While I have taken every class to legend, Priest is the only deck I have taken to legend once. If you were following back then, you will know the deck I did it with was Combo Velen Priest. Not only did I find the combo very intriguing and difficult to play, but the deck was also extremely good against Secret Paladin. In addition, I was also a huge advocate of Dragon Priest in the days just before Mean Streets because it was incredibly strong against almost all of the meta, including both Zoo and Midrange Shaman. As a result, when I found a recent legend list that played both Dragon Priest and the combo I knew I had to try it out for myself.
The genius in this build is that it attempts to play the strong core of Dragon Priest while also directly targeting its two worst matchups. As powerful as Priest’s minions are, the build has a weakness in both Renolock and Miracle Rogue (which has come roaring back out of nowhere). Being able to play your powerful early game combined with fourteen-out-of-nowhere-damage-burst really helps against each of those decks because they are never going to see it coming. This deck seeks to walk a fine line between a classic go-big deck and a more subtle combo build. While normally I would see that as being too greedy, it works very well here because of how powerful Dragon Priest is on its own. As I have said many times, adapting is essential to climbing, and this is another great reason of why that is.
The thing that makes this list so special is the combo. For those that don’t know, the full damage burst is Mind Blast/Holy Smite/Prophet Velen, which is fourteen out-of-hand damage that requires no Emperor Thaurissan ticks to work. That is a lot of damage out of nowhere and brings a huge element of surprise to an already strong build. As with any midrange list in Hearthstone, you are going to need a strong finishing punch (try playing old Druid without Force of Nature/Savage Roar). However, that gets extrapolated here because you are also a Priest. Though that stinks, you can also use it to your advantage because nobody is going to expect Anduin to have damage and will often fall to low levels of life against you. Never be afraid to bait your opponent into taking more damage than they should.
Notice that all three of these cards work well on their own and can get you extra value in different ways. Hyper-focusing on the combo is not how you want to play this list. Rather, you want to make a read on your opponent and see how much finishing damage you are going to need. For instance, you are almost never going to need to burst down an aggro player unless you are racing them. Rather, in those games you want to use your Holy Smite as early removal and Prophet Velen as late game heal. There are also going to be games where you are going to need a little extra push for lethal and just having Mind Blast is going to be enough. This is not always going to be the case, but you don’t want to get caught up in saving cards you don’t need to save.
Though it has been a long time since the girl was good enough, the cycle has come around and she is once again primed for the meta. Northshire Cleric, while inherently weak against many other one drops, is a very important card in this deck because she works as both tempo and card draw. When playing lists like this one you need to be able to get cards. Yes, your curve is extremely powerful, but you also have a couple of ways to get wonky draws that can really slow you down. Digging is very important, so front loading two of these is a good idea. On that note, you typically want to be careful with Cleric. Never just run her out against a deck that can kill her right away unless you want to eat damage. Always think about things like Wrath, Fiery War Axe, and Alexstrasza’s Champion because they can ruin your day.
Even without your big Circle of Healing combos, this card does a very good job at getting value. That is because your deck has a ton of different minions that have a lot of health, especially when combined with Kabal Talonpriest or Power Word: Shield. In almost all of your games you are going to have injured minions just ripe for the healing, and you absolutely want to heal them. Always look for opportunities to draw with the 1/3 because it really helps you smooth out odd curves and gets you to the combo faster. This does not mean you only should look to draw, but there can be a lot of merit in damaging a minion. Getting an extra card against a deck where you need the combo will often be better than pushing through one more hit.
Dear God this card is fantastic. When Mean Streets first dropped most Dragon Priest decks did not include Kabal Talonpriest because…uh…it’s not a dragon? I am not sure why that was, but there is no doubt that this card absolutely blows people out of the water. Three extra health is no joke, and you want to work very hard to get this onto a target. Yes, a 3/4 for three is more than fine against any aggro deck (or Druid) but most of the time this is a card you actually want to play when something else is already on the board. While the combo is here, you are still a Dragon Priest. You are going to largely dominate and win games by controlling the board and bullying your opponents into submission. High-health is what allows you to do that. As a result, it is often best to play the talonpriest at the same time as another cheap minion or set it right into a curve. Having a 2/4 for two with taunt is fine on its own, but when that becomes a 2/7 (largely unkillable) and has a 3/4 to boot you can quickly take over. Always understand how you are going to use the buff and then work to make that happen.
Whether you love or hate Drakonid Operative (probably hate), it is important to talk about because it is not an easy hard to use. As with any discover card, there are going to be some “duh” moments where you instantly take a good card, but there will be many more “uhh…” moments where you have no idea what looks good. Adaption and versatility are both key elements of Hearthstone. As such, in order to make the most out of the five drop you want to always take the card that best fits your current playstyle. If you are pushing through for massive amounts of damage you want to look for either big midrange threats or direct burn, if you are facing aggro you want to look for any removal you can find, and if you are going up against a slower deck you need to try and find any big spells or minions that come your way.
Make a read when picking your card. Visualize how you are going to specifically use that card in the game, and then make your choice based on that information. That being said, it is also important to mention that when playing against control your decision should often be for the future. Your are a deck that uses damage as a finisher and sometimes that is not going to be enough. When you slot against a control deck or a midrange deck you can’t seem to pressure you need to beat them down with large threat after large threat. Taking something like Lord Jaraxxus against Renolock or Ancient of War when facing Druid are the type of plays that will help you take those games down when everything else fails. You don’t always need to use the card you take from Operative, sometimes you just want to have a safety net.
As mentioned, this is a deck where you want to play midrange first and then move on to the combo. That is important because it helps you understand how to use both Prophet Velen and Alexstrasza. Each of these cards are very strong combo pieces, but they also work as healing. Something you will notice about this list is that, for all of its flashy minions and cool spells, it has no healing outside of the hero power (and anything you stick with Operative). For that reason, these two legendaries are going to be used as saving cards almost as much as they are used to take down your opponent. Never be afraid to play around burst and never hold back from just skyrocketing your health up when you get the chance to do so. While you may worry about losing a key combo piece, that combo isn’t going to matter if you’re dead.
Another big part of piloting this deck is using your large minions as tempo plays. This is a key element of midrange that people often ignore, but you are going to win a lot of games by playing high-statted minions that your opponent must answer. That keeps them occupied and ties up their mana, allowing you to keep priority and play more threats. Both Prophet Velen and Alexstrasza exemplify this because they are must-kill plays that are very hard to deal with. Velen allows you to both heal up for four each turn and threatens massive amounts of burst, while Alexstrasza on your opponent is going to instantly give you lethal and put you in control of the game. Know this, and do your best to set put these two into situations where you have the board or when your opponent is out of answers.
The five decks I’ve seen the most in the early meta.
Is this your best matchup? No. But it is a good one. The reason for that is Pirate Warrior, for all of its rapid burst and quick damage, is extremely bad at controlling the board. Rather, they are an pure aggro deck that just wants to start fast and go face until you die. The way you combat that is by clearing every early play they make and then setting up taunts that they cannot break through. If you take down their board with your large early bodies then they are going to have a hard time leveraging any more damage that isn’t charge or a weapon. From there you can use your hero power and big bodies to lock them out of the game. This matchup can get very tricky if you fall behind early, but note that you want to prioritize stats over abilities. Even if your Northshire Cleric or Kabal Talonpriest die right away, they eat damage when doing so.
Try your best to play both Wyrmrest Agent and Twilight Guardian into situations where Pirate cannot deal with them right away. The only burst damage the deck has is two Mortal Strikes, and if you can get up your wall while you have more than six your health you should be fine. Each of these cards can just win you the game on the spot, so you also want to get them extra health if you can. Waiting a turn to play a taunt minion with Power Word: Shield or Kabal Talonpriest can often be a very strong swing play. Curve is always going to take priority when going up against aggro, but don’t miss those opportunities by putting things out one turn too early.
This game is going to be a lot like the Pirate Warrior matchup, but with two very important differences. One, almost every single Aggro Shaman packs two copies of Flamewreathed Faceless. The 7/7 is not an easy card to deal with if you don’t have Shadow Word: Death in hand, so it is always important to build up your first three turns as much as possible to make sure you can trade it down. Taking seven is just not an option against a fast deck. The other important break from Garrosh is that Thrall has a lot of direct damage that can go right over your taunts. Lightning Bolt, Jade Lightning and Lava Burst all allow Shaman to keep fighting when other aggro decks would normally concede. Know this, and always count the spells your opponent has played when deciding how to trade and heal.
The whole part of this game is making it to either Prophet Velen or Alexstrasza. Shaman will almost never be able to race those threats, especially if you are ahead or if they are out cards when the legends come down. Just do everything you can to make it to turn nine. Though it may seem odd, putting on extra pressure is a big part of that. Shaman depends on their burn for removal, so if you can hit their health and force them to clear the board you are going to be eating burn spells in the process. This is not a matchup where you need to worry about anything except making it go long. Yes, losing a valuable minion to an easy spell may not feel good, but it won’t matter if it buys you extra time.
Normally Dragon Priest’s hardest matchup, I would say this is one of the easiest (if not the easiest) with the addition of the combo. The extra burst was put in to kill Gul’dan and that is exactly what it does. Fourteen damage is going to just blow Warlock away, especially when if they turn into Lord Jaraxxus thinking you have no answer for the demon lord. Your whole plan here is to force your opponent to be reactive (something they do naturally) and keep the game going long enough that you overwhelm your opponent with damage. Modern versions of Renolock have a lot of removal and AOE, so you’re going to be depending on the surprise burst here. Never shy away from attacking your opponent’s health and do your best to always be in control of the board.
This is a matchup where, due to your high-health minions and strong string of powerful threats, you can often bait out an early Reno Jackson. This is very important because getting your opponent to full-heal during the first part of the game will allow you to use Alexstrasza on your opponent without worrying about them moving back up to thirty. The legendary dragon is extremely strong, and you never want to get her invalidated unless you are specifically trying to get the explorer to come down. Do whatever it takes to stick to a curve and force your opponent into an early corner while they are busy tapping. If they never feel comfortable they should pull the trigger and give Alex a free path to the face.
Note: Always be aware of the Leeroy/Faceless combo and never try to dip below twenty if you have seen an Emperor Thaurissan come down.
Another reason for the extra burst, Miracle Rogue is still going to be a difficult matchup no matter how much damage you can pack. Not only do they have a ton of four attack minions that you cannot directly interact with (Azure Drake/Gadgetzan Auctioneer), but their combo will also absolutely decimate you. Rogue is a deck that never wants to run out of cards. As a result, you can directly fight against their plan by baiting out removal early on and making it so they use a lot of spells by the time the hit turn six. It is also important to answer the early Pirate package. Without Priest’s usual healing it is easy to fall behind in life and you want to take out anything that can stack it up quickly.
The way you win this game is through pressure. That does not mean you need to push in for huge chunks of damage (though it helps) but that you just need to always threaten your opponent with powerful bodies. Having a couple 3/6’s or a 3/4, 2/7 and a 3/6 on the board will really squeeze Valeera into a corner and stretch her removal thin. From there, you generally want to just trade into opposing minions and play bigger and bigger threats until Rogue succumbs to the board. Note that they have almost no AOE, so do not be afraid of just playing out as much junk as you can. Your bigger threats should be used to control the board, but if you have the combo (or any combo pieces) in your hand you want to play to them as much as possible. Like most decks, they will often take extra damage because they won’t expect the burst.
Though hyper-aggro and Renolock have caused it to rapidly drop in popularity, Jade Druid is still hanging onto the edges of the meta. This is a very odd game that is going to feel favored as long as you can get your curve ahead of your opponent’s. That is to say, if you manage to drop consistent threats Druid is going to spend the whole game playing catchup, which will largely force them off of their “draw deck and go infinite” plan. That then ties up their removal and severely limits their combos. Druid has never been a class that can easily kill things with a lot of health, and if you can put even two larger-bodied minions out on the board they will quickly run out of cards trying to answer them. However, if you stumble and they can curve or ramp out before you play anything significant it will be over. For that reason, aggressively mulligan for early bodies and always prioritize stats here.
Low cost cards. Dear God, find low cost cards. As mentioned, it is very easy to get an odd or awkward draw with a hybrid list like this one, and starting out slow against a lot of the meta (Pirate, Druid, Rogue) will be game over. Your must keeps are Twilight Whelp, Netherspite Historian, Shadow Word: Pain, and Wyrmrest Agent, and Northshire Cleric can be kept against any non-control deck.
When facing aggro you also want to keep Holy Smite and Potion of Madness. Power Word: Shield and Kabal Talonpriest are both good if you have early targets for them. If you are facing Druid or Shaman you can keep Shadow Word: Death with a strong early curve, and you can keep Twilight Guardian with a good curve and the coin when facing down aggro. Holy Nova can also be kept under those circumstances as well.
I love creativity, especially when it is applied to decks that I inherently enjoy playing. This is a very cool deck and one of the strongest meta-calls I have seen in some time. While not every match is going to be good, this gives an amazing example of how to tweak your cards in response to a meta. Changing one card isn’t going to make a good match bad, so experiment against what you can’t seem to beat. It is multiple lessons in one, and that’s awesome. Plus, it’s fun. Thanks as always and, until next time, happy holidays!