If you have been following the Hearthstone competitive during the February season, you might have noticed most players atop the rankings are using the same archetype: Frost Death Knight.
The deck is currently so dominant in the battle for the #1 rank that people are starting to build the deck for the mirror.
In our last article, we went in-depth on how the deck became the most feared in the current metagame and arguably the deck to beat. Today, we are going to focus on the decks we can use to counter it and make the most out of its current dominance on the ladder.
A balance patch is due to hit Hearthstone later today, which will impact the status of Frost Death Knight. Yet, even if Construct Quarter is a big reason why the deck is so strong, it is hard to believe the deck will disappear completely because of it. The expected change is the card going up to four mana, or losing a durability.
The mana change could be quite a problem for the deck, as it would impair its ability to pressure the opponent early in the game. A durability loss might not be so detrimental and could keep Frost Death Knight as a deck to follow in the weeks to come.
Let's start with the fact that there aren't many decks able to fight evenly with Frost Death Knight. So far, it seems like most board-centric decks are losing the damage race, either because Construct Quarter gives the DK a great trading tool in the early and mid-game or its ability to freeze the board is too efficient for a minion-only strategy to be able to close the game.
With that great ability to control the tempo of a match, it feels like the decks with the best shot at punishing The Lich King are decks without a strong need for tempo or a precise board state. Instead, these decks will look for explosive turns, and keeping their opponent at bay, more than developing units onto the board.
What decks are we talking about? Thaddius Warlock, Midrange Murloc Shaman and Svalna Priest.
A little disclaimer here: The decks we will talk about aren't necessarily showing up in stat sheets, or putting up great numbers overall. But they have proven themselves at the highest level against Frost Death Knight at the condition one knows how to build the deck properly and approach the match-up.
Is Thaddius Warlock a real deck?
It may have the appearance of a clear Tier 4 deck if you look at its overall performance, but Thaddius Warlock looks much better if you look at the players competing in the top 100.
Why? Well, the deck isn't so simple to play and likely requires investing a bit of time into mastering its various synergies. Then, the most competitive ranks are full of Frost Death Knight players, making specialized decks much stronger in those ranks.
Against the new metagame juggernaut, specifically, Thaddius Warlock seems to have the right tools to shine. First, it is a deck that clearly does not care about its own board state, and would rather have both players do nothing rather than enter a high-tempo battle early on. Against a deck that is actively trying to beat you down, the mix of AoEs and healing tools in Warlock's arsenal makes it able to prolong the game and get to its win conditions reliably.
Also, several of its key cards do not care too much about being frozen as they have good passive abilities, especially Dar'Kahn Drathir, a card the opponent is forced to deal with. In addition, Thaddius, Monstrosity and Flesh Behemoth have Taunt, and you can always use Shallow Grave on your Explosive Sheep or Amorphous Slime if the opponent were to freeze them.
Overall, it feels like Thaddius Warlock is very favored once it manages to get one of its big units onto the board, placing the challenge of the match-up around controlling the early turns.
In that part of the match, the Frost Death Knight is able to develop their board, and Construct Quarter creating a 4/5 body isn't so simple to deal with. Soul Rend will be the key card in transitioning to the mid-game, as 5 damage should be able to remove the opposing board. The cheaper spells like Drain Soul or Touch of the Nathrezim will help in the health department, keeping you safe from direct damage later on.
Svalna Priest, Frost Death Knight's worst match up
Because of its terrible match-up against Evolve Shaman, Svalna Priest has lost a lot of popularity in recent weeks, leading to the deck feeling almost extinct on the ladder. But according to our data, the deck boasts a solid 58% win rate against Frost Death Knight, the best in Hearthstone.
While this one would be a very targeted pick, as it would represent a risk against most other popular decks, Svalna Priest at least tells us what to look for in a deck when trying to beat Frost Death Knight:
- A way to win without actually attacking with your units
- Removal spells
- Explosive play-patterns.
These traits are really close to what we saw in the Warlock deck above. However, Svalna Priest is much more efficient at closing the game once the Radiant Elementals are set with Vision of Darkness in your hand. In that regard, the deck gives fewer turns for Frost Death Knight to find an alternate route to victory.
Once again, the need to play some kind of highly synergistic, almost combo-oriented archetype means you would have to spend some time learning the intricacies of the deck. As a result, you might not be able to reliably counter Frost Death Knight as soon as you pick up Svalna Priest.
This learning period of new archetypes and looking for unpopular decks as a solution might explain why Frost DK managed to take the meta by storm over the last week.
Smothering Starfish, savior of the board-centric decks
Last on our lists is Midrange Murloc Shaman, another very rare deck, but with a proven track record this season, reaching the #1 rank under the tutelage of several players.
Compared to other board-centric classes, Shaman has the luxury of being able to pack some great reactive tools, especially in the form of the Murloc package.
While it isn't as powerful as most AoE spells, being able to play Firemancer Flurgl and a few Murlocs behind it can turn the board around quickly. Once ahead on board, the deck can then use Smothering Starfish to cancel a freezing effect, and push damage to the opponent's hero.
Also, the class possesses the great Frostbite spell, which will mess with the opponent's ability to play their spells as desired. Considering the deck has largely cut the number of spells it plays, Frostbite can be quite a pain to play around for the opponent, apart from Nerubian Vizier pulling a spell to use.
Alongside the Piranha Swarmers generated by Schooling, the deck has some reactive ability and can trade opposing units even when unable to use the ones it already has on the board.
Lastly, and probably the most important part, as the previous two decks showed us, packing a bit of healing is always great. In that regard, Bru'kan of the Elements is a great hero for the Shaman Class.
Without the Smothering Starfish, the deck would likely suffer way too much against Frostwyrm's Fury or Might of Menethil, and likely lose an entire turn because of these two on many occasions. Now, Shaman is able to go wide onto the board (be sure to keep a space to be able to play the Smothering Starfish though!) and punish the expensive spells, usually resulting in a massive amount of damage going face as a result.
Compared to the other two suggestions, a board-based deck is obviously a little worse to go against Frost Death Knight. If you wanted to target the deck, you would be better off with a Combo or Control deck, which doesn't need the board at all to function.
Yet, there are cards in the game that can help and, once they have found a deck to utilize them, are able to balance or even tilt the match in your favor.
Depending on where you are rank-wise on the ladder, going for a target on Frost Death Knight might or might not be a good idea.
Svalna Priest for example, seems like a very committed pick in the current metagame, able to punish The Lich King but with difficult matchups against the other popular decks.
On the other end, you can try to edge against Frost Death Knight without trying to make it a one-sided match-up, and look for a more well-rounded deck overall. In this exercise, it seems like Thaddius Warlock is the current front-runner, but Smothering Starfish helps any board-centric deck fight against the freeze ability of the Frost rune cards.
With the end of the season, other archetypes emerged as well amongst the top ladder finishers. Notably, Quest Druid won the European race with Levik piloting it. Since then, several players have tested and shared their opinion about the archetype, noting it was well worthy of investing some time into it.
The patch note will also hit Evolve Shaman quite hard, as Goldshire Gnoll is listed in the nerfed cards. Without the biggest offender to control and combo strategies lately, we might see a surge of such decks, as they look to be quite effective to contain the Lich King.
Good Game, Everyone!
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