The New Standard: Karazhan Edition! (Midrange Dragon Paladin)

While next week I plan to look at a list I have been wanting to crack open for some time, this week we are going to finish up the “where did you go?” series by revisiting Dragon Paladin. Like Beast Druid and Discard Warlock (two other decks I covered over the past weeks) this was […]

Introduction

While next week I plan to look at a list I have been wanting to crack open for some time, this week we are going to finish up the “where did you go?” series by revisiting Dragon Paladin. Like Beast Druid and Discard Warlock (two other decks I covered over the past weeks) this was supposed to be a big player in the new meta that just didn’t quite pan out. I am not sure why that is, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it is a case of perception rather than reality. Though many people have tried to make Control Dragon Paladin work over the past month, I am much more interested in the potential of the list as a midrange deck. This is because it has more consistency that control, which matters in the curve-based meta. As a result, I would view this week’s deck as a follow up to the one I built back during Karazhan. Though there have been some significant changes, I still think there’s a strong Midrange Dragon list out there and I aim to find it.

The Deck

This deck is an amalgamation of many different things. It is a take on my old midrange build that also pull strategies from many different resources. After much testing with a couple of different lists, I found that I just did not have the curve I wanted. While it looked very strong on paper, the power was not translating well to the game. I then went to all the usual sources and began looking at successful dragon builds in the past. This led to me to the idea of N’zoth (which you all know I love) and gave the seemingly strange dragon count that I finally settled on.

A big omission in this deck is Equality. While this may be surprising to some people, the card is only ever going to be good when you need to get rid of a big taunt or when you’re behind. However, this is a curve-based deck that never wants to play behind. I see no reason to play catch-up cards when you could play more proactive options that just make your opening stronger. There is a lot of early game here, and the AOE is one of the cards I cut to make that happen.

This is also the reason Chillmaw is not in the list. Though the legendary hits both sections of your gameplan (deathrattle and dragons) I found that wiping your own board is something you almost never want to do. This led to many games where I was holding the dragon in my hand instead of playing it. So, I just lowered the curve.

The last thing I want to touch upon is the dragon count. I am currently running a very odd midrange package of one Azure Drake, one Dragon Consort and two Book Wyrms. This can be tweaked to fut whatever style you prefer, but I think this is the right mix. Book Wyrm has proved absolutely invaluable and gives you more tempo plays built into a body. Beyond that, you want Consort for its discount, but it isn’t terribly necessary because you only run one big dragon. As such, I cut one for an Azure Drake to help smooth out my draws.

Key Cards

This section will explain certain cards and how they’ve performed so far.

Selfless Hero

As with the last version of this deck, you need to start early and often. Though Argent Squire wasn’t quite good enough in a deck that wants to pack in as many threats is possible, I still like the inclusion of double Selfless Hero. This card is very interesting because it is a one drop (good for the curve) that also provides a lot of value when drawn later on. There are two things you need to know when playing this card. One, you only want to lead with on your opening turn it if you want a tempo play (such as making Druid use their coin) or to challenge your opponent’s early drop. This does a very nice job of taking down a Sorcerer’s Apprentice or King’s Elekk. Beyond that you typically want to save this for when it can put your opponent into very rough situations. For example, playing this alongside larger minions to discourage AOE (especially Swipe) or to force your opponent to use spot removal instead of playing their own threat. Giving any big minion divine shield can just let you dominate a board, and your opponent is going to work hard to stop that from happening. The one drop also has deathrattle, which means it is going to come back with N’zoth.

Faerie Dragon/Loot Hoarder

These two cards are essential to this list and I will try to explain each. First, Farie Dragon is a layover from the first version that has just gotten better and better the more I have played it. Many top tier lists, such as Druid, Shaman, Hunter and Mage, love to control the early game with targeted removal like Quick Shot and Frostbolt. This card just laughs at those attempts and makes sure you are going to have something stick. This is very important because the two drop has three attack, making it very strong against popular openers like Tunnel Trogg and Mana Wyrm. Tempo is essential in the current meta, and this allows you to put a solid body down that doesn’t have to worry about the way most decks control the game. It is also a dragon, which always helps.

The other two drop, Loot Hoarder is an absolutely great card that does everything this build wants. Not only does it give you more cards that interact with N’zoth, but it also smooths out your curve and draws you deeper into the deck. One of the biggest problems with the original list was that I kept running out of cards. That is not a huge setback when you draw to your curve every game, but there were more than a few times where I would have a clunky hand and then just die. Azure Drake seemed like a fix, but it often came too late in the curve to ever be truly useful. On the other hand, hoarder drops turn two, is able to trade, and can fix odd hands or awkward openings.

Aldor Peacekeeper/Keeper of Uldaman

I have to be honest here, I have absolutely no idea what to do with these two cards. Some decks I researched ran double Aldor and one Keeper, while some decks ran double Keeper and one Aldor. While I am still not entirely sure what split you want, I do know you want to run both of these cards and you want to run three over four. The reason for this is, as noted, the deck is incredibly curve dependent. Each of these cards are fine in a vacuum, but they only really shine when you already have the board. You never want to see them early and playing four can really bog down your opening draws, which then leads to quick losses. You do need ways to mitigate your opponent’s minions, which is why you want more than just two, but three seems to be the sweet spot between too little and not enough.

In my version I am running two Keeper of Uldaman and one Aldor Peacekeeper. This call is largely based on the current meta. While Aldor Peacekeeper has long been the darling of Paladin, I think Keeper is just better for a midrange list. The reason is that you care much more about tempo swings than you do about not taking damage. This means the versatility of either being able to buff your own minion or take down your opponent’s is much more valuable that shutting down a single huge threat. This does not mean setting a minion’s attack one isn’t useful, it just means it isn’t going to be relevant all of the time. Another big bonus for Keeper of Uldaman is that it can be played on curve, while you almost never want to play Aldor Peacekeeper on turn three. As such, running two of the four drops just gives you more chances at live draws than having two peacekeepers does.

Alexstrasza

Every time I make a dragon list I always find it important to discuss my choices for the finishers. This is because there are so many options you have here, ranging from Ysera to Nefarian to even Deathwing. Just about every big threat works as a curve topper in a build like this one and you could conceivable run whatever fits your own style. However, I chose to go with Alexstrasza because it has a versatility that I really like. You have many powerful late game options in this list, especially for a tempo deck. However, almost all of your big threats are one-dimensional. Alex does not suffer from this because she can be used offensively to put on pressure, but she can also be used defensively to keep you alive. That makes her very good in various situations where other dragons would not be.

When playing a midrange list you are always going to need a way to beat aggro and a way to beat control. You have a built-in win condition against control with N’zoth (as covered below), and Alexstrasza serves as your fail-safe against aggro. While you do have access to both Ragnaros, Lightlord and Tirion Fordring, one extra win condition that is also a dragon really helps. Even with the nerfs coming, there is a lot of burst in the game. A lot of my losses have been the result of getting control of the game and then dying to a sudden blast of damage to the dome. You want as many ways to mitigate that as you can, especially if you are trying to set up your other big cards.

N’zoth the Corruptor

It has been a long time since I have teamed up with the death-loving Old God, and I could not be happier. You all know my love of N’zoth in midrange lists, and this is no exception. The reason he is so important is because it gives you a trump card against faster decks while also providing a way to bounce back against slower classes that can run you low on cards. There are going to be games where your threats just get answered and your opponent slowly grinds you down turn after turn. Without N’zoth you would instantly lose those games, but with him you always have a chance to instantly take back the board. This also rewards you for playing your early drops, which is a nice bonus.

As touched upon, this is the part of the deck that really brings the whole thing together. The dragon sub-theme is very strong, but I do not think it has quite enough power on its own. The deathrattle is desperately needed because it helps you with your curve and gives you a lot of extra punch you normally wouldn’t have. It may not be as prevalent as some would expect, but it gives you just enough to play with. You can even run Chillmaw if you want to really bring even more deathrattle minions together (though I would advise against it).

Matchups

Some of the most common matchups I see while playing ladder.

Midrange Shaman

If you think this is popular now, just wait until the nerfs. Midrange Shaman is a very powerful deck that I see just getting more and more popular in the coming days. This is public enemy number one and is going to be about a 50/50 game that could even be 60/40 in your favor. This is because Shaman is a deck that does not like facing lists that can challenge its early curve. You have a lot of ways to take over a middle game and to get there you need to work hard to keep your opponent’s minions off the board. This includes killing totems because every one they have down brings them closer to spell damage for their Spirit Claws or Maelstrom Portal. That’s the way the new Shaman decks win and you want to work hard to limit it as much as possible. Having priority also prevents them from playing tempo Mana Tide Totems, which is very important in the card battle.

You are almost going to win this game during the later stages where your large minions can come down and both heal and protect you. Each of your threats can do a lot of work against Thrall, especially if you curve into them from a strong middle game. Set up them up as best as you can, even if it means playing cards at inopportune moments to bait removal or flooding the board to eat AOE. Also watch out for Hex. They are going to use the card, and you want to make sure it stays off your deathrattle cards so they will come back with N’zoth.

The final note is to watch out for Shaman’s burst. Doomhammer is still popular, even in slower lists, and most choose to run Al’akir the Windlord as well. If you ever feel like you are getting too low or are facing too much damage you want to be defensive. In those cases, always favor a taunt, clear or heal.

Midrange Hunter

Though they are going to take a hit from the nerf to Call of the Wild, both Midrange and Secret Hunter are probably here to stay. Each deck has a ton of tools at their disposal as well as some of the best curves in the game. This is going to be one of your most difficult matches because you have very little ways to interact with their larger threats like Savannah Highmane, Ragnaros the Firelord or Call of the Wild. To mitigate that you need to find ways to build pressure in anyway you can. Use your big bodies to dominate the early board and then quickly get to your larger threats, even if it means playing a turn five Blackwing Corruptor and hitting them in the face for three.

You win this game by racing your opponent to priority. That is to say, when you can get a threat down before they can get down theirs. Though it is not easy, once you get Hunter to react to your board you should be able to win. The class thrives on being able to play out threat after threat to set up game-ending burn. However, if you flip the script and make them answer you then they are going to be out of whack. This means instead of having to find a way to deal with Infested Wolf on turn four you will be able to play your own minion and keep Hunter on their heals. Always make plays that are going to give you a board or set you up to handle Hunter’s next play. Rexxar has a very set curve that you need to properly anticipate each turn. If you can do this, you should be able to win.

Control Warrior

Well, Dragon Warrior is long gone. It held on for a while, but the shifting meta mixed with the coming nerf to Execute is going to kill it forever. As a result, Control Warrior has taken over the reigns and will continue to prosper in the coming weeks. This is one of those matchups where you win by being the aggressor and then finishing that off with a big threat your opponent never sees coming. As strong as Control Warrior is, they have a real problem with dealing with a high density of threats. This is because they only run four real removal spells, one or two of which they commonly use during the earlier parts of the game. The most important aspect of this matchup is working hard to bait out your opponent’s Brawls. That is their only out to N’zoth and if you can get them out before the Corruptor is played you should be able to win the day.

You are going to win this game with either early pressure or by setting up a big N’zoth, the Corruptor. You need to decide which plan you are on early and then adapt to that. The way you decide this is by how easily Warrior hits your curve. If they instantly take down your early drops and have a clean way (such as Shield Block/Shield Slam) to take down your midgame plays then you want to slow the whole thing down. However, if they falter or try to draw instead of removing minions you typically want to him them as hard as possible. This forces them to use removal before they want to, which then perfectly sets up your late game. If you ever get one big threat to stick you should be able to take this one down.

Yogg Druid

Are you a strong midrange build with large finishers and a solid curve? If so, then you beat Druid. It doesn’t matter what version Malfurion takes, he is never going to be able to stand up to decks like this. Not only do they have a lack of real removal and hard AOE, but the popular versions are almost entirely built out of spells, many of which do nothing to your plan. You just want to stick to your plan here and just keep playing threats and forcing Druid to come up with answers to them. If they get ahead you are going to be in trouble, but as long as you play minions that will likely never happen. Getting a body down is always going to be priority number one, even it means playing something like Twilight Guardian without a dragon in your hand.

The only card that beats you is the soon-to-be-dead Yogg-Saron, Hope’s End. This means you need to push in this game to make sure your opponent never gets comfortable. If Druid is able to ramp and draw cards without worry they are going to be able to get to their finishers before you can take them down. However, if they are constantly stretching their mana and using resources to make sure they don’t get overwhelmed, then this should be no problem. Just watch out for any burst that may come your way. Almost all Druids pack Malygos these days and you never want to get complacent to the point where you die out of nowhere.

Zoo

A deck I fully expect to come rushing back into the game (as it does whenever there is a shift) Zoo is a real threat that you need to be aware of. This is a matchup that is going to be decided very quickly, especially for you. Your only real catch-up card in this game is Consecration and if you fall behind without it the game is pretty much over. However, if you get rolling before Zoo can set up their early threats then your much stronger middle game will carry you to victory. Your want to work hard during the early turns to remove all of Zoo’s threats and make it so you can get to your proactive plays like Blackwing Corruptor, Twilight Guardian and Book Wyrm. This will then force Zoo to use their buffs and burn on your board rather than your face. You just want to keep this game about the board as long as you can until you can go over the top.

Mulligan Guide

Have I mentioned the curve yet? Just like the first time around, this is a deck that only cares about being able to play something each turn. You want your mulligan to reflect that plan by always looking for Selfless Hero, Loot Hoarder, Faerie Dragon, Nightbane Templar and Blackwing Technician. Aldor Peacekeeper is much too slow for an early keep, unless you are playing against Shaman and you have a good curve.

In terms of four drops, you only want Consecration against aggro decks (Shaman, Zoo) and you want Keeper of Uldaman anytime you can curve into it with or without the coin. Twilight Guardian also is a great keep with a strong opening curve and you want Truesilver Champion with the coin or a curve against decks that have strong turn three plays like Animal Companion, Flamewaker and Totem Golem. The final rule is always play to your dragon synergy. If you absolutely need to trigger an early card then you should keep a slower dragon, but there is no reason to hold onto Alexstrasza if you don’t need to get extra value from Blackwing Technician. Just know you never want to keep anything that costs five or more unless you need to activate an early dragon card.

Conclusion

Dragons! While not my favorite list out there, I love the midrange build of Dragon Paladin and I think it has a lot of potential. This hybrid between dragon and deathrattle is definitely the way to go for this type of deck, especially based on the current meta. This list has a lot of good things going for it and can stand up to many big players. It is also a lot of fun. I always like a solid and interesting midrange list, and this is no exception. Until next time, may your dragon cards always glow yellow.