As a class, Rogue has the best tempo tools in the game: Backstab, SI:7 Agent, Preparation, Sap, and Eviscerate are all flexible and efficient cards. However, a successful tempo-driven Rogue deck has been absent since classic Hearthstone. This is for two reasons:
1) Rogues lacked decent mid-game minions to take advantage of their tempo.
2) The Rogue hero power increasingly becomes a liability as the game continues. Any benefit it had in tempo in the early game is overtaken by the life cost it incurs later.
With the release of the latest wings of LoE Rogues have received several tools that shore up these weaknesses. Unearthed Raptor now fills the mid-game void and Sir Finley Mrrgglton allows the class to convert the hero power into a more useful tool once the early game has passed. In addition to these, Arch-Thief Rafaam provides a valuable win condition that the deck was previously lacking and Pit Snake is a tool to disrupt enemy plans.
This is a tempo deck with a Rogue twist. Most decks of this sort seek to play sticky value minions and establish tempo with their 2- and 3-drops, riding this early lead to victory before slower decks can field too many threats. Rogues operate differently: instead of relying on your minions to carry themselves, you guard them with your spells and battlecries while the minions apply pressure to the opponent's health pool.
Strengths and Weaknesses of the Deck:
1) When most minion-based decks lose the board they have a difficult time regaining it because they rely on dictating favorable trades. Rogues have the potential for ridiculous swing turns, and so can often reclaim the board where other tempo decks would falter.
2) The deck is less susceptible to a slow start than other tempo decks. Rogues can "store" tempo with their hero power on turn two and cards such as Preparation allow them to have power turns if they don't get an ideal start.
1) Combo decks like Freeze Mage, Anyfin Paladin, and Worgen Warrior. Due to your hero power you will usually dip in health and you have almost no ability to heal up out of lethal range of their finishing combo.
2) The deck has limited burst. It has no charge minions and only Eviscerate and SI:7 Agent to deliver damage from the hand. You are heavily reliant on being able to keep a minion alive on the board to attack the enemy.
How to Play:
As a tempo deck you want to have tempo on your side. However, most of your minions aren't very sticky either so it's finding a balance between applying pressure and not just sending your minions to the slaughter. As such the most important skill to master is knowing how your opponents' board clears work and making sure that your board doesn't offer them any easy outs.
Detailed Match-ups and Mulligan:
- Favorable: You will likely win more often than not against this class.
- Even: Match is generally determined by who plays better and/or gets a better hand.
- Unfavorable: You will likely lose more often than not against this class.
- Mixed: Has both favorable and unfavorable match-ups depending on the deck.
Mulligan: Druids mostly come in two flavors: Midrange Combo and Aggro. Luckily, you want similar things to answer both of them: a way to kill Darnassus Aspirant and prevent them from building momentum.
- Good keeps: Backstab, Buccaneer, Preparation, Eviscerate
- Okay keeps: Pit Snake, Fan of Knives (value goes up with Preparation), Piloted Shredder (if you have a good way of dealing with Darnassus Aspirant, Sir Finley Mrrgglton (because of combo you can't use your dagger much past the first few turns)
- Bad keeps: Besides the obvious high-cost minions, most of your deck is actually pretty useful against Druids. Because of their ramp even cards like Big Game Hunter can find use sooner than you'd expect (although I wouldn't recommend keeping it just for that).
Guide: Druids have Innervate, you have Preparation. Druid is a match up that is all about establishing favorable tempo for you. They Innervate out a big minion, you Preparation to remove it and keep going.
It might be surprising that I list Buccaneer among the good keeps against Druid, since they can kill it with Shapeshift. However, this forces them to use their turn killing it rather than playing Darnassus Aspirant. Pit Snake can also work this way, but it has so much more value later in the game that I don't like using it as an opening move.
Other than this, you really want to bait out their Keeper of the Grove on anything other than your Sludge Belcher. Frequently they end up being your last line of defense if the Druid has had a strong game and they can buy you the time to stabilize or finish the Druid.
Mulligan: Hunter decks are almost universally aggressive, whether they be Face Hunter or Midrange Hunter. They also make use of many of the same early-game deathrattles with Haunted Creeper and Mad Scientist, so the mulligan is similar.
- Good keeps: Backstab, SI:7 Agent, Fan of Knives, Preparation, Eviscerate (this last is primarily for Animal Companion)
- Okay keeps: Buccaneer, Sap, Dark Iron Skulker (only if you've got a few of the good keeps above)
- Bad keeps: Pit Snake (Hunters have too many early throw-away minions for it to be effective)
Guide: Steady Shot is the most punishing hero power to Rogues, since you're already digging into your own health with Dagger Mastery. It also means they win the long game without Sir Finley Mrrgglton, so you need to guard your health even more so than usual. The mulligan for heavy removal supports this, as almost any minion on the board will do. The good news is that this match up is usually favored because you can so efficiently remove their minions.
In longer games, it often comes down to Arch-Thief Rafaam. You only have a few turns to live, but if you can get an opportunity to play him it gives you the damage you need to threaten lethal and force the Hunter to play more defensively.
Mulligan: I tend to favor a mulligan for Tempo Mage. You want a similar hand against Mech Mage, so it works out. Freeze and Grinder are more rare, but are also slower so you aren't in immediate threat of being overwhelmed.
- Good keeps: Backstab, SI:7 Agent, Eviscerate (this last one is high priority because it lets you kill a guarded Flamewaker)
- Okay keeps: Edwin VanCleef, Loot Hoarder, Bloodmage Thalnos (these latter two cycle and hopefully slow them down a little), Loatheb (if you have sufficient early game)
- Bad keeps: Fan of Knives (Mages don't use tokens), Pit Snake, Buccaneer (Fireblast > 1-health minions, and Mages are happy to sacrifice a Mad Scientist to your early drop)
Guide: Mage is a rather awkward match-up for this deck. The problem is that Mages have the same strategy you do: defend minions with efficient spells, and their minions tend to be harder to remove (Mech) or have much more immediate impact (Tempo). And given their burn and reach, if your health pool dips your Sludge Belchers won't help against their spells.
However, one strength you have against Mages is Edwin VanCleef. In most match ups your goal is to get a 6/6 and no more to avoid Big Game Hunter. Against Mage, the larger the better because they don't tend to run Big Game Hunter or Polymorph. Even if he dies immediately to Fireball + Frostbolt that is a huge win for you in terms of both value and tempo. Otherwise I just send him face and get them panicking.
Mulligan: Assume your opponent is a Secret Paladin. Since Midrange Paladins try to establish early board control with similar tools, the same mulligan will work. Anyfin and Control/Reno Paladins will give you time to fish for options. In a mulligan you're looking for two things: AoE to deal with tokens and removal that lets you bypass their secrets and ruin their plans. Once those are secure you want some midrange minions to start attacking with.
- Good keeps: Backstab, Buccaneer, Fan of Knives, SI:7 Agent, Preparation (this is almost always useful)
- Okay keeps: Piloted Shredder (if your early game isn't too weak), Unearthed Raptor (same as Shredder), Bloodmage Thalnos, Edwin VanCleef (if you've got a spell and Preparation in hand, Edwin becomes a veritable win condition so keep him then)
- Bad keeps: Pit Snake (Shielded Minibot and Muster for Battle laugh at it), Eviscerate (most Secret Paladin minions don't have four health and it's not good against their starting minions)
Guide: The Secret Paladin match up is all about being on the offensive. Aggressively use your spells to clear their board and go face if possible. Basically you want to play like an aggro deck, because in order to win the control game you need to have all the right answers at all the right times and that isn't likely. Soft-pedal this strategy if you can tell you're against a more midrange version of the deck (uses Sludge Belcher and Keeper of Uldaman instead of Secretkeeper and weaker secrets). Generally the less-aggressive version is harder to beat.
For slower Paladin decks, it's just about applying steady pressure while not falling into their board clears. Use combinations of Piloted Shredder, Unearthed Raptor and your cantrip cards to make board clears inefficient. As mentioned in the How to Play, it is all about applying just enough pressure to be dangerous without overextending. Arch-Thief Rafaam is often essential here.
Mulligan: Since most Shamans are aggro focus on early-game removal and keeping them from getting a foodhold on the board. Your goal in the mulligan is to be able to have a plan to deal chunks of 3 and 4 damage for Tunnel Trogg/Feral Spirit and Totem Golem respectively.
- Good keeps: Backstab, SI:7 Agent, Eviscerate
- Okay keeps; Pit Snake, Bloodmage Thalnos, Loot Hoarder, Fan of Knives, Preparation (last goes up greatly in value if you have removal spells)
- Bad keeps: Dark Iron Skulker (excellent card against Shaman, but too slow unless the rest of your hand is good), Sabotage (Same as Dark Iron Skulker; this card is amazing for Doomhammer, but if you keep it in a weak hand you'll lose before that point)
Guide: This deck is ideally suited to deal with Aggro Shaman. Game plan is fairly simple: just keep them from sticking minions. By around turns four and five you want to start attacking their face and applying pressure. You can usually out-tempo them unless they happen to get good Lava Shocks off. Once they're forced to start using their spells on your non-taunt minions it's over.
Mulligan: Warriors mostly come either in Control or Patron/Worgen varieties. Occasionally you're lucky with an Aggro Warrior, but don't count on it. Most Warrior decks start slow, so you don't need a lot of removal. Instead you want just enough to get rid of early minions and then look for sticky minions.
- Good keeps: Sabotage, Unearthed Raptor, Eviscerate, and something to combo Eviscerate
- Okay keeps: SI:7 Agent, Backstab, Sludge Belcher, Piloted Shredder, Loot Hoarder, Bloodmage Thalnos, Sir Finley Mrrgglton
- Bad keeps: Buccaneer and Pit Snake (both die uselessly to weapons or Cruel Taskmaster), Fan of Knives (Warriors don't use 1-health tokens)
Guide: Warriors are a weak match up for this deck. The problem is that without a lot of sticky cards, Warrior weapons and single-target removal are very efficient at killing your minions. On top of this, while you can get a slow start against a class like Priest and know you can get their 30 health down eventually, Warriors can stack their armor so it's nearly impossible to break through it all.
Your best bet is to play more aggressively, keep their armor low, and hope that they don't have much removal in hand. You have no way of dealing efficiently with Grim Patron, so once those take over the board, it's a race or a loss. Always keep Sabotage. A good Sabotage at the right time is one of the ways you can come back into a game and win.
Finally, you will notice I rank Unearthed Raptor above Piloted Shredder in the mulligan. This is because a turn three Unearthed Raptor (even without using its battlecry) usually requires two cards for them to deal with, while by the time you can play Piloted Shredder they will almost certainly have a weapon. Furthermore, if they use a Death's Bite to deal with the Piloted Shredder and your only followup is Sludge Belcher, they get far too much value. For a similar reason this is why cantrip minions are decent keeps: they will often eat up charges of a weapon while also giving you potential targets for Unearthed Raptor. This is also one of the few match-ups where using Sir Finley Mrrgglton early can be a good call, since the dagger just doesn't have much value against Warriors.
Pit Snake is considered trash-tier by most players. The basic argument is as follows: "It only has one health and no immediate effect on the board, meaning that it can be easily removed with a hero power and is a waste of a card." I have found this to be an inaccurate description of its potential.
This is a tempo-driven deck. They key difference between this card and Patient Assassin is its mana cost: at one mana it is usually cheaper to play Pit Snake than it is to remove it. This is a win from your perspective. On top of this it trades with the common 1-drops, including Tunnel Trogg, Northshire Cleric, and Zombie Chow.
The second benefit of the card in the later stages of the game is that it must be dealt with because it can single-handedly wipe out the most valuable of cards. The key is to play this card preemptively before a crucial turn when your opponent would like to develop a large minion. Instead (s)he must now once again play reactively, which is where you want them. It pairs particularly well with Sludge Belcher and Loatheb. Sludge Belcher because it is low tempo with Pit Snake represents a protected threat, and Loatheb to make their turn even more awkward as both spells AND large minions are unplayable.
A final minor bonus is that at one mana it is a good combo-starter, allowing you to do turn four plays with SI:7 Agent if you lack other options.
This little card pulls its weight far more than you would expect. While it is true that he has some anti-synergy with Sir Finley Mrrgglton, his one-of inclusion usually prevents this from being much of an issue.
As mentioned in the Early Game section above, he can function flexibly as both a 1-drop and 3-drop. Later on, being able to deal two damage with your dagger rather than one is also extremely useful for getting rid of minions like Slime from Sludge Belcher that would otherwise get in the way.
The Rogue hero power can be thought of similar to the Warlock hero power: it lets you trade life for something else. In this case it is tempo rather than card advantage. However, with no healing in the deck you must be judicious with your attacks, and later on most things are simply too big to hit. This is when Sir Finley Mrrgglton comes to the rescue.
Which hero power is best is dictated by the type of match up, how you are doing, and what stage in the game you get Sir Finley Mrrgglton. Avoid using him on the first turn: the Rogue hero power is far more valuable for tempo in the early game than any other option you could get. Below is a rough guide of what to pick:
- Aggro: Armor Up! or Lesser Heal. Generally your goal is to outlast them. If the match is going your way and you have good board presence and health total, Fireblast can help seal the deal.
- Tempo or Midrange: Usually stick with your dagger for longer, transferring to a good board-control hero power like Fireblast to avoid health loss later on. At the end of these games sometimes all you need is some healing as well to get out of lethal range (especially against constant pressure from Hunters), so again Armor Up! and Lesser Heal are good choices.
- Control: Life Tap is good if you get it early and don't have a lot of draw in your hand. Later on Steady Shot can be good for applying necessary pressure while allowing you to commit even less to the board.
Often what works out well for me as well is Totemic Call against control. It makes it difficult/impossible to keep the board clear of minions for you to use Lantern of Power on. It's also a hero power that's almost never wasted to use every turn with your spare mana.
- Combo: This depends heavily on the type of deck. If it's a late-game combo deck like Anyfin Paladin you want Life Tap to run them over quickly. If it's a more midrange combo deck like Druid then switching to a defensive option (if your health is low) or an obnoxious one like Totemic Call can be better depending on the situation. Freeze Mage is an unfavorable matchup to begin with, so hope for an early Sir Finley Mrrgglton into Armor Up!.
- If in doubt: Fireblast. It's never a completely useless hero power.
- Avoid: Reinforce and Shapeshift. Neither are the best at what you need them to do and will always be picks of necessity.
These three cards form your trifecta of counters to enemy threats.
- Big Game Hunter: Hardly needs an explanation. He's there for all your big removal needs.
- Sabotage: A card that is seen less often, but has proven to be extremely valuable. It's one of your key tools against Paladins and Warriors, and will also seal the deal against decks like Aggro Shaman and Hunter. It is also a fantastic way to destroy high-health minions like Twilight Drake, Injured Blademaster, and Ysera. Finally it is a nasty surprise for Druid's Shade of Naxxramas or Concealed Gadgetzan Auctioneers.
- Sap: The tempo card of Hearthstone. While I have occasionally used it for lethal by getting rid of a taunt, its primary role is to give you the pivotal turn where you are able to turn the game around into your favor. It is, in a sense, the equivalent of Entomb, allowing you to get rid of problematic deathrattle minions such as Sylvanas Windrunner Tirion Fordring, and Savannah Highmane without suffering their immediate effects.
This card might seem like an odd choice for the deck, but he has fit like a glove since I tried including him. Arch-Thief Rafaam is a an amazing win condition by providing you with the burst needed to finish a game.
Lantern of Power allows you to achieve several things:
- Against control decks the issue is usually closing out the game. They will be attempting to fatigue you by simply running you out of minions. In order to do this they have to use their board clears efficiently, which means using their life as a resource while they wait for you to over-commit. Lantern of Power punishes this by allowing even a small number of minions to represent a large threat.
- Against aggro decks the issue is the opposite: you have used up your resources clearing their board and now need to kill them before they kill you. Since an aggro deck will essentially ignore Arch-Thief Rafaam, this is a potential 17+ damage on turn ten.
Tomb Pillager is a nice card but it doesn't quite fit in this deck. Usually the stickier aspect of Piloted Shredder is more valuable since you don't run any high-cost card combos. When I included him I often found my hand with useless coins that I didn't need in the late game.
No Azure Drake
While the spell power is always valuable to Rogues, the deck has sufficient cycling without Azure Drake. Generally Azure Drake is good if you need to look for combo pieces or win value wars. This deck doesn't try to do either of those things.
For those who read this far, thank you. I hope the guide was illuminating and that the deck performs well for you.