Weekly Legends: Hybrid/Aggro Zoo

I love Warlock. There are several reasons for this (mainly because it once allowed me to take to legend) but one of the biggest is because of how much innovation the class allows. While it, like all classes, has some decks that are much more popular than others, the potential of Lifetap has created some […]

Introduction

I love Warlock. There are several reasons for this (mainly because it once allowed me to take Hobgoblin to legend) but one of the biggest is because of how much innovation the class allows. While it, like all classes, has some decks that are much more popular than others, the potential of Lifetap has created some truly unique decks through Hearthstone’s storied history. One such deck is today’s list from Xzirez, an aggro Warlock deck that has some shades of the classic Zoo, but operates in a completely different way. Burst has always been strong in the game, and this deck is a build that absolutely thrives on it.

While Xzirez called this deck a hybrid deck, I would say that is pretty far from the truth. Yes, you do have some midrange cards, but the deck is mostly an aggro build with a couple of interesting options. You are going to spend your time pushing for damage and trying to set up lethal as fast as possible. While people may initially miss that due to the various bells and whistles tacked on to the different cards, understand this deck’s primary destination is your opponent’s face. I say that, not as an insult, but as a fact. The most important part of playing any deck is understanding the way it operates. Despite what you may think from looking over the decklist, going for value plays is not the way you are going to win with this deck. The way you win is by going hard to the face.

Key Cards

Soulfire

A lot of the cards in this list are very tricky to play, but none more so than Soulfire. The one mana burn spell is hard to use for two reasons. One, because it has two very different modes, and two, because of how it forces you to discard. The first rule of Soulfire has to do with the discard trigger. Yes, the drawback can be very annoying, and there are many times when you do not want to lose a card. However, you only want to play the Soulfire if you absolutely have to (either because you have lethal or are falling behind) or if the card you discard will not be as important as getting in four damage. For instance, killing off an early Totem Golem to solidify your board can be really important. If you have a hand full (or mostly full) of low-impact cards then you should make the play and roll the dice. However, if there is a card or cards that you absolutely cannot lose, you should try and figure something else out.

The other part of this card is knowing when to use it. Sometimes it may be ok to burn (haha) early on as a form of removal or as a way to get board control (which you can then build off of as the turns go on). However, in many cases you are going to save Soulfire until the later turns of the game when you go for that big show of finishing burst. This card’s main mode is always going to be face damage, and you only want to use it on the board if you are falling behind or desperately need to get through a taunt. This is important to remember, because you are not playing this as a traditional Zoo card. You are playing it as four damage for one mana. Soulfire is your last resort option, and you only play it when there is no other way out.

Power Overwhelming

Going off of the ideas laid out above, I do not bring up Power Overwhelming to discuss what it is. Rather, I bring it up to talk about what it represents. This deck feels very Zoo-like in both theory and practice, but it does not pilot like Zoo does. As mentioned, this deck is much more aggressive than its traditional counterpart, and you really need to play to your burst if you are going to win. Going for a bunch of value trades might seem to work well, until you get blow out by AOE and get stuck topdecking damage spells. Power Overwhelming is a great way to trade, but it, like Soulfire, is four damage for one mana. It is best to only think of this card as an aggro tool. You want to save this for lethal, because playing it earlier to trade up isn’t really what this deck wants to do. The only instance where this is not true is when you need to crash through a taunt. Taunts can be a real pain for this list, and using PO on roadblocks like Sludge Belcher and Druid of the Claw can be very useful.

Darkbomb

One of the biggest deviations from Zoo, Darkbomb is a very solid removal spell that also doubles as burn. I will never stop discussing the importance of versatility when choosing cards, and this is a perfect example of why. Three damage for two mana is standard in today’s Hearthstone, but in a deck like this it is extremely powerful. Think of this card a lot like Lightning Bolt in Aggro Shaman. Most games it is going to be turned towards the face when you get enough damage through or need reach past a taunt. However, there are many situations where you can use it to clear a small taunt, take down an early threat, or finish off a big minion. Furthermore, it can even protect your early board when your opponent drops something that directly challenges your plays.

Even though you are a very aggressive deck, it is important to note that there are many early game cards you simply cannot afford to leave alive, such as Knife Juggler, Acolyte of Pain and Darnassus Aspirant. Those cards usually will give your opponent too much steam, and Darkbomb happens to kill them all. Damage is important, but you also never want to only go face. Killing something on turn two may not seem like a big deal, but turn threes are very clunky for many popular decks. Ruining their two drop can really restrict their curve and prevent them from gaining any sort of flow. Do not be afraid to burn this early, but always make sure the minion you are killing is a must kill before you do.

Piloted Shredder

Though much more midrange than aggro, Piloted Shredder is a very interesting card in this list that serves a very important purpose. While everyone knows the power level of Shredder, most people have not experienced it as an aggro tool unless they have played Aggro Druid or Egg Paladin. Even then, it is hard to grasp this card because it exists here much more for board presence than for straight face damage. One of the primary weaknesses of aggro decks is a lack of stickiness, which makes them susceptible to AOE or hard removal. You always want some way to survive your opponent’s last-gasp Lightbomb or Brawl, and this card is your best options. Especially since you want to go higher than the traditional low-cost deathrattle minions Zoo typically runs.

Another reason the shredder is so strong is because of how well it can both protect your minions as well as break through taunts. You have a good amount of damage spells in this deck, and you can use just about all of them in combination with Shredder to take out something like a Sludge Belcher or Druid of the Claw. Not only that, but you also get a two drop that the mech leaves behind. That is a perfect blend of power and board presence that can keep you in games you would normally fall behind in. Building up is never a bad deal, and even though your curve ends at five, it is good to have a few heavy hitters at your disposal.

Azure Drake

While there are several strange cards in this list, Azure Drake seems the most out of place. Even so, like all of the other cards in this amalgamation, the five-drop dragon serves a very important purpose in terms of both clearing, card advantage, and lethal. There are a large number of spells in this list, and most of them do some form of damage. As a result, this card should primarily be used how it is in Druid or Rogue. It serves as a “must kill” source of card advantage that, if not dealt with, can really stack up some damage quickly. Sometimes you are going to run it out as a tempo minion on turn five, and sometimes (more often than not) you are going to play it on a later turn in combination with some type of spell.

Another reason this card is so good is because it is one of your best threats against Control. Not only does it keep the cards coming while also adding an extra body to the board, but it also gives you even more reach. There have been numerous times where I wished I had one extra point of damage, and drake helps to fill that gap while also adding a 4/4 onto the board. While this card is a little bit slower, there are many games where you will save up on burst spells to unleash a huge finishing combo. There is not better card to set that up in the game than Azure Drake, just ask Rogue.

Matchups

The five decks I encounter the most on ladder.

Secret Paladin

While no one truly enjoys playing against Secret Paladin, this deck (like all aggro decks) does a very nice job against it. The Zoo shell is quite strong against Paladin’s early board, and the added burst almost always finishes them off before they have a chance to put together their later threats. Just know that this is not a match where you want to mess around. While in some games you can spend some time looking for slower mulligans or taking a few turns to really build some threats, this is not one of them. Paladin has one of the strongest curves of the game, and if you don’t try to match it you are going to fall behind very quickly. You want to get your minions going as soon as you can, to apply as much pressure as possible. Secret Paladin is a deck that enjoys being able to sit back and conduct its gameplan by putting down an on-curve minion each turn. However, if you get in a lot of early hits, that will force them off of that curve and put in them in tough situations.

The most important rule of playing Paladin is to make sure you always have access to more damage than they do. This means you either want to literally have a bigger board than them, or you want to make sure they are at a much lower life tota than youl (which will make them react to you instead of the other way around). Paladin has a lot of ways to get big minions early, such as Avenge and Blessing of Kings, and you need to limit that as much as you can. You never want Paladin to be able to race you because once you have to clear their board the game can slip away very, very quickly. Only clear when you absolutely need to, and throw down as many minions as you can.

Zoo

A very interesting match, Zoo is going to be a quick game one way or the other. Either you are going to get immediate board and build that into game-winning burst, or they are going to curve out strong and you will never be able to amount a real assault. This match, unlike most others on this list, is much more focused on the board than anything else. While it may be good to push for face damage a lot of the time, you only want to do so after clearing out Zoo’s board. This is a game where the first half is going to be spent clearing and putting down some bigger threats, while the second is going to be about going for the finishing blow.

A lot of the time this game will come down to a race. That usually bodes well for you, but it is important to remember that Zoo has access to Defender of Argus. This card may not always be a blowout, but it is one that can instantly tip the tide of the game. Defender enables your opponent to protect themselves, while also putting down two threats. That card will destroy you in a racing situation, and is one of the main reasons you need to clear before looking for ways to hit face. Also, it is important look out for Sea Giant. The 8/8 is standard fare in today’s Zoo decks, and it will suddenly make your opponent the aggressor if it comes down too early. Always try to watch how many minions you are putting onto the board at any one given time.

Aggro Shaman

To this day, I am not sure how Aggro Shaman fares against other aggressive decks, which means I am not really sure who is favored here. Sometimes Shaman just runs you over with huge early minions, and other times you hit them hard on turn one and they never recover. The best way to play this matchup is to try to out-pace them. Trading may work from time to time (you never want to let something like a Tunnel Trogg live) but the longer the game goes, the more time Shaman has to wear you down. As with Secret Paladin, Shaman is not a deck that does well when under pressure. Most of their cards are some form of burn, and if they have to use those cards on minions rather than your face, you should be able to pull out ahead.

This is the only match where you really want to take your time to calculate each and every move in relation to your life total versus Shaman’s potential damage. They have the most burst in the game, and you never want to tap too low or take too many hits just because you think you’re safe at eighteen life. Try to not use your hero power this game unless you need to find a specific answer or are really pushing for a quick lethal. It is also important to always keep track of your opponent’s anti-aggro cards, and here that is Feral Spirit. The wolves can be really hard to deal with, and when sculpting your board you always want to be thinking about ways you could potentially clear the pair of 2/3’s. Beyond that, know this game has to end around turn five or six, because nothing is going to allow you to race a Doomhammer.

Tempo Mage

Back in popularity, Tempo Mage is a match you should be able to win most of the time. This is for two reasons. One, because Mage is not that great at interacting with fast decks (needing the right amount of early removal to keep up) and two, because you have more burst potential that they do. That means you can hit them hard from turn one and force them to worry about the board rather than winning the game. Though they have “tempo” in the name, Mage is an aggro deck dressed up in a different suit. They want the early board, and then want to use their spells to protect that board. Eventually, they will pressure enough to finish you off with either Fireball or Frostbolt. However, if those essential burn cards go to your minions instead of your face, it gives you more time to tap and allows you to play a little more loosely than you normally would. Also remember that you there are many cards you need to play around or think about when facing down a Mage. Never let any of their buzz cards (Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Flamewaker, Mana Wyrm) live. Beyond those cards, you just need to call their bluff and let them do the removing.

Midrange Druid

As one can imagine, Druid is a tough battle. While they have no real ways to interact with the amount of damage you put on, they have taunts as well as some of the best burst around. When facing Malfurion you have to remember that you just want to get a something down every turn, even if isn’t a good source of mana. If Druid has one weakness, it is the inability to deal with large boards or constant strings of minions. As a result, you just want to play as many things as possible, and then use those minions to control the tempo of the game. As soon as you give Druid priority, odd are you will never get it back. It is not going to be easy, but if you can start off strong on turn one, your buffs and reach may carry the day. Also, watching out for fourteen is always tough, but you should really watch about how much Lifetapping you do.

Unless you take over Druid’s board right away, you are only going to have a very small window where you can win the game. This comes in many different forms, but it is usually right between the time when they have played a turn five minion to when they set up their combo. It is that time when they aren’t protecting their life, and it is where they usually feel the safest. Surprise is going to be your biggest advantage in this matchup. Almost none of your opponent’s are going to expect as much aggression as you can put on, and you want to always try to lull your opponent into a false sense of security before you go for the final kill. This will make them play the way that you want, such as drawing two cards with Ancient of Lore instead of healing for five.

Mulligan Guide

Mulliganing with this deck is like mulliganing with any other aggro deck. Look for anything small and throw the rest back. The only exception to that is that you never want to keep your late game reach cards like Soulfire or Power Overwhelming in favor of minions. Leper Gnome, Abusive Sergeant, Dark Peddler, Voidwalker, Flame Imp and Knife Juggler are all of your “must keeps” in this matchup. Beyond that, Imp Gang Boss is very solid with the coin or a strong curve, and Piloted Shredder follows those rules as well. The five drops are always too slow.

In terms of specific cards, you want to look for Mortal Coil against any aggro decks (Shaman, Paladin, Zoo, Hunter) and keep Darkbomb against any deck with a strong opening minion, like Druid, Priest, Shaman and Warrior. Imp-losion is also solid with a strong curve and the coin.

Conclusion

Another week, another cool deck. As much as I complain about the game’s current state, I will never get tired of cool Warlock builds. It is always fun to try something new, and when that works well it is one of the best feelings in the world. I cannot wait for Whispers, but there is still some innovation in the world before that comes. Until next week, may you always kill on turn five.