Secret Paladin is the king of the ladder. There’s no way around that now. However, unlike some decks in the past (Miracle Rogue and Undertaker Hunter) it is not completely unbeatable. Many decks have tools to combat Uther and his swarms of minions. Dragon Priest is one those decks. Not only is it strong on its own, but it is very well suited to combat Secret Paladin due to a high amount of taunts, board clears and a versatile hero power. This guide will teach the best way to use Dragon Priest to play against, mulligan for and beat Secret Paladin.
Dragon Paladin has a pretty set core deck. Any deck that runs a certain minion type is going to need to run a lot of the same cards. However, there are a surprising amount of tech cards and certain tweaks you can make. One of the advantages to playing a list like Dragon Priest is that you can always fine tune it to what you’re seeing on ladder. Below are some decklists to give you an idea of tech choices and cards that fit the overall build.
Cards to Keep
While Dragon Priest has access to one of the best curves in the game, without that curve you can get run over by Secret Paladin very, very quickly. Always look for your one drops and remember that you want to start out fast. Though a turn four Twilight Guardian or a turn five Holy Nova can turn the game around, they simply aren’t enough on their own. You have to be able to get something on the board long before that, otherwise it’s often too late.Northshire Cleric Twilight Whelp Wyrmrest Agent Shadow Word:Pain
A quick note on keeping dragons. Though you want to have a good curve, you also have to realize how crucial keeping dragons can be. This is often a gut call, but you never want to get caught with a bunch of dragon-based cards and no dragons to activate them. Even keeping Ysera can be the right move if you need to get a trigger off of your Twilight Whelp or Wyrmrest Agent.
Power Word: Shield is a great keep if you have another early minion to pair with it. However, you should never keep it over minions, since those are much more important.
Velen’s Chosen is also great with the coin, but should only be kept if you have a minion to play before it.
Both Blackwing Technician and Dark Cultist should always be kept with the coin. They are also fantastic when you have a turn one or two play coming before them.
Twilight Guardian does wonders here, but only with a strong opening curve. Even with another dragon in hand you don’t want to be your first play to come on turn four.
Holy Nova follows the same rules as Twilight Guardian. However, even with a strong opening, you never want to keep Holy Nova without the coin.
How to Win
Though Dragon Priest is more of a midrange deck than anything else, in this matchup you are going to play much more like heavy control deck. To do this you want to leverage your taunts and high-health minions to trade as much as possible. For this reason, your hero power is one of your best friends. Most Secret Paladins don’t run Equality these days to make room for more board control. That means they are only going to be able to kill your minions through trading. If you constantly heal it’s going to make it very hard for them to do that. This is not just a matchup of board control, it is a matchup of staying alive long enough to outlast them.
Keep their minions in check. While most decks have a lot of trouble with Paladin in the early stages of the game, Dragon Priest has Wyrmrest Agent, Blackwing Technician, Dark Cultist. Twilight Whelp and Northshire Cleric. All of those give them absolute fits, and will enable you to keep board presence while adding more and more threats to the battlefield. Even something like Shielded Minibot cannot cleanly trade with any of your early plays.
Remember, Paladin’s only answer to Velen’s Chosen is Blessing of Kings. However, Paladin cannot use blessing unless they have something down. If you never let them get a hold of the board they won’t be able to use this card as leverage. This is another way to keep your life total high and make sure the game goes long.
Pressure is not the way you are going to win this match. You simply want to keep killing off everything that comes down until Paladin eventually runs low on cards. If you can apply pressure you should, but making sure their board is more empty is priority number one. You have access to two board clears in the form of Holy Nova and Lightbomb. Each of these act as your “get out of jail free” options in case you fall behind. They can also be used as ways to cap off the game. Lightbomb is especially important in this match. While Holy Nova will only clear two health minions (or three with Velen’s Chosen) Lightbomb kills everything. Almost nothing Paladin has runs more health than attack. Lightbomb is a hard clear every time.
One last tip is centered around Shadow Word:Death. Velen’s Chosen is how you are going to clear most of Secret Paladin’s small minions. It is especially effective at enabling a way to clear Piloted Shredder and Sludge Belcher. However, you need death as a way to take out Dr. Boom, Mysterious Challenger or Tirion Fordring. Those three cards are the way Secret Paladin ends games, and they need to be killed as soon as they come down. Lightbomb is also a fantastic way to answer a Mysterious Challenger board or lone Dr. Boom. If you run Vol’jin you can use him as a way to kill off these minions, or you can use him to kill minions buffed by Blessing of Kings as a way to save death.
Early Game Strategy
One of the most important parts of beating Secret Paladin is challenging them through the first turns of the game. However, dragons may be just as important. You are going to start the game in two different ways. The first is the “cleric” opening with Northshire Cleric, Power Word:Shield and a three drop. This opening allows you to really put the pressure on. It also gives you ways to respond to anything, from Shielded Minibot to Muster for Battle.
The second opening is the “dragon” opening. This usually centers around Twilight Whelp, Blackwing Technician and Wyrmrest Agent. When this happens, you absolutely must keep any other dragon you see, no matter the cost. All of those cards are the way your are going to win the first turns, but they are far too weak on your own. Knocking the top of your deck works in some games or matchups, but this is not something you want to gamble on.
Out of all the secrets, the only one you want to worry about is Avenge. You don’t run the usual removal suites most classes do, and you never want this buff going on a card you can’t answer.
Velen’s Chosen and Dark Cultist are both very important. Without Equality, Secret Paladin has a lot of trouble dealing with high amounts of health. Velen’s Chosen and cultist both provide health in ways that also allow you to trade. Those type of tempo plays aren’t the norm for this matchup, but they will set your up perfectly for turns four through six.
Your strategy for the middle turns largely stays the same as the opening ones. However, here you want to try and trade up with Velen’s Chosen and start finding ways to clear with Lightbomb. Secret Paladin will attempt to stick down midgame threats in these turns, and you want to be able to kill them.
Piloted Shredder will give you the most trouble, but Twilight Guardian does a very nice job of shutting it down. The other card you want to worry about (besides Blessing of Kings as covered) is Truesilver Champion. The weapon is Paladin’s only real form of removal. It can’t reach high amounts of health, which is another reason you want to make sure they have as little minions as possible.
As with any deck combating Secret Paladin, you want to have a plan for turn six. This can go in two ways. The traditional way to make this happen is to make sure the board is clear so that Mysterious Challenger only has itself to buff. This will keep Paladin honest and allow you to easily play around the secrets. The other mode is to make sure you have a minion on board come turn six and a Lightbomb in hand. This will enable you to trigger all of the secrets through attacking and then use the clear to cleanly get rid of everything Paladin has down.
Late Game Strategy
This section of the game is the section of board clears. As the game goes longer, Secret Paladin will start to dwindle and you will begin to gain strength. While they start out really fast, once you outlast those waves they run out of steam very, very quickly. Noble Sacrifice and Avenge are fine on turn one, but they do just about nothing on turn ten.
On the other hand, this is where you start dropping down giant minions. You should do this completely based on your life total. If you are struggling for healing, or if your life total is low, you want to wait until absolutely everything is cleared on the Paladin’s board before tapping out for Ysera or the like. However, if you have some cushion, just get something down and then use it to trade on future turns. You only need to start going face when they are truly out of steam.
If the games goes long, chances are Secret Paladin is going to try to make one final stand. This usually consists of a swarm of final Muster for Battle or some minions held back. You should always try to keep one last AOE for those situations.