Weekly Legends: Karazhan Aggro Paladin

As I’m sure you’re all well aware, I absolutely love Aggro Paladin. You might be sick of hearing that by now, but when I saw a new post-Karazhan legend Aggro Paladin deck I knew I was going to cover it. This one, like all versions of Aggro Paly, fits the classic shell of a bunch […]

Introduction

As I’m sure you’re all well aware, I absolutely love Aggro Paladin. You might be sick of hearing that by now, but when I saw a new post-Karazhan legend Aggro Paladin deck I knew I was going to cover it. This one, like all versions of Aggro Paly, fits the classic shell of a bunch of cheap minions mixed with weapons and Divine Favor. However, it also comes with a lot of new options that push it forward. Aggressive decks, due to their nature, tend to be fluid. They have a wide range of minions and spells that fit into the umbrella of doing damage, which opens up a lot of interesting card choices and deck options. This version has many interesting choices that add to the consistency of the deck and help prepare it for the current ladder meta.

Though this list may seem familiar to anyone who has ever played Aggro Paladin before, piloting a deck like this is never a simple task. Many people tend to overlook Aggro decks as “easy,” but most of them (the ones without Undertaker) actually take quite a bit of skill. The reason I love this deck so much is because of how it combines many factors that you have to constantly juggle. You need to play to your topdecks (which means you really need to know the list), you need to constantly keep track of the cards in your hand relative to the cards in your opponent’s, and you need to be able to balance trading and damage. Like many aggro decks, most games you want to control parts of the board and make sure your opponent never controls the pace of the game. However, it is also important to know when you need to push for damage and ignore the minions.

Key Cards

Selfless Hero

Nothing scares her…except mice. Selfless Hero is one of the best Aggro Paladin cards every made, and it is a tricky card to use. Though she just has the stats of a classic “2/1 for 1” one drop, its ability is so inherently powerful that you want to work hard to get value from the trigger. Even getting the divine shield on a 1/1 can make a big difference throughout the game because it helps with your trades and keeps a body around that you can buff. Right now, Hearthstone is a game of board vs. board. That means any ability you can use to attack a minion and keep yours alive is going to give you a very big edge over other decks that heavily depend on their early game minions. Selfless Hero is one of the best ways to do this. You almost always want to play her alongside other minions, especially against decks that run spot removal. This will instantly put a target on your other minions and force your opponent to make hard decisions. In addition, if you are worried about AOE you should play her with divine shield minions. The reason is that the AOE will knock off your minion’s shield and then the hero will put it right back.

While her ability is very strong, there are two scenarios where you can use Selfless Hero on its own without trying to get value from the shield. The first (and this also applies to Southsea Deckhand and Abusive Sergeant) is on turn one when you have nothing else to play. I will often see people attempting to hold their one drop back in order to get value later in the game, but in an aggressive deck your curve comes before everything else. Yes, most of the time the hero will just die from that play, but that still keeps you in control of priority moving into turn two. The other situation where you can play Selfless Hero turn one is when you want to make a tempo play against a Mage, Druid or Rogue that has the coin. The reason for this is that hero is a “must kill” target. As a result, getting her out turn one will often force those classes to burn their coin to kill her, which can go a long way. That play is going to depend on your hand, but if you have a strong curve and want to cripple your opponent’s early options that can be a good way to go.

Steward of Darkshire

Steward of Darkshire is an incredibly strong card that gives your deck a lot of staying power in situations where you wouldn’t normally have it. Being able to give anything with one health, from Southsea Deckhand to Selfless Hero to Silver Hand Recruits, divine shield can swing a lot of matchups in your favor. It is particularly useful against aggressive tempo decks like Hunter, Shaman and Zoo. For this reason, you typically want to get two triggers off of this card when you can. That is more than worth the three mana investment and will usually allow you to push for damage or control the board. The only time you want to go for just one trigger is when you need to get some minions down or you have an empty board to work with, and you only want to play this  without a minion when you are trying to bait out removal.

The important thing to note about Steward of Darkshire is that there is only one in your deck. That means you will often only get to do this trick once before she dies. That is fine if you are careful and gain value from her ability, but you never want to just play her sub-optimally and assume she is going to live. In fact, Steward is so strong that most decks will burn premium removal on her right away. If you need here immediately then so be it. However, most of the time she is in your hand you are going to want to be patient and throw out other minions to bait out AOE or spot removal before playing her. Putting the 3/3 into a situation where you can get a whole board of divine shields or where she will likely live is often going to lead to a quick win.

Moroes

A card that got a lot of flack during the release of Karazhan, Moroes is a very strong Aggro Paladin card that I have been testing in many different versions of this deck with great success. The reason this three drop is strong because it is an army in a can and allows you to flood the board while only committing one card. Unlike most decks, Paladin (which comes with a ton of different buffs and divine shield interactions) can make a lot of use of having a free 1/1 each turn. This card just keeps giving you bodies to work with, and they will never stop coming. In that way it quickly allows you to take over the board and fight through decks like Zoo or Hunter by generating constant value. When playing a deck that has no easy answer to him you should run him out as soon as possible, but against slower decks you need to be aware of when you drop him down.

You are going to use Moroes in two modes: when you need to bait AOE or after the AOE comes down. As an Aggro Paladin, mass removal is your natural enemy. Anything from Brawl to Ravaging Ghoul to Maelstrom Portal to even Arcane Missiles is going to give you a bad time. As such, you typically only want to play the 1/1 after those cards come down or if you have a turn when you can protect him with a buff or Steward of Darkshire. Giving Moroes a way to survive the first board clear will often mean he will be around for the whole game. However, if you have a hand that you would rather run out after AOE, then you can run Moroes out and see if your opponent has an answer. Though it feels bad when he gets immediately hit by Consecration, you only invested one card and paved the way for your future turns.

Divine Favor

It is likely that I will never explain Aggro Paladin without also discussing Divine Favor. Not only is this card the most important part of the entire deck, but it is also the hardest card to use by a long shot. If this card is ever in your hand (which it will be for many games) you want to play to it as much as you can. The way you do this is by balancing the number of cards you have against what your opponent has and will have for the next few turns. While there are some decks like Zoo that vomit their hand right away, most decks like to hold onto cards until one big turn where they dump most of their cards. You need to figure out when that most likely is going to be and then draw before your opponent reaches that point. For instance, Druid is a deck that like to play multiple cards during turns four and five, while Hunter will usually burn their cards early and Warrior is going to hold them until the later turns.

Getting draws off of Divine Favor is key to keeping momentum, and you want to look to use it whenever you can get a large amount of value. Sometimes that means holding onto it until turn twelve, sometimes that is using it during the middle game right after your opponent has drawn a couple of cards, and sometimes that means playing it on turn three to draw four. Also remember that you need to have a small hand when going for favor. You should always be counting out your curve and plan ahead to make sure you have as little cards in your hand as possible. This can even means playing cards at inopportune times. Though you may not want to just run out a turn three Abusive Sergeant, it may be worth it to curve into your Truesilver Champion so you can make your favor better on five. Thinking ahead is a big part of this card and you should always have a future plan for it.

Keeper of Uldaman

Second to Divine Favor in terms of importance, I don’t think this deck would be able to exist without Keeper of Uldaman. The four drop not only provides you with one of your bigger on-curve bodies, but it also has a ton of flexibility that will lead to many wins when used right. Some games this card is going to allow you nullify a big threat or shut down a taunt, and other games it is going to give you extra pressure or allow you to set up a value trade. The most important thing about Keeper is understanding when to use it on your opponent’s minion and when to use it on your own. Of course, this card is in the deck to hit your opponent’s minions, but getting a 3/3 alongside a 3/4 during the midgame can create a very powerful board out of nowhere. You typically only want to make that play if you need a big tempo swing or you want damage on the board, and you always need to think about that in relation your opponent’s potential big threats and how fast they can get to them. For instance, putting up pressure against Hunter on turn four is very strong because of their limited removal and the fact that turning Savannah Highmane into a 3/3 doesn’t do too much. However, while the extra damage can be good against Druid, you don’t want to use this early and get rid of your only out to an Ancient of War.

Matchups

The five decks I see the most when grinding the ladder.

Spirit Claws Shaman

I am not sure what happened over the past week (at least at the high ranks) but this deck is everywhere. I mean absolutely everywhere. Long gone are the classic Aggro Shamans. Instead, they have been replaced with pure Midrange that runs things like Spirit Claws, Mana Tide Totem and Fire Elemental. This is a tricky matchup that you can win if you play optimally. That is to say, you need to work around Shaman’s removal while also making sure you are pressuring them each turn. Controlling the opening board is important to taking away their tempo and making sure they cannot pressure you, but you need to stack damage before they take over the game with their late game threats. Your whole job is to steadily climb up your curve while never letting your opponent get anything to stick. That includes totems, which you often want to kill to limit your opponent’s buffs and reduce the chances of the rolling spell damage totem.

The most important card to watch out for in this match is Maelstrom Portal. The two mana spell hits you extremely hard and can be a straight blowout if you aren’t careful. Buff up your cards when you can and always try to get Defender of Argus on your one health minions as soon as possible. This is also a game where you really want to get use out of both Selfless Hero and Steward of Darkshire. Most Shamans are only going to have one form of mass removal, and divine shield can absolutely ruin their day by taking away their tempo plays. Also note that most of these decks choose to run at least one copy of Lightning Storm. You need to walk the line here between pressuring enough to see that removal but not too much that you get completely blown out.

Midrange Hunter

Despite its adversity, Midrange Hunter still has the best curve in the game. This is a matchup that you are likely going to win, but also one where you have to be very careful. The reason for this is that Hunter can get out ahead in several ways, and it is almost impossible to catch up from there. However, if you pace the game and control the board your opponent won’t be able to match your speed. This is a game where you want to trade up as much as possible. Hunter has never been good at dealing with swarms, especially when those swarms are full of strong minions that can stand on your own. Always do your best to control the pressure and make sure to strategically clear so your opponent can never ignore your minions and just go face.

The biggest rule for winning this one is to have control of the board by turn six and end the game by turn eight. You cannot let Hunter ever have pressure, which means you need to hit them hard enough where they cannot comfortably play Savannah Highmane. They will almost always play the lion if they have the mana to do so. That is, unless they need to use more defensive cards because they are scared of dying. For this reason, do your best to push early damage and to flood the board on turn five. In addition, you simply do not have the resources to beat Call of the Wild. The eight mana card is too much pressure and too much presence for you to deal with, so you need to try and make sure Hunter never gets there.

Tempo Mage

This is a matchup I have yet to figure out. The reason for this is, while all logic and common sense tells me that this should fall vastly into Tempo Mage’s favor, my data shows that we have the edge here. They have a lot of strong early minions, some very powerful burn spells and, of course, many ways to ping down 1/1’s. Arcane Missiles, their hero power and Flamewaker can all lead to a really bad time and just annihilate any board you build. However, they also have a lot of spot removal and early minions that do very little against your swarms. You can use this to your advantage by flooding with half your hand to test what your opponent has and then following it up with your larger threats and value plays. Always try and buff anything you can to make your opponent’s removal worse and force them to use heavy burn on your board.

This game is going to be won through both pressure and resilient minions. Though Mage has many combos that can really hurt your gameplan, they need the time to build up those combos. For example, Flamewaker is not useful if they have already burned a lot of their removal controlling the board. Getting your opponent to use spot removal without minions is key because it both takes pressure off of your face and runs them low on cards. To win this game you want to out-tempo your opponent as best you can. Trade up when possible and never let any of their minions stick. This will prevent them from snowballing and really limit the power of their spells. Just know this is a match you typically want to end by turn ten to avoid putting fate in the hands of Yogg-Saron, Hope’s End.

Yogg Druid

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the nightmare. Yogg Druid is not just a hard matchup, it could be the closest thing you will get to unwinnable. Not only does their hero power invalidate just about everything you want to do, but they also have a ton of early game removal, ample healing and giant game-ending threats. This is perhaps the only game where you just need to play out your minions hard and hope they don’t have answers. That is almost never a winning line of play, but it is almost necessary here. The only card you need to watch out for is Swipe. Never play too hard into the spell if you can avoid it, but also don’t hold back too much that you aren’t getting damage in. The way you win this match is by pushing hard and by doing your best to make sure that your minions never have one health (or not divine shield) for long. Defender of Argus, Blessing of Kings, Selfless Hero and Steward of Darkshire are all great at helping you solidify a board. Keeper of Uldaman is also good for this, but you typically want to save it for Ancient of War (which most lists run these days).

Zoo

Though the last spot was down to Zoo or Control Warrior, I have seen a little bit more of Gul’dan over the past week so it gets the nod for now. Zoo is a 50/5o matchup that is going to be all about the first two or three turns. This whole game is going to be a classic tempo game where you want to focus all of your resources on controlling the board. Zoo is a deck that can only enact its gameplan when they have minions on the board and when they are ahead in bodies. Use your divine shield’s wisely and always try to kill your opponent’s minions while keeping your around. That being said, once you get ahead in this game you need to finish it fast. Zoo has much better late game than you do, and things like Forbidden Ritual or Defender of Argus can lock you out in some situations. Though this can be tricky, they love to Lifetap, which makes them very susceptible to fast damage.

The most problematic cards here are Imp Gang Boss and Darkshire Councilman. Each of these cards are very strong on curve and will eat multiple minions on their own. You want to be ready for them and save your buffs for them if you can. Abusive Sergeant is particularly useful at invalidating them. It is also important to make good use out of Rallying Blade in this matchup. The weapon does a great job of controlling the board and clearing a path for your plays. Getting buffs on your divine shield minions also helps your trading and can push damage. Just try your best to save Keeper of Uldaman for Sea Giant or Doomguard. Like highmane, these two cards instantly put your opponent ahead and you need to be ready for when they drop.

Mulligan Guide

Like any aggro deck, you want to aggressively look for one and two drops. Selfless Hero, Abusive Sergeant, Argent Squire, Sir Finley Mrrgglton, Southsea Deckhand, Loot Hoarder, Bilefin Tidehunter, Flame Juggler and Argent Protector are your must keeps. Argent Horserider can be kept with the coin and an early curve, while Rallying Blade should be kept with any strong early minions to go along with it.

The biggest almost keep card is Divine Favor, which you want against any slower deck that is going to have a lot of cards during the early midgame. This card is never for aggro, but it is great against control decks like Warrior and Paladin as well as card-hoarding decks like Rogue. Truesilver Champion and Blessing of Kings can be kept with the coin and a good opening curve. Defender of Argus and Keeper of Uldaman follow those rules as well, but Defender is also solid with a good opening against Shaman. Though it can be strong, you typically don’t want Steward of Darkshire early and Moroes is a good keep against decks that cannot deal with him easily. Throw him back against everything else.

Conclusion

Aggro Paladin! Those are two words I will never get sick of. Ever. This deck continues to be my favorite of all time, and is easily one of the most interesting to me. I love a good minion-based aggro deck, especially one that takes a good amount of thinking and foresight. There is just such a cool ebb and flow with this type of list and I’ll always cover them when show up at the orange diamond. Until next time, may your favors always draw for eight.