Is RNG Card Generation Getting Out of Hand? – The Case for Counterplay

RNG card generation continues to be a staple of Hearthstone, with new cards like Primordial Glyph rising and old classics like Swashburglar and Kabal Courier returning. But is it too frustrating for its own good?

We’ve all been there. We’ve fought a tough, even game against a potent deck. Things were shaky for a few turns, but after a particularly well-thought-out play, we think we’ve turned the corner, and have victory in our sights. We’ve played around every card in their deck. Surely victory is assured? But in the moment of confidence, a randomly generated card erases our well-laid plans and eradicates our chance of victory. Perhaps the perfect example of how RNG card generation can swing games and grind gears is the infamous “Paveling Book” of 2016’s Blizzcon Hearthstone World Championship.

While accusations of RNG-reliance fundamentally underestimate “Pavel” Beltiukov’s impeccable game-sense and ability to consistently identify the right lines, it’s hard not to sympathise with William “Amnesiac” Barton as his perfectly-timed Malygos is annihilated by Pavel’s Babbling Book generating Polymorph, ruining his last best hope to win the game and take the championship.

Where “Fun” meets frustration

RNG card generation can decide games – and championships

The issue of RNG affecting outcomes is not new to Hearthstone. While some find it frustrating, most people accept a degree of randomness outside of pure draw order to be a natural and healthy part of any card game. It’s the spice that adds variety to otherwise cookie-cutter gameplay experiences. However, the frustration it generates can often outweigh the entertainment from those who end up being fortunate. RNG from high-variance cards like Ram Wrangler and Bane of Doom make for excellent highlight reels, but can often make players feel impotent in the face of massive, swingy, crushing outcomes.

In theory, RNG card generation is immune from these huge disparities in outcome, with one player being rewarded but the other punished on a purely mathematical basis. Supposedly, while card quality obviously varies, all is roughly balanced around mana cost. Hence, the requirement to cast or summon the card means that the outcomes is never “unfair” in terms of pure value per mana. Unlike  Bane of Doom granting a cut-price Fearsome Doomguard, Babbling Book, Swashburglar or Primordial Glyph forces you to pay the full mana cost for the card you gained, even if it was high-value (in Glyph’s case, admittedly split across two cards). So why are so many players frustrated at the RNG generation in both constructed and game-modes like Arena?

Erasing Counterplay

“How am I supposed to play against this?” – Kripparrian, “The Mage Un’goro Arena Experience”

Part of the frustrations is epitomised in the vexations of players like players like Octavian “Kripparrian” Morosan. As a highly technical and accomplished Arena player, his thoughts and explanations of his various lines of play form a major part of the entertainment value of his broadcasts. It is here we can glean some insight into the issues that many players have with RNG card generation. When Kripp loses due to RNG card generation, the salt in the wound of defeat is that his knowledge and expertise was actively punished by his opponent. He often laments that his skill becomes irrelevant, due to having to play around cards that cannot be predicted and did not start in the opponent’s deck.

 

In a recent video he explains his frustration about how the concept of “playing around” cards becomes irrelevant when the pool of potential cards the opponent could have received is so wide that adjusting your strategy around this is practically impossible. The best player and the most mediocre are reduced by their ignorance into the same, blinkered, mathematical value game-plan, without regard to the possibility of being a blow out because there will always be a potential punish.

A Matter of Pool Size

Hydrologist – RNG card generation done right?

Different types of RNG can have different impacts on players perceptions of fun and frustration. Some RNG card generation can add variety to games while opening avenues for interaction, counterplay and skill-intensive play. There are two main ways this is achieved: similar card functionality and limited pool size. Both of these, especially when in conjunction with Discover, can vastly improve the gameplay experience for those on the receiving end of these effects.

The best examples of this are cards like Hydrologist and Stonehill Defender. Stonehill Defender, while it draws form a large pool of minions, has all of its Discover options as being fundamentally the same sort of card: Taunt minions. While the stats and cost may vary depending on the offerings and situation, it’s always going to be a vaguely defensive bundle of stats that is either mana efficient or has some kind of relatively minor gameplay quirk. This is not universally true however; while in Warrior the card is a pretty inoffensive Quest completion tool, Paladin’s outcomes can be far more swingy due to the ability to get high-powered or reactive tools like Tirion or Sunkeeper Tarim. Here, we see the dangers that an expanded pool with a wider spread of potential value and type of impact can lead to.

Speaking of Paladins, Hydrologist may be the best example yet of RNG card generation done right. The Paladin Secret pool is inherently limited, and both choosing the correct secret and playing around the opponent’s potential options are skill intensive affairs, with multiple opportunities for bluffs and technical out-manoeuvrings. Playing around a Getaway Kodo or Repentance can be intensely rewarding, as can goading the opponent into it. The card succeeds by adding variety without sacrificing skill, interactivity or counterplay.

Empowering Players

The future of RNG card generation has to address the issue of hopelessness and disempowerment players get when they are forced to simply ignore the opponent’s potential card due to the huge number of outcomes they simply cannot account for. If Team 5 print more cards, they should have a greater degree of communication to the opponent as to what the card is, beyond vast, nebulous categories like “Class Cards” or “Mage Spells”. Mechanisms like Ivory Knight and Chittering Tunneler (despite the latter’s competitive non-viability) are a good way forward, as they can give vital clues to the opposing player as to what’s in store. Other ideas, like communicating the rarity of the card chosen, or simply having cards discover or create from more limited or homogenous pools, could further ameliorate this feeling of helplessness in the face of overwhelming RNG.

RNG is and should be a core part of the Hearthstone experience. But that’s not an excuse for frustrating and tiresome gameplay that saps interactivity. RNG card generation can and should be designed to provide fun and variety whilst also encouraging interaction and counterplay.


Title image via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com, courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment. Art by AJ Nazarro.

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Un’goro is a Tough Act to Follow – What Should the Next Expansion Bring?

By many accounts, Un’goro has been arguably the most successful expansion as far as meta healthiness goes. Every class but Warlock has multiple competitive archetypes. In a recent Meta Snapshot Vicious Syndicate declared for the first time ever that at Legend ranks there are no Tier 1 decks (More than 52% winrate). There are a wide variety of Combo, Midrange, Aggro and Control decks, with many different flavours and variations on each. Card diversity is up too, with virtually no multi-class omnipresent auto-include. Long gone are the days where almost every deck had Patches, Aya or Kazakus. In short, aside from a lamentable blemish in the decline in Warlock.

But no success will last forever, and soon even this ultra-diverse meta will begin to grate and feel stale. More importantly for Team 5, Blizzard’s accountants are surely eagerly awaiting a new expansion for the next deluge of pack-purchasing frenzies. But how should Team 5 introduce new cards and concepts to improve upon the high quality of Un’goro? Here are my highly subjective suggestions.

Make Warlock Competitive With New Synergies

I’ve written before on the sad state of Warlock. Simply put, the class has bad cards; to the extent that its hero power isn’t enough to save it. On the board-centric aggressive end, the class needs fewer janky Discard mechanics and more solid minions that speak to the initially unimpressive, mathematical joy and tactical precision of Zoo. More Dire-Wolf Alpha and Defender of Argus style cards that rely heavily on board maintenance, prediction and positioning would be perfect.

Meanwhile, Controlling or Handlock-esque versions of Warlock suffer simply from lack of survivability. The class should, thematically, not get too many healing tools; Reno proved that giving it such options could make it dangerously powerful. Instead, other survivability-based synergies should be introduced to improve that class’s ability to withstand Aggro and Burn.

Give Shaman Reactive Early-Game Tools

Shaman is probably the second-weakest class currently. Though it retains relevancy (barely) with Bloodlust-centric flood builds, Elemental decks, and some Control experimentation off the back of Volcano. However, the class has become over-reliant on its AOE spells, and its non-Aggro decks are falling to low Tier 3. Without additional help, the class could fall to irrelevancy if other classes continue to have stronger early game.

Though the lesson of giving Shaman stellar early minions has surely been learned, a few more reactive early game tools wouldn’t go amiss. A weapon would probably be a strong option, though the incredible potential power of early game weapons makes this a tricky one to balance properly. A few more Lightning Bolt style spot removal options, maybe with some adjacency damage tacked on, might allow the efficiency needed to put together a decent non-AOE early game reactive package.

Paladin has a number of ways to make recruits – but few buff mechanics to make them worthwhile compared to Murlocs

Let Paladins Buff Their Dudes

Paladin appears to be in a good spot, with multiple archetypes, high competitive viability and a focus on a “fair”, value-based Midrange package that perfectly fits the class. The one thing missing is flavour; the current lists seem to be a mismatch of holy warriors, rampaging murlocs, ancient dragons, turtles and even a mechanical zookeeper. The iconic Silver Hand Recruits of Paladin are being sidelined.

Paladin should get more options to create, synergise and buff their “Dudes” (silver hand recruits) and build decks based less around murlocs and more around inspiring their ordinary men to acts of great valor through the power of the Light. Lightfused Stegadon and Sunkeeper Tarim were steps in the right direction, but more interesting single-target and mass buffs are needed to make the Dudes truly shine.

Push Warrior Towards Combo

Warrior has been in an amazing position in the meta for some time now, with numerous Control and Aggro archetypes. The all-conquering Pirate Warrior needs no introduction, and Taunt Warrior is proving a solid choice also. Such strong decks needing little support, especially as any decent Neutral two drop or strong taunt will likely be incorporated into either deck.

Instead of over-supporting these archetypes, Team 5 should focus on gently opening avenues for Warriors to experiment with interesting combo decks, exemplified by old Patron Warrior, Worgen Warrior and Arcane Giants Blood Warrior. Maybe a class-specific improved version of Wild Pyromancer, or more Patron-style end-game combo activators. With such potential in the classic set, it’s likely that there could be an interesting, balanced and potent combo deck to hunt aggro and provide a compelling gameplay experience. And hey, it might just reduce the number of Pirate Warriors on the ladder.

Find a Late-Game Druid Mechanic That Beats Jade

I wrote recently about the danger Jade poses to the Druid class. While Druid is in a good space now with two solid archetypes, it’s hard to envision a different future.

The easiest way forward would probably be to rotate out the Jade package early, but that seems unlikely. More realistically, a different late-game package with different strengths and more cerebral interactions than repeatedly summoning over-statted minions is introduced that is more competitive than attempts such as the unsuccessful Druid Quest.

Be Conservative with Mage

Mage got a number of objectively powerful cards in Un’goro. Arcanologist and Primordial Glyph (along with, to a lesser extent, Meteor), have propelled the class to new heights. Secret Mage may even be Tier 1. The class feels as if it is teetering on the edge of being oppressive. One powerful Secret could swing the Secret package and Mage as a whole into dangerously overpowered territory.

As such, it’s probably best to keep new Mage cards on the underwhelming side, especially if they’re Secrets.

Keep Hunter Cheap

The biggest Un’goro additions for Hunter were a strong, beast synergistic two drop in Crackling Razormaw, and additional one drops. This propelled Hunter into a decent position, though it lacks class diversity.

The current strategy of giving Hunter efficient beasts and synergies seems to be working. While giving them an incentive to curve higher might be a valid idea, the current trajectory of Hunter seems to be balanced, flavourful and lore-appropriate. The most important aspect would be to limit the number of powerful auto-include Epics and Rares, and ideally give Hunter no new necessary Legendaries so that it remains one of the few low-dust potent beginner decks.

Big, flashy legendaries are all well and good – but make them too integral and beginners will lack a good starter deck to aim for

Give Priest More Consistent Value

Priest is in a great state compared to its historical irrelevance, with multiple Silence, Combo and Control decks burning up the ladder with Holy Fire. However, it remains at risk of puttering out in many matchups.

Free from Amber was a step in the right direction for Priest, but the class still seems to lack a consistent late-game punch. Outside of snowballing with Divine Spirit or Lyra shenanigans, the class is forced to rely on inconsistent Elise packs, and vulnerable Medivh minions. Giving the class at least one potent, value-tastic late-game card seems like the best course of action. Bonus points if it’s not entirely RNG dependent.

Give Rogues More Card Engines

Rogue’s Quest archetype has taken off in a big way, both for tournaments and ladder. Refined versions of Quest Rogue have left Miracle by the wayside, leaving some who prefer the Miracle gameplay somewhat lacking.

Outside of aggro or Quests, Rogues need huge amounts of draw to make their efficient but low-value spells worth playing. An over-reliance on Gadgetzan has pigeonholed Rogue towards a certain type of list and playstyle. Giving Rogue some other draw engine that’s not balanced around other classes (that have, say, Innervate and Wild Growth), might allow them to retain relevancy without the Quest in a world of ever-stronger aggro.


Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via hearthstone.gamepedia.com

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Artist: Zoltan Boros

Jade Druid isn’t bad for Hearthstone – It’s bad for Druid

One month into Hearthstone’s Journey to Un’goro expansion and few people would have predicted the current meta. New decks have, despite some underestimations and overestimations, lead to a diverse and interesting spread of decks. However, one gloomy pre-Un’goro prophecy seems to be at least partially correct: Jade Druid is still a defining facet of the meta.

Despite unfavourable matchups against Quest Rogue, the ramp-focused anti-control deck benefited massively from new Un’goro cards like Earthen Scales and Primordial Drake, as well as a general weakening of the field due to the Year of the Mammoth Standard rotation. Even while losing Azure Drake and Living Roots in Standard, it’s become a tier 2, or arguably tier 1 deck. Especially strong are its impressive tournament performances due to the ability to hard-counter Taunt Warrior.

But is its continued existence holding back its class from new, exciting possibilities?

Unpopular, Not Oppressive

Jade Druid has strong counter-decks that aren’t traditional aggro

Jade Druid was especially controversial initially due to how it invalidated Fatigue decks with its infinite threats and deck size. However, this issue has become less polarizing. Since Control decks have far more reasonable options for ending games available, the infinite nature of Jade’s threats is no longer forcing completely impossible matchups. Instead, most decks have the ability to at least occasionally out-tempo and finish off Druid before they can access their infinite value engines.

What’s more, its chronic weakness to face decks is now represented as a weakness to board-centric early game and combos, as represented by its poor matchups against Token Druid, Silence Priest and Murloc Paladin. Rather than incentivising pure aggro strategies, it’s mainly rewarding decks that play minion instead of burn. The two most common complaints against Jade Druid, that it’s oppressive against Control and overly rewards aggro, simply no longer hold true.

Jade Forever

Jade Druid’s incredibly late-game strength requires very little sacrifice. The slight tempo downside of playing multiple Jade cards is not so much as an issue as the tempo downside of playing a late-game oriented Druid. Any other late-game Druid would have the exact same issues, only would have much less payoff in return for the lack of flexibility. Ramp, Combo or even Control archetypes are all out-tempo’d by Jade, while retaining worse late-game win-conditions.

Jade is holding back the Druid class simply by being better than anything else that fits its gameplan of ramping into winning, which is pretty much the only reason to play any late-game Druid deck. And for a game that wants to constantly keep things, the 12 mandatory Standard Druid cards and the nine mandatory Jade cards do not make for a particularly exciting experience. Recent experiments with five mana-minion based quest-oriented Ramp cards added in Un’goro seem to confirm this.

When Ramp Isn’t Fun

Deathwing is far more interesting and flavourful than a 12/12 Jade Golem

Put Jade druid aside for a minute and cast your mind back to the classic Ramp Druid, maybe Astral Communion variants or older pre-Naxxramas builds. What was fun about that deck? For many people, myself included, Ramp Druid was fun because it allowed you to play big, silly minions that otherwise never saw use. Deathwing, Ysera, Soggoth the Slitherer and Y’shaarj are fantastic, interesting, unique minions that feel awesome to play and even better to win with. However, it’s not anywhere near as competitive as playing Jade; and that’s a problem.

Jade benefits from Ramp, arguably doubly so as each minion essentially acts as a Ramp mechanic itself. Not only do you accelerate out mana, you accelerate out ever-larger minions. However, Jade Druid, while unmistakably a Ramp deck, suck out much of the fun from that playstyle; namely the payoff. Instead of a legendary recognizable dragon with an epic voice line, you get a generic green soldier who arrives with a dull whoosh and unenthusiastic grunt.

Design Space and Hitting Face

It’s hard to add Neutral anti-aggro when Druid can add it to the Jade package

Currently, there are two competitive Druid decks: Jade and Token. Perhaps more diversity could happen with different stripes of Aggro or even Midrange Druids, but as long as the Jade package exists in standard, there will be no late-game Druid decks better than Jade; at least not without significant power creep. Here then, Team 5 has painted themselves into a corner. Any new Druid archetype that doesn’t live and die on the first four turns will have to be incredibly potent to be stronger than the late-game potential of Jade. Either Druid is stuck with Jade and Aggro until the next Standard rotation, or Control decks will have an even harder time finding a reason to be played against the further massive spike in late-game Druid power.

That’s not the only design-space-limiting factor. Team 5 will have to be wary about any anti-aggro or early-game board control they print for Druid or in the Neutral category, as each could potentially make Jade Druid completely unstoppable. Druid may just have to be stuck with lackluster early game removal, and Neutral may have to stop seeing cool new anti-aggro techs like Tar Creeper or Primordial Drake.

An Unfixable Problem?

Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to solve this. Since Jade decks are so dependent on reaching a critical mass of Jade activators and nerf or rotation to Hall of Fame of any one card could quickly invalidate the whole card, leaving players who like the archetype without their favourite deck and Druid potentially without any slower options that are competitive. Meanwhile, leaving it in simply raises too many problems. Adding counters like a “Jade Crab” doesn’t solve the core issue, as if the counter is too powerful it will soon suppress Jade Druid and then stop seeing play, allowing Jade (and not other Druids) to return once it’s cut again. In addition, since other Jade archetypes are infrequent at best, the hyperspecific counter would struggle to merit an inclusion.

However, the cruel realities of Hearthstone may leave us with Jade Druid for the time being, and creative Druid deckbuilders may have to wait until the end of the Year of the Mammoth to flex their creative muscles.


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Artwork: Dany Orizio

Ruthless Deckbuilding – How to Cut Cards

We’ve all been there. You have exactly the cards you want in your latest deck; but suddenly someone comes along with a cool tech or genius inclusion that would work perfectly. The problem is, you only have 30 card slots. How do you make the painful decision of what card to cut?

The answer is rarely easy. Telling what cards are under-performing and what cards aren’t is a subtle challenge. Following these steps can help you figure out what can’t quite make it in.

Step One – Play the Deck (A lot)

Don’t try and improve a complicated deck like Miracle Rogue without understanding it first

Understanding how to tweak decks is largely dependent on understanding the deck itself. A fundamental knowledge of the structure and gameplan of the deck’s strategies is necessary to know how to optimize them. If you’re going to add cards, you need to know what cards will work with the strategy. It’s a common error to jump straight into a netdeck and try and make changes after a loss or two without experience with similar archetypes.

For instance, if you’re losing a lot as Taunt Warrior to Freeze Mage, a player who’s less experienced with the deck might assume that the best tech card would be the addition of an Eater of Secrets to punch through Ice Block; but someone who’s more experienced would recognize the superior power of an Armorsmith or two to generate burn-breaking armor. Similarly, a player who was unused to the gameplan of Midrange Hunter might consider adding a N’zoth for the sweet Savannah Highmane Synergy, unaware of the intense tempo focus of the deck.

Step Two – Differentiate Between “Core” and “Flex” Cards

Fiery War Axe should never be cut (unless you happen to be playing pre-nerf Patron Warrior)

Most decks have cards that are “core” to their strategies, cards that are instrumental to the implementation of their gameplan. Examples of this include N’zoth’s First Mate in Pirate Warrior, Kill Command in Midrange Hunter, Shadowstep in Crystal/Quest Rogue, and Ice Block in Freeze Mage. Cards like this aren’t simply strong, they define what makes the deck worth playing in the first place.

Flex cards can be harder to pin down. They are most easily defined as “Cards that are sometimes cut.” History can be your guide here; if you look back through previous incarnations of the archetype, see if the card was included. If at any point, without being replaced by a card with a similar function that no longer exists, it was voluntarily excluded from successful competitive lists, it would likely be considered a flex card. Examples of this can include meta-dependent tech cards like Acidic Swamp Ooze or Hungry Crab, but can easily include clunky, semi-synergistic choices. Think a second Gadgetzan in Jade Druid, Arcane Giants in Miracle Rogue, or Stampeding Kodo in Midrange Paladin. These are the cards that should be on your proverbial chopping block. (Note that the second copy of a card can be a flex spot while the first remains core; many Control Warriors would cut a single Brawl or Acolyte of Pain at certain points in the meta, but none would cut both copies).

Step Three – Watch your Matchups

Cards are rarely objectively superior to one another. Many cards could conceivably find a place in very many lists. The complications arise in when they are superior. A classic example is whether to play low cost or high cost cards. Low cost cards are usually superior in fast-paced board-centric matchups, as they can be played in vital early turns. Meanwhile, higher-cost cards allow you more late-game pressure and value to beat out heavier lists in long games. Through these sorts of trade-offs, you can precision-engineer the type of matchups you want to gain an edge in.

But what matchups should you focus, and how? Making the decision of what matchups to sacrifice and what to improve on can be tricky. As a rule of thumb, it’s generally best to try and improve your most common near-evenly favoured opponent. Since the games tend to be close, small edges can make a difference. When as a Taunt Warrior, it will take a lot to even occasionally win your matches against Jade Druid; however, a few key changes like a second Sleep with the Fishes can massively improve your winrate against a close matchup like Murloc Paladin.

Step Four – Notice the Boring

Just because Rockpool Hunter doesn’t feature in many Trolden videos, doesn’t make it worth cutting for an Equality

Sometimes our human perceptions and biases can hinder us. Take the instance of Kindly Grandmother and Deadly Shot in Midrange Hunter. Kindly Grandmother is rarely spectacular. It’s a slightly above-average two drop that enables certain beast synergies. Your opponent will not be defeated by Kindly Grandmother alone.

Meanwhile, Deadly Shot is almost always interesting and makes an impact. At three mana, it can snipe that vital minion or clear a taunt for lethal. Often you will pray to topdeck it, and it will obviously win you games. However, despite all this, Kindly Grandmother is almost always a better inclusion. Kindly Grandmother provides low key, reliable, non-situational tempo and a strong beast synergy activator. This is incredibly paramount in a deck reliant on curving out game after game. While Deadly Shot is far more flashy, the times when it sits in your hand or just hits a 1/1 can be hard to remember.

As such, it’s vital to try and think about your cards and review your games to determine when cards were “boring” but good, and “boring” and bad. Remembering only the flashy, unlikely, or impactful games will lead you to warped conclusions.

Step Five – Experiment

So you’ve got to know the deck, identified your flex slots, targeted a matchup or two you want to improve, and figured out that card that seems clunky or redundant to replace. Of course, you may be completely wrong! It’s important to test your lists thoroughly every time you make a change, and record your results. Don’t give up after just a few games and swap back either, as sample size is key. Keep playing until you’re sure how the change affects your winrates. With any luck, you’ve just made a good deck that little bit better; at least until the meta shifts again!

 

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Artist: Jesper Ejsing. Courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment

Back from the Junkheap! How Unused Cards Become Great

Un’goro brought a lot of changes. The whole landscape of the meta changed, with the new cards and standard rotation forging new archetypes and casting others aside. But it’s not just newly introduced cards replacing old ones. More and more older cards that went unused are making huge comebacks. But how do cards that have already seemingly proved their unworthiness make their way back into meta domination?

New Tribals – The Curator

The Menagerie may be for guests only, but Uther and Garrosh seem to have made the list

Sometimes all you need to see play is the right cast of supporting characters. Take the Karazhan Legendary, The Curator. Whilst The Curator saw some fringe applications, it went largely unused in the Mean Streets of Gadgetzan Meta. Simply put, there weren’t enough quality Murlocs and Beasts that justified the midrange-style deck it would naturally fit in. Journey to Un’goro brought in a bevy of new Murlocs, Beasts, and Dragons, many of which fit perfectly with the decks that want to draw two or three cards for seven mana.

Most successful has been Taunt Warrior, where it consistently draws a Primordial Drake and a Direhorn Hatchling or Matriarch. But the card has also seen play in Paladin, where it can often draw a Murloc such as Hydrologist, a beast like Gentle Megasaur or Stampeding Kodo, and a Primordial Drake for dragon. This is one of the reasons why it’s important not to immediately dismiss cards with strong potential synergies just due to gaps in the current card-pool.

Rotation of Superior Alternatives – Whirlwind

Revenge was stronger than Whirlwind, but Warrior will survive without it

Whirlwind is one of the defining cards of the Warrior class (and is the colloquial namesake of all one damage AOE effects in Hearthstone), yet for a while it saw almost zero play, going unused since Patron Warrior lost favour. The reason was simple; the initially panned Revenge proved to be far superior for most Control archetypes. With Revenge rotating out, Whirlwind has regained its rightful place as the Acolyte-cycler, aggro-stemming, execute-activating, spell of choice for controlling Warrior builds.

While this may be seen as unfortunate by some, Revenge was an interesting and powerful Control tool that enabled significant potential for high level play and counterplay. It could also be seen as a victory for the Standard rotation system. Warrior can be given interesting new angles on existing spells, but still return to the original class-defining vision once those rotate out.

Tutoring – Purify

Shadow Visions enables a huge number of Priest strategies and archetypes

Who would have envisioned a world where Purify sees play in a high-level competitive Standard deck? It seemed destined to remain unused. The card that provoked Reddit outrage and prompted an explanation video from Ben Brode himself is now a core component of the formidable Silence Priest. The secret to its viability lies in Shadow Visions, the incredible new Priest spell that allows you to discover copies of specific cards from your deck.

The truth is, Purify was never horrible in the best case scenario; many decks love the opportunity to silence a friendly minion and draw a card in the right circumstances. Its problem was how situational it was. Shadow Visions helps solve that by making sure you can almost always have access to a silence when you need it, making the deck an order of magnitude more competitive, and allowing Purify to find a home. Radiant Elemental reducing the cost of Priest spells doesn’t hurt either.

Enabling a Potent Curve – Murloc Tidecaller

The power of Rockpool Hunter with Murloc Tidecaller caught some people’s attention prior to release. Most notably, the combo took off with Paladin, where Vilefin Inquisitor and Grimscale Chum offered other potent 1-2 curves that could provide incredibly efficient stats. Murloc Tidecaller isn’t too impressive on its own, but its capacity to be a 3/3 on turn two makes it truly indispensable in even Midrange paladin lists. Sometimes Team 5 releases cards so strong that it brings out even sub-optimal cards purely to allow it to shine. With Murloc Paladin looking to be increasingly dominant, it’s worth being thankful that Hungry Crab still exists.

A Change to the Gameplan – Armorsmith

With Warriors playing more minions, especially Taunts, Armorsmith becomes very potent

Warrior was always going to have an existential crisis with the rotation of Justicar Trueheart. Without being able to gain four armor per turn to activate shield slams and outlast any deck without “Jade” in the title, Warrior needed a radical new late-game win-condition. Luckily, two such conditions arrived. One in the form of Fire Plume’s Heart, and a new Deathrattle minion for N’zoth in Direhorn Hatchling. However, both N’zoth and Taunt Warrior need armor, and ended up turning to a long-forgotten ally; Armorsmith.

Armorsmith went unused as Control Warriors became more removal-oriented. Without other minions on board, Armorsmith’s underwhelming stats simply weren’t worth it. That all changed with the rotation, however. Warriors now fight vigorously for board with a variety of minions, most of which have taunt. In these cases, Armorsmith can stack up huge amounts of free armor for a tiny initial investment. An end to the early-game dominance of three and four health Totem Golems and Tunnel Troggs in favour of pingable N’zoth First Mates and Southsea Deckhands also gives the Armorsmith far more utility as an early game board contesting minion.

New Archetypes – Stonetusk Boar

Quest Rogue took nearly everyone by surprise. Nonetheless, it’s here, and it’s potent, especially after its period of refinement. Its weakness to aggro and burn means that it has to close out games as fast as possible once the quest is completed; none exemplify this more than Stonetusk.

The humble hog seemed only to exist as a lesson to newbies in the value of a single point of damage (hint – it’s less than one mana). But once buffed to quintuple its original strength, it becomes a force to be reckoned with. It’s capable of dishing out incredible burst damage with a distinctive squeal and multiple bounce effects. It’s a reminder of the fundamental power of the Charge mechanic, and how any card that does anything the cheapest is likely to be abused in some way at some point.

 

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Here Be Legends – The Unrefined Decks Ripe for Exploration

The Joy of Decks

Deckbuilding is one of Hearthstone’s best, but most overlooked, features. While “netdecking” is seen by many as mandatory, that skips half the fun. Inventing, testing, and refining unexplored concepts can be incredibly rewarding. Whilst most efforts turn out to be sub-optimal, you never know if you’ll invent the next best deck. In the meantime, the satisfaction of improving upon your own creation to demolish utterly unsuspecting opponents is more than enough reward for the effort. With that in mind, it can be incredibly hard just to know where to start. To help, here’s some archetypes that show promise and could be made dominating by the right innovation.

Tempo Warrior

Could Malkorok find a home in an Un’goro Tempo Warrior?

All the hype around Warrior has been focused near-exclusively on the new Quest Taunt Warrior, and the meta-dominating Aggro Pirate version. However, there are many more Warrior archetypes that have huge promise. Most interesting of these is Tempo Warrior.

Tempo Warrior uses Warrior’s early game tools to gain control of the board, and using synergies to make high-tempo plays before finishing the opponent off with high-value cards. Less aggressive than Pirate Warrior, but more able to play the beatdown than Taunt or Control, Tempo Warrior benefits from few unfavoured matchups and lots of flex spots for techs. Perfecting the list may bring us a deck as powerful as the Dragon Warriors of old. Check out these guides by Zaulk and Optilex for further inspiration. There’s a lot of ideas to try, such as N’zoth Packages, various degrees of tech cards, card draw, and different end-game finishers.

Aggro Rogue

Who needs Gadgetzan Auctioneer when you can just kill them?

Rogue is a class that has seen a lot of attention this expansion. Both Miracle and Quest have seen immense popularity, though a weakness to aggression has seen them somewhat declining. Relatively little interest has been paid to a deck that was dominating during the last weeks of the Mean Streets Meta, Aggro Rogue (AKA Water Rogue, Tempo Rogue or Pirate Rogue).

Instead of the combo-focused gameplay of other Rogue decks, Aggro Rogue steps on the gas hard, and after controlling the early board with cheap spells and efficient minions, seeks to close out the game with Cold Bloods and Leeroy Jenkins. Often it will include Finja to provide additional mid-game power. To gain insight and understanding on where you might improve the formula, check out this excellent analysis by rhoast. Choices can include Sprint, Vilespine Slayers, the Finja Package, and removal like Vilespine Slayers.

Control Shaman

With flexible AOE and potent heals, is Shaman the next big Control class?

Control Shaman has been an unappreciated archetype for a long time. With strong heals, efficient board-clears, powerful removal, and dominating late-game tools, Control Shaman has been a potent, yet under-played, deck for a while now. While the loss of Tunnel Trogg and Totem Golem affects other Shaman archetypes, Control Shaman only suffers from the absence of Elemental Destruction and Healing Wave. Luckily, Volcano is an incredible tool that can more than make up for such absences. What’s more, its late game potential with cards like N’zoth remains nearly undiminished. Experimentation should likely revolve around the strong anti-aggro core, various degrees of Jade inclusion, Elementals, N’zoth packages, and Ancestral Spirit-focused builds.

Zoolock

Warlock isn’t in a great place right now. With declining playrates and winrates, the future of the class looks grim. However, if there is a hidden Warlock archetype that might make it in the competitive scene, it is undoubtedly Zoolock. With the upheaval of the early game left in the power vacuum from Tunnel Trogg and Totem Golem leaving, there may still be the perfect sweet spot of Zoo minions to keep the archetype alive and viable. Are Discard mechanics the way forward? Maybe Murlocs? Or perhaps sticky deathrattles and board flood decks are the way to go? Perhaps even Elementals could find a home. Whatever the perfect solution is, it’s likely we haven’t seen the last of Zoo.

Quest Paladin

… nah just kidding. With the current card set, there’s simply no way to make these decks work consistently. But if you like a challenge, go ahead!

 

 

 

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The Evergreen Problem – Is it Time to Rethink Classic?

A Perennial Problem

The introduction of Standard to Hearthstone was perhaps the most impactful change in Hearthstone. It involved the creation of a whole new game mode, several card re-balancings, the rotation of 157 cards, and the laying-out of an entire philosophy of how card expansions should be introduced. This massive undertaking naturally lead to significant balance issues, that took many expansions to fix. However, some of these issues could easily occur again, unless the way that the Classic and Basic “Evergreen” set works is fundamentally rethought.

Eternal Strength

One of the core issues with the notion of an Evergreen Classic set is that of imbalance between classes. To put it simply, some classes have the functioning “skeleton” of a deck, and some do not. Classes like Mage or Druid contain the basis of functioning, synergistic decks to fulfill a certain archetypal goal. For instance, Warrior’s Classic and Basic removal tools provide a powerful framework around which to build all manner of control decks. Mage can build burn-focused tempo spell decks, and has access to a versatile freeze package. Druid meanwhile has fundamentally strong ramp and cycle options, as well as flexible early-game removal in Wrath.

Warrior will have good Control tools as long as it has its Classic and Basic set; other classes are not so lucky

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it allows classes to retain identity, and means a million different iterations of “Fireball” don’t have to be printed to keep Mage viable; but the benefits are not evenly applied.

Class Struggle

Meanwhile, other classes are left without key core cards, and must be continually given them. Priest suffers from a lack of any kind of early-game consistency or large-scale board clears in its Classic and Basic set. As a fundamentally reactive class focused on a combo/control strategy, this is backbreaking. The immediate impact of this was a multi-expansion slump immediately after the Whispers of the Old Gods release where the class remained nigh-unplayable. Paladin suffered a similar fate; though it had more tools and coherent identity in Classic and Basic than Priest, its Midrange strengths were unexplored due to a dearth of any kind of early game removal or minion options, even to a greater extent than Priest.

The Danger of Continual Correction

Having to print a new Lightbomb every expansion comes with risks

Now, so far so obvious. Surely Team 5 can just add in replacements every standard cycle, like with Dragonfire Potion for Priest, and Lost in the Jungle for Paladin? It’s the strategy that has been pursued so far, but it comes with many caveats and risks.

The first, and most obvious, is that multiple cards are harder to balance than one. Under-doing or over-doing such key class elements as their defining, archetype supporting class cards that allow them to do something they otherwise couldn’t is fraught with risks. For instance, look at Excavated Evil and Shadow-Word: Horror; anaemic board clears that left Priest crippled. Alternatively, look at Shaman; efforts to buff its early game subjected the ladder to the horror of the overbearing Tunnel Trogg starts.

Not only that, but it leads the classes to have a more diffuse, temporary identity. It’s harder to form attachements to a class if their whole playstyle becomes invalidated every few expansions, seemingly at random.

Lessons Not Yet Learned

Do we need to be stuck with this as the only sizeable Neutral Healing in Classic?

One final issue with the current implementation of Evergreen sets is the crystallization and preservation of early mistakes from the balance team. Several mechanics were significantly over-costed by the design team in the earliest days of the game. Compare early healing cards like Voodoo Doctor, Healing Touch, and Holy Light with later additions like Forbidden Healing or Feral Rage, which offer far more value and flexibility. Other mechanics, like Windfury, Taunt, or the Attack were consistently over-costed; whereas potent Deathrattles, Draw, and Charge were extremely competitive.

Though in some cases it is justified (there is an argument to be made that Magma Rager is a deliberate “Noob Trap” to teach players the value of HP), it seems odd to have certain mechanics always have a strong classic support base but not others.

The Solution; a Revamped Classic Set

If Classic and Basic are truly going to be Evergreen, then simply nerfing or rotating out problematic cards is not enough. There needs to be a correction to the fundamental errors made in the first few steps of Hearthstone. There’s simply no reason to put up with the benchmark set by mathematically underpowered Classic cards to clog up our collections forever. Though cutting down on auto-includes in some areas is healthy, never buffing or adding to Classic is a recipe for continual unnecessary risk and erosion of identity.

A comprehensive balance review should take place, excising cards that serve no purpose or limit design space needlessly, while adding or reintroducing permanently key cards that are necessary for a class’s viability. What’s more, underpowered cards in the Basic set should be buffed or replaced so that the core class identities they supposedly represent can be properly exemplified. If we’re stuck with Classic and Basic forever, then Team 5 should first refine it into something worth keeping.

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Art by Jaemin Kim, courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment

The New 9th Class – The Future and Flavour of Warlock

Who knew that the class with the best hero power in the game would have the worst performance? After several weeks of the Journey to Un’Goro expansion, it’s becoming clear that one class is struggling more than any other. In the infamous words of Mike Donais, “When you list the nine classes in order, there will always be a class that is ninth.” In the post-Karazhan meta, that was Priest; now it is Warlock.

Since the rotation of Reno Jackson from Renolock, Controlling Warlock archetypes have suffered from a lack of survivability tools. The class lacks the lifegain and taunts of other control-oriented classes, and little to counter the life loss from tapping. Meanwhile, Zoo has struggled to gain early game tempo, and suffers from a proliferation of board clears and synergistic minion packages that can out-value or out-tempo them. Without any strong early or late-game archetypes, Warlock is sorely lacking many reasons to play it.

Tempo Troubles

Zoo has been a staple throughout the entirety of Hearthstone’s history. Playing efficient minions on curve early on, and continually refilling with Lifetap is a solid strategy. However, it’s one that has quickly become eclipsed. Synergistic minion packages have proved superior, and without early-game board control, Zoo struggles heavily. Warrior’s Pirates, Paladin’s Murlocs, Druid’s tokens, and Hunter’s Beasts can quickly out-tempo Warlock’s reliable, but less synergistic cards.

Disappointing Discards

Warlock’s new cards are heavily discard-focused; but the deck is too unreliable to be competitive

Across the past few expansions, most of Warlock’s synergies have been focused around the mechanic of Discarding cards. While this was initially competitive, the synergies have not held up over time. The Discard mechanic was promising, but ended up being too inconsistent and limiting to be truly defining for the class. It shut off all control strategies by discarding card advantage and tools, as well as being heavily RNG dependent both in effects and in drawing the perfect balance of discards and synergies. By going all-in on Discard synergies for Warlock’s early game, Team 5 unfortunately ended up pigeon-holing the class in a manner similar to Paladin in Mean Streets of Gadgetzan; over-reliant on a fundamentally weak mechanic.

There are two potential solutions to this; either Team 5 can double down on the discard mechanic and continue to support it with ever-more-powerful cards; or, create a new mechanic that minion-based early game Warlock decks can be built around.

Struggling to Survive

Outside of the Zoo archetype, Controlling versions of Warlock such as Handlock have struggled to find a niche. Whilst the new Humongous Razorleaf offered some hope, a fundamental fragility without the mass-heal of Reno has left the archetype weak and brittle; especially in a meta still dominated by Pirate Warrior and with new, burn-oriented mage lists rapidly proliferating. To make matters worse, the class suffers from a lack of non-AOE removal, with Siphon Soul and Blastcrystal Potion being hardly the epitome of tempo.

Flavourful Irrelevance?

Part of the problem is class identity. Warlock has always benefited from Neutral minions, with Antique Healbot and Reno being the two most obvious examples. They also benefited from hand-size synergies in Mountain Giant and Twilight Drake, and taunt generators and targets like Ancient Watcher and Defender of Argus. Unluckily for Warlock, Team 5 is refocusing on class identity, with deliberate rotation out and non-introduction of ubiquitous, generalized, powerful Neutral cards. This means that Warlock lacks the ability to shore up its weaknesses for a controlling game. But how is this rectified without ruining Warlock’s class identity?

Imagining a Future

Humongous Razorleaf wasn’t enough to keep Handlock viable without Reno

The fundamental contradiction of Control Warlock is that Control decks tend to require healing to be competitive. That gels rather poorly with the lore of Warlocks being power-mad, ruthless, self-damaging fel manipulators. But this contradiction can be solved. The answer lies in cards like the now-nerfed Molten Giant; cards that synergize with low life totals that can be used to improve survivability without being just boring heals. Currently, the way to beat Warlocks is pretty straightforward; hit them in the face enough and they crumble. That strategy should still be viable, but it should come at the risk of a huge comeback swing that can lock you out of the game. Recapturing the spirit of Handlock, one that thrives on the razor’s edge between victory and defeat, would go a long way to making Warlock both competitive and fun.

 

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Taunt Warriors: Please, Please, Mulligan your Quest (Sometimes)

As the Un’goro meta settles down, only two Quests are seeing serious competitive play: Rogue and Warrior. Whilst Rogue is completely dependent on the Quest for victories even against the most aggressive decks, Taunt Warrior has a far more flexible range of win conditions. As such, some of your most important decision-making comes before the game even begins. Should you keep the Quest?

Playing it safe

For many players, the answer is simple. The Quest is one of the strongest cards in the deck, around which the entire game plan is built. It’s a turn one play in a deck that typically will do nothing on turn one. If you mulligan it, you may never get to activate it if you draw it without having seven taunts left to play. This was particularly prevalent immediately after the expansion. With so much variation in the meta, you always have to be prepared for a Control matchup. I even recall seasoned veteran and far superior player Brian Kibler defending keeping the Quest against Hunter. His reasoning was that you needed the hero power to deal with Savannah Highmane.

An epidemic of greed

When playing versus Aggro, you don’t need the Quest to win

This outlook is understandable, but fundamentally flawed. As most players who have spent time with the deck and reached legend agree, keeping the Quest in every matchup is a disastrous policy. The hero power typically comes online only after turns 10-14 (assuming a typical 12 Taunt decklist). By this point, many games should already be decided. Not only that, but against Aggressive or Combo decks, you may not even want to play Sulfuras, as doing so prevents you form utilizing your potentially life-saving Armor Up. Meanwhile, being down a card the entire game is a potentially huge disadvantage, especially when you’re only a Ravaging Ghoul, Execute, or Brawl away from victory or defeat.

Throwing away your win condition

However, that’s not to say that the Quest should always be tossed. Not having the Quest when you need it is far worse than an unnecessary keep. Taunt Warrior cuts all the traditional game ending cards of Control Warrior, like Grommash and N’zoth. Even Fatigue is rarely an option without the insane armor gain potential of Justicar Trueheart. As such, Sulfuras is absolutely necessary in certain matchups. But how do you balance these two competing demands? Both can lead to disaster.

Class by class

DIE, INSECT is often necessary to beat late-game value powerhouses like Tirion

The answer is heavily dependent on what class, and thus what suspected archetype, your opponent is running. A typical rule of thumb would be to always mulligan it against Aggro, Combo, or aggressive Midrange, and keep it against Control or slow Midrange decks. However, the best option will change depending on specific matchups and meta-dependent archetype distribution.

  • Warrior: Keep

Warrior is one of the painful matchups when deciding to mulligan the Quest or not. Versus the hyper-aggressive Pirate Warrior, the Quest is worse than useless. However, in the Taunt Warrior mirror, it’s borderline suicide to toss it. Unfortunately, this means that keeping it is currently the best option. Though your Pirate Warrior win rate will suffer, it is still definitely winnable; whereas Taunt Warrior will crush you without a Quest.

  • Shaman: Keep

Shaman no longer has the explosive starts it used to. Even Murloc Shaman is relatively sedate. Elemental Shaman can easily drag you to fatigue, so getting the Ragnaros hero power online ASAP is often the difference between victory and defeat. Thus, keeping it is almost always the best option.

  • Rogue: Toss

It’s very tempting to keep the Quest against Rogue. However, it should be resisted whenever possible. Both Miracle Rogue and Quest Rogue’s key turns occur well before Sulfuras comes online. Fishing for key removal, board clears, or Dirty Rat is almost always superior. Even getting a turn three Acolyte of Pain down is far more important than getting the Quest completed, as card resources are so vital.

  • Paladin: Keep

While aggressive versions of Paladin are beginning to gain traction, the most popular archetype by far is still Midrange. You certainly need eight random damage as soon as you can to counter Paladin’s unceasing value train in the late game, and to allow you to end the game. While this may lead you to being rushed down by Murlocs, overall your win rate will likely improve.

  • Hunter: Toss

Hunter is a matchup where tossing the Quest will absolutely be the correct play. Their continual application of early and mid-game pressure requires the maximum possible amount of resources to defeat. Once you’ve stabilized behind a Primordial Drake or two, you can easily end the game by exploiting their lack of card draw. No eight damage hero power required.

  • Druid: Toss (Mostly)

The most dominant archetype of Druid being Aggro, tossing the Quest is usually a safe bet. However, there are a few Jade and Ramp Druids prowling about, so if you have a strong starting hand, consider keeping the Quest. Due to Warrior’s plethora of removal and AOE options, Aggro/Token Druid favors the Warrior, even with the Quest. Watch this space and see how the meta develops.

Against Freeze Mage, Armor can be more important than value

  • Warlock: Toss

There are few Warlocks out there, and it is widely regarded as the weakest class. Those that remain are largely running Zoo variants, against which the Quest is unnecessary. Tossing it should be an easy decision

  • Mage: List Dependent

Mage is a tough one. Since Freeze Mage and its variants are the most popular, keeping the Quest or not is often dependent on your own deck. Against Freeze, you typically have two strategies; grind them out with sheer life gain, or rush them down with minions and the Quest. If you’re running the double Shield Block package, it’s usually superior to go for the former option and toss the Quest; if not, you should apply the second strategy and keep the Quest.

  • Priest: Keep

Though this may change depending on how combo oriented the Combo Priest gets, usually you want to keep the Quest against Priest. Their late game can be formidable, especially if they Shadow Visions multiple Un’goro Packs from Elise Trailblazer. You need to put pressure on them fast. Ragnaros hero power is as much of a counter to Priest as Jaraxxus used to be, and you should play accordingly.

 

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The Return of Paladin – How to Buff a Class

The Dark Ages of Paladin

Anyfin allowed Paladin to avoid total irrelevance; barely.

Very few classes have been as consistently poor for such an extended period as Paladin. While others have admittedly been worse, notably Priest during Karazhan and Hunter during MSoG, none have had the continual drizzle of under-performing mediocrity drench them quite as completely as Paladin. From the moment Shielded Minibot, Muster for Battle, and Avenge rotated out to the release of Un’goro, Paladin has found itself without the tools necessary to survive in a cut-throat meta.

In Whispers of the Old Gods, an initially promising showing with N’zoth synergies was thwarted by a lack of early game tools. Then Karazhan’s rise of Midrange Shaman and a slower meta still suppressed Paladin due to their lack of board-clears and a fundamental weakness to Hex. MSoG hand buff experiments failed utterly, leaving the class bereft of resources in a meta defined by the early game power of pirates and the late-game dominance of Jades.

Out of the Dumpster

Things have improved massively in Un’goro. No longer cast to the wayside, Paladin holds its own with a variety of archetypes. Most promising of all is an old-school classic mid-range variant that looks to be gaining traction; using the early game springboard of Murlocs to carry it towards a formidable late-game powered by some of the most value-tastic 8 drops in the game.

Old-style mid-range Paladin is widely regarded as one of the “fairest” decks in the game. With respectable performance in all stages of the game, a small number of potent board clears, and a number of strong healing effects, mid-range Paladin is a jack-of-all-trades that doesn’t rest on one completely broken synergy or card but accrues value and tempo over a mid-lengthed game. One can imagine that if Hearthstone were ever given a “Yu-Gi-Oh” style TV series, mid-range Paladin would be the deck of the protagonist.

It’s hard to point to exactly what made Paladin go from nigh-unplayable to a solid choice in just one expansion. Unlike Dragon Priest before it, it got no single overpowered build-around. What made it its current state in such a balanced fashion?

Murlocs to the rescue

Rockpool Hunter is a key part of paladin’s new early-game package

Lore-wise Paladins are noble guardians of justice, with impressive shoulder-pads and an inextinguishable self-righteousness. As such, it’s a bit odd to see them dependent on the help of a group of terrorizing humanoid amphibians. But in terms of Hearthstone, they synergize perfectly. Murlocs theme of buffing tokens and one another is similar to the core class mechanics of Paladin. Not only that, but the new Un’goro set contained a number of cards that provide an unprecedented, but not overwhelmingly snowbally, boost to the Paladin early game toolkit.

Rockpool Hunter, Hydrologist, and Gentle Megasaur allow Paladin to have a solid start to almost every game. The minions aren’t too sticky and start out as non-threatening, but with the right combination of buffs and synergies can generate massive value. However, they’ll rarely end games on their own in the manner of an unanswered Tunnel Trogg. This forces other classes to interact with the Paladin’s early boards, making for a more consistent lead into the mid-game powerhouses of Truesilver Champion and Consecrate.

Shields Up!

Sunkeeper Tarim is a flexible and powerful tool that is often discovered off Stonehill Defender.

It isn’t just Murlocian early game power that’s fueling mid-range Paladin’s rise. Powerful mid/late game taunts have provided the beef to provide value and staying power throughout the later stages of the game. While traditional Paladin staple Tirion Fordring is as omnipresent as ever, Un’goro offers many new taunt options.

Stonehill Defender is now a staple, with its decent body that grants card advantage and stalls. But more importantly, Stonehill has an exceptional chance of offering a Paladin Class Legendary in Wickerflame Burnbristle, Tirion, or the new Sunkeeper Tarim. All of these are exceptional cards, especially to have duplicates of.

Sunkeeper Tarim himself has proven to be a nigh indispensable and ludicrously versatile tool. Beneficial on almost any board state, he can buff your tokens and neutralise your opponents threats, all while all but guaranteeing favourable trades with his 3/7 body. Meanwhile, Spike-ridged Steed is the buff Paladins didn’t know they needed. With 4/12 of taunted stats split across 2 bodies, Spikeridged can end the game vs aggressive decks and provides a nigh-insurmountable wall of HP to break through.

Troggs Tunnel no longer

But perhaps the most important positive impact for Paladin is a lack of the ubiquitous Tunnel Trogg and Totem Golems of Shaman. Tunnel Trogg is arguably the most powerful 1 drop ever printed – its strength and synergy demanding answering ASAP.

Paladin, as one of the classes without any kind of clean answer for this card, had to rely on the Unreliable Doomsayers or adopt a strategy built around mass-heals and end-game combos. This was a fatally flawed strategy in a meta filled with Hexes and mass board flood that Paladin couldn’t handle due to its lack of spot removal outside of Equality.

The absence of these cards gives Paladin the breathing room to adopt a more pro-active strategy without being bowled over in the first few turns. More than anything, this emphasizes how a class can be buffed by what cards don’t exist, as much as by cards that do.


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