Hello folks! My name is Reuben Bresler, aka MoxReuby. I have reached the rank of Legend on the North American server, I’ve won my fair share of local Hearthstone events in my hometown of Las Vegas, Nevada, and I’m happy to begin writing my weekly strategy column here with ComicBooked.com! This week I’m talking about one of my favorite topics: metagame scalpels.
But first, a question: What is a Bloodsail Corsair‘s favorite letter? Think about it, then see the answer at the bottom.
I have several decks in my roster that have about 27-28 fully set cards, or cards that I’d either never remove or would only remove under drastic circumstances. The remaining few slots are dedicated to metagame-dependent matchup-dominating creatures. There are about a dozen cards in Hearthstone I call “metagame scalpels,” or cards that are very narrow but very powerful in those narrow situations, that I consider to be playable often enough to have on my deckbuilding watchlist.
Typically, these cards will pop up in my slower decks, such as Control Warrior, Hybrid Druid, Oil Rogue, and Control Priest. However, if the format is saturated enough to warrant their usage, they will occasionally sneak their way into aggressive decks like Zoo or Face Hunter.
Interestingly, one of my top tools of deciding whether a card is a fine metagame scalpel is when it’s at its worst. Ask yourself: If the ability on the creature I’m bringing in is useless, is the creature still serviceable as a body? A vanilla 3/2 for 2 or 4/3 for 4 is passable, but it’s a tougher argument for a vanilla 3/3 for 5 or 4/5 for 6. Especially for those cases where the body-for-cost ratio by itself is underwhelming, you’d better be darned sure that it’s an effect you know you’ll be using in almost all of your games.
I want to briefly touch on these cards, in order of how often they get added to my lineups from the bench. For the sake of brevity, I will be sticking to the Neutral Minions I see as most commonly brought in for this article. For example, while I recently added Feugen and Stalagg to my Druid deck to improve long game, they won’t be discussed here, as they are not often particularly relevant to deckbuilding.
Let’s get started, shall we?
BGH is almost ubiquitous as a 1-of and sometimes even as a 2-of in most decks these days, but it’s easy to forget that there are metagames where it’s a deck liability. We haven’t see one of those days in a while though with the popularity of Dr. Boom, the increasing popularity of Mal’Ganis in Demonlock, and the resurgence in popularity of Ragnaros in all manner of control and midrange strategies.
The real value of Big Game Hunter is its tempo advantage. Nearly every target Big Game Hunter has ever taken down costs more than the 3 mana invested to cast BGH, which allows the Big Game Hunter’s controller to leverage that into more room to catch up or pull ahead. Taking down a Ragnaros, for example, with a Big Game Hunter leaves 5 mana crystals remaining to cast Sludge Belcher, Azure Drake, or any manner of board sweeping spell to clean up the smaller minions.
Even without big game to hunt, a 4/2 for 3 is slightly above the curve. In particular, Big Game Hunter is still useful as an early drop that can pick off high toughness creatures in matchups like Zoo and Face Hunter that don’t have targets.
When do you want Big Game Hunter? Warrior, Dr. Boom, Ragnaros.
…So pretty much always, unless Zoo (without Sea Giant) and Druid (without Ragnaros) are the only things you’re facing these days. Even with the recent decline of Handlock and their plethora of 8/8s, Big Game Hunter remains a staple.
Shaman has Hex and Priest has Shadow Word: Death for efficient removal, but other heroes can have issues dealing with large minions cost effectively. When building most decks, Big Game Hunter should always be near the top of your consideration.
An example of where seeing two Big Game Hunters include Xixo’s Control Warrior deck from The Pinnacle tournament in September 2014.
There are precious few ways to effectively answer a weapon in Hearthstone. Mages have the luxury of Water Elemental and Snowchugger, Rogues can use Sabotage if they so choose, and those few Shamans who run Frost Shock are able to freeze an opponent for a turn. Beyond those few answers, you can taunt to protect your minions, and that’s about it. But if you want to directly answer a threatening weapon through smashing it to smithereens, there’s only Harrison Jones and Acidic Swamp Ooze.
And Bloodsail Corsair. Still thinking about that question, I hope?
While a 3/2 for 2 is certainly a better deal than a 5/4 for 5 when the opponent is not equipped, the additional card draw offered from Harrison makes it the typical choice for those looking to disarm opponents. Decks that have plenty of card draw already and value the smaller cost over the larger body and card advantage, such as most Rogues, would value the Swamp Ooze over Harrison. Almost every other deck would want Harrison.
When do you Want Harrison Jones? Decks with heavy weaponry. Warrior, Paladin, Hunter.
As I mentioned, a 5/4 for 5 is very unimpressive, so we’d better want his effect an awful lot. Jones is particularly in Paladin and Warrior-heavy metagames, but Harrison also has its uses against Eaglehorn Bow, Doomhammer, Powermace, and even the odd Jaraxxus Bloodlust against Handlock and Demonlock. Alas, even with all of those targets, about half the time you’ll be casting Harrison without putting anything in a museum.
Oddly enough, Harrison isn’t great against Rogue. But it’s serviceable, and can often knock off a Deadly Poison or Tinker’s Sharpsword Oil before it becomes too troublesome.
Harrison is commonly seen in decks like Kolento’s Control Priest and Rdu’s Combo Druid, both From February 2015.
Owl is a regular starter in aggro decks, but when is it right to add an odd Owl to your Control deck too? That distinction is often tricky, but occasionally I’ll find myself in a dominant position only to face down a stumbling block that I gives my opponents the time they need to catch up. Often these stumbling blocks come in the form of Sludge Belcher, Annoy-o-Tron, and Druid of the Claw. Which means…
When do you want Ironbeak Owl? Mainly for taunters. Druid, Paladin, Priest.
Sure, sometimes you’ll silence their Nerubian Egg or Shade of Naxxramas, but for every silenced Edwin Van Cleeve you’ll be silencing ten more Ancients of War, Sunwalkers, or Defender of Argus’d Giants.
More recently, the rise of Demonlock means that silencing a Voidcaller is pretty important to avoid early blowouts.
One small note: very rarely I’ve added Spellbreaker over Owl, such as in Control Warrior, when the 4/3 body is more relevant or the mana conservation is not necessarily needed. A 2/1 for 2 is pretty bad, after all. But Owl is used much more like a spell than a creature, with the body often being negligible. Bottom line: If you find yourself facing a lot of taunters or threatening abilities you don’t want to deal with, you can do worse than add an Owl to the mix.
StrifeCro’s Control Paladin from Kinguin 3 in February 2015 is a solid example of a nontraditional place for an Ironbeak Owl, as is JJ102’s Malygos Rogue from November 2014.
MC Tech wasn’t always as popular as it is right now, but in recent months it’s becoming more and more the norm. A lot of it is thanks to the ubiquity of Dr. Boom, but the recent surge in Midrange Hunter and Mech Mage is also a culprit. People tend to spam the board earlier and more often than a year or so ago when one or two big minions would do all the damage.
While not the ideal choice, a 3/3 for 3 isn’t the worst thing ever either. I’ve played many “naked” SI:7 Agents, Earthen Ring Farseers, and yes even Mind Control Techs just to get on the board and help pave the way to the later stages of the game.
When do you want Mind Control Tech? Decks that try to “go wide.” Paladin, Hunter, Shaman, Zoo, Dr. Boom.
That’s a lot of uses! So why isn’t MC Tech more played?
A lot of it comes from the randomness. Sure, sometimes you’ll steal their best minion, but more often than not you’ll steal something less than their best. The tempo gained from Mind Control Tech’s TC-130 Mental Dislocator is significantly less reliable than that gained from Big Game Hunter or Harrison Jones. But what it lacks in accuracy it makes up for in game-breakability, because stealing a key taunt creature or large minion can shift the game right when you need it most.
Check out Lifecoach’s Kinguin 3 Control Paladin deck from February 2015 for an example of MC Tech in action.
One of the newest scalpels to the party is the Mystic, and boy does this thing deliver a wallop. While Mind Control Tech’s ability is truly random, Kezan Mystic’s is often predictable. After playing enough games you’ll know which secrets you’re getting and which to play around before Mystic comes a-callin’.
When do you want Kezan Mystic? Decks with secrets to tell. Hunter, Mage, Aggro Paladin.
That’s a pretty short list. Why the hubbub here?
Simple: once again, it’s all about tempo. Particularly if they cast their secret from their hand, you’re stealing not only their spell but the mana they spend casting it (or the mana invested in either Mad Scientist or Kirin Tor Mage). Suddenly, your 4/3 for 4 is a 4/3 for free at the cost of waiting until there was something worth taking. And if you didn’t have to wait until after turn 4? Even better!
In addition to one copy of Mind Control Tech, Xixo ran two copies of Kezan Mystic in his recent Hybrid Druid deck that he played in the Kinguin 3 tournament in February 2015.
While often ubiquitous, Loatheb is nonetheless a scalpel in some decks. Occasionally you swap out Harrison Jones and Loatheb in Control Warrior, for example. A Loatheb in Mech Mage isn’t necessarily standard either. The five-slot in Druid id jam-packed, and yet sometimes Loatheb makes his way into the fray there as well.
And why not? He’s a fungi!
And besides, he doesn’t take up mushroom!
In fact, he’s no truffle at all!
Okay that’s enough of that.
The point is, Loatheb occasionally pops up where you least expect him.
When do you want Loatheb? Key turns versus any deck. Rogue, Druid, Mage.
Those key turns are usually turn 6 against Paladin (preempting Equality-Consecrate) turn 8 against Mech Mage (to preempt Archmage Antonidas-intoSpare Part), turn 9 versus Druid (to preempt Savage Roar-Force of Nature Combo), and the turn right before you’d die against Hunter (to help combat Kill Command and Unleash the Hounds). You can also shut off Coin-Savannah Highmane on the play against Midrange Hunter, some Circle of Healing shenanigans against Priest, and generally every turn every against Rogue, those you definitely want to make sure they get as little value as possible out of a Violet Teacher or Gadgetzan Auctioneer.
Check out Pesty’s Tempo Mage and Amaz’s Midrange Hunter from the Kinguin 3 tournament in February 2015 for spots that might not, at first blush, look like traditional uses of Loatheb.
Now we’re going back in time a bit. TBK hasn’t been all the rage recently, what with the absence of big value taunters and the disappearance of Handlock from the metagame.
When do you want The Black Knight? Against taunt minions. Obv. Druid, Shaman, Handlock.
But it goes deeper than that. You clearly don’t want to be casting Black Knight primarily killing Annoy-o-Tron and Voidwalker. You want to be getting tempo, because a 4/5 for 6 does not pass the “is it good enough as a vanilla minion” test. Quite often you’ll cast a Belcher on turn 5, they’ll cast their own, and you’ll Black Knight theirs to maintain board control. That’s good enough tempo to warrant a slot.
The problem is that the glut of options at 5 (Azure Drake, Spectral Knight, Loatheb, Harrison Jones, etc.) means that you aren’t always going to be up against a 5-drop or bigger taunt minion. And if the best you can do is knock off a Stoneclaw Totem you’re not getting the value you need from your 6-drop. The bottom line is that there are simply not enough Handlocks, Ancients of War, and Sunwalkers to warrant TBK right now. But that could change any moment, as the Hearthstone metagame is a harsh mistress.
DanielCTin14’s Zoo list from April 2014 and Forsen’s Viagame House Cup 2014 Ramp Druid are good examples of out-of-the-box spots for The Black Knight to make an appearance in a nontraditional setting.
Last on my list this week is Faceless Manipulator. Oh where, oh where have you gone, Faceless? Relegated to playing second fiddle next to Arcane Golem in OTK Warlock, Faceless Manipulator’s time will come again… someday. The best time for Faceless, besides combo, is when you have minions worth copying yourself as well as an opponent with good targets as well. Dr. Boom is the most commonly played legendary these days, and copying him just gives you a glorified War Golem. Unattractive.
Add to this the fact that it’s a pretty aggressive meta and you end up with not that great of a time for Faceless. But it’s always a good one to keep in mind. I’ve had many a deck with two copies myself, so I’m sure we’ll see the 5-cost clone again.
When do you want Faceless Manipulator? Glacially slow metagames. Druid, Warrior, Priest.
DuckWingFACE’s Control Warrior from April 2014, Forsen’s Ramp Giants Druid from ESGN Fight Night in August 2014, and ManaGrind’s Control Paladin from April 2014 are all examples of decks that can use the additional juice that Faceless Manipulator brings to the party.
There are plenty of other metagame scalpels to consider, from Baron Geddon to Hungry Crab, and usually they aren’t right for whatever reason. But the deckbuilding decisions you make before you step on to the ladder often matter much more than those decisions made in-game. In Hearthstone the metagame changes quickly and you constantly have to be aware of the changes around you
So, what’s a Bloodsail Corsair’s favorite letter?
Ah, ye might think it be “R,” but a pirate’s first true love always be the C.
Until next time, don’t feed the trolls.