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Kobolds and Catacombs Day 1 Deck Theorycrafting

The next Hearthstone expansion, Kobolds and Catacombs, has finally been released. In the reveal season, we saw many powerful and fun cards that are coming out with the set. But, which of these cards fit into existing decks? What new decks are coming into the meta?

The Meta

Dragon Priest

KnC Dragon Priest

Dragon Priest Decklist

In past expansions, Dragon Priest has been an archetype that many people have toyed around with and played on ladder. In this expansion, we may see the rise of a Dragon-oriented Priest build similar to the Dragon Priest deck that was viable during the Mean Streets of Gadgetzan expansion last year. The iteration I have theory-crafted includes a much more value-orientated game plan by including cards such as Lyra the Sunshard, Drakonid Operative, and the new Priest weapon, Dragon Soul. The deck can also be built to take on a more minion heavy route by taking out cards like Dragon Soul, Lyra the Sunshard, and Shadow Word: Death and replacing them with Cabal Shadow Priest, which synergises with Twilight Acolyte, and Twilight Drake.

 

The inclusion of Duskbreaker in this expansion really helps Dragon Priest’s historically bad matchup versus aggressive decks, which makes the new iteration of Dragon Priest that much scarier. On ladder, this deck seems like a solid choice for climbing at a high pace. In tournaments, players may elect to bring Highlander Priest instead because of its favorable win-rates versus slower decks.

 

 Zoo Warlock

KnC Zoo Warlock

Zoolock Decklist

In the Knights of the Frozen Throne expansion, we once again saw the rise of an old friend: Zoo Warlock. The early game minion package combined with Prince Keleseth proved to be the kick this deck needed to get back into the meta, and topping off with Bonemare and Bloodreaver Gul’Dan made Zoo Warlock scary in the late-game as well. This time around, Blizzard has given Zoo Warlock even better tools for taking the board early game and keeping it. The addition of Kobold Librarian helps keep your hand full, which is extremely important when having so many low mana cost minions in your deck. The main difference with this Zoo Warlock compared to the previous deck is that it cuts Prince Keleseth for the new 2-drop, Vulgar Homunculus.

 

With this iteration of the deck, I decided to add the Demon synergy package in the form of Demonfire, Bloodfury potion, and Crystalweaver. We have seen quite a lot of play with Bloodfury Potion and Crystalweaver in the past Zoo Warlock decks, but the addition of the Vulgar Homunculus makes these cards coming down on curve extremely threatening. Hooked Reaver also makes an appearance in this deck because of how solid its stats are when the Battlecry goes off, as well as its ability to synergise with the rest of the demon synergy in the deck.

 

The addition of higher-health minions and buff cards will help Zoo Warlock in the next meta mainly because of the predicted prevalence of Duskbreaker on the ranked ladder. In tournament play, this deck will likely be chosen for inclusion in aggressive lineups.

Big Druid

KnC Big Druid

Big Druid Decklist

The ‘Big’ archetype saw large amounts of play during the Knights of the Frozen Throne expansion as a whole, especially during the later half of the set’s meta. Kobolds and Catacombs has not given Big Druid many other tools, but the core of the deck is strong enough to still see play. The only change I have made to the current Big Druid list is taking out Innervate and adding Arcane Tyrants. Innervate, once a staple in most Druid decks, took a huge hit from the nerfs that occured in the middle of the last expansion. It was included in Big Druid, but it was arguably one of the weaker cards within the deck. Two different cards were shown from the new expansion that could find a home in Big Druid: Greedy Sprite and Arcane Tyrant. I chose to include Arcane Tyrant instead of the Sprite because it is very similar to Kun the Forgotten King in the way that it makes your power turns even more powerful. A common way Kun has been used during the meta was playing it as a big free body to pair with Ultimate Infestation. Arcane Tyrant acts in a similar way when paired with Nourish, Spreading Plague, and Ultimate Infestation as well. Greedy Sprite could be included instead of the Tyrant, but the ramp effect is rather slow and your opponent can choose to ignore it. Although this is the case, ramp is powerful enough that Greedy Sprite might see play over Arcane Tyrant.

 

Big Druid seems to be the new go-to Druid deck. In the past, Jade Druid has held this spot, but Big Druid is able to make bigger minions faster and still keep aggression at bay, which may see the ‘Big’ archetype overtaking the Jade mechanic this expansion. Because of this, it is a solid choice for both ranked ladder and tournament play.

 

Tempo Rogue

KnC Tempo Rogue

Tempo Rogue Decklist

Tempo Rogue swept the meta in dominant fashion when it was first discovered to be a powerhouse of a deck. With Kobolds and Catacombs, this deck gets even stronger with the inclusion of some slower yet highly valuable cards. One of these cards is the Rogue Legendary of the set, Sonya Shadowdancer. Sonya replaces the rather weak card of Shaku, the Collector as a card generation engine. Most of the minions in Tempo Rogue have such good effects or Battlecries that Shadowcaster saw a decent amount of experimentation and success during the expansion. Sonya is much cheaper than Shadowcaster, which makes its effect easier to pull off. The second card I have added to the deck is Fal’dorei Strider. Admittingly, a 4 mana 4/4 is rather weak as a tempo play. But, the potential for that minion to pull one, two, or even three additional 4/4 bodies is so powerful that it is worth the initial tempo loss. Even if only 1 additional body is pulled, paying 4 mana for 8/8 worth of stats is crazy powerful. There is also the potential to high-roll by creating a 4/4 on turn 7 to be able to play Bonemare onto after your opponent cleared your board the previous turn.

 

Fal’dorei Strider takes the place of Saronite Chain Gang, mainly because of Chain Gang’s vulnerability to an on-curve Duskbreaker. Overall, Tempo Rogue looks to still be a powerhouse deck next expansion, and I expect to see it played both on the ranked ladder and in tournaments.

 

Highlander Priest

KnC Highlander Priest

Highlander Priest Decklist

Highlander Priest has been at the top of the meta throughout Knights of the Frozen Throne, and it seems to still remain at the top during Kobolds and Catacombs. The Priest list I have selected to showcase only adds one card: Psychic Scream. In order to include the new Priest board clear, I chose to cut Mass Dispel from the deck. Mass Dispel is often times weak, so it made sense to take it out for one of the best cards of the upcoming expansion. This decision shows how good of a deck Highlander Priest already is. Another take on Highlander Priest is to go for a more minion-focused route by including a Dragon package with Duskbreaker. While this seems like a good idea, I feel the current version of the deck is much better. In the past, more value-oriented decks were tested. These decks included cards such as Elise the Trailblazer and Free from Amber. It was ultimately found that the faster and more burst-oriented Priest build was better. Therefore, I feel it is appropriate to stick with the tried-and-true burst style.

 

Once again, Highlander Priest seems to be at the top of the meta. Expect to see a large amount on ladder and as a staple deck in many tournament lineups.

 

The Non-Meta

Combo Hunter

KnC Combo Hunter

Combo Hunter Decklist

For the past few expansions, Hunter has been struggling as a class. Blizzard keeps pushing control tools and weird cards for the Hunter arsenal, which leaves the class in an awkward position in terms of deck building because of how weak each of the archetypes are. With the new Hunter legendary minion, Kathrena Winterwisp, I thought it would be really interesting to build a combo-oriented deck using Kathrena, Charged Devilsaur, and King Krush. It is often not a combo that will instantly kill your opponent, but the amount of stats that the combo provides are truly ridiculous. This deck runs the Secret package to help fend off aggro, the Candleshot and Hunter’s Mark combo to deal with large threats, and Deathstalker Rexxar to create even more value in a late game scenario.

 

While the deck might not be top-tier, it seems extremely fun to play. Personally, I will be testing this deck in tournament play in a lineup that is attempting to target control decks. On ranked ladder, Combo hunter still seems weak to aggro decks and Highlander Priest, which makes it not extremely viable in the upcoming meta.

Conclusion

Overall, Kobolds and Catacombs sees both powerful and fun cards added to the game. While it may not be the best expansion of the year in terms of player attitude and hype, it will likely lead to a diverse and healthy meta both in terms of ranked ladder and tournament play.

 

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

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One year on, we’re still in Gadgetzan

Mean Streets of Gadgetzan came out over a year ago, but we’re still in its grip. The defining Gadgetzan tools of Jade, Highlander and Pirates dominate the meta. Four legendaries tell the story of how the expansion dominates every facet of Standard. Indeed, almost 50 percent of decks on ladder have at least one of Aya, Patches or Kazakus.

Han’cho, the failure

gadgetzan

The failure of Han’cho’s Handbuffs had lasting impacts

Gadgetzan isn’t only defined by its successes. One of the sets most long-lasting implications was the utter failure of the Handbuff mechanic. This is epitomised in Don Han’cho and his Grimy Goons. This two-headed mobster is notable for how he represents the complete mediocrity of Handbuff. Though some Paladin decks with limited Handbuff mechanics have bordered on viability, the overwhelming impact was that one of the most potent expansions contained very little viable class cards for Hunter, Warrior and Paladin.

The impact of this is surprising; while other classes got powerful Kabal spells and Jade synergies, Warrior, Paladin and Hunter were left to pick up what Neutral synergy they could. While this worked for a time, these classes have consistently struggled for much of the past year. Outside of Pirates, Warrior has wallowed in mediocrity or outright unplayability; Hunters are easy prey for more refined Aggro, while Paladin struggles to make any archetype other than Murloc work. They currently make up three of the four least played classes. Their combined representation makes up only 16 percent of the ladder, less than Priest, Rogue or Druid do individually.

Aya, the mid-game queen

Gadgetzan

Aya is arguably better than a tri-class Savannah Highmane

Much has been said about the remarkable mid/late-game tempo power of Jades. What’s remarkable is how much of that comes down to a single card. Not only does Aya provide an aggressive 5/3 body and a Jade Golem for six, her deathrattle also gives you yet another golem. With three bodies of beefy minions in an AOE resistant package, Aya has swung countless games. Even if you survive the onslaught, her double Jade ramp means the turns after are even tougher.

Aya has seen play in every Jade deck out there apart from perhaps Big Druid with its two Jade Blossoms and nothing else. Even Aggro and Evolve Shaman, running nothing but Jade Claws and Jade Lightnings, benefit hugely from her. She represents everything that made Jade so dominant; sticky, aggressive, ramping stats on the cheap. While Jade never took off in Rogue, it has had a massive influence on Druid and Shaman for the past 12 months, leading Control decks everywhere to despairingly wonder “How long can this go on?”

Kazakus, the spellmaster

gadgetzan

Kazakus bolstered multiple Highlander archetypes

Despite the departure of his best buddy Reno Jackson, Kazakus is still a huge part of the meta. Of course, the reigning Highlander deck relies far less on him than on Raza and Shadowreaper, but Kazakus and the Kabal represents the flavour and style of the deck. Inconsistent but immensely powerful, Highlander decks rely on a few potent abilities and synergies to survive their otherwise mediocre decklists. Once that came from Reno; now it comes from Shadowreaper and Raza. But Kazakus remains, providing massive swing turns with his custom spells.

The power of Highlander brought both fun and frustration. Fun, for the flexibility of the highlander decklists, and the big, strong cards they play. Frustrating due to their inherent alternation between weakness and overbearing strength, depending on draw consistency. But such power spikes are necessary to fight off the might of Jades and Patches.

Patches, forever in charge

Gadgetzan

Bar Undertaker, no other card has defined the early game so much

There’s a decent case to suggest that Patches the Pirate is the most powerful minion ever printed. At zero cost apart from running pirates and the risk of drawing him, he redefined the early game. Almost every Pirate became great overnight (sorry Cap’n Crag) and the early game micro-meta was massively upended. Cards like Fire Fly and Voidwalker are good largely because they trade favourably with Patches. Golakka Crawler has done little to halt his rise.

Patches has provided a 1/1 charge boost to almost every aggro or tempo deck. He has single-handedly created a world where Aggro can win the board with intense prejudice. It will be fascinating to see how aggro and tempo can survive without him. Patches deck’s sub-50 percent winrate when drawing him could be an indication of things to come.

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

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The price of losing Adventures and Hearthstone’s squeezed middle

It’s easy to imagine Ben Brode scratching his head. Team 5 have introduced a number of changes to make Hearthstone more generous. Blizzard added free weekly Tavern Brawl packs, guaranteed legendaries, no duplicate legendaries and the Welcome Bundle. What more do players want? And yet, complaints about the game’s cost only increase, especially on the Hearthstone subredddit. So what’s going on? The answer may lie in the move from Adventures to expansions, and who that affects.

Who loses?

Let’s roughly divide the Hearthstone community into three types of players. Blizzard understandably doesn’t release their internal sales and usage data, so this can’t be based in direct data. However, even painting in broad strokes can help here. We can consider how “hardcore” a player is in their spending habits and split them accordingly.

  • Casual low-spenders
  • Mid-level semi-hardcore spenders
  • Hardcore ‘Whales’

These three types of players are affected very differently; both by the generous changes and the switch to all-expansion rather than Adventure releases. Let’s look at them individually. Who wins out from these changes, and who loses?

The hardcore

Let’s talk about ‘whales’, the somewhat degrading catch-all term for people who spend the most on micro-transactions. In Hearthstone, these are the players who’ll be unpacking hundreds of packs on day one of expansion release. They likely aim for full or near-full collections, will certainly have multiple meta decks and may even craft golden cards. They may be pro or semi pro, stream or have a job related to Hearthstone.

So how do these players benefit? Well for starters, there’s one main change that has helped whales significantly. Removing unpacking duplicate legendaries has significantly buffed the benefit of opening large numbers of packs, as it’s far easier to get all or most of the legendaries if you don’t dust so many.

More importantly, hardcore players get more of what they want: content. With over a hundred cards, full-sized expansions can offer several times the raw number of cards as Adventures. This not only means more goodies to collect, it can mean more wacky, non-competitive legendaries that the hardcore player can enjoy messing around with. With Adventures, everything has to be tailored for maximal impact, but expansions can add the Yoggs, Rotfaces and Mayor Noggenfoggers.

The casual

Casual low-spenders make up the majority of Hearthstone’s user-base. They spend rarely, if at all, and mostly hover around lower ranks. They may not play Hearthstone as much, and may be more likely to be mobile users.

First off, casual players benefit most from many changes added to Hearthstone’s reward systems. Weekly packs from Tavern Brawls is great for someone who logs in less frequently. Free legendaries at the start of expansions and guaranteed legendaries in the first 10 packs is also perfect for low spenders. To round it all off, the $5 Welcome Bundle is a fantastic investment for newer players.

The casual player also wins out from the end of Adventures. Despite increases to the number of mandatory legendaries, the swap from expansions to Adventures can make it a lot easier for a starting or low-spending player to get the cards they need. The reason is simple; it’s far easier to craft commons and rares than to buy Adventures.

For low-spending casuals, the 700 gold cost per wing was a huge paywall. Often players would need to buy through all five wings for a single vital common. And with Adventures tailored for high impact, they were often necessary for a player to compete. And that $20 or 3500 gold would often be a terrible investment, as players would get tons of cards that they didn’t especially need amongst the few they actually wanted.

A squeezed middle?

So what about the mid-tier spenders? These are the players that will typically buy packs on a semi-regular basis, especially around expansions, and will only collect and craft the cards and decks they really want. Unfortunately, these are the players losing out, and make up a large proportion of the vocal, interactive community on Reddit and Blizzard’s forums.

Although they also benefit from free legendaries and packs, their proportionate impact is lower. The mid-tier spender will typically dust their unwanted legendaries anyway, making the likelihood of duplicates low regardless.

But these players are being punished by the swap to an all-expansion model. Adventures used to be perfect for mid-tier spenders. $20 for all the content was a great deal for those seeking to build a few powerful decks. But expansions make things a lot more expensive; a pre-order costs $40. But it doesn’t get you all of the content, and will often leave these players without the tools to make competitive decks for their favourite classes.

If Blizzard wants to reduce the complaints over cost on their most public forums, they need more targeted benefits for these mid-tier spenders.

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

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The Patches problem: Good legendaries, expensive decks?

With a new expansion coming up, the debate around Hearthstone’s cost has come up again. The pre-order tempts some, but many more are having conflicted thoughts. Despite guaranteed and free legendaries, weekly brawl packs and free arena runs, the perceived cost of maintaining a competitive or semi-competitive collection is higher than ever. With users arguably receiving more handouts, the reasons behind this are often down to a fundamental dilemma in the design of Legendary minions.

Tempo Rogue, the new Wallet Warrior?

The best Vanilla legendaries were slow

One reason why Hearthstone feels a lot more expensive is the rising dust cost of many decks. For example, let’s look at the latest meta tyrant; Tempo Rogue. Aggro/Midrange decks used to be the cheapest, but modern optimised Tempo Rogues run similar numbers of legendaries to old Control Warriors.

In Classic, Wallet Warrior’s legendary heavy lists included cards like Harrison, Cairne, Sylvanas, Ragnaros, Alexstrasza, Grommash, Baron Geddon and Ysera. Only the greediest lists would include all of these cards, with many eschewing one or more. If we expect typical Wallet Warrior to have five to seven legendaries, then lists like Ike’s Barnes Tempo Rogue begin to look similarly restrictive. With seven legendaries (with multiple more optional inclusions), the dust cost of this popular, competitive Aggro/Midrange deck is on par with the most expensive decks of old. And it’s not just Rogues. Even historically cheap decks like Zoo and Midrange Paladin require multiple legendaries and handfuls of Epics. Though budget lists are available, they often pale in comparison in power level.

How did this happen? Why are almost all competitive decks so dependent on legendaries and epics?

The rise of the early-game legendary

Low-cost Classic legendaries weren’t exactly Aggro powerhouses

The problem can be summed up in two ways. Top-level legendaries became mandatory for non-control decks, especially Aggro. From Vanilla to Mean Streets of Gadgetzan, there were very few truly game-changing early legendaries for Aggro (arguably Sir Finley Mrrglton, though he was less vital for board presence). Sure, there was Bloodmage Thalnos and Edwin Vancleef, but these were combo tools more than Aggro. Leeroy was always an ever-present burst option, but only as a late-game finisher.

Legendaries were often necessary, of course, but they came down in more niche Control decks, at less vital stages of the game. Sure, getting that Doctor Boom down on seven was important for a lot of decks, but far less important than it is to draw Keleseth or to pull Patches. legendaries felt impactful, due to their high cost and impressive effects, whilst being less impactful in reality. This meant that low-budget players could still compete, while those with legendaries still felt awesome using them.

Pricey pirates and Princes

The problem of the Aggro, mandatory legendary is Patches. Patches is a huge stumbling block for any new or returning player due to the sheer number of decks that rely on him. Unlike other legendaries, he practically must be crafted, as no adequate substitute exists. And the decks he works best in are the decks that would otherwise be the cheapest! Patches effectively adds a 1600 dust hurdle to any new collection, and severely cuts into the amount of dust players have left over for fun experimentation.

This got worse with the introduction of Prince Keleseth. The surprisingly effective two-drop redefined Rogue and Zoo Warlock with its incredible power. But aside from making it unreliable, Keleseth’s Legendary status adds yet another 1600 dust barrier to those seeking to do well on ladder.

The problem with these uber-powerful early-game legendaries is that they make the decks that should be cheap as expensive as the ones that already cost a lot, squeezing out anyone who wants to do even moderately well on a budget.

Rethinking legendaries

Should Team 5 stop making legendaries like Patches?

There are two ways around this. One would be to accept that Aggro decks will continue to be expensive, and continue to price ladder success highly. This could be combined with printing fewer high-powered late-game Legendaries, making Control and Midrange cheaper. However, this would restrict the number of cool, powerful one-off effects that make those kinds of decks so interesting.

The best option might simply be to stop printing incredibly powerful early legendaries. Aggro and Midrange rely on these board-establishing minions to compete. Making them Legendary only increases both the barrier of entry and the variance to detrimental extents.

Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com. Title image courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment

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Where Have All the Warlocks Gone in Hearthstone?

The Hearthstone Spring Playoffs have come and gone and we make our way into summer. When we take a look back at the Spring Playoffs for a moment, we notice there was one very glaring problem. Not one single player played a Warlock deck in Asia, Europe or North America. What has changed from last year where we saw so many Warlock decks dominating? Today we are going to take a look at a few reasons why the mighty have fallen.

 

Warlock legendary’s

Warlock right now is at an all time low for effective legendary’s. In most situations there is either a better version of the card or you will never find a yourself in a situation where having the legendary is useful.

Lord Jaraxxus: This card allows you to out value any class in the end game. The only problem is Warlock has the hardest time making it to the endgame, which leads us to our next problem of why Warlock can’t seem to get to its win condition.

Lakkari Sacrifice: The Warlock quest finds itself at a distinct disadvantage because it is just as difficult to complete as the other class quests. However, the payoff is less rewarding. Playing Nether Portal just isn’t a big enough power spike for the investment it takes to reach.

Clutchmother Zavas: This card is simply put a less reliable Edwin VanCleef. It adds +2/+2 each time you manage to discard it. Instead of only having to play as many cards as possible, you constantly run the risk of discarding cards you absolutely needed. Now you don’t get the bonus and you’re missing an effective tool to help win the game. It is too high of a risk with too little reward.

Cho’gall: This is an expensive card and has a special effect that only works in unique situations. Most of the time this card makes you fall behind more than it helps you get ahead. The better version of this card is Inkmaster Solia.

Krul the Unshackled: In order to take advantage of this legendary you need to have a specific type of minion and no duplicates in your deck. This card is similar to Deathwing, Dragonlord but at an even bigger disadvantage because you have to sacrifice deck consistency.  

 

No major healing in current meta

Hearthstone has always had very limited healing possibilities. With the tragic loss of Reno Jackson, Warlock players around the world are feeling the struggle of having to play a class that relies on using its own life as a primary resource to get ahead without a way to gain back that life. Most cards that do heal your hero are less powerful minions that only return one to four health. There currently are only 10 cards that can regain health for a Warlock (and that’s including Lord Jaraxxus and Alexstrasza). This highly limits a Warlock’s ability to capitalize on its hero power and powerful board-swinging tools. Without a reliable health gain mechanic in the game, Warlocks are stuck with not having good enough aggro or control strategies. 

 

 

 

 

 

Its so crazy it just might work

While it’s unlikely, a problem may be that people don’t think Warlock decks are possible to consistently win with because professionals are not playing them. They simply don’t try to figure out what would make it work. This quality could actually work to a player’s advantage because people may forget about how to play against Warlocks properly. I don’t think Warlock will ever be an unstoppable juggernaut in the current Hearthstone meta, but you might be able to sneak in a quirky unexpected deck that takes down the meta for a brief moment.

 

The Return of Paladin – How to Buff a Class

The Dark Ages of Paladin

Anyfin allowed Paladin to avoid total irrelevance; barely.

Very few classes have been as consistently poor for such an extended period as Paladin. While others have admittedly been worse, notably Priest during Karazhan and Hunter during MSoG, none have had the continual drizzle of under-performing mediocrity drench them quite as completely as Paladin. From the moment Shielded Minibot, Muster for Battle, and Avenge rotated out to the release of Un’goro, Paladin has found itself without the tools necessary to survive in a cut-throat meta.

In Whispers of the Old Gods, an initially promising showing with N’zoth synergies was thwarted by a lack of early game tools. Then Karazhan’s rise of Midrange Shaman and a slower meta still suppressed Paladin due to their lack of board-clears and a fundamental weakness to Hex. MSoG hand buff experiments failed utterly, leaving the class bereft of resources in a meta defined by the early game power of pirates and the late-game dominance of Jades.

Out of the Dumpster

Things have improved massively in Un’goro. No longer cast to the wayside, Paladin holds its own with a variety of archetypes. Most promising of all is an old-school classic mid-range variant that looks to be gaining traction; using the early game springboard of Murlocs to carry it towards a formidable late-game powered by some of the most value-tastic 8 drops in the game.

Old-style mid-range Paladin is widely regarded as one of the “fairest” decks in the game. With respectable performance in all stages of the game, a small number of potent board clears, and a number of strong healing effects, mid-range Paladin is a jack-of-all-trades that doesn’t rest on one completely broken synergy or card but accrues value and tempo over a mid-lengthed game. One can imagine that if Hearthstone were ever given a “Yu-Gi-Oh” style TV series, mid-range Paladin would be the deck of the protagonist.

It’s hard to point to exactly what made Paladin go from nigh-unplayable to a solid choice in just one expansion. Unlike Dragon Priest before it, it got no single overpowered build-around. What made it its current state in such a balanced fashion?

Murlocs to the rescue

Rockpool Hunter is a key part of paladin’s new early-game package

Lore-wise Paladins are noble guardians of justice, with impressive shoulder-pads and an inextinguishable self-righteousness. As such, it’s a bit odd to see them dependent on the help of a group of terrorizing humanoid amphibians. But in terms of Hearthstone, they synergize perfectly. Murlocs theme of buffing tokens and one another is similar to the core class mechanics of Paladin. Not only that, but the new Un’goro set contained a number of cards that provide an unprecedented, but not overwhelmingly snowbally, boost to the Paladin early game toolkit.

Rockpool Hunter, Hydrologist, and Gentle Megasaur allow Paladin to have a solid start to almost every game. The minions aren’t too sticky and start out as non-threatening, but with the right combination of buffs and synergies can generate massive value. However, they’ll rarely end games on their own in the manner of an unanswered Tunnel Trogg. This forces other classes to interact with the Paladin’s early boards, making for a more consistent lead into the mid-game powerhouses of Truesilver Champion and Consecrate.

Shields Up!

Sunkeeper Tarim is a flexible and powerful tool that is often discovered off Stonehill Defender.

It isn’t just Murlocian early game power that’s fueling mid-range Paladin’s rise. Powerful mid/late game taunts have provided the beef to provide value and staying power throughout the later stages of the game. While traditional Paladin staple Tirion Fordring is as omnipresent as ever, Un’goro offers many new taunt options.

Stonehill Defender is now a staple, with its decent body that grants card advantage and stalls. But more importantly, Stonehill has an exceptional chance of offering a Paladin Class Legendary in Wickerflame Burnbristle, Tirion, or the new Sunkeeper Tarim. All of these are exceptional cards, especially to have duplicates of.

Sunkeeper Tarim himself has proven to be a nigh indispensable and ludicrously versatile tool. Beneficial on almost any board state, he can buff your tokens and neutralise your opponents threats, all while all but guaranteeing favourable trades with his 3/7 body. Meanwhile, Spike-ridged Steed is the buff Paladins didn’t know they needed. With 4/12 of taunted stats split across 2 bodies, Spikeridged can end the game vs aggressive decks and provides a nigh-insurmountable wall of HP to break through.

Troggs Tunnel no longer

But perhaps the most important positive impact for Paladin is a lack of the ubiquitous Tunnel Trogg and Totem Golems of Shaman. Tunnel Trogg is arguably the most powerful 1 drop ever printed – its strength and synergy demanding answering ASAP.

Paladin, as one of the classes without any kind of clean answer for this card, had to rely on the Unreliable Doomsayers or adopt a strategy built around mass-heals and end-game combos. This was a fatally flawed strategy in a meta filled with Hexes and mass board flood that Paladin couldn’t handle due to its lack of spot removal outside of Equality.

The absence of these cards gives Paladin the breathing room to adopt a more pro-active strategy without being bowled over in the first few turns. More than anything, this emphasizes how a class can be buffed by what cards don’t exist, as much as by cards that do.


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How to Run the Zoo (Part 2)

(Photo By: The Game Diplomat)

(Photo By: The Game Diplomat)

How to Run the Zoo (Part 2)

In my previous article, “How to Run the Zoo (Part 1),” I discussed the basics of the Zoo archetype: it’s strengths in the meta, basic strategy, and win conditions. In this article, we are going to take a deeper dive into the Zoo deck. I will highlight some key cards, some possible replacements for those players who may not have all the cards in my Zoo deck list, and mulligan strategy. While what follows is robust, it is by no means exhaustive. One of the most interesting qualities of the Zoo deck is its flexibility. No one choice is correct at all times. I would urge you to use what follows as an outline, but not a treatise. Only after hundreds of games with any deck can you truly understand the matchups, and the ins-and-outs of a deck.

Key Cards

Zoo is not a deck built around one card (e.g. Secret Paladin’s Mysterious Challenger, RenoLock’s Reno Jackson, or Miracle Rouge’s Gagezon Auctioneer). Instead, Zoo relies on a number of relatively small but powerful cards working in conjunction. As such, no one card in the deck is irreplaceable. No one card will “break the deck.” That said – there are certainly a number of strong cards that provide the deck with the upmost of flexibility and resiliency that makes Zoo such a formidable deck to pilot. Understanding which cards are powerful, and why, will improve your game leaps and bounds.

Dark Peddler

A 2/2 minion introduced in the newest League of Explorers expansion without much hype, Dark Peddler has surpassed all expectations, and is now essentially an auto-include in all Warlock decks. While the Peddler does not provide much in terms of raw stats as a 2/2, its true power comes in his battlecry: “Discover a 1-mana card.” Warlock has, plain and simple, some of the best 1-mana cards in the game. The ability to pick up a mortal coil, or an extra a power overwhelming, flame imp, or Voidwalker can quite literally be the difference in some games. Struggling to find a turn three play in your opening hand? Fear not! That Peddler will enable you to play a two-drop and your discovered card on turn three. Need that last bit of burst at the end of the game? Let Peddler find you a Soulfire to finish off your opponent. With the inclusion of Brann Bronzebeard, you can take advantage of your Peddler’s battlecry twice, potentially leading so some incredible burst damage. Peddler is the best example of the flexibility of the Zoo deck, and should be kept in your opening hand almost without exception.

Nerubian Egg

Nerubian Egg may be one of the most misunderstood cards by beginners in Hearthstone. A 0/2 for 2-mana seems entirely underwhelming, even if you do get a 4/4 body after it dies. Most beginners simply shrug and assume their opponent will never kill the card. However, to a learned player with a Zoo deck, a Nerubian Egg is a truly top-tier card. Zoo decks typically run at least five different buffs for the Egg (Abusive Sergeant, Power Overwhelming, Defender of Argus, and Dire Wolf Alpha). The Egg, when used properly with these buffs, should be be able to clear an opponent’s minion, leaving behind the 4/4 body and whatever minion was used to buff the egg originally.

Knife Juggler

What can I say about Knife Juggler that hasn’t already been said? If you’re not playing a control deck you should be playing two of these every time. The Juggler has good stats, and an almost unfair ability, especially when luck is on your side. Knife Juggler is particularly brutal in the Zoo deck. Sure, he’s great to slam down on turn two or three behind a Voidwalker. He’s even better when you already have a Haunted Creeper or Imp Gang Boss in play. But what makes him almost unfair in the Zoo deck is the final card on this list, Imp-losion

Imp-losion

Imp-losion is both the most exhilarating and frustrating card in the zoo deck.  This RNG-based spell can be your best friend or worst enemy. As zoo’s only source of “removal” you must pick your spots wisely before using it. For example, many players make the mistake of coining out this card on turn three right before a Druid’s turn four swipe or a Paladin’s turn four Consecration. The best use of Imp-losion is pairing it with Knife Juggler to unleash a torrent of knife throws and imps. Just be careful and make sure you don’t overcrowd your board before using this (you might have to trade some other minions in first).

 

Potential Card Replacements

Overall, the zoo deck is relatively cheap. While you do sometimes find Legendries like Loatheb, this deck is far easier to craft than the pricey Control Warrior. However, there are always budget options for some of those pricier cards.

Leeroy Jenkins

The idea is here is to find a charger to finish off your opponent. Look for other charging minions you might have. Arcane Golem and Doomguard are very suitable replacements.

Loatheb

It’s tough to replace this incredible legendary minion. Try adding another card that will slow down your opponent and provide a healthy body. Sludge Belcher seems like the perfect replacement, coming in at the same mana cost and filling a similar role.

Dr. Boom

If you’re looking for a big guy to replace Dr. Boom, don’t. There simply is not another big guy around with the same power level as the Dr. Instead, I would look toward more mid-range options to help buff your other creatures. Try adding in another Dire Wolf Alpha or a Dark Iron Dwarf. You could even fill in a Piloted Shredder or Enhanc-o Mechano to add to your mid-game board state.

Mulligans: An Overview

Mulligans are often overlooked, but represent one of the most important decisions in the game. The common misconception is that you are looking for the same “best” cards every match. This is simply not true. Proper mulligans rely on the individual matchup more than anything else.

Step one is understanding whether your matchup is favored or unfavored. In an unfavored matchup (like Priest or Warrior), you should be using your mulligan more aggressively. That is, you should be digging hard for very specific cards to help you in the first three turns. Chances are that if you don’t have those specific cards, you would probably be too far behind by turn four or five to win anyway.

Step two is thinking about the best cards your opponent may have. How can you counter those cards? IF you were playing with your opponent’s deck, which zoo cards would you least like to see come down on the board.

Finally, look to your curve. Curving out and using all of your mana is crucial during the first few turns of a Zoo deck. IF you have the coin, know that you do not always have to use it on turn one to coin out a two-drop. Sometimes it’s better spent on turn three or four to play two minions at a time.

Mulligans by Matchup

Paladin

Secret Paladin is a good match if you can control the board early. They will be trying to play cards like Shielded Minibot and Muster. As such, you want minions that you can use to pop those divine shields, and deal with those pesky 1/1s and secrets. Look for cards like Haunted Creeper, Imp Gang Boss, and Voidwalker.

Druid

The key against Druid is preventing them from ramping with Darnasus Aspirant. As such, you will need something to kill that card by your turn two or three (depending on who went first). Flame Imps are wonderful in this matchup, as it essentially forces a Wrath or a free kill for you on the Darnasus Aspirant. A Voidwalker + Abusive Sergeant is also a great pair of cards to hold onto. Finally, a coined Dark Peddler into Mortal Coil will take care of that Darnasus every time.

Warlock

In this match, always mulligan as though you’re playing against a Zoo, then adjust to RenoLock. If you know your opponent to be playing Reno, keeping an Owl at the start to deal with Twilight Drake can be a great tempo swing. However, it’s more important to find those early sticky minions like Haunted Creeper, Imp Gang Boss, and Knife Juggler.

Mage

The key in this matchup is making sure a tempo mage cannot get too far ahead. Make sure to keep Flame Imps and Dark Peddlers to help deal with those Mage one and two drops. If you know that your opponent is a Freeze Mage, keeping the Owl is a must.

Shaman

While Shaman might be the king of face right now, you can actually push the Shaman around if you can curve out early. Just like Mage and Druid, you are looking to kill minions with three health. Look for Voidcallers + Abusive Sergeants, Flame Imps, or Knife Jugglers.

Warrior

Warriors are a tough match, and will honestly depend a lot on whether they have an Axe in their starting hand. Look for those sticky minions like Haunted Creeper. Imp Gang Boss is a great card to coin out on turn two in this match, as your opponent cannot deal with it with the War Axe. On occasion, there is actually merit in playing out a Nerubian Egg and letting it sit there for a few turns to guard against large board clears.

Priest

Priest is one of the toughest early game matchups for zoo. Having an Abusive Sargent or Flame Imp is almost a must in this matchup, as if you cannot deal with Northshire Cleric before it gets buffed or heals, you have essentially lost. A Dark Peddler into Dire Wolf Alpha is a good play. Better is Flame Imp or Voidcaller into Abusive Sargent.

Hunter

The Hunter matchup will turn on your ability to deal with their three-drop. Misha can be a big problem to get through if you don’t have your Imp-losion or an Abusive. Be careful after your implosion not to leave too many minions on the board. It’s easy to get swept away by a turn five Knife Juggler + Unleash the Hounds.

Rouge

Rouge is a match that relies on your ability to hold onto the board with sticky minions. Imp Gang Boss and Haunted Creeper are particularly good, as they force your opponent to deal with them more than once. IF you are worried about a Blade Flurry, play out an Egg to make sure you have a minion left behind after the AOE.

 

 

As always, I encourage your comments and questions below. If you want to send me a question directly, feel free to email aPurpleTrain@gmail.com. Until next time, good hunting!

 

 

Climbing the Ladder with aPurpleTrain

The ladder is a dark and angry mistress. All who have played Hearthstone have felt her siren’s call. We toil each month to climb the ranks, to earn our spot among the ranks of the Legendary. To some, achieving a Legendary rank is routine. A simple chore to be completed each month. But for most, it is the mirage in the desert, or Mount Olympus above the clouds – a mythical place beyond the grasp of the mortals.

I am aPurpleTrain. I have seen this mythical land. I have been there many, many times, even on a free-to-play account. And I am here to tell you that I am just like you, a mere mortal. I do not spend eight hours a day streaming. I do not fly across the world to play in invitational tournaments. I am not sponsored. I do not have subscribers, followers, or loyal trolls. I am here to tell you that you too can reach Legendary. Let me be your guide. Each week, I will highlight a deck that you can use to pilot to the top .25% of the ladder. It will not come easy. Reaching the top of the ladder will require patience above all else, but it is possible.

How to Run the Zoo (Part 1)

I have piloted many different decks to Legendary – Secret Paladin, Freeze Mage, Mid-Range Druid, Face Hunter. But none have I had so much fun with as Warlock Zoo.

What is Zoo?

aPurpleTrain Feb 2016 Legendary Zoo Deck

aPurpleTrain Feb 2016 Legendary Zoo Deck

Zoo is a term you hear often in Hearthstone. It is perhaps one of the only deck archetypes (other than Handlock and the new Renolock) that does not require detailing the class. Hearing Zoo means Warlock. Simple as that. So what is Zoo?

Zoo has existed in Hearthstone essentially from the beginning. The specific iterations have changed enormously over two years, but the basic strategy is the same: capture the board early with sticky minions that are resilient to board clears, never give up the board, and then start pounding away at your opponent’s face. Zoo decks typically do not run board clears, and only rarely run any sort of removal other than Imp-losion (occasionally you will see a player tech in a BGH).

In this respect, Zoo is actually very similar to Secrets Paladin. While they both may seem superficially to be pure aggro decks like Face Hunter, the real victory comes from controlling the board early with your minions. It is not uncommon to enter turns four, five, or six, and be losing by life total, but winning on board. If you can control the board, you will almost always win the game.

Zoo in the Current Meta

Zoo is an incredibly strong deck in the meta right now, primarily because the two most often encountered ladder decks, Mid-Range Druid and Secrets Paladin, are both favorable match-ups for the Zoo player. Both of those decks have a similar weakness: removal of multiple minions. Druid, for example, may be the worst class in the game at removing multiple minions efficiently. A Druid’s only true AOE is Swipe. A Druid wants to plop down one big minion per turn until they draw combo and kill you. In a similar vein, Secret Paladins run only one AOE, if that – consecrate.

Resilient Minions

The great things about Zoo is that all of your minions are very resilient to these board clears. Zoo does have quite a few 1 and 2 health minions, but not nearly as many as a pure face deck like Face Hunter. Also, Zoo’s minions are sticky. Minions like Haunted Creeper, Nerubian Egg, and Imp Gang Boss all leave minions behind after AOE. These minions make it incredibly difficult for your opponent to clear the board entirely, while also turning your Knife Juggler from a priority target into a must-kill target.

Minion Buffs

Why is it so good to always have a minion on the board? Because of Zoo’s other strength, it’s buff cards. Zoo decks run an abundance of buffs, allowing you to turn your cheap, small, sticky minions in to larger guys capable of trading up (while leaving more minions behind). Cards like Abusive Sargent and Power Overwhelming can flip the entire board in your favor. Very few plays in the game are more powerful than playing a PO on your Egg, killing an opponent’s large minion, and leaving yourself with a fresh 4/4 on the board – all for just one mana.

Late Game

Zoo is also a deck that has plenty of space for individual choices to counter the meta. The mid to late game for Zoo is often simply a personal preference by player. Most players will try to run at least one large threat and/or one large charging minion for a final burst. Some players have used Dr. Boom as a big threat, while some have opted for Sea Giants. For a finisher, some decks opt for Doomguard, while others shy away from the discard mechanic and opt for Arcane Golem or Leroy Jenkins instead. Any of those chargers, when combined with a PO or Abusive is capable of creating large bursts, sometimes into the realm of 12-16 damage. And if you find yourself stuck behind a taunt, never leave home without your best friend, Mr. Ironbeak Owl.

Conclusion

Overall, Zoo is an incredibly powerful and fun deck. The deck plays a little bit differently than some “curve-out” decks where the plays are essentially scripted. The deck often rewards risk and the element of surprise. While the deck may be named after a zoo of animals, the deck is certainly best when you let those animals out of their cage. So go! Let your minions run wild, and you, too, can run the Zoo to Legendary.

I will be back next week with How to Run the Zoo (Part 2), where I will discuss in some detail mulligans, and tech choices. In the meantime, try out the Zoo variant I used to climb the ladder during the February 2016 season.

I welcome any and all comments, and promise to always do my best at responding to questions.