Zoo Paladin Summary
Paladin is a class that has a vast array tools, yet players still remain fixated on Odd and Even Paladin. While it is nice to have a 1/1 for 1 mana every turn, missing out on cards like Divine Favor and Call to Arms is a huge trade-off to make. Repurposing some of these tools into a Zoo deck pushes the class into an even more powerful position than it already holds. One of the things that makes this deck so interesting to play is the amount of options available to the pilot. Divine Favor, and the options it makes available, really sets Zoo Paladin apart from other aggressive decks, which can seem fairly one-dimensional at times.
Zoo is a term typically reserved for aggressive Warlock builds, however, the term extends to any deck that uses cheap minions to overwhelm the opponent in the early game. This deck relies on the strong turn 1 plays available to Paladin in order to take the board, and maintains the board using cards such as Blessing of Kings and Dire Wolf Alpha. Generally, Zoo decks are extremely weak to area of effect (AOE) board clears, but the clever inclusion of Scarab Egg and Devilsaur Egg allows you to stay on the board, even after a Reckless Flurry or a Flamestrike. Divine Favor and Call to Arms are the cards that allow this deck to thrive in the current meta, providing the refill that all Zoo decks desperately need.
Zoo Paladin Card Choices
Zoo decks can only win through controlling the board, this means it is imperative to get to the board before your opponent. This entire deck is built with two thoughts in mind:
I must get to the board before my opponent.
I must maintain control of the board until I can push lethal.
Argent Squire, Lost in the Jungle, and Righteous Protector are all 1 mana cost cards that take two separate damaging effects to kill. This allows you to have something on the board going into turn 2. Additionally, Blessing of Might and Truesilver Champion help maintain board superiority throughout the mid and end game.
- (x2) Lost in the Jungle
- (x2) Righteous Protector
- (x2) Dire Wolf Alpha
- (x2) Scarab Egg
- (x2) Devilsaur Egg
- (x2) Divine Favor
- (x1) Call to Arms
- (x2) Fungalmancer
- (x1) Sunkeeper Tarim
These are the core cards for the deck. They can not be removed from the deck without changing the identity of the deck. As previously discussed, these 1-drops are hard to clear on turn one and set up for a strong follow up play, whether it be Dire Wolf Alpha, or even dropping 2 more 1 mana cost minions. This deck could not exist without Divine Favor or Call to Arms, as an Aggro deck must be able to respond to a board clear. Scarab Egg and Devilsaur Egg are tools number 3 and 4, providing even more ways to address this issue.
- (x1) Argent Squire
- (x2) Blessing of Might
- (x2) Knife Juggler
- (x2) Truesilver Champion
- (x1) Call to Arms
- (x2) Sea Giant
These cards are not considered Core Cards and may be among the possible cards to be replaced as the meta develops. These cards are very important to the deck, and should not be changed under normal conditions. Argent Squire is the 5th 1-drop in the deck, increasing the consistency in which you can get to the board. Blessing of Might is very powerful card to play on divine shield minions, but it also provides additional versatility because it can be used as removal or to push more damage.
The second Call to Arms can be clunky at times, and while 1 is certainly required, the second can be looked at with a little more scrutiny. Additionally, with all of the token generating cards and cheap minions which are run in this deck, Sea Giant becomes a natural inclusion, and you are often able to land this 8/8 on turn 4.
- (x1) Defender of Argus
- (x2) Blessing of Kings
- (x1) Vinecleaver
These cards are the cards that may be replaced depending on what is going on in each individual micro-meta. Although Blessing of Kings has a lot of synergy with the deck, this 4 mana card can be clunky at times, and in general feels like a worse Fungalmancer. That is not to say that Blessing of Kings is not good in the deck, it is fantastic! Cards such as Sound the Bells! or a second Defender of Argus can easily take that spot with no real loss of power from the deck.
Defender of Argus closes out aggressive match-ups and gives you another way to buff your eggs. Defender of Argus on Scarab or Devilsaur Egg is a great way to play around Supercollider. Vinecleaver is your last bastion of hope to win a game in which you are behind, as it can often be used as a worse Truesilver Champion to push lethal damage. It’s added benefit of leaving tokens behind on the board after a swing can definitely prove useful, as well. While you should never put a second one in the deck, as 7 mana is a huge price to pay, 1 still fits in nicely.
- Leeroy Jenkins
- Spell Breaker
- Acidic Swamp Ooze
- Drygulch Jailor
Leeroy Jenkins is the classic finisher in most Aggro decks, but is absent in this list. Why? Well, most of that burst is provided through weapons and buffs. The buffs are more valuable than Leeroy in this deck, as they are another way to get value out of your eggs.
Drygulch Jailor is another turn 2 play that replaces itself in your hand, while it does have synergies with Sea Giant, Knife Juggler, and Call to Arms, it is not on the same power level as other cards that are in the deck.
The number one question asked about any deck is, “What if you ran a silence?” Well, for this deck it’s because that effect is worth too much mana. I am not playing a 3 mana 2/1 (looking at you Ironbeak Owl) in an aggressive deck. The 4 mana 4/3 is much better statted and more well-suited for an aggressive deck, but is still too expensive to be useful in this deck. Shieldbreaker (the 2 mana 2/1 that silences an enemy minion with taunt) is the only silence effect I would consider. This deck has no problem breaking through 2 or even 3 Voidlords, but silencing an on curve Tar Creeper may win you the game outright. If you are playing in a meta saturated with Tar Creepers, play the Shieldbreaker. The other available silence effects simply do not fit in this deck.
Weapons are extremely powerful and prevalent in the meta; however there is no weapon removal in this deck. Cards like Supercollider, or an enemy Vinecleaver, have the potential to prevent you from playing a single card from your hand, but these match-ups are typically decided before the game reaches this point. Even Skull of Man’ari is not a problem for this deck, because if it is coined on 4 or played on 5, then nothing else could be played. This leaves a whole turn open to attack the enemy hero. Being that our deck wants to win on or before turn 7, this is not something we are concerned with.
The best reason to run Acidic Swamp Ooze is because it is a 3/2. It contests Dire Mole, Northshire Cleric, Voidwalker, and Acolyte of Pain. Acidic Swamp Ooze would mostly be played on curve, even against weapon decks, using it’s battlecry in only the most grave of circumstances.
Mulligans & Strategy
With any minion-oriented strategy, the game is won through board control and tempo-oriented plays. You can either beat the enemy to the board, or you can beat them on the board. Keeping this principle in mind, you must decide on turn 1 which of these options you will pursue as your winning condition. Against most decks you will not be able to beat them on the board, they run bigger, higher value minions. This means primarily you will need to beat them to the board. To beat the enemy to the board, you must have a turn 1 play that can survive the enemy’s turn 1, so you can begin the snowball effect as soon as possible. Scarab Egg is one of the most powerful turn 2 plays in the deck. The enemy in general has a tough time and low motivation to pop the egg early, setting you up for a powerful turn 3. I would beware of playing Devilsaur Egg before you own the board, 3 mana is a lot bigger commitment than the 2 mana Scarab Egg for this deck.
The general mulligan for Zoo Paladin is Lost in the Jungle, Argent Squire, Righteous Protector, Scarab Egg, and Call to Arms. Your goal is to put the opponent on their back-foot, making them play from behind the entire game. The primary win condition with this deck is gaining control of the board early and overwhelming the enemy before turn 8. Only use your Righteous Protectors to actually protect something, ensuring that you can push damage on the following turn. This is the only taunt in the deck, so be careful how you use it. This decks one drops allow you to take control of the board early, and Call to Arms provides the much needed refill for this deck. Divine Favor is a key card in this deck for most match-ups. It’s important to realize that against other aggressive decks it will not be played until turn 5 or 6, and only to draw up to 2 cards.
As previously mentioned, the primary win condition is board superiority. Imagine for a second, in any given match-up if the game ends on turn 5, having no further information, who won the game? What about turn 10? Turn 20? With this deck, the vast majority of match-ups dictate that Zoo Paladin only wins in the scenario where the game ends on turn 5. Trade like it. If you are not setting up for lethal, or will do more damage over 2 turns by taking a value trade this turn, then you probably shouldn’t be trading. You win the game by doing 30 damage to the enemy hero, not doing 30 damage to their minions. The only late game card featured in this deck is Sunkeeper Tarim, which becomes your only win condition after turn 10. You will never win the value game, so don’t play for value. The ideal game should play out as:
Turn 1: Lost in the Jungle
Turn 2: Dire Wolf Alpha
Turn 3: Knife Juggler + Righteous Protector
Turn 4: Blessing of Might
Turn 5: Fungalmancer
Turn 6: Sunkeeper Tarim + Win the game
It is important to not mistake Divine Favor and Call to Arms for catch-up mechanics. They are merely a way to continue to apply pressure. Playing Divine Favor is a tempo loss, as it is 3 mana, having no effect whatsoever on the board. For this reason the Divine Favor must be planned out many turns in advance to ensure you can spend the 3 mana and still maintain board superiority. The only true catch-up mechanic in this deck is Sunkeeper Tarim. Sunkeeper Tarim may look attractive on turn 6 to push an additional 4 damage, but it is often correct to save Tarim for a future pivotal turn to either setup or deliver lethal.
Vs. Quick Decks
There are a litany of aggressive decks in the meta today. Against the decks that go wide (e.g. Odd Paladin, Zoo Lock), you are fighting an uphill battle from turn 1. Pray you don’t have the coin and mulligan into Lost in the Jungle. If by some travesty you do have the coin, normally you want to 1 drop coin 1 drop in order to take the board as early as possible. Mulligan for all your 1 drops and use Call to Arms to put the game away. You will lean on your Hero Power harder in these matchups than in any of the others.
Against the taller aggressive decks (e.g. Odd Rogue, Midrange Hunter) is where your divine shield minions really shine. They cannot remove it without using more mana than you have spent, and often using more cards than you have spent. If this were to happen in the early game, congratulations, you successfully won the board and gained initiative going into turns 3 and 4 which are the power turns in this deck. Against Odd Secret Mage you must hard mulligan for Scarab Egg. Playing Scarab Egg on 2 leaves the Odd Mage few options. The Mage can either play 2 1-drops, hero power your face, or hero power the Scarab Egg. None of these options are particularly appealing for the Mage, so playing a Scarab Egg on turn 2 often wins this matchup for that reason.
Aggro decks can be tough for Zoo Paladin, but making good decisions gives it the edge in most circumstances. Dire Wolf Alpha, Call to Arms, and Sea Giant allow you to flip the board and, in most situations, put the game firmly in your control.
High Priority Keep:
- Lost in the Jungle – We’ve beat this concept to death, but requiring 2 sources of damage to clear the board on turn 1 wins the board versus most aggressive decks.
- Argent Squire – Slightly better on turn 1 than Righteous Protector as it may allow you to save a Righteous Protector for more value.
Medium Priority Keep:
- Call to Arms – The only thing keeping this from being a high priority keep is the importance of 1 drops to the game plan. Always keep this when on the coin, mostly keep when on the play (going first, no coin).
- Righteous Protector – Protects your Lost in the Jungle from Springpaw, protects your Sea Giant from Hunter’s Mark.
- Scarab Egg – The absolute all star of the deck. Always keep it with Blessing of Might and do not coin this on turn 1 — no matter how good that Dire Wolf Alpha in your hand looks.
Low Priority Keep:
- Sea Giant – Allows a swing turn against wide decks and provides a way to contest the larger minions of a tall deck if you fall behind. It wins you the board in most cases.
- Dire Wolf Alpha – Only keep this against the taller aggressive decks, as you might trade with Hench-Clan Thug or Scavenging Hyena. Often only kept against Odd Rogue, it is your second way to deal with a turn 3 Hench Clan Thug.
Vs. Slow Decks
Against heavy Control you will have your board cleared. Without a catch-up mechanism this can feel devastating. Devilsaur Egg and Scarab Egg keep you on the board after an inevitable clear. The only way to win is to pressure the enemy until they run out of resources. Keep Divine Favor in these match-ups. Sometimes it is correct to play Divine Favor on 3, but only do so if you can draw 4 or more cards.
Accepting that your board will be cleared, it is imperative to plan your refill from the early game, even if the cards aren’t currently in your hand. There is a delicate balance between overcommitting to the board and preparing to use Divine Favor. This deck has the refill to beat Odd Warrior, but struggles against Big Spell Mage. Zoo Paladin does not out-value any control deck. Each turn after turn 10 your odds of winning any of these match-ups drops significantly. You must keep up the pressure from turn 1 all the way until the end of the game. You only win as long as you are on the board.
Your best match-ups are against slower Midrange and Combo decks. Priest can not react fast enough to mitigate the damage you can deal. You put so much pressure on Cube Warlock and Even Warlock they can never find time to land a minion in the early game. Any deck that wants to extend the game without having any legitimate early game will fall to Zoo Paladin. Beware of Wild Pyromancer. Against any deck that plays a Wild Pyromancer, killing that becomes your first priority.
High Priority Keep:
- Lost in the Jungle – Helps begin establishing the pressure required to win versus control
- Righteous Protector – Protects your valuable 2 mana cost minions.
- Scarab Egg – You stay on the board after the control deck plays an AOE spell, this is the primary card that allows you to snowball this match-up, satisfying your win condition.
Medium Priority Keep:
- Divine Favor – The strength of this deck is refill. In most slower match-ups keep Divine Favor as long as you have a turn 1 play. Do not keep Divine Favor AND Call to Arms together.
Low Priority Keep:
- Blessing of Kings – Allows you to compete with minions in the mid-game, keep on the coin and with a turn 1 play.
- Blessing of Might- Always keep with a divine shield minion, keep with either egg AND a turn 1 play.
Zoo Paladin is a deck currently flying under the radar with a lot of potential. It allows for an explosive start that few can keep up with. By threatening big damage, along with survivability, you can look forward to throwing your opponents off early and winning games quickly.
ExilesRhythm is a Hearthstone streamer with a reputation for deck building and deck optimization. He is continuously testing the best strategies for ladder and tournament play while playing at a high level. With multiple top 1000 finishes and a passion for coaching, ExilesRhythm is the perfect streamer to watch for those desiring to improve their gameplay. ExilesRhythm also offers individualized coaching. Contact him directly for further information.
Special thanks to twitch.tv/RumhamHS for piloting this deck with over a 60% winrate at Top 100 Legend.