Welcome folks to my first Deep Dive article!
Today, I want to take a really in-depth look at Sylvanas Windrunner
Sylvanas is one of my favorite cards in the entirety of Hearthstone.
She has a super powerful Deathrattle ability, decent stats, and makes your opponent rope every turn!
This article is my first attempt to analyze a single card and I hope you find it interesting.
I’m not really much into the lore of the cards, but I know some people find it really fascinating so I’ll include a little bit of backstory as it pertains to her card design.
Sylvanas Windrunner is known in World of Warcraft as the Banshee Queen.
She was born a high-elf, but was captured in battle by Arthas, the Lich King, and transformed into what she is today – an Undead Elf.
She is a very important figure in the history of Azeroth and leads the Forsaken.
Sylvanas has a lot of notable skills and abilities. She is a skilled warrior, an archer of renown, and has mastery over Demonic magic.
In Hearthstone, her Deathrattle ability is derived from her fall in Warcraft lore.
Sylvanas was defeated in battle by Arthas, broken and remade to what she is today. This is akin to how she steals an enemy minion with her Deathrattle.
Card Text Analysis
Sylvanas is all about her Deathrattle ability.
It is one of the most complex ones in the game and is one of the few Deathrattles in the game that is arguably stronger than the minion itself.
The complexity of the Deathrattle is in its ordering and also in anticipating opponents’ follow-up plays.
Here are a few facts about her Deathrattle and how it interacts with minions.
- Deathrattles trigger in the order of minions played on the board - This is key to understanding how Sylvanas’ Deathrattle works.
- If Sylvanas matches up against a Savannah Highmane, she will steal a hyena if she is played second but won’t if she is played first.
- If Sylvanas matches up against a Savannah Highmane
- Steal effect is random - This means that manipulating the board before you sacrifice Sylvanas is of paramount importance to ensure the Deathrattle gets full value.
- Killing 1/1s inefficiently is often correct so that Sylvanas can get a good steal on a big minion.
- Deathrattle is triggerable through Feign Death and Reincarnate – Sylvanas can sometimes be played just to get its Deathrattle off in combination with one of these two spells for a free random Mind Control.
Now that we’ve seen what Sylvanas does, what is her place in the metagame?
Firstly, Sylvanas is a card for control decks and playstyles. Because her full potential usually takes at least two turns to fully realize, she is best used in slow controlling decks playing for the long game.
She is most commonly found in competitive Priest and Warrior decks although she also sees frequent use in Paladin and sometimes Druid and Shaman.
The reason for this, is that Priest and Warrior traditionally play really slow control playstyles as dictated by their hero powers.
They also have ways to kill their own Sylvanas instantly which can act as a two mana Mind Control through Shadow Word: Death
Both Priest and Warrior can often get the most out of Sylvanas and it doubles as a way to compress a board that has run amok as well as a powerful deterrent to other high cost legendaries.
She is Ragnaros the Firelord
Because of her powerful effect, she is often silenced or simply hard removed which can be useful if you have other even larger threats lying in wait such as Ysera
So to sum up, you should add Sylvanas to your deck if:
- You want board control and are often behind - Sylvanas is excellent to use when behind because she forces inefficient trades.
- If your opponent has a Fire Elementaland a Chillwind Yetiwith no silence on board versus your Sylvanas, he might have no choice but to run both of them into her to prevent you from stealing the Yeti next turn.
- If your opponent has a Fire Elemental
- You can afford to take the tempo hit - Sylvanas while extremely powerful is also extremely slow.
- If value is what matters to your deck/playstyle she’s incredible, but she won’t be much help if your opponent has amassed 10+ dmg on board and is threatening lethal.
- You like board manipulation and can think outside of the box - Sylvanas is fascinating as a card because she makes both players approach the game differently while she’s in play.
- Often, hearthstone is about playing minions on curve and using spells to remove them. Sylvanas turns this on its head, and instead makes every play based on her effect and how to remove her and maintain a good board presence in her aftermath.
- You want a silence/removal bait - It’s kind of a sad fact, but Sylvanas often doesn’t get to be the star she wants to be.
- Because she is usually one of the first legendaries to hit the board in a late-game oriented deck, she often gets removed or silenced. This however can play to your advantage if you’re saving a big trump card for later.
- You’re looking to counter other big legendaries - This is the role that Sylvanas was born to play.
- Because she has a comparatively frail body for a legendary, she can often trade into other Legendaries and steal them straight up thereby winning any 1/1. If you have the opportunity to steal something huge either through a misplay from your opponent or because your hand allows it, it makes for some of the most satisfying hearthstone plays in the game.
How to play Sylvanas right
Sylvanas is one of those card that needs to be played with care.
She is not Cairne Bloodhoof
Sometimes, it is correct to play Sylvanas on an empty board but until you’ve gotten to know the card well and all its interactions, this is not advised.
In doing research for this piece, I took a few screenshots of Sylvanas being played right.
Take a look at this first shot.
Here’s a game I played as Paladin vs my opponents’ Control Warrior.
He played his Sylvanas into my board of Sneeds Old Shredder and Ancient Watcher, thus making it very difficult for me.
Because Sylvanas was played second against the Sneeds, if she trades into the Shredder, she has a chance to steal the legendary minion summoned from Sneeds in a trade.
To make matters worse, the Watcher has high attack so she could even trade into the Watcher and then take the additional 1 dmg from Cruel Taskmaster
In response, I played Sludge Belcher to buy myself more time to react. I had the option to play my own Sylvanas, but that’s not ideal because you want to avoid playing Sylvanas into an enemy Sylvanas whenever possible.
Even though the Deathrattles trigger in the order in which they’re played, playing another Sylvanas as a response is a much worse play most of the time because it gives the opponent the ability to manipulate the board to get a better result.
They could kill off their own Sylvanas and steal yours, trade and maximize chances that you steal a bad minion, silence or remove it, point is, you don’t want to give your opponent first chance to decide how the Sylvanas’ Deathrattles go off.
This position in the screenshot above was a really tough spot and I would go on to lose the game.
Sylvanas might not have been directly responsible, but it single-handedly caused my Sneeds Old Shredder to become a liability. Because of her presence, I was forced me to play the extremely awkward Sludge Belcher to prevent the Sylvanas from getting insane value, and a few turns later, he managed to retake the board through some smart trades.
This screenshot is an example of where I managed to play Sylvanas Windrunner optimally.
It’s the 9 mana turn against Priest which is safe considering Mind Control costs 10 mana.
My opponent has a strong board presence with two large bodied minions to steal from. He has no easy trade to make, since both his large minions have four attack and cannot kill her in one hit.
Meanwhile, Priest’s hard removal won’t help because Sylvanas’ Deathrattle will just trigger and steal a minion.
Sylvanas is definitely my best play on this board.
Tirion while a large presence can be easily removed by Shadow Word: Death
Sylvanas meanwhile makes the board difficult, forces awkward trades, and allows me to start turning the game back in my favor.
It also helps that I have a high life total and I’m not threatened by a potential lethal burst and that my opponent is down to just five cards which means he’ll most likely be starved for good answers.
Whenever possible, try to play Sylvanas in positions like these to make it tough for your opponent. It’s really hard for them to hang on to board control and keep up the tempo if they’re faced with a Sylvanas and no immediate answer.
As a bonus, Sylvanas’ presence will often cause them to misplay or make some really inefficient trades which nets you value in the long term.
Playing Against Sylvanas
Knowing how to play against Sylvanas is just as important as knowing how to play her yourself.
Players make a lot of mistakes when it comes to countering Sylvanas correctly.
Here are some options to consider when faced with an enemy Sylvanas.
- Silence her – It might seem obvious, but silencing Sylvanas is the absolute best way to deal with her. Saving it for a later game threat is usually not right especially if you have tempo. Sylvanas is practically useless if silenced since she has a very mediocre body for the cost.
- Ignore her - This is right a lot more of the time than people think. Often, I play Sylvanas into a packed enemy board and hope that they decide to trade inefficiently instead of push the initiative. Because she doesn’t have taunt, and has no immediate effect, you’re giving up a bunch of tempo playing her that can be exploited.
- As an example, look at the screenshot from above in the Paladin – Priest game.
- If I was at a lower life total, he could deal 9 damage to my face and then continue flooding the board with cheap minions and I’d have no fast answer to the board.
- Sylvanas is best when she can trade into something immediately and then steal another minion otherwise you’d have to wait another turn before her Deathrattle can trigger.
- Trade down if advantageous - This option is the most delicate. If you have a 3/2 and a 2/3 it’s the easiest trade in the world. But if you have two or more fairly large minions, sometimes it’s better to ignore her and play smaller token minions that are tough for your opponent to remove.
Sylvanas is a great card overall but she takes a good deal of experience to play well with and against.
I’m going to emphasize some of the most important points again for how to play her correctly.
- Play her when your opponent has minions to steal – This is the best time to play Sylvanas.
- Consider how they may choose to respond. She’s no good played against a single Loathebbecause the Loatheb will merely trade straight in and your Sylvanas will get no value from her Deathrattle.
- Consider how they may choose to respond. She’s no good played against a single Loatheb
- Play her against large legendaries - A Tirion hates seeing a Sylvanas right opposite him since she just dies to his Divine Shield and steals him right back. This is a great time to play her.
- Play her in a combo - Here are some of the best ways you can trigger your Sylvanas’ Deathrattle immediately.
- Sylvanas + Shield Slam (+5 armor)
- Sylvanas + Shadow Word Death
- Sylvanas + Reincarnate
- Sylvanas + Feign Death
If your Sylvanas survives the turn, then the real fun begins. You have a number of options usually and a number of targets. Try to do these things.
- Steal the biggest minion - Kill as many secondary minions as you can. You’ll want to narrow the board down to a few large threats so that Sylvanas will steal Ragnaros and not a Recruit.
- Kill off your own Sylvanas with spells - Sometimes, your Sylvanas’ five health is a little too much for it to trade and die right away.
- As an example, if you’re facing a Mountain Giant and an Earthen Ring Farseer, you can kill off the Farseer with Sylvanas and then Darkbombyour own Sylvanas to steal the Mountain Giant at full health instead of using that 3 dmg to remove the 3/3 and trading into the giant.
- As an example, if you’re facing a Mountain Giant and an Earthen Ring Farseer, you can kill off the Farseer with Sylvanas and then Darkbomb
- Flip the coin - Sometimes, despite all your best efforts, there will be one other inferior minion that you just can’t clear. It’s usually worth flipping the coin to try and steal the big minion. At worst, you’ll get another smaller minion, but the upside is you could get something amazing like Ragnaros.
Thanks for reading my guide on Sylvanas Windrunner! I hope you find it interesting and informative.
As always, please feel free to leave any comments or thoughts you have in the box below. I’m always open to new ideas and feedback.