Was there a balance patch? One that nerfed Death Knight and buffed several other classes? If you paid no attention to the news, you might as well have missed that something changed. For the first two days of the new patch, life has carried on as usual. There are lots of Blood Death Knights. There are lots of Frost Death Knights. They are followed by Pure Paladins and Undead Priests. The top four most popular archetypes have not changed. Yet.
Underneath the surface, changes are brewing. Some of the early experimentation has actually strengthened the position of the main meta decks. People have had hopes and dreams of better days for their buffed classes, but some of these hopes have been brutally crushed on the first two days. As people stop playing the decks that are still too weak and will focus on decks that are stronger now, a more balanced meta may yet emerge.
How Big Was the Death Knight Nerf?
Death Knight was hit in two ways. The dominant Frost Death Knight had a key card nerfed as Overseer Frigidara was changed from a 5/6 to a 3/6. Frigidara is a Core set card, so you will continue to have her in your collection whether you like it or not. As it happens, you still want Frigidara in your Frost Death Knight deck. She is now more of an average contributor than a top card, but she is still easily good enough to include in the deck.
The other Death Knight nerf is a little harder to measure. Triple-rune cards can no longer be Discovered, so no more bonus Frostwyrm's Fury, Vampiric Blood, Grave Strength, Lord Marrowgar, or Alexandros Mograine. From the early data, it looks like this nerf has affected Blood and Unholy more than it has affected Frost. Blood finds it more difficult to gain extra Health, and Unholy cannot discover additional game-ending cards. While Frost also lost some near-infinite board freeze opportunities, they can still Discover all the cheaper damage spells like before. In the matchups against other Death Knight archetypes, Frost is actually somewhat better now than it used to be!
If you take a cursory look at the current win rate data, it can be a little confusing. There is significant noise from experimentation with new decks. Once you clear out that noise, Frost Death Knight is very close to being the best deck in the game. Blood Death Knight and Unholy Death Knight are not far behind. The game is not over for Death Knight yet, not by any means.
For Frost Death Knight, I currently like the list with Pozzik, Audio Engineer and two copies of Might of Menethil. Having more native freezes in the deck is good when you can not as easily Discover more, and Pozzik is just a wonderful addition to so many decks and I love seeing him in decks.
Blood Death Knights keep experimenting with their Discover package. The deck wants to Discover a lot of additional resources, but which tools are the best after the nerfs? One promising approach is the addition of Sketchy Strangers to the deck, but the overall differences remain minor.
For Unholy, I continue to prefer WuLing’s list. The Death Growl variant is a competitor, for sure, but it still has more to prove. The only card that feels awkward in this list now is Rowdy Fan: the nerf to it was small, but it seems big enough to cut it from a non-Egg list.
Paladin Is Strong
Paladin’s ability to punish experimentation is impressive. When it comes to beating all sorts of off-meta decks that either experiment with new cards or try to target Death Knight, Paladin is unparalleled. This has made Paladin the best deck to play for the first two days after the balance patch. Someone is trying something new? Quick, beat them up!
While Death Knights have remained the most popular decks, there was a small dive in their popularity immediately after the patch. As people return to playing the strongest decks, Paladin will become weaker. It will still be a viable class though.
Paladin’s good performance has also attracted some experimentation in deck-building. Pure Paladin, for example, is trying out Anachronos and The Garden's Grace with Order in the Court returning as an alternative to Jitterbug. It is a fun twist that may catch some opponents off-guard.
- 1Righteous Protector2
- 1Sanguine Soldier2
- 1Sinful Sous Chef2
- 2Blood Matriarch Liadrin1
- 2Class Action Lawyer2
- 2For Quel’Thalas!2
- 2Hand of A’dal2
- 2Order in the Court1
- 2Seafloor Savior2
- 3Boogie Down2
- 3Disco Maul2
- 3Muckborn Servant2
- 6Blood Crusader1
- 6The Purator1
- 7The Countess1
- 10The Garden’s Grace2
In addition to Pure Paladin, people are also playing Mech Paladin again. The early numbers look promising, but there is way too little data to know for sure whether this is a real deck in the current meta. If you want to try Paladin with another twist, you can give this a try:
New Demon Hunter Decks Keep Arriving
The only class that can compete with Death Knight when it comes to deck diversity is Demon Hunter. On the first day of the expansion, we had Outcast Demon Hunter, a fast and aggressive deck that can defeat you at any time if you leave it with some minions on the board. Shortly thereafter, Relic Demon Hunter rose to prominence as one of the main counters to Blood Death Knight. More recently, Spell Demon Hunter has appeared as the main counter to Frost Death Knight.
Demon Hunter is a good class for building counter decks. The class has an impressive toolkit that can beat anything. However, a single Demon Hunter deck cannot beat everything, you have to pick and choose. All three Demon Hunter archetypes continue to enjoy success on the ladder.
Spell Demon Hunter is a fascinating archetype and I am happy to see it back on the ladder. You have a higher-than-usual chance to find your minions thanks to them being stored in Souls created by Souleater's Scythe. This means that healing from Unleash Fel and Silvermoon Arcanist is more readily available to this archetype than to any other. Lady S'theno combos are also much more reliable. You can defend and heal, you can combo down opponents, or you can simply pressure them with an endless stream of spells and Hero attacks. There is a lot to play for as Spell Demon Hunter.
It should be noted that Spell Demon Hunter did not arrive with the buff patch. This variant was first seen on the ladder shortly before the patch, and some other lists predate this by a few more days. This was simply regular meta evolution, especially targeted against Frost Death Knight.
Early Winners: Undead Priest and Totem Shaman
While neither of these decks is new, they received a nice boost from the patch. I am not sure if that will last though. Both decks are aggressive, reasonably good, and well-refined. Preying on new decks is an ideal pastime for both of them.
As Festival of Legends has matured, Undead Priest has decided that it does not want to have anything to do with such a joyful feast. If you’re looking for a deck with no new cards, Undead Priest is a reliable companion.
Anything Really New?
Why, yes! There are in fact some brand-new decks roaming the ladder.
With the buff to Death Blossom Whomper, Big Deathrattle Druid is back! This is no joke. Jambre’s list has already had almost 2000 games played from Diamond to Legend, and it is a real deck. If Death Knights are giving you trouble, give this a whirl. It beats both Frost Death Knight and Blood Death Knight. Such devastation does come at a cost, as your matchup against Pure Paladin is abysmal. You win some, you lose some. Right now, you win more than you lose if you choose this deck.
Furthermore, the Warrior buffs were somewhat effective, and Menagerie Warrior is stronger now than it was. Power Slider is now the dominant force in the deck, and Rock Master Voone may actually be worth including in the deck as well.
Menagerie Warrior still has some way to go to become a meta deck, but at least it is now above 50% win rate. I am a little concerned that as the weakest experiments leave the ladder, Warrior’s performance may slump again.
Somewhat curiously, the stronger Menagerie deck may be Menagerie Rogue! The deck was built some days before the balance patch, but it only became successful after the patch. Is it because of the nerfs and the buff to MC Blingtron for an archetype that actually may care about its stats as there is no game-ending combo, just steady pressure? Or is it because of the even weaker decks people have experimented with? We’ll see within the next week. Anyway, if you want to give it a go, here is the list:
What About All the Other Buffs? There Were So Many!
25 buffs. The biggest buff patch in the history of the game. It is important to note that the effects of buffs are fully seen with more delay than the effects of nerfs. When an existing deck is nerfed, its performance drops immediately. When a card that is not played is buffed, people first need to come up with decks to use it in, and only then its new viability can be evaluated. Death Blossom Whomper in Jambre’s Big Druid is an early newcomer that found a use immediately. Others may not be as fast.
Warrior’s Riff cards are interesting. We can see from Control Warrior statistics that Verse Riff and Bridge Riff are clearly better now than they were before the patch. Chorus Riff is lagging behind: I had expected a buff for that one too, but it did not come. Is the Riff package strong enough to play with now? Control Warrior as an archetype still looks too weak, although it did gain a few percentage points from the buffs. Perhaps there is a way to refine it now with the Riffs and other buffed cards. Riffs could also see play in a more aggressive Warrior deck, some kind of Enrage or Menagerie Warrior. New versions of those are still largely untried in the new meta.
Mage buffs do not look to be enough to change anything. Naga Mage has failed even with the reverted Spitelash Siren. The other cards are not the key pieces in their decks and are unlikely to have a significant effect on the performance of Mage. Burn Mage was already playable before the buffs, so Mage is not completely lost.
I am perplexed about Hunter. The Hunter buffs were the ones I was the most excited about. Stranglethorn Heart and Halduron Brightwing should both be playable cards now. The few stats we have about Stranglethorn Heart make me believe that we will see more of it in existing Hunter archetypes in the future. Halduron remains a mystery. Arcane Hunter deck has not existed, and it is uncertain whether anyone can figure it out.
Overload Shaman does not look good. It looked miserable before the patch, and the patch did not help all that much, to be honest. I tried to come up with ways to buff the archetype before we got Blizzard’s plans, and I could not identify anything that would make it good. The four buffs it got do not seem to get the job done either.
The Fatigue package in Warlock looks somewhat better now. It is still only used in Fatigue Imp Warlock, which has not replaced any cards recently, but it is doing slightly better. Above 50%, maybe can stay that way as the meta starts to stabilize. Or maybe not. It will be a close call. It will also be interesting to see if the improved Fatigue package results in any new slower Warlock decks.
Was This a Good Patch?
It will take more time to see the exact effects of the buffs. I am still expecting more from Warrior and Hunter, and perhaps something from Warlock. However, many of the buffs have been for nothing. Many of these cards will have no chance to make it into meta decks despite the buffs. The expectations for a patch with 25 buffs were high, and compared to those, the patch has not delivered major results and will not deliver them even with refinement. However, there is still hope that the meta brought by the patch will eventually weaken Death Knight enough for more variety to appear.
During the next few days, we will see the hopeless attempts abandoned and the power level of the ladder rising again. I have a suspicion that the barely viable buffed decks will fall again and Death Knight will remain in power. If anything, the biggest challenge to Death Knight seems to come from Demon Hunter that did not receive any buffs. Oh well. At the very least, we now have Deathrattle Druid as a new deck in the mix.