Whoa, this one is a bit late. I’ve meant to write it about 2 weeks ago, but then we’ve learned that the changes to Small-Time Buccaneer and Spirit Claws are going to be live near the end of February. I’ve figured out that I’ll wait until that – I honestly didn’t think that they will land on the exactly last day of February. What’s weird about that timing is throwing the changes in the middle of the last day of the season. While it wasn’t a big deal for EU, because there were like 4-5h of the season left, NA still had over 10 hours of laddering. Last day meta is already the most volatile one and then those changes… But well, the patch is already out for 3 days and it’s time to show you some new, interesting decks.
I want to make a good mix of fun and competitive decks, but with one requirement – each of the decks I’ll post had to either get the player to Legend or be played in Legend with a quite good result. Not every of those decks is #1 Legend material, but each one of them is viable and tested by pro players already.
I’ll add a my thoughts to each list – description of the deck’s origins, play style, maybe a few words about matchups. I haven’t tested each of those decks personally, but I’ve played nearly every of those archetypes in the past, so I have some experience when it comes to that. I hope you’re going to like it!
Shoop’s N’Zoth Paladin
And first we have this very interesting deck by Shoop. Yes, you’re not seeing things, it’s a Paladin deck. And it finished in top 200 Legend last season, after the changes already went live. It’s really hard to categorize this deck. It’s something between a Midrange Paladin and Control Paladin, so I’ll just call it N’Zoth Paladin (obviously). As he wrote in his Twitter message, “thanks to all the Pirate Warriors”. Yes, it seems last hours of the season were swarmed by Pirate Warriors. Why? Probably for two reasons – first, it’s a deck that didn’t change much and was still very powerful + “safe” in a relatively unknown meta. And second – lots and lots of people were trying Jade Druids, which are pretty bad against Pirate Warrior.
This is a very solid anti-Aggro deck with a bit of late game Control win condition. It’s not a classic, WoG Control Paladin which used Sylvanas Windrunner and Cairne Bloodhoof and whatever to have a huge N’Zoth swing. No, it’s more of a “I play Taunts, I play healing, I play Doomsayers to screw the Aggro and maybe I will win some slower games thanks to the N’Zoth”.
If you decide to play this deck, your game plan against Aggro is very simple – survive. Remove whatever they play, heal out of the burn damage, Taunt up to prevent Chargers/weapons and that’s it. Against Aggro you won’t likely ever need N’Zoth, but if the game gets that long it should bring back some more Taunts = great! However, against Control it gets a little bit more sketchy. When you play in slower matchups, your way to win is – usually – a N’Zoth Swing. It’s important to play Tirion Fordring, somehow dodge the Polymorph or Entomb or Sylvanas Windrunner steal etc. and then resummon him with N’Zoth. Yeah, one mass Polymorph Kazakus potion can ruin your plan etc. That’s why this deck is in a similar spot to the Control Warrior. It’s viable as an Aggro counter and that’s where you will get your wins, but you can often give up the games against slower decks, because they will outvalue you.
I really like the class and it saddens me that it can only perform in very niche environments – you can make an anti-Aggro Paladin that will be bad against everything else or you can play Anyfin Can Happen which loses hard to Aggro. If you make something in between, it will just be ‘meh’ against everything, so it’s not an option. Let’s all hope that Paladin will get more tools to fight with next expansion!
Freakeh’s Water Rogue
If you look at this deck first time, you’ll probably ask “how can this possibly even work?” Yeah, that’s the first thing I thought about this deck. It seems clunky, with lots of singletons, with some weird card choices etc. It looks like something I’d build in a lower rank just throwing a bunch of cards into the deck. But no, it’s a real deck and it works. And it works insanely well. Multiple players have took the deck to high Legend ranks last season. Freakeh got top 20 Legend on EU, but the list is based on Dwayna’s, who actually secured top 1 Legend (but played mostly pre-patch with pre-nerfed Small-Time Buccaneers, that’s why I’ve used Freakeh’s list here). Insane, right?
And you know what’s the best part? That it’s most likely not a final deck list. It’s been constantly updated and optimized to the meta in the last ~2 weeks. I think that once the best possible list is figured, the deck will look more clean (a lot of singletons is often a part of experimenting) and be even stronger than it is now.
Okay, but what’s the deal with the “Water” decks? Everyone knows how Pirate package was being played in nearly every aggressive deck. You couldn’t afford to not play it – it was just too strong. But someone (I don’t really know who was first, sorry) figured out that Finja, the Flying Star is also a pretty powerful card to add to the decks, as it can give you a huge swing on the board if you run Murloc Warleaders and Bluegill Warriors. So, the Water decks were created. Water, because both Pirates and Murlocs are related to the Water… well, don’t ask me, I didn’t invent the name.
When it comes to Water Rogue, it’s an Aggro deck, but not really your classic “face rush” Aggro deck. Instead of winning with huge early game minions tempo (because Rogue doesn’t have powerful early game minions), it wins games with tempo swings. The deck runs tons of cards which can let you swing the tempo in your favor. The most basic example – Finja. You play a 2/4 on turn 5, but it will likely survive, because it’s in Stealth. It’s a very slow tempo move. But you set up for a huge swing next turn. Let’s say you kill something, you pull out Warleader and Bluegill – you get 3/3 and 4/2 with Charge on the board. Then you play another Bluegill from your hand, then you Cold Blood it and clear some big drop, then you play SI:7 Agent to kill something small. In one moment you were overwhelmed on the board with just a 2/4 in Stealth, a minute later you have 3-4 minions on the board and a board clear on top of that. Finja is really, really powerful if you get it on the curve.
But Finja is not the only way to swing the tempo. Dark Iron Skulker is great vs board floods. Combo cards are amazing in general – if you can play few combo cards in a single turn, you really swing the tempo. You can also threaten a lot of damage, like set up 2 turns lethal very easily thanks to the Cold Bloods.
For an Aggro deck, Water Rogue has a really slow early game. You won’t likely have the turn 5 wins with this deck. You won’t get your opponent down to half health just with the first 2-3 cards (well, it happens, but it’s very unlikely). You aim for a bit longer game, because you combo cards get way better in the mid game. Even the good, old Edwin VanCleef – sure, dropping him as a 4/4 on turn 3 or something is okay, but in the mid game you often can make him a 3 mana 8/8 – that’s a lot of tempo.
I’ve started playing the deck near the end of last season and I’ve really liked it. Even though I rarely enjoy the Aggro play style, I’ve played multiple Aggro/Tempo versions of Rogue in the past and I have to repeat this again – it’s a really hard and interesting archetype to play, and to play against too. I wish that other Aggro decks would look like that in the future, instead of face rushing ever since turn 1. I think that Aggro Rogue might be the #1 Aggro deck in the current post-patch meta, but probably only in the higher ranks. Pirate Warrior will still definitely dominate the lower ranks, because it’s way easier to play.
Nicslay’s Water Warrior
Another Water deck. Another high Legend finisher (this time top 100 on EU and #7 on NA). Are you seeing a pattern here? Because I for sure am. It turned out that Finja, the Flying Star, a card that was underestimated for months since it was revealed, is actually really powerful. But let’s answer a seemingly simple question. Is this deck better than the normal Pirate Warrior or not? With Small-Time Buccaneer gone, 2 slots had to be filled. At the same time, some cards in the deck were pretty bad – they were used only because there are no better options (like Mortal Strike – a lot of the time it was 4 damage for 4 mana). So making room for the Murloc package is not that hard. But is it worth to do it?
The answer is never that simple. It’s yes and no at the same time. If you drew Finja every game, it would be 100% worth it. If you get Finja, it’s insane – I have played a few games with this deck and won easily every time I got Finja. Even against turn 6 Reno, it wasn’t even a contest. Summoning so much power is beyond overpowered. But, it comes for a price. If you don’t get your Finja, now you run a suboptimal deck. The other Murlocs aren’t too strong. Sure, if you have Sir Finley -> Bluegill Warrior -> Murloc Warleader curve and your 1-drop and 2-drop Murlocs survive for some reason, it’s great. But it rarely happens, you usually play them and they die right after. Sometimes you can combo Warleader with Bluegill on turn 5 and that’s pretty good, but individually the Murlocs are weak. Let’s say a vanilla 3 mana 3/3. You would never want to play that. Also, you can low roll on Finja – e.g. getting a Bluegill Warrior + Sir Finley Mrrgglton is not really that good of a swing, and it happens.
So in the end, it’s hard to say whether the deck is worse or better than the normal Pirate Warrior. It’s definitely less consistent – Pirate Warrior games usually look in a very similar manner power-wise. Sure, you sometimes draw badly, but in general each game is similar. When playing the Water deck, when you draw Finja your win rate goes up by at least 15-20% (and I’m not joking), but if you don’t, it goes down a bit. And since you don’t really draw tons of cards with Aggro Warrior, you usually see Finja every 3 games or so. In the end it kinda balances out, but you will feel that the games depend more on your draws. So if you’re feeling lucky, it will definitely be a better option. If you prefer consistency – stick to the normal list for now.
Getting a bit off-topic, I really didn’t expect Finja to be so good. I thought that it will be good in Murloc decks, of course, but I also thought that Murloc decks will be bad. I didn’t expect that people will put 4x Murloc into each Aggro deck just to make Finja useful. And that it will work so well. I’ve even seen Tempo Mage and Zoo Warlock with Finja in the new patch. That’s beyond crazy. It’s like a new trend, like a new Pirate package that’s not pretty much restricted to 3 classes – those Murlocs work just as well in every class. It’s something fun and fresh right now, but I hope that it doesn’t get out of Control. Because if we will see Finja every second match after a while, it will get more annoying than Small-Time Buccaneer was.
StrifeCro’s Reno Mage
This is the list StrifeCro got top #6 on NA with, securing top 10 spot. Like I’ve mentioned when reviewing the Paladin deck, last hours of the season were full of Pirate Warriors – probably they’ve tried to punish slow Jade decks that started popping out + there wasn’t enough time to experiment yet, so they’ve decided to stick to a safe choice. And so, Reno Mage, which has a solid matchup against Pirate Warriors was really happy.
I think that at this point the best possible Reno Mage lists have been already determined. This one isn’t very different from the lists we’ve seen in the last month or so. I want to talk about 2 specific card choices, though. I think that we’re going to see them in most of the Reno Mage lists before the rotation. I’m talking about Inkmaster Solia and Medivh, the Guardian. Those are great cards that improve some matchups, like Jade matchups, tremendously. And since Jade decks, especially Jade Druid and Jade Midrange Shaman got more popular, the card’s power level has also gone up.
Solia is a pure tempo card. She doesn’t give you card advantage, she doesn’t have any flashy effect, she just gives you a “free” 5/5 body on the board for the cost of 1 card, as long as you use her with a 7 mana spell (Flamestrike or Firelands Portal). If you use her with 10 mana Kazakus potion, she’s even +3 extra mana. And that’s the point. In a long value war, you’d prefer to have something like Ragnaros the Firelord or Sylvanas Windrunner instead. Those have more powerful effect value-wise, they do something extra than just adding vanilla stats to the board. But the tempo is very, very important in the matchups like Jade Druid. You don’t win this matchup by value, you can’t outvalue him. You win it by tempo – if you manage to get some mid game tempo before he snowballs too hard, you might be saved. For example – you go for the 10 mana Kazakus potion that resurrects 3 minions and adds +6 health to every minion on the board. On turn 7, even on the empty board, you can play Solia, that potion and you’ll end up with 4 minions that are very hard to kill for Druid. That kind of swing is most likely a game for you, because you kill the Druid before he deals with your board.
Medivh is pretty similar in that fashion, but in his case the tempo effect is delayed. Even though initially you lose the tempo, because you need to play a vanilla 7/7 for 8 mana, you gain extra tempo on the next 3 spells you play. If you plan it right and play only 5+ mana spells, that’s A LOT of tempo you’re getting. Once again, the card combos really well with all your high mana cost spells and Kazakus potion(s). The problem with spells like Flamestrike or Blizzard is that you usually have to spend your whole turn and you don’t develop anything. Thanks to the Atiesh, you can play those spells AND develop a minion at the same time, which is great in the matchups where you need to tempo out.
The deck of course is still optimized to fight Aggro. And it’s still not that strong against Jade, let’s be honest. But I like the build, because it combines the early game tools necessary to win fast matchups and the late game Legendaries that are best for killing Jade decks. No Alexstrasza in the build, however, will impact the Reno matchups negatively. Alexstrasza right after they heal back to full was one of the best plays and easiest way to set up lethal. But hey, you can’t have everything. If somehow people stop playing Pirate Warrior that much (yeah, right) I think that it might be okay to remove Acidic Swamp Ooze and add her instead. I mean, with Spirit Claws out of the way, Ooze is now only good against Warrior (and well, Lord Jaraxxus).
Overall this might be the best Reno Mage build right now. But I would expect the deck to still evolve a bit and adapt once the meta settles down (at this point we still aren’t 100% sure which decks will end up being popular and which won’t).
Hotform’s Tempo Mage
Last two decks I’ll talk about are still a big unknown. I want to take a closer look at some of the decks that might get back into the meta, but they don’t necessarily have to. Those are getting a bit more popular on the ladder, but they’re still mostly being experimented with. It’s hard to say at this point whether they will stay or disappear completely after a week or so.
First of those decks is Tempo Mage. The deck was a dominating force in the pre-Gadgetzan meta, but it disappeared as soon as the Pirate Warrior and Aggro Shaman started dominating. The deck had terrible matchup, especially against Aggro Shaman. It was so bad to the point that the best Mage players dropped it completely and focused on playing Reno, because it was even hard to hit Legend. Well, that last part is no longer true, at least for a short while. Hotform has hit Legend with his Tempo Mage post-patch. It means that the meta is much better for Tempo Mage to be played in.
According to vS live reports, the number of Tempo Mage players have jumped from around 1.5% to 3.3%. That’s over 100% increase in the archetype’s popularity. And unlike last time, when no one was playing Tempo Mage at the higher ranks, now you see some players brave enough to try that. Right now, when I face Mage on the ladder I’m not automatically assuming Reno, I have to think for a bit and try to mulligan so I won’t fail against Tempo Mage. Actually, as I am writing this, Reno Mage is only more popular by about 1% (3.3% compared to 4.5%), that’s really not a lot.
When it comes to the list, it’s a pretty standard spell-oriented Tempo Mage. It’s focused on the Flamewaker shenanigans, cycle & burn. It will try to snowball the game with the early tempo from Sorcerer’s Apprentice and Flamewaker and if it fails, it will try to cycle through the deck and find the burn necessary to close up the game. It’s one of the two most common approaches to the Tempo Mage. Another one is a more minion-heavy build, with less burn and/or cycle, but cards like Water Elemental to fill the minion curve and Ragnaros the Firelord and/or Archmage Antonidas as the late game finishers. Can’t really tell yet which approach is better, because we’ve only been seeing the Tempo Mage back on the ladder for 2 days or so. I have seen a fair share of both and I personally prefer the minion approach, but you can’t really argue with Hotform, as he’s one of the best Tempo Mage players.
Overall, I’ve missed Tempo Mage a bit. Even though it’s a very aggressive deck, it rarely gets really explosive starts. Most of the games are a bit longer and you can’t really play against face rush since turn 1, but you can to a certain extent play around the late game burn. If you enjoy playing Tempo Mage, it might be the best opportunity to do so (at least in Standard). It’s in an okay spot right now, and even if it will stay in the meta, remember that Flamewaker (+Arcane Blast and Forgotten Torch) rotate out with the next expansion, so Tempo Mage might be no longer playable in Standard.
Discard Zoo Warlock
And the second deck is Zoo Warlock. You can recognize the list, because it’s pretty old. It’s pre-Gadgetzan, actually. As it turns out, Zoo didn’t get any new tools in the last expansion, at least nothing that is stronger than the stuff the deck was already running. I mean, I’ve seen some players experimenting with Crystalweaver, but those are still experiments – not sure if it will be better or not.
Zoo Warlock was historically one of the most popular Hearthstone decks. Cheap, with a low skill floor (easy to start playing) and high skill ceiling (hard to mater) and pretty powerful, the deck was used by rank 20 and Legend players alike. The deck got significantly stronger in Karazhan when the Discard mechanic was pushed. But it nearly disappeared from the meta in Gadgetzan. Not only Aggro Shaman was incredibly popular, and that’s a TERRIBLE matchup for Zoo, but also the deck didn’t really improve while others did.
But it might be the Zoo’s time to shine again. I don’t suspect it becoming a high tier deck, at least not right now (it probably will be back in the future, because Zoo never really dies), but it being just playable is already a big improvement. When it comes to popularity, Zoo’s popularity on the ladder was only at 0.6%. That’s really, really low. But if we look at the last 24h, it has jumped up to 3.6%. That’s +500%! 3.6% is still not that much, but it means that you should see Zoo pretty much every day, as opposed to only seeing it at the lower ranks every 2 or 3 days.
There isn’t really a lot to say about the list itself. It’s the most standard pre-Gadgetzan Zoo list. It’s hard to say which tech cards and which approach would be best yet, so I’ve decided to not show you some weird lists. You can try some teching yourself. For example, you can add Crazed Alchemist to counter Doomsayers + it’s also very strong against Midrange Jade Shaman (Totems). You can try the Crystalweaver I’ve mentioned before. To be fair, I’ve even seen a Reno Demon Zoo deck with Krul the Unshackled on the ladder yesterday, but that didn’t really work that well (it was interesting, though!). It’s really up to you which things you will test.
I’ll try some builds this weekend. And if the deck stays in the meta, I can write about it a bit more. Zoo is one of my favorite decks ever, so I’m really happy if it makes a comeback.
Do you know any fun/interesting decks that can also get you to high ranks? Some decks with non-meta choices, techs that you haven’t seen before etc.? If yes, let me know and I can include them next time! I hope that you’ve liked this batch of decks, I have played a few of those myself and I found them really cool. I’ll try my best to provide you with more fresh lists every now and then.
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!