by Simon “Sottle” Welch
We are now nearly a week into our first foray with Standard format Hearthstone. Speculation was rife as to what would be the power cards, which class would dominate ladder and exactly how powerful a 4 Mana 7/7 was. Now at the very least, we have a small sample size of hard data than can be used to evaluate where everybody stands, so let’s take a look at who the movers and shakers are in the Standard meta.
Druid was of course the class that got hit the hardest by the nerfs that came a few days prior to Standard. Power cards such as Ancient of Lore, Keeper of the Grove and Force of Nature all receiving the heavy handed treatment meant that Druids would be scrambling to find their identity in the new format. The loss of the Charge form of Force of Nature was of course going to be the most severe loss, as almost every Druid deck in existence built towards the eventual combination of 14 damage from hand. Standard Druid has splintered in two different directions, either going with an aggressive Beast and Token focused direction using Mark of Y’Shaarj, or a slower, more attritional C’Thun build with an endless flood of late game Taunts. Both of these decks show promise, and Druid looks like it might be the natural home for the eventual C’Thun deck, but they also clearly need further refinement as neither seems to be performing excellently at the highest ranks of ladder.
Despite receiving arguably one of the best cards in the entire set in the form of Call of the Wild, Hunter has not been in a great spot during the opening skirmishes. Face Hunter seems to be lacking in punch compared to what Shaman can put out and the Midrange build also seems to lack some power despite the insanity of the triple Companion on turn 8. The fact that the class is perhaps the only one with access to a decent selection of class Deathrattle minions, some people have tried to experiment with an N’Zoth deck, but Hunter is naturally opposed to playing 10 Mana cards in their deck since the very nature of their class makes it difficult to be successful in games that last that long. Savannah Highmane, Call of the Wild, Houndmaster and Ram Wrangler are all hugely destructive cards in the right situation but the strategy that makes these cards succeed is too dependant on curving out well against a bunch of other classes that are all more consistent at drawing a power curve than they are.
Mage is another class still searching for identity. Tempo Mage has suffered enormously as they have been forced to slow down due to the tools being added to their deck being more value based such as Cabalist’s Tome. By doing this, the deck hovers in an awkward spot where it’s not really sure what its gameplan is. Outside of Tempo Mage, Freeze Mage is a top contender, but as always with that deck, it’s more of a tool for tournament play than a huge destructive force on the ladder. Although Freeze Mage lost Mad Scientist, the loss of Antique Healbot, Loatheb, mid-game Deathrattles and Silence effects from other decks has meant it has come out a long way ahead. Frost Nova plus Doomsayer is borderline unbeatable for a lot of decks and you are able to set up your burn turns with much greater consistency. C’Thun Mage has been experimented with, but it doesn’t seem like the right for that particular Old God, on top of which Yogg-Saron madness has also been attempted but the jury is still out over whether a 10 Mana card that likes to kill himself with incredible consistency is ever going to be a serious competitive consideration.
Everyone knew Paladin was going to have work to do. Every single Paladin deck in existence was built around the early-game platform provided by the departed Shielded Minibot and Muster for Battle with the exception of Anyfin Paladin which is also borderline unplayable due to the loss of Old Murk-Eye. Surprisingly, Paladin has come out looking pretty solid. N’Zoth Control Paladin looks like it perhaps wins the battle of Rock Paper Scissors in terms of which Old Gods Control decks beat the others, which already puts in in a strong position. On top of that, the massive amount of healing in the deck from Ragnaros, Lightlord and Forbidden Healing means that it has a fighting chance against aggressive decks as well. On top of all this, a few Aggro decks are also emerging as possible contenders with the Steward of Darkshire plus Rallying Blade combination clearing the way for a board flooding deck relying on Divine Favor, either with Murloc synergy or without. The optimal builds of these decks are still being heavily tweaked. It still remains to be seen for example exactly how many Deathrattles you need in an N’Zoth deck, or how good Twilight Summoner is as a card, but the groundwork is definitely there to be built on for Paladin to remain a powerful class, only in a dramatically different fashion than our former Secret Paladin overlords.
New format but same old problems for Priest. Since the beginning of time Priest has struggled to find a deck that can compete against both Control and Aggro. You are forced to tech your deck in such a way that it either competes with one or the other, and your ladder consistency suffers as a result. The loss of Lightbomb has also hurt the class enormously as opponents can now fearlessly generate huge board states that they know you have no hope of answering. Early signs seemed promising as a Dragon Priest deck took Rank 1 Legend very early on, but this didn’t hold and it doesn’t seem like Dragon Priest is going to stand the test of time. C’Thun Priest also showed some initial promise but seems to be eclipsed by a lot of other classes, where as outright Control Priest is pretty much just a weaker version of what it used to be after the loss of Deathlord and Lightbomb. Perhaps the saving grace for Priest will be Embrace the Shadow which creates a potential OTK deck in combination with Emperor Thaurissan, Prophet Velen and the burst healing cards. This deck will take time to refine but may end up being to go-to option if a powerful build is found. For now, Priest is left somewhat floundering as other classes seem to enjoy their new toys much more
Rogue was a class that many people feared for after the nerf to Blade Flurry, but equally many people, myself included felt that it would be in a very strong spot. The latter has emerged to be the case with Rogue offering up perhaps the highest number of variations of viable high level decks. N’Zoth Rogue has proven to be incredibly oppressive due to the additional synergy tools that Rogue has in the form of Unearthed Raptor and Shadowcaster. On top of this Miracle is out in full force using the extra spell generation from Xaril, Poisoned Mind. Even within Miracle Rogue there are numerous different win conditions being tried, with Malygos, Southsea Deckhand, Leeroy, Cold Blood and just outright minion presence all being attempted. Rogue possibly has the most exciting and complex set of new tools and it’s going to take some time for the dust to settle and for everyone to work out exactly which ones are optimal, but it seems at least for now that they are extremely well positioned even without access to the incredibly efficient 2 Mana Blade Flurry. One to watch for sure.
Oh boy, where to start? Shamans were given so much in this expansion that it’s difficult to know how to even start to cover it all. Flamewreathed Faceless is of course the initial talking point however. Even though it doesn’t represent that much additional value objectively over Fireguard Destroyer, in reality it is just so much more oppressive. It is essentially equivalent to letting an old school Handlock play a Mountain Giant on turn 4 while still being able to curve out aggressively beforehand. This introduction has allowed Shaman to go in pretty much any direction it sees fit. The outright Face Aggro variant still exists, but more successful so far is an aggressive board state variant pioneered by rank 1 Legend finisher and coL Stream Team member Loyan that cuts out the burst damage cards in favour of all the board efficiency that Shamans were given in the new set to just straight up out-Tempo anything the opponent can throw at them. Pure Midrange builds that curve a little higher have also been successful. This range of decks doing well is completely unsurprising as between Thing From Below, Master of Evolution, Evolve, and the aforementioned Flamewreathed Faceless, Shaman have clearly been given the most powerful tools in the new expansion.
Like a cockroach surviving nuclear fallout, it seems like Zoo is just an impossible deck to kill. Even after removing essentially their entire early game package with the loss of Curse of Naxxramas the deck still finds a way to persevere. This is no great surprise to me as the strategy of the deck is just so refined at this point that it’s hard to imagine a world where the deck isn’t powerful without a change to the Warlock Hero Power. Darkshire Councilman is the standout addition from the new set which slid under the radar for a lot of people but has already turned out to be oppressive enough to be referred to as the new Undertaker. Additional mention should go to Possessed Villager which is one of the few amazing Power Overwhelming targets left in the deck, as well as Forbidden Ritual which increases the reload potential of the deck significantly and holds incredible synergy with Knife Juggler and Darkshire Councilman. Outside of this, Renolock is also being experimented with, but that deck seems to suffer significantly for the loss of Antique Healbot and Sludge Belcher, meaning Reno is usually forced to be played much earlier in proceedings. The deck still seems viable, adding Warlock to the group of classes that have multiple viable archetypes already.
To the surprise of a lot of people Patron Warrior found a way to survive. A build created by compLexity member Crane was strong enough to allow him to secure high Legend finishes on two different servers in April. All of this despite the loss of Death’s Bite which is indisputably the best card in the old form of the deck. Blood to Ichor and Ravaging Ghoul provide enough utility to make up for the loss of Death’s Bite and most other decks in the format are still ill equipped to deal with the flood of Patrons. On top of this, Patron Warrior is set up well to deal with Aggro decks like Shaman and Zoo which are both immensely popular. Outside of Patron Warrior, Tempo Warrior has also continued to make waves, building on its success from the last week of the old format. Bloodhoof Brave, Malkorok, and again Ravaging Ghoul and Blood to Ichor have all come together to make this an effective option as well. Even outside of this, Control Warrior builds both with and without C’Thun have also been getting some work done for those so inclined to live and die by the ways of Tank Up.
Sottle is no stranger to the competitive environment. The compLexity Hearthstone player comes from an unorthodox background of being a Yoyo Champion in Great Britain, as well as virtually beating people up as a competitive fighting game player. Nerve-damage in his hand forced him to exchange the button mashing for the virtual card game Hearthstone. As a pro player he made his mark in the scene, as a caster he is a rising force, now the next step for him is to build up his name as a personality in the scene as well. Follow the Brit cast tournaments, play games, interact with his stream and have fun in Arena, the ladder or just Q&A sessions – Sottle is always the perfect mix between entertainment and education.