Hi guys, I'm Bma. A couple of months back, I wrote an article on Snake Trap Hunter and now I'm back with an in depth guide on Zoo. For those of you that don't know me, I'm a frequent ladder player, reaching Legend in every season and ranking in the top 100 in all but three of them. I have frequent top 16 placements and will often hold rank one at points throughout the season
I think that Zoo is probably the strongest deck in the ladder right now. The deck was being run by multiple players in the Top 16 for November, with the current Rank 1 on NA (Chance) running a similar decklist. This guide aims to go in depth on some of the intricacies of the deck that other Zoo guides don't take the time to develop fully. I will go through deck choices, mulligan strategies, monster board positioning and general thought processes on how to trade, and when to Life Tap.
I want to acknowledge Chance before getting too far into the decklist discussion: I took inspiration from his list after playing him on ladder. I don't know his full decklist, but I tend to reverse engineer what I see other people playing. The main tech card he ran was Echoing Ooze.
2 Soulfire - This card can be hard to use sometimes and will have different applications depending on the matchup. It is not always possible to empty your hand before using this card: this is completely fine. Soulfire is a tempo card first and foremost so discarding – while not ideal – is an acceptable loss. In the worst case scenario, one Life Tap makes up for the discard. In reality though, the fact that this card costs 0 Mana gives you a very immediate advantage on the board. Sometimes you will have to use this even if you risk losing a Doomguard off it.
1 Power Overwhelming - I like the versatility that this card offers. It provides extra reach, an answer for large Taunts, and acts as an enabler for Nerubian Egg. Power Overwhleming also synergizes quite nicely with Ironbeak Owl: you can Power Overwhelming a Dark Iron Dwarf, kill an Ancient of Lore and then Owl your the Dwarf back into a 4/3. Generally, try to use this on a low value minion that would probably die anyway or has a Deathrattle effect which would replace the minion. It is also acceptable to replace this card with an additional Dire Wolf Alpha, Mortal Coil, Hellfire or second Ironbeak Owl.
2 Abusive Sergeant - This guy can give game winning card advantage if he goes off effectively. This card is especially powerful when opening with cards like Voidwalker against Hunter: Voidwalker/Abusive allows you to deal with any cards the Hunter Player opens up with if he has the coin. This card is similarly very strong against decks like Priest, which can otherwise have very high Health minions.
A common mistake that I see people make with this card is playing it for two extra damage to the face. I dislike this play as it makes you more susceptible to board clears for minimal upside. I would only do this if I were trying to empty my hand to setup for Doomguard/Soulfire, play Defender of Argus, or if I was sure that the Abusive would survive multiple turns.
2 Flame Imp - Straightforward card. Instantaneous keep in the mulligan phase against every deck in the game. It is a lot better to get this early game than late game, because 3/2 is difficult to deal with as a 1 Mana card at turn one, as well as life being a non-factor at that point in the game. In fact, I would argue that being able to play Flame Imp early on mitigates a lot more than the 3 damage you take by playing it, because you immediately have control of the board, with your opponent trying to wrest it away from you, resulting in you taking minimal face damage. Sometimes when you reach the sub 10 Health range, you will consider not playing Flame Imp. This is acceptable, because killing yourself is not one of your overall goals.
2 Leper Gnome - This card is a requirement in every aggro deck running Undertakers. Strong standalone opener, but ridiculous in conjunction with an Undertaker opening. The only time this card is situationally weak is against Warrior, because of their access to Armorsmith and Taskmaster. As a result, you wouldn't keep this against them without Undertaker or Abusive.
2 Undertaker - This card really needs a nerf. There is no card in the game that can snowball as hard as this card can. I'd keep this card in every single matchup. If you open with this, mulligan everything else that isn't a Deathrattle. It is always worth it to keep this card just because a certain percentage of the time your opponent will lose if they don't have the turn 2 answer to it. One thing to mention though is don't get too greedy with this card. Against decks that have good board clear clear, sometimes it is better to trade Undertaker over say, Haunted Creeper if it would mean not losing your entire board to a Swipe/Consecration/Fan of Knives.
Furthermore, there are a few interesting intricacies when playing with and against an opponent's Undertaker. Of course, when you open the game, you will almost always slam down Undertaker. However, when you are on the coin, and the opponent opens Undertaker, you are in the classical gambit. Do you open with Undertaker + Coin Leper, and hope they don't have double Deathrattle to follow? Normally the answer is that yes you do.
Zoo, however, is different because there exist many ways to deal with an Undertaker opening provided that you open with the right cards. For example, Flame Imp can let you get away with playing Flame Imp first and then coining out more minions on turn two once the Undertaker threat has been taken out. Another answer is to coin out Haunted Creeper. This is a strong play because it forces your opponent to consider the risk of Abusive Seargeant, Knife Juggler, Soulfire, or Ironbeak Owl. It also sets you up on the following turns for Defender of Argus and Dire Wolf Alpha.
2 Voidwalker - This card's value goes up significantly if you open with Abusive Seargeant. I like to keep those two cards in combination, especially against Hunter and Priest, if I am opening without the coin. Voidwalker can beat every single opening against those decks or trade evenly. Voidwalker can secure some insane advantages with proper Direwolf Alpha positioning all while protecting your priority targets from Druids, Rogues, and Warriors. This card loses a lot of value as the game goes on: its best play past turn five is to team up with Defender of Argus and make a 2/4. This card is also the ultimate Deathrattle clearer. Voidwalker can deal with Damaged Golem, Haunted Creeper tokens, and Leper Gnomes.
Dire Wolf Alpha - This card gains the most value when opening with coin and two one drops against control. This is also a card that requires proper minion positioning in regards to where you place your tokens and Voidwalkers. There will be more on positioning later in the guide. There is also a neat trick in general when you can choose to attack with all your minions next to Direwolf Alpha, and then place your Doomguard adjacent to Direwolf to get an additional Attack.
Echoing Ooze - This is the tech card that I saw Chance running and I think that it is very strong. Many decks have issues clearing more than one minion a turn with more than one Health. The main benefit of this card is that it is incredibly sticky and benefits off stat boosters like Defender of Argus and Dire Wolf Alpha particularly well. The fact that this card has two Health makes it hard for decks like Warrior to effectively clear this until turn seven, where they would need Baron Geddon. This card on turn six with Defender of Argus is the dream scenario. The last point to note with this card is that after your opponent uses their first batch of board clears, you can refill your board immediately.
2 Haunted Creeper - This card is among the strongest two drops in the game and is best friends with Undertaker: of course we will run two. Haunted Creeper and its tokens are the most efficient targets for our Attack buffs since they are otherwise disposable. This card also guarantees board presence and easily synergizes with Knife Juggler. One of the huge things to note about this card is that sometimes you want to keep it card alive if you suspect your opponent is sitting on Swipe, Unleash the Hounds, Auchenai Soulpriest-Circle, or any other similar board clear. Haunted Creeper gains extra value against the Soulpriest clear because it finishes of the 3/1 Soulpriest post-wipe. This card taunts your opponent because it does more damage when it's dead, but your opponent has to kill it before trying to aoe your other minions. This card is a matchup defining in Zoo and Hunter matchups due to the constant battle for board control.
Ironbeak Owl - In a metagame defined by powerful effects and Deathrattles, this card is a necessary addition into the Zoo deck. As long as you have board control, you can use this on anything and you will only get further ahead but killing cards like Mad Scientist are ideal. Playing Owl on Creeper then running over it with a 3/2 is also extremely strong. That said, you want to save your Owl against certain decks.
- Against Handlock, you want this to kill Twilight Drakes.
- Against Warrior, you'd want to use this against either Acolyte of Pain, an unsuspecting Sludge Belcher, or Sylvannas.
- Against Druid, if you suspect that they might run cards like Ancient of War, you would consider saving it for that. If the Druid runs cards like Zombie Chow, this will usually imply Ancients of War.
2 Nerubian Egg - It's best to play this card just before the turn where your opponent can start clearing you. For example, it can be very beneficial to play Nerubian Egg just before they are able to Holy Nova, Consecration, Hellfire, Brawl, Blade Flurry, or Lightning Storm your board. This will significantly limit their ability to control the board and give you a considerably easier time of recovering if something goes wrong. This card is also a great investment against certain aggro decks. While playing this card loses you tempo initially, if you can combo it with Abusive/Dark Iron/Argus for value the next turn a 4/4 is game changing.
2 Harvest Golem - Probably the best neutral three drop in the game. The moment you start gaining control of the board -- especially in conjunction with Undertaker -- you can slam this card down with zero regrets. Golem simultaneously builds your board presence but also stands as an incredibly difficult card for your opponent to clear effectively. The value of this card increases significantly with other Deathrattles and cards like Defender of Argus. It also serves to create an almost unstoppable board state that can neither be cleared by classical minion trading or aoe.
1 Dark Iron Dwarf - As a 4/4, this card is already solid. Its true value, however, comes when you buff a low cost minion and trade into one of their higher cost minions thus snowballing board control in your favor. Forcing your opponent to deal with your newly established 4/4 and your minions from previous turns is often an impossible task.
2 Defender of Argus - If I could run three or more copies of Defender of Argus I would. As long as there are two minions on the board prior to casting, it is almost never a terrible play. Argus is one of the few cards in the deck that can immediately turn a vulnerable board into an clear-proof board. Judging where to place Defender of Argus depends heavily on the type of deck you are playing against and how they would potentially deal with your board. Most of the time with Defender of Argus, you will aim to solidify your board state by trading off vulnerable minions while buffing your remaining minions into the safe Health zone. This ensures that your opponent needs to play minions and thus let you trade and create an even more powerful position. The only other thing to note is that it can be okay to keep Defender of Argus until later than turn as the card can always be played in conjunction with a one or two drop.
2 Doomguard - Most of the time it is correct to drop Doomguard even if you have to discard two cards to do so. Getting five damage in and placing a 5/7 on the board more than makes up for any card discards. You also never want to be in a position where you are forced to discard the second Doomguard or Soulfire later on, so try to play the first Doomguard quickly. This card is also the best answer in your deck against Sludge Belcher.
1 Loatheb - This card is really strong if you have any type of board lead. The turn you play this he invalidates your opponent's area of effect spells. Loatheb is also a part of what I call 'the perfect curve'. This is the curve which allows you to drop Loatheb and finishes with at Doomguard plus one drop on turn six. It's usually impossible for decks to mount a comeback against this type of play because they'll have taken too much damage by the time Loatheb wears off.
Ultimately you will fight all Druid decks in the same way, the only differentiating factor between them is whether or not you think they run Ancient of War or not. You can work this out by looking at the types of cards they are running. Ramp Druid likes to run stuff like Zombie Chow, whereas Aggro Druid will be running Haunted Creepers, Harvest Golems or Shade of Naxxramas, and often even cards like Yeti and Spectral Knight to establish board control for the Force of Nature/Savage Roar finish. The main idea is that in the case of Ramp Druid, you will want to consider saving your Ironbeak Owl or timing your Doomguard (your 5/7 will do quite well against the 5/10) on the right turn. Against Aggro Druid, it can be totally fine to just use the Owl's silence on their Creeper so that they cannot create any type of board presence.
It is also useful to note that Druid's only real board clear is Swipe, which means you will want to avoid leaving too many minions with one HP on board. You can accomplish this by trading intelligently and avoiding being too greedy for value. This means sometimes allowing your Flame Imp to die, instead of trading Haunted Creeper away, or trading away a one HP minion with their minion, rather than trading a higher Health minion which will drop to 1 Health. Defender of Argus is very good at insuring against Swipe as well.
The main things to watch out for in this matchup is Innervate, but to be honest, there's not really much you can do if they have the T2 Innervate into Yeti/Keeper. There is no specific strategy to dealing with this, but the game is not actually over unless they draw the absolute perfect curve, because Innervate still costs them an extra card.
In this matchup, I prefer to mulligan for sticky minions like Voidwalker, Flame Imp, Haunted Creepers, Undertaker and Echoing Ooze, since Druid lacks enough efficient removal to deal with them. All of their removal besides Swipe is either single target or based around battle. However, when it comes to battle, no deck does it better than Zoo, so you will always win out in that scenario.
Using the core concept of mana gating, you can also plan your turns very efficiently. Mana gating refers to counting the amount of Mana your opponent has available the next turn, working out their best possible play and then playing around it. For example, if you know that the Druid will only have four Mana the next turn, then the worst he can do is Keeper of the Grove or Swipe, in the absence of Innervate. As a result, it is often times possible to play around both Keeper and Swipe, putting the Druid in a position where playing either will still allow you to control the board. On the other hand, on T6, they have access to Hero Power + Swipe, so you would plan differently depending on the specific mana situation. This is an intuitive, but very important concept to master, as it applies to all decks and matchups. The idea of being cautious of Druid's 9 Mana Force of Nature + Savage Roar combo is based upon this basic principle of mana gating.
Warrior (Heavily dependent on War Axe)
I personally think it's a bit disgusting how much this matchup is defined by Fiery Waraxe in the opener. It's not even a joke to say that win rates can go from as high as 80% to as low as 20-30% based off that one card being opened or not.
To get a brief idea of how this matchup works, I will explain what cards to mulligan for first. In this matchup, you want cards that are resilient against Warrior's removal and Weapons. This means that cards such as Haunted Creeper, Flame Imp (due to its mana efficiency if they don't have Waraxe), Voidwalker, Harvest Golem (if you have a decent curve), Undertaker and sometimes Abusive Sergeant (to deal with potential Armorsmiths or Acolyte of Pains).
The name of the game is to drop as many minions down as possible in the early game and pressure the Warrior repeatedly. Their goal is to stabilise, and your goal is to kill them before they can stabilise in time for their Legendaries. Based on the types of cards that Warrior players tend to run, their only real answer to aggression in the early game is Fiery Waraxe. Almost all of their other early minions offer almost nothing in terms of defence, with their only reprieve coming from some kind of Death's Bite play, which is usually easy to deal with unless they also have Whirlwind for a 2 damage board clear clear.
Defender of Argus is one of the best cards to drop on turn four, specifically because taunts hinder the Warrior's ability to trade efficiently: first because it prevents them from attacking priority targets, and second because it puts your minions outside of their area of effect range. If the Warrior drops a Sylvannas or Cairne, you should generally just ignore it and go for face, unless you have something like a Doomguard or Loatheb on the board without a Taunt in between.
You also want to have deathrattles; because of Warrior's inability to clear your minion effectively in the first place, they often run out of steam to kill Damaged Golems or 1/1s. It also serves to ensure that your board state is reasonable even if they go for a Brawl play, which can be very game-changing if they played a weapon or Sylvannas prior to the Brawl.
Overall though, you have a definite advantage over Warrior, especially because cards like Doomguard inherently trump Sludge Belcher.
This matchup used to be harder when people were running Nerubian Eggs in their Shaman list, which was one of the best ways for Shaman players to maintain tempo long enough to extend into their power minions such as Fire Elemental and regain control. Now that most Shamans are running a double Doomhammer build, they've gotten increasingly weaker at maintaining board control. Even with cards like Lightning Storm, they will struggle to keep up with Zoo's unending swarm of low cost minions, especially because of Overload costs.
The main matchup defining card is Zombie Chow. This is the card that Shaman players want the most in their opening hand because it's their best answer to a majority of Zoo's minions.
You want to mulligan for all of your standard early drop cards, it is worthwhile to note that you want to play Deathrattles before a critical Lightning Storm turn, to prevent them from being able to take control of the game. Recall that while Lightning Storm only costs 3 Mana, being Overloaded for 2 next turn can put them in awkward positions where they cannot play high cost minions such as Fire Elemental. When you have a dominant position on the board, it is acceptable to hold onto some of your low cost minions too flood again in response to Lightning Storm. Overall, their hero power is very weak against Zoo in general, and the shear quantity of minions you play is too much for Shaman to deal with.
This is a matchup that I have found generally easy, although Priest decks with a heavy focus on the early game are somewhat more difficult to handle (Pyromancer/Holy Smites). In this matchup, mulligan for Abusive Sergeant, because you want answers to Power Word: Shield and the ability to shut down Dark Cultist immediately after it's played (so that it cannot use its Deathrattle for value). When approaching turn four, try to have some kind of Deathrattle available against a potential Auchenai play. Haunted Creeper is optimal to keep alive, as you can run one of the tokens into Auchenai and immediately rebuild board presence. You will then rest considerably easier knowing that they only have one Auchenai and Circle left in their entire deck.
It is rather important to take into account that on turn six, the Priest can Auchenai + Hero Power on one of your Deathrattles before playing Circle, which is considerably more difficult to deal with. You will want to have two Deathrattles ideally or an immediate answer to the Auchenai the next turn – Knife Juggler can do the trick.
Another consideration is that turn six and onwards, Priest can start using Cabal Shadow Priest, which can take away most of your Deathrattles and Voidwalkers, which sometimes impacts your board state quite heavily. The best way to deal with this is by having such a large board that you can either clear the Cabal easily, or swing for so much damage to face the next turn that they will lose anyway. Either condition is quite achievable.
Rogue is a pretty interesting class to play against because of their increased strength when on The Coin (SI-7/Edwin Plays), and their ability to Backstab your early threats. Blade Flurry is also something that can swing the game back into their favour very easily.
The only way to deal with their early game clear is by going for sticky, low commitment minions like Flame Imp, Undertakers, Echoing Ooze, Nerubian Egg and Harvest Golems. These types of minions are either very cheap or are difficult to kill early because of their ability to replace themselves upon death. They also not particularly weak to Fan of Knives, which allow you to put continuous pressure on the opponent.
Loatheb before a critical turn is often enough to seal a game into your favour as well. Turn five Loatheb is usually an optimal timing, as it prevents all Gadgetzan shenanigans and board clear, allowing you to snowball massive leads in Health.
I say this all the time, but Paladin is not really a deck. Just mulligan for super standard early game minions, watch out for Consecration on turn four and other than that, just drop whatever you want and roll over them. Paladin is a matchup where you need to clear their board in general, but they usually don't offer much resistance and you can get face damage in afterwards. If they waveclear you, you can usually immediately re-establish board control. I'd write more, but honestly, Paladin sucks.
Against Hunter, your mulligan depends on if you have The Coin or not. If you have no Coin, Voidwalker is very strong if you have Abusive in hand as well. Undertaker and Flame Imp are also very strong openers. If you have a decent turn one play, you can also feel free to go for Owl, as this shuts down all of Hunter's early game plays.
If you do have The Coin, you can now choose to mulligan for cards such as Haunted Creeper, which tends to give you enough board presence that you can follow up with buffs or Knife Juggler (for proccing off the Deathrattle). Egg is also acceptable to Coin out if you open with Abusive/Power Overwhelming as well.
In the case your opponent opens with Undertaker on you, it is generally not worth it to play cards that will die if Undertaker becomes a 2/3. It is generally worth it to risk them having the double 1-drop Deathrattles, as the odds of them having it is relatively low, and you just have to play them out (this is one of the reasons why the Undertaker meta sucks).
Against Hunter, it is also important to determine what traps they have down at any point in time. The main three traps they have access to are Explosive, Freezing and Snake Trap. As a general rule, if your minion attacks their face and there's no response, it's Snake Trap. If it attacks their minion and there's no response, it's Explosive Trap. Freezing Trap will trigger no matter what you attack. This knowledge is very important in this matchup. In terms of what you should expect, I feel that Explosive Trap and Freezing Trap are the two most common cards right now. Thus, when attacking in general, attack with the lowest mana card first. Also, if your field is vulnerable to explosive, then it is best to trade off your minions first. And sometimes, you will make a read that they have Snake Trap, and it is perfectly acceptable to just swing at their face. The most obvious tell is when they play a trap with Knife Juggler, but other tells can be when they play a trap that seems otherwise ineffective, because your minions all have 3 or more Health, or if Freezing Trap is too easy to play around. Trap reading comes with experience.
Remember that against Hunter, you need to be very careful about leaving Beasts alive due to the existence of Houndmaster. It can therefore be worthwhile to kill Haunted Creeper sometimes to avoid getting Juggled or Houndmastered for extreme value. Their best board clear clear is Unleash the Hounds, so try to avoid letting them take advantage of the card for too much value. For this reason it is advantageous to keep board control at times so that they cannot kill your Creeper, then UTH to clear your tokens and the rest of your board for cheap.
The only other thing to mention is that at some point versus Hunter you will need to stop trading and immediately go for face. Once you start dropping below 20 Health, you need to be concerned that you will lose the face race due to a 4 damage differential in hero powers.
Zoo Mirror (50-50)
The Zoo Mirror is an opening dependent matchup. Opening with lots of 1 drops is a good mulligan strategy in general, with Haunted Creeper being a decent pick if you opened with Coin. I've found that Abusive is a good card to keep as long as you have any type of early game opening that doesn't require you to play the card as a stand alone 2/1. The main thing about this matchup is that you are fighting solely for board control in the early turns. However, once you establish a decent board lead, in the mid/late game you should definitely consider going for face if you can put them in very disadvantageous life ranges: this makes their Taps relatively more expensive, which will eventually translate to card and board advantage. An example of this situation is near turn five. If they drop Doomguard on you while you have three minions, they will kill one of your minions and Doomguard will drop to say, 4 Health. Even if the rest of your minions can kill Doomguard, you should just go for face because his Doomguard can only clear one minion a turn. He cannot go for your face because you still have more damage on board, which means the final outcome will be the same as if you traded with his Doomguard directly, except he will take additional damage this way to the face.
Don't be too afraid to use Soulfire if it can consolidate an early game board lead. Protecting your Undertaker or Flame Imp opening can return dividends because there are few ways to deal with a snowballed early game opening outside of cards like Haunted Creeper. When approaching critical Knife Juggler turns, it can be a good idea to clear their Haunted Creeper pre-emptively to prevent Knife Juggles.
This matchup is heavily dependent on getting early Undertaker snowball and mass Deathrattles in general. Try to get cards like Nerubian Egg, Creeper and Harvest Golem. Make it super awkward for the Handlock player to use wave clear on you and the matchup will be straightforward. Count their Health before committing to their face. Only drop them to 10 Health if you are absolutely certain you can deal with their Molten Giant play (whether that's with Sunfury, Argus or Shadowflame). Trading off their Twilight Drake can often be correct to prevent them from landing good Shadowflames or setting up towards a big Taunt play.
The only other thing to watch out for is when the Handlock player goes for full aggression with early Watcher into Owl. This is a situation that can be extremely hard to deal with without Deathrattles into stat boosters or Soulfire.
An example game state against Handlock is having a relatively large board where you have perhaps a Flame Imp, Voidwalker, Harvest Golem and Haunted Creeper up. You have a choice of dropping the opponent to between 10 and 14 Health, and they have 5 Mana the next turn. In this scenario, you should count the amount of burst available, whether that's Abusive Sergeants, Soulfires or Doomguards in hand. You will typically have at least four damage from your Deathrattles against a Shadowflame play. Generally you cannot justify dropping them to 10 Health here because that would open you up to a double Molten + Taunt play, which would lose you the game. Dropping them to 11 Health would cut Argus + Double Molten out of the equation, simultaneously making Molten + Shadowflame a weak play because you will have at least two 1/1s and a 2/1. 13 Health prevents Sunfury + double Molten. Their options can be cut very short depending on the level of risk you want to take. Taking risks is important versus Handlock, but you must be aware of exactly what type of risks you are taking, and if you can justify them. Never rush in blindly.
Mage (Easy to Difficult)
The Freeze Mage matchup can't really be won unless the Freeze player opens awful or if you draw Loatheb on optimal turns. There's no real strategy against Freeze Mage to be honest with you. Just take solace in the fact that they auto lose Hunter decks with Flare and Warrior.
Aggro Mage is pretty much the bad version of Zoo, so you've got that going for you immediately. Soulfire is good in this matchup because Mage finds it hard to regain tempo. Mana Wyrm and Undertaker are generally their best tempo cards, so clearing those away early can set up some strong leads. Be careful about Mirror Entity, it's one of the main secrets they play in that deck, which means you should not play any minion that you cannot deal with if they copy it with Mirror Entity. Deathrattles and buffs are both very effective against Mage; their only wave clear comes at around turn seven with Flamestrike, which is usually more than ample amount of time to generate a large lead. If it does reach that point in the game, save some cards in your hand on turn six so you can immediately replenish the board even if they do have the clear. You should almost always clear the board before going for face in this matchup – unless they have Water Elemental, which can be simply too difficult to clear on turn four. Instead, you would just go for face until you can eventually deal with it, while forcing the Mage to use the Water Elemental to trim down your board advantage, killing it off for you.
Dire Wolf Alpha and Defender of Argus specifically.
The main thought processes that should go into these decisions is:
- Which board clears an minions is my board currently weak against?
- How can Dire Wolf Alpha or Defender of Argus reduce my vulnerability to their best play next turn?
- What is the best value that can be obtained while reducing vulnerability to board clear?
One of the things I like to do to maximize Dire Wolf Alpha value is to place expendable minions on the right hand side, with a Deathrattle, like Haunted Creeper, on the left hand side. This will guarantee that there will be something for Dire Wolf Alpha to buff on the left hand side. Having a Taunt next to Dire Wolf is also an optimal play when possible.
Armorsmith combo, or Shield Block out of lethal range. The question then becomes "What is the healing potential given the mana available?" For example, a Druid with 7 Mana can heal for five at the most or six if they have Innervate for Hero Power. At this point, you can consider that if they heal, they can't play a Taunt at the same time. You can setup, therefore, a potentially lethal attack just by calculating their mana range and their best combination of plays.
The above is critical because your thought processes in any given turn should look something like this.
- Can I kill them this turn?
- Can I set up lethal for next turn?
Outside of lethal considerations, sometimes you will have to make general trade decisions of whether to go for face or clear their board. All decisions to clear should consider:
Imagine you have a 3/2 Flame Imp and a 4/2 Dark Iron Dwarf on the field and your opponent has a 4/3 Druid of the Claw. You also want to play a Haunted Creeper this turn. Your opponent is at 20 Health. You can choose to attack him for seven or you can trade your Flame Imp into his Druid of the Claw and only swing for four. In this case, I would trade the Flame Imp into his Druid of the Claw to minimize my exposure to Keeper of the Grove onto Flame Imp and Druid of the Claw into Dark Iron Dwarf type of play. Furthermore, it also prevents him from being able to Druid of the Claw to swing into the Creeper, and then Swipe afterwards to clear your entire board with Hero Power.
What happens if I leave minions alive?
Examples of this type of minion include Cairne Bloodhoof, Haunted Creeper, Sylvanas Windrunner, Ragnaros the Firelord and Ysera.
Is this a minion I can realistically trade with?
This type of situation is straightforward. If they are willing to spend a lot of mana on cards that have a lot Health but not much board impact, just ignore it and go for face. Generally speaking, none of these cards have Taunt so there's no reason to act as if it does.
Example: You have a board of 3/2 Flame Imp, 2/1 Damaged Golem, 1/2 Haunted Creeper and a 5/7 Doomguard. Your opponent plays a Cairne and is sitting at 20 Health. It is your turn and you've used all your mana already. In this situation, the only correct play is to attack his face with everything for eleven. It cannot possibly be correct to trade your entire board just to clear his Cairne. You must abuse the fact that he just used six mana and put himself into lethal range. He is now in a situation where he must have a lot of board clear, which is kind of unlikely if he had to play Cairne to begin with.
Between these two considerations, you should have a reasonable understanding of the thought processes necessary behind trading or going for face. You will pick up experience as you play the deck and be able to deal with more complex situations correctly.
Life Tap in the early-mid game if you have spare mana. There are, however, a few intricacies involved with Life Tapping. In general, always use Life Tap at the start of the turn if you are planning on tapping because the card you draw into could change your other plays. The only time this is not the case occurs when you want to manipulate your discards on Soulfire or Doomguard. When it gets to late game, you need to make decisions on whether to conserve Health or Life Tap; but in general, Life Tapping is always better. The last consideration is when you'd rather play more minions on the board. If you already have a high amount of board presence, but there is a risk that they could instantly clear everything, tapping is correct because you can immediately recreate board presence the turn after.
Despite the common misconception that Zoo is a brainless deck, playing the deck to perfection is incredibly difficult. I've played a lot of games of Zoo and I still do not play this deck perfectly. I would argue that very few people do. This guide is an accumulation of the knowledge I have gathered from my many ladder games, which should provide the tools for you guys to get a head start of your own. I hope you learned some stuff from this guide and I wish you guys all the best. If you want to follow me on Twitter or Facebook.