Combo decks have been notoriously difficult to balance in Hearthstone. Because there is no interaction during the opponent’s turn, when a combo deck works, it really works, and can feel futile to play against. On the other hand, combo decks can also have an extremely difficult time to survive to their combo turn.
For the most part, combo decks have been the underdogs in Hearthstone, and the only period when they were really mainstream was during Rastakhan’s Rumble before the second round of nerfs. They were still not dominant, but there were enough good combo decks around that you would play against them every few games at least. Some players liked it, some players did not, but it was the first real taste of a combo meta in Hearthstone.
The next Standard rotation is approaching, and the future of combo decks is uncertain. On one hand, all the decks will become weaker, which means that combo decks can have more room to breathe and more time to get to their combo. On the other hand, many combos will lose important parts and can no longer be executed with the remaining cards.
In this article, I’ll examine the combo cards that are going away as well as the ones that survive the rotation, and what combo decks could be viable in Year of the Dragon.
Goodbye to the King
King Togwaggle has been a key part in multiple combo decks, most notably Druid decks where it has been combined with either Azalina Soulthief or Hakkar, the Soulflayer. While both Azalina and Hakkar remain in Standard format for another year, King Togwaggle is rotating out, and that spells the end of these Druid combo decks – it is no use to rapidly draw through your entire deck, if you cannot then switch it over to the opponent and plunge them into fatigue or worse.
With Naturalize on its way to Hall of Fame, we are losing ways to affect the opponent’s deck. Can’t switch decks. Can’t force card draw. The opponent’s deck is theirs to play with, for the most part, anyway.
Hakkar, the Soulflayer
There is one exception that still allows us to mess with the opponent’s deck: Hakkar, the Soulflayer. While there is no shortcut available to force the opponent to draw Corrupted Blood, it is still possible to put some of those into their deck.
Hakkar has been used in four decks: Hakkar Druid, Hakkar Warrior, Hakkar Priest, and Hakkar Paladin. Hakkar Druid is a cut-and-dried combo deck, whereas the other Hakkar decks are control decks with Hakkar as one of the win conditions.
Hakkar Druid has been the most effective and popular of these. Draw you own deck rapidly, put in some Corrupted Bloods, switch decks with King Togwaggle, and force your opponent to draw the bloods with Naturalize. Boom, dead. Alas, this archetype is more than dead after the rotation with both King Togwaggle and Naturalize gone from the Standard format.
Hakkar Warrior and Hakkar Priest have taken a different approach. Instead of forcing the opponent to draw the bloods, they are all about preventing themselves from drawing the bloods. With Dead Man's Hand and Archbishop Benedictus, they are able to put so many cards to their decks that bloods are not an issue, and eventually the opponent will run out of cards and die to the bloods. Again, however, Dead Man's Hand and Archbishop Benedictus are rotating out of Standard, so these strategies will no longer be available after the rotation.
We are, in fact, losing most of the ways to put cards into our own decks. Direhorn Hatchling and Elise the Trailblazer are also on their way out, so delaying fatigue no longer exists as an option in Standard after the rotation.
Hakkar Warrior also has an alternative line to nullify the bloods with Explore Un'Goro, but that too is rotating out. Hakkar Warrior and Hakkar Priest simply will not have the means to nullify the effect of Corrupted Blood on themselves anymore.
There is one Hakkar deck that is unaffected, though. Hakkar Paladin will still have Prince Liam, and they are therefore capable of removing Corrupted Bloods from their own deck while leaving the ones in their opponent’s deck untouched. Eventually, this will result in a win in fatigue, if the Paladin can survive long enough.
Skulking Geist is rotating out of Standard as well, so once the bloods are in the deck, they are difficult to get out. That said, all Hakkar decks other than Druid are vulnerable to silence effects, as they cannot kill Hakkar on the turn it is played, so even in a long control game, they do not get a guaranteed win.
Shirvallah, the Tiger
Paladin has more than just Hakkar in its portfolio. Shirvallah, the Tiger, Baleful Banker, and Holy Wrath will all be here after the rotation, so Paladin can still shoot the opponent to the face for 25 damage twice over two turns – and a total of 50 damage over two turns in the post-rotation meta will be nothing to scoff at.
Uther of the Ebon Blade will rotate out of Standard, so the Holy Wrath win condition can no longer be combined with the Four Horsemen win condition for slow matchups, but with no Baku the Mooneater to give Warrior tons of armor and no Branching Paths to give Druid a huge armor boost, 50 damage just might be enough anyway.
Mecha'thun is not going anywhere, either. As soon as we get information of the new cards, there will no doubt be a lot of theorycrafting looking for new creative ways to draw through the deck, empty the hand and board, and kill Mecha'thun for a combo lethal.
Galvanizer will remain in the Standard format as long as Mecha'thun, so there is always a chance to discount Mecha'thun in order to complete some combos. Galvanizer can even be bounced back with Youthful Brewmaster for even more discounts, although that starts to get rather complicated. Nonetheless, that is something to keep in mind when looking for Mecha'thun combos.
That said, most current Mecha'thun combos will be broken by the rotation – except for one rather surprising one!
Of the current combos, Mecha’thun Druid is the most popular Mecha’thun deck, but with Naturalize headed to Hall of Fame, the combo will be gone. No more Mecha'thun + Innervate + Naturalize. Druid does not have means to kill a 10-health minion anymore, but it does have Flobbidinous Floop, so it can create a four-health Mecha’thun, which in turn can be killed with Starfall. Tricky, perhaps, but not completely impossible.
Mecha’thun Priest is losing Ticking Abomination, so it does not have a clear way to kill Mecha'thun anymore. With three discounts, it could survive with Mecha'thun and Shadow Word: Death, but that is nowhere near the life it had during Rastakhan’s Rumble. Losing Psychic Scream and Hemet, Jungle Hunter makes the deck slower as well.
Mecha’thun Warlock is losing both Bloodbloom and Cataclysm. The deck could survive with one Galvanizer and Grim Rally, but then it needs to be able to empty its hand and board before the combo, and its ability to not worry about either was its main strength over other Mecha’thun archetypes.
I promised one survivor, remember. Indeed, Mecha’thun Warrior is almost completely untouched by the rotation. The Boomship, Malygos, Mecha'thun, two copies of Inner Rage, and Whirlwind are all still there. Not only that, but it also does not lose much of anything from its removal package, so it is a complete, rotation-proof deck! We will see what the next expansion brings, but as things stand right now, Mecha’thun Warrior is one of the most likely survivors from Rastakhan’s Rumble into Year of the Dragon.
Malygos dodged Hall of Fame for yet another year, and as long as Malygos is here, there is potential for combo decks built around it. Indeed, Mecha’thun Warrior is partially built around Malygos, although not in the way Malygos is usually used.
Malygos Druid is the most popular Malygos deck at the moment, and while it is getting hit by the rotation – losing Spreading Plague and Twig of the World Tree is no joke – it keeps all of the damage spells and some ways to discount Malygos in Dreampetal Florist and Flobbidinous Floop. Malygos Druid will need to figure out how to survive, but the damage potential is still there.
Malygos Rogue is losing its key combo piece, Kobold Illusionist. Without the Illusionist, it cannot create multiple copies of Malygos for inevitable lethal damage. With only one Malygos, a full-cost one, Rogue cannot assemble enough damage even with Preparation.
Malygos Shaman is another archetype that is always worth considering. Currently, Shaman does not have enough damage spells to make good use of Malygos, but Eureka! will remain in Standard for another year, so if suitable damage spells are released for the class, Malygos could well return to its roots once again.
Priestly Combo Galore
Priest has a lot of combo decks right now, but the post-rotation future does not look bright for them.
Clone Priest is one of the most popular combo decks at the moment, but it will be hit hard by the rotation. While Malygos, Prophet Velen, and Mind Blast remain in Standard, and even Zerek's Cloning Gallery is still available, Clone Priest is losing key support pieces: Radiant Elemental, Eternal Servitude, and Lesser Diamond Spellstone are all rotating out, so there will be no resurrect effects and no discounts on spells. Without those, the damage amplification effects and damage spells cannot ensure lethal damage.
Various Inner Fire Combo Priests have always been around, most recently as Wall Priest. While Divine Spirit and Inner Fire remain in Standard indefinitely, and even Topsy Turvy will still be available, these decks lose a huge combo piece in Shadow Visions. Combo Priest was not a big thing before Shadow Visions: it was the ability to tutor for combo pieces and even create additional copies of them that made the deck so powerful. Furthermore, all resurrect effects are also rotating out of Standard, so while the combo itself survives, the overall power of the deck just won’t be nearly the same.
APM Priest keeps Test Subject, Vivid Nightmare, and Topsy Turvy, but without Radiant Elemental, it cannot cycle through enough Test Subjects for lethal damage. The Regenerate + Auchenai Phantasm variant fares somewhat better than the Stonetusk Boar variant, but it cannot assemble enough Regenerates for a one-turn-kill either.
Most combo decks will die, but not all
Most of the combo decks as we know them nowadays will be gone after the rotation:
- Togwaggle Druid
- Hakkar Druid
- Mecha’thun Druid
- OTK DK Paladin
- Clone Priest
- APM Priest
- Mecha’thun Priest
- Malygos Rogue
- Mecha’thun Warlock
Furthermore, some of the combo decks survive in principle, but in such a weakened state that it is hard to see them having any success:
- Wall Priest
- Combo Priest
That said, there are a couple of combo decks that can live through all of this:
- Malygos Druid
- Mecha’thun Warrior
- Holy Wrath Paladin
Mecha’thun Warrior is already practically ready to play and Holy Wrath Paladin has a ton of tools left to draw cards and clear boards. Malygos Druid requires more of a rebuild, and its future is uncertain. Regardless, after the most combo-heavy meta in Hearthstone’s history during Rastakhan’s Rumble, we are entering another dry spell for combo decks, unless the next expansion gives us some interesting combo tools.
The build-around pieces are there: Malygos, Mecha'thun, and Hakkar, the Soulflayer provide ample Neutral win conditions for combo decks. They just need appropriate support cards to be viable, and most of those cards are now rotating out of Standard.