Had a few requests on ladder asking for a guide on this deck – hit legend with it again yesterday. Been maintaining a pretty solid winrate with it, 71% yesterday and I hit top 200 with it last month (but finished at top 500)
Part of writing this is just for my own benefit, to break down some lines and plays in particular matchups. Going full overexplain mode (with respect to Jorbs) so this may get a bit long.
First here's my current list:
Reno Secret Alex
1x (0) Backstab
1x (0) Shadowstep
1x (1) Blackjack Stunner
1x (1) Bloodsail Flybooter
1x (1) Brain Freeze
1x (1) Patches the Pirate
1x (1) Prize Plunderer
1x (1) Secret Passage
1x (1) Swashburglar
1x (1) Wand Thief
1x (2) Ambush
1x (2) Cheat Death
1x (2) Dirty Tricks
1x (2) Efficient Octo-bot
1x (2) Foxy Fraud
1x (2) Mad Scientist
1x (2) Shadowjeweler Hanar
1x (2) Sudden Betrayal
1x (2) Swindle
1x (2) Tenwu of the Red Smoke
1x (2) Vanessa VanCleef
1x (2) Zephrys the Great
1x (3) Edwin VanCleef
1x (3) Field Contact
1x (4) Potion of Illusion
1x (4) Scabbs Cutterbutter
1x (4) Spirit of the Shark
1x (5) Taelan Fordring
1x (6) Reno Jackson
1x (9) Alexstrasza the Life-Binder
Going card-by-card just to explain the important tools and pieces.
First – the obvious autoincludes.
Zephrys / Reno
Basically the reason to go highlander in the first place. I won't dive too deep into either card since its all been said before, but I will go over Zephrys picks in the matchup spread.
Zephrys by itself makes this worth running, but the density of powerful battlecries in the deck means it almost always gets value. The discount can also help enable the deck's primary combo, or allows you to spend combo pieces in the early game, and then bounce them back to preserve the combo.
I almost always spend this on Zephrys if given the opportunity, discounted Zephrys is the most powerful card in the deck. Spending it on Tenwu is also excellent.
Deck needs combo activators and anti-aggro tools badly. Could replace with a 1 mana battlecry if you were so inclined but Backstab is just good.
Thaurissan for 2, really strong card. If you can get the discount early it can really accelerate your draw engine, or you can make a huge Edwin. In a control matchup you can use it to set up your OTK.
If you can evaluate whether you opponent has a 4 dmg removal, you can throw it out onto the board blindly. Sometimes its OK if it just eats removal, or forces your opponent into an awkward play (for example, I'm totally happy if you Broomstick -> Conviction this and deny me the discount, but also deny yourself your best cards)
Otherwise in this deck Prize Plunderer, Brain Freeze, Backstab all serve as activators. You can also run Broomstick, which isn't bad at all in this deck.
Swindle / Secret Passage
The deck needs draw desperately, and these slot in easily. Swindle is just Pot of Greed but that's fine.
There's an argument for not using Secret Passage – as the deck curve is a bit high for it, and its a dead card in the first few turns.
However Passage is super useful both to thin your deck, and for yolo plays where you need a specific out.
Generally speaking you want to play it at late as you can, but if you have no play on turn 3-5 I usually will do Passage just to avoid a dead turn. Otherwise its good to save for things like a turn 7 Reno, a desperate Zephrys out, Hanar into a secret from your deck, or secret into your Blackjack Stunner to answer a big drop.
Moving into the main combo pieces:
I think a lot of people overrated this card at reveal, and are underrating it now. Its mana cheat, and no deck in Wild really ever competes without some form of mana cheat.
First, it enables the primary Alexstrasza OTK combo. For more detail on executing the combo, see this guide I wrote.
However Scabbs has other use cases. For simplicity I'm going to lay these out as card lines, hopefully this is enough to illustrate how to use him effectively.
Build big Edwins Coin -> Scabbs ->
-> 8/8 Edwin, 3 mana Shark -> Foxy -> Scabbs -> -> 18/18 Edwin, 6 mana Play Zephrys, and also play the card it generates (emergency board clear?) Coin -> Scabbs -> Zephrys -> - 3 mana Shark -> Foxy -> Scabbs -> Zephrys -> - 6-7 mana Generate value in hand through Potion of Illusion (costs 1 during Scabbs turn, or 0 during Shark / Scabbs) Foxy -> Scabbs -> -> Potion of Illusion - 5 mana Shark -> Foxy -> Scabbs -> -> Potion of Illusion - 6 mana Use Potion of Illusion to mana discount the primary combo (Note: using Potion of Illusion for discount/value means you need Tenwu for a 32 dmg OTK) Shark -> Foxy -> Scabbs -> Alex -> Potion of Illusion = 9 mana follow next turn with Shark -> Alex or Shark -> Alex -> Tenwu -> Alex Miracle Field Contact draw turns Field Contact -> Scabbs -> x2 = 7 mana, draw 3+
There's more potential combos but i think that's illustrative of how to use the card.
Simple card but key to the deck's primary combo.
Vs. aggro, feel free to use early as a combo activator.
Vs. control, avoid using it if possible except alongside Scabbs/Shark.
Shadowstep on a stick. If you need to OTK, save it, but otherwise I take any value I can get with it (usually Zephrys, Wand Thief, Vanessa, or Reno).
Alexstrasza the Life-Binder
Really solid card, except it costs 9 mana and will end up in your opening hand.
Can be used for burst even without the full combo, or is a clutch heal. Sometimes its correct to use the deck's main combo on your own face, just to clinch a game vs. a burn deck.
Would be in every Rogue deck ever, if it didn't have the Secret requirement. Insane tempo.
Directly counters mana cheat such as Voidcaller, Shadow Essence.
Directly counters buffs, excellent card into handbuff paladin.
Its Sap on a stick, plus the mana cost increase, but unlike Sap you can repeat this with Shadowstep, Tenwu, Potion of Illusion, Cheat Death.
Love this card, but I can totally understand why its annoying to play against.
Hanar is often a hail mary, but it can be surprisingly effective at doing so. I honestly consider it one of the strongest Rogue legendaries ever printed. It wins games that are otherwise hopeless by generating value, tempo, or combo disruption.
Even when it doesn't solo games, its such a threat that the opponent sometimes has to spend 2-4 pieces of removal just to deal with it. I think its power level justifies itself in Reno, but you are required to run some secrets that are just OK, and often dead cards into aggro matchups. This does leave less room for other standalone anti-aggro tools.
I'll go into more Hanar detail matchup-by-matchup, but here's a few notable secrets that are almost always worth generating:
Pack Tactics/Splitting Image means Hanar is difficult to remove through trading
Counterspell / Oh My Yogg / Spellbender can all protect the Hanar
Getaway Kodo acts similar to Cheat Death, can give you back Hanar
Redemption forces a second trade or piece of removal to remove the 1 health Hanar
2 mana draw 1 and play it. Just generally good. Be aware of playing it when most of your secrets are gone, and losing your last activator for Hanar or Stunner.
2 mana 2/3 poisonous. Kinda eh, but its a secret that generates tempo, so its necessary.
One of the better secrets. Its an extra copy of Shadowstep, and it makes Hanar extremely difficult to remove. Even if you're not holding it, the possibility of Cheat Death forces your opponent into weird trades on Hanar turns.
If you know you're going to need to Zephrys on a future turn, you can play it out beforehand so you have a strong chance of getting Zeph back. Ditto for Reno.
It also places the opponent into a bit of a rock and a hard place – OK, we know that's Cheat Death with the Zeph on the board, do I clear it? If I don't clear it, are they just going to use a bounce on it like Tenwu?
Another Pot of Greed. You do need to carefully manage your handsize to prevent burning combo pieces if the secret procs.
Surprisingly good in the current meta. Majority of players do not play around this correctly. Even if they do, it can still deny a single attack from hitting your face.
Really good into things like the Secret Mage 4/4s, or even their Kirin Tor / Flakmage board.
vs. Handbuff paladin, if you can save this, it denies their 2-charger Conviction OTK.
I consider this card better in the meta than Evasion, but Evasion could be better into decks like APM Mage.
Going to gloss over some of the early game cards, except a couple noteworthy exceptions. I'm currently running 3 pirates + Patches, mainly just for the Patches deck thinning.
Prize Plunderer is solid removal. Flybooter is good Edwin fuel. Swashburglar is memes. Brain Freeze is just there to remove Ships Cannons and snowball minions like Murlocs.
Prob my favorite Core set card.
You can super greed her, and take hero cards, or huge value generation. But its also important to just throw her out whenever the opponent plays a halfway decent card. I often take Kobold Librarians, Crystology, etc, just to get cards into my hand.
Exceptional card vs. Secret Mage, definite keep there. Tells you the secret your opponent played, and also enables the deck's secret synergy.
I'll try and note in the matchup spread which cards are best.
Alternate wincon for the deck.
Generally vs. aggro decks, you'll never get to the deck's main Alex combo. In these cases, its better to use your combo pieces to make a big Edwin – either to contest board, or to race the opponent. If you can follow big Edwin with Zephrys -> Windfury, all the better.
I generally keep this card in the mulligan, on the average case its very good.
Can generate Secrets for Hanar/Stunner.
Can generate Ice Blocks vs. OTK decks, or other forms of disruption like Explosive Runes / Counterspell.
Otherwise I just take removal or board clears.
On to the matchups, I'll go over some of the current meta tier list but I may not cover every deck in-depth.
General mulligan keeps: Zephrys, Octobot, Mad Scientist, Wand Thief, any pirate to pull Patches
I'd say a generally even matchup, they can overwhelm you but you can also disrupt them well enough so they can't finish you off.
Mulligan: Blackjack Stunner
Zephrys: either for board clears, or sometimes denying a Salhet draw w/ Earth Shock or Shadow Madness can wreck their gameplan. Fewer cards = fewer buffs, or delaying their buff turns
Vanessa: Crystology is the best hit, can also take Broomstick, Salhet's
Hanar: Any form of removal/tempo, or secrets that protect your face like Wandering Monster.
Shenanigans can hit Conviction, or Broomstick/Samuro
Unfavored. You really really need Zephrys, either for a board clear to bail you out, or for a lethal push after their combo.
If you survive until turn 8 and can drop the Shark, you can often just kill them on 9 with Alex for 16. That's a big if, though.
Mulligan: Blackjack Stunner (for giants)
Zephrys: Shadow Word: Ruin usually, but keep lethal in mind
Vanessa: Broomstick is the best hit, otherwise any card draw.
Hanar: keep the power overwhelming OTK in mind and try and disrupt it, or get Snipes/Runes for the Darkglare
Flamewaker / APM Mage
Really just a coinflip if they hit their draw and key cards. If you run into a lot of this, slot Loatheb into the deck, and just save all your bounces for it. (Shadowstep, Tenwu, Potion, even Stunner on your own minion)
Dump all your cards aggressively, most of them won't see use and you want to avoid burning key cards. Backstab your own minions for board space if you need to.
Generally two paths to victory –
board flood, preferably with a big Edwin
or your other wincon is Hanar and random secrets
Mulligan: Hanar + activator
Zephrys: Wild Growth is a decent option, but if you're holding Zeph and have no other play, use it to generate any minion just to put things on board. Keep in mind Bloodlust or Savage Roar lethals as well
Vanessa: Mana Biscuit, any draw, Primordial Glyph. If they run Ice Block, taking it wins the game
Hanar: Snipe, Explosive Runes, Pressure Plate, Ice Block, Counterspell / Oh My Yogg
Decent matchup, but you can still lose to perfect curve. Hanar can help with disruption, but otherwise I just draw aggressively into the main combo. Be aware of both Dirty Rat and Illucia.
Octobot is best used early, to enable your Field Contact draw. Using it late walks into Illucia, and you don't need the discount if you get all 5 combo pieces.
Mulligan: I keep Blackjack Stunner vs. Priest in case of Big, any card draw for your early turns
Zephrys: Usually use for Jaraxxus – generates pressure and puts the opponent onto the back foot while you assemble combo
Vanessa: Insight, Palm Reading, Kazakus, Zephrys. Polkelt situationally if you already have Foxy or Tenwu in hand. Don't get baited into Anduin, not worth it
Hanar: I use Hanar as a distraction, forcing them to spend resources. Reckoning denies the Spawn OTK (as do Runes, Potion of Poly, but they can play around those). Be aware of their Zephrys and don't go all-in
Aggro is generally unfavored, but Zeph / Reno help a lot. Try and keep their board clear so they can't Rokara (easier said than done). Sometimes the best use of Zephrys is to pre-emptively generate a clear like Lightning Storm. Mulligan: Any anti-aggro cards / removal, Reno
Zephrys: Lightning Storm, Holy Smite, Holy Nova, Acidic Swamp Ooze
Vanessa: Most of their cards aren't good for you, the Outrider's Axe is probably the best hit but I wouldn't greed Vanessa vs. aggro. Take anything, Sky Raider is just fine
Hanar: Explosive Trap, Wandering Monster, Sudden Betrayal, Ice Barrier, anything that removes, heals you, or denies them tempo
Can be difficult but you have the tools to deal with it. They may just overwhelm you with their discounts and superior draw, but if you make effective plays you can deal with their secrets effectively.
Be aware of Rigged Faire Game – if you know the secret is RFG, its often worth daggering face every turn just to strand the secret and deny draw.
Mulligan: Vanessa, Reno, anti-aggro/removal
Zephrys: Generating a Flare is often good, even if your intention isn't to use it right away. Otherwise save for a board clear
Vanessa: Literally any card in their deck, but I usually take Arcanologist, Ancient Mysteries, Medivh's Valet, or use it when they play a Secret so you know what it is
Hanar: Can be tough to pull off, sometimes OK to use as an Explosive Runes tester for no value, or as a soft taunt. You're not sad to see it eat a Fireball.
Otherwise try and play when you know Runes/Counterspell aren't up. If you play it on turn 2, and they have no board or secret up, they aren't able to remove it most of the time. (but they can Counterspell)
I'd say generally favored, but they do have the tools to disrupt your combo (Dirty Rat, Gnomeferatu). If they get to Tickatus it often wins the game, so draw aggressively and don't play the long game.
If you can get the full combo the OTK isn't tough to pull off, and other than mana cheating demons, they don't put on a lot of pressure. Mulligan: Blackjack Stunner
Zephrys: Hex, Jaraxxus, board clears
Vanessa: Kazakus, any decent draw Hanar: Potion of Poly, Counterspell/Oh My Yogg, Freezing Trap situationally
I won't go in-depth here, heavily favored – easy to OTK, and hard mulligan for Blackjack Stunner.
Pretty favored – your main concern is playing around Coldlight Oracle. You do need to draw, but also hand dump aggressively.
You're not winning in fatigue, so you want to preserve your full 48 damage combo – which involves saving Tenwu, Potion of Illusion, and Shadowstep.
Once you get combo, do a Shark->Foxy->Scabbs->Alex->Potion turn
Follow the next turn with Shark->Alex->Tenwu->Alex->Shadowstep->Tenwu->Alex.
Zephrys: almost always Jaraxxus
Vanessa: dump her when convenient, or take the Dr. Boom if they run it
Hanar: use as a distraction and force them to spend resources removing it
Reno / LPG Mage
Can be tough but I'd say usually winnable. You need to assemble the combo, avoid Dirty Rat, and also pre-emptively break Ice Block.
Mulligan: I usually mulligan Mages assuming Secret/APM
Zephrys: Needs to be saved for secret removal (and hope he doesn't screw you). Generate Flare or the 4 mana 5/4, but only use it when you're certain the secret is Ice Block
Vanessa: Most of their cards are good, Kazakus and Reno Relicologist are good pickups. LPG is also good, but you don't need to be that greedy
Hanar: Distraction turn, force them to spend resources, don't go all-in in case of Zeph
Kingsbane / Odd Rogue
Mostly just a coinflip if you draw Zephrys and Reno.
Zephrys: healing, weapon removal, board clears
Vanessa: don't go greedy, and don't take the Kingsbane. Any removal or minion is OK
Hanar: hail mary for Ice Blocks/Barriers, anything that denies a weapon hit like Wandering Monster. Shenanigans if you're lucky can destroy the Kingsbane on a Shinyfinder turn
Jade / Combo Druid
For a value game like Jade, you generally have the tools to go nuts if you want to. Use Potion of Illusion to repeat high value cards like Zeph.
Otherwise you can try and win through the 48 dmg turn, but they may out-armor that.
Combo Druid is generally dependent upon getting a good Hanar turn, or you can run Loatheb and repeat it with your bounces.
Zephrys: Jaraxxus, or save for board clears (if they run Clowns, Zeph is your primary answer)
Vanessa: Branching Paths is solid, if you expect Celestial Alignment, you may be able to pre-emptively grab ramp or mana generation (Nourish)
Hanar: vs Jade, just make a ton of value. For Combo, it depends on which combo they're running. Pressure Plate is a very good hit, Counterspell/Oh My Yogg, Explosive Runes if you expect Aviana
Frequently Asked Questions (of myself):
Is the secret package worth it, vs.
I've been married to this package since Hanar was printed in Ashes. However, I do my due diligence each expansion and re-test the deck without the secret package – and always end up putting it back.
Most of the secrets are just OK, but Dirty Tricks is at least draw, and Cheat Death is very good with high value battlecries in general.
However the power level of Blackjack Stunner vs. mana cheat, and Hanar vs. combo decks justifies both, in my opinion. Your mileage may vary but its worked out well for me.
If you're not a fan of secrets, you can replace the entire package with early game battlecry / combo minions – I would recommend Dirty Rat at the very least if you cut Hanar.
Is the OTK with Scabbs worth it vs. Kazakus?
I've also tested Kazakus lists – namely variants on the CN lists that hit top 10 legend – and the card is very strong, especially when coupled with a lot of bounces.
However, your plan there generally has to be to function as an aggro deck, and get under the opponent – because you'll lack the sustain to play a long game, or the OTK to close out games vs control. That's mostly just not the style of deck I enjoy playing personally.
Scabbs is a fun card, and Potion of Illusion / Shark are both huge value engines. Kazakus is certainly a strong option though, I'd 100% include it if not for its 4-cost requirement.
Should you run Loatheb?
I ran Loatheb for a long time in this list (in place of where Taelan is now), and it definitely wins games. The ability to play it alongside your Scabbs/Edwin combo can be a wincon by itself.
Vs. combo decks Loatheb can just clinch a win, especially if you can play it 3-4 turns in a row.
The caveat is that Loatheb is expensive, in a deck that's already struggling to lower its curve – and its useless vs. aggro, in a deck that already struggles against aggro. I cut it recently and didn't miss it at all during my climb – but that could change if the meta shifts even more heavily towards APM mage. If that's all you're facing, Loatheb should go back in.
Why highlander vs. non-highlander?
I ran a Scabbs/Loatheb/Edwin non-highlander list early in the expansion, and it did OK.
I think the tools you gain from going highlander outweigh the loss of consistency.
Zephrys is arguably the most powerful card that's been printed. It creates answers for so many situations. Some aggro matchups are completely unwinnable without the ability to scam with Reno, and I don't think the addition of 2-ofs helps resolve that.
I'd love to have 2-of Octobot, and probably a duplicate Foxy Fraud, along with duplicates of the better draw tools. I just don't think that slower Rogue decks survive without the get-out-of-jail free cards, the tools just don't exist to survive aggro otherwise. See how well Mill Rogue does vs. aggro, for instance.
While the highlander tools don't make the aggro matchups favored, they do make them winnable when they'd otherwise be auto-losses.
Thats probably enough words for now and I'm done typing, so hope this helps anyone interested in the nitty gritty of this extremely fringe, off-meta deck. Hope that you enjoyed my magnus opus.
More about HearthStonePost: "Very Long Overexplain Reno Alex Secret Rogue Guide" specifically for the game HearthStone. Other useful information about this game:
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