Revisiting Hearthstone Part I: The History of Warlock

A closer look at one of Hearthstone's most dominant classes and how it continues to be a top tier class despite many changes.

Hello travelers, this is Abhimannu kicking off a series of articles that try to rediscover the history of classes and how content releases, nerfs and other factors have shaped their decks and play style in the current meta. I’ll try to make the ordering of classes based on how much variety each class has. Warlock is one of the most diverse classes in the game and its obscenely powerful hero power allows it to be a dominant class in any meta. I’d love your inputs for the series and make additions if necessary to keep the content enriching and valuable for all players. Let’s head into the discussion then, shall we?

Classic Era: The Birth of The Two

Handlock and Zoo have existed since the earliest days of Hearthstone and have had dominated Hearthstone quite a lot. Things were a lot different back then as well. First let’s take a look at Handlock.

Handlock used to be incredibly powerful with the Giants they use having 10/10 in the Alpha stages. Dropping a Mountain Giant on turn 4 was unnerving for opponents to say the least! Oh and did I mention Twilight Drake gained +1 Attack AND +1 Health for each card you had in hand? That’s not even the whole story, with Leeroy Jenkins having a cost of 4 Mana and Soulfire being free (0 Mana), Handlock also had the late game finisher using other combo pieces like Faceless Manipulator and Power Overwhelming in conjunction to the aforementioned cards. Defender of Argus could buff up your giants like it does, but it had a stat line of 3/3 making it even more powerful than it is right now. There have been a considerable number of nerfs and Handlock still continued to dominate for quite some time. The Handlock combo finisher was also used in some fringe Zoo lists too, and in some cases people also ran ‘Combolock’ with a mix of aggressive early game and control tools.

Zoolock was just as good as Handlock in my opinion and both these decks have stood the test of time with proper Handlock decks going out of the Meta only recently with Reno Warlock taking its place. Knife Juggler, a key card in the deck was a 2/3 minion instead of a 3/2. Over time, it was changed to a 2/2 in a recent patch. Shattered Sun Cleric was a 3/3 minion as well and received stat changes. But stat changes are not all that happened to the original Zoo deck. Flame Imp would put any other 1 drop to shame had it not been nerfed. It was a 3/2 minion with Stealth and dealt 2 damage to the hero instead of 3. A card that sees almost no play but was incredibly powerful is Blood Imp. It was a 1/1 minion that gave all other minions +1 Health! Oh and did I mention Dark Iron Dwarf had a permanent buff? These cards made Zoo an incredibly powerful deck that relied on board control and used cheap buffs to clear minions or end the game. All of this is made possible thanks to the Warlock Hero Power which is by far the best hero power in the game for me at least.

Malygos Warlock was also a deck that has been around longer than you think. Even though Emperor Thaurissan was not around, Soulfire having no mana cost attached made a double Soulfire combo possible with Malygos. Consistency was however an issue compared to Handlock.

Curse of Naxxramas: Bring Out The Pain!

If the previous section is anything to go by and you already know what Handlock and Zoolock were very strong decks. Naxxramas was one of the best sets for both decks with each getting amazing tools to add.

Nerubian Egg and Haunted Creeper were iconic additions to Zoo and the level of synergy these two cards had is incredible! Over time Voidcaller also turned out to be a great card but we’ll get into it in a bit.

Handlock was known to be weak versus Combo Druid and other aggressive decks that could kill you very early. The arrival of Sludge Belcher helped Handlock quite a bit and its mid game was strengthened heavily! Sludge Belcher may very well be the best taunt there is in the game (Tirion being number one) for quite some time.

Goblins vs Gnomes: I Am Eternal!

Even though it was a mech themed affair there are only four notable cards that made an impact. Darkbomb and Antique Healbotsolidified the presence of Handlock even further. Darkbomb was considered to be a bad card by many initially, but it shone and it also found a place in some Zoo decks as well.

Zoo, however, went through the roof in terms of power levels. Demon Zoo became a thing with Voidcaller, Mal’ganis and the often not used Bane of Doom making the cut in demon based Zoo decks. And then there’s the ‘always 4’ Imp-losion that worked so well with Mal’ganis and Knife Juggler.

Between all of the demon and mech madness Demon Handlock was created. It retained all of the goodness of the normal Handlock but the inclusion of Mal’ganis and Voidcaller helped its cause quite a bit. The fact that you could potentially force opponents to pop your Voidcaller with so many taunt giving minions, you could completely obliterate your opponent in the mid game itself.

Blackrock Mountain: I Am The Essence of Magic

Imp Gang Boss is undoubtedly one of the best 3 drops in the game and it was included in both Zoo in every variant and Demon Handlock in some cases.

Malygos Warlock made a comeback and was used by many players to get top legend ranks. With Emperor Thaurissan and a range of control tools, you could burst your opponent with over 30 damage using discounted Darkbombs and Soulfire. It was a very unique and fun deck and surely had its moments of glory.

The Grand Tournament: Things Slow Down

Dreadsteed was a flavorful card that saw a little play in some intuitive decks but it lasted only a short while. Wrathguard was another card that saw play in some Zoo decks but it’s not used much these days either.

This is one of the points where Handlock began to slow down. Aggressive decks got refined and things were getting too fast for Handlock to keep dominating. Zoo, on the other hand was doing fine and kept getting those wins in. I do not mean to undermine the strength of Handlock though, experienced Handlock mains did just fine and more people kept moving to the Demon variant due to more survivability.

League of Explorers: Peddle Me This!

Dark Peddler and Reno Jackson, these two cards made quite the impact in the game. Dark Peddler’s ability to generate cards like Power Overwhelming and Soulfire made people switch out Doomguard in favor of Leeroy Jenkins to ensure the extra cards you generate get value without worrying about discarding anything. Brann Bronzebeard also found his place in most Warlock decks to get you the sweet value out of your Battlecry minions.

But the superstar of the expansion has to be Reno Jackson. Handlock was on a decline and getting those massive swing turns became very difficult thanks to so much burst at the disposal of most classes. Reno Warlock came into existence and totally changed things for the class. Renolock isn’t the same as Handlock in playstyle, but its early game and massive healing makes it more likely to work versus aggressive decks. It has quite a few variations and there is a lot you can customize in the decklist, making it one of the best decks to tinker with.

Whispers of the Old Gods: New Beginnings

It hasn’t been long since the last expansion launched and Zoo saw the departure of cards like Nerubian Egg, Implosion and Haunted Creeper but Darkshire Councilman and Forbidden Ritual have kept Zoo ticking. There are issues though, the very sticky minions are gone and board clears can be devastating with no comeback mechanisms like Knife Juggler + Imp-losion being present. Knife Juggler saw a nerf in stats but it is still played in every Zoo deck thanks to the great effect.

Handlock and Reno Warlock have suffered quite a bit with nothing good enough being put out to replace Sludge Belcher and Antique Healbot. Molten Giant’s nerf didn’t help the cause either.

It’s too early to say how things will pan our for control style Warlocks but Zoo seems to be cruising by despite losing some important minions.

With Warcraft Legion fast approaching and 2 content updates yet to come this year, we hope more Demons make their way into the game! It’s only a matter of time until some of the best characters from the Burning Legion are added to Hearthstone.

This marks the end of the first article of the Revisiting Hearthstone series. Hope you enjoyed it and I’d love to hear your inputs for this article or subsequent ones. Stay tuned for the articles and may the RNG gods be with you!