Getting Started with Combo Priest
Want to play Priest, but you don’t have 8,000 dust lying around to craft all those Legendaries? Alternatively, maybe you’re tired of losing to all those Priests, and want to bully them with a taste of their own medicine? Well boy, do I have the deck for you.
As was predicted by most, Razakus Priest has gone on to take over the meta by storm following the nerfs to most of the decks that were keeping it in check (mainly Pirate Warrior and Jade Druid). The meta has gone on to adapt in a search for answers to contain the monster, and has arrived to the conclusion that the best answer is still the good old “kill them before turn 5” strategy. And if you play your cards right, this deck is more than capable of doing it.
Now I’ll be honest with you, Priest is by far my least favourite class; I have less than 100 ranked wins with it, and I’ve been playing since December 2013. That said, there is always a first time for everything, and believe me when I tell you that seeing Control piloting this deck during the Wild Open of 2017 was the first time that I was genuinely excited to try out a Priest deck. It reminded me of decks like the original Freeze Mage, Handlock, and Patron Warrior lists of yore: absolute masterpieces of deckbuilding, where no card slot is wasted and everything has its purpose.
While popularized by Control during the Wild Open, you can trace this deck’s origins all the way back to April 2017, when Sipiwi94 managed to hit Rank 1 Legend on NA using a prototype of this deck. And a few months later, with the cat out of the bag, the deck has spread like wildfire, and continued to be iterated on by Wild Legend players. Now thanks to the nerfs to Fiery War Axe and Innervate, maintaining and early game board has never been easier, which really allows this deck to shine.
Today, I’d like to focus on Control’s list, which he used to Legend on the current month of January 2018. As you can see, the deck clocks in at an astounding 3,240 dust (or 2,960 dust if you own the Naxxramas adventure content). That is by far the cheapest meta deck in the entire format. So what’s the catch? The catch is that it is also one of the highest skill cap decks in the format. Let’s take a closer look as we breakdown the deck card-by-card for your reading pleasure.
- Circle of Healing: By itself not an amazing card, but in combination with Northshire Cleric this is one half of one of the most powerful draw engines in the game. So long as you have some board presence, this combo can easily draw you 4+ cards in one turn, which does wonders for digging through your deck. If you have no Cleric, it’s still great for maintaining board control by keeping your minions healthy and around for longer. And if you’re ever falling behind on board, one Auchenai Soulpriest turns this card into a powerful board clear. With so many uses, Circle is rarely a dead card in this deck.
- Silence: Strictly a tech card, but a necessary one for the current metagame of turn 5 Voidlords and Obsidian Statues. Since your combo relies on being able to directly attack your opponent with a minion, large Taunt minions can be very problematic. As they have become more prevalent in the advent of Kobolds & Catacombs, this deck must adapt in order to continue being successful. That said, being able to have a Silence effect for no mana means that you can cast this along with your combo as you would normally. Having additional cheap spells for Lyra the Sunshard triggers is also great, and being able to grab this off of Shadow Visions in a clutch moment makes this a very powerful tech card in the current meta.
- Inner Fire: Speaking of which, here’s the win condition! Or half of it at least. The entire deck is built around abusing this card to turn your high-Health, low-Attack minions into giant undercosted beatsticks to kill your opponent with. Truth be told, there are games where you won’t need Divine Spirit in order to win at all, as sometimes and early Inner Fire with a couple buffs can get the job done early in the game. You still shouldn’t keep it in your mulligan though.
- Light of the Naaru: One of my all-time favourite cards, this allows you to keep your minions alive and well, while also creating a powerful threat that can run away with the game on its own if left unchecked. With so many cards that rely on board presence, having one card that can both keep Health up on your minions and make one in a pinch is a godsend. Not to mention the sick Auchenai Soulpriest synergies; eat your heart out, Lightning Bolt.
- Northshire Cleric: Best card in the deck, bar none. Not only is this the second half to our sick draw engine, but it’s also a 1-Cost minion with a fantastic 1/3 statline that curves into all your buffs, allowing us to the get the snowball rolling as early as possible. It’s also a fantastic removal magnet, which protects your other threats. You want to see this card every game, as it always contributes to a win one way or another.
- Potion of Madness: If you are facing tons of aggro decks running Patches the Pirate, then this card is for you. A cheap answer for any aggressive early plays, with additional upside of against Deathrattle minions. Particurlarly great with Radiant Elemental in play for even more tempo. Can also be used for unexpected lethal situations by stealing low-Attack, high-Health minions from your opponent, and since the stolen minion can attack immediately, you can use your Divine Spirit + Inner Fire combo for massive damage.
- Power Word: Shield: Drawing a card for 1 mana is worth it on its own in a combo deck, but having an additional buff effect that works towards furthering your win condition makes PW:S an auto-include in this deck. The fact that it’s so cheap makes it amazing when paired with Radiant Elemental, allowing you to go off and dig through your deck at a ridiculous pace.
- Zombie Chow: Before Mistress of Mixtures arrived, Zombie Chow was the go-to anti-aggro 1-drop minion. A 2/3 for 1 mana can contest early aggression like none other. Most other decks have taken preference to the Mixtress due to the free 4 point heal, but not in this deck. You want to be on the board as early as possible, and Chow is ideal due to it’s fantastic stats and how much it synergizes with the rest of the deck. Cheap 3-Health minions are perfect for giving the Priest Hero Power something to do early in the game, while later you can use it as a surprise 5 damage burst with Auchenai Soulpriest in play.
- Divine Spirit: The second piece of your combo win condition, this allows the deck to have something that Priest rarely got to have before: burst damage. And without the combo, it can still be played preemptively to almost guarantee the survival of a critical minion in play. You haven’t truly lived until you’ve killed a Jade Druid with 2x Divine Spirit + Inner Fire on a Deathlord.
- Radiant Elemental: One of the biggest additions to this deck, and one that catapulted it to viability. Who would’ve guessed that a reverse-statted [Sorcerer’s Apprentice] was all we could ever wish for? The fantastic stats as well as being able to turn our Divine Spirit + Inner Fire combo from 3 mana down to 1 is already enough to make it worth including. But with so many other spells in the deck, Radiant Elemental allows you to snowball out of control very easily if left on board.
- Shadow Visions: This deck is very heavy on situational combo pieces, so Shadow Visions is here to help you assemble those combos more consistently. Whether you want extra copies of Inner Fire for more threats, or you need that clutch Shadow Word: Pain to answer the board, Shadow Visions let’s you find it all. It’s a bit on the expensive side at 2 mana, but with 2x Radiant Elemental in the deck casting this for cheap should be no issue.
- Shadow Word: Pain: Speaking of which, this card is mainly in the deck to target one of it’s biggest enemies: Doomsayer. In a deck that is so reliant on early board presence, and with most of our minions being low attack, Doomsayer can put a hard stop to your plan and put you in the backfoot for the rest of the game. Outside of those matchups, SW:P is also great for removing pesky minions like Totem Golem.
- Wild Pyromancer: A staple of the Priest class ever since the days of beta, with so many cheap spells and a Hero Power that heals minions it is very easy to get big board clears with this card. Pyromancer getting multiple triggers can destroy most boards, since it can get around Deathrattle abilities like Haunted Creeper with enough procs. In slower matchups in can be used to enable insane draw turns with Circle of Healing and Northshire Cleric. The main downside is that it requires additional resources to even function, as well as being overall a pretty mana-intensive card to use.
- Acolyte of Pain: Another source of card draw that can contest weak minions, and can draw multiple cards if left unchecked thanks to your Hero Power. Due to his ability, Acolyte tends to draw people’s attention away from other targets, which is very useful for a deck that relies on sticking certain minions on board. It’s high health is great for promoting your combo win condition, as you can always buff it up for an okays threat at worst.
- Deathlord: One of the more powerful minions in the deck, Deathlord is not only great at stopping aggression, but has the highest Health of any 3-Cost minion in the game, making it a prime target for Divine Spirit + Inner Fire combos. Your Hero Power can help keep it alive for longer to further prevent it’s Deathrattle downside from going off, and even if it goes off, in general the current meta doesn’t punish you too badly outside of Flamewreathed Faceless from Aggro Shamans, being able to pull a clutch Kazakus or Raza the Chained from Reno Priest if you get lucky.
- Kabal Talonpriest: Another powerhouse minion in the deck, Talonpriest provides a big Health buff and a solidly statted body all in one. Curving it along with a Zombie Chow or a Shadow Ascendant rewards you with a powerful board early in the game, since the 3/4 stats are great for contesting your opponent’s board, protecting your buffed minion from damage for a massive Inner Fire burst. While Talonpriest is still serviceable on an empty board as a 3/4 for 3, it’s best to take advantage of the Health buff. As such, he’s not a card I would recommend ever keeping in your opening hand, as you’d rather prioritize cheap minions and buffs like Zombie Chow and Power Word: Shield.
- [Velen’s Chosen]: One of the best buff cards ever printed. Not only does Velen’s Chosen provide great stats and a big boost in Health for any minion, but the additional Spell Damage +1 powers up your Circle of Healing and Light of the Naaru (as long as you have Auchenai Soulpriest in play). This card is also a big contributor to your positive Priest matchup, as it allows to turn your Radiant Elemental or Deathlord into a beefy 4-Attack beater that your opponent will struggle to deal with early on. Not always a card you want to see in your opening hand, but one that is great once you have established a board.
- Auchenai Soulpriest: One of the most unique Priest cards in the game, Soulpriest turns all your heals into damage, which in this deck includes your Hero Power, Circle of Healing, and Light of the Naaru. Auchenai allows for very powerful tempo swings, as healing effects are traditionally undercosted when compared to damage effects. It’s main drawback is it’s a 4-cost card, which believe it or not is on the expensive side for this deck. While she can be clutch in certain matchups for a Circle of Healing clear, it’s best to avoid falling behind on board control in the first place by prioritizing your cheaper minions and buffs in your opening hand.
- Lyra the Sunshard: I loved Raven’s description of Lyra during his coverage of the HCT Summer Championship. He described Lyra as that cool aunt in your family, who brought you gifts that she knows your parents don’t want you to have, but she gave them to you anyway ‘cause she’s cool like that. In a deck with 2x Radiant Elemental and a lot of cheap spells, Lyra certainly has the potential for very degenerate turns. She’s also great as a late game value generator against control decks, turning your otherwise useless spells into potentially game-swinging cards. She’s a nice addition, but not really that necessary to the core strategy of the deck.
Strategy and Gameplan
I see this deck as the closest thing we’ve got to date to the fabled Aggro Priest, particularly versions that include Shadow Ascendant. This deck is looking to win the game within the first 7 turns of the game, otherwise you will start to get outvalued by most decks. While at its core a combo deck, Combo Priest is first and foremost a board control deck in the early turns of the game, relying on getting minions to stick on the board in order to win. Without board control, this deck is dead on the water, so it should be your number one priority. Once you have a good board, you are either looking to set up lethal with Divine Spirit + Inner Fire, or you are looking to draw through your deck with a big Circle of Healing + Northshire Cleric combo to get the necessary pieces in hand for lethal. It’s are relatively straightforward plan, but there are a lot of decisions along the way that can make break a victory.
One of the key things to understand with this deck is how many resources to commit to the board at any given time. It’s very tempting to continue buffing your minions turn after turn, but with a deck that has little to no comeback potential, you need to be mindful of your use of resources. Once you have established a decent board, you need to be aware of what potential answers your opponent can have and how can you set up your board so that at least something survives, preferably your highest health minion. You need to find a balance between having sufficient pressure on board and having enough cards in hand to rebuild if your board gets cleared. Sometimes it’s worth it to hold back on that [Velen’s Chosen] for one more turn.
On the other hand, it is also important to recognize situations where expending resources is necessary to protect your board, or else you risk a total loss. While cards like Circle of Healing and Divine Spirit are best saved to pair with their respective combos, sometimes it is best to use them on their own to increase the survivability of a specific board state. Having only couple more Health points on your valuable buffed minion can be the difference between it dying, or living through one more turn and carrying you the whole game afterwards. There’s no need to get greedy with these cards in aggressive matchups, where board control is everything.
Another important thing to understand is threat diversity. While in theory you are looking to set up as big an Inner Fire combo as you can, continually buffing up a single minion is only setting you up for disaster if you’re opponent finds any sort of removal to answer it. You need to spread your power across multiple minions, to create tough decisions for your opponent when he has to choose which one to remove due to limited mana. This is why cards like Shadow Ascendant, able to turn your non-threats like Acolyte of Pain and Northshire Cleric into beaters, or Light of the Naaru, that create additional threats for your opponent to deal with, can be fantastic additions to this deck.
Finally, I’d like to touch on is how meta-dependent this deck can be. This deck is kind off a one-trick pony, and while the trick is very effective it is also very easy to hate out. Hearthstone in general is known for its incredibly powerful but narrow hate cards; Golakka Crawler and Skulking Geist being recent examples. In a format like Wild, this is even more pronounced as decks become more reliant on synergy rather than raw power level. If all you are facing is Mages running Ice Block and Shamans running Devolve, then don’t expect this deck to perform very well. However, in the current climate dominated by Reno Priest, you have the element of surprise on your side.
Combos & Synergies
This deck has a lot of moving pieces and it can be hard to keep track of everything at once when you’re first getting started. Here’s a few of the more important interactions to keep an eye out for during your games.
- Wild Pyromancer + Northshire Cleric + Circle of Healing: This combo can unleash ridiculous amounts of card draw, allowing you to get to your necessary combo pieces early on in the game. Try and think ahead of when you play this combo to ensure you start the turn quick, as the animations can take a long time and lead to misplays.
- Auchenai Soulpriest + Circle of Healing: Four damage AoE to clear the entire board can be a lifesaver against aggressive decks, giving you a chance to claw back into a dominant board position. Not necessarily something you mulligan into purposefully (best to look for good early game minions), but something that’s nice when you draw into it to swing the game back in your favour.
- Auchenai Soulpriest + Zombie Chow + Light of the Naaru: These combined provide additional burst damage when you are in need of extra juice to close out the game. With the Priest class traditionally having poor burst from hand, as well as some people having insufficient knowledge of rules interactions surrounding Soulpriest, you can certainly catch your opponent off-guard with a surprise 5 extra damage from Zombie Chow.
- Auchenai Soulpriest + [Velen’s Chosen]: With Auchenai in play, your heal spells will turn into damage spells, and as such they will interact with the Spell Damage buff of Velen’s Chosen. This can either be beneficial (your Light of the Naaru now deals 4 damage and gives you lethal), or detrimental (your Circle of Healing will deal 5 AoE and can wipe your board on accident), so it’s important to keep in mind when you have both in play. It won’t affect Zombie Chow’s Deathrattle though, as that is an ability and not a spell.
- Potion of Madness + Divine Spirit + Inner Fire: Potion of Madness is certainly one of the trickiest cards in the deck. Stealing an opponent’s Deathlord, Dirty Rat, or Doomsayer can lead to 30+ damage kills with no board. As such, you need to be aware of the board state and whether you can get a sneaky lethal. Knowing when to use Inner Fire can be difficult against Control decks with tons of single-target removal, so you generally want to use it only when you have the lethal. However, there are times you just have to take the risk and go all in; sometimes you get rewarded for it. Against Priests, you just want to keep your minions at 4 attack as long as you can before going for an OTK lethal.
Standing Out from the Crowd
Let’s look at some of the unique features that Combo Priest provides over other decks in the format:
- Low Cost, High Skillcap: At such a low dust cost, the real cost for this deck will be the amount of time you put into practicing with it. Whenever I hear people complain about “Blizzard not printing decks like Patron Warrior anymore”, I like to direct them to this deck. The similarities are uncanny: a pile of (mostly) commons and rares that can combine to form something so much greater than themselves, if you have enough skill. Playing this deck is not easy, but as such it will make each win much more rewarding than the last. If you like to challenge yourself, this deck is definitely worth a shot.
- Surprise Element: Most people on ladder are expecting to face Reno Priest, and will mulligan accordingly. This deck aims to capitalize on that, as both decks have very different strategies despite both of them being combo decks. Your opponent will likely mulligan away his hard removal cards expecting them to be a dead in the matchup, and will likely proceed to die on turn 4 to a buffed Deathlord he had no way of answering.
- Highroll Potential: This deck has the ability to win very quickly with the right draw. As mentioned before, you can assemble lethal as early as turn 4 with a healthy Deathlord and a Radiant Elemental to discount your combo pieces. So if you’re like me and you like maximize your time, this deck is great as it either wins quick or loses quick.
The mulligan is one off the most critical parts of playing this deck. With how much this deck relies on early board control, we are looking to prioritize cheap minions so that you can be on board from turn 1 and hopefully stay on board for the rest of the game. Never keep any combo pieces (Divine Spirit and Inner Fire) in your opening hand. Another thing of note is that, despite how counterintuitive it may seem, in my experience keeping Kabal Talonpriest is usually not correct. It’s not a bad card, but I’d much rather look for a turn 1 play to get me on the board as soon as possible. I would only do it if I already have a 1-Cost minion in hand, and even then it’s a risky proposition since your minion is never guaranteed to survive.
If you already have Radiant Elemental: Keep [Velen’s Chosen].
If you already have a 1-Cost minion and have the Coin: Keep Kabal Talonpriest and [Velen’s Chosen].
With such a well-oiled machine, there really aren’t too many flex slots for this list. However, the few that there are may surprise you.
- Lyra the Sunshard: So… about that 3,260 dust cost… want to make it even lower? Well, what if I told you that the only Legendary in this deck isn’t really that necessary? Now don’t get me wrong; in a deck that is running 2x Radiant Elemental and a pile of cheap spells, Lyra can help you go the distance against control decks if the game goes long. However the stats don’t lie, and Lyra is by far the lowest win-rate card in the deck, due to how mana intensive and clunky it can be. This deck is at its best when it is killing the opponent quickly with massive Inner Fire burst, and Lyra kind off detracts from that by encouraging you to hold back your spells for potential value in the future. There are plenty of ways for you to add value to the deck if you feel in need of it, but if not then Lyra is likely a liability to the overall gameplay.
- Silence: As mentioned before, this is strictly a tech card, albeit a very good one for the current meta. You can experiment with cutting one copy and see where it takes you, though I wouldn’t recommend removing it completely from the list at the moment. Thanks to Shadow Visions, its still safe to run a single copy since you can still fish for it in the matchups where it’s relevant.
- Potion of Madness: If you prefer being more proactive than reactive, you can cut the Potion for more threats that you can use to fight for board at the expense of some early game against more aggressive, board-centric matchups.
- Auchenai Soulpriest + Zombie Chow + Light of the Naaru: Personally I’m a big fan of this package, but there’s plenty of people out there who have removed it and found success. Zombie Chow is the best one of the bunch and one that I wouldn’t recommend removing, but admittedly can be a bit off a dead draw in the late game. While Auchenai Soulpriest is great at synergizing with tons of cards in the deck, it is also one of the more expensive cards in the deck and can be a brick in your hand during the early turns, which are critical for this deck. And without Auchenai, Light of the Naaru becomes much less useful since you can’t use it as cheap removal to fight for the board.
Tech Options and Replacements
- 2nd Potion of Madness: As you can tell by now, this is an incredibly flexible card. If you are facing a high concentration of aggressive decks, you can always toss an extra Potion to secure the early game. Unlike something like Golakka Crawler, Potion is still useful against control decks for those tricky lethal set-ups.
- Shadow Ascendant: A relatively recent option for the deck, this card allows you to be more proactive than ever before. Shadow Ascendant can snowball the board by continuously buffing your low-attack, high-health minions to allow them to better contest enemy boards. Being able to make the jump from 2 to 3 Attack on stuff like Zombie Chow and Deathlord can make a huge impact on your ability to fight for board, not to mention the insanity that is 2x Shadow Ascendant in play at the same time. However, it’s poor stats make it easy to remove and a weak play on an empty board.
- 2nd Shadow Visions: If you want even more consistency in assembling your myriad of combos, then you can add another Shadow Visions. I wanted to keep this deck on the cheaper side, plus I’m personally not a fan of double Visions in the deck, but it’s certainly an option. As mentioned before, the card is a bit slow and on the expensive side without Radiant Elemental in play, but it’s always available if you want more ways to draw specific combo pieces.
- Spirit Lash: A board clear and a heal all wrapped up into one for cheap. This card allows you to counter token strategies like Aggro Druid and Aggro Paladin, as well as aggressive Pirate starts in general. You can combine it with [Velen’s Chosen] if you need a larger clear. When not facing aggressive decks, it’s still a cheap enabler for massive draw turns with Circle of Healing and Northshire Cleric. Usually replaces Wild Pyromancer as a less resource-intensive board clear option.
- 2nd Acolyte of Pain: When in doubt, more card draw certainly can’t hurt a combo deck, particularly one that relies on minions. I prefer Acolyte over stuff like Loot Hoarder and Novice Engineer since he has a chance at drawing more than one card, in addition to synergizing with cards like Wild Pyromancer and Shadow Ascendant.
- Injured Blademaster: The first place I’ve seen this tech in was in SHRoyalBaize’s list that she used during the Wild Open Finals of July this year. It’s an odd choice, but it’s certainly got its merits when I give it some thought. Having a high-attack minion can be useful for trades and to protect any weaker minions, and the card enables Circle of Healing, both as part of the draw engine and on it’s own when it would otherwise be a dead draw. Give it a shot, you may like it.
- Tar Creeper: Less necessary than in Standard due to the existence of Deathlord, but if you find yourself in need of more Taunts then there’s always this card. Having 3 Attack on defense right off the bat makes it much more useful for contesting your opponent’s board, as well as working fantastically with Shadow Ascendant.
- Loatheb: One of my all-time favourites, Loatheb is great in any deck that lives and dies by the board. With so few ways to disrupt spells available in the game, Loatheb is by far one of the best as it is one-sided. Delaying your opponent’s clutch AoE turn can be the difference between a win and a loss. And a 5/5 beatstick is nothing to laugh at either.
As always, it is best to analyze your local meta and tech appropriately. Here’s an example of what a teched Combo Priest list may look like. This list was used by Colaguy2011 to hit Legend in the month of October, removing the Auchenai Soulpriest package in favour of more proactive cards that can impact the board earlier.
And with that I thank you all for reading this short introduction to Combo Priest. Feel free to leave any comments or suggestions as to what you liked and what could be improved. These guides are based mostly on my own laddering experience and as such may take a while to get out as I become familiar with the decks. There’s a few lists that I already have in mind for the next guide, but if there’s enough demand for a particular deck I’d be glad to abide by the fans. Until then, stay tuned and see you next time!