A week has gone since we arrived in Castle Nathria, and data is starting to become available in big enough samples to say with some confidence what's going on. We can start making some educated guesses on how this expansion compares to the previous metagame.
Up until this point, Murder at Castle Nathria has looked like a big success for Hearthstone. Personally, I have yet to see someone say they despise the new mechanics or a collective outrage regarding a deck. Which, compared to last year's expansion at the same time of year, should be considered a big win.
Yet, if the public seems to enjoy it, some classes or archetypes might not be so pleased about how things have turned since August 2nd.
Indeed, for every new deck that emerges and becomes popular, there is another mechanic that is being ignored because of its poor power level. In this article, I would like to cover these archetypes or classes that gained a lot from the expansion as well as those who, unfortunately, have not shine so far.
It is still too early to say the metagame is looking to be solved. As we speak, we are seeing new decks become dominant and others emerge in order to profit from a newly popular, favorable match up. So even if your favorite class is listed as a loser for now, more surprises are likely on the way.
Ping Mage evolves into Spooky Mage
Even if Big Spell Mage could still reclaim the throne as Jaina's best archetype down the line, I think it is safe to assume that the formerly labeled Ping Mage is the clear-cut winner of Denathrius's big party.
Ping Mage was born after the Spitelash Siren nerf, which revoked Naga Mage's competitive status. Yet, with Big Spell Mage emerging at the same time, Ping Mage really never found a way to become popular on the ladder and was very marginal in tournament play as well.
Currently the second most played deck in the game after Imp Warlock, it is difficult to argue about the impact the Volatile Skeleton package has had on the deck. Compared to its iteration from the end of the Thrones of Tides metagame, the deck has managed to cut all its situational cards like the secrets package, Spice Bread Baker, Zola the Gorgon, or the Goldshire Gnoll for example.
Instead, it is playing a cohesive 7 card package with Cold Case, Nightcloak Sanctum, Deathborne, and Kel'Thuzad, The Inevitable. Outside some of these cards being simply very strong (Nightcloak Sanctum has been compared to Wildpaw Cavern), it's how well they fit in the deck that represent the major upgrade in the deck.
Indeed, Ping Mage already was a deck looking to play an off-tempo kind of game plan, using the flexibility of a buffed hero power to either remove the opposing units or push damage to the face. The Volatile Skeleton synergy works in a very similar way and looks to be the perfect complement to Ping Mage's original gameplan.
Decklist from Fenomeno, winner of Solary Party on August 7th
Priest goes from Boars to Nagas
In case you forgot, this is the last time we heard about Wig Priest in the Thrones of Tides metagame, right after Master Tours 4:
Back then, with Pocket_train winning the tournament with his superb skills on Boar Priest, it looked like the battle to be Anduin's top archetype was over, and the Nagas lost this one for good.
Fast-forward to a few days into the Nathria Castle expansion, and it seems like the Nagas are ready for another battle while Theothar, the Mad Duke herds the entire Boar archetype singlehandedly.
With 3 new cards in the build (Pelagos, Boon of the Ascended, and Partner in Crime), Naga Priest appears to have access to much more highroll situations. With Pelagos especially, the deck is capable of switching from the board building phase to the heavy hitting part of its plan much more often.
As such, Naga Priest is looking to punish any deck that isn't capable of efficiently dealing with the board. The deck even manages the impressive feat of beating Imp Warlock in terms of winrate in some portions of the ladder.
While history might repeat itself once the metagame takes notice of the power of the deck and adapts to it, Naga Priest is building a solid case to be one of the top decks of week one in Castle Nathria.
Gul'dan gains versatility through the Imp Archetype
Although the Imps are currently talked about because they are taking over the ladder at various levels, I see something else as Gul'dan's big win for this expansion.
If you have been playing Hearthstone for a while, you might have noticed a pattern with the Warlock class. Gul'dan either is a middle of the pack, quiet hero, which eventually falls out of competitive contention or Warlock is completely busted and nerf-worthy by the end of week 1.
One could argue that the Imp deck should be considered in the latter category. Personally, I don't think so and see Imp Warlock as a great pressure deck, perfect to punish non-interactive decks. I could consider a Quest Warrior kind of scenario eventually where the deck is nerfed while not being oppressive at the competitive level, but out of line in bronze through gold ranks.
The big win when it comes to Imp Warlock in my book, is the versatility it brings to the Warlock class overall. It adds to warlock a good enough aggressive archetype to be respected (No one was mulliganing for Murloc Warlock, let's be honest), but also has pushed creative deck building in other archetypes.
It might lead to nothing, but already, we can see hybrids that blend Curse and Imp synergies. Or using the Imps alongside the Naval Mine combo, showing Gul'dan might still have a trick or two up his sleeve. As such, more than the current strong showing from Imp Warlock, it's the overall class that is looking more solid and worth building around.
Druid, Shaman, and Hunter improve at their core strategies
All 3 classes are played right now, and are looking good overall. Yet, none of them are doing anything different from the previous expansion either. Obviously, they added new cards and got a bit stronger, but it just feels like they followed the natural power creep brought with an expansion. If we take a look at their numbers in the competitive environment of the legend rank across all regions, we can see that no new archetype has made as the most popular in any of those classes.
Druid is still playing either the Ramp or the Celestial Alignment archetypes. (Recently hinted at an upcoming nerf by Dean Ayala) Both decks have included Sir Denathrius and the Widowbloom Seedsman amongst their core cards, but the feeling stays the same: Ramp in the early game, come back onto the board with Scale of Onyxia if needed, and then become the aggressor.
The analysis for Thrall is very similar, although the Evolve mechanic could break that trend if it becomes more popular. So far, Control Shaman has included Theotar, the Mad Duke, and sometimes Forensic Duster to its arsenal of battlecry units. Yet, the deck is very similar to the gameplay it was pushing during Throne of Tides already.
Lastly, Rexxar seems to follow that trend as well, even if the Wildseeds seem to be playable in various archetypes. This new package brings some flavor to the Hunter class but hasn't changed how any of the already existing archetype would build their win conditions, either.
I would expect these 3 classes to keep similar results to what they were posting in the previous metagame as a result of the current trend. Druid will likely be a strong class, in most tournament line-ups, but will be countered by aggressive, board centric decks.
Shaman will keep on being a great midrange, disruption class. I would expect the class to shine in a more combo oriented metagame because it is looking like it can abuse Theotar more than other classes.
Hunter is going to be the same old class, focusing on the health resources to punish its opponent. Seeing Quest Hunter already as the best performing deck for the class is a bit of a sad view to be fair.
If we are talking from a competitive standpoint, these 3 classes likely should be listed as winners. Whether you're thinking about what to bring to a tournament or what to climb the ladder with, all 3 classes should be on your radar.
The Rogue enigma
Valeera is the big question mark of the expansion so far and has clearly suffered from being one of the most technical class in the game. Currently, there are no rogue decks above the 50% winrate outside the legend rank. And if we look at the Legend rank, where we should find the best Rogue players, the results aren't impressive either.
But if this statement has been true for most of Valeera's life in Hearthstone, Rogue decks historically post a worse winrate on the ladder compared to tournament play. It doesn't help to figure out what to do with the class in Castle Nathria.
If we look at the numbers, the two new mechanics pushed in Rogue with the expansion are doing the worst out of the 8 archetypes in the class right now. Which is a big fat L in most people's book.
On another note, we can see that Thief Rogue, the best deck for the class in the previous metagame, isn't doing so well either. Compared to the decks in Druide, Shaman or Hunter, Thief Rogue didn't really find a way to incorporate new cards in the build so far. The secret package is a consideration, but decks not running it are posting a better winrate so far.
The expansion brought one good news for Valeera: The reduction in the amount of Prince Renathal decks. Currently, about a third (34.2%) of decks are made with him giving them the advantage of 40 health at the start. Before the expansion, this number was much closer to 50%.
With the metagame coming back to 30 health decks, the best performing rogue archetype, Mine Rogue, could be the saving grace for the class. If I find it to be deserving of the losers tag, at least it means Valeera shouldn't disappear completely, unlike other classes.
How to help Demon Hunter, Warrior and Paladin ?
Just a week into the expansion, and most people are already starting to talk about buffing those 3 classes soon. One might think it is pretty soon to talk about balancing things, considering we haven't seen everything Castle Nathria has to offer.
On the other end, it is difficult to argue about the catastrophic start of those 3 classes in the competitive parts of the ladder.
Why am I not showing Tiers 1 to 3 you might ask ? Simply because none of these classes appear before Tier 4, making Pure Paladin at 44% winrate, the best deck amongst the 3 classes combined.
If the other classes are fighting a fair fight, and actually figuring out their spot in the forming metagame, Illidan, Garrosh, and Uther look like they are playing another game, a worse one.
The lingering problem in those 3 classes is the lack of a clear win condition like the others have. Currently, it looks impossible to assemble the same synergies we can see in any of the other 7 classes, much less develop the pressure or find the combos they are capable of. As a result, Demon Hunter, Paladin and Warrior feel like they are playing cards when their opponent is actually advancing towards a clear end game strategy.
I completely support the demands I have seen on social media to buff these classes. Until then, they are the 3 clear-cut losers of Castle Nathria, and if it wasn't for Sire Denathrius, they could be considered the real victims in the new set.
Closing words :
In an early, still developing metagame, it is easy to miss a little clue and completely be off the mark as to what will happen down the line. This is the reason why I'm not completely sold on the Rogue Class being a flop, and consider Skeleton Mage and Naga Priest to end up as good decks but not dominant ones.
I would very much welcome a change of pace in Druid, Shaman or Hunter in terms of the mechanics and win conditions they push, but at least seeing them keep a solid spot in the metagame is something to be happy for.
As for the trio of Illidan, Garrosh and Uther, unfortunately, it seems like we might already be at the point where the playerbase has given up on them. While we wait for the first balance patch of the expansion, we can hope to see a couple of buffs in each of these classes or possibly reverting some of the most recents nerfs to them.
Until then, I hope you are having as much fun at Sire Denathrius' party as I am. I'll make sure to share all my discoveries about the murder on Twitter.
Good Game, Everyone!