joeysc2 brings you the 3rd edition in the TIY series, which is targeted toward newer players, who want more control over the decks they play.
In order to dissuade players from net-decking without putting thought into it, this series attempts to walk you through the thought process of deck composition, rather than explicitly saying what compositions are correct or incorrect! With the game of Hearthstone in particular, the metagame is very dynamic and diverse, and a popular build can quickly become suboptimal as the field adapts. We hope that with this series, you as a player can be equally as adaptable as the ever-changing metagame.
Table of Contents
- Intro and “Core”
- Inclusion decisions
- Being mindful of the curve
- Extras and Tips (Mulligan, combos, sequencing, positioning)
In cherylchalla’s last TIY, we explored “Oil Rogue,” an archetype not generally considered aggressive in the classic sense of the word, but one that does dictate the pace (or tempo) for most, if not all, of the game. For those of you who prefer to play more defensively, we will look at an archetype with a contrasting reactionary style – “Control Warrior.”
As mentioned earlier, Control Warrior stylistically is unlike many of the tempo setting decks in the meta today, but rather reactionary and generally seeks to out-value its opponents. Equipped with some of the most efficient removals, in spells and in weapons, various “armor” gain mechanisms, and, likely, the most legendaries with respect to other decks, opponents can feel rather helpless in even getting close to killing a Control Warrior. To understand why Control Warrior assumes this style, let’s look at the “core” of a Control Warrior.
Unfortunately, this “core” is not as unique to Control Warrior as it is to other archetypes, with OTK Worgen and Patron Warriors using most if not all of these cards already. Because the “core” is extremely difficult to define in this case, we will instead look at a sample decklist constructed by N1GH7M4RE, a North American player who finished at Legend 3 for the May 2015 season.
By taking a look at the bottom portion of the deck, we can understand that the game plan of the Control Warrior is to overwhelm their opponents with a number of legendaries and can even win with a 10- or 12-damage Grommash Hellscream finish. It is uncommon to see a deck that is so bottom heavy because not many classes have the means to transition into a heavy late game. The natural question is, how does a Control Warrior go about getting to this eventual winning formula?
By looking at the top half of the deck, we can see that the Control Warrior:
- Seeks to leverage its life total in order to remove multiple cards with its weapons
- Uses armor gain mechanisms via Shield Block and/or Armorsmith(s) to replenish lost life total, making a short-term death unlikely
- Uses these same armor gain mechanisms to use 1-mana Shield Slams
- Uses a variety of one-damage inducing cards in order to Execute threats
- Uses “Brawl” to remove many threats at once
Choosing how to build a Control Warrior deck seldom comes down to what types of cards to include. Instead, it tends to be about the combination and effectiveness of legendaries and the legendary count. Sometimes legendaries will be substituted out for removals, and the number of cycle cards is also subject to adjustment. With that said, let’s start by taking a look at the collection of spells the Warrior has at its disposal.
As discussed earlier, the Control Warrior seeks to win by eventually transitioning into a late game where he/she can continually drop high mana cost threats, requiring his/her opponent to respond turn after turn. With that in mind, most of the spells that enable the Control Warrior to achieve this goal have a removal aspect to them - Execute, Shield Slam, Slam, Whirlwind/Revenge, Shield Block, and Brawl. Weapons will also be considered spells, since their primary function is also to serve as removal. Big Game Hunter, although technically a minion, will also be considered a spell because of its powerful removal function.
While Execute and Shield Slam are almost always 2x includes in a Control Warrior build because of their sheer effectiveness, it isn’t so clear cut when it comes to Slam, Whirlwind and/or Revenge, Shield Block, and Brawl (and even Big Game Hunter). Let’s discuss the merits of each spell individually:
Slam: A 2 damage (to minions only) spell that can pair with execute AND draw a card, or remove an extremely threatening 2 health minion like Knife Juggler or Sorcerer’s Apprentice. The limited card draw engine of Control Warrior usually depends solely on 2x Acolyte of Pain and 2x Shield Block, so Slam can help minimize the number of games where you find yourself running out of options. Do remember, though, that the inclusion of a cycle/removal card comes at the expense of a threat or more effective removal card! Usually a 1-of at most, and sometimes not included at all.
Whirlwind/Revenge: Because Death’s Bite is a card, Whirlwind/Revenge are cards that have phased out of Control Warrior builds, with deckbuilders preferring to pack their decks with additional threats instead. However, getting Death’s Bite’s deathrattle may take too long, especially with the rise of Aggressive Paladins and the all too familiar Face Hunter. To address this, Whirlwind/Revenge is a card I have often substituted out for Ysera, as she is too slow against these archetypes. Revenge can be especially effective at getting you back into games where you are about to die, providing a high-pressure relieving board clear. Usually a 1-of at most.
Shield Block: A spell that’s part of Control Warrior’s limited card draw engine, it also helps increase the effectiveness of Shield Slam. Usually a 2-of, although I have seen builds with 1-of, favoring another threat or a functional card such as an Ironbeak Owl.
Brawl: Even though Control Warriors have some of the most effective singular target removal spells in the game, they don’t quite have strong mass removal capabilities outside of Brawl, which also includes our favorite element of RNG. Many deck builders are now running 2x Brawls simply for Patron Warrior, in order to increase the likelihood of having one ready in the event that an opponent chooses to flood the board with Patrons.
Big Game Hunter: A powerful removal card that also can help destroy another high value minion. Rarely ever played as a minion alone unless it is to contest the board against a hyper aggressive deck that is not expected to have 7+ attack minions. Because its removal scope is so limited, it is usually a 1-of at most.
Gorehowl: The quintessential value card. Usually a 5-to-1 card, Gorehowl can take out some of the toughest minions early in its life cycle all the way down to some lower curving minions, relieving board pressure while allowing the Control Warrior to develop his own board. It is also powerful psychologically, since Grom represents 12 potential damage.
This means that opponents will find themselves making awkward plays around Gorehowl if they cannot remove it, to stay out of lethal range. Strong in midrange/control matchups, but weak to general aggro because it is too slow. It is also weak in a meta with heavy weapon removal. Usually a 1-of at most, but not generally seen in current versions of Control Warrior.
Again, we do not want to say that any card is a must-include 2-of, 1-of, or should not be included at all. We encourage you to experiment to find a combination that is more effective, but do keep in mind that any changes you make should keep the goal and theme in mind of your iteration of the deck.
In this section, minions will be discussed categorically - the helpers (Armorsmith, Cruel Taskmaster, Acolyte of Pain), defensive/mid-game threats (Sludge Belcher, Shieldmaiden), and the legendary minions. Big Game Hunter is not discussed here (see Spells section for its discussion). The minions discussed here will be the usual suspects - any minions uncommonly seen will be discussed in (4) Inclusion Decisions.
Armorsmith - Synergistically, in Control Warrior, Armorsmith is a bit strange. The Control Warrior is typically unable to flood the board with many threats in a short period of time, nor do they usually pack many whirlwind effects outside of Death’s Bite. This is in direct contrast to another popular Warrior archetype, Grim Patron, where I have personally have been able to restore tons of armor when at a dangerously low life total.
However, despite being strange in Control Warrior, Armorsmith does still carry potential. Your hero can stand to gain lots of armor behind a Sludge Belcher, which needs to be hit twice or even thrice, and it is still strong against hyper aggressive decks that use a lot of 1-health minions like Leper Gnome. It can also be used aggressively when paired with Cruel Taskmaster, putting your opponent in a defensive position more quickly than he/she may have anticipated to be in.
Cruel Taskmaster - a 2/2 that can target any minion for 1 damage, it is a flexible removal card when paired with execute, and can also pair with BGH for any troublesome minion with 5 attack or more (Loatheb, Emperor Thaurissan). His battlecry can also be used aggressively, or to help another small minion trade up.
Acolyte of Pain - This card could almost qualify as Garrosh’s (or Magni’s) best friend. With so many ways to deal one damage to minions, Acolyte of Pain can find itself gaining at least 2 cards when it is played. It can even be an effective trading minion when paired with Cruel Taskmaster. Your opponents are aware that this is one of the prime silence targets, so be wary of playing it without a way to get value from it on the same turn.
Defensive / Mid-Game Threats
Sludge Belcher - One of the most unique taunt minions in the game, Sludge Belcher aligns perfectly with the Control Warrior’s game plan - slow the game down and buy time to play its late game threats.
Shieldmaiden - A 5/5 with a powerful battlecry of gaining 5 armor, which can immediately be paired with Shield Slam on Turn 7 and beyond. Usually a 2-of in most Control Warrior decks. This medium stat sized minion is threatening because an opponent will be hesitant to use premium removal on it.
With so many different legendary minions to choose from and a diverse and dynamic meta, there really never is a correct combination of legendaries to choose from. From Loatheb, Emperor Thaurissan, Black Knight, Baron Geddon, Ragnaros, Sneed’s, Alexstrasza, Ysera, Nefarian, and Deathwing, you rarely will ever see more than a few of the above mentioned. Most of these picks generally boil down to your own personal philosophy of the game and what you feel would be most effective to address the state of the meta you are in.
The most common inclusions today are Harrison Jones, Sylvanas, Dr. Boom, and Grommash Hellscream, with two or three other spots left to player discretion. These are by no means must includes, but the effectiveness of these legendaries can almost go without saying. You’d have to find a very strong reason or differing game plan to justify the non-inclusions of these legendaries.
One of the hallmarks of a great deck builder is that, by having such a deep understanding of a class and archetype, they not only make unusual inclusions that eventually prove to be brilliant, but these changes are made by unintuitively cutting what is previously thought to be a staple. This is the type of thought process we hope to cultivate in you as the reader, but experience is only gained by testing and playing! What follows is a discussion on what cards you may want to consider including that you don’t usually see:
Ironbeak Owl/Spellbreaker - With so many cards carrying powerful card text, why isn’t a silence tech more commonly featured? Although this isn’t necessarily always the case, Ironbeak Owl can be a substitute for an Armorsmith. Armorsmith has an advantage in that, unlike Ironbeak Owl, it does not require a target to be played, and many of these effects that would be convenient to silence are not necessarily game breaking for the Control Warrior. However, if you are finding yourself in situations where a silence would serve you well, then do consider teching a silence in.
Piloted Shredder - This card is an unusual inclusion in Control Warrior, but is a fairly good sized stats minion for its cost. It serves to speed up the naturally slow paced Control Warrior and can fit players with a naturally more aggressive style.
Crush - Why isn’t a card like Crush included in many archetypes? It depends on your goal, but at best Crush can be a 1-for-1 card that only generates its advantage from likely being cheaper than the minion it removes. Having 4 extremely cheap removals in Execute and Shield Slam, in addition to having Big Game Hunter as well, makes Crush seemingly a bit excessive for even a meta that features heavy control. Theoretically, this can be a card used in a survival Control Warrior build where you seek to beat your opponent not via minion, but by fatigue.
Again, remember to give every card a fair evaluation. Just because a card worked great in that one game where that one situation happened doesn’t mean it’s a consistent card or a must-include in your deck. Give every game an honest reflection - if I had Ironbeak Owl instead of Armorsmith, for instance, how might the game have gone differently? You can even keep scores in your head - “Ironbeak Owl was excellent one out of the five games I played today, but Armorsmith probably would’ve been great in all five of today’s games.”
Unlike many tempo classes, Control Warrior isn’t too concerned about having a well balanced curve necessarily, but is more concerned with trying to ensure survival into a sustainable late game. For example, when facing off against an aggressive class, you especially don’t want to be stuck with an opening hand of Ysera, Grommash Hellscream, and Alexstrasza. On the other hand, too many survival cards can put you in a position where you can likely ensure transitioning into the late game, but can potentially run out of threats in a game that drags out longer than anticipated. The current state of the meta should dictate how you balance your deck. So when building your Control Warrior, the question you should be asking yourself is, does my build have the correct balance of late game threats to early game survival cards?
If you are completely new to Control Warrior, some helpful tips from a common Control Warrior construct are outlined below:
- Grom and Cruel Taskmaster on Turn 10 is a combo that can do 12 immediate damage. Also, 14 damage (assuming no taunt) can be threatened on or after Turn 8 with a single charged Death’s Bite.
- Shield Block is a spell that you want to save to use with Shield Slam, unless you don’t have a satisfactory turns 4 and 5 and need to cycle. With Shieldmaiden, you will have several other opportunities to maximize Shield Slam’s effect.
- Sylvanas and Shield Slam for 7 mana (with 5+ armor) or Sylvanas Shield Block and Shield Slam on Turn 10 or less can take your opponent by surprise if he has 1 powerful minion on board!
- Sylvanas and Brawl (usually a two-turn combo) can be used to clear your opponent’s board AND can steal the surviving minion, if on the opposing side. Deathrattle mechanics can introduce some complications that will not be discussed here.
- If Emperor Thaurissan is in your build, Sylvanas and Brawl is a possible one-turn combination if any one of these cards has been cheapened.
- You CANNOT execute your own Sylvanas!
Silly Artosis, Execute is for ENEMIES!
(Very general) Mulligan guide
- Look for Fiery War Axe, Death’s Bite, Armorsmith, Cruel Taskmaster
- Look for Execute, Death’s Bite, Acolyte of Pain
- Keep Harrison Jones vs. most weapon classes, unless you can determine the class to be hyper-aggressive
- Keep BGH, execute vs. Handlock
- Keep Fiery War Axe, Death’s Bite, Execute vs. Druid (a naturally difficult matchup)
Now that I have broken down the thought process in building a Control Warrior deck, I’d love to see you try to build one yourself! I hope that, by classifying each card into a certain group, adapting the deck will feel more intuitive when the meta inevitably changes.
Good luck; feel free to leave comments below if you have any suggestions or questions.