It’s ThorSmash again. Who am I? None of your Business! (Sorry guys: I had to make that joke). In case you missed my first article, a little background on me: I have been playing Hearthstone since November 2014 and have made Legend every season since April 2015. Also, I never play ranked with a particular class after I’ve reached the 500 win golden portrait. After hitting golden druid (I previously had hunter, warlock, and warrior), I started grinding Paladin and eventually settled on Secret Paladin after becoming disappointed with Midrange.
Why Play Secret Paladin?
Simply put, its the best deck in the ladder format, especially if you have solid hearthstone fundamentals but aren’t an expert in a particular deck archetype or deck. In addition to being arguably the best overall ladder deck, its pretty clearly the easiest deck to play compared to its power level. If you don’t like playing “cancer” or whatever pejorative you choose to label this deck as, then stop reading. This guide is for people who are interested in playing this deck. Although I focus on how to play the deck, this guide will also be quite helpful for anyone playing against the deck because understanding the intricacies of your opponent’s deck is crucial to ladder success (especially when the deck in question is one of, if not, the most popular deck on ladder).
Secret Paladin in a Nutshell
Here’s how I think of Secret Paladin: the deck is essentially a perfect arena deck with one amazing trick (obviously Mysterious Challenger into drawing and playing up to five secrets from your deck). Why do I describe the deck as basically a perfect arena deck? It deserves this label because the core strength of your deck is the ability to consistently play a series of the strongest cards in the game at their mana cost from turns 2-8. Typically, you will leverage your excellent card quality to fight ruthlessly for board control and snowball a favorable board state into lethal over the course of a few turns. Just like an Arena deck, if you fall behind on board or lose your board to board wipes, you will most likely lose but your main out will be to that you can play lategame bombs (including the infamous Mysterious Challenger) that your opponent will be unable to answer. Also, you have pretty limited burst from hand, and almost all of it requires some kind of board, so unlike Midrange Hunter (a deck whose is similar in other respects), you can’t rely on drawing burn to finish the game.
The Game Plan
Note: Shielded Minibot and Mysterious Challenger are key cards in all of your matchups so I don’t bother listing them below. You always keep Shielded Minibot in your mulligan and hope to play him on turn 2 or 1 with coin. Even though you generally dont keep Challenger in your mulligan, you almost always hope to play him turn 6.
Aggro (ex: Aggro Druid, Face Hunter, Aggro Shaman, Aggro Paladin)
Key Cards: Shielded Minibot, Haunted Creeper, Secretkeeper,
Muster for Battle (against Aggro Shaman only)
These decks are faster than you. You beat them by hard mulliganing so that you play on curve turns 1-4, deny their tempo in the early turns, and counterattacking to set up 2-3 turn lethals as soon as you neutralize their early threats. Turns 1-3 your instinct to clear their board at the expense of face damage is usually correct: you cant let Tunnel Trogg, Knife Juggler, Darnassus Aspirant live. But typically from turn 4 onward you must try to plan how quickly you can lethal your opponent while playing around their outs as best you can. This is because this version runs limited taunts (Coghammer and Tirion-Fordring, also Noble Sacrifice is quasi-taunt) and no healing (besides two charges of Truesilver-champion). Also, these aggro decks run more consistent burn from hand than you so full clearing their board isn’t always the right strategy because that line of play might give them another chance to topdeck lethal burn spells.
Aggro Druid can swipe your face and Hunter has unleash the hounds, but Aggro Shaman can’t punish you for muster for battle and the dudes can take care of Troggs/Knife Jugglers/Leper Gnomes/Argent Horseriders) or help speed up your lethal clock.
Midrange (ex: Midrange Druid, Midrange Paladin, Dragon Priest)
Key Cards: Muster for Battle, Piloted Shredder, Loatheb, Tirion-Fordring
These decks have slower starts and/or less consistent early to mid games but they typically out value you over time in the late game mostly because they have some kind of consistent card draw engine and/or more efficient board clears. However, by thinning your deck with Challenger and adding in Ragnarous-the-firelord as a 5th big drop (two Challengers, Boom, and Tirion are the four others) you can sometimes win a quasi-attrition/topdeck value war. Your hand context matters a ton against these decks since you will either play aggro beatdown (if you for example draw secretkeeper and multiple secrets) or will play slow (if you for example draw Challenger, Boom, and Tirion early). I’ll devote a lot of time to the popular mirror matchup below but most often the mirror feels like you are playing against a fast midrange deck.
Against Midrange then, you typically fight ruthlessly for board turns 1-5 and then try to play the beatdown turn 6 onward while dropping more threats than they can handle. If you find yourself clearly ahead on board in the mid or late game , you play around board clears by making smart trades, not overcommitting with your cards by hero powering or playing off curve for value.
Muster for battle basically forces the midrange deck to waste a whole turn on a removal spell (such as Swipe or Consecration) while you retain a a light’s justice and initiative to keep dropping threats. If they don’t remove your three dudes, they get punished by buffs such as Avenge, Competitive Spirit, Keeper of Uldaman, Blessing of Kings or instead they simply lose 10% of their starting life total per turn from the dudes (3 attack power). Light’s justice is crucial because you are the beatdown and want to use your life as a resource to win board control.
Piloted Shredder is hard to remove and threatens too much damage if they don’t remove the first half of the body. Loatheb protects your board from board wipes and clears the first half of Sludge Belcher. If your opponent can’t answer your Dr. Boom, you almost always win (unless their tempo lead allows them to ignore your board and kill you instead), but since Big Game Hunter can counter boom well enough (and sometimes eats Repentance) he’s not as consistently valuable in closing out the game as Tirion. Also, Tirion’s taunt with Divine Shield is sometimes a lifesaver against Druid combing you down.
Tempo Decks (ex: Tempo Mage, Oil Rogue)
Key cards: Piloted Shredder, Loatheb
These decks play a few key minions and then use a barrage of spells/card combinations to protect them while pushing face with their minions in order to put you on the backfoot and then burn you out. These decks are incredibly powerful when they are able to keep minions on board and since you can’t play from behind they generally will win unless you can consistently force them to play off the board from the early through mid game.
Piloted Shredder and Loatheb are key because they are hard for these decks to remove and allow you to fight their midgame minions well or quickly push damage to their face. Flamewaker and Violet-Teacher respectively are your biggest enemies and basically will win your opponent the game if left unanswered.
Muster for battle will basically win you the game if they don’t have clean removal for the dudes, but will punish you heavily if they do (say flamewaker + Arcane Missiles) or Preparation + Fan of Knives).
Control (ex: Control Warrior, Renolock)
Key cards: Piloted Shredder, Ragnaros-the-firelord
These decks are noticeably slower than you but have more removal and board clears. You are playing the beatdown from turn 1 while also recognizing that your deck packs enough late game punch that you should take smart trades and avoid overplaying into Brawl and other board clears. Renolock’s superior hero power inevitably outvalues in the end. Rarely to Sometimes you can actually outgrind a Control Warrior who is unable to draw enough cards or late game threats to sustain themselves, but typically their weapons and late game threats give them enough card advantage to win if the game goes too long.
Piloted Shredder is critical for pushing face damage in the midgame/forcing your opponent to expend removal on since you need chip damage throughout the game to counterattack their taunts/removals/and life gain. Rag is key because he is the final bomb your opponent doesn’t always expect and often is key to victory if your control opponent had sufficient answers to your previous threats.
Combo Decks (Anyfin Paladin, Freeze Mage, Velen Priest)
Key cards: Loatheb, Your Late Game Legendaries
These decks draw lots of cards, clear or stall your board repeatedly, gain life as necessary, and then burn you down very fast once they assemble their combo and have enough mana. Loathaeb allows you to protect your board for one critical turn where you translate your board/tempo lead into lethal or enough damage to threaten lethal quickly. In addition to your challengers, the three big boys all essentially fill the same role of giving you enough power to finish the game quickly/rebuild your board after they clear it.
Freeze mage and OTK Velen priest feel like harder mathchups than Anyfin Can Happen paladin mostly because the first two have more/better board clears.
I go over general mulligans in this section, and then talk about specific keeps in certain matchups below. The most important point is that you ideally you would like a strong curve of 1-2-3 going first or 2-2-3 on the coin. Also, with seven secrets in this deck, even with Secret Keeper, I never keep secrets (since you want all to come from Challenger) unless I am going first and I have Avenge + 2 Drop + Muster for Battle. You don’t keep Secrets even with Secret Keeper because you will inevitably be likely to draw at least one or two before turn six and because Secretkeeper often draws removal anyway.
Always Keep: Secretkeeper, Shielded Minibot, Haunted Creeper,
Muster for Battle (if you have a 2 drop)
Piloted Shredder (if you have a 2 drop and muster for battle or coghammer)
Mysterious Challenger (if your curve is good)
Loatheb (on coin) (if your curve is good)
Vs Midrange Druid
Unique Mulligan: Knife Juggler. I keep Knife Juggler and either play him on turn 2 or coin him out on turn 1. Yes, you might get punished by Innervate + Keeper, but it’s worse the risk. Why? Because if the Druid plays Darnassius Aspirant on turn two, juggler is the only reliable way to kill it, and because Juggler discourages the Druid from playing wild growth on turn two. If the Druid is forced to wrath your Juggler on turn two, they are more likely to have an awkward turn 3 and won’t out-tempo with you more mana in future turns. And of course if Juggler sticks you push a ton of damage.
Strategy: You are slightly favored against Midrange Druid. You generally win because you are more consistent at curving out in the crucial 1-5 turns, Midrange Druid really struggles when behind on board since Swipe/Force of Nature only provide puesdo AOE and are expensive for what they accomplish. Also, once Druid falls behind on tempo his curve often forces him to play one minion per turn, which makes it hard for him to flip the board. You can either deal with Belchers/Druid of the Claw/Azure Drakes through Buffs/Weapons/trading. More often than you might imagine, if you had a strong early game, you can often ignore Piloted Shredder and Keeper of the Grove and force him to make the trades since you’ll be ahead in the lethal race while Their Combo on turn 9 is too far away for him to race.
If you unfortunately happen to draw repentance, you should consider saving it until the druid is heading into turn 7 since it helps a ton against Ancient of Lore, Boom, or less often Ancient of War.
Vs Aggro Druid
Strategy: Obviously you mulligan for midrange druid since its far more popular, but you adjust once you see the trademark Aggro Druid cards (such as Leper Gnome, Druid of the Saber, Knife Juggler)Aggro Druid is considerably less popular on ladder, but you are slightly unfavored. You still play around swipe/combo and try to race them before they can drop Doctor Boom. Unfortunately you usually cant deal with Fel Reaver (unless you happen to have a keeper of uldaman handy) and will likely lose if they innervate him out. Knife Juggler and Darnaisus Aspirant must be removed. Coin Knife Juggler on turn 1 is a strong play since Aggo Druid doesn’t run wrath and juggler is crucial for killing an enemy Aspirant.
Vs Secret Paladin
Unique Mulligan: Muster for Battle. Always keep Muster for Battle. Even if I am going first and don’t have a two drop yet, I keep muster for battle- it’s just that important.
Strategy: The mirror matchup is almost always decided by who gets a board lead on the the first few turns. Going second, I really like to coin minibot turn one (into another two drop) since it dominates secretkeeper or juggler or can eat a noble sacrifice. Especially in the early game, clear your opponent’s dudes to avoid Blessing of Kings or Keeper of Uldaman value. However if you end up with a big secretkeeper or avenged minion in the midgame, its often better to push face damage than to trade with every dude. Be careful to play around redemption when you opponent has a Shredder, Minibot, or Haunted Creeper on board and plays a secret. Most Secret lists only play 1 consecration so although you play it around it to an extent, you worry less about it then if facing Midrange or Murloc paladin. Playing on curve is super important, but sometimes you can get amazing Coghammer trades via the divine shield that are worth playing off curve for. Try to plan ahead to save a Light’s Justice charge or a dude/spectral spider to proc Noble Sacrifice. Whoever draws/plays Mysterious Challenger first usually wins unless they are so far behind on board that the other paladin can just push face and ignore the Avenged 9-8 Challenger. If the game goes late, try to plan ahead and see if you can preserve a dude or two in order to take away the enemy Tirion’s Divine Shield OR so the dude can proc the shield off of a big creature buffed by Coghammer’s Divine Shield.
Vs Anyfin Can Happen Paladin
Strategy: On ladder you always will mulligan for Secret Paladin, but once you see a murloc or wild pyrmoancer or doomsayer, you can be sure its Anyfin Can Happen.
If you don’t win early on the game starts going to turn 8+, you need to play aggressively against Anyfin Paladin since you typically lose if they can play Anyfin Can Happen. Playing aggressive means you very rarely trade with your 4+ mana creatures or your buffed Blessing of Kings.
Due to them running Equalities, Doomsayers, Pyromancers, Consecration, they will sometimes be able to clear your board. For this reason, you really want to protect the front half of your haunted creeper and piloted shredder so that you maintain some board pressure once they play a board wipe. This means, similar to how you play around Brawl, you will trade your small minions/weapons into their creatures to kill their creatures so that their minions can’t pop the Shredder or Creeper and then fully wipe your board. However, once when you play Loatheb typically avoid trading and use this opportunity push face damage.
Strategy: Since when you face a warlock its about equally likely to be zoo or Renolock (or even less often Malylock), there’s no unique mulligan decisions other than to look for a solid early curve of minions and Muster for Battle.
Once you discover its Zoo, you fight to keep as many of your minions on board as possible while killing all of theirs in order to play around buffs and because zoo almost never runs AOE spells. imp-gang-boss is a nightmare to deal it: kill it if you can get one shot it, but often this is not possible and almost always you should ignore it if you can’t one-shot it. If you happen to draw Consecration, save it for after imp-losion, but if you need it come back on board or he plays into it, you don’t need to get too greedy since your minion quality is higher than theirs. Be sure to keep track of how many copies of power-overwhelming, doomguard, anddark-peddler have been played so you can estimate how much damage they can do from hand and plan your weapon usage accordingly.
Strategy: Once you see Zombie-Chow, Dark-Bomb or early taps by the warlock, its very likely to be Renolock. Try to play arounddemonwrath, Mind-Control-Tech, hellfire, and shadowflame in the midgame if you already have the board since rushing them down isn’t a great strategy given Reno’s ability to heal them to full. I typically don’t miss out on face damage just to play around molten-giant just because they only have copy and I want to force them to play Reno if they have it. In the late game, I try to keep only one big threat on the board at a time (Challenger, Boom, Tirion, or Rag) and play deathrattle creatures/hero power instead in order to play aroundTwisting-Nether.
Vs Control Priest
Unique Mulligan: Keep Blessing-of-Kings or Keeper-of-Uldaman if the rest of your hand looks good in order to deal with a deathlord or creature buffed with Velen’s-Chosen.
Strategy: Based on my stats, I think the Control Priest is slightly favored, but its a close matchup. Preserving deathrattle creatures and divine shields is particularly important because the Priest has so many board clears (lightbomb, holy-nova, Auchenai-Soulpriest + circle-of-healing, and wild-pyromancer + spells. However, creeper and mini-bot become a liability starting turn six because of Cabal-Shadow-Priest so if I going into the priest’s turn six I’ll typically look to pop those creatures “first bodies” and play a little more into AOE rather than give them Soul Priest value on curve.
The Priest has so little burst, so many situational cards, and trouble handling your hero power that I never concede even when I fall way behind on board and card advantage since I might topdeck a threat they can’t deal with while they hold a hand full of situational spells.
Vs Tempo Mage
Unique Mulligan: Keep truesilver-champion if the rest of your hand is good to deal with flamewaker
Strategy: You would really prefer to have the coin just so that they don’t have the coin to combo with flamewaker + 1 mana spell on turn 3. As a result, muster for battle loses a lot of value in this matchup especially when going first. Thus, I will often look to 2 drop + Secret or Coghammer going first or use the coin to skip turn 3 entirely going second. Once you see a secret, SecretKeeper or Knife juggler are your best minions to feed mirror entity since you can kill them instantly. If you discover its not mirror entity, trying using a situationally less valuable secret when you have spare mana to trigger counterspell.
Mana Wyrm and Flamewaker are obviously super high priority targets to kill so planning the first few turns based on your draw and your opponet’s play is critical. One (easy) example: you are going first and passed, then played haunted creeper, and now are playing muster for battle. He played mana wyrm into mad scientist. In this situation you should attack with the light’s justice and creeper into the one three mana wyrm to put it to 1 health so that you can use your sword or a 1-1 on the next turn to finish the wyrm off before the coin + spell leads to it punching you in the face for too much damage.
Vs Freeze Mage
Once your opponent plays a loot-hoarder, acolyte-of-pain, or discover ice-barrier you will know for sure you are playing freeze mage. Some Freeze Mage’s will even turn 2 play doomsayer to disrupt your tempo. In that situation I hopefully have haunted creeper to drop Or if I have coghammer I will start pushing face damage with that.
Against Freeze Mage, you need to curve out and push face damage quickly. If you opponent drops acolyte early, you should either (ideally) one-shot it to deny draw OR ignore it. It’s not worth passing up three damage/trading in your tokens to make him overdraw one or two cards since you will lose the late game against freeze mage and he multiple paths to kill you. This is the one matchup where I actually am somewhat happy to draw Repentance early on. If I find it on my hand, have a light’s justice from muster for battle, and can fit it into my curve, I’ll play it heading into the mage’s turn 5 (so that I can answer frost-nova + doomsayer with my weapon). even if he skips that move and plays Emperor T on turn 6, the secret will help you deal with the Mr. T.
Tips About Using Certain Cards
Muster-for-Battle: Always attack with the first charge even if only to ping face for one. Between 2 musters, truesilver, coghammer, and the ashbringer, you are more likely to waste a charge than extract the full value if you don’t use the first charge. Your hand context (ie do you have other weapons in hand/will likely be playing them soon or many turns away) determine whether to swing face or hold on the following turns, but if I’m unsure I depend to swing face when I have three charges left and hold when I have 2 charges left. Sometimes preemptively swinging at small creatures to kill them next turn is correct (the mana wyrm example) or against the 1/2 slime from belcher. That way if they remove your other creatures, your big Mysterious Challenger won’t have to hit into the tiny slime but can Smorc Face.
The Recruits are great targets for buffs/help prevent the avenge from triggering on your challenger (and coming into BGH range), but they are also weak to AOE (Swipe, Hellfire, Wild Pyro, Consec, Holy Nova, etc.) so you should’nt feel bad expending some or even all of them to disable important creatures from the other side so long as you have other minions to apply pressure with.
Keeper-of-uldaman: A fantastic addition to this deck from LOE. Essentially a houndmaster for your recruits, a disabler of big taunts, or a passable turn six play if sadly your Board gets cleared and you didn’t draw Mysterious Challenger. Plays nice with divine shield (minibot or a dude buffed by coghammer) to eliminate the front half of a shredder for free. You must play for Tempo with this deck so you shouldn’t overvalue his battlecry (ex: turning your knife juggler from a 3-1 or even a 3-2 into a 3-3 is almost always better than hero power + two secrets on turn four)
Piloted-Shredder: In case you didn’t already know, place him in the middle of your minions in case adire-wolf-alpha or flametongue-totem pops out. Less obvious, if you have one minion on board place him to the right of that minion (because muster for battle, hero power, and “Get Down!” from Noble Sac) will all spawn on the right, thus leaving your shredder in the middle.
More importantly perhaps, its often right to go face with your shredder rather than trade (say into your opponent’s shredder) because your deck is fundamentally aggressive and four damage to face matters. Also, if you force your opponent to trade shredders, your two drop will get to attack before his (unless he gets bluegill warrior of course). Finally, leaving the shredder punching face rather than trading away his first body serves as AOE insurance.
divine-favor: Tempostorm has this card instead of Rag in their list. Pretty good against control, usually a dead card against aggro, sometimes good against midrange (if you draw secretkeeper + secrets), but often you don’t have the time to play it or it will only draw you one card. The other problem with this card is that you feel kinda bad playing it before Mysterious Challenger since pulling the secrets that way is much worse than via Mr. None of My Business.
zombie-chow: People have played around with running this instead of Secret Keeper since chow is far better on turn one than secret keeper, and midrange paladin has run chow for a long time to great effect. The problem is that he’s a terrible topdeck later (often your strategy is to push face once you start running out of gas in the mid to late game) and healing your opponent for five can cause you to just lose while secret keeper would at least be playable. Secret Keeper is also usually better in the mirror matchup. She also is ok against hunters and mages by making it awkward for them to cast secrets if they don’t pull them from “For Science!”
equality: Can be a game winning card, but is also quite situational and the real strength of your deck is getting ahead on board early, curving out, and pushing tempo with power minions to victory. Since Equality is only good when you are behind on board, you give yourself a chance to draw dead when you are ahead on board early and are really looking for a card that will help you keep up the pressure. Equality also really sucks against face decks (Face Hunter, Face Shaman) most of the time. If control decks with big taunts became more popular, you could consider adding in this as a tech card
ironbeak-owl: Useful, but again situational. I do see some secret paladin’s running this card, but I’d really prefer the consistency of haunted creeper or whatever other solid minion you would cut to include the owl. Can disable Sludge Belcher or a minion buffed in the mirror matchup. As for big taunts, Hoot Hoot is ok, but Mr. Uldaman deals with them arguably better while also having a lot more flexibility as a card. I can’t personally recommend the owl, but he has his uses.
My stats are incomplete since I played about 30% of my games on my phone. However, I took this version of Secret Paladin to legend on NA from rank 10 with a overall record of 53-26 (67.1% winrate). I was fortunate to hit a major winstreak from like Rank 9 to Rank 5 to shorten the climb. If your goal is to make legend, I highly recommend Secret Paladin because its a tier one powerhouse, a straightforward deck to play, the games are relatively short. I also genuinely believe you have a mental advantage on ladder since a certain percent of your opponents will mentally start tilting/get angry when they see they are facing Secret Paladin and this will make more prone them to misplay.
If you are playing with this deck, what challenges are you possibly encountering? What types of content in my future guides would be helpful? For example, did you find the “Tips About Using Certain Cards” helpful or interesting?
Until next time, “STOP ASKNIG QUESTIONS!” (just kidding, questions are totally welcome in the comments)