So you want to master the Priest?
Welcome to the Priest corner of Hearthstone. For a long time I felt that Priest was similar to Warrior in having limited options for building a viable deck. I always enjoyed the standard Control Priest archetype and the changes that happened to it with each new expansion, but I didn’t enjoy the lack of other viable builds. Now, with Blackrock behind us and a meta so fast it’s practically burning, there are several fun and interesting options for playing Priest well. We like variety, don’t we?
On to the guide. In the following sections I will start by describing the most useful class-specific cards that Priest has. We will then move on to look at a free basic deck, made with love, care and meticulous testing. We won’t forget to delve into some possible additions to it before moving on to observe the Ladder (the 26 ranks within ranked play) and see what kind of Priest builds we can find there.
Priest as a Class
Priest’s class power is best used for keeping Minions alive longer than the opponent’s – a tactic that defines the way that Priest plays Minions. It’s also essential when playing against fast Aggro decks. They count on dealing lots of damage quickly but lose the ability to win against an opponent that survives long enough, by which point they have run out of cards. Auchenai Soulpriest can turn the class power offensive, which comes in handy when fighting for control of the board.
Priest is not a popular class in the Arena — for the most part this is due to the hero power. While very useful in keeping Minions alive, board presence is necessary first. Also, Priest can be very reliant on good card picks when building the deck, which becomes ever more difficult with each new expansion as the number of available cards increases.
Northshire Cleric is a must in any Priest deck as it is the prime source of card draw. Unless playing against an Aggro deck that will be fielding lots of 1 health Minions, it’s best to keep this card until it can draw a card on the same turn that it is summoned. It can synergize with healing spells like Circle of Healing or Holy Nova, or with Minions that provide a healing effect.
Shrinkmeister is not only useful offensively and in conjunction with Shadow Word: Pain, it will also allow an acquisition of an enemy Minion through Cabal Shadow Priest or Shadow Madness that would otherwise be impossible. Not any longer are Minions with attack power 4 safe from Priests.
Dark Cultist is wonderful for its cost – 3/4 for 3 mana is standard, but giving another Minion 3 health on death is something. Most opponents will consequently remove this Minion last, but even that can be advantageous.
Auchenai Soulpriest turns the class power offensive which can be very useful at times. It also provides 4 area of effect (AOE) damage in conjunction with Circle of Healing and makes Zombie Chow‘s effect work to your advantage.
Cabal Shadow Priest is great on its own, but use it together with Shrinkmeister and big things are afoot. In the current meta where Yseras make a relatively frequent appearance, this play can pay off.
Priests are good at healing – Circle of Healing can heal the whole board, and given its cheap price of 0 mana, it synergizes with Injured Blademaster on turn 3, or turns to AOE damage with Auchenai Soulpriest. Light of the Naaru is wonderful for the Lightwarden that it brings – at worst, it’s another Minion for the opponent to deal with, but with some careful synergizing that Minion can grow to huge proportions very quickly.
Buffing also comes naturally to Priests. Power Word: Shield is nice in the early turns for the extra card draw. Velen’s Chosen can make a Minion very hard to remove, not forgetting the boost to spell power that can make a Holy Nova a lot more useful.
AOE damage is very important in Hearthstone – there are many decks that will try to build large boards very early on to swarm opponents who can’t deal with so much attack power in the early turns. Priest is a bit more safe than other classes because he can heal himself with the class power, which is why usually he will get away with the 2 AOE damage that Holy Nova provides. Lightbomb can serve well if lacking in AOE options – it’s worth noting that most Priest Minions have higher health than attack power, which means that they won’t die when this spell is cast.
Priest is not amazing at dealing damage using spells – Holy Fire does a fair amount of damage, but it’s quite expensive. At least it does a fair bit of healing, too. For removal, there are the 2 Shadow Words – Pain and Death. These cards are so cheap that they can provide a significant advantage when removing much more expensive Minions.
Priest is relatively light on card draw except that Northshire Cleric can draw a lot of cards on her own. If this is not enough, Thoughtsteal can not only get more cards, it can also get some very powerful cards if playing against opponents who run very expensive decks. It’s not so useful against Zoo, for example, or decks that are running lots of class-specific synergies, but a Control Paladin or a Control Warrior can give you some very sweet cards.
Shadow Madness is a lovely enemy Minion-stealing card that also synergizes with Shrinkmeister. If you are feeling particularly tricky, add a Recombobulator to change the Minion you just stole for 1 turn into one that you will keep. Mind Control is super expensive but that tends to matter little when taking over late game Legendaries. Opponents tend to try to play around this so even if you don’t run the card or haven’t drawn it yet, try to convince your opponent that you have it at your disposal.
Prophet Velen is great on paper, but not so amazing in real life. Doubling spell damage would be useful if there were many offensive spells in Priest’s arsenal. There aren’t. Mind Blast is pretty much the only spell that becomes deadly when the Prophet is on the board. He synergizes with Shadowform, but unlike Auchenai Soulpriest, Shadowform is irreversible, which is a problem. Doubling healing power is far less useful than it sounds at the point when the Legendary becomes playable.
Vol’jin is amazing – it will help with an easy removal of an enemy Minion through the swap health mechanic and bring in a very strong Minion that’s below Big Game Hunter‘s (BGH) range. It’s easily one of my favourite Priest cards and I play it in all types of decks.
Starting Priest Deck
Below I will list a deck built entirely out of basic cards. I will use cards that are available from the start, as well as class-specific cards granted for reaching level 10 with Priest. Level 10 can be reached quickly in Practice mode. I will also give a brief explanation of how the deck works and point out some basic strategy.
We will then briefly look at some possible additions and improvements to the deck, counting our dust in order to figure out which cards to craft first.
- 2x Holy Smite
- 2x Power Word: Shield
- 2x Northshire Cleric
- 2x Shadow Word: Pain
- 2x Shadow Word: Death
- 2x Holy Nova
- 1x Mind Control
- 2x Acidic Swamp Ooze
- 2x Bloodfen Raptor
- 2x Ironfur Grizzly
- 2x Shattered Sun Cleric
- 2x Chillwind Yeti
- 1x Gnomish Inventor
- 1x Sen’jin Shieldmasta
- 2x Darkscale Healer
- 1x Gurubashi Berserker
- 2x Boulderfist Ogre
Priest was the first character that I played on the Ladder and it’s mostly due to all the strong class-specific cards that you get from the beginning. When starting at Hearthstone, players can easily get the feeling that the game is won by better cards and expensive Legendaries. While there is some truth to that, Priest finds it pretty easy to deal with such nuisances.
This deck is very evenly distributed when it comes to Minion cost – there are Minions coming out from turn 2 onwards. There is also a large amount of removal with the 2 Shadow Word cards, Holy Smite and Holy Nova. Mind Control is best left towards the end of the game to steal essential late game Minions and Legendaries.
Card draw comes from Northshire Cleric (taking advantage of Darkscale Healer when appropriate for massive card draw potential). Gnomish Inventor and Power Word: Shield will serve when unable to take advantage of the Northshire Cleric. There is never enough card draw.
Gurubashi Berserker is great for Priest as he grows with each hit received and can be healed each turn by the class power. Control Priest likes to keep his Minions alive for as long as possible, so a growing Minion works really well here.
It’s a good idea to take advantage of Shattered Sun Cleric‘s Battlecry on the turn that you summon it by using the Minion being buffed to take out an enemy Minion previously safe, or in order for the buffed Minion to survive an encounter it wouldn’t have otherwise.
Acidic Swamp Ooze is easily my favorite free neutral Minion. It is a good idea to keep it in hand against characters who use weapons – that’s Warriors, Paladins, Rogues, Hunters and Shamans. Against classes that don’t use weapons, it can be played on turn 2. Knowing when to play this card is a valuable skill to develop, so it’s useful to be able to predict which weapons your opponent will be carrying.
New Cards to Get
There are lots of useful cards in Hearthstone now, given that we already have 3 expansions behind us. Consequently, I will not list every single card that you may find of use – my keyboard would crack from all the typing. Instead I will list the most popular cards for this class and all the cards that would significantly boost the basic deck above. I will distinguish these cards based on whether they come from Classic, Naxxramas, GvG, or Blackrock.
- Circle of Healing (synergizes with numerous other cards, useful at every part of the game)
- Thoughtsteal (extra cards, usefulness depends on opponent’s class)
- Auchenai Soulpriest (very useful, goes well with other Control deck cards like Circle of Healing or Zombie Chow)
- Shadow Madness (what’s better than using your opponent’s Minions against him/her)
- Cabal Shadow Priest (… and placing a Minion at the same time)
- Wild Pyromancer (great against low health Aggro Minions, goes well with Power Word: Shield)
- Injured Blademaster (goes well with all the healing that Priest can provide)
- Big Game Hunter (against those big minions and annoying Dr. Booms)
- Sylvanas Windrunner (a Priest staple)
- Zombie Chow (early game defense)
- Dark Cultist (great Priest card)
- Sludge Belcher (best Taunted minion in the game)
Goblins vs. Gnomes
- Light of the Naaru (cheap healing, comes with a Minion)
- Shrinkmeister (synergizes with Minion-stealing cards)
- Velen’s Chosen (great buff)
- Lightbomb (removal that goes well with the distribution of attack and health that Priest tends to have)
- Vol’jin (great Legendary)
- Emperor Thaurissan (not so useful for Priest unless the effect really comes in handy)
In trying to keep the list short I have omitted all Dragon and Mech-type Minions. There are currently viable decks using these types of Minions. I personally play a Dragon Control deck that employs a lot of Dragon-type and Dragon synergy cards from Blackrock. If you decide to go in either of those two directions, there are several cards not listed above that will be essential.
Equally, there are several Legendaries that will work for Priest – I have only listed the most common ones. However boring it may be, you won’t go wrong with Dr. Boom.
When thinking of which expansions to go for, it’s useful to notice that most generally useful cards come from the Classic set. There are several useful cards in GvG but unless you plan on going Mech, Classic wins in the sheer number of cards you can take advantage of. Naxxrammas is a bit underwhelming – Dark Cultist is amazing and Zombie Chow is great in Control decks, while it’s also hard to forget about the Sludge Belcher. But that’s it. Blackrock is next to useless unless you decide to go for a Dragon deck. None of the class-specific cards are of any use, and the Neutral Legendaries are not much help to Priest’s play style either.
As always, I tend to craft Legendaries and Epics only – cards of lesser rarity tend to come around eventually and it can be annoying to craft a large number of them (which costs a lot of dust), only to see most of them in the next 10 packs that you open. Obviously, the choice is yours.
Most Common Deck Types
As I mentioned at the beginning of the guide, Priest is currently one of the more versatile classes. The old, tried-and-tested Control Priest still remains the most played build, and even though it has acquired nothing new from Blackrock Mountain, it is still a very strong deck to play. Just be aware that it won’t surprise anyone – the combos and specific Minions that it plays are well known by any experienced player. It is also a fairly difficult deck to learn to play well due to its reliance on combined effects.
Blackrock Mountain has allowed for a new type of deck, one that I currently play – a Dragon Priest. This deck tends to field less Dragon-type Minions than might be expected due to the large number of strong Priest cards that it is impossible not to include. But then again, Ysera alone counts as an army. Dragonkin Sorcerer really shines in this deck, and Blackwing Corruptor gives Priest a much needed boost in the ability to deal direct damage.
Even Mech Priest is a possibility – there aren’t too many of those running up and down the Ladder, but there are some. This deck is interesting in the change of pace – it is by far the most aggressive type of Priest deck I have yet encountered. It takes advantage of the standard Mech Minions and their synergies, using Priest’s healing ability to keep those Minions alive longer than other classes could, while also adding a few class-specific cards for removal, direct damage and buffing.
There are numerous other types of decks that used to be popular in the past but have since fallen out of favour. I still fondly remember playing Deathrattle Priest. Every now and then I get surprised by someone playing a more unusual Priest build – for example by including Prophet Velen and Mind Blast.
Priest is not the favourite class in tournaments and on the Ladder, yet it is a strong class that has benefited from each new expansion. There are several distinct ways to build a Priest deck which makes my versatility-loving heart beat that little bit faster.
Recently Priest has been moving away from the standard class-specific Control builds that function on combined effects and towards more Minion-heavy decks. I welcome this with open arms as it suits my style of play. I particularly enjoy playing Dragon Priest and find this deck to be my favorite Dragon-type deck of all the classes.
I am curious to see what happens to Priest next – the class specific cards that came with Blackrock Mountain were practically useless, so I am glad that Priest was at least able to take advantage of the Neutral cards and create a new Dragon deck archetype. Given that the standard Control Priest deck is not that strong, it would be great to see a card or two that would enhance it.
In order to finish the guide I would like to wish you a lot of luck and patience in learning to play Priest well. I hope that you pick this class for your excursions into the growing world of Hearthstone as there are far too few Priests on the Ladder, given how fun the class can be. May Vol’jin lead you to victory by stealing your opponent’s strength. I’ll see you on the Ladder.