Get 'Em Dead - Legend Aggro Rogue
When the ladder becomes infested with the Hunter scourge, when Priests and Warriors rise to combat them, when hitting the “play” button becomes an Undertaking, when the game feels stale and all seems lost...it’s time to go Rogue.
I was travelling every weekend this month and had almost given up on hitting legend this season. I got as high as rank 2 while developing Deadguy Hunter and writing my article on it, but then I fell all the way back to 4 trying to get various Paladin and Shaman decks to work (I can never seem to win with Shaman). With only a week left in the season, I decided to give a deck from a recent article by Magic Hall of Famer Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa a try - Aggro Rogue.
The deck is very decision dense, and I was making lots of mistakes at first, but I still felt like I couldn’t lose. Even while I was figuring the deck out I rarely lost, including a 13 win streak(!) from rank 4 to rank 1. Now that I have some experience under my belt I feel unstoppable.
What Everyone Else is Doing
The Hearthstone metagame is a fickle thing. It seems like every day throws a new set of challenges at the aspiring ladder climber, and you have to scramble to stay one step ahead. Every once in a while, everything aligns and the popular decks have a common weakness that a savvy player can exploit to rocket up the ranks.
Right before Naxxramus, Handlock was that deck. Zoo, Druid, and Miracle ran rampant, and none could boast a favorable matchup against the Giant menace. Now, with the influx of 30 new cards to shake things up, Midrange Hunter and various board control decks (Warrior, Priest, Druid) are the most common sights, and there is a new deck that can exploit a hole in their game plan: Aggro Rogue.
The metagame has become very focused on board control - almost every deck is running sticky minions like Haunted Creeper, Harvest Golem, and Sludge Belcher for that purpose. There are a lot of minions with high health that can get value trades or deathrattles that can garner card advantage.
The solution to all of this is to either go bigger (control Warrior with ALL THE LEGENDARIES, a la Trump) or to go under. Going under is my preferred method for a few reasons:
- Late game control decks can get awkward opening hands without any action and fall too far behind.
- Slower decks can have trouble closing the game out in a timely manner and get burned out by Hunters with Kill Command, Eaglehorn Bow, and .
- Who wants to play for 2 hours and gain 2 stars? I love control as much as the next guy (probably more), but I also like WINNING GAMES, which is what this deck does.
Why Aggro Rogue Works
All the board control in the world doesn’t matter if you’re dead. While everyone putzes around with their 1 power 2-drops and 2 power 3-drops, you’re smashing them for 4 every turn. Your opponent gains a ton of value when their Haunted Creeper kills your Leper Gnome and leaves behind two 1/1’s, but they already took 4 damage. The number that matters isn’t the number of minions they have on board, it’s the amount of health they have.
As a bonus, most opponents will mulligan their early removal away, assuming you’re playing Miracle, which gives your early minions a better chance to live and continue to deal damage. This is actually one of the best reasons to play Knife Juggler, as it is extremely strong when everyone throws away their Wraths and Holy Smites against you.
Most Aggro Rogue lists play Loot Hoarder instead, which dies to hero power half the time and Haunted Creeper the rest. Plus the upside of Loot Hoarder is much lower than that of Juggler, which can deal 5+ damage the turn after you play it. Again, credit to Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa for the tech.
The majority of games with Aggro Rogue follow a similar pattern. You drop a few 1 and 2 cost dorks and bash them down to 18 or so, then spend a couple turns attacking with your weapon and/or refueling with Coldlight Oracle before finishing with a flurry of Arcane Golems, Shadowsteps, and Eviscerates. The burst-heavy days of a month ago are gone; you no longer need to fear dying from 20 every other game (except against this deck), which gives you time to set up the kill once your initial barrage is cleaned up.
Coldlight Oracle is excellent in this deck because it doesn’t care about card economy. Your opponent is almost certainly going to have board and card advantage by turn 4, but they won’t have enough time to use all of those cards anyways. You, on the other hand, blow through cards very quickly and can leverage every point of mana far more efficiently. You can Shadowstep the Oracle to draw even more cards, but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you have no charge minions in your hand. The 4-6 damage the Shadowstep deals in conjunction with Arcane Golem/Leeroy is about on par with the two cards you would draw, and is more mana efficient than they would be.
Worgen Infiltratormay seem like an odd, underpowered inclusion, but the difference in starting with a 1-drop and not is astronomical. It feels miserable not to have one, so Worgen is in as the 7th 1-drop. Stealth pretty much guarantees he'll be able to get in 2 damage late game, too, so he's not useless past turn 1 or 2.
Nevermind 'Backspace'; this deck Deletes its foes.
Mulligans don’t vary by class with such a singularly focused deck. Cards change value in certain matchups, such as Sap being good against Warriors and Druids, but you shouldn’t mulligan for those cards specifically. You won’t be able to put on enough early pressure for those cards to matter if you don’t have a strong start.
You want to start every game on the play with triple 1-drop, 1-drop Knife Juggler, or 1-drop 1-drop Cold Blood. Mulligan anything and everything that doesn’t fit into this curve (Deadly Poison, Sap, Arcane Golem, etc.), with the lone exception being Coldlight Oracle if you have a 1-drop and Knife Juggler already. Knife Juggler is excellent on turn 2, but not as good as two minions except against Hunter, so play two 1-drops turn 2 if you can. Don’t ever mulligan Juggler, but if the better option presents itself don’t play him turn 2. In the Cold Blood scenario, pumping Argent Squire is ideal, but using it on anything for 4 damage and forcing them to deal with it is fine.
A side note on Cold Blood: always target your worst minion on an empty board. If you have a Leper Gnome and a Knife Juggler, pump the Gnome. If you have a 3/3 and a 2/1, pump the 2/1 unless you’re playing Druid, Mage, or Rogue, or Shaman (Earth Shock). This forces your opponent to kill the huge minion and lets you keep the more valuable one around.
Also, never use it on a minion that can’t attack face that turn, and always use it when you don’t have another play. If you would have 2 mana left over, dagger up. If you would have 1, Cold Blood a guy that can attack that turn! The spell will rarely deal more than 4 damage, so using it at the first opportunity is efficient (this deck is all about efficiency) and forces your opponent to spend time removing it, leaving you to set up combos.
It is almost never correct to Cold Blood and attack a minion. The only time you should have to do this is when your opponent has a huge taunt and you have no Sap, or when you’ll have guaranteed lethal the next turn if you save your Sap. The most common instance of the latter is against Druid or Paladin when you can use up some minions to get a taunt out-of-the-way and attack for a couple of points a damage, letting you save Sap for the next turn to clear the way for Leeroy/Arcane Golem/Shadowstep. This play is better than Sapping right away because you can get the big burst in for sure instead of losing to taunt + cheap removal on the minion you could have used to kill the taunt last turn.
On the draw, Defias Ringleader becomes your best “1-drop” and SI:7 Agent becomes your best “2-drop,” but not at the same time obviously. Prioritize Ringleader if you have both and mulligan to fill in the spots on your curve otherwise, with two 1-drops being the best replacement for Ringleader. Turn 1 Knife Juggler isn’t that great, and I would save the coin if I had a 1-drop to play instead. Again, Coldlight Oracle is nice if you have a good curve leading up to it.
In general, Defias Ringleader (on the draw) > Leper Gnome > Argent Squire (#1 if you have Cold Blood) > Worgen Infiltrator > Southsea Deckhand
It sucks if you draw a bad hand (one without a 1-drop), but that means your hand is all burst and you only need to whittle the enemy down to 16 or so before killing them in one turn. Never give up hope – the deck will deliver!
How to Play It
Mulliganing with Aggro Rogue is pretty straightforward; playing it is anything but.
The first few turns of a game play themselves, but once your first wave is cleared it gets very interesting and non-intuitive. Much of the deck is made up of combo pieces in two categories: charge minions (Arcane Golem, Leeroy Jenkins, to a lesser extent Southsea Deckhand) and spells that deal a lot of damage with charge minions (Shadowstepand Cold Blood). It is best to save a card from the minion category until you can strike the finishing blow.
The reason for saving a minion until the end is twofold: you don’t want to grant your opponent the drawback from Leeroy or Arcane Golem, and you don’t want to end the game with dead Shadowsteps and Cold Bloods in your hand with your opponent at 8 health. As strange as it sounds, it is incorrect to play an Arcane Golem and hit your opponent from 8 down to 4 if that’s the last card in your hand and you have no other minions. You might draw a spell like Coldblood, Evisceratenext turn that would have made that Golem lethal!
2x Cold Blood/Shadowstep + Arcane Golem is 12 damage for 5 mana!
I’ve been talking about Arcane Golem a lot, and that’s because it is the most difficult card to play in the deck and proper timing is critical. Throwing it down on an empty board when your opponent has no minions is almost always correct, even though it grants your opponent extra mana. They have to use that mana to remove the Golem anyways or they risk taking 8 damage from your 3-drop. That’s insane! This play is incorrect, however, when it will grant your opponent the mana the cast a huge swing spell next turn. If you don’t have answer (AKA Sap) to deal with Ancient of War or Tirion Fordring next turn, hold off a turn and get your opponent into burst range.
It is perfectly fine, and in fact advised, to Deadly Poison your dagger and attack face in this deck. Aggro Rogue doesn’t care about card advantage, and the difference between 18 and 15 health could be huge two turns down the line when you topdeck an Eviscerate. So many cards in the deck do 4 damage that it’s best to play as if you’ll draw one.
You always have to count up the damage in your hand to calculate when you can commit to a two or three turn lethal and you have to anticipate when your opponent is going to kill you so you know whether to play cautiously or aggressively.
For example, if you are in no danger you can play it safe and not commit with Arcane Golems and Eviscerating their face until you have lethal in your hand. If you are on a clock, however, you have to play it risky. You might have to Sap their Sludge Belcher and Arcane Golem/Cold Blood them down to 4 and hope you draw Eviscerate because you have no other way to beat a taunt. You might need to Eviscerate their face down to 10 instead of killing a minion with it and pray to draw a charge minion to go with the 2 Shadowsteps in your hand. Every context requires a different response, and Aggro Rogue operates on razor-thin margins a lot of the time.
If that sounds grim, don’t worry; you get a lot of free wins with early unanswered minions into Leeroy/Shadowstep for the easy kill, too. They call it “Turn 6 Rogue” for a reason.
A very favorable matchup.
Go all out and flood the board the first few turns. They will most likely mulligan Unleash the Hounds as it’s trash against Miracle, so there’s no need to play around it on turn 3. If you still have a board by turn 5 consider trading away 2/1’s for valuable minions (not 1/1’s or deathrattle guys) to deny a few hounds if you might get raced. If you are ahead 10+ health you can just hit face, let the Hunter draw a million cards, and kill him in a turn or two anyways.
Ignore Haunted Creeper and Mad Scientist, and only attack Webspinner with your weapon. You can’t afford to waste damage, as the Hunter is very capable of transitioning into an aggressive deck in the midgame. Use Sap exclusively on Houndmaster-ed beasts and Savannah Highmane. Either one makes the Hunter essentially skip a turn, which is all it takes to finish them off most games. If they have the good fortune of rolling a Misha off of Animal Companion you’ll have to Eviscerate or attack it, as sapping a 3 cost taunt won’t solve any problems for you since it’ll still stop your game-ending burst.
Knife Juggler and Arcane Golem are extra good turn 2 or 3 against a 1 power minion. What is a Hunter going to do against that, spend their whole turn 3 to Kill Command?
This matchup is all about your opponent’s deck. If they are playing Voidwalker and Defender of Argus, these cheap taunts will often prevent you from dealing enough damage to win. Many lists are trimming them recently, though, so it’s looking a little better.
You both can execute a gameplan very consistently, so every game will involve you hitting them once with each minion before they make a good trade to kill it. The Zoo player will get astonishingly far ahead on the board by turn 4-5, but be fairly low on life. They can’t Life Tap very much if they don’t have taunts up, so keep poking with your weapon and hope you draw burst before they draw taunt.
Blade Flurry is amazing here, but try to save it until they play Defender of Argus and/or Voidwalker, as you don’t have a good way to deal with those cards otherwise. It’s also good to go for if it will completely clear their side of the field, as most Zoo decks have only Doomguard and Soulfire to affect the board immediately, leaving you a turn to bash with impunity.
This matchup becomes very difficult if the Warrior drops an Armorsmith right of the bat. Failing that (or even if they have it but have a weak follow-up), you can usually outpace their healing. Their non-Shield Slamremoval is very lackluster against aggro since using a weapon means they have to take extra damage and Execute has no targets.
This is the one matchup where you don’t want the triple 1-drop opening, as Whirlwind and Unstable Ghoul will wreck you. Try to play only one or two 1 toughness minions at a time. Unstable Ghoul isn’t too terrifying if you do this because a random 2/1 + a dagger hit can kill it and clear the way for your charge guys and x/2’s.
You want to save Sap for Sludge Belcher if at all possible, and ignore the rest of his minions (including Armorsmith) to keep his health down so you can burst once you draw the cards and get enough mana. It’s close, but if you Sap Blecher the turn you cast a bunch of Shadowsteps and Cold Bloods you can get there.
Assassin's Blade is the nuts here, and you want to save Deadly Poison for it if at all possible. 18-20 damage from two cards goes a long way towards working through his healing. You still shouldn’t keep it in your opening hand, though, as you need strong plays leading up to turn 5 for it to matter.
Priest is similar to Warrior, except their scary early game minion is Zombie Chow. They can kill every minion in the deck with it and heal between each attack.
Again similar to Warrior, you want to chip away so he’s within range of your burst once you find it. If it gets to the point where he’s healing each turn and ending up at higher health than the turn before, you’ve lost. Assassin’s Blade is nice to prevent this, especially with Deadly Poison, but if the priest has an early Zombie Chow or Northshire Cleric that will kill a lot of your minions you need to use the Poison to remove it.
Overall, Priest is easier than Warrior because they have less life gain (just hero power and maybe the expensive Holy Fire instead of Shield Block and Armorsmith) and fewer removal spells and early game minions to trade with.
Druid and Shaman
These are both midrange value-oriented decks with lots of sticky minions – the exact type of deck Aggro Rogue preys upon. There are some potentially scary plays – Sunwalker, Earth Elemental, Ancient of War – but nothing a good Sap can’t take care of, and they have little to no healing to get out of the danger zone (which is about 13 health).
Argent Squire -> Cold Blood is extra good against Druid and extra bad against Shaman (Cold Blood up a different minion). The reverse is true of Blade Flurry, which I would save as long as possible (ideally until they roll a taunt totem or play Feral Spirit) against Shaman.
Some example games for my opponents:
Turn 2: Wild Growth
Turn 3: Sen'jin Shieldmasta
Turn 4: Sen'jin Shieldmasta
Turn 5: Sludge Belcher
Turn 1: Argent Squire
Turn 2: Rockbiter Weapon
Turn 3: Feral Spirit -> Coin - > Lightning Bolt
Turn 4: Nothing (too overloaded)
Turn 5: Gnomish Inventor
Both died on turn 6.
It’s like Druid or Shaman, except without taunts or early minions to trade with yours. Pump the fist whenever you get matched against Rogue; it’s practically a bye.
This matchup starts out like Miracle with them offering little resistance, but can get out of hand quickly. With smart play Aggro Rouge is greatly favored, but rushing in will forfeit all of that advantage.
You have plenty of burst, so NEVER put them low enough on health that they can drop Molten Giant + Sunfury Protector on their next turn. In most games, this means keep them at 14 on turn 5 and rushing in for the kill on turn 6. Never Sap a minion without taunt (not even Mountain Giant), as that’s a recipe for ending up on the wrong end of a 5/9 Twilight Drake with a shield around it. If you end up in a situation where they have a couple big taunts that you can’t Sap, Cold Blood and Arcane Golem can be used to kill the taunts. Using up some burst cards makes you vulnerable to Molten Giants since you’ll have to kill them by attacking the old-fashioned way (without burst), but it’s your only chance to win so you have to try.
Coldlight Oracle is sweet as it draws you cards and burns theirs, but don’t go crazy and Shadowstep it. As cool as burning their cards is, it doesn’t really DO anything and that Shadowstep is better served as 4 damage to the face on turn 6.
Aggro Rogue is extremely well positioned right now. The vast majority of your matchups are a breeze or slightly favored, and I feel like the only games I lose are due to my own misplays (the deck is hard!). If you’re looking for a fun, challenging, and underplayed archetype, give it a try!
Please don’t hesitate to ask any questions in the comments, and all comments are appreciated. Thanks for reading!
Until next time,
PS: I don’t know what I want to play this season. If there’s a good deck you’d like to see an article on, let me know in the comments!