The Raven Takes Flight: The Effects of The Upcoming Hearthstone Rotation, Part 1
Another Hearthstone Year is almost gone. The Year of the Mammoth is giving way to the Year of the Raven, and the Hearthstone metagame will be completely transformed! Which decks are viable, which classes are good, which cards are amazing— it all changes in April.
Part 1 (this article) looks at the sets that will rotate, all of which were released during the Year of the Kraken. It covers each expansion in order, talking about noteworthy cards that are vanishing and their metagame significance.
Part 2 in this series will look at how each class will do with only the newest sets to work with— including the cards from the upcoming expansion, The Witchwood. Part 2 will come out in early April, once all cards from The Witchwood have been revealed.
Classic and the Hall of Fame
The Hall of Fame set was created to house Classic cards that have become too good, or too ubiquitous, or too annoying for Standard. This year, three additions are making their way to Wild.
Ice Block: End of an Era
It’s not true that Ice Blockhas been present in every single mage deck since beta— but it’s been in most of them. From Freeze Mage to Quest Mage to Secret Mage, Ice Block has been there. About the only decks that never ran the card were aggressive Tempo and Mech Mage decks that would try to finish off the opponent before it could matter. Every other Mage that played even a hint of the long game appreciated one, two, or even three free turns (with luck) to search for their win condition.
Now it’s all going away.
The impact this has on Mage as a class cannot be overstated. Without Ice Block to rely on, Combo plans like that of Quest Mage become far less effective, and late-game decks must include lifegain like Arcane Artificeror the effects of Frost Lich Jaina. To survive, Mage will need some shiny new tools in the upcoming expansion to either take an aggressive or resilient path. If no support is forthcoming, Mage as a class will likely suffer a dip in popularity— as the ice melts.
Molten Giant: By Popular Demand
Molten Giantwas originally changed from 20 to 25 Mana at the start of the Year of the Kraken, a change meant to guard against the possibility of decks (primarily Warlocks) getting it too quickly and putting up a wall of 8/8 taunts, with a few Faceless Shamblers to add spice. However, the change left Molten Giant unplayable.
People complained. Some suggested that it would have been better had Molten Giant been moved to Wild, instead. However, Blizzard stayed silent, and Molten Giant was more or less forgotten in Standard... for a time.
Now, the nerf is being undone— but the price is that Molten Giant must move to Wild. The Giant has already terrorized the Wild meta, thanks to Naga Sea Witchand its ability to knock 15 to 20 Mana Crystals off the Giant's cost. Now, though, everyone who missed playable, non-Naga’d Molten Giants can rejoice.
Here’s to the 20-Mana 8/8! Proof that Team 5 listens to the voice of the community.
Coldlight Oracle: One Burned Card Too Many
When Coldlight Oraclewas originally printed, the card’s low cost, Murloc synergy, and ‘downside’ (drawing cards for your opponent) hinted at its intended use: to live as a draw engine in an all-in, everything-to-the-face aggro deck. The kind of deck where you played your cards the turn you drew them, charged Murlocs at your opponent, and hoped the Warlock didn’t have Hellfireon Turn 4.
This vision did not come to pass. Instead, Coldlight Oracle found its place in decks that were nearly aggro’s polar opposites: extremely late-game decks, like Mill Rogue and Fatigue Warrior. Rogues bounced and replayed Oracle for its Battlecry, forcing opponents to dump their hand or burn their precious cards. Warriors waited until fatigue set in, dropping Coldlights to seal their opponent’s fate with bursts of ever-increasing damage.
Mill and Fatigue decks have never been meta-defining, but they do share one specific trait: they’re fun to play, but annoying to play against. This fact (plus Blizzard’s statements that they [A] dislike neutral card draw and [B] have ideas for bounce and Battlecry cards that would be too good with Oracle around) sealed Coldlight Oracle’s fate. While Mill Rogue players will surely lament, the rest of us can look forward to powerful new Bounce and Battlecry effects in the Year of the Raven.
Whispers of the Old Gods
Whispers of the Old Gods is famous as the first expansion to launch under the Year rotation system. Its focal point was the corruption of Azeroth, as shown by four legendaries of great power: the Old Gods themselves. There was something for almost every class in the expansion that Ben Brode called ‘the darkest the team had ever done’.
The Old Gods
Any discussion of Whispers of the Old Gods has to start with the four Old Gods. These neutral legendaries each had powerful effects that let them find their place in the Hearthstone metagame (though some took longer than others).
C'Thunand its suite of cultists was the first Old God to feature in several strong decks, helped along by the fact that Blizzard gave the legendary to everyone who opened even a single pack of Old Gods. Its suite of neutral cultists - featuring such strong minions as Disciple of C'Thun, C'Thun's Chosen, and Twin Emperor Vek'lor- enabled a strategy focused around playing cultists on curve while waiting for the End Times.
C’Thun ultimately settled into a finisher role in two decks. C’thun Druid used super-big minions like Klaxxi Amber-Weaverand Dark Arakkoato out-tempo opponents while setting up for an explosive finisher, while C’Thun (Control) Warrior used Ancient Shieldbearerto gain ridiculous amounts of armor and grind faster decks into the dust.
The two decks fell out of favor only after the Gadgetzan meta shift gave Warrior and Druid other options.
N'Zoth, the Corruptor, with its deathrattle-resummoning effect, was the second Old God the metagame adopted. The card became a favorite of decks that favored the long haul, such as the appropriately named N’Zoth Paladin.
While N’Zoth became less popular after the rotation of cards like Museum Curatorand Sylvanas Windrunner, the Old God has never completely fallen out of fashion, and still sees play in some decks (currently Control Warlock) even today.
Y'Shaarj, Rage Unboundwas the last Old God to find a home. While people attempted to use the Old God in meme decks like Y’Shaarj Hunter that focused on running only it and Barnes(to pull it out on cue), Y’Shaarj’s true power did not arise until over a year after its release, during the Frozen Throne meta. There, it became the engine for an army of “Big” decks, including Big Druid and Big Priest. On top of that, the ‘fun’ deck of Y’Shaarj Hunter became a real, powerful archetype (Spell Hunter) in Kobolds and Catacombs.
Once Y’Shaarj leaves the meta, the fate of Big decks is in doubt, though not because of the departing Old God. Big Druid and Big Priest are both losing other cards, which were even more key to each deck. Spell Hunter, meanwhile, loses little, and so has better chances.
Anyone who’s even remotely observant has probably noticed that there’s one Old God left: Yogg-Saron, Hope's End. While the other Old Gods were intended for potentially competitive purposes, Yogg was built to be the expansion’s Random Fun Card: a meme legendary with a ridiculous effect.
But Blizzard did their job too well. The random effect of Yogg-Saron’s spells proved (usually) very positive for the caster, and Yogg-Saron became a ‘last resort’ card in any deck that played lots of spells, from Tempo Mage to (later) Jade Druid.
Yogg’s infamy (not helped by the card having a starring role in almost every high-level tournament and Old Gods highlight video) was its downfall: in September 2016, during the Karazhan era, Blizzard nerfed Yogg-Saron to stop casting if it was destroyed, silenced, transformed, or otherwise removed from the board.
Amazingly, even after the nerf Yogg still made occasional appearances at the top end of spell-heavy competitive decks, but he was no longer an auto-include. Though the Old God will no longer be with us after rotation, its card gave us a new way to call upon the favor of Hearthstone’s RNG. Praise Yogg!
The Old Gods was a boon for Hearthstone’s classes, even if some got more than others.
Druid: Utility Falls Away
Druid loses Fandral Staghelm, a must-have Legendary ever since his release. Fandral found a space in every Druid deck that wasn’t hyper-aggressive, and synergized with Feral Rage, which was a useful utility tool for nearly any Druid. Without Fandral, some of Druid’s wackier plays - such as playing Nourishfor cards and Mana, or getting dual plague value with Malfurion the Pestilent- will once again be off the table.
Token Druid will miss Mark of Y'Shaarj, which was both a useful tool to add pressure and a rare source of card draw, something in drastically short supply for the aggressive deck. While Mark of Y’Shaarj is not a backbreaking loss for the deck, other rotating sets contain cards that Token Druid will regret losing far more.
Finally, there’s Mire Keeperto consider. While the card itself is a fairly unremarkable ramp on a modest body, the fact that both it and the Gadgetzan card Jade Blossomare rotating will leave Druid short of ramping options in the Year of the Raven. Can Druids that rely on ramp survive?
Hunter: Call of the Mild!
(and the other two)
Midrange Hunter struck it rich in Old Gods. Call of the Wildgave Hunters an amazing Turn 8 finisher, allowing them a wealth of burst to close out games— more if they drew both copies. Unfortunately, rising play rates led Blizzard to decide that maybe Hunter had struck it too rich. Call of the Wild’s Mana cost was bumped up to 9 during the Karazhan era, and the card quickly fell out of play as easily as it had fallen into it.
The Midrange Hunter of the past is losing a few more cards, too. Fiery Batwas a go-to 1-drop for Hunters through most of the Year of the Kraken, while Carrion Gruband Infested Wolfhelped fill out the Hunter’s curve. In actual play, all of these cards have since been supplanted by other options, and will not be missed very much.
Mage: Arcane Mysteries
Of Mage’s two notable Old Gods cards, the first is unusual in that it wasn’t quite used for the purpose it was intended. Cult Sorcererwas meant for use as a C’Thun card, providing Spell Damage while buffing up the Old God. However, Tempo Mages soon figured out it was simpler to just leave the Old God out and use the card purely for the Spell Damage. The fad for cultists died down around the Gadgetzan era, and ended for good when Flamewakerrotated to Wild in 2017, killing Tempo Mage.
Cabalist's Tomewas, at first, a card without a purpose. Then, in Un'Goro, Open the Waygate, the centerpiece of Quest Mage, came along. Cabalist’s Tome was a key piece of the Quest Mage puzzle, providing a large fraction of the random spells needed to warp time and make history. Without this spell generation— and Ice Block, which was critical to the deck’s end-game stall— is there any way for Quest Mage to survive?
Paladin: Both Ends of the Curve
Paladin loses cards from the very early-game and far late-game ends of the spectrum. On the early side, Vilefin Inquisitoris leaving. Vilefin Inquisitor’s effect - to let you create 1/1 Murloc tokens - may have seemed small, but with the help of cards like Gentle Megasaur, those same 1/1 tokens provided a serious boost to Murloc Paladin. Their absence isn’t terrible for the deck, but Murloc Paladin will have to scout around for new early game in the Year of the Raven.
Rallying Bladeis also moving to Wild. This weapon is the only 3-Mana weapon for Paladin with 3 Attack (instead of 2), a critical threshold for removing higher-health minions. Aggressive Paladin decks can still use Unidentified Maul(and the Battlecry benefits of Maul are nice), but the 3 attack was often relevant in games. Early-game Paladins will be slightly hurt by the loss.
Looking at the lategame, both Forbidden Healingand Ragnaros, Lightlordare also leaving Standard. Both cards focused on maximizing a Paladin’s survivability as long as humanly possible (and the 8/8 body on Ragnaros didn’t hurt, either). Unfortunately, with those two cards gone, Paladin has lost a lot of their best late-game options. They do still have Uther of the Ebon Blade, and large taunts like Tirion Fordringand (sometimes) Lynessa Sunsorrow, so all hope is not yet gone.
Priest: Just One Word
Priest didn’t gain much in Whispers of the Old Gods - so now it doesn’t lose much. Shadow Word: Horrorbounced around the metagame for over a year, until it found a place in the all-powerful Razakus Priest - and in its cousins, Big Priest and Control Priest, as an anti-aggro measure. Razakus Priest was subsequently dismantled by nerf; only Big Priest and Control Priest remain, and Shadow Word: Horror is not the only tool they will lose.
Rogue: Miraculous Tools
Rogue, and particularly Miracle Rogue, gained a number of good tools in Old Gods. Undercity Hucksterhelped gain early tempo, while its Deathrattle provided the Rogue with some extra value. Almost every Rogue deck in Old Gods ran it. On the more impressive side, Xaril, Poisoned Mindgave rogues lots of useful 1-Mana Toxin spells to enable Combos and to cycle with Gadgetzan Auctioneer. Shadow Strikeis also leaving. This card was simple removal, though Vilespine Slayerhas since scooped its spot.
Regardless, Miracle Rogue will never really run out of tricky tools— as long as the meta is suitable for it to exist at all.
Finally, Southsea Squidfaceis leaving. This card briefly gained a claim to fame buffing up Rogue’s best weapon ever, Kingsbane, in decks focused on the famous weapon. Kingsbane’s potential will be blunted unless Blizzard prints further weapon buffs in the Year of the Raven.
Shaman: Death of a Meme
It is a truth universally acknowledged that some cards become famous. Or rather... infamous. Flamewreathed Facelessis just such a card. Since its release, the phrase ‘4 Mana 7/7’ has found its way into the lore of the Hearthstone metagame. As it stands, the card does not currently see much use. It was a fixture in Aggro Shaman during the Year of the Kraken, but the deck was dismantled in the previous rotation.
Shaman decks also lose Thing from Below, a card which almost became a minor meme in its own right. With every Shaman deck in the Years of the Kraken and Mammoth relying on Totems in some way, the original ‘0 Mana 5/5’ has seen heavy play ever since its release.
Thanks to Thing from Below, Totem Shaman was briefly a viable deck during the Karazhan era. The deck’s strategy was to summon lots of totems, pumping them up using Totem-synergy buff cards like Primal Fusion. Totem Shaman faded away once the Gadgetzan era hit. However, its successor, Token Shaman, resurged in Un’Goro and was a contender all the way through Knights of the Frozen Throne. Now, the rotation is conspiring to prevent its re-resurgence.
Token Shaman loses Evolve, one of the key cards that helped turn an unassuming board of totems and small minions into a genuine threat. Future Token Shaman decks that take an evolution-based approach will have to make do with only Thrall, Deathseerand Unstable Evolution- and the absence of Thing From Below (as well as many cards from Gadgetzan) gives the deck far less useful material to Evolve in the first place. Can Token Shaman continue to exist?
Warlock: Escape from the Zoo!
Whispers of the Old Gods is remembered as a golden age for Zoo Warlock. Possessed Villager, Darkshire Councilman, and Forbidden Ritualall hail from the set. Each found a place in Zoo Warlock almost right away— Villager for ‘sticky’ early game, and Councilman as a must-kill threat (though initially, the card was panned prior to release, on the grounds that it would be unimpactful.) Forbidden Ritual wasn’t included as consistently as the other two cards, but it served as a handy refill post-board clear.
Of these cards, modern Zoo decks only run Councilman. The growing 1/5 will be missed by Warlocks, but Zoolock should survive nonetheless.
Warrior: Something for Everybody
Whispers of the Old Gods was an excellent set for Warrior. On the aggressive end, the set laid the foundations of the eventually-infamous Pirate Warrior with the release of N'Zoth's First Matefor early weapon synergy, and Bloodsail Cultistfor later on in the Warrior’s gameplan. Pirate Warrior has been nerfed into oblivion, but the Warrior cards that made it all possible will be fondly (?) remembered.
Late-game Warriors didn’t miss out at the start of the Year of the Kraken, either. Ravaging Ghoulwas a fantastic tool— Whirlwindwith a body attached— that helped Warrior activate its synergies and keep board control. Blood To Ichor, as a Warrior ‘ping’ that generated a token, followed a similar ethos.
Finally, Bloodhoof Bravealso rotates out. This taunt made trades unfortunate for the opponent with its Enrage effect, and is most remembered for its starring role in Taunt Warrior during Un’Goro. However, the card also saw regular play in late-game Warrior decks during the Old Gods and Karazhan metas.
As the Year of the Raven begins, the power of Warrior is at an all-time low, thanks to nerfs made to try and stop Pirate Warrior. It remains to be seen if any Warrior deck can resurge in the Year of the Raven.
Let ancient control give way to piracy, as aggro decks make aggro players keen!
A Few Neutrals
Finally, Whispers of the Old Gods added two Neutrals that had effects on the game at one point or another. Eater of Secretsfound a niche as a tech card against every sort of Mage (in Standard) and Paladin (in Wild). It remains to be seen whether Blizzard will release a new anti-Secret tech card for the Year of the Raven.
Faceless Shamblerfound uses in specific decks like Renolock and Silence Priest as a flexible ‘extra taunt’, keeping the opponent at bay. No one will miss it at the moment, but it was a useful card to have.
One Night in Karazhan
If, at the start of 2016, you had told a dedicated Hearthstone fan that Team 5 would recreate the classic WoW raid of Karazhan (Medivh the wizard’s ruined tower) as an adventure, none of them would have expected the adventure to consist of helping save a disco-themed party (hosted by a very much alive-and-well Medivh) from gate-crashers. But that is exactly what Hearthstone players the world over got.
While numerous cards from Karazhan were derided as not particularly powerful on release, the set proved its worth in the long run. Almost every class came away from Karazhan with some party favors!
Legends of the Tower
Before anything else, three of Karazhan's most memorable denizens— Legendaries all— need to be talked about. Barnes, The Curator, and Medivh, the Guardianare all rotating out, and each had their own role in the Kraken and Mammoth metas.
Barnes is the kind of card that people end up either loving or hating. Upon his release, people immediately started building the intrepid theater-manager into combo decks, where the win condition was a showstopping appearance from Malygosor Y'Shaarj, Rage Unbound. Midrange Shaman even hired him, briefly, to provide Totem support.
However, Barnes eventually found more consistent work during the Frozen Throne era in Big Priest, a deck focused on using Priest’s resurrection spells to turn an actor playing a giant minion (such as an Obsidian Statue) into the real thing! In Kobolds and Catacombs, moreover, pairing Barnes with Y'Shaarj became fashionable again— not as the sole win condition, but as part of a balanced meta deck, Spell Hunter.
There’s no real replacement possible for Barnes, considering the unique effect gotten by playing him on Turn 4. Decks that used him as a combo engine are now no longer playable. Spell Hunter has a good chance to survive without Barnes and Y'Shaarj— how well it succeeds depends on what the future has in store. For Big Priest, though, the loss of Barnes means that the deck will slow way down, if not disappear entirely. Without Barnes, Big Priest’s first opportunity to have a minion on board will be on Turn 6— and with an empty board, it will take a remarkable amount of anti-aggro to get even a Priest to live that long.
The Curator struggled to find a niche for a little while. Its first major use was during Gadgetzan, where it helped tempo deck Water Rogue to draw its Murlocs and Azure Drakes. Sadly for the Curator, Water Rogue lost Azure Drake and was outvalued by other decks at the start of the Year of the Mammoth— so the gallerybot had to find a new home. Its opportunity arrived in the form of Quest (Taunt) Warrior, where both its Taunt and its Beast-finding skills came in handy.
The Curator let Taunt Warriors refill, digging their Direhorn Hatchlings and Primordial Drakes out of the deck so they could put up an impassable wall while waiting for their Ragnaresque win condition to come online. Decks with greater value have forced Taunt Warrior into a temporary retirement, and The Curator and some control tools like Ravaging Ghoulwill vanish after the rotation, but there's still a chance for Taunt Warrior to come back in the Year of the Raven if the stars align.
(The Curator also showed up in slower builds of Murloc Paladin during Un’Goro and Knights of the Frozen Throne, to help fish out Murlocs and Gentle Megasaurs. Murloc Paladin has since become a fast deck, so the gallerybot won’t be missed there.)
Medivh, the Guardian was a powerful tool for decks that played big spells in the late game, helping decks get maximum value out of their high-cost spells. Medivh didn't become popular until after the Mammoth rotation, but once Un'Goro hit, the Guardian found a place in Burn and Freeze Mage decks, turning Firelands Portals and Pyroblasts into minions to close out the game.
In a similar vein, after the release of Knights of the Frozen Throne, Medivh found himself partnered with Malfurion the Pestilent, making minions out of Ultimate Infestations and Spreading Plagues. During Kobolds and Catacombs, Medivh returned to Mage decks that focused on big spells, providing similar value as before. In addition to these decks, the card also saw occasional play in other Mage and Priest decks over the course of the year.
Medivh is going off to another Wild party, but Blizzard's subtly signaled its continuing support for turning big spells into minions by printing Spiteful Summonerin Kobolds and Catacombs. Big-spell decks could be up for even more support from The Witchwood!
Druid will miss Enchanted Raven, one of only two 1-Mana 2/2 minions Blizzard has ever printed. The beefy crow found a place in Aggro Druid, thanks to its habit of being easy to buff— something of a surprise for Team 5, which had intended the card as the opener to a purely Beast-themed Druid deck. Menagerie Wardenwas also printed in Karazhan with the intent of pushing Beast Druid, but it never caught on, despite Blizzard’s further attempts to support the archetype in Gadgetzan and later.
Looking to the future, Aggro Druid loses numerous other cards that were key parts of the deck— things do not look good.
Hunter loses Kindly Grandmotherand Cat Trick. The class has stronger Turn 2 plays nowadays, but for a while Kindly Grandmother was the best Turn 2 class minion available. Cat Trick served as a punish for decks using spells (i.e. almost every deck), providing follow-up after removal or a board clear. Of the two, the Secret will be missed more than the wolf.
Even Cloaked Huntresssaw play for a little while during Karazhan, generating a brief fad for a Secret Hunter deck that went all-in on trap and Secret synergy. That deck did not last long, but the modern Spell Hunter attempts to follow in its footsteps. (Spell Hunter doesn’t mourn the loss of its Karazhan class cards too deeply— Cat Trick was an impactful Secret, but the deck will work without it.)
Mage may possibly be one of the three classes who got the best deal from One Night in Karazhan. All three of its cards found uses in different decks— but only one of them became truly infamous. That card was Babbling Book.
Babbling Book was reviewed as ‘seems like a 31st card’ upon its release. The card floated in and out of Tempo Mage decks over the Karazhan season, providing extra value. Then, a player named Pavel brought it in his Tempo Mage deck to the 2016 Hearthstone World Championships.
Everyone knows what happened next. During the quarterfinals, in Pavel’s match versus Amnesiac, with the score tied up 2-3, Babbling Book gave Pavel Polymorph and Firelands Portal at precisely the right times, letting him dismantle Amnesiac’s Malygos Druid and reverse sweep the ‘Young Savage’ 4-3. On the strength of Babbling Book, Pavel was able to become the 2016 Hearthstone World Champion.
The incident has become part of Hearthstone’s lore. “Paveling Book” became an unofficial nickname for the card, and ‘Paveled’ is now slang for being screwed over by RNG in a spectacular fashion.
As amazing as it sounds, the demise of Tempo Mage at the end of the Year of the Kraken wasn’t the end for Babbling Book. The card found new life in Quest Mage, where its random spell generation served to advance a time-warping finale. Quest Mage loses many of its best cards in the rotation, and its future is highly uncertain— but one thing no one doubts is that this venerable book has been part of Hearthstone’s history. Rest in peace, Babbling Book. We wanted to cast spells with you too.
Going back to Mage’s ‘party favors’, the class got two more useful cards from Karazhan. Firelands Portalserved as combination removal and board generation for Mages, and was a utility card in Mage decks since its release. Nearly every spell-casting deck will miss it.
Medivh's Valetfit into a different archetype entirely. Though it took a while for the card to find a fit, Secret Mage (Medivh’s Valet’s home deck) came to life circa Un’Goro, thanks to new and powerful tools like Arcanologistand Primordial Glyph. In that deck, the Valet served as removal (or burn) on a small stick. A utility tool for the archetype— but a reasonably important one.
As things stand, Firelands Portal and Medivh’s Valet are both currently run by Secret Mage. The deck will miss the loss of both cards, but several other of its best tempo tools are also rotating. It appears that Secret Mage has an uncertain future. Big Spell mage also misses the loss of Firelands Portal (and Medivh himself!), but the core of that deck is still solid. Might Mage choose to go large in the Year of the Raven?
Paladin got only one card of note from Karazhan: Ivory Knight. This chess piece joins Forbidden Healingand Ragnaros, Lightlordas another of the lifegain-focused tools that late-game Paladins will lose. As mentioned before, the “long-lasting Paladin” archetype does still have hope— but Paladins do want new tools for surviving as the game drags on.
beast of a priest.
When the Priest class cards from Karazhan were announced, everyone made fun of them— yet two of the three Karazhan Priest cards eventually found places in viable meta decks. Purify, of course, is the one everyone remembers. Priest was not doing well as a class before the release of One Night in Karazhan. Thus, the reaction to Purify— a card with extremely specific uses and no hope of helping Priest out of its rut— was all-around mockery. However, Team 5 had the last laugh. With the release of Humongous Razorleafin Journey to Un’Goro, Purify found a place in a mid-tier deck, Silence Priest.
On a more universal note, Priest of the Feastbecame a staple in nearly all Priest decks, serving as a useful passive healing minion that opponents needed to remove ASAP (lest the Priest simply chain spells into a massive burst of health). While Purify was niche, Priest of the Feast was a well-rounded utility card with an excellent statline, and it will be sorely missed. Will Priest keep a late-game archetype in the Year of the Unicorn? Or will they be forced to fall back on Purify-like tricks?
Rogue only loses one class card from Karazhan, but it’s a pretty good one. Swashburglarnot only served as useful combo and value fuel, but was an early-game Pirate that kickstarted Rogue decks’ openings in combination with other Pirates. Swashburglar featured in such decks as the Gadgetzan-era Water Rogue and the more modern Tempo Rogue. Fortunately, the loss of Swashburglar might not hurt Rogue too much— Pirates were already on the wane, and Tempo Rogue could theoretically have alternate openings featuring Elementals and a certain Frozen Throne vampire (if it gets the cards to back it up).
If Mage was one class that got excellent gear from Karazhan, Shaman was another. Spirit Clawswas a Shaman weapon that Blizzard meant to create a new, Spell-Damage focused Shaman archetype. Instead, it gave a powerful removal tool to Aggro and Midrange Shaman, sending the decks to their greatest height during the Year of the Kraken. The era of ‘Shamanstone’ got so bad that Blizzard had to respond. Spirit Claws was increased from 1 to 2 Mana halfway through the Gadgetzan era, making the weapon summarily unplayable.
Maelstrom Portal, meanwhile, dodged the nerf hammer. This cheap AoE spell— effectively Arcane Explosionwith a bonus— has been popular ever since its release, doing its duty in many different Shaman decks for a quick board wipe (or, at least, board softening-up, if a wasn’t handy). After Maelstrom Portal rotates, Shaman remains a class with numerous AoE options (Lightning Stormand Volcanocome to mind), but none are as cheap, or useful, as the Portal (Shaman AoEs usually carry a strong Overload cost). Does this portend more late-game-focused Shamans in the Year of the Raven?
Karazhan’s third Shaman class card spawned a more experimental archetype that was briefly viable. Wicked Witchdoctorinspired Totem Shaman, a deck that focused on generating and buffing totems by the cartload. TGT's Thunder Bluff Valiant, and Bloodlust, served as finishers. While Totem Shaman was shortlived thanks to the power bump of the Gadgetzan meta, the concept of a Shaman leading a rabble of small minions to victory would resurge several months later during Un’Goro.
Warlock will miss two cards from Karazhan — but not too much! Malchezaar's Impand Silverware Golemwere Blizzard’s first attempts to push a Discard-synergy theme for Warlock decks. Both cards were run in Discard Zoo builds over the course of the Karazhan meta, and Malchezaar’s Imp has continued to be popular in modern Zoo as an early-game Demon with an upside. However, the party will stop when the Year of the Raven comes along. Warlock shouldn’t be too bothered by the losses, but Malchezaar’s Imp and Silverware Golem will each go down in Hearthstone’s history as one of the few discard-synergy cards that have actually been played. It’s an ignoble memorial.
Warrior received Ironforge Portal, which saw use in the vanished Control Warrior for a brief period as armor gain with upside in the form of a free minion. It is now forgotten.
Dragons and Giants and Neutrals, Oh My!
Priest is one of the classes that got the best cards from Karazhan, but not all of them were class cards. In fact, some of Priest’s most useful cards were focused around a different affiliation entirely: Dragons.
Netherspite Historiangave Dragon Priest ridiculous amounts of extra value, allowing them to extend their ‘holding a Dragon’ synergies well beyond the original capacity of their deck. The card has been in Dragon Priest whenever Dragon Priest has been in the meta (primarly from Gadgetzan through Un’Goro, with a resurgence after the Raza nerf), and Dragon Priest will sorely miss it.
On the high end, Book Wyrmserved Dragon Priest as well, acting like two extra copies of Shadow Word: Pain. This Dragon wasn’t quite as popular as Netherspite Historian (a 3/6 body for 6 Mana doesn’t provide as much tempo as a Priest might like, even with the destroy effect), and it hasn’t always been present in every version of Dragon Priest. Recent lists omit it entirely. However, this literary Dragon did help keep Dragon Priest alive through last year’s rotation, and that’s no small feat.
One other powerful card came out of Karazhan: Arcane Giant. This spell-fueled 8/8 has seen numerous uses over the past two years. Warrior used it in the post-nerf version of Patron Warrior that came to life in Karazhan, using Grim Patrons to soften up their opponent before charging multiple Arcane Giants into them for the kill. Miracle Rogue decks have run it as a finisher that can’t be ignored. Even Mages experimented with them as the payoff for the Un’Goro quest, Open the Waygate. (This didn’t work.)
No decks use Arcane Giant now. But with this option rotating to Wild, decks that cast many spells will require more typical win conditions.
The Mean Streets of Gadgetzan
Ahh, Gadgetzan— the city of opportunity! The Year of the Kraken’s final expansion had an impact on Hearthstone to a level that is hard to duplicate. Each crime family had its own set of wacky cards, and with them gone, peace will (hopefully) return to Hearthstone once again.
The Kabal: Mage, Priest, Warlock
The first crime family to rise, and the one that made the largest ruckus during the Gadgetzan meta, was none other than the Kabal. Their signature mechanics focused on ‘singleton’ decks (using only one of any card), potions, and Dragons.
The Kabal in Gadgetzan: Hurray for Reno Jackson!
Before the Year of the Mammoth rotation, the word on the street for members of the Kabal had just about everything to do with one blowhard of an adventurer: Reno Jackson. Reno’s full-heal effect (as long as your deck had only one copy of each card) synergized perfectly with Kabal leader Kazakus, whose potions could provide tempo and value to Reno Priests, Mages, and Warlocks.
Each class also got their own class-specific ‘singleton’ card. Mages received Inkmaster Solia, effectively attaching a free spell (preferably a big one) to a beefy 5/5 body. Priests got Raza the Chained, giving free hero powers for the rest of the game. Warlocks had Krul the Unshackled, a card summoning all the Warlock’s Demons in hand onto the board at once.
Unsurprisingly, all three classes partook of the Kabal’s power. Warlock was the most popular, using Reno and Kazakus but skipping Krul to make Renolock, a deck with the strategy of getting beaten up in the early game, immediately healing to full, and then outlasting everything their opponent could throw at them using quality removal like Blastcrystal Potionand Abyssal Enforcer. Renolock was one of the decks that helped define the Gadgetzan meta. It was not, however, one of the decks with the highest win rate— that crown goes to classes with far more aggressive builds.
Mage also went the Reno Jackson route, aiming to either win through board pressure and quality minions, or burn their opponent out with Archmage Antonidasand/or Inkmaster Solia. The deck acted as a strong counter to aggressive decks, and was the bane of many a Warrior and Shaman on ladder during the early months of Gadgetzan.
Priest was the oddball. While the class did get Reno Jackson synergy, the Gadgetzan expansion offered strong support for another archetype: Dragon Priest. The value ‘Dragon’ Drakonid Operative, in combination with the selective board clear Dragonfire Potion, catapulted Dragon Priest into the high tiers of the Gadgetzan power rankings. Versions of Dragon Priest using Reno were experimented with, but Renoless Dragon Priests eventually won out (aided by mid-meta nerfs to aggro and the consistency of having two of every card).
During Gadgetzan, everyone got a chance to remember.
After the Year of the Mammoth arrived, the classes of the Kabal each had to remake themselves.
Mage After Gadgetzan: Masters of Mystery
Mages initially focused on the classics, and Freeze Mage and Burn Mage were popular decks in Un’Goro. However, Freeze Mage died out, and Burn Mage slowly became Secret Mage. Conspiratorial Kabal cards like Kabal Crystal Runnerand Kabal Lackeyhelped Mage get a good deal on Secrets of all types, letting Mages gain tempo before hitting the opponent in the face and/or burning them out. With the Kabal retreating to Wild (and Secret Mage’s other support from Karazhan also fading), the deck will probably cut back on the synergy and become Burn Mage once more.
Mages also lose Volcanic Potion, a useful (though symmetrical) anti-aggro AoE that faded in and out of Mage decks that didn’t need to rely as much on minion pressure. The class will surely get new anti-aggro tools in the future, though.
Warlock After Gadgetzan: Demons Ascendant
Warlocks, post-Gadgetzan, were initially at a loss. After a rocky start during Un’Goro, Zoolock eventually resurged during the Frozen Throne expansion. By the late Kobolds and Catacombs meta, Zoo had split into numerous builds. Many tried for Demon synergy with Bloodfury Potionand Crystalweaver. Amazingly, even Unlicensed Apothecary- a 3-drop with an extra-large body and a drawback so terrible that it had originally appeared only in highlight videos - made the cut in one Kobolds Zoo build, focused on all-out aggression.
Without these cards, Zoolock still has plenty of options it can rely on in the Year of the Raven. However, it must deal with competition from the other archetype Warlocks found in the Year of the Mammoth.
Control Warlock is a late-game Warlock build that came into its own during the Kobolds and Catacombs meta, and quickly became the deck to beat. While the deck didn't use any Warlock class cards from the Mean Streets of Gadgetzan, it did use one Neutral card: Mistress of Mixtures. This 1-drop (the other 1-Mana 2/2 Blizzard has printed) was primarily in Control Warlock for healing, recovering 8 precious points of health over both copies.
The loss of ‘Mixtress’ may hurt Control Warlocks more than they realize, especially as one of their late-game win conditions— N'Zoth, the Corruptor— is also rotating. However, the deck is by no means dead and will be one to watch in the upcoming year.
Priest After Gadgetzan: Of Dragons and TERROR!
Priests weren’t that bothered by the Mammoth rotation. Despite losing Dragon synergy cards from Blackrock Mountain, Dragon Priest continued without much trouble thanks to the power of Dragonfire Potionand Drakonid Operative. While Dragon Priest’s star waxed and waned as the Year of the Mammoth metas changed, the deck never died out; now, however, the loss of these powerful Dragon cards (along with Netherspite Historian) puts Dragon Priest’s future into doubt once again.
During the Frozen Throne meta, a different (and far more dangerous) type of Priest emerged. The deck relied on the Priest Deathknight, Shadowreaper Anduin, for a repeatable, damage-dealing hero power (), and the singleton card Raza the Chainedto make that hero power free. Putting the two together gave ‘Razakus’ Priest ridiculous amounts of end-game burst, at only a slight cost to consistency. The deck crushed its enemies, driving all else before it, hearing the lamentations of the players as it became Tier 1.
(Hearthstone fans who have been around for a while will remember that Mike Donais forecasted that Priest would be the only singleton deck to persist past the Year of the Mammoth rotation. With Razakus Priest, this prediction was fulfilled.)
Finally, after a mountain of complaints, Blizzard stepped in. During the mid Kobolds meta, Raza the Chained was changed to make the discounted Priest Hero Power cost (1). Before the change, Razakus Priest was able to ‘go off’ at the end of the game, with turns like -Prophet Velen--Mind Blast--Holy Smite- (for a total of 28 damage). Afterwards, the best the deck could do was around half that, giving space for opponents recover. The change made Razakus Priest unplayable.
Even outside of Razakus and Dragon Priest’s core cards, the Gadgetzan set had some amazing cards for Priests. Potion of Madnessfound its way into most Priest decks as powerful disruption against aggro (and also anyone who ran small minions with useful effects, from Loot Hoarderto Knife Juggler). Later-game Priest decks like Big Priest used Greater Healing Potionas critical sustain. Kabal Songstealerwas popular in Silence Priest during Un’Goro. Kabal Talonpriestserved as a health buff for Combo (Inner Fire) Priest, as well as a general utility minion for other builds. Even Pint-Size Potionfound a place, teaming up with Old Gods’ Shadow Word: Horrorin Razakus and Big Priest to decimate the boards of more aggressive decks.
With so many cards vanishing at the start of the Year of the Raven, what will Priest be able to play? Razakus Priest has been nerfed into the ground, and Big Priest’s loss of Barnesand Greater Healing Potion renders it easy prey to Paladins (and any other Aggro decks that might arise). Spiteful Priest and Combo Priest both focus on a Dragon package, which loses large amounts of synergy. It seems like most of what made Priest good is receding like the tide.
All that remains is for the class to look towards the Witchwood for new hope in the upcoming year.
The Jade Lotus: Druid, Rogue, Shaman
The second crime family in Gadgetzan was the Jade Lotus. While they were slower to get started than the Kabal, their signature cards had a far more lasting effect on the metagame as a whole. The Lotus’s signature mechanic focused on Jade Golems, tokens that grew in size from 1/1, to 2/2, to 10/10, and beyond.
Druid: The Tale of a Large Green Man
Druid found the most success making Jade Golems. While their Jade suite had many useful cards— Jade Behemoth, a mid-game Taunt, and Jade Blossom, some early-game ramp— the card that became permanently associated with Jade Druid was Jade Idol. At first glance, Jade Idol was deceptively simple. “Choose One: Summon a Jade Golem, or Shuffle 3 Jade Idols into your deck.” The kicker came with the Shuffle effect. Each of the three shuffled Idols could be shuffled again, giving Druid an infinite - and inevitable - number of Larger Green Men if they could survive to the end game. Jade Druid decks typically went all-in on Jade generation, packing the rest of their deck with Mana ramp and tools to help them survive until the giant Jades could come down.
The deck persisted through Gadgetzan and almost the entire Year of the Mammoth, despite Blizzard’s best attempts to slow it down. Their first try was releasing Skulking Geistas part of the Knights of the Frozen Throne expansion, a tech card not-so-subtly targeting Jade Idols for destruction.
It didn’t work. Druid received enough powerful tools in KFT— Spreading Plague, the Deathknight Malfurion the Pestilent, and the infamous Ultimate Infestation— that Jade Druid instead rose to pre-eminence, becoming the top deck in the meta (and the most played, at 30% of the total— roughly matching the popularity of Midrange Shaman during the era of ‘Shamanstone’). Finally, Team 5 took action with two direct nerfs to Druid, only a month into the Frozen Throne meta.
The changes mostly affected Druids’ Mana budget. The first of the nerfs made the Taunt wall of Spreading Plaguemore expensive (costing 6 Mana instead of 5), a measure that gave aggro decks more time to rush Druids down. The second nerf was more far-reaching. Innervate, Druid’s staple of premium Mana acceleration, went from filling two Mana Crystals to filling one, effectively making it a fancy Coin. (It’s likely Druids will focus more on permanent, rather than temporary, ramp in future Years.)
These nerfs were successful, bringing Jade Druid from backbreakingly powerful to merely very good. The only thing that truly managed to suppress the deck was the rise of Control Warlock during Kobolds and Catacombs.
With the entire Jade package rotating to Wild, Jade Druid will be officially dead at the dawn of the Year of the Raven. It is time for a new class to dominate the meta.
During Journey to Un’Goro, a new, much more aggressive Druid deck emerged, one that had nothing to do with Jade Golems. Token Druid used small minions like Enchanted Ravenand Fire Fly, combined with AoE buffs like Mark of the Lotusand Power of the Wild, to create a wide board of small minions to hit the opponent in the face repeatedly. Savage Roarwas the finisher.
Aggro Druid had a decent run during the Year of the Mammoth, one that only stopped when Blizzard applied the nerf hammer to Gadgetzan’s most famous Pirate (see below). With Mark of the Lotus rotating, as well as other early-game minions like Enchanted Raven being slated for removal from Standard, it looks like Aggro Druid will be unable to resurge during the Year of the Raven.
Druid, like Priest, finds itself in a conundrum in the upcoming Year. Jades are gone. Aggro gameplans have been disabled. The ‘Big’ druid that was popular during Knights of the Frozen Throne loses the ramp from Jade Blossom (and Mire Keeper). The Druid deck that looks like it will be bothered the least by the rotation is the recent tempo deck that uses Spiteful Summoner— however, the performance of ‘Spiteful Druid’ has been only passable so far at best.
So, the question: What is Blizzard planning for Druid after the Year of the Mammoth is over?
Rogue: Doing Their Own Thing
Miracle Rogue was the easiest choice. The legendary deck took full advantage of the tools it got in Gadgetzan, Shaku, the Collectorand Counterfeit Coin. Shaku served as a soft Taunt and source of guaranteed value for Rogues, while Counterfeit Coin accelerated Rogues’ Mana, activated their Combos, and gave them fodder for Gadgetzan Auctioneer.
Miracle Rogue will really miss Counterfeit Coin in the Year of the Raven, but it’s likely Blizzard will print up a new method of Coin generation early in the Year.
We were joking.
We shouldn't have.
One other card from Gadgetzan is notable for just how much headache it caused everyone during Un’Goro. Gadgetzan Ferryman— effectively a conditional variant of Youthful Brewmaster— was derided on release as unplayable. However, the Un’Goro Rogue quest, The Caverns Below, caused a massive demand for bounce effects in Rogue decks, and Gadgetzan Ferryman found a job turning Stonetusk Boars into 5/5s.
The Caverns Below was nerfed in the middle of the Un’Goro meta, and sales of ferry tickets have since fallen off. That said, remember Gadgetzan Ferryman: proving that even the most derided card may be a killer in the right circumstances.
(Towards the end of the Gadgetzan meta, a tempo-based deck with Murlocs, Water Rogue, emerged. However, it mostly relied on Murloc and Pirate synergy, as opposed to the Lotus’s class cards.)
Shaman: Lord of the Small Minions
During Gadgetzan, Midrange Shaman was in its final days— not because people were beating the deck, but because the upcoming Mammoth rotation would strip away some of the cards that were most core to it.
However, during that time, Jade Golems were welcomed into Midrange Shaman as extra bodies to fight for board control. The most common Jade package used Jade Clawsearly on to help keep the board clear, followed by Jade Lightningto remove bigger minions and finishing with Lotus leader Aya Blackpaw. However, some decks also ran Jade Spiritand Jade Chieftainfor bigger Jades and late-game protection.
After the Mammoth rotation, Midrange Shaman tried to transition to an all-Jade build, but the metagame wasn’t really suited for it. Shaman had to get a new archetype— fast. It found it in Token Shaman, a deck that focused on making many small minions and transforming them with Evolve. Token Shaman still used Jade Claws, Jade Lightning, and Aya Blackpaw, gratefully accepting the Jade Golems as bodies to be transformed. However, it also used another Gadgetzan card: the neutral Doppelgangster. Doppelgangster’s 5-Mana tokens would become full 6-Mana minions after an Evolve, making them the perfect board fodder for Shamans. The deck also used Devolveto control overly threatening boards, removing buffs and turning minions with unfortunate effects into junk. (Token Shaman also took full advantage of Gadgetzan’s Pirates, but we’ll discuss that a little later on.)
With all of the above cards now rotating, Token Shaman is probably dead. The Evolve gameplan could still work, thanks to Thrall, Deathseer, but a lot of the raw material to back it up needs replacing. What will Shaman become in the Year of the Raven? The Elementals of Un’Goro have been waiting for their time to shine, but even there, Jade Spirit was one of the Elementals that Shamans turned to to fill out their curve. We’ll have to wait and see what arrives after the rotation.
The Grimy Goons: Hunter, Paladin, Warrior
The third (but not final) crime family in Gadgetzan was the Grimy Goons, and their antics proved pretty laughable compared to the Kabal and the Lotus’s doings. The Grimy Goons focused their efforts around buffing minions and weapons while they were still in players’ hands.
Hunter: Beasts As Usual
During Gadgetzan, Hunter’s Grimy Goons cards mostly focused around handbuffing Beasts. Beasts like Alleycat, Dispatch Kodo, and Rat Packwere tailor-made to have their stats, Battlecries, and Deathrattles (respectively) boosted by handbuffs. Instead, this plan fell flat and Hunter stayed dormant until Un’Goro, where new Beasts like Crackling Razormawrevitalized Hunter; once that happened, Alleycat and Rat Pack found themselves part of the curve of Midrange Hunter.
The loss of Rat Pack and Dispatch Kodo won’t be terrible for minion-based Hunter decks. They have other mid-game options. However, losing Alleycat is a blow; its two-token start was a key part of Midrange Hunter’s early game. The class does have Dire Moleto fall back on, but it’s weaker openings for classic Hunter decks in the future unless some early-game support is forthcoming.
(Spell Hunter opted to give the beast-buffing spells of Gadgetzan a miss— they don’t run any minions to be hit by the buffs!— so the deck doesn’t lose anything from Gadgetzan.)
Paladin: A Few Gangsters
Paladin’s handbuff cards mostly focused on buffing all the minions in the Paladin’s hand at once. Like with Hunter, they were mostly ignored, and Paladin suffered during the Gadgetzan meta. However, a few of Paladin’s Gadgetzan cards did see use after the dawn of the Year of the Mammoth.
During Un’Goro, Murloc Paladin became popular, and Grimscale Chumwas a natural fit for Murloc-based early game. The deck persisted in one form or another through the Kobolds meta. However, the loss of both Grimscale Chum and Vilefin Inquisitor(from Old Gods) leaves Murloc Paladin low on starting early game, and makes it slightly weaker overall. Murlocs will thrive in the Year of the Raven, but only as long as their early game is strong.
Getaway Kodowasn’t a Secret that was played natively in any decks, but it was a popular pick off of Un’Goro’s Secret-generating Hydrologist. Murloc Paladin appreciated the card— especially if the opponent was incautious and sent a Murloc Warleaderback to the hand. The loss of Getaway Kodo is not, however, a serious concern for any Paladin deck.
Finally, Wickerflame Burnbristle, Paladin’s Gadgetzan Legendary, did also see some play, mostly in the Un’Goro-era Midrange Paladin. Paladin decks that ran Un'Goro's Stonehill Defenderwere also happy to see him, as the Discover class bonus ensured Wickerflame would turn up frequently. Wickerflame moving to Wild doesn’t drastically impact any current deck, however.
Warrior: Partnership With...
A sharp Gadgetzan steal.
Warrior didn’t make much use of its Grimy Goons class cards. Sleep with the Fishesended up in late-game Warrior decks as a board clear, and Alley Armorsmithwas used during Un’Goro in Taunt Warrior as a minion to buy time for the Warrior Quest, Fire Plume's Heart.
Taunt Warrior does lose numerous tools from Year of the Kraken expansions, and it will need early-game board control if it is to survive. However, don’t count it out in the Year of the Raven yet.
Of course, during Gadgetzan, Fire Plume’s Heart hadn’t been printed yet. The deck that kept Warrior relevant during the Gadgetzan meta wasn’t late-game at all— instead, it was an aggressive deck, with one infamous set of tribal synergies.
The ‘Fourth Crime Family’: Pirates!
When Patches the Piratewas announced, people thought that the Charging beholder Pirate would be good. Even so, no one suspected that he would be so good that he'd jumpstart one of the most powerful and reviled decks ever to exist in Hearthstone, a deck that would require two separate nerfs to destroy. Even after that deck was rule-changed into the ground, Patches inspired a neutral ‘Pirate Package’ that had to be nerfed a third time before the threat of aggressive Gadgetzan swashbucklers was finally neutralized.
The deck that caused so much consternation is, of course, Pirate Warrior.
Some of the core cards of Pirate Warrior date back to Old Gods. N'Zoth's First Mateand Bloodsail Cultistset the stage for an aggressive Pirate deck with heavy Weapon synergy. However, it wasn’t until Gadgetzan that the deck really took off. Patches the Pirate’s habit of pulling himself out of the deck let Warrior activate Pirate-synergy Battlecries like that of Bloodsail Cultist more consistently, letting the deck seemingly never run out of Weapons.
When Mean Streets of Gadgetzan was first released, Pirates had one extra ally: Small-Time Buccaneer. This 1-Mana 1/2 became a 3/2 while its player had a Weapon in hand— and since it was a Pirate, it had a tendency to pull Patches when played, making it even more likely that that Weapon would later get buffed by Bloodsail Cultist.
The power of Pirate Warrior’s explosive starts made it a terror to the Gadgetzan meta, leading the class to capture almost 20% of games played. The only reason the deck wasn’t the best in the game was simply that Aggro Shaman was even more powerful than Pirate Warrior— and Aggro Shaman used Small-Time Buccaneer in conjunction with Patches and Spirit Clawsfor explosive starts of its own!
Three months into the Gadgetzan format, Blizzard decided enough was enough, making Small-Time Bucaneer a 1/1 (or 3/1) and changing Spirit Claws’s Mana cost to 2. The changes stopped Aggro Shaman in its tracks— but not Pirate Warrior. Without Face Shaman to oppose it, Pirate Warrior’s rate of play spiked to the point where you’d be facing down Patches and Fiery War Axes in 1 out of every 4 games. The Grimy Goons were only relevant in Gadgetzan thanks to a ragtag band of Pirates.
(One other deck made use of Pirates towards the end of Gadgetzan. Water Rogue, a Murloc-using variant of what we’d now call Tempo Rogue, ran Southsea Deckhands, Swashburglars, and Patches to provide early game while they waited for their Murlocs to back them up in the midgame. The deck would fall out of favor during Un’Goro, then reappear later during the Year of the Mammoth as the Tempo Rogue we now know and love. The Murlocs didn't come along for the ride, though.)
Pirate Warrior After Gadgetzan
An interesting new card showed up in the teasers for Journey to Un’Goro— a cheap, Pirate-eating crab named Golakka Crawler. Golakka was a soft nerf to the power of Pirates and anyone who used them, and it had the desired effect— but only to an extent. During Un’Goro, Pirate Warrior (almost unchanged from Gadgetzan, except for the addition of Bittertide Hydras) remained a Tier 1 deck, but it no longer drastically outmatched the meta— it merely stood at the forefront of it. This state of events continued until Knights of the Frozen Throne.
(Rest in peace,
Fiery War Axe.)
During KFT, Jade Druid was at its peak— but Pirate Warrior didn’t seem bothered at all. Blizzard decided enough was enough. Warrior was hit during the same nerf that reined in Jade Druid, as Fiery War Axe— a Basic Warrior card, and the class’s core early-game weapon— was increased from costing 2 Mana to 3. Players reacted with dismay to the change. While the increased cost of Fiery War Axe made Pirate Warrior unplayable, it also made it very hard for late-game (Control) Warriors to react to early-game aggression. The change hurt Warrior as a whole, and the class will need significant support in the Year of the Raven (and truly dedicated assistance to have any aggressive deck ever again). Will Warrior be able to come back from where it has fallen?
The Pirate Package
Just like in Gadgetzan, Warrior wasn’t the only class to call on Patches during the Year of the Mammoth, either. Rogue, Shaman, Druid, and even Paladin all used Pirates at one point or another.
For Rogue, the story begins in Un’Goro with their Quest, The Caverns Below. Quest Rogue used a package consisting exclusively of Pirates with Charge— Southsea Deckhand(exploiting Rogue’s weapon synergy) and Patches. In the deck, the Pirates served as both cheap removal, and as ideal Charging 5/5s once the Quest was complete.
Three months into Un’Goro, Blizzard nerfed The Caverns Below and the Quest Rogue party was over. Fortunately, Knights of the Frozen Throne was there to pick up the slack— during KFT, Rogue became tempo-focused above all else. Tempo Rogue added even more pirates than Quest Rogue, keeping Patches and the Southsea Deckhands and then tossing in Swashburglars for early tempo and value. Rogues also added Southsea Captains, both to boost the stats of the other Pirates, and because playing Captain with Patches still in the deck made Patches the Pirate into a 2-damage removal.
While Rogue went nearly all-in on Pirate synergy, several other Pirate-using classes had a more restrained approach. Token Shaman and Aggro Druid were aggressive decks that both originated during Un’Goro. Neither deck had the number of Weapons available to Rogue, so both opted for a more restrained Pirate package: only Bloodsail Corsairs and Patches. In these decks, the Pirates made quick starts easier, and also served as Evolve or buff fodder (depending on the deck) later on.
Paladin was late to the party— it only started using Pirates once (non-Murloc) Aggro Paladin became an archetype in Kobolds and Catacombs, helped along by the Kobolds card Call to Arms. Aggro Paladin, a deck with numerous Weapons, favored the same package as Quest Rogue— Southsea Deckhands and Patches, all Pirates that could attack immediately when played (or pulled by Call to Arms, if a Weapon charge was handy).
The final downfall of Pirates came two months into Kobolds and Catacombs, during the same set of nerfs that hit Raza the Chained. The nerf was simple: Patches was no longer ‘in Charrrrrrrge’ once he landed on the board. However, this simple change (combined with changes to Year of the Mammoth cards Bonemareand Corridor Creeper, changes that also targeted aggressive decks) was fit to decimate every deck that still relied on Pirates.
With the upcoming move to Wild, the book now closes on the saga of Patches the Pirate and his motley crew: a tale spanning many metagames, classes, and Charging minions, causing incredible salt to everyone on the receiving end.
...and also anyone who drew Patches before they could play a Pirate. Here’s hoping for some less criminal aggro in the Year of the Raven!
Neutrals: Gadgetzan’s Most Wanted!
Gadgetzan had a few other Neutral cards that became popular enough to get famous. Dirty Rat, with its minion-pulling shenanigans, is one of the ones that had the biggest impact. Against aggressive decks, the Rat’s 2/6 Taunt statline served as an early barrier (and the minion that it pulled was usually easily taken care of). Decks that relied on Battlecry minions or Combos, like Freeze Mage or Miracle Rogue, were in far more danger. The Rat could easily disrupt their gameplans, causing anything from minor setbacks to catastrophic on-the-spot losses. Decks of all types will be happy Dirty Rat is gone— a bit of a change from the usual routine of missing what’s rotating out.
Another Gadgetzan resident that made waves (literally) during parts of the meta was Finja, the Flying Star. During Gadgetzan proper, Finja starred in the tempo deck Water Rogue, pulling out Murlocs to help the Rogue maintain a board. After the Mammoth rotation, Finja helped out Murloc Paladin in Un'Goro do... pretty much the same thing. No decks use Finja right now, but he was a cool concept for a legendary Murloc.
Naga Corsair, a Pirate that mostly ran separate from the other members of Patches’s crew, was seen powering up Kingsbane Mill Rogue decks during the Kobolds and Catacombs metagame. Their Weapon attack buff allowed Kingsbane, the weapon, to grow bigger and bigger in conjunction with other buffs such as Deadly Poisonand the deathrattle of Southsea Squidface. Sadly, a lot of Kingsbane Rogue’s buff cards are rotating this expansion— and the loss of Coldlight Oracle suggests the deck will need drastic reformulation in the Year to come.
Mistress of Mixturesprovided neutral healing for slow, late-game classes and decks (mostly Warlock). As already mentioned, Control and Cube Warlock decks will miss the card’s healing. However, they’ll also miss the fact that it could set up easy Defiles early on in the game. Even with the loss, though, Warlock’s future still remains bright.
Doppelgangster, which provided critical evolve fuel for the now-fallen Token Shaman, is off to Wild. Token Shaman’s fate was already sealed with the loss of Pirates, Jade, Evolve, and Devolve, but this is the final nail in the coffin.
Auctionmaster Beardoand Burgly Bullyare also rotating. This dynamic duo’s primary claim to fame was when Burgly Bully was recruited to make coins to fuel Exodia Paladin’s win condition during Knights of the Frozen Throne. The combo used Auctionmaster Beardo to repeatedly refresh Uther of the Ebon Blade’s Hero Power, , to summon the Horsemen of the Apocalypse in a single turn.
The deck never caught on— it was easy for the combo to go wrong, and aggressive decks happily flattened Exodia Paladin if they caught the deck on a bad day. In addition, the minute Burgly Bully showed up, opponents would catch wise and do everything in their power not to give their opponent Coins. Exodia Paladin remains, for the most part, a forgotten experiment of Knights of the Frozen Throne.
Weasel Tunnelerwas the meme minion for Gadgetzan. Savjz made a deck that focused on shuffling dozens of Weasels into your opponent's deck. It was fun to watch, but nobody will really miss the card.
Finally, fans of evolution mechanics will be happy to note that there’s a bunch of terrible Evolve results rotating from the pool. Blubber Baron, Bomb Squad, and Big-Time Racketeerwill no longer be able to ruin someone’s day on a low-rolled evolve effect. Gadgetzan’s Least Wanted will now be stuck in Wild.
Looking at all the cards that leave Standard is a good way to get a grip on the past, but it only provides glimpses of the future. Blizzard will soon start releasing more cards from the upcoming expansion, The Witchwood, and that's where a lot of future potential lies.
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Be sure to come back for Part 2 of this article, looking towards the future of the metagame, once all cards from The Witchwood are revealed. See you then!