A crazy summer is coming to an end, and thanks to Knights of the Frozen Throne, some of the ladder portion of that summer was spent playing Hearthstone, after a couple of months where the stale metagame caused me to spend more time playing Magic and working on my other CCG project. Of course, the end of August was even crazier, for me, when my newborn daughter arrived (I’m a dad!). In fact, I finished my testing for this article at 4am with a sleeping infant on my chest. So, I guess what I am trying to say is that today’s deck is so good that you can still win with it, even if you are sleep deprived and highly distracted ;-).
Despite the Druidstone issues that the metagame has been having, I still have to give KOTFT a solid grade. My favourite part about the new set is probably the new adventure component, specifically the Lich King fight. The adventures really help to convey the set’s flavour a lot better than previous sets have managed, and having a really great PvE fight is a nice break from laddering. As for the standard meta, the set has a lot of fun and interesting effects. Honestly, the issues with Druid being overpowered are more related to Innervate and Mean Streets (ie. Jades), then they are about any of the new cards.
While Jade Druid is a very strong top deck in the format, it is not all-powerful, and today I am going to introduce you to the best Jade Druid killer that I have found in the format: Eternal Priest!
(Yes, I am aware that others have been calling it Big Priest…but frankly, that name sucks!)
While this deck has seen some niche play, I am frankly a little surprised by the lack of respect that the deck has been getting. TempoStorm currently lists the archetype in its tier 2 (behind tier 1, and its all-Druid “God Tier”), as the 8th best deck in the current meta.
Here is my opinion: this deck is the second best deck is the metagame, at the moment, and consistently destroys the format’s best deck (Jade Druid)!
So, why the lack of respect? Well, it could be because the initial lists of the deck were trash, diluting their most powerful effects with unspectacular minions like Priest of the Feast. Or, it could be because people just assume that the deck is inconsistent because it can’t get its auto-win Barnes draws every game. Whatever the reason is, I am going to do my best to change your minds on the list today.
Aside on Nerf Announcement
Before I get into the analysis of today’s deck, I feel like I should insert some thoughts on the recent nerf announcement from Blizzard. This article was written prior to the nerf announcement. Luckily, the nerfs hit precisely zero cards in today’s deck, but I thought that I would insert a few thoughts here on the announcement and its anticipated effect on the metagame.
First of all, while Spreading Plague is a very powerful card, I was a little stunned to see it get hit with a nerf so soon. Like I mention above, I truly believe that the issue with Druid right now is much more focussed on Innervate and the Jade cards from Gadgetzan than they are on Spreading Plague. Plague is an interesting card, and is only really overpowered in Jade Druid because Jade’s existing strategy makes it so hard to play around. This is because the way to beat Jade Druid is to go wide and be aggressive, because the Jades are so good at dominating the long game. If the Jades themselves were nerfed, I don’t think Spreading Plague would be considered overpowered at all. I would have much preferred a nerf on Jade Idol and Aya Blackpaw, as opposed to Plague. We know that Jade Idol and Aya are too powerful, in general, whereas I feel like Spreading Plague is only as good as it is, because it closes the biggest weakness of a deck that is otherwise overpowered. Also, Jades are boring uninteresting vanilla minions, while Plague is a cool card that is skill testing to play around.
As for the rest, the Innervate nerf was good. I don’t like the policy only Hall of Fame’ing cards at the start of the year (frankly, the middle of the year is exactly when they should be doing the Hall of Fame, because it provides another opportunity to shake up the meta), but in this case, I think nerf’ing Innervate was a better idea. Nerf’ing Innervate reduces current and future issues in Wild. Free mana has always been the most dangerous type of effect in Magic, and it should help to open-up design options for Blizzard to have Innervate nerf’ed instead of just dumping it into Wild.
I like the Warleader nerf. I always thought its buff was a bit too big for its cost, especially for a neutral card. As for Fiery Win Axe and Hex, I am pretty fine with those changes, too, although I can’t, for the life of me, understand why those ones took so long. Warrior and Shaman certainly aren’t tearing up ladder at the moment, but these nerfs would have made a huge difference last fall, when Warrior and Shaman were oppressively powerful. So, I like the changes, but hate the timing.
As for the metagame effect, I still expect Jade Druid to be the best deck in the meta. The loss of Innervate is far rougher on Aggro Druid than it is on Jade Druid, and the weaker version of Spreading Plague is still just fine. The pre-KOTFT version of Jade Druid was already a pretty solid contender, and new staples like Ultimate Infestation and Malfurion the Pestilent remain untouched by the nerfs. Druid also has access to other strong anti-aggro cards like Crypt Lord, which can help the deck to deal with aggro, if the Spreading Plague nerf ends up being a real issue for it. Not to mention, one of the deck’s traditional predators, Pirate Warrior, is also enduring a pretty rough nerf, despite the deck gaining effectively no new cards in the last two expansions.
With that being said, Eternal Priest should be an excellent choice for the post-nerf metagame. It dominates pre-nerf Jade Druid, so I’m sure it will be even better against the post-nerf version. Not only that, but with Aggro Druid (Innervate) and Pirate Warrior (Fiery War Axe) getting nerf’ed, the deck should gain some winrate against two of its toughest matchups.
So, with all that being said, let’s end this aside and get back to today’s article!
Resurrect Priest was a niche deck last year, but had a pretty big weakness: randomness. Resurrect Priest could sometimes get crazy draws by cheating out a powerful minion with Barnes, having it die, and then resurrecting it at full strength with Resurrect. The only problem with that plan is that you usually have at least two dead minions when you are playing Resurrect (your big one, and Barnes), so, you were usually only 50/50%, at best, to get the one you wanted. If you tried to defend yourself in the early game with Potion of Madness (by stealing and trading an opposing minion) things got even more dicey.
Enter: Eternal Servitude
Two mana is a small price to pay to ensure that you get to bring back Y’Shaarj instead of Barnes. Eternal Servitude appears to have been made specifically with Barnes in mind. This deck can get some pretty ridiculous auto-win moments with full-sized Y’Shaarj or Lich King as early as turn 4 (after a turn 3 coin + Barnes).
While 6 mana, for Shadow Essence, is certainly more than 4 mana for Barnes, a 5/5 Y’Shaarj or Obsidian Statue is definitely no joke. Shadow Essence usually gets you a powerful minion, while also enabling future Eternal Servitudes to bring that minion back full-sized.
To supplement the deck’s combo’ish win condition, the deck also boasts very solid control elements, which allow it to keep your opponent’s board under control until your fatties can take over. While staple cards like Potion of Madness, Shadow Word: Pain and Dragonfire Potion are present, the deck also utilizes a card that has seen little play until recently: Shadow Word: Horror.
This card has been poorly positioned for most of its life in standard, but filling the most powerful class in the meta with one-power, high toughness minions seems to have changed that. Spreading Plague, Crypt Lord and Malfurion the Pestilent are all very powerful cards, which look far less impressive when Shadow Word: Horror is around. In addition, alongside Pint-Sized Potion, Horror will sweep all of your opponent’s minions with 5 power or less. Oh, and Horror does all that without touching a single minion in your deck (except for Barnes’ token, I suppose).
Combining all of the deck’s control elements, the deck has a ton of ways to keep an opponent’s board under control, and will often win matches simply by running an opponent out of threats. While winning a match with a turn 4 Y’Shaarj is nice, this deck also wins many matches where your fatties don’t come down until turn 8-10.
Overall, the deck has an incredible number of answers for all sorts of potential problems. Combine that with some of the hardest threats in the game to deal with, and you are looking at a true metagame powerhouse of a deck.
The cards that I would consider Tech Slots in this deck are: 2 Silence, 1 Holy Smite and 1 Greater Healing Potion. The deck, realistically, has to fill these 4 slots with spells, due to the deck’s design constraints (ie. Barnes and Shadow Essence), so the options are relatively limited. This is my favourite setup so far, but these slots could certainly change as the meta evolves.
The tech choices that are most different in my deck, versus others I have seen, are the two Silences. I started with one copy, but was really impressed with it. The card is surprisingly well positioned right now. You can’t underestimate the power of a card that can affect the board, while having a zero mana cost. Sometimes Silence helps keep you alive in the early game by disabling a Murloc Warleader that you can’t remove yet. Sometimes Silence disables a Spikeridge Steed or Aya, so you can cleanly deal with a board. Sometimes Silence disables Doomsayer, to protect your board, or unfreezes a minion for a lethal attack. In a pinch, you can also use it to Silence a minion you got off Barnes, if a vanilla 8/8 would be more useful than a 1/1 taunt Lich King. Sometimes, you are even just using Silence to help your Shadowreaper Anduin machine gun your opponent’s face. There are a surprising number of powerful applications for Silence, considering the card costs zero. The usual reason why Silence sees limited play is that it is too low impact, and generally is card advantage (since it can’t fully answer most cards, only weakens them). In this deck, however, you don’t care about card disadvantage. You have so many card advantage machines that you are rarely losing wars of attrition. This deck is much more concerned with strong tempo plays, which is why I consider Silence a strong two-of card in that slot.
The Holy Smite slot has been a couple of different cards previously. It started as Spirit Lash (with a second Lash in one of the Silence slots), but I found Lash to be far too low impact. There are very few one toughness minions around, and the deck does not do a lot of chip damage, so often Lash would just gain you a few life, maybe take out Patches, and that’s it. Occasionally, you would get it against a board of small pirates, or Silver Hand Recruits, but those situations were too few and far between, and you have lots of other options there. Holy Smite is not ideal in the slot, but I think it is the best option available. It kills minions more often than Lash would, and does it at a very efficient cost. It is also a solid card to use with Shadowreaver Anduin in the late game to machine gun an opponent, or opposing minion.
As for the last slot, Greater Healing Potion seems to make it into most of the lists that I have seen, and, in fact, I have seen more lists with two copies than I have with zero copies. Running two copies is not a bad option, but I think it is excessive. Greater Healing Potion is great in some situations, but you don’t want to clog up your hand with more than one, because they are clunky, at 4 mana, and usually only have niche applications in matches that go long. I have been very happy with one (especially since Shadow Visions can substitute as a second copy, if necessary), but I have not felt the need for a second.
I started playing the deck at the bottom of rank 5, and took it to rank 2 with a 36-17 record (68% winrate), before running out of time in the month.
General Mulligan Strategy
The mulligan strategy for this deck very heavily revolves around Barnes. It is the only card that you want in your opening hand in every matchup, and your win rate goes up significantly if you have it on turn 4. If you have Barnes in your opening hand, you will mulligan other cards less aggressively. For instance, I would never keep Eternal Servitude without Barnes in hand, but would keep it almost every time with one. I will often mulligan mediocre early defensive options like Holy Smite and Silence, depending on the matchup, but will be more likely to keep them if I have Barnes.
Aside the Barnes effect, the rest of your mulliganing is largely matchup specific, because your deck is full of answers, and you need the right ones to match up against your opponent’s effects.
Despite what TempoStorm says, my experience is that there are basically two types of Druids on ladder: Aggro and Jade. I have played against a couple of the midrangy taunt lists (2-0), but the deck just doesn’t feel like it has any significant advantages over Jade Druid, and shares the same weaknesses.
One of the most annoying things about Druid, at the moment, is that their two major archetypes (Aggro and Jade) are both totally different lists. You would mulligan differently for each, if you could, because you want completely different tools. Against Aggro Druid, you want all your early game removal, while against Jade Druid, you are expecting to do pretty much nothing for your first 4 turns, and would happily keep something like Shadow Essence, just to ensure your threats can start as early as possible. Eternal Priest is very strong against Jade Druid (8-2), but can get run over early by Aggro Druid (3-5). Jade Druid also gives you more time to draw into the tools you need, so I much prefer to mulligan for the Aggro Druid matchup, where you really need to have the right answers early, or you never get your strategy off the ground.
The Aggro Druid matchup doesn’t feel quite as bad as it looks from my record (3-5), as it felt like I got high-rolled rather hard in some of those games, but it is probably the deck’s toughest matchup. It is also an annoying matchup to play because you win or lose based on your opponent’s draw in 90% of matchups. If they get a really fast aggro hand with multiple pump spells, you lose. If they get a clunky hand, then your opponent will usually be out of gas before you play your first threat. The cards you want most in your opener in this matchup are Barnes, Shadow Word: Horror, Shadow Word: Pain, Shadow Visions and Potion of Madness. Holy Smite is a contextual keep, as is Pint-Sized Potion (you will always keep this if you have Horror or Shadow Visions). Shadow Word: Horror is the big swing card in the matchup. Most of the Aggro Druid’s minions start with 1 power. So, if they get one pump effect before turn 4, then you can usually wipe them out, even if they have a beefy Crypt Lord. If they get multiple pump effects, then you need Horror + Pint-Sized, which means having to wait an extra turn to clear. That extra turn will often mean that you just die to Savage Roar. If you can survive the early rush, then you are usually golden.
Bittertide Hydra dies to Shadow Word: Horror. You have Dragonfire Potions and Horror to deal with Living Mana. Flappy Bird (aka Vicious Fledgling) dies to Shadow Word: Pain (or Death, if they get to pump it), and is relatively lame if you Silence it. Meanwhile, one resolved Obsidian Statue can invalidate almost their entire deck. When you lose, you lose to the early rush, so mulligan aggressively for your early answers and pray to RNGesus.
Jade Druid (8-2) is a strong matchup. People often say that Jade Druid is the ultimate late-game deck. Those people haven’t played this matchup. Most of my victories over Jade Druid have come from simply going toe-to-toe with them in the late game. The fact of the matter is that you can answer their threats, while they usually struggle to answer yours. You can clear early and mid-game board states with Pint-Sized Potion + Shadow Word: Horror, or Dragonfire Potion (often backed up with Silence on Aya), and can take out individual Jades with Shadow Word: Death. Your Jade opponent has very few answers for Y’Shaarj, Ysera or the Lich King, if they can’t keep their Jades on the board.
Speaking of answers and threats, your trump card counts as both. Shadowreaver Anduin is a brutal late game card, which can often wipe out your opponent’s big Jades, while leaving your Obsidian Statues and Ysera untouched. Ysera is often a great Servitude choice if you happen to have Anduin. Not only does Ysera avoid Anduin’s battlecry, but Ysera’s spells also work very well with his hero power. Cards like Nightmare, Dream and Ysera Awakens are all cheap powerful tempo effects that can help you finish off a Druid, in concert with Shadowreaver Anduin’s hero power. The fact that many Jade lists have cut Earthen Scales makes this strategy particularly effective.
One additional tip, the tide may appear to turn in the favour of the Druid in the midgame. You will generally have solutions to all their threats, but sometimes struggle to reassert initiative on the board, as your opponent constantly refreshes his Jade army. This difficulty re-taking the board is generally a result of your big threats costing so much mana (ie. You can’t clear a board and drop Y’Shaarj in the same turn, under normal circumstances). This issue is that reason why Eternal Servitude is your best midgame card. At only 4 mana, you can pull a huge threat, while still leaving you with 6 mana to deal with your opponent’s best threats. If you don’t have Servitude, your backup plan is to just keep clearing the board, until your opponent presents one that your threat can effectively contest. Remember, you have a lot of removal, but few threats. If you let your opponent trade jades for your Lich King or Ysera, then you are going to have a tough time. But, if you wait until your opponent has a non-Jade turn (ie. Drops Primordial Drake or plays Ultimate Infestation), then you can be pretty sure that your big threat will survive, and you can reassert your board control on the next turn.
As for other Druid matchups, as I mentioned above, I was 2-0 against Taunt Druid. Your strategy there is very similar to your strategy against Jade Druid: remove their board until you can drop a fatty and take control. Taunt Druid doesn’t have the late game Jades to threaten you, can’t rely on Spreading Plague for any value, and rely on a lot of cards that get destroyed by Shadow Word: Horror. My last Druid matchup was against a random Quest Druid. I lost the matchup, but am still not actually convinced that Quest Druid is a real deck.
Paladin is still a strong class, but seems to have been refined down to only one popular archetype on ladder: Murloc Paladin. Some builds are more aggressive, some are more controlling, but all the ones I have seen seem to have the Murloc low curve, topped off with Tarim, Tirion and friends.
This matchup is one where you often feel totally bulletproof, as long as you have your early game cards. Potion of Madness, Shadow Word: Pain, and Shadow Word: Horror, are all very well suited to taking down early Murloc boards, as long as Warleader hasn’t seen play. Save your Shadow Word:Pains for Warleader, if you can, and you can certainly consider it as a strong Silence target, if you can’t board clear. Once your first Pint-Sized/Horror or Dragonfire Potion clear, you are generally pretty golden. Tarim is one of the remaining serious threats, after that, since he buffs a board of minions out of Horror range, so keep an eye out for that.
Overall, your removal just lines up very well against Paladin. Annoying threats like Righteous Protector and Wickerflame Burnbristle are both cleanly solved with Shadow Word: Horror. Silence laughs at Spikeridge Steed. Shadowreaver Anduin and Shadow Word: Death both beat Tirion and Rag Lightlord. On the other side of the coin, Paladin just can’t deal with your threats. Most of the current lists on ladder don’t even run Equality, which is really the only way they can cleanly deal with any of your significant threats.
To mulligan, in this matchup, keep your early game defensive cards (ie. Shadow Word: Pain and Horror, Potion of Madness and Holy Smite), along with Barnes. I will generally keep Shadow Visions, as well, although it is contextual. Pint-Sized Potion is a keep, if you have Horror or Shadow Visions, and Eternal Servitude is usually a keep if you have Barnes, especially on the coin.
Priest tier is no more. Along with Eternal Priest, Highlander Priest is also a very strong contender in the current meta. I did win one mirror matchup, but the rest of my Priest matchups were against Highlander Priest (7-2). If you lose this matchup, it is probably because your opponent got Shadowreaver Anduin + Raza. Without that combo, they are at a large disadvantage. If they do get the combo, then you want to already be far enough ahead to ride the advantage to victory. Your best fatty in this matchup is usually Ysera. Priest has always been weak to powerful 4 power dudes, and Ysera also gives you great tempo cards. A lot of my Highlander Priest matchups have ended with me burning my opponent out with Ysera Awakens and Shadowreaver Anduin. Ysera is particularly tough for Highlander Priest to deal with because they often need to deal with her multiple times, due to Eternal Servitude.
A couple of cautions for the matchup. First of all, do not get blown out by Shadowreaver Anduin. Lich King, Y’Shaarj and anything from Shadow Essence will die to Anduin. Losing multiple of those threats at the same time really hurts. This is one reason why you will often prefer to pick a Ysera over a Y’Shaarj off an Eternal Servitude, if given the choice. Secondly, one card which can destroy your high-roll Barnes opening is Potion of Madness, as they can steal your token and kill it off while they have control. My recommendation: don’t play around it! If they have it, good for them. On ladder, a Priest deck should not be keeping Potion of Madness against another Priest deck. Even if they new that you were running Eternal Priest, it is pretty sketchy to keep a card in your opener that is only effective against one card in your deck. This is one of those circumstances where you should be content to play the odds and assume that your opponent has mulligan’ed their Potions.
My Mage matches were largely against Secret Tempo variants, with one Quest Mage matchup. Quest is easily the tougher matchup, because they can trump you in the late game. Any Secret or Tempo Mage variant should lose to you. Your removal lines up very well against them, and their damage based removal leaves them pretty helpless against fatties with large backsides like Ysera and Y’Shaarj. The most important thing in the Secret matchup is to play around the Secrets. Your cheap cards like Silence and Pint-Sized Potion are perfect for playing around Counterspell. Mirror Entity is the tougher one to deal with. Entity is lame against Barnes and does nothing to Shadow Essence, Eternal Servitude or Free from Amber, but if you just blindly slam the Lich King down, then you could have a rough day. Just be aware of it, and if you can either play into it with Barnes, or play around it with spells, then do so.
It is a little tough to totally pin down what Hunter is nowadays. Two of my losses came against a weird midrange list with Deathstalker Rexxar and Swamp King Dred. Hunters are starting to go more midrangy, although most still have a decent early curve of beasts before that. Hunter is a bit of a tough class to play against, because they are good at sustaining pressure on your life total. They can’t deal with your high-roll Barnes + Eternal Servitude draws, but if you aren’t playing anything until Shadow Essence, then they can put a lot of pressure on your control cards. Try to maintain your life total as best as possible. This isn’t your favourite matchup to play, and probably not favourable, but it certainly is still winnable, and not a super common class to see on ladder.
I remember a time when queue-ing into Warrior meant that you were going to have to fight through a long matchup. This days are well and truly behind us. Nowadays, if you see a Warrior it is inevitably Pirate Warrior.
While my record in the matchup doesn’t show it, I am pretty convinced that the matchup is overwhelmingly positive. At the Hearthstone Global Games, Czech Republic beat Pirates two days in a row with a similar Priest list.
The big swing card in the matchup is undoubtedly Spellbreaker. My losses in this matchup were, inevitably, in games where I had things well in hand before Spellbreaker took out a taunt I was relying on. Pirates simply can’t beat a resolved Obsidian Statue…unless they have Spellbreaker.
That’s really the only advice I have here. Aside from playing around Spellbreaker, to the extent that you can, the matchup is pretty straightforward. They will play aggro dudes, you will remove aggro dudes and try to keep your life total high. Drop taunts or play Greater Healing Potion to survive those last few weapon hits, and try to avoid being fully reliant on a single taunt to protect you from lethal.
Mulligan for Shadow Word: Pain and Horror, Potion of Madness, Holy Smite and Barnes. Pint-Sized Potion and Eternal Servitude are both contextual keeps.
While I don’t think the Druidstone issue is quite as bad as many make it out to be, it is a bit troubling that in 53 games from rank 5-2 on ladder I played a grand total of one Rogue deck and zero Warlock or Shaman decks. Considering how good token Shaman was a month ago, and considering all the awesome new tools that Warlock and Rogue got, I would have expected to have at least seen some of them floating around.
Since I didn’t see them, I don’t have much to say about these classes. The Rogue matchup (Tempo Rogue) felt pretty easy, because I was able to easily run my opponent out of threats. Aside from that, I don’t have any real insights to share.
I like to do the substitution section because it is inevitably the first thing that people ask in the reddit comments. Unfortunately, in this case, however, it is really tough to make substitutions in this list. Your Legendary cards and Epics are all pretty central to the deck’s strategy. If you include any minions in your list, they should be ones that you are happy to hit with Barnes and Shadow Essence. If they don’t fit the bill, then you are really hurting the deck’s power level by including them. The reason that this deck functions as well as it does is because all of your minions are utterly game-breaking cards. Including random so-so fatties just reduces the deck’s consistency.
The only cards I could see substituting for any of the legendary minions are, frankly, other legendary minions. Cairne Bloodhoof is not as game-breaking an effect as the others, but he is a very strong Barnes pull. If you changed up some of the tech slots to more burn cards, you could also consider using Malygos and Prophet Velen in a couple of the slots. Aside from that, if you are missing one of the big fatties, the best solution is probably just to substitute with a non-minion. You can probably get away with having one-less minion, but I wouldn’t go below that, or you are affecting the power level of your Y’Shaarj and your Shadow Essences (it is a 6 mana do-nothing if you have no minions in your deck). If you dropped one of the threats, I would probably replace it with a second Free from Amber, so that you aren’t reducing the overall number of threats in the deck.
In terms of the Epics, Obsidian Statute falls into the same category as the Legendaries. Statue is so important in aggro matchups that you would really be losing winrate against any of the aggressive strategies by dropping even one of those. Many times, you are playing a Shadow Essence and crossing your fingers to hope that you get Statue. Against an Aggro Druid or Pirate Warrior Shadow Essence for Obsidian Statue is often an automatic win, where Ysera would be an auto-loss.
The last Epic is Shadow Visions. This is such a staple that if you are playing Priest, you probably should have these. If you don’t, you can substitute other spells in for them. You lose the toolbox, but it is far from making the deck unplayable. The really nice thing about Shadow Visions is that they can act as a threat in control matchups (if you pull Shadow Essence, Eternal Servitude or Free from Amber), or as a removal effect in aggro matchups (pulling key defensive cards or helping you assemble the missing part of a Shadow Word: Horror + Pint-Sized Potion combo). The deck is weakest to aggro lists, so I would probably favour using those Shadow Visions slots for anti-aggro cards. An additional sweeper effect like Holy Nova would probably be ideal, while tech cards like Greater Healing Potion or Holy Smite could also be options.
Well, as I mentioned off-the-top, I am a dad now, and so my schedule for future articles will probably largely depend on my daughter’s sleep schedule. That having been said, I have a couple of cool decks that I have been working with, so we’ll see how things go. Either way, if you want to know when future articles are posted, the best way is to follow us on Twitter or Facebook, and I will post there when new articles go up. Alternatively, you can subscribe to my articles below. And, of course, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to join the discussion on reddit here.