“Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.” – Sun Tzu
This is the basic tenet of this series on Adapting to the Meta. To become a top Hearthstone player you need to be able to anticipate opponents, and knowing their threats and their playstyle can go a long way.
Today, we’re tackling one of the most loathed decks on the ladder, the dreaded Zoo Warlock.
What most people don’t understand about Zoo, is that it’s a Board Control Deck first and an Aggro deck second. It accomplishes this with really efficient trades on board from its buff minions.
It deals in what is known as Mana Debt where it forces opponents to make trades with mana that is more than what the minion costs.
An example is voidwalker. While it’s a weak card by vanilla stats and other metrics, its 3 health at 1 mana forces 2 mana removal from almost every class.
If the Zoo can continue to force you to use higher cost removal and minions to fight its threats its accumulating an advantage in value.
Therefore, to beat Zoo you can’t try to deal with its threats 1 by 1 because you will get outvalued. Area of Effect is extremely important against Zoo and keeping the board clear.
Unfortunately for you, Zoolock decks run a ton of extremely sticky minions that aren’t easily removed and some potent class cards. Let’s take a look.
Zoolock is an aggressive Warlock build that focuses on piling pressure on the opponent through cheap minions.
Warlock is particularly suited to this task because of its Hero Power which gives it card advantage and some incredible tempo cards like soulfire. Here are their main threats.
flame-imp sums up the Zoolock’s approach to winning games. It’s a 1 mana drop with 2 mana’s worth of stats with a minor health drawback.
This card is particularly devastating when played on turn 1 going first since it’s almost guaranteed to get 3 dmg in.
Later on this card is much less threatening and can even be a liability for the Zoo, but early game, it’s an ace card.
3 atk on the imp is particularly good as well since it takes out almost all 2 drops and with a buff from abusive-sergeant it can kill a minion with 5 health!
soulfire is one of Zoo’s best cards. It’s fantastic for giving them an insane amount of tempo, and is largely mitigated by Warlock’s ability to life-tap.
Four damage out of nowhere for no cost is devastating, and when you get low, playing around it is very important.
Often though, there’s really no way to play around Soulfire. You just have to hope your opponent doesn’t have it.
If he does, you’re up a card, and that gives you a momentary card advantage which hopefully you can translate to the board.
nerubian-egg is one of the most irritating cards to play against.
By itself, it poses little threat, but it sits there on the board as a big AOE deterrent.
Zoo is a particularly good deck for best utilizing the egg because of the multiple buff minions in it like dark-iron-dwarf and abusive-sergeant.
It’s also great when combo’ed with void-terror and power-overwhelming.
Silence is your best friend here. It completely shuts down the egg. Problem is, Silence usually represents a hit in tempo which means the Zoo can just keep amassing forces you can’t handle all at once.
Doomguard is Zoo’s premier minion. 5/7 with charge is downright scary and it can come down as early as turn 5.
Doomguard has legitimate claim to be the best card in the game. It gives amazing stats and its drawback is often negated because of Zoo’s aggressive hand emptying style.
The focus for Zoo is usually to end the game with Doomguard, but it can also be used to control the board which it does really efficiently.
Keeping an eye on the Zoo’s hand is really useful to gauge the presence of Doomguard. Usually, it sits on the far left and the Zoo tries to empty his hand before playing it.
Combating Zoo – Deckbuilding
Now that you know what Zoo’s biggest threats are, let’s look at tech and deckbuilding choices you could make to help fight it.
I’m going to highlight 3 cards, but its the effect in bold which is the important element in learning to combat Zoo.
Area of Effect
|Rogue||Blade Flurry, Fan of Knives|
|Hunter||Unleash the Hounds|
Most classes have at least some form of AOE that can hurt the Zoo’s board badly. It’s your primary defense. Here’s a quick recap.
wild-pyromancer is the highlight for this particular effect. The 3/2 body isn’t much, but its the Pyro’s effect which makes it so good at countering Zoo.
Control priest is one of the best decks against Zoo because of the Pyromancer’s ability to combo with cheap priest spells for board clearing potential.
Beyond knowing the types of AOE though, it’s important to save it for the right moments. Try to hit at least 3 minions with your AOE.
Most classes have limited AOE so using it when you’ll get maximum value is important. Depending on your deck, mulliganing for it is usually correct.
It goes without saying, but you should be putting AOE in your deck. It’s super useful against almost all classes.
If you’re having difficulty against Zoo, you can even stick a secondary type or a Pyromancer to help out.
If you read my first guide on how to combat Hunter, this card is front and center yet again. sludge-belcher is one of the most important cards in the current metagame because it’s so good against aggro.
It offers 4/7 worth of taunt stats that need to be fought through and costs just 5 mana. It’s basically a senjin-shieldmasta and a goldshire-footman stapled together.
It’s stickiness and ability to block damage sums up what the best Taunt minions are supposed to do.
Most control decks are better off with Sludge Belcher in their decklist for the very purpose of shutting down aggro, but it also helps that it’s generally just a good card that is resilient and playable at any stage of the game.
Arguably, Taunt is less important against Zoo because they will most likely want to be clearing the board each turn, but it still can be crucial especially in the late game. Taunt with AOE like unstable-ghoul is great though.
I often tech in senjin-shieldmastas as an additional taunt if I’m running up against a lot of zoo because it trades 2 for 1 with most early game drops.
fiery-war-axe is the gold standard for weapons in the game.
It is superb at dealing with early game minions, and weapons should be seen as removal which can be used twice.
Put that way, it’s incredibly good at dealing with Zoo’s army of small minions and gets a natural 2 for 1 at the expense of life.
Of course, not all classes have access to weapons, but those that do should definitely use them and mulligan for them (deadly-poison for Rogue)
Hit minions as much as you can. Your life is a resource especially against Zoo since they’re rushing you so much.
It’s only with the last of your health that you should refrain from attacking minions with weapons and that’s a judgment call in a game-by-game basis. See the next section for staying out of lethal range!
Combating Zoo – In-Game Advice
This is where the bulk of games are decided. Most likely if you’re into the competitive Hearthstone scene you have decks tailored to survive early game while having enough late game push.
It’s the small decisions you make which influence whether you win or not, and there are lots of nuances with beating Zoo.
These are things that you should keep in mind when facing a Zoo. They are instincts you will develop after playing a lot of them, but by reading this, hopefully you’ll either learn something new or remember to keep these hints in mind.
- Mulligan for Zoo. Yes, there are Handlocks out there, but if you queue a Warlock on the ladder, mulligan for early removal, minions and weapons. If it’s Handlock you’ll have a couple of draws to get it right if you mulliganed incorrectly. Against Zoo, you might be dead already by turn 4.
- Knife Juggler has Taunt. This is a joke, but it might as well be true. An unattended knife-juggler will really devastate you especially if he can burst his haunted-creeper with it. Remove it as quickly as possible
- Health +2. This is my own personal tip. If you see a minion with x attack on the board, give it 2 more attack and if that really hurts your play, don’t make it. Zoo has tons of ways to buff a minions’ atk, so a 2/3 is far from safe against a 2/1 for instance.
- Clear the board. This is more important against Zoo than against many other classes. Because they can buff a minions’ attack so easily, it’s always best to clear the board that way they can’t. Most zoos also don’t run any charge minions except doomguard so you can feel relatively safe if they don’t have a board at least for the next turn. AOE will be worth its weight in gold here so use it as such. Don’t waste it and watch your opponents’ card total and mana. You’re looking for the dreaded 5 where they usually try to empty their hand before a Doomguard.
- Fight for the board. If you have any space at all to squeeze a minion on board, do it. Most zoos will clear the board and that gives you more time and more life to come up with good answers. Avoid value plays at expense of the board. A t3 arcane-intellect will almost certainly lose you the game against a Zoo if you don’t have the board for example.
- Beware of Argus. defender-of-argus can often really disrupt your plans. Most often, it buffs minions out of range of AOE, so keep this in mind if you plan to AOE in following turns. You can’t just leave a flame-imp alive with a truesilver-champion equipped expecting to use consecration next turn for a clear. An Argus will ruin that plan horribly.
- Survive beyond your turn. It almost goes without saying, but always keep your life total in mind. Often against zoo you can be so preoccupied with dealing with his board that you neglect to see using the weapon charge for instance will lower you down to 5 health for a Doomguard charge finish.
5 mana – soulfire+ doomguard = 9 damage
Zoo doesn’t really run any two card damage combos, but rather grinds you down with an overwhelming board.
However, it still pays to keep in mind their two most common direct damage dealers in Soulfire and Doomguard. Keep Taunt up if you’re lucky enough to be ahead and if you do, make sure you’re above 4 health and there should be no way you’ll die if he’s running the standard board control Zoo.
Zoo is one of the most infuriating decks to play. If it draws well, it can just steamroll you especially if you have no AOE removal. I’ve had times when I’ve been on the end of a 9 dmg burst from Zoo as well from nothing on board.
However, most zoos aren’t gonna draw perfectly. They’re gonna have a gap somewhere, a turn where they tap and play a lower cost minion, and they’re inevitably gonna run out of cards.
Be ruthless in exploiting these openings to build your own board and clear theirs. If you can keep a Zoo’s board clear from turn 5 onwards you’ll be golden so plan your turns ahead of time to get the maximum value out of your AOE.
Teching in additional Taunts, AOE and Weapons goes a really long way to improving the matchup. If you find yourself struggling, try putting in more of these elements or the occasional heal from earthen-ring-farseer and the matchup could start swinging your way.
Next up on Adapting to the Meta – Shaman bots.