Is Yogg’Saron a well designed card?
When Yogg’saron, Hope’s End was announced there was a lot of excitement and enthusiasm around the card. Hearthstone had never seen such power before. People started cramming statistics to try to analyse the un-analyzable, whether Yogg’Saron was good or not. Now it has been two months and there are two categories of people: those who love the card and those who hate it. I am in the latter group, but when I thought about the reason for my hate towards Yogg’Saron I couldn’t come up with any concrete evidence in favour of my theses. Therefore I decided to give the card a try and see if my arguments were founded in reason.
Winning the Unwinnable
In certain situations Yogg’Saron can win games which cannot be won in any other way. In the screenshotted game Yogg’Saron gave my Iceblock against a Zoolock with Soulfire in hand, whilst buffing him enough to threaten lethal given a lucky top-deck. There was literally no other card in the game that could have done all that, the guy on the other side had the right to be mad. Additionally, and this is a point develop further later, a single spell to my face and I would have lost; each time you play Yogg’Saron there are hundreds of thousands of possible outcomes.
On the other hand one has to consider that Yogg’Saron is really highly costed; it costs 10 mana. You would expect a card with such a mana requirement to have a huge impact on the game. Playing N’Zoth, the Corruptor in a losing situation can be just as brutal as a lucky Yogg’Saron; getting Sylvanas Windrunner and Tirion Fordering back from the dead can usually seal most games. Yogg’Saron is similar, it just plays random spells instead of bringing over-powered minions back in play. Overall you expect a 10 mana card to have a high impact on the game, I believe the fact that sometimes you can win the unwinnable is not by itself problematic, if not coupled with other design flaws.
RNG cards make the game less skill based
Since RNG stands for “random number generator” it is in its nature to be uncontrollable. The existence of RNG cards doesn’t mean that there are no correct and incorrect plays, just that playing statistics is not enough to win every game; it should only guarantee a positive outcome in the long run. On the other hand consider the following: a play keeps you in the game 90% of the time, this means only 10% of the time you will lose the game. Now Blizzard adds another card which keeps you in the game 90% of the time, if both cards are played during a match instead of having only 10% of losing now you have 19% to lose the game. As more cards with RNG are introduced the percentage of games lost because of the effects increase. Thus whilst too much RNG does make a game less skill based, the question is if Yogg’Saron makes Hearthstone less skill based? If everybody was to play Yogg’saron then sure, more games would be decided by Yogg’Saron, and thus the decision making that would lead to victories would be less. Right now we do not live in such a meta-game, thankfully, even though Yogg Druid is gaining a lot of ground, with some players arguing it is a tier 1 deck. As of now Yogg’Sarons’s RNG does not appear to be too problematic yet, but this is just because until now we haven’t seen a high stakes tournament be decided by the card.
One could try arguing against this by claiming that even by running a lot of card draw, on average you can expect to play Yogg’Saron 35%-50% of your games, this still leaves half the games in the hand of decision making. I hope everybody can see why this is silly, we would like more than 50%-65% of Hearthstone games be decided by decisions. Additionally one could also try argue that when playing Yogg’Saron some decision making is involved as some situations might have better outcomes than others. If you are winning on the board you might not want to play the card, if you are even you might think about it, and only if you are losing Yogg’Saron is usually the best play. The problem I see with such argument is that when Yogg’Saron is played, unlike other RNG effects, what is sought is a general effect (e.g card draw and board clears) not a specific outcome where odds can be calculated; thus playing Yogg’Saron can never be “scientifically studied” but is always just an approximation. The calculations for Yogg’Saron’s outcomes are hardly calculable in general, much less in the 90 seconds available in one’s turn.
Too high variance
This slightly relates to what I considered in the previous section. Yogg’Saron’s effect is so varied that every time I lose to the card I feel robbed of a win, that if things went slightly differently I might have stayed in the game. A perfect Yogg’Saron for either side is game winning. The point is not that RNG should not exist in the game, but that certain types of RNG effects might be unhealthy for the game.
Cards which fall under this category are usually heavily criticized by the community. Take Tuskarr Totemic as an example; if you roll a Totem Golem you win some match-ups on the spot, whilst a normal Shaman totem usually doesn’t do much. Ping’s in the early game are problematic in a similar way, the difference between killing a Fiery Bat on turn 2 with Flame Juggler and not being able to can decide games. The point is that even these effects, which have high variance, do not even come close to what Yogg’Saron’s provides, where every game is potentially three Pyroblasts away from ending. Some may argue that the difference is that the cards which I mention provide early game RNG and that this is much harder to overcome when compared to late game RNG. On the other hand a decent Yogg’Saron is as difficult to overcome as an early game Totem Golem from a Tuskarr Totemic, where usually the (smaller) card advantage become insurmountable. I do believe that high variance cards need to exist because they can make the game more interesting, the problem I see with the cards I mentioned is that the difference from worst to best outcome is often the difference between winning and losing, meaning that the game loses depth.
Cannot be played around
If it is turn ten and if I know a deck plays Yogg’Saron and I am winning, all I can do is hope and pray the effect won’t be too overwhelming to overcome. When playing against the other turn 10 bombs, like N’Zoth and C’Thun, you know exactly what to expect; you can keep certain cards, or combination of cards in order to answer the threat they pose. Yogg’Saron is so variable that there is no combination of cards which can be saved to deal with the effect he provides, all you can do is not over-extend on board. For competitive play this is the problem, the way one decides to use resources during a Hearthstone match is one of the aspects which separates the Pro-Players from the casuals. Additionally it cannot be teched against, meaning that there is no card which can be included during the deck-building process to counter Yogg’Saron.
These two factors, for me, are the biggest problem for competitive play as there is no argument in order to defend Yogg’Saron against these charges. Watching players like Otskaka play is wonderful because you can see that each play has a long thought process behind it, all the relevant possibilities are considered and then the play which gets the best result on average is selected. When playing against Yogg’Saron all you can say and think is: “I hope I don’t get a bad deal out of this” and pass the turn, knowing that all that happened in the game until now won’t matter. Additionally whilst some people might have fun watching the effect, others have fun thinking about their plays and how they can win; when a card like Yogg’Saron is being used in competitive play it heavily oppresses one part of the player base.
What some pro’s think
Daniel “Dtwo” Ikuta, most famous for being a semi-finalist at Blizzcon 2014, thinks the card design is problematic and was severely underrated before it came out. Yogg’Saron provides too little control to the player who is playing it, all you can do is hope that it will swing the game in your favour. He also thinks that the fact you can go from certainly losing to winning using one card is not healthy for the competitive scene. Dtwo acknowledges that the card is good for streamers since it is fun to watch, this doesn’t take away from the fact it is badly designed.
Cedric “Senfglas” Sander thinks that Yogg Druid is one of the strongest decks around and that he managed to hit top 100 finishes for the May and June seasons thanks to the deck. He thinks the card is problematic for the competitive scene but that there are more pressing issues, for example Tuskarr Totemic. He can see the point of Yogg’Saron being too random but he claims that at least this is fun to watch, unlike most of the current meta decks which just play on curve.
Tyler Hoang “Tylerootd” Nguyen argues that the card is amazingly strong and thus would be a mistake for competitive players to not play it. On the other hand he acknowledges the fact the card does not have a good design because there is no way such power should be given to a random effect. Yogg’Saron should not be in competitive play since you can play a 20 minute game of Hearthstone which then get’s deleted by a coin flip at the end of the game.
Finally both William “Amnesiac” Barton and Keaton “Chakki” Gill think that the card is problematic their views can be found on the podcast called “Thanks for the analysis” around the 40th minute. The Podcast, hosted by Modernleper and Th3Rat, can be found on: https://soundcloud.com/user-885951402/thanks-for-the-analysis-episode-2-hosts-modernleper-and-th3rat-guests-chakki-and-amnesiac
In conclusion Yogg’Saron might not be a fun card to lose to because you always think “but what if?”, but this by itself does not make it a problematic card. The main problem, in my opinion, is that you can never calculate if Yogg is the optimal play, you just slam it down and pray. Additionally the fact you cannot really play around it and that it cannot be teched against is a problem because players are left hopeless when playing against it (at least the card’s name is accurate). On the other hand Yogg’Saron gives the player something other than curve decks to enjoy playing whilst waiting for the new expansion. Overall I think blizzard didn’t realize what they created, and we are in for one year and a half of this. Hopefully no other cards which provide heavy RNG swings will be printed, but looking at the past track record I am not so hopeful, and all we can do is wait (I am calling it) for this week-end when the expansion is going to be announced.