Blizzard Entertainment’s announced changes to the Hearthstone format last week revealed significant alterations to gameplay. Blizzard introduced a new format, called Standard, that includes cards only released in the last year (and basic or classic sets), with the newly-named Wild format keeping the status quo. The viability of decklists, archetypes, and entire classes are being questioned as some of their core cards are being rotated out with the next expansion. Here’s a closer look at the Warlock class, a few of its popular iterations and where they’ll be post-Standard launch.
The theme of any Reno Jackson deck is having 30 unique cards, all individually powerful enough to bring value to the deck. The current large pool of cards makes for plenty of options, and common staples include Darkbomb, Imp-losion, Zombie Chow, Piloted Shredder, Antique Healbot, Loatheb, Sludge Belcher, and Dr. Boom.
As the premier 7-drop in Hearthstone, the hole the exiting Dr. Boom leaves in the competitive game will be massive because there are currently very few cards that can compete in terms of board impact and value. But because Renolock is more focused on individually impactful cards, it is likely that cards like Ragnaros and Ysera will replace Dr. Boom as it rotates out of Standard without damaging the deck too much.
The fact that Darkbomb and Imp-losion are being rotated out means that the quality of removal spells will decline for any Warlock deck list. Usually, Soulfire is nearly interchangeable with Darkbomb, but because the Renolock list has only one of each card, it is significantly more punishable if you discard a key part of your win condition. Imp-losion is irreplaceable for the board control it provides (it functions as both removal and as a tool to create additional threats on your side of the board).
Drain Life, Shadow Bolt, Demonfire, and Bane of Doom are also removal spells that Warlock has at its disposal, but all four suffer from being strictly weaker in terms of mana cost or value. With the removal of Antique Healbot, it is likely that Drain Life will be one of the go-to replacements for additional healing alongside Reno Jackson.
The Warlock class is extremely resilient to early-game cards like Zombie Chow being rotated out. Cards like Flame Imp or Voidwalker serve the same function as Zombie Chow and provide nearly the same value. This will likely mean few noticeable changes in the early game strategy and play style.
Sludge Belcher, Antique Healbot, and Piloted Shredder, similar to Dr. Boom, will be leaving gaps that no other cards currently in the game can fill. But they cannot be replaced and will have to be filled by substantially weaker cards.
Unlike other classes (Paladin and Druid, specifically) that have strong four-, five-, and six-mana cards, Warlock suffers from having only three: Doomguard, Floating Watcher, andVoidcaller. Doomguard suffers from the same drawback that Soulfire does, while Floating Watcher and Voidcaller will also be rotated out when Standard launches. This is going to make for a weak mid-game for the Warlock class, provided that the next expansion does not fill some of the holes that will be created.
The success of the Renolock is going to be largely dependent on the type of mid-range cards Blizzard provides to the Warlock class and neutral lists. Too few would likely result in a decline in Renolock lists in favor of other classes that have stronger mid-game tools.
The term “Zoo” refers to dropping countless low-mana, high-value cards to take early board control and eventually overwhelm the opponent with unanswerable threats. Imp-losion, Haunted Creeper, Nerubian Egg, and Loatheb were all cards that significantly contributed that strategy.
Without the threat of Imp-losion, Zoolock loses the same significant power swing tool that Renolock also loses and will instead have to opt for one of the other removal tools. For Zoolock, the most likely replacement will be Bane of Doom, which helps retain the consistent board pressure that Zoolock strives for.
Nerubian Egg was a perfect target for Power Overwhelming and helped defend against full board clears from other classes that Zoolocks are particularly susceptible to. Dragon Egg is an option to replace Nerubian Egg, but it doesn’t provide nearly the same kind of defense against board clears. It could, however, be used to create multiple smaller threats in a best case scenario. So it will be up to players to decide if they want to try to capitalize.
Loatheb was a great tool when needing to prevent a full board clear after setting up lethal or building a threat count. Because it was unique, Zoo decks will be much more susceptible to full board clears, which nearly all classes and deck types have at their disposal.
Luckily, Warlocks have plenty of low-mana threats to replace the few that are being rotated out, but it will be fascinating to see the effects of Loatheb’s departure. With no counter play to board clear, it is likely that the only types of Zoo decks that will be successful are those similar to Face Hunter, which are able to push out damage too fast for the opponent to find answers.
Handlock is an archetype that focuses on drawing big hands and laying down big threats that benefit from hand size.Voidcaller, Antique Healbot, Sludge Belcher, Dr. Boom, andLord Jaraxxus will all be leaving but have nothing to do with the size of a player’s hand.
Fortunately for Handlock enthusiasts, this will probably be one of the strongest and most timeless iterations of Warlock in the post-Standard environment, as all of the core cards likeTwilight Drake, Mountain Giant, and Molten Giant are Classic cards that will never be rotated out of the game.
Additionally, because individual cards have significantly less value in a Handlock deck, Handlocks don’t need to worry about the drawbacks of cards like Soulfire and Doomguard as much as other Warlock archetypes. This puts Handlock in an extremely strong place in the Standard environment, provided that at least some viable mid-game cards are introduced to the Warlock or neutral list.
Ultimately, the future of the Warlock class is hugely dependent on the next expansion that is released. While it might be safe to say that Handlock will be with us for a very long time, it is still a possibility that stronger cards will be introduced that fit the other archetypes better, and as a result, push Handlock to a lower tier in terms of deck strength.
With any luck, there will be a few mid-game threats that Warlock can utilize to maintain its potency as well as its popularity in the competitive and ladder environment. If not, well, there’s always Wild, right?
Photos courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment.