Quick Brews: Standard Zoo Warlock

Hello everyone! Once again, thanks for reading and commenting on my last article. I appreciate all the comments I get, even if you disagree with some of my decisions and choices. With one Midrange and one Control deck behind us (C’Thun Druid and N’Zoth Paladin), it’s time to write about something faster. Zoo Warlock was […]

Introduction

Hello everyone! Once again, thanks for reading and commenting on my last article. I appreciate all the comments I get, even if you disagree with some of my decisions and choices.

With one Midrange and one Control deck behind us (C’Thun Druid and N’Zoth Paladin), it’s time to write about something faster. Zoo Warlock was always one of my favorite archetypes, because even though it has pretty aggressive nature, there is still quite a lot of strategy involved. And that’s why I wanted to test it out in the Standard.

One quick note is that I’ve finished last season in top 300 Legend (EU) by playing different versions of Zoo. So at least for now, in this “not-completely-settled-yet” meta, Zoo works just fine, even though I had some real worries beforehand. But, let’s get down to business!

Overview

This Zoo is a version I’ve been playing recently. I’ve been going through like 5 or 6 different ones since the WoG’s release and that is the latest one. Even though I made this deck myself, I don’t claim to be innovative or anything. Because let’s be honest – decision making when building Zoo usually comes down to things like “do I put the Silence in” or “do I play Doomguards” – most of the Zoo decks look alike, because the build around Darkshire Councilman seems to be working best right now.

If you played a lot of Zoo before WoG, you’d have to make some adjustments to your play style. First of all – the deck has became more aggressive. While you still value trading quite highly, with that many 1-drops you play much faster early game + Councilman can actually threaten a very early lethal if he’s not answered. It means that face damage is even more important than ever – remember that. Sometimes it’s better to push for face damage instead of initiating the trades yourself (unless the trades are really good for you, obviously).

Zoo also got much, much less sticky. With the addition of cards like Haunted Creeper, Nerubian Egg or even Voidcaller in slower, Demon lists, it was much harder to clear the board. Standard removals often didn’t work, because Zoo still had the board initiative. Now, the only sticky minions are Argent Squire and Possessed Villager (and the first one isn’t even strong against Brawl) and honestly, that’s not much left after AoE. Councilman might be considered sticky, as it doesn’t die to most of AoEs alone, but it still has no Deathrattle, so stuff like Brawl or Equality + Consecration destroys it. It means that Zoo has became even worse against Freeze Mage (which was already a bad matchup) and Druid’s Swipe actually often clears your whole board.

On the other hand, deck has became more flexible. It’s even harder to miss the curve right now – different builds play up to 10 1-drops. That’s A LOT. Then, Forbidden Ritual serves as a great curve filler later in the game. Zoo not curving out or curving out with bad standalone minions (e.g. Dire Wolf Alpha is a terrible 2-drop if you have nothing on the board) usually lost the game, now it’s almost impossible to get only situational or reactive cards.

Overall, the deck’s viability really depends on the meta now. Before that, Zoo was a more “universal” deck. It didn’t really have a lot of bad matchups and I don’t remember a time when Zoo was a bad deck in the last year. But now it might cycle in and out of the meta depending on what other decks will be popular. It’s much easier to counter if you build a deck with the intention to counter the Zoo, so it’s almost impossible that it will dominate the meta. Which isn’t really that bad, after all one deck dominating the meta was never healthy for the game. But let’s get to the card analysis right now.

Card Analysis

2x Forbidden Ritual – New WoG card that works really well in Zoo. Unlike some other 0 mana cards (like Backstab) it’s not an early game card – you rarely want to get it in your opening. It’s the card that gets better and better as the game goes, as it can fill your curve no matter how much mana you have left. In theory, spawning 1 mana 1/1 isn’t that good. So you REALLY don’t want to play it on turns 1 or 2 when you can have a lot of better moves. But then, in the late game you prefer it over the 1-drops and such, because you can utilize all your mana. Let’s say you end up the turn with 5 mana after doing everything. If you had 1 drop in your hand, you play it and you pass with 4 mana. This one? You flood the rest of the board with 1/1’s and you spend all your mana. The card also has insanely strong synergy with Knife Juggler and Darkshire Councilman + if the 1/1’s survive, Dire Wolf Alpha can do wonders.

2x Power Overwhelming – Staple Zoo card. The +4 health part is mostly irrelevant, because the minion dies anyway, but you play it for the +4 attack buff. Since Zoo has A LOT of disposable minions, the 1/1’s tokens and such, this serves as a great tempo tool. Let’s say enemy plays a 5 mana 5/5, then you play 1 mana Power Overwhelming on your 1/1 and spend rest of the mana on other stuff. This means you got really ahead – your 1/1 token + 1 mana trades into opponent’s bigger drop. PO is also used as a finisher, as it can push for some high burst from the hand.

2x Abusive Sergeant – Another Zoo staple – vanilla 1-drop body and it boosts your trades quite a lot. Like with PO, you can utilize the 1/1 tokens or you can make your low attack minions be able to trade into similar ones on the opponent’s side. E.g. you have 2/4, opponent drops 2/4, you Abusive yours and you get a great trade. In the worst case scenario can be dropped as a 2/1 on turn 1.

1x Argent Squire – People have started using Argent Squire in Zoo some time ago, when the Zoo decks shifted from slower, Midrange ones to the faster, more Aggro-oriented. Squire itself is a cool card, especially good in fast matchups, where it can get some good trades against opponent’s 1-drops. Divine Shield also works very well with attack buffs. Very similar to Villager, but it works better with Defender of Argus (permanent buff won’t apply to the 2nd part of the Villager).

2x Possessed Villager – I directly compare those to Argent Squires and the reason I play 2 Villagers and 1 Squire means that Villager is overall better. The differences are slight – Villager works better with Power Overwhelming, Knife Juggler and Darkshire Councilman. Villager is also better against Brawl and potential Blood Knights (I have seen some Divine Shield Paladins on the ladder with Blood Knight). Maybe Squire has more redeeming vices than working better with Argus, but I can’t really think of any of them (not talking about some very unlikely stuff like Spellslinger giving you a Blessing of Kings). In most of the every game scenarios, however, they are very similar. 1/1 minion that is sticky and can hit twice into minions before dying. Helps with building the early game board advantage.

2x Flame Imp – Another staple Zoo, played in most of the faster Zoo lists. Although it was removed from some of them before WoG (mainly because of the Shielded Minibot in every Paladin list), I think it’s one of the best 1-drops in the game. Even though you take 3 damage, putting a 3/2 body on the board for 1 mana is a very good tempo play. If enemy has no answer it should push for a lot of early game damage, it can also trade easily into most of the 2-drops and even a lot of 3-drops. The 3 face damage is only really relevant against Aggro decks, but I still think that taking the early game board control is worth it.

2x Voidwalker – Another really strong card and a Zoo staple. Even though it has weaker stats than Flame Imp, the Taunt makes it very valuable. Dropping it on turn 1 is great if you have some attack buffs, because 1 Attack won’t really trade into anything outside the 1-drops. But then again, the 3 health is really good if enemy drops a 2/2 or 2/3 and you can buff the attack. But the main reason why I love this card is Taunt. It stays relevant for nearly the whole game – against Aggro Taunt stops the Charge/weapon damage, against Warrior or Paladin it can tank weapon hit that would be aimed at your higher value minion otherwise, it might stop enemy minions from trading into what they want – overall it’s a really cool card.

1x Bilefin Tidehunter – It might seem weird to play this in Zoo, but I really like having one copy. The reason I put this card in is because current Zoo lists really struggle with a proactive turn 2 play. Dire Wolf Alpha is often a bad turn 2 play and Knife Juggler rarely gets the value he needs + often gets taken down by small minions before it even gets value. The only real 2-drop you can slam on empty board is Dark Peddler, which is obviously a great one + you often fill the curve with two 1-drops. But I had some scenarios where I could let’s say drop a naked Dire Wolf on turn 2 and that was really bad. This, however, is a really strong turn 2 play in a lot of matchups. We already had Murloc Tidehunter in the game, and this deck obviously doesn’t care about the Murloc tag, BUT! The Taunt on 1/1 is huge. Like I’ve explained above, with Voidwalker, Taunts can scale really well into the late game. Having a small Taunt can often completely ruins your opponent’s turn. Warrior wants to kill your Councilman with Gorehowl? Nope, he has to get through 1/1 first. Druid would want to Hero Power down your 2/1? Nope, he must attack the 1/1. Even against Chargers from the Aggro deck – the fact that it’s a 1/1 doesn’t matter, if enemy drops a Charge minion he still needs to attack it (or burn some other damage on it). 1/1 Taunt is often as good as the Voidwalker itself later in the game. And in the early game, having 2/1 and 1/1 for 2 mana also ain’t that bad. Two bodies means it has extra synergy with Juggler, Dire Wolf, Councilman and Sea Giant too.

2x Dark Peddler – Zoo staple since LoE. 1 mana cards in Warlock are very good (and the good Warlock 1 mana cards are Classic set, so they didn’t cycle out in Standard). Getting them for free is strong, because you gain card advantage AND it’s discover so you can pick whatever you need. Dark Peddler is also notorious for allowing crazy burst turns after giving 2x PO/Soulfire. I had 18 damage burst from the hand with Leeroy + 3x PO quite some times already. Then, Possessed Villager is another strong 1-drop Zoo pick now from Peddler. I’m talking about Warlock cards, because they have 4x offering rate from discover, but there are also quite a lot of good neutrals. The only weak side of the card are the stats – 2/2 for 2 is pretty meh, but make it any bigger and the card would be completely broken.

2x Dire Wolf Alpha – Another card used in Zoo pretty much since the beginning, running a lot of small minions means that attack buffs are incredibly strong. Dire Wolf is amazing, because it affects adjacent minions all the time – it means that if you have 6 1/1’s on the board, you put Dire Wolf in the middle and start trading, you basically double all the damage you deal – instead of 6 damage you get 12, because you kill off the adjacent minions constantly and the new ones are getting buffed. That’s what makes Dire Wolf so strong in Zoo. But remember, positioning is REALLY important because of this card – you don’t want to break the chain, so place your minions in a way that Dire Wolf can affect as many of them as possible if you want to do the trading.

2x Knife Juggler – Yeah, I was pretty sure that post-nerf Juggler will still see play. I mean, the card’s main strength wasn’t the body. 2/2 with this kind of effect is still amazing in decks like Zoo Warlock. With Imp-losion and Haunted Creeper gone from standard, at first I thought that Juggler might also be a relict of the past (and Wild). But then, Forbidden Ritual changed my mind. That synergy is insane – playing Juggler into Ritual in the late game usually means instant value of 4-6 random pings (and remember, 6 pings is like casting 2x Arcane Missiles for free). Also, since the deck is so heavy on 1-drops, even without Ritual it’s easy to get like 2-3 pings per turn until you run out of steam. Juggler’s still very strong in Zoo.

2x Darkshire Councilman – I’ll be honest, I didn’t think that this card will be so strong. And yet, you could say that the Standard Zoo is built around it. It turned out to be insane for a few reasons. First of all – the cards that are hard to kill AND can snowball very fast are good. This is a card like that. 5 health on a 3-drop is usually hard to take down. You don’t even need to have the board control, even if you drop it on empty board enemy isn’t very likely to deal with it. Then, even next turn after you play it (let’s say turn 4) it can already pay off and start being better and better. Since it gains +1 attack for every minion you summon (not play, SUMMON – it’s a big keyword), even playing two 1-drops next turn already puts it at 3/5 stats. And you know, 3/5 for 3 isn’t half bad. Then again, it doesn’t stop there – it can snowball even further. Out of control. Going back to the keyword – summoning minion means that a minion gets on your board by any means. So if you play Councilman and then attack with your Imp Gang Boss, you spawn a 1/1 AND you give Councilman +1/+1. Playing Bilefin Tidehunter gives +2 Attack, not just +1. And the best synergy – Forbidden Ritual. It’s the best way to push damage if enemy had slow start. You drop turn 3 Councilman and turn 4 Ritual. So you end up with 5/5 minion and 4x 1/1 on turn 4 (not even taking the pre-Councilman board into account). Quite good, right? Councilman is ONLY bad if enemy has the board control and you have nothing to follow it with. 1/5 minion for 3 obviously sucks. But pretty much no matter what your hand is, if he sticks to the board you should be able to snowball him nicely next turn. If you’re at higher mana amounts, even the same turn. Councilman + Forbidden Ritual can be a great turn 6+ play. It’s awesome combo after enemy clears your board and you need to refill. I think that Councilman might be one of the best cards in the whole set, and certainly better than most people gave it credit for.

2x Imp Gang Boss – And back to usual stuff. Even since BRM, Imp Gang Boss is played in almost every Warlock list (maybe besides Handlock). And certainly in EVERY Zoo list. The card is an auto-include, because it’s incredibly strong. Even though 2/4 stats for 3 don’t seem that good, the fact that on average it will spawn two more 1/1’s makes it much more juicy choice. The 1/1’s make it so much easier to flood the board, have disposable minions to trade and utilize temporary attack buffs, have synergy with Juggler/Sea Giant etc. etc. Not really much to say, we all know how strong this card is.

2x Defender of Argus – If you play a deck that constantly has minions on the board, wants to play the trading game a lot of time (and buffing is a great way to get better trades) and has some pretty good Argus targets, there is almost no reason to not play it. It was probably slightly better in pre-WoG Zoo, because of the Nerubian Egg, but it’s still very good. Gets your minions out of AoE range, gets them into trade range, protects higher value targets against weapons or minion trades etc. Also a Taunt giver in faster matchups, where Taunts are very important.

1x Gormok the Impaler – Pretty normal Zoo tech card. It was always played in more token-heavy lists and this one is certainly one of them. It’s very easy to get 4 minions on the board, actually you should have 4 minions on the board going into turn 4 in quite a lot of games (with so many 1-drops and Forbidden Ritual it’s not a big deal in a lot of matchups). When it works, it’s super strong. 4 mana 4/4 that deals 4 damage on Battlecry – wow, that’s basically a miniature Fire Elemental. Weaker stats, more damage on Battlecry, but costs TWO MANA LESS. But then again, it might be a dead card if it’s not activated, because you really don’t want to play a vanilla 4/4 for 4. I mean, sometimes it’s not that terrible, but you’d really prefer to have something else in that spot in that case. It might be seen as a hit or miss card, but I think it hits more often than it misses in this list.

1x Spellbreaker – A tech choice. After the nerf of Ironbeak Owl, I REALLY prefer to play the Spellbreaker now. I mean, the effect is the same, but it’s a 3 mana 2/1 (terrible) compared to 4 mana 4/3 (bad). I prefer to play 1 more mana to get +2/+2 in stats. I would still consider Owl in Hunter, but not really in Zoo, where the stats on the board really matter. But, I feel like it’s a really nice tech card, because people have started running quite a lot of cards that are great Silence targets after Owl got nerfed. And it’s true that less people run Silence when Owl is worse, but it also means that Silence gets more valuable. There are some N’Zoth decks running around, where Silence ALWAYS gets value. Then again, this list is pretty offensive, so having a way to get through the Taunts might sneak a lethal here and there. Like, Druid plays Ancient of War at 10 health, he feels safe, but you Silence it and go for the Leeroy or something. This deck can pull some nice burst, so Silence might come handy.

1x Leeroy Jenkins – Burst finisher. People rarely play around Leeroy from Zoo, even though it wasn’t an uncommon tech before WoG. Doomguard serves a similar purpose when it comes to a finisher, but I like Leeroy much more for one big reason – if you have some Attack buffs in your hand, you can utilize them. Doomguard drops them, Leeroy doesn’t. So if you have an empty board, you can go for Leeroy + PO + Abusive for 12 damage. If it would be Doomguard, you could only do 5 damage. Leeroy is mostly a finisher, but you might sometimes play it earlier if you have nothing else to od. E.g. if enemy plays a big Taunt you might need a Leeroy to get through it. Or you might just want to put pressure on enemy – if you have board control, you can push for 6 face damage and then clear the 1/1’s with something else (it shouldn’t be a hard task in Zoo).

1x Sea Giant – In a deck that can generate so many tokens, it’s only natural to play this guy. It’s also a big threat enemy has to deal with, which might be harder with Big Game Hunter being less popular in the current builds. Sea Giant is played for the tempo big drop – you rarely want to play him for more than 3-4 mana. That’s the main strength – you have some minions on the board, enemy plays some, you play some more and then you drop a nearly free Sea Giant. Sea Giant is very strong and very weak with Forbidden Ritual at the same time. The thing is – flooding the board with 1/1’s is strong for your Giant, but the problem is that it drains all your mana, so you won’t likely have way to play it the same turn (outside of some rare cases). It’s still strong IF some of the 1/1’s survive until the next turn. As in, if enemy doesn’t have AoE – you’re very likely to play a cheap Sea Giant next turn. But if he does – your dreams are shattered. I play only one copy for that reason – the Standard Zoo is very weak against board clears, so one board clear can not only destroy your whole initiative, but render Sea Giants useless for like 2 more turns. I was using two but they were sitting dead in the hand too often.

Alternate/Tech Cards

So, like any of the Brews, this list has quite a lot of room for changes and (possibly) improvements. There are some cards that work nicely, but didn’t make it to the final list. There are also some tech cards you can play depending on the matchups you face. I’ll list some cards you can experiment with when building your own version:

Doomguard – That’s a big one. Doomguard works really well in a fast Zoo list. Not only it’s insane statline for that mana cost, but it also has immediate impact on the board (and that’s what Zoo really wants). With the curve being pretty low, it’s not that rare to play him on turn 6-7 without actually discarding anything. Even if you discard, dropping a turn 5 Doomguard is often a winning play, since you can refill the hand anyway and enemy should have a hard time dealing with such a big body. If you play Doomguard, you definitely don’t play Leeroy, because Leeroy is very situational and you will discard him too often. So to make the long story short – Doomguard is more about board control and Leeroy is more about burst, pick whichever you want.

Reliquary Seeker – I have experimented a bit with those guys and they are very… great or terrible. One game I win because I get an early 5/5. The other game I lose, because I don’t have the board control and the 1/1 for 1 doesn’t really help with that. Once again, if you could control how many minions you get with Forbidden Ritual, Reliquary Seeker would be broken. But you can’t, so it’s a very hit or miss card.

Brann Bronzebeard – There are some Battlecries in the deck. The best synergies would be Dark Peddler, Abusive Sergeant and Defender of Argus. Bilefin Tidehunter is also okay. Gormok the Impaler is insane, but very situational. Plus the negative synergy with Flame Imp, but that’s not a big deal honestly. Brann is pretty strong in this deck, but I’d consider adding one or two more Battlecries then.

Bane of Doom – Sadly, the value of this card has gone down with Mal’Ganis rotating out of Standard. But on the other hand, it got better, because Warlock lost a big direct damage spell – Imp-losion. The problem with Zoo is that it usually can’t do ANYTHING when it doesn’t have the board. Enemy has a 8/2 minion? Well, too bad, you have to play your own stuff and probably take 8 face damage. With Bane of Doom, you can instantly impact the board AND get some board presence at the same time. The average quality of Demons is still quite high – there are only like 5 bad ones you can get (Blood Imp, Flame Imp, Voidwalker, Void Terror and Tiny Knight of Evil). Then you have the mid tier – Wrathguard (it’s probably somewhere in between, because the body is okay, but the effect might backfire), Succubus, Felguard, Imp Gang Boss and Dreadsteed. And then, getting a Void Crusher (just like Wrathguard, it’s in between mid and high tier, because on the one hand it can win you the game by sacrificing the 1/1’s and killing opponent’s stuff for that, but on the other hand it might kill your most important minion), Dread Infernal, Doomguard, Pit Lord, Fearsome Doomguard, Lord Jaraxxus or Illidan Stormrage might just instantly win you the game, because that’s a really good tempo swing. The only bad thing about this card – it’s pretty slow. 5 mana for 2 damage AND enemy needs to have a target. And then the variance is really high – getting a 1/3 Taunt vs getting a 5/7 with Charge or 3/15 is a huge difference. But if you’re feeling lucky, I think that Bane of Doom is a nice addition.

Dark Iron Dwarf – A replacement for Gormok. If you don’t get to activate his effect often enough, Dark Iron will probably be better. It has the same body, but the Battlecry is much more reliable. Yes, it’s only 2 damage and yes, you need to run your minion into something for it to really matter, but it only requires 1 minion on the board, not 4.

Spawn of N’Zoth – It has a potential to be played as an one-of. I’ve tried it and I wasn’t very impressed, but I’ve seen it on a few streams + played against some enemies where it worked. The bad thing about this card is that you really need to have board dominance in order for it to work well. You can’t sacrifice it instantly, so you need to play it on already strong board, don’t get your board removed, next turn play something more and trade it in for +1/+1 on everything. It means that it can have insane value (up to +6/+6 in total on a Deathrattle) but it can also get you a +1/+1 or even nothing. Then it would be just better to play Shattered Sun Cleric. What I really like, though, is the combo with Forbidden Ritual (yet another card to make Ritual great). If it survives the turn you play it, you play Ritual on the next one and trade this one in. This way you flood your whole board in actually intimidating 2/2’s. Oh, and one thing that I want to try is playing 2x Spawn of N’Zoth and 2x Void Terror in the same deck. It would give you a way to instantly activate it in the later game. That would be a 6 mana for a 6/6 that instantly buffs your whole board by +1/+1 – it’s INSANE in Zoo deck. But it’s a 2 cards combo and it might not really work out that well, but we’ll see.

Void Terror is actually a consideration by itself, because I really like how well it works with Power Overwhelming. You PO a minion, trade it into something and play Void Terror. This way all those stats aren’t wasted – you usually end up with something like 9/6 minion for 3 mana and that’s craaaazy good.

Closing

Well, my “quick” brews are getting longer and longer each time, so I think it’s time to end it. Again, I haven’t written much about strategy and mulligan, but it’s very similar to the aggressive pre-WoG Zoo lists, so you can look those up! When the meta settles down a bit, probably a week from now, I’ll start writing a more.. normal guides, with more in-depth strategy, mulligan etc. I’ll also probably write the first post-WoG “Legend Decks Review” for those of you who like it!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this write-up too and you like the list. If you have any questions, suggestions or comments, feel free to leave them in the section below! Stay tuned for more WoG stuff.