Liquid`Neirea on the Persistence of Rogue

March 31 2015
Be it Oil Rogue or Miracle from the time before Goblins versus Gnomes, some variation of a tempo-control Rogue deck has always been popular on the Legend ladder. One of the mysteries of the deck, however, is that it is always more represented at the top of the ladder than in the lower ranks.

The question is, therefore, why do the top players favor this deck and how can you play like them?

Why Pros Play Rogue

Understanding why top players favor tempo-control Rogue comes down to two things: firstly, the adaptability of the deck; and secondly, how it rewards practice.

Tech cards in Hearthstone are all very strong. A well timed Big Game Hunter or Antique Healbot can -- and often does -- win a game on the spot. The downside to these cards, however, is the narrowness of their application. This much is fairly common knowledge, so where do Rogues fit in? One of the defining features of a tempo-control Rogue deck is the velocity with which they burn through their deck. With cards like Sprint, Gadgetzan Auctioneer, or even the occasional Coldlight Oracle it is not uncommon for a Rogue to draw down to all but a few cards before finishing a game. Consequently, the tech choices that a Rogue makes are highlighted and of increased importance. The fact that Rogue gives you a higher than average shot at your key cards rewards the players who know what to attack. In terms of matchup win percentage, a Legend player who only plays Rogue while changing a couple cards is likely better off than a player who tries to build a different counter deck for each session.

When all you need is time, Healbot is a better tech choice that BGH.

As a deck, Rogue also has a higher rate of reward for those who stick with it. Since the deck is full of cheap answers and draws many cards, players will often be faced with multiple lines for dealing with the same board. This is where the experience comes in. Knowing from repetition is one of the best ways to evaluate which threats are most important and how much time you have to answer them. While all decks reward the players more familiar with them, the tempo-control Rogue decks do so to a higher degree because of how they switch between the control and beatdown roles: this is less so the case for Mech Mage or Control Warrior, decks that are very set in their role. Overall, Legend players tend to play the most games, and therefore, are understandably drawn to a deck that rewards their efforts.

Common Misplays at Lower Ranks

While Oil Rogue gets played more heavily at high levels because of its rewarding practice, you should not be discouraged from giving it a try now. If you are just picking up Oil Rogue for the first time, patience and planning are the two most important parts of the deck. You will need to plan your turns ahead of time and see when you will have extra mana to reequip your dagger and get in extra damage. You also must be patient in holding back removal for the threats that really demand it.

One of the most common problems with lower ranked players -- overall and with this deck especially -- is that they fail to see everything they need to play around. Each matchup has very specific cards and situations that will kill you if unanswered. As such, you need to know these threats beforehand and hold on to your answers in anticipation of them.

When you have all the answers, sequencing them takes practice.

The Matchups

Knowing your role in each matchup is key to understanding what needs to be played around. Oil Rogue can be difficult to pilot since it can fall into any of the tempo, control, or combo roles against the current meta. In the Midrange Hunter, Druid, Warrior and mirror matchups tempo is key: this is where Sap will shine. When your job is to control the board against Mech decks, Face Hunter, and Paladin SI:7 and Backstab are your main tools. Combo is perhaps the hardest role to navigate as it switches from control to beatdown very quickly: hold at least one Blade Flurry against Priest, Shaman, and Warlock to ensure you have the damage for a kill.

Vs Druid
Druid is one of the matchups where tempo is king. Druid is famously bad at regaining board control and we can use that to our advantage. The two big tempo plays to look for early are either an SI:7 clear on three or a big Violet Teacher turn. We have an edge in this matchup since our threats come down at three and four mana while Druid's power plays begin at five. That said, it is important to be prepared for Druid of the Claw on five. A Backstab-Eviscerate can be back breaking here if you have pressure to back it up. Similarly, Drake-Eviscerate on seven can counter an Ancient of Lore to give you a major tempo swing. Druid's only real way to come back is with Swipe: if you can minimize its effect you will likely win.

Vs Hunter
Miracle Rogue first came about to counter all of the Midrange Hunters dominating before Naxxramas. While the decks have had upgrades and nerfs since then, the main dynamic of the matchup remains in tact. This is a tempo based matchup where the main interaction between Highmane and Sap is well in your favor. The turn six Highmane is the bread and butter of the Midrange Hunter deck so be ready for it. You should not be under much pressure early so if you can get the Sap off with any board on turn six you will likely win.

Face Hunter, on the other hand, is a completely different beast. This matchup is a race and not one in which you are favored. Since you can't interact with the Hunter's Hero Power outside of Earthen Ring Farseer or Antique Healbot, you are under a very real clock. The best bet you have is SI:7 aggressively to clear and hope to win with an early Tinker's Sharpsword Oil.

In both matchups you should be mulliganning hard for SI:7 Agent and Backstab.

Vs Mage
Against Mech Mage you are the control deck. SI:7 Agent and Backstab are good in this matchup but Blade Flurry is what will win most games. If you are playing first, you can keep an Azure Drake in your opener because of how well it plays with Backstab on turn five. Once you've taken control of the board, winning should be easy with whatever minions you have leftover. Don't worry, therefore, about saving cards for a combo when you can simply remove their minions. The only thing to really play around in this matchup is the reach that Mage threatens. Keep track of their burn spells and stay out of their range when possible: let your minions trade and don't get greedy.

Our Mech Mage friend will have a hard time coming back from this.

Freeze Mage is a bit of an anomaly: while you can't rely on a combo kill, you are still the beatdown. Luckily for us, Loatheb is a major trump card in the matchup. His effect can't be played around and can't be beaten if timed appropriately. The best -- rather, only -- time to cast a Loatheb is on the turn where you pop the Ice Block. Do so, and you are almost guaranteed a kill on the following turn.

Vs Paladin
Paladin is a very favorable matchup because their board clears simply aren't strong enough to keep up. A Violet Teacher can usually win the game on her own. That said, they do still have powerful tempo plays we need to prevent. Quartermaster is the card that gives Paladin their major tempo swing. As such, it is important to keep it from hitting. A Fan of Knives or Blade Flurry has to be held back for their Muster for Battle turn. Violet Teacher is the important card from our side. Teacher's five Health is also significantly more than four. You should look to heal your Teacher with Earthen Ring from four to five if you can just to play around Truesilver.

Vs Priest
Priest has always been an easy matchup for Rogues in the combo role. Priests have struggle against Rogues because they are a control deck which can't interact with our combo and can't establish a meaningful clock. The thing that Priest has going for it, however, is the hardiness of their minions. The way to lose this matchup as a Rogue is to use too much removal on Priest's minions. The most important thing here is to hold back a Blade Flurry so you have enough damage to land a kill.

Vs Rogue
The mirror is all about tempo. Loatheb is a major player in the matchup and will usually decides who wins. Lining up threats with removal is one of the main ways to get ahead in the mirror. You can become a heavy favorite if they burn a lot of cards into a Violet Teacher, for example, and you have a Fan of Knives on your turn. If you can buy yourself enough time to get the first Sprint off you will likely win.

Vs Shaman
The Shaman matchup is somewhat of a hybrid between Mage and Priest. On the one hand, you are going to need to keep the board from snowballing out of control; however, you need to save a Blade Flurry to combo off. What Shaman has that Priest lacks is a way to end the game. The thread of Al'Akir is what you have to be playing around in this matchup. To beat Shaman, you need to keep their board weak enough that it doesn't pressure your Health while building enough damage to kill them before they draw into their burst. Keeping track of Rockbiters and Flametongue Totems will give you an idea of how much time you have left.

Vs Warlock
The Warlock class is in a strange place right now. Zoo and Handlock are two of the oldest standing decks in Hearthstone but they are beginning to be pushed out by the new Demonlock lists. So while you can't be sure what you're up against, the factor in our favor is that none of these Warlock decks run Harrison Jones. As such, you can be free to build up your weapon since both Demon and Handlock give you plenty of time to do so. In the mulligan phase, be sure to keep an eye out for Spell Power minions since they give a good boost in this matchup.

Warlocks usually can't interact with Weapons so go nuts.

Vs Warrior
Warrior is a tempo based matchup because you need to keep their Armor from getting out of control. The best way to pressure a Warrior is to only give bad targets for weapon attacks. Death's Bite is one of their most powerful cards in the matchup so you need to mitigate its effect. Try and only feed three drops to the Death's Bite and cut down on their mana effectiveness. Whatever you do, do not play Violet Teacher into a 4/1 Death's Bite. If you can keep a steady stream of pressure the Warrior should fall into combo range eventually. Really try to tax their answers and restrict card draw.

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Writer: Liquid`Neirea
Graphics & Format: shiroiusagi
Art Credit: Blizzard
Editors: Hayl_Storm, monk
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