The more things change, the more they stay the same. Despite the re-introduction of 23 cards from Wild, Quest Shaman, Quest Druid and Aggro Combo Priest remain the most popular decks between five and one. Of course, if you’ve ever been on the wrong end of a Desert Hare / Evolve combo, you’ll know that the meta has changed dramatically in the era of Doom from the Tomb. All hail N’Zoth.
As always, the report comes from an analysis of statistics from HSReplay, along with personal game experience at high ranks.
The meta’s most powerful decks have seamlessly integrated their Wild cards (except, that is, for Aggro Combo Priest, which is the same as it ever was and still extremely strong). Quest Shaman and Quest Druid are still locked in battle, but the edge goes to Thrall this week. Once a fourth meta pillar, Highlander Hunter has dropped dramatically in playrate (though not so much in power, as Ragnaros the Firelord and Call of the Wild attest).
Things are getting interesting at the top. At Legend, the Token Shaman pioneered by Jambre has evolved, both literally and figuratively. Evolve is a game-changer, as is Desert Hare, urging a playstyle that generates wide boards for Vessina and Bloodlust. Though Quest Shaman remains Thrall’s dominant deck, Evolve Shaman could be the real powerhouse.
Outside of Resurrect Priest, which is performing extremely well, no control deck seems to have benefited from the arrival of N’Zoth. Though the Old God has made for a neat little package with Khartut Defender, the greedy control builds haunting the meta seem to be doing poorly, though this could be a statistical artifact since they are underplayed compared to their tempo-minded opponents.
Regardless, healing is back on the menu, as is Taunt, making for longer games and requiring even the most aggressive of decks to pack mid-range threats. With the return of N'Zoth, Highlander Mage is much-improved, but interest is dwindling, as Jaina devotees turn to the various experiments that seek to exploit Flamewaker, a skill-testing card that has not yet found its build. Warlock's control builds have yet to perform adequately. Warrior is still bifurcated into two camps, Aggro and Control, but the class’ popularity has cratered across all ranks.
A swiss army knife of sorts, Kun the Forgotten King has slotted neatly into every meta Druid build. He provides a big body, survivability through armor gain and, in effect, a double-turn, refreshing our mana crystals in a move reminiscent of Twig of the World Tree. Kun is good enough to include in any Druid list, but along with Elise the Enlightened, Baleful Banker and Zephrys the Great, he’s empowered a new combo deck, one capable of frustrating opponents into concession.
We’re calling it Infinite Quest Druid. It’s built around the Quest core with which we’re all familiar: draw from Crystal Merchant, Nourish, Wrath and Ferocious Howl; board control through Oasis Surger; the powerful AOE of Starfall and Swipe. These are the tools you need to get to the late game (and they can be hit or miss depending on your draw), but once you’ve curated your hand for duplication and run to the end of your deck, all you need is Elise and Banker to go infinite. Elise duplicates your Banker, then Banker sends Elise back into the deck for another go-around, creating an infinite loop and circumventing fatigue. Kun isn’t essential to the combo, but he’s probably the most powerful thing you can do at this point, especially in conjunction with Zephrys. In many matchups, the combo is practically irrelevant, but it’s a powerful strategy against opponents like Control Warrior or Highlander Mage.
In this meta, equal parts aggressive tempo decks and grindy control, standard Quest Druid remains the choice for laddering, though we can see a space for Malygos builds if the N’zoth-fueled madness continues unabated. When you can hide him behind a wall of Taunts, Emperor Thaurissan does amazing work in this deck, potentially eliminating the need to run Jepetto Joybuzz. That’s not much of a surprise, but this deck should be reinvigorated by the post-patch influx of shambling control decks like Resurrect Priest. There’s no need to interact with N’zoth boards if you can just burst them down with duplicated Moonfires.
Call of the Wild is a powerful card, but nothing much has changed for Hunter since the patch. Highlander Hunter remains one of the strongest decks in the meta, dropping bomb after bomb well into the late game. Ragnaros the Firelord and Call are natural additions to the list. Some players are also experimenting with Emperor Thaurissan, but the inclusion is questionable; in most matchups, you'd rather drop Savannah Highmane or Unleash the Beast.
The problem at this stage is that Hunter isn’t attracting players. Its fundamental game plan is the same; other stuff is just more interesting. The re-introduction of Emperor Thaurissan, as well as Lock and Load, has brought a new incentive to play some variant of Spell or Malygos Hunter, but despite RDU's recent success with his own variant, there's little interest in a deck like that.
Even Quest Hunter, which has strong matchups into Shaman and continues to perform well, has seen noticeable decreases in playrate.
Mage has been reinvigorated, breaking through the doldrums of Highlander Mage with the exciting return of Flamewaker. In Flamewaker Cyclone Mage, Mana Cyclone’s potential comes to full fruition. You need to be fast, really fast, and the deck only shines when you make each of your lightning-quick decisions thoughtfully.
Apxvoid’s most recent builds are featured here; there’s one, “small,” for twitchy tempo matchups like Quest Shaman and another, “big,” for control. In either case, the deck plays a lot like Cyclone Mage, so we’ve classified it as a variant. Mountain Giants and Conjurer's Calling have been replaced by a Flamewaker / Sorcerer’s Apprentice combo, but this deck has the same high skill cap as old Cyclone Mage. Extreme draw in the form of Stargazer Luna and Research Project forces you to think on your feet.
Well-executed, Flamewaker Cyclone Mage is capable of extreme burst damage, but factoring minion trades into your Flamewaker turns is all-important. Flamewaker has to chew through boards; it can't inflict indiscriminate face damage, which is a problem when everyone else is resurrecting Khartut Defender three times in a row. The combo doesn't seem to be any more effective against wide token boards, either, since the matchups against both Quest and Evolve Shaman are (thus far) abysmal. Sorcerer’s Apprentice and Flamewaker is one of the best combos in the game, but it may not be right for this meta.
Like almost every control deck, Highlander Mage has adopted the N’zoth package with a small but noticeable increase in performance. Again, we defer to Apxvoid for a recent list.
While many players have experimented in the early days with a full Secret build, Highlander Paladin is almost certain to emerge as the better deck in the end. As it stands, a Highlander variant featuring a Secret package is the best deck by winrate between ranks five and one (over a sample of 16,454 games).
Mysterious Challenger and Avenge are too good to pass up. Ragnaros and Sylvanas Windrunner slot in nicely to shore up the mid- to late-game. These are promising early results for Uther, but the emerging Evolve Shaman matchup, in which Thrall claims an edge, may become a problem in the future.
Avenge is the card Paladin’s Secret package needed, providing Uther’s early-game minions' survivability against both tempo decks and control. It also works synergistically with most of Paladin’s other traps, ensuring a proc off Noble Sacrifice and buffing a Divine Shield minion after Autodefense Matrix. The Secret usually provides a beefy body to target with Blessing of Kings, ensuring we can snowball into the mid- to late-game.
Mysterious Challenger would probably be a Legendary if released today, and he's driving most of the interest in the Paladin class. Unsurprisingly, Murloc Paladin has seen a steep decline in play, with a more moderate decrease for Quest Paladin. Losing the Grandmasters glow, Holy Wrath Paladin's popularity is beginning to taper off after weeks of poor performance in a wider meta.
Resurrect Priest is unbelievably fun to play. After months of failed experimentation (and stagnation), the deck is starting to win, too, claiming a firm spot in Tier 2 between ranks five and one. At Legend, the archetype performs far worse, in large part due to Quest Shaman's overwhelming play rate at the highest ranks. This matchup is terrible and especially poor at Legend. Anduin may well benefit if Shaman players begin switching to a non-Quest Evolve Shaman; while the head-to-head has proved difficult for Priest so far, it appears at first blush to be more competitive than the one against Quest Shaman and may flip to positive once players learn the matchup.
There's no doubt, though, that Resurrect Priest's power level has increased dramatically since the patch. Except for Psychopomp, the deck contains no bad resurrect targets. After about turn 4 or 5, every play with this list feels overpowered. Lots of decks are making use of N’zoth now, but Resurrect Priest was born for this. High Priest Amet isn’t a given, but he can be devastating with Khartut Defender and Zerek's Cloning Gallery.
Zetalot’s new variation on Quest Priest, Batterhead Priest, feels strong, but we wouldn’t pretend to know whether it’s good or not. With the Quest complete, Batterhead is a perfect answer for Call of the Wild, but the Hunter matchup isn’t very prevalent. I don’t know. There’s something intoxicating about a deck that wants to be hurt.
Though completely unchanged, Aggro Combo Priest may still be the strongest deck in the game. Grandmasters players haven’t forgotten about this list, and neither should you. After a sharp dip following the patch, Aggro Combo Priest's popularity has begun to rise once again between ranks five and Legend, as players feast on the prevalent Quest Shaman matchup. But unlike Resurrect Priest, this is a deck that would hate to see an increase in Evolve Shaman. Though sample sizes are still small (2,800 games between five and Legend), Anduin loses out to Thrall's board-busting mutations in around 58% of cases.
Swashburglar is far better than Pilfer, but the consistency of Quest completion is all-important, so running both is a good idea. You need to be on the board, and Swashburglar, in conjunction with Pharaoh Cat, increases the consistency of your early game draws. It’s also a much stronger curve into Underbelly Fence, so powerful, in fact, that it’ll probably see play in the majority of Rogue builds, making the inclusion of a Burgle package almost universal.
Shaku the Collector is also a strong inclusion in Quest Rogue, but the deck continues to perform poorly, hanging out in Tier 3 between five and Legend. Quest Rogue can't take advantage of Swashburglar's return, because it's crippled by a fundamental weakness. That a tempo deck must sacrifice the first turn (on the play) or the Coin is abhorrent. It shocks the conscience, but you can try anyway. Alongside Swashburglar and Shaku, J_Alexander’s latest build slots in Ragnaros the Firelord as a finisher, while reducing Bazaar Mugger to a one-of.
For the time being, we hope that Quest Rogue will be overshadowed by the late-game insanity of N’Zoth Rogue, a deck very much still in development. The combo at the core of this deck is extremely simple - Shadowstep N’Zoth so he costs 8 mana, then shuffle him into your deck the next turn (in ungodly amounts) using Togwaggle's Scheme. It's clean and effective in slower matchups, as against Resurrect Priest, a class with no burn.
The fun thing about N'Zoth Rogue is getting to the combo with your tempo tools and draw, which is often harder than you’d like; Rogue wasn’t built for this. Bloodmage Thalnos is your quiet MVP, amplifying your removal spells in the mid-game or providing crucial early card draw.
Watch out for Evolve. Quest Shaman is a tough matchup, stretching your removal to its limit. Vendetta and Fence are powerful control tools in the early game, but don’t scale well against larger minions. If only Vanishwere still in the format, this deck might have a chance (Sap is bad in this meta of wide boards).
The re-introduction of Evolve represents an earlier power spike for Quest Shaman, which remains the best-represented deck from five to one. Desert Hare is the new hotness, bootstrapping a board of three four-drops on turn four. It’s filthy after Quest completion, spitting out six 3-drops to Evolve as early as turn six.
The Evolve package scales well into the late game, generating mid-range threats to value trade or go face, making up (some say not enough) for the losses of Former Champ and Giggling Inventor. While Giggling Inventor’s power level was undeniable, Evolve allows us to level up our minions through the mid-game, often finding crucial Taunts to protect our other threats and discouraging the same opponents Giggling once deterred.
While many players have yet to adopt the Evolve package, we believe it will become near-universal over the coming days; the power level is too high to be denied, correlated with significant increases in winrate. As it stands, the Evolve variant of Quest Shaman sits comfortably in Tier 1, pulling in a winrate over 58% between ranks five and Legend in a sample of 23,000 games.
Interest in a non-Quest Evolve Shaman, heir apparent to the token build popularized by Jambre, is also on the increase, especially at Legend. Refined in Muzzy’s latest build, Evolve Shaman is now the second most popular deck at Legend and the third most popular at rank one. Though it has yet to catch on at lower ranks, it’s winrate is impressive; the deck is already vying for a top spot in Tier 2. We expect its representation to increase at lower ranks.
Spirit of the Frog is an important tech to draw into Evolve, but it doesn't work for Mutate. Soul of the Murloc is essential for evading removal against control and ensures we still have a board to Bloodlust or Vessina after trading in tempo matchups. Whether or not this build will survive the eventual loss of Evolve is a tough question to answer.
Warlock control players have begun to adopt a Lackey package en masse, leveraging tokens to sacrifice with Plague of Flames. It's a cute take on two of Warlock's traditional strengths, removal and wide boards, but the real story, of course, is N'Zoth. Teaming up with Rotten Applebaum and Khartut Defender, the Old God may well deliver the healing Warlock so desperately needs. Imp Gang Boss is a solid 3-drop for value trades and token generation, providing N'Zoth Warlock with one of its best cards in the mulligan. Best of all, Expired Merchant has finally found her use. These are certainly exciting developments, but it's still early days. Very few players are taking this list out, and the deck's winrate remains negative.
The state of Zoo is fundamentally unchanged, but it's interesting to note that Imp Gang Boss is too slow for most players. The player base remains split between those who opt for a High Priest Tekahn-led full-on Lackey package and those who favor Diseased Vulture and self-damage cards. The difference in winrate is minimal; the meta isn't particularly favorable for either build, with tough matchups into Quest Shaman, Evolve Shaman, Highlander Paladin and Highlander Hunter. We'll feature the Tekahn variant for variety's sake.
Quest Warlock has reached a new low. Maybe it should add Renounce Darkness.
Control Warrior is the only control deck in the meta to forgo the N’Zoth package, but that’s unsurprising for a class in (arguable) possession of the format’s best removal tools. There's fringe experimentation with an N'Zoth Warrior, but it's performed terribly so far. For the standard Control list, Emperor Thaurissan is intriguing, returning Dr. Boom, Mad Genius to a shadow of his former glory, but the real news here may be that Resurrect Priest has a chance to challenge Garrosh's reign over control strategies.
Outside of Control, there’s experimentation coming from the usual corners; Fibonacci and Pizza have both developed aggressive Highlander lists worth looking into.
Highlander remains a promising archetype for refinement, but the standard Aggro list performs better at this early juncture. Bloodhoof Brave is a chunky minion that demands removal, extending your pressure into the mid- to late-game against control decks, but most players seem to have decided that this deck is already stacked at the four-spot. Brave can feel slow in solid tempo matchups, as against Tempo Rogue, or midrange decks like Quest Paladin. It's not a total loss, though. Frightened Flunky has shown continued results in aggressive matchups; now that it can Discover Bloodhoof Brave, it should be even more reliable.
Doom in the Tomb is almost one week old, and we've seen drastic changes in the Standard meta. Are you ready for three more weeks of Evolve shenanigans? Are you inspired by the return of control? Let us know in the comments!