Firstly, I want to wish you Hatzlacha in your learning, learning new Masechtos are always exciting and Avodah Zarah is no different.
This answer focuses more on the 'Themes' that the Masechta has, as well as some practical learning advice.
Here are the major themes the Masechta has (please forgive me if the list is missing something, as this is being writtem from memory)
Dealing with people who serve Avodah Zarah
- When can one do business with them
- What we can/cannot sell to them
- General attitudes towards them (e.g. trust issues etc)
- When can we receive help from them, and when is it prohibited
Avoda Zarah (itself)
- What is considered Avodah Zarah
- Differences between Avodah Zarah of a Jew vs non-Jew
- What we can/cannot do with something that is an Avodah Zarah
- When can an Avodah Zarah lose its status
- What is considered Yayin Nesech
- What benefits are allowed from Yayin Nesech
- What point in the 'wining' process is the wine susceptible
Pas Akum, Cholov Akum, Bishul Akum
- What they are, and why they were enacted
- What benefits can be had from them
There are lots of interesting stories on each of the above themes.
Concerning how to go about learning this Masechta:
I feel that it is very important for one to learn the practical side of something, for this enables one to properly internalize the ideas found in the Masechta (this is a personal approach, as each person learns differently).
Here are some ideas on learning the practical side of these themes:
- Avodah Zarah - Speak with a rabbi who lives in a country where Avodah Zarah is common (for example: India), and find out what Shailos come up to him on a frequent basis.
- Yayin Nesech - Find a friend who works in Hashgacha, and ask him if he could take you (and your Chavrusa) for a tour of a Kosher wine plant, this will allow you to see the process better, and see the daily issues that it entails.
- Pas Akum, Cholov Akum, Bishul Akum - There are some great Tshuvos from R' Moshe Feinstein on this (don't remember off hand exact locations). Additionally a trip to a milking farm would be very beneficial.
Hatzlacha with your learning!