Blizzard has released Hearthstone‘s long-awaited Mean Streets of Gadgetzan expansion, and the new expansion has shaken up the card game in an interesting way. While the tri-class card mechanic was one of the largest changes from a structural perspective, thus far it’s had very little actual impact on the meta. This is primarily due to the overall weaknesses of Reno Mage and Warlock decks, so let’s get into more detail on just what that means, as we examine the early Mean Streets of Gadgetzen meta.
To absolutely nobody’s surprise, Druid has emerged as one of the top decks on day one. Most lists are playing Jade Blossom, basically a souped-up Wild Growth, and cutting Mire Keeper. While the Golem that Blossom gives you is usually much smaller than Mire Keeper’s 3/3 stats, it does have two main advantages: being able to play it a turn earlier, and being a spell for Arcane Giant and Gadgetzan Auctioneer. The body isn’t really relevant except against aggro decks, where Mire Keeper does very little regardless.
Most of the other Jade cards are absolutely terrible, but you only need one good card to make a deck: Jade Idol. The first thing to know about Jade Idol is that it breaks fatigue matchups entirely, given that it can shuffle more copies of itself into the deck, each one capable of creating a progressively more powerful Jade Golem. The way Druid takes advantage of this mechanic is simple: Gadgetzan Auctioneer.
Once you thin down your deck enough, you can slam down an Auctioneer, fill your entire board with Jade Golems, and still have plenty left in your deck in case your opponent has some method of clearing your entire board -- which, at the moment, is largely restricted to Twisting Nether and Yogg-Saron, neither of which are seeing much play. Control decks stand no chance against this - you can easily run them out of removal and there’s no way they can pressure you enough, because you’re still doing regular Druid things until then.
There’s a glimmer of hope for Malygos Druid… though we haven’t seen much of it, it’s entirely plausible that it has an advantage in this matchup, if it’s built to get to its win condition faster. Similarly, aggro decks can be a huge pain for Jade Druid, the first of which we’ll cover now.
Pirate warrior has always been a middling aggro deck, suffering from a lack of consistent early game and a lack of card draw. Well, one of those problems has been fixed, and the deck has been ruthlessly exploiting Druid’s weakness to decks that get an early start to make a name for itself on day one.
Patches the Pirate is a neutral legendary minion, but as players have yet to make a serious attempt at Pirate Rogue, you’ll only be seeing it in Warrior (and sometimes Paladin) decks. Its effect is simple: if it’s in your deck when you play a Pirate minion, it’ll summon itself to the field. This turns most of your 1-drops into effective 2-drops, with the very minor downside of occasionally drawing it and missing out on the effect. Speaking of 1-drops: you’re no longer stuck with only Nzoth’s First Mate and Finley (which isn’t even a Pirate).
Small-time Buccaneer is a welcome addition to the lineup, reminiscent of Cogmaster. You might think that these two additions aren’t enough to take a deck from “mediocre” to “overwhelming”, and you’d probably be right. The rest of the new Pirate cards aren’t great; Hobart Grapplehammer might see some play, but given that it sacrifices tempo for later advantage, it doesn’t mesh well with the way aggro decks try to play.
As I said above, a large part of the reason Pirate Warrior is seeing so much play is because it’s well-positioned against Druid, but there is more to the synergy these cards provide than is immediately apparent. Simply having two minions on board on turn one makes it extremely difficult for your opponent to clear your board by turn three, which lets you drop Bloodsail Cultist for massive advantage. Increasing the consistency of this combo is a huge boost for Pirate Warrior. Whether it’ll be enough as the meta continues to develop, though, we’ll have to see.
One of the complaints that Blizzard took to heart with this expansion has been the complete and total failure of Priest as a competitive class. Kabal Talonpriest, for the purposes of Dragon Priest, is a strictly improved Dark Cultist. It can turn an annoying Wyrmrest Agent into a practically insurmountable one, especially for aggro decks. Drakonid Operative is an improved Thoughtsteal on legs, letting you pick the best option for the situation. Finally, Dragonfire Potion is a decent Lightbomb replacement.
Unfortunately, all these new toys don’t solve Priest’s fundamental problems, which is why it isn’t seeing as much play as some expected. The first problem is that Priest still has no stand-alone board wipe before turn five. Shadow Word: Horror is not good enough without Pint-Sized Potion, but trying to run something like an Equality + Consecration combo in Priest is a terrible idea when you don’t have any card draw.
The second problem is that these cards have done nothing to fix Priest’s consistency problem. Priest still has no early game draw outside of Power Word: Shield, which requires a minion on board, and Northshire Cleric, which isn’t seeing any play. (You might consider playing Mistress of Mixtures: it’s not as strong as Zombie Chow, but it’s still decent against aggro decks and might give you an opportunity to get some taunts up.) Wrathion is an interesting card, but again, turn six is far too late to be fixing consistency problems.
Another nail in Priest’s coffin is that it simply has no way to beat Jade Druid once it hits the late game, so if you don’t curve out perfectly, you lose. If the meta shifts back to more Midrange-oriented decks, we may see Priest come back to the fore. Until then, Priest seems doomed to the tier 2 pile.
Despite Paladin’s new cards focusing on sacrificing early tempo for later advantage, the deck still functions in a fairly aggressive manner. The reason for this is simple: the Divine Shield mechanic. Dropping two boosted Argent Squires on turn two is like dropping two Minibots - except your follow-up is better, too. Smuggler’s Run gives every minion in your hand +1/+1, as does Grimestreet Outfitter.
Fill your deck with low cost minions that have middling stats but powerful effects, like Dragon Egg, Argent Squire, Loot Hoarder, and as soon as you pull off even one boost, they turn into sizable threats that either stick around on the board or replenish your hand. Speaking of replenishing your hand, Meanstreet Marshall is much better than it looks, given how many different ways you have of boosting its attack.
Small-Time Recruits is another interesting option for refilling your hand mid-game, though unbuffed 1-drops aren’t great. Wickerflame Burnbristle is like an extra copy of Silent Knight that also does some healing on the side. Finally, Doppelgangster rounds out what we might charitably call this deck’s late-game. Even one boost turns it into a good card - two or more make it practically impossible to deal with without a board wipe.
By all accounts, this new iteration of aggro Paladin is very non-traditional - it’s fairly resilient to board wipes, it doesn’t need to run many dedicated draw cards, and it sacrifices early tempo to get its strategy rolling. Despite that inherent contradiction, Paladin seems well-positioned against both aggro and midrange decks: it trades extremely well on-board, and it can ramp up the pressure very quickly out of nowhere. Ultimately this deck’s success will come down to whether other decks start developing counter-strategies, and how consistent you can make it.
Reno Mage and Reno Warlock are nowhere to be seen. Despite the huge hype surrounding Kazakus, the Reno archetype as a whole didn’t get any new tools to fix its weaknesses. Aggro decks still run roughshod over it, even more so now that Paladin is resistant to board wipes and Warrior is more consistently able to buff its weapons.
Reno can’t even compete in the late-game anymore thanks to Jade Druid. The only hope was for a favorable matchup against Dragon Priest, but that’s considerably less common than anticipated. Reno Mage has to draw not only Kazakus, but also Inkmaster Solia in order to pull off a solid combo by turn 7, and without much card draw, the chances of doing so are fairly minimal. Reno Warlock has even less hope, having to survive until turn 10. Sometimes a solid 5-cost potion will be enough, but not always.
Hunter is another deck that isn’t seeing much play, but unlike Reno variants, I expect this to change. Rat Pack upgrades Infested Wolf, which was already a fairly solid card. You can easily play it without any boosts, and probably should. Most of the boosting cards aren’t great. Dispatch Kodo takes Infested Wolf’s place as a miniature Stampeding Kodo. It gives Hunter a better early-game tempo swing and easily deals with minions behind Divine Shield.
What About Shaman?
And now for the metaphorical elephant in the room: Shaman. What happened to Shaman, you may ask? Nothing. The deck isn’t seeing play because nobody wants to play an old-format deck. However, there’s no reason it wouldn’t do well in the current meta. It has strong early-game minions, decent taunts, low-cost board wipes, and a cheap weapon. It even has a better Antique Healbot in Jinyu Waterspeaker.
Shaman can take on Pirate Warrior just fine. Paladin might give it a little more trouble, but there are easy ways to tech for that matchup that also help your other matchups. For example, you can try increasing the number of board wipes you run, and maybe sticking in an Acidic Swamp Ooze. The Druid matchup hasn’t changed substantially in principle - either you can kill them before you reach the end-game or you can’t. Dragon Priest is the only open question, and it’s not seeing any play. I suspect we’ll see Shaman pick up again in the near future.
This has been an interesting if imperfect release. I think Blizzard has done a good job breathing life into some old and underplayed mechanics. As long as the meta doesn’t fall into a state where one deck dominates, this should be an exciting few months.
Note: This article originally ran on Gamer Sensei as part of their Pro Perspectives series, where top professional eSports Sensei share their tips and tricks for elite play.