Hey fellow zoo enthusiasts and anyone else that wants to learn how to play this strong archetype. I recently have gotten back into Hearthstone. I had started playing during beta back in December 2013 but had not played for a while because I went to travel abroad. However, now that I have the time again, I have been laddering non-stop for the last few months. I have never had trouble hitting legend, so this is going to be more of a write-up on matchups within legend and/or higher ranks. In the most recent season of May 2015, I peaked at around Rank 13 with this specific DemonZoo deck. I feel that it is underrepresented in Legend but can definitely provide for great results. After the release of BRM, [card]imp-gang-boss[/card] is what really pushed this deck from the average 50% winrate deck to about 60% winrate overall. Hopefully this write up can shed more light on one of the rather overlooked decks in the meta. Without further ado, let’s talk about DemonZoo.
[cardinsert card=”voidcaller” float=”right”]
I and many other Hearthstone players have begun to realize the strength of DemonZoo, which is essentially combines the swarming ability of the original zoo deck with some added Demon synergy. The idea is to fill the board early, and make value trades in order to snowball into the midgame. Unlike traditional aggressive decks, this deck never runs out of steam due to both the warlock hero power as well as powerful late-game threats such as [card]sea-giant[/card] and [card]mal’ganis[/card]. Just in general, there are a few guidelines to follow for most matchups. The first is to always try to fill out your mana curve. AKA going for a mulligan that allows for a solid turn 1-2-3-4 play. It is very important to hit early drops for zoo as it is as much of a tempo deck as it is any other type of deck. Therefore, making sure that you utilize all your mana is quite important.
Recently, on ladder, there has been an outburst of strong decks, so I will try to detail as many of the matchups as possible. These decks are the Hybrid Hunter, DemonZoo, and Grim Patron, Tempo Mage. These are the most prevalent decks that I have seen in legend personally, so I will give more detailed advice on how to mulligan/play the matchups.
[cardinsert card=”sea-giant” float=”left”]
[toc]Understanding Your Win Conditions[/toc]
Unlike Face Hunters, and many other perceived aggressive decks, DemonZoo is not simply the type of deck to go face or push damage. In fact, I personally feel that the main win condition for the Zoo archetype and the DemonZoo deck specifically is to maintain board control. Minions such as [card]imp-gang-boss[/card] and [card]haunted-creeper[/card] have very low attack values, but are very sticky, and provide the ability to make lopsided trades. The fight for board control usually starts from turn 1 and lasts until the mid-game during turns 4-6. As you all have probably personally witnessed, each turn has an ability to completely swing the game in one direction or another. When playing a matchup with DemonZoo, once the DemonZoo player has established board control, the game is essentially over barring any massive board clears. However, even if the DemonZoo player is behind, they still have the ability to swing back because of cards such as [card]imp-losion[/card] and [card]knife-juggler[/card]. After board control has been established, then it is safe for the DemonZoo player to swing in for damage. However, in games with tight health, cards like [card]power-overwhelming[/card] and [card]doomguard[/card] can provide the pivotal and surprising burst to win the game.
Unlike other decks with early aggressive playstyles, DemonZoo never runs out of steam after its initial aggression. There are actually two separate explanations for this. The first is the innate overpowered nature of the Warlock hero power. Life-Tapping provides constant generation of cards for the Warlock player. It is not only DemonZoo that utilizes this mechanic as Handlock and MallyLock also benefit highly from this. The free card draw allows Warlock to replenish their hand and maintain constant card advantage on the opponent. Other aggressive decks run out of steam quickly, or rely on cards such as [card]quick-shot[/card] or [card]divine-favor[/card] to generate draw. These cards are all situational and heavily dependent on the state of your own hand. The Warlock hero power on the other hand will allow the player to draw whenever they so choose, at the expense of two health and two mana. This flexibility is crucial.
The second explanation is what differentiates DemonZoo from other Zoo decks. The fact is that DemonZoo has significantly more late game drops than the typical Zoo deck. [card]voidcaller[/card] allows the DemonZoo player to bring out [card]mal’ganis[/card] and [card]doomguard[/card] for no cost, which usually creates a lot of value. At its worst, it is a 3/4 for 4 mana which is not too bad for a vanilla card. The best situation drops a free minion which can swing a game especially since they have effects that immediately affect the board. This mechanic of free minions is what separates DemonZoo from most other decks in the meta. Although this deck does have a weakness of falling behind heavy control decks in the super late game, it does surprisingly well in other facets. Usually the early and mid-games are strong enough to carry the deck past this weakness.
[cardinsert card=”power-overwhelming” float=”right”]
[toc]Key Card Analysis[/toc]
[card]power-overwhelming[/card]: This card is tremendously important to the deck. In previous variants of Zoo, it had been overlooked by many for whatever reasons. The utility that this card provides is ridiculous. The most important aspect that I use it for is to trade up with my weaker minions. With cards like [card]haunted-creeper[/card] and the 1/1 tokens from [card]imp-losion[/card], they have low innate value, but can take out much bigger minions. Against beefy defensive cards like [card]sludge-belcher[/card] or taunted creatures like [card]twilight-drake[/card] and [card]molten-giant[/card], this card provides the burst you need to take them down. By using Power Overwhelming to trade up, close matchups can be turned into stomps and unwinnable matchups can be made easier. One disgustingly good combo is to buff up a minion with Power Overwhelming and then place [card]void-terror[/card] next to it to absorb the buff. You get a 7/7 minimum and unless your opponent has an immediate answer to this new 3-mana threat, the game is probably won.
[card]abusive-sergeant[/card]: The idea of trading is really reinforced with Abusive Sergeant. Similar to [card]power-overwhelming[/card], this card allows the DemonZoo player to make favorable trades. However, the utility is more heavily realized for skirmishes between two smaller minions. The +2 attack buff is not necessarily strong enough to punch through a much larger threat but it can create early swings in your favor. Besides the use for trading, Abusive Sergeant can always be kept as a weak turn 1 play in the rare occasion that no other early drops came into your hand. Although you lose the value of the buff, the 2/1 body is enough to at least threaten the board in the first few turns.
[cardinsert card=”flame-imp” float=”left”]
[card]flame-imp[/card]: Before the introduction of [card]zombie-chow[/card], this card was only one drop with a full 5 points of stats (as it was a 3/2). The minor scratch inflicted from its Battlecry does not necessarily hurt the DemonZoo player as health totals are not of relative importance unless this is a Hunter matchup. What Flame Imp provides is the ability to contest the board from turn 1. Flame Imp can take out the other turn 1 openers [card]mana-wyrm[/card], [card]cogmaster[/card], and [card]northshire-cleric[/card] and survive. Flame Imp can also deal with numerous important 2-drops, leaving the opponent weary of what early play to make. Late game, the card falls off because the 3 damage does matter in tight hp matches. However, the weakness is similar to all other 1-drops, but the strength is so much more prevalent.
[card]voidwalker[/card]: Another 1-drop is this 1/3 taunt. It has similar functionality to the [card]flame-imp[/card], but usually lures the opposing player into a false sense of security. With a buff from either the [card]dire-wolf-alpha[/card] or the [card]abusive-sergeant[/card], the Voidwalker can easily take out opposing player’s 1-drop or 2-drop. Against specific matchups like Face Hunter, the taunt provides an important body to mitigate as much damage as possible. There have been several games where I dropped the Voidwalker against something like a [card]Savannah-Highmane[/card] and had it soak up 6 damage that otherwise would have gone strictly to my face.
[cardinsert card=”haunted-creeper” float=”right”]
[card]haunted-creeper[/card]: This is the stickiest minion at the 2-drop slot. You simply throw it out and opponents usually will have to deal with both its initial 1/2 body and the two 1/1 tokens that it generates. The 1/1 tokens combined with buffs from either [card]dire-wolf-alpha[/card] or the [card]abusive-sergeant[/card] also allow for beneficial trades. The Haunted Creeper is usually not a strong enough card to warrant a silence, but if it does draw one out, it allows for [card]nerubian-egg[/card] and [card]voidcaller[/card] to get substantial amounts of value. There is a reason to why multiple decks play this card, and it is simply because it is an amazing card.
[card]knife-juggler[/card]: The most frustrating RNG card in this deck. Knife Juggler can easily win or lose games because of its effect. While the DemonZoo player can oftentimes control the targets that the Knife Juggler can hit, the effect that its juggles have can easily decide a game. Since there are numerous minions with Deathrattles that generate more minions, DemonZoo utilizes this to take control of the board. A popular sequence against other aggressive decks is to play [card]haunted-creeper[/card] and then the Knife Juggler. Then trade the [card]haunted-creeper[/card] to deal 1 damage and then the remaining two 1/1 tokens generated will proc 2 additional knives. This is 3 free damage and with favorable odds, can take out many early drops. The other combo is to have Knife Juggler on the field and play [card]imp-losion[/card] . This will have the natural damage effect in addition to generating knives for each imp that is spawned. This can is a turn 6 play but can heavily swing the game into the DemonZoo player’s favor.
[cardinsert card=”nerubian-egg” float=”left”]
[card]nerubian-egg[/card]: This 0/2 body may seem to have no real effect, but it does two major things. The first is with buffs from other cards, it can trade effectively with other 2 health minions. The additional Deathrattle effect of creating a 4/4 body is the extra bonus. One combo is to use [card]power-overwhelming[/card] on the Nerubian Egg and have it take out another minion. Of course, this effectively takes out anything at or below 4 health. The second combo is to just play [card]void-terror[/card] next to the egg and have both a 3/5 and 4/4 body out by turn 3. There are numerous ways to “activate” the Nerubian Egg, and DemonZoo utilizes many of these methods effectively.
[card]imp-gang-boss[/card]: The reason why we have seen a resurgence of Zoo in general is because of this card. When Imp Gang Boss was first announced, pros already saw the potential from this little 3-drop. The reason for the hype was because at worst, it is a 2/4 3-drop that spawns a 1/1 if it is dealt with instantly. However, being at 4 health, it is a very hard minion for many classes to deal with. The only classes that have an easy way to deal with it are Warriors with [card]deaths-bite[/card] and Paladins with [card]truesilver-champion[/card]. Every other class has no innate weapon to kill it off, so it will most likely spawn more 1/1s. Add to the fact that there are cards like [card]defender-of-argus[/card] to buff its health; Imp Gang Boss definitely out-values its 3 mana price tag. It has innate synergy with [card]knife-juggler[/card] as each new 1/1 procs knives. This 3-drop was definitely the thing that Zoo needed to become relevant in the meta again.
[cardinsert card=”imp-losion” float=”right”]
[card]imp-losion[/card]: This card is also heavily RNG dependent. However, it guarantees at least 2 damage done to an enemy minion and the creation of 2 imps. The problem is that the variance is so high, that a low roll of 2 or a high roll of 4 can substantially affect how the game turns out. In a deck as tempo reliant as DemonZoo, there is definitely an issue of consistency. However, this card is crucial because its effect on AVERAGE is so good for its mana cost. Like other cards in the deck, it is too good to leave out regardless of its weaknesses. A great combo is to combine Imp-Losion with [card]knife-juggler[/card] and deal additional damage for every imp created. The imps also have demon synergy with [card]mal’ganis[/card] as they will receive the +2/+2 buff.
[card]defender-of-argus[/card]: Like the other buffing cards before it, Defender of Argus provides a lot of utility. This however is the only card in the deck that also provides a health buff outside of [card]mal’ganis[/card]. The +1/+1 per minion can be seen as a charge as it takes effect immediately. The crucial aspect of Defender of Argus is that it provides taunt and can be used to protect some minions. This taunt is crucial in matchups where the DemonZoo player’s health is slowly declining.
[cardinsert card=”voidcaller” float=”left”]
[card]voidcaller[/card]: The reason that this deck is in fact called DemonZoo is because of the innate synergy that this specific card provides. At its worse, it is a 3/4 body for 4 mana. While this is not necessarily cost efficient, it will make do if there are no demons in hand. What makes this card stupidly broken is its ability to bring out any demon from within the hand. The DemonZoo player can play all the relatively cheaper demons such as [card]flame-imp[/card] and [card]voidwalker[/card] out beforehand, so that only expensive demons remain in the hand. After Voidcaller dies, cards like [card]imp-gang-boss[/card] or [card]mal’ganis[/card] can be brought out, and this effect is bundled along with the initial 4 mana cost. The best way to combo this card is to use it to trade into a minion on your turn. Then after its death, a [card]doomguard[/card] will spawn, and through its charge ability, a 5/7 minion will immediately be put into play. Simply put, Voidcaller is what propels the DemonZoo deck from a typical aggro deck into a ridiculous tempo generating deck.
[card]mal’ganis[/card]: Another card that can be brought out by [card]voidcaller[/card]. This card is another huge threat that has to be dealt with buy the opponent immediately or they just simply lose. It allows for free life taps, in addition to buffing all existing demons in play. The protection of the Warlock from face damage is an added bonus. Mal’Ganis comes in wicked clutch in games against hunter. It should almost always be brought out by [card]voidcaller[/card]. However, there is sometimes merit in playing it from the hand on turn 9.
[cardinsert card=”doomguard” float=”right”]
[card]doomguard[/card]: The original boss card of the deck. In previous faster variants of Zoo, this used to be the finisher that the deck used to close out games. While it is still as strong as ever, the utility it provides now is quite different from the past. It is still a huge body, being at 5/7. However, now it is unlikely that the DemonZoo player will ever play Doomguard from their hand. The player should aim to bring Doomguard out for free using Voidcaller. It is not out of the ordinary to play it from hand, but it is simply more efficient to have a free Doomguard rather than one that cost 5 mana in addition to discarding 2 cards.
[cardinsert card=”dire-wolf-alpha” float=”left”]
[toc]Meta Specific Tech Choices[/toc]
[card]dire-wolf-alpha[/card]: The judgment is still out for this card. Some players play 1 while some play none at all. Personally I play two copies in this deck because I feel like having the ability to give other minions +1 attack at the early stages of the game is quite important. This acts as an activator to [card]nerubian-egg[/card] and can provide the tiny boost you need for a favorable trade. The one problem is that it is a dead card sometimes if you have to play it bare on turn 2.
[card]ironbeak-owl[/card]: Silence is always important. Even though this card is quite weak as a 2/1 body, it has enormous amounts of utility. For example, if there is an unchecked [card]sylvanas-windrunner[/card], it can wreak havoc on DemonZoo. Ironbeak Owl nullifies potential threats such as these and offers a great number of options in dealing with problematic Deathrattles. It is a simply required card and has always been an important tech in my opinion.
[cardinsert card=”void-terror” float=”right”]
[card]void-terror[/card]: This is in here because of its synergy with cards such as [card]power-overwhelming[/card] and [card]nerubian-egg[/card]. The reason why it is such a good tech in this meta is that it baits out hard removal such as [card]big-game-hunter[/card]. If the opponent does not have removal, the DemonZoo player will likely win. If the removal is baited out, then other threats such as [card]mal’ganis[/card] will be relatively safer when it is indeed played during some later turn in the game. The 3/3 body played by itself is also standard for the 3 mana slot.
[card]sea-giant[/card]: The giant that is played in Zoo. The reason for its inclusion is the deck is because of the recent resurgence of aggro decks on the ladder. Since both boards will be filled with minions, the Sea Giant can usually be played for an inexpensive cost. There is also the fact that cards such as [card]imp-gang-boss[/card] and [card]haunted-creeper[/card] generate numerous tokens which all lower the cost of Sea Giant.
So some people may ask, “What if I do not have all the cards that you have listed in this writeup?” Well the answer to this is simple, some of the cards are expendable, but some are quite important to the whole flow of the deck. This deck is quite inexpensive dust-wise, so I assume any cards that any given individual would not have would be the legendary cards. In the format that the deck is right now, the only legendary is [card]mal’ganis[/card]. There is not really any great replacement for it because it plays so well into demon synergy. If I were to make a recommendation, I would say [card]dr-boom[/card] because it is another late game threat. All other cards should be crafted quite easily. If more cards are missing, I recommend maybe switching to classic zoo, which lays off the demon synergy just a bit.
Currently there are four matchups which I encounter the most on the ladder. These are Hybrid Hunter, DemonZoo, Grim Patron/Dragon Control, Tempo Mage. The two Warrior matchups play out quite similarly in the first few turns, so I will combine them together.
[cardinsert card=”animal-companion” float=”left”]
The DemonZoo vs. Hybrid Hunter matchup is all about snowballing. If either player can get early board control, then it is oftentimes hard for the other to catch up. One thing to notice on the side of the zoo player is that the Hunter can come back with [card]knife-juggler[/card]+[card]unleash-the-hounds[/card] combo. Therefore, try to keep high health minions on the board, with no more than 3 minions at a time. The 3 minions will allow you to keep board control, without risking a huge swing that the turn 5 combo provides. Also to test for traps, try to use the 1/1 tokens at all times because they can test for both explosive and freezing without suffering too many consequences.
Without Coin: Here I’ll always aim to get [card]voidwalker[/card]. This is the primary mulligan choice because it contests [card]worgen-infiltrator[/card], [card]leper-gnome[/card], [card]abusive-sergeant[/card], and any possible one drop that they can play. With a buff from either your own [card]abusive-sergeant[/card] or [card]dire-wolf-alpha[/card], and you can pretty much take out any 1 or 2-drop that the hunter puts out his first turn. Sometimes your [card]voidwalker[/card] will survive and go 2 for 1 which essentially wins you the game there. I am iffy on [card]flame-imp[/card] because it hits you for 3 and may not even let you trade properly, but if you do not have [card]voidwalker[/card], then keep the Flame Imp. If you have both, you can drop the [card]flame-imp[/card].
Mulligan: [card]voidwalker[/card], [card]haunted-creeper[/card], [card]nerubian-egg[/card], [card]ironbeak-owl[/card], [card]flame-imp[/card]
With Coin: When I have the coin in this matchup, I still put priority on [card]voidwalker[/card], but now I much more look for [card]haunted-creeper[/card] and [card]nerubian-egg[/card]. Most likely, the Hunter’s turn 1 play is something with 1 health. However, there is always the chance that they use [card]glaivezooka[/card] or something else to buff it, so it can easily 1 for 1 the [card]voidwalker[/card]. However, having something with deathrattle such as [card]haunted-creeper[/card] or [card]nerubian-egg[/card] often will make beneficial trades with a buff. One of the most powerful starts is turn 1 coin [card]haunted-creeper[/card], and then turn 2 [card]knife-juggler[/card]. This can easily clear the board turn 2 by running [card]haunted-creeper[/card] into the 1 or 2-drop of the hunter. The two knives will most likely take out at least one minion, and there is a high chance that both minions die, leaving you with spiderlings and the [card]knife-juggler[/card] to further snowboard the matchup.
Mulligan: [card]haunted-creeper[/card], [card]nerubian-egg[/card], [card]knife-juggler[/card], [card]voidwalker[/card]
[cardinsert card=”malganis” float=”right”]
There is not much to say about the mirror. Again make sure to get early drops in, because this is a very snowbally matchup. Usually I feel that the big swing is whoever can pop their [card]nerubian-egg[/card] for the most value or whoever gets the best roll of [card]imp-losion[/card]. However, there are definitely opportunities to outplay by being able to buff your tokens to take out the other players bigger minions. The [card]sea-giant[/card] tech is especially important here because since it is Zoo vs. Zoo, there will be a lot of minions on the board, so the giant will likely be quite cheap or free.
Without Coin: Always aim for a 1 drop, it is important to establish a turn 1 play. This I feel is the most important aspect of the mirror because your opponent will most likely never miss the turn 1 play because they have coin, so they can either shoot out a 1 or 2-drop. Definitely try to get [card]flame-imp[/card] as the priority, because it can trade with all 1 or 2-drops besides the [card]nerubian-egg[/card]. Other than that, just typical filling out mana curve type of matchup. Another great play is to have a [card]voidwalker[/card], then use [card]dire-wolf-alpha[/card] or [card]abusive-sergeant[/card] to buff it and take out the opponents turn 1 play while keeping the [card]voidwalker[/card] alive. This is at worse a 1 for 1 play.
Mulligan: [card]flame-imp[/card], [card]voidwalker[/card], [card]dire-wolf-alpha[/card], [card]abusive-sergeant[/card]
With Coin: Much easier to mulligan, because you can go for turn 1 double 1-drop, 2-drop into 2-drop or 1-drop into 3-drop. I prefer the turn 1 double 1-drop because it most likely contests anything that the opponent already has on the board/will get on the board.
Mulligan: [card]flame-imp[/card], [card]voidwalker[/card], [card]haunted-creeper[/card], [card]knife-juggler[/card], [card]dire-wolf-alpha[/card]
Grim Patron or Dragon Control
[cardinsert card=”grim-patron” float=”left”]
Dragon Warrior is very similar to the old Control Warrior. Agency is usually given to the warrior. It is either they have the [card]fiery-war-axe[/card] or they don’t. Regardless of whether you have coin or not, that is the case. Against Grim Patron, I take the strategy to rush them down before they can get out the combo. If they can get [card]emperor-thaurissan[/card] on turn 6, and the cheapened combo on turn 7; you will just most likely lose. DemonZoo has very inadequate boardwipe ability as it does not run [card]hellfire[/card] or [card]shadowflame[/card].
Without Coin: Go for the 1-drop. It is important to get the 1 drop in because this is the only one that the warrior cannot contest without using coin. Either [card]flame-imp[/card] or [card]voidwalker[/card] will do. If you miss the 1-drop, you better make sure to have a 2-drop. These two turns represent between 4-6 points of free damage regardless if the warrior has [card]fiery-war-axe[/card].
Mulligan: [card]flame-imp[/card], [card]voidwalker[/card], [card]knife-juggler[/card], [card]dire-wolf-alpha[/card], [card]haunted-creeper[/card]
With Coin: This is much different from not having coin. This leaves the warrior to only have drawn 5 cards which could represent the [card]fiery-war-axe[/card]. There is a much lower chance that the warrior does indeed have the Axe. However, the problem is that you still have to respect it. In this matchup, I will often forego the usual strategy of going for 1-drops because they simply die to the axe. I mulligan for [card]nerubian-egg[/card] and [card]haunted-creeper[/card], because that usually forces the warrior to go turn 2 armor up or [card]armorsmith[/card], both of which are quite inferior plays. However, if you cant get either of those two, then it is still fine to go for 1 drops/other 2 drops.
Mulligan: [card]haunted-creeper[/card], [card]nerubian-egg[/card], [card]dire-wolf-alpha[/card], [card]knife-juggler[/card]
[cardinsert card=”flamewaker” float=”right”]
This deck is a very annoying deck on ladder right now. It utilizes the amazing effect of [card]flakewaker[/card] to send out 2 single blasts of damage after each spell is cast. With help from [card]sorcerer’s-apprentice[/card], an early lead can easily snowball a game. The key in this matchup is being able to contest their early drops and being able to deal with [card]mad-scientist[/card] without giving a strong minion because of [card]mirror entity[/card]. An easy way to accomplish this is to focus on getting either [card]voidwalker[/card] or [card]haunted-creeper[/card]. This will oftentimes bait out the [card]mana-wyrm[/card] and you can one shot it by buffing whatever you had out on the board.
Without Coin: Always try to get the [card]voidwalker[/card] plus a buff. The first turn is more crucial in this matchup than I feel in many other matchups. The key is to be able to snowball and prevent their aggression while also being able to get your own minions out onto the board.
Mulligan: [card]voidwalker[/card], [card]dire-wolf-alpha[/card], [card]abusive-sergeant[/card]
With Coin: You have more options than without coin. The opponent will be forced to have the [card]mana-wyrm[/card] or risk you having control of the tempo because you are not limited to only a 1-drop. Here just play as if you are facing the DemonZoo mirror and try to get control of the board early through any means possible.
Mulligan: [card]flame-imp[/card], [card]voidwalker[/card], [card]haunted-creeper[/card], [card]knife-juggler[/card], [card]dire-wolf-alpha[/card]
The DemonZoo archetype is one that has recently appeared in the meta. Previously it was missing a lot of parts that prevented it from obtaining the success rate that is seen today. The deck now with all its unique niches is something that is a force to be reckoned with in the future. I have always been an avid fan of Zoo myself, dating back to Reynad’s first Reddit post about the deck. That does it here for me, but I hope you all enjoyed this article. I would definitely love to see another Zoo infestation on the ladder like we had almost a year ago! If anyone has any comments or suggestions, feel free to let me know. If you want more articles like these, remember to become a premium member!