Combo and OTK Decks: The Past, Present and Future

Combo and OTK decks have been around in every Hearthstone meta ever since the beta in one form or another. From being pure OTK decks that can one shot opponents in one turn to having high damage combo win conditions that deal a substantial amount of damage while having tools to create board pressure without solely […]

Combo and OTK decks have been around in every Hearthstone meta ever since the beta in one form or another. From being pure OTK decks that can one shot opponents in one turn to having high damage combo win conditions that deal a substantial amount of damage while having tools to create board pressure without solely relying on a single OTK win condition. One of the best examples of pure OTK decks would be the Worgen OTK warrior that everyone loved to hate up until the recent past. You had a lot of cycle and removal and once you were able to put together all of the combo pieces you would be able to burst down any opponent at all for up to 80 damage. While a lot of people are of the opinion that OTK or Combo decks are not particularly interactive or fun to play against a lot of players also love them due to a lot of decision-making involved.

Let’s try to look at the state of Combo and OTK decks for every class that ever existed and browse through current OTK decks in the current meta. One of the most notable OTK deck players is Neville Caruana (Neviilz) who tends to play OTK decks all the time and he is known for taking Anyfin Paladin and OTK Worgen Warrior to Rank 1 legend across multiple servers in the past. While there are plenty of unorthodox OTK decks that can exist like the ‘Force of Mrgl’ Druid that tries to replicate the pre-nerf Force of Nature by playing Bluegill Warrior and Druid of the Saber to get the same effect of 3 Treants with charge, we will look at decks that are fairly consistent and have been played enough at one point of time or another. Combos do not necessarily have to be focused on single turn OTK however, with decks like Cycle C’thun Warrior existing that focus on bursting the opponent 3 times over with 3 copies of cthun.

Druid

Combo Druid

It used to be one of the most consistent decks in all of Hearthstone history and it saw frequent play in tournaments as well since it had the ability to steal wins out of nowhere even in unfavorable matchups thanks to ramp tools and Innervate. It was a combo deck that had the ability to OTK opponents quite easily with the double combo if needed. The combo relied on the pre-nerf Force of Nature and Savage Roar combo which could do 14 damage from no board at all. If you added an Innervate and a second Savage Roar it could deal 22 damage and having some form of board presence almost led to an OTK.

Emperor Thaurissan was one of the key cards in the deck as well since its release allowing people to use the combo fairly easily. With enough cycle and easy means of silence/removal, the deck was extremely dominant and it prevented any other Druid archetype to come through and shine in the meta that did not run the combo pieces. From Ramp variants to Aggro Druid, every Druid deck ran at least one instance of the combo and most decks included the double combo (2 copies of both combo cards). The deck was subsequently nerfed as a whole with a bunch of Druid cards being tweaked to avoid burst and draw before the Standard release and it does not see play anymore since the charge effect of Force of Nature has been taken away.

Current Status: Key cards have been nerfed and Mid Range Druid does not run burst combos anymore.

Malygos/Miracle Druid

It is a deck that a lot of people have become familiar with in the recent past in the Standard meta but it finds its origins in the TGT era when many people tried to make the  combo work but the consistency of the Combo variant of Druid was just too good to play Malygos over the Force of Nature combo. The combo relies on using Malygos with Moonfire and Living Roots (2 copies each) for a total of 26 damage from hand and you do not even need to use Emperor Thaurissan because you can simply use Innervate late in the game to push out all of those spells.

The deck also runs Raven Idol which can potentially allow you to get some more burst. The best part about the deck is that it has multiple win conditions and the draw engine is powerful as well. Some lists run Gadgetzan Auctioneer as well due to the number of cheap spells you have, it is definitely a deck you should try out if you are looking for a high skill cap deck that can allow you to have some spectacular games. As I write this article I witnessed a turn 6 19 damage combo in the EU last call tournament that closed out a game versus Control Warrior in the subsequent turn. Malygos Druid has become one of the top tournament decks and sees a lot of high level ladder play.

Current Status: Extremely viable and competitive high tier deck!

Hunter

Face Hunter (Starving Buzzard version)

One of the most powerful decks in Hearthstone history has been the Starving Buzzard face Hunter. It had multiple combo setups that allowed you to have a draw combo focusing on the Starving Buzzard and Unleash the Hounds combo that allowed you to refill your hand quite easily. While the other burst damage combo the deck had was the Leeroy Jenkins, Unleash the Hounds and Timber Wolf combo. Since Leeroy Jenkins was a 4 mana minion back then you could unleash the Hounds with it and drop a Timber Wolf as well to add attack to the Hounds.

The combo could potentially deal 16 damage if 5 hounds were summoned on board along with Leeroy and Timber Wolf for 8 mana and even more if you had a double Timber Wolf combo versus a large board. It was almost always enough to end games quite easily thanks to the early aggression of the deck. While the cards for the burst combo of the deck continues to exist, it is not viable anymore because the Starving Buzzard draw engine no longer exists due to a massive nerf to the card.

Current Status: While the face hunter archetype continues to exist the old burst and draw combos do not form a part of the deck. Aggro Secret Hunter is becoming extremely popular and the deck has the Leeroy and Unleash the Hounds combo for game ending burst potential, but it is not a highly important win condition as the deck has plenty of burst and recurring damage anyway.

Mage

Freeze Mage

Freeze Mage is one of the few decks that can function both as an OTK deck as well as a Combo Deck. It relies on minimum interaction with minions and board states and relies mostly on spells and Doomsayer to clear boards while using stall cards and efficient draws to draw burst. You can either choose to go for Alexstrasza into some burn spells versus decks that have no heal or use a Bloodmage Thalnos and burn spells to OTK your opponent with the help of Emperor Thaurissan. Evolved Kobold has been making an entrance in the deck allowing people to one shot their opponents without needing to use Alexstrasza offensively at all. The deck has been around since beta and it will continue to exist for quite some time. With Emperor Thaurissan and Forgotten Torch rotating out of standard a few months into the next year, the future of the deck is yet to be seen. Its only ‘unwinnable’ matchup is Control Warrior, a deck that can just get out of damage range quite easily and winning the matchup is extremely difficult.

It is a very high skill cap deck and it is designed to punish any deck that is completely reliant  on board which is why it does quite well versus Zoolock and Mid Range Shaman while it struggles against decks that are high on burst damage and tempo.

Current Status: Continues to see play in the meta and in a currently favorable spot with Mid Range Shaman being a favorable matchup in the meta.

Paladin

Anyfin can Happen Paladin

Anyfin Can Happen Paladin was one of the highlight decks from League of Explorers and I recently wrote a deck guide on it, if you are interested in learning the deck you can check it out here. Blizzard did not initially create the card to be used as a OTK win condition. Many budding deckbuilders picked up on the OTK potential of the deck through the murlocs available. The initial decks had a 30 damage combo deck that relied on playing 7 murlocs and then using Anyfin Can Happen for a 30 damage combo. Grimscale Oracle was one of the cards that managed to fit into the deck but it was taken out in favor of a double Anyfin deck where you relied on playing just 5 murlocs instead of the original 7. This allowed the deck to be a lot more consistent since you needed to draw fewer murlocs.

old-murk-eye was moved to Wild when the first Standard rotation took place and it made the deck a lot weaker but the arrival of Ivory Knight, Forbidden Healing and ragnaros-lightlord pushed the deck back into relevance and even though the burst potential is a lot lower without Murk-Eye, it is still a 30 to 32 damage OTK with the second Anyfin wave making it a viable OTK deck even with one of its core cards being removed. The deck has been gaining popularity in recent times and its ability to do well against most of the meta decks makes it a great deck to play right now.

Current Status: Viable deck in the current meta and extremely effective versus control decks.

Priest

OTK Priest

Some people have tried OTK Priest in the past and it’s not quite a viable deck but in rare occasions, pro players have taken it to tournaments in the past in slightly slower metas when Embrace the Shadow came out. The deck relies on Emperor Thaurissan discounting burn cards as well as an Embrace the Shadow and Flash Heal combo that allows Prophet Velen to potentially deal 20 damage with those cards as well as Mind Blast and Holy Smite being available for another 24 damage. It is not a very consistent deck in the  meta but one that has been tried by many professionals time and again in both tournaments and on ladder. It is definitely worth a shot if you have Prophet Velen!

Current Status: Average deck that works if teched right and falls short due to the drawbacks of the Priest class. The deck is much better in Wild due to the availability of key AoE and anti-aggro cards.

Rogue

Rogue has to be one of the most troublesome classes for Blizzard alongside Warrior when it comes to Combo and OTK decks. Time and again they had to nerf Rogue cards due to the heavy burst potential the class had and after several attempts they managed to tone down the burst potential of the class.

Miracle Rogue

Miracle Rogue was first created way back in Beta with cards like Questing Adventurer and Mana Addict. It relied on cycling through your deck and using Conceal to make those minions massive in terms of damage output and then demolish your opponent. There was a huge number of cards that were nerfed and even the Rogue hero power was changed to reduce the burst potential. With cards like Edwin VanCleef having stealth and Conceal costing 0 mana, it was very difficult for players to interact with the board and the power levels of the deck were brought down quite heavily.

But it did not take long until a new combo came up. It relied on Leeroy Jenkins, 2x Shadowstep and 2x Cold Blood to deal 26 damage in one turn potentially. Adding an Eviscerate would mean you could deal a full 30 damage!

Gadgetzan Auctioneer and cheap spells in the deck made it particularly simple to draw through the deck and the mana costs of both Leeroy and Gadgetzan had to be altered to make the combo unplayable. However, both Gadgetzan and Leeroy currently see play and they are viable cards that are a part of new Miracle Rogue decks with up to 14 burst damage from hand using the Leeroy and 2x Cold Blood combo for 7 mana and several high tempo minions to keep chipping at your enemy health.

Current Status: Viable deck that sees play at high legend ranks quite frequently but not to much at lower ranks. It is a popular tournament deck and it was more popular than Warrior in the Europe Last Call Invitational which shows how powerful the class can be. You will find versions with Questing Adventurer, Leeroy Jenkins or both of them included in the current decks.

Oil Rogue

The deck came into being in the Goblins versus Gnomes era and it relied on the tinkers-sharpsword-oil and Blade Flurry for a dual burst + board clear combo. You had several cheap cards to make the combo of the Tinker’s Sharpsword Oil go off allowing you to go face with one charge of your hero power and then use Blade Flurry to deal face damage as well as clear the board. With the right setup and 2x Preparation you could also OTK your opponent but it required a massive amount of cards if you wanted to OTK from no board at all using a Southsea Deckhand. The OTK Combo required you to have the following pieces:

  • Dagger Mastery / Rogue Hero Power (could be done a turn earlier)
  • Deadly Poison
  • Southsea Deckhand
  • Preparation and Tinker’s Sharpsword Oil (Twice)
  • Eviscerate
  • Blade Flurry

It was a 8 mana 30 damage combo but the deck had so many tempo tools and comeback mechanisms that you did not have to rely on your OTK and could freely distribute them across the turns to clear minions on the board and constantly apply pressure. The nerf to Blade Flurry and Tinker’s Sharpsword Oil moving to Wild made the deck unplayable.

Current Status: Oil Rogue is currently not playable in Standard but similar archetypes can make a comeback if Rogue gets weapon enhancements on par with Tinker’s Sharpsword Oil.

Malygos Rogue

This is another combo Rogue deck that relies on using mid game to pressurize the opponent and then draw into burst damage to finish opponents off with Malygos. The deck is very fun to play and you run cards like Eviscerate and Sinister Strike to burst down opponents. It sees play on ladder at high ranks and it’s a completely viable deck right now and a good counter to Shaman with cards like Dark Iron Skulker being available in your toolkit. It is fairly simpler to play most matchups with the deck versus other combo decks since you have a clear win condition with Malygos and of course your mid game minions can seal the game as well.

Current Status: Sees play at top ladder ranks and tournaments.

Combo Rogue

This deck is just another archetype of Miracle and it relies on Southsea Deckhand + 2x Cold Blood followed by a Faceless Manipulator to copy the minion. It is a 20 damage combo and takes only 4 cards and 8 mana. If you are a fan of combo decks are happen to be looking for a simple combo deck to try out that is both viable and fun then you should try this one out for sure. It’s much cheaper to make versus the Leeroy Miracle lists. It sees play once in a while and players like Chessdude123 and Dog play it every now and then.

Current Status: Playable deck but sees rare play due to the popularity of the Questing Adventurer Rogue lists.

Shaman

Malygos Shaman

It was a very popular deck back in the day in the Goblins versus Gnomes era thanks to Ancestral Call. You could play Ancestral Call and use your burn spells late in the game to deal massive amounts of Damage. Emperor Thaurissan pushed the deck a lot during Blackrock Mountain and the ability to unlock overloaded crystals with Lava Shockalso helped. Shaman was not able to cut it but when The Grant Tournaments cards came out the deck reached the brink of viability through cards like Elemental Destruction and Ancestral Knowledge allowing the deck to be more consistent in terms of draw power. With one Emperor Thaurissan discount on specific spells like Crackle, Frost Shock and Lightning Bolt you could deal way over 30 damage for 5 mana if you discounted the right cards. Some people even brought it to tournaments and you will find plenty of highlights of the deck on YouTube and reddit.

When Standard came along the deck became unplayable with Ancestral Call out of Standard but it is still a playable deck in Wild and the availability of cards like Hallazeal the Ascended and Eternal Sentinel, the deck is potentially a lot stronger.

Current Status: Wild only deck. Standard lists have been created by many but they are not as effective.

Warlock

OTK Handlock / Combolock

Handlock has been one of the most powerful decks in all of Hearthstone, but there was once a time when they were not only able to generate massive board presence but also had game ending finishers. Soulfire was a 0 mana card and Leeroy used to cost 4 mana. It allowed players to use Leeroy Jenkins, Power Overwhelming and Faceless Manipualtor in the same turn followed by a Soulfire or two for a massive amount of burst. The nerf to Soulfire and Leeroy took out the combo aspect of the deck but it just moved into the next deck we are going to talk about.  There were other control lists as well that ran a variant of the deck using Arcane Golem instead of Leeroy Jenkins to make the combo a lot cheaper after Leeroy was nerfed  but over time Arcane Golem was nerfed as well making the combo completely obsolete.

Current Status: While the OTK combo can be achieved, Handlock as an archetype is very weak at the moment and does not see play. If the deck does come back in any form in the recent future, you can choose to have the Leeroy combo in your deck yet again!

Reno Warlock (Combo)

Reno Jackson Warlock broke into the meta about 10 months ago when the League of Explorers came out and it has been a much loved deck. While some of the decks focus solely on control there is a popular version of the deck that relies on the Leeroy Jenkins OTK with Faceless Manipulator and Power Overwhelming. It does require Emperor Thaurissan to be executed but the Warlock hero power makes it consistent enough for the combo pieces to be drawn in time without any issues at all.

It is a completely viable deck if created right but the problem with Reno Warlock right now is that they lost too many board control tools during the first Standard rotation and it is not as strong as it used to be. There is no questioning the deck’s viability however, the problem lies in tuning your deck to achieve the right balance of power in the meta. Reno decks in general need to be fine tuned heavily to make them work since you can only run one copy of each card in your deck. It has been one of the more consistent counters to Dragon Warrior that was dominant for a long time.

Current Status: Viable mid tier deck deck that continues to see play on ladder and tournaments!

Malygos Warlock

It was a very potent deck in the beta stages of the deck because Soulfire did not cost any mana to cast but the nerf to the card made the deck unplayable up until the arrival of Blackrock Mountain where it got pushed to being a Tier 1 deck! Dragon/Malygos Warlock was quite powerful back in the day, cards like Darkbomb and Emperor Thaurissan made the deck achieve its potential. You would be able to deal over 30 damage if you got your Malygos, Soulfires and Darkbombs discounted! With Darkbomb moving out of Standard earlier this year the deck lost the burst potential it had but in recent times many players like Mr. Yagut have been playing mid range Dragon Warlock lists with Malygos and it has been doing reasonably well. The current combo relies on Soulfires for 18 damage and some people also include a Drain Life for an additional 7 damage taking the total combo damage potential to 25 which is more than enough due to the amount of pressure the deck is able to create through early and mid game minions on curve.

Current Status: Niche deck that sees occasional play in Standard. Completely viable deck in Wild!

Warrior

Warrior is the one class I saved for last because of how much of an impact it has created in form of OTK decks. They have had some of the most meta breaking decks surrounding the charge mechanic because of cards like Warsong Commander and Charge. Both of these cards have been nerfed making viable OTK Warrior decks unplayable!

Molten Giant Warrior

Warsong Commander has been one of the most problematic cards in the Warrior class and I lost track of how many times the card has been changed! Giant Warrior relied on dropping your health pool as dangerously low as possible and then playing Molten Giant, Warsong Commander and Youthful Brewmaster in the same turn to keep juggling your giants from the board to your hand and then dropping them back on the board while Warsong Commander gave ALL of the minions charge. The deck had the potential to deal in excess of 50 damage in one turn due to the burst potential and Warsong Commander was changed for the first time once this deck gained popularity.

Current Status: Does not see play due to burst potential being negated.

Control Warrior

You might be thinking what Control Warrior is doing in this list! In case you did not know, Charge used to cost 0 mana and Control Warrior as a deck did not have any form of burst potential and relied solely on killing opponents through controlling the board and dropping large minions. This is where Charge came into the picture. You needed to equip a Gorehowl and then drop Alexstrasza in the next turn and play Charge on her to instantly deal 15 damage! The most insane thing about the deck was that Alexstrasza was able to cut off armor as well from enemy heroes making the whole combo very hard to counter. Nerfs to both Alexstrasza came into place making Control Warrior a control focused deck only and it relied on the classic Alexstrasza into Grommash Hellscream combo for a long time to finish off games.

Current Status: Top tier deck that sees play but without the OTK combo. Alexstrasza and Grommash Hellscream can be used in conjunction with each other to end games but it is far from being a combo or OTK deck.

Grim Patron Warrior

This deck was arguably the true Tier 0 deck if played right – the one above all. While the ladder performance for the deck was abysmal only the best of players were able to get consistent results with it and it did not matter how much health your opponent was at, the deck would be able to OTK you regardless. The deck was extremely powerful in its prime and right before Grim Patron came out in Blackrock Mountain, Warsong Commander was changed yet again allowing any friendly minion with 3 or less attack to gain Charge. While the Grim Patrons were just fine, Frothing Berserker coming into the mix made a huge impact on the competitive meta. Most tournaments revolved around the triumvirate of Grim Patron Warrior, Handlock and Combo Druid to counter each other and it required Blizzard to stop the Patron train by nerfing Warsong Commander once and for all making it unplayable.

Grim Patron Warrior is a very powerful deck in Wild versus the top dog Secret Paladin while the Standard Grim Patron list comes and goes depending on the meta. It’s really impressive how the deck survived and continues to see play without the OTK win conditions which speaks volumes about how strong the deck really is!

Current Status: Grim Patron Warrior is a viable deck that sees play but without the OTK potential it used to have. Some pros have conjured up fresh lists this season with Arcane Giant and Blood Warriors and have peaked at top 1 legend this season!

Cycle C’thun Warrior

This is a different kind of combo deck where you have multiple chains of possibilities to simply put games out of your opponent’s reach. The deck relies on buffing C’thun and then going for a Brann Bronzebeard and Doomcaller play to get 3 C’thun bursts against your opponent. Alternatively you can also go for a Brann and C’thun play if you have the coin allowing you to OTK your opponent. Unlike control versions of the deck, this one if heavily focused on AoE effects and draw with Wild Pyromancer and Commanding Shout and cheap draw cards like Battle Rage to get to your combos as soon as possible.

Current Status: Highly viable deck in the current meta and faster than traditional C’thun Warrior lists.

Worgen OTK Warrior

Yet another card surrounding the charge mechanic, many professional players have done particularly well with the deck peaking at top legend ranks. You could deal up to 80 damage with all of the combo pieces in play. The deck focused on taking advantage of the Windfury effect of raging-worgen when it is damaged and then copying it with Faceless Manipulator while using buffs for an insane amount of damage. While the original lists ran cards like Brawl, more refined lists came along with Wild Pyromancer and Commanding Shout. There was also an Arcane Giant OTK deck that made the rounds and was cheaper to pull off without needing an Emperor Thaurissan Proc.

Current Status: Does not see play due to Charge being nerfed, completely negating any OTK potential.

Conclusion

These were some of the top OTK and Combo decks that have existed in Hearthstone and it seems like they are a dying breed but people keep coming up with one idea or another to make them viable. Combo decks do not necessarily have to be burst based and they can be used for generating massive card advantage or board states as well. While a lot of people find combo decks to be non-interactive, I feel most of them take a substantial amount of skill to pull off and planning turns ahead of time! I would love to see the combo decks live on because they are well loved by players for top level constructed play and feel more satisfying that curve heavy decks.