With the controversial Warsong Commander nerf going into effect a few weeks ago I thought the time was right to write a history of the Grim Patron Warrior deck archetype. While this history is still ongoing (as we will look at later) there is plenty of material to draw on from the deck’s six month lifespan. In this article we’ll examine the release of the Blackrock Mountain adventure, then trace the progression of the Patron Warrior deck beginning with the season before Blackrock Mountain and continuing through to the present. Along the way we’ll look at the Patron’s reign as the most powerful deck on the Ranked Ladder, the effects of the Patron Warrior on the metagame and the changes to the deck archetype after the Warsong Commander nerf.
[toc]The Blackrock Mountain Adventure[/toc]
Blackrock Mountain is the second adventure released for Hearthstone. A five-wing adventure, the first wing of Blackrock Mountain was released on April 2nd, 2015. The two cards from this adventure that made it into the Patron Warrior archetype are the titular [card]Grim Patron[/card] and his highness [card]Emperor Thaurissan[/card]. Both of these cards are neutral minions and both were released in the first wing of Blackrock. It is interesting to note that neither of the Warrior class specific cards released over the course of Blackrock have been included in the Patron Warrior deck. But we will look at this later.
[cardinsert card=”grim-patron” float=”right”]
First let’s take a quick look at these two cards. The Grim Patron is a 3/3 for 5 mana and though this would not seem to be mana efficient, if the Patron takes damage but does not die, it spawns another full health 3/3. If this happens even once then the Grim Patron player has put 6/6 of stats onto the board for only 5 mana. This effect has incredibly synergy with a number of Warriors cards including the self-damaging [card]Cruel Taskmaster[/card], [card]Inner Rage[/card] and [card]Whirlwind[/card]; among many others. In addition to this the Warsong Commander gives the initial and subsequent Patrons charge. This combo is one of the deck’s win conditions. Although you could argue that there is space for the Grim Patron in other classes’ decks, the Patrons are rarely employed by anyone other than Garrosh.
On the other hand, Emperor Thaurissan is included in a wide variety of classes and decks. A 5/5 for 6 mana Emperor Thaurissan reduces the amount of mana required to play each card in the player’s hand by one. It reduces at the end of the players turn and for this reason, it will always get in at least one effect. With a hand of at least six cards, Thaurissan generates in savings its casting cost. The Warrior uses a variety of low cost spells and Emperor Thaurissan can decrease the mana cost of some Warrior cards by 100%! Played on turn six the Emperor can reduce the cost of smaller cards allowing them to be played in conjuncture with the combo OR if the combo is in hand, it will allow its being played a turn early. Due to the strength of his effect, Thaurissan is found in almost every combo and control deck as well as many others.
Released in the first wing of this adventure, these are the only two cards which would find there way into this deck.
To fully understand the birth and rise of the Patron Warrior archetype we have to examine its context. As mentioned earlier, Blackrock Mountain was released in April of this year, which means that our story really begins in Ranked Play Season 12, March of 2015.
A large part of the Patron Warrior’s success was it’s ability to counter the decks that were succeeding in the season before it’s birth. Players were competing on ladder for the Ragnaros cardback and their decks had fully integrated whatever parts of Goblins vs. Gnomes that they could. The metagame during this season is arguably the fastest in memory. The most prominent decks were Hybrid Hunter and Zoolock. The Mech and Tempo Mage decks battled to be the most prominent representation of their class. Due to the fast and aggressive state of the game Handlock also made a resurgence (its Giant taunts could absorb numerous small minions, increasing their value).
[cardinsert card=”haunted-creeper” float=”right”]
Faster metagames usually mean smaller, cheaper minions. The decks at this time prominently featured minions with only one or two attack value. Minions with attack values of three or greater were included in decks but not nearly as heavily. What was previously considered one of the best ‘value’ cards – [card]Haunted Creeper[/card] – now functions as a Patron maker if played too late in the game. In competition against other decks, players would not be punished for playing Haunted Creeper in the mid or late game, but against a Patron Warrior, a Haunted Creeper often represents little more than three new Patrons. Another interesting nerf-by-association is the ever popular [card]Knife Juggler[/card]. Played as an easy and continuous source of damage early in the game, Knife Juggler’s ping functions as a way to activate the Grim Patron’s ability. The Grim Patron/Warsong Commander combo can be played on turn 8, which is a little late if the Knife Juggler is played on curve. However if the Warsong Commander is played turn four and the Grim Patron on turn 5 then the odds of seeing a Knife Juggler increase drastically. Whatever the situation if a Knife Juggler is alive when the combo comes down, its power becomes a liability, more often than not spawning Patrons.
One of the most prominent challenges when facing any version of the Patron Warrior is trying to take care of a board full of 3/3s. The decks at this time simply did not have the tools to do this. A fast meta was the best possible situation for this deck. While many of the decks explored above did run one or two copies of [card]Abusive Sergeant[/card], using it’s battle cry to buff a monster to take care of a Patron, the Abusive Sergeant itself immediately becomes problematic, it’s 2 attack value spawning a new Patron. It is important to recognize also that the Warrior can take care of small minions with its numerous whirlwind effects while it waits to draw into a win condition combo. Fast decks focus on early game board control and one of the Patron Warrior’s strengths is the ability to control, their opponents attempts at board control (through weapons and soft removal cards).
Everyone’s favourite legendary, [card]Dr. Boom[/card] can be played on turn 7. The next turn the Patron Warrior player can drop their combo. The Grim Patron slams into one boom bot, the spawned Patron attacks the second [card]Boom Bot[/card], then the third can either chill, hit face or attack Dr. Boom himself. There is also a strong possibility that the Bot’s deathrattle bombs will hit Patrons, spawning more (sometimes they will provide fatal damage but not always). The combo is slightly risky, but is still an efficient response to Dr. Boom.
The Grim Patron takes advantage of cards that traditionally generated value for the players putting them on the battlefield. While not denying the cards’ value to the player, Grim Patron takes advantage of them, generating more value for the Warrior.
There is another important reason why Grim Patron Warrior took off after the release of Blackrock Mountain. This is the only new deck archetype to be developed after Blackrock’s release. There are a number of cards which were released that help to further develop archetypes that already existed. A couple that come to mind are the Rogue’s [card]Gang Up[/card] which is a boon in Mill Rogue when combined with [card]Coldlight Seer[/card] and is often included to duplicate other cards with powerful battlecries such as [card]Antique Healbot[/card]. The other is the [card]Imp Gang Boss[/card] which became a fast favourite for Zoolock players.
However the class specific and most of the neutral cards did not synergize in new and unseen ways. In addition to the meta being unprepared (or perhaps specially prepared) for the Patron Warrior, there were no other new ideas coming out of Blackrock.
Looking at this outside of an exclusively gameplay-oriented point of view the Patron Warrior took off because it was a new deck type. Although Hearthstone is considered an esport, it is still at its heart a game! The point is to have fun and winning or losing aside playing the game in a new way is always fun. While combo decks are not new to Hearthstone, this deck represents a new kind of play experience for players as well as an opportunity to experiment with and develop a new deck. This drew players to the Patron Warrior contributing to its rise and prominence on the ladder.
Almost immediately the Patron Warrior archetype began to see play and success on the Ranked Ladder. Earlier we looked at why the Patron Warrior was the perfect deck to counter the aggressive metagame of Season 12. However, this alone is not enough to sustain a deck over a period of time. A number of factors contributed to the slowing down Hearthstone’s meta after the Blackrock Release. The most prominent is his majesty Emperor Thaurissan. He is a neutral legendary and sees play in many decks as a value generating card which increased the prominence of combo decks.
Four weeks after the birth of the Patron Warrior it was acknowledged as the prominent deck on ladder. Before the Blackrock Mountain adventure’s five week release process, the first wing’s cards had dominated. Despite the quick rise to the top at this time the deck was still evolving. The core of the deck [card]Grim Patron[/card], [card]Frothing Berserker[/card], [card]Warsong Commander[/card], [card]Whirlwind[/card] and [card]Death’s Bite[/card] would remain but the mechanics surrounding these cards would continue to change. Early versions of the deck also included Dr. Boom, [card]Unstable Ghoul[/card], [card]Brawl[/card], [card]Dread Corsair[/card] and [card]Sludge Belcher[/card] in addition to many other.
By flooding the Ladder this deck forced other decks to tech against it as well as encourage players to develop counter-decks (in addition to blocking out the aggressive meta). Due to this the ladder and meta game experiences became increasingly Patron Warrior oriented. After the Warrior successfully warped the meta around itself, the process of refinement began in earnest. One of the most significant moments in the beginning of this refining process is Bloodyface’s adaptation of Nomodogan’s Patron Warrior. Nomodogan’s early iteration of the Patron Warrior went from Rank 8 to a Top 10 Legend rank. Checking on the published ranking it would appear that Nomodogan did not finish the season in this rank, but still he was able to peak at that height. At the end of the same month, Bloodyface would modify his decklist and do what Nomodogan couldn’t, claiming #1 with the Patron Warrior. Twenty-seven of the thirty cards in the two decks are the same, a whopping 90%. However this 3-card swap begins two different changes in the deck’s progression. Firstly Bloodyface removed two Sludge Belchers choosing instead to include dual [card]Armorsmiths[/card].
The other card he removed was a [card]Raging Worgen[/card] opting instead for [card]Loot Hoarder[/card]. With only one health and a deathrattle – not an active effect – the Loot Hoarder is meant to cycle not to attack. The Raging Wargen with its Enrage effect and 3 health is meant to create board presence. By removing this minion Bloodyface chose to rely on the deck’s core combination of cards. This idea is further emphasized by the choice of Loot Hoarder; an early game cycle card to help draw into the combo.
Cards not Included
Cards which at first glance would appear to be right at home with the Patron Warrior would be dropped out of deck lists as players learned more about the mechanics of the game. A couple of these cards are [card]Bouncing Blade[/card] and [card]Commanding Shout[/card].
First let’s take a look at Bouncing Blade, as you can see from the card text it sends a saw blade around the battlefield successively pinging individual minions until one dies. This seems to be a perfect match for the Grim Patron, the blade pings around the board hitting one Patron, then its spawn and then its spawn. However the game mechanics actually work against this combination. For example the maximum number of creatures on board is seven. If the Grim Patron is the only minion on your board you have the opportunity to create at most six more. More typically though a Patron Warrior will have other minions on board which reduces the maximum amount of Patrons which can be generated. There is another mechanic that works against this combination. With each Patron that is generated the likelihood of the blade to fatally hit a warrior decreases. This means that the blade will bounce around a greater number of times increasing the damage done to your side. This makes your patron susceptible to not only your opponent’s minions and spell but your own Whirlwind and damage dealing effects. Lastly the blade stops bouncing once it has killed a minion. Though it may kill your opponents minion because you are generating numerous Patrons it is more likely that your own will die. More times than not the Bouncing Blade will kill your Patron reducing by one the amount it has summoned in the first place.
The other dropped card is Commanding Shout. It was often included as a way to both cycle and skirt around the fatal damage limiter on the Grim Patron’s ability. However similar to the Bouncing Blade, by leaving a Patron at 1 it will be taken out by your opponent or more likely your own spells.
The Warrior-specific legendary [card]Grommash Hellscream[/card] seems like an obvious inclusion for any Warrior deck. With Charge in addition to an Enrage ability, Grommash alone is a win condition. Remember however that the Patron Warrior is a combo oriented deck, the mana cost of Grommash Hellscream is too high and it too big to be played with other cards. Though it is valuable on its own it loses value because it does not synergize with other cards.
A large portion of the cards included in the Patron Warrior deck are devoted to whirlwind-type effects. The Unstable Ghoul and Death’s Bite are exceptional choices for this deck because of their additional value as Whirlwind effects. Another card, released in The Grand Tournament expansion, [card]Sea Reaver[/card] also has a Whirlwind effect but almost never sees play. A 6/7 for 6 Sea Reaver is basically a [card]Boulderfist Ogre[/card] that activates a Whirlwind when you draw it. You don’t even have to play it and it generates value for you! On paper this card is an obvious choice. However in play it ends up being inconsistent. The Whirlwind-draw effect is very situational, because you do not choose when it activates it can actually do more harm to your board than good. As well, the Warrior already has as many cheap Whirlwind options as it needs. While the 6/7 body is nice on the board, it does not contribute to the deck’s established win conditions. This deck focuses on dealing unheard of amounts of damage in a single turn utilizing the Charge mechanic. Board control via a 6/7 is irrelevant for this deck.
[toc]The Grand Tournament[/toc]
[cardinsert card=”bash” float=”left”]
The Grand Tournament did remarkably little for the Warrior Class. Of the nine class-specific cards released for Warrior, [card]Bash[/card] is the only one that managed to find its way into the Patron Warrior archetype. This card combines armor generation and removal. It has a mana cost of three, which means that if played on curve it facilitates the use of a [card]Fiery War Axe[/card] played the turn before. If it’s played pre-emptively will facilitate the use of a Death’s Bite on the next turn. While this is a good card, with good synergy it does little to really change or boost the existing Patron Warrior strategy.
Perhaps the only other card which sees even semi-regular play is the neutral legendary [card]Justicar Trueheart[/card]. By doubling the amount of armor gained by the Warrior’s Hero Power Justicar increases the effectiveness of [card]Shield Slam[/card] as well as making the Warrior even more difficult to kill. With this said, Justicar typically sees more play in Control Warrior decks, not Patron Warrior.
Despite not gaining any obvious advantages, the Patron Warrior did receive a couple of indirect buffs. Arguably the class that gained the most from this expansion was Paladin. One of the best Inspire abilities belongs to the [card]Murloc Knight[/card] and though other inspire cards may contest this card in constructed, it is easily the best addition to the arena. Even more than the Murloc Knight, the [card]Mysterious Challenger[/card] brought a new deck to the forefront. Alternatively called Secret Paladin or Mysterious Challenger Paladin, this deck increased the value of Paladin secrets, which were previously garbage. In the best case scenario the Challenger will draw out five secrets creating a huge tempo swing.
How does this relate to the Patron Warrior? As you may know or have guessed it has a positive match up against this deck! Despite not receiving direct power upgrades, the Warrior remained strong because of its ability to counter the new power coming out of The Grand Tournament.
[toc]Patch 3.2.0 10604[/toc]
It is important here to mention that this is the fourth iteration of the Warsong Commander. The first Warsong Commander was a 2/2 for 3 mana which gave all minions charge. Its first change was actually a buff, increasing its health value to three without changing anything else. The Third iteration was a reasonable nerf, which kept the statistics the same but limited the charge mechanic to creatures with three or less attack.
The Warsong Commander nerf was announced by Community Manager Zeriyah on the Hearthstone forum, October 13th, 2015. Due to the Grim Patron Warrior’s dominating spot on ladder and in tournaments for so long the general consensus was that a nerf was justified. About three weeks before this the youtuber Kripparrian released a video reviewing some statistics surrounding the Patron Warrior. The statistics examined by Kripparrian are taken from Liquidhearth user monk’s consolidation of tournament information from Blackrock Mountain to The Grand Tournament. To summarize some of the important points made by Kripparrian: the Patron Warrior has a Tournament win Rate of 49.74% which is 7.26% below the Hybrid Hunter (which has the highest winrate). While this may suggest that the Hybrid Hunter is more overpowered than the Patron Warrior we need to consider how the Patron Warrior’s match up statistics are consistently over 40%. In every single match up – with the exception of one – the Patron Warrior has at least a 40% winrate which makes it the favourite in most matches. The only exception to this rule is the matchup with Handlock, a less than popular deck choice.
For these reasons, the nerf was generally agreed to be a good choice by Blizzard. The specifics of the nerf however did not generate consensus. The new card text reads “Your charge minions now have +1”. Hearthstone game designer Ben Brode argued that this maintains the card’s identity while still removing its role in the Patron Warrior deck.
This effect change destroys the Patron Warrior as we have known it. By removing the charge effect from the Grim Patron and the Frothing Berserker you have altered the deck’s main win condition. Either one of these cards played with some of the supplementary cards like Whirlwind and Inner Rage can often result in a one turn kill. Two Frothing Berserkers played on a large board, with charge and some Whirlwind effects can easily do between 30 & 40 damage. By removing charge it forces the minions to sit on the Patron Warrior’s board for a turn, allowing the opponent a chance to deal with them (Handlock in particular has a number of tools to remove the 4 Health Berserkers).
Though it is beyond the scope of this article it is also important to mention that this nerf to the Warsong Commander put the Warrior class beyond terrible in the Arena format.
Players have both celebrated and reviled this nerf for a variety of reasons. I have not touched on it yet but the Patron Warrior is considered to be one of Hearthstone’s most difficult decks to play. By nerfing Warsong Commander and thus Patron Warrior players have argued that one of the most creative and difficult decks has been removed from the game, lowering the overall skill involved in Hearthstone’s metagame. Those who dislike the nerf also argue that this effectively ends the reign of Patron Warrior. They argue the nerf opens up the metagame to the Secret Paladin and the aggressive decks which dominated the ladder before it’s inception, effectively setting the game back six months.
Whatever your take on the Warsong Commander nerf, the Patron Warrior as we know it is gone forever.
This is not the death of the Grim Patron Warrior archetype. While the deck’s primary win condition has been removed, what remains is a solid core. The support cards surrounding the deck still form a body of cards that can effectively deal with a variety of threats and draw cards to fatigue. Changing a couple of cards here and there to re-focus on a new win condition is the future for this deck.
[cardinsert card=”raging-worgen” float=”left”]
The day the nerf was announced but before it took effect the first Warsong Nerfed-Grim Patron decklist was put up on hearthpwn.com. One of the early Patron Warrior players Senfglas – who reached Legend Rank 1 on two separate occasions with this deck – modified an existing decklist on this website. The deck lost Warsong Commander as well as Frothing Berserker, with Charge and Raging Worgen taking their place. This deck maintains the emphasis on card draw while replacing the win condition with an even older win condition! This Raging Worgen + Charge combo is reminiscent of previous one turn kill Warrior decks and this deck list (while untested) is an interesting combination of new and old elements.
In the 2015 World Championship Tournament, during a match between between Otskaka and Hotform, EU player Otskaka won his third match with a post-nerf Patron Warrior. In a match up against Rogue, Otskaka dropped a [card]Loatheb[/card] – a shocking inclusion in this deck. Loatheb’s battle cry ability increases the mana cost of spells, meaning that Warriors cannot play multiple spells on the turn after Loatheb is played and for this reason it is an old enemy of the Patron Warrior. When asked about it he said that “the Emperor Thaursissan is not that important in Patron Warrior anymore you don’t have the same combos, so instead you have the same body 5/5 and instead you get a bunch of tempo”. This quotation sheds light on a number of things regarding the Patron Warrior. It is clear that the Patron Warrior would have to undergo some revision however this line from Otskaka shows us that the Patron Warrior is being re-imagined and the emphasis of the deck is changing. When looking at the deck list to the right you may notice a couple of things. For starters, the Dread Corsair has made a reappearance and the [card]Piloted Shredder[/card] is being included for what I believe is the first time ever. Two other legendaries are being included as a win condition and traditional Patron Warrior cards like Unstable Ghoul and Cruel Taskmaster are less represented. What this means is that the Patron Warrior deck has shifted its emphasis to a more midrange kind of play style. Ostkaka has chosen to include more value based cards (as opposed to cards which will compliment the Warsong Commander, Grim Patron and Frothing Berserker combo). When comparing the deck list to the right with Nomodogan’s deck list looked at earlier, we see that Ostkaka’s deck is both a regression and a progression. It more closely resembles the embryonic Patron Warrior deck lists, while still taking the deck in a new direction.
While the traditional One Turn Kill style examined above maintains the spirit of the Patron Warrior as we have known it, the EU players seem to be trying to embrace the nerf and take the Patron Warrior in a new direction.
As we have illustrated here the Grim Patron Warrior has had an active history. Even when the Warsong Commander nerf was released and players announced the deck dead, the Patron Warrior has managed to hang on. In several new forms the Patron Warrior made appearances at 2015 World Championship and Blizzcon performing far better than anticipated. Thank you for taking the time to read this article, I would love to hear from you in the comments section below.