The Otk Problem
by Nick “Hellthrower” Gavra
- How do OTK decks work?
- Historically most distinctive OTK decks.
- How to counter OTK decks.
- Why OTK decks should not exist in Hearthstone
- Blizzard’s Approach
“Hm, Well Played” your opponent whispers and you know you are done for. What follows is a sequence of card combinations that enable your opponent to kill you in one turn, regardless of your remaining health. After that, you desperately exhale, close Hearthstone and cry yourself to sleep. Hearthstone’s OTK (one-turn-kill) decks have always been frustrating to deal with, although they have been trimmed down in numbers.
How do OTK decks work?
Combo decks usually consist of strictly specific cards, which allow the player to delay the game long enough, until they are able to pull off their combo. Those are separated in the following categories.
- Card Draws: [Battle Rage], [Arcane Intellect], [Gadgetzan Auctioneer], [Ancient of Lore] (pre-nerf:Draw 2 cards instead of 1), [Nourish], [Loot Hoarder], [Acolyte of Pain] etc.
- Board Clears: [Flamestrike], [Blizzard], [Whirlwind], [Wild Pyromancer], [Frost Nova] + [Doomsayer], [Equality] etc.
- Heals/Armor: [Antique Healbot] (Rotated out of Standard with Gvg), [Forbidden Healing], [Armorsmith], [Ice Barrier].
- Charges: [Force of Nature] (pre-nerf: 6 mana cost: Summon 3 2/2 treants with Charge!), [Leeroy Jenkins], [Anyfin Can Happen], [Charge] (pre-nerf:Give a minion Charge and +2 Attack), [Warsong Commander] (pre-nerf:Each minion with 3 attack or less has Charge).
- Stealth: [Conceal], [Shade of Naxxramas](Rotated out of Standard with Naxxramas).
- Buffs and Spells: [Abusive Sergeant], [Cold Blood], [Power Overwhelming], [Inner Rage], [Savage Roar], All classes’ burn spells etc.
- Unique Manipulators: [Emperor Thaurissan], [Malygos], [Faceless Manipulator], [Alexstrasza], [Innervate].
Historically most distinctive OTK decks:
Freeze Mage was developed in the early stages of Hearthstone and has existed ever since. That is because of Jaina’s incredible defensive cards, such as [Ice Block], [Flamestrike], [Blizzard] and [Frost Nova].
Win Condition: Using [Alexstrasza] on your opponent, followed by a bunch of burn spells, like [Fireball], [Frostbolt] and [Ice Lance].
Warrior used to have two overpowered cards, before they were nerfed. [Charge] and [Warsong Commander]. Those, along with the strongest draw mechanic, battle rage, enabled a total of 3 OTK decks.
The Grand Tournament Patch 188.8.131.5204 (2015-10-20): Has been reworked again and now reads: Your Charge minions have +1 Attack.
Blackrock Mountain Patch 184.108.40.20611 (2015-03-31): Bug fix: “Will now [correctly] give charge to minions summoned by other minions—charge forward!”
Patch 220.127.116.1158 (2014-1-16): Has been reworked and now reads: Whenever you summon a minion with 3 or less Attack, give it Charge.
Patch 18.104.22.16840 (April or May 2013): Health increased from 2 to 3.
Previously: Your other minions have Charge. [3 mana, 2 Attack, 2 Health]
- [Molten Giant]: It wasn’t late until people figured out they could use [Warsong Commander], before its last two nerfs, to give charge to Molten Giants, buff them with various spells like [Inner Rage] and [Rampage], and copy them with [Faceless Manipulator].
- [Raging Worgen]: [Warsong Commander] was changed, but warrior still had another source of OTK, [Charge]. The playstyle of the deck is very similar to Molten Giants, but uses [Charge] instead.
- Patron Warrior: Before its last nerf, [Warsong Commander] was used in one of the most infamous decks, Patron Warrior. A deck using lots of AoE damage, [Grim Patron] and [Frothing Berserker], was able to deal way over 30 damage in one turn.
Although Druid does not have mind-blowing draw mechanics and board clears, it has developed two very strong OTK decks.
- Combo Druid: Its primary win condition was [Force of Nature] + [Savage Roar]. Although this combo only provided 14 damage, Druid had the ability to develop a strong board with [Shade of Naxxramas] and [Loatheb], and even use a second Savage Roar with the help of [Emperor Thaurissan], to potentially deal more than 30 damage.
- Malygos Druid: Although [Malygos] is not its only win condition, it allows Druid to deal 26 damage, and potentially even more depending on the outcome of the [Raven Idol].
[Reno Jackson] fits great in Warlock, which helps him delay the game long enough, to gather resources, and its primary combo: [Leeroy Jenkins] + [Power Overwhelming] + [Faceless Manipulator]. With the help of [Emperor Thaurissan], this combo alone will deal 20 damage.
Whether it is a Malygos Variant or a standard Miracle deck, Rogue’s infinite draw potential thanks to [Gadgetzan Auctioneer] helps him quickly cycle through his deck and find lethal damage in one turn.
The only OTK deck that has existed for Paladin. Incredible board clears, heals, and draw mechanics, delay the game until the player draws his second [Anyfin Can Happen] which deals either 30 or 32 damage, for guaranteed lethal.
The rest of the classes, Hunter, Priest and Shaman have experimented with some OTK mechanics, like [Prophet Velen], [Windfury] with [Rockbiter Weapon] and [Scavenging Hyena], however they have not been as successful.
How to Counter OTK decks
You can rarely adjust your gameplay in order to counter OTK decks, since they always do the same thing, regardless of how proactive or reactive you are. Instead, you could run some specific tech cards, in order to make their gameplan more difficult. Those include:
- Taunts: [Soggoth the Slitherer] and [Sludge Belcher](Rotated out of Standard with Naxxramas) have been very difficult to deal with.
- Health manipulation and Armor: [Ice Block], [Ice Barrier], [Feral Rage] and [Armorsmith] are great counters. [Justicar Trueheart] is also amazing in warrior. It’s worth mentioning that although heals are very important, they sometimes are not enough, as some OTK combos push for more than 30 damage.
- Other Techs: Cards like [Loatheb](Rotated out of standard with Naxxramas) and [Animated Armor] can effectively “buy” you another turn against an OTK deck.
Why OTK decks should not exist in Hearthstone
Do not get me wrong, some OTK decks are wonderful, they require a lot of decision making and are extremely difficult to handle. However, Hearthstone is not an environment they should exist in. Why is that?
- 30 HP limit. Health points in Hearthstone are limited. The only way to surpass that limit would be armor, which only exists in few classes and sometimes it is not enough.
- Non-interactivity. The match becomes non-interactive. It basically turns into a “Will the OTK player draw his combo parts in time?” scenario. Each player only focuses on his own gameplan and does not interact with his opponents’.
- Lack of Counters. As we saw above, there are not enough cards to counter those OTK decks, and some classes do not have anything to deal with them, such as Hunter and Rogue. There aren’t enough sticky taunts, or Health Manipulators.
- Frustrating Outcome. Although people get mad at a topdeck or an RNG outcome, they become even more frustrated, when losing to an OTK deck, as there is nothing they could have done differently to change the outcome.
- Tournaments are not enjoyable to watch. Most people watch tournaments to take a look at professional players’ decks and decisions. Even though someone could be impressed at how a professional player handles an OTK deck better than the common ladder player, it does not change the fact that it always comes down to collecting combo pieces.
Blizzard has acknowledged that OTK decks are not healthy for the game, and thus has taken strict actions against them. Freeze Mage, Combo Druid, Rogue, [Warsong Commander] have all been nerfed. More recently, [Charge] was reworked, and the sole reason was not to nerf the [Raging Worgen] warrior deck, but to prevent similar archetypes from rising in the future. This way, they can design new cards for Expansions and Adventures, without the need to worry whether or not they would work together with charge, to develop a meta-breaking deck.
In the latest card sets, we can see that Blizzard has successfully avoided enabling OTK decks, and has always answered the community’s voice to nerf the most dominant of them. The latest OTK deck that has seen play is Malygos Druid, and even this deck rarely uses its combo as a main win condition.
People have been joking around, sarcastically calling Hearthstone “fun and interactive” whenever an OTK deck dominated the ladder and tournaments, and we can clearly see Blizzard’s answer, managing to make them a rare sight nowadays.