The Three Cards That Dominate Castle Nathria – Are Renathal, Theotar, and Denathrius a Problem?

Hearthstone’s Murder at Castle Nathria expansion has been defined by three cards: Prince RenathalTheotar, the Mad Duke, and Sire Denathrius. Throughout the expansion, these three Neutral Legendary cards have been among the four most popular cards in the game. The entire top four has been unchanged for the past months, with Brann Bronzebeard taking the final spot.

Such domination from Legendary cards of a newly-released expansion has never been seen before. The latest balance patch nerfed Theotar, the Mad Duke from four mana to five mana, but hardly any decks have dropped Theotar as a result. It has been the other changes that changed the meta that have eroded the dominant trio a little bit, but a little bit is all that has happened.

In this article, I will take a closer look at the popularity of the cards, their relationship with each other, and what all of this means for Hearthstone’s future.

Unparallelled Popularity in Standard

At its peak, Prince Renathal was included in two-thirds of all decks played on the Standard ladder. Right now, it is played in half of the decks. Sire Denathrius peaked at 60% and is still present in 45% of decks. Theotar, the Mad Duke, the card that was just nerfed, was used in 50% of decks right before the nerf and is still used in 42% of all decks now.

These are mind-boggling numbers. Because the cards are Neutral, they can be used by all classes, and this adds to their popularity. These are not cards that are used in just a couple of classes, either. All of them are used in just about all classes.

What Can Wild Reveal About Their True Power?

Standard format is one thing, but the ultimate power level of cards can only be found in Wild format. In Wild, the newcomers must compete against all cards from the history of the game, and the truly powerful rise to the top.

In Wild, Prince Renathal has been almost as popular as it is in Standard. It has maintained a steady place in around 50% of decks. That is truly phenomenal. Prince Renathal is by far the most popular card ever in Wild format. It is more than twice as popular as Loatheb!

Theotar, the Mad Duke and Sire Denathrius are also popular, but nowhere close to their Standard format number. Theotar, the Mad Duke is used in around 25% of decks, while Sire Denathrius is used in roughly 20% of decks. In Wild, Theotar, the Mad Duke has been cut from some decks after the nerf, especially Even Shaman. You just can’t use a five-mana card in that archetype, as you would lose Genn Greymane‘s effect.

While balance changes altered the popularity of the cards simply by changing the overall meta to favor more aggressive archetypes that do not use them, the meta in Wild is more stable, and no large changes are to be expected there.

The considerations about the cards in the two formats are likewise different. In Standard, their relationship is a key factor in their popularity. In Wild, they face a much more competitive environment and more substitutes. Theotar, the Mad Duke is the fastest and most effective disruption card in Standard, but Wild players also have access to Dirty Rat that can be even faster.

The Venthyr Triangle in Standard

All three cards depict key characters from World of Warcraft’s Venthyr faction. In some ways, it is appropriate that they are connected in a power struggle in Hearthstone too.

Prince Renathal is the most definitive and most powerful of the three cards. It changes the rules of Hearthstone itself with 10 additional starting Health and 10 additional cards in the deck. This additional Health has been a boon to Wild, where the power level is higher than in Standard, and Renathal enables additional strategies. Its effect in Standard is debatable: you need a lot more threats to push through 40 Health than 30 Health, and direct damage is all but off the table. Minions and buffs are needed to deal enough damage. Or, alternatively, you can use one of the other cards from the triangle…

Sire Denathrius can push through the Renathal Health pool. Now, Sire requires a lot of tokens to feed it, which also directs the way you build your deck, but as those minions are useful in fighting against Renathal anyway, it’s all good. Sire is also really difficult to counter unless you happen to run a specific card…

Theotar, the Mad Duke can not only prevent Sire Denathrius, it also grabs the card for your own use, in what can only be considered a major win. Well, unless your opponent also runs Theotar, and steals that Sire right back.

In Standard, the three cards are interlocked in a power struggle and each forces players to use the others as well. Note that this triangle does not happen in Wild because there are far more options to take on the roles of Denathrius and Theotar in that format. Renathal continues to be unique even in Wild.

Answers From Outside the Triangle

Even in Standard, there are some decks that can escape this trio and fight against them from the outside.

Curse Imp Warlock is the most popular deck that uses no cards from this trio, although it does use Brann Bronzebeard. The power of the Abyssal Curses gives the deck enough punch to break through Renathal’s 40 Health and it is aggressive enough to end games before Sire Denathrius. It also does not rely on any individual card for victory, so it cannot be easily countered with Theotar, the Mad Duke. That is a lot of hoops to jump through, but Curse Imp Warlock can successfully navigate them all.

Aggro Druid provides another escape from the clutches of the Venthyr trio. A minion-based aggressive deck that can buff its tokens is exactly the kind of deck that can beat 40 Health, end the game before Sire Denathrius, and not care too much about Theotar, the Mad Duke.

Naga Priest and Bless Priest (also called Miracle Priest) provide a third alternative. These decks are also based on buffs, but this time you make just one (or two) huge minions and use them to hit face.

Miracle Rogue resembles the Priest decks in creating a big threat, although in this case, it can also be a giant weapon and there is some additional early tempo in the form of Wildpaw Gnoll and Scribbling Stenographer.

Finally, Fel Relic Demon Hunter can push enough damage in the mid-game to go under the infamous trio.

In Standard format, the only way to fight against Prince RenathalSire Denathrius, and Theotar, the Mad Duke is to go under them. All of the above decks accomplish that one way or another:

  • Aggro Druid buffs up a minion board to end the game
  • Miracle Priest and Miracle Rogue generate a huge individual minion to win
  • Curse Imp Warlock and Fel Relic Demon Hunter have class-specific win conditions for the mid-game, before Sire Denathrius can be used. They also have enough redundancy to prevent Theotar, the Mad Duke from single-handedly winning the game.

You have to be really fast or at least moderately fast with some redundancy to succeed in the meta without the main dominant Legendary cards. The moderately fast options all run Brann Bronzebeard, so they cannot completely escape the main power cards either.

Are Renathal, Theotar, and Denathrius a Problem?

In Standard format, it is hard to escape the power trio. There are some decks that can do it, but the requirements are steep and most classes are not equipped to handle them. Having such game-defining Neutral Legendary cards makes many games feel the same even though the details change between classes. Life is different in Wild, where the power level is higher and all cards apart from Prince Renathal have competition and substitutes.

The next expansion will add more cards to the Standard card pool and most likely increase the power level again. When that happens, Sire Denathrius and Theotar, the Mad Duke will face new competition. It is unlikely for anything to challenge Prince Renathal, as the card is so unique. Overall, there is a good chance that the next meta can succeed.

What I’m more worried about is the meta next spring after the Standard rotation. The card pool will be smaller again, and we may re-experience the current triangle effect in Standard. It is possible that this can be avoided with good design, but Blizzard may also need to consider other options. Rotating Prince RenathalTheotar, the Mad Duke, and Sire Denathrius out of Standard format a year early should be on the table. They are fine in Wild. They are borderline problematic in the current five-set Standard meta and should be fine in the upcoming six-set Standard meta in December. But a four-set Standard meta next April? We need a lot of good cards in the next two expansions to create enough win conditions to avoid the current trio from dominating the meta again.

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. Yehui
    October 26, 2022 at 9:14 pm

    I really like hearthstonetopdecks’ discussion article. I know it’s not where the most traffic comes from but please please keep this up and running. You have no idea how satifying such article can bring to some people.

  2. Banaani
    October 21, 2022 at 6:32 pm

    As the recent years have power crept the game to such high levels that the game needs 40 starting health, I say just delete Renethal and let us start the game with as much health as we have cards in our deck, anywhere from 20-40 or even 1-100 for the lols. We don’t need a special card for that.

    • JoyDivision
      October 24, 2022 at 2:16 am

      Cool idea!

    • Tailsfromvienna
      October 24, 2022 at 3:53 pm

      I also thought about having starting health equal to starting deck size.
      with close restrictions (e.g. 25-40) this should be no problem.

      When starting health gets larger than 40, aggro would essentially be dead, because at a certain point it is impossible to reduce an opponent to zero quick enough before the late game bombs of a control deck take over the game.

      Once there was even a CCG where damage to the opponent just removed cards from their deck and you won by destroying their deck (roughly like a crumbling sanctuary card that is written into the game rules)

    October 21, 2022 at 5:40 pm

    I dropped Prince Renathal a while back as it did not work for me. Having to add nine other cards to my deck to get to the 40 limit just wasn’t working. Even at 30 cards with most games lasting 7-8 rounds it is not always easy to get the cards you really need to win. But then to add 10 filler cards for 10 more health just made the game drag on.

    Sire Denathrius is freaking annoying as hell and pretty much an instant concede for me as I have no way to counter as my opponent just steals more health back every time that attacks. Had that the other night after I gotten a Warlock down to 1-2 health twice (played Reno) and thought I’d have them on the next turn with just hero power. However they played an over-buffed Sire Denathrius. Game over.

    • JoyDivision
      October 24, 2022 at 2:16 am

      Same here. Doesn’t work for me in most cases. Works for my opponents every time, though. Seems like I’m doin’ it wrong. 🙂

  4. Nathair
    October 21, 2022 at 12:13 pm

    Renethal is the least problematic card. I think what people need to understand is that the inconsistently 10-extra cards is frankly worth it when you have archetypes like Imp Lock, Mine Rogue, Aggro DH, and Beast Hunter (which lets face it, is just a mid-range deck that if lucky is high-Aggro with Krush/Hydro/bears each turn from turn five).

    Denathrius’s problem is the fact that there is genuinely no drawback to adding him into your deck when he’s going to a dead card for so many turns until he’s buffed for like 20+ damage. Even if you don’t buff him that high, he’s still a 10/10 with instant life steal that against an Aggro dreck they (at this point) probably only have a few low healthed minions on board even the bare minimum of like 5-8 heal would be crucial.

    I’ve said my piece about Mad Duke before and I’ll say again. If it weren’t for all decks having Denathrius as a win condition this card would not have seen as much play as he has had. Quests, outside a very select few, are extremely slow in this meta with barely any impact by the time their reward is playable because the game has already been decided. Without Daddy D’s Impact Quests are the only archetypes that rely on a single card to push a win, making Theotar a tech card for a players facing to many Quests. Still unfun when you get your tavis or Dawngrasp or Tamlin stolen but not an instant concede ”he just stole my 60+ Denathrius”.

    • Nathair
      October 21, 2022 at 12:57 pm

      Or the better reason for conceding “they stole back their 60+ Denathrius”. Terrible design for a strategic game where everything relies on one card. Most of my loses in this meta have been along the lines of Imp Locks shit out multiple 6/5, 7/7’s by turn 4 + irritately 1/1 critters that left unanswered also become overstated nonsense followed by resurrected imps given 2/2, surviving all that results in a massive Denathrius that you had barely any time to steal because you were focused on clearly the board. (Sorry, I have Imp-PTSD xD). Same with Hunter decks, you get punished for answering the board, you kill Krush/Hydrolon/Bear and for some reason classes that shouldn’t have resurrect cards…have them?

  5. Showwwwteeeeeee
    October 21, 2022 at 11:21 am

    This meta feels so stale and boring to me. I found myself making my legend push through Wild this season as the wild meta is somehow more fun than standard. It seems like very few new decks are emerging and the big name streamers arent online as much. Time for a major change…

  6. Tailsfromvienna
    October 21, 2022 at 10:38 am

    maybe Theotar should just destroy the stolen card, while giving your opponent one from your hand.
    this way you would not frustrate players twofold, once by denying them their card, and once more by using their card against them.

    fixing Denathrius would need to set its base battlecry from 5 to 0, and limit the lifesteal to the battlecry effect, so that the minion does not steal 10 life every turn by attacking

  7. Cursore1610
    October 21, 2022 at 2:00 am

    The thing which bothers me about Renathal is that it gives you a very powerful effect which makes you stronger 100% of the times while having a drawback which is likely but not certain.
    In a control matchup, a Renathal deck can both use the 10 additional hp and the 10 additional cards: having more resources is good against decks which want to leave you dry. However, what concerns me most is how Renathal works in a deck which has to face aggro or midrange decks, which perhaps don’t use Renathal themselves. The drawback for having 10 additional health is having 10 more cards: when I use an aggro deck and fight against a Renathal control deck, I always ask myself how the 10 more cards have affected their game. Sometimes, I see the opponent using pretty weak cards and doing sub-par plays and I realise that that’s the drawback for having so much more natural protection against my aggression: for example, a Mage might not have the freezing cards they need in hand because they have a couple of Babbling Books, which wouldn’t be in the deck if not for the Renathal requirement. However, that’s the issue: the drawback is likely to happen, it is not a certainty. The Mage might draw the Babbling Books, but they might also just draw all the good cards they need. They might have a hard time finding Vandar, or they might have it right on curve.
    When next expansion comes out, the number of good cards in Standard will be at an all-time highest: finding 40 good cards to put in the deck won’t be as much of an issue as it is right now. I fear that Renathal will become a stable for any deck if this is the way things are going and it doesn’t feel fair for one card to be so influential and powerful on its own.

    • WhipWhap
      October 21, 2022 at 8:53 am

      I agree. Renathal’s 40 card drawback is not always relevant while his +10 Health always will be. Hopefully they change it to 35 health and cards so the power and inconsistency of the card drops at least a little bit.

    • JoyDivision
      October 24, 2022 at 2:13 am

      You know there’s a problem when even combo decks ‘give up’ on consistancy and play Renathal.

      And regarding consitancy in general: I’m not overexaggerating when I say that every. frickin’. Renathal Mage has their Wildfire turn 1 anyways. So yeah. Maybe should Up the ‘penalty’ to 15-20 cards.

      • Cursore1610
        October 28, 2022 at 1:12 am

        I feel like what you said relates to what I claimed earlier. The consistency downside is there, but it’s hard to see, since it’s hard to understand when the enemy makes a suboptimal play because of their own incompetence or because of a bad hand. But it’s not just that: they might not use a board removal because they want to keep it for later or not have it at all; they might have a slow deck, or a fast one with bad consistency. What I’m trying to say is that when the downside happens, you as the opponent don’t notice it; when the downside doesn’t happen (because there’s always the chance that it doesn’t and that the Mage does have the perfect Widlfire-on-turn-1 curve) you do. It’s what makes Renathal frustrating for me to play against when I play and Aggro deck against it: it’s either a stomp on my part, and I don’t pay much attention to it because it’s literally how the deck I play should work, or it feels like the opponent just has 10 more hp without any kind of downside.

  8. Vincent
    October 21, 2022 at 12:38 am

    I hope Theotar, the Mad Duke, and Sire Denathrius rotate out of Standard format a year early.
    I’m not sure about Prince Renathal though.

  9. Sketchscape
    October 20, 2022 at 2:22 pm

    Yes, it’s a huge problem when you win games with one card. You’re giving casual players the shaft to play on ladder. There is so much variance now that it’s almost impossible for casual players to rank up.

    Hearthstone doesn’t seem to want any players that can only play 5-10 games a day.
    There is no incentive to remain playing if you lose most of your games because you can’t play 50 games a day to overcome the variance.

    I’m tired of getting penalized every time I lose a game by losing stars especially when there is a limited number I can play. What’s the point of playing then?

    Solution would be to not lose any stars for losses until you get to Diamond rank. They want to adjust win streaks. Fine. At least I won’t get penalized for random luck or a better card draw.

    • Showwwwteeeeeee
      October 21, 2022 at 11:26 am

      Pushing to legend is already easy imo and it used to be MUCH harder to do. I would be very sad if they made the legend rank even easier to obtain. If you wanna hit legend this season play curse/ imp warlock, learn the mulligans and matchups. You can do it!

      • Showwwwteeeeeee
        October 21, 2022 at 11:27 am

        Pushing to legend is already easy imo and it used to be MUCH harder to do. I would be very sad if they made the legend rank even easier to obtain. If you wanna hit legend this season play curse/ imp warlock, learn the mulligans and matchups. You can do it with 5-10 games played a day. If not, you can try again next season. The only difference from D5 to legend is one card pack. So you realy arent getting shafted at all. Stick with it, you can do it!

        • Sketchscape
          October 21, 2022 at 12:16 pm

          What does it matter if Legend is easier to obtain? Get all the streamers and pros out of my way. I could care less about hitting legend. That wasn’t my point at all.

          I just want to play games without getting penalized for losses. I’m not trying to make this game a homework assignment.

          • Showwwwteeeeeee
            October 21, 2022 at 9:02 pm

            Ahhhh I get it now. youre the kind of person that wants participation trophies. If they make it so that losing has no penalty, the game would be so easy that it would lose its appeal to many players. Not everything needs to be catered towards begginers. There is basically no penalty early on anyway. My advice, get better at the game.

            • Sketchscape
              October 24, 2022 at 8:08 am

              I could give a shit about participation trophies; don’t act like you know anything about me. How does not losing stars until you get to Diamond make the game less appealing? I just want to put in my 5 games and move on with my day. I’d rather get “better” at something where I can make money for my time. This is just a game kid.

              • Showwwwteeeeeee
                October 27, 2022 at 2:26 pm

                Its very simple. A lot of people enjoy having to work hard for their reward. If you take away penalties for losing, the game becomes ridiculosuly easy and it feels much less rewarding to rank up. If playing more than 5 games a day feels like “work” to you, than you should probably find a game that you actually enjoy instead. If you dont want to work towards something unless it makes you money, then quit HS altogether and go spend all of your time working. Your logic makes no sense.
                BTW, im probably old enough to be your dad… kid.

    • TardisGreen
      October 22, 2022 at 8:22 am

      Better solution: L2P