This week on Weekly Legends we get to discuss an archetype I personally know a lot about. OTK Priest (or “One Turn Kill”) is a combo deck that utilizes Priest’s removal and huge amounts of burst to kill people from twenty plus life in one turn. It is a very fun deck that requires a lot of patience, practice, and skill to be able to pilot well. While never tier one, many people (including myself) took the list to legend back in the day. However, as time has gone on I cannot think of one person who tried to bring the deck to the shifting and wide open meta of Standard. That is, until now.
This week’s list comes from Lyme, the same player who built the core of the list I piloted to legend towards the end of TGT. However, this list is quite different from those old shells in a couple of key ways. When Standard shifted Priest lost an incredible number of tools, including the old lists best card, Lightbomb. While losing the stall and control cards was a gigantic setback, the meta has changed as well. There is a lot less healing in the game than their once was, with only Paladin and Warrior having ways to protect their health. With that in mind, you begin to realize just how strong this is against some of the best players around. As I said (and will continue to say) Velen Priest is one of the hardest decks to pilot well, but when you do, it is incredibly rewarding.
We begin our card discussion with a very unusual one-of in Forbidden Shaping. This card may seem quite out of place in this list, but it actually is a very good representation of how this deck wants to play. That is to say, you are going to be playing to very different win conditions depending on what matchup you are facing and how the game is going at any given time. Against aggro you just want to survive, against midrange you need to try and utilize your threats in order to get to your finisher, and against control you are simply a combo deck. Sometimes you want to stall and other times you need to push. There are a ton of different scenarios, and Forbidden Shaping helps with them all.
This card is never going to be a dead draw, making it a very strong addition that can help smooth out your curve or give you a giant threat. The golden rule of Shaping is that it is best at the higher mana costs, especially eight where it can grab things like Ragnaros the Firelord, Ragnaros, Lightlord, Al’akir the Windlord and Tirion Fordring. Though it may be hard to do, it is often a good idea to familiarize yourself with some of the premium targets you can hit at each level to know how and when you want to play this. Also, though it may be tempting to see this as some end game legendary, this is for your curve. Whenever you are going to have a dead turn or have nothing to do you typically want to use this to get a minion down. Midrange threats are generally good for an empty board, lategame threats are for control, and you want to use this early and often when facing aggro. A two or three drop isn’t going to seem like much, but it can really buy you some time.
Flash Heal is by far the most important card in the list. The reason being that it has two uses and you absolutely understand both of them if you want to win games. The first part of this card is, as you may have guessed, healing. Though Flash Heal is important, it is also one of those cards that seems a lot better than it is. While five healing can do a lot against burst and a certain Rexxar hero power, it is pretty weak in that it doesn’t impact the board or actually remove any minions. As with Antique Healbot (God do I miss that card) you need to try and stabilize before you use this on yourself. The games where you want to point this at your own face are going to be when facing aggro of when you need to climb out of burst range (Grommash Hellscream, Call of the Wild). This does a very good job of deterring damage and saving you in situations where you would normally die.
Though it may seem paradoxical, the second part of Flash Heal is damage. Lots and lots of damage. That comes in two forms: removal and burst. Note that this card can only be played as damage in conjunction with Auchenai Soulpriest, but it makes for a very prevalent combo. Five damage for one mana is nothing to sneeze at, and can be very effective at killing things like Thing from Below and Emperor Thaurissan. When combined with a hero power it can be used to take out Flamewreathed Faceless and Bloodhoof Brave as well. That can be a great way to stall the game and buy you some extra turns. However, the primary role of this card is just going to be your larger combo. Five damage for one mana is very good at killing your opponent, and when you get the right Thaurissan ticks to play Auchenai and Velen together it becomes ten. Always look for that type of potential and against slower decks do what it takes to try and stretch these into ten to the dome.
Holy Smite is a very interesting card because it both helps out your combo and reveals how this list has adapted to the current meta. Two damage for one mana is not exciting, but it does two things quite well. First, it enables you a good way to stop early aggro pushes from a lot of decks. You will notice this deck no longer runs Shadow Word: Pain, rather relying on this dual-action threat to help stop early pressure. Though this will not touch Shaman’s early game (especially Tunnel Trogg) it does a very good job of taking down things like Flame Imp or Huge Toad/King’s Elekk. That may not seem like a big deal, but it can save you six or nine damage over the course of the game, which is the difference between getting blown out by midrange threats and having enough room to stall.
The other reason Holy Smite is so strong is because of how it works with your final combo. Prophet Velen makes this card four damage for one mana. While nowhere near as strong as Mind Blast or an Auchenaid Flash Heal, that can still add up very quickly during the end of the game. In addition, as Holy Smite is just one mana it can be ticked down to zero with Emperor Thaurissan. Once that happens, Velen makes it comparable to an Ice Lance. In those terms you begin to realize what this card can do. Though you are mostly going to use this as removal, when facing slower decks it is a great way to add to your combo and reach up past twenty life when your opponent expects it the least.
How do you make up for a lack of AOE? Cards, cards and more cards. As I often say, it is very hard for Priest to lose games if they can keep a full hand at all times. Lyme took that idea to heart and decided to pour as much card as possible into this deck to make sure you could reliably draw the combo as much as you can. Among those tools is Loot Hoarder. Like Holy Smite, the need rolling dwarf is an important card because it both helps your early game and your combo at the same time. A 2/1 may not seem like it is going to have a large impact on the game, but getting it out turn two (or one with the coin) can directly challenge a lot of early threats these days. Being able to trade into a two drop and draw a card (always draw cards!) can really smooth out your hand and buy you time. I bring this card up to impress just how key cards are for this deck. There is just about no deck that is going to be able to match you if you have a full hand at all times. Do everything you can to get more cards into your hand, even if means running this card out into a situation where it can easily be killed. Dual-purpose cards are very important for a strict combo deck like this, and hoarder is a two drop that both trades and furthers your end game.
Emperor Thaurissan. Easy card, right? Six mana, legendary dwarf. You have mana, you play it and get the discount. Simple. Wrong. Very, very wrong. The power-loving dwarf is not just one of the strongest cards in the deck, it is also one of the hardest to play. While sometimes you are going to run him out as a tempo play to eat removal or slow your opponent down, most of the time you need to be very conscious of what exactly you are discounting. The reason that is so important is because you want to make sure you are hitting the right combo pieces and that you are hitting enough of them to win the game. For instance, when facing Priest (who is most often going to be at thirty life) you need to discount an Auchenai Soulpriest with Prophet Velen in addition to a few burn spells to make sure you can maximize your damage. However, when playing something like Zoo or Renolock (who takes a lot of damage naturally) you just need a few burn spells discounted since you are going to kill them with Velen.
Never assume that Emperor Thaurissan is going to live, because ninety nine percent of the time he is going to die. Horribly. As a result, you need to only use him under the assumption that he is going to get you one tick and that’s it. When setting him up don’t get greedy and be patient. You are always going to need at least one discounted Mind Blast or one tick on Prophet Velen to set up the full twenty damage combo so wait to get one of those cards down. If you are under pressure or think you are going to need a different path to win, then you can try to use Thaurissan to tick down Auchenai/Flash Heal and go that route instead. That can work well if you also have some Holy Smites thrown in.
The five decks that I see the most on ladder.
Aggro Shaman is a very tricky game that can be decided on turn two. If they have their God curve of Tunnel Trogg into Totem Golem you will most often just succumb to pressure. However, if they start smaller you can easily pace this game with your ample healing and midrange threats. Your goal here is to do everything you can to stay alive. Shaman only has so much burst and once that runs out (or once they begin to topdeck) you should be able to use your hero power and big heal cards to stay alive. In this game you are a control deck first and combo deck second. Do everything you can to clear, and do everything you can to keep ahead of any potential burst your opponent may be holding back in their hand. Flash Heal should almost always go face, but if you need to use it with Auchenai Soulpriest to remove a threat you should try to have a way to kill the priest the following turn to make sure you can keep getting use from your hero power. Also, playing Prophet Velen with nine or ten mana is a great way to heal for four.
The most important card in this matchup is Doomhammer. So much so that you absolutely need to keep Harrison Jones in your opening mulligan no matter what. As good as your deck is at staying alive, you cannot match the burst of ten or sixteen damage out of nowhere. You are going to get hit during this game, usually keeping you around the mid-teens. That’s fine for most decks, but it is not going to cut it against a deck like Shaman. Many lists have begun to gravitate back towards their burn-based roots, playing things like Ancestral Knowledge and Lava Burst. That means you need to constantly keep track of your health as well as your opponent’s damage potential. Clear everything they play and do what you can to use your hero power. Getting that two life can often be more important than adding to an empty board.
Zoo is a deck that has been rapidly dying over the past few weeks, and as Control Warrior continues to rise I assume it will continue to drop. However, it still is around for the time being, which means you need to know how to beat it. Just as with Shaman, your role against Zoo is going to be that of a strict control deck. You need to clear, you need to heal and you need to always stay one step ahead. Your AOE is going to do work here, as are most of your kill spells. You just need to be patient and keep pace with what your opponent is playing. By far your most useful tool is the Auchenai/Circle combo which just decimates Zoo at the right time. If you have circle ready to go you generally want to hold off a turn to see if you can really get them to commit before you pull the trigger.
You also want to understand Zoo’s burst. There was once a time where the aggro Warlock didn’t run any heavy burst options, as they one by slowly controlling the tempo of the game. That time is far over, with many lists running many ways to do fast damage. As a result, you need to very careful with your life total as the game goes on, even after you have cleared and run them low on cards. Most lists run either Doomguard or Leeroy Jenkins (sometimes both) in addition to Soulfire and their usual burst like Abusive Sergeant, Gormok the Impaler and Power Overwhelming. Knowing what cards they have played and what cards they could have will help you understand when to heal and when it is safe to add to the board. Also, know that Zoo relies on buffs to get in massive hits so you should always do your best to clear anything they have, be it a 1/1 or an 8/8.
This match is impossible, move along. Alright, I’m kidding. However, you should know this is easily going to be your hardest game. So much so that you might want to hold off on playing this list if you are seeing too much Control (though Tempo is more than fine). Control Warrior has always had a distinct advantage against combo decks, and the new version is no different. While they do not quite have the insane armor reach they once did, they still play Shield Block, Bash and Justicar Trueheart. The first two cards can give you a lot of trouble, but the third is terrifying. So much so that it is nearly impossible to win if your opponent plays Justicar on turns six through eight. While there is no real way to combat that, you want to try to make your opponent think you are playing strict control by hiding combo cards for as long as possible. This will then keep them from going all in on armor, which you cannot match.
The way you beat Warrior is through one massive kill turn. This is going to be very tricky because, going off of what I said above, the longer this game goes without you playing minions the more your opponent is going to be suspicious of what you might have. You typically need to discount everything, meaning both Mind Blasts, both Holy Smites, each Flash Heal and Prophet Velen in addition to Auchenai Soulpriest. Sometimes that won’t even be enough, but going for the huge flurry is the only real chance you have at taking this one down. Revealing your hand too early or not discounting the right cards is going to tip your opponent off and bury you before you can really get going.
Gone during the early days of Whispers, Hotform has completely revitalized Tempo Mage. The once dead aggro deck has returned with a vengeance, ready to take down anything in its path. The way this game goes is largely going to come down to how good your opponent is and how well you understand the way Tempo Mage wins games. Unlike classic aggro decks, they prefer to save up cards and then end the game with huge Flamewaker or spellpower turns. Not only that, but the new versions run ample draw that help them build up their hand so such turns are possible. In this way you want to think of Tempo as more of a burst combo deck than strict aggro-tempo. Each turn you need to look at your life and calculate how much damage they can do based off of the amount of burn they’ve used and how much they have left. This will help you know your gamplan and tell you when to heal and when you can take another line of play. Just know that healing is always going to be priority number one in this game because you can run Mage out of damage with the right turns.
Midrange Hunter is another matchup where being careful is vitally important. However, it is also a game where you need to try to get board presence and keep them from enacting their gameplan. You want to control priority here as much as possible because once Hunter gets ahead of you their curve will quickly take over the game. The way you do this is by using your removal wisely and clearing in a way that you will have the advantage on the board. You typically want to do this before turn six, because that is where Hunter really begins to roll. Staying one step ahead of the board will keep your life total up and combo them down before they can really get going.
The two cards you need to constantly be aware of in this match are Savannah Highmane and Call of the Wild. Call is just a disgusting card that instantly does five damage and pressures you with a board that is very tough to deal with. You typically need to save your circle combo for it, because if you can’t clear it immediately the game is over. On the other hand, Highmane is not a card you can answer easily with this list, making it defcon one when you are behind. The way you combat it is by making sure you have enough pressure on the board (or Emperor Thaurissan) on turn six so that your opponent cannot comfortably play the lion. Turn seven is most often going to be weak for Hunter, so if you can nullify six you should be fine. Also, never forget about their burst. Though minion-centric, Hunter can do massive chunks of damage through their hero power, Quick Shot and Kill Command.
As tricky as this deck is to play, it is quite easy to mulligan with. You want to go the same route as classic control, keeping your early draw cards and throwing everything else back. Circle of Healing, Northshire Cleric, Loot Hoarder, Acolyte of Pain, Wild Pyromancer and Power Word: Shield are your “must keeps” here. These are going to win you the game and you need to find them in every matchup. While it may be tempting, you never want to keep any combo cards outside of Circle of Healing/Auchenai Soulpriest against aggro. Things like Flash Heal and Mind Blast should be thrown back.
There are only a few situational keeps here, but they are important. Forbidden Shaping is a card you only want when facing aggro, and the same goes for Holy Smite. Shadow Word: Death is good against Druid to stop Innervate and solid against Shaman due to their turn four. However, the kill card should be thrown back against everything else. Harrison Jones is a must keep against Shaman, and Gnomish Inventor can be solid with a good curve and the coin.
While I am always looking for new decks and new ways to play the game, sometimes it is fun to visit old favorites. The original OTK Priest was the only Priest deck that I ever took to legend, so it has a fond place in my heart. I love this type of deck, I love how hard it is to play, and I like that it really makes you think. Anduin is getting a bad rap these days, but this shows there is still hope for the healing class yet. Until next time, the light shall burn you!