In the Arena Matchup series, we take a broad overview of the most powerful and most popular cards and combos each class runs in the Arena, and we discuss how and to what degree we should play around these cards. More importantly, we analyze the weaknesses of each class and outline a plan of attack to best bring down each opponent.
It is fitting that we start with the Paladin class, represented by Uther Lightbringer, as it is the Arena class with some of the most powerful value cards, and also some of the most well-defined weaknesses.
We will discuss how we can minimize the value of those powerful common class cards, and fully exploit the structural vulnerabilities of the Arena Paladin.
ADWCTA’s 10-Point Checklist
- Remove his first 2-drop, if possible.
- Don’t stupidly play into Truesilver / Consecration before his turn 4.
- Hold small/mid removal to mop up after Blessing of Kings if you can’t clear his board.
- Drop 5+ health minions, then protect them as much as possible.
- Don’t respect Noble Sacrifice early game; don’t trigger Avenge/Redemption until you’re ready.
- Make sure your first high-attack minion is not Venture Co. Mercenary.
- Remember the Guardian of Kings. Don’t over-commit to the 2-turn lethal.
- Blessing of Wisdom on your minion is *not* a removal! Trade it for tempo.
- Silver Hand Recruits “taunt” 2 damage each, for fair value; you should usually let it taunt 3 to be safe, but generally not 4, and certainly never 5.
- Kill Uther.
For general Arena gameplay strategies, and explanations of the terms used (like “tempo”), check out my On Mastery of Arena series here.
The Dead Zone
The Paladin is notorious for having a very lackluster early game. He can drop creatures, and play secrets. That’s it. No removals. The most serious early threat you’re going to see from a Paladin is the Argent Protector + anything combo. This combo “starts” whenever your opponent coins out a 2-drop or plays a 2-drop going first on his turn. So, this combo “starts” a lot. Because Argent Protector is incredibly popular, some 33% of Paladin decks you face will be able to start this way. If the 2-drop is a 2/3, dropping a 2/3 yourself to match will work wonders. But, assuming the 2-drop is a 3/2 and you do not happen to have a Haunted Creeper or a Nerubar Weblord (Loot Hoarder also sort of works). . . You will not be able to play around this combo. This combo will give the Paladin a 1-card advantage and a superior board position (+1.5 tempo). You will start the game at a significant disadvantage, and this is the “weak” part of the Paladin’s game!
So, what do you do? Your choices are:
Option #1: Use hero power.
You can pass the turn and just use your hero power, which loses ~2 tempo, and then he’ll play his combo anyway after removing your 1/1, and now he has a divine shield, which you then have to ping (on turn 3, so that’s awkward). Or, you will end up in the same exact place on the board, with the divine shield ready to eat whatever you drop. The Paladin can also save the Argent Protector and play a 3-drop instead, putting you even farther behind on the board. Either way, you’ve lost a massive amount of tempo (for the early game), and you’ve only shoved the problem to the future. Not a good idea. And, you don’t know if he even has the damn card. Don’t do this.
Option #2: Play a removal.
If you remove his target, then he can’t make his play! This should be followed up with a strong push for the board as you head into the Danger Zone (see below), or the Paladin will use the Argent Protector later, on a bigger target, to make the same relative impact on the board tempo-wise and card advantage-wise. Weapons are great for this because they have two charges. Backstab is also an obvious choice here. Or, you can use your next turn to play something with high defense and low attack.
Option #3: Let it happen.
This is why you always, always, keep a Forked Lightning or a Cleave or a Consecration in your opening hand against a Paladin if you have it. If you let the Argent Protector play happen and lose a card, you have also unwittingly set up a perfect board for a multi-removal spell. As an alternative, you can also play a Scarlet Crusader or Harvest Golem on the board, and if you don’t have those, you should coin out something with at least 5 health. Because the Paladin has no removal greater than 4 damage, this means you will at least get back half a card. It’s still not great (4-drops are vulnerable to Blessing of Kings), but at least you’re not out of the game just yet. It is disastrous to put out a board removable by other Paladin spells at this point, because the tempo and card advantage loss will usually be too much to recover from.
Of course, if all is right in the world, the Paladin will not have Argent Protector and another 2-drop in his opening hand, and you can feel secure in knowing he won’t be able to remove any of your minions until after your turn 3, meaning you can set up favorable trades on the board or combo/value pieces and be confident that things will turn out as planned. Therefore, Argent Protector aside, it should be very common to head into turn 4 against a Paladin with solid control of the board. It is important to control the board early against a Paladin if possible, because the Paladin’s mid-game is incredibly strong with top Arena multi-removals like Truesilver Champion and Consecration.
The Danger Zone
Speaking of Truesilver Champion and Consecration. These two cards, and their step-siblings Blessing of Kings and Hammer of Wrath, make the formidable lineup of ridiculous spells Paladins have at the 4-mana spot. You can bank on your opponent having at least one, if not two of these in his hand when his 4-mana turn comes. Survival depends on playing around these cards to the exact right degree, no more, no less. Between evenly-valued decks, your play on the turn before the Paladin has 4-mana will often determine the outcome of the entire game.
Hammer of Wrath. Let’s start with an easy one. You don’t play around the Hammer of Wrath. Hammer of Wrath is anti-tempo, as it spends 4 mana to either weaken one of your minions, or to remove something costing 3 mana or less. At some point, if he has this card, you will suffer a loss in card advantage. If he wants to sacrifice his tempo on the board so early in the match, you should welcome this with open arms.
Blessing of Kings. You should always know exactly how scared you should be of this card based on your deck and board position. A Blessing of Kings used to remove one of your creatures leaves the Paladin with a very large creature on the board (at least 5 attack, if used on a 1/1 Silver Hand Recruit). That doesn’t just get the Paladin a card, but it also puts you in a poor spot where you cannot drop anything large the next turn (as explained below, you always want to drop large things on the Paladin). So, that’s a pretty bad situation to be in. But, you don’t have to be afraid of this card if you already have a small minion on the board that you can remove his newly buffed minion with (remember, Paladins have no cheap removal), or if you have a cheap removal in your hand yourself. In that case, if he buffs any minion besides a 1/1 token, you will trade evenly in both card advantage and tempo by your next turn. That relegates his top-value card to average value. On the other hand, if you do not have a small threat on the board and also no small removal, then you should play every turn assuming that any of his minions can be buffed by +4/+4 and play very conservatively, at least until he passes up a good Blessing of Kings opportunity for a lesser play.
Truesilver Champion. Things will always be bad here if you don’t have an Acidic Swamp Ooze. Drop minions with more than 4 health, or divine shield or deathrattle effects, if you can. This is like a 2-step Flamestrike that comes out on turn 4/5. Play around it the same way and just be happy the Paladin’s hero power doesn’t ping. If you absolutely cannot play around it without completely wrecking your tempo, try to limit Truesilver’s value by making sure you have large minions to drop the next turn or multiple small minions. He’ll still gain tempo and maybe a card, but with cards like these, you’ll have to be happy with minimizing the damage.
Consecration. This is by far the easiest card to play around for turn 4, just don’t have multiple 2-health minions. It’s after turn 4 that continuously playing around this card begins to cramp your style. You know those good trades you try to do where you leave your minion with 1-2 health? Well, against a Paladin, you shouldn’t make those “good” trades if 1) he drops a minion obviously expecting you to make that trade when you already have a 2-health minion on the board or 2) you can’t effectively rebuild your board if he uses Consecration and drops a small minion on the same turn. A Consecration is nothing but a tempo-inefficient removal taking up a valuable spot in your opponent’s hand if you make a couple of mild adjustments to your game to play around it.
A Fear of Fatness
With so many almost-guaranteed card-advantage cards, and the best hero power for top-decking situations in the game, how do we actually beat a well-played Paladin? It’s surprisingly simple. The Paladin’s biggest weakness is a 5+ health minion. . . any 5+ health minion. The Paladin is the only class that has absolutely no non-combo way to deal with large minions. That’s right, almost everything you put down with 5+ health will get you a 2-for-1 on the Paladin. This means that our job throughout the mid-game and beyond is simply to keep at least one minion on the board at all times with more than 5 health, while saving our mid/large removals for things with 5+ attack. This includes making worse trades than is otherwise ideal to keep a minion at 5+ health.
For example, if you have a Bloodfen Raptor and a Chillwind Yeti, and you need to remove an Ironfur Grizzly, you should use the Bloodfen Raptor to attack instead of the Chillwind Yeti. If you used the Yeti, you allow the Paladin the opportunity to flip the board the next turn (Consecration), or in the next two turns (Truesilver). By keeping a minion at 5+ health, you will always have the initiative on the board against the Paladin. So, starting on turn 4, we should be looking to get a 5-health minion on the board asap, and keep dropping them whenever we can. We probably have significantly more 5+ health minions in our deck than the Paladin has top class cards. So, the game will naturally shift to our favor over time.
Ultimately, the Paladin wins or loses the match on the board, and has no good way to re-take the board quickly if it is ever lost. Even if our deck is a faster deck with a lower curve, we can pick the right time to turn our tempo advantage on the board into face damage by dropping a 5+ health minion that he can’t remove in one turn, preferably with taunt, and it’s game over for Uther. Although a Paladin can heal, his main healing card (Guardian of Kings) takes up the entire turn, so we can just attack past it with our board.
The Cheapest Secrets
Paladins also have secrets. . . sort of. Paladin secrets are never particularly scary, or even all that tricky. They cost one mana, and that’s about how much they’re really ever worth. But, because they are infrequently played, many Arena players misplay their hand when secrets come out by respecting the secret too much, at the cost of tempo. Remember, these guys only cost the Paladin one mana! If you play around them and lose 1-2 mana’s worth of tempo, then your opponent has already gotten solid value out of that typically low-value card. Especially considering that a Paladin actually needs tempo on the board to remove anything with 5+ health, it is extra important not to give up this board tempo so easily. Therefore, the general strategy is to not play around Paladin secrets, except in extreme potential value-loss situations (e.g. attacking with a Cult Master, playing a Fen Creeper, or killing a Scarlet Crusader).
When attempting to play around an early Noble Sacrifice, always keep in mind the tempo loss of a fake-out. For example, on an otherwise empty board with your Bloodfen Raptor and a Paladin secret, using the Druid hero power to attack his face will lose 2 mana’s worth of tempo if it is not a Noble Sacrifice, and he still has a Redemption/Repentance out to further boost his tempo on a later turn. This is a huge swing in the game!
On the other hand, trading your Bloodfen Raptor in will only lose 1 tempo even if it does turn out to be a Noble Sacrifice. So, if you’re playing an early tempo game, it is usually better *not* to play around this card in the early game with your Druid hero power. The next question is, assuming you do not have a weapon, do you even attack with your Bloodfen Raptor? A Noble Sacrifice will effectively taunt 5 face damage and set up for a Consecration if you do not trade in your Bloodfen Raptor this turn (assuming you play a 3/3 minion). So, unless you have a particularly appropriate minion to drop, like a Harvest Golem or something with 1 attack, it is still not an awful play to make the trade, depending on your deck’s win conditions. This also allows you to feel safer that the secret is not a Repentance, although early game is generally not the best time to play that secret.
The more problematic secrets to deal with are Avenge and Redemption. These card will almost always get more tempo than the one mana it costs. Further, it triggers on the play you most want to do, which is to remove the Paladin’s minions. Fortunately, neither of these secrets will trigger unless you kill a minion, so you can easily leave it alone for a turn or three if you can’t deal with its effects this turn. Further, Avenge will not trigger if you kill everything at once, so see if you can damage some minions to set up for a mass removal. More often than not though, you won’t have the perfect setup for a mass removal before you would lose the board from not taking good trades. So, assuming you don’t have lethal, you want to pick you spot to trigger the Avenge instead of triggering it right away. You want to control which minion gets the Avenge effect and set up for your large removal to get 2 for 1 card advantage value, or for your high-attack low-health minion to trade. In strict tempo terms, Avenge if tempo-neutral if you can let it sleep for one turn, which means with Avenge on the board, it is only correct to trade in the early game if you’re getting 1+ mana of tempo value from the trade.
A good way to tell whether a secret is Avenge or Redemption is to see if Uther uses his hero power. Redemption is awful on a Silver Hand Recruit, so if the Paladin is using its hero power, it’s a good bet it’s Avenge and not Redemption.
Giving Uther Cards
Finally, Uther will sometimes use his Blessing of Wisdom card on your minions. When this happens, most players will leave their newly blessed minion for dead, ignoring that it’s even on the board. This is a mistake! The Paladin gives you the option for how to shape the game when he blesses your minion. Let’s take a deeper look at what exactly Blessing of Wisdom does.
Option #1: Leave for dead.
By ignoring your minion, you give the Paladin tempo at the cost of 1 card. Blessing of Wisdom is 1 mana, and your minion likely cost significantly more than that. This means that you are okay with the Paladin gaining extreme tempo value from that card. Are you really okay with that though? Unless you have full control of the game and are starving the Paladin for cards, you would generally prefer to keep the board tempo. Remember, the Paladin wins and loses the game on the board, so holding the board against a Paladin in the mid-game is crucial to victory.
Option #2: Trade it in.
By attacking with your minion to make a trade anyway, you are giving the Paladin the card back, and regaining the use of your minion to trade. Compared to leaving your minion for dead, trading him in will give you a relative tempo advantage to whatever extent your minion was worth (for example, trading a Sea Giant into another Sea Giant would gain you a ton of tempo on the board, and probably limit his ability to get card advantage on you). Sure, you give him the card back, but you’ve gained +8 tempo! Imagine if a 0-mana cost card said “gain 8 mana crystals this turn”. That’s pretty good value. Considering that Blessing of Wisdom costs 1 mana itself, this is actually 9 mana’s worth of tempo. In practice, it’ll probably be your Boulderfist Ogre or Chillwind Yeti that gets Blessing of Wisdom-ed, but a +7 or +5 tempo swing is generally still well-worth a card. On the other hand, removing a 1/1 or 2/2 in the late game is probably not worth giving the Paladin a card. In the case of multiple trades, the same tempo considerations apply to each trade. The break-even value for each card is technically 3 tempo (a 4/3 minion) in a vacuum, but the context of the game will change this.
Option #3: Attack the face.
By pretending this card was never played, and using your minion to attack to the face, you are valuing each face-damage as one card. For example, if your Core Hound has Blessing of Wisdom, attacking to the face is the equivalent of playing a Pyroblast in terms of card advantage. If you’re closing in on lethal, it’s probably worth it. The break-even value for a card is technically 4 face damage in a vacuum, but the context of the game will change this.
So, which option should you take? Well, it depends. If the game is going to end because you deal lethal despite your opponent’s card advantage, then you should take Option 3 for face damage. If the game is going to end because your opponent has few cards, and little tempo, and you have a lot of both (unlikely), then you should take Option 1. But, for the most part, you should be taking Option 2 if you’re getting good enough trades. The Paladin wins and loses games on the board, so giving him his card back is generally worth it for the tempo gain.
About the Author
ADWCTA enjoys long runs in the Arena, yelling Lok’tar Ogar! in public places, and thinking deep thoughts about Hearthstone’s game design. He started playing hearthstone in open beta and has been an infinite-level Arena player since launch. He is also a Legend-level Ranked player, but thinks that’s way less awesome than his Arena record.
ADWCTA live streams “the Arena Coop” with friend and fellow infinite-level Arena player Merps, providing in-depth commentary on every pick and play to give the stream a nice coaching vibe. He thinks watching the Arena Coop is the very best way to improve your game. He may be wrong, but why you take that risk? You can watch all of the Arena Coop’s archived runs on: youtube.com/adwcta, and follow live at: twitch.tv/adwcta.
As of October 27, 2014, the Arena Coop is averaging 9.1 wins per run (78%+ win rate), with 30%+ runs ending in 12-wins; ADWCTA personally averages 7.8 wins per run (74%+ win rate) with his top six classes post-Naxx. In the interest of full transparency, the Arena Coop’s full and current record can be found here, and ADWCTA’s full and current record can be found here.