With the Standard format coming out soon, huge changes are about to take place in the Hearthstone metagame. The first expansions to rotate out, Naxxramas and Goblins vs Gnomes, have been cornerstones of many decks. One notable feature of these expansions has been sticky minions, many of which are thus now about to rotate out of the Standard format.
While the contents of the upcoming spring 2016 expansion are not yet known, it can still be useful to examine what is going out and how it can potentially affect the metagame.
Significant sticky minions on their way out
Annoy-o-Tron (Goblins vs Gnomes). In addition to mech decks, which are obviously on their way out, the Annoy-o-Tron has found its way as an early defense in many lists, including even some Secret Paladin lists.
Haunted Creeper (Naxxramas). Haunted Creeper is a premium 2-drop: a 1/2 beast minion with a deathrattle to create two 1/1 minions – essentially providing 3/4 worth of stats for 2 mana! This has made it a staple in many decks: Zoo and Paladin decks use it to create more cheap tokens to control the board and many Hunter variants use it as a cheap and sticky beast that can also activate Kill Command and Houndmaster (for the Midrange variant).
Nerubian Egg (Naxxramas). Nerubian Egg has been a unique card. At 0/2 stats, it doesn’t do anything unless you have means to activate it for attack, but the deathrattle brings to play a powerful 4/4 minion. Many decks that are able to buff minions have made good use of it, especially Zoo and Egg Druid, and it has also found its way into some Paladin lists. Against a deck filled with board clears, the Egg can also act as an insurance against those and thus affect the course of the game despite remaining a 0/2.
Shielded Minibot (Goblins vs Gnomes). The staple Paladin 2-drop, used in basically all Paladin decks made after its introduction. Possibly the best 2 mana minion in the game at the moment.
Piloted Shredder (Goblins vs Gnomes). Piloted Shredder has defined the 4-mana slot since its introduction. Decent 4/3 stats combined with an immensely powerful deathrattle that brings in a random 2-cost minion simply make the card way more powerful than pretty much any other 4-drop. It sees wide use in almost all the decks in the game.
Voidcaller (Naxxramas). The Warlock class card is not sticky by itself, as it requires you to have a demon in your hand for the deathrattle to summon, but with a demon in hand it is incredibly powerful. Doomguard, Lord Jaraxxus, and Mal’Ganis have been the most common cards to come out of Voidcaller, causing huge swings, and really making the opponent think hard whether to kill a Voidcaller at all.
Sludge Belcher (Naxxramas). Sludge Belcher is the main line of defense against aggressive decks and sees use in practically all control decks as well as many midrange decks. A 3/5 taunt minion with a deathrattle to bring in yet another, 1/2, taunt, Belcher has defined what a defensive card is.
Feugen and Stalagg (Naxxramas). Perhaps slightly less relevant sticky minions, as only the last to die in a match spawns another minion upon its demise, although that minion is the hugely powerful 11/11 Thaddius. Feugen and Stalagg are not really staple cards, although they do see some high-level play in some variations of Renolock and Druid.
Piloted Sky Golem (Goblins vs Gnomes). The big brother of Piloted Shredder, the Sky Golem sees much less play, as at 6 mana the number of decks able to use it effectively is lower and minions of that cost are generally expected to deliver a lot.
Sneed’s Old Shredder (Goblins vs Gnomes). The pinnacle of the GvG deathrattle cards, a sturdy 5/7 body with a powerful deathrattle that summons a random legendary minion comes at a hefty cost of 8 mana, which has limited its use to a few decks.
Significant sticky minions that stay
Argent Squire (Classic). The classic 1 mana 1/1 with Divine Shield has some capability to fight against the low-health minions used by aggro decks, but at 1 attack it does not easily take out larger minions.
Mounted Raptor (League of Explorers). A Druid class card that is basically a mini-Shredder has seen play in many varieties of Druid, although it has faced harsh competition from Shade of Naxxramas and Argent Horserider, depending on the type of deck in question, and has not really cemented its place as a staple. Nonetheless, it is one of the strongest sticky minions that survive the first rotation.
Argent Horserider (The Grand Tournament). An aggressive Divine Shielded charger, the Horserider has already found a place in many aggressive decks. With so many deathrattle minions leaving Standard, its Divine Shield grows in power relative to the rest of the field.
Harvest Golem (Classic). Harvest Golem has had a bit of a hard time lately, because as a 2/3 it is unable to trade very effectively for a 3 mana minion despite its deathrattle summoning another 2/1 minion. Looking at the remaining sticky minions though, it may be set to reappear in the meta.
Imp Gang Boss (Blackrock Mountain). While the Warlock class card Gang Boss does not have a deathrattle effect, its ability to spawn imps whenever damaged often causes the opponent even more worries than a simple deathrattle.
Scarlet Crusader (Classic). This 3 mana 3/1 with Divine Shield used to see play once upon a time before being outclassed by other cards. Perhaps it can come back to the meta.
Silent Knight (The Grand Tournament). As a 3 mana 2/2 with both Divine Shield and Stealth, the Silent Knight is perhaps the most difficult card in the whole game to remove immediately. It has not found its way into any decks yet, but Standard might give it an opening.
Dreadsteed (The Grand Tournament). The very definition of sticky, the Warlock class card Dreadsteed merely resummons itself upon death. However, as a 4 mana 1/1, it requires a highly specific deck to use effectively, and it is going to lose its key enablers in the rotation with Baron Rivendare and Kel’Thuzad heading out of standard, thus making it impossible to multiply Dreadsteeds unless other similar effects are introduced in the new expansion.
Argent Commander (Classic). Argent Commander was a powerful card once upon a time, but its 4 attack at 6 mana just hasn’t cut it for a while now.
Cairne Bloodhoof (Classic). Once upon a time, Cairne was a top tier legendary, a sturdy 4/5 body with another one coming up after the first one falls. However, the introduction of a number of 5/5 minions (Loatheb, Shieldmaiden, and Emperor Thaurissan to name a few) meant that Cairne was no longer able to trade effectively with the opponent’s board, and it fell out of favor.
Sunwalker (Classic). A 6 mana 4/5 with Divine Shield, it’s pretty close to a Belcher. Except that it isn’t, as at 6 mana it is usually too late to save you against aggro. At its mana cost, the 4 attack really hurts it as well.
Wobbling Runts (League of Explorers). While Wobbling Runts packs a powerful deathrattle of three 2/2 minions, the main body is miserable at a 2/6 statline for 6 mana, and is therefore seeing no play.
Savannah Highmane (Classic). The Hunter class card that has defined what Midrange Hunter looks like for a long time, Savannah Highmane is one of the best 6-mana minions in the game. A solid 6/5 body and a powerful deathrattle of two 2/2 minions make Highmane the king of value town.
Can you even put together a sticky deck in Standard?
By looking at the lists above, it is clear that putting together a sticky minion-based deck will be a lot harder in Standard.
For example, consider Midrange Hunter – a deck that is not considered particularly powerful even at the moment. Nowadays, it often runs Haunted Creepers, Piloted Shredders, a Sludge Belcher or even two, and Savannah Highmanes. It fights for the board, simply refusing to leave it (Hunter does not have meaningful board clears anyway, so unless you go face, that’s the way you need to do it). However, Savannah Highmane is the only minion from that list that will remain in Standard, hugely weakening the standard Midrange Hunter strategy.
Another deck with a sticky strategy is the Warlock Zoo, especially the midrange variant. Haunted Creeper is a staple, as is Nerubian Egg (a card that is a true perfect fit for Zoo), and the key card of the midrange variant is the Voidcaller, which enables it to gain tempo by summoning powerful minions for free (well, Mal’Ganis is also rotating out, so there is less to summon anyway).
Finally, there is the king of sticky, Egg Druid. While Egg druid also loses key cards in Haunted Creeper and Nerubian Egg, it is the only deck that can actually create its own stickiness thanks to the Druid class card Soul of the Forest, and it also gets to keep the Mounted Raptor, another Druid class card. Whether that is enough to keep Egg Druid alive remains to be seen.
With most of the good deathrattle cards rotating out, the stickiness that remains comes primarily from Divine Shields, which are generally weaker than deathrattles. That said, Argent Squire in particular might make some form of a comeback to Zoo lists.
The loser: Midrange decks
It is hard to evaluate the cumulative effects of all the changes, but the rotation of sticky minions punishes midrange decks the most. Face decks just don’t care, minions are almost single use anyway, and it’s just a bonus if they survive. Control decks, on the other hand, run a number of board clears, so while they lose some of that stickiness for defensive purposes, they also gain the ability to more easily wipe the board clean and reset the game.
Midrange decks, however, are in a rough spot. They want to fight for board control, but getting that board completely reset by board clears hurts them a ton. At the same time, they lose the stickiness that has enabled them to fight against the stream of minions from aggro decks.
The winner: Decks that run board clears
Control or combo decks running Doomsayer or Twisting Nether, or even an Aggro Shaman running Elemental Destruction have a reason to rejoice. Finally these board clears actually clear the board, especially the ones that clear the board without dealing damage, as there may still be some Divine Shields around.
However, who wins the most, aggro or control? There is one aggro deck in the current meta that also runs a board clear of its own – the Aggro Shaman. Aggro Shaman is going to lose Crackle, which is a big deal, but the increased capability of Elemental Destruction just might make up for it. On the control side, there is obviously the Freeze Mage, which loses Mad Scientist and thus some of its survivability against all out aggro, but which will also gain a lot of power for its various board clears. Various Warlock decks with their plethora of board clear options also seem set to be on the winning side of this rotation.
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