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wonderPreaux

Supertype Discussion - Highlander

11 posts in this topic

 

Introduction

 

The Highlander supertype is based on powerful battlecry effects that trigger when no duplicates are present in the user’s deck at the time of the battlecry resolution. The debut of this effect came in late 2015 with the League of Explorers expansion, which introduced Reno Jackson.

 

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At the time of its release, Reno Jackson represented a break from increasingly standardized decks and a possible answer to an increasingly aggressive/midrange metagame. Boasting both a powerful effect and the all-class identity, Reno Jackson encouraged experimentation in the use of Highlander decks. With the late 2016 release of Mean Streets of Gadgetzan, new cards were added that expanded the Highlander mechanic, ensuring its continued existence, at least in a theoretical state, into the near future.

 

There are two main nuances in the Highlander deck theory that should constantly be evaluated: the use of duplicates and the depth of the cardpool in the current metagame. Duplicate cards in the deck dilute the average value of your Highlander effects by preventing the use of Highlander effects until you’ve drawn or milled at least one of each of your duplicates. Each additional duplicate requires you to see more of specific cards in your deck in order to enable your Highlander effects, which means each card you’d run as a duplicate is carrying a higher cost in terms of average deck power and should be carefully scrutinized. However, if the card(s) you choose to play duplicates of have a high power-level compared to the next non-duplicate card you would integrate into the deck, especially if the duplicated card is a “keep” for most or all matchups, then the duplicate(s) can be a net positive to the expected value of your deck.

 

Expected value is also the main factor behind the second Highlander consideration: the depth of the available cardpool. Highlander decks tend to improve as the cardpool available to the metagame grows because the larger cardpool will usually introduce more cards that are close enough in power level that the decrease to average card power caused by running all singletons will be lower, which means the Highlander effects are a greater net gain in deck power as a deck-building choice. With this in mind, Highlander decks will tend to wane in power at every new rotation year, as the Highlander decks will lose relevant effects that incentivize the deck and face an increased cost to utilize the remaining or current Highlander effect cards.

 

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Highlander decks tend to fall into the more controlling side of the Aggro-to-Control spectrum, with a decent reach towards the midrange. The control orientation tends to come from the Highlander effect of Reno Jackson, the massive heal ability incentivizes a late-game focus by increasing the likelihood that you’d have the sustaining ability to force the game to go long. Moreover, aggressive decks tend to focus on the premium tools to push and exploit early board presence, and would thusly feel little benefit from the Highlander effects available, while paying a heavier cost of consistency. However, because the singleton focus of Highlander decks reduces the effective application of synergies and increases the use of generally effective stand-alone cards, these Highlander decks are capable of playing a midrange type of game with an above-average draw to “curve out” well.

 

Class Considerations

 

Originally, the only Highlander effect available was an all-class card, which made class considerations very broad. Generally speaking, you could justify a Highlander deck to any class that seemed to have a high enough number of decent cards to meet the requirements of a deck that is mostly or completely singletons. However, the new Kabal theme introduced in Mean Streets of Gadgetzan tripled the available Highlander effects that are available to Warlock, Priest, and Mage, which makes it hard to justify using any of the six other classes.

 

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To clarify, I assert it isn’t worthwhile to build Highlander decks with any of the non-Kabal classes, but there is a history of combo decks incorporating Reno Jackson. I feel this sort of variation shouldn’t be considered in this Supertype thread because the Reno Jackson in these sort of cases (Freeze Mage or Mill Rogue, for instance) is an exotic method of healing meant to support the combo pay-out of the deck, without substantially changing the overall plan of the deck. For the decks we will be discussing here, the power of the Highlander effects themselves is the pay-out and there is a substantial effect on the deck’s operation as a result.

 

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Warlock was quickly picked up as a Highlander poster-boy when Reno Jackson was released, as the effect was most easily adapted into the increasingly ailing Handlock shell. In comparison to the other classes, Warlock's most obvious “draw” is his Hero Power. The ability to draw on command is incredibly advantageous in control matchups, both because it builds an early resource lead and because it means you get to forego putting cards in your deck strictly for card draw or hand advantage, increasing the room for threats and removal. Compartmentalizing card draw within the Hero Power also affords you a greater chance of drawing the midrange curve that can seal out aggro decks, as you can simply hard-mulligan for Reno Jackson and any low-mana card that’s in your deck. In short, the Warlock Hero Power makes it much easier to gather and manage your threats and removal, both in terms of what you’re playing and what makes it into the deck.

 

The Warlock class cards, however, are not as alluring as the Hero Power. Krul the Unshackled, the Warlock-exclusive Highlander effect, is fairly uninspiring; promoting a Doomguard is about the best you’d expect and any such devotion to the effect requires you to play increasingly poor-in-context Demon cards. With, arguably, the worst class-exclusive Highlander card, Warlock unfortunately boasts only a few effective threats and mostly offers a variety of decent area-of-effect and hard removal cards.

 

That said, there are a small number of notable non-removal Warlock cards to keep in mind. Imp Gang Boss is a terrific deterrent to early drops, boasting effective stats to contest small minions while often dropping multiple Imps to further entangle an aggressive opening. Imp Gang Boss’ characteristics also synergize well with Warlock area-of-effect, being immune to Demonwrath and allowing some minor Imp propagation with Hellfire. With the exception of Totem Golem, it’s easy for Imp Gang Boss to gainfully interact with anything at the early-game weight-class and is a very powerful card, albeit in a fairly mundane capacity.

 

From there, we move to the new Abyssal Enforcer. Abyssal Enforcer is well-positioned to fill the Warlock’s lackluster 7-drop slot and provides a great area-of-effect, basically a Hellfire on legs. One of the key strategic objectives of control decks is to stabilize into the lategame by managing to both clear the board and establish a board of its own. Abyssal Enforcer is fantastic at achieving that end by allowing you to trade off mid-game minions to force a clear and establish the solid body of the Enforcer. It’s also a formidable follow-up to Reno Jackson, mopping up the aggressive minions that the Reno Jackson staves off. Abyssal Enforcer was a welcome addition to the Warlock cardpool, shoring up the midrange positioning of the Warlock Highlander deck.

 

At the high-cost end of the spectrum, Lord Jaraxxus is the opposite of the humbler Imp Gang Boss: a flashy and unique way of overpowering the late game. Lord Jaraxxus can confer basically every advantage you could ask for as a control player: minor heal by resetting your health to 15, board control from the 8-charge weapon, and, lastly, a significant upgrade to the Hero Power which subverts the late-game liability of Lifetap by replacing it with a bottomless supply of significant threats. However, the high mana cost of Lord Jaraxxus and the precarious implications that 15 life presents in some matchups means that Lord Jaraxxus is not a card you should play, or even incorporate into your deck, thoughtlessly. While it does demand some careful deployment and intuition of the opponent’s threats, Lord Jaraxxus offers an incredible trump in the control matchups and is a significant boon to the Warlock class.

 

With that short list of super-stars and a fistful of removal, Warlock unfortunately runs short of imposing class cards and must lean heavily on the Neutral card pool to find threats. The Highlander design of the deck means that Warlock can reliably dip into the Neutral legend pool to find imposing bodies. Additionally, the Lifetap ability makes Warlock well-suited to use combo finishers like Leeroy Jenkins and Faceless Manipulator, which pushes Power Overwhelming from a lackluster removal card (via trade or Shadowflame) to being a serviceable burst enabler. Also, the Neutral cardpool provides a wide range of tech cards and middling-quality minions, which allows you to shift the deck’s inflection towards aggro or control matchups as needed. However, having the highest reliance on Neutral cards does present a card quality concern for Warlock players to be wary of: when matchups are highly aggressive to the point where it restricts your Lifetap use, you are effectively holding a lackluster deck compared to the other Highlander classes. Warlock’s access to incredible card draw does have to be balanced by awareness of the sort of cards you’re actually drawing into.

 

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Mage was another choice for early adopters of Highlander strategies when League of Explorers first debuted. Mage has a broad range of effects available to it through the variety of spells the Mage can draw on, Reno Jackson was used to sustain long enough to successfully put together card advantage plays and optimally match the Mage’s varied removal spells to high-value targets. While cards come and go, that original premise remains the same, especially with the advent of the new Highlander effects available. The Mage Hero Power is incredibly flexible, placing one damage on any target, allowing you to snipe off low-health minions or push damage on the opponent to bring them into range of the Mage’s damage spells. This small incremental advantage builds up over long games and also helps against aggressive decks by guaranteeing a minimum standard of removal. Leveraging the Mage’s varied effects and card advantage opportunities can create a powerful and unique control experience.

 

The Mage-exclusive Highlander card, Inkmaster Solia, is an intriguing, yet dubiously useful, tempo swing that facilitates the combination of playing a big area-of-effect while developing a decent-sized minion body. Additionally, pairing Solia with a 10-cost potion from Kazakus can allow you to build a board presence while filling your hand or otherwise applying effects. Unfortunately, while Mage’s tempo-swinging Highlander effect is more useful than Warlock’s, there is no Jaraxxus for Mage to fall back on in terms of late-game firepower. Instead, Mage must work hard to make the most of its card advantage effects and gaggle of spells.

 

Mage’s Hero Power erodes the opponent, but doesn’t advance your own resources. This, combined with a reliance on one-shot spells, means the Mage must devote card slots to various ways of drawing and building hand advantage. The Mage does this through minions and spells that can either draw, discover, or randomly add cards. A common tactic is to combine these effects with Brann Bronzebeard, doubling battlecry effects to gain massive value on cards like Kazakus, Babbling Book, or Ethereal Conjurer. SInce most of the cards drawn or acquired are spells, it’s common to see Alexstrasza or Archmage Antonidas used to increase the impact of these spells. For adding extra threat density, cards like Elise Starseeker or Manic Soulcaster can be used to add or recycle high-impact legendaries. These threat density options are important considerations due to the Mage’s card draw bringing you closer to fatigue, while the the poorly stated “value” minions and one-shot spells are poor choices at representing an imposing threat.

 

The aforementioned spells are noteworthy in their variety and unique effects, though. One of the most intriguing choices is Ice Block. An anti-tempo safety tool that prevents lethal damage, Ice Block increases the impact of Reno Jackson’s full heal while also making the Highlander Mage particularly well-suited to face combo or aggressive all-ins. Mage also has a monopoly on freeze effects, mainly through spells like Frost Nova and Blizzard. Freezing enemy minions is a unique opportunity to win races, take favorable trades, or set up kills through burn damage. Freezing also gives Mage an obvious boost in the effectiveness of its Doomsayer or Emperor Thaurissan. Another unique way Mage interacts with minions is the ability to Polymorph threats, which helps to answer problematic deathrattles or buffed minions that would otherwise harass you through the Mage’s area-of-effect.

 

Mage also has a high emphasis on spell damage. Cards like Azure Drake and Bloodmage Thalnos are especially valuable not only for their card draw, but also because they boost the damage of area-of-effect and burn spells alike. The characteristic of Mage spells to be raw damage is a remarkable utility, especially with Mage class cards like Cabalist’s Tome and Ethereal Conjurer that can provide you with extra burn. The question of whether to hold burn or clear the board is an important strategic consideration and the extra spell-power that minions provide can influence those inflection points in an important way. If your area-of-effect has the extra damage to clear the whole board, for instance, you can save something like a Frostbolt to win a race or further delay the opponent’s board. Or the extra spell power available can increase the utility of Fireball by letting it clear Flamewreathed Faceless or Ragnaros with a Hero Power. For Mage, the spell-power ability is particularly relevant compared to the other Highlander options.

 

The range of Mage’s spell interactions and high value card advantage plays creates the opportunity for unique and compelling wins. Everyone wants that Brann Bronzebeard, double Kazakus, double Manic Soulstealer play, everyone’s seen that clutch Babbling Book either on their board or the opponents, and everyone’s seen the frustration caused by a Mage who snags the win with a last-second burn spell after their Ice Block. However, a lot of these exotic and interesting plays require you to, for lack of a better term, “finesse” a lot of the cards in the deck. Mage has a lot of awkwardly sized minions that justify themselves by drawing/finding extra cards that might also be tricky to use or have a certain high-priority use, leading to a lack of straightforward ways to assert your influence on the game-state. The plethora of interaction that the Mage has access to has to be focused in a way that meaningfully pushes a win condition, lest the deck fall flat.

 

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Priest is an interesting addition to the Highlander options. Priest has been an underdog for a while, especially in all of its various control forms. Priest wasn’t particularly noteworthy as a Highlander option when League of Explorers debuted, but the addition of the Kabal cards for Priest and the improvement to the Dragon-Priest archetype have raised the relevance of Priest. The Priest Hero Power to heal damage to both you and your minions is useful in long games and holding the board, with the enduring challenge being, of course, getting a foothold onto the board in the first place. The Priest has very effective removal options, some are cost effective, some steal the minion away from the opponent, and some even steal minions in cost effective ways. With all of these reactive tools, the rise of Priest has been understandably correlated to the increasing availability of minions with great stats, especially health, that allow the Priest to establish the presence that makes their effects powerful.

 

The Priest-exclusive Highlander card, Raza the Chained, is a fantastic legendary that is the most impactful of the Kabal class-exclusives. The incremental bonus can arrive early on in the game and build up a health and mana advantage as it allows the Priest to fully develop minions and removal while still retaining the value of injured minions or kiting burst damage by rebuilding health. In addition to the obvious long-term benefit of improving the Priest Hero Power, the ability to use reset Hero Powers at zero cost opens up interesting burst possibilities with cards like Spawn of Shadows, Shadowform, and Garrison Commander. With Raza freeing up your mana, it’s worth looking into the minions and spells you’ll actually spend that mana on.

 

Priest’s early game minions can build a vital foothold in the game and also inform some deckbuilding decisions. Twilight Whelp and Wyrmrest Agent are very cost-effective minions when played with their dragon-synergy effects, which tends to pull the deck design towards dragons. This decision is further incentivized by the midrange and late-game dragon cards that are also available. Whelp and Agent are great at picking off early minions, especially given their above average health, which gives you an early opportunity to extract value from the Priest Hero Power. In addition to these dragon-synergy options, the tried-and-true Northshire Cleric is another notable early-game minion. In aggressive matchups, the Cleric can tie down opposing minions and draw you towards your area-of-effect cards, while also offering you the chance to set up massive draw combinations with cards like Holy Nova in slower matchups. Lastly, the newly added Kabal Talonpriest can present favorable trades while providing another cost-effective, high-health body to help you carve a niche in the early game.

 

Moving into the mid-game, Priest has other powerful tools at its disposal. Kabal Songstealer is a solid five-drop body, but also gives Priest easy access to the recently deemphasized silence ability. This allows you to keep up tempo while disabling troublesome effects that would hinder your straightforward use of well-stated minions. Drakonid Operative is another great midrange minion, with a stellar effect to discover opposing cards while boasting a robust stat line. Discovering the opponent’s haymakers can be a boon for a class that tends to be short on burst damage or high value cards. Additionally, the discover mechanics and Operative’s dragon typing give you an opportunity to use Netherspite Historian to often find another Operative. These options solidify an already impressive mid-game built on dragon minions and Raza.

 

Moving into the late-game, Priest options start to run thin. Often relying on Neutral dragon legends, or the occasional N’Zoth or Elise, Priest can find itself challenged if it can’t simply out-muscle opponents in the early or mid-game. Granted, this is less of a concern for aggressive matchups, where the Priest can simply exhaust and collapse an opponent with heals and removal backing a decent curve. For those control-heavy metagames, it can be worthwhile to consider some sort of Hero Power burst combo with a greater emphasis on card draw.

 

Priest has classically been challenged by a lack of proactive or imposing cards to really make its plethora of removal options truly valuable. Passively removing opposing cards, even in a cost-effective or high-value way, would often fall short in the tempo-oriented game that is Hearthstone. With powerful Highlander effects and strong minion presence, Priest can now be a legitimate threat, bullying aggro decks and putting pressure on control decks that it used to be unable to challenge. That said, Priest does suffer from a very myopic focus on minion interactions and often lacks burst damage, meaning it can fall victim to combo decks or tactics that otherwise ignore direct minion combat. Additionally, Priest can run lower on value than other control decks, especially if caught by an area-of-effect, because the need to focus early mana on developing or removing minions means that it’s difficult to develop card advantage. While Priest does have a narrower range of operations, it can allow you to build and maintain a dominating presence over your opponent.

 

Sample Decklists

 

If you’re interested in trying out some of these decks, or want a reference for what the curve or basic list tends to look like, consider looking at these sample lists:

 

Warlock:

http://www.hearthstonetopdecks.com/decks/asmodais-rank-1-legend-kazakus-renolock-december-2016-season-33/

Priest:

http://www.hearthstonetopdecks.com/decks/savjzs-reno-kazakus-dragon-priest-rank-1-legend-december-2016-season-33/

Mage:

http://www.hearthstonetopdecks.com/decks/apdrops-kazakus-reno-mage-december-2016-season-33/

 

Outroduction

 

I think Highlander decks are a great design choice by Blizzard, it’s a cool way to encourage a deeper look at the card pool and incentivize people to really scrutinize the way a deck is constructed. I’ll be looking forward to everyone’s discussion of this powerful and intriguing strategy.

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is this meant to be in black text, because it's unreadable on some skins

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No, it was not. Perhaps it formatted poorly off the original google doc. My bad.

 

@ACP Could you please edit the text color in the OP to the default?

Edited by wonderPreaux
Passed the time limit on edits for the OP
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I think it's fixed now.

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So I've played both the Priest and the Warlock versions and found the Priest to be too unreliable.  Without the card draw to power into a massive damage combo you generally get overrun by Jade Golem decks and can't put enough pressure on Renolock/Miracle Rogue decks.  The biggest drawback of Highlander decks is obviously the inconsistency in power of your draws.  The difference in power level between your best 4 mana card and your 2nd or 3rd best 4 mana card is noticeable.  Less likelihood to draw your best cards can only be offset by Reno/Kazakus/Raza so much.  I've generally found incredibly powerful draws or below-average draws.  I'd say stick to Dragons if you want to play Priest.

 

My findings with Renolock have been mixed as well.  It has the potential to blow out games against average-to-weak aggro draws but requires a pretty much perfect hand to beat explosive openers.

 

What are people's thoughts on Mountain Giant in Renolock?  The only real match-up I like it in is vs other Highlander decks for the turn 4 play.  Pretty much every other match-up you cannot afford to do this.  Obviously any aggro deck will kill you with pirates if you tap turns 2 and 3, Dragon Priest will build threatening tempo and just play Shadow Word Death and Rogue would love to punch you with pirates for the first few turns and save cards for finishing plays.  It's effective against Druid I guess but that's a pretty good match-up without drawing Mountain Giant anyways.  Is it worth keeping for the mirror match alone?

 

I haven't tried Reno Mage yet.  Anyone played around with that deck?  What are your thoughts?

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Reno Mage seems really cool, it is better at dealing with the aggressive pirate openings of most aggro decks, but sacrifices consistent mid-late game value without Life Tap. I haven't got the dust to craft the Reno Mage legendaries (only been playing 3-4months) - but I did have enough to craft Renolock for this format.

 

Renolock just seems really good across the board, it has a favourable matchup against control decks if you play the Leerroy + Faceless + PO combo, including things like Dragon Priest, and if playing it on ladder I would tech it especially for Aggro, as most of the Ranks 1-5 play seems to be made up of Aggro Pirate Shaman, Pirate Warrior, Dragon Warrior, and Miracle Rogue.

 

Cutting some of the typical late-game bombs for some more proactive cards early game such as Soulfire (which isn't played in some lists), Sunfury Protector, Ooze, and Mistress of Mixtures will strengthen the win-rate against aggro decks, aslong as you survive past T6 (even in cases where you don't have Reno) - you can usually stabilise and win the game from there.

 

The only deck that's currently meta-relevant which destroys Renolock is Jade Druid, its not an unwinnable matchup, you have to try to beat the Jade Druid down, either that or do some sort of silly Brann + Kazakus stuff to make a massive board of health + taunt they can't realistically deal with. I've also heard that Reno-Mage is a bad matchup for Renolock but I have no experience playing against it. I switched to Renolock this season as Pirate Shaman carried me to R3, but at the higher ranks especially you run into either Aggro or decks with anti-Aggro tech and it was affecting winrate.

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I have struggled to figure out how you actually win with Reno Mage. There's the obligatory "save all your burn" comments to be made, but I'm not sure how you can realistically rely on that being an option when sometimes you straight up have to use fireball etc. as removal.

 

I suppose you can toy around with Solia+Pyro or more classic Tony-Emperor stuff, but without Warlock's hero power, I wonder if these things are just horribly inconsistent.

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I'm assuming the win condition is exhaust your opponent's threats and then stabilise late-game, drop Alexstraza and finish them with 15 points of burn. The burn can come from your natural in-deck spells or from Antonidas, or whatever board you have at the time. This is all assumption though, I haven't ran into the deck on ladder yet somehow, nor watched it in a tournament, are any streamers playing it at the moment?

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I've had a few mage quests to complete recently so I've been rocking some Renomage.  Deck seems legit.  Now I'm only beating rank 5 scrubs but there are just so many quality mage cards that the power level of your draws feels pretty consistent.  Medivh has been huge for those non-pirate match-ups.  The staff hasn't been hit by an ooze yet or anything either though.

 

Ice Block + Reno feels amazing.

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reno mage is pretty dependent on what you're facing in the meta. generally if you're drawing about equal card power vs renolock you can wait to burn them out, and vs other decks you can usually get to a point where your midrange guys eventually control the board, though i've noticed lists not running alex make it harder to do this in. ice block+reno is incredible though. 

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I've found my toughest match-ups to be Jade decks.  Your only real hope vs these decks is to slam Medivh ASAP, combine it with big clears like Flamestrike or Firelands Portal and go face.  You can't mount enough pressure early and you can't continue to try and control their threats.

 

If you can effectively deal with the Mountain Giant/Twilight Drake turn 4 play from Renolock I feel like you're in a good position.  If they're packing the Leeroy combo your Ice Block is a big problem for them.  If they try and burn it out and save the combo you Reno up and they don't have the resources to get you back within combo range.  If they spend the combo you Reno up and they're without a real win condition.  The longer they wait the more likely it becomes that Dirty Rat is going to pull out one of those pieces.  They must rely on Jaraxxus and risk getting burned out.  I've felt really good about the Renolock match-up.

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