By modernleper

As you may have gathered from my previous article, I’m a big fan of Zoo. It’s a deck I love to play, and one I’ve historically had a lot of success with.

This season I’ve used it to put myself in the top 100 on both EU and NA in time for the final day. In this article I won’t go into exhaustive detail as to why each card is in the list. Instead, my aim is to elucidate the game-plan a Zoo player should have in the major matchups, and explain how the cards in the deck fit into that plan.

The List

This is pretty standard Zoo, so there isn’t a huge amount to talk about here. Double Dire Wolf Alpha and double Void Terror occupy the more flexible slots in the deck, so I’ll focus on the merits of these cards - why I’m running them and why I’m not running the alternatives.

Double Dire Wolf is fairly uncommon in Zoo - I see a lot of lists running only one, or none at all. There are two main reasons while I run this card. Firstly, it is similar to knife juggler in that it can provide a huge amount of pressure in the early game. Zoo is fantastic at punishing weak starts from Druid and Warrior and since I’m seeing a lot of these on ladder I want to emphasise this characteristic of the deck. Secondly, I want to maximise the number of activators for Nerubian Egg in the deck, since this card is one of Zoo’s main tempo-generating mechanisms, and I highly value the ability to get value out of it as often as possible.

Similarly, two Void Terrors are in the deck to leverage Nerubian Egg as a means of creating early game tempo. Void Terror also grants you much needed flexibility when it comes to controlling the outcomes of your Voidcallers and can also interact with Power Overwhelming to create some ridiculous boards. Most of your power-plays involve this card, so I like to run two.


With Zoo I try to avoid situational cards that can weigh down your hand. Obviously Voidcallers alleviate the problem of Doomguard discard but it is by no means completely gone. Ironbeak Owl, Sea Giant and Bane of Doom all fit into this category, so I avoid them. 

Owl in particular is a highly overrated card in Zoo, as it tends to strengthen your weak matchups and weaken your strong ones. This might sound appealing, but in reality deck-selection and deck-building are intimately related - if Zoo is good in the meta, you don’t want to play Owl in your deck. 

The Mindset

Zoo is a board control orientated aggro-midrange deck with very little burst. In most matchups, your gameplan is to start faster than your opponent, make optimal trades to create a board they cannot effectively deal with, and use this board to close out the game. As a rule of thumb, your good matchups are the ones where you overpower your opponent in the early game and they lack effective tools to deal with the resulting board. You have bad matchups vs decks that can either outmatch you in the early game, or crush you with AoE in the mid to late game. Freeze mage scores highly in the latter category, while Face Hunter to some extent can do both.

In Zoo the emphasis is on making good trading decisions while applying maximum pressure to your opponent. You should always ask the question: can I get away with going face? If your opponent will already make trades that are favourable for you, then you don’t need to make them for them. If the answer to this question is no, then you should make trades with their removal in mind - for example, generally if it can be avoided it is better to avoid playing into Swipe vs a Druid.

It is also important to understand your path to winning every game, and how this affects how many risks you take. If you have the option of playing around Swipe and being in a weak position if he does have it, and playing into Swipe and being in a strong position if he doesn’t have it - but possibly losing if he does, then often it is the correct decision to play into Swipe. Zoo is a deck that looks for windows, and you need to be very conscious of what your opponent can do to make your winning chances disappear. This of course applies to all decks, but with Zoo specifically your opponent’s hand is a huge factor.

The Matchups

Midrange Druid

This matchup is favoured. Generally you will start too fast for them, and you can take apart their midrange minions with your superior buffs and early board dominance. Since you utilise your early mana well, you can compete with Wild Growth starts. Of course, sometimes they will draw that as well as both Innervates, but this is in a minority of cases.


Going first, Mulligan fairly unambitiously for the curve, but prioritise getting a premium one drop very heavily - either Flame Imp or Voidwalker. Abusive is generally not worth keeping as a turn 1 play in this matchup. Knife Juggler, Nerubian Egg and Haunted Creeper are all solid in this matchup, but I’d prioritise Egg and Juggler over Creeper. Dire wolf can be kept with Flame Imp to apply early pressure. 3 drops can be kept with a 1 and a 2. Imp Gang Boss is just generally solid whereas Void Terror should only be kept with Nerubian Egg - but in this case should always be kept.

Going second, you have more flexibility. Here your ideal start is Flame Imp coin Voidwalker Turn 1, into Dire Wolf Alpha or Knife Juggler turn 2. Coin Knife Juggler into a two drop is also quite strong in this matchup, since Druid only has Wrath or Innervate Keeper to answer it, and quite often they have neither of these.

General Strategy

How aggressively you play this matchup depends on your hand. Very often you can just rush them down, but sometimes slower hands will reward a more considered approach. Druid can be locked out of the game if cards like Power Overwhelming, Defender of Argus and Abusive Sergeant generate enough mid-game tempo. Provided you play around Swipe - their recovery options are extremely limited. 

Don’t worry too much about having a good Voidcaller target before you play it - most of the time they will just silence it anyway, and since it has better stats in than Keeper of the Grove this will work in your favour. Also be aware that Midrange Druid is very poorly equipped at dealing with Doomguard, so it is often fine to take the discard and play this card on 5, simply because doing so will create an unwinnable situation for them.

Midrange Hunter

You are slightly favoured vs the slower variety of Hunter, but this is a class that can always cause you problems. Highmane offers them some inevitability, so you must be aware of the limited window you have in which to win the game.


Similar to Druid. As ever, keep Premium one-drops going first and look to curve out. Unlike the Druid matchup, I am happy to play Abusive Turn 1 vs hunter, as it is trades effectively with both Knife Juggler and Mad Scientist. Nerubian Egg is very high priority in this matchup and should always be kept going first or second. On the coin, you can sometimes keep Imp-losion if the curve allows - though it plays into Unleash, it gives you a much needed response to Freezing Trap.

The priority here is early board dominance. Haunted Creeper should be coined out before Knife Juggler in order to capitalise on the juggles to kill a Scientist or enemy Juggler 75% of the time by playing the Juggler and running the Creeper in. 

General Strategy

Mad Scientist is the card that will cause you most problems in this matchup. If you’ve already seen a webspinner - it is generally worth playing into Explosive Trap to give you a better response to Freezing Trap, as this is what it generally will be. Attack minions to activate the trap, as the risk of them running Snake Trap is relatively low on ladder at the moment.

Play around Unleash where you can. Sometimes it’s impossible to win if they have it - so recognise these situations and play aggressively into it in these instances. With certain hands, Knife Juggler and Unleash is a combo you similarly won’t be able to beat.

Face Hunter

Very difficult matchup, but not unwinnable. You need to kill them very quickly in order to win, as they have very effective tools for punching through your taunts and getting your health down.


Pretty much exactly the same as Midrange Hunter, as their early game is relatively similar. If you know they are Face Hunter, keeping Defender of Argus on the coin is often a very viable option if the curve allows.

General Strategy

You will often need to play extremely aggressively, and race them down before their steady damage becomes too much. Often this involves big Power Overwhelming Void Terror plays, or just playing extremely aggressively into Unleash the Hounds, hoping they don’t have it. Things need to go well for you to win this matchup, so don’t play too defensively.

Patron Warrior

How easy or hard this matchup depends to a large extent on the skill of the Warrior player. You win this matchup either by punishing a slow start and getting out of control in the early turns, or generating too much tempo with Voidcaller/Egg/Void Terror for them to cope with in the midgame.


Pay attention to how many cards they keep. If a Warrior keeps his entire hand vs you, Fiery War Axe is almost guaranteed. If you see the Warrior throw back all his card, then possibly that aggressive coined Knife Juggler could be extremely effective.

In general this matchup is won by creating midrange threats the warrior struggles to deal with effectively. Voidcaller should therefore almost always be kept in the opener, and Nerubian Egg + Void Terror is also extremely desirable. Similarly, Defender of Argus can be kept on coin if the curve allows, as this can take your minions out of weapon range and seriously throw off their plan to clear your board.

General Strategy

Ideally you want to pressure the warrior while denying their card draw, and force them to draw into their weapons if they want to survive. Patron Warrior doesn’t run Brawl, so feel free to flood the board, but don’t play excessively into Whirlwind if it can be avoided. Nerubian Egg is extremely valuable left unpopped, since a double Whirlwind effect is one of the main tools Patron Warrior has to deal with the Zoo player’s minions.

Remember - they only have two Executes for removal, and generally won’t draw into both. If they are forced to blow an execute on a 4 / 5 Void Terror or similarly sized minion, then that Mal’ganis from Voidcaller could be a disaster for them.

Be aware of the possibility of Warsong Commander + Grim Patron on turn 8 (or earlier if they played Emperor Thaurissan) and avoid playing minions like Haunted Creeper and Imp Gang Boss if you can win without them. This is a matchup where you have to tiptoe very carefully around the Warrior’s removal options, but if you do this effectively they can often be left powerless.

Control Warrior

This matchup used to be harder for Zoo, but since the deck got slower and more value-intensive, Control Warriors became a lot easier to cope with. It can depends on the Control Warrior build, but I would say this matchup is favoured.


Exactly the same as the Patron Warrior mulligan.

General Strategy

Relative to the Patron Warrior matchup, you will find yourself using Life Tap a lot more here. Control Warriors aren’t threatening to kill you anyway near as quickly as Patron, so you can play a lot slower and look to get more value out of your cards.

Be very conscious of Brawl, as most Control Warriors run two. Ideally the way to play around is to just play so many Deathrattles that Brawling would never be worth it for them. Along these lines you want to avoid taunting up your Deathrattle minions, as this would allow them to pop them with their weapons before playing Brawl.

Control Warrior is an archetype with the capacity for extremely clunky draws. Be aware of this, and abuse it.

Aggro Paladin

Slightly in your favour. Though their early game toolkit can deal effectively with your minions, they tend to run out of steam when they realise they can’t Divine Favor you when you have no cards in hand.


Pretty much identical to the mulligan vs hunter, but with a tendency to keep low cost cards at all cost. As soon as you win the board in this matchup you win the game, so mulligan with this strategy in mind.

General Strategy

Stabilise at a higher enough life total, and Aggro Paladin will really struggle to get back into the game. The buff cards in their hand will be dead, and Divine Favor will get very little value. Obviously keep tapping to a minimum in this matchup, and invest as much tempo into the early game as you possibly can in order to ride out the early storm. They will run out of ideas very quickly.


This matchup is very hard. Often the Handlock will draw in such a way that you cannot possibly win, but a good Zoo player can take some games by playing to their outs.


You want an extremely aggressive start here. Knife Juggler, Dire Wolf, Abusive all acceptable keeps, as the emphasis is on rushing down the Handlock before they can react. Having one deathrattle (either Egg or Creeper) to play out early is also very important, as it provides a safeguard against Hellfire or Shadowflame.

General Strategy

This matchup is difficult, but, if in doubt, play aggressively. Very rarely will there be a situation where you can beat double taunted Molten Giant, so don’t worry excessively about this eventuality. Generally they will draw one Molten, so play around this if you can. Recognise the situations, however, where your only chance to win is to assume they didn’t draw a Molten Giant, or a way to taunt it.

Try to set up 2 turn lethals and place the Handlock in the impossible situation of having to clear and taunt in the same turn. To emphasise, though - this matchup is not easy, focus on giving yourself SOME chance to win.

Tempo Mage

Very favoured. You start faster than them and they run out of options. Flamewaker is a card that needs to stick to the board to be abused, and vs you it almost never will.


Similar to Hunter, but Dire Wolf goes up in value a lot because it can buff Voidwalker to kill mirror images. Despite the threat of Flamewaker, Imp-losion is a huge swing card and can be kept on coin with certain hands. Nerubian Egg + Abusive Sergeant can win the game on turn 2, so this is a combo to look out for. Voidcaller is extremely potent in this matchup and can be kept on the mulligan if the curve allows.

General Strategy

Tempo Mage is a deck that relies on its minions sticking to the board, and Zoo is very good at denying that. Most variants don’t run many high cost minions, so winning the board in the early game generally translates to a win. Dr Boom and Flamestrike can sometimes catch you out, so have a plan for these eventualities. Otherwise, though, just out-trade them and hold onto the board and you should be fine.


Yes it’s a mirror, but this matchup is actually very skill differentiated. A lot of people fundamentally understand the dynamic of this matchup, and this can be abused very successfully. I’m not unhappy to see this matchup on ladder.


Similar to the other Mulligans vs faster decks, e.g Hunter and Tempo Mage. As ever, Nerubian Egg can win the game on its own and should always be kept. Unique to the Zoo mirror is the swing achievable with Voidwalker + Abusive Sergeant to clear their Voidwalker. In general, though, Abusive Sergeant is very high value in this matchup and should be kept.

Vs Zoo you are often comfortable keeping cards like Voidcaller in your opening hand, as the danger of you getting rushed down in the first few turns is considerably less than in the Hunter matchup. Sometimes even on the coin you can consider keeping Voidcaller with Doomguard or Mal’ganis, as this broken interaction very frequently wins games on its own.

Oil Rogue

Very winnable, but probably ever so slightly unfavoured. Sticky minions present a problem for the Rogue but the issue is the frequency at which your draw just loses to Backstab + SI:7 agent.


This is a matchup where you should actively seek slower starts. Egg + Void Terror, Voidcallers, Haunted Creepers all play into this game plan. As ever, you should be keeping Flame Imp and Voidwalker, but Knife Juggler is borderline and depends on whether they have coin or not. Pay close attention to how many cards they keep since you can guess the likelihood of Backstab, or a Backstab + Si7 Agent combo, and this will inform how aggressive a start you want to go for.

General Strategy

Ideally vs Rogue you want to play some sticky minions, taunt them up with Defender of Argus, and hit them in the face. The goal should be to make them lose if they don’t have Blade Flurry, and make life extremely awkward for them even if they do. Very often you can run the Rogue out of cards if they fail to draw Sprint, and even if they do the tempo loss from playing it is often too much for them.

Sometimes your draws do not allow you to play this way. If this is the case, you should play aggressively and aim to punish a weak draw on their part. Zoo is uncomfortable playing this aggressively, though, and this should not be the aim from the mulligan.

I hope this guide has been informative. It would be fantastic if this article goes some way towards breaking the misconception that Zoo is a brainless deck to play.

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