What Should be Priest’s Class Identity in Hearthstone? A Brief History of Priest Archetypes

Priest is the most controversial class in Hearthstone at the moment. It has proven to be extremely difficult for Blizzard to work with: the class has been at the center of controversy for much of its existence, and last year’s Priest rework did little to change this.

Does it have to be this way? What has Priest been in the past, what is it now, and what could it be in the future? Let’s take a journey through time and see what has happened to Priest since Hearthstone’s release.

This is Priest!

This is what Priest looks like in the Standard format at the moment. Every Priest deck that sees play is some variation of this same theme: tons of resource generation, some control tools, a couple of proactive minions and N'Zoth, God of the Deep to resurrect them, and tools to destroy or steal cards from the opponent’s hand or deck.

Priest’s ability to generate additional resources is impressive indeed: Raise DeadDraconic StudiesRenewSethekk VeilweaverWandmakerVenomous ScorpidPalm Reading, and Southsea Scoundrel ensure that Priest is almost impossible to run out of resources. More than half of the deck generates additional resources!

The current Priest decks also have unparalleled capabilities to affect the opponent’s hand and deck with Mindrender IlluciaSouthsea Scoundrel, and Mutanus the Devourer forcing the opponent to navigate a difficult passage of not keeping too many cards in hand, not holding key pieces alone or for too long, and also not over-committing to the board in case of a board clear. Hysteria and Soul Mirror can severely punish playing too many cards, while the aforementioned tools punish for playing too few.

A relatively aggressive deck with a high threat density can destroy Priest, but this level of resource generation and ways to punish the opponent for cards on the board, in hand, or in the deck has never been seen before.

This Priest identity is a surprisingly recent development. Would you believe that this style of Priest has been around for less than a year? But what was there before?

A Brief History of Priest

In the beginning, there was no Priest. When Hearthstone launched, the Priest class existed, of course, as no classes have ever been removed from the game, but it was bad. Looking at current Classic stats, Priest is so bad that it is practically unplayable, so the class did not have a particularly flashy beginning.

During the Curse of Naxxramas in mid-2014, most Priest decks were Control Priests and looked roughly like this:

There are plenty of stealing elements in the deck with ThoughtstealShadow MadnessCabal Shadow PriestSylvanas Windrunner, and Mind Control. Notably, none of them are able to affect anything that the opponent holds in their hand. This was typical of early Hearthstone design philosophy, as the gameplay experience of facing Magic-style discard decks was considered to feel bad and avoided at all costs. It is also worth noting that additional resource generation is almost unheard of at this point.

The deck also includes select minions and control tools, especially focused around Circle of Healing that works with Northshire ClericWild PyromancerInjured Blademaster, and Auchenai Soulpriest.

Priest did not look all that different during Whispers of the Old Gods in 2016:

The Circle of Healing combos are still there, as are some stealing capabilities with Cabal Shadow Priest, Sylvanas Windrunner, and the immensely powerful Entomb. All of these capabilities continue to target the board, which is still the center of action in Hearthstone at this point in time.

The Discover mechanic has been added to the game, but this deck only uses it with Museum Curator, which is far less powerful than any of the current Discover cards and is mostly included to be able to contest the board early and then seek either value or tempo, depending on the pace of the matchup.

Blizzard attempted to push a more midrange archetype for Priest by aligning the class with Dragons, but the class’s poor fit for tempo play meant that Dragon Priest was unable to properly establish itself in The Grand Tournament and in One Night in Karazhan despite multiple support cards. Dragon Priest only became a thing when Drakonid Operative was introduced in Mean Streets of Gadgetzan in December 2016:

Drakonid Operative was intentionally overpowered to finally make Dragon Priest a thing, and for a brief while Priest had a strong midrange deck at its disposal. The Standard format had been introduced in 2016, but at this point, Dragon Priest still had all of its synergy cards from Blackrock Mountain, The Grand Tournament, One Night in Karazhan, and Mean Streets of Gadgetzan: it took the combined power of four expansions of support to make Midrange Priest a strong deck!

Dragons typically had more Health than Attack, which made them perfect for Priest’s Hero Power to heal.

Journey to Un’Goro in 2017 saw another more aggressive Priest deck rise to fame, Silence Priest:

Silence Priest was another archetype that Blizzard had been pushing for quite some time, including with the introduction of Purify in One Night in Karazhan, but yet again, making a faster Priest deck actually viable proved to be a difficult task. Tar Creeper and Humongous Razorleaf were finally big enough and Shadow Visions added a new level of consistency to enable Divine Spirit and Inner Fire to act as a reliable win condition.

Journey to Un’Goro also added the first sight of infinite resource generation with Lyra the Sunshard, which was able to win games in combination with Radiant Elemental and tons of random spells. The combination was difficult enough to pull off that it did not dominate the game, and most Silence Priest decks eventually moved on from Lyra to a more aggressive and consistent direction. The feel-bad moments created by Lyra the Sunshard did not deter Blizzard, and while Priest did not get another resource-generation dynamo like Lyra for a long time, the option stayed on the drawing board.

Knights of the Frozen Throne in mid-2017 was one of the peaks of power creep in Hearthstone, and oh boy did Priest get some juicy win conditions!

Raza the Chained and Shadowreaper Anduin are one of the most powerful duos that Priest has ever had access to, and they remain immensely popular in Wild. The Machine Gun Priest is a powerful deck that plays cheap cards and shoots people in the face with a refreshing, zero-cost Hero Power. This early version of it is nowhere near as deadly as the current Wild versions that are built from a much larger card pool, but the core idea remains the same. Note how little resource generation there is in the deck: the deck has a proactive win condition, and it does not stray from its target.

Knight of the Frozen Throne also added some oomph to Big Priest / Resurrect Priest:

The addition of Eternal Servitude and Shadow Essence made it possible for Priest to more reliably cheat out big minions and bring them back should they fall. This style of Priest is still played in Wild.

2018 and 2019 added some new combo decks for Priest:

Combo decks were not part of Hearthstone in its early days, but as years went by, specific combo cards started to get introduced into the game. Mecha'thun and Chef Nomi together with Seance formed the win conditions of the above combo decks. They represent a traditional combo style where you needed to draw your entire deck in order to pull off your combo, something that many newer combo decks no longer need to do.

Combo decks have been a difficult archetype for Hearthstone because the game lacks interaction during the opponent’s turn, which makes combo decks a nightmare to balance. Counters to combo decks have been tough to create, as they are easily either too weak or so strong that they are used successfully even against regular decks, and they usually involve some level of hand destruction, which Hearthstone originally categorically avoided.

The final step in Priest’s development towards its current form came in Descent of Dragons in December 2019 in the form of Galakrond, the Unspeakable:

Galakrond Priest was the first Priest deck that was able to generate infinite resources with Galakrond’s Hero Power. Even though this was a major asset in a long match, Galakrond was not easy to find from your deck, and other decks could still fight you all the way to fatigue if necessary. Because the random generation was limited to minions, it provided only limited control tools: you would need to fight for the board with your random minions, and while you had an advantage, it was not insurmountable.

Notice how this Galakrond Priest deck from April 2020 – Ashes of Outland – still includes only a limited number of cards that generate additional resources: Galakrond, the Unspeakable and its synergy cards generate minions only, while only RenewVulpera Scoundrel, and Thoughtsteal can also generate spells.

2020 is the year that made Priest what it is today.

Blizzard has pushed random resource generation for Priest as hard as they pushed Dragons and Silence in previous years. It took them more than a year to get it done, but now we are experiencing the peak of random-generation Priest.

What Is Priest’s Class Identity?

For the vast majority of Hearthstone’s history, Priest has been a control class. A Hero Power focused on healing heavily pushes Priest into this direction, and other Priest archetypes have only been enabled through several expansions of hard pushing.

Silence Priest, various other forms of Divine SpiritInner Fire Combo Priest, and Dragon Priest are some of the only Priest decks that have not aimed for a long, drawn-out game.

After the Priest rework, all hints of Priest dealing damage through Shadow magic have been removed from the game, and so have all opportunities to build minions with gigantic Health pools. Priest was culled, its win conditions gutted. In their stead, the last five expansions have steadily built a Priest based on random effects as their only playstyle. This is the consistent Priest class identity that Blizzard has pushed for almost two years now, starting with Descent of Dragons and Galakrond, the Unspeakable.

The current Priest class identity is a colossal failure.

Priest’s Hero Power makes it difficult to enable other playstyles than control for the class, but control does not mean random. It may have been too strong, but Shadowreaper Anduin showed the way to a Control Priest that uses Shadow magic as their win condition. Dragon Priest and Silence Priest showed the power of high-Health minions in a healing class. The tools to build meaningful Priest cards exist. In the Wild format, Priest decks are far less reliant on random effects because they still have access to meaningful win conditions. Blizzard chose to build Priest into the most hated class in the game even when it is not performing well, but alternatives exist.

After such a long push, we are stuck with the random Priest at least until the Standard rotation in Spring 2022, and given the way Blizzard’s design process works, perhaps until the Standard rotation in Spring 2023. Hearthstone is often held captive of its design decisions for years, and Priest’s identity is no different.

In World of Warcraft – you know, the game where all of our classes come from – Priests do roughly one of three things: heal their allies, shield their allies, or deal damage. Shadow Priests are actually some of the best damage dealers in the game, reminiscent of what Shadowreaper Anduin is in the Wild format. There is plenty of material for inspiration in World of Warcraft, and none of it includes Priest as a random-effect generator.

Priest could be so much more. Priest could be a damage-dealing Shadow Priest. Priest could be a Discipline Priest that heals their minions through damage. Priest could be the ultimate healing class as a Holy Priest. The source material already contains Priest’s class identity. It has not been successfully translated into Hearthstone yet, but there have been some hints at it, especially in Shadowreaper Anduin. Blizzard could still find the way to do it, but only if they leave their chosen Priest class identity as the random class behind.

Old Guardian

Ville "Old Guardian" Kilkku is a writer and video creator focused on analytic, educational Hearthstone, and building innovative Standard format decks. Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/c/OldGuardian Twitch: https://www.twitch.tv/old_guardian

Check out Old Guardian on Twitter or on their Website!

Leave a Reply


  1. Advocaat
    June 22, 2021 at 12:30 am

    Nowadays when I meet priest I often concede way before the game is decided because it’s just too boring. I don’t enjoy watching priest play 20 cards a turn that do almost nothing. Those matches are sooo annoying. They are also annoying to watch, that’s why I stopped following tournaments lately.

  2. 2asandab
    June 21, 2021 at 5:13 am

    Correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t Priest the only class that on turn 2 you’ve the possibility to get zero value out of your hero power? I think this has more to do with priest’s lack of successful than its given credit for.

  3. Nickus89
    June 21, 2021 at 12:45 am

    I am missing 3 more types of deck that were quite relevant for priest. Although first 2 could be considered sub archetypes for res and control, the 3rd one was different, board centric and wasn’t that bad to play against. It was one of the most loved priest decks for many.
    1. Velen-Malygos-Mind blast combo priest: played a lot like other res priest archetypes but instead of trying to win through big minions tried to kill the opponent asap.
    2. Mind blast control priest: Control the board with spells and dragons (Duskbreaker, Drakonid operative) and finish the opponent with burst. I remember 19 being the main breakpoint (2 mind blasts + 2 pings from Shadowreaper Anduin).
    3. Spiteful priest: board centric, minion heavy midrange deck that used dragons (especially Duskbreaker) to fight early boards and put pressure on opponents with Spiteful summoner swing turns.

  4. Porror
    June 20, 2021 at 4:17 am

    “The current Priest class identity is a colossal failure.”

    This is an opinion that really comes out of the blue if you read you article carefully. Random generating resources and manipulating the board and hand of the other player is definitely a clear playstyle. One I happen to love.

    But there is a sort of hate towards priest, that is also a bit random, and just a trend in hearthstone community. Matches take longer against priest, and even thought the other player knows they are losing, they keep on playing and become frustrated. Whereas losing against an aggro is a short game, short memory, easily forgotten.

    • Kurgan
      June 21, 2021 at 11:17 am

      The hate toward Priest is not random and isn’t a trend it comes from designing a class that wins by out valuing control decks with random spells, out healing aggro decks and disrupting combo and control decks. And Priest can do all three in the same deck and very well.
      It’s also very strong, look at the last Master Tour everybody brings and ban Priest.

      Priest still see plays so some people probably enjoy it. However, the class is hated by a huge part of the player base. People who used to like Priest (like me) hate the class now. Top players still play the class because it’s good but they don’t enjoy it and hate playing against it.

      Check this thread by Feno it’s pretty damning: https://twitter.com/FenoHS/status/1406693367963074560
      Even Zetalot isn’t happy with the class.

  5. ShadowDancer
    June 20, 2021 at 1:25 am

    i mean this is what people wanted, right?
    they cried about mind blast, they cried about divine spirit. they didn’t want to die from burst damage, but now you die in pain and random things! now you enjoy dh otk you with 3/4 cards? now you enjoy rogue deals 30 dmg with alex and tenwu?
    I choose to play only priest when i started hearthstone during grand tournament. but now i hate to play and play against it. all priest players too. cz of so many random bs. priest has nothing to do. no win condition. no good legendaries (exept illucia) for like 2 years. just boring long games so maybe maybe you can win in fatigue. ofc we hate priest identity. it all started with ClAsS iDeNtIty shit hearthstone team decided to follow for 9 classes. no good thing happened to hearthstone after that, they just destroyed most classes.
    all we need is an actual good win condition like Shadowreaper Anduin. i was so happy when they said they’re bringing shadowform back. but we got no support for it.

    • Kurgan
      June 21, 2021 at 11:21 am

      Mind Blast was fine with 1 card like Shadow Visions. You can’t leave Mind Blast in the game if you give Priest 30 ways to discover spells.
      Support for Shadow Visions is coming this year according to the devs.

  6. Junehearth
    June 19, 2021 at 11:21 pm

    Discover is an annoying mechanic to play against. Hence I do not play any discover cards. If only others felt this way.

    • Old Guardian - Author
      June 20, 2021 at 3:11 am

      I actually tried to build a N’Zoth Priest with very little random generation in it recently. It was a disaster. Priest does not have any viable non-random strategies at the moment.

  7. H0lysatan
    June 19, 2021 at 10:17 am

    Maybe not ban the cards and just ban the class instead, at least until they can define the class properly.
    I hate priest class, even more when I know it’s difficult to guess what they can play from generating so many cards. And I know for certain that I’m not alone in this.

    • Vifzor
      June 20, 2021 at 7:22 am

      “just ban the class instead”
      “I hate priest class”

      Bro once again you come in poring your negativity here. Every comment from you is like that
      Please be positive brother

      • H0lysatan
        June 20, 2021 at 8:24 am

        Ah, a typical Blizzard fan-boy.
        I think I’m gonna pretend you don’t exist from now on.
        Besides, if you don’t like to see my reply, feel free to read others.

  8. Zthomasc
    June 19, 2021 at 8:39 am

    I got it from this page.
    Opponents will start laughing when you play your minions without buff, but then you start resurrecting them and generate value and they just cant handle.

    # 2x (0) Raise Dead
    # 2x (1) Holy Smite
    # 2x (1) Renew
    # 2x (2) Insight
    # 2x (2) Power Word: Feast
    # 2x (2) Sethekk Veilweaver
    # 2x (2) Thrive in the Shadows
    # 2x (3) Apotheosis
    # 2x (3) Gift of Luminance
    # 2x (3) Nazmani Bloodweaver
    # 2x (3) Palm Reading
    # 1x (4) Blademaster Samuro
    # 2x (4) Hysteria
    # 2x (4) Rally!
    # 1x (5) Psyche Split
    # 2x (8) Power Word: Fortitude


  9. Thorn
    June 19, 2021 at 7:17 am

    How have you not mentioned res priest, that is (in my opinion) the worst deck, in the history of hearthstone (I’ve played since beta) the only way to beat res priest is hyper-aggro I loath seeing a minion for the 5th, 6th & 7th time knowing that they actually haven’t played any of the original minions yet! When I queue into priest I am sooo happy when they play anything that isn’t res. The resurrection cards should remove the minion from the dead minion pool so you can’t almost infinitely get them back

    • Loki777
      June 19, 2021 at 9:55 am

      Agree with you fully about Rez priest (“greetings fellow humans” /shudder) always figured a graveyard mechanic similar to MTG would of been the best way to keep the amount of Rez from getting out of hand.

  10. OParis
    June 19, 2021 at 7:01 am

    Thanks for the post, it showed the priest history pretty well! 🙂
    I’m an only-priest-player since 2016 and I agree random generation got crazy in standard. I play only wild, mostly shadowreaper, and it’s much better to actually have a win condition than stale to fatigue which is so unreliant and it won’t be ever possible to get to tier 1-high tier 2 with such a playstyle.
    Generation is not a problem. It can actually be fun to some extent, but it should not be so much that the whole deck is based on it.
    This problem was discussed dozens of times on Hearthstone forums and every time people get to the same conclusion : priest lacks a win condition! I can’t understand why is it so hard to give priest a way to deal damage, to give him a combo. Any control deck from the past had a win condition: mage had Alextrasza stuff, warlock the DK, priest the DK.
    About Illucia, I think it’s better to just agree to disagree. Illucia punishes combo decks the same way combo punishes anything that dares to not kill them until turn 5. Without Illucia, priest remains in tier 3(or even worse) no matter what you give the class, because combo decks block it there withotu any chance to escape. There has to be a counter to that, without a counter it’s just too polarizing.

  11. HakanBeal
    June 19, 2021 at 7:00 am

    Renew, Mo’arg and Soul Mirror can not be showed up in Decent of Dragons December 2019 expansion because they belong to Ashes of Outlands Spring 2020 expansion.

    • Old Guardian - Author
      June 19, 2021 at 7:06 am

      The Galakrond Priest deck featured in the article is from Ashes of Outland. Featuring a very similar list from December 2019 and early 2020 would have been redundant.