When Whispers of The Old Gods was released the most common question on everyone’s mind was: is C'Thun good? It is the poster child of the expansion after all. A solid month of brewing and tournaments later the answer seems to be no, not really. Sometimes you see a C'Thun deck perform well in a tournament but those are rather rare. The reason for this is that the obvious way to build the deck – typing C'Thun into the search bar and adding a few class staples – is a win-more strategy. Yes, win-more is a bad thing. Let me explain.
A win more card is a card that does really well when you are winning but is either mediocre or downright bad when you are behind. The classic example is Bloodlust. It can deal 21 damage (or even more with that sweet Windfury tech!) and win you the game but it is much more likely to do 6, 3 or actually nothing when you are losing.
Another way a card can be win more is requiring a specific set of draws or circumstance to be good. Cards like Volcanic Lumberer look really good until you realize that most games you are just overpaying for stats or doing sub optimal trades to get a market rate on stats. Even things like Cutpurse are win more cards because you are banking on your opponent not being able to deal with a 2/2. If they can’t stop understatted minions their hand sucks and you should be winning anyway.
But by far the single most common kind of win more cards are expensive cards, with Ysera being the worst offender. Why? Because if you spend your whole turn 9 dropping a card with no immediate impact and proceed to win you must have been pretty far ahead. If you were that ahead you probably would have won if Ysera was any other reasonable card. Ysera doesn’t even threaten to kill on the turn after you play her! She takes 3+ turns to kill your opponent.
Some of you might be thinking: there are plenty of games that stall out with both players topdecking and then Ysera just crushes. It comes out, draws you a bunch of cards and puts you over the top in a way no other card could.
Right, but two common decks out there are Zoo and Shaman. Most of the games are decided before turn 9, let alone turn 10 or 11 where Ysera has enough time to impact the game. Most decks, even things like Miracle Rogue or Tempo Warrior, are proactive decks that will crush you if you skip turn 9. In fact, Ysera is worse than nothing: it replaced a card that you could have drawn to not lose the game. It actually costs you -1 card in games that are over before turn 10, representing a very real deckbuilding cost.
To put the -1 card cost into perspective, let’s look at Arcane Intellect. 3 mana to get up 1 card (because you spend the Arcane Intellect and thus only net 1+ card) is considered a really good rate and it is a staple of all Mage decks. Drawing a Ysera early is the equivalent of reverse Arcane Intellecting yourself for 9 turns. Card advantage is a pillar of Hearthstone.
Yes dear reader, let’s talk about C'Thun. As a 10 mana card it runs into the same problems Ysera has, namely that you need to survive in decent enough shape until turn 10 in a meta that wants you dead enough to run Leeroy Jenkins in all sorts of decks. It also greatly magnifies the deckbuilding cost of expensive cards because of this gang of friendly cultists: Beckoner of Evil, Twilight Elder and C'Thun's Chosen.
If running a 10 mana card wasn’t a large enough cost already, you need to run Spider Tanks and River Crocolisks as well. Getting to 10 mana in a meta filled with Alexstraszas and Doomhammer is hard enough when you are running normal, good minions. The work and deckbuilding sacrifices C'Thun asks you to make have made them fringe strategies, but there are still ways to make it work.
The real trick to building a good C'Thun deck is to realize that C'Thun is not the best card in the deck. Twin Emperor Vek'lor, Ancient Shieldbearer and Twilight Darkmender are. It is not coincidental that these cards just require the 10/10 Old God to get the full effect. These cards are also cheaper and you get to draw more of them.
You know what sucks more than playing a bunch of understated minions? Playing your playset of C'Thun's Chosen and Twilight Elders only to never use the buffed C'Thun for anything. Unless you are crazy enough to keep C'Thun in your opener you will only draw C'Thun before turn 14 in 50% of games. Half the time you won’t even see the big boss until it is way too late. As weird as it may sound, C'Thun is not the main reason to play Disciple of C'Thun.
So how does one make a good C'Thun deck? Let’s look at some of the decks that did well in the Spring Preliminaries:
What do these decks have in common? Very few cultists. The Warrior deck only runs 4 cultists ( Doomcaller is not really a cultist in the normal sense)! Even the Reno lock, a deck that can afford to play crappy minions more than most, only runs 5. These are strategies that are not interested in a big bad C'Thun as early as possible. The odds of a 10/10 C'Thun on turn 10 are less than 15% with 4 cultists.
The more standard approach of C'Thun decks also had some success:
Using the rationale of this article you should be able to spot the win-more nature of this deck. It runs 6 sub par creatures and the payoff cards are weaker than in the Warrior deck, as Klaxxi Amber-Weaver is fine but it can’t hold a candle to Ancient Shieldbearer. Playing this deck you realize that the good draws are busted, a turn 4 Dark Arakkoa into a turn 8 15/15 C'Thun or turn 6 Twin Emperor Vek'lor, and the bad draws are terrible. Like it’s turn 5 and all you have played is Beckoner of Evil terrible.
When Power Trumps Consistency
Some of you might be wondering why I am saying cards like Bloodlust or decks like C'Thun Druid should be avoided when they are putting up results in the top tournaments. Don’t the pros know what they are doing?
Win more cards are inherently high variance and as such should only be used when you feel your deck isn’t powerful enough. High variance cards need a high upside potential to be played because the downside of a card having a low floor is very real. That doesn’t mean you should never play them. Sometimes you feel the deck needs some extra juice and a Leeroy Jenkins or Bloodlust is the way to get it there, but you should acknowledge the trade off.
Let’s look at 2 examples:
Dark Iron Dwarf vs Gormok the Impaler is an interesting case of power vs consistency. Most Zoo decks seems to favor running the more impactful Gormok the Impaler but in the America’s Preliminaries we saw DeerJason favor the dwarf. This is choice tells us DeerJason feels Zoo is strong enough to win often enough without resorting to higher variance cards while Joster and Rosty disagree.
Judging how much variance is acceptable is really hard in a game rife with it. Developing a good sense for the power level of your deck is a crucial deckbuilding skill that takes many horrible brews and many netdecks to learn.
Until next time. May you always draw Twin Emperor Vek'lor on 7 and not a turn earlier.