Dead Man’s Hand vs Odd Warrior: Who’s the king of Control?

Welcome to the Grand Tournament, champion! Though Justicar’s long gone from standard, her most defining upgraded hero power lives on. With Baku, Odd Warrior is an extremely potent control deck that can out-tank a huge proportion of the meta. Players like David “Dog” Caero gave it a strong tournament showing at the HCT playoffs. But Odd Warrior isn’t the only challenger for the one true Control Warrior build. Despite the loss of Coldlight Oracle, Dead Man’s Hand warrior is slowly rebuilding its viability. Most notably, Michaël “Maverick” Loose took his list to Dreamhack, winning the tournament. The deck performed amazingly, going and unbelievable 16-2. But out of these two archetypes, which is the stronger warrior? And what unique strengths and weaknesses do they present?

Tanking burn

Odd Warrior can tank through Priest’s burn based win conditions

One of Odd Warrior’s obvious advantages is its ability to out-heal most burn strategies reliably with the 4 armor hero power. Decks like Control Priest, Aggro Rogue and Tempo Mage that rely on burn have a tough time breaking through that sustained armourgain. Gaining 4 doesn’t sound too earth-shattering, but it’s consistency and ability to come down every turn results in obscene amounts of continual survivability.

Of course, Dead Man’s Hand Warrior has its fair share of lifegain in cards like “Bring it On!”, but its lifegain tools are less reliable. They have to be played only when an opportunity arises, giving the deck far less flexibility. To make matters worse, the deck must save its armor to shuffle back in, meaning it can’t react to continual pressure as well. As such, aggressive Death Knight hero powers like Bloodreaver Gul’dan, Shadowreaper Anduin and Malfurion the Pestilent can grind you out. Luckily, Dead Man’s Hand can avoid the damage in the first place.

Infinite Clears

With Odd Paladin resurgent, Dead Man’s clears can be more vital

But what Dead Man’s Hand lacks in reliable long-term lifegain, it makes up for in removal ability. Unlike Odd Warrior, Dead Man’s hand can run Executes, Blood Razors, Warpath and Scourgelord Garrosh. This gives it incredible board-clearing potential, especially for small minions. The Scourgelord heropower alone can completely shut down decks like Odd Paladin. In addition, this removal can be extended. Versus certain decks like Taunt Druid, you can shuffle in Brawls and Shield Slams early to maximize your ability to clear Hadronoxes.

Odd Warrior does have solid removal options; but is weaker against continual small or medium minion pressure. It’s great at blowing up big boards with Reckless Flurry or Brawl. Unfortunately, those Flurries can leave it dangerously vulnerable to finishers once the armor is lost. Hard removal is also in short supply, with only the two shield slams available. As such many Odd Warriors run sub-optimal clears like King Mosh or Baron Geddon to flesh out their lists, making them clunkier and less reliable.

Turning the corner

Dead Man’s can’t run cards like Azalina easily

An advantage that Odd Warrior can have is its ability to curve higher and run greedier late-game threats. An Odd Warrior’s hero power grants the survivability to run expensive cards, tech cards and niche options like Zola, Elise, Harrison, and Direhorn Hatchling. It doesn’t need to rely on fatigue for a win condition, it can end the game with its bulky threats.

But because a huge proportion of the Dead Man’s hand deck-list must be dedicated to cheap, easy to play cards, as eventually, you will have to refine your deck down to a few key components. If the total mana cost is too high, this would be impossible. It can go the distance into fatigue, but it’s comparatively terrible at putting out proactive threats.

Odd Warrior has a lot more room for tech cards, but it’ less flexible than Dead Man’s Hand Warrior. And while Dead Man’s is harder to play, the ability to have even cards essentially doubles the ability to react to the meta. With that said, Odd Warrior will likely become the superior option as more cards are released in the 1, 3 and 5 slots. And of course, eventually, Dead Man’s Hand will leave standard forever. But until then, the decks seem both to be worthy successors to the resurgent Control Warrior mantle.

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

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Wildcard potential nerf targets

Dean “Iksar” Ayala gave us a unique insight into the ongoing internal design balance discussion at blizzard. In a clarifying Reddit comment, he gave a hit-list of 10 cards that Team 5 are specifically looking at. Among them were many targets of community and competitive ire. It’s a fair assumption that several or even most of the cards highlighted will be touched (my money’s on Call to Arms, Dark Pact, Lackey, Spiteful and one or more key Quest Rogue tools). But there is a decent chance that cards not on this hit-list will be adjusted. Here are some contenders.

Mushroom power or mushroom overpowered?

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5 mana Kings and a 2/2 is pretty good value

There’s a precedent for Blizzard nerfing omnipresent neutral buff minions in Bonemare. Fungalmancer may fall under the nerfhammer for the same reasons. Outside of Tempo Mage, there is no deck that seeks to control the early board that doesn’t run this card. Despite not appearing on Iksar’s hit-list, Baku Rogue, Baku Paladin, Zoo and Spiteful Druid all run it, leading it to have a whopping 18% ladder representation according to HSReplay.net.

But a neutral minion being so omnipresent wouldn’t itself be grounds for a nerf; as otherwise we’d surely see Tar Creeper and Fire Fly changed. What makes Fungalmancer at risk might be merely the dynamics of deck strength. With Warlock and Even Paladin likely targets, Odd Paladin might escape relatively unscathed to dominate the meta. But a huge part of Odd Paladin’s strength comes from Fungalmancer. If changing Baku’s hero power becomes too difficult and costly, Fungalmancer could be a simple, easy proxy.

The wyrm has turned

Though it wasn’t the one cost minion on the hit-list, Mana Wyrm is one hell of an opening minion. It continues to propel aggressive mages to consistent ladder performances. Might the original Tunnel Trogg be at risk? There’s a decent chance to think it might. Tempo Mage would surely blossom in a meta where Paladin was unable to dominate, with few being able to match its scary combination of early game pressure and late-game burn.

As Blizzard seeks to continue on the path of having strength in 1 drops being defined by value in cards like Fire Fly, Kobold Librarian and Town Crier, snowbally minions like Mana Wyrm stick out. In order to rein in tempo mage and support their overall design philosophy, Mana Wyrm might need to see its health reduced to two.

How long this can go on

Saronite might need to take a nerf bullet for Shudderwock

Shudderwock may also be in the sights; though less for its power and more for the feelings of uninteractivity and polarisation it creates. Although it’s unlikely to see the card nerfed directly, some of its supporting cards might see a change, especially if they present design space or power level issues. Saronite Chain Gang might be a target; it enables the endless chain of 1 mana Shudderwocks, and also overperforms in decks like Even Val’anyr Paladin.

It potentially could see a change to its battlecry. If instead of summoning a copy of itself, it simply summoned specifically a second 2/3 taunt, it would be less powerful with Val’anyr and also make Shudderwock a bit less game-endingly uninteractive. However, Wild handbuff decks need not despair just yet, as Shudderwock’s poor winrate may lead it to evade attention for now.

Sucking out the fun?

While on the topic of Shudderwock synergy, it’s important to mention Lifedrinker. This deck is not only a vital Shaman combo piece, it also enables yet more burn in an efficient Neutral shell. This is one of the burn tools that pushed Tempo Mage over the edge, allowing for a truly obscene amount of direct damage in the deck.

It’s for this reason that I wouldn’t be surprised to see a minor reduction to the stats of this card, if only to prevent Mage or Hunter from reaching a critical mass of direct damage. Perhaps it could see its stats reduced to 2/2 or 2/3. However, it’s unlikely that this will be put into effect if the Mana Wyrm change goes through.

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

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The Surprising success of Amani Berserker

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Now more than ever, it’s time for a little blood

When this author was first starting Hearthstone, they put every Enrage or damage-synergy minion into the same deck. It was a surprisingly successful strategy. Among the plays that confused and terrified numerous rank 17 opponents, Amani Berserker into Inner Rage and Rampage became a personal favourite for this writer. Of course, competent opponents would easily remove or trade into it. But the unprepared would quickly fall before a 4 mana 10/4.

But in the Year of the Raven, Amani Berserker is played in more decks than just in homebrew decks built by new players. The humble 2/3 is making the cut in some of the most cutting-edge, competitive decks of the meta. Both Even Paladin and Tempo Mage make great use of this aggressive troll, giving it huge Tier One representation. But why has Amani risen to the fore, when previous metas shunned it?

Never Terrible

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Standard 2-drops aren’t exactly stellar

One important consideration is that Amani is a fundamentally solid card. Cheap, efficient minions are always good in Hearthstone, and as a 2/3 with a significant upside, Amani has proven to be a decent option. But as with almost all cards in Hearthstone, there have always been superior options to edge it out. Analysing the card in a vacuum, though, there is a worthwhile benefit.

If you manage to get it enraged, this card is a huge 5 attack threat. And since the function of 2/3s is often to eat your opponent’s 1-drop then threaten damage, Amani does this perfectly. Granted, it pales in comparison to past 2-cost powerhouses like Shielded Minibot or Haunted Creeper. It’s not that “sticky” and the extra attack rarely matters. However, with the Standard 2-drop pool so limited, it has become an ever more attractive option.

It Beats the Early Meta

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A nourishing breakfast for a hungry troll

Amani Berserker is also adept at countering the current early meta. With Fire Fly, Glacial Shard, and Kobold Librarian being some of the most played 1-cost minions in the game, Amani Berserker thrives. It can threaten to value trade their first turn play and leave behind a scary 5/2 or 5/1 body that could trade up or hit face. This power forces your opponent to slow down their gameplan, giving you tempo for your Kirin Tor Mage or Call to Arms as a followup.

What’s more, Amani also contests 2-drops nicely. Knife Juggler, Prince Keleseth and Dire Wolf Alpha are all perfect targets for Amani to threaten value trades with. And, like with 1-drops, these threatened value trades also synergise perfectly with its “when damaged” effect. And this 5 damage is extremely relevant for beating popular decks.

Five is a Big Number

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When defile clears any board you make, you need to hit them hard and fast

Having five damage early is extremely important for both Even Paladin and Tempo Mage, especially in the tricky Warlock matchup. Trying to build a wide, resilient board is often a fool’s errand against Warlock’s plethora of clears. Instead, trying to hit face as hard as possible before Voidlord comes down is a great strategy. In this way, Amani shines. While other 2-drops may be stickier, Amani helps get in that last, vital bit of minion chip damage that allows you to burn them down before they can stabilise.

Not to mention that many decks can struggle to prevent value trades. Spiteful Druid and Even Paladin in particular have few efficient ways to deal with a 5/2. Even a 5/1 often forces a Druid to take 4 and spend 2 mana hero powering it down. And this 5 attack is perfect to trade up into something like a Blessing of Kings’d Silver Hand Recruit or Tar Creeper.

A Brief Window?

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Amani will be among the first to go when the next overpowered 2-drop gets released

Don’t curse our new Forest Troll overlords just yet though; his spot in the sun may not last. With every expansion, more powerful 2-drops and synergies are released. Once the card pool grows large enough, competition for deck slots will grow fierce. A good enough 2-drop won’t cut it. Players will want the very best possible card that is either a vital tech or ties together synergies from your other cards.

Of course, once the Year of the Raven ends and the card pool reduces once more, then we may see the Amani Empire rise once more. Perhaps the only thing holding him back was that his keyword wasn’t properly explained on the card text.

 

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

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Here is why Esports Arenas will be coming to a city near you

The world of esports is growing very quickly. Estimations show that it will be larger than a $1.5 Billion industry in the next couple years. We are seeing more major sponsors for leagues and teams. With this, esports are switching over to a franchising system. This can only mean more money coming into esports.

With franchising comes the need for arenas. For a long time, esports were not taken all that seriously because many worried that either a certain esport wouldn’t last long enough or that esports would be unable to be franchised because they wouldn’t make enough money. Well, Twitch and other streaming services changed that. This grew the audiences to very high levels. What it also did, however, was bring about a new worry.

Would people go to games or would they just prefer to watch it online? After spending time at TD Gardens in Boston, The Fillmore in Miami for NA LCS, talking with other journalists, and following both League and Overwatch League closely, I can tell you that people will absolutely go to these games weekly.

What about all the other events that have come before this?

Counter-Strike Global Offensive in Esports arena

Courtesy of: CS:GO Betting

This is a valid question. The answer is that most events or even leagues can be categorized into two different areas right now.

  1. Most of these events are only happening maybe once a month as tournaments or major events that happen a couple times a year. Examples of this are CS:GO and Dota 2. What these events prove is that if there is a major event, people will come. The problem is that it doesn’t show that there are enough people who would go on a weekly or multiple days a week basis.
  2. The second area is that most leagues as of now are based in Los Angeles or other centrally located cities. Both the OWL and League are based in LA and the NBA2k League is in New York City. This is great for the people who live there or who travel there as they can watch their teams play. Everyone else is sadly out of luck.

The Fans

Fan bases for esports as a whole are growing substantially. According to Statista.com, there will be almost 400 million viewers by the end of 2018. This number will only increase as games like Fortnite, which are sweeping the world right now, are spreading to casual and non-gamers.

With the swath of viewers, there will be many who attach to certain players or teams based on their viewing experiences and what games they like. While this is great, many people often never have an event close enough to them to see their favorite team or player perform in person. Thus, they watch online.

Courtesy of: SportsTechie

With the new franchising leagues, esports are following traditional sports. Many people forget that traditional sports did not start off with teams magically appearing in cities around the world all of a sudden. Instead, a relatively small amount of teams traveled and hosted events at venues where large numbers of people could gather. This mirrors how esports have been the last few years. Now, esports are moving onto the next stage of development with franchising.

With teams representing areas and cities, people will more likely gravitate towards them as their team. Again following the traditional sports model, this will help fan bases grow, allowing people to become more attached to their teams.

As more and more people watch esports, they will be enticed to at least look at their hometown teams which should, in turn, build fans in those areas.

Franchising

As one could probably tell when reading this, franchising is a game changer. Like the NFL, NBA, and MLB, esports like League of Legends, NBA2k, and Overwatch are following in their predecessors’ footsteps. They are paving the way for other esports to jump on franchising as it offers stability and money.

Stability and massive amounts of money have always been what has kept esports from being taken seriously. There were relegations at such an early start for esports like League of Legends. This kept people and groups from feeling comfortable in investing. With franchising eliminating relegations, we saw an instant interest to the tune of up to $20 million in investments for spots in these leagues.

This is a much cheaper price than trying to buy an NBA franchise. Getting in on the ground level of anything this big is always more exciting.

With the money and stability comes the desire to make more money. Building an arena can definitely help in this area. The investment towards the future will pay off as they will be able to grow the fan base even more due to people finally being able to watch their city’s team in person.

“If you build it, they will come.”

This quote from the movie Field of Dreams, while it is about the traditional sport of baseball, applies to esports quite well.

Between other events, the fan bases, and the stability brought about by franchising, the next logical step is to start building esports arenas in cities. While there are some newer ones, like in Las Vegas and Arlington, there are plenty of teams and companies working out ways to create even more.

With the leagues that are franchising, there are even some cities that will already have a need for new arenas to host the multiple teams that are in them. You can check them out here.

All of these leagues will continue to grow and more esports will be franchising. Call of Duty announced their intentions to franchise, but not much more has come out since. With that, more cities will get involved and the need for arenas will increase.

Keep an eye out, esports and their arenas will be coming to a city near you.

 

Featured image courtesy of: Populous.com

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

warlock

How to outlast Warlock

Times are rough for Control decks. As well as having to contend with the likes of Quest Rogue and Spiteful Druid, any aspiring late-game deck must be able to deal with hordes of Warlock decks. But however daunting the task may be, there are strategies to deal with both Cube and Control Warlocks as slow decks. If you can exploit their weaknesses and play around strengths, you can turn impossible-feeling games into wins. With time, skill and experience, Warlocks of all stripes will crumble before your machinations. Well, more than they otherwise would, anyway.

Get the right tools

warlock

Skull of the Man’ari makes for an excellent addition to any museum

Beating Warlock isn’t just done on the board, it’s done on the deckbuilder. A healthy dose of tech cards will massively improve your chances. A good all-round choice for beating Warlock is Silence effects. Rin, Cube, Voidlord and Umbra are all juicy Silence targets that can seriously impede their chances. Canny Warlocks will play around Silence though, so it’s not quite as good if your opponent anticipates it. Regardless, forcing them to wait to Dark Pact their Rin or Cube is still very advantageous.

Beyond Silence, weapon removal is an excellent inclusion. While Control Warlocks tend not to run it, Cube is heavily reliant on Skull of the Man’ari. An extremely potent card, yes, but exceptionally weak to weapon hate. Harrison Jones in particular not only nullifies their effect but also draws you vital cards. Without Skull, Cube can often be forced to simply play their Doomguards from hand, risking discarding vital combo pieces and spending precious mana that could otherwise be used to combo.

Outside of Silence and Weapon removal, consider playing more hard removals. Many lists run Mountain Giants, which can quickly snowball out of control if not dealt with. Not only that, but leaving up a Doomguard can often mean, well, doom. Voodoo Doll is a solid option to accomplish this in many decks, and some even run Tinkmaster to have the double-whammy of preventing the resummon from Gul’dan.

One more tech to consider would be shuffling effects. Rin is an ever-present threat. To help you stay alive if your deck gets prematurely nuked, you can wait and play cards that add more to your deck. Elise, Baleful Banker or class specific cards like Dead Man’s Hand, Archbishop Benedictus or Astral Tiger are all solid options.

Play around their power spikes

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The only thing worse than a Mountain Giant on 4 is two on turn 5, so make sure you kill the first

Warlocks have several key power spikes to play around. When playing against them, always consider these key cards that regularly come down on certain turns.

First off, there’s Mountain Giant. On their turn 4, you should try and have cards or a board state that capable of taking down an 8/8. If you leave it up, you run the risk of getting blown out by a Faceless. As such, it’s often a good idea to mulligan for hard removal or cards like Doomsayer or Acolyte than can stall until you can draw that Death or Polymorph.

Then there’s the turn 5 Skull or Lackey. There isn’t much you can do to interact with this other than hope you’ve drawn your weapon removal or silence, but that doesn’t mean you’re helpless. This is often a good cue to do something powerful and pro-active, like developing minions or drawing cards answers. Ideally, you can do stuff like drop a 6 or more health taunt to potentially stop multiple Doomguard charges. Remember, Warlock has trouble developing and removing on the same turn, so forcing them to play reactive is just as good as countering their play in many cases. Also, if they drop Lackey when you don’t have minions on board, it can be worth not playing anything with more than 2 attack; forcing them to destroy their own lackey prevents them from doing potent plays like trade into Cube and Dark Pact on the following turn.

The final power spike to watch for is the turn 10 Gul’dan. Beyond simply saving AOE, you need to try and watch out for charging Doomguards. As such, putting up taunts or gaining life beforehand is also advisable. Further, if you’re planning to clear with symmetrical AOE like Brawl, Dragon’s Fury or Psychic Scream, it’s worth saving your development for after their Guldan. There’s no point playing that big scary threat if they can just block it with Voidlords and force you to clear it along with their demons.

Deny their Cubes and Facelesses

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If you don’t let Doomguards stick, their copy effects are far less scary

Once you know your opponent is Cubelock rather than Control Warlock (key indicators are Doomguards, Skull and Mountain Giants) then it’s time to start playing around the deck’s duplication effects. Playing around Cube is straightforward; just try and keep the board clear of high-threat minions like Doomguards and Mountain Giants. Without their ability to copy high-attack minions, they’ll be forced to play tempo 4/6s or duplicate low impact minions, severely cutting into the potency of the deck.

Faceless can be trickier to play around, for a number of reasons. Unlike Cube, Faceless doesn’t require Dark Pact to play around Silence effects. The main way to play around faceless is to follow the rules for playing around Cube but to expand it to include Cubes that contain threatening minions. If they managed to copy a Cube with Faceless, that’s another two Mountain Giants or Doomguards to deal with. Another aspect to think about is the threat of the opponent using Faceless on your own minions. That Grommash may look juicy to drop and value trade, but two Facelesses can quickly give your opponent 20 burst.

Learn the weaknesses of Rin

Warlock

Even forcing them to spend a single mana prevents them from dropping Azari

Rin is the most threatening anti-Control card that’s found in both Control Warlock and some Cube Warlocks. Once she comes down, it’s important to figure out a gameplan to defeat Azari’s deck-crushing effect.

The first thing to remember is that Rin’s cards are extremely low-tempo and cost large-clunky amounts of mana. Dropping your threats may get them removed, but it will buy you more time. Azari itself is 10 mana, so putting down sufficient pressure will force your opponent to delay his arrival, giving you more cards and less fatigue damage in the long run.

Beyond pressure, a good way to defeat Rin is to save your shuffle effects until after they play Azari. If you hold that Elise, then you can delay fatigue and immediately draw a pack the following turn. If they’re also reaching fatigue, this can mean the difference between victory and defeat. To achieve this, focus heavily on drawing cards to maximise your resources once the fatigue war begins.

Finally, it’s a good idea to save some hard removal for that 10/10; if it’s not in your hand when he comes down, you’ll never get a chance to draw it!

Watch for their burst

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Gul’dan’s hero power can get you in range of their burst if you’re not careful

Finally, a Warlock on the ropes is still a dangerous foe. Even if you’ve outlasted all their threats, the three damage hero power adds up. Make sure you don’t get overconfident and die to their last flurry of burn.

If you’ve kept track of the opponent’s cards, either manually or with a deck tracker, you can accurately count the damage they can deal. Good break points to learn are 6 (Hellfire and hero power), 8 (Doomguard and hero power), 9 (Hellfire, Hellfire, hero power) and 10 (Doomguard and Faceless or Doomguard and Doomguard). If they’ve kept the coin all game, you can even potentially take 15 from Doomguard, Cube, coin, Dark Pact.

But outside of this, you should have finally outlasted your Warlock foe. Time to revel in that sweet victory, and to hope your next match isn’t against Quest Rogue.


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

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Why Quest’s Rogue’s back (and how not to nerf it)

While many (author included) were shuddering at the thought of jaws biting and claws catching the meta, Quest Rogue arose as the control-killing combo deck to fear. Defying its year-old nerf, the deck is at some of its highest winrates yet seen, especially near the top of legend. But how did Quest Rogue manage to return to high-tier status? And what, if anything, should be done to curb its rise?

There’s one more question that arises from Quest Rogue’s return; will it be nerfed? Team 5 seem wary of decks that lack interactivity and counterplay, especially ones that rely on huge burst combos. Will Quest’s Rogue end up suffering yet another balance change? And if so, what form will it take?

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Reactions to Quest Rogue’s return are mixed to say the least (Credit: twitter.com/FibonacciHS)

The Warlock killer

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Quest Rogue is one of the few good ways to counter Control Warlock

One principle reason for the rise in Quest Rogue’s popularity is the current dominance of Warlocks. With an exceedingly favourable matchup vs Control Warlock in particular, Quest Rogue excels at preying on anti-aggro decks that seek to counter Paladin. Collateral damage are also the newly resurgent Control Mage and Control Warrior archetypes. But this is minor compared to the impact of shutting down arguably the strongest Control deck ever in Standard.

So would worries about Quest Rogue be satisfied with a nerf to Warlock? Well, probably not. Although Warlock is strong, Quest Rogue doesn’t even have that favourable a matchup against the more popular and arguably more powerful variant in Cubelock. Warlocks encourage burn decks like Odd Hunter and Tempo Mage that also hard-counter Quest Rogue. Without Warlocks, the meta would likely revolve even more around Paladins and decks that counter Paladins. And while Paladins punish Quest Rogues, they don’t do so to the same extent as burn strategies that scoff at a prepped Vanish. And non-Warlock Paladin counters are even more vulnerable to Quest Rogues than Warlock.

New year, new tools

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Kobolds and Catacomb’s Elven Minstrel means running Rogue out of cards is now a tough proposition

Another huge factor in Quest Rogue’s new power is its shiny toolset from the last few sets. Sonya and Zola provide massive value generation. Elven Minstrel ensures you never run out of cards. And above all, Vicious Scalehide provides the deck with huge post-quest burst healing potential, which was previously a key deck weakness. All these combine to make a deck that is far more consistent than its original incarnation in the long game, though it lacks the same high-roll potential.

So should these cards be Blizzard’s target? I would argue no. All of these options are interesting in a variety of decks other than Quest Rogue. What’s more, they make the deck far less variance-dependent, increasing the consistency of the combo. Overall, this creates far less of a “highroll” gameplan, and a more cerebral experience. Nerfing a card like Vicious Scalehide would end up making the deck worse vs aggro while keeping Control decks feeling helpless. What’s more, this would set a dangerous precedent, of Team 5 being unable to print cheap powerful anti-aggro minions. The true problem lies elsewhere.

The perennial problem

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Charge has always been a problem. Should Stonetusk Rush instead?

The other reason for its return is that it never really left. Quest Rogue’s been hovering around the edges of viability for a while now, and the rotation has only just managed to push it to the fore. The deck still has core strengths, and an intrinsic problem when it comes to counterplay. And that problem is Charge.

Charge is the primary win condition of the deck in all slower matchups. Plenty of decks can continually remove 5/5s. But basically no deck can outlast the gigantic amounts of burst damage that post-Quest Rogues can put out. A good Quest Rogue that saves chargers and bounce effects can threaten 40 or more damage in a single turn, with more threatened on the follow-up. It’s this fundamental uninteractivity that makes Quest Rogue so difficult to counter by Control, and so frustrating to lose to.

Rushing to conclusions

If Quest Rogue is nerfed, the focus should be on Stonetusk Boar and Southsea Deckhand. With Rush instead of Charge, Quest would need to control the board to win. In return, more cheap minions with impactful battlecries could later be printed. Team 5’s aim should be to keep Quest Rogue as a strong anti-control deck, but allow it to become less polarising and uninteractive. The deck could bear more relation to early builds, with focus on building endless waves of 5/5 boards rather than charging in for lethal. There would be less of a feeling of helplessness in the face of a completed Quest, and more chance for the Quest Rogue to survive the Paladins and Tempo Mages.

Not to mention that it would allow Blizzard print more powerful, cheap, anti-aggro minions like Vicious Scalehide.

All in all, Quest Rogue is a fun deck that deserves a place in the meta; if only it could stop making players like Fibonacci so salty.

 

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

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Witchwood: A rock-paper-scissors meta?

Have you ever seen what deck your opponent is playing, realised you have no chance to win and had the urge to instantly concede? If so, you’re not alone. The meta has thrown up a number of extremely polarizing matchups that create extremely rock-paper-scissors style situations. If you try and counter Paladin with Control Warrior, you may as well concede against Quest Rogue or Taunt Warrior. If you punish Warlocks and Quest Rogues with Odd Face Hunter, you’ll be helpless against Paladins and Druids. And if you focus on Warlocks and Paladins with Priest, then Druids and Rogues will eat you for breakfast.

Of course, every healthy meta has unfavourable and favourable matchups; it’s how it self-corrects to prevent any one deck taking over. But the gameplay that results from extremely one-sided games thanks to matchup RNG is discouraging. So how did we get here?

The (re)rise of Quest Rogue

meta

Playing against Quest Rogue, you’re on a countdown before 6 of these hit you in the face

One of the biggest offenders for the extreme nature of matchups is Quest Rogue. Though it has scarcely been seen since the nerf, it has risen from the ashes to counter Warlocks. Its Vanishes and massive charge damage is the perfect counter to boards of Voidlords. With new tools like Sonya and Zola the Gorgon, it can almost be as scary as the pre-nerf version at times. So far, so interesting. The problem with Quest Rogue, however, is its massive weakness to early aggression. It’s punished hard by any kind of aggressive or even midrange decks, while it stomps on Control decks.

To make matters worse, previous tools for delaying Quest Rogue’s win condition no longer exist in Standard. Without Dirty Rat, it’s extremely hard for Control to prevent death by multiple volleys of 1 mana 5/5 charge minions. And many classes lost board clears that could otherwise sweep up those 5/5s. Priest lost its Dragonfire, and Warrior no longer has access to Sleep with the Fishes. Meanwhile, aggro has only got more refined. The end result is even more polarisation than last year.

Call to AOE

meta

Some classes can deal with Call to Arms far more easily than others

Call to Arms is a card that does essentially two things. Against decks without the right kind of reliable AOE effects, it’s borderline busted. You get 6 mana and 3 cards of board development in one card. But against decks that can run cards like Duskbreaker, Defile, Blood Razor or Dragon’s Fury, it’s a very different story. While still powerful, it rarely leads to the kinds of board swings you need to succeed in tight games. The stats reflect this; Paladin, especially Even Paladin, has incredible results versus all kinds of tempo decks. But many control decks have extremely favourable matchups against it. Call to Arms means that packing decks with enough efficient AOE will mean you’ll always do well against Paladin.

Unfortunately, this combines with the popularity of Quest Rogue to create a dilemma. You can beat Paladin by forgoing tempo minions to pack potent AOE, and lose to Quest Rogue; or add in early pressure and lose answers to Call to Arms.

Target Warlock, lose to everyone else?

meta

Odd Hunter can consistently kill Warlocks, but not much else

Another contributor to this polarizing meta is Warlock. To beat Warlock, you don’t just have to tech in a few silences. You have to actively change your entire gameplan to revolve around exploiting their few weaknesses. Voidlord, Doomguard and Gul’dan are such insurmountable threats that your deck has to be tailored to either burn them down, cheat out massive minions early, or combo them to death.

Even with almost every deck running Silence for Voidlords or Lackey and Weapon removal for Skull of the Man’ari, the deck has positive winrates across the board against anything that doesn’t exactly target its weaknesses. This not only creates polarising matchups where non-Warlock countering decks are heavily unfavoured, but those decks that do win against Warlock end up being quite bad against the rest of the meta, leading to a chain reaction of further unsatisfying games.

A lack of tech

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Sylvanas would be a potent tool for any midrange deck seeking to beat Warlocks, were she not Wild only

Ultimately, the problem is not that Quest Rogue is good against Control, nor that Control is good against Paladin. Every strategy should have some kind of counter-deck potential. The problem is there’s no way for Control decks to realistically tech against Quest Rogue or other anti-control lists. Many decks would happily give up a few percentage winrate against aggro to have less frustrating and one-sided matchups elsewhere, leading to an overall more interesting and skill rewarding meta. But the tools simply aren’t there.

The best solution here would be for Team 5 to reintroduce similar successful tech card concepts to deal with a wider variety of strategies. Cards like Dirty Rat, Deathlord, or Sylvanas can punish minion combos or cheating out big minions respectively. A Dirty Rat style effect could slow down Quest Rogue enough for Control to stand a chance. Sylvanas-esque cards could be a crushing shutdown to preempt Voidlords or Doomguards. And if tempo decks got more tools to deal with wide boards while adding pressure, Paladins could terrorize left.

In the meantime, the ever-present threat of nerfs hang on the horizon. Before then though, it might be worth learning the subtle art of the counter-queue.

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Shudderwock Syndrome: Why uninteractive is worse than overpowered

Witchwood is finally out, and amongst all the experimentation, one deck in particular is drawing complaints. From the noise made on various discussion forums, you’d imagine Shudderwock Shaman was an unstoppable monster. And while that may be literally true for its win condition, the deck itself is far from strong. According to HSReplay.net, the deck averages an atrocious 42% winrate.

So why the disparity? What is it that makes Shudderwock Shaman so despised, more so than various aggro Paladins or controlling Warlock decks that continue to dominate?

The solitaire problem

shudderwock

There’s no reliable Standard way to interact with Shudderwock 

At its base, Shudderwock Shaman contains just four things: lifegain, removal, Battlecry minions and card draw. Often, several of these categories will be lumped into one. So far, so standard for a combo deck. The problem comes with how the deck builds its win condition.

Other single-focus decks have counters to their final win condition. Charging minions can be blocked by taunts. Burn can be outlasted with armor or lifegain. Geist can trash crucial spells. Board-based finishers are cleared up with AOE. But the only real counter to Battlecry minions and Shudderwock in particular is Dirty Rat. With Dirty Rat out of standard, the only real counter to Shudderwock is to kill it before it kills you. Luckily, that’s not too hard for most decks. But the problem remains, that to defeat Shudderwock you cannot interact with their primary win condition.

Punishing greed?

shudderwock

Anti-aggro decks are hardest hit by Shudderwock, in winrate, time and emotionally

One counter to this argument is that this is simply how it’s meant to be. Combo punishes greedy Control. But while it’s necessary that there exist counters to overly reactive strategies, this can have an unwelcome impact on the meta. When strategies that counter reactive decks become dominant, then the meta can quickly over-centralise around aggro, because there is little to keep it in check. And while aggro strategies are a necessary part of a healthy meta, overly-dominant aggro is one of the worst meta experiences for many players.

Of course, the more prominent aggro is, the more attractive reactive decks become once more. But this then leads to a rock paper scissors meta, with interesting even matchups relatively rare. For the meta to be healthy, there has to be a way for decks that succeed against aggro to have a way to not only do decently against combo decks like Shudderwock

The Control mindset

shudderwock

Dirty Rat provides hope against unstoppable combos, but is now only in Wild

And while many may deride “greedy” decks, they often contain some of the most interesting and fun gameplay experiences for players. They contain a lot of decisions, idiosyncratic playstyles and are often less draw-dependent than aggressive decks. The players who choose these decks do so less because of their winrate, and often simply because of love of a class and playstyle.

These players are especially aggravated by decks like Shudderwock. Not because they lose, because losses are part of Hearthstone. But because it forces them out of the playstyle they enjoy, to become a poor imitation of a midrange beat down deck, with victory heavily dependent on drawing well and curving out.

When a deck like Shudderwock is introduced, players whose fun from playing Hearthstone comes from interacting with the opponent’s strategy rather than single-mindedly progressing their own end up with an extremely demoralising experience. Blizzard should take this into account when designing future cards and tech cards that can interact with them. Or at least, not cause the experience of losing to an uninteractable combo take less than several minutes.

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Can Dead Man’s Hand Warrior survive without Coldlight?

Coldlight is leaving standard, and with it all kinds of mill decks are forced to Wild. But Dead Man’s Hand Warrior was never entirely dependent on Coldlight, often squeezing out wins without it. However, it will definitely struggle. Coldlight is a unique self-sustaining win condition that synergises perfectly with Dead Man’s Hand. Without it, Warrior has no way to accelerate its gameplan to fatigue. With that said, there may be ways Warrior can utilise the infinite value of Dead Man’s Hand into a viable deck.

Outlast

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Bring it On! can’t keep pace with Gul’dan without draw

One simple option would simply be to cut the Coldlights and rely on simply fatiguing the opponent out of resources. This sounds attractive at first, but holds a number of key flaws. For one thing, unlike the fatigue Warriors of old, the lifegain will be few and far between. If you use your card draw and end up shuffling removal along with your Bring it On!, you’ll only be gaining 10 armour every 3-4 turns. That can’t outpace a Hunter or Guldan hero power or chip damage from hard-to answer minions.

Another problem would be decks with massive quantities of value, like Deathstalker Rexxar, Priests that stole a Dead Man’s Hand or Control Warlock’s Rin. You would simply end up running out of cards in hand or deck, especially when you consider you may have to spend several turns doing nothing in order to redraw your second Dead Man’s Hand to use that final copy of Execute. Meanwhile, your opponent could create a threat every single turn, that you would eventually become unable to answer.

An odd solution?

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Old-school fatigue Warrior might work with Baku

Alternatively, a Dead Man’s Hand style fatigue deck could end up ditching the Dead Man’s Hand altogether and going for a Baku-based Odd strategy. While powerful tools like Blood Razor, Execute and of course Dead Man’s Hand itself would be off-limits, there are other options. With 4 armor Tank Ups guaranteed from the get-go, you could capitalise on this with Shield Slams, Reckless Flurrys and Gorehowls that turn life into removal. What’s more, you could incorporate new Witchwood cards like Voodoo Doll or some Rush minions to provide additional removal.

With 4 armor per turn simply from hero-powering, you can simply outlast many aggressive strategies. However, you will have some key weaknesses. The draw engine will be heavily weakened, with only Acolyte and Shield Block viable options to cycle with. What’s more, you’ll find it harder to continually sweep boards with no Blood Razor or Scourgelord.

Nonetheless, this deck could be extremely worthwhile if burn-based strategies make their way into the metagame.

Marin, Yip and other memes

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Shuffling treasures is a good way to end games

One answer to losing a late-game win condition would be to add big, powerful minions. But minions have to be of a particular variety to be worth reshuffling in Dead Man’s Hand Warrior. Just a Lich King won’t cut it. You want huge, slow value compressed into a single card, that becomes overwhelming when repeated. Here, Marin the Fox might excel. Each of his treasures are potentially game-ending in themselves, and become even more potent when combined with Dead Man’s Hand. The Golden Kobold gives you a hand full of shuffleable game-ending threats, the Wondrous Wand allows insane draw potential as well as creating possible infinite armour combos, Tobin’s Goblet gets you huge value and Zarog’s Crown grants you instead overwhelming board presence.

Yip would be another option. With the pool of 10 cost minions shrinking massively, Yip becomes far more attractive. Getting either Sea Giant, Deathwing, Tyrantus or Ultrasaur seems like a great prospect for closing out games. While one might be dealt with, multiple played across several turns quickly grows out out of hand. The downside is maintaining enough armour to keep it powerful, but if you’re judicious with your lifegain this could be very possible.

Of course, these minions are far less flexible than Coldlight. But they can nonetheless provide the same end-game inevitability.

A Woe-T-K solution?

OTK Warrior is back, and while impressive, still has a lot of refining to do. Copying massive charge minions with Sudden Genesis after pulling them with Woecleaver could provide an explosive finish. On the plus side, the Dead Man’s hand stops being necessarily and end-game win condition, and more of a fail-safe for when you draw your chargers.

Unfortunately, this may not be the best option. The strategy does comparatively poorly against aggressive lists, and cannot easily break through Voidlords. If other, non-Warlock control decks rise to the fore, then this might be a good option to burst down, say, Shudderwock Shaman. But most likely will be an inferior choice.

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What Witchwood archetype could beat Cubelock?

Cubelock looks set to be the new deck to beat for the Year of the Raven meta. All of the current standard decks that have a consistent edge against it lose too many key cards to pose a threat. Hope must come from the new decks and archetypes that the Witchwood may bring. With 135 powerful cards introduced, it’s likely that a good number of powerful new strategies will emerge. But will any of them stand a chance against the endless tide of clears, healing, Voidlords and Doomguards?

Rush Warrior

archetype

Rush Warrior’s got a lot fo support, but will it be enough?

Warrior’s Rush package is looking extremely solid. Combined with Warlock’s difficulty dealing with snowball minions, an aggressive Rush warrior could have the kind of “Tall” boards that Defile and Hellfire simply won’t break. If Rush Warrior can fulfill the same kind of aggressive promise as Pirate Warrior, then it may be able to beat down the Warlock with huge snowball minions. A solid early game, bolstered with Frothing Beserkers and the new Festerroot Hulk could punch through hard enough to end the game early.

Though the chances are better without Mistress, things still look tough for aggressive Warriors. The Rush package looks strong but is still not as potent as Charge. Rush will likely fall far below the dizzying heights of Pirate Warrior at its peak, and still, struggle to get through Voidlords.

Hand Druid

Giants may not be enough

Hand Druid is getting a huge amount of support this expansion. From a previously non-existent archetype, it received multiple support cards. Could early Mountain Giants, Twilight Drakes and full boards of 1/1s be enough?

It seems unlikely. Not only would hand Druid likely bad at establishing early board presence, Cubelock can cheat out Mountain Giants just as easily. And while Warlocks struggle at hard removal, Druid is far inferior. Outside of Jaspar Spellstones, Druid has no halfway good hard removal; and even that can’t take out a Doomguard cleanly. Meanwhile, Warlock simply laughs at Hand Druids other potential synergies. Creating full boards of 1/1s isn’t the best strategy against a class with so much AOE.

There are also fundamental questions to be answered. For instance, how does Druid seek to consistently maintain a large hand size if its best draw option does so in 5 card chunks? And without Jades, will the deck have enough beef to outlast Bloodreaver Gul’dan’s hero power, let alone its board?

Zoo Mage

archetype

Minions won’t cut it against Warlock

Mage has received a plethora of tools that focus on atypical class strengths. The Mage identity is built around spells, but in Witchwood Team 5 are pushing another archetype; Zoo Mage. By incentivizing minions, the hope perhaps is to push a more midrange, less burn-focused archetype. This does look powerful, with Book of Spectres and Archmage Arugal looking like strong draw engines for an Elemental or simply efficient minion-based strategy.

However, this is likely to be catastrophic against Warlocks. Normally Mage’s strengths vs Warlock lies in going over the top of Voidlords with burn. With a more minion focused strategy, Warlock’s huge quantities of AOE are likely to pose a problem, as are Voidlords huge health walls.

Baku Face Hunter

Face hunter is not a new archetype, but Baku the Mooneater may give it new life. Whilst dropping the 2 drops cuts consistency, the additional damage on the hero power may quickly whittle down health. With most of Hunter’s power cards falling on 1, 3 and 5, cutting 2 drops doesn’t seem too bad.

By capitalizing on Warlock’s early weaknesses (especially without Mistress), Hunter could simply grind down Warlocks before they can find enough healing or the mana to play Gul’dan. And Voidlords do little to stop Ballista Shot, Arcane Shot and Kill Command. For the time being, this may be considered the meta’s last best hope to best Warlock.

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