The Priest Issue in Hearthstone

Jun 12, 2016

Last week I wrote an article discussing the Shaman Issue in Hearthstone. That article discussed why Shaman has risen to be the strongest class, largely due to overwhelmingly powerful minions. This week I’d like to take a step back and look at the other end of the spectrum – Priest. Prior to the release of Standard, Priest was a strong class. It had struggled in the past, but at that point it was doing fairly well, largely due to its ability to combat Secret Paladin quite well. It never broke into the top tier of decks, but was always a solid second tier chose, especially when you wanted to counter specific decks.

However, with the release of Standard, Priest has fallen to the bottom tier – ironically something previously referred to as “Shaman tier” for their prior underwhelming performance. So why has Priest fallen so far?

Whispers of the Old Gods

While not all classes got great new cards Shadow Word Horror priestfrom Whispers, Priest really got the short end of the stick. They got a few useful cards such as Darkshire Alchemist and sometimes Shifting Shade, but nothing spectacular. These two are merely equal to the power level of existing cards, and don’t offer much, meaning that Priest’s arsenal has not grown in any way from the expansion. The other cards they received were, by and large, utterly useless. There are a couple of C’Thun cards which are strong cards, but C’Thun Priest simply didn’t work. The rest of the cards they received consist of some of the most useless cards printed, including Shadow Word: Horror and Power Word: Tentacles. Their new legendary – Herald Volazj – isn’t the worst thing imaginable, but its usefulness is much lower than imagined, as it is extremely difficult to keep powerful minions in play for a full turn in order to use it.

Across the board, the new cards they were given ranged from unusable to barely playable. Other classes were strongly benefited by at least a few new cards, while Priest got the leftover scraps. There aren’t even any new neutral minions that fit well within Priest decks.

Standard Format

Even with Priest getting nothing from Whispers, that can’t be the sole reason for their fall from favor. How did they manage to drop so far? The release of the Standard format, and the removal of older cards from the game. There are very few decks that are so based around a card that the removal of that card kills the deck entirely. Priest had a card that was so important to it as a class that the removal of it killed the class entirely. That card is Lightbomb.

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Priest is a very reactive class. This means that they typically wait for their opponent to play minions, Lightbomb priestthen react, getting valuable trades through their board clear removal, and maintaining their health through their hero power. This hasn’t changed at all, Priest still seeks to keep the board as clear as possible for the majority of the game. So why was Lightbomb in particular so strong? The issue is that while Priest can be teched to beat any particular deck, when it’s being played on ladder it needs a way to beat all different archetypes. As it stood, Lightbomb was the way that Priest managed to hold its own against midrange and control decks who play large minions that couldn’t be cleared with Holy Nova. It also provided another way to clear against fast decks, if their prior removal failed. With it removed, they are forced to choose between archetype specific removal (such as Shadow Word: Death), forcing Priest to lose to a large number of opponents, as well as lose a massive board clear in general.

They also lost Deathlord, which was a major bonus against aggressive decks. Without Deathlord, Priests are forced to draw an early game presence, which they have difficulty doing. The only good low cost creatures they have are Northshire Cleric – which isn’t particularly strong – and Dark Cultist, which was also removed! They can’t even buff up their Northshire Clerics because Velen’s Chosen was removed as well!

While no removal hurt as much as Lightbomb, there were a whole host of cards removed that were detrimental to Priest decks, forcing them to lose to an entire set of archetypes regardless of which removals they chose to play.

Direct Damage and Flooding

The last reason that Priest has fallen out of favor is the increase in frequency of direct damage and flooding the board. Direct damage has always been a weakness of Priest, because they only have so much healing in the deck, and their removal can’t help them when they are simply taking damage. With Aggro Shaman’s popularity, this is a huge issue for the Priest.

The other issue is decks that flood the board. Before, flood decks were forced to play around both Holy Nova and Lightbomb, choosing how to fill the board. Now they don’t need to worry about Lightbomb, only worried about Holy Nova and Excavated Evil, allowing them to fill the board and keep a few big minions up – such as Sea Giant – and Priest can’t react.


Priest is in the worst place it has been in a long time. This is due largely to the removal of a few cards that were essential to the class, primarily Lightbomb. This meant that they can no longer counter more than one specific archetype, meaning they can choose whether to do well against aggro decks OR midrange decks OR control decks, having no possibility of countering them all. The other issue is that the meta has simply reached a place where decks that naturally excel against Priest are prevalent, and decks that used to lose because of Lightbomb are allowed to prey on them once again.

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Stephen Draper
Stephen has a degree in English from Brock University. He grew up playing video games and card games, always having an affection for strategy. He picked up League of Legends in early Season One and has since achieved Diamond rank multiple times. He also picked up Hearthstone in Beta and has since achieved Legend consistently. When he isn’t reading, writing, or gaming, he’s probably watching other people game.
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