Hello! Today I have two topics I want to talk about coming off the heels of the HCT summer championships decklists announcement (which you can find on the main Blizzard site here). The first is a noticeable meta shift that might not exactly be what people expected. When the nerfs went out to Innervate and company a little while ago a lot of people thought Druid, Pirate Warrior, and Murloc Paladin would die out. And they have, but at the time pirates and murlocs were already somewhat fading out of the high tiers due to the blossoming optimization of Highlander Priest, a deck that was rapidly moving up the meta tier list in early September. The bigger expectation was that Jade Druid would be weakened sufficiently to no longer be an overwhelmingly dominating force. Well, Jade Golems are still one of the two bosses in town but Highlander Priest has also staked its claim at the tier 1 table alongside Jade. All 16 players brought Highlander Priest to battle and 14 players brought Jade Druid. Before rotation the payoff cards for playing the singleton or “Highlander” (there can be ONLY ONE!) were mostly Reno Jackson and Kazakus. Reno was so ubiquitous in these decks and so powerful that he was played in more decks than was reasonable, sometimes even as the only payoff, and with his rotation most people expected the Highlander type strategy to take a back seat. Then Shadowreaper Anduin came along.
Raza makes your hero power free. Anduin makes your hero power deal damage and be repeatable. While this isn’t the first time we’ve seen Raza show up in Priest decks, this is the first time he’s been an integral part of Priest’s strategy. Once both of these powerful legendary cards have been played every card the Priest player plays effectively adds a two damage battlecry for free. Two damage might not seem like very much but the sheer number of two damage shots rapidly accumulates into a winning advantage. Board state unfavorable? Start shooting down the opponent’s minions! Need to deal a lot of face damage quickly? Burn your opponent for 10 while also developing your board and threatening to do it again next turn! The utility and flexibility makes this deck capable of dominating boards and making some unlikely comebacks and is powerful enough to win both the long and the short game. Expect Highlander Priest to be tier 1 for the foreseeable future.
The next thing I want to talk about comes off the heels of the real winner after the early September nerfs: the Princes. When the Princes were released, most people thought of them as bad legendaries. While they’re all powerful, they also have heavy deck-building restrictions. Prince Valanar, at four mana, is the least restrictive: there have actually been high tier decks that didn’t run any four cost cards in the past (notably midrange Shamans and control Warrior) but Valanar also has the least payoff. A 4/4 taunt, lifesteal for 4 is a solid deal but not something that is particularly exciting. Because the payoff is very low, Valanar isn’t worth building around and most of the time he’ll slot into decks that already have very few 4-drops, like Tempo Rogue. Pavel and Orange both thought the Prince’s power level was more worthwhile than Xaril or Spellbreaker in their Rogue decks and chose to go with the efficient Prince. The next one down, Prince Taldaram, has a notably more difficult restriction as 3-cost cards tend to be important support cards for decks, usually in the form of card draw or removal. The other difficulty with Taldaram is that this type of effect already exists! Faceless Manipulator costs two more mana but copies all the stats and stat changes on whatever minion you’ve chosen to copy. This isn’t always a plus but most of the time you’re going to copy one of the biggest things on the board so Taldaram’s secondary effect of “be a 3/3” is going to be a negative more often than a bonus. The place where I thought this card would shine would be some kind of crazy combo deck that still runs some number of 3-cost cards but waits until all of them are drawn before “going off” with something like Malygos and copy with Taldaram to deal 30 damage to the opponent. This might still end up happening but for now Taldaram has very little utility, though Baize is using it to replace Mana Tide Totem at the HCT Summer Championships.
The card that’s been the most impressive has been Prince Keleseth. Keleseth has created archetypes by himself in Paladin, Rogue, and Warlock, and has the biggest payoff of all the three Princes. Running zero 2-cost cards is a hefty price to pay but the payoff makes all the other minions in your deck roughly one mana more valuable. Decks can adjust to the restriction by playing way more 1-drops (like in Warlock Zoo), 3-drops (like in Tempo Rogue), or just trying to grind your opponent out with value (Paladin, though Prince Paladin has fallen out of favor lately). By himself Keleseth is a marginal card at 2/2 for 2, but playing 1 and 3-drop minions later with 2 and 4-drop size is a great tradeoff for the price. I will admit that I greatly underestimated how powerful Keleseth is when he was released, especially after being fooled by the Mistcaller, but Keleseth has proven repeatedly that he’s well worth the investment.
HCT Summer Championships starts next Friday where we’ll get to see what shines and what falls short.
PS: Don’t forget to choose your champion for free loot!