highroll

Priest deserves better than highroll decks

Druid isn’t the only class raising eyebrows. Amidst a meta dominated by Jade, Priest has forged a niche for itself. Both “Highlander” and “Big” Priest perform well on Ladder and in tournaments. The former through the incredible synergy between Raza and Shadowreaper Anduin; the latter with the power of cheating out massive minions and repeatedly resurrecting them. However, these decks have an Achilles heel that makes them unreliable and frustrating to play with and against. They have fundamental consistency issues that make them feel unbeatable with some draws and awful on others. When you lose to a Priest, it often feels like you’ve been on the receiving end of a highroll.

Consistently inconsistent

High variance cards like Thoughtsteal define Priest, but current archetypes push at the limit of what’s fun

Priest has had a history of inconsistency. Priest has traditionally relied on hyper-specific answers and unique combos. Cards like Shadow Word Death or Holy Nova are incredibly powerful in the right situation. However, they easily can be dead draws if in the wrong order. Similarly, two or more card combos like Auchanai/Circle or Pintsized Potion/Shadow Word Horror are potent but niche and unreliable without their complementary card.

Typically, the way to deal with these kinds of over-specific cards is draw. Ironically, Priest’s draw engines are usually inconsistent themselves! Northshire Cleric can represent dozens of draws or simply a three health roadblock.

Otherwise, Priest is left a few cycling cards but no genuine draw engine. Instead, they’re forced to rely on card generation; which leads to yet more highroll or lowroll potential.

The price of thievery

A key nature of Priest’s identity is that of “stealing” cards from the opponent’s deck or hand. Mind Vision, Thoughtsteal and later additions like Curious Glimmerroot push the class strongly towards this theme. This can push inconsistency even further. When drawing normal cards, there is a limited ceiling and floor of how strong the cards are, depending on how you built your deck. What’s more, drawing thins your deck, reducing the potential variance further. You will eventually get to that crucial Dragonfire, so long as you draw enough.

The RNG card generation of “stealing” is naturally high variance. In control matchups where it’s most powerful, getting a high-value card like Tirion is famous for allowing Priest to swing games.

This type of highroll potential is arguably acceptable. Priest has been frustrating in the past, but with its current bevy of tools like Shadow Vision it was on a path of greater consistency. However, this baseline of highroll potential combined with current Priest archetypes can be annoying in the extreme.

Barnes-based BS

highroll

Barnes is the worst offender for Big Priest RNG

Big Priest is possibly the worst offender. The archetype is almost unstoppable when you get lucky. Some games you can Barnes into Y’shaarj on turn four and instantly win. Others, you can Shadow Essence into Barnes and screw up your chances of the tempo resurrects you need to win.

Or worst of all, you could simply not manage to draw Shadow Essence or Barnes, get unlucky with Shadow Visions and be able to do almost nothing until turn nine.

The deck is by no means overpowered; but with a pinch of luck, it can definitely feel it. Big Priest is what people feared when cards like Barnes were initially unveiled. The intense variance that one card provides, both by providing an insane turn four play and by potentially sabotaging Shadow Essence makes the deck incredibly frustrating to play against on ladder and in tournaments.

Raza on five and Shadowreaper on eight wins games – and playoffs

Raza, Shadowreaper, and how to draw them

The other popular Priest archetype has been cooking up some impressive Ladder and tournament performances. Whether you call it Highlander, Razakus, or Death Knight Priest, the power of Raza and Shadowreaper Anduin is undeniable. When you get the dream draw of Raza on five and Shadowreaper on eight, there’s almost no deck that can stop you. Giving every card you play an additional free two damage anyway is a ludicrous amount of value. It allows you to grind or burn down even Jade Druid.

Unfortunately, as Frost Lich Jaina told us, “Power is a double-edged blade”. In exchange for the ability to machine-gun down your opponent’s minions, you sacrifice not your soul and free will, but consistency. This comes in two forms.

Firstly, you have to draw both Raza and Shadowreaper Anduin. This is harder than it sounds. If either card is in the bottom 5-10 cards of your deck, you’ll likely struggle to close out the game (or even survive to draw it!).

Secondly, inherent inconsistencies arise from the necessity of running singletons. Only having one Shadow Visions, Shadow Word Pain or Dragonfire can backfire horribly in a lot of matchups, especially versus aggro. And without Reno to provide an emergency heal, the deck can quickly get overwhelmed with a bad hand. While this keeps the deck in check, it also makes games feel overly dependent on draw RNG.

Highroll or lose to Jades?

If luck’s the only way slow decks beat jade, you may as well go all-in

While many complain about Priest, it’s arguably not the class’s fault but the meta’s. Jade Druid massively suppresses traditional reliable control decks. Control Priest would arguably be a staple of the meta were it not for this fact. The fact that Druid has better mid and late-game than any control deck, as well as superior ramp, stabilization and draw options, means that slow decks have to get lucky to win.

By out-competing Priest in a “fair” fight, Jade forces Priest to rely on highrolls.

Perhaps if the overbearing power of Jade was lessened, Priest would play more consistent, controlling lists.

Until then, we may just have to live with a lot of Ladder and tournament games decided by Barnes on four or Raza into Shadowreaper on eight. As annoying as it can be, at least it’s not another Druid.

Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com. HCT Summer Playoffs image via twitch.tv/playhearthstone.

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scourgelord

The surprising power of Scourgelord Garrosh

Of all the Death Knights released with Knights of the Frozen Throne, Scourgelord Garrosh possibly generated the least hype. Crazily powerful hero powers defined the other classes’ options. But whilst others had massive value generation potential, a disappointing Whirlwind effect was all that was available to Warrior. Even the relatively dull Malfurion the Pestilent’s three attack or three armor seemed far superior. The weapon, while strong, didn’t seem the sacrifice.

Despite this, Warrior’s Death Knight hero looks to be among the strongest. Besides the raw, reliable Malfurion the Pestilent and the deck-defining machine-gun power of Shadowreaper Anduin, Scourgelord Garrosh looks to be a near mandatory inclusion in all manner of Control, Combo and Tempo Warriors. So how did the Scourgelord go from the trash heap of “probably good in tempo” to non-Pirate staple?

Shadowmourne’s stats

scourgelord

Shadowmourne is arguably worth 7-8 mana by itself

Above all, the overwhelming bulk of the Scourgelord’s power is expressed in his weapon, Shadowmourne. A 4/3 weapon is decent enough; but Shadowmourne holds the brutal ability to cleave through up to two adjacent minions.

In terms of raw ability to clear, this can be far more powerful than Gorehowl, while being far more versatile. Whilst Gorehowl maintains superiority at smacking down minions one at a time, Shadowmourne has both a higher ceiling and lower floor of impact.

On the typical multi-leveled boards of mid-game minions opponents are likely to field in the late-game, Gorehowl’s seven attack is often overkill. Meanwhile, Shadowmourne can clear multiple minions at a time, while leaving others damaged and vulnerable to board clears, trading or Executes. The cleaving ability also throws up nice edge cases. Damaging a high attack minion by hitting its low attack neighbour can save vital health. Alternatively, killing a vital threat through Taunt can save games.

Rounding out weaknesses

Not only is Shadowmourne strong in a vacuum, it gels perfectly with Warrior. Warrior has no Fireballs, Swipes or Shadow Strikes. It’s always had a weakness of dealing with mid-sized boards of mid-sized minions. There were few options available to deal with an awkward board of two 4/4’s without spending multiple cards or premium removal.

Decks like Midrange Shaman or Priest could slowly grind down a Control Warrior by playing out 2-3 threats a turn. The Warrior would be forced to waste Executes or Brawls just to clear the board, leaving him vulnerable to later bombs or just more spaced-out threats.

Shadowmourne perfectly counters this weakness. By acting as incredibly efficient removal for up to three of the kinds of boards that Warrior traditionally struggles with, it generates huge value while throwing a cog in the traditional anti-Control Warrior gameplan. Even high-powered Midrange decks like Jade Druid can be simply wiped of value. A well-timed Scourgelord combined with Skulking Geist will crush their hopes, assuming you can wrest back tempo.

But Shadowmourne isn’t the only thing Scourgelord has to offer.

Infinite activators

scourgelord

Sleep with the Fishes is even more backbreaking when it synergises with your hero power

One of the keys to successfully navigating any Control, Tempo or Combo Warrior is spacing out damage activators. Use all your Whirlwinds, Ghouls and Slams too early? Your Executes, Acolytes or Battle Rages are now useless. Part of the reason cards like Death’s Bite are so powerful is due to their additional efficient Whirlwind effects.

In the late-game, Warriors would often run out of steam as they ran low on activators. Especially token generation decks like Paladin or Shaman could simply hero power their way to starving the Warrior of crucial removal and card draw activators.

While Scourgelord Garrosh’s Bladestorm hero power (which does one damage to all minions) may seem weak in isolation, it shines in the Warrior class. Not only does it provide activators for cards like Sleep with the Fishes and Execute in the late game, it also allows for existing Whirlwind effects to be readily spent for tempo instead of saved for future effects. This can prove especially powerful late in the game, where it turns an otherwise useless Acolyte of Pain or Battle Rage top-deck into crucial gas.

The price of power

scourgelord

What Scourgelord Garrosh gains in board control, you lose in lifegain

All this value does come at a cost, however. Replacing Armor Up is dangerous. While additional board control is all well and good, sometimes you simply run out of life. Against certain decks, losing two Armor a turn is a suicidal proposition.

Luckily, the current meta makes this less of an issue. New Armorgain cards like Bring it on! and Mountainfire Armor can help mitigate the loss of the hero power. What’s more, the current meta focuses heavily on the board. Even Pirate Warrior is embracing less burn and more minions, and Burn Mages have largely left the meta (or moved to infinite-damage versions).

With these developments, the additional clear of Bladestorm often saves more life than Armor Up. And of course, the five instantaneous Armor from merely equipping Scourgelord goes a long way to ensuring you’ll live for the next few turns at least.

The wrath of Hellscream

Beyond that, Garrosh Scourgelord has excellent flavour and voice lines. Despite sounding like an undead potato, the Scourgelord’s emotes are brooding and threatening. They lack some of the “it’s not a phase, mom!” edginess of Shadowreaper Anduin’s “Shadowy thoughts” while still sounding ominous. It’s suitably Warrior-y to tell your opponents that they will be the first to kneel.

And of course, the “Failure” emote is surely top tier BM material.

Artwork courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com.

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Knights of the Frozen Throne is Hearthstone’s boldest expansion yet

Knights of the Frozen Throne is less than a week from its August 10th release. With the majority of the cards released, Death Knight heroes are getting the lion’s share of attention and hype. But beyond these new undead heroes, Knights of the Frozen Throne is quietly pushing at the limits of Hearthstone’s core design philosophy in the boldest way yet.

Whether or not it will work out is still up in the air. Regardless, it’s hard not to admire the risks and brave steps the designers are taking with these exciting new cards.

Discarding from the opponent’s deck

boldest

Skulking Geist doesn’t care where your one mana spell is. Hand or deck, friend or foe, it’s getting destroyed

Tech cards traditionally interact with the board. Be it Hungry Crab or Harrison Jones, almost all specific counters deal with something in play. Dirty Rat pushed the envelope; it countered strong battlecries by threatening minions in the opponent’s hand. However, this type of tech card is insufficient in providing a counter to that enemy of Control: Jade Druid. You can’t interrupt the infinite shuffling of Jade Idols by any traditional mechanic.

But Skulking Geist is not traditional. Not only does the upcoming minion discard cards of a specific type for the opponent, it discards them from their deck. This is arguably the boldest tech or disruption card yet printed. Cards in your deck, providing you had the hand space to draw them, used to be sacrosanct. They were untouchable. However, Skulking Geist cares little for past convention, and will rip Jade Idols, Shield Slams and Inner Fires out of decks without mercy. It cannot be played around, and completely disrupts Jade Druid’s draw-till-they-drop gameplan.

How this will feel is yet to be seen. The level of community worry over the underwhelming Gnomeferatu’s deck discard effect indicates that players may react more negatively than expected. But considering the level of frustration and vitriol thrown at Jade idol, this may be a small price to pay.

Complex cards

boldest

Corpsetaker is wordy without being difficult to understand

Imp-losion was one of the swingiest cards of Goblins Vs Gnomes. Its outcome ranged form terrible (2 damage and 2 Imps) to crushingly powerful (4 damage and 4 Imps). Many publicly wondered why it didn’t follow a more balanced range of outcomes. For instance, the number of imps could vary inversely with the amount of damage (2 imps for 4 damage, or vice versa). However, it would break one of the implicit rules of Hearthstone: If a mechanic can’t be expressed incredibly simply, it can’t be on a card.

Knights of the Frozen Throne challenges this. Not only are there cards that involve complicated concepts like “If {condition}, cast this again”, there are cards with more text than seen yet. The boldest is Corpsetaker, which has a staggering 16 words spread across two sentences.

Longer descriptions and more complicated game mechanics can be taxing to learn. But it’s refreshing to see cards unafraid to flirt with wordiness. Too many good card ideas would be gimped by overly-conservative simplifications. In a game as complex as Hearthstone, it’s far more important that cards will do what they say they do.

Unprecedented deck manipulation

As Tavern Brawls have proven, creating a deck with many copies of a few super-powerful cards can be brokenly powerful

The amount of value in your deck used to be fixed and absolute. Fatigue was both a threat and a gameplan. However, Jade Idol broke those rules by allowing the shuffling of infinite value. Beyond Jade Idol, Knights of the Frozen Throne allows deck manipulation on an unprecedented scale. As I discussed in Why Dead Man’s Hand is impossible to evaluate, cards like Dead Man’s Hand and Archbishop Benedictus are the first time that players have had control of what cards they’re able to add to their deck on a massive scale.

With the Fatigue win condition irrelevant for a while now, this new mass deck manipulation allows alternate paths to victory. The potential of marrying Priest and, say, Mage, cards on a massive scale is a daunting one indeed. As is the potential of infinite N’zoths or endless streams of Arcane Giants. Still, this bold approach to solving the late-game value conundrum facing many control decks has huge potential.

A new Exodia

Could this be the face of the end of the world?

While combo deck’s “win conditions” have been apart of Hearthstone ever since the first one turn kills were established, they all had a hidden asterisk. Winning in Hearthstone has always been down to dealing damage; and that’s left it counters. Armor or cards like Ice Block interferes with them, making it so that there were counters to any conceivable combo. Even Un’goro’s Quest “Exodia” mage is undone by a well timed Dirty Rat, Ice Block, Counterspell or Eye for an Eye.

Knights of the Frozen Throne adds the first (non-Jaraxxus) way to kill your opponent that revolves not around damage, but simple destruction. Summoning all four “Horsemen of the Apocalypse” from Paladin’s Death Knight Hero Power will simply win the game immediately. This combo, combined with bounce effects, or hero-power refresh abilities, could potentially kill opponents even through defenses. Ice Block, insurmountable Armor totals, or even an Eye for an Eye while at one health would do nothing.

While still counterable by a clutch Dirty Rat, Coin denial (in Thaurissan-less standard), secrets like Potion of Polymorph or simply racing your opponent down, destroying your opponent without dealing down is one of the boldest combo introductions. This is simply because it’s not dependent on what every other combo has relied on: damage.

Tutoring for early removal

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All your early-game needs in one handy package

Forge of Souls is freshly revealed at the time of writing, and is already looking like a strong inclusion in Control Warrior decks. Drawing two cards for two mana is almost always great value. Where Forge Souls breaks new, brave ground is in what it tutors. Tutoring is not new to Hearthstone, but the ability to tutor for early-game board control tools in the early game is.

If Forge Souls turns out to be a staple, it will completely upend Warrior’s consistency. The fabled guaranteed starting War Axe will look a lot more like reality, and the nightmare of a post-mulligan hand stuffed with unplayable spells and nine drops will become far less frequent. Forge Souls, together with War Axe and the New Blood Razor, is an early game in a box. Potentially, it could rescue even the clunkiest of starts.

This kind of massively improved early consistency will allow Warrior decks to more readily break deck-building rules. More importantly, Warrior will be at the mercy of early-game RNG far less frequency. This kind of added reliability to early game could not only reduce frustrations but also go a long way to making Hearthstone more competitive and skill-based. Or, at least restrict RNG to the entertaining Yogg-Saron variety rather than the perfect curve vs zero removal kind.

Artwork courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com.

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dead man's hand

Why Dead Man’s Hand is impossible to evaluate

Dead man's hand

Unique and potentially powerful, Dead Man’s Hand has divided opinion

Dead Man’s Hand is a card that does nothing. The 2 mana Warrior Epic spell is soon to be released as part of Hearthstone’s Knights of the Frozen throne, and has already generated hype, debate and wildly differing predictions.

But in terms of practical, immediate impact to a board state, the effect is zero. It draws no cards, deals no damage and summons no minions. In many situations its analagous to simply throwing a card away.

However, Dead Man’s Hand makes up for this by being quite simply the most powerful deck manipulation tool ever devised for Hearthstone. The ability to shuffle your entire hand into your deck would be fascinating enough on a singleton card; on a cheap spell that can have 2 copies per deck, it’s potentially gamebreakingly powerful.

A Brief History of Deck Manipulation

Dead man's hand

Forgotten Torch was a powerful tool for burn mages

Deck manipulation crept into Hearthstone slowly. Completely absent in Classic and Basic, the ability to shuffle additional value to your deck beyond the traditional 30 cards began with GvG’s Druid Legendary, Malorne. This eternally recurring stag didn’t fit into the combo-focused Druids of the time however. In Blackrock Mountain, Gang Up spurred the Mill Rogue archetype to new highs of near-competitiveness.

Deck manipulation effects weren’t to grow to meta prominence until League of Explorers. Then, cards like Forgotten Torch and Elise Starseeker proved that shuffling valuable cards into your deck could swing games. Old Gods’ C’thun Warrior crushed Control with Doomcaller’s ability to shuffle up to 2 additional C’thuns per game.

Then, in Mean Streets of Gadgetzan, Jade Idol provided a death knell to fatigue archetypes with its infinite threat generation. Un’goro furthered the list of competitive deck manipulation cards with Direhorn Hatchling and Elise Trailblazer, both of which saw extensive competitive play.

Infinite value, zero tempo

It’s hard to justify spending 2 mana to do nothing. Is Dead Man’s Hand the next Explore Un’goro?

Against this rich history of successful deck manipulation cards, why has Dead Man’s Hand received such negative competitive evaluations from pros? Part of the reason behind players like Kolento’s near-instant dismissal as “100 dust” lies in the nature of the card. Other deck manipulation tools that saw competitive play have a body or effect attached. Forgotten Torch has 3 damage, both Elises are sturdy 5 health minions, and even Jade Idol has the option to create a massive minion rather than shuffle.

In contrast, Dead Man’s hand has no such effect. It would be a truly dead card in every matchup that does not go to fatigue. Lots of pro players then, quite reasonably, performed a quick mental calculation. They thought about the deck it might fit into (Control Warrior) and estimated the number of games that would likely be affected by fatigue (a very small percentage). From this perspective, it’s easy to see why many pros deem the card trash.

Bad card, good deck?

The fundamental flaw with this assessment is that it presumes that the card would most likely work in a deck that looked something like modern Control Warrior. But Control Warrior was built from the ground up around an assumption of limited deck value. Control Warrior sacrifices flexibility to maximize the total value of the deck. Incredibly powerful cards like Battle Rage are excluded in favour of solid lategame minions that can trade positively on a card-for-card basis.

While Dead Man’s Hand might be a nigh-unplayable bad card in Aggro matchups, it carries a hidden benefit. By guaranteeing potentially infinite late-game value, it allows every other card in the deck to be cheaper, leaner and more draw-focused. This allows Aggro matchups to improve while (in theory) remaining incredibly strong vs Control.

Not only that, but Dead Man’s Hand is unique in its abilities. This is the first time infinite duplication of any card has been available from hand. Minions have been able to be bounced once or twice, and Jade Idols can last forever, but until now it’s never been possible to play any specific minion or spell infinitely (at least without Lorewalker Cho shenanigans). This has the potential for some disgustingly powerful series of plays.

Thinking Combo

dead man's hand

Warrior has no problem drawing through their entire deck

Although I’ve been overoptimistic on 2 mana Warrior Epics before, it’s worth considering what a deck that was built around Dead Man’s Hand would look like. The deck would likely look less like traditional Control Warriors of old, and more like Combo Warrior.

There have been a variety of Warrior decks that have utilized the class’s powerful draw engine and cheap, efficient spells. Patron, Worgen OTK and Arcane Warriors all got massive value from drawing through their entire deck with Battle rage. Unfortunately, they’ve all lacked reliable win conditions vs Control since Warsong Commander and Charge prevented Frothing or Worgen OTKs. Arcane Giants Warrior, the only surviving Standard deck, is currently unplayable due to the ease of which most classes clear or outvalue the 2-3 boards of Giants.

This all could change with Dead Man’s Hand. The gameplan would be simple; cycle to fatigue, then play overpowered cards over and over again until you win. But what cards? How could the deck be nimble enough to beat aggro, but weighty enough to beat Jade?

Building a Jade breaker

Infinite N’zoths are a scary prospect

Assuming the deck would follow this gameplan, it would want strong end-game threats to play repeatedly concentrated into as few as possible card slots. The most promising tools likely include cards like N’zoth. A N’zoth win condition revolving around Loot Hoarders, Direhorn Hatchlings and perhaps the new Mountainfire Armor would be a strong, repeatable threat that would provide board presence, Taunts, lifegain and card-draw to sustain the infinite combo.

Other strategies would be Arcane Giants and Battle Rages, repeatedly clearing with King Mosh, or endless Grommashes to face. Coldlights Oracles could provide a fatigue win condition, but would be unable to deal with the infinite Jades. Testers could also try C’thun, but the Old God would likely require too many deckslots.

Unpredictable

Regardless of how the final deck may look, it’s clear that we cannot evaluate the card in a traditional context. If the card works or not, it will be on the basis of whether or not its deck is strong, not down to the nature of the card itself. Its performance will be decided by meta and support tools rather than whether or not it’s mana efficient or a powerful effect.

While pros are free to guess at the power of the card, it’s important to remember that more often than not, cards like this are simply impossible to predict. Which may be annoying, but it makes that initial experience of experimentation and refinement all the more exciting. And hey, even if the card doesn’t turn out to be competitive, it will surely create some fantastic opportunity for meme decks.


Artwork courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com.

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Will Quest Rogue Survive its Nerf?

In a recent statement, Blizzard announced that the Rogue Quest will be receiving a significant balance tweak. From its initial requirement of playing four minions with the same name, after an upcoming update it will need five.

What will this substantial nerf mean for Quest Rogue, and the meta as a whole? Will the deck survive?

Crystal Core is Core

One thing is instantly clear; Quest Rogue isn’t cutting The Caverns Below. Unlike Pirate Warrior with Small-Time Buccaneer, or Aggro Shaman with Spirit Claws, Quest Rogue can’t find similar replacements. The card is what the entire deck is built around.

The real question is, will this nerf mean that the deck will have to change drastically? Or simply disappear altogether?

Shadow Strike or Assassinate don’t quite work as replacements

What’s One More Bounce?

At first, the nerf might not seem too dramatic. Quest Rogue runs six ‘bounces’ or return to hand effects (eight counting vanish), and multiple cards that generate duplicates. Most draws can easily complete the quest on turns 5-7. Surely increasing the requirement by one won’t destroy the deck?

Unfortunately for Quest Rogue, the reality is trickier. Looking at the latest Vicious Syndicate Meta Report, the deck’s current overall winrate is roughly 50%, with a 7% representation on ladder. Here we see that the deck is competitive in high-level play, if not Tier One.

Things look bleaker if you analyse Winrate by turn of Quest completion. HSReplay.net shows a drastic fall in overall winrate the later the Quest is completed. This could show a catastrophic reduction in competitive viability, to the point of non-viability, at least with current lists. Each extra turn spent digging for that extra bounce or duplicate is another turn Aggro gets to kill you, or Control gets to draw into a clear.

A Slower Solution?

With a harsher requirement, future Quest Rogues might need more draw

Looking at the current strengths and weaknesses of the deck, it’s looking like there’s little opportunity for the deck to survive. But what if drastic changes were made? Could it adapt to the nerf?

A slower quest completion means fewer cards that are only strong with the quest should be run. Cards like Glacial Shard, Bilefin Tidehunter and Wisp could be cut in favour of a more reactive set of survival tools and draw to get to the more limited number of combo pieces. The deck would look more like Miracle Rogue, with a 5/5 charge focused win condition, but otherwise more conventional Rogue staples. Though likely less reliable than current Quest Rogue lists, it might be able to survive in typical Rogue fashion rather than relying on super-fast Quest Completion.

However, this looks unlikely, as standard Miracle rogue would likely fill this niche better. For now, it’s probably best to assume the deck will meet its demise competitively.

A Meta-Changing Nerf

Expect plenty more Jade Druid

According to Blizzard, the rationale behind changing the card was that it was pushing out “slower, controlling decks”. These were Quest Rogue’s strongest matchups.

Taunt or Control Warriors, Priest variants, and slower versions of Paladin and Shaman will likely rise up the tier list, as they will have lost their most powerful counters. Conversely, Aggro decks like Aggro Druid and Pirate Warrior will lose their edge somewhat as a dominating matchup is lost.

However, those celebrating the incoming Control meta might find their joy premature. One of Quest Rogue’s best matchups is the Anti-Control Jade Druid. With less Aggro around and more Control to prey on, it’s fair to assume this deck archetype is due to see a meteoric rise. Considering its increasing resilience to aggression with Tar Creepers, Primordial Drakes and Earthen Scales, along with its natural anti-Control powers, it’s likely to become Tier One.

As far as losers from the fallout of the nerf, one stands out above all others. Dirty Rat no longer makes sense as a tech choice without the ability to disrupt the Rogue Quest. The unfortunate and unhygienic rodent is likely to remain stuck in the collection; at least until Exodia Mage rejoins the ladder.

Artwork courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com. Title art by Konstantin Turovec.

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What Ever Happened to Combo Warrior?


The Warrior Class is nothing if not flexible. From its early Control roots, to its current Aggro and Taunt incarnations, Warrior has excelled in every Hearthstone Archetype. We’ve seen Controlling Control Warriors, Midrange Dragon and Tempo Warriors, Aggro Pirate Warriors and Combo Patron and Worgen Warriors. However, while certain Warrior archetypes have grown and evolved, others have dropped off. Combo Warrior in particular used to dominate, but has now almost completely disappeared from the ladder. What happened?

Early Roots

Combo Warriors have been around as long as Hearthstone. Charge is a key exploitable keyword that combo decks have used to deliver huge One Turn Kills (OTKs). In Hearthstone’s Beta, Warrior benefited from the initial versions of Charge and Warsong Commander, which granted potentials for absurd OTKs or Two Turn Kills with Alexstrasza, Gorehowl and Molten Giants.

These interactions quickly forced a change to both of these cards, reducing the impact of Charge to one minion and giving the Warsong Commander Charge effect a three attack maximum threshold.

Glory Days

Warsong Commander was potent, pre nerf

The heyday of Combo Warriors was undoubtedly the rule of Patron. Grim Patron was an initially underrated Neutral minion from the Blackrock Mountain. Its incredible synergy with sources of one damage made it a natural fit for Warrior. It was natural counter to classes without AOE and low attack minions. In addition to its anti-aggro potential, it could launch massively buffed Frothing Berserkers at the opponent’s face in Control matchups. This, combined with an incredible draw engine giving unparalleled consistency, made it one of the strongest decks of all time in the hands of a sufficiently skilled player.

Unfortunately for fans of Combo Warrior, this was not to last. A sledgehammer of a nerf to Warsong Commander limited the deck’s potential, forcing it down an aggressive Midrange route incorporating cards like Dr. Boom and Grommash. Though the deck survived, it was never the same intricate web of combo synergies that allowed it to dominate with brutal, refined efficiency.

Revenge of the Worgen

While Patron Warrior was forced down a more Midrange route, Control players who thought they were safe from huge Warrior OTKs were in for a rude surprise as Raging Worgen Warrior briefly terrorized the ladder. In a rare case of genuine Hearthstone innovation, Worgen Warrior came out of nowhere in a previously-deemed stale period of the meta. Utilising the previously unnoticed Wild Pyromancer-Commanding Shout synergy, the deck cycled towards playing Charge on a Raging Worgen and copying it with a Faceless Manipulator for potentially 50+ face damage.

Despite its single-minded gameplan, the deck was remarkably consistent, only really being halted by pure face strategies or multiple Taunts. It was never especially oppressive, but Team 5 were understandably apprehensive about the negative feeling of losing to a nigh-unstoppable 50 damage burst combo. The card Charge was changed, leading to it not allowing face to be targeted.

On the Shoulders of Giants

Blood Warriors allowed Combo Warriors to survive (barely) by copying Arcane Giants

After this change, there was a lull in Combo Warrior’s activity before the introduction of Arcane Giant in the One Night in Karazhan. It finally gave Warriors another Combo win condition. Combined with Blood Warriors, a sufficiently spell heavy Warrior could create massive boards of zero mana 8/8s. Incorporating the Worgen Warrior’s Wild Pyromancer shell, this deck saw limited success, including an abortive attempt to bring it to Blizzcon by pro player Edwin “HotMeowth” Cook.

However, Arcane Giants and Blood Warriors are an inconsistent, meta dependent tool for Warriors to use. It requires an all-in strategy, massive player skill, and huge deckbuilding sacrifices. Meanwhile, the reward is simply underwhelming. While full boards of 8/8s are impressive, it’s nowhere near as consistent as an OTK gameplan. It’s easily thwarted by hard removal, board clears or just early pressure to force tempo plays.

As a result, the deck has fallen to the wayside completely, leaving lovers of Combo Warrior no competitive ladder option. New additions like Sudden Genesis, Sleep with the Fishes and Iron Hide have failed to address the inherent lack of a strong win condition.

A Lyra for Warriors?

It would take someone with more skill than me to balance a card like this, but it could be done (Via Hearthcards.net)

The problems Combo Warrior faces can only be addressed with new cards. Like Priest, Warrior deserves new “tricky” cards that reinforce its combo history and huge amount of inherent potential. While the skeleton of combo tools remain, it lacks a consistent goal to strive for. Of course, this does not mean that we should return to the days of 50+ damage OTK combos; but providing an interesting, interactive, board based, potent combo piece that fits in with the flavour and mechanics of Warrior would be a brilliant and well appreciated piece of game design. Some kind of Legendary or high-cost minion with interactions around taking damage that generated hand value to challenge Control Decks. Perhaps something half-way between Ysera, Lyra and Hogger, Doom of Elwyn.

Whatever it looks like, Combo Warriors deserve something like it to expand the realm of those “fun, tricky” plays beyond just Priest and Rogue, to a class that has been using them for just as long, if not longer.

 

Title image by Alex Horley Orlandelli. Via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com, courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment

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Taunt Warriors: Please, Please, Mulligan your Quest (Sometimes)

As the Un’goro meta settles down, only two Quests are seeing serious competitive play: Rogue and Warrior. Whilst Rogue is completely dependent on the Quest for victories even against the most aggressive decks, Taunt Warrior has a far more flexible range of win conditions. As such, some of your most important decision-making comes before the game even begins. Should you keep the Quest?

Playing it safe

For many players, the answer is simple. The Quest is one of the strongest cards in the deck, around which the entire game plan is built. It’s a turn one play in a deck that typically will do nothing on turn one. If you mulligan it, you may never get to activate it if you draw it without having seven taunts left to play. This was particularly prevalent immediately after the expansion. With so much variation in the meta, you always have to be prepared for a Control matchup. I even recall seasoned veteran and far superior player Brian Kibler defending keeping the Quest against Hunter. His reasoning was that you needed the hero power to deal with Savannah Highmane.

An epidemic of greed

When playing versus Aggro, you don’t need the Quest to win

This outlook is understandable, but fundamentally flawed. As most players who have spent time with the deck and reached legend agree, keeping the Quest in every matchup is a disastrous policy. The hero power typically comes online only after turns 10-14 (assuming a typical 12 Taunt decklist). By this point, many games should already be decided. Not only that, but against Aggressive or Combo decks, you may not even want to play Sulfuras, as doing so prevents you form utilizing your potentially life-saving Armor Up. Meanwhile, being down a card the entire game is a potentially huge disadvantage, especially when you’re only a Ravaging Ghoul, Execute, or Brawl away from victory or defeat.

Throwing away your win condition

However, that’s not to say that the Quest should always be tossed. Not having the Quest when you need it is far worse than an unnecessary keep. Taunt Warrior cuts all the traditional game ending cards of Control Warrior, like Grommash and N’zoth. Even Fatigue is rarely an option without the insane armor gain potential of Justicar Trueheart. As such, Sulfuras is absolutely necessary in certain matchups. But how do you balance these two competing demands? Both can lead to disaster.

Class by class

DIE, INSECT is often necessary to beat late-game value powerhouses like Tirion

The answer is heavily dependent on what class, and thus what suspected archetype, your opponent is running. A typical rule of thumb would be to always mulligan it against Aggro, Combo, or aggressive Midrange, and keep it against Control or slow Midrange decks. However, the best option will change depending on specific matchups and meta-dependent archetype distribution.

  • Warrior: Keep

Warrior is one of the painful matchups when deciding to mulligan the Quest or not. Versus the hyper-aggressive Pirate Warrior, the Quest is worse than useless. However, in the Taunt Warrior mirror, it’s borderline suicide to toss it. Unfortunately, this means that keeping it is currently the best option. Though your Pirate Warrior win rate will suffer, it is still definitely winnable; whereas Taunt Warrior will crush you without a Quest.

  • Shaman: Keep

Shaman no longer has the explosive starts it used to. Even Murloc Shaman is relatively sedate. Elemental Shaman can easily drag you to fatigue, so getting the Ragnaros hero power online ASAP is often the difference between victory and defeat. Thus, keeping it is almost always the best option.

  • Rogue: Toss

It’s very tempting to keep the Quest against Rogue. However, it should be resisted whenever possible. Both Miracle Rogue and Quest Rogue’s key turns occur well before Sulfuras comes online. Fishing for key removal, board clears, or Dirty Rat is almost always superior. Even getting a turn three Acolyte of Pain down is far more important than getting the Quest completed, as card resources are so vital.

  • Paladin: Keep

While aggressive versions of Paladin are beginning to gain traction, the most popular archetype by far is still Midrange. You certainly need eight random damage as soon as you can to counter Paladin’s unceasing value train in the late game, and to allow you to end the game. While this may lead you to being rushed down by Murlocs, overall your win rate will likely improve.

  • Hunter: Toss

Hunter is a matchup where tossing the Quest will absolutely be the correct play. Their continual application of early and mid-game pressure requires the maximum possible amount of resources to defeat. Once you’ve stabilized behind a Primordial Drake or two, you can easily end the game by exploiting their lack of card draw. No eight damage hero power required.

  • Druid: Toss (Mostly)

The most dominant archetype of Druid being Aggro, tossing the Quest is usually a safe bet. However, there are a few Jade and Ramp Druids prowling about, so if you have a strong starting hand, consider keeping the Quest. Due to Warrior’s plethora of removal and AOE options, Aggro/Token Druid favors the Warrior, even with the Quest. Watch this space and see how the meta develops.

Against Freeze Mage, Armor can be more important than value

  • Warlock: Toss

There are few Warlocks out there, and it is widely regarded as the weakest class. Those that remain are largely running Zoo variants, against which the Quest is unnecessary. Tossing it should be an easy decision

  • Mage: List Dependent

Mage is a tough one. Since Freeze Mage and its variants are the most popular, keeping the Quest or not is often dependent on your own deck. Against Freeze, you typically have two strategies; grind them out with sheer life gain, or rush them down with minions and the Quest. If you’re running the double Shield Block package, it’s usually superior to go for the former option and toss the Quest; if not, you should apply the second strategy and keep the Quest.

  • Priest: Keep

Though this may change depending on how combo oriented the Combo Priest gets, usually you want to keep the Quest against Priest. Their late game can be formidable, especially if they Shadow Visions multiple Un’goro Packs from Elise Trailblazer. You need to put pressure on them fast. Ragnaros hero power is as much of a counter to Priest as Jaraxxus used to be, and you should play accordingly.

 

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The Scariest Combos of Un’goro

For as long as card games have existed, players have combined cards in broken, degenerate ways. The imaginations and drives of a dedicated player-base will always exceed that of the developers, and as such new and exciting combos have the potential to break the game. Each new bout of cards offers new opportunities for exploitable shenanigans.
Hearthstone’s Journey to Un’goro expansion is no exception. More than perhaps any other expansion, there are a number of absurdly powerful combinations to create absurd situations, generate huge value, or simply kill your opponent.

Murloc Tidecaller and Rockpool Hunter

Murloc decks haven’t been too scary for a long time now. While the Finja package is in certain archetypes, full on tribal synergistic board-flood murlocs simply haven’t kept up with the growth of early game power. However, with the rotation out of Tunnel Trogg and Totem Golem, they may be able to reestablish their place as the terror of the opening turns. Helping them is Rockpool Hunter, an incredibly strong card. Representing 3/4 of stats split across two bodies for two mana, it could snowball a one drop into a near insurmountable board advantage.

The most egregious of these on-curve plays would be Murloc Tidecaller into Rockpool Hunter. This creates a 3/3 and a 2/3 on turn two, which is perhaps better than Tunnel Trogg into Totem Golem, only with no overload in exchange for one less health. This could then be followed up with the nightmare of Murloc Warleader for a 3/3, a 6/3, and a 4/4 on turn three.

The ability of Murloc decks to generate huge early tempo and value with Rockpool Hunter might make them a very tempting option for certain classes, most notably Warlock and Shaman. The ability to buff the attack and health of high priority targets in the early and mid game shouldn’t be underestimated.

Jade Idol, Gadgetzan Auctioneer, and Earthen Scales

Jade Druid is a deck that has been dominating the hearts and minds, if not the statistics, of the Hearthstone world. Despite its overall poor showing, its ability to hard-counter certain types of control decks means it’s controversial to say the least. One of the counterplay mechanics against this deck, especially against Control and Midrange, is to simply rush them down or out-tempo them.

What Earthen Scales offers is an opportunity to turn the huge Jade Golems generated as part of a Gadgetzan Auctioneer turn, into a huge health advantage. With Auctioneer on Board, you even gain tempo with +1/+1 and draw a card. Meanwhile, you’ve forced your opponent to deal with your minions rather than your face. Earthen Scales is an extremely powerful combo tool that shores up Jade Druid’s weakness in a way that makes it potentially meta-dominating.

The Caverns Below, Fire Fly, and Igneous Elemental

 

Rogue’s new Quest seems hard to complete at first. The requirement of playing four minions with the same name seems to require a lot of effort to get to everything becoming a 5/5. However, things get a lot easier when you consider the new Elemental minions, Fire Fly and Igneous Elemental. These give you 1 and 2 1/2 Elementals respectively. This means that you simply need to draw two Igneous Elementals or one Igneous Elemental and two Fire Flys in order to activate the quest. Alternatively, you can just draw one Igneous Elemental, one Fire Fly, and a Shadowstep.

This makes it absurdly easy to activate the quest, leading to a turn four swing turn when you suddenly summon four 5/5s. This also means you can get other advantages, like not playing the quest on turn one, devoting the rest of your deck to more solid aggressive minions and spells instead of combo activators, and having more flexible activators for your end-game. A deck with Rogue’s almost uncompromised early game aggro, followed up by a Jaraxxus-like endless stream of 5/5s, after a huge early swing turn, could be potent indeed.

Time Warp, Arcane Giant, and Alexstrasza

Time Warp is one of those cards that stretches the limit of what’s possible. Its power is perhaps unrivaled by any card. It will likely break many cards and mechanics. One of the simplest of these involves playing two Arcane Giants, Time Warp, and then following up with Alexstrasza. This is one of the easiest one turn (or two turn, depending on how you look at it) kills in the game, requiring only four cards. Moreover, it promises to be exceedingly flexible, as Alexstrasza can be replaced with Fireballs if need be depending on the opponent’s life total.

Potentially more powerful kills exist, such as using Sorcerer’s Apprentices, Molten Reflections, and Archmage Antonidas to create infinite zero mana fireballs. However, this kill’s use of only four cards (one of which is guaranteed from the quest) makes it supremely reliable and consistent. It still can be countered though, most notably by taunt minions, Armor, and Dirty Rat.

Giving Mages a way to kill their opponent from nowhere is supremely powerful, as freeze mage has proven. Their arsenal of stall and board control tools makes them the ideal combo class for bursting the enemy down from 30 to zero over a turn or two.

Sulfuras and Auctionmaster Beardo

The ability for Auctionmaster Beardo to refresh the hero power on playing a spell is usually too low impact to be worth considering. However, that could all change if instead of gaining health, you’re tossing fireballs. With Warrior’s ability to have all of the upside of becoming Ragnaros without any of the armor-shredding or health-losing downsides, the option to cycle small spells and burst down the opponent seems very tempting.

Warrior has a slew of impactful low mana spells, even zero mana ones, leading to up to three hero powers with Beardo on the board. If Beardo manages to stick, they can almost certainly finish off any opponent.

Of course, getting to this position may be tricky. it may be more reliable simply to run additional taunt minions in order to activate the hero power a turn earlier than what would otherwise occur.

Carnassa’s Brood and Tundra Rhino

The Hunter Quest turned quite a few heads on its release. A five mana 8/8 is one thing, but filling your deck with one mana cycling 3/2s is potent indeed. Even more potent could be potential combos with Tundra Rhino.

By giving your Beasts Charge, Tundra Rhino could help turn the ever-cycling raptors into cannonballs to launch at the enemy face. You can easily generate massive damage and value if Rhino sticks, or as part of a combo turn. With a Stampede spell thrown in the mix, you can generate huge value in addition to killing the opponent.

The other route to go down is even more interesting. If you can play Hemet and Jungle Hunter prior to the quest reward, you could make your deck almost entirely raptors. This makes the combo far more consistent, as well as allowing you to easily draw through to your potent high-mana minions.

All images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via hearthstone.gamepedia.com

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How to Rat Dirtily

Dirty Rat is a card that polarized opinion from the start. Perhaps the best statted 2-drop outside of Milhouse Manastorm, this grinning rodent comes with a potentially disastrous catch; when you play him, you’re not only gaining a beefy cheap taunt, but also an unexpected surprise from your opponents’ hand. However, while this might seem to be a crippling downside, in the right deck, it can be a devastatingly powerful tech card to ruin your opponents’ intricate plans. Control decks in particular can utilise it as one more way to disrupt and interrupt the opposing win condition.

I recently hit Legend EU with a Dirty Rat Control Warrior, peaking at top 20. On my climb, I came to appreciate the game-winning (or game-losing) impact that correct or incorrect Dirty Rat usage had. With that in mind, I’ve put together a guide to the situations where you should play Dirty Rat for the maximum level of effectiveness. So how, and more importantly when, should you play Dirty Rat?

 

The Yolo-Rat

  • Opponent: Aggro Shaman, Pirate Warrior
  • Turns: 1-3
  • Condition: Slow hand, fast opposing start, opponent keeps multiple cards

Sometimes, your mulligan-wizarding powers fail you and you’re left with a hand of late-game tools. Meanwhile, your opponent has seemed to get exactly what they wanted; keeping nearly all of the cards in their starting hand. Here, Dirty Rat can be your chance to get back in the game. Normally, a turn 1 or 2 Dirty Rat is a horrible play; the stall of the 2/6 taunt is nothing compared to the risk of pulling down a free Frothing Bezerker or Flamewreathed Faceless.

However, for every crushing defeat, it can also stall you out just enough to stabilize. If you’re willing to accept turning a likely loss into a soul-destroying one some of the time, you can win games you were otherwise near-certain to lose.

 

The Auctioneer Assassinate

  • Opponent: Miracle Rogue
  • Turns: 5-6
  • Condition: 4 damage removal available

Against Miracle Rogue, Gadgetzan Auctioneer is Control’s worst nightmare. With its endless stream of cheap spells, Rogues need Gadgetzan to cycle through their deck, pushing out damage and threats that their opponent simply can’t handle.

As such, pulling down, then destroying Gadgetzan with Dirty Rat should be one of your primary win-conditions against Miracle Rogue. Without it, they’re stuck with relatively low-value cards, and can run out of steam incredibly fast. Even without taking out the grinning goblin, you can often devalue some of their most potent tools, like Questing Adventurer, Edwin Van Cleef, or Leeroy Jenkins. A good Dirty Rat can almost always cripple a Miracle Rogues best-laid plans.

 

The Vanilla

  • Opponent: Aggro Shaman, Pirate Warrior, Miracle Rogue
  • Turns: 6+
  • Condition: Opponent has few or no cards in hand

Sometimes you just want a 2/6 taunt; particularly when you’re at 5 life and facing an Arcanite Reaper. The good news is that Aggro decks tend to play out their potent minions as fast as possible, so Dirty Rat can often come without any strings attached. While undoubtedly the least flashy way to use the card, it nonetheless can win you a huge number of games just by getting in the way of otherwise lethal damage.

 

The Forced Overextension

  • Opponent: Any
  • Turns: 7+
  • Condition: 2-6 minions on board, AOE in hand

The problem with AOE is that it’s relatively straightforward to play around. Especially in slower matchups against midrange decks like Dragon Priest, your Flamestrike, Brawl, Dragonfire Potion or Twisting Nether can sit in your hand as your opponent refuses to play more than two or three minions at once. This can force you to waste premium removal on relatively small threats, just to stay alive.

Dirty Rat can provide the answer to this, pulling down an additional card to help win the attrition war. It combos especially well with Brawl, due to the fact that the Rat also has a chance of winning. This provides both a massive board swing and a huge value.

 

 

Dirty Rat can make AOE more lethal

The Sylvanas Shuffle

  • Opponent: Any
  • Turns: 7+
  • Condition: Sylvanas on your board, no good steal targets

Sylvanas is one of those cards that’s incredibly powerful, but niche. Good against small boards of beefy minions, it can just be a vanilla 5/5 depressingly often. However, if your opponent has, say, a single 5/4 to contest it, then a Dirty Rat can be your saving grace, allowing you to pull down a more valuable minion to steal after trading. If that minion happens to be a vital combo piece for your opponent, you can often steal its power to snatch win

 

The Acolyte Snipe

  • Opponent: Control Warrior, Reno Mage
  • Turns: 10+
  • Condition: Fatigue gameplan, discarded cards to prevent burning recently

Despite the proliferation of late-game value in the form of Jade, Manic Soulcaster, Elise Starseeker and Kazakus, the Fatigue battle is still vital in many matchups. Unfortunately, winning it is incredibly hard. Dirty Rat can help by forcing down a minion with a draw effect, allowing you to proc it, putting you vastly ahead when both players start to run out of cards. As an added bonus, you can often mill the opponents deck if you can force them to overdraw. Acolyte of Pain is the dream here, potentially putting them ahead by 3 cards, but Bloodmage Thalnos or Loot Hoarder is also a plus. It also has the added bonus of diluting and polluting any potential Revives from Kazakus Potions.

Fatigue still matters in many matchups

 

The Traitor Doomsayer

  • Opponent: Renolock, Reno Mage, Reno Priest
  • Turns: 10+
  • Condition: Threatening board, no AOE

Sometimes you just can’t deal with the opponents board. Maybe you wasted your AOE, or just didn’t draw it. Or perhaps they ground you out in an epic battle of fatigue. Whatever the reason, you’re staring down a massive board you can’t possibly react to in time.

You have one last saving grace, other than conceding. By pulling down your opponent’s Doomsayer, Dirty Rat can wipe the board at the start of their next turn. It can be unlikely, but sometimes its just the out you need.

 

The Freestyle

  • Opponent: Control/Combo
  • Turns: Any
  • Condition: Varies

Sometimes you just know your opponent is holding something big. Maybe they’ve kept their leftmost card since turn four. Or they played a Thaurrisan they could have played last turn after mousing over a top-deck. Maybe they just play like they’re setting up lethal. Even if it’s just a hunch, sometimes intuition wins out. Taking out a Grommash, Malygos, Kazakus, Leeroy, Jaraxxus, Golden Monkey, or Archmage Antonidas that could otherwise win them the game can be an amazing feeling. Although, it takes an absurd amount of skill at psychological warfare and deduction to do it consistently.

Or failing all that you could always just be lucky…

 

Dirty Rat is a card that is infuriating and fascinating all at once. The layers of play and counter-play it encourages are deceptively deep, and it’s fast becoming one of my favorite control tools of the expansion.

Except, of course, when it ruins my plans.

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