Lifecoach’s devastating Dragon Warrior
© Blizzard Entertainment
One of Hearthstone’s greatest strengths is its deckbuilding: It is easy to learn and very accessible. This process is detrimental for both players and developers of Hearthstone since it showcases the developer’s intentions and their impact on the playerbase.
However, with more and more cards being added over the course of three expansions and four adventures, forging a deck that is not only fun to play but also able to compete requires a lot of thinking and game experience. That is why many Hearthstone players that either don’t have the time or expertise copy popular deck ideas that fit the current meta. Countless community sites exist that make the process of “net-decking” accessible and easy to handle.
But even after dozens of games with that one particular deck, an amateur’s personal win-rate still tends to stagnate while both Legend players and professionals dominate the meta with the exact same cards. What’s the difference? Why is a deck so successful in a pro player’s hands, and what does one need to consider when playing the deck in different situations and matchups?
Lifecoach loves the strong curve of Dragon Warrior
Take one of the most iconic “fantasy” deck archetypes, the Dragon Warrior. It’s one of the most widely played deck types in the game, but to really understand it, you need to talk to Adrian “Lifecoach” Koy. The German ex-poker player and Hearthstone pro, who is currently playing for European powerhouse Team G2, has always been a fount of knowledge around the armor-centric and control-heavy class.
Curve decks in Hearthstone inherit the most basic idea of deckbuilding: It is all about the distribution of mana-efficient cards. In general, this idea is used when building every single deck, since having both too many or not enough cards is the worst outcome a game can have. With that being said, a particular list is called a “curve deck” when it serves one purpose: To use mana on any given turn as efficiently as possible.
And Dragon Warrior has a special place in the list of curve decks. If the deck hits the curve, its ability to set the pace of the game is unmatched, and the versatility behind almost every Dragon-related card catalyzes a more than unique playstyle.
“Dragon Warrior is an absolute top-tier deck since the last expansion came out,” Lifecoach states when talking about the history of the particular deck archetype. And while Lifecoach and multiple other professionals agree on the fact that Dragon Warrior has been climbing the tier lists after the release of “Whispers of the Old Gods,” Hearthstone’s most recent expansion, players like Brian Kibler have been playing the deck way before that.
This has been mostly due to the strong fantasy that the Warrior class in combination with the Dragon minion type conveys: Many of the most powerful cards in the game are Dragons, and they are only really playable in the latest stages of the game, and these stages are the ones where the Warrior class excels. Due to that, the Dragon Warrior decks of the past evolved around meaty legendaries like Onyxia and Ysera, combined with powerful early- and midgame removal in the form of cheap spells and weapons like Death’s Bite.
With the release of the expansion and, much more importantly, the introduction of the Standard format, Dragon Warrior has become a much more curve-heavy archetype. The single-most important change was the loss of Death’s Bite, the Warrior’s strongest weapon of choice when it came to board control in the mid-game. New additions like N’Zoth’s First Mate try to compensate that loss and offer solid choices for the 1-mana slot. Having several good 1-mana cards again boosts the deck’s ability to curve out really well.
“You want to know how to play the deck? Play the cards which are bordered green, and if they’re bordered yellow, that’s even better!” Lifecoach jokes regarding the basic playstyle of the deck. “Jokes aside, the idea behind the Dragon Warrior deck is to target your opponent’s Life total by playing the curve. With that strategy, the chances are high that you will be able to deploy an activated Drakonid Crusher on Turn 6.”
This answer may come as a bit of a surprise. Looking at the deck’s past, the general fantasy of Dragon Warrior had its place in the category of control decks.
But after looking at Lifecoach’s Dragon Warrior list, it all makes sense. In his opinion, the first of three key cards is Alexstrasza’s Champion. The card that supposedly has the strongest Dragon battlecry compared to their mana cost stands as the dream card against both aggressive and control-heavy opponents: The charge potion either guarantees early face damage which is vital in the mid-game or highly valuable trades against 1- or 2-attack minions.
“Twilight Guardian and Blackwing Corruptor also round out the aggressive and active archetype of Dragon Warrior,” Lifecoach explains after naming another two key cards of the deck. Especially Blackwing Corruptor really represents the true nature of the archetype. The 5/4 body delivers enough value on the board itself, and the 3 damage battlecry to can decide the pace of a possible upcoming Turn 6 with an activated Drakonid Crusher.
When asked about the addition of more mid- to late-game heavy Dragon cards in the deck, the Warrior expert again points at the true purpose of the deck: “We don’t want reactive cards like Nefarian or Ysera which become better in the later stages. They could take a spot in the hand which could be filled with a card that fits the curve, and at that point it would be basically a dead draw.”
Lifecoach’s Dragon Warrior decklist
© Lifecoach/Blizzard Entertainment
And while the strengths of the Dragon Warrior deck sound so very powerful, this statement also shows its greatest weakness: The dependency on the curve. Plenty of decks in the past had to deal with this issue, and it really shaped up as the main problem with curve decks. However, what makes Dragon Warrior the best curve deck at the moment, in Lifecoach’s opinion, is its ability to mitigate said issue.
The keys to success are versatile spells like Inner Rage and Blood to Ichor which can be used in both defensive and offensive scenarios, or if the right minion just didn’t make it into the hand until then. The addition of Sir Finley continues to make the deck multi-functional, changing the Warrior’s Hero Power into something more useful, especially in control-heavy matchups.
The one card that really leaves Lifecoach’s mark however, is The Curator, one of the few exchangeable tech cards in his list: “A 7 mana 4/6 that draws two and a half cards on average is pretty good,” he says.
What may sound so perfectly reasonable solves another big issue of any curve deck which is card draw. Even high-tier curve decks like the Dragon Warrior have bad matchups, and after a dream start, being literally empty-handed with no minions on the board could be a death sentence. A card that could draw a Dragon to active important battlecries, a solid 3 mana 3/4 in the form of Fierce Monkey AND Sir Finley all at once could definitely decide a huge portion of played games against both aggressive and control-heavy opponents in the later stages of the game.
Talking about bad matchups, Lifecoach makes it simple: “Dragon Warrior has no real ‘counters.’ When you take the active part on the board, you will always perform well against every opponent.”
That being said, Dragon Warrior’s biggest counter seems to be the deck itself. It is not just about playing the curve, and that is the main problem with players underperforming with the deck in Lifecoach’s opinion. A curve deck can beat any opponent, even with average draws, as long as the player follows one premise, and that is to take action. It doesn’t matter if following that premise results in bad trades or large amounts of Hero damage; Dragon Warrior has to make the opponent react, either by making even worse trades or taking even more Hero damage.
Weighing out the different options in regards to both playing cards and attacking minions or face makes the difference in playing Dragon Warrior, Lifecoach has simple advice: “Go face!”
And while this statement makes the curve deck look somewhat one-dimensional, it is all about timing when to go face and how to iron out the deck’s weaknesses. This will not happen within two or three games, but that is why “learn the deck” just doesn’t cut it as a form of general advice in this case.
Dragon Warrior looks like one of the easiest decks to play in the current meta. But as it is with many “not the best, but really good” decks, understanding the essentials and win conditions in each of the deck’s matchups is absolutely required. Strictly going for face or board control is easy, but identifying the situations in which you don’t do exactly that are those where Dragon Warrior truly shines and sets the pace.