Standard format is presumably fast approaching along with a new expansion worth of cards that will forever change how the game is played.
Until the new content is unleashed upon the playerbase, theorycrafting and practice are the best ways to figure out what decks might be worth playing in Standard. While the new cards from the expansion will no doubt help create the meta when they are released, creating decks before that point will be a good way to have some direction.
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Esports organization hosted a Fireside Gathering event which featured a tournament that I took part in using the Standard rules. I ended up finishing tied for 3rd/4th place and took home a talking Harth Stonebrew bottle opener.
The tournament was casual in nature due to most participants using the Standard format rules for the first time and used the conquest mode with three decks and no bans. There were around 14 players of varying skill levels from Legend rank to having just picked the game up earlier in the week.
We were given 30 minutes to construct three decks without Goblins vs Gnomes and Naxxramas cards. The first deck I knew I could cancel out was Mech Mage due to most of the deck being from Goblins vs Gnomes.
The process of selecting which decks to use in a short amount of time proved to be quite difficult, but after going through each class and seeing what cards I was left with, I decided on Rogue, Priest and Shaman. I decided that these classes gave me the best chance to win with my specific pool of cards.
Now to see the decks…
Malygos is one of my favorite cards in Hearthstone and brings the potential of dealing enough damage to take down an enemy in one turn. Combining the combo potential with a class like Rogue has already spawned a popular deck in ladder at the moment and can continue that trend all the way into Standard. The Rogue class provides plenty of damage spells to utilize with Malygos to either clear the board or deal direct damage to your opponent.
The biggest change I made to the deck was due to Antique-Healbot being banned in the Standard format being that it is from the Goblins vs Gnomes set. I found the best course of action was to swap those out for a couple of Earthen-Ring-Farseer. The health gained from the Farseer is substantially less than that of the Healbot, but the lower mana cost and same attack and defense stats provided a good early game body to put pressure on the opponent or help stall for a longer game.
The debate on whether or not to use Sinister-Strike came up when building this deck because of its finishing power with Malygos on the board. I ended up choosing to leave Sinister Strike out of the deck due to it not being able to interact with the board and being a dead card until Malygos is on the board. I found a more consistent approach using Eviscerate and Shiv as the finishers because they can take out any pesky minions or go straight for the opponent unlike Sinister Strike.
The two other major cogs of the deck are Emperor-Thaurissan and Gadgetzan-Auctioneer. The Auctioneer allows this deck to function like the old Miracle Rogue decks by providing a card drawing engine to help accumulate insane card advantage. The Emperor allows you to lower the cost of the direct damage spells and Malygos to enable the one turn kill a couple turns later.
The deck does great against aggro decks thanks to direct damage tools such as Backstab and SI:7-Agent. Those cards can deal with early game threats like Knife-Juggler while being cheap enough to trigger combo cards. Blade-Flurry is another card that can help clear the opponents board early in the match or you can hold onto and use in the late-game to reap the benefits of having Malygos on the board.
Malygos Rogue proved to be the deck with the best record at the tournament, posting a 3-0 record in the three rounds that were played.
The deck I started all three of the tournament rounds was a variant of a deck I have played on ladder in past seasons. Dragons have taken a backseat to more control oriented priests as of late, but the bloodthirsty creatures will still pack quite a punch when Standard arrives. I went with a more control version of the deck that capitalizes on cards from League of Explorers to help with the dragon synergy.
The deck does lose quite a few cards that are from Goblins vs Gnomes and Naxxramas but the main portion of the deck, the dragon kit, is untouched. Cards like Zombie-Chow and Velens-Chosen will be missed due to their great early game impact. I chose to add Museum-Curator to the deck because of its great value and utility along with the potential chance of discovering a Chillmaw. The abscence of Velen’s Chosen made me forgo using a Dragonkin-Sorcerer in favor of more early-game pressure in like Blackwing-Technician.
One card that was dominant when I was able to make it stick on the field was Brann-Bronzebeard. The League of Explorers legendary card has incredibly synergy with the dragon cards with his “Your Battlecries trigger twice” effect. Twilight-Whelp becomes a 2/5 with Brann on the field and a dragon in your hand, while dropping an Azure-Drake will net you two card draws with its effect triggering twice.
Losing out on great removal like Lightbomb is always a tough pill to swallow, but League of Explorers gave the priest class some excellent new removal called Entomb. Entomb was a vital card for this deck as it helped me remove significant threats throughout the tournament like Savannah-Highmane and plenty copies of Shieldmaiden.
Elise-Starseeker was a late addition to the deck and I figured it could be an alternate win condition if the game ended up going later than anticipated. Sadly I was not able to summon the Golden-Monkey during the tournament.
Dragon Priest also got me a win in each of the rounds and I ended up sporting a 3-2 record with the deck overall.
Aggro Shaman was the final deck I chose to make, and ended up being the biggest disappointment of the tournament. I wanted to have one aggro deck to test out in standard format and I chose shaman because the deck really only lost one staple, but that card would prove to be the difference between winning and losing.
The card I am talking about is Crackle and all of its RNG glory. Crackle is from the Goblins vs Gnomes set which meant that I was unable to use the card and had to find a replacement. My biggest mistake was selecting Lightning-Storm as a viable replacement because I thought the board clear would make up for the damage potential of Crackle. The 3-6 damage that Crackle provides would have won me all the games that I lost with this deck. Board clearing is important but in an aggro deck one copy of Elemental-Destruction is plenty.
Apart from Crackle being unavailable to the deck, the list I ran is fairly typical of what a player would see on ladder. The deck is mostly straightforward with its aggro approach. You start by playing a bunch of low cost minions such as Tunnel-Trogg and Totem-Golem, going for the enemies face until they are low enough to use Lightning-Bolt and Lava-Burst for direct damage and the win.
Another potential finishing combo is using Doomhammer with Rockbiter-Weapon to rack up some serious damage on your opponent with the hammers Windfury ability. Using Rockbiter to destroy a minion in the early game is another good way to utilize the cards versatility.
As I said earlier, this deck ended up being the biggest disappointment for me in the tournament going 2-3 in the three rounds that were played. The lack of Crackle and me not knowing what to replace it with definitely didn’t help the decks winning prospects. I also found that I was running out of steam fairly early in games when I wasn’t able to draw Ancestral-Knowledge or when I wasn’t lucky enough to get a Hunter or Warlock hero power from Sir-Finley-Mrrgglton.
Other Popular Decks
There were many viable decks that people played throughout the tournament that would have been a better option than the ones that I played. The most played deck by my opponents was a Druid deck that relied on their patented combo to end the game. Druids had access to most of their collection due to their staple cards being from classic and basic sets. Blizzard has already said they plan to do something about Druids most powerful cards such as nerfing the Force-Of-Nature/Savage-Roar combo.
Control Warrior was another deck that was surprisingly effective throughout the tournament. The big question with Control Warrior was how debilitating would the loss of Deaths-Bite which turned out to not to make that much of a difference for players who used Warrior in the tournament. Most players counted on using one copy of Gorehowl to make up for one of the vacant spots that Death’s Bite left.
Freeze Mage was another deck that was played by several players at the tournament. Despite losing Mad-Scientist to find the secrets that are needed to survive and Healbot to gain life, the deck was still able to get to the turns necessary for their big damage setup. All the direct damage cards were still available for players to use if they made a Mage deck so I am not surprised people went with Freeze. Blizzard has mentioned the strength of the Freeze Mage deck when talking about potential nerf targets so the viability of the deck might not last for Standard format.
The tournament went for three full rounds before it had to end due to time restraints. I was satisfied with my performance and thought that the decks I made were pretty good considering the time limit and no warning ahead of time that we were playing by Standard format rules.
If I could go back I would have skipped the Aggro Shaman deck and gone with a druid deck instead because of the strength that the class showed throughout the tournament. I was very surprised at how well Malygos Rogue did and that it statistically was the best deck I used during the tournament looking at the record. Dragon Priest was very strong and did well to combat the couple of aggro decks I faced.
There wasn’t a single card that I would call my MVP for the tournament but there were a few that really stuck out apart from the cards I talked about earlier. Tomb-Pillager was a card that provided a great body for my Malygos Rogue deck and the coin would prove invaluable for either enabling a combo, giving me the one extra mana I needed for a turn with the coin or just being a five attack body. Cabal-Shadow-Priest was a card that I decided to use two copies of because I figured my opponents would use lots of minions that I could take. I was able to take numerous Armorsmith and Acolyte-Of-Pain for extra value. The couple of games I did win with my Aggro Shaman deck were primarily due to the pressure I was able to put on my opponent with Leper-Gnome, which I had in my opening hand almost every game.
While I would have liked to have won the tournament, I thought the experience was great and helped me get an idea of what the Standard format might look like after it gets released. The new expansion that they release along side the mode will be interesting to see if it adds to any of these decks or creates whole new strategies for players to shape their decks around.
Let me know what you guys think will be the top decks in Standard mode with or without the new expansion and if anyone has competed in a tournament with Standard format rules.