Written by [DKMR]Varranis
The meta is like a raindrop. It becomes streamlined as it falls, one or two decks quickly becoming the dominant contenders. Then, as it ends, it crashes into a million drops. Hearthstone’s seasonal structure provides a unique opportunity for development and innovation. When a new season begins, players don’t seem so much concerned with how to win, but how to win fast. Miracle Rogue is thrown out the door as players seek ways to win more quickly and efficiently. Sometimes this leads to the innovation of new dominant decks. More often it leads to a proliferation of aggressive decks. While this strategy is proved ineffectual season after season as the first Legend ranks are still claimed with Miracle Rogue, it’s inevitable that the majority of ladder grinders will drift toward aggressive options. And you’re going to have to deal with it.
Zoo. Zoo everywhere. Zoo is the prototypical aggro deck. It’s cheap to build, brutally efficient, forgiving to newer players, and can steal wins in any match-up. In the long forgotten past, Hunter Aggro was the other go-to beginning-of-season-aggressive-deck, and it kept Zoo in check. In our current Zoo-ruled dystopia, Unleash the Hounds costs one mana too much for Hunter to stand toe-to-toe with our Warlock overlords.
Perhaps to overcome this menace we should explore why it’s so popular. First and foremost, it’s cheap. The build depicted here costs a measly 1,440 dust – less than a single Legendary. Not only that, but many of the cards required are Hearthstone staples, making Zoo a perfect deck for beginners. Argent Squire, Knife Juggler, Harvest Golem, and Defender of Argus see play in more decks than they don’t and form a solid foundation for a new player’s collection. One can tech out Zoo with Epics and Legendaries such as Blood Knight, Leeroy Jenkins, and The Black Knight, but such additions are not necessary and often even make the deck less consistent.
From a gameplay perspective, Zoo is popular because it punishes opponents for misplays and weak hands while being very forgiving of its pilot’s misplays. Most aggressive decks thrive on their ability to punish opponents’ misplays and weak starts. It’s one of the most pronounced benefits of playing an aggressive deck. Your opponent is afforded no error when you have the capability to end the game by turn six. If a player has a weak start or uses removal too early against Paladin Aggro, it’s very likely an unanswered Wolfrider or Argent Squire will end the game swiftly with a Blessing of Might. Similarly, Hunter Aggro maintains persistent damage that will end the game quickly if an opponent cannot establish adequate defenses or develop their own win condition. So what makes Zoo unique? Well, what makes all Warlocks unique? Life Tap. Zoo already runs many of the game’s most brutally efficient minions. Life Tap ensures that Zoo can maintain unrelenting pressure while trading on an overall favorable two for one basis (at least). Life Tap adds a level of consistency to Zoo that’s rare for an aggressive deck in any game. Nor does Zoo, as the aggressor, especially care about the loss of life caused by Life Tap. Additionally, Zoo gains a significant tempo advantage using its various buffs to trade up one and two mana minions for four and five mana minions. Zoo is at a significant advantage when it can trade its one mana Flame Imp buffed by a Dark Iron Dwarf for a four mana Chillwind Yeti. Over time, this tempo advantage (potentially combined with a card advantage from Life Tap) puts Zoo’s opponents in an insurmountable pit.
Lastly, but surely not least, is Zoo’s capacity to steal wins from the jaws of defeat. This is largely enable by the deck’s significant reach and Life Tap’s ability to dig through your deck to access this reach. Reach in other games is generally defined as cards which allow you to deal or come closer to dealing lethal damage regardless of your opponent’s board state. “Reach” cards are most commonly burn spells such as Lava Burst or Soulfire. While Soulfire gives Zoo obvious reach, charge minions like Doomguard are also a form of reach as they serve as “burn” given the right circumstances. Doomguard has the added benefits over other charge minions of being incredibly resilient and especially hard hitting. I have no doubt many of you have experienced the dreaded Doomguard ripped off the top of the deck followed by a Life Tap into Soulfire. Few other decks can achieve such feats. Sure, it may seem lucky, but given the capability, it will happen often enough to matter.
While not as dominant as it once was, Hunter is still a reasonable deck to pilot on the ladder. Explosive Trap and even the three mana Unleash the Hounds will win you many of your matches against Zoo. While the match-up is much worse than it used to be, it is still slightly favorable for the Hunter. The deck is also relatively cheap, with Leeroy Jenkins comprising the majority of the deck’s cost. If you’re after quick games and don’t want to play Zoo, Hunter Aggro is an excellent choice.
So how do we, those plucky rebels full of vigor and visions of Zoo-less empires, overcome our Warlock masters? We do the same thing we do every season – play something stronger and just as consistent. Miracle Rogue has constantly proved itself to be just that on the ladder. Xixo has once again proved the deck’s merits by piloting this build to the world’s first Season 3 Legend rank.
Miracle Rogue historically has a strong Zoo match-up as it is consistent, possesses one of the game’s most robust removal suites, and can finish the game very quickly. Xixo’s inclusion of the full Miracle Rogue minion complement plus Gnomish Inventor allows the deck to maintain board presence and trade very favorably with Zoo. Cold Blood has been eschewed for a second Fan of Knives for additional board clear potential. While Blade Flurry is ostensibly more powerful than Fan of Knives, it is less consistent without the inclusion of Assassin’s Blade, which is too slow against Zoo. Xixo surely faced a lot of Zoo during his climb to Legend and has clearly teched his deck to overcome the Warlock nemesis.
Consistency, removal, and a strong finisher are some of the key characteristics of decks which beat Zoo. And there’s one other deck that possesses those characteristics in spades. Warrior Control has long been maligned by ladder grinders for its prohibitive cost and gruelingly slow pace of play. However, when built correctly, it can punish Zoo and many of the other aggressive decks being played at the beginning of the season. Warrior Control is often considered an unwinnable match-up for Hunter Aggro, Paladin Aggro, and Mage Aggro. Zoo is one of the few aggressive archetypes that stands a chance against the stout Warrior.
Cards like Slam, Shield Block, Azure Drake, and Acolyte of Pain allow the Warrior to draw cards while progressing the board state or gaining “life.” The ability to simultaneously dig for answers and progress the board makes Warrior one of the most consistent decks in the game. The utility of Warrior’s individual cards adds additional consistency to the deck. Cruel Taskmaster is one of the deck’s most versatile cards. It can draw a card with Acolyte of Pain, gain armor with Armorsmith, enable Big Game Hunter, enable Execute, serve as removal, or give a minion extra damage to trade or lethal depending on your current need. Even a card as benign as Kor’kron Elite serves multiple roles. As a charge minion, Kor’kron Elite often serves as removal. His 4/3 stats enable him to eliminate many of the game’s most popular creatures while he lives to fight another day. When he’s not in the murder business, Kor’kron Elite serves as an excellent means to push damage in order to set up lethal.
We’ve already touched upon it some, but Warrior also has an incredibly powerful suite of removal rivaled only by Rogue. While many of its minions serve as efficient removal spells, Shield Slam and Execute are two of the game’s most efficient, no questions asked, hard removal spells. In many situations those cards do what Assassinate does but for one mana. Who’s got the best deals now? Fiery War Axe is nearly always a two for one against minion based aggressive decks like Zoo and can even double as a “burn” spell. While it can generate significant life loss, Gorehowl can also generate significant value, easily trading four for one or better against opponents. Armorsmith is not removal per se, but it is an excellent minion for combating Zoo’s early rush while simultaneously building up armor. Speaking of Armor, Warrior’s ability to effectively exceed the 30 life limit allows it to prioritize its hero power and stay out of range of Zoo and even Miracle Rogue’s burst.
I’m not sure there’s a deck that epitomizes “finisher” more than Warrior Control. The deck’s star-studded top end makes it both notoriously expensive and infamously deadly. Grommash Hellscream is arguably one of Hearthstone’s more powerful finishers. While he can’t reach over taunts the same as Pyroblast, his added versatility and consistency nearly put the giant fireball to shame. Alexstrasza serves as both a nasty one-two punch alongside Gorehowl and a means to deal fifteen damage after having played the game defensively. In a pinch, the powerful dragon also allows you to recover from the Zoo onslaught, resetting you to fifteen life in order to steal victory from defeat.
The meta is a crazy place every season reset. The only constant seems to be Zoo. Hopefully we’ve provided you some tools for combating the Warlock menace or improved your understanding enough to better pilot Zoo. Good luck to everyone grinding on the ladder in this mad, mad meta!
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Decks to watch out for
We’re cheating a little this week and referring to the decks we discussed in today’s article! Any of the decks discussed above are both excellent decks to ladder with and decks you should keep an eye out for. Warrior is not especially popular and can be slow, but we feel it’s strong on the ladder where its consistency shines. It’s also important to note that while you may win more games with a faster deck, you will also likely lose more games and be denied win streaks. Win streaks are one of the fastest ways to rank up, literally cutting in half the number of games you need to play. Warrior’s consistency allows it to ride win streaks, especially in a meta not particularly hostile to it. While you’re sure to see all manners of concoctions early in the season, Zoo in particular is popular right now and you should build your deck accordingly.