions you might have. Arcane Golem and Doomguard are very suitable replacements.
It’s tough to replace this incredible legendary minion. Try adding another card that will slow down your opponent and provide a healthy body. Sludge Belcher seems like the perfect replacement, coming in at the same mana cost and filling a similar role.
If you’re looking for a big guy to replace Dr. Boom, don’t. There simply is not another big guy around with the same power level as the Dr. Instead, I would look toward more mid-range options to help buff your other creatures. Try adding in another Dire Wolf Alpha or a Dark Iron Dwarf. You could even fill in a Piloted Shredder or Enhanc-o Mechano to add to your mid-game board state.
Mulligans: An Overview
Mulligans are often overlooked, but represent one of the most important decisions in the game. The common misconception is that you are looking for the same “best” cards every match. This is simply not true. Proper mulligans rely on the individual matchup more than anything else.
Step one is understanding whether your matchup is favored or unfavored. In an unfavored matchup (like Priest or Warrior), you should be using your mulligan more aggressively. That is, you should be digging hard for very specific cards to help you in the first three turns. Chances are that if you don’t have those specific cards, you would probably be too far behind by turn four or five to win anyway.
Step two is thinking about the best cards your opponent may have. How can you counter those cards? IF you were playing with your opponent’s deck, which zoo cards would you least like to see come down on the board.
Finally, look to your curve. Curving out and using all of your mana is crucial during the first few turns of a Zoo deck. IF you have the coin, know that you do not always have to use it on turn one to coin out a two-drop. Sometimes it’s better spent on turn three or four to play two minions at a time.
Mulligans by Matchup
Secret Paladin is a good match if you can control the board early. They will be trying to play cards like Shielded Minibot and Muster. As such, you want minions that you can use to pop those divine shields, and deal with those pesky 1/1s and secrets. Look for cards like Haunted Creeper, Imp Gang Boss, and Voidwalker.
The key against Druid is preventing them from ramping with Darnasus Aspirant. As such, you will need something to kill that card by your turn two or three (depending on who went first). Flame Imps are wonderful in this matchup, as it essentially forces a Wrath or a free kill for you on the Darnasus Aspirant. A Voidwalker + Abusive Sergeant is also a great pair of cards to hold onto. Finally, a coined Dark Peddler into Mortal Coil will take care of that Darnasus every time.
In this match, always mulligan as though you’re playing against a Zoo, then adjust to RenoLock. If you know your opponent to be playing Reno, keeping an Owl at the start to deal with Twilight Drake can be a great tempo swing. However, it’s more important to find those early sticky minions like Haunted Creeper, Imp Gang Boss, and Knife Juggler.
The key in this matchup is making sure a tempo mage cannot get too far ahead. Make sure to keep Flame Imps and Dark Peddlers to help deal with those Mage one and two drops. If you know that your opponent is a Freeze Mage, keeping the Owl is a must.
While Shaman might be the king of face right now, you can actually push the Shaman around if you can curve out early. Just like Mage and Druid, you are looking to kill minions with three health. Look for Voidcallers + Abusive Sergeants, Flame Imps, or Knife Jugglers.
Warriors are a tough match, and will honestly depend a lot on whether they have an Axe in their starting hand. Look for those sticky minions like Haunted Creeper. Imp Gang Boss is a great card to coin out on turn two in this match, as your opponent cannot deal with it with the War Axe. On occasion, there is actually merit in playing out a Nerubian Egg and letting it sit there for a few turns to guard against large board clears.
Priest is one of the toughest early game matchups for zoo. Having an Abusive Sargent or Flame Imp is almost a must in this matchup, as if you cannot deal with Northshire Cleric before it gets buffed or heals, you have essentially lost. A Dark Peddler into Dire Wolf Alpha is a good play. Better is Flame Imp or Voidcaller into Abusive Sargent.
The Hunter matchup will turn on your ability to deal with their three-drop. Misha can be a big problem to get through if you don’t have your Imp-losion or an Abusive. Be careful after your implosion not to leave too many minions on the board. It’s easy to get swept away by a turn five Knife Juggler + Unleash the Hounds.
Rouge is a match that relies on your ability to hold onto the board with sticky minions. Imp Gang Boss and Haunted Creeper are particularly good, as they force your opponent to deal with them more than once. IF you are worried about a Blade Flurry, play out an Egg to make sure you have a minion left behind after the AOE.
As always, I encourage your comments and questions below. If you want to send me a question directly, feel free to email aPurpleTrain@gmail.com. Until next time, good hunting!