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Last Updated

February 2, 2017

Table of Contents

Building Innovative Decks: A Step-by-Step Guide

Introduction


Hello guys! Welcome to my in-depth deck building guide.  In this guide I am going to build a deck completely from scratch (as opposed to tweaking a well-established archetype).  I hope that the process I show you will be insightful and give you the tools to venture out on your own and create some truly innovative decks.

Before we start I want to make a few basic points:

(1) This guide is long.  And as such, this is NOT a good article to read with your coffee before work.

(2) Pay special attention to the words and terms written in italics.  The reason you should give them ‘special attention’ is because (most of the time) the words/phrases are in some way special. This may mean you need to do further research and/or read the sentence 2-3 times to fully understand what is being said.

(3) My background is Chess. And in chess articles many writers will refer to concepts like space, initiative, counter-play, tempo, etc. often without formally defining them.  The reader is expected to have some innate grasp of the subtleties and nuances of the concept sufficient enough to understand what they are reading.  Part of the reason these concepts are not formally defined is because it is so profoundly difficult to precisely state what is meant by them. In this guide I will do as chess writers do; I will throw lots of concepts at you and I won’t comprehensively define them for you. I hope your intuitive understanding of Hearthstone is good enough to understand what is being said. And if you don’t understand something, there is always the comments section and/or Google :-).

Okay, lets get cracking!


Mission Statement: What are we building and Why


So this is where I make my statement of intent. Players may try and build new decks for a variety of reasons, we can build decks designed specifically to take on daily quests, troll decks, fun decks, proof of concepts, mechanics testing, competitive decks (Ladder and/or Tournament), and so on.

Moreover, concepts like ‘competitive’ can also be further refined. Does ‘competitive’ mean 50% win rate at rank X?  Or by ‘competitive’ do we mean we want to hit #1 legend with it? Or maybe by ‘competitive’ we want to build something that will – as part of a deck line-up– win us a major tournament.

The very first stage of deck building is deciding what success looks like. So lets do that now:

STATEMENT OF INTENT: I want to try and build a deck that is both unique AND competitive.  My definition of ‘competitive’ for this project shall be a 50% win-rate at Rank 4 on ladder. If I fail to do that, then I shall consider the deck itself a failure.

Why set a target of Rank 4 and not Legend?  Basically, this is the price of innovation.  Well established decks like Control Warrior have had thousands of players play and attempt to improve the deck, it has had thousands of brains scrutinising every card and as result it has become a polished gem.  My deck meanwhile has merely had one brain examining it. And although the owner of said brain is ridiculously handsome the fact remains that the other decks out there have had more time and more man power dedicated to their development. Therefore, it is probably foolish to even suppose that the deck I will create will be anywhere near as good as the well established decks out there. And so therefore, I have lowered my expectations accordingly.

So what am I going to try and build?   Well, I wanted to try something truly innovative, outside of the current archetype moulds.  I have decided that I want to try and build a deck centred on the idea of silencing our own minions for fun & profit.  In other words, I am going to try and build a Wailing Soul deck.

When building your own decks, it is important that you get your mission statement right; know ahead of time what you are trying to achieve and understand what the success/failure states look like. Make sure you understand that what you build is more likely to fail than it is to succeed. This can save you a lot of time and heartache in the long run.

Competitive Wailing Soul deck here we come!

 


 

Minor Guide Update (19/02/2015)


Wailing Soul Druid
Class Cards (10)8820
2
Innervate 0
2
Naturalize 1
2
Wrath 2
Savage Roar 3
2
Keeper of the Grove 4
Force of Nature 5
Neutral Cards (20)
2
Ancient Watcher 2
2
Sunfury Protector 2
2
Coldlight Oracle 3
2
Ogre Brute 3
Mind Control Tech 3
King Mukla 3
2
Ironbeak Owl 3
2
Wailing Soul 4
2
Fel Reaver 5
Loatheb 5
Sylvanas Windrunner 6
Dr. Boom 7
Ragnaros the Firelord 8

[UPDATE: 19/02/2015]

On the right hand side of the page you will see a Wailing Soul Druid decklist. This list shouldn’t be here (its some sort of technical problem our end), I would change it back to the correct list but I wrote this guide a while ago now and I can’t remember what should be here!

But, instead of calling it a problem how about we label it an opportunity!?  Why not use the ‘problem’ as an excuse to update the guide and to tell you about “what happened next”?

In the conclusion of this guide I mentioned that I might post an update telling you whether I achieved my goal or not. Well, I can tell you now that I failed to achieve a 50% win-rate at Rank 4. But, I continued to believe in the concept and I continued to work on it. The eventual fruits of that labour is the Druid Decklist on the right. This Druid deck was much more successful than the final Rogue build I post(ed) at the end of this guide. With the Druid, I peaked at I Rank 2 with 50% Win-rate in the January Season. I have since written a guide on how to play that deck which you can view here (note Premium Membership required).  

But anyway, what lessons can we learn from this deck building experience? Well firstly I think my story shows that innovation is difficult — most of the decks we build will fail first-time round. But, if we keep trying, we might just manage to achieve something! Sure, the Rogue deck didn’t live up to the goals I set myself but I persevered and I eventually made a Druid deck that did manage reach (and even exceed) the goals I had set. So the lesson here seems to be “If at first you don’t succeed try and try again…”. 

The second thing we can learn is that, if you look at the Druid list we can clearly see that it is very different from most other Druid lists out there. This, I think, proves that while it might be difficult to build something new and interesting, it is nonetheless possible. Who knows, maybe with a little help from this guide it will be you that builds the ‘next big thing’ to spice up the meta!

Thirdly and finally, after reading the guide you might want to check out the Druid list once more, notice how a lot of theory I taught in this guide influenced the eventual design of the (more successful) Druid build. 

Okay, I think thats enough updating. I’ll let you get back to reading the original article. :)

[END OF UPDATE]


Permission to think crazy!


So, what is the next step to building a wailing soul deck?   Well, a good starting place is to list all the neutral minions we might want to cast Wailing Soul on. At this stage we should cast the net wide; include anything and everything you think might work.   Remember that in hearthstone – and life in general– innovation often starts with a novel– and sometimes crazy– idea.  By going outside of the norm it is entirely possible that you will spot an opportunity that others have missed.  Let the silly ideas flow, drown in the great seas of endless possibility.  The initial crazy eventually gets tempered and refined into something playable (and that will be our next section).

So here is the very first iteration of “the deck” (please note; this list is not intended to be a ‘proper deck’):

Looking through this list you probably see some obvious cards (like Fel Reaver, Ancient Watcher), but also less obvious cards like Gelbin and Doomsayer.  Let’s talk about some of the ‘crazy ideas’ I had for my Wailing Soul deck:

Doomsayer

Okay so here’s the idea; we silence this guy to get ourselves a 0/7 minion.  What could we do with that?   Well, this is the part where we need to be a bit creative, thinking of uses for a 0/7 might not be easy.

As a Priest we could have a turn 7 of Doomsayer + Wailing Soul + Inner Fire combo. In effect we have “made a War Golem”, Blue Peter style.

Another (more simple) idea is to give it taunt. Which is probably worth about 3.5 mana (I arrived at the number by comparing it to the lacklustre  4-drop Mogu'shan Warden)

Ragnaros the Firelord

Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition and neither do Hearthstoner’s expect Señor Del Fuego to stop with the fireballs and go full ‘Chuck Norris’ with his great burning fists of fire.  If nobody is expecting it, then it likely follows that nobody is playing around it. 

In short; Firelord + Wailing Soul = Surprise damage

Gelbin Mekkatorque

If it were possible to choose what Invention Gelbin summoned he would probably be the best legendary in the game. But alas, we can’t choose and so therefore it is sometimes the case that we get a good invention with a bad RNG role, and sometimes we get the worst possible invention. Wailing Soul cannot help with the former problem, but it can turn an unhelpful invention into a 0/X mech.  Talking of mechs…

The Tribes (e.g. Demons, Murlocs, Pirates, etc)

Why might we want to try a tribal theme with Wailing Soul?   Well, the synergy here revolves around the nature of silence; if I silence a Bloodfen Raptor, it still counts as a beast and so therefore Kill Command still does 5 damage.   This bit of information may come in handy later on in the deck building process.

Battlecry’s and Vanilla minions.

Just like the tribes, silencing minions whose effect has already been ‘used up’ is fine.   Silencing Ironfur Grizzly is a value loss (we lose the ‘taunt’ in this case), whereas Stormpike Commando is basically a vanilla minion once his 2 damage ability has been used. Thus silencing the Commando didn’t cost us any value.

This knowledge may come in useful later on. For example, if we pick Druid as our class we now know that the very powerful card Ancient of Lore will do fine in a Wailing Soul deck.

And now we look at the different classes…

Okay, so that’s the neutral cards.  Now we probably want to start look at class specific minions/spells.  We want to see what classes may offer us the best chance to get value out of Wailing Soul. Without further ado:

Turn 10 Force of Nature + Wailing Soul = 3x 2/2 trees that DON’T DIE at end of turn)

Both of these minions have negative card text that we can silence.

See Rogue above.

Power Overwhelming; If we had a 5/5 on board we could use PO on it, kill an 8/8 minion and then use Wailing Soul to silence the effect, which prevents the 5/1 from dying at end of turn.

Anima Golem: see Rogue above.

  • Warrior: none.
  • Hunter: none.
  • Mage: none.
  • Paladin: none.
  • Priest: none.

So, at first glance it seems like Warlock and Rogue are the classes we should look at since they have class cards that have a positive interaction with Wailing Soul. I’ve made up my mind, I’m going Rogue.

So this is my first try at making a Wailing Soul Rogue Deck.  You will notice that I added 2x Youthful Brewmaster (with the idea of bouncing Wailing Soul back for even more silence craziness) and Faceless Manipulator (the idea being that the newly silenced minions can be copied for fun & profit).

But now comes the hard bit; we need to stop and think about all aspects of this deck. The curve is pretty bad and the deck is currently an incoherent mess. If we want to make a deck competitive (i.e. 50% win-rate at Rank 4) we are going to have to sort this out!

So now we need to move onto the next step; we need to start thinking about ways to make this deck stronger and  more coherent.


A list of things to do…


Well, let’s make a quick check list of things we need to (eventually) sort out:

  • We need to give the deck direction and an identity.
  • We need to cut the bad cards.
  • We need to fix the mana curve.
  • We will need to put in some ‘standard class stuff’.
  • We will need to put in card draw.
  • We may need to add a few cards to counter our opponent’s big ideas (e.g. taunts to stop minions, Loatheb to stop their spells, etc.).

That’s a quite lot to get through!   If I gave every bullet point above the time it deserves I’ll be here till Christmas.  But with that said I’ll try and cover as many points as I can (some of which I will only touch on indirectly and/or briefly).

Okay, lets get this party started!


‘Identity’ & ‘direction’


While we know that all the minions in the deck so far work with Wailing Soul, we now need to try and figure out ways to make these cards work with each other.   I’ll start by trying to illustrate the concepts of direction & identity with an example:

So here we see the beginnings of an Undertaker deck; the other two minions are deathrattles, and thus they clearly synergise with Undertaker. All three cards combined give the deck a clear identity; it’s a deathrattle deck.

Direction is, in essence, how all the cards in the deck co-ordinate with each other. With that latter concept in mind, lets ask a question; How do Zombie Chow and Leper Gnome interact with each other? I am sure most of you would have spotted a tension between those two cards; Leper gnome (on account of him being a very damage efficient minion) wants to push the deck in one direction (e.g. a ‘burn face’ deck). Meanwhile, Zombie Chow pulls the deck in the direction of ‘board control’.

If a deck pulls in many directions then the forces basically cancel out and you end up with no direction and no wins.  The work done by Leper Gnome (2+ face damage) is going to be negated by Zombie Chow’s 5 heal. Thus, it is probably better to cut one of those minions and replace it with another 1-drop deathrattle (e.g. Undertaker, Zombie Chow, Leper Gnome and Clockwork Gnome). By making this change the deck has maintained its identity (deathrattles) but has improved its direction.

With this said, Zombie Chow and Leper Gnome are not necessarily always ‘at odds’ with each other; it is possible that a fourth card could enter the fray and unify these opposing forces. As it turns out there is such a card currently in the game; Auchenai Soulpriest turns Zombie Chow into an extremely efficient burn card and so therefore Soulpriest is capable of harmonising Zombie Chow and Leper Gnome. But I digress…

Lets get back on topic. Hopefully the example above has given you a broad sense of what I refer to when I say ‘identity’ and ‘direction’. So now let’s take these concepts and apply it to our Wailing Soul deck.  To make things easier let us summarise the deck in the following way:

Wailing Soul x2
Venture Co Mercenary x 2
[Other random minions] x 26
 

We know that Venture Co. Mercenary works well with Wailing Soul (does it?) so the deck does have some synergy. However, the remaining 26 cards are all minions and so therefore it is also the case that Venture co unfavourably interacts with the overwhelming majority of the deck. In game, this could easily mean that by playing Venture Co on turn five we fail to do anything potent on turn six (play a 3 drop, if we are lucky). So the tempo and pressure Venture co generates on turn five gets negated – to a large extent – by the lack of pressure we can apply on turn six. Just like the Undertaker example above we can consider this a direction problem; we currently have a high minion count but Venture co wants to pull us toward a more weapon/spell centric deck. This is a problem we must address at some point.

Our options seem to be either we cut Venture Co, and/or significantly up the spell/weapon count to make Venture co’s ability less painful. A third option could be to increase the number of silences in the deck.  I shall return to this question of what to do with Venture co later on.

In the meantime, let’s study Ancient Watcher. Here’s the simplified Wailing Soul deck list:

Wailing Soul x2
Ancient Watcher x2
[Other minions] x26
 

Just like Venture Co this card only has a positive interaction with a mere 2 cards in the deck (Wailing Soul … obviously…), the other 26 cards are neither friend nor foe to the Watcher.  Again this is a direction problem; Watcher is a card that desperately needs to make friends in order to be good, but thus far we have 26 minions who are indifferent toward that offer of friendship.

What does this likely mean if we were to play a few games?  Well, chances are that Watcher will probably be exactly that in most games; a mere spectator to the action. Competitive decks ultimately have no place for cards that fail to do anything, thus we must address the problem. Basically, there are two options; either we cut the card or we add additional Watcher synergy.

So this begs two very important questions:

  1. What other cards do we need to make Watcher less of a spectator and more of an evil speed demon capable of taking over the world?
  2. How many ‘activating cards’ do we need?

To answer both questions all we need to do is look at already successful decks that run Watcher and see how they use the card.  Warlock Control decks (I.e. ‘Handlock’) typically use taunt on it (e.g. Sunfury Protector, Defender of Argus), they Silence it (via ironbeak owl) and sometimes they also use Shadowflame. By simply counting, we can see that Handlock has on average 6-8 cards that can make use of Watcher.

When you combine Handlock’s card drawing abilities with the high number of synergy cards we can clearly see that the deck is going to get value out of Watcher consistently.  So we now have a good base line; we need to add 4-6 other cards that buff Watcher in order to produce consistent results.

Incidentally, this ‘rule of six activators’ is actually quite a good rule of thumb that you can use when building your own decks.  For example, Zoo often uses the very situational card Nerubian Egg. How many activators are there?  Well, obviously that depends on the exact zoo list but the following cards are common: Power Overwhelming, Defender of Argus, and Dire Wolf Alpha.  Which is about 5-6 cards.  Some zoo lists may run Void Terror and nowadays some lists may run Clockwork Gnome (which has a 3/7 probability of giving you an activator for the egg {{Those Spare Parts being; Whirling Blades, Rusty Horn, and Reversing Switch}} ).

What about Nerubian Egg in Shaman?  Again, the answer is about 6 (Flametongue Totem, Rockbiter Weapon, Defender of Argus, and sometimes Reincarnate). There are also some more desperate possibilities involving the use of Fire Elemental’s battlecry or you could just zap it with a Lightning Bolt.

What about Doomsayer? Again, depending on the exact ‘Freeze Mage’ list and board state, the answer is somewhere between 4 and 6 (Blizzard, Frost Nova, Cone of Cold).

So okay, we are getting a little off topic here, but the gist of what I’m saying is that situational cards (such as Watcher) need about 6 synergy cards in order to avoid the risk of inconsistency.  Do take care to note these numbers assume that you are running two copies of a situational card. If you run just the one copy then you can probably get away with having 3-4 activators. However, your deck would be subject to greater variance if you did this.

At this juncture it is probably worth stating the obvious; individually powerful cards require less ‘activators’ in any given deck. For example, in a double combo druid deck (i.e. Force of Nature x2, Savage Roar x2) Force of Nature usually only has two activators (the roars), but this is okay since Force of Nature is always at least  a 6 mana deal 6 damage spell, which is decent enough.

With this in mind, we can start to go down the list of cards in our deck and categorise them as either individually powerful cards or as situational cards that need additional resources committed to them.  A quick glance should tell us that Zombie Chow and Ogre Ninja don’t need Wailing Soul because they are individually strong cards. Meanwhile, Ancient Watcher needs Wailing Soul.  We need to add about 4 other cards that buff Watcher and that means we need to make space for these new cards. This shall be addressed in the next section.


Cutting the ‘bad cards’


Before we start it is worth pointing out why the word ‘bad’ is surrounded by quotation marks. The answer is that ‘bad’ ultimately refers to the intention behind building the deck. If we are building a fun deck then ‘bad’ is more or less synonymous with ‘boring’, if we were building a troll deck then anything that fails to induce rage quits from annoyed opponent’s is ‘bad’.  But as I mentioned right at the beginning, I want to hit rank 4 with this deck. Thus, ‘bad’ here refers to all the cards, combo’s and synergies that are not going to produce enough value (on average) to succeed at this level.

Value is not an easy term to concretely define. Worse still, in order to define value we would probably have to define other terms in the process.  For example, if I said Fire Elemental is a good value card because of its inherent ability to generate card advantage I would need to first make sure that everyone understood what the latter term– namely, ‘card advantage’– meant.   For these reasons (and more besides), I consider a proper detailed discussion of ‘value’ beyond the scope of this article.  With that said, I do need to say something about value otherwise you the reader might not understand why I cut certain cards, which is a problem for any guide that purports to teach deck building.

So, my discussion of value will focus on just one (and a bit) aspects of it. I’m going to make a distinction between  practical and theoretical value, and when I start cutting cards I will try to refer back to these ideas as much as possible.

I’ll try to illustrate the distinction with a pop quiz:

Question 1) What is the theoretical value of Force of Nature + Wailing Soul?

Question 2) What is the practical value of Force of Nature + Wailing Soul?

Before reading on you might want to pause for a moment and try and think about the answer. I realise these questions are vague, but all I am trying to do here is highlight the difference between what can be done in theory versus what actually happens during a game. So all you need to do is think about actual game situations where you have that combo in hand.

My Answers:

1) Theoretical value = 3/5 + 2/2 *3 minions on board.

2) Practical value = a lot less than that.

Let’s unpack answer (2) a bit; The Wailing Soul + Force combo is 10 mana. This basically means that we are playing this combo when we could otherwise be playing Savage Roar + Force.  So straight away we see a potential difficultly; by going for the Wailing Soul combo we are potentially forgoing a game winning Force + Roar combo.  Thus, in many cases where you have the Wailing Soul + Force combo in hand you are probably going to end up playing Ancient of Lore instead (hoping to draw into that Savage Roar, no doubt).

It is actually worse than this however. Stop and think for a second about how Force of Nature is actually used; if is not used for fatal damage then it is typically used to clear the enemy’s board, which means most of those 2/2’s are going to die before the end-of-turn ability triggers. Ergo, there is nothing left to Wailing Soul.  If we go face with force then sure, we get Wailing Soul value, but the point is that in most cases that would be a sub-optimal use of Force of Nature.

The last thing I will say about value is that we need to compare Wailing Soul with Chillwind Yeti. The Yeti is a performance benchmark;  when we play wailing Soul we need to ensure that the value generated from the silence battlcry outweighs the value of +1 attack that the Yeti has. If our combo’s cannot reliably generate this amount of value then we ought to cut wailing soul from the deck, replacing it with Yeti.  In this case +1 attack has a fairly low mana value (approximately in the range of 0.33…-to-  0.5 mana), therefore Wailing Soul is likely to exceed this benchmark in our deck.  To give you an example of card that may fail the ‘Yeti test’ consider Violet Teacher; in a deck with very few spells (such as this one)  there would be lots of cases where you play the teacher and fail to generate more than (or equal to) 0.33 -to- 0.5 value from her ability. Ergo, such a deck ought to run Yeti over the teacher.

So with these concepts in mind we can try and ascertain what combos/cards/ideas are likely to get value (in practice) and ditch all the fancy gimmicky stuff that is unlikely to actually work (at our goal rank). Let’s go through the deck card-by-card. Now is the time for us to be ruthless and calculating (our crazy days are over!).

Anub'ar Ambusher

This guy is a big body but comes with negative card text. Since our deck is build around the idea of silencing such effects, we can probably handle the drawback.  And If we do silence, we basically get a vanilla 5-drop minion, in other words, we get about 1 mana’s worth of value, which is decent (in other words; Yeti Test  = PASS).

However, while Wailing Soul + Ambusher is great in principle, we also must guard ourselves against the grim practical reality is that in lots of games this deathrattle is going to trigger. For now, this card is a keep but we may have to build our deck around him a little bit (e.g. add decent bounce targets to the deck) in the future.

Dancing Swords and Ogre Brute.

So I’ve grouped these two cards together since they are both 3 mana 4/4’s and when silenced are equivalent minions (both = vanilla 4/4’s). I haven’t play tested yet but my gut tells me that if we have to cut one of these guys it should be Dancing Swords. This is basically because in plenty of games our opponent will kill these minions before we get a chance to silence (this sentence = ‘being practical’).  By killing Ogre they take out a 4/4.  By killing Dancing Swords they take out a 4/4 AND draw a card, which is rather significant.   In short; I’m picking Brute since he is less reliant on Wailing Soul synergy in order to be good.

Zombie Chow

Zombie Chow is a great little one drop since his deathrattle is largely negligible early on. With this said Rogue is typically a tempo based class and so healing an opponent mid/late-game could put them out of our lethal range. Mid/late game Chow is effectively a 2-drop minion with an deathrattle worth about 1.65 mana  (The calculation assumes 1 health is worth 0.33 mana, which is how  Holy Light seems to be costed). Wailing Soul can help mitigate this healing weakness of Chow (Yeti Test  = PASS).

Moreover, since many of the good rogue cards use the combo mechanic, having cheap cards is often helpful.

Long story short; he helps with combos, he’s great at slowing down aggro and his downside will frequently be manageable in many matchups.  A definite keep (for now).

Venture Co. Mercenary

As mentioned earlier; the deck currently runs a lot of minions and that’s a problem for Venture Co.  Furthermore, Wailing Soul doesn’t actually combo with this minion well since Venture Co makes Wailing Soul will cost +3. Ergo, we would need Venture to survive multiple turns in order for us to get good value (which might not be that likely).   Lastly — and far more damningly — we already have a few other 5 drops (Fel Reaver, Ogre Ninja) that seem excellent (see below). So it seems as if we have little need for this particular 5-drop.  Let’s cut it.

Youthful Brewmaster

Let’s cut it. A. Ambusher does the same thing (albeit randomly) and if we later decide we want this effect we can always run Shadowstep.

Deathlord

So this guy is a massive 3 drop with an equally massive downside.  Silencing him removes that issue but also (unfortunately) silences the taunt as well, leaving us with a slightly bigger Oasis Snapjaw for 1 less mana (Yeti Test  = PASS). However we must ask ourselves whether having a cheaper Snapjaw in the deck is worth the risk of the deathrattle backfiring? We will not always get to silence it in time, after all.  I shall ponder this some more later. But for now, let’s keep the card.

Ogre Ninja

He is a bit bigger than Stranglethorn Tiger and the penalty for that is the RNG. Wailing Soul will remove the stealth as well as the RNG, but in practice losing the stealth will rarely be a concern since you lose stealth when attacking anyway. Moreover, if we want to play both cards (on turn 9+) and feel that the stealth is of critical importance then we can change the order in which we play them (i.e. Wailing Soul AND THEN Ninja keeps the stealth). Overall this looks like a definite keep; Ninja is good both on his own and when partnered with Wailing Soul.

Fel Reaver

This card is a monster!   A 5 mana 8/8 makes Venture co look like a wimp.   His downside can however be significant (but not always) but that’s why we run Wailing Soul.  Fel is a definite keeper.  But we will have to monitor the meta; if Big Game Hunter ends up being prevalent we may want to drop a copy (or two) in response.

I know that a lot of there are a lot of players that don’t understand how great this card is. If you consider yourself among those numbers then I would recommend finding the time to read Brian Kibler’s short article on the card. It can be read for free by clicking here.  (opens in new window/tab)

Ancient Watcher

Probably a definite keep too.  The possibility of getting a half-price Yeti is just too good to pass up (Yeti Test  = SUPER MEGA PASS).  As mentioned earlier on we will need to add 4+ additional activators, so this card is going to make us work for it, but the rewards make such effort worthwhile.

Doomsayer

Like ancient watcher, we need activators to make this card work. And we can’t really count Wailing Soul as an activator in this case since we would need an additional card (e.g. Cold Blood to make use out of that 0/7).

Moreover it feels like Doomsayer moves in the wrong direction; right now it doesn’t look like we are going to run lots of late game and thus we probably have no need for a stall card. A definite cut, I think.

Faceless Manipulator

The usefulness of this card will hinge upon the amount of good targets we will have for it and right now it doesn’t seem like we have that many. A silenced Fel Reaver is a great target but it would be rather risky to have two non-silenced Fel’s on the field at once. This means that in order to copy a Fel Reaver we need to use silence first in many cases. Ergo, Faceless ends up being very situational.  Basically Ragnaros is the only great target, and copying cards like Orge Ninja only offers mediocre value.  We want more than this from a card. Let’s cut faceless for now.

Mogor the Ogre

This card is somewhat interesting; the value we get from silencing is roughly equal to the number friendly attacking minions on board/2.  Right now I’m going to cut this card mostly because I don’t own it, and I don’t feel that it is powerful enough to justify crafting.

Also I don’t currently know how the mechanics work; does Mogor force two dice rolls when an Ogre Brute attacks? If not, then there is some nice synergy between this card and the rest of our Ogres.

Gelbin Mekkatorque

Okay, so this is a hard one to evaluate. Some of the inventions could be nice (e.g. Homing Chicken) and when we get the bad inventions we can use silence on them. But intuitively I feel that the card is still going to be just too random to justify a spot in a competitive deck.

Ragnaros the Firelord

Probably a keeper. Ragnaros is solid minion in his own right and can unleash some surprise burst damage with Wailing Soul. When I say ‘surprise burst’ I’m really referring to our (unexpected) ability to change Ragnaros’s attack from 8 RNG damage to 8 targeted damage.

Sometimes people play around Ragnaros by throwing out lots of trash minions to eat up fireballs, using the trash mobs as ‘human shields’, so to speak. But our ability to Silence the Firelord many counter that attempt to neutralise him.

Overall A solid card in its own right and occasional W.Soul synergy (Yeti Test = SITUATIONAL PASS)

The Beast

Let’s assume for a second that we do silence this card 100% of the time before the deathrattle triggers. The question is whether, even in this extreme (and highly unlikely) case, a vanilla 6 mana 9/7 is really worth it.  And to be honest I’m not sure it is.  In most cases if I was given a choice between having a vanilla 9/7 on board or having Sylvanas Windrunner on board I am probably picking latter.  This preference should tell me something. Okay, let’s cut it.

 

Okay, so now that’s make those cuts and see what our deck looks like:

Wailing Soul v1.3 (only the shell remains…)

Okay, so that is 17/30 cards currently figured out.

Now from our previous discussion of Ancient Watcher we know that we need to add about 4 additional activators. We have the space to add them now. So Let’s make a list of potential candidates:

Clockwork Gnome **
Ironbeak Owl
Recombobulator
Sunfury Protector
Defender of Argus
Enhance-o Mechano
Spellbreaker
 
**(or any other ‘Spare Part’ minion)
 

Now that we a have a list of options lets go through it and think about what options we may want to try.

Ironbeak Owl and Spellbreaker

These are additional silences and thus both minions fit the theme of the deck. At this moment in time Owl looks like the better option since it fits the curve a bit better and it will be able to act much faster than Spellbreaker. (E.g. Turn 1 The Coin+ Watcher into Turn 2 Owl is quick and powerful). In short, Owl really does look like a good option.

Recombobulator

Transforming Watcher is possible but this is hardly an optimal use of either card.   If we are happy about turning a Watcher into a 3/2 then then why even play Watcher in the first place?  If Watcher is a poor target then we would need to have good transform targets in the deck in order to justify playing Recombobulator. Right now it doesn’t look like this is going to be the case. And thus, this card strikes me as a poor solution to our present problem.

Enhance-o Mechano

Enchance-o bot only has 1/3 probability of making Watcher useful and even then this card goes against the direction of the deck (minion buffing cards are not going to be that good in decks that want to silence their own stuff!). Thus, just like Recombobulator, this seems like a poor solution to our present problem.

Clockwork Gnome

Any card that makes spare parts can activate Watcher.  If we ran just one spare part maker the probability is 1- (6/7), or 14% (this is because only 1/7 of the spare parts are actually useful — namely; the taunt giver ‘Rusty Horn’).

If we decided to run 4 spare part makers (e.g. Clockwork Gnome x2 + Mechanical Yeti x2) then the probability is: 1- (6/7*6/7*6/7*6/7), which equates to 46%. In other words, if we run 4 Spare Part producing cards and we happen to draw ALL of them in single game we still have a less than 50% to get good ole’ ‘Rusty Horn’. Thus, we cannot reasonably expect ‘Spare Parts’ to solve our Watcher problem.

Sunfury Protector and Defender of Argus

Both minions will give the Watcher taunt. Since we want to play Wailing Soul the +1/+1 buff defender gives could be washed away with the silence effect, and thus we would be left with a mere 2/3.  Whereas if we play Sunfury and silence the resulting board state is identical but we spent 2 less mana to get there.   So basically, Sunfury seems like a better fit for our deck.

Okay, so now we need to add the ‘Watcher package’ into the deck, and address any new problems that may arise. Onward to the next section!


Fixing the curve and adding Class cards


So our ‘Watcher package’ will look a bit like this:

Ancient Watcher x2
Ironbeak Owl x2
Sunfury Protector x2
Wailing Soul x2

 

…But now a new problem rears its ugly head; some of the best Rogue cards are two mana (e.g. Eviscerate, Sap, Goblin Auto-Barber, Blade Flurry, etc.) and thus playing 6x neutral two drops is potentially going to cause carnage to our mana curve.  Let’s take a quick look:

 

So I added  a few rogue cards (double Deadly Poison, Blade Flurry and Eviscerate (why? Because they are great cards!)), Clockwork Gnome and The Black Knight to finish it off.

In this version the Watchers have 6.26 activators (the 0.26 comes from the Clockwork Gnomes Spare Parts), which surpasses the ‘magic number’ threshold for situational cards.  So the deck is really starting to take shape.  But as we can clearly see, we are now running a total of ten 2-drops!  This is likely to be a problem since we currently lack the card draw to justify such a curve. Drastic action needs to be taken!

Lets start by swapping out Sunfury for Argus.  As stated earlier, Argus is a bit worse for this deck than Sunfury, but it is also the case that Argus fits the curve a bit better.  In short, I am hoping that having a smoother curve will have more utility than playing a cheaper, more efficient minion. Moreover, in practice, it will often be the case that I will be able to time the use of all my cards such that I get reasonable value out of them (e.g. on turn 8 I won’t Play Argus –> Wailing Soul, rather, I would order it the other way round).

In short, I think this change is fine, and now the number of 2-drops seems a bit more manageable at eight.

The last major issue left to tackle is card draw, which will be the focus of the next section.


Adding the Engine (Card draw)


Earlier in this guide when I wanted to learn more about Ancient Watcher I studied how Handlock used the card, and then I tried to emulate that success in rogue. Now we can do something similar with card draw; how many cards does a competitive deck need to draw?  

Our first test subject shall be Control Warrior.  Typically this deck runs double Acolyte of Pain and double Shield Block.  So at first glance it seems like warrior is capable of drawing about 4 cards. Of course in practice it is often a little bit more than that since the Warrior play-style typically holds Acolyte in hand until there is a reasonable opportunity to draw two (or more) cards (they tend to use the likes of Death’s Bite and Cruel Taskmaster to squeeze that additional card). So the answer is probably a bit closer to 5-6, maybe 6-7 if the deck runs a copy of Slam/Gnomish Inventor/Azure Drake.

What about Druid?  Well typically they have Wrath and A. of Lore. So it would seem like Druid is capable of drawing about 6 cards, with ramp druid perhaps capable of a bit more (e.g. turn 10 Wild Growth).

How about face Hunter?  Well they will typically run Webspinner, Loot Hoarder, and Mad Scientist. So once again, we seem to arrive at this number of 6.   If we consider spare parts to be worth about half a card then we can say that the hunter lists that run double Clockwork Gnome are actually closer to 7 draw.

What about Mech Mage?  Clockwork Gnome x2 = 1, Archmage Antonidas = 1, Duplicate/ Echo of Medivh x2 = 2, Mad Scientist x2 = 2, Mechanical Yeti x2 = 1.   So once again the answer is about 6-7 (depending on the board state and how you decide count the draw potential of cards like duplicate you could argue that the actual number is significantly higher).

Notice also how broadly I am defining ‘card draw’ here, I’m interested in the idea of getting stuff on the board, deck thinning (e.g. Mad Scientist), and/or keeping your hand stacked with options (e.g. Webspinner). I’m not trying to analyse a decks ability to generate card advantage (measuring that would be EXTREMELY difficult).

Interestingly enough, we looked at four totally different decks and we came up the same number, the number six.  I would encourage you to do your own research and see how many decks this ‘little rule of 6’ accounts for (Remember that Warlock will almost always be an exception due to Hero power).

Of course with all this said we should pay more attention to the decks we are trying to emulate should we not? Okay so let’s ask a better question; how much card draw does a typical Tempo Rogue have?   Well that obviously depends on the exact list but after looking at a few decks the number seems to be less than that of all of the above decks;  by my count (which was just a cursory glance, by the way) it is about 3-4. Double Azure Drakes are in most decks and you quite often see a copy of Sprint (note if a deck runs two drakes AND a sprint then we are back up to our magic number of 6).   The other cards you occasionally see in this type of Rogue are Fan of Knives, Trade Prince Gallywix, and Bloodmage Thalnos.  Drawing mechanisms like Shiv and Gadgetzan Auctioneer are more commonly associated with ‘Miracle Rogue’.

So, this analysis has given us a ballpark figure to work with; we need to add about 3-6 card draw. At this juncture it is perhaps worth pointing out the difference between 1×4 and 4×1 in Hearthstone. A deck that runs Novice Engineer x2 and Loot Hoarder x2 draws the same amount of cards as a deck that runs a single copy of sprint. However, these decks function differently in the average game. The sprint deck ends up being very ‘hit & miss’ meanwhile the Novice E deck is more consistent at drawing cards, but will typically draw fewer cards than the sprint deck will (when sprint is played, that is).  We can wonder what option would be better for our deck.

But before we ponder that option, let’s write a list of candidate cards:

Clockwork Gnome
Shiv
Loot Hoarder
Lorewalker Cho
Nat Pagle
Bloodmage Thalnos
Novice Engineer
Fan of Knives
Acolyte of Pain
Coldlight Oracle
Gnomish Experimenter
Gnomish Inventor
Jeeves
Azure Drake
Elite Tauren Chieftain
Harrison Jones
Gadgetzan Auctioneer
Gazlowe
Toshley
Trade Prince Gallywix
Sprint
Ysera

 

With Ancient watcher I went through the list and explained the process for dismissing each card in individually. I’m not going to do that here since it would take ages and I doubt it is actually necessary.

For my first try I think I’ll try and make room for Elite Tauren Chieftain and Sprint.   With the two Clockwork Gnomes, that gives about 6.33 card draw (ETC = 1 card {with 0.33 chance of getting and additional card from Rogues Do It…}, Gnomes x2 = 1 card, Sprint = 4 cards).  If ETC doesn’t work out we can always try swapping it for an Azure Drake, or H.Jones if the meta is weapon heavy and those changes wouldn’t affect the curve. And if after play testing it turns out that the extra card draw is not necessary then we can try swapping ETC for Loatheb or assassins blade.

So to add two cards I must cut two cards. To make the room needed I’m going to drop 1x Black Knight and 1x Blade Flurry.

At this juncture it is probably worth pointing out that we have about 13 minions that work well with Wailing Soul. This means that we can afford to drop a few of these Wailing Soul synergy cards and still find ourselves getting value of Wailing Soul’s ability consistently. With this in mind I’m going to try replacing Deathlord with SI 7: Agent.   The deck has a few a cheap things (Eight 1-drops, if you include Spare Parts) to help trigger the combos early in the match and it may also help us squeeze some additional juice of A. Ambusher (bouncing an SI:7 back is hardly the worst thing in the world). If this change doesn’t work out so well we could always try Earthen Ring Farseer, and if that fails, we could go back to Deathlord.

Here’s the list:

Crafting Cost: 5220

So now the only thing left is to play my creation. I’m going to go take this deck for a swing on ladder and see how well it does.  Sink or Swim baby!


Play time Baby!


So as I write this sentence I’ve played about 10 games with the above list and so far the deck has performed better than expected. If I am honest I mostly put ETC in the deck for his cool factor, I thought I would swap him out after a few games.  BUT so far he has showed up in 3 games and each time he did pretty well; in one game the ‘I Am Murloc’ card allowed me to kill off one of my A. Ambushers without bouncing back a valuable minion, and in another ‘Rogues do it…’ card set up lethal when I top decked the eviscerate.  All things considered I’m going to keep him for at least a few more games.

….Time passing….

….More time passing….

As I type this sentence I have now played about 20 games with this deck. So far I have obtained fairly modest stats (about 50%) at Ranks 9-6 (increasing in rank due to win-streaks).  The deck does well against most control decks (for example, my record vs Handlock; 3 wins, 0 losses) but the deck requires very good draws to beat Zoo (record; 1 win, 4 losses) and struggles to race with Hunters (record; 1 win, 2 losses).

After playing these games I think that ‘the Meta’ right now (23/12/14) is a mixture of Control and midrange tempo decks. While I can deal with the former styles of deck, the latter archetypes seem to be more prevalent (which is causing my win rate to suffer).

So playing these 20 or so games has given me vital information concerning two things; (1) ‘the meta’ and (2) how the deck actually works. Armed with this information we can start the tweaking process.  The next section is all about adaptation.


Adaptation


I’m going to start this section by putting all the changes I made in a handy table:

IN

OUT

+1 Dr. Boom -1 Sprint
+2 Coldlight Oracle -2 SI: Agent
+2 Deathlord -2 Clockwork Gnome

 

Before reading on it might be a fun exercise to try and guess, just by looking at the table, why I decided to add/cut those particular cards.  For starters, what do you observe about the new mana curve?

What motivated these changes?

One of major problems I had – and it took me several games before I realised this – is that the deck had a problem with direction.  Many of my wins came from the deck’s ability to apply pressure and out-tempo the opponent.  Many of my losses came from being starved of cards to play.

…And then there were the games (some won, some lost) where I drew Sprint.  In some of these ‘Sprint games’, I was so far ahead that I could just refill the hand and hit them hard on the next turn. But in other games, spending the whole turn effectively doing nothing to improve my board position was too great a penalty to overcome.

In short; the deck is tempo-based, but the main source of card draw (Sprint) is an anti-tempo card. There is then, a tension between the decks ability to draw cards and its desire to control the board. This tension needs to be addressed.

Broadly speaking there are 3 options. (1) Add more card draw to make the deck less reliant on Sprint. (2) Add Preparation to the deck, which would greatly offset the tempo loss involved in playing Sprint. (3) Ditch Sprint for some other source of card draw.

There are merits in all three of these options.  But I have opted for option (3). Adding 2x Coldlight Oracle‘s gives me the same card draw potential as Sprint, without the tempo loss of sprint.  This change also gives me a new early game minion to put on the board. While a 3 mana 2/2 obviously isn’t ‘good’ it is nonetheless a fact that, in conjunction with Hero power, we can trade with most 3 drops. Lastly there is also a further (albeit minor) upside is that this little guy is often pretty good vs. Handlock (because you can force discards), not that the deck needs much help in this match up.

However, the major cost involved in this change is that I have reduced my ability to generate card advantage against control decks. And so, with the exception of Handlock (for the reason stated above), I have probably (though not necessarily) made the control match-ups worse.

To compensate for these expected difficulties against control I decided that I would add another late game threat. The reasons for specifically choosing Dr. Boom are several fold:

  • The Boom Bot‘s can help me bring opponents into lethal range and/or help clear their minion threats.
  • Boom is card that is very hard to deal with card efficiently. Ergo, he may help gain card advantage in some matchups.
  • In virtue of being a Big Game Hunter target, he can help protect my more valuable minions (e.g. Ragnaros/Fel Reaver).
  • In theory this minion does not work well with Wailing Soul, in practice I will often be able to trade the bombs before dropping the Soul, extracting full value. This may not be true if I tried other minions (such as S. Windrunner).
  • I like the idea of being able to play Coldlight Oracle and Dr. Boom on the same turn. In other words, I now have the ability to draw cards AND keep applying pressure at the same time (this was never an option with Sprint).
  • Replacing a 7-drop for another 7-drop is nice for curve reasons too.

I have also decided to further experiment by replacing SI 7: Agent with Deathlord. To a large extent this choice is a Meta call.  Unless I had the coin, SI 7: Agent often ended up being too slow against aggro because I would have to wait until turn 4 to get the combo damage, and if that was my turn 4 play then on turn 5 I could end up playing an A. Ambusher. Which is a problem since playing ‘behind on curve’ is rarely optimal. And if forgo the combo damage and play him on curve then he is merely a 3/3 for 3. While a 3 mana 3/3 is not bad value, the fact remains that typically it is not enough value in the current aggressive Meta.

Okay, so the Agents are out by why replace with Deathlord?  Well, the deck needs to improve its aggro matchup and Deathlord is exceptional in that capacity. And since the deck runs 4 silence effects we always have a decent chance at removing the deathrattle before it becomes a problem.   Furthermore, the decks that are likely to punish Deathlord (e.g. Control Warrior) are usually not going to apply significant early-game pressure. This means that in these matchups we can probably afford to hold this minion back until we can silence on the same turn (most of the time).

Lastly, I need to say a little bit about the removal of the Gnomes.  It is worth pointing out that the addition of Clockwork Gnome to the deck was mostly to improve the performance of cards like SI 7: Agent. And that the Gnomes did.  But now with the Agents gone the deck has little need for cards that activate Rogue’s combo mechanic.

The removal of Clockwork Gnome does reduce our card draw by 1.  So instead of having between 6-7 draw we are now down to 5-6 draw.  But I am hopeful that the upping of the curve and the introduction of a new late-game minion (i.e. Dr. Boom) will compensate for the loss of a card. It is perhaps also worth pointing out that in practice we may end up with more cards then we previously had, since even when I drew sprint I  often struggled to find the time to play it. Whereas fitting an Oracle in a turn ought to be significantly easier.

So here is the final decklist:

 
 
Crafting Cost: 6740

Once again (somewhat amazingly) ETC survives another cull!

Now I need to take the new version to ladder, constantly adapting and tweaking as the deck needs.

If you are interested, you can click here to watch me play two games with the deck on Youtube. (opens in new window/tab).

On that note, I think it is time to end this guide.


Conclusion


This guide is over 8,500 words. So kudos to those of you that made it this far. I hope you learnt something that you can apply to your own creations.

If you have any comments/questions/criticisms feel free to drop me a message below.

Perhaps I’ll post an update at some later date and let you know how my goals for the deck panned out.  But for now, we say goodbye.

Enjoyed this article?



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13 Comments

Leave a Reply

  1. torch light says:

    it’s 2017 and the above article was probably written on stone tablets. reading through just before the new changes happen this article is still relevant. your concepts of direction and value make sense no matter where the meta falls. also the idea of activators and the way that’s are employed was enlightening. Great article, thanks albeit belatedly.

  2. Anonymous says:

    i like the update/inclusion of GvG cards. Helps keep this awesome article in scope with all the possible choices that one has when building decks :)

  3. TSpin says:

    Using this guide, I decided to go ahead and make a more control-oriented offshoot of token druid that has two frostwolf warlords. Will see how it goes – great article!

    • Smashthings says:

      Good luck! The only thing I would say is that you need to consider the merits of “Frostwolf vs Sea Giant”.

      Both cards function in a similar sort of way (They are both big minions that require lots of other minions on the board). Sea Giant, in most cases, will probably work better.

      Which means you have some card crafting to do TSpin!

  4. chancellot says:

    Great article! Very well thought out, and quite enjoyable to read. I hope you write more like this, as there are several other “build-around-me” cards and synergies that are under-explored. Thanks again, I am looking forward to the next one!

  5. ducks says:

    This is excellent. I really like seeing the thought that goes into making a unique deck. The only thing I question is the use of Deathlord due to its weakness to Cabal Shadow Priest. That said, this whole article will definitely help me in building a deck.

    • Smashthings says:

      Deathlord (even in this deck) is often high risk: Warriors have execute, Hunters have H.Mark, and everyone who runs spare parts has a chance to swap the stats around (2/8 becomes 8/2). Against Priest the Real concern is not Cabal on Deathlord but shadow word: pain. (If they steal it just kill it and get yourself a Fel reaver!). But if you don’t like Deathlord SI:7 and E.ring Farseer are decent replacements.

      Anyway, thank you all for the kind words :)

  6. regn81 says:

    Very nice article! I’m really tempted to try this deck out, but don’t have the resources to craft it yet. Hope you publish some more plays with the deck on Youtube. :-)

  7. Sheppito says:

    Wow. Top-notch article, really. Surprised this isn’t premium, but I’m really glad it isn’t! Nice Christmas present :) And the link…you and your friend are very proficient writers. It’s nice to read something so educated and thought through. Very good outline of how to effectively create a deck, whether the “intention” is crazy or not. Kudos man, i hope you have fun with this build, and anyone else who tries it out :p

  8. Great article, this and Katy’s stuff are really raising the Hearthstone Players’ bar in my eyes.

  9. Anonymous says:

    One of the best articles I’ve ready on Hearthstone Players. Well done!

  10. Eggnoir says:

    Hey I haven’t read the full article yet because i’m at work 😉 but i’m really enjoying it, especially since I recently tried to put together a wailing soul deck (playing the random attack ogres and Dancing Swords). Did you know that silencing your own minions removes freeze? A niche application but it is there! I would love to see another article in this vein but using a card that is not so ‘out-there’ as Wailing Soul.

    • Smashthings says:

      Yeah, probably not the best article to read at work :)

      Wailing Soul can do a good job surprising Freeze Mage. Its also funny when Paladins use Aldor Peacekeeper.

      As for future articles: Is there a less “out-there” card(s) you had in mind?