Here’s a puzzle: How on earth does a tier-4 archetype like Dead Man’s Hand Warrior acquire just one card from a new expansion, then suddenly rise up the tier lists to unprecedented levels?
Dead Man’s Hand Warrior has undergone a massive change in Scholomance Academy. As the rest of the Wild format has sped up, so too has Control Warrior. Gone are the Blood Razors and Plagues; many lists don’t even run a hero card now.
Ever since the printing of its namesake card in 2017, Dead Man’s Hand Warrior has maintained a small following of players pushing the archetype. The deck grew more popular throughout Ashes of Outlands as players and streamers continually refined it. With the deck slowly evolving from “Cult” to “Off meta” status, it’d pay to look at this curious case.
Warrior’s place in the meta
Dead Man’s Hand Warrior is the absolute embodiment of an anti-meta deck. Unlike its brother Odd Warrior, which focuses entirely on crushing aggression, Dead Man’s Hand Warrior aims to have a good chance against everything. Of course, there are better and worse matchups — Odd Paladin and Quest Mage, respectively — but it’s generally a non-polarizing deck. You want to be shrugging off aggressive decks, disrupting combos, and outlasting control decks. Fast draw, cheap removal, and a small list of core cards give Dead Man’s Hand Warrior room to effectively tech against most of what Wild can throw at it.
The deck saw a huge uptick in play during the pre-patch meta as one of the few decks able to beat both Darkglare Warlock and Raza Priest. Despite the recent nerf to the former deck, Darkglare Warlock, Dead Man’s Hand Warrior retained its potency to achieve high legend results. It’s very unrefined compared to more popular decks, of course, but it seems to have potential in the right players’ hands.
Core cards of Dead Man’s Hand Warrior
That’s 15 cards. There are fewer auto-includes here than, say, Jade Druid or Reno Warlock. Because of this, there is a lot of freedom in building the deck your way. However, we can’t just fill that space with tech cards. Note how very few of the cards here are powerful just on their own; Risky Skipper allows for a great draw engine, early board clears, and plenty of armor, but it can’t do any of that on its own.
Build options and tech cards for Dead Man’s Hand Warrior
There are two routes to take armor gain, and the one you choose depends on what matchups you’re facing.
A second Rover and two Armorsmiths are better against most aggressive decks. Not only do they pair extremely well with Risky Skipper, but their high health usually lets them survive for a Battle Rage the following turn.
Drywhisker Armorer, on the other hand, is usually better against slower decks. When paired with Brann Bronzebeard and Cornered Sentry, this 3-card combo instantly nets you 24 armor for seven mana. Control decks (such as Raza Priest) often give you plenty of time to both shuffle and play this combo, helping you find a lot of breathing room.
Rush Minions for Dead Man’s Hand Warrior
Again, the choice here is about how much you value damage synergies. What decks do you need to beat?
Bloodboil Brute is one the best anti-aggro cards you can run in Dead Man’s Hand Warrior. They are consistently played out early due to their synergy with both Town Crier and Risky Skipper, and help swing the tempo back in Garrosh’s favor. Board-based aggressive decks often fail to recover from an early Bloodboil Brute & Risky Skipper turn, and Town Crier makes it even more consistent. However, it’s worth noting that Brutes have a much weaker impact against slower decks.
Kargath Bladefist is a much more late-game-oriented card. You’re often either using the Prime as a win condition against decks that can’t deal with it – such as Kingsbane Rogue or Odd Paladin – or as single-target removal that requires an immediate answer.
Tech options for Dead Man’s Hand Warrior
When considering tech cards, we first need to consider what decks people are playing. At the time of writing this article, most players consider Raza Priest to be the deck to take down. Anduin’s damage-cap is too threatening for us to ignore, so let’s consider how we can beat some priests.
One common strategy is to gain as much armor and disrupt as many things as humanly possible. There are a great many cards you can mill and rat when fighting Raza Priest. Your aim here should be to slow down the Priest as much as you can, hopefully gaining enough armor to outrange them. Dirty Rat is also helpful against numerous other slow decks in the format, and so is often run as a one-of.
The second is the often joked about option Grizzled Wizard. By replacing the Priest’s hero power, it forces Anduin to play the value game. Any of the four hero power-switching cards will do in this slot, with my personal favorite being Scourgelord Garrosh. Alternative options are Sir Finley Mrrgglton, Dr. Boom, Mad Genius, and Galakrond, the Unbreakable. However, both of these are tougher to include as they have less synergy overall with our deck.
Dead Man’s Hand Warrior’s fast draw and inherent survivability makes hijacking the hero power much more viable than in many other control decks and is hence rather commonplace. Unfortunately, Grizzled Wizard is a mere Bloodfen Raptor outside of this matchup. Because of this, the decision to include Grizzled Wizard depends entirely on how common Raza Priest is at your ranked bracket.
Bulwark is more of a soft tech against certain other strategies. It effectively stops decks like Kingsbane Rogue and Malygos Druid from playing for a few turns, giving you time to push face damage or disrupt their combo. Some decks, such as Quest Mage, can efficiently deal with Bulwark, so its usefulness is very much meta-dependent.
Additional tech options for Dead Man’s Hand Warrior
Brann is a very common card to see in Dead Man’s Hand Warrior and is a mandatory inclusion for those running the Drywhisker Armorer & Cornered Sentry combo. Outside of that, Brann Bronzebeard shines against both control and combo decks; doubling up on Dirty Rat or Coldlight Oracle often neutralizes important cards creates an opportunity to win the game instantly. However, it can sometimes be a dead card against aggressive decks and needs more than just murlocs to be worth including.
Despite Dead Man’s Hand Warrior running many duplicates, Zephrys stands out as a great late-game win condition. This djinn is famous for its versatility and can often save your skin with a convenient Shield Slam or a Tirion Fordring.
However, unique to Dead Man’s Hand Warrior is the ability to lock your opponent out of the game effectively. Assuming your opponent has any kind of board presence, shuffling Dead Man’s Hand, Zephrys the Great, and Coldlight Oracle into an empty deck will generate infinite Frost Novas and draw them into fatigue. Zephrys the Great is very much an anti-control card, but one many players enjoy running.
Example decklists for Dead Man’s Hand Warrior
27E18 (#12 Legend)
The first list puts a large emphasis on disrupting the opponent, and it’s worked out well for 27E18. Something to note here is that the author runs Captain’s Parrot instead of Ancharrr, as they (stubbornly) don’t want to spend the dust.
Jamerman (#50 Legend)
There’s no Kargath Bladefist in my list, as I much prefer the Brutes’ consistent anti-aggression. The Death Knight is here to clean up games against aggressive & midrange opponents. In addition to synergizing with my cards in the late game, it gives Priests a Knights of the Frozen Throne hero power they’d much rather not have.
Rahktoh (#127 Legend)
A few aspects of Rahktoh’s list immediately stick out. There’s no Dirty Rat or Brann Bronzebeard, meaning there’s not much card disruption. Rahktoh also included not one but two cards to change hero powers, allowing for more resilience against Dirty Rat or Mindrender Illucia. The Shield Blocks are also worth noting as a solid turn-three play, which the deck often lacks outside Ancharrr.
Adrien (#41 Legend)
Wishing for more wishes is as overpowered as it sounds, and that’s why Adrien runs Zephrys the Great. While frostlocking the opponent is a fun and interactive strategy, the card is still fantastic to grab emergency board clears or beefy 8-drops.
Mulligan and Gameplay tips for Dead Man’s Hand Warrior
Unfortunately, a low play rate and high card diversity make mulligan statistics for Dead Man’s Hand Warrior rather unreliable. However, below are some key points regarding each matchup.
Against Aggressive opponents
Keep Eternium Rover, Risky Skipper (unless you have Ancharrr or a weapon tutor), Town Crier, Ancharrr (unless you’ve kept a weapon tutor), Brawl, Forge of Souls/Corsair’s Cache, Bloodboil Brute.
Remember that keeping Acolyte of Pain is nearly always wrong, as it’s too expensive to use with Risky Skipper early on. You want cheap minions to combo with Risky Skipper as soon and as flexible as possible, so make sure to keep cards like Eternium Rover and Town Crier instead.
If you don’t have Risky Skipper or Ancharrr in hand, it’s completely fine to tempo out your minions against aggressive opponents. For example, playing Eternium Rover on turn one is often a perfectly acceptable play. Not only does this help you to contest the board, but it also helps set up a Battle Rage the turn after — many players would rather go face than trade here.
Don’t worry about going infinite with your shuffles against aggressive opponents. You may be able to shuffle once in the late game, but your main concern will be efficiently using your mana to stay alive.
Deadman’s Hand Warrior against Control style opponents
Keep Town Crier, Battle Rage, Ancharrr, Coldlight Oracle, Brann Bronzebeard (if you have Coldlight Oracle in hand), Forge of Souls/Corsair’s Cache.
You don’t want to be keeping Risky Skipper here. The card only really comes online on turn five or six in this matchup, and you have ways of tutoring both Risky Skipper and Ancharrr anyway.
While you would prefer to win with infinite Coldlight Oracles, it’s not the world’s end if you have to tempo both out without shuffling. So long as you can continually shuffle in some manner of card draw. For example, shuffling Battle rage with Risky Skipper & some additional minions is a solid gameplan to keep the infinite cycle of Brawl going.
Speaking of Brawl, this is the hardest card in your entire deck to get rid of. You cannot play Brawl without two minions being on the board, so try not to clog up your infinite shuffles with this card.
Against Combo decks such as Combo Druid & Raza Priest
Keep Shield Slam, Battle Rage, Ancharrr, Coldlight Oracle, Brann Bronzebeard (if you have Coldlight Oracle or Dirty Rat in hand), Forge of Souls/Corsair’s Cache, Dirty Rat. Additionally, keep your hero-power switching cards if you play any against Priest in particular.
Don’t be afraid to mill yourself. You beat Turtle Mage, for instance, by drawing them lots of cards post-Polkelt; you shouldn’t avoid the Brann-Coldlight play merely because you’re scared of milling yourself, as you can’t play any of those cards if you’re dead.
Try to time your Dirty Rats. For example, Quest Mage will usually play out their cheap minions as soon as they can. By keeping tabs on which cards have been generated or have sat in their hand for a long time, you can begin to imagine how likely it is that they’re holding a giant. You win this matchup by reducing their combo’s potential damage, so working out when you can neutralize their combo pieces is very important to winning.
To Infinity and Beyond!
It’s worth reiterating here that you don’t need infinite value against aggressive and combo decks. Do not worry about waiting for the second copy of Dead Man’s Hand to play the first. However, certain decks have a lot of late-game value, so we’ll need to touch on shuffling briefly.
Your first shuffle will usually be somewhere in the mid-game, and it can often involve quite a lot of cards. You generally want to duplicate cards that efficiently deal with your opponent’s upcoming threats and card draw, and if you think you’ll need it, armor gain. For example, when you face a Cubelock, a good mid-game shuffle could be Risky Skipper, Eternium Rover/Armorsmith, Lord Barov/Brawl, Shield Slam, Dead Man’s Hand, and Acolyte of Pain or Battle Rage.
Try not to shuffle in your hero cards — where you don’t gain value by playing multiple copies — or tech cards that don’t apply to that matchup — such as Grizzled Wizard. It can sometimes be worth shuffling even if you duplicate these cards, but it’s not ideal.
By the end of the game, you will want to whittle your deck down even further to play lots of Coldlight Oracles and close out the win.
Beating Jade Druid
You may be asking how a slow control deck without Skulking Geist can beat Jade Druid’s late game. Zephrys the Great is one such method; I’ve already outlined how he and Coldlight Oracle can frost lock opponents, and just smacking Malfurion in the face with a full board of minions will kill him rather quickly.
But that’s not all! If you have Scourgelord Garrosh in play and a damaged face, there’s another combo available to you. First, whittle your deck down to nothing and have exactly these cards in hand: Dead Man’s Hand (x2), Eternium Rover (x1), Lord Barov (x1), Dirty Rat (x2), and Battle Rage (x1). First, play DMH to shuffle in that hand. You’ll then want to play Lord Barov, Eternium Rover, and one of the Dirty Rats. Hero power to kill their minions and damage yours, then end your turn. Malfurion will then play a large green man, and either armor up or bump into your Dirty Rat.
On your next turn, hit your opponent in the face for six damage, Battle Rage, and play the second Dirty Rat. The opponent will then summon an even larger green man and trade into the healthy Rat. On your turn, you’ll want to set up the combo a second time. Hit the opponent in the face with everything except Barov, shuffle your hand, play your minions (including the second Dirty Rat), and trade in the first Lord Barov. This gameplan allows you to do more damage than you could the first time around, and the Jade Druid will be completely unable to stop you from dealing 6 – 8 damage every turn.
Closing thoughts from Jamerman
As Wild evolves to fill that Darkglare-shaped hole, so too will Garrosh. The diversity of the lists shown in this article alone should prove that the deck has potential, and it remains to be seen what direction people will take it next.
There’s so much I couldn’t cover in this article — more stuff on piloting, N’Zoth versions, matchup specific advice — which is exactly why I’m pasting this link to the Dead Man’s Hand Warrior Discord Channel. Dead Man’s Hand Warrior is a weird deck to play, so feel free to ask all questions in there.
Thank you very much for reading my first article on AceGameGuides! For more of Jamerman, be sure to follow him on Twitter! Looking for more Hearthstone content instead?