Hey all, J_Alexander_HS back again to talk about Aggro Rogue. Specifically, understanding what makes it powerful, what beats it, and figuring out how that information can inform your deckbuilding and play for a better match against it (just like I did for Aggro DH before). As someone who has played quite a bit of this deck, my perspective as a pilot – combined with outside sources of data – can help you improve your matches (and hopefully mindset about it in the process, because who doesn't want to have more fun while playing because you're winning instead of losing and feeling frustrated?)
The reason I wanted to write this post is that I have found this deck creates a lot of strong feelings in many players. People don't like having their face attacked directly and aggressively (this has been a feeling expressed since the inception of the game), branding the style of game play uninteractive. For some, that feeling is bolstered by the deck's utilization of Stealth minions (not directly targetable), Weapons (not directly targetable by standard removal options/minions), and burn damage (not really targetable at all, outside of Illucia). Combined with a steady flow of card draw and recurring damage from Pen Flingers, the deck sounds like a truly unstoppable force.
But then again, so do most other decks when your describe them in the best possible terms and don't talk about their weaknesses. In reality, the deck – while strong – is not clearly an outlier of the meta in terms of power and does have several counters and punishes.
(To head this off before we start: yes, this aggressive face deck isn't interactive in the sense of it not being designed to fight for board and doesn't want to do so. It's an aggressive face deck. They haven't ever wanted to fight for board since card games were things. If you want more interaction, you need to either/or have the right tools to make it happen or force it out of them by punishing them for their lack of interest/ability to fight for the board. You can find the interaction if you're looking for it. If you just don't like the deck and want to vent about your frustrations, this guide will do you little good. If you want to improve and win more against it, this guide will help)
So keep a clear head and let's find out what makes the deck tick, what beats it, and how that can help inform your game plan.
What makes the deck good
While there are many factors people will point to for understanding the deck's power, none stand out quite as much as Secret Passage. Rogue is quite good at drawing cards – as they should be, given their defined class identity and weaknesses in other domains – but Passage is on a different level from the rest of the options. This statement applies across the board to all Rogue archetypes, and is why Miracle Rogue largely shrugged off the Edwin nerf. He was never the power behind the deck.
What makes Passage so good is that it allows Rogue to play many low-value, but high-tempo/damage cards without gassing out. Generally, it's stronger to play five 1-cost cards than one 5-cost card. The downside to doing so is that low-cost cards all come with the cost of a card, so running out of resources in the mid-to-long term is a risk. Passage offers card advantage at such an efficient rate (in terms of number of cards, mana, and conditions), that the risks are greatly reduced.
- What does this tell us about how to attack the deck? You're probably not going to win the most games against Aggro Rogue if you plan involves out-valuing them in the mid-to-late game, grinding them out. Their early game is strong and if you give them time they will find a lot of extra damage due to their card draw abilities. Their damage isn't infinite, but it is hefty. Sitting back and trying to deal with everything they develop individually and hope they just stop playing things is a recipe for disaster.
The match-up spread of the deck (drawn from the recent VS report, D4-L) bears this idea out. The good matches for Aggro Rogue are (in no particular order): Soul DH, Clown Druid, Mozaki Mage, Secret Mage, Cheese Paladin (now nerfed), Libroom Paladin, Control Priest, Illucia Priest, Control Warlock, Galakrond Warlock, Quest Warlock, Zoo, Big Warrior, and Bomb Warrior.
What almost all those decks share in common is that they do not actively contest the early-game boards well. They give the Rogue a lot of time to execute their game plan without pressuring them. This pressure is required because that's what punishes the Aggro Rogue's plan of going face and forgoing board development. The one exception is Zoo, which largely suffers because its game plan of self-damage mechanics naturally furthers the Rogue's game plan as well.
To back this up, let's also examine the even-to-good matches against Aggro Rogue:
- Even: Lifesteal DH, Treant Druid, Face Hunter, Cyclone Mage, Highlander Mage, Highlander Priest, Resurrect Priest, Miracle Rogue, Totem Shaman, Control Warrior
The decks that run about Even with Aggro Rogue fall into a few more bins. Some, like Face Hunter, Treant Druid, Miracle Rogue, and Totem Shaman are capable of racing the Aggro Rogue, often through punishing their lack of stable board development. Control Warrior and Lifesteal DH share the ability to remove a board while healing, whether through Skipper/Smith or Mo'arg combos. Finally, there are the Highlander decks, which I'll talk a bit about below.
- Favored: Aggro DH, Gibberling Druid, Highlander Hunter, Spell-Damage Mage, Pure Paladin, and Enrage Warrior
Here we see another definite pattern. The decks that beat Aggro Rogue are capable of either (a) developing cheap, early threats quickly that punish the fragile stealth minions of the Rogue and, sometimes, (b) clearing Stealth Rogue minions with efficient, non-targeted sources of damage while they develop. Sometimes that even comes with Armor in Warrior.
To beat Rogue, you can't just hang back and try to stomp out each threat individually as you see it, giving them time to reload. You need to develop proactively onto the board early and turn your removal turns into face damage on the Rogue. The less threatened your minions are by high-attack, low-health opposing ones, the better. This makes Tokens and Divine Shield minions very threatening as they kill a minion and stick around. Tools that clear the board and develop/heal in the same turn are particularly devastating (Skipper/Smith, Mo'arg/AoE, Arcane Missiles/Explosion, Dreamway Guardians, Dreadlord's Bite, etc). When these effects are naturally a part of your game plan, you will do well.
Taunts can go a long way when it comes to stopping weapon damage – especially with Heal/Reborn/Divine Shield – as do Freeze effects (Frostbolt hurts real bad, I assure you), but you need to make sure you contest the early board to make them truly efficient. Stopping your opponent doesn't kill them. Killing them kills them. Stopping them works only if it furthers the goal of killing them.
Beyond telling you about what decks you should play to counter them, it also informs play patterns: When playing against Aggro Rogue, do not play for value. Put your stuff into play and contest them early. You know what better than healing for 5 health? Not taking 5 damage in the first place. Make sure you punish them each time they don't interact with your minions. Don't hope they interact with you. Force them to do so.
As for why Highlander decks tend to do fine…
First things first: Removing the sword can hurt the deck a lot. If you want to beat it, having weapon tech is actually effective, as the deck has several cards that get worse without that weapon by a lot (Nitroboost, Deadly Poison, Cutting Class). Whether that weapon tech is worth it for you on average will depend on the meta, for all the standard reasons related to tech cards having no synergy with your own plan and generally being inefficient tempo options.
If you want to utilize these tech options, Acidic Swamp Ooze is the best of the bunch. This is because, unlike Stickyfingers and Harrison, it (a) kills the sword before it gets much damage off, and (b) leaves you more mana to develop additional threats. Remove and hit. Remove and develop. Don't just remove. Stickyfingers is slow, and your deck won't be well-positioned to use the weapon a lot of the time (as running the weapon and your face into low-health stealth minions doesn't utilize its power). Harrison is value instead of tempo, so don't even think about him.
Highlander decks tend to do fine in large part (and unsurprisingly) because they pack Zephyrs. He is natural weapon tech, making him effective at dealing with Sword. Of course he can also be non-targeted removal or heal in a pinch as well, but killing a weapon is often the biggest punch against Rogue to slow them down. As many Highlander decks also pack a regular Ooze and non-targeted sources of removal (Reno, Watcher, Breath, Nova, etc), they're capable of turning off some major damage and synergies and giving their minions more time to get the job done. All of these together provide a roughly even match up.
Rogue is strong because of its power at generating resources, allowing it to play high-tempo, low-value cards without running out of resources. To beat it, you can't just sit back and hope it gasses out. You need to actively pressure them. Developing pressure is key. In the ideal case, you can clear/heal while also developing pressure. Cheap weapon tech is most effective, but its overall fit in the meta is usually questionable. In general, you want to make sure you're spending mana, and don't be afraid of low-value plays if they keep the Rogue off the board.
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