2013 WCS Europe
Hearthstone Trends #2
Rise of Aggro, Fall of Control
The Role of Each Deck
The Best Legendary
It's been almost three weeks since we've released our last article on the current Trends in Hearthstone. Since then, we've had announcements about the game at Blizzcon, an Innkeeper's Invitational, and the rise of many new smaller tournaments. What's more, we've seen a lot more changes in the Hearthstone metagame. I guess that means it's finally time for another installment of "Trends in Hearthstone".
A small disclaimer before we begin: all the decks played at the Innkeeper's Invitational were submitted two weeks before the actual event. Though they were relatively advanced for their time, the metagame has changed drastically since then. We will, therefore, not focus on those decks as much and look at what's becoming more popular in both the small tournament scene and on the ladder. With that, let's begin.
With the patch, players flocked to the seemingly overly buffed class, the Priest. With a combination of "imbalances" such as Northshire Cleric, both Shadow Words, and the almighty Mind Control, Priest was sure to be overpowered, right? Well, that's what players in both the TLOpen#1 and on the ladder must have thought as it was the most played class by both metrics according to our stats from the last iteration of this article.
Well, let me let you in on a little secret. Priest is far from overpowered. In fact, I would to go so far as to say that it's only a mid-tier class. Priests may have flashy new tools, but they're hardly enough to propel itself to the very top. Let's break down why Priest doesn't live up to the hype.
1. Players are Playing Around the Priest Cards
Shadow Word: Pain, Shadow Word: Death, Shadow Madness, and Mind Control. These are four of Priest's strongest weapons in its arsenal. When used to their full effect, they can provide a lot of value and have devastating effects; however, the one thing they share is that proper deck building can negate them.
Taking Shadow Word: Pain, Shadow Word: Death, and Shadow Madness as examples: all of these cards only hit a specific attack value, either 3 and under or 5 and above. What's missing? Creatures with 4 attack. As alluded to in our last article, creatures with 4 attack are gaining a lot more popularly. This is partly because of efforts to play around the Priest. This in no way means that decks are worse because they have to play around these Priest cards. No, in fact quite the opposite. Players have discovered that minions with 4 attack are among some of the best in the game! Argent Commander, Dark Iron Dwarf, and Azure Drake all make a very strong case for themselves.
Players are also learning the power of buffing their creatures to 4 attack. In terms of options, Shattered Sun Cleric, Dark Iron Dwarf, and Defender of Argus are the most popular neutral choices. More and more often, Priests are finding themselves with dead removal cards in their hands against a board full of 4 attack creatures.
What about Mind Control? Ah yes, the most complained about card in the game. It's a good thing Mind Control can be played around as well. How would you do this? Though there are other options, most players choose to build their decks so that they has no obvious Mind Control targets. For example, many decks these days have Argent Commander -- a 6 mana minion -- as their biggest creatures. Though stealing an Argent Commander without its bubble is pretty decent, it does not represent extreme value.
More and more these days, we see Aggro and Combo decks coming into the scene. Back when Control type decks were more popular, Mind Control was certainly a threatening card. When it gets to the late game, Priest was unstoppable, Mind Controlling every Ragnaros and Ysera that appeared on the field. With decks that go for more of a swarm style or decks that attempt to kill players off in one turn, Priests often find themselves with two dead Mind Controls in their hand. Which brings us to our next point.
2. Priest Can't Handle Aggro and Combo Decks
The main reason Priest is not a top tier class is because Aggro and Combo decks have been dominating the scene lately. We'll explore why this is in our next section, but for now, just, trust me on this one. Unlike some other classes, Priest's tools to gain early game advantage are few and far between. Sure you have Holy Smite, Power Word: Shield, and Shadow Word: Pain, but these tools are severely lacking when you compare them to the creatures, spells, and hero powers of some of the other classes. Take for example:
- Mage: Arcane Missles, Frostbolt, Mana Wyrm, Hero Power(Fireblast)
- Rogue: Backstab, Defias Ringleader, Hero Power(Dagger Mastery)
- Shaman: Forked Lighting, Lighting Bolt, Rockbiter Weapon, Stormforged Axe
- Warlock: Blood Imp, Demon Fire, Flame Imp, Soulfire, Void Walker
Last weekend at Blizzcon, Blizzard released some statistics regarding Priest. Most surprising, was that Priest was one of the statistically worst classes on the ladder. If you were at first confused, hopefully I've shed some light on the subject. I am in no way saying that Priests aren't viable -- but if they are to remain competitive in the current metagame -- there will either need to be a revolution in deck building or direct patches to the game.
Paladin was the most played class at the Blizzcon Innkeeper's Invitational; and arguably, the most successful class in the tournament. Is Paladin overpowered? I would strongly argue no. The reason for Paladin's success was that most Paladins at the tournament focused on Aggro play. It's not that Paladins are extremely strong, but rather, that Aggro decks are extremely strong in the current metagame. So why were Paladins so widely used at Blizzcon? I theorize that this is because Paladin has the most obviously effective mechanics for an Aggro deck: Divine Shield. Other classes, though, can be just as effective.
Rise of Aggro, Fall of Control
In recent days, Hearthstone is more and more becoming a game of board control and tempo. On each successive turn, one player attempts to remove all the creatures on his opponent's side of the field and fill his side with creatures that can pressure the opponent. Let's take a look at which cards are bringing the metagame towards aggression.
In the first few months of Hearthstone, people would have called you insane if you used this card. After all, it's a card that has 1 HP and won't put that much of a dent in your opponent's creatures. These days, however, Argent Squire is becoming one of the most popular cards in the entire metagame. Though it's a simple 1/1 card with a unassuming ability, it holds much unlocked potential. If played on turn 1, it will almost certainly deal 2 damage to one of your opponent's creatures. When combined with certain hero powers (Mage/Rogue/Druid), it can deal 2 damage even faster, taking out the popular 3/2 drops we commonly see in the current metagame. In this way, Argent Squire played on turn 1 is often crucial to taking initial advantage of the game.
Argent Squires are also some of the best targets for buffing cards such as the ones we'll discuss below. Any attacking buffs on Argent Squire is essentially doubled in value: it will usually be able to attack twice with its buffs. Squire into Coin + Shattered Cleric is one of the best turn 1/2 moves in the entire game. All this for one mana!
These three neutral buffing cards are some of the best in the game. If the rules box was blank, Shattered Sun Cleric still gives 3/3 stats for 3 mana. Dark Iron Dwarf and Defender of Argus are both 5/5 worth in stats for 4 mana. These are certainly above average. The other thing to note is that their effects are immediate; that is, they do something the turn they are played. For those of you who are familiar with time value of money, you'll know that a dollar today is worth more than a dollar tomorrow. Similarly, immediate stats that you can use are worth more than additional stats on the next turn. Another way to think about it is that these buff creatures have a partial charge. What this essentially means is that Shattered Sun Cleric is generally better than a 3 mana 4/4 creature without an ability.
So what does this mean in practice? Often times, miss a kill by 1-2 damage. These buff cards help to bridge that gap. With a Cleric buff, an Argent Squire can take out a Faerie Dragon. With a Dwarf buff, a Faerie Dragon can take out a Chillwind Yeti. What value!
The downside of these cards, however, is that if there are no creatures to buff, these cards drastically lose value. Shattered Sun Cleric without a target to buff is a bit worse than the average 3 mana creature. Defender of Argus is significantly worse, and Dark Iron Dwarf is forced to buff your opponent's creatures if you have none of the field. What this means, is that decks running these creatures should focus on trying to keep minions on the field. Games involving a lot of these creatures tend to snowball. If you have a lead, you'll maintain it by buffing your creatures. If you're losing and have no creatures to buff on the field, it will be difficult to come back.
Finally, aggro decks are the most consistent decks there are. If you fill your deck up with 1 drops and 2 drops, you're pretty much guaranteed to have a good starting hand. Meanwhile, if you run a hefty control deck with lots of expensive spells, you're much more likely to not have a 1 or 2 drop. In the best case, you'll be left with fewer options than aggro decks. Sure, control decks might be able to match up against aggro decks given the best possible draws for both sides, but how often is that going to happen?
Decks are becoming increasingly defined these days and almost all of them fall into certain archetypes. Let's take some time to explore these archetypes and where they fall in the metagame.
The Role of Each Deck
Yes, that's right. Priest control deserves its own category. There is a huge difference between Priest control and other types of control decks and that difference is Mind Control. Without the ability to steal opponents' legendary finishers, Mind Control cripples other control decks once it gets to the late game.
Earlier in this article, I had said that Priests were not a particularly strong class in the metagame. They are not particularly strong; however, the existence of the deck and Mind Control, make other control decks less viable.
Normal, non-Priest control decks currently face problems from the following types of decks:
- Priest Control: Mind Control is still the big elephant in the room.
- Aggro: They generally cannot keep up with aggro decks in the early game.
- Combo: They generally cannot pressure combo decks enough before they can unleash their combos.
- Mage Burn: They generally cannot pressure burn decks enough before they they lose all their HP.
Dealing with the Other Archetypes
- Priest Control: Mind Control is getting nerfed. This one was easy.
- Aggro: There needs to be reliable ways for control to survive into the late game.
- Combo: More Taunts and Heals are required.
- Mage Burn: See Combo
If you've been paying attention, you'll have noticed that we've talked a lot about aggro being the strong deck in the current metagame. Aggro beats control by out-muscling control in the early game. Aggro defeats combo by dealing too much damage before the combo player can get his combo off.
Some of the best and most obvious aggro decks come from Mage, Paladin, Rogue, and Warlock. These classes take control of the early game and run away with their advantages. As mentioned before, this unfortunately leaves Priest in the dust when competing for early game dominance.
Mrrraggglhlhghghlgh! Perhaps the most infamous aggro deck of them all is the Murloc deck. Filled to the brim with seventeen Murlocs and thirteen class specific cards, this archtype is known for being as aggressive as they come, able to take games off of even the most well prepared decks.
Warlock is the most common class to pair the Murlocs with. With great support minions in the form of Flame Imp, Blood Imp, and Void Walker, and a Hero Power that has perfect synergy with Murlocs, Warlock seems like the most obvious choice. Druid is also a popular choice with cards like Innervate, Savage Roar, Power of the Wild, and Soul of the Forest. And then there's Shaman, whose biggest selling point is its many Totems and Bloodlust.
The deck deserves a special mention as it is the deck that's been gaining the most popularity lately. The deck revolves around very few creatures and relies on a combination of freezing to stall and direct damage cards to burn away the opponent's life total. An example deck can be found here, used by the winner of the last TLOpen. The major components include Frost Nova, Cone of Cold, and Blizzard to stall and Frost Bolt, Ice Lance, Fireball, Pyroblast, and sometimes Leeroy Jenkins to deal direct damage. Alexstrasza may also be used to deal the initial 15 damage.
It can do well against aggro decks - depending on the draws - and also does exceptionally well against most control decks. I does, however, struggle against decks that focus on a lot of healing and taunts, a deck type which is not especially common in today's scene.
One of the biggest appeals of this type of deck, and of Mage in general, is that if you get the right draws, you have the potential to beat any other type of deck. Mana wyrm + Coin + Arcane Missiles is one of the best turn 1 plays in the game. In addition, if you get the right freeze cards in your hand at the right time, it's difficult to even damage a Mage.
While normal decks attempt to use synergy, turning 1+1 into 3, combo decks go all out with this concept and turn 1 + 1 into 10. These decks often focus on surviving to a certain turn, usually something around turn 7 and playing a string of cards that when combined, either kill the opponent straight out (One-Turn-Kill-Decks) or create an insurmountable advantage.
As players begin to discover more and more combos, these decks will become more popular. Though there are many combo decks that exist today, I've outlined some of the most popular below, ordered approximately from most popular to least popular.
Combo: Hunter One Turn Kill
Let's start with the most notrious combo of them all. Popularized partly by ChanmanV in TLOpen #1, the Unleash the Hounds deck is one of the scariest decks in the metagame today. Since its debut, however, its success has diminished greatly as players are quickly adapting to the threat of an instant kill.
There are two ways to reliably beat this deck. First is to pressure your opponent with early aggression -- Unleash decks generally go off around turn 7 -- so you can always try to win before that. Second is to include a lot of Taunts in your deck. Hunters generally rely on Ironbeak Owls to break through Taunts, and if you can consistently have more Taunts on the field than he has Owls in his hand, you can essentially secure the game.
Like Mind Control, Unleash decks aren't actually that good at the top level.The problem is that because this type of deck exists, players are forced to build their decks in a certain manner, which makes them worse against other types of decks. In addition, losing to Unleash the Hounds, like losing to Mind Control, is certainly not very fun, a factor that Blizzard tries to control for heavily as can be seen from their interview. In a future patch, Unleash decks will be heavily nerfed as confirmed by Blizzard.
Combo: Warlock Giants
"The Giants deck revolves around using the Warlock hero ability to abuse the hand size mechanic of both the Twilight Drake and Mountain Giant in order to create early and constant threats. Key cards include Twilight Drake, Mountain Giant, Molten Giant, Hellfire, Defender of Argus, and Sunfury Protector. The deck is very strong against slower decks and a well timed Hellfire can shut the door on aggro decks as well. Its main weakness is direct damage threats making most Mage decks -- especially Burn Mage decks -- very effective. When playing against this deck, be careful not to leave the Warlock alive with 10 or fewer HP and no direct damage; otherwise, you may have two Molten Giants who have been given Taunt to deal with next turn. Unlike many other combo decks, this deck is usually very stable and does not rely on as much luck or gimmicks."
-Sylas, creator of the Warlock Giants deck
Combo: Shaman Windfury
Windfury is an ability that just screams combo and we see it here in this Shaman Windfury deck. This deck involves getting a strong minion on the field, usually either a Stranglethorn Tiger or an Earth Elemental. You then buff it with Rockbiter Weapons - getting it to insane levels of damage - and pop a Windfury, and you've got a creature that can potential kill the opponent in one turn. Farsight may be added to the deck in order to speed it up even further. While it has great potential, this deck, along with the Warrior Giants deck, this is one of the less consistent combo decks in this bunch.
Combo: Warrior Giants
This is similar to the Warlock Giants deck as it attempts to get to low HP and then summon Molten Giants to instantly kill your opponent. This deck involves Molten Giants, the Warsong Commander, and Youthful Brewmasters for a one-turn kill combo. A deck of this type was featured in the third Blizzard Hearthstone Puzzle. This deck is the most uncommon out of all the decks mentioned here as it is a bit gimmicky and inconsistent. Like other combo decks, it does best against control decks that can't put on much early pressure and poorly against aggro decks that can put on that pressure.
Combo: Malygos Combo
Usually used by either Warlock or Druid, this deck attempts to survive to turn 9 and then unleash Malygos. It's then usually followed up by either two Moonfires(12 damage) or two Soulfires(18 damage) for the kill. Both are fairly gimmicky, especially the Warlock variety which relies on not having one Soulfire discarding the other. Unlike the other combos, Malygos combos are often just splashed into decks that just happen to have Moonfire or Soulfire. Having an entire deck built around this combo is extremely rare and rather foolhardy, since it requires you to have three cards in your hand by a specific turn.
Combo: Alexstrasza Charge
Step 1: Survive to turn 9.
Step 2: Play Alexstrasza to get your opponent to 15 HP.
Step 3: Play Charge and hope to god there are no Taunts on the field.
Step 4: Take your opponent down from full HP to 7HP in a single turn.
Step 5: Profit?
The Best Legendary
In our last issue, I hyped up Argent Commander as the next big thing. These days, Argent Commander is perhaps the most used card that exists in competitive decks (I promise I won't take too much credit). Now, I'm going to hype up another card, a rather underused card that I find has almost has much utility in the standard decks as the Argent Commander. This card is, of course, Sylvanas Windrunner. In a recent Teamliquid article on the best starting cards to craft, we hyped Sylvanas up as the best legendary. Let me reinforce that opinion and give you my take on it. Why is Sylvanas so good, you might ask?
- Sylvanas is the best comeback card in the entire game. If your opponent has an extremely filled up board, he'll usually have to suicide all his minions into Sylvanas.
- If you're winning and your opponent has no minion on the field, your opponent will usually have to remove Sylvanas from the field before he plays a minion. This gains you tempo!
- Sylvanas doesn't really mind Silence If Sylvanas is silenced, your opponent will have wasted a silence card and you'll still have a 5/5 creatures on the field that you only payed 5 mana for. Not bad.
- Sylvanas doesn't mind getting killed by instant kill spells like Shadow Word: Death or Assassinate as her Deathrattle will still trigger as long as there minions are on the field.
- Trading Sylvanas for Polymorph is almost an even trade for you, as Mages will often spend an additional 2 mana in order to Fireblast the resulting Sheep down. Only Hex is a major concern for Sylvanas.
- Sylvanas doesn't fear Mind Control as much as many other Legendaries. You can often play her on turn 5: three full turns away from any potential Mind Controls. By the time turn 8 rolls around, if Sylvanas is still on the field, you're probably winning.
- When comboed with cards that instantly kill her such as Power Overwhelming, Shadowflame, Void Terror, and Shadow Word: Death, she can act as a Mind Control.
Last time, I stated that about 60% of all decks should have Argent Commander. For Sylvanas, I'd say that she belongs in 50% of all decks. Along with Argent Commander and Novice Engineer, she belongs in more decks than any other cards in the game. While Argent Commander and Novice Engineer are getting their just use, the Sylvanas train is sorely lagging behind. If you have dust for just one legendary, I highly suggest you craft this extremely versatile card!