Hey, guys. It’s RaFive. As a treat, today we’re going to look at a really interesting take on Zoo from clericim with which he hit #1 Legend on the EU server a couple weeks back. As with the last couple of Zoo decks I’ve profiled (with the exception of the insanely fast and fun Rushlock), this is a deck with more of a midrange focus for better matchups in this minion-heavy metagame, particularly against control. There are three key features which separate this from a standard Zoo list, which should provide good theorycrafting fodder for all you fellow deckbuilders. Since this is a more advanced list than usual, I’ll approach it from a slightly higher level of discussion. Let’s jump in!
This deck is basically Zoo, slowed down by one turn. With the plurality of minions at 2 rather than 1 mana, and more control-focused, less aggressive minions like Voidwalker, this deck eschews aggression and proceeds at a more meditative pace to establish a more secure board and draw more cards into the midgame. Zoo’s biggest strength is its flexible early game, and its biggest weakness is running out of steam as the game wears on. By trading a little bit of early-game power for better midgame pressure and the ability to stage recoveries on the board through Shadowflame, this list balances quite well against the heavier opposition you’re likely to run into as you get to the top of the ladder.
The first thing any veteran Zoo player will notice upon looking at the list is that this runs slow and high-value. The tuning is something to admire, actually, and this is a great exercise in the thought process of deckbuilding, so I’d like to talk about the specific changeups in some detail.
The core of the deck’s value engine is the exchange of Dark Iron Dwarf for double Voidcaller. The Dwarf represents a one-turn 6/4 for 4 mana, while the Caller is 5/7 in a worst-case Voidwalker scenario and often 6/8 or 8/11 if it summons another Voidcaller or a Doomguard. Playing Doomguard for free also gives you huge relative gains in mana, tempo, and card advantage — it’s a midgame swing that will put you ahead against all but the luckiest and most well-prepared opponents.
The price of all this value is that Voidcaller is slower than Dark Iron Dwarf by at least one turn — the Dwarf’s effect enables an immediate trade for value, while the Caller has to die first. The other downside to the Caller is that you need those value Doomguards in hand so you can extract all that value, which means you reliably need some extra cards in hand to begin with. The other consideration is that want to fully exploit Voidcaller‘s potential value. If we’re running double Caller, we need some ways to reliably kill them off in a pinch while still getting value. The transformation of this deck into something magical begins with the addition of a single copy of Shadowflame in exchange for one Leper Gnome. This suits our purposes perfectly — it kills Voidcaller while getting great value for board clear or staging a recovery (and giving you decent odds of a Doomguard with nothing on the opponent’s board, which is Zoo’s dream position), and it accepts that the list is going to run slower with a consequently weaker first turn.
Of course, if we’re running Shadowflame, we ought to run double Power Overwhelming as well, so we can perform cheap and epic clears with Nerubian Egg and such. Since there’s only one copy of Shadowflame, we need more card draw to cycle into it reliably, and since we cut a Leper Gnome to make room, we need more early Deathrattle minions to buff Undertaker. That’s where clericim makes a brave move and cuts Flame Imp from the deck for Loot Hoarder. This cements the deck as slower, board-focused and minimally aggressive while providing that much-needed card draw and Deathrattle. No Imps means 3-6 extra health per game, which in practical Warlock terms actually means 2-3 more cards drawn per game on top of the card or two you’re saving from using Voidcaller to play Doomguard with no discards. 3-5 extra cards over the course of a game means a lot more options and a lot more minions to play on turn 5+ when other Zoo decks normally start to run out of steam.
The other danger from longer games is that your opponent will almost certainly draw into any board clear he has. Again, this list is expertly tuned to play around board clear — Undertaker is somewhat clear-resistant as he gets buffed, Loot Hoarder and Nerubian Egg preserve your card advantage after clears, Harvest Golem and Haunted Creeper are sticky, and even the midrange minions are designed to resist clears; Voidcaller threatens Doomguard when killed, and Defender of Argus buffs minions out of AoE range. This is a list designed to go the distance in a more control-heavy metagame.
To preface: this is a Zoo deck. If you’re thinking about trying for Legend, much less high Legend, with this deck, you should already be quite familiar with playing Zoo, and this deck will instantly feel pretty familiar and plays in a similar way to the standard Zoo list. There are, however, a few advanced caveats to watch.
This deck is among the best in Zoo versus control because of its extra card draw and staying power. This is not a list that goes to the face early and tries to win games by turn 6, so you should generally throw Soulfire and your buffers (Power Overwhelming, Abusive Sergeant, Dire Wolf Alpha) back to draw into later in the game (although Soulfire can be important in aggressive matchups depending on the strength of the rest of your opening hand). It still runs fast, as is Zoo’s trademark, but the games are a turn longer (or more) on average and your focus needs to be exclusively on building and controlling the board (Trump would probably love this deck). Against all but the quickest aggro decks to burn out, you’ll need to run fast in your early game to avoid falling behind, which means throwing back anything costing over 2 mana. Almost one in three of your cards is a potential activator for Nerubian Egg, so that’s actually a good keep against aggression since it’ll almost always trade 2-3:1 against low-end minions. Against control, your sticky minions like Harvest Golem and Haunted Creeper are particularly important to keep you with a board you can exploit for valuable trades with the attack buffs you carry in your deck.
Ad nauseam, your value engine is Voidcaller. The more you can save Power Overwhelming and Shadowflame for your Callers, the better your odds of absolutely crushing the midgame with some valuable trades into a Doomguard. As an added bonus, your opponents will usually be fairly scared of the potential for something horrible to come boiling out of your Caller and will often ignore it, letting you direct the trades more favorably and also potentially giving you an immediate attack with Doomguard. Be careful to put down Voidwalker out of your hand first to maximize the mana efficiency of your trades, but if you can’t, don’t fret too much, because Caller still gets value even when summoning lowlier demons.
Substitutions are hard in this deck because of how tightly it’s tuned. For better matchups against Hunter, you can swap out one Loot Hoarder for one Mortal Coil. If you need a Silence effect, you can take one Dire Wolf Alpha out for one Ironbeak Owl. For better synergy with Power Overwhelming, Voidcaller and Nerubian Egg, you can run a Void Terror in place of one Harvest Golem. Last but not least, I’ve found Sylvanas Windrunner to work well in more midrangey variants of Deathrattle Zoo, like this one. That’s about the limit for tech without starting to fundamentally change the deck’s focus.
I’m not sure I’d use this deck low on the ladder because of its comparative slowness, but the advantages it gains against midrange and control decks — particularly Priest and midrange Hunter — make it an ideal choice for laddering higher up or in heavier metas — it might not be a bad foundation for something tourney-oriented, even. If you’re looking for an inexpensive deck that plays fast but still punches hard enough to top the ladder, you’re in luck. Thanks to clericim for his part in this fascinating look at building a better metagame!