Zoo has made a huge comeback since LOE. The adventure greatly altered the meta and brought new tools that put the aggressive Warlock back on the map. As a result, if you want to play the deck you are going to have to prepare for the mirror. Mirror matches are a very important part of piloting any popular deck, and understanding them will give you a better idea of what makes your deck strong as well as what makes it weak. In this guide we will break down the mirror between Zoo vs. Zoo and explore the subtleties that can make one side come out on top.
Zoo is a deck of many faces. There are slow versions, midrange versions and aggressive versions. Each of them is powerful in its own right, and they each want to do the same thing. No matter what style of Zoo you are playing you are going to be doing your best to control the board, and then use that control to apply pressure. That can happen in anyway that you want as long as you are playing the key core cards that make Zoo, Zoo. To help you understand the different styles at your disposal, three decklists have been linked below.
When going up against Warlock you want to assume your opponent is playing Zoo rather than Renolock. This is because, while you will can readjust your plans if your opponent is going the Control route, you don’t want to get caught off guard by Zoo and then lose the board early. This matchup plays like most tempo vs. tempo matches in that both players are doing everything they can to get control of the board. As such, you want to make sure to hard mulligan for all of your cheap minions. If you have the coin you can reach for the three and four drops, but a lot of this game is going to be predicated on those first turns. You need to make sure you have something to play.
Cards to KeepFlame Imp Abusive Sergeant Voidwalker Dark Peddler Dire Wolf Alpha Haunted Creeper Nerubian Egg Imp Gang Boss
Power Overwhelming should always be kept with early deathrattle minions.
Knife Juggler should always be kept alongside a strong curve.
Imp-losion should always be kept with the coin and if you have early drops to go along with it.
Defender of Argus can be kept with the coin and an early curve before it.
If you run four drops like Piloted Shredder or Voidcaller they also are great keeps with the coin and an early curve.
How to Win
Continuing the “sample decklists” section above, a big part of this match is understanding the style of Zoo that your opponent is playing. The way you do this is by reading their early and midgame plays. For instance, if a deck is running something like Reliquary Seeker they are most likely trying to swarm. However, if they are playing tougher cards like Voidwalker, Piloted Shredder or Loatheb, they are most often going to be a little slower or might not have Sea Giant. Always pay attention to the minions your opponent has and then use that information to your advantage.
No matter what version you’re up against you have to be ready to clear. This matchup is all about the board, and you want to allocate all of your resources to holding it. Despite the high amount of minions that Zoo has, it has very little ways to catch up. Your plan is to get ahead early and then use your minions to hold the board by trading up for the rest of the game. If Zoo loses that early foothold, especially against another Zoo, that entire plan crumbles really, really quickly.
Early Game Strategy
As stated, the early game is going to be the deciding factor in a lot of matches. You need to get a handle on it as soon as you can, because starting slow is not really an option. The way you do this is by making the most of your deathrattle or high health minions. For instance, while Voidwalker is not the toughest turn one play, the fact that it can trade into most two mana minions and live in invaluable.
The most important part of the first turns of the game is buffs. Absuive Sergeant, Dire Wolf Alpha and Power Overwhelming all do a fantastic job of letting you clear the board of pesky minions like a popped Nerubian Egg or an Imp Gang Boss. While you may not always get the board from trading, it does allow you to limit your opponent’s value. In that same vein, when you can’t clear something always think about how your opponent can buff it up before choosing what to play down.
Another huge factor here is Knife Juggler. The two mana card will take over a game if unanswered even if for one turn. While you always want to use it on the same turn you can pop a Haunted Creeper anytime you can get it down protected, you should. The only exception to this is coining it out on an empty board on turn one. While that may seem good initially, the juggler just often ends up dying to a two drop the next turn.
Despite the lack of catch-up in Zoo, one card that can bring you back into games is Imp Gang Boss. You want to drop the three mana demon anytime you can during the early turn, either on turn three or on turn two with the coin. Even if they can clear it with a buff, the 1/1 it leaves behind can always be used to trade and give you tempo.
Each stage of this mirror is going to be spent moving up into larger and larger minions. The middle turns are where the early trading shifts into a pressure game. Anyone who controls the board at this stage suddenly gains access to two resources in minion count and damage. If you get ahead here, while you still want to clear as much as you can, you can start to go face and force your opponent to come up with answers. This not only puts them on the back foot, but usually forces them to stop Lifetapping, denying them extra resources.
While not typically a midrange card, you have to do your best to watch out (or plan for) Sea Giant. This card still sees play from time to time, and it is especially deadly when there are a ton of minions flying around. If you have it, sometimes you want to let your opponent’s minions live in order to get it down on turn four or five. On the other hand, if the board is flooded on both sides always have the 8/8 in mind.
The two biggest cards in the midgame are Imp-losion and Defender of Argus. The reason is that each of them can lock down a board or suddenly tip the scales by giving one side an enormous amount of presence out of nowhere. While it is very hard to play around Imp-losion, you can try to get the most value out of yours by making sure to use it on a minion with two health. This will make sure it always acts a clear, which is just as important as the imps.
Defender of Argus is a card that can single-handedly win races. However, it can also trigger your deathrattles, protect your minions and enable you to trade into your opponent’s minions and live. For all of these reasons you almost never want to hold back on the four drop. If you have two minions down and you aren’t behind you want to play it.
Doomguard is also a very powerful middle game card, but you have to know when to use it if it doesn’t come down off of a Voidcaller. If you ever have one or two cards in your hand alongside the Doomguard, you want to evaluate how important those cards are going to be based on the current board state. If they are necessary late-game finishers like Dr. Boom, you should hold off on dropping the demon. However, if they are small, early game plays you should just discard them. A 5/7 is hard to deal with and can tie up your opponent for at least a few turns.
Late Game Strategy
The last part of this game is going to be planning for large minions. While Zoo is an aggro deck, it runs a lot of hefty finishers. You always need to ready for things like Dr. Boom, Sea Giant, Mal’ganis or Sylvanas Windrunner. Each of these cards may not be huge in the grand scheme of things, but they will take over if you aren’t prepared for them.
In that same vein, always look for opportunities to play your big minions down. If you are the first one to get a 7/7 or 8/8 onto the board then your opponent will be forced to clear it instead of playing their own big threat.
The last thing to note about the late game is that most of the time if the game gets to these turns you and your opponent are both going to be getting low on life. If you ever find yourself ahead (or if you get an opening) don’t be afraid to push for face. This will force your opponent to get defensive, and enable you time to add more pressure. Of course, you don’t want to do this if the game is tight, but it is a solid option once you jump ahead on life.
Though it may be hard, try and save your Power Overwhelmings for the late game. Usually you will burn one early on, but after than you want to conserve them as much as possible. They are one of the only ways to take down a 7/7 or 8/8 minion, and you need to know that. While you may be tempted to burn them during the middle turns, try and use them only as a last resort.