So you want to master the Rogue?
Welcome to the Rogue corner of Hearthstone. Rogue used to be one of my favourite classes to play before the Goblins vs. Gnomes expansion (GvG), but it seems things have gone a little downhill since then. Gadgetzan Auctioneer got nerfed (a nerf is a change to the game, or in this case a card, that makes it less effective), which meant the disappearance of one of the most unique deck types in the game. Anyone remember Miracle Rogue?
Even Blackrock Mountain, the newest expansion, has done very little to strengthen the class. We are left with another class, just like Shaman, that finds it difficult to survive against the others in the current climate.
Despite this, let’s move onto the guide and see how the Rogue fares. In the following sections, I will start by writing about the most useful class-specific cards that Rogue has in her arsenal. 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 the deck as well. Lastly, we will observe the Ladder (the 26 ranks within ranked play) and see what kind of Rogue builds we can find there. Be prepared to be slightly disappointed.
Rogue as a Class
Rogue’s class power plays a bigger role in various synergies than is usual for other classes. Rogue uses weapons to take out enemy Minions, clear the board and set up combos (think Tinker’s Sharpsword Oil). Rogue’s class power also makes her more susceptible to running perilously low on health. Rogues like to live dangerously.
Rogue is one of the more popular classes in the Arena and my personal favorite. I tend to play Rogue very aggressively, which a lot of the more common cards allow. Given that I don’t play Arena all that often, faster games suit me just fine. Classes with Hero powers that can affect the board tend to do better in Arena – Rogue is one of them. It costs Rogues 2 mana to be able to deal 1 point of damage each turn for 2 turns. This is very useful against weak Minions, and the damage output is easily boosted by other Rogue cards.
Rogue’s specialty is the Combo effect – the ability to play a card with a boosted effect if another card was played prior to it. This makes it very advantageous for Rogues to play second, using the Coin to trigger combos.
Goblin Auto-Barber is a nice early Minion – 3/2 is standard for 2 mana, but the ability to boost the weapon so early allows Rogue to protect the board at the beginning of the game using the weapon.
SI:7 Agent has a similar role – it can take out, or help take out a Minion, but it also leaves a Minion on your side of the board to play next turn. Having the Coin can be extremely helpful with this card as it allows you to play it on the second turn and use the Combo effect.
Dark Iron Skulker is an interesting addition to the Rogue stables, but as of yet it gets played very little. Rogue already has a few AOE options but they tend to be reliant on more than 1 card – either using Blade Flurry or boosting spell power and then throwing out a Fan of Knives. This makes Dark Iron Skulker useful against classes that play a lot of cheap Minions (Zoo for example) but 5 mana cost and low stats can make this card somewhat underwhelming.
Perdition’s Blade and Assassin’s Blade have both gone largely out of favor. Instead, there are numerous ways to boost the Hero power. Deadly Poison is a must in pretty much any deck, it provides amazing value as it can usually provide +2 attack for 2 turns. Given that it’s only 1 mana, it can come in very early on.
Tinker’s Sharpsword Oil is a frequent finishing card and the most popular Rogue deck at the moment uses it as its core card. The combo effect is crazy – it boosts both the weapon and a random Minion, allowing for a lot of damage in a single turn (add to that a Blade Flurry and you have even more damage and a board wipe to boot).
Backstab is another staple of any Rogue deck and it’s the best kind of cheap – free. It allows early game removal and a useful method of setting up a Combo. Playing cards that buff spell strength will make this card even more deadly. Eviscerate deals a lot of damage, which comes in handy both when finishing an opponent and when removing Minions – lots of mid-game Minions have 4 or less health.
When it comes to Area of effect (AOE) damage, Rogue is a bit more useless and a lot more gimmicky than other classes. Fan of Knives only deals 1 damage but at least it also draws a card. The effect can be boosted through Minions like Azure Drake. Then there is the new Blackrock Minion and the usual Rogue combo of Blade Flurry with a buffed weapon. All of this adds up to a lot of AOE potential but it’s not as simple as having a single card that deals a large amount of damage.
Assassinate used to be more popular for removal of troublesome late game Minions but unlike Shaman’s Hex or Mage’s Polymorph, it doesn’t get rid of Deathrattles. That can be troublesome. It’s also a fairly pricey card. Sabotage is an interesting alternative, especially when facing a Weapon-wielding class.
Sap is a more devious form of removal, one that is so cheap as to be extremely useful late game. It can remove Taunts that are preventing you from ending the game. It can also significantly slow down your opponent if it sends a very expensive Minion back to his or her hand.
Especially since the nerf to Gadgetzan Auctioneer, card draw for Rogue comes in the guise of Sprint. Given how expensive it is, Preparation is usually employed to lower the cost and make the card accessible sooner.
Gang Up is a card I have played with more than a bit, as it allows for some interesting situations – numerous late game Legendaries, 1 Sludge Belcher after another, or multiple heals. The great thing about it is that it can be used on enemy Minions – for example you can use it to get 3 Tirions into your deck. The random timing of the effect can be a bit problematic. This card is most useful in decks that plan to play a long game – either a slower Control deck (not exactly Rogue’s forte) or the new version of Mill Rogue that forces the opponent to keep on drawing cards and die of fatigue.
Edwin VanCleef was one of my first Legendaries and I have had a lot of fun with him. Given how cheap some early game Rogue cards are (not mentioning the Coin), it’s possible to throw him out very early on and with very high stats. Sadly, the all too common Big Game Hunter (BGH) or a simple Silence effect (equally common) will turn Edwin into a whimpering wreck that’s of little use to anyone.
Trade Prince Gallywix is a GvG Legendary that is not only useful but also gets played, unlike a lot of the other GvG Legendaries. He is completely acceptable stat-wise, and hard to remove with his high health and attack power below 7. Most importantly, he will give your opponent a headache and significantly slow down his decision time. Against classes that rely on heavy spell use, this Legendary can be deadly.
Starting Rogue 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 Rogue. 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 Backstab
- 2x Deadly Poison
- 1x Sap
- 1x Shiv
- 2x Fan of Knives
- 1x Assassin’s Blade
- 2x Assassinate
- 1x Sprint
- 2x Acidic Swamp Ooze
- 2x Bloodfen Raptor
- 2x Kobold Geomancer
- 2x Shattered Sun Cleric
- 2x Chillwind Yeti
- 2x Gnomish Inventor
- 1x Ogre Magi
- 2x Sen’jin Shieldmasta
- 2x Boulderfist Ogre
- 1x Stormwind Champion
This deck uses most of the standard strong basic Minions but also takes advantage of all the great cards that Rogue has for removal. There are three class-specific damage dealing spells in this deck which is where Kobold Geomancer and Ogre Magi come in – they will raise the damage of those spells by 1. It’s a good idea to plan ahead when playing these particular Minions – don’t waste them needlessly (that is, don’t play them unless you are casting a spell this or next turn).
Sap comes in handy when there isn’t a better response for an enemy Minion or when you want to create tempo and dominate the board through slowing down your opponent. Sending an enemy Minion back to his or her owner’s hand for 2 mana often results in keyboards being thrown out of the window.
It’s very unlikely that you will run into trouble with having too few cards in your hand – the mana curve is very solid and Shiv as well as Fan of Knives help you draw a card. So does Gnomish Inventor. If you happen to play a long game, which shouldn’t happen too often, Sprint will sort you out. In all honesty, you may very well get away with not having it in the deck at all.
Think ahead when using the dagger that your Hero power gives you – it’s possible that you’ll need it next turn but won’t have the 2 mana to spend. It’s not always a good idea to attack the opponent’s face with it. Also, using Deadly Poison on a dagger with 1 charge left can be underwhelming. Deadly Poison should in general only be used for removing enemy Minions – it can come out turn 3 or 2 depending on whether you have the coin.
Assassinate is strictly late-game, so don’t waste it before you need it. It’s a bit pricey, but it will wipe the floor with any late game Minion or Legendary.
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. Stormwind Champion can be used in a similar fashion – the +1/+1 effect can mess with your opponent’s plans.
I love Acidic Swamp Ooze. 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 – we don’t want to be here too long, do we? It’s better to play the damned game than to read about it. 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.
- Preparation (nowadays almost exclusively used to make Sprint cheaper)
- Shadowstep (used to be common in Miracle Rogues for a double attack with a Charged Minion)
- Blade Flurry (can be used to finish the game as it hurts the opposing character as well as all enemy Minions, synergizes with Tinker’s Sharpsword Oil)
- Eviscerate (cheap high-quality damage)
- SI:7 Agent (amazing early turn Minion – does damage but also leaves a Minion on the board – the Coin will allow this Minion to come out and combo on turn 2)
- Southsea Deckhand (this Minion, a weapon and Tinker’s Sharpsword Oil go together well)
- Coldlight Oracle (this card is a Mill deck must)
- Earthen Ring Farseer (Rogue tends to lose health quickly through removing enemy Minions, it’s nice to have a way to replenish it)
- Big Game Hunter (essential help against those pesky big Minions)
- Violet Teacher (Rogues playing lots of cheap spells take advantage of the ability to make a new Minion with each spell)
- Azure Drake (card draw is great on its own, an ability to add 1 to spell damage makes this Minion a must)
- Bloodmage Thalnos (a 2 mana Legendary? Well, if it gets removed you are still getting a card, otherwise it’s extra spell damage very early on – very useful)
- Edwin VanCleef (Coin and cheap spells can make him come out pretty huge early on, not so strong in a meta that runs lots of BGHs, also problematic if facing someone running lots of Silences – Druids for example)
- Sludge Belcher (best Taunted Minion in the game)
- Loatheb (if lacking in Legendaries, this one will do, useful for board protection and to stop imminent spell use, good prep for finishing next turn)
Goblins vs. Gnomes
- Goblin Auto-Barber (early game Minion that boosts the class power)
- Tinker’s Sharpsword Oil (essential combo element for decks built around this card – an amazingly strong card if the buff gets thrown on a Minion that can attack the same turn – a Charged one for example)
- Antique Healbot (lots of healing under this one’s hood)
- Trade Prince Gallywix (a solid Minion that will make your opponent think twice before casting spells)
- Gang Up (Rogue has a hard time making a viable slow deck so this card is predominantly used to combo with Coldlight Oracle in Mill decks)
- Emperor Thaurissan (best Legendary in Blackrock)
I have built this section on deck types that are being played now, so I have omitted cards that would work well for a Miracle Rogue, as well as cards that would work well in a Control deck or in a Mech deck as none of these decks are particularly viable for Rogue at the moment.
As always, I haven’t mentioned all of the Legendaries that could potentially make it into your deck, only the most popular are there.
When thinking of which cards to include, replace, craft, and so on, it’s a good idea to have an idea of a general direction that your deck is taking. There are several cards that make it to more or less any type of Rogue deck but the majority will be specific to what you choose to run.
Classic has most to offer in terms of good cards but GvG also offers several essential cards like Tinker’s Sharpsword Oil, an integral part of the most popular Rogue build at the moment. If you decide to run a Mill deck, you will hardly be successful without Blackrock’s Gang Up. Naxxramas is on the whole the least essential of the 3 expansions.
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), only to see most of them in the next 10 packs that you open. Obviously, the choice is yours.
Most Common Deck Types
Rogue is currently not the strongest of classes and it shows – there are few Rogues on the Ladder and very few types of builds among those. Since the disappearance of Miracle Rogue from the Ladder, things have been going downhill for Rogue and the hill keeps on getting steeper.
GvG brought in Oil Rogue – a deck built around standard Rogue cards for early game removal, with strong finishing synergies using Tinker’s Sharpsword Oil. This type of deck is still played and remains a viable build in the current climate of increasingly fast play.
Mill Rogue – a deck based around forcing the opponent to draw one card after another, destroying enemy Minions by forcing them into the owner’s hand while it is full, and killing the opponent via fatigue, has made a reappearance with the advent of Gang Up from the Blackrock expansion. This type of deck does well against decks that can’t place cards quickly enough. Playing this deck against Zoo is less fun than smearing your body with blood and jumping into a pool full of sharks. It’s over in roughly the same amount of time.
There are practically no other types of decks that seem particularly viable on the Ladder – back in GvG times I spent some time trying to make a Mech deck work (I loved Iron Sensei and desperately wanted to build a good deck with him in it) but met mostly with failure. Recently I tried building a Control deck but couldn’t make it work anywhere near as well as some other classes do Control.
I hope that the developers have great things in store for Rogue. I am sad that this part of the balancing of the game is still so inconsistent. Whereas Warlock, Hunter, Mage, or Warrior have always done consistently well in their playability and afforded good competitive options, other classes have gone in and out of favor, with several characters being very hard to play, sometimes for prolonged periods. I was happy to see Paladin strengthened with GvG as he needed it so much, but I am still waiting for some of the other characters to get the same treatment. Rogue is one of those characters.
Rogue has several very strong cards in her arsenal. Both of the Legendaries are good fun. To this day Rogue is a good choice for the Arena, but she is better suited for aggressive play. When it comes to playing Rogue on the Ladder, options for a strong deck are somewhat limited.
Let’s wrap it up for now. I wish you all the luck in proving me wrong that Rogue is hard to play nowadays. While you do that, make sure to surprise your opponent with an early Edwin VanCleef — just watch out for those tiresome Silences. I’ll see you on the Ladder.
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