Guardian’s core strategy of getting crush effects through, while leveraging cards that cost 3 or more, gives you the same end goal – just different ways of getting there. Often you’ll notice that most Guardian lists have almost identical blue pitch cards, with mainly the red and yellow pitch cards seeing variation. Even though the lists seem similar, the way you play the deck can vary drastically. The beauty of the class is you can mix up your gameplay significantly based on what class you’re facing and also mix it up during the game itself. I will outline some core strategies that not necessarily form their own lists but give you ideas on how the class can play out.
Life Gain Control
This version of Guardian focuses on Guardian class Attack Actions such as Disable and Crippling Crush to maximize your 3+ cost cards to increase the chances of hitting Blessing of Deliverance. The core strategy is to neutralize your opponent’s threats, gain life with Blessings, get back Blessings with Remembrance and continuously hit with Anothos. Once you’ve generated a strong life lead over your opponent, you can start regaining the tempo by laying down powerful dominated attacks you’ve pitched earlier to close out the game. This version can aim to fatigue your opponent. Constant pressure with Anothos means you’re threatening 6 damage without losing any cards from your deck.
Generic cards like Command and Conquer, Pummel, Come to Fight and Life for a Life clash with the Blessing of Deliverance approach. They do, however, give you a great toolbox to apply pressure throughout the game. Blue pitch, Command and Conquer and Come to Fight gives you a great three-card attack that punishes bad blocks or overreliance on Defense Reactions. Life for a Life can give you another strong three-card turn – blue pitch, make a Surge token, Life for a Life and blue pitch to swing for 6 with Anothos. Having these low cost on-hit effect cards help you strip your opponent of armor to punish them later with a dominated Crippling Crush.
The less commonly seen approach to Guardian, an aggro list leans on the Surge token to constantly put pressure on an opponent. Cards like Debilitate, Crush the Weak and Chokeslam constantly threaten an on-hit effect and help relieve pressure from your opponent in order to strip them of Defense Reactions for later stages in the game. Because these attacks are lower cost, you don’t need to run as many blue pitch cards in your list. You can cut the blues down to 30-35 and increase your threat density. Big attacks still feature in your list and come out in the later stages when your opponent runs out of Defense Reactions and armor.
Swift Blitz Bravo
This is a fun list I came up with for Blitz. It relies on Flock of the Feather Walkers and multiple actions points to abuse the Sledge of Anvilheim. For more information on this, you can check out my article on Swift Blitz Bravo.
Ranger: ~ 70% Win Rate
Ranger has a tough time dealing with Guardian because they have low armor and low defense on cards other than their arrows. This means that they’re forced to block with their arrows, thus running out of ammo or take punishing on-hit effects. Not only that, many of Ranger’s arrows’ on-hit effects are not as punishing for Guardian. You can take a very defensive approach, blocking up most on the oncoming attacks and pressure Ranger back with a hammer swing. The Ranger player is forced to constantly pressure you throughout the game, as they will fatigue in the late game. You can block small attacks with zero cost defense reactions such as Sink Below and big attacks with Staunch Response (Red). All it takes is for the Ranger to have one uneventful turn for you to pressure them back with a powerful attack and regain the tempo. In saying that, you must try and minimize the damage you’re taking. Good Ranger players will be able to capitalize on bad blocks and consistently chip away on your life total. Side in lots of defense reactions, side out Pummels and cards that block for two. It’s worth keeping a 65 or so deck count just in case the game goes late and you go for the fatigue strategy.
Runeblade: ~ 70% Win Rate
Both the control and aggressive versions rely on getting through damage with Runechants. Most of your deck is blue pitch cards though, making it easy to block them. In this matchup you want to keep your life total as high as possible – block all Runechants, don’t let them activate their Runechant damage effects and block the physical damage as well. If your opponent is stacking Runechants and going control, utilize your auras to push through big attacks. Cards like Towering Titan and Emerging Dominance shine in this matchup. You want to drag this game as late as possible, as the Runeblade player will start running out of threats. It’s hard for them to close out the game with all your life gain, arcane prevention and defenses. Side out defense reactions versus the Control builds, except for one or two. You want to pressure them as much as possible by setting up big blowout turns. Versus aggressive builds, keep in the zero cost defense reactions, as many of their attacks attack for four. You don’t need Pummels or pressure cards versus the aggressive builds, as you should focus on defense and fatigue.
Wizard: ~ 65% Win Rate
In a similar vein to Runeblade, you can lean on your blue pitch cards to prevent a lot of Wizard’s arcane damage. This is where you want to bring in the Sledge of Anvilheim so you can threaten six damage while having two spare resource points after pitching two blues to cushion you from Kano’s ability. A good Wizard player will mix up their play between putting pressure on their turn and draining your resources. Try to be conservative with your big attacks – it might be tempting to go all in for a dominated Crippling Crush, but you’re giving them a window to use up all their cards to push through a ton of damage, which makes the crush effect redundant. Also, watch out for a Wizard player setting up a big one turn kill turn by pitching a specific series of cards to the bottom to use at the very late stage of the game with Kano’s ability. This is where Righteous Cleansing works wonders. A well-timed dominated attack like this can destroy their top deck plans. Side out all defense reactions and maintain a high pitch count. I’d cut down to 60 cards and leverage cards like Pummel to sneak through damage.
Brute: ~ 55% Win Rate
Brute tends to play out in a similar fashion to your game play, except your hammer hits for six and their club hits for four. This means you can drag the game out and try to fatigue them out in the late game while saving your life total as much as possible. Beware of a big intimidate turn, where your whole hand gets banished and you become defenseless. Keeping a zero cost defense reaction in arsenal and maintaining high life total is key to the matchup. The pressure is on them to make big plays happen. Side out all high-cost defense reactions and keep your deck quite high in count. 65-70 card decks work best, as the game could go to fatigue.
Ninja: ~ 55% Win Rate
Ninja matchup is all about tempo. They’re attacks might be powerful, but their defenses are low. Block their combos well and don’t let them get their on-hit effects. You’ll be blocking with two to four cards most of the game while slowly chipping away with your hammer. At some stage of the game, you’ll have to take back the momentum. You can do this in two different ways. First, leverage your equipment to preserve your hand while stopping their attack. Second, wait for them to have an off-turn – a turn where they either have too many red pitch cards or their combos don’t align. Either way, this is where a well-timed Pummel play or dominated Spinal Crush can really shift the tempo in your favor and make the Ninja play on the defense, which is the last thing they want to do. Streamline your list to the core 60 cards as the game should end before you see your pitched cards. Take out potions and other unnecessary low defense blocks and all high-cost defense reactions. Pummels and zero cost defense reactions are key to regaining the momentum and stopping their attacks.
Mirror: ~ 50% Win Rate
The mirror match can be a very grindy game. Both players lean on their Anothos to strip cards from their opponents while trying to protect their threats for later. Big defense reactions such as Staunch Response (Red) and big attacks like Crippling Crush are extremely high value cards in this matchup. Finding ways to strip your opponent of these is crucial to be able to punch through a powerful attack in the late stages of the game. Using cards like Remembrance can help you keep a high threat density and ultimately get that on-hit effect as well. This matchup rewards the player who can pay more attention to their pitching and their opponent’s pitching. Also, setting up back-to-back big attacks with your pitching can help you push through the big defense reactions. It’s a grueling match that requires a lot of concentration, time and perseverance. Just make sure to keep your deck count very high, keeping all non-equipment cards in to ensure you have more blocks than your opponent.
Warrior: ~ 45% Win Rate
Some might disagree that Warrior is the favored matchup, but I believe Warrior has a slight edge since the release of Crucible of War. Cards like Spoils of War and Twinning Blade give Guardian a tough time in knowing how to block the Warrior player correctly. Most of the time, you’ll be on the defensive and your blocking skills will be put to the highest test. Many Warriors go for a more go wide strategy these days, meaning it’s harder to prevent chip damage sneaking past. In a similar vein to Ninja, you’ll have to really pick your spots to gain back the momentum but leveraging on your armor isn’t as effective as you’ll really need it late game for big Ironsong Determination plays. Chipping away with the hammer might not be as fruitful, as Steelblade Shunt can stop your chip damage. The good thing is, a well-timed Spinal Crush or Crippling Crush can really shut their turn down and give you some room to regain the pressure. You can wait their pressure out and eventually they’ll start running low on threats. That’s when you want to start applying pressure and regain the tempo. You want to take out all your back block cards, potentially even some Pummels. Both high and low cost defense reactions should stay in your deck and the card count should be kept high, around 65-70 cards to ensure you win the late game.
Dash: ~ 35% Win Rate
While your hammer threatens six damage with two cards, Dash threatens six damage with two cards that are split into three small pings for two, which is a pain for the Guardian to block. The midrange and control variants put you on a timer, forcing you to make something happen from turn one onwards. The longer the game drags out, the more items they will have in play and you’ll face more and more chip damage. Dash will have big defense reactions to stop your attacks and since you cannot wait until the late game, you’ll need to ensure those attacks punch through their defenses. Auras like Towering Titan and Emerging Dominance are some of the ways of achieving that. Well timed Pummels will hopefully help you push through their defenses and strip them of cards that fuel their pesky Induction Chambers. This is by far your worst matchup and will require you to really push your limits to play as efficiently as possible, but if you’re determined enough, I’m sure you’ll find a way to tweak your list to output enough pressure to trample over Dash’s defenses. You want to go on the offence as much as possible. Side out all defense reactions and streamline your list to the core 60. Cards that block for two are fine, as they block pistols well enough.
Do note, most of these matchups are based on the generic versions of each list. Many classes can now really shift their core strategy and mix up how they play out. This should be treated as a general guide to get you started. As you become more and more familiar with the matchups and ways in which your local players play the decks, you might have to adjust your approach to beat them.
Guardian is a powerful class that’s extremely effective against a lot of decks. While at first the class may seem quite linear, the more you play it, the more you’ll see that there is a lot of wiggle room for a vast range of strategies and spicy tech. I hope this guide gave you a solid introduction on how this class plays out and I cannot wait to see all you Guardian players out there push the envelope with some new and creative strategies.