Hearthstone is lining up its competitors for the Spring Championship, having concluded its playoff rounds in both Europe and the Americas. The Asia-Pacific region will decide its players this coming weekend, but amidst the exciting play and the mental chess matches that has already unfolded thus far, an interesting trend has emerged: the new Standard season appears to have spelled the end for Hearthstone's Warlock class.
Through both the European and Americas playoffs, zero players packed a Warlock deck. This is a staggering fall from the winter season, where Warlocks were plentiful, but the Standard rotation and the Journey to Un'Goro expansion have spelled a total elimination of Warlock as a viable class among the top players.
So why is this the case? Let's analyze a couple of potential reasons, starting with the most obvious one.
RIP Reno Jackson
Highlander decks–so named because they packed only single copies of cards to enable big effects–were all the rage with Warlock players leading up to the new Standard season. Reno Jackson was the face of every single one of them. The legendary out of the League of Explorers adventure allowed the Warlock player to get risky, getting liberal with the Life Tap hero power and filling up their hand to set up Handlock mainstays like Twilight Drake and Mountain Giant. They could also clear the board easily with Hellfire or Felfire Potion, at the expense of some health.
Reno offered a safety net against more aggressive decks or if things went south late in the game. He would also set the table nicely for Lord Jaraxxus. But without that Reno healing, the Warlock player can't drag games out for nearly as long. This is especially true against the influx of aggressive decks, like the Aggro Druid, the Murloc Paladin, and the Quest Rogue. Against these decks, Life Taps become a liability and the Warlock can never really get his game going.
Silence is Golden
Another Warlock strategy involves using minions with the "Can't Attack" condition and giving them Taunt with Sunfury Protector or Defender of Argus. It even seemed like Warlock would have a new tool to feed this strategy with the addition of Humongous Razorleaf.
Then a funny thing happened. The strategy became a lot more fun to play with Priest.
Yes, Silence Priest is on the rise in the current meta. With Radiant Elemental and Shadow Visions, it's exceptionally easy to use cheap (and discounted, thanks to the Elemental) spells like Power Word: Shield, Divine Spirit, and Inner Fire to turn all of these minions into massive monstrosities. The Silence Priest will often work a lot faster than anything the Warlock can come up with, so the Warlock's usage of the "Can't Attack" minions quickly became obsolete.
Another Warlock archetype has often been the Zoolock. But as time has gone on, other classes have out-zoo'd poor Gul'dan.
The addition of the neutral Fire Fly has made it so that just about any class in the game can put together its own zoo. Aggro Priests can combine it with cheap minions like Enchanted Raven and buff up all of their minions quickly with Mark of the Lotus or Power of the Wild. Hunters can use it as a backup for Alleycat and Crackling Razormaw. Shaman can play them and buff them up with Flametongue Totem before finishing with Bloodlust.
The common factor with the other classes' zoos is that they strike fast and often grow in power. That's more than can be said for the Warlock's zoo, which has actually lost power with the loss of Power Overwhelming to the Wild set. Blizzard had hoped to keep the Warlock's zoo going with the new Discard Quest, but the quest takes far too long to get going and is ultimately too slow to keep up with the quicker, more efficient zoo decks from other classes.
The big takeaway is that every one of the Warlock's strengths have been matched and surpassed by other classes. Nothing makes Gul'dan truly stand out anymore and if there is, it often comes too late in the game to matter. It's going to be a long couple of months for Warlock players, as they wait anxiously for the next Hearthstone expansion, in hopes of something that can bring Gul'dan back to prominence.