Post Naxxramas Meta: Analysis of Metagame Shifts

Detailed analysis of the shifting effects of Naxxramas cards and where Blizzard is taking the game.

Hi! I’m takeeacy, and I’m a TCG/CCG veteran. I wrote one of the most popular Handlock guides out there – read it here. Today, I’ll talk about the upcoming metagame shifts that will result from the Naxx release. As a caveat for all metagame predictions, take anything you hear with a grain of salt! In this case though, I’m going to reason by way of Blizzard’s design philosophy that has been made apparent with the Naxxramas release. Based off experiences with other card games most notably Magic the Gathering, I will walk us through Blizzard’s intended meta shift with the new cards.

The Decline of “Charge” & Face Aggro

Face Aggro decks, also known as “Aggro” and “Burn” decks, have long been a pain to deal with in the Hearthstone metagame. These decks include Shockadin (Aggro Paladin), Aggro Mage, Backspace Rogue (Cancer Rogue), Face Hunter (Huntard), and Face Warrior. From the game design standpoint, Face Aggro decks have very little interaction with the enemy cards; one of the key mechanics of Face Aggro decks is Charge. Face Aggro decks do not really care for achieving board control or value out of their minions as much as they care about damage to the enemy hero, and thus, we often see wolfrider, abusive-sergeant, and similar high damage + 1 HP minions. Once they’ve dealt their damage, Face Aggro decks have gotten what they wanted. As such, it’s often thought that Face Aggro matches tend to be less “fun.” While Face Aggro is an important part of the meta by not letting slow value-oriented Control decks get out of hand, it often is not interactive matchup to play; many games tend to come out very one-sided in favor of one deck or the other. I believe Blizzard also views Face Aggro decks similarly; their intentions are especially clear upon a more thorough analysis of the Naxxramas release. The number of strong taunts and value cards that have been released is quite amazing. One card in particular that will stop the onslaught of 1HP minions is unstable-ghoul. This card will one-handedly stop a wave of 1HP minions such as leper-gnome, southsea-deckhand, and worgen-infiltrator. Thus, I think Face Aggro decks will have to radically adapt to using sturdier 2-3HP minions and rely less on 1HP minions. I don’t know how much play Unstable ghoul will generally see outside of more aggro metas, but if the meta ever swings back to a faster pace, Unstable Ghoul will quickly slow the game down again.

In addition to Unstable Ghoul, slower decks also will have sludge-belcher and deathlord. While their viability in general may be questioned, it is clear that they will be very strong against aggro matchups. Deathlord’s deathrattle drawback may hurt in Control matchups, but it’s definitely worth the time it stalls in aggro matchups. Deathlord can easily trade for 3 cards in return for giving your opponent a mindgames; stalling out the game against aggro matchups and putting a halt to their strong opening can easily swing the game. The longer Deathlord stays alive, the more effective it is. In many ways, Deathlord can be thought of as loaning time; you put a small down payment of 3 mana in return for block & probably trading up to 3 small minions. After you’ve used up Deathlord, you pay back by giving your opponent a Mindgames which honestly as know from playing Mindgames is usually not that great anyways. The longer you can avoid paying back – the more you’ve gained from it, especially if you’re playing the slower deck in the matchup. The randomly summoned minion can suck, but it will usually be worth the time you’ve gained from Deathlord. And if you can silence your own Deathlord when it has very low HP, there’s almost no drawback to Deathlord. This combo can be compared to ancient-watcher plus a silence, except that Deathlord is immediately active instead and you can silence it later. Even in control matchups, giving your opponent a randomly summoned minion from their deck that’s worth 3 mana or less is usually statistically in your favor unless if you play against decks like Control Warrior or Ramp Druid. Deathlord can provide so much board control; I believe that almost any deck can run Deathlord (especially control decks and even Zoo) in any less control-oriented meta. Sludge Belcher also serves a similar role in staving off aggro decks. While it somewhat competes with senjin-shieldmasta, I think Sludge Belcher can replace Senjin in decks that have an overcrowded 4 mana slot such as Handlock or Paladin. For other slow decks that have a weak 5 mana slot, Sludge Belcher can offer additional taunting defense to stall out games; it may replace stampeding-kodo in some decks since Stampeding Kodo may have lost some value with the Naxxramas release (destroying Haunted Creepers or Eggs can be unhelpful). In aggro and combo metas, it can replace Sunwalker since having the extra 1/2 Slime blocks more attacks than the Divine Shield. That Slime can also guarantee blocking 1 more attack from a combo & be quite a nuisance for leeroy-jenkins plus shadowstep combos and Shaman combos to deal with and it’s a great way to minimize the effect of the-black-knight. On top of all the taunt minions that are coming out, Zoo is getting buffed with all the upcoming high value minions. Zoo is already a decent counterpick against many Face Aggro decks, and with the new release, it should only become an even stronger matchup in favor of Zoo. One example of a strong card for Zoo in the aggro matchup is zombie-chow; it’s a strong 1 drop that can trade easily for two 1 drops in a typical aggro deck. Aggro decks probably will not run Zombie Chow since it is more of a board control card at the cost of healing your opponent, so it’s use & impact should be exclusive to Zoo in this matchup. In addition, haunted-creeper and echoing-ooze provide multiple bodies to trade with the mad rush of low cost minions in aggro decks. In the past, aggro decks could try trade their minions against Zoo’s at around a 1 to 1 exchange rate, but these value minions will allow Zoo to trade these small low cost value minions at a 1 to 2 exchange rate and keep their high damage minions such as flame-imp alive. With the addition of nerubian-egg, Zoo is given more midgame power and insurance against AOE spells such as consecrate; Zoo no longer suffers as large of a setback after an AOE spell. Both of these types of additions to Zoo (AOE insurance and more high value minions) have bolstered Zoo to be the deck to beat in the current meta.Given Zoo’s popularity, it would also be hard for Face Aggro decks to survive in a general meta. As a side note, people have asked if Zoo will ever disappear, especially with this patch. I believe that Zoo will stick around as long as people run slow decks that suffer to fast decks composed of cheap strong minions. Zoo is fundamentally about getting as many undercosted minions to overwhelm the board and trade cheaply and favorably with more expensive minions while dealing damage to the face. Unless if all the low cost and high value minions disappear, Zoo will be around in some shape or some form even if it’s not under the Warlock class. Zoo serves as an important counterbalance against super slow and control decks in the meta – without it, we would be seeing slow decks and long drawn out games like legendary heavy versions of Control Warrior, Control Priest, and Control Paladin all the time. Ultimately, Blizzard is trying to slow down the meta by producing a lot of high value minions and strong taunts. These cards reinforce their intentions of trying to make Hearthstone more fun and more interactive. With that, I think we’ll see a continued trend towards slower games with more turns and more of an emphasis upon board control over Face Aggro and Burn strategies. Face Aggro decks will be more of a fringe/meta-game pick I believe or they will have to become more value-oriented like Zoo. One card that comes to mind is avenge. This may help Aggro decks stay relevant, but I think it will be harder to run a true aggro deck after the full Naxxramas release.

Will Miracle Go Away?

loatheb is certainly a strong card and is going to be quite the game-changer, but it probably is not as game breaking as people think. It is extremely strong against certain types of decks and for certain types of metas, and it is a relatively strong card in the rather limited 5 mana drop selection that we currently have. However, it’s use will be a little more limited than say azure-drake which arguably is the gold standard for 5 mana minions. The more aggro the meta is the weaker Loatheb will be, but the more combo oriented and control oriented the meta is, the stronger Loatheb will become. I believe it was designed to be an anti-Miracle and anti-Freeze Mage card to help keep the meta diverse. It will be very good in many aggro and tempo oriented decks as a curve topper or tempo play on turn 5 to protect your minions from a massive AOE or targeted removals. Otherwise, it will be good in control decks to stop combos for another turn and to protect the board, but again, I believe it’s use will depend heavily on how minion or spell heavy the meta is. Miracle Rogue will be set back by Loatheb, but I think it will still be a relatively top tier deck due to its ability to draw a disgusting number of cards in a game. That said, I believe that Loatheb can knock Miracle off its #1 pedestal. (Note: However, we also observe Miracle Rogues running Loatheb themselves to set up for combos late game. So time will tell which way Loatheb will push Miracles).

The Vanilla Minion Balance

With all of the Deathrattle cards coming in with Naxxramas, I think Silences will increasingly become a staple in many decks; I think we will see more ironbeak-owl and even spellbreaker being played at least as a one-of after all of Naxxramas is released. In a meta with more silences, the value of vanilla (aka minions with no extra text) such as chillwind-yeti will increase, and I believe the meta will oscillate between increasing numbers of silence effects and then countered by a rise in vanilla minion usage; a rise in vanilla minions would bring around the usage of high value minions with effects such as deathrattle which would in turn encourage the use of silences again. This cycle of cards will become increasingly apparent as we get more minions with abilities in the future.

RNG is here to stay

With the release of webspinner, feugen + stalagg, and deathlord, Blizzard has shown its emphasis on keeping RNG as a significant element of the game. RNG will keep the game “fun” according to Blizzard, and with lead designer Ben Brode’s insistence upon it, I think we will see RNG as a key element to Hearthstone. Unfortunately, I believe that RNG may prevent the game from becoming more recognized as an E-sports competitive game and be kept as more of a fun casual game. Blizzard has repeatedly said that they want Hearthstone to feel casual, but I don’t believe that having more RNG is healthy. Another example of their hesitation to move beyond RNG is the lack of tutor effects (the ability to find exactly the card you want in your deck and put it into your hand or into play); tutors can create a meta that is more combo centric and are often must-plays, but they also increase the consistency of many decks and open the game to more interesting and reliable combinations of cards. It seemed like Webspinner and Mad Scientist may easily have been made as tutor like cards at the cost of more mana, but instead, they have the RNG element tagged to them instead. However, for the immediate future, I think we will not see tutor effects nor a move away from RNG.

Top 11 Meta Changing Cards To Watch Out For!

  1. loatheb
  2. deathlord
  3. zombie-chow  This card is going to be crazy. Everyone knows that it will be great for Zoo, but I think it will have many other applications as well for any other board control deck. Any late game control deck that wants a stronger 1 drop may use this since they’re not that concerned about their opponent’s life total in the early game & would willingly give the opponent life to have a stronger early game. Thus, Zombie Chow may replace Argent Squire as the defacto neutral 1 drop in many control decks. This is another card that shifts the game from away from a Face Aggro meta.
  4. unstable-ghoul
  5. dark-cultist Dark Cultist will single handedly create a new deck archetype for Priest. It is insanely strong at almost 10 stats worth of value for 3 mana on top of already having a very strong 3/4 body. While Priest has been mostly a Midrange/Control archetype now, Dark Cultist offers more of a Zoo/Midrange approach perhaps to Priest. Priest may have to lower its mana curve to make full use of Dark Cultist, but it will be almost a guaranteed autoinclude into any Priest deck. This is the most obvious class buff with the Naxxramas set.
  6. spectral-knight The making of Spectral Knight reveals that Blizzard wants to keep this game minion centric. Whereas Magic the Gathering had initially underestimated the power of spells and created overpowered spells in the first few expansions of the game, Blizzard is making sure that Hearthstone does not move far away from having minion combat as a key part of the game. Because of the strong spells in MtG, the game often had spell and combo heavy metas with very little minion interaction. Spectral Knight is a huge minion that will prevent the meta from moving too far in that direction. Since it must be directly attacked or affected by a minion ability, even spell heavy decks will have to have some means of dealing with this monster. This is a very anti-Miracle card; Miracle Rogue’s best removal for this will rely on AOEs combined with usage of their weapon. Similarly, MtG has recently been releasing similar creatures in their game to shift the game towards a more creature combat heavy meta. Spectral Knight will be good especially in midrange decks and as a strong finisher for aggro decks, but it can see play even in control decks in the right metas.
  7. nerubian-egg & haunted-creeper
  8. echoing-ooze
  9. mad-scientist Mad Scientist will bring about increasing viability to Secret oriented decks; I feel that Secret decks have often been on the cusp of being viable, but they have always been a bit gimmicky because of the lack of consistency. With the release of Mad Scientist, I think this brings much needed consistency and speed to Secret decks. I think that Paladin and Mage will most strongly benefit from Mad Scientist because their Secrets tend to be less situational that Hunter traps; in addition, sneaking in a 3 mana Mage secret with a 2 mana minion is just too much value! :)
  10. nerubar-weblord This is a rather techy kind of card that unfortunately has awkward stats that will prevent it from seeing more play. However, it is a very anti-Warlock and may be used if the meta ever becomes almost exclusively Warlock. For example, Zoo runs anywhere from 1/3-1/2 of its deck with Battlecry, and Handlock lists run at least 1/3 of its deck (or 1/2 of its minions) with Battlecry. Right now, it’s definitely more of a tech card in specific metas, but we may one day see lockdown/stall control decks that slow the game down to make it safely to late game or build a board while denying their opponents to play cards. I can see a Paladin deck in the future that features a lot of effects that shut down your opponent with cards like mana-wraith, humility, aldor-peacekeeper, equality, and maybe even repentance until the late game where it pulls out strong legendaries to close out the game.

Hope you enjoyed the article and have gained a better insight to the design ideas and possible meta shifts with the Curse of Naxxramas expansion! Please leave your thoughts and feedback in the comment section below.