Rogue is a peculiar class in Hearthstone. It has never really been a mainstream class – the closest it got was pre-nerf Miracle Rogue – but even then its representation was not representative of its power level.
The old Miracle Rogue died in two hits. First with the Leeroy Jenkins nerf from four mana to five in September 2014 and then the Gadgetzan Auctioneer nerf from five mana to six a couple of months later. All that was left was the ever-green balancing meme from Blizzard’s announcement:
“Leeroy Jenkins created a strategy that revolved around trying to defeat your opponent in one turn without requiring any cards on the board. Fighting for board control and battles between minions make an overall game of Hearthstone more fun and compelling, but taking 20+ damage in one turn is not particularly fun or interactive.” Source
Throughout all this time, however, Rogue has remained viable and enthusiasts insist on playing it both on ladder and in tournaments. The latest successful example is Dog’s second-place finish in the Insomnia57 Truesilver Championship. Rogue was also part of Amnesiac’s lineup in his first-place finish in the Americas Winter Championships 2016, part of lineups of both Orange (winner) and SuperJJ (second place) at Dreamhack Leipzig in January 2016 as well as part of Ostkaka’s World Championship winning lineup at Blizzcon 2015. Clearly podium finishes are not strange for the class.
In this article, I will examine various ways to build a Rogue deck to give you some ideas on how to tweak your own version to fit to your liking. The focus is on the most common Rogue archetype which can be described generally as a Burst Rogue. Calling it Combo Rogue would be slightly incorrect – as while some of the decks are clearly combo decks – others rely on general synergies to create that game-ending burst and care less about drawing any individual combo.
All of the Burst Rogue decks start the game rather slowly. The most common turn two move is to Hero Power but Rogue can swing board states rapidly and translate that into a deadly burst in the later stages of the game. Rogues are also all formed around the same core of powerful Rogue class cards so it makes sense to discuss them all in the same article. These Rogue decks are Oil Rogue, Miracle Rogue, and Malygos Rogue.
Oil Rogue: The Tournament Deck
Oil Rogue is currently considered to be the strongest of the three. A good indication of this is the fact that it is the only Rogue variant brought to top-level tournaments. Oil Rogue is capable of delivering its burst earlier than its counterparts and it is also the least picky when it comes to the cards it needs to deliver said burst. While Tinker’s Sharpsword Oil and Blade Flurry are the traditional means to deliver lethal damage, Oil Rogue is just as happy to finish off the opponent with Deadly Poison and double Eviscerate if needed.
Some recent Oil Rogue decks that have seen tournament success include:
- Archon Amnesiac at Americas Winter Championships (winner)
- Chessdude at Americas Winter Championships (semi-finalist)
- Archon Amnesiac at Americas Winter Preliminaries (qualified for Championships)
- Archon Orange at Dreamhack Leipzig (winner)
- Complexity SuperJJ at Dreamhack Leipzig (second place)
- Complexity SuperJJ at G2 Class Legends (semi-finalist)
The Oil Rogue core displayed by these decks is extensive at 26 cards:
The only deck that deviated from this core – by cutting Bloodmage Thalnos and one copy of Sap – was Amnesiac’s deck in the Americas Winter Championships.
Even with so few changes between decks, there are several choices to make and they greatly affect the way the deck functions.
The Core Rogue Spells
The core Rogue spells occupy fourteen slots from the deck so they are half of the entire deck! These core spells are two copies of each Backstab, Preparation, Deadly Poison, Blade Flurry, Eviscerate, Sap, and Fan of Knives.
Backstab is a key card to surviving against aggro and a common keep against any deck that can apply early pressure. As a zero-mana card, it can also be used to activate the numerous combo effects in the Rogue deck.
Preparation is a huge tempo card. Its most iconic use is to Prep a Sprint to draw four cards for four mana. That said, it is by no means necessary, or even desirable, to save Preparation only for use with Sprint. Preparation can accelerate anything a Rogue does, enable a minion to be played with a spell, or even activate a combo if really needed. Using Preparation just to activate the combo effect of an SI:7 Agent on turn three against an aggressive deck is not at all unheard of.
Deadly Poison is a simple weapon buff, but its cheap cost means that it can also be used to activate combos, such as by using Deadly Poison before Tinker’s Sharpsword Oil.
Blade Flurry is one of the key cards in the deck. It can be a really big board clear with suitable weapon buffs, and it’s worth remembering that spell damage also buffs the damage of Blade Flurry. Deadly Poison and Blade Flurry is a combination that simply destroys Patrons.
Eviscerate is both a removal and a finisher. It can take out a Knife Juggler on turn two or kill an Emperor Thaurissan with a Spell Power boost. It is often the last piece in the lethal puzzle that Rogue needs to solve to close out the game.
Sap is one of the most complicated cards in the deck. Unlike Hunter’s Freezing Trap, it does not make the minions it returns to hand really unattractive to play as it does not affect their cost. It is more of a pure tempo play. Sure, Sap can remove a taunt or reset a buff, but it’s most difficult uses are in situations where it does neither and is simply used to gain a better position for the next turn.
Fan of Knives is a basic area-of-effect spell that also draws a card. An effective response to Muster for Battle, it can also destroy some larger minions with spell damage buffs. In some matchups it can even be played on an empty board for the card draw.
Hopefully this brief introduction has opened your eyes to the multitudes of possibilities that a Rogue player has at his disposal. Most cards in the deck can be used for a good deal of value but the truly great Rogue players can recognize the times when you need to use the cards for less than their full effect. These situations happen in virtually every game when playing as Rogue. This is what makes Rogue so challenging – and rewarding – to play.
The Other Staples: Bloodmage Thalnos, Edwin VanCleef, SI:7 Agent, Azure Drake, and Loatheb
This group of minions is simply too good for any Oil Rogue to pass up on.
Bloodmage Thalnos serves the Rogue deck in many way. It is a cheap minion so it can be used to activate combo effects and it can also amplify said effects with its spell damage bonus. This is especially strong with Eviscerate, which it buffs high enough to kill Emperor Thaurissan. Furthermore, the Deathrattle of Bloodmage Thalnos provides additional card draw for the Rogue and it can be used simply for card draw if needed.
Edwin VanCleef – while vulnerable to silence – has incredible synergy with all the cheap spells in the Rogue deck. It is also a very versatile card. Experienced Rogue players rarely aim to build the largest VanCleef possible but always keep that possibility in mind. Instead, Edwin can range from a 4/4 when played with the coin on turn two to its probably most common form as a 6/6: just below the sights of the Big Game Hunter.
SI:7 Agent plays a major role in ensuring that the Rogue survives the early game and it can also provide essential direct damage later on. The card is often used with coin or Backstab in the early game to achieve a swing on turn two or three. In some cases, it is acceptable to sacrifice a Preparation just to activate the combo effect of the SI:7 Agent, and sometimes it is played on the board without its combo effect as a pure tempo play. It is yet another extremely versatile card in the Rogue portfolio.
Azure Drake also has incredible synergy in the Rogue deck. Drake is a 4/4 body, extra card draw, and spell damage to buff the wide variety of damage spells at Rogue’s disposal make it a perfect match.
Finally, we have Loatheb. It is both the Rogue’s biggest enemy and one of its most stalwart allies. Rogue often tries to get some minion to stick in the mid-to-end game in order to unleash its burst. Loatheb is the perfect card to support this strategy by removing most spells from the picture for a turn which is often all the Rogue needs.
The Four Mana Slot: The Threats
The four-drops are generally where the bulk of Oil Rogue’s threats lie.
Perhaps surprisingly, every single one of the decks in our sample runs two copies of Violet Teacher even though the other choices vary. Violet Teacher even has negative synergy with Tinker’s Sharpsword Oil, as the oil buff can land on a newly-spawned Violet Apprentice, and thus be unusable for attack on the turn it is played. Even accounting for that none of the players cut the teacher from their decks.
The prevalence of Violet Teacher is explained by the otherwise incredible synergy the card has with the core Rogue deck. Since Rogue is running a ton of cheap spells, it is able to quickly create a number of apprentices to compete for board presence. Especially in matchups such as Secret Paladin and Zoolock, this board presence is indispensable: the four area-of-effect spells Rogue runs can only carry you so far. In preparation for this article, I actually tried to play Oil Rogue without Violet Teachers. Replacing them with Piloted Shredders, for example, actually provided decent results in control matchups but the aggressive matchups suffered a great deal.
The other common options for the four mana slot are Piloted Shredder and Tomb Pillager. Piloted Shredder is a great match for Oil Rogue as the deck generally needs one minion to stick on the board. Tomb Pillager, while less sticky, can trade well with all the important five-health minions – such as Emperor Thaurissan – and provides a coin upon death that can be used to activate combo effects. With Tomb Pillager, using a coin on turn three just to play a minion is completely viable for Rogue.
Healing and Protection
With the weapon playing a central role in Rogue gameplay, health is an important resource and managing it well is crucial for success. While damage can often be avoided through the use of Blade Flurry for those area clears, a Rogue will inevitably tank some damage. This makes Rogue weak against all-out aggro with Face Shaman as its worst nemesis from that direction.
In general, Oil Rogue decks use two slots for healing and self-protection and they typically consist of a combination of Earthen Ring Farseer, Antique Healbot, and Sludge Belcher.
Earthen Ring Farseer has the advantage that it is the cheapest of the alternatives and is able to come out earlier to also contest the board against aggressive decks. It can also be used to heal minions if needed. The trade off, of course, is that its heal is the smallest of the bunch.
Antique Healbot is the most defensive option. A 3/3 body for five mana that heals your hero for eight: Healbot sacrifices minion stats for a powerful healing effect. This is particularly strong against aggressive decks, if you live long enough to use it, as those eight points will not be going away if the aggressor has a silence effect in hand.
Sludge Belcher, as strange as it sounds, is actually the most aggressive option of the three. It is a strong body with a Deathrattle, and Rogue is dangerous when it has minions on the board, as even that lowly 1/2 Slime can be buffed by Tinker’s Sharpsword Oil. Sludge Belcher is the strongest of these options against control decks in particular because it forces them to use more resources to keep the Rogue’s board clear while aggressive decks can often simply silence it.
As a tangible example of healing and self-protection choices, it is interesting to take a look at Amnesiac’s Oil Rogue decks in the Americas Winter Preliminaries and Americas Winter Championships. Amnesiac brought a very defensive Oil Rogue with double Antique Healbot to the preliminaries. He undoubtedly expected a lot of Secret Paladin and Zoo. As most of the players who qualified for the Championships favored control decks, Amnesiac changed his decklist for the Championships by replacing the Antique Healbots with Sludge Belchers and also swapping out one copy of Sap for a Big Game Hunter. These replacements gave him a stickier board and a piece of hard removal to protect himself from those big minions that control decks tend to play.
Big Game Hunter is a card that shifts in and out of Rogue decks. When it is included in the deck, it usually replaces one copy of Sap, like in Amnesiac’s deck.
Another possible option for healing could be Refreshment Vendor but there are several downsides to it. It is a four mana minion and Rogue already has options for that slot. Furthermore, it also heals the opponent which is meaningless against aggro but can severely hamper tanky control matchups where our damage spells are already very taxed.
One Oil or Two?
The number of Tinker’s Sharpsword Oil sometimes varies. It can be run as a single copy when mostly used as a finisher; other times it is run in two copies, one of which can then easily be used for clearing the board. The second copy is not free, however, as it can occasionally clog your hand with too many spells.
When only one copy is used, the other copy is often replaced with an Assassin’s Blade or with Dr. Boom.
Card draw is vital for Rogue as so much of the gameplay consists of cheap spells used in groups. The core cards already include Fan of Knives and Azure Drake – both of which draw a new card upon use – and almost all versions also include Bloodmage Thalnos which draws a card as a Deathrattle.
The solution used in all of the tournament decks in our sample for more card draw is Sprint. Sprint is a very flexible card as it can be played with Preparation for four mana. If you topdeck Sprint when your hand is empty, you get an immediate refill.
That said, Sprint is not the only option for card draw. The other major contender is the Gadgetzan Auctioneer. There are both upsides and downsides to this: Sprint is limited to those four cards but it works even if your hand is empty. Gadgetzan Auctioneer can be used to rapidly draw through the whole deck but is a much worse topdeck.
As Oil Rogue is the fastest-paced of the Burst Rogue decks, it is also the one that uses up cards the fastest and has a harder time waiting for a big Gadgetzan Auctioneer turn than the other variants. Oil Rogue decks with Gadgetzan Auctioneer do show up on the ladder but so far it seems inferior; at least in a tournament environment.
Stick or Charge?
Most Oil Rogue lists are confident that a minion will eventually stick on the board so that there will be a target for the minion buff from the Tinker’s Sharpsword Oil.
If you feel that you cannot make this happen, the alternative is to include a charge minion. This usually means a cheap charge minion such as Southsea Deckhand. As a one-mana minion, it is an ideal activator and target for the combo effect of oil as it can also be combined with a Blade Flurry quite easily. Other charge minions may work: even Leeroy Jenkins.
Miracle Rogue: Not Quite Dead?
Miracle Rogue shares the core Rogue spells and core minions with the Oil Rogue lists:
That’s already 19 cards, so it is easy to see how the decks remain related.
The key difference is the card draw miracle achieved with Gadgetzan Auctioneers. Auctioneers in this build are often accompanied by Conceal and Emperor Thaurissan to discount the mana cost of the cards. A key card in making this approach viable despite the higher cost of the Gadgetzan Auctioneer is Tomb Pillager. Tomb Pillager and Gadgetzan Auctioneer are the two core cards in Miracle Rogue that do not necessarily appear in Oil.
The game-ending burst comes in the form of Leeroy Jenkins and Shadowstep; or alternatively, a combo of Southsea Deckhand, Cold Blood(s), and Faceless Manipulator. Unfortunately, the combo finish for Miracle Rogue is less impressive in a world where Anyfin Can Happen so pure combo-based Miracle Rogue decks are a rare sight.
It is even debatable whether most Miracle Rogue decks that see play nowadays are actually Miracle Rogue decks at all. There is a tendency to name all Rogue decks that lack Tinker’s Sharpsword Oil, and use Gadgetzan Auctioneer for card draw, Miracle Rogue decks. For many people, however, it takes a combo finish for a deck to qualify as Miracle Rogue. Thijs played a non-combo Miracle Rogue deck on his stream last season. This more tempo-based alternative is definitely viable for ladder and the card draw from Gadgetzan Auctioneer can often keep its engine running so smoothly that the opponent just can’t keep up.
In addition to these purebred decks, it is also possible to build an Oil/Miracle hybrid deck such as this one from MrYagut, but the full capabilities of these are yet to be seen.
Malygos Miracle Rogue: The Future of Miracle Combo?
Malygos Rogue is actually a form of Miracle Rogue as it mirrors Miracle’s two goals: a card draw miracle with Gadgetzan Auctioneers and a game-ending burst. It is somewhere between the Miracle Rogue of old and the newer non-combo versions, as even though it has a powerful combo with Malygos and damage spells that are discounted with Emperor Thaurissan, it can also win without using Malygos at all.
Malygos Rogue was significantly strengthened with the introduction of Tomb Pillager in the League of Explorers. Malygos Rogue can use those coins either to draw more cards or to cast more spells on the same turn it plays Malygos. Tomb Pillager has become a staple in the deck since its introduction.
Working with a spell combo instead of chargers, the Malygos version is more stable and can achieve better synergies between the many spells in the deck: you can use a number of spells for removal early in the game, as the deck is more flexible when it comes to cards that it can use as finishers. You also need to keep track of your spells though to ensure that you still have enough damage to finish off the opponent.
There are two Rogue spells that are only used in Malygos Rogue: Shiv and Sinister Strike. Whether or not to include them is one of the main variations seen in Malygos Rogue decks. Some players use neither of them (Kolento took this route with the above ladder deck), some players prefer double Shiv for additional flexibility and card draw (see the Season 21 list from SuperJJ above), and some players opt to go for one Shiv and one Sinister Strike to have a little more burst at the end. This last approach was the one chosen by Dog in his recent appearance in the Insomnia57 Truesilver Championship.
Dog’s decklist is worth highlighting, as it is a rare example of Malygos Rogue being brought to a premier tournament. And he made it to the finals to boot. Insomnia’s format permitted players to change decks after the Swiss portion of the tournament. Dog changed one card in the deck as he replaced Edwin VanCleef with a Violet Teacher for the playoffs. In the Swiss rounds, the deck went 5-3 and in the single-elimination playoffs it went 4-3 (2-1, 0-1, 2-1).
What About Standard?
OK, the question that cannot be avoided. How good will Rogue be in Standard? Of course, all the standard disclaimers apply, such as that we do not know what nerfs there will be yet, nor do we have too good of an idea of the new cards.
The only simulation of what Standard might look like that we have is the recent Curse Trials tournament that was played with the cards that remain in Standard from the current card pool. Out of the sixteen invited players, seven brought Rogue as part of their lineup: it was the third-most popular class behind Druid and Shaman. As Druid has not yet been nerfed, it was an obvious number one pick and Shaman also loses very little, so no big surprises there. The number of Rogue decks was definitely above average and signals that players had a great deal of faith in the capabilities of the current Rogue cards from the Standard-legal sets.
Most of the players relied on non-combo versions of Miracle Rogue – such as this Ostkaka’s list – with Strifecro as the only one who brought Sprint as his card draw choice. Players were also divided on whether they placed their faith on Tomb Pillagers or Violet Teachers but the overall core of the decks looked very familiar.
The one player who stood out from the pack was SuperJJ. He brought a Standard-legal version of his Malygos Miracle Rogue and it looked solid.
But now everything we thought we knew was just cast into doubt. In monk’s recent report on his visit to Blizzard, he revealed that Blizzard is considering nerfs on Rogue Basic cards in order to create design space for new stronger Rogue cards in future expansions. For reference, the Rogue Basic cards are Assassinate, Assassin’s Blade, Backstab, Deadly Poison, Fan of Knives, Sap, Shiv, Sinister Strike, Sprint, and Vanish. As Rogue decks generally use around eight to ten copies of these cards, any changes could affect all Rogue decks.
We do not know what the possible stronger Rogue cards look like and the neutral cards that have been revealed from the Whispers of the Old Gods expansion so far do not seem to be that great for the existing Rogue archetypes. Rogue can potentially have ways to utilize C’Thun as its combo finisher. Rogue can generate additional coins and even Shadowstep C’Thun back for another round of Battlecry missiles next turn. Throw in a Brann Bronzebeard alongside a discounted C’Thun and things are getting scary.
Whether it is possible to build a Rogue deck that could actually use C’Thun in this way is uncertain. C’Thun needs his cultists to buff it after all and there is so little space in the Rogue deck alongside all the core Rogue spells. It might not be possible to just grab C’Thun and fit it in the existing Rogue framework as the combo finisher.
The two Rogue class cards that have been revealed so far — Undercity Huckster and Xaril, Poisoned Mind — seem to be pushing a Deathrattle Rogue archetype that has not been on the same level as its more bursty counterparts.
Xaril, Poisoned Mind is an interesting card for all Rogue decks as the toxins are cheap spells that can work well with both Violet Teacher and Gadgetzan Auctioneer. It’s not quite a replacement for Piloted Shredder, as it fills a different role, but it is definitely something strong enough to justify experimentation. Will it be an auto-include for a slot that already has Violet Teacher and Tomb Pillager in it, I’m not sure yet.
Rogue is a fun and challenging class to play. It has never quite been mainstream and it is unlikely it ever will. Rogue decks present plenty of flexible options and can be quite daunting for a casual player to pick up.
The core Rogue spells occupy a major portion of the Rogue deck but there are still many tech choices to be made and Rogue decks feel different even though not that many cards change between decks. Understanding the purpose of each card enables you to build a Rogue deck that is just the right fit for you and for the current meta.
As it is, Rogue seems to be in a good spot for the Standard format but recent news that some Rogue Basic cards may be nerfed make it impossible to predict the class’ actual strength.
This article was originally published on Liquidhearth. I am the original author of this article. Republished with permission here on my personal blog.