Background: I’m a longtime druid player (legend last season with token). I played spellpower druid in the beta, and then took a break until the unleash nerfs, at which point I played druid again until this past week. This month, I played druid ranks 15-7, then mage 7-2 and back to 4, then priest 4-legend. I don’t pretend to know everything about this deck, but people seem interested in what I have to say so I’ll glady share my thoughts.
With the introduction of the Construct Wing, the meta flipped around completely. Zoo appears to be (crosses fingers) dead for now, Hunters are back in full force, and even mage is making an appearance. Priests received the biggest buff since the original changes to northshire, addition of shadow word: death and the like: a doubling up on their useful early game cards. Now, instead of one good turn one play, they have two. The redundancy was huge in fixing a deck with a very awkward curve, in my opinion. Priests have very weak turns 2 and 4, and even 5-6 where holy nova and holy fire come online, spending an entire turn on a spell can be detrimental. Before cultist/chow, early board presence was not fantastic with the exception of very particular openings, and not playing minions until after nova/fire made the deck very susceptible to being rushed down.
(Yes, its only one card off trump’s list, I don’t claim to be an innovator or anything)
Overview of card choices:
Circle of Healing: A Swiss Army Knife in the deck, it functions as a draw spell, a board wipe, a whirlwind, or an “innverate” (turn 3 4/7 blademaster). Would never drop below two copies in the current iteration of the deck.
Holy Smite: Deals quickly and efficiently with undertakers, enemy pyros, and any other low-health minions (Undertaker is absolutely terrifying if you don’t smite it immediately). Oftentimes, I’ll smite a mad scientist turn 2 and then attack with my t1 minion just to clear a trap before there is a chance to even play eaglehorn in the hunter matchup. Smite also gets “spell power” from wild pyro, and wipes haunted creeper with it.
Power Word: Shield: Who doesn’t like 1 mana draw spells? If the current outrage with flare is any indication, cyclers with additional effects for a measly 1 mana are very good. PW:S has the added effects of making your minions extremely resilient, forcing awkward uses of removal (getting hunters marks out of the way early can be huge, this card is also one of the best vs. control warrior in my opinion).
Northshire Cleric: Don’t think I need to explain this card, the screenshots of fatiguing before turn 6 should speak for itself. Never go full Northshire.
Zombie Chow: A removal spell early game and a mind blast late game. Just remember that while it is very strong at 2/3 for 1, hitting face with it can be irrelevant (still do it anyway just in case). Later in the game, don’t play this card without auchenai if you’re trying to whittle down your opoonent and you think they might kill it.
Wild Pyromancer: Functions as powerful aoe removal and potential massive card draw with circle of healing, while being the only playable 2-drop in the deck. It is important to weigh the advantages of playing and losing this card early vs. needing it later, I’ve lost games where I thought it was safe to play pyro only to desperately need one later on. As a general rule, its safe to play one if both are in hand, or if the opponent has no efficient way to remove him, or if you have PW:S. (Kill commanding a pyro is good for us, backstabbing it not so much).
Shadow Word: Death: Obvious synergy with Sylvanas and general removal for anything that gets out of hand. Again, it can be important to hold onto this card, but if you would waste multiple cards removing a big card just blow this instead. Only one copy is being run right now due to the non-existence of decks like handlock (one of the effects I actually don’t mind from the hunter meta, that deck is just scary to deal with). Space is also an issue, and dropping to one copy of most of the removal in the deck was necessary to fit the newer cards like cultist.
Thoughtsteal: Really shines vs. control, it also can be fairly daunting to play against because the possible cards your opponent has to consider you having double. It is farily week turn 3, as it does nothing to develop board, but considering the most common matchup, hunter, consists of playing 1-attack minions early on its more often than not safe. My preffered turn to play this card is 5+, so I can either pyro-steal or play something else more relevant.
Dark Cultist: Yeah, its really good. Its the card people noticed immediately upon naxx being spoiled and for good reason. Sometimes, you want to save your cultist for later than turn 3, because of the chances of forcing the deathrattle to go off, but most of the time its a no-brainer to just slam it and let the opponent worry about you playing more minions.
Injured Blademaster: While technically a worse yeti (avoid playing this as a 4/3 whenever possible), its still a draw turn 6 with northshire, and opening this with cleric and circle is usually overwhelming. It is a “power card” in the sense that its enough of a nuisance to kill that you can potentially force out that much needed removal for rag, etc.
Auchenai Soulpriest: Better now than ever, and it was really good. I wish I could run Farseers with this card. Its nearly a yeti, its the only card in the game that lets you choose what to ping every turn, and it’s necessary to wipe with circle.
Holy Nova: Less relevant than it was. It is definitely good but often eats up an entire turn, and I usually have no qualms burning this on a minion as needed. Ideally it lets you trade down minions then finish off the opponent’s while buffing yours, but that’s pretty rare.
Azure Drake: Value card that is ridiculous once stabilized. I cut one for loatheb because I wanted the curve to remain the same.
Harrison Jones: Answers eaglehorn and warrior weapons. Ooze is a far less powerful card and in the current meta you can afford to wait until turn 4+ to answer weapons. This deck needs to overwhelm with card advantage and harrison is perfect for doing that while countering specific decks.
Loatheb: I included it recently as a “No, you can’t unleash this turn” card. Hunter requires you keeping a small board presence, generally no more than 2 minions, but if you’re playing chicken with the Hunter and whittling them down, a surprise Loatheb + 2-3 other minions can end the game on the spot. Its also great vs. Miracle, which is an awful matchup. Did I mention it’s also just generally one of the best cards in the game?
Holy Fire: Helpful in keeping you out of Lethal ranges, but way too cloggy at 2. I dislike playing this card on 6 as it doesn’t help you develop your board, but its still removal and if you need it, just play it.
Cabal Shadow Priest: Answers annoying deathrattles (scientist, loot hoarder, harvest) with a +2. One of the strongest cards vs. armorsmith and acolyte, guaranteed to steal at least something vs. paladin (hilarious when you thoughtsteal aldor or humility). Stealing Leokk or Tundra Rhino is always fun too.
Sylvanas Windrunner: This card makes people play horribly (Please don’t drop this vs. an empty board unless you’re massively ahead). Play it vs. 1-2 enemy minions, watch them crash everything or desperately flood the board to try and keep their important minions safe (in which case, auchenai circle can be a blowout). Many players become overly creative in answering a simple 5/5 just to avoid losing a minion. It also obviously plays well with SW:D.
Ragnaros: The penultimate overwhelming advantage card (I’d say ysera is the ultimate “win by smothering them” but it lacks immediate impact and doesn’t fit here). Once you’ve answered all their threats, and put them low on cards, rag provides a clock or an answer to the minion they top each turn. I try to save this as much as possible, but if you need to play it just do so. One of the worst mistakes you can make playing control is to be greedy (“He won’t kill me just yet, if I play this card next turn I get EVEN MORE value”). As a general rule, because I’m running ragnaros, games WILL come down to him hitting the correct thing, and I absolutely hate that. That being said, just pray to rngesus and for amaz to guide your soul, and run it. It’s too good at what it does.
Matchups/Mulligans (can add more, but these are the currently relevant decks from my experience):
Hunter (They all play basically the same way, secrets or no): The defining matchup, its absolutely imperative that you understand how to play against this deck because you’ll see it, A LOT. First off, mull for early minions, keep cultist, injured, northshire, pyro, and chow. Throw back thoughtsteal, and minions and spells over 4 mana. Smite on Mad Scientist + attack baiting a trap before Eaglehorn hits the board can be huge. Early game is important, but only to the extent that you need to make sure you don’t autolose to houndmaster. As you should begin to stabilize, DO NOT leave more than 2 minions on the board. Loatheb is extremely powerful here so save it for a “one-two punch” kill if you can (swing with two minions, play loatheb + swarm, lethal next turn), but don’t be afraid to play it turn 5 if unleash would rip through your board. Harrison eaglehorn, counterunleash them with the buzzard unleash you obviously thoughtstole, flare their own secrets, and pray for only 2 savannah highmanes, webspinner is dumb. I wouldn’t say its particularly a bad matchup, but things can go very wrong here if you don’t play cautiously. Don’t fret about the webspinner games, King Krush will just happen sometimes.
Warrior (Control): Keep 1-3 cost minions and spells (No Circle unless you have blademaster). Ideal openings include anything with power word shield. If they overhwelm you early on, you’ve probably lost, but Cabal on armorsmiths and acolytes can be a huge pain for the warrior, and they lack silences so cultists buffs can be very important. Be efficient in removal of big minions, recognize that if you haven’t seen grom or rag yet and you’ve burned SW:D, the game is probably not going to end well. I’d say this matchup is favorable, but many believe otherwise, its not a particularly easy deck to play so ranks 4-1 you might get free wins just from the warrior misplaying as well.
Rogue (Combo/face): Keep 1-3 cost minions and spells outside of thoughtsteal, and hang on for the ride. Miracle at least lets you get to mid-game, but both matchups are really not favored at all. Vs. aggro, all you can really do is hope to clear his board early, harrison the assassin’s blade, and holy fire asap to stay out of lethal range. Vs. Miracle, punch them early and often with cultists and blademasters, auchenai circle the auctioneer, and hope you can whittle them down before they bust out leeroy jenkes.
Paladin (Control): Keep 1-3 cost minions and spells. This deck has a tendency to do absolutely nothing in early turns, and you can easily bait equality with some of your early minions and a few buffs. Harrison is fantastic here, sylvanas answers tirion (I usually hold auchenai + circle because they will flood the board and pass), and thoughsteal can get you humility which is obviously fun with cabal. Try to keep ragnaros until after both equality are played. Fatigue wars vs. this deck are not pretty, so don’t go there if you can avoid it. I’d say this matchup is slightly favorable.
Warlock (Zoo, Handlock is on vacation thanks to hunter): Keep 1-3 cost minions and spells, no thoughtsteal. Can be easy to stabilize against, especially now with chow/cultist, the main threat is insane reach with leeroy and power overwhelming. Very little can be done if they have the 4-cards to deal 18 damage though, so keep the board clear, go face, and hope for the best. I don’t have much experience with this matchup, especially since it’s really quite uncommon now, but I can attest to how easy it is to stabilize.
Mage (Secrets): Keep 1-3 cost minions and spells outside thoughsteal. They generally play 3 secrets, counterspell, mirror entity, and duplicate. Be aware of them and bait them accordingly. Immediately answer undertaker. Cabal has a field day here. If they are fireballing and ice bolting your minions, they lose all reach, so the game becomes significantly easier. They tend to run 1 flamestrike, so avoid getting blown out by it. Favorable Matchup.
Shaman (All play essentially the same): Keep 1-3 cost minions and spells. Zombie chow = Billy the Totem Slayer Reincarnate. Cabal steals all sorts of fun things, cultist and his buffed friends force hexes, and fire elemental is an easier highmane to answer. I’ve only played 2-3 matches vs. the deck, as its very uncommon at this point, but I wouldn’t say it was particularly challenging to win against.
Druid (ramp/token/combo): Keep 1-3 cost minions and spells, thoughsteal is debatable. Another deck that likes to play big minions while attempting to hang on early game through stuff like innervate. I don’t think this deck is very relevant right now because it has a tough time vs. hunter, but you might face it. 5 Health is very difficult for druid to deal with, luckily we put lots of things with 5+ health on board. Its easy to caught up in the midrange board wars, so pay attention to your life total and be aware of what might kill you with savage roar. Heal face when needed to avoid dying, and you should be able to overwhlem their board because of your hero power keeping your minions resilient to trading.
On keeping Circle of Healing: This card can be incredibly powerful or absolutely useless. Its a keeper with injured or even just northshire, and sometimes it necessitates keeping auchenai if you feel safe enough to sacrifice some potential early game presence. I tend to toss it back though if I see none of the above, just because I’d rather see minions. It comes down to if you feel safe having a potentially dead card in hand for a bit vs. whatever you’re facing.
I’d be happy to answer any other questions, why I didn’t include X card, et cetera. Good luck, and of course: THE LIGHT SHALL BRING VICTORY!