Path to Legend – January 2016

Hello everyone! Legend rank. Hitting it is the dream for many, others see it as a mindless grind. I hit my first Legend rank on the second HS ranked test season (that was… well, 2 years ago) and I’m getting to Legend consistently each season after that (not counting a small break I took from […]

Introduction

Hello everyone! Legend rank. Hitting it is the dream for many, others see it as a mindless grind. I hit my first Legend rank on the second HS ranked test season (that was… well, 2 years ago) and I’m getting to Legend consistently each season after that (not counting a small break I took from HS between Naxx and GvG). My mindset has changed a lot since then. At first, I was thinking about “how can I hit Legend” and right now I’m thinking about “how to hit Legend most in a most efficient way”. I don’t like to grind too much. I get tilted pretty fast and the ladder anxiety hits me hard, resulting in me not playing the game too much (on average I play for about 2 hours per day).

So what I do instead is try to analyze the meta and matchups, then pick the deck that works best. I gather data on what decks I face most and then I try to play different decks into them to counter them. I stick to the decks I have best results with. And I want to share my results with you, maybe it will make your grind easier.

I’ll only write about the decks I’ve played most. I have quite a lot of decks that I’ve tried for 2-3 games and decided against playing them. I also had some test games on the decks for the Weekly Top Legend Deck Series (ep #6) and I had positive win rate with all of them, but if you want to read more about those, check out the article I’ve linked! Oh, and all the games were played on EU server if you’re curious.

Rank 15 to 5

My grind has started on the 3th of January. I needed a break after playing TONS of games on the last few days of the December season. The first deck I’ve played quite a lot this season was Kolento’s version of the Zoo Warlock. It got pretty popular last season and it’s probably the version you’re seeing most right now. The list is very interesting if you were a Zoo player before, because it abandoned the whole “Midrange” approach and gone for much faster, more aggressive gameplay. It runs no Voidcallers, no Mal’ganis, actually no 5+ mana cards at all. All the slow cards are removed in favor of more smaller, tempo-oriented cards. This way you can win much more games by establishing the early board control and overwhelming enemy with board flooding. Every card that’s over 3 mana has some immediate effect, board impact. It also adds the Brann Bronzebeard, which is really cool in the Zoo Warlock with so many Battlecry cards (8 cards work very well with the Brann).

Zoo Warlock is one of my favorite, go-to decks when I don’t know what I want to play yet. I usually start seasons by playing the Zoo and analyzing the meta. The deck does its job, because it has almost no terrible matchups. I can safely play it against most of the popular ladder decks and still consistently win. The only decks that give me really hard time are Freeze Mage, Control Priest and Oil Rogue. But since early season is mostly dominated by faster decks, I didn’t face a lot of them. In fact, I’ve only met one Freeze Mage and one Oil Rogue + 5 Control Priests over the 45 games I’ve played with the deck. The most popular matchups were Tempo Mage, Secret Paladin, ZooLock/RenoLock and Aggro Druid.

A cool thing I want to mention about the deck is that it’s very cheap for a competitive deck like that. It runs no Legendaries besides the Adventure ones and no Epics at all, so the dust cost is very small. Also considering that the Zoo deck is a great one to learn how to play the board game, the value of tempo and making efficient trades, I really recommend the deck to less experienced or fresh players.

I’ve stopped playing the deck around rank 9, because I’ve gathered enough data and got slightly bored of it.

The second deck I’ve decided to go with is Midrange Paladin. All the most popular matchups were either equal or in my favor. The most important thing that made me go for Midrange Paladin is that I didn’t face almost any Freeze Mages and Oil Rogues, which are WORST matchups. I took the deck to top 100 on the one before the last day of December season and fallen just outside the top 100 by the end of it. Freeze Mages and Oil Rogues were the reason I didn’t end up in top 100, because I’ve faced quite a lot of both, making the grind really hard. Even though a lot of people are saying that it’s inferior to Secret Paladin, I don’t think the difference is that big. While Secret Pally might be much better, I enjoy playing Midrange one more.

I’m using my own decklist with one small change – I’ve teched in Loatheb after some games instead of the second Quartermaster, because Midrange Druid was the deck I’ve played against most. Quartermaster isn’t good in Druid matchup until the late game, because Druid has way too easy time controlling the number of your Silver Hand Recruits. Swipe is an awesome way to clear the 1/1’s and Druid’s Hero Power can clear them pretty consistently. Loatheb is just a much stronger standalone card and the effect is actually great against Druid – it might stop the combo and buy you one more turn, it might stop the board clears from happening, played on turn 5 might stop the Innervate into 7-drop move. I like it much more than the second Quartermaster in this matchup.

The second decks I’ve played most was obviously Secret Paladin. This matchup is pretty much a 50/50. I had only slightly positive win rate against the deck, but that’s enough. I thought about teching Harrison Jones against this matchup, but I’ve decided against it, because Secret Paladin was pretty much the only weapon matchup I was facing a lot. Rogue was nowhere to be seen, surprisingly the Aggro Shaman also wasn’t a problem (2 matches in about 50 games) and the occasional Warrior wasn’t enough to convince me that Harrison tech is necessary.

P.S. If you want to read more about the Midrange Paladin deck, check out this guide.

Rank 5 to Legend

I’ve hit rank 5 on 8th of January. At first I wanted to grind the Midrange Paladin deck all the way to Legend, but after taking a break on the weekend (I have played only about 10 games between 8th and 10th) I’ve started facing quite a lot of Control Priests, which isn’t a good matchup for Midrange Paladin. I’ve played some more games with Paladin, but after going up and down between rank 5 and 4, I’ve decided to switch the decks out. At first, I’ve tried my own Control Priest, but without much success. I’ve played about 20 games on Control Priest and broke even at 10-10. I know that the deck can do better and it was probably just variance, but I wanted to try out something else. Here is the Control Priest decklist if you want to check it out. The only changes I’d advise is to switch out Vol’jin for second Sludge Belcher and/or Thoughtsteal for second Zombie Chow if you face lots of Aggro or Paladins.

Another deck I’ve played briefly was Freeze Mage. It’s not like I wasn’t doing well with it – I had 10-6 stats, which is a decent win rate, but my games were too long and I didn’t face enough Paladins/Zoo Warlock to justify playing it. My average Freeze Mage game was almost twice longer than average game in general, so I’ve decided to play something slightly faster. After all, when you grind to Legend, it doesn’t matter how big is your win rate – what matters is how many more games can you win than lose over the course of time. So let’s say if I had 65% win rate with Freeze Mage, but my average game lasted 10 minutes, I would end up having 39-21 stats after 10 hours of playing. That’s 18 more wins than loses. But what if I had 60% win rate with a deck that’s twice as fast as Freeze Mage (5 minutes per game)? My final stats would be 72-48, that’s 24 more wins than loses. Even though the win rate was lower, the final score was better. The slow deck would need a really big win rate difference (like 10%) over the course of a lot of games to be better to grind the ladder than a fast deck. So while yes, if my Freeze Mage had 70% win rate and my other deck had 55% win rate, it would be obviously better to play Freeze Mage. But if that’s 65% vs 60% (which is already a huge difference), you don’t really want to play the slow deck.

Oh, and one interesting thing – I’ve experienced something that probably every Freeze Mage has experienced before. I didn’t play against any Control Warriors in 30-40 games and the second I queue with Freeze Mage I play against CW. You can say it’s confirmation bias, but after seeing it so many times I start to wonder if the matchmaking isn’t rigged in some way. But anyway, the Freeze Mage list I was using is the one Thijs was playing on his stream a few days ago. Not sure if it’s his most recent one, but it definitely works. Here is the Freeze Mage decklist if you want to check it out. The list is rather standard, the only “off” thing might be using Cone of Cold instead of the second Blizzard. Which I agree with in the Paladin-heavy meta – Cone of Cold is often just as good as Blizzard and costs 2 mana less. If you like Freeze Mage and you don’t mind playing longer games, it’s definitely a good option to play on the ladder right now.

And the deck I’ve played most between ranks 5 and Legend was… Midrange Druid. I might have disappointed some of you, but there is really no mysterious strategy, a secret deck that will let you hit Legend easily (well… there is Secret Paladin, but hey, that’s not my point). To hit Legend you just need to pick a good deck, a deck you know how to play and grind it all the way through. Midrange Druid is a consistent, strong deck. And it’s fast, you don’t want to drag out the games. And it works quite well in the current meta. The only problem was the influx of Tempo Mages after TempoStorm ranked it as #1 deck. Which was pretty weird, because the meta hasn’t really changed, people were obviously playing Midrange (like they always do), but there weren’t tons of them on the ladder, and they got ranked #1. Which obviously lead to more Druids on the ladder and even more Tempo Mages to counter that. At one point I wanted to switch out the decks and try playing Zoo Warlock again (because it’s good against Tempo Mage), but decided against it. I don’t like switching decks too often – I don’t think that’s a solid strategy. Unless your deck is really underperforming, you should stick to one deck instead of switching them out every other game. It makes you more focused on the deck you’re currently playing, you can analyze your plays better, because you don’t have different strategies and win conditions every few games and well – practice is also important, so if you stick to one deck for a long time, you’ll play it better.

As it turned out, Tempo Mage was the second deck I’ve played against most (after the Secret Paladins), but I actually had higher win rate against Tempo Mages (almost 60%) than against Secret Paladins (flat 50% – I went 12-12 against Secret Pally with Midrange Druid). I had highest win rates against Control Priest (100% over 3 games), Patron Warrior (83,3% over 6 games), RenoLock/Handlock (77% over 9 games) and Midrange Druid (70% over 10 games). I didn’t have negative win rate against any class – my lowest win rate was against Paladin at 50% over 26 games (yeah, funny thing is that I’ve faced only 2 Paladin decks that weren’t Secret Paladin).

But let’s talk about the deck itself for a bit. It’s a very standard Midrange Druid deck. The core of all the decks is pretty much the same. The few things that might be different/interesting… I don’t run Living Roots. I like the card, but I just couldn’t find a place to put it. I prefer the deck a little more heavy on the late game, so I don’t want to put it instead of the Ancient of War or Sylvanas Windrunner. Since my deck is slightly heavier, I also can’t put it instead of the one Darnassus Aspirant, because I need to have more consistent ramp in order to curve out into higher drops faster.

I don’t run Sludge Belchers, because I don’t find them amazing in Midrange Druid. The standard 5-drop slots are obviously Druid of the Claws – I think they’re better than Belchers because of the flexibility. The ability to charge them gives more possible reach and an instant removal if you need to. E.g. charging it into the Flamewaker is much better than just playing the Belcher, letting them get another round of pings and possibly not even killing the Flamewaker in the end. I prefer to run Azure Drake and Loatheb as my other 5-drops. Azure Drake is a great late game topdeck, allowing to cycle through the deck faster. The Spell Damage is also sick when combined with Swipe – the combo won me a lot of games. And Loatheb is just a solid 5-drop, even better if Tempo Mages were on the hunt for Midrange Druids. Playing Loatheb after they set-up the Flamewaker/Sorcerer’s Apprentice turn is really good. It often shuts down their whole turn and lets you clear the important minions before Mage can start doing the crazy combos. If you go first it’s also a good way to stop the Secret Paladin from dropping the Mysterious Challenger a turn earlier with the Coin. Not to mention that the 5/5 body is good enough to put a lot of pressure on the enemy.

Next thing is running two 6-drops – both Emperor Thaurissan and Sylvanas Windrunner. A lot of Druid players were cutting one of them, usually the Thaurissan. I dislike that, because 6-drop slot is very weak in the Druid. Druids have insane turn 5 and insane turn 7 most of the time, but they lack a good turn 6 play. Having another strong minion you can play on the curve instead of being forced to play a 4-drop + Hero Power or 5-drop on turn 6 feels better for me. Sylvanas is also good thing against Secret Pally, as it stops them from dropping the bombs. They often can’t use Challenger/Dr. Boom or Tirion Fordring when you have Sylvanas on the board, because it’s too easy to steal one of them.

And the Ancient of War – the only thing I hate about this card in the current meta is that Paladins have started running Keeper of Uldaman. It feels so bad when a 4-drop turns your 5/10 minion into a 3/3. Besides that, I like how much protection Ancient of War can give you. Silence can also make the 7-drop pretty weak, but that’s another reason why I run it alongside Sylvanas. Usually when one gets Silenced, I can safely drop the second and it will get full value. Ancient of War is awesome in Secret Paladin matchup (outside of the Keeper of Uldaman), in Zoo Warlock matchup, in Aggro Shaman matchup (I’ve found that a lot of Shamans are playing only a single Earth Shock or not even that – and they usually use it on the first Taunt they see, which is Druid of the Claw most of the time), so pretty much every fast matchup. But even in the slower matchup it’s something opponents rarely play around. They know that you can play Lore or Boom, but they often don’t expect the War which can mess up their plans.

One tech card I’ve considered is Mind Control Tech. I’ve seen some Druids already using it, just like it was a very popular tech in the post-GvG meta. It’s pretty easy to hit something with so many decks that flood the board. There are a few reasons to play such a tech card in Druid. The first reason is that Druids don’t really have a great 3-drop. They don’t have something like Imp Gang Boss in Warlock or let’s say Animal Companion in Hunter. Mounted Raptor is cool, but 3/2 stats are very weak in that slot and the quality of random 1-drop is questionable – it just fits the fast Druid decks much more. And the second reason is that Druid can afford to play only tech cards in 3 mana slot, because that’s the mana point he’s often skipping because of the ramp. Even if Wild Growth or Darnassus Aspirant are coined out, they are often followed with Innervate + 5-drop. That’s why MCT is a viable tech card not only in Reno decks (where they can afford to put it, because they have so many “free slots”), but also in Druid.

And so, I’ve hit Legend on January 13th. My goal for this season is, once again, top 100 Legend. I nearly got it last season, I would probably have it if I could play on the last day. This time I will try even harder to hit it. The competition is really tough, much tougher than it was last year. More and more good players are hitting Legend and game at the highest level is getting harder. So wish me luck!

Statistics + Other Stuff

All the stats are based on the Hearthstone Deck Tracker. The stats aren’t 100% accurate, because I’ve played some games on mobile. This season, however, mobile games were only about 10% of my games, so the stats should be relatively accurate. I’ve played 227 games in total from rank 15 to Legend (~250 if we consider the games played on mobile). My stats with all the decks were 137-90 (60.3%) win rate. Midrange Druid was my most played deck with 53-31 (63%) win rate. Considering the average game length of 5 minutes (yeah, I’m a pretty fast player) + queue/making the changes in the deck/other things time of 1 minute per game, it took me about 25 hours of playing to get into Legend. What does it mean? It means that with the good win rate, hitting Legend is very possible even if you play only about an hour per day. Hitting Legend doesn’t mean you have to grind Hearthstone a lot. So if you always wanted to try, but lack of time was your excuse – you should still go for it.

My biggest win streak was between ranks 5 and 3 with Midrange Druid. I went on a 10 games winning streak. Sadly, a few games later I went on a 6 games losing streak, I’d probably hit Legend much faster if not for that.

My shortest game was 1 minute (3 turns). It was Midrange Druid (I assume, because he would probably have something to play if he was playing a faster version) Mirror. Enemy Conceded after me getting Wild Growth into Innervate + Emperor Thaurissan start. He probably didn’t have any answer or solid play, so he just conceded. My shortest “non-concede” game was also on Midrange Druid, this time against the Freeze Mage. The game ended on turn 5 after about 2 minutes. I had crazy good start and he didn’t get the Ice Blocks (he got Ice Barrier, but it couldn’t really help against such aggression) or Frost Novas to stall the game. My turn 1 was Coin + 2x Innervate + Emperor Thaurissan, followed by Aspirant on turn 2, Shredder on turn 3, Azure Drake on turn 4 and 2x Savage Roar on turn 5, with over 10 overkill damage. I really felt sorry for my opponent, but sometimes you just get nut hand and they can’t do anything. That’s one of the reasons why Midrange Druid is so strong.

My longest game was RenoElise Warrior vs Control Priest. The game went for 19 minutes, 24 turns. It was a really cool game, where enemy was putting tons of pressure on me since the first turns. My draws were really unlucky and I had no big drops until the late, late game. I had turn 6 Justicar Trueheart, so I started to gain a lot of Armor. I’ve played Reno after being taken down to 3 HP. Then enemy took me down to 5 health again and I was just outside of the range of Auchenai Soulpriest + Hero Power (he had upgraded one too) for couple of turns in a row. Over the course of the game, I took about 100 points of damage and I’ve finished the game at 1 health (well, could’ve tanked up to 5, but 1 is more dramatic). When we were both nearly out of cards, I’ve played Golden Monkey, which my enemy Entombed a turn after. Luckily for me, I had the board initiative so I’ve slammed Chromaggus on the empty board (still had one more card in my deck so wanted to get the value when I still can). Enemy likely didn’t have an answer, so he played his own Golden Monkey he just drew. My last draw was Iron Juggernaut, so with 2x Juggernaut (20 guaranteed damage, since the enemy was on his last draw too). All I needed is to not die, which seemed pretty easy, since I was at 10 health. Enemy played Ragnaros the Firelord, which hit my face (putting me at 2). I had no way to kill that, so I’ve just played Juggernaut + Old Murk-Eye to flood the board and gone for face. Enemy dropped Malorne, which didn’t really matter, because the game was decided by a Rag shot at this point anyway (he had 1/4 chance to win). Rag hit the Juggernaut, leaving me at 1 health (I took 1 fatigue damage), so I’ve dropped the second Juggernaut, gone for the face with other minions and watched as the second bomb killed my enemy. It was probably one of the best games I’ve ever played. That’s why I think Elise Starseeker is very cool card, because it might create a lot of late game moments you would never see otherwise.

Closing

That’s it folks. I hope you’ve enjoyed the read. If you like this one, I can make another one next month!

Even though it’s not even close to the fastest players, who hit Legend on the first few days, I think that my run this season was pretty good. I didn’t play that many games and I’m pretty happy with the 60% win rate. It’s definitely not my best season, I had some when I hit Legend in under 200 games, but it’s good enough.

If you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comment section below!