Mastering Control Warrior: Matchups & Mulligans

This is Part 3 of the Mastering the Control Warrior extensive 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 Knowing how to mulligan is very important if you want to take your Warrior Control play to the next level. […]

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

Knowing how to mulligan is very important if you want to take your Warrior Control play to the next level.

Basic Mulligan

There are different cards you must keep, according to each matchup, but overall there are a few cards that you will want to keep regardless of matchup, and those are the weapons: fiery-war-axe and deaths-bite.

Other than that, you usually want different cards on different matchups. Since we do not always can know what we are facing, here are the mulligans for each class (and not deck):

Warrior – Death’s Bite, Justicar Trueheart, keep Fiery War Axe if Patron Midrange Warrior is popular

Warlock acolyte-of-pain, Brawl– but do not Acolyte of Pain and Brawl together

Hunter –  acolyte-of-pain, armorsmith, Slam

Paladin –  acolyte-of-painSlam Acolyte of Pain is your best card against them, because you can get a lot of free draws against Paladin. Only keep Armorsmith with a Weapon. Always keep Acolyte of Pain, even if you don’t have a weapon. The games where Acolyte of Pain is drawing a lot of cards are very rarely lost.

Rogue –  acolyte-of-pain, Bash

Mage acolyte-of-painSlam and Brawl

Druid acolyte-of-pain, execute.

Shaman acolyte-of-pain, brawl ( but only if you have a weapon).

Priest acolyte-of-pain, shield-slam only together with Shield Block (otherwise you might have troubles activating it against a very early Injured Blademaster) and execute (but never more than 1 copy of the 1-mana removal), both Dragon Priest and Control Priest have three or more minions on the board sometimes so Brawl is a good keep too.

Specials Cases

If you have both Shield Block and Shield Slam in your starting hand, you can keep it against Priest, Handlock and Druid.

When playing against Warlock, try to take a closer look at their hand. In case they mulligan the whole hand, or all cards but 1, it is possible that they are playing Handlock, and keeping a big-game-hunter might be a good idea. In case they don’t, there is a higher possibility that they are playing Zoo, in which case you can keep brawl if you already have a weapon. This happens because Handlocks tend to mulligan everything looking for the Turn 4 bombs (Mountain Giants and Twilight Drakes), while Zoo is a lot less restrictive in this, and they can keep almost everything below 2 mana in their starting hand against Warrior.

Match-up Analysis

General Tempo-Oriented Aggro Decks (Face Hunter, Mech Shaman and Tempo Mage)

Aggro Matchups have always been a breeze for Control Warrior, but not quite as good. It’s really important to note that the way you mulligan means a lot in this matchup, so take another careful read at the mulligan section.

  • Kill everything they have on board – Obvious preference to efficient way of doing it, but in case there aren’t, kill stuff nonetheless! SwiftRage
  • In case you have to choose: In Tempo Mage’s case, the Sorcerer’s Apprentice is the best kill target. In Hunter’s case, Knife Juggler is the best kill Target. In Mech Shaman’s case, Mechwarper is the best kill target.
  • Later in the game, if your health is really low, Armoring up and playing defensively is a better option than dropping a big Finisher and not armoring up.

Verdict: Favorable matchups

Vs Midrange Hunter

Midrange Hunter is a tougher matchup than Face Hunter. But by no means it is a bad matchup. No experienced good Warrior player would ever think that Midrange Hunter is a bad matchup. Warrior Control was a counter to Midrange Hunter, when it was completely overpowered with prenerf Starving Buzzard and/or pre nerf Undertaker. But suddenly, months later the rumor among lesser skilled Warrior players arised that Midrange Hunter is a bad matchup, one you can expect to lose. But we at HSP tell you, that this is simply not true. Midrange Hunter lost a lot of its power (Starving Buzzard and Undertaker), while Control Warrior got even better with Shieldmaiden and Bash. So how does this matchup play out:

The majority of time the matchup comes down to two things: Do you gain control of the board before Savannah Highmane can enter the battlefield? And how many Savannah Highmanes is your opponent going to draw? If you have board control on Turn 6 and your opponent then plays a Savannah Highmane, you can rather easily deal with the Highmane. On the other hand if you don’t have board control (for example your opponent has a Piloted Shredder and a Knife Juggler on the board, and you have nothing), you are in a world of trouble. It is still winnable, but it will be very hard. If your opponent then follows- up with a second Highmane, well then the game is almost unwinnable. Of course there are also the games, where your opponent does not drop a Savannah Highmane on Turn 6, or simply draws them to late. In such games, you have a huge advantage.

Some further tips for this matchup:

  • This is an Attrition War, not a Rush one, try to remember this. Face Hunter is a lot more aggressive with a bigger amount of burst and very few high value minions.
  • Do not just waste your removal willy-nilly. Wasting an Execute or a Shield Slam on a minion like Piloted Shredder you did not have to remove as soon as possible, can later cost you the game if you then lack removal for a Savannah Highmane.
  • Don’t count on your Brawl to be the savior of the day. This is pretty much an extension of our last point: Use your removal efficiently.
  • The most important thing here, is that if they have a trap up with an eaglehorn-bow in play you don’t need to attack with a minion. Because if you do, you’re just giving them a free weapong charge, which gives the more damage.

Verdict: Favorable matchup

Vs Handlock

This is a very draw dependant matchup. In some games you will draw a bunch of cards with your  Acolyte of Pain and all your super efficient minion removal, and simply out grind them and wonder how you can ever lose this matchup. In other games, you might draw into multiple Armorsmiths and  and other anti- aggression cards, while you don’t draw a single copy of Acolyte of Pain and very few Executes or Shield Slams and will get stomped by their Giants or Lord Jaraxxus.

But if both players have a decent draw, this matchup is very fun, balanced and highly skill intensive (which means, the better player will win more)

Never get him below 16 Health unless you are going for the kill. Let the Handlock struggle with molten-giants in hand without ways to cast it. Let him be the one trying to figure out how to “deal” with them!

  • Early in the game, when going to remove the first “bomb” The Handlock drops(a 8/8 Mountain Giant or a 4/X Twilight Drake) always prioritize using Shield Slam over Execute. Shield Slam requires a Resource(armor) that you are not sure you’ll always have through the intercourser of the match, while Execute doesn’t.
  • Play slow, get as many draws from your Acolyte of Pain as possible, regardless of situation, the Handlock will always draw more than you. Don’t get overwhelmed by the fact that Handlock will have more cards than you. You have a higher card quality (better removal in the form of weapons and Shield Slam & Execute), while the Handlock has a lot of low power level cards like Dark Bomb, Shadow Flame and Hellfire.
  • Try to calculate Lethal damage for the Next turns when you have grommash-hellscream in hand.
  • Play safe, no need to rush! This is a resource war more than anything.

Verdict: Slighlty unfavored, but can be improved by adding a second Brawl

vs Secret Paladin/ Midrange Paladin

The most popular version of Paladin is Secret Paladin, which is quite a weird deck. It plays a lot of 1-cost cards (sometimes even 10) , but also has expensive powerful late game minions with Mysterious Challenger, Dr. Boom and Tirion Fordring. Although it may seem like a slower deck, don’t get fooled by the fact that it plays some expensive minions. Secret Paladin wants to rush you down and finish the game quickly against Control Warrior. So not losing too much tempo in the early game has top priority, because sometimes even Brawl might not save you if they have some Deathrattle minions and/ or some powerful follow-ups with Mysterious Challenger. The entire game mainly evolves around getting board control or not being too far, when Mysterious Challenger hits the board. If the Paladin has a Brawl resilient board and then plays Mysterious Challenger, the game is almost always over. So the best way to win this matchup is when the Paladin plays Mysterious Challenger while they have an empty board, because then you can control where Avenge lands if you have a minion or a weapon and can then even use Big Game Hunter to remove the Mysterious Challenger. Besides keeping up with the tempo of the Paladin drawing cards is also of utter importance, so that you have all the answers available to their big threats. Because having the right answers is important and because the cards of Control Warrior have a higher power level than the ones of Secret Paladin, you should only respect Divine Favor and not play around it.

Midrange Paladin on the other hand is a completely different animal. It does not have that much early game and therefore does not put so much pressure on the Warrior. Instead it tries to grind the Warrior out of resources, which is a very potent strategy due to the fact how Reinforce and Armor Up! line up against each other. Before The Grand Tournament, I had a positive winrate against Midrange Paladin with Control Warrior at Legend Rank (sample size over 200 games), because Acolyte of Pain allows the Warrior to draw into a critical mass of very powerful cards against Paladin (Brawl, Baron Geddon, Ysera). The fact that the majority of Midrange Paladins also only played one Equality with one Big Game Hunter as hard-removal for bigger minions also helped a lot against Paladin. Nowadays Midrange Paladin not only almost always plays doube Equality, they also got Murloc Knight and Justicar Trueheart, which turns the once favorable matchup into a bad matchup. Justicar Trueheart not only makes Quartermaster more threatening it also allows the Paladin to pressure the Warrior without commiting any resources to the board. Altogether the matchup is still far from horrible, because Midrange Paladin lacks good card draw and unlike Warrior it does not have tempo efficient removal once they have no board presence. Therefore the best way to win is to accumulate card advantage with Acolyte of Pain and then slowy overwhelm them by being aggressive. Finding the right balance between discarding cards for damage (f.ex. transforming Fiery War Axe into a Fireball) and playing too slow is very important in this matchup, because if the game takes too long Paladin will inevitable overwhelm the Warrior with Reinforce.

 

Some gameplay tips:

  • When Secret Paladin goes full Santa mode (5 Secrets + Mysterious Challenger), it is sometimes correct to not attack and therefore to not trigger Noble Sacrifice and Avenge if you can’t deal with their minions to not increase their damage output and to buy you more time.
  • Be cautious with the second charge of Death’s Bite! If you don’t need to remove some minions as soon as possible, don’t waste your Death’s Bite. The free Whirlwind is extremely powerful against Paladin and can make their turns very akward, because it prevents them from playing Muster for Battle and will negate all Reinforce activations. The second Death’s Bite charge together with Baron Geddon also helps dealing with Quartermaster.
  • Try to save Execute and Shield Slam for Mysterious Challenger against Secret Paladin, but feel free to use it against Midrange Paladin if you can make a very good tempo play (f.ex killing one minion with Death’s Bite,  then using Execute on another smaller minion to maybe even clear their board and then play a midgame minion or big threat), because Midrange Paladin lacks good targets anyways. Almost every big minion from them dies to weapons anyways, and unlike Secret Paladin they don’t have a 6 mana minion you absolutely have to kill and is actually rather tricky to kill, so there is no need to save them.
  • Once again Acolyte of Pain is after Death’s Bite your best card against Paladin, so always keep one of them. Only keep two if you know you are playing against Midrange Paladin and already have a weapon or Slam.

Verdict: 

Secret Paladin: slightly unfavorable matchup or even favored matchup (highly dependant on your tech choices  and the number of them: f.ex.: Unstable Ghoul, second Brawl, Revenge etc.)

Midrange Paladin: unfavorable matchup and too hard to improve (best possible tech card is Harrison Jones, but he does not improve the matchup by a lot)

Mirror Match

Not unlike Handlock and Priest mirror matches – Control Warrior mirror matches are all very skill intensive. The better player has a huge advantage and is a big favorite to win.

In the Control Warrior mirror both players have an abundance of answers and a high amount of life gain, which translates into long, complex and skill intensive games. It is very hard for one Control Warrior to steamroll the other Control Warrior player. And it is also very risky to try to steamroll the other player, because Brawl is very good at punishing too aggressive plays. With the Grand Tournament the matchup dynamic changed a lot.  The chance of overruning the opponent by drawing more cards or getting demolished if you did not draw into your answers or big threats was a lot higher. So players always had to maximize the draw of Acolyte of Pain and even Harrison Jones to get an advantage. Nowadays it is very rare that the mirror ends before fatigue, because Control Warrior not only has more life gain it also has much more removal to handle midgame minions like Shieldmaiden. Therefore they don’t need to spend premium removal on midgame minions, and can safe it for the big legendaries. Snowballing an early tempo advantage into a victory (f.ex.: opponent has to Execute Shieldmaiden to not get into Grommash Hellscream burst range and then lacks removal for a big legendary) was a viable and good strategy depending on your hand. Nowadays Control Warrior has way more removal than big threats, which completely changes the matchup dynamic:

 

  • The mirror almost always goes to fatigue and drawing more cards than your opponent can make you lose the game, if your opponent can handle your last minion
  • Avoid drawing cards at all cost. Taking some early damage is not very threatening, only make sure that you are able to kill big legendaries. If you play Harrison Jones, you want to play him when the opponent does not have a weapon. Try to not play Shield Block and Acolyte of Pain (unless the opponent has zero cards left and can’t make you draw), do not draw with Slam. If the opponent plays Sylvanas Windrunner, donate him an Acolyte of Pain.
  • Control mirrors evolve around getting the most out of your cards and denying the opponent value from their cards, therefore never play more than one minion on the battlefield to deny them any Brawl value. Try to get value with Brawl by hoping the opponent is not good and plays more than one minion or use it as an answer for Dr. Boom.
  • Although fatigue is a huge factor, also respect the power of smaller minions and big legendaries. Fatigue only matters if both players ran out of minions, if one player has a minion left the opponent can’t deal with he has a critical advantage depending on the power of the minion. Therefore you should never smash your opponents face with a weapon, giving a free weapon charge away and then later being unable to handle something small like Cruel Taskmaster can lose you the game, even if you have 30 armor more than your opponent. Before the Grand Tournament it was sometimes correct to attack your opponent’s face with Death’s Bite to have a clean way to handle Sludge Belcher and Shieldmaiden. Nowadays with Bash and Slam, you don’t need to do that anymore.
  • Keep Justicar Trueheart in your opening hand. Although it is not game deciding if you are the first player that benefits from the improved hero power, it is definitely an advantage because it allows you to be more greedy with your life points to generate card advantage and by being almost immune to any kind of midgame minion pressure.

Verdict: Overall the mirror is more skill intensive than before. If one player does not understand the matchup dynamic and draws unneeded cards or flatout avoids drawing cards at all cost and therefore can’t handle Ysera over multiple turns, the mirror will be his worst matchup and very close to an autoloss against good players.

Vs Midrange Druid

Before The Grand Tournament Midrange Druid was a bad matchup. With the Grand Tournament and the addition of Bash and Slam (Bash made Slam a better card to play because they have synergy with each other) the matchup got better. Druid got Darnassus Aspirant, which  improved the matchup, because it is a good target for your Fiery War Axe, making the weapon even more potent against Druid, especially with Bash and Slam. This match-up is all about board control. If you don’t have board control prior to Turn 9 (Force of Nature and Savage Roar), you will very likely lose. If you do, you will very likely win. So keep their board clear and develop your board. Druid has a very tough time regaining lost board control, due to their extremely tempo inefficient minion removal ( mainly Swipe and Wrath). Ysera is especially tough to deal with for Druid’s, because of her high health. Very rarely Druid will outdraw a good Warrior player, the majority of games are lost because of Druid’s overwhelming board presence, that translates into a killing blow because of Savage Roar (Midrange Druid without Savage Roar and Force of Nature would be a good matchup for Control Warrior)

  • As the Warrior, you can feel free to mindlessly throw the Acolyte or the Armorsmith on an Empty board, tempo is more important than actual value.
  • Sylvanas is always a good play, even on an empty board. Unless you don’t have a response for a possible Ancient of Lore the following turn.
  • Sylvanas is somehow a key card to winning this game, we came across multiple situations where the Druid had only a Shredder on board, we was at 6 mana and the Druid at 6(going for 7). Playing Sylvanas means he will have to Hero power the Sylvanas down with the Shredder to kill her, giving you a 2-Mana minion in the Process, delaying his plans and giving you time to breath.
  • Don’t worry about their combo too much. Respect it, but don’t make huge sacrifices that may affect your chance of winning the game if they don’t have the combo. If you are very far behind, you have to make winning plays that can help you catch up and even win the game.

Verdict: Favorable matchup

Vs Dragon Priest

Dragon Priest is the most popular Priest version. I think it is worse than Control Priest, but that does not have any impact on the popularity. It is a rather easy deck to pilot or play against. Make sure to not fall to far behind on card advantage or board presence (card advantage translates into board presence. A Northshire Cleric that is drawing too many cards might give them enough cards you can’t deal with). If you don’t fall too far behind in the early to midgame by handling all their minions, while also respecting the ultimate Dragon lady Ysera and saving a removal for her, you will inevitably win against Dragon Priest, because you have way more big legendaries than they have removal or minions to deal with them.

  •  Twilight Guardian and other high health minions can easily be dealt with a weapon and Bash/ Slam. So no need to burn premium removal on them.
  • Save your premium removal for high health minions, like a minion buffed with Velen’s Chosen or Ysera. Also don’t be too cautious with your premium removal if you have multiples. Dragon Priest does not have a lot of high value minions.
  • Watch out for cabal-shadow-priest and possibly even the Shrinkmeister combo, so if the board is not threatening or even empty don’t play any minions that are vulnerable to Cabal like Ysera, Acolyte of Pain or Sludge Belcher. You don’t want to give the Priest any potential tempo initiative you might have a tough time dealing with. So be patient, the longer the game goes the better.
  • Another possible way to lose against Dragon Priest is Lightbomb, so play around it! You don’t need to be proactive, you will inevitably win the late game, because you not only have more big threats, you also have Justicar Trueheart.
  • Dragon Priest has almost zero burst, so you can be sometimes very greedy and wait multiple turns to get amazing value out of Brawl.

Verdict: Favorable matchup

Vs Oil Rogue

This is a very good matchup. Basically there are only two ways to lose this matchup if you play very well:

  • You don’t draw any weapons the entire game and get overwhelmed by their three drops and/ or Violet Teacher.
  • You can’t pressure them, they have Assassin’s Blade (you don’t draw Justicar Trueheart) with a lot of fancy buffs (Deadly Poison, Tinker’s Sharpsword Oil) and you don’t draw into your taunts or they can handle your taunts.
  • Always try to kill their minions as effectively as possible, to deny damage from Tinker’s Sharpsword Oil. It may seem stupid to attack a simple 1/1 with Grommash Hellscream when you are at 24 life points, but there is no point in taking any risks. You will inevitably win the late game, due to Rogue’s limited burst capability, so just be patient and grind them to death.

Verdict: Favorable matchup

Vs Freeze Mage

Whenever you face a really good matchup or are in a situation where you are very likely to win, your first thought must be: How am I going to lose this?

Enter the Freeze Mage matchup. Normally you stack a lot of armor and outlive their burst and simply win. But what do the games look like you lose:

  1. Your opponent’s draw is perfect (all the burn, Alexstrasza on Turn 9 etc.)  and you don’t draw any meaningful armor gain. This is extremely unlikely, but it is a possibility. But there is not much you can do about it.
  2. An unchecked Archmage Antonidas will make you lose the game. If he sticks on the board for more than one turn, you are in a very bad spot. To play around that, always safe your removal for the Archmage. If you can’t push for lethal, there is no point in killing a Doomsayer if you then lack a removal for Antonidas.

Verdict: Favorable matchup

Conclusion

These are the matchups that needed to be most worked. Of course you are bound to find other decks in the ladder, but generally there isn’t much else to learn so that you have specifically better matchups against these decks outside of the General guidelines.

Learning how to do proper trades and manage your resources is really important in the Warrior Control play style.

Be sure to check out all the guides in this series: