With the upcoming Standard and Wild split, we all lose something from our arsenal, and some even lose entire archetypes. Everybody loses Dr. Boom, Mages lose e-sportal, and Warriors lose Death's Bite. Today I aim to explore what my current muse loses, let's take a look at Zoo and what can be done post-split for the age-old archetype of value trades and inherently unfair hero-powers.
To your right you will find a standard Zoo list, one i've been using this season on the ladder. The deck is very uniform, as you wouldn't mess with the recipe for bread now, would you? Something as institutionalised as Zoo has always followed the same formula, that being make liberal use of the hero-power and ALWAYS trade efficiently. Let's look at what changes are coming, and take a look at the readily available choices we can look into without knowing about the upcoming expansion.
Zoo has always had a traditional back line of one mana minions to get the ball rolling. These include Abusive Sergeant, Flame Imp and Voidwalker. These are going nowhere in the split, as they are from the classic set. As of late some players have experimented using Zombie Chow to better combat the aggro match-up. Zombie Chow however is something we will definitely be losing, but I feel that this is something Zoo can live without with the abundance of aggressive one cost minions available to the Warlock player.
This is where the losses begin to hurt. Zoo has always endeavoured to play some form of insect-based offence turn two. Haunted Creeper and Nerubian Egg are both from the Naxxramas set, and as a result neither are long for this world. People could argue that these two cards are simply irreplaceable, and they would be right. In this instance though, replacements MUST be found, it's not a question of more optimal options available to the player, it's more about the position the player has been put in.
Immediately available are the trio of Flame Juggler, Huge Toad and Jeweled Scarab. Flame Juggler plays a similar role to that of Knife Juggler, only watered down, and Toad performs the same as Juggler upon death. They both boast more aggressive stat lines in 3/2 and 2/3 Respectively. This could lend to the deck having a more aggressive opening than before.
Another loss to some Zoo players is Darkbomb. This Two mana “Deal Three Damage” spell is a loss to those less board-oriented lists, but in the list in question no loss at all. It's something all Warlock players will mourn, but the Zoo player perhaps less than a Malygos player or a Handlock player.
3 – Mana
In this section, Warlock loses nothing noteworthy. Instead we look at what the loss means to others. The three mana slot is sometimes populated by Deathlord. A three mana minion with an unholy 2/8 body that Zoo players have difficulty getting over without using buffs such as Abusive Sergeant and Power Overwhelming. Ironbeak Owl is also an “Out” to Deathlord, but Owl leaves behind that 2/8 body that can make effective trades for turns to come.
With Deathlord out of the picture, Zoo may have an easier time of progressing into mid-game without a massive roadblock proclaiming not to be scared of death sitting in their way.
4 – Mana
In our Zoo list, we take a huge hit in losing Imp-losion and Voidcaller. These two cards stand alone in the deck as massive swing plays. The Imp-losion impacts the effectiveness of Knife Juggler whilst not totally neutering it, and Voidcaller cuts the utility of Doomguard in a big big way.
Implosion on it's own is a multi utility card that not only deals with a threat, but also generates another threat in an Imp flood. This card isn't readily replicated. One soft, and I mean VERY soft alternative is Dreadsteed at the same cost. Dreadsteed is a 4 mana 1/1 that summons another Dreadsteed upon death. This could be used to replicate the small pecking trades that the imps generate, but without that initial burst, losing Imp-lostion is a huge one for Zoo players.
The loss of Voidcaller alone is another huge one for Zoo, as in you can't cheat out Doomguard without it's battlecry, nor can you cheat out Mal'Ganis. The 3/4 body is sturdy enough to trade well, and beyond that the sticky threat it provides is again irreplaceable.
Regarding switching these guys out, the classic set offers us a more aggressive stat line in Dark Iron Dwarf that lends itself to the Zoo Philosophy through the +2 buff much like Abusive Sergeant. Another suggestion could be Cult Master, refreshing your hand through taking advantage of the deck's primary purpose, that being trading efficiently.
As mentioned earlier, the inability to “Cheat-out” Doomguard is an unfortunate side-effect of losing Voidcaller. Though this isn't necessarily a reason to drop Doomguard all together. The playstyle may have to shift with Doomguard in mind, and turn five could be a new blowout turn for Zoo where this is the effective “Turn Nine” for Druid. This could be the point in the game where you go all-out, play the Doomguard without fearing the consequences and use the Hero-power in subsequent turns in an attempt to keep up. One wacky way to accommodate this is to use “Fist of Jaraxxus” from The Grand Tournament to potentially mitigate the loss from Doomguard's Battlecry, and somewhat replace the effect of Imp-losion or Darkbomb.
To Counter-act this slight pinch on playability, the Zoo player has gained tremendous
advantage through the split via the loss of Sludge Belcher and Antique Healbot. Belcher slows the trading side of this deck down big time, and Healbot puts the opponent at an effective 38, making that final push harder. Without these two, players will have to look further afield for staple turn 5 plays.
7 – Mana
There are no inherently brilliant 7 drops in this game. Never has been. Ever. Honest. Oh, who am I kidding? The passing of Dr. Seven is a massive loss (or arguably an overdue balance) to the game that will players thinking “How did I cope without Boom?” or “What did I play turn seven”? The options available to us right now are;
* Fearsome Doomguard
* Baron Geddon
* Ravenholdt Assassin
* Stormwind Champion
* Core Hound
* War Golem
* Rend Blackhand
* Captured Jormungar
* Sky Capn'Kragg
Yes. If you didn't take Dr.Boom for granted before, you most certainly will now. Stormwind Champion is the most comfortable of these uncomfortable picks but even then one would assume that there has to be a better card to fill the slot. Perhaps the deck has to curve out at turn five? Perhaps Zoo becomes overly-degenerate after the split and people play Leeroy Jenkins? Only time will tell on that one.
9 Mana Spot
In the 9 mana spot, we lose Mal'Ganis. Mal'Ganis is another huge loss for the archetype, whilst buffing the now non-existant imps, making your Hero immune and serving as a 9/7 beatstick, Mal'Ganis was amazing once either cheated out by Voidcaller or even played turn 9. Once gone though, there is a reasonable like-for-like replacement in a second Sea Giant. If the board shapes up mid-game as is likely with the amendments we have to make with this list, a second Sea Giant may be super effective for those mid-to-late game plays.
With all of that taken into consideration, Zoo could (an inevitably will) adapt to this new way of playing Hearthstone and will be an option at player's disposal for years to come under one incarnation or another. The list below may not be optimal, and with no information on the new expansion and its contents at the time this goes to print, this list may give you a general idea of the impact on the game this split is about to bring. Zoo in it's purest form will be moving away from it's current incarnation which heavily relies on board presence, making use or Reliquary Seeker and Sea Giant. The deck in itself could be come based around the sticky minion philosophy, utilising old Zoo techs in Harvest Golem and making the most of the trades available through that line of play.
It will, in my opinion, revert to that early game idea of flood and trade with low cost minions such as Flame Imp and Abusive Sergeant. One thing is for sure, Zoo will always be alive, in one form or another. Players have embraced the philosophy as a playstyle rather than an archetype. With the fundamentally unfair hero power in Life Tap, the options are endless and with the right pilot at the helm the deck will be viable for rotations to come.