Welcome to the 150th edition of the Data Reaper Report!
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Number of Games
Balance Changes Announced
This report was completed before the announcement of balance changes that will likely arrive today. We decided to publish the report as it is, since it could be a good read in light of what we know now, while offering a foundation for deck refinement in the post-patch meta. In addition, in response to Wednesday’s announcement, we have sprinkled some editor’s notes throughout the report, providing some commentary regarding the balance changes and how they could potentially affect the meta and each class. These editor’s notes are in parentheses and in bold font. We hope you enjoy them!
Class Frequency Discussion
Rogue is the most popular class once you hit rank 4. Highlander Rogue has peaked and the archetype is still extremely popular at legend, while the better performing deck (Deathrattle Rogue) has actually declined in play from the last report. However, based on very recent meta trends, we expect to see Rogue’s play rate relax in the near future as players find joy in other top-performing classes.
Warrior has risen in play, with Galakrond Warrior establishing itself as the premier deck of its class. Pirate Warrior should still be respected, but it seems that players prefer the versatility that Galakrond Warrior offers.
Shaman has seen a significant rise in play at all rank brackets. Galakrond Shaman has taken over the class, while Spirit of the Frog has taken over Galakrond Shaman. The high power level of the deck, despite being hit with several nerfs, is now well known among the player base. (…Galakrond Shaman is now one of the most nerfed decks of all time…)
Warlock has joined the Galakrond party, with the biggest spike in a class’ popularity this week. There are several important stories to tell here:
Zoo Warlock numbers have doubled. The deck is likely benefiting from Hunter’s collapse, but it might not be the only reason why it has become such a popular choice for the legend climb these days.
Handlock is seeing significant changes, with a new Lackey variant quickly rising in popularity, challenging the established Malygos variant.
A new archetype of Control Galakrond Warlock has blown up over the last few days (branching off Handlock hybrids), but it only arrived a day or so before we closed the database for this week. This is why it won’t be shown in this report’s data. However, we’ve already begun monitoring this deck over the last couple of days and will share our early impressions of it in this report. (…We were concerned that Blizzard wouldn’t have time to look into this deck before making balance decisions…)
Speaking of Hunter’s collapse, the class certainly fell off a cliff in the last couple of weeks, which is what we fully expected to happen. While Face Hunter is still very popular at lower ranks, the deck has severely declined at the top half of ladder. Its presence at legend has fallen by 50%, while its popularity at the rank 1-4 bracket has fallen by 65%! We will have to see whether the deck has a place in the meta as a more niche pick, or whether it will completely die out. Highlander Hunter has also declined, so Hunter could be headed to where the rest of the explorer classes are.
Priest has a Galakrond hero card? It’s hard to tell because it’s not really relevant. Resurrect Priest has taken the role of keeping its class alive, but its extremely small presence at legend is a red flag. Remember that the meta at higher levels of play is often predictive of future meta trends throughout the rest of ladder.
Mage also seems to be barely carried by a single deck, Highlander Mage, and this week’s results should offer us an answer to whether this deck can swim in the sea of Galakronds, or sink. Jaina’s all-in on this one bet, as Cyclone Mage has proven to be unplayable.
Druid and Paladin look like dying classes. They are fractured into several archetypes because players are experimenting in different directions, trying to find a deck that could be competitive in the ruthless meta of DoD. Could this unicorn be found or is EVIL just too strong?
vS Meta Score
vS Power Rankings Discussion
EVIL is just too strong. Before we go into the smaller, and important details about these results, let’s take a step back and establish a broad picture of the current meta in light of upcoming balance changes that were hinted to occur in the near future by Iksar. With our luck, they’ll probably be announced one hour after this report is published! (….We were close! They’ll probably be released, not announced, one hour after this report is published…)
Galakrond decks are just too strong. They are “balanced” against each other, so none of them looks particularly oppressive within the context of this field, but they leave non-Galakrond classes in the dust. It’s very clear and obvious just from quickly glancing at the Power Ranking.
We’re concerned about nerfing one or two Galakrond decks rather than all of them. Rogue, Shaman, Warlock, and Warrior all have the potential to take over the format if they’re left untouched. The answer might have to be a broad nerf of all Galakrond hero cards. (…Credit to Team 5 for understanding that all of them needed to be hit in some way…)
Besides Galakrond, the most offensive cards in the format are Ancharrr and Necrium Apothecary. It’s not a coincidence that they’re powerful enough to carry non-Galakrond decks into excellent win rates in this ruthless meta. Once again, leave these cards untouched, and they are in danger of taking over the format with less of the “broken” competition around. (…Yep…)
This is the minimum we would address. Four Galakrond hero cards should be toned down, along with Ancharrr and Necrium Apothecary. Yes, Warlock’s Galakrond is a serious threat (you’ll be convinced of that by the end of this report). Yes, Rogue’s Galakrond could become a big problem even if Necrium Apothecary is nerfed (because the non-Apothecary builds are overshadowed, rather than bad). We’re pretty sure some of you might be a bit skeptic about those two being a problem, so we’re making that clear. (…We still have concerns that Rogue’s Galakrond synergy was left untouched, and it might be too powerful when all other Galakrond synergies have been hit. Team 5 likely thought that hitting Apothecary would be enough…)
Rogue might be the most versatile class in the game. What’s a bit odd is that its best deck is the least popular one.
Deathrattle Rogue might feel bad or inconsistent for some, but make no mistake: it’s very strong. It’s the only deck in the game that reliably beats both Galakrond Warrior and Highlander Rogue, which is one of the primary reasons why it is the best deck at legend, along with the smaller presence of aggressive decks in this rank.
Highlander Rogue is solid and strong, but we suspect that Galakrond Rogue might be just as strong, if not stronger than Highlander Rogue, when fully optimized. (…Both of these decks will likely still be very good in the post-patch meta, but Necrium Apothecary now becomes a questionable selection. Deathrattle Rogue should be done…)
Galakrond Warrior is still very good, but the decline of Face Hunter has certainly had a negative effect on its performance. It’s no longer the clear frontrunner in the current meta, but a member of the leading pack. Another issue affecting the deck is the rise of Galakrond Shaman. The new Frog builds have given Galakrond Warriors a hard time, especially variants that are extremely aggressive, which is why we’re still on the Barista/Breeder train this week. Pirate Warrior’s win rate has also dropped due to the rise in popularity of its only reliable counter, Galakrond Warrior.
Galakrond Shaman has become one of the best ladder decks in the game, and Spirit of the Frog has done tremendous work for the archetype. It is likely the best choice to take to rank 4, where the meta is particularly favorable for it.. Zoo Warlock has risen to become a problematic matchup over the last couple of weeks due to the declining popularity of Sandstorm Elemental (justified) and Mogu Fleshshaper (not justified), but Shaman is flexible enough to adjust.
Warlock presents the most interesting story this week:
Zoo Warlock has substantially risen in its win rate, thanks to the decline of Face Hunters and its improving matchup against Galakrond Shaman. Its matchup spread now looks a lot better, even when taking into consideration the tough challenge of Galakrond Warrior. Zoo’s rise in popularity is no coincidence, the deck is just strong right now.
Handlock still looks mediocre statistically, but it’s a tale of two variants. The older Malygos builds have really fallen off in their performance in the last couple of weeks, and we don’t think they have a real place in the meta. However, the new Lackey build looks stronger, and we estimate it belongs in Tier 2 in the current meta.
We evaluated the newly emerging Control Galakrond Warlock with very recent data that is not presented in this report. The early results are incredible and suggest that Control Warlock could be the very best deck in the game (!). It’s hard to say this with full confidence because its win rate could carry some source bias (high percentage of high-level players have picked it up first), but based on our experience of studying this bias throughout history, it’s very unlikely that this deck is worse than “one of the best.” Sound the Meta Breaker alarm. (…Team 5’s intentions might have been to nerf Galakrond Zoo, and luckily, this new Galakrond deck got caught in the crossfire. However, the nerf to Fiendish Rites should hurt Zoo more than it hurts Control, so we’re not sure this is a strong enough change to keep it in check…)
Face Hunter’s recent struggles have been the result of its highly inflated play rate. Once it declined and saw several good matchups rise in response to its decline, it’s performed better. It’s ironically better at legend, where the Rogue population is particularly high. Based on these results, Face Hunter should not completely die out, but remain a niche choice to exploit a specific meta trend. It cannot handle being overly popular because it’s too easy to counter, so we generally don’t recommend it on your climb to legend where Warriors and Priests are quite common.
Resurrect Priest is hanging on at lower levels of play, but the crash and burn are real at the top end of ladder. The fall in its win rate is simply astonishing from rank 4 onwards. At legend, it has sunk all the way down to Tier 4! Indeed, it’s no coincidence why players at higher levels have written off the deck. These results show that Resurrect Priest has been largely carried by its Face Hunter matchup in order to stay competitive. The deck, as well as the class it’s been solely representing, are now in serious trouble.
The Galakrond meta has marginalized singleton decks (unless, like Rogue, they run Galakrond as well!), and Highlander Mage is another victim. While the decline in Face Hunter should have helped Mage, some of the top meta decks have refined and improved over the last couple of weeks. This has resulted in worsening matchups for Highlander Mage against them and a win rate that has failed to climb as much as it could have in theory.
Token Druid is playable, but that’s about it. It is completely outclassed by Zoo Warlock, which performs a similar role and does it much more effectively. There’s no real reason to play Token Druid, and that is reflected in its play rate. Meanwhile, other Druid decks look far off from being competitive.
Paladin is not even remotely competitive on ladder. Mech Paladin, its last bastion of hope at Tier 3 in the last report, has faded and disappeared into the abyss. Holy-Wrath Paladin is unplayable without a ban format, and Highlander Paladin is just about done.
(…Needless to say, these balance changes were definitely needed to give five other classes a chance to compete with Galakrond decks…)
Class Analysis & Decklists
Rogue is proving to be very strong in the DoD meta, and we think it would look even stronger if its most powerful archetype was a more attractive choice to play.
Highlander Rogue is a strong deck, but it’s grossly overplayed considering it’s not even the best deck within its own class. You can have a lot of success with Highlander Rogue because the class is blessed with good cards, but Rogue has a higher ceiling through maximizing synergies rather than watering them down for the benefit of a couple of swing cards.
Deathrattle Rogue continues to perform very well. It has a somewhat frustrating playstyle that is highly dependent on drawing a few specific cards, which might explain its modest play rate, but its game plan is devastating for any deck that gives it time to execute its devious strategy. It is the only deck in the current meta that exhibits an edge against both Highlander Rogue and Galakrond Warrior, which are the two most popular decks in the format. Its weakness to aggressive decks is clear.
Galakrond Rogue is the least refined Rogue archetype, with possibly a higher ceiling once it is fully figured out. After taking more time to evaluate its builds, we’re beginning to lean towards the Warbringer variant over the Whelp variant. The featured build essentially curbs the “feast or famine” nature of Apothecary/Warbringer with a secondary win condition in Galakrond. This means that you are less likely to annihilate your opponent with an Apothecary/Anka draw, but you aren’t hopeless when you can’t find them since your deck is balanced with stronger standalone cards. The result is that your strong matchups are worse, but your bad matchups are better.
(…Highlander Rogue will replace its deathrattle package with the next best available cards to the class, which shouldn’t be too difficult to do. Galakrond Rogue will transition into an Umbral Skulker/Questing Adventurer build, much like the one we theory-crafted before DoD launched. This variant is not bad right now, but is simply overshadowed by Apothecary…)
- Rogue Class Radar
- Highlander Rogue
- Deathrattle Rogue
- Galakrond Rogue
Warrior is definitely one of the strongest classes, and the upcoming balance changes are guaranteed to address both of its powerhouse archetypes. Abuse them while you can.
Galakrond Warrior is very strong and well rounded. We’ve seen the emergence of faster builds running Cruel Taskmaster and Temple Berserker, but the 7-Scions build has only gotten stronger over the past week. It has a significant edge in mirrors against the more aggressive, Inner Rage/Mercenary variants, and it performs better against Shamans, which have become more resilient since embracing Spirit of the Frog. This more than offsets its slight disadvantage against Rogue as a result of running less burst damage.
Pirate Warrior is also performing very well. The deck is just very difficult to counter, as there isn’t a reliable way of stopping it when it draws well. Ancharrr is simply game-breaking. When this weapon is equipped on turn 3, even the most defensive decks struggle to outlast the Warrior’s onslaught. Only Galakrond Warrior seems capable of consistently coming on top in this matchup, which is a testament to Garrosh’s power in the current meta.
(…Pirate Warrior won’t change a single thing about the deck, since Ancharrr will likely still be very strong with Hoard Pillager. The nerf to Scion of Ruin certainly hurts Galakrond Warrior, but the deck should remain strong. It’ll be interesting to see whether duplicating Scion will still be worth doing. Slowing down Scion hurts the Barista combo, but slowing down Scion hurts the aggressive game plan too…)
- Warrior Class Radar
- Galakrond Warrior
- Pirate Warrior
As we’ve suggested in our last report, Galakrond Shaman was a sleeping giant that could be re-awakened into a powerhouse by Spirit of the Frog. A couple of weeks have passed, Spirit of the Frog is everywhere, and Galakrond Shaman is one of the best decks in the game.
Galakrond Shaman has game against pretty much everything. It can win slow matchups, and it can win fast matchups. It’s interesting to note how its matchup spread has changed. Zoo has now emerged as its biggest counter, which is a result of players cutting Mogu Fleshshaper from their builds for Novice Engineer.
This move, based on the evidence we’ve gathered, looks questionable. Card draw is tempting to run in Galakrond decks, but fixation on card draw can also be a trap, as can be seen with Battle Rage. Novice Engineer is a weird card to keep in your opening hand when you can just throw it for free to “draw” what you really want, which are Galakrond cards and Spirit of the Frog (the good draw engine). Engineer also scales terribly into the late game, and its effect with Shudderwock just doesn’t matter. In contrast, Mogu Fleshshaper scales better, and is an incredible card against Zoo specifically (worth about 5% in the matchup by itself). Yes, Mogu was nerfed and is no longer a card you blindly keep in your mulligan, but it’s still strong enough to be played in one of the strongest decks in the game. Cutting it is a classic case of: “This card was nerfed, so it probably can’t be good anymore”.
Unfortunately, Galakrond Shaman seems to be the only Shaman deck that’s relevant. We haven’t seen any Aggro Shaman decks emerge and show genuine promise. The archetype will probably have to wait for the balance changes to find another chance.
(…The Shaman Galakrond nerfs are probably the most brutal and disruptive because Invocation of Frost’s mana cost increase also affects Spirit of the Frog, Earthen Might and Zentimo. We might consider running Voltaic Burst in the 1-mana spell slot…)
Warlock has transformed over the last couple of weeks from a class that was hoping to just be competitive, to one that looks to be dominant. This is the result of favorable meta trends, and potential breakthroughs in the refinement of new decks.
Zoo Warlock has risen both in its popularity and its win rate. It has gone through critical improvements in the Shaman matchup to the point where it now boasts a significant advantage. Along with its strong performance against Rogue, the deck’s tough Warrior matchup becomes easier to swallow. We haven’t found a reason to change the featured build, as it’s been performing at a near-optimal level against most common opponents.
Handlock is transforming, with faster lackey builds showing great promise over the older and slower Malygos builds. Monsanto and Muzzy have enjoyed success with this deck, and we’re featuring a hybrid version of both. The key insight is that Dark Pharaoh Tekahn is very strong with the full lackey package. Elven Archer is a cute idea, but we can never pass on SN1P-SN4P and Zilliax. These cards perform too well in any Warlock deck that isn’t Zoo.
A new Warlock deck has only begun to appear in the last couple of days, but it could very well be the real deal. NoHandsGamer built a Control Galakrond Warlock which runs a very strong defensive package. Plague of Flames synergizes well with token imps, and so does Sacrificial Pact, offering the cheap healing that Warlock needs alongside Nether Breath in order to survive. Dragonqueen Alexstrasza is very strong in this deck, but we’re not too sure about Zephrys. It will probably take another report for us to figure out the last two slots. For now, we’re featuring NoHandsGamer’s latest list, with Siamat and Twisting Nether occupying those slots.
(…Zoo Warlock should still run the same build, with the outside chance of cutting a combination of Rites, Worshipper, and Kronx for faster cards. Lackey Handlock is untouched. Control Warlock doesn’t care about Fiendish Rites as much as Zoo Warlock. It will either keep it to maintain its Invoke consistency, or cut it and improve the deck in other areas…)
- Warlock Class Radar
- Zoo Warlock
- Hand Warlock
- Control Warlock
As expected, Face Hunter’s play rate has crashed down hard over the last couple of weeks. The abysmal Galakrond Warrior matchup is one of the biggest factors for its collapse, but its low skill ceiling is also to blame. The deck is truly one of the most linear we’ve ever seen. Face Hunter does have niche uses in tournament lineups where bans are available and it can target Rogue. But in the ladder environment, Face Hunter needs to avoid its two counter classes in order to find success (Warrior and Priest). Therefore, results may wildly vary depending on your luck in queue.
Highlander Hunter is okay, but it isn’t great. After all, it comes from an explorer class that doesn’t have access to Galakrond! In simple terms, the DoD meta is so powerful that Dinotamer Brann looks tame in comparison to the powerful plays available to other classes. Highlander Hunter, even with its big swing cards, plays too fairly for this expansion.
(…Rogue and Warlock are potentially very strong post-patch classes while Warrior was weakened. This should improve Face Hunter’s position in the meta, but the deck will still be easy to target with Priest and Warrior, so we wouldn’t predict its meteoric rise just yet…)
- Hunter Class Radar
- Face Hunter
- Highlander Hunter
- Quest Hunter
Mage will have to sit on the sidelines and fight for scraps as the Galakrond classes have proven to be too powerful to handle.
Highlander Mage is falling behind the top meta decks, losing percentages in key matchups as Rogue, Shaman, Warlock, and Warrior are still optimizing their decks to great success. Mage’s response has been to turtle up. Reducing the dragon package and cutting Frizz opens up space for taunts to block a Warrior’s path to your face, and taunts seem to perform well right now. The rise of Zoo has also brought Doomsayer back from its initially sub-par performance. Frostbolt still doesn’t make the cut, as Book of Specters has proven to be valuable in its place. Acidic Swamp Ooze and Spellbreaker are very common tech choices, but they’re not actually worth it. Their high usage is indicative of the deck’s desperation rather than a measured adjustment to the meta.
(…Those worsening matchups against Galakrond classes should now ease back in the direction of Highlander Mage. Great patch for Jaina’s chances of establishing relevance…)
Anduin is the equivalent of an anthropomorphic dog drinking coffee in an apartment that’s burning down, while saying “this is fine”. The popularity of Face Hunter, especially at lower ranks, is masking the troubles the class is in. To simplify things, without a near 80% matchup against Face Hunter, Resurrect Priest is hot, burning garbage.
While you could make the case that Resurrect Priest is the best available counter to Galakrond Warrior, this matchup alone isn’t enough to offset its troubles against Rogue and Shaman. Resurrect Priest carries an extremely frustrating and polarizing matchup spread in general, and its ability to adjust to matchups is very limited. We’re already seeing the deck being abandoned at higher levels of play while collapsing in its win rate, and it may have no real future in the current meta.
Luckily for Priest, balance changes are coming, which could give the meta a needed reboot, and perhaps awaken a stagnant archetype such as Combo Priest. Until then, queuing with Priest on ladder is about rolling the dice and hoping to find the opponents you want.
(…Resurrect Priest has room for optimism as a result of this patch. If Shaman is gutted and Hunter gets better, Priest’s standing in the meta should improve. However, if Rogue remains a top meta class, we’re a bit skeptical that Priest can be better than mediocre. We also have an inkling that Combo Priest ends up being the better deck, especially at higher levels of play…)
Druid is essentially a dead class. While Token Druid is displaying a performance level that points at some signs of life, the deck is still mediocre at best and completely outclassed. Competitive players don’t like picking underwhelming decks and smashing their heads into a wall in order to make them work, and the deck is not particularly fun or interesting for the memes, so it’s got no target audience.
Embiggen and Breath of Dreams would probably be meta defining cards if they were released during the Year of the Raven, but the power level of DoD has proven to be so ridiculously high that they’re not even relevant. They’re powerful cards stuck in bad decks, much like how a buffed Extra Arms looked like in Rise of Shadows. Druid will have to wait for either the April rotation or significant balance changes dropping power levels across the board, for a chance to see these cards and their archetypes shine.
(…Druid desperately needed these balance changes. Token Druid will be able to develop a board more consistently. Embiggen Druid will have more time to ramp up its onslaught. May not be enough, but it’s something…)
Paladin doesn’t have Galakrond, and doesn’t have a Highlander deck that can keep its head above the waters, so it has sunk and disappeared. Make no mistake, Paladin is well and truly atrocious, and very clearly the worst class in the game. Holy-Wrath Paladin is nearly unplayable on ladder, and you’ll have to be very lucky to run into the right opponents over a small sample size in order to feel good about it. Mech Paladin peaked at Tier 3 and now crashed and burnt, gazing upon top meta decks that have yet to reach their final form. Playing Highlander Paladin is essentially taking an arena deck into ladder. You can’t match up against the overwhelming synergies displayed by the top meta decks.
Paladin is paying the price for multiple weak sets during the Year of the Dragon, and we’re not sure balance changes can even fix the class. It’s so far off the rest of the field, that it would take a miracle for it to launch a comeback in this expansion. Uther’s gone fishing, so he’s not answering the phone.
(…Paladin could remain a dead class. Unlike Druid and Mage, the gap in power between Paladin and the top meta classes is just so big. The balance changes could spark creativity and allow a new Paladin deck to emerge, one that we haven’t seen before, but we’re not optimistic about the current crop of Paladin decks…)
We’ll be perfectly frank with you. This deck is probably busted as hell, and it’s all about waiting for final confirmation that it’s busted as hell. We’re just being responsible data analysts here. Confirmation shouldn’t take long, considering that you’re about to run into this deck so much in the next few days that you’ll get sick of it.
You’ll get sick of it because you’ll lose to it. A lot.
Basically, if we don’t put this deck in the Meta Breaker section, we’ll be the weather channel forecaster telling you that you can go to the beach today because there’s a 5% chance that the hurricane will turn and miss your local city. Easy metaphor to understand, right?
As for ways to beat this new deck, the most well-rounded answers are probably Galakrond Warrior and Deathrattle Rogue, but based on what we’ve seen so far, this deck doesn’t really have a hard counter. It’s probably just a hurricane.
(…This deck was likely going to take over, and as we’ve said earlier, the Fiendish Rites change may not be enough to stop it. It’s still a pretty good choice to include in the Meta Breaker section, especially when other decks, including those we identify as answers to Control Warlock, were hit harder…)
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