If “Deck of the Week” was an award to be given out, then this week’s award would undoubtedly go to Evangelion’s N’Zoth Paladin deck. Take a look at this ridiculous deck, and then head on over to join the discussion about it on Reddit. For those who didn’t watch the festivities, Evangelion captured the title at Dreamhack Valencia this past weekend primarily due to the strength of this deck. The tournament played a “last hero standing” format, allowing his N’Zoth Paladin to put up a ridiculous 10-1 record in the single elimination top 16 rounds, which included 3-0 sweeps in the top 16, quarterfinal and semifinal rounds. While Crane managed to take down the Paladin eventually with Aggro Shaman, Evangelion managed to ride his own Shaman for the last couple of wins to take the crown.
I like to play and feature off-the-radar decks each week, and it feels weird to refer to N’Zoth Paladin as that type of deck; however, after being a tier 1 deck for the first couple of weeks after the release of Whispers of the Old Gods, Uther fell on very hard times. In fact, he fell all the way down to tier 3, and has been sitting there ever since. As of the most recent tier list N’Zoth Paladin (not-so) proudly stood near the bottom of tier 3, as the 17th best deck in the meta (out of the 22 listed). So, what changed?
Many people erroneously think of the evolution of a metagame as being a process of the best decks slowly floating up to the top, but it is far more fluid than that. You have to be a strong deck to make it to the top tier of any metagame, but once you are there the game changes. Surviving as the hunter (so to speak) is far easier than surviving as the hunted (which, coincidentally is one of the reasons why I love playing off-the-radar lists). Once you are in the top tier, people are building and tweaking their decks to beat you, and decks gain popularity just because they have good matchups against you. Not only that, but people gain practice at playing against your deck, and people mulligan more effectively against you. On that last point, as an example, a couple of weeks ago I talked about a highly effective C’Thun Renolock list. When people see Warlock across the proverbial table from them, nowadays, they assume it is Zoolock, and mulligan accordingly, meaning that they are probably going to be mulliganing incorrectly if you are actually playing C’Thun Renolock. Similarly, against Paladin nowadays, I have seen far more aggro lists than Control Paladin variants recently, so I will usually mulligan as if I am playing against aggro, if I see Uther across from me (since aggro lists give me less time to recover if I am wrong).
Taking all of this together, it can often be a good idea to look at former tier 1 lists that have gone out of style. Those lists are often proven powerful entities which can succeed in a format that is no longer prepared to play against them. This is exactly what Evangelion did this past weekend, and he was rewarded with a trophy.
While Evangelion was clever enough to pick up a forgotten decklist, he also made his own additions which help the deck in the current meta. When N’Zoth Paladin was popular shortly after the release of Whispers of the Old Gods, it eschewed cheap deathrattle minions, relying only on big bombs like Sylvanas, Cairne and Tirion to make N’Zoth powerful. This strategy had difficulty once Shaman lists shifted to being more midrangey and started running Hex. Not only would Hex shut down your Sylvanas or Tirion, it would also render it unable to return with N’Zoth. When the metagame was at the point where Midrange and Aggro Shaman emerged as different archetypes, N’Zoth Paladin had a 60% winrate against Aggro Shaman, yet only a 40% winrate against yet only a 40% winrate against midrange Shaman, almost entirely due to the influence of Hex.
Evangelion’s list takes into account the influence of Hex by adding a single Infested Tauren as a backup taunt deathrattle minion. Most Shaman players won’t spend a Hex on Tauren, meaning that it will often get to die, allowing your N’Zoth to bring back at least one taunt minion (assuming Tirion gets Hex’ed) to provide some defence for your N’Zoth turn.
Loot Hoarder also provides a decent body and some board presence early against aggro, while helping to make late game N’Zoths more scary. Old school N’Zoth Paladin would just get a Baine Bloodhoof and an Ashbringer if you managed to clear their board following a N’Zoth (ie. With Brawl, Twisting Nether or Wild Pyromancer + Equality). Loot Hoarder helps by giving you additional gas, if your opponent manages to deal with the power of N’Zoth.
Evangelion’s other addition to the list is Rallying Blade, which had found its way into some N’Zoth Paladin lists recently. While Tirion probably doesn’t need the Blade’s buff, the weapon is far more important for helping to control the board presence of aggro lists. Essentially, it is played here as an expensive Fiery War Axe, which shockingly is still good as a 3-drop. Between this, Loot Hoarder and Tauren, the deck has a little more ability to keep the board under control in the early game, allowing you more time to find Equality + Pyromancer/Consecration, or simply the luxury of waiting a little longer to get more value out of your board-clear.
All that having been said, while Evangelion’s changes help to position the deck better in the current metagame, the shifts in the meta have done a lot of the work for him. The deck always had strong matchups against Warrior archetypes, which comprise a large percentage of the metagame, and that has not changed. Paladin’s tools are very well positioned against Warrior. For instance, Truesilver Champion and Stampeding Kodo match up very well against Frothing Berserker and Bloodhoof Brave. Warrior also still has no good way to deal with Tirion or Sylvanas (let alone having to deal with them twice).
The other big change that has occurred in the metagame since N’Zoth Paladin last saw prominence is the decline in Miracle Rogue. Rogue was one of the top decks right after the release of WOTOG, but has diminished in prominence since that time. This matchup is very difficult for Paladin to deal with. While the deck does have Equality + Pyromancer/Consecration to potentially deal with a concealed Auctioneer, the deck has trouble putting on enough pressure for that to matter. Rogue can accept that its concealed Auctioneer may die, since it can simply wait a little longer to play it in the first place, in order to get more value. Playing a 2 card combo to get rid of a minion who has already provided 5 or 6 cards in value is less than ideal, at the best of times. Additionally, Sap is a huge headache for this deck. Paying 8 mana for Tirion just to have him get bounced for 2 mana is a huge tempo loss. Nothing in Evangelion’s amended list will change the fact that you really don’t want to see Miracle Rogue. Luckily, there simply aren’t as many of them floating around as there used to be.
N’Zoth Paladin’s other nemesis is Midrange Hunter. Hunter’s rise in the meta coincided with N’Zoth Paladin’s fall, which was no coincidence. It is very difficult to deal with the consistent pressure that Hunter can apply. It’s Savanah Highmanes and Infested Wolves require multiple cards to fully answer, meaning that some of the surviving token creatures will often still be around when Call of the Wild hits to ruin your day. You usually aren’t given a respite to allow you to Forbidden Healing yourself back up to a safe life total, and are often pressured to heal at a higher life total than you would like by their direct damage spells and hero power.
Once again, Evangelion’s changes do not make the Midrange Hunter matchup any less miserable. That having been said, Midrange Hunter has also lost some of its luster recently. One of the reasons Evangelion was able to dominante so consistently at Dreamhack is that none of his opponents in the top 16 had Midrange Hunters or Miracle Rogues to throw at him. He came up against one Miracle Rogue, which he promptly banned, while none of his opponents had Midrange Hunter at all.
Ramp Druid is also a matchup that this deck would prefer to avoid. You only have two Equality, and they just have too many fatties that this deck struggles to remove without either that two card combo or the Humility/Peacekeeper + Stampeding Kodo combo. Evangelion used two of his bans on Druid (due to using his ban on Miracle Rogue instead), while beating the other one he faced.
Play & Mulligan Advice
Mulligan’ing with this deck is fairly straight-forward. Doomsayer, Equality, Loot Hoarder and Wild Pyromancer are keeps in every matchup. Rallying Blade is also a keep pretty much across the board, except for against Warrior. Against Warrior you much prefer Truesilver Champion, as they have so many important 4 toughness minions (eg. Frothing Berserker and Armorsmith). Acidic Swamp Ooze is a keep against weapon classes. Acolyte of Pain is a keep in any matchup except for Shaman, who often put out too many big cheap creatures for Acolyte to be more than a 3 mana cantrip that stops one Totam Golem attack. Lastly, Consecration is a keep against Warlock, as it can do a lot of damage without needing Equality, but is normally a mulligan, as it is a 4 mana spell and can be fairly situational in other matchups.
Aside from what I discuss above, my biggest piece of play advice with this deck is to use your Equalities wisely. You only have two of them (while you have 4 combined Pyromancers and Consecrations to combo with them). In aggro or midrange matchups, you should only expect to be able to set up one Equality board-clear, so you need to make sure that board clear will stabilize the game for you.
Unfortunately, this deck is very hard to make substitutions to, as the legendary minions are almost exclusively indispensable. You absolutely cannot reasonably play the deck without Sylvanas, Tirion and N’Zoth, as that is the core of your deathrattle package. Ragnaros, Lightlord is similarly indispensable, in my opinion. His heal effect, combined with his size, is just too important in swinging aggro or midrange matchups.
Playing without Cairne is not advisable, as his deathrattle effect of leaving a 4/5 minion is pretty hard to duplicate. He helps to provide additional pressure and value if your opponent has a board clear effect. That having been said, Wobbling Grunts would probably be a close approximation. While you prefer having the bigger 4/5 body initially, as it controls the board better, in a pinch Wobbling Grunts gives you a pretty respectable board presence when it dies.
Ragnaros, the Firelord is probably the most easily substituted legend in the deck. He is big and powerful, especially in control matchups, but he isn’t actually core to any of the deck’s strategy. I have seen multiple lists that leave the Firelord on the bench, and they often do not have a big drop in that slot. Keeper of Uldaman is a card that I have seen in that slot in other lists, and is a solid substitution. As for more expensive options, you could also put Eadric, the Pure in there, to help against aggro, Justicar Trueheart, if you want a card that helps a lot in control matchups, or Harrison Jones, if you want to draw 6 cards while sending Doomhammer to the museum. This really is a flex spot, so use it to tech the deck out for the matchups you are expecting to see.
Tune in next week, as I have something special up my sleeve. I was glad to see Evangelion give me a new list to feature this week, because it gives me a bit more time to work with the original creation that I will be featuring next week. Spoiler alert: it features two Old Gods, one of them is Y’Shaarj, one of them is Yogg, and it isn’t a Druid list.
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