The New Standard: Karazhan Edition! (Thief Value Rogue)

Sometimes, stealing things is fun. Really, really fun. This week on The New Standard we are going to spend some time exploring why that is by looking at a new archetype I think has some real potential in Thief Rogue. Though it has not made the biggest splash in the world, I believe Blizzard printed […]

Introduction

Sometimes, stealing things is fun. Really, really fun. This week on The New Standard we are going to spend some time exploring why that is by looking at a new archetype I think has some real potential in Thief Rogue. Though it has not made the biggest splash in the world, I believe Blizzard printed more than enough tools for the deck to be a real contender in the current meta. While this does not fall into Rogue’s usual breadbasket of combo/burst, it does play to their other strengths quite well. It is an old rule of deck building to never shoehorn your deck into one archetype because of the way your class operates. That is perfectly on display here by taking Rogue in a direction it has not been in a long time.

The Deck

Though there are some interesting (and albeit out there) card choices, the deck mainly plays like a value deck mixed in with tempo. That is to say, you want to play to your curve and build up as many threats as possible. You are a minion deck, and like every minion deck you want to simply work hard to advance your board state.

What makes this deck so strong compared to other versions of Rogue is that you never really run out of cards. Midrange decks always want to run minions that also operate as spells, and this has a ton of them. Things like Undercity Huckster and Swashburglar allow you to play on curve without ever sacrificing card advantage. That is very rare in Hearthstone and should not be undervalued. Being able to match some of the more popular decks on board while also having the gas for the long games is going to win you many contests you would normally not be able to take.

In terms of deck building, I would spend time looking at cards that help you keep your hand full. This will help maximize your options. Even something that may seem underwhelming at first glance, such as Deadly Fork, can be a very good asset because it gives you some value after it dies.

Another important note here is that, much like other midrange decks, I am not sure what to make of the spells. Rogue has a lot of strong value spells at their disposal, but you are a minion-based list that does not run things like Preparation. Overall, the addition of things like Backstab and Eviscerate are needed, but usual must-have like Fan of Knives and Sap can easily be cut down to one-ofs. I think the balance is close, but it could use some further testing.

A big part of this list comes from Kibler, who gave me the idea to add in the death rattle sub-theme. Everyone who has ever followed me post-Whispers knows just how much I love N’zoth in slower midrange lists, and this deck is no exception. You already have more than enough tools at your disposal, so having an extra win condition or big finisher is more than ok. It also helps you take down control lists.

Key Cards

This section will help to explain why certain cards are in the list and how they’ve performed so far.

Swashburglar

It may be redundant at this point based on how many times I’ve written the following sentence, but Swashburglar is a very good card. This seemingly innocent one drop works just like a Webspinner, putting something on the board early on that gets you value later in the game. You want as many cards that interact in that way as possible, and you want to fill your hand up with as many cards from your opponent’s class as you can get. The fact that you also get a body that can be buffed or used to take down two drops in combination with your hero power is just icing on the cake.

Another very important note about the ale-loving pirate is that it one of the best ways to activate combo when you are short on Backstabs. There are going to be games where you just run this out on turn one, but there will also be various situations where you actually hold it back to activate an early combo. This often will be to play it with SI:7 Agent, but it is also strong on turn three with Eviscerate. That versatility to play as a one-drop and a combo activator is very important. For instance, if you’re playing against Hunter and they open with Fiery Bat you can just run burglar out and challenge their one drop. However, if they have no opener, you can then save the pirate for your turn three Evisc to take out an Animal Companion.

Burgle

Though it may seem out of place in a minion-focused list like this one, Burgle actually serves a very important role in this deck. This card is very much like Arcane Intellect in Tempo Mage, where it serves to refill your hand when you start out fast or run low on cards. While you cannot control which cards you are going to get, it still refills your hand and opens up both new options and avenues of play. Thoughtsteal has never been a bad card, but it has been held back because of metas where it is too slow or too clunky. Burgle works a little differently because, unlike Thoughsteal, it can be played in a deck where you actually work towards an early board presence. This means it is not always going to be dead because you can often play it while you are ahead. It is also strong because you can keep it early to gain value when playing against slower control and throw it back against low midrange or aggro.

Defender of Argus

You need to be able to beat Shaman. And when I say Shaman, I mean f*$#*&ng Doomhammer. The five mana weapon works to crush just about every deck in the game, and if you don’t have a way to lock it down you are going to lose to Thrall much more than you are going to beat him. This is so incredibly important (especially with the recent influx of Shamans on ladder) that it is worth running Defender for this interaction alone. While you could run weapon destruction (there are more than a few running around), you typically want cards that also interact with your deck. Though things like Harrison Jones can be very strong, Defender of Argus comes with a lot of other benefits that one-minded cards do not.

Many (and by that I mean pretty much every) deck in the meta has some sort of burst at their disposal. Countering that best is incredibly important, especially in Rogue. In a list so focused on minions you need ways to protect your face against things like Call of the Wild and Grommash Hellscream. Giving two minions taunt is incredibly strong because most decks are either going to have to trade their board to take them down, or use valuable resources from their hand. That goes double when your taunted cards also have some strong death rattle effect. Defender of Argus also acts as a great way to control trades, keep your minions alive through AOE, and push damage through. Because of this, you typically want to buff up two targets if you ever have a window to do so.

Ethereal Peddler

The five drop that could, Ethereal Peddler has proved to be amazing in my early testing. While getting free Innervates on random cards may not be the most exciting thing in the world, at the end of the day you are still getting free Innervates. Discounting even just one card is going to be solid value, but every card beyond that climbs exponentially. What makes this card so strong is how well the ability scales. Discounting low-cost cards is great because you can often play them for free alongside the 5/6, and discounting high-cost one just helps your curve. While this may not break the bank, it is one of strongest minions in the list and just adds to the ways the deck can gain value while also putting down beefy minions.

The other reason this card works so well is that it has one of the best-statted bodies around. A 5/6 for five is not only on-curve, but it also allows the peddler to trade well with most midrange cards in the game. And, if your opponent has no minions, it can just beat face. For this reason, you almost always want to run this out on turn five if you can, regardless of what you can discount. Do not get caught up when trying to get value when you can advance your board state. The only exception to this is when you have another strong play at your disposal and waiting a turn or two is going to lead to quite a bit of value. But even then, the body could be worth just running it out.

Matchups

Some of the most common matchups I see on ladder.

Aggro Shaman

As briefly mentioned earlier, Aggro Shaman is public enemy number one. The burst-heavy deck is very strong right now and it will bulldoze you if you aren’t careful. Beating this deck comes in two stages, both of which are incredibly important. The first is winning the early game. This has gotten harder with the addition of things like Spirit Claws and Maelstrom Portal, but you need to work hard to take down Shaman’s minions while getting anything to stick. Even something as simple as a 2/2 can trade away totems and challenge bigger threats when combined with your removal. Use all of your resources and be very careful about planning ahead for combo. Anytime you can clear a threat and play your own is going to be a victory. Do not be afraid to remove totems, this will limit your opponent’s plays with things like Flametongue Totem and Abusive Sergeant.

The second step is mitigating damage and controlling your opponent’s burn. The way you do this is by applying pressure and constantly making sure your opponent is more worried about taking damage then causing it. This may even be something as simple as playing a Defender of Argus on two smaller minions just to make sure they cannot get value out of a turn five Doomhammer. Every play you make should either be helping you put on pressure or clear your opponent’s board. Just watch out for AOE. Most Shaman’s these days, even incredibly aggressive ones, run Maelstrom Pulse, and some even pack Lightning Storm.

Midrange Hunter

Right behind Shaman is Hunter, a strong midrange list that is backed up with so much burst you will often find yourself questioning if they are in fact face. Though they are undoubtably strong, this is a matchup you can win just by staying ahead of your opponent. Hunter lives off of their curve, and if you can anticipate their plays and control the board before their “go big” turns (such as Savannah Highmane on six) you can really keep them off of the back foot. Though Call of the Wild will almost always kill you if you are behind on turn eight, it is going to be quite useless if you have full control of the game.

The way you win this matchup is by limiting their value and taking away any play they can use to potentially get back onto the board. The biggest example of this is Houndmaster, which you work very hard to limit. Kill all beasts they play and always stay on top of their combos. Defender of Argus is a very important card here and should always be used in anticipation of things like Call of the Wild or Eaglehorn Bow. It is a great way to take off any pressure you might face, and does a great job of forcing your opponent to use burn on your board. This is also a matchup where you want to keep an early Eviscerate if you have a low curve, as it is one of your only good answers to Animal Companion.

Tempo Mage

Another powerful aggro shell, Tempo Mage is a deck that just keeps getting stronger. The list is not quite refined yet, and it is going to take more time before it can fully be realized. However, that does not mean it isn’t good. Mage is an incredibly fast deck that will just burst you down if you fall behind on the board. To offset this you want to get aggressive early and force them to use their turns controlling your minions rather than running out their own. If Mage is not under pressure they will be able to take control of the game quickly and then use the leverage to slam you with burn. However, if you hit them in the face and make them use Fireballs and Frostbolts on the board you should never lose priority. Just make sure to kill their minions, it is never worth the risk to let a Sorcerer’s Apprentice or Flamewaker live.

You are favored in this matchup for two reasons. One, Mage does not like other decks that can play the tempo game as well as they can. In fact, they will often crumble if you curve out with them. Just play threat after threat and back it up with removal and you should be able to outpace them quite well. Another big advantage you have here is that Mage does not fare well against decks that have the ability to create card advantage. The deck often depends on running their opponent low on cards during the later stages of the game to win, but you hardly run out of gas. As long as you can pace them you should be able to eventually run them out of burn. Once that happens, the game is in your favor. Just note that almost all Tempo Mages top their curve with Yogg-Saron, so don’t add more to the board if you are ahead towards the end of the game.

Yogg Druid

Praise Yogg or not, the Old God’s Druid deck is most likely here to stay. The list has some of the most consistent (and unfair) draws in the game, which does not bode well for decks like your trying to play a fair curve. This game is a toss up because, while Druid can easily ramp far and above your head, they also do not do well with midrange decks that can just pump out minions. Druid has no AOE and your whole goal is to just play threat after threat and force them to answer you. Always understand how important staying ahead on board is. Getting strong bodies down helps mitigate their ramp because it allows you ways to trade if they try and get ahead of the curve. Druid is a class that absolutely needs priority and it should be your job to prevent that from happening. This is the one game where you do not care about abilities or what cards do (as you can see by the mistake I make in the video). Raw stats are all that matter against Druid and you want to put yourself into positions where you have more than they do. Just be aware of Yogg-Saron, Hope’s End‘s tendency to clear the board. Never flood too much if you are ahead and your opponent has ten mana on hand.

Zoo

Zoo is popular once again.  Many people are not going to like that, and for good reason. The deck has more punch than ever and some really strong new discard synergy. For those reasons, this matchup is largely going to be a 50/50 game that is decided by the first two or three turns. Either you get board and can them mitigate your opponent’s minions, or you fall behind and quickly die to a swarming horde. There really is no in between there and you want to mulligan hard and fast for all of your low cost cards. Keeping anything slow is not going to be worth it and will often lead to quick loss. This game is only about the board, and you need to treat it as such.

A big part of this game is getting use out of your hero power. Though your dagger is not going to be your first line of play (minions are much more valuable), it is quite powerful against a lot of Zoo’s minions. Taking the divine shield off of an Argent Squire or killing the first half of a Possessed Villager is very strong because it removes the stickiness factor from the cards and forces Zoo to play more of a fair game. Clear in the most efficient way possible during the early turns and then, once you have control over the game, start to push. Zoo, like most aggressive decks, does not like being on the back foot. If you can force them to worrying about dying you will most often win.

Mulligan Guide

Your mulligans are largely going to be to your curve, since you want to start every game one-two-three in true midrange fashion. Backstab, Swashburglar, Abusive Sergeant, Loot Hoarder and Undercity Huckster are your must-keeps here. SI:7 Agent and Unearthed Raptor are close and should always be kept with a solid opening or the coin.

Beyond your early game, you want Bloodmage Thalnos if you can use his spell power early on, and Eviscerate against Hunter to deal with Animal Companion. Shadowstrike can be kept with a good opening, and the same goes for Fan of Knives, but only when you are playing aggro. Sap should be kept against Druid and Shaman if you have early minions. Defender of Argus should only be kept with a good curve against aggro, and both Twilight Summoner and Tomb Pillager should only ever be kept if you have a strong curve leading up to them.

Conclusion

Steeaaallllinnng! I really Thief Rogue has a ton of potential, and it is an archetype I will be testing more and more in the coming weeks. This list is really cool and has a big advantage in that your opponent cannot effectively play around your cards. I am not always a huge fan of RNG, but this style is a lot of fun and keeps every game fresh. Until next week, may you always discount your opponent’s cards.