Hearthstone has offered free starter decks for new and returning players since March 2020: In order to get a free deck, a new player needs to reach Bronze 10, either by skipping the apprentice ranks (not recommended as you get rewards for playing through them) or by playing through the apprentice ladder. To qualify as a returning player, you need to log into the game after 120 days of absence with an existing account.
The original decks were available in late Descent of Dragons, but they were all built using cards that did not rotate with Ashes of Outland, so they were playable in Standard even after the rotation in April. The decks have been updated once so far, on July 30th, when Ashes of Outland cards were added to the lists. Therefore, none of the decks have any cards from the current expansion, Scholomance Academy, but they are all valid decks for the current Standard format.
But how good are the decks in the new Scholomance Academy meta? The new expansion is a powerful one, and lacking cards from it may hinder the success of the free decks. In this article, I will go through all the free decks, show the strengths and weaknesses of the lists, and show how to cheaply upgrade the most promising ones into fully playable decks in the current meta.
The free Druid deck is a Big Druid, which is an archetype that does not see any play right now. Druids on the ladder are either Guardian Druids or Malygos Druids and rely heavily on Guardian Animals and the new five-mana Beasts from Scholomance Academy for their success. The deck has not been successful according to its play statistics either: its win rate dips below 50% already in Gold, and there is no chance to climb high on the ladder with it.
There are some upsides to the deck, most notably Ysera, Unleashed and Alexstrasza, a pair of strong Legendary cards. The deck also includes Winged Guardian from Galakrond’s Awakening adventure, which cannot usually be acquired other than by purchasing the first wing of the adventure. Unfortunately, there are currently no meta decks that would use Winged Guardian, even though it was a key card in Embiggen Druid decks before Scholomance Academy.
While the deck gives you some of the cards to build Malygos Druid, you still need multiple Legendary and Epic cards to complete the deck and there is no viable halfway solution available, so the Druid deck cannot be recommended.
- 1Dwarven Sharpshooter1
- 2Corrosive Breath1
- 2Imprisoned Felmaw1
- 2Scavenger’s Ingenuity1
- 3Animal Companion1
- 3Deadly Shot1
- 3Desert Spear1
- 3Diving Gryphon1
- 3Kill Command1
- 3Primordial Explorer1
- 3Unleash the Hounds1
- 4Marked Shot1
- 6Unleash the Beast1
- 7Dinotamer Brann1
- 10Nagrand Slam1
Before the July 30th update, Mage deck was the free Highlander deck, but in that update, the archetypes were shifted around and now Hunter is the Highlander deck. This means that Hunter is your ticket to access Zephrys the Great and Dragonqueen Alexstrasza, powerful Neutral Legendary cards that are used in a variety of Highlander decks from Hunter and Mage to Priest.
As a downside, Highlander decks are notoriously expensive to build, so even though you get a couple of core cards for them, there are still many others to collect to truly make the archetypes shine. Out of the box, the free Highlander Hunter deck can confidently get you to Gold and maybe even to Platinum, but it cannot climb all the way.
Luckily, Hunter is the cheapest class to build Highlander decks for, and it is possible to upgrade the free deck with commons and rares to build a fully Legend-capable deck:
The current top Highlander Hunter decks are often very aggressive, even opting to drop Dragonqueen Alexstrasza and Nagrand Slam in favor of a lower curve where Lorekeeper Polkelt can be used to reliably tutor the best card in the archetype, Dinotamer Brann. The free deck gives you Brann, but without Polkelt, it is still a viable option to keep the top end cards and just try to add some more early game to survive long enough to use them.
Mage went from a highly coveted option to one of the worst ones in the July update. Instead of valuable Highlander cards, the Mage deck is a Spell Mage that comes with only a single Legendary card, Evocation. Out of the box, the deck can get you to Gold, but Platinum is already a struggle.
Spell Mage is not a top tier archetype in Scholomance Academy, and in order to make the deck even somewhat viable, you would need Rolling Fireball and The Amazing Reno, the latter of which is from the fourth wing of Galakrond’s Awakening adventure and cannot be crafted separately.
Paladin has been one of the strongest classes in Scholomance Academy, and this type of Pure Libram Paladin is exactly the archetype that currently defines the class. However, Paladin got a lot of great new cards in Scholomance Academy, and the free deck includes none of them. It does give you the full Libram package, including both Libram of Hope and Lady Liadrin, so you get a good number of top tier building blocks. Out of the box, the deck can get you to Platinum, but from there you will need some improvements.
Luckily, many of the good new Paladin cards are commons or rares, and the deck can easily be upgraded to a fully Legend-worthy version:
- 0First Day of School2
- 1Aldor Attendant2
- 2Air Raid2
- 2Hand of A’dal2
- 2Libram of Wisdom2
- 3Goody Two-Shields2
- 3Sky Claw2
- 4Blessing of Kings1
- 4Lightforged Zealot2
- 5Aldor Truthseeker2
- 5Blessing of Authority1
- 5Libram of Justice2
- 7Lady Liadrin1
- 7Lightforged Crusader1
- 9Libram of Hope2
The main card missing from this improved version is High Abbess Alura, which is the best card in the archetype. Replacing one Sky Claw with Alura would make the deck even stronger, but it is perfectly capable even in this more budget-friendly form.
The free Priest deck is a Resurrect Priest, which is an archetype that does not see any play right now. It is not completely powerless, and you can climb to Gold or even Platinum with it, but it lacks the tools to challenge the top tier decks. What’s worse is that there is no clear upgrade path for the deck to a meta deck, which makes Priest a fairly weak option.
Rogue as a class is doing better than ever now, but Galakrond Rogue as an archetype is in the worst position it has been since it was released in December 2019. The current Rogue decks are all super aggressive and full of cards from Scholomance Academy, and this free deck is simply outdated. Out of the box, you can expect to struggle to reach Gold with it.
The deck has a number of powerful cards, such as Kronx Dragonhoof, Heistbaron Togwaggle, and Flik Skyshiv, but all of them have seen better days. Kronx is still played in all Galakrond decks, but hardly any of those are Rogue decks. Togwaggle is too slow for the current meta. Flik is a hard-removal card that sometimes tops the curve of aggressive Rogue decks, but they are increasingly looking to just end the games before Flik can make a difference.
Rogue was the most powerful of these decks in Ashes of Outland, and now it has fallen to become one of the worst in Scholomance Academy. Not recommended.
If Rogue struggles a lot, at least it can find some consolation in the state of Shaman. Shaman is not doing well in Scholomance Academy, and Galakrond Shaman even less so. This deck struggles to get out of Bronze and there is nothing you can upgrade it to. Avoid at all costs.
Galakrond Zoo does not see any play in the meta right now, but it is not a terrible deck. In fact, this deck can potentially be played all the way to Platinum. The bigger problem is what happens then. The current Zoo Warlock decks are built around pain synergies and need multiple Epic cards to function. Galakrond Warlock decks, on the other hand, are slower control decks that need Epic and Legendary cards to function properly. The deck gives you some of the building blocks, but you are still far away from any meta archetypes and need lots of expensive cards to get there.
I attempted to upgrade the deck to a meta-style Galakrond Warlock deck with cheap cards, but that proved to be impossible. Therefore, I cannot recommend this deck either.
The most popular Warrior deck in Scholomance Academy is Bomb Warrior, but this one is a pure aggro Pirate Warrior. It is not a bad deck, either, as it is probably the best free deck out of the box. It also gives you access to Ancharrr and Captain Greenskin, two powerful Legendary cards that see a lot of play in Warrior decks right now. Livewire Lance also used to see a lot of play in Ashes of Outland, but now it has largely become redundant as Bomb Warriors focus on Wrenchcalibur and Pirate Warriors prefer Reaper's Scythe.
Pirate Warrior is not the most popular Warrior archetype around, but it is a perfectly viable one, so if you just like to jam an aggro deck, this Warrior deck is a potential option. The deck is also easy and cheap to upgrade to a somewhat stronger version:
Which Deck Is the Best?
The way I see it, this is a three-deck race:
- Libram Paladin is one of the top tier archetypes in Scholomance Academy, and the free deck gives you a lot of tools to build it. As a downside, it is a Pure deck, so every card in it is a Paladin card, you get nothing for other classes.
- Highlander Hunter is still fine in Scholomance Academy, although it was better in Ashes of Outland. Nonetheless, a perfectly serviceable deck that gives you valuable Neutral Legendary cards for other decks as well.
- Pirate Warrior is not in the spotlight right now, but it is still a fine deck, and you get some good cards for the archetype from the free deck. It is the pure aggro option, but pure aggro decks can be built fully on a budget for some classes, such as Hunter, so maybe it is not the style of deck you want to spend your free deck on. Or maybe it is exactly the type of deck you want to play!
Overall, the free decks are weaker now than they have ever been before: back in Ashes of Outland, multiple of them were even capable of reaching Legend without any upgrades, whereas now that is a pipe dream. Some of them can still be upgraded easily to become viable, whereas others are doomed to fail for the duration of this expansion.