Update 10 March: 15 Games worth of Control Rank 8 to 5 action!
Update 8 March: Videos of Control Warrior in action here!
Guest post today comes from Tyson! Featuring the Control Warrior.
Last month North American player Vioxin took first place in an open tournament featuring over 40 participants for HearthPwn’s weekly Friday night Swiss. Since then I have been examining and tweaking his list in detail and I am ready to share my experiences with you.
Deck list & Overview
The utility of a Control Warrior as opposed to the ever-popular Control Druid is most likely it’s strong curve while ramping up to your high-Mana finishers. There are four key cards that will form your early-game board. These four are the Armorsmith, Cruel Taskmaster, Acolyte of Pain and Frothing Berserker. Along with this, the Armor Up hero power will help you maintain a health advantage as well as well as fuel your Shield Slam removal cards.
In line with what we just talked about, the Armorsmith could be considered the tie that bonds. The relatively high health possessed by the Acolyte of Pain and Armorsmith make them both excellent targets for the Cruel Taskmaster’s Battlecry. Your ideal play would be a field with the Armorsmith, Acolyte of Pain and Frothing Berserker in play. You can drop the Cruel Taskmaster and target your Acolyte for an armor point, a card, turning your 1/3 into a 3/2 (Ready to attack) and your 2/4 into a 3/4 all for 2 Mana Crystals. It is foolhardy to believe that this combo will be often available, but even in portions you can edge your way into either board advantage or health and armor advantage.
Your best target for the Taskmaster’s punishment is an Acolyte of Pain, but do not be afraid to target the Armorsmith as well. However, I have learned that it is rarely the correct play to target your Frothing Berserker with the Battlecry. The Frothing Berserker already enters the battlefield with a wide bull’s-eye on his head for removal (and for good reason — it’s pathetically easy to turn him into a 8/4 in just two turns should he be left unchecked), but you shouldn’t make that job any easier for your opponent. I would only target my Frothing Berserker with the Taskmaster’s Battlecry if he was prepared to attack this turn.
It is also appropriate to target your opponent’s minions with the Cruel Taskmaster’s Battlecry as well! Any minion left on the field with 1 HP is good to be cleaned up by the Taskmaster and will go hand-in-hand with the early-game removal you run as well. I have found the option to snipe with the Taskmaster a godsend in match-ups against rush decks such as Murlocs.
Spells & Weapons
Spells such as Slam and Shield Slam will let you deal with minions with dangerously large attack points from a safe distance and Cleave allows you to remove two minions at once. It’s important to note that Cleave can only be played when your opponent has two minions on the field at a time, so keep that in mind when ordering your attacks. It is because of this that we run only one copy. It is also helpful to know that Slam can target your own creatures—in a pinch, Slamming an Acolyte of Pain can reward you with two new cards for 2 Mana, which isn’t bad. Shield Block is a fantastic card that cycles itself—you should play it whenever you lack a better option or just want to fish for a certain card like Cleave. Execute is as good as indiscriminate removal for you. For that reason, it should be saved until the late game when it can take down creatures too large for your other spells.
Supplementing this removal-heavy strategy, your Fiery War Axes will help you maintain a neutral board for the early-game as well. As a Control Warrior, you should focus on using this weapon against enemy minions rather than your opponent’s life pool. While most cards we run are vital to our curve, we do have a few clutch cards that you will not always want to play, but offer us an out in the games we fall far enough behind in health points or board presence. One of the most useful of these is Whirlwind. This card has uncountable synergy with nearly all of our other cards, while still remaining an affordable spell for all stages of the game. In all the ways you benefit from the Taskmaster’s Battlecry, you can generate scant amounts of armor points and cards through your Whirlwind while still clearing the board of many 2/1’s left behind. To a much greater effect, try using Whirlwind as soon as your Frothing Berserker is capable of taunting. For every minion on the board including your Berserker, you will gain that much attack. In addition to the armor you might have gained, that burst damage can put your opponent suddenly on the defensive.
In this deck, cards to look out for are any of the key four minions we talked about, especially when going second. However, I would prioritize the Armorsmith, Acolyte of Pain and Nat Pagle over the Cruel Taskmaster and Frothing Berserker. In most cases, I would always mulligan the Frothing Berserker because he cannot be played until turn four, and he is actually best played around turn 5 or 6 when he can be immediately chained with removal such as Whirlwind or Cleave. I also usually mulligan most of our removal for a few different reasons. Spells like Shield Slam and Execute require a few turns to become effective, and is totally fine if it is saved until a large threat hits the field. Slam is best played against a creature with more than 2 health. The Fiery War Axe is usually wasting excessive damage for some of the early game, while still taking damage in return, especially against 2/1 minions. Cleave requires a field of at least two minions, preferably with at least 2 health each.
As always, when going second, you should always try and coin into Nat Pagle. This is even better if you have an Armorsmith to follow up with, because it means that any time they attempt to whittle down the hardy fisherman you will generate some armor in return. Don’t forget, you can always use your Taskmaster’s Battlecry against Nat Pagle as well if you need a sudden 2 damage! If you do not have Nat Pagle in your hand, I find saving the Coin until turn 3 or turn 4 an appropriate play because it will let you into your combos a turn early—such as using your Taskmaster’s Battlecry against an Armorsmith or Acolyte of Pain.
Corollary to the utility of Whirlwind, Alexstrazsa can also bring the game back in your favour in one of two ways. Chiefly, if you focus all of your efforts and resources on retaining a neutral board, Alexstrazsa can drop your opponent down a full 15 HP and still leave a menacing 8/8 body on the field. However, it is worth noting that you should never not attack on your turn if it is a free option. Issues can always arise where playing Alexstrazsa is not a good play and you would rather have your opponent at 17 health by that time rather than the full 30 that forces you into playing him. Even if you have already whittled your opponent past 15 health, Alexstrazsa is still a powerful play that requires an answer (Especially if their health is already that low!) for 9 Mana. However, its Battlecry requires a target to activate. Attempt to time a late Alexstrazsa play after your opponent attacks your character directly—it can heal you back up as well to further your advantage.
This deck really takes off by its late game. As always, Ysera and Ragnaros are excellent cards for obvious reasons. Another notable card unique to this deck is Grommash Hellscream, which we run instead of Leeroy Jenkins. Think of Grommash as the Warrior’s Pyroblast rather than a minion. Your most effective play with Grommash is not to trade with other minions, but to immediately enrage it to its 10 damage potential. This can also be accomplished by Whirlwind if you wanted to play it as early as turn 9, but the Cruel Taskmaster (If you haven’t already played both copies) can give it 12 attack, and even playing Slam on your own Grommash can at least provide you with another card as well. You should always play Grommash with something to immediately enrage it, not attacking another minion to active it’s enrage. This protects you from removal and ensures you employ his full value.
There is also a very powerful play that can be made with Ysera and Grommash. If you play Ysera and only receive one card from her before she is removed, you should hope that it is Ysera Awakens. I believe that in all cases Ysera Awakens is one of the most powerful cards you can draw from the green dragon, but particularly so in the Control Warrior. Playing Grommash Hellscream and then Ysera Awakens should not only activate your Enrage, but also clear the way of any taunts or trades the turn after. If your opponent cannot deal with an enraged Grommash by the second turn he is played, they’ve lost the game.
Along with the usual crowd of Ragnaros, Tinkmaster Overspark, Cairne Bloodhoof and Nat Pagle, a unique choice is shown in Vioxin’s deck list as well. Onyxia is not a common sight even in most decks because the Whelps are highly susceptible to board clears before they are able to attack. However, with a Frothing Berserker or Armorsmith on the field, that behavior is strongly discouraged. A Fan of Knives will remove all the Whelps, but in return they either provide you with an 8/3 Frothing Berserker or 7 points or armor, just a little less than the equivalent of receiving a Healing Touch from an opposing Druid- along with the remaining 8/7 body of Onyxia. Despite this, I consider Onyxia the most easily replaceable of all the Legendaries in this deck. While I understand the concept, I don’t think I have ever been able to use Onyxia to the effectiveness of the scenarios above. The issue rests in Onyxia’s 9 Mana cost which locks you out of both your Frothing Berserker and Armorsmith to be played in the same turn. Instead, you must keep either of those two minions alive while making a less satisfactory play in the meantime. At this late stage in the game, you should always have a better option playing a different Legendary instead. In a Ranked match, I once played Onyxia over Alexstrazsa to heal myself in a gamble to throw off the odds of Ragnaros being able to randomly target me. Upsettingly, he still attacked me for the game.
In my experience, I have found all the Legendaries excluding Onyxia to be game-winning for me, and like most control decks I consider them to be vital to your late-game strategy. However, there are still options. One Ravenholdt Assassin can replace Grommash Hellscream, offering a slower and less powerful variation for a cheaper cost. Molten Giants, if you have any, can replace Alexstrazsa to some extent. Rather than heal you or suddenly plummet your opponent’s health, it takes advantage of your poor position and offers an 8/8 body for free—still giving you the rest of the turn to play out the rest of your hand, such as Defender of Argus.
While, as usual, nothing can properly replace Ysera or Ragnaros, there are still many fantastic Warrior-specific cards that we have room for when those Legendaries are removed. For Ragnaros, I would advise testing Gorehowl. While requires you to take damage versus whatever card you attack, it’s nearly 8 damage a turn for a little while. And in a pinch, it can deal 6 or 7 damage to your opponent’s face. For Ysera, I would recommend fitting in Brawl. In other Warrior decks I have played, Brawl has been my ultimate comeback card and found use in nearly half the games I played. For that reason, I prefer it to the Arcanite Reaper or Mortal Strike despite the strategy of the deck. Being able to open the board for Cairne Bloodhoof or even just a Frothing Berserker next turn is a great way to patch up a bad start, or even late-game as a rough way to get rid of a pesky Ragnaros or other threats. The less Legendaries you run, the less useful the Faceless Manipulator becomes. If you run very few 8 and 9 cost Legendaries, consider replacing the Faceless Manipulator with an Argent Commander.
However, if you do not have many of the Legendaries listed here, I would not recommend this deck. There are better budget decks available to ladder with and I feel there is very little compromise for most of the Legendaries this deck runs. If you had to craft just one Legendary for this deck, I would recommend Grommash Hellscream. His burst damage has won me countless games and he functions as a strictly superior Leeroy Jenkins in this deck.
All in all, I have found the control Warrior to be one of my favorite builds, not only for its consistency in Ranked but also for its deliberate design and synergy between nearly every card. If you have any questions about the deck, I would be delighted to answer them in the comments below or otherwise you can reach me at my Google+ page here.