It’s Always Aggro
It seems no matter what the expansion, no matter the rank or format, aggro decks are always sitting pretty at the top of the meta. Even with the introduction of Standard, meaning big losses for popular aggressive decks – Mech and Deathrattle archetype included – the game seems to always revert back to tempo and aggro. Why is this? Well, printing cards that favor strictly control is more difficult than one may believe, in fact, often these cards end up helping aggro and perpetuating the problem.
Area of Effect
The simple answer to aggressive style decks, such as Zoo or Aggro Shaman, is: board clear. The idea is brilliant! Kill the enemies board, you don’t take damage, and the win is a piece of cake. However this idea falters in practice for a couple of reason, the first of which being tempo. Take a good look at “Flamestrike.” It seems perfect, an easy way to deal lots of damage to all of your enemies. The problem with “Flamestrike” and similarly other AoE cards like “Blizzard” or even “Consecration” is that glowing number in the top left corner. The large mana costs of these spells means that they are often the entirety of your turn, allowing your opponent to easily refill his board with cheap, aggressive minions once again. In decks like face hunters case, they don’t even need a board to kill you. Once they establish early control and knock you down to around 15 hp, they easily kill from the hand with burst cards or weapons.
Board clears are few and far between, especially with Standard in the game, and even if, say Priest had all of its situational board clears back, Priest would still be bad. Because the board clears are exactly that: situational. A deck with clears on turns four through seven probably won’t be very effective, and just clogging up your list with situational cards.
So if AoE is too expensive, there must be another way to stop things from hitting face. And lucky for us there is! Taunt! Well, kind of, taunt only blocks half of the things from hitting face, that being minions. Spells slip through taunt easily. But despite taunt being less effective against spells, why isn’t it a better tool against aggressive decks. Similarly to much of the AoE in Hearthstone, taunt minions are often overcosted. This means you are getting significantly less stats than you should be getting for its mana cost. This lack of tempo and value will slowly lose you a game to a more board heavy aggro deck, such as always popular Zoolock. Taunt also has the added problem of not fairing well against silence or removal.
Speaking of Zoolock and other tempo/board based aggro decks, let’s mention an auto include in aggressive Warlock lists: Voidwalker. Voidwalker is the exception to the stat rule. A one mana 1/3 is a fantastic statline for a card. So why doesn’t it see play in control? Voidwalker excels and being played early to establish and maintain absolute board control. This idea of cheap minions to protect cheap minions only works in aggro, no control deck would play this because what is it protecting? The three health is not important enough to be slotted into a control deck. Taunt wants to protect minions, not your health. A deck such as Zoo that plays smaller, high attack, low health minions needs this protection. Control decks don’t.
Healing is another mechanic that seems perfect to counter the fast paced decks on ladder, not every aggro deck can deal 50 damage, right? In fact, most of them can, and probably will. Decks that focus on burst from hand exclusively may run into a problem with large amounts of life gain from cards like “Ivory Knight” or “Lay on Hands” however in the current meta, the aggressive decks are ones focused on board control, such as Zoo and Shaman. If you spend your turn and mana on healing, not playing minions to gain board control, Shaman will just attack with its four mana 7/7 and it’s as if you never healed. Even cards like “Healing Wave” which can potentially heal for large amounts for very little mana – if you win the unreliable joust mechanic – still often lack the impact that a control deck needs to stall board control decks enough to fully regain control of the match. Viable healing cards, such as “Lay on Hands” which draws cards as well as heal, has such a large mana cost that it is usually too late in the game to sacrifice that tempo, and often aggressive decks can kill their opponents even before the healing cards can be played.
Healing does have a small exception to this rule however. Cards that can maintain tempo while still heal for large amounts can be excellent cards to counter even the most board heavy of aggressive decks. Take “Reno Jackson” for example: a six mana 4/6 body isn’t terrible when fighting small minions, plus it has one of the most impactful battlecries in the game. If your deck only has 1 of each card remaining, your hero is restored to full health. Or let’s look at “Twilight Darkmender.” You get a 6/5 body on the board for six mana and if your C’Thun has 10 or more attack, you restore 10 health to your hero. Both of these cards can counter aggressive decks perfectly, but they require some hefty prerequisites. In order for “Twilight Darkmender” to work, you need to be running a C’Thun deck, with buffs and C’Thun itself. Reno has even more of a prerequisite, you really only should run one of each card in your deck, resulting in a 30 unique card deck list. These cards all have huge upsides, but at the cost of huge requirements. Currently the archetypes that these cards create aren’t excelling in this meta, which means healing cards still will not shine – but cards like Reno means there is hope.
Aggressive decks are popular for lots of reasons: they play fast games allowing for faster laddering, they are easy to play and build, they often have the highest win rates. But next time you lose to Zoolock four times in a row on ladder, remember that it is difficult to print control cards. Even weapons that were meant to control are being played now for aggro, look at “Fiery War Axe.” Hearthstone is a game that revolves around tempo plays, and until a major shift happens, it will stay that way. Aggro is king because it manipulates all types of cards to its needs, and until control decks can do the same, expect to see more Shaman and Zoo.