Evolutions of Zoo: TidesofTime’s Kinguin Zoo

It’s RaFive, and today we’re covering a Zoo build by TidesofTime, one of my favorite metagame innovators! Featuring Zoo deck from Kingquin Tournament.

Introduction

Hey, guys. It’s RaFive, and today we’re covering a Zoo build by TidesofTime, one of my favorite metagame innovators! The list we’re looking at today appeared at the recent Kinguin tournament and is a flexible, ladder-viable, blisteringly fast approach. The core change in the deck is a dramatic drop in the mana curve combined with card advantage sustainability through Jeeves.

This list helps point the way toward a new approach to Zoo. I’m excited by the possibilities — let’s dive in!

Overview

The solid core of excellent synergies among neutral mechs from 1-4 mana cost (and the novelty and popularity of mechs as a tribe generally) has made midrange tempo the current name of the metagame. Mage, in particular, has been tearing up ladder with builds focusing on midgame board presence followed up by Archmage Antonidas or Fel Reaver as a finisher.

As a general rule, it’s better to play what counters the meta rather than what’s popular in the meta. Broadly speaking, there are two ways to counter a midrange metagame: you can focus on dominating board control in the first 4-5 turns (the aggressive counter), or you can focus on efficient removal in the early game plus increasingly valuable minions after turn 4, winning through card efficiency and card advantage (the control counter).

Normally, post-Naxx Zoo runs just a tiny bit faster than midrange to maintain its famous consistency against most deck types. With tempo-bleeding midrange value cards like Snowchugger, Annoy-o-tron, and Piloted Shredder, however, it’s desirable to kick Zoo’s pace up a notch to stay ahead, heading back to a mana curve that looks more like the mana curve from Reynad’s original Zoo deck.

In fact, let’s take a moment and compare pre-Naxx Zoo to post-Naxx Zoo, just so you can see how times changed the deck and approach. Here’s clericim’s #1 EU list from just before GvG. You’ll see that Reynad’s list is far more focused on early game board control, with six more turn 1 cards (Young Priestess instead of Power Overwhelming, Shieldbearer instead of Loot Hoarder, Eleven Archer instead of Shadowflame, and also King Mukla as an undercosted early-game fatty). Zoo was faster originally, slowed down by about 20% during Naxx, and it’s now time to speed up again.

What’s Different

The main weakness of Zoo has always been its tendency to run out of steam around turn 6. At that point, you’ve exhausted the cards in your hand, your biggest minions start trading less favorably with opponents like Spectral Knight, and you’ve tapped your hero power enough times that it’s starting to become risky to use it to draw more cards because of your life total. Traditionally, at this point, Zoo loses, with the opponent’s card advantage snowballing out of control into a board advantage that ends the game.

Jeeves changes all that by consistently being able to generate 2-3 cards for you the turn you put him down and 2-3 every turn after that if you’re playing carefully. Amaz is famous for his maxim “If Savannah Highmane attacks, the game is over.” In a similar vein, if Jeeves draws you six cards before he’s removed, the game is also probably over.

The name of the game with Jeeves is speed. You want your hand empty when you put him down, and you want to be able to empty your hand every turn he draws you cards, keeping relentless pressure on your opponent. You also want to be able to draw (and play) even more cards through the Warlock hero power, effectively burying your opponent in cheap cards that collectively outvalue his plays for the mana cost. That means the lowest possible mana curve that you can afford while still playing solidly on games where Jeeves is toward the bottom of your deck.

To that end, there are NO 3-cost cards, and only three 4-cost (instead of the usual double Defender of Argus plus double Dark Iron Dwarf). Everything else has been moved downrange, particularly to the 1-mana slot, which now holds over half the entire deck. Mechwarper also gets an include here, even though there are only four other mechs in the entire deck, because it lets you get Jeeves out a bit earlier, further permitting you to dump your hand as fast as humanly possible. Clockwork Gnome and Leper Gnome permit you to have a fast and consistent start with Undertaker — incidentally, I think this fast 4x Gnome start is one of GvG’s greatest gifts to Zoo and should be played in almost every list — and Power Overwhelming gives you the trading and burst power taken away by the lack of Dark Iron Dwarf, at a much lower cost.

How to Play

Mulligan for Undertaker and Flame Imp, which represent your strong, fast start. Don’t hold Soulfire or Power Overwhelming except sometimes against a potential Druid Innervate start. Don’t hold Jeeves unless you have a Mechwarper already in hand (generally, you should also have a turn 1 play in hand as well, but odds are that within 1-2 draws you’ll have something to put down turn 1).

Play is pretty typical Zoo, except that you’re really looking to dump your hand fast as soon as Jeeves shows up in it, which means until that happens, you may be playing more cards per turn on average or drawing fewer. Where possible, protect Jeeves by clearing the board and/or playing our little robo-butler friend at the same time as you lay down a Voidwalker to protect him (or maybe throw down Defender of Argus the turn before to create a Taunt wall[/card]). Ad nauseam, if you can draw off of Jeeves for two turns, you’ll probably gain enough card advantage to swing the game, so make sure you play him carefully and protect him appropriately.

One minor note on Clockwork Gnome — the Spare Parts he generates will prevent Jeeves from drawing you extra cards, so make sure not to hold Spare Parts more than a turn or two as a general rule. Rusty Horn and Emergency Coolant, however, will go a long way toward protecting the valuable parts of your board and should be saved unless you’re committed to putting Jeeves down precisely on turn 4.

Matchups compare favorably with old-school Zoo. The Priest matchup is pretty bad since Cabal Shadow Priest and Shadow Madness can steal almost every single card you can put down — play Jeeves carefully there! — but I’ve actually found the extra speed and board presence do well against Druid and Warrior, which are Zoo’s other traditionally more iffy matchups. Everything else feels pretty solid, and you should take particular delight in crushing midrange mech Mage with your blistering speed and weenie minions.

Substitutions

This is frankly one of the tightest Zoo lists I’ve seen (no surprise, considering what an epic deckbuilder Tides is). I like all the picks and I don’t think there’s much room for manipulation. The mana curve is too low to sub Darkbomb for Soulfire; your card advantage is a much better way of paying for the damage because of your excellent draw. Abusive Sergeant and Power Overwhelming are necessary for burst. Zombie Chow doesn’t fit as a potential Leper Gnome sub because of the deck’s need for speed.

Pretty much the only cards I find remotely flexible here are Mechwarper and Ironbeak Owl. You may find Annoy-o-Tron better than Mechwarper because of Jeeves protection. Particularly if you make that substitution, you might consider swapping Ironbeak Owl for a single copy of Hobgoblin, which gives you better late tempo and an alternative win condition but leaves you with no silence and a card more likely to be dead in hand than Owl. Dire Wolf Alpha is also a solid substitute for Owl. That’s the extent of tweaks I can recommend.

Conclusion

Jeeves is a game-changer for fast, aggressive decks because he’s effectively a neutral Divine Favor that you can consistently trigger. Coupled with the Warlock hero power, you can reliably draw into Jeeves (or keep your card advantage up before you do), which seriously boosts the power of lists that rely on a constant stream of high-value low-cost cards. The list we’ve covered today is an early (if effective) experiment in the new possibilities unlocked by this style of play, and I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing what players like you do with those possibilities. Take Jeeves out there and use him to build a better metagame!