That is the question. The question that so many people ask themselves at the start of each season. There are many players that say that aggro decks are the only way to go if you want to have a shot at getting legend if your stars from the previous season landed you somewhere rank 17 or below. With the meta we have been living in the last 18+ months, I feel these players have a strong argument. Some players say that strong control, that counters the meta and takes advantage of the win streak feature allows people with less time to climb higher. Let’s look at both sides and see where you might fit.
Aggro decks start the game with their foot on the gas and never let up. The moto they live by is “Face is the place” and do they ever deliver on it. If you have played Hearthstone in the last two years, I will bet you have had your fill of playing against aggro decks. Players swear by the speed in which the games are played, adopting the strategy of playing as many games as possible and figuring on a 55% or better win rate to move up the ladder. Aggro typically falls off quite a bit after rank 10, but picks up again post rank 5 after the advantage of win streaks is removed. The gold standard of aggro decks has long since been the Face Hunter. Now I have a reputation for being anti-aggro, and I guess that there is a little bit of truth to it. My argument? Aggro hides your real skill level. In actuality, Face Hunter hides your skill level. There can be an argument that Secret Paladin sits in that seat as well, but there is some navigation that has to happen in Secret Paladin, and it is draw dependent in my opinion. Unless you get great draws, there is some skill at driving the deck to get to it to do what you want it to do, it isn’t just about getting out Mysterious Challenger. In fact, I think the aggro paladin that is popular these days is easier to play (and win with) that Secret Paladin. That being said, it still requires knowing when to trade, but still hides a player’s skill behind getting a huge benefit from Divine Favor. This card, which I consider to be one of the most broken cards in the game, can allow a player to miscalculate, but draw into ways out that no other class comes close to matching. There are other aggro decks that are popular and, if not navigated properly, will lose more games for you than they will win. The Overload Shaman and Smorc Warrior can put a player in awkward situations that require knowing when to trade and when to go face. Since neither feature much in the way of removal except for the same cards they use to finish the game, if you don’t have the game well in hand by turn 5, the choices almost become gambles after turn 6. Sometimes both the Overload Shaman and Smorc Warrior just “Draw Dead”, and completely stall because of a lack of any real game changing draw mechanics and passive hero powers, unless Sir Finley Mrrgglton was played early and the RNG went your way. I have said it before, and I will say it again here, just because a player plays aggro does not mean that they are not skilled, but in the current meta, a below average player can have above average results by playing aggro. For the record, I currently have 5 aggro decks, and I do not believe that aggro players are unskilled players. Most of my complaints about the aggro-centric meta is that it is like playing the same game over and over, and to me, nothing is more boring. With that being said, watching a master aggro player hit on all cylinders is like Bruce Lee take out a room full of thugs. Everyone knows what’s coming, but no one can stop it.
Not to Aggro
The typical control deck is a deck that removes early and midgame threats, then hammers the opponent in the late game with massive damage spells or large minions. There are also those decks that will force you to draw into fatigue, burning cards along the way due to a full hand. The control deck player either waits for their opponent to overextend or baits them into doing so, then capitalizes on the mistake by clearing the board. There are plenty of cards that can single-handedly regain board control from your opponent and turn a game around. Cards such as Lightbomb, Brawl, and Shadowflame can completely stall an aggro deck, swinging the momentum in your favor. Usually these cards will be followed up by some healing, such as Earthen Ring Farseer or Antique Healbot, but sometimes a control deck will just fill the board with big threats and finish the game from that point. Control is about making sure you own the board presence whether that is through trading or board clearing spells. Card advantage is something most control decks enjoy, but you have to understand what trades give you value and which trades put you behind. Understanding that your health total is just as much a resource as your mana is important. Patience is key, and reacting appropriately to your opponent playing a threat you didn’t foresee, or things not happening according to plan, is a trait that is honed through games played, much like the face\trade trait has to be honed to the aggro player. If you make a mistake as a control player, you will most likely lose the match. Understanding that sometimes you have to Fireblast yourself in the face,creating an awkward turn for your opponent, sets up a win condition 2 turns later is what will separate you from the field. Playing control is not for the faint of heart, and requires you to be a student of the game, but master it and you will dominate in any stage of ladder play. You have to be like Mr. Myagi trying to catch the fly in his chopsticks, it will take time to master, but when you master it, you feel like you can do anything.
No matter what your answer to the question may be, the import thing is that you have fun playing the deck you have chosen. It is my sincere hope that the coming expansion, dual format, and balance changes to classic cards will change the meta to one that encourages variety and creativity. I would love a meta where all decks archetypes are balanced and can be played anywhere inside the game. We have one more season and then we turn the last page of this chapter in HearthStone history, and whether you are looking forward to the upcoming changes, or dreading them, the start of this next chapter will entertaining to say the least.