Latest Hearthstone expansion – Journey to Un’Goro – was just released. Every pro, streamer and most of the players are already in, trying multiple new decks and archetypes. Majority of them were unsuccessful, experiments that fell short because the tested deck either isn’t strong enough, it doesn’t fit the current early meta or maybe it just needs more optimization. However, some of them really stood out. There were some Day 1 lists that turned out to be very powerful. I’d like to pick a few and talk about each of them – why they’re strong, how to play them correctly etc.
I will include only the new decks or the decks that changed significantly. Yes, there are a lot of Pirate Warriors on the ladder, but it’s basically the same deck we’ve seen before, so nothing new to talk about.
Best Un’Goro Decks – Day One
Rogue Quest was widely considered to be the worst one, both among the pros and the community. However, as it turned out, Dog has built a very powerful Quest Rogue and he just hit Rank 1 Legend with it. The main concern was not being able to finish it consistently in a timely manner. And as it turns out, that concern was invalid. Dog is getting the Quest done nearly every game as soon as turn 4-5. And then he proceeds to flood the whole board with 5/5 minions that no deck can easily answer at that point in the game.
Besides being very powerful, the deck also is very fun to play. It’s like a mix between Combo and Aggro, which rarely happens – most of the Combo decks are inherently Control, because it takes a long time to cycle through the deck to find the combo pieces. In case of this deck, almost any card can be a “combo piece”. All you need to do is draw a low cost minion and start bouncing it (1-drops are obviously best). With 2 copies of the card itself and 6 cards to bounce it, it’s actually really easy to play something 4 times. Then, the extra card draws adds even further to the deck’s consistency.
After finishing your Quest, every minion becomes a 5/5. It means that Patches the Pirate, Stonetusk Boar and Southsea Deckhand are basically 1 mana 5/5 Chargers, Moroes produces a 5/5 every turn and Violet Teacher summons a 5/5 for every spell. Even though your deck is filled with small minions, as soon as you finish the Quest, those all become serious threats.
Right now the only problem with the deck is that it sometimes runs out of cards. It usually has nearly empty hand at the time it finishes the Quest, which means that if the opponent deals with the current board there sometimes might be a problem with refilling. Dog said that he will adjust that later and try to optimize it after playing it more, but he wants to try other things right now. For example, Preparation is a great card with a perfect hand, but drawing it later makes it a dead card most of the time (unless you have Violet Teacher in play to at least spawn a single 5/5).
I was actually surprised how well the deck worked. Yes, I know, he played it in lower ranks, but it’s still quite early in the season, so people at rank 10 usually know what they’re doing. I also heard from people playing it at slightly higher ranks and having a lot of success. The only new card that’s really necessary in the deck is Humongous Razorleaf. Yes, Trump also runs Elise the Trailblazer, but it’s more like a filler card.
The deck’s game plan is pretty similar to the old Handlock, but even more concentrated on the big bodies & Taunting up. The deck runs 8 big minions that can get onto the board really fast – 2 copies of Ancient Watcher, Humongous Razorleaf, Twilight Drake and Mountain Giant. And while Drake & Giant are big threats by themselves (even if you didn’t play against the old Handlock, you’ve seen them in the recent RenoLock lists), the first two require “activation” to work. Since they can’t attack, there are two ways to go about them – you can either Silence them or Taunt them up. This deck is all about Taunting, but I’ll definitely try running Spellbreaker too! The activators in this deck are: Sunfury Protector, Defender of Argus and Faceless Shambler. As you can see, it’s not really hard to have a huge (or well, HUMONGOUS) Taunt in the early game.
And so, a pretty common scenario might be turn 2 Ancient Watcher -> turn 3 Humongous Razorleaf -> turn 4 Defender of Argus. Now you have an incredibly huge wall that pretty much no deck can pass so early. With 5/6 Taunt and 5/9 Taunt on turn 4, even the fastest decks will have a hard time going through. But those Taunts can’t attack, so what’s the plan to win the game? Well, you have other minions that can attack from behind those Taunts. Even not the biggies – your 2 or 3 Attack guys are really safe, behind a huge wall, and can safely hit the face for 4 or 5 every turn while your opponent can’t do anything about the Taunts. As a backup plan, in case all the big Taunts get answered, the deck plays a lot of AoEs. To be fair, it might even be too much, as most of those AoEs hurt the player. The deck runs 17 self-damage in total, that’s pretty crazy! Then, for the slower matchup (and acting like an emergency healing), there is Lord Jaraxxus, which can turn most of the value games in your favor.
One thing is sure – the deck is really hard to play correctly. Between some early chip damage from the opponent, Life Tapping and all the self-damage AoEs, you need to be really careful about your health. Without Reno Jackson, you have no “reset” button that can heal you back to full. You need to know how much you can tap to not die in different matchups and you need to know how risky you can play depending on your hand, board state and the deck you’re playing against. It needs a lot of expertise to play perfectly and I think that the deck will still be adjusted, optimized and we might actually see it in the meta from time to time.
By the way, I think that if Molten Giant wasn’t nerfed, the deck could seriously dominate the meta.
Sjow is playing the deck right now and steadily climbing the ladder. He started at rank 5 and he’s at rank 1 after just a bit over 3 hours, at this pace he’ll hit Legend really soon. The deck is performing really well. As I’ve suspected, the Midrange Beast version is working much better than the Quest deck. And funny thing is that Sjow doesn’t even use Dinomancy – instead he decided to go for a more aggressive approach (well, it’s Hearthstone, so “more aggressive approach” is usually the right one). Why the sudden turn from the Hunter’s state in the last expansion? Well, because the new Hunter cards are quite powerful.
Two most important thing happened. First – the class has got more solid early game. With Jeweled Macaw and Crackling Razormaw, the deck has more early drops. Especially the Razormaw, the card turned out to be really powerful. Adapting a small beast to give it Poisonous or +3 Attack to trade up. Or adapting a mid-sized Beast with +3 Health to keep it alive. Or adapting something to get 2x 1/1 back. Or adapting a bigger Beast and giving it Windfury for the extra burst damage. The card can do A LOT of things and with multiple Beast 1-drops, it can also be consistently activated on the curve.
But that’s not all. Another of Hunter’s problem was the lack of solid card draw. The deck was running out of steam, with bad draws it was almost impossible to come back. Right now the value is not a problem. The deck can go well into the late game and still has stuff to play. That’s thanks to the new card draws/cycle cards – Jeweled Macaw cycles itself, Tol'vir Warden allows Hunter to draw 2 cards (even those are small drops, it’s still something + it increases the consistency of future draws) and Stampede is a GREAT hand refill.
While Sjow is still constantly changing the list (the one I’m writing about will probably be a different one by the time you read it), one interesting card he has tried is Nesting Roc. I honestly didn’t think that this card will see any play, but come to think about it – 4/7 Beast is already okay-ish in Hunter considering all the Synergies it has. And the effect is quite easy to activate – you can play Alleycat + Roc on turn 6 and have a 4/7 Taunt that’s pretty hard to pass through.
The general game plan of the deck is quite simple. You want to curve out and overwhelm your opponent on the board, then put him on the clock with Hero Power and finish with burn. If you run out of steam, set up for a refill with Stampede.
Say what you want, but I’ve been missing the Hunter from the meta. Even though the deck is still rather aggressive, it’s much more interesting to play against then Pirate Warrior, because you really need to understand concepts like tempo, clock, key plays on each turn etc. Against Pirate Warrior you just need to pray.
Another deck from the Dog, this one is a bit less surprising, as it’s been theorycrafted way before the release. When it comes to the Combo Mage, there are two viable approaches. First one is Arcane Giant + Alexstrasza and second one is “Exodia combo”. The first one is stronger in a way that the combo requires less pieces, but it can be countered by Taunts or Armor. The second one – so the one Dog was playing – is not limited by the amount of damage it can deal. You basically have infinite number of Fireballs and you’re only limited by how fast you can cast them.
If you haven’t seen the deck in action yet, the combo looks like that: You play 2x Sorcerer's Apprentice, then you copy them with 2x Molten Reflection. Now you have 4x Sorcerer’s Apprentice on the board, 3 mana left and 4 mana discount. Now you basically play whatever you need to finish the Quest (remember to still leave 1 mana to play the reward!) – Primordial Glyph, Cabalist's Tome etc. and play all the cheap spells from outside of your deck. If you don’t get terribly unlucky, you should finish the quest (any spell that costs 4 or less you can play for free, basically). You play the Quest and you take your extra turn. Next turn you drop Archmage Antonidas, play one spell to start the Chain and then start flinging Fireballs at the opponent’s face. They cost 0 mana each, so you can play as many as you want.
The combo is quite simple, but the main limitation is the number of combo pieces required. In order to make the combo work, you need 5 combo pieces (2x Apprentice, 2x Reflection and Antonidas) AND you need to have a way to finish your Quest. So that’s the hard part. And that’s why the deck is full of cycle. The deck has basically 3 things – cycle, stall and combo (I count generating spells to get the reward as a part of your combo). You play Arcanologist to draw a Secret from your deck, Loot Hoarder, Novice Engineer, Arcane Intellect and Coldlight Oracle to draw. Those alone cycle up to 14 cards and you also can get more draw from the random effects. But that’s the key – you really want to draw that combo as soon as possible. Dog was being able to draw it quite consistently, sometimes even before turn 10, but most of the time he had it ready by turn 10 (or well, he lost).
The deck is really hard to play. Maybe even harder than Freeze Mage. You need to constantly balance between drawing cards and stalling the game, you need to know how low can you get while they still can’t pop your Ice Block, you need to know when to completely give up board control and just go all-in on the draw to try to get the last pieces. Your hand size is also a problem, deck usually has full or close to full hand in the late game and remember that you can actually discard the Quest reward if you don’t have enough space in your hand! Luckily, you don’t have to count it all the time, because new patch has introduced a nice feature that counts it for you.
Also, I’m pretty sure that this is not the best deck list. It’s one of the hardest decks to find the perfect list for and it will probably go through a lot of optimization. However, it already looks strong – Dog was beating both slow and fast decks alike, hitting pretty high Legend before switching to Rogue.
Oh, Zoo looks REALLY strong in this expansion. Sure, it lost Power Overwhelming, which is a big hit, but besides that the deck stays pretty consistent, while it gets some new tools. I’ve linked my own list, the one I was playtesting on the ladder (got 9-3 with it around around rank 4-5), but to be fair, it might not be the best Zoo list – I’m still not sure about some choices, e.g. whether it’s worth to run Egg + Pterorrdax in the Discard list. But after watching different streamers and playing some ladder, it appears that Zoo will be a competitor in the upcoming meta.
I think that the main question, however, is whether the Quest – Lakkari Sacrifice – is worth playing. It doesn’t fit a classic, aggressive Zoo lists. If anything, you should play it in a slower, more Midrange oriented version. However, it appears that no working deck like that has been created yet, or at least it hasn’t been popularized. We’ll probably see in the next few days, but the Quest version will definitely be harder to create and optimize. So for now I’ll focus on the questless one.
Well, it’s Zoo. Probably every Hearthstone player knows exactly how the deck works. It’s a tempo deck that excels at the board control and dictating the pace of the game. The goal is to have initiative most of the time, so you can make the best possible attacks at the right time. Sounds easy, but mastering the deck is actually a bit harder than it might seem like – I’ve been playing it for like 3 years already and I still misplay positioning from time to time.
When it comes to the new additions, there are 3. Clutchmother Zavas is really powerful in a discard list. It gives you another target you want to discard, on top of Silverware Golems. Which decreases the chance of you discarding something useful. There is also an interesting decision-making involved when it comes to Zavas – you need to decide whether you want to keep her in your hand as long as possible to “catch” some more discards or put a mid-to-big body on the board. Even after a single discard, a 2 mana 4/4 is pretty solid.
Second card is Devilsaur Egg. Zoo used to run Nerubian Egg which was, to be fair, a little better. But Devilsaur Egg is a quite solid replacement. Having a 5/5 for 3 mana is really good, but you first need to “get it out”. You have a variety ways of doing that, including Attack buffs and eating it. And what’s really good about the Egg is that you’re much more resistant to AoEs while it stays on the board. That was one of the old Zoo’s strengths, which was severely reduced after the last Standard rotation.
And the last, but not least is Ravenous Pterrordax. I think that the card was underestimated by most of the community, but as it turns out, it’s really powerful. As long as you meet the requirement of sacrificing a minion, Adapting twice is very, very good. It can be a 4/7 Taunt against Pirate Warrior, it can be a 7/4 with Divine Shield, you can get Stealth + Windfury and push for a lot of damage next turn or even get a good, old 4 mana 7/7. The best Battlecry target is obviously Devilsaur Egg. I haven’t lost a single game where I had turn 3 Egg into turn 4 Pterrordrax yet. The combo is just insane. But there are other solid targets to eat, any small minion will do. That said, when I was playtesting the deck, I had a few situations where Pterrordrax was a very awkward topdeck. If I had no small minions on the board and Pterrordrax was the only minion I could play, I had to either sacrifice something bigger or pass a turn. But that’s fine, the card would be broken if it didn’t have a downside.
All in all, Zoo’s presence really depends on the meta. For example, I feel like if Elemental Shaman becomes popular, Zoo might pretty much die out – the deck has so many AoE + the Kalimos. On the other hand, so far the Zoo was working well against the Quest Rogue, which seems a pretty popular deck right now. I could pretty consistently overwhelm the board before he could finish the Quest. We’ll see how it goes.
That’s all folks. Those were my picks for some of the strongest early meta decks of the new expansion. Of course, things will most likely shift considerably on the daily basis – that’s the charm of the new expansion (I really like that period where you can’t really be sure whether something will really work few days later).
Do you have any favorite new archetypes? Or would you like to read an early guide for any specific deck? Please share your thoughts in the comments! And if you want to be up to date with my articles, you can follow me on Twitter.
Good luck on the ladder and until next time!