Scalise's Sessions: Taunt Warrior
I know. I do. Taunt Warrior isn't exactly the freshest breath of air. However, besides a few pesky Paladins, I think it is a great meta call. That, combined with the fact that we have not covered it on this series yet, made me want to take an in-depth look at the deck before we switch to a more frozen landscape. I find that quick ranking does not mean you need to play a quick deck. Rather, quick ranking just means you need to win games. There is a difference there than many people do not understand, and it is on display today. If you want to play something a bit slower and still want to move up consistently, this deck is going to be your best choice. There are some fun plays to be made and, much more importantly, who doesn't like flinging fireballs?
There have been more than a few recent Taunt Warrior builds that have seen large success. While you could choose from a range of different options (as we'll cover below) the one I decided to break down is the list Eloise took to top 50 legend last season. This deck still revolves around the quest, but it has some tech choices that I really like (including no Shield Blocks). Taunt Warrior is interesting because it only takes a few tweaks to really change the deck. This one, instead of sitting back and armoring up as much as possible, is more proactive. You are still undoubtedly a control build, but you have more board presence than past iterations. That allows you to fight for the board in a way other lists cannot.
The start of the game is built around getting control of the board. One of the only ways this deck loses is by not getting on board early enough and then falling behind in tempo. Most decks these days can do a lot of work with just two or three minions and they know how to punish slow starts. For that reason, you want to mulligan for all of your low-cost cards and do what you can to resist coming out of the gates on or two turns behind. You want to open like any other Control Warrior deck here. Just remove minions and kill everything you possibly can.
Another important part of these turns is getting your opponent to react to you. Classes like Shaman, Paladin and Warrior want to run, and they want to run fast. You have a lot of strong tools once you hit the middle turns, but you can become a little more vulnerable before that point. As a result, you want to put things down that gum up the board. Running out Armorsmithor Acolyte of Painjust to have them die right away may not seem like the best play, but if they eat damage and buy you more time it can be worth it. If you have removal you want to lean on that, but do not be afraid to distract your opponent if you only have minions.
There are going to be two different modes during these turns, and which one you take depends on what you're up against. If you're up against a slower or combo-oriented deck you need to push hard for your quest. Decks like Jade Druid, Freeze Mage and Control Paladin can wear you down if you give them time to do so. You fight that by putting your opponent onto a clock where they have no choice but to get aggressive. Understand if you're opponent has the ability to go long. If they do you want to hit them hard and push with eight damage a turn. Do not let them get comfortable and always favor your taunts over other plays.
It is also important to note that if you're playing against aggro you need to be able to leverage your AOE. Clear spells are the best tool any control deck has, and you need to know how to use them. You don't simply want to run them out as soon as your opponent has a board. Rather, you want to see your opponent's damage potential, understand if they are going to play more threats, and guess what else is in their hand. If everything goes according to plan you should run out AOE roughly a turn or two after your opponent thinks you will. To do this, make use of your taunts (which causes your opponent to commit more minions), gain life, and also don't blink. If you know you can't die from twenty life, then don't pull the trigger too early. Sit back on your Brawland take other routes that will cause your opponent to run out more bodies.
The late game is going to be your strongest point, but there are quite a few decks that also do a good job here as well. You want to heavily lean on your quest when going up against control, and you want to heavily lean on your taunts when going up against aggro. That is, your goal here is either going to be damage (when facing slower decks) or your own health (when under pressure). Recognize this difference as soon as you can because the faster you see it the faster you will be able to get to your eventual win condition. The way you do this is by seeing how your opponent can beat you, and then doing what it takes to cut that off. If they are building towards something like infinite Jade Golems or double Pyroblastyou want to do everything you can to get their health to zero. However, if they want to hit you with Bloodlustor Savage Roaryou want to clear their board as much as possible.
A breakdown of the different decks I see while grinding up the ladder.
The more I play against Mage (spoiler, it's a lot) the more I realize they are largely a combo deck. Everything that goes on early and everything they do during the middle turns is largely to just get them to the end-game where they can blast their opponent to death with spell after spell after spell after spell after spell after spell after spell. They are largely similar to Freeze Mage in that regard, and that is exactly how you should treat this matchup. Your whole goal is to stay alive and gain as much armor as you possibly can. Do whatever it takes to get up some taunts at the start of the game. This will help you fend off Mage's early threats and make them entirely dependent on burn. Once you reach that point, you can then just outlast them by climbing above their damage. Be patient and do not get careless with your health. Getting armor is almost always more important than the board.
As this deck does not run Shield Block, you need to get a lot of value from your hero power. Work hard to get that extra two health when you can, even if it means holding back minions. Mage will fight on the board for the first three or so turns, but once that runs out they are going to go all-in on finishers and spells. Do not simply play things like Armorsmithand Alley Armorsmithjust to play them. Those four cards can be win conditions in their own right and you do not want to allow your opponent to easily remove them. The only exception to this is when you want to bait out burn from your opponent's hand. There is not a Mage deck around that can afford to let those cards live and they will kill them on sight. The golden rule is to watch your opponent's damage potential and work hard to stay above whatever burn they may have. Also be aware of things like Primordial Glyphand Babbling Bookthat can give your opponent more reach than they should have.
Arrr. Pirate Warrior left for a week or two, but my, oh my is it back. The fast deck is incredibly consistent, but this should be a good matchup all the way through. The aggressive deck already has a hatred of life gain, and they are especially vulnerable to taunts. This is going to be your most straightforward match because there is no reason to be creative. Your job is to play taunt after taunt, wall after wall, and do everything in your power to slow your opponent down. Every minion you play will do a good job of keeping your opponent on their heels, but you want to do your best to set up taunts in front of weapons. Arcanite Reaperor an Upgrade!d Fiery War Axewill end the game in a hurry and you need to be ready for them. Clear minions right away to limit just how much your opponent can do towards carving out a path.
The only important decision to make in this one is when and how you want to use hard removal. Killing that Bloodsail Cultistwith an Executemay be great, but it can also leave you vulnerable to Frothing Berserker. As such, it may be better to challenge the pirate with a Ravaging Ghoulinstead. Those small choices go a long way and help you survive until your next taunt comes down. This is not a matchup where you are going to win, but rather that your opponent is going to lose. That is to say, all you care about is running your opponent out of cards. Once Pirate starts top decking against a taunt you've won. Just make sure to armor up in that situation to stay ahead of Mortal Strike.
Token Shaman has risen up the ranks and is now one of the most popular decks around. The archetype not only has some of the best flood potential in the game, but the burst and never-ending string of small minions make it incredibly consistent. Everything about this game is going to be fought on the board, but that is not a fight you want to start late. Shaman builds much like Aggro Druid, but they have a better top-end. For that reason, you need to make sure you challenge all parts of their curve. Even if they get good trades and shut down your taunts, it will set them up for AOE. Your goal is to slow Shaman down. Anything they do that doesn't press damage is a win for you. Breathing room is important, and you should not hesitate to use removal.
The most important part of this matchup is knowing when to use your AOE. Every clear, from Ravaging Ghoulto Primordial Draketo Brawl, can do a lot of damage against Shaman because almost all of their minions are small. Thrall acts like Mage, except instead of spells they play to Bloodlustor Evolve. However, unlike Mage, they need minions or a strong board to get their finishing combo going. You have to clear aggressively and never let your opponent get something to stick. The more things they can play with the more options they have. The only time you want to play the "wait and see" game here is when you are specifically setting up a big AOE and you cannot die to Bloodlust. Otherwise, take initiative and smack things down.
At some point (probably while I was sleeping) Aggro Druid turned and ran for the hills. Jade Druid rose up in its place. That is not the best news for us. Jade Druid has always preyed on slower decks, and the newer versions (which I covered two weeks ago) are more combo based than ever before. To win this game you need to rapidly race to your quest. This is not a game where you want to take your time or wait to answer your opponent's minions. Rather, you want to push hard and get your eight damage a turn as soon as you possibly can. You are not going to beat Jade Druid in the long run. In fact, you probably won't be able to beat them in the medium-to-long run. Pressure is very important in this game. Though you are not the most aggressive deck around, eight damage a turn is going to set them way back.
The best way to look at this match is to play it as if you are a midrange build. Druid is strong, but they need a lot of set up to get going. While they are busy ramping you want to run every single body out onto the board that you can. Even something as simple as a Stonehill Defenderor Armorsmithcan go a long way because of Druid's limited removal. Clog up the board as much as possible. Not only will this make your opponent extend into AOE, but it will also cause them to take more aggressive plays. This will leave them open to quick burst and help you easily pick their minions off the board.
Time for the tough. Midrange Paladin is a very powerful deck and the blend of early minions combined with late-game punch creates big problems for you. Like Jade Druid, you need to get your quest going as soon as possible. Getting eight damage going a turn is one of the only ways you can rightly pressure Paladin out of the game. This is another matchup where you cannot afford to try to go long. Not only do they have sticky end-game threats like Tirion Fordring, but Sunkeeper Tarimand Getaway Kodolaugh at your AOE. This is another game where you want to take the midrange role backed up by your hero power. Quest is going to be priority number two, right behind making sure your opponent's murlocs die. The first half of the game should be spent taking down any fish. Once your opponent loses that push, they will switch to control and leave themselves open to rag's weapon. Just be sure to never let too many small bodies live for fear of sunkeeper and watch out for a turn six Spikeridged Steed. You cannot play around the buff forever, but you should try to limit it where you can.
Tip and Tricks
When facing swarm or aggro you need to set up Sleep with the Fishes. Keep activators in your hand at all costs. The two mana spell is very strong when it is on line, and not being able to get it off when you want can lead to a quick loss against faster builds.
Armorsmithdoes not need to be played on turn two. While there are going to many games where you use it to challenge an early play, there are matches (such as Mage) where you want to play it with a Whirlwindeffect to get as much armor as possible. Do not run it into situations where aggro can easily take it down.
Try your best to set up Battle Rage. Your minions have a lot of health, and you should try to get two damaged before pulling the trigger on the spell. If you have rage in hand you want to think about the ways to get the most value without going too far out of your way.
Be extremely careful when playing Dirty Rat. Unless you are facing Aggro Druid (which has only small minions) you want to play the rodent when you have removal or AOE to go with it. Saving the 2/6 for a Brawlis the best play, but sometimes you just need to pull out a clutch finisher or battlecry minion. Have something in mind when dropping down the two drop.
Look to put Acolyte of Paininto situations where it can get value. You don't need to draw cards right away. Sometimes it can be right to play it into a situation where your opponent has to use strong removal to limit its value. That then takes away your opponent's potential and advances your end-game plan.
As always, be careful when you pull the trigger on Brawl. Using the AOE spell too early can be a problem, but so can using it too late. The golden rule is, if you have the health, to use it one turn past when your opponent thinks you will. This gives you the most value.
As you can see, there are not a lot of must-keeps with this build. That is because the deck is constantly going to shift based on what you're up against. Sometimes you want to try to go all in on the anti-aggro plan, sometimes you need to play a more midrange build, and sometimes it is correct to do everything in your power to shift to full control. Your mulligans are going to be fluid here. The only through line that stays the same is to always look for early removal.
Fiery War Axe
There are going to be games where you don't keep Fire Plume's Heart. Though it may seem like you want the quest every match, it is right to pitch it against heavy aggro. That is because you aren't going to win with the quest in those games. Ditch it and move to full control.
Whirlwindshould always be kept against aggro or swarm decks.
While I normally do not keep Dirty Ratearly on (the downside is too high) you can keep the rodent against slower control decks or token lists. Just make sure you have removal to go along with it.
Executecan be good against midrange as long as you have an activator to go with it.
Always keep Sleep with the Fishesagainst aggro when you also have an activator.
Acolyte of Pain, Stonehill Defender, and Ravaging Ghoulshould be kept with the coin or a good curve.
Any time you can curve into Bloodhoof Braveyou should keep it.
While you aren't touching the taunt potion of this deck, there are a lot of small changes that can be made to different sections. As stated, this deck has a lot of one-ofs and tech choices. That means there is a lot of room for experimentation around the core. Feel free to tweak things to best fit your play style. You should always play to what you face the most.
Whirlwind, Battle Rage, and Slamcan all be changed out depending on what you're seeing. Sometimes it is good to tech against early decks, but moving the curve to a slower build can work as well.
While most lists run double Sleep with the Fishes, you could cut the card to one if you want to play other control options like Shield Slam. There is also room for a second Whirlwindsomewhere as well.
The three drops can be tweaked quite a bit in this. A few other popular lists run Tar Creeperor Shield Blockas their options. Also, if you want more taunts or want to be more focused on the board you could go with more creepers and an extra Bloodhoof Brave.
The single Direhorn Hatchlinghas become pretty stock these days. However, you could add in a second if you're seeing slower decks and you could also cut it entirely if you want to lower the curve with cheaper taunts.
Harrison Jonescan become any of the above cards, and it can also become another tech choice.
Tank up. Taunt Warrior may not be the freshest deck (it may even get stronger in the coming weeks) but there is a lot of good here to appreciate. It always helps to take a deep look into different types of builds, and in the past few weeks we have seen combo, midrange, aggro, and now control. I am not saying this is going to be the newest thing you've played, but it is a great way to go get those stars. Un'goro was great, but I'm excited to move on. Until next time, may you always embrace the cold.