Should Small-time Buccaneer get a big-time nerf?

 

The card in its current state

Small-Time Buccaneer has become arguably the most meta-warping card in the game. Warrior, Shaman and Rogue have risen on the back of its insane synergy with Patches and low-cost weapons. Meanwhile Paladin and Hunter’s lack of cheap weapons for the “pirate package” has lead to their near-extinction from the meta. This power has not gone unnoticed; in a recent IGN interview Mike Donais, principle game designer, indicated that the strength of the card was raising eyebrows at Team 5.

The card that I’m most worried about is Small-Time Buccaneer. That’d be the card I’m watching most closely.

– Mike Donais, speaking to IGN

So far, there seems to be growing community and developer desire for a rebalancing of Small-time Buccaneer to bring it in line with other one drops. But is such a change necessary? And what happens if the change makes the card unplayable, as happened with one drops like Leper Gnome?

 

Hunter is unviable without the ability to use or compete with Pirates like Small-time Buccaneer

Patching the Patches-summoner

 

The arguments for a nerf seem clear. They can be summed up as follows;

 

  • Power: The card is simply better than almost any other one drop if you have the necessary weapon synergy

 

  • Variance: While it does not explicitly contain any random effects, it massively increases the impact that your starting mulligan makes. The difference between Small-Time Buccaneer with a weapon and no Patches in hand and STB without and Patches in hand is equivalent to 5 stat points; and that’s assuming you draw it! It functions to make aggro matchups less strategic and more of a coin-flip

 

  • Aggression: Small-Time Buccaneer pushes aggro decks to become more potent than perhaps they’ve ever been. Where turn 4 or 5 lethals were previously outliers, now they can be routine against many decks. Board snowballing can happen straight from turn one and happen incredibly quickly. While the level of aggro in the meta can be a matter of taste, the lack of midrange viability outside of pirate-aggro and Reno/control is surely detrimental to those who prefer that playstyle.

 

  • Class balance: Paladin and Hunter have almost no ladder representation and few, if any, viable decks. A huge part of this is their inability to take part in or counter the swathes of Pirate decks due to their lack of early-game removal and potent, cheap weapons.

 

  • Diversity: There is no meta-viable aggressive deck that does not incorporate Small-Time Buccaneer and the Pirate package. Unless a change is implemented, it could be argued that this will crowd out other innovative aggro decks until it rotates out of Standard.

 

Are Pirates necessary to keep Jade Druid in check?

                                                                         A necess-arrrr-ry evil?

I’m not sure anyone would deny that Small-Time Buccaneer is one of the most powerful cards in the meta. However, it does have competition. Cards like Kazakus and Jade Idol, while miles slower, still have the ability to generate massive value and win games. it could be argued that Small Time Buccaneer’s power is required to prevent decks like Jade Druid and Reno Warlock, with their incredible value generation capabilities, from taking over the meta completely.

However, there are some flaws with this argument. Even greedy Renolocks can win if they draw Reno and some AOE in time. Jade Druids can hold off the aggression with a few well placed Swipes and Wraths and hide behind an Ancient of War or similar beefy taunt. While greedy control decks are indeed countered by hyper-aggressive face decks, they are arguably even harder countered by aggressive midrange. But it’s these aggressive midrange decks (in particular Midrange Hunter) that are being forced out hardest by Small-Time Buccaneer and the Pirates package. If Small-Time Buccaneer was brought down in power, then aggressive-leaning decks would likely just curve higher, play stickier minions and punish greed harder.

 

                                                                            A Smaller-time Buccaneer

 

So if we take a rebalancing as necessary, what would a weaker Small-Time Buccaneer look like? Balancing one drops is notoriously tricky. With Hearthstone’s granular nature, even a single point of stats can be the difference between ubiquity and ignominy (just ask Abusive Sergeant!) Here are a few examples of how Small-Time Buccaneer could be changed while keeping it as a decent choice for Pirate decks (if not an ever-present staple for non-pirate aggro decks)

Should only Valeera get this level of 1 drop power?

The Rogueification

 

As I and others predicted a while ago, Small-Time Buccaneer quickly became a Rogue staple. Instead of providing the aggro springboard, its reliance on an anti-tempo hero power on Turn 2 made it a board control option rather than an all-in face tool. One popular community suggestion for Small-Time Buccaneer is to restrict it to a Rogue-only class card. By making Small-Time Buccaneer a Rogue-only card, the card’s aggro potential would be massively limited. In return, perhaps Rogue class card and meme Shadow Rager could go neutral with the other Ragers.

However, this is not a perfect solution. As well as being an unprecedented way of altering a card post-release, it would also make miracle Rogue relatively strong in a time where it is already top tier, while weakening its main counters. It’s also pretty unlikely that Team 5 would alter a neutral card’s “Soul” so drastically.

 

 

 

                                          The Predictable

Hardly imaginative, but surely a likely candidate

 

One sure-fire way to reduce a card’s power is to make the good numbers smaller or the bad numbers bigger. This change simply reduces the benefit from synergy by one, making it less of a powerhouse by a significant amount. While a conditional 2/2 may seem bad compared to the 2/2 Mistress of Mixtures or Enchanted Raven, the benefit from being a Pirate cannot be discounted, considering the huge stat benefit that Patches brings.

This version would likely still see play in the exact same decks, and be just somewhat less potent. While this change may seem like an easy one, the fact that it may not shake up the meta enough to bring about significant change may be a reason to discount it. It’s worth expecting that given Team 5’s extreme infrequency in balance changes, that the changes should make a big difference.

 

 

 

 

Hits just has hard, but much less sticky

 

              The All-in

Perhaps a more divisive option would be to reduce the health of Small-Time Buccaneer to 1. No 3/1 minion for one has ever been printed (outside the cripplingly overloading Dust Devil). Reducing health would make the card far more vulnerable to pings, cheap AOE and 1 attack minions. The vulnerability would make more difference in some cases than others; Rogues, Druids and Mages would likely gain greatly from being able to hero-power it down, while Warrior and Shaman’s plethora of 1 damage options would also let them take it out with ease.

However, Hunter, Paladin, Warlock and Priest would likely still struggle, giving it a high likelihood of trading up regardless. Since Hunter and Paladin are the worst classes in the current meta, this hardly seems optimal.

 

 

 

 

 

Would this make for more tactical decision making with weaponry?

                                                                      The Situational

One of the problems with Small-Time Buccaneer is its ease of activation. Any weapon at all counts, as long as it is equipped. Making it only work with weapons with 2 or more durability would mean more tactical choices and less all-purpose power in the dream scenario (turn one Small-Time Buccaneer into turn two weapon). Warriors and Shamans would have to choose between losing Small Time Buccaneer’s buff and a weapon charge off Fiery War Axe or Jade Claws or losing the STB altogether. As well as promoting more interesting decisions, it would make early game minions in general a more potent counter to the piratical threat, as well as reducing the variance of the card by making it less polarizing between its best and worst-case scenarios.

Downsides include benefiting 3 durability weapons like Spirit claws and N’zoth’s first mate’s Rusty Hook, and the increased complexity of the card text. Like other changes, it has the potential to be not enough to dethrone the card’s dominance.

 

 

No, I’m not still upset over Warsong Commander, why do you ask?

 

The Soul of the Buccaneer
Team 5 has a history of not doing balancing by half-measures. Cards like Warsong Commander, Leper Gnome, Ancient of Lore and Molten Giant have gone from core staples to unplayable overnight. Completely reworking the mechanic to something that massively reduces the power level of the card to the point of effectively removing it from the game would not be exactly without precedent. Perhaps some would be happy to see such a change; and it would definitely have the desired effect of making the card less ubiquitous and powerful.

Though this is clearly an option, there are undoubtedly more elegant solutions out there that do not result in the effective removal of a card from the game.

 

 

 

 

 

No matter what Team 5 chooses, as long as some change does occur, the outcome is likely to be positive. Though it might not happen before the next standard rotation or perhaps even later, a bit more early-game diversity and balance is sure to be good for Hearthstone.

 

 

Thanks to hearthcards.net for the easy to use and powerful card editing tool; go check them out if you fancy making your own Small Time Buccaneers

Other images courtesy of hearthstone.gamepedia.com and Blizzard Entertainment

6 Neutral Reasons Rogues Shouldn’t Panic

With Mean Streets of Gadgetzan now released, some Rogue players are underwhelmed by their class cards. Not only did Rogues get a variety of seemingly weak, understated minions with limited synergies, they only got 2 cards that fall into the new Jade Lotus tri-class Golem mechanic compared to Druid and Shaman’s 3. And with most of the focus on the “control killing” potential of cards like Jade Idol, Rogue appears to be the weakest Jade option. To make matters worse, Rogues got a card traditionally reserved as a “joke”; the Rager variant. The Shadow Rager has already spawned memes mocking the quality of cards received this expansion.

But are things as bad for Rogue as they seem? While existing archetypes such as Malygos, Miracle, N’zoth, Burgle and Tempo Rogue might struggle to gain utility out of their new class cards (outside of perhaps Counterfeit Coin in Miracle), there are a number of Neutral cards coming with Mean Streets of Gadgetzan that could potentially give Rogues the tools it needs to survive and even thrive

 

Small-time BuccaneerPatches the Pirate

 

Small-time Buccaneer and Patches the Pirate

Did someone say Flame Imp? This little fella may seem underwhelming at first, but given Rogues propensity for Hero Powering turn 2, this guy is a pretty much guaranteed 3/2 for 1. Tempo rogue and miracle rogue alike will love this cheap, potent early board presence. He can even activate Combo later on! As well as being a potent Trogg or Mana Wyrm killer, he also has perfect synergy with the new Pirate Legendary, Patches. Patches may not seem much as a simple 1/1, but any pirate you play will draw and play him for free; thinning your deck while providing amazing early game board presence. He’ll go great with Small Time Buccaneer and existing Rogue staple Swashburglar.

 

Burgly BullyBurgly Bully

Not quite a Tomb Pillager, this guy nonetheless has huge potential. A 4/6 for 5 is decent stats, and even if his effect only activates once, he’s insane. Unlike previous spell-dependent minions like Lorewalker Cho and Troggzor, Burgly Bully is well statted, meaning that minions trading into him makes him comparable to Druid of the Claw as a 4/6 taunt for 5. Meanwhile, he can generate ridiculous value if you have the board and your foe is forced to either ignore him or give you multiple coins. Vs Druid, Control Warrior and Priest he is a nightmare to remove, and will likely fuel your turn 6 Gadzetzan into a super-powered cycling machine.

The Bully is arguably a little slow, but a potent effect that is good against so many decks is definitely worth trying out in all forms of Rogue that run Gadzetzan Auctioneer.

 

 

 

Genzo the SharkGenzo the Shark

A deceptively powerful tool for decks like Tempo Rogue that look to go all-in, Gonzo is only slightly understatted as a 5/4 for 4; but if he ever sticks, you are likely to win on the spot. Drawing up to three cards means that if you have the board and are low on cards (which tempo Rogue is extremely likely to do by turn 4), Gonzo will force your opponent to respond. This can mean delaying an AOE, or not killing a potent Cold-Blood buffed minion, allowing you to swiftly finish them off in the next few turns. If he lives, you have just given yourself a huge amount of gas to re-flood the board or get reach for lethal.

 

 

Mistress of Mixtures

Mistress of Mixtures

 

Late-game oriented Rogue decks have always struggled for healing; this Neutral option gives N’zoth Rogue a potent tool to stay alive in both the early and the late game. A 2/2 for 1 is a solid one drop, and the healing Deathrattle means that you can liberally dagger threatening targets in the first few turns, knowing that you’ll be healed to full again by her Deathrattle. In the late-game, she adds to your N’zoth, meaning you’ll not only build an even more massive board, but also likely give yourself all-important lifegain the following turn for free. While the opponent will also benefit, a deck that seeks to stretch out its gameplan to the mid-late game like N’zoth Rogue will benefit far more than your opponent will (especially versus aggro).

 

Red Mana Wyrm

Red Mana Wyrm

Jokingly called two Mana Wyrms stapled together, this expensive but potent minion could be the finisher Miracle Rogue needs in the post-Gadgetzan meta. Each spell grants it +2 attack, and it’s easy to see how games could be won off concealing this, followed by a flurry of damage spells and attack buffs. A turn 6 mana Wyrm into conceal is a nightmare to remove (dodging almost all AOE effects like Dragonfire Potion), and combinations of Preparations, Coins, Cold Bloods and Eviscerates could quickly spiral into huge damage; all whilst leaving up a massive minion for your opponent to deal with. While slower than Questing Adventurer or Edwin Van Cleef, its incredible burst potential means it’s definitely worth experimenting with.

 

(All images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment)

Midrange Shaman is Breaking Hearthstone’s Meta (and how to fix it)

Tier Zero

You only have to log onto Hearthstone Ladder to feel the impact of Midrange Shaman. If you’re playing between ranks 10 and 1, the chance that you queue into the powerful brew of Spellpower and Totem synergies is roughly one in five*. This isn’t just a ladder phenomenon, where cheaper, faster, easier to play decks tend to be overrepresented. Midrange Shaman is the bane of Tournaments also. In the upcoming Blizzcon world championship, every single contestant is bringing almost the exact same list.

Courtesy of Gamespedia.

Courtesy of Gamespedia.

The deck is not simply powerful. It is unique in its surprising consistency, with few, if any, direct counters among commonly played decks. It is powerful and flexible, able to transform the tiniest of advantages into huge swings, and managing to create hugely threatening boards out of just a few cards. Whilst several decks have an even matchup, it is only Freeze Mage, an expensive and skill intensive deck with multiple hard counters and poor performance against the rest of the meta, that can get a decisive edge. This lack of counter-queuing has led to a nightmare scenario, where the best counter to the dominant deck, while remaining consistent over the rest of the ladder, is to queue up with the exact same deck!

Data aggregators estimate that Midrange Shaman is currently averaging an unprecedented 56% win-rate over the whole of the ladder (recently the estimate has been dropping, but only because more mirror matches pushes the result closer to 50%). With the amount of Shamans reaching critical mass it’s clear that something has to change.

No One Culprit

Unlike in other cases, there is no one card that makes Midrange Shaman so powerful. As the nerfs to Tuskarr Totemic and Rockbiter Weapon have proven, the problem cannot be isolated to specific cards without unforeseen side effects. Even if, as is often proposed, Blizzard took emergency action and made changes to any single specific card in the current lists, the Shaman package is so synergistic and powerful that any card that was rebalanced could simply be replaced. This is a deck that frequently only runs one Fire Elemental, one of the most potent Midrange cards ever printed! The only way to significantly impact the deck’s power level would be a comprehensive change to a number of core cards.

screenshot0000However, this is both unlikely and probably unhealthy. Such an action would not only conflict with Team 5’s usual rhythm of balance changes, but would also likely have heavy repercussions for the class’s viability in the medium to long term. Before Standard and the Whispers of the Old Gods expansion, Controlling or Midrange archetypes of Shaman were simply non-existent in competitive environments. Tunnel Trogg, Thunderbluff Valiant, and Totem Golem are all on their way out in the next Standard rotation. Whilst the deck or some variation of it might just survive a comprehensive program of rebalancing, it’s likely that it would fall apart later on. This would force Blizzard to either give the class the Priest treatment of letting it languish in obscurity for multiple expansions, or take the risk of giving them many more competitive cards. This would risk returning Shaman to its oppressive state.

Rather than focusing on any one card, we must understand how to solve the Shaman problem by looking at the meta and where it fits. We have to analyze the deck as a whole, the archetype it falls into, and why traditional counters to that archetype haven’t been up to the challenge.

What is Midrange Shaman?

At its core, Midrange Shaman is a highly reactive deck compared to other midrange archetypes, such as Dragon Warrior, Midrange Hunter or the old Secret Paladin. The deck runs multiple board clears, hard and spot removal, defensive taunts, defensive weapons, and weapon removal. It forgoes virtually any burst potential from hand for a totally board-centered approach. The only reactive tool it lacks is a source of life gain, hence the decks vulnerability to Freeze mage. Should that ever be a serious counter to the deck’s dominance, a single copy of Healing Wave would easily swing the matchup back in the Shaman’s favor.

So what does this mean? Essentially, it results in a deck that is supremely effective against aggressive, pro-active decks, by repeatedly and efficiently clearing boards and putting up defenses. You need only look at the decline of decks such as Zoolock, Tempo Rogue, and Aggro Shaman to see the massive influence that Midrange Shaman has had on constraining aggressive decks that too often have too few counters. It’s important to recognize that whilst oppressively powerful, there’s not too much to complain about with the impact and play style of Midrange Shaman. In many ways, it reflects an archetype that Blizzard seems keen to encourage and promote.

Traditionally, anti-aggro Midrange decks have been vulnerable to Control decks that can deal with the few threats they run, and either fatigue them out or overwhelm them with threats of their own. However, Midrange Shaman is different. It has favorable matchups versus virtually all control or late game-oriented decks, with impressive statistics against Control Priest, Anyfin Paladin, Control Paladin, and Renolock. Shaman is only slightly unfavorable against Control Warrior. Nonetheless this inspires a question: Why does Shaman have so many good control matchups? Why doesn’t the highly reactive nature of Shaman prevent it from ever out-valuing a Controlling list?

A Lack of Control

The problem is twofold. Firstly is that the Shaman’s hero power and minions are a nightmare to deal with efficiently. The class inherently gravitates towards wide boards, with multiple 2-3 health minions. The risk of a Bloodlust or Thunder Bluff Valiant, as well as the additional value and awkwardness gained from Taunt-protected Mana Tide Totems, Flametongue Totems and Spellpower Totems or minions is dangerous. This means that it is imperative to clear these boards rather than attempting to contest, or else you will be swept away by the insane Shaman card synergies.

By simply hero powering and playing a small threat every turn, Shamans can rapidly exhaust the resources of control decks that simply don’t have enough board clears; especially since any gained tempo the control deck can grab by a well-timed clear can often be swiftly reversed by a heavily discounted Thing From Below, followed by other minions on the following turn. This means that even against the most late-game oriented decks, Shamans can compete in fatigue, resulting in that strategy being difficult at best.

Control decks would traditionally beat reactive anti-aggro Midrange through playing powerful, high value minions. Cards like Cairne, Sylvanas, Ragnaros, Ysera, and massive combos like Anyfin Can Happen can swing a game. Now the new synergistic late-game Old Gods like N’zoth and C’thun are all available to provide a huge late-game punch to cripple purely anti-aggro lists. However, whilst these strategies sound good on paper, there is one three mana shaman spell in the way: Hex.

Hex shuts down virtually all of these strategies. Board or no board, regardless of Deathrattle, and in a way that prevents resurrection strategies like with C’thun, Anyfin and N’zoth, Hex provides an incredibly potent tempo swing against high value minions. Furthermore, the Shaman’s ability to efficiently trade boards into large threats with cards like Flametongue Totem means that Hex can be saved for the highest priority targets. (Note that I am not advocating an increase in the cost of Hex or similar rebalancing, Shaman suffers from a weak Classic/Basic Set as is).

hearthstone-thrall_cinematic

Looking Forward

What’s to be done? If we wish for Midrange Shaman to continue to act as a counterbalance to aggressive strategies, then something must be done to make the deck beatable by more controlling archetypes. The best way to do this would be to introduce more tools for Control/Late game decks to counter the low-value board flood. Ideally, something that can deal three damage AOE to efficiently deal with Flametongue, Spirit Wolves and Tunnel Trogg. We’ve already seen this to an extent with Karazhan, with cards such as Fool’s Bane proving effective against Shaman’s board. However, other classes (particularly Paladin) need more help. If more classes had access to more board clears, then running Shaman out of cards could be a viable strategy.

In addition, we need high-impact late-game cards that aren’t hard countered by transform effects. Perhaps unconditional shuffling of cards into the deck, or more Baron Geddon or Deathwing style minion-based board clears. With a new expansion on the way, maybe some of these answers will come. If not, it’s likely we’ll be dealing with the dominance of Thrall for a long time coming.

*the latest Vicious Syndicate Data reaper report estimates 23.5% (http://www.vicioussyndicate.com/vs-data-reaper-report-23/) whereas the slightly more conservative metastats.net reports 15.1% http://metastats.net/snapshot/week/

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Uninspiring: Hearthstone’s failed mechanics

The second your Shaman opponent lets out a deceptively jovial “My Greetings”, you know you’re doomed. It’s been a hard-fought game against your Midrange opponent, and you’ve just started to stabilise, but now you’re low on cards and out of answers. Barely pausing, Thrall drops his topdecked Thunder Bluff Valiant and activates his hero power, turning a board of harmless totems you simply couldn’t spare the resources to remove into potent threats. He clears the remnants of your board and deals substantial face damage with the next. Your next draw whiffs, and you simply have no way of recovering. With lethal guaranteed next turn, you concede.

It seems a very long time ago that Team 5 touted the Grand Tournament expansion’s new mechanics of Joust and Inspire as being the cure for a meta deemed overly aggressive. By promoting late-game oriented deckbuilding and smart off-curve decisions, the designers hoped that those two mechanics were to restore more strategic play to the game. However, things didn’t quite go to plan. The Grand Tournament’s promising Inspire and Joust mechanics saw scant play. What’s worse, Hearthstone released no new cards with these mechanics since the set’s release. With all cards due to rotate out soon, what happened? Why were these the first failed Hearthstone mechanics?

 

The Grand Tournament’s Grand Plan

 

In an interview with Gamespot prior to the set’s release, designer Mike Donais expressed his desire to introduce more control tools by means of these new mechanics;

“Sometimes players feel bad if they’re losing to cheap minions, in decks such as Hunter rush, or Warlock rush, and they are looking for solutions. They are looking for solutions from us.”

Those solutions would come in the form of not just new cards, but new mechanics.

Initially, it’s easy to see how the Hearthstone designers at Blizzard would feel like the introduced cards would help solve some of the criticisms aimed at Hearthstone’s competitive and ladder gameplay. The two most common complaints, which have still rung true for the entirety of Hearthstone’s recent history, can be described roughly as follows;

  • “Too much aggro!”; or an overly fast meta; Most decks at a competitive level include few, if any expensive minions or spells, leading to centralization around classes with the most powerful early-game tools. Players felt that games ended too fast, and interesting situations seemed rare
  • “Curvestone”; the relative power of pro-active cards and over reactive ones. The community complained that too many decks stuck to a highly pro-active gameplan with few comeback tools. Board clears and lifegain were rare, and minions were almost always the key to victory. Players felt like by only rewarding on curve plays and obvious trades, the ability to do significant strategic decision-making was taken away from the game

The attempts that the Grand Tournament made to rectify this were twofold; each addressing one of these salient points. Rather than focus its efforts on creating neutral minions using existing mechanics, like in Naxxramus and GvG with cards such as Deathlord, Zombie Chow, Antique Healbot and Sludge Belcher, Blizzard sought to add entirely new mechanics that would result in less curve oriented and aggressive gameplay.

 

Jousting Aggro

Blizzard Entertainment

 

The first of these was Joust. Whilst never an explicit keyword, its new mechanic was clear and innovative. When players summoned a Joust card, a minion from each deck, chosen at random, was revealed. If the minion from the Jouster’s deck cost more, then they would “win” the Joust, resulting in some benefit for the minion. So, for instance, the “Master Jouster”, otherwise an understatted 6 drop at 5/6, would gain Divine Shield and Taunt upon winning.

The idea behind it was simple, despite the complex (by Hearthstone standards) implementation; to incentivise decks with more expensive minions and punish more aggressively curving lists, the meta could self-correct to prevent overly aggressive lists from being dominant. Facing too many Zoolocks? Sub in a Gadgetzan Jouster or two to win back the board in the early game. Seeing lots of Face Hunter as a Paladin? Tuskarr Jouster can win you back a lot of health on the cheap.

 

Joust not good enough

 

However, things didn’t quite turn out as planned. In order to compete with aggressive lists, even late game oriented decks still ran plenty of cheap minions; and even if not, there were still a sizeable number of reasonably expensive minions in aggressive lists to make Jousting by no means an assured victory; especially since a “draw” in a Joust is as good as a loss. A Joust became a poor determination of the relative late-game orientation of decks. Instead, players saw it more as a weighted coin toss. As well as frustrating players with the relatively uncontrollable randomness, it also contributed to the effects being far less reliable than they needed to be.

More damning to Joust than the randomness was the inconsistency. Many Joust cards had a high variance between their optimal and sub-optimal outcomes often being flat-out terrible cards if the effect whiffed. For instance, Tuskarr Jouster would not heal at all if it lost the Joust. Gadgetzan Jouster could be an exceptional or horrendous one drop. The result was that the only Joust cards saw significant competitive play were the ones that saw play.

The core problem was that even versus the decks they were designed to get an edge against, Joust cards were simply far too unreliable. Aggro decks are so punishing to sub-par plays that consistency is exceptionally more valuable than inconsistent high value. Deckbuilders treated Joust effects like a card’s semi-random upside rather than a deckbuilding challenge; only the aggressive Midrange Hunter adopting a Joust card in King’s Elekk. Any future Joust cards will, at best, be likely inconsistent and frustrating. Perhaps as a result of this, Blizzard hasn’t included any Joust cards since The Grand Tournament. With no indication that it is a mechanic they wish to revisit, it is likely that Standard will soon have none of this mechanic.

So how could Joust be better implemented? If it was less random and inconsistent, Blizzard could tune it to give a more reliable outcome versus aggressive lists. One alternative implementation would be to reveal the highest or lowest cost minion in both decks; that way players could predict to a reasonable degree whether the joust would be successful.

However, it’s unlikely we will ever see Blizzard return to Joust. The new strategy seems to be to promote late-game oriented play with better reactive early-game spells and spell synergies, as well as early-game minions that work towards a late-game win condition in the form of N’zoth and C’thun.

 

Inspiring Hero Powers

Blizzard Entertainment

 

The overall theme of The Grand Tournament was Hero Powers. By printing cards that synergised with and promoted hero power usage, Blizzard hoped to promote off-curve play that relied more on strategy and decision-making. Simply dropping the biggest bundle of stats you could each turn would no longer be optimal. Inspire was a key component of this. Rewarding hero power use with an Inspire minion on board would make spending mana efficiently more of an interesting puzzle.

For example, Paladin’s Murloc Knight can be played as a 4 cost 3/4 minion. But if you activate it with a hero power, it could be played as a 6 mana 3/4 and a random Murloc (and a 1/1). Similarly, Kvaldir Raider could be a 5 mana 4/4 or a 7 mana 6/6. Blizzard and the community hoped that this would mean that decks could rely less on curving out; instead adjusting their playstyle to adapt to their opponent.

 

Uninspiring

 

Unfortunately, this line of reasoning held a crucial flaw. Because the Inspire effect activated every time the player used their hero power, Inspire cards that impacted the board had the potential to snowball massively. If your opponent couldn’t immediately remove the Inspire minion, it would begin to generate massive value. Essentially, Inspire meant that the losing player would begin losing even harder. According to developers, the value of Inspire minions had to be toned down during development; otherwise, they could have been oppressively strong.

The overall effect was that Inspire became less about playing off curve and more about capitalizing on earlier games. Ironically, in decks where Inspire minions were used, such as Paladin and Shaman, this lead to a heavier focus on playing on curve. By having cards that require going uncontested to get value, you cannot sacrifice early game tempo. Like with Joust, Hearthstone has had no Inspire cards since The Grand Tournament.

Inspire’s key failing was that it lead to Hearthstone becoming more focused on initial on curve plays. Perhaps the mechanic would have impacted Hearthstone more positively if Inspire cards were competitively statted in effect and body; this counterbalanced by the effect working only on the turn the minion was summoned. Inspire minions would be both a decent quality play on curve or combined with hero power. This would allow for the off-curve hero-power promoting play Team 5 wanted to promote, without leading to the oppressive snowballing of minions the opponent couldn’t remove.

 

Defending Team 5 and the Future

 

Introducing new mechanics to a game is always a risky venture. I think we can appreciate it though, even when it doesn’t go to plan. While we can bemoan the low impact and negative gameplay effects of these two mechanics, it’s important to remember that without the failed experimentation of Joust and Inspire, it is unlikely that we would have more successful and praised ones, such as Discover. I think we can all hope that Team 5 learn from the mistakes of Joust and Inspire. That understanding can help promote the design goals they aspired to in future expansion; even if the mechanics themselves never return (outside of Wild).

Though that said, I’ll still be happy when I never have to see Thunder Bluff Valiant again.

 

(Image credit to Hearthstone.gamepedia. All images courtesy of Blizzard entertainment)