An Almost OCD Guide to Zoo Positioning

Zoo has come back to the forefront of the meta game again after langushing under the weight of Combo Patron for months. People are picking the deck back up in droves, but I see plenty of subtle misplays on the ladder and most of them relate to positioning.

Here is my controversial claim: Zoo is really hard to play. Like really really hard to play perfectly.

There is so much going on in the deck: trying to setup the right trades, developing boards that are resilient to Blizzard but still apply enough pressure, positioning minions several turns in advance for your Defender of Argus, knowing when to take the 33% Doomguard play and being able to tell when its best to go face and ignore the board.

Don’t believe me? Do you think Zoo is just spamming minions on the board and facerolling to victory? Well, there is quite a bit of minion spamming but there is an art to it, I swear!

Take this simple situation. What’s the play?

Opener edit

It’s obviously Abusive Sergeant + Nerubian Egg to clear the board because you want to pressure Paladins as much as you can. Wait wait wait, don’t pat yourself on the back yet, you are missing half the play! How do you position your minions? Think about it and open the spoiler below.

Open me to see the position

Why is this the optimal placement? Why not any of the other 12 options? Is it because of the Dire Wolf Alpha and Defender of Argus that is not even in the hand?

Why yes, yes it is.

Dire Wolf Alpha wants a board that’s arranged strongest to weakest from left to right. This makes for the best conga line to trade minions in.

Defender of Argus wants to buff the biggest minions or two smaller minions to keep them safe from the stray Hellfires and Consecrations of the world.

Here I have decided I want to play Voidwalker and Dire Wolf Alpha. Using the simple rules above, what is the correct placement?

Easy problem edit

Open me to see the play

That was easy enough, now let’s talk deathrattles.

Dire Wolf Alpha hates deathrattles because they interrupt the conga line. What’s the best place for deathrattle minions then?

You want to put them between your big and small minions. What defines a big minion? Essentially one that doesn’t need the Dire Wolf Alpha buff to trade effectively. Sometimes Voidwalker is a large minion and sometimes a 4/4 Nerubian is a small one.

1 Deathrattl eedited 2
Big minions -> Deathrattles -> Dire Wolf Alpha -> Small minions

This of course only works for one deathrattle minion. Why? Well take a look:

2 deathrattle edit

Even if the Nerubian Egg was not silenced this is awkward positioning. The Argent Squire is totally killing the conga line! Her proper place is at the right of all the imps. No, Argent Squire and Imp Gang Boss do not have deathrattle but Dire Wolf Alpha hates them anyway so they might as well.

I Can’t Hold All These Deathrattles

When you have an army of deathrattle minions Dire Wolf Alpha’s beloved conga line is not going to happen, but you should still be planning to build a line out of the remains of the Haunted Creepers and Nerubian Eggs. The best positioning I can come up with is this:

3 deathrattle edit 2

The Value of a Minion

We still have one type of minion to cover: Brann Bronzebeard and Knife Juggler.
Whats makes these two guys special? The fact that they provide value by just sitting on the board. Since you rarely want them to trade or pledge their lives to Argus they should go on the far left. This will keep them relatively safe and maximize their chance of sticking around.

Ideal position:
Ideal position edit

Value Minions -> Big minions -> all but one deathrattle ->Dire wolf -> Small minions -> Second deathrattle

Is this really necessary?

Yes. To Squeeze every last win percentage from the game you need to optimize the small things. If you aren’t into trying to win as much as you can, I’m not quite sure why you are reading this. In many games you can get away with haphazard placement, but once you look closely at your games you will start to realize that getting the buff onto one more minion is much more relevant than you’d think. Being good at Hearthstone means raising your win rate from 60% to 65% and that’s not going to happen without examining every part of your play.

The more Zoo I play the more I’m convinced Dire Wolf Alpha is the real MVP of the deck. The doggie lets you trade up so efficiently that you can turn around boards you had no business controlling. Unfortunately playing the deck optimally requires thinking about the placement of every single minion you drop.

Mandatory decklist

This is a post about Hearthstone after all, so I’ll throw in a decklist. This is the deck I hit legend with this month:

Small Zoo

The Argent Squires have proven their worth in the Secret Paladin matchup in particular where fighting for the board early and snowballing a lead is crucial to winning the match. Why am I not playing the flavor of the month 3 drop, Brann Bronzebeard? I’m trying to fit him in the list. You could cut an Argent Squire for him.

So I can play Zoo perfectly now?

Unfortunately these are guidelines. Due to the variance of each game there will be times where it’s better to place your Dire Wolf Alpha between 2 deathrattles because that’s how the trades work out best, even if it prevents your imps from piling in for a buff. These guidelines are what I’ve found maximize your chance to get good Defender of Argus and Dire Wolf Alpha positioning.

On top of all of this, there is so much more to Zoo. You still need to learn matchups, tech choices and how to trade effectively. I was not kidding when I said Zoo is a hard deck to play well.

As always, feedback on the content, the writing or the site are greatly appreciated.

21 thoughts on “An Almost OCD Guide to Zoo Positioning

  1. Nice write up, I’ve been playing a lot of zoo, this made it clear I could’ve played better.

    Looking forward to putting this in practice.

    And yes, zoo isn’t just mindlessly vomiting minions onto the board.


  2. Hey I really like the guide but the minions in my zone don’t have the party hats does anyone have a fix for this bug? I don’t want them to be left out of the party or think they weren’t invited.

  3. I was actually just thinking about this earlier today as I was playing zoo. I roped a couple of turns trying to figure out the positioning of my minions. Thanks for the guidelines!

  4. Have been playing zoo to rank6 during november season but die to patron warrior very badly after that. Should try this deck again, thanks.

  5. Man, this was a great read! I’m a fairly new player but this post was really informative because it suits my playstyle perfectly.


  6. Nice article. I’m playing almost the same deck, with Brann and one Dark Iron Dwarf instead of the squires. At my level on the latter (12-16), I’m seeing a lot of Aggro Shaman, Freeze Mage, and Control Warriors. I’m actually seeing more murloc pallys than secret pallys. I’m wondering about teching in a Harrison Jones for the dwarf to take care of the shaman, who seem to always beat me with doomhammer. Anyone have any thoughts on this tech choice?

  7. I actually have had great success around ranks 8-7 with 2x Ooze instead of argent squires. Solid 2-drops that trade efficiently, they help out against paladins, and they make patron a somewhat winnable matchup.

    Also, fantastic guide! got me back into zoo, sharing around with friends

  8. Great articles, thank you for everything! But I have a lot of problems with this new kind of control priest. Nightmare! 🙂

  9. Great article, the positioning with zoo is a really important part to understanding how you can improve your play. I think I undervalued the power of dire wolf alpha!

    I think Zoo gets a bad rap as people think it is an ‘easy’ deck compared to more ‘complicated’ control or combo decks. But, I think people who make this complaint don’t realise that the different variants of zoo that play quite differently. There is a classic fast zoo which doesn’t have anything higher than 4 mana. There is the slower demon zoo which is more mid-range with Dr Boom and Mal Ganis. Then there is also a ‘flood’ zoo which uses board presence to cheat out big minions like Reliquary Seeker and Sea Giant. Each of these variants have the same general zoo gameplan of controlling the board, but will play differently in the mid and late game.

    Keep up the good work!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *