Bury Them – Playing Undertaker Priest to Legend

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Like the past two ranked seasons since I started venturing into Hearthstone constructed, this month I played pretty much a single class all the way to Legend. I enjoy the challenge of trying to adapt and tune my deck as I go, tweaking things here and there to address the different opponents I find myself facing throughout the climb. First it was Shaman, and then it was Druid.

This season, I played Priest, which should probably come as no surprise to those who read about my success in the Sunshine Open toward the end of last month. In that event, I played a Priest deck built around Undertaker to great success, beating the majority of my opponents 3-0 in the preliminary rounds before ultimately seeing it banned in both my semifinal and final matches.  I certainly felt like the deck I played in that event could be improved, but knew that the core was solid enough to serve as the basis for list during the climb.

SunShinePriest

undertakerThis deck is great at getting ahead and staying ahead. Undertaker is downright bonkers here, providing a huge growing threat for just one mana that your opponent has a hard time removing via attrition thanks to your hero power. Most of the rest of the creature base is chosen with Undertaker in mind, looking to power it up quickly, but most of them are reasonable threats in their own right. Zombie Chow is incredible for early board control, and Dark Cultist and Sludge Belcher are both clearly great deals.

The problem this particular list suffers from is that it’s very bad at playing from behind. While your Undertaker draws are extremely powerful, you have a really hard time winning when you mulligan into a collection of 3+ mana cards, especially on the play with no Coin.

shadowmadnessI took some inspiration from my friend Devin Low, who made Legend last season with a version of Priest he had adapted from my own. He used Shadow Madness to help shore up this weakness. Shadow Madness gives you a great tool to come back from starts like double Flame Imp on the other side of the table, and it’s especially powerful against Deathrattle minions that can give you a little extra value on top of your two-for-one. It’s nice that even more controlling decks have good targets like Sludge Belcher, so it’s rarely a dead card.

This is the list I played for the early part of my climb:

PriestDeathlord

I did very well with this version at first. I didn’t lose a game until I hit rank 9, I imagine in part due to the fact that the deck is capable of snowballing a lead very hard and thus punishing weaker players’ mistakes in deckbuilding or mulligan choices. My progress started to slow down a bit when I reached about rank 5, where I found that I was struggling more with decks that at the earlier ranks hadn’t given me any trouble at all.

The card that seemed to be at the heart of my troubles was Deathlord. While few of my opponents at the earlier ranks seemed to be able to handle it effectively, against stronger decks and stronger players, it often felt like a liability. There were some matchups where playing it at all was too high risk, like against control warrior, and others where it could sometimes be effective, but could also often take the board from relatively even to massively lopsided in favor of my opponent. After one too many Hunter opponents getting Savannah Highmane off of its deathrattle trigger –and one ambitious soul even finding Ragnaros amidst his deck full of Webspinners – I decided something had to change.

In my earliest builds of the deck, I’d included Circle of Healing and Auchenai Soulpriest, but I had ended up cutting them because the Circle felt too situational and the Soulpriest often felt like a drawback when I was trying to preserve my board. However, with Deathlord gone, I knew I needed a better way to handle opponents who flooded the board with creatures early. Shadow Madness is a good way to come back from being slightly behind, or gain an edge on a board that is near parity, but it isn’t nearly as potent as the board clear that Auchenai/Circle offers.

I also felt like I wanted to lower my curve somewhat overall. Undertaker really needs a cheap deathrattle minion to get online quickly, and I hadn’t been terribly impressed by Harvest Golem. I made the swap to Haunted Creeper, which both improved my best Undertaker draws and gave me better tools to handle the ever-popular aggressive Hunter decks.

Here’s the list I played for my final climb to Legend.

VGVNPriestThe card that probably stands out the most is the singleton Mind Control. I had previously played Shadow Word Death, but wasn’t a huge fan of it because I didn’t like finding myself stuck with a purely reactive card in my hand – especially one that didn’t match up well against a lot of threats like Cairne or Ysera. In long games, Mind Control is an incredibly powerful trump, since you can take your opponent’s biggest threat and completely turn the game around. It certainly isn’t the best option against decks like Warlock Zoo or Aggro Hunter, but I’ve taken more than my share of Savannah Highmanes against the midrange Hunter, some of which my opponents were generous enough to buff with Houndmaster first.

The biggest missing card, in most peoples’ minds, is probably Thoughtsteal. I think Thoughtsteal is pretty heavily overrated. I think it’s a strong card in Priest decks that are very heavily controlling and looking to draw the game out as long as possible because it not only gives you raw card advantage, but it also gives you more tools to work with in games that go to fatigue. For a deck like this, though, that’s more focused on taking and keeping control of the pace of the game with minions, you don’t want to spend three mana casting a spell that doesn’t impact the board. Thoughtsteal has its place in some decks, but this is not one of them.

Here’s what my matchup stats looked like on the way up to Legend.

PriestLegendStats

I found the toughest matchup was Miracle Rogue, since I really needed to have an excellent draw to put enough pressure on them to keep them from going off, and I often had trouble getting an Auctioneer off the table if they were able to deal with my early offense. I didn’t run into it a ton on the ladder until I hit the higher ranks, but once I was there I found that I struggled to win without a great Undertaker start.

Overall, I think this is a strong deck, and there are a lot of ways to customize it depending on what you might face. I’ve been toying around with something new lately, though, that I’ve been doing quite well with – but that will have to wait for another post.

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