Quest Rogue was a widely underestimated deck. Though some recognized that it may have some potential, the vast majority thought it would see little or no competitive play. While pros’ assessments that it was too slow and gimmicky may turn out to be true in the long run (the deck has abysmal win-rates vs aggro), in the meantime the deck floods a large proportion of ladder. Whilst the strategy to beat it is straightforward as an Aggressive or Midrange deck, slow Control decks have a harder time.
Rogue’s game plan involves “bouncing” the same minion back to their hand 2-3 times. After they have played the same minion four times, they activate the quest, turning all minions and tokens on their side of the board into 5/5s. From there, they seek to close out the game with an endless stream of 5/5s that draw, generate value, or simply charge through for lethal. Some builds even include token generation, like Violet Teacher or Moroes, to create huge boards.
It’s a tough proposition for any slower deck to deal with. Without a way to support the Rogue’s weak turns 1-4, they have little option but to weather the storm of the Crystal Core. To do so, you should follow this multi-step plan. This is not the only way to deal with Quest Rogue, but is the most viable if you are unable to apply enough early pressure to kill them on turns 5-7.
Turns 1-3: Develop Minions
Quest Rogue can’t do much on its initial few turns. You can take advantage of this by using the opportunity to develop your early-game minions. Toss those reactive spells from your mulligan and look for cards you can play to turn up the heat or generate value early on.
Acolyte of Pain or Northshire Cleric is a prime example of a perfect card to develop into a Rogue. Due to their lack of easy three damage removal or minions, they will have no choice but to let you draw large numbers of cards. Any minion that can keep their limited early development under control is vital, so feel free to drop 1/4s just to take care of the few low-health minions they do play.
The aim of this stage is threefold. First, you want to generate resources by drawing or discovering cards. The mid-game gets incredibly tough, and you need all answers you can get. Second, you want to remove every token and minion they play, as any left up on a quest turn will turn into yet another 5/5 for you to deal with. Developing minions lets you do this far more easily. Finally, it allows you to put pressure on the Rogue’s life-total, meaning they have to aggressively switch up their quest-completion or be out-tempo’d.
Turns 3-5: Disrupt the Quest
These turns are the most vital. Depending on how lucky your Rogue opponent has been in getting suitable minions, and whether or not they draw Preparation, the Quest will usually be activated around turns 4-6. This means that you have to do your utmost to delay it as long as possible and mitigate its immediate impact.
Removal of any and all of their minions is paramount here. Any tiny token will likely become a 5/5 on the following turn, so use your spells, minions, and weapons accordingly. The aim is to have the board completely clear prior to their quest turn.
Dirty Rat is also a key tech card that can help you delay the quest significantly. If you can pull down the minion they would have completed the quest with, it can delay them by several turns or more. Even just pulling down a Youthful Brewmaster or Gadgetzan Ferryman can fatally disrupt their game plan, allowing you to take control of the game away form them when they need it most.
Immediate Post-Quest Turns: Survive, Remove, Deny Value
When the Rogue plays the quest, and immediately after, they’ll often follow it up with a number of chargers, perhaps with more bounce effects. For this, you’ll likely want Taunts, ideally with 6+ health. Watch your life total; play around damage in increments of five. If you’re a Warrior, consider choosing cards like Ornery Direhorn or Tar Lord in your Discover picks from Stonehill defenders to minimize their value trades. Rogues run out of removal fast, and will be forced to do things like trade two 5/5s into a single 5/8 often.
They may also drop value generators like Moroes and Violet Teacher. These should be your priority removal targets, as each can quickly snowball the board out of control. It’s important not to over-rely on AOE in these stages, as they can stagger their threats to overwhelm you. Instead, focus on using your hard and spot removal to minimize their impact. With any luck, you’ll survive and severely cut into their ability to flood the board over future turns. You may lose board control; this is almost inevitable while you are playing minions that cost several times as much as their minions. However, you can work on a strategy to regain it in the following turns.
Late-Game: Bleed Them Dry
Once the Rogue’s initial onslaught is over, you should seek to retake the board using mass AOE. Equality-Consecrate, Dragonfire Potion, Brawl, or Shadowflame are ideal. If you’ve played right, they’ll run out of cards far before you and will be unable to retake the board. If they manage to, focus your resources in delaying them until you can draw more AOE and removal. You should then seek to take the perfect balance of value trades and face damage as you retake the board. Pressuring their life total in this stage can be very effective, so long as you are not at risk of dying yourself. Their hero power is one of their only ways of dealing damage in multiples of less than five, so making them too low on health to use it is a very handy strategy.
Once you reach this stage, you are likely favoured. Watch out for bounces and burst damage from chargers, as this is one of the ways you will lose once they run out of resources; if they keep cards in hand for multiple turns, watch out as it’s likely a Shadowstep waiting for a Stonetusk Boar or similar charger. Other than that, simply deny them value until they crumble under the pressure.
Then congratulate yourself; Quest Rogue is an exceedingly difficult deck to win against with certain strategies due to their highly polarizing matchups, and doing so takes a significant amount of skill. Or, as it’s Hearthstone, getting exceedingly lucky.
All images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment.