What makes a healthy combo deck? ClarkHELLSCREAM take a look at five Hearthstone controversial combo decks. Get your pen and pencil.
Whenever you think of card games, one of the first images to pop in your brain is the first episode of Yu-Gi-Oh! with Exodia the Forbidden One. The Hearthstone combo deck archetype are a hot topic discussion yet again in the Hearthstone Twitterverse.
The man, card game legend himself, Brain “Brain Kibler” Kibler, shared a game where a Charge Warrior won with 36 burst damage on turn 7, a game where he can say, he had zero interactivity with the outcome of the game.
The tools that stall the game have to be powerful enough to give meaning to your actions. For example, when Burn Shaman uses Snowfall Guardian not just to stall another turn, but to keep their minions alive and ready for the game winning burst damage planned for next turn. Card cycle needs to be readily available and aplenty, otherwise these decks that structurally have unplayable cards until the combo turn will not have enough gas to power itself to the finish line.
But all these design philosophies beg the question, what truly makes a healthy combo deck? What are some examples of healthy combo decks versus the unhealthy? Let’s use Charge Warrior, Mine Rogue Burn Shaman, Curse Warlock, and Boar Priest, as examples.
When accessing these decks, it is important to focus on three characteristics:
- Flexibility (how repetitive is the combo/deck?)
- Timing (how early can the combo pop off?)
- Feeling (how good/bad is the experience for both players?)**
To help convey the points, Flexibility and Feeling will be judges on a scale from 1 to 10, and Timing will have 4 Categories: Slow, Moderate, Fast, Very Fast.
**= A higher number means a more negative experience.
Charge Warrior - Kibler's Favorite Deck
Even though Warrior received heavy nerfs, it is important to point out how problematic combo decks can become when they are on top of the meta, so for this example, we will be focusing on how Charge Warrior felt to play/against before the changes.
Deck code: AAECAaPLAwjF9QPH+QO/gAS8igSIoASKpQTlsASOyQQLju0D+IAE+YwE+owEiaAErKAE/KIEi7cEjLcElrcEjtQEAA==
From the Depths at (3) mana gave Warrior decks a ridiculous amount of flexibility in high tempo plays, massive card draw turns, ludicrous amounts of armor, and ultimately, assembling the combo.
Not only did Warrior have flexibility on playing the combo, but the damage thresholds were downright criminal for how early these turns could be made, ranging from 27, 30, 36, 54, and even higher damage potentials when you factor in Nellie the Great Thresher and (1) mana pirates.
This deck was just too insane for the mana cost, and it's good that most of Warrior's tools got hit, because this deck is still functional and playable. It may not be top tier like it used to be, but it goes to show how terrifying the power of this deck was.
As one can see in the first paragraph of this article, Warrior had some insanely fast games that felt like they couldn't be avoided. When Charge Warrior was first introduced, you needed roughly 6 cards with (9) or (10) mana available.
After 173 games, my average game with Charge Warrior was roughly 9.4 turns. The average game for Charge Warrior used to go on till after turn 10, but with the cards from the Voyage to the Sunken City, the clock was turned into turbo gear.
Warrior was the best class in the game for months, and debately had several different playable archetypes. For some, the frustration was not being sure which Warrior you were playing until they had shown a key card, like when a Kazakusan Warrior finally plays a dragon.
However, most people and the pre-patch data would argue that Charge Warrior felt like it was the weaker of the Warrior decks. And even then, the deck felt awful to play against due to the sheer amount of resources, card draw, and damage the deck had. Not to mention these style of decks easily choke out most archetypes.
It's easy to understand why most of the community was not happy to play against this deck, unless you were a lucky Shaman with Mutanus combos...
Mine Bomb Rogue - The Minesweeper Deck
This deck has been the bane of ton's of players throughout the most recent Hearthstone balance patch. It was somewhat popular already, but with Warrior out of the picture, it is a Rogue's paradise.
Deck code: AAECAaIHAq7rA6H5Aw6q6wP+7gPT8wON9AOh9AO9gAT3nwT7pQT8pQT5rASIsAS3swSJ0gTj0wQA
Mine Rogue is a very straight forward deck. Draw your minions, play the good spell, kill your minions, opponent go boom. When the deck doesn't hit the perfect curves, it can be a challenge to assemble your lethal turns, making for an interesting game. But when this deck draws perfectly, it can literally feel like Minesweeper in terms of excitement.
Timing: Very Fast
This deck is quick. Mine Rogue games can literally last anywhere from 2 - 5 minutes on average (depending on how long your opponent ropes, am I right?). However, with how one directional the main goal of the deck is, it can get old very fast.
It can be appealing for people who need a quick game on their lunch break, but there are little ways to play around this deck if you cannot out-aggro them, healing outside their range of damage, or countering their cards with legendary minions like Blademaster Okani.
It is debatable that Mine Rogue is one of the worst decks to play against in this meta, second to another deck featured on this list. When decks like these are fringe, side players of the metagame, the average player can tolerate being killed quickly.
However, the more popularity this deck gains, the worst of a feeling this deck will generate, not only in game, but definitely on forums and social media.
Shoutout to Moyen_HS for his spin on the Mine Rogue.
Burn Shaman - RIP Malygos Shaman
While this deck has lost some of it's popularity, I believe this is one of the best examples of what a combo deck in Hearthstone should look like.
Deck code: AAECAfWfAwim7wPQ+QOG+gPDkQT5nwTHsgTGzgSY1AQL04AEqIEEuZEE+ZEElZIE25QE/LQEvLYElrcEhdQEh9QEAA==
One of the reasons this deck is so fun to Shaman enthusiasts is the sheer amount of different play patterns possible with Bioluminescence.
The combo is not the only route to Rome. School Teacher is an insane card that can lead to faster, higher damage combos, but in other games, you need to follow these steps to achieve the combo. Build a board, stall your opponent, kill your minions alive, play the necessary spells to win with large amounts of burst.
In my opinion, combo decks are perfect when they can function as more than just a combo machine. Freeze/Burn Shaman is nearly a perfect combo deck in my eyes.
What makes this combo seem more fair than Bomb Rogue is how long it takes to build up the combo. It's not just about drawing and playing the key combo cards, it's about the set up, knowing when to play it. With Burn Shaman, any mistake you make where your board gets dealt with massively sets you back.
You need to rebuild, rethink how it's possible to win, and continue until a hero explodes. Comparing this deck to Mine Rogue, where the entire goal is just to pop off a huge Deathrattle combo, Burn Shaman seems to have the holy grail of options when it comes to playability.
To the Hearthstone community, what makes Burn Shaman frustrating isn't even the combo, it's Snowfall Guardian and Brilliant Macaw board locking your minions for 4 frozen turns in a row, destroying any board based decks.
The combo can be exasperated because of Shaman preserving the board with freezes, but in the end, decks like Control Warrior, Holy Paladin, and even Rogue with Shadowcrafter Scabbs have the tools to disrupt this combo somewhat consistently.
Because of this, it is safe to say that Burn Shaman is not the most frustrating combo deck in the game, but it's easy to see why players do not like fighting Shaman's freezes mechanics.
Curse Warlock - $(%"!$ WARLOCK
There's more than one way to create a curse of agony when playing Warlock, and Curse Warlock is a perfect example of how quickly combo decks can snowball games when its combo starts rolling.
Deck code: AAECAa35Awry7QPQ+QOwkQSDoASXoATbuQTmvQT1xwSW1ASY1AQKwPkDgvsDg/sDsZ8E56AE/rQElrcE3L0E4r0Em9QEAA==
This is probably one of the most inflexible combo decks on this list, due to the fact that your combo potential is solely reliant on your ability to play Abyssal Curse support cards. If you find yourself in a game where you cannot safely develop them, the combo falls apart.
However, on the flip side, when you're able to tempo your threats, curses, and stack Brann Bronzebeard with your battlecry minions, the deck can appear unbeatable. Not to mention once you stack enough Curses, dealing over 30 damage becomes a cakewalk.
Since this combo is not very flexible, it prevents the combo from coming too soon. In this particular case, since you add the Curse cards to your opponent's hand, your opponent gets to choose when they take the damage.
This deck is less of a combo deck and more of a disruption deck, where you put your opponent on a clock counting down to their demise. Because of this, your opponent has times where their decisions matter, where they can try to lessen the damage, or pressure the Warlock closer to lethal damage.
To most players, this deck doesn't become a problem... until suddenly it does. When the damage is being added into a player's hand, the player knows its lethal, and ultimately have to concede to watch the animations pop off, it can be a little discouraging when you see the deck again.
However, this deck is not nearly as bad to fight against as some of the other decks on this list. When people think of a fair combo deck, I wouldn't be surprised if Curselock was most people's go-to example of balance.
Boar Priest - The South Park Deck
The most boaring deck in Hearthstone is debatably one of the most challenging decks to play, while being one of the most tilting to play against.
Deck Code: AAECAZ/HAgTU7QPoiwSFnwSJsgQNmesDh/cD0/kDjIEErYoEy6AEhKMEiqMEorYEpLYE9NMEodQE9vEEAA==
The main power level of this deck comes from it's unmatched card draw potential thanks to Handmaiden, Switcheroo, and Wild Pyromancer/Northshire Cleric combos. This deck may have several tools of cycling, but this is not to be confused with the flexibility of the combo.
If you lose an Elwynn Boar, you lose the game. No if's, and's, or but's. Every decision matters with this deck, and even the tiniest mistake or lapse in judgement quickly turns a guaranteed win into an instant loss.
This is one of the main reasons I find this deck so interesting to play, but when a player only sees the deck piloted perfectly, it can be easy to say the deck needs to be toned down.
This deck is much faster than most players think. If a good player receives good enough draws, they can most likely draw their deck, and assemble the combo usually by turn 8, but if a more experienced Boar Priest player pilots the game, it is not uncommon to see turn 7, even turn 6 combos take place.
The skill cap on this deck is extremely high, almost every decision matters, and it feels super rewarding to win games when the combo is achieved. Theoretically, these kinds of attributes should make for a perfectly balanced combo deck, but there's one issue that comes into play: the feeling of playing against Boar Priest.
If it's not obvious, I very much enjoy Boar Priest. I've played over 200 games with the deck, and even I hate the feeling of playing against it. Why? Because the deck is so versatile at playing around crucial turns. It's not just about drawing the deck as quickly as you can.
With Boar Priest, you gain an edge by popping off your Pyromancer/Northshire Cleric combo turns while your opponent has developed their resources. Minions from your opponent can literally fuel the Boar Priest even faster.
So not only does your opponent get a sense of helplessness, the opponent can literally feel like their choices are helping you too, turning helplessness into hopelessness once the Boar Priest saps your mana away, generating more negative feelings towards the deck.
Maybe this will always be the fate of combo decks, or maybe just Priest in general... Regardless, players have agreed that Boar Priest may be one of their most hated decks in this current Hearthstone meta.
The question asked at the beginning of the article was, "What truly makes a healthy combo deck?" Looking at the decks presented, there was:
- A Control Combo deck with insane early combo potential (Charge Warrior)
- A Hyper-Aggressive combo deck that ends games ASAP (Mine Rogue)
- A Midrange board based burst deck with AoE freezes (Burn Shaman)
- A Control deck with a slow building, but effective burst combo (Curse Warlock),
- A Miracle combo deck that takes away the opponent's mana crystals (Boar Priest).
What truly makes a combo deck healthy is the feeling of, "My choices mattered." On both side of the playing board. Solitaire is not the goal of a balanced combo deck.
A constant back and forth is necessary for these decks to be perceived as a positive, because in the Hearthstone community, players do not like dying immediately from hand.
However, one key element to remember is the frequency match up polarization. It's one thing when Freeze Mage has a 5-10% of killing Warrior decks with tons of armor (decks need weaknesses afterall), but it's another thing when most of the decks match ups are insanely favorable or completely unfavorable. Similar to how prenerfed (7) mana Celestial Alignment Druid would roll on any slow deck or get rolled by any fast deck.
Unfavorable match ups need to exist, but when combo decks are the frontrunners of a meta, have insane match up polarization, and feel like they have no way to be stopped, it creates for the most frustrating moments in Hearthstone.