As it was to be expected, and highlighted in our last article as well, combo decks are rising in popularity and performance since patch 25.4.3 went live.
Quest Druid and Phylactery Warlock, mostly, have been shared by popular figures as great decks to play before the patch, and have posted great results in the first days as well.
Yet, just like it happens after most balance changes, the proactive, easy-to-figure-out decks made a comeback, representing the starting point for many players in a new metagame.
The difference this time, is that in addition to being a nice default option, those decks are quite punishing to face for the Druid and Warlock class.
Indeed, although combo decks possess decent defensive tools, the damage from Undead Priest or the divine shields from Pure Paladin appeared to be too much to handle.
As a result, the proactive, smash-mouth decks, which usually have a great first day in the meta and then have their counters appear, have a limited window available for them to perform so well. They aren't taking the metagame hostage, but finding these early popular good matchups to feed their win rate boosted their performances for sure. Already, we have seen players share their Rank 1 accomplishment with either Paladin or Priest.
In this article, let's explore those early performers and what they are made of, as well as the logical next step of this still-forming metagame.
With The Lich King losing popularity after Construct Quarter was changed to four mana, Pure Paladin has found some breathing room.
Ideally, the deck is looking to get set on the board early on, and bring the pressure, preventing easy clears through Divine Shields. This strategy is much easier to develop against combo decks, which are slower out of the gate.
However, the other classes have adapted to this situation as well, and various aggressive builds have risen, which are tougher opponents for Pure Paladin. As of now, Pure Paladin is ranked in the top five archetypes, but it seems to be losing some ground to other emerging decks, like Undead Priest.
Ranked as the best deck in our data at the end of the weekend, Undead Priest seems to be the big winner of the balance update.
While it might look like your basic aggressive damage deck, looking to play cheap units and then transfer to direct damage later on. Undead Priest actually has some finesse to it and is looking solid against other aggressive decks early in this new metagame.
Thanks to cards like Shadowcloth Needle, Mind Sear, and Whispers of the Deep, Priest manages to work its damage-based win condition while also fighting the board. This gives the deck an edge in match-ups such as Pure Paladin (57% favored) or Frost Death Knight (54% favored).
Not all deck lists use it, but Undead Priest can also pack Shadow Word: Undeath in order to edge these fast-paced match-ups even more.
The other big upside to the deck is its very strong draw potential, with Cathedral of Atonement and Grave Digging, the archetype feels much more consistent than in the past. Back then, Aggro Shadow Priest was done if the opponent could sustain the early pressure and run the deck out of cards. Now, your only clear strategy is to get them to zero health if you want the damage flow to stop–something not many decks seem to be able to do in time, except for maybe Aggro Mage.
The third deck in the aggressive trio that emerged early on is Aggro Mage. This deck mostly makes sense because of its absurd 70% win rate against both Undead Priest and Pure Paladin archetypes so far. Also, similarly to Pure Paladin, Mage can be a comfort pick for some players, as it was quite popular before Frost Death Knight proved to be a better deck with a similar game plan.
Against combo-oriented decks, Aggro Mage doesn't make a ton of sense. Indeed, cards like Flurry or Nightcloak Sanctum won't find many targets against Phylactery Warlock or Quest Druid. As a result, the more board-centric decks emerge to counter these combo strategies, and the more sense Aggro Mage should make in the metagame.
It seems to be a nice balance between playing a deck to counter the very aggressive builds, while also standing a chance against combo archetypes. As it stands, Aggro Mage is unfavorable to Quest Druid and Phylactery Warlock, but only by a small margin, close to a 45-55 spread.
If one were to play a deck like Control Warrior for example, or Blood Death Knight, they might ruin an Undead Priest player's day, but would be equally punished when facing an OTK deck.
So, it might not be perfect, but Aggro Mage seems to be the deck with the most balanced match-up spread after a few days in patch 25.4.3
What to expect next
There are a couple more decks worthy of being mentioned in the proactive category, such as Curse Imp Warlock, or Frost Death Knight. These two are seeing play for similar reasons as they already had established builds, so it seems unlikely they represent anything more than what Pure Paladin, Undead Priest or Aggro Mage do already.
Considering the metagame is mostly featuring one-dimensional decks for now, with either Combo or Aggressive decks being featured. The logical next step would be to find some balanced, or more explosive decks in order to shake things up.
Balance builds would be able to play against both kinds of archetypes, rather than trying to pick a side, and accept there are some very difficult matchups to overcome.
In this category, Spell Demon Hunter seems to be doing quite well, and I myself had some nice success with Murloc Shaman. Beast Hunter could also be mentioned in this category, although the deck hasn't shown convincing results in the highest ranks yet.
As for explosive decks, it seems like Deathrattle Rogue is our best bet. The deck was already posting solid results before the patch, and keeps being a Tier 1 contender in the Legends ranks to this day. However, the deck isn't popular, so it is difficult to figure out how reliable is the surrounding data.
No matter what, the current metagame looks far from solved, and the deck that will take over Evolve Shaman and Frost Death Knight isn't clear right now.
Undead Priest is the best one according to data, but the deck will have to prove itself now that it is out and some of its weaknesses have been exposed.
Good Game, Everyone!
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