An Overview of the Hearthstone Metagame
Good morning everyone! Today, I am going to share with you what is probably the article I have enjoyed writing the most in my time at Hearthstone Players. My favorite thing about CCGs is simply studying the different deck types that make up the metagame, and this is what I’m here to do today. I am going to take a brief look at each common deck archetype that exists in the metagame and give an idea of how they play and function and their benefits. I would like to make a few disclaimers though before I begin:
1. This article is geared toward newer players.
Though experienced players may enjoy the organization of the article and may use it as a handy reference tool, the article is not meant to bring deep insight into the deck types mentioned here, but rather to help those who are struggling to get a grasp on the gigantic, highly varied Hearthstone metagame.
2. I recognize that there will be some contention as to whether a certain archetype is or is not distinct from another.
For example, do we call the Rogue decks running around now with Violet Teacher and a combination of legendaries that act as finishers? Are they Miracle Rogue decks? Control Rogue? Tempo Rogue? Though some may make a distinction among these decks, and they may even have a valid case, my goal here is not to nitpick about whether the minor variations in these decks significantly alter their playstyles. As such I will generally classify these decks together (for example, I am classifying all of the aforementioned Rogue decks under “Control Rogue.”)
3. I am choosing to disclude a number of old archetypes that are almost entirely nonexistant on the ladder.
A perfect example of this would be Backspace Rogue (Rogue is a tricky one nowadays). Though there are some experimental aggro rogues that see some very fringe play on the ladder, they are nearly nonexistant, and are vastly different from the old-school Backspace Rogue, which was once popular. I welcome discussion of these decks in the comments though, so long as the discussion is civil (for example, post a short paragraph about the deck in the comments, telling readers about what it is and why you enjoy it/think it’s still viable).
So without further ado, let us begin.
General archetypes break down the deck in question into a very specific, specialized style of play. These go beyond the game of Hearthstone and into the realm of all CCGs/TCGs (though some have more overlap than others). Of these archetypes, there are three main ones that encompass the entirety of all Hearthstone decks.
A fast deck that seeks to win the game by doing as much damage to the enemy hero as possible as fast as possible. Such decks are more concerned about straight damage than they are board control or combo setup. They are also known as “face” decks.
Midrange decks use solid early game minions like aggro decks do, but they use these minions for a different purpose. Instead of using their cheap minions to try to end the game quickly, they use them as protection from faster decks so that they can set up for the mid-game where they win the game through combos or board presence.
Control is becoming truly more controlly than ever before with the release of Goblins Vs. Gnomes. Control decks seek to wait it out to the late game, offering little to no board presence for several turns into the game. These decks instead use spells or weapons to keep the board as clear as possible, while they set up their late game objective, which is either a game-winning combo or just a stream of late-game minions that are so strong that no opponent can take on all of them (unless he/she is another control player).
Amongst these main archetypes there are a couple of subarchetypes that are difficult to classify with one of the three main archetypes because the playstyles are significantly different than that of other decks in the main archetypes. They are:
Tempo is more or less a form of aggro that focuses on making efficient trades and maintaining a board presence instead of going straight yoloswag into the enemy’s face and hoping for the best. Such decks tend to follow a simple algorithm: If there is an efficient trade available, do it, otherwise, attack face.
Looking at these deck types and subtypes should help you prepare as we look into the archetypes that make up the metagame of Hearthstone, itself.
This is the variant that everyone knows and loves and plays. The goal of the deck is to keep a check on the opponent’s board through the combination of weapons such as Fiery War Axe and Death's Bite and removal cards such as Execute and Shield Slam. Then, the control warrior player ends the game by dropping powerful legendaries such as Ragnaros the Firelord andGrommash Hellscream. It is one of the most resilient decks in the Hearthstone metagame because it is EXTREMELY consistent. So consistent in fact that it has both survived many many many metagame shifts and has remained largely similar to the builds that were common when the deck first came into being. If you enjoy consistency, patience, and a thoughtful playstyle, then Control Warrior may be the deck for you.
This is the main variant of shaman that you will see on the ladder, and it is a very simple, straightforward concept. The idea is simply to use all of the value-generating cards that shamans have access to such as Crackle, Flametongue Totem, Lightning Storm, and Fire Elemental to maintain board control throughout the game. These decks usually win by slowly chipping away at the opponent, while constantly clearing their board, and they often run some combination of Dr. Boom, Neptulon, and Al'Akir the Windlord to finish the opponent off. Because of the overload mechanic on many of the Shaman cards, the players of this deck have to become masters of micromanagement and tempo, since a misplayed overload card can set them too far behind to recover. Try out some Midrange Shaman if you enjoy big swings, board control, and swarmy decks.
Mech Shaman is a deck that is starting to see a bit more play. It is similar to Midrange Shaman in that it focuses very strongly on board control, but this version shifts the focus toward the early game, allowing you to have some very explosive early game plays, but less late-game potential than the standard Midrange Shaman. It uses Powermace to power its mechs and control the board.
I decided to lump these guys together because the difference in the two is usually <5 cards (usually you drop an early-game board card or two in favor of an extra one or two legendaries). Paladin is very much a jack of all trades. It runs a variety of strong early game minions, such as Shielded Minibot and Knife Juggler and can also gain fast board presence with Muster for Battle. After this, the Paladin takes a more defensive stance, using cards like Consecration and Truesilver Champion to take out major threats.
One of the most hated archetypes of all time. Zoolock is a strong tempo/aggro deck that focuses on board control through the use of creatures as opposed to spells. It sets up an explosive early game with Undertaker and Flame Imp along with some decent deathrattle minions, such as Clockwork Gnome. But it doesn’t stop there! Zoolock decks run the most efficient minions available at every mana cost up to 5 usually, and the Life Tap power guarantees that the Zoo player can keep chugging out their “zoo” of minions. Modern builds use Imp-losion to set up efficient trades and maximize board presence. The reason that I refer to Zoo as a tempo deck is that the goal is not strictly face damage; instead, the zoo player seeks to use value increasing cards, such as Dire Wolf Alpha or cards that have a lot of value in and of themselves, such as Harvest Golem to trade efficiently. As such, Zoo requires a bit more thought than other aggro decks, though you can still get explosive starts that an opponent is incapable of recovering from regardless of his/her skill level. Check this deck out if you like playing a swarm of minions, fast games, and at least a bit of thought in your aggro decks 😛
Another very old archetype, the Handlock still sees a huge amount of play on the ladder. The strategy behind this deck is to use the Life Tap hero power to allow you to quickly play Molten Giant and Mountain Giant since the power both deals damage to your hero and increases your hand size. Since not having minions out on the field early in the game is a scary thought in the world of Hearthstone, the deck uses Ancient Watcher, combined with either Ironbeak Owl to remove the watcher’s inability to attack, or Sunfury Protector to give the Watcher taunt, allowing it to protect your hero from the scary things your opponent is playing. The aforementioned Sunfury also allows you to protect yourself in the late game, creating kind of a checkmate situation with your giants. Finally, if all else fails, Lord Jaraxxus takes over the wheel with his INFERNO! hero power, which can end games that would otherwise be a lost cause. Try out a Handlock build if you like living on the edge, are good at predicting when your opponent has lethal, or like big scary giants.
This deck doesn’t really know what it wants to be when it grows up. Most builds incorporate elements from Zoo, such as the Flame Imp start, along with the Ancient Watcher or Twilight Drake mid-game that comes from Handlock along with some strange combination of Warlock removal cards, such as Shadowflame and Siphon Soul. Most builds also run a Voidcaller along with strong demons to call out with it, such as Doomguard or Dread Infernal, hence the name: Demonlock. Play this deck if you like Warlock cards, but don’t really know which ones you feel like playing, or if you’re looking for a more well-rounded version of Zoo/Handlock.
Second only to mage in the number of decks being played under the banner of this class, Druid is currently seeing a huge surge in popularity. This is due to the number of options you have in deckbuilding and the solid matchups that Druid has across the board. Ramp/Combo Druid is the most common variant of this class on the ladder. This deck seeks to use the cards Innervate and Wild Growth to place out big, scary minions very very fast. You can even play Dr. Boom on turn 2 if you have 2 Innervate and The Coin. Generally though, the Druid is more likely to drop a quick Sen'jin Shieldmasta or taunted Druid of the Claw. This gives the druid some board presence, allowing him to set up for the end game in one of two ways: One, by playing a large number of valuable late-game minions such as Ancient of War and Sneed's Old Shredder to overload enemy removal spells. Or two, by setting up the Force of Nature and Savage Roar combo, preferrably with some board presence already in place. This should be your go-to deck if you love combos, big monsters, and nature.
The Token Druid isn’t as common as it once was, but it is still a deck to consider looking at or playing. The idea of the deck is to swarm the field with “token” creatures such as the Spectral Spider of the Haunted Creeper or the Violet Apprentice of the Violet Teacher, and then buff them up with Power of the Wild and Savage Roar to deal heavy damage in one blow. Modern interpretations of the deck will sometimes run Hobgoblin or Dark Wispers in addition to or instead of the old staples. Check it out if you enjoy decks based on buffs and swarming.
The newest Druid deck to enter the game. This deck uses cards like Deathlord and Coldlight Oracle to burn out all the cards in the opponent’s deck. It is a very late game oriented deck that does very well against control decks, but not so well against aggro builds. It also uses cards such as Healing Touch and Antique Healbot to keep itself alive, while it stalls out the opponent. Check this out if you enjoy a long game, milling and stalling.
A deck that is slowly starting to die, but relevant enough to still mention here. The deck takes on the standard agressive mech strategy with strong Mechwarper starts, but then adds in the “ramping” powers of the Druid that were mentioned above in order to get a LOT of minions out very fast. These decks also try to keep a solid late game arsenal as well, often employing at least one copy of the Force of Nature/Savage Roar combo, and often a copy of Dr. Boom. Try it out if you like robots and swarming decks.
Mech mage is one of the big archetypes that came out of GVG. It uses Mechwarper to get out a bunch of mechs for very cheap, snowballing the game in your favor. The reason that this deck has seen more play than other mech-based decks is that Mages have access to Snowchugger and Goblin Blastmage, which are some of the strongest mech-based cards in the game. Also, mages have access to Frostbolt and Fireball, which give mech mage some very strong tempo and finisher plays. Check out mech mage if you’re into aggro, but hate Hunter and Warlock.
Secrets mage is a midrange deck that gets secrets out fast with Kirin Tor Mage and Mad Scientist. From there, the possiblities are quite varied. Some Secrets mages use Mirror Entity and Duplicate to maintain tempo, where as some go for a more controlly build with Counterspell and Ice Block. Give it a try if you like being sneaky and having a lot of options in deckbuilding.
Another deck with a lot of variants running around. Some use Undertaker swarm strategies, where as others focus on healing and stalling with cards like Sludge Belcher and Antique Healbot, but regardless of what minions are run in the deck, what every Echo mage has is the card Echo of Medivh, which allows them to create a huge number of copies of cards. Because of this copying mechanic, the Echo Mage player can tech out their deck with cards to fit a number of matchups, since they can simply copy a card if they need more of it. Try it out if you like major deckbuilding options and matchup-flexibility.
This version of mage is similar to Handlock in that they generally keep their board empty in the early game in order to set up for the late game. To keep their opponent’s from trampling them in the early game, Freeze and Giants Mage players use cards that freeze opponent’s minions, such as Frost Nova and Blizzard, generally comboed with a Doomsayer that is free to wipe the board since it can’t be attacked when the enemy minions are frozen. Where Giants mages and Freeze mages differ is how they end the game. Freeze mage players use Alexstrasza to set the opponent to a low health total and then finish them with various spell combos like Frostbolt+Ice Lance. Giants Mage players use Molten Giant and Mountain Giant along with Duplicate and sometimes Echo of Medivh to get out a swarm of giants, which are then used to end the game. Try one of these out if you are a patient person who enjoys combos and spells.
Another mill deck that, like Mill Druid, ends the game by forcing the opponent into fatigue, but uses the Mage’s impressive arsenal of controlling spells in order to do so. The deck also has access to some impressive healing and longevity tools in the form of Illuminator and Ice Block or other secrets. Like Mill Druid, try this deck if you enjoy mill strategies and stalling the opponent out.
The most hated deck to ever enter the world of Hearthstone. This deck uses the Steady Shot hero power and a swarm of cheap minions, the majority of whom combo with Undertaker in order to beat the opponent senseless very very fast. Due to its VERY straightforward strategy, this deck is considered to be one of the easiest decks in the game to play, and it is also extremely forgiving since drawing into double Kill Command can very easily secure the game for you even if you make mistakes. As such, this is an awesome deck for beginners to use as they start their laddering journey, and the games are also very fast too, making it less stressful for laddering. Recommended if you like fast games, aggressive gameplay, and lots of “friend requests” as you climb the ladder.
Drop some of your early game cards, replace the Glaivezooka with Eaglehorn Bow and throw in 2x Savannah Highmane and 1x Dr. Boom and you will have a Midrange Hunter! This deck takes the high damage and burst potential of Face Hunter and rounds out its mana curve in order to gain more reach. A good deck to try if you like the bursty aspects of hunter, but are disgusted with yourself whenever you play Face Hunter.
A newer, less common version of hunter that uses Steamwheedle Sniper along with spells that the Hunter has access to such as Deadly Shot in order to take control of the board and then finish the game with powerful legendaries. A good deck to try if you like the aesthetics of Hunter, but prefer a control decktype.
This is the general name I will use for the various versions of Rogue that are running around nowadays that use the efficient removal spells of Rogue like Backstab and Eviscerate to control the early game, while setting up some sort of combo (this is where all the variations come in) that ends them the game. Examples of game ending Rogue combos are Alexstrasza into Ragnaros the Firelord; Leeroy Jenkins+Shadowstep and sometimes even Malygos+Sinister Strike+Eviscerate, though the latter is less common. Try it out if you like going against the grain of the meta, while still having a solid deck with consistent matchups.
Probably the least played deck I will talk about. Mech Rogue follows the standard mech strategy of using Mechwarper to play lots of mechs for cheap, creating a fast, scary, cheap board presence. Mech Rogues have better tempo control than Mech Mages, but a weaker mid and late game. Because of this, Mech Mage is generally considered to be the more consistent variant. Check out the mech rogue if you like mechs but hate mage.
This is the most common version of Priest and there are many reasons why. Priest uses Northshire Cleric and Thoughtsteal to keep its card advantage up, while playing powerful tempo-swinging cards such as Shadow Madness to maintain control of the board. It is a heavily combo-based deck, which makes it very unforgiving if you misplay. For example, if you play your Circle of Healing to get extra draw with your Cleric, but then draw an Injured Blademaster you’re gonna be a very sad person. Try this deck out if you like slow, technical gameplay and stealing people’s cards.
Deathrattle Priest is a deck that is far less common than it used to be but still pops up from time to time. It solidifies its early game with Undertaker and Zombie Chow while maintaining a good tempo with its spells. The deck is known to be one of the best counters to Hunter in the game, and as such, it pops up more when Hunter’s abound. Try out this deck if you want to counter Hunter without completely giving up your other matchcups.
Well I hope that was an enjoyable read for you all! Even with homework and exams wearing me down, I had a great time writing this and I hope everyone enjoys it very much. Add me on Hearthstone sometime! My tag is Chinchillord#1811. Hope to talk to you soon!