Control Warrior has long-established itself as a premier control deck in Hearthstone, but the deck’s popularity has fallen off with the full release of Curse of Naxxramas. It experienced a brief resurgence on the ladder last week in an attempt to combat the Hunter-dominated meta, but its numbers are now tapering off as players have begun to build with Control Warrior in mind.
The problem facing Control Warrior is simple: one-for-one removal is no longer as reliable as it once was.
In the early days, players thought Warrior’s match-up with Hunter impossible to lose. Hunters innovated, and savannah-highmane—a card that was at the time thought unplayable—became the lynchpin required to beat Warrior and other control decks.
Highmane’s Deathrattle required Warriors to commit more resources to destroy it than it did Hunters to play it, and Hunters were able to capitalize on this gain in tempo and material advantage to push through the last few points of damage.
Naxxramas has given players of all classes access to minions like haunted-creeper and nerubian-egg, which, like savannah-highmane, populate the board with threats upon death. If these resilient minions are not dealt with efficiently, it is easy for any deck to fall further and further behind.
fiery-war-axe and deaths-bite allow for Warriors to trade efficiently with these and other minions at the cost of health. This is a cost that Warriors should be happy to pay in the abstract, but the sad truth of the matter is that low-to-the-ground aggro decks are, with some frequency, able to deploy their threats more quickly than the control player can recoup the life they are giving up keeping the board clear. The result is that, for a turn or more, the control player is left dead to any sort of charge or burst damage from the top of their opponent’s deck before they can stabilize.
Matchups that once heavily favored Control Warrior now feel much closer, disincentivizing players from turning to the deck when its good match-ups start to crop up on the ladder. The good matchups are still good, but Warriors already have some of the longest games of any class; games that frequently last until fatigue.
The deck’s lacks presence in the mid-game forces its games to go long, and while this may increase its margins against other control decks, it does so at a cost. Without the possibility of free wins from its tilted match-ups, players may find themselves better served using a slightly less effective deck that can run three games in the time it takes to play Control Warrior’s one.
Or they could play frothing-berserker.
Why Frothing Berserker?
Four health and an unlimited damage ceiling allow Berserkers to trade favorably with any minion, given the proper setup. Even unsupported, they are able to kill most one or two cost minions and grow more threatening in the process.
It represents so much potential damage that it forces opponents to go out of their way to remove it. The time that they spend removing it is time that they have not spent developing their board. This, in turn, translates to more life for the Warrior, which can become a window in which to take charge of the game.
Frothing Berserker also allows you to cast two threats in one turn in the late-game against other control decks, and can help to gain the initiative in the Warrior mirror. It is threatening enough to warrant a shield-slam, or some other comparable removal spell, and any spell used on Berserker is one less spell held in reserve for a threat like ragnaros-the-firelord as the game approaches fatigue.
Some notes on playing Berserker: it is rarely ever wise to play Berserker without something to defend it unless you have the-coin to deploy it on turn two or the board is empty. Often that means waiting until turn five when you have enough mana to play Berserker and unstable-ghoul, or turn seven when you can play Berserker behind a sludge-belcher or with a Ghoul and an acolyte-of-pain. Both set yourself up to deal substantial damage on your next turn.
There will be times against Zoo and Hunter when you can swing for upwards of ten damage in the early turns of the game, but these occasions will be few and far between. The card exists to provide you with an avenue towards victory that decks on the ladder are currently unprepared for, but against a competent opponent it will not win the game by itself. It creates a window of opportunity, but it is up to you to capitalize on it.
Here I will be brief because the core cards have been reviewed at length, but our use of frothing-berserker does inform some of our other choices.
Warriors now have access to up to six whirlwind effects if they want them, though I run only unstable-ghoul and deaths-bite here because they are good outside of their role as an enabler. The effect is powerful, but by itself is not currently worth a slot.
Notably absent is slam, which while an excellent card that allows you to cycle quickly through your deck, plays too slowly, as it rarely has an immediate impact on the board.
The value of Silence has gone up considerably since the advent of Naxxramas. spellbreaker has started to see some play in other Warrior decks, but its inclusion has not yet become canon. Sometimes an opponent’s only answer to a powered up Frothing Berserker is to play a minion with Taunt.
Spellbreaker lets you push through damage. It can remove the back half of a savannah-highmane, turn nerubian-egg into a husk, and attack for four after it has done its duty. It would be an ironbeak owl if the Owl did not die to incidental damage from Unstable Ghoul and Death’s Bite, but its Silence is golden.
Ysera gets the nod over alexstrasza because Berserker can often take a decently sized chunk out of the opponent’s life-total before Alextrasza can be brought into play. Another consideration is the rise in popularity of Priests. Priests are powerful in the current meta, and some builds can prove difficult to beat as Warrior. Ysera’s four attack puts her out of range of all of the Priest’s removal, and her twelve health makes her impossible to trade with efficiently.
faceless-manipulator is the most cut-able card at present, but I have liked having it against the Priest and Druid decks that have started to become popular on the ladder. I frequently replace it with a brawl when Zoo looks to be making a resurgence.
Matchups and Mulligans
I piloted this deck from rank seven to rank two on the ladder last season after Death’s Bite was released, and again from Legend rank 951 to 500. I’ve averaged about a 65% win rate over the course of my last fifty games. It has served me well, and I would like to share what I’ve learned.
The only legendary you will ever consider keeping in your opening hand is cairne-bloodhoof in the Warrior mirror. As a general rule, send back anything that costs five or more (or is named spellbreaker), and never keep two of the same weapon. If you are playing brawl in place of faceless-manipulator it can be a good idea to keep if you are playing against Zoo, Priest, or Druid. The goal is to survive until the late-game, so do not worry about sending back expensive cards that you might want to see later. You draw a card every turn, and will eventually see them.
fiery-war-axe is the best card to have in your opening hand. So good, in fact, that it is worth sending back nearly every other card in your hand in an attempt to find it. Keep Berserker and any two-cost minions you happen to have, but the rest can go. That includes shield-slam and execute! The match is usually determined by who has the strongest opening hand. If you do not have an Axe and Zoo has a good draw, they will establish a threatening board. Without a timely brawl, they will probably kill you before you can take over the game with your superior threats. It feels bad when this happens, but the match-up is close.
It can be useful to send an early Berserker can at their face for ten plus damage to make Lifetap a real liability. Threatening their life total in this manner will force them to fight for the board, rather than send their minions directly at your face.
Vs Midrange Hunter
deaths-bite is a similarly impressive card against Hunters. It can deal with any minion they happen to roll off of animal-companion, and the Deathrattle obliterates their many one-health minions. unstable-ghoul is another card you should be excited to see in your opening hand. The Ghoul makes it difficult for the Hunter to get value out of minions like webspinner and haunted-creeper and trades with huffer. Berserker is highly relevant in this matchup, because a Hunter will have to two-for-one himself with hunters-mark (or play an exposed beast and kill-command) in order to deal with it early.
It is important to maximize your use of Armor Up. If playing a spell to remove a minion will yield more health in the long run than activating your hero power, do so, but bear in mind that most of Hunter’s minions can be dealt with efficiently by some combination of weapon and whirlwind effect. As long as you can keep them off of an early houndmaster and play around freezing-trap, victory should be assured.
There are too many different flavors of Priest running about currently to offer any specific mulligan instructions beyond: find weapons; keep removal. It is acceptable to keep an armorsmith or an acolyte-of-pain if you have a cruel-taskmaster to pair with them, but be wary, because an unsupported one-attack minion is going to allow a Priest to draw a lot of cards if they have northshire-cleric, and they always do. Play around cabal-shadow-priest if at all possible. That may mean holding a Berserker or an Acolyte until you have a Whirlwind effect to guarantee that you get value out of them. The match-up ranges from even against the more aggressive Priest decks, to abysmal against the more controlling ones, but it is always possible to ride ysera to victory.
The most common incarnation of Druid you are likely to encounter on the ladder was made by StrifeCro and popularized by Kolento when he used it to get to #1 Legend on the EU server last season. It runs cheap minions like haunted-creeper and echoing-ooze to flood the board, and hard-to-interact-with minions like shade-of-naxxramas and spectral-knight to guarantee substantial burst damage when combined with force-of-nature and savage-roar.
The early minions are weak outside of the combo and can usually be dealt with without too much trouble. It is generally easy to stay out of range of the combo, just be sure your math is right before attacking their face if they have a minion on the board. It is nearly always correct to kill whatever small minions they have lying around, even if that means sending a minion like cairne-bloodhoof into a spectral-spider. This match-up is firmly in your favor.
The option to get aggressive by playing an inexpensive threat is an invaluable tool for a control deck to have. That it has a target on its back is a blessing against aggressive decks when you take into account its four health. Mana efficiency is the name of the game, and while Armor Up will take you into the late-game, it leaves you without any forward momentum. A Frothing Berserker may not live long, but because of it, Garrosh surely will.