How To Build: Reno Dragon Priest
Hello everyone. Normally, I give you a full deck list and then I go through the process or explaining things – mulligan, strategy etc. However, this time I’ll cater to your inner deck builders. If you like deck building or you would want to learn more about it, stick with me and hopefully you’ll leave with some extra knowledge that will be useful on the ladder.
Deck building is a very important part of every CCG. You can’t just throw in random cards and expect to win. Since Hearthstone is both digital and VERY popular, not everyone has to be a great deck builder. We can easily follow the latest trends, copy the lists from pro players, streamers etc. We can netdeck. But I’m still convinced that deck building is an important skill for multiple reasons. Building a deck yourself makes you understand it better – the win conditions, the way you want to play it etc. It also makes it easier to optimize it, tech to the meta you’re playing in. Remember that most of the pro lists are optimized for either tournament or high Legend gameplay, not necessarily for the ladder grinding. Deck building skills also help greatly right after the new expansion, when there are no “strong” lists established yet, you can quickly build something yourself and take it to the ladder instead of watching what pros play and trying to copy it (it’s always the most fun I have in the game – deck building right after new cards are out).
After having RenoLock and Reno Mage covered already, I’ve decided to go with the Reno Priest. And not any Reno Priest – Reno Dragon Priest. I think that the archetype is both more fun and more powerful than the non-Dragon version of the deck. But if you’d like to read about the standard Reno Priest, I can still write about it next time (as the decks are way different).
When you a build a deck, it’s important to establish its core. Of course, once you get better with deck building you will be able to do that on the fly, but first you want to know which cards are vital to the deck and are irreplaceable. Establishing a core is important, because once you know it, you can build on it. You can add and remove cards, but you know that you don’t want to touch the core.
If you’re a novice deck builder, the easiest way to establish the deck’s core is to compare the pro players lists with each other. If there is a card that’s in every list, it probably means that it’s a core (at least in this meta!). To tell the deck’s core without looking at the other list, you need to know the archetype well – play with the deck yourself or play against it a lot. General experience also helps, if you understand which cards are strong, you can tell which ones belong to the deck’s core. I know that it’s a little bit abstract for novice deck builders, but trust me, after building more you’ll understand the concept better.
Core mostly consists of the cards that are vital to the archetype – they define it one way or another. They are generally present in every list, they have unique effects that you can’t replace with other cards. They don’t necessarily have to be the deck’s strongest cards, it’s just that you can’t build a successful deck without including those. In case of Reno Dragon Priest, those cards are:
- Northshire Cleric – Against Aggro, in most of the early game scenarios you could say that it’s a Voidwalker. Even though it doesn’t have a Taunt, your opponent will want to trade into it so you don’t get draws early. In other matchups, it’s a draw mechanic. Thanks to the Raza, you can easily get 1 draw off of it anytime you want – 1 mana 1/3 that draws a card is insanely strong already. But that’s not all – if it stays on the board, it gets even more value. Very high priority target for the opponent’s removals (and if they waste removals for your 1-drop which you already cycled, that’s really fine with you).
- Power Word: Shield – Auto-include in any Priest deck. For just 1 mana gives you a cycle AND +2 health on a minion. One of the most powerful cards in the whole game.
- Twilight Whelp – 1 mana 2/3 is pretty good, especially if you can also use it as a Dragon activator for other cards if you draw it later. Helps dealing with the fast decks – it’s the best early game Dragon available.
- Shadow Word: Pain – Very flexible removal, every deck has some 3 or less Attack minions, so it’s almost never a dead card. What’s great about this card is that it often buys you a tempo – you can get rid of 3 or 4-drops for just 2 mana.
- Wyrmrest Agent – While it seems bad because of the Pirates insane openings, 2 mana 2/4 with Taunt is an insane tempo play. It gets great trades into 2 health early minions, it provides a target for buffing and it can stop a big minion’s/weapon’s attack later in the game.
- Kabal Talonpriest – One of the most busted cards Priest has, vanilla 3/4 stats AND 3 health buff on anything you want. The card is good enough that you can drop it on t3 with empty board for the tempo, but it gets insane when you can target something.
- Shadow Word: Death – Similarly to SW:P, a tempo removal. Most of the 5+ attack minions cost more than 3 mana, so if you can remove them for 3 you’re basically gaining tempo. One of the best “big removals” in the game, even though it’s sometimes a dead card in Aggro matchups.
- Kazakus – There is no reason to run Reno deck without Kazakus. Provides tons of value or tempo, depending on which one is necessary. One of your main win conditions in slower matchups.
- Drakonid Operative – Another broken card added with the last expansion. It’s the reason why Dragon Priest (and Reno Dragon Priest too, to some extent) is a strong deck. Another best possible stats for the mana cost AND a strong effect on top of that. Amazing value tool and a pretty big threat your opponent has to deal with.
- Raza the Chained – Out of the 3 class Highlander cards, Raza is definitely the best one. With a decent 5/5 for 5 stat line and effect that is always good, you can get A LOT of value and tempo from this card throughout the whole match.
- Doomsayer – Staple in the current meta. Without Doomsayer, playing against Aggro is like a nightmare. Can also get some value in slower matchup – it might kill some early game drop, trading 1 for 1 (which is fine) or stall the game for one turn later.
- Netherspite Historian – Basic “Dragon value” generator. While in faster matchups you usually try to get a Taunt or a small drop, in slower matchups you most likely pick the biggest minion (or even better – Drakonid Operative).
- Brann Bronzebeard – Dragon decks have a lot of Battlecries, not to mention that Brann + Kazakus is insane combo in slower matchups.
- Twilight Guardian – Best 4-drop Dragon – it’s a nice body with a Taunt. It doesn’t seem that powerful, because it’s only 1 more health compared to Sen'jin Shieldmasta, but that 1 health matters a lot when it comes to trading and removals, not to mention that Dragon tag makes it much more desirable.
- Azure Drake – One of the best Dragons in the game, it’s used by like 30% of the decks on the ladder as a mid game card draw/cycle tool and there is no reason to not play it in Dragon deck either.
- Blackwing Corruptor – The most powerful Dragon-synergy card that’s not actually a Dragon. It’s like a better Fire Elemental (1 mana matters a lot) – can be used to snipe a small minion, help with some trade on bigger minion, set up an AoE or even burst opponent down.
- Book Wyrm – Decent Dragon body + Shadow Word: Pain packed into one. Best Dragons are a mix of value and tempo and this is exactly that.
- Reno Jackson – And last, but not least, our favorite explorer with fabulous moustache. In this meta, it’s THE reason to even run Reno Dragon Priest (hence the name) – the card is insane given how many aggressive decks are on the ladder. The card often straight up wins games against aggressive decks, a lot of them simply doesn’t have enough burn to kill you “again”.
Now that we know what’s the deck’s core, we can move forward to the complementary cards. There are 18 core cards, so we have 12 cards left to fill. However, it’s not that easy – you will need to make a lot of difficult decisions, as there are many more than 12 cards that you want to fit into the deck. In the end, you will need to make some hard choices, some cuts – and that’s the most important part of the deck building. Knowing not only which complementary cards you want to include, but also why. I’ll try to divide the rest of the cards to a few categories and explain why each of the cards fits the deck and against what decks it is good (e.g. this and this is a tech against Aggro). It should help you with making those decisions. But in the end, you also need to realize what meta you’re facing. It’s best to keep track of the stats, but you generally should know how much Aggro Shamans or how much RenoLocks you face.
I didn’t list every possible card you can play in the Reno Dragon Priest, only the more popular/common choices. Flexibility is the nature of Highlander decks and you can most likely find more cards that fit the list – but those should give you big enough card pool to have some hard choices when deck building already.
P.S. Some cards fit into multiple categories. If that’s the case, I will describe the card in its main category and just mention it in the others.
P.S.S. There are only 5 Dragon cards in the core of the deck. But at the same time, 4 of those Dragons require another Dragon to work. Optimally, you want to play at least 6 or 7 Dragons in such a deck. With less than that, you will often find yourself with Dragon synergy card, but not Dragon to activate it. You don’t want to add too many, however, because the best are already in the deck – some of the Dragons here are suboptimal. Normally you’d just add 2nd copy of some of the Dragons in your deck, but it’s not possible since it’s a Reno deck. It means that you need to pick carefully and try to add at least 1 or 2 more Dragons to the list.
Okay, I’ll open with AoEs to avoid any confusion. Why there were no AoEs in the core of the deck? After all, those cards ARE core. Yes, it’s true, but only to a certain extent. You don’t necessarily have to run 3 of them. I’ve seen builds that run only 2. I’ve even seen builds running only 1 + Chillmaw. Sure, you can add 3 if you want to be really safe against Aggro, but I think that 2 should be fine. Now, you have to pick which ones you want to run.
- Excavated Evil – 3 damage mass AoE, hitting every minion on the board, including yours. It’s better when you’re playing reactively, from behind – if you don’t have minions on the board, it can’t hit them. It’s also better against Aggro decks, because shuffling that card into their deck is good for you (and bad for them) – they can draw it instead of drawing more burn/weapon/whatever, giving you a turn to breathe. On the other hand, in slower matchups your opponent will thank you for that – not only you give him a potentially useful card, but if he decides to not play it at all, he gets 1 card more in his deck, which makes a difference when going into fatigue.
- Holy Nova – Kinda an opposite of Excavated Evil. It’s a card better when you’re playing proactively. Since it doesn’t hurt your board – it HEALS it – it’s better if you have minions on the board yourself. However, there is a huge downside – it only deals 2 damage instead of 3. It should be okay if you have minions to make the rest of trades with, but A LOT of Aggro minions are at 3 health – most notably the Shaman minions like Tunnel Trogg, Flametongue Totem, Feral Spirit etc.
- Dragonfire Potion – And that’s another mass AoE. It’s probably the one you want to run no matter whether you run the other two or not – it’s simply the strongest one. Outside of the scenarios when you actually play against a Dragon deck and it’s almost useless, it’s 5 damage for 6 mana. Only 1 mana more expensive than Excavated Evil, but adds 2 damage. 5 damage is a really big board clear – it should completely clear all the early game and majority of the mid game minions (or at least damage them enough so you can finish them with something else). It’s no Lightbomb, but it’s as close to the “big board wipe” as Priest has in Standard.
- Chillmaw – While not exactly an instant AoE, I think that it’s the best category for it. It costs 7 mana, so it’s the most expensive out of those – it’s usually used as a nail in the coffin of Aggro decks, e.g. turn 6 Reno into turn 7 Chillmaw often seals it. While the AoE part is solid, the problem with this card is that it can be countered – cards like Hex or I don’t know, Silence might counter it. Your opponent might also play around it a bit and buff or heal some minion before trading. On the upside, the card has a big 6/6 body with Taunt, which might be useful even when you don’t need AoE. And it’s a Dragon, a very situational one, which should sit in your hand most of the time, giving you an activator for all your Dragon synergies. I like it, but it has its obvious flaws.
Early Game Minions
Let’s list some early game minions you can add to the deck. Generally, having some stuff to play in the early game is important for two reasons. First – it helps tremendously against Aggro. Second – there are matchups in which you want to be proactive. For example, against Jade Druid, if you don’t play anything until turn 4, you’ve probably lost the match already.
- Mistress of Mixtures – Very common 1-drop in the current meta. 2/2 for 1 are solid stats, which might get a decent trade in the early game. While the card gets obsolete against slow decks, it’s always useful against Aggro – you get 4 points of healing for 1 mana, even though it’s a bit delayed. One of the best early game drops in the current meta.
- Faerie Dragon – One of the only early game Dragons. While the effect is pretty nice in some metas, it’s almost useless in this one. Early minions are usually killed by trades with 1-drops or die to weapons, not to spells. I mean, it’s sometimes alright, as it can stop let’s say a Lightning Bolt from killing it, but the card is considered only because of the Dragon tag.
- Blackwing Technician – Dragon synergy card. Basically a pile of stats, but a rather nice one. 3/5 for 3 are great stats – 5 health means that it should get 2 for 1 quite consistently, while 3 attack means that it trades into most of the early game drops. It’s a high tempo turn 3 play, and since you need tempo, it’s great against Aggro.
Midrange Minions are pretty much the Dragon decks identity. Even though you play a Reno deck, which can be considered a “control” deck, it’s not exactly like that. Even though it has a lot of control and value tools, it still needs a solid set of midrange minions, as that’s your other win condition. You don’t always play the value game, Dragons provide enough tempo to consider it your other win condition. But you need more minions to supplement that strategy.
- Priest of the Feast – 4 drop with great stats and a very good effect. Although this list doesn’t necessarily run tons of cheap spells, you can still get 6 or 9 points of healing quite often. That’s a difference between living and dying in a lot of games. 3/6 minion is also hard to take down – it can take a lot of beating before it dies and it’s great at trading into the early game drops.
- Twilight Drake – While it’s not as strong as in RenoLock (you rarely get it to 4/9 or something – 4/6 or 4/7 is usually good enough), because you don’t operate on such big hand sizes (outside of the slowest matchups), it’s a Dragon, so it activates your Dragon synergies. That’s why it’s often a 4-drop of choice in many Reno Dragon Priest lists.
- Kabal Songstealer – Another new addition to the Priest’s roster. The card is pretty powerful, as it has solid 5/5 for 5 stats and a Silence effect. Right now every Silence minion is heavily overpriced – Ironbeak Owl and Spellbreaker are really hard to run in the lists, because unless you get A LOT of value from the Silence, the stats make them unplayable when you have no good target. Songstealer, on the other hand, can be played just for its body, but you always have Silence when its necessary. Silence comes handy even to debuff a big Tunnel Trogg or pass through the Taunt in order to get a better trade.
- Cabal Shadow Priest – One of the strongest mid game cards in the game… in the right scenario. That’s the thing about Cabal Shadow Priest – if you steal Brann Bronzebeard it’s amazing value – you got rid of a 3-drop, got 4-drop body (4/5) and your own Brann all for 3 mana. But if you have nothing to target, or just a 1/1, then it’s a really bad 6-drop. Luckily, there are quite a lot of good targets to steal in the current meta, so you shouldn’t have problems finding value (you might have problem surviving until turn 6, though…).
Priest isn’t in a dire need of more healing or Taunts, because it has natural heal built in – once you stabilize, you just Hero Power your Hero every turn and you should be fine. However, there are a few cards that you might consider adding to the list if you still get rushed down too often.
- Greater Healing Potion – It’s kinda a desperate move to play it, but if you really face tons of Pirate Warrior and Aggro Shaman, it makes sense. It’s like a second big heal next to Reno Jackson. You can either use it early to survive until the Reno turn, after Reno if your opponent still doesn’t give up or maybe even if you don’t draw Reno at all. The problem with this card is that it can either be amazing or completely useless. It’s game-winning against Aggro after you’ve already stabilized, or maybe against some decks like Freeze Mage, but it’s nearly useless if you don’t need healing or when you stare at 15 damage on the opponent’s board (then it can be used to stall a game for one turn or something, but not really get you anywhere).
- Defender of Argus – I’ve seen Argus tech in a few Dragon decks, but it makes sense in Reno Dragon deck too. Since Aggro decks tend to ignore your boards and go face, putting 2 big Taunts in their way can be really solid. It’s also nice in slow matchups, making your minions bigger has nice synergy with your Hero Power and can make the trades easier. Bad thing about Argus is how situational it is – without board, it’s useless. With only 1 minion, it’s meh – it might be good if that minion is huge, but that’s it. The card is great only with 2 other minions on the board already. But if you find yourself in such situation against Aggro, Argus can be game changing.
- Priest of the Feast – See the “Midrange Minions” category.
This category is for minions or spells that are meant to give you some sort of value advantage, card advantage or even close the game. Those cards are generally bad in fast matchups, but they are necessary to win the slow matchups. The more of them you add to your deck, the more “greedy” you make it – it will be easier to win slow matchups, but you might find yourself dying before you can even play them against Pirates and such. So my advice – don’t add too many of those.
- Museum Curator – Pure value minion, the 1/2 body for 2 doesn’t provide almost any tempo, but the Discover part does get you quite a lot of value. What I like about this card is flexibility – depending on the situation and matchup you might pick something small like Mistress of Mixtures or Huge Toad, but if you need you can also get a big value card like Sylvanas Windrunner or Cairne Bloodhoof. Can be combo’d with Brann in slow matchups (e.g. Brann + Kazakus + Museum Curator is a great value turn).
- Kabal Courier – Similar to Museum Curator, but with a bigger variance. Picking cards from 3 classes makes this card far more diverse – you have a chance to pick a perfect answer or the card that wins you the game on the spot (pretty much), but on the other hand there is also a solid chance to get 3 blanks, while it’s very rarely the case with Museum Curator. I think that Kabal Courier is a staple in lists that run Shadowform (because you can get Coldarra Drake), but it’s not staple in the rest of them.
- Justicar Trueheart – I didn’t know which category to put it in, but I guess this is the best one. Justicar Trueheart is a very slow card, because in order to activate the upgraded Hero Power you need to play a very weak, 6/3 6-drop. But at the same time, after you play it, it will get you TONS of value over time. Early Justicar can win you some matchups just like that – if you stick one big minion to the board, you can keep it alive for pretty much as long as you like, because you heal it for 4 every turn. It’s also very hard to die after playing her – I mean, healing your Hero for 4 every turn is likely less than an average Aggro deck can pull off from topdecks (unless they are lucky). The card has obviously great synergy with Raza the Chained.
- Sylvanas Windrunner – One of the most common big, value minions in the deck. It’s very universal – it’s good when you’re behind, because you might force your opponent to make awkward trades or even snatch something good. It’s also solid when you’re ahead to solidify your position (as long as you don’t play into AoE) – it prevents your opponent from playing any big minion, or you can steal it. You can also combo it with Shadow Word: Death for an immediate random-target Mind Control – sometimes it’s a best way to deal with a big minion.
- Ysera – No big Legendary screams “value” as much as Ysera does. The card is incredibly slow and it’s not even a big threat by itself – 4/12 stats are incredibly defensive for a 9-drop. But as long as it stays on the board, it generates value. If not dealt with immediately, it can win slow matchups by itself – if you get an extra card every turn, eventually you will run your opponent out of cards while still having stuff to play yourself. But it’s a terrible, terrible card in fast matchups – games rarely even last until turn 9, and if they do, you’d often rather use your Hero Power than play a 4/12 “value” minion. I’ve played Ysera against Aggro in maybe 1 in 20 games, which makes it pretty much a dead card. That’s why it’s often cut from the Reno Dragon Priest lists.
- Chillmaw – See the “AoEs” category.
Reno Dragon Priest can often be played as a reactive deck. But in order to do that, you need to have enough answers for different board states. While I’ve already gone through the AoEs before, there are still a few cards you might want to consider – they are either single target removals or “semi-AoE” (Shadow Madness effect.
- Holy Smite – One of the most basic removal cards in the game. It deals 2 damage for 1 mana and that’s it. It’s a high tempo, but low value card, which makes it great in fast matchups (you can e.g. answer Small-time Buccaneer without losing the tempo, not counting Patches the Pirate of course). You can also use it to finish something after the AoE, or let’s say to deal 5 damage with Blackwing Corruptor. Pretty bad in slower matchups, as you’d like to get more value out of your cards.
- Potion of Madness – Alternative to Holy Smite. It’s a higher risk, but higher reward card. On the one hand, you need to have the right board state to be able to use it. But on the other hand, you might answer 2 small minions for only 1 mana. For example, if your opponent has Small-time Buccaneer and Southsea Deckhand on the board, you can bump one into the other and get tons of tempo with this single card. But the downside is that it might sit dead in your hand, as you can only get value out of it in specific situations.
- Shadow Madness – A bigger version of Potion of Madness. It doesn’t seem like a better card, because it costs 3 mana more and can only target minions with 1 attack more. Sure, that’s right, but that 1 attack is a big difference. It makes the card more consistent past the very early game, as even some mid game minions have 3 attack. It’s still a risky card to run. You might play 10 games with the card and get tons of value in each one of them, but later you can play next 10 and find it a dead card every time.
- Entomb – It used to be the core of Control Priest decks, but right now it’s hard to call it that way. Some deck lists have been cutting it for one simple reason – it’s too slow vs Aggro, which is the biggest problem on the current ladder. I mean, playing 6 mana removal is great if you target an 8 or 9 mana minion with it, but not if you have to target a 3-drop. Against Aggro it’s not only a tempo loss, but also it puts a card you don’t want to draw in your deck (you’d rather draw some Taunt or Reno or something than Frothing Berserker). Just like with many cards, it’s amazing in slow matchups. Not only because its a removal, but because it actually puts the minion you remove into your deck. Since you want to remove big stuff, it means that you have an extra threat in your deck – it can be Ragnaros the Firelord or Sylvanas Windrunner or whatever, but your opponent has to spend an extra removal to deal with it + you’re putting an extra card into your deck, making you more likely to win fatigue game. So, once again, you might have to cut a great card from your deck only because Aggro dominates the meta.
Unique Effects/Tech Cards
Then, we have a few cards that didn’t fit the categories above. They either have a unique effect that can’t be categorized too easily, fit into multiple roles and generally are considered “tech cards”. We don’t have too many of those, so I hope that making this extra category won’t cause too much confusion.
- Acidic Swamp Ooze – Weapon removal. Even though some might consider it a core, it has been cut from many lists, because the list is really, really full and it’s one of the first cards to cut. It might help in the weapon matchups, but it’s a vanilla 3/2 against anything that doesn’t play weapons (or if you draw it after your opponent has used his weapon/s already). If you face a lot of Pirates, it might be a good idea to run it. If not, it’s not worth it.
- Dirty Rat – One of the most interesting effects we’ve got in Gadgetzan. You pull out one minion out of your opponent’s hand. While the Battlecry might be considered a negative thing, it’s not always like that. Against Aggro you use it to pull out a Charge minion and kill it immediately – you save yourself few health this way (because otherwise after the Taunt is gone you wouldn’t be able to stop a minion Charging into your face). Or just play it once they’re out of minions – then it’s a 2/6 Taunt. And against Control, you want to play it in the late game, when you think that they’re keeping a high value minion. You pull it out and kill it immediately so they can’t get any value. For example, against Reno Mage you might stop Archmage Antonidas from generating multiple Fireballs. The card is very risky, but it can win games if played correctly.
- Shadowform – Some players are playing this as a win condition and it’s pretty interesting. Even though you have to sacrifice some tempo initially + sacrifice the ability to heal, now your Hero Power deals 2 damage to anything you want. It’s like a Mage’s Hero Power on steroids. If your opponent has no (or limited) health gain, you can hit face and put him on the clock like Hunter does. It also gives you the ability to kill small minions right away + boost your trades on bigger minions. It combos really nicely with Raza the Chained, after you drop Raza you can get 2 damage on anything you want every turn for free. You don’t really want to play this and Justicar Trueheart in the same deck, as the cards have similar purpose – making your Hero Power stronger to combo it with Raza, but they don’t work together (Shadowform replaces upgraded Hero Power, Justicar after Shadowform does nothing).
- Mind Control Tech – It’s still sometimes used in Priest to counter board floods. It’s okay against early game Aggro decks, they often have 4 minions out by turn 3-4. However, it’s a pretty random card, not to mention that if your opponent never plays more than 3 minions, it’s a dead card (or rather, vanilla 3/3 for 3, which is also pretty bad). Can be combo’d with Dirty Rat, and sometimes it’s a great combo, but you need to be careful and have a plan B to deal with whatever you pull out (as you will only have 1/4 chance to steal it).
Now, once you know the deck’s core and complementary cards you can add, here are a few examples of the Reno Dragon Priest lists from pro players. They all have been played in high Legend or tournaments, which obviously means they were successful – but notice the differences in each of the builds. Try to compare them to each other and think about why certain players cut X or Y card, while others still play it. With the knowledge that you have, you can now either pick the deck that suits your play style and the meta you face most, or you can build your own list (either from the scratch or basing it on one of the lists below).
- Zetalot’s Reno Dragon Priest
- Hotform’s Reno Dragon Priest
- Thijs’ Reno Dragon Priest
- Kolento’s Reno Dragon Priest
- Stonekeep’s Reno Dragon Priest
That’s all folks. I hope that you’ve learned something from this article. Deck building skills, while not directly, should influence your game play too – I wasn’t too much into deck building when I’ve started playing, I liked to copy the decks from around the web, but once I’ve started doing it myself, my knowledge about the game has significantly increased. And my motto is that the more you know, the better you play. If you liked this one, I can do something similar for a different deck too. Let me know which decks you’d like to see in the comments.
If you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comment section below. And if you want to be up to date with my articles, you can follow me on Twitter.
Good luck on the ladder and until next time!