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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.