The New Standard: Midrange Zoo
This week we are going to dip into another deck I've wanted to take a look at since KFT: Zoo. Though the deck has dropped in popularity (has literally seen no play) for the past six months to a year, the shell is always going to be there. This week's list does what Zoo always has done, which is use efficient minions and a strong curve to quickly overwhelm your opponent. There are several ways to go with a deck like this one, but for right now I think the build we're breaking down this week is the best version. This is largely the list Bowzer's took to legend. While I made a few changes to the cards I wasn't a fan of, there are some things here I really, really like. This may be a bit more midrange than past Zoo lists, but don't be mistaken, this is still the beat down shell we all know and love. It has just gotten a bit more versatile.
This section will explain certain key cards to the list as a whole.
The One Drops
I decided to lump all of the early game plays into one section because, quite frankly, having a ton of one drops is extremely important for the current meta. As we discussed last week when looking at Aggro Paladin, you need to be able to get going as early as possible. Not only does playing the slew of one drops help your consistency, but it also gives you that push Zoo needs to operate at full level. You are a deck that wants to play the tempo game by trading up efficiently throughout the game. Strong one drops help with that and give you a way to take the board on turn one. It is normally not a great idea to front load your deck, but in Zoo every minion, no matter how small, is going to be a threat. The early minions also help with the inclusion of Prince Keleseth, who once again appears to be one of the best two drop options around. Your plethora of one drops really steadies the curve and makes it so you can get away with running only one two drop. That is great because the buff from the 2/2 helps you swarm the board and put on pressure more than any other card can.
This is another one of Bowzer's additions that I really love. Zoo has always been at its best when it can protect its own minions, and man can Tar Creeperprotect some minions. The sort-of 3/5 has a ton of utility that allows it to really lock down a board. Zoo has always been vulnerable to aggro decks, and having some extra taunts to go along with Defender of Argusis a great bonus. As mentioned, this is a build that wants to play the tempo game. You get the early board and then use that to spiral into threat after threat after threat. Creeper is wonderful for that because it keeps your opponent at bay without any extra effort. Just forcing your Paladin or Aggro Druid opponent to stop for a turn will keep you ahead of trades and in control of priority. That then enables you a way to play your cards unfettered. Get the elementals out early and often against any deck that wants to fight for the early turns.
You always want to try to put Tar Creeperinto positions where it can create problematic board states for your opponent. That is to say, you should use this to protect high value minions like Darkshire Councilmanor Cobalt Scalebane. Minion combat is extremely prevalent right now. Many decks flood the board, lean on tempo, or depend on strong trades to push them through. As a result, if you can stick something behind creeper it is going to instantly put your opponent into a bad position. It is either going to force them to use key removal (making the top end of your curve even stronger) or they are simply going to have to crash in and leave your protected threat alive. Each of those are bad situations. Unless you need a wall, do not be afraid to hold the three drop back to get some extra use out of the taunt later on.
Despicable Dreadlordhas proven time and time again that it is a straight up value machine capable of both threatening damage and controlling the board. Those reasons are why it works so well here. Even besides the Bloodreaver Gul'dansynergy (more on that later) the demon is an amazing tool that will give your opponent fits if it isn't answered right away. However, before we get into the that, it is important to note that you should not get caught up on the damage dreadlord creates. Yes, clearing something your opponent has is cool, but it is better to simply run this out as a body and chip away at minion health. Do not work hard to get this card to come together. Rather, just treat it as an efficient minion that comes with a little bit of upside. There is always going to be upside here, and you shouldn't compromise your board or take bad trades to get value from it.
The reason Despicable Dreadlordis so strong is because, as with so many "lightning in a bottle" cards, it is instantly going to take your opponent's attention. Diversification of threats has always been important for Zoo, and the 4/5 demon is great for that. You never want to put all of your eggs in one basket with this build. Rather, you want to go wide and put out a few different bodies that can all bring the pain. While dreadlord only does four damage a pop, the ability is something that people are going to worry about. That means the demon instantly becomes a prime removal target. Take advantage of that by placing it down onto boards where you already have some beefy bodies. This will put your opponent into a lose-lose situation that will keep your power rolling.
I do not think you could play any Zoo-type deck these days without the inclusion of Cobalt Scalebane. This is a card I was initially suspicious of, but the more I play it, the more I like it. The dragon is a fantastic beater than both applies a massive amount of pressure and gives you an extra big body to work with. Three attack a turn is not only going to give you more ways to push pressure or find lethal, but it can also turn any small minion you have into a threat. The extra boost may not seem much, but it just keeps coming turn after turn. Putting down the 5/5, boosting your Argent Squireto a 4/1, and then using it to kill a bigger minion next turn is exactly what this deck wants to do. Even if your dragon dies after that, you still got permanent value.
Like Despicable Dreadlord, Cobalt Scalebaneis an amazing way to diversify your threats. In fact, it may be the best way to spread out damage in the entire game. Your goal with a deck like this one is to make every single minion into something your opponent has to answer. Things like Flame Impand Bloodsail Corsairshould force your opponent to use resources and cause them to falter on their curve. Scalebane greatly helps with that by generating two big threats in a single card. Not only that, but your opponent then needs to take out the dragon before they deal with the card it buffed. This is another good example of a lightning rod style card. Either your opponent takes this out or they are going to pay. And, even if they deal with it, there is also going to be another high-damage minion coming at their face. That type of tempo and value is hard to come by, and it works great for this build. This is one card you should always run out when you have something to buff.
Without a doubt, the inclusion of Bloodreaver Gul'danis Bowzer's crowning achievement to this build. While ten mana may seem insane for a deck like this one, past Zoo builds ran both Lord Jaraxxusand Mal'Ganis. Yes, the big demons could be cheated into play, but there were plenty of games where you could hard cast them as well. Going all the way up your curve is never going to be your main goal, but it is nice to have something to do once you're there. Bloodreaver is one of the best finishers in the current game, and he works wonders here. Not only does he give you a board of demons, but he also allows you to both do damage and heal at will. He wins races, eats control for lunch, and pressures any deck. This type of power is not typically included in Zoo, but as you want to play a bit more midrange, you can definitely afford the ten drop.
Your opponent is never going to expect you to have Bloodreaver Gul'dan. That is extremely important to note because it means this card is always going to come with some element of surprise. As strong as the death knight is, he gets much stronger when your opponent doesn't see him coming. You can use the ten mana card to suddenly gain health, refill after AOE, or just put a clock on your opponent. Do not rush to him, but know when he is going to come down. For example, it can be ok to play into a clear or to trade away your board on turn nine to set up your DK the next turn. Such plays may seem weak to your opponent, but they will fall into your trap every time. Baiting out key removal or taking down big threats before you transform is a great way to close games out. Three damage a turn is often too much for most decks to handle.
Some of the most common matchups I see while playing ladder.
Druid still sits on the top of the mountain (for now) and you are going to see it more than anything else. That is great news for this build because, as strong as Druid is, Zoo has always played well against Malfurion. The lack of AOE really hurts your opponent, as does the fact that they have almost no ways to take out big bodies. Jade Druid starts slow and then punches fast. However, that style also means they depend on their minions to control their opponent's board. If you can trade well early on and get ahead in the first three turns, you can push your opponent into a bad position. From there, you just want to press hard with damage and keep pumping out big bodies. The only reason you want to trade is if you have something you specifically want to protect. Otherwise, let your opponent answer you.
You are going to win this game by controlling the pace and pumping out two big threats against your opponent. While Druid can typically survive one body, once you get two out ahead of them they simply aren't going to be able to have enough ways to deal with them. For example, outside of some insane Innervatedraw, your opponent will not be able to clearly shut down two 4/5's on turn five. Then, if you follow those up with a pair of 3/2's or a 5/5 the game is largely going to be over. The only things you need to keep aware of in this one are Spreading Plagueand Jade Behemoth. The taunts can shut you down if you aren't ready, so always try to have five or six damage at your disposal and don't over-extend too much. One of two big bodies is more than enough.
The other half of the Malfurion punch, Aggro Druid is a very scary deck that can get down onto the board quicker than any other. Even with the coming nerfs, I expect this one to stick around until at least the next set. This is a game that you should see as a pure mirror match. While Aggro Druid is not Zoo, they are basically a Zoo deck. That is to say, they rely on a slew of cheap, efficient minions to push the board and build up massive amounts of damage. This entire game is going to be about fighting for the board and taking good trades. You never want to let Druid build, and you never want to put them into a position where they can get ahead of you. You simply don't have many tools to deal with things like Vicious Fledglingor Living Manawhile you're behind. Push hard early and don't worry about damage until you have control of the board. Even then, it is often right to trade in and keep your opponent on their heels.
Your advantage in this game is the fact that you can simply get bigger and go longer than your opponent can. Aggro Druid is a Ferrari style build in that they like to sprint out of the gates and then die down. They have a lot of extremely weak top decks, and once you get to that point your hero power should be able to out value them. Cards like Despicable Dreadlordand Cobalt Scalebanego a long way in this game because they represent constant threats your opponent has to answer. That is never the position Aggro Druid wants to be in. Also, and we say this every week, prepare for Living Mana. A board of 2/2's is going to crush you if you don't have the presence to deal with them. Try to set up your taunts for the spell and make your opponent trade the crystals in. That will often cause them to lose a turn and give you the lead.
Anduin continues to hang onto the ladder with his healing fingers, which is not great news for you. While Priest is a winnable matchup, it is likely going to be your most difficult because of the way the class plays. Priest has always done good against decks like Zoo because of their ample removal and AOE options. Kazakus Priest has all of those cards, but they only get to run one copy. As a result, you need to spend the game carefully baiting out and playing around removal. You never want to over-extend into clears and you also never want to leave yourself exposed to easy removal. You typically always want to run out a "test" card to see if your opponent has a certain spell before you put out your real value minions. Also, do your best to be in control trades to better resist damage-based removal.
This is a matchup where you really want to lean on your big threats and force your opponent to use their AOE at inopportune times. Just having two four attack minions hitting over and over again will really push your opponent into a tight corner. Priest wants to be able to get to their big combo and strike down your board with a free hero power. While you can resist that for a time, they will eventually grind you down. As a result, you have to prioritize damage and lock your opponent out by turn eight. Also note that Cobalt Scalebaneis great to run out on a packed board in this match. Priest's best clear against you is going to be Dragonfire Potion, which does nothing against the 5/5. Anytime you want to resist AOE you should try to get the dragon down.
Damage who? Pirate Warrior is a game where you need to forget all about your aggression and focus on putting up walls. Controlling the board is good, but they are eventually going to beat you down with weapons and charge minions if you leave yourself open to fast damage. To resist that you want to liberally kill everything your opponent has and then try to set up your taunts. Any wall, from Tar Creeperto Voidwalkerto or a turn five Arcanite Reapercan go a long way towards keeping control.
Another mirror-ish matchup, Midrange Paladin is a deck that you can easily beat as long as you take out their murlocs. As I have mentioned many times in the past, Uther has a great early game and a great late game, but they are largely weak in the middle. You can take real advantage of that weakness by getting control around turn four and then going hard between turns four and six. That is the sweet spot against Paladin, and if you keep up the pressure your opponent will never be able to properly recover. This is especially important in the late game because you need to do what it takes to make sure your opponent cannot get either Bonemareor Spikeridged Steeddown onto a minion. Those two cards, complied with Paladin's powerful end game, are almost always going to be game over. For that reason, you need to use all of resources to make sure they don't have minions down moving into turns six and seven. Don't get cocky in this one. Just because you have the board does not mean you've won. Always prepare for Paladin's big drops.
While this deck looks different, it is still Zoo at the end of the day. You want to mulligan for your curve first and worry about everything else later. You want all of your non-patches one drops and Prince Kelesethin this one. From there, Tar Creeperand Darkshire Councilmanare both great when you have the coin or a good curve, and you should keep Defender of Argusanytime you can build into it. Not too much else to say, this one's pretty simple.
Many people do not like Zoo, but it is a list that I've always enjoyed. Tempo is always fun, especially when that tempo comes on the back of a slew of interesting minions. Everything is strong here, and you also get to play a lot of cards that don't really make the cut in other lists. While the idea behind this one isn't inherently new, some of the cards are. And that counts for something. I hope you guys like the content (as always) and I hope things are going well. Until next time, may you always lifetap into lethal.