Many games, and card games in particular, follow a predictable model of what decks will be popular. When a lot of new cards are released, aggressive decks will be the most popular and most successful at the outset while control decks will suffer. After a little while, slightly heavier decks, not altogether control but closer to midrange, will figure out the best ways to trump the pure aggro decks. Then, finally, the heavy slow control decks will take over once again. This is the life cycle of a metagame a large percentage of the time, and it is no different from Hearthstone pre-Blackrock.
Early on, it was Face Hunter and Mech Mage in particular that dominated the scene. As the players figured out the best ways to defeat these archetypes emerged, decks like Hybrid Druid and Demonlock came to the forefront. These decks were able to play the controllish role against the pure aggro decks, while also being able to transition into an aggressive stance against more controlling strategies. And while Mech Mage and Face Hunter still saw play and some success, it wasn’t the success those archetypes enjoyed at the beginning of the format.
Within the last five or so days, another shift has taken place. A week ago, the most popular Paladin decks ran Knife Juggler and two copies of Quartermaster, fitting squarely into the midrange plan. Today, it’s almost ubiquitous to see only one Quartermaster and zero Knife Jugglers, and instead see things like Antique Healbot and maybe even a second copy of Lay On Hands. This is the final evolution to pure control.
In competitive card games, there’s an old adage: you either want to be much faster or just a little slower. This saying is bore out over many metagames over many games, and Goblins vs. Gnomes is just the latest in that tradition. But by progressively getting slower and slower, the door is creeping back open for aggro decks to return. I saw a copy of Ysera in a Control Warrior last night; that’s a good indicator that there are too many control decks around and it might be time for aggro to make a comeback.
Let’s take a look at the deck that I like the best in our current control-meta doldrums: Face Hunter. I’ve included a link to Firebat’s Gfinity Spring Masters list.
Face Hunter just wants to get the opponent dead. Like, now. Board position doesn’t matter, card advantage doesn’t matter, nothing matters except the opponent’s life total. Most games will end with no cards in hand and the opponent either dead or just barely alive, at which point they’ll kill you the next turn. Brutal.
One of the main downsides of Face Hunter is that it can have schizophrenic or otherwise clunky draws. Also, if your opponent has their good draws against aggro Face Hunter doesn’t have a Plan B. If you get stuffed, you get stuffed. What is an aggro player to do?
Well, if you expect more control decks in your metagame like I would expect right now, you can add some more techy choices. In particular, I like Piloted Shredders at the top of my curve alongside Leeroy Jenkins. Sticky minions mean that your opponent’s removal is more overloaded, and if they’re trying to answer you 1-for-1, that plan falls apart against the Shredder. Additionally, you could add another Ironbeak Owl or Tracking to find the specific answers you need at any given point. I also suggest adding one copy of Snake Trap to avoid those awkward turns where you have Explosive Trap up and a Mad Scientist in play.
LifeCoach’s ROOT Invitational Mech Mage is a solid example of a recent build.
By far the most popular deck at the release of Goblins vs. Gnomes was Mech Mage, and for good reason. I’ve always been partial to decks that have lots of options with strong synergies, and Mech Mage fits both qualities to a T. Aggro decks with high toughness minions and the ability to trade up-curve are awesome, and Mech Mage was the scourge of the ladder for quite a while.
But the days of that mechanical infestation are behind us, as people figured out the best ways to slow down the Singularity. Namely, making sure you kill every single mech on sight. Tinkertown Technician and Goblin Blastmage are much less scary as vanilla 3/3s and 5/4s. While it may seem obvious reading “kill all the Mechs,” in practice it’s trickier. It means that cards like Equality are the most important in Paladin against Mech Mage, which is not something you’d think at first blush.
One of the reasons for the downfall in popularity of Mech Mage is the adoption of Kezan Mystic. Mech Mage usually utilizes Mad Scientist + Mirror Entity to maintain board advantage, and Kezan Mystic throws a huge wrench in those plans. The solution? Easy: remove the secrets package! Well, it’s not that simple. Mad Scientist is an extremely powerful tool that gains a lot of value for a lowly two-drop. But simply adding Harvest Golem, Mechanical Yeti, and the like instead can turn a huge weakness into a strength.
Particularly if you’re playing a lot of Druids, Mech Mage is a solid choice.
My last example of an aggro deck is one that is near and dear to all of our hearts: Zoo. I’ve included a list from last season’s NA top-ranked player Godkillerwx.
Zoo became the best deck for laddering early in Hearthstone’s life, but has fallen a bit out of favor recently. Still, it’s a powerful, quick, and potentially overwhelming deck due to its extremely low curve and ability to take advantage of the Warlock hero power to gain card advantage.
One of the things about Zoo is that it’s actually, secretly, more of a control deck. Well, not traditional control; board control. You’ll be attacking minions a lot more often with Zoo than with either of the above two decks. Old Zoo decks used to run things like Shieldbearer to keep board advantage! Zoo is not, contrary to the title of the article, all about that face. But it is more than capable of killing opponents dead in short order, even as early as turn five or six.
However, as decks like Druid made it a priority to stomp out the Zoo menace, fewer and fewer Zoos made their way up the ladder. An abysmal match-up to Face Hunter doesn’t help things. A shame, really.
But as the control decks look to counter the mid-range decks and begin to ignore the aggro match-ups even just a little bit, it may be time for Zoo to once again rise. To help keep control down, Sea Giant is worth considering as an option. It may be worth exploring a Mech variety of Zoo as well, but the power of both Snowchugger and Goblin Blastmage in Mage makes it unlikely that Mechs are better in Warlock.
If you play an aggro deck on the ladder, you may find yourself bombarded with “friend requests” once you demolish your opponent. Those new “friends” may insult your playskill or accuse you of being a noob or a cancer. Believe me, I’ve gotten those messages too. But here’s the thing: I believe playing some types of aggro decks is actually harder than traditional mid-range or control.
The edges are smaller. Each individual decision is more impactful. The mistakes are that much more costly. Playing a “simple aggro deck” is anything but. And hell, you get to play more games!
Until next time,