Can Control Decks Return to Hearthstone in United in Stormwind?

United in Stormwind has changed the Hearthstone meta in a major way. Questlines, fast combo decks, and powerful new aggro decks dominate the landscape with a sprinkle of midrange decks thrown in for good measure. Control decks, however, are largely absent.

Why is it so? What would it take for control to succeed? In this article, I take a look at the current state of control decks and the reasons behind their demise.

Control Decks in United in Stormwind

There are still some control decks in United in Stormwind. Players still want to use the archetype, even if it is not doing too well. Looking at the current control decks may be instructive in our journey to find out why.

Right now, only two classes even try to play control: Priest and Warrior.

Priest is the more popular control option and there are multiple styles of Control Priest decks around. Sadly (assuming you like this playstyle), none of them are very good.

For example, we recently featured this Habugabu’s #5 Legend Control Shadow Priest deck:

Hey, #5 Legend does not sound bad at all! However, there are high-Legend decks and then there are high-Legend decks. Some decks make it to the top because they are generally strong decks that are difficult to counter. However, some decks make it to the top spots because the top players play against each other on a regular basis, and there are more opportunities to target specific decks in top-100 than there are even a few hundred ranks lower.

Obviously, Habugabu’s list attracted interest and it has now been played more than a thousand times. The overall win rate? Around 45%. The deck has its upsides, especially against Hunters and Rogues, but when it meets a varied meta, it has far too many weaknesses to succeed.

In addition to Control Shadow Priest, people are also playing various versions of Quest Priest. Yes, you read that right. Yes, the Questline reward costs ten mana, and people still play it. As a matter of fact, in the average ladder meta, Quest Priest is stronger than Control Shadow Priest!

I picked this list from HSReplay as it was the best-performing variant of the archetype that had a good sample size. The idea is to run only Elekk Mount in addition to the Questline as spells so that you can tutor for that or the Questline reward with High Abbess Alura. The rest of the spells can simply be discovered.

I played a slightly different version on stream a few days ago, and it worked quite well. The deck is surprisingly adept at defending, and Elekk Mount is often just game-winning against decks that try to pressure you on the board. The fastest aggro decks and combo decks are a major problem though. Oh, I also never managed to complete my Questline because no game would last long enough.

Looking at a larger sample of games with the deck, we are now inching closer to 50% but we are not quite there yet.

The best-performing Control Priest deck on the ladder is the one we featured last week from Masters Tour Silvermoon:

50%, baby, 50%! This superstar of a control deck for the current meta can actually win half of its games! Elekk Mount is the strongest card in the deck, followed by Far Watch PostMindrender IlluciaMutanus the Devourer, and Xyrella.

What do these best cards do? Elekk Mount and Xyrella help you to stop aggro. Far Watch Post is universally useful in the current meta as it slows down the game, and Mindrender Illucia and Mutanus the Devourer can sometimes stop combo decks. To an extent, Elekk Mount can even apply some pressure on the opponent for a proactive strategy.

In one of his Twitter Q&A’s, Iksar wrote that control decks should “close out a game with threats before the combo deck closes out their own strategy.” The ultimate control decks to try this are Big decks, of which Big Warrior is the only current representative in Standard.

So, how effective is Big Warrior, the control deck with the most threats in it, against combo decks? Let’s see. Against Quest Warlock, 21%. Against Quest Mage, 26%. Against Quest Demon Hunter, 43%. Against Garrote Rogue, 67%. Control Priest, with limited threats but some combo disruption, is more effective at beating combo decks than Big Warrior with major threats and no disruption.

Looking at all matchups, Big Warrior has an overall win rate of 45% and is largely unplayable.

That’s all control archetypes that we have good samples of data for.

However, I also played some old-school Control Warrior recently, another deck that we featured earlier in our Hearthstone esports coverage, Tincho’s Control Warrior from Masters Tour Silvermoon:

This is a deck with a mixture of removal, combo disruption in the form of Shadow Hunter Vol'jin and Mutanus the Devourer, and proactive threats in the form of Troublemaker and Rattlegore.

There is not enough data to reliably evaluate the deck, but it seems that Quest Mage, Quest Warlock, and Quest Shaman remain major issues for this style as well.

What Is Wrong With Control Decks in United in Stormwind?

In the Twitter Q&A’s, Iksar has stated that they want to see proactive control decks, to the extent that they can outpace combo decks. This is a logical fallacy. If control decks were actually fast enough to generate threats to beat combo decks before the combos are ready, they would be the only archetype in the game. Control decks are naturally good at defending. If you are good at defending and can also outpace decks with an inevitability, you are superior to everything.

It is not realistic for a control deck to be faster than a combo deck. In the current meta, Big Warrior is not the best anti-combo control deck. All control decks with two combo-disruption pieces, even though they are not fully reliable, are stronger against combo than a threat-based approach. Mindrender IlluciaShadow Hunter Vol'jin, and Mutanus the Devourer are the right tools to use against combo decks from the current card pool. If combo decks were slower, it would only improve the odds of the control player to find disruptive tools rather than build an army powerful enough to smash them before they can put their combo together, making the disruption tools even better in comparison.

So, there are some major problems for control decks to defend against combo.

Furthermore, things do not look exactly bright against aggro either. Many current control decks struggle against the likes of Face Hunter and Aggro Shadow Priest. You need to pack the deck full of removal and healing in order to survive the onslaught current aggressive decks are capable of. However, if you do that, there is not enough room to put threats in the deck to race combo decks. You can build a control deck that survives aggro, at least most of the time, but your threat potential will be severely limited. Tincho’s Control Warrior that spends three cards on threats, two copies of Troublemaker and a Rattlegore, seems to be well-built in this regard.

Finally, control decks need to contest midrange decks, like Elemental Shaman, Deathrattle Demon Hunter, and Handbuff Paladin. These are the natural predators of control decks, and typically playing threat after threat will eventually cause a control deck to crumble. Playing too many threats at once or going too slow are both paths to defeat when playing a midrange deck against a control deck. The matchup is naturally favored for the midrange player, but incorrect pacing or just a poor draw can open up a path for the control player to win, as long as they are able to time their removal correctly.

The main problem with the current meta from a control perspective is that control decks have insufficient tools to handle the matchups that they are meant to be highly competitive in. Control decks simply aren’t good against combo, and that’s fine. But currently, combos can be completed too quickly so even control decks built specifically to counter them don’t stand much chance. What’s even more important, there is just too much damage coming in too fast from aggro, which is supposed to be a good matchup. The midrange vs control matchup is the only one that has remained roughly the same, and that is not good news for the control player. If you could still consistently counter aggro while having at least a reasonable chance against combo, we would probably see more control builds on the ladder.

Hearthstone as a game has a large built-in advantage for the attacker. The attacker chooses targets. There is no interaction during the opponent’s turn. Mana is automatically generated and requires nothing from the deck. All of these design decisions that have been made to make the game flow smoothly also make it vulnerable to snowballing advantages. If an aggressive deck or combo deck is strong enough, a player can just execute their deck’s strategy while paying little attention to the opponent and win the game. This is happening in the game right now, and control decks paying the price is just one symptom of the larger issue.

What can even be done about this? Should something be done about this? The designers seem reasonably happy with a fast-paced game where snowballing advantages happen on a regular basis. Apparently, their metrics show that the player base largely enjoys this meta. Even if they wanted, turning back time is not simple: If you buff defensive tools too much, combo decks will also use them and trample over everything with their inevitability. If you weaken aggro too much, it is again the combo decks that will benefit. And if you start to think about what makes most combo decks strong, you come to the uncomfortable realization that it is Questlines that have ultimately shaped this meta, and Questlines are the core feature of the entire expansion! The current meta is the result of the main feature Blizzard built into the game with United in Stormwind, and how do you even go about changing that? It’s good that many players like it the way it is because changing this interconnected web would not be a simple task. Therefore, I am not optimistic about the chances of control decks in the near future.

Old Guardian

Ville "Old Guardian" Kilkku is a writer and video creator focused on analytic, educational Hearthstone, and building innovative Standard format decks. Youtube: Twitch:

Check out Old Guardian on Twitter or on their Website!

Leave a Reply


  1. Vociferous
    September 7, 2021 at 9:11 am

    Don’t see how the aggro toothpaste ever gets put back in the tube. Wild will never have control decks again, it’s pure aggro from now on. Once you calibrate around aggro you can’t re-introduce control unless you nerf all the Questlines. It’s a forever change in gameplay.

    RIP control until Questlines rotate out of Standard.

  2. Whereismurder
    September 7, 2021 at 6:42 am

    I am pretty happy control is gone, although I dislike how much the current meta feels like solitaire. I hated logging in during my lunch break, matching up against a priest or warrior, then wasting 35 minutes in a futile struggle against a wincon which took my opponent forever to set up. It hindered my progress on the daily/weekly quests. Loathed the reborn priest deck.

  3. Drfury
    September 5, 2021 at 6:38 am

    “If an aggressive deck or combo deck is strong enough, a player can just execute their deck’s strategy while paying little attention to the opponent and win the game.”

    This right here is the main problem in HS right now

  4. WingedCastaway
    September 4, 2021 at 11:52 am

    As a Control fella, I’m happy to see I am definitely not the only one to keep trying to make the archetype work : however, some Quests in particular completely annihilate it, I’m thinking Mage and Warlock in particular. Druid however still loses against good Control.

  5. Tailsnake
    September 4, 2021 at 11:40 am

    “Right now, only two classes even try to play control: Priest and Warrior.”

    I was expecting Fel DH and Quest Shaman. It’s odd to complain that there are no Control decks in the meta while explicitly ignoring the Control decks that are currently viable. These are decks that have enough removal and life gain to keep Aggro decks in check and have proactive game plans of thier own that don’t take 20 turns to execute.

    • Fitzcarraldo
      September 4, 2021 at 11:50 am

      Yeah, big omission here. Even if you disagreed with the argument that decks like Fel DH, Quest Shaman and Quest Handlock are in fact control decks (I don’t, and think they very much are), it’s weird that you’d outright ignore *that* part of the conversation.

    • Old Guardian - Author
      September 4, 2021 at 12:19 pm

      Neither of those are control decks.

      • Azoriuscub
        September 4, 2021 at 2:47 pm

        Exactly this. They are combo decks with control elements to stall until they can pull off their combos…..

        • Irish Seadog
          September 5, 2021 at 2:03 am

          I would say FDH isn’t really a combo deck per se – whilst it’s highly synergistic, it plays more like a slow midrange deck with a flexible burn finisher, and is occasionally able to win the resource battle. It can rarely even muster a full OTK, so I’m not sure it fits cleanly into any of the traditional categories.

      • TardisGreen
        September 4, 2021 at 6:06 pm

        In your “expert” (LULZ) opinion.

      • BBB
        September 4, 2021 at 7:04 pm

        Quest shaman is probably quite midrange, though it leans into control a bit. But Fel DH is definitely control with a wincon. I mean, the Silas otk warrior was generally considered a control deck. Fel DH controls the opponent’s board until Jace is sufficiently ramped, then drops two huge bombs in a row.

      • Oneionn
        September 6, 2021 at 1:32 am

        I think Quest Shaman is a control deck. It has powerful removal tools, taunts and healing. It beats every aggro deck in the current meta. That’s what makes a control deck in my opition. Not the inability to kill the opponent. Fel Demon Hunter is also a control deck for similar reasons.

  6. OParis
    September 4, 2021 at 9:49 am

    The sequence “many players like it the way it is” seems a bit over-exagerated and naive. I didn’t see so many people complaining on Reddit or any HS forums about the current meta since Un’Goro’s quest rogue.
    A huge amount of players are very clearly unsatisfied with how the game is right now so “many players like it the way it is” just came out of no where. I’ve seen 2 people saying that they love this game more now + some pro players while we see minimum 5-8 new people complaining about meta.

    • OParis
      September 4, 2021 at 9:51 am

      5-8 new people per day*

    • Stonekeep - Site Admin
      September 4, 2021 at 9:56 am

      It’s pretty obvious that vocal minority doesn’t like the current meta, but it doesn’t mean that it’s not liked in general. You need to keep in mind that ~90% of the players don’t talk about the game on social media or forums, they just play it casually. Most of the opinions about the game you read comes from a very small percentage of the playerbase that have their own opinion bubble. And I wouldn’t be surprised if this meta was well-received among those players (at least that’s what the devs are suggesting – OG just quoted them on that).

      Also, “many players” doesn’t mean “most of the players”. 30% of the players is still “many players”.

      Fwiw, I like the current meta. Not because I hate Control decks – on the contrary, I also like them a lot. I just don’t mind that the game plays differently now than it did a year ago, and I hope that it will again play differently next year. I’ve been playing ever since Closed Beta so I lived through all of the metas and I embraced most of them simply because I like the change. If very similar archetypes with very similar playstyle were viable every expansion, the game would be much more boring in the long run.

      • OParis
        September 4, 2021 at 10:46 am

        Yes but then how can we know that the majority like it? If the 90% of players don’t talk about the game on social media or forums, then we should not assume that they like it, it should be considered a neutral opinion. All we know about how players see the meta is based on this forums or Reddit. That’s why I see “many players” as over-exagerated.
        From all we know, Blizzard should offer all archetypes a place under the sun. That’s how we are sure that, even if one gets frustrated/bored by the game, there is still at least 1 deck for every part of Hearthstone’s community –> so no one is left behind/ignored.
        I also like change and I welcome new decks, but when a whole archetype is dead I don’t see it as an upgrade, I see it as a huge flaw since Team 5 was unnable to maintain the stone-paper-scissors situation in order for every community to have fun with the game.

        • Old Guardian - Author
          September 4, 2021 at 11:04 am

          This is the developer’s perspective: “Engagement among active players is tracking really well this expansion. Things like play session, daily active ranked players, etc. What we’re missing is an influx of new players but the 2nd and 3rd expansions of the year generally struggle there.”

          • OParis
            September 4, 2021 at 12:16 pm

            Oh, I see. Well I don’t really agree with him since play session among active players shouldn’t be directly considered as “they love the meta right now”. I also play alot now as shadow priest just because I have new decks that I would like to try, but I am pretty unsatisfied with the meta overall. I think a big play session means more that they managed to change alot of decks or even create new ones which gave people a reason to play more, but that doesn’t mean that the meta is better —> if it remains like this, people get bored of this new decks and it might be an even lower play session if they are as unsatisfied as me.
            Thanks for the response, didn’t know Iksar said this.

        • Stonekeep - Site Admin
          September 4, 2021 at 2:51 pm

          I’m not saying that it’s better, I’m just saying that not having viable Control options for a while is not the end of the world and doesn’t automatically mean that the meta has to suck for everyone. We had tons of metas when some archetype or class wasn’t viable and I wouldn’t say that it was particularly problematic. The truth is that it’s nearly impossible to keep everything viable.

          If the situation lasts for a few expansion, then yes, that would be a different story and I would 100% agree that something needs to be done. But players can’t expect that the thing they like to play will always be good in a game that’s constantly changing. Or rather, they CAN expect that, but they will be disappointed.

          And as OG already commented, it was implied by Iksar that the silent majority of the players don’t mind the current meta, at least not enough to quit the game. Devs clearly know more about it than us, since they have access to all the stats and metrics we don’t.

          And again, the article didn’t say anything about the “majority”. We don’t have the same stats Blizzard does so we can’t be sure about it with all certainty, but between the quote from Iksar and personal experience, it’s safe to assume that MANY players indeed like the meta. I don’t understand why you disagree with the use of that word. Like I’ve said, even if only 30% of the players like the meta, that’s still many players. No one tries to bend the reality and make it look like everyone online loves the current meta, that would be silly.

          • Thankmar
            September 5, 2021 at 5:55 am

            My perspective as a f2p casual player:
            Hearthstone is not my “main game”, but my goto time killer whenever I have a window of a couple of minutes. If I have time at hand, I go play some big singleplayer game (currently replaying Metroid Prime 2 from the trilogy, for me its close to gaming heaven).
            I do not want to “learn the meta”, cause that is much too involved for my use of HS. I have no interest in learning which cards are in what decks, so I do not play very forward-looking, anticipating which card will played next.
            Also, I can only craft one or two decks which are competitive (thats by the way sth. I actually miss from early HS: throw together some synergistic cards to get some wins in lower ranks, where you face similarly crude decks. Thats gone). I am with HS from late beta, so I have a large card base and will not likely change to another game to start over, but I will not pay money for a game which is not very important for me on the whole.
            When Blizzard made this post “These four hunter cards are the best cards in the game right now” earlier this year, I crafted the missing ones, made my Face Hunter deck (always liked Hunter), and started playing ladder. And because I had a deck which was cheap/I pulled the legendarys, could actually win, does not need knowledge of the other deck AND was primed for short matches (the time window thing), I had the most fun in Hearthstone (standard) since for a very long time.
            Same with Quest Mage. You do not need to know what the other player does, but you have to be bit smart in deciding when to use which spell when. As an effortless but not too shallow bit of competitive card chucking, its just perfect. On top, in Quest mage, you and your bad decisions are your main enemy, the games are not decided by matchup in general, similar (but not same) to Face Hunter. Thats why I played much more HS in general and Standard specifically than last year (not only BGs and Tavern Brawls (a too much neglected mode, btw.), because it fitted my main use of HS much better, and I had fun playing my fast decks, without getting crushed by meta decks.
            I do like to play control now and then. But since it goes again my main use of the game, I do not play it very often. It is, of course, best, the more player enjoy HS, but I just wanted to shine a light why the “silent majority”, which pretty sure exists mainly as casual players, might be more “engaged” in this meta.

        • Vociferous
          September 7, 2021 at 9:18 am

          “I also like change and I welcome new decks, but when a whole archetype is dead I don’t see it as an upgrade”


  7. Junehearth
    September 4, 2021 at 9:44 am

    Killing control is actually healthy for this game. Problem is the power of quest rewards which should be like those from Un, Goro. Right now the quests feel like that old quest Rogue.

    • OParis
      September 4, 2021 at 9:50 am

      In what world killing control is healthy for this game? Taking the paper out of stone-paper-scissors is never a healthy move.

      • NAT
        September 4, 2021 at 10:23 am

        You’re very right! Killing control decks was awful! I’m a wild player and there meta now really suckw! 60% od the players play quest warlock! That deck really dominates the meta! Extremely powerful!!!

        • DarkDave
          September 4, 2021 at 8:05 pm

          Killing Control is absolutely not healthy for Hearthstone

          • DarkDave
            September 4, 2021 at 8:07 pm

            Go home and try to play rock, paper… See how long your fun lasts…

          • Junehearth
            September 4, 2021 at 9:17 pm

            This rock paper scissor mentality is childish. It should not be how card games and metas are designed.

            • OParis
              September 5, 2021 at 2:05 am

              How would you balance the game otherwise? Right now it’s a free road for aggro decks –> their only counter is a god-draw shaman/mage; while combo decks just obliterates everything that dares to not play aggro.
              The game right now is literally a stone running after the scissors that hidden the paper in the basement so no one can run after the stone.

              • Junehearth
                September 5, 2021 at 7:07 am

                You continue to protect your primitive mindset. How is rock, paper, scissor fun or strategic? Also there are better ways to have balance.

                • OParis
                  September 6, 2021 at 2:31 am

                  The whole game was based around this. Like yes if it was an “all midrange” game then sure, it was strategic because that means everyone is to equal powerlevel.
                  But now, after years of new expansions, ther eis no way coming back.
                  So I don’t see your point. What’s strategic in the game right now? It’s 90 combo decks and 2 aggro farming the combo, very strategic.

      • Junehearth
        September 4, 2021 at 8:42 pm

        Strategies should be proactive. Control such as warrior, priest and warlock relies on removals and healing. That is not fun to play against.

        • OParis
          September 5, 2021 at 2:01 am

          That’s subjective. There are people that like to play longer matches and healing/removals is the only way you can get to lategame.