Frozen Throne and the danger of sticky minions

It’s been a while since the days of overly sticky minions in Hearthstone’s Standard. Once-ubiquitous Deathrattles like Piloted Shredder, Haunted Creeper and Nerubian Egg have long since rotated out.

However, the upcoming Knights of the Frozen Throne expansion promises to bring with it an undead host of new Deathrattle minions. Have the Hearthstone Developers at Team 5 learned their lesson? Or will sticky Deathrattles return to dominate the meta?

What is stickiness?

sticky

To understand stickiness, think the opposite of Magma Rager

“Stickiness” is a term in Hearthstone that expresses how difficult a card is to remove proportional to its mana cost. For a classic example, compare Magma Rager to Harvest Golem. Both cost three mana. However, Magma Rager can be completely removed with only one instance of one damage, whereas Harvest Golem requires three damage and then one damage to clear completely. The idea that more health equals more stickiness may seem obvious, but stickiness means more than just health.

Look at Piloted Shredder and compare it to Chillwind Yeti. Piloted Shredder is considered stickier because despite having less health than the yeti, it overall tends to have equal or more health (its two health Deathrattle drop is usually a 3/2, 2/2 or 2/3). But most importantly, killing a Shredder requires two sources of damage rather than just one. A single Fireball or Savannah Highmane attack kills a Yeti, but leaves a Shredder Deathrattle on the field.

Undercosted survivability

sticky

Early sticky minions were extremely competitively costed

Hearthstone’s history is full of certain card attributes being over or under-valued. Just take a look at healing in Classic. Holy Light, Guardian of Kings, Priestess of Elune and Healing Touch remain significantly overcosted.

Meanwhile, aggressive abilities and attributes like attack and windfury were also repeatedly overcosted, while survivability (especially in the form of Deathrattles) has been continually undercosted. Look at the scores of unused underpowered Windfury minions, or high attack Taunts, that have gone almost entirely unused outside of arena.

Then compare it to the scores of powerful Deathrattle minions from early in Hearthstone’s development. Harvest Golem, Cairne and Savannah Highmane are the only Classic minions that summon friendly minions on death, and all have seen massive competitive play. Alongside Naxxramas and GvG’s cohort of ubiquitous Neutral Deathrattles, the necessity of an adjustment quickly became clear.

Killing everything twice

sticky

Hunter’s strength is in its sticky minions; but you wouldn’t want, say, Druid, to have access to the same power

The problem with such sticky minions is that it begins to undermine the value of removal. There’s little point in Flamestrike if every minion has low health but summons something on death. When AOE doesn’t clear, then slower decks suffer. Stickiness also leads to distortions in the meta; with so much more on the board at any given moment, buffs and adjacency bonuses get an additional kick in value. Cards like Bloodlust and Savage Roar become even scarier. The potential punishes for going face decreases, as minions end up being too hard to kill efficiently.

The overall effect is that it leads to a more aggressive, more snowbally game, with fewer interesting comebacks and less tactical decision-making. Which is fine for some decks (it’s part of the identity of hunter), but when applied to the entire meta it quickly becomes overly punishing.

Learning from the past

Luckily, Hearthstone’s developers appear to be learning from past misjudgments. The most recent slew of Deathrattle minions that summon minions have a far more conservative cost. The only minions to summon minions unconditionally in Un’goro are Eggnapper (relatively weak but saw some play in Druid), Devilsaur Egg (a more expensive Nerubian that has seen very moderate experimental play) and Sated Threshadon (an unequivocally Arena-only card that sees play only in the greediest of N’zoth decks).

While Aya Blackpaw was an egregious outlier, she’s the exception that proves the rule. Almost all Deathrattle minions that summon minions printed since Whispers of the old Gods are either Hunter-only, synergy-specific or relatively under-statted for their cost. Because of this, we’re now in a meta where AOE is more prevalent and removal is more useful. It has become easier to explore interesting synergies and control decks. But if the devs shy away from powerful, sticky Deathrattles, what will Frozen Throne bring to Hearthstone?

Deathrattles without stickiness

sticky

The most interesting Deathrattles often don’t summon minions

The answer, of course, is that Deathrattles need not summon friendly minions. Some of the most interesting and powerful Deathrattles have been on cards with new and unique effects. Take Deathlord, an anti-aggro staple that fit into a wide variety of unique decks. Or for a newer example, Un’goro’s Direhorn Hatchling, a boon to N’zoth and Taunt Warrior alike without a powerful board impact. Or even the now Hall of Fame dwelling Sylvanas, that actively countered sticky minions by stealing them or their output wholesale.

The only Frozen Throne Deathrattle released so far is the Shallow Gravedigger. This grants a Deathrattle minion, providing card advantage instead of board presence. Here’s hoping that other Frozen Throne minions follow a similar philosophy. We don’t want to end up with a Piloted Zombie Shredder instead.


Artwork courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com.

You can like The Game Haus on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles from other great TGH writers along with Alex!

Ben Brode’s favorite meme isn’t playable: What happened?

As stated on a recent Reddit AMA, Hearthstone Game Director Ben Brode’s favorite meme is the infamous “4 mana 7/7”, Flamewreathed Faceless. Poking fun at the card’s perceived overpowered-ness and the community’s salt that erupted as a result, the meme now has an ironic twist: Flamewreathed Faceless is far from oppressive.

In fact, it’s currently borderline unplayable, seeing zero competitive use in any Shaman decks. How did this card go from all-conquering outrage and humor generator to storied collection-filer? How did the 4 mana 7/7 go from OP meme card to an unplayable meme card?

Rise of a Giant

When Flamewreathed Faceless was released as part of the Whispers of the Old Gods expansion, it became emblematic of the power and frustrations expressed in the all-conquering Aggro Shaman. The card quickly slotted in, forming a staple part of the deck. Being able to plop down a huge body that required an immediate answer granted the deck some surprise wins. This was especially effective against Control or Midrange lists that lacked cheap, single-target removal.

The main advantage of the 4 mana 7/7 was how impactful just a single attack to face would be. 7 health is a huge chunk of starting HP, and against a deck as aggressive as old Aggro Shaman, it’s crippling. Even the presence of Flamewreathed Faceless in a deck can prove fatal, as saving removal for it can leave a Tunnel Trogg or Totem Golem unchecked, allowing burn to finish the opponent off.

Servant of Trogg-Saron

Tunnel Trogg was a huge part of Flamewreathed Faceless’s success – and hate

Flamewreathed Faceless’s fortunes were intimately tied to that of a far smaller minion: Tunnel Trogg. This minion determined the power of Flamewreathed Faceless in two main ways. Firstly, it was a key and powerful synergy tool for the card’s 2 overload. Flamewreathed Faceless’s downside was always the lack of immediate board impact. Even at 4 mana, a deck as proactive as Aggro Shaman could rarely take turns simply plopping down stats. Buffing Tunnel Trogg by 2 provided a much-needed immediate damage impact.

More generally, Tunnel Trogg was the card that lead Aggro Shaman to come into being, and its the card whose rotation returned it to obscurity. Without its niche as a punchy minion with which to top curves, Flamewreathed faded with it. But surely the sheer value and efficiency of the 4 mana 7/7 would give it other uses?

Stats don’t rule all

Other cards can provide premium stats for cheap, without clunky overload mechanics

Unfortunately for meme-aficionados everywhere, Flamewreathed Faceless simply couldn’t find a home in other Shaman decks. Revive-focused “Bogchamp” Shamans flirted with it for a while, but ultimately its lack of taunt and crippling overload relegated it in favor of beefier Taunt minions that could be more easily comboed across multiple turns. Midrange Shamans found the tempo loss when it was hard-removed too damaging against control, and the vanilla body did little against aggro.

In short, the card fell into the trap of many Hearthstone cards: Not doing enough, soon enough. The downside of the overload meant that playing Flamewreathed became a short-cut to Tempo oblivion against many enemies. Sure it could trade favorably, but only if not removed and after giving up 6 mana across two turns.

If the card had Taunt or some other immediate effect, it perhaps would have lived on. But as it was, it became an unwieldy anchor on any deck that wanted to run out. Not contributing to win conditions and slowing down the game plan, it was an easy cut to make.

The meme, eternal

While Flamewreathed Faceless has vanished from competitive Hearthstone, it’s memory and memery live on. The joke changed/grew subtle. The punchline was less about Blizzard releasing an overpowered minion and more about the hysterical overreaction of Hearthstone’s community to ill-judged overpowered cards that prove anything but in the long run.

The fact that Purify sees play in strong, meta Standard decks without any changes, and the infamous 4 mana 7/7 is unplayable is a estament to the community’s collective inability to judge cards in the long run; and on the subtle and evolving ways memes can grow from complaints to community satire.


Artwork courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com.

You can like The Game Haus on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles from other great TGH writers along with Alex!

Death Knight Heroes and the Justicar problem

The upcoming “Knights of the Frozen Throne” expansion for Hearthstone promises death, life-leeching powers and re-imagined versions of the nine classes we know and love. But by granting new, exciting hero powers, could Team 5 revive not only monstrous Death Knights but a longstanding issue with hero power upgrades? Will the Justicar problem sour the experience of Death Knight Heroes?

Welcome to the RNG Tournament, Champion

Death Knight Heroes and the Justicar problem

Getting twice the Armor per turn early is a massive advantage

The old days of Control Warrior mirrors had a dark secret. On the one hand, the matchup was full of tense and high-stakes gameplay; precision resource management, risky Sylvanases, fatigue maths and Gorehowl/Harrison brinkmanship. Golden Monkey timing alone is deserving of a strategy guide in itself.

But despite all this high-level skill testing gameplay, there was one aspect that decided game after game, and it came down to pure luck.

The player who drew Justicar Trueheart first had a massively improved chance to win. In a matchup where the Hero Power would be used roughly every turn for the entire game, drawing a card that made it twice as effective 10 cards sooner than the opponent translated into 20 additional armour. This naturally lead to significant frustration and circumvented interesting, skill-based gameplay.

 

Knight of the Living Dead

Death Knight Heroes and the Justicar problem

Deathstalker Rexxar may redefine Hunter (with the right support)

The titular “Knights” of “Knights of the Frozen Throne” are Warcraft’s Death Knights. Raised and bound with sentience and power intact, these powerful beings will appear in Hearthstone as alternate versions of Heroes. Similar to Jarraxxus, they will replace the art and emotes of your Hero, and grant a powerful new Hero Power. Unlike Jaraxxus, they grant Armour instead of resetting Health, and have an immediate board impact.

The only example released so far is the “Deathstalker Rexxar” Hunter Death Knight Hero. Six mana and granting five armour as well as a two damage board wipe, the true power comes in the form of swapping the Steady Shot Hero Power. Instead of the familiar two damage a turn, you get to stitch together a “Zombeast” from two discovered Beasts. This massive value engine offers to grant Hunters a form of infinite gas in lieu of SMOrcing ability.

In an interview with streamer and pro player Tang “Eloise” Haiyun, Lead Mission Designer Dave Kosak dropped hints as to other classes. Other Heroes are likely to be similarly value-oriented (though there was an indication that at least one would be more aggressive). With so much value on the line, could we see the return of the Justicar problem, where whoever draws their super-powerful new Hero first gets a massive advantage in a Control mirror?

A Forgotten Problem?

It’s easy to see how this problem may have flown under the radar. Other super-powerful late-game cards like Jaraxxus, Old Gods or Quests rarely decide games purely on being drawn early or late. However, these examples have some obvious balancing features that would not apply to Hero cards. Jaraxxus opens you up to vulnerability to burst. Old Gods can be removed or Dirty Rat’d out. Quests start in your starting hand regardless, so tend to be completed symmetrically.

Hero cards, on the other hand, cannot be interacted with. They do not make your Hero more vulnerable; in fact they grant additional armour. Hero Powers cannot be drawn out by Dirty Rat, interfered with, or removed (except in Wild, where they can be stolen by Sideshow Spelleater). Worst of all, they have no special card draw mechanics, meaning drawing it early is entirely down to draw RNG.

Because of this, the unique confluence of issues could allow this old, niche Justicar problem to return from the dead on a massive scale.

Tutoring to the Rescue

Death Knight Heroes and the Justicar problem

An Arcanologist style card for Death Knight Heroes instead of Secrets could improve consistency and prevent salt

The biggest problem with focusing such late-game power into single Legendary cards is that they are just that: single. Drawing one particular card from your deck is much more RNG dependent than drawing multiple. This is why Reno decks only really took off with the introduction of Kazakus; adding just one additional super-powerful build-around massively improved the decks’ consistency. It’s also the main reason drawing Justicar or not was so wide in variance and decisive.

There is a way around this: “tutoring”. Borrowed from Magic: The Gathering, tutoring is the ability to draw specific cards or card types from your deck. A card that drew Hero cards from your deck would massively reduce the variance in getting your Hero Power out roughly at the same time as your opponent. Similarly, an ability to copy Hero Powers in Standard would allow for tech card based counterplay.

While there would still be an element of RNG, the games where your Hero card is in the bottom three cards of your deck would suddenly become far less frustrating.

Control Mirrors Matter

This may seem like an unnecessary focus on a relatively rare event, but Control Mirrors shouldn’t be dismissed. While infrequent, they are the source of some of the most skillful and compelling gameplay in Hearthstone. They are literally the reason many people play the game at all. Over-emphasis on RNG can ruin this experience, and draw RNG is no exception.

If Team 5 want Death Knight Heroes to succeed, they should consider this carefully when designing the cards that define entire archetypes.

Artwork courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com. Deathstalker Rexxar image courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthpwn.com 

You can like The Game Haus on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles from other great TGH writers along with Alex!

Do Tavern Brawls need a ban list?

Tavern Brawls were one of the most fun, generous and inventive additions to Hearthstone. Not only does it provide a quick way to earn a weekly pack and complete quests, it’s also a welcome change from ladder. The varied rules creates a perfect environment for experimentation and testing of potentially hilarious interactions. Unfortunately, this party atmosphere can dampen quickly. Certain cards are enthusiastic spoilsports and can often come in and ruin the fun.

While Tavern Brawl is interesting partly due to its wild freedom, a few cards have repeatedly proved to have game-breaking synergies. Should Tavern Brawls ban certain cards?

Wild adventures

Tavern Brawls

Wild Tavern Brawls means you can bring back old obsolete concepts; but the problem cards will stick around too

Part of the fun of Tavern Brawl is the ridiculous and interesting interactions that it throws up. This means that in constructed brawls, there is full access to all cards from all sets. On the plus side, this can lead to old, irrelevant wild cards like Emperor Thaurrisan, Sylvanas and Baron Rivendare.

Slightly less encouraging is how problematic cards like Flamewaker or Patches the Pirate will be, supposedly around forever. This can severely limit the types of Tavern Brawl, as many of them can be easily abused. If we want to see more inventive Tavern Brawls that allow multiple copies of cards or generate cheap spells, decks that revolve around these cards may predictably dominate.

Is more freedom better?

The biggest argument against any kind of ban list for Tavern Brawls would be that it goes against the spirit of the format. Tavern Brawl is all about the fascinating and powerful interactions that can arise from unique rule-sets. Banning cards risks impinging on that joyful insanity in a restrictive and arbitrary way.

Not only that, but Tavern Brawl is all about testing synergies and effects that may be added to the game in the future. Excluding specific cards can let potentially game-breaking combinations go unnoticed, leading to problems further down the line.

De Facto restrictions

Tavern Brawls

It’s hard to innovate when you’re facing down up to seven 1/1s with charge immediately

However, it could also be argued that the opposite is true. By leaving all cards available, a few high-powered synergies suppress genuine creativity.

For instance, if every spell-giving effect’s instant and obvious synergy is Flamewaker, then it crowds out other interesting strategies and makes every spell-related brawl seem similar. If Flamewaker were banned for such brawls it could allow far greater variety in deckbuilding and more interesting and entertaining Tavern Brawl Matches.

Similarly, it’s hard to test interactions when every other game ends with one player dead on turn five. Restricting some cards with obvious and overpowered synergies could allow for less flashy edge cases to be examined in more depth.

We have the technology

Such bans would be relatively easy to achieve. Team 5 have already shown they can restrict cards on a unique, per-brawl basis. The recent “A Peek to the Past” brawl disallowed all non-basic, non-classic cards as well as all Epics and Legendaries. This means that a per-brawl specific banned cards list could be added relatively easily. This could only be reserved for the most egregious serial problem cards, like Flamewaker in Spell-based brawls, Patches in duplicate brawls, or even Lorewalker Cho in co-operative brawls.

While such bans would be a restriction on the craziness of certain brawls, it would make the Tavern Brawl experience far less repetitive, while remaining a great way to test wacky interactions (and grind gold, of course).

Artwork courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com.

You can like The Game Haus on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles from other great TGH writers along with Alex!

 

 

 

Wild shows why we need Standard

We’re coming up on 18 months since the announcement of Standard. It’s taken that long for the first “official” Blizzard-organised Wild tournament to take place. This Open, which finished yesterday with a close-fought final between two skilled players intimately familiar with the format, is well worth watching, so I won’t spoil the victor. But don’t just watch it for the exciting games; watch it because it’s a perfect example of why the controversial and difficult cleaving of Hearthstone’s Constructed format into two separate game-modes was ultimately necessary.

Standard was vital not just to keep players buying new packs; it was needed to keep Hearthstone as we know it intact.

Set Theory

Looking back, standard seems an inevitable consequence of the development of Hearthstone; but it wasn’t always that way. Diverging away from the idea of all cards being eternal and together in a single constructed mode took courage, vision and a fair amount of ruthlessness. This meant radically altering the pool of cards in a way more extreme than had ever been attempted before, with all the inherent balancing issues that could arise. Not only that, but dealing with the fallout of a financially and emotionally invested player-base would prove difficult to navigate.

The reasoning, expressed in the relentlessly upbeat PR-speak that lacks some of the frankness and honesty of the less meticulously scripted balance discussions, was succinctly expressed in the title of the announcement: “A New Way to Play”. The implication, of course, that Standard would be “New” as Wild would be “Old”. Standard, with its ever changing cluster of sets, held together by the glue of Basic and Classic was to be “fresh, exciting, and accessible”.

Expensive Antiques

Artist: Jesper Ejsing. Courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment

Blizzard doesn’t trust new players to navigate more than nine deckslots – they can’t demand they learn five expansions

When listing the advantages of splitting Standard and Wild, that “accessible” part is worth considering. For every veteran who lost their precious collection of Legendaries to a far less forgiving format, there would likely be a newer player who without Standard would be forced to buy a confusing array of Adventures and packs from multiple expansions simply to compete. If Adventure dependent, class defining powerhouses that dominate Wild like Haunted Creeper, Reno Jackson or Flamewaker were forever locked behind paywalls of thousands of gold or scores of dollars, it would be nigh impossible to build a collection without going through months of grind or shelling out an unreasonable amount of money.

This, of course, does not cover the added cost of having multiple legendaries that would likely be eternal in Wild due to their sheer efficiency in certain types of deck. Standard is necessary for new players to be able to play the game to a tolerable extent.

Synergy-Powered Aggro

Nine health on turn four isn’t normal: but on Wild it is

Aggro used to be relatively straightforward. Efficient early minions and burn were the two ingredients, and the rest wrote itself. Classic examples included old Face Hunter and Aggro Shaman, both of which simply jammed in whatever card was good, cheap or could point face. However, this old philosophy is being supplanted. As the Wild card pool expands, Aggro decks can tightly refine their lists around a bevy of dominating synergies. Pirate Warrior in Wild gains incredible synergistic power that supplements the potent Weapons and Pirates combination simply through the addition of Ship’s Cannon. Tempo Mage can curve lower and more aggressively with the added synergistic burn power of Flamewaker.

Ever traditional sedate Priest with “slow” cards like Zombie Chow and Deathlord can become a deadly aggressive deck with the right synergistic tools, in decks like Control’s recent tournament entry.

The Old Way to Play?

Ironically, Standard’s success is in how little it changes rather than how much. Games of Hearthstone in Standard are still fundamentally similar to games from one, two or even three years ago. There are midrange, aggro and control decks; there are no insane sources of healing or easy overwhelming early-game burst combos. Minions die when you kill them, and there are no huge spikes of power at any given mana cost. Synergies are potent, but not overwhelming.

Wild on the other hand is mutating into something far different. Fun and exciting, with huge room for innovation and skill; but also unforgiving, aggressive and revolving around increasingly interwoven webs of synergistic power. Reynad’s infamous prediction that even the maligned Dr. Boom could be too slow for Wild someday soon is already coming true.

Simply put, Standard’s great success has been rotating old cards in order to keep things the same. Wild will use the same cards forever, but will change Hearthstone beyond recognition. Luckily, both experiences are fun, exciting and well-supported. We should all watch the development of Wild with interest; even if we have to retreat to the sensible safety of Standard.

Artwork courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com.

You can like The Game Haus on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles from other great TGH writers along with Alex!

Will Quest Rogue Survive its Nerf?

In a recent statement, Blizzard announced that the Rogue Quest will be receiving a significant balance tweak. From its initial requirement of playing four minions with the same name, after an upcoming update it will need five.

What will this substantial nerf mean for Quest Rogue, and the meta as a whole? Will the deck survive?

Crystal Core is Core

One thing is instantly clear; Quest Rogue isn’t cutting The Caverns Below. Unlike Pirate Warrior with Small-Time Buccaneer, or Aggro Shaman with Spirit Claws, Quest Rogue can’t find similar replacements. The card is what the entire deck is built around.

The real question is, will this nerf mean that the deck will have to change drastically? Or simply disappear altogether?

Shadow Strike or Assassinate don’t quite work as replacements

What’s One More Bounce?

At first, the nerf might not seem too dramatic. Quest Rogue runs six ‘bounces’ or return to hand effects (eight counting vanish), and multiple cards that generate duplicates. Most draws can easily complete the quest on turns 5-7. Surely increasing the requirement by one won’t destroy the deck?

Unfortunately for Quest Rogue, the reality is trickier. Looking at the latest Vicious Syndicate Meta Report, the deck’s current overall winrate is roughly 50%, with a 7% representation on ladder. Here we see that the deck is competitive in high-level play, if not Tier One.

Things look bleaker if you analyse Winrate by turn of Quest completion. HSReplay.net shows a drastic fall in overall winrate the later the Quest is completed. This could show a catastrophic reduction in competitive viability, to the point of non-viability, at least with current lists. Each extra turn spent digging for that extra bounce or duplicate is another turn Aggro gets to kill you, or Control gets to draw into a clear.

A Slower Solution?

With a harsher requirement, future Quest Rogues might need more draw

Looking at the current strengths and weaknesses of the deck, it’s looking like there’s little opportunity for the deck to survive. But what if drastic changes were made? Could it adapt to the nerf?

A slower quest completion means fewer cards that are only strong with the quest should be run. Cards like Glacial Shard, Bilefin Tidehunter and Wisp could be cut in favour of a more reactive set of survival tools and draw to get to the more limited number of combo pieces. The deck would look more like Miracle Rogue, with a 5/5 charge focused win condition, but otherwise more conventional Rogue staples. Though likely less reliable than current Quest Rogue lists, it might be able to survive in typical Rogue fashion rather than relying on super-fast Quest Completion.

However, this looks unlikely, as standard Miracle rogue would likely fill this niche better. For now, it’s probably best to assume the deck will meet its demise competitively.

A Meta-Changing Nerf

Expect plenty more Jade Druid

According to Blizzard, the rationale behind changing the card was that it was pushing out “slower, controlling decks”. These were Quest Rogue’s strongest matchups.

Taunt or Control Warriors, Priest variants, and slower versions of Paladin and Shaman will likely rise up the tier list, as they will have lost their most powerful counters. Conversely, Aggro decks like Aggro Druid and Pirate Warrior will lose their edge somewhat as a dominating matchup is lost.

However, those celebrating the incoming Control meta might find their joy premature. One of Quest Rogue’s best matchups is the Anti-Control Jade Druid. With less Aggro around and more Control to prey on, it’s fair to assume this deck archetype is due to see a meteoric rise. Considering its increasing resilience to aggression with Tar Creepers, Primordial Drakes and Earthen Scales, along with its natural anti-Control powers, it’s likely to become Tier One.

As far as losers from the fallout of the nerf, one stands out above all others. Dirty Rat no longer makes sense as a tech choice without the ability to disrupt the Rogue Quest. The unfortunate and unhygienic rodent is likely to remain stuck in the collection; at least until Exodia Mage rejoins the ladder.

Artwork courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com. Title art by Konstantin Turovec.

You can like The Game Haus on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles from other great TGH writers along with Alex!

In praise of Medivh

It’s not easy to design high cost cards that are fun, powerful and interesting. For every Ysera or Y’shaarj, there’s a Gruul or Boogeymonster. Or, even worse, a boring yet overpowered card like Dr. Boom. One of the recent triumphs in high-cost neutral legendary designs came in the form of the final Karazhan Legendary: Medivh, The Guardian. This 8 cost neutral Legendary represents a wide variety of positive factors that make him a powerful, flexible, but not obnoxious bomb with which to swing games.

Synergies that make you think

Atiesh is powerful, but only within the right deck

Medivh and his Atiesh battlecry is a unique, powerful effect that works best with high-cost spells. This has a number of impacts.

Firstly, the requirement of synergies to be effective, especially of cards that are otherwise clunky and reactive limits hit use in a positive way. Unlike Dr. Boom, Ragnaros or Tirion, he cannot simply be jammed in any aggressive midrange as a finisher. Only Control-oriented decks would consider running the kind of cards that make Medivh viable. By reducing his ubiquity, the card becomes more niche and interesting.

Secondly, the synergies open up new deckbuilding options and innovations. Otherwise overlooked cards like Free From Amber or Pyroblast gain new leases of life as part of a high-powered package. Medivh introduces new variety by incentivising these deckbuilding decisions and makes lesser seen, flavourful spells more relevant. Class defining classics like Mind Control can even return due to their newfound ability to provide huge tempo swings.

Banking Tempo for Massive Value

Medivh is an interesting contradiction. Whilst initially a low-tempo option that does not impact the board (unless you are forced to swing with the 1 damage Atiesh), the effect of the weapon allows for massive swings later on. It helps with the traditionally underwhelming impact of big spells that provide value but not board control. Take for instance Twisting Nether. While a powerful effect, it takes up your entire turn in most cases, and still leaves the opponent an empty board to develop onto. Medivh, however, turns that into a full board swing, leaving you a beefy 8 drop uncontested. This is perfect for the kind of late-game board swings desired by Control.

The versatility of Atiesh is also a great test of skill. Players can hold onto cheap spells and use all 3 charges on high-cost spells in some cases, or spend those Frostbolts and Shadow Words tactically to provide added power and tempo on key turns. By providing multiple alternative paths, it opens up more choices and opportunity to take interesting lines.

Never Ubiquitous

Too many Atieshes in your metagame? There’s plenty of museums dying to take them off your hands with the help of a wily adventurer

Unlike Dr. Boom or Ragnaros, there is no danger of Medivh ever getting out of control. This is down to two factors. One is that his effect is inherently counterable. The majority of his value comes from Atiesh, making him vulnerable to Weapon removal like Acidic Swamp Ooze. Harrison Jones, in particular, is a brutal counter. This means that should Medivh ever become too popular, there’s a natural counter for slower decks seeking to curb his impact.

The other aspect is how Atiesh only synergises with certain classes and strategies. Paladin and Warrior may run slow decks, but can’t include the high-cost spells necessary to squeeze out enough value from him. Even if Medivh becomes increasingly powerful in Priest or Mage, he’s unlikely to spread much further simply due to the paucity of effective high-cost spells with suitable effects.

Too Random?

While Medivh has a number of positive features, there are some aspects of his abilities that make him potentially troublesome. Most obvious is the inherent RNG of Atiesh. The difference between getting Tirion or Anomalus can be game-losing. Though it makes for interesting gameplay variation, the wide spread in power level of especially high-cost minions is troublesome. It also necessitates the balancing of certain mana slots with sub-statted minions (see Tortollan Primalist).

However, all this can be overlooked. The flavourful, powerful and interesting design of Medivh is a great blueprint for other high-cost Neutral Legendaries to come.


Artwork courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com.

You can like The Game Haus on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles from other great TGH writers along with Alex!

The Snowball Problem

“Troggs Rule!” is not an especially fearsome battlecry, and yet it evokes dread and terrifying memories in the minds of many. The same can be said for the growl of a Mana Wrym, or Frothing Beserker expressing his weapon’s need for a drink. With Un’goro, we have a new sound to etch into our collective memories to be filed under “Trauma”: The hoarse shriek of that neon-pink “flappy bird”, Vicious Fledgling.

Demanding Answers

Two copies of early answers are rarely enough to reliably counter Snowball minions

What makes all these cards so problematic and easy to despise is twofold. First is their relatively high health for the point in the game they are likely to be played. 3 health on turn one or 4 health on turns 2-3 is incredibly hard to deal with, and almost impossible to do in a timely, efficient fashion.

But remove them fast you must, because the other trait these cards have is easy-to-activate, unlimited, permanent attack buffs. Vicious Fledgling also gains health, divine shields and “Cannot be Targeted” effects depending on adapt RNG. The effect of this huge scaling of threat level is to very quickly deal massive amounts of damage and force the opponent’s entire gameplan to absolutely revolve around first dealing with that 1-3 drop.

The combination of scaling attack and initial survivability is brutal. A hard to remove card that is also incredibly threatening has proven over and over to be the most effective Aggro minion, and these cards combine those aspects perfectly. Cards like these can quickly “Snowball” the game out of control.

Exacerbating RNG

Now, there’s nothing wrong with cards that end games if left unchecked. Beefy finishers like Ysera or Deathwing are great because they quickly turn the tides against resource-starved opponents, forcing games that otherwise would drag on indefinitely to draw to a close. However, by the time your N’zoth or Alexstrasza comes down to finish things off, your opponent has drawn through enough of their deck to have drawn an answer or two that they conceivably could have saved. Even a card like Bloodlust comes down late enough that the odds are an opponent with enough AOE in their deck would have a very good chance of drawing at least one copy to preemptively counter it.

But on the crucial turns 1-3, you will on average have seen only a tiny sliver of your deck. Even if you run numerous copies of early answers and hard-mulligan for them, there is a decent chance you don’t even have the ability to draw them. That’s normally fine, and midrange or control decks normally run a number of comeback mechanisms to make up for slow starts or answers too deep in your deck. However, the sheer power of these Snowball minions makes these factors simply too little too late in most cases.

This leads to games being vastly decided primarily on the draw/mulligan phase, with little to no interaction on behalf of players. Luck is a huge and important part of Hearthstone, but the level to which early draw RNG decides games due to Snowball minions is patently undesirable.

Class Warfare

Some classes simply can’t deal with early Snowball minions without board control

Early Snowball minions demand one of two things; consistent early-game answers combined with backup comeback mechanisms, or a similarly potent pro-active gameplan of one’s own. When classes cannot do either of those two things, no manner of mid-game beef will help them. One of the primary reasons behind Paladin and Hunters’s recent Mean Streets period of unpopularity was its inability to deal with Tunnel Trogg outside of Doomsayer. They were only saved from the current onslaught of Fledglings, Pirates and Mana Wyrms through their own pro-active gameplans. Now Warlock is facing many of the same problems as these classes had in the past, due in part to their inability to tempo out an early board advantage, answer early minions or heal.

 

As long as Snowball minions exist, they will place considerable extra pressure on those classes without Evergreen tools for dealing with or contesting them. This weakens class diversity and can force otherwise promising decks into obscurity.

Arena Woes

Arena was, for a long time, relatively free of early-game Snowball dominance. While pre-Standard arena had its fair share of cards that accrued value (especially via Inspire), these generally came later in the game. Meanwhile, other Snowball minions could not reliably draw on their synergies due to the nature of Arena. However, Vicious Fledgling is proving exceptionally destructive to this balance. Due to the paucity of early removal in the format, it frequently decides games all by itself.

While not overly impressive cards performance-wise, the way it runs away with games if left unanswered even for a single turn is intensely frustrating for a 3-drop. Add to that the inherent RNG of Adapt and the problems of an immediate Windfury grab and you’re left with a card that rewards circumstance far more than interactions.

The Snowball Solution

Does Mana Wyrm really need to be evergreen?

The solution to Snowball minions is simple; lower their survivability or move them to Wild. Potent early minions are necessary for the survival of certain classes, but there is no need to over-centralize them into one or two cards per class that outperform all others. Aggressive classes should have a number of potent options rather than a single overpowered steamroller. Like with Deathrattles, Blizzard should learn the lesson that permanent, easy-to-activate attack buffs on a survivable early body is simply too strong.

We need more early minions that express versatility, power and flair in the manner of Radiant Elemental, Razorpetal Lasher, Malcheezar’s Imp and Hydrologist. Team 5 are good enough at designing cards that we no longer need endless variations of Tunnel Trogg.

 

Title art by Arthur Bozonnet. Courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com

You can like The Game Haus on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles from other great TGH writers along with Alex!

What Ever Happened to Combo Warrior?


The Warrior Class is nothing if not flexible. From its early Control roots, to its current Aggro and Taunt incarnations, Warrior has excelled in every Hearthstone Archetype. We’ve seen Controlling Control Warriors, Midrange Dragon and Tempo Warriors, Aggro Pirate Warriors and Combo Patron and Worgen Warriors. However, while certain Warrior archetypes have grown and evolved, others have dropped off. Combo Warrior in particular used to dominate, but has now almost completely disappeared from the ladder. What happened?

Early Roots

Combo Warriors have been around as long as Hearthstone. Charge is a key exploitable keyword that combo decks have used to deliver huge One Turn Kills (OTKs). In Hearthstone’s Beta, Warrior benefited from the initial versions of Charge and Warsong Commander, which granted potentials for absurd OTKs or Two Turn Kills with Alexstrasza, Gorehowl and Molten Giants.

These interactions quickly forced a change to both of these cards, reducing the impact of Charge to one minion and giving the Warsong Commander Charge effect a three attack maximum threshold.

Glory Days

Warsong Commander was potent, pre nerf

The heyday of Combo Warriors was undoubtedly the rule of Patron. Grim Patron was an initially underrated Neutral minion from the Blackrock Mountain. Its incredible synergy with sources of one damage made it a natural fit for Warrior. It was natural counter to classes without AOE and low attack minions. In addition to its anti-aggro potential, it could launch massively buffed Frothing Berserkers at the opponent’s face in Control matchups. This, combined with an incredible draw engine giving unparalleled consistency, made it one of the strongest decks of all time in the hands of a sufficiently skilled player.

Unfortunately for fans of Combo Warrior, this was not to last. A sledgehammer of a nerf to Warsong Commander limited the deck’s potential, forcing it down an aggressive Midrange route incorporating cards like Dr. Boom and Grommash. Though the deck survived, it was never the same intricate web of combo synergies that allowed it to dominate with brutal, refined efficiency.

Revenge of the Worgen

While Patron Warrior was forced down a more Midrange route, Control players who thought they were safe from huge Warrior OTKs were in for a rude surprise as Raging Worgen Warrior briefly terrorized the ladder. In a rare case of genuine Hearthstone innovation, Worgen Warrior came out of nowhere in a previously-deemed stale period of the meta. Utilising the previously unnoticed Wild Pyromancer-Commanding Shout synergy, the deck cycled towards playing Charge on a Raging Worgen and copying it with a Faceless Manipulator for potentially 50+ face damage.

Despite its single-minded gameplan, the deck was remarkably consistent, only really being halted by pure face strategies or multiple Taunts. It was never especially oppressive, but Team 5 were understandably apprehensive about the negative feeling of losing to a nigh-unstoppable 50 damage burst combo. The card Charge was changed, leading to it not allowing face to be targeted.

On the Shoulders of Giants

Blood Warriors allowed Combo Warriors to survive (barely) by copying Arcane Giants

After this change, there was a lull in Combo Warrior’s activity before the introduction of Arcane Giant in the One Night in Karazhan. It finally gave Warriors another Combo win condition. Combined with Blood Warriors, a sufficiently spell heavy Warrior could create massive boards of zero mana 8/8s. Incorporating the Worgen Warrior’s Wild Pyromancer shell, this deck saw limited success, including an abortive attempt to bring it to Blizzcon by pro player Edwin “HotMeowth” Cook.

However, Arcane Giants and Blood Warriors are an inconsistent, meta dependent tool for Warriors to use. It requires an all-in strategy, massive player skill, and huge deckbuilding sacrifices. Meanwhile, the reward is simply underwhelming. While full boards of 8/8s are impressive, it’s nowhere near as consistent as an OTK gameplan. It’s easily thwarted by hard removal, board clears or just early pressure to force tempo plays.

As a result, the deck has fallen to the wayside completely, leaving lovers of Combo Warrior no competitive ladder option. New additions like Sudden Genesis, Sleep with the Fishes and Iron Hide have failed to address the inherent lack of a strong win condition.

A Lyra for Warriors?

It would take someone with more skill than me to balance a card like this, but it could be done (Via Hearthcards.net)

The problems Combo Warrior faces can only be addressed with new cards. Like Priest, Warrior deserves new “tricky” cards that reinforce its combo history and huge amount of inherent potential. While the skeleton of combo tools remain, it lacks a consistent goal to strive for. Of course, this does not mean that we should return to the days of 50+ damage OTK combos; but providing an interesting, interactive, board based, potent combo piece that fits in with the flavour and mechanics of Warrior would be a brilliant and well appreciated piece of game design. Some kind of Legendary or high-cost minion with interactions around taking damage that generated hand value to challenge Control Decks. Perhaps something half-way between Ysera, Lyra and Hogger, Doom of Elwyn.

Whatever it looks like, Combo Warriors deserve something like it to expand the realm of those “fun, tricky” plays beyond just Priest and Rogue, to a class that has been using them for just as long, if not longer.

 

Title image by Alex Horley Orlandelli. Via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com, courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment

You can like The Game Haus on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles from other great TGH writers along with Alex!

 

The Fall and Rise of AOE

The concept of mass damage or AOE is core to Hearthstone’s conceptual identity. The ability to deal damage to multiple minions simultaneously allows for immense counterplay possibilities. Currently, AOE is at the core of a huge number of decks, providing a key counter to new, powerful flood decks. But it wasn’t always this way; once, AOE was almost universally underwhelming, and restricted only to the most extreme examples in the most controlling decks.

Taking a look back to an early Tempostorm Meta Snapshot, the only AOE being used by the top 10 decks are a single Brawl, two Whirlwinds, and a Baron Geddon in a Control Warrior, one Lightning Storm in Mech Shaman, Blade Flurry in Oil Rogue (arguably more of a face damage tool) and Consecrates in Midrange Paladin. Now, AOE is nearly omnipresent in all kinds of midrange as well as control decks. Not only are there more decks with AOE, but those decks use it more. What changed?

A Sticky Situation

It’s tough to clear a board of Shredders and Nerubian Eggs

Between Naxxramas and GvG, a worrying trend emerged amongst the most powerful minions, especially neutral minions. Cards like Haunted Creeper, Sludge Belcher, and Piloted Shredder were all incredibly potent minions that were the result of fundamental and systematic undervaluing of a Deathrattle effect that summoned smaller minions. Meanwhile, class minions like Shielded Minibot and Imp Gang boss had effects that left behind minions even after they were initially damaged.

This lead to a fast ramping up of the levels of “Stickiness” of minions and boards. “Stickiness” is a loose term that roughly describes how difficult it is to completely remove a minion. AOE becomes significantly worse in the face of these “sticky” boards, as dealing with only part of the board and leaving large numbers of minions behind is often not worth the mana and card cost of playing the AOE, let alone including it in your deck.

Standardised Deathrattles

The Post-standard world still has its fair share of sticky deathrattle minions. However, a combination of the existence of N’zoth and a greater balance understanding of the value of Deathrattles has reduced their omnipresence. Hunter still has deathrattles above the power curve, but as part of the class identity that’s to be expected. Other decks, especially flood decks, rely more on continually refilling the board rather than being highly resilient to clears. This rewards AOE, rather than punishing it.

The dynamic that this creates is that AOE now is a valid and potent meta choice outside of the traditional class auto-includes. Mages can take additional Volcanic Potions, Shamans can mix and match Volcanos, Maelstrom Portals and Lightning Storms to suit their needs, and Warriors can utilise Sleep with the Fishes, Whirlwinds and Ravaging Ghouls alongside the traditional Brawl. In the end, more diversity, counterplay and skill-testing.

Bursting the Bubble

One problem with over-investing in AOE in the past has been the presence of burst and burn in the meta. While clearing, say, an old-school Aggro Shaman might buy you a turn or two, you’ll still die to Lava Bursts, Doomhammers, Leeroys and the like. Even board centric decks like Midrange Druid and Patron Warrior could simply bide their time and unleash huge damage combos with little counterplay available. With limited deckslots available, it was simply more efficient to invest in lifegain rather than additional clear opportunity. With strong Neutral heals like Antique Healbot readily available, this wasn’t limited by class either.

Board-Based Burn

Still a scary card – but no longer charges you down from 30

Consistent balance efforts and rotations have significantly reduced the threat of burst and burn. While Pirate Warrior and Mage still rely on burn, their ability to deal huge amounts is more limited. In this way, board clears become more relevant by increasing the ability to stabilise faster.

Meanwhile, against the new aggressive decks like Druid or Shaman, AOE is less mandatory if you’re not following an aggro strategy yourself. But if you’re able to repeatedly clear the board, it’s possible to stabilise even at extremely small life total. This is because their huge burst potential is entirely focused around interacting with the board. Bloodlust and Savage Roar are scary, but not if you can deny your opponent’s big boards and halt their development in advance.

Efficiency is Key

Finally, board clears have simply gotten better. Be it attaching solid minions to the effect or just making competitively costed spells, AOE is more competitively statted than ever. Primordial Drake sets the new bar for Neutral AOE, while class cards like Dragonfire Potion and Sleep with the Fishes are both flavourful and superbly powerful for their effect.

Team 5 has recognised the inherently risky, situational nature of AOE, and as a result has been costing cards far more aggressively, to great success. With balance decisions like these, we can hope to see a healthy balance of AOE in the meta for a long time to come.

 

Title art by Mike Sass, courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com

You can like The Game Haus on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles from other great TGH writers along with Alex!

 

Page 1 of 612345...Last »