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Hearthstone Meta Report #2

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A lot has changed since patch 9.1 hit the ladder. In the latest meta report we cover the top new decks, the tech of the week, and some budget-friendly options you can use to dominate the ladder.

It’s been a healthy amount of time since I wrote the first meta report for Icy Veins, and the current metagame could hardly be more different than the last I reported on. Patch 9.1 hit the ladder a few weeks ago to end the era of Druid dominance that plagued the early Knights of the Frozen Throne meta, and I believe that Blizzard deserves a good deal of credit for handling the Druid situation in a firm yet fair way. Druid was successfully knocked down a peg by the nerfs and the metagame is no longer plagued an overwhelming number of overpowered Jade Golems, yet the class itself was far from destroyed by the nerfs and remains a solid option for the competitive ladder.

Now that the competitive ladder is once again a fun and safe environment to experiment in, it’s the perfect time to revisit the metagame to see how we can best attack it. In today’s article I’ll cover the top dogs of the format to take a look at why you should play them and how you can beat them, detail the tech card which are most likely to earn you some win percentage in the current metagame, and wrap things up by highlighting the top budget decks for the post-nerf ladder.

The Top Decks

Note: I will be using the vS Data Reaper Live Report for all of the statistics in this article.

#1 - Tempo Rogue

The new king of the meta is a deck which very few would have expected to become as dominant as it has. Tempo Rogue was just starting to gain momentum before the nerfs hit, yet it now boasts the top overall win percentage across all levels of play and has made Rogue the most played class at rank 5 and above.

Most would have pegged Highlander Priest to wear the “best deck in standard” crown after the nerfs as it was the second best deck and was left untouched by Blizzard in Patch 9.1. Though it’s still a great deck (and we’ll be talking much more about a bit later), the metagame has shaped up to be a tad more aggressive than Highlander Priests would have hoped for. With aggro and aggressively-slanted midrange decks making up roughly half of the top 16 decks in the format, it stands to reason that the deck with the highest number of favorable matchups against these aggressive decks would be an in excellent position to take over the meta.

Sure enough, Tempo Rogue boasts even or positive winrates against all but two of the decks on the Reaper report. All but two. Though that might seem like Jade Druid levels of domination, the key difference between Tempo Rogue and the previous king of the meta is that it is much easier to beat the deck if you’re planning for it. It’s vulnerable to wide boards that are backed up by effects such as Bloodlust and Savage Roar, plays seven or more Pirates which can be gobbled up by a Golakka Crawler, and its worst matchup is against Highlander Priest, the second most popular deck in the format.

The power of the deck lies in the massive amount of two for ones, and is capable of generating massive amounts of value on a card per card basis. SI:7 Agent, Fire Plume Phoenix, Blazecaller, and Vilespine Slayer develop the board while going 187 on the opponent’s minions, and more aggressively-minded cards such as Cobalt Scalebane, Bittertide Hydra, and Bonemare are capable of generating a board out of nowhere. These highly efficient cards afford the deck the ability to play greedier cards like Cold Blood and Leeroy Jenkins to help them go underneath the bigger control decks. The final piece of the puzzle which puts it over the top is Prince Keleseth, a card which makes it’s already highly efficient creatures even more cost-effective and is particularly deadly in combination with Shadowstep.

Tempo Rogue’s incredible flexibility and ability to pivot between roles are what make it such a dominant force in the current meta. It can comfortably play the role of the control deck against decks the likes of Zoo Warlock and Pirate Warrior, yet maintains a healthy number of tools which allow it to favorably play the role of Aggro against the likes of Jade Druid and Control Warlock. It seems that the way to take advantage of it is to capitalize on the fact that it doesn’t run several historically crucial Rogue cards. Without neither Vanish nor Bloodmage Thalnos + Fan of Knives at their disposal, the deck can struggle a bit to regain initiative against cards which create a wide board. Living Mana is a living nightmare for Tempo Rogue to deal with, and a big part of the reason that Aggro Druid is one of the two popular decks which has a favorable matchup against it (along with Highlander Priest). Though the Reaper report claims that Tempo Rogue is currently favored against Token Shaman, I’d imagine that some slight tuning could turn the tides towards Shaman’s favor.

#2 - Highlander Priest

Fret not Priest fans, the age of Anduin is alive and well. Raza and Shadowreaper Anduin teamed up to make Highlander Priest the only deck played by 100% of the field at the HCT Summer Championships. It feels nearly impossible to beat a perfect draw from Highlander Priest, and the relatively high degree of skill which the deck requires to play affords more talented players the opportunity to outplay opponent’s in games which go long. It has a very tough time closing out games if it doesn’t draw Shadowreaper Anduin and Raza the Chained, but the huge amount of card draw the deck packs makes that a relatively rare occurrence.

I don’t need to spend too much time discussing the strengths of the deck as it has been around for a while and it’s upsides are quite obvious. Early iterations of the deck had it masquerading as a control deck that just happened to play a game ending combo, but the Hearthstone community has since discovered that it’s much better to fully embrace the combo nature of the deck. Highlander Priest can now be best described as a pile of the top Priest spells, two extremely powerful Highlander cards (Raza and Kazakus), and a bunch of card draw spells. The downside of Highlander decks are that they can often feel inconsistent due to the one-of deckbuilding restriction, yet Highlander Priest is able to largely avoid this pitfall by reducing its effective deck size with all of its card draw.

Highlander Priest is undeniably powerful and has certain draws that feel outright unbeatable, yet it still has several exploitable weaknesses. The most obvious of these weaknesses is the Highlander nature of the deck which prevents it from running more than one copy of Priest’s key defensive spells. It gets to run both Dragonfire Potion and Pint-Size Potion + Shadow Word: Horror to deal with boards that attempt to go wide, but it only gets to run one copy of Shadow Word: Death to kill larger minions and typically struggles against boards that can go big early. Shadowreaper Anduin gets to clear away multiple 5+ power minions with its battlecry effect, but efficient beaters like Bittertide Hydra and Cobalt Scalebane (which also dodges Dragonfire Potion) come down on Turn 5 and threaten to end the game before the powerful Death Knight has the opportunity to say anything about it. Barring a strong turn 5 play, not overcommitting your 5+ power minions into a Shadowreaper Anduin battlecry trigger can set up a game winning follow-up play before the upgraded Hero Power has time to burst your life down to 0. The lack of removal for large minions also means that the deck does miserably against both Jade Druid and Big Priest. At the end of the day Highlander Priest has just about as many negative matchups as positive ones, and it’s overall winrate on the Reaper report is a very modest 50%.

#3 - Zoo Warlock

A perfect example of addition by subtraction, the best aggro deck for the current standard meta is the one that didn’t get hit by the nerfs in patch 9.1. Pirate Warrior was dealt a massive blow with the nerf to Fiery War Axe and Aggro Druids are still adjusting to the loss of Innervate. These nerfs, along with the nerf to Spreading Plague, has opened up the door for a new aggro deck to emerge as a tool for punishing the slower and greedier decks of the format. Though the decklist for Zoo Warlock has remaind basically unchanged from the pre-nerf meta, the downgrade to normalcy for the top dogs of the previous format is what has allowed Zoo Warlock to become a highly competitive deck.

The greatest strength of the deck is its remarkable consistency to curve out with 1 drops. It gets to run more 1 drops than any of the other top Aggro deck thanks Warlock’s two awesome Imps and Voidwalker, all of which are Demons for the extremely powerful one-card game-ender that is Bloodreaver Gul'dan. The deck's massive number of 1 drops allows it to squeeze minions onto the board at every spot in the curve while Life Tapping whenever possible to pressure the opponent with a stream of threats. Its also the aggro deck that has the lowest opportunity cost for running Prince Keleseth, as the deck would likely only consider Darkshire Librarian and Dire Wolf Alpha at the two drop slot and is perfectly content with Life Tap or two one drops on turn two. An early Keleseth makes Zoo’s already aggressively-statted minions a nightmare to deal with for control players and a huge problem for other aggro opponents as the game goes long. All of these factors add up to a deck which currently has only four negative matchups on the Reaper report and the second best overall win percentage in the meta.

The weakness of Zoo Warlock is its relative inability to regain control over the board once it has been lost. The deck’s only ways to immediately deal with threats are Doomguard and Soulfire, both of which discard cards from hand and can potentially put the Warlock at a huge disadvantage. Getting a large Taunt minion to stick on board is likely too much for a Zoo Warlock to overcome, which is a big part of the reason that Big Priest is the deck’s worst matchup. Control decks can prey on Zoo Warlock by sticking a Doomsayer and following it up with heavy board presence. Other Aggro decks can can punish Zoo by getting on the board early and fighting tooth and nail to not surrender control of the board. As the Warlock is likely to pressure it’s own life total with Life Tap and Flame Imp, it shouldn’t be too difficult to turn the corner and quickly end the game once the opportunity presents itself.

Tech of the Week - Golakka Crawler

Despite a massive drop in the playrate of Pirate Warrior, Patches the Pirate and Southsea Captain are enjoying all-time highs in terms of deck representation. Half of the top ten decks on the Reaper report run Patches, while the top deck in the format (Tempo Rogue) is running up to nine Pirates! As much as I would love to suggest a sexier tech card, the prevalence of pirates in the present patch make Golakka Crawler the tech of the week. I’d currently recommend cramming two copies of the crab into control or midrange deck with the flex spots to support it.

Budget Beater #1 - Midrange Hunter

The time of the Hunter is upon us! One of the weakest classes in Journey to Un’Goro, Hunter has emerged as an effective choice in the current meta for all the same reasons that Zoo Warlock has. Midrange Hunter has some terrible aggro matchups, but it’s sticky creatures are problematic for nearly all of the top control decks in the format. This extremely budget-friendly deck is currently capable of carrying skilled or experienced Hunter pilots all the way to Legend, just be wary of aggro-heavy local metagames during your climb.

Budget Beater #2 - Secret Mage
Note: Requires One Night in Karazhan and 4 Epics.

I’m including a second budget beater this week because Midrange Hunter decks are so commonly recommended as budget options. Secret Mage is a very well positioned deck in the current meta and a deck I played heavily during my own climb to Legend last month. It quietly boasts a better overall winrate than Highlander Priest despite having some of the most polarizing matchups in the entire game. It performs horribly against most of the current aggro decks while completely running over all of the popular control decks. The thing I love most about Secret Mage is that it’s fairly skill intensive. It takes a ton of thought to pilot the deck to it’s maximum potential, which is a bag part of what makes the deck such a blast to play.
 

Conclusion

The Hearthstone metagame is as healthy as it's been since the last rotation, and it's a great time to jump back on the competitive ladder if you previously scared off by the brief age of DruidStone. Fans of every single class have at least one solid deck for climbing the ladder, and no individual deck feels as though it's power level is beyond reproach.

Good luck out there, and I'll see you all next time!

- Aleco

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