Welcome to the 285th edition of the Data Reaper Report!
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Number of Games
|Top 1K Legend
|Legend (Excluding Top 1k)
|Diamond 4 to 1
|Diamond 10 to 5
Class Frequency Discussion
With the balance changes hitting most of the top performing decks in the format, the fastest surging deck has been the top performer that was left alone. Sludge Warlock’s presence hovers around a 20% play rate past Diamond 5. The deck’s presence was nearing 30% at top legend, but there has been a step back in its popularity in recent days. Other Warlock decks don’t see much play, including Insanity Warlock.
The significant nerfs to Druid and Rogue seem to have encouraged Warrior to take a big leap forward. Initially, Reno Warrior spiked in play, but its momentum has been quickly stopped. Control Warrior is the archetype that is currently gaining a lot of momentum. The higher you climb ladder, the more noticeable the transition from Reno to Control appears to be. Control has become far more common than Reno at top legend, where it’s the 2nd most popular deck after Sludge Warlock. Both archetypes are going through refinement, with Control Warrior curating a 40-card build and a 30-card build.
Plague Death Knight is another deck boosted by the hard nerfs to the late game prowess of Druid and Rogue, but another Death Knight has joined the fray. Rainbow DK is quite noticeable across ladder, though its presence is still modest compared to Plague DK.
Rogue has drastically declined across ladder, but the class’ presence is still fairly high, especially at legend ranks. Most Excavate Rogue builds are unchanged, but some explore different approaches, such as a Secret package or a Wishing Well package. Even Miracle Rogue can be observed at top legend, running Trickster/Triple Seven.
Naga Demon Hunter was a Tier 1 performer at top legend before the patch that wasn’t hit by nerfs, so a rise in its play rate was expected. However, all the initial momentum it had at the launch of the patch has been lost, with the deck now going through a noticeable decline in its presence. This is occurring in tandem with Control Warrior’s rise, which is no coincidence.
Aggro Paladin has unsurprisingly taken a big hit in its popularity. The deck is still common at Platinum and Diamond ranks, but its presence nosedives at legend, to the point it’s barely noticeable at top legend. If you’re wondering what happened to this chunk of Paladin players, they’re playing Sludge Warlock now.
Druid is the class that was hit hardest by balance changes. It has not taken these nerfs kindly, collapsing in play across ladder. Ramp Druid looks devastated, while Treant Druid has also severely shrunk in play. Dragon Druid is the only deck that seems relatively unaffected by the patch, but it’s struggled to attract players for a while. There’s barely any Reno Druids either.
Priest hasn’t shown any notable signs of encouragement. Reno Priest is the most popular deck, followed by fractions of faster Priest decks that see little play (Naga, Automaton, Overheal).
There’s still very little interest in Mage, Shaman and Hunter. Secret Mage and Totem Shaman are being attempted at small samples. Rainbow Mage and Reno Shaman have stagnated. Reno and Arcane Hunter are ignored.
vS Meta Score
vS Power Rankings Discussion
The balance patch has failed to provide any balance. There has been no increase in the field’s diversity. In fact, the format is arguably even more narrow than before. It simply traded one meta tyrant for another. Sludge Warlock looks out of control across ladder and might only have one effective challenger at top legend going forward. Let’s dig into the details, since they’re important.
- Looking at things objectively, Sludge Warlock is significantly more broken today than Aggro Paladin was two weeks ago. We’ve already concluded in our last report, before the balance changes, that it was going to become superior to both Aggro Paladin and Treant Druid without any balance changes. Currently, Sludge’s matchup spread exhibits no counters, with the deck looking dominant across ladder. At top legend, it is the best performer, by far. Aggro Paladin, before the balance patch, was headed to a Tier 3 placement at the top legend bracket.
- There is one deck that is becoming a notable challenger to Sludge Warlock at top legend, which is Control Warrior. A specific build of the archetype looks like a real Sludge Warlock counter, so we expect data for this matchup to start moving in the Warrior’s direction. That should help curb Sludge’s dominance to some degree and narrow the performance gap between these two decks, but we doubt that will significantly help the rest of the field.
- Insanity Warlock has not gained much traction this patch at higher levels of play. Understandably, it has a poor matchup into Sludge Warlock and it’s currently not beating Control Warrior as consistently as it would like. However, we suspect a small adjustment in its build can turn the Warrior matchup into a clearly favored one.
- Control Warrior looks quite strong thanks to productive refinement. This process is far from over, so we expect a further rise in its performance and momentum over the next week. It has two very promising builds that serve different roles, which we detail in the class section. It is the best option in the format if your focus is on beating Sludge Warlock. Its matchup against Plague DK should also significantly improve once its optimal build takes over. We expect Sludge Warlock and Control Warrior to establish themselves as the dominant duo: Warlock sets the tone for the early game, while Warrior now possesses the dominant late game.
- Reno Warrior is in a strange spot. When you look at its matchup spread, the deck seems to be on the brink of becoming overpowered and almost impossible to counter. The heavy nerfs to Druid and Rogue have opened up space for it to thrive. But, its matchup spread has two very dark red boxes: Sludge Warlock and Plague DK. Those happen to be two of the most popular decks in the format, so they carry a lot of weight, causing Reno Warrior’s win rate to drop under 50% at legend ranks. Control Warrior is superior at higher levels of play partly because it handles these matchups better.
- Plague DK is generally having a good time in the format, especially early in the patch when it could farm Reno Warrior and unrefined Control Warrior decks with impunity. The transition from Reno to Control Warrior will likely make things more difficult for Plague DK going forward, as a refined Control Warrior may not even lose this matchup. Moreover, Plague DK always exceeds our expectations when it comes to its low skill ceiling. This format is one of the least complex ones we’ve ever seen in terms of decision making, yet Plague DK continues to get outplayed at higher levels of play. It’s quite possible that the deck will fall to Tier 3 at top legend by next week.
- Rainbow DK is finally a competitive component of the format. Initially, we thought it would be slightly worse than Plague DK, but Rainbow DK has been able to carve an advantage in the matchup between the two decks. Its matchup spread is generally stronger than Plague’s, but the tipping point is our estimate that Rainbow DK should not lose any ground in the Warrior matchup during Control Warrior’s refinement process. This means that Rainbow DK should find itself in a superior position in the format compared to Plague DK, across all levels of play.
- What the data tells us about Excavate Rogue is that Shattershambler iterations of the deck are not competitive anymore. They are dead. The question is whether Excavate Rogue can adjust its build to overcome the balance changes. Secret Excavate Rogue seems to do better, but might not be strong enough to stick. Within the Excavate cluster, we did identify a build direction that could help the archetype recover to some degree. Is it going to be a top tier deck? Nowhere near, those days are over. However, a refined Excavate Rogue could be closer to a 50% win rate than it is to 47%. We’ll have to see where it lands, because there are other moving parts in the format that could affect it.
- Generally, all other experiments in the Rogue class look weak. We did quite a bit of work collecting the most promising directions that may birth breakthroughs from these failed experiments.
- Naga DH has attracted a lot of complaints from players over the past week, a result of its rise in play. However, the deck has actually gotten weaker after the balance changes. The biggest factor that has led to its decline in performance is Control Warrior. This matchup is very bad and might get even worse with Control Warrior’s continuing development. Ironically, Naga DH looks better at lower rank brackets, where the presence of Control Warrior isn’t high.
- Another factor is the shift in the Sludge Warlock matchup. We remember Naga DH looking favored pre-patch, yet now it has become slightly unfavored in the matchup. Sludge Warlock’s refinement, mostly the increase in popularity of Forge of Wills, had made the execution of Sharpshooter turns more difficult than before. Naga DH even loses to Rainbow DK. As it stands, we don’t expect Naga DH to increase its presence. It’s simply not a great choice to queue into the developing format.
- Aggro Paladin still performs at a strong level outside of top legend, yet it now pales in comparison to Sludge Warlock. Everything that Paladin does, Warlock does better, which makes it difficult to justify Paladin as a choice. The disappearance of the Ramp Druid matchup has been significant in Paladin’s loss of purpose. Moreover, Paladin’s performance is going through a decline across ladder, since it has no scope for improvement through refinement. At higher levels of play, it is sinking very quickly, with the Control Warrior matchup becoming increasingly difficult. A Tier 4 placement for Aggro Paladin at top legend is quite possible next week.
- Ramp Druid has been completely destroyed. The iterations that were born following the launch of the mini-set are completely dead. Attempts to adjust to the balance changes aren’t showing promise either. Reno Druid looks weak based on its very low sample. As it stands, Ramp Druid strategies look dusted. Can things change with discoveries? Of course, but unlike Excavate Rogue, we don’t even have a lead currently.
- Treant Druid looks competitively irrelevant. Aggro Paladin still produces good results on the climb to legend, but Treant Druid doesn’t even stand out at lower ranks of ladder. The nerfs have been incredibly harsh on the archetype, one that wasn’t too popular and needed to be strong to attract an audience. If it can’t be strong, then why would anyone ever play it over Sludge?
- Dragon Druid is another deck that’s fine on the climb, falls off hard at higher levels of play and struggles to attract an audience because, quite frankly, most players think it’s boring. On paper, Druid is seemingly viable, but if barely anyone wants to play a deck, does it matter if it exists?
- Over the past year, Hearthstone has been full of low shelf life decks that struggled to see play for long, while compelling strategies have been repeatedly nerfed for their popularity. It’s as if they were punished for being designed well, for hitting on flavor and feel to the point they were attractive. We believe that the balancing strategy that influenced the last patch, as well as other patches before it, creates a natural selection that is counterproductive to the game’s health, since it’s more likely to nerf fun, than effectively address power imbalances. Ramp Druid is an attractive archetype that doesn’t need to be powerful to be popular. It can keep a large number of players interested and engaged at a 49% win rate. Dragon Druid is an unattractive archetype that needs to be a Tier 1 performer for anyone to even care about it. Ramp Druid makes for braver and better design. A balancing philosophy that nukes Ramp Druid and leaves Dragon Druid as the sole option for a class is one that has its priorities messed up.
- Reno Priest is not completely terrible at top legend because it actually has a good matchup against Control Warrior. Across the rest of ladder, it’s not well refined and the Warrior population isn’t as high, so the deck looks unplayable. Based on their low samples, we don’t see much promise in other Priest decks. Naga Priest might be alright.
- Totem Shaman, Arcane Hunter and Reno Hunter are the same type of decks as Dragon Druid. Low agency, low shelf life, low interest. These decks can’t carry classes for more than a couple of months. Meanwhile, Rainbow Mage, one of the most well designed and attractive decks of the past year, lies in a pool of its blood. Reno Shaman is dead. The current format is a graveyard.
Class Analysis & Decklists
Sludge Warlock sits alone at the top of the format, at least for now.
The Forge build has proven to be extremely powerful. Its mid-game power spike is very effective against many of the popular decks in the current format. Having more threats is also good against Control Warrior, which should develop into the only reliable counter to Sludge.
We’ve only changed one card in the list we settled on before the patch, which is swapping out the 2nd Tram Mechanic for the 2nd Furnace Fuel. The drastic transition from a Druid dominated format into a Warrior dominated format has increased the emphasis on card draw. Furnace Fuel has gone from a weak card before the patch into an acceptable one.
The only other question mark in the list is Monstrous Form, with some players preferring Flame Imp. Our reason for leaving out Flame Imp is that it’s mulligan bait. The Forge variant of Sludge Warlock is not desperate to find 1-drops. The deck has a greater chance of winning if it finds Disposal Assistant, Sludge on Wheels, and Forge of Wills, even at the cost of skipping turn 1. Beyond these three mulligan priorities, only Miracle Salesman and Baritone Imp represent good mulligan keeps (and Waste Remover if you already have Forge of Wills). Monstrous Form is therefore superior to Flame Imp, as it’s stronger at the later stages of the game.
Though most of the focus is on Sludge, Insanity Warlock might be an underrated deck in the format. We’re a bit surprised that high legend players haven’t tried this deck more, as we believe it can become a reliable Warrior counter that rewards decision making. Our thoughts on the build have changed, as the focus on beating Warrior means that card draw becomes more valuable than stalling. Soulfreeze doesn’t seem as strong anymore. Glacial Shard is still strong because of Odyn. Furnace Fuel goes in, because even its Arcane Intellect form is acceptable now.
The featured build is the most popular one, with one high confidence adjustment. Shallow Grave is becoming a more popular inclusion to increase the damage potential of the finishing combo (by using it on the Lady Darkvein Shade). We think there’s serious merit to the card in the pursuit of a stronger Warrior matchup. We’ve dropped a copy of Chaotic Consumption for it (removal is less important against Warrior). Reno/Finley are considered “sus”, but we left them alone for now. We want to see the curated impact of a single Shallow Grave on the Warrior matchup compared to the Standard build.
Control Warrior is the only threat to Sludge Warlock at the top of the format. We’ve identified two builds that show great promise, each for their own reasons.
The first build is the full Excavate Renathal variant. This is the most well-rounded version of Control Warrior, as well as the most reliable counter to Sludge Warlock. This build doesn’t even lose to Plague Death Knight, so it’s perfectly geared to compete across all levels of play with great effectiveness. The featured build was piloted by many top players with great success. It’s hard to disagree with any of its card choices. If the meta had more aggressive decks, a 2nd copy of Sanitize might have been correct, but the current field doesn’t call for it.
The second build is the fast cycling 30-card build, with full focus on Odyn as its win condition. Initially, this Acolyte/Aftershock shell ran Brann/Boomboss as its win condition, but Odyn looks far superior to this approach.
This build is worse against both Sludge Warlock and Plague Death Knight. Generally, this build is going to be weaker against most opponents because its defensive tools are weaker. Its specialty is the Warrior mirror, thanks to its ability to beat other Warrior decks in the Odyn race. Against a field that’s dominated by Warrior, perhaps more commonly seen at top legend, we see more merit to busting it out.
One mistake we suspect players are making when building this variant is running only one copy of From the Depths. FTD is the deck’s strongest card in the mulligan phase. It does get weaker at the later stages of the game, but we’re quite confident that you want two copies of it to increase your chances of landing it on turn 3. It’s hard to believe that the 2nd copy of your top mull target is somehow worse than the 2nd copy of Slam.
The other very clear conclusion is that Verse Riff is better than Shield Slam even without any other Riffs being played. Removal is not the name of the game. Damage is. Verse Riff is a very strong enabler of Razorfen Rockstar post-Odyn. If you want to kill other Warriors with the greatest consistency, you want to maximize damage.
The best Reno Warrior build is the Odyn variant. This isn’t surprising, considering we’ve already established before the patch that this list performs better against Plague Death Knight, on top of Odyn becoming a crucial piece in Warrior mirrors. The ETC/Boomboss/Gatekeeper win condition was mostly relevant against Ramp Druid, an archetype that’s been killed off.
ETC is being greatly misutilized in this deck. Most players treat it as a tech card hub, with Steamcleaner, Viper and Brawl. Note that ETC running Steamcleaner is not even a good card in the Plague Death Knight matchup. You win that matchup by killing them with Odyn or the Azerite Ox, not spending 9 mana on Steamcleaner. Run strong battlecry minions inside of ETC to take advantage of Brann in other matchups. The 2nd Kobold Miner should always be there.
- Warrior Class Radar
- Control Warrior
- Reno Warrior
Plague Death Knight’s best build has long been established, though the decline of Paladin and Treant Druid has made Hardcore Cultist less crucial of an inclusion. Some players dare to cut it for Pile of Bones, which has never been a great card, but carries some upsides against Warlock/Warrior. We can’t say it’s an upgrade, but it’s not entirely crazy.
We’re very happy with the Rainbow Death Knight build we’ve settled on before the patch. This list is doing great work in the current meta. Plague Strike is the best card that’s not included in the build. It doesn’t make the cut because it’s terrible against Warrior, which we suspect is going to present the biggest problem for Rainbow DK going forward. Card draw is crucial against Warrior, so we prefer keeping Chillfallen Baron in the deck.
Mulligan advice: Mining Casualties is this deck’s Boogie Down.
- Death Knight Class Radar
- Plague Death Knight
- Rainbow Death Knight
- Blood-Ctrl Death Knight
Shattershambler iterations of Excavate Rogue can no longer compete. The archetype has been floundering since the patch, but recent findings indicate it could still be competitive, albeit at a much lower power level.
Ironically, the result is that Scourge Illusionist may become a more obnoxious card for opponents, as the best direction for Excavate Rogue after the patch is to drop Shattershambler for Thunderbringer. This means that Illusionist can either find us a 0-cost Drilly, or imitate its antics in Mech Rogue, where it finds us a 4-mana Thunderbringer. Crabatoa and Neptulon are the Thunderbringer targets.
A Secret Excavate Rogue deck has produced reasonable results, but its ceiling looks noticeably lower than the Thunderbringer approach.
A similar Thunderbringer approach could also help revive Wishing Rogue, but there are some signals that the archetype could be better off sacking the Excavate package. We’re featuring the most promising builds for each approach.
Miracle Rogue running Triple Seven is another attempt by high-level players to revive the class. Initial results look very poor, though there is some room for improvement. Quick Pick doesn’t seem great in this deck.
- Rogue Class Radar
- Excavate Rogue
- Wishing Rogue
- Secret Rogue
- Miracle Rogue
- Mech Rogue
It’s likely that the power perception for Naga Demon Hunter has grown after the patch, since it’s become more popular, but the deck is currently struggling to deal with the rise of Control Warrior at top legend.
Some players are experimenting with Big Demon Hunter. The most popular list for this archetype runs one copy of Load the Chamber. The card’s performance suggests a second copy is highly advised. Finley bad.
- Demon Hunter Class Radar
- Naga Demon Hunter
- Big Demon Hunter
No major developments in Paladin. The best Aggro Paladin build continues to run the full excavate package. Boogie Down is still your best mulligan target, but much of the card’s power has been noticeably shaved off.
- Paladin Class Radar
- Aggro Paladin
- Reno Paladin
- Earthen Paladin
Druid is in a state of shock. Ramp Druid has been decimated. Treant Druid struggled to compete. Dragon Druid is the best of the three.
We’ve done an extensive search on promising Druid decks, but we haven’t found anything compelling yet. It’s possible that things will emerge over the next week, but so far, no dice. Nerfed iterations of Ramp Druid look terrible. Reno Druid is barely noticeable. The best option currently looks like the Topior Druid deck from before Deepholm’s launch, but its performance is uninspiring.
- Druid Class Radar
- Treant Druid
- Dragon Druid
- Topior Druid
Things initially looked grim for Reno Priest, but Warrior’s transition from Reno to Control is an encouraging sign. For this format, Reno Priest wants to be greedier and more proactive. Threats are a better tool to combat Warrior than removal, so an Elise build makes more sense.
Mage is the worst class in the game. Rainbow Mage looks completely unplayable. Secret Mage is garbage. Some players are trying to revive Naga Mage. Its top legend win rate is around 40%.
Reno Shaman is a poor choice for this format. It’s basically a watered-down version of Reno Warrior. Avoid.
Totem Shaman is fine at low MMR ladder, but competitively irrelevant.
The Hunter class might have been designed into a corner, where it doesn’t see play unless it’s the very best thing to do. Currently, it’s far from being the best thing to do.
- Hunter Class Radar
- Reno Hunter
- Arcane Hunter
Sludge Warlock is broken. Control Warrior is developing into the second dominant deck in the format. If you’re looking for an effective and consistent ladder climb, run the Renathal build. The cycling 30-card build has its specific niche.
Win conditions have been gutted to the point Odyn is back to the front of the queue. At this pace, we’ll be hearing loud demands to nerf Deepminer Brann to 7-mana before long. We’re looking forward to the next developments in Hearthstone’s complaint meta.
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