Hello everyone. It has been a while since my last article. The Grand Tournament has been out for quite a while, almost every competitive new archetype has been discovered and I played a lot of games on the ladder to give you guys some interesting insight about the current position of the Warrior class.
Before I played Hearthstone, I played a lot of Magic Online (on average 70- 80 % winrate depending on the format) and made a lot of money there (at least for a student). Because of my background I have quite a different view about the game, when compared to other authors and/ or professional Hearthstone players, so even if you don’t play any Warrior deck this article will definitely be very interesting for you.
I will start the article with a very interesting analysis about Control Warrior, Dragon Warrior and Patron Warrior and their position on the ladder and in tournaments. And the last part of the article will be about a very highly discussed topic within the Hearthstone community: “Should Patron Warrior be nerfed?”.
In some paragraphs I will drift a little bit away from the actual topic, and make this article look more like a blog but I think that will make it more interesting overall. As already mentioned, I played Magic for quite a long time and therefore I have quite some experience when it comes to bannings (=nerfs in Hearthstone). So you can expect a lot of in-depth theory that will be interesting for you and will also benefit you by improving your overall knowledge of the game. Let’s get started!
Analysis of Control Warrior in the TGT metagame
This is a list that has been recently piloted to a high Legend finish. Of course there exist different lists with some tweaks , but overall they have the same core.
Control Warrior has always been a solid deck for ladder and if you play it well enough reaching Legend with it is still possible (In all honesty that can be said about literally any deck. I made Legend with a Shadowbomber deck some months ago). But anyways it’s not a gimmicky deck it is a good deck that will always be viable.
Control decks in Hearthstone are very different to Control decks in Magic the Gathering, whereas Midrange and Aggro decks are very similar to their Magic counterparts. The reason for that is that Hearthstone is a more minion focused game than Magic. In Hearthstone you can kill opposing minions with your minions, whereas in Magic you can’t directly attack your opponent’s minions. Therefore minions in Hearthstone are much better than in Magic, because they have all the benefits you get from minions in Magic plus they act as some form of pseudo removal for opposing minions. Therefore Control decks in Hearthstone are much more tempo and board focused than in Magic. In addition to that spells are way less efficient in Hearthstone than in Magic. Magic has a four mana Twisting Nether or if you play older formats (with a 20-year-old card pool) you sometimes even have a one mana Twisting Nether that even ignores Death Rattle effects. So a lot of Control decks in Magic don’t even have to play any minions, because the spells are so powerful. Well, but what has that do with Hearthstone and Control Warrior?
That simply means that Control decks in Hearthstone, unlike Aggro or Midrange decks don’t have the full theoretical potential the archetype can reach. Control decks in Hearthstone have to play a lot of early game minions, that are underwhelming in the late game and therefore Control decks are not as flexible and not as consistent as their counterparts in Magic. In Magic a Control deck does not really need to play a minion early, because they have access to more powerful catchup mechanisms: the mentioned four mana Twisting Nether is very good at catching up with the initial tempo initiative from a faster deck.
In Hearthstone board clears aka catchup mechanisms are way less powerful, Twisting Nether is just a very bad card and all the other board clears like Equality,Shadowflame, Lightbomb or Brawl are either not consistent or require other cards to fully benefit from them. Therefore from a fully competitive point of view, if you play a heavy control deck over an Aggro, Combo or Midrange- deck you are playing an inferior archetype. I’m not saying Handlock or Control Warrior are bad decks, but especially Control Warrior could and should be more powerful. Handlock is mainly the best control deck because of Life Tap, which is not bad and actually a good design, but Control Warrior is simply not as good. It is a good deck, you can win tournaments with it and can even reach Rank 1 Legend with it, but from a fully competitive point of view, you are giving yourself a much better chance of winning if you play other archetypes or decks. The one card Control Warrior needs to be more consistent and be always a Tier 1 competitor is a 6 mana Twisting Nether. With such a card you don’t need to play minions that are bad in the late game, you can then play more draw effects, because you have a powerful catch up mechanism against faster decks. Before that, from a purely competitive point of view Control Warrior is just an inferior deck to Patron Warrior, which does almost everything better and is much more consistent.
But why is that so? I give you an example with Armorsmith. In Control Warrior against aggressive decks it is a decent minion in the early game and can help you stabilize in the late game, when you have control of the board but are afraid of dying to combo shenanigans or simply burst from the opponents hand. That is decent enough but that does not make it a good card. When you play against a more controllish archetype like Paladin Midrange or Handlock that don’t pressure your life total, and simply want to outgrind you Armorsmith is a bad card. For example your opponent has a big minion on the board, you can’t deal with and you have Armorsmith on the board or in your hand. Congratulations! It does nothing besides delaying the inevitable defeat. That would not be an issue, if your hero power was Life Tap but it is Armor Up!, which also does not create any immediate card advantage.
Now let us talk about Armorsmith in Patron Warrior. First of all Patron Warrior has a lower curve, much more card draw, which results in less clunky hands and overall more consistency. In addition to that Armorsmith is always at least decent in any matchup because it synergies with Battle Rage, and also increases the damage when played with Frothing Berserker and Warsong Commander. That results in Armorsmith never being completely bad in any matchup. Of course there are more factors that make Armorsmith good in Patron Warrior, but I hope you get the point.
Should you play Control Warrior on the ladder if you want to give yourself the best odds of winning any given game?:
No. Patron Warrior is not only more consistent, it also has a better position in the metagame.
Should you play Control Warrior in tournaments if you want to give yourself the best odds of winning any given game?:
It depends. If you want to have a line up that has a very high chance to 3-0 a Patron Warrior player in the Conquest format (for example: Control Warrior, Echo Mage and Handlock) it is definitely a valid option. But when you face a lot of Combo Druids, Secret Paladin or Hunter decks in your matches you will wish that you brought Patron Warrior over Control Warrior.
Analysis of Patron Warrior in the TGT metagame
When I grind for Legend and want to get quickly there I play this list. I think it is among the better lists but I feel like it is not the most optimal list. It is definitely an excellent starting point and I feel very comfortable playing it. The Shield Slam really helps in a lot of matchups where you need a third Execute.
Patron Warrior is a super efficient and consistent combo deck. You have the tools to suppress aggro decks and like Control Warrior you also have a powerful late game. In fact your super late game is flat-out killing the opponent from 30 life in one turn. “Nice Ysera you got there dear Priest player, now let me show you the late game my deck has….”.
So when the game starts, Patron Warrior has three paths to victory and is therefore very flexible:
1.) Outlive the opponent and beat them with your card advantage and kill them with small garbage minions. You don’t need Grim Patron or Frothing Bersker or any other specific combo piece to actually win, you just grind the opponent out of resources and kill them with whatever you have.
Example Matchup: Face Hunter
2.) “Everyone get in here” is your second path to victory. You just make a bunch of Grim Patrons your opponent can’t deal with and kill them over several turns.
Example Matchup: Druid
3.) The super late game is the third path to victory. I need to clarify what I mean with a super late game: super late game is a very powerful card like Ysera or Lord Jaraxxus that can win on its own over several turns. Patron Warrior’s super late game is little bit different, but it is the ultimate late game. You draw almost your entire deck, which is quite reasonable to accomplish in some matchups and simply kill them in one turn from full health. It mainly involves a gigantic Frothing Berserker with Charge and multiple other cards. You choose that path to victory in matchups where your opponent can very easily deal with a board full of Grim Patrons. In such a matchup you don’t want to commit too many resources into making Grim Patrons, instead you use them as a distraction to buy more time or simply fuel for your Battle Rage to assemble the ultimate late game combo.
Example Matchup: Control Priest with Lightbomb
So with Patron Warrior you not only have a very consistent deck where you have a chance to win any matchup, even the very bad ones, you also have the most skill intensive and flexible deck in the game. All your combo pieces like Whirlwind or Unstable Ghoul not only act as removal spells for small minions, they can also give you an abundance of ways to activate Execute and Battle Rage, depending on the matchup or the game state.
The complexity of the deck is mainly the reason why it is only really popular in tournaments and not on the ladder. On the ladder people are not as good and therefore play less skill intensive decks to make Legend anyways. That explains the popularity of decks like Secret Paladin and various Hunter builds on the ladder. I don’t want to insult anyone, of course play style preference is also a factor, some people don’t like the play style of Grim Patron and therefore play other decks, which is a completely understandable, because we all play Hearthstone in the first place to have fun. But overall that is the truth. Grim Patron Warrior is too hard to play optimally for a lot of people, therefore it is not as popular as it could be.
Should you play Patron Warrior on the ladder if you want to give yourself the best odds of winning any given game?:
Yes! If you can’t play it, but want to play it: Simply learn it. It is not a shame to be bad with the deck at the beginning. In fact everyone is bad at playing Patron Warrior when he starts playing the deck (the first versions of the deck played Dr. Boom and multiple other cards that don’t make any sense in the deck).
So if you like the deck, learn to play it well and you will make Legend easier than with any other deck. In fact it is sometimes even a cakewalk.
Should you play Patron Warrior in tournaments if you want to give yourself the best odds of winning any given game?:
Yes. While Grim Patron is definitely not as good in tournaments as it is on the ladder, because at a high level people play better decks and not the garbage you will see on the ladder. But it’s still a very good choice. Especially many people will bring inferior decks to tournaments like Secret Paladin, where Patron Warrior has a 70 % chance to win the matchup if both players play perfectly (In all honesty if the Patron Warrior plays very well. If you don’t play it good enough your winrate will not be as high).
Analysis of Dragon Warrior in the TGT metagame
Dragon Warrior is a more Midrange deck than Control deck. When compared to Control Warrior you have more midgame minions and a more powerful early game. So you are better against aggressive decks or more board centric decks like Combo Druid than Control Warrior. But that comes with a price. Control Warrior not only has more cards to consistently trigger Shield Slam or Execute, it also has a slightly more powerful late game, while being a little bit better against Patron Warrior. It is also a little bit less consistent, because of the holding a Dragon mechanic. If you don’t have a Dragon in your hand, your minions become very underwhelming.
In addition to that Dragon Warrior also has way more dead draws than Control Warrior in a Control mirror match. For example Blackwing Technician, Alexstrasza’s Champion are similar to Armorsmith, because they are also very bad when facing a big threat like a Mountain Giant. You better have a removal for the Giant otherwise you will lose a card for free or simply have an almost dead card.
Should you play Dragon Warrior on the ladder if you want to give yourself the best odds of winning any given game?:
No. It is the worst Warrior archetype. You can do quite well with it, but there are better decks to play.
Should you play Dragon Warrior in tournaments if you want to give yourself the best odds of winning any given game?:
No, unless you want to be nice to your opponent and give him a better chance to advance in the tournament. If so you are a really nice guy and must have a lot of friends. But remember friendship should not be one-sided 🙂
Decks that are good against Grim Patron Warrior
Before I get to the last topic of the article, I want to write a little bit about decks that are perceived to counter Patron Warrior.
First of all what is actually a counter and why is it mainly wrong used when it comes to Patron Warrior? A counter is a deck that has an absurdly high win rate against a specific deck. One example would be the Freeze Mage vs Control Warrior matchup. If both players play perfectly the Freeze Mage will win 5 out of 100 games. He has to get extremely lucky to win this matchup against a good Control Warrior player. So when it comes to Patron Warrior is there any deck that has a 95 % winrate (you need a high sample size of course to have proof)? No! There is no deck Patron Warrior autoloses to. But anyways such one sided matchups, where one deck counters the other with an extremely high winrate are very rare.
So the more important question is actually: “Which decks are good against Patron Warrior?”.
One popular deck that has a favorable Patron matchup is Handlock. But Handlocks winrate is not nearly as high to call it a very good deck against Patron Warrior. In fact there are only two decks that are very good against Patron Warrior and I played both of them for a long time now: Control Warrior and Echo Giant Mage.
A double Brawl Control Warrior is even better than Handlock against Patron Warrior. The reason why it is not played as much as Handlock in tournaments? Well you can only bring one Warrior deck to the tournament (oh how sweet would it have been to bring only Hunter decks to a tournament when you could play the two mana Starving Buzzard….).
And the best deck against Patron Warrior? Well that is Echo Giant Mage. If you don’t know that deck, when it comes to Patron Warrior it is sort of hybrid between Freeze Mage and Handlock. Freeze Mage is very hard to kill for a Grim Patron Warrior, because of Ice Block and lot of heal. So at high level play Patron Warrior kills Freeze Mage one turn before they take fatigue damage, because it nullifies their biggest defense mechanism: Ice Block. There are other reasons for this matchup dynamic, but one fact is important when it comes to Echo Giant Mage: Freeze Mage is really hard to kill.
And what does Handlock normally offer? Good board clears for Grim Patrons and big threats in the form of Giants. Well Echo Giant Mage has good board clears too and Molten Giants. In fact I almost played 50 games at Legend Rank with Echo Giant Mage against Patron Warrior and did not lose a single game. It is very close to a true counter deck.
But why is it not played as much in tournaments? Echo Giant Mage is bad against Druid and it is even worse against Handlock. You better play against aggressive decks like Paladin or Hunter and Grim Patron. Otherwise you have a very slim chance to win, especially because Druid and Handlock are both very popular in tournaments.
Should Patron Warrior be nerfed?
This is a highly discussed topic within the community and even within the Hearthstone development team. First of all it is really complicated, I don’t claim to have full knowledge but I have thought a long time about it. I’m also not an emotional player, I don’t rage when I lose because of bad luck, I only worry about things I can impact, which are the best possible plays I could have made. Therefore I think there is no point to be mad when my opponent gets very lucky. That also has an impact on my opinion about this topic. I see it from a theoretical point of view and not an emotional one.
Many people think that losing in one turn from full health is totally unfair and overpowered and should not be allowed. I can get behind that point of view. I’ve played a lot of games against Patron with various decks, it is not interactive or fun when I play Handlock and die on Turn 7 because the Patron player got extremely lucky and there was nothing I could do about preventing the loss. But is a deck that kills you in one turn really unfair and should be nerfed, just because it is capable of such things? I don’t think so. Every deck has a game plan. For example Face Hunter wants to end the game as quickly as possible with many cheap and highly cost-effective minions. That is Face Hunter’s game plan. Control Warrior has another game plan, which is staying alive until it overwhelms the opponent with expensive legendary minions. And Patron Warrior also has a game plan. It is not trying to kill you as fast as possible, the game plan is to assemble a game winning combination of cards. That can be Grim Patron with Inner Rage and Whirlwind or a Frothing Berserker that simply kills you in one turn. So if you look cold-blooded at the topic, is it really unfair from a purely theoretical point of view when you play Priest and your Patron Warrior opponent kills you in the late game with Frothing Berserker? While you have complete board control with some high value minions and taunts and are at full health? You may have the opinion that you deserve to win with Priest in that situation because you have complete control of the board.
But in that matchup the game plan of Patron Warrior is not to fight for board control or to play a game about card advantage. The game plan is to survive until it has the key cards to finish off the Priest in one turn. If the Priest player has complete control of the board and is at full health, well I can only say “Congratulations!”. You won the mini game of having complete control of the board! But that is not the actual game. The actual game in this matchup evolves around killing the Patron Warrior before he assembles the combo pieces. You are fighting on a wrong axis. It is as ridiculous from a theoretical point of view as a Face Hunter trying to out value a Handlock player. That is not the winning strategy. The winning strategy is to kill them as fast as possible and if you fail to do so, you just lose the game. Therefore Control Priest is very bad against Patron because it is not easy to kill him as fast as possible. But it is definitely possible.
Is being in such a situation as a Priest player fun? That is a completely different topic. From my point of view, and I played the matchup from the Priest players point of view quite a few times, it is definitely not fun. If to nerf or not to nerf decks should depend on having how much fun they are for the opponent, then Patron Warrior should definitely be nerfed. No one tells his friends about Hearthstone and the wonderful and amazing game against Patron Warrior they had with Control Priest where they just got killed in one turn out of seemingly nowhere.
But if we look at the actual power level of Grim Patron Warrior the topic gets a lot more complicated. The truth is that there are a lot of other decks that are capable of killing the opponent in one turn. Like Malygos Freeze Mage or Malygos Shaman. In Magic the Gathering there are even combo decks that kill you on Turn 1. The opponent just plays some cards and the game is over without you ever playing even one card. That may sound ridiculous. And from a perspective based around having fun it is.
From a purely competitive point of view and therefore balancing for purely competitive reasons it just depends on the question: “How good are these decks?”.
And that depends on how consistent these decks win against other decks. If a theoretical Hearthstone deck exists that wins in 1 % of the matches on Turn 1 but loses no matter what in 99 % of the other matches, it is simply an extremely bad deck. It is a very bad experience losing to that type of deck, but the deck is overall very weak. Card games are games about chance. You and your opponent have random elements in the game you can’t control like RNG effects or simply drawing from your deck. A better player just tries to maximize his odds of winning any given game. He will not win every game, but he will win more than less skilled players.
Face Hunter for example surely has a at least 3 % chance to simply just win any given game because he has the perfect draw and/ or the opponent has a very bad hand. The game may not end on Turn 1. In fact it may even end on Turn 8, but losing in such a scenario is inevitable. If you have perfect information about the player’s hand and the order of cards in each deck, you simply know on Turn 1 that game has been decided.
Back to Patron Warrior. How consistent is Patron Warrior at executing its gameplay and winning with it? The tournament data that is at my disposal (in fact anyone can google it) and the ladder data Blizzard has states that the deck is not nerf worthy.
But every statistic has its flaws. Patron Warrior is not that good in tournaments, because people prepare for Grim Patron and bring decks that do quite well against it. And on the ladder? Well there are too few good Patron Warrior players, therefore the overall winrate with the deck is so low.
So finally what is my personal opinion? Should it be nerfed?
Before I give you a direct answer, let me mention something that is quite important. Blizzard is obviously trying to design Hearthstone for several years. They want to have an enjoyable game for the players even in 10 years. Therefore they face a lot of challenges. The most important challenge when it comes to Grim Patron Warrior is: Power Creep. They want to avoid releasing strictly better cards that are played at a competitive level. For example a new Piloted Shredder for 3 mana is flat-out power creep, whereas Evil Heckler is not, because it is not played at a competitive level.
Because of that The Grand Tournament has a quite a low power level, to make sure that they still room for new cards in five or even eight years. This topic is really complicated and the article would be too long if I write more about it, so I just get to my point:
Blizzard with the new expansion has failed to release new cards that give players the option to have more card choices against Grim Patron. Something like an Ice Block card for Priest to prevent one turn kills or discard effects for the Paladin class would have all helped keeping Patron Warrior in check (The question if something like that is good for the game or even fun to play is another one).
While the ladder metagame is open with lots of different decks, the reason is mainly that not many people can play Patron Warrior well enough. The tournament metagame on the other hand is extremely boring and warped around Grim Patron Warrior. Almost everyone plays Patron Warrior, Combo Druid and Handlock in the Conquest format.
So my opinion:
Patron Warrior is simply too strong at a high level, warps the metagame at tournaments and should be nerfed, unless Blizzard gives players better new cards against Patron Warrior with a patch or new expansion.
I hope you liked my article. It is a really long one, also a little bit provocative, but I hope it is very interesting for you to read. I don’t claim to have ultimate wisdom about everything I wrote, so if you want to have a little bit of a discussion going on and maybe even convince me of your opinion, just post in the comments.
Currently I’m also working with several other players on a Dragon Warrior Control deck, that is more draw/ cycle heavy than normal ones (lot of draw effects is always good if we look at Grim Patron Warrior), so in the near future I will make an article about our finalized version which should be a very good deck.
If you have any other questions feel free to ask me in the comments.