Hi, my name is Štěpán Šimek, and I play Hearthstone under the name “Norwis”. I am a fully F2P competitive player and creative deck builder, mainly focusing on aggressive budget decks. You always find me playing non-meta decks throughout each season and using them to achieve the highest possible ranks. Today I bring you the long-requested guide to my Zoo Warlock deck, which I piloted to rank 1 Legend in the standard format in September.
Deck return of Zoo Warlock
My build of Zoo Warlock is different from those other players have tried since the Scholomance Academy expansion. The deck relies on the win condition of Hand of Gul’dan and Expired Merchant, combined with low-cost minions. Similar to the old builds of Darkglare Warlock. However, since Darkglare’s recent nerf, I was forced to adapt my deck. Unlike before, where you could create a near-infinite number of Mana through Darkglare, now the deck requires a better balance between discard effects & self-damage.
Build options & tech cards
I have put a significant amount of time into testing various cards for the deck. In the end, I think the deck is close to as good as it can get with my current list. About 29 of the thirty cards available are perfect for the deck. However, the final card is far more tricky to decide.
My current preference goes to Zephrys the Great. I like Zephrys the Great the most currently because of its strength against more control-oriented decks such as Priest. However, in many matchups, Zephrys the Great is nothing more than a Bloodfen Raptor. While this isn’t the absolute worst thing to ever happen, it balances out against the times where Zephrys the Great simply wins the game for you. Just to name a few common options, Savage Roar, Bloodlust, and Soulfire are often ways to close out the game.
The alternative to Zephrys the Great is a tech card my friend Meati used in the recent Master Tour event. In the end, Meati used this deck with the tech card Robes of Protection in the place of Zephrys the Great. Robes of Protection is fantastic against Tempo Mage, in particular, however, it also has great benefit against classes such as Rogue and Priest.
If you don’t own or prefer to play something else, another card worth trying is Shadowlight Scholar, who has great synergy with Soul Jailer.
Example decklists for Norwis’ Zoo Warlock
Norwis #1 Legend: AAECAcn1AgL8owPWuQMOMM4Hwgj9pAOBpQO1uQO2uQPLuQOVzQObzQPXzgPB0QPM0gOL1QMA
Meati’s adaptation: AAECAcn1AgLWuQPR0QMOMM4Hwgj9pAOBpQO1uQO2uQPLuQOVzQObzQPXzgPB0QPM0gOL1QMA
Mulligans for Zoo Warlock
The mulligan for Zoo Warlock is a bit different than most decks out there. While there are some cards such as Flame Imp, your first Hand of Gul’dan, and Tour Guide are cards you simply never get rid of, the remainder of your mulligans are more combo-centric. Some examples of these are as follows.
Combination hand mulligans
Kanrethad Ebonlock with the Coin & additional 1-mana demons such as Voidwalker & Spirit Jailer. And Expired Merchant alongside Hand of Gul’dan only.
Darkglare alongside the Coin & a self-damaging card such as Flame Imp, Tour Guide, or Raise Dead. Other examples include keeping Diseased Vulture, which is only correct alongside The Coin AND a self-damaging card.
Without The Coin, it is easier to stick to keeping only the three best options. There is some more nuance there for certain matchups, but that gets too complicated to write out simply.
Matchup specific keeps in Zoo Warlock
Against aggressive decks such as Face Hunter & Weapon Rogue, cards such as Spirit Jailer and Voidwalker go up drastically in priority.
On the other hand, against decks that rely on spells such as Tempo Mage and Guardian Animals Druid, you can hold onto Cult Neophyte.
Besides these specific hand combinations, it is generally correct to keep your ideal cards on the curve. Often they create situations where your hand improves a lot after the initial few turns of playing—for example, keeping Flame Imp & Spirit Jailer alongside Darkglare or Cult Neophyte. These types of hands are especially good when you have The Coin to smoothen your hand with.
Cards you do not want & common mistakes for Zoo Warlock
However, there are also many cards you simply shouldn’t hold onto in your mulligan phase. These cards include Animated Broomstick, Soulfire, Flesh Giant, Nightshade Matron, Zephrys the Great, Robes of Protection, or Shadowlight Scholar, depending on which you choose to include in your deck.
I see my opponents make some common mistakes when they overvalue a card such as Nightshade Matron alongside Hand of Gul’dan, or Expired Merchant without Hand of Gul’dan.
The general strategy of Norwis’ Zoo Warlock deck
Early game stage
There are three stages of a Hearthstone game when playing this deck. The early game stage starts with turns one to three. In these turns, our only goal is to develop the board as quickly as possible. Try not to focus on using your Hero Power just yet, unless you can do this alongside Darkglare or Diseased Vulture with The Coin.
The mid-game of Zoo Warlock
After this comes the mid-game stage, which is between turns four to six. In general, at this point, you start running a bit lower on resources in your hand, so try and Life Tap to find cards such as Hand of Gul’dan and discard effects to go alongside it, so you don’t run out of cards if you run into a board clearing effect.
After you complete this step, work towards building a board that isn’t easily removed with tools such as Diseased Vulture, Raise Dead, and Flame Imps. Against the majority of decks in the current Hearthstone meta, this is the time for you to take control and figure out a way to start working towards closing out the game. Throughout this process, your Flesh Giants are reduced drastically in cost and should be easy to fit into your turn to increase your board state’s strength further.
The late-game finding your outs when it matters
The late-game stage for Zoo Warlock starts from around turn seven onwards. At this point, you should be more aware of your life total since you likely used Life Tap quite a few times. Finding the balance between damaging yourself and preserving your life total is something you need to build up with experience. Try to think of the maximum damage your opponent can deal with and try to play around that number if possible.
Try to draw as much as possible to find your remaining burst cards, such as Soulfire, and activate Zephrys the Great, if you include him in your deck to execute your opponent. Sometimes this means using Hand of Gul’dan for its full six-mana cost; if there are tools in your hand, you can’t afford to lose.
Matchups & Zoo Warlock’s place in the meta
The matchups & Zoo Warlock’s place in the current Hearthstone meta is difficult to say. However, here are my thoughts on all the common matchups and tips on improving your chances against each of the classes on the ranked ladder.
Demon Hunter, Priest, Hunter, & Mage vs. Zoo Warlock
Demon Hunter: The most problematic card Demon Hunter has access too currently is Shardshatter Mystic. Try to play around it if you get off to strong enough of a start. However, if you don’t, you simply have to risk losing to it and maximize your chances elsewhere. In addition to this, Flesh Giant is a fantastic card in the matchup, as Demon Hunter lacks a strong way of clearing this large threat in our deck. Overall the matchup is likely somewhere around 45% for Zoo Warlock.
Priest: Control Priest, in particular, is one of our better matchups. There are several important spells to play around. For example, Breath of the Infinite and Soul Mirror; however, this is quite possible in most games. In addition to this, the inclusion of Cult Neophyte improves this matchup significantly. The other tip I have for this matchup is to try as much as possible, using a card like Animated Broomstick in the process to play around Apotheosis. The matchup, I believe, favors us by around 65%.
Mage & Hunter follow a similar gameplan. Try and be aggressive early on, and keep tools such as Animated Broomstick available to play around cards like Freezing Trap & to kill Sorcerer’s apprentice. In addition to this, avoid losing more Health after turn five or six against Hunter in particular, since their damage output is quite scary. Overall these matchups range between 55 to 60% for us.
The Zoo Warlock mirror match, Paladin & Shaman, and Druid
The Warlock mirror match is entirely decided by which player can combine Hand of Gul’dan and Expired Merchant early on. The card advantage is nearly unbeatable if you don’t also have access to this combination.
Against Paladin and Shaman, there isn’t much to say. Our matchups against both of these classes should be very favorable; however, they are extremely rare in the high-legend ladder. Because of this, I don’t have any tips besides to try and pressure the opponents where possible.
Druid is easily our best matchup. While there are hands you simply won’t beat, you are generally happy to see Malfurion as your opponent. The main tips I have for you are to avoid losing to Lake Thresher. The main way to go about this is by positioning your strongest units near the sides of your board and keeping a Taunt minion on the opposite end. Try to be more aggressive in developing your board, and avoid tapping too frequently as this gives them more time to stabilize their board state. Overall the matchup is as good as 75% favored for Zoo Warlock.
Our tougher matchups, Rogue & Warrior
Rogue is a difficult matchup for us. Try and prioritize our mana cheating options such as Darkglare, Kanrathed Ebonlocke & one-mana cards. Similar to the Hunter matchup, avoid damaging yourself in the mid-game stage of the game. Overall the matchup is rough. However, winning about 40% of the time is achievable.
The final class you might face on the ranked ladder is Warrior. While the matchup is slightly favored for us if played right, it requires a specific gameplan not to make too many mistakes. Initially, there are several key spells we need to play around. These are Bladestorm on turn three and Brawl on turn five. Playing Cult Neophyte is a great way to disrupt this. After this, try and build waves of minions that require your opponent’s answers; this strategy causes the Warriors to find several different board clears, reducing the value of their single-target removal cards and minions. Avoid going all-in, as this is a quick way to lose the game.
Conclusion of Zoo Warlock
As my friend Meati once said about my Zoo Warlock deck:
“There’s a lot of decision making, and you have to win using cards that started in your deck, I love it.”
I agree with this statement. The more time you invest in learning the deck, the better you do with the deck. Give the deck a try, and stick with it for a while. I’m sure it will pay off, even if it requires a few losses to figure out how to do everything. I hope this guide helps some of you learn more about my all-time favorite archetype in Zoo Warlock. Thank you for reading, for more of me, check out my stream on Twitch where I streamed my climb to rank 1 Legend.
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Your guide is very helpful, congratulations number 1, by the way.