Are you looking to play a new twist on an old deck archetype? Zoo Warlock is an archetype that has been around ever since the beginning of Hearthstone and has seen play in many different forms, even in the Wild format. Zoo warlock was outclassed by other aggressive decks ever since the release of Patches and the existence of pirate warrior. With the recent nerfs to Innervate and Fiery War Axe (which saw play in aggro druid and pirate warrior respectively), Zoo Warlock now has more of a fighting chance or even favorable against other aggressive decks. In this article, I will discuss the Demon Zoo archetype, a subarchetype that aims to exploit the power of demon synergy cards like Voidcaller, Mal'Ganis, and Bloodreaver Gul'dan.
What is Demon Zoo?
Demon Zoo is an aggressive Warlock deck that plays a ton of cheap minions that synergise with each other in various ways. Demon zoo has a fairly low mana curve, although it is higher than the zoo decks of the past. Demon Zoo has the unique advantage over other aggressive decks of being able to run such a low mana curve without quickly running out of cards. As long as you have a reasonable life total to work with, you will always have access to additional cards.
In Knights of the Frozen Throne, Highlander Priest is now the most played deck at all levels of play. Now that the #1 deck to beat is a control deck, Zoo Warlock has taken on a new dimension. This new iteration of Zoo plays a powerful 10-mana board flood in the form of Bloodreaver Gul'dan. It also runs powerful midgame minions like Despicable Dreadlord and Bonemare. Finally, it features an old classic legendary, Mal'Ganis, which can be pulled from your hand for free with the help of Voidcaller.
Which deck should you run?
With so many card choices that are potentially viable in Wild, you might be wondering what the best card choices are. I will outline a few different ways to build the Demon zoo archetype, and offer some gameplay advice along the way. I played 60 games with a zoo deck I built myself, with a record of 32-28. I am reasonably confident in the deck’s abilities. I also asked Danny Donuts, Slizzle, and Bananaramic what decks they preferred. The diagram below is what I came up with.
All of the decks in the top row run Prince Keleseth, a card that gives you an incredible edge when played in the first three turns. The three decks that you see grouped together in the upper left are all remarkably similar, having 26 cards in common. The deck in the upper right is slightly different because it runs two Imp Gang Boss, one Bloodfury Potion, and two Crystalweaver. Imp Gang Boss is the weakest 3 drop for hitting face, but it’s the strongest at controlling the board against aggro, and it becomes considerably better for trading when followed up with Crystalweaver or Bloodfury Potion. Bloodfury Potion is a tool that can be used for trading into your opponent’s larger minions, for pushing damage, or simply for making one of your smaller minions a lot more terrifying. Crystalweaver has good stats for its cost, but it becomes even more dangerous for every demon you have in play. Crystalweaver is especially potent with Imp Gang Boss because it buffs both the Imp Gang Boss and the Imps it spawns.
The two decks in the bottom row are built around the power of Nerubian Egg. If you play Nerubian Egg on turn 2, your opponent is almost sure to ignore the 0/2 egg. You can exploit this by playing Power Overwhelming on your next turn for just 1 mana, turning your egg into a deadly 4/6 and leaving behind a 4/4 Nerubian for your opponent to deal with. Of course, if you’re running Nerubian Egg, it’s essential to have other ways to gain value out of your eggs.
The deck on the lower left is Bananaramic’s Taldaram zoo. It uses Dire Wolf Alpha, Prince Taldaram, and Bonemare as different ways to gain value out of your Nerubian Eggs. It also runs Haunted Creeper and Demonfire to round out the 2-mana slot, although I’m more of a fan of Dark Peddler myself.
The deck on the lower right is my own deck I played 60 games with. I run Nerubian Egg alongside Imp Gang Boss and Crystalweaver. I also use Bloodfury potion because it’s useful when you play it on a friendly demon, or when you have to activate Nerubian Egg and haven’t drawn Power Overwhelming. I also play Dark Peddler (for highroll Soulfire or Power Overwhelming!) and one Defender of Argus to round out the deck – although I may cut the Defender of Argus because it does seem a little weak compared to the rest of the deck.
Demon Zoo is a curve deck, which means you generally want to use all of your mana every turn. However, most Zoo decks run upwards of eight 1-drops. That means the deck mulligans differently from any other deck in the game. In general, you can throw away all cards that cost more than 3 mana. The only exception is Voidcaller. Voidcaller can cheat out powerful demons, which is effective in any matchup but is especially valuable against control decks. You can keep it if the rest of your hand is acceptable.
With the coin, generally it’s safe to keep every 1-drop, but against certain control decks, keeping certain 1-attack minions like Voidwalker when you have another 1-drop might not put on enough pressure in the long run. With the coin, it’s also safe to keep 3-drops (especially in Keleseth decks, when it’s so unlikely to draw Prince Keleseth on 2) and it’s also good to keep Power Overwhelming if your hand is acceptable.
On the play, you want to play a 1-drop on turn 1, and either a 2 drop, two 1-drops, or a Fire Fly on turn 2. Keeping 3- or 4-drops is very often too slow.
If you have Nerubian Egg in your opening hand: always keep it if you have Power Overwhelming, Bloodfury Potion, or Prince Taldaram. If you don’t have any of these, you might still keep it as the only card if you’re feeling brave. You’re a little more likely to find an activator if you’re going second, because of the extra card.
Zoo is a unique deck because most of the minions in the deck interact with each other in unique ways. One such interaction is Voidcaller’s deathrattle ability. When you have Voidcaller on the board, you want to have only high-cost demons in your hand. You still prefer to play Voidcaller on turn 4, but you have to make some key decisions while it’s on the board. If you have cheap demons in your hand, you should play them as soon as possible in order to guarantee a large demon hitting the board. You also have to decide whether to life tap before or after trading your Voidcaller. There is always the chance of tapping into a large demon, and likewise there’s always the possibility that you tap into a smaller demon, and you ruin the Deathrattle synergy.
How to play around AOE
The most popular control deck on ladder is Reno priest. You should familiarise yourself with every AOE card in that deck. I’ll list them here:
Spirit Lash: 1 damage to all minions
Shadow Word: Horror: Rarely run in Reno priest, but is often seen in Big priest. destroys all minions with 2 or less attack.
Kazakus Potion (1 mana): 2 damage to all minions.
Kazakus Potion (5 mana): 4 damage to all minions.
Kazakus Potion (10 mana): 6 damage to all minions or transform all minions into sheep.
Holy Nova: 2 damage to your minions.
Excavated Evil: 3 damage to all minions.
[Dragonfire potion]: 5 damage to non-dragons.
Lightbomb: Deal damage to each minion equal to its attack
Shadowreaper Anduin: Destroys all minions with 5 or more attack
Playing around smaller AOE, like Spirit Lash or Holy Nova, is often just a matter of managing the amount of health on your minions. Playing around larger AOE, particularly Dragonfire Potion, is more difficult. There are two good ways to do it:
1: Hold back on some of your cheaper minions so you can refill the board. You should also tap aggressively so you have many cards.
2: Play minions that are resistant to clears, Nerubian Egg or Haunted Creeper.
Use minion buffs to ensure value trades
If you run minion buffs like Bloodfury Potion, Crystalweaver, Bonemare, or Defender of Argus, you might want to consider how to use the buff in order to set up favorable trades, or even hold back these cards if you think you can get better value on a future turn. A card like Bonemare is so powerful because it can make your smaller minions so big, that it can actually value trade into medium-size minions. For example, if your opponent has a Sludge Belcher, you can buff one of your tokens so it can kill the Sludge Belcher while the buffed token is still left alive.
For another example, perhaps you have an Imp Gang Boss while your opponent has a Curious Glimmerroot. You can use a card like Crystalweaver or Defender of Argus to buff the Imp Gang Boss so it kill the Glimmerroot. These two examples are pretty optimistic, but they are the kind of situations you should watch out for.
Mal’Ganis or Gul’Dan first?
If you have both Mal'Ganis and Bloodreaver Gul'dan in your hand on turn 9, it can be incredibly powerful to play Mal’Ganis and then resurrect him with Gul’dan. If you summoned multiple imps from Imp Gang Boss, it can become incredibly risky to employ this strategy because you may not have enough board space to resurrect Mal’Ganis. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know what order Gul’Dan resurrects demons. In such a scenario, it’s a lot safer to play Gul’Dan first, and then buff the rest of your demons next turn with Mal’Ganis.
If you know you will have enough board space, then feel free to play Mal’Ganis first, then resurrect a board with Mal’Ganis!
Tips that I learned from speaking to Wild Zoo players
- Running Doomguard, [Mal’Ganis] and [Bloodreaver Gul’Dan] is core.
- Patches the Pirate is must-include in Prince Keleseth decks. It’s probably optimal even without Keleseth.
- Every player I spoke to thought a different card was sleeper and should be played by more players. Danny Donuts liked Imp Gang Boss, Slizzle liked Bonemare and Mal'Ganis, and Bananaramic liked Nerubian Egg.
- Crystalweaver and Bloodfury Potion are both controversial cards. Me and Danny Donuts like playing them more than Bananaramic or Slizzle.
- Prince Keleseth decks are the favorite over non-Keleseth decks at the moment. The thought process is that having Keleseth is a bit better than the power play you get from Nerubian Egg. The other 2-drops, like Dark Peddler or Haunted Creeper, are nothing special. This is a perception that may easily change in a couple months.
Other Tips (credit to Slizzle)
- Coin Vicious Fledgling is usually good play
- It’s often good to tap turn 2 instead of playing two 1-drops. Against control, it’s better to ensure your big demons hit the board faster.
- Count for lethal in your hand every turn when you draw cards like Doomguard, Soulfire, and Power Overwhelming.
- Trade your minions to create board space before playing [Bloodreaver Gul’dan].
- Consider playing Prince Keleseth before tapping in the late game so the card you draw gains +1/+1.
- Power Overwhelming on Vicious Fledgling can highroll lethal sometimes with adapt Windfury.
- You should aggressively hero power much of the time. You generally want to have a lot of cards in your hand.
The decks I showed you here are the decks that Wild players have already tried and had success with. That doesn’t mean the Demon zoo archetype is “solved”. With that note, I hope you’ll try out different cards yourself and see what card choices work for you!