Countering The Net Deck Part 5: Deck Building 101 – The Kung Fu Combo

Hello again and welcome back to this, the 5th installment of our deck building series “Countering the Net Deck”. By the time you set your eyeballs to this article, the Hearthstone meta game will be undergoing yet another shift stemming from the new release of the League of Explorers. If you’re like me and in […]

Introduction

Hello again and welcome back to this, the 5th installment of our deck building series “Countering the Net Deck”. By the time you set your eyeballs to this article, the Hearthstone meta game will be undergoing yet another shift stemming from the new release of the League of Explorers. If you’re like me and in love with all things Hearthstone, then you’ve probably been running the streets like a crazed tweaker trying to score your next hit, anxiously awaiting the newest expansion ever since Blizzard released The Grand tournament. Well “tweakzzz” Mcgee, stop listening to the voices in your head long enough to realize your supplier came through yet again, and its a great time to be alive!

Now more than ever, grasping the fundamentals of deck building is an important concept regardless of your Hearthstone goals. Every time a new expansion is released the excitement of incorporating these new cards into your decks is undeniable. However, which cards do you incorporate? Which ones are worthwhile and which ones are a total bust? Which ones will enhance your existing decks and which ones will be a hinderance? Are there any new cards that potentially can synergize seamlessly into a whole new build? Which should you not waste your time on?

So many questions, so little answers. Of course, you could do what most people do and log onto this site (and many others no doubt) continue to net deck and read up on others opinions. However, this strategy comes with many drawbacks doesn’t it? In the early days of a new expansion release particularly, its difficult for the most experienced Hearthstone monk to be able to truly assess the value of each new card let alone clearly provide answers to those above questions. What your search will conclude is, well the obvious: everyone has an opinion. The heart of the matter is understanding what truly matters–your opinion.

Of course if you don’t understand deck building fundamentals in the first place no one’s opinion, yours or otherwise will truly matter in the end. What most people fail to understand is, net decking if it is used at all should be approached like a compass when navigating foreign terrain. It should point you in the right direction; assist with finding your heading. It shouldn’t be the life raft you cling to every season. The meta never ceases to fluctuate, consequently that net deck you’re using with success today may not be relevant tomorrow. However, to keep it viable maybe it doesn’t necessarily need a complete overhaul or even discarded into cyber purgatory with a casual delete function. Maybe, net decking does have its place as long as you’re in the driver’s seat, tweaking as you go; making minute changes and incorporating these newer cards in a “trial and error” fashion differentiating along the way between what’s working and what’s holding you back.

Mainly, understand that net deck you’ve leached onto is a compilation of someone else’s ideas and what worked for them may not work for you. There is an infinite number of reasons why this deck brought its architect to the promised land, and yet you’re spinning your wheels bouncing between ranks 14 and 13 lost in the sauce. Maybe the original architect plays on a different server or region, maybe his/her skill level is vastly superior to your own, or maybe, just maybe their understanding of the core fundamentals relating to both deck building and the game as a whole is the only thing that they’ve got that you don’t.

Quit waiting for the experts to provide you with their opinions on this new expansion and instead grab that bull by the cojones, have some faith in your own skill set and discover (see what I did there?) how to lead from the front instead of following from behind. We’ve covered a lot of ground in the past several weeks discussing and defining deck archetypes, the first keystone in building, maintaining, tweaking, and surviving the game on your own merit. Feel free to read up on or book mark the past articles of this series HERE, HERE, HERE, and finally HERE, . When your ready, join me as we talk more about the last deck archetype: COMBO.

Combo Cornerstones

When Chuck Norris was asked, if he and Bruce Lee actually fought to the death, who would win, the “Texas Ranger” without hesitation replied, “Well Bruce of course, no one can beat him.” We’re talking about Bruce effin Lee here, the guy who is credited to have shaped Martial Arts into what it is today. We’re talking Enter the Dragon and Fists of Fury, Inspiration to Jackie Chan and MMA fighters the world over. I could write an entire book on just his accomplishments alone, and never truly capture the essence of what is and was the late, great Bruce Lee.

Bruce Lee’s honorary certificate of “Bad-Assery” came as a result of many, many long hours of hard work primarily (to state the obvious), but more so because of his diversity. He didn’t exist on a linear plane, content with mastering a few moves and breaking a few boards, but instead by using a flurry of lethal combinations that will live on forever in our cinematic history. Bruce’s movies may have been choreographed to an extent but not in the same way they are today. What you witness on film is a man who is a master of his craft and “ad-libs” every flying kick and death defying punch, which is what has made him so great. The martial artists who is more linear, the black belt to be sure who is a “jack of all trades, and master of none”, are a dime a dozen found throughout every dojo enveloping Wal-Mart shopping centers in every city. It was through the dedication, fortitude, and patience that was given over to the mastery of a complex combinations of different moves, that were so fluid and so precise they were well ahead of their time and will never be duplicated in such poetic symmetry again.

There is a parallel between the essence of what was Bruce’s Lee fists and feet of fury and the mindset behind a Combo deck build. Combo decks are the most under represented archetype currently in Hearthstone (and all card games in general) and feature a very unique type of play style. They require an understanding of how to synergize individual cards who by themselves are not necessarily fear inducing, but when played together in combination with each other are as lethal to your opponent as setting a full-bore Bruce Lee on him/her.  Here are a few of the decks cornerstones:

The Heisenberg Mechanic: If you recall, what made Mr. White such an amazing “cook” was his absolute refusal to include Chilli-P into his recipe (if you have no idea what the hell I’m talking about, stop reading and hit up Netflix and binge watch every episode of Breaking Bad right meow!) Anyway, the Chilli-P decision while sound, wasn’t entirely the reason behind the best thing to hit New Mexico since roasted green chilli. Mr. White was an astute chemist, who knew the right combination of elements to brew together, to make the perfect “product”.

Don your gas masks, buy a thrashed RV and strip down to your skivves as you start scouring your card manager for those cards that function at their best when playing them through a unique sequence, which synergize with one another to deal a significant amount of damage points in a singular turn, and blow your competition away! You’ll really need to think outside the box here, carefully look at each card and ask yourself if it could be made more powerful, or maybe amplify its effect if you can play it in succession with another card. If so, place those cards into you’re deck and even Los Pollos Hermanos won’t be able to stop you. Say My Name!

Card Draw Mechanics: An important element in deck design is setting a win condition; the set strategy you’ll be utilizing throughout the course of the game to secure a win. Combo decks rely on the patience of slowly accumulating certain cards over the course of the game with which to rain down furious anger. To do so, you’ll need more card draw mechanics with this archetype than other type. The idea here is to “dig” for all the necessary pieces you’ll need to lay the smack down! In most instances you’ll need cards that will yield a high return, the objective is to cycle through your deck as quickly and efficiently as possible. I recommend steering away from loot-hoarder and novice-engineer, unless you’re planning on dedicating several  of your deck slots to those “replace itself” card types. You’ll receive better results utilizing sprint, arcane-intellectacolyte-of-pain, and lay-on-hands, cards that will provide at least a 2 for 1 return.

As  I mentioned previously, you’re win condition hinges on drawing into those cards that when played together can win you the game, or at the very least place you within a turn or two of winning. This is why I’m not a big fan turning Loot Hoarder loose on this deck archetype, yeah he’ll cycle through your deck but you need those cards sooner rather than later, and at a slow 1 for 1 pace you’re definitely going to be on the snail’s end of this race.

Card draw is an absolute necessity when building a combo oriented deck, even more so than any other type. Control decks also require some kind of card draw mechanic, to cycle through and find that late game finisher. Those type of decks, can secure a win just based on fielding that one juggernaut threat in the late game, that the opponent has no way to deal with. In combo archetype’s, it’s not enough to find that one late game finisher you’ll need to string together multiple pieces to drop 20-30 points of damage in one turn. To accomplish that, you’ll need a quick and efficient way to cycle through multiple cards as often as possible.

Stayin’ Alive: If the Beegee’s hit can stay alive almost 4 decades later, so can you–and you better. On average you’re killer combo can’t be dropped until turn 7, so you’ll need to last at least up until then. When we covered elements of the CONTROL FREAK, we discussed how imperative it is that your deck run numerous counter measures so you stay alive long enough to get into the late game when you can drop Hearthstone’s most wicked threats to secure the win. Here, you’ll need a similar strategy, because you might have pieced together than best chain of damage ever assembled, but if your life total is zero before  you can pull it off, it’s pretty counter-productive.

Rogue is a great example of a hero class that possess unique cards that are versatile enough to be rid of your opponents threat, while at the same time providing synergy to pull off additional damage points through a separate play that becomes amplified based on that singular removal spell. This is why decks like OIL ROGUE and pre-nerfed MIRACLE ROGUE were so dangerous. As a Oily, slippery, Rogue you were able to deal with your opponents board using cards like backstab and follow it up with eviscerate, to either finish off that beefy minion, clear the board altogether or sink in some face damage.

Ideally, these are the kind of removal spells you want to incorporate into your combo build. Removal and AoE, that you will provide various options from which to choose from, that will assist you with handling any scenario you encounter. Consider throwing in creatures like azure-drake or bloodmage-thalnos, that can amplify those spells, while at the same time providing you with much needed card draw. You’ll really need to start thinking outside the box, choosing cards and combinations of cards that can provide you with multiple effects, either on their own or in conjunction with others.

Make sound decisions and use you’re removal spells sparingly, especially once you make an educated guess regarding the deck type and strategy your opponent is running. It makes little sense to play cards like fan-of-knives, or flamestrike on a FACE HUNTER when he has one lowly abusive-sergeant flapping in the wind. You’ll garner more value if you allow him to over commit, and clear the board a turn or two down the road killing off several minions with your one removal spell.

Consistantly, pace yourself throughout the course of the game, decide when it best to allow your opponent to get some minor damage in here and there, what minions make sound sacrificial trades, and when its advantageous to drop that flurry of flying feet and fists into your opponents face.

Kryptonite Fissure: If played correctly, a combo deck can be extremely dangerous for any opponent to overcome. Maximizing those removal and AoE spells in conjunction with smart trades and card draw can make your enemy very frustrated. A solid combo build is a pretty well-rounded deck, but at its core lies a subtle chink in its armor. Most combo decks are designed for a solitary win condition, and if the opponent can figure out what that win condition is and either play around it our disable it altogether you lose.

The combo archetype’s kryptonite is simultaneously also its greatest strength. If the savvy opponent can neutralize a key component of your combo via cards like counterspell or silence it is extremely difficult to string together an alternate strategy on the fly and still secure the win. In essence you’ll end up being in the same boat Superman was in (during 1992’s classic) fighting Doomsday throughout the streets of Metropolis–outmatched and over run.

On the Clock: The majority of the game is spent digging and cycling through your deck to piece together the chain of plays that hammers your opponent to dust one link at a time. Consequently, by the time you either have all the cards in hand or have enough mana to available to trigger all the effects, your life total is generally pretty low. In most cases that isn’t necessarily problematic to the game’s outcome, as long as you’re able to last just long enough to pull out your 5-fingered death punch. However, since you’re relying so heavily on that single win condition, if it isn’t available when you need it the entire deck will implode.

Generally speaking, the more time you have available to assemble your combo the better off you’ll be. Consider incorporating a couple of cards that will provide some addition life gain, and in doing so will propel you forward with a game extension. Minions like antique-healbot or earthen-ring-farseer are great ways to extend the game a turn or two, which in most cases is all that’s needed to drop in your hands and feet of flurry.

The Kung Fu Combo

Blizzard’s vision of how Hearthstone should be played, goes directly against the grain where combo archetypes are concerned. One-turn kill type (OTK) decks are rarely seen in the current meta anymore, largely due to the numerous nerfs that have been made to better control their potency. leeroy-jenkins and more recently warsong-commander are examples of nerfs that were instituted to shift the meta away from combo style archetypes.

In some ways I can see why these decisions were made, it was pretty annoying when every other opponent that was faced was some variation of PATRON WARRIOR or Miracle Rogue. Although, that really isn’t any different from any other time in the meta when Hearthstone players sink their teeth into popular deck builds like a dog with a chew toy, which is my purpose in writing this series to begin with–to counter the net deck. However, aggressive builds like Face Hunter are more of a cancer to the game than Patron Warrior or Miracle Rogue were at anytime in their respective histories.

This is why I’m going to keep this portion of the article rather short, and just go over some of the popular combo decks that have existed over the course of Hearthstone’s short history. I think I’ll end up being more productive to provide you a glimmer into successful combo builds, rather than re-iterating what we’ve already discussed thus far.

OTK Hunter (nerfed, and currently unplayable at the moment): During Hearthstone Beta, players ushered in an era of Aggro Hunter the likes of which, shook the very fabric of the meta to its core. This deck relied on the original unleash-the-hounds combo, that when coupled with starving-buzzard went off for absolute INSANE card draw that would blow the competition away just in sheer card advantage. In conjunction with copious amounts of 1-mana cost beasts, this deck often killed off the opponent in one turn.

Miracle Rogue (Also nerfed): This build heavily relied on a two-step combo using 1) low mana spells in conjunction with gadgetzan-auctioneer as an EXTREMELY efficient card draw mechanic that allowed the player multiple cards in a single turn and 2) utilized Leeroy Jenkins (pre-nerf) with double shadowstep and cold-blood (or a similar variation that used malygos) bust that could deal 30 damage in a single turn.

OTK Warrior/Patron Warrior: (Surprise, surprise nerfed again) OTK Warrior utilized an enraged raging-worgen in conjunction with numerous buffs and amplifiers that would also destroy the opponent in a single turn. Patron Warrior, is a more familiar build that would run Warsong Commander and grim-patron along with several buffs that would detonate those pesky Grim Patrons  in a board flooding sequence, that would decimate the competition. Both decks ran several life gain cards like Antique Heal Bot as well as numerous card draw mechanics to draw into the components needed to set off the combo.

Why am  I not discussing mana curves and specific card breakdowns you ask? Well, its due to the uncanny nature of combo deck archetypes. Even though their curve and card type balance mimics a control deck, they will in reality “curve out” or “spike” when they assemble all the pieces needed to pull off the combo.  As we discussed, most combo builds will have a balanced mana curve on paper but will in actuality play its sequence of spells and effects somewhere around T7 or higher.

What is important here isn’t so much being able to master the card types or mana curve needed with this archetype (although they do have their place), but instead being able to understand what key components are needed within the combo archetype. To review, I’ve listed a snap shot of those key contributors to re-iterate the elements that are needed in a successful combo build:

  1. Kung Fu Feet and Fists of Fury: This is the deck’s win condition, the cards that are needed to be played in unison on a singular turn to milk the most damage points and secure the victory. Be sure and know ahead of time how much mana and what specific cards you’ll be looking for throughout the game that will be required to pull off the sequence. That information will assist you in piecing together the additional components for the build, and serve as a bench mark for judging the game’s pace.
  2. Card Draw Mechanics: This is the engine of the entire build, an absolute necessity to cycle through your deck and piece together that lethal combination for the win.
  3. Life Gain/Game Stalling Tactics: These are the cards you’re relying on to cause the game to last just long enough to detonate that win condition.
  4. Consistent Strategy: Remember to make smart trades and sound decisions while you’re slowly piecing together the combo components. Don’t take unnecessary risks or make careless mistakes. Ensure you have a clear mind and carefully analyze every choice you have before making your decision

Conclusion

We’re starting to reach the end of this series, I anticipate another article or two will round it out and draw it to a close. So far we’ve only covered the first component of creating a deck on your own merit: choosing a deck archetype. In doing so, you provide your deck with an identity, strategy, and a win condition. This first step is the most important, which is why it’s taken the longest to cover. If this series were a hour-glass, the sands of time are going to start funneling through the bottle deck at the cyclic rate now that we’re approaching the end.

I hope I’ve provided you with a basis of understanding to know what components are needed for each individual archetype. Together we’ve defined each one as well as covered each archetypes individual elements at great length. Please feel free to read up on or bookmark the previous articles of this series which you’ll find HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE, for further reference as you begin your build and counter the net deck.

I hope that you’ve enjoyed this series so far, as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it. Continue to follow me through our journey, you won’t be disappointed. Until next time comrades!