How to Zoo Your Way to Rank 5 and Legend!

With the new season and cards, it's time for Zoo again! Darkfrost shows the latest Zoo iteration from Xixo and all the Zoo-ing moves.

Introduction

Your soul shall suffer, erm I mean your opponents’ soul, when they will realize that they just got ‘Zoo’ed’.

Zoo works by spamming a bunch of super-efficient minions in the early game and trading efficiently with your opponents minions while keeping on developing your board and getting rid of your opponents HP and board.

In this guide I will be featuring Xixo’s deck who is a well know player and has been the first person to reach legend with Zoo during multiple seasons. We’ll examine both the latest iteration/evolution of Zoo and how it has changed from the previous versions. So let’s get started!

Why play Zoo?

Playing Zoo is the fastest way to gain the early ranks as Zoo games tend to be quick and usually end by turns 6-8. This allows you to climb the ladder really quickly with the help of win-streaks.

Playing control decks at low ranks is totally a viable option however control games tend to take more time due to the nature of these decks due to which it takes a long time to climb each rank. So the most profitable thing to do would be to play Zoo and take advantage of the fact that you can get bonus stars from win-streaks as Zoo allows you to play more number of games in less amount of time.

Consistency of Zoo vs Aggro

One can argue that Aggro decks tend have have even faster games and can be used to climb the ranks even more quickly, however these aggro decks are highly dependent on card draw.

If you cannot draw the right cards to finish the game you will lose once the game gets to its later stages. Also if the opposing class has a lot of heals the effectiveness of aggro decks goes down significantly.

This is where the consistency of zoo comes into play; Zoo is not an aggro deck but a board control deck, you are relying on efficient trades and minions that survive to kill your opponent over time. Thus your deck is not draw dependent and still has a high chance of winning even if you get to the lategame due to cards like doomguard as doomguard can provide a large amount of damage or kill a minion and live due to its massive seven health.

The Zoo Algorithm

Here is a simple algorithm that you can use to find the most optimal play:

  1. Check for lethal, if you do not have lethal go to step 2.
  2. Clear the board as efficiently as possible. go to step 3.
  3. Build a board again, go to step 4.
  4. Attack face with the board, go to step 1.

This is the way Zoo works, with every consecutive wave of you flooding and board and your opponent clearing it, you will start getting low on cards. This is where the warlock hero power makes you not run out of steam as you can keep on drawing cards and flooding the board. And your opponent will keep on losing health and eventually run out of it.

Making Efficient Trades

The following scenarios depict an efficient trade:

  • An efficient trade is where you are using a low priority minion to kill a high priority minion.
  • When you are using a minion that is damaged and at a low health to trade with a minion with a high health.
  • When your minion lives after trading with a high priority minion and will not die easily to something on the board after trading.
  • When your trade makes the opponents trades awkward, you have generated an efficient trade.

Some examples of efficient trades in order as listed above:

  • Killing a 3/2 knife juggler with a 2/1 damaged-golem.
  • Killing a 3/5 senjin-shieldmasta with a doomguard at 1 or 2 health.
  • Killing a 4/4 azure-drake with an argent-commander as it survives at 2 health.
  • If you kill your opponent’s 3/2 with your own 3/2 such that they have to run their 4/3 minion into a high priority minion such as a knife-juggler which is a 3/2.

Also to make efficient trades make sure that you do not overkill the minion and if unavoidable then overkill it by the least.

Clearing Board vs Attacking Face

This is a scenario that every Hearthstone player has faced, whether to go face or to clear board. The question however never has a perfect response as every scenario is different, however here are a few general tips that will help you decide better:

When to go face:

  • When you can set up for lethal next turn by going face and not die if the opponents board is kept alive.
  • When your opponent is in a position where he is forced to trade and you know that he might not have a spell to efficiently clear your board.
  • When the trades are awkward for your opponent and he will have to trade inefficiently.
  • When the trades aren’t efficient for you and you will not die if you let the board live.

When to clear board:

  • When you can completely clear the board on your opponent’s side and still have some minions on the board.
  • When the trades are efficient for you.
  • When not trading will give your opponent an efficient trade.
  • When your opponent can threaten lethal damage if the board isn’t cleared.

Keep in mind these tips especially when playing Zoo as zoo relies heavily on minion trading and board control.

The Concept of Zoo

You want to empty your hand as quickly as possible, this is so that you can play cards like doomguard and soulfire without any drawbacks.

Prioritize playing things that cost more mana once you are on turn 4-5 because you can easily play a bunch of low-cost minions but pushing out the high cost one’s take more mana.

Also in the chance that you get a doomguard you can sometimes afford to discard a few 1 drops without losing much. But it would suck to lose a dark-iron-dwarf or defender-of-argus.

Knowing the Cards

Soulfire – This card does ‘4’ damage for ‘0’ mana which is insane, so why is this card not broken, because it has the drawback of making you discard one of the cards in your hand. But if you are playing zoo then most of the time your hand will be empty, so you can get to cast this spell without any drawbacks which makes it amazingly good. Auto-include for most warlock decks.

power-overwhelming – This card is an excellent combo enabler but it is a bit tricky to use, because it kills the minion that you cast this on. You may say that it’s counter-productive to our strategy of flooding the board, well that’s why you cast it in things that have a deathrattle. You usually wanna play this card when:

  • You have lethal with it.
  • You want to kill a big minion with a small minion.
  • You are using it to combo with void terror.
  • You are activating a deathrattle with it eg. Voidcaller or nerubian-egg.

flame-imp – This card is a 3/2 for 1 mana and if you can combo it with a voidwalker on turn 1 with coin it is one of the strongest starts zoo can have. It is the same as playing the-coin + innervate + chillwind-yeti on turn 1. A really good card to have in the starting hand but it is pretty bad later on as at that time you are more concerned about your life total.

voidwalker – This guy has 3 health on turn 1 and except for a shaman none of the classes can kill this on turn one, use it to protect your weaker minions.

void-terror – This is a new inclusion to  the traditional zoo deck, with addition of cards like nerubian-egg and voidcaller it makes all the more sense to include this card, because these are minions you want to kill, to get immediate benefit from the deathrattles.

voidcaller – This card has amazing combo potential, no longer will you reach for that concede button when your hand is double doomguard as this card will give you one for free when it dies, playing this card at the right time can turn the tides of a game.

doomguard – doomguard is the card that every player fears to face and is the biggest nuke in your deck, he discards two cards which is a huge drawback but it wont affect you most of the time as your hand will be empty. Just take a little time for an evil laugh when you topdeck this card to maximize fun.

abusive-sergeant – Nerubian-Egg activator and can help you get efficient trade, overall a great value card.

undertaker – This card can snowball really hard if not dealt with immediately, it has synergy with 8 of the 30 cards in your deck and can help you kill things that cost way more than 1 mana or deal a lot of damage.

dire-wolf-alpha – This card helps you trade efficiently, activator for nerubian-egg. It has good synergy with voidwalker too. Try to buff low attack minions with this card.

haunted-creeper – This is the card that has made zoo even stronger ever since the release of naxx, this minion is really difficult to completely remove from the board. Which exactly fits your game plan of having a board, also the spectral-spiders have excellent synergy with dire-wolf-alpha.

knife-juggler – This card is the best 2 drop for any deck that runs a lot of minion, the sheer amount of damage this card can deal if left out for more than a turn is insane, it can help you get favorable trades as well as let you kill some minions for free. Also the synergy with haunted-creeper is just sweet. Staple in any zoo deck.

nerubian-egg – Nerubian egg has a total of 4/6 stats for two mana, which is insane. However to utilize this card efficiently you need to kill it in order to get the 4/4 Nerubian. Imagine this scenario, your opponent has a 3/2 on the board, you play dark-iron-dwarf and buff the nerubian-egg and you kill the 3/2 and end up with two 4/4’s which can just ruin your opponents day. Also if you defender-of-argus the egg then the opponent has to kill it and you get a 4/4 in the process, this card is simply insane if you can combo it correctly. It buffs the undertaker as well.

harvest-golem – A harvest golem will almost always require 2 moves in order to be completely removed. since it has a deathrattle spawn. If you can kill two 3/2’s with this guy the ultimate value has been achieved, it also buffs the undertaker.

dark-iron-dwarf – This card can allow you to get really favorable trades imagine killing a 4/4 with a 2/1 and getting a 4/4 in the process, these guys are so good that you can justify running 3 of em. The strongest combo you can get off of this guy is that you buff a nerubian-egg with him and then kill a minion with the buffed up egg. which gives you two 4/4’s!

defender-of-argus – Another buff card for your weaker minions,  some of the best targets for this card are: Nerubian-egg, haunted-creeper/spectral-spider, voidcaller. as these minions have deathrattles.

Combos

The following cards have great synergy and can lead to some great combos:

  • nerubian-egg+ power-overwhelming and or void-terror.
  • voidcaller + power-overwhelming and or void-terror when you have a doomguard in your hand.
  • dire-wolf-alpha + spectral-spider or haunted-creeper or nerubian-egg
  • undertaker + all deathrattle minions.
  • knife-juggler + Suiciding haunted-creeper to get two knives.

Note: void-terror also absorbs temporary buffs provided by cards like dire-wolf-alpha and abusive-sergeant.

Mulligan Guide

Your general Mulligan strategy will be:

Without coin:

  • Prioritize 1 mana cost minions over everything else.
  • If you have a 1 drop then try to get a good curve, some examples of a good curve are:
  • 1 drop + 2 drop + 3 drop
  • 1 drop + 2x 1 drop + 3 drop

With Coin:

  • Mulligan everything to get atleast two 1 mana cost minions.
  • If you have two 1 mana minions then you can keep a two mana cost minion.
  • Always keep knife-juggler when going second unless you don’t have any 1 drops.

Desirable 1 drops: flame-imp > undertaker > voidwalker.

Desirable 2 drops: haunted-creeper > knife-juggler > dire-wolf-alpha.

Specific Mulligan strategy:

  • When you have an undertaker in your hand, prioritize deathrattle minions.
  • When you have a voidcaller in your hand you can keep a doomguard and a void-terror as well in order to kill your own voidcaller and immediately get a charging doomguard.
  • When you have a nerubian-egg you can keep power-overwhelming and void-terror.

Matchup Analysis

For every matchup your strategy will be the same, follow the zoo algorithm. However there are a few important things that you should take care of in each matchup:

Vs Zoolock (The mirror)

Matchup type: 50/50

Important cards for this matchup: soulfire, knife-juggler, doomguard.

In the mirror match board control is everything, the person to first establish board control by turn 4 will win the game. The most important cards in this matchup will be  soulfire, knife-juggler and doomguard. As these cards allow you to trade where while not losing any minions on the field.

Doomguard can provide a 2-3 for 1, soulfire is absolutely required to gain the early tempo and knife-juggler helps you kill 1 health minions without losing any minions. In this matchup you never go for the face as long as your opponent has a board and can trade favorably into your board.

Always keep a soulfire in your starting hand against zoo. In the early game both the sides are going to be playing a bunch of 1 drops and 2 drops. The way of winning the mirror match is to clear your opponent minions without losing your own.

The person with the more number of minions on the field will be the one who will win the game. Due to this exact same reason it is correct to soulfire a minion that was played by your opponent on turn 1 even though you will discard a random card as once you can establish board control, you can trade favorably while your opponent can’t.

Example: Turn 1 your opponent plays flame-imp, now you play your own flame-imp and a voidwalker with the-coin. On your opponents turn he will kill your voidwalker with his flame-imp and his flame-imp will survive at 1 health thus your opponent will have generated an efficient trade. But in the mirror you absolutely do not want this to happen and hence it is always correct to soulfire your opponents turn 1 play be it a flame-imp or a voidwalker or an undertaker you have to remove it. If you can do this your opponent will have a hard time getting back the board.

Getting a huge void-terror in this matchup is a good strategy as well as your opponent will not be running hard removal. So even making a huge void-terror can sometimes lead to victory.

Vs Midrange Hunter

Matchup type: 50/50

Important cards for this matchup: defender-of-argus, knife-juggler, haunted-creeper and nerubian-egg

Cards to be wary of: houndmaster, unleash the hounds, explosive-trap

unleash-the-hounds and explosive-trap are the most important cards for your opponent in this matchup. try your best to play around them.

In this matchup there a two ways you can play:

  • Being mindful of unleash-the-hounds: This play-style severely handicaps your strategy and is not recommended.
  • Not being mindful of unleash the hounds: This play-style is risky but is your best bet at winning the game.

We will play ignoring unleash the hounds as our deck cannot afford to play around it, however we can minimize the value obtained from unleash the hounds by playing a bunch of taunts. Your best friends in this matchup will be voidwalker and defender-of-argus. Also nerubian-egg is a really strong card in this matchup as hunter’s don’t have an easy way to deal with it.

Follow general strategy in this matchup and prioritize playing taunt minions over others in most situations. and especially when suspecting an unleash-the-hounds play.

Vs Control warrior

Matchup type: Slightly Favored

Important cards for this matchup: soulfire, doomguard, nerubian-egg and haunted-creeper

Cards to be wary of: fiery-war-axe, armorsmith, unstable-ghoul, deaths-bite and brawl

In this matchup you need to kill their armorsmiths and acolyte-of-pain so that they get minimum value out of them, soulfire the armorsmith if you have a soulfire. Don’t let the warrior get to his late game. He will eventually run out of early game removal and you will have a big board punching his face for a ton of damage. Follow general game plan.

Note: Turn 5 is the brawl turn, try to have a maximum number of deathrattle creatures out at this time.

Vs Tempo Priest

Matchup type: Uncertain.

Important cards for this matchup: soulfire.

Cards to be wary of:auchenai-soulpriest, holy-nova, cabal-shadow-priest , shadow-madness and dark-cultist

This matchup is somewhat odd as both you and your opponent are trying to do the same thing that is to maintain board control so the one who has it will win. Play around shadow-madness and don’t let it get too much value , and so have a taunt out if you know there is a good shadow-madness. Always kill the dark-cultist last so that nothing gets buffed, kill the dark-cultist with a soulfire if you have one. Try not to play minions with less that 2 attack on your opponents turn 6 as he might have cabal-shadow-priest.

If the priest loses board control it will be difficult for him to get it back unless he has a auchenai-soulpriest + circle-of-healing combo. In this matchup your goal will be to get the most favorable trades.

Strong Openers

  • the-coin + flame-imp + voidwalker.
  • undertaker -> nerubian-egg -> void-terror.
  • the-coin + nerubian-egg -> nerubian-egg -> void-terror.
  • voidwalker -> haunted-creeper -> dire-wolf-alpha.
  • the-coin + haunted-creeper -> knife-juggler.

Common Misplays

  • Not tapping first: always use life tap first if you know you are going to have two spare mana after making your plays.
  • Tapping if you have a card with the discard mechanic in your hand: Do not life tap if you have a doomguard or soulfire in your hand.
  • Using power-overwhelming for face damage when not setting up for lethal: You are not an aggro deck but a board control deck, so do not kill your own minions unnecessarily.
  • Using void-terror to eat minions that do not have a deathrattle and have not been buffed with power-overwhelming: Do not kill your own minions unnecessarily.

Conclusion

Zoo is the best deck to play when you are laddering at the low ranks as it allows you to play more games in a short amount of time and it is consistent unlike aggro decks. I hope you enjoyed reading this guide and I’ll be glad if you can provide some feedback on it in the comments below. Also if you have any questions regarding this deck ask me in the comment and I will make sure to respond to them.

Good Luck!