A Mammoth Transformation: The Effects of The Upcoming Hearthstone Rotation, Part 2
The Year of the Mammoth is here! With the cards of Journey to Un’Goro revealed, it’s time to delve deep into Un’Goro crater and create an entirely new Hearthstone metagame. This pair of articles looks at the effects of the rotation on Hearthstone.
Part 1, which came out several weeks ago, focused on past expansions, looking at the cards that rotated out and how each class would miss the cards that were leaving.
Part 2 (this article) looks at each class in turn, picking out potential archetypes that class could have success with the Un’Goro meta. It also includes a ‘tier list’ suggesting which archetypes might have the most success once the dinosaurs run free.
Druid’s most recent archetype— Jade Druid— carries neatly over from the Gadgetzan meta with not a golem out of place. But now, it’s got competition.
Blizzard has decided to push a classic piece of Druid class identity: big, (sometimes) overcosted minions with giant Attack stats. With the quest Jungle Giants, Druids won’t even have to worry about the cost of their minions— after they’ve already pulled 5 minions of sufficient size out of their hand, that is. Cards like Elder Longneck and Tortollan Forager are made with the goal of helping the Druid play big minions, with Earthen Scales to help the Druid survive until the quest is complete. Once Barnabus the Stomper shows up, the Druid can drop giant end-game drops like Tyrantus for a hard-to remove finisher.
The catch is this: will ‘Jungle’ Druid be better than the late-game power of Jade? The quest deck will have to finish things more quickly than Aya and her crew, or Jade Druid will have to be unfeasible in the upcoming meta, which is unlikely. If neither of these come to pass, players will simply bring the mean streets of Gadgetzan to the jungle.
A combo deck using Jungle Giants might also be possible, using either Malygos, or C'Thun played repeatedly in combination with Ancient Brewmaster— but since minions already in your hand aren’t discounted, it’s dependent on not drawing your finisher before you drop Barnabus. (C’Thun Combo Druid also has to worry about whether Barnabus’s discount stays once Ancient Brewmaster returns C’Thun to your hand.)
Lotus on the Prowl
Jade Druid, meanwhile, may be a contender for one of the best decks of the upcoming Un’Goro meta. With cards like Gluttonous Ooze and Tar Creeper to ruin Aggro’s day, the meta is likely to shift towards Midrange and Control decks— and Jade Druid is the ultimate control deck, simply because Jade Idol provides it with infinite value. No other control deck can outlast a parade of ever-growing Jade Golems forever.
Jade Druid will still have enemies— Time Warp Mage (explained below) and Midrange decks can both give Jade a headache by killing it before the Druid can bring out the really big guns. But when it comes to the endgame, Druid’s got it covered.
With Pirate Warrior eating its lunch and bad early game, Hunter was nonexistent in the Gadgetzan meta. Blizzard looks to change that.
Welcome to Un’Goro Park
The Hunter quest, The Marsh Queen, aims to resurrect the Face Hunter of old. Not only does it focus on 1-Cost minions, the reward— Queen Carnassa— shuffles an entire pack of oversized 1-Cost raptors (each with ‘Battlecry: Draw a card’) into the Hunter’s deck. Both of the new Hunter 1-drops, Raptor Hatchling and Jeweled Macaw, play nicely into this game plan— and that isn’t all the Hunter can offer. 1-drops from past sets like Fiery Bat and Alleycat will make an appearance in this deck, along with Un’Goro neutrals like Emerald Reaver and classic Face Hunter staples like Argent Squire and Abusive Sergeant.
Classically, Face Hunter has been in danger of running out of cards as it empties its hand. Blizzard’s got a solution for that, too. Stampede gives Hunter a cheap source of mid- and late-game refill, as it plays Beasts and gets even more Beasts in return. The generated Beasts can even pump up a Scavenging Hyena that’s along for the ride.
Any class that has Taunts will be able to give Raptor Face Hunter a headache, but as an aggressive deck that uses neither Pirates or weapons all that much, Raptor Face Hunter is the Blizzard-sanctioned Aggro deck to be reckoned with.
The Slow Path
Midrange Hunter probably won’t be as good as Raptor Face Hunter, but it’s still got potential. Cards like Crackling Razormaw let the Hunter gain an edge with their early Beasts, while Terrorscale Stalker and Spiritsinger Umbra both extend the potential present in ‘sticky’ Deathrattle minions like Kindly Grandmother. The deck could even experiment with Dinomancy, making its minions overlarge at the cost of shifting away from a face-y playstyle.
Midrange Hunter also has the advantage of having (ironically) a faster start than Raptor Face Hunter, which must play its Quest on Turn 1. While the deck is less flashy than Raptor Face Hunter, it could have potential if enough anti-Aggro tech starts circulating.
Which Hunter archetype will predominate? Time will tell, but don’t count Hunter out in the upcoming meta.
Mage can no longer rely on either the health-restoring powers of the Kabal, or the fiery denizens of Blackrock Mountain, so it must change. However, two discoveries in the Un’Goro Jungle will give the class what it needs to fight another day.
Let’s Do the Time Walk Again
Once upon a time, Wizards of the Coast, creator of Magic the Gathering, made a card called ‘Time Walk’. Its text read: “Take an extra turn after this one.” The card was quickly banned in almost every MtG format, as its sheer, unmitigated power became clear. Now, Blizzard Entertainment has looked at Hearthstone, and said: “Time Walk shall rise again.”
The Mage Un’Goro quest, Open the Waygate, requires the Mage to cast spells that the Mage didn’t start with. There’s plenty of ways for them to do this— new cards like Mana Bind and Primordial Glyph will give Mages plenty of discounted spells, while old classics like Babbling Book and Cabalist's Tome provide enough support that Mages will have spells coming out their ears.
The Mage quest reward, Time Warp, is the payoff. Like MtG’s Time Walk, Time Warp gives the Mage who casts it another turn— no questions asked. The potential is endless. In classic Hearthstone fashion, that potential mostly takes the form of killing your opponent from 30 Health, while time is stopped.
Two main variants of the deck seem like they could work. The first version plays Arcane Giants, followed by Alexstrasza to soften the opponent up as the Giants go in for the kill. The second, more complicated version involves playing two Sorcerer's Apprentices, then using Molten Reflections to copy them. Once the Mage has four Apprentices on the board, they can play Archmage Antonidas, then sling Fireballs with wild abandon!
Whatever version predominates, Time Warp Mage seems like it will be an extremely dangerous contender in the Year of the Mammoth.
A Tale of Fire and Water
Time Warp Mage is the Mage deck that will get all the attention, but Mages have another option at their disposal. Tempo Mage isn’t dead, and it’s the addition of Elementals that will bring it back to life.
While Mages may miss the tempo of Flamewaker, their newest toys, Flame Geyser and Steam Surger, give Elemental Tempo Mage value. Lots of value. Flame Geyser is simple removal that gives the Mage an Elemental activator; the card by itself isn’t special, but the number of Flame Geysers the Mage can get their hands on is.
Steam Surger can be thought of as the Mage equivalent of the now-rotated Tomb Pillager— a commanding, vanilla-statted body that generates something the Mage can use (in this case, more removal and Elemental activation tokens).
This combination of removal and Elemental support adds up to make Mage one of the two classes that will be best able to use Journey to Un’Goro’s many Elementals. Blazecaller is effectively an extra copy of Firelands Portal with a guaranteed 6/6 body, while Water Elemental, the Classic Mage card, is gaining the Elemental tag for even greater synergy.
While Elemental Tempo Mage will probably be overshadowed by Time Warp Mage in the Mage direction, and by Elemental Shaman in the Elemental direction, it’s not worth counting the deck out— it could catch fire when you least expect it.
Galvadon’t Want None…
With Anyfin Can Happen gone, and the Grimy Goons’ Hand-buff strategy fallen flat, Paladin needs something new in the Un’Goro meta. Blizzard’s quest, The Last Kaleidosaur, seems to be pushing a strategy revolving around buffing the Paladin’s minions.
A deck that runs the quest would do things like stack buffs on Primalfin Champion and get them back once it dies, protect itself with Spikeridged Steed, and throw spells like Adaptation, Divine Strength, and Blessing of Kings around. Once the quest was complete, the Paladin would play the reward, Galvadon, Adapt it to be impossible to kill, and slam it into the opponent’s face for the win.
The catch with this buff-centric strategy is that it’s slow, and you don’t get enough of an effect for the buffs Paladin currently has available. To make matters worse, The Last Kaleidosaur has anti-synergy with the most recent crop of buffs released before Un’Goro— the hand-buff cards from Gadgetzan. Not only is Buff Paladin a bust, but the other Paladin cards Blizzard has printed are a tossed salad of Secret and Silver Hand Recruit synergy, which don’t quite add up to a full deck just yet.
It’s possible there may be a ‘Unicorn Paladin’ waiting out there to be discovered… but as it stands, there are winners and losers in the Year of the Mammoth— and Paladin’s gotten trampled.
Just Like Reno Jackson
Several months ago, we were privy to an interesting prediction from Blizzard designer Mike Donais: that Reno Priest was the only Kabal deck that would survive rotation. He was right— just not in the way everyone expected.
The new Priest quest, Awaken the Makers, gives Priest a strong Deathrattle focus, and a reward— Amara, Warden of Hope— that resets the Priest’s Health to 40. It’s like Reno Jackson all over again… but the Priest can run two copies of any card in their deck!
It might be easier to trigger the quest, too. While Reno Jackson had an annoying habit of hiding in the bottom of the deck, Awaken the Makers simply requires the Priest summon minions like Crystalline Oracle, Tortollan Shellraiser, or maybe even Volatile Elemental— if they’re not already copying the Deathrattles with Mirage Caller.
The only question arises as to the deck’s win condition. N'Zoth, the Corruptor is the obvious go-to— but if the Priest plays tiny Deathrattles to finish the Quest quickly, that’s what they’ll get back! In addition, most of the Deathrattles Priest has available add (random) cards to the Priest’s hand— not exactly the sort of thing they could expect to use to finish off their opponent.
With an uncertain Deathrattle quest, and Dragons (Priest’s former go-to deck) gone, Priest has better chances than Paladin, but its best deck is missing something.
Rogue is in an unusual position. While it lost some key cards it had in the Gadgetzan meta, the class has no fewer than three potentially good archetypes as the Year of the Mammoth begins. However, none of them is entirely a sure thing.
Caving for Giants
Blizzard wanted a tricky Quest for Rogues. Their result, The Caverns Below, requires the Rogue to play four copies of the same minion! There’s several ways Rogue could achieve this. ‘Bounce’ effects like Shadowstep and Youthful Brewmaster— or even the much-derided Gadgetzan Ferryman— could provide one way to play the same minion repeatedly. Alternately, the Rogue could use Igneous Elemental and Fire Fly to generate Flame Elemental tokens— many tokens at once, and the quest is done.
The Rogue quest reward, Crystal Core, makes all the Rogue’s current and future minions 5/5, before any buff like that of Edwin VanCleef or Biteweed. The dream is that the Rogue player completes the quest quickly, turns all their minions into mega-minions, and hits the opponent’s face to finish the game. The difficulty is pulling it off. Both the ‘bounce’ method and the ‘elemental token’ method require the Rogue draw into the specific cards (bounce enablers or token generators) needed to play their chosen minion 4 times. Rogue’s new draw card, Mimic Pod, might help in generating copies of these cards— but only if the Rogue is lucky.
Fortunately, Rogue has other options.
It’s A Miracle!
Miracle Rogue will miss Tomb Pillager, but it’s gained lots of tasty new tools this expansion. Sherazin, Corpse Flower is one of the most fun. While this flower dies easily with its low 3 Health, its resummon condition— play 4 cards in a turn— has an uncanny habit of triggering at the exact time the Rogue’s opponent will hate the most: right as the Rogue runs their Miracle turn with Gadgetzan Auctioneer, or plays cards that build up to a giant Edwin VanCleef. The opponent will have to decide: Kill Sherazin, and leave an Edwin or Auctioneer on the board? Or kill the greater threat, and take face damage from Sherazin?
Miracle Rogue gets more combo enablers in this expansion, too. Razorpetal Lasher, Razorpetal Volley, and the Razorpetals these cards generate give the Rogue spells for their Auctioneer, and pings to finish off weakened minions. Rogue also has Hallucination as an easy way to gain resources from opponents (and another way to cycle with Auctioneer). While the loss of Tomb Pillager does hurt Miracle Rogue, these new tools should hopefully be enough to keep it going strong.
Jungle Pirate Ninja Murlocs
There’s one more Rogue archetype that could show potential in the Un’Goro meta. “Water Rogue” was an aggressive deck that surfaced late in the Gadgetzan meta, relying on Finja, the Flying Star to pull out Murlocs and charge them into the opponent’s face before the opponent could react.
Though many anti-aggro tools have surfaced in this expansion, Rogue got a few anti-anti-aggro tools to deal with them. Envenom Weapon and Vilespine Slayer will let the Rogue cut through giant Taunts, and Rogue’s hero power lets them survive a weapon destruction or two.
Water Rogue didn’t get much other support— most of the newly added neutral Murlocs have Battlecries that make them unpleasant for Finja to pull— but it’s entirely possible that the deck isn’t down and out just yet.
The Year of the Shaman is over. With Tunnel Trogg and Totem Golem finally gone, the class’s infamous openings are no longer as incredible— and the class’s face-y ways have come to a halt.
But Thrall and Morgl aren’t dead yet.
The Elementals are Callin’
Of all nine of Hearthstone’s classes, Shaman is the class that received the most support for decks focused on Elemental synergy. Not only do Shamans have cards like Air Elemental and Hot Spring Guardian as strong Elemental early game, they can use Fire Plume Harbinger to turn their Elementals into cheaper Elementals, allowing Shamans to keep playing Elementals when they’re Overloaded from their destructive spells.
It’s worth noting that many of Shamans’ best spells are coming with the class as it enters the New Year. Hex is the premium removal it’s always been; the combination of Lightning Storm and Maelstrom Portal can clear imposing boards (though Shaman now has to worry about getting Emerald Hive Queen from the Portal), and Bloodlust remains a classic finisher.
Once the Elemental Shaman has built up a huge board, it’s got a few extra surprises for the late game. Like Elemental Mage, Shamans can also use Blazecaller— but unlike Mage, the Shaman can activate it with Fire Elemental, and follow Blazecaller up with Kalimos, Primal Lord on Turn 8.
The tempo and value Kalimos can generate is incredible. In addition to being a huge body, the Primal Lord can do things like clear an enemy board, fill the Shaman’s own board, or restore a large chunk of the Shaman’s life total. As if that’s not enough, a Shaman can alternately use Spirit Echo once they’ve built a big enough board, allowing it to reconstitute the board once it’s been cleared. In short, like before: Shaman’s got an answer for everything.
All in all, Elemental Shaman is going to be good. It’s going to be really good.
It could even be possible that the Year of the Shaman isn’t over after all.
Who’s Up for an Adventure?
Normally, we’d talk about the Shaman Quest first. However, Blizzard decided to do something wacky for that very quest this time around: Murlocs! Unite the Murlocs is a quest all about getting Murlocs on the board, and the reward, Megafin, gives you… more Murlocs to play. Cards like Call in the Finishers and Primalfin Totem could make such a deck revolve around generating small Murlocs, with the intention that they’d be buffed by the likes of Gentle Megasaur and would enable Primalfin Lookout to find even more Murlocs.
It’s not a bad idea. It’s just— of the two new archetypes Shaman has available, Elemental Shaman looks to be so strong that people will mostly play Unite the Murlocs as a fun deck, seeking to wind up in highlight videos and tales told around the tavern table.
Of course, some intrepid deckbuilders could always prove this article wrong…
Blizzard has been trying to push discarding cards as part of Warlock class identity for a long time. Cards like Darkshire Librarian and Malchezaar's Imp already found their way into past Warlock ‘Discard Zoo’ decks. Now, in Un’Goro, Blizzard has doubled down on this synergy— and they’ve created something extraordinary.
The reward for the Warlock quest, Lakkari Sacrifice, opens a portal that drops 2 3/2 imps onto the board every turn, for free, for the rest of the game. Clutchmother Zavas joins Silverware Golem in making the ‘discard’ strategy less risky for the Warlock, while Lakkari Felhound gives the Warlock one more way to throw out cards and open the portal.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Zoo without a rabble of small minions for the Warlock to use as pawns. Ravasaur Runt, with its Adapt effect, is now in competition with Knife Juggler for the title of ‘most annoying 2 Mana 2/2’, while the Warlock can play Glacial Shard to stop big minions in their tracks. In addition, Warlocks can use the Poisonous Taunt Stubborn Gastropod to force their opponents to have to make some tough choices if they want to trade with the Warlock’s wide board.
Once the portal’s open, most decks will have a hard time keeping up, as the Warlock plays their own minions in addition to the Imps spawned by the portal. This quest could make Discard Zoo one of the best decks of the upcoming format. One thing, though, is for certain. The prospects for Warlock in Un’Goro look ‘Extraordinary.’
As this article’s being written, when people think ‘Warrior’, they think of Pirates and Weapons and hitting the face until the opponent falls over. However, Garrosh may be in for a rude awakening.
It begins with a tar pit.
Who’s in Charge Now?
Pirate Warrior was one of the most powerful (and aggravating) aggro decks of the Gadgetzan meta. The only card the deck lost in the rotation was Sir Finley Mrrgglton, leaving Pirate Warrior ready to kick face well into the new year.
While Pirate Warrior hasn’t gained anything new in the expansion, its enemies have. Cards like Tar Creeper and Tol'vir Stoneshaper serve a single purpose: to protect the face, and annoy the dinosaur poo out of aggro decks. In addition, Gluttonous Ooze is the sworn enemy of Warriors’ Arcanite Reapers. Blizzard even printed Golakka Crawler, a card that eats Pirates in the same way Hungry Crab munches on Murlocs! Notably, all of the anti-aggro cards just listed are Neutrals, allowing any class to use them.
In short: Pirate Warrior will still be around… but it’ll have to fight a few more uphill battles this year than the year before. The class has attracted many enemies, large Elemental taunts, and ways to disrupt its game plan in the new Un’Goro meta— but it has a good chance to perservere, remaining a highly aggressive threat (and quite probably a Tier 1 deck) in the Year of the Mammoth.
However, people who want to play Warrior this year don’t have Pirate Warrior as the only option.
Garrosh Used Taunt!
Ever since the introduction of Bolster in The Grand Tournament, Blizzard has been trying to get Warrior to adopt a Taunt-heavy play style. However, prior to the Un’Goro meta, the strategy failed— putting a big wall of Taunts on the board was doable, but it left the Warrior short a win condition.
No longer. The Warrior quest, Fire Plume's Heart, has a remarkable surprise at the end of it. While Ragnaros the Firelord has moved to Wild, he left his weapon— Sulfuras— behind, and it’s a doozy. With a gigantic wall of Taunt minions to protect him, the Warrior can leave Armor gain behind… in favor of chucking enormous, 8-damage fireballs everywhere on the board!
As if that wasn’t enough, Blizzard printed a full set of top-quality Taunts to shore up the Warrior mid- and late-game. Direhorn Hatchling, its token Direhorn Matriarch, Ornery Direhorn, and Tar Lord form a full curve of Taunt minions which continue the pattern set by Tar Creeper and Tol'vir Stoneshaper. Even Bloodhoof Brave, from Whispers of the Old Gods, can show up to the party.
The message is clear: Taunt Warrior is the new face of Control Warrior— and with a curve that practically builds itself, everyone who’s sick and tired of being beaten up by (or playing) Pirate Warrior will be lining up to run the new deck. Taunt Warrior may be one of the standout decks of the Un’Goro metagame.
Un’Goro Tier List
Now for the fun part. In this section, we’ll do our best to rank how we think each deck will stack up once the Un’Goro meta settles down. Like the TempoStorm meta snapshot, we’ll divide our ranking into tiers. Within a tier, decks are sorted by their class, in alphabetical order.
Tier 1 – Outstanding
These are the decks that will dominate the meta. They’ve got synergy, value, tempo, raw power— or all of these!— and they’ll ride them to victory.
- Jade Druid – It’s a control deck with literally infinite value.
- Time Warp Mage – This is the successor to Freeze Mage; it waits until it’s ready, then kills you.
- Elemental Midrange Shaman – An incredible curve and great support spells. What more could a deck ask for?
- Discard Zoolock – Blizzard added an imp-ressive amount of support this year.
- Pirate Warrior – The deck’s still got it, though it’s not as smooth sailing as before.
- Taunt Warrior – The new face of Control Warriors: angry and unyielding. And eventually, chucking huge fireballs around.
Tier 2 – Pretty Good
They’re not the A-list decks, but they’re still good. Tier 2 decks have more than a fighting chance on ladder, even if they have some unpleasant matchups. Oftentimes, decks like these can be used as anti-meta counters if a particular Tier 1 deck grabs too big a share of the pie.
- Raptor Face Hunter – The deck will go straight for the face, but can have draw issues occasionally.
- Midrange Hunter – Good, but not as good as some of the strongest decks. At least Hunter’s back.
- Miracle Rogue – Pirate Warrior’s continued success will be annoying, but Rogue’s still got it.
- Water Rogue – This deck got hurt by anti-aggro more than Pirate Warrior did, but it can still ambush the unwary.
Tier 3 – Fair to Middling
Tier 3 decks are missing some spark or key component that lets them do well in the metagame. Of course, this can also be seen as fertile ground for theorycrafters to find the card or cards that could serve as a deck’s ‘missing link’.
- Vanilla Jungle Druid – Completing the quest – and then making good use of the reward – could be a little tricky. Also, Jade’s better.
- Elemental Tempo Mage – Some synergy, but not enough.
- Buff Paladin – Galvadon’s great, but the available buffs are a mixed bag. Requires keeping a board to work.
- N’Zoth Amara Priest – No good win condition, and the Deathrattles that will complete the quest quickly are not the ones that create a big tempo swing when N’Zoth resurrects them.
- Spelunky (Crystal Core) Rogue – Consistency issues.
Tier 4 – Bad
Tier 4: The decks you want to play for the thrill of letting loose with wacky antics! However, if you seek the thrill of winning, you should probably play something else.
- Combo Jungle Druid – We have no idea whether this will actually work. Also, dependent on not drawing your finisher before you play Barnabus, then drawing it afterwards.
- Murloc Shaman – Probably too slow to be an aggro deck, but Murlocs don’t work well in the late-game.
That’s everything! We’ve made our predictions. Now it’s your turn.
What are you planning to run in the Un’Goro meta? Do you think you have a surefire deck we didn’t mention here? Or do you just think some card or archetype will perform better or worse than we’ve guessed? If you’ve got anything to say, sound off in the comments below— and if you liked the article, don’t forget to upvote it (that big green button below) or share it with your friends!
Thanks again for your interest in the astrology of Hearthstone— and, see you again next year!