What is the "Meta"
How Does the Meta Cycle?
What are the Top Decks' Counters?
Hey everyone, Michael “Strelzik” Sterling back again for another edition of the Meta Analyst! This article originally started because one of the biggest concerns that I have seen in this community is the current “Metagame” or commonly referred to as “Meta”. As always I want to begin with what the Meta is for those of you who haven’t read the previous month’s issue.
The meta describes strategic trends within the game of Hearthstone. The meta is a collection of the most common decks that you will find in Ranked play. Since certain decks tend to have a better match ups versus other decks, you will find that the meta is not consistent throughout the ranks. The decks which are common in ranks 15-20 may be less common in ranks 10-14 and even more different from the decks in ranks 5-9 or 4 to Legend. The key to climbing the ranks is to identify the meta of your present rank. This is not, however, easy to determine. It is very common for certain decks to get stuck at specific ranks because the counter is more common at the ranks below you. This is because the meta constantly runs in a cycle. If you can find yourself ahead of the cycle you will be in a better position and have an easier time on the Ranked ladder.
Last month I showed how the meta changed significantly over the course of the month: this month is no different. In addition to the Power Rankings, I have gathered data that also shows the prevalence of classes at all Ranks of play.
|1. Warlock||1. Rogue|
|2. Hunter||2. Hunter|
|3. Warrior||3. Warrior|
|4. Druid||4. Druid|
|5. Shaman||5. Warlock|
|6. Rogue||6. Shaman|
|7. Paladin||7. Mage|
On the left you can see the spread of decks I played over the month of June. The April and May Power Ranks are on the right.
A month is a reasonable frame of reference to study meta-cycles. Understanding what part of the cycle we are in is the best way to take advantage of it and pick the deck which has the highest win rate against the most common classes. Later in this article I will discuss some of the counters to the most common decks that you will find on ladder. The way the cycle works is that Deck A > B > C > D … So on, so forth until we hit Deck A again. As Deck A becomes popular, people will play Deck B to counter it, and then Deck C to counter that. The best way to illustrate this cycle is with a few main decks that I am sure everyone recognizes!
Miracle Rogue > Shaman > Handlock > Druid > Aggro Hunter > Miracle Rogue
- Warlock: Zoo Lock, Handlock
- Druid: Ramp, Midrange, Token
- Shaman: Midrange
- Warrior: Control
- Rogue: Miracle, Rush
- Mage: Aggro, Freeze
Zoo Warlock is popular because both the minions and the deck are cheap to assemble. This why you will find the Zoo Warlock to be very common, as many new players may not have the cards to make higher end decks. The best counter to this deck is Freeze Mage. They can control the Zoo Locks’ minions with their abundance of Freezes and board control. With two Frost Nova’s, two Doomsayers, two Blizzards and occasionally two Flamestrikes, the Freeze Mage should generally have an easy time beating Zoo. It is important to search for the key Freeze cards as well as the card draw in this matchup in order to always have a response to Zoo’s onslaught of minions. If you can last to the later portion of the game you should be able to easily take this matchup.
Other Decks to ConsiderRush Hunter also does well against a Zoo Lock, with cards like Explosive Trap, Misdirection, and Unleash the Hounds to punish them for having minions on the board. It is very important that you mulligan aggressively for the traps, Unleash the Hounds, and your Eaglehorn bow as they are important.Tracking could substitute for any of these cards as it greatly increases their chance of being drawn. The key here is trying to get as much value out of your traps and Unleash the Hounds as possible, so you don’t want to play them too early. Save the Explosive Trap until earliest turn four, and then Unleash the Hounds with a Starving Buzzard, which will clean up the rest. Misdirection can be used to stall for a turn, as it can remove some of the difficulty in killing minions or damaging them. The timing of the traps and combos are the most difficult part of this matchup, but if you can master the timing, you should be able to take the matchup.
As we discussed last month, the Handlocks’ strength is in its massive number of minions, and being able to get them out early while still maintaining a huge hand advantage. Molten Giants come out when the Handlock players are lower on life -- generally a Health of fifteen or less -- Mountain Giants and Twilight Drakes can also easily turn up on turn four. This matchup has gotten a bit more difficult with Handlocks now being able to play two Faceless Manipulators. Leaving up a giant could now mean that the following turn you have to face down two giants. The deck that has the best time against this threat is Hunter. The Warlock Hero Power works against the Warlock in this case. The nature of the Hunter Hero Power makes it so that the clock is very quick for the warlock. As a Hunter, you should watch the Health of your opponent to make sure that he can’t overwhelm you with Molten Giants, and to try to save all direct damage for the hero. Traps are amazing in this matchup as 8/8 minions attacking into themselves are not only funny but very beneficial for you. In this matchup it is worth noting that they have incredible amounts of burst now, so traps can save you. Try to plan traps strategically and don’t waste them aggressively. This can end early so don’t be surprised, but keep pressure on. Watch for key Health points and try your best to remove giants, unless you have the traps to deal with them. This is one of the matchups that heals can also mess with your calculations: cards like Earthen Ring Farseer and Siphon Soul need to be taken into account.
Other Decks to ConsiderA Shaman against a Handlock can make for a very strong matchup, because they have great responses to the Twilight Drakes in Earth Shock and Hexes for the giants. It is important in this matchup to deal with a giant immediately because of the threat of a Faceless Manipulator. As I said last month, Lightning Storm is not as effective in this matchup, but Flametongue Totem can be very useful to kill a giant with a few totems. Shamans also have a lot of burst, so keeping the Warlock at around fourteen or fifteen Health isn’t a terrible idea. You want to avoid getting overwhelmed by giants in this matchup, so it is important not to allow him to do that. Make sure to keep his board clear though, because Shadowflame can and will ruin the game for you. It doesn’t gain him much value to clear your minions.
Freeze Mage’s strength lies in its ability to stall the game towards the later turns in the game, while putting up a near impenetrable defense. Freeze Mages are at their scariest once you know they should be dead but were saved by an Ice Block. They also run Ice Barrier but this is only activated by a minion or hero attack. Rush Hunter variants with Flare easily counter Freeze Mage. They can put constant damage on the Mage while not really being affected by the Freeze effects since many of their minions are Charge based. Traps in this matchup are generally useless as the Mage won’t be able to activate them. The bow, however, can be a great source of damage. Hero Power here can really be beneficial as it gives a way to deal damage without having any worry of triggering the Ice Barrier secret. The best card that they can use against you is Alexstraza as you will potentially have used a lot of your burst and then they can heal back to fifteen. Keep Flares for the final turn if possible, keep the pressure on, and you should have an easy time of this matchup.
Other Decks to ConsiderControl Warrior also has a laughably easy matchup against this deck. Without Alexstraza, the Freeze Mage will not be able to muster up enough damage to kill the Warrior. Warriors have to play careful in this matchup but by prioritizing your Hero Power, and getting a significant amount of armor, even an Alexstraza might not be enough for them to take a game. Minions are important in this matchup and can give you some early pressure on them. The general build of Warrior now has Charge minions so they can get some damage on the Mage without much trouble. Keep your Health and Armor up and use your removal effectively -- although it will probably just be on Doomsayers or Alexstraza -- and you should have a long but easy match.
Druid has a great matchup against this deck as they have early ramp cards in order to get bigger minions down to take out the Aggro Mages smaller ones. Wrath has great value generally trading at least one for one. The biggest issue the Mage will have is that the Druid can put up some bigger Taunts, heal if they need to, or completely change their focus and go extremely aggressive. As a Druid you are always looking for an Innervate or Wild Growth in your starting hand as well as a decent minion to use with that. After that, look for some early game removal like Wrath or Swipe and you shouldn’t have a rough time with this matchup. Keep the pressure on the board so that they have to use their direct damage spells to clear your minions and Taunts. It is also very important that you monitor your Health and keep yourself out of burst range. You can save cards like Ancient of Lore for a heal instead of a card draw if you need to. Many Druids have one Healing Touch right now depending on the build so that can also help keep you out of range of lethal as well.
Last month I said Control Warrior counters Miracle Rogue, well now Miracle Rogue counters Control Warrior. Newer Miracle Rogue variants have slightly more minions that allow them to heal, do damage, and get Spell Power which make it very difficult for the Warrior to deal with as they have three or four Health generally. It takes two spells at least to deal with one of these. Fiery War Axe is their best draw against these minions but otherwise the Rogue should have free reign. A stealthed Gadgetzan Auctioneer will also make for a quick game as Warriors have no way to effectively deal with it: Brawl is their only out. Against this matchup, Rogues are looking for your Gadgetzan Auctioneers as well as a Conceal for a turn five or six start to your cycling. You also want to try to get a decent amount of value out of your Auctioneers before they can remove it so getting it Concealed is very important; alternatively, wait until you can get at least four to five draws out of it before you play it. The current Miracle build runs many more minions like Azure Drakes and Earthen Ring Farseers so that they can heal if necessary and have plays in addition to Auctioneers. Keep an eye out on your Health because at ten or so mana Warrior’s can deal twelve damage easily. If you do have a board presence of a few minions, don’t play Auctioneer unless you absolutely have to because that actually could give them Brawl value. Most of the time the Warrior doesn’t have the tools to deal with all of the damage you can put out so sit back, enjoy the match as you draw through your entire deck.
Other Decks to ConsiderZoo Warlock also does well against Control Warrior. They have a lot of efficient minions and the Warrior can only deal with so many. If the Warrior can get a Fiery War Axe, then they might have a better time. They absolutely need to get a lot of their removal just to stem the crazy flow of minions that a Zoolock can produce. As a Zoolock, you don’t want to commit too much to the board to give him good value from a Brawl or a Whirlwind but don’t be afraid to put stuff down. Many Zoolocks are running Argent Commanders in addition to Doomguards so you can save these for after a board clear or use them to efficiently trade. Save buffing cards like Shattered Sun Clerics and Defender of Argus for buffing your minions out of Whirlwind range. Your Health generally won’t be an issue because the Warrior will be focusing more on your minions then you so Life Tapping is something you can do generously. All in all it isn’t a perfect matchup, but if you are seeing a lot of Control Warrior, then Zoo is a deck you can definitely consider to play.
This is probably the weakest version of druid at this point, as it generally puts a lot of focus on creating tokens with Violet Teacher and buffing them. Miracle Rogue can punish them fairly easily with a strong Blade Flurry, and since they don’t usually run a lot of Taunts, the Miracle Rogue can get Leeroy combos off without much resistance. As the Rogue player in this match-up, you need to manage their minions and watch your Health because on turn seven or nine, depending on whether they have an innervate, they can easily Force of Nature/Savage Roar combo you for a ton of damage! You should mulligan for ways to deal with minions early, as well as cycle so that you can keep control until auctioneer hits the board. Cards like Backstab, SI:Seven Agent, and Fan of Knives really help in this matchup. You can tell early on that this is the Token matchup if they drop cards like Argent Squire or Power of the Wild. The key to this matchup for anyone is to minimize their board and keep them under control. Many Miracle Rogue cards can two for one, so it gives them decent value while still keeping up the pressure.
Handlock still does fantastic against Ramp Druid. Most of the time the Handlock will get its big minions out sooner than the Druid can get theirs out. Faceless Manipulator is a big card in this matchup as well, as there are so many great cards to copy. Since the general Handlock build runs two, the Ramp Druid is more than likely not going to have the removal necessary to deal with eight or more huge minions, generally starting from turn four. In this matchup, you definitely want to start with Twilight Drakes to bait out removal spells. Don’t be surprised if your first Giant gets killed by Big Game Hunter. As always, you should be searching early for your Giants and Twilight Drakes. Don’t worry as much about the Force of Nature/Savage Roar combo, as Ramp Druids typically do not have the space for it. Build a board and watch for Black Knight. Try to Taunt up Ancient Watchers instead of your Giants, and only Taunt if absolutely necessary. If you get a decent flow of bigger minions early, you will have an advantage over the Ramp Druid.
Midrange Druid is probably one of the most consistent and powerful decks out there. It is one of the most popular decks on the ladder next to Miracle Rogue. It runs all of the Ramp cards that a Ramp Druid does, with the exception of Nourish. The deck uses these Ramp cards to get to the Force of Nature/Savage Roar combo quicker. Handlock can be a great counter to Midrange Druid. Many of their early turns will be used for Ramp cards like Wild Growth, so it gives you time to Life Tap into your Giants and Drakes. Trying to get some of your cheaper minions out is beneficial in this matchup, but you are going to want to throw up some big Taunts to protect your life total from huge combos. This matchup relies on getting a few Giants or Drakes, but if you do, the match will definitely be favored towards the Warlock. A good Shadowflame can go a long way in this matchup, and being able to Faceless one of your Giants can snowball a game quickly. If you get to play your curve the way its meant to be, you will have a decent time.
I wanted to include a few decks to counter Miracle Rogue, as it is the most common deck that people are concerned about. The most obvious counter to Miracle Rogue is Hunter Rush. With so many Charge minions, Kill Command and Eaglehorn Bow, the Rogue will have a lot of trouble staying alive past turn seven or eight. Deadly Shot can easily kill a concealed Auctioneer, and Traps can deal with some of the other minions as well. It is worth noting that Unleash the Hounds is very poor in this matchup and should not be kept against the Miracle Rogue because the Rogue will generally play few minions over the course of the game, so Unleash the Hounds will not get much value. If you keep a lot of pressure on your opponent, you can easily take this matchup. Watch out for use of Farseers and Shadowstepping the Farseer for extra heals so they can stay outside of lethal range. A lot of the time, I like to kill off any farseers to minimize this effect.
Other Decks to ConsiderHandlock also has a strong matchup against Miracle Rogue, as they have a lot of board clear and massive 8/8 minions that the Rogue has to deal with. These also tend to come before the Rogue can cycle, so it gives the Handlock additional time to put control on the Miracle Rogue. Siphon Soul and Earthen Ring Farseer can give you much needed Health while also eliminating a threat.
Rush Rogue relies on the absurd speed of its cards to kill you, often as soon as turn five. You need a deck that can efficiently deal with those minions while slowly building up a board presence. Midrange Druid does a great job of killing their minions with cards like Wrath, Swipe and Keeper of the Grove. They can also put Taunts up in the form of Druid of the Claw, and they have the option to heal with Ancient of Lore. Being an all around solid deck, they can stay alive rather easily without much fear, as long as the Rush Rogue cannot get through them before midgame begins. Aggressively searching for Innervates will make this matchup go in your favor much more. Keep a watch out later for Shadowstep combos that can do just as much damage as a Miracle Rogue. In this matchup it is almost always better to play it safe and setup for a big Force of Nature/Savage Roar combo.
Other Decks to ConsiderZoolock can generally wrestle the tempo away from a Rush Rogue by efficiently trading for their minions and putting the pressure on. The Rush Rogue absolutely needs a Blade Flurry against you in order to survive. The Blade Flurry can really change the state of the game, but if they don’t draw it, then they really won’t have much of a chance. As the Zoolock, it is important to watch out for these Blade Flurry combos, so do not overextend yourself on the board and try to run cards that are very tough to kill, like Scarlet Crusader and Harvest Golem. These minions take much more than one card to efficiently deal with and can even be buffed out of range as well. As long as you avoid this, you should have a good matchup. Using soulfire to clear a minion will also swing a game heavily in your favor, so try to save them for that purpose.
Midrange Shaman’s strength lies in its ability to play efficient minions and spells at the cost of their next turn being weaker with Overload. Their Hero Power has tons of beneficial effects but can be weak since they cannot control it. Shamans weakest matchup by far is the Rush Hunter. You can take advantage of their weaker minions with Explosive Trap and clear their minions with Starving Buzzard and Unleash the Hounds combos. It is very important in this matchup to save your Explosives until later in the matchup to stem the flow of damage that can get really out of hand very quickly. Defender of Argus is probably one of the worst cards you can see from them in this matchup as it will make it very difficult to clear totems and other minions. Do not be afraid to kill a Feral Spirits with your Eaglehorn Bow if they play them early. Either way, this matchup gets to be very easy once you get value out of your Unleash the Hounds combos. Focus on getting early cards like Leper Gnome and Tracking as well as the key cards for the matchup: Starving Buzzard, Unleash the Hounds, Explosive Trap, and Eaglehorn Bow.