Mastering Control Priest: Matchups and Mulligans

This is Part 3 of the Mastering the Control Priest deck guide series. It is split into 3 main guides: Part 1: Beginner Guide Part 2: Advanced Strategies, Alternate Cards and Tech Choices Part 3: Matchups and Mulligans This guide will cover the matchups and mulligans of Control Priest. In this section, I will show you how to play against other […]

This is Part 3 of the Mastering the Control Priest deck guide series. It is split into 3 main guides:

This guide will cover the matchups and mulligans of Control Priest.

Matchups and Mulligans

In this section, I will show you how to play against other popular decks – whether you’re a favorite, what to mulligan for and the general strategy of playing against it.

Aggro Druid and Midrange Druid

Favored

Cards you look for against Druid in general: Northshire Cleric, Wild Pyromancer, Shrinkmeister, Zombie Chow, Circle of Healing, Injured Blademaster

Cards you might keep: Light of the Naaru (if you have Injured Blademaster), Auchenai Soulpriest (if you already have Circle of Healing), Velen’s Chosen (if you have the Coin and a 1 drop, or two 1-2 mana minions without the Coin)

Midrange Druid and Aggro Druid is a good matchup for Priest. If you survive their early pressure and make it into the late game, while being out of their Force of Nature and Savage Roar– Combo range you are a favorite to win. Sadly the matchup can be very swingy for both players. If the Druid has a very fast start with Innervate followed by a midgame or late game minion, the game gets very tough for Priest. On the other hand if the Priest gets a full health Injured Blademaster very early and the Druid does not have a super fast start, it is almost impossible for the Druid player to win. Aggro Druid is a slightly better matchup than Midrange Druid, although your Injured Blademaster and Circle of Healing combination gets worse. A 4/7 is not that great when your opponent is ignoring the big minion and attacking your face with multiple smaller minions. But both Wild Pyromancer and Auchenai Soulpriest give you very powerful board clears that are more potent against Aggro Druid. Aggro Druid plays smaller minions, lacks card draw and therefore can run out of steam more easily than its Midrange counterpart.

  • Use Circle of Healing on an Injured Blademaster when you face Midrange Druid, if you play against Aggro Druid I would recommend saving it for Wild Pyromancer and Auchenai Soulpriest.
  • Unless your Druid opponent is starting with a one mana play (Living Roots, Leper Gnome), I would recommend coining out a 2 drop to answer a potential Darnassus Aspirant. This is the only matchup where I recommend coining out a two drop like Wild Pyromancer or Shrinkmeister, you need to prevent your opponent from playing a Piloted Shredder as a follow-up or a Turn 4 Fel Reaver or anything else that is very nasty.
  • Aggro Druid can almost never out value you, so you should go for more tempo plays over card advantage plays whenever possible. For example when you have the possibility of drawing a card with Northshire Cleric over playing a two or four drop, I would recommend playing the minion. Getting a good board presence as early as possible and/or preventing any further damage to your face is of utter importance in this matchup. There is a reason why it has Aggro in its name! Against Midrange Druid on the other hand, you need to find a balance between keeping up with the board and not losing to their card advantage. Midrange Druid has access to Ancient of Lore and Azure Drake, which can bury you in card advantage if you play too aggressive and neglect card advantage.
  • Once you have dominant control of the game, always heal yourself over healing your minions (obviously when you are not at 30 health points). The Druid might have every copy of Savage Roar and Force of Nature in his hand, sometimes even with an Emperor Thaurissan discount. So don’t take any unnecessary risks!

Face Hunter/ Hybrind Hunter/ Midrange Hunter

Favored

Cards you look for against Hunter in general:  Northshire Cleric, Wild Pyromancer, Zombie Chow, Circle of Healing

Cards you might keep:  Power Word: Shield and Light of the Naaru if you already have a Wild Pyromancer; Shrinkmeister if you already have a one drop

Every Hunter iteration is a good matchup. You need to stop/ slow down their initial pressure and then overwhelm them with your superior board presence. If you know it is Midrange Hunter, you can afford to keep Auchenai Soulpriest and Circle of Healing. Against faster hunter versions, the combo is way too slow, you need to stop the early bleeding as soon as possible and the Turn 4 board clear might even be too late, especially because you can’t heal yourself with the 3/1 Auchenai Soulpriest on the board. So in general I would not keep Auchenai Soulpriest because even with Circle of Healing it can be very bad against Face Hunter, unless you have early game minions and/ or the Face Hunter has a very bad start. But why would you then need the Turn 4  board clear anyways?

  • The matchup against every Hunter version is very tempo focused. Against Face Hunter you need to stop the early bleeding so that you don’t get too low and get vulnerable to their damage from hand. Against Midrange Hunter you need to gain board control before Savannah Highmane can enter the battlefield. If you have board control, you can very easily deal with the Savannah Highmane, if you don’t have board control (your opponent has other minions too) you are in a world of trouble.
  • Northshire Cleric’s card draw is not of great importance against Face Hunter because of their overall low card quality, so unless your hand is stacked with a lot of expensive cards and therefore very bad. I would highly recommend to not heal any minions and just heal yourself once you are below 20 life. Between Arcane Golem, Quick Shot and their weapons, something like 18 life can sometimes be not enough to stay alive until you can finish the Face Hunter.
  • Midrange Hunter on the other hand has a lot more steam. Dr. Boom and Savannah Highmane are very threatening minions you have to deal with as soon as possible, they are also high quality ones. In addition to that Midrange Hunter does not have that much burst, compared to Face Hunter, therefore you should feel more free to draw cards with Northshire Cleric than against Face Hunter.
  • If your opponent did not play that many cards in the early turns (f.ex Worgen Infiltrator and Leper Gnome coined out on Turn 1 tell you exactly what is going on, whereas a Leper Gnome on Turn 1 could also be followed- up by a Turn 5 Savannah Highmane (Hunter saved Coin, Hunter smart!)), it is really hard to tell against what Hunter version you are exactly playing, so try to find a balance between being greedy with your life points and being too defensive and then losing to a big play, because you did not draw enough cards in the early turns.
  • Don’t go for an Injured Blademaster and Circle of Healing combo, if you can’t trigger a potential Freezing Trap with a small minion, a 5 mana 4/3 is extremely bad and you also lost the Circle, so making such a risk (hoping the Hunter does not have Freezing Trap in his hand or even worse he does not play it and the Secret from Mad Scientist must be a different one) is not worth it.

Secret Paladin and Midrange Paladin

Very Favored (Secret Paladin) or Slightly favored (Midrange Paladin)

Cards you look for: Northshire Cleric, Wild Pyromancer, Zombie Chow, Circle of Healing, Auchenai Soulpriest

Cards you might keep: All the cheap spells if you already have a Pyromancer; Shrinkmeister if you have one mana minions; Velen’s Chosen (if you have the Coin and a 1 drop, or two 1-2 mana minions without the Coin)

Uther, the Paladin. Enemy number one and unbeatable monstrosity according to the majority of the Hearthstone Community.  Control Priest is very good against Secret Paladin, so I took a Screenshot of myself, whenever I see Uther’s face: you can find it here.

 

  • Never keep Injured Blademaster! There is a reason why I did not include it in the mulligan, even together with Circle of Healing. Midrange Paladin has Aldor Peacekeeper and Secret Paladin will very often just curve out and ignore your 4/7 and then you can eat small dudes with your gigantic Blademaster or start racing the Paladin, which is a very bad idea against a deck that has more burst and better proactive cards. And even if you draw into your Blademaster after your mulligan and then have the opportunity to use Circle of Healing for the Blademaster, only use that if you need to draw some cards with Northshire Cleric, otherwise simply play him as a 4/3.
  • The matchup against Secret Paladin mainly evolves around handling their pressure and/ or dealing with their Mysterious Challenger. When you have good board control the turn Mysterious Challenger comes down, you can rather easily deal with it. On the other hand if you don’t have board control on the Mysterious Challenger– turn, you ideally want to have at least one minion on the battlefield so that you can trigger Noble Sacrifice, Avenge and Redemption before you play Lightbomb or some Auchenai Soulpriest action (Circle of Healing with hero power and /or Light of the Naaru) to fully clear their board. If you don’t have any good board clears, any early game plays and the Secret Paladin has a very good hand and does not give you the time to draw into better cards, well you then just lose, but these games are very rare and can be mitigated, if you add even more anti- aggression tools.
  • The matchup against Midrange Paladin is a lot more fun to play, because it is less aggressive and does not have the absurdly overpowered Mysterious Challenger. But sadly it is not as good, because Justicar Trueheart gave Paladin the possibility to out value Priest with just one card over multiple turns without committing any further resources to the board. Before the Grand Tournament Midrange Paladin was an extremely favorable matchup for Control Priest, but both Murloc Knight and especially Justicar made it harder. Your card draw and board clear potential, Ysera, Cabal Shadowpriest and Thoughtsteal make it possible to slowly overwhelm the Paladin before Justicar Trueheart becomes a factor (multiple activations of their upgraded hero power). To overwhelm them, card advantage is of utter importance. So getting as many draws as possible from Northshire Cleric and extracting as much value as possible from your board clears (waiting as long as possible and hoping the Paladin commits more resources to the board) is a good plan. Because of Midrange Paladins lack of big burst, you can be rather greedy with your life points. In addition to that Paladin does not have any big tempo swing cards that can pressure you immediately if played on an empty board, like Mysterious Challenger.
  • As a quick sidenote, Thoughtsteal is at its best against Midrange Paladin. You have almost zero dead draws, everything is useful, while you can also steal super high impact cards like Aldor Peacekeeper and Tirion Fordring. Aldor Peacekeeper is insane with Cabal Shadowpriest, you now can steal everything! So if you want to improve your matchup against Midrange Paladin by adding a little bit more value to your deck maxing out Thoughtsteals is a very good idea.

Tempo Mage

Favored

Cards you look for: Northshire Cleric, Wild Pyromancer, Zombie Chow, Circle of Healing, Auchenai Soulpriest

Cards you might keep: All the cheap spells if you already have a Pyromancer; Shrinkmeister if you have a one mana minion, Velen’s Chosen (if you have the Coin and a 1 drop, or two 1-2 mana minions without the Coin)

Tempo Mage is the only popular deck I have never played for the very same reason I don’t play Roulette in a Casino. I simply don’t enjoy the amount of random effects in the deck, even if I would get very good outcomes and crush my opponents, I don’t enjoy this gameplay experience. It just comes down to personal preference, therefore there are a lot of people who enjoy the deck (at least I hope so, because from a competitive point I don’t think it is even among the Top 15 decks in the game). In general the matchup evolves mainly around who can get board control first? If the Priest curves out and gets early board control, the Tempo Mage has almost zero chance to win. On the other hand if the Tempo Mage has the nuts, Priest Control is still in a good position if they have Lightbomb (can be sometimes too slow if they have a very fast start) or Auchenai Soulpriest with Circle of Healing. Mainly the matchup is just a horrible game play experience, the Priest player hopes to not get a bad draw and that Tempo Mage does not find the nuts in an Unstable Portal. If nothing crazy happens, the Priest is a favorite to win. Some quick tips:

  • The most popular secret is Mirror Entity. Try to give them something small! In case you give them Northshire Cleric, kill it before you draw some cards. You don’t want to feed the cancer with more cancer cards! Also note that giving them Zombie Chow may actually help you in some games to get out of burst range.
  • If you don’t get overwhelmed very early (they have the nuts and you drew poorly), the game mainly evolves around not dying to Archmage Antonidas, so try to safe a Shadow Word: Death or build up a board that can deal with the Archmage.

Control Warrior

Unfavored

Cards you look for: Northshire Cleric, Power Word: Shield (to make minions more resilient against weapons), Thoughtsteal

Cards you might keep: everything that make it easier to draw cards with Northshire Cleric; for example: Wild Pyromancer (with the coin), Circle of Healing and Injured Blademaster

This matchup is all about card advantage and slowly overwhelming the opponent. With the Grand Tournament and the addition of Justicar Trueheart it is not a good idea to try to win the fatigue war and try to not draw too many cards. The main strategy in this matchup is to draw a bunch of cards and play minion after minion (preferabbly while still drawing cards) to not give the Warrior any breathing room, until he runs out of answers and he then dies because of the pressure. But what is pressure in this matchup? A one drop followed by a two drop and three drop etc.? If you play like that you will very easily run out of steam and the Warrior can very easily deal with 2/3’s and 3/2’s etc. So ideally first of all you want to take it slow the first few turns, to then ensure some card draws out of Northshire Cleric. The steady stream of cards will give you the possibility to always play minions the Warrior cannot easily deal with like Injured Blademaster, Holy Champion and Auchenai Soulpriest etc. So everything that does not die to Fiery War Axe or the first charge of Death’s Bite is a good play that will pressure the Warrior. So if you draw enough cards early and in the midgame and the Warrior does not keep up with your card advantage, you will simply kill him before fatigue becomes a factor. To summarize the only aggressive thing you are doing is excessively drawing cards, you don’t want to commit too many cards to the board and lose a lot of cards to Brawl. Just a steady stream of pressure is enough.

The matchup is really skill intensive. When I play Warrior Control versus Control Priest, I even don’t play a Shieldmaiden on an empty board whenever I’m not in danger of burning any cards and something that unorthodox is the correct play if I don’t know the opponent’s decklist.

  • Depending on the skill difference between you and your opponent the matchup can become very swingy. If there is a big difference, it can even become a 80/20 matchup for the Control Priest.
  • Be greedy with your Lightbomb, the majority of Control Warrior players are not used to a patient play style, because Blizzard does not really push Control strategies compared to other card games. They will very often just run into your Lightbomb and give you a lot of value.
  • Save Shrinkmeister and Cabal Shadow Priest for Ysera, the majority of Control Warriors will play this card on an empty board or even when they are only slightly pressured. Sylvanas Windrunner together with Shadow Word: Death is also a very powerful combo because you then get a Mind Control.
  •  Prioritize using your first Cabal Shadow Priest to steal an Acolyte of Pain and the second one on Ysera or maybe even a Sludge Belcher if you have to. Denying the Warrior card draw, when you are ahead on board and therefore pressuring him is huge. Stealing an Armorsmith is anything but great value, only when you are low on life and need the lifegain to play around Grommash Hellscream you should steal her. But why should the opponent then play Armorsmith in the first place?

Freeze Mage

Worst Matchup

Cards you look for: Northshire Cleric, Wild Pyromancer, Zombie Chow, Injured Blademaster, Auchenai Soulpriest

Cards you might keep: Circle of Healing (only with Injured Blademaster)

This is your hardest matchup, and if your opponent plays very well and draws decently you have almost zero chance to win. Your best way to win this matchup is to be aggressive and to curve out really well.

Some tips:

  • Playing Zombie Chow and then follow it up with an Auchenai Soulpriest to make the Mage lose 5 life points and deny him the lifegain of the Chow.
  • Prioritize stealing Mad Scientist with Cabal Shadow Priest to increase your pressure. Ice Barrier is a free Antique Healbot for the Freeze Mage.
  • Do not play around Doomsayer and Frost Nova. Dump your hand down and try to kill him as quickly as possible, you are playing against your worst matchup, so don’t play around certain combos, play to win!
  • Thoughtsteal will very rarely steal something useful, even Ice Block is not that great if you don’t put enough pressure on the Freeze Mage. So don’t be tempted to keep it in your starting hand.
  • Do not save Light of the Naaru to heal yourself up after Alexstrasza. When you have a good opportunity to use it offensively with Auchenai Soulpriest, you should go for it! When you don’t pressure the Freeze Mage enough, he will draw his entire deck and simply win through all your heal spells. The same concept applies to Holy Nova, use it offensively to draw cards with Northshire Cleric.

Handlock and Zoolock

Unfavored (Handlock) or Favored (Zoolock)

Cards you look for: Northshire Cleric, Wild Pyromancer, Zombie Chow, Circle of Healing, Auchenai Soulpriest

Cards you might keep: All the cheap spells if you already have a Pyromancer; Shrinkmeister if you have one mana minions; Velen’s Chosen (if you have the Coin and a 1 drop, or two 1-2 mana minions without the Coin)

Zoolock is a little bit similar to Secret Paladin, they play a lot of smaller minions that are weak to board clears. That’s where the similarities end. Zoolock not only plays more Deathrattle minions, that make the deck more resilient to board clears, it also has an inbuilt card advantage mechanism with Life Tap and plays high value minions like Voidcaller AND high value combos like Power Overwhelming with Nerubian Egg. But make no mistake, the deck is still very vulnerable to board clears and Cabal Shadow Priest is at its best in this matchup. Just be aware that Zoolock can grind you out of resources, if you are not careful enough. Handlock on the other hand is like Control Warrior with more threats, a Ysera that is not vulnerable to any shenanigans: Lord Jaraxxus, it also has an inbuilt card advantage mechanism to make sure that they can play big minion after big minion. So your best chance to win this matchup is if Wild Pyromancer and Northshire Cleric team up and draw an abundance of cards to keep up with Handlock’s value machine.

Tips against Zoolock:

  • Zoolock is among the few aggressive decks that actually can come back if the Priest curves out really well in the early game. Imp-losion and Power Overwhelming can regain them a lot of tempo. So you should always make sure to kill evey small 1/1 minion on the board to not give them any potential initiative.
  • You should even start cracking Nerubian Eggs once you already have dominant board control to deny the Zoolock any potential comeback.
  • It may seem rather tempting to play a Wild Pyromancer very early to further gain tempo, but can later maybe hurt you a lot if you then get hit by an Imp-losion for four and then find yourself unable to deal with the 1/1- Imps.
  • Only kill Voidcaller, if you can answer a potential bigger demon, otherwise you will give your opponent a lot of tempo, because on his turn he can immediately attack with it.

Tips against Handlock:

  • Be very greedy with your Lightbomb. Handlock has way more threats than the Priest has removal, so trading one for one with Lightbomb is a very good way to lose the game.
  • Whenever you can trade into a bigger threat with some minions on your board you should do so and save your removal spells for later.
  • Aggressively going face is the majority of time a very bad strategy, because you give your opponent the ability to make huge swing plays like double Molten Giant into Shadowflame to kill your whole board, while still having an 8/8. Priest has the potential to play the long game against Handlock if Northshire Cleric is very generous.
  • The only time when it is correct to aggressively go for face damage is when it is already Turn 5/ Turn 6, and your Northshire Cleric and other card draw is still in your deck. You then hope that your opponent does not have an answer to your pressure and no Molten Giants.
  • Going for a Turn 3 Circle of Healing with Injured Blademaster is nothing but a bad play. On its own Injured Blademaster does not contest any bigger minions from Handlock, you are also giving away your very powerful Circle of Healing. Simply wait for your Northshire Cleric to arrive in time to get the card advantage engine going.
  • Double Circle of Healing with Auchenai Soulpriest gives you the possibility to even kill multiple 8/8’s. Your opponent will very likely not play around that, once your two Lightbombs are gone.
  • Try saving Zombie Chows to later have access to some burst with Circle of Healing, Auchenai Soulpriest and Light of the Naaru. When you don’t need to play the Zombie Chow, you don’t have to play it, especially because he gets a lot of value in the late game if you have an Auchenai Soulpriest left in your deck.

This is part 3 of this extensive deck guide series. Be sure to check out the other sections: