Three weeks ago, Hayl contacted me to write an article about the grind to Legend. I figured writing about the process would be interesting and informative, so I gladly accepted. The idea behind this assignment was to track my progress and shed some light on what it actually takes to break through to Legend. As it turns out, it takes a lot of games played and some careful decklist adjustments. Little did I know that this was going to be the most difficult, most competitive, and, for me, most frustrating season on ladder yet.
First, some stats:
- Games played: 388
- Games to Rank Five: 179
- Games Five to Legend: 209
As you can see, getting to Rank five is not quite half way to Legend in terms of games played.
I will be spending the majority of this article on the process of refining decks from Rank 5 to Legend. Up until Rank five, players benefit from gaining bonus stars via win streaks. When this bonus is removed, however, many solid players hit a wall and struggle to get the momentum needed for the final 26 stars. Hopefully we can all learn from my mistakes and my successes.
I started the season playing fun decks. I played Freeze Mage, Demonlock, and Shadowform Priest to varying degrees of success. As I hit rank five though, I had to use a more focused approach. I want to list a few examples of tweaks I had made throughout the season.
PriestNoticing that nearly 40% of my opponents were either Hunter or Mage, I initially considered playing Control Warrior to counter them. Control Warrior, however, isn't the most optimal counter to Mech Mage: your weapons can get locked out and Piloted Shredder trades one-for-one with them. I also had a hard time against Combo Druid. I eventually settled on Anti-Aggro Priest to some success since it has a favorable matchup against both Hunter archetypes, stops the aggro of Mech Mage, and can go 50/50 against Druid. Since Priest already naturally counters aggression, I decided I would try and fine-tune against Druid.
I started with a left-over Priest deck from several seasons ago. Since my focus was to improve the Druid matchup, I began by removing Harrison Jones, one Cabal Shadow Priest, and Holy Smite. These cards have limited utility in the Druid matchup. Harrison has no weapons to break, Cabal can really only steal Keeper of the Grove, and Druid minions just laugh off Holy Smite. That being said, running two copies of Shadow Word: Death felt unnecessary since there were very few targets in the Aggro matchups. I felt this was an acceptable slot to change, since Druid runs relatively few optimal Shadow Word: Death targets: Piloted Shredder, Azure Drake, Druid of the Claw, and Spectral Knight are all four attack; Ancient of Lore already drew cards; Cenarius leaves Taunts or buffs.
These changes freed up room for a second Sludge Belcher, Ysera, a second Light of the Naaru, and a Bloodmage Thalnos. I briefly tried Nat Pagle in the Thalnos slot but was a poorly planned and a short lived experiment. The idea was that Druid lacked a reliable way to deal with Ysera and that she would swing the matchup in our favor while helping out with the other slow matchups since we had removed Harrison. I played this version for about a week before finally settling on the final form of the deck.
Harrison was back, along with the second Cabal, and a Shadow Madness. Ysera, Bloodmage Thalnos, and a Light of the Naaru were out. Ysera was not having the effect I had hoped for and I decided to focus on winning the Aggro matchups instead which remained 40% of my opponents.
A strong Priest streamer I recommend would be Zetalot.
Showing every tweak I made to my Oil Rogue this season would be rather impractical. The deck demands constant tweaking and that's not really the focus of this article.
I want you to consider this list of 23 cards. It is, in my opinion, the absolute bare bones of the Oil Rogue archetype. These 23 cards were in every version of the Rogue list that I tried. Here are the cards I auditioned for the remaining seven slots and my reasoning for trying them.
Southsea Deckhand – Activates Combo especially Tinker's Sharpsword Oil. HE can be played on turn one against Hunter and triggers Freezing Trap.
Sap – I favored two copies of Sap almost the whole season except when I tried BGH in place of one of them.
Shiv – I am a big proponent of two copies of Shiv as a cantrip to get through your deck. It is, however, a low impact card and loses a lot of its value without Gadgetzan Auctioneer. I eventually settled on one Shiv.
Goblin Auto-Barber – Briefly tried this but was constantly annoyed at being unable to play it on curve without coin. I know some big streamers have made it work but I've never liked it.
Edwin Van Cleef – A large Edwin in the early game can be back breaking against Hunter or Mech Mage and will let you out race them. He also gives you an all-in play against the tricky Warrior matchup.
Big Game Hunter – Almost strictly in response to the prevalence of Dr. Boom. Occasionally hits something else.
Earthen Ring Farseer – I tried versions with one Farseer and one Antique Healbot before deciding that I liked two copies of Earthen Ring Farseer the most.
Antique Healbot – Briefly tried one copy of this for more stability against Face Hunter but I felt the trade-off versus the other matchups was not worth it. Healbot also consistently felt too expensive.
Loatheb – A key card in the mirror matchup who also greatly increases your chance of sticking something in order to activate Tinker's Sharpsword Oil into Blade Flurry the following turn. Of all cards not in my current Rogue Deck, this is the one I miss the most.
Sludge Belcher – Added to help shut down Face Hunter but was constantly hit by Ironbeak Owl. Eventually this became Antique Healbot -- Belcher “heals” at least seven, Healbot heals eight -- before getting removed completely.
Gadgetzan Auctioneer – I tried fitting one Gadgetzan Auctioneer in place of one Sprint but this never felt as consistent as two copies of Sprint. I also was caught in the unenviable position of having to hold cheap spells in the hope of top-decking a one-of Auctioneer. I think this is no longer viable.
Harrison Jones – Tried this to up the very poor Warrior matchup as well as the mirror but it didn't make a big enough impact against Garrosh and I cut it.
Dr. Boom – In my opinion, the stand alone best card in the game right now. I gave it a try but I felt like it didn't fit the overall game plan of setting up for a massive Blade Flurry and it ended up not making the cut in my final version. Still a very strong play on curve.
In the end, my final Rogue deck looked like this. I'm hesitant to call it a “final” copy since it's still constantly being tweaked.
If you are interested in watching high level Rogue play on stream, I would recommend Ryzentv.
I have always been most comfortable playing Combo Druid. I suppose it's only fitting that this was the deck I was playing in my final push. I started off using the list I wrote had previously written a guide for, however, that list was at its strongest before the rise of Mech Mage and was badly outdated. It was time for an over haul.
The biggest problem with the Mech Mage matchup is that Druid has an extremely hard time circumventing Mirror Entity. Remembering that the two most common classes were Mage and Hunter, I initially tried to work in a Kezan Mystic in the place of one copy of Force of Nature. The idea is that Kezan Mystic would also help shore up Druid's other weak matchup in Hunter. Since removing a copy of Force of Nature would make me less likely to draw into combo, holding the board became a bigger concern and I changed Alexstrasza to Cenarius. The Black Knight became Sylvanas Windrunner, since she had an effect across a wider variety of opponents. I also played with Harrison Jones in place of Loatheb, for more card draw and to shore up the Paladin and Rogue matchups. That said, I found myself missing the Loatheb effect of locking down the board and eventually went back.
With the deck looking like this, I thought I would climb effortlessly; instead, I went on the biggest and most frustrating losing streak I have ever been on. Clearly something wasn't working. In retrospect, I was trying too hard to control the board when I should have been exploiting the burst potential of Midrange Druid. By cutting a copy of Force of Nature, I had weakened my win condition considerably. In effect, I was playing to not lose instead of playing to win. I decided to re-dedicate my druid list to skew on the more aggressive side of Midrange. I topped my curve at seven mana with Dr. Boom and double combo came back. Instead of using Kezan to patch a hole against Mech Mage and Hunter, I decided to run a single Zombie Chow. Furthermore, the defensive Sen'jin Shieldmasta become the aggressive Piloted Shredder. With this list, I had the magical 70% winrate on my final day which was enough to push me over the top and I finally got the 26th star and entered Legend in the respectable 400 range.
I've included some decklists in this guide, but I deliberately avoided being too specific with any one class. Net-decks are already widely available and I want this article to be broader in its focus. Here are some general tips you can use to improve your play regardless of what decks you are playing this season.
The above is from my Skype chat with Hayl.
Use a Stat Traker
This is probably the easiest thing you can do to improve your win rate if you are serious about climbing the ladder. The human brain is notoriously bad at tracking probabilities -- Neglect of Probability -- and we all tend to over-estimate how many Hunters or Mech mages we face on the ladder. Using a tracker lets us easily identify which classes we are facing most frequently and work out which of our decks are most effective against those classes.
I personally use HearthTracker -- available here -- but I've also heard good things about HearthstoneTracker which is available here.
Focus on the Game
Since Hearthstone is a turn based game, there is often the temptation to multi-task and have a separate window to check Facebook or browse Reddit. Not only will this cause your attention to be divided, you also risk missing out on crucial information you can gather on your opponent's turn. Is a Priest pointing a card with zero mana left? He's running Silence. Did Valeera just point a card at herself? She's holding Earthen Ring Farseer. Did a Hunter point a card at your face before putting it back and playing Wolfrider? Brace yourself for a Kill Command. Even something subtle like a Druid player taking a long time with the Coin on turn one then passing means that he's probably holding Innervate and Wild Growth and was working out the optimal line of play to maximize his mana efficiency. This is all free information you can use to squeeze out an edge. Even a tiny edge is a big deal. Going from a 52% winrate to a 53% winrate means cutting off over 100 games needed to get to Legend: 447 needed versus 342 games needed.
Never Concede Never Play Tilted
We've all lost games where we played perfectly and our opponent needed exactly those four cards to get lethal. Remember that getting to Legend means playing a lot of games. Playing a lot of games means losing a lot of games. I lost 181 games this season. During a particularly frustrating stretch, I seemed to queue into bad matchups over and over again. It felt like I would try Priest and queue into Rogue over and over so I would switch to Warrior and play nothing but Druids. When I started losing I was frustrated and would concede earlier and earlier against my bad matchups. Over the course of two days, I dropped from Rank three to Rank eight, before spending another day digging myself out of the hole I had dug just to get back to where I had started. That's a total of three days I added to my Legend grind that could have easily been avoided if I had just taken a break and walked away from Hearthstone.
Here are my stats from that stretch... Clearly not great.
I want to finish this article with some ideas on how you can tweak your own decks to face the meta. Even with the prevalence of net-decks, knowing how to tweak can give you those final few wins needed to push you over the edge.
Choose a class below to get some tips on how to tweak your deck against them.
vs. Warrior: The most interesting tweak I saw to beat Warrior was not a high profile tech card; rather, the ubiquitous Piloted Shredder was the go to fix. The humble Piloted Shredder may be responsible for the precipitous drop off in Warrior play as it trades evenly on cards with the Warrior weapons. As always, you can add Big Game Hunter as extra removal for their bombs.
vs. Hunter: Generally viewed as the most frustrating class to play against, the uniformity of Hunter is its own downfall. Adding Antique Healbot will get you the extra turn or two you need to get the win. I prefer Antique Healbot against Hunter because of Ironbeak Owl but Sludge Belcher is more useful against the rest of the field. You could also consider Sen'jin Shieldmasta for a midgame Taunt or Harrison Jones/Acidic Swamp Ooze to break their weapons. Adding Zombie Chow will go a long way towards stabilizing your opening turns. A more unorthodox tech is Doomsayer forcing the Hunter to spend seven damage or spend a turn not playing creatures.
vs. Druid: Druid is currently very well rounded with few glaring weaknesses. Ramp Druid -- both with and without Force of Nature-Savage Roar -- is the dominant archetype, Druid generally has a weakness to early aggression like Mech Mage or Face Hunter. A key tech card to try in any deck would be The Black Knight. Catching Druid of the Claw or a larger Taunt with TBK is often enough momentum to swing the game in your favor.
vs. Mage: Most tweaks versus Mech Mage focus on exploiting Mirror Entity. Depending on which deck you are playing, you could tech Kezan Mystic, Explosive Sheep, or even Doomsayer. Skewing towards early removal to handle mech minions will deny the Tinkertown Technician and Goblin Blastmage. This goes a long way towards helping your win-rate.
vs. Rogue: The main weakness I like to exploit when playing against Rogue is their lack of hard removal. For this reason, Dr. Boom and Ragnaros are both very strong since they guarantee value even if hit by a Sap. Rogue's reliance on weapons means Harrison Jones or Acidic Swamp Ooze is guaranteed to get value. Don't be afraid to play Harrison Jones onto a two charge unbuffed dagger. Their reliance on spells means that Loatheb will ruin their day as well.
vs. Warlock: Warlock has always really been two classes that require two different responses. Recently, Zoo and Handlock seem to have been drifting towards a central point in a more midrange Demonlock. Adding Silence effects can help you get around Voidcaller and Twilight Drake while adding BGH can help you get around Giants or Mal'ganis.
Against Zoo, Silence is again useful to defuse Nerubian Egg or a buffed Haunted Creeper. Sludge Belcher will trade two- or even three-for-one against most Zoo minions. Having board clears and early removal will keep the Zoo from being able to snowball the game out of control.
vs. Paladin: The two most important situations to play around when facing Paladin are Tirion Fordring and the Muster for Battle-Quartermaster combo. The Black Knight beats Tirion and Harrison Jones beats Ashbringer. For class card considerations, Polymorph or Hex sidestep the Ashbringer situation entirely. Against the Quartermuster combo, holding a three damage sweeper in reserve is the best counter. If your class lacks an effective clear, you can try Mind Control Tech. Along with that, you should also play the role of beatdown and try to win before Paladin can play Quartermaster-Muster for battle together.
vs. Shaman: Another endangered species, I would advise against teching against Shaman specifically. For the sake of completion, however, Shaman counters generally focus on having enough clears to deny them from getting value out of Flametongue Totem. Adding Explosive Sheep (for Mage), Baron Geddon, or even Mind Control Tech will go a long way to clearing their Totems.
vs. Priest: While generally viewed as one of the weaker classes for the meta -- and therefore not well represented on Ladder -- Priest can nonetheless be very frustrating to play against. Adding a Silence can help offset the effects of Vol'jin can help this matchup if needed. Other counters are a little more esoteric. As a Control Warrior, you could increase the number of your late-game threats to have more threats than they have answers. Combo Druid can also perform quite well, depending on how the early game goes. As general advice, if your deck has a weakness to Priest, I would advise actually ignoring it and just accept the losses you will have. No deck can have a favorable matchup against all others and Priest is so under-represented on the ladder that your weakness may as well be Priest.
This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of what cards beat what classes. That said, there should be enough information here to at least get you started and hopefully give you the confidence to make changes to your own decks. The optimal list will depend on your own individual playstyle and can only be found with play-testing. So get out there and start tweaking!