Jun 6 2014 - 1:00 pm

How to play the Warlock Zoo deck in 'Hearthstone'

Though competitive Hearthstone, Blizzard’s competitive card game set in the WarCraft universe, is still in its infancy, there is a deck whose variations might stand the test of time and still be played years from now because of how universally applicable
Dot Esports

Though competitive Hearthstone, Blizzard’s competitive card game set in the WarCraft universe, is still in its infancy, there is a deck whose variations might stand the test of time and still be played years from now because of how universally applicable the strategy behind it is.

That deck is Warlock Zoo.

Made popular by the player Andrey ‘Reynad’ Yanyuk, the deck’s premise is simple: Load up with low cost minions and try to overwhelm your opponent. Utilizing the Warlock’s hero ability, which lets you a draw a card after doing two damage to yourself, the deck allows players to power through the game with wave after wave of cheap minions that can trade efficiently.

Loved by some for its versatility and despised by many its perceived simplicity, this is an inexpensive deck that can be played to quickly climb the ladder and has been used in tournaments to great success.

Take a gander at the deck list below for one variation of Zoo Warlock:

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Though most cards are cheap and expendable, there are two cards that stand out as more significant than the others.

The Knife Juggler throws a virtual knife that does one damage to a random enemy—minions or the opposing hero—each time you play a minion of your own. While this is an easy concept to digest and a simple enough idea, it's worth noting that you can often ensure you get extra mileage out of your knife juggler by playing cards and attacking in a specific order.

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And then there's the Doomguard. This card is, in my opinion, one of the more interesting minions in all of Hearthstone. For the cost of five mana and two random cards in your hand, you can play a card that has seven health and does five damage with charge, making it a bizarre card unlikely any other.

The card didn’t see a lot of play early in the early Hearthstone beta because people were petrified of discarding random cards from their own hand. However, in a deck where a lot of your cards are expendable, this becomes a true monster for its cost. It can be used extremely well for removing your opponent’s minions due to its high health and its damage means it immediately becomes a high priority target for your opponent.

Optimal synergies

Knowing what order to play cards to get the most out of your Knife Juggler is enormously important. You want to make sure you’re getting the most efficient use out of him.

Imagine for a moment your opponent has two minions on the board, and one of them has one health. You have a Knife Juggler and another card that coincidentally can do enough damage to kill their second minion.

Ideally you would want to play a card and have the Knife Juggler throw his knife into the one health minion to kill it. It is important that you maximize the probability of that outcome, so you’ll want to kill your opponents other minion with your other minion first. This way when you play another card the Knife Juggler is more likely to kill the card you want it to.

There are also situations where you’ll want to play minions to get the Knife Juggler to chip down the health of enemy minions. If you’re in a position where you can’t kill your opponent's minions effectively, be sure to play your cards before attacking and cross your fingers that the knives go where you want them. It's unfortunate that in these scenarios you can't just toss the knives where you want to, but card games do, alas, occasionally come down to chance.

You have two sets of two cards in your deck that also discard random cards from your hand. The zero mana spell Soulfire, which discards a single card, and the five mana minion Doomguard, which discards two cards.

Though this may seem like common sense, it's surprising how often one might find themselves playing cards in the wrong order and needlessly losing cards. With both cards you want to do whatever you can to limit the amount of cards you lose, or to lower the probability of losing high priority cards.

Since it costs zero mana, Soulfire is an easy one. It's often possible to empty your hand before using the card, in which case you discard nothing. What a deal?

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Doomguard is often tougher, because you’ll want to play it on turn five in many cases. That means you’re going to have to get comfortable with kissing cards goodbye. The best advice I can give is, in the turns prior to playing your Doomguard, particularly if you have one in your hand as you’re nearing turn five, is to unload as many cards as possible to make your losses as insignificant as they can be.

Overall strengths and weaknesses

One of the biggest strengths that this deck has is that it really has no terrible match ups. Taunt heavy classes, like Druid, can be more troublesome than others. But even then, if fate is on your side and you draw the right cards while dodging their removal, you can run away with the game.

Another big strength: This deck makes it difficult for your opponent to mulligan, or arrange a hand before the game starts, because the other popular Warlock deck, Handlock, requires the exact opposite kind of starting hand to play against. This cloak-and-dagger can give a great start simply because your opponent will have cards that are the solution to a different set of problems than those they’ll be facing.

One of the deck’s biggest shortcomings is that it requires a solid start to have any chance at winning, and despite the deck having ten one mana minions there will be occasions where your starting hand is filled with minions from the tail end of your mana curve. There will also be instances where your opponent will manage to get all their removal spells in their first few turns and they’ll make quick work of each card you play.

You’ll often know by turn four or five whether the game will end in your favor.

This a deck that is played at every tier of Hearthstone’s competitive ladder. If you’re considering taking the game a little more seriously and are looking for a cheap way to jump in and get more competitive, this is the deck that I would recommend. The strategy is simple and transfers well to other, more complex decks, and you can play this while you earn more cards to build other, more expensive, decks.

Image via Blizzard