Oh, good ol’ Zoo Warlock – you seem to elicit such strong emotional responses from everyone. It’s a bit a like ice cream – some seem to love it, others seem to despise it because it kidnapped their parents and forced them to play Hearthstone in their basement. Let’s take this forced metaphor to its not particularly logical conclusion and take a look at some of the more prevalent versions of this infamous Warlock deck.
Vanilla – The Original
For those of you not in the know, this deck was originally created by Reynad in a bid to create a very effective budget deck while climbing the Asia server. It is notable for making use of cards that many have considered useless, namely the good old Shieldbearer and the ever better and slightly younger Doomguard. Most cards have an immediate impact when played and are relatively low cost, which allow the player to stay relevant even in the late game by using the Warlock’s Life Tap ability and essentially playing two cards every turn.
Needless to say, early board control is vital. (So much so that, despite the deceptive first impressions, this is actually a control deck, not an aggro one.) It is also worth noting that the deck contains almost no spells.
Chocolate – Someone Tinkered With The Original
Soon after the initial creation, Reynad decided to make some changes to the deck in order to make it a bit more aggressive. He considered the argent-commander to be too expensive and consequently too much of a loss to discard them with Soulfire or Doomguard: hence the inclusion of the dark-iron-dwarf. He also considered it easier to get value out of Abusive Sergeant than of Young Priestess. I gave a few shots to this particular version but I really wasn’t a fan. I returned to vanilla relatively soon, apart from one minor change, which I will discuss later.
Strawberry – A Nice Contrast To Vanilla
The difference is swapping the 2 shieldbearer for 2 blood-knight.
Zoo was everywhere for a while – it is still quite prevalent actually. It was an important question to ask: how can you improve your odds in the mirror match? The inclusion of Blood Knights help a lot as these decks tend to have a decent amount of divine shielded minions: whether you eat up your own or your opponent’s, it doesn’t really matter, it is almost always good value. (You just need to swallow your pride an play the blood knight on curve when you have no alternatives.)
I personally prefer this the most out of the ones we’ve seen so far: I think the Blood Knights are really valuable all around, not only in the mirror matches but in general as well.
Banana Curry – Who The Hell Eats This?
(No joke, this flavor actually exists.) This is an interesting concept that really doesn’t work, at least not in the current meta: Trump tried to add some heavy hitters to his Zoo deck but it backfired greatly as the Pit Lords ate up his health game after game. I could see why you would include Mukla – especially considering the bananas cost mana, making it difficult for the opponent to hit back if you play it on curve, but I just don’t think it’s necessarily worth the inclusion. (I haven’t tried it myself as I don’t yet have the lovely monkey in my collection.) Also, Cho? What? In any case, it was a weird experiment that was a complete failure. But at least it was an interesting one.
Carrots and Oranges – The One Nobody Eats
(Yes, this also exists.) This is Reynad’s latest take on Zoo following players’ feeble attempts to craft anti-Zoo decks. I was not a fan. Doesn’t seem like anyone is as I have never ran into anyone playing this particular version and he himself also hasn’t updated his Zoo decklist in a month or so, according to his site. Can’t disagree: adding such unreliable/volatile minions as Mukla and the Black Knight (I mean, really? One of the only cards that fail the Vanilla Test in the deck and it really isn’t worth the inclusion in my opinion.) He also crammed in Amani Berserkers to protect the board from the cheaper AoE cards: it’s an interesting idea but not a one I’m a fan of. Like I said before: no one else seems to be.
Green Apple – My Personal Favorite
I’d like to close out this ice cream tour with my own take on Zoo that I’ve had some decent success with. Let me walk you through the changes I’ve made to the original, step by step.
The first change was to get rid of the Mortal Coils – I can’t see why you would want to keep those for the life of me – and replace them with Wolfriders. In my experience it’s a very rare situation where you need to do one damage and you only have one mana left. I also don’t really value the redraw, considering you can just tap. The burst damage of the Wolfrider makes it more viable against slightly bigger targets and it sometimes clinches the win as well.
Next up was the inclusion of the two blood-knight, Divine Zoo-style – I’ve been meaning to do that from the moment I started playing Zoo but I didn’t have them yet. Like I said before, I find Blood Knights really useful in all matchups, not only in the mirror games.
The third step was to include leeroy-jenkins after I’ve crafted it. I originally wanted it to replace a Doomguard to reduce the odds of my big chargers discarding each other, but I found that this move reduced my effectiveness as Leeroy is just too fragile. As such, my next move was to reintroduce Doomguard #2 in place of one of the wolfrider.
The last changes came after the realization that I’m getting almost no value of Shieldbearers with my extremely control-heavy playstyle: it helped me a bit if I drew it in the first two or perhaps three turns, but it was a dead card afterwards. I did not want to remove the Young Priestesses but I would have liked to include the Abusive Sergeants – my solution was to get rid of the 0 attack minions.
I also removed the Defenders of Argus in favor of the dark-iron-dwarf. My point was that you usually use the buffs to trade up anyway, not to put up taunts on your board or to increase the sturdiness of your minions: they are only rarely able to do that job. Couple that with the increased burst damage potential and the fact that the dwarves have a stronger body than their previously included counterparts and the way forward is clear: say goodbye to the defenders.
Despite the inclusion of all these charging and damage-increasing minions, this is still a control deck in my mind. You have a very nice burst potential if you do happen to fall behind, but you still have all those 1- and 3-cost minions to lean back on to guarantee early board control – on the other hand, if you do lose it early on, it is more difficult to claw back, charge minions or not. Speaking of which, the discards hurt you less because of all the alternatives I’ve packed in here – after all, you have 6 charge minions in this deck!
Please note that this is far from all the possible variations of Zoo. In any case, I hope I showed you how diverse variations of this supposedly “same-y” deck exist and best of luck trying out some of the more wild versions if they grabbed your attention!