Kyle “EndBoss” Smith
Gadgetzan has thankfully provided a much needed shakeup of the Shaman-dominated metagame that preceded it! Sure, it has been replaced with a Patches dominated metagame… with the Shaman version of it being the top deck right now… but I digress.
For someone who loves to brew new concoctions as much as I do, this is the metagame at its best. Without an established metagame, everyone gets to figure one out on their own, and try their wacky new concoctions.
Today’s concoction is a lot of fun, and a solid deck for ladder play, but unlike most of the list I have posted on here, I will preface this article by saying that Smuggler Paladin is not likely to get you to Legend rank. The deck is a ton of fun, and holds its own in the current meta, but doesn’t break it So, if you are the subset of my readers that is only interested in playing decks that can push to Legend, I haven’t forgotten about you. I have posted a bonus decklist, which is an update of my Sister Act deck from pre-Gadgetzan. The deck picks up some solid new cards and, if I were to play a tournament tomorrow, it would certainly be in my lineup. It is an excellent and refined list that is absolutely capable of pushing to Legend.
That having been said, I have already written about Sister Act, and many of my readers are interested in reading about new decks using the new set, while also being competitive, and that is who today’s article is aimed at.
So, since I know you love to play oversized monsters (because everyone likes to do that), I present to you Smuggler Paladin!
In the early phases of the new format, we are seeing a very divergent metagame. You have the aggro portion of the metagame, which wants to win the game by turn 5 (Before Reno Jackson decides to make someone rich), and the powerful late game decks (who are usually relying on Reno’s riches to get there). The midrange decks seem to be almost non-existent at the moment.
This deck aims to fill that hole. It has the ability to produce huge fat taunters to beat aggro, while also being able to produce a steady stream of huge dudes that control decks have a hard time dealing with.
The deck’s strategy is to get maximum value out of Paladin’s mass-hand-buff effects, and use that value to overwhelm your opponent with more fat than he/she can handle.
Remember, when playing this deck: value is king! While your deck is packed with 1-drops, you very rarely want to play them on turn 1. This deck thrives by getting maximum value out of its buff effects. Grimestreet Outfitter is a fine card as a 1/1 for 2 that gets you +2/+2 in additional value. However, he is a beast when played after a Small-Time Recruits fills up your hand. A 2-drop that gets you 7/7 worth of value?! Yup, you’ve got my interest.
You basically have two types of opening hands with this deck: tempo ones and value ones. If you have an opener with Smuggler’s Run, Outfitter and a couple other dudes (ideally a Dopplegangster), then you can feel free to curve through and tempo your opponent out. 2/2 Outfitter, followed 3/3 Peacekeeper and a coin into 5/5 Dopplegangster is a tough curve to keep up with. The key balance you have to achieve, however, is the fact that your topdecks will be weaker after you have tempo’ed through your first few turns, since the cards you draw after your buffs are going to be less impressive.
Your value hands are most of your hands. If you have a Small-Time Recruits, in particular, you usually want to hold back your Smuggler’s Run or Outfitter. Recruits is a really strong card when you have a pump effect, and a relatively lame card if you don’t. In particular, this is because of Meanstreet Marshall. You have no buff effects once minions hit the board, so if you don’t buff Marshall before he hits the table, then he is just a 1/2 vanilla dude, instead of a one casting cost 2/3 version of Loot Hoarder. As such, many games, against slower decks, in particular, you will avoid playing anything until turn 3, then go nuts on turn 4 and 5 after Small-Time Recruits fills up your hand.
Of course, the other big benefits of playing Small-Time Recruits is that it makes Shifter Zerus an All-Star!
Playing Zerus for his own sake is usually not worthwhile, but he certainly punches above his weight class for a one-drop. Often Zerus can even steal you a game by turning into something that really gets to take advantage of the buffs he inevitably gets before seeing play. I had Zerus turn into an 8/12 Soggoth the Slitherer the other day! This deck often has plenty to do with its mana, so you often get many turns to have Zerus turn into something useful without really losing any value.
Here is my testing data:
The testing was all done early month between ranks 13 and 9.
General Mulligan Strategy
You basically have two types of mulligan strategies with this deck: 1. Anti-Pirate, and 2. Everything Else. Against Pirate aggro classes: Shaman, Rogue and Warrior, you want to mulligan to get on the board and survive the early rush. You keep pump cards like Smuggler’s Run and Grimestreet Outfitter, because they are cheap, but you usually want to send away Small-Time Recruits, which is the card you want the most in other matchups. Against Pirate aggro classes, you also want to keep Argent Squire, Sir Finley Mrrglton, Aldor Peacekeeper, Argent Horserider, Wickerflame Burnbristle and Second-Rate Bruiser. You will also keep Meanstreet Marshall, but only if you have a Smuggler’s Run or Grimestreet Outfitter to back it up.
Against every other deck, you want to be mulligan away your one-drops, with the exception of Smuggler’s Run, and occasionally Sir Finley. The reason you send away your one-drops is because you are digging hard for Small-Time Recruits and buff cards. You usually want to send back anything that is not Smuggler’s Run, Grimestreet Outfitter, Small-Time Recruits or Dopplegangster (although you never keep more than one Dopplegangster). The one exception to this, is that if you have a hand that looks like it can be a solid tempo hand, as discussed above, in which case you can sometimes call an audible.
This is the deck’s strongest matchup, and a pretty popular archetype at the moment. Against either Tempo Mage or Reno Mage, the strategy is pretty similar. Mage has damage-based removal, so once you get rolling with big dudes, you have the potentially to really overwhelm them. One of the key cards to watch out for, however, is Flamewaker, which can sometimes be explosive enough to allow them to overcome your beef advantage. If you get a Truesilver Champion or a double-buffed Argent Horserider, you often want to hold it to use as Flamewaker removal, since this deck’s weakness is its lack of removal.
One other note in this matchup, try not to play Dopplegangster until he is a 5/5. Flamestrike can ruin your day if you drop a 4/4 or 3/3 Dopplegangster, but at 5/5, he is usually a game ending threat.
Shaman is a tough matchup. I have maintained a solid record against it, but it is a matchup that takes some practice to be able to play effectively (ie. If you pick up and play this deck, you may feel like this matchup is worse than my numbers represent). The big issue in this matchup is the lack of removal in your deck. Shaman has lots of dangerous cards like Flametongue Totem and Mana Tide Totem that can dominate a game if you don’t answer them, and this deck is short of answers. If Paladin had some decent removal effects, this matchup would be a really positive one, but as it stands, you can sometimes have a lot of trouble just getting on the board.
That last part is the key: getting on the board. If you can get on the board, you can dominate Shaman. You have so much beef that they usually need multiple AoE effects to get you off the board, and by doing so, they spend all their mana and let you reload with all the other buff’ed dudes in your hand. This makes it critical to keep removing their minions. Leaving a couple of seemingly innocuous totems on the board can lose you a game by turning on their Flametongue Totems.
This is another matchup where Argent Horserider is key. Make sure to save him for quasi-removal. Once he has a couple of buffs in him, he can help to swing a board by removing a key opposing minion, while only losing your divine shield. In the best case scenario, if he is triple-buff’ed, he can come down and clear a Thing from Below out of the way, which is often a game turning play.
There are two types of Shaman lists out there. This list definitely performs better against the more mid-rangy versions, although it can also run the aggro versions out of gas. If you can get to your late game bombs like Ragnaros, Firelord and Tirion Fordring, you have usually exhausted any way they had to efficiently deal with them (especially if they have multiple buffs before they hit the battlefield).
Honestly, this is a matchup where I am surprised that my win percentage isn’t higher. This deck crushes the slower combo’ish versions of Druid, since they often let you take the board, and this deck is very good at winning any game when it gets to take the board before its life total is in jeopardy. Once this deck gets a board advantage, it can finish very quickly, and Druid cannot efficiently deal with a buff’ed Dopplegangster.
Sometimes, however, Druid can do unfair things. Brann is a huge problem, and cannot be allowed to survive. If an opponent gets a couple of extra Jade Golems off Brann, they can actually overwhelm you with fat creatures. That having been said, any of the Druid matchups I have played have generally felt like they favour Paladin pretty solidly, and it feels like you have a lot more margin of error than they do. Over time, I would expect the Druid matchups to end up closer to a 60-65% range, in terms of winrate.
Oh Pirate Warrior…
Frankly, I don’t think this deck will remain at the top of the metagame. It looks like a classic early format aggro deck that dominates until the control decks react and become more refined. Still, we are early in the format, and need to be conscious of this deck, since it does prey on unrefined early-metagame lists.
This list holds its own against Warrior, but doesn’t always feel like it. Pirate Warrior matchups are usually blow-outs if you lose, and are often blow-outs when you win, too.
Sometimes, you just can’t get going quickly enough and they have too much aggression. In other games, your opponent stumbles a little bit, or you get some huge taunters that they just can’t deal with, and your opponent’s Pirates looks silly. Your best card in this matchup is Wickerflame Burnbristle; however, his role is not to be dropped too early. Ideally, you want to drop him the turn before your opponent is going to be lethal. If you can get him pumped up to a 4/4 or so, he can totally swing the game. Your opponent usually has to hit it with their face and one other minion. As such, you get to gain 8 points of life (if it’s a 4/4), and you avoid usually about that much in the way of damage, while also killing one of their creatures and using up one of their weapon hits. That’s a big swing for a 3 mana card!
Ideally, try to get your opponent to use up his Mortal Strikes before Burnbristle comes down, so that you don’t lose part of that life gain. Second-Rate Bruiser is usually great for drawing those out, especially if he has a buff or two on him. As a 3 drop, who is usually a 5/6 or larger, he also plays a very large role in keeping you in games long enough to swing things.
For the first time in a long time, when you see a Warlock across the table from you, you are assuming that it is Renolock, not Zoolock. Honestly, I would have liked a larger sample size of matchups, because I do not believe that this matchup is actually a 33% matchup by any stretch. My guess would be that it is much closer to a 50-50% matchup. Renolock has trouble dealing with a steady flow of fat creatures, in general, and this deck is very good at presenting that. That having been said, Renolock is still the hardest control matchup you will face when playing this deck, since you have to be very careful to play around their AoE effects, while still keeping enough pressure to avoid having them run you out of gas. You cannot exhaust Renolock’s resources the way that you can with other slow decks, due to their Lifetap hero power.
A lot of games against Renolock will come down to just playing around the right card. If you pressure your opponent’s life total and they happen to draw Reno in the top half of their deck, then you are in trouble. On the other hand, if you just play for board control and don’t put on enough pressure, you risk getting blown out by Twisting Nether or Shadowflame. The trick in this matchup is just figuring out what cards you can beat with whatever draw you have, figuring out whatever cards you can’t beat, and committing to the path that has the higher likelihood of resulting in victory. You can’t be afraid to lose to something like Reno Jackson, because often you don’t have any way to play around it. As such, you often need to put your head down, and commit to winning the game before he draws it. In general, this is why I will be happy to see Reno rotate out, because too many games of Hearthstone are currently coming down to whether Reno is in the top or bottom half of a player’s deck.
While my sample size is a bit small against Priest, it feels like a pretty solid matchup all around. Priest can deal with fat, to a point. But, they don’t want to be relying on 6 mana Entombs when you are dropping multiple huge bodies a turn. The multitude of your big minions puts a lot of pressure of their removal. Keep track of what removal they have used, because it makes a big difference. Sometimes, you can exhaust their Entombs and ride Tirion to victory. Sometimes, you can exhaust their Dragonfire Potions and ride Dopplegangster to victory.
Speaking of Dopplegangster, he is a huge card against Priest, and against most control decks. Control decks typically give you the time to buff Dopplegangster to a significant size. It is not uncommon to buff him to 6/6 or 7/7, which is a size that puts him beyond the reach of Dragonfire Potion, and makes him very tough to deal with. Additionally, dropping three 7/7 dudes on the board often represents an immediate threat of lethal as well. This makes Dopplegangster a perfect follow up to an AoE effect. This matchup, and other control matchups, are battles of attrition, and dropping a buff’ed Dopplegangster at the right moment can just end a game on the spot, if your opponent doesn’t have the resources left to deal with it. As such, make sure not to drop these prematurely. If you are dropping them as 2/2’s or 3/3’s (as anything but a last ditch effort) then you are almost certainly doing it wrong.
Other Matchups: Rogue (3-1), Paladin (2-0), Hunter (1-0)
As for the other matchups, the fringes of the metagame all seems to be solid matchups, based on the very small sample sizes of testing. Rogue is typically the slowest of the Pirate aggro decks, and so it is often easier to stabilize against them. You put a lot of pressure on their Saps, since they otherwise have very few ways to effectively deal with your big dudes. Their Lotus based decks are also slow enough that your fat usually gets online before theirs does, allowing you to ride it to victory.
My Paladin matchups were against aggro variants, and I basically just overwhelmed them with size. Not too much to say here. Paladin aggro isn’t fast enough to kill you before you get going, and doesn’t usually play the Equality combo to sweep your board.
I only played one Hunter matchup, but for a deck that is built with a mind to being able to keep up with Pirate Warrior, playing against Hunter aggro decks feels like playing a midrange matchup. Hunter just isn’t nearly as fast as some of the other aggro decks out there, allowing this deck to get going and overwhelm them with big dudes. Savanah Highmane is a lot of value for 6 mana, but not as much as a 5/5 Doppelganger is for 5 mana.
Frankly, on potential substitutions, I am mostly wondering about ways to further refine this list and strategy. While my testing shows that this deck is a solid ladder choice, it is still a deck that is a fun alternative choice to play, as opposed to a deck that you would play on a serious legend run. That having been said, the power is certainly there. The deck’s biggest weakness is its lack of removal. The natural solution seemed to be the Equality + Wild Pyromancer/Consecration combo. I haven’t been able to find an effective way of integrating that, however, without losing too much of the core strength of the deck. Equality and Consecration are additional spells in a deck that wants minions. I feel like there may be a good way to work the combo in, but so far, I haven’t been able to balance it properly.
Truesilver Champion is powerful as a removal option against cards like Flamewaker, but is poorly positioned against Shaman, who can often stop you from hitting the target you want with taunt wolves, taunt totems, or, of course, Thing from Below, who is a kick in the teeth when you are relying on Truesilver for removal.
Stampeding Kodo is a card I would like to test out, to potentially help removing troublesome totems, while getting some great benefits from being buff’ed, but it is tough to fit in more 5-drops. Doomsayer is another option, especially since it would be interesting to drop it as a 2/9 and put your opponent in the position where they would need to actually sacrifice minions to remove it. Anytime a Doomsayer wiped the board, it would automatically give you the chance to get immediate board advantage and ride it to victory, but, of course, Doomsayer is also purely a defensive option, which can’t be used once you do get an advantage.
Either way, I think there are a lot more options for trying to improve the deck, and I hope that someone out there can succeed in taking it to that next level.
In terms of replacements within the deck, while keeping to the core strategy, Sir Finley and Brann are the toughest to replace, but are also from an Adventure, so most people have them anyways. Nothing can replace their effects (especially Brann’s effect with Dopplegangster), so you are left to just have to fill their curve slots. For Sir Finley (or Shifter Zerus, who is less of a loss in the one-drop slot), Selfless Hero, Arcane Anomaly, Abusive Sergeant or Dragon Egg are all solid replacements. Mistress of Mixtures is something I haven’t tried, but could be helpful against aggro lists. I have also thought about trying out Patches, not really because of his primary effect (although it wouldn’t be too tough to fit a couple of Pirates in here), but because a buff’ed charge minion is always great value. Because of this, a package of Patches and two Southsea Deckhands could be a solid option, if you could find room for another couple of weapons to enable Deckhand. Alternatively, just Patches by himself, as a 1/1 for 1 with charge might actually be good enough, since he will usually end up seeing play as a 3/3 or 4/4 with charge.
In terms of your big guys, Tirion and Ragnaros, the Lightlord, have no good replacement, but aren’t actually as necessary as they are to most Paladin strategies. I could see cutting Lightlord, in particular, since, as powerful as he is, he is also a little slow to see play. Tirion is pretty dominant, especially when he is a 9/9, but he also isn’t absolutely mandatory, as many games are decided before he sees play. If I were to cut either of those cards, I would probably replace them with something a little lower on the curve. Grimestreet Protector could be an ok substitute, but I might even go further down the curve and look at a second Defender of Argus or maybe Stampeding Kodo.
The last legend is Wickerflame Burnbristle and, frankly, I would not play this deck without him…at least, until the number of Pirate Warriors in the metagame calms down. Burnbristle is a unique card, and definitely wins you games that you otherwise couldn’t win. If you had to get rid of it, you might have to look at an option as extreme as Forbidden Healing, since the life gain effect of Burnbristle in aggro matchups would be such a big loss.
As I mention above, Smuggler Paladin is a solid choice to have some fun while holding your own on ladder, but it still isn’t where it needs to be to be a serious consideration if you are planning to push for legend. So, I figured I would post a bonus decklist that is.
This list is an update of one of my favourite recent decks: Sister Act. I have almost 150 games in with this deck (combined between pre and post Gadgetzan), and a solid 60% winrate, with most of those being at rank 5 or better. My updated list maintains the strengths of the previous list while taking advantage of a couple of new tools.
Unlike Smuggler Paladin, the hand buff effects here are meant for incremental value, not maximum value. Outfitter for 2 or 3 extra buffs is plenty here. Marshal is a solid addition which helps to fill one of the previous list’s biggest issues (it had insufficient one-drops that had more than 1-toughness). In this deck, you can play Meanstreet Marshal without it being buffed, and your opponent usually has to answer it, because he is easily buff’ed once on the board with the deck’s various buff effects.
It is possible that at least one of the Bane Sisters should no longer make the cut in the deck, since Wickerflame Burnbristle also fills that 3-drop slot quite effectively, but I am quite happy at the moment with the current list. It gets on the board quickly, holds the board very well, and finishes efficiently. It has huge explosive potential with Divine Favour + hand buff effects, and it avoids. It also avoids the issue Smuggler Paladin has with lacking removal by getting on the board quickly and holding it, reducing the deck’s need to have removal effects.
I hope you guys enjoy both of these lists, as I probably won’t be able to get another article in before the new year. As such, I hope my readers have a Merry Christmas, and I will see you all in 2017!
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