Because of the double-edged nature of many Warlock cards, the class is probably one of the more advanced classes to play in Hearthstone. Which isn’t to say it’s impossible to learn: play Warlock enough times and you’ll see that sacrificing your health, or even an entire board of minions, can sometimes be necessary for victory.
One of the most popular Warlock archetypes is the Zoo deck. The term Zoo Deck comes from Magic: The Gathering and is used to describe a deck that floods the board with low-to-medium cost minions in an effort to overwhelm the opponent. For Hearthstone Warlock’s, the Zoo deck works well with both its hero power and some buff cards that are unique to the class, giving low-cost minions more value than their mana cost.
An Introduction to Zoolock
Zoolock, or Zoo Warlock, aims to dominate the match by continually keeping your board filled with low-cost, low stat minions. This archetype works supremely well with Warlock thanks to the class’ hero power. It’s one of the most popular Warlock archetypes and has been in play since the early days of Hearthstone.
Because it uses cheap minions, beginners can craft many of the cards in this deck without using up too much dust, making it a popular deck for new players. Combined with its simple core strategy, Zoolock is recommended for players looking to get used to the Warlock class before experimenting with other decks.
In general, Zoolock is a pretty Aggro deck, although many players are finding its value in control play styles, especially during early game turns. The idea behind a control Zoolock is to utilize your low-cost minions to effectively trade during the early game so as to keep the enemy board sparse while relying on card draws (both from hero power and other cards) to keep your board full.
With the introduction of Lackeys in Rise of Shadows, Zoolock once again proves itself a credible threat to the meta. Coupled with some of Warlock’s buffs and cards like Magic Carpet, Zoolock is a deceptively simple but overall devastating deck that should never be underestimated.
Zoolock Core Cards
One of the most basic cards in a Warlock’s arsenal, the Flame Imp provides immense value for turn 1, dropping a 1-cost 3/2 minion that is very effective at dealing early-game damage. Yes, it does deal 3 damage to your own face, but it’s a tradeoff worth making, especially if you’re able to drop a Direwolf Alpha or another 1-cost minion plus a buff (like Grim Rally). Flame Imp can be pretty versatile, either as buffed-up damage-dealing minion or as a cheap minion you can use to trade with an opponent’s minion. Either way, it’s an essential part of Zoolock and is a great opening move.
A 1-cost minion 1/3 taunt minion, Voidwalker is essential to establishing early game board control. Dropping Voidwalker onto your board provides valuable cover for your other low-cost minions, giving them time to start dealing damage to your opponent’s face. Because it can be played in turn 1, it has great survivability for the early game, buying you enough time to build a decent board full of low-cost minions that can be buffed to survive into mid-game. It can also be dropped beside Dire Wolf Alpha to become a decent damage-dealing minion.
A 1-cost 1/1 mech minion that summons another 1/1 mech, the Mecharoo provides you with what is essentially a 2/2 minion for 1 mana, making it one of the most cost-efficient cards in the game. While Warlock doesn’t have a lot of cards that synergize with mechs, it’s still a good card to have for Zoolocks if only for its cost-effectiveness. Take note, however, that it can synergize with neutral mechs like Zilliax, and it can still receive buffs from cards like Grim Rally.
A 1-cost spell that destroys a friendly minion in exchange for giving your other minions on board a +1/+1 boost, Grim Rally is one of your main early game buffs and is particularly valuable if you have a full board of cheap minions already. Even if you have a full board of 1/1’s, destroying one of them will turn your minions into 2/2’s, giving you a total of 12 damage in a turn. This could easily win you the game, especially if your opponent has no removals and/or taunt minions.
A neutral minion from the basic set, Dire Wolf Alpha is a popular minion for Zoo decks of all classes, thanks to its early game buff (it provides adjacent minions with +1 attack). Dire Wolf Alpha, however, is really more for the buff rather than a minion you trade with/deal damage with: it has pretty low stats for a 2-cost minion, with its 1/1 attack and health making it a fairly fragile minion. However, it becomes valuable when it’s protected from trading by a taunt minion, giving your other low-cost minions a chance to chip away more effectively at the opponent’s face.
Another essential card for zoo decks, Knife Juggler is a 2-cost 2/2 minion that deals 1 damage to random enemy every time you summon another minion. It’s an amazing value card thanks to its ability to clear the enemy board of small minions or to chip away at the opponent’s face. Coupled with cards that can summon multiple minions at the same time (like Rafaam’s Scheme) or by simply playing multiple cheap minions, and you’ll be able to control the board throughout the early game.
Introduced in the Rise of Shadows expansion, Lackeys are 1/1 minions with unique battlecries. Other cards generate Lackeys randomly (like EVIL Genius), which means they are tokens rather than collectible cards. There are 6 Lackeys in total, but the most valuable ones for zoo decks are:
- Faceless Lackey
- Witchy Lackey
- Titanic Lackey
- Goblin Lackey
Faceless Lackey summons a random 2-cost minion as soon as it’s played. This is a great and cheap way to generate minions for your board. Take note, however, that Doomsayer is a 2-cost minion, so if you’re unlucky enough to generate this, say goodbye to your board.
Witchy Lackey doesn’t summon any minions, but it does evolve one of your minions into a random one that costs 1 mana more. The implications of this card are astounding: any low-cost minion you drop can potentially double in value thanks to this card. Of course, sometimes higher-costing minions have lower health because they have a value-adding battlecry, so this might also be a double-edged sword.
Titanic and Goblin Lackey, on the other hand, don’t generate minions (or evolve them), but they do add value to your existing minions. Titanic Lackey gives your minion +2 health and taunt, vital for any part of the game, from early to mid and even late, if you want to provide some cover for your other minions. Goblin Lackey, on the other hand, does the opposite: it gives one of your minions +1 attack and Rush. It’s a utility card that can either be used on recently summoned minions so you have something to trade, or on a previously summoned minion to give them a little boost of damage.
Introduced in the Rise of Shadows expansion, EVIL Genius is a 2-cost 2/2 minion that can be used to destroy a friendly minion in exchange for generating a Lackey in your hand. Lackeys are perfect minions for zoo decks thanks to their low-cost and their value-adding battlecries. But even without the lackey, EVIL Genius is a valuable minion to play anyway: at 2/2, it has decent enough stats to help you survive the early game, despite taking away one of your minions. Just make sure to use it on a minion with lower stats, like a 1/1 imp or a damaged Voidwalker.
Magic Carpet is a 3-cost 1/6 minion that provides other 1-cost minions +1 attack and Rush when summoned. For a 3-cost card, it has fairly decent stats: a negligible attack but great health and its active effect make this a valuable card when you’re summoning multiple 1-cost minions like Flame Imp, Voidwalker, or ideally when using Rafaam’s Scheme. Couple this with Knife Juggler and you’ll be dealing great damage while stacking your board with damage-dealing minions.
Spirit of the Bat
Introduced in the Rastakhan’s Rumble expansion, the Spirit of the Bat is a 2-cost 0/3 Spirit that is stealthed for 1 turn and gives minions in your hand +1/+1 everytime a friendly minion on board dies. This is a great addition to any Zoolock deck because it synergizes well with disposable minions like Lackeys or Imps to give your hand a huge boost. The +1/+1 bonus is given to one random minion in your hand for every minion that dies on board, so while you might not be able to control who gets the buff, it will still give at least one of your minions a big boost, adding value to an otherwise low-cost, low-benefit card.
Introduced in Saviors of Uldum, EVIL Recruiter is a 5-cost 5/5 minion that destroys a friendly Lackey in order to generate a random 5/5 EVIL demon on board. It’s one of the most effective value-adding card for Zoolock, thanks to its beefy stats and the 5/5 demon it generates, effectively giving you the opportunity to deal 10 damage to your opponent, provided they don’t have taunt or lethal. The EVIL demon this card generates is vanilla, but its still a credible threat especially if you have cards like Demonfireor Bloodfury Potion on hand.
Despite being a basic card (and despite not seeing a lot of play in Standard), Frostwolf Warlord is a powerful minion that synergizes amazingly well for Zoolock. It’s a 5-cost 4/4 card that receives +1/+1 for every friendly minion on board, potentially creating a 10/10 on turn 5. Without an effective removal spell or a taunt minion, your opponent is looking at a potentially lethal, even OTK, minion.
A massive 8/8 minion that usually costs 10 mana, the Sea Giant reduces in cost for every minion on board, this includes enemy minions, which means that you can potentially summon this minion for 0 mana. Aside from having very beefy stats, however, the Sea Giant is fairly vanilla, with its value being derived from how early you can play it in the game. Normally, hard removals like Shadow Word: Death, Polymorph, Hex, etc. start being available by turn 3 (turn 2 with coin), which means that even though you won’t be able to use Sea Giant as a main damage dealer, it can be used to force your opponent to use their hard removal spells early on.
The Zoolock deck’s key strategies boil down to two main efforts: control the board with cheap minions and trade efficiently. Early game Zoolock should be focused on summoning small but threatening minions, trading them for more expensive enemy minions.
While some players will suggest using this early game purely for trading, I find that chipping away slowly at the opponent’s face will help you reach lethal more quickly. However, bear in mind that as an archetypal control deck, this can be risky if you leave an enemy minion on board, so go face cautiously.
Once you’re within reach of lethal, usually around mid-game, it’s time to switch up your strategy and go full aggro. Employ buffing minions like Acherus Veteran or Abusive Sergeant to give your minions a damage boost, while cards like Defender of Argus will give your hero the right amount of defense from enemies that might want to go face.
Take note, however, that because your minions are cheap, they will be very vulnerable to board clears like Flamestrike, Consecration, Holy Nova, Lightning Storm, etc. As much as possible, try to eke this out of your opponent early on; that way, come mid-to-late game, they’ll have no way to clear your board and you’ll be free to buff and attack to your heart’s content.