Year of the Dragon is coming to an end, and while we don’t officially know the name of upcoming Standard year, a certain leak suggests that Phoenix might be next. It would indeed be a great symbol for the upcoming year given that Blizzard has some exciting news in the store for us (and the announcements can’t come soon enough).
Whether the name is correct or not, a new Standard year also means a rotation. While it might not be the most impactful one in the history (especially since both Genn Greymane and Baku the Mooneater are already out), we’re definitely losing A LOT of interesting cards and synergies. All of the 2018 cards – from Witchwood, Boomsday Project and Rastakhan’s Rumble – will no longer be available in Standard with the launch of upcoming expansion.
In this article (or rather, series of articles), I will showcase some of the important cards that are rotating out. What qualifies as “important”, you might ask? Any card that has seen a decent amount of play in meta deck is there. I didn’t include cards that were mostly used in off-meta builds, haven’t seen any competitive play or were just straight up bad. Believe me when I say that I was on the edge about many of those cards, but in general decided to take the approach to include more than include less. So, let’s get down to business!
Neutral – Common
Starting with Neutral Commons. The most important part here is that we’re losing a big part of Mech package. Mecharoo, Skaterbot, Upgradeable Framebot, Microtech Controller, Explodinator and Wargear were all part of “Mech packages” from different decks. While we still have some Mechs left from Classic set, and some more were released during Year of the Dragon, I honestly don’t expect Mech decks to make a comeback any time soon. Unless they decide to print some new ones soon.
Scarab Egg was mostly played in Zoo Warlock. The card has got even more popular recently when Zoo Warlock started running Galakrond package. Not only it’s a good sacrifice target for cards like Plague of Flames or EVIL Genius, but summoning multiple tokens is exactly what the deck wants to do. However, in general the deck is not losing THAT much, so I expect it to be playable even after the rotation.
Vicious Scalehide has seen a variety of uses throughout its time in Standard. The most prominent build running it was definitely Midrange Hunter. For a very long time, Midrange Hunter was one of the strongest meta decks, and double Vicious Scalehide were often the only two Neutral cards played by the build. Earlier than that, the card was notable for providing defense for Quest Rogue (not the current Quest Rogue, but rather The Caverns Below one). Besides those, it has seen some play here and there – in general, it was never the “best” card, but between Lifesteal, Rush and Beast tag, it was a very solid 2-drop.
Hench-Clan Thug could pretty much be a Rogue card and no one would notice. During the days of Odd Rogue, the card was mostly a staple, played in most of the builds. Because when you Hero Power on Turn 2 nearly every time, why wouldn’t you want to have a 3 mana 4/4 that will grow even further every turn? Even after Baku has rotated out, some variants of Tempo and Aggro Rogue have used the card. Other than Rogue, I’ve seen it being tried out in Warrior, Hunter and Paladin, but I wouldn’t really say that it worked out very well in any of those classes.
Dragonmaw Scorcher used to be a part of some Dragon packages before we’ve got much better options with Descent of Dragons. But even outside of the Dragon decks, the card was sometimes used back when Odd Paladin was all over the ladder – the 1 AoE damage was a great way to counter their Hero Power. So yeah, we’re losing an okay Dragon and an okay anti-token tech card.
And finally, Amani War Bear hasn’t seen any play for a while, but it was a very important card a while back. We actually had a few different strategies using it. First one was “Big” Hunter – a build with a rather slow start and then some ways to cheat out big cards, most important one being Kathrena Winterwisp. Besides Hunter, the card has also seen a lot of play in Taunt Warrior, particularly the Odd version back during Year of the Raven. It was also played in some Druid decks. I’m probably forgetting something, because at the time it was released, it was actually a pretty popular card.
Neutral – Rare
Looking at the Neutral Rares, we can notice the clear trend – once again, a bunch of Mechs are rotating out. Galvanizer in particular is an important part of Mech builds. While it ain’t no Mechwarper, any form if mana cheating is always appreciated when running fast builds. Replicating Menace and, to a lesser extent, Missile Launcher were also played in Mech builds as some of your Magnetize options. The usual goal of a Mech deck was to establish 1-2 minions on the board and then keep Magnetizing onto them. Any Magnetized damage had “Charge” since you could attack with the minion immediately.
Then, some more Dragon synergies are going out. Firetree Witchdoctor might not be a core, but it’s pretty popular in builds running Dragons. For example, right now it’s a staple in Highlander Mage. Scaleworm didn’t see much play in a while, but it also used to be semi-common in Dragon decks. While we didn’t have THAT many Dragon synergies in Year of the Raven, some Dragon decks that were boosted by the latest expansion might suffer a bit and will have to find some alternatives.
To be honest, I didn’t expect Lifedrinker to become such a staple in so many builds. But here we are – over its time in Standard, it was played in at least a dozen of different, competitive archetypes. Most of the Aggro / Tempo / Midrange decks have played it at one point (sometimes cutting it later to fit better cards). Heck, even now some builds of the best meta decks like Galakrond Rogue or Dragon Hunter are running Lifedrinkers. Against slower decks, it provides more burn with a small body, while in faster mirrors the healing part also comes in handy from time to time. With Charge minions not really being printed any more, it was one of the only Neutral cards that immediately dealt damage to the opponent in a while. And now faster builds will have to find an alternative.
Murloc Tastyfin has seen a bunch of play in, well, Murloc builds. While it has a very weak body for its mana cost, the Deathrattle carried it hard. Drawing 2 Murlocs out of your deck is obviously a great effect to have in a Murloc build. Murlocs in general didn’t see THAT much play over the last 2 years, but many semi-common builds (like Murloc Shaman or Murloc Paladin) have used this card successfully.
Witchwood Piper is an interesting case. 4 mana 3/3 that draws a card doesn’t seem like a great deal. In fact, Gnomish Inventor which is very similar is a Basic card. However, in case of Piper the fact that it always drew your lowest cost minion made a huge difference. Piper was usually used to tutor a specific card, often a cheap minion combo piece. It was interesting in any deck that relied on a specific, cheap minion – such as Pogo-Hopper. While it wasn’t played that much in the recent months, it’s a pretty notable card nonetheless.
Witchwood Grizzly seemed like a very interesting idea. The less cards your opponent had in hand, the better it was – making it a solid anti-Aggro card (faster decks in general didn’t keep many cards in the hand), while it was really weak vs slower build (against 9 cards opponent it was a… 5 mana 3/3). However, just like it usually is with cards like that, its most common use was through “cheating” it out. If you summoned it instead of playing from hand, he was always a 3/12. Same goes for reviving it – 3/12. That’s why he usually has seen play in decks that could either revive it (Resurrect Priest) or cheat it out (Recruit Hunter).
Mechanical Whelp – While it’s a Mech card, I didn’t lump it with other Mech cards, because most of the time it was too slow for the Mech builds (which preferred aggressive approach). Instead, Mechanical Whelp was usually used as a combo card. It was played in decks that could trigger its Deathrattle immediately (such as the recent Rogue builds with Necrium Blade) or copy it somehow (like Quest Paladin). Overall, it has seen a bunch of play in different builds, but I don’t remember ever seeing it in an actual, full Mech deck.
Neutral – Epic
Now onto the Epics. Starting with one of the better 1-drops from Year of the Raven – Crystallizer. Well, at least at the time – not it’s just solid. Even though the effect is basically pointless in most of the builds – it was used as a replacement for the oldschool Dire Mole. The card was a bit powercreeped, lots of classes have got better options (like Hunter’s Dwarven Sharpshooter, Rogue’s Pharaoh Cat or Warrior’s Eternium Rover) and we’ve even got a Neutral 1 mana 2/2, a statline that’s mostly better in aggressive builds (Blazing Battlemage). That said, we will no longer have a Neutral 1 mana 1/3.
Baleful Banker‘s most important use was definitely being a part of Paladin’s Holy Wrath combo. With both Banker AND Shirvallah, the Tiger rotating out, Holy Wrath Paladin will no longer work until they print some replacements. Other than the combo, Banker was for a while in Control Warrior builds, to shuffle back another copy of Archivist Elysiana to win grindy matchups. Luckily, Elysiana was nerfed to 9 mana quite quickly, but it didn’t stop people from still trying to shuffle or bounce her. Luckily, that meta is long over, and so are Baleful Banker combos.
Augmented Elekk‘s main use was – obviously – shuffling more copies of a card into the deck. Competitively, it has seen a bunch of play in Bomb Warrior (because shuffling extra 1-2 Bombs into the opponent’s deck was very useful) and some in Midrange Hunter (as a combo with Dire Frenzy – to shuffle three extra buffed copies of a minion, really helpful in some matchups). It was also commonly seen in off-meta builds such as Academic Espionage Rogue etc.
Nightmare Amalgam was the jack of all trades, but master of none. So it did exactly what it was designed to do. I’ve seen it being played in all kinds of tribe builds – Murloc builds, Mech builds, Pirate builds, Elemental builds, Dragon builds… It was always one of the weakest cards in the deck, but it was helpful for filling the gaps. It was balanced, but never the star of a show. So overall, I think that devs did a fine job with it – and some builds will definitely miss it, especially early after the rotation when they will still be missing a bunch of tribe pieces.
At one point, Voodoo Doll was one of the most popular Epics in the game. It was commonly played in slow Warlock and Mage builds as a single target removal. The former combo’d it with Mortal Coil and Defile, while the latter with a simple Hero Power. Other than that, I think that I remember seeing it in Odd Warrior sometimes… And probably something else I’ve missed. But I honestly don’t remember stumbling upon the card in the last year. So I don’t think it will be missed in the current meta, but it’s always one Neutral removal option less.
Witch's Cauldron used to be, well… maybe not a staple, but a very common card in Odd Paladin. It has also seen play in other board flood decks like Token Shaman or Zoo Warlock. Random Shaman spells might not seem like a great deal, but there was actually quite a lot of useful ones. More burn, Earth Shock/Hex and – of course – the elusive Bloodlust (which your opponent always ended up with, but you never got it). For a while now, however, the Aggro/Tempo meta is just too… fast. And unfair. There are significantly better ways to get more value, cheat stuff out onto the board and often dropping a 3 mana 0/4 that does nothing the moment you play it is a death sentence. The times have changes, but one thing is sure – Token builds won’t be able to run it soon.
Sandbinder – Similar case to Witchwood Piper. Even closer to Gnomish Inventor – same mana cost, same stats, almost the same effect. But almost makes a big difference. Sandbinder lets you tutor a specific kind of minion – Elemental. That’s why if you run Elementals that you really want to draw, Sandbinder is your guy. The most prominent example would be Zephrys the Great – it’s an Elemental, which you really want to draw. That’s why Sandbinder has seen quite a lot of play in Highlander builds back in Saviors of Uldum. It got you either Zephrys, Siamat or let’s say Mountain Giant in Mage, all of which are great draws.
Seaforium Bomber is a card which probably has seen more “meme” play than actual play… When it comes to competitive decks, it has only really sometimes been used in Bomb Warrior, since it shuffled the same kind of bomb as other cards. However, it was simply a weaker version of Clockwork Goblin, and it was usually better to simply run Augmented Elekk. Still, some builds decided to run a full Bomb package including Seaforium. However, I feel like off-meta/meme Combo decks using it were even more interesting. Like Quest Shaman built to shuffle as many of those into opponent’s deck as possible. Or Rogue build with bounce mechanics that did everything to kill opponents with Bombs. Good strategies? Not really. Fun? Hell yeah!
Mossy Horror – When it was released, most players have seen Mossy Horror as a meme card… until it suddenly was all over the ladder. Mossy was a great tech against meta at the time. Spreading Plague was still in Standard, Odd Paladin was popular, other token-oriented builds were also pretty common… But ever since then, it seems like we never had a meta in which you would want to use it. We had no decks that it countered, no decks that wanted to run it or they simply had better options. Still, I think that it well deserves a spot on this list, since it was a very notable card at the time.
Crowd Roaster – Another part of the Dragon package. Well, Dragon package before Descent of Dragons – after the latest expansion, we simply got so many good Dragons that Crowd Roasted didn’t see that much play. I’ve sometimes seen it in Highlander builds, but it was cut from the best lists. Still, it’s one less option for early Dragon builds in the upcoming Standard year.
Neutral – Legendary
And finally, Legendaries. To be honest, Year of the Raven didn’t have that many amazing Neutral Legends, especially after Baku & Genn were Hall of Famed, but the few ones it had were absolutely nuts.
The ones I’m talking about are obviously the ultimate Mech pair – SN1P-SN4P and Zilliax. SN1P-SN4P wasn’t originally a part of Boomsday Project and it was released in Rise of Shadows, but since it was added to Boomsday set, it will rotate alongside it. Most of Mechs see play in, well, Mech decks. Sometimes you might find an odd Mech here and there as a part of some combo etc. (e.g. Galvanizer) But those two are so good that they have seen lots and lots of play in non-Mech builds too. SN1P-SN4P is mostly used in more Midrange or Token decks, while Zilliax usage tends towards slow builds like Control / Combo, but it’s not a rule. Zilliax has seen a bunch of Midrange play, while SN1P-SN4P is often used in Control decks too. Both of them are so good mostly because of their flexibility. SN1P-SN4P is never an “amazing” play, but the fact that you can use it as a solid 3-drop, solid 6-drop or a solid 9-drop makes it scale very well into the game. Most of 3-drops are pretty bad to draw in the mid game, let alone late game, but this one is not. Zilliax is also flexible, but in a different way. It’s a card with most keywords printed on it. It serves as a small removal, healing tool, defensive tool and even extra damage tool when you have a Mech on the board already. All of those at the same time. There are almost no board against which Zilliax is just straight up bad – sure, sometimes it’s not always going to turn the game around, but it will usually at least buy you some time. At the time I’m writing this, Zilliax is played in almost 60% of decks (most popular card) and SN1P-SN4P is played in over 40% of the decks on the ladder (3rd most popular card, right after Leeroy Jenkins). Those are crazy numbers, and the best thing is that they kept them ever since they were released. We did have some dips, but even during those they were some of the most popular Legendaries in the game. I won’t even try to list every deck that played those, because I would need to name majority of the last few expansions worth of metas.
While not as competitive as the two cards above, we’re losing another very important one – Whizbang the Wonderful. It was one of the best designed cards in the entire game in my opinion. The idea is simple – you put him into your deck and he always gives you a random Deck Recipe. Given that there are 18 Deck Recipes available at any time (two per class) and they change every expansion, it was possibly the best craft for new players. Thanks to Whizbang, they could experience a variety of play strategies and decks (including some meta decks) for just 1.6k Dust. Of course, given that we also had a bunch of bad Recipes, the card was never competitive – but I’ve heard about some people hitting Legend with it, so if you were good enough it was certainly possible. Because of that it was perfect. You couldn’t buy an entire meta for just 1.6k Dust, but you could have a fun/even playable set of deck lists for so cheap. We had many petitions to add Whizbang to Classic set and I honestly hope that it would happen. We still have an alternative – Zayle, Shadow Cloak, but it only has 5 decks and they aren’t updated, making it a much worse option.
Now onto the rest of Legendaries. Starting with Subject 9 – for a long time, it was a staple in all kinds of Secret Hunter. Regular version, Beast version and even Highlander version. Right now Hunter decks lean towards other strategies (like Mechs or more recently Dragons), and Phase Stalker gives an alternative way of pulling out Secrets from your deck anyway. Other than Hunter, it was also played in Mage, but only for a short while – Tempo/Secret Mage quickly disappeared after Mana Wyrm nerf, which happened in Boomsday. Subject 9 in general was always an interesting option in Secret decks.
Mojomaster Zihi has seen some play, mostly as a tech card. It was used in order to prevent decks from getting to higher mana points. It was mostly done to prevent decks from pulling off certain combos – e.g. Mecha'thun combos, OTK Paladin combos with Uther of the Ebon Blade or certain Malygos combos. Other than that, when the meta was slow and full of high cost cards, it could be used to prevent players from dropping those 8-10 mana bombs, or at least delay them by a few turns. The card was quite commonly used in Rogue, which could completely block those decks by shuffling more copies of Zihi into the deck or bouncing her around with Shadowstep. All in all, it was an interesting tech card.
Azalina Soulthief – Azalina is an interesting case. Her most prominent use was definitely a part of the combo with King Togwaggle in Druid. The idea was to go through the deck as quickly as possible, discount Tog and/or Azalina, then drop both on the same turn. This way you gave your opponent an empty deck and took theirs instead. If they wanted to switch back, since you also copied the card that allowed to do it, you just switched back again. It was considered a meme deck for a while, but at one point it actually became a part of the meta (competing with Malygos build). Much, much later it was used in some Warrior decks, often alongside Archivist Elysiana, in order to get even more late game value in the mirrors (the idea was to dump your hand quickly and then copy your opponent’s hand, often with Elysiana in it, because they had no time to play it when you pushed for tempo). Azalina was certainly an interesting card, but lately it didn’t have much impact on the meta.
Oondasta – Given that it was pretty easy to Overkill with a 7/7 minion with Rush, the idea behind Oondasta was to get out your big Beast cards from your hand for free. The combo worked best in Recruit Hunter, which already had a few ways to cheat them out on the board from deck, but then Oondasta was an extra way to get the out of hand. Since the new Beasts were summoned, Witchwood Grizzly was obviously an amazing target, never losing any health from Battlecry. Additionally, the deck has seen some play in Druid and even Taunt Warrior (which played it alongside Grizzlies and Amani War Bears). Again, it didn’t see much play lately.
Hakkar, the Soulflayer was never really a mainstream card, but from time to time it was used either as a sole combo card (e.g. in Hakkar Druid) or as a simple addition, an extra win condition. Most of the time, decks running Hakkar could either force opponent to draw more Bloods than they did, or get rid of them from their own deck somehow. An extra benefit was that as long as two or more Bloods were in your opponent’s deck, he could no longer use Highlander card. Recently, the card was sometimes teched into Resurrect Priest and stopping Highlander decks at one point was one of the benefits (however, more recently Bad Luck Albatross became a better tech for the job).
And last, but not least – Mecha'thun. Often seen as the ultimate Combo card, because unlike lots of other “damage” combos (even those who could easily deal 100 damage in a single turn, like Exodia Mage), it was an instant kill. It ignored any Secrets like Ice Block, anything – you just destroyed your opponent. And the best thing was that the card became usable in multiple classes. Decks like Mecha’thun Druid, Mecha’thun Priest, Mecha’thun Warlock or Mecha’thun Warrior were all viable at one point, using a variety of interesting ways to cycle through the deck and then kill Mecha’thun off. Lately, the card hasn’t seen much play, mostly because some combo pieces have rotated out or were Hall of Famed, but Mecha’thun will definitely pass as one of the most interesting Combo cards ever printed (and one of the not-so-many cards that were created specifically to build Combo decks around them).
Next part will cover class cards from Druid, Hunter, Mage and Paladin. Stay tuned!