Camzeee here with breakdowns for the three decks I used to finish top 16 in the ESL Challenger Tournament #2c. The tournament was Conquest format, best of 5 (win at least one game with each class), and happened the weekend after the first wing release of Blackrock Mountain.
If the title didn’t give it away, all three of my decks featured one of BRM’s most hyped cards – emperor-thaurissan. The Emperor is the only card to find its way into all three of my decks and it performed fantastically in all of them.
It’s certainly too early to say that Emperor Thaurissan has to be nerfed, but it’s definitely a very powerful card and I’ll be doing a section at the end about the card itself and what it enables.
Let’s start though with breakdowns for my decks and why I chose to bring them to the tournament.
I built my tournament deck roster starting here (it’s the featured deck on the right side bar). I had made legend earlier this season with Freeze Mage, and my extensive practice on ladder gave me the confidence to bring this deck.
I feel that Freeze Mage is an extremely good choice in the Conquest format because it has a number of very favorable match-ups. In the Conquest format, you only need to win one game with a class. Bringing a deck that has numerous favorable match-ups improves the odds that you win at least one game with it.
In all 8 series I played except 1 (the game I was eliminated), my Freeze Mage won. I led with the deck quite often and it gave me a quick 1-0 lead a lot of the time. For those unfamiliar, the deck is very strong against Paladin, Mech Mage, Priest and Warlock. It has a fighting chance against everything but Control Warrior, and can be surprisingly effective against Hunter (I went 3-0 against Hunter with Freeze Mage).
Freeze Mage is a combo deck with superb card draw. As a result, unless you draw absolutely abominably in your first five cards, your excellent card draw will enable you to draw into the answers you need in most match-ups. The general game-plan of the deck is to draw in the early turns, stall and try to clear with Doomsayer and Frost Nova in the mid-game, and set-up for a big spell burst finish. The deck itself is very hard to play optimally, and I often question my own choices as I play. I intend to write my next in-depth guide on Freeze Mage, so stay tuned. I’ll go over it very briefly here.
Emperor Thaurissan is the star of this deck. It discounts your often large hand and enables plays that were previously impossible. As an example, discounting a Pyroblast, 2 Ice Lances and a Frostbolt gives you 21 damage of burst on turn 10. This is just one example of how crazy the burst can be from just one trigger from the Emperor. If your Thaurissan survives two or more turns, your opponent can be burst down from 30 (Alexstrasza > Fireball > Frostbolt > Ice Lance > Ice Lance). Thaurissan also combos brilliantly with Archmage Antonidas to generate free Fireballs for additional reach. He’s not necessary to win some games, but he makes it much easier to burn your opponent with fire and ice.
Other than the relatively new inclusion of Thaurissan, I think my deck is rather standard for a Freeze Mage. It features Novice Engineer over additional AoE (Flamestrike or Explosive Sheep). This seems like an outdated tech, but I felt I needed additional draw in the deck for consistency. I like that the Engineer gives you the card instantly as opposed to the delay from Loot Hoarder. Being able to draw a card right away to fish for a game winner/saver (Ice Block, lethal spell) has saved me in the past. It’s now easier than ever for every class to deal 1 damage, so the additional 1 attack from Loot Hoarder never really matters. Often, you deliberately hold off on attacking the enemy’s face with your minions anyhow to play around secrets. Ultimately, draw versus AoE in this last slot is a matter of preference. I rarely felt myself missing extra AoE in my lead-up practice, so the draw was more useful overall.
I’m going to end this deck breakdown with a recap of match-ups. This is the most important factor you should consider if you want to be competitive in tournament play. Freeze Mage is a great choice in this regard because it can win against almost everything. It has one weakness and that is its abominable match-up against Warrior. I put that match-up at no more than a 10% chance to win. Thankfully, I only ran into one Warrior in the tournament (as I predicted) and it was quickly dispatched by my next deck – Druid.
Favorable: Mech Mage, Paladin, Priest, Warlock, Hunter, Shaman
Neutral: Druid, Rogue
This deck is a meta favorite at the moment and with good reason. It is favored, or at most slightly disadvantaged, against the majority of decks in Hearthstone. Since the unveiling of Emperor Thaurissan, this deck has sky rocketed in popularity due to the synergy it has with Druid’s ramp effects and its devastating game-ending combo of Force of Nature + Savage Roar.
I’m certainly no blind meta-follower, but I couldn’t look past Fast Druid as one of the key decks in my set. I liked that it was consistent and could win against anything; and I liked that it complemented Freeze Mage very well. Fast Druid is heavily favored against Warrior which is Freeze Mage’s weakest match-up and it’s also strong against Rogue and other combo decks like Freeze Mage. In addition, it can handle any unexpected decks well too as long as I draw well. I ended up mounting an 0-2 to 3-2 comeback because I played against a Mill Rogue and my ever-reliable Druid got me a win and let me adjust my play-style for my other two decks to sweep up.
For those who haven’t been playing Hearthstone long, Fast Druid is a variant of Druid that runs multiple copies of “the combo” – Force of Nature + Savage Roar. It ramps up to its mid-game threats with Wild Growth and Innervate, and builds enough of a board presence to burst the opponent down from the mid teens or even the twenties with a bit of board help. Druid decks are characterized by their versatile class cards Keeper of the Grove, Druid of the Claw and Ancient of Lore. The “Choose One” mechanic gives them a lot of flexibility to adapt to any given game situation, and this deck utilizes this mechanic to its fullest. The end result is one of the most consistent decks in the game with high burst and good durability.
Fast Druid has always been one of my preferred decks in tournaments because of its consistency. In building my variant of Fast Druid for the tournament, I adhered to this strategy as well. I realized that my lineup was rather weak to other Druids so I gave myself the best opportunity to win in the mirror by choosing my techs carefully. Loatheb was definitely in as a safeguard to the combo. I also added a lone copy of Sludge Belcher as additional defense from combo and aggro. The only other tech cards I went with were Big Game Hunter – which is basically a staple since the rise of Dr. Boom, and Harrison Jones, who I needed to win Paladin and Rogue matches with (it also won me a game against a Warlock). I left out Kezan Mystic and Mind Control Tech to focus my efforts on beating Druids and Demonlocks.
I’ve already mentioned it, but Emperor Thaurissan is a phenomenal addition to this deck. Not only does it enable an earlier combo, it discounts your value midrange minions like Piloted Shredder and Sludge Belcher so that you can have some truly big plays. Midrange minions like Druid of the Claw and Sludge Belcher are blatantly overpowered when played for one less mana and Thaurissan enables you to both remove your opponents’ board and build your own in the same turn.
My draws in the tournament didn’t give me too many opportunities with Thaurissan but when it did hit the board at a good time, I won the game every time.
Here are the match-ups for Druid. Unlike Freeze Mage, the numbers are much narrower and a favorable match-up can still be lost while an unfavorable match-up is often won. Druid is all about consistency and solid draws. If you draw perfectly with Druid, there are very few decks that can keep up with your mana advantage and will almost always succumb to defeat.
Favorable: Warrior, Priest, Rogue
Neutral: Warlock, Shaman
Unfavorable: Hunter, Mech Mage, Paladin
I’ve purposely listed this deck last. It was the deck that I had least refined and was also most uncertain about. I didn’t have time to test it thoroughly, but I hit legend three times with Handlock so I went with it based on my experience with a similar archetype. It ended up being a pretty good choice, and I think I played it rather well. I was tinkering with it right up until the end, but settled on this variant after I struggled against another Warlock with a turn 4 twilight-drake.
The deck plays very similar to Handlock, probably more so than Demonlock. I went with the classic Ancient Watcher + Ironbeak Owl pairing over the more recent Power Overwhelming and Nerubian Egg combo. I was more familiar with the former, and with the inclusion of two copies of Sunfury Protector, I liked the security of the two Watchers especially against aggro.
Because I chose to go with two Watchers, I also decided to play two copies of Shadowflame. I’m a huge fan of Shadowflame and I think it’s a highly underrated board clear. It has synergy with the Watchers, with Sylvanas Windrunner and helps you secure a win off Lord Jaraxxus and his Infernals. Playing two copies was a tech for this tournament where I anticipated a lot of midrange decks.
Shadowflame is also very slightly better because of the inclusion of Emperor Thaurissan. Thaurissan’s effect makes it much easier to blow up a minion you play from your own hand. It also makes the Sylvanas Windrunner and Shadowflame combo cost just 8 mana enabling you to make another key play in the same turn. Alternatively, after Thaurissan’s effect, you have a 4 mana Flamestrike if you decided to blow up an Ancient Watcher. The plays that Thaurissan opens up are vast and tantalizing. He’s particularly good in this deck because of the deck’s tendency for building large hands.
Other picks are fairly standard for a Demon Handlock, including the key demon synergy of Voidcaller + Mal’ganis/Lord Jaraxxus. I’ve put in the staple midrange legendaries as well – Sylvanas Windrunner, loatheb, emperor thaurissan and Dr. Boom. The goal of the deck is simple. Drop big minions, clear the board and stay alive. The deck has favorable match-ups against Mech Mage, Rogue, Priest, and Warrior. It struggles a little against Druid and Hunter, but they are by no means unwinnable.
I picked Demonlock because I expected a large number of Rogues, and because of Freeze Mage’s extreme weakness to Warrior, which this matches up well against. It performed decently, but I did lose a number of games due to inexperience and because the deck didn’t feel quite perfected to my play-style. In future, I intend to perfect my Warlock deck for tournament play. I love the class because you can build it to be good against anything you want. Zoo, Handlock and Midrange Demon decks all have very different strengths and weaknesses which you can take advantage of depending on the meta.
Here are the match-ups:
Favorable: Warrior, Priest, Rogue, Mech Mage
Neutral: Paladin, Shaman
Unfavorable: Hunter, Druid
Emperor Thaurissan – A Deeper Look
Now that I’ve gone through all my decks, let’s look at the common denominator – Emperor Thaurissan. At 6 mana for a 5/5, his body is definitely undercosted. However, it’s his effect that makes him such a powerhouse. Let’s compare him to other 6 mana 5/5s.
Sylvanas Windrunner – Often seen as the strongest 6-drop in the game, Sylvanas has a devastating Deathrattle that demands attention, and some fantastic combo potential. She’s incredibly powerful, and used in a lot of midrange and control decks.
Frost Elemental – This card never sees play in constructed because comparatively, its Battlecry pales in comparison with Sylvanas or Thaurissan’s effect.
Shieldmaiden – This card is a Warrior staple, and it certainly delivers the consistency a top level player is looking for. However, the Battlecry isn’t exactly game-changing or particularly worthy of attention.
To put it in simpler terms, for 1 mana which of these effects is superior?
– Freeze a character
– Deathrattle: Steal a random enemy minion
– Gain 5 armor
– Discount all the cards in your hand by 1 mana.
Of all those effects, Thaurissan’s is the most consistent and the most powerful in my opinion. The only one that even comes close is Sylvanas’s effect, but she doesn’t have immediate control over it. Thaurissan is amazing because you can time him so that his effect triggers at the perfect moment. I used him carefully in all three of my decks to ensure that he was discounting many valuable cards that are worth more played in combo with each other.
I managed to discount a Sylvanas Windrunner and Shadowflame combo, an extremely devastating Mage burst set of Frostbolt and Ice Lances (11 damage for 1 mana), and of course, Force of Nature and Savage Roar on turn 7. All of these plays are game-breakingly good and I’m not sure it’s fair that one big dwarf can set them up with such ease.
Speaking to some of my fallen opponents after the match, they lamented the fact that Thaurissan removed their ability to plan ahead. A large part of competitive Hearthstone is playing the meta-game and making good reads on opponents’ potential plays. As a seasoned Hearthstone player, you learn to fear the turn 9 of Druid or the 7 as Mage in arena. The ability to play around what your opponent has in his hand separates the best from the merely good. Thaurissan ruins all of this by making calculations far too difficult to make especially if it survives the turn.
That in my opinion is a problem and needs to be addressed. I think Thaurissan’s ability is unique and interesting, but I do feel it’s a touch too powerful right now. All three of my decks were good decks before Blackrock Mountain, they are now universally improved solely because of one card. I feel he could be tuned down with just a simple change: make his effect a Battlecry and only happen once. This eliminates the absolutely insane plays of 0 mana 2 cost cards or worse while still giving it power. Mana manipulation is one of the most powerful abilities in Hearthstone previously exclusively the domain of Druid. It’s what’s made the class one of the most consistent and powerful in the game. Giving a neutral minion this ability to “ramp” and potentially give 9 mana a turn is ludicrously powerful.
It’s possible that I’m overstating its impact based on just a few tournament games, but I’m pretty sure that I’m right on the sheer power of this card. It certainly proved itself extremely potent in my decks and I look forward to testing it more and finding out just how high the ceiling for this card is and whether it is in “fair” territory.
Thanks for reading! I hope you found it informative and interesting.
It’s my opinion that Emperor Thaurissan is one of the best cards in Hearthstone and if he remains in his current state, opens a door for power creep that cannot be shut for future expansions. Don’t agree with me? Tell me why!
Please feel free to leave any comments or feedback you may have below. I love theory-crafting and having a discussion with readers, so ask away!
Until next time though, BY THE POWER OF RAGNAROS, I HAVE THE POOOOOWEEER!
I am a multi-season legend-ranked player with Level 60 heroes for every class. My favorite card in Hearthstone is Lord Jaraxxus (gold of course!) and I’m also an arena infinite player with over 800 arenas completed.