For a Hearthstone dinosaur like me (I’ve been playing the game since Closed Beta), writing about the past is one of my favorite topics. And what better thing can I write about than the best decks that used to dominate the past metas.
I’ve seen many “best deck ever” compilations already, so I’ve decided to take a slightly different approach. Instead of just listing a bunch of powerful decks, I’m going to pick a single deck from each expansion (including Beta & Classic) that has made the biggest impact at the time and talk about it. Of course, it doesn’t necessarily mean that each of those decks have completely dominated the entire period. Sometimes there were two, three or even more Tier 1 decks, but I’ve tried to choose the most impactful one. They are all strong decks that were popular at the time and have left a mark in the minds of players at the time.
While some choices were easy, others were incredibly difficult – at the times when there were multiple Tier 1 decks, especially when they were constantly shifting in terms of power, picking a single one was not an easy task. Also, the few oldest picks might be a bit subjective – there isn’t lots of data available from that period of time, so I’m heavily basing it on how I remember those metas (and while my memory is good, it’s been over 5 years since I started playing the game). Anyway, I hope that you’re going to enjoy the nostalgia ride, or learn something about the history of Hearthstone if you didn’t play back then.
Beta – Freeze Mage
I feel like there couldn’t be any other choice when it comes to the game’s beta. Freeze Mage was actually the first deck I was working towards back in the Closed Beta, because it felt so powerful. Freeze Mage was a prominent deck throughout many expansions, but it shined brightest during the Beta.
There’s something to keep in mind here. Aggro was nearly non-existent back then. Most of the meta was Midrange or slower – most of the players haven’t discovered that face is the place back then. That’s already a big advantage for a slow, combo deck like Freeze Mage. But that’s not all. If you think that 3 mana Frost Nova, 4 mana Cone of Cold or 6 mana Blizzard were always there, you would be wrong. Each one of those cards used to cost one mana less – 2, 3 and 5 respectively. With a relatively slow meta and cheap freezes, the deck was really frustrating to play against. It freezed and cleared the board all the time, while sitting comfortably and gathering burn cards, then killed your opponent over 2-3 turns. Blizzard decided to (rightfully so) nerf those three freeze cards back in the Closed Beta (it was December 2013 I think) because the deck was too strong and too annoying to face. Then, about a month later, another wave of nerfs have happened and they hit Pyroblast, which used to cost 8 mana instead of the current 10.
Of course, those nerfs weren’t enough to stop Freeze Mage. Actually, that was just the beginning – the deck had its ups and downs, but it was played throughout most of the early expansions. It even saw some play last year (especially in Un’Goro), but I feel like the Ice Block rotation has killed it for now.
Classic – Miracle Rogue
Miracle Rogue is another very resilient deck. It was created back in the Beta, and it was played in most of the expansions in one form or the other. It lost popularity recently, but I’m quite sure that unless some major changes happen, it will eventually be back in the meta.
Miracle Rogue in Hearthstone is mostly associated with Gadgetzan Auctioneer combined with a bunch of cheap spells, especially Preparation. And while that’s the defining feature of Miracle Rogue, the name actually comes from something different. Miracle Grow was an MTG deck that relied on creatures that, well, grow – you put +1/+1 counters on them when you did something else. The goal was to snowball the game with this kind of creatures. In case of Hearthstone, the name refers to Questing Adventurer, which was present in the initial versions of the deck. It was meant to be the main win condition, while Auctioneer was just a way to get more fuel. As it turned out, Questing wasn’t a staple (it was still a good card played in lots of the early decks, but some players cut it and still had success with the deck), while Auctioneer ended up being the deck-defining card.
The deck was really powerful at the time. It had two main win conditions – Conceal and Leeroy Jenkins combos. Massive Auctioneer turns were usually good enough to draw either of them. As for the Conceal strategy, Rogue played a bunch of minions and Concealed them just to (possibly) kill the opponent next turn. Questing Adventurers and a big Edwin VanCleef were the best Conceal targets, but even hiding a bunch of weenies meant that opponent had a hard time removing them without some massive AoE. And as for the Leeroy, keep in mind that it used to cost 4 mana back then. That alone made it even better than it is now, but it also means that it was much easier to combo with Shadowstep. Back then, you could play Leeroy + 2x Shadowstep for 18 damage just for 8 mana. You could even squeeze a Cold Blood or Eviscerate to combo the opponent from over 20 health.
The archetype was nerfed twice – first Leeroy was nerfed from 4 to 5 mana, and later Gadgetzan Auctioneer was nerfed from 5 to 6 mana. When the first Hall of Fame rotation happened back in Whispers of the Old Gods, the archetype also lost Conceal.
A bit later, Oil Rogue came to life. It was kind of a spiritual successor of Miracle Rogue, and it was also nerfed (Blade Flurry got gutted) after a while. But it wasn’t the last time we heard from the deck – it came back around League of Explorers with the release of Tomb Pillager. But, we could have an entire article dedicated to the history of Miracle Rogue, so I will just leave it for now and proceed to the next period – the first Hearthstone adventure.
Curse of Naxxramas – Huntertaker
Curse of Naxxramas was really exciting. It was the first real PvE content in Hearthstone, the first batch of new cards, the first real refresh of the meta. There were some delays and problems, especially on EU, but players have quickly forget about them and started enjoying the new meta.
Or did they? One of the main themes of Naxx was Deathrattle. Not only we’ve got a bunch of strong Deathrattle cards (which, in a hindsight, were too strong – A LOT of them are still Wild staples after so many years), but also some cards that synergy with Deathrattles. One of those cards in particular turned out to be a huge mistake – Undertaker. The current version of the card is weak, but before it got nerfed, it used to gain both Attack AND Health whenever you’ve played another Deathrattle minion. It was scary, because it had massive snowball potential. Gaining Attack is one thing – it might be able to punch harder, but it wouldn’t more difficult to clear. But when it also gained health, it became gradually more and more difficult to clear as you’ve played more Deathrattles.
While the card was played in multiple classes, the one that took a biggest advantage of it was Hunter. Not only the class had access to some more cheap Deathrattles, it was also the most aggressive one, which was exactly the way you wanted to play Undertaker. A Classic Huntertaker opener was something like Undertaker + Coin + Leper Gnome (2/1 at the time). It was already a strong board – a 2/3 and 2/1 on Turn 1. But it was also the last opportunity to answer it with the early removals. Just one more Deathrattle and it will grow out of range, meaning that you HAD to have an answer on Turn 2 or else there was a high chance that you’ve lost the game. Next turn Hunter could play 2x 1-drop with Deathrattle, or just a 2-drop like Haunted Creeper, and the card was already out of range, while punching you harder and harder.
Funny thing was that when it was already at 6/7 (yes, a 1-drop Boulderfist Ogre), in some matchups you didn’t want to play another Deathrattle to not put it in the range of Big Game Hunter. I remember taking down multiple Undertakers with BGH (it cost 3 mana back then, so it was a much more common tech) – which of course sometimes saved me, but it was crazy that you had to use it to deal with a 1-drop.
Of course, it wasn’t always that scary. If you had an early answer, or Hunter didn’t have a lot of Deathrattles to follow up, you could still manage. But between the fact that the deck was really powerful, easy to play and not very expensive, it was basically all over the ladder for many, many months. It was nerfed around half a year after its release, in Goblins vs Gnomes. A bit late, considering that it was one of the most anticipated nerfs in the history of Hearthstone.
Goblins vs Gnomes – Mech Mage
GvG, the first full expansion Hearthstone had. It was focused on Mechs – it even added the Mech tag. We had some Mechs in Classic, but they weren’t tagged as such. Anyway, since Mech was the main theme, it would be weird if no Mech decks worked. But they did, and they did work oh so well.
Mech Mage was actually very similar to Huntertaker (they even co-existed for a while). The deck was all about explosive starts and snowballing. Unlike Undertaker, which was about a single minion growing as big as possible, Mech Mage was mostly about Mechwarper shenanigans. Mechwarper was nearly on the Undertaker levels of broken – if you could stick it to the board, you’ve got a bunch of free tempo. For example, playing a 3-drop + a 2-drop on Turn 3 means that you’ve got a 2-drop out of your hand for free. Even playing Piloted Shredder on Turn 3 put a lot of pressure on the opponent.
While Mech Mage wasn’t the #1 deck throughout the entire GvG (e.g. Oil Rogue was better at times), it was probably the most notorious one. It was cheap – you could get a viable budget version without investing into a single Legendary, although it worked better with something like Dr. Boom, another GvG staple. It was also relatively simple – the goal was to play everything you could from your hand and go face (I mean, it wasn’t THAT simple, but you could climb through the lower ranks doing just that). I also remember that the deck had some cheesy ways to win the game. Unstable Portal was one of them – getting a big bomb, e.g. Ragnaros the Firelord, and dropping it on Turn 5 was a great way to seal the game after already putting lots of pressure. But probably the cheesiest way was through Archmage Antonidas. The deck could generate a lot of Spare Parts with cards like Clockwork Gnome or Tinkertown Technician. While not very impressive by themselves, one of them gave one of the minions Stealth. Turn 8 Antonidas + Stealth was a nearly a sure victory, unless your opponent had a way to clear a big minion in Stealth (which wasn’t that easy). I remember winning so many games that way, it had to be so frustrating for my opponents.
Mech Mage was still played after GvG, but with no new powerful Mechs getting added to the game and other decks popping out, it wasn’t as relevant later, and it completely disappeared with the first Standard rotation.
Blackrock Mountain – Patron Warrior
While not as impactful as Naxx, Blackrock Mountain also gave us a bunch of powerful cards. Some Dragon synergies (which were the first incentive to build a dedicated Dragon deck), Emperor Thaurissan, Flamewaker, Imp Gang Boss, but maybe most importantly – Grim Patron. The last one didn’t look particularly powerful before release. I mean, players had theorycrafted multiple ways to use it, but nothing sounded amazing.
However, as it turned out, the card was absolutely bonkers in Warrior, when you combined it with some other cards, especially Warsong Commander, which used to give minions with 3 or less Attack Charge. Actually, the main reason why the deck turned out to be so powerful in the first place was a hotfix that took place at the same time – Warsong was bugged before, and it didn’t give Charge to minions that were summoned by other minions. It was a big deal, because if it wasn’t fixed, you could not flood the board that easily with Warsong + Patron combo.
Patron Warrior was unique, because it was a board-centric combo deck. It had two main win conditions. First one was flooding the board with Patrons to the point where your opponent couldn’t deal with them. It worked best against decks with no way to deal 3+ AoE damage, and just imagine the frustration. You couldn’t play any small minions, because they gave Patrons more flood. You couldn’t play a 1-2 damage AoE, because you spawned more Patrons. When you played a big minion, it usually got Executed, or they just sacrificed three low health Patrons in and played another Whirlwind effect to get them back. But that’s not even the best the deck could do.
Another minion that Warsong Commander gave Charge was Frothing Berserker. Anyone who has ever played against it knows that it can snowball really hard really easily. Just imagine what it could do in a board full of replicating minions and ways to deal 1 AoE damage. Add Emperor Thaurissan to the mix to make 15+ mana combos available and you’re set.
To give it some credit, Patron Warrior was incredibly hard to play at the highest level. You not only had to make some difficult decisions and calculate a lot of stuff, but you had to do that in a very limited turn timer. You often queued all of your actions and then had to wait a minute or two minutes before all of the animations resolved (I’m not kidding, look at this turn for example). But even when played at the average level, even if you made a lot of mistakes, it was still a pretty oppressive deck, which was all over the higher ranks – especially Legend. And, if played perfectly, it might have been the most powerful deck Hearthstone had up to date.
It was nerfed a month before Blizzcon 2016. Warsong Commander was basically killed, reducing the deck’s combo potential. The deck wasn’t dead yet, and it was still played as a nice counter to Secret Paladin, but it was no longer as powerful and dominating.
The Grand Tournament – Secret Paladin
Speaking of Secret Paladin, this pick was actually really easy. It was by far the most dominating deck in The Grand Tournament, and even early in League of Explorers. The deck was “activated” by Mysterious Challenger, a card that was undervalued back in the day, but players quickly realized its potential. Not only did it have solid stats for the mana cost (6/6 for 6), it came with an incredibly powerful effect. In the best case scenario, it drew and played five 1 mana cards from your deck. That’s one of the best tempo swings Hearthstone had at the time. And while yes – it meant that Paladin is forced to play average or even bad cards (most of the Paladin Secrets weren’t amazing), it was still well worth it. While the decks were Secret-heavy at first, the final builds played 5-6 Secrets in total, usually pulling 2-3 of them with Challenger, which was already good enough.
Paladin’s toolkit at the time was also amazing. The deck was basically a curve master, it could play some of the most powerful cards in the game on each turn. The perfect curve looked something like that: T1 – Zombie Chow, T2 – Shielded Minibot, T3 – Muster for Battle, T4 – Piloted Shredder, T5 – Sludge Belcher (or Loatheb), T6 – Mysterious Challenger, T7 – Dr. Boom, T8 – Tirion Fordring (or Ragnaros the Firelord). And the thing is, it wasn’t uncommon to get a nearly perfect curve. And getting it meant that you could basically go on auto-pilot and still win the game – just play the highest mana cost card from your hand each turn and that’s it.
The deck wasn’t unanswerable, it wasn’t even the most powerful deck all the time, but it was definitely the meta defining deck. Again, given how simple it was to play, it just flooded the ladder. Lower ranked players could craft it and hit let’s say Rank 5 just by playing on the curve. While better players had more options, it was still tempting and often the best way to climb the ladder (until everyone and their mother started to run counters). The deck was still relevant throughout LoE, although weaker than it was in TGT. And it finally disappeared with the first Standard rotation, since Paladin lost its crazy curve and the best Secret (Avenge).
League of Explorers – Midrange Druid
Midrange Druid wasn’t anything new by the time League of Explorers went live. The deck was played as far back as Classic Hearthstone, and it was present in nearly every meta, but I really think that it was at its peak during League of Explorers. It started getting better by the end of 2015 and then dominated the early 2016.
It was a classic Midrange deck with a combo twist. It wanted to play strong minions on curve, throw out bomb after bomb, and when the time finally came, drop the Force of Nature + Savage Roar combo. Thanks to the ramp of Wild Growth and extra mana surge given by Innervate (2-mana instead of 1 prior to the nerf), it could drop big threats way ahead of the curve. Like a Dr. Boom when your opponent could only play a 4-drop. Emperor Thaurissan gave the deck even more freedom in a way they can combo their cards. So-called “double combo” was possible – you could either drop 1x FoN + 2x SR (more common) or 2x FoN + 1x SR, both were deadly.
While the deck was pretty weak against fast, aggressive builds (I mean, it still had 30-40% win rate against those, so it wasn’t the end of the world), it was completely demolishing slower and greedier decks, such as Control Priest, Freeze Mage, RenoLock or Control Warrior. It wrapped the whole meta around itself and forced people to tech heavily against it, or play Aggro. It was a Tier 1 deck throughout the entire LoE, and the unquestionable #1 deck for at least 2-3 months.
I mean, just looking at how many of the cards played in the deck were nerfed or rotated into Hall of Fame is pretty crazy. Innervate, Keeper of the Grove, Big Game Hunter, Force of Nature, Ancient of Lore – nerfed. Azure Drake, Sylvanas Windrunner, Ragnaros the Firelord – rotated out (the last two were common techs for slower matchups). That’s almost half of the deck nerfed or Hall of Famed.
Those of you who complain about the Druid’s power level right now probably don’t remember how insane the class was back in LoE. And it’s crazy that it survived despite being the main target of a biggest nerf wave ever.
Whispers of the Old Gods – Dragon Warrior
Whispers of the Old Gods – the first expansion of the first Standard year (Year of the Kraken). Throwing out Naxx and GvG decreased the general power by A LOT, but WotG had its own share of strong cards to compensate for that. However, the deck that soon started dominating the ladder actually didn’t use a lot of them.
But let’s start from the beginning. Early into WotG, a deck called Tempo Warrior was invented and popularized. It was a Midrange deck that meant to snowball the game through powerful early/mid game plays and by high tempo removals (e.g. Execute, which costed 1 mana back then). It was one of the best decks throughout the first month or so. However, after a while, players have tried to experiment with a similar deck, but with a Dragon shell instead of the regular cards. And so, Dragon Warrior was created.
It was a rather aggressive Midrange deck, with lots of powerful synergies. First, the Dragons – thanks to the Dragon package, deck had access to one of the strongest 2-drops in the history of Hearthstone – Alexstrasza's Champion. A 3/3 minion for 2 mana is already good, a 3/3 with Charge is absolutely nuts. And with enough Dragons in the deck, it worked pretty consistently. As for the Dragon package, the rest of it was also solid. While Faerie Dragon was mostly a filler, it was an okay 2-drop in a deck that lacked good 2-drops. Twilight Guardian was a 3/6 Taunt for 4, also above the curve. Azure Drake was insane card in many, many decks, not only Dragon-related ones. Blackwing Corruptor, while not a Dragon by himself, came with a solid body and a great effect. 3 damage could be used as a board control tool, or as a way to deal some more damage to the opponent. And finally – Drakonid Crusher. I remember not being convinced by the card at first, since it’s just a pile of stats, but it worked really well in the context. By turn 6, your opponent was at 15 or below most of the time, so it was a quite consistent 9/9 for 6 mana. At that time, your opponent had already used a bunch of removals to deal with your earlier threats – and if he didn’t, they were still on the board. So very often he did not have a way to clear the big guy, or cleared it and was getting punched to death by smaller minions.
The deck had a lot of reach too, in case the minions were removed. Alexstrasza’s Champion I’ve already mentioned, but also Kor'kron Elite were ways to deal some extra chip damage to the face. Similarly, you could use weapons (N'Zoth's First Mate and Fiery War Axe) and Blackwing Corruptor I’ve already mentioned. But at the end of the curve, the deck held big bombs like Ragnaros the Firelord and Grommash Hellscream, both of which were capable of finishing the game on their own.
While I personally enjoyed the Control variant more (Control Dragon Warrior), the regular, Midrange/Tempo version was the deck to beat at the time. Its domination didn’t last that long, as more and more players have realized that Shaman has A LOT of potential, but WotG was still a Warrior expansion. However, not for long, as One Night in Karazhan came shortly after.
One Night in Karazhan – Midrange Shaman
For a very long time, Shaman was bottom of the barrel. A class that couldn’t do anything – it didn’t have viable decks of any kind. But ever since The Grand Tournament, it was gradually getting more and more powerful cards. Basically, every set had some overpowered Shaman cards, and I’m not exaggerating. Totem Golem, Tuskarr Totemic (pre-nerf) and Thunder Bluff Valiant in TGT. Tunnel Trogg in LoE. Flamewreathed Faceless and Thing from Below in Whispers of the Old Gods. At this point, both Aggro and Midrange Shaman were already a relevant part of the meta, even Tier 1 at the time. If there were no other decks to keep them in check, they would already start their domination. But then, One Night in Karazhan came and Shamans got two more powerful cards – Spirit Claws and Maelstrom Portal.
That was enough for the class to completely dominate the meta, we’ve entered the peak of so-called “Shamanstone”. Both Aggro and Midrange Shaman were very powerful at the time, but I feel like Midrange was the winner when it comes to power level. It just felt insane. It had explosive start, great mid game, high tempo swings, premium board clears, as well as multiple bombs that let them take the game to the late game. I had some Control Warrior vs Midrange Shaman matchups where they almost outvalued me by smartly playing around AoEs.
The deck was slightly nerfed in the mid-expansion balance patch, which changed Tuskarr Totemic. Before, the card could give you ANY totem, meaning that you could swing the game completely by summoning Totem Golem (or even Mana Tide Totem, for example), after the nerf it only summoned Basic totems. It wasn’t the end of Shaman, though. The deck was hit again in the next nerf patch, where the cost of Spirit Claws was upped to 2. But it really took the rotation to kill the deck completely – with the insane Tunnel Trogg into Totem Golem opener gone, Un’Goro ladder was safe from Shamans… until Token Shaman was optimized, that is.
Mean Streets of Gadgetzan – Pirate Warrior
Mean Streets of Gadgetzan is probably the most hated expansion in Hearthstone’s history. Reno decks, which were pushed with the release of class-specific Highlander cards and Kazakus, were generally disliked. The entire Jade mechanic, especially Jade Druid (Jade Idol) was hated. And finally, you could hear players calling the deck “cancer” more than you would hear that word in the oncology section at your local hospital.
But how did Pirate Warrior start dominating so hard? Again, it was a classic case of a deck already being good enough or nearly good enough and receiving some powerful cards. In case of Warrior, the Pirate build was already boosted heavily by the new cards from Whispers of the Old Gods – N'Zoth's First Mate and Bloodsail Cultist. Both are insane in a Pirate deck, and they already proven themselves useful before, but there just was no reason to play the Pirate build over Dragon, and then the whole Shamanstone thing happened. However, Gadgetzan changed things. Two new, absolutely insane cards were printed – Small-Time Buccaneer and Patches the Pirate. The first one was basically a 1 mana 3/2 in a deck that had a weapon equipped most of the time, and it had a Pirate tag on top of that. Patches was a free 1/1 with Charge you got at the start of each game. While there was a slight chance to draw it, if you didn’t get it in your opening hand, you usually summoned it on Turn 1.
All the Pirate and weapon synergies combined with insane aggression meant that the deck would nearly kill you, or even just kill you, around Turn 4-5 if you didn’t have answers for their early plays. And even if you did, it still wasn’t over for them. All of the Charge minions and weapon damage they had really added up. Just a single Arcanite Reaper could be buffed by let’s say Upgrade! and Bloodsail Cultist to become a 7/4 weapon – that’s 28 damage in total if not removed. So often you thought that you stabilized just to get smacked by a weapon followed by a charging Leeroy. Face was the place, indeed.
The deck was slightly nerfed in the Gadgetzan balance patch, which came pretty late, only a month before the rotation and the launch of Un’Goro. Most players had expected Patches to see a nerf, but we had to wait a whole year for that. Instead, Small-Time Buccaneer had its health reduced from 2 to 1, making it pretty weak, especially since Patches was a very popular card (and having your 1-drop dying to Patches wasn’t the best feeling).
The deck was at its peak in Gadgetzan, but it was still relevant in Un’Goro and even early in the KFT despite the nerfs and release of a hate card – Golakka Crawler. What finally killed the deck was Fiery War Axe nerf mid-KFT – the deck’s Turn 2 was already weak, and delaying the weapon by one turn meant that it became slower and more awkward. Players tried to play it a few more times last year, but it never took off. That said, I think that it had a fair share of time in the spotlight, and it was so universally hated that it not coming back to life was good for the game’s health (as well as mental health of players).
Journey to Un’Goro – Aggro Token Druid
Journey to Un’Goro was definitely the hardest expansion to pick a single deck from. The thing about Un’Goro was that the meta was never really stable. It was changing all the time – every week or two we had a different deck at the top. The obvious choice would be Quest Rogue, and I thought that I would go with it, but I decided against it. The thing is, the deck was never THAT problematic on the ladder – it wasn’t even Tier 1 all the time, and the amount of Aggro kept it in check. Was it frustrating to play against? Did people hate it? Yes to both of those questions. And if I had to pick the most impactful TOURNAMENT deck of Un’Goro, Quest Rogue would be it. But overall, I think that we had decks that made a bigger impact, since it was nerfed quite quickly.
I also considered a bunch of other decks – Murloc (or Midrange) Paladin, Secret Mage, Token Shaman, Burn Mage. All of them had their time as #1 deck on the ladder, but going by the sheer popularity and average power level, I think that Token Druid is the deck that deserves this spot most.
And for those of you who didn’t play back then – Un’Goro Token Druid looks nothing like the current Token Druid decks we have (which remind me more of a classic Token Druid, played way back). Un’Goro Token Druid was basically an Aggro deck, with the goal of flooding the board with as many small minions as possible and then buffing them. The buff part is important – while we already had Power of the Wild since Classic, a new Gadgetzan card started shining in this strategy – Mark of the Lotus. It had the same effect as PotW (without the ability to summon 3/2, obviously), but for one mana less. It was a crazy snowball tool – especially given the unnerfed state of Innervate and a so-called “Pirate package” (Bloodsail Corsair + Patches the Pirate). The deck could snowball like crazy. For example, it could drop Fire Fly on T1, then play Bloodsail Corsair (pulling Patches), the 1/2 token from Fire Fly, Innervate, another 1-drop like Enchanted Raven and buff everything with Mark of the Lotus. 2/2 with Charge, 3x 2/3 and a 3/3 on Turn 2. It wasn’t uncommon to go for such plays, and boards like that were nearly auto-wins for Druid.
The deck also took advantage of a new Un’Goro card called Living Mana. Since it relies heavily on putting multiple tokens on the board, a card that puts 5+ 2/2 tokens was amazing. Of course, it usually meant that the turn after using it you couldn’t play anything more than a 1 mana card. Still, it wasn’t that big of a deal. Not only were you often in top-deck mode, so you didn’t have much to play anyway, but 5x 2/2 (for example) was enough pressure on the board most of the time. And if your opponent AoE’d it down, you were back to the normal amount of mana. The card had some hard counters, like Devolve (which transformed them without giving you your mana back), but it was still a great refill in most of the matchups.
The deck was very explosive, it could basically win some games with a crazy Turn 1. But even if it didn’t, just sticking a few minions into a Savage Roar was often enough to take the victory. It was also one of the decks that played a so-called “Water Package”, with Finja, the Flying Star, 2x Bluegill Warrior and 2x Murloc Warleader. The goal was to stick Finja, attack with her and pull out Murlocs (preferably Warleaders) from your deck for a massive board swing. The package disappeared after people have started teching in Hungry Crabs, but it was still an interesting thing to see.
The deck was still super powerful early in Knights of the Frozen Throne, where Druid got a bunch of crazy cards. However, it didn’t last that long, because the anti-Druid nerf patch was one of the quickest we’ve ever seen. Was it over for Token Druid? Not exactly, the deck was still somewhat viable, even as far as in Kobolds & Catacombs. But I’d say that it was most meta defining during Un’Goro.
Knights of the Frozen Throne – Highlander (Razakus) Priest
When it comes to KFT, it was once again a very difficult choice between three decks – Jade Druid, Tempo Rogue and Highlander Priest. Jade Druid was absolutely dominating, it was one of the strongest decks ever… but it was clearly a mistake, since KFT nerf patch was the quickest one in the history of post-release Hearthstone, coming roughly a month after the expansion’s release. Which means that the deck’s domination didn’t last that long, so I’ve decided to count it out.
And then, if we look at the post-nerf meta, we had two very important decks. First one was Prince Keleseth Tempo Rogue, a pretty aggressive Midrange build that took advantage of powerful tempo swings with cards like Vilespine Slayer or Bonemare (pre-nerf). The second one is Highlander Priest – a combo deck that took advantage of the Raza the Chained and Shadowreaper Anduin synergy to shoot their Hero Power like a machine gun.
If we would strictly follow stats here, Tempo Rogue would be my pick without a question. The deck was a #1 deck in terms of win rate for the majority of the expansion. However, I feel like Highlander Priest deserves a spot on this list even more. While the deck was Tier 2 throughout most of the expansion, I really think that looking at the tier list was really deceptive in this case. While most of the lower ranked players wouldn’t agree with that at the time, Highlander Priest was an incredibly difficult deck to master. But once you did, it would outperform nearly every single other build. On the other hand, Tempo Rogue was generally much easier to pick up, but it hit its skill to performance peak quite quickly. The best players would constantly climb to top 10 Legend with Highlander Priest, there were times when the deck was all over the Legend ladder.
While the first builds weren’t that successful, one player – Monsanto – realized that there’s no reason to go for a more Control-styled Highlander Priest, and that the Combo version is just better. So he packed as many card draw and stall tools as he could, as well as added Prophet Velen to be able to combo the opponent down. And so, the deck’s main goal was to play both Raza & Anduin, and then deal enough chip damage with Hero Power so you could finish him with the combo, or even just draw most of the cards and go straight for the OTK. The deck turned out to be incredibly efficient at doing all of that.
Besides the high legend ladder, the deck also dominated the tournament scene. It had 100% representation (as in it was brought by every player) in the top 16 of multiple important tournaments, including HCT Summer Championship 2017.
But, like I’ve said, if we look only at the stats, Tempo Rogue would be the #1 deck in KFT, so if that was your pick, I don’t blame you at all.
Kobolds & Catacombs – Cube Warlock
Now onto Kobolds & Catacombs, the final expansion of Year of the Mammooth. So far both of the final expansions of Standard years had their power levels turned up to maximum, we’ll see whether this trend will continue quite soon. But unlike the last two, my pick for Kobolds & Catacombs is quite simple. Cube Warlock is definitely the most impactful deck of that expansion. In case of Kobolds & Catacombs, the expansion has introduced A LOT of powerful Warlock cards (after the class has already got some amazing ones in Knights of the Frozen Throne – Defile and Bloodreaver Gul'dan come to mind). It was the classic case of “class that was nearly good enough to see common play on the ladder” receiving a bunch of crazy powerful cards… In this case, Dark Pact (pre-nerf it healed for 8), Kobold Librarian, Vulgar Homunculus, Lesser Amethyst Spellstone, Possessed Lackey (it used to cost 5 mana before the nerf), Voidlord, Skull of the Man'ari and even Rin, the First Disciple. Given that Hooked Reaver started seeing play later, Cataclysm is basically the ONLY Warlock card from Kobolds & Catacombs that hasn’t seen mainstream play in competitive meta decks. Crazy, right?
Believe it or not, but the deck had a rather slow start. At the beginning, the Control variant was more popular, and people saw the Carnivorous Cube version as merely an alternative. While it was getting more and more popular, at first the deck was held back by Highlander Priest. No matter which variant you used, it had a weak matchup vs the deck. It didn’t stop it from being a relevant meta deck, but things got serious after the nerf patch. A bunch of cards were hit – Raza the Chained, Patches the Pirate, Corridor Creeper and Bonemare. And the thing is – none of those cards were important in Cube Warlock. Sure, Corridor Creeper or Bonemare were sometimes played because they were just way too strong, but losing them didn’t hurt Warlock nearly as much.
And so, the Cube Warlock’s domination had begun. It was the most popular deck on the ladder all the way until (and even some time after) the rotation, and it had one of the highest win rates. While Dude Paladin was competing for the #1 spot after the nerfs, I think that Cube Warlock was still more impactful overall. It had some of the most explosive mid game turns in the history of Hearthstone. Sticking Skull of the Man'ari or Possessed Lackey to summon a Big Demon and follow it up by Carnivorous Cube + Dark Pact was a sure way to win a lot of games. Later in the game, it could do some insane combos with Spiritsinger Umbra too. Like, having Doomguard on the board, just to drop Umbra + Cube + Dark Pact for 4x Doomguard (5 attacks – or 25 damage – with the initial one). And then it had two massive late game board refills in Bloodreaver Gul'dan and N'Zoth, The Corruptor – hitting any of those was a death sentence for an Aggro deck, and Control builds often ran out of removals necessary to handle all of those big board refills.
It took the rotation AND a nerf patch to finally put Cube Warlock in check. But the deck is pretty viable even right now, it’s definitely not the strongest deck on the ladder, and it was mostly pushed out by Even Warlock, but it’s possible to climb with it.
The Witchwood – Even Paladin
The Witchwood was another very difficult choice, because like always, the meta was split into two parts – pre-nerf and post-nerf. However, since the nerf patch came pretty late (over 2 months into the expansion), and after the nerf there was no single deck that really dominated the meta, I have to pick Even Paladin here. When looking at the deck in hindsight, one thing is sure – Call to Arms was a huge mistake. Also, players didn’t expect Even Paladin to be so good. Before the expansion, Odd Paladin was one of the most hyped decks – summoning 2x 1/1 with the Hero Power just felt much more powerful than reducing the Hero Power’s cost to 1. However, given that the most powerful Paladin cards are Even, after playing a bunch with both builds, the choice was simple – Even Paladin is better.
The deck was simply crazy for multiple reasons. It had basically all of the necessary Paladin tools, while the discounted Hero Power was a great way to a) have a guaranteed T1 play every game and b) fill the curve. Playing Hero Power every turn also flooded the board quite quickly, since no matter what you did, you almost always summoned a 1/1 on top of that. And the best thing was that a bunch of harmless 1/1’s could be turned into deadly killing machines with cards like Lightfused Stegodon or Sunkeeper Tarim. Even Equality was often a great way to utilize them.
The deck really shined in the mid game, especially Call to Arms, which always pulled three 2-drops (since the deck did not run any 1-drops). Playing it on the curve was often a win if your opponent didn’t have an AoE. And even if he did, the best thing about this deck is that he needed more than one or two, because you could play threats after threats after threats each turn. And when opponent has finally stabilized, Paladin dropped Avenging Wrath on the empty board to deal 8 burst damage out of the blue.
I was surprised by the success of Even & Odd decks on such a massive scale, but Even Paladin was one of the decks that surprised me the most. I figured that Paladin would be strong, but I really thought that either Odd or a classic Aggro builds would be better.
Then, the nerf patch came, and changing one card destroyed the deck. Call to Arms now costed 5 mana, meaning that it could no longer be played in Even Paladin (because let’s be honest, they would still play it if they could). Losing its biggest play, the deck got much less powerful, but not completely useless. It was still played as an off-meta deck from time to time, and it’s actually gaining more popularity again now in the post-nerf Boomsday meta. It’s not a high tier deck, but it’s something to watch out for, as it might get back into the meta in the next expansion if a few strong Even-costed Paladin cards get printed.
Boomsday Project – ???
And finally, our journey through the history of Hearthstone is over. Boomsday Project is the current expansion, and we still have a month (or maybe a little more) of Boomsday meta before the new expansion takes its place. That’s why I don’t want to pick the best deck of the expansion yet, since a lot can still change during that month. So far, Boomsday Project had its fair share of strong decks – Odd Warrior, Deathrattle Hunter, Even Warlock, Odd Rogue, Zoo Warlock, even Quest Rogue (which was indirectly nerfed AGAIN). If I had to pick the most impactful deck right now, Deathrattle (Cube) Hunter would probably be my choice. The deck was already getting powerful in The Witchwood, and it has only gained some new tools to work with. It was good before the nerf patch, and it’s still good (or maybe even better) after it. That would be my pick right now, but a lot can still happen in a month, so for now I’m leaving it blank.
I will try to get back to this post and update it every now and then. Obviously, only adding my picks for the latest expansions, because the old metas don’t change with time. It was a really long nostalgia trip, and I hope that you’ve either feel the same, or at least learned something about the past metas and the decks that people might refer to in discussions from time to time.
Do you agree with the list? Are there decks you would rather see up there instead of the ones I’ve featured? If yes, then why? And finally, what was your favorite meta in the history of Hearthstone?
Thank you all for reading. Good luck on the ladder and until next time!