Hearthstone Analysis
The Otk Problem

by Nick “Hellthrower” Gavra

hearthstone otk header

  1. How do OTK decks work?
  2. Historically most distinctive OTK decks.
  • How to counter OTK decks.
  1. Why OTK decks should not exist in Hearthstone
  2. 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?

hearthstone otk mechanisms

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.

Historically most distinctive OTK decks:

Freeze Mage

hearthstone otk freeze mage

          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.


hearthstone otk patron warrior

          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 (2015-10-20): Has been reworked again and now reads: Your Charge minions have +1 Attack.
Blackrock Mountain Patch (2015-03-31): Bug fix: “Will now [correctly] give charge to minions summoned by other minions—charge forward!”
Patch (2014-1-16): Has been reworked and now reads: Whenever you summon a minion with 3 or less Attack, give it Charge.
Patch (April or May 2013): Health increased from 2 to 3.
Previously: Your other minions have Charge. [3 mana, 2 Attack, 2 Health]


          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.

Anyfin Paladin

          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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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’.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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’s Approach

hearthstone otk nerfs 2

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.

hearthstone otk nerfs 1In 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.