What is the "Meta"
How Does the Meta Cycle?
What are the Top Decks' Counters?
Hi everyone, my name is Michael “Strelzik” Sterling and have been bouncing around the top 16 of the ladder last season. (Editor's Note: Strelzik finished at Legend Rank 20.) One of the biggest concerns that I have seen in this community centers around the metagame or meta. Not everyone may understand what meta actually means so I feel that a more detailed explanation is a good place to start.
|1. Warlock||1. Warlock|
|2. Shaman||2. Hunter|
|3. Druid||3. Warrior|
|4. Warrior||4. Druid|
|5. Rogue||5. Shaman|
|6. Hunter||6. Rogue|
|7. Paladin||7. Paladin|
|8. Priest||8. Priest|
|9. Mage||9. Mage|
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 > Midrange Hunter > Handlock > Druid > Control Warrior > Miracle Rogue
This is a small example of how the meta can cycle. I will go into more details regarding the counter’s to popular decks seen on ladder. (Note that this is an example and mostly correct, depending on the cards each deck is using. For example, some variations of Control Warrior < Miracle Rogue.)
While Warlock remained the top ranked class among pros last month, there were big movements in the middle ranks. Warlock Handlock was extremely common in March, only second to Zoo Lock. The weakness of Warlock were also its greatest strength. The Hero Power gives amazing card advantage, but puts them in a very awkward spot against decks that can bypass Taunts with direct damage or removal. The rise of Hunter in April was made to counter the abundance of Control Warrior decks and Watcher Druid decks. The most common decks were Lifecoach Hunter and Kolento Hunter: two decks playing large beasts that were difficult for control decks to handle efficiently. When this happened, Handlock saw a significantly lower rate of play due to the nature of Hunter’s Hero Power and their ability to handle Taunts quite easily.
- Warlock: Zoo Lock, Handlock
- Druid: Ramp, Watcher
- Hunter: Midrange, Face Hunter
- Warrior: Control
- Rogue: Miracle, Tempo, Malygos Miracle
Zoo Warlock is has a strong match up versus almost any deck. There are, however, decks that have been built in order to counter it.
While it has many strong match ups, this deck is not invincible. Control Warrior has strong early game removal -- Shield Slam, Whirlwind, Execute, Fiery War Axe, Shield Block -- and tons of other strong early cards that give them the opportunity to transition into stronger cards such as Baron Geddon and Ragnaros. As long as the Warrior focuses on board control early, they can definitely take the game away. Many of their minions also have four Health which can easily trade for many of the smaller Zoo minions.
Other Decks to ConsiderMidrange or Rush Hunter also have decent match ups against Zoo. Unleash the Hounds and Explosive Trap can reset the field and kill minions while gaining card advantage. Arcane Shot increases the success of this match up as well: it takes care of early game Flame Imps and Knife Jugglers. Removing Divine Shields to avoid a big Blood Knight is another thing to look out for.
Some variations of Druid, such as Watcher or Token Druid, can also handle early pressure back up the midgame with strong removal: Swipe, Wrath, and Keeper of the Grove. Ramping with Innervate you can also get value out of a higher drop killing multiple one mana minions.
Handlock’s strength lies in its ability to draw cards with its Hero Power. The deck's name comes from being able to fill its hand in no time with the plan of maximizing Twilight Drakes and Mountain Giants. Then when they have low Health, Handlock players can play Molten Giants very cheaply or for free. This enables huge Taunts and are extremely difficult to remove.
What beats it? Hunter. This is probably the worst match up I can think of. Hunter vs Handlock is extremely favored for the Hunter because of how the Hunter’s Hero Power matches up with the Handlock's Hero Power: they are taking four damage on most turns. Hunters have the tools -- Ironbeak Owl, Hunter’s Mark, Deadly Shot, and Kill Command -- to bypass these huge Taunts. Handlocks have a horrible time against most variations of Hunters. If you are encountering a lot of these, Hunter is definitely the go to choice.
Other Decks to ConsiderControl Warrior is another option to fight the onslaught of giants. Since Handlock only starts dropping its bigger minions on turn four or five, Warrior's Hero Power builds enough armor such that a turn four Shield Slam can answer a giant. They also have multiple hard removal spells -- Brawl or Execute -- and big enough Legendaries to take on Handlock's major minions. Be sure to monitor their Health total since they can start dropping Molten Giants below 20 Health. Hellfire, Life Tapping, and even Soulfiring themselves could mean drop double Molten Giants and a Taunt on them. As long as you keep this in mind, you should be able to bait their powerful cards like Siphon Soul out with weaker minions like Frothing Berserker.
Shaman also has a very strong match up versus the Handlocks. Hex and Earth Shock can bypass Taunts if necessary and Earth Shock hitting Twilight Drake is an instant kill. Although cards like Lightning Storm are not as effective, you many resources at your disposal in order to clear the 8/8s. Make sure to save the Hex’s for the Mountain Giants and to keep them above Molten Giant range until you can handle them or finish the Warlock. Windfury and Al’Akir combined with Rockbiter Weapon can help give you the burst potential that you need for a sudden finish.
Note: The recent nerf to Unleash the Hounds does slightly change the Hunter class. Although it does negatively effect the class and how it performs, the class still has very strong cards in the form of traps, Eaglehorn Bow, Animal Companion, Hunter's Mark and Starving Buzzard. As such, I think players will start to focus more on traps to maintain a tempo edge while still maintaining card advantage with the Buzzard-Unleash Combo.
Face Hunter strength lies in the immense damage out put while punishing opponents for overextending. There are, however, quite a few counters to this deck. Control Warrior is the best suited for this task. Their Hero Power negates the Hunter Hero Power which forces them to rely on their minions and weapon to win. Armorsmith, Whirlwind, Slam, Execute, Shield Slam, and Fiery War Axe all prevent Rush Hunter from building a board. If you can avoid activating their traps, and giving their weapon charges, while utilizing Armorsmith effectively, you should make easy work of this deck. Shield Block can also give massive Health boosts and keep you out of reach. Just remember, you don’t have to trigger the traps: play around them wherever possible.
Other Decks to Consider
Midrange Hunter also counters Face Hunter. With two Flares, traps generally very bad draws. With a card neutral play, you can destroy a trap and make them overextend into your own UTH. Midrange Hunter has the stronger beasts which are hard to remove and become unbeatable after a Houndmaster. These strengths combined with the same combo damage and direct damage makes this is a very difficult match up for all but the quickest kills. The key here is pay attention to your Health, and their Health, to plan ahead by checking when you could kill them a few turns in advance: they will mainly ignore your minions unless they feel like they will die.
There is one deck that has an extremely favorable match up here. Miracle Rogue has the removal and control elements required to maintain a safe board state while demolishing the Health total of a Midrange Hunter. Hunter’s strength lies in its high value beast synergy and their ability to create beefy taunts while keeping up the pressure. Miracle Rogue plays few minions, maintains the board with spells that cycle their deck, and can kill you quickly with Malygos and spell combos or Leeroy Jenkins/Shadowstep combos. The key for the Miracle Rogue player is to keep beasts off the board and save Saps for Taunts or Savannah Highmanes. If you can keep them down then you will be able to have a great match against Midrange Hunter.
Other Decks to Consider
There is a variation of Control Warrior that is running around made by Kitkatz that also has a strong match up: find the Decklist in the Warrior section. It runs Cleave in addition to its normal removal suite. This is the perfect counter to a Highmane after you've have killed it. Copying a Highmane with a Faceless will also allow you to put a massive threat on the board that a Hunter might not be able to deal with. It’s very important to keep the Hunter’s minions under control and make sure to counteract their Hero Power with yours. If you can handle the Highmanes effectively -- and keep them down -- then you should have a decent time. Cards like Fiery War Axe are still extremely important in the match up.
There are many variations of the Control Warrior archetype. This list, however, is probably the most popular one at this time. Control Warrior generally has a poor match up against the quicker decks like Zoo and some Midrange decks as well. Shaman has a very strong match up versus Control Warrior as it can build up a field of smaller minions and close the game out with quick burst in the form of Al'Akir and Rockbiter or Rockbiter/Windfury combos. Warriors get minimal value out of Executes and Shield Slams as many of the Shaman's minions are not individually threatening but ramp up as the game progresses. Many variations even go as far as running Leeroy Jenkins in order to Windfury him with a Rockbiter Weapon for the finishing burst. Shaman has a strong Silences in the form of Earth Shock to deal with Warrior's legendaries. Hex is another great answer and possibly the best single target removal in the game. The three damage from Fire Elemental is also key in killing many smaller minions as a lot of the time they will be vulnerable after a Whirlwind. Flametongue Totem can also be used to efficiently trade minions up or use a totem for that extra bit of damage. The Shaman's key to victory is not to overextend onto the field and walk into a Brawl or Barron Geddon. With Spell Power minions, or the totem, Lightning Bolt you can easily remove Frothing Berserker and Armorsmith without too much trouble. Keep an eye out for the common Health breaking points with an enraged Grommash.
Other Decks to Consider
There are a few decks which have a decent match up against Control Warrior. Priest is the best example. With Cabal Shadow Priests, Shadow Madness, and Auchenai Soulpriest/Circle of Healing, Priest can outlast the Warrior and steal all of their juicy cards. Try to use cards like Holy Fire efficiently and make sure that you don’t let the Warrior build up too much of a board.
Handlock also has a strong match up against Control Warrior. While the Warrior can efficiently remove the minions from Handlock, it is a realistic strategy to overwhelm Warrior's removal with two Twilight Drakes and five giants. The goal of the Handlock is to make sure that they have Taunts up as often as possible while also managing the Warrior’s Armor: the most they can build up in one turn is seven with Shield Block and Hero Power. Controlling Armor is crucial to keep giants safe from Shield Slam. Silencing an Ancient Watcher can make this match up very easy for the Warlock as it gives another large minion for the Warrior to deal with.
There are many variations of the Control Warrior archetype. This list, however, is probably the most popular one at this time. Control Warrior generally has a poor match up against the quicker decks like Zoo. Earlier I said it is something to consider against Zoo and it is, but it relies on wrestling back control from the Warlock. The Hunter match up is probably the worst for them. Hunter does have very efficient minions that are very difficult for them to handle. If Warrior doesn’t hit their key cards -- Baron Geddon, Shield Slams, or Executes -- for the Highmanes, they probably won’t be able to handle the onslaught. As the Hunter keep in mind that you need to keep your Health out of Grommash range and remember that Black Knight has become a highly played card, so be careful who you Houndmaster.
Note: Midrange Hunter and Control Warrior are listed as counters to each other. This is because it comes down to the Warrior's build and how they play their removal. This is the type of punishing match up which can be draw dependent but neither have a bad match up here.
Hunters punishes Token Druid for doing what it does best. Unleash the Hounds and Starving Buzzard can draw a significant amount of cards and clear their weaker tokens. Hunter’s Mark should be exclusively used for Violet Teachers or Taunts. Although this match up hinges on drawing Unleash the Hounds, it is reliable given the abundance of draw in any Hunter deck. Make sure to keep their field clear at all times: Savage Roar can be a game ending play. Token Druids run two Savage Roars so make sure both are gone before you can feel safer. If you can live until the later stages of the game, you should have an easy time with this deck.
Other Decks to Consider
Control Warrior also has a strong match up against this deck. Whirlwind can clear the small guys out and can follow it up with an Execute on Violet Teachers. Brawl also leaves them with one minion which could very well be a 1/1. If you can live to the late stages, and pick up a Gorehowl, they will more than likely not be able to deal with the value that Gorehowl will give you. Monitor your life and make sure you don’t get to the 14 Health sweet spot for the Savage Roar/Force of Nature combo.
Handlock again makes an appearance in this section with its strong match up against Ramp Druid. With Black Knight, big minions on turn four, and strong removal, the Druid will have a rough time of getting through the massive Taunts that a Handlock can bring. Many Ramp Druids do not run the Force of Nature/Savage Roar combo which means you can generally be safe at lower Health totals assuming a strong wall of Taunts. Handlocks should save Silences and Siphon Souls for removing the big Taunts and or as a finisher with a giant or two. Ramp Druid does not have the removal for large minions and will have a hard time against it.
Other Decks to Consider
Midrange Hunter has a lot of great removal for the big legendaries and Taunts that the Ramp Druid will throw out. Breaking through Taunts is not that difficult for a Hunter given two Hunter’s Marks, an owl, a Deadly Shot, and two Kill Commands. The downside of this match up is that Unleash the Hounds goes down in value: try to make the best of it that you can. Baiting out Keeper of the Groves on smaller minions to protect Savannah Highmane’s can really put the Hunter ahead. Make sure to watch your Health as they can come out with a ton of unexpected burst and make sure that their field is under control at all times.
Malygos Rogue. The major difference between Malygos and Miracle is the finisher. In Miracle Rogue we see Leeroy-Shadowstep combos and in Malygos Miracle we see powerful spell damage cards with stronger board presence.
Miracle Rogue is an interesting deck to play but one of the most frustrating to face. Miracle Rogues main weakness is that it has a set amount of damage it can deal; therefore, Control Warrior tends to give them a really difficult time. The match should be quite easy if you can effectively manage their few minions and keep your Armor up. Assassins Blade is absolutely necessary for the Rogue to keep you down as they will likely not have enough damage to kill you without it. If you can remove the weapon with a Harrison Jones, or keep threats out which they must deal with, then generally it will be impossible for the Miracle Rogue to come back.Watch out for Conceal as it can give them an opportunity to keep huge amounts of damage on the board.
Other Decks to Consider
Rush Hunter has a very strong match up against Miracle Rogue as well. The pressure they put on tends to be unavoidable with many charge minions and direct damage with Kill Command, Eaglehorn bow, their Hero Power and Arcane Shot. Traps can also stop Leeroy-Shadowstep combos by putting an explosive or misdirect up they must use a Hero Power in order to clear the trap out of the way. All in all there are a lot of disadvantages that a Miracle Rogue will have against you if you play Rush Hunter.
Definitely the new flavor this month, Malygos Miracle Rogue runs the same shell as Miracle Rogue except its finisher is Malygos instead of Leeroy Jenkins. This build also runs Earthen Ring Farseers to give some healing potential but their weakness remains a lack of Taunts. Given that they still have a set amount of damage, Control Warrior has a strong match up here, but it is very important to control their board and not let them get a too much value out of Malygos. If they do play a Malygos, it is important save an Execute for the end game. Cleave or Slam with a Spell Power can help you efficiently clear any Farseer or SI:7 Agent without a problem. Just keep your Health and Armor up and you should have no problem.
Other Decks to Consider
Rush Hunter does an amazing job here as well. Treat it as a Miracle match and you should be in a great position. Instead of worrying about the Leeroy combo, however, make sure to keep their minions down while maintaining pressure: traps are very powerful in this match up so you get a lot of value out of Eaglehorn Bow. As long as you keep the match short -- and don’t let Malygos out of its cage -- then the game should be easy.
Handlock is a very strong deck at wrestling tempo back from someone with massive minions. With Taunts and strong board clears, Handlock proves to be a really strong counter to Tempo Rogue. Siphon Soul can be used to remove any powerful minions and Soulfire for the weaker ones. Many of the cards in this deck happen to be very efficient counters to any of the minions that a Rogue will play. By monitoring your Health, maintaining Taunts, and avoiding Leeroy/Cold Blood combos you should be able to take this match pretty easily.
Other Decks to Consider
Tempo Rogue’s goal is stated in its title. Their weakness is their lack of draw so forcing lots of 1-for-1s will put you in a decent position. Midrange Hunter has strong minions that can live through damage based removal: it is often a 2-for-1 to kill a Beast. Hunters can also play the tempo game with Unleash the Hounds combos so your only weakness is a well-placed Sap. It can get out of control very quickly so it is important to manage their board as efficiently as possible.
on Twitch where I will answer any further questions that you might have!
Keep in mind that the meta is constantly shifting: one person makes a popular deck you will probably see a ton of it on ladder. Have faith, try new things, and you will be able to overcome the abundance of whatever the Flavor of the Month deck is at the time.