Welcome to the 136th edition of the Data Reaper Report! This is the final report for Rise of Shadows.
Our Data Reaper Project, including the Data Reaper Live has 4,100 active contributors and we thank them wholeheartedly. Contributing to the Data Reaper project through Track-o-Bot or Hearthstone Deck Tracker (recommended) allows us to perform our analyses and to issue the weekly reports. Without the community’s contribution, there would be no project. Contributing data is very easy and takes a few simple steps, after which no other action is required. If you enjoy our content and would like to make sure it remains consistent and free – Sign Up!
Number of Games
|Overall||30000 + 25000|
|Legend||1000 + 2000|
|Ranks 1-4||8000 + 8000|
|Ranks 5-9||16000 + 11000|
|Ranks 10-14||4000 + 3000|
Class Frequency Discussion
With card reveal season underway, it’s the time when significant meta developments slow down. This is mostly related to card choices and the process of refinement, which is why our last report for Rise of Shadows will have class sections dedicated to summarizing the accomplishments of each class in RoS.
While things are settling in terms of card choices within archetypes, there are a couple of changes that are interesting to note in the macro meta. The biggest one is the rise of Cyclone Mage, which has exploded at higher levels of play. At legend, its popularity has risen by nearly 50% (compared to two weeks ago) and it is now more popular than every single class. There are two likely causes for this:
Cyclone Mage’s popularity and success in Grandmasters. We’ve already noticed before that legend players tend to follow the competitive scene more closely, which heavily influences their deck choices. Whatever’s “hot” in tournaments, trickles to the top of ladder play.
Cyclone Mage’s win rate has been trending upwards at legend, something we’ve seen in our last report. This increased success on ladder is likely drawing more interest.
Hunter’s in decline, and this is particularly drastic at legend, where Bomb Hunter numbers have fallen hard. It seems to be the deck that’s making way for Cyclone Mage’s rise. While Bomb Hunter has been very successful on ladder, it’s nearly non-existent at high-profile tournaments, which is likely affecting its play rate at legend.
As Mage and Hunter see pretty drastic shifts, Warrior, Rogue, and Shaman have mostly stayed put. There’s a small nudge from Bomb Warrior to Control Warrior, and Shark Rogue’s popularity has increased outside of legend. Other than that, archetype composition in these three classes is very stable.
The bottom 4 classes are in development hell, which is indicative of how limited they’ve been in the current meta. Paladin and Druid are lucky to have one deck that’s fairly competitive and strong on ladder. Warlock and Priest, not so much. Saviors of Uldum could not come too soon for these classes, and that has been Rise of Shadows’ biggest problem: too many classes “feel” irrelevant.
Perhaps, the influence of the tournament scene is also to blame. Specialist format greatly discourages diversity and gives little advertisement to classes that aren’t considered to be the strongest or most well-rounded. You’re much more likely to see other decks in action in Conquest or Last Hero Standing, where they can often serve an important role and get some spotlight. This often results in them being given more of a chance on ladder too.
vS Meta Score
vS Power Rankings Discussion
Within the meta decks, especially at legend, win rates are very balanced. There isn’t a clear best ladder deck that’s far above and beyond the rest. Bomb Hunter’s power level drops as you climb the ranks. Cyclone Mage’s big rise in play hasn’t been met by a further rise in its win rate, and it remains reasonably strong at legend. Warrior is powerful but the meta has corrected its performance over the last month to put it within reach. Compared to other expansions, the meta-defining decks of Rise of Shadows can be considered fair. You could say that the mid-expansion balance changes have had an overall positive impact on the meta.
This is a solid situation to build on for the next expansion. Saviors of Uldum will be about whether the “less involved” classes can join the fray. Can Priest return from oblivion? Can Druid and Warlock find late game plans that compete with Warrior and Dr. Boom? Can Paladin and Shaman become more versatile? Those are the big questions for us as we enter card reveal season.
Speaking of card reveal season, you can look forward to content picking up on this website once the entire Saviors of Uldum set is out. We’re planning on writing another comprehensive card preview, in which we will boldly state predictions. Some will be prophetic and some should turn out horribly wrong (So, about that Secret Paladin…).
We will also be preparing another theorycrafting article which will be full of Tier 5 decks you will absolutely want to spend all of your dust on come August 6th, and then lose to Warrior. Look forward to it!
Class Analysis & Decklists
Mage has been the most dynamic class in Rise of Shadows, a late bloomer that initially looked underwhelming, made discoveries along the way, but really took off after the Rise of the Mech patch to become one of the strongest classes.
Mana Cyclone and Conjurer’s Calling were clearly the strongest build-around cards in a class that had relatively weak Year of the Raven sets, but they were initially thought of as build-around cards for different decks. Conjurer’s Calling initially was part of a minion-dense Book of Specters decks that looked to cheat out a turn 3 Mountain Giant. However, this strategy suffered greatly against aggressive decks since it had poor defensive and stalling tools and it lacked a comeback mechanism. Meanwhile, Mana Cyclone was buried in a spell-centric archetype that looked Tier 5 on a good day and couldn’t mount any sustained pressure against Warrior.
Then, Mana Cyclone and Conjurer’s Calling found each other, in a “Miracle Mage” deck that ran the spell-centric shell, but topped it off with 4 giants to act as CC targets. Cyclone Mage jumped out of its Tier 5 status and turned into a serious contender, but one that still had trouble matching up well enough against Rogues and Warriors.
Then, two golden patches came for Mage. The nerf patch slowed down Rogue, making it more difficult for the class to rush down Mage before it was able to find its swing turns. The buff patch gave Mage its final piece of the puzzle, a 5 mana Luna’s Pocket Galaxy which helped its Warrior matchups. Mage was now able to successfully contend with two of the most popular classes in the format, and enter the elite company. It should stay there until August 6th.
- Mage Class Radar
- Cyclone Mage
- Freeze Mage
- Specters Mage
Warrior has traditionally been a class focused on attrition, removing the opponents’ threats and depleting their resources. This is part of the reason why it struggled to perform consistently through most of the Year of the Raven. It couldn’t beat infinite value and damage, much of it was enabled by Death Knights, and its own “death knight” (Mad Genius) was a watered-down version of them. Odd Warrior was pretty strong, albeit polarizing, but Control Warrior could never truly compete.
But with Death Knights and many OTK mechanics gone, Dr. Boom became the supreme late-game card, and Warrior dictated resource battles through the entirety of Rise of Shadows. In addition, Bomb Warrior has sprung alongside Control Warrior to offer a more proactive game plan that carried inevitability, and naturally countered combo decks that were reliant on drawing power.
Warrior has shaped the Rise of Shadows meta like no other class because its defensive tools were so punishing to any aggressive decks that relied on initiative. At no point was Warrior “oppressive”, but it was certainly meta defining, forcing decks to make adjustments to this matchup, or falter. Warrior was the only class holding back Rogue from terrorizing ladder before the balance changes. After the balance changes, Warrior was arguably even stronger since Rogue’s popularity remained high, and Aggro Shaman emerged.
One of the most important factors in the ability of the next set to change the meta is whether other classes can form late-game plans that can compete with Dr. Boom. If Team 5 decides to keep the Mad Genius as is, they probably need to even the playing field in the opposite direction.
Rogue ruled Rise of Shadows at the beginning of the expansion. Raiding Party fueled an extremely powerful aggressive deck that could generate big tempo swings and deliver an absurd amount of burst damage through Waggle Pick. The deck’s consistency was remarkable thanks to its powerful draw engine, and it shaped a meta that was largely built around weapon destruction effects. Even with the entire meta aimed to beat it, Rogue remained powerful, though it was affected by the hostility and didn’t reach the heights of meta tyrants such as WW Even Paladin and KFT Jade Druid.
With balance changes hitting Preparation, Raiding Party and EVIL Miscreant, Rogue’s game plan was slowed down and the class moved towards a more resource-focused game plan. Shark Rogue became the most popular deck within the class, but the success it enjoyed in tournaments did not translate into resounding success on ladder.
Rogue’s versatility in Specialist format couldn’t be taken advantage of when limited to 30 cards on ladder, where it clearly fell short of Mage and Warrior, classes that can boast sharper and less situational builds. It couldn’t overcome Warrior’s resilience without gimping its matchup against the rest of the field, and it couldn’t gain a big enough edge against Mage that could compensate for its Warrior shortcomings.
Even so, Rogue is clearly one of the most well-rounded classes in the game, and it’s hard to envision a world in which it doesn’t find a big role to play in Saviors of Uldum. After all, it still has some of the best cards in the format. Heistbaron Togwaggle and EVIL Miscreant are nuts. Myra’s Unstable Element is nuts. Hooktusk is nuts. Vendetta is nuts. Even Pogo Hopper, at its new mana cost after the buff, could break out with additional support.
Watch your back.
- Rogue Class Radar
- Party Rogue
- Hooktusk Rogue
- “Shark” Rogue
- Pogo Rogue
Hunter has had a good ladder experience through most of Rise of Shadows. With Baku and Genn gone from the format, an aggressive Mech Hunter deck popped out of nowhere and broke out. Midrange Hunter became a slower deck built around Zul’jin, and Secret Hunter was an often underrated ladder option that provided the best matchups into Rogues.
Bomb Hunter really took off after the buff patch thanks to the addition of SN1P-SN4P and the slowing down of Rogue. It became the strongest ladder option for most players on their climb to legend, though it wasn’t as dominant once you got there. Nevertheless, Bomb Hunter remains one of the most meta defining decks on ladder, and an opponent that could never be ignored.
Midrange Hunter struggled under the weight of Raiding Party Rogue, lacking meaningful counterplay to Rogue’s insane burst damage. Once Rogue was nerfed, however, Midrange Hunter’s superb matchup spread set it up to become one of the most dominant decks in the game. Unfortunately for the archetype, this was a short window, and the Rise of the Mech patch brought about changes that impeded Midrange Hunter’s rise to the top, and the archetype was limited to a more modest role.
Going forward, Zul’jin remains one of the strongest late game tools in the format, and thanks to this hero card, Secret Hunter has also quietly been a successful performer on ladder throughout Rise of Shadows. Whatever new spells Hunter receives could further fuel the fire, so look out for those.
- Hunter Class Radar
- Bomb Hunter
- Midrange Hunter
- Secret Hunter
For almost the entirety of Rise of Shadows, Shaman has stayed around the middle of the pack. Before the Rise of the Mech, however, it only had one truly meaningful deck that looked competitive. Murloc Shaman was the best deck the class had to offer with the introduction of Underbelly Angler, an extremely strong minion that enabled reloading of the board without expending resources. Of all the cards that were given to the class, this one had the biggest impact.
Meanwhile, late-game Shaman decks fell flat despite receiving undoubtedly strong cards. Control Shaman couldn’t contend with Warrior’s dominance, and Big Shaman was a promising deck that fell just a bit short of remaining impactful for long.
The Thunderhead buff changed things for a class that was going stale. Already a powerful card before, a 3/6 Thunderhead was now straight-up absurd, pushing an Aggro Overload Shaman deck to the forefront. Aggro Shaman’s matchup spread has proven to be extremely strong, but Warrior’s dominance of the field kept Aggro Shaman from making a bigger breakthrough and taking over. In fact, Aggro Shaman’s miserable time against Warrior has kept Murloc Shaman as the strongest deck available to the class even after the Rise of the Mech patch.
Indeed, should Warrior ever weaken in Saviors of Uldum, and other defensive decks do not rise to stand up to Thunderhead, watch out for Aggro Shaman to break out. It’s a ticking meta bomb.
This year’s rotation saw Paladin lose Baku and Genn, as well as Uther of the Ebon Blade. Both Paladin’s early game and late game were dealt with heavy blows. However, Paladin still looked like it was going to stay relevant in the meta due to having several other powerful cards and mechanics. It was given a very promising early game secret package and still had Kangor’s Endless Army to fall back on as a strong late-game win condition.
But Paladin failed to deliver on its pre-expansion promise. Secret Paladin ended up being a massive dud. With the loss of Divine Favor, the deck ran out of gas too often and couldn’t close games reliably. Holy-Wrath Paladin couldn’t sustain a strong enough role in the meta, and couldn’t deal with Warrior whatsoever. Other experiments such as Dragon Paladin or Big Paladin died as quickly as they were born.
Mech Paladin has been the only real sign of life for the class, but has provided a very polarizing matchup experience for its players, dominating Warriors while getting obliterated by Mages and Shamans. The change of Crystology to 1-mana re-invigorated interest in the deck for a while, and the card will be particularly important to follow in the future. Crystology is one of the strongest cards in Standard format and has the potential to be meta breaking, so watch out for impactful 1-attack minions in the Saviors of Uldum set.
- Paladin Class Radar
- Mech Paladin
- Holy-Wrath Paladin
Boring. That’s the best way to describe Druid in Rise of Shadows. It wasn’t the worst class, having a viable option for ladder throughout the entire expansion. But, it was extremely one-dimensional.
Token Druid was figured out very early in the expansion. Perhaps, it’s better to say that Token Druid was figured out before a single game was played. Its build hasn’t changed from day 1 until the Rise of the Mech patch, when a different path was found to be a viable alternative thanks to SN1P-SN4P.
Token Druid took the meta by storm initially, and actually looked to stand toe-to-toe with Rogue and Warrior. However, the meta caught up to it eventually and the deck slowly dropped out of the front-running pack. Since then, Token Druid stayed competitively viable on ladder without being particularly outstanding.
The most important thing to take away from Druid in Rise of Shadows is how weak it has proven to be without its ramp. Late-game Druid strategies simply do not exist without the capability of outpacing their opponents through mana-cheating mechanics. Druid paid for its Ultimate Infestation/Spreading Plague sins by losing Wild Growth and Nourish. Now, it needs extensive, year-to-year support through expansion cards in order to build a competitive deck outside of vomiting minions and casting Savage Roar. Guess that’s the intention.
It will be interesting to see what Druid gets in the Saviors of Uldum set. It needs one of two things at the very least:
- Strong ramp cards to reach their currently available win conditions faster.
- Stronger, cheaper win conditions or power spikes to compensate for their slower early game.
If Druid fails to acquire either one of those, Savage Roar decks will continue to be the only thing you’ll see from the class.
Priest in Rise of Shadows will be remembered as one of the saddest classes in Hearthstone’s history. This situation reminded us again how bad its classic set is, and how powerful expansion cards need to be for the class to get out of the dumpster. Priest lacked an identity and any sense of direction. It had no meaningful win conditions. It got slightly buffed with the change to Extra Arms, only to see its classic set become even weaker after losing Mind Blast. There was also that one week when Miracle Nomi Priest looked like a real deck, before collapsing in spectacular fashion.
You often didn’t know what you were playing against when you matched up against an Anduin over the last few months, since Priest was fractured into so many different decks. No matter what, though, it always felt like a victory was coming. Priest never feels truly dangerous, and we’re concerned about its future if never-feeling-dangerous has become one of Priest’s “class identities”.
With that being said, we will soon enter the 2nd expansion of the year, which means Priest should get a few busted cards and improve. Its bust/boom cycle is gearing up for its second stage. Get ready.
Rise of Shadows has not been kind to Warlock. After losing its Year of the Mammoth cards, including the Kobolds & Catabombs set (arguably the most overpowered class set that has ever existed), Warlock has received in this expansion one of the weaker sets we can remember. Without any meaningful win conditions outside of gimmicks such as Plot Twist, Warlock was doomed to fail or fall back to Zoo Warlock.
Zoo Warlock initially did have some success. Magic Carpet has proven to be a strong build-around card alongside EVIL Genius, which is the strongest Warlock card of this set. But, after beating down unrefined decks at the beginning, Zoo Warlock fell out of favor as time went on. Its early game was simply outclassed by other options, especially after the rise of Aggro Shaman in the Rise of the Mech patch, a deck that essentially made Zoo completely obsolete.
Perhaps the most important requirement for successful late-game Warlock strategies is healing. Throughout the history of Hearthstone, we could see it time and time again. When Warlock had access to strong healing, it was good. When it didn’t have strong healing, it was not playable. This might be a difficult mechanic to balance with Life Tap, but there’s no doubt that it is absolutely essential. If you’re a Warlock fan, keep your eyes on Warlock’s sustainability options in the Saviors of Uldum set.
Cyclone Mage has been the most impactful deck recently, spiking in popularity at higher levels of play while surpassing the performance of Warrior. The deck is a good example of a relatively late bloomer, which also benefitted from the mid-expansion balance changes. Not a great choice for inexperienced players, but rewards dedication.
We’re just a few weeks away from Uldum. The League of Explorers will soon arrive to challenge the League of EVIL. We’ll see you again just when they’re about to clash.
Our Data Reaper Project, including the Data Reaper Live has 4,100 active contributors. Without them, this project would not be possible, so we’d like to thank all of our contributors for their help.
Preparing our weekly article requires a significant amount of time and effort from many individuals. We would like to wholeheartedly thank our current Patreons, whose generous donations help us fund computing and server costs.
vS Gold is a new membership plan aimed to support our efforts towards improving our content and data analysis while receiving some bonuses and extra features.
Tier 3+ Patrons
Special thanks to Leo G, Aaron B, Jed M, Drew M, Alan J, Eric L, Zolstar, Sean H, Steve F, Andrew N, NObdy, Mark S, Alonso P, msKang, James Y, PinkMageDiaries, Je-ho, Ziqiao Y, Stephen H, William H, and Patrick L for supporting us for the month of July.
Here are all the people that participated in bringing you this edition of the vS Data Reaper Report: