Rethinking Smash 4’s custom specials

The ability to customize a character’s special attacks in a Smash Bros. game is a novel idea, in theory. The idea of customizing any abilities of a character in any fighting/action game is naturally exciting. Custom specials could allow players to pick and choose which particular specials suited their play style. At least, this is what people had hoped would be the case in the months before Smash 4’s release.

custom specials

Custom specials ultimately look a bit similar to each other. Image: SmashWiki

The execution of custom specials in Smash 4 left a bitter taste in peoples’ mouths. There was a brief period after the game’s launch where people gave custom specials a chance and considered the viability of custom specials in competitive play. They are now largely disregarded by most of the Smash 4 community. Only default specials are legal in competitive play. In addition, the seven DLC characters added into the game weren’t even given additional specials beyond their default ones. The concept of custom specials in Smash 4 is very fascinating, and yet it now feels largely abandoned.

However, it doesn’t have to be this way. The concept of customizing a character’s moves has a ton of great potential. If given another attempt in a future Smash game, customizable move-sets could give more layers of depth to each character. So how exactly can Smash 4’s execution of customizable move-sets be improved upon?

Abandon Gimmicky Custom Specials

One of the larger problems with the existing custom specials in Smash 4 is the nature of the custom specials themselves. A lot of characters feature custom specials that aren’t actually new moves. Rather, their custom specials are modifications of their default specials. Taking Mario as an example, his neutral special, fireballs, has rather lackluster specials. One is a large, slow moving fireball. The other custom special for this move is a smaller, quicker fireball that travels horizontally. These custom specials don’t make Mario’s neutral special feel any different. Instead, these moves feel like gimmicks simply thrown on top of the existing default special.

custom specials

Donkey Kong’s “Storm Punch” custom special isn’t a new attack – it just adds a different property to an existing attack. Image: YouTube.

This sadly applies to most characters in the roster. One of the most notorious examples of custom moves in Smash 4 is Donkey Kong’s custom neutral specials. One of Donkey Kong’s custom neutral specials simply reduces the damage done by the punch and adds in a large, powerful windbox. The attack itself looks exactly the same. The only difference with this custom special is that it pushes other players away instead of dealing damage.

Custom specials that slightly change properties of default specials are underwhelming. Many custom specials are simply default specials with a gimmick thrown in to make it different. This execution of custom specials feels cheap, for lack of a better word. These moves don’t feel like different moves. For future entries that incorporate customizable move-sets, this approach to customizing moves needs to be abandoned.

So what are some more optimal ways to incorporate customizable move-sets?

The type of Custom Specials that work in Smash 4

There are some characters that provide examples of how good customizable specials can look. Palutena serves as the greatest example of this. Each of her custom specials are significantly different from her default specials. Not only that, but Palutena’s custom specials also significantly change how the character is played. These alternate moves give Palutena better approaching options than what her default specials provide. In fact, many people would argue that using Palutena with custom specials makes her a better character.

custom specials

Many would argue that Palutena is a better character with custom specials. Should she be the model of custom specials done right? Image: YouTube

This example proves that customizable move-sets can work in Smash 4 if approached the right way. Palutena’s custom moves don’t try to add different properties to her existing default specials. Rather, Palutena’s custom specials focus on making her play style feel different depending on which custom moves are selected.

If future Smash games allow players to pick and choose different versions of each special, I think every character’s alternate specials should be modeled after how characters like Palutena were approached in Smash 4.

Picking Specials in Sets

Another approach to custom specials in future Smash games could be to have custom specials only usable in sets. Instead of choosing from three different versions of all four specials, what if players could choose between three different sets of different special attacks? Taking Mario as an example, what if one set had Mario default specials as is in Smash 4, but another set would have, say, the Spin Jump from Super Mario Galaxy and an attack where he throws out Cappy from Super Mario Odyssey?

Imagine Ganondorf having custom specials or even a custom moveset designed around his sword, or his Ganon form. Image: SmashWiki

Perhaps this could even bleed into characters having entire move-sets to choose from. This could give veteran characters a degree of freshness that they may not see otherwise.

Another example would be Ganondorf. We could have the option of a having a heavily modified version of Captain Falcon as he is in Smash 4, but also have the option of him to use the sword that’s seen in his down taunt.

Especially if future Smash games include less new characters than Smash 4, this could maintain a level of freshness to the game without necessarily having to add entirely new characters.

 

Custom Specials and Custom Move-sets in Smash’s Future

Smash 4 took a step in the right direction for custom specials. It under-delivered on many, but there’s plenty of potential for what custom specials can bring to the table in future Smash games. Smash 4 legitimized the idea of custom moves in the series. All that’s needed is for future games to expand and improve upon the idea.

Do you agree or disagree with custom moves? Do you think custom specials and/or custom move-sets should be in future Smash games? As always, feel free to join the conversation and let us know!


 

Featured Image courtesy of fabry90 via YouTube.

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7.07b

Hot fix: Bringing balance back in 7.07b

When there is a patch as big as 7.07 was, imbalances in the game show up sooner or later. Sooner seems to be the answer in this case, as 7.07b arrived a mere week after 7.07 launched. Even in this short amount of time, the community lamented these imbalances and cried out to dear IceFrog for a remedy. It seems their voices reached the enigmatic DotA developer, as the most common complaints were addressed.

Anti-Mage

7.07b

(dota2.gamepedia.com)

Anti-Mage gets his own section in this article because he was an absolute terror in 7.07. His stat gain coupled with his new talents negated his old weakness of having to wait until the late game to come online. Developers reduced his strength gain to give him less health, and spell shield was also weakened to make him more vulnerable early. The biggest change though is that Blink Illusion moved up to a level 20 talent from level 15. Trying to chase a mid level Anti-Mage with this ability was incredibly difficult. Though the illusion took increased damage, the mana it drained would quickly make chasing impossible. This fix should return Anti-Mage to his former glory, without getting a free power spike in the mid game.

The new heroes

Pangolier fans rejoice! Your hero received some much needed buffs. Shield Crash grants increased damage reduction at all levels. Rolling Thunder turn rate is universally improved, so hopefully we’ll see fewer players getting stuck in corners. On top of that, it also does more damage than before. The most important of these buffs though is how Swashbuckle’s damage is now calculated. While previously it was treated as physical ability damage, Swashbuckle damage instances are now treated the same as normal right clicks. This means that on hit effects previously unavailable to him like lifesteal and crit are now completely viable. This is huge news for Pango players, and we’re bound to see his build diversity go up as a result.

I’m more of a Dark Willow person myself, and I’m not even upset about the nerfs she received in 7.07b. Bedlam was absurd on a 20 second cooldown and everyone knew it. By level three the ultimate is still about as strong as it previously was, so no harm was done to her late-game potential. Bramble Maze now also deals its damage over time instead of all in one instance. This brings the spell more in line with similar roots such as Crystal Maiden’s Frostbite, and gives players a chance to save themselves with healing items or spells. To be fair, it was pretty absurd for a low health hero to walk into a bramble patch and just explode to a 250 damage nuke.

Tiny is a big boy again…

7.07b

(dota2.gamepedia.com)

I played one game of Tiny after being intrigued by the massive changes made to the hero in vanilla 7.07. I never felt like I was able to contribute anything meaningful at any point in the game. Valve gave Tiny so much love in this patch that I’m cautiously optimistic about trying him again. Most of his buffs were to his Tree Grab ability, which previously had a long cooldown at lower levels. The cooldown was so long in fact that I never felt like I had it up when I needed it to push.

The ability’s cooldown has since been lowered from 40/32/24/16 seconds to just 15 seconds at all levels. Splash damage done by the tree now deals full attack damage. Tiny even gets an additional swing with the tree once he hits level four with the ability. These 7.07b changes help to turn Tiny into the split pushing tower crusher he was meant to be, and hopefully make him relevant in the meta again.

Meteor Hammer

Most of the other item changes are minor, but Meteor Hammer’s function changed in a pretty meaningful way. It now deals less damage over time, but has a small burst of damage on impact. Players questioned why it was not this way to start with. It made little sense that being hit with a meteor dealt no damage initially. While the weapon’s function now makes more sense, I’m still not sure it is exactly what the item needs to be relevant. The biggest drawback is the three second channel time, which makes it very easy to interrupt or dodge. Most of the time I would probably rather use those three seconds to cast any of my other abilities. Chances are they would probably be more productive.

More changes coming?

Undoubtedly. After all, patch 7.06 went all the way up to 7.06f before the developers finally decided to increment the patch number. It has still been less than two weeks since Valve introduced us to 7.07, so we’re bound to see more in the future. Watching the pros experiment with the patch has been exciting, but it’s clear that they are still learning too. I guess it’s time for us all to get back into it and play more 7.07b DotA 2.

Bummer…


Featured Image: Screenshot grabbed from Dota2.com

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A closer look at Smash 4’s rage mechanic

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is turning three years old in a few weeks, and a lot has happened in that time. Competitively viable stages have been debated and changed over the years. Multiple tier lists have been made by many players. The game has been played at many national and international tournaments. Updates to the game helped further balance the game, making certain characters become significantly more common in competitive play over time. New characters and stages have been released via DLC. All of these are just some of the changes and developments that have been happening to Smash 4 in its less than three years of existence.

However, there are a few aspects of the game that haven’t changed that are unique to Smash 4. One of the most controversial additions to Smash 4 when it first came out was the rage mechanic. This feature makes it so that players at higher percents can output greater knockback and damage to other players. This was done in order to balance the game so that players that had a percent disadvantage could stand a better chance at getting KOs in casual play.

Smash

Every character in Smash 4 has a bit of Lucario in them – Rage makes them stronger the more percent they have. Image: Amino Apps

However, many individuals in the competitive Smash Bros. community continue to voice many criticisms for this mechanic over the course of the game’s life. Many want rage to be an option that players could toggle off. Here, I will take a look at the arguments for and against the rage mechanic, and judge whether or not the criticisms of the game’s mechanic are worth it. Let’s see if the rage mechanic is truly a good gameplay element of Smash 4.

The Unfair Advantages of Rage

The most common critique of the rage mechanic is how it benefits certain characters more than others. Specifically, the characters that benefit the most from rage are the heavier characters in the roster. Characters such as Ganondorf, Donkey Kong, Bowser, King Dedede and Ike are more likely to accumulate more damage over time due to them receiving less knockback from most attacks due to their weight. Since rage caps at 150 percent, these characters often reach or get near the maximum amount of rage at least once in most matches they are in.

Smash

Heavier characters benefit the most from rage. Image: Prima Games.

And since many of the heavy characters in Smash 4 follow the “heavy, but hits hard” trope that we see in just about every fighting game, being at full rage turns a strong character into an incredibly strong character. What’s more, these heavy characters receive the benefits of rage for far longer than other characters do, due to their weight making them not have as much knockback.

This causes what many believe is an unfair advantage for the heavy characters in the roster. Lighter characters in the roster such as Jigglypuff, Kirby, Mr. Game & Watch and Mewtwo don’t benefit from rage nearly as much as heavier characters do. Due to their lighter weight, they receive greater knockback. This makes them often get KO’d at lower percents compared to heavier characters in the roster. Because of this, many people in the Smash Bros. community think that the rage mechanic subtly encourages the use of heavier characters over lighter characters. With the exception of Mewtwo, most light characters in the game are often lower on the third edition of the official Smash 4 tier list, which you can look at here.

In addition to encouraging the use of heavy characters, a common argument against the rage mechanic is that it encourages a certain playstyle from players. Many argue that the rage mechanic encourages players to allow themselves to get to higher percents for the sake of being able to output more knockback and damage towards other players. Many feel that this playstyle makes Smash 4 feel less skill-based than, say, Melee. By making those at higher percents deal greater knockback and damage, many players feel that they have to take damage in order to make certain setups and combos possible. This understandably makes many players frustrated with the mechanic being in the game.

So why is rage in the game at all?

I think it’s easy for many people in the esports and competitive Smash Bros. community to forget that Smash Bros. is, in many ways, a fluke. The only reason as to why Smash 4 became an esport instantly was because of the previous games (and the many mods of Brawl) being played as esports. Even then, Melee – arguably the reason any Smash Bros. became an esport in the first place – developed high-level play thanks to the exploit of the discovered glitch of “wavedashing”.

Many describe Melee as Nintendo’s “perfect accident”, which I feel is appropriate. I think many people forget that what makes Smash Bros. so great as a series is its appeal to multiple demographics. Sure, it’s played at a high, competitive level and played at high-stakes esports events, but it’s also played casually by many people. Masahiro Sakurai, the director of every Smash Bros. game, has made it clear that he doesn’t make these games with competitive play in mind. These games are developed to appeal to coach multiplayer, friends getting together and having 4-8 player battles, with some items turned on. Appealing to the competitive community was never a priority for these games.

In the context of casual, 4-8 player matches, I honestly understand and appreciate the implementation of the rage mechanic. Casually, it’s a magnificent way of having less skilled players, or players that are at a disadvantage, still have a chance to defend themselves, since many players naturally try to KO the player at the highest percent. In the context of a match with multiple players, rage honestly makes sense.

However, the majority of competitive Smash Bros. is 1v1 matches. This makes the rage mechanic feel unnecessary, for lack of a better term. In the context of a match that only has two players, having the player with the higher percentage gives them an advantage over the player with less percent. Simple as that. If the player that has a higher percent KOs the other player, first player still has the high percent. This allows them to continue using their rage on the player’s next stock. Turning the disadvantage of being a higher percent into an advantage in itself.

rage and the future of smash

Despite all of the critiques placed against rage that I’ve mentioned here, I don’t actually dislike rage all that much. Although I totally understand why many players hate the mechanic, I think it helps make certain matches exciting that wouldn’t be otherwise. I think, from the perspective of a viewer of a competitive event, rage makes matches a bit more entertaining to watch. It’s never exactly clear who is in the lead when rage is a factor. If Player 1 is on their last stock and at a high percent and Player 2 is at medium percent on their first stock, there’s still a definite possibility that Player 1 could win the match thanks to rage.

Another component of rage that I personally like is that it makes players have to strategize in the middle of matches. As stated above, rage causes certain combos and setups to only work at certain percents. This, I feel makes matches more dynamic for both players and viewers. It’s simply exciting to see certain combos that are only possible at specific percents. On the other side of that same coin, though, there are still instances of combos possible by rage that many consider to be cheap. Donkey Kong’s “ding-dong” combo is the prominent example of this.

Is rage infuriating for some players? Absolutely. But it’s also entertaining for viewers.

This begs some questions, though: Should rage be in future installments of the series? Is rage good for the core gameplay of the series? These are questions that are clearly difficult to answer. With so much split opinions on rage in the Smash Bros. community, there will definitely be a variety of answers to these questions.

Smash

Does the future of competitive Smash have Rage in it? Image: YouTube

My two possible solutions would be to either reduce the overall effect of rage, but still keeping it as a core mechanic, or making it a setting for players to toggle on or off. I think rage is too versatile of a game mechanic to omit entirely in future installments. Conceptually, it’s a good idea for a fighting game. I just feel that it needs additional tweaks and customization to make it something that both competitive players and viewers can enjoy.

 

Header Image Courtesy of Shoryuken.

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An in Depth Analysis of the Build-Up of FaZe and Allu’s Contribution to the Starladder Victory

There’s really no debate that FaZe deserved to win Starladder. After narrowly losing to Astralis at IEM Masters, Starladder became their sanctuary of strong play. They are a relatively new squad, and it was surprising to see them all playing so cohesively. So, here is an in depth look at how FaZe managed to transition from no roster last year, to having one of the best rosters this year.

The Build-Up

A lot of what went into FaZe’s performance was the product of months and months of player swaps and testing out rosters. FaZe seemed to have blundered their way through 2016, not managing to have any noteworthy victories. The two player swaps to this roster that were imperative to FaZe’s success are the addition of their shot caller and in-game leader (IGL), Finn “Karrigan” Anderson, and the addition of one of the best CS players in current play, Nikola “NiKo” Kovac.

Karrigan

Karrigan Courtesy of wiki.teamliquid.net

Karrigan came to FaZe in December after his previous team, Astralis, benched him. He departed shortly after and found that FaZe were looking for an IGL. This would be the first time in two years he wouldn’t be with the Astralis core of Danish players, and it was a real test for him. In IEM Masters right before Starladder, Karrigan faced off against his old team in the grand finals, and couldn’t quite beat them. It was still an impressive finish for how newly cemented the roster was though. Karrigan showed the strong command of his team and really helped to create a team mentality for FaZe.

NiKo finally left his death-trap team, Mousesports, for FaZe in February, and hasn’t looked back. He has always been noted by his peers as one of the best in the world, and last year he broke into the HLTV’s top 20 rankings of 2016, coming in at #11. NiKo only had three days to bootcamp for IEM Masters and was still able to help his team to the grand finals in his first tournament with them. NiKo instantly became one of the super stars for the team in terms of individual skill.

Both of these players will be pivotal in contributing to FaZe’s forward momentum.

Allu

Allu

Courtesy of wiki.teamliquid.net

Aleksi “allu” Jalli had an incredible tournament performance, and was a huge contribution to FaZe’s victory. Allu is a player that has a seen a lot of strife over his career. He has always been a world-class awper and player, but his team environments haven’t been the best. After his departure from Ninjas in Pyjamas (NiP), he played on the Finnish team, ENCE, as he was hoping to bring life to the Finnish Counter-Strike scene.

After he determined that it was not a worthwhile use of his talents, he made the change to FaZe, where he has been impressive. At Starladder, in particular, he looked extremely strong. His play on Inferno may have single-handedly secured the tournament for FaZe in the grand finals.

The Map Pressure

inferno

Map: Inferno, Courtesy of CSGO database

The pressure he applies on the map is very noticeable. At the beginning of a map, he will let you know which angle he is holding by killing anyone who peaks. Other teams will learn to play around the angles he likes, and they will show him respect by not recklessly peaking.

This is huge, and can generally go unnoticed. The pressure on the map that allu provides gives so much more freedom to his teammates. While he can cover large areas with the AWP, it gives his teammates much less responsibility around the map. On Inferno, for example, when allu covers mid, all it leaves for his teammates to cover is apartments and banana. This leaves two different two-man teams to cover two choke points.

That strategy is what allowed FaZe to run their CT-side on Inferno. With this setup, NiKo has the freedom he needs to set aggressive picks on B, and for Karrigan to delegate more players to more important situations on the map. FaZe’s map movement, as well as individual play, helped them win, creating momentum moving towards the upcoming Counter-Strike Summit.

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An in-depth analysis of Molten Blade

Another Warrior card from the Journey to Un’goro expansion has been released. Like its Discover-based counterpart, it looks like a “fun”, uncompetitive card. Molten Blade is a 1 mana 1/1 weapon, with the effect “each turn this is in your hand, transform it into a new weapon”. Similar to the legendary minion Shifter Zerus, Molten Blade trades consistency for flexibility. Not limited by class, it can become any weapon in the game. But is the massive variance in outcome worth the potential upside?

The card in all its RNG glory

Why Molten Blade?

King of the early game, Fiery War Axe is less good later on

Many people would look at Molten Blade and think, why would I ever play this? Warrior has access to some of the best weapons in the game, including Fiery War Axe and Gorehowl, the best early and late-game weapons respectively. Why would you run this over these more reliable options?

Well, one answer can come in the form of its constantly varying mana cost. Fiery War Axe is amazing in certain situations, namely, on turn two when the opponent has played a minion. Meanwhile, Gorehowl is perfect for winning late-game grindfests but is completely useless until then. The potential advantage in cards like Molten Blade could come from flexibility. It has a chance to be a powerful early-game weapon on turns 1-5. However, should no opportunity arise, waiting long enough will guarantee that it’ll turn into a late-game powerhouse.

However, the obvious downside is that you’re losing a lot of consistency. If RNG isn’t in your favour, you’ll find it hard to even play this weapon. So, how does the math stack up?

Playing the odds

In order to properly evaluate Molten Blade, we need to look at the chances that two crucial things occur.

The first is that it will be relevant as an early game weapon. The second is the chance to transform into crucial late-game value. In the meantime, the odds that it becomes a mid-game option are worth looking into as well.

The chance of the early game weapon appearing is crucial because it’s what makes the card potentially worth playing over a Gorehowl or Arcanite Reaper. The potential of becoming an early game option in the early game, even a sub-par card, would make this incredibly powerful. In the best case scenario, the Warrior could have additional Fiery War Axes and Truesilver Champions at perfect times, allowing an easy tempo snowball to victory.

Meanwhile, the odds of acquiring a late-game weapon is vital. If the card will simply sit in your hand turn after turn before becoming something truly valuable, there would be no point playing this over reliable early or mid-game options.

Early-game Outcomes

Stormforged Axe isn’t amazing on turn two; but it’s far better than Gorehowl is

Luckily, the pool of weapons is very small, making analysis easy. As of the Un’goro expansion’s release (barring any additional yet-to-be-announced weapon releases), there will be 21 collectible weapons in the game, including Molten Blade itself. Ten of them cost between 1 and 3 mana. This already seems promising; a 50% chance to get an early game weapon and a 50% chance of a high mana option gives a good likelihood of it being worthwhile after being kept in the opening mulligan.

However, things aren’t as rosy as they seem. Whilst weapons are more consistent value-wise than minions, there are still some highly synergy dependent or otherwise underwhelming cards, particularly for the early game. While the worst offender, Cursed Blade, is rotating out, there are still cards like Light’s Justice, Spirit Claws and Molten Blade itself that are highly unlikely to be worth playing. Overall, there are six early game weapons that are undeniably decent. This is Jade Claws, Fiery War Axe, Stormforged Axe (marginal), Rallying Blade, Eaglehown Bow and Perdition’s blade. If you keep Molten Blade in the mulligan, you have a 15% chance of a decent 2 mana weapon on turn 2, and a 30% chance of a decent 2 or 3 mana weapon on turn 3. Overall, this means that you have a roughly 40% chance of Molten Blade giving you a good-enough early game option.

Mid-game Metrics

Any Warrior deck would love to get access to Truesilver Champion

The mid-game clue to Molten Blade is harder to compute. Due to weapons’ situational usefulness, ability to store charges, and function as removal, it’s hard to compute exactly when certain types of weapon are most useful. As the mid-game is usually dictated by tempo, cheap but good options are usually worthwhile, as they can be woven in with other cheap spells and minions. Overall, the odds here look good. There are a number of high value mid and low-cost options. Getting a Hammer of Twilight or Fool’s bane on curve can help snowball tempo, or push face damage if need be.

The odds of a 4-5 mana weapon are pretty high, with 8 of the 21 weapons falling into this category. Of these, there are few bad value options, apart from the relatively slow Pirahna Launcher, awful Tentacles-for-arms, and deck-dependent Brass Knuckles. This means there’s a very good chance that Molten Blade gives you a potent or even game winning option in the mid-game.

Value Statistics

Pirate Warrior getting Doomhammer is the dream, but the odds are pretty low

In terms of late-game value, where the idea is to push face damage ASAP or to gain huge value, there are a couple of options. Doomhammer may count among these, as it has an “effective” mana cost of 7 with its huge overload. Gorehowl is obviously the king of late-game value, though Gladiator’s Longbow may be pretty decent outside of the early-game oriented Hunter. Either way, these three weapons provide a 15% chance each turn of getting a late-game value option.

This sounds OK at first, but may, in fact, be far too low. 15% means that on average, you’d have to keep this in hand for 6-7 turns before getting a truly powerful weapon. What’s worse, Molten Blade is a terrible topdeck card, as the transformation happens the turn after you draw it. Late game options for this card look slim indeed, especially once you consider that it requires perfect timing to set up a super expensive weapon like Gorehowl in a world of Acidic Swamp Oozes and Harrison Joneses.

Molten Madness

So then, this looks like a card that will fill its intended purpose: Trolden fodder and RNG moments. It’s unlikely that the competitive world will be rocked by this card. Nonetheless, it may be worth keeping an eye on. Pirate Warrior sometimes ran the inefficient King’s Defender purely as a third, costly Fiery War Axe. It’s not inconceivable they’d want more early game options for weaponry. What’s more, the small pool of weapons could mean only a few additions of efficient weaponry could make this card incredibly potent. You never know, you may just curse the day when Pirate Warrior is able to beat you with an 8 attack doomhammer.

All images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment

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“Not in a million years”; How Pavel Wins

Being a card game, it’s easy to blame singular victories or defeats on “bad RNG”. Even looking at the highest level, it’s tempting to point to this outcome or that topdeck as the cause of a win. Blizzcon champion Pavel Beltukov has been a victim of this outlook; with many assigning his Blizzcon success vs William “Amnesiac” Barton last year on the infamous “Paveling book”.

But rather than fall to the inevitable mediocrity of random noise, Pavel defies gravity. Despite what Amnesiac might have you believe, Pavel Beltukov is an exceptional player. Achieving an impressive 112-46 record in competitive play, he was recently crowned the “Europe Winter Champion” in the Hearthstone Championship Tour Winter playoffs. With his characteristic subdued personality matching his measured, conventional playstyle and decklists, he nonetheless dominated all opposition. With few flashy plays or devastating tech cards, it’s hard to point to exactly what makes Pavel so good.

Micro-Decisions, Macro Success

The answer might lie in a seemingly sub-par series of plays from the HCT winter championships. Pavel’s Renolock is facing off against Eugene “Neirea” Shumilin’s Pirate Warrior; (I recommend watching the whole VOD here). A slow start from Neirea; it’s turn three and the Renolock maintains tenous board control. Pavel, after playing a coined Imp Gang Boss last turn, plays his Dark Peddler as follow up. The situation looks as follows;

Image from Hearthstone Championship Tour Europe Winter Playoffs, courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment

Would you pick the same as the World Champion? (For reference, the weapon is a 4/1)

You may have seen the clip already. The Casters are disputing the relative merits of Power Overwhelming (PO) and Mortal Coil, and dismissing the Kvaldir as obviously wrong (one caster saying how it wouldn’t be picked “in a million years”). Then Pavel quietly picks and plays the 2/1. But why?

It’s easy to see why this would be considered incorrect. Both PO and Coil are solid cards, cards that are in Pavel’s deck to start with. They’re flexible, potent, and synergistic. PO goes perfectly with the 1/1s spawned by Pavel’s Imp Gang Boss, Shadowflame, and to combo with Leeroy Jenkins. Coil is added removal, against a deck that often demands removal, and cycle towards Reno. Kvaldir, on the other hand, is just a 2/1.

But what Pavel recognises that the casters do not, is the condition of the game. Neirea has given up board control immediately, going face with his weapon twice rather than attempting to clear and win back the board. This signals two things; that Pavel’s minions will stick, and that value is largely irrelevant. Efficient removal is no longer necessary for survival; merely surviving by clearing the board every turn and throwing up sufficient defenses.

When bad cards are better

This means that mortal coil is now inferior to Injured Kvaldir; the added card draw is less likely to be relevant than the fact it requires an additional mana crystal to play. Meanwhile, the PO is unlikely to be worthwhile. With everything going on face damage rather than board, playing big minions (well, big by Pirate Warrior standards) like Frothing Bezerker or Naga Corsair would likely mean Neirea would lose regardless.

What Kvaldir does that neither of the others do is provide damage for free. And against a Pirate Warrior that’s gone all-in on face from turn two, there’s almost no way the 2/1 can get punished. What the pick does is guarantee that Neirea has to double down on his strategy, and likely never get a hit on face with a non-charge minion.

Pavel’s strategy and skill is made even clearer, when he makes another play that seems horrible at first.

 

Bad Trade, Good Play

Suppose you have an Imp Gang Boss and a Dark Peddler. Your opponent has a 4/1 you want to kill. Which do you sacrifice? The answer seems obvious, almost a trick question; surely one should always trade in the 2/2. The 2/4 with greater future opportunities for spawning imps is surely superior?

Image from Hearthstone Championship Tour Europe Winter Playoffs, courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment

This trade is awful; it’s also game-winning

 

One of the intuitive, instinctive ways people learn Hearthstone is how to trade. You attack your low-value minions into their high value minions to gain tempo and value. Pavel has had such teachings drilled into him as any of us, which perhaps is why he hesitates before sacrificing the higher mana minion, losing potential value off its effect in the process.

What Pavel recognises is that having a 1/1 next turn is vital, and that the additional health and imp-spawning capabilities of the Gang Boss are largely irrelevant. He continues to exploit his opponents inability to remove minions, and as such is able to go with absurdly anti-value trades that all but guarantee success by shaving off percentages for potential outs and shortening his opponent’s clock. In short, Pavel displays a consistent ability to take the lines that intuitively “feel” bad, but result in the highest chance of victory.

Winning is boring

Now, you may point to these plays as obvious or outliers; but they are unintuitive, tiny decisions that cemented an otherwise shaky position. Such small beginnings are the stuff that considerable edges in percentage winrates are made of. I guarantee that if you look through any Pavel game, you’ll see similar things happening; small, seemingly sub-optimal plays that nonetheless are correct. And I doubt that anyone other than Pavel could properly explain them all.

It’s likely that Pavel’s reputation for “luck” will only continue. What sets him apart from the competition is his canniness at identifying the best play, while playing the best play. Unfortunately, this rarely results in impressive plays that people can instantly recognize as being good. By virtue of his very skill, Pavel is doomed to make plays that few will be able to tell exactly why it is superior; instead, most likely will point to topdecks, matchups and other “RNG” for his largely straightforward, by-the-books victories.

Too long there has been a debate over whether Pavel is “skilled” or just “lucky”. Perhaps, instead of trying to determine whether or not Pavel is good at Hearthstone by analyzing his plays, we should take his winrate as sufficient evidence of his ability, and use that to inform us of the virtue of his decisions.

 

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Protoss Insight – Byun vs Stats

 

By far the most heated discussion within the StarCraft community recently has been the state of Protoss versus Terran. With Protoss winrate in the matchup at times falling below 40% and the very recent announcement this week by Blizzard’s balancing team that they were looking into nerfs to Terran’s Liberator unit. It should come as no surprise, that Kim “Stats” Dae Yeob’s advancement in first place would prove to be a highlight moment of the day, having to best two Terran players back-to-back to do so, including the reigning World and GSL Champion and ESPN’s Esport Player of 2016, “Byun” Hyun Woo of Team Expert.

Stats is one of the very few Korean players to find a new team, Splyce, following the end of Proleague. Having shown consistent strength at the highest level in 2016, he is considered by many to be the current best Protoss player in the world. A showdown between Stats and 2016’s crown king of Terran could well have been a match you could have expected to see in the finals and it sure as hell played out like one.

The Opening Act

Game 1 was something you would expect from a high level game of Brood War, an intense back and forth where both players traded turns pushing into the other’s side of the map attempting to break their fortified choke points. Game 2 was a beautiful, if scrappy, non-stop skirmish between ground infantry. While both players repeatedly traded out their armies, Stats was pushed back harder, wave after wave as Byun continued to tech up behind his constant pushes and Stats failed to do the same.

Leeeeeeeroy!!!

This was but the opening show for what was to come. Game 3 was the climatic ending this game deserved. It left you guessing who would emerge the winner until the very last, absolutely beautiful, engagement.

There’s a lot to get into, so let’s dive in.

Showing Respect

One of the best signs that you’re in for one hell of a game is seeing two players of the highest caliber opening in the safest manner possible. Byun started this game by immediately scouting for proxies while Stats rushed out two observers almost immediately. A major note about Echo is that the base layouts leave you very open to drop strategies, Widow Mine harassment in particular is a very strong strategy on this map.

One of the best examples of how easily Protoss can play prey to Widow Mines on Echo came from Stats’ former teammate on KT Rolster, Joo “Zest” Sung Wook in the very first game of GSL this year against Hwang “KeeN” Kyu Seok. In that game Zest’s forward positioning of his observers left him constantly vulnerable to Widow Mine harassment and unable to respond for extended periods. Stats here was far better prepared with his observer placement and Byun’s early Widow Mine drop was dealt with for minimal damage.

Freedom isn’t Free at all

There was a point in this game where every Protoss player had their heads between their hands while suffering flashbacks and internal screaming. Byun rushed to Advanced Ballistics and Stats had no Stargate out. More confusingly, Byun actually parked a Liberator outside of Stats’ base and he didn’t seem to have a care in the world.

This is fine.

The reality of the situation was that if you knew what Stats knew, you probably wouldn’t be that bothered either. In what was one of the most brilliant but perhaps most overlooked moments of the day, Stats made an amazing attempt to outplay a massive liberator blockade. Making amazing use of the map, Stats forced Byun to siege up an open area with multiple entrances then attempted to flank one entrance before making a beeline to the other.

Because each Liberator needs to be sieged individually there is a significant delay in the time it takes a mobile Protoss army to flank one position compared to the time it takes a Liberator army to siege, un-siege, relocate and re-siege.

Red means Go.

The idea was to use the open terrain to exploit the time it takes the Liberator to set Liberation Zones to get in some amount of safe damage. Ultimately the base he attempted to attack into was empty anyway but the idea behind it was nevertheless ingenious.

Tooth and Nail

Among equals, sometimes for all your planning and tactical maneuvering, it all comes down to one final engagement. All that can be said here is to try to keep a count of what resources you have immediately available before making a major engagement and don’t be conservative in the late game. Always remember that you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. You have energy available? Empty it.

And in the case of High Templars, make a mental note to fuse them once they’re spent because those PsiStorms and Archons are exactly what won Stats this game in the end.

Reno Madness – N’Zoth and Load Reno Hunter

Hello everybody, I am Matteo Ghisoni and I love Reno Jackson decks. Sorry Hunters! This article is the third installation of a series focusing on different Reno builds. What I will do is: build a deck, play 50+ games with it and write about the experience. The article should not be seen as a guide but as a discussion about deck-building.

The Idea

To find a Reno Hunter deck-list which I was happy with I had to spend more than an hour in the deck builder swapping cards in and out, as the archetype can be built in numerous ways. I decided to settle with a two Old Gods build as both N’Zoth and Yogg’Saron are powerhouses which are playable in the class. I thought that if I could get away with running 2 win conditions it would help the consistency of my deck. Additionally in a Reno Hunter deck you want to absolutely run Tracking, the card thins out your deck whilst drawing you a card, the problem is by itself the card isn’t great. This means that having Yogg’Saron, Lock and Load and other cheap spells in the deck could potentially help me get more mileage out of my cards. Another  thing to state is that a lot of the Hunter spells which help you control the board are low costed and only effective against small minions, thus you can never go for the with the complete control game-plan. This is why I geared my deck to be a Midrange build with a strong late game plan. I thought Yogg’Saron wouldn’t be enough to consistently close out game, so given the insane Deathrattle arsenal at Hunter’s disposal I thought wise to push in a N’Zoth. In this deck. Reno Jackson should be seen as an equivalent to what Healbot and Lay of Hands were for Midrange Paladin, cards which are useful but not required in order to win.

All in all it was the start of the season (all the games were played between the 1st and 2nd of August) and as usual if I got 50% win-rate I would be happy. The deck surpassed my expectations in the 50 games I played (56% win-rate, more detailed statistics below) and thus here I am giving you all you might want to know about this strange but functional deck-list!

The Core of the Deck-List

The final 30 cards.

The final 30 cards.

In the 50 games I played I maintained the same deck-list throughout to have a decent sample size when analysing the cards.  I consider the following cards the core of the deck: Reno Jackson, N’Zoth, Yogg’Saron, Deadly Shot and Hunter’s Mark. On Reno Jackson I don’t really have to spend too much time, he is the reason you want to build a highlander deck in the first place! I already said why I wanted to build the deck around the Old Gods, both provide insane potential for finishing the opponent and I wanted a slightly more top heavy midrange deck. One can see that both Gods do not have the full support as if you were playing a deck fully centered around them. In the deck there are 13 spells, meaning that on average your Yogg’Saron will cast 6 spells. This is not great but I found it is consistent enough to get some decent enough value for the 10-mana cost. The same applies to N’Zoth, the deck has only four Deathrattles. If one looks at these cards though one will notice the quality of these cards is very high, meaning that getting back 2 is usually enough to gain mileage out of N’Zoth.  Hunter’s mark is really solid, even after it was nerfed to 1 mana it still provides huge tempo swings when you are able to hit a big minion with it. Additionally it is one of the best removal spells hunter has access to, basically it is an auto-include in any controlish Hunter deck. Finally Deadly Shot is the best single target removal Hunter has at its disposal, it needs to be played in a Reno deck.

Bloodmage Thalnos, Tracking and Azure Drake can also be all considered core to the deck. These cards all cycle through the deck meaning that when they are played you are one card closer to Reno. Tracking especially is insane as it can cut 3 cards of your deck making the chances you get Reno substantially higher. Throughout the games I never felt I was missing too much card draw, especially because sometimes I could just tap like a madman with Finley. Overall though I could see it making sense adding a couple of cantrips, making the deck more consistent. Keep in mind King’s Elekk also serves as a cantrip most of the time, the card drew for me more than 65% of the time I played it.

The Rest of the Deck

Arcane Shot: In general a card which deals two damage for 1-mana is not very good. On the other hand the fact you play Yogg’Saron and that Hunter does not have too many early spells, makes it so the card is not to be analysed in a vacuum. Additionally since Lock and Load has a place in this deck, playing Arcane Shot makes it so that it is easier to pull off a strong combo turn with the card. All in all Arcane Shot is not the strongest card in the deck by far, but since it hits most of the breaking points for early minions it usually will trade one for one. Lastly with the inclusion of Bloodmage Thalnos sometimes you can make it so that your Arcane Shot hits slightly harder, even if this is rarely essential.

On the Hunt: On the hunt is a strange version of Elven Archer which produces a Beast, not the greatest of cards. Given the fact we play Yogg’Saron and Lock and Load, On the Hunt can be cycled for another card and an additional spell from the God. Additionally it also has to be considered that even if not great this card does enable you to get on board early game in order to make some trades. Lastly Hunter doesn’t have the best way to deal one damage thus On the Hunt can provide utility when coupled with Hunter’s Mark.

Sir Finley Mrrgglton: This deck is an attempt at a Controlish Hunter deck, consequentially dealing face damage is not the first priority. What this means is that whenever Sir Finley is played there is a 100% chance of increasing the utility of your Hero Power for the game. In no game I played him I was unhappy about the fact I didn’t have the ability to deal 2 damage a turn since I had other ways to push for lethal damage by controlling the board and using big swing turns. One last thing I wanted to add is that Sir Finley can interfere with the King’s Elekk Battlecry sometimes, when this happens I will admit it is pretty annoying.

This Shaman is going to have nightmares!

This Shaman is going to have nightmares!

Acidic Swamp Ooze: I think in this metagame if you are playing a Reno Jackson deck you have to play weapon removal, Shamans and Warriors are rampant on ladder. The choice was between Harrison Jones and Acidic Swamp Ooze, I chose the latter because Ooze is more flexible as it can be played alongside other cards. Overall it is very close between Harrison and Ooze, but I think Ooze’s flexibility makes it potentially better by enabling to set-up decent tempo swings.

Bear Trap: This trap is OK, it helps in establishing some sort of board presence on turn two. Additionally, given early on very rarely you will have board control it should be more consistent than Snake Trap in order to grant yourself some minions. Also to consider is the fact that you can usually bluff a Freezing Trap and impede you opponents attack (I pulled it off a few times), making it useful for preserving your life total. Last consideration is that all the traps help make Lock and Load more consistent as they are low cost spells which can be played alongside the 2-mana by turn five. Overall the card isn’t great but I think it is solid enough to run, a 3/3 for two is decent value.

Doomsayer is just so good!

Doomsayer is just so good!

Doomsayer: This card is really good, it enables you to survive the early game against aggressive decks whilst also providing late game utility by potentially having the ability to deny key turns if the timing is guessed right (for example a Gadgetzan Auctioneer Conceal turns). Also take in consideration that against control decks you can potentially make them waste resources if you play Doomsayer when the opponent has 10 cards in hand, this will force a discard. In general it is very important to learn to play this card correctly, it one of the most powerful tools in the game if timed correctly. I think I would never consider taking this card out of the deck since it performed amazingly well in all aspects of the game.

Explosive Trap: The Hunter class doesn’t have access to very much AOE, so Explosive Trap is one of the only cards which falls under this category. The card is very useful against a wide array of aggressive decks, it is usually possible to set up a board so that it will die to the 2 damage AOE. Like Bear Trap it can also be used to bluff Freezing Trap, in my experience people very rarely play around any other trap. In some situations I could see substituting Explosive for another spell, this is if there are not many aggressive decks, but as of now we do not live in that kind of metagame.

Freezing trap: I think this is probably the strongest trap Hunter has access to for board control decks, given no charge minion you can usually guarantee hitting the minion you want. Additionally most of the time it makes it so that the card which goes back to hand will become unplayable, the 2-mana increase is a big deal because the opponent will lose a lot of tempo if he decided to replay the card.

King’s Elekk: If it draws you a card King’s Elekk is probably the best 2-drop in the game. In the deck we have five 3-mana or less creatures, two 4/5-mana creatures and six 6-mana or more creatures. What this means is that if we have not drawn any other creature we have 6/11 (54.5%) to nearly guarantee a draw and 8/11 (72.7%) to have a good shot at it. Usually though you want to keep in the opening hand your low drops, meaning that your odds of hitting a high cost minion are even higher than the ones stated above. I will say that Sir Finley did ruin my plans a couple of games, but overall I found that the card drew me consistently enough to guarantee it a spot in my deck.

Lock and Load: The card performed decently, most of the time I could cycle two or three spells. I found this to be enough value. A couple of times I managed to pull off a really big Lock and Load turns, but certainly I cannot say that this happened very often. Since compared to normal Yogg and Load Hunter you run only half the low cost spells and only one Lock and Load, you won’t be able to pull off the effect as consistently. Overall I feel that if you want to run Yogg’Saron you have to run a few of the low cost spells and this should already provide enough basis to include Lock and Load in the deck.

An awesome Load!

An awesome Load!

Quick Shot: In 50 games I have never drawn once from Quick Shot, the only reason it is in the deck is for removal purposes. A dark Bomb is not exactly the most appealing of cards for a Hunter deck, on the other hand there aren’t that many tools in the Hunter arsenal to control the board early. I feel Quick Shot is needed in the deck even if most of the time it will just be used as a defensive Dark Bomb.

Animal Companion: This card is all around good. Firstly it is a spell so it is a 3-drop which does not interfere with your Elekk. Secondly every option is fine: Huffer is usually a Shadowbolt, Misha is a very solid wall and Leokk is slightly underwhelming but can trade with 2-drops. In general since you can make use of any of the options you will never be sad when you have this card in your hand.

Dreadscale: This card was very underwhelming in the deck, whilst it can be situationally awesome most of the times it was a dead card in my hand. Additionally the stats are very easy to deal with, two health nearly guarantees the opponent will be able to deal with it. The synergy to consider is the one with Hunter’s Mark, the kill is very clean when these two cards can be comboed. Overall I think this can be relegated to a Zoolock tech, since I didn’t face that many Zoolock’s, so the card was mostly useless.

Eaglethorn Bow: Given that I run 3 traps in the deck including Eaglethorn Bow is a must. For one the card is really solid early game giving you the possibility to go 2 for 1 most of the time. Additionally the fact it can gain charges means that the mileage you can get out of this card can be much above its mana cost. In my experience most of the time you will use the two charges in order to fight for the early board control game, this though is enough for the mana cost you pay for it.

Kill Command: You don’t run many beasts and I found that most of the time Kill Command was just an over costed Quick Shot for turn 3. The card wasn’t great but it was helpful to be able to transition from the early game to the mid game, I cannot complain too much about it. I think it would be interesting trying substituting in some other spell removal in place of Kill Command in order to see if it would perform better.

Value Powershot!

Value Powershot!

Powershot: This card was surprisingly good, usually it basically served as a consecration for 3 mana. Against Zoolock it is the only match-up where it is never equal to the Paladin staple, the board is usually really wide. Running spell power besides this card also makes the card substantially stronger, 3 health is the breaking point you really want to hit against Shamans (Flame Tongue, Tunnel Trogg, Spirit Wolfs, Mana Tide Totem). Overall this is another unsubstitutable piece of removal!

Unleash the Hounds: Unleash is one of those cards which you are always happy to see when facing a token heavy deck, it is usually a life saver. Additionally the card is not bad if the opponent has at least 3 minions on board, three 1/1 minions with charge can be equated to a Wolfrider you can split. Overall since the card acts as removal in a deck which really needs removal I think it is safe to say it is nearly unsubstitutable, this is unless the metagame becomes so that there are never more than two minions on board.

Infested Wolf: Infested Wolf is a pretty solid Deathrattle, given we play N’Zoth it seems a pretty straightforward choice. 3/3 in stats is kind of weak for a 4-drop, but the fact that there are annoying 1/1 minions left behind makes it so that it is usually hard to clear. Overall the card is just solid enough given the fact we play N’Zoth, by no means though I would consider mandatory to play it in the deck as other Deathrattle creatures can fill the same spot as Infested Wolf.

Emperor into Call is pretty good...

Emperor into Call is pretty good…

Emperor Thaurissan: I think Emperor is a perfect fit in this deck for multiple reasons. Firstly it enables you to unclog your hand and make it so you can set-up high tempo turns. Secondly it is a threat your opponent has to absolutely deal with, the card can snowball easily out a game. This means that if you Emperor turn six into a Call of the Wild turn seven the opponent will rarely have clean answers to both. Additionally it makes it easier to pull off the Lock and Load as you need only a couple of discounts to really go crazy in value. I think I would never remove Emperor from this deck!

Savannah Highmane: One of the best 6-drops in the game (if not the best one) and it has Deathrattle, it would be crazy to not play it in a N’Zoth deck. Additionally even if N’Zoth brings back only Highmane, this is already valuable enough for the ten mana you spent. Overall even in a more control Hunter builds it would be silly to not play Savannah Highmane, the card is just that powerful.

Sylvanas Windrunner: Basically the same reasoning as Savanah Highmane with an added twist. With the advent of standard and silences being rarer, Sylvanas is usually a pseudo board clear which allows to come back from difficult board states. This alone makes it an excellent card as the deck really lacks board clears. Additionally getting it back from N’Zoth is usually enough for N’Zoth to get value, you really don’t need much more.

Call of the Wild: Everybody knows how powerful this card is, by itself it makes it so that Midrange Hunter has a place in competitive play. The card is busted, not playing it would be a mistake!

Cards to Consider

Flare: This card provides a cantrip, always useful in Reno decks, whilst countering secrets. Flare also synergises well with Yogg’Saron and Lock and Load. The card nearly made it in the final 30, I decided to not included as Secret classes are rare on ladder thus often it would just be a card draw. I could see it being played if Mage and Hunter become very popular on ladder.

Snake Trap: If you already have board presence Snake Trap could make the board even harder to deal with. The problem with this card is that currently Warriors infest the ladder, Ravaging Ghoul is a really clean answer to a popped Snake Trap. On the other hand if one was to amend the deck a bit there is a really cool combination of cards you can add: Houndmaster, Tinkmaster Overspark and Snake Trap. Tinkmaster Overspark can transform minions into beasts, what this means is that it can provide more consistent targets for Houndmaster to hit. Additionally Snake Trap makes it so that half the time if you play a Tinkmaster Overspark on the snake board you will get a 5/5 beast! Overall though I think this is thinking way too much into the best case scenario, I doubt this combination will ever work.

Snipe: Very rarely people play around Snipe thus it will probably surprise your opponent most of the time. Additionally if you are facing a lot of Worgen Warriors it can potentially block their whole combo if you time it correctly. Overall I feel that whilst it might shine every now and then the other traps I included in the deck are probably more consistent overall.

Loot Hoarder: Including this card in the deck would give you the possibility to add more consistency, you would have more draw, as well as another turn 2 play you could keep in your hand. On the other hand I find most of the time it is enough to have tracking in order to find Reno, I never really felt I was lacking draw in my deck. I won’t consider the card being brought back with N’Zoth because an additional 2/1 will very rarely make the difference.

Huge Toad: It is a Deathrattle, potentially giving your N’Zoth more targets to revive. I decided to discard this card last minute because I said to myself I would rather have one more trap rather than a minion which will only trade one for one most of the time, at the time I felt I needed more spells in the deck. All in all, this is not the worst choice you could make but consider that it does make your Elekk less consistent.

Acolyte of Pain: More draw is always welcome in Reno decks, the problem of Acolyte is that in Hunter except for On the Hunt and Dreadscale there is no good way of activating the draw more than once. If you look at the decks which play the card you will notice there is always some combo potential: Paladin runs Humility type effects, Warrior has Whirlwind and Priest couples is with Pyromancer. I think a Loot Hoarder would be better for this build.

Brann Bronzebeard: Brann is always good if you build your deck to include more Battlecry type effects. In this deck running good Battlecries wouldn’t harm the build, cards such as Defender of Argus and Earthen Ring Farseer are all usable. Additionally you could include Tomb Spider and potentially Jeweled Scarab, both provide more Beast Synergy and more value. The problem I see with including Brann is that the idea behind this deck-list wasn’t to have a value oriented deck but a more Midrange deck built for the late game. It seems to me the Brann game plan doesn’t seem to be in line with the N’Zoth and Yogg one.

Harvest Golem: The reasons you would run Harvest Golem are similar to the reasons you would run Huge Toad, a Deathrattle for the early game. The pros of Harvest Golem are that most of the time the card will trade well against early enemy minions, you should always go at least 1 for 1 with the potential of going 2 for 1. The cons are that it comes one turn later and on turn 3 you usually want to Animal Companion or Eaglethorn Bow. Lastly it has the Mech tag instead of the Beast tag, obviously the latter is better in hunter. Overall if one were to consider Huge Toad it is probably also worth thinking about Harvest Golem.

Mindcontrol Tech: Reno Jackson decks very often run this card as it can provide huge swing turns whilst answering large boards. Mindcontrol Tech is basically a removal for wide boards. The main problem with playing it in the current state of the metagame is that since Dr Boom is gone, wide boards with 4 or more minions are rarer. On the other hand Mindcontrol Tech being rarer means players will play around it less often, making the card potentially more valuable. It has to be emphasized though that most of the time around the midgame you will want to be proactive on board making Mindcontrol Tech hard to pull off consistently.

Elise Starseeker: Control Warrior is an awful match-up for this deck, you lack the pressure to be able to finish them off before they get crazy amounts of armour. Elise could potentially help you in that match-up making it possible to just steal a win thanks to the Golden Monkey. The problem with this plan is that against C’Thun Warriors most of the times the Golden Monkey will be useless, you will never be able to play it before C’Thun comes down. Additionally in other match-up you really do not need a third win condition as N’Zoth, Yogg and Reno should be enough to end any Midrange deck.

Refreshment vendor: It provides a 4-drop and some heal, it is not the worst card you could think of including. The problem I have with it in this card is that I think you would rather have a proactive card to play rather than a defensive one for turn 4, cards like Tomb Spider or Houndmaster would probably on average do better.

Houndmaster: Before Turn 4 there are only 4 beasts you can have in play, what this means is that usually you won’t have a beast for Houndmaster on board by the time you want to play the card. Additionally in total in the deck you have only 8 beasts, and the opponent will remove them most of the time from the board anyway making Houndmaster just a vanilla 4/3. I think the card would be too inconsistent to play in the deck.

Tomb Spider: This card would be an excellent fit in the deck even without the Brann package (even if I feel in the Brann package it really shines). A 3/3 which cycles itself for another Beast is not bad at all as it provides a good amount of value for a deck which wants to control games. Additionally the card is a Beast so it could make Kill Command slightly more consistent. Also to consider is the fact that it can potentially find you more Deathrattle minions in order to make N’Zoth even better. I think it was wrong to not include this card in the deck as it has a lot of potential!

Spell Breaker: Running this card could be ok if there is something in particular in the meta you wish to silence, but with Naxxramas and Goblin Vs Gnomes gone from standard most of the Deathrattles which are worth silencing are also gone. If Control Paladin becomes a prevalent deck in the meta I would consider putting Spellbreaker in the deck as Paladins run many targets worth silencing, including: Sylvanas Windrunner, Tirion Fordring and Carine Bloodhoof. The card overall is not bad but needs a specific metagame in order to be played.

Infested Tauren: A more defensive Deathrattle to substitute Infested Wolf, I really don’t like stat distribution on this one. A 2/3 will trade with nothing most of the time, the 2/2 minion which spawns from it will probably have the same fate. I think Infested Wolf is just a better option when compared to Infested Tauren, on the other hand there could be some other slot in the deck (e.g Dreadscale) Infested Tauren could fill.

Explosive Shot: It is removal, in certain conditions it can be the best card in the game! The reason why I didn’t play it is exactly that, most of the time it will just be a worse Fireball which does nothing to improve your board state. I think a good summary of Explosive Shot is the following: if I get the card from Lock and Load I am pretty satisfied, but I would never waste a slot in the deck for it.

Ram Wrangler: The reason I decided to not include this card are similar to the ones for Houndmaster, it would just be an inconsistent card. I want to also add Ram Wrangler has an added problem, super high variance inconsistent effect.

Ball of Spiders: Drawing 3 random beasts is great! The problem is the cost of the card! At 6 mana summoning 3 1/1 minions is less than ideal, most of the time they will just do nothing. On the other hand it does add a spell for Yogg and it is a great tool against Control decks which try to run you out of resources. I think I would consider subbing in this card if ladder for some reason was filled with control decks, as of now it will just grant more time to the Dragon Warriors and Agro Shaman to end the game.

Cairne Bloodhoof: Cairne is not a bad 6-drop, especially since N’Zoth is in the deck but I think it is too slow for the curve. In this deck you don’t need to get huge value from N’Zoth as usually you will have pressured your opponent enough that getting Sylvanas plus Infested Wolf will be the game closer. If on ladder there were to be a lot of Control decks then running Cairne would probably be the correct choice as you could actually have the time to develop it, against aggressive deck playing Cairne turn 6 will probably guarantee you will lose the game.

Baron Geddon: If there are a lot of token decks this card could find a lot of value. The problem I see is that usually as a Control Hunter you still want to have at least some board presence as you do not have too many tools from hand to control the board (you really lack hard clears). Thus I think that you could run Geddon but most of the time it will probably do you more harm than good given the aim of the deck.

Gladiators Longbow: This card can provide pretty good value whilst preserving your health total. The 5 damage break-point is pretty important as card like Sylvanas and Emperor are prevalent in this metagame. The main problem is that paying 7 mana for a weapon which clears only two minons is bad. On average the minions which you will get to clear won’t be Sylvanas an Emperor but lower cost cards, the metagame is full of more aggressive decks which try to end the game fast. Against a Zoolock or a Shaman, Gladiator Longbow will be a dead card for most of the match-up, you cannot afford this. Probably in a more midrange metagame running this Gladiators Longbow could be viable.

Ragnaros, the Firelord: He is the God of flame and he has been a decent card to play since the start of Hearthstone, whenever you don’t know what to put in a deck you can always put Ragnaros. I decided to not include the card because I believe Ragnaros is better in mid-range decks which want to pressure on the board and close out games rather than decks more geared towards the control playstyle. Whilst Ragnaros could potentially provide more removal, it is in the form of unreliable eight damage that could go face and do very little. Overall though Ragnaros is not a bad choice at all for a Reno Hunter build.

King Krush: As a finisher the king isn’t bad, 8 damage is nothing to laugh at. Additionally the card is flexible as it can always be used as very expensive removal if needs be, even if this is not ideal for sure. The reason I decided to not include it in the deck is that I already had a high cost finisher in N’Zoth and thus thought it was probably overkill to add another win condition. Additionally only against C’Thun warriors I really felt handicapped by the fact I could not deal enough damage, in every other match-up I never felt I needed an added 8 burst to finish the game.

Statistics

Matches Played:

W/L= 28/22 (56% win-rate)

Representative Data (no data about match-ups which I faced less than 4 times):

Hunter 2/3

Tempo Mage 4/1

Control C’Thun Warrior 1/3

Face Shaman 5/2

Deathrattle Rogue 2/3

Tempo Dragon Warrior 4/1

Zoo Lock 2/3

Midrange Shaman 3/2

Tempo Mage, Face Shaman and Dragon Warrior all seemed insane match-ups looking at the statistics, part of the merit though I have to attribute it to the fact players were misplaying hard against my deck. Obviously if you are a ladder player and you see a Hunter you will play as if he is playing Midrange Hunter not N’Zoth and Load Reno Hunter. Overall though I felt that given a decent draw and the ability to find Reno most of the times you should be able to survive the match-ups.

Control C’Thun warrior was an awful match-up, I have to say every game felt nearly impossible to win. The problem with this match-up is that if you cannot out pressure the C’Thun warrior in the first 10 turns they will snowball out of the game with the huge health gain. The one match I won was thanks to the God curve, and even there I won thanks to a lucky Quickshot top-deck.

Out-pressuring a Midrange Hunter!

Out-pressuring a Midrange Hunter!

Zoolock, Midrange Shaman and Midrange Hunter all fall under the same category of match-up, if you manage to stay on board you should be able to play it out but you cannot beat their God curve. A particular thing to note is that against Zoo I feel it is nearly mandatory to find either Unleash the Hounds or Explosive Trap, if not you will just be left like a sitting duck with your face being hit.

Lastly Deathrattle Rogue (there were a few, I know weird), the race was to N’Zoth and obviously they were faster thanks to the draw the deck runs. The games I won were thanks to either the Rng God, Yogg, or the fact I managed to out pressure the Rogue.

I did face a couple other match-up but after only 1 or 2 games I didn’t feel I could comment too much on how good or bad the match up was, I will expand my general thoughts in the next section.

General Match-up Thoughts

Against Control decks it should be pretty hard to win, you are a greedy midrange deck with not much burst potential. Every now and then Yogg’Saron or Emperor into Call of the Wild will provide with the pressure required to close out games, don’t expect too much success though. Adding Elise Starseeker could potentially make the match-up more bearable and probably win you some games. The problem I see is that today’s metagame control decks tend to have big threats like C’Thun and N’Zoth, meaning that if the other person knows how to play he will stall his threat until you will play the Golden Monkey. Overall you can win the control match-up if you make the deck much greedier, probably even taking out Tracking as the card burns too many resources in a resource war. If I were to tech the deck for control I would switch in Ball of Spiders in exchange for Tracking, on the other hand ladder is mainly midrange and agro as of now.

Poor Patron.

Poor Patron.

Against some decks you can actually grind out every single threat the deck has without dying. I managed to do this both against a Patron Warrior and three Tempo Mages. Against the Patron I just kept my resources and got really high value trades, with N’Zoth acting as a finisher. In the Tempo mage match-up I just removed every threat and got armour up from Finley, what this meant is that I could out heal any damage they inflicted since I also had Reno. I found that against aggressive decks you have to really think your Finley choice, very often Life tap is not the best one. Additionally usually you will require Reno in order to stabilize as we all know how explosive a Tempo Mage start can be. On the other hand if you are facing Patron Warrior you can only do one thing: get creative!

Aggressive match-ups can be won on the back of Reno Jackson most of the time. A Reno Jackson into Ooze will make most aggressive Shaman concede instantly (and that is the reason why I play Ooze instead of Harrison). Additionally since we play decent curve threats, with only turn 5 plays severely lacking, sometimes we will just out race some aggressive decks. Overall since people don’t really know what you are playing  most of the time you can trick your opponent into a misplay.

Combo decks should be really tough, I won both my Worgen Warrior games just because both times I got Snipe from Lock and Load and timed it correctly to kill the Worgen. The instant concede was glorious! The hidden Snipe is the deadliest! Overall I didn’t find any Malygos Rogues or similar on ladder, the archetype is dead at the moment. Overall though I imagine they should be really tough match-ups as your Reno will count for nothing.

Overall when I look at my deck-list I always wonder how in the world I managed to win even one game, but I did. I think given the metagame as of now you should have a decent fighting chance thanks to all the aggressive and midrange decks, you should be able to give them a fight for their money.

Concluding Remarks

I think the deck-list, even if weird, has a decent shot against decks across the board. The main thing about this deck, and most of the Reno decks I build in general, is that you need to get creative to win. What I mean is that I like to include a few win conditions in my builds, I want to feel as if every game is a different adventure, thus sometimes you will find yourself fatiguing your opponent whilst other aggressively hitting face. Overall to I wouldn’t say this is the most consistent list to ladder with, a meta decks will probably serve you better, but if you are bored of the old same decks this list should be consistent enough to not make you lose too many ranks in the meanwhile. One last thing to say is that the new card from Karazhan “The Curator” can be a really good inclusion in this deck as you run a Murloc, a Dragon and Beasts! I hope that if you try the deck you will have success, happy hunting people!

Greeting Traveller!

Greeting Traveller!

League’s advantage over traditional sports

League of Legends and Esports in general are contrasted by traditional sports in that the demographic involved in Esports is much more specific than that of traditional sports. Traditional sports are not dominated by a specific demographic. Some races may prefer basketball, others may prefer football and still others may prefer soccer. Nonetheless, every demographic, including age, gender and race is heavily represented in traditional sports. One potential advantage and disadvantage of League is how heavily concentrated within one demographic League is. It used to be that of males in their late teens to early twenties, but even that is expanding.

demo 1
Initially, Esports was associated with only nerds playing games and watching other people play games. In the interest of the community that perception is slowly but surely changing as a legitimate form of competition. As Esports has expanded, the demographic of people that play League has expanded as well, with more and more females, older people and younger kids being introduced to the game. The game has transitioned from the nerdy stereotype to a game played by all races within the male demographic of early twenties and late teens. That is to say, the game has evolved into attracting all kinds of males, not only gamers.
Unfortunately, the game is still heavily dominated by the demographic of High school and college males, and this allows for considerable differences with traditional sports. We can observe traits or characteristic of people of this demographic throughout all aspects of the game. A few characteristics of this demographic are immaturity, trollness, interest in comedy and unprofessionalism. All these traits are not necessarily bad, they are just characteristics of the interest of a certain demographic. Everyone goes through different phases in life and there is nothing wrong with identifying them, and analyzing as to how they affect the game is marketed. There is nothing intrinsically wrong for someone to have a “trolly” personality, it is the job of the person to evaluate whether that it is something that provides personal satisfaction and whether he or she should continue to endorse such character. The same thing applies with the other traits, there is nothing wrong about being immature. Everyone is immature at some point in their lives, it is the job of the individual to determine if that is something he or she wants to adopt as a life-style. In modern times, immaturity has a negative connotation, but the way it is used here is just as generalization of a specific demographic and there is nothing intrinsically wrong with that.

skyy
In particular, the NA and EU LCS broadcasts attempt to provide the most entertainment in light of their understanding of their audiences. The NA and EU broadcasts can be described as very trolly, and sometimes a little immature. They are trolly and immature relative to similar broadcasts in traditional sports. Which by the way, I find hilarious. The shows Primetime League and All-Chat are an exacerbation and satirical representations of the unprofessionalism we are discussing. All together, the leagues broadcasts, and the shows produced by Riot, even the popular videos by other sources like Sky and Thoorin, are specific examples that the community enjoys comedy as much as it does strategical analysis of the game and that is a wonderful thing.
The fact that the game is heavily dominated by a single demographic gives the ability to Riot to provide for more entertainment for their audience. Since most of all belong to that demographic, most of all will want something out of League related content that it is more specific than what the average Super Bowl viewer wants. The avergae Super Bowl viewer is not average at all. Almost half of the U.S population watches the Super Bowl and there is very little that unites them that can be specific enough to take advantage of, the thing that the average super bowl viewer likes is music and that’s what they get. However, in League we take advantage of the fact that we are immature, sarcastic, satirical and unprofessional people, and we can take advantage of that. Even though we all want League to expand because it will provide with some benefits, the specificity of the audience is something that will be lost as the game continues to expand.
The unprofessionalism of League and the small niche it targets can be seen as serious disadvantages, but they are in my opinion, big advantages over traditional sports in terms of the entertainment they are able to provide.

Hello, Carl

Ugh. (Courtesy of dotafire.com)

 

And hello to you too, good people. Today, I’m going to rant about Invoker and why I hate his guts.

Once upon a time, the order in which you put your Quas, Wex and Exort also determined which spell you’d get. The more mathematically gifted of you may notice that this would result in him having 27 possible spells. Don’t worry, I won’t go through those, but suffice to say he wasn’t exactly balanced, even for the 6.20s patches.

Then, Icefrog decided to do the unspeakable; remove him from the game completely until a cure was found.

About 20 or 30 patches later, he was introduced in the game once more, with his current 10 spells.

Since then, he’s been through quite a few balance attempts. Let’s be fair, it can’t be easy to balance such a unique character. However, the issue remains, and it goes as such:

First, nobody plays Invoker. Then, he gets buffed to the point which he destroys the matches he’s in. Then, he gets nerfed a bit, and nobody cares, because he’s still broken. Next, he gets nerfed even more, and perhaps he’s not broken anymore, but people continue to play him, since he always has potential, and they have gotten used to him. And then, he gets a final nerf, or the meta changes, and he’s thrown back into oblivion, forgotten and alone.

Repeat from step 1.

I can’t say for sure, but I believe he’s the single Hero who’s received the most tweaks of all time, counting back from Dota 1 of course.

The question is, what is going so wrong in all this?

I’ve mentioned quite a few times by now, that Heroes need to have clear strengths and weaknesses, or at least they should be decent all-around (much like Mirana USED to be). Otherwise, a buff in a Hero’s numbers (attributes, skills etc) will very easily result in him being broken.

I feel the developers are making this specific mistake a lot lately, namely taking away Heroes’ weaknesses instead of buffing their strengths.

As an example, go back to Leshrac’s patch. The idea of the Hero was an AoE nuker, with really heavy damage output, but who could be squishy and needed some setup for his combo.

The moment he got a 1 second slow in his Lightning meant he could solo-kill. The new items, Glimmer Cape,Octarine Core and Lotus Orb also meant he wouldn’t be as an easy kill anymore.

In those same patches, people got A LOT of MMR through the pony.

As for Invoker, he used to be a wizard-themed Hero; very strong spells, and a lot of them, but he had no stats, low mobility and of course, hard gameplay.

Patch after patch, those got removed. He got stats for simply leveling his QWE, and now even a +6 attribute bonus (why make him get drums?). He got high movement speed in high Ghost Walk levels, resulting in a permanently invisible+hasted orchid carrier (why pick Clinkz?), that’s actually very hard to kill with some mobility items. And, saving the best for last, he got a Ravage that also disarms and has a 40 second cooldown.

I never understood the reasoning behind that last one. If there was even any. Why pick Tidehunter?

Add that to his 2k+ HP burst potential with a Eul’s (why pick Lina?), his global killing potential, or that AoE mana burn that sends an entire team back to base, and of course, his DPS capabilities, and let’s ask: Is there anything he’s bad at?

Let me give you a hint:

No, there isn’t. The only thing that resembles a drawback I can really think of is that he’s naturally harder to play than most Heroes.

I don’t like the idea of having a character that can pretty much fill any role way better than average. A jack of all trades should be decent in everything, not “THE FIRST IN EVERYTHING” as he says so himself.

Personally, I would

-Either give him a role he can’t play, as in, take away his “I’ll just put Alacrity on myself and outcarry the carries” and make him a pure Nuker/Controller, still with 10 spells, but with a clear theme, or

-give him 0 armour and some overall less stat gain, so that he’s a bit more item-dependant.

As a final note, I’d like to point out that Invoker used to be somewhat of a rare sight, a bit like Meepo. Heroes like that may be harder to play, but they make up for it through their having unique abilities (extra spells/extra selves). And it was fine, really, better than seeing the same face again and again in every match.

I don’t believe that “hard to play” should be considered a real in-game weakness. A Hero weakness means something a player shouldn’t be able to overcome through sheer practice, such as a carry being weak early game, or a heavy nuker being fragile. Difficult gameplay simply means this character requires some extra effort to unlock his full potential.

Simply put, inability to play with more than two spells (WHY pick Invoker then??) is a weakness of the player, not the Hero.

 

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