Today we feature an article from VSarius, who will talk about his Watcher Priest Control deck that he has been working on.
Hello, I’m VSarius. I’ve been playing hearthstone since about late November last year and have managed to reach Rank 5 to Legend in every season I have participated. Prior to hearthstone I played MTG for the better part of 15 years. In Hearthstone, I’ve mostly played a variation of Koyuki Giants, some Mage, some Warlock (who hasn’t), and Warrior. Lately however I’ve been enamoured with Priest.
Why is that? Well, I believe Priest is an incredibly under-rated class with the percentages showing a false reality. In the current meta, some of the most dominant decks are those that have both a solid lategame, with a solid midgame, and the potential to survive against even the most hardcore rush decks like Murloc-variants and the infamous Face Hunter.
In the highest echelons of Legend-rank, few players will play these hyper-aggressive decks or even the less hyper-aggressive Hunter decks. So essentially we have a lot of Control decks and midrange/control Burst decks, like Shaman and Miracle Rogue. Now, what class above any is the King of Control? Why Priest of course. (This deck has been tested and used from Rank 5 to Rank 1)
The power of Mind Control
Now, what are the problems with the class. Well, we have the notorious 4 attack window, which means some of the best creatures in the game, we lack an easy solution to. Creatures like Chillwind Yeti
Our other ubiquitous issue, is a lack of early-board clear. The earliest comes in at 4-Mana and requires a 2-card combo which leaves one of our precious Auchenai Soulpriest
I’ve tried to work around these issues before. The dependence on combos, the weak early-game, the terrible 4 window… In the end, I decided to embrace it, and this is what I have come up with. This deck is by no means easy to play due to the conflicting combos, nor is it cheap, but I can promise you, it is effective.
Circle of Healing
While originally dismissed as a ‘Do Nothing’ card, this has lately become a lot popular. I’ve come to personally respect it as one of the best cards in the Priest arsenal. Nothing in the deck as much combo potential with as many cards, as the humble Circle of Healing.
This card can allow a variety of things, a 4/7 on turn 3 with Injured Blademaster
In my opinion, two of this card should be in every Priest deck. Being so flexible with a 0 mana card is something few classes have, and flexibility, is something the Priest sorely needs.
This card gets a lot of flak. It doesn’t do enough, why not use Ironbeak Owl
As is, every competitive deck requires at least 1 source of Silence due to the threat of Sylvanas Windrunner
Of course, the main reason this card is in the deck instead of say Ironbeak Owl, is the possibility of replicating a Druid’s Coin-Innervate
Again, another card that tries to limit the early-game aggression that is so common on the ladder. It’s not glamorous by any means,
a simple 1 Mana/Deal 2 damage. But this card can save your life when you are desperately trying to stem the tide of Murlocs, or just
to take a Hunter’s Huffer.
The power of this card however, is really in it’s synergy with Wild Pyromancer. It can be used to deal a mini-swipe on the board, hit the Murloc Warleader
Oh, the famous Northshire. This little, do-good sister of the Acolyte of Pain
Even when her early-game deterrence or strength is required, the Northshire Cleric in combination with Circle of Healing or Holy Nova
Power Word: Shield
In my opinion, this is the best Priest card in Hearthstone. Being able to enable favorable trades while effectively replacing itself is insane value, another great trigger card for Wild Pyromancer, and it even allows him to live for more firey goodness then just 2 blasts.
Again, a great flexible card that is good vs. a variety of decks. I’ve used this as anything from enabling an early Wild Pyromancer blast, to buffing up Sunfury Protector
At best, my opponent would have to use an Execute
The namesake of the deck and what I feel is one of the most popular and powerful cards that a Control player has in his card choices. Ancient Watcher+Sunfury Protector have shutdown more aggro players in their tracks than any other card combination in hearthstone I believe. The obvious power of Immunity to Silence (basically) just makes this card that much better.
When we look at our potential to also rush out a Yeti using Silence, Ancient Watcher goes up even more in value. I’m in the School of thought that believes 5 activation triggers are enough to make Ancient Watcher work. If you really feel you need another a Spellbreaker could be thrown into the deck. Other experiened players have talked more on the Ancient Watcher, so I’ll let you read their articles if you want to know more about this card and why it’s so highly respected in the community.
They enable along with Silence our loveable Ancient Watcher and are all-around some of the best neutral minions in the game. Nearly every Control deck runs a pair of each and nearly every deck runs a pair of Argus’. They can help you stabilize or even win the game throughout the course of a match. Great all around cards. If you can only use half their Battlecry, it’s usually worth it to do so with additional consideration given to Defender of Argus since his Battlecry is just so immensely powerful.
So you’ve heard me ramble on and on so far about how this works with Wild Pyromancer and that works with Wild Pyromancer. Now we’ve come to the Pyromaniac himself. Wild Pyro is an amazing card (as anyone who has fought a Paladin can tell you), it has a lot of presence and it’s statline is absolutely respectable for a 2-drop. Some classes don’t really need what Wild Pyromancer brings (Druids eh?) but for a lot of the rest, I think this card should be highly considered.
It gives us symmetric versions of Swipe (for 1 mana less) and Arcane Explosion. This early-game presence is what Priest sorely desires, achieving so many options with just 1 card is great, especially when it’s ‘Combo Cards’ are ones that should be run in any case.
A 4/3 for 3 is fine on it’s own, but this card goes up drastically in power and value in Priest. A 4/7 for 3-Mana on turn 3 is incredibly difficult to deal with, a Mage has the best chances but it would still require a Polymorph. A Rogue would need to coin-Assassinate. The rest would have to use 2 or more cards to deal with Blademaster, no matter what, he is at worst breaking even and at best he simply keeps the board firmly under the control of the Priest. A phenomenal card.
Shadow Word: Death
I’m of the camp that considers this the only Shadow Word worth running. It’s a 3-mana Assassinate, that is something which allows Priest some of the best lategame tempo, no other class can for example, take out a Ragnaros, and drop a Baron Geddon on the same turn. The 4-Attack Window rears it’s ugly head, but that’s why the cards prior to this one are in the deck, not that you would be very willing to use a Shadow Word:Death on say a Yeti.
One word. Turn 4 Flamestrike. This card has crazy powerful implications on the way you play the midgame. It’s a constant threat and if board control is already secure (with say an Ancient Watcher), this card will firmly put it in the Priest’s hands with a 2-damage for 2 mana nuke every turn it’s hard to get any presence on the board. This is another card that should be in every Priest deck.
This is a card which is strong, but I frankly dislike. It’s too little damage for too much Mana, essentially the same problem as Blizzard, except Blizzard allows for a desired Flamestrike. This is not to say Holy Nova is a bad card, it can combo very well with Northshire Cleric to both secure the board, draw cards, and enable favorable trades. However, that’s not enough to convince me to run two of the card. If it did 3 damage, this card would be a sure-pick. As is, it’s a bit on the weakside and the anti-synergy with Auchenai Soulpriest has to be considered.
If I were allowed to have 31 cards, Holy Fire would be the first card I would pick. This is a very strong card, it enables Fireball with Wild Pyromancer, it gives us some staying power, and it’s a nice way to get rid of a pesky Baron Geddon, Cairne (in combo with Silence), or just that pesky Yeti. However, I don’t know what I could drop for a second Holy Fire. The original iteration of the deck had zero Holy Fires and I found that to be a serious mistake. It’s a flexible card and a great card there is just so much we have to devote to the earlygame in respect of Aggro that the second Holy Fire doesn’t make the cut.
One of ‘The Mother Of All Cards’ together with Deathwing and Pyroblast, and probably the strongest in that category. The best way to look at Mind Control, is to look at it as a Faceless Manipulator and Assassinate wrapped up in a single package. Both are very strong cards and are commonly run, Mind Control achieves this for a single-card. Due to the nature of Control vs. Control, the deck with more removal has a better shot at winning, we are already running 4 of our own high-value threats, and now we are demanding a 5th answer for their own high-value threat. Nonetheless, as a 10-Mana cost card, this is just too expensive to run 2 of for fear of a ‘Dead Draw’ where none of our cards are playable in the early game.
You know him, you love him, it’s old dependable if boring Cairne. There’s not much to really say about this card, he is very strong against midrange and aggro decks to firmly lock-down control once you hit 6 mana, in Control vs. Control he is slightly weaker due to his incredible propensity to instantly eating Silence. I’ve been experimenting with replacing him for Sylvanas or The Beast (Yes, The Beast. Stay tuned for my next article on this topic) in the deck, as is, he’s the least necessary Legendary since unlike Paladin for example, we don’t exactly benefit from drawing a silence away from our huge 8+ drop Legendaries due to them lacking a persistent effect or Deathrattles, etc..
We’ve seen what The Baron is capable of now that Control Warrior has popularized him. Well, we’re going to borrow the ethos of Control Warrior here. The simplest way to explain Baron Geddon in our picks, is he allows us to change our hero power into the Hunter’s while keeping the board locked down or allowing us to place threats on the board, while our opponent cannot and have them stick there. He’s a very flexible Legendary in this sense and is the reason I don’t run two Holy Novas, why have a Holy Nova, when I can have one every turn. He’s also a nice way to draw hard removal options before Ragnaros and Alexstraza come to the field.
Ragnaros the Firelord
Arguably the best Legendary in the game, the Lord of Fire is a mainstay of Control decks. If there’s one thing Baron Geddon doesn’t do, it’s rid you of huge threats coming to the table. Ragnaros does. Although he can be at times unreliable, as most people with this card can tell you, manipulation of circumstances can achieve far more accurate Ragnaros hits, and if not removed he will win you the game on his own. If you can only have 1 Legendary in your deck, this is the one you want.
Arguably the third best Legendary in the game. Alexstraza has probably the strongest Battlecry of any Legendary (excluding Deathwing of course), being able to nuke an enemy for 15 damage or heal yourself for up to 14 damage is insane value. As a spell alone it would be run in a sizeable amount of decks, attached to a very respectable 8/8 body however, this card gains even
One of the problems Priest can often run into, is sealing the game out. We don’t have something like Grommash, Ashbringer, or JARAXXUS. EREDAR LORD OF THE BURNING LEGION, to end the game. Alexstraza kind of pushes us in that direction, if after dropping
she’s not dealt with, we win in 2 turns.
Good Cards Which Didn’t Make The Cut
This is a personal choice, I don’t like cards don’t I don’t know what they’ll do. With Ysera, I know she’ll draw me a card but I don’t know what that card will be. While all of our cards are strong for their value, the unpredictable nature makes me shy away from Ysera. I believe she’s strong if you are preparing to face a Handlock since no other legendary has as much staying power in prolonged Control vs. Control fights, but on ladder, I aim for consistency, and 4 Laughing Sisters when all you need is just 1 Ysera Awaken’s is, not consistent.
She does have the advantage of dodging the Big Game Hunter bullet, but in exchange is vulnerable to Silence effects. If she is run in your Priest deck, definitely run Cairne.
This card doesn’t do enough. It’s a conditional 2 for 1 against Aggro, and against Control it’s often a dead card. It also comes a bit too slow to really crush aggro in it’s tracks, by 4 mana if you did not have an earlier bandaid, Shadow Madness won’t really keep you from dying, it will only make you die slightly slower.
An Auchenai-Circle Combo on the other hand, will wipe out all of their minions. Shadow Madness is good if you want to run a really anti-aggro Priest deck, but in our deck it hurts your good match-ups and doesn’t improve your bad match-ups by much, if at all.
This card is very good, as Amaz put it “Imagine your best card. Thoughtsteal gives me that card plus one other card”, and Thoughtsteal is certainly capable of this. However, it’s also capable of giving me Shield Slam
Put it simply, this card is card advantage but at the cost of consistency and a loss of Tempo. I think Thoughsteal is one of the cards I really do want to add, but can’t think of what I would drop for it that wouldn’t hurt the deck too much. Nonetheless, if you are facing a lot of Druids, you can certainly throw this card in. I think it’s phenomenal against Druids since they have close to zero ‘Bad’ cards, with the two I cited earlier as a Worst-case scenario and Savage Roar still isn’t terrible.
Cabal Shadow Priest
I personally, do not like this card. Even agaisnt aggro, it’s unlikely they are still throwing out 2 Attack minions on turn 6 and if they are, it’s unlikely that stealing one will really help you too much, it may even help them by allowing a larger Unleash. Against Midrange, they definitely aren’t. Against Control, there are some nice minions you could steal from say a Control Warrior but that is already one of our best match-ups. You won’t find much to steal from say a Handlock, Druid, or Giants Paladin so you’re stuck with paying 6 Mana for a Yeti. Why not just pay 4-Mana for a Chillwind Yeti
This deck is one of definite lategame Control. Your plays throughout the early-game are to simply put up a defensive wall and counter any sort of early aggression with Ancient Watcher and Sunfury Protector/Silence or Wild Pyromancer, moving into the midgame you can begin applying pressure back at the opponent with that Injured Blademaster, Defender of Argus
As you can see most of our cards fit into this general plan, we devote a lot our resources to the early game, in total half the deck is below 3-Mana in cost. This is to really minimize the chances that we get a ‘Dead Draw’ and have no plays until turn 4 or later, on Ladder this is a death sentence against a wide variety of popular decks. The mulligan for this deck is one of the most complex and difficult of any deck in hearthstone due to immense variety of combos it has and I shall be touching on the mulligan in more depth later in this article.
The main issue with the deck is a lack of Hero durability. We don’t have as much Taunt as a Druid, or as much Armor as a Warrior, or as much Healing as a Giants Paladin. The other issue is a lack of threats, we don’t have those some Giants that the Handlock or Paladin is running, we don’t have a Grommash Hellscream
I’ll be breaking these down into match-ups and then rating them on a 1-10 scale. Above 5 is a good match-up, below 5 is as such, a good match-up. The Mulligan will be discussed with each match-up in mind. I feel that the Aggro and Control decks are varied enough that a general strategy cannot be applied with this deck and it’s variety of answers. Most of the decks discussed are what (to borrow from the Fighting Game Community) I would call S-tier or A-tier decks. The decks are in-order of my perceived strength and presence of the decks.
Control Warrior: 10/10 (Best)
This is currently the premier deck-to-beat. It has a great finisher, it has great control vs. aggro, and it’s durable as all hell to burst decks like the Miracle Rogue. This deck is largely why our own Priest deck exists. It’s a hard-counter to Warrior, who has issues dealing with other control decks due to the Warrior classes limited removal options.
Our midgame has durable creatures which are difficult to take out with a Whirlwind
Most Control Warriors also run a Harrison Jones
Mulligan: Aim for Silence, Injured Blademaster, Circle of Healing, and Ancient Watcher. Toss the Northshires and Wild Pyromancer back in the bargain bin.
Handlock: 4/10 (Below Average)
The Warlock Conundrum rears it’s ugly head for the first time on our list and is the deciding factor in pushing this match-up into Below Average. A turn 4 Mountain Giant
The midgame is also hard to wrest with those Giants, Hellfire
If you know it is a Handlock player, your chances are a lot better. Try to aim for simply controlling the board and make him burn health on Jaraxxus, this makes his Molten Giants a dead card since Jaraxxus sets the HP of the Warlock to 20, he would have to be at -5 for 0 cost Molten Giants.
Mulligan: Aim for Shadow Word: Death, Injured Blademaster, and Silence. The Silence should be used on his Twilight Drake
Chakki Burst Shaman/StrifeCro Range Shaman: 8/10 (Great)
The Burst Shaman is a new development and is largely a response of Burst/Combo players to the Control Warrior. These decks aim to control the board and then finish off the player with a very strong finishing combo in Leeroy Jenkins+Windfury
Alternatively, they use
Mulligan: Try to get Silence, Ancient Watcher, Sunfury Protecor, Circle of Healing, and Injured Blademaster. The less durable Wild Pyromancer can go back, as can the Northshire.
Watcher Druid: 1/10 (Terrible)
The Druid is by nature a very difficult to beat class for Priest due to the 4-Attack Window. Some of the best Druid cards are either with 4-attack, or have very strong Battlecries, making them inferior Mind Control targets. This is compounded by most Druids opting into neutrals like Chillwind Yeti and Ancient Watcher.
They also have more activations for their Watcher while having Innervate
It’s hard to make it to the lategame in decent shape, and when you do make it, the threat of Force of Nature
Mulligan: Aim for Ancient Watcher, Silence, Circle of Healing, and Injured Blademaster. Don’t toss back the Sunfury though.
Reynad’s Secrets Hunter: 9/10 (Spectacular)
This is the deck which is making storms on the Ladder recently as many players have adapted to Unleash the Hounds
The goal of the deck is to whittle you down with Steady Shot, while forcing you into activating it’s Traps to do more damage with Misdirection
Now, how do we beat it. This was the other ‘To Beat’ deck along with Control Warrior in my design phase for Priest. Well, for one, we and Warriors have a very good leg-up on the other classes. Secrets Hunter has a very limited amount of damage in the deck. Namely, Animal Companion
The idea against this deck, is to never play more than 1 creature, and if you do, make it a big one. With certain draws, the first creature I play against this deck is Baron Geddon
Mulligan: Aim for Silence, Ancient Watcher, Smite, Circle of Healing, Injured Blademaster, and Sunfury Protector.
Reynad’s ‘Zoo’ Warlock: 0/10 (Nigh Unwinnable)
I consider this the worst match-up. Zoo has very powerful early-pressure on the board coupled with a crazy potential to ‘Value Up’ it’s creatures. Their Flame Imp can trade for your Ancient Watcher with just a single
If you can avoid death by turn 4, you may be able to swing the game around with a well timed Auchenai-Circle. Though this may require Silence or Wild Pyromancer+X to completely clear his board. A very tough match-up which is made even harder by The Warlock Conundrum, with an improper mulligan, you will lose this match. This is the reason for the 0/10 instead of 1/10 which it should be if you mulligan correctly.
Mulligan: Aim for Northshire Cleric, Ancient Watcher, Silence, Wild Pyromancer, Holy Smite, Sunfury Protector, Injured Blademaster, and Circle of Healing.
Aggro “To The Face” Hunter: 8/10 (Great)
This is the ubiquitous Hunter that does nothing but hit you in the face with minions that have Charge. I consider this deck to be pretty bad overall, but it is still very popular so I will address it. The main goal against this deck is to play few creatures, and play them behind taunt. Sunfury Protector
Mulligan: Aim for Northshire Cleric, Wild Pyromancer, Ancient Watcher, Sunfury Protector, Circle of Healing, Holy Smite, Circle of Healing, and Injured Blademaster.
Puffin’s Murlocs: 6/10 (Good)
While lately fading out of style, Murlocs is always around in some way, shape, or form. This new iteration brought by Puffin’s has replaced some of the more aggressive options with more board control and durability, coupled with buffs, like Dire Wolf Alpha
Mulligan: Northshire Cleric, Wild Pyromancer, Holy Smite, Sunfury Protectors, and Ancient Watchers should be heavily prioritized.
Other Decks of Note
Miracle Rogue, Token Druid, Giants Paladin, JAB Midrange Hunter, Trump Budget Mage/Shaman. I haven’t faced enough of these decks to really formulate a strong, concrete opinion on the match-up deserving of a
write-up and ranking. However, I would say that Miracle Rogue and Token Druid are bad match-ups, while Giants is about average and the rest are very easy to deal with.
I do not heavily advise running this deck without the required Legendaries and Rares. It would severely hurt the good match-ups and that is the large core reason for running a deck on Ladder. The Rares are irreplacable to the decks functioning against Aggro, they cannot be replaced. As for the Legendaries, you may opt to include x2 Boulderfist Ogre
The Watchers Priest is a very powerful and potent deck in the current meta only becoming stronger as the days go on due to the fading out of Zoo because of it’s unfavorable match-up to the King, Control Warrior. Of course, some cards may change as the deck tunes itself out, but right now, Priest stands a very good chance.
With a strong early-game, mid-game, and lategame, the Watcher Priest has the potential to be a dominant deck, and it could do a lot to remove the stigma of Priest as a ‘Bad’ or laughable class. While it does have weaknesses, no deck can be designed to be foolproof to everything.
Thank you for reading and feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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