Zoo is back. The aggressive Warlock build is not only powerful, but it is one of the most popular decks in the game. That means anytime it is back in the sphere, if you want to ladder you need to have a plan for it. The deck has been around since the early days of Hearthstone, and every class fights it in their own way. That can be through board control, healing, large taunts or sticky minions. This guide will explore how Control Warrior, with its wide range of removal and unique style of healing, takes on (and beats) Zoo.
All decks are going to have a “core deck” that must be played. For instance, Control Warrior must have Shield Slam and Execute along with a range of heavy legends. However, along with that, every deck is also going to have some cards that you can tweak. For instance, while you need to play heavy legends in Control Warrior, you can choose which legends you want to run. The same goes for the midrange options. A good rule of deck building is to always play cards that you know and are comfortable with. This will allow you to pilot the deck in the most efficient way. To give you some ideas of what to build off of, a few Control Warrior lists have been linked below.
The way to lose against Zoo is by not having an answer to their early plays. They are a deck that absolutely thrives on playing to their curve, and you want to shut that down as much as you can. While most decks fight through the first turns with board presence, you fight through with weapons and removal. Hard mulligan for both. Any early minion should be kept as well, but you need to kill off the early bruisers to really have a chance.
Cards to KeepShield Slam Fiery War Axe Armorsmith Bash Acolyte of Pain Shield Block Death’s Bite
Execute should be kept only if you have no other removal options at your disposal.
Cruel Taskmaster can be kept if you have an Execute to go along with it.
Brawl can be kept if you have a really strong curve coming before it.
How to Win
Zoo is the ultimate tempo deck. Yes, it has early aggression. Yes, it has tons of burst potential. Yes, it has large finishers. However, no deck in the game trades up or controls better than the aggro Warlock deck. As such, you do not want to try to fight Zoo on that front. Rather, this is a game you are going to control through removal and healing. Your health is your most important resource. Never forget that, and always play to your different removal options.
The biggest problem Control Warrior faces is sticky minions, and Zoo is chock-full of them. This is an unfortunate truth, but it is one that you have to live with. As with any Warrior game, you want to rank your removal. Execute and Shield Slam are your premium kill cards and should be only used on huge threats (Doomguard, Dr. Boom, Sea Giant) if you can help it. Always trade or use you smaller removal and weapons to clear out the early game minions. The only exception to that is, always use Shield Slam to clear early if you have no other removal.
As the games moves forward Zoo will try and up the aggression and you will move toward your big minions. Almost all of your legendaries will stop Zoo in their tracks, often forcing them to trade a lot of their board or use burst spells like Power Overwhelming. However, that will only happen if you get a good grasp on the early game. If you are ever comfortable on life, or if you have a control of the board, drop any big minion as you can.
Another important thing to understand about this matchup is that clearing the board will almost always end the game. Against a lot of decks you will have to use your combo or some massive armor gains to win. However, outside of Doomguard Zoo can only push damage if they have something down. Once you get a minion onto an empty board the game is basically over. Know that, and do everything you can to clear until your opponent runs low on cards. That will force them to tap every turn, which will then let you set up the end game.
Early Game Strategy
As stated earlier, you need to prevent Zoo from having a good start. While they may miss a drop here and there, almost all of their early minions are threats that you cannot cleanly kill. For instance, you never want to pop a Nerubian Egg, but Zoo eventually will. Haunted Creeper is also problematic for the same reason. For the early game you just want to ignore the deathrattle minions and just remove everything else that can be taken care of cleanly.
Fiery War Axe is your best friend, but Armorsmith and Acolyte of Pain can also very important. The reason is that they both force Zoo to trade up into average minions that are going to have no impact on the later game. That means you are getting value out of their ability, forcing Zoo to use resources, and eating damage. Drop each of those two minions any chance you get.
Always spend the first turns moving towards Death’s Bite or Brawl. Each of those cards are what are going to pull the board back in your favor, and you need to take your first three or four turns with that in mind. This will allow you to choose whether or not you need to use removal, how to trade and the best way to use your spells.
These are the most problematic turns in the game, because it is when Zoo really starts gaining steam. Instead of dropping low-impact cards like Haunted Creeper, they start moving into dangerous threats like Piloted Shredder or Voidcaller. Speaking of Voidcaller, never destroy it unless you have some hard removal to answer the demon it will spawn.
Always watch out for Defender of Argus. Always. This card is a huge problem because it allows Zoo to control what your weapons hit as well as buff their minions out of Death’s Bite range. Each of those can absolutely ruin your game plan if you’re not careful because then Brawl becomes your only out. While sometimes you cannot play around the four drop, always clear with it in mind.
Drop Sludge Belcher as soon as you can. This is the only taunt you have access to, and it will soak up a lot of damage. You normally aren’t going to rely on minions to save you, but if this card can stall your opponent out for even one turn it has done more than enough.
Brawl…and Brawl again.This is by far your best weapon when fighting Zoo. While it may not always be as powerful due to their deathrattles, it has the potential to do some serious work if your opponent isn’t ready for it. When you have Brawl in hand you should always be setting up for by popping every deathrattle you can. If you have two, never be afraid to burn the first just to take some damage off of the board.
The last card you want to look at is Justicar Trueheart. The tournament champion has a very powerful ability but an extremely weak body. That usually makes her a dead turn since she gets killed right away. As such, try to save her for when you are either way ahead on board or when you can use her hero power the same turn she comes down.
Late Game Strategy
While it was not always true, Zoo is a deck that has some giant minions at their disposal. Going into the later turns are when you need to have answers to Sea Giant, Dr. Boom and Doomguard (sometimes Mal’Ganis). You need to have at least one Execute, Shield Slam or Big Game Hunter to deal with these threats since once they die Zoo is pretty much out of options. Always save BGH, but have something else at the ready for Doomguard.
Going back to the way Zoo wins, you have to aware of their finishers. Beyond the minions listed above, they do have quite a bit of burst damage potential. If you are not aware of this when fighting for your life, you will die. Doomguard is their only charge minion, but Power Overwhelming, Abusive Sergeant, Defender of Argus and Dire Wolf Alpha all add damage to minions onto the board. That is why it is so important to never let anything live. When you get low on health every minion is a potential threat.
Remember to always play to Alexstrasza. While using your hero power will keep you alive for an extra turn or two, a clutch heal can bring you out of burst range for good. That play is your fail safe that will win you the game almost all of the time.
Always play minions when you can. That may sound obvious, but most of your turns are going to be spent removing rather than playing things. As such, you need to look for (or set up) openings to get some board presence. This will usually be during a turn where you have some extra health. Knowing those situations is one of the most important parts to making sure you can last long enough to win.