We’re about 2 weeks into the expansion and I think it’s fair to say that the meta has finally shapen. After the initial, constant fluctuations, we should have a good idea of which decks are going to be strong and which turned out to be weaker than expected. Of course, it’s still too early to be 100% sure of everything – some decks will still come, some will go, but if you want to commit to learning one of the decks already, there are a few solid choices.
And that’s exactly why I want to write this summary. To give you a better look at the current meta. However, I am only a single person, so I couldn’t make an objective list based only on my experience. While still focusing on my own ladder play, I will also bring other sources into the mix: streams I’m watching, popular opinion and most importantly – the raw data I like to base on most, Data Reaper Live, brought to you by Vicious Syndicate (thanks vS!).
I will list only the most popular decks, I will ignore the decks that have less than 1-2% representation on the ladder, as they’re mostly experiments, decks that are still unoptimized etc. Here is a quick overview of the Tiers:
- Tier I – Strongest and most popular decks right now. The best choices of the decks to ladder with.
- Tier II – Decks that are solid in the current meta, but have some flaws. It might be a weak matchup against some Tier I deck, it might be the deck still being unoptimized to the current meta etc. Still good choices
- Tier III – Okay decks, you can still likely hit Legend with them, but it won’t be that easy as with the Tier I & II. Those decks probably have multiple poor matchups against other meta decks or might be a new experiments that are still hard to place.
In theory, there is probably also Tier IV and even Tier V, but decks from those tiers are rather weak and thus very unpopular, so I won’t focus on them.
Hearthstone was often dubbed “Shamanstone” by the community, because of how popular the Midrange Shaman deck was pre-Gadgetzan. While we hoped that it will no longer be the case, it seems like we’ve just traded one Shaman for another. While Pirate Warrior is still slightly more popular in the rank 10 proximity, rest of the ladder is dominated by Shaman – Aggro Shaman. There are a few viable Aggro lists (Jade Golem version seems to be most popular), but they’re all based on the strong, early/mid game minion presence and a lot of burn to close down the games. The 4 mana 7/7 – Flamewreathed Faceless – is back in the meta again, as most of the other popular decks have no way (or very limited ways) to answer it on the curve. Even a single 7 damage hit can be just enough for the Shaman to seal the whole game. Early game is also fueled by the Pirate core with Patches the Pirate – the card seems to work in Shaman even better than in Warrior, because of a threat of turn 2 Flametongue Totem getting full 4 damage value.
Probably the most solid deck to grind the ladder with, as it has solid matchup against most of the meta. Tylerootd has recently hit high Legend ranks on 3 servers simultaneously using this deck.
Example list: Spo’s Aggro Jade Shaman
It is a great time to be a slower Warlock fan like me. RenoLock remains as one of the most popular and strongest meta decks. The main strength of the deck lies in the fact that Reno lists can be teched in however you like. First, very greedy lists didn’t work out, so people have tried to more anti-Aggro approach, which worked way better. Good thing about RenoLock is that even with an anti-Aggro approach, it still has a solid shot at most of the slower matchups thanks to the Lord Jaraxxus (and Leeroy combo to a lesser extent). Dirty Rat tech also turned out to be a solid answer to the decks that always countered RenoLock – combo decks. Of course, it still doesn’t give you a certain victory, but you always have a chance to pull out an important combo piece and ruin your opponent’s day.
Multiple players have hit high Legend ranks playing RenoLock. I hit Legend this season using mostly RenoLock between rank 3 and Legend. I personally think that the deck might have higher potential than the two Aggro decks above. However, RenoLock is also one of the hardest decks to play correctly, so for an average player, Aggro should most likely be a better choice to ladder with.
Example list: Savjz’s RenoLock
Pirate Warrior, even though the initial numbers have dropped a lot (from my personal experience, I was facing almost 40% of Pirate Warriors early in the expansion and now it’s about 15-20%), still remains one of the most popular decks in the meta. It turned out that the initial hype was quickly cooled down, because other meta decks have started adapting to incredibly fast Pirate Warrior play style. Couple of tech cards is more than enough to make this matchup solid.
Still, Pirate Warrior remains the second most successful Aggro deck – it’s cheap, the fast games are appealing to the most of players trying to climb and it most certainly packs a punch. However, I suspect that Pirate Warrior’s popularity will still fall down in favor of Aggro Shaman, as it has slightly better matchups overall and in the head clash, Aggro Shaman should generally have an upperhand.
To make the deck more mid-game heavy, and thus more consistent in the longer games, players have started adding the Pirate core to the Dragon decks, making a hybrid between the two (more about it later). Maybe this will be the most viable alternative to the all-in rush strategy of normal Pirate Warriors once it gets optimized. Time will tell.
Example list: Sintolol’s Pirate Warrior
Here is the thing about Miracle Rogue. Ever since the Beta, Miracle Rogue was almost always in the meta. Given how powerful Gadgetzan Auctioneer is in the Rogue class, give it just one new card, one reason to play the deck and it will be back. At the same time, it’s also one of the hardest decks to play in the whole game. Not to mention that it has very polarized matchups – most of them are either very good or very bad. And that’s the biggest problem with the deck. It’s really weak against high tempo decks, most notably all-in Aggro decks. On the other hand, it has incredible matchup against the slow, greedy decks. Since the current meta is a fair mix of both, the deck can get you really far, but you can also queue into Aggro after Aggro and go on a big lose streak.
I’d honestly say that if not for the Pirate Warrior and Aggro Shaman, Miracle Rogue might be the #1 deck in the meta. The new Pirate version made it much more aggressive, so even better against slow, greedy decks. Luckily, or sadly for Rogue players, Aggro decks keep Miracle in check and that’s why I have to put in in Tier II instead.
Given how Pirate Warrior seems like the best counter to Miracle right now, Miracle Rogue gets stronger in the higher ranks and is probably one of the best decks in Legend. Pirate Warrior’s popularity falls close to Legend and from my own experience, the deck isn’t very popular in the Legend itself. Meaning that Miracle Rogue is probably also the most polarized deck depending on the rank you’re playing in – if you’re ranked pretty low, it’s probably Tier III deck, but if you’re in Legend, it might be Tier I. Multiple pros have hit top Legend ranks with the deck already.
Example list: MrYagut’s Pirate Miracle Rogue
Dragon Priest got a nice boost this expansion – with a new big board clear (Dragonfire Potion) and insanely powerful midrange minion (Drakonid Operative), it can now keep up with the big boys of the meta. It’s definitely the best time for Priest ever since the it was hit hard by the introduction of Standard format.
Thanks to a solid early game and very powerful mid game, the deck can snatch some quick wins if it gets a smooth curve. On the other hand, playing value war is also not an uncommon thing to do – with Netherspite Historian and Drakonid Operative potentially giving some late game minions, Dragon Priest can often follow a very strong curve with even stronger late game plays.
There are two main issues that keep Dragon Priest at bay. First one is that, while it doesn’t necessarily suck against Aggro decks, it doesn’t counter them either. It has some Taunts, but once Aggro deck gets through them, Dragon Priest has no more defensive tools. Healing each turn is a huge tempo loss and Priest’s player can rarely afford to do that. Not to mention that the value tools that are so good in slow matchups are very bad in the fast ones. Second issue is the RenoLock matchup – the deck can still get some wins through the mid game tempo push, but it rarely works. Good RenoLock players will know exactly how low they can get before they need to play Reno or clear board with AoE. And Jaraxxus is a free win for the RenoLock player – since Dragon Priest has no burst damage, it will just get outvalued after a few turns.
Example list: Hotform’s Dragon Priest
I think that it’s not a big surprise that Midrange Shaman is still a powerful deck. Sure, other decks have got stronger this expansion and Midrange Shaman didn’t really get much, but the deck was so much ahead of the others before Gadgetzan that even without any new tools it can still handle the pressure of new lists. However, Midrange Shaman definitely took a big hit not because of the cards, but because of the matchups. Both RenoLock and Dragon Priest – the decks that were already solid against this one – got new, powerful AoEs (which is the best counter to Shaman) AND they’re both rather popular right now.
Aggro Shaman seems to be a stronger alternative to the Midrange play style in the current meta and that’s why most of Shaman players stick to the faster play style. However, depending on how the meta shapes up in the weeks to come, we might see a comeback of Midrange Shaman. Since people were really fed up with the Midrange Shaman, most of the pros focused their deck building and playtesting somewhere else, leaving Midrange Shaman as one of the most unrefined decks of this meta (most of the lists on the ladder are basically old lists without any adapting). One thing I’m sure about is that it will always be useful as a counter to Jade Druid if the deck ever goes rampant on the ladder.
The only more interesting list that doesn’t seem exactly like the old ones I’ve seen is the one Sabertooth20 has hit Legend with about a week ago. However, take it with a grain of salt, because I haven’t seen it on the ladder ever since.
Example list: Sabertooth20’s Midrange Shaman
Jade Druid is probably the ultimate counter to slow, greedy, Control decks. On the one hand, you might think that Aggro is something that punishes them most. But in reality – a deck that can match their game plan and outvalue them easily is even scarier. I think that if Jade Druid is here to stay in the meta, we won’t see any slow, Control decks until it rotates out in 2018. Which is pretty controversial if you ask me. Instead, the “Control” decks seem to take a form of a slower Midrange decks, like a lot of Reno decks. All thanks to Jade Druid.
Control decks aside, Jade Druid is very powerful if you give it just a little bit of time. We all know that the more “unfair” mechanics the deck has, the higher it will be placed on the tier lists. And Jade Druid has a few of them. Deck can ramp up the mana – getting 2-3 mana crystals ahead of the opponent is quite common, and at this point your plays are much stronger than his. It has insane cycling power – I remember games when I was almost 10 cards ahead of the opponent before he even hit 10 mana crystals. It has quite strong tools necessary to survive – Taunts, health again, early removal. It also has insane late game, one that nothing can really beat.
The deck’s only serious weakness is that once it falls behind on the board, it’s really hard to make a comeback. The deck struggles against big minions (Mulch seems to be the only answer and it’s not even in every list) and against multiple midrange minions (play a few minions with 4-6 health and Druid will have no way to kill them). Those weaknesses keep the deck in check, as a well-timed mid game push can force it to play defensively instead of cycling and run out of cards (and thus option) pretty quickly.
Example list: Justsaiyan’s Jade Druid
Second Priest deck that got much better with Gadgetzan is Reno Priest. People didn’t really expect Reno Priest to work out well, because Priest is likely the class that needs Reno Jackson the least. However, healing to full is never a bad thing and it’s pretty common that Priest gets rushed down, so Reno Jackson still turned out to be a powerful card in faster matchup. On the other hand, main reason to play this deck in slower matchups is the new Raza the Chained – instead of one, powerful effect like Reno or Kazakus, this card gets increased value over time. Every turn where you wouldn’t have enough mana to use your Hero Power, now you can do that. By the end of the game, Raza should give you somewhere between 10 and 20 mana worth of tempo used on Hero Powers, which is incredible if you think about it.
There are two ways to build Reno Priest. First one is to go for the Dragons – right now there are enough Dragons in Standard to consistently trigger the synergies even with just one copy of each. The other way to build it is to go for the classic Control Priest approach, with powerful, but very situational cards. I’d say that the Dragon Reno Priest is probably a more consistent deck, however the other version has higher maximum potential when you draw just the right cards. Both versions are amazing anti-Aggro and fast Midrange decks. However, they both struggle against the slower decks that have some way to get infinite value (RenoLock, Jade Druid) and – which was always the Priest’s problem – high burst combo decks (Miracle Rogue). And since all of those decks are pretty popular, I had to put Reno Priest down in Tier III.
An alternative to the all-in Pirate Warrior, even though it still shares the same early game Pirate core. Since the Dragon Warrior’s list was always to outtempo the opponent and potentially rush him down, early Pirates fit this game plan really well. Instead of focusing on the all-in strategy, the deck can make some strategic trades and play a more midrange play style, then dropping big bombs to finish off the opponent.
Another upside of playing this over Pirate Warrior is that most of the players on ladder will assume that you’re actually a Pirate Warrior (especially if you open with t1 Pirate + Patches). This might force them to make a few suboptimal plays, which would be good against Pirate Warrior, but not necessarily good against Dragon Warrior. You can sometimes conceal your “real” identity even up to turn 5!
Example list: Zalae’s Pirate Dragon Warrior
As it seems right now, Reno Mage turned out to be least successful out of the three Kabal Reno Decks. The main problem is that it didn’t get enough powerful cards compared to the other Reno decks. New Mage’s Legendary – Inkmaster Solia – turned out to be only okay, being pretty hard to use and redundant most of the time. Besides that, Reno Mage didn’t get any new cards with a punch, besides Kazakus, but other two classes got it two.
And it seems like Reno Mage is struggling with an identity crisis. If you want to optimize your Reno deck to fight well against Aggro, Reno Priest will still generally be a better choice than Reno Mage. And if you want if you want to pursue a slower win conditions or burst wins, RenoLock seems to be better at doing that.
It doesn’t mean that the Reno Mage is weak, it’s still a solid deck, it just got outshined by the other two – especially RenoLock, and that’s why it’s not really that popular right now. Also, one of the biggest weaknesses of the deck are matchup against Jade Decks (the deck is too slow, can’t finish the games fast enough to handle the big Jade Golems) and Dragon Priest (limited AoEs make it really hard to clear the mid game boards of Dragon Priest and Reno is nearly useless when your opponent has 15+ damage on the board).
Example list: StrifeCro’s Reno Mage
Zoo Warlock, similarly to Midrange Shaman, is one of the decks that were very strong pre-Gadgetzan, but didn’t get almost any new tools with the latest expansion. And both are still viable decks, however, they are way weaker than they were before.
The Zoo builds I’ve seen were literally the ones that I’ve been facing before Gadgetzan. The only new semi-viable addition is Crystalweaver, but the card is still experimental and good only in slow matchups.
I’d say that the main reason to play Zoo Warlock this expansion is to counter the Druid (it has good matchups against most of the Druid lists). The deck has obviously more good matchup – it’s solid against Midrange Hunter or different versions of Mages, but the problem is that those aren’t popular. Picking a deck that’s a counter to decks that aren’t even played isn’t the best tactic to take.
However, I’m still putting it on the list, because Zoo always somehow finds its way into the meta. And I’m pretty confident that it will also be the case right now. Even if just for the surprise factor (things can get really bad if you hard mulligan against RenoLock and it turns out that you face Zoo).
Example list: Standard Pre-Gadgetzan Zoo Warlock
That’s all folks. Thanks for your attention. I know that those aren’t all the decks in the meta, but I think that I have listed the most important ones. If you think that I have missed something crucial, let me know and I’ll add it to the list!
Also, I’m repeating it again: take the list with a grain of salt, because not only some parts of it are pretty subjective, but it also heavily depends on the rank you’re playing. Not to mention that the meta is still changing and if just a single, new, strong deck gets popular, it might change the whole balance. If that happens – I will probably write another Meta Summary!
If you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comment section below. And if you want to be up to date with my articles, you can follow me on Twitter.
Good luck on the ladder and until next time!