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?
The Warlock killer
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
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
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.