Secret Paladin, who needs it? Not only is the deck’s time on this Earth short lived (come on Standard!) but it’s so been there done that. You play some cards, things happen, you play some more cards. We get it. This week I wanted to look at Uther from a different, more midrangey angle. Yes, this deck may look a lot like Secret at first glance, but it is a completely different beast. Classic Midrange Paladin is one of my all-time favorite decks, and this build (built by Xzirez) takes a spin on it I have not yet seen (not easy to do). Instead of going for a bunch of different value cards and finishing damage, it relies almost completely on minions; using them to control the board and steadily take over the game one turn at a time. It is rare to see a deck so minion-based that works so well, but this list really puts together a great number of strong interactions and buffs that take it over the top.
Paladin, despite what it has become, has some of the best control tools out of any class. That usually pertains to their strong late-game, solid removal and incredible healing. However, they also have a lot of ways to control the board. This deck is chock full of ways to slowly build up your presence, which is exactly what a good midrange list needs. Yes, this deck is still shackled to the cards it must run (Shielded Minibot, Muster for Battle) but it has some very interesting interactions that make it pretty special. The best way to envision this list is through the lens of Midrange Druid. However, the cards here are much more unique, more fun to play, and are much, much more interactive than anything Malfurion can muster. There is no combo here, just good ol’ honest minions.
Mad Scientist is not a card that has seen much play in Paladin, but I think it is used masterfully in this build. With the popularity of Mysterious Challenger, all of the Paladin secrets have really blended into one another. However, Avenge is easily the strongest of the bunch and is completely fine on its own. This deck is a testament to that, playing Scientist just to fetch out the secret as one of the many buff spells around. In this list Scientist acts a lot like it does in Hunter, a silver bullet that can trade and then grab you another silver bullet. Avenge isn’t going to outright win you the game here like it does in a lot of Secret Paladin games, but it will help you keep a solid hold on the board as the game develops. Scientist is a very important part of this, because, much like Nerubian Egg, it enables you to trade away part of your board to put down a 4/4 (or in this case a 4/3).
The deck’s namesake, Nerubian Egg is another odd choice for a midrange build that works very, very well. The old rule of the egg is that, in order to run it with any efficiency you have to have multiple ways to trigger it. This deck easily covers that requirement, being able to trigger the egg in countless ways. Whether buffing it with an Keeper of Uldaman, making it huge with Blessing of Kings, or just turning it into an aggro card with Seal of Champions, this card is one of your best early threats. With so many different buffs in the list, it is best to treat this card in the same way it is played in Zoo. An aggressive two drop that can trade up and leave a 4/4 behind.
However, it is also important to note that you are not playing Zoo. While there are some similarities, this deck operates in a much different way and wins with a much different style. That is important because you need to know that this is not an aggro deck. Sometimes you will have a fast start, but you don’t always need to blindly push, push, push. Nerubian Egg is a card that a lot of aggo decks utilize to dissuade AOE. Here, you don’t need to worry about AOE with all of your high-health minions, which means you don’t need to worry about keeping the egg in its first form. A lot of times this card serves as insurance, making sure you always have something in play. However, this is a midrange build, which means your first priority should be breaking the egg in a way that also kills an opposing minion.
Seal of Champions
Seal of Champions is easily one of the strangest cards in this list. Not only is it a buff (which is generally looked down upon in card games) but it is a very fragile buff at that. The three extra attack can be very strong, but this card has been largely held back due to a lack of health. Yes, this is mitigated by the divine shield (which makes the minion very hard to remove) but you only get to do that trick once. Most buffs in Hearthstone need to have health (Blessing of Kings, Velen’s Chosen) to be considered good. The reason that Seal makes the cut for this list is because of its versatility to acts a hard removal or damage potential. Almost all decks look for cards that can adapt to the situation at hand, and this one more than rises to the occasion.
Midrange Paladin has never been good at burst or removing minions, and this one buff acts as both. There are two modes you can use Seal of Champions in. The first is as hard removal using the card to buff up a Mad Scientist or Sludge Belcher to kill a large minion. When that happens your minion is almost always going to die the following turn, (especially with the shield gone), making your buff a simple removal spell. That is not bad. However, unlike a removal spell, your opponent is going to have to spend resources on the minion you buffed. In that way this can be a great tempo play, baiting out removal to set up your next big minion. The other mode for this card is an aggressive one. While you usually want to save the buff for immediate value, there will be games where you can play it on turn three and start going face. That is also a fine use of the card, but you only want to do that when your opponent has had a slow start or has no way to answer your minion.
I have longed to see both Aldor Peacekeeper and Keeper of Uldaman in action side by side. Not only are they each incredibly powerful in their own right, but they mirror each other and work to create a very strong balance within this list. The reason is, they both neutralize minions and act as two of your most powerful removal spells. Most of the time, Aldor Peacekeeper is used as a control card, neutralizing some giant threat that you don’t have hard removal for in order to buy more time. While that mode is perfectly fine, in this deck is used as much more of a tempo card by allowing your minions to trade into something and live. A big part of playing any midrange deck is to enhance your board little by little, adding larger and larger threats as the game progresses. Part of that is keeping your minions on the field as best you can. There will be many even trades you make while playing this deck, but if you can ever make that trade falls into your favor while also putting down a 3/3, you should.
On the other hand, we have Aldor Peacekeeper‘s partner in crime, Keeper of Uldaman. The 3/4 is an absurdly good card that is an even stronger version of the classic three drop. Keeper has two modes, and each is quite important to this deck’s success. The most important mode is the ability to turn your opponent’s minions into 3/3’s. Just like Aldor Peacekeeper, this makes it so your minions can trade into your opponent’s and live. Even if you are losing minions, turning any large creature into a 3/3 is a very good deal. The other important aspect of the four drop is to never forget you can buff your own minions as well. Keeper of Uldaman makes for a great way to turn on Nerubian Egg, and it also can enable you to get very aggressive if you had an explosive start. Combining the four drop with your hero power can also be a very good way to bounce back from AOE, enabling you to get a 3/3 and a 3/4 down onto an empty board for just six mana.
Sylvanas Windrunner is one of the best midrange cards to ever see play in Hearthstone, and I wanted to take a minute to explain why that is. A lot of people get caught up on the six drop’s extremely powerful deathrattle, trying to do their best to make sure their opponent has already used a silence or has a large board before playing her. That is a great way to think about this card in most matchups, but that is not how the undead ranger should be used here. Rather, you want to play her early and often. Sylvanas is one of the only cards in the game that acts as both spot removal and AOE. This occurs because you are almost always going to 2 for 1 your opponent if you get her down at the right time, but even if you don’t there is a good chance your opponent will trade their whole board to negate the windrunner. That’s a win for you and the exact type of play you want to make when piloting this deck.
While you do want to be careful from time to time, never be afraid of playing Sylvanas while you are ahead or when the board is empty. Once again, this is not the usual (or best) way to play the windrunner. Her strength largely comes in forcing your opponent into a bad position, and in order to be in a bad position, they need to have minions. However, something you need to remember is that Sylvanas works as a great tempo play. There are many forms of tempo. Some are very overt, but many are much more subtle. Playing Sylvanas down onto an empty board, or a board where you only have one minion, can be a fine way to set up future plays. This is because you opponent is almost always going to spend their turn removing her, which then gives you priority the following turn. In addition, if you are ahead on the board you can also drop her down as a way to cement your presence and make sure your opponent doesn’t play anything huge.
The five decks that I encounter the most on ladder.
Though their time in this world is limited, Secret Paladin is still hanging around the top of the ladder, punishing all those who are not ready to face it. I would say this is a very temperamental matchup for this deck, and one that can easily fall one way or the other. A lot of how this goes depends on how you come out of the gates. As with most Paladin vs. Paladin games, whoever gets to Muster for Battle first has a huge advantage, but it really comes down to whoever can get more minions to stick. You need to use your resources as best as you can to clear as well as apply pressure. Trade in your Nerubian Eggs, leverage your Mad Scientists and don’t be afraid to drop a turn three Aldor Peacekeeper just to make sure your cards stick. Board control is the way this match is won, and you need to get on top of it early.
There are two phases of this match. Once you are out of the beginning turns, you have to start planning for the old Mysterious Challenger, Dr. Boom, Tirion Fordring trifecta. There are two ways to deal with those cards, and each works quite well. The first is through Aldor Peacekeeper or Keeper of Uldaman. While you are mostly going to use the keepers as a tempo play, once you move into the middle turns you need to save one for the finishers. The other way to beat Secret Paladin’s lategame is by being aggressive. All three of their big cards are very strong, but they will crumble to swarms of small minions and consistent damage.
For the first time in a few weeks, Zoo is not going to make my matchup list. Rather, I am going to cover its much less aggressive cousin, Renolock. The slow control Warlock deck is back for the start of the season, and it is probably the trickiest matchup for this list to face. Now, that does not mean it is the hardest, but it is the one you need to take the most time evaluating. Renolock has a lot of AOE, big minions and, of course, incredible healing. All three of those can spell trouble for you, but you can handle this with the proper preparation. It is all about making the right reads and only playing certain minions at certain parts of the game.
The best way to beat Renolock is to build up a large board they can’t remove and then finish them off with burst. Just like when going up against Handlock, you never want to put Renolock too low on life if you can avoid it. Not only do they run Molten Giant, but they also can just use AOE and then jump back to thirty. Rather than give them a clear choice on healing, you want to keep them guessing as to whether or not you have lethal in hand. Making Renolock feel safe if the best way to win, and a big part of that is holding back your attacks as much as possible. You want their health in the mid-teens. This is the space where they can’t really use it to their advantage, but you can burst them down with some surprise buffs.
Note: This is a match where you can keep Nerubian Egg in its first form as AOE insurance.
Control Priest is the most popular control deck in the game, and it will give you fits if you aren’t careful. I once famously (maybe not so famously) declared that Priest was the only class in the game that is impossible to plan against. They have a hundred different lines of play, viable cards and turn options. Even now, with so many stock cards, I have no idea what to see when playing Control Priest. For instance, while you may want to save Nerubian Egg in its first form to deter a Holy Nova or Auchenai/Circle combo, they might also have Cabal Shadow Priest to just take the egg. You can’t play against both, so you just need to choose one avenue to go down. This makes it really hard to beat Priest. While you can wear them down as the game progresses, there are many times where you are going to need to play around two different situations. Just choose one, and always have a plan should the other occur.
The two cards you need to watch out for when going up against Priest are Entomb and Lightbomb. As good as this deck is at surviving AOE, Lightbomb will ruin your whole board no matter what minions you have down. To play around the six mana spell you should always try to hold back enough minions so you never overextend. Cards like Muster for Battle, Dr. Boom or Keeper of Uldaman/hero power can let you reload the board instantly. In terms of Entomb, just do what you can to make sure they use it on something that isn’t Tirion Fordring. There are many entomb targets in your deck and you should always get them down before dropping the legend.
Aggro Shaman is a deck that greatly fluctuates in popularity, going from zero to ten to back to zero in just a matter of few days. Right now it is at about an eight, which is more than enough cause for you to be worried. I will not say this matchup is unwinnable, but it just about as hard as it gets. Your deck not only has no healing (which is very important against a deck with so much burn), but it also has very limited taunts. As such, the way you win here is by being as aggressive as possible. Going long is not a good solution against Shaman, because they will just eventually kill you with burn. Rather, you need to hit them hard and early to pressure their life total. It is very hard to make Aggro Shaman blink, but if you can you should be able to tip the scales in your favor. This is not a game where you want to get conservative, you need to buff everything you can in order to build your board and push, push, push.
Druid is still one of the strongest decks in the game. Not only does it have the dreaded (soon to be gone) Force of Nature/ Savage Roar combo, but in a world of aggro and midrange decks, a go-big, combo midrange list is king. That is, except when playing against you.
Druid is a class that is at its worse when dealing with a bunch of solid midrange threats. They have zero AOE, and most of their removal cannot reach your high-health minions. This is because they often rely on their larger minions to carry the board and set up the finishing combo. This is a huge advantage for you because both Aldor Peacekeeper and Keeper of Uldaman can obliterate their plans, taking away their threats while also giving you more. That is a spot Druid never wants to be in, and you should never hesitate to play your minions.
Druid’s only real tool against you is Keeper of the Grove. The four drop can negate a buff quite easily, so you generally only want to play them in ways where Druid can get the least amount of value. For instance, if you have a Nerubian Egg, don’t buff it unless you can get a 4/4 in the same turn. If Druid silences it they are negating both the egg and the buff. Always use your buffs on things that have solid base stats. In addition, once you bait out a keeper don’t be afraid to play Sylvanas Windrunner. She is one of the best cards against Druid and can easily carry a game on her own.
Despite the different cards, you are going to mulligan with this list just like you would any other solid midrange deck. You want to try as hard as you can to get to your curve, and then use that as a base as the game progresses. Stumbling with a midrange deck is the easiest way to lose, which means you need to avoid it at all costs. Starting low is very important in most cases. Your “must keeps” are Muster for Battle, Zombie Chow, Mad Scientist[card], [card]Nerubian Egg and Shielded Minibot. Knife Juggler should be kept almost all of the time, but is pretty poor on its own unless you are facing off against aggro.
By far the biggest mulligan choices come with your buffs. I am in the firm camp to never keep Avenge, since it is so much worse than a minion, but that choice is really personal preference. Beyond that, Seal of Champions and Blessing of Kings are both great keeps with the coin and a solid opening curve. Blessing is too slow without the coin, but seal can be kept with just a strong curve coming before it. The only other cards to consider when mulliganing are Aldor Peacekeeper, Consecration and Keeper of Uldaman. Peacekeeper should always be kept against Druid to answer Innervate, while Keeper of Uldaman is a great keep with the coin against Druid and Warlock or if you have a very aggressive hand. Consecration should always be kept against swarm decks (Hunter, Zoo, Paladin) and you never want to hold onto anything that costs five or more.
Never get stuck into playing one style and never convince yourself that certain classes can only operate in certain ways. While that was once true, Hearthstone has greatly evolved. Almost every class has a few modes, and while Secret Paladin has taken over Uther as of late, I wanted to show there are still other routes to go with Paly that don’t involve murlocs. I hope you liked the interesting build, and I hoped you learned a little something about building a strong midrange list. Until next time, well met!