In the beginning, there was zoo. In Hearthstone’s early beta zoo was omnipresent, the baseline that every deck had to clear before being a viable contender. Eventually, freeze mage became the first counter to zoo (utilizing two mana Frost Nova, five mana Blizzard, and three mana Cone of Cold, all of which have been since nerfed) which led to the early versions of control paladin…and thus Hearthstone’s first metagame was born. The earliest versions of these decks directly led to more than a few nerfs that most players take for granted today either via increased mana cost (the mage freeze spells) or stat reductions (mostly neutral minions like Defender of Argus or Shattered Sun Cleric). These cards weren’t broken; indeed, in the modern Hearthstone environment some of the nerfs might seem a little bit silly, but the real goal was to reduce the overall efficiency of the most heavily played cards. Zoo was a deck that lived on cards that were well stat-ed for their mana costs and making up for the overall power level via the warlock hero power, Lifetap. Concepts like “stickiness,” or a minion’s ability to remain on the board even after the opponent’s turn, became a commonly sought after trait and zoo decks that relied on constantly improving your board began being ported into other classes. For a long while zoo remained a top tier deck that was well regarded for both ladder and tournament purposes and generally had no real counters. Then combo seasons started.
Nice 2/1s you have there. Shame if something…happened…to them.
Remember these guys? Well, when Blackrock Mountain came rolling around, all of a sudden there was a new combo deck to deal with. Warsong Commander had already been nerfed once (Molten Giant/Panda was a real deck) but with Grim Patron, all of a sudden 1 and 2 power minions were not only not good, they were actively detrimental. Zoo wasn’t a deck that relied heavily on direct face damage via spells or charge but instead wanted to keep accruing board advantage until the opponent crumbled and Patron not only destroyed the zoo player’s board but also put them so far behind on board that they couldn’t possibly catch up. As Patron warrior gained popularity and became more and more optimized zoo decks slowly but surely got completely pushed out of the environment in favor the of handlock, a deck that utilized the warlock hero power to deploy extremely large single minions early and either healed or gave the large minions taunt (or both) to stabilize later. In fact as the format progressed, Patron was so ubiquitous that handlock became a standard meta choice simply for its matchup against Patron. There were of course other decks but the matchup between these two decks was probably the single most important in any given tournament and they dominated to top tiers of ladder.
Fast forward to present day. Modern Hearthstone has evolved to the point where pure efficiency is generally not good enough. Cards are generally too powerful and decks are optimized for a deck to just get by with minions that are aggressively costed but vanilla and lacking synergies (like old style zoo). Or at least, that was the perception up until just a few days ago
This deck plays creepily similarly to original zoo. While it lacks the pure random power level of original Knife Juggler or a 3/3 Shatter Sun Cleric, almost all the minions are in the deck due to being efficiently costed for their power/toughness ratios. Bonemare and Guldan are a little bit more expensive than you’d normally expect but zoo decks of old often ran Dr. Boom and Jaraxxus so it’s not something that’s completely unheard of. Doomguard is the traditional top end of zoo but with multiple 7+ drops the double discard is a lot more of a cost than before. Luckily, Despicable Dreadlord is an absurd 5 drop that can absolutely dominate a board, and Cobalt Scalebane is a minimum of 8/5 spread across two bodies. The 14 1-drops is extremely reminiscent of original zoo decks and the deck definitely plays like a blast from the past but instead of a bunch of aggressively costed 2 drops like Knife Juggler it takes a cool twist with Prince Keleseth and runs a few more 1 and 3 drops. With the recent nerfs the format is a little more open and new zoo is familiar enough to be appealing while still playing differently enough to be interesting for those looking for something new. It’s been a while since zoo has been a high tier deck and this has a good chance at being a legitimate contender.