Platebreaker is Finally in the Meta – Is Armor a Healthy Design in Hearthstone?

Note: The article was written before the nerfs, so Platebreaker might no longer be in the meta, but everything about Armor design is still relevant.

I recently spotted something I had never expected to see in Hearthstone. Just take a look at this #1 Legend deck list:

See the last card in the Neutral section of the list? Yes, it is a real, living example of Platebreaker, a card from Descent of Dragons that has never seen play in the year it has been available to players. It is an anti-Armor tech card, which limits it mainly as an anti-Warrior tech with some anti-Druid possibilities depending on the meta.

Now, just because a deck reaches #1 Legend does not mean that it is a great deck: the matchups it is optimized for can be extremely narrow, and it can fail in the ladder overall (for a recent example, think about Highlander Druid). However, this Demon Hunter deck has been popular enough since its creation that we have some statistics available about it, and the deck is indeed good.

Then again, even if the deck reaches #1 Legend and the deck is good, it does not mean that the deck is perfect. There can still be suboptimal individual cards in a good deck. Because there are some good statistics available on this deck, we can safely say that Platebreaker is actually not a strong card in the deck even at Legend rank. It is performing slightly over one percentage point worse than the second-weakest card in the deck, which makes it a clear candidate for replacement.

Whew, it’s all good, then! That was a scare.

Thinking about it a little more, however, actually makes me a little scared still. Even if Platebreaker is sub-optimal and should not be part of the deck, it got way closer than I’m comfortable with. One percentage point is not the kind of difference you usually see with narrow tech cards: typically they fall behind by multiple percentage points. Even though you should not run Platebreaker in your deck, the fact that it got even close to being good enough is scary.

All of this is a prelude to the real question: what is the role of Armor in Hearthstone? Is Armor helping the game, or is it hurting the game?

What Makes Armor So Good?

Armor creates this nice, different feel to the way various classes gain health in the game. Priests and Paladins heal themselves, Warlocks hurt and heal themselves, Druids can use both healing and armor, and Warriors are all about putting on more gear when going gets tough.

The most significant difference between Health and Armor is that your maximum Health is limited, but your maximum Armor is not. This has major consequences to the way control decks work in Hearthstone: As a Priest, Paladin, Shaman, or Warlock, you are limited to 30 Health. That’s it. If there is a damage-based combo that can deal more than that, and the opponent survives long enough to pull it off, you’re gone. If there is a midrange deck that starts the pressure after a couple of turns, you cannot stack up Health to survive the upcoming onslaught. As a Warrior or Druid, you have the ability to get a big health buffer in the form of Armor, depending on the availability of Armor cards. Warrior has by far the most reliable access to Armor with their Hero Power, whereas Druids in Wild can stack up thousands of points of Armor in the late-game with the right combos.

Generally, having Armor is better than having Health because Platebreaker is the only threat to your Armor, and as it is a very narrow tech card, you can expect to never see it in play.

In contrast, there is a major anti-Health tech card in the game: AlexstraszaAlexstrasza has been a part of many combo decks, and it used to be a silver bullet to many adventure bosses in the early days of the game and actually caused Blizzard to add Armor to adventure bosses as a countermeasure. If we think about cards that limit design space, one of Blizzard’s favorite reasons for nerfs, Alexstrasza should have been changed six years ago.

Of course, any defensive strategy can perish at the hands of a lethal combo that is not based on limited damage. Whether it is Mecha'thunUther of the Ebon Blade, or just infinite Fireballs from Archmage Antonidas, game-ending combos can defeat any defensive strategy.

Nonetheless, because there are very few counters to it, stacking up armor is an effective defensive strategy, and Warrior has been the master of this strategy for a long time. Justicar Trueheart in The Grand Tournament, Odd Warrior in The Witchwood, and a variety of Warrior decks running Risky SkipperArmorsmith, and Bloodsworn Mercenary for the past year have all shared the ability to generate tens of points of Armor to outlast vast amounts of damage.

Overall, then, Armor is not unbeatable, but it is vastly superior to Health. Have you noticed how the majority of viable control decks in Hearthstone have always been Warrior decks? Armor is one of the main reasons for that.

What if We Had Access to More Health?

Blizzard has experimented with giving players more Health once: the Priest Quest Awaken the Makers from Journey to Un’Goro gave Amara, Warden of Hope as its reward, and Amara could set your current and maximum Health to 40. However, the Quest was difficult to complete and Amara only arrived at the scene fairly late in the game. Against aggressive decks, getting to play Amara usually won the game, whereas against slow decks that one-time boost to 40 did not make much of a difference. It was more about the big instant heal than it was about the increased Health cap.

Blizzard could, of course, change the starting Health in the game. That would promote slower gameplay overall and could dramatically change the balance of power in the game. Suddenly, aggro decks would need to be able to push much longer to reach the finish line and decks such as Face Hunter would suffer tremendously while midrange decks that are full of threats would benefit immensely. That would be an interesting change, albeit one that would make Hearthstone less casual as games would last significantly longer on average, and that goes against the overall design philosophy of the game. Therefore, I don’t expect to see such a change anytime soon.

Looking at other games, there is also another path to more Health: removing the Health cap. In games such as Magic: The Gathering and Eternal, your starting Health is not your maximum Health. If you heal yourself when you are at your starting Health, you will smoothly go over it and just gain additional Health.

Right now, the only control deck that can feel safe against the burst potential of Soul Demon Hunter or ETC Warrior is Control Warrior because they can amass enough Armor to avoid dying in a single turn to a limited-damage combo. Why is Warrior given this advantage over all the other classes? Is Warrior’s toolkit otherwise inferior in a way that their Armor build-up helps to balance the game? I would argue that it is not, Warrior has several powerful archetypes at many levels of aggression, and that is with a Hero Power that can only heal themselves and is therefore useless for aggro decks.

If we had access to more Health, we could see more viable control decks emerge. It would not magically turn the game into a control versus control battles, especially if starting Health was untouched, but it would remedy the unfair advantage that Warrior has enjoyed all these years, the advantage that has made it the premium control class over all others: Armor.

Just imagine a world where Priest’s turn two play was not to heal the opponent’s face but to heal their own to go to 32 Health overall. A world where all the healing available to Control Paladin could actually be used proactively, instead of casting Lay on Hands to draw three cards for eight mana because you have not taken any damage. A world where Lifestealing Demons in Control Warlock would threaten to give the Warlock an immense Health pool.

They could all still be killed by aggro in much the same way as they can now, but they would start at an even footing with Warrior for the first time. There is the small question as to what to do with Warrior’s Hero Power, which would then be strictly inferior to Priest’s Hero Power, but given the differences in class cards, it might not even need to be changed.

Armor is fine for flavor, but the competitive advantage it gives to Warrior is not fine. It limits the options people have for playing control decks, and in a game that already favors tempo over value in its base design, promoting one control deck over the others with this massive health advantage is unwarranted.

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. QuanWick
    December 20, 2020 at 10:18 pm

    As someone who is effectively a Warrior OTP (>1000 wins with warrior and my 2nd most is warlock with <300 wins.) my first instinct is to scream and say HANDS OFF MY ARMOR! But in this case I think I'll go with the more refined approach and address your concerns.

    Firstly I'm going so say that I agree with you in that armor is really good. It's insanely good. However it is quite one dimensional unlike healing for example. Hearthstone has only ever introduced 4 cards that interact with your armor: Geosculpter Yip, Heavy Metal, Reckless Flurry and (everyones favourite) Shield Slam.

    Based on the established class identity of each class you'll find that not all classes are created equal and have their strengths and weaknesses. Armor is warriors greatest strength and without it we'd see a repeat of mage after they lost ice block, that class has been dead for the majority of the time since then and I'm guessing this is why they haven't hall of famed edwin yet.

    My overall point is that while armor is great against aggression and limited damage otk I feel like you're giving it too much credit. Because outside of the ETC combo, warrior loses pretty hard to greedier control decks with great value generation like priest despite the turn 2 comparison of gaining 2 health vs healing your opponents face. This is a well written article but I'm going to have to disagree with the conclusion.

  2. Pandamonium
    December 19, 2020 at 12:06 am

    This article is stupid. It’s perfectly balanced as it is. Don’t fix what isn’t broken. It’s the one advantage warrior has, boo hoo. Cards can always be changed. You’re trying to change core HS elements like health & hero powers. Awful. As if other classes can’t play control. And the armor thing is only really an advantage in warrior vs aggro not other matchups ffs.

  3. Fidgety Troll
    December 18, 2020 at 12:27 pm

    Starting health should stay 30… but the health cap could be raised to 40 for all classes. Then put a cap on how much armor you can have (say 30) so that warriors still have there hero power different enough to priest.

  4. TorchBearer
    December 18, 2020 at 7:50 am

    Maybe if raise health to 40 and límit amor to 40 too can balance more .

  5. PitLord
    December 18, 2020 at 3:58 am

    Priest heal minion, Warrior don’t give armor to minion, so it’s fair that he can exceed the total life.

  6. Reeveff7
    December 18, 2020 at 2:48 am

    What? Warrior is an anti aggro/combo control while Priest and Warlock are anti-control control deck. Try playing true CW ( not the one with ETC) vs Priest and Controlock with current card pool and see how many games you can win. I cant believe Old Guardian wrote something like this. Armor and removal are the only thing Warrior good at. Next year when Bloodsworn rotated out then ETC is usless then the deck will be back to a niche tier3 anti aggro deck again

    • H0lysatan
      December 18, 2020 at 9:13 am

      No need to get salty. Everyone had their own opinions. You can create a whole different opinion if it suits you and submit it to HSTopDecks. Maybe then you people can see what you have in mind.

  7. Joris
    December 18, 2020 at 2:37 am

    For me, the problematic card relating to armor is armorsmith. The combo with skipper and mercenary indeed generates tons of armor. It should rotate out soon, so I don’t see a problem for standard anymore then.

    In a way armor is similar to weapons, though obviously weapons are more widespread. There is are several anti-weapon cards (though maybe not enough choices?).

    Though I agree that warrior should not be the dominant control deck. Maybe it would be more healthy to give more classes access to armor (like paladin, shaman to a lesser degree). Or give priest/paladin access to some divine shield that soaks up a certain amount of damage. Of course, cards printed should preclude from stacking too much.

  8. TheArcanist
    December 18, 2020 at 1:57 am

    I think Armor is a good design for the game. But well, I like basically anything that gives Control advantage against Aggro, so this might not be true. But like, why do we have so many Neutral aggro cards and like not a single strong neutral heal/armor card? I miss Zilliax.

    • Joris
      December 18, 2020 at 3:00 am

      Or a good early-game, defensive taunt. Like Warlock’s Midway Maniac, or Tar Creeper,…

  9. Kringle
    December 18, 2020 at 12:06 am

    I simply think there should be an armor cap. Maybe 15?

  10. Aiafa
    December 17, 2020 at 11:48 pm

    Armor is problematic design, but I would argue that removing the health cap would limit the design space a lot more and would also immediately create huge balancing problems when it comes to potential life gain of priests, paladins or lifesteal-specced Demon hunters.

  11. H0lysatan
    December 17, 2020 at 5:43 pm

    If you think limiting health cap to 30 was not fair, how bout limiting Warlock hero Jarraxus to 15, in exchange for flimsy 3-8 weapon and 2 6/6 hero power which doesn’t do anything to board immediately?

    If only there’s someway to raise his health from that cap.

    • 2asandab
      December 18, 2020 at 7:55 am

      Right? I’ve been playing since boomday and I can’t think a viable deck for standard I’ve seen Jarraxus in. Probably could be said about a lot of the classic legendaries but this has to be the worst. More likely to see it HOF’d like prophet velen, I think, than adjusted.

      As for plate breaker, this friend, helped more finish off the lich king for a few classes, for anyone who hasn’t completed it. I still haven’t with pally. One day! One day!

      • H0lysatan
        December 18, 2020 at 8:38 am

        Between adventuring with Lich King and Cyberpunk, I still gonna pick the latter. Lich King can wait. LOL

  12. Irish Seadog
    December 17, 2020 at 2:31 pm

    Interesting take… I for one would be very happy to see more viable control decks, however this is accomplished.