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Contrology 101: Warrior Control in a Hunter Metagame

by - 4 years ago

Tired of losing to Hunter? Want to be prepared for Warlock Aggro and Zoo? Don’t mind the occasional 30 minute mirror match?

Then do I have the deck for you!

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve sat down and put pen-to-paper (fingertip-to-keyboard?), but it’s been an incredibly hectic period for me: multiple huge school obligations, a new course starting at work, and closing on my new house purchase.  Spare time has been more sparse than legitimate Bigfoot sightings.

While I still get to stream every night (after I’ve done all of the above), it’s only two and a half hours a day, which isn’t much compared to other streamers or what I’m used to.

Thus, I haven’t been able to keep up with the metagame pulse as well as I have been able to in the past, meaning the Hunter influx midway through the season pretty much invalidated most, if not all, of my current decklists at the time. With only a few hours a night to work on lists, it took me a while to catch up.

Well, I think I’ve caught up.

Today I’m going to give you my latest decklist, one that started with a decklist in the “Decks to Watch Out For” list at the bottom of DKMR article on this very site; at the time, I was running ShocLock still with Paladin Aggro, Shaman Midrange, and some other decks mixed in. Most of my decks straight up lost to Hunter, and the ones that didn’t, couldn’t really beat much else. Viewers on my stream can tell you; the moment I would get sick of losing to Hunter and swap decks, I’d immediately start queuing into that deck’s counters and see, at most, one Hunter deck.

Obviously, the moment I switch back to Warlock or Shaman, I’d run into three straight Hunters.

You played perfectly?  ROFLMAO, I was sitting on top of their deck the whole time!

You played perfectly? ROFL I was sitting on top of their deck the whole time!

This, combined with the short supply of spare time, kept me around rank 7-9 for a week, unable to get past the wall of Hunter decks around ranks 5-7. Something had to change; I was sick of losing to Hunter.

Enter the DKMR article and the Warrior decklist.

I decided I would give it a shot. Up until this point, I hadn’t actually tried to play Warrior Control due to the simple fact that I actually didn’t own most of the deck’s legendary cards. Yes, your esteemed BlizzPro columnist is on a budget of sorts; I can’t just spend a ton of money. I have to acquire my collection through a copious amount of arenas and, until that point, hadn’t opened the likes of Grommash, Alexstrasza, Ysera, or Baron Geddon, nor had I had the need to craft any of those legendaries.

Then, the Tinkmaster Overspark and Nat Pagle news broke. All of a sudden, I had a spare 3200 arcane dust sitting my dust bank.

What to do, what to do…

I took the plunge. I crafted Grommash initially, knowing that I needed the big finisher to run the deck; however, until I played with the deck, I didn’t want to decide on the other legendary to craft until I was certain what I needed.

The first runs with the deck were bittersweet; I beat the crap out of Hunters, as I wanted to. However, I struggled with other slower decks, having trouble with Druids and Warlock Giants. I initially decided on crafting Ysera instead of Alexstrasza, thinking it gave me more points against other slower decks than Alexstrasza.

ysera

(As you can see in my list, I’ve since realized the error of my ways.)

So what I’m going to do today is cover my list, “Contrologist”, general gameplay tips/tricks when running the deck, and how the common matchups play out.

The List:

Contrologist by shoctologist

Class: Warrior

Cards sorted by Low Cost

Warrior (20)

Neutral (10)

The “Same Ol’ Control Deck”

I’m going to go ahead and say it; there’s nothing earth-shattering about this list. I get that. When Force featured the list on his channel, the comments started raining in about “this is just the same Warrior Control list as always, nothing special here”; however, I think that this mindset is indicative of a misunderstanding of Control decks and how they should be built/tweaked. The core of the deck is going to remain roughly the same, as Warriors have a set number of cards available to them and the ones that work well in a control deck will pretty much go in any version of Warrior Control.

For instance, you’re pretty much going to default to running cards like Whirlwind, Fiery War Axe, Slam, Cruel Taskmaster, and Gorehowl. Innovation is nice and all, but there’s a rule in Magic: the Gathering that you simply don’t break: “Don’t play a worse version of another deck.” Don’t play a bad deck just to say you’re “innovating”. There are a limited number of cards and there are people who play this game double digit hours a day who have found almost every niche there is.

That being said, the thing that makes a control deck good is the details; basically, have you prepared your deck for the games you plan on playing? You can’t bring an outdated list to the ranked ladders; if you’re playing Ysera right now, you’re probably playing a suboptimal list if you’re running into nothing but Hunters, as you never want to spend an entire turn to just drop a minion. If you’re running into a ton of Warrior Aggro and are playing the older versions of Warrior Control with nothing but minion removal, Arcanite Reaper and Gorehowl are going to eat your face.

However, if you’re ready with Acidic Swamp Ooze and Harrison Jones, even though those are only 2-3 slots, your matchup against Warrior Aggro and Hunters improves drastically. You’re still running the same core, but your percentage against the field has improved a lot. This is the effect of shifting a couple of cards in Control.

So this is all to say: I’m not claiming credit for “finding” Warrior Control and labeling it “Contrologist” to say that I’ve broken Hearthstone; I’m saying that I’ve tweaked the list according to the Hunter/Zoo metagame I’ve seen. (Also, I just randomly labeled the deck Contrologist in my account; when I took the snapshot for Force, it included the name so he included it. I’m not rebranding Warrior Control, folks…)

So let’s get into actually talking about the list itself.

Deck Details

The first thing I’ll say is that this is not an easy list to just pick up and play; in fact, it’s probably one of the hardest decks to pilot correctly in Hearthstone right now, if not the hardest. The fact is, each turn from turn two on (and, with the coin, turn one on) gives you a ton of choices, way more than you have with, say, Warlock Aggro or Hunter Faceroll. Even Druids, the class that has decision embedded in the actual cards is easier to pilot with less decisions, in my opinion. However, if you’re willing to learn from (a ton of ) mistakes early on, the deck is truly rewarding once you start piloting it optimally.

For instance, ask yourself: if you have this hand and it’s turn three (against Hunter and they’ve just activated Steady Shot as their only play of the game against your empty board), what do you do?

I’m going to wait until the end to answer this; think about it while you read.

Most of you, if not all, have played against a version of this deck before; before I played it, I basically described the gameplan of the deck as “shield, removal, shield, removal, legendlegendlegend. Win?” and, really, that’s what it is. Getting to that end-state, though, is nowhere near that simplistic. Planning out proper usage of your removal spells while playing around everything your opponent is going to throw at you requires both an in-depth knowledge of what your deck is capable of handling as well as a decent feel of the pulse of the metagame. Basically, know what your deck can handle while knowing what your opponent’s deck can dish out.

Plan out your plays accordingly.

Notice that I haven’t even gotten into specific gameplay decisions; a lot of the difficulty in playing this deck comes just from needing the requisite deck/metagame knowledge. In MTG, it’s often said that you can’t design/play a true control deck without understanding the metagame; the same is true of Hearthstone. This deck has very specific spells/minions selected due to the expected metagame, meaning I’ll play cards like Cleave and Slam because they’re good against aggro decks that deal the majority of their damage with minions.

If we took this deck into a metagame full of Warlock Giants, Druid Ramp, and Warrior Aggro (with huge weapons), we’d get crushed. Metagame knowledge is more important with control decks than any other deck type; if you bring your lance ready for a joust and your opponent is wielding a crossbow, you’re done for.

So, while Hunters are annoying for most people, for the control player, the Hunter metagame is awesome; it’s a deck that can easily be planned for and played against and I can skew my card choices heavily towards Hunters without running into the “right weapon for the wrong fight” issue often. Having a “boogeyman” deck like Hunter is great for playing dedicated control for this very reason.

Think about it this way: Hunter is the bull in the proverbial china shop and we’re all tiny figurines getting smashed by unleashed beast; however, if we can set up a steel barricade in that shop before it ever gets to us, we can easily withstand the blow and even push back with the weapons we’ve brought to the fight. We can do this with any deck and the principle works as long as that deck remains the “deck to beat”; when that changes, our deck isn’t as good anymore (this goes into metagame shifts, another topic I’ll cover soon).

Anywho, on to actual gameplay talk…

 

Gameplay

#1 tip: make sure you’ve gotten your cup of coffee and went to the bathroom before queuing up for a ranked game. These things don’t go quickly.

Your goal when playing this deck is to make it to the late game; what does that mean for actual gameplay, though? It means that, unlike playing an aggro deck, playing this deck requires you to plan around everything a deck has to offer. When playing Hunter Faceroll, you really don’t care about Ysera or Ragnaros, as either your opponent is already dead or you’re weren’t going to win anyway by that point.

acidicswampooze

With this deck, you’re going to see everything a deck has to offer (or die beforehand); this is why I’ve made a point to talk about how metagame awareness is key. If you know that your opponent is packing two Shadow Word: Deaths, play around that with your end-game threats if possible. If you know your opponent plays Gorehowl, save that Acidic Swamp Ooze. Yes, it sucks to pass the turn with two mana open against a Fiery War Axe, but that isn’t going to kill you or your end-game threats. Gorehowl, however…

 

Early Game

For the most part, you’re going to spend your early turns armoring up except against the most aggressive of non-Hunter decks (basically: Zoo). Other than Zoo, your early turns typically involve activating your hero ability over and over. The armor buffer is important both for survival and getting the best use out of your Shield Slams.

Once you start hitting turn three/four, you need to start trying to plan out how best to accumulate additional armor while playing the cards in your hand. If you have to skip a turn of activating your hero ability to handle a tough-to-handle minion, so be it; against anything other than Hunter, that’s ok.

 

Getting the Most of Your Card Draw

Don’t be cavalier with your Acolytes of Pain!

Warriors don’t have a natural card-draw ability which is why Acolyte of Pain is in the deck; between Acolyte, Slam, Shield Block, and Gadgetzan Auctioneer, you have the entirety of your “card draw” abilities. In other words, don’t throw away your best card draw engines (Acolyte/Auctioneer) without getting good value. This means saving Auctioneer until you can play at least one spell (preferrably more). It also means saving Acolyte until you can cast a follow-on Whirlwind/Cruel Taskmaster against a non-zoo/Hunter deck. If they can take out your Acolyte in one hit (or, worse, using something like Shadow Word: Pain), you’ve squandered so much potential card draw.

 

Getting the Most of Your Removal

Another big “skill challenger” is getting the most out of the two one-mana removal spells, Shield Slam and Execute. While they seem very straight-forward, there’s a complexity there that truly tests the skill-level of the pilot. You have to realize that these are your two “real” removal spells if you can plan accordingly, meaning no matter what your opponents play, these spells can cleanly take care of them.

ShieldSlam

However, this is going to take specific circumstances; you need a way to damage a big minion to use Execute and you need a bank of armor to get the most use out of Shield Slam. This means that you need to be careful about using that Slam/Whirlwind/Cruel Taskmaster early in the game; everyone remembers the time they had an Execute against a Ragnaros with no way to damage it, but they fail to think back and realize that using Cruel Taskmaster to kill a shield-less Argent Squire back on turn five might have been the wrong play.

You have to always be thinking ahead with this deck; don’t use something that you’ll need and get much better use out of later in the game.

Another big point is armor management for Shield Slam; if you have Shield Slams in hand and your midrange/control opponent plays out a decent size threat early in the game, you have to use the Shield Slam if you have no other way to kill that minion. The reason is, if that minion lives, it’s going to be able to mitigate and manage your armor level making Shield Slam virtually useless anyway. You have to understand that keeping a decent bank of armor is vital to getting the most out of your Shield Slams; even though you want that Shield Slam to take care of the legendaries you know are coming, if you let that Chillwind Yeti live, it’s going to prevent you from building armor and that Shield Slam will never kill that Ragnaros.

Last: save your Shield Blocks. Don’t think about it as a Healing Touch Lite that draws a card; think of it as a way to power up your Shield Slams regardless of how much your opponent is able to manage your armor count.

 

End-Game

The end-game threats are what people remember the most; you remember when someone plays a Grommash with Cruel Taskmaster and smashed you for the last 12 damage. You remember Ragnaros doing its thing; it’s hard to forget when Sylvanas steals your best minion out of the seven you had. People seem to forget what it takes to get to that point, though; that’s where the fun in this deck comes out: navigating the game until you can set up a board state where the Legendaries not only live, but thrive.

People are playing Big Game Hunter and removal spells like Hunter’s Mark and Polymorph; how, then, can we rely on something like Ragnaros to end the game?

Ragnaros

Careful planning.

You have to learn to bait out the removal spells on the minions you would rather them kill or, at the very least, understand that you’re only going to get one use out of that Ragnaros or Grommash (so it better be worth it). Account for how many relevant removal spells your opponent has played (which, you know of, because you know the metagame) and plan accordingly.

 

Specific Card Choices

Acidic Swamp Ooze: Basically, this is here because of Hunters. Sure, it has great utility against Warriors and occasionally Paladins and Shamans, but it’s there because some Hunters can sit back on their traps (which prevent you from winning, like Freezing Trap and Misdirection) and let their Eaglehorn Bow whittle away at your life total every time you play into a trap; the problem is, you’ll have to start playing into them eventually if you want to win. They can maintain an active Bow the entire game because of the fact that you’ll have to eventually attack to win the game.

This is where Acidic Swamp Ooze shines; you’ll want to save it for the second Eaglehorn Bow, as Hunters are willing to use up the first Eaglehorn Bow because the second will stick around for a while due to their traps. Let them use the first one (unless they’re sitting on it for too long) and kill the second with Swamp Ooze.

Cleave: This card has gone in and out of the deck multiple times; against Zoo, though, it’s an outstanding card. Against Hunters, it can be good if used properly. It’s in here as insurance against Zoo, honestly, since I don’t want to run Baron Geddon with the high number of Hunters in the metagame right now, so it’s my hedge against Zoos since I don’t run Baron Geddon.

Cleave

Big Game Hunter/Wild Pyromancer: The “new Tinkmaster” is actually a flex slot; I’ve started running into much more Warlock Giant/Druid Ramp/Warrior mirror matches as of late, so I included it. If you’re running into much more Zoo than midrange/control decks, this should be Wild Pyromancer instead.

Gadgetzan Auctioneer: This card allows us, the control players, to turn the corner in the midgame; if we can play an Auctioneer on turn five, coin, Shield Slam something, we’ve just pulled very far ahead. If we can wait a turn or two to pull that off and play more spells, we’ve just added “draw a card” to the spells you’re running because they’re that good even though they don’t have the card draw attached. You’ve just killed a minion (or more) without losing a card and being left with a 4/4 on the board. I wouldn’t want more than one, because you can easily draw out your whole deck (we don’t want to do that, fatigue builds up fast) before you want to; to harp on an earlier point, Warriors don’t have many ways to draw cards, so be very careful to get the most use out of this (as it will die the next turn).

Frothing Berserker/Ysera: I’m not playing either of these cards, but I do want to cover why. First, Frothing Berserker is nice at times but it doesn’t help control the board, plays into the Hunter’s gameplan of getting value out of Unleash the Hounds, and encourages you to play the game differently than you might otherwise play. Frothing Berserker works great if you have multiple minions on board that take damage (in addition to theirs), which leads players to play it and an Armorsmith out before Whirlwinding to pump Berserker. While that play occasionally wins the game, it’s not the style I want to play. Not playing it does take away from your ability to close out games at times, but against the metagame I expect, it’s not that good; Zoo decks are more than willing/ready to Soulfire it and Hunter decks love when you play minions on the board. I tried it for a bit but quickly took it out.

As for Ysera, I had it for a while in the deck; unfortunately, I never want to play it against Hunter. At nine mana, you can’t play it and armor up in the same turn, and by the time you can play Ysera, Hunters are usually trying to plan out turns with huge chunks of damage to finish you off, making armoring up vital. It would sit in my hand and just rot most of the time; so I took it out and acquired Alexstrasza and have been thrilled ever since.

Alexstrasza

Alexstrasza, more than any other card, has contributed to my win percentage in a positive way. If you don’t have it, you can definitely run the deck, but you’ll easily notice a difference when you add it.

 

Matchup Discussion

Hunter: There are multiple flavors of Hunter but for the most part we don’t really care; the cards that usually matter for Hunter, Explosive Trap and Unleash the Hounds, are basically irrelevant against us. The matchup goes something like this:

“Armor Up.
Steady Shot.

Armor Up.
Steady Shot.

Armor Up.
Steady Shot.

Armor Up.
Steady Shot.

Them: Leeroy + Unleash the Hounds + Timber Wolf

Us: Kill all that jazz, Armor up.



Us: End the game with big threats.”

That’s generally the gist of how the games go. Obviously there’s more to it than that, but the thing I want to harp on is the importance of using your hero ability every single turn. I’ve actually started using the coin to armor up on turn one, since the matchup literally depends solely on your life total and how you maintain it; the only way you can lose is if they’re able to get big chunks out of your life total early and use Steady Shot to keep your health low enough for a big finish.

Oh… and use your hero ability.

Every.
Single.
Turn.

Even on turn three when you have Shield Block. Yes, it’s “mana efficient” to cast Shield Block; however, the matchup will go more than long enough for you to have a turn where you cast Shield Block and use your hero ability in the same turn. If you cast Shield Block instead of activating your hero power, you get five armor that turn then two more both on turn four and turn five, making a total of nine armor across those turns. If you use your hero power instead, then use the power again on turn four and five and cast Shield Block on turn five, that’s 11 armor. Life total is all that matters here; you will have plenty of turns where you pass without using all your mana, you want to make sure you gain as much life as possible through armor. This actually cost me a game I would have otherwise won.

There are versions out there that run a more midrange gameplan with Knife Juggler and Houndmaster to go with Scavenging Hyena that run Snake Trap that offer more resistance, but as long as you can recognize that list early (Knife Juggler and/or Scavenging Hyenas are dead giveaways), you can play around the incoming Snake Trap (basically, try not to give a free three cards if they have Starving Buzzard or three damage with Knife Juggler). This is a much rougher matchup than the more common faceroll versions, but the reality is that they’re playing minions and you have a ton of removal. I’d still put it in our favor but it’s not an amazing matchup like the other version.

Basically, Hunter’s a really good matchup and basically the reason to play the deck right now.

 

Warlock Zoo/ Aggro

This deck, while aggressive, requires a completely different gameplan than playing against Hunters; instead of making sure to armor up every turn, you have to make sure to keep your opponent’s board in check. If they’re allowed to amass a decent board presence, you’re probably going to lose. It’s a matchup that’s hard to put a percentage on in terms of how good of a matchup it is and it really depends on each players’ draws.

This matchup is why we run Cleave, which is amazing here; Fiery War Axe is probably the best card to have in your opening hand. Brawl is a great way to catch up after a rough start, and Alexstrasza allows you to catch your breath before they draw the lethal Doomguard. Basically, keep any early removal, send anything else back. Even Shield Block; you can’t afford to spend an entire turn just gaining armor; life total isn’t the fight that’s of the utmost importance, it’s board presence and control until the late-late game (when they’re trying to get a combo Leeroy or Doomguard kill).

Shieldbearer is actually a very good card against us. Fun fact.

 

Other Matchups

Those are the two biggest matchups I’ve been facing and they’re why I’m running this current version of the list. Other matchups right now include the Warrior Mirror, various Druid builds, and occasionally Rogue builds. I’ll touch on these a bit before wrapping up for the week.

For the Warrior mirror, honestly, I can’t give a cookie cutter response on this. You have to just get in and learn the matchup. Each list is customized according to the pilot’s preferences and predicted metagame and the cards like Shield Slam are very dependent on how the game is going (and whether the opponent has the ability to control your armor count). As a general rule, the games will go very long, involve tons of armor, and end up with Alexstrasza reducing each life total to 15. At that point, it’s a matter of lining up a huge Grommash kill. Basically, monitor how much removal the opponent has played; if you can get them to use up their Executes and Shield Slams before you play Grommash/Ragnaros, that’s optimal. Be careful, it’s actually very possible to completely run out of threats in this matchup and have it decided by fatigue if you’re not careful.

Druids pose a big issue to Warrior players; they can present huge threats faster than you’re ready to deal with them. Ramp Druid (that is, the ones with Wild Growth and a ton of Legendaries) are a terrible matchup; this deck is simply not set up to deal with the amount of big-fat-fatties they throw out. The other versions are better matchups but still not favorable. I’d say Token Druid is a decent enough matchup, Watcher Druid about 50-50 or even slightly worse. If they play a Chillwind Yeti on turn one and you don’t have the immediate ability to kill it, you’re probably going to lose.

Ancient Watcher

Also, if they play a turn one Ancient Watcher and you have a Fiery War Axe, it might be best to get an attack in; they’re going to Ironbeak Owl it the next turn, so Slam/Cleave are great cards if you can get three damage off of its toughness.

Rogues are another weird matchup; supposedly Miracle Rogue is a terrible matchup, but you have to view it from their perspective. They’re simply trying to set up a lethal turn by whittling your life total down. I’ve started to treat it similar to Hunters in that I prioritize armoring each and every turn, getting my life total arbitrarily high and preventing random Leeroy kills. I’ve yet to lose to Miracle Rogue with this version, though admittedly that’s only three games (it’s not very common right now with all the Hunters running around).

After that, you basically just want to avoid Warlock Giants as much as possible; you can win any matchup, including this one, but if I could pick one matchup to blacklist, it’d either be this one or Ramp Druid.

Alright, that’s it for this book/article. If I can get around to editing the video archives from all my games, I plan on putting out a gameplay/walkthrough article with this deck, though that’s a lot of data/video to parse through.

 

Until then, see you all on the tabletops of Azeroth.

Michael (Shoc)

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shoctologist

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