I’ll openly admit I am not a huge fan of Illidan. The character to me is intensely whiney and from his first appearances in Warcraft 3 he set my teeth on edge. He always came across to me as a self-obsessed dipstick and I constantly felt myself rooting against him even with his recent “heroic” turn. Apparently my opinion isn’t a broadly held one as there are a multitude of Illidan fans the world over, or maybe they are just demon hunter fans and The Betrayer is simply just there. Regardless of my feelings about him he is in my opinion the better option for green team rogues when compared to Nexus-Thief Asar. The Ethereal hero (we really need more of those) does have an impactful flip, but you have to put in a pretty significant amount of effort to get the flip before sticking 8 resources. Illidan the Betrayer on the other hand provides a double-flip that is relevant in both stages. Let’s go to the video tape.
Rogues on paper are an answer to a number of different questions posed by tier 1 classic decks. They get pinpoint discard, they have cheap sweepers, they have efficient targeted removal, oh and they can draw cards! Sure they can’t deal with ongoing abilities but you can’t have everything. I mean let’s look at the removal for a moment, rogues have it in spades
Prey on the Weak
On the Brink
Slay the Feeble
Poison the Well
Fan of Knives
Felsteel Whisper Knives
That’s before you get into “stun” effects like Gouge, face check with weapons or other abilities, some interrupts like Shuriken of Negation, as well as targeted and mass discard to preemptively remove problematic cards. If you were feeling backstabby in a different way you could also get traitor and get Hateful Strike and Gut Shot. I just want to briefly call out On the Brink. The card definitely falls into the janky category but it notably costs 1, is a combo, and also doesn’t care how big or small an ally is. Combined with Eye of the Storm you have some effective removal.
The ally question seems to be answered. Rogues don’t care what size you wear, they will cut you down to size, or just bash you over the head a few times to keep you in check. Equipment tends to fall into a similar boat as many rogue removal cards double for that card type, or you can just simply run some targeted effects for whatever armor, item or weapon is troubling you. We’ve discussed this on the show before but there aren’t many cards with a gray border that are running amok in classic at the moment. However if that situation changes rogues are prepared.
What if you didn’t want to get your hands that dirty though? Well Purloin, Poach, Victimize, Helplessness, Junkboxes Needed and a laundry list of other cards will keep your opponent from doing anything threatening if you are nimble enough. These cards also function as the primary line of defense against dangerous ongoing abilities. Calamity’s Grasp can do some lifting to erase things that snuck into play but you’d ideally like your opponent to never have gotten the chance to run them out onto the board. Topdecks are of course a concern but the fact that you can at will strip things out of a normally safe area (a player’s hand) means your opponent must modify they play pattern. Just as quick example, Rise and Be Recognized is suddenly a much worse quest if you take turn 4 off to complete it. The extra 2 cards are vulnerable now whereas if you brought say shaman your opponent can quest with impunity.
So darkness called and maybe you picked up the phone. Hopefully this illuminates a few of the options available to rogue builds, but which flag are you going to fly: red, green, or blue?
“The Demon Hunter Left You A Message?”
Vorix is a known commodity in classic but in prep for last year’s event I was exploring other options. Initially I went into sneaky cows. That particular build tried to shore up holes in the gameplan by riding on the back of the tauren tribe mechanic. The deck was a lot of fun and you felt invincible when you could chain Kahul and Sixto. You’re drawing cards, you’re doing unpreventable damage, you’re increasing your board position with Big Beef. Unfortunately, it did run into some issues an in the end it rode the pine. A different build that I put a significant amount of time into was based around the betrayer turned savior: Illidan.
Illidan the Betrayer
Rogue Monster Hero Nightelf Demon
Illidan’s Shear: <Basic> , Flip Illidan -> Illidan deals 2 melee damage to target exhausted ally.
Vengeance of Illidan: Once per game <Basic>  -> Exhaust up to two target opposing heroes and/or allies. They can’t ready during their controller’s next ready step.
Starting with the hero, you immediately get the benefit of having 2 “flips”. In the perfect world I think I would rather get the exhaust effect early on and the damage later but it is what it is. In aggressive matchups, that aren’t werewolves, you can soak up a hit and remove a threat without expending cards which for a control deck is a Big Deal. There are blue and red heroes that will afford you similar effects but not in the combination of this cheaply while also providing a secondary effect. If you look at your flip as an 8th card in your starting hand War of the Ancients block heroes provide a 9th. Admittedly these are incredibly overcosted “cards” but you get them guaranteed every single game. Additionally I am not a huge fan of the majority of the rogue hero flips in general, but being imprisoned for 10,000 years Illidan apparently has had time to learn a few tricks.
The second flip actually comes into play more than you might think. Spending an entire turn to activate it may not be your first choice but it can be an impactful one as you lock down your opponent’s board. Buying an additional turn to dig could spell the difference between winning and losing. Plus it interacts with your opponent’s hero so you could prevent an Envoy of Mortality swings which from experience doesn’t feel good to get hit with. Being a <Basic> ability is a bit rough though.
The night elf piece doesn’t really have much of a positive impact here, but being a demon has a number of benefits due to the last block that featured Illidan. Even with “the Betrayer” in his name he can’t run traitor cards, but things like What Illidan Wants are fair game. It may not be Dethvir levels of influential but having strong quests, especially without having to work around any drawback is really relevant. Especially in monster builds since you can often be left scraping the barrel for every last morsel when it comes to quests. In this specific case I went in a different direction for these builds.
Way back in Drums of War Block a different traitor hero was in his heyday. Jonas the Red was a cornerstone of the meta at the time and Overkill into Vengeful Gladiator’s Vestments into a different version of Illidan was closing out games. The middle card is what really inspired me to try and go with rogues and this is my attempt to bring it back.
Illidan the Betrayer
Master Hero (3)
1x Thrall the Earth-Warder
1x Kil’jaeden the Deceiver
2x Kidney Shot
4x Surge of Adrenaline
4x Poison the Well
3x No Mercy
3x Vengeful Gladiator’s Vestments
4x Calamity’s Grasp
4x Darkness Calling
4x Junkboxes Needed
4x The Ring of Blood: The Warmaul Champion
3x Eye of the Storm
Total cards in deck: 60
The quests are in flux as the deck is still going through testing. As mentioned earlier What Illidan Wants and You Are Demon, Rakh’likh are strong options as is A Question of Gluttony. Each had a spot at some point but I’ve been rotating in Junkboxes to see how it will do. Depending on that specific card’s inclusion you may want to try to squeeze in additional or other discard to make up for it’s absence.
Warmaul Champ functions in the same capacity here as it did in old Jonas decks, providing fuel for your finishing moves. You could move into assassination and include Seal Fate to do a sort of Vorix impression, but at the moment it doesn’t feel necessary. You do miss having The Darkmoon Fair but Eye of the Storm is virtually required. Darkness Calling rounds things out as just a generally good quest and also giving your finishers food.
Moving to abilities you get access to all the usual suspects. The balancing act comes in when you consider the Vestments. Since we lose access to Gut Shot by not being a “real” traitor hero you need to suffer through and get by with Eviscerate. Ideally you’ll be able to sit on it and turn it into an interrupt with a little burn on the side, but in a pinch it can just up and ruin the day of an opposing Grumdak or other viable target. Kidney Shot, Eviscerate, Deathblow, and Surge all have a hidden line of text that becomes active when Vestments hit play. Your entire goal is to survive long enough to make that dream a reality.
A set of 9 board sweeps are sure to help that gameplan out. The bonus is you don’t care how big the allies are or if they have aberration they end up in the graveyard just the same. The issue really comes in when something large hits the table. Calamity’s Grasp normally would once again come to the rescue as a swiss-army solution but this list doesn’t feature any allies. Subsequently you need to stall for time via knocking some heads with Thud! To ensure you live long enough. That is one advantage of a traitor list as Hateful Strike cleanly deals with singular threats. That being said there aren’t too many of those running around and the list can be tweaked in the event that they appear.
Speaking of tweaks there are a few other card slots that are often swapped around. Thud! and Gouge actually are usually the ones. While they are effective at what they do things such as Blackout Truncheon or Prey of the Weak have made their presence felt. The former doubles as a threat/broom to keep the board clean if you can spare 2 resources but in a world of Unholy Powers and Winter Wondervolts I didn’t want to risk even a few extra percentage points of looking at Calamity’s Grasp and Blackout Truncheon next to it in my hand instead of an ability to toss away. Prey however I think is exceptionally underrated in classic. Ironic since it isn’t in the decklist huh? Truth be told it is usually a gametime decision. Sometimes you want the extra combo card that Thud! offers, but a significant portion of the time you just want things gone-gone and not simply stunned. Instant speed and focusing on cost not health or attack means that the majority of aggressive allies whether they be gigantic tiger tokens or stealthy goblin rogues go down in the same fashion. On the Brink deserves yet another mention here as it also stops in to say high to the other 56 cards pretty frequently. Costing a mere 1, being a combo, and also dealing with things that cost more than 4, which is a possible blindspot for this deck, it feels like a diamond in the rough.
Another diamond is Legacy of Betrayal. This card didn’t get brought up earlier because I wanted to give it a small pedestal here. Think of it as Hesriana “fixed”. It is an ability to boot so you can at worst stuff it into Calamity’s Grasp and fling it at your opponent’s ongoings. The RFG effect is huge and allowing you to build your own board presence is incredibly useful. Even if it gets destroyed you have removed 100% of a certain threat from the game and can adjust your plans accordingly. Since characters in WoW have a tendency to not stay dead, this can be a big weight off your shoulders removing them permanently. While the card is generally overshadowed by the warlock pet, rogues do their thing and steal stuff like this effect for their own gain. You’re probably realizing that this deck is really about 80 or 90 cards and trying desperately to slim down for beach season.
The Price of Power
OK so maybe having your eyes replaced by the leader of a demonic army and then eventually consuming the skull of the most powerful warlock ever wasn’t such a great idea. Everything has its ups and downs right? Same here. The deck does feature a number of ways to get ahead on cards due to the plethora of board clears. It also has efficient removal, problem is classic is a high-powered format, those things are functionally expected. If you show up without those you better have a good reason or you’re in for a Bad Day. Here the lynchpin that holds things together is Surge of Adrenaline. While there is the temptation to play it for free all the time, think of it as a potentially cheaper Innervate. Even if you hard cast it for 5 it is still overall +2 cards (after all you are -1 for playing the Surge), which is a big boost. If you cannot find the surge however you could be left with a complicated struggle to stay alive as every other deck you’ll face knows you have Poison the Well and Carnage and all the other toys that were brought up earlier, so they are prepared and playing around them.
Another thorn in the deck’s side is topdecks. It was briefly mentioned earlier but allow me to elaborate. Do you know how many times I had a winning board state (aka clear and late game) only to succumb to runner-runner Unholy Powers? How about how many times a topdecked Tuskarr Kite combined with an innocuous Cairne or Magni token allowed my opponent to claw back into a game that I had very nearly on lock? It is frustrating and one of the reasons is the lack of healing in the deck. Yet another instance where The Last Relic of Argus may shine. In the interest of full disclosure there are (as always) several iterations of this deck and ones without the Vestments may be stronger. You are more flexible in that you aren’t required to stuff in as many combos or finishing moves to feed each other and ultimately the arena equipment. You can therefore free up slots to include things such as healing, kinda novel huh? So something like:
-2 Kidney Shot
-4 Junkboxes Needed
+4 Prey on the Weak
+4 The Last Relic of Argus
+4 What Illidan Wants/A Question of Gluttony/You Are Demon Rakh’likh
+3 Legacy of Betrayal
+2 Harpy Matriarch
I didn’t forget about the good ol’ harpy. Yet another perk of being on the mean green team. Red gets Cromarius Blackfist and blue could include Goran, Timewalker Lavacaller. You trade that for some more consistent answers. Of course there are other configurations and mixing and matching the replacements will favor one matchup or another. Really I just want to play the vestments because they are fun, and powerful. The finishing move/combo “mechanic” is one that needed more time with the Cryptozoic version rather than the Upper Deck one and this deck would be in much better shape. There aren’t many instant speed finishing moves period in the new version, let alone ones you want to run. The loss of our arena set means that getting to 10 resources for a master hero is more difficult as you’ll need to ensure you hit more resource drops. That’s why the 4 cost quest may be preferable just to provide a deeper stream of cards. A note about the master heroes, the appropriate number is probably 2 not the 3 I have listed. Part of the reason there is a trifecta is a comfort thing for me as I can row or mill one early and feel OK about it. The other is I really wanted to see how each of them worked out. Kel’thuzad and Thrall serve a similar purpose in stabilization against other decks that run allies. Compared to the old Jonas deck both cost 10 compared to Illidan’s original master hero incarnation of 11. They also can theoretically close the game out more quickly. KT is a humongous swing and Thrall can dig you out of a life deficit pretty quickly. The world shaman may not hit back due to having assault but he does punch as hard as the original demon hunter.
Kil’jaeden is where things go sideways a bit. A portion of his inclusion is for funsies on the lore side. However he also provides some interesting tools. In playing so many Medivh builds I discovered that preventing your opponent from playing cards on your turn is pretty decent. Not unlike Thrall or KT he can dig you out of a hole just in a different way. The eredar master hero gives you extra cards. It may not frequently come up but it’ll be hilarious to resolve him against say slow mage. In the end he will probably get cut but for now he is part of the front 60 cards. Since this is the section where we talk about weaknesses though it bears mentions that master heroes are not all upside. They are essentially dead cards until at minimum 10 turns in. You may not even be able to resource every turn so they might be dead past that too. Only 3 cards but believe me you will have games where you are staring at all 3 in your hand by turn 5 and wonder who you pissed off upstairs to deserve this.
Calamity’s Grasp sadly needs to be discussed as well. It is rather clunky as a solution due to having to balance the versatility. In this particular case it cannot address allies unless you reconfigure the deck to include Harpies, or even Anub’arak. The Traitor King (man this theme is getting milage) is a strong inclusion since you can drop him off in the graveyard via Calamity’s Grasp or Warmaul Champion, plus he helps stabilizing the board. He too is on my rotate in-out list. One of the major issues is that he feeds on the same things that your finishing moves do so it can make for a delicate relationship. To broken record for a moment, there are yet even more decklists that include him and adjust the remainder accordingly but I have had trouble fitting him into the vestment builds. In the long run he may win out and get back in there. I just want a few more games with the existing list.
Other weaknesses? Well we covered the greater than 4 cost ally problem, we covered the high cost cards (master heroes and vestments alike), and we covered the variance in both card draw and opposing topdecks. What else? That’s actually the long and short of it. Assuming you play tight and can draw what you need you’re in pretty good shape. Really the biggest issue is preparedness. Can you squeeze in the cards you need to address the threats that are presented.
“Hardly A Challenge”
I started out claiming that rogues are well positioned in classic and I still believe that to be the case after testing a variety of lists pretty extensively. They have all the tools to compete but are in a position where you need to balance on a razor’s edge whether you can soak up just one more hit before clearing the board, or wait just one more turn to try and draw those extra cards. A major chunk of that is self inflicted. The decks as currently constructed are not very forgiving and that is intentional. Pushing decks to their limits in every direction is an important challenge in deckbuilding so that you are familiar with all the different ways trouble can manifest, as well as the methods to disappear into the shadows when that trouble arises. So what do you think? Wanna go all drama-llama and become the betrayer? Be stabby in all the ways as a rogue? Let us know what you think and check in next time for more random thoughts.
*Note: Quoted section headers are quotes from the Dreadlord and Demon Hunter units from Warcraft 3