With the next Hearthstone expansion, Knights of the Frozen Throne, on the horizon, it is an interesting time to speculate on whether the expansion will rejuvenate or give rise to some archetypes that are currently having a bit of a hard time.
No class has it harder than Warlock. The class is simply dead in competitive play and all but dead on the ladder as well. In the beginning of July, a number of well-known players and streamers raced to play Warlock to legend. Not a specific archetype, just any Warlock deck. They all gave up, with BoarControl reaching the highest rank (rank 1) with Discard Zoo before hitting a losing streak and finally calling it quits.
Of course, it is possible to play Warlock to legend, at least at some point during a season. Kranich did so a bit later in July with Elemental Warlock, but it was obvious that it was not a truly competitive archetype either.
In this article, I want to focus on an archetype from way back, one that was viable in the days of Mal'Ganis, but became unviable with the first Standard rotation. During Mean Streets of Gadgetzan, it was again borderline legend-viable, and for a brief moment, it looked like it might become something in future expansions, only to have its hopes torn to pieces with all the new Warlock class Beasts in Journey to Un’Goro. This archetype is Demonlock or Demonzoo.
Mal’Ganis and the heyday of Demonzoo / Demonlock
Once upon a time, there were multiple ways to build a Zoo deck. You could build it to be fast, you could build it to be slow, you could use Sea Giants, or you could use demons and Mal'Ganis. The slower Zoo variants that were running Sea Giants or Mal’Ganis were clearly midrange decks and had little in common with the current Discard Zoo, which is very aggressive and the only somewhat viable Zoo archetype at the moment.
The key pieces that enabled a demon-based midrange Warlock deck were Mal'Ganis (that buffed your other demons), Voidcaller (that enabled you to get demons on the board for free), and Imp Gang Boss (that provided you with demon tokens). Mal’Ganis and Voidcaller rotated out of Standard in Spring 2016, effectively ending the archetype.
Mean Streets of Gadgetzan: A flicker of hope
Demonlock regained some level of viability with Mean Streets of Gadgetzan. The expansion included four demon-synergy cards:
Crystalweaver. A four-mana 5/4 that buffs your other minions that belong to a specific tribe. Now, where have I heard that before? Oh yeah, in the description of Gentle Megasaur, a card that is a staple in all Murloc decks. Crystalweaver does not Adapt your other minions, going for a flat +1/+1 instead, so it does not give you those clutch moments when one specific Adapt saves the day, but it does provide consistent value at a competitive cost.
Bloodfury Potion. +3 attack for three mana is bad, but if the target is a Demon, +3/+3 for three mana is not bad at all. Thing is, you need to have a lot of demons available to make Bloodfury Potion worth running.
Kabal Trafficker. A six-mana 6/6 is mediocre, but this card always requires an answer, as it adds a random Demon to your hand at the end of your turn. A sweet value-generator when it survives for a couple of turns.
Krul the Unshackled. A Highlander synergy card, Krul summons all Demons from your hand when played if your deck has no duplicates. From the perspective of a Midrange Demonlock, Krul is not an interesting card. It can play a role in a Highlander deck, but that is a subject for another time.
Of these four cards, Crystalweaver is the strongest in Midrange Demonlock, and for a brief time, it enabled Demon-based Zoo decks that were not part of the competitive landscape but that could nonetheless win games on the ladder. Imp Gang Boss on Turn three followed by a Crystalweaver on Turn four was a powerful combination.
With just a few more Demons, Demonlock might be able to take the final step into becoming a competitive midrange Warlock archetype.
Journey to Un’Goro: Hopes torn to pieces
Alas, it was not to be. The Standard rotation that came with Journey to Un’Goro took away the only demon token generator, Imp Gang Boss, and it would need to bring in some serious Demons for the tribal synergies to remain usable.
Another synergy card that rotated out was Demonwrath, an area-of-effect damage spell similar to Dragonfire Potion in that it ignores its preferred tribe, in this case, Demons. It was never a core card in Demonlock, but if slower Demonlock builds received support, it could have found a spot in the deck.
Journey to Un’Goro was a huge let-down when it came to Demons. Lakkari Felhound, that’s it. The entire set included only one Demon, and it was a Discard mechanic card that could not find a home in non-Discard decks or even decks that were looking for more Discard synergy. Blizzard insisted on pushing the Discard mechanic for Warlock instead of the Demon tribal synergy with the Warlock class quest also relying on Discard – and that failed miserably.
After Mean Streets of Gadgetzan, it seemed as if we were just a couple of cards away from rebuilding Midrange Demonlock, but instead of adding more synergy cards to an archetype that was slightly too weak, Blizzard did not even give replacements to what was lost in the Standard rotation.
Knights of the Frozen Throne: A new hope?
Midrange Demonlock still remains a couple of cards away from viability. It is fast enough to not generally require healing effects, and it has the means to replace Power Overwhelming (Demonfire, Bloodfury Potion). This means that it does not need a fix for the fundamental issues of Zoo and Handlock. The only thing it needs is good Demons.
The ability to create tokens to be buffed with Crystalweaver is one of the most important things missing from Demonlock. Imp Gang Boss was a key card because of the potential synergies it had with Crystalweaver, Bloodfury Potion, and Demonfire. A combination of these buffs on the Imp Gang Boss and its tokens was one of the key strengths of Demonlock during Mean Streets of Gadgetzan.
Therefore, the first requirement for Demonlock to become viable is some form of Demon token generation. Currently, no such methods exist in the Standard format. Even Warlock’s class token generation cards (Forbidden Ritual, Kara Kazham!) create regular minions, not Demons.
The second requirement is simply more playable Demon minions, especially ones without Discard effects. While it can be possible to combine Demons and Discard within a single deck, Discard is generally a mechanic for an aggressive deck, whereas Demonlock could also be more of a midrange deck.
As long as Demons remain a tribe in Hearthstone, there will be interest in building a deck around them. Once upon a time, it was possible thanks to Mal’Ganis, Voidcaller, and Imp Gang Boss, but with all of them out of Standard format, the archetype has been left struggling. A brief rejuvenation during Mean Streets of Gadgetzan could not quite make it competitively viable, and Journey to Un’Goro buried Demonlock, and the entire Warlock class, yet again.
It will be interesting to see whether there will be enough new demons in Knights of the Frozen Throne to make Demonlock viable again. It can be a matter of just a couple of good cards!
"Ville "Old Guardian" Kilkku is an analytical Hearthstone content creator and a regular legend player on the EU server. In addition to his articles, you can find his Hearthstone videos on Youtube and stream on Twitch. If you have any questions or comments, you can connect with him on Twitter.