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[su_quote cite="Dilios, Spartan warrior narrator from 300"]Goodbye my love…’ He doesn’t say it. There’s not room for softness…not in Sparta. No place for weakness. Only the hard and strong may call themselves Spartans. Only the hard; only the strong.[/su_quote]
Hearthstone is no place for the weak. The battle-hardened soldiers from ladder are out in force, and they’re here to take your hard-earned rank. Fortunately for you, preparing yourself for war doesn’t require a lifetime of hardship like the Spartan warriors endured. Forging armor, axes, the like…all in a day’s work — for your minions! It simply costs you a few points of mana! So take heart, brothers and sisters; the Way of the Warrior is within these words.
Before I get too far into specifics, bear in mind that this is a guide — I encourage you to change cards and try things as necessary. These are the methods that I’ve found effective for combating certain kinds of strategy, but are by no means doctrine. The game is ever evolving and this guide can serve as an accelerated learning method for those who wish to evolve along with it.
This is the basic building blocks of the Warrior decks I’ve played so far. I’ve yet to successfully use a build without starting here. Acolyte of Pain has wonderful synergy between Whirlwind, Slam, and the effect from either Inner Rage or Cruel Taskmaster. I didn’t include the latter two cards as part of The Core because I use them interchangeably, depending on the circumstance. You will almost always use one or the other, and sometimes both. There are four main points to keep in mind when first learning these Warrior builds:
Your passive is key to victory.
Often, you’ll have the decision to play something like Fiery War Axe or Acolyte of Pain, or have the decision to Armor Up! Armoring is usually a very good idea. Something to think about when you have the decision to develop vs. Armor Up! is what your opponent is likely to do. Do I need to play more cards to win this game? Is waiting and building a large health pool a bigger threat than the board presence I gain? The more aggressive your opponent is, the more likely you’ll need board presence.
Shield Block should usually be saved for the turn you intend to Shield Slam.
One of the most commonly asked questions I’ve gotten while streaming Warrior is why I didn’t use Shield Block — and a very good question it is! Shield Slam is most effectively used with a high armor count. Your opponent is often trying to kill you, so your armor will be shredded first. This greatly reduces the value of Shield Slam. Let’s say that on turn 3 you have the option to Shield Block or Armor Up! You elect to go with Shield Block — your opponent doesn’t have any minions on the board, and you don’t mind because Shield Block replaces itself; not a bad deal. Your Druid opponent on their turn 3 uses Innervate and plays Druid of the Claw in Charge mode, attacking and shredding your armor down to 1. You are no longer able to Shield Slam this minion on turn 4 unless you have another way to generate armor. This is a common scenario, and similar ones come up often. It’s important that you don’t use your Shield Block too early.
On this same topic, unless you would otherwise die by doing so, it is better to take damage than it is to shred armor. Armor is effectively health (there is currently no way in the game to bypass armor), and there are cards that benefit you for having lower health (Earthen Ring Farseer) and reward you for having more armor (Shield Slam). So, make sure you’re keeping that in mind!
Grommash Hellscream should be handled with care.
When I first started playing Warrior, I was a bit too aggressive with this card. On turn 8 I could play Grommash and Inner Rage and attack for 12 — why wouldn’t I? The following turns would often yield the consequences; Execute from opposing Warrior, Tinkmaster Overspark, Big Game Hunter, etc. Losing Grommash Hellscream means you lose a lot of reach (potential to end the game). You also want to make sure you have a way to enable his Enrage, so don’t waste all of your effects (Whirlwind, Inner Rage, Cruel Taskmaster). Use him wisely.
You should almost always mulligan in search for Slam, Acolyte of Pain, and Fiery War Axe.
These cards provide a lot of value for a low cost. When you have Acolyte of Pain, it’s okay to keep some cards like Whirlwind or Inner Rage. Without Acolyte, though, those cards should be mulliganed. The card draw from these cards will allow the expenditure of cards like Whirlwind or Inner rage to enable Execute. Digging from your early game cards to your mid and late game cards are part of what makes Warrior such a tremendous force.
Now that we’ve established some key points to remember on the field of battle, let’s go over some specifics on three takes of the Warrior strategy: versus early aggression, versus mid game pressure, and as late game presence.
Versus Early Aggression
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If you anticipate most of your opponents using early pressure to try to win the game, this is a build I would recommend starting with.
You’ll notice a distinct lack of 4 and 5 cost cards! Your turns 4 and 5 will often consist of playing two cards or a 2 or 3 cost card and using Armor Up! Your opponent is playing cards that are meant to have high board impact for little cost — so you should play cards that are meant to counteract that strategy and sustain you over a long game! Alexstrasza is often used to restore yourself to 15, and Ragnaros the Firelord will let you continue to attack minions while providing a major threat. Ragnaros also serves the doubled purpose of not triggering Hunter traps like Misdirection that they often need to finish the game. Some will note the presence of Ysera and The Black Knight in a deck designed to be effective versus early pressure — you still need staying power! Just because you’re queueing up against a lot of Hunters doesn’t mean you’re queueing up against only Hunters. A lack of mid-late game pressure means having to take some minor risk on cards like The Black Knight with the goal of destroying one of your opponent’s taunts. Restrict your options and you’ll often restrict your wins.
Cruel Taskmaster is used over Inner Rage in this build because the extra body will help fight your opponent’s board presence. Inner Rage is great when you need the excess mana later, and can certainly help the cause, but that extra body will come in handy with Armorsmith. With Armorsmith, Cruel Taskmaster, and Acolyte of Pain, a Whirlwind will provide a card draw, 3 armor, and the ability to wipe out not only all of your opponent’s 1 health minions, but most of their 2 health and one of their 3 health minions. Not bad for one mana! The synergy between your cards will often prove to be too much for more aggressive opponents.
Versus Mid Game
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If your opponents are likely to be using cards like Force of Nature / Savage Roar combos, this build will help to disrupt that. Abomination can stall that combo by just enough time to allow you to begin leveraging the board in your favor, which is a main focus of this build.
The presence of Abomination, Gadgetzan Auctioneer, along with Inner Rage and Cruel Taskmaster should do the trick. Our goal with this build is to focus on enabling Acolyte of Pain as much as possible, while at the same time having an effect for Grommash Hellscream later. Gadgetzan Auctioneer will often let you cruise through the mid game by replacing cards like Execute and Shield Slam, allowing you to power through your opponent’s powerful 5 and 6 drops and continue to scale to your late game threats. Abomination and Cleave will help clear out stray minions, and Abomination serves as a wonderful counter to the popular Force of Nature / Savage Roar combos that Druids have been using as of late. Alexstrasza can go either way on the life totals. But don’t get too cocky! Big Game Hunter is a primed card in the mid game matchups, so be aware of that when you decide to play your large threats.
Versus Late Game
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One of the strongest potentials for the Warrior to unlock is the late game. With what is likely the most powerful removal package among all classes (Slam / Execute and Shield Block / Shield Slam), you wield the potential to pick off all high-profile threats while having a slew of your own that generate a massive amount of value, often through their potential to quickly end the game once their presence has been made.
The change to Sylvanas Windrunner, in my opinion, was just enough to justify removing her from a few strategies. She shines in these matchups, whe re powerful attrition effects are reasonable threats that can end the game if left unchecked. The presence of two Chillwind Yeti can occupy enough of your opponents resources that it allows you time to build your armor and set up for the long haul. Additionally, it may cause some of your opponents to use a big Taunt minion such as Druid of the Claw or Sunwalker to stand in the way, enabling The Black Knight to sway the game almost entirely in your favor. You don’t need Cleave as much in these matches — the minions tend to be a bit larger — and you only need one effect to enable Enrage on Grommash (the mana cost is extremely relevant here), so Inner Rage gets the nod over Cruel Taskmaster.
Having access to Faceless Manipulator allows more counterplay to Cairne Bloodhoof and Sylvanas Windrunner, and also gives you the powerful Faceless Manipulator / Tinkmaster Overspark combo that turns the tables on an opposing Ysera or Ragnaros. Your goal in these matchups is often to dig far into your deck (which naturally occurs since the game goes so long), control your opponent’s armor and early board development with cards like Chillwind Yeti and Fiery War Axe, develop Gorehowl, and in successive turns, play Alexstrasza, and Grommash Hellscream to finish your opponent.
In a lot of these late game scenarios, your armor total poses a large threat to your opponent and will be one of their main focuses of attack. Save those Shield Blocks until you must use them! When you reach the 10 armor range, you can consider using them to dig, but only because the threat of losing all of your armor in one turn is significantly lower than before. The presence of Cairne Bloodhoof and Sylvanas Windrunner will increase the tendency to draw an opposing Tinkmaster Overspark, since they often had to use removal on Chillwind Yeti, so if your cards roll out correctly, you can sometimes press the issue with Ragnaros the Firelord or Ysera a bit earlier than you would normally.
Referring back to my earlier point, I cannot stress enough how important it is to save Grommash Hellscream. Here is an example of a game where it was tempting to not save him, but it was absolutely right to do so (and an example of how powerful he is in his own right, as well as the value of Inner Rage over Cruel Taskmaster in the late game matches!):
As stated before, this guide is meant to serve as just that — a guide! I encourage you to experiment with new cards and changes as you see fit. I would recommend keeping those changes small to start, as changes that are too large will often leave you wondering which cards were most or least effective. These are the strategies I’ve found to be most effective for me in — they may likely work for you as well.