The Season Begins

I’ve always found decklist articles to be easier to write. It is pretty simply really, sort of a checklist:

  • Try to have an interesting lead in
  • The actual decklist itself
  • A little history/purpose for the deck existing
  • Some gameplay/matchup tips

That’s kind of it. You can of course add flair to it, embellish certain aspects, and my favorite option –  fill a 5 pound bag with 10 pounds of puns. Although decklists are fun both to come up with and explore, it can be stale if I just presented list after list after list. Unfortunately other types of articles don’t come as easily for me. I am not talking about the next Philosophy of Fire or anything even approaching that level of impact or anything nearly as grandiose. Instead I am speaking merely about other important but less straightforward topics. It is tough (but not impossible) to be actually wrong about a decklist. Sure, you can build a deck incorrectly but my assumption is that 100% of decklists are a work in progress. You’re never truly done-done with a deck, just completed with the work for the time being. With that in mind, even a “bad” decklist can spark something. To try and branch out, I want to examine something more nebulous with this article. That is our testing sequence.


It is playoff time for the NFL and we are about to determine who is going to the big dance for this year’s title. For us in WoWtcg land, tickets for GenCon just went on sale last weekend and that means the season has begun! Wife and I are beginning this year the same way we have in the past…mostly just flinging ideas things around against what we consider to the tier 1 lists.

But wait, I thought you said this wasn’t a decklist article?

Observant question dear reader. It isn’t. Instead I want to focus on tiers and general concepts to consider for classic. For us we like to start each “season” very open. Usually this entails taking ideas from last year that were close, and many that were not so close, yanking them out of their respective deckboxes and smashing them into Tyrus, Werewolves, and Wondervolt over and over. This time around we have some new faces to add to that gauntlet. However, the testing process needs to look at more base level elements than that. I want to focus on a few elements that I think are important when approaching classic. There are 3 “gates” that you need to be prepared to face, possibly more but let’s focus our efforts for now. Aggressive one drops, graveyard shenanigans, and ongoing abilities.

Fairy Tales

We’ve all probably heard the story about the 1 drop satyr right? He huffed and he puffed and he chewed his opponent’s face off! Well maybe you heard a slightly different version, but that’s the story I remember. Jadefire Scout is just of a few key one drops that help define the classic early game. When teamed up with Rosalyne von Erator the scout presents the mathematical likelihood that you’ll be staring down a 3/2 on turn 1. If he groups up with Garet Vice and Lady Bancroft you made be in for a still aggressive but possibly more resilient offensive. This has to shape your own curve, whether you are also going with an aggro plan or even if you decide to be greedier. Classic as we’ve discussed before really does start on turn 1. A silly statement to make on its surface but then I retort with “remember the face chewing”?

The magic threshold here is 2 damage, or preferably some sort of direct removal effect, or even a negative health option. We are pretty limited on the latter 2 options this early in the game so the 2 damage will have to suffice in most cases. The issue is blue can shrug off damage via aberration whereas red is vulnerable to the shock effects. That’s your challenge deckbuilders. What does your build offer that allows you to survive long enough to get your gameplan rolling? Maybe you can eschew the early removal if you have something such as Hurricane or Despair of Winter to stabilize, but I wouldn’t count on it. That 1 drop? It could have done as much 12 damage by the time you get around to dropping that 5 cost sweeper. By then it is likely too late. So pivotal question #1 for constructing a list is how do you make it to whatever stage of the game you want to enact your real plan? Of the original 3 decks that we had deemed tier 1 going into 2017’s event, all 2 had Jadefire Scout and you can be sure that a number of the tier 2 decks also sleeved up 3/2’s for 1.

Another reasonable response besides removal is to play allies of your own, namely ones with an attack of 2 or greater. I’d suggest looking very carefully as a number of them fall prey to Broderick Langforth.  He is another one drop that significantly alters the format. Able to trade and then grant long term value the undead mage is a pillar on which many decks are founded and a major reason to play Horde in the first place. Regardless of what ally your opponent plays on turn one, that play is going to influence your own in major ways and it is important to consider that during the deckbuilding stages. There are a variety of ways to tackle this issue from A Taste of Divinity which will double as early and late game removal, to cheap protectors, to sweepers such as Poison the Well. Whichever option you choose, just be prepared for the consequences of that decision.

Death is Only the Beginning

Broderick also is a great segue to the next noteworthy point for classic deck construction, the graveyard. Many games allow players to manipulate the graveyard in a variety of ways. It is essentially a second hand in a lot of cases. From the very beginning the WoWtcg has made extensive efforts to limit reanimation tricks by tacking on qualifiers to when and how you can recur cards. That doesn’t mean that you can’t do really unfair things with the graveyard. Broderick has already been mentioned, but what about Flickers from the Past? The 7 cost mage ability can seal a game just as easily as any master hero, but do it for significantly cheaper. If you aren’t diligently removing mage abilities from the game rather than just simply purging them from then board, you’re going to have a bad time when a Slow, maybe a couple Spell Suppressions, a Mystic Denial, Conjured Cinnamon Roll, and likely a Blizzard if not more cascade onto the table and lock you out. More recent events have shown that Anub’arak is another challenger for top dog in this category. He simultaneously achieves several different goals. He can come down early, he is durable and reusable, you don’t feel totally horrible if he gets targeted by Hesriana (side note: this is another key element for deck construction), but maybe most importantly he messes with your opponent’s graveyard.

Vorix hasn’t been the most popular deck lately. You still should respect it though. It is an incredibly efficient list that can pump out tons of damage in short order while including disruption elements such as Poach or Helplessness. Anub’arak locks all that up. Same sort of story for Slow based mages. He will eat up interrupts if they choose to try to deal with him, but he can just come back to play in a little while. Then if your spider sense is tingling you can just eat up their graveyard! The Traitor King isn’t the only option to fight this battle but he is an effective one. There is a rather extensive list of viable graveyard based nonsense that warrants a response:

  • Vorix
  • Slow Mage
  • Spider Solitaire
  • Broderick Langforth
  • The Lich King
  • Anub’arak
  • Reconstruction
  • Dreadsteeds of Xoroth
  • Finkle Einhorn

You get the idea. The graveyard isn’t where used cards go. In the classic format the graveyard is where cards lie in wait. Ignore it at your own peril. With the inclusion of monks and the seemingly busted Lifecycles you will only need to pay more attention to this zone. Just like in the MMO allies are just a quick corpse run away from being back on the board and turning sideways. Several well known and proven decks already include recursion elements and it is a reasonable assumption that there are many others out there that are waiting for their change. Compared to the ally issue, you have a little more breathing room. Aggressive allies require responses starting from the word go. Graveyard nonsense might start of turn 1 if a Ring of Blood: The Warmaul Champion hits Broderick, but more likely you have a couple of turns to try to get some sort of answer online. In fact, it may be more prudent to wait depending on the matchup. Maybe Eye of the Storm isn’t worth it and instead you should be undead for Undercity. Or maybe those extra quest slots should be Everfrost. Your answer to question 2: How do I deal with the graveyard? Is a supremely important one.

Ongoing Nightmare

Third let’s talk a bit about ongoing abilities. We’ve already mentioned a few as Slow mage is back on the radar with a top 4 finish last year. Wondervolt hasn’t gone away, also earning a top 4 finish at the 2017 championship. Then there’s Tuskarr Kite. Oh and Unholy Power. Plus the new monk stuff. Let’s not forget about totems! Hurricane certainly changes a number of matchups. Of course there is also Deathwish….

We’ll break it off there.

Equipment while influential, has not to this point had the impact that ongoing abilities have. There are many that have spawned entire decks, or flipped matchups on their head. No matter how you slice it cards with Ongoing in their text box make the rules. I don’t really need to remind people what an unchecked kite will do for your opponent or how quickly you’ll be shuffling up for game 2 if you allow that Unholy Power to sit for a few turns.  Maybe moreso than the other 2 axioms define what is viable in classic. “Viable” is a little fuzzy. The actual event is pretty short, a scant 3 or 4 wins are all you need. However if you look at things broadly, Death Knights are in bad shape against Wondervolt for example. One of the primary reasons is they are exceptionally limited in their ability to, well address abilities. This also is a handicap in other matchups as any of the aforementioned abilities, and many others, can spell doom for the plate wearing class. Conversely mages are in a great spot against the field thanks to the flexibility of Spell Suppression. Priest has a number of options to help fight back against the never-ending tides of ongoings, but if the tables were turned and equipment was running amok then maybe that wouldn’t be the case.

So when do you need to worry about ongoings? Roughly around turn 4. Now that could be your turn 3 and their turn 4 if you went second, but you are going to want to be able to pop that Unholy Power ASAP, instant speed if possible. Wonder could possibly go off end of your turn 2 (Presence of Mind à end of turn Wondervolt à Crabbyfin + RwlRwlRwl! on their turn 3), but that requires a pretty strong natural draw and if you are playing a class that has access to instant ally removal or instant ability removal they are probably going to have to respect it. Most of the other cards you are going to see require some time to snowball an advantage or in some other way afford you a small window to address them. Just don’t leave the problem lingering.

3 (?) Cornerstones

Where does all this leave us? Well there are a few takeaways that are holdovers from last year as well. There are plenty of turn 1 threats ready to shred you. You have to be able to either address the issue from the first turn of the game, or be able to flip the tables and stabilize your health total very quickly. Especially in light of the fact that you may be in striking distance even with your life total in the teens. Lifecycles with multiple Dagax or Vakus is not a joke or a meme as the kids say. In addition you have to worry about the dead not staying dead. Keeping your opponent from abusing their graveyard while go a long way to ensuring victory. Next, you still need to be able to address ongoing abilities. We’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg for impactful abilities. Breaking up these permanents is key to succeeding. The new class does get some removal in this area so that is good news for them, but whatever deck you choose needs to either directly address these cards or find a way to ignore them.

Let’s say you have all of that covered, you’re guaranteed to take come the title belt right? Well not quite, here’s another piece of advice: Practice. You’re on your way to rolling with the big dogs if you can manage the pieces already. The issue is when you run into a known bad matchup, or even an unknown matchup due to the plethora of almost tier 1 decks. The ones that are just a half step behind our leaders. Looking at your opponent’s class and maybe spec or profession can tell you a lot about their gameplan. Balance druids will likely tend to boomkin, maybe Earth and Moon centric builds. Death Knights of the Unholy variety are going to be packing Corpse Explosion and likely Despair of Winter/Army of the Dead. Point being that experience can be a great advantage when tackling the classic format. Try to find common threads between seemingly different decks that you can exploit. That’s where the emphasis on removal for ongoings came from after all.


ZugZug. These are only a handful of lessons about the format, there is a lot of depth to the WoWtcg. Now it is time to shuffle up some cards to get the experience you need and most importantly have some fun. There are plenty of cards in this giant format waiting to have their time in the spotlight and carry someone to a championship. Hopefully this brief look into our pre-season plan helps you in your testing, and we hope to see everyone at Gencon!

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