The upcoming Fiery War Axe nerf may be a blessing in disguise for Warrior. The increase in mana cost to three is likely to be a major setback for almost all warrior archetypes. But in doing so, it may have inspired streamer David “Dog” Caero to create a fascinating and powerful new deck.
Mill or Fatigue Warrior is not just a strong performer for top players. It’s also uniquely flexible, aggressively difficult to play and unlike any deck we’ve seen yet. But most importantly, it can be an utter joy to play.
Breaking the rules
Combo Warriors long struggled for win conditions. Dead Man’s Hand offered a way for Warriors to benefit from their obscene draw potential with (theoretically) infinite value. Early experiments showed promise, but were ultimately unreliable. Expensive, flashy finishers like Rotface and Arcane Giant simply proved too clunky.
Where Dog’s refined version innovated was in stripping out all late-game win conditions in favour of Coldlight Oracle. To take matters even further, it threw out “auto-includes” like Fiery War Axe and Ravaging Ghoul in favour of cards like Bring it On! which provided the burst healing to tie the deck together.
The final result was a deck that plays like nothing else. At times reactive and proactive, its hallmarks are incredible draw, literally infinite removal and healing, as well as burst fatigue damage with Coldlights. But most striking of all was the fantastic complexity and difficulty of the deck.
Difficult to learn, impossible to master
Hearthstone prides itself on its accessibility. Once someone learns the basics of minion trading and value, it’s pretty easy to drop minions on curve and do OK. Even relatively complicated Control decks become manageable once you understand their basic principles.
Not so for Mill Warrior. While aspects of other strategies remain, the deck operates on a totally different paradigm. To begin with, it almost plays like a traditional Control or Combo deck; trying to survive, clear and draw. But certain cards must be saved, depending on the match up. Once the deck is nearly empty, the deck must be winnowed of chaff, with cards discarded. Eventually, a core of a few vital cards are collected and shuffled repeatedly into the deck.
Reaching, designing and duplicating this core of cards is the hardest part of playing the deck, and even the best players make numerous misplays per game. Simply using a Garrosh hero power instead of preemptively equipping and swinging with a Blood Razor can lead to ruin. Not playing a Brawl in time can lead it to fatally clog your hand, growing exponentially until you mill a vital combo piece. Use both copies of a vital card too early and you can see yourself without a tool to survive the repeated chains of shuffles.
And that’s just the basics. Advanced mastery of the deck requires precision Bring it On! timings, deadly Dirty Rat assassinations of key minions, long term fatigue damage pre-planning and constant balancing of the need to draw and the risks of overdrawing. It’s likely that to play the deck close to optimally would require superhuman levels of on-the-fly calculations and psychology.
Worth the effort
Despite the steep and high-ceiling’d learning curve, Mill Warrior is well worth it.
The first is its huge competitive potential. When played well, the deck can beat any late-game deck that comes up against it. Kazakus Priest will usually lose unless they’re able to get Raza and Anduin within the first 10 turns. Even Taunt Warrior can’t out-damage the infinite heal and will soon succumb to fatigue.
The deck is also favoured against a variety of Aggro and Midrange decks; that’s before they’re nerfed too. While Pirate Warrior and Murloc Paladin are tough, any deck that goes wide is easily swept aside by the endless mass removals. The deck even performs decently against the meta tyrant, Jade Druid. With enough removal, heal, draw and a Skulking Geist, Mill Warrior can feasibly defeat all but the most high-tempo of starts. Dog proved the decks worthiness by taking it all the way to top two legend NA.
The other reason is that the deck’s unique and challenging playstyle makes every game far more involved than a typical Hearthstone game. Instead of going to autopilot and dropping minions on curve and rehashing the same old challenges of when and how to trade, you’re pursuing entirely new goals. How to empty your hand for a shuffle, determining whether you can win without infinite Executes vs Big Priest, timing Bring it On! so as to dodge Velen, and risking an on curve Coldlight Oracle against Murloc Paladin, shuffling a single Coldlight into your deck to set up fatigue lethal; these are the kind of plays that no deck has had to make before.
It is also refreshing to have lost games be your own fault; reviewing and uncovering your own mistakes can be satisfying as you refine your play further and further. To top it all off, the deck is far from perfected, and with every single card normally making an appearance in the games you win, every slot counts. There’s plenty for aspiring deckbuilders to hone into a truly devastating deck.
The Warrior we need?
With old War Axe rusting away, Mill Warrior may be the archetype Warrior needs. Control, Tempo and Pirate are likely to struggle in the new meta without trusty Win Axe to carry them to turn two tempo glory. However, the deck is likely to retain one fatal flaw; incredibly long games. When stars per hour is what you’re after, 12 minute average mentally exhausting games may not be the best choice. So don’t disenchant that golden Patches for two Dead Man’s Hands just yet if laddering is your goal.
But if you’re looking for intense, long games with challenging gameplay and brutal complexity, then there’s no better choice than Mill Warrior.
Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com. Statistics via HSReplay.net.
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