Standards

Last Updated: March 19, 2016

This is the eleventh part of the Free to Play Journeyman Hearthstone Guide Series. Be sure to check out the other articles in the series here:  Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5, Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9 and Part 10.

Winds of Change

The Mage paged furiously through the thick spell book.  "Where is it?  Where is it?" Outside the storm deepened and lightning flashed between the swirling indigo clouds.  The tower shook as thunder boomed, and the Mage started, eyes flying to the view through the arched window.  Suddenly the window slammed open, the steel frame smashing into the stone wall and glass shattering in a shower of glittering fragments.  The wizard took an involuntary step backwards at the sight of the storm's ferocity. His eyes hardened.  No.  It would not end like this. He stepped back up to the book and flipped through the pages, certainty replacing his fear.  Ah, yes, just after this.  He turned one more page, this time triumphantly slamming it down. His face paled, eyes reflecting the horror that crept through his soul.  The page was blank.  Blank! "How...?"  His mind would not turn, and he found himself staring at the rain pouring in through the shattered window.  "Why?"  He sank to his knees and covered his head with his shaking hands.  "Why have you forsaken me, Dr. Boom?" Unstable Portal is also completely balanced, right?  Can you spot which ridiculous cards I pulled in this game?

Rotation

I'm all for change.  In fact, I've been both expecting and anticipating the moment when some sets would become obsolete.  Now, I know what you're thinking; the Wild format prevents cards becoming obsolete, particularly thanks to a separate ladder for Wild as well as Tavern Brawl being more likely to use the Wild format.  But that's what everyone said when Wizards of the Coast split their card sets into Type I and Type II, and everyone thought Type I and the Power Ten would remain relevant forever.  Well, guess what?  They were wrong. Once the gaming company makes the decision to drop sets from the format that sports only the latest cards, the game company has made an irreversible decision to focus their design efforts on that format; in this case 'Standard'.  Yes, they will still have the odd card that has good synergy either with a specific strategy in Wild (say, a new Mage-class Mech) or perhaps with a specific card (for example something to combo with an underplayed Legendary minion).  But in truth the vast majority of the cards in a new set will push that set's themes, will add focus to emerging strategies in the Standard format (or help nerf existing, overpowered [OP] ones) or will simply be filler.  Yes, Wild will embrace new strategies, but Blizzard will not balance new cards relative to Wild; it's more likely, if something OP happens in Wild as the result of a new card or group of cards, that Blizzard will nerf the offending Wild cards in order to leave the new designs operational in the set that most people are buying.  This is not a criticism; it's a perfectly natural progression.  The people who need to understand and accept it are ourselves. I am mainly disappointed that the hard work and large amount of time that I have spent as an FTPer in unlocking the adventure sets is going to go to waste.  4 Wings of the Curse of Naxxramas will be consigned to the scrap heap outside the occasional Tavern Brawl.  I don't have the time to develop and play decks for both formats!  I'm not going to disenchant those cards (other than the ones that never see play, of course) because the dust value is nothing compared to the time I invested obtaining them.  It's sad that they won't be playable all the time, but I can't say I didn't get value out of them in the 9 months or so that I used them in every deck.  Your mileage may vary of course, particularly if you've only recently unlocked a Naxx wing, bought some Goblins vs Gnomes packs, or crafted Dr. Boom, Mal'Ganis, Vol'jin, Neptulon etc.  There is also the death of Mech Mage and the necessary reinvention of Paladin after the loss of Muster for Battle, Shielded Minibot, Quartermaster, Coghammer (all from GvG) and Avenge; if these were all you had, well, now you have nothing and you don't care for my irreverent tone. Blizzard have also stated that 10-12 Classic and Basic set cards will be nerfed, revised or "observed", including Big Game Hunter.  I cannot speculate which cards will change, only hope that the Basic Set cards that previously fell under the nerf hammer and are now utterly useless are turned into something playable, if only for newer players.

The New Plan

From an FTP perspective the fact that the non-Classic, non-Basic sets now have a limited lifespan changes how we must approach our strategy in obtaining cards.  The Classic set remains the core; even moreso now than before.  But one cannot spend forever focussing on that set alone, especially since the Tavern Brawl will continue to give you a free Classic pack each week.  Blackrock Mountain (BRM) and The Grand Tournament (TGT) find themselves in a very awkward position; they have perhaps 13-14 months of relevance remaining.  For people throwing money at the game this is not an issue; you get the cards you need and move on.  But for the FTPer I think these sets too are now dead, and we shouldn't devote any more time to them or the strategies they support, unless we already have most or all of the cards we need from them.  In my case this means forever turning my back on Dragon Priest, Tempo Mage, Fatigue Warrior and Secret Paladin (even though it loses a key secret in Avenge) which will almost certainly be the go-to decks for those classes in the immediate wake of the set change. Since it takes the FTPer a long time to get the cards he needs, we should already be thinking two years ahead.  Our decks, once Standard is introduced, should focus on the Classic, League of Explorers (LoE), and Whisper of the Old Gods sets alone.  If we have BRM or TGT cards that happen to work with these, great!  But I don't think we should be throwing gold or dust at them. To this end I've had a look at the Priest and Shaman classes, and built the following Standard-legal decks.  They took some time to get stable in the current environment, which is natural thanks to my opponents all having access to far more cards including the OP ones that I've omitted from my decks.

The Standard Control Priest

21740

The lone Holy Champion (TGT common) is the only cards in this deck that is not from the Classic or LoE sets (the latter of which I have finally unlocked all the wings and cards).  It is not vital to the strategy, but does create a decent amount of pressure by itself.  Obviously there are several cards I would like to use instead, such as Injured Blademaster or even Flash Heal, but I simply don't own them.  I am also testing a finisher like Ragnaros the Firelord over Mind Control; with 2 copies of Entomb as well as Sylvanas Windrunner and a Shadow Word: Death I have found that Mind Control lacks targets late game and is too expensive to do anything in the mid-game.  However, if your Classic set Legendary minions are not as developed as mine, Mind Control is still a strong card that has a habit of catching a lot of people out. So why the Excavated Evil?  Well, I've discovered that Grim Patron is not as dead as some people initially thought (though I do worry for the deck once it loses Death's Bite).  Like Darth Sidious, Excavated Evil wipes them out, all of them.  It also gives the opponent a largely useless extra card in his deck (which if he uses against you gives you an extra card to avoid fatigue or turn into a Legendary minion with Elise).  The loss of defensive cards like Sludge Belcher, Antique Healbot, Deathlord and Zombie Chow will almost certainly see a rise in aggro strategies while the control players scrabble for answers.  The Evil is an aggro-specific board clear, and is a turn faster than the departing Lightbomb.  Of course, it's not perfect, hence the singleton, but I've found it more useful than not. It's only expected that the new set will introduce new Priest cards that probably work better with this strategy, but I think this deck is a solid starting point.  Yes, I've pulled up 3 Classic set Legendary minions, but if you've followed this series you will know that I crafted two of those very early as owning this particular threesome is vital to any collection; in fact, having consigned him to the forgotten section of my collection while he was completely overshadowed by Dr. Boom, I got a nasty bout of hay fever after dusting off Ragnaros for this deck.  INSECT! Whispers: I think the rest did him good though - I've won every game I've cast him.  Touch wood... The deck plays like a typical control deck, though the early turns can be a bit frightening against a proper aggro deck and player.  The lack of options, particularly in the 3 cost slot, make the deck something of a slow starter, though hopefully this will be addressed in the new set.  However, the typical Auchenai Soulpriest plus Circle of Healing combo, as well as Wild Pyromancer to combine with the not insignificant spell count (the Coin is a spell too), can put the brakes on or even wrest control of the game immediately.  One of the deck's "little secrets" is that opponents tend to shoot on sight Northshire Cleric and Acolyte of Pain (and for good reason!) but killing them costs tempo and/or cards which can help you achieve equality.  Once you're stealing the opponent's biggest threats the game is largely won; he will have answers to Ragnaros and Ysera but probably not to those that originated in his deck.  Elise Starseeker provides an alternative route to victory, as Golden Monkey will turn all those late, dead cards or unhelpful pulls off Ysera into Legendary minions. Confession: I don't actually own a Cabal Shadow Priest, and instead have Emperor Thaurissan from BRM wing 1 in that slot.  I would prefer the Classic class card, and anyone who decided to try out BRM has Thaurissan, so I don't feel like I'm cheating overly much.

The Standard Overload-Aggro Shaman

21757

The currently popular Aggro Shaman deck runs mainly on the power of Lava Shock.  Tanking up on overload puts one at a serious disadvantage without this card from BRM wing 2, so staying clear of it is advised if one has not already invested in that wing.  Although I have them I have chosen to set them aside and work on a different plan.  Instead I've built something of a hybrid deck and it seems to work fairly well. Shortcomings:  Obviously one of the best overload cards in TGT, especially due to its synergy with LoE's Tunnel Trogg, is Totem Golem but I don't have any of those.  Instead I've added Argent Horserider from that set for a bit more aggro and a bit more reach.  But the main card I'm missing for this deck is Feral Spirit.  As an overload card that creates minions with taunt it serves a dual purpose in pumping Tunnel Trogg and Unbound Elemental and protecting them from immediate attack.  I have collected over 900 dust over the past while, mainly from golden rares in the Tavern Brawl reward and the end of season chest; increasingly I'm considering burning through 200 of that to craft a playset of this essential rare, as well as relooking my absence of Azure Drake (but I've opened 5 Twilight Drakes instead, including a golden one, oh joy). The deck tops out with Al'Akir the Windlord (aka the Legendary minion I've opened 3 copies of and therefore must play in every shaman deck lest I open a fourth).  If you don't have the big guy I'm sure any top neutral legendary minion finisher (eg Ragnaros) would perform well enough.  Doomhammer is increasingly important to Shaman as a finisher, with or without Rockbiter Weapon, and Bloodlust is a way to win even if all you have are basic totems from the Hero Power. Now certainly one could add Lava Shock to this deck - by no means avoid it if you have it as it will broaden the strategy by allowing you to play more cards with overload without necessarily harming performance.  But unless you plan to go heavy on the overload I wouldn't go out of my way to crack that wing specifically for that card.  The problem with overload is that you always seem to be stuck in turn 3 or 4 (in terms of crystals available), so unless you have a fast start you lose ground increasingly rapidly because the spells you need to play to maintain momentum all have overload costs.  Using overload to stay in the game is a losing proposition as overall overload just costs more crystals than it's worth.  So the deck does have a weakness if the Troggs and Unbound Elementals don't get stuck in, and sometimes this can be exacerbated by the low overload card count (necessary due to omitting Lava Shock. There is an obvious lack of synergy between Thunder Bluff Valiant and Sir Finley Mrrgglton, as the latter removes the ability to create the totems that the former powers up.  The key here is that drawing both in any specific game is unlikely, and even if you've changed the Hero Power by the time you draw the Valiant, well it's still a 3/6 that can pump Flametongue Totem and Mana Tide Totem, the latter of which can win the game single-handedly if you can protect it (see Feral Spirit).  The main reason for switching the Hero Power with Sir Finley is that very often the Shaman hero power simply doesn't affect the board in the way you need, or just doesn't affect the board in any way at all.  Having one of the Hunter, Paladin, Druid or Mage powers on the other hand assists your goal as the aggro player, while the Warlock power will get you additional fuel on those turns when 2 crystals can't be used.  So most of the time you'll get a more useful hero power, as it's extremely rare you'll get all 3 of Priest, Warrior and Rogue as your choice. The deck sits in the grey area between aggro and mid-range, and therefore can be challenging to play.  However it is quite versatile and I've had a modicum of success with the deck in the mid-teen ranks, which is a decent enough showing considering my enforced handicap in terms of allowable card sets AND the relative weakness of my Shaman collection.  As such I believe this can form a good foundation or starting point for a deck that is ready to go once Standard changes everything.

Conclusion

The change to the way we play the game is something that I find interesting.  No longer do I always have to prepare for Belcher and Boom, and for a while there will be a lot more scope to experiment as these cards that dominated the environment since their release will not return.  It's bitter-sweet in that I worked hard to obtain these cards that I will use only rarely in future but the chance to find the right cards to put in their place is at least as exciting a prospect as their loss saddens me.  How about you?  What are your feelings about the changes and how they impact FTP?  Feel free to comment below.

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Standards

Last Updated: March 19, 2016

This is the eleventh part of the Free to Play Journeyman Hearthstone Guide Series. Be sure to check out the other articles in the series here:  Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5, Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9 and Part 10.

Winds of Change

The Mage paged furiously through the thick spell book.  "Where is it?  Where is it?" Outside the storm deepened and lightning flashed between the swirling indigo clouds.  The tower shook as thunder boomed, and the Mage started, eyes flying to the view through the arched window.  Suddenly the window slammed open, the steel frame smashing into the stone wall and glass shattering in a shower of glittering fragments.  The wizard took an involuntary step backwards at the sight of the storm's ferocity. His eyes hardened.  No.  It would not end like this. He stepped back up to the book and flipped through the pages, certainty replacing his fear.  Ah, yes, just after this.  He turned one more page, this time triumphantly slamming it down. His face paled, eyes reflecting the horror that crept through his soul.  The page was blank.  Blank! "How...?"  His mind would not turn, and he found himself staring at the rain pouring in through the shattered window.  "Why?"  He sank to his knees and covered his head with his shaking hands.  "Why have you forsaken me, Dr. Boom?" Unstable Portal is also completely balanced, right?  Can you spot which ridiculous cards I pulled in this game?

Rotation

I'm all for change.  In fact, I've been both expecting and anticipating the moment when some sets would become obsolete.  Now, I know what you're thinking; the Wild format prevents cards becoming obsolete, particularly thanks to a separate ladder for Wild as well as Tavern Brawl being more likely to use the Wild format.  But that's what everyone said when Wizards of the Coast split their card sets into Type I and Type II, and everyone thought Type I and the Power Ten would remain relevant forever.  Well, guess what?  They were wrong. Once the gaming company makes the decision to drop sets from the format that sports only the latest cards, the game company has made an irreversible decision to focus their design efforts on that format; in this case 'Standard'.  Yes, they will still have the odd card that has good synergy either with a specific strategy in Wild (say, a new Mage-class Mech) or perhaps with a specific card (for example something to combo with an underplayed Legendary minion).  But in truth the vast majority of the cards in a new set will push that set's themes, will add focus to emerging strategies in the Standard format (or help nerf existing, overpowered [OP] ones) or will simply be filler.  Yes, Wild will embrace new strategies, but Blizzard will not balance new cards relative to Wild; it's more likely, if something OP happens in Wild as the result of a new card or group of cards, that Blizzard will nerf the offending Wild cards in order to leave the new designs operational in the set that most people are buying.  This is not a criticism; it's a perfectly natural progression.  The people who need to understand and accept it are ourselves. I am mainly disappointed that the hard work and large amount of time that I have spent as an FTPer in unlocking the adventure sets is going to go to waste.  4 Wings of the Curse of Naxxramas will be consigned to the scrap heap outside the occasional Tavern Brawl.  I don't have the time to develop and play decks for both formats!  I'm not going to disenchant those cards (other than the ones that never see play, of course) because the dust value is nothing compared to the time I invested obtaining them.  It's sad that they won't be playable all the time, but I can't say I didn't get value out of them in the 9 months or so that I used them in every deck.  Your mileage may vary of course, particularly if you've only recently unlocked a Naxx wing, bought some Goblins vs Gnomes packs, or crafted Dr. Boom, Mal'Ganis, Vol'jin, Neptulon etc.  There is also the death of Mech Mage and the necessary reinvention of Paladin after the loss of Muster for Battle, Shielded Minibot, Quartermaster, Coghammer (all from GvG) and Avenge; if these were all you had, well, now you have nothing and you don't care for my irreverent tone. Blizzard have also stated that 10-12 Classic and Basic set cards will be nerfed, revised or "observed", including Big Game Hunter.  I cannot speculate which cards will change, only hope that the Basic Set cards that previously fell under the nerf hammer and are now utterly useless are turned into something playable, if only for newer players.

The New Plan

From an FTP perspective the fact that the non-Classic, non-Basic sets now have a limited lifespan changes how we must approach our strategy in obtaining cards.  The Classic set remains the core; even moreso now than before.  But one cannot spend forever focussing on that set alone, especially since the Tavern Brawl will continue to give you a free Classic pack each week.  Blackrock Mountain (BRM) and The Grand Tournament (TGT) find themselves in a very awkward position; they have perhaps 13-14 months of relevance remaining.  For people throwing money at the game this is not an issue; you get the cards you need and move on.  But for the FTPer I think these sets too are now dead, and we shouldn't devote any more time to them or the strategies they support, unless we already have most or all of the cards we need from them.  In my case this means forever turning my back on Dragon Priest, Tempo Mage, Fatigue Warrior and Secret Paladin (even though it loses a key secret in Avenge) which will almost certainly be the go-to decks for those classes in the immediate wake of the set change. Since it takes the FTPer a long time to get the cards he needs, we should already be thinking two years ahead.  Our decks, once Standard is introduced, should focus on the Classic, League of Explorers (LoE), and Whisper of the Old Gods sets alone.  If we have BRM or TGT cards that happen to work with these, great!  But I don't think we should be throwing gold or dust at them. To this end I've had a look at the Priest and Shaman classes, and built the following Standard-legal decks.  They took some time to get stable in the current environment, which is natural thanks to my opponents all having access to far more cards including the OP ones that I've omitted from my decks.

The Standard Control Priest

21740

The lone Holy Champion (TGT common) is the only cards in this deck that is not from the Classic or LoE sets (the latter of which I have finally unlocked all the wings and cards).  It is not vital to the strategy, but does create a decent amount of pressure by itself.  Obviously there are several cards I would like to use instead, such as Injured Blademaster or even Flash Heal, but I simply don't own them.  I am also testing a finisher like Ragnaros the Firelord over Mind Control; with 2 copies of Entomb as well as Sylvanas Windrunner and a Shadow Word: Death I have found that Mind Control lacks targets late game and is too expensive to do anything in the mid-game.  However, if your Classic set Legendary minions are not as developed as mine, Mind Control is still a strong card that has a habit of catching a lot of people out. So why the Excavated Evil?  Well, I've discovered that Grim Patron is not as dead as some people initially thought (though I do worry for the deck once it loses Death's Bite).  Like Darth Sidious, Excavated Evil wipes them out, all of them.  It also gives the opponent a largely useless extra card in his deck (which if he uses against you gives you an extra card to avoid fatigue or turn into a Legendary minion with Elise).  The loss of defensive cards like Sludge Belcher, Antique Healbot, Deathlord and Zombie Chow will almost certainly see a rise in aggro strategies while the control players scrabble for answers.  The Evil is an aggro-specific board clear, and is a turn faster than the departing Lightbomb.  Of course, it's not perfect, hence the singleton, but I've found it more useful than not. It's only expected that the new set will introduce new Priest cards that probably work better with this strategy, but I think this deck is a solid starting point.  Yes, I've pulled up 3 Classic set Legendary minions, but if you've followed this series you will know that I crafted two of those very early as owning this particular threesome is vital to any collection; in fact, having consigned him to the forgotten section of my collection while he was completely overshadowed by Dr. Boom, I got a nasty bout of hay fever after dusting off Ragnaros for this deck.  INSECT! Whispers: I think the rest did him good though - I've won every game I've cast him.  Touch wood... The deck plays like a typical control deck, though the early turns can be a bit frightening against a proper aggro deck and player.  The lack of options, particularly in the 3 cost slot, make the deck something of a slow starter, though hopefully this will be addressed in the new set.  However, the typical Auchenai Soulpriest plus Circle of Healing combo, as well as Wild Pyromancer to combine with the not insignificant spell count (the Coin is a spell too), can put the brakes on or even wrest control of the game immediately.  One of the deck's "little secrets" is that opponents tend to shoot on sight Northshire Cleric and Acolyte of Pain (and for good reason!) but killing them costs tempo and/or cards which can help you achieve equality.  Once you're stealing the opponent's biggest threats the game is largely won; he will have answers to Ragnaros and Ysera but probably not to those that originated in his deck.  Elise Starseeker provides an alternative route to victory, as Golden Monkey will turn all those late, dead cards or unhelpful pulls off Ysera into Legendary minions. Confession: I don't actually own a Cabal Shadow Priest, and instead have Emperor Thaurissan from BRM wing 1 in that slot.  I would prefer the Classic class card, and anyone who decided to try out BRM has Thaurissan, so I don't feel like I'm cheating overly much.

The Standard Overload-Aggro Shaman

21757

The currently popular Aggro Shaman deck runs mainly on the power of Lava Shock.  Tanking up on overload puts one at a serious disadvantage without this card from BRM wing 2, so staying clear of it is advised if one has not already invested in that wing.  Although I have them I have chosen to set them aside and work on a different plan.  Instead I've built something of a hybrid deck and it seems to work fairly well. Shortcomings:  Obviously one of the best overload cards in TGT, especially due to its synergy with LoE's Tunnel Trogg, is Totem Golem but I don't have any of those.  Instead I've added Argent Horserider from that set for a bit more aggro and a bit more reach.  But the main card I'm missing for this deck is Feral Spirit.  As an overload card that creates minions with taunt it serves a dual purpose in pumping Tunnel Trogg and Unbound Elemental and protecting them from immediate attack.  I have collected over 900 dust over the past while, mainly from golden rares in the Tavern Brawl reward and the end of season chest; increasingly I'm considering burning through 200 of that to craft a playset of this essential rare, as well as relooking my absence of Azure Drake (but I've opened 5 Twilight Drakes instead, including a golden one, oh joy). The deck tops out with Al'Akir the Windlord (aka the Legendary minion I've opened 3 copies of and therefore must play in every shaman deck lest I open a fourth).  If you don't have the big guy I'm sure any top neutral legendary minion finisher (eg Ragnaros) would perform well enough.  Doomhammer is increasingly important to Shaman as a finisher, with or without Rockbiter Weapon, and Bloodlust is a way to win even if all you have are basic totems from the Hero Power. Now certainly one could add Lava Shock to this deck - by no means avoid it if you have it as it will broaden the strategy by allowing you to play more cards with overload without necessarily harming performance.  But unless you plan to go heavy on the overload I wouldn't go out of my way to crack that wing specifically for that card.  The problem with overload is that you always seem to be stuck in turn 3 or 4 (in terms of crystals available), so unless you have a fast start you lose ground increasingly rapidly because the spells you need to play to maintain momentum all have overload costs.  Using overload to stay in the game is a losing proposition as overall overload just costs more crystals than it's worth.  So the deck does have a weakness if the Troggs and Unbound Elementals don't get stuck in, and sometimes this can be exacerbated by the low overload card count (necessary due to omitting Lava Shock. There is an obvious lack of synergy between Thunder Bluff Valiant and Sir Finley Mrrgglton, as the latter removes the ability to create the totems that the former powers up.  The key here is that drawing both in any specific game is unlikely, and even if you've changed the Hero Power by the time you draw the Valiant, well it's still a 3/6 that can pump Flametongue Totem and Mana Tide Totem, the latter of which can win the game single-handedly if you can protect it (see Feral Spirit).  The main reason for switching the Hero Power with Sir Finley is that very often the Shaman hero power simply doesn't affect the board in the way you need, or just doesn't affect the board in any way at all.  Having one of the Hunter, Paladin, Druid or Mage powers on the other hand assists your goal as the aggro player, while the Warlock power will get you additional fuel on those turns when 2 crystals can't be used.  So most of the time you'll get a more useful hero power, as it's extremely rare you'll get all 3 of Priest, Warrior and Rogue as your choice. The deck sits in the grey area between aggro and mid-range, and therefore can be challenging to play.  However it is quite versatile and I've had a modicum of success with the deck in the mid-teen ranks, which is a decent enough showing considering my enforced handicap in terms of allowable card sets AND the relative weakness of my Shaman collection.  As such I believe this can form a good foundation or starting point for a deck that is ready to go once Standard changes everything.

Conclusion

The change to the way we play the game is something that I find interesting.  No longer do I always have to prepare for Belcher and Boom, and for a while there will be a lot more scope to experiment as these cards that dominated the environment since their release will not return.  It's bitter-sweet in that I worked hard to obtain these cards that I will use only rarely in future but the chance to find the right cards to put in their place is at least as exciting a prospect as their loss saddens me.  How about you?  What are your feelings about the changes and how they impact FTP?  Feel free to comment below.

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