Following our comprehensive Descent of Dragons preview article, it’s time for some theory-crafting! We encourage you to read the card preview as it can shed light on many of our decisions regarding deck building.
With so many new powerful cards that are worth building around, we’ve relentlessly tinkered with ideas on how to best exploit them. This article features new archetypes that could emerge on the back of the set, and current archetypes that have received significant upgrades that could make a difference.
The first Data Reaper Report of Descent of Dragons is planned to be released on December 19th (Note: This has been delayed due to the balance changes). With ladder activity on a global decline over the last year, a boost in data contribution is important to maintain our ability to accurately analyze the meta. Don’t forget that your data contributions are what allows us to produce the Data Reaper Reports. Without your help, there would be no such content.
Contributing to the Data Reaper Project is very easy to do as well. It can be done through either Track-o-Bot or Hearthstone Deck Tracker (recommended) and takes just a couple of minutes of your time. If you haven’t done so already, you can sign up HERE. If you are a current contributor, make sure your tracker or plug-in is active with the expansion’s launch.
Remember that while we have tirelessly worked to produce the featured decks, they are still completely untested, and nothing can replace the post-launch refinement that is backed up by real-time game experience and data.
If you have a limited collection, we highly recommend that you DO NOT make big crafting investments on any theory-crafted deck. Wait at least a few days, if not until the first Data Reaper Report, to see what strategies end up being strong and fun before making a significant commitment.
And so, we begin.
Embiggen is potentially one of the strongest cards in the set. One of the most interesting questions at the launch of the expansion is which shell is going to be able to take advantage of it most effectively.
Dragon Druid shows much promise, and we believe it has the tools to become the strongest midrange deck in the format and the best dragon tribal deck. It also carries excellent synergies with Embiggen. Breath of Dreams offers mana acceleration, helping offset Embiggen’s higher minion costs. Frizz is another card that could prove to be invaluable in eliminating Embiggen’s drawback.
This deck is all about finding Embiggen and Breath of Dreams in the opening mulligan and going to work. To take advantage of the Embiggen buff, we stack our deck with minions that have scaling keywords: abilities that exponentially grow in strength with a stat increase. Rush is a great example, offering removal in minion form, while the evasive dragons also become extremely difficult to deal with when buffed. This makes Evasive Wyrm, which has both abilities, a great fit.
But dragons are not the only tribe that is likely to take a serious look at Embiggen. Mechs are also in the picture. They have some mana cheating of their own thanks to Galvanizer, and they’ve received several rush minions that would excel with an Embiggen buff. Look out for Goboglide Tech and Gyrocopter as potential upgrades for all mech decks, as they offer comeback potential that this tribe has sorely needed. Magnetic is also a strong mechanic with Embiggen due to its immediate impact on the board when it connects.
Unlike the dragon tribe, which is blessed with Breath of Dreams, Big Ol’ Whelp and several discover effects, the mech tribe lacks card draw. We believe that Acolyte of Pain could be a sleeper inclusion in such a deck since a buff on it would offer extremely strong reload.
For a couple of expansions, Treant Druid tried to break into the meta to no avail. It was closer to achieve that during Saviors of Uldum than it might have looked, but it faded away. With DoD, it receives multiple upgrades. Treenforcements and Shrubadier make its early game better. Aeroponics greatly improves its card draw. Goru and Shu’ma offer remarkable late-game longevity. We think this archetype is worth trying out and could offer a refreshing take to the class. Just look at all these trees!
Token Druid is also the Druid deck most suitable to abuse Faceless Corruptor. Embiggen decks are likely to go very tall, making its effect a bit awkward to consistently hit. These decks also have a stronger class option with a similar effect in Oasis Surger. Watch out for Faceless Corruptor, you’ll see it a lot.
Would a dragon build of Highlander Hunter offer an equal or stronger alternative to the proven secret build? It’s hard to say, but it’s sure worth a try. What strikes us about a dragon build is that its playstyle is likely going to be drastically different: more minions, less spells, and a greater focus on pressuring the opponent rather than stalling the game into a specific power spike (Zul’jin). Veranus is your comeback card when the game goes late, and we’ll see how consistent his impact is with its enablers.
We’ve also tried building a non-HL Dragon Hunter. We really didn’t like it. There are just not enough “unfair” things going on in that deck, especially compared to what Druid can do. A Highlander build gives you those unfair turns (Zephrys, Brann, Alexstrasza), so it’s likely going to be superior.
As we’ve said earlier, the mech tribe was boosted by a few strong neutral cards. Hunter will happily accept the rush minions with open arms, since one of its weaknesses is a lack of agency after falling behind on board. Mech Hunter should also enjoy Hot Air Balloon. The deck was desperate for another 1-drop alongside Mecharoo, and now it finally got it.
And then, there’s the cherry on top. Dragonbane is a solid turn 4 play that becomes quite scary later in the game. It provides more reach for the Hunter to close games through funneling face damage and can enable some serious mid-game swings. If your opponents do not remove it quickly, they will pay dearly.
We’re quietly excited about Quest Hunter, an archetype that was on the brink of more widespread ladder play but was held back by a couple of matchups during SoU.
Now, its shiny new additions could push it one extra step. Diving Gryphon is going to be a strong Hunter card in standard for the next 16 months, and it’s an amazing addition to Quest Hunter specifically. It can also draw us Faceless Corruptor, which should work incredibly well in this deck.
And then, we’ve got Shu’ma. If there’s any deck that would want this fella to spread some tentacles on the board, it’s Quest Hunter. Incredible quest completion potential. Terrifying post-quest completion threat.
Honestly, this deck looks so good that it scares us. The dragon synergy cards that Mage has received are a perfect fit for a Highlander build, which is now littered with more game-winning plays than we can count. There are also so many tech cards available to Mage that could slot in depending on how the meta fleshes out. Mage seems to have an answer for everything in theory, while carrying serious firepower on its own. That’s usually the making of a powerful deck.
With a large number of powerful battlecry minions introduced in this set, we think Barista Lynchen is going to see more widespread use, especially in dragon decks. In Mage, she becomes extremely powerful thanks to Luna’s Pocket Galaxy, which is also why we’re running Dragonbreeder. Copying one of your win conditions should really twist the knife into your opponent in the late game.
Cyclone Mage has been pretty much a dying deck since Conjurer’s Calling was nerfed, but revival could be possible with the influx of cards it has received. Most importantly, Mana Giant offers us a Conjurer’s Calling target that’s cheaper and can be discounted quite quickly with decent support, without forcing us to play too passively as was often the case with Mountain Giant.
Dragons could play a big role in Cyclone Mage during DoD. Cobalt Spellkin was pretty much made for this deck. It generates the deck’s most important resource, which are cheap spells that can fuel Mana Cyclone, Chenvaala, and Mana Giant. Mage’s pool of 1-mana spells is incredible: they range from useful to fantastic.
Of course, we can’t run dragons without Malygos, but let’s say a word or two about Chenvaala: it gives Cyclone Mage a new dimension. A way to blow out the opponent early, which could be extremely valuable in faster matchups against decks that don’t carry mass removal.
If you haven’t noticed by now, we rate the dragon synergy in Mage quite highly. Dragoncaster is not just a game-winning piece in Highlander Mage, but a card you can build around to cheese your opponent in hilarious fashion. Its interaction with Power of Creation reminds us of Spiteful Summoner, while it can turn Pyroblast into a burst damage combo piece. Add Luna’s Pocket Galaxy to the mix, and 10 damage can suddenly cost 1-mana.
The featured deck looks to abuse these interactions while making sure we have enough stalling in the early game to find our power spikes. We’re particularly intrigued with Depth Charge and the redundancy it provides with Doomsayer to stall the opponent’s early game quite consistently. With cheap freezes available and 4 “Doomsayers”, we think it might be unnecessary to run an expensive stall card such as Blizzard. Focus on your early game stall, card draw and set that Dragoncaster up for the dunk. Found yourself in trouble? Malygos can find a way out of it.
Highlander Paladin has always been the most aggressive of the 4 explorer archetypes, and DoD is unlikely to change things. In fact, we believe that some of the cards introduced in this set could turn up Paladin’s aggression. With a couple of new murlocs now carrying an interaction with dragons (Tasty Flyfish, Skyfin), we had to explore the possibility of a hybrid tribal deck. Not a dragon deck. Not a murloc deck. A drurloc deck!
The resulting build should make for a fun experiment. An early game of angry fish men complemented by the mid-game power of dragons looks promising in theory. We’ll see how it does in practice.
Paladin, in a different manner to Druid, can complement a tribal dragon deck with some stat cheating mechanics. Rather than buffing its deck, it excels at buffing cards in hand. After sitting out for the last few months, it’s Dragon Speaker’s time to shine! He’s joined by Glowstone Technician and a new buffing friend, Dragonrider Talritha
The same principles to buff decks apply here. You want to be as minion dense as possible to increase the impact of every buff. You want to run Rush minions that can act as pseudo-removal and scale exponentially with buffs. Of course, in every minion dense deck, there’s an opportunity to do some nonsense with Prismatic Lens. You may already know this, but we’re pretty good at finding ways to abuse that card.
Bored of flying tall? Why not spread your wings out wide? Mech Paladin could make a philosophical shift in its approach. From a deck that played a small number of big mechs in order to leverage Kangor’s Endless Army, it may turn into a token mech deck in order to leverage Sky Claw. This card can be quite powerful in such a deck, and alongside the newly introduced rush mech package, could merit exploration.
For a long time, Priest’s success mostly came down to its lethality. If it could navigate a clear game plan and burst opponents down at the end of it, it was intimidating. The most recent example is Uldum’s Combo Priest, a deck that skyrocketed to the top of the meta to many people’s surprise.
But in this expansion, there is some serious support for a grindy Priest, and much of that is thanks to Galakrond the Unspeakable, the hero card with the greatest late-game value potential in this set. The interesting thing to note about Priest’s Galakrond is that it’s the least important one to upgrade, so we shouldn’t force ourselves to run the invoke neutrals, which are very low tempo plays with Galakrond’s hero power.
We’re curious about this deck’s late game. Talanji is a great finisher to have in this deck, turning your accumulated value in hand into immediate tempo on the board. Murozond is not a card we’re confident in, but it might be worth considering in a deck that runs Frizz and Fate Weaver, which are Priest’s way of cheating mana in this deck.
But Priest didn’t “just” get grindy support. It got some very interesting combo tools. The best one is Grave Rune. People are sleeping on this card: it’s Carnivorous Cube in spell form and Priest has the perfect target for it in Grave Horror. It’s almost as if Team 5 is trying to tell us something when they name these cards.
Slap Grave Rune into the Nomi Priest shell, and you’ve got a deck with earlier power spikes. Rather than being a stalling tool on the way to Nomi, Grave Horror should now be able to end games quite comfortably with Grave Rune. In theory, this should significantly improve its faster matchups. When you add Whispers of EVIL to the mix, Priest has a very good range of zero-mana spells, making an Auctioneer turn quite powerful.
So, which Rogue deck would be interested in Galakrond? It needs to be a deck that likes generating lackeys, casting Wonderous Wands and having a lot of mana in general.
That does sound like Tempo Rogue to us. Umbral Skulker generates coins to help Edwin and Questing Adventurer grow, or just tempo out things, like our late-game win conditions. Galakrond reduces the cost of our cards while providing us with a 10-damage weapon so we can burn out our opponents. We’ve got Faceless Corruptors and Heistbaron Togwaggle swimming in lackeys to connect with. Kronx provides us with the “class identity” healing and AOE that Rogue is famous for. We can Shadowstep a game-winning minion when we feel like it. It looks pretty. Or dirty. Depending on your Hearthstone tastes.
Now, there is a sacrifice to be made, which is giving up the Vendetta package. This could hurt Rogue’s survivability, but it’s very difficult to say for sure since survivability can certainly improve when you have more mana, and more unfair nonsense to do, than your opponent.
Speaking of unfair nonsense, how about a 4 mana 2/5 that draws a card and has a deathrattle that summons a 7/7? Necrium Apothecary could carry Deathrattle Rogue, an archetype that has never been consistently around, to serious competitive play. Alongside Necrium Blade and Necrium Vial, Apothecary can blow out games as early as turn 5.
You may see Vial’s inclusion as strange without Preparation, but Vial might be an important card in this deck because it punishes your opponent for ignoring Apothecary. For 5 mana, it’s still very much worth it in this build since it can summon two 7/7’s.
In order to bridge into our powerful mid-game, we need to make sure to keep defenses right, which is something that the Vendetta package excels at. This build also reduces the risk of not drawing Apothecary, since we still have the Rogue “good stuff” to fall back on.
Enough shenanigans, it’s time to go face. But this build might be different than what you were expecting from Aggro Rogue, because pirates are not the dominant tribe here, it’s the dragons instead.
We utilize the pirate early game in order to cheat out free Parachute Brigands, but rely on a dragon mid-game in order to pressure our opponent and draw more resources through Candle Breath, a card that looks very powerful but is difficult to leverage in the context of its class. Evasive Feywing and Big Ol’ Whelp are pretty good fits for Rogue’s playstyle, while Amalgam is a sweet choice for any double-tribe build. Rogue players may still miss Azure Drake, but now they have his fatter brother.
We even found a use for Waxadred! After multiple attempts to craft a deck centered on this legendary as a build-around late-game card, we couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed. But the fixation on its deathrattle may cloud our judgment. Waxadred is an aggressive dragon with a big bite. Those 7/5 stats for 5 are no joke, and if it can occasionally be revived thanks to our drawing power, we take it as a bonus.
Shaman got some incredibly good cards, and what we believe to be the strongest Galakrond thanks to its powerful tempo hero power, as well as tempo payoffs. In simple terms, Galakrond can take care of the early to mid-game. Its weakness? Beyond its battlecry, Galakrond the Tempest doesn’t scale into the late game and cannot be relied upon as a final win condition.
Well, it’s a good thing we’ve got Shudderwock then! This build, taking advantage of the addition of Faceless Corruptor and Barista Lynchen, brings back the possibility of chaining infinite Shudderwocks, each of them guaranteed to do ridiculous things to the board. They may not cost 1-mana since we don’t have Grumble, but they should wear down your opponent until he reaches for the bottom right. If you loved old school Shudderwock Shaman, this is the deck to play on day 1.
Aggro Shaman is the best deck in the game today, and in DoD, it is receiving a few terrific cards to make it even stronger. Surging Tempest will become one of the format’s strongest 1-drops, Storm’s Wrath is terrifying alongside Thunderhead, and Cumulo-Maximus has a name that can describe our reaction to Shaman’s DoD set.
Some adjustments to keep in mind: Lightning Bolt will likely be a weak card in the deck since Storm’s Wrath and Voltaic Burst will be much more important to draw off Spirit of the Frog. Earthen Might has shot up in value due to being a devastating follow-up to Surging Tempest. Mutate is a surprisingly underwhelming card in the deck when Desert Hare and Evolve are not around (data backs this up). Mogu Fleshshaper alone cannot justify its inclusion, and it’s included in our GalaWock Shaman due to multiple strong applications rather than just one.
Bloodlust Aggro Shaman has a brother carrying the Doomhammer, and this deck has succeeded and rivaled the Bloodlust variant through a long period during Saviors of Uldum. Cumolo-Maximus is even a better fit in this variant, which relishes the increased availability of burn. Rockbiter Weapon and Lava Burst replace the board-centric options of Soul of the Murloc and Spirit Wolves in the Frog spell package. If you’re thinking of playing Aggro Shaman and are unsure which of the variants we’ve presented here is better for day 1, we’ll give you a simple rule of thumb.
Everyone is playing face charging Aggro decks? Bloodlust.
Everyone is playing slow and janky Control decks? Doomhammer.
We’re not too confident when it comes to Galakrond Zoo for reasons we’ve detailed in our card preview. This build attempts to hide the weaknesses resulting from incorporating the Galakrond package. To put it simply, we need a fast early game that can help Dragonblight Cultist and Fiendish Rites become more threatening plays on turn 3. This is why we take out the lackey package, with the exception of EVIL Genius, a card that’s too good to ever cut. While lackeys have proven to be a powerful package in Zoo Warlock, cards such as Cable Rat and Sinister Deal are slow and difficult to incorporate alongside the similarly slow Galakrond. Knife Juggler and Dire Wolf Alpha work well with Galakrond’s hero power, and are immediate threats at all stages of the game.
Here’s a deck that we believe presents the best chance for Warlock to pull itself out of the SoU dumpster and become a competitive threat. Handlock received several powerful cards that should attract attention. Its early game removal looks strong thanks to Nether Breath and Dark Skies. It got a powerful mid-game board clear in Crazed Netherwing. Its threat density was boosted by Abyssal Summoner and Zzeraku the Warped.
The key to Handlock’s success is survival. We need ways to interact with the board while tapping in the early game, and that’s why we run a robust and cheap removal package to fend off aggression. We need ways to restore health beyond Nether Breath, which is the role that Zilliax, Aranasi Broodmother, and Khartut Defender serve.
The twist in this list comes in its late game. Malygos offers an 18 damage burst combo when discounted by Frizz through powering up Nether Breath and Soulfire. He also works well with Mortal Coils to pick off a mid-sized minion. Zzeraku similarly benefits from a mana discount and gives Spirit Bomb a dual role of early game removal and late-game threat activation.
Is face the place for Garrosh once again? Pirate Warrior got two of the most powerful cards in the set in Ancharrr and Skybarge, which directly support this cutthroat tribe’s quest to return to competitive relevance. Sky Raider is also an excellent card and an auto-include in the deck alongside Parachute Brigand. Hoard Pillager works extremely well with Livewire Lance on curve to generate a significant amount of tempo and value through lackeys. Of course, it can also work well with Ancharrr and Sul’thraze later in the game (Arcanite Reaper might be a little awkward in this list). Finally, since we generate many lackeys and have Town Crier available, Faceless Corruptor is another no-brainer.
Galakrond, the Unbreakable is the weakest hero card when it comes to its battlecry, but one of the strongest when it comes to early game tempo. It works well with both Ritual Chopper and Awaken to provide efficient early game removal. Some players believe that Galakrond could support an aggressive deck because of the damage potential offered, but we’re leaning towards a slower and more value-centric approach. Galakrond will take care of the early game, and it’s our goal to build a solid late-game plan to complement it.
Much like in Priest, dragons could prove to be an important tribe in Warrior’s Galakrond deck. Scion of Ruin is the obvious link, and a very powerful invoke payoff. It can also be buffed by Galakrond’s battlecry, generating 3 7/6 rush minions on the board. Rush minions are going to be extremely prevalent in DoD, and Warrior is another class that can take advantage of them very well.
For the late game, we’ve got the value engines of Barista Lynchen and War Master Voone. They can chain generate Scion of Ruin copies, which can cripple your opponent’s prospects of ever taking back the board. They can duplicate armor gain to outlast opponents through Emberscale Drake, or help us finish games through Deathwing. Remember that Voone copies buffs in hand, so if you’ve got some big dragons drawn off Galakrond, it’s a good time to drop him onto the board. Let’s get this party started.
Rush is not the only scaling keyword that Warrior can abuse with Galakrond. The class has an established taunt buff package that can pile more synergy on top of the hero card. Imagine drawing Tomb Warden off Galakrond’s battlecry, for example. When you add Armagedillo into the mix, these buffs could start becoming consistently problematic. In this list, pack filler also found its way in. Since Hippogryph has both rush and taunt, it has unique synergy with the deck, which could merit its selection.
This variant is likely going to be stronger against aggressive decks, but doesn’t carry the late game value potential of the dragon variant. If the meta is fast, it might be time to turtle up.
So, there you go. 25 fantastic decks to lose games with on the first day of Descent of Dragons. We hope you have fun, and we’ll see you in the next report, where we will talk about how wrong we were about everything.