The late Kobolds and Catacombs meta has seen classes divided into three tiers:
- The Good: Warlock, Priest, Paladin, and Mage
- The Bad: Hunter, Rogue, and Druid
- The Ugly: Warrior and Shaman
The ugly ones are in a sad state overall with less than 2% of players choosing to play each of them on the climb to Legend – you can very well go from rank 5 to Legend without meeting a single Warrior or Shaman on the way.
Alas, Standard rotation is approaching, and so is The Witchwood expansion, and there is no better time to shake up the ranks than rotation! We do not have a lot of information on Shaman yet, but most of the Warrior cards have already been revealed, so it is possible to take a look at what the future may hold for the class that once seemed to power through any rotation with the power of Control Warrior, but has subsequently fallen far from grace.
Warrior in Kobolds and Catacombs
In all fairness, Warrior is not impossible to play in Kobolds and Catacombs. It has the element of surprise, your opponent might not be prepared for it. This propelled Fatigue Warriors to great tournament results for a while, until people started to actually practice and prepare for the matchup and the winrates fell back to normal levels. A number of people then piloted Pirate Warrior successfully on ladder and in tournaments, again relying on the element of surprise. Off-meta decks can catch people unaware and have good results for a while even if their overall power level is not as high as that of the accepted meta decks.
Fatigue Warrior / Mill Warrior
Fatigue Warrior has been the most consistently successful Warrior archetype in Kobolds and Catacombs. Fibonacci has piloted the archetype to top Legend ranks season after season and Odemian won HCT Toronto in March 2018 with the deck in his lineup. Fatigue Warrior is especially good as a Paladin killer, able to boast winrates in excess of 70% against the class.
The deck aims to remove all of the opponent’s threats and have infinite cards available thanks to two copies of Dead Man's Hand. However, it is very difficult to outlast many of the top tier decks long enough for them to fatigue naturally, so the other key card in the deck is Coldlight Oracle, which enables the Warrior player to accelerate the process.
In a slow matchup, Fatigue Warrior attempts to cycle through the deck rapidly and trim their hand size down to just the Dead Man’s Hands, Coldlight Oracles, and some matchup-specific tools, typically either Execute or Bring It On!. Then, the Warrior can go through a rapid cycle of shuffling cards to the deck and drawing them back with the Coldlight Oracles, fatiguing the opponent in the process.
Against aggro decks, Fatigue Warrior can simply run them out of threats and usually wins with the opponent conceding when they have no viable ways to kill the Warrior remaining. Even if the aggro deck chooses to fight it out until the end, a single Dead Man’s Hand is sufficient to ensure that the Warrior will win in fatigue. Shuffling in additional removal and not trying to go infinite is the strategy in such matchups.
Fatigue Warrior is a difficult deck to pilot and games take a long time, but it is a perfectly viable Warrior deck even now.
Pirate Warrior was a powerful aggro archetype once, but the nerf to Fiery War Axe in September 2017 weakened its early game dramatically, forcing it to take a back seat in the meta. The archetype ventured into Prince Keleseth and Spiteful Summoner, but has recently returned back to its roots, after the nerfs to Patches the Pirate and Corridor Creeper in February 2018 enabled it to better contest other aggressive decks again. Ironically, with Patches getting dropped from other archetypes, Pirate Warrior actually got better despite the nerf also hurting it.
Pirate Warrior is an aggro deck with a small unique twist to it: it uses weapons a lot. With multiple ways to buff the attack and durability of weapons, Pirate Warrior can even deal 30 damage from weapons alone in some games. Most of the time it uses a combination of minions and weapons, and sometimes even uses weapons to protect its minions, but make no mistake: Arr is for face.
Recruit Warrior was supposed to be the thing with Kobolds and Catacombs – it was the Warrior archetype that received most card support from the expansion. Alas, it has failed time and again. It is not exactly bad, it just isn’t that good either.
Recruit Warrior is a Control Warrior deck that can remove plenty of threats and keep the board clear and then start summoning some huge threats with Gather Your Party and Woecleaver and overwhelm the opponent. If you happen to draw your threats too soon, you can just Dead Man's Hand some copies back into the deck so that you don’t run out of things to summon.
While N’Zoth Warrior never reached the mainstream – if there is such a thing as a mainstream Warrior deck – in Kobolds and Catacombs, I played the archetype a lot myself, including on a couple of Legend climbs, so I can vouch for its viability. It is a Control Warrior build that can win games in fatigue and often goes that long, but it also has multiple copies of N’Zoth available to get a big Direhorn Matriarch chain running in the end game both to defend itself and to push damage.
Other Warrior archetypes
Taunt Warrior running Fire Plume's Heart has seen some play, but its results have been abysmal. According to HSReplay statistics, the archetype’s winrate is below 40% with even the best lists falling short of 50%. Taunt Warrior had its time during Journey to Un’Goro, but it has a hard time defending against the best aggressive decks (Murloc Paladin, Secret Mage), constant pressure from Spiteful decks, and the immense power of Cubelocks. Taunts are not quite as effective defensive tools as Fatigue Warrior’s arsenal of removal.
Tempo Warrior is all but forgotten. I’ve experimented with the archetype a fair bit myself, but it is difficult to maintain even 50% winrate over the long term with it. Just not enough swing power and too poor of an early game right now.
Warrior in The Witchwood
So, what will happen to the existing Warrior archetypes when the rotation happens and The Witchwood arrives? What new Warrior archetypes may rise to see play?
Fatigue Warrior (Togwaggle Warrior)
The current Fatigue Warrior list loses three cards:
Those are some hefty losses.
The biggest one is Coldlight Oracle: it can be difficult to keep answering all threats until fatigue damage defeats the opponent, and with Coldlight Oracle gone, Warrior has no tools to speed things up. Simply losing this one card may already kill the entire archetype. None of The Witchwood cards revealed so far provide any replacement either and given the reasons for Coldlight Oracle’s introduction to the Hall of Fame, it is unlikely for Warrior to get a replacement. The only class with the ability to force the opponent to draw cards in the future seems to be Druid.
Dirty Rat is also a big deal to a very slow deck. What if your opponent is playing a Combo deck? Dirty Rat is one of the few ways you can disrupt your opponent’s game plan in Hearthstone, and losing access to it makes life that much more difficult for Fatigue decks. You have no proactive ways to win a game, so with no way to disrupt the opponent – no forced draws that may burn cards, no taking cards away from hand – Combo decks seem to have an easy time.
Sleep with the Fishes is the smallest loss. Sure, it has been a nice card, but Warrior will always get more area-of-effect damage. From the newly revealed cards, there’s already Warpath, which looks like an excellent card, and Deadly Arsenal, which, to be honest, does not look like much unless some more weapons are revealed. Losing one area-of-effect spell only to have it replaced with another is not a big loss, unlike Oracle and Rat.
There is one small beacon of hope for the archetype: King Togwaggle. Togwaggle Warrior saw some play early in Kobolds and Catacombs, but it proved to be inferior to the Fatigue build with Coldlight Oracle. The deck works on a three-card combo: King Togwaggle to switch decks with your opponent, Explore Un'Goro to turn your newly stolen deck into Choose Your Path spells, and Skulking Geist to destroy all those Choose Your Path spells should your opponent switch the decks back – and if they will not do it, all those discovered cards provide you enough of a win condition to win the game.
Pirate Warrior is hit even harder, if at all possible:
Welp. That’s half of the weapon buffs out, only Upgrade! and Captain Greenskin remain. The early game is gone as well. The new Warrior cards from The Witchwood promote Rush, not Charge, so hitting face is a bit slower with those tools.
There are still some Pirates left though. Southsea Captain is still there. Southsea Deckhand, Bloodsail Raider, and Dread Corsair are all Classic cards. Phantom Freebooter has not found a slot in the deck so far, but it’s from Knights of the Frozen Throne and could join in if needed. Nightmare Amalgam is also a Pirate, even though it is but a pale shadow of the glory that is Bloodsail Cultist.
For a pure Aggro deck, it is hard to see Warrior go with anything else than Pirates. They synergize well with weapons, but with Warrior class Pirates leaving Standard, it may be the time for Pirate Warrior as an archetype to move over to Wild altogether.
Recruit Warrior loses less than most existing Warrior decks:
The two big minions are real losses, especially Y’Shaarj, as it allows the deck to snowball much like Big Priest.
Unlike most other Big decks, Recruit Warrior has never relied on Barnes, and it gets to keep all of its main value/Recruit tools: Dead Man's Hand, Forge of Souls, Gather Your Party, and Woecleaver are all still there. Those need to be complemented with some card draw, removal, and big minions, and it’s a deck.
The big minions part is surprisingly difficult right now. So far, no new big minions have been revealed. The deck still has the fun and interactive duo of Ysera and The Lich King, and the Warrior legendary minions Grommash Hellscream and Geosculptor Yip are still there too.
There are multiple routes the deck can take. There’s the Sudden Genesis burst route, perhaps with some Charged Devilsaurs in the mix. There’s the Whirlwind-heavy route with Rotface and Warpath. It can also try to make do with what big minions there are left, such as some Mountain Giants and perhaps even Nozdormu.
With the rotation weakening the competition, Recruit Warrior just might have a chance. That said, none of its available options look stunning, so it is still extremely unclear how good it will be.
Taunt Warrior (Baku Quest Warrior)
Taunt Warrior has some interesting options available to it. First and foremost, Blizzard themselves have already discussed Baku the Mooneater Quest Warrior, which seems to be one of the archetypes they are pushing for Warrior for The Witchwood.
Baku gives the deck some additional survivability until you get your big Hero Power online. Tank Up! works nicely with Reckless Flurry, giving easier access to yet another potential board clear.
There are plenty of new cards that could fit in the deck:
New Taunt minions, some even with Echo. New ways to manipulate your Hero Power, either by refreshing it or by increasing its damage. This archetype is receiving a lot of attention.
Some old favorites also work with Baku:
The main question for Taunt Warrior is whether the Hero Power is strong enough anymore. Cubelock is not going anywhere. With Voidlords running around, it is a pain to try to clear the Warlock’s board and not hit 1/3 Taunts with those big Ragnaros fireballs every turn. Taunt Warrior is receiving more push than at any point since its introduction in Journey to Un’Goro, but not all pushed archetypes become a thing – Freeze Shaman, anyone?
Tempo Warrior (Rush Warrior)
The Warrior archetype I’m most excited about for The Witchwood is Tempo Warrior. The main issues with Tempo Warrior in Kobolds and Catacombs were caused by its weak early game, which forced it to play from behind on turns three and four, and it often struggled to stabilize and swing the board to its favor at that crucial point.
The Witchwood promises to fix this with a bang:
Rush minions can help Tempo Warrior gain board control in the early mid-game, and from there on never let go of the board but instead steadily increase pressure and push for the win.
There are many interesting paths Tempo Warrior can take:
- Rush minions into a couple of top-end minions: The curve could top out at cards such as The Lich King or Grommash Hellscream, or both, giving the deck a solid power curve with some powerful finishers.
- Dragon Warrior: Scaleworm would fit the deck nicely, but there is not that much Dragon support available for Warrior right now. If we get another Dragon card, Dragon Warrior might be able to return.
- Rotface and Whirlwinds: Rotface can be a tempo card and, with Warpath, multiple activations are easier than ever before. There is also the new Whirlwind synergy card Blackhowl Gunspire, but I have a hard time seeing it make the cut. A minion that cannot attack needs to do something strong, and some random damage when damaged just might not be enough.
- Prince Keleseth: Before Woodcutter's Axe was revealed, I thought Prince Keleseth would be part of the deck, buffing all those sweet Rush minions. With such a good synergy weapon released, Keleseth builds are less likely, but not to be ruled out.
What Will Warrior do in The Witchwood?
If I was to make a bet right now, I’d put my money on some kind of a Tempo Warrior build emerging as a decent deck in The Witchwood. It is way too early to call it top tier, but the archetype shows the most promise out of the options available to Warrior so far. There are others: Taunt Warrior, Recruit Warrior, and Togwaggle Warrior all have some potential, but it is too early to say how far that can carry them.
What about you? What kind of Warrior decks do you expect in The Witchwood meta? Which one of them will be the strongest? Let me know in the comments!