Silence or Bust: How Cubelock Slowed the Hearthstone Meta
“This card could potentially just shape the meta game,” Firebat mused about Carnivorous Cube in the Omnistone Kobolds and Catacombs set review. “Everyone’s deck might just be required to be fast enough to kill you so that you can’t play this.”
At the time I thought his take, echoed by Kibler and Zalae, verged on hyperbolic. I was wrong.
While the meta has slowed rather than sped up, we can attribute that change in pace to what Carnivorous Cube has done to the Warlock class, improving Control Warlock’s match-ups with other control decks while maintaining a suite of anti-aggro cards. Cubelock forces fast decks — Aggro Paladin, Tempo Rogue, Face Hunter, Burn Mage — to race to a finish before turns five and six, hoping to defy odds and dodge a devastating Defile or Hellfire along the way.
These fast decks are still viable, and Razakus Priest still dominates, but Firebat was right: Carnivorous Cube has helped to shape the Kobolds and Catacombs meta as we know it, spawning an archetype and a whole lot of Spellbreakers. Cubelock is the new control-combo hybrid archetype borne out of the Cube’s powerful interactions with a few cards. The deck has tools to stifle aggro, out-value control, and sometimes charge down Razakus Priest — and the Cube plays a large part in all of those win conditions.
We Dare Summon Doomguard
In general, the gameplan is to draw cards early and set up for massive swings in both health and tempo with combinations of Possessed Lackey, Skull of the Man'ari, Doomguard, Voidlord, Carnivorous Cube, and Dark Pact. The specific combination you’re aiming for depends on the match-up. Against an aggro opponent without access to a silence effect, Voidlord ends games; Dark Pact on a Cube or Lackey helps you stall to get there, as does Defile, Hellfire, and Mistress of Mixtures.
Against control decks, some versions of the deck can threaten 25 points of damage in a turn. The combo is as follows: cheat a Doomguard onto the board with Skull of the Man'ari or Possessed Lackey, hit the opponent’s face, play Spiritsinger Umbra, eat the Doomguard with Carnivorous Cube, hit face for 10 more damage, and finally use Dark Pact on the Cube to deal another 10. Sure, it’s a fringe, multi-card combo, but the deck has the tools to draw cards and stall to consistently threaten such a play. Bloodreaver Gul'dan then threatens all that damage over again — this time from one card.
But the combo is not an imperative. As with the old Renolock combo — a discounted Leeroy Jenkins, Faceless Manipulator, and Power Overwhelming — it’s merely an option. More than that, it’s a possibility that sends your opponent into a panic. A tempo Spiritsinger Umbra on turn 4, for example, can be played to bait out a silence effect and clear the way for Possessed Lackey, your much more consistent value card. Zalae’s list, which we’ve featured, uses Prince Taldaram and two Dark Pact to push the same amount of damage in the late-game. The flexibility of Prince Taldaram arguably makes it the better version, at least while valuable Deathrattle, Taunt, and Divine Shield minions roam the meta.
A Misplay, or Three
All that said, there are significant difficulties in playing the archetype. Chief among them: it is very, very difficult to assess optimal lines of play against control decks — especially with a clunky hand of incomplete combo pieces. Successful players will need to carefully consider the odds of drawing key cards while using life tap and monitoring their health. They will need to consider sub-optimal tempo plays against aggro and the odds and opportunity cost of jamming a Doomguard onto the board. And they will, in all likelihood, need to draw Mountain Giant early against Razakus Priest.
Also, there’s a little card called Defile. One of the most efficient removal cards in the game happens to be often one of the most complicated. Last month pro player and streamer BoarControl shared with his Twitter followers a screenshot of a full board of minions, offering that there was indeed a full board clear available. These math puzzles are a lot to contemplate in a 75-second turn, so cheers to anyone who can find the clear so quickly. (He didn't.)
Now and Ahead
Competitive circles haven’t yet settled on one list, but many are gravitating toward Zalae’s, which features two copies of both Mountain Giant and Faceless Manipulator to threaten damage versus Priest before their Psychic Scream and Shadowreaper Anduin turns on 7 and 8. Mulligan hard for the giants in this match-up, along with Skull of the Man'ari. If the meta quickens, you can reinforce Cubelock’s dominant position by trading the giants for two Plated Beetle. Against aggro, mulligan for Mistress of Mixtures, Kobold Librarian, Defile, Mortal Coil, and Hellfire — you have many options.
In a month, Cubelock has proven itself a powerful and rewarding, albeit challenging, new archetype. Against aggressive decks, it dominates. Versus control, it is at least viable — and Zalae’s innovative list has made the match-up with Razakus Priest, far-and-away most powerful and popular standard deck, a winnable one. Going forward, expect decklists to change often, sometimes by a lot, as we all learn how to pilot it optimally. And barring a nerf (or two), I predict you would do well to practice playing both with and against it — because after the first expansion of 2018 goes live, Razakus Priest will lose Raza the Chained to Wild and become unviable, while Cubelock loses only Mistress of Mixtures.