How Hearthstone’s ladder changes will benefit everyone

Hearthstone’s ladder system has been overdue for a big revamp for a while now. A poor new player experience, inconsistent matchmaking and a long monthly slog were continual problems. Rank floors at 5, 10 and 15 alleviated this, but only partially. Now though, a bevy of changes promise to provide long term solutions to these issues. Though they won’t come into effect until March, they should be a more forgiving silent director of our Hearthstone experiences.

The progression problem


Players can be put off by the grind and pressure of Ranked

The main problems identified by players can be split into two categories: grind at the high level, and matchmaking for newer players. Solving them isn’t easy; Blizzard have to balance them against the value of the sense of progression that climbing brings. A stagnant ladder would have little grind and good matchmaking, but little progression. But too much mobility leads to frustration, as happens now.

Hitting high ranks or legend now puts you back to rank 16 at the start of a season. If you don’t start grinding rank straight away, this can leave you cleaving a path through newer or less serious players in order to even get close to the rank you achieved last season. This is bad for everyone. Legend players have a long slog of grinding through autopilot matchups, and newer players get farmed. And due to the high compression of players at the top of the ladder, every lucky streak pushes them far beyond what their collection and experience is capable of defeating.

Room to play


There’ll be more space between new players and veterans

The changes seek to strike this balance better. The first and most immediate is to increase the number of stars per rank. This gives newer players more “breathing room”, as there is less of a sudden transition from ranks 25-21 and 20+.  What’s more, there will be more space for newer or more casual players from ranks 20-15, improving matchmaking further.

Since Hearthstone is an inherently varied game, bad luck can currently easily put new and veteran players together. A string of bad luck on one end, and a series of good fortune on the other, and suddenly a new player’s Free to play Mage can face up against an all-golden Kazakus Priest. Increasing the numbers of stars per rank increases the distance between disparate decks and skill levels, meaning better matchmaking for all at lower ranks.

Of course, this has the side-effect of increasing the grind to hit a certain rank, but this is where the second change comes in.

Less of a reset

At the end of each month, players will no longer be reset more if they climbed higher. Now, players will simply be reset by 4 ranks; so if you hit rank 3, you’d start at rank 7, and so on. This massively reduces the grind-load to hit legend each season, as well as improving matchmaking further. The changes are most notable for pro or consistent legend players. Pro player Stanislav “Stancifka” Cifka posted a good breakdown of how it will impact pros on the /r/Hearthstone subreddit. He’s hopeful it will reduce the grind and encourage play across more servers.

But this isn’t just good for Legend or high-rank players. It’s also beneficial to the more casual or newer players that otherwise need to be farmed from rank 16 onward in order to allow them to regain their rank. In keeping top players confined to rank 5 and up, there’ll be fewer unfair matches against those far more experienced with far bigger collections. While the raw stars to reach a given rank will increase, the overall play experience will get far better; especially as stronger players begin sticking at rank 4 and up.


With less reliance on winstreaks, Aggro may see less dominance for early-season climbing

A meta shift?

One unexpected impact the ladder alterations may have is a shift in the metagame. One perennial problem has been the rewarding of fast games (think Aggro decks) over slow. This is exacerbated by the requirement of Legend players to grind through low-ranked opponents every month. What’s more, the need to take advantage of winstreaks means Aggro gets even further benefit, as a middling winrate with fast games can still get you stars faster as you ride the winstreak variance.

With less of a reset, and with legend players left at a rank with no winstreaks at the start of a season, Aggro is less favoured early on. This could lead to more promotion and play of interesting midrange or control decks, and an overall more balanced metagame.

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KnC Banner

Kobolds and Catacombs Day 1 Deck Theorycrafting

The next Hearthstone expansion, Kobolds and Catacombs, has finally been released. In the reveal season, we saw many powerful and fun cards that are coming out with the set. But, which of these cards fit into existing decks? What new decks are coming into the meta?

The Meta

Dragon Priest

KnC Dragon Priest

Dragon Priest Decklist

In past expansions, Dragon Priest has been an archetype that many people have toyed around with and played on ladder. In this expansion, we may see the rise of a Dragon-oriented Priest build similar to the Dragon Priest deck that was viable during the Mean Streets of Gadgetzan expansion last year. The iteration I have theory-crafted includes a much more value-orientated game plan by including cards such as Lyra the Sunshard, Drakonid Operative, and the new Priest weapon, Dragon Soul. The deck can also be built to take on a more minion heavy route by taking out cards like Dragon Soul, Lyra the Sunshard, and Shadow Word: Death and replacing them with Cabal Shadow Priest, which synergises with Twilight Acolyte, and Twilight Drake.


The inclusion of Duskbreaker in this expansion really helps Dragon Priest’s historically bad matchup versus aggressive decks, which makes the new iteration of Dragon Priest that much scarier. On ladder, this deck seems like a solid choice for climbing at a high pace. In tournaments, players may elect to bring Highlander Priest instead because of its favorable win-rates versus slower decks.


 Zoo Warlock

KnC Zoo Warlock

Zoolock Decklist

In the Knights of the Frozen Throne expansion, we once again saw the rise of an old friend: Zoo Warlock. The early game minion package combined with Prince Keleseth proved to be the kick this deck needed to get back into the meta, and topping off with Bonemare and Bloodreaver Gul’Dan made Zoo Warlock scary in the late-game as well. This time around, Blizzard has given Zoo Warlock even better tools for taking the board early game and keeping it. The addition of Kobold Librarian helps keep your hand full, which is extremely important when having so many low mana cost minions in your deck. The main difference with this Zoo Warlock compared to the previous deck is that it cuts Prince Keleseth for the new 2-drop, Vulgar Homunculus.


With this iteration of the deck, I decided to add the Demon synergy package in the form of Demonfire, Bloodfury potion, and Crystalweaver. We have seen quite a lot of play with Bloodfury Potion and Crystalweaver in the past Zoo Warlock decks, but the addition of the Vulgar Homunculus makes these cards coming down on curve extremely threatening. Hooked Reaver also makes an appearance in this deck because of how solid its stats are when the Battlecry goes off, as well as its ability to synergise with the rest of the demon synergy in the deck.


The addition of higher-health minions and buff cards will help Zoo Warlock in the next meta mainly because of the predicted prevalence of Duskbreaker on the ranked ladder. In tournament play, this deck will likely be chosen for inclusion in aggressive lineups.

Big Druid

KnC Big Druid

Big Druid Decklist

The ‘Big’ archetype saw large amounts of play during the Knights of the Frozen Throne expansion as a whole, especially during the later half of the set’s meta. Kobolds and Catacombs has not given Big Druid many other tools, but the core of the deck is strong enough to still see play. The only change I have made to the current Big Druid list is taking out Innervate and adding Arcane Tyrants. Innervate, once a staple in most Druid decks, took a huge hit from the nerfs that occured in the middle of the last expansion. It was included in Big Druid, but it was arguably one of the weaker cards within the deck. Two different cards were shown from the new expansion that could find a home in Big Druid: Greedy Sprite and Arcane Tyrant. I chose to include Arcane Tyrant instead of the Sprite because it is very similar to Kun the Forgotten King in the way that it makes your power turns even more powerful. A common way Kun has been used during the meta was playing it as a big free body to pair with Ultimate Infestation. Arcane Tyrant acts in a similar way when paired with Nourish, Spreading Plague, and Ultimate Infestation as well. Greedy Sprite could be included instead of the Tyrant, but the ramp effect is rather slow and your opponent can choose to ignore it. Although this is the case, ramp is powerful enough that Greedy Sprite might see play over Arcane Tyrant.


Big Druid seems to be the new go-to Druid deck. In the past, Jade Druid has held this spot, but Big Druid is able to make bigger minions faster and still keep aggression at bay, which may see the ‘Big’ archetype overtaking the Jade mechanic this expansion. Because of this, it is a solid choice for both ranked ladder and tournament play.


Tempo Rogue

KnC Tempo Rogue

Tempo Rogue Decklist

Tempo Rogue swept the meta in dominant fashion when it was first discovered to be a powerhouse of a deck. With Kobolds and Catacombs, this deck gets even stronger with the inclusion of some slower yet highly valuable cards. One of these cards is the Rogue Legendary of the set, Sonya Shadowdancer. Sonya replaces the rather weak card of Shaku, the Collector as a card generation engine. Most of the minions in Tempo Rogue have such good effects or Battlecries that Shadowcaster saw a decent amount of experimentation and success during the expansion. Sonya is much cheaper than Shadowcaster, which makes its effect easier to pull off. The second card I have added to the deck is Fal’dorei Strider. Admittingly, a 4 mana 4/4 is rather weak as a tempo play. But, the potential for that minion to pull one, two, or even three additional 4/4 bodies is so powerful that it is worth the initial tempo loss. Even if only 1 additional body is pulled, paying 4 mana for 8/8 worth of stats is crazy powerful. There is also the potential to high-roll by creating a 4/4 on turn 7 to be able to play Bonemare onto after your opponent cleared your board the previous turn.


Fal’dorei Strider takes the place of Saronite Chain Gang, mainly because of Chain Gang’s vulnerability to an on-curve Duskbreaker. Overall, Tempo Rogue looks to still be a powerhouse deck next expansion, and I expect to see it played both on the ranked ladder and in tournaments.


Highlander Priest

KnC Highlander Priest

Highlander Priest Decklist

Highlander Priest has been at the top of the meta throughout Knights of the Frozen Throne, and it seems to still remain at the top during Kobolds and Catacombs. The Priest list I have selected to showcase only adds one card: Psychic Scream. In order to include the new Priest board clear, I chose to cut Mass Dispel from the deck. Mass Dispel is often times weak, so it made sense to take it out for one of the best cards of the upcoming expansion. This decision shows how good of a deck Highlander Priest already is. Another take on Highlander Priest is to go for a more minion-focused route by including a Dragon package with Duskbreaker. While this seems like a good idea, I feel the current version of the deck is much better. In the past, more value-oriented decks were tested. These decks included cards such as Elise the Trailblazer and Free from Amber. It was ultimately found that the faster and more burst-oriented Priest build was better. Therefore, I feel it is appropriate to stick with the tried-and-true burst style.


Once again, Highlander Priest seems to be at the top of the meta. Expect to see a large amount on ladder and as a staple deck in many tournament lineups.


The Non-Meta

Combo Hunter

KnC Combo Hunter

Combo Hunter Decklist

For the past few expansions, Hunter has been struggling as a class. Blizzard keeps pushing control tools and weird cards for the Hunter arsenal, which leaves the class in an awkward position in terms of deck building because of how weak each of the archetypes are. With the new Hunter legendary minion, Kathrena Winterwisp, I thought it would be really interesting to build a combo-oriented deck using Kathrena, Charged Devilsaur, and King Krush. It is often not a combo that will instantly kill your opponent, but the amount of stats that the combo provides are truly ridiculous. This deck runs the Secret package to help fend off aggro, the Candleshot and Hunter’s Mark combo to deal with large threats, and Deathstalker Rexxar to create even more value in a late game scenario.


While the deck might not be top-tier, it seems extremely fun to play. Personally, I will be testing this deck in tournament play in a lineup that is attempting to target control decks. On ranked ladder, Combo hunter still seems weak to aggro decks and Highlander Priest, which makes it not extremely viable in the upcoming meta.


Overall, Kobolds and Catacombs sees both powerful and fun cards added to the game. While it may not be the best expansion of the year in terms of player attitude and hype, it will likely lead to a diverse and healthy meta both in terms of ranked ladder and tournament play.


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Does Hearthstone need a Tournament mode?

The reliability of Hearthstone’s official tournaments hasn’t been stellar lately. Disconnects, issues with clear rule communication and venue issues have repeatedly plagued high-level play over the past few months. Most controversial was competitive player Michael Luker’s disconnect whilst winning a crucial match. The dominant game-state during the disconnect and his resulting tilt and losses arguably cost his qualification.

Some would blame Blizzard’s organisation for this. But the issue may run far deeper. Perhaps the issue lies in part in the Hearthstone game client itself. How can Hearthstone support esports without a tournament mode?

A matter of functionality

tournament mode

If you opponent disappears in a puff of smoke, pros should be able to resume their game

Currently, all of the rules, functions and quirks of any given tournament have to be organised within a limited Hearthstone client. Things like rules, decklists, bans and play orders have to be sorted manually. Naturally, this leaves greater room for error. It also places more administrative strain on the organisers.

Potentially, a Tournament mode or client in Hearthstone could automate this admin. It would also be less prone to error than human organisers.

What’s more, potential Tournament-friendly features could be added. The ability to restore a game to a prior state from a disconnect could be invaluable, especially in earlier stages of tournaments. A tournament mode could also provide post-match stats on demand for interested viewers.

Better rules, easier enforcement?

A tournament mode could also make for easier enforcement of anti-cheating rules. Currently, smaller independent tournaments have dilemmas when it comes to players potentially cheating via in-game chat. When pro player RDU received in-game messages stating “Hi mum” mid-Tournament in a game vs Amaz in a 2014 tournament, some believed it was code for Amaz drawing Leeroy. However, Hearthstone has no way of preventing players receiving messages outside of clearing out friends lists; a time-consuming and irksome task for all involved. The only alternative is to either tolerate potential cheating or disqualify those who receive messages (which would be equally open to abuse).

Similarly, intentional or semi-intentional disconnects are very hard to police, especially in venues with poor or unreliable web connections. A tournament mode with a resume feature would prevent this potential abuse.

These methods of preventing cheating would not only prevent wrongdoing, but also free up organisers that otherwise would have to devote time and effort to scrutinizing players.

Bridging the competitive gap

There may also be knock-on benefits for a Tournament mode or client. Though it would likely initially only be available to authorised partners, such a client may eventually be expanded to Fireside Gatherings. This would allow enthusiasts a far easier time of setting up small community tournaments without the hassle of organisation, bracketing and rule enforcement. Perhaps the mode could even be extended to those seeking a more personal, involved and strategic series of games than the traditional anonymous single matches of Ladder.

As well as opening more avenues for players to enjoy Hearthstone, it would also help to close the divide between Competitive and Ladder Hearthstone. Currently, the experience of tournaments is very different to that of most players. It’s hard to train for, enjoy and engage with Tournaments when the fundamental day-to-day Hearthstone experience is completely divorced from it. If players get to experience line-up balancing, bans and the tactics of a Best of Five, they may find themselves enjoying watching Tournaments more. Engagement would also translate to a greater pool of talented Hearthstone players.

tournament mode

Ladder doesn’t always satisfy those looking to get a competitive experience

Benefits for the average Jaina

All this wouldn’t just help the competitive scene. There would be potentially tangible benefits even to casual players. For one thing, a separate mode may allow tweaks to cards. This would mean that crucial balance changes would no longer follow the dictates of Tournaments. What’s more, it even opens the albeit unlikely possibility that certain cards could change for Competitive but not ladder; perhaps the most obvious example being Yogg-Saron.

A healthy competitive scene is the sign of a healthy game, and Hearthstone is no exception. Though Blizzard may be content to rest on their laurels of Hearthstone’s massive commercial success, they should not become complacent. Striving for greatness and skill motivates a significant proportion of their paying customer-base, and they deserve a strong, supported competitive scene to inspire them.

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Tech to beat the new expansion meta

Knights of the Frozen Throne is mere hours from NA release at the time of writing. Theorycrafting is in full swing, and players are eager to unleash their shiny new cards and decks upon the ladder. Others are greedily seizing upon the opportunity to climb with last meta’s most efficient decks. It’s a perfect time for deck tech to shine.

This can be a tricky meta to navigate. A combination of crazily greedy decks featuring flashy new legendaries like the Lich King can be a struggle for reactive decks to deal with. Meanwhile, those sticking to old-fashioned aggro provide a challenge to those seeking to innovate. So how do you navigate this oddly polarised ladder experience?

Frostmourne belongs in a Museum

Eat their Death Knight dreams with a gloopy spit

One recurring theme of the expansion has been a number of incredibly powerful weapons. Warrior’s new Deaths-bite-alike Blood Razor threatens uber-efficient removal. Rogue’s Shadowblade and supporting Doomerang offer weapon damage without hurting Valeera herself. Both the Warrior and Paladin Death Knight Hero come with hugely powerful weapons attached that represent huge tempo and value swings. Not to mention the Lich King himself (and Arfas) can fetch the terrifying Frostmourne, a weapon that threatens to resurrect all minions it kills.

The answer to all this massive weapon value? Well, luckily Hearthstone has a built-in pressure valve for strong weapons. Weapon hate like Harrison Jones, Acidic Swamp Ooze and Gluttonous Ooze can quickly put an end to the value fiesta. What’s more, this kind of weapon hate is perfect to survive and turn the clock against the hyper-aggressive Pirate Warrior. Punishing this hyper-aggressive deck is a great strategy to stop those seeking to sneak out a quick legend amidst bumbling homebrews.

The tempo treatment

The solution to wacky combos and crazy legendaries is good old-fashioned mana efficiency

Tech doesn’t always mean playing specific cards. Often it’s as much a matter of playstyle and deck choice. In a highly varied, experimental meta, it’s often hard to play reactive decks. Playing as Control is dependent on knowing what you’re up against. You can’t be prepared for the kind of mad, greedy combos that will be thrown at you.

Instead, decks that push a specific gameplan with powerful tempo plays are likely to be even further rewarded than usual. Aggressive Midrange or Combo like Miracle Rogue or Midrange Hunter decks are likely to see a lot of success. Their brand of snowballing mid-game board presence is especially difficult to deal with by unrefined Control. While Aggro can be shut down by new lifesteal and taunt minions, aggressive Midrange can provide the beefy late game to bring games to a close despite Taunts, Heal and whatever else Control throws at you. Doing more for your mana than they can is a sure-fire way to victory.

The downside is a limited ability to react to the opponent’s gameplan before you can execute yours. This is where tech cards can come in most handy; as they allow you to push your gameplan of mid-game minions while severely hampering your opponent’s strategies.

Let none pass


The Lich King’s popularity could be his undoing

The Lich King is one of the flashiest and most impressive legendaries of Knights of the Frozen Throne. The souped-up Ironbark Protector is likely to see considerable play. His less flashy cousin, Bonemare, also has generated significant praise. Both promise big late-game taunts that could be a nightmare for many classes to deal with. Both Aggro and Control struggle to deal with these kinds of big, valuable bodies that prevent you going face or killing threatening minions.


If your deck lacks removal for these kinds of threats, then consider adding some way to destroy or avoid it. The Black Knight is a Classic taunt counter and can provide huge tempo swings. Particularly against the Lich King, he’s a devastating late-game board swing. For decks like Midrange Hunter that otherwise lacks removal, he could be an invaluable combination of beefy body and powerful effect.


“Lot of stats, but weak to silence” covers a lot of new minions

If you can’t  quite stomach the 6 mana for a 4/5, consider running a Silence. Spellbreaker can provide a fantastic tempo swing, especially against the buffed bodies of Bonemare. With a myriad of new, interesting and powerful effects for players to test, silence is unlikely to go without targets. Deathrattles and buffs are a recurring theme of knights of the Frozen Throne, and Silence counters both.

While Silencing the Lich King isn’t quite as powerful as destroying him, it often is all you need to push for lethal. In return, you get a cheaper, more flexible minion that works on a number of targets. It also notably counters Lifesteal minions that otherwise could continually generate huge healing for the opponent.

Feeling crabby

Pirate Warrior is likely to try and prey on weak, unrefined decks: be ready

Crabs like Golakka Crawler are also a solid choice. If you get to a glut of Pirate Warriors, Golakka can provide the win rate edge you need without running the slew of reactive tools that can compromise your effectiveness against the hordes of experimental midrange and control.

Depending on how players choose to experiment, Hungry Crab might also be a sensible inclusion. A Divine Aggro Murloc Paladin featuring the new Righteous Protector could rise to early prominence. In which case, Hungry Crab will severely cut those explosive Murloc starts down to size.

If Divine Paladin truly takes off, then Blood Knight could be a fantastic, if specific, tech to tear through those Divine shields and generate absurd amounts of stats.

Don’t fear the tweaker

It’s survival of the fittest out there: adapt to survive! Though you still probably shouldn’t play Adaptation

Above all, the key to succeeding in the early expansion meta is adaptability. With so many cards and archetypes to test, the meta will change by the day, if not by the hour. Feel free to swap in techs, decks and new cards. Think about what works and what doesn’t and refine your deck further with each win or loss. Finding the optimal choice for both fun and wins is one of the best parts of a new expansion.

So get out there and give those other theory-crafted decks the testing of a lifetime!

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Will Ranked Floors Be Good For Hearthstone?

Mammoth Changes

The Year of the Mammoth isn’t just bringing card rotations and a new expansion. It’s also making a fundamental change to the way the the Ladder system operates, by introducing Ranked floors. Ranked floors act as a “lock”, or minimum on how far you can fall back down after losing streaks.

Similar to how Rank 20 and the Legend Ranks prevent you falling too far, there will be similar stops at ranks 15, 10, and 5. Since so much of Hearthstone’s play takes place in Ranked mode, any change to incentives is sure to have a major impact. But will it be positive?

More Fun Decks

Ranked can often feel like an unrelenting assault. Climbing, or even not falling, requires consistent play with a “meta” deck once you get into the higher ranks. As such, there is little room for experimentation. Since losing is punished so harshly, you are heavily discouraged from playing anything other than tried-and-tested Ladder staples.

This can make Ladder feel intensely predictable and monotonous after a while. You’ll often queue into identical deck after identical deck, playing the same openers and the same combos over and over. This hardly makes for fun and diverse gameplay.

Ranked floors might help switch up the deck variation. By preventing losses from being too punishing to your rank once you hit a certain level, then it becomes less disheartening to experiment. If you don’t drop stars, that silly Murloc Hunter or Blood Warrior that the meta’s not right for might be more tempting. As well as often being more entertaining to play, more variety in opponents will help spice up the ladder experience and make the game more exciting.

“Fun” decks provide diversity, but may just encourage more Aggro Shaman

Greedier Decks

There is a price for this, however. As anyone who’s fallen to the lower ranks of Legend or taken a trip into Casual can confirm, it’s often far harder to win with the highly-tuned anti-aggro Control decks that often succeed at high Ladder or Legend rank.

As people care less about win-rate, decks tend to get “greedy”; more focused on long-term value. For many people, fun decks means decks packed with big impressive threats; and none of those boring AOEs, early board presence, or lifegain. This can pose a problem for the slow decks that tend to struggle against those that are filled with absurd amounts of value.

The end result then might be an effective buff to aggro, as the anti-aggro control decks struggle to make it past the greedy fun-lovers. As aggro already tends to be over-represented on Ladder due to game speed or deck cost, this could further funnel players into aggressive playstyles, to the detriment of diversity. Not only that, but it will also encourage anti-control decks like Jade Druid to prey on the “fun” slow decks, which will in turn reward more aggro.

Less Grind

Hearthstone’s economy can be thought of as a pool of stars, divided amongst the players. Stars are generated in two ways; bonus stars from winning multiple games in a row; and when a player who can’t drop rank loses. Currently, that means that only winstreaks, Legend players, and Rank 20 players add stars to the system. However, Ranked floors will add huge numbers of star generators to the system. At every rank one is implemented. There are a huge number of players at ranks 15, 10, and 5 at any given moment, and all of them will soon be helping their opponents rank up faster.

So what does this mean? Essentially, getting to the rank you want will become easier. Rank resets will become less painful, and you’ll have to spend less time each month playing to get that cardback and golden cards. Considering the massive time investment required to get to certain ranks (especially Legend), this is a definite improvement for those who have less time to play.

We’ll see a lot more players with Legend cardbacks

Less Legendary Legend

However, making ranking easier does have its downsides. For one, if everyone finds it easier to rank up, previously considerable achievements may be devalued. Currently, hitting Legend, especially with a homebrew or non-meta deck, was impressive. Doing so would often warrant attracting attention and a degree of prestige. The Legend cardback has proliferated greatly since its introduction, but it still commands a degree of prestige.

With the proposed changes, it may be possible for almost anyone to hit legend with a degree of dedication. Note that making it easier to hit Legend has an exponential effect; more Legend players means more stars generated as they lose to those on numbered ranks. In short, Legend may no longer be worthy of note though.

While some may see this as an improvement, it is lamentable that “Legend” will no longer require any where near a “Legendary” level of skill.

No More Ladder Anxiety?

Like reaching a save-point in a tough game, buying insurance, or guaranteeing a passing grade in an educational course, there’s something intensely relieving about mitigating the consequences of disaster. Hitting Legend is rewarding not only due to the achievement, but also the guarantee that you won’t fall out of Legend, regardless of how many loses you get.

Many players report feelings of “Ladder Anxiety”, where the stakes of ladder and the threat of losing hard-earned stars make Ranked play too intense to be pleasant. The result of this can be stressful play, tilt, misplays, or simply avoiding ranked altogether.

If players feel like they have less to lose if it all goes awry, it might help them relax, focus on playing, and have an overall better experience.

A Promising Start

Whatever the impact on ladder, it’s incredibly refreshing and promising to see the devs trying out solutions to the problems people have had with ladder for years. Even if Ranked floors don’t fulfill their stated goals, experimentation with different solutions is far more encouraging and potentially fruitful than previous non-communication and inactivity.

This could pave the way for other changes, like increased monthly stars, longer seasons, or altered rewards. The current situation is so stale that almost any alteration is necessary. Whatever happens, the Year of The Mammoth is looking like a good year for positive changes and dev communication.

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Climbing the Ladder with aPurpleTrain

The ladder is a dark and angry mistress. All who have played Hearthstone have felt her siren’s call. We toil each month to climb the ranks, to earn our spot among the ranks of the Legendary. To some, achieving a Legendary rank is routine. A simple chore to be completed each month. But for most, it is the mirage in the desert, or Mount Olympus above the clouds – a mythical place beyond the grasp of the mortals.

I am aPurpleTrain. I have seen this mythical land. I have been there many, many times, even on a free-to-play account. And I am here to tell you that I am just like you, a mere mortal. I do not spend eight hours a day streaming. I do not fly across the world to play in invitational tournaments. I am not sponsored. I do not have subscribers, followers, or loyal trolls. I am here to tell you that you too can reach Legendary. Let me be your guide. Each week, I will highlight a deck that you can use to pilot to the top .25% of the ladder. It will not come easy. Reaching the top of the ladder will require patience above all else, but it is possible.

How to Run the Zoo (Part 1)

I have piloted many different decks to Legendary – Secret Paladin, Freeze Mage, Mid-Range Druid, Face Hunter. But none have I had so much fun with as Warlock Zoo.

What is Zoo?

aPurpleTrain Feb 2016 Legendary Zoo Deck

aPurpleTrain Feb 2016 Legendary Zoo Deck

Zoo is a term you hear often in Hearthstone. It is perhaps one of the only deck archetypes (other than Handlock and the new Renolock) that does not require detailing the class. Hearing Zoo means Warlock. Simple as that. So what is Zoo?

Zoo has existed in Hearthstone essentially from the beginning. The specific iterations have changed enormously over two years, but the basic strategy is the same: capture the board early with sticky minions that are resilient to board clears, never give up the board, and then start pounding away at your opponent’s face. Zoo decks typically do not run board clears, and only rarely run any sort of removal other than Imp-losion (occasionally you will see a player tech in a BGH).

In this respect, Zoo is actually very similar to Secrets Paladin. While they both may seem superficially to be pure aggro decks like Face Hunter, the real victory comes from controlling the board early with your minions. It is not uncommon to enter turns four, five, or six, and be losing by life total, but winning on board. If you can control the board, you will almost always win the game.

Zoo in the Current Meta

Zoo is an incredibly strong deck in the meta right now, primarily because the two most often encountered ladder decks, Mid-Range Druid and Secrets Paladin, are both favorable match-ups for the Zoo player. Both of those decks have a similar weakness: removal of multiple minions. Druid, for example, may be the worst class in the game at removing multiple minions efficiently. A Druid’s only true AOE is Swipe. A Druid wants to plop down one big minion per turn until they draw combo and kill you. In a similar vein, Secret Paladins run only one AOE, if that – consecrate.

Resilient Minions

The great things about Zoo is that all of your minions are very resilient to these board clears. Zoo does have quite a few 1 and 2 health minions, but not nearly as many as a pure face deck like Face Hunter. Also, Zoo’s minions are sticky. Minions like Haunted Creeper, Nerubian Egg, and Imp Gang Boss all leave minions behind after AOE. These minions make it incredibly difficult for your opponent to clear the board entirely, while also turning your Knife Juggler from a priority target into a must-kill target.

Minion Buffs

Why is it so good to always have a minion on the board? Because of Zoo’s other strength, it’s buff cards. Zoo decks run an abundance of buffs, allowing you to turn your cheap, small, sticky minions in to larger guys capable of trading up (while leaving more minions behind). Cards like Abusive Sargent and Power Overwhelming can flip the entire board in your favor. Very few plays in the game are more powerful than playing a PO on your Egg, killing an opponent’s large minion, and leaving yourself with a fresh 4/4 on the board – all for just one mana.

Late Game

Zoo is also a deck that has plenty of space for individual choices to counter the meta. The mid to late game for Zoo is often simply a personal preference by player. Most players will try to run at least one large threat and/or one large charging minion for a final burst. Some players have used Dr. Boom as a big threat, while some have opted for Sea Giants. For a finisher, some decks opt for Doomguard, while others shy away from the discard mechanic and opt for Arcane Golem or Leroy Jenkins instead. Any of those chargers, when combined with a PO or Abusive is capable of creating large bursts, sometimes into the realm of 12-16 damage. And if you find yourself stuck behind a taunt, never leave home without your best friend, Mr. Ironbeak Owl.


Overall, Zoo is an incredibly powerful and fun deck. The deck plays a little bit differently than some “curve-out” decks where the plays are essentially scripted. The deck often rewards risk and the element of surprise. While the deck may be named after a zoo of animals, the deck is certainly best when you let those animals out of their cage. So go! Let your minions run wild, and you, too, can run the Zoo to Legendary.

I will be back next week with How to Run the Zoo (Part 2), where I will discuss in some detail mulligans, and tech choices. In the meantime, try out the Zoo variant I used to climb the ladder during the February 2016 season.

I welcome any and all comments, and promise to always do my best at responding to questions.