Lately, Sludge Belcher has become a really popular card. It seems like almost every deck out there, besides the zoo decks, are playing Sludge Belcher, and it has caused the games to slow down quite a bit.
No doubt, Sludge Belcher is a good card at the 5 mana spot. But, before the Naxxramas expansion came out, the consensus was that Azure Drake was the best card at the 5 mana spot for non-Zoo (and non-Hunter) decks. This begs the question… which card is better? Let’s try to answer that question with HearthSim.
Of course, the answer is going to depend on the actual composition of the deck and the hero class played. But to a large extend, the difference comes down to a card draw + spell damage vs a great Taunt that slows down the game. We’ve already seen how extra card draw can be, and we have some hints to how effect Taunts can be given some moderation.
The test will consist of playing variations on three decks: super basic deck with Booty Bay Bodyguard replaced by either Azure Drake or Sludge Belcher (Deck0), the first deck with War Golem replaced by Argent Commander (Deck1), and the second deck with Murloc Raider replaced by Holy Smite (Deck2) (it’s no secret that I main a Priest). The first deck favors the Sludge Belcher as it’s an all minion deck with no spells that can take advantage of the spell damage provided by Azure Drake. The second deck adds Argent Commander, which is largely consider to be the best counter to Azure Drake. The third deck adds a spell to the mix, witch should favor Azure Drake due to its spell damage.
For each deck, we will pit the Azure Drake version of the deck with the Sludge Belcher version of the deck, using no-hero, Priest, Hunter, and Rogue classes. We will simulate 10,000 games for each combination, which should give us a roughly +/- 1% range on the 95% confidence levels of our results.
Finally, since I don’t have the time nor the patience to simulate games for all Hero class combinations, we use 4 hero classes: No-hero, Hunter, Priest, and Rogue. I think it’s a representative sample, with Hunter representing the aggressive play style, Priest representing a control oriented style, and Rogue being somewhere in between.
Below is a table summarizing the win rate of Player0, who is using Azure Drake in its deck.
The first thing to note is that all of the P0 win rates are above 50%. In other words, using Azure Drake is better than using Sludge Belcher in all of the cases that we have simulated. This result is surprising given the current popularity of Sludge Belcher, but the gist of the it seems to be that a Card Draw is better than a good Taunt minion. Keep in mind that Sludge Belcher will trade favorably against Azure Drake, leaving a 1/2 Taunt on the board… apparently, that is not enough of an advantage to overcome the card advantage afforded by the Azure Drake’s card draw.
Win rate differences between the decks are more or less what we expected. The use of Argent Commander helps Player1 to a small extent; the difference being small is probably due to the fact that there are only 2 of them in the deck and the chance of using it effectively is small. On the other hand, the use of Holy Smite swings the games in Player0’s favor, showing us that spell damage cards are quite powerful. Against a Sludge Belcher, that extra 1 damage (for a total of 3) with Holy Smite is especially effective, as it allows a player to efficiently kill it with a cheap 2 attack minion.
Between classes, the differences between Azure Drake and Sludge Belcher are more subtle. Priest seems to do well with Sludge Belcher in deck1, presumably because meaty Taunts + heal + effective counter against the opponent’s best card is a good combination of abilities to have.
Coming back to Deck0, let’s look at how Player0 and Player1 does at different points of the games. Below are Player0’s card advantage and minion advantage plotted versus turn.
This is becoming a familiar pattern: the extra cards from Azure Drake turns into a substantial card advantage, which turns into a substantial minion advantage a few turns later. Card draw is king (in moderation, of course).
The results here indicate that using Azure Drake is better than using Sludge Belcher under most circumstances. It’s probably interesting to look for edge case in which SB can outperform AZ… in due course.