Guide: Priests and GvG feat. decks from Amaz, Gaara and Kibler
Priest’s popularity and power level in Hearthstone has been a roller coaster. The class started as one of the most powerful in the early days of the game but the nerf to [card]Mind Control[/card] significantly reduced its potency, making it a pick for a handful of players only.
Despite being excessively played by progamers like Jason “Amaz” Chan, Priest became a low-tier class until the release of Curse of Naxxramas, when cards like [card]Sludge Belcher[/card] and [card]Dark Cultist[/card] caused a power level spike. Some Priests even strayed away from the pure control archetype and relied on mid-range board control playstyle with [card]Undertaker[/card] and deathrattles.
GvG promised even more goodies for Priests, offering them even more removal capabilities. In spite of all that, Priest is rarely seeing screen time, overshadowed by Warriors, Paladins and Druids, who’ve emerged as the kings of the new meta. In fact, after the few GvG tournament games that have been played since the launch of the expansion in December, Priest is the worst class winrate-wise and the third worst in popularity.
So why do we bother building new-age Priests then, if the class is so bad? The best reason I can give you is that Priest remains one of the most demanding and complex classes to play, which teaches the control mentality better than almost anything else. If played right, it has fantastic match-up against board populating classes like Shaman and Hunter, it destroys Druids, Mages and Zoos, can be 50/50 against Paladin and only really struggles against Warrior and Handlock. More on the match-ups later, though. For now, let’s see what GvG brought to Priests.
GvG and Priests
Priests were fortunate enough to get probably the best class legendary in the expansion. [card]Vol'Jin[/card]’s battlecry is a massive tempo swing, as it puts a big threat within removal range – be it [card]Holy Smite[/card] or just a minion trade – while putting a potentially massive body on the board. For 5 mana, [card]Vol'Jin[/card] will often come as 6/5 and it gets fiercer in later where you can steal the life of the end-game finishers. You will love it against ramp Druid, oh yes.
[card]Shrinkmeister[/card] is the second best Priest card in the block, as it carries out a bouquet of functions. It puts 4-attack minions into [card]Shadow Word: Pain[/card] range. It adds additional reach for [card]Cabal Shadow Priest[/card] and [card]Shadow Madness[/card]. It allows you to up-trade safely. In the worst case scenario, it’s a 3/2 for 2 which kills [card]Undertaker[/card]s (though, ideally, you would want it as a mid-game minion).
[card]Velen's Chosen[/card] is a card that has been rotating in and out of Priest decks, varying in quantity. The spell damage isn’t something that crucial for a Priest deck, although it’s a nice bonus to have, but the +2/+4 can do miracles, significantly upgrading the targeted minion, making it that much more harder to kill. And that’s what Priest decks are all about – having a couple of beefy minions that just won’t go away.
[card]Lightbomb[/card] has caused a number of disputes among pro players about how good it actually is, one fierce advocate of it being MtG veteran Brian Kibler who uses it in its control build (see below).
So, why is [card]Lightbomb[/card] good/bad? On the bad side, it’s just terrible against Druids and other Priests whose minions will more often than not have more health than attack. Against Zoo and Hunter, it’s almost too slow and in other control match-ups it will often be a one-for-one trade.
Why Kibler likes [card]Lightbomb[/card] so much, however, is how much the card improves the Handlock match-up, which is usually unwinnable for Priest. Even a buffed up board of giants falls to [card]Lightbomb[/card], opening the way for direct damage. It’s also another way to deal with [card]Dr Boom[/card] if another appropriate removal is not drawn and it also wipes the [card]Muster for Battle[/card]/[card]Quartermaster[/card] combo of Paladin, otherwise only disposable through two-card combos.
Finally, we arrive at [card]Light of the Naaru[/card], another card that right on the edge. Naysayers claim that it’s often hard to get full effect of that card and that even if full value is extracted, the [card]Lightwarden[/card] doesn’t matter too much. Others, including yours truly, are true fans of the card, seeing the potential to heal an [card]Injured Blademaster[/card] without wasting a full [card]Circle of Healing[/card] or using it with [card]Auchenai Soulpriest[/card] to deal 3 damage for 1 mana and get a minion in the process. Its low cost also works with [card]Wild Pyromancer[/card] for board clearing combos.
You will also need [card]Dr Boom[/card]. Everybody needs [card]Dr Boom[/card].
BONUS: [card]Recombobulator[/card] is not a Priest card per se, but pioneers of the class like Amaz have been seen using it a lot. The thing about [card]Recombobulator[/card] is that you can permanently steal [card]Shadow Madness[/card]’d minions as they stay on your board after the transformation. Another popular target for its effect is [card]Cabal Shadow Priest[/card] as you will almost always get a better minion than a 4/5 body for 6 mana.
Should I maybe try mech or aggro Priest?
Building the Priest #1: Undertaking and stealing with Amaz
Priest king Amaz is always a player you ought to look at when catching up with the latest Priest trends. Even if he's not in top tournament form at the moment, Amaz has played more games on the class than likely anybody else and his knowledge of Anduin is commendable to say the least.
Below, we have two decks which Amaz played recently on stream. The one on the left is a slightly upgraded version of the [card]Undertaker[/card] Priest, featuring a more aggressive playstyle compared to regular builds. The deck doesn't feature any GvG cards besides the two [card]Velen's Chosen[/card] which, as we explained, are just marvelous in minion-based builds.
The second brings the cleptomany of Priest to new levels. Outside the usual tricks, it features double [card]Recombobulator[/card] to permanently abduct [card]Shadow Madness[/card]'d minions, as well as the [card]Blingtron 3000[/card]/[card]Harrison Jones[/card] combo, affectionatly named "I get cards AND a big f'in axe".
Building the Priest #2: In full control with Kibler and Gaara
The two decks share a playstyle but differ a lot in actual builds and one can clearly see they are a matter of personal preference. Kibler's deck is tangibly slower, with big fat removals like [card]Lightbomb[/card] and [card]Mind Control[/card] and without the mighty [card]Dr Boom[/card], omited mostly because fear of [card]Big Game Hunter[/card].
Gaara's deck, on the other hand, curves out at 7 with said [card]Dr Boom[/card]. It also strives towards damage reduction in the early game but instead of killing stuff with [card]Holy Smite[/card], it uses [card]Light of the Naaru[/card] and double [card]Shadow Word: Pain[/card] heal up and counter aggressive decks.
Priest match-ups largely depend on the version you're playing but generally, some builds will always be tough or easy to beat.
The biggest pain in the ass is Handlock, because the deck tends to have more threats than the Priest has removals. [card]Lightbomb[/card] makes this an easier match-up but it never really is favorable for Priest. Anduin not only lacks efficient removals but also doesn't have enough burst to kill Handlocks from 14-15 health like Druids or Mages can.
The other big threat is control Warrior. Most of the time, Warriors will win against the slower Priests as they will wait for [card]Alexstrasza[/card] into [card]Grommash Hellscream[/card] one-two jab. [card]Undertaker[/card] Priests perform better as they can apply constant pressure to the Warrior and chew his armor but if Warrior stabilizes it's still lights out.
Paladins are usually a 50/50 match-up and it ultimately comes down to can the Priest effectively deal with the drizzle of 1/1's. [card]Lightbomb[/card] is great in this match-up as it clears [card]Quartermaster[/card]'d tokens. You should also never go for fatigue war against Paladins - their hero power and supreme healing cannot be overcome.
It is against more aggressive decks that Priest gets to shine. With plenty of board removal, healing mechanics and minion stealing, Zoo, Hunter and even the flavor of the month Mech Mage are very beatable. Shamans are also in a massive disadvantage as their go-to strategy for victory is to flood the board. Druids, otherwise one of the most consistent classes in Hearthstone, also struggle, as they have no efficient way of dealing with a T3 healed up [card]Injured Blademaster[/card] and there are now even more ways to deal with their [card]Druid of the Claw[/card]. At the same time, their Ancients are easy prey to [card]Vol'jin[/card].
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