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wonderPreaux

Supertype Discussion - Pirate Aggro

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wonderPreaux    1408

 

Introduction

 

The Pirate Aggro supertype is devoted to leveraging the newly released Pirate minions Small-Time Buccaneer and Patches the Pirate. This damaging duumvirate is only weeks old, yet it has already carved a massive swath through the metagame.

 

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Let’s start with Small-Time Buccaneer, the mundane muscle of our swashbuckling showcase. With a weapon equipped, the Buccaneer can start swinging in for 3 damage as early as turn 2, while the weapon that empowers it can push more damage or control the board by picking off minions that would contest the Buccaneer.

 

For a deck that wants to reach a midrange curve, a 3/2 minion can push or force trades against aggressive decks which, when combined with a weapon, can seriously hamper the board presence of an aggro deck. For the aggro decks themselves, hitting the ground running with a 3/2 is a huge imposition on slower decks like Renolock or Jade Druid, especially with a weapon in play to pressure the control deck to use spells to contest Buccaneer instead of developing early minions. Additionally, unlike Mana Wyrm or Tunnel Trogg, Buccaneer doesn’t require you to expose or expend resources by playing spells or extending minions; tech card responses aside, weapon deployments are a fairly low-commitment way to spend mana.

 

From there, let’s take a gander at Patches the Pirate. Patches has the unique feature of summoning itself from the deck to join the first Pirate that you play. While Patches is basically a Stonetusk Boar, the fact that it’s coming out of the deck with no commitment from your mana or hand makes it an amazing tool. Even if Patches simply ends up trading with a minion, it’s not as though you lost much by virtue of achieving that trade, it’s as though you got to weaken an opposing minions just by sitting at the table and playing a Pirate. By being a no-cost, high-utility effect, Patches manages to achieve a lot even with his paltry 1/1 body. Helping to establish board supremacy or push damage is a wonderful boon for an aggro deck. Aggro decks tend to be high variance and have little margin for error, racing decks or coming down to a final draw. With that in mind, the idea that you can start the match and have an opponent that is effectively at 28-25 life instead of 30 or confront an opposing minion that effectively sits at a vulnerable health inflection instead of a strong stat line can often be the difference between victory and defeat in the 5-7 turns that the game will actually last.

 

As a footnote, while it is significantly painful to draw Patches, I don’t think it should skew your mulligan perspectives. It’s not as though these Pirate decks are like the Barnes/Y'Shaarj gimmicks, where drawing the intended deck-dweller collapses the whole deck. You can still grab plenty of wins with Stonetusk Boar, especially if you make intelligent mulligans for the given matchup and effectively push damage.

 

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While the Pirate decks intuitively occupy the high-speed aggro end of the spectrum, it should also be noted that the Pirate frame can be used to support a midrange-oriented deck that trades away some speed and all-in potential for resiliency and a higher scale of threats. The reason this modicum of flexibility is available to the Pirate supertype is due to a fundamental reality of Hearthstone: having initiative on board allows you to dictate the game and confers on you the greatest number of options. Simply put, the combination of the charging Patches the Pirate, the forcefully-stated Small-Time Buccaneer, and the board control afforded by weapons means it’s very easy to grab early initiative and have the opportunity to make favorable trades or push damage to the opponent’s face. If you want to ultimately forgo board control and ignore trade, you can capture lots of early damage in exchange for eventually losing the ability to leverage minions at all. Conversely, if you hold out weapon charges as removal and take advantageous or conservative trades, you can restrict your opponent’s ability to press damage and gain the optimal position to deploy subsequent threats.

 

The payoffs for a given Pirate deck change depending on where on the spectrum you place your build of deck. For the very aggressive orientations, there will be games where your comparative lack of board control leads to you being displaced by large enemy minions. To combat this, the aggressive variants will leans more heavily on charge minions and one-shot spells to close the gap once the initial assertion onto the board is parried. Conversely, the Pirate decks that tech towards the midrange will be less opportunistic about damage and instead secure a good board position in order to impose more and more heavily on the opponent through larger minion curves. The need to accommodate a higher curve does leave less room for one-shot burst damage, though.

 

It’s worth noting, of course, that these different builds also introduce different vulnerabilities. The very fast, hyper aggressive variants can quickly punish greedy, or slow opponents. However, these decks can falter against even mild amounts of interaction or resistance. On the other hand, the midrange decks can scrum against aggressive decks and hold the board down until their larger curve dominates. Unfortunately, this slower pace does make the midrange variation vulnerable to control decks by allowing the game to move into the control deck’s wheelhouse. While aggressive decks are often pigeonholed as low-skill decks, the ability to properly assess the metagame and assemble a deck that competently addresses your expected opponents is a key skill that this supertype can test.

 

Class Considerations

 

Leveraging the powerful new Pirate one-drop requires a specific set of synergies, other Pirates and available weapons, which delineate the classes to consider rather easily. While there is an impressive suite of all-class Pirates, any class that can spare crew members of its own is certainly ahead in consideration. Moreover, weapons are a necessity in order to boost the power of Small-Time Buccaneer and some other Pirate options. With that in mind, the non-weapon classes of Mage, Druid, Warlock, and Priest are easily excluded.

 

Additionally, I’m going to make the assertion that Hunter isn’t a worthy candidate for this sort of strategy. The main reason for this is that the Hunter has a poor selection of weapons. Hunter has no way of equipping a weapon before turn 3 in standard and the Eaglehorn Bow would be difficult to use actively, given the need to hold it back for synergy with both Pirates and Traps. Having a weapon that deploys too late and is difficult to use means that, ironically, the class with the most aggressive Hero Power is rather out-of-place in this Supertype.

 

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I would say Warrior is the face of this new Supertype, but, in truth, it would be more accurate to say Warrior is the face of the Pirate Aggro prototype. Weapon-based board control and aggression is something that Warrior has always been capable of and Warrior found itself with synergistic Pirate cards a whole set ahead of Patches and Buccaneer. Thus, this first section will be a very familiar rundown of all the aggressive tools that Warrior brings to the table.

 

As mentioned above, Warrior brings some interesting crew members into the Pirate fold. N’Zoth’s First Mate is a fantastic opening play available to the Warrior, activating both synergies right at the start of the game. Regardless of the aggro or midrange inflection point you intend to use, N’Zoth’s First Mate is a first-rate play with Patches, pushing 1 or 2 damage right away (depending on your plans for the Hook) and offering you effective trades against most 1-drop or 2-drop responses if you don’t want to just push another 3 damage next turn. Bloodsail Cultist is the other Pirate available to Warrior, a solid 3-drop that rewards you for maintaining a Pirate and weapon on board by “Upgrading” your weapon with an extra attack and durability. This Upgrade effect is a unique feature of the Warrior, allowing you to build up a massive damage bonus, especially given the extra durability added. Cultist is a particularly good offering, since it tends to reward you for being in a position you’d want to be in anyway: imposing on the board with a Pirate, with a weapon in play to control the board or push more damage.

 

From there, Warrior can also tap into another synergy: Dragons. For those interested in a more midrange experience, the Warrior-exclusive Alexstrasza's Champion is a boon for the Warrior player. With the charge ability, Alexstrasza’s Champion can easily pick up favorable trades in order to stabilize aggressive opponent’s and secure your position to drop larger minions. Also, the Champion can just hit for 3 damage multiple times in control matchups, so the Champion is no slouch in matchups where you’re still the relative aggressor. Given the relative dearth of low-cost Dragons, though, it’s difficult to effectively maintain an aggressive build with this card, even though the stat line and charge ability are certainly alluring for an all-in “face” deck.

 

One last minion I would like to highlight is Frothing Berserker. Given that the option to either press face or take advantageous trades is one of the most important distinctions to make tactically and strategically, Berserker’s ability to gain attack and represent more damage or another future advantageous trade is intriguing. Taking trades is less costly when the damage you forego is paid forward into the Berserker’s attack value. Also, the Berserker’s high toughness means it can live through and subsequently punish the area-of-effect that may counter a choice to forego trades. Basically, no matter which way you play the game, Berserker can contribute as a threat while presenting you with exploitable options as to how you manage damage in the current or future turns.

 

To support those minions, the Warrior has a well-known suite of excellent weapons. Fiery War Axe has a reputation from control Warrior as being a great removal tool, and it plays that role just as well here. Of course, it’s also 6 damage for 2 mana, a half-price Fireball when it comes to pushing damage. The larger Arcanite Reaper is often a half-price Pyroblast, given that midrange minions would compete for the turn 5 deployment or push Reaper out of the deck as you make room for more minions. That said, Reaper can hit a few inflection points against cards like Azure Drake; it’s not as though Reaper is terrible in midrange, it’s just often associated with more aggressive builds where it can be more easily slotted into the deck and leveraged.

 

Warrior’s prospects dim slightly when you start to look at damage from effects. The most notable card is Mortal Strike, which is analogous to Fireball when you hit the Warrior’s “limit break” health total, but comes off as over-costed in other cases. From there, most Warrior effects just improves the Warriors own attack power, which defeats the typical purpose of damage effects: finishing opponents when they stabilize behind taunts. This contributes to the weakness of Pirate Warrior: it’s fragility to interaction. The most intuitive answer to an aggro deck with weapons would be to snipe weapons and put up taunts. The unique Upgrade effects of Warrior don’t really help you solve those problems, thus, “burst” effects are lacking overall.

 

On the subject of “lacking”, let’s touch on the Warrior Hero Power. In context, it’s the actual worst Hero Power you can have. It doesn’t let you deal any damage, it doesn’t give you any material advantage in terms of minions or cards, and the Priest Hero Power would be more useful by giving you the added utility of patching up minions. Also, with a dearth of spell damage, kiting lethal damage with the Hero Power is less likely to lead to good outcomes given how consistently taunts can lock you out of the game.

 

Overall, Pirate Warrior comes off to me as the most “Pirate Aggro” of the Pirate Aggro options. You have arguably the best weapon in the game, Fiery War Axe, and the best Pirate cards to incentivize the theme. However, Warrior has the least ability to be resilient to interference. A lot of Warrior effects double down on the vulnerabilities of Pirate Aggro decks, so you’ll often be a sitting duck when the deck gets its opening parried or the tech cards hit you hard. Be sure to exercise a lot of care optimizing your deck, or you’ll give up the power and efficiency that justifies the deck’s straightforward vulnerability.

 

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Rogue, like Warrior, has been picking up scrappy seafarers for a while before the Mean Streets of Gadgetzan. However, these new additions to its lineup give aggressive Rogue builds real potential. It is worth noting that the “midrange” equivalent of Pirate Rogue tends to be simply using Pirates to entangle or destabilize opponent’s before a typical “Miracle” turn, an arrangement that will be covered in-depth in the “Tempo-Based Combo” discussion. Here, we will be looking simply at a non-combo aggro Rogue strategy.

 

Discussing the impact of Rogue’s Hero Power or weapon options separately is somewhat inefficient, given how the former informs the latter. The Rogue’s Hero Power is a unique appeal as it guarantees the weapon follow-up for Small-Time Buccaneer and also makes weapon-removing effects merely a loss in tempo as opposed to a loss of tempo and a card. This stable weapon effect is built up into a theme of weapon-boosting or weapon-interactive cards for Rogue, like Deadly Poison or Blade Flurry. This, in turn, has had the consequence of Rogue receiving few effective weapon cards, because they would conflict with the natural use of the Rogue Hero Power and threaten dangerous interactions when paired with card effects that were originally designed for use with a 1-attack weapon (for a historic example, see “Assassin's Blade” builds of Oil Rogue). In the aggressive context of this Supertype, however, Perdition’s Blade is a notable aversion to the above paradigm. With its combo ability, Perdition’s Blade can help contain the board against aggressive decks or provide the effect-based burst to spring past taunts or otherwise close a game. The high cost and slow pace of Rogue’s other weapon options means that you’re going to be relying on the Hero Power overall, though. As a result, the Rogue can face a challenge controlling the board, due to the comparatively low stats of the Wicked Knife. However, a de-emphasis on actual weapon cards means that the Rogue isn’t stuck with awkward hands of multiple weapon cards piling up and the Rogue can devote slots to tech choices more easily as it isn’t beholden to filling it’s deck slots with weapons.

 

The Pirate crew available to the Rogue is more wide-ranging and powerful than its choice in weapons, thankfully. Leading the boarding party are two Rogue 1-drops, Swashburglar and Buccaneer. The Swashburglar is a minor source of card advantage with underwhelming stats to compensate. However, Swashburglar represents a small amount of blow-out potential in gifting you a spell-based class’ burn, a hefty creature, or a self-predating class card like Sacrificial Pact, all of which are difficult to play around given that the opponent has no idea what to expect. From there, the Buccaneer is a more consistent threat, boasting 2 attack and representing extra damage when you equip a weapon in his presence. Unlike Goblin Auto-Barber, the card this is somewhat the spiritual successor to, the Buccaneer doesn’t require a weapon to be present ahead of time, so you can lead with Buccaneer and have the threat of an improved weapon, while always retaining the option to instead play more minions. Among those minions are an assortment of Combo cards, which are improved by the high density of 1-drops available.

 

Rogue’s Combo minions are all well-suited for the tempo and aggro amalgam that characterizes Rogue. Undercity Valiant and SI-7 Agent are great at helping the Rogue control the opposing minion presence, or putting together the last bit of damage to bypass a taunt or win a race. While these effects are small in scale, the one-two punch of an imposing 1-drop and damaging Combo effect is a great way to present pressure or wrest board control from an aggro opponent. Of course, no discussion of Combo minions would be complete without giving some attention to Edwin VanCleef. VanCleef can come down as a follow-up to a one-drop and be, at minimum, an undercosted 4/4. Or, you can plan a more ambitious line using cards like Coin or Backstab to ramp up to an 8/8 or 10/10 to quickly push an all-in.

 

Rounding out the Rogue kit are an assortment of tempo cards that augment or substitute for burn spells. Eviscerate is the direct method of dealing damage, boasting an impressive 4 damage for only 2 mana. Cold Blood is a hit-or-miss substitute, given that it’s vulnerable to taunts or a stabilized board, but it is very cheap at 1-mana. From there, Rogue can call on tempo-oriented spells like Backstab or Sap, which can remove minions at a very low cost in order to confer board control over that turn, and facilitate a Combo effect. While these effects don’t directly deal damage, it’s important to understand that these low cost ways of removing enemy minions mean your initial phase of minion-based damage gets to be extended longer, which means that the endgame of having to get past a taunt or edge out an opponent with burst is less of a hurdle overall.

 

Rogue is in an interesting place when it comes to the Pirate Aggro Supertype. The ability to produces a weapon allows you to compartmentalize an important synergy that you’d normally have to devote card slots to. Additionally, the Rogue’s typical tempo tools blend naturally with the short-term aim of Pirate Aggro, keeping an opponent off balance as you continue to swing in with your Pirate crew. However, the general idea of the Combo mechanic doesn’t quite mesh well with the idea of snowballing early minions, you might find conflicts in your hand when it comes to optimizing all the Combo effects versus supporting early Pirates. Those early Pirates are also more important because the Wicked Knife is so much less imposing than the Weapons available to other classes that you have to rely on repeat damage from minions to deal the lionshare of damage to an opponent.

 

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Shaman, like Warrior, is no stranger to the Aggro spotlight. The assortment of tools that made Aggro Shaman so effective a year ago are still mostly present and effective, rolling in the new Pirate additions reinforces this solid base by replacing what has been lost to nerfs and rotation. Also, Shaman has many effective ways of moving into the midrange, as demonstrated by last format’s prevalence of Midrange Shaman. Shaman’s managed to pull itself into the forefront of the metagame on the strength of these tools at least once already, so the Shaman option is definitely worth your attention.

 

While Shaman doesn’t have Pirates of its own, it’s not as though Tunnel Trogg and Totem Golem are slouches. Totem Golem is immensely imposing as a fairly-costed 3-drop that gets to slide in as a 2-drop play in exchange for 1 Overload. This means you can often pick up a favorable trade or get in multiple hits with the Golem. Golem is also notable for being effective as a stand-alone card, which is particularly good given how so many cards in this Supertype rely on synergy or positioning to be optimally imposing. On the subject of synergy creating an imposing presence, Tunnel Trogg can contest many early minions or push high amounts of damage through use of Overload. Tunnel Trogg and Totem Golem are as threatening a suite of attackers as ever, even if there isn’t any particular cohesion or connection to the Pirate theme.

 

If aggressive all-ins aren’t a good call for your meta, Shaman does have two effective ways to approach a midrange curve: Totems and Jade Golems. The focus on Totem synergy is well-known from the Shaman-heavy metagame that preceded Mean Streets of Gadgetzan. Thing From Below is a solid body that can affect a large tempo swing, though you may have difficulty in finding time to play Totems when an aggressive stance is needed or opportune. In the same vein, Thunder Bluff Valiant can give you an immense tempo swing and a very dangerous board, provided you can find the time to produce multiple Totems. The Jade Golem effect is much easier to coordinate and can have a high, if varied, power level depending on the density of Jade effects in your draw. Even if you’re only getting small minions at the start, the fact that Jade effects are tacked onto worthwhile weapons and burn you’re likely already playing means that each card you can tech in is progressively better. Aya Blackpaw is the most notable Jade minion to tech as a midrange choice due to her ability to double-dip on Jade Golems.

 

Also, I’ll take a moment to give special mention to Flamewreathed Faceless. The fact that Faceless is so aggressively costed means that it doesn’t have to be out of place in an all-in “face” deck; it can be the all-in, where you risk a large tempo loss to go out and push a large amount of damage. Conversely, when you get into a protracted exchange of resources as a midrange deck, having a big generic minion to carry on the slugfest and try to win in a “last minion standing” kind of way can be very useful. The effectiveness of this card tends to wax and wane given how many people are going out of their way to beat it with tech cards, but that’s, in a way, a signal of how powerful it can be against vulnerable opponents.

 

Shaman’s weapons are notable for having relevant textboxes, instead of just damage-dealing stats. Doomhammer is well-known for its raw damage potential, capable of quickly knocking out half the opponent’s health with the Windfury ability. It can also double as great board control, albeit with a high health cost, which gives Doomhammer some use if you’re trying to move into the midgame. Spirit Claws is another potent weapon for Shaman, helping to pick off minions or represent a remarkable amount of damage with a Spell-Power minion to empower the Claws. It is worth mentioning that more aggressive Shaman builds can have a hard time fitting in Spell-Power support for the Claws, but a 1-mana weapon that helps keep the early board clear is still a great deal. Lastly, the newly released Jade Claws is a fine way to start up Jade Golems, or simply swing momentum by producing a minion and removing one with a weapon charge. Jade Claws also hits a good set of inflection points; it can followup Tunnel Trogg or Small-Time Buccaneer to help either synergy and its 2 attack is a solid rebuke for most early-game minions you’d want to protect your 1-drops from. Be wary, though, that coordinating your weapon charges to get optimal damage and prevent your hand getting clogged up should be on your mind, given how many Shaman weapons are viable.

 

Shaman’s burst damage potential was part of what made the Aggro Shaman deck so effective last year, and that hasn’t changed much now. The Shaman’s spells are the most dangerous of the Supertype classes, especially with the Overload ability to push costs to the next turn -- a turn that you never have to confront when you’re killing the opponent with as much as 20 damage on a full mana bar. The new release of Jade Lightning adds more burst with the Imp-losion-lesque addition of giving you a Jade Golem, a solid choice for both aggro and midrange given how it can act as game-ending burn or a tempo swing. Your overall use of spells may decrease as you work to find room for midrange cards, though.

 

I’ve seen more than a few comments from streamers or other forums that talk about how Shaman is becoming or has become the best class, or consistently near the top. Looking at the options Shaman has within the Supertype, I’d say there’s a good case to be made for that kind of thinking. Shaman has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to how to arrange your curve, with great tools for every inflection point of deck design. The only hangup for Shaman is coordinating Overload, which is a minor change to the typical thought process of curving out, and it’s otherwise difficult to find a particular vulnerability that applies to Shaman. In my opinion, I think this will cool off when Tunnel Trogg and, especially, Totem Golem drop out of Standard.

 

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I’m going to breeze through the Paladin entry because Paladin has had an overall tough time in the metagame and the Aggro Paladin concept has a few significant shortfalls that can only be forgiven for the interesting gimmicks and tools unique to Paladin.

 

While Wickerflame Burnbristle is a remarkable deterrent to other Aggro decks, Paladin doesn’t otherwise have a lot of great minions to consider in an aggro deck. However, his minion-buffing effects in Smuggler’s Run and Grimestreet Outfitter represents an intriguing gimmick. Against other aggro decks, buffing up a charge minion or Dragon Egg to an effectual inflection can be sufficient, whereas you may opt to buff a handful of minions to combat control decks.

 

Additionally, Small-Time Recruits and Divine Favor give Paladin a level of card advantage that other classes in the Supertype can’t match. This gives Paladin much more longevity against area-of-effect counters or drawn out minion exchanges. These cards also blend well with the aforementioned hand-buff effects, allowing you to build up a large hand and then buff it all. Having access to more card advantage also mitigates the lower quality of Paladin’s cards.

 

Unfortunately, this is where we start to confront the aforementioned shortfalls of Paladin as an aggro class. In order to meet the timing inflections needed to support Small-Time Buccaneer, or just general board control, you’re forced to consider lackluster options like Light’s Justice. Rallying Blade isn’t terrible, though, given the generic Divine Shield minions Paladin would likely already be using. Moreover, Paladin’s burst options are costly and awkward to use, meaning that the support and endgame options you rely on can often be insufficient.

 

Paladin made its way onto this list because I couldn’t think of an objective disqualification for it, it’s technically capable of supporting Pirates and carrying out an aggro objective, even if it has a lot of inferior tools for that job. I tested a few lists and I found a streamer who gave it a try as well (see the decklist section), and the deck really did have a unique appeal when everything lined up for it. The problem was that so many inflections and lines of play aren’t quite sufficient because the weapons aren’t as good, generic minions mean you can’t possible have better minions than other aggro classes, and there’s a real lack of endgame burst. However, it’s not as though Paladin has nothing to offer, hence the brief entry here.

 

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:

 

Warrior:

http://www.hearthstonetopdecks.com/decks/sintolols-aggro-pirate-warrior-rank-1-legend-mean-streets-of-gadgetzan/

Rogue:

http://www.hearthstonetopdecks.com/decks/rufengs-aggro-pirate-rogue-rank-1-legend-cn-mean-streets-gadgetzan/

Shaman:

http://www.hearthstonetopdecks.com/decks/sjows-aggro-jade-shaman-seatstory-cup-vi-december-2016/

Paladin:

http://www.hearthstonetopdecks.com/decks/dogs-aggro-paladin-mean-streets-of-gadgetzan/

 

Outroduction

 

While oft-maligned, I think it’s important for the metagame to have a healthy and viable aggressive presence. When a great number of decks are viable at the top tier of play, a larger proportion of your wins are due to what you queue into, which diminishes the skill-intensiveness of the format. However, when a small number of decks sit, undisputed, at the top of the format, the stagnation can make the format less enjoyable. This stagnant situation can arise when aggro or control doesn’t have a good representation in the metagame. For example, the pre-nerf Patron deck more-or-less wiped out aggro and largely confined tournament and ladder play to Patron/Midrange Druid/Handlock. The inability for aggro and control to wax and wane prevents a subtle rotation of the small number of top decks. A small, yet living and rotating, group of top decks makes for a skill-intensive and lively format. Aggro decks, despite the bad reputation conferred on them by some of the community, are a necessary part of that ecosystem.

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