Recently, Xixo held #1 spots in NA, EU and Asia by playing his newest creation: a zoo deck adapted to GvG by incorporating [card]imp-losion[/card], [card]echoing-ooze[/card] and [card]sea-giant[/card]. In this guide, I will explain in detail what your thought process should be like when playing this incredibly strong deck in order to help you master the new zoo (which in my opinion is a lot harder than people give it credit for). Then, I will walk you through each match-up to help you master this deck completely. I’ve loved playing zoo decks ever since Reynad invented the first variant, and it was actually the first deck I reached legend with. This deck is incredibly efficient for ranking up since it has virtually no bad match-ups (except maybe priest) and games are pretty fast, allowing you to climb the ranks quickly and achieve legend in no time.
[cardinsert card=”power-overwhelming” float=”left”][card]power-overwhelming[/card] is excellent for reach in place of the recently nerfed [card]soulfire[/card]. It can also activate your [card]nerubian-egg[/card] and act as removal in conjunction with one of your creatures. When you use this as removal, try to play around the opponent’s AoE: if you think your opponent will cast an AoE spell next turn, use it on a creature without a deathrattle to keep control of the board in case your opponent does go for a full clear. For example, if you have a [card]nerubian-egg[/card], a [card]harvest-golem[/card] and a [card]leper-gnome[/card] against a mage on turn 6, the best option to remove a large creature of theirs would be to cast [card]power-overwhelming[/card] on the [card]leper-gnome[/card] and run it into their minion, that way, if your opponent flamestrikes, you have 2 of your “hedge minions” (more on these later) to grant you creatures from their deathrattles.
[card]imp-losion[/card] is great removal that also helps you generate board presence. The truly powerful aspect of it is its synergy with both [card]knife-juggler[/card] and [card]sea-giant[/card]. Use it to make your [card]sea-giant[/card] cheaper, to get lots of damage off with knives, and to aid you in removing big threats. All around, this never fails to give value.
[card]echoing-ooze[/card] is a somewhat weird addition, but it actually works in this version of zoo thanks to the added [card]sea-giant[/card] synergy. It’s also great with [card]dire-wolf-alpha[/card] since it can help you take advantage of the buff more easily. If you think about it, 2/4 worth of stats for 2 mana is great, and for this deck, having it spread between two bodies is an advantage.
[cardinsert card=”sea-giant” float=”left”][card]sea-giant[/card] is a beast. An 8/8 in a zoo deck might seem weird at first glance, but it works amazingly. For some reason, even if this deck is really popular at the moment, people will still play out their [card]big-game-hunter[/card] without a target sometimes, giving you a chance to punish them hard for it. Even if it does die to hard removal, an 8/8 for 2 or 3 mana is well worth the cost and can even generate some mana debt for your opponent if they decide to use hard removal.
I won’t go too deep into card choices as the focus of this article is to actually teach you how to play the deck, the other cards are standard, highly efficient minions that give you a lot for a relatively low mana cost.
You should always aim to come out of the mulligan phase with a strong 1-2 curve. In order to do this, try to think about what your opponent is likely to play during his first two turns, and then think of the minions in your deck that do combat well against those. For example, if I’m up against priest, I’ll value [card]voidwalker[/card] and [card]echoing-ooze[/card] less because they’ll just give out free card draw against a [card]northshire-cleric[/card], but if I’m up against hunter, i’ll value those cards very highly because they are good against the many 1-health minions they play and they are great for checking traps. The only start which I would say makes match-ups irrelevant is [card]undertaker[/card], when you get this, you’ll want to chuck everything else out and mulligan for deathrattle minions to try to snowball the game in your favor. Look at the match-up guide if you’re unsure of what cards to keep against a certain class, but keep in mind that in general, you’re going to like seeing [card]undertaker[/card] and deathrattles.
In this section, I’ll explore some concepts that you need to know in order to be successful with this deck: I’ll tell you what you need to be thinking of at each stage in the game and give you the tools to analyse the efficiency of each possible play. Many many players see zoo as a “cancer rush” deck that takes no brain to play. In my opinion, they are 100% wrong. Zoo takes a lot of practice, skill and prediction to play correctly. There has to be a reason for why Reynad and a rank 10 warlock running his deck are different, am I wrong? Here are some of the things that will separate you from the pack and help you reach legend using this deck:
Mana Debt[cardinsert card=”flame-imp” float=”right”]
This is a central concept in zoo. Basically, you generate mana debt for your opponent when you trade some of your mana for a higher amount of his. This is important because this is exactly how you snowball. For example, if you play a [card]flame-imp[/card] on turn 1, and your opponent plays a [card]knife-juggler[/card] on turn 2, your [card]flame-imp[/card] will make him “owe” you 1 mana, and you get to spend your 2-mana against an empty board. The way the deck is built makes it easy for you to generate mana debt and snowball games, so you should always be thinking of how to maximise this effect.
I like to divide the minions into two different kinds:
- Regular minions are your vanilla minions that aim to give you a lot of value and generate mana debt.
- Hedge minions have deathrattles that spawn other minions when they die, they are one of the ways that you can play around AoE spells.
If you understand this concept, then you’ll understand why zoo is so overpowered: you’re playing a deck that swarms the board constantly, yet doesn’t mind getting hit by AoE. Why should you care if the opponent plays [card]consecration[/card] if you have a [card]nerubian-egg[/card] and a [card]harvest-golem[/card] on the board? You’ll still have board presence after the clear, which is a huge advantage. This takes me to the next concept I want you to keep in mind.
[cardinsert card=”nerubian-egg” float=”left”]Prediction
This is what separates rank 5 players from legends. If you force yourself to let go of your mouse for a second and think about what the opponent is likely to do in the upcoming turns before you play, you’ll realise that it’s actually quite easy to predict, and this information is perhaps the most important thing to take into account when playing any deck, not just zoo. With zoo, the reason this is so important is that you need to know what your opponent is likely to do the next turn in order to decide what to do yourself. Is any AoE likely to come? Play a hedge minion. Is your opponent likely to play a [card]dark-cultist[/card]? Play your [card]flame-imp[/card] and buff it up with [card]dire-wolf-alpha[/card] next turn (any way to deal 4 damage actually, remember these are only examples!). Having this skill makes it so that you’re always one-step ahead of your opponent, which is exactly where you want to be during your climb to the top of the ladder.
This has been emphasised in every single zoo guide I’ve read, and I’m sure many of you know this, but zoo is a board control deck, not a face rush deck. What this does mean is that you should be looking to clear your opponent’s threats efficiently and produce them yourself instead of ignoring their side of the board and hitting face. What this doesn’t mean is to just clear their board at whatever cost. Think about it this way: if you can hit the face without getting punished for it, why not? I’ll provide yet another example to make this easier to understand: If your opponent has 2 [card]echoing-ooze[/card] on the board, and you have a [card]knife-juggler[/card], you’ll probably want to hit the face unless you think there’s some other way he can deal with your minion (such as [card]frostbolt[/card], [card]keeper-of-the-grove[/card], or [card]darkbomb[/card]). So to sum this up: think about possible punishments for hitting the face, if the chance of getting punished is very low, then go for the face, otherwise, aim to keep board control and reduce your exposure to AoE (try to trade so that your minions retain their deathrattles or enough health to survive AoE).
Health is a resource, use it! Fortunately, you have the best hero power in the game, it’s the reason why you can play such a low curve and not run out of steam early on in the game. The key thing to remember is to plan out your turn first, and if it involves tapping, do that first unless you have a [card]doomguard[/card] in hand. More cards will give you more options, and more options will let you deal with threats more efficiently and generate more mana debt as long as you predict what your opponent will do. See? These concepts are all tied together.
Now that you know how to play the deck in general, I’ll give you some tips for how to play each match-up correctly.
[cardinsert card=”undertaker” float=”right”]Warlock
If it’s a zoo deck, the match-up will be very dependent on draws, but you’ll come out ahead if you get an [card]undertaker[/card] start or manage to establish board control early. Watch out for their [card]imp-losion[/card] and overextend a lot, since they don’t run any AoE at all.
If it’s a handlock, your key to success is playing around [card]shadowflame[/card] by clearing their board (you have 3 turns to play minions while they do nothing!) and putting early pressure on their life total. Don’t get them in [card]molten-giant[/card]+[card]sunfury-protector[/card] range unless you can finish them off, or if you can see that they have few cards and are unlikely to have the combo. Remember that [card]lord-jaraxxus[/card] is likely to be played on turn 9, so you probably want to win by then (if they play him before molten giants, remember that its cost is based on maximum health, so they can only play them when below 5 health.
You’re looking for an [card]undertaker[/card] start or a good 1-2 curve in both of these match-ups.
[cardinsert card=”fiery-war-axe” float=”left”]Warrior
This can be really easy or really hard, depending on their early draws. If they draw [card]fiery-war-axe[/card] and [card]armorsmith[/card], you’ll be fighting an uphill battle. Try to deal with the [card]armorsmith[/card] as fast as possible, and keep your threats coming fast enough so that he can’t deal with them with weapons. Overextending during the first few turns is never a bad idea, and sometimes [card]brawl[/card] being played is just a risk you have to take (it’s not worth playing around it until later in the game since they usually only run 1 copy and never mulligan for it).
Mulligan for a fast start, don’t keep low attack minions such as [card]haunted-creeper[/card] and give low value to hedge minions.
Nearly all druids are ramp at the moment, you’ll want to do your best to play around their [card]keeper-of-the-grove[/card] and [card]swipe[/card]. They generally have pretty slow starts while they ramp their mana, so if you can develop a board resilient to those two cards during the first two turns, then you’ll have tempo after their 4-drop comes out. Keep track of their deck so you can better predict what will come at each point, and if they play their [card]big-game-hunter[/card] before your [card]sea-giant[/card] comes out, you’re in for a smooth ride. [card]imp-losion[/card] is weak in this match-up since [card]swipe[/card] kills all your imps, so try to hold off on playing this until at least 1 [card]swipe[/card] is burnt. Remember that some variants are running [card]force-of-nature[/card]+[card]savage-roar[/card] combo, so keep this in mind when you tap later on in the game.
Paladin[cardinsert card=”knife-juggler” float=”right”]
[card]knife-juggler[/card] is your best friend here. Keep him even if you don’t have a 1-drop since he deals with their hero power so efficiently. Prepare for a [card]shielded-mini-bot[/card] on turn 2 and a [card]muster-for-battle[/card] on turn 3 by playing cards like [card]knife-juggler[/card] and [card]haunted-creeper[/card] that can deal with the small minions. [card]tirion-fordring[/card] is very tough to deal with, but most matches they won’t even get to play him. If your draws are good enough and you exert enough pressure, they won’t be able to keep up. Keep in mind [card]consecration[/card] and play around it on turn 4 (3 if they have the coin).
This is one of the weaker match-ups, since they have so many answers to your threats, especially with 2 [card]cabal-shadow-priest[/card] being run in every deck. Try to mulligan for a 3-attack minion to take out their [card]northshire-cleric[/card], chuck out all 1-attack minions unless you get an [card]abusive-sergeant[/card] with them. If they don’t get crazy draws off, you have a better chance of winning. Remember that they’re probably running [card]circle-of-healing[/card]+[card]auchenai-soulpriest[/card] combo so play around that and holy nova with your hedge minions. Luckily, these aren’t so prevalent on the ladder at the moment.
Rogue[cardinsert card=”blade-flurry” float=”left”]
Also very dependent on draws, they have an advantage in the fact that you don’t know how many copies of [card]blade-flurry[/card] they run, and you don’t know if they have a buff for their weapon in hand, so it’s difficult to play around their AoE. That being said, try to get your hedge minions out early to avoid getting swept. Some variants are running [card]alexstrasza[/card], so don’t get cocky and focus on being the control player in this match-up. Since they won’t be running [card]fan-of-knives[/card] too often, your [card]imp-losion[/card] is a huge swing, so use it wisely. That being said, rogues aren’t very common right now and there are no very popular lists at the moment, so it’s difficult to play around a deck you can’t identify so easily. Remember to watch out for [card]tinkers-sharpsword-oil[/card] since that can give them tremendous reach.
Pretty even and fast match-up, your best friends here will be [card]haunted-creeper[/card] and [card]voidwalker[/card]. The single most important factor in how this turns out is how you play around their secrets, so always think about what would make sense for them to run and play around it. [card]haunted-creeper[/card] is excellent for checking traps, try to predict by seeing what else is in their decks: if [card]knife-juggler[/card] is included, they will most probably run [card]snake-trap[/card], if they are a face deck, check for [card]explosive-trap[/card] (but not before putting that [card]nerubian-egg[/card] on the board!), and remember that they will surely include at least 1 [card]freezing-trap[/card], so test for that by attacking with a minion that has a good battlecry (for example, [card]defender-of-argus[/card]).
Shaman[cardinsert card=”lightning-storm” float=”right”]
Shamans will be looking to answer your early threats with [card]rockbiter-weapon[/card] and [card]earth-shock[/card], so put up lots of threats to outpace them. Change gears after turn 3, since they’ll be looking to maximise value from their [card]lightning-storm[/card]. Keep track of their overload so you know what to expect on the following turn, and take advantage of their board flooding by playing out a cheap [card]sea-giant[/card] when you get the chance. This is a pretty hard match-up when they draw into 2x [card]lightning-storm[/card], but with a little luck you’ll be able to manage it.
The most prevalent mage decks on the ladder at the moment are mech mage (Kibler and Strifecro variants). Luckily for you, if you get an [card]undertaker[/card] start your minions should be able to come out ahead. Remember to deal with their [card]mechwarper[/card] as fast as you can, since otherwise the game will snowball in their favor. [card]goblin-blastmage[/card] is a huge threat, so try to delay it by clearing their mechs. Neither of these variants run AoE, so it’s safe to overextend against mages in the current meta. [card]flame-imp[/card] is also really good to trade into their [card]snowchugger[/card] and generate some mana debt. If they don’t get a clutch [card]unstable-portal[/card] (which Kibler and Strifecro don’t run which is good news), this match-up slightly favours you.
One of the reasons I started writing guides for this site was that I thought it would help me rethink everything and come out with a better understanding for the game. I was right, whilst writing this article, I played zoo all the way from rank 4 to rank 1 and I hope to make legend pretty soon with the scarce time I have left. Writing about all these concepts got them stuck in my mind and I found myself debating out loud what the best play would be in any and every single scenario. In the end, I think zoo is a great deck to pick up and play since it takes you back to the basics of the game. When there’s less combos and gimmicks and it’s all about the board state and combat, you think these things through a lot more, and come out a better player because of it. I hope that after reading this guide, you’ll have a better understanding of zoo and the game in general, and hopefully even make legend using all you’ve learned. Thank you for reading, and as always, please leave your comments and questions below!