Welcome to another edition of the Standard Meta Report, this time covering the week between May 10th and 17th, 2020. As always, the Report is based on an analysis of statistics from HSReplay, along with personal game experience at high ranks.
Balance Patch 17.2.1 is coming! Monday! We can expect another shake-up for the meta, as major plays like Priestess of Fury and Imprisoned Scrap Imp suffer a reduction in power. Warrior, Demon Hunter, Warlock and Hunter are all on the chopping block, even as Paladin and Shaman receive a much-needed boost. We’ll cover all of the nerfs and buffs in detail next week. For now, here are this week’s headlines:
Thanks to the success of Enrage Warrior, Tempo Demon Hunter is losing players gradually, but remains the most popular strategy in the upper format with a Legend representation just under 20%. In light of a declining winrate, Galakrond Secret Rogue has fallen prey to a similar trend in representation, dropping to a Legend playrate just above 12%.
All in all, the upper meta is diversifying slowly, a tendency driven by the recent influx of Galakrond Priest, which continues between Diamond and Legend. Enrage Warrior is still gaining ground at Diamond, but we’ve observed a modest decline in the archetype’s popularity at Legend in response to the rise in Priest. Egg Warrior, meanwhile, has dropped off a cliff, overshadowed by its more powerful cousin.
Last week’s words still resonate today: Druid sucks and no one is playing it, though we did this week observe a modest, some would say inexplicable, rise in the popularity of an under-powered Quest Druid.
Hunter is strong. Very strong. Face Hunter, for one thing, has emerged as the best counter to Tempo Demon Hunter outside of Enrage Warrior. And Highlander Hunter, for the first time in weeks, is starting to gain a following commensurate with its power level. Dragon Hunter, on the other hand, is losing steam at Legend due to pressure from Warrior.
With nerfs to both Tempo Demon Hunter and Hunter on the horizon, Highlander Mage stands much to gain. Whether Jaina can capitalize on the balance changes is another question.
Paladin and Shaman need a boost. Hopefully, they’ll get one in the form of Patch 17.2.1, which features what we hope are major buffs to a bevy of cards, including Aldor Attendant, Torrent, Shattered Rumbler and The Lurker Below. We’re especially excited that Libram Paladin is finally getting a 1-drop.
Tempo Demon Hunter remains the most popular deck in the upper meta, but as was true last week, the archetype’s share of the format is gradually decreasing. At Legend, Tempo DH’s playrate has dropped below 20% for only the second time since early April. The archetype is now decidedly more popular at lower ranks, especially Diamond 1 and 2, though a contraction in popularity, similar to the one observed at Legend, can still be seen at Diamond.
No doubt the continued popularity of Enrage Warrior and, to a lesser extent, Egg Warrior, can be blamed for Illidan’s recent drop in popularity. Player fatigue is almost certainly an additional factor, but Warrior’s growth is determinative. Enrage Warrior’s expansion into the format is especially pronounced at Diamond. In fact, we’ve seen the archetype contract at Legend over the past three days, a trend that should leave Illidan some breathing room at the highest ranks.
Not much has changed in Tempo Demon Hunter’s matchup spread; the archetype continues to boast strong results against the vast majority of the field, including major players like Galakrond Priest and Galakrond Secret Rogue. But one thing has jumped out at us: Face Hunter has emerged statistically as a reliable counter to Tempo Demon Hunter, second only to Warrior’s Risky Skipper-led archetypes in potency against Illidan.
The newly-optimized Face Hunter variant featuring Imprisoned Felmaw looks to be quite strong against Demon Hunter; over a sample of 5,300 games between Diamond and Legend, Rexxar has managed to best Illidan in 59.5% of cases. Those results, given Demon Hunter’s otherwise-sterling matchup spread, are indeed exceptional, but Illidan has no real reason to worry yet. Unlike Enrage Warrior, which continues to gain ground outside of Legend, Face Hunter’s playrate has stagnated, suppressed by the popularity of Galakrond Priest (nearly 10% of the upper format) and Warrior. Face Hunter would require a significant push to truly challenge Demon Hunter’s supremacy, and we just don’t see that happening.
Yet change is on the way for Demon Hunter. In Patch 17.2.1, releasing on May 18th, we can expect two alterations to Illidan’s roster: stat reductions to Crimson Sigil Runner and Priestess of Fury. The Priestess nerf, in particular, may have an oversized impact on Demon Hunter lists, though it remains to be seen whether the card will be strong enough to run after the balance changes. Should the nerf prove decisive, we may see a shift from the heavier Raging Felscreamer build to a list currently popular on the Grandmasters circuit, which sees the return of a weakened Frenzied Felwing.
Druid is in dire straits. Experimentation in the class has dried up, even as existing archetypes fail to impress.
Big Druid is no longer played; the archetype’s representation has fallen below 1% between Diamond and Legend. Outside of a strong matchup against Warrior, the deck looks terrible, losing convincingly to everything from Dragon Hunter and Tempo Demon Hunter to Galakrond Priest and Zoo Warlock. The upcoming balance changes are unlikely to change that.
Spell Druid isn’t doing much better. Despite positive winrates against Hunter and Rogue, the archetype has been unable to overcome a pitiful matchup against Tempo Demon Hunter, one exacerbated by poor results against Galakrond Priest and Highlander Mage, the fourth and fifth most popular decks in the upper meta respectively. In any event, no one is really playing the deck anyway; Spell Druid’s representation has fallen below 2% at Legend.
Today, we’re featuring a Spell Druid list that forgoes the nerfed [Hearthstone Card (Kael’thas Sunstrider) Not Found] in favor of a new late game threat: Ysera, Unleashed, an inclusion pioneered prior to the Kael’thas nerf by APAC Grandmaster Ryvius. Ysera is a natural addition to the build given the archetype’s ample draw, improving matchups against late-game powerhouses like Highlander Mage.
Quest Druid has seen a slight uptick in play at higher ranks, but looks completely overmatched by the competition.
As was true last week, both Dragon Hunter and Highlander Hunter are riding high as two of the upper format’s best-performing archetypes. At Diamond, Highlander Hunter is the best deck in the game by aggregate winrate, leveraging competitive winrates against Warrior and Rogue. Dominant matchups against Mage and Priest are another plus, helping to balance out the archetype’s weakness to Tempo Demon Hunter.
Highlander Hunter is a well-rounded deck that has game against everyone; when it curves out, it’s tough to beat. And finally, the playerbase is starting to take notice. After weeks of being underplayed for its performance level, Highlander Hunter this week broke out of its popularity funk, rising from a Legend playrate of 3.4% to 6.45% in the span of three days. Diamond saw a similar, albeit gentler, rise in play, as Highlander grew to a popularity of 5.74%.
After a small slump at the beginning of the week, Dragon Hunter rebounded over the past three days, rising to a playrate of 5.76% between Diamond and Legend.
Far more popular outside of Legend than in it, Dragon Hunter shares a similar, though somewhat less favorable, matchup spread to Highlander Hunter. The archetype is weak against Tempo Demon Hunter, the most popular archetype in the game, yet strong against the rest of the field (outside of a terrible matchup against the woefully-underrepresented Zoo Warlock).
But unlike Highlander, Dragon Hunter falls flat against Warrior, which has grown to become the second most popular class overall in the upper meta. Given Warrior’s outsized representation at the highest ranks, Dragon Hunter’s lagging popularity at Legend is no surprise.
With strong matchups against other Hunters, Highlander Mage, Galakrond Secret Rogue and Zoo Warlock, Face Hunter has emerged as a potent counter to Tempo Demon Hunter, quite possibly the meta’s overall strongest deck. Over a sample of 1,000 games at Legend, Rexxar has won 59.9% of his tussles with Illidan. That’s not as dominant as Garrosh, but it’s certainly good enough to make headway in today’s meta.
Yet Face Hunter’s playrate, under consistent pressure from Warrior and Priest, is stagnant. The archetype seems to have stalled out at a Diamond representation of 6%. It’s far less popular at Legend, commanding only 3.35% of the field at the game’s highest rank.
Hunter’s playrate doesn’t seem to warrant a nerf, but that isn’t stopping the Hearthstone balance team from hitting one of the class’ top performers. No doubt Team 5 believes that leaving Hunter alone, while nerfing a number of other powerful classes, would give Rexxar all the opportunity he needs to dominate the ladder. So the burden falls on [Hearthstone Card (Scavenger’s Ingenuity) Not Found], one of the most powerful tutors in today’s metagame.
[Hearthstone Card (Scavenger’s Ingenuity) Not Found] has quickly become one of the most powerful cards in Hunter’s arsenal. According to mulligan winrates, Ingenuity is the third most powerful card in both Highlander Hunter and Dragon Hunter, and the second most powerful in Face Hunter.
Dragon Hunter and Face Hunter especially are sure to feel the sting of this nerf, though it remains to be seen how much of the card’s power will be lost. At the least, there will be a lot fewer people abusing Stonetusk Boar out there.
We say it every week, but it remains true: Highlander Mage is strong against almost everything. Jaina’s late game prowess is hard to beat, and tools like Reno the Relicologist and Frost Nova ensure she reaches that stage of the match against Druid, Priest, Warlock and Rogue. The equation only changes in the face of two classes, the same ones we mention every time we talk about Mage: Demon Hunter and Hunter.
In the face of consistent pressure through the early- and mid-game, Jaina tends to run out of answers. And with a lack of neutral healing since Zilliax’s rotation, aggressive classes are able to chip away until all that’s needed is a little burst over the top. Hunter and Demon Hunter alone have kept Mage mired in the middle of Tier 2 for months now. Without these two impediments, Highlander Mage could very well find placement in Tier 1.
So Mage is looking forward to the next balance patch. Not only is Demon Hunter seeing a reduction in power level, but so too is Jaina’s old nemesis, Hunter. As it stands, these are the only two classes standing in the way of Highlander Mage’s success. The nerf to Priestess of Fury is sure to be big; 5 health is far easier to fit into a Rolling Fireball turn.
Saints be praised! Libram Paladin is getting a 1-drop! The upcoming buff to Aldor Attendant should introduce a powerful curve into [Hearthstone Card (Hand of A’dal) Not Found], while at the same time jump-starting the Libram mana-reduction train earlier. Whether or not Libram Pally can rise to the top of the ranks, however, is still an open question; if nothing else, the deck will still suffer from a severe lack of card draw, which has thus far hampered its efforts to go toe-to-toe with the meta’s top contenders. We’ll have to wait and see.
Murloc Paladin, still potent at lower ranks, is hanging tough outside of the Tier List for the upper meta. We don’t really have anything new to say about the archetype this week; it’s a bust at Legend, where terrible matchups against Enrage Warrior, Tempo Demon Hunter and Highlander Mage discourage play. Players have also been discouraged at Diamond; Murloc Pally’s playrate has flat-lined at 1% over the past month.
At least the upcoming nerfs should be a welcome sight, with the potential to improve matchups against Demon Hunter and Warrior. Just don’t expect too much; we don’t think Murloc Paladin will ever be cut out for competitive play.
On the back of an excellent matchup against Enrage Warrior, Galakrond Priest continues to gain steam between Diamond and Legend. Diamond players have been especially enamored of the strategy; over the past week, the archetype’s playrate at Diamond has surged to 10.42%. And Legend denizens aren’t far behind (despite a recent downturn in the popularity of Enrage Warrior), as Priest currently commands nearly 10% of the Legend meta.
But as we say every week, there’s nothing much for Priest to rely on outside of Warrior. Galakrond Priest is terrible against Galakrond Secret Rogue, the second most popular archetype in the meta, and poor against Tempo Demon Hunter, the most popular. It’s also weak to Dragon Hunter and Highlander Hunter, both of which have seen recent growth at higher ranks. Despite his continued popularity, we don’t think Anduin has what it takes to succeed.
At the moment, Highlander Priest, which has surpassed Galakrond Priest on the Tier List, may actually be a stronger option. At the least, Dragonqueen Alexstrasza and Zephrys the Great provide the archetype with win conditions outside of attrition, which is more than you can say for Galakrond.
Highlander Priest also offers devotees of Anduin a more-balanced matchup spread, albeit with the same poor results against Rogue. It’s still terrific (from what we can tell) against Warrior, but presents significant advantages against Tempo Demon Hunter.
Galakrond Secret Rogue fell out of Tier 1 at Legend over the past week, but it remains one of the most powerful and popular strategies on the ladder. Despite weaknesses to Enrage Warrior and Face Hunter, the archetype continues to boast an exceptional matchup spread highlighted by sterling winrates against Galakrond Priest, Shaman, Paladin and Mage.
The Tempo Demon Hunter matchup is competitive as it stands, and much improved by the inclusion of Spymistress. As the upper meta further diversifies, the popularity of Galakrond Secret Rogue has gradually declined. Over the course of a month, the archetype’s representation at Legend has fallen from a high of 16.75% to the current rate of 12.07%. A muted version of this trend can be observed at Diamond, where Galakrond Secret Rogue now controls a little over 13% of the format. The archetype’s losses are felt most prominently at Legend; Rogue remains far more prevalent at lower ranks, especially between Diamond 4 and 1, as Enrage Warrior’s grip on the meta diminishes.
Yes, Hanar will be easier to kill in the early game, falling prey cleanly to an Eviscerate or minion trades, but he’ll remain as annoying as ever in the late game. The big change will come in playing him out on two without securing additional value. That now becomes a dubious proposition in some matchups, especially against Tempo Demon Hunter. If nothing else, Hanar will likely be saved more often until turn 4 or later for a true value push, slowing down Rogue’s threat generation potential significantly.
Blackjack Stunner is still sick. It remains a 1-mana conditional Sap with upside. The upside isn’t so huge now, and your opponent will have more opportunities to replay their Stunner’d minions, but we believe the card remains a sufficient payoff to make Secrets work. The nerf’s true impact is likely to be felt most in protracted late game battles, as Stunner’ing a high-cost threat, such as Dragonqueen Alexstrasza, no longer leaves the card unplayable at 11-mana. Highlander Mage may be especially happy about this one.
Will Control Shaman make a triumphant return to the meta?
The archetype is certainly receiving some love in the form of buffs to Torrent (now discounted to 1-mana), Shattered Rumbler (up to 5 attack) and The Lurker Below (up to 5 health). Come to think of it, that’s a lotta love.
The Lurker change seems especially significant, as 3-health made the minion’s body almost useless in the mid-game. At 5-health, it’s a legitimate threat at 6-mana that also clears the board of opposing minions. Not bad. But 1-mana for 8 damage is nothing to scoff at, either, and we could see a return to the Spell-dominated Control Shaman builds that failed to impress at the beginning of the Outland meta. No doubt Highlander will also see a resurgence in experimentation. Whether these experiments bear fruit is anyone’s guess.
With incoming nerfs to Demon Hunter and Warrior, Zoo Warlock may well stand the most to gain from the upcoming balance patch. Zoo is pretty strong against everything, outside of those two classes, which makes it one of the best decks that no one is playing. Wait, what was that? Imprisoned Scrap Imp is getting nerfed, too? Like, Scrap Imp, the card on which the entire archetype is predicated? Down from +2/+2 to +2/+1? Oh, this is going to be bad.
It might not seem like a huge nerf from the outset, but you have to remember that Scrap Imp’s buffs are multiplied across each minion in hand. So with five minions in hand, the nerf translates to a stat reduction of 5 health. And that’s a big deal, at least for traditional builds of Zoo, the ones that rely on sticking boards of over-statted minions in the early- to mid-game. Those boards are going to be a lot easier to remove now, either through spell damage or minion trades. For one thing, Reno the Relicologist is loving this.
We think the upcoming nerf to Scrap Imp is going to solidify the recent trend we’ve seen to the Charge variant of Zoo, which already looks to be better than the traditional build from a statistical standpoint. The Charge variant relies far less on sticking a board. Instead, the list emphasises burst damage from hand, and you don’t really care what health your Wolfriders and Bluegill Warriors have, so long as they connect face.
We’ve seen a modest rise in the popularity of Plot Twist Warlock recently, both at Legend and Diamond, which is an interesting phenomenon in its own right. Most of the growth is driven by a variety of similar builds using Malygos (plus Soulfire, Nether Breath and Rain of Fire) as a win condition. We’re not ready to weigh in on this variant yet, but preliminary numbers show strength against both Tempo Demon Hunter and Enrage Warrior, which are the two decks to beat at higher ranks. Do we smell a meta-breaker?
Enrage Warrior is probably the strongest deck in the game, if for no other reason due to a terrific matchup against Tempo Demon Hunter. But wait, there’s more. Enrage Warrior also happens to be excellent against Galakrond Secret Rogue, Dragon Hunter and Face Hunter, along with all of the meta’s weaker archetypes. As was true last week, Galakrond Priest is the only archetype that reliably counters Enrage Warrior, which is why we’ve seen both decks surge in parallel.
But Enrage Warrior isn’t really surging anymore, at least at Legend. At Diamond, the archetype’s popularity continues to grow, rising at last count to a playrate of 5.37%, but we’ve observed a slight downturn over the past three days at Legend. Enrage Warrior’s current Legend playrate is closer to 9.5%, about 1.5% lower than its recent peak above 11%. Anduin, of course, is working his magic; Galakrond Priest’s popularity continues to soar throughout the upper meta, and it’s nowhere growing faster than at Legend.
At the same time, Egg Warrior, largely considered inferior to a pure Enrage build, is falling away. More accurately, it’s fallen off a cliff, dropping from a Legend peak of 16.74% to a new low of 4.56%. Of course, this is probably as it should be. While Egg Warrior is slightly more powerful in the matchup against Tempo Demon Hunter, it’s far weaker than Enrage Warrior against Galakrond Secret Rogue, Highlander Mage and Galakrond Priest, which together account for about 28% of the Legend meta. All in all, the better deck is coming to the fore.
But of course, you can’t nerf Illidan and Valeera without taking a stab at Garrosh.
First up is Bloodsworn Mercenary, which is seeing its stats reduced to 2/2. We’re not sure about this one; it could go either way. Now, correct us if we’re wrong, but Mercenary’s 3/3 body always seemed like the cherry on top of copying a damaged minion. The fact that this ability comes with a body at all is kind of miraculous, given competitors out there like Soul Split and Germination.
We wouldn’t argue that a 2/2 is a great tempo play on turn 3, but does it really matter so much when you’re getting another 3/9 Warmaul Challenger for your trouble? The real problem is that Mercenary now gets chewed up by two triggers of Risky Skipper, which weakens your boardstate considerably. At the same time, you’ll still get a damaged minion to combo with Battle Rage or Bloodboil Brute.
Now onto the aforementioned Brute. For some reason, it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. It’s certainly fair, seeing as Enrage Warrior is arguably the best deck in the meta. Brute’s real strength comes from his vast trove of Health, which allows him to deal out value trades and withstand Skipper turns. At the same time, Warrior already struggles with single-target removal; Brute was basically the only way to take out a Siamat for example, so this nerf could prove more consequential than we think. But we still believe Brute sees play; mana reduction on a minion is too powerful to leave out of your list.
Excited for the new patch? Itching to see Priestess of Fury nerfed? How do you think the balance changes will impact the meta? Let us know in the comments!