Descent of Dragons is one of Hearthstone’s most thoughtfully designed expansions to date. Many fans can agree that the quality of new cards has been rapidly dropping with each expansion, so a new expansion with actually good cards is a warm sight indeed. The power level of cards in this expansion is quite high as compared to previous expansions, which is a rare sight indeed. Team 5, the developers behind the game, had a ‘Change of Heart’ it seems – since there have been quite a few changes in their design philosophy (which includes trying to not print broken cards and then somehow doing it anyway). The sheer power level of cards, as well as the variety of archetypes getting support, means a lot of different enjoyable decks are possible.
There might be many, many more combinations given the cards of the set, but five decks really shone during the first week of the expansion.
Shaman was a wrecking ball even before the expansion hit, thanks to the power of cards like Evolve (which was rotated in from Wild for a special event). The Shaman Quest, Corrupt the Waters, is an exceptionally strong card (and one of the stronger Quest cards) – allowing battlecries to be repeated. The Shaman Galakrond summons Elementals with Rush every time he is invoked, increasing board presence with every card summoned. Cards like Corrupt Elementalist, Dragon’s Pack and Devoted Maniac allow the Shaman to build up a ton of board pressure before the Galakrond comes out, unleashing all-out devastation. Greedier versions run Kronx Dragonhoof for increased Galakrond synergy and for applying more pressure on the opponent.
When Galakrond comes out, there is no way out for most decks to deal with the pressure – the only alternative being to bring up the Menu and hit the Concede button. When combined with the Quest, the deck becomes infinitely greedier and more daunting than ever before. Even if a player manages to get past the first wave of the gigantic minions summoned, Shudderwock, the Shaman legendary, spells doom for an opponent by resummoning that daunting board (and also drawing a handful of cards). Shaman’s extraordinary power has got Blizzard’s rightful attention, and a balance update is in the works. Before that hits though, Galakrond Shaman (or Galakrond Quest Shaman) is going to be an S tier deck that runs amok in the ranked ladder – the only way to beat it being ‘Assimilate, or die!” as Faceless Corruptor would say.
Dragon Highlander Mage- If you’re one of the guys who want to enjoy the game rather than winning with an absolutely broken deck, then there are a slew of decks up your alley. The Highlander archetype has got a decent amount of support in the expansion with the introduction of Dragonqueen Alexstrasza, which gives the player two random dragon cards that cost no mana. Even though the odds of getting a few favorable dragons are slim to none (because the entire set consists of dragons, duh!), the tempo swing offered in the late queen by Dragonqueen Alexstrasza is a definitive way to contest the board. Being a neutral card with excellent ability and stats, Dragonqueen Alexstrasza forms a core of the new Highlander archetype. Mage got some good dragon cards like Azure Explorer and Malygos, Aspect of Magic – both of which generate value for the Mage to survive. Malygos (the new one) allows the creation of a more powerful version of a Mage spell – opening up options for board control or simply burst damage to push for lethal damage. Azure Explorer allows the Mage to cycle through the number of Dragon cards in her hand.
The core of the deck still has cards like Reno the Relicologist and Zephrys the Great (of course, no Highlander deck misses him) as additional tools for board control whenever needed. The deck still plays Luna’s Pocket Galaxy for being able to summon gigantic minions for cheap (even though you won’t be able to draw it in time in most of your games), though it has decreased in significance since the balance changes that increased its mana cost. Cheating out spells with Tortollan Pilgrim or Dragoncaster is an effective way to control the board, with the Puzzle Box of Yogg Sauron being a favorite target. The deck’s only weakness is a lack of healing, running only Ziliax for that purpose, so the main objective is to control the board with minions and spells until the advantage is in your favor. Highlander Mage is poised to be the best deck on the ladder if the balance changes hit Shaman hard (and they are expected to do exactly that), so this is a pretty interesting deck to try out. It is prohibitively expensive in terms of dust though, so the advice for newer players would be to skip this one and look for better options.
Dragon Highlander Hunter
Yes, those words are a bit common in the new expansion, since there are as many as three classes with cards that support the Highlander archetype including Mage, Hunter, and Paladin. Hunter’s game plan is slightly different from Mage’s though and offers more flexibility in terms of strategy. The most common strategy is to use secrets in the early game to stall for time until the mid-game when the Hunter is able to summon bigger creatures and dominate the board. Phase Stalker is a pretty useful card in that regard – it casts a secret from your deck every time the hero power is used with it on the field. This allows additional damage to be dealt instead of spending mana on casting secrets directly from the hand. A slew of new cards including both Hunter legendaries from the new expansion are used to increase its burst potential. Veranus is a dragon with decent stats that changes the health of all enemy minions to one, which can be easily traded off by smaller minions. Despite its strong stats or effect, Veranus does seem like a lot of lost potential, partly because Hunter has very less follow up – only an Explosive Trap, Unleash the Hounds or Springpaw can help clear off gigantic minions, otherwise you’re almost always forced to trade your bigger minions into their minions. Dragonbane is a slightly more interesting card that deals five damage to a random enemy when the player uses their hero power. It offers a lot of burst potential and can be played out early because of its decent stats.
Dragonqueen Alexstrasza’s sheer power as a legendary means that she’s present in the deck as a support tool in case the board spirals out of control. Zephrys the Great offers a way out of almost any situation, and Dinotamer Brann’s ability summons a King Krush, offering a lot of burst potential. Brann is mostly used in the late game (on the seventh turn itself if possible) to push for lethal damage and pressurize the opponent into making a power play. Similar to other Highlander decks, this is a prohibitively expensive deck, so it’s best to try this out only if you have quite a few of the cards already, and need only to spend a little more to complete it.
Pirate Warrior – The second most successful deck this expansion, pirate warrior was deemed to have ‘returned’ when support cards were seen during reveal streams. Originally invented during the Mean Streets of Gadgetzan meta, it is a hyper-aggressive deck whose main objective is to take down the enemy no matter what. This means sacrificing your own health by striking down taunts with large weapons while the minions push face damage. The legendary Warrior weapon, Ancharr, is the perfect addition to the list of support cards for the archetype, mitigating the only issue the deck had – draw consistency.
Two interesting additions to the pirate tribe include Parachute Brigand and Hoard Pillager – both of which help increase the deck’s aggressiveness. Parachute Brigand automatically summons itself to the field from the hand when another pirate is summoned – acting as a sort of replacement for Patches the Pirate (except that you need to be lucky enough to draw it instead of having it in your deck). Hoard Pillager re-equips a destroyed weapon, the preferred target here being Ancharr, a Livewire Lance for getting more board control tools or an Arcanite Reaper for just pushing rapid face damage. Sky Raider is an interesting pirate which acts as a cycling tool allowing the Warrior to never run out of cards to play, and the low mana cost allows it to be used in more reactive plays. Skybarge is another tool for the deck to push burst damage to the face – it deals 2 damage to a random enemy whenever a pirate is summoned. A Skybarge sticking to the field for two or more turns is enough to turn the tide of the duel in your favor and be long gone before the opponent can say ‘board clear’. There are two main variants, the base variant and a greedier version relying on the Warrior Galakrond and a few support cards for getting out of a sticky situation. The deck is one of the cheapest meta decks possible at the moment, and doesn’t require much skill to play – it is the recommended go-to deck for newer players.
Dragon Handlock – Warlock had been relegated to a pretty bad position in recent metas and hasn’t managed to surface for an entire year. With new additions to Warlock’s arsenal, he’s all ready to fight back with full pride and dignity. Both Warlock legendaries play a key role in Warlock’s ascent – Valdris Felgorge increases maximum hand size to twelve cards from ten and draws four more cards, while Zzeraku, the Warped allows the player to summon a big Nether Drake when they take damage. Lots of Warlock’s board clear as well as the hero power itself deal damage to the player’s face, so that gives plenty of opportunity of using summoning Nether Drakes. Felgorge’s stats may be atrocious for his mana cost, but his ability more than makes up for it (even though there are several unaddressed bugs and unexplained interactions with his ability that still need to be fixed). Dark Skies is a pretty cheap board clear that relies on Warlock’s ease of drawing a sizeable hand to clear out enemy minions by as early as the third turn. Abyssal Summoner is another card reliant on Warlock’s ability to draw cards – it summons a demon with taunt with stats equal to the player’s hand size. If things spiral out of control, Crazed Netherwing is there to save the day – it is a better Hellfire, costing one more mana but providing some extra tempo as a reward.
Despite having access to some craziest board clears in the game, a lack of adequate healing options does put the archetype at a disadvantage. Warlock does have more healing options than other control decks, but they are not enough, considering the abundance of self-damaging cards including board clears. This deck does have a greater chance of winning against Shaman, the broken class of this expansion, and stands to gain quite a lot from the balance changes that have been announced by Blizzard.
Do tell us which decks you enjoyed playing the most in the comments below (don’t forget to drop a link to the decklist if you want us to try it out).