Evolutions of Zoo: Dread Infernal

Today we’re transforming Zoo from its usual weak snowball-dependent list into something more robust with better range, using the power of Dread Infernal!

Introduction

Hey guys. It’s RaFive, and today we’re transforming Zoo from its usual weak snowball-dependent list into something more robust with better range, using the power of Dread Infernal to make Zoo punch harder and last longer. Today we’ll discuss Infernal as a card and how its unique strengths and weaknesses affect Zoo deckbuilding, in context of a deck I’ve put together to run Infernal.

This article will touch on the fundamentals of Zoo deckbuilding, so if you’re unfamiliar with the approach taken here, it’s a good idea to review (and fellow contributor Spark also has a Zoo guide for a different take on the basics). Today’s list also runs Sludge Belcher, so it may be helpful to look at my article about Sludge Belcher in Zoo for a bit more detail on that specific card choice.

Why Infernal?

Zoo doesn’t run minion removal like Corruption or Siphon Soul. Instead, Zoo’s removal strategy relies on buffing cheap minions to make efficient trades while you throw down other cheap minions and stay ahead on the board. This inevitably leads to two fundamental weaknesses in Zoo.

The first is burnout. Zoo minions are cheap, and start to become outclassed by stronger minions (especially health-heavy Taunts) put down by midrange and control decks past about turn 6. Heavier decks can often simply stall and pick the board apart for the first few turns in order to stabilize and turn the tempo against Zoo with a vengeance. Infernal helps compensate here by making sure the situational Doomguard isn’t the only hefty option available to smash through an opponent’s larger minions.

Zoo’s other big weakness is its dependence on minions for removal. This means if your opponent snatches board control away, it becomes increasingly, exponentially harder to make a comeback, since it’s not like you can just toss out a Shadow Bolt for removal — you have to put a minion on the board and have it stick long enough to buff up and throw into your opponent’s threat. Infernal shines here as well, since it has an AoE damage effect when played from the hand in addition to its solid body, which should soften most opponents enough to permit a reasonable chance at a comeback.

In other words, Infernal is a big dude who helps sweep the board. This makes him a solid pick if we can fit him into a deck where the main weaknesses are lack of big dudes and lack of sweepers.

Last but not least, for budget-conscious players, Infernal is a soulbound card and the cards which best support him (Voidcaller, Power Overwhelming, Sense Demons, etc.) are commons and/or come with Naxxramas, making this a deck that’s about the the most powerful you can put together at this dust cost.

Infernal in Zoo

The two most prohibitive things about playing Infernal in Zoo are the card’s high cost and its potentially self-harming Battlecry. Dread Infernal is an expensive a card with significant potential downsides if you’re ahead on the board with low-health minions. Zoo, of course, is all about a board populated with low-health minions, and Zoo doesn’t have room for more than a couple truly expensive cards.

At the same time, however, Infernal’s huge body and board-clearing effect are exactly the reasons we want the card in Zoo to begin with! This means that in order to maximize Infernal’s potential in Zoo, it’s necessary to build around the card somewhat rather than simply swapping a couple other cards out to fit Infernal in as tech. We need to look for ways to get Infernal out cheaply and quickly without playing it from the hand, and we also need to look for ways to turn its Battlecry into an advantage if we do have to play Infernal from the hand. Hearken to the decklist on the right and we’ll see what I’ve come up with.

The Deck

As with Sludge Belcher in the last installment, fitting Dread Infernal into Zoo pushes on a lot of levers and changes up a lot of synergies.

The first important difference you’ll notice is that there’s only one copy of Soulfire. With a more minion-heavy and synergy-heavy build, a Voidcaller or Dread Infernal discarded at the wrong moment can be game-breaking. The much more robust mid-game field presence in our higher mana curve for this deck compensates for the lower at-will damage from the hand that Soulfire normally enables. The space freed by these two slots at the low end enables Infernal to fit in at the high end.

Since we’re running two Infernals, it’s a necessity to run two copies of Voidcaller. The plan is for this to be our main value engine mid-game, trading it in to kill an enemy minion and simultaneously summon a Doomguard or Dread Infernal for free with no drawbacks. This focus makes it a very smart idea to run Void Terror, Power Overwhelming, and a single copy of Sense Demons, to ensure we can always get rid of Voidcaller at the opportune moment and always have a demon in hand to combo off (since even Flame Imp, being roughly a 2-drop in stats, represents a value summon off the 4-cost 3-mana-body of Voidcaller). We also need to keep in both copies of Dark Iron Dwarf as a midrange attack buff that puts something solid on the board while Voidcaller trades up.

Since we’ve cut Defender of Argus to fit Voidcaller into the 4-slot and need Dark Iron Dwarf’s body and Battlecry, I’ve included Sludge Belcher as a durable minion that protects whatever you’ve go on board up to that point while you trade efficiently or hit the opponent’s face. The dream is to play Voidcaller turn 4, then Sludge Belcher turn 5 while you trade Voidcaller in for a Doomguard that’s now a free swing at the face protected behind Belcher’s hefty Taunts.

Playing the deck is surprisingly similar to a lower-curve Zoo. You mulligan hard for early drops and try to have Voidcaller down by turn 4-5 to start trading in for value advantage. Where possible, hang onto Abusive Sergeant and Power Overwhelming to use as cheap triggers for Voidcaller in a pinch; in fact, the more attack buffs you can use to trade Voidcaller in for value, the better most of your games will go. Don’t be afraid to use Void Terror early to proc Nerubian Egg — you want your opponent to waste all his valuable cards in the first few turns so he then runs out of steam when you surprise him with your heavier midgame. Only use Sense Demons to solidify your lead or as a desperation play to get value when you’re behind. Only play Dread Infernal or Doomguard from your hand when you’re out of Voidcallers or are ahead and pushing to finish, and make sure you carefully calculate the effect of Infernal’s Battlecry before playing it onto a populated board.

Substitutions

The list I’ve built is pretty solid against control and midrange, and contains enough shenanigans that you’ll usually wind up ahead in the mirror if your opponent assumes you have a default strategy and moves for board control by killing Voidcaller. The deck does definitely suffer against face aggression, though, particularly from Hunter. That said, the list is pretty flexible as long as you leave in the Voidcallers and attack buffs (so, Power Overwhelming, Dark Iron Dwarf, etc.). I tried Zombie Chow as an alternative to Leper Gnome that wouldn’t die to Infernal’s Battlecry, but didn’t like the results, although it makes mathematical sense and might suit your playstyle.

Most of the potential changes I’d recommend would be to lower your curve if you’re finding the deck too fat for where you’re at. You could certainly cut Sludge Belcher for an extra copy each of Abusive Sergeant and Power Overwhelming, or, if you’re good at minion placement, you could replace the Belchers with Sunfury Protector as a cheap early-game way to force your opponent to hit Nerubian Egg and Voidcaller. You could cut Sense Demons and a single Harvest Golem and replace with your favorite 1- or 2-drops. As long as you’re running some extra attack buffs like a second Power Overwhelming or Dire Wolf Alpha, you can swap out Dark Iron Dwarf for Defender of Argus to improve against aggression. If you wanted to go really nuts on the demon theme, you could cut the Sludge Belchers for Loatheb and Illidan Stormrage (the tokens he puts out make great Void Terror targets).

Last but by far not least, if you want to get really daring you can take out Sense Demons and a single Dread Infernal (or Sludge Belcher if you’re feeling lucky) and put in an extra copy of Power Overwhelming as well as Sylvanas Windrunner — Sylvanas is a hefty body that does a great job jamming up the board, and you can use Power Overwhelming and Void Terror to trigger her Deathrattle cheaply and give you an undercosted random Mind Control in addition to the other marginal advantages inherent to those plays (burst damage or huge minion summon).

Conclusion

Infernal Zoo is a ton of fun to play. The last game I played before writing this article was a mirror match where my opponent killed one Voidcaller, which summoned another Voidcaller, which he also killed only to find himself facing Doomguard. The concede came a few seconds later. It’s moments like that which give Infernal Zoo its wonderful entertainment value. At the same time, it’s a strong deck in its own right and will do just fine on ladder, particularly against decks like Druid that can’t cope with early board control followed by big midgame minions.

Share your experiences here — I’d love to hear your success stories and discuss alternatives and substitutions. Now get out there, give this archetype a spin, and build a better metagame!