vS Data Reaper Report #192

A weekly Hearthstone Meta Report based on data from 485,000 games.

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Welcome to the 192nd edition of the Data Reaper Report! This is the first report for Forged in the Barrens. Kinda.

Contributing to the Data Reaper project through Hearthstone Deck Tracker or Firestone allows us to perform our analyses and to issue the weekly reports, so we want to wholeheartedly thank our contributors. Without the community’s contributions, there would be no project. Contributing data is very easy, so if you enjoy our content and would like to make sure it remains consistent and free – Sign up!

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Class/Archetype Distribution | Class Frequency | Matchup Winrates | vS Power Rankings | vS Meta Score | Class Analysis & Decklists | Meta Breaker of the Week | How to Contribute | Credits

Number of Games

Overall 485,000
Top 1K Legend 12,000
Legend (Excluding Top 1k) 28,000
Diamond 4 to 1 51,000
Diamond 10 to 5 87,000
Platinum 80,000
Bronze/Silver/Gold 227,000

Class/Archetype Distribution

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Class Frequency

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Class Frequency Discussion

We first want to note that due to the timing of the expansion’s launch, right at the end of the month, the legend meta outside of Top1k is more of a snapshot of the first couple of days of the expansion (and the last two days of March). To observe competitive patterns, it’s better to focus on what’s happening at Diamond and top1k legend.

So, you must have noticed that there are a lot of Mages out there. Spell Mage has erupted shortly after the expansion’s launch and was lauded as the best deck in the game after receiving much publicity thanks to Deck of Lunacy. The deck is also very cheap to craft, which made it spread very quickly throughout ladder. It’s always been a favorite at lower ranks even when it was weak. Unique traits of the evolving meta have given Mage the space required to thrive, with aggression being heavily suppressed. By the time you read this, Spell Mage’s numbers have likely exceeded 35% throughout most of ladder.

Paladin is second in line, and the class is also rapidly gaining popularity behind Sword of the Fallen and the newly introduced secret package. This package not only brought forth the return of the aggressive Secret Paladin archetype but was incorporated into Libram Paladin as well. Libram Paladin is the more popular deck, especially at higher levels of play.

Watch Posts have made a huge impact on the meta in suppressing aggression, and their incorporation to the Rogue class has been most successful. Watcher Rogue is the most popular deck within its class, followed by the more vanilla versions of Miracle Rogue, which lagged behind in development. Some hybridization between the two versions has also started to appear in greater numbers after this report’s database closed, which will likely force us to merge the two going forward (Miracle Rogues running Far Watch Posts). Two aggressive Rogue decks are also noticeable: Stealth Rogue, which is the well-known aggro deck from Darkmoon Faire, and Poison Rogue, a quad-weapon deck utilizing both Self-Sharpening Sword and Swinetusk Shank.

Is Tickatus finally a serious meta force? Control Warlock has emerged at the launch of Forged in the Barrens with high play rate numbers. But it’s important to note that its numbers at top legend, where the meta is most developed, are significantly lower than they are throughout the rest of ladder. We’ll have to look into the cause of its decline.

Druid is around with a modest presence, mostly split between Celestial Druids and Gibberling Druids. We can also notice some Clown Druids and Taunt Druids, though they have faded from existence at top legend.

Priest is mostly represented by two archetypes. The first is Control Priest, usually running C’Thun and a lot of removal. The second is Miracle Priest, running Rally alongside the pairing of Bloodweaver/Veilweaver and setting up monstrous plays in the mid-game. We’ll already warn you that in typical Priest fashion, there’s a lot of jank going around.

Demon Hunter experimentation mostly comes down to the Deathrattle archetype, as well as a hard-hitting Watcher deck that resembles Soul Demon Hunter in its strategy. The old Aggro and Soul archetypes look buried, while a population of Lifesteal DH still exists at top legend. Those guys are stubborn, what can you do.

Plenty of Hunter experiments have faded away quite quickly after the expansion’s launch, leaving only Face Hunter to fend for the class at higher levels. We know that Hunter tends to be historically underplayed at top legend even when it’s strong, so its current low play rate isn’t necessarily an indictment that it’s bad. We’ll have to look at how it performs as well.

Shaman looks to be dying out. The only deck that seems to be surviving is Burn Doomhammer Shaman. We’ve decided to call it Doom Shaman, since there’s another aggressive Shaman deck that emerged early on, displaying a low play rate and running Whack-a-mole (it’s essentially our theorycrafted “Good Stuff Shaman”). Since they are very different in playstyle and card choices, we’ve split them apart to “Doom Shaman” and “Whack Shaman”.

Warrior looks dead on arrival. What happened? How did things go so wrong for this class? Was losing Risky Skipper and Bloodsworn Mercenary that big of a deal? We’ll try to explain in this report.

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vS Meta Score

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vS Power Rankings Discussion

Writing and preparing this report was a real struggle. The game is basically broken. Half the classes are not worth touching on ladder. Paladin is one of the most oppressive classes we’ve ever seen. Just look at its matchup spread and you’ll understand. Watch Posts have demolished most aggressive decks in the game, and minion combat in general, which created a meta that’s low on pressure and almost ignores the board. This has resulted in a very favorable field for Spell Mage to take over, and it’s very powerful in its own way. Paladin and Mage are basically not allowing anything else to consistently find success. Not only is it difficult to specifically counter them, it’s essentially impossible to beat both. You can run a hyper-aggressive face deck to try and kill Mages, but then you run into Paladin and get heavily punished for it. If you try and stack removal in order to try and somehow outlast the Paladin, your deck now has little game against Mage. Rogue is the only class that can really thrive alongside them, but even Valeera can have difficulty balancing its tools between the two opponents. The meta is hard stuck, and until balance changes arrive, things will only get worse because of one hilarious fact: taking into consideration its power level, Paladin is underplayed.

Libram Paladin is literally unbeatable and Secret Paladin isn’t that far away from being the same. There might be one or two decks that could eventually develop an edge against Libram Paladin (Watcher Rogue is one candidate), and Mage can stand up to it, but everything else just rolls over. Libram Paladin is the strongest deck we’ve seen in the game since Day 1 Ashes of Outland Demon Hunter, which was a complete outlier. Mage is getting all the fame but Paladin’s win rate at top legend is over 3% higher! It’s in a league of its own.

Spell Mage is nearly unbeatable. As we’ve said earlier, there is only one way to beat this deck consistently, and that’s hitting it in the face hard and early. But try and do that while queuing into Paladin, and Uther laughs at you. Well met!

Watcher Rogue is the strongest non-Mage/Paladin deck, but its win rate is also in the process of declining and it’s not at the level of Paladin or Mage. Miracle Rogue is unrefined so its win rate is low, but we see potential in it too, even though it’s unlikely to become the better choice until Watch Posts and Paladin get nerfed. There’s an issue for Rogue in the mirror when it doesn’t run WP’s but the opponent does.

Face Hunter is one deck that’s doing fairly well in the current meta. It beats Mage, but doesn’t lose as miserably to Paladin as other burn decks. It also has quite a bit of room to improve through refinement. Token Druid is also sitting in the positive win rate range, but its matchups against the best decks get worse every day, so we’re not holding up much hope for it.

That’s pretty much it for decks we recommend to play on ladder. The rest of the table speaks for itself. Every other class is either deep in the dumpster, or is temporarily fooling you to think it’s playable because it sits at Tier 3. Yes, it’s very much headed for the dumpster (*wink* Control Warlock) and will likely feel unplayable once this report is out.

This report will have very few decklists featured, and one class doesn’t even have decks listed for it. This doesn’t come from a lack of effort, but rather a significant time spent digging through for unicorns. We’re not interested in featuring decks that wouldn’t even sit in Tier 5 if we had one. We apologize for those eager to netdeck from this report, but there is an extensive discussion on what’s gone wrong in the class sections, so we hope that’s an informative and somewhat entertaining read. Oh, we did work on the good decks too, and may have found a couple of unicorns, so that’s worth checking out.

The bottom line is that we’re genuinely frustrated and can only be encouraged by the fact that balance changes are coming, which will reboot the game. Think of it this way. We’re in beta, and the real game launches next week. The real first report of Barrens will come after, with all the analysis you’re used to, and hopefully more playable decks to explore.

Class Analysis & Decklists

Demon Hunter | Druid | Hunter | Mage | Paladin | Priest | Rogue | Shaman | Warlock | Warrior


Data Reaper Report - Mage

Spell Mage has exploded on ladder with a very dominant matchup spread, which only exhibits a weakness to hyper-aggressive decks. But, these decks are being suppressed by Paladins and Rogues, so there’s no great way to counter the absurd number of Mages you meet on ladder. Add its cheap cost, perceived power, highroll potential, and funky gameplay experience, and you have all the ingredients of an extremely popular deck at every level of play.

Building Spell Mage is fairly straightforward. One of the reasons it’s so successful is the availability of Devolving Missiles, which deals with an on-curve Far Watch Post, while the deck is often able to ignore Mor’shan Watch Post for a long time without a care in the world.

Many builds cut Ring Toss, but we advocate running two. It’s the most flexible card available when compared to some of the 3-mana spells players often replace it with in order to improve the post-Lunacy pool (this doesn’t matter as much as you think). Netherwind Portal is a bit too narrow of a card in its attempt to target the mirror, and it’s not even great there. Ice Barrier can’t be justified since burn decks are still relatively uncommon. Cone of Cold is a lean towards Paladin, but fairly useless in many other matchups.

Finally, do not run C’Thun. Mask of C’Thun is far better as a finisher and C’Thun spells actually screw up your post-Lunacy draws (8-mana spells are very bad on average). As a win condition, C’Thun is completely irrelevant and builds that drop the old god perform significantly better.

Other Mage decks look unplayable.

Data Reaper Report - Paladin

Paladin on the first week of Forged in the Barrens is one of the most dominant classes we’ve ever seen. Both Paladin archetypes carry absurd matchup spreads and completely demolish a large majority of the field. While Mage is the class that’s been hyped the most, Paladin is clearly stronger and we don’t think there is any real argument here. There is no stopping this class without balance changes.

Libram Paladin is utterly unstoppable. There are a couple of Rogue decks that might be able to develop an edge against it (Watcher and Secret Rogue) but the deck is probably getting nerfed before we can see it. We highly recommend running Cariel over Kazakus, as the latter is disabled by an Aldor Attendant and Cariel looks significantly stronger. Running two copies of Oh My Yogg looks like the strongest approach since the 2nd copy is usually the one that cripples the opponent. We run one Avenge since we don’t want to draw it off Knight of Anointment. Taelan increases the consistency of your Flinger/Liadrin late game. We considered cutting one Libram of Justice for Libram of Judgment to perform better against Mages, but this report will likely cause an explosion of the mirror, where Justice is a bit too good.

Secret Paladin is almost as powerful, and we think the deck might actually be underrated since we’ve spotted a few adjustments that can increase the power level of the deck even further.

Cannonmaster Smythe is bait (!). Crabriders are very powerful with Conviction. Hammer of the Naaru is very strong. Murgur forms a fantastic package with Taelan that most players have not picked up on. In this build, Taelan either finds you Kazakus (an extremely powerful card in the deck) or Murgurgle Prime, which is a threat that none of the top 3 classes in the game can deal with. It makes your late game very scary.

The next best cards that didn’t make the cut are Righteous Protectors since their impact is surprisingly low in the early game. There are just far stronger mulligan priorities in this deck (translation: just find Sword of the Fallen and First Day of School).

Data Reaper Report - Rogue

Rogue completes the trifecta of oppressive classes that are just not letting anyone else breathe. The class’ synergy with Watch Posts has proven to be very effective. Watcher Rogue’s ability to stall the opponent with towers, and proceed to power spike with mid-game follow up through either Kazakus or Jandice is great against both aggressive decks and control decks looking to answer your threats. Then in the late game, Kargal offers a Nomi-esque finisher that can come down as early as turn 7. Add this deck’s burn damage through Wicked Stabs and Flingers, as well as its ability to draw its whole deck thanks to Field Contact, and you have a strategy that’s able to stand up to the very best.

When it comes to Watcher Rogue’s build, we recommend one change over the most popular list originally popularized by Feno, and that’s swapping Guardian Augmerchant for Cult Neophyte. The Mage matchup is beginning to trend in the Mage’s favor, and Rogue needs more disruption options against them. There is a recent trend to run a hybrid Miracle Rogue which only runs Far Watch Post and cuts the “dead” Mor’shan Watch Post in the Mage matchup, but this might be the wrong move after this report (hint: Paladin).

Poison Rogue and Stealth Rogue are effective counters to Mage, but they simply cannot find consistent success due to the rising popularity of Paladin, which annihilates aggressive decks. Much like Miracle Rogue, these decks also have an issue in the mirror matchup against Watcher Rogue. We can’t say much about Secret Rogue, since a bug with Sparkjoy Cheat was only recently fixed and there’s little data for it.

Data Reaper Report - Hunter

Hunter is one of the few classes that seems capable of surviving under the oppression of the top 3 classes, with Face Hunter looking like a legitimately promising deck in the current meta. It is one of the best counters to Mage, and if we can help its Rogue/Paladin matchups, that can go a long way. We think its scope for improvement through refinement is high.

First, we’re here to remind you that Imprisoned Felmaw is insane in Face Hunter. It seems that every expansion, players begin building this deck by omitting the card before we tell them it’s so very wrong.  It’s one of the very best cards in the deck and is extremely dominant against both Mages and Rogues.

As for the rest of our findings: Sunscale Raptor, Pen Flinger and Headhunter’s Hatchet are weak. The Warsong Wrangler/Trampling Rhino package is very strong and gives the deck more longevity and finishing potential. Piercing Shot might be the very best card in the deck. Knife Vendor is another good 4-drop.

Mankrik’s Wife was recently hotfixed to 3-mana, which makes us able to pull a charging 3/10 Mankrik through Barak Kodobane. Based on preliminary post-hotfix data, this combo looks very good and Mankrik is just a strong standalone card in the deck that can work with Tracking. Barak also fishes for your Quick Shots in this build, which is very nice. Thanks, Obama!

Data Reaper Report - Druid

Druid is another class that isn’t completely destroyed by the meta. Gibberling Druid is an aggressive deck that is unaffected by Mor’shan Watch Post, which is a major reason why it actually looks okay. But when you dig a little deeper, you realize that it still loses to the best decks and simply cannot ever be considered top tier. Every game into a Mage, Paladin or a Rogue running Far Watch Post is still not in your favor.

To our great shock and awe, Guff Runetotem looks like a dud in this deck, so sorry if we baited you guys into crafting him, but it’s good news for those looking for budget decks! Then you have Soul of the Forest, which is probably one of the most overrated cards of all-time. Treated as a mandatory inclusion once again when you’re better off not running it at all.

A sleeper good card in Gibberling Druid is Guidance. It’s not a card that you want in the early game, but it’s nice fuel for Gibberling and can offer reload later in the game. It also has sneaky synergy with Nature Studies and Glowfly Swarm.

Celestial Druid looks so bad that it’s not even worth trying to refine. It is absolutely awful and its win rate is likely to sink into the 30’s very soon. Clown Druid looked decent early on and is still fairly playable at lower ranks, but the deck is in the process of tanking its win rate due to the rise of the top meta decks. Another one to probably stay away from, unless you enjoy being dominated by Paladins.

Data Reaper Report - Warlock

Tickatus has finally delivered on its threat to dominate the meta and push out every control deck out of viability. This oppressive force is choking diversity and must be removed for the sake of the game’s health.

Just kidding.

Control Warlock is not very good at all. The deck looked strong for the first few hours of the expansion, and has been on a downward spiral since. As the best decks rise in popularity and improve their efficiency, it’s become perfectly clear that Warlock simply doesn’t match up or beat any seriously competitive strategy. The higher you climb ladder, the worse this deck gets as better players are also able to punish it more effectively. The only rank where this archetype looks genuinely strong in is Bronze.

We realize that Tickatus complaints mostly come from players who just don’t like seeing their cards burnt, but if you can’t climb ladder because of Tickatus, and you’re not playing Priest, then you should evaluate how you approach this matchup. As for “warping the meta”, a deck can’t warp the meta if it sucks, doesn’t beat anything and shouldn’t see play. The deck is only dominant against decks that don’t have any means to proactively end games. Control decks with strong late game win conditions have proven to be capable of standing up to Control Warlock during Darkmoon Faire. When a day comes and the meta becomes focused on fatigue and Control Warlock is strong thanks to Tickatus, we’ll let you know. Today is not that day.

As for refinements, if you do decide to queue this deck on ladder for some reason, you should probably run Siphon Souls. They’re very powerful with Tamsin Roame and they’re important in the Paladin matchup in particular.

Zoo Warlock is a minion-based aggressive deck, which makes it unplayable in the current meta thanks to Paladin and Watch Posts. Mill Warlock is literally the worst deck in the game.

It’s easy to understand why Demon Hunter is struggling, when Paladin has always been the hardest counter for this class’ late game strategies. Libram of Hope is too strong to overcome when most of what you’re trying to do is punching the opponent in the face. Add the oppressive power of the newly introduced secret package, and Illidan is in great trouble.

The only niche that Demon Hunter currently occupies is trying to punch Mage in the face, but what if we told you that it doesn’t even do that well? There were several decks popping up with claims of answering the Mage lunatics on ladder, and yet every single one of these builds has proven to be statistically unfavored in the matchup. It’s not enough to equip a weapon and hit them in the face; you need to do it very quickly or you will be outpaced.

So, Deathrattle DH is nosediving in its win rate after a decent start, which was born out of the early meta jankiness rather than anything else. Don’t be fooled by its current win rate, since imminent meta trends give it zero chance of sustaining even a Tier 3 position in the current field. Lifesteal DH is getting bodied by the top 3 classes as well. Aggro DH is unplayable into Watch Posts. Soul DH is the worst deck you can queue into Paladin.

We’re left with one deck created by PavelingBook, which is a Watcher Demon Hunter running Kazakus and Illidari Inquisitor. This looks like the strongest Demon Hunter deck available, but we still wouldn’t recommend it for ladder and we’re mostly featuring it because we have nothing better to showcase. It’s “sort of” playable.

Basically, don’t touch this class until Paladin and Watch Posts get nerfed. It’s brutal out there.

Data Reaper Report - Shaman

Shaman is barely playable. Its aggressive Doomhammer deck can deliver enough punishment in order to beat Spell Mage fairly consistently. The problem is the same one plaguing Demon Hunter: it cannot deal with Paladins whatsoever. Burn strategies simply don’t work against them. This means that Doom Shaman is pretty doomed to sink into unplayability right about… 10 minutes after this report is out.

There is one thing that Doom Shaman can do in order to have a better chance at competing against this field, and that’s running Devolving Missiles. Much like Spell Mage, Shaman can also benefit from having an answer to early Watch Posts, as well as Paladin buffs and taunts. Ras and Bru’kan look disappointing and not worth running.

Data Reaper Report - Priest

Priest may seem to have a healthy play rate, but there’s almost nothing to back it up. Nearly every single Priest deck we’ve evaluated has looked utterly dreadful. Priest should do fine in tournaments, but figuring it out for ladder was difficult.

Miracle Priest has received quite a bit of hype due to the dramatic fashion in which it wins games, but it loses far more games with a quiet whimper. The archetype gets completely countered by a single 1-mana spell that happens to be utilized by the most popular deck in the format in Devolving Missiles. It gets pressured out of the game by Paladin, and is extremely vulnerable to any kind of removal. We might see a world in which this deck becomes competitive after balance changes, but until then, just forget about it.

Control Priest is a jumbled mess. We’ve spent far too much time trying to refine something that could work for ladder, and we might have found something with the help of Valeera (the player) and Impact. The key is to run proactive cards in the early game alongside Raise Dead rather than go for a weirdly passive build that sits around and waits until it falls behind. Wandmakers and Venomous Scorpids are very good early game plays and provide enough value that we don’t need the situational Sethekk Veilweaver.

We should also know by now that C’Thun is an irrelevant win condition, so we’re better off not shuffling bad cards into our deck. Draconic Studies offers a flexible win condition that can find us a big value dragon when we need it (tip: just never keep it in the mull). We’re actually not sure Illucia is needed and it’s possible we would rather have Ysera in the current meta, since she provides us with a Sap effect that can be very good against Paladins. Malygos looks highly questionable.

The biggest revelation is that Lightshower Elemental looks extremely powerful and seems to be criminally underplayed. It’s massive against nearly the entire field, including Paladins, Rogues and any aggressive deck that looks to counter Mage. This is probably the biggest sleeper card we’ve found in this report’s database, and reminds us of Imprisoned Observer.

This build looks to find an edge against Paladins, Rogues, and aggressive decks. It’s a fruitless effort for Priest to try and target Mages, so your best hope is to make the matchup as close as possible. As we’ve said earlier, targeting both Paladin and Mage is impossible. Note that Priest may work better at higher levels since Control Warlocks are quickly disappearing at these ranks. This is a near-unwinnable matchup.

Data Reaper Report - Warrior

The most hopeless class in Hearthstone has to be Warrior. The current weird meta is probably the worst thing that could happen to the class, as everything it’s supposed to do is completely useless.

Warriors thrive on gaining initiative off knocking the opponents’ pieces. Currently, Warriors are facing a meta which is completely uninterested in “playing pieces”. It has an Outrider’s Axe that can’t draw cards because it has no minions to kill. It has powerful rush minions but nothing to run them into. It has a plethora of removal that doesn’t matter in current board states. It has to deal with Paladin, which counters it in every possible way and happens to be one of the most dominant classes ever seen in Hearthstone.

Warrior’s got no chance right now, but if minion combat returns to Hearthstone after the next patch, it’s possible that Warrior will look far better than where it is now. Its tools are simply poorly matched into current Hearthstone, which feels more like an elaborate Tavern Brawl than a constructed format. The class is currently a hard skip.

Good luck winning mirrors. We’ll see you on the other side of the balance changes. Remember when we cheated out secrets with a 6 mana 6/6?

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1 Comment

  1. Hello! Good report, very interesting. I want to caution the writers on sounding too self-important– it’s a bit of a turn off. Regardless of how influential the report is or isn’t, no one wants to hear that a certain strategy might get more popular or less based on *your* report, it comes off as a bit of a brag.

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