Elemental Synergies: Curvestone or Counterplay?
There are three main themes to the upcoming Journey to Un’goro expansion. Quests, Adapting dinosaurs, and Elementals all involve never before seen mechanics that may introduce new and exciting gameplay.
Unlike the more intricate Quests and unreliable Adapts, Elementals and their dependents have relatively straightforward activators. It is different than Murloc synergies, which require Murlocs on the board, or Dragon synergies, which revolve around keeping Dragons in the hand. Elemental synergies will be dependent on whether or not you’ve played an Elemental on the previous turn.
Powerful but slow?
The immediate impact of Elemental decks’ synergy requirements is a lack of explosive early game. Unlike Dragon Decks, which can get off a powerful overstated minion like Alexstrasza’s Champion, Twilight Whelp, or Wrymrest Agent simply by having a card in hand, Elemental decks require an Elemental played first. Furthermore, no powerful one or two mana Elemental synergy cards have been revealed yet. This means no overpowered minions coming down on turn one or two.
This means that Elemental decks may find it hard to commit to the aggressive strategies often favoured by Dragon variants, especially Dragon Warrior. While the synergies are minion-dependent, it revolves around using them in a steady stream that slowly ramps up in power; not by rushing them out as fast as possible.
Sequencing and skill
Elementals also offer a chance for players to test their strategic and tactical talents. Because each Elemental effect is completely dependent on what happens on the previous turn, inter-turn sequencing and managing resources is paramount.
Due to the power of Elemental-dependent minions that are not necessarily Elementals themselves, it will often be necessary to plan out turns well in advance. The strong but situational swings of Ozruk or Kalimos will require a careful manipulation of the board state for maximum benefit. All while having to commit in advance by playing Elemental resources.
This also provides a massive opportunity for counterplay. Not playing an Elemental broadcasts a temporary inability to invoke the powerful synergistic effects. This allows both a hand read and a temporary freedom from being blown out by certain effects.
Players could even bait out tempting Elemental plays in advance, starving the opponent of resources with which to activate the synergies. All this provides more opportunity for interaction and counterplay by canny opponents.
Furthermore, the classes where Elementals are being pushed hardest are the ones with powerful spells. Shamans and Mages can make more decisions, and might focus harder on a few high quality Elemental minions. They could do this by weaving more spells into their gameplan. This would naturally synergize with the limited number of Elementals.
Same old Curvestone?
Of course, this might just be over-optimistic theorycrafting. The realities of the brutal tempo-based gameplay of Hearthstone means that holding back combos for optimal use may not be viable. While it’s nice to imagine that the most skilled players will hold onto their most powerful Elementals for the perfect synergies, getting bodies on board and hoping you topdeck an enabler in the meantime might end up being the superior strategy.
This is compounded by the likely midrange style encouraged by the Elemental’s theme of anti-aggro, beefy minions. Follow that up with minion centered tempo swings. Such decks want to play their minions out as big and as fast as possible. This rarely leaves much room for card-draw; and less card-draw means less decision-making, as on any given turn fewer options will be available.
As such, any impact on the gameplan outside of traditional midrange decks will have to be taken with a grain of salt. Hearthstone will likely be very similar to how it’s always been for the decks that best utilize Elemental synergies.
A meta impact
One potential upside to Elemental decks may come outside of their playstyle. Many of the Elemental and Elemental synergistic cards are powerful anti-aggro taunt minions. This could cause problems for current meta tyrant, Pirate Warrior. A Tar Creeper or Tol’vir Stoneshaper is a tricky obstacle for Pirate Warrior to overcome at any stage of the game (to say nothing of Kalimos’ insane healing ability). Meanwhile, the ability to use cards like Blazecaller to play threats while removing enemy midrange minions might mean the deck would have the mid-game beef to take on Jade Druid.
However, as always, the true impact of Elemental decks is yet to be seen. Without any play-testing, it’s impossible to tell whether Elemental decks will even see any play. Whatever happens, it’s likely Shaman has received tools to survive, even in a world without Tunnel Trogg and Totem Golem.
All images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment