Welcome back for the 14th episode of Legend Decks Review! Click here if you want to check out the previous episodes.
The point of this series is to analyze the competitive Hearthstone decks both from the community (you!) and pro players. While all the decks are Legend-worthy, I don't necessarily pick the BEST ones each week, but rather the most interesting ones. It means that a lot of my choices won't be your standard meta decks.
The intervals between episodes might be different - sometimes it will be one week, sometimes two or three in case no new, interesting decks pop up. After all, if the meta hasn’t changed, there is no point in writing about the same stuff over and over again.
All of the decks are tested, usually around rank 5 early in the season (which is really equivalent to Legend later in the season) and in Legend later (I usually hit Legend in the middle of the month if I'm not too busy with other things).
First episode after a while. Sorry for such a long break. My reasoning was that the meta near the end of LoE was very stale already, there weren't a lot of fun decks to write about. I've decided to focus on the WoG announcements and such. And then, the early WoG meta was so unstable that those posts would be kinda pointless; it takes me a few days to gather and test the decks + write about them, and after those few days a deck can be already changed, it can already work poorly in the "new" meta etc. I've had plans to write this one last week, as the meta has already settled, yet it's far away from "boring" yet (as in a lot of people are still inventing new decks), but in the end I wrote another article.
Since it's a first episode in WoG, I've decided to give you guys a fair mix of different decks with different play styles. We have a pretty aggressive Zoo Warlock, a Midrange and very diverse (as any Reno deck) Reno N'Zoth Rogue, Paladin with a 24 damage combo finisher and the first ever Control Hunter deck that works really well. So I really hope everyone will find something for themselves.
I'm also trying a new, more "free" format of just writing everything I think about the deck instead of making sections. Please tell me what you think about it.
CLPayton’s Dragon Zoo Warlock
I open today's week with a list from Payton - a Chinese player who, as far as I know, plays on the NA server. Zoo was always one of my favorite decks and the thing I've loved it most for was the flexibility. Zoo is a whole archetype, not a single list. Even though people usually stick to one, most popular deck - there are a lot of ways to build your Zoo Warlock. And this is one of the most unique ones I've seen in a while.
Dragon Zoo Warlock. But how do those things exactly mix up? To understand that, you can look at how Dragon Priest operates (although it's not very popular choice right now, RIP Priest) - it's basically very similar to a Zoo deck. The Midrange Dragon decks are proactive, want to curve out, want to aggressively fight for the board control, play threats bigger than they should, so mix a tempo with value. Dragon Priest also liked to buff the minions to improve the trades and such. Zoo Warlock's play style is very similar, so mixing those two archetypes don't feel like a wrong choice.
After playing some games with Dragon Zoo, I have to say that play style is kinda different. While it's still good old Zoo, I found out that most of my games were slower. Standard Zoo games were faster and had bigger snowball potential (but a lot of times failed if you didn't win the early game), while Dragon Zoo games more consistent and the deck felt much better while playing from empty board (or from behind in general). While I still had some quick wins, I could actually stand a chance against decks that normally counter this kind of play style.
For example, the Payton runs Blackwing Technician instead of Darkshire Councilman. Why? Because it's stronger the moment it hits the board. If you don't have the board control and you just drop the 1/5, it usually dies for free. While it's true that later in the game you can immediately follow it by something, but it's not always the case in the early/mid game. Councilman is amazing 3-drop when you're ahead, but it kinda sucks when you're behind (which might happen against other decks with strong early game). Instead of the very popular Zoo's 2-drop - Dire Wolf Alpha, it runs Faerie Dragon. And once again, similar situation - Dire Wolf Alpha is stronger when you have a decent board lead with some tokens present, but then it SUCKS as a 2-drop. It's a vanilla 2/2 for 2 when you just drop it on empty board. Then, Faerie Dragon is much stronger as a 2-drop - not only it's 3/2, so it trades better, but it can't get killed by something like Lightning Bolt or Arcane Blast. The last example I want to give is the Gormok the Impaler present in a lot of standard Zoo lists, while this deck plays Blackwing Corruptor. While Gormok is obviously stronger when the effect procs (1 mana less, 1 damage more, only 1 attack less), it's much harder to proc it - you need to have 4 minions on the board ALREADY, which is impossible if you're not ahead (at least until you have at least 6-7 mana so you can drop something before playing it). Activating the Blackwing Corruptor, however, is much easier - having a Dragon in your hand is way more common than having 4+ minions on the board at the start of your turn. Same story with Defender of Argus vs Twilight Guardian - Argus is amazing card, but only if you have the board lead, Twilight Guardian is much better if you don't. So overall, there are pros and cons of those things. The deck has much less snowball potential, meaning that you won't have a lot of the games you win on turn 5-6 just because you had very good early game, you put insane pressure on the enemy and the cards that require you to be ahead, well, worked because you were ahead + enemy had no board clears to fight against you. But on the other hand, it feels much better when you play against opponents that didn't let you snowball through the early removals and such or the opponents that had a lot of mid game AoE.
And that's how we come to main reason why I feel the deck is good right now. Midrange/Tempo Warrior matchup. It's one of the worst matchups in the whole game - I call it a second "Control Warrior vs Freeze Mage". My win rate with this kind of Warrior against Zoo is 90% (and I'm not exaggerating, it's nearly exactly 90% over 50+ games sample size). And as it happens, Midrange Warrior is pretty popular deck - especially when more Zoo pops out and people stop playing Hunters. Midrange Warrior completely shuts down Zoo's snowball potential because he can quite easily clear the board all the time with all Whirlwind effects, weapons, Charge minions etc. This strategy works perfectly against all the 1/2 health minions, but it's suddenly much worse if you can pump out 4+ health, midrange minions every turn instead. I don't say that the matchup is now good, but it's much closer to 50/50 than it is with the standard Zoo.
One cool tech card I want to talk about is Hellfire. It's a card that you would NEVER play in a normal Zoo Warlock, because since you really need to be on the board, you would hurt yourself too often and it would be a dead card most of the time. However, since this deck doesn't rely so heavily on being ahead, it can afford to play a card like that. First reason is all the Zoo and Shaman matchups - both very common - where Hellfire is great comeback mechanic. Second reason is the surprise factor. That's one of the cards you don't play around from Zoo Warlock. I have surprised quite a few enemies with it, because they've played right into it - I mean, it's not really their fault, you can't play around every single card in the game, especially if a deck usually doesn't run such a card. In some cases it also gave me additional reach I needed, but second copy of Power Overwhelming would probably do a better job at that.
Another interesting choice is playing 2x Mortal Coil. Even though I've seen some normal Zoos using the card, it makes even more sense here. Mortal Coil has insane synergy with Spell Damage. And Azure Drake gives you exactly that. But, why would you want to play card draw in Zoo deck? After all, the Warlock's Hero Power already draws you. It's true, but this Hero Power isn't flawless. It costs 2 mana and 2 health to draw a card - that's quite a high cost compared to let's say Azure Drake, where it costs only about 1 mana and no health to draw a card. Mortal Coil works the same - it gives you the ability to ping something off and you get a 1 mana card draw. So in the mid game you can cycle through your deck more easily without losing too much tempo. Another reason is that you can Life Tap only once per turn. So you're limited to drawing 2 cards per turn. Even if you draw 2 per turn, most of the cards you draw cost 1-2 mana, so when you're at 10 mana you still float a lot + enemy has quite easy time dealing with 2 small drops every turn if he plays a slower decks. With this Dragon Zoo, on 10 mana you can e.g. Life Tap, play Drake + a 3-drop - you don't float any mana, you put quite meaningful bodies on the board and you end up with 1 more card in total.
I can't clearly say that this deck is better or worse than the normal Zoo, but I can definitely say that it's viable and should be a better choice in certain metas. And like always, surprise factor is a pretty big deal and this deck plays quite a lot of stuff people just don't expect to see. It's a great deck for Zoo fans (especially those who prefer the slower Zoo play style, like me) and should be a nice semi-budget choice for people without huge collections too. The only Legendary it runs - Leeroy Jenkins - can be most likely replaced by a Doomguard, or maybe a second Power Overwhelming since the deck doesn't run out of cards as fast as the normal Zoo (so Doomguard's downside might be too big).
TardHunter’s Combo Paladin
Right now, when you think about Paladin in Standard, you most likely picture the N'Zoth Control Paladin. Paladin is one of the least common classes on the ladder and most of the Paladin players have chosen Control version. Yeah, some Aggro, some Murloc Paladins, but mostly Control.
And this one is also a Control Paladin, but with an interesting twist. Instead of playing the huge N'Zoth, the Corruptor finisher, it runs the combo finisher instead. So it's pretty similar to the Anyfin can Happen version. While Anyfin can Happen is clearly stronger in Wild, Old Murk-Eye being no longer available in Standard was a huge hit to the deck. Non-Murk-Eye versions are still semi-common, but well, it has its flaws.
The combo in this deck is Leeroy Jenkins + 2x Blessing of Might + Faceless Manipulator for a total of 24 damage. It's very similar to the Warlock's combo of Leeroy Jenkins + Power Overwhelming + Abusive Sergeant + Faceless Manipulator - both deal exactly 24 damage and require 4 cards.
I want to start off by debunking a common misconception. Combo is often not the only win condition of a "combo" deck. While yes, that's the perfect way to finish the game, the combo is usually used only in the slow matchups and only if you don't find a better use of the combo pieces before. A good example is Combo RenoLock - Power Overwhelming is often used as a trading tool, Faceless Manipulator to copy a big minion and Leeroy might be just a trading tool or a way to combo Shadowflame. And it's also the case here. It's a Control Paladin deck, it plays other big threats outside of the combo and only devotes a 4 cards in total to the combo itself (well, 5 if you count Emperor Thaurissan, but that's a good card by itself). And those cards can be freely used in other ways in a lot of different matchups.
Most important thing when playing a deck like that is identifying whether you really need a combo to win certain matchup. Or maybe not "really need", but whether saving it instead of using it will increase your chances to win. One of the most simple examples - Control Priest. On the one hand, you might win the matchup without ever using the combo. They might not draw their Entombs, you might overwhelm them with all the 1/1's from Justicar etc. But your main win condition is the combo - it's a matchup that will most likely last really long, so you have a time to collect all the combo pieces and then 24 damage burst is amazing against a class that can heal all the consistent damage you deal. Or against the RenoLock - if they won't find an answer for the Tirion or Ragnaros you might win it, but then the burst damage is one of the best ways to win this matchup. So in matchups like that you DON'T want to use your combo pieces unless you absolutely have to.
But then again, there are matchups like Aggro Shaman or Zoo Warlock. The chances that you will have enough time to draw the combo pieces, to Thaurissan them and then to kill the enemy with combo are insanely low. So you want to use the combo pieces whenever you get a good opportunity to do so. I mean, if you can use Blessing of Might on your 1/1 to trade into 4/4 - sure, that's great. Or maybe you have dropped Ragnaros, Lightlord on the board and it survived a turn? Facelessing it is amazing, you definitely prefer it over waiting to maybe kill enemy with Leeroy. Emperor Thaurissan is also way more flexible in those matchups - just drop him whenever you get a good opportunity, don't wait for the combo pieces. You play those matchups like a standard Control Paladin and just use your resources. Yes, sometimes the burst damage might come handy to finish the game, maybe Leeroy + 2x Blessing of Might will give you exact damage to kill that Zoo Warlock, but that's definitely not your main win condition.
Next point is how to use Emperor Thaurissan. If you aim to get the full combo off, you need to discount at least 2 out of 4 pieces. So in the matchups that you really want to play the full combo, you just don't drop Thaurissan until you have 2 pieces in your hand. Then, like I've said, in the matchups where you don't aim for the combo finish, just play him whenever you get a good opportunity. It's a very powerful card no matter what - it can for example allow you to curve out better and get your Rags or Tirion a turn earlier. It can make the Justicar Trueheart more easy to play without losing too much tempo. It can allow to still play something meaningful after the Equality board clears (e.g. if you discount Wild Pyromancer and Equality, on 10 mana you can still follow it up with 8-drop). It's a pretty strong card in the decks that operate on big hand sizes and this is one of those.
The main win conditions in slower matchups, besides combo, are your big guys - the deck runs 3 big threats in a form of Tirion Fordring, Ragnaros the Firelord and Ragnaros, Lightlord. All of them are very strong cards that, if not answered, can win you the game. But what if you play against the decks that can answer all your big minions? For example, against Control Warrior? Justicar Trueheart is very handy then. 2x 1/1 every turn pretty much gives you a win condition in some of the matchups. Sometimes you can win against Warrior if you just press the Hero Power every turn - while they might run up to 3-4 Whirlwind effects (Ravaging Ghoul, Revenge), they will eventually run out of them and your tokens should be really good. Also, using the combo pieces against Control Warrior might not be a terrible idea if they have played an early Justicar, because the 24 burst will not likely ever be enough to kill them and playing for the long game might be a better idea.
When it comes to what I might change in the deck, Alexstrasza is a card that comes to mind. Just like it's sometimes played in Combo RenoLock, it allows to set up the combo finisher with no prior damage dealt. Enemy might be keeping himself over the combo range once he realizes what deck he plays against, but sometimes a well timed Alex might completely ruin it. Not only enemy has to deal with 8/8 body, but he also needs to heal for 10 or Taunt up to get out of the combo's range. Since the deck has pretty slow early/mid game, getting enemy below 25 might sometimes be a pretty hard task (I know how it sounds, but that's true). Playing Alex means that you can completely focus on surviving, drawing and controling the board and you don't have to worry about dealing the few extra points of damage. On the other hand, Alex is a huge tell - playing her on enemy usually means "I can kill you, so you absolutely need to Taunt up or heal right now". So it kinda ruins the surprise factor - up until you play Alex, enemy might still expect N'Zoth Paladin and not play around the burst at all, even in the late game. Some builds run only 3-4 Deathrattle cards in total, so it's not that uncommon that you won't draw them until the late game. Emperor Thaurissan is also a hint, but I can see running him in a standard Control deck too. Alex, however, not really. Still I think it's a cool card and I'd probably use her if I played the deck more (I'm not a big fan of Control Paladin, though).
Compared to the more popular, N'Zoth version of the Control Paladin, I feel like this deck has an edge in matchups where surprising burst damage is very good. So for example, it should work better against Priests, against RenoLock or in the Control Paladin mirror. N'Zoth version, on the other hand, feels better in the value more value-oriented matchups and against the decks that you can't burst that easily - e.g. against Control Warrior or Reno Mage. It also might be better in matchups where the mid game threats like Cairne Bloodhoof or Sylvanas Windrunner might play a big role (e.g. against C'Thun Druid).
BigTallGuy’s Yogg ‘n’ Load Hunter
Here we go guys, I have to say that. Control Hunter deck that works. I knew that SOME DAY we'll see that - now all we need is a rank 1 legend Aggro Priest! Okay, you could argue that it's more of a combo deck than a control deck, but I'd say that "combo" is not really an archetype, but rather a win condition - combo decks are control at their core.
And this is one really weird deck. You look at it and you ask yourself - how the hell can it work? What's your win condition? How do you kill the enemy? And yes, it might seem like the deck can't win games at the first glance, but if you think about it - Hunter is the only class that has built-in win condition. Yes, it's not perfect, but in later turns you should be dealing 2 damage every turn. If you play against a class that can't heal, well, that's a lot of damage you're going to deal.
Then, let me take a moment to talk about Yogg. It's the card I absolutely hate. I don't think a card like that should exist in competitive Hearthstone. When a card has so much RNG packed into it, it should only be balanced to be a fun card, not a card you can play in high Legend decks. But hey, sadly the card works and I need to acknowledge that, so I'll shut up and start analyzing it. Overall, Yogg has a higher chance for the outcome to be positive than negative. There are a lot of cards that are only positive (like Consecration or Secrets - those won't hurt you or your board while giving you value), while there aren't a lot of cards that are only negative (like Astral Communion). It means that you have a higher chance of hitting only-positive card than only-negative card. And since the other cards like Fireball target random stuff, you can not take them into account (because over time the number of good and bad outcomes should be similar). Then, if you also play Yogg vs enemy that has minions on the board, whenever a damage spell pops you have a higher chance to attack opponent's minion than yours (since you have only Yogg and enemy has e.g. 3-4 minions). It makes Yogg a great way to clear the board + gain value. Yogg is amazing finisher in a lot of games. It's a way to completely turn the game around - you might have been running out of cards, you might be staring at lethal on the board, you might not have any minions - you play Yogg and everything changes. There is a very high chance that you will draw some cards, play some Secrets, clear the board and maybe even spawn some minions on your side.
When you play 15-20 spells before Yogg, there is a huge chance that Yogg will gain you a lot of value. Just remember to not play him too late, because there is a high chance he is going to draw you some cards, and you don't really want to draw when you're going into fatigue.
But what if your Yogg didn't win you the game? It sucked, you didn't draw him or whatever. Then you still have quite a few ways to win. Now to the second part of the deck's name - Lock and Load. A card that is useless in the early and for the big part of the mid game, but gets insane as the game goes on. So, theoretically - if we had a card that gives you 2 random class cards, I think pricing it at 2 would be okay (because it's 3 mana for 2 cards, but random cards are worse than the ones from your deck). It means that Lock and Load is fine if you draw 2 with it. I mean, it's not great, but it's okay. But now, let's see how many you can draw with Lock and Load in the late game. Without Emperor? Probably around 4. With Emperor? Well, easily 5-6. So, we have a card that can draw you over 5 cards for 2 mana. That's the Battle Rage style of broken. But only in the late game, so against slower decks 2x Lock and Load can give you, I don't know, up t0 10 additional cards. And along those you might have another Lock and Load or more value cards like Ball of Spiders of Infest. It makes for a nice win condition in slow matchups.
What about faster matchups, though? In faster matchups, all you need to do is survive. Pretty much. Aggro decks don't run any sort of healing, so all the damage you deal is dealt - it won't disappear. So you need to survive and you'll eventually kill them with your Hero Power, bow, burn cards, Animal Companions, Call of the Wild (that's a big card, because it usually turns the board around in your favor + allows you to put enemy on the clock) etc. Sadly, here the "survive" part is the hardest thing - this deck might struggle against Aggro, because it doesn't really have time to build up a meaningful hand size, get Lock and Load value or even survive until Yogg. It's not unwinnable, but you really need to stop the early pressure in order to win vs Aggro.
I also absolutely love how King's Elekk is used in those Yogg Hunter decks. Those run no minions - there are only 3 in total, one is Elekk, second one is Emperor Thaurissan (6 mana) and third one is Yogg (10 mana). Yes, the deck has much more ways to summon minions, but those are spells - On The Hunt, Unleash the Hounds, Animal Companion, Call of the Wild. Lock and Load can also give you minions, but those aren't part of the deck. Playing an Elekk means that you pretty much always win joust when you hit Yogg and win joust like 70% of time when you hit Thaurissan. 3/2 for 2 that nearly guarantees that you draw one of your win conditions? Sure, awesome.
The deck has very unique play style and is really cool one. It's one of the decks I really don't mind facing on the ladder, games with it and against it are pretty interesting, each one is different due to the nature of Yogg and Lock and Load, the deck requires quite a lot of skill to pilot etc. So it's really fun. But I still hate the heavy RNG part - the games are fun, but this deck is definitely not for you if you don't like cards with random outcomes, because this deck is quite heavy on them.
Savjz’s Reno N’Zoth Rogue
The last deck I'll talk about is the one I've caught on the Savjz's stream a few days ago. I've decided to give it a spin, since I had two Rogue quests and I didn't really feel like playing Miracle. And I was having a lot of fun with it. Just so you would know - it's not the BEST deck around. My win rate wasn't amazing (57%) but I decided to give it a honorable mention, because it's very unique and enjoyable. Trump was also playing a very similar deck lately, alongside some other streamers. I don't know who originally created this deck, but hey, it really doesn't matter at this point :p
It's pretty hard to describe the deck, because it can be played in quite a lot of different ways. Sometimes you play it like a heavy tempo deck if you get your early game and for example get a big Edwin VanCleef. Sometimes you can play it like a Control deck and slowly grind enemy down - especially if you get something like a Cairne Bloodhoof or Anub'arak from Journey Below + a good Burgle value. But usually I'd say that it's a Midrange deck. You try to play on the curve, you try to put pressure on the enemy and then you finish the game with big N'Zoth, the Corruptor or just sheer minion pressure.
Then, Reno Jackson is kinda 50/50 in Rogue. On the one hand, the card is amazing, because it negates the Rogue's biggest issue - lack of defense mechanics. The class has no good Taunts, no life gain and is very squishy in general. On the other hand, Reno is kinda an issue, because Rogue really wants to play duplicates of some cards - things like Backstab, SI:7 Agent, Sap, Eviscerate or Tomb Pillager are all incredibly powerful and you'd really want to put two of them. But you can't really do that (maybe 1 or 2 duplicates max, but it's already risky). So there are both pros and cons of playing him in Rogue. But I think in a deck like that, the pros are bigger than cons - in N'Zoth Rogue there are A LOT of cards you'd like to put into the deck, and in Reno deck you can easily fill all the 29 slots.
What I really like in this deck is all the cool shenanigans you can do. Cards like Shadowstep or Shadowcaster might be very situational and sometimes nearly useless, but then you can do A LOT of cool stuff with them. Let's take Shadowstep for example. You play in a slow, control matchup. You play your N'Zoth and you spawn 4 minions. Then you Shadowstep it. Now, you have the board that requires AoE clear. Enemy can't just let you have (for example) Sylvanas, Tomb Pillager, Xaril and Huckster on the board - that's 15 damage per turn. But then, if he clears it, you just replay your N'Zoth and you flood the board again. Win-win situation. You play vs Aggro and you are forced to drop a turn 6 Reno to survive? Well, if it survives, you can Shadowcaster it and you have a 1 mana 1/1 that heals you to full to play anytime you like. Against Aggro, that's game over.
Brann Bronzebeard is another fun card in the deck. While there aren't THAT many Brann shenanigans, the one that are present are very strong. Brann + Shadowcaster means you get two copies of a card. Imagine getting 2 more N'Zoths in control matchup. Brann also works with N'Zoth himself - if you didn't have many Deathrattle minions that died this game (e.g. 2) but you still need to play N'Zoth, if you manage to keep Brann on the board, you respawn 4 not 2. But even the combos with Unearthed Raptor or Azure Drake are something that can get you tons of value.
While all of the things above should be well enough to win the Aggro/Tempo/Midrange matchups, the deck might sometimes struggle with Control ones. N'Zoth is great, but if enemy has board clears (and Control decks do have board clears) it might not be the swing you need to win. Sometimes even 2x N'Zoth is not enough if that Control Warrior was keeping the Brawls exactly for that. So, what do you do in those cases? You play Elise Starseeker. The deck has quite a lot of cards which are, let's be honest, pretty bad in the late game. Thanks to the Elise, after dropping all your big bombs and N'Zoth, you can then turn the rest of stuff into random Legendaries. Let's say Backstab or Preparation - yes, those might still be kinda useful in the late game, to make a tempo push or I don't know, Doomsayer can be okay to stall for one turn, but you'd really prefer those to be Legends. Card draws like Gadgetzan Auctioneer, Azure Drake or Bloodmage Thalnos also aren't necessarily helpful when you're close to fatigue. It gives you a serious shot to win in those matchups, because if you add Elise to replace all the bad late game cards, the deck holds SO MUCH value in total. And enemy should be out of board clears after the N'Zoth shenanigans.
The deck is relatively hard to play, for the first few games I didn't really know what I'm doing. I mean, some things were obvious, but the small things like "should I hold Shadowstep for X or use it now" or "how much tempo can I sacrifice if I have or don't have Reno in my hand" are very important to be successful with the deck and come with experience. If you like decks with unique play style and a lot of fun shenanigans, this one should be a great pick for you.
If you want to submit your own decklist – send it to me at email@example.com with a proof of Legend, matchups statistics (it’s best to use some sort of tracker for that), your own thoughts and stuff like that. If you’ve already described the deck somewhere, you can just send me the link to your Reddit/Hearthpwn/etc. post. Or maybe you've just seen a fun deck somewhere and wanted to share it with me, go ahead and send that too. I’ll definitely try to put at least one deck submitted by you guys every week.
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Good luck on the ladder and until next time!