The Dark Ages of Paladin
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
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.
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.