I have no idea if this week’s deck is a blast from the past or a look into the future. On one hand, it uses some old cards that have not seen ladder play in some time. However, on the other hand, it also brings Paladin into a completely new light. This is the deck that Thijsje656 took all the way to legend. One which omits many of the traditional Paladin cards (Truesilver Champion, Equality) for some new one such as Ironbeak Owl, Ancient Watcher and Nerubian Egg. Though Coghammer has been used to effect in the past, it really shines in this build. Not only can it turn Ancient Watcher into a powerhouse that completely shuts down aggro, but it also doubles as cheap removal and makes it so your opponent must go through your Nerubian Egg.
The key to this deck is, like many Paladin decks, is slow board control until you can push through for lethal. However, unlike most Paladin decks, you also have a surprising amount of burst from your large range of combos. While the main opening is usually going to be Ironbeak Owl/Ancient Watcher or Scarlet Purifier/Nerubian Egg, there are many more plays available to you that involve things such as Defender of Argus or Coghammer. While you are not going to find every combo each game, you usually will have enough small ones to carry you through to the end. Even if you never get a chance to put two cards together, there are still enough interesting threats and big bodies to carry you through. Tirion Fordring is, as always, you finisher of choice, but Sylvanas Windrunner and Dr. Boom also help give you the late game you need.
This is one interesting decklist, which has a lot of unique options and cool cards. However, here I am just going to outline a few of the cards I think are the most important to truly understand.
The watcher is not a card that has seen too much play outside of Handlock. There are many reasons for this, but the most common is that it needs to be comboed in order to be truly effective. This deck solves that problem by taking full advantage of that. Rather than just one activator, the list allows you to combo watcher in a ton of different ways, be it Defender of Argus, Coghammer or Ironbeak Owl. A 4/5 is not the most exciting play in the world, but when that can come out turn two, it most certainly is.
Like all good combo decks, you never want to fully depend on your combos to win you the game. This is very important with mulligans (which will be explained below) but it also very important when understanding how to use Ancient Watcher. That is to say, you never want to keep subpar cards or make subpar decisions just to force this card to work. In fact, I had many games where the watcher sat unused on board for five or six turns before it became relevant. Yes, it is very strong against aggro, and can sometimes even win a game if owled early on, but watcher is even more important as a tool. When it sits unused your opponent will most likely not take the time answer it, and if that is the case, you typically set it up so you either taunt or silence it when it is the most advantageous to you.
The other half of the combo, Ironbeak Owl serves a very important purpose. Not only does it give you the chance to enable your own watchers, but it is also a very important tool for the current meta. Silence, due to how inefficient most of the non Keeper of the Grove silence cards are, is something that is not typically run. Some decks may run an owl here and there, but that is very few and far between. However, in a deck that can get double use out of the owls, they really can go a long way. Here, they serve as ways to activate your Ancient Watchers, and as a way to shut down some of the most problematic cards in the game.
Due to its versatility, Ironbeak Owl can be tricky to use. On one hand, you usually want to have access to silence in most matchups on the ladder for things like Imp Gang Boss, Piloted Shredder or Sylvanas Windrunner. However, you also want to silence your Ancient Watchers when you can. The best way to handle this is by living through a simple rule. These little birds should silence the watchers first, and the rest follows. Of course, it is not always clean cut, but that type of streamlined thinking can be very important to understanding a deck. If your opponent plays an early Mad Scientist or the like, you want to Owl it, but you also want to ask yourself, is that play truly better than just killing it with the watcher.
While this deck has many combos, they are strong because they do not follow a linear path. That means, each one can be triggered by multiple plays. Nerubian Egg gets activated by many of the same things that Ancient Watcher does, but also has the added bonus of being hit by Scarlet Purifier as well. That means, there are even more ways to crack the egg open, which makes it that much more reliable. While it is true that the egg will not be trading up with larger minions as it commonly does in Zoo, it will help tempo and give you bigger minions. In addition, you can also use it with purifier to have some extremely fast starts and put on huge amounts of damage. The egg may seem pretty forward to use, but it is these type of cards that are extremely important to the deck; allowing you to survive the early game and make it to the later turns. Also, never forget there are some games (Rogue, Mage and Warlock) where you want to keep your egg in its first form to discourage AOE.
Though it may not be as explicit on paper, this deck relies heavily on garnering board control. While I did already address the problem though the Muster for Battle/Quartermaster package, it is something worth repeating. Coghammer is a crux of this deck, a cog in the greater machine, due to its ability to give you that board control you so desperately need. Not only does it enable you to clear out small minions on your opponent’s board or set up Consecration, but it also gives your minions a way to trade for free. While it is true that you can do great work with Ancient Watcher or Nerubian Egg, hitting anything short of a silver hand recruit (and sometimes a silver hand recruit) can be a huge tempo swing in your favor.
Coghammer is not a card you need to necessarily set up to make it work. What that means is, if you have a couple of minions in play, just play your weapon and see where the buff lands. You can then adapt from there. Of course, it would always be nice to get the shield in certain places, but it is often always worth it. Divine Shield and Taunt can be a very potent combo, and stop people in their tracks. Taking those abilities and putting a 2/3 weapon on the end of it is also very nice. Coghammer is just one card in this deck, but, like the owl and most good cards, it comes with a certain amount of flexibility that really pushed it over the top.
The last, and perhaps strangest, card in this list is the often forgotten Spectral Knight. Though it did see some early play during the days of Naxxramas in both Warrior and Druid, the knight has pretty much fallen out of favor. Not only is four not enough attack anymore, but there are a lot of very powerful five drops that can match this card pound for pound. However, that changes in this deck. Not being able to be targeted by spells can be very strong, and there are many classes (such as Rogue and Mage) that can lose a good potion of their board to this card before they take it down. In fact, it was that reason that I chose to keep this in the list over Sludge Belcher.
If you ever do manage to combine this with either Defender of Argus or Coghammer, it will be extremely hard for your opponents to play around it. Sometimes cards are even more than what they seem. For instance, Ancient Watcher can be given taunt, and then works to shut down most aggressive plays. However, this operates on two levels because, even if they do silence it, it is still a 4/5 that can suddenly attack. Spectral Knight works in this way, because not only is it a threat, but it often requires a ton of resources to remove. In that way, it adds to the board while also helping you burn through your opponent’s cards for later on.
Five decks I see the most when grinding ladder. Note: Zoo and Hunter tend to be the easiest matchups, while Handlock and Druid tend to the roughest.
While not as popular as it has been in the past, Face Hunter is, once again, a deck you need to be ready for. One of the keys to getting to the higher ranks of the ladder is being able to string together win streaks, and that will only happen if you can adapt to playing hunter. That’s the bad news. The good news is, this matchup is, as you can imagine, quite favorable. You have lots of big taunts, and Scarlet Purifier also does a wonderful job of shutting down a lot of their early game. While it may not stop deathrattles from happening, killing a Mad Scientist or Haunted Creeper can actually be a very important tempo swing.
There is, and always has, been just one rule in this matchup: stay alive. This deck, while not having too much healing, actually manages to do this very well by just hiding behind wall after wall of taunts. One of the most important things to remember is that, the longer the game goes, the better chances you have at winning. Their hero power will (as always) be extremely potent, and you have to watch out for both Quick Shot and Kill Command as well. However, if you can get some taunts up early, you should be able to stay out of range. Their number one tool in this fight is Ironbeak Owl. You always have to play assuming that two of your taunts are going to get silenced. Yes, sometimes you will have to put something out and pray it doesn’t get hit by an owl, but most of the time you want to just be aware and plan accordingly.
Grim Patron Warrior
I have played this matchup a handful of times, and I honestly have no idea who is favored here. If they get the combo, it is very hard to win, but short of that you almost always have the edge. Muster for Battle is a huge liability in this matchup, and should be played wisely. You never want to run it out in face of an Acolyte of Pain, and you also do not want to play it into the combo. However, if you take your time and find the right openings, you can actually force them to use their whirlwind effects at the wrong times to clear your board. The main rule of this match is to fill the board with minions that have three or more attack, and trade everything you can.
As you have very limited removal, board control is extremely important in this match. The main reason, besides not falling behind to tempo, is because you need to be able to deal with a turn six Emperor Thaurissan. While many threats can be neutralized by Aldor Peacekeeper, he cannot. Of course, there are many games where they will not have him on six, but if they do and you don’t have an answer the game is going to fall out of your hands very, very quickly. Once again, this match mostly depends on your late game, which will carry you through. Apply pressure, take out their threats as much as possible, and get up enough taunts to stop their combo in its tracks.
Tempo Mage is a very interesting deck that really needs to get going early to be successful. This match is one of the biggest reasons I put Muster for Battle into the deck. Yes, they do have many ways to clear a bunch of 1/1’s, but that usually requires more resources than they care to use. In addition, having a Light’s Justice can be very important as well. Despite the amount of cards they have access to, this matchup is pretty straight forward. You typically want to just play out your early combos and kill everything you can. While a lone minion does not seem like the end of the world, you never know what’s coming next.
A lot of Tempo’s removal depends on doing damage. As such, not only is Coghammer an allstar here, but Spectral Knight is an absolute nightmare as well. Short of Flame Cannon (which is random) they have very few ways to get through it once it gets taunted. Even more, if you can get one buffed by a Coghammer, the game usually almost always falls in your favor. Remember though, they have ways to get lethal past your taunts, and as such you generally want to play out threats and make them answer your minions. One of the most important rules of Tempo Mage is, every time they use a Fireball or Frostbolt on your minions, they aren’t using it on your face. [card]Nerubian Egg is also important here because a lot of their random damage (Flamewaker, Arcane Missiles) will usually pop it for you.
Now that everyone has decided Dragon decks are too slow (something that I plan on debunking in the future) Rogue seems to have made a large comeback on the ladder. This matchup goes just like every other matchup against Rogue, kill their minions at all costs. Taunt is very important here and, just like Hunter has two Ironbeak Owls, they have two copies of Sap. You typically want to try and get them to use those Saps on unfavorable cards, such as Nerubian Egg or an early Ancient Watcher. If done correctly, this will make it so things like Sylvanas Windrunner and Tirion Fordring are a lot more likely to stick.
As you can expect, this match is another reason to run Spectral Knight. While Blade Flurry kills it just like everything else, that is really the only way they can interact with the undead five drop. You typically win this game by taunting up the knight with either Defender of Argus or Coghammer. Though this does not win the game outright, it usually forces a premature flurry, and that will almost let you outlast in the long run. Besides removing their minions, you also want to try and play around their AOE. Muster for Battle usually forces a Fan of Knives, and the combo with Quartermaster almost always forces a flurry. It is not necessarily playing around those cards that is important, but rather making them use their answers in ways they don’t want to.
Another popular matchup, Zoo is a deck that I have yet to lose to. While they still have the ability to flood the board and trade up, they are quite weak when it comes to fighting through an army of big minions. A lot of Zoo’s advantage comes from being able to put on pressure while also controlling the board at the same time. However, if they have to use their minions to get through Ancient Watchers, taunt minions and Coghammer, they are going to have a bad time. Coghammer is great at letting you trade and giving you removal, while Consecration can clean up a lot of boards. However, you typically want to save it for when after they use an Imp-losion if you can afford it.
As always, Imp Gang boss can be a nightmare, but Muster for Battle is also very strong beyond that too. The Zoo of today is largely dependent on their later game to allow them to go toe to toe with other classes. Sylvanas Windrunner, Mal’Ganis and Dr. Boom are all cards that carry them in the later turns. Even so, between Big Game Hunter, Aldor Peacekeeper and Ironbeak Owl, you can deal with those threats. The biggest part of this match is to know that Ironbeak Owl is strictly for their minions. Ancient Watcher is best taunted, and you should owl Sylvanas, Nerubian Egg and Voidcaller on sight. However, unlike most matchups, Voidcaller is not as big of a deal because of your peacekeepers keeping minions in check. One last note is, be aware that your Scarlet Purifier also triggers their eggs.
Mulliganing with this deck is very interesting. There are two parts. One, you have a bunch of strong cards that work well in different matchups, but you also have a lot of small combos. There are no Shielded Minibots, but rather you have Ancient Watcher and Nerubian Egg. While Ancient Watcher is very strong when combined with an activator, you typically do not want to keep them without an Ironbeak Owl or Coghammer to go with them. This is because, if you never draw an activator, they are generally just dead cards. This type of thinking also goes with Nerubian Egg as well. As such, while there are no set “must keeps” here, you are going to always try to keep a combo: be it watcher/egg and Coghammer, Owl/watcher or a Scarlet Purifier and Nerubian Egg.
Due to the way that this deck is built, you want to mulligan the same way for largely every matchup. While Muster for Battle should almost always be kept, you are typically just trying to find the right combo to play in the early game. The only real exception to this is Coghammer, which I will almost always keep against aggro. Piloted Shredder can also be kept if you have the coin against decks like Paladin, Rogue and Druid, but you usually want to look for better openings than that. More often than not, mulligan for the combos, keep activators, and don’t try and force things that aren’t good on their own.
Well, that’s it for this week. I hope you guys are enjoying the series as much as I am. Not sure what I will look at next week, but it is most likely going to revolve around certain fire-breathing lizards. Until that time, may you always find your combos when you need them.