Weekly Legends: Big Priest
Time to get big. This week I wanted to take a look at one of my favorite meta decks in Go-Big Combo(ish) Priest. Not only is the build a blast to play, but it is also going to get a lot stronger with the coming nerfs. There are many different versions running around, and almost all of them are the same save for a few small changes. This week's version is the one I prefer, but many of the slots can be tweaked to fit to your liking. What I love about this deck is that many people see it as a classic "high roll" build, but there is so much more to it than that. You are really a control deck that just has a different (and more powerful) win condition than other lists. Yes, you can stall until your finishers show up, but most of the time you are trying to see those finishers far ahead of schedule. It is one of the more unusual win routes, and definitely one of the coolest we've ever seen.
Before we get into the deck, it is important to discuss what actually makes the whole thing tick. The main combo is to Barnesor Shadow Essenceone of your big finishers out of your deck. From there you can either hit Y'Shaarj, Rage Unboundinto a gigantic threat, or you can have a big minion die and then bring it back with Eternal Servitude. Both of these modes work well, and each of them will cause you to win the game in short order. Most decks these days do not have many answers to big, value-driven bodies. Your job is not just play something big once. You want to play something big as many times as you can throughout the game. Value is the goal of this deck. Even if your big threats get answered, they are going to get you some type of value before they go. This is important to note and something you need to always stay focused on. Keeping your threats alive can be good, but it is not necessary. Rather, your goal should just be to get something onto the board as fast as possible. You are going to have a ton of options once that happens.
I bring up Pint-Size Potionbecause it is one of the most versatile and flexible cards in the list. You are a deck with a strong combo, but you are not a combo deck. That is a very important distinction that you need to understand in order to fully operate here. Unlike lists like Y'shaarj Hunter or Freeze Mage, you do not have to operate in one mode. Rather, you can spread out your resources and play as a pure control list for many turns if you don't have the pieces you need or if you just want to wait for the right moment. Pint-Size Potion is a huge part of that because it is one of the best stall cards Priest has ever had at its disposal.
Any experienced player knows that Priest's biggest issue is four attack minions. Not only that, but there are going to be many games where you are getting punched by two 3/3's with only a Shadow Word: Deathin hand, or facing a whole slew of big threats and sitting on double Shadow Word: Pain. These things happen, and they can be quite annoying to deal with. Pint-Size Potionis your answer to those type of awkward situations. The best combo with this card is going to be with Shadow Word: Horrorfor massive AOE. This is one of the strongest combos in the deck and you should always play to it if you have both spells in hand. However, you should always understand how to get value from the one mana spell. Sometimes you can combo it with a pain to kill a 5 attack threat, and it can also do some work with Potion of Madnessagainst deathrattle. AOE is your first mode here, but do not shy from other modes.
Sometimes, Shadow Visionsis going to be an easy choice. You need a Shadow Word: Death, you go get a Shadow Word: Death. Easy peasy. However, most of the time you are going to have to do some real thinking when using this card. There are two types of spells in this list: kill cards and combo pieces. When looking through your three options you need to weigh your hand against the board and then see what is going to have the most value. Sure, you may want that sexy Eternal Servitudeto go with your turn four Barnes, but is that going to help you against the Pirate Warrior beating your face in? On the flip side, maybe AOE will save you some damage, but it might be better to take Shadow Essenceto get some extra gas. Do not always take what looks good at first glance. Think about each option at your disposal, how you're going to use them, and which one is going to be best for the current board state.
Off of the above point, it is also important to use Shadow Visionsfor what you are going to need rather than what you need right away. That is, you want to plan ahead here. Unless you are taking a card that needs to be used immediately (Shadow Word: Pain) you are going to be grabbing something that isn't going to come to light for a while. For example, taking a Shadow Essenceon turn two knowing you want to get your combo rolling on turn six, or snagging a Shadow Word: Horrorin anticipation of your Aggro Druid opponent's Living Manaon turn five. These small choices can be the difference in the game and you always want to think about which move is going to best favor you based on your. Decks like this require you to map out your turns and you never want to only focus on what's in front of you. Sometimes the long plan is the best one.
Dragonfire Potion(along with Pint-Size Potion/Shadow Word: Horror) is an extremely important part of this list because it is a hard control card. I know I keep talking about this deck as a Control Priest shell, but that's really what it is. Dragonfire is key because the AOE helps you in two different ways. The first of those is by stalling. Your combo, while a bit draw dependent, is going to outlast just about any other list in the game. That means you do not need to race to it in a lot of matches. There are many times where you can take the control route while you sit back and slowly run your opponent out of cards before dropping the hammer. In those games your AOE is going to be invaluable. Even hitting something like a few Jade Golems or two 5/5's can get you an extra turn or two to get things rolling. If the board is getting clogged, or if you are under pressure, you should always favor your control tools over going big.
When using Dragonfire Potionyou want to make sure you are setting it up to get the most value. Sometimes that means waiting to hit a few extra minions, and sometimes it means just clearing out two threats to make sure you have an empty or mostly empty board for your minions. There have been many games where I have dumped my potion on two or three small minions just to give my Shadow Essencemore value. Protecting your threats is not always key, but do not be afraid to give them breathing room when you can. Also note that Dragonfire Potion can act as a win condition on its own against things like Aggro Druid and Midrange Paladin. Constantly estimate your opponent's damage potential and know when you can take an extra hit or two to bluff not having the clear.
While Shadow Essenceis a combo piece, it is important to discuss because it only pulls from a select number of cards. In fact, barring your hand, the six mana spell is going to give you one of five options. You want to know what this card could give you, and you want to go over the possibilities of each one. There are many times where people will pull the trigger on essence because they see this as a combo deck and it is a combo card. However, once again going back to the core theme here, you do not have to run this out as soon as you can. Rather, you want to try to put this card into a situation where it is going to put you ahead or place your opponent under considerable pressure. Clearing the board or limiting your opponent's curve can often be better than the spell. This is always going to get value, and you should play it when you have a clear path.
However, that being said, you also want to know when Shadow Essenceis your only out. For instance, if you're being swarmed down by an aggro deck and you desperately need a taunt, turn six essence for a or Obsidian Statuecan be your main win condition. That is not always going to be reliable, but it is a heck of a lot better than just pressing the concede button. Also understand that there are going to be times where this could pull Barnesand instantly net you a loss. There is inherently nothing you can do about that, but don't try and lean on Shadow Essence to win you the game if Barnes is in your deck and you have other options at your disposal.
The five decks I see the most while playing up the ladder.
The nerfs (at least of the time I'm writing this) aren't here yet, which means that Druid still sits on top of the meta in its Jade throne. Your goal of this game is to get to your combo as fast as you possibly can. Druid still has issues dealing with big minions, and all it takes is for one resurrected Ysera, Obsidian Statue, or Y'Shaarj, Rage Unboundto lock them out for good. Your goal is to put out one big body, have your opponent use all of their resources to take it down, and then bring it back. Once you are in that position you want to push for your opponent's face and make it so they have to answer you. Unless you are taking a ton of damage, you do not want to spend your time clearing the board when your opponent will likely do that for you.
The hardest part of this matchup is going to be the mulligan. You have no way of knowing if you're up against Jade Druid or Aggro Druid, and you want to play differently for each one. As a result, you should always mulligan for aggro (keep your cheap removal spells and Barnes) and then adapt once you see your opponent's opening play. That means you are typically going to start out slow. The key to Jade Druid is by keeping them off of your face for the first six or so turns. Unless they get huge, you should be able to handle Jade Druid's early aggression until you can build into your bigger end-game combo. Use your Shadow Visionsfor either Shadow Essenceor Eternal Servitude(depending on whether or not you have Barnes) and do what you can to get a big body ahead of your opponent. Once you take the board you will never give it back.
This is a game where you really want to forget about the combo. Unless you have Barnesin hand, you just want to look for as many removal spells as you can possibly find. Aggro Druid is a deck that basically has two punches. They have their initial swarm combined with buffs, and then they have their Living Manaturn. That means your AOE is going to be your win condition in this game. You want to work hard to kill everything your opponent plays and keep them off of damage as much as you possibly can. Healing is important, but your first plan should always be to limit your opponent's minions. Do not be afraid to go hard with your mass removal.
Also note that, unless you have a Pint-Size Potion, both Potion of Madnessand Shadow Word: Horrorare going to have very small windows in this one. Yes, they can be very strong, but one or two buffs and they become entirely useless on their own. As a result, you want to do your best to be proactive with your removal cards. Do not be afraid to pull the trigger quickly and take out your opponent's threats before they build. You should also try and save Shadow Word: Deathfor Bittertide Hydra. The beast has become increasingly popular as of late and you do not want to leave yourself exposed to the 8/8.
The Priest matchup is going to be one of the hardest ones. Switching gears from Aggro Druid, this is a game that is all about your combo pieces. You typically want to treat this game like Jade Druid in that your goal is to get out a big body as soon as you can. Priest relies on their late-game hero power combo to wrap things up, but they also have a lot of strong mid-game tools that can give you some fits. Most Kazakus decks have odd starts or awkward hands. That is going to invalidate a lot of your cards and make it so you and your opponent aren't going to do much on the opening turns. You want to push out any bodies you can and try to get on the board first. This will put your opponent on the back foot and quickly drain their removal.
Note that most players will save their Potion of Madnessfor your Barnes. This is an important note because it means the four drop is only going to give you limited value unless it pulls Y'Shaarj, Rage Unbound. Do not rely on the 3/4 to get you to your combo. Rather, Shadow Essenceis the card that is going to pull out the big finishers. Look for the six mana spell when pulling from Shadow Visions. All you need to do is put something down that gives value over time and you should be able to grind your opponent down before they start blasting you with their free hero power. Ysera, as always, is going to be your best card against Priest, but it is important to note your opponent only has one Shadow Word: Death. Do not be afraid to test to see if they have it in hand.
Another deck that is likely to take a dive from the coming nerfs, Pirate Warrior is still strong, and they are still going to push at your face with everything you've got. This is another game where control comes first, but it is also a matchup where both The Lich Kingand Obsidian Statuecan end things in a big hurry. In fact, statue acts as a win condition on its own. However, while it may be tempting to go for your combo game, it is a bit too slow for what Pirate brings to the table. Always mulligan for your low cost cards and keep anything that even remotely looks like removal. A well timed Potion of Madnessor Shadow Word: Horrorcan win this one, but a wrong timed one can seal your fate. Always think about your opponent's combos and do what you can to make sure they go off their curve. Also note that every minion is a threat. Damage comes fast against Garrosh and you never want to leave yourself exposed. Yes, it does not feel good using Shadow Word: Horroron a single Frothing Berserker, but that's much better than letting the 2/4 live. Clear fast, play to your taunts, and try to find Greater Healing Potionwhere you can.
Midrange Paladin is just the pure value deck they've always been. They have a strong start, good midrange threats, and a slew of powerful finishers. However, they are also extremely vulnerable to your big threats. Today's Paladin's have almost no way to answer big bodies, and if you can get Yseraor The Lich Kinggoing against a weak or empty board you should take this one with a lot of ease. This is a control game where you want to use your AOE and removal to get to your combo pieces or finishers as quickly as possible. Murlocs are always going to be scary, and you should try to keep Shadow Word: Painin your opening hand. Dragonfire Potionis a fantastic way to set Paladin back, as is Pint-Size Potion/Shadow Word: Horror. Play to those clears as much as you possibly can and pull the trigger to avoid your opponent building up their board. Once you get a full clear you should have enough time to set up your finishers. Paladin is strong, but they do not have a lot of ways to compile together large amounts of burst. You can take a few hits once you're through with the murlocs.
Mulliganing with this deck is an odd experience because of how the list plays. You are going to want Barnesevery game, but, as there is potential for some horrendous draws here, that is not the only card you want to look for. I like to always keep either a Shadow Visionsor Shadow Word: Painas well. A single Holy Smiteis great against aggro, and the Pint-Size Potion/Shadow Word: Horrorcombo is good against any swarm deck. You never want to keep too many early cards when you're playing midrange or control decks, but do not be afraid to keep entire control hands when facing aggro. When you're looking for the combo you typically just want one removal spell, send everything else back to look for Barnes.
Go BIG or go home. While I am not going to take full credit for this deck, I did come up with the idea for this one during my brews section before KFT dropped. The idea of a few-minion Priest combo deck is something I have had in my mind ever since I first laid eyes on Shadow Essenceand it is just as fun to play as I thought it would be. Many decks in Hearthstone are similar in style, and it is always nice to break that mold and get a chance to go with something that is truly different. There are a couple modes you get to mess with here, and you also get the chance to power out some big, exciting minions. Who could want more than that? Until next time, may you always Barneson turn four.