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January 31, 2017

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In-Depth Turn Analysis: Gadgetzan Edition


In-Depth Turn Analysis is as series started by Smashthings back in 2014. Since he quit Hearthstone, it was discontinued and forgotten. I’ve decided to pick it up, because it’s really interesting and fills a niche between articles for beginners and more competitive ones.

If you aren’t familiar with the series, don’t worry – it’s quite easy. Just imagine you’re in an interesting or difficult spot in one of your matches. What if, instead of having 75 seconds to analyze everything, your time would be unlimited? Decisions in Hearthstone are often very chaotic. You might be driven by intuition (which isn’t always right), you might miss something, you might make a big misplay, because you didn’t have time to think about every possible outcome.

In order to take most from the series, before checking out my analysis, you should think about the scenario yourself. What do you think is the best play? Comparing your answers to my analysis can then teach you something or even spark a discussion if you disagree with my points. Feel free to comment if you do!

So before I start, I have one request for you guys. If you stumble upon such a scenario during one of your games, please make a screenshot and send it to me ( and it get featured in next episode of the series!

RenoLock vs Beast Druid

Screenshot was posted by /u/j1maf on the /r/CompetitiveHS’ “What’s the play weekly” thread. Since I have only this one screenshot, I can’t analyze the cards played and make a decision based on that. So for the sake of theorycrafting, we assume that the opponent still has burst left in the deck (stuff like Druid of the Claw, Swipe, Savage Roar etc.).

While we don’t know the exact deck lists, we can assume that both players are playing to standard lists. I’ll link the meta (well, off-meta in case of the Druid) lists.

And here’s the catch. Even though the game is played in Gadgetzan, Druid is not playing a meta deck. Beast Druid is almost never seen on the ladder (I’ve played maybe 2 or 3 games against the deck since Gadgetzan went out) and that’s why making a play might be so difficult. A lot of the skill in Hearthstone comes from practice – if you play the same matchup over and over again, you get better and you start to see the patterns. However, playing against the deck that you don’t see too often means that you have to make tons of assumptions, you have to adapt your strategy to what he does, even though you haven’t been in that spot before etc. That’s why I found this one interesting and wanted to talk a bit about it.

Overall, the game looks quite miserable for RenoLock. He’s at 11 life, without Reno Jackson and with 5 Stealthed damage in a form of Stranglethorn Tiger just staring at him. Even though he seemingly stabilized on the board, he has no clear way to deal with it. There are a lot of concerns here. Warlock is theoretically able to clear the board, but it will cost him a lot of tempo. Druid will have 5 cards next turn, meaning that it’s very likely that he will have a way to refill. On the other hand, not clearing the board and pushing the tempo is also a very risky option, because he’s technically at 6 health right now and Beast Druids are known for having some burst. He’s not really dead to a single card (most likely), but the Druid might have a 2 cards combo necessary to win the game. Plus even with a single card he can easily set up next turn lethal with a simple Hero Power. Life Tapping seems like a very risky option, but is it? There is still Reno Jackson in the deck, there are also some Taunts or other ways to gain health. Drawing Reno is pretty much winning the game on the spot, but isn’t the risk too high?

Then, besides bursting, there is another card we need to take into the account – Menagerie Warden. As we all know, Stranglethorn Tiger is one of the best targets to copy with it. So finding a way to counter a potential Warden is also important thing here. Let’s start going through the possible plays.

Play #1

Life Tap (+Sylvanas Windrunner)

You can start the turn with Life Tap. Since you don’t really have any good plays in your hand besides Sylvanas Windrunner, that’s the card you’re going for in case you don’t draw anything. However, there is an option to play the card you draw if it will be better. There is also an option to Tap and then Shadowflame, but it’s really bad idea – it leaves you with no board at all and Druid with 8 mana, 5 cards and initiative – it’s a clear loss at this point.


  • Tapping gets you closer to the Reno Jackson. You can even draw him this turn, which is basically game over – once you’re ahead on the board and at 30 health, Druid has no way to kill you.
  • You might draw another useful card. Cards like Defender of Argus or Faceless Shambler can also make you much more safe while preserving the tempo. If you draw either Earthen Ring Farseer or Sunfury Protector (or even Dirty Rat), you can also play it alongside the Imp Gang Boss. There are a lot of cards you want to get.
  • Shadowflame is the only board clear that doesn’t hurt you, so saving it for a potential board flood (Druid has spent his last turn playing Swipe + Wrath to clear the board, which means that he might plan to reload right now). If you drop Sylvanas, Shadowflame gets even better next turn.


  • You’re really low. Right now you’re technically at 6 health, so out of range of a single card like Swipe, Druid of the Claw or Savage Roar. Your opponent would need 2 cards to kill you, if you tap and the draw is poor you’re now at 4 health and you die to way more cards (Druid doesn’t need 2 card combo to kill you now).
  • Even if you don’t put yourself in the lethal range this turn, Druid’s Hero Power is 1 damage per turn, so assuming he Hero Powers your face every turn (it’s a solid assumption), 4 vs 6 health is a huge difference if you don’t draw any healing or Taunts.

Play #2

Just Sylvanas Windrunner

Playing Sylvanas without tapping means that you don’t utilize all your mana and possibly miss a chance for a better card to play this turn, but you’re not dealing 2 extra damage to yourself, so you’re not putting yourself under so much danger.


  • You’re technically at 6 health after this play, which is relatively safe. Druid can still kill you with a lot of stuff, but you’re 1 health outside of the range of immediate death to 4 damage moves right now.
  • Sylvanas Windrunner lines up really well against the stealthed Stranglethorn Tiger. If your opponent can’t kill you, he might have a really hard time playing his turn. If he trades with the Tiger, it’s like a Taunt minion, which is great in this scenario. If he goes face with the Tiger, he can’t play anything else, or you get an easy steal.
  • Sylvanas Windrunner also counters the potential Menagerie Warden move really well. If he trades the Tiger first, he loses the best Warden target – if he copies it, you kill a 5/5 and steal the Tiger.
  • Sylvanas also sets up for a solid Shadowflame. Let’s say if the Druid drops The Curator, you can Shadowflame the board and steal the 4/1 Taunt – it’s not great, but it’s still a board clear + forcing a Hero Power from the Druid.


  • While the play is safer, you’re really behind and playing safe is not always a good idea in those scenarios. Sometimes a more risky move might give you a higher chance to win. Depending on what exactly you have left in your deck, taking a (for example) 1/3 chance to get ahead might be better than just hoping that your opponent won’t draw any burn.

Play #3

Shadowflame + Imp Gang Boss

The safest play possible. You keep yourself at the 11 health by clearing the Tiger, so you’re 99% sure that you’re not dead. However, Druid gets the board initiative, since Imp Gang Boss doesn’t really contest stuff that well.


  • You don’t die. I mean, it’s still possible, but highly unlikely. Druid would need some 3 cards combo to kill you.
  • You should have answers for whatever he does next turn. If he plays a bunch of small-ish minions, you can Abyssal Enforcer – since you saved yourself 5 health by killing the Tiger, you should be able to afford the 3 health loss from it right now. If he plays something big, you can Blastcrystal Potion it. The only situation which would really screw you is Druid playing 2 Midrange minions, like 2x 4-drop or Innervate + 2x 5-drop, but that’s unlikely.
  • More turns = more time to draw a way to completely stabilize the board.


  • You’re forced to play reactively and only answer. With only Imp Gang Boss on the board, you can’t really contest whatever Druid plays. You might be forced to play Blastcrystal Potion + pass next turn, which is terrible, because it once again leaves you in a situation where the Druid gets the initiative.
  • On the one hand, more turns = more way to draw Reno etc, but more turns = more time for the Druid to draw lethal. Going for a higher tempo play might mean that you close out the game within 2-3 turns, going for this play it’s almost impossible.



j1maf has decided to go for Sylvanas Windrunner + no tap (Play #2). He lost next turn to the Druid of the Saber + Savage Roar. That’s one of the 2 cards combo I was talking about and there was pretty much nothing that could be done about it. But, let’s not judge the play based on the result, because that’s incorrect.

First of all – do you tap here? I personally would not. I think that the chances to draw something to stabilize are not worth it, because the drawback is that you die to a single spell. Being at 6 life vs less than 6 life is huge against Druid. You put yourself in the range of Swipe, Savage Roar, Druid of the Claw and 2-card combos that wouldn’t kill you otherwise like Living Roots + Druid of the Saber (or 2 of either), Saber + Menagerie Warden, Savage Combatant + Roots/Saber… There is just way, way more stuff that can kill you at 4 than at 6 and that risk might not be worth it.

So my choice would be pretty much between just Sylvanas Windrunner (Play #2) and Shadowflame + Imp Gang Boss (Play #3). Given the hand context, I think that I would actually go for the latter play. While Sylvanas is pretty strong here, this matchup is won by surviving. If you Shadowflame, you make absolutely sure that you survive next turn. And to increase your chances to further survive subsequent turns, you need something on the board to make the trades. While Imp Gang Boss alone isn’t a big threat, it might come very handy if you play to play Abyssal Enforcer next turn. Let’s say Druid drops Savage Combatant + small Beast or a small Beast + Menagerie Warden. Since Druid didn’t attack last turn with the Tiger, that would be my read that he indeed has Warden to follow-up. Imp Gang Boss can improve your potential trades and at this point you can’t afford to leave even a single bigger minion alive.

I’ve read one of the answers that Tap + Shadowflame (if you don’t topdeck anything good) should be the play and I disagree. Imp Gang Boss is really important to have a way to counter 4/5 health minions. If you tap last turn and your opponent drops one now, you’re screwed unless you draw something really good. You have to Blastcrystal it and you have no big minion to follow-up again. With Imp Gang Boss on the board, you can afford to Abyssal instead and have a 6/6 + 2x 1/1 on the board, which should be enough to stabilize.

So all in all, I think that going for the safe play (Shadowflame + Imp Gang Boss) is the best one here, just Sylvanas (semi-safe) is the second one and going for the risky tap is just unnecessary and gets punished too easily (if the draw fails, you’re ~90% dead next turn).

Dragon Warrior vs Aggro/Midrange Jade Shaman

Another play from the /r/CompetitiveHS’ “What’s the play” thread, this time around posted by the /u/Grimend. Once again, I’m basing my analysis only on this single screenshot.

Grimend is playing the Dragon Warrior – it might be a Pirate version, it might be a non-Pirate version. It’s hard to tell at this point, but I’d assume that he plays Pirates, because both Netherspite Historian and Arcanite Reaper are in the Zalae’s list and it runs Pirates + I have seen maybe a single Dragon Warrior without Pirates in the last month. What’s interesting, however, is what deck is he playing against. We can’t be certain judging by this opening. Aggro Shaman obviously runs those cards, but multiple successful builds of Midrange Jade Shaman also do run the Pirate package. However, I’d assume that it’s Aggro, since they are much more popular on the ladder. According to the Grimend’s information, Shaman has mulliganed his whole hand away. Once again, it doesn’t give us a lot of info – he clearly had a bad starting hand, but he got his best turn 1 cards so it’s hard to assume anything. However, one thing we can be sure about is that one of the cards in his hand is , since it wasn’t summoned by the Small-time Buccaneer. I mean, he might just not have one in his collection, but I’m once again going for the more likely scenario.

Here are the deck list examples for both of the players:

I really like turns like that. It seems like it’s very easy and straightforward, but it’s really not. There are actually 6 available moves here and we will consider 4 of them. I immediately throw away the Netherspite Historian and Faerie Dragon plays, because they’re simply bad. No matter what kind of Shaman he’s playing, you need to wrestle back the board control. You need tempo. Playing Historian would give you card advantage, but only a 1/3 on the board, which doesn’t even trade into anything. Faerie Dragon is a bit better, but he not only he’s your only Dragon (meaning your Alexstrasza’s Champion would become useless if you don’t draw another one very soon), but he can get punished quite easily by a weapon. So even though we have only 2 cards left, there are 4 valid options – both Alexstrasza's Champion and Fiery War Axe can hit one of the two targets and both of those hits makes a lot of sense.

Play Analysis

This time around, instead of going for the pros & cons of each play (because they would overlap a lot), I would just analyze the plays together. When it comes to this analysis, there are two things we want to think about. First of all – which card will be better to play right away – Alexstrasza's Champion or the Fiery War Axe and whether it’s better to kill Tunnel Trogg or Small-time Buccaneer.

Maybe let’s start by listing things Shaman can do next turn. We have to assume that he has Patches the Pirate in his hand, so he can always play it. Other things that he can do are: Spirit Claws, Jade Claws, Totem Golem, Maelstrom Portal, more 1-drops o (like Sir Finley Mrrgglton or Southsea Deckhand), Flametongue Totem. Lightning Bolt, Bloodmage Thalnos. I hope that I haven’t missed anything. Also, playing the totem is obviously a possible play too. However, plays like Maelstrom Portal, Flametongue Totem, Bloodmage Thalnos or totem are just straight up bad so we won’t analyze them (if opponent does that, no matter what way you’ve played the turn was good).

Since Shaman has opened with 2x 1-drop, it’s less likely that he has more of them. Since he used the Coin on a 1-drops, it means that he has a clear turn 2 play. He wouldn’t go for this play with only a single 1-drop to follow, so he either has 2 more (which is very unlikely) or a 2-drop. 1-drop + Spirit Claws is also an option, although once again, pretty rate.

The strongest, common turn 2 moves from Shaman in that case are Jade Claws and Totem Golem. Both of them are powerful with such a board and you should mainly consider them when making the decision.

But, first of all. Is playing Alexstrasza’s Champion better than playing FWA here? Yes, and no. On the one hand, since both minions are at 1 health right now, it might be a good idea to play the Charger while you still can kill something without taking a lot of minion damage. Board control is most important. You can later Charge her into let’s say Feral Spirit, but at 1 health it will be much more vulnerable to Maelstrom Portal or Spirit Claws. This matchup is about keeping your minions alive to have stuff to trade with and put pressure on the board – you prefer killing bigger stuff with weapons and letting your minions alive (as long as you have enough health, of course). So that’s the reason why Alexstrasza’s Champion might be great – basically you won’t likely have a better Alexstrasza’s Champion this game.

On the other hand, FWA is better, because it’s a weapon. Weapons are much harder to punish. Since Shaman lists rarely run Acidic Swamp Ooze, it’s very unlikely that he will be able to interact with it. But he will be able to interact with a minion. FWA is basically incredibly hard to punish, but you will surely have good targets to hit later, which might not be that easy with Alexstrasza’s Champion.

But let’s start with analyzing Alexstrasza. You have two ways to attack – Trogg or Buccaneer. In case of Jade Claws follow-up, which is probably the best counter to your play, your minion dies anyway. However, if you kill Buccaneer the Shaman is left with a 2/3 Trogg and when you kill Trogg, he’s left with a 3/2 Buccaneer. Since you have FWA in your hand and that’s most likely your play next turn, killing the Trogg will make you take 2 more damage in total. It doesn’t seem like much, but it’s an important consideration in this matchup. But, now let’s look at another very common turn 2 play – Totem Golem. If you go for the Tunnel Trogg and Shaman drops Totem Golem, now he has 1/2 and 3/4 against your 3/2. It means that he can’t kill your minion – you will get a second trade and still have a 3/1 minion on the board (which can get cleared by the Patches in the Shaman’s hand, but that’s 1 extra mana + another card he has to expend, not to mention that he will have only 2 mana on turn 3, so it will likely take a whole turn). On the other hand, if you’d kill Buccaneer and Shaman would play the Totem Golem, he could kill your 3/2 with his 2/3 buffed Trogg. Instead of having an extra 3/1 on the board, you still end up with 2 for 1, but with no minion left. Yet another scenario is Lightning Bolt – in this case killing the Trogg is also a better idea, because he’d grow and Buccaneer wouldn’t (in case of Bolt it’s 2/3 vs 1/2 on the board left for Shaman). Spirit Claws makes the Buccaneer kill a little bit better, but not by much. If you kill Trogg, he can equip Spirit Claws and kill your Alexstrasza’s Champion. If you kill Buccaneer, he also needs to spend 1 Spirit Claws charge. So overall, if you go for the Alexstrasza’s Champion, I think that killing Trogg is a better idea, because it’s less likely to get punished and punishments are less severe.

Then, there is a FWA. What I like about FWA is that it might make opponent’s turns awkward. If he has a weapon or Lightning Bolt in his hand he wants to play next turn, he’d really prefer to have a minion he can use those on. Without a minion on the board, Shaman’s next turn might be pretty weak. When it comes to the Fiery War Axe swing, there are two things you want to consider – 1 is the damage you can take and 2 is how useful the Alexstrasza’s Champion will be next round (because unless you topdeck something, that will be your best tempo move). Let’s go through the common follow-ups once again. If Shaman plays a turn 2 weapon (most likely Jade Claws, killing Buccaneer is better. That’s because you take less damage in total – let’s assume the scenario where you swing at Buccaneer on turn 1 and Tunnel Trogg on turn 2. If Jade Claws are equipped, you take 5 damage in total to clear both minions. If you went for the other attack, you take 7 damage in total – once again, taking 2 extra damage. Then, the Alexstrasza’s Champion usability. Alexstrasza’s Champion works much better against a 2/3 than against a 3/2, so if you would for some reason be forced to play her and run her into something, you’d prefer to get a good trade and still have a 3/1 minion (like I’ve mentioned before, it can get killed by Patches in the Shaman’s hand, but it’s not a big deal at this point). Thus hitting Buccaneer is better against turn 2 weapon. What about Totem Golem? In that case, hitting the Trogg is better – it will be 2/3 minion vs 1/2 minion on turn 2. However, since no minion goes into 3 attack here, you’re still free to play Alexstrasza’s Champion to kill the Trogg. Plus, there are 4 weapons Shaman can play and only 2 Totem Golems in the deck, so it’s more likely that he ends up playing a weapon.

FWA is better than Alexstrasza’s Champion against Lightning Bolt, because Shaman won’t use it on your face (and if he does, that’s great). On the other hand, FWA gets heavily punished by an Acidic Swamp Ooze card tech. It doesn’t happen often, because most of players netdeck and run the pro lists card for card, but I’ve been punished like that before. Ooze often comes when you least expect it.

Let’s summarize the pros and cons of each move and pick the best one. If you’re going for the Alexstrasza's Champion, you should kill Tunnel Trogg, because leaving it might be more punishing. On the other hand, if you go for the Fiery War Axe move, you should kill the Small-time Buccaneer, mostly because it’s very unlikely that Shaman will Overload for 2 next turn, putting Trogg at 3 attack, so you will still be able to kill him with Alexstrasza’s if you need and let your minion survive. However, since FWA is harder to punish in general, as less cards are good against it, I’d probably go that route. Playing FWA instead of a minion can be punished by an Ooze tech, but punishes hand that relies on you playing a minion here.

So if I had to rate plays from best to worst, it would be 1. FWA -> Buccaneer, 2. FWA -> Tunnel Trogg, 3. Alexstrasza’s Champion -> Tunnel Trogg, 4. Alexstrasza’s Champion -> Buccaneer.

However, each of those plays is incredibly close. I’d say that 90% of time, no matter which one of the 4 you pick, it won’t change the outcome of the match. However, there is that 10% of time when picking the right move will give you the edge you need to win. And that’s why I love decisions like that – seemingly easy, early game decision can have a huge impact on the whole game, especially if you pick the wrong one and end up getting punished.


That’s all folks. I hope you’ve enjoyed another episode of In-Depth Turn Analysis. If you disagree with any of my analysis, feel free to leave a comment in the section below. Once I have some free time, I’d be glad to discuss everything with you! 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!

Previous Episodes

If you enjoy the series, you might want to check out the previous installments:

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Playing Hearthstone since September 2013. Infinite Arena player. Hitting Legend rank on EU each season, with multiple high Legend climbs during the season and top 200-300 finishes.

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  1. delnai says:

    Thanks for the article! Can you explain why Sylvanas+Shadowflame or Leeroy+Shadowflame were not considered in your Warlock analysis? I’m terrible at handlock/renolock and would love to get better. Knowing why Leeroy+Shadowflame is a bad play (it was my first thought) might help. I figure you don’t need the burst in this situation because you have initiative, and clearing the tiger is important to deny Warden value and reduce risk. Next turn your 8/7 should be able to clear a big threat while the Enforcer can clear small threats.

    Also, you keep saying you’re “technically” at 6 life in the first situation, when I’d say you’re technically at 11 life but _effectively_ at 6 life.

    • Stonekeep says:

      Sylvanas + Shadowflame or Leeroy + Shadowflame were not considered because of the mana cost :) Warlock is at 8 mana and those plays cost 10 and 9 mana respectively. Leeroy + Shadowflame would be the best play here if there was enough mana, you’re not going for the combo win condition anyway, you deal with the board, you keep 8/7, you still have ways to deal with future threats – like you’ve said… But that’s not possible in this case.

      And thanks for the correction, English is not my first language (which is pretty easy to see) and I’m still making stupid mistakes like that. I’ll edit it tomorrow, because I’m going to bed right now. Good night!

      • Loree says:

        Just out of curiosity – which country are you from? I think your English is excellent but I am also not a native English speaker.

        I know that you play on the EU server, in fact I have played against you over the weekend at rank 3. You were playing golden Miracle Rouge. :)

      • Daniel Studenmund says:

        Whoops! Mana. Duh. Sorry to waste your time with a pointless question.