The first card in Warlock’s Sludge package, Disposal Assistant places a Barrel of Sludge on the bottom of your deck on both its battlecry and deathrattle, for the total of two Barrels.
Barrel of Sludge is a neutral, non-collectible 2-mana spell that deals 3 damage to the lowest health enemy, which works like Fel Barrage. However, Barrel also triggers when it’s discarded or destroyed. This set has a couple of cards that specifically destroy cards at the bottom of your deck, so if you’ve filled it with Sludge, you can unleash quite a lot of damage on the opponent.
Disposal Assistant is a vanilla 2 mana 3/2, so it’s a synergy dependent card that you wouldn’t play unless you had a good reason to. Playing it strictly to delay your fatigue clock seems like a very weak idea. We do think that Warlock does have a compelling reason to play a Sludge package, so our suspicion is that Assistant will be part of at least one successful strategy.
This is another spell that triggers even if it’s destroyed or discarded, much like Barrel of Sludge. Furnace Fuel’s effect is drawing two cards. At 4 mana, this is a card that you never want to hard cast, because a 4 mana Arcane Intellect is not constructed-worthy by any stretch of the imagination. This is a strong, but very synergy-reliant card.
While there is support for both in Standard, our impression is that Warlock will be more focused on destroying cards at the bottom of its deck rather than discarding them from hand. In this case, Furnace Fuel wouldn’t be a reliable form of card draw, as it would only be useful if it happened to sit at the bottom of the deck by chance.
We think Furnace Fuel is more likely to make a bigger immediate impact in Wild, where discard synergies are more abundant and powerful.
Sound the alarm. Warlock is getting access to another 4 mana 7/7, but this one can attack. What’s more is that Waste Remover’s drawback can be turned into a significant upside thanks to the Sludge package. If you happened to place a few Barrels of Sludges at the bottom of the deck, Waste Remover will destroy and trigger them, flinging Sludge at your opponent. A turn 4 7/7 that also deals immediate damage to the opponent sounds crazy.
But even if you did not manage to place Barrels of Sludge at the bottom of the deck, do you even care that much about it when you can turn 3 Forge of Wills into turn 4 Waste Remover? Sure, this dream curve can be preceded by a Disposal Assistant to be even more powerful, but if your opponent is dead, you don’t really care about the cards being destroyed at the bottom of your deck. The game is going to be over before you hit fatigue.
Waste Remover is a stronger beatdown card than Selfish Shellfish, Fel Reaver and Bittertide Hydra from the past, yet carries an even softer drawback. The consistent follow up to Forge of Wills that Warlock now has access to is game changing.
This card is brilliantly named. You can think of Fracking as the old version of Tracking, but one that ‘dredges’, like Gone Fishin’. You look at the bottom 3 cards as if you’re discovering, pick one card and draw it, while the other two are destroyed.
This card, much like Waste Remover, can be leveraged to take advantage of the Sludge package. If the bottom of the deck has a couple of Barrels of Sludge, you can have them destroyed with Fracking while drawing a card in the process.
But we think that Fracking’s similar role to Waste Removal may prevent it from seeing play, as it’s made redundant by the more powerful card. If there’s a choice between the two, we take the threat that can bomb the board on the turn it’s played. If we play both cards, they might produce diminishing returns. We can place some Barrels of Sludge on the board, destroy them with Waste Remover, and then have a Fracking sitting in our hand, not doing much.
The issue with Fracking as a standalone card is that it’s worse than Tracking, which is already a somewhat outdated form of cycle that has even fallen off in Hunter decks. In a class with even better forms of card draw, we can’t see Fracking making an impact on its own merit. Even in a combo deck that looks to stack up tons of Sludge and then release it in one go, there’s a better card for it in Steamcleaner.
We think Fracking slips through the cracks.
Sludge on Wheels
The second Sludge generator, but one that puts one Barrel of Sludge at the bottom of the deck, while adding another one to hand, every time it takes damage. Sludge on Wheels’ stats and rush ability makes it quite likely to generate at least four Barrels of Sludge.
5-health on a 3-drop, along with rush, makes it quite easy for the Warlock to run this minion into an enemy minion and survive, nearly guaranteeing two hits.
But there’s a cute way to generate even more Barrels of Sludge, thanks to Defile. The 5-mana combo of Sludge on Wheels/Defile can produce a lot of Barrels, depending on the board state and how many times Defile can trigger. The Warlock does need to be careful not to overdo it and mill themselves (since their hand is getting filled with Barrels), but it’s the best Barrel engine around.
If Barrel of Sludge generation becomes imperative to a competitive strategy, Sludge on Wheels will become a very important card. We expect it to.
The first Warlock excavate card, Drillfist has pretty good stats for the cost. A 4 mana 4/5 taunt doesn’t pay much of a stat penalty for the privilege of excavating, which we’ve seen incur a large penalty in other classes. The drawback is that the excavate ability triggers on deathrattle, rather than battlecry.
We don’t think Warlock minds this at all. A deathrattle might be weaker than a battlecry, but Drillfist fights for board well, offers protection, and offers decent follow up to a turn 3 Forge of Wills. The main difference is that you can’t Drillfist and play the treasure on the same turn, but Warlock tends to have a hand full of plays anyway thanks to Life Tap, so it shouldn’t have a problem spending mana.
The one thing you should be mindful of is Drillfist being set up to generate The Azerite Snake. In this situation, your opponent may try to kill the Drillfist, add the Snake to your hand and then play a disruption card. Alternatively, they could try to fill your hand and then trigger the deathrattle, causing your Snake to burn.
But again, small little nitpicks on a good card.
We’re not big fans of excavate cards that require a condition to be active. Smokestack is a Mortal Coil that excavates if it kills a minion. This means that Smokestack is not a proactive card you can simply spend mana on whenever you want, but one that requires the correct set up to trigger.
Having said that, there’s one big saving grace for the card: It’s dirt cheap. Costing 1-mana makes it much easier to set up correctly, as you have plenty of mana to spare to perform actions ensuring Smokestack triggers. Of course, there are plenty of early game minions that are prime targets to a Smokestack kill, which is when the card is at its best.
Both Warlock excavate cards are not battlecry minions, yet they’re very solid cards.
Developing two 3/3 rush minions for 3 mana is a very powerful early game play, often cleanly dealing with two enemy minions. The card also passes the Hawkstrider Rancher test with flying colors. All that’s left is to think about the drawback, which is discarding the lowest cost spell in your hand.
There are many ways to circumvent this drawback, or even turn it into a benefit. First, if this card has an active Quickdraw, it doesn’t discard. This isn’t a reliable method, but it’s a bonus in case you draw the card and can contest board with it immediately.
Second, you could just not have spells in your hand. A minion dense deck, which could be where Warlock is headed in some of our theorycrafting, can avoid this drawback by not having a spell to discard.
Third, and probably the most important point, is that Warlock is being set up to intentionally want to discard spells. The most obvious target is a Barrel of Sludge, but Warlock has other spells it could funnel to discard with Trolley Problem, especially if its general build is light on spells.
In the third point, discarding becomes an asset. We suspect that since Trolley Problem boasts such a targeted discard ability, it’s going to be very easy to leverage to the Warlock’s benefit. Should this scenario materialize, Trolley Problem will become a standout card for the class.
Pop’gar the Putrid
Pop’gar has both a static ability and a battlecry. In its battlecry, it adds a couple of Barrels of Sludge to your hand. Its ability discounts Fel spells by 1 mana and gives them Lifesteal. This applies as an aura effect if Pop’gar is on the board.
Remember that Barrel of Sludge is a Fel spell, so Pop’gar works on the spells it generates. You can play Pop’gar on turn 6, then play both Barrels it generates for 1 mana each, to deal 3 damage twice to enemies and heal for 6. That’s a nice baseline play, with Pop’gar remaining a threat that needs to be removed.
But if you’ve generated more Barrels in hand through other means, Pop’gar can become a stronger swing later in the game by casting more Barrels of Sludge. Pop’gar also affects Barrels that get destroyed or discarded. You don’t spend mana on them, but they do gain lifesteal.
All the Barrel talk can easily distract us from possibly Pop’gar’s strongest combo. Another Fel spell that Warlock already has access to is Crescendo. Pop’gar/Crescendo is a 5-mana combo that can clear the board while healing, with the amount scaling with the fatigue package. This combo can get crazy in the late game and is very comparable to Demon Hunter’s Silvermoon Arcanist/Unleash Fel pairing.
We like Pop’gar and think it could find its way to different kinds of Warlock decks. We’d pay close attention to its Crescendo combo. That one could be the real deal.
Tram Conductor Gerry
This might be the strongest secondary payoff for excavation in the set. Gerry is the reincarnation of Soulciologist Malicia from Scholomance Academy. A 7-mana minion, albeit slightly smaller with a 4/4 body, summoning a full board of 3/3’s with rush. There are a lot of similarities between the two.
But the major difference is that Gerry is easier to trigger. Malicia required more cards to shuffle at least 6 soul fragments to the deck, and then could run into issues if those fragments were drawn early. An on-curve, turn 7, full board Malicia wasn’t extremely common. It could happen. It was powerful, but Malicia’s output varied from game to game.
Gerry just needs you to excavate twice. It’s all or nothing. At the second excavate, it is always representing a full board. How likely is it that you find 2 out of 8 excavate cards in your deck by turn 6 to set up a turn 7 Gerry? Statistically, it is very likely.
To conclude, Gerry is a 7 mana 22/22, with 18/18 of these stats in rush, across six bodies that can clean up threats of different types. Whether it’s a couple of big threats, or a wide board, Gerry ends the opponent’s pressure in one swing. All you need to do for Gerry to work is to excavate. If you’re wondering if it’s worth excavating in Warlock, the answer comes next.
The Azerite Snake
Warlock’s Tier 4 treasure is a 4 mana 5/5 that steals 10 health from the enemy hero and gives it to the player. Let’s clarify what stealing health means because it is not “lifestealing damage”. This is a transfer of health, as well as a modification of each player’s maximum life.
For example, let’s say our health is at 27. Our opponent’s health is at 25. We played the Azerite Snake. Our health is now at 37 and our maximum life is 40. Our opponent’s health is at 15, with a maximum life of 20. They cannot heal above 20. We can heal to 40.
The Azerite Snake is a Vampiric Blood to the player and a reverse Vampiric Blood to the opponent.
From this, you can understand that in the hypothetical scenario in which we play The Azerite Snake two more times, our opponent will be dead. They could have 50 armor, but it doesn’t matter. They’ll still be dead because their maximum life will be at 0. The portrait explodes.
This effect is downright ludicrous. Out of every Tier 4 treasure, The Azerite Snake offers the strongest form of inevitability that can be built around to reliably end the game. You cannot outlast this with healing because you’re not being damaged. Your life is being stolen away. Creepy.
There are two ways to approach this. We could simply play a high-pressure deck that excavates and uses The Azerite Snake as a Pyroblast finisher the opponent cannot heal through. The life total pressure of being unable to heal above 20, combined with normal threats we produce, are enough to finish the game.
The other approach is to bounce or copy the Snake. Zola the Gorgon is one tool. Brewmaster is another. On turn 10, we can Snake/Brewmaster/Snake. We can afford to do this without blowback because we gain 20 life in the process, so it’s very difficult for the opponent to kill us, should they still be alive. Meanwhile, they’re sitting at 10 life maximum and can die to us ticking them.
This treasure may birth the most meta warping Excavate deck in the format. That’s a win condition right there.
Showdown in the Badlands Set Rank: 2nd
Overall Power Ranking: 1st
Warlock’s set carries the greatest promise of late game lethality. Combined with increasing beatdown potential, it’s hard not to place the class as one of the top candidates to define the format at the launch of Badlands.
We think The Azerite Snake is the most powerful Tier 4 treasure. It is such a reliable, ruthless finisher that it may create a deck solely focused on excavating it and then bouncing it repeatedly to drain the opponent to death. This is probably the most intimidating new archetype that could emerge on November 14th. Our suspicion is that the early couple of days will have competing strategies trying to curb its threat and overcome its late game clock. The outcome is anyone’s guess.
But Warlock may not go completely all-in on the Snake. After all, it got several tools to complement a beatdown strategy. Waste Remover is a 4 mana 7/7 that follows up on Forge of Wills and can simply pound the opponent’s face. It can also be further enhanced by the Barrel of Sludge package to spray damage all over the opponent. We’re curious about the possibilities here, with either an excavate package that leans late or a discard package that goes hard early.
The Sludge package may seem aggressive in nature, but it can also be used to establish late game inevitability. We see the possibility of a unique OTK deck centering around Barrels of Sludge, Silvermoon Arcane and Steamcleaner, helped by the fatigue package and Crescendo. As if The Azerite Snake isn’t enough, this set has given the class an additional way to nuke an opponent off the board.
Warlock’s set is just so good at giving the class both finishers and strong threat development tools. It is fantastically flavored too, with the toxic Sludge package fitting the class in a steampunk-esque fashion.
Just watch out for snakes when you’re walking in the desert.