11 March 2015 - 03:53

How to Counter the Meta's Key Decks

Face Hunter or Mech Mage getting you down? JulpaFTW goes over all the most popular meta decks and how to beat them.
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Introduction

Hello everyone! It's me, JulpaFTW, again, and today I'm going to teach you how to counter the meta's key decks. Most of the articles you'll find will focus on how to play a certain deck, and will usually only give a couple of tips on mulligans against other classes. The aim of this article is to reverse that approach and give you tips that will help you beat what's out there. I'll also include a section on more general advice that you should keep in mind when playing against different archetypes. Keeping this article as a sort of cheat sheet will help you analyze your decisions and give you a push to that coveted legend rank. As a side note, the deck list I've included is the deck I'm currently running. All credit for it goes to Ryzen who developed it. The deck has a pretty strong match-up against most classes in the current meta and is very fun (and challenging!) to play. Without further ado, let's get into it!

Decks

Tinker's Sharpsword Oil

Oil Rogue

Oil Rogue is one of the most popular decks in the meta-game, and also one of the hardest to play. However, when played correctly, it is extremely deadly. It has great cycling potential, strong midrange minions, a myriad of tempo generating spells and burst damage to boot. So how do you handle this match-up? First, recognize what they'll be looking for in their opening hand: early answers to your possible threats if you're playing aggro and midrange minions such as Azure Drakeor Violet Teacherif you're playing control.

Against heavy control, they'll mulligan for Sprintin order to try to outdraw you. However, if you're playing Control Warrior, they'll have scarce chances of winning since they don't have enough threats or damage to get through the armor that you put up. Once you understand their mulligans, you can expect their first couple of plays: they'll usually dagger on turn 2, and look to play minions on curve on turns 3-5 while dealing with your threats using Backstab, Deadly Poisonand Eviscerate. Knowing this, you'll want to mulligan for cards that deal 3 damage to handle their 3/3s (Earthen Ring Farseer, SI:7 Agent) such as Wrath, Fiery War Axeor Frostboltamong others. If you manage to take control of the board early on, they'll have to waste a lot of their health using weapons to clear your board, and will be vulnerable later on.

Another thing to keep in mind is that they usually don't run Big Game Hunter, so play your threats without fear as long as you can afford a tempo loss from Sap. While that tempo loss can be devastating, it only buys them time, not card advantage, so if you have board control, it won't matter at all. One thing that Oil Rogues hate to see is 5-health taunts such as Sludge Belcher, since if they don't have a very precise answer to it such as spell-power Eviscerate, they'll have to sacrifice minions to deal the 5 damage or waste a Tinker's Sharpsword Oilto deal with your threat (these taunts also prevent them from pushing damage and pressuring your life total).

Counter decks: Control Warrior is near impossible for them to beat if played correctly, since they can answer 3/3s with War Axe and can stack infinite armor that is pretty much impossible for them to get through. Face Hunter also has a favourable match-up against them if they don't run any specific tech cards such as Antique Healbot.

Techs: Harrison Jonescan absolutely wreck their gameplay and net you card advantage at a very small stat discount. Healing cards such as Earthen Ring Farseerand Antique Healbotcan get in the way of their bursty gameplan. 3-damage removal spells are key as analysed before, so be sure to include them if you're running into many Oil Rogues.

Grommash Hellscream

Control Warrior

This guy is a staple that was born in the early days of Hearthstone - the old Pay-to-Win, wallet warrior. This deck looks to stall and answer threats in the early game and then unleash a seemingly never-ending stream of legendaries in the late-game. A lot of people simplify the way to play this match-up as "I have to avoid the late game altogether and kill them before turn 7", but I disagree with this line of thinking. What you should be aiming to do against Control Warrior is to deny them draw from their Acolyte of Pain, pressure them during the early turns and come out in a dominant position in the late game.

Then, if you have board control, you'll be able to answer to that stream of legendaries efficiently and eventually come out with a win. Know that if you try to race a control warrior down, you're going to have a bad time. They'll have Shield Block, Shieldmaiden, their hero power, Armorsmithand even Alexstraszaall to get their health to a reasonable level. Control warriors usually mulligan hard for weapons to keep the board clear during the early game. Their early turns will consist of armoring up, dealing with minions with Fiery War Axeor playing an Armorsmith or Acolyte of Pain. In the mid-game they typically equip Death's Biteand slightly larger minions, and they have the big curve topping legendaries last. Their weak spot is the first couple of turns. You'll want to establish a board that can kill an Acolyte in one swing, survive against a War Axe and later on, possibly a Death's Bite.

Counter decks: Combo Druid absolutely wrecks them, since it's good at pumping out minions on turns 1-5 and can produce obscene amounts of burst if your threats remain unchecked. For the most part, other than that, Warrior has even match-ups that are largely draw-dependent.

Techs: Harrison Jonesmakes another appearance, as he never fails to get value in this match-up. Big Game Hunteris also good now that Warriors include  7+ attack minions again, and midrange threats such as Savannah Highmaneand Fire Elementalare their worst enemy. One interesting tech I saw was running Spectral Knightin midrange decks, since they have absolutely no way of dealing with it other than with their legendaries (which you'll probably remove with an already established board!).

Savannah Highmane

Midrange Hunter

This is probably the most competitive deck out there at the moment, sporting fast games and a high winrate. The mulligans will mostly be for minions on turns 1-3 such as Webspinner, Knife Juggler, Mad Scientist, Haunted Creeper, Animal Companion. They'll look to establish early board control by trading efficiently using Knife Juggler+ Unleash the Houndscombo, buffing a minion with Abusive Sergeantor Houndmastering a beast. The deck basically curves out in the mid-game and it's all about the finish with Kill Command.

For the most part, you'll be playing this match-up as the control deck. You'll want to remove their threats quickly and efficiently and fight for board control during the first few turns. They have absolutely no card draw aside from Webspinnerand Mad Scientistwhich aren't traditional draws. If they don't have a god-like draw, they'll run out of steam by the time the late game comes around. When in doubt, always trade, assume that their secrets are Freezing Trapor Explosive Trapsince the other secrets are underused in the current meta game (if you see a Juggler, it could possibly be Snake Trap). Only overextend if your minions have high health and are capable of taking a Juggler + Hounds combo (possibly even paired with Hunter's Mark), and be prepared to take upwards of 12 damage to the face from double Kill Commands. If you're in a commanding position and have the win almost sealed up, don't play more than 3 minions since they don't have any efficient Area of Effect spells (AoE). Most of the time, it comes down to patience and cautiously playing around their traps. If you manage to proc them with a meaningless minion, you'll be on the right path. Many times, they'll lock you out of games with Loatheb, but this has little counterplay other than removing their minions as soon as you possibly can and having board control to begin with. Save your hard removal for Dr. Boomor Savannah Highmane.

Counter decks: Oil Rogue can mop the floor with Midrange Hunters, since they have lots of answers to the midrange threats such as Backstab or Eviscerate and can burst them down without fear of taunts. Paladin can also handle these exceptionally well by being a little bit greedy with their AoE.

Techs: They usually can't do anything if you deal with their early pressure well, so cards like Zombie Chowand Wild Pyromancerare awesome at stopping them in their tracks while generating card advantage. Harrison Jonesalso wrecks Hunters if you can proc their secret before playing him against an Eaglehorn Bow, therefore denying them the extra charge and gaining even more card advantage. Kezan Mysticis unusually good against them too, since the freezing trap swing can absolutely wreck their gameplan. Consider adding one if you see a fair amount or Hunters, as the stat discount for it isn't too bad.

Tirion Fordring

Midrange/Control Paladin

This is one of the strongest classes out there. Both versions have similar gameplans, with the control variation having slightly less presence early on, but making up for it with a stronger late game. They'll usually mulligan for early threats such as Zombie Chow, Shielded Minibot, Muster for Battleand Knife Juggler, so you'll definitely want some early presence and ways to deal 1 damage to kill the silver hand recruits as well as pop the minibot's divine shield. If they get value out of their Quartermaster, it'll be extremely difficult to deal with the Paladin if you can't immediately clear with some strong AoE such as Deadly Poison+Blade Flurry.

If you are playing aggro, be the beatdown player and establish board control in the first few turns, disrespect their AoE a bit and aim to pressure the board more than their life total. If you let them get to the late game, they will be able to use Lay on Hands, draw into their board clears and outgrind you. Their general playstyle revolves around strong minions, efficient board clears and gaining card advantage through use of their hero power (if they manage to buff multiple recruits it's immense value for them). Paladin has a lot of favourable match-ups, so if you find that you are struggling against them and there are a lot of them on the ladder, you might want to consider teching against them in order to improve your win-rate. As a general tip, don't worry too much about your life total. One thing paladins lack is burst, so make liberal use of your health as a resource (whether you are a Warlock or a weapon wielding class).

Counter decks: Oil Rogue is the bane of paladin. As long as they don't make any key mistakes, they'll usually have answers to all of their threats and enough burst to finish them off.

Techs: Harrison Jonesstrikes again, this time hitting their , Light's Justiceand Truesilver Champion(sometimes even Coghammer!).

Snowchugger

Mech Mage

This deck is seeing slightly less play than it did straight after the GvG release, but is still a considerable force to consider in the metagame. Its aim is to establish a commanding board position early on through cards such as Mechwarper, Snowchuggerand Cogmaster. Your job is to get rid of their 2 drop as soon as you possibly can, since Snowchugger will win them the game if you are a weapons class and Mechwarper will give them unparalleled pressure on the board if you let it live. They'll usually hard mulligan for Clockwork Gnome, Mechwarper, Snowchugger, Mad Scientist, and other early game Mechs. With this in mind, drop everything for early answers to their board and try to develop your own threats. They usually only run Mirror Entityso play around it by summoning a weak minion or playing a minion before you use your AoE cards.

Dealing with Mechs as quickly as you can is a good idea, since Goblin Blastmagecan decimate your board. They usually have no forms of AoE so don't hold back any minions. You'll want to force them to use their Fireballto clear your threats instead of using it for burn damage. Keeping track of your opponents' cards is key in this match-up. Knowing how many spare parts they have can alter how aggressively you choose to play. Once you have board control, don't let the game go on too long, since you don't want to give them the possibility of playing Archmage Antonidasand spare parts for additional burst. As a rule of thumb, ask yourself how they can possibly punish you for going face before defaulting to clearing their board (of course, this is when you have a stronger board, otherwise focus on regaining control before you push for damage).

Counter decks: Paladin wrecks Mech Mage pretty hard with efficient AoE clears and strong midrange minions, Midrange Hunter also has a fairly favourable match-up against them.

Techs: Zombie Chow and Wild Pyromancer as well as other low-cost minions can help disrupt them as they try to build a board. Try to hold on to these if they play a Mad Scientistsince they mostly only run Mirror Entityas a secret, so you'll want to give them a minion with a drawback or a cheap one that you can easily dispatch. Kezan Mysticalso swings tempo heavily in your favor if you use it to counter their Mirror Entity.

Force of Nature

Combo Druid

This deck aims to pressure the board with early to midgame threats such as Shade of Naxxramas, Piloted Shredderand Druid of the Claw. They will likely mulligan hard for Innervateand Wild Growthalthough they might keep some situational cards against you (for example, if you're playing warrior or paladin, they'll keep Harrison Jones). Knowing this, keep tempo generators such as Sapas well as removal cards in case they get a ramped start.

Druid's main weakness, and the way you'll be able to defeat them, is by being patient and using your AoE appropriately. Pressure their board (since Swipehas a pretty weak AoE effect if not used with spell power) and pump out big threats that aren't vulnerable to BGH. Druid lacks hard removal and strong AoE, but their minion quality is very high, and they have extra versatility that they can use against you if you allow them to. This is why early pressure is key. If they don't play a Shade of Naxxramas early, keep your AoE to deal with it, since if you leave it unchecked, it can boost their combo to upwards of 20 damage. Try to avoid playing more than 3 minions if they haven't used their Mind Control Tech, since it can lose you the game if it hits the right target. Also don't ignore that they can heal with Ancient of Lore, so only go for a face damage race if you're desperate to get the damage in before they draw into their combo.

Keep track of their plays such as when they used hero power and use it to infer what they might have in their hand. For example, if they used hero power + Wrathon turn 4 when they still had The Coin, you can probably tell that their hand is horrible (probably clogged with combo pieces) and you should aim to pressure them to take advantage of them not drawing into their Piloted Shredderor Druid of the Claw. In this particular example, since they don't run too many 6-drops (usually only Sylvanas Windrunnerand Force of Nature) they won't be dropping a minion on curve anytime soon, so exploit this advantage!

Counter decks: Midrange decks such as Hunter or Mech Mage tend to fare well against Druid due to them outpacing them in the early turns. I also like playing Oil Rogue against them due to the sheer amount of strong AoE that you can put out using Blade Flurrycombos.

Techs: Healing cards such as Antique Healbotand Earthen Ring Farseerare good for delaying their combo capabilities, but you'll mostly want to include minions that can take over the board during turns 2-5 and ways to deal with their Shade of Naxxramas. Good ideas for this include Bomb Lobbersince it can kill a stealthed minion and also combat with Piloted Shredder. Another good idea is to include Sludge Belcherto delay their aggression and combat with most of their minions efficiently.

Archetypes

Ragnaros the Firelord

Control

Control decks usually want to stall the game out by using cheap removal and win through card advantage and board control. The key thing to keep in mind is that card advantage is the lifeblood of control decks. If they can't get value out of their draw engines (for example, Northshire Clericor Acolyte of Pain, then they might not draw into their powerful late game and will be weak unless they manage to survive with no notable threats for several more turns. This means you should know how your opponent plans to draw cards, and play around them. Another thing to keep in mind is what threats they might be playing. Are you up against a paladin who might play Tirion Fordring? Then save your Keeper of the Groveto silence it, or your Harrison Jonesto swing tempo in your favor after killing it. Control values aren't centered on tempo, but on value, and patience as well as card advantage are key to getting value out of your deck.

Piloted Shredder

Midrange

Midrange decks want to overwhelm you on turns 2-5 with very efficient threats, and close out the game with cards like Dr.Boom or Savannah Highmane. You'll want to gain board control early on, even if it means using up your hard removal on suboptimal targets, since their game plan relies mostly on tempo. If you look through the decklist for the typical Midrange Hunter, you'll see that they have no draw engine. Therefore, they need to get their creatures out on the board on curve, otherwise they'll run out of cards and steam. Of course, don't blow all your hard removal against a Hunter on turns 2-5, because then you'll lack it for Savannah Highmane and Dr. Boom, but don't hesitate to use Shield Slamon a Houndmasterif it means keeping board control. The Highmane can simply fall to an Executeor Sylvanas later on, and if you allow them to keep pressure on the board, you'll fail to get value out of your big legendaries (what does it matter if you play a Ragnaros the Firelordif they already have a Highmane, a Houndmaster and whatever they can play on their turn?).

Flame Imp

Aggro

Aggro decks want to flood the board the first few turns and take control of the board through efficient trades and win from a commanding board position. The best way to handle their game plan is through early techs such as Zombie Chowthat can stop their aggression in its tracks as well as cards like Wrathand Fiery War Axe. If they can't take over during the first 3 turns, then your minions will be more efficient and will ultimately win you the game. The best thing you can do is keep track of their hand, and know that more cards equate to a much higher probability for an on-curve, strong drop, whereas if they only have 2 cards, they are probably weaker cards that will probably be suboptimal plays for the following turns. Of course, you can get top-decked and lose in this match-up (otherwise it wouldn't be so popular), but the best way to beat them is to know that they'll come out swinging, handle it by only paying attention to the board and stalling until their hand size decreases (which will happen even for Warlocks, believe it or not!). They usually lack huge drops, so use your removal to gain tempo more than anything else, but save some for the occasional Antonidas, Boom or Doomguard.

Conclusion

The aim of this article is to help you plan and play against the current meta's most popular decks. Not all of them are in here, but the most popular and strongest ones are (I used the ones I gathered sufficient data for). If this article gets enough of a positive response, I'll do an updated version when the meta shifts a sufficient amount and new decks are added into the mix (which is sure to happen with the release of Blackrock Mountain!). Until that happens, I believe these tips and taking on this type of analysis will greatly improve your play. Please leave any comments and suggestions below, and as always, thank you for taking the time to read this piece!

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