Weekly Legends: Hobgoblin Zoo

Today we look at one of the most universally disliked, and one of the best, decks Hearthstone has ever had to offer: Zoo.

Introduction

As the clocks continue to tick and we move past the Ides, we look at deck that brings the old and clashes it with the new. Today we look at one of the most universally disliked, and one of the best, decks Hearthstone has ever had to offer: Zoo. While it did spend some time in slumber, Zoo has arisen as of late, and, once again, has proven to be one of the best contenders on the ladder.

Ever since Reynad first put it together, Zoo has always been a deck that was fueled by small, efficient minions that help trade up without sacrificing board control. For this month’s run to legend, I took that idea one step further and, using the original Zoo shell from the early days of the game, added the king of all the small creatures: Hobgoblin.

As I have explained before in previous write-ups, Hobgoblin is one of the most powerful cards in GVG. However, due to how specific its requirement is, it has gotten very little love. Of course, you don’t want to go buffing things like Goldshire Footman or Wisp, but there is some serious potential with the card. There are a lot of hard-to-deal-with one attack minions in Hearthstone, such as Haunted Creeper, Argent Squire and Annoy-o-Tron, and they all work perfectly for what Zoo is trying to do. As such, I looked for a good number of one attack minions, sleeved up two goblins, and got ready for battle. During my climb, I only had one loss from rank three to legend, and throughout that time Hobgoblin was the guiding force behind this unassuming deck.

Key Cards

Argent Squire/Annoy-o-tron

While both of these cards are not typical Zoo fare, they are extremely important to understand what this deck is trying to do and exactly how it operates. Board control has long been a very important part of Zoo decks, but most of them have always been aggro-oriented. Of course, this deck does have an element of aggro, but it plays much more like a tempo deck; trading up for minions, and killing your opponents board while furthering your own. These two cards do that very well.

Divine shield is a great thing to have access to when trying to control the early game, which is why Scarlet Crusader was used for so long. Remember, this is not a deck that seeks to win on turn five or six, it is meant to go into the later stages of the game. You want to have this minions early and often, as they will help you clear the way for the middle stages of the game without sacrificing any presence. The fact that they both get buffed by Hobgoblin is merely icing on the cake.

Hobgoblin

The very namesake of the deck, Hobgoblin is a very powerful three drop for two distinct reasons. One, it allows you to hold back and truly play around AOE. In the past, while they do have some very efficient anti-AOE cards, Zoo has had the problem of not being able to recover from a timely Consecration or Blade Flurry. However, this card changes that. Due to the Warlock’s hero power, Hobgoblin allows you to sculpt your hand in a way that enables you to bounce back against board wipes. Instead of just dropping something like a Haunted Creeper and a Voidwalker, you can now get a 2/3, a 3/5 with taunt and a 3/4 that leaves two 1/1’s behind. Very strong, and backbreaking against many control decks.

The other reason that Hobgoblin is so powerful is that it demands immediate attention. This is one of the more subtle reasons it is so good for this deck, but a very important one. Not only does Hobgoblin put threats onto the board (3/3 Argent Squire for instance) but it also has to be killed immediately. That is very key. I have had many games where the threat of a Hobgoblin is more important than the goblin itself. Now, you always want to get at least one trigger out of it, but after that, the buffs aren’t as important. In fact, many times during my climb I had people kill this card over Knife Jugglers, Dire Wolf Alphas and even Dark Iron Dwarfs. This deck is all about a constant string of threats, and while it may seem small, none are bigger than the goblin.

Dark Iron Dwarf

It has come to my attention that there has been a recent trend to cut one or two dwarves from Zoo, and I have no idea why. Though not the most powerful card in the deck, Dark Iron Dwarf is essential to furthering your game plan. Often, while your opponent may be at a lot of life, the game is usually over by turn three or four. You either have crushing board control, or simply just have answers turn after turn. DID allows this to happen, because it makes it so your Argent Squires or Haunted Creepers can help clear taunts, or make the board clear without losing any value. The fact that it leaves a 4/4 body behind is just extra value. As such, while it may be tempting to play other four drops over this card, with so many sticky minions in the deck, I would not recommend it.

Voidcaller 

As many have asked me, why do I call? Voidcaller may seem a little odd in this deck. It only really hits Doomguards, only does three damage and just hikes up the overall curve. All of these are true. However, as stated, this is more of a tempo deck than anything else, and you going to go into the long game. If you look at the list, it is very easy to see that almost every card is very important. As such, discarding cards with Doomguard can actually be very backbreaking. As discussed in the video, I almost never play Doomguard if I can avoid it, or unless I have lethal.

You will be tapping very often with this deck, which means that you will be seeing a lot of cards. Chances are, you will almost always have Voidcaller with Doomguard. In this way, this card acts like a Piloted Shredder that drops a 5/7 with charge instead of something like a Mad Scientist. A very powerful play, and one of the best “catch up” methods in this deck. In the same vein, Voidcaller can also be used as a way to fix one Zoo’s most common problems, having two Doomguards in hand at the same time.

Matchups

Control Warrior

As it has made a huge resurgence as of late, I start out this list with Control Warrior. For a while, Control Warrior was all but dead. Mech Mages roamed the landscape, and playing a slow class built on weapons was not a good idea. However, the reign of the Mage is gone, and that means it is once again safe to scream Lok’tar Ogar.

While Control Warrior’s return may be bad news for a lot of aggressive decks, it is actually good news for us. Control Warrior is a deck that is heavily built upon targeted removal, which makes clearing our board almost impossible. Everything in the early game, with the exception of the useless Flame Imp, can survive a hit from a Fiery War Axe[card] or a poke from an [card]Armorsmith. Their two best cards here are Brawl and Death’s Bite. You have a lot of threats that need to be answered, so just play carefully and never over commit when you can avoid it.

Paladin

Paladin is a matchup I don’t know how to properly evaluate. On one hand, it seems like a deck that we should not be able to beat (and in the video we don’t). However, I was 4-0 against it during my climb, and most of the time it felt like I couldn’t lose. I figure that puts it around a 60/40 in our favor.

Shielded Minibot is not as strong here as it is in most matchups, as it can’t reliably trade with most of our early game minions. Consecration is likewise very weak, especially when you have a Nerubian Egg or Haunted Creeper on board. Muster for Battle can be a nightmare in the right situation, but Annoy-o-Tron and Haunted Creeper keep that in check as well. The goal of this match is to make sure that they never have minions on the board. Always clear their silver hand recruits, and make them use Consecration in very poor situations. Once you make it past turn three, and they have to start playing one card a turn, the game drastically changes in your favor.

Face Hunter

Yep, it’s still here. I keep waiting, but Hunter will never truly die, not with the stats it puts up. This matchup truly is a coinflip. While you have more taunts (Annoy-o-Tron, Defender of Argus etc.) and ways to stop aggro than traditional Zoo, you also are a lot slower. In some games, an early Annoy-o-Tron or Hobgoblined Voidwalker can lock down the board, and you will just win. In others, you can’t keep up with a Leper Gnome or Eaglehorn Bow, and eventually die to Kill Command.

The number one rule to follow is to always watch out of Explosive Trap and Unleash the Hounds. Sometimes you can’t afford to try and play around the hounds, but you only want to do that when you’re pushing for lethal. If you over-commit and they have it, you will just straight lose the game.

Tempo Mage

Although it is not the most popular opinion, I am sad to see Mech Mage go. The reason is, this deck crushes Mech Mage at all stages of the game. However, mechs have been on the rapid decline in the past few weeks, and now almost every Mage you see is going to be Tempo. For reference, that is the longer game mage that runs things like Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Mana Wyrm, Ragnaros the Firelord and Dr. Boom. In this match, board control is all that matters. They play two secrets, Mirror Entity and Counter Spell. These are very easy to play around, and you want to always give them a minion you can kill right away (easy to do with all of the small creatures).

One other important point about Tempo Mage is that it doesn’t run any board wipes. Don’t be afraid to hold cards back here. The main strategy is to run out everything you have, play to your combos, and clear all of their minions. Nerubian Egg is also an all-star here as it plays around Flamecannon really well.

Oil Rogue

Oil Rogue is a deck that relies on AOE to win games. The good news? You have a ton of ways to dodge/rebound against AOE. The bad? They have a ton of AOE. This is a game where you want to out tempo them, and you want to do that by clearing their board at all costs. Rogue lives off of minions, and if you make good trades, they go on the back foot pretty fast.

The other way you are going to win is by forcing them to AOE bad boards (a theme you may have noticed). Blade Flurry and Fan of Knives are both very strong cards, but they are not as good when merely clearing a bunch of imps, or killing the first half of a Haunted Creeper or Nerubian Egg. Egg is also your best AOE deterrent, and should be kept in egg form at all costs. Tapping is also at a premium due to Rogue’s ability to burst. You obviously want to see cards, but don’t take too much of your own life.

Mulligan Guide

As with any Zoo deck, there are some cards you always want to mulligan for. These are Flame Imp, Annoy-o-Tron, Haunted Creeper and Voidwalker. Anything else isn’t worth keeping, even Knife Juggler. There of course, all some exceptions to these rules. There always is.

If you have the coin, and if you have early plays (one or two drops) it is ok to keep Imp-losion against Mech Mage and Oil Rogue. However, that card is too low impact (and too bad against Unleash the Hounds) to keep in any other match, coin or not. The other small rule is, if you have one of the sticky minions in your opener (Haunted Creeper, Argent Squire, Annoy-o-Tron) then you want to always keep or mulligan for Abusive Sergeant. That card may seem unassuming, but it is one of the reasons you can control the early game so well. It even laughs at Zombie Chow, which is always a plus.

So, that’s the deck. I hope you guys enjoyed looking at Zoo, and I hope you guys have fun with the list. I love Hobgoblin, and this is just some of its potential. Until next time, as we move towards a certain mountain, may all of your Hobgoblins be followed by one drops.