March of the Lich King: Combo decks and quick nerfs define the first week of play

The community had a ton of expectations regarding the last expansion of the year, and looking at the first week, a lot did happen!

From Death Knight going from a disappointing new class to pulling a stupid combo with an unplayed card, to Hunter being the surprisingly best class in the game on day 1, March of the Lich King has been a hell of a rollercoaster so far to figure out.

And it doesn't seem like it will stop anything time soon as Blizzard released an emergency patch on Friday nerfing Sire Denathrius and the new Hunter card Shockspitter. These changes haven't yet solved all the issues brought up by the community on social media, but they certainly showcase that the developers are monitoring closely how things evolve.

Overall, the first few days after the Lich King joined Hearthstone were wild ones, to say the least. And more are looming on the horizon likely, at least, until the World Championships.

Let's cover what happened until now, and what impact the emergency patch could have on the future.

OTK decks took over on day 1

Whether coming up against Arcane Hunter, Miracle Rogue, Quest Demon Hunter, or Ramp Druid, The Lich King had a lot to handle during the first few days of the expansion. At first, it felt like it was too much and the class was labeled as a clear disappointment, especially in comparison to how Illidan demolished every other Hearthstone class when released.

Compared to Hunter's damage output, Rogue's explosiveness, and Druid's ability to mana cheat, Frost Death Knight, touted as the combo rune for the new class, was quickly forgotten. And Unholy Death Knight quickly followed, lacking the explosiveness to surprise these kinds of decks, opting instead for more long-term development of the board.

We still saw a lot of Death Knights around the ladder as a new class is an attraction too big to pass on for most players. But most of the talks revolved around how good Hunter was or how annoying Rogue and Druid once again feeling overpowered early in an expansion can be.

Looking at the need to nerf the new Shockspitter, you probably have guessed a reliable counter was not found to these decks. On the contrary, their popularity only rose as time passed.

On Friday evening, around the time of the nerfs, more than 50% of the Legend ladder was either an OTK deck or the only Death Knight rune that seemingly could fight back: Blood.

Blood Death Knight, saving the Lich King from bitter defeat

If both the Frost and Unholy runes failed at being either popular or strong archetypes so far, Blood Death Knight at least sees a lot of play.

For now, it is really hard to say if the archetype is solid or not. Overall stats seem to indicate it isn't, as a mere 45% win rate is far from good enough. But there are a lot of different lists being shared, so it might be worth sorting them out before putting Blood Death Knight in the same category as Control Warrior and moving on from it.

So far, my favorite build for the archetype comes from J.Alexander, who focuses a lot on discovering cards in the deck he used to achieve #1 in America.


In my opinion, Sir Finley, Sea Guide probably deserves to be in the deck over Archdruid Naralex, as a way to change our hand if the Discovers didn't go our way. Otherwise, I think this kind of list probably is the most logical way to build around Death Knight so far.

There are two reasons for this, both based on how the Discover mechanic works in the class:

  • Death Knight being a new class, there are fewer cards available in its pool so far, making the Discovers more reliable
  • There is no Rune limit on what you can discover, meaning you can find powerful cards from the Unholy or Frost rune even when playing a triple Blood archetype.

As a result, capitalizing on the discover mechanic makes the deck much less predictable, while also making sure we never run out of options. There might be an argument to make about J.Alexander taking the concept a bit too far, but I would embrace the logic for sure.

Can the nerfs change the current metagame?

Let's get it out of the way: unfortunately, I don't think so.

As the picture in the first part shows, there were many more decks outside Arcane Hunter that caused the combo archetype to completely suffocate the metagame.

Miracle Rogue and Ramp Druid are untouched while arguably in the same boat. And Bless Priest and Quest Demon Hunter are rare enough to not appear on many people's radars and have been shared by top players having insane results with their take on it.

I think if the metagame is going to change, it'll probably come from the community experimenting and focusing on having some fun rather than anything else. And there is a solid chance the World Championship this weekend sees most, if not all line-ups built around Rogue, Druid, and Priest, or looking to beat one of these with a targeted strategy.

It isn't necessarily a bad thing, and there are enough solid decks for someone to find something they enjoy playing. It will be hard for that deck to be an aggressive or a value-oriented build, but at least, choices exist whether you join the combo team or the “tons of health” side of the metagame.

Yet, even if the picture I'm painting seems a bit negative, there are some things to look up to.

In these tweets from Final Design Lead Aleco Gereco, we can see that Blizzard had a plan going into this. They knew some things could be out of line and planned to be able to react quickly after the expansion.

Obviously, they couldn't fix everything, and we will have to wait a bit more to see the other decks that need to be addressed.  Looking at social media, the frustration was obvious, especially regarding Rogue not being touched. But it might be for the best to not rush an important balance patch, or you're just replacing one unbalanced meta with a different unbalanced one, which may be worse.

What to play then?

Considering we are likely stuck with the current balance for the time being, let's discuss which decks should be considered for someone looking to shake the metagame a bit and have fun with some new cards.

Unfortunately, there isn't a deck that is favored against the current popular trinity of Miracle Rogue, Ramp Druid, and Blood Death Knight. But here are a few options that should have a good fighting chance against two out of the three at least:


Hunter as a pure OTK deck got nerfed, but a 40 cards build, including more tempo-oriented cards also exists, courtesy of Hattrik. With the extra health and ability to develop more board through the Wildseeds or Hydrolodon, the deck might still be able to compete.

At the very least, it should give you some extra time to build Shockspitter if you still look to get the OTK done eventually.


Control Paladin has always been a bad matchup for Rogue, and the dragons, especially Kazakusan, still represent a solid win condition in slower matchups.
As a result, I truly believe the dragon package could be a difference maker for Control Paladin, keeping its strong nature into board-based decks, but also being able to win the late game against Blood Death Knight.


I know I have said the Unholy rune is not a good one for now for Death Knight, and I stand by it if we look at the overall picture. But with less direct damage if Hunter disappears, this deck might be worth a shot.

This deck is able to develop a lot of Taunt units through the course of the game, which can be very annoying to Rogue's dagger or big Ghosts. Also, thanks to the Discovers, the deck is incredibly difficult to run out of cards which is a problem for Blood Death Knight and Ramp Druid.


Dreadeye has been very vocal about this deck on his Twitter account, and claimed it was a great deck since day 1. With Rogue and Druid likely to be the two juggernauts for the next week, a deck punishing big units might be worth considering.

Other builds of Spell Demon Hunter also exist, but this is the only one that managed to reach #1 Legend so far.

Closing Words

At the start of this article, I had no idea how to fit everything that happened during this first week of play.

Although the Death Knight didn't demolish the competition the same way Illidan did in its time, a lot of other events occurred.

First, the situation is very different as we are at the end of a year, typically the time when synergies are at their best. Already, this was a much tougher environment for The Lich King to be successful in.

Also, the Death Knight class is built in a much more flexible way compared to any other class. The three runes system is a genius idea from a deckbuilding standpoint, but it likely makes things harder for the player base to figure out the best lists.

So there could be some good that come out of it as the new class still has a lot to offer, and players are eager to keep testing and refining their ideas with it. Compared to Demon Hunter, which everyone wanted to be removed from the game after a week, this might be considered a win.

As much as I think the metagame is clearly unbalanced, I don't mind it for the time being. I feel for the players preparing for the World Championship, as this probably puts them in a very stressful situation. The third expansion of the year is also the one out of the competitive year in terms of open tournaments, so it seems fitting to be the expansion where the bigger risks can be taken.

Hopefully, the hype around March of the Lich King isn't dead yet, and the emergency patch is the first step in the right direction. Until the next balance change, I hope you all have fun and find a deck you love. As for me, I'll do my best to make that Dragon Paladin deck I shared should work well. I have a good feeling about this one.  

Good Game, Everyone!

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