There is something fascinating about dragons. They are a fantasy staple that keep reappearing in literature and movies, even in modern fiction such as Game of Thrones. Therefore, it is not surprising that dragons are also fan-favorites among Hearthstone players, and many players want to play with dragon cards. While many dragon decks are more fun than viable, there is one notable exception: Dragon Priest – the dragon deck that is used by dragon fans and competitive players alike.
Back when it was launched, Hearthstone featured a number of dragon cards. Almost all of them were big end-game finishers, stand-alone cards that had no synergies with other dragon cards, but saw play by virtue of their own strength. The names of the dragon aspects – Ysera, Alexstrasza, Malygos, and Deathwing – instilled fear among opponents and brought many happy moments for their masters.
It was the Blackrock Mountain adventure in early 2015 that brought the concept of dragon decks to the game. The adventure debuted tribal dragon synergy cards that defined the core of dragon decks for the following two years. Unfortunately, there were too many gaps. Dragon decks were attempted with all classes, and while they were sometimes good enough to gain ranks on the ladder, none were competitively viable.
The Grand Tournament expansion in summer 2015 promised to change this. Dragon decks received a number of improvements, none more so than Dragon Priest. Alas, it was still too soon. Dragon Priest was a defensive midrange deck with only a few surprises up its sleeve, and while it was able to hold aggro decks at bay, it did not quite reach competitive levels.
The glory days of Dragon Priest were to come in late 2016 with the Mean Streets of Gadgetzan expansion, and the blatantly overpowered Drakonid Operative – just the tool Dragon Priest needed to rise above the fold with its strong body and the ability to discover a card from the opponent’s deck. The designers wanted to give Dragon Priest a chance to shine one more time before the Standard rotation in April 2017 would take away all the synergy cards from Blackrock Mountain and The Grand Tournament, leaving only a few stragglers behind.
April 2017 came and went, but Dragon Priest is still here. The power of Drakonid Operative was great enough to carry the deck over the rotation that cost it more than half of its cards. The dragon apocalypse was such that Dragon Priest is the only good dragon deck remaining – only Dragon Control Warrior can occasionally shine alongside it, while all the others are very, very dead.
And what a Dragon Priest it is! The Dragon Priest in Year of the Mammoth is a value-oriented midrange deck that can choose from a wide range of win conditions and never runs out of steam. Gone are the days of defensive on-curve Taunt minions, replaced by a much more flexible and at times seemingly unstoppable train of priestly goodness.
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Dragon Priest is a value-oriented midrange deck that starts out a little slow, often defending for the first few turns and then proceeds to take a firm control of the board and overwhelm its opponent.
Typically, you go for Northshire Cleric, Radiant Elemental, and Power Word: Shield to start off with. Radiant Elemental + Power Word: Shield can give you a 2/5 minion for two mana!
Depending on the matchup and the rest of your hand, you can also keep a Shadow Word: Pain, Netherspite Historian (usually with a dragon), or a Kabal Talonpriest to ensure that you can contest the board early on.
The removal options of Dragon Priest are second to none, except against four-attack minions – the bane of Priests everywhere!
Shadow Word: Pain and Book Wyrm can remove minions with low attack, while Shadow Word: Death takes care of individual big threats. Dragonfire Potion offers unsurpassed area-of-effect damage that does not affect your dragons – just be mindful of what minion types you have on the board before playing it and remember to make any trades with your non-dragon minions before the potion.
The in-built value package relies on the few available dragons and dragon synergy cards that ensure significant value generation for the Dragon Priest. In order to reliably activate tribal dragon synergies, you generally want to run eight dragon cards in your deck. The typical dragon and synergy card package consists of two copies of each of the following cards:
- Netherspite Historian: An early-game value generator that enables you to discover a suitable dragon for the matchup. Blizzard heard that you like value, so they put some Drakonid Operative value up for grabs most of the time, so you can chain value into more value. That’s the default pick. A big end-game dragon can sometimes be better, and occasionally you might even want a Faerie Dragon to even out your mana curve.
- Twilight Drake: The old Handlock staple was not good enough for the old Dragon Priest, because Dragon Priest wanted to play cards on curve and Twilight Drake could not grow to be that big with the small number of cards in hand. The new Dragon Priest takes things a little slower, often enabling Twilight Drake to come down as a 4/7 or bigger. It is still not a perfect fit, but given the small pool of dragons available, it is good enough.
- Drakonid Operative: One of the most busted cards in Hearthstone. Need to play a superior body for five mana? How about a card from your opponent’s deck to go alongside that? Discover burn or Ice Block against Mage, grab a Tirion from Paladin, or a Kill Command from Hunter. It just works.
- Book Wyrm: A resilient body that can also immediately affect the board, and there are plenty of good targets. Fandral Staghelm giving you trouble, or maybe a Murloc Warleader? Just wipe them out while developing a minion of your own.
- Primordial Drake: A big Taunt minion that also deal area-of-effect damage when played. Just a solid card that really helps stabilize against more aggressive decks.
This value package and the midrange pressure it enables is one of your win conditions as a Dragon Priest.
However, there are at least three other win conditions that are regularly used in Dragon Priest lists:
First, there is Lyra the Sunshard. Together with Radiant Elementals, you can play Lyra, cycle through a ton of Priest spells, and often find spells such as Mind Control, Divine Spirit, or Inner Fire. An unanswered Lyra generates so many spells that it just wins games on its own. This is what the newly found Miracle Priest archetype is all about, but Lyra can also fit in a Dragon Priest list, even though you have a more limited number of spells available, so making miracles happen is not as easy.
Second, you can just put Divine Spirit and Inner Fire into the deck directly. With the help of Shadow Visions, you only need to run single copies of the cards and can still often discover them as needed. You can then win the game with a single high-health minion and various health buffs, such as Power Word: Shield, Kabal Talonpriest, and Divine Spirit, followed up by an Inner Fire.
Third, you can consider adding even more value to the deck in the form of Elise the Trailblazer. Those Un’Goro packs that Elise opens tend to be pretty good, and with Shadow Visions you can have several! Having access to more resources, including cards from other classes for some broken combos, can be extremely powerful. I have won games with Kalimos (Radiant Elemental and Lyra activate it!) and Swamp King Dred, for example.
When you are not sure what deck your opponent is playing, you typically need to mulligan for the most aggressive option: you have more time to find the right cards to play against a slower deck, whereas against an aggro deck you need your answers immediately.
You must not let a Token Druid build a wide board that they can then buff. Therefore, cards such as Northshire Cleric, Radiant Elemental, Power Word: Shield (with a minion), Shadow Word: Pain, and Potion of Madness are ones you are looking for. Especially Shadow Word: Pain can work wonders should the Druid Innervate out a Vicious Fledgling.
Midrange Hunter is a board-centric deck that really wants to keep some beasts on the board. Northshire Cleric can disrupt their plans, and they are generally extremely weak to Potion of Madness. Radiant Elemental and Power Word: Shield can also form a powerful combination.
Secret Mage will come at you, and they will come at you hard. As their minions are mostly 2/3s, Potion of Madness alone does not help, you need a minion to go alongside it. Northshire Cleric, Radiant Elemental, and Power Word: Shield (with a minion) can be good. Shadow Word: Pain for a Mana Wyrm can save the day as well.
Paladins typically start out with a bunch of Murlocs. Shadow Word: Pain can help against a Murloc Warleader, and the early-game cards Northshire Cleric, Radiant Elemental, Power Word: Shield (with a minion), and Potion of Madness can buy you time to get to your big minions and area-of-effect damage.
Priest can effectively remove small minions, but on the other hand they can also be a little slow at times. This can be a good matchup to keep Netherspite Historian and a Twilight Drake or Drakonid Operative. Northshire Cleric is always a good keep as well.
You need to be fast to beat a Quest Rogue. All the early minions will do: Northshire Cleric, Radiant Elemental, Kabal Talonpriest. If you have the early game, you can keep Drakonid Operative: as a 5/6, it trades effectively with Rogue’s minions after the quest has been played – it does not matter that the discovered card is most likely useless.
Token Shaman mostly has minions with more than one health, so Northshire Cleric is not that effective. Radiant Elemental, Power Word: Shield, Kabal Talonpriest, and Netherspite Historian with a dragon can work better. Shadow Word: Pain can help clear out an early Flametongue Totem or a Tar Creeper if it happens to be an Elemental Shaman.
You are looking for your regular anti-aggro toolkit of Northshire Cleric, Radiant Elemental, Power Word: Shield (with a minion), Shadow Word: Pain, and Potion of Madness.
Potion of Madness is the single most important card against a Pirate Warrior. Northshire Cleric, Radiant Elemental, Power Word: Shield (with a minion), and Shadow Word: Pain can also help.
Tech Cards and Replacements
While Dragon Priest is not one of the most expensive decks in Hearthstone, it is not exactly cheap to build either. When it comes to playing Dragon Priest on a budget, things become difficult because it is a tribal deck, and there is a limited number of cards around with the Dragon tag.
The first hurdle is One Night in Karazhan adventure. Dragon Priest runs multiple cards from the set: Netherspite Historian, Book Wyrm, and Priest of the Feast. Replacing Netherspite Historian means that you lose a lot of value generation – you’d probably have to go for something like a Kabal Courier, and it is not quite the same thing. Replacing Book Wyrm means finding two other cards with the Dragon tag, and it is slim pickings out there. Faerie Dragon and one end-game dragon such as Ysera, maybe? Replacing Priest of the Feast means finding some way to heal yourself, such as Darkshire Alchemist or Binding Heal, or you could go for something like a Divine Spirit/Inner Fire combo and just not run healing, thus losing to Mage decks that run Ice Block.
Primordial Drake is another painful card to replace, those Dragon tags are just so valuable. As it is the most expensive dragon in the deck, you can get by with replacing one with an end-game dragon, such as Ysera.
Shadow Visions is great when you are digging for some answers. If you replace that, you probably cannot run the Divine Spirit + Inner Fire combo as you cannot find the pieces reliably enough. Adding second copies for any one-off spells for improved consistency can be the path here.
Dragonfire Potion is one of the best area-of-effect spells in the game. Holy Nova is the budget replacement, but at significantly lower performance.
Funnily enough, it is not the legendary cards that are a problem to replace. Elise the Trailblazer or Lyra the Sunshard are interchangeable with each other, or with some other end-game cards such as Ysera. If you have nothing else, use Mind Control!
I cannot recommend building a full budget (no epics or adventures) Dragon Priest. You just lose all that is good in the deck and are left with a sub-par midrange deck.
If you don’t have all the cards, at least get the full dragon package. Netherspite Historian and Book Wyrm are in the final wing of One Night in Karazhan, so you also get Priest of the Feast on the way there. Then you need the Primordial Drakes, or at least one if you have a spare Ysera to replace the other with. At that point, you can add some other spells to replace Shadow Visions, run Holy Nova over Dragonfire Potion, and run Mind Control over an end-game legendary.
Outside of the main dragon and removal package, there is some room to tech Dragon Priest to your liking. Even the use of cards such as Potion of Madness (zero, one, or two) and Shadow Word: Pain (zero, one, or two) depends on the meta you are facing.
Elise the Trailblazer / Lyra the Sunshard / Inner Fire + Divine Spirit. I discussed the win conditions in the overall strategy section – you have a lot of leeway in choosing which win conditions to use, and the choice can also depend on the meta. Some people even go for all of them!
Kabal Songstealer. I really enjoy this card. Silence effects are seeing more use again despite their high cost, but Priest gets a good body to go alongside its silence effect. This is always a card to keep in mind.
Cabal Shadow Priest. Whenever Taunt Warrior rises in popularity, so does the attractiveness of Cabal Shadow Priest. A powerful card in the right meta – one where there are plenty of minions with less than three attack.
Acidic Swamp Ooze / Gluttonous Ooze. If you find yourself in need of weapon removal, Oozes can help you out. With all the resource generation in Dragon Priest, you probably don’t want Harrison Jones to draw more cards, but it is also an option for some builds.
Defender of Argus. With Dragon taunts in short supply, turning your high-health dragons into taunts can be an appealing option when fighting against aggressive decks.
Jade Druid – Neutral
Aganst Jade Druid, you are the beatdown. Even though Dragon Priest has a lot of removal at its disposal, the Jades will eventually grow so big that there is nothing you can do to remove them. On the bright side, Druid also has a hard time removing all of your midrange minions, and going wide on the board can just overwhelm them.
Jade Druid wins if it survives long enough and stabilizes on the back of its own Primordial Drakes, Earthen Scales, and ultimately Gadgetzan Auctioneer to get a big Jade train rolling. Dragon Priest wins if it can get enough threats on the board to race the Druid down.
Aggro Druid – Good
Priest packs a ton of area-of-effect damage, and that can really hurt Aggro Druid. The early game is crucial: Druid will try to race you down before Dragonfire Potion is even an option.
Shadow Word: Pain can be crucial in dealing with an Innervated Vicious Fledgling, and a Radiant Elemental + Power Word: Shield combo can give you a sticky minion to contest the board with. Watch out for buffs, Savage Roar, and Living Mana.
If you are at reasonable health level on Turn six, you generally win, as Dragonfire Potions and Primordial Drakes can prevent the Druid from building a strong board. Without a board, Aggro Druid cannot do anything.
Midrange Hunter – Good
Midrange Hunters really love their beasts: Crackling Razormaw and Houndmaster both rely on beast synergies, as do Kill Command and Scavenging Hyena. Try not to let them have beasts on the board, and turn their deathrattles against them: Kindly Grandmother is an asset in most matchups, but it is a liability against Potion of Madness.
If the Hunter cannot build a good board early enough, Priest can roll to victory.
Discover Burn Mage / Freeze Mage – Good
Both slow Mage matchups are fairly similar from the Priest’s point of view. You defend, you stall, and you save Shadow Word: Death, Priest of the Feast, and ideally at least one other cheap spell for their Alexstrasza turn and immediately heal out of reach once Alexstrasza comes down. The damage you take before Alexstrasza is not that significant, as long as you can stay at around 20 health: Mage generally has around 18 reach (Fireball + Fireball + Fireball from Primordial Glyph at two mana, so 18 damage for 10 mana), sometimes a little more with Bloodmage Thalnos and two Primordial Glyphs.
The ability to rapidly heal out of reach makes Priest one of the best counters to slow Mage decks.
Secret Mage – Good
Secret Mage is a lot more hectic matchup than other Mage decks, and cards are not saved for the end-game here. Playing around secrets can be exhausting, and players switch secrets from time to time and also discover more secrets during the game.
You have weak minions you can play into Mirror Entity (Netherspite Historian, Northshire Cleric) and it can be a good idea to hold on to some of them just to trigger those secrets safely. Some of the spells can also be of fairly low value, such as Power Word: Shield and Potion of Madness, so you have inexpensive means to trigger Counterspell.
Secret Mage does not have area-of-effect damage outside of discovers, so having multiple minions on the board is good. If you can force the Mage to use any of their burn on your minions, that’s a good sign.
Control Paladin – Neutral
Control Paladin has near-infinite value with Stonehill Defenders giving them multiple Paladin legendaries and Equality and Sunkeeper Tarim able to make any big minions into much smaller minions.
Luckily, Priest also has near-infinite value between Netherspite Historian and Drakonid Operative, so this matchup is a constant battle where you play decent threats on the board while avoiding overextending, and Paladin clears out your board only to have it repopulated again. Later in the game multiple Tirions can start to turn the tide against you.
You need to keep up threats while ensuring that you can repopulate the board again after a wipe and wear the Paladin down.
Midrange Paladin – Bad
Midrange Paladin has an explosive Murloc-powered start followed up by one or more copies of Sunkeeper Tarim, Tirion Fordring, and Primordial Drake – a 4/8 body that can be a pain for Priest to deal with.
You are forced to be on the defense most of the time, and the threat of Sunkeeper Tarim means that you need to try to both limit the size of your opponent’s board and not overcommit to too many big minions of your own at once.
The wins come from those games where you stabilize after the initial Murloc rush and maintain board control from there while not overcommitting.
Murloc Paladin – Bad
Murloc Paladin just comes straight at you and tries to kill you. Blessing of Kings and Gentle Megasaur are threats from Turn four, they often also have a Spikeridged Steed for Turn 6, so there are plenty of buffs to be afraid of.
Survival is even more difficult than against Midrange Paladin, but when you manage to live through the initial onslaught, you are in a good spot.
Dragon Priest – Mirror Match
This matchup really punishes the player who is left behind. Dragonfire Potion does not damage dragons, so regaining the board is extremely difficult. As in all Priest matchups, abusing four-attack minions is a high priority, as Priest generally cannot deal with them. Pay attention to the number of dragons and non-dragons on the board when estimating area-of-effect damage.
Control Priest – Good
You have big four-attack minions and Dragonfire Potion is ineffective against most of your minions. Beat him down.
Silence Priest – Good
This matchup can get tricky. You both have a bunch of four-attack minions, so clearing out boards can be difficult. The upside is that you know that their gameplan revolves around Divine Spirit + Inner Fire, so be active in not allowing high health to remain on the board: even just damaging the minions can make Divine Spirit that much less effective.
Most Silence Priests no longer run Shadow Word: Death, so Drakonid Operative is a perfectly safe play as soon as possible.
Good Silence Priests will often keep their minions at four attack until they can push for lethal – a 4/20 minion is not a rare sight in this matchup. If the game goes longer, Primordial Drake can buy you some time, although Silence on the Drake removes the taunt and may allow the Silence Priest to push through.
Quest Rogue – Bad
The Quest Rogue matchup is perhaps more for the Rogue to lose than the Priest to win. Against inexperienced Quest Rogues, Dragon Priest is actually favored, as you can wipe their board with Dragonfire Potions until they run out of minions.
More experienced Quest Rogue players save their charge minions and Shadowsteps until after they have completed the quest – resulting in slower quest completion, but a one-turn-kill once it is done.
You need to be fast and hit them in the face a lot. Trade only when needed: just before they complete the quest or on high-value targets, such as Novice Engineer.
Miracle Rogue – Good
Interestingly enough, a Dragon Priest deck contains enough removal to destroy every single threat in a Miracle Rogue deck. Shadow Word: Death can severely punish an early Edwin VanCleef, and Dragonfire Potion wipes out Gadgetzan Auctioneer, which is otherwise a bit inconvenient target at four attack.
The way for the Rogue to win is to apply too much pressure, too soon. A fast Miracle Rogue deck will charge at you and create multiple minions for you to deal with while copying random class cards from you, and the slower variants can sometimes cycle through their deck much faster than you can find answers and overwhelm you with a pair of Arcane Giants or Questing Adventurers.
You are generally on the defense, but as the Rogue has no healing, you can sometimes also push enough damage to force the Rogue to initiate the trades.
Elemental Shaman – Good
You are a bit slow to start with, but so is the Elemental Shaman. Be mindful of their many direct damage options, such as Jade Lightning at four, Fire Elemental at six, Blazecaller at seven, and Kalimos at eight. The area-of-effect packages vary, but it is mostly Volcano that can really damage your minions.
Between all your minion generation and Dragonfire Potions, you can often win the board control battle and overwhelm the Shaman.
Token Shaman – Good
There is one thing Token Shaman hates: area-of-effect damage. As it happens, Dragon Priest has plenty of that. Token Shaman typically runs two copies of Bloodlust, so if they get a foothold on the board, they can quite liberally Bloodlust you once even if it is not lethal to set up for the potential lethal with another Bloodlust.
Another board-centric matchup: win the board, win the game.
Pirate Warrior – Bad
With so many Dragon Priest Taunt minions out of Standard format, Pirate Warrior can just hit you in the face and beat you up. The single most important card in the matchup is Potion of Madness, which can wreak havoc on the Pirate Warrior’s early game.
Should you live until Primordial Drake, you should be fine: only Mortal Strike can hurt you behind a Taunt, although Pirate Warriors are nowadays teching in Spellbreaker to help push through taunts.
Play around Mortal Strike when you can, it deals increased damage when the Warrior is down to 12 health or less.
Taunt Warrior – Neutral
Against Taunt Warrior, you are the beatdown. The Warrior will attempt to stall and then finally overwhelm you with their Hero Power. What makes it worse is the fact that the Warrior has a lot of removal from Whirlwind effects to Sleep with the Fishes to Brawl and Execute.
Keep threats on the board but do not overextend. However, the worst-case scenario is the one where Warrior completes the quest and is able to Brawl the board afterwards, so do apply sufficient pressure to force the Brawls before the quest is completed.
Book Wyrm is a big deal in this matchup, as it can remove many of the more annoying Taunt minions, such as Alley Armorsmith.
What should I choose from Netherspite Historian’s discover effect?
The default pick is Drakonid Operative – that card is one of the main attractions of playing Dragon Priest in the first place, and you can never have too many.
However, it is not always offered, and there are many other reasons to pick something else. For example, at what stage of the game are you playing the Netherspite Historian? If it is in the late game, maybe Ysera can be an even better pick than the Operative, especially against other Priests. If it is in the early game, what does your hand look like? Can you plan ahead your following turns? Especially against aggressive decks, you may want to pick up a minion you can get on the board as soon as possible to strive for board control.
What do I want to do with Shadow Visions?
Shadow Visions is an immensely flexible card.
First, you can use it to pick up your win condition: an additional copy of Divine Spirit, Inner Fire, or an Un’Goro Pack from Elise the Trailblazer can just win you the game.
Second, you can use it to pick up additional copies of spells you know are crucial for the matchup: usually more area-of-effect damage or a Shadow Word: Death.
Finally, you can use it when you really need something right now to answer whatever threat you are facing, usually picking up a Shadow Word: Death or Shadow Word: Pain.
Depending on your hand and the matchup, you can weave in Shadow Visions when you have some extra mana, especially if you already have some answers but are missing one key piece you know you will need later in the game.
Sometimes it is better to just wait and use Shadow Visions when you know you need something. The more uncertain you are of what you will need, the better it is to wait instead of playing Shadow Visions as soon as possible. It is also better to wait if you want to play it to fetch an additional Un’Goro Pack, as you need Elise first to shuffle the Pack into your deck.
How many dragons should there be in a Dragon Priest deck?
If you want to reliably activate early-game synergies, such as a Turn two Netherspite Historian, you want to have at least eight dragons. Of course, this does not exactly guarantee a dragon in hand by Turn two, but it is close enough that adding more dragons does not make things significantly better. If you go with only seven or less, you will notice the difference.
If you can include even more dragons, that’s great! However, with the small dragon pool currently in Standard, that is a difficult task.
I wrote this guide for Hearthhead, they have a large number of deck guides including this one – you can check them out here. Republished with permission on my personal blog.