Art by Jaemin Kim, courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment

The New 9th Class – The Future and Flavour of Warlock

Who knew that the class with the best hero power in the game would have the worst performance? After several weeks of the Journey to Un’Goro expansion, it’s becoming clear that one class is struggling more than any other. In the infamous words of Mike Donais, “When you list the nine classes in order, there will always be a class that is ninth.” In the post-Karazhan meta, that was Priest; now it is Warlock.

Since the rotation of Reno Jackson from Renolock, Controlling Warlock archetypes have suffered from a lack of survivability tools. The class lacks the lifegain and taunts of other control-oriented classes, and little to counter the life loss from tapping. Meanwhile, Zoo has struggled to gain early game tempo, and suffers from a proliferation of board clears and synergistic minion packages that can out-value or out-tempo them. Without any strong early or late-game archetypes, Warlock is sorely lacking many reasons to play it.

Tempo Troubles

Zoo has been a staple throughout the entirety of Hearthstone’s history. Playing efficient minions on curve early on, and continually refilling with Lifetap is a solid strategy. However, it’s one that has quickly become eclipsed. Synergistic minion packages have proved superior, and without early-game board control, Zoo struggles heavily. Warrior’s Pirates, Paladin’s Murlocs, Druid’s tokens, and Hunter’s Beasts can quickly out-tempo Warlock’s reliable, but less synergistic cards.

Disappointing Discards

Warlock’s new cards are heavily discard-focused; but the deck is too unreliable to be competitive

Across the past few expansions, most of Warlock’s synergies have been focused around the mechanic of Discarding cards. While this was initially competitive, the synergies have not held up over time. The Discard mechanic was promising, but ended up being too inconsistent and limiting to be truly defining for the class. It shut off all control strategies by discarding card advantage and tools, as well as being heavily RNG dependent both in effects and in drawing the perfect balance of discards and synergies. By going all-in on Discard synergies for Warlock’s early game, Team 5 unfortunately ended up pigeon-holing the class in a manner similar to Paladin in Mean Streets of Gadgetzan; over-reliant on a fundamentally weak mechanic.

There are two potential solutions to this; either Team 5 can double down on the discard mechanic and continue to support it with ever-more-powerful cards; or, create a new mechanic that minion-based early game Warlock decks can be built around.

Struggling to Survive

Outside of the Zoo archetype, Controlling versions of Warlock such as Handlock have struggled to find a niche. Whilst the new Humongous Razorleaf offered some hope, a fundamental fragility without the mass-heal of Reno has left the archetype weak and brittle; especially in a meta still dominated by Pirate Warrior and with new, burn-oriented mage lists rapidly proliferating. To make matters worse, the class suffers from a lack of non-AOE removal, with Siphon Soul and Blastcrystal Potion being hardly the epitome of tempo.

Flavourful Irrelevance?

Part of the problem is class identity. Warlock has always benefited from Neutral minions, with Antique Healbot and Reno being the two most obvious examples. They also benefited from hand-size synergies in Mountain Giant and Twilight Drake, and taunt generators and targets like Ancient Watcher and Defender of Argus. Unluckily for Warlock, Team 5 is refocusing on class identity, with deliberate rotation out and non-introduction of ubiquitous, generalized, powerful Neutral cards. This means that Warlock lacks the ability to shore up its weaknesses for a controlling game. But how is this rectified without ruining Warlock’s class identity?

Imagining a Future

Humongous Razorleaf wasn’t enough to keep Handlock viable without Reno

The fundamental contradiction of Control Warlock is that Control decks tend to require healing to be competitive. That gels rather poorly with the lore of Warlocks being power-mad, ruthless, self-damaging fel manipulators. But this contradiction can be solved. The answer lies in cards like the now-nerfed Molten Giant; cards that synergize with low life totals that can be used to improve survivability without being just boring heals. Currently, the way to beat Warlocks is pretty straightforward; hit them in the face enough and they crumble. That strategy should still be viable, but it should come at the risk of a huge comeback swing that can lock you out of the game. Recapturing the spirit of Handlock, one that thrives on the razor’s edge between victory and defeat, would go a long way to making Warlock both competitive and fun.

 

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Alex Church is an avid Hearthstone enthusiast since shortly after release. He has achieved legend multiple times, including a top 200 EU finish. He mains Control Warrior and his favourite card is Bash

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