Welcome to the 131st edition of the Data Reaper Report!
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Number of Games
Class Frequency Discussion
Balance changes have indeed given the meta a shake-up, and Hunter seems to be the clear winner in the aftermath. This comes as no surprise to us, considering that Valeera was the biggest factor in holding back Rexxar. Now that Rogue was weakened, Hunter is shining brightly and is the most popular class at every level of play. Bomb Hunter is the most popular deck outside of legend, while Midrange Hunter takes over at legend. Midrange Hunter’s presence at higher levels of play also aligns with its success in the tournament scene, where it can be considered the most dominant deck in the format. Secret Hunter is the 3rd most popular Hunter archetype, but it’s still fairly common, especially on the climb to legend.
Warrior has not declined as much as some people may have expected. Bomb Warrior is more popular than Control Warrior at all levels of play, and seems to be continuing to build on its pre-patch success.
We’re renamed the Mage archetypes to better reflect the differences between them and avoid confusion since Conjurer’s Calling has become such a core card for both strategies. The spell-heavy Cyclone Mage, which we labeled as a potential Meta Breaker before the balance changes, has significantly risen in popularity. The minion-dense Book of Specters Mage retains modest representation.
With balance changes hitting the class hard, Rogue has been driven into a spiral of experiments. We will warn you already that this report’s data regarding Lackey Rogue is not truly reflective of its potential. The reason is that Lackey Rogue is currently a mish-mash of many different approaches that are blended together and have significant overlap, so it’s very difficult to separate them at their current state. Rogue is basically in an early expansion refinement phase and most common Rogue builds at the moment are, quite frankly, straight up terrible. We’ve spent much of our energy researching the Rogue class and coming up with approaches that carry promise, and they’re detailed in the Rogue section. It’s a very worthwhile read if you want to make sense of the madness.
After being kept down for most of this expansion’s life, Murloc Shaman seems to have broken out. Its popularity has substantially increased. The full tribal variant which tops out at Shudderwock is the most popular approach at higher levels of play. Slower Shaman archetypes haven’t gained traction in response to the balance changes.
Token Druid and Zoo Warlock represent the fastest board flooding decks, and their popularity has increased, taking advantage of a meta that’s likely less refined. Unfortunately for these classes, slower late game strategies do not show real signs of life.
There’s some experimentation with both Mech Paladin and Holy-Wrath Paladin, the latter being noticeably more popular at higher levels of play, but it’s nothing to write home about. The Paladin class is likely licking its lips at the prospect of a 1-mana Crystology, but until then, it’s staying close to the bottom of the meta.
Priest has sunk to the deep bottom of the meta, with Miracle Priest largely abandoned and Wall Priest being the only other noticeable strategy available to the class. Things just don’t look good for Anduin.
vS Meta Score
vS Power Rankings Discussion
We have much to talk about. This meta looks like a classic early patch meta. We have aggressive decks dominating the climb to legend: Bomb Hunter, Token Druid, and Murloc Shaman are all thriving on the first week of the patch since they tend to punish greed, and greed is a common symptom of an early meta. We can see that all of these decks fall in power at higher levels of play, where they remain strong options but not the clear best-performing ones.
Hunter is clearly very strong and has two arguably stronger decks than Bomb Hunter at higher levels of play, Midrange Hunter strengthens at legend, where it is Tier 1 due to its great Cyclone Mage matchup. Its matchup spread is generally well-rounded, and it only has one particularly difficult matchup in Secret Hunter. Secret Hunter seems to be a sleeper deck that demolishes Cyclone Mage, holds an edge against Midrange Hunter and performs admirably well against Rogues.
Bomb Warrior looks like a better performer than Control Warrior at all levels of play. Warrior’s weakest point is at the rank 1-4 bracket, where Bomb Hunter is extremely popular, but it is Midrange Hunter that’s dictating the success of Warrior at higher levels of play. Bomb Warrior stands a much better chance in this matchup since it’s able to pressure the Hunter, while Control Warrior’s passivity is more easily punished. Considering the flexibility of Bomb Warrior, both in its build as well as in its game plan, we wouldn’t disagree with the claim that it is the best deck in the game today. It has it all.
Mage is struggling, contrary to many players’ expectations. Cyclone Mage looked like the real deal a couple of weeks ago but seems to have hit growing pains. We’ll list some facts and insights that are important to note:
Its underwhelming win rate isn’t a ladder fluke. It is consistently a sub-50% win rate deck at all levels of play. Its win rate at Master qualifier tournaments and its win rate in Grandmaster League are both under 50%. Its popularity is also in decline in all formats and competitions. Mage’s struggles are widespread.
It is somewhat a victim of its popularity and hype. Many decks are aggressively teching to beat Mage, and Cyclone Mage is not immune to counters. The most dominant class in the game right now, Hunter, presents a very difficult challenge for Mage to overcome both on ladder and tournaments.
We have already seen some signs that Cyclone Mage has a notable skill cap. This is something that will take more time to confirm as a learning curve can be measured, but it’s unlikely that this reason alone is enough to explain its struggles. Players are also learning how to play against Mage and exploit its weaknesses, and that is an element that is often forgotten or not considered enough.
With that being said, Cyclone Mage’s win rate is certainly not terrible, it just conflicts with its current perception of power. Mage has received a lot of hype and was labeled to be unstoppable and uncounterable over the last week by some. While this isn’t true, it doesn’t mean that now Mage is necessarily an overrated pile of garbage. It’s certainly likely that Mage is being overplayed, is the target of excessive meta hostility, and therefore needs take a step back and try to adjust.
Lackey Rogue seems to be another under-performer, but this archetype already has a very good reason to exhibit its current win rate, as we’ve already told you. Players are running some very janky lists that are far, far away from being optimal. In fact, when we curate Lackey Rogue and assemble the quality bits and pieces, we can observe the potential of several effective builds. Lackey Rogue is already performing better at higher levels of play, where its refinement is at a more advanced stage and its matchup spread looks significantly stronger. We wouldn’t be surprised if, a couple of weeks from now, a Rogue deck makes its return to Tier 1.
While shake-ups have occurred at the top of the meta, not many changes have happened in the bottom. Most decks that have struggled to perform before the patch, still struggle today. Most decks that haven’t existed before the patch, still don’t have a good reason to exist today. Paladin decks have matchup spreads that are too narrow. Priest has fallen back into the deep dumpster. Shaman, Warlock, and Druid still exhibit weak and limited late game strategies.
After saying that, we think it’s terrific that a buff patch is coming next week, as it’s giving everyone a fresh start and reboots the meta back to its most fun period. It provides opportunities for failed, yet fun strategies to be revisited again. It reignites the excitement of experimentation. It gives a second chance to limited classes. And if in the worst case scenario, a 1-mana Crystology ends up being absolutely broken, we are playing a digital card game after all. Things can be reverted if there’s a need for them to be reverted. Overall, this new approach is a massive thumbs up from us, Team 5.
Are you looking for a new deck to try when the “Rise of the Mech” major buff patch arrives? Fear not. We have already theorycrafted several decks that utilize the buffed cards and this theorycrafting article will be published on this very website soon! We guarantee all of the theorycrafted decks will be Tier 1 decks in our next report. Okay, we’re not serious now, so don’t blame us if you crafted a bad legendary. Our lawyers will back us up.
Class Analysis & Decklists
Hunter was untouched by the balance changes while its biggest counter, Rogue, was hit hard. As a result, Hunter has risen to become the most popular class in the game and arguably the strongest, with three very successful archetypes seeing play.
Midrange Hunter leads the charge both on ladder and in tournaments, quickly becoming the most influential deck in both formats. Most builds haven’t changed much from their pre-patch iterations, though there are some adjustments you can make depending on the opponents you meet. The build we feature is the most well-rounded against the field, but excludes Headhunter’s Hatchet, which Bunnyhoppor used to hit #1 legend on both servers. Hatchet is relatively weaker against the 4 most popular classes (Hunter, Warrior, Mage, and Rogue) but is effective against Druid, Warlock and Shaman. If you’re meeting these three classes often, you might consider running it to fend off their early aggression. The soft flex slots are the 2nd copies of Deadly Shot, Tracking, and Vicious Scalehide. Rat Trap is also seeing some play, and could become a more worthwhile consideration should Rogue continue to recover.
Bomb Hunter is doing well following the nerfs, appreciating the decline in Rogues. An underrated and underplayed card in the deck is Upgradeable Framebot, which is a far superior 2-drop to Whirliglider. We continue to be unimpressed with the Unleash/Dire Wolf package, which is only strong in theory. One card that’s rising in popularity in Mechanical Whelp, but it’s very weak outside of the Warrior matchup, so we don’t recommend it either.
Secret Hunter isn’t talked about much but performs incredibly well on ladder. It demolishes Cyclone Mage, holds a significant edge against Midrange Hunter and deals with Rogues fairly well too. Its matchup spread against the most popular decks is just very impressive, with one notable hard counter: Token Druid. A card that isn’t played much in the deck is Archmage Vargoth, but it shows quite a bit of promise. It’s a great answer to Mountain Giant/Conjurer’s Calling when combined with Deadly Shot, and is a threat you can drop on curve to force out removal. Very annoying for Mage, Rogue, and Warrior to deal with.
- Hunter Class Radar
- Midrange Hunter
- Bomb Hunter
- Secret Hunter
The nerfs to Lackey Rogue have further established Bomb Warrior as the best Warrior deck. With Waggle Pick no longer a meta defining card, Bomb Warrior can forgo weapon removal, something it wasn’t comfortable running anyway. The Midrange Hunter matchup is the biggest reason why Bomb Warrior is a superior deck to Control Warrior in the current meta. Warrior needs to pressure in this matchup since Hunter will usually win if it’s given time to execute its optimal game plan and find Zul’jin.
With that being said, Control Warrior isn’t terrible by any means. After all, it still runs Dr. Boom. The deck’s main selling point is its ability to deal better with hyper-aggressive decks, such as Murloc Shaman, but there’s definitely a struggle when it comes to justifying it over Bomb Warrior in most scenarios. In tournaments, Control Warrior has nearly disappeared as a result. On ladder, we recommend running Big Game Hunter and Supercollider because of their importance in the Mage matchup.
In a similar vein, it’s hard to justify running Mecha’thun Warrior. This variant mostly shines in Warrior mirrors, which have become less common after the balance changes. Since we cannot pressure the opponent in the early game (Bomb Warrior), or have enough space for tech cards (Control Warrior), it also fares much worse against Mages.
- Warrior Class Radar
- Bomb Warrior
- Control Warrior
- Mecha’thun Warrior
Cyclone Mage emerged before the balance changes and looked poised to become a dominant deck after the patch. But this hasn’t been the case. The rise of Hunter has put a damper on Mage’s promise, and it is currently outclassing it, both on ladder and in tournaments.
However, no hope is lost and there’s room to improve current ladder builds of Cyclone Mage. We’ve said it for a while, but Frost Nova exhibits the performance of a core card, yet it remains relatively uncommon. Frost Nova steals games in which you’ve fallen behind because of its synergy with giants, it enables you to push face damage and set up lethal while removing counterplay options from your opponent. A card like Rabble Bouncer simply does not compare.
Specters Mage is the older Conjurer Mage deck, and performs at a similar level on ladder. Its matchup against Warrior is quite strong, but it doesn’t have other outstanding qualities against the top meta decks. Your biggest problem on ladder when piloting this deck will be the Bomb Hunter matchup, which can be significantly improved with Spellbreakers. They look like core cards in the current meta.
Rogue has definitely been hit hard by balance changes, but its current win rate on ladder is not a good indication of its power level. Lackey Rogue is currently in a very messy state of refinement, so while other classes have mostly figured out what they want to do, Rogue is still stuck playing some very sub-optimal cards and very sub-optimal builds. You could say that Rogue was taken back to an early-expansion state and needs time to adjust its card choices all over again.
Refining Lackey Rogue within one week was definitely challenging, but we’ve found a few important insights and curated three approaches that looked to be significantly superior to others, and where we believe long term success is most likely to come from. We’ll be interested to see which ones come out on top in the aftermath of the upcoming Rise of the Mech buff patch.
The first variant is simply the nerfed Raiding Party Lackey Rogue. As it turns out, this build can still deliver punishment, and now that weapon tech has almost entirely disappeared from the meta, its damage potential is unchecked. Much like before the patch, we like topping out this deck with Heistbaron Togwaggle. It provides us with an alternative finisher in a Warrior matchup that has only become more difficult now that this build has slowed down and cannot close games as early and as consistently as it used to.
The second variant is the Hooktusk Lackey Rogue and was popularized by Krea and J_Alexander. With Raiding Party nerfed, Hooktusk’s powerful swing turn is much more relevant in the current meta. Where we deviate from common builds is the addition of Waggle Pick. We’ve found Waggle Pick to be underappreciated after the balance changes, with most players deeming it to be unworthy due to the loss of synergy with Raiding Party. However, Waggle Pick seems to be a strong enough card by itself and is very important at enabling Leeroy Jenkings as well as our value generators. Even though Ticket Scalper is great to pull from Hooktusk, it’s such a terrible card to draw and so easily removed in the current meta that it’s very likely better to run Greenskin. Without Waggle Pick and the extra reach/damage it provides, the Warrior matchup often feels utterly hopeless for this variant.
The third variant is the Vendetta Lackey Rogue, which adopts a more value-centric, lackey generation plan. This build has been messier and difficult to “clean up” to a well functioning list, but was extremely interesting to evaluate and carries the most potential in overcoming the Warrior matchup. We’ll list the most important insights we’ve found regarding this deck:
- The Burgle package is performing well. Vendetta and Underbelly Fence provide mid-game tempo swings that can make up for the loss of Dread Corsairs/Southsea Deckhands, and their deck building cost is low with both Blink Fox and Hench-Clan Burglar proving to be good, serviceable cards.
- Myra’s Unstable Element isn’t as strong as it was before the nerf to Preparation, but the card is still good enough even when we cut Preparation completely (and in this list, we should). Without MUE, Rogue’s ability to finish games is often crippled.
- Spirit of the Shark is just bad. This card has become almost a consensus in Lackey Rogue and yet it’s absolutely terrible no matter from which angle we look at it. Waggle Pick is a much stronger card at the 4-mana slot, even without Raiding Party. The omnipresence of Spirit of the Shark in Lackey Rogue builds is one of the biggest reasons why the archetype is currently performing at the level it is.
- Togwaggle’s Scheme is even worse than Spirit of the Shark. The card should not be considered whatsoever outside of specific sideboards in Specialist format. It’s a yikes from us.
- Since this variant is noticeably slower than the Raiding Party build, our late game needs a big finisher in order to perform well in drawn-out matchups. As a result, Heistbaron Togwaggle and Chef Nomi have become more important, and consequently, Shadowstep is a stronger card in this deck. Lifedrinker is also important for our late game sustainability as well as our damage/reach.
- It’s important to note that this build is extremely flexible. If the meta speeds up and Nomi/Togwaggle get weaker, we can swap them for Deadly Poison and look to finish games earlier, but if we do that, there’s an argument to just run Raiding Party.
- We have another suggestion which hasn’t made it into our featured build, since we haven’t been able to sample it as much as we wanted to: Barista Lynchen should be a very serious consideration to run over Zilliax. She’s another strong mid-to-late game card that performs at another level from Spirit of the Shark and doesn’t burden us with a massive tempo penalty.
The balance changes have come, and Shaman’s popularity as the middle class hasn’t changed. However, Murloc Shaman did get stronger thanks to the decline of Rogue and Warrior, as well as the rise of Mage and Hunter. Overall, the field has definitely become more favorable for the tribal deck, which is now one of the strongest options to ladder with. It may have a more difficult time once Rogue stops playing bad cards and the hype surrounding Mage fades away.
Most Murloc Shaman builds differ from each other by a couple of cards, but nearly all of them agree that Shudderwock should be included. We have some reservations about that, as its inclusion is not cut and dried, but we’re inclined to agree for now. Scargil has gotten stronger due to the increased popularity of board-flooding decks, but it’s replaceable (with Zilliax). Hench-Clan Hogsteed is very underrated and underplayed since it fights for the board well and prevents early cheese from Sorcerer’s Apprentice and Scavenging Hyena. At least one copy should perform very well.
Other Shaman decks continue to look very underwhelming. Control Shaman and Big Shaman struggle in the presence of an overbearing number of Midrange Hunters and they don’t perform particularly well against any top meta deck other than Mech Hunter (thanks to healing, Hex and Earth Shock).
- Shaman Class Radar
- Murloc Shaman
- Control Shaman
- Big Shaman
Things are going well for Token Druid. It has a very balanced matchup spread, which helps it perform consistently on ladder, especially when balance changes introduce some chaos into the meta. The rise of Hunter has also promoted a favorable meta for Druid, since it performs well against all Hunter archetypes. Lastly, Token Druid’s build has been figured out a long time ago, and it didn’t need to make significant adjustments due to the balance changes. If you’re looking for a smooth, stress-free deck to climb with, Token Druid is certainly one of the best choices.
Unfortunately, the balance changes have done nothing to help the viability of slower, late-game oriented Druid decks. It seems that Druid’s late game has been crippled so heavily due to rotation and nerfs, that it needs a significant boost of strong cards in order to become relevant on ladder once again. It took a year for Warrior to recover from the loss of a 2 mana Fiery War Axe, we’ll see how long it takes Druid to recover from the loss of a 2 mana Wild Growth.
The balance changes have caused some meta shifts to occur, but not ones that significantly affect Paladin or change its fortunes. The class will be looking forward to trying out a 1-mana Crystology next week, but until then it remains fairly close to the bottom of the meta.
Mech Paladin doesn’t do anything particularly well other than beating Warrior, which makes it redundant when compared to options available in the Hunter class. This has kept its play rate very low for a long time.
Holy-Wrath Paladin seems to be more common at higher levels of play, but other than a decent matchup against Cyclone Mage, it has no other outstanding qualities. Fr0zen has recently popularized Elven Archer as a Crystology tutor target, to combo with Equality in order to further elevate the deck’s performance against Mage.
Zoo Warlock is beginning to see some light at the end of the tunnel. With Rogue hit with nerfs and Warrior’s numbers declining in response, Zoo finds an opportunity to take a bigger share of the meta. Zoo Warlock fares well in board-centric matchups and dominates decks such as Token Druid and Murloc Shaman. In addition, its performance against Cyclone Mage is fairly promising, giving it a much more favorable field than the one it faced before the patch.
However, it remains to be seen whether Zoo Warlock can hold up to the test of time. As an aggressive deck with a figured-out and settled build, it does start with an advantage in early patch days. Should Valeera finish her refinement work and rise in power, Gul’dan may once again find himself in hostile territory. Until then, there’s probably no better time to play Zoo than right now, with a couple of players hitting #1 legend with the archetype over the last week.
Uh oh, Anduin is in trouble. We’re back to the bottom, boys and girls. The balance changes ended up being a disaster for Priest, as they arguably created a meta that is more hostile to the class than before. Whatever optimism Miracle Priest created a few weeks ago has completely dissipated. So much for being the next Patron Warrior. Having a high skill ceiling isn’t enough when your ceiling scratches the top of Tier 4. Ouch.
Priest players will be pinning their hopes on an extra pair of Arms to save their current sorry state. Until then, stay in casual. Or play Wild.
Based on their trending win rates and Meta Scores, Midrange Hunter and Bomb Warrior are the current top decks to beat. There are several strong decks right now, but we sense that these two have the most potential even in a meta that should attempt to counter them. Secret Hunter is a sleeper deck that performs surprisingly well, and we’re curious whether it can sustain its performance should it grow in popularity and become a more anticipated opponent.
We’ll see you again soon when the Rise of the Mech draws near!
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