Zoo Warlock – A Closer Look
Zoolock, or midrange Warlock, is a deck that has been around since Hearthstone’s inception way back in 2013. It was popularized by early professional players such as Trump, who saw Zoolock as a value-creation machine with its card draw and efficient trading. I remember playing it as my main deck at a time when Leeroy Jenkins cost four mana, Novice Engineer had two health, and everyone thought Mountain Giant was the most broken card in the game. If you were playing Warlock, you were playing Zoolock, Handlock, or you were trolling.
Given how long it has been around, Zoolock as had a somewhat tumultuous history – its fall from grace as a cheap yet devilishly effective deck, its long time in the meta-wilderness, and finally its rise from the ashes with the release of Kobolds and Catacombs. Zoo Warlock is back, and perhaps, better than ever.
In the years since Zoo’s inception, Blizzard has nerfed many of its key elements. Soulfire costs one mana, up from zero. Darkbomb came and went. Most damaging was the Power Overwhelming move to Wild. Other aggressive decks emerged that eclipsed Zoo – Pirate Warrior has for a number of expansions been the deck of choice for those who want quick, simple wins. Whispers of the Old Gods gave a much-needed boost to the deck, with the addition of Mr. Spiral Out Of Control Darkshire Councilman. Possessed Villager and Forbidden Ritual are also solid Zoo cards. But these were overshadowed by Shaman’s notorious four mana 7/7 and C’Thun decks.
Particularly after Mean Streets of Gadgetzan, Zoo was seen less and less in ranked play, becoming a deck mainly for new players with little dust for better cards. The increasing number of board clears in the game (looking at you, Meteor) has hit midrange decks hard. The kind of hyper-aggressive decks popular in 2017 have made it difficult for Warlocks to establish a foothold on the board without dying by turn six. I would argue that the worst time to play Zoolock since its inception was after Mean Streets of Gadgetzan through to Kobolds and Catacombs. Why play midrange Warlock when you can play Midrange Hunter, which we all know takes far less brainpower?
Knights of the Frozen Throne did little to resolve the problems Zoolock faced. A number of new Warlock cards were aimed at boosting the still-useless Quest Warlock deck, and others were downright useless: see Treachery and Unwilling Sacrifice. Bonemare enhanced the decks that Zoolock loses to anyway and created hard counters in the form of Ultimate Infestation/Spreading Plague and Obsidian Statue.
Prince Keleseth revived the deck somewhat, but partially took away what made the deck so good in the first place – its consistency. I played a good deal of Keleseth Zoolock and lost nearly all the games in which I never drew the Prince. The continued strength of hyper-aggressive decks and their new, very popular hard counters in Priest and Druid meant that midrange control decks such as Zoo had no place in the meta. A far better option was Demonlock with Bloodreaver Gul’Dan, but this deck is closer to Handlock in style than to Zoolock.
Fortunately, the situation has changed in Kobolds and Catacombs. Warlocks are again able to dominate the early game and stabilize the board in time to repel Pirates and Murlocs. Kobold Librarian and Vulgar Homunculus are extremely value-heavy cards. The former is a free hero power and a 2/1 body for one mana, compressed into a single card, making it perhaps the most powerful card in its slot. The Warlock offering in Kobolds and Catacombs is highly synergistic in a way unlike previous expansions. Hooked Reaver is a viable option, with the huge variety of self-damaging cards now available; it’s the Warlock answer to Flamewreathed Faceless. Warlock now has the strongest plethora of low-cost minions with which to dominate the early game.
Lesser Amethyst Spellstone is an essential counterbalance to Flame Imp and the two just mentioned. With the ability to deal fourteen damage to themselves by turn five using only their own minions, Warlocks need ways to restore health beyond the insufficient methods of the past: after the demise of Rusty Healbot, Earthen Ring Farseer and Drain Life were never enough to stave off an aggressive Warrior or Hunter. Now, Blizzard has duly provided a number of ways. Dark Pact is a superior Sacrificial Pact, synergizing well with Possessed Lackey and other strong deathrattle cards.
Warlocks can spike their health total in ways that were impossible in the last expansion – with a reasonable amount of luck, by fifteen on turn five (thus undoing the severe masochism of the previous turns). Moreover, the Warlock spellstone provides much-needed removal as minions become ever more cost-efficient. Losing Darkbomb was a significant blow, and Warlocks have not had much in the way of a replacement since. Lesser Amethyst Spellstone partially makes up for this.
Speaking of cost-efficient minions, it is impossible to ignore what was the most overlooked and possibly overpowered card released in Kobolds and Catacombs: Corridor Creeper. This card is a huge boost to all minion-based decks, midrange, aggro, and control. In combination with Bonemare, it regularly produces a game-winning turn six or seven on a scale of unfairness not seen since the dark days of Dr. Boom. The swarm of early game minions that Zoolock is able to put on the board is perfect for Corridor Creeper. With two Creepers in your deck, all too often you can plonk their 5/5 bodies on the board by turn three, to the dismay of your opponent. This card is the epitome of Zoolock’s most important tenets: value and tempo. It’s a must-have.
Zoolock now has early game dominance, strong removal, high tempo, efficient card draw and best of all, a reasonably low Arcane Dust cost. Kobolds and Catacombs has given the deck its mojo back. If you played Zoolock in the past and are looking for something familiar yet rewarding, now that the glow of the new expansion has faded somewhat, now is the time to bring back the classics.