Hello y’all, modded here!
We’ve all seen powerful decks in Hearthstone, be it Mech Mage, Ramp Druid, or Midrange Paladin. These Hearthstone deck are often very strong for a time, but usualy people figure out counters relatively quickly and the decks become largely obsolete. However, there are a few Tier One decks that are so powerful that they keep resurfacing in various ways, surviving meta shifts, card pool expansion and even massive nerfs. Today we’ll looking at such decks, analyzing their strengths, their evolution, and why they keep coming up with massive success whilst other deck archetypes such as MurLock and Tempo Rogue fade into the ashes of Hearthstone history.
[toc]Freeze Mage: Overview[/toc]
The first deck that we will be looking at is the infamous Freeze Mage. This deck has been around since closed beta and is viable even today even after four of its core cards were nerfed and cards that help defeat it being added to the card pool. Before we look at specific decklists, let’s look at the core game plan:
- Cycle through the deck.
- Stall for time (and mana).
- Throw burn spells at the face for lethal.
This game plan is effective for multiple reasons:
- This deck doesn’t rely on board presence at any point in the game, meaning that a variety of popular cards are useless against Freeze Mage (i.e. Hunter Secrets, AoE spells, Taunt Minions).
- Only one class (Warrior) can proactively counter a Freeze Mage’s win condition, all other classes are forced to either be the aggressor or respond reactively to a Freeze Mage’s burst.
- Freeze Mage’s Combo setup is simply drawing and playing its cards, this makes the combo very difficult to prevent (shy of [card]counterspell[/card], [card]loatheb[/card] or [card]trade-prince-gallywix[/card]) due to a lack of cards that can do so.
Now earlier I mentioned that four core cards had been nerfed, well here they are for reference:
- [card]frost-nova[/card]: Formerly two mana.
- [card]cone-of-cold[/card]: Formerly three mana.
- [card]blizzard[/card]: Formerly five mana.
- [card]pyroblast[/card]: Formerly eight mana.
The end result of these nerfs is the fact that Freeze Mage’s ability to respond to aggressive decks with freeze spells, as well as its ability to burst with massive burn spells was significantly slowed. Decks facing Freeze Mage were given another turn to snowball and attempt to burn Freeze Mage out of the game. In fact, Freeze Mage was virtually non-existent after the nerfs, and wasn’t revived for months until a player by the name of Otter successfully piloted a Freeze Mage to #12 Legend (EU) and RDU sweeped Amaz 3-0 with Freeze Mage at Dreamhack.
With the release of Goblins vs. Gnomes, Freeze Mage’s popularity took a hit with the release of [card]antique-healbot[/card] and [card]kezan-mystic[/card] as all classes gained access to massive lifegain and secret mitigation. This was especially true on ladder, where the popularity of Midrange Hunter running [card]freezing-trap[/card] in conjunction with [card]mad-scientist[/card] made Kezan Mystic a very popular tech card, making it easy for opponents to circumvent [card]ice-block[/card].
Recently however, Freeze Mage has received a bit of a boost in the form of [card]emperor-thaurissan[/card] from Blackrock Mountain. The mana cost reduction properties of this card has given Freeze Mage the ability to deal more burst damage in a single turn (turning a typical three turn kill into a two turn kill), in addition to increasing its consistency by making [card]alexstrasza[/card] unnecessary to win some games. Making cards cost less means that one can get more [card]fireball[/card]s out of [card]archmage-antonidas[/card] than previously possible, providing enough damage to make Alexstrasza unnecessary to bring your opponent into lethal range (optimally, one will play Emperor Thaurissan, it’ll survive a turn, and then chain at least three spells on Archmage Antonidas, leaving three mana Fireballs in hand for 18 damage out of thin air) .
[toc]Freeze Mage: Decklists[/toc]
To start things off, let’s look at a pre-nerf Freeze Mage list:
First thing to notice is that this deck is running almost no non-burn removal. With the exception of the [card]doomsayer[/card]s, everything is burn or freeze. The deck runs a lot of draw, running every two drop that can draw a card to help thin the deck. Also note the double [card]pyroblast[/card] and [card]leeroy-jenkins[/card] which adds more standalone reach than modern iterations are capable of. This deck was more than capable of stalling the opponent until they succumb to the sheer amount of burn the deck provides. At this pre-nerf state, the deck archetype was massively overpowered. The combination of Ice Block plus six cheap freezes meant that slow decks had no way of dealing enough damage to kill the Freeze Mage, and aggro decks had a hard time as well as they would have a hard time maintaining tempo after a Doomsayer turn. Additionally, the deck has a total amount of fourty-six damage points of direct damage NOT including Spell Damage +1, Alexstrasza, or Leeroy Jenkins. Factoring in the latter two of those cards puts the deck at a whopping sixty-seven points of damage. Remember, at this point in the game things like [card]shieldmaiden[/card] and [card]antique-healbot[/card] didn’t exist, so decks lacked efficient ways to mitigate the damage from the overwhelming amount of burn this deck packed. It took a massive number of nerfs to dethrone this deck as the best deck in the game. Aside from the four core cards that were nerfed, [card]novice-engineer[/card], [card]nat-pagle[/card] and Leeroy Jenkins have also since been nerfed, bringing the total number of cards nerfed from this decklist to seven.
Next we’ll be looking at a list that Otter piloted to #12 Legend:
After the nerfs hit, Freeze Mage entered hibernation until Otter revived it by using it to great effect in high legend. Now you’ll notice quite a few cards have gone by the wayside in this iteration, due in part to the nerfs and meta shifts. Here are the differences:
- -2 [card]arcane-missiles[/card]: Freeze Mage slowed down quite a bit to the increased mana cost of many of its cards, so lower impact cards started to get dropped in order to make room for cards that would better sustain the deck until it could combo.
- -1 [card]nat-pagle[/card]: After its nerf, your opponent would get a chance to remove it before you could draw a card, and if they ignored it for one turn you would only possibly draw one card off of it (as opposed to two), which is a huge difference. Consequently, it got cut as it almost never pays off anymore.
- -2 [card]loot-hoarder[/card]: Even today people debate whether to run Loot Hoarders or [card]novice-engineer[/card]s, but either way at the end of the day cantrips are just deck filler and don’t actually contribute much to the deck. As such, only one pair of two-mana cantrips is employed in modern Freeze Mage decklists. Loot Hoarder is better in the early game as it can trade better and slow your opponent down a little, Novice Engineer is better in the mid to late game where the difference between drawing a card this turn or next turn is the difference between a win and a loss.
- -2 [card]cone-of-cold[/card]: After the nerfs, this card has always been considered the worst of the freeze cards. The fact that it can only freeze three minions in addition to it’s high price makes it terrible against aggressive decks, leading many to scrap it entirely.
- -1 [card]leeroy-jenkins[/card]: This card was always just a third (and weaker) [card]fireball[/card] in Freeze Mage, since it’s vulnerable to Taunt minions and does not benefit from Spell Damage buffs. It was cut for better cards.
- -1 [card]pyroblast[/card]: After having its mana cost raised a whopping two points, running two of this card was likely to cause terrible hand clog as at that point in the game nothing else could be done on the turn Pyroblast was cast ([card]emperor-thaurissan[/card] was non-existent at the time), meaning that it was significantly harder to cast it safely.
- +2 [card]mirror-image[/card]: This card works wonderfully as a cheap stalling tool, working as a pseudo-freeze that can be played in advance (for example on an empty board), leaving your later turns open to draw instead of freezing. Also cheap enough to cast after utilizing [card]alexstrasza[/card], which was very helpful against classes like Druid that have a hard time responding to a turn ten Alexstrasza + Mirror Image play (it is significantly harder to trade minions into Alexstrasza to kill it off if the first two attacks are going to be wasted).
- +2 [card]acolyte-of-pain[/card]: This card adds draw to make up for the dropped cantrips, but it provides a unique touch. Your opponent is forced to either attack it to prevent you from drawing three cards off of it, or they can let it be and let you garner some insane card advantage. One way to look at Acolyte of Pain is: Five mana, draw two cards, gain x life (where x equals the attack of the minion used to kill it).
- +2 [card]ice-barrier[/card]: A slower deck is simply going to take more damage during the game, so sixteen additional points of life that can be played even when you’re at full health (since it grants armor) is extremely useful for buying the extra time you need to burn out your opponent.
- +2 [card]azure-drake[/card]: A decent sized minion that cycles and has Spell Damage +1, what’s not to like? It’s a medium-sized threat, so your opponent will have to expend resources to remove it, which they most likely will as thanks to its Spell Damage buff its attack is equivalent to four + x (where x equals the number of damage spells you cast in a given turn whilst it is in play).
- +1 [card]flamestrike[/card]: With less viable freezes available and the fact that [card]doomsayer[/card]s can be silenced, sometimes you need a tried and true way to clear your opponent’s board. Enter Flamestrike, also known as the card that you always wonder how many of your opponent drafted when you queue up against a Mage in Arena. There’s nothing quite like deep freezing and then flash roasting your opponent’s board on turns six and seven respectively.
Since then, Freeze Mage has has its ups ([card]flare[/card] nerf, the addition of [card]emperor-thaurissan[/card]) and downs (the additions of [card]kezan-mystic[/card] and [card]antique-healbot[/card]), leaving us where we are today.
Speaking of today, here’s the decklist Camzee used in Legend in April:
Due to some card pool additions, Freeze Mage was up for some changes. Here they are:
- -2 [card]mirror-image[/card]: As the focus of the deck has shifted more from not dying to actually killing your opponent (no thanks to [card]antique-healbot[/card]), the small amount of stalling Mirror Image provides doesn’t provide enough value to be worth a slot in the deck.
- -1 [card]novice-engineer[/card]: Whilst still a good cycle card, other additions to the deck due to meta-calls and additions to the card pool required that a card get cut and as this isn’t strictly speaking the best cycle card in the deck, Novice Engineer drew the short stick.
- -2 [card]azure-drake[/card]: This card is too slow for the deck in recent times, essentially playing the role of a five mana [card]bloodmage-thalnos[/card], and is especially vulnerable to being picked off by [card]piloted-shredder[/card]. Not to mention playing big minions that might just die to your own [card]doomsayer[/card] combo isn’t especially efficient.
- +1 [card]explosive-sheep[/card]: An effective anti-aggro tech, this card when combined with Mage’s hero power makes for a pseudo-[card]consecration[/card]. This card works nicely in combination with other sweepers (such as a Doomsayer combo) to clear minions summoned by Deathrattles. For example, if on turn ten a hunter drops a [card]savannah-highmane[/card] and a Piloted Shredder, you can respond with a Frost Nove + Doomsayer + Explosive Sheep. If they lack and answer, the Doomsayer will kill all minions, Savannah Highmane and Shredder summoning their minions first (since they were played first), and then the Sheep’s explosion will kill those minions (assuming the Shredder drops a minion with two or less HP).
- +2 [card]mad-scientist[/card]: This card is just amazing in Freeze Mage. It’s a great deck thinner, effectively letting four secret cards take up six deck slots, they have two HP so they don’t die to random pings, and they can also trade decently well. Not to mention if your opponent silences one, they have one less answer to your Doomsayers.
- +1 [card]emperor-thaurissan[/card]: Now Mage gets to get its hands on some mana cost reduction goodness! This card massively increases the amount of damage you can push in a single turn. If you can play Emperor Thaurissan with [card]alexstrasza[/card], two [card]frostbolt[/card]s and two [card[ice-lance[/card]s in hand, you can take your opponent from thirty life down to ONE in a single turn. Eight mana Alexstrasza (fifteen life), nine mana two Frostbolts (nine life), ten mana two Ice Lances (one life).
- +1 [card]archmage-antonidas[/card]: The addition of Emperor Thaurissan means that the number of spells that one can cast on the same turn Antonidas is greatly increased, making gaining three [card]fireball[/card]s in a single turn relatively common. This makes the deck more consistent as it both means that one can actually have enough damage to beat decks with a lot of healing (such as HandLock and Warrior) and that you can still win even if you don’t draw Alexstrasza.
This deck packs a bigger punch than Otter’s deck and can more reliably survive the early to mid game, thanks to some new (and powerful!) additions to the card pool.
[toc]Freeze Mage: Conclusion[/toc]
Freeze Mage has been a viable contender as a top-tier deck for month after month, in no small part due to the sheer fact that it can completely ignore so many cards that an opponent is likely to be playing.
Whilst it’s not the most popular ladder deck due to the relative slowness of the deck and the fact that there are a few auto-lose matchups, it still is a very strong deck overall, especially in a tournament setting where the diversity of the decks is somewhat less varied.
Why hasn’t Freeze Mage died?
Freeze Mage’s game-plan will always be viable as long as players have thirty health and tend to use minions to kill their opponents. Freeze Mage preys upon core Hearthstone mechanics, and as long as its toolkit isn’t outclassed by the cards its opponent’s run (remember that only a few cards are super effective vs. Freeze Mage) it will always have a place as its strategy is simple and inherently strong.
[toc]Midrange Hunter: Overview[/toc]
Once upon a time, Hunters simply dominated the Hearthstone ladder, taking out all decks that weren’t built to oppose them. Actually, that happened several times, but I’m getting ahead of myself. At one point, Beast synergy was considered so good that cards like [card]river-crocolisk[/card], [card]oasis-snapjaw[/card] and sometimes even [card]bloodfen-raptor[/card] would see play in top-tier decks! Hunter has come a long way since then, a little worse for wear but still quite viable. Every expansion and adventure has always managed to include the tools that Hunter needs to transform and adapt to new metas.
Original lists relied on the strengths of a Beast into [card]houndmaster[/card] plays for tempo, and [card]unleash-the-hounds[/card] combos with [card]starving-buzzard[/card] and/or [card]scavenging-hyena[/card], usually with a [card]hunters-mark[/card] (often drawn after playing the combo) and occasionally a [card]timber-wolf[/card]. These combos often resulted in absurd amounts of burst damage ([card]leeroy-jenkins[/card] + Unleash the Hounds), insane card draw (four cards for four mana PLUS a 2/1 and four 1/1s with Charge) and bewildering board clear capabilities. Over the months, Hunter got slapped with some ugly nerfs, destroying its ability to combo and completely spin the game around on turn four. The most notable nerfs have been:
- [card]flare[/card]: Formerly one mana.
- [card]unleash-the-hounds[/card]: Formerly two mana.
- [card]eaglehorn-bow[/card]: Formerly gained one durability off of revealed enemy secrets in addition to friendly secrets.
- [card]starving-buzzard[/card]: Formerly two mana (with a 2/1 body).
These nerfs razed Hunter’s draw engine, making the originally four mana Buzzard + Unleash combo an unplayable eight mana. Hunters could not even run two Flares as cantrips all willy-nilly since it is now a significant tempo loss if it doesn’t do anything aside from drawing card. Hunters were forced to find ways to stretch their meager card supply, which meant ditching all low-impact/card inefficient tech cards, leading to the scarcity of if not complete disappearance of cards such as [card]bestial-wrath[/card], [card]hunters-mark[/card], [card]timber-wolf[/card] and [card]tracking[/card]. Modern Hunters look to maintain pressure on their opponent with tempo generators, hard-to-remove minions and their hero power.
[toc]Midrange Hunter: Decklists[/toc]
Let’s start by taking a look at Lifecoach’s Hunter from back in the day:
If you think Mech Tribal synergy is insane now, the Beast tribal synergies that Hunter could abuse were figuratively game-breaking. In addition to powerful (yet balanced) cards like [card]timber-wolf[/card], [card]scavenging-hyena[/card] and [card]houndmaster[/card], Hunter had access to two mana [card]starving-buzzard[/card]s and [card]unleash-the-hounds[/card]. These last two cards in particular pushed Hunter over the top in power level.
Many decks in Hearthstone like to swarm minions, meaning that rarely will one have two or less minions in play (unless facing a Tempo deck). This led to Unleash the Hounds usually spawning three or more Hounds, which led to several major complications. Here is a semi-typical turn seven with this deck: Opponent has four minions in play. The Hunter plays Starving Buzzard into Unleash the Hounds. Four Hounds spawn, and four cards are drawn. Thanks to that massive draw, the Hunter now has Timber Wolf and Scavenging Hyena in hand. Both are played, drawing and additional two cards, one of which is a [card]hunters-mark[/card]. The Hunter’s Mark + a Hound is used to remove the biggest minion, with the other three used to clear another minion or two (remember they have two attack each thanks to Timber Wolf). Let’s not forget the Scavenging Hyena, which just got proc’ed four times, resulting in a 10/6.
What does the above scenario boil down to? On turn seven, the Hunter drew six cards (alone worth eleven mana if extrapolated from [card]arcane-intellect[/card], [card]nourish[/card] and [card]sprint[/card]), dealt 2+2+2+infinite damage to minions on board, summoned a 1/1, 2/1, and a 10/6. That is simply an absurd amount of tempo! Needless to say, Blizzard stepped in with the nerf bat and brought the most offensive cards into line with the aforementioned mana cost increases.
Note: There is a HUGE time gap between the aforementioned Hunter list and the next one, but I feel that it’s best to list the most popular “Midrange Hunter” list between these two chronologically in a separate section as the deck wasn’t called Midrange Hunter at the time.
Let’s look at a modern list, one that ErA ran up to #1 Legend:
Time for a comparison between these decks!
- -1 [card]hunters-mark[/card]: With Hunter’s card draw burnt to the ground, two-for-one’ing yourself is a bad idea, though sometimes tempo gain is worth it. For this reason, only one Hunter’s Mark is employed as opposed to two.
- -1 [card]flare[/card]: With the mana cost increase, running a card that effectively is two mana draw a card is just too slow and inefficient to be considered for this deck.
- -2 [card]tracking[/card]: Whilst this card is great, people got pressed for card slots and this didn’t end making the cut, plus discarding your secrets whilst you have a Mad Scientist in play/hand is just a crumby feeling.
- -2 [card]stonetusk-boar[/card]: Without Starving Buzzard synergy and the inclusion of only one Hunter’s Mark, this card is simply too low impact to make the list.
- -2 [card]timber-wolf[/card]: This list runs a lot fewer beasts than the previous one, making this another low impact one-drop that doesn’t warrant an entire card slot in this deck.
- -1 [card]explosive-trap[/card]: This was actually just cut to make room for another Freezing Trap, entirely meta call.
- -2 [card]scavenging-hyena[/card]: Without a ton of beasts, this card doesn’t generate value consistently enough to be ran over other more consistent two-drops (that are good as naked turn two plays).
- -1 [card]king-mukla[/card]: The drawback of this card is usually considered too much of drawback to be run in many decks, and again without Starving Buzzard cheap beasts aren’t in high demand.
- -1 [card]leeroy-jenkins[/card]: This card isn’t as efficient after the mana cost nerf, and the has slowed down a bit so a burst finisher isn’t as important (plus the popularity of [card]sludge-belcher[/card] certainly hasn’t done Leeroy any favors).
- +2 [card]webspinner[/card]: A one mana beast is still nice as far as your mana curve is concerned, and a cheap Kill Command trigger is great too. Webspinner is that one mana beast of choice as it’s a pseudo-cantrip as well, providing a lot of value for a one-drop.
- +1 [card]freezing-trap[/card]: A meta call, as sometimes bouncing a minion is preferable to killing them (for example Haunted Creeper).
- +2 [card]quick-shot[/card]: Cheap burn/removal that can be a free cantrip, what’s not to like?
- +1 [card]eaglehorn-bow[/card]: Mad Scientists make drawing secrets more common, making running two bows sustainable.
- +2 [card]haunted-creeper[/card]: A cheap beast that is a great standalone turn two play that trades very well and is generally inefficient to remove.
- +2 [card]knife-juggler[/card]: This minion synergizes very well with Haunted Creeper and Unleash the Hounds, allowing for a good amount of removal in addition to the fact that it trades well.
- +1 [card]kezan-mystic[/card]: Using this instead of Flare is just about as bad as Flare when no secrets are affected, but significantly better if there is a secret as you steal it instead of merely destroying it. This makes it a better tech card, plus it’s a card that still puts a minion in play, unlike Flare which is even more of a tempo loss as it’s two mana and a card that doesn’t influence the board state if it doesn’t destroy any secrets.
- +1 [card]loatheb[/card]: A 5/5 for five mana is a solid body, and the ability to stall efficient board clears for one turn can let you squeeze in enough damage to seal a game you otherwise would’ve lost.
- +1 [card]dr-boom[/card]: Nicknamed “Dr. Balanced”, this card gives you a big threat plus removal/burn in one card at a very good price. This heavy hitter will quickly end games if left unanswered, and many decks just can’t deal with Dr. Boom and two Savannah Highmanes.
This deck is a bit slower than older lists due to not having a ton of draw and other broken combos, but as proven by being piloted to Rank #1 Legend, it is still quite strong.
[toc]Midrange Hunter: Conclusion[/toc]
A strong and popular ladder archetype, Midrange Hunter decks are usually cheaper than similarly effective decks from other classes. Combined with its simple effectiveness against many popular deck archetypes and the pure value of many of its cards (queue [card]animal-companion[/card] and [card]savannah-highmane[/card]), Midrange Hunter is a force to be reckoned with and will most likely continue to be for the foreseeable future.
Why hasn’t Midrange Hunter died?
- [card]savannah-highmane[/card] is OP.
- [card]mad-scientist[/card] is OP.
Hunter simply has access to some super-powerful and value packed cards, especially the two listed above. Savannah Highmane embodies the brute strength of Hunter, being an extremely difficult minion to remove outside of [card]hex[/card] or [card]polymorph[/card], and one that procs other high value cards such as [card]kill-command[/card] and Houndmaster. Mad Scientist on the other hand completes a secret-synergy trio consisting of good secrets (usually [card]freezing-trap[/card] or [card]explosive-trap[/card], and sometimes [card]snake-trap[/card]), Mad Scientist and [card]eaglehorn-bow[/card]. It turns out that a two mana 2/2 that tutors and plays a two mana secret that in turn enables you to have a three mana 3/3 weapon is actually really, really good. It doesn’t help either that only two cards in the game can deal with secrets (one of them being class-exclusive), and only three cards in the game can deal with weapons ([card]water-elemental[/card] and [card]snowchugger[/card] don’t count, as they only prevent the use of the weapon, they don’t actually deal with the weapon itself). Value and tempo plays win games, and Midrange Hunter has been as good as if not better than most Midrange decks at those things with its plethora of removal and threats.
[toc]Deathrattle Hunter: Overview[/toc]
For a time after the release of the Curse of Naxxramas, the sheer power of a little card called [card]undertaker[/card] rocked the meta, so much so that every deck either ran Undertaker or or was designed to deal with one. Here’s what the card’s effect was pre-nerf and now is post-nerf:
With the coin, it was possible to attack with a 3/4 on turn two, and it would continue to snowball from there. Whilst Undertaker was in its original state, virtually every Hunter ran a “HunterTaker” list, focusing on loading the deck with deathrattles to get the most value possible out of Undertaker. These decks varied in speed (some ran [card]sludge-belcher[/card]s, others ran [card]savannah-highmane[/card]s), but they all revolved around the same OP card, pushing all other Hunter lists to the wayside. This allowed Hunters to play both the board control game due to Undertaker’s “life gain” and the damage race game as an Undertaker could easily deal nine damage in a game, which is an absurd amount for a one drop!
Hunter was considered the best class to run an Undertaker-centric deck as due the fact that it has an one drop with a Deathrattle ([card]webspinner[/card]), the prominent two drop of choice ([card]haunted-creeper[/card]) is a Beast (for [card]kill-command[/card] and sometimes [card]houndmaster[/card] synergy) and that the powerhouse Savannah Highmane also has a Deathrattle.
[toc]Deathrattle Hunter: Decklist[/toc]
Using Undertaker as it’s power play, Deathrattle Hunter would play the Aggro game, trying to keep buffing up Undertaker once drawn and played. This is why a non-aggressive card like [card]sludge-belcher[/card] saw play in a Hunter deck, because it both buffed and protected Undertaker.
[toc]Deathrattle Hunter: Conclusion[/toc]
After the Undertaker nerf hit, Deathrattle Hunter was absorbed back into the Midrange Hunter archetype. The core of the deck was very strong, but without the ability to rely on the brute strength of a 4/5 Undertaker the deck underwent some optimizations, no longer running every possible Deathrattle minion for the sake of having more Deathrattles to fuel Undertaker.
Why hasn’t Deathrattle Hunter died?
After the Undertaker nerf, the deck morphed into today’s modern Midrange Hunter lists. So whilst the deck itself and its primary synergy is no longer top-tier, many of the things that made Deathrattle Hunter strong make up the backbone of today’s lists. As it turns out, most of the Deathrattle cards Huntertakers ran are just good in Hunter decks even without the presence of [card]undertaker[/card]. So in a sense, Deathrattle Hunter hasn’t died, it has just been reborn.
[toc]Miracle Rogue: Overview[/toc]
Long long ago, on a server far far away, [card]headcrack[/card] was used in top-tier decks. Welcome to the age of Miracles! Miracle Rogue decks abused Rogue’s plethora of cantrips and cheap spells with conjunction with [card]gadgetzan-auctioneer[/card] to draw almost their entire deck most games. This massive draw engine along with the pseudo-mana cost reduction that the Combo keyword gave Miracle Rogue the ability to deal massive amounts of damage to the enemy hero over the course of one or two turns. During Miracle Rogue’s prime, a non-Miracle Rogue deck’s viability was decided by if it could either kill an opponent by turn eight or if it could kill a stealthed 4/4.
Rogue was one of the most heavily nerfed classes in the game during early beta. From nerfing the hero power (it at one point it would buff your weapon’s attack if your hero power weapon was equipped) to nerfing a myriad of cards, Rogue has managed to endure having its back broken multiple times. Notable nerfs (to both the class and neutrals often used by the class) include:
- [card]backstab[/card]: Formerly could deal damage to both damaged and undamaged minions.
- [card]conceal[/card]: Formerly zero mana, gave a minion Stealth permanently.
- [card]headcrack[/card]: Formerly two mana.
- [card]mana-addict[/card]: Formerly gained three attack per spell cast.
- [card]edwin-vancleef[/card]: Formerly a 2/2 with Stealth.
- [card]leeroy-jenkins[/card]: Formerly four mana.
- [card]gadgetzan-auctioneer[/card]: Formerly five mana.
The general gameplan of a Miracle Rogue is as follows:
- Control the board in the early game.
- Draw a ton of cards.
- Set up lethal and burst down the opponent.
Different decks put the draw engine of Miracle Rogue to work with different win conditions. Some decks would seek to directly exploit the ludicrous spending of cards the deck would do. Others simply used it to draw into a high-damage combo, and yet others simply wanted to pile burn on their opponent’s face. Whichever win condition a Miracle Rogue chose to include, it could consistently get to it and unleash the pain.
[toc]Miracle Rogue: Decklists[/toc]
Let’s start off with a [card]questing-adventurer[/card] plus [card]mana-addict[/card] variant:
The goal with this deck was to cycle though your deck and lay down and Gadgetzan Auctioneer with Questing Adventurers and/or Mana Addicts. Then on the next turn, cycle through your deck with a plethora of spells dealing damage to the face and triggering your minions, then swinging in with massive attack minions. Dropping a huge Edwin was also a fun thing to do if you drew it. If they didn’t get big enough to kill in one turn, you could just [card]conceal[/card] them and pick up where you left off.
Whilst slamming huge Questing Adventurers into your opponent’s face is all fine and dandy, it takes a few turns to set up and can be vulnerable to big sweepers like [card]shadowflame[/card]. This became especially apparent after some nerfs hit and weakened the deck. Enter a Miracle variant that doesn’t care about sweepers:
This variant decides to rely on the Spell Damage buff of [card]malygos[/card] to consistently kill your opponent in the late game with huge burn spells, even through taunts. The deck drops a lot of cheap cards in order to last until the late game where one can then pull off their Malygos + [card]sinister-strike[/card]/[card]preparation[/card] + burn spell combo. This particular list includes the maximum possible number of spells that could hit the opponent’s face (with the exception of the second Headcrack as it’s pretty bad without Malygos), even running two copies of [card]blade-flurry[/card] (since when combined with the hero power and Malygos, it would deal six damage to all enemy characters), something no other Rogue deck would do at the time.
As strong as the above two decks were, they were not the strongest Miracle decks out there. That title goes to the [card]leeroy-jenkins[/card] variant of Miracle Rogue:
Before I compare this list with the Malygos one, I feel that it’s best to first compare its win condition with the Malygos Miracle deck. First of all, since Malygos costs nine mana, this deck can not start it’s burst until turn nine at the earliest. Additionally, to get a decent amount of burst in a single turn, one would need four cards. For example, one could play on turn ten [card]malygos[/card] into [card]sinister-strike[/card] into [card]preparation[/card] into [card]eviscerate[/card]. This would provide seventeen damage through taunts, which whilst good was simply not as good as what the Leeroy list has to offer. The list relies on the [card]leeroy-jenkins[/card] + two [card]shadowstep[/card]s combo, which deals eighteen damage for only eight mana and three cards. Whilst Leeroy can be stopped cold by taunts, one can still use [card]sap[/card] or Preparation + Sap to get around that for one more card and two more mana (or two more cards and no additional mana). Even then eighteen damage with four cards on ten mana (that can come out earlier) > seventeen damage with four cards on ten mana and cannot be used any earlier. Simply put, the bigger damage combo that uses the least mount of cards and mana is most consistent and effective than the other. Now lets compare the decks!
- -2 [card]sinister-strike[/card]: This card is pretty low impact without Spell Damage buffs, so this card was cut for cards that do more.
- -1 [card]blade-flurry[/card]: Since there are only two cards in the deck that can buff the hero power weapon (both copies of [card]deadly-poison[/card]) and no other weapons, running two copies of this card is just inconsistent (Spell Damage +1 wasn’t enough to save it either).
- -1 [card]ironbeak-owl[/card]: Since this deck doesn’t rely on any board control, there are no silence targets that really need to be immediately dealt with that can’t be dealt with later with Sap. Even [card]sylvanas-windrunner[/card] doesn’t concern this deck.
- -1 [card]headcrack[/card]: This card is basically a worse Steady Shot (Hunter’s hero power), the only reason it was even run in the first place was to make sure that you didn’t run out of burn to combo with Malygos. Drop Malygos, drop Headcrack, simple as that.
- -1 [card]earthen-ring-farseer[/card]: This card is very good, but not important to the win condition of the deck (it just helped to make sure you didn’t die first). This card was run as a two-of in some lists, but this deck dropped it most likely for another card that would cycle.
- -1 [card]malygos[/card]: This card enabled the combos the prior variant relied on to win. Since the Leeroy variant relies on a different win condition, Malygos’ services were no longer needed.
- +2 [card]shadowstep[/card]: Part of this deck’s win condition, the card was effectively a two-mana [card]fireball[/card]. Talk about value!
- +1 [card]cold-blood[/card]: A cheap damage pump, four damage for one mana makes for great addition to a deck that relies on a charge minion to win.
- +1 [card]sap[/card]: Since taunts actually can stop this lethal combo, a way to deal with them was in order. The reason this was run over say Ironbeak Owl was: Sap works with Preparation, Sap procs [card]gadgetzan-auctioneer[/card] and sometimes you just need to buy little time and silencing a minion is not as good as removing it (albeit temporarily) from the board.
- [card]leeroy-jenkins[/card]: The other part of this deck’s win condition, this guy bore the brunt of much hate during this deck’s prime, as people hated the “Triple Leeroy” combo.
[toc]Miracle Rogue: Conclusion[/toc]
After the Leeroy Jenkins nerf hit, Miracle Rogue started to struggle a bit as people were divided on whether or not to completely ditch the Leeroy Jenkins + [card]shadowstep[/card] combo for Malygos combos. In the end, the Gadgetzan Auctioneer nerf made the deck too slow to be competitively viable as both its draw engine and combo were inefficiently expensive. Since the designation “Miracle Rogue” applied to Combo Rogues utilizing the Gadgetzan draw engine, this final nerf spelled the end of Miracle Rogue’s reign. Whilst some have tried to revive the deck through the inclusion of [card]emperor-thaurissan[/card], most Rogue players have settled on a different draw engine and combo. Though Miracle Rogue can be considered “dead”, its spirit lives on in our next deck archetype.
[toc]Flurry Rogue: Overview[/toc]
Now before you ask me why I’m calling this deck “Flurry Rogue” instead of “Oil Rogue”, let me explain. Many people ascribe the success of Flurry Rogue to the addition of [card]tinkers-sharpsword-oil[/card] in the Goblins vs. Gnomes expansion. They’re not entirely wrong as it does add a decent amount of damage potential to the deck, but it’s not directly responsible for the power of the deck. In fact, it’s not even a very efficient card compared to [card]deadly-poison[/card] and [card]cold-blood[/card]. Additionally, some lists only run ONE copy of Tinker’s Sharpsword Oil! The MVP of Flurry Rogue decklists is none other than [card]blade-flurry[/card]. This card is a pseudo-[card]windfury[/card] for your weapon AND an AoE that is affected by Spell Damage boosts! The only reason we hadn’t seen double Blade Flurry lists pre-GvG was fact that there was only one weapon buff card that Rogues could consistently run ([card]spiteful-smith[/card] doesn’t count) With the ability to run four total buff cards, double Blade Flurry decks are actually consistent enough for competitive play.
Flurry Rogue plays very much like Miracle Rogue did back in its day. It goes for board control in the early game, goes for massive card draw in the mid-game (most Flurry Rogues run two [card]Sprint[/card]s, though some variants run one Sprint and one Gadgetzan Auctioneer) and then looks to finish off the opponent with a huge burst of damage. Without [card]preparation[/card], if a Flurry Rogue has a 1/2 dagger up and an empty board they can deal thirteen damage to the opponent’s face and four damage to all their minions for only seven mana with three cards ([card]southsea-deckhand[/card], Tinker’s Sharpsword Oil and Blade Flurry. For one more mana an one more card (Deadly Poison), that combo goes up to seventeen damage to the face and a six damage AoE. Throw in a Preparation and that combo only costs five mana, meaning you can pull it off on turn seven even if you don’t have a weapon equipped!
In addition to playing much like Miracle Rogue, many of Flurry Rogue’s matchups are similar as well (though most midrange matchups are a bit better due to Flurry Rogue’s superior AoE capabilities), such as being weak to Control Warrior (due to the overheal that Armor provides) and strong against classic ZooLock (due to removal spells keeping the board clear and the burst being aided by Warlock’s hero power). Whilst a lot about the actual decklist changed from Miracle Rogue to Flurry Rogue, the spirit is almost exactly the same, hence the inclusion of both in this article.
[toc]Flurry Rogue: Decklist[/toc]
The gameplan of a Flurry Rogue is very similar to a Miracle Rogue:
- Control the board early on.
- Draw a bunch of cards OR establish your own board.
- Burst your opponent down.
Flurry Rogue uses mostly the same tools that Miracle had access to for board control, using cards like [card]backstab[/card], [card]deadly-poison[/card], [card]blade-flurry[/card], [card]fan-of-knives[/card] and [card]si7-agent[/card] to keep minions off the board. In the midgame, one can cycle through a lot of the deck using a [card]preparation[/card] + [card]sprint[/card] combo, or one can play some minions of their own. [card]violet-teacher[/card] is definitely an all-star here, often generating three or more [card]violet-apprentice[/card]s if left unchecked for even a turn or two. This is necessitated by the fact that Rogue can no longer endlessly chain spells off of Gadgetzan Auctioneer and draw six or more cards in a single turn, so minions give the player some sustenance whilst they keep chugging through the deck. In the late game, the Rogue combos [card]tinkers-sharpsword-oil[/card] onto their weapon and a minion to hit for usually at least nine damage (eleven with Deadly Poison), then follow up with a four (or six) damage Blade Flurry, dealing at the very least fifteen damage, but often more depending on the attack of the minion(s) used and the weapon buffs currently applied. Did I mention that the opponent’s board is also most likely empty right now?
Compared to Miracle Rogues of days past, Flurry Rogue doesn’t have access to as mana/card efficient combos, but it makes up for it with the ability to maintain control of the board with
an iron fist a poisoned dagger. It’s still a Combo Rogue at heart, and still great at what it does best: bringing down the opponent from fifteen to zero (or less) in a single turn.
[toc]Flurry Rogue: Conclusion[/toc]
Whilst not the most popular deck on ladder, Flurry Rogue is a very viable contender at all levels of play. It’s very hard to directly counter its win condition unless you’re a Warrior (let’s be honest, who runs [card]arcane-nullifier-x-21[/card]?), it has more AoE than most combo decks (second only to Freeze Mage) and capable of massive tempo swings thanks to [card]sap[/card], [card]preparation[/card], Blade Flurry and Emperor Thaurissan.
[toc]To Be Continued…[/toc]
That’s all for this article, but look forward to learning more about the following decks in the next installment:
- Control Warrior
- Combo Druid
Until then, I hope you enjoyed this blast from the past and learned about your most (or maybe least!) favorite decks, how they’ve evolved and survived both nerfs and additions to the card pool.
See you next time!
I want to give a special thanks to Newton (read his articles here) for helping proofread this article. He’s a great writer and it’s the direct result of his help that this article has proper formatting. Check his stuff out!