Weekly Legends: (My) Velen Priest

Let’s face it guys, the meta has become stale. Real stale. Like a piece of bread left out for three weeks in a Nairobi desert. When that happens (and boy has it happened in the past) what do you do? Well, you can always complain (an option many, myself included, have taken in the past), […]

Introduction

Let’s face it guys, the meta has become stale. Real stale. Like a piece of bread left out for three weeks in a Nairobi desert. When that happens (and boy has it happened in the past) what do you do? Well, you can always complain (an option many, myself included, have taken in the past), or you can do something about it. In my case, I decided to try and play something that I had never played before to do something I had never done in the process. The deck was Velen Priest, and the goal was to take Priest to legend. In my two years playing legend I have taken all classes to the orange diamond except Priest, and while I waited for Whispers to come out (still waiting, Blizz…) I thought I’d have some fun. It is always important to make sure you are having fun while playing a game, and that can be easy to forget with a stressful CCG like Hearthstone. Always check yourself and see if the things you are doing are actually worth doing. As such, when I started to really feel overwhelmed by the game, I began to look up decklists for past Velen lists and see what I could make.

I always knew that Prophet Velen/double Mindblast (20 damage with an Emperor Thaurissan tick if you’re counting) had a lot of potential. Even since the early days of Blackrock Mountain I have wanted to play the deck. However, most of the lists I came across were a little off. They were all too focused on damage, too keyed in on trying to make the “dream” combo happen. While you do need the damage to win, I quickly realized that you don’t need to always be working towards the wombo combo because no one will ever see it coming. All you need to do was stay alive. As such, I took the classic combo and stuck it inside of a more natural Priest shell. Yes, the deck isn’t as “explosive” with things like Velen’s Chosen, but it is much better at grinding games down. You are not always going to win with the combo, sometimes you are just going to be a control deck. And that’s just fine. Understanding you role each game is, above everything else, the key to this deck.

Key Cards

Northshire Cleric

As you see in the games, you need to draw to win this deck. A lot. So much so that you always want to go “all in” on cleric if you can. Many people will try to eek some small amount of value out of Northshire early on (an artifact from Control Priest), but you always want to try and draw a lot. Sometimes the slow value works, but you generally want to fill your hand (the exception being against Priest who can force you to overdraw). This deck needs to have a lot of fluid card draw to operate, which means you need always want to have a full hand. That does not always apply every game, but it is very important to note that many times it is important to hold off on playing cleric until you can use her to draw multiple cards. The cards will do a lot more in the long run that a 1/3 will.

Do what you can to play the one drop when you aren’t in threat of losing her right away. While Acolyte of Pain  can be good because it gives you one card even if it dies, you do not want to risk running Cleric right into early removal like Fiery War Axe or Darkbomb. It simply isn’t worth it in the long run. You only want to play her early if you are facing against an aggressive deck (where she challenges the opposing one drop), if you can protect her with something like Power Word: Shield, or if you can use her ability when she comes down. One of the best ways to make use of her lategame is to combine her with Lightbomb to trigger one damage and then heal up.

Auchenai Soulpriest

I won just about as many games, if not more, with Auchenai Soulpriest as I did with Prophet Velen. There are two ways to do damage with ol’ Auchenai, and understanding each is very important to finding lethal. One way is playing her and then trading in your Zombie Chow, or playing the four drop with chow/Circle of Healing to kill the one drop instantly. This is very important to understand because at a certain point of the game you are gonna hold onto chow for damage purposes rather than using it for the board. The other super damage combo with Auchenai is Flash Heal. Five health is very important to have against aggro, but five damage to face is very strong against just about everything else. In games where you don’t need to use them, always try to hold onto one or two for the priest. Note that, with the right discounts, they become ten damage with Soulpriest and Prophet Velen on the board at the same time.

The other part of this card is how well she works as a board wipe. Auchenai Soulpriest/Circle of Healing has been one of the most classic clears Priest has, and it is very important at keeping you alive in many different matchups, from Aggro Shaman to Patron Warrior to Zoo. Lightbomb is very strong in terms of getting rid of large minions or big boards, but it can only do so much. There are many small cards it cannot hit, and against aggressive decks that is a real problem (especially against Zoo’s army of 2/3’s). Auchenai/Circle usually cleans up everything your opponent can put together, while also leaving a “must kill” threat for most decks to deal with their next turn. A very important note is to be careful when you use this card against aggro, since it does shut down your healing ability. When playing most fast decks you usually want to only use her with circle, since you need to be able to kill her easily should you need to heal up.

Harrison Jones

Play this card. For the love of everything that is good and holy, play this card. Ok, if you are not seeing that many weapon classes you should not play this card. However, if you are even seeing half of your games against weapons classes you want to play this card. Not only does it help your Patron matchup immensely, but it turns your Aggro Shaman game from a near auto-loss into an auto-win. The 5/4 does exactly what this deck wants. It draws your card (very important), and deals with a lot of problematic weapons like Death’s Bite[/card, [/card, card]Eaglehorn Bow and Doomhammer. Every combo deck is going to have to deal with different issues, and a big rule of this deck is to mitigate the damage you are taking as much as possible. That is easy to do with minions (since you run a lot of different removal options), but it gets a lot harder with weapons, most of which simply act as a repeatable source of damage. Not being able to answer things like Truesilver Champion may seem small in the grand scheme of things, but it makes a lot of your matchups worse. Sometimes you are not going to get much value out of the 5/4, but he is so good in the matchups where you need him that he is more than worth a spot.

Prophet Velen

I bring up this card (and the card below) because they really help you understand both ways this deck can play. Prophet Velen is the combo card of the deck, allowing you to strike your opponent down from 20 plus life in one go (a few times I have even set up thirty from hand). However, it can also heal for four with your hero power, or ten with Flash Heal. That makes it one of your most important cards in terms of control as well. Velen is always going to be an “end the game” type card. However, he is not always going to end the game in the same way. Against most decks he is just twenty or more damage to your opponent’s face, and when fighting through aggro he is the card that locks things up. You should think of him a lot like Reno Jackson. While his healing is not quite as strong, being able to suddenly gain a ton of life and put down a 7/7 is almost always going to end the game.

If you are not going for an OTK, always make sure to play Velen after you have run your opponent out of cards or hard removal. Big Game Hunter is a strong threat, but you can almost always bait it out with Alexstrasza if you play your cards right. That is usually the strongest move since you want to get value out of Velen for a couple of turns while Alex gets value right away. For the decks that don’t run Big Game Hunter, you simply want to bait out any premium kills they might have on cards like Emperor Thaurissan or Cabal Shadow Priest. It may seem hard to do, but your opponent is not expecting Velen. They will usually assume your midrange threats are going to be the strongest you have. You just never want to preemptively give your opponent an easy kill on the 7 drop.

Alexstrasza

Like Freeze Mage (which this deck can most definitely be compared to), this list would simply not work without Alexstrasza. Not only is she very, very good at setting up your combo, but she also does a lot in the way of keeping you alive. As touched upon above, the most important part of this deck is versatility, and the legendary dragon operates just like Prophet Velen does. It is important to understand her different modes, and know the best way to use her. If you need to push for damage or desperately need to apply pressure, then point her at your opponent’s face. She immediately puts all decks on the back foot, and is a great way to make your opponent instantly defensive as a way to get priority (and thus control of the game). This is especially important because many popular decks (Secret Paladin, Tempo Mage) do not run healing, so her ability is almost always going to stick.

When you are going against control and midrange decks, Prophet Velen or Auchenai Soulpriest is going to be your win condition. However, when playing against aggro your win condition becomes Alex. Healing back to fifteen, especially when paired with your hero power, will almost always seal you a win. The trick here is never using her too early, since you are only going to be able to use her power once. For instance, if you suspect your Hunter opponent has Kill Command in hand, try to get them to use it (if you are out of range of immediately dying) before Alexing. That will make their damage simply wasted and make it much more difficult for them to bounce back once she is on the board. In that same vein, she is also very good against Druid because she allows you to stay just out of Force of Nature/Savage Roar range.

Matchups

The five decks I encounter the most on ladder.

Secret Paladin

One of the biggest reasons to play this deck is because of how well it operates against so many popular decks on ladder. One such deck is Secret Paladin, an archetype you can annihilate if you know how to operate this list. Paladin, for all of its fluff cards and extremely power curve, is a deck that operates with very few big minions. Most of their game is spent forcing you to deal with a bunch of junk before the large threats come down. That can be tough to deal with, but your curve (filled with anti-aggro cards like Zombie Chow, Northshire Cleric and Wild Pyromancer[/card) actually beats theirs pretty handily. This is a game where you are simply a control deck, removing all of their threats until you can run them low on cards. From there, you simply wear them down the board or grind them out with damage. Just be sure to always save [/card) actually beats theirs pretty handily. This is a game where you are simply a control deck, removing all of their threats until you can run them low on cards. From there, you simply wear them down the board or grind them out with damage. Just be sure to always save card]Entomb for Tirion Fordring if you can. Harrison Jones is also good, but you usually use him earlier on.

This is a matchup where you really need to conserve your removal and understand your AOE. There are three board clears you have access to in this matchup: Wild Pyromancer/Spells, Auchenai Soulpriest/Circle of Healing and Lightbomb. Each of those can be used in different situations, and you play to whatever works for the current board. For example, you never want to burn a Lightbomb if you can take out the cards at hand with Auchenai/Circle. Another important thing to note is if you are at a lot of life, don’t use Lightbomb to clear a Mysterious Challenger board. Rather, don’t attack and see if you can also catch Dr. Boom in the blast. That type of doubling up is very important to getting as much value out of your cards as possible. Taking that extra turn not only lets you get more value, but will usually make your opponent think you have no AOE in hand as well.

Zoo

Another matchup that is incredibly in your favor, Zoo is a deck that has a very hard time dealing with the different removal and minions you have access to. As with Paladin, you are going to be largely playing the control role here. Just remove what comes down and play your AOE if the board gets too full. However, that being said, you also always want to be thinking about the different ways you can do twenty damage. Zoo is a deck that (especially when they don’t expect your burst) loves to lifetap. They are constantly drawing and constantly sapping their own life. That means they are often going to fall into the teens early on, making it easy to combo them when you have the cards in hand. Board should always be your first priority (Cabal Shadow Priest does wonders), but there are many different ways to finish off this game.

It is important to note that two cards should always be kept in mind when facing Zoo: Enhance-o-Mechano and Leeroy Jenkins. Due to your massive amount of low-end removal options, the only real way Zoo can kill you is through burst. They are a deck that has had very little of that reach in the past, but most of the recent versions run the two cards listed above. Leeroy/Power Overwhelming is an easy ten damage from hand, and Enhance-o-Mechano giving a minion windfury can easily strike you down from the teens if combined with burst. As a result, you need to be really careful with your life total, and work hard to make sure Zoo never gets a footing on the board. Count the buffs that they have played, and always try to heal yourself up over twelve life. Falling down below that usually opens you up to too many easy kills.

Also note that Zoo runs a lot of large minions, which is easy to forget. However, while there are many midrange targets, always do your best to save your Lightbombs or hard removal for things like Dr. Boom, Doomguard or Sea Giant.

Aggro Shaman

As mentioned, when I first built this deck I knew this matchup was going to be rough. While you have access to healing, Shaman runs a ton of different hard-to-kill early minions that all get out hand and dodge AOE. I also knew that Doomhammer was going to be a huge problem, as the constant pressure of four (or ten with Rockbiter Weapon) was going to eventually wear any healing down in the same way that Steady Shot does. As such, before playing a single game on ladder I added in Harrison Jones, which made the hammer a non-factor. I only lost four games on my climb to legend, and not one of those was to Aggro Shaman. This deck absolutely crushes Thrall (something that I believe to be completely necessary on the ladder these days) through a combination of weapon removal, incredibly strong healing and great early presence. Yes, they can come out very strong, but you can match them punch for punch.

A big part of why this matchup is so good is because you have many different “finishers” that just set Shaman too far back. Harrison Jones (as noted above) gives you game-breaking swing, while Alexstrasza puts you out of reach and Prophet Velen plus a heal is something your opponent most often cannot come back from. The only thing you care about here is staying alive as long as you to pull off massive late-game healing. As a result, this is the one matchup where you need to just run cards out (like Northshire Cleric) whether they can be killed or not. All of Shaman’s removal is burn, and anything they use on the board is less you need to worry about coming towards your face.

Note: Remember to get as much use out of your hero power as possible. Two healing a turn can be vital, and really adds up over the course of the game. While early on you are going to be curving out, once that passes you really want to look for opportunities to get that extra health.

Tempo Mage

While I was initially going to discuss Renolock (another 99/10 matchup for you), I decided to focus on Tempo Mage instead. The aggro list has suddenly popped back up out of nowhere, and it can cause a lot of problems for you (Flamewaker is the reason I am currently running Shadow Word: Pain). This is probably a 50/50, where some games you are going to get run over by an explosive start, and others you are simply going to outlast your opponent with healing and strong removal. The biggest issue with fighting Mage is their middle threats like Azure Drake that are too small for removal but can still do a lot of damage. Try to get rid of them without burning too much AOE.

One of the biggest cards to watch out for in this matchup is Mirror Entity. You do not run that many minions, and you never want to give your opponent something strong on the board, or something that can draw them cards (which eventually add up to damage). As a result, you either want to save a Zombie Chow to drop into the secret (probably the best option), or play something the same turn you can kill it. Giving Mage a strong minion is an easy way to lose the game, and you don’t want to make that mistake.

You also need to always be prepared for Mage’s late game. While you can often survive the early onslaught of Mana Wyrm[/card, [/card, card]Flamewaker and Sorcerer’s Apprentice[/card, it is going to cost you a lot of resources. That can then open you up to their finishers like [/card, it is going to cost you a lot of resources. That can then open you up to their finishers like card]Dr. Boom or Archmage Antonidas. Also, like Aggro Shaman, you want to constantly use your hero power on yourself to stay out of Fireball/Frostbolt range.

Midrange Druid

I have no idea how to beat Druid, so don’t ask. Seriously though, this might be a (nearly) impossible matchup. As mentioned, I only took four losses during my climb with this deck, but three of those were Druid. And none of the games were that close. Druid is the hardest match because, as always, they can do a ton of damage out of hand that you really have no way of directly interacting with. In a lot of ways Druid acts like pre-nerf Patron, where you just have to hope they don’t have their wombo combo long enough for you to heal up or burst them down. The rule in this game is clear all of their minions and heal. A lot. Even if Druid gets one minion to stick for one turn it can often be the end of the game. As such, you need to prevent any damage you can. The way to win this match is by healing up whenever possible and assembling the combo as fast as possible. You want to put pressure on Druid by playing out your threats to make them to play more reactively. Almost all of your hard clears are going to be done with Lightbomb, so you always want to clog up the board with minions (whether you can use their ability or not) as a distraction.

Mulligan Guide

To mulligan with this deck you want to follow the same rules as Control Priest. You need to get any type of early game possible, and send just about everything back. Your must keeps are going to be Northshire Cleric, Zombie Chow, Power Word: Shield, Wild Pyromancer, Shadow Word: Pain and Acolyte of Pain. Beyond that, Auchenai Soulpriest is a good keep with Circle of Healing or if you have the coin and a strong curve.

Also, always watch to your combos. Priest is full of different minions, each that has subtle, small interactions with other cards in the deck (Auchenai Soulpriest/Zombie Chow, Wild Pyromancer/Circle of Healing, Northshire Cleric/Power Word:Shield ect.). You always want to stick to those interactions over anything else. Beyond that, keep Shadow Word: Death only against Druid for Innervate, keep Harrison Jones against Shaman and Warrior, and keep Emperor Thaurissan (especially with the coin) against Control Warrior and Priest.

Conclusion

Man, I love deck building. I love it, I love, I love it. This is the first strange deck in a while that I have taken to legend, and it was a blast. I think that playing fresh decks is so important to keeping the game fun, and so I am always looking to do something new. The fact that I got to do it with a class I rarely play was even more fun. I hope you guys are keeping the game fresh, and I hope you all are as excited for Standard as I am. Until next time, may your fear consume you.