Old King Control
Control warrior has a long and illustrious history. In its original incarnation, it was full of late-game bombs and threats. A typical control warrior would seem absurdly greedy when compared to modern incarnations; often running Cairne, Sylvanas, Grommash, Ragnaros, Alexstrasza, and Ysera. Typically, it relied solely on a few low cost minions. Cards like Acolyte, Armorsmith, and the omnipresent Fiery War Axe for early game presence.
Looking back, the deck played completely different to its later strategies. Instead of being an almost entirely reactive deck aimed at victory through fatigue, they were looking to overwhelm the opponent with high powered legendaries.
This strategy was simpler in some ways; it lent itself to more straightforward games based on tempo, even against other control decks. Fatigue was rare compared to the likelihood of snowballing out of control.
Answers for Everything
Recently, Control Warrior attracts a very specific kind of complaint. As soon as a Twitch streamer queues into one, chat is often filled with emotes and complaints of boredom in anticipation of the upcoming game. The perception is that games against Control Warrior are tedious and uneventful.
The reason for this is pretty straightforward. Late-game Warrior decks will very frequently no longer depend on threats. Even high cost cards like Grommash and Deathwing, (as seen in the latest of Fibonacci’s lists) function largely as removal; this often omits even ultra slow “win conditions” like Elise Starseeker altogether. Instead, over-focus on a fatigue gameplan has lead to games where the Warrior focuses completely on survival and removal.
This, understandably, can prove to be less than engaging to opponents and viewers. While the Control Warrior’s plethora of reactive spells and lifegain is highly interactive with the opponents cards, playing against it can feel like a game of solitaire. Control Warrior rarely, if ever, play anything pro-active. As a result, it can often leave the impression of dropping minions into inevitable removal, while armor stacks up higher and higher.
This has a twofold impact. Firstly, games last for much longer than otherwise, as once the Control Warrior player has all but won, it can take dozens of turns to actually end the game. Secondly, the feeling of interaction against an opponent is minimized; they are simply playing whack-a-mole with your minions at a leisurely pace. Meanwhile, certain archetypes like Jade Druid are so unfavored that the games aren’t even worth playing out.
Old Gods to the Rescue?
These issues previously improved somewhat during the Whispers of the Old Gods release. Instead of relying almost entirely on fatigue, removal, and the odd random legendary-based Elise finisher, Control Warrior proved a fruitful home for two Old Gods in particular: C’thun and N’zoth.
These 10 mana finishers provided the potency required for such a huge investment to be worthwhile. Suddenly, games could end on a single well-placed series of snowballing tempo plays in the late-game, instead of fizzling outs. This additionally incentivized the inclusion of more defensive, midrange minions. That allowed Control Warrior to build boards to close out games without needing their key game-ender.
However, this gameplay style proved to be short-lived. Although potent, the many counters and deck-building limitations imposed meant that the archetypes couldn’t compete with the significant growth in decks’ power levels after One Night in Karazhan and Mean Streets of Gadgetzan. The omnipresent Midrange shaman in particular, with the suppression power of Hex and requirement to find space for multiple board-clears, helped push Warrior back towards the Fatigue gameplan.
Even the threat of Jade decks hasn’t been enough to make Warrior try to compete with pro-active late-game strategies. Since Jade is so much more efficient than any pro-active play Warrior can make, the optimal solution has simply been to give up against Jade Druid. You want to run endless board clears to try and out-last Jade Shaman, playing reactive.
Gadgetzan’s Interactive Defenses
The Gadgetzan expansion hasn’t been all bad for Control Warrior. Alley Armorsmith is a perfect example of armor-gain for Warrior done right. Unlike the straightforward and not interactive Shieldmaiden or Justicar Trueheart, Alley Armorsmith is a pro-active defensive tool, that requires significant counterplay. As well as having chunky stats, the 2/7 taunt is far more effective in some situations than others. This makes it a perfect counter to low-attack minion or weapon based aggro decks, but still vulnerable to spells and high-attack minions.
Furthermore, Dirty Rat has rapidly grown into a class staple. Though it’s not possible to immediately interact with its battlecry, it is a card that is straightforward, yet deep to play around. It helps bridge the gap between Warrior and other late-game focused decks in a way that rewards skill and timing.
Hope in Un’goro
With Justicar Trueheart, Elise Starseeker, Bash, Revenge and other key components of the Fatigue strategy rotating out with the next expansion, the future looks bleak for Fatigue Warrior. If there is no suitable pro-active late-game raison d’etre for Warrior, then Control as an archetype may find it hard to find a niche in the new meta.
The introduction of “Quest” mechanics may still provide hope. Reliable, powerful, and available for every class, Quests may give Warrior the late-game win-condition it needs to compete. However, it depends on the card itself and whether the effect is one that is capable of giving Control Warrior the pressure needed to close out games.
Team 5 may print more Control-oriented Deathrattles. In that case, N’zoth Warrior may make a comeback as a potent counter to more midrange or controlling opponents.
The stars may even align, and Blizzard may try and succeed where Varian Wrynn failed. They could give Warrior an honest-to-goodness control-oriented class Legendary. We won’t hold our breath though. In the meantime, it can be fun to break open that Ysera, pack a deck full of Classic Legendaries with a few hard removals, and a Brawl or two. Or head out into Classic to relive the glory days of the oldest Control deck in the game.
All images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment