Arena Matchups: Killing Uther
In the Arena Matchup series, we take a broad overview of the most powerful and most popular cards and combos each class runs in the Arena, and we discuss how and to what degree we should play around these cards. More importantly, we analyze the weaknesses of each class and outline a plan of attack to best bring down each opponent.
It is fitting that we start with the Paladin class, represented by Uther Lightbringer, as it is the Arena class with some of the most powerful value cards, and also some of the most well-defined weaknesses.
We will discuss how we can minimize the value of those powerful common class cards, and fully exploit the structural vulnerabilities of the Arena Paladin.
ADWCTA’s 10-Point Checklist
- Play 2/3s over 3/2s into his turn 2.
- Remove his first 2-drop, if possible.
- Don’t stupidly play into Truesilver / Consecration before his turn 4.
- Hold small/mid removal to mop up after Blessing of Kings, Seal of Champions, and Murloc Knight if your board looks weak.
- Drop 5+ health minions, then protect them as much as possible.
- Don’t respect Noble Sacrifice early game; don’t trigger Avenge/Redemption until you’re ready.
- Remember the Guardian of Kings. Don’t over-commit to the 2-turn lethal.
- Blessing of Wisdom on your minion is *not* a removal! Trade it for tempo.
- Silver Hand Recruits “taunt” 2 damage each, for fair value; you should usually let it taunt 3 to be safe, but consider going face at 4 after testing for buffs.
- Kill Uther.
For general Arena gameplay strategies, and explanations of the terms used (like “tempo”), check out my On Mastery of Arena series here.
The Dead Zone
The Paladin is notorious for having a very lackluster early game, with the exception of a few premium cards. He can drop creatures, and play secrets. That’s it. No common removals (Seal of Light aside). The most serious threats you’re going to see from a Paladin this early are Shielded Minibot and the Argent Protector + anything combo. Because both cards are incredibly popular, some 33%+ of Paladin decks you face will be able to start this way. If Uther’s 2-drop is the Shielded Minibot or a 2/3, dropping a 2/3 yourself to match will work wonders. But, assuming the 2-drop is a 3/2 and you do not happen to have a Haunted Creeper. . . You will not be able to play around these cards. This combo will give the Paladin a 1-card advantage and a superior board position (+1.5 tempo). You will start the game at a significant disadvantage, and this is the “weak” part of the Paladin’s game!
Argent Protector. This combo “starts” whenever your opponent coins out a 2-drop or plays a 1- or 2-drop going first on his turn before you coin. So, this combo “starts” a lot. If you only have a 3/2 in your hand, what do you do? Your choices are:
Option #1: Use hero power.
You can pass the turn and just use your hero power, which loses ~2 tempo, and then he’ll play his combo anyway after removing your 1/1, and now he has a divine shield, which you then have to ping (on turn 3, so that’s awkward). Or, you will end up in the same exact place on the board, with the divine shield ready to eat whatever you drop. The Paladin can also save the Argent Protector and play a 3-drop instead, putting you even farther behind on the board. Either way, you’ve lost a massive amount of tempo (for the early game), and you’ve only shoved the problem to the future. Not a good idea. And, you don’t know if he even has the damn card. Don’t do this.
Option #2: Play a removal.
If you remove his target, then he can’t make his play! This should be followed up with a strong push for the board as you head into the Danger Zone (see below), or the Paladin will use the Argent Protector later, on a bigger target, to make the same relative impact on the board tempo-wise and card advantage-wise. Weapons are great for this because they have two charges. Backstab is also an obvious choice here. Or, you can use your next turn to play something with high defense and low attack.
Option #3: Let it happen.
This is why you should strongly consider keeping a Forked Lightning or a Cleave or a Consecration in your opening hand against a Paladin if you have it. If you let the Argent Protector play happen and lose a card, you have also unwittingly set up a perfect board for a multi-removal spell. As an alternative, you can also play a premium 3-drop (like Harvest Golem or Scarlet Crusader) on the board, or coin out something with at least 5 health. Because the Paladin has no removal greater than 4 damage, this means you will at least get back half a card. It’s still not great (4-drops are vulnerable to Blessing of Kings), but at least you’re not out of the game just yet. It is disastrous to put out a board removable by other Paladin spells at this point, because the tempo and card advantage loss will usually be too much to recover from.
Shielded Minibot. The Shielded Minibot is even more devastating than Argent Protector if you play a 3/2 to start, or in response. Uther will end his turn 3 with a board of 2/2 and a 3-drop (rather than Argent Protector’s 3/2 and 2/2). The easiest way to play around this card is by playing a 2/3 before he drops his Shielded Minibot. You will be able to either ping off the divine shield the next turn and eat up his minion, or use two turns to trade evenly into it. Not a bad deal trading your mid-value 2-drop for his top-tier 2-drop. In fact, this line of play is so devastating, and the Shielded Minibot / Argent Protector start is so commonly seen at high win rates, that we would go so far as to recommend coining out a 2/3 even if you have no follow up (as Paladin, Mage or Druid; as Rogue you would reverse order and set up the dagger first). For the same reason, playing 1/4s to start against the Paladin is preferable to 3/2s. Because the Paladin has no hero power, your 1/4 will trade evenly with 3/2s, and absorb two hits from Shielded Minibot / Argent Protector. It’s still bad, but less bad than a 3/2. You will see the Shielded Minibot / Argent Protector start more frequently than you will see the Paladin play a 2/3.
Of course, if all is right in the world, the Paladin will not have either of the above starts, and you can feel secure in knowing he won’t be able to remove any of your minions until after your turn 3, meaning you can set up favorable trades on the board or combo/value pieces and be confident that things will turn out as planned. Therefore, these two starts aside, it should be very common to head into turn 4 against a Paladin with solid control of the board. It is important to control the board early against a Paladin if possible, because the Paladin’s mid-game is incredibly strong with top Arena multi-removals like Truesilver Champion and Consecration.
The Stupid Zone
While most players talk about the powerful 4-mana cards the Paladin has (which we’ll get to in the next section), what has really fueled the Paladin’s rise since the classic meta is the introduction of a new dangerous zone in the Paladin’s game, the 3-mana turn. We’ve dubbed it the “Stupid” zone, because unlike the turn 2 “Dead” zone or the turn 4 “Danger” zone, there is simply no good way to play around the cards in this Zone for 95%+ of decks you will be using in the Arena. Therefore, the Paladin WILL end up with the board if any of the following cards are played here, and there is usually nothing we can do about it. The two cards in this spot are Muster for Battle and Seal of Champions.
Muster for Battle. This card deals 7 damage for 3 mana, cannot be fully cleared by any one removal in the entire game, and trades positively with every 3 mana AND 4 mana card in the game. Rarely is there a card we completely ignore, but this card is so broken on turn 3 (and many other turns) that there is nothing else to be done here. At least this card is a rare, so you’ll only see it half the time you see a Truesilver or Murloc Knight.
Seal of Champions. This card allows for anything remaining on the board to remove anything we put on the board, and then end up with enough attack to remove our NEXT drop as well. Because we are always trying to clear the Paladin’s board in the beginning of the game, any failure to do so is punished even harder with the introduction of this card, and there is nothing we can do that we haven’t already tried. Whereas Argent Protector’s power drops when we are able to play higher health to attack ratio minions (what is commonly done after turn 2 in any case), Seal of Champions breaks through anything we put on the board that does not require two hits. Therefore, in cases where it is possible, we should play cards that require two hits to remove rather than a minion with higher health. Later in the game, Seal of Champions functions nearly identically to the Blessing of Kings, but for 1 mana cheaper. As is always the case, it is extremely important to keep spot removals against the Paladin and to only use them when absolutely necessary.
The Danger Zone
Truesilver Champion, Consecration and their step-siblings Blessing of Kings and Hammer of Wrath make up the formidable lineup of ridiculous 4-mana Paladin spells. You can bank on your opponent having at least one, if not two of these in his hand when his 4-mana turn comes. Survival depends on playing around these cards to the exact right degree, no more, no less. Between evenly-valued decks, your play on the turn before the Paladin has 4-mana will often determine the outcome of the entire game.
Hammer of Wrath. Let’s start with an easy one. You don’t play around the Hammer of Wrath. Hammer of Wrath is anti-tempo, as it spends 4 mana to either weaken one of your minions, or to remove something costing 3 mana or less. At some point, if he has this card, you will suffer a loss in card advantage. If he wants to sacrifice his tempo on the board so early in the match, you should welcome this with open arms.
Blessing of Kings. You should always know exactly how scared you should be of this card based on your deck and board position. Like Seal of Champions, a Blessing of Kings used to remove one of your creatures leaves the Paladin with a very large creature on the board (at least 5 attack, if used on a 1/1 Silver Hand Recruit). That doesn’t just get the Paladin a card, but it also puts you in a poor spot where you cannot drop anything large the next turn (as explained below, you always want to drop large things on the Paladin). So, that’s a pretty bad situation to be in. But, you don’t have to be afraid of this card if you already have a small minion on the board that you can remove his newly buffed minion with (remember, Paladins have no cheap removal), or if you have a cheap removal in your hand yourself. Starting on turn 5, the 2-mana + 3-mana card option really opens up a lot of ways to recover from these buff cards, in a way generally not available on turn 4 after a Seal of Champions. With both a large and small minion on the board, if he buffs any minion besides a 1/1 token, you will trade evenly in both card advantage and tempo by your next turn. That relegates his top-value card to average value. On the other hand, if you do not have a small threat on the board and also no small removal, then you should play every turn assuming that any of his minions can be buffed by +4/+4 and play very conservatively, at least until he passes up a good buff opportunity for a lesser play.
Truesilver Champion. Things will always be bad here if you don’t have an Acidic Swamp Ooze. Drop minions with more than 4 health, or divine shield or deathrattle effects, if you can. This is like a 2-step Flamestrike that comes out on turn 4/5. Play around it the same way and just be happy the Paladin’s hero power doesn’t ping. If you absolutely cannot play around it without completely wrecking your tempo, try to limit Truesilver’s value by making sure you have large minions to drop the next turn or multiple small minions. He’ll still gain tempo and maybe a card, but with cards like these, you’ll have to be happy with minimizing the damage.
Consecration. This is by far the easiest card to play around for turn 4; just don’t have multiple 2-health minions. It’s after turn 4 that continuously playing around this card begins to cramp your style. You know those good trades you try to do where you leave your minion with 1-2 health? Well, against a Paladin, you shouldn’t make those “good” trades if 1) he drops a minion obviously expecting you to make that trade when you already have a 2-health minion on the board or 2) you can’t effectively rebuild your board if he uses Consecration and drops a small minion on the same turn. A Consecration is nothing but a tempo-inefficient removal taking up a valuable spot in your opponent’s hand if you make a couple of mild adjustments to your game to play around it. On the other hand, board tempo is so important that if you cannot keep enough tempo on the board (and/or in your hand) to deal with a Murloc Knight the next turn without playing into the Consecration, then it is correct to play into the Consecration, as you can rebuild the next turn. Losing cards is okay against a Paladin if it means you keep the board.
Too Many Fish
The Grand Tournament expansion unleashed a torrent of fish into the Arena meta with one card, the Murloc Knight. If left unchecked for even one turn, the Murloc Knight will provide significant card advantage and tempo value for the Paladin, and anything more than one extra turn on the board typically means that we have lost the game. This is one of the biggest snowball cards in the game, and its effectiveness highlighted one of the biggest flaws in the way most players played against the Paladin. Widely hailed as one of the best common cards in the game, the Murloc Knight is hardly unstoppable. In fact, the proper way to play around this card is something players should be doing anyway against the Paladin: holding back a removal and/or keeping a strong board. All Murloc Knight accomplishes is to punish players who do not do this (or cannot do this) harsher than before. Murloc Knight has become the first minion in Hearthstone Arena that players absolutely need to always consider playing around, much the same way we are all used to playing around spells like Flamestrike.
The Murloc Knight, once it comes onto the board on turn 6+ creates 3 minions (perhaps 4 if it is dropped later with another minion). This means that we should always be prepared for Paladin to flood the board. In order to do that, we must keep a wide board if possible at all times, even at the risk of playing into a Consecration. Consecration takes 4 mana, and allows us to set up a larger board the next turn. Murloc Knight snowballs into a win if left unchecked. Even if both cards are seen equally frequently, one’s effect is far more devastating, and so we should play around the Murloc Knight before we play around the Consecration.
Further, to prepare for Murloc Knight, we should be dropping large minions earlier, when we still have the board, and saving smaller minions for later, after the Murloc Knight is played. One of the biggest swings in the game happens when the Murloc Knight is played with 2 other minions and a hero power. Since we typically cannot keep 4 minions on the board, even if we successfully remove the Murloc Knight, the Paladin is guaranteed a target to buff, which is devasting if we drop a mid-sized or larger minion in response. Against a Paladin our large minions are so valuable (explained in the next section), that we should view the flow of the game as a seesaw. Drop big minions through turn 6, wait for Murloc Knight, then flood the board ourselves to remove all the small minions, then drop big minions again. It typically only takes one spot removal on top of the flow to guarantee that your board does not get wrecked by a buff-swing 2 for 1 or completely lose the board. Note that the small minions are played only in response to Murloc Knight, so our overall gameplan of favoring large minions has not actually changed. Once again, Murloc Knight is only punishing bad play / greed (or lack of answers) harsher than normal. It does not add an extra dimension to the Paladin’s game.
Playing against the Paladin is all about using your resources wisely to box the Paladin into sub-optimal situations and preserving your ability to counter their stronger players. Uther’s cards are powerful in effect, but they all follow the same predictable patterns that we can prepare for with any decent deck/draw. This rigidness of the Paladin’s game allows a knowledgeable player to nullify the extra value Paladin’s strong class cards receive and level the playing field.
A Fear of Fatness
With so many almost-guaranteed card-advantage cards, and the best hero power for top-decking situations in the game, how do we actually beat a well-played Paladin? Turns out, it’s surprisingly simple. The Paladin’s biggest weakness is a 5+ health minion. . . any 5+ health minion. The Paladin is the only class that has absolutely no non-combo, non-buff way to deal with large minions. That’s right, almost everything you put down with 5+ health will get you a 2-for-1 on the Paladin (a quality usually reserved for top class cards). This means that our job throughout the mid-game and beyond is simply to keep at least one minion on the board at all times with 5 or more health, while saving our mid/large removals for things with 5+ attack. This includes making worse trades than is otherwise ideal to keep a minion at 5+ health.
For example, if you have a Bloodfen Raptor and a Chillwind Yeti, and you need to remove an Ironfur Grizzly, you should use the Bloodfen Raptor to attack instead of the Chillwind Yeti. If you used the Yeti, you allow the Paladin the opportunity to flip the board the next turn (Consecration), or in the next two turns (Truesilver). By keeping a minion at 5+ health, you will always have the initiative on the board against the Paladin. So, starting on turn 4, we should be looking to get a 5-health minion on the board asap, and keep dropping them whenever we can. We probably have significantly more 5+ health minions in our deck than the Paladin has top class cards. So, the game will naturally shift to our favor over time.
Ultimately, the Paladin wins or loses the match on the board, and has no good way to re-take the board quickly if it is ever lost. Even if our deck is a faster deck with a lower curve, we can pick the right time to turn our tempo advantage on the board into face damage by dropping a 5+ health minion that he can’t remove in one turn, preferably with taunt, and it’s game over for Uther. Although a Paladin can heal, his main healing card (Guardian of Kings) takes up the entire turn, so we can just attack past it with our board.
The Cheapest Secrets
Paladins also have secrets. . . sort of. Paladin secrets are never particularly scary, or even all that tricky. They cost one mana, and that’s about how much they’re really ever worth. But, because they are infrequently played, many Arena players misplay their hand when secrets come out by respecting the secret too much, at the cost of tempo. Remember, these guys only cost the Paladin one mana! If you play around them and lose 1-2 mana’s worth of tempo, then your opponent has already gotten solid value out of that typically low-value card. Especially considering that a Paladin actually needs tempo on the board to remove anything with 5+ health, it is extra important not to give up this board tempo so easily. Therefore, the general strategy is to not play around Paladin secrets, except in extreme potential value-loss situations (e.g. attacking with a Cult Master, playing a Fen Creeper, or killing a Scarlet Crusader).
When attempting to play around an early Noble Sacrifice, always keep in mind the tempo loss of a fake-out. For example, on an otherwise empty board with your Bloodfen Raptor and a Paladin secret, using the Druid hero power to attack his face will lose 2 mana’s worth of tempo if it is not a Noble Sacrifice, and he still has a Redemption/Repentance out to further boost his tempo on a later turn. This is a huge swing in the game!
On the other hand, trading your Bloodfen Raptor in will only lose 1 tempo even if it does turn out to be a Noble Sacrifice. So, if you’re playing an early tempo game, it is usually better *not* to play around this card in the early game with your Druid hero power. The next question is, assuming you do not have a weapon, do you even attack with your Bloodfen Raptor? A Noble Sacrifice will effectively taunt 5 face damage and set up for a Consecration if you do not trade in your Bloodfen Raptor this turn (assuming you play a 3/3 minion). So, unless you have a particularly appropriate minion to drop, like a Harvest Golem or something with 1 attack, it is still not an awful play to make the trade, depending on your deck’s win conditions. This also allows you to feel safer that the secret is not a Repentance, although early game is generally not the best time to play that secret.
The more problematic secrets to deal with are Avenge and Redemption. These cards will almost always get more tempo than the one mana it costs. Further, it triggers on the play you most want to do, which is to remove the Paladin’s minions. Fortunately, neither of these secrets will trigger unless you kill a minion, so you can easily leave it alone for a turn or three if you can’t deal with its effects this turn. Unless the board is very wide with many minions, it is not worth it to play into the Avenge/Redemption for fear of Competitive Spirit (a mediocre rare card that is rarely seen). Further, Avenge will not trigger if you kill everything at once, so see if you can damage some minions to set up for a mass removal. More often than not though, you won’t have the perfect setup for a mass removal before you would lose the board from not taking good trades. So, assuming you don’t have lethal, you want to pick your spot to trigger the Avenge instead of triggering it right away. You want to control which minion gets the Avenge effect and set up for your large removal to get 2 for 1 card advantage value, or for your high-attack low-health minion to trade. In strict tempo terms, Avenge is tempo-neutral if you can let it sleep for one turn, which means with Avenge on the board, it is only correct to trade in the early game if you’re getting 1+ mana of tempo value from the trade.
A good way to tell whether a secret is Avenge or Redemption is to see if Uther uses his hero power. Redemption is awful on a Silver Hand Recruit, so if the Paladin is using its hero power, it’s a good bet it’s Avenge and not Redemption.
Giving Uther Cards
Finally, Uther will sometimes use his Blessing of Wisdom card on your minions. When this happens, most players will leave their newly blessed minion for dead, ignoring that it’s even on the board. This is a mistake! The Paladin gives you the option for how to shape the game when he blesses your minion. Let’s take a deeper look at what exactly Blessing of Wisdom does.
Option #1: Leave for dead.
By ignoring your minion, you give the Paladin tempo at the cost of 1 card. Blessing of Wisdom is 1 mana, and your minion likely cost significantly more than that. This means that you are okay with the Paladin gaining extreme tempo value from that card. Are you really okay with that though? Unless you have full control of the game and are starving the Paladin for cards, you would generally prefer to keep the board tempo. Remember, the Paladin wins and loses the game on the board, so holding the board against a Paladin in the mid-game is crucial to victory.
Option #2: Trade it in.
By attacking with your minion to make a trade anyway, you are giving the Paladin the card back, and regaining the use of your minion to trade. Compared to leaving your minion for dead, trading him in will give you a relative tempo advantage to whatever extent your minion was worth (for example, trading a Sea Giant into another Sea Giant would gain you a ton of tempo on the board, and probably limit his ability to get card advantage on you). Sure, you give him the card back, but you’ve gained +8 tempo! Imagine if a 0-mana cost card said “gain 8 mana crystals this turn”. That’s pretty good value. Considering that Blessing of Wisdom costs 1 mana itself, this is actually 9 mana’s worth of tempo. In practice, it’ll probably be your Boulderfist Ogre or Chillwind Yeti that gets Blessing of Wisdom-ed, but a +7 or +5 tempo swing is generally still well worth a card. On the other hand, removing a 1/1 or 2/2 in the late game is probably not worth giving the Paladin a card. In the case of multiple trades, the same tempo considerations apply to each trade. The break-even value for each card is technically 3 tempo (a 4/3 minion) in a vacuum, but the context of the game will change this.
Option #3: Attack the face.
By pretending this card was never played, and using your minion to attack to the face, you are valuing each face-damage as one card. For example, if your Core Hound has Blessing of Wisdom, attacking to the face is the equivalent of playing a Pyroblast in terms of card advantage. If you’re closing in on lethal, it’s probably worth it. The break-even value for a card is technically 4 face damage in a vacuum, but the context of the game will change this.
So, which option should you take? Well, it depends. If the game is going to end because you deal lethal despite your opponent’s card advantage, then you should take Option 3 for face damage. If the game is going to end because your opponent has few cards, and little tempo, and you have a lot of both (unlikely), then you should take Option 1. But, for the most part, you should be taking Option 2 if you’re getting good enough trades. The Paladin wins and loses games on the board, so giving him his card back is generally worth it for the tempo gain.
About the Author
ADWCTA enjoys long runs in the Arena, yelling Lok’tar Ogar! in public places, and thinking deep thoughts about Hearthstone’s game design. He started playing Hearthstone in open beta and has been a top-level Arena player since launch. He averages 8.0+ wins/run with his top 6 classes. He is also a Legend-level Ranked player, but thinks that’s way less awesome than his Arena record.
ADWCTA produces all of his Hearthstone Arena content with fellow infinite Arena player Merps, and together they developed the most-consulted Arena Tier List for all your Arena needs.
ADWCTA & Merps also live stream the “Lightforge” podcast (available on all podcast platforms) with deep discussions about the Arena meta and gameplay techniques, as well as the “Arena Coop” gameplay series, providing in-depth commentary on every pick and play to give the stream a coaching vibe. ADWCTA thinks listening to the Lightforge and watching the Arena Coop is the very best way to improve your game. He may be wrong, but why you take that risk? Check out both series on YouTube, and follow live on Twitch.