Adapting to the Meta: Priest

Today, we continue the 'Adapting' Series' by taking a look at how to counter Priest, arguably the most frustrating class to play against.

“Learn to adjust yourself to the conditions you have to endure, but make a point of trying to alter or correct conditions so that they are most favorable to you.” – William Frederick Book

Today, I’m taking a look at how to counter Priest, arguably the most frustrating class to play against.

Understanding Priest

Priest is an incredibly reactive class by nature. It does not have a hero power that does one damage and can only affect the board state if there are minions on it.

As a result, a lot of their turns are planned around countering what you have on your board and using your threats against you.

Value spells like shadow-madness can generate card advantage, and they have one of the most potent card draw engines in the game in northshire-cleric.

Shutting down a Priest can be really tough but if you can secure the board and force them to play on the back foot the whole game, you can start building a lead.

There has however been a change in Priest builds lately because of the introduction of Naxx 1 drops undertaker and zombie-chow.

On ladder, Priests can opt to go for a more aggressive Undertaker rush style rather than the traditional Control Priest and it’s good to know how to beat both.

Priest Threats

Priest is a class that excels at coming from behind. Knowing the cards that enable them to swing the board is key and playing around them wins games.

auchenai-soulpriest is one of Priest’s most important cards.

It enables them to go on the offensive, and has some incredible synergy with circle-of-healing and zombie-chow

It allows them to have a 4 mana Flamestrike and can even burst with additional Zombie Chows thrown in for 5 face damage.

Killing it should be a priority, and leaving one up is not advised unless your strategy is to deny the Priest from healing themselves out of lethal range.

cabal-shadow-priest arguably is the biggest winner from Naxx of any card in the game. It steals almost half of the newly introduced cards, and gives great tempo swings.

Every class has a valuable minion in it with less than 2 attack worth stealing, and Cabal capitalizes on this in a big way.

Playing around it is easy though. Don’t play a creature with less than 2 attack into his turn 6.

Try to play them earlier or at the very least, get value off of it before offering it up to the Cabal. Planning a board clear anticipating it hitting the board is a good strategy too.

sylvanas-windrunner is not a Priest class card, but it might as well be. You won’t find a competitive Priest deck without this card in it.

Not only does it have an incredible Deathrattle effect, it synergizes with Priest’s shadow-word-death to act as a 9 mana mind-control

Seeing this card hit the board always causes a massive headache. If you’re lucky enough to have hard removal, try to save it for this card as it’s one of Priest’s biggest threats usually.

I could write a whole guide on how to play around Sylvanas, but in short, make it tough for your opponent. Don’t offer him an easy trigger for her and if you can’t get rid of her, flood the board.

mind-control is Priest’s most devastating spell, and it wins games.

If you’re playing a Priest who’s on 10 mana, think twice, think three times before you drop that ysera or other equivalent large card.

If you can deal with it if it gets stolen, then yeah, go ahead. Otherwise, try to bait it out with lesser threats.

Very few players run double Mind Control especially in this aggressive meta, so seeing one is usually a good indication that you can start pushing all-in.

Combating Priest – Deckbuilding

Now that you know what Priest’s biggest threats are, let’s look at tech and deckbuilding choices you could make to help fight it.

I’m going to highlight 3 cards, but its the effect in bold which is the important element in learning to combat Priest


Power of 4

It’s well documented that the way to beat Priest is by playing a bunch of 4 attack minions, and that definitely still holds true.

4 attack sits perfectly out of range of shadow-word-pain and shadow-word-death.

chillwind-yeti is one of the best neutral soulbound cards in the game, and it’s incredibly effective against Priest. Not only does it have 4 attack, it has 5 health which makes it incredibly sturdy.

The only way Priest can deal with a Yeti from an empty board is holy-fire and that costs 2 whole mana more.

Playing a bunch of value 4 attack creatures can cause Priest a ton of problems. Stars to include are azure-drake and spectral-knight.


Stickiness

Priests want nothing more than to clear your board so they can start building theirs.

Sticky minions like haunted-creeper and harvest-golem are really effective at making sure you have some minion presence on the board at the start of your next turn.

However, this has a big caveat because of Priest’s board swing cards like shadow-madness and cabal-shadow-priest which can turn those sticky minions against you.

Play them early on however, and they’re forced into a board war with you that they can’t deal with particularly well and you can scale into the mid-late game better than they can.

Run value minions like chillwind-yeti or cairne-bloodhoof and watch the Priests try desperately to get the board back.


Burst

Priest struggles against decks that can burst them down from the hand. This is because unlike Warrior, their hero power only allows them to get a maximum of 30 hp.

If they start dwindling even a little, a burst combo can wreck them from high life totals and Priests don’t tend to run many taunt minions.

Playing burst combos like force-of-nature + savage-roar can really devastate a Priest and lead to early lethal damage that they physically can’t prevent even from a dominant board position.

Classes like Shaman, Miracle Rogue and Druid as a result do pretty well against Priest if they run burst from the hand as a finisher.

Consider putting in more burst damage like a leeroy-jenkins even to finish games in a hurry so the Priest can’t grind you into submission.


Combating Priest – In-Game Advice

This is where the bulk of games are decided. Most likely if you’re into the competitive Hearthstone scene you have decks tailored to survive early game while having enough late game push.

It’s the small decisions you make which influence whether you win or not, and there are lots of nuances with beating Priest.

Checklist

These are things that you should keep in mind when facing Priest. They are instincts you will develop after playing a lot of them, but by reading this, hopefully you’ll either learn something new or remember to keep these hints in mind.

  • Mulligan for Value. Yes it’s important to have early game ways to deal with his northshire-clerics and dark-cultists, but it’s the mid-game value minions that will start to give you a lead and eventually, in a balanced game, you will take the board from the Priest even if he draws well because of the reactive nature of the deck.
  • Shutdown the Cleric. A key card to kill in Priest is the Northshire Cleric. If you can kill it without it getting value, you’re doing well. Priests needs a lot of cards in order to pull off its AOE combos and other board clear shenanigans. If you deny them their draw power, they lose their ability to influence the game bar a series of extremely fortuitous draws.
  • Beware of key turns. These turns are 4, 6 and 10. I’ve listed the combos available to Priest below and how to play around them. Turn 6 gives Priest access to cabal-shadow-priest so make sure it can’t steal something good that turn. It’s also one of the most common turns to play an Auchenai + Circle combo because the Priest can hero power a minion of his choice. Turn 10 is important because it gives them access to mind-control which can be a devastating tempo swing.
  • Setup for lethal. Priest is one of the best classes to setup for lethal with. Most times, they will not be able to heal themselves out of range and if you can account for 2 health gained on his side, you can finish him the next turn safely because Priests run few taunts that can stop burst from hand.
  • Play for card advantage. If you’re playing another control class, the card advantage war will likely decide the game, often more so than board state. Because of constructed play’s penchant for big board swings from AOE, a solid board is no guarantee of success while a big hand might be able to give you the answers you need to regain control even when behind. Kill the Clerics and force him to make inefficient 2 for 1 trades and you can start piling up card advantage.
  • Anticipate your opponent’s options. This is the single best tip against Priest. Since it’s a reactive deck that focuses on turning what you have against you, if you know what those cards are that can swing the game and not fall into those traps, you’re in a really good position to win the game. Play around his threats, bait them out, think ahead. It’s really important to be a step ahead of your opponent in this matchup to avoid errors that could cost you the game.

Combos

4 mana – auchenai-soulpriest + circle-of-healing = 4 damage AOE clear.

This is a devastating combo that a Priest can pull off past turn 4 and can really swing the board.

Play around it by playing sticky minions like haunted-creeper or nerubian-egg that leave the board still somewhat with you.

Of course, it’s not easy sometimes, and Priest has some of the best AOE in the entire game but try your best to create a menacing and sticky board that they’ll have a hard time clearing.

8 mana- auchenai-soulpriest +zombie-chow x2 + circle-of-healing + lesser-heal = 12 damage.

It requires 4 cards and is rare, but a Priest can often assemble it with some killer draw plays. This combo can deal surprise lethal damage.

If your opponent has a full hand and hasn’t played any pieces of this combo/is saving a certain crop of cards, it might be wise to play around this.

9 mana – sylvanas-windrunner + shadow-word-death

This is a really common combo that Priest can pull off most games. It is extremely potent, and can steal even stealthed minions. It can be played around much in the same way that Mind Control can be.

Bait it out with a smaller threat, force him to make tough choices. Unlike Mind Control, it doesn’t have the benefit of targeting minion, so a big threat coupled with a few smaller ones could be enough to make the Priest reconsider.

Conclusion

Priest is an extremely effective deck in the meta and has been gaining popularity. It is however difficult to play against effectively and requires a good knowledge of the class and what it runs in order to play around its threats.

If you’re running into a lot of Priests, run more 4 attack creaturesSticky minions and Burst. It’s usually fairly easy to tech those elements in, and a simple switch to a Chillwind Yeti on 4 could make a telling difference.

The biggest thing about playing Priests is making it difficult for them since you’ll likely be the aggressor.

Don’t give them easy Auchenai clears, don’t play a ginormous obvious threat with no way to beat it if it gets stolen, and focus on grinding down their card advantage.

Thanks for reading!

ps. I don’t have another Adapting to the Meta series lined up but I can do another class if there is demand for it. Do you have a class that you’d like to see me cover? Let me know in the comments!