Over the past weeks, we have explored the upcoming Standard rotation in several articles, such as What’s Mage losing in the 2019 Standard Hearthstone Rotation? and Will there be combo decks in Hearthstone’s Year of the Dragon?
In this article, the focus is on budget decks, budget players, and free-to-play (F2P) players. You see, Year of the Mammoth, the expansions from 2017 that are rotating out, was an incredibly powerful year, but it was not only powerful at the very top. In fact, it contained many of the most powerful Common and Rare cards that Hearthstone has had, and those cards form the backbone of all current budget decks.
Can Year of the Raven budget cards compete? Were they not used simply because Year of the Mammoth had more powerful cards, or are there any good alternatives for the cards that are on their way out of Standard format?
Building Budget Decks
First of all, I want to point out that building budget decks is an art form of its own. If you build a meta deck, but replace The Lich King with something else, that does not mean that you just built a budget deck. It means that you just built a weaker version of the meta deck.
Good budget decks make full use of whatever synergies they have available and do not attempt to recreate strategies that are based around having expensive cards in your deck. A budget Shaman cannot go for the grindy game plan of Hagatha the Witch and Shudderwock even if it has access to the remaining 28 cards in that deck – the synergies are not there.
Most of the time, a budget deck in Hearthstone has to use a more aggressive plan than a full-cost deck, because most end-game cards are Epics or Legendaries. This changes more in the deck than just cutting the late game and putting in some lackluster replacements.
Sometimes, a budget deck can use a plan that has no full-cost equivalent. For example, one of the best budget Priest decks is Zoo Priest. Yet, there is no full-cost Zoo Priest. Why? Because a full-cost Zoo Priest is still not as good as the other full-cost Priest archetypes available. Yet, a budget Zoo Priest is far better than a budget attempt at combo decks, and Zoo Priest can take more games from full-cost Priest archetypes than a watered-down version of those same archetypes.
This is the background we need to evaluate cards for budget decks.
Farewell, Dear Budget Friends
The rotation will hit budget decks hard. Here are some of the toughest losses:
I have chosen to include Genn Greymane and Baku the Mooneater as key budget cards. Sure, they are Legendary cards, but their power has been unparalleled. It has been possible to build multiple Legend-capable decks that use only one expensive card – Baku or Genn – and these have been the most powerful decks you can play for around 3,000 dust in addition to Midrange Hunter. While Baku and Genn leaving can be good for the meta overall, it also hits budget players harder than anyone else.
The other leaving cards hit budget decks in several key points:
Defensive capabilities of budget decks will be ruined by the departure of Tar Creeper, Plated Beetle, Stonehill Defender, and Saronite Chain Gang. That is practically all the early-game defensive tools budget decks have had access to.
Budget decks will also lose several threats. Vicious Fledgling has been one of the few truly scary early-game threats available to budget decks, and it is on its way out of Standard. Budget decks have also often relied on various buffs to turn their rather small minions into viable threats. With the loss of Fungalmancer, Cobalt Scalebane, and Bonemare, the entirety of the current budget buff package will be gone. Budget decks will also have no end game left, because end-game cards in Hearthstone are always expensive, and Bonemare has been the only exception to this, and it is now leaving the Standard format.
Year of the Raven Neutral Budget Cards
Perhaps Year of the Raven has some cards that are just waiting to step in? Sadly, it does not.
Defensive minions, none. Buffs, none for non-Mechs. Major threats, very few. Early-game minions, Mecharoo.
The best Year of the Raven has to offer are Mechs. In fact, it is entirely possible that the majority of upcoming budget decks will use Mech synergies to somehow stay afloat, because Mechs are just about the only playable Neutral budget cards from the entire year: Mecharoo, Explodinator, Wargear (the only budget buff card), and Mechanical Whelp provide budget decks with some tools, even though they are lackluster compared to Year of the Mammoth.
Other than Mechs, there are hardly any playable Neutral cards. Ornery Tortoise is usable in some classes, mostly Warrior. Amani War Bear is a good card, but it comes in very late in the game. That’s about it.
Perhaps budget decks will move towards class-specific archetypes instead of using the same Neutral minions in multiple classes. Sadly, that does not look good for most of the classes. Let’s examine the field one class at a time.
Budget Priest in Year of the Dragon
Priest overall is losing almost everything, the class desperately needs big things from Rise of Shadows to even remain playable.
As a budget class, Priest keeps its old classic combo of Inner Fire and Divine Spirit, but there is a catch. In the current meta, the only reason this combo works is because of Shadow Visions. Sure, there are some nice resurrect effects available too – all of which will rotate out – but it is Shadow Visions that makes Combo Priest tick, and that is going away in the rotation. Budget Combo Priest does not look very strong.
Other than that, Priest does not have a lot of tools. There’s Grave Horror, and any cards that can end up costing zero mana have potential, but the spell package around it remains obscure for now.
Because Mechs are the top Neutral tribe going into Year of the Dragon, it is always worth it to check all classes for Mech cards. Priest has one class Mech, Dead Ringer, and while it is a decent card, it is hard to see what the complete Mech package would look like. Perhaps some kind of Mech / Deathrattle hybrid? I guess I may be grasping at straws here.
Budget Druid in Year of the Dragon
Druid is another class that is going down. Furthermore, Druid has not been a budget-friendly class even when it has been at the top of the pack, so you can expect hard times to continue for Budget Druid players.
The most promising Druid archetype for Year of the Dragon is Token Druid, possibly with Treant synergies. Sadly, some of the best Token Druid cards are Epics, such as Wispering Woods and Treespeaker. There is still some potential left though with cards such as Mulchmuncher, Dendrologist, Landscaping, and of course the old favorites Violet Teacher, Savage Roar, and Soul of the Forest.
Budget Token Druid mostly suffers from the lack of an alternative strategy compared to the full-cost version. It may not be possible to build a significantly faster token strategy, so the deck ends up being an inferior version of the main archetype, and that is not an ideal position to be in. Perhaps some kind of Egg Druid revival is possible with Scarab Egg leading the way?
As for the Mech strategy, the only Druid class Mech is Mulchmuncher. Mech Treant Druid? Does not seem worth it.
Budget Warlock in Year of the Dragon
Warlock is also losing almost everything. All of its nice control tools are going away, although budget players hardly had access to the full package anyway. From a budget perspective, Warlock is largely the same as always, Zoo. As long as you can draw more cards with a simple press of the Hero Power button, Warlock can build a deck that uses cheap minions to gain an advantage.
For budget Zoo players, the rotation gives and the rotation takes away. With Prince Keleseth rotating out, there is no need for that key Legendary to gain an even footing. However, with Doomguard headed to Hall of Fame, the best way to have reach in the deck is to include Leeroy Jenkins, another Legendary minion. Nonetheless, building a competitive Zoo should be perfectly possible.
Warlock has no class Mechs, but it can just mix and match various Neutral cards with infinite card draw, so it will be fine.
Budget Mage in Year of the Dragon
Budget Mage has been a difficult deck to get right in Rastakhan’s Rumble. All the control archetypes require multiple Epic and Legendary cards, and even aggressive Mage decks are all built around Baku the Mooneater, Leeroy Jenkins, and Jan'alai, the Dragonhawk. There has been no room for old-school budget decks in Mage.
While Mage may be in a difficult position overall in Year of the Dragon, its budget decks will inch closer to its full-cost builds. The core of Tempo Mage comes from Fireball and Frostbolt, and the best Tempo Mage support cards are also cheap ones, such as Cosmic Anomaly and Vex Crow. Whether they are strong enough is another matter.
Mage has no class Mechs to help it out.
Budget Shaman in Year of the Dragon
Shaman enters Year of the Dragon with multiple potential archetypes. Hagatha the Witch and Shudderwock provide it with one of the best value engines in the game and Aggro Overload Shaman with Thunderhead and Doomhammer is also ready to fight.
Budget Shaman will have none of those tools, however. It is left with a lackluster mess of half-synergies, where access to Menacing Nimbus, Unbound Elemental, Fire Elemental, and Rain of Toads can be difficult to turn into a coherent deck.
Shaman has no class Mechs to build a modern reincarnation of Mech Shaman either.
Budget Paladin in Year of the Dragon
Paladin has been a cheap class to play at top performance level in Year of the Raven thanks to Odd Paladin. While that is going away, Paladin looks like one of the most promising budget classes thanks to its class Mechs: Glow-Tron, Annoy-o-Module, and Mechano-Egg. Combined with Neutral Mechs, these are promising tools to build decks with, even hitting that elusive 1/3 statline for one mana with Glow-Tron.
The big question is how can the budget version compete with the full-cost version that will include Zilliax and Kangor's Endless Army. Those are real power plays, and it is hard to be fast enough to go under them before they can make a difference.
Budget Hunter in Year of the Dragon
Throughout the history of Hearthstone, there has always been a way to build a successful Budget Hunter. I don’t expect Year of the Dragon to be any different, although competition against the full-cost build will be rough, because more expensive decks can make use of Master's Call for an abundance of additional resources.
That said, Budget Hunter has multiple approaches that it can take.
Without Master's Call, Budget Hunter can use more traditional Beast synergies, adding in cards such as Houndmaster in order to be faster against full-cost decks. While they draw some cards, you just go ahead and kill them. Sounds like a plan.
Furthermore, Budget Mech Hunter could actually be a thing. Right now, it cannot hope to compete against Deathrattle Hunter, but with most of that deck going away, Spider Bomb may find itself repurposed for use with Neutral Mechs and Fireworks Tech. Even Venomizer could see play in this new archetype.
Budget Rogue in Year of the Dragon
Rogue enters Year of the Dragon with an abundance of archetypes. While a budget build cannot hope to contest Captain Hooktusk, there are still plenty of things it can do. Hench-Clan Thug is not going anywhere, Raiding Party can be powerful even without the most expensive Pirates, and there’s Spirit of the Shark just waiting for a slightly slower meta where it can grind tons of value – although that value has to come from cards such as Crazed Chemist and not the more powerful Fungalmancer and Bonemare, which are rotating out of Standard.
So many options for Rogue! Mechs are an option too, because Rogue has access to Blightnozzle Crawler and Necrium Blade, and these combined with Mechanical Whelp can make for an interesting Budget Deathrattle Mech Rogue.
Budget Warrior in Year of the Dragon
Warrior also enters Year of the Dragon with tons of potential archetypes, but all the control variants are out of reach of budget decks, because almost all of Warrior’s removal cards are Epics.
That said, there are still ways to build Budget Rush Warrior with cards such as Frothing Berserker, Ornery Tortoise, Militia Commander, and Woodcutter's Axe. Midrange Mech Warrior is not impossible either, because Eternium Rover and Dyn-o-matic are some excellent Warrior class Mechs.
While the tone of this article may sound grim, there are a couple of caveats that are important to remember:
- Everyone gets weaker in the rotation – all the full-cost stuff gets a lot weaker too
- We have only seen a couple of Rise of Shadows cards so far, the new expansion may include powerful budget cards
However, despite these caveats, the future of budget decks is threatened. We are losing practically all the staples, and Year of the Raven does not include slightly weaker versions that could take their place – Year of the Raven has Mechs, which can become an important piece of the budget puzzle, but it does not include functional replacements for end-game cards, buffs, or early-game defensive tools even as weaker versions. There is only the void.
Some classes have class cards that can help their budget decks out: Paladin, Hunter, Rogue, and Warrior look promising. Others will fall off the cliff hard, unless Rise of Shadows provides good budget cards to compensate for all the losses: Year of the Raven did not slowly replenish the pool of budget cards, and that is why the cliff edge looms ahead.