Realm Championships is just a little over a month away. Darkmoon Faire: Koln has given us a nice starting point for testing for the event. While there were some predicted decks in the Top 8 in Koln, there were also some surprises there as well. This is one of those surprises.
Hero: Plague Demonsoul
2 Illidan Stormrage
4 Blood Knight Kyria
4 Doom Blossom
4 The Promises of Darkness
4 Eye of Kilrogg
4 Drain Will
2 Life Tap
2 Steal Essence
2 Engulfing Blaze
3 Rain of Shadow
4 Drain Mana
2 Invoke the Nether
1 Abyss Walker's Boots
4 Voidfire Wand
3 Blade of Wizardry
2 Seer's Signet
1 Vengeful Gladiator's Felshroud
2 Auchindoun Spirit Towers
4 The Ring of Blood: The Blue Brothers
2 Swift Discipline
3 Freezing Band
2 Munkin Blackfist
1 Lady Vashj
1 Prince Kael'thas Sunstrider
1 Auchindoun Spirit Towers
Anssi Alkio took this deck to the Top 4 in Koln before being ousted by Fabian Gauthier's Lionar deck. It was dubbed the control deck that beats other control decks.
What makes this deck so good against other control decks? The biggest thing is the ability to tear apart an opponent's hand while keeping its own hand full in the process. Eye of Kilrogg and Drain Will get things started early. Kilrogg has always been one of the best discard abilities in the game, because it lets you select which card your opponent discards instead of letting him choose. It is more powerful against control decks because a lot of the cards are mostly irrelevant in the control on control matchups. Eye lets you get in there and take his best card in the matchup and remove it from the game. Removing cards from the game is also better against control decks because they tend to have more recursion to get cards back from the graveyard.
Drain Mana is the card that really sticks it to other control decks. One of the aspects of control vs. control matchups that isn't true of most matchups is how hard it is to use your resources efficiently. In every game of the World of Warcraft TCG, you will ideally be able to exhaust all of your resources every turn. This means that you're not leaving anything unused.
Control decks have a lot of cards that are dedicated to controlling the board (obv). When neither deck is trying to put a much pressure on the other, there are a lot of turns that end with all kinds of resources going to waste. The powerful effect of Drain Mana comes with the added cost of having to pay for it every turn. In matchups against aggressive decks, you can't afford to be spending 4 resources every turn to draw a card and force a discard. However, against other control decks, you won't have anything to spend those resources on every turn like you might in a faster paced game; the card is perfect for resource efficiency. The power on the card increases against control decks that are trying to stockpile cards than it is against aggressive decks that are dumping their hand. If you can get a Drain Mana to stick for a few turns, your chances of winning go way up.
One of the most elusive elements in deckbuilding is striking the perfect balance between “good against control” and “good against aggro.” Most times, to make a deck better against control, you have to sacrifice a little in the matchups vs. aggro and vice versa. This isn't always true, but most of the time it is. In the process, you will often end up with a deck that is very good vs. control but not so hot vs. agro, or a deck that handles the aggro well but folds up like a tent against control decks.
Anssi's deck walks that tightrope by devoting fewer cards to fighting aggro decks but making those cards incredibly effective. Cards like Engulfing Blaze and Invoke the Nether give the deck answers that are better than simple one-for-one trades. Playing cards that net you that type of card advantage lets you play fewer cards dedicated to the aggro matchups without having to sacrifice so much that you start to lose power in the control matchups.
One of the major things that makes this deck good against both aggro and control is the amount of card draw available to the deck. A lot of control decks have decent amounts of draw but lean heavily on certain cards for the bulk of their card draw. The winning Varanis deck is a great example. It has decent card draw, possibly even below average, other than Invocation which is enough most times to keep a Mage's hand full.
The Warlock deck, however, doesn't have one source that powers up its card draw. It just has several different sources that give it a few cards at a time. The Promises of Darkness, Drain Will, and Life Tap are good card draw without being great on their own.
There are a few advantages that come with not relying on certain cards for the bulk of your draw. The first is that you don't have to draw that card. How many games have you played where you have four copies of a card but can't manage to draw a single copy? Stu Wright's Varanis deck ran four copies of Invocation. What if Varanis can’t draw to the Invocation? That's not a problem for the Warlock deck. It's hard to imagine the deck not seeing any of its card draw.
The other major advantage is that it's much harder for your opponent to deny that draw. You'll notice the Freezing Bands in Anssi's side deck. One of the Band's major functions right now is shutting down Invocation. When Paladins rely on Blessing of Wisdom for their card draw, they can be severely hurt by ability removal on the Blessing. This Warlock deck also doesn't suffer from that problem of having its draw denied because it is all tied up in one card.
The deck packs two routes to victory. The first is Voidfire Wand lock. The deck uses its efficient discard to run the opponent out of cards and then drops the Wand in order to lock it down. In that sense, it plays somewhat like Laurent Pagorek's Darkmoon Faire–winning Priest deck. The difference is that Laurent's deck was focused solely on ripping the opponent's hand apart while the Warlock deck has another route to victory.
The other victory condition is a pretty good one: Illidan Stormrage. Traitor control decks have used Illidan as their finisher since he came out, and there's no reason not to. He's hard to keep out of play, and once he's in play, he's much more difficult to handle than a regular ally. Thousands of words have been written about how good a finisher he is, and there's not much more for me to add here.
Realm Championships have recently had their prizes significantly boosted, so you can expect everyone to be putting their best foot forward that weekend hoping to land that $2,500 travel voucher or one of those elusive Spectral Tigers. When you're preparing for your own Championship event, this deck should be one of the ones you test against. I think it will be a popular choice based on its power against control decks.