It has been over a month since the release of Whispers of the Old Gods and the Standard format, so it’s good time to a look at the competitive meta and how it’s evolving. Prior to the introduction of the standard format, players and spectators were beginning to complain that the meta was becoming stale thanks to high value cards from the Naxxramas and Goblins vs Gnomes sets.
The new format, along with nerfs to previously high value cards and the addition of news ones has really breathed a new life into the scene. There are some decks that are still relevant, with the Aggro Shaman and also both Reno and Zoo versions of the Warlock moving with the meta quite well. While on the other side, early signs point to Hunter and Druid struggling to find popularity, with cards that used to make them so strong being either nerfed or removed.
What’s Old is New:
With two whole sets denied use for standard, players have been looking towards the classic set of cards to fill a lot of the gaps.
The removal of annoying sticky deathrattle minions such as the Haunter Creeper, Piloted Shredder, and Sludge Belcher has allowed the Doomsayer to come back into frequent use as a tempo play. Doomsayer was a card that previously only saw play in Freeze mage due to the easy clear it gave, but now it is seen in pretty much all mid-late game focused decks that want to control the more board dominant decks.
And because of the emergence of the Doomsayer, other decks are running tools to deal with it. None of the answers are silences, as the previously most used ones, Keeper of the Grove for Druid and Ironbeak Owl for everyone else, got nerfed to the point where they’re not reliable options. What we do see though, is the Crazed Alchemist inserted into the Zoo Warlock deck, and the Earth Shock sometimes seen in the Aggro Shaman deck. For the more control or tempo oriented decks, the option for dealing with the Doomsayer is the Stampeding Kodo.
The Kodo is also being used by Paladins in combination with the classic card Humility as a means of dealing with singular threats.
Other Classic cards that have been making a comeback are the Harvest Golem, Arathi Weaponsmith, and the Kor’kron Elite. With valuable deathrattle minions being thinned out, and N’Zoth coming in, a single Harvest Golem is sometime used as a tempo play that can also get extra value from coming back again.
The Weaponsmith and the Kor’kron Elite for Warriors are fitting in well with the new tempo style of deck. Traditionally Warriors have been known for the control variant, with only a few daring to go for the much less reliable aggro decks. Now that the tempo Warrior is one of the more often used decks, these two cards are finding a lot more use than what they used to.
The Old Gods: C’Thun, N’Zoth, or Yogg-Saron?
When the big three were announced, there was discussion about whether or not they would be viable at the top competitive level. The fact that they all cost 10 mana each means that decks using any of the gods are immediately wanting to play for the late game. Also the random nature of Yogg-Saron means that only the most daring of players have been opting into playing that particular god.
C’Thun hasn’t been a card capable of slotting into just any deck, due to the necessity of adding his followers which can take up to a third of the deck. A lot of the C’Thun relevant cards are actually decent for what they do, so it’s not as though C’Thun decks are weak for how specific they may be. Over in the European HCT Spring Preliminaries, the Spanish player AKAWonder made it to the top either with three of his four decks being C’Thun decks, so there is some strength in them.
The Druid and Warrior versions of C’Thun deck have been the most prevalent, and it’s mostly due to these three cards. The majority of the followers that build up C’thun are rather cheap and when used early allows the conditional battlecries to be activated easily. The Amber-Weaver, when activated, is a 4-10 for four mana, which is hard to deal with for most decks, and the same can be said for the Dark Arakkoa, they’re just really strong tempo cards which benefit from the C’Thun life.
The Shieldbearer for the Warrior steps into a role that was left empty due to the removal of the Shieldmaiden from the format. This card combined with the double battlecry from Brann Bronzebeard gives 20, which for pretty much any deck is incredibly tough to push through.
Compared to the other gods, N’Zoth fits quite well into the meta, as can be seen with the N’Zoth Paladin deck. This particular list was the most popular deck used over in Europe for their most recent tournament even though Paladin was not the most represented class, as 109 of the 112 Paladins brought N’Zoth.
It’s a deck that focuses on control, with enough healing to keep themselves safe from potential burst damage. The late game potential with this deck is incredible and a definite win condition, with six high value deathrattle minions in the deck for N’Zoth to play around with.
Despite how consistent the deck can be, in both Europe and in the Americas, this slow style of play that relies on making it to take game was taken advantage of. For a lot of players this deck ended up proving to be their downfall, as they could not manage to get wins against the Aggro Shaman and the Zoo Warlock whose damage came quicker than what the Paladin could heal. In the end, only four of the top eight in Europe were running the Paladin.
The only other notable N’Zoth deck in circulation would be the Priest, but even then that class isn’t seeing all that much light in the competitive scene. The role that the Priest used to fill was that of the mid-late game control class, but for now it seems that other classes are doing that better.
To go for the face, or not to go for the face…
When it comes to deck archetypes, most decks fall into one of three categories: Aggro/Burn, Midrange/Tempo, or Control/Combo. In Hearthstone right now there seems to be good number of commonly used decks for each style. The ratio changes from region to region that is to be expected.
The most common aggressive decks right now are the Aggro Shaman and the Zoo Warlock. The Zoo Lock has been prominent for so long that it’s hard to remember a time when it wasn’t meta to be bringing a Zoo. It’s an archetype that is fairly consistent thanks to the Warlock’s power to draw cards freely, and the changes made coming into standard didn’t hit it all that hard, and in fact gave it an even better snowball tool in the Darkshire Councilman.
The Aggro Shaman on the other hand is still a relatively new deck. It only really started to gain some popularity with the release of the Hall of Explorers expansion which gave the class a one mana minion in the Tunnel Trogg as well as a means to unlock overloaded mana. The aggressive option was made even more appealing with the Flamewreathed Faceless being added in the Old Gods set, a 7-7 for four mana. Sure the card has a two overload cost associated with it, but for the tempo and pushing power that the card brings, it is being seen in all versions of Shaman decks.
These two decks have a tendency to flood the board with minions and also try and deal direct damage out of the hand. When going up against Tempo or Control decks, it is possible for the aggro decks to stall right at the start to an early Doomsayer play. Some Zoo decks are teching in a Crazed Alchemist to deal with this, but in general if one of these decks gets their board swept once or twice, they usually have a hard time regaining control. They can, however, take out the slower decks really quickly should they not have the answers in time.
The goal of these kinds of decks is to control the board through the use of both minions and spells, and snowballing an early lead. Two of the more common decks of this type are the Midrange Shaman and the Tempo Warrior.
The Shaman as a class has classically been well suited to playing midrange, and with a lot of the sticky deathrattles such as Haunted Creeper and Piloted Shredder out of the format, the powerful class spells are now able to control the board much easier. The general goal of the current version of this Shaman is to control the board with high value minions and spells until the board is in such a state that a Thunder Bluff Valiant or a Bloodlust will come in for a burst finish.
The Warrior on the other hand hasn’t always been the best at playing midrange, with the most popular decks for the class being full late game control. That deck still exists, but with the reemergence of the Arathi Weaponsmith and the addition of the new card Blood to Ichor, Warriors are finding the tempo life more to their liking. It still runs a lot of the same late game threats such as Grommash, and Ragnaros, but instead of controlling the board with spells until they become relevant, this deck plays much more proactively, putting early pressure on the board.
The N’Zoth Paladin and the Reno Warlock could arguably be described as tempo based decks, but with the amount of control and on reliance on late game, they tend to sit on the fence between the two archetypes.
Speaking of the slower decks, most of the popular meta decks would tend to fall under this category. Freeze Mage and Miracle Rogue tend to rely on early control to get to a point where a high damage combo nets them the win. The N’Zoth Paladin and the classic Control Warrior are control decks in every sense of the word, but they don’t have a combo finish as strong as the other two.
This style of Mage and Rogue are not new, they have existed in the past, but due to the presence of Loatheb from the Naxxramas set, Miracle Rogue was deemed to be inconsistent, and fell out of the meta. Now that it’s standard format, the Rogue is free to get back on the bike and cycle their way to victory. The Freeze Mage has undergone a few changes with more cards to work with over the years, but the general principle has remained the same: get a whole lot of burn cards in hand, ensure survival for 2-3 turns, Alexstraza opponent, and then use a combination of Fireballs, Frostbolts, Ice Lances, and other burns spells to blast them. The only major hit that the Freeze Mage took coming into standard was the removal of the Mad Scientist, so it’s not surprising that it has survived the transition to standard.
Control Warrior is another deck that has been around for quite some time, shuffling a few cards here and there when things change, but ultimately holding onto the same core. It’s starting to lose popularity to the Tempo style of Warrior due to the Control deck starting to lose its consistency against other top decks, but some still hold onto the classics.
The Competitive Meta tl;dr
There’s a mix of Early game, Mid game, and Late game decks, and even though there are exceptions, they tend to follow a bit of a rock/paper/scissors format. Aggro/Zoo can have a favourable matchup against the Control or Combo decks, who fare rather well against the Mid-range decks, and then Mid-range or Tempo decks having the tools to handle aggro.
Warlock, Shaman, and Warrior are the more prevalent classes due to their versatility, with Warlock having Zoo and Reno, Aggro and Mid-range for Shaman, and Control, Tempo, and Pirate Aggro for the Warrior. Paladin, Rogue, and Mage are more middle of the pack classes, and although they do have options other than their most popular archetype, they don’t tend to have the same consistent results. The Hunter is only now starting to find some popularity with a Mid-range variant while Priest, and Druid are struggling a bit. Given more time though, powerful decks could come out of them to challenge the rest.
For more in depth stats, Radoslav “Nydra” Kolev over at GosuGamers put together a really useful graphical representation of the decks and classes used for both the European and the American tournaments.