When I prepare for a tournament, I focus on deck building more than any other aspect of my game. I believe that the only way to truly be favored to win a tournament is to have the best deck, or in Hearthstone’s case, the four decks that will give you the best odds at winning the tournament. This is the approach I take in every card game in which I compete. When I am searching for the best deck, I look for a deck that is unfair, has the potential to auto-win games, and is consistent. Combo decks are inherently broken in Hearthstone, and they are the only kind of deck that is capable of meeting all three of these characteristics. Before we get more in depth as to why this is true, we have to quickly define the three characteristics: unfairness, auto-wins, and consistency.
Unfairness: A decks ability to go against basic principles of the game.
Auto-wins: The ability to draw a certain combination of cards that together will increase the chances of winning greatly.
Consistency: How often a deck will perform compared to how often a deck will brick.
When I say “the most unfair thing” I am not talking about the most powerful thing. If I were, Secret Paladin would be unfair, but it isn’t. Secret Paladin is incredibly fair. The reason Secret Paladin is fair is because it is still playing a game of Hearthstone. It plays minions, values the board, and attacks. Everything it does can be interacted with. There is nothing that it can do that cannot be responded to in some way. It may be incredibly powerful and frustrating to play against, but it still follows the fundamental rules of Hearthstone. An example of an unfair deck is Freeze Mage.
Freeze Mage is unfair because it goes against everything we think of when we think of Hearthstone. It doesn’t play creatures, it doesn’t attack, it doesn’t care about its board, and nothing it does can be interacted with. It comes at the game from a completely different angle than other decks. When you play Freeze Mage you are not playing a game of Hearthstone. You are playing a game of solitaire against an opponent who is trying to play Hearthstone, and your entire plan is to not let them do that. Decks which go against general principles of Hearthstone are the decks that are unfair. These decks are the ones that have the highest chance of being completely broken, so naturally they are the decks you should look for when trying to find the best deck. Sometimes there will be no incredibly unfair decks that also meet the other criteria we are looking for, and that is when we need to start looking at strictly the most powerful decks.
Combo decks are fundamentally broken in Hearthstone because they are unfair. There are no cards that let you interact with your opponent, and combo decks take advantage of this better than any other kind of deck. When playing against Miracle Rogue and Patron Warrior, you have no way to stop them once they start filling the board with Grim Patron or drawing their entire deck with Gadgetzan Auctioneer. Examples of cards that help rein in combo decks in other games are Counterspell and Thoughtseize from Magic The Gathering. Counterspell allows you to interrupt a combo while it is happening, and Thoughtseize, a card that lets you choose one card from your opponent’s hand and discard it, allows you to cripple the chances a combo ever takes place. There is also the problem of charge. Charge is a non-interactive mechanic, and it goes directly against Blizzard’s game philosophy. When you combine these two things, an inherently non-interactive mechanic and no inherently interactive cards, it creates the perfect environment for overpowered combos. The strength of combo decks in Hearthstone is clearly shown when you look at the best decks in the history of the game. There are two that are head and shoulders above the rest, pre-nerf Miracle Rogue and pre-nerf Patron Warrior (for the sake of relevancy I am excluding from this list decks that were strictly from the beta).
Both of these decks do things that feel very unfair to play against. Patron Warrior will kill you from 30 life behind two Sludge Belchers, and Miracle Rogue will cycle through ten cards on turn six. There are very few ways to interact with these combos once they start happening. Let’s compare this to another combo deck, Malylock. Malylock is capable of doing things that seem just as unfair on the surface as what Miracle Rogue and Patron Warrior can do. With the help of Emperor Thaurissan, Malylock can easily have 26+ points of burst through taunts, and it is also a good deck in its own right. So why isn’t Malylock as powerful as Miracle Rogue and Patron Warrior? Why is it not in the running for best deck of all time? To answer that question we need to look at the next characteristics, auto-wins and consistency.
Miracle Rogue and Patron Warrior both have auto-win potential. Before we can get into how this separates them from Malylock, we need to get a little more in depth with what auto-win actually means. The term “auto-win” refers to a certain combination of cards that when drawn lets you win the game above 90% of the time. An example of an auto-win in Hearthstone is a Secret Paladin playing turn one Shielded Minibot, turn two Shielded Minibot, and turn three Muster for Battle. Playing a deck without auto-wins means that you have to work for every game you win. While that may seem more rewarding, it is not a good characteristic for the best deck. Imagine you are playing a tournament with 5 rounds, and you play four games every round. This means you will be playing 20 games throughout the course of the tournament. If the deck you decide to play has an auto-win rate of 20%, you will only have to play 16 games. The remaining four games you will have auto-won. If you instead play a deck that has no auto-win potential, you will have to work for those four games. This obviously gives you a higher chance to lose those games. If we ignore every other aspect of the two decks, the one with auto-wins is strictly better than the one without.
Both Miracle Rogue and Patron Warrior are capable of auto-winning the game on turn five. Patron Warrior does it with Death's Bite, Grim Patron, and Inner Rage. Miracle Rogue does it with Gadgetzan Auctioneer, The Coin, and Conceal. The combo deck is put so far ahead by these two plays that losing becomes unlikely. Malylock does not have any auto-wins. There is no combination of cards that will end the game with 90+% certainty before turn 6. While Malylock is still working its way toward its combo, Miracle Rogue and Patron Warrior have both already shut their opponent out of the game. Malylock is forced to let its opponent play a fair game for at least the first ten turns, and that is not what we are looking for when we are looking for the best deck.
Here is an example from the Fight Night tournament series featuring Kitkatz playing Hunter and Forsen playing Miracle Rogue. Forsen was able to pick up Gadgetzan Auctioneer and Conceal on turn six allowing him to put Kitkatz in an impossible position. He has no way to interact with the stealthed Gadgetzan Auctioneer which means he is forced into trying to race Forsen.
In the next play of the game, Forsen is able to have a huge combo with Gadgetzan Auctioneer and a mixture of spells before finishing the game with Leeroy Jenkins and Blade Flurry. You can see that Kitkatz had no way to win from the situation that Forsen put him in on turn 6. This is an example of both Miracle Rogue’s ability to auto-win games and unfairness. This is an example of Miracle Rogue being unfair because Kitkatz had no way to interact with either the stealthed Gadgetzan Auctioneer or the 21 points of burst that Forsen was capable of.
Then comes the problem of consistency. Consistency in this case is synonymous with card draw. Malylock may have the Warlock hero power, but it has no cards that can compare to what Battle Rage and Gadgetzan Auctioneer are capable of. The Warlock hero power is spread out over the course of the entire game, which means it has to play a slow and grindy game to amass the necessary combo pieces. Malylock’s consistency also suffers from the need to have Emperor Thaurissan proc on all the right cards. Not only do you need to draw Malygos and burn spells, but you also need to draw Emperor Thaurissan, and you need them all in your hand at the same time. Even after you manage to collect all the combo pieces, you still need to wait another turn for Emperor Thaurissan, and unless you get two activations from it you will need to wait until you have ten mana. Malylock is a combo deck which isn’t even capable of having its combo as its main focus. It becomes a finisher and will usually only be used for 9-15 points of burst. Still powerful, but without the consistency needed to support it, it becomes much less threatening.
Miracle Rogue and Patron Warrior are the only two decks in the history of Hearthstone that have met all three of these categories. They are unfair in that they are completely devoid of any player interaction, they auto-win games through the use of early game combos and they are consistent because of mass amounts of card draw. When a deck like Miracle Rogue or Patron Warrior exists, they will rise above all other decks and create a format solely focused around them. Both times this has happened, Blizzard has been forced to nerf the deck. This is something that historically Blizzard has not been fond of, but was necessary to keep Patron Warrior and Miracle Rogue from dominating the game into the foreseeable future. When looking for the best deck to bring to a tournament, the goal is to find a deck like this, a deck that is so strong it completely outshines every other deck being played. In Hearthstone, when we are looking for the best deck, we need to focus only on looking for combo decks. They are the only deck type that is capable of meeting all three of these characteristics at once. The power of combo decks is shown when you consider that right now we are playing with the most powerful non-combo decks in the history of the game, and they are still not as good as Miracle Rogue was two years ago.