“So obviously he’s playing Mid-range Hunter with that start, yeah?”
“Haunted Creeper, Animal Companion, Eaglehorn. Probably, though no Webspinner is a worry.”
“Meh, you don’t draw your one-drops every game. I can control this game. Yeah, yeah, waste your Kill Command on my Belcher. Hang on – that’s a Wolfrider!”
“Arcane Golem! Second Kill Command! Obvious Quick Shot. Well played…”
“I thought The Grand Tournament was supposed to quash aggro?”
“I thought that too – but it can’t be an accident that I’ve faced 5 aggro decks in succession! Another game. But if this is another aggro deck I’m going to have to make some changes if I want to complete this daily quest today…”
So much for a slower environment, thanks Blizzard. Now we don’t just have to worry about Face Hunter any more – there’s a “Face” everything right now, even Rogue and Warrior! While this might seem good for the average FTPer because aggro cards are generally lower in rarity than their controlling cousins, the issue is that the key elements driving the change in the environment come in the new set. That means we must re-evaluate our course.
But first let’s look at what happened to me prior to the new set’s release.
During the relative calm prior to The Grand Tournament storm (referred to as TGT hereafter), I had an opportunity to re-examine my Priest deck. I’ve played it as much as the radio plays Nat King Cole because I’ve been concentrating on other decks for the articles in this series, but a 60g quest rolled for the class and I figured, “Why not?” This is the class I’ve opened the best cards for, so the expectation is that it should be my best performer. It had always felt solid, and indeed it had been primarily responsible for my rise to rank 13 during my first full season with this Free-To-Play US server account. But not a single card had been added to it since, so it was due a revision.
The arrival of Sludge Belcher and Loatheb meant I could reconsider just which minions I planned to power up with Divine Spirit. Mogu’shan Warden‘s 7 health is a good start and a handy Taunt, but the 1 point of damage is irrelevant to the opponent who is able to attack it with little fear of retribution. I kept 1 for no reason other than the fear of losing my primary win condition, but should have switched it for Sen’jin Shieldmasta or even a second Lightspawn. I plan to test out the freshly acquired Deathlord as its 2/8 stats not only slow down aggro decks (who generally must silence it and therefore make its drawback irrelevant) but are also a fine platform for Divine Spirit and especially Velen’s Chosen. Coupled with opening a second Auchenai Soulpriest from the Watch and Learn quest that gave me the second Lightspawn, the deck has a strong base to control the enemy minions while assembling the combo, especially amid the sea of aggro decks that dominated the ladder prior to the release of TGT. I literally smiled every time I saw a Hunter sit down opposite me. Too easy!
I also wanted to test Resurrect. The card doesn’t get much airtime, but I figure any minion worth playing in the deck is worth recasting for 2 mana. It was never so bad that I wanted to cut the card, but that may simply be down to the lack of other options. After all, my collection consisted only of Basic set cards, 210 cards from the Classic and Goblins vs Gnomes sets, 3 wings of the Curse of Naxxramas (Naxx), and the first wing of Blackrock Mountain (BRM). About as deep as a Sarah Palin speech.
That said, I won the first 7 ranked games I played with the deck, flying up the ladder especially since I started with an active win streak. I got as high as 3 stars on rank 13, but sadly could not get beyond that point between then and the season’s end. I finished 8-1 with the deck, before moving onto other classes once more, though it did feel that rank 12-13 was as far as it could take me. This is significantly better than most of my other decks which struggle to approach rank 15. The presence of Dark Cultist and Zombie Chow on my immediate horizon in Naxx wing 4 should put me in a good position for next season’s late burst upwards.
Upward bound: And this, Mr. Golden Mage, is why you should never let a first turn Northshire Cleric grow up.
There’s a puzzle for you, the reader, within that screenshot. How is it that in a game of Mage vs Priest the former trails on mana crystals by 7 to 9? Please post answers on the back of a $100 bill to my addre… Hang on, this is a Free To Play column! Oh alright, just put them in the comments section, then. Sigh… As a hint my opponent was playing Mech Mage. Let me repeat that: Mech Mage played by a player with over 500 ranked wins with the class, who on turn 9 has l’il ol’ FTP-me all the way down at 28 life. Oh, is that 2 spare crystals and an unused hero power? pwned by FTP!
The Grand Collapse
But my high ranking couldn’t last. My other decks not only couldn’t really handle rank 13 (best was my Druid deck which went 4-5 at that level), and the release of The Grand Tournament was akin to the apocalypse. Wait, wait! Did I say “Druid deck”? Yes, good memory; my Druid deck is awful. Was awful. I’ll tell you more about that below.
The arrival of a new 130-odd card set meant the environment would get a shake-up and many people would be testing the cards out in ways either well- or poorly-suited to them. I felt that would give me a chance as my decks were fairly stable. Instead, disaster!
I got onto a downward slide that I never really arrested, ending the season at rank 15. It was only afterward that I really figured this out. My collection is simply too small to be able to react to a sudden change in the meta-game. As highlighted in the intro, I did not notice the highly anticipated move towards control given the Joust mechanic’s encouragement of higher cost minions, as I still faced aggro decks 3 or 4 games out of every 5. But I did notice that I couldn’t effectively “trade up”, and every man and his dog seemed to be playing Paladin decks that produced loads of minions out of nowhere like Gru. This didn’t bother my Priest overly much, but my other decks lacked much in the way of mass removal and were being punished as a result.
This forced me to take stock of where I was. Should I continue collecting Naxx and BRM once I’ve unlocked the cards in Naxx Wing 4? Or should I refocus on expanding the size of my collection in order to find better options against this new metagame?
So I had to re-evaluate Naxx Wing 5. Echoing Ooze is a card that sees occasional play in token decks and is a “classic” combo piece with Blessing of Kings for the Paladin. Avenge, the best Paladin secret by some distance, is the only class challenge reward as well, so Paladin decks can expect to improve with this wing. Shade of Naxxramas only really sees play in Druid decks, primarily due to poor options at the 3 casting cost mark. Personally, I don’t really like the card, and on the EU server where I have more choice I pick Druid of the Flame from BRM wing 2 every time (and even that seems obsolete with the emergence of Darnassus Aspirant, which allows the Druid to skip the 3-slot altogether). Finally there’s the big skeleton in the closet, Kel’Thuzad. I love this card. For small collections he’s a major boost, and there’s the joy of casting him and Reincarnate-ing him in the same turn. He’s a game-changer for sure.
And yet if one takes a step back Naxx wing 5 represents 4 cards I don’t play on my EU account. They’re good, and yet they tend to go into niche decks (with the exception of Avenge thanks to Mysterious Challenger, and obviously only if you have 2 copies of the card which I might never get on this account). On EU I distinctly remember going for months looking at the legend players’ decklists and repeatedly seeing the same 3 neutral legendary minions: Dr. Boom, Ragnaros, and Sylvanas Windrunner. Once I crafted Boom (having opened Ragnaros as my first legendary minion) I quickly found myself moving away from my reliance on Kel’Thuzad as a finisher. Given that Ragnaros was ALSO my first legendary minion opened on my US account, I suddenly found myself checking and re-checking how must dust I could make.
The Grand Dusting
And so it began. The cards in the Wall of Shame had their day of reckoning. I had 185 dust when I started. This came from “auto-dusting” 31 commons and 1 rare when I opened 3 copies of a card, plus 15 dust from my Rank 13 chest reward at the end of the season (I also got a golden Inner Rage and a golden Sparring Partner, which I’ll keep for now, especially the Rage as it’s my second and I need it for my Patron Warrior). If that maths seems wrong (and it should because 31 x 5 + 20 + 15 = 190), then remember that the first card one dusts with a new account grants a bonus 95 dust reward, and I used that 100 dust to craft Shadow Madness.
I dusted the following cards:
Eye for an Eye, 2x Repentance, 2x Forked Lightning, Dust Devil, Stormforged Axe, Sense Demons*, Summoning Portal, 2x Shieldbearer, 2x Young Dragonhawk, 2x Mad Bomber, 2x Flesheating Ghoul, 2x Jungle Panther, 2x Scarlet Crusader, Thrallmar Farseer
2x Savagery, Bite, 2x Explosive Shot, Blessed Champion*, Dunemaul Shaman, Void Terror, Screwjank Clunker, 2x Angry Chicken, Mana Wraith, Master Swordsmith, 2x Alarm-o-Bot, Mind Control Tech, 2x Ancient Mage, Abomination
Gladiator’s Longbow, Patient Assassin, Hungry Crab, Big Game Hunter
* = Golden cards
Three cards on that list may be surprise inclusions: Stormforged Axe, Mind Control Tech and Big Game Hunter, but I had duplicates of each and one only ever runs 1 of them. Onyxia is a skill tester.
This gave me exactly 1600 dust, which transformed into Dr. Boom faster than an auctioneer’s chant.
And that is how I culled 40% of the cards I’ve opened in packs and saved 700g that I would otherwise have spent on Naxx wing 5. Yes, 40%. Options? I don’t need options! I have Dr. Boom!
The new plan? Get wing 4 (160/700g). Then alternate opening Classic and TGT packs like Clark Kent trying to decide whether his underpants look better on the inside or the outside.
Having crafted Boom I needed to put it in a deck. My first daily of the new season was 5 wins with Shaman or Mage and, like my Priest deck, the former needed a serious overhaul given the recently unlocked and opened cards. In a matter of minutes it went from tame bunny to being good enough to go 5-0 in ranked, rising from 20 to 17. Along the way I defeated 2 Freeze Mages, another mage testing TGT, a shaman mirror where my opponent mainly watched me wreck him, and a win over the current “best deck” Secret Paladin, all without ever playing Lightning Storm because I don’t own one.
“Surprising” doesn’t even begin to describe the deck’s power level. 42 packs opened, hard slog through 2800g of adventure sets – deck of pure synergy.
Baron Rivendare really shines in this deck, and that particular set of opponents really had no way of dealing with it. From multiple triggers off Nerubian Egg to multiple cards drawn off Loot Hoarder, he is a 4 casting cost beating stick. At 7 health he’s surprisingly difficult to remove without wasting a spell one would rather use on other minions, so often the opponent completely underestimates how much he affects the game, especially as the card doesn’t see much competitive play. It was reminiscent of a Magic: the Gathering pre-release sealed deck tournament, where one’s opponent continually picks up the cards you play in order to read what the heck they do. And then puts them down, then picks them up again repeatedly for a few minutes before whispering to his buddy, “Is this card any good? Should I try trade for it after the game?”
Make no mistake, this is a deck that would benefit from Kel’Thuzad, but Dr. Boom fills that top slot nicely (two triggers per bot!) while also providing extra bodies for a lethal Bloodlust. Kel’Thuzad also has a peculiar drawback when played with shaman – you can’t kill your useless totems. This means that one can get into a position where one’s board is full of low attack minions and the opponent can deliberately NOT kill your legendary because your entire board is completely unthreatening AND you can’t develop it (outside that lone Bloodlust, of course). This is often exacerbated by annoying cards like Aldor Peacekeeper. It’s not a reason to not spend 700g to unlock ol’ Kay-Tee, but it does help justify the decision once made on other grounds.
A Tale of Two Yetis
You will notice some telltale FTP signs in that deck – Chillwind Yeti and Sen’jin Shieldmasta. These are not completely obvious indications that the opponent has a small collection, unlike say Bloodfen Raptor, and that is mainly because they are borderline good. What I mean there is that they crop up from time to time in top decks as answers to the meta-game; Sen’jin mainly in control decks facing a heavy-aggro meta, and Chillwind in mid-range decks facing a meta of boardsweepers like Holy Nova, Lightning Storm, Consecration, Blizzard, Swipe and Flamestrike. Given the plethora of token decks in the metagame post-release of TGT, I would expect to see many more decks running these sweepers (which will generally always be in their class decks) alongside alternate damage sources such as Starfall or even Arcane Explosion.
Such a meta-game makes the case for the increased appearance of The Two Yetis. The first is Chillwind, already discussed. The second is Mechanical Yeti, which is a staple in any mech deck or any deck running Archmage Antonidas. These two 4/5s for 4 will likely continue to get a workout in the new environment.
Speaking of Antonidas, I refuse to craft the card. While obviously strong, I find mage decks that play him to be the lamest excuse for skill in the game. With a Spare Part engine and/or accompanied by Rhonin, Antonidas is just, “Ok, you’ve had your chance and you’ve failed to kill me, now I win”. I don’t mind that he gives free Fireballs – the opponent still has to cast them – but I *do* mind that these Fireballs themselves spawn others. That’s just cheating. Your opponent played one legendary and a bunch of chaff spells that do very little, and now you will waste so much resource to prevent yourself dying over the next 2 turns that you put yourself in No Ten (no way to win). Should a single card really be that powerful?
So how do we put the Yeti to work?
I mentioned my Druid deck earlier, the one that was bad. Now it has transformed from terrible to the list on the right. There are many similarities between the two decks, of course – this is minor surgery not a head transplant. Harvest Golem, Sen’jin Shieldmasta, Wrath, Keeper of the Grove, Swipe, Mark of the Wild, Svage Roar and the Yeti, plus the ramp cards: Innervate and Wild Growth are all still there. But look at the upgrades! Boom, Belcher, Loatheb, Cenarius in place of stand-outs like Boulderfist Ogre.
A word on Cenarius. The card is not nearly as dominating as Antonidas is for Mage, though both abilities are certainly powerful enough for the card to warrant inclusion should you own it. This deck tries to generate many in-play minions and then use Cenarius as an extra Savage Roar, but never underestimate the value of having extra Taunts when low on life. What else could we use? Force of Nature for starters! It’s a lower rarity (epic) so there are more of them about, and basically every Druid deck needs at least one; in fact I’d play Force of Nature over Cenarius if I could only pick one. If you have them, Ancient of Lore or Ancient of War go well with most Druid strategies, though the latter is generally played as a singleton and is usually the first card cut once one starts to add legendaries to one’s collection. However that 5/10 Taunt body in this aggro-heavy meta-game is a great obstacle for one’s opponent.
In the mid-range the deck is missing Druid of the Claw, and you want as many of those as you can play. Druid is also low on card draw, so a pair of Azure Drakes or a single Nourish can help, otherwise one must look for cards such as Loot Hoarder or Acolyte of Pain even though neither is particularly “druidly” despite their fine beards. My current list is a deck that is “going places”, as it’s 14-9 in ranked play in various stages between ranks 19 and 13 since I made these changes (previously this deck’s win-rate was under 40%). Amazing the difference a few top cards makes, eh?
In short, the addition of the cards from the adventure sets has allowed me to completely revise all the decks in my collection, giving me a set of decks that, while hardly dominant against better-equipped players, at least have a sense of solidity about them. It is important to gear for the sheer number of aggro decks out there right now, as The Grand Tournament appears to have encouraged rather than damped them, so either more taunts (Belcher PLUS Sen’jin PLUS Annoy-o-tron) or oneself turning to the “dark side” with Wolfrider and Arcane Golem seem the ways forward.
Next time I will have Naxx wing 4 cards in my possession, so we’ll look at how the decks can be improved, and then I will begin my new plan: alternating purchasing Classic and Grand Tournament packs (preferably earned through Arena play).
As ever, thanks for your time. Comments and criticism most welcome.