The Zoo Lock has been around in Hearthstone for quite some time now and has had many iterations and its share of ups and downs. Zoo has been the undisputed king of the ladder and has also completely disappeared for long stretches of time. Players like Xixo have proved that Zoo Lock has a ton of potential as he has used it several times to reach Legend first in multiple seasons and has found success in tournaments with the deck as well. Trump used a free-to-play version of the deck to reach Legend without spending a dime proving that there are ways to make the deck work with limited resources. Of course, Reynad is often credited with popularizing the deck and introducing cards like Doomguards and, at one point, even Shieldbearers to the mix. Needless to say the deck has seen some action (unlike poor ol' Goldshire Footman) and has changed more than any other archetype in the game. That trend continues with the emergence of the Demon Zoo Lock after the addition of one key card from Black Rock Mountain.

Imp Gang Boss is a card that does a lot of great things for the Zoo Lock and shores up a key weakness in the 3 mana slot. Prior to this card's existence the 3 mana spot had limited options and a lot of people were essentially playing a 1 and 2-drop or a tap and 1-drop on turn 3. Now with a strong turn 3 play there are no more holes and the ability of Zoo to always have a good start and continue to apply pressure makes it a top tier deck again. A lot of people have incorrectly labeled Zoo as a deck that is easy to play or even as an aggro deck. Zoo is a control deck that has the potential to play in aggressive style based on the type of draw you get. Playing it correctly is actually quite difficult since there are aspects to your play that most decks do not have to think about. Positioning and holding the board are the keys to success but since the deck is fairly forgiving it has gained a negative reputation. In this article we'll talk about some of the plays that a lot of players overlook and hopefully help sway some people's opinions back in the positive direction on the skill involved in top Zoo play.

Let's take a look at the full deck and break down each card's place and then we'll discuss some important combos as well as general game strategy.

The Deck

Power Overwhelming x2 - this card gives you reach to finish games but is often used to make trades and activate your Nerubian Eggs. Another great play with Power Overwhelming is to use it to trade and then Void Terror the stats to create a big threat for cheap. Traditional Zoo didn't run these at all but in this version you need two of these for sure.

Flame Imp - after playing a lot with the deck I have decided that one of these guys is far better than two. They are amazing on turn one but as the game goes on drawing into one can be a negative. It's also not the demon you want to be summoned by Voidcaller so mulligan for this in the early game and then hope you don't draw it down the road.

Voidwalker x2 - since the deck has so many ways to buff attack power these guys are valuable in the early game for their 3 toughness. You can trade effectively and also use them to protect your bigger threats.

Imp Gang Boss x2 - this card has so much value in a deck like this. The 2/4 body is tough to kill in one hit in the early game and even if your opponent does you still get a 1/1 Imp. Effectively it is a 3/5 for 3 which is very efficient but the fact that you get multiple bodies make it even better since you can then buff them individually. I look to keep this in my opening hand if I can.

Void Terror - this guy has a few great uses in the deck but I think you will never run more than one as it can be a dead card as well. Play it next to an egg to get a 4/4 and a 3/5 on turn 3. Power Overwhelming a creature and use it to keep the 4/4 in extra stats. You can also use it to kill your own Voidcaller and summon free demons at will. With so much utility this is a very effective addition to the Zoo deck.

Hellfire - this is a tech card that I have added for one reason only. Grim Patron Warrior. It is one of the weaker match-ups and running one Hellfire can really help. If you can't deal with their Grim Patrons then you will get overrun and never get the board back since so many of your minions have low attack. You can also try a Shadowflame but I found Hellfire to be more consistent.

Imp-losion x2 - I'm not a huge fan of the design of this card since it is such a big swing based on RNG but when it does hit for 4 it is way to good not to include. Combo this with Knife Juggler for maximum demoralization of your opponent.

Voidcaller x2 - when you can play some of your powerful demons for free as well as avoiding the additional penalty that goes with them (discarding two cards for example) then you are getting massive value. This guy has weak stats for 4 mana but the deathrattle is insane. This card can outright win you the game more than any other in the deck.

Doomguard x2 - try your hardest to get these out for free with Voidcallers. The traditional Zoo deck would dump it's hand and then play these for the 5 mana cost while skipping the discard but in this deck you can play them both ways. A 5/7 with charge is amazing but the one big drawback is when you draw both at the same time. For this reason I try to find ways to get them out of my hand ASAP when I do draw one. The quicker they hit the board the better.

Mal'Ganis - yes, it dies to Big Game Hunter. Yes, it cost 9 mana. Also, yes, this guy wins games. If the opponent cannot deal with Mal'Ganis you get to tap for free, your demons get buffed and you also get a nice little perk of being able to swing for 9 damage.

Abusive Sergeant x2 - a cheap way to use your army of weenies to trade effectively as well as activate your Nerubian Eggs. You can also just play them on turn 1 if you don't have any other 1 drop in hand. This deck needs to get off to a quick start and keep momentum so using them just as a 2/1 is fine.

Dire Wolf Alpha - this has been a staple of Zoo forever but we have now gone down to just one. If the deck ran more taunts then 2 would make more sense but with this version I found them to be a bit too easy to remove. Placement is key since you can use it to buff minions that die and then get the buff again on the next minion that slides over.

Haunted Creeper x2- one of the stickiest minions in the game and a perfect fit for a deck like this. One common play is to coin this out on turn 1 and then play Knife Juggler on turn 2 since when you suicide the Creeper. This will give you two juggles and can often get you out to a nice tempo lead.

Ironbeak Owl - there are so many minions that need to be silenced these days that Owl is becoming a staple card in almost every deck. With the double Power Overwhelming this card can get you wins that would otherwise be denied by Sludge Belchers or other taunts.

Knife Juggler x2 - since the deck is full of low cost minions you can get a ton of value from the juggles. There are also several combos like Juggler + Imp-losion and Juggler + Haunted Creeper deathrattle. This will alway bate removal so try and get some value if you can or hide him behind taunts.

Nerubian Egg x2 - the eggs get a ton of value in a deck like this. Buff them and trade before they get silenced and remember that the Nerubian spawns in the same spot as the egg so place them carefully.

Big Game Hunter - most Zoo decks do not run a BGH but I have found that you need a way to deal with cards like Dr. Boom, Ragnaros and Mal'Ganis without having to suicide your entire board. Against decks that don't run BGH targets you can also Abusive Sergeant an enemy and kill it with BGH for a nice 4 mana removal that leaves two bodies behind. It just gets too much value in the current meta and also is a 4/2 for 3 at worst which is fine.

Defender of Argus x2 - these are incredibly important in the match-up against Face Hunter and other aggro decks. Getting a taunt up on your Nerubian Eggs is also a powerful play so this is a definite 2-of in the modern version of the deck. Always play as if you may draw this card and pay attention to your positioning even when it's not in your hand.

Loatheb - since your board is often full you are susceptible to AoE board clearing spells. Once you have set up a big board for a potential lethal you can play Loatheb and protect it. It's also very important against Druid, Freeze Mage or any other combo deck that relies on a big spell combo to kill you. If you can time it right Loatheb will win you a lot of games that you shouldn't have won.

Playing the Deck

When going first you want to mulligan hard for 1-drops. If you don't have one in your opener you should dump everything. Since the deck has so many 2-drops you will likely draw one but if you have to skip turn 1 you may fall too far behind and not be able to catch up. The deck doesn't include removal except for the Imp-losions and the one Hellfire so your creatures act as your removal. It is incredibly important to seize the board as early as you can as that allows you to trade and continue to apply pressure. When going second you can look for some of your early combo plays since the coin gives you some flexibility. A hand with multiple 2-drops is actually very good since you can coin into a solid curve. Always think about your first 2-3 turns at least and try to use your full mana bar each turn as that will get you out to a nice board lead.

As you enter the midgame you are looking for big tempo plays and to start getting some face damage in each turn. If you can clear the entire board then you should in almost every case. The exceptions are decks that don't play minions for face damage but for draw or other effects, such as Mad Scientist. Freeze Mage is one example. You have to get damage in before you get stopped by freezes and board clears so it is acceptable to go face when you can. Tap only if you don't have an effective way to use all of your mana as you will have plenty of time to tap in later turns. At this stage you are still trying to build as much of a tempo lead as you can while keeping the opposing board clear. The mid game is where Voidcallers and Void Terrors can get big threats on the board and potentially end the game quickly.

If you get to the late game then you could be in trouble. While the deck can still operate well due to the Hero power you will often be playing weaker cards at this point than your opponent. If you don't have a board lead then one single taunt or big minion can stop you in your tracks. If you have played effectively through the mid game then you should be able to deal with almost any threat that is thrown at you. Trying to be as efficient as possible is important and this will give you an edge in late game if the opponent has been under pressure the whole time. At this point you are looking for the knockout punch. Getting minions to stick and finishing with Power Overwhelming is how most games end so always count the damage available in your hand. Since this deck runs a Big Game Hunter it is a bit more equipped to compete with late game control.

Positioning is key in correct Zoo play. Some general rules should help you make less mistakes but each board state requires some though so try to break any nasty habits like always throwing minions out on the same side. Think each placement through. In general, keep your weaker minions and those without deathrattle in the middle. If you place a Dire Wolf Alpha in the middle you can suicide creatures and get the congo line effect going where each creature gets buffed as it slides over. Als, give yourself option for Defender of Argus. If you have two 1/1 Imps and are placing a Haunted Creeper on the board then put it on one side rather than between them. This way you can decide on the next turn whether to buff both Imps or one Imp and the Creeper. These decisions end up mattering quite a bit over the course of the game so don't forget to consider your positioning!

Matchups

Mech Shaman, Priest, Midrange Paladin, Druid, Tempo Mage and any other minion based deck is a fairly good match-up for Demon Zoo. Since you can get so much more from your minions and also flood the board you just have more options when it comes to trading. I'd put all of these match-ups in the 60-65% range which is very strong. Play around AoE removal as best you can by trading off rather than ending up with a whole board of 1-2 health minions when possible. Nerubian Eggs are very good against all of the board clears.

Grim Patron Warrior is one of the toughest matchups since they have a lot of Whirlwind effects that can clear your army of weenies as well as the plethora of under 3 attack minions that we run. When they go off with their big Patron turn they can often fill the board very easily by running into your guys. For this reason you need to mulligan for and hold Hellfire. Control Warrior is actually a good match-up so mulligan as if it's Patron Warrior.

Face Hunter is tough as well but you can out race them if they don't get too much value out of their Explosive Traps and you draw Defender of Argus. If not, well...it's tough.

Conclusion

The question has been asked by many. Will the Zoo deck ever die? While it has been knocked down a time or two, like life itself, Zoo always seems to "find a way". Which leads to a second question. If Zoo is life, is it also love? I'll let you decide for yourself, dear reader. I said this on the last episode of The Angry Chicken and I stand by it now: If you have never reached Legend rank and wish to make a run at it then I recommend this deck or one similar for that run. Please leave any comments below about how the deck is working for you or changes you may have made. Good luck and may all your opening hands contain Flame Imps.

Until next time, job's done!