It doesn’t seem like a particularly deep observation to suggest that there’s a huge difference in play style between aggressive and control decks. That fact should be obvious. However, as someone who tried to make the switch this past weekend, I can safely say it’s akin to learning to ride a bike backwards, and requires you to really sit down and train yourself at the game all over again. It’s more than just going slow as opposed to going fast, it’s different management of your hand, the board and the game clock all at once. Here are some things I ran into that might make your transition a bit more seamless.
In more aggressive, fast paced decks, hand management is just not all that big of an issue. You either win with what you have, or get stalled out and lose. Card generation is not usually featured, because what you’re looking for is raw damage output and crushing board control. In control decks, hand management is basically the entire game. Your goal is to always have an answer, and doing so requires a constant influx of cards. If your opponent plays a Twilight Drake, you play a silence. If your opponent plays a Raging Worgen, you play a kill card. This is all great in theory, but in order to do this, you’ll need to keep your hand above four cards wherever possible.
Accomplishing this end will require you to make special use of your class card draw mechanics. Priest, the class I chose to tinker with, features Thoughtsteal, one of the most brutal, and hilarious spells that gives cards. Other classes features spells such as Sprint, Mana Tide Totem, Nourish, et cetera. It’s important to learn just what you have access to, and then combine those tools with neutral card draw minions such as Acolyte of Pain, Azure Drake, Cult Leader and the speedbump gnome twins. Access to a fair amount of these will allow you to cycle through your deck in pursuit of answers cards, all while putting admittedly anemic minions on the board to keep the opposing hordes at bay.
In my Rogue deck, board control was essentially just neutering immediate threats and speeding up the clock. By turn five or six, I wanted to have my opponent on the ropes, where a couple of direct damage spells and a dagger could have them to zero health. I could, if need be, just silence as a Sen’jin Shieldmasta and eat the three damage on the turn after if it got me to the sweet, gooey hero behind it.
Control decks are different. Your agenda is card and board advantage, and that requires making the most of every resource. If you can trade one card for two, you generally want to do it. In my Rogue deck, I might use three cards to take out a Lord of the Arena because I didn’t need to worry about going to the late game. That doesn’t usually work in control. Area of effect spells become incredible opportunities to gain an advantage on your opponent. If you can let an opponent do a bit more damage to you in order to bait out a couple more minions before casting Blizzard/Swipe/something else, it’s generally an acceptable trade, because you’re creating more card advantage for yourself. Being at 21 HP versus 26 HP doesn’t matter if you’ve got the card advantage.
From there, dominate the board, murder anything put down and proceed to win through either a consolidated assault, or mind numbing attrition. It might not be quick, but it can work, and requires a lot patience. Playing minions will require a lot of thought. Do you need to play the minion, or do you just want to play it? Gurubashi Berserker can come out on turn five, but there’s a good chance he’ll eat some kind of crowd control. If you have card advantage and play him when your opponent does not have a hand, you can be sure he’ll be free to prance around, completing his dark and terrible mission, totally safe, save some unfortunate topdecking on the part of your opponent.
The Game Clock
Based on what cards you’re running, you want to have a tentative timeline of events planned. Yes, things can and will go differently, but there should still be an idea in the back of your mind as to what you want to accomplish, and when. Shamans can try and build towards a crushing Bloodlust by clogging the board with minions and totems while using direct damage spells to decimate their foes minions. Priests can try and work towards Mind Controlling something large and terrifying, all while stalling and neutralizing smaller threats. Card draw minions such as the ones listed earlier can assist you to that end, by cycling towards the right card for the right moment. It seems trivial, but always be aware of what turn your on and what you want to find in your deck. It can be the difference between a disorganized, listless offensive and a clean, crisp one that dominates your opponent.
Control decks can be a lot of fun to play, and incredibly satisfying to win with. There’s nothing like stealing someone’s Malygos and then using Holy Nova on the next turn for seven damage/seven health. The play style can take some getting used to, but once you figure it out, it’ll be just another weapon in your Hearthstone arsenal.