Zoo is a very strong deck that is becoming more and more popular as the days move forward. The reason for that popularity is because it is one of the strongest decks in the game, capable of taking on ever well-known ladder decks ranging from Control Priest to Midrange Druid to Aggro Shaman. Knowing how to beat each one is key to understanding how to play the deck as a whole. This particular guide will look at how the aggressive Warlock deck takes on Tempo Mage using a wide array of sticky minions, board presence and reliable removal.
When sleeving up Zoo you have many different deck options at your disposal. As long as you have the core cards (Knife Juggler, Nerubian Egg, Imp Gang Boss etc.) you can freely fill in the rest as you like. Some decks like to run more big minions, while others try to get more aggressive. You can also go right down the middle and stock the deck with an early curve backed up by solid midrange threats. Whatever you choose, just try to pick something that best suites your style. To help you figure that out, some decklists have been linked below.
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 alongside a strong opening curve.
Knife Juggler can be kept alongside other early minions but is usually not strong enough to keep on its own.
Imp-losion can only 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.
How to Win
Tempo Mage is a deck that tries to build the board turn after turn, moving into bigger and bigger threats. Zoo attempts to do the exact same thing. However, Mage tries to do it with spells and you are going to achieve it with minions. This difference is worth noting because it means whoever can get their minions onto an empty board usually controls the game. You want to make sure that happens at all costs.
This game largely comes down to two things: planning and board control. Each of those themes go hand in hand. Mage has a set number of spells and minions they run at different points of the game. If you can predict what they are going to play then you can craft a board that is hard for them to remove. For instance, if you understand they want to play an Azure Drake on turn five, then you can get five power on the board (or have a buff that will take a minion to five power) to take away that play and keep advancing your own goal. Achieving those type of plays is one of the big goals of this match.
A big part of Zoo is Lifetapping. A lot. While that is one of the decks biggest strengths, it will drain you life. For all of their bells and whistles, Tempo Mage pilots exactly like an aggro deck. They put on early pressure and try to end the game with direct damage and various burn. You want to constantly keep watch of your life total here, and always know when you are falling into the danger zone. Keep track of how much damage your opponent has used and do your best to get them to use their Frostbolts and Fireballs on your minions.
Early Game Strategy
Buffs are the most important part of the first turns of the game because you never want to allow Tempo Mage to have any minions. You want to crash into their minions as much as you can, and things like Power Overwhelming, Abusive Sergeant and Dire Wolf Alpha are going to help you do that. Mana Wyrm and Flamewaker are your biggest targets, but buffing to trade with anything is usually the right play.
Understand that it is very hard to play around Mage’s removal. Between Frostbolt, Arcane Missiles, Flamewaker and Flamecannon they are going to remove your minions. You just need to make sure that you create board states that render their removal weak. For instance, a bunch of small or sticky minions work really well. Things like Nerubian Egg are also great at discouraging their random removal spells.
Almost every Tempo Mage these days runs Mirror Entity. While that is a problem for many decks, you can easily play around it by giving them junk cards like Nerubian Egg and Haunted Creeper that only you can make good use of. Always, always check for entity, even if that means veering off curve. You should also do your best to give them cards that you can already remove. There is no reason to lose the board just because you dropped a Knife Juggler or Imp Gang Boss into an entity when you could have easily played a Haunted Creeper.
Just like the first turns, you want to make sure that nothing lives. There are two reasons for this. One, it is important to make sure Tempo Mage cannot build a strong board into Dr. Boom. If that happens they will almost assuredly be able to pressure you and then end the game in a flurry of damage spells. Even something as innocent as an Azure Drake can be a ton of damage and enable them to ignore the board, which you never want them to be able to do.
Power Overwhelming really shines during this part of the game. While it is useful early on, the main purpose is to allow your small minions to trade up into larger threats. This card can single-handedly deal with all of Mage’s midgame minions like Loatheb, Sludge Belcher, Piloted Shredder and even Water Elemental. Save this for those threats since, unless you have an extremely resilient board, they are going to be very hard to deal with.
You need to craft a board that won’t die to Flamewaker. The salamander almost never comes down on turn three, usually making an appearance on turns four through six. There is no way to interact with it, and it is going to do lots and lots of damage. Understand this and try to mix up your deathrattle minions with your bigger threats. This way the fireblasts will give you deathrattle triggers instead of clearing your board.
Imp-losion if your best tool in this matchup and you should never sit on it. While some targets are better than others, you just need to pull the trigger anytime you can remove something. This card is the essence of board control, giving you a removal spell and then supplying you with a string of bodies that you can use for further board control. It is very hard for Tempo Mage to deal with the imps. However, Flamewaker can clear them out in a hurry. Try to save them for after the fiery lizard comes down.
Late Game Strategy
When going into the end of the game, you want to keep up the clearing unless you think you can beat them (or you are winning) in a race. Mage is always teetering on lethal and you never want to tempt fate. If you are not at a comfortable life total, you want to always battle their board since you don’t know what could happen if you let something live.
Dr. Boom is one of the most important cards in this game and the key to the final turns. The reason is because whoever drops him first has a huge advantage. Seven damage (not including the Boom Bots) is an incredible amount of damage to take, especially against an aggressive deck. If they get boom first, you need to clear it unless you have lethal.
Always look for an opportunity to drop Doomguard out of your hand. The 5/7 is very hard for Mage to touch, and it can both take over the game and supply damage. The way you do this is by seeing what is in your hand and calculating if it is more valuable than getting down the 5/7. If it a necessary minion or spell, hold off on the demon. Otherwise drop it down, Lifetap can bring your hand back up later.
Also note that Tempo Mage has access to Archmage Antonidas. The presence of the legendary wizard means that you are on a timer of sorts. Even one spell paired with him can give them lethal or enough range to clear your board. Not to mention that it is very hard to deal seven health during the later game because most of your buffs have already been used. Always look for opportunities to stack up pressure because this card does put you on a psuedo-clock.
Don’t worry about keeping your deathrattle minions. In some games it is absolutely essential to have a sticky board. While that helps against Flamewaker early on, past that you just care about clearing, clearing and more clearing. Trade your minions in, pop your deathrattles and try to kill everything with your buffs. Almost no Tempo Mages run AOE these days (they even cut Flamestrike) meaning you can feel free to swarm as much as you want.