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.
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.
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, 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?
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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