Hearthstone has been out for more than 6 years, and some of the most popular archetypes have been around for quite a while. What happened to them? How did they change with time? This is what we’re highlighting today with a focus on Pirate Warrior, a deck that has risen from the dead in recent times.
In order to create content with historical accuracy, we’ll rely on both us players’ perception and, of course, data. Data are facts. Facts are good. Vicious Syndicate is good. Go check them out.
All the data shown below refers to Ranks 5 to 1 or, with the new ladder system, the Diamond 5 to 1.
Pirates have always been a part of Hearthstone, though they were more of a "meme deck" in the early days. These were the cards that gave us hope for Pirates.
- Classic gave us Southsea Captain and Bloodsail Corsair.
- Goblins vs Gnomes, brought us goodies like Ship's Cannon (a staple in every Pirate deck), One-eyed Cheat and Salty Dog.
- The Grand Tournament printed interesting units like Buccaneer and Skycap'n Kragg
- Whispers of the Old Gods gave us N'Zoth's First Mate and Bloodsail Cultist.
Everything changed when he arrived. The day memes were no longer just dreams.
I'm In Charge Now!
December 1, 2016. Mean Streets of Gadgetzan launches with one of the most meta-defining cards ever printed; You’re right folks, we’re talking about Patches the Pirate. Immediate board presence, cheap damage and deck thinning: this card embodies the unit you’d always want to run. In fact, even classes not focused around aggro strategies included Patches along with a couple of other pirates (mainly Southsea Captain in order to get that 2 damage ping, good against Aggro) in their builds. That’s how strong this 1/1 was at that time.
One class excelled at exploiting Pirates and all their synergies: Garrosh already had a lot of good aggro/tempo tools, but it just needed a couple of cards (namely Small-Time Buccaneer and Patches himself) to make all pieces come together. In fact, it didn’t take much for Warrior to establish itself as one of the big fishes in the early Mean Streets meta. Vicious Syndicate’s first meta report after MSoG release is blunt: the archetype is among the most popular and the strongest.
Sintolol managed to hit Rank 2 legend in a very short time with this list. Heh, greetings.
While the lists slowly shift towards the inclusion of Southsea Captain, the meta gets more and more refined and Pirate Warrior is the top dog together with its counterpart, Aggro Shaman.
Many players remember these months are one of the lowest points in all Hearthstone’s history: the meta was one of the most famous examples of rock-paper-scissors, with Reno builds punishing Pirate Warrior, Pirate Warrior farming Jade lists and Jade lists outlasting Reno builds. Then, on February 28, 2017, a significant balance patch was implemented. Pirate Warrior and Aggro Shaman get both nerfed. Small-Time Buccaneer’s health is reduced from 2 to 1 and therefore the deck’s snowballing potential is reduced.
The combination of Small-Time Buccaneer and Patches the Pirate has been showing up too often in the meta. Weapon-utilizing classes have been heavily utilizing this combination of cards, especially Shaman, and we’d like to see more diversity in the meta overall. Small-Time Buccaneer’s Health will be reduced to 1 to make it easier for additional classes to remove from the board.
However, Aggro Shaman, Garrosh’s main offender, is reduced to a playable but totally not over the top deck: therefore, Pirate Warrior, despite being slightly weaker, has no big antagonist and is free to go rampant on the ladder.
The explanation is simple: while Pirate Warrior’s early game isn’t as consistent or powerful, its biggest counter, Aggro Shaman, has significantly dropped in popularity. Part of the reason Aggro Shaman was so powerful is that it was an extremely effective deck against other aggressive decks with efficient removal tools like Spirit Claws and Maelstrom Portal (60% winrate against Pirate Warrior pre-patch). In addition to that, the rise of Jade Druid has suppressed its slower counters, like Control Warrior and Reno Mage, making the Meta even more favorable for Pirate Warrior to dominate.
At this point in time,Pirate Warrior had an outstanding 24.2% popularity on the ladder and is the only tier 1 deck (VS meta report #41). Small-Time Buccaneer is cut, mostly for Naga Corsair, even though some lists experiment with Bash.
Expedition to the Crater
Pirate Warrior enters in Journey to Un’Goro’s meta as the elephant in the room but Golakka Crawler and defensive stated neutrals like Tar Creeper (I miss you please come back) and Fire Fly keep Garrosh from spiraling out of control. Despite some experimentation (namely Worgen Infiltrator, Spellbreaker and Bittertide Hydra), the list remains pretty much the same to the one showcased before, with only Sir Finley Mrrgglton to be replaced.
New Meta, Same Old List
Balance changes come and the meta shifts, but one thing remains unchanged through all Un’Goro and the first month of Knights of the Frozen Throne: Pirate Warrior is a tier 1 deck and it is almost identical to its first iterations. Rather impressive.
But this is where the decline begins: the devs announce a balance patch addressing cards in the Evergreen set (both Basic and Classic set) that are either too strong or limit the famous “design space”. One of the targets is Fiery War Axe, a powerful Warrior weapon since the release of the game and a staple in Pirate Warrior since December 2016. The card saw its cost increased from 2 to 3.
Already great tempo for its cost, Fiery War Axe is well complemented by Pirates and cards that synergize with weapons. Raising its mana cost by 1 will slow down the Warrior’s tempo and lower the overall power level of the card.
Garrosh takes the hit. The deck is still good, but better aggro decks (which, of course, use Patches the Pirate too) start to pop up and therefore there’s not much reason other than loyalty to stick with Pirate Warrior, which tanks the bottom of tier 2. This is what the recommended list looked like in October 2017.
The Final Blow
Kobolds and Catacombs arrives, but the situation doesn’t improve for Garrosh. The power creep brought by this expansion makes Pirate Warrior fall even harder on his back, becoming a low tier 3 archetype.
Is this the end? No, it’s not: although the archetype isn’t doing particularly well, the devs are afraid of letting Patches the Pirate join Wild the way it is. As we said, Patches is a pretty damn good Stonetusk Boar that warps the meta more than its apparently harmless appearance gives away. The price? No Charge (pun intended). Nowadays, the card is still very good, but this nerf patch definitely kills every last hope of Pirate Warrior to make a comeback in the K&C meta.
Dragons and Pirates
The Year of the Raven comes, with very few (and forgettable, as much as their expansions) Pirates. Only Sharkfin Fanstands out, as it is currently run in the most performing Wild Pirate Warrior list.
For almost two entire years, Pirates hadn't left even the slightest trace on Hearthstone, but then came the Dragons. Dragons, and Pirates, are back! Yeet. Descent of Dragons brought us some neat tools to plunder with!
- Parachute Brigand which is a Patches the Pirate from your hand.
- Skybarge, a sticky Ship's Cannon that wins games if left unchecked.
- Sky Raider which gives value to an Aggro deck.
- Ancharrr which had a lot of people in the community not too sure of the potential before the expansion’s release, but everyone soon changed their mind.
Vicious Syndicate’s first meta report after the landing of Descent of Dragons clearly states that, after many months, Pirate Warrior is back in tier 1 again. As stated by the VS experts, the most remarkable trait of the deck is its resource management and longevity, which is in stark contrast to the Pirate Warrior of Mean Streets of Gadgetzan.
Pirate Warrior is not the #1 archetype, but its ability to thin the deck while pushing damage and taking control of the board makes it a serious contender. That is the reason why, in the following balance patch, Ancharrr, one of the key cards of the list (if not the key card), sees its durability reduced from 3 to 2.
Pirate Warrior starts fading away again, but not totally. Part of its core (Ancharrr), together with Risky Skipper (a new Pirate introduced in [Expansion (Galakrond’s Awakening) not found]) are more than enough to bring Galakrond Warrior and Enrage Warrior to the top of the food chain.
We Were Not Prepared
In particular, the latter archetype of Enrage Warrior which is considered to be in #1 now has received much support from the new Corsair Cache, but that's not all! This spell and its ability to fish for powerful weapons that can be played on curve (Ancharrr itself but also Livewire Lance) is singlehandedly able to bring back Pirate Warrior from the dumpster.
For what concerns the actual gameplay, the plan is simple: hit your opponent in the head before they kill you or before they exhaust your resources.
Since you're an aggro deck, curve is important:
- Always keep a 1-drop and, if it's a Pirate, Parachute Brigand for early control of the boar;
- Imprisoned Gan'arg shines the most when played at the beginning of the game, but be sure to not mess with your other weapons: however, it's not the end of the world if you waste a swing in order to equip an upgraded Livewire Lance or Ancharrr ;
- Turn 2 Corsair Cache into turn 3 buffed weapon (especially if it's Ancharrr) is one of the strongest curves in the game right now: be sure to always keep Cache in you opening hand or mulligan for it;
- If you have Captain Greenskin in hand, play it on curve and, if necessary, save a swing for its battlecry: the +1/+1 on your weapons brings more damage, but also remarkable value for an aggro deck - you either draw a good minion or get a Lackey (excellent tempo tool);
- Skybarge is good at both snowballing damage and taking control of the board: for example, most DH early game threats are 2-health units (Blazing Battlemage, but especially Battlefiend and Satyr Overseer), so be sure to set up your cannons with care. Fortunately for us, the 5-health stat makes this minion quite resilient and forces your opponent to either ignore it or soak a good portion of damage into it - win-win scenario;
- Here's a teaching from the ancients: if you don't know what you should attack into, just go face. Hit them fast and hit them hard. SMOrc
Right now, the deck sits in tier 2 with a 2% representation on the ladder (you can’t expect much more in a meta dominated by Illidan and from a class with Risky Skipper archetypes) and this is VS' recommended list for plundering.
Meanwhile, In The Jungle...
But hey, you could ask, “How is Pirate Warrior doing in Wild? Garrosh has a lot of good cards there.” Don’t fret my friends. Based on the last VS Wild meta report, Patches the Pirate is actually sitting at the top of the tier list.
However, now that Twin Slice's cost got changed to 1 Mana, Odd Demon Hunter may become a serious contender for the crown. How are things going to develop? Only time will tell.
How do you feel about Pirate Warrior in Hearthstone? What was your favourite version of the deck? Let us know in the comments below!
Are you interested in seeing more articles like this, focusing on Hearthstone's past? Be sure to leave feedback down below including your suggestions for other archetypes we could cover!