by Kyle “EndBoss” Smith
- Deck of the Week – Shadow Priest
One of the deckbuilding approaches I learned in my Magic: the Gathering days that would often lead to impressive results (while sometimes also leading to laughably bad results) is the approach of ‘hybridizing’. This means to take the combos from two decks and to combine them into one list. In the good cases, it would lead to a more powerful and resilient list than either of its predecessors. The risk being that sometimes the loss of support cards, necessitated by making space for the two combos, would result in the lists being inconsistent or lacking defence. Luckily, my attempt at hybridizing Priest archetypes seems to be on the right side of this equation.
While N’Zoth Priest established itself as a relatively solid player early in the metagame after Whispers, it peaked at tier 2 on the Tempo Storm rankings, and has since dropped down to tier 3, at the time of this writing. N’Zoth’s fellow deity, C’Thun, has fared even worse, currently sitting in tier 4, accompanied by only Control Shaman (ouch!). But, with their powers combined…
This is the epitome of a greedy deck. Not quite as greedy as my original versions, but still very greedy, indeed. The benefit of greed is that you will win games if you get time. This means that this deck destroys control decks very consistently. If you get matched up against Control Warrior, or another Priest deck you can pump the fist, because you have probably already won. This is a pretty nice feeling when Tempostorm currently has Control Warrior as the top deck in the meta.
The reason that this deck dominates other control decks so thoroughly is because you just have too many game-swinging weapons for them to deal with. Control Warrior and Renolock have particularly serious issues with this deck because they have to actually kill your minions (as opposed to transforming them with Hex or shuffling them away with an Entomb). This means that your Sylvanas (and other deathrattles) will get to trigger and return via N’Zoth. Dealing with C’Thun, Twin Emperors and their servants is hard enough, but can you then also deal with N’Zoth when he comes down and fills the board with sticky minions? And, if you do that, can you then deal with the Grommash Hellscream or Ysera that I stole with Entomb?
The big cards are also just the icing on a pretty delicious cake. The other card that gives control players fits is Shifting Shade, who is a threat that needs to be answered, as well as pure card advantage. Even in opposing Priest matchups it is tough to justify using an Entomb on one of them, so they will almost always get to come back to life with N’Zoth and provide more value. Museum Curator is also a super flexible card with a high power level, which often gives you cards like Sylvanas, Cairne Bloodhoof, or Deathwing Dragonlord, while giving you cheaper options in faster matchups.
You might be expecting me to say that a greedy deck like this struggles in aggro matchups, but it is actually quite strong in those matchups, if you play carefully. That having been said, midrange combo decks are probably where this deck struggles the most. You don’t want to see a Rogue, and you don’t want to see the Druid deck I posted last week. Those sort of explosive decks will often present too much of board presence all at once, which can overwhelm this deck now that Lightbomb is hiding in the Wild somewhere.
This is not to say that those combo matchups are unwinnable, but you have to take a more aggressive approach, which the deck isn’t really built to do. That having been said, if the combo deck gets a clunky draw or can’t put you away in time, you certainly have the weapons to be able to win the game. Sometimes your opponent just can’t kill you before turn 10.
Play & Mulligan Advice
I have talked a fair amount about the combo and control matchups, but the most skill intensive part of playing this deck is steering it through the aggro matchups.
When I build the original versions of this deck, it just got pounded by aggro, while annihilating control decks. Luckily, I was able to keep most of the strength against control while slowly improving the aggro matchups, and I have gotten the list to a place where I am comfortable in those matchups. Additions like Doomsayer and Shadow Word: Pain (yup, that’s how greedy my initial builds were) are very important to keep the game from snowballing out of control before your big cards can take control.
The cards you want to be looking for in your opener against aggro are Doomsayer, Shadow Word: Pain, and your cheap C’Thun servants. Getting C’Thun to 10/10 is often going to be the difference between winning and losing, because the cards that help you stabilize and help you turn the corner are often Twilight Darkmender and Twin Emperors. Paying 5 mana for a 6/5 that gains you 10 life solves a lot of problems, but that 10 life will often be the difference between winning and losing, so having your C’Thun stuck at 8/8 is not an option.
Shadow Madness is also a very strong card in those aggro matchups, particularly against Shaman. Stealing a Tuskarr Totemic and running it into their Feral Spirit Wolf is good times.
Once you get through the early game with as healthy a life total as you can manage, the second important step is being careful with your Eviscerated Evils. Evil gets the nod over Holy Nova largely for its ability to clear 3 toughness creatures against Shaman (Nova often seems like the stronger card against Zoolock). Do not underestimate Shaman or Zoolock’s ability to have a big mid-game turn where they flood the board with creatures using cards like Feral Spirit and Forbidden Ritual. You need your Eviscerated Evils for these circumstances, so you usually should not throw one of them away if the board can be kept under control in another way.
Please note that the above paragraph in no way relates to Doomsayer. You should drop those early and often, as long as your opponent does not have 7 power already on board. Doomsayer is great at blunting your opponent’s momentum early but not as good at doing so later on. If your Shaman opponent plays a turn 1 Tunnel Trogg, you likely want to respond with a turn 2 Doomsayer, which will likely trade with the Trogg, while preventing them from following up with a turn 2 Totem Golem. If you start turn 3 with an empty board against Shaman, your win rate jumps significantly.
One final point on the aggro matchups, do not underestimate Chillmaw as a Museum Curator choice. Chillmaw seems a little overcosted and less-than-ideal in many matchups, without any Dragon backup, but he can often be an important pick in aggro matchups, if your hand looks like it will help you survive until he comes down. The important thing he does isn’t really the initial taunt body, it is the ability to bring it back with N’Zoth. As a 10 mana creature, you don’t get to play any other cards on the turn you play N’Zoth, which means you can’t play it if you are facing down lethal damage and don’t already have a defence up, because there are very few deathrattle taunt minions in standard (and we don’t get to play Tirion). Chillmaw, however, is a big taunt minion with deathrattle who can often give you the breathing room you need to tap out for N’Zoth on a crucial turn. Now, this doesn’t mean that you always pick him against aggro, because sometimes he is just too slow and clunky, but be alert for the games where his presence could be helpful and don’t simply reject him out of hand like I did when I first started playing this deck.
Unfortunately, most of this deck is built around its legendaries, so it is not easy to substitute. Luckily, the legendaries in here are ones that are more commonly owned. Everyone should have the freebie C’Thun, but if you do not have N’Zoth or Emperor to go with it, you really are just playing a different deck.
Sylvanas is obviously awesome, and should be one of the first cards that anyone crafts, being a very powerful and widely played neutral card. That having been said, if you don’t have her she isn’t crucial to the strategy. You could substitute Cairne Bloodhoof (who was actually in the deck for a long time), Corrupted Healbot or any other big deathrattle minion you happen to have in your collection. They won’t do the job Sylvanas does, but no one else really does.
Justicar Trueheart is a great card for helping you turn the corner and pull away in aggro and midrange matchups. That having been said, this slot has had may lives. It was originally Doomcaller (for when one C’Thun just isn’t enough), and then was Harrison Jones (who loves to put Doomhammer in a museum). Darkshire Alchemist is probably the easiest substitute for Justicar Trueheart’s effect, and a pretty great tempo card against aggro matchups. That having been said, I would recommend Harrison Jones, if you are noticing a lot of Shaman around. You can throw in Doomcaller if you are expecting a lot of control, but he really just feels excessive because you already win those matchups so consistently.
Bonus Unrefined List
While I was working on developing hybrid Priest decks, I experimented with a different hybrid, by combining my Dragon Priest deck with N’Zoth Priest. This list showed promise, but ultimately I wasn’t as happy with it as I have been with the C’Thun version. Sometimes the deck felt great, with the dragon minions controlling the early game and the power cards mopping things up, but it felt a little too inconsistent against aggro, and didn’t destroy the control decks as consistently as the C’Thun version. Often you would need to keep expensive dragons in your opener in order to ensure that you got your dragon buffs on your support minions, but this seemed to lead to a higher probability that you would get left with an expensive clunky draw in the mid-game.
I will include the list below, in case you guys want to try refining it for yourself. It still feels to me like there might be something there, but I just haven’t been able to find it yet. If anyone reading out there has any suggestions on how to improve it, though, feel free to post them in the comments below.
Starting with this article, I will be starting a reddit thread for comments, suggestions and questions on each of my articles. Please feel free to leave comments on that thread here (add link to reddit thread), and I will try to respond to as many as I can. Of course, tune in next Wednesday, and each one thereafter, for a new list.
Also, if anyone reading is interested in Counterstrike and lives in the Toronto area, we will be running a free viewing event for the CS:GO ELeague Finals on July 30th, near St. Clair and Yonge. All the details can be found on the event page here.