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Kobolds and Catacombs Day 1 Deck Theorycrafting

The next Hearthstone expansion, Kobolds and Catacombs, has finally been released. In the reveal season, we saw many powerful and fun cards that are coming out with the set. But, which of these cards fit into existing decks? What new decks are coming into the meta?

The Meta

Dragon Priest

KnC Dragon Priest

Dragon Priest Decklist

In past expansions, Dragon Priest has been an archetype that many people have toyed around with and played on ladder. In this expansion, we may see the rise of a Dragon-oriented Priest build similar to the Dragon Priest deck that was viable during the Mean Streets of Gadgetzan expansion last year. The iteration I have theory-crafted includes a much more value-orientated game plan by including cards such as Lyra the Sunshard, Drakonid Operative, and the new Priest weapon, Dragon Soul. The deck can also be built to take on a more minion heavy route by taking out cards like Dragon Soul, Lyra the Sunshard, and Shadow Word: Death and replacing them with Cabal Shadow Priest, which synergises with Twilight Acolyte, and Twilight Drake.

 

The inclusion of Duskbreaker in this expansion really helps Dragon Priest’s historically bad matchup versus aggressive decks, which makes the new iteration of Dragon Priest that much scarier. On ladder, this deck seems like a solid choice for climbing at a high pace. In tournaments, players may elect to bring Highlander Priest instead because of its favorable win-rates versus slower decks.

 

 Zoo Warlock

KnC Zoo Warlock

Zoolock Decklist

In the Knights of the Frozen Throne expansion, we once again saw the rise of an old friend: Zoo Warlock. The early game minion package combined with Prince Keleseth proved to be the kick this deck needed to get back into the meta, and topping off with Bonemare and Bloodreaver Gul’Dan made Zoo Warlock scary in the late-game as well. This time around, Blizzard has given Zoo Warlock even better tools for taking the board early game and keeping it. The addition of Kobold Librarian helps keep your hand full, which is extremely important when having so many low mana cost minions in your deck. The main difference with this Zoo Warlock compared to the previous deck is that it cuts Prince Keleseth for the new 2-drop, Vulgar Homunculus.

 

With this iteration of the deck, I decided to add the Demon synergy package in the form of Demonfire, Bloodfury potion, and Crystalweaver. We have seen quite a lot of play with Bloodfury Potion and Crystalweaver in the past Zoo Warlock decks, but the addition of the Vulgar Homunculus makes these cards coming down on curve extremely threatening. Hooked Reaver also makes an appearance in this deck because of how solid its stats are when the Battlecry goes off, as well as its ability to synergise with the rest of the demon synergy in the deck.

 

The addition of higher-health minions and buff cards will help Zoo Warlock in the next meta mainly because of the predicted prevalence of Duskbreaker on the ranked ladder. In tournament play, this deck will likely be chosen for inclusion in aggressive lineups.

Big Druid

KnC Big Druid

Big Druid Decklist

The ‘Big’ archetype saw large amounts of play during the Knights of the Frozen Throne expansion as a whole, especially during the later half of the set’s meta. Kobolds and Catacombs has not given Big Druid many other tools, but the core of the deck is strong enough to still see play. The only change I have made to the current Big Druid list is taking out Innervate and adding Arcane Tyrants. Innervate, once a staple in most Druid decks, took a huge hit from the nerfs that occured in the middle of the last expansion. It was included in Big Druid, but it was arguably one of the weaker cards within the deck. Two different cards were shown from the new expansion that could find a home in Big Druid: Greedy Sprite and Arcane Tyrant. I chose to include Arcane Tyrant instead of the Sprite because it is very similar to Kun the Forgotten King in the way that it makes your power turns even more powerful. A common way Kun has been used during the meta was playing it as a big free body to pair with Ultimate Infestation. Arcane Tyrant acts in a similar way when paired with Nourish, Spreading Plague, and Ultimate Infestation as well. Greedy Sprite could be included instead of the Tyrant, but the ramp effect is rather slow and your opponent can choose to ignore it. Although this is the case, ramp is powerful enough that Greedy Sprite might see play over Arcane Tyrant.

 

Big Druid seems to be the new go-to Druid deck. In the past, Jade Druid has held this spot, but Big Druid is able to make bigger minions faster and still keep aggression at bay, which may see the ‘Big’ archetype overtaking the Jade mechanic this expansion. Because of this, it is a solid choice for both ranked ladder and tournament play.

 

Tempo Rogue

KnC Tempo Rogue

Tempo Rogue Decklist

Tempo Rogue swept the meta in dominant fashion when it was first discovered to be a powerhouse of a deck. With Kobolds and Catacombs, this deck gets even stronger with the inclusion of some slower yet highly valuable cards. One of these cards is the Rogue Legendary of the set, Sonya Shadowdancer. Sonya replaces the rather weak card of Shaku, the Collector as a card generation engine. Most of the minions in Tempo Rogue have such good effects or Battlecries that Shadowcaster saw a decent amount of experimentation and success during the expansion. Sonya is much cheaper than Shadowcaster, which makes its effect easier to pull off. The second card I have added to the deck is Fal’dorei Strider. Admittingly, a 4 mana 4/4 is rather weak as a tempo play. But, the potential for that minion to pull one, two, or even three additional 4/4 bodies is so powerful that it is worth the initial tempo loss. Even if only 1 additional body is pulled, paying 4 mana for 8/8 worth of stats is crazy powerful. There is also the potential to high-roll by creating a 4/4 on turn 7 to be able to play Bonemare onto after your opponent cleared your board the previous turn.

 

Fal’dorei Strider takes the place of Saronite Chain Gang, mainly because of Chain Gang’s vulnerability to an on-curve Duskbreaker. Overall, Tempo Rogue looks to still be a powerhouse deck next expansion, and I expect to see it played both on the ranked ladder and in tournaments.

 

Highlander Priest

KnC Highlander Priest

Highlander Priest Decklist

Highlander Priest has been at the top of the meta throughout Knights of the Frozen Throne, and it seems to still remain at the top during Kobolds and Catacombs. The Priest list I have selected to showcase only adds one card: Psychic Scream. In order to include the new Priest board clear, I chose to cut Mass Dispel from the deck. Mass Dispel is often times weak, so it made sense to take it out for one of the best cards of the upcoming expansion. This decision shows how good of a deck Highlander Priest already is. Another take on Highlander Priest is to go for a more minion-focused route by including a Dragon package with Duskbreaker. While this seems like a good idea, I feel the current version of the deck is much better. In the past, more value-oriented decks were tested. These decks included cards such as Elise the Trailblazer and Free from Amber. It was ultimately found that the faster and more burst-oriented Priest build was better. Therefore, I feel it is appropriate to stick with the tried-and-true burst style.

 

Once again, Highlander Priest seems to be at the top of the meta. Expect to see a large amount on ladder and as a staple deck in many tournament lineups.

 

The Non-Meta

Combo Hunter

KnC Combo Hunter

Combo Hunter Decklist

For the past few expansions, Hunter has been struggling as a class. Blizzard keeps pushing control tools and weird cards for the Hunter arsenal, which leaves the class in an awkward position in terms of deck building because of how weak each of the archetypes are. With the new Hunter legendary minion, Kathrena Winterwisp, I thought it would be really interesting to build a combo-oriented deck using Kathrena, Charged Devilsaur, and King Krush. It is often not a combo that will instantly kill your opponent, but the amount of stats that the combo provides are truly ridiculous. This deck runs the Secret package to help fend off aggro, the Candleshot and Hunter’s Mark combo to deal with large threats, and Deathstalker Rexxar to create even more value in a late game scenario.

 

While the deck might not be top-tier, it seems extremely fun to play. Personally, I will be testing this deck in tournament play in a lineup that is attempting to target control decks. On ranked ladder, Combo hunter still seems weak to aggro decks and Highlander Priest, which makes it not extremely viable in the upcoming meta.

Conclusion

Overall, Kobolds and Catacombs sees both powerful and fun cards added to the game. While it may not be the best expansion of the year in terms of player attitude and hype, it will likely lead to a diverse and healthy meta both in terms of ranked ladder and tournament play.

 

Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com.

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Hearthstone’s Cost Problem

Journey to Un’goro may be the most balanced, diverse and flavourful Hearthstone expansions ever released. It’s lead to well-spread, interesting meta, every class has its counters, and no Tier 1 deck ruins everyone’s day. However, the launch of Un’goro was marked by unprecedented frustration over cost.

Across the Hearthstone Subreddit and official forums, users complained about disappointing packs and underwhelming options with their new opened cards. The decks they wanted to theorycraft seemed to be hidden behind huge dust or cash investments. Conspiracy theories spread about Blizzard cooking the books to reduce the number of usable legendaries or increase duplicates. While these were quickly rebuked (and corroborated by community data), the fact that the openings felt so disappointing should speak volumes.

And while the issues with launch pack opening disappointments trailed off (largely as most Quests turned out to be less than competitive), core concerns and frustrations about the overall cost of Hearthstone remains. Here are the key reasons Hearthstone’s felt a lot more expensive lately.

Hunter Or Nothing

There are almost no decent budget decks like old Zoo

It’s definitely possible to succeed with budget lists. Popular streamer and meme master Disguised Toast recently managed to achieve Legend rank on a free-to-play account started soon after the launch of Un’goro, without the usual Arena grinding that hallmarked other free-to-play efforts. However, his efforts represent the experience of many new players; he was railroaded towards Hunter. Midrange Hunter represents the only option for semi-competitive decks that doesn’t require Epics or Legendaries. This is fine for those who enjoy the Aggressive Midrange playstyle; but for those who are enthralled by the other archetypes, it’s hardly a good advertisement for the game to have this as the only low-cost option.

Worse, with its reliance on class cards and without any other Hunter archetype available, the easiest avenue into semi-competitive play also represents a dead end, with no other decks to springboard onto.

The Progression Gap

If we chart the trajectory of a player as they explore a new deck, class, or the game as a whole, we can see it in terms of three phases. First, the initial learning and discovering phase where they try out with their initial cards as best they can. Then, the collection and refinement of cards and skills, with incrementally improving decks. Finally, the adoption of highly refined decks and strategies, with later exploration into other less familiar archetypes as the cycle begins anew. While the first and particularly the last phases of the game remain as strong as ever in Un’goro, with interesting mechanics, synergies and balanced high-level play rewarding player’s skill and ingenuity with fun and success, the second phase is looking shaky.

Simply put, there’s little viability in “budget” versions of existing decks. Every single non-hunter competitive deck not only contains multiple expensive Epics and Legendaries, they demand them. While you can try Murloc Paladin without Vilefin Inquisitor, Tirion, Sunkeeper Tarim, Murloc Warleader, Gentle Megasaur, or Finja, you won’t see much reward for your perseverance. Quest decks are self-explanatory in their cost. Priests simply have to include two Shadow Visions and likely Lyra, even outside of Dragon’s Potions, Silence’s Shamblers and Karazhan Purifys. Even historically cheap aggressive decks like Pirate Warrior and Aggro Druid are questionable at best without cards like Patches, Southsea Captain or Living Mana. Perhaps the closest to a non-Hunter budget deck to build on, Secret Mage, rests heavily on the Epic Primordial Glyph, Karazhan’s Babbling Book and Medivh’s Valet.

Compared to old metas, which largely had numerous cheap decks or decks that could be remade in a far more budget-friendly fashion by curving lower with cheaper, smaller minions, we are seeing a situation where playing a new deck without losing a huge amount of competitive viability is simply too expensive in terms of dust for many players.

No All-powerful Neutrals

Dr. Boom was expensive, but he could go into almost every deck

Say what you like about Doctor Boom, he was an equal opportunity giggling goblin. Equally at home in an Aggro Paladin as a Control Warrior, he was a staple not only for his power but also for his versatility across uncounted numbers of decks. Similarly for pre-nerf Knife Juggler, Piloted Shredder, Ragnaros, BGH, Sylvanas and Azure Drake; the defining feature of pre-Standard Hearthstone was arguably a huge number of immensely powerful Neutrals. While these auto-includes hurt the game in many respects by reducing diversity and making for a more homogeneous experience, they did nonetheless make one’s collection far more versatile. Often, when trying a new deck, you could rely on having a decent core already in your collection simply by having a few key neutrals.

Un’goro’s coinciding with many of these cards rotating (building on the impact caused by the previous set of Standard rotations, Hall of Fame inclusions and nerfs) added fuel to the cost issues. No longer would it be possible to build the skeletons of multiple decks out of a limited pool of high-powered neutrals. Instead, decks would now have fewer and fewer cards in common; leading to a diverse and interesting meta, but higher barriers of entry for players looking to branch out.

Harsh Transitions

With every expansion, Team 5 is given the difficult task of creating balanced, interesting, flavourful cards that players will want to use lots of. This last part is key; the designers must push the envelope of power on each expansion if the cards they so lovingly added will ever get used. This is nothing new; but the addition of Standard rotation can lead to huge changes in the classes and cards that are competitive.

The best example of this is the transition from Mean Streets of Gadgetzan to Un’goro. Numerous entire archetypes were rendered obsolete by the rotation of Reno, leading to large amounts of transitional problems for players seeking a new main, as their Jarraxi, Inkmaster Solias and Razas became less than useful. Standard rotations, while necessary, can massively increase the cost burdens on players in this manner.

Feeling Expensive vs Being Expensive

No one would disagree that Hearthstone needs to attract paying customers if the game is to survive, grow and receive high-quality development resources. However, attracting and incentivising people to pay up to get that cool new Epic or Legendary isn’t helped by a progression system that feels stop-start and punishing. High-paying “Whales” are already strongly incentivised to pay for large numbers of packs to access the latest decks, niche legendaries or golden cards. More attention needs to be paid to the players who treat Hearthstone spending splurges as an occasional treat without pushing them over the cost threshold where they’d rather not play at all.

This doesn’t need to necessarily involve reducing costs or giving away free stuff. Instead, ensuring a strong, meaningful and fluid progression system rewards players who slowly improve a deck over time without having to splash out in one huge purchase would greatly encourage a long-term paying customer-base and more satisfied and entertained players. More meaningful stepping-stone decks and cards is key to this, allowing players to experiment and remain competitive without dipping into their life savings. After all, progression is the true heart of any CCG, and making that experience as fun and rewarding as possible is just as important as inculcating a healthy meta or compelling gameplay.

 

Title art courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via hearthstone.gamepedia.com. Art by Joe Wilson

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Here Be Legends – The Unrefined Decks Ripe for Exploration

The Joy of Decks

Deckbuilding is one of Hearthstone’s best, but most overlooked, features. While “netdecking” is seen by many as mandatory, that skips half the fun. Inventing, testing, and refining unexplored concepts can be incredibly rewarding. Whilst most efforts turn out to be sub-optimal, you never know if you’ll invent the next best deck. In the meantime, the satisfaction of improving upon your own creation to demolish utterly unsuspecting opponents is more than enough reward for the effort. With that in mind, it can be incredibly hard just to know where to start. To help, here’s some archetypes that show promise and could be made dominating by the right innovation.

Tempo Warrior

Could Malkorok find a home in an Un’goro Tempo Warrior?

All the hype around Warrior has been focused near-exclusively on the new Quest Taunt Warrior, and the meta-dominating Aggro Pirate version. However, there are many more Warrior archetypes that have huge promise. Most interesting of these is Tempo Warrior.

Tempo Warrior uses Warrior’s early game tools to gain control of the board, and using synergies to make high-tempo plays before finishing the opponent off with high-value cards. Less aggressive than Pirate Warrior, but more able to play the beatdown than Taunt or Control, Tempo Warrior benefits from few unfavoured matchups and lots of flex spots for techs. Perfecting the list may bring us a deck as powerful as the Dragon Warriors of old. Check out these guides by Zaulk and Optilex for further inspiration. There’s a lot of ideas to try, such as N’zoth Packages, various degrees of tech cards, card draw, and different end-game finishers.

Aggro Rogue

Who needs Gadgetzan Auctioneer when you can just kill them?

Rogue is a class that has seen a lot of attention this expansion. Both Miracle and Quest have seen immense popularity, though a weakness to aggression has seen them somewhat declining. Relatively little interest has been paid to a deck that was dominating during the last weeks of the Mean Streets Meta, Aggro Rogue (AKA Water Rogue, Tempo Rogue or Pirate Rogue).

Instead of the combo-focused gameplay of other Rogue decks, Aggro Rogue steps on the gas hard, and after controlling the early board with cheap spells and efficient minions, seeks to close out the game with Cold Bloods and Leeroy Jenkins. Often it will include Finja to provide additional mid-game power. To gain insight and understanding on where you might improve the formula, check out this excellent analysis by rhoast. Choices can include Sprint, Vilespine Slayers, the Finja Package, and removal like Vilespine Slayers.

Control Shaman

With flexible AOE and potent heals, is Shaman the next big Control class?

Control Shaman has been an unappreciated archetype for a long time. With strong heals, efficient board-clears, powerful removal, and dominating late-game tools, Control Shaman has been a potent, yet under-played, deck for a while now. While the loss of Tunnel Trogg and Totem Golem affects other Shaman archetypes, Control Shaman only suffers from the absence of Elemental Destruction and Healing Wave. Luckily, Volcano is an incredible tool that can more than make up for such absences. What’s more, its late game potential with cards like N’zoth remains nearly undiminished. Experimentation should likely revolve around the strong anti-aggro core, various degrees of Jade inclusion, Elementals, N’zoth packages, and Ancestral Spirit-focused builds.

Zoolock

Warlock isn’t in a great place right now. With declining playrates and winrates, the future of the class looks grim. However, if there is a hidden Warlock archetype that might make it in the competitive scene, it is undoubtedly Zoolock. With the upheaval of the early game left in the power vacuum from Tunnel Trogg and Totem Golem leaving, there may still be the perfect sweet spot of Zoo minions to keep the archetype alive and viable. Are Discard mechanics the way forward? Maybe Murlocs? Or perhaps sticky deathrattles and board flood decks are the way to go? Perhaps even Elementals could find a home. Whatever the perfect solution is, it’s likely we haven’t seen the last of Zoo.

Quest Paladin

… nah just kidding. With the current card set, there’s simply no way to make these decks work consistently. But if you like a challenge, go ahead!

 

 

 

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Art by Jaemin Kim, courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment

The New 9th Class – The Future and Flavour of Warlock

Who knew that the class with the best hero power in the game would have the worst performance? After several weeks of the Journey to Un’Goro expansion, it’s becoming clear that one class is struggling more than any other. In the infamous words of Mike Donais, “When you list the nine classes in order, there will always be a class that is ninth.” In the post-Karazhan meta, that was Priest; now it is Warlock.

Since the rotation of Reno Jackson from Renolock, Controlling Warlock archetypes have suffered from a lack of survivability tools. The class lacks the lifegain and taunts of other control-oriented classes, and little to counter the life loss from tapping. Meanwhile, Zoo has struggled to gain early game tempo, and suffers from a proliferation of board clears and synergistic minion packages that can out-value or out-tempo them. Without any strong early or late-game archetypes, Warlock is sorely lacking many reasons to play it.

Tempo Troubles

Zoo has been a staple throughout the entirety of Hearthstone’s history. Playing efficient minions on curve early on, and continually refilling with Lifetap is a solid strategy. However, it’s one that has quickly become eclipsed. Synergistic minion packages have proved superior, and without early-game board control, Zoo struggles heavily. Warrior’s Pirates, Paladin’s Murlocs, Druid’s tokens, and Hunter’s Beasts can quickly out-tempo Warlock’s reliable, but less synergistic cards.

Disappointing Discards

Warlock’s new cards are heavily discard-focused; but the deck is too unreliable to be competitive

Across the past few expansions, most of Warlock’s synergies have been focused around the mechanic of Discarding cards. While this was initially competitive, the synergies have not held up over time. The Discard mechanic was promising, but ended up being too inconsistent and limiting to be truly defining for the class. It shut off all control strategies by discarding card advantage and tools, as well as being heavily RNG dependent both in effects and in drawing the perfect balance of discards and synergies. By going all-in on Discard synergies for Warlock’s early game, Team 5 unfortunately ended up pigeon-holing the class in a manner similar to Paladin in Mean Streets of Gadgetzan; over-reliant on a fundamentally weak mechanic.

There are two potential solutions to this; either Team 5 can double down on the discard mechanic and continue to support it with ever-more-powerful cards; or, create a new mechanic that minion-based early game Warlock decks can be built around.

Struggling to Survive

Outside of the Zoo archetype, Controlling versions of Warlock such as Handlock have struggled to find a niche. Whilst the new Humongous Razorleaf offered some hope, a fundamental fragility without the mass-heal of Reno has left the archetype weak and brittle; especially in a meta still dominated by Pirate Warrior and with new, burn-oriented mage lists rapidly proliferating. To make matters worse, the class suffers from a lack of non-AOE removal, with Siphon Soul and Blastcrystal Potion being hardly the epitome of tempo.

Flavourful Irrelevance?

Part of the problem is class identity. Warlock has always benefited from Neutral minions, with Antique Healbot and Reno being the two most obvious examples. They also benefited from hand-size synergies in Mountain Giant and Twilight Drake, and taunt generators and targets like Ancient Watcher and Defender of Argus. Unluckily for Warlock, Team 5 is refocusing on class identity, with deliberate rotation out and non-introduction of ubiquitous, generalized, powerful Neutral cards. This means that Warlock lacks the ability to shore up its weaknesses for a controlling game. But how is this rectified without ruining Warlock’s class identity?

Imagining a Future

Humongous Razorleaf wasn’t enough to keep Handlock viable without Reno

The fundamental contradiction of Control Warlock is that Control decks tend to require healing to be competitive. That gels rather poorly with the lore of Warlocks being power-mad, ruthless, self-damaging fel manipulators. But this contradiction can be solved. The answer lies in cards like the now-nerfed Molten Giant; cards that synergize with low life totals that can be used to improve survivability without being just boring heals. Currently, the way to beat Warlocks is pretty straightforward; hit them in the face enough and they crumble. That strategy should still be viable, but it should come at the risk of a huge comeback swing that can lock you out of the game. Recapturing the spirit of Handlock, one that thrives on the razor’s edge between victory and defeat, would go a long way to making Warlock both competitive and fun.

 

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How to Run the Zoo (Part 2)

(Photo By: The Game Diplomat)

(Photo By: The Game Diplomat)

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.

Key Cards

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.

Dark Peddler

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

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.

Knife Juggler

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

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.

Leeroy Jenkins

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.

Loatheb

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.

Dr. Boom

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

Paladin

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.

Druid

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.

Warlock

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.

Mage

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.

Shaman

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.

Warrior

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

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.

Hunter

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

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!

 

 

Climbing the Ladder with aPurpleTrain

The ladder is a dark and angry mistress. All who have played Hearthstone have felt her siren’s call. We toil each month to climb the ranks, to earn our spot among the ranks of the Legendary. To some, achieving a Legendary rank is routine. A simple chore to be completed each month. But for most, it is the mirage in the desert, or Mount Olympus above the clouds – a mythical place beyond the grasp of the mortals.

I am aPurpleTrain. I have seen this mythical land. I have been there many, many times, even on a free-to-play account. And I am here to tell you that I am just like you, a mere mortal. I do not spend eight hours a day streaming. I do not fly across the world to play in invitational tournaments. I am not sponsored. I do not have subscribers, followers, or loyal trolls. I am here to tell you that you too can reach Legendary. Let me be your guide. Each week, I will highlight a deck that you can use to pilot to the top .25% of the ladder. It will not come easy. Reaching the top of the ladder will require patience above all else, but it is possible.

How to Run the Zoo (Part 1)

I have piloted many different decks to Legendary – Secret Paladin, Freeze Mage, Mid-Range Druid, Face Hunter. But none have I had so much fun with as Warlock Zoo.

What is Zoo?

aPurpleTrain Feb 2016 Legendary Zoo Deck

aPurpleTrain Feb 2016 Legendary Zoo Deck

Zoo is a term you hear often in Hearthstone. It is perhaps one of the only deck archetypes (other than Handlock and the new Renolock) that does not require detailing the class. Hearing Zoo means Warlock. Simple as that. So what is Zoo?

Zoo has existed in Hearthstone essentially from the beginning. The specific iterations have changed enormously over two years, but the basic strategy is the same: capture the board early with sticky minions that are resilient to board clears, never give up the board, and then start pounding away at your opponent’s face. Zoo decks typically do not run board clears, and only rarely run any sort of removal other than Imp-losion (occasionally you will see a player tech in a BGH).

In this respect, Zoo is actually very similar to Secrets Paladin. While they both may seem superficially to be pure aggro decks like Face Hunter, the real victory comes from controlling the board early with your minions. It is not uncommon to enter turns four, five, or six, and be losing by life total, but winning on board. If you can control the board, you will almost always win the game.

Zoo in the Current Meta

Zoo is an incredibly strong deck in the meta right now, primarily because the two most often encountered ladder decks, Mid-Range Druid and Secrets Paladin, are both favorable match-ups for the Zoo player. Both of those decks have a similar weakness: removal of multiple minions. Druid, for example, may be the worst class in the game at removing multiple minions efficiently. A Druid’s only true AOE is Swipe. A Druid wants to plop down one big minion per turn until they draw combo and kill you. In a similar vein, Secret Paladins run only one AOE, if that – consecrate.

Resilient Minions

The great things about Zoo is that all of your minions are very resilient to these board clears. Zoo does have quite a few 1 and 2 health minions, but not nearly as many as a pure face deck like Face Hunter. Also, Zoo’s minions are sticky. Minions like Haunted Creeper, Nerubian Egg, and Imp Gang Boss all leave minions behind after AOE. These minions make it incredibly difficult for your opponent to clear the board entirely, while also turning your Knife Juggler from a priority target into a must-kill target.

Minion Buffs

Why is it so good to always have a minion on the board? Because of Zoo’s other strength, it’s buff cards. Zoo decks run an abundance of buffs, allowing you to turn your cheap, small, sticky minions in to larger guys capable of trading up (while leaving more minions behind). Cards like Abusive Sargent and Power Overwhelming can flip the entire board in your favor. Very few plays in the game are more powerful than playing a PO on your Egg, killing an opponent’s large minion, and leaving yourself with a fresh 4/4 on the board – all for just one mana.

Late Game

Zoo is also a deck that has plenty of space for individual choices to counter the meta. The mid to late game for Zoo is often simply a personal preference by player. Most players will try to run at least one large threat and/or one large charging minion for a final burst. Some players have used Dr. Boom as a big threat, while some have opted for Sea Giants. For a finisher, some decks opt for Doomguard, while others shy away from the discard mechanic and opt for Arcane Golem or Leroy Jenkins instead. Any of those chargers, when combined with a PO or Abusive is capable of creating large bursts, sometimes into the realm of 12-16 damage. And if you find yourself stuck behind a taunt, never leave home without your best friend, Mr. Ironbeak Owl.

Conclusion

Overall, Zoo is an incredibly powerful and fun deck. The deck plays a little bit differently than some “curve-out” decks where the plays are essentially scripted. The deck often rewards risk and the element of surprise. While the deck may be named after a zoo of animals, the deck is certainly best when you let those animals out of their cage. So go! Let your minions run wild, and you, too, can run the Zoo to Legendary.

I will be back next week with How to Run the Zoo (Part 2), where I will discuss in some detail mulligans, and tech choices. In the meantime, try out the Zoo variant I used to climb the ladder during the February 2016 season.

I welcome any and all comments, and promise to always do my best at responding to questions.