Volcanosaur and mid-expansion boredom

For a game of near-infinite possibility, Hearthstone can get stale fast. A focus on infrequent high-content, high-quality expansions keeps Hearthstone excellent, but leave long stretches of little change. How can Hearthstone beat the mid-expansion blues that sets in between releases?

Content Doldrums

expansion

Aside from more decks with this guy, the meta doesn’t seem to have changed drastically

While Adventures used to spread card releases over four weeks, the new all-expansion model has no such spacing. After the initial period of post-expansion experimentation and novelty, the meta settles quickly. The instant communication of vast amounts of info online leads to the most powerful decks spreading uncontrollably. Within days the dominant archetypes are close to refinement. While exceptions occur, especially with more complex combo or control decks, the fact remains that the Ladder experience becomes monotone fast.

Balance changes can help with this, but often don’t go far enough. After the 9.1 balance patch, there was little innovation. While Keleseth Rogue and Midrange Hunter grew in popularity, the main effect was a shuffling round of archetype distribution. Players looking for the total displacement of consistently dominant archetypes like Jade Druid, Pirate Warrior and Murloc Paladin were disappointed.

Too many months

expansion

Adventures spaced out content more effectively than Expansions

But even if the balance patch had completely upended the meta, the Hearthstone gameplay experience would still settle down into staleness once more. The simple facts are that there are only three content releases a year, with three major balance patches in between if we’re lucky. That leaves, on average, about two months between any change to Hearthstone’s card base, and four months between major changes. These stretches of no mechanical additions to Hearthstone may not sound like much at first.

But the ratio of established vs experimental metas is extremely lopsided. Let’s be charitable and assume that each major expansion release has a period of experimentation and flexible deckbuilding of 1-2 weeks. Even if you add one week of experimentation for each balance patch, that only leaves 6-9 weeks of experimental meta in the 52 weeks of the year. And that’s not the end of the world; but it’s certainly not ideal for promoting diverse play.

Volcanosaur to the rescue?

The answer could lie in the days prior to the release of the Journey to Un’goro expansion. Volcanosaur was given out to all as a free pre-expansion bonus. Interestingly, it was playable despite no other Un’goro cards being available. It was a small change, but the experimentation it opened up introduced a freshness that made the build-up to the release that bit more exciting.

This could be the secret to spicing up ladder. Spacing out small parts of content releases to allow pockets of card releases could allow experimentation and disruption. Blizzard could pre-designate a subset of, say 10 neutral cards. Then, without needing to patch, they could set in advance a time when these cards would become craftable and obtainable from packs. Two at a time, once a week would allow a month of weekly excitement as previously unseen cards would be dropped, allowing for experimentation and disruption.

Events could be more than Emotes

expansion

What if events came with new cards as well as rewards?

Outside of specific card releases, there could also be more variety possible via the holiday-themed events in Hearthstone. Arena is practically begging for temporary rule or drafting changes. Rule changes that are not drastic enough to be worth a Tavern Brawl, but nonetheless open up new and interesting possibilities.

For instance, a “Dragon week”, where Dragons have a huge offering bonus, could create a temporary unique experience (perhaps only after Drakonid Operative rotated out). Or heroes could start with five armor; or perhaps one more card was offered in the mulligan.

Whatever these potential rule changes or card additions were, they would not necessarily need to be perfect or even good ideas. When mid-expansion boredom sets in, any change is better than the same old meta for four months straight.


 

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

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

To continue enjoying great content from your favorite writers, please contribute to our Patreon account! Every little bit counts. We greatly appreciate all of your amazing support! #TGHPatreon

Is there a good way to nerf Druid?

Picture a scene. It’s a few months from now. Assume Druid, specifically Jade Druid, still dominates the meta, with few counters. Mike Donais, Ben Brode, Dean Ayala and the rest of Hearthstone’s design team sit around a table. They’re throwing around ideas and discussions behind Druid’s past, present and future. The howls of dismay from their user-base at Druid’s dominance demands action; and they have decided not to wait until a new expansion to shake things up.

They would have a delicate problem on their hands. Druid’s power hinges on a number of key cards. Worse, many of those cards are integral to the class’s entire identity. Sure, you could eliminate Jade Druid from the meta by nerfing Wild Growth, Innervate and Swipe. But without these cards, Druid would likely just feel like a reskinned Hunter.

Meanwhile, nerfing other cards without touching the core Druid package could lead to yet more oppressive Druid decks in the future. So what cards could be on the chopping block for Druid?

Innervate

Innervate is undeniably powerful – but may be ingrained in Druid’s identity

For some, Innervate is at the crux of issues with Druid. A staple of basically every Druid deck ever, Innervate is about as powerful a tempo tool as you can get. Two mana for one card is incredibly strong, especially early on. When it’s pushing out a snowbally minion, landing a crucial buff, drawing cards with Auctioneer, or finding lethal with Malygos, even more so.

Some, (like Reynad) argue that Innervate is fundamentally not fun and overpowered as a card. As a counterargument, Innervate could be seen as a strong but defining card for Druid, as mana ramp and manipulation is their hallmark. Changing or rotating Innervate would free up design space, but at a cost of Druids power level being reduced on a permanent basis.

Pros of a nerf:

  • Frees up design space
  • Reduces disparity between best and mediocre early game
  • Makes cards like Vicious Fledgling less difficult

Cons of a nerf:

  • Hits all Druid archetypes, not just problematic ones
  • Permanent reduction of Druid power
  • Erodes class identity

Jade Idol

Jade Idol has been at the forefront of many players’ ire. Its unique infinite threat generation is no longer unstoppable, thanks to Skulking Geist. However, it’s still at the core of one of the most potent anti-Control archetypes in the game, and the current most popular deck on Standard Ladder.

A reduction in the ability of Idol to generate infinite threats would be the only nerf that would make sense. It would reduce Jade’s winrate versus Control, while leaving other new Druid archetypes alone. However, this would only have a limited impact on the deck’s overall winrate. It would also make little sense immediately after the printing of Skulking Geist.

Pros:

  • Hits only Jade Druid
  • Makes Jade less polarizing vs Control
  • Maintains class identity

Cons:

  • Low impact on overall winrate
  • Skulking Geist already exists
  • Will rotate out soon anyway

Ultimate Infestation

Ultimate Infestation draws complaints, but may not be the root of the problem

This card is one of the newer additions to Druid’s arsenal. It’s also one of the most controversial. I’ve discussed it before at some length. While it is arguably not especially powerful compared to many other 10 mana cards, the comparison has some flaws. It synergises incredibly well with Druid’s ample ramp tools, and it requires no synergies to be played to great effect.

The debate over whether or not this card is overpowered may change depending on how the meta reacts to Druid’s current dominance. If it speeds you considerably in response, the card may not even see too much play. What’s more, it’s a tricky card to change. As a 10 mana card, its cost cannot be increased. And as its flavour relies on the number five, changing all aspects to four would probably be overly heavy-handed.

What’s more, Druids that wanted additional card draw could easily swap back to running Gadgetzan Auctioneer. However, it would undeniably cut into Jade Druid’s oppressiveness. Overly powerful card draw like Ancient of Lore have proven to be worthy of changing in the past.

Pros:

  • Reduces power level of other ramp cards
  • Doesn’t affect Druid’s Classic toolset
  • Card draw has historically been overly powerful in Druid

Cons:

  • Many card-draw alternatives
  • Hurts non-Jade Ramp Druid
  • Not overpowered compared to other 10 mana options

Spreading Plague

Spreading Plague shores up a key Druid weakness to big boards

This card has been behind much of the class’s rise to prominence. Its ability to recover massive amounts of tempo while throwing up huge Taunt walls against aggro massively improves Aggro matchups. Pirate Warrior, once deemed a soft counter to Jade Druid, now has an unfavourable matchup against the deck. Spreading Plague means that the traditional Aggro strategy against Druid (namely, going wide) no longer is as effective.

Instead, Decks need to focus on building compact, “tall” boards. Murloc Paladin is perfect for this, but even so, struggles against the card. A reduction in spreading plague would reduce Druids consistency against Aggro and allow it to naturally become less greedy. Unfortunately, reinforcing the popularity of Aggro in this way may just strengthen another type of Druid in Aggro Druid. Jade Druid would likely become yet more polarising against Control too.

Pros:

  • Big impact
  • Allows meta to self-correct
  • Reinforces Class Identity of Druids having few tools to deal with wide boards

Cons:

  • Makes Jade more polarising
  • Encourages Aggro Druid
  • Pushes meta towards Aggro in general

 Honourable mentions

A number of non-class cards are also problematic. Cards like Aya Blackpaw, Gadgetzan Auctioneer and Jade Spirit could also come under scrutiny. However, due to the collateral damage of other classes being impacted, they are unlikely to see a change; at least until the next standard rotation.

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

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

To continue enjoying great content from your favorite writers, please contribute to our Patreon account! Every little bit counts. We greatly appreciate all of your amazing support! #TGHPatreon

ban

With the upcoming changes in Season 5, should another ban be introduced?

Repetitive drafts

One complaint you get from spectators in Smite is that teams have the same Gods being played over and over again. This is a complaint you get in a lot of MOBAs. You see it frequently in Smite and Hots. The things these MOBAs have in common are a reduced hero pool and less bans compared to the big two Dota and LOL. Smite has a decent hero pool of 91 Gods, while this doesn’t quite match up too LOL and Dota which are in the low 100s. It is not a bad start, maybe going into Season 5 when smite will have a roster of 100 or over is the time to look at adding the extra ban . Adding an extra ban will hopefully increase the amount of Gods that see play, because teams will have more bans to play obviously. The question is would this just mean we would see all the same God’s banned but just more, I think probably not. As once we get into 10 ban territory we start to move out of S+ and S tier gods. Thus allowing for more of the teams own flavour and thought process to be shown.

This would also filter into ranked as most of the time there is a definitive ranked ban meta. We all know the heroes who are going to be banned at the beginning of a draft and the ensuing riots and GG’s in chat that will follow if not banned. At least with three bans at the start, some flavour and thought could go into the bans, instead of the current cookie cutter.

This would also encourage wider God pools from competitive down to ranked. If a player is known to have a weak God pool then it would become much easier to ban them out. Under-performing because you were repeatedly banned out is not something any competitive team would allow for long. It also should reward teams with more strategies and who are fundamentally the better team due to having to be more versatile.

Ban

Image courtesy of esports.smitegame.com

In ranked, God-spammers would be in a far more precarious situation. The fear of having your favoured God banned in that third spot would be significant. Also a third ban in the first phase would free up the second ban phase a lot more. Roles that haven’t picked could be targeted more because anything particularly powerful that has not been picked would probably already be banned.

Draft theory

Draft theory is something that would only really be noticeable in the competitive scene. Adding another ban just creates more variables and makes the draft a more interesting mini-game to watch. When you take more off the board early it creates interesting situations. One way this interaction works is through teams’ first picks. With first pick only picking one and second pick having two, the question of banning power picks takes real importance.

Is the second pick going to target ban in hopes of leaving multiple strong heroes on the board? How is first pick going to try and get value off that first pick? Is it going to be target banning the other team or trying to remove Gods they consider powerful regardless? While we see some this already, that extra ban just intensifies the game and adds more to depth to it as another phase would have to be added and probably the second ban phase having to come earlier.

It would also allow for much more focused comps, with the ability to ban out 5 Gods teams could really specialise their comp in a draft.  Being able to remove some of the bigger burst and then into anti-heal God’s if you are trying to build a healing comp would be incredibly helpful. Watching this unfold and how teams tried to hide their strategies deep into the draft is something that would be great to develop even further in the SPL.

Balance

One possible knock-on interaction this gives is the mid-low tier Gods will be put into focus when it comes to balance. There will be more playtime and demand for the mid tier Gods as the top tier will be banned out. The greater demand should encourage Hi-Rez to look at some of the Gods who are weaker to try and make them viable again. Hi Rez doesn’t want Gods who are never played. We all know the curse of having one of your favourite Gods get buffed too heavily and realising it’s going to be a month or more before you get to play them in ranked again. This would also become more apparent because with five bans a really overpowered God should never make it through the draft. Overall another ban should through necessity, hopefully create a narrowing of disparity in God strength.

Top image courtesy of forums.2p.com

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

To continue enjoying great content from your favorite writers, please contribute to our Patreon account! Every little bit counts. We greatly appreciate all of your amazing support! #TGHPatreon

 

ultimate infestation

Is Ultimate Infestation overpowered?

ultimate infestation

Ultimate Infestation is part of Druid’s dominance

Malfurion is king. According to HSReplay.net, the Druid class overall boasts a massive 54% winrate. Many archetypes such as Jade Druid have seen yet higher winrates, propelled by their ability to farm Control. In an early, unstable and greedy meta, this is invaluable. Naturally, the community is already beginning to complain. Jade Druid was never a popular archetype in the first place. Despite Skulking Geist, Jade after Jade still crushes new unrefined Control decks. Complaints now centre around the new Druid Epic Spell, Ultimate Infestation.

The power of Ultimate Infestation is even more staggering than its 10 mana cost. Aside from dealing a respectable five damage on top of summoning a 5/5 and granting five armor, the true power of the card lies in its draw. Five cards is a huge amount, and gives the Druid gas without having to rely on difficult and inconsistent Auctioneer combos. Copypastas, reddit posts and the like involving quoting Blizzard’s rationale of changing Ancient of Lore.

But for all the salt, is Ultimate Infestation actually overpowered?

Simple addition

When compared to cards like Sprint, Ultimate Infestation looks very strong indeed

One approach is to look at how the raw value of the card stacks up. Ultimate Infestation is, from one perspective, three cards in one. Sprint (which draws four cards), Shield Block (which draws one card and gains five armor) and Firelands Portal (which deals five damage and summons a five drop). Simply summing up the total mana cost of these three cards would give you 17 mana. Purely on paper, Ultimate Infestation is running at a significant discount.

Arguably, the card is even stronger than this analysis would suggest. Playing those three cards costs three cards, whereas Ultimate Infestation is only one. The ability to go from one card to five means that spending your cards to cheat mana also becomes stronger. Druids can feel safer Nourish-ing for mana or spending Wild Growths liberally. Should they run low on gas, Ultimate Infestation is always there to provide backup. Even when rushed out with Innervate, the net card advantage is huge. From this angle, the card definitely looks overpowered.

There’s one thing that is misunderstood, however. 10 mana is not equal to a three mana card plus seven mana card. These cards are fundamentally hampered by their massive cost.

The biggest number

Bombs like Deathwing Dragonlord look strong, but good luck reliably getting the effect off

10 mana is huge for a number of reasons in Hearthstone. As 10 is the mana cap, it’s impossible, or at least very hard, to play anything alongside them. Not only that, but they have a chance of clogging up your hand for multiple turns. While it’s definitely frustrating to get hit by them, the times where it silently lets you snatch a turn nine lethal goes unnoticed. As such, the most important aspect of a high cost card is its immediate impact.

Cards like Tyrantus or Deathwing Dragonlord see almost no play, despite their power. This is because when you play a 10 cost card, you are likely doing so from behind. A 10 mana card needs to have some means of stabilisation or board impact built into it. Otherwise, your opponent can simply ignore it and snowball tempo or kill you.

For all its massive value, Ultimate infestation doesn’t affect the board all that much. Only half of the card has immediate effect on your opponent’s minions or lethal calculation. Five damage and five armor is potent, but is essentially just a Holy Fire. In many situations, that’s simply not enough to save you. Especially for Druid, the class that has the most issues with removing big boards of big minions. Often, your card advantage is for naught. The opponent can use their next turn to fill up the board while you’ve only removed one mid-size threat and played a 5/5.

Equal among peers

Ultimate Infestation

Ultimate Infestation is arguably just a worse Varian Wrynn

The best way to evaluate Ultimate Infestation is to compare it to other 10 mana cards that saw competitive play. The most obvious example is Yogg-Saron, but the extreme variance makes it hard to judge.

Take instead a card like Warrior’s former Varian Wrynn. This card saw fringe play in Tempo and Control Warriors. While he draws fewer cards than Ultimate Infestation and provided no Armor, the King of Stormwind has massive, immediate board impact. By summoning up to three minions straight to the board, he could instantly generate huge value. Decks that used him could throw up Taunts, summon Charging minions like Grommash or pull damage effects like Ragnaros. This is arguably a far stronger effect, and came with a 7/7 instead of a 5/5.

Or look at Doom, the Warlock spell from Whispers of the Old Gods. Not only does it immediately impact the board by utterly obliterating everything on it, it also draws cards; easily far more cards than Ultimate Infestation. While no board presence or Armor is gained, it’s far superior against a board that’s out of control. Doom can even be cheated out with cards like Bloodbloom. With competition like this, it’s easier to see why Ultimate Infestation does so much for the cost.

Outclassed

Ultimate Infestation

Ramp allows Druid to make more use of big effects, especially ones that draw cards

The reason Ultimate Infestation feels so strong is down to the class it’s in. While N’zoth, Bloodreaver Gul’dan or a well-timed Deathwing can be far superior, Ultimate Infestation is powerful because it synergises so well with Druid as a whole. Druid’s ability to cheat mana by ramping or with Innervate boils down to trading cards for mana. Ultimate Infestation allows them to reap dividends on that investment. It lets them regain the cards they lost ramping.

It also doesn’t help that powerful 10 mana cards like Ultimate Infestation are particularly nightmarish for Control decks to deal with. In a meta dominated by unrefined greed, it’s natural that this card would win games.

The downside is that Druid has a harder time recovering from the tempo loss of spending 10 mana. Aggro and Midrange decks can often use this opportunity to set up or find lethal.

Sometimes, overpowered is OK

Ultimate Infestation is overpowered. Compared to the rules of linearly scaling power and cheaper cards, it is extremely strong for the mana cost.

However, Hearthstone has proven over and over again that 10 mana cards have to be ridiculous to see play. If Ultimate Infestation was any less strong, it would likely fall into the territory of Tyrantus and Deathwing Dragonlord.

If you’re frustrated by Ultimate Infestation, take comfort in the fact it may not last in the meta. Aggressive midrange decks may rise to put more pressure on Druids. Their meta dominance will fall and players will cast fewer and fewer of these spectacular spells. And when the next tempo abomination rises to smash your face in on turn six, you may feel nostalgia for this huge, clunky spell.


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

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

Who is League of Legends balanced for?

A few months ago I interviewed at Riot Games to become part of their in house balance team. Over the course of two separate interviews, lasting thirty and forty-five minutes, I was thrown through what I can only describe as the gauntlet of game health adjudication. In this interview, I trash talked Nasus, roasted Janna mains like myself and complained avidly about Azir, all to my interviewer’s delight. The aforementioned interviewer was none other than Gleebglarbu.

Rolling through question after question about various “toxic” champions, champions whose design create frustrating experiences for players, we finally got to the big one. I’m not talking about Corki’s package here, but instead a question that left me more perplexed than a drunkard watching Inception for the first time. Here, Gleebglarbu, and later another interviewer by the name of Trevor asked me what demographic of skill would I balance League of Legends for. More specifically, they asked me if I would balance champions for professional play or the average Silver player. The dialogue went something like this:

 

Gleeb: In situations where you can either balance for LCS levels of play or Silver levels of play, which one do you choose and why?

Me: Do the two situations have to be mutually exclusive?

Gleeb: For champions like Azir (a champion I had complained about laning against earlier in the interview) the perfect player will make him seem frustratingly overpowered. But then you see a Bronze II player pick the champion up and all the sudden his team is missing a mid laner.

 

I continued to fumble around with this question, attempting to find some middle ground balance between pro and casual play, but alas with Azir and champions like him, there was no middle ground. I had to pick a side within this dualistic paradigm, and if you know me, you know that I hate dualistic systems more than anything.

Ultimately I suggested that Riot had to first and foremost balance for the competitive scene, a decision I still do not entirely believe in, but I had to choose one or the other. I chose to balance around the professional level of play, pulling data from Masters through LCS to make balancing decisions due to the fact that League of Legends as a Spectator Sport, is for everyone. While it is impossible to balance a game for everyone with the sheer amount of player skill diversity and champion kit variety, it is possible to balance it for just the professional scene.

Ryze is one of the champions whispered about through the halls of Riot games. They speak of him not by name, but as the Rework King. Courtesy of leagueoflegends.com

Balancing for the LCS

Whether you are in promos to Diamond I or someone who has never played ranked, you can watch your favorite players fail flash into the thick part of the wall on side lanes. And most importantly, you can do so on the big screen of the LCS stage. League of Legends has established itself as the pinnacle of Esports and will continue to do so through their constant reinvestment into the competitive scene. It’s paid off too. The production value of Worlds, Rift Rivals and even weekly LCS keep viewers returning week after week, season after season.

Professional League of Legends as a spectator sport is for everyone and not balancing around this level of play cheats both the pros and the viewers out of a dynamic viewing experience. Riot tries their best to make the viewing experience as close to perfect as possible, but there have been long periods of pro play imbalance that have made League of Legends a stale viewing experience.

If you remember the times of lane swaps, where top laners had less farm to their name than the average Cannon minion, you remember a time of darkness and boredom. While this lasted for far too long, changes were made to towers in order to make the viewing experience one worthy of the viewers’ time.

This change had little impact on the solo queue experience for the majority of players and was an all around success, but there have been other dark times on the competitive stage that have bled into casual play. I know I have seen one Shurima Shuffle and several machine gun Ryze plays too many and the repetitive nature of these picks were answered in a timely fashion by Riot’s balancing team. However, the costs of these changes left League of Legends with two champions that when picked in ranked would ensue dodges from those trying to safeguard their LP.

Who can forget this play? TL Fenix takes down almost all of CLG all by himself. Courtesy of lolesports

This is a real drag for players who enjoy playing those champions that are gutted in such an extreme fashion simply because they cannot be balanced in professional play. I am sure Riot has learned a lot from their trouble making Azir and each failed variation of Ryze. The problem with those champions doesn’t entirely run in the power of the numbers in their kit, a problem that champions with more simplistic kits run into a lot of the time. The problem instead lies in the nature of a kit that relies on low ping and insane amounts of team coordination. The fact that getting my team to leave the base before thirty seconds in the game is a problem makes using a champion that requires everyone to hop in a designated zone that’s only available for two seconds even more problematic.

And while I can go on and on about Ryze, that should really be saved for a different piece entirely (hire me Riot I got ideas for the next six Ryze reworks). What Ryze represents at Riot Games is something completely different. The failure of Ryze is Riot making a statement. A statement that Gleebglarbu would have never told me in the interview: League of Legends balances around professional play over all else.

And while this statement does not sound great for the player base, it is one that I ultimately agreed with in my interview. As I have explained earlier, balancing around professional play is not a bad strategy. But there is a better way. Yes, the viewing experience must come first and the sanctity of League of Legends as THE competitive Esport is Riot’s most prized possession. But there is a way to avoid the dualism of champion balance that I have struggled so much with, and that answer comes in the Champion design.

You wouldn’t hop in this van would you? Then why are you going in that Ryze ultimate as Caitlin? Courtesy of imgflip

 

So before you patch with small buffs and incremental nerfs, the design of each champion must come under the highest level of scrutiny. Remember that we are communicating with pings and we are also communicating with strangers, who have no more reason to trust us than we have to trust them. I’m not going to hop in my mid lane Ryze’s ultimate anymore than I’m going to hop in a stranger’s Van. So let’s continue with the Rakans and Kayns whose kits rely upon communication that can easily be done through our five ping options. Let’s stick with champion designs that do not rely upon the blind trust of strangers asking for you to get in the blacked out Van covered in Runes.

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

Feature image courtesy of lolesports flickr

Will Quest Rogue Survive its Nerf?

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

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

Crystal Core is Core

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

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

Shadow Strike or Assassinate don’t quite work as replacements

What’s One More Bounce?

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

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

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

A Slower Solution?

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

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

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

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

A Meta-Changing Nerf

Expect plenty more Jade Druid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

Image courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment and heartstone.gamepedia.com

Better Wild Than Nerfed?

Considered heavy-handedness

The Hearthstone development team isn’t a fan of changing things up too often. Core to the Hearthstone experience, in their eyes, is that of “physicality”; the idea that your cards are your own, and permanent in a way similar to “real” physical cards. Understandably, this means that any balance patches are few and far between. Too many liberal alterations would undermine any sense of ownership and consistency. No one feels good about purchasing packs of what feel completely ephemeral.

As part of this philosophy, balance changes tend to be especially heavy handed. Team 5 often take the “Nuke it from orbit” approach to problematic cards. Former staples like Warsong Commander and Ancient of Lore have gone from core, even build-around backbones of decks, to trash overnight. While over-reacting reduces the effective card pool and means that players’ favorite cards can no longer be used, few would argue that it’s not better than the alternative.

An alternative to nerfing?

However, the introduction of the Standard format has resulted in a new balancing strategy; one that preserves the integrity and “soul” of the cards in question while not allowing it to upset the delicate Standard balance. Instead of altering the card, it can simply be relegated to Wild. This currently is planned for six classic cards, most notably Azure Drake, Sylvanas, and Ragnaros.

This raises an exciting new possibility for cards that have seen heavy-handed or over-the-top balance changes in the past. Instead of continuing on in their current, unplayable form, they could be returned to their old glory, but only on rotation to Wild or as part of the “Hall of Fame”. This idea has had community popularity, with suggestion posts and a poll gaining traction on the Hearthstone Subreddit.

So what cards could see being returned to their old power, to fight eternal in the Elysium of Wild?

Warsong Commander

Warsong Commander has been balanced twice now. Its original incarnation gave all cards Charge, meaning devastating OTK combos could be easily achieved. Early in development, it was altered to only give Charge. This temporarily quelled its potency, but with the rise of Grim Patron decks after the release of Blackrock Mountain, it gained power once more. Combo’d with Grim Patrons, it could machine-gun down boards of small minions while filling it up with 3/3s. More worryingly, it could cause more OTKs with Frothing Bezerkers.

The final balance change was backbreaking. Instead of granting minions Charge, it gave minions with Charge +1 attack. This made it go from niche combo piece to flat-out unplayable. No competitive deck has ever used it since. As a classic card, it makes little sense to have it clogging up the roster of the evergreen set, accomplishing nothing. Wild is not the same beast that Grim Patron conquered several expansions ago. Game-ending N’zoth boards are the norm, Dirty Rat can disrupt combos, AOE is far more widespread, more potent taunts are available, and aggro decks can refill faster. A restored Warsong could thrive without being oppressive in the Wild meta.

 

Yogg-Saron, Hope’s End

“Praise Yogg!” was up until recently an oft-heard refrain on Ladder. Yogg Saron’s unique position as a high-cost, synergistic, reactive, value generation tool made it vital to countering the huge boards of Shaman. While RNG-based, it could reasonably reliably clear the board and draw a few cards to boot. However, its wildly varying outcomes made it frustrating both for ladder and Tournament play.

While Yogg’s Wild rotation is a ways off (not until early next year), being returned to its old strength is a risky endeavor, depending on the strength of the new synergies introduced. If enough powerful spells make their way into Wild, then games lasting until turn 10 before being decided by Yogg RNG could be a realistic and frustrating likelihood. However, as more and more cards get added, the strength of synergies and minion aggression will increase. Games making it to turn 10 will become increasingly unlikely, and cards like Yogg will need to be more powerful to compensate.

 

 

Molten Giant

The Molten Giant nerf still stings for many Handlock players. Not many saw it as a problem card. Easy to play around and a potent anti-aggro tool for a class that was vulnerable to it in the days before Reno, Molten Giant was hit with an unexpected five mana nerf. Five mana is the most impactful balance change of any card based on cost alone. It took the card from staple in Handlock and Echo Mage (in Wild) to one that was almost impossible to even play. Becoming worthwhile only when your hero is down to around 12 health, it’s become impractical against control, midrange, and aggro.

Team 5 are wary of cheap or free massive minions with easy-to-activate conditions; especially in the evergreen set. However, considering that Arcane Giant will remain in Wild for all eternity, it would surely not do too much damage to the format to have the old Molten Giant back in Wild only. With the wider variety of direct damage and burst combos available, it should be easier to play around than in Standard.Courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment

 

Ancient of Lore

Ancient of Lore was key to the old Midrange Druid. An Arcane Intellect attached to a 5/5 body was nothing to sniff at, and provided vital cycle and board presence in decks that relied on both. The healing option was a nice option to have in clutch situations. Considering the proportion of Classic Druid cards that made up decks of the time, and the sheer strength of the card, a balance change was hardly surprising.

Now, a single cycle effect is hardly worth a seven mana investment, even with a body attached. Such a card in its old state would surely make late-game oriented Druids in Wild more viable. The downside is that, unlike the other cards on the list, it’s hardly the kind of exciting card that would inspire people to try wild.

 

Blade Flurry

Blade Flurry was another of the “Design Space” balance changes that was never truly capitalized on. In its original incarnation, the card was a flexible and powerful face damage and board control tool (with the right synergies). However, the balance change that doubled the mana cost from two to four and eliminated the game-ending face damage combo potential killed the card’s viability. Compounding the problem, no powerful Rogue weapon has been released, and Tinker’s Sharpsword Oil’s weapon buff has had no replacement.

An old Blade Flurry would be a potent, but not overwhelming, tool in Wild. Given the omnipresence of sticky minions, its boardclear aspect would be less potent. While its face damage potential would be arguably dangerous, Rogue needs help to survive Wild’s Uber-refined aggro and control decks, given the class’s lack of reactive tools.

An argument against the change is that Blade Flurry may yet be a potent card, given the right tools. Moving it to wild would squander Rogue’s best chance of an AOE other than Fan of Knives in Standard.

Courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment

Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via http://us.battle.net/hearthstone/en/blog

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

Image courtesy of hearthstone.gamepedia.com and Blizzard entertainment

Back from the dead; 4 post-nerf decks to watch

Turn one Spirit Claws into turn two Wrath of Air Totem will soon be a thing of the past (thankfully)

Once again, changes are afoot in the world of Hearthstone. In a post on the Hearthstone subreddit and Blizzard Forums, Team 5 announced two incoming balance changes. In addition to the introduction of “floors” that prevent falling below certain ladder milestones, Small-Time Buccaneer and Spirit Claws are in for a rebalance. This has profound implications on what decks and strategies are likely to be dominant in tomorrow’s meta.

 

Small-Time Buccaneer is to have its health reduced to one from two, making it far more susceptible to pings and low-cost AOE. Ironically, it also renders it vulnerable to Patches the Pirate. Meanwhile, arguably the most powerful weapon in the game is no longer the apex of terrifying efficiency. Moving it from one mana to two renders it far less potent at shutting down early-game minions. In particular, it can no longer be followed up with a Bloodmage Thalnos or Wrath of Air totem.

So what does this mean for the meta? Well, for a start, the overwhelming monopoly Pirate decks have on the aggressive early game is likely to be loosened. Meanwhile, Shaman will be far less effective at early-game board control. It’s time to look back at some passed over decks that fight for the board early and push for aggression later one that were otherwise crowded out by Shaman and pirates. While these changes might seem small at first, the fact that more than half the decks on ladder run two copies of one or both of these cards makes this a huge opportunities for new decks to arise.

 

Tempo Mage

A Tempo Mage wants two things; board control, then burn

Tempo mage has been around ever since someone had the bright idea to stick Mana Wyrm, Fireball, Frostbolt and Arcane Intellect in the same deck. An aggressive, midrangey deck, it seeks to grab board control with explosive starts built around high-tempo spell combos, using ample card draw to reload and finishing the game with flexible burn. After a golden age propelled by the power of cards like Flamewaker, Tempo Mage has been suffocated by the power of aggressive pirate decks. With no answer to Small-time Bucccaneer in particular, it was overtaken by its more reactive Reno cousin.

But with Buccaneer and Spirit Claws altered, those pressures no longer keep it in line. Now that Arcane Missiles, Mana Wyrm and Flamewaker pings all deal nicely with those annoying sea-raiders, it looks set to make a spectacular comeback. Tempo mage can also punish the greedier Jade lists that might pop up in the power vacuum left by aggressive Shaman and Warrior decks becoming weaker. Meanwhile, it can be tinkered with to become heavy enough to blast through Reno opponents with consistent burn damage and constant minion pressure. Perhaps it’s for the best that Flamewaker is rotating out soon?

Midrange Druid

Is it time to fear Savage Roar again?

Druid is currently relegated purely to the anti-control Jade Druid build, as its other builds have been hampered by aggression on the low-curving end and greed on the high. Druid can take a lot of forms; from pure board flood token archetypes, to Beast-focused tribal decks, to the more exotic Menagerie versions with Finja and the Curator. But all of them have the same weakness to being out-tempo’d early on, making them inconsistent at best in today’s meta.

However, the old order will soon no longer apply. Druid will be able to compete with the explosive openers of pirates more readily, and its own unique flavour of board-focused aggressive midrange style will soon become a genuine threat on ladder. As an flexible class, its aggression can be focused on hunter-style curving out with minions, or on spreading wide and pushing with Savage Roar or Soul of the Forest. Whatever happens, it’s likely that seeing a druid will no longer mean auto-mulliganning to beat Jade.

Zoolock

When caster, streamer and Blizzcon Champion James “Firebat” Kostesich published this video on the enduring strength of Zoolock, he can’t have imagined the dark days to come for the archetype. While playing low-cost minions backed up by lifetap has been strong for almost all of Hearthstone’s history. The release of Maelstrom Portal and Spirit Claws, and the ensuing Shaman dominance after One Night in Karazahn forced the deck into a corner. Relying on explosive discard synergies, it was unable to adapt to the incredible early pressure of pirates.

Now with both Spirit Claws and Small-time Buccaneer no longer the counters they were, Zoo looks set to return to the limelight. It will likely take a while for the meta to settle enough for there to be a suitable population of midrange or AOE-lacking decks for it to prey on. But when that day comes, Zoo may yet make an impressive return to form.

 

Midrange Hunter

Expect to see this a lot as Hunter currently; but not for long?

Few classes have fallen from favour so precipitously as Hunter. From the dizzying heights of near tier-one status, Hunter has become the least-played and least-successful class in the game. As a class whose survival depends on seizing early board control, it has been utterly obliterated by the power of pirates (and Small-time Buccaneer in particular). Despite numerous strong cards, its early game is simply too weak to compete. Spirit claws is also a powerful hinderance, as almost all of its early game minions are exceptionally vulnerable to it.

With Small-time Buccaneer less of a problem, expect the class to re-emerge as the premier foe of Jade and greedy Reno decks. Hunter’s ability to apply constant and consistent minion pressure is unmatched; and when it can no longer be out-tempo’d by hordes of more aggressive foes, it may yet find a niche. Don’t expect too much though; it remains hampered by the general failure of the Grimy Goons’ handbuff mechanic to provide any powerful new strategies.

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

Hearthstone Tech Cards We Need

Tech cards are crucial to a balanced meta. Should any one strategy become overwhelmingly powerful, smart players can add these powerful but situational tools to boost their winrate and help keep the flavor of the month in check. Cards like Harrison Jones for Weapons, Hungry Crab for Murlocs, Big Game Hunter for high-attack minions, and The Black Knight for Taunts slip in and out of the meta depending on what’s powerful.

However, there’s only so much that can be done in the face of today’s super-powered strategies. Pirates, Jade Golems, and Kazakus Potions run rampant. The power level of these cards means that traditional tech cards can’t keep up. Anti-aggro tools can’t face up to swarms of Pirates; Big Game Hunter helps little against endless Jade Golems, and Dirty Rat only rarely prevents a Brann-Kazakus finisher. In the next expansion we need more specific and impactful tools to control the meta-warping of certain stratagems.

I drew up a few hypothetical cards as an example of what successful new tech cards could look like

Hardly an original idea, but arguably necessary

Punishing Pirates

It’s easy for people to see the strength of Pirate openings and their limited counters. There’s no easy counter to a Small-time Buccaneer/Patches into two-mana weapon opener that isn’t vastly more expensive in terms of mana, cards, or both. This started a meta of aggressive decks with incredibly explosive openers; often checked only by Reno or hyper-anti-aggro decks.

To allow more midrange decks a chance at survival (outside of potential nerfs), counter cards along the line of “Hungry Crab” could be printed. These would force aggressive decks to adopt alternative openers if too many are seen. Who knows, perhaps even Hunter and Tempo Mage could thrive if all those pirates were gobbled up by Ravenous Nagas?

 

However, there is a risk that suppressing Pirates too much could lead to Jade Golems overrunning the meta even more. This could be an argument for the next sort of tech card…

 

A double whammy of (expensive) board-swing and long term value denial should keep Jade Golems in check

Jamming up Jades

There is little counterplay to Jade Golems. They’re simply big, dumb minions that ramp up more and more. Short of out-tempoing your opponent before they can summon them all, you have little option but to be rolled over by their green army.

If future Control decks are going to survive, one of two things need to happen. Either every class needs access to a super-powered end-game combo that can deal tons of damage or generate huge value off little board presence, or Jade counter-cards need to be printed.

The latter option surely has the least likelihood of creating overpowered and oppressive situations, with more “fun and interactive” gameplay. The example of this hypothetical Jade Swallower may seem extreme; but given the specificity and strength of the mechanic, it is hard to argue it’s not warranted.

Warlock and Mage deserve ways of surviving direct damage spells outside of generic heals

Fire-proofing against Burn

A perennial problem for late-game oriented Mage, Warlock, and Rogue decks has been the inability to protect against burn spells without healing mechanics. Especially with the rise of Aggro Shaman, Taunts simply can’t cut it against Lava Burst and Jade Lightning.

A card like “Spell Shield” would partially protect against it, by forcing your opponent to use their spells or minion damage on it before sending it to face. While understatted and expensive, the extremely defensive effect would be very desirable in some archetypes.

Giving these classes (and others) a tech option to survive direct damage burn more easily will allow more diversity, and force aggro decks to respect board clears without the guarantee of follow-up spells finding lethal. With Reno Jackson rotating out soon, cards like this will be vital for keeping these late-game archetypes alive.

 

N’zoth style resurrections aren’t a problem now; but if the class balance changes, they could be

Stopping Lazarus

Balancing resurrect mechanics are a tricky proposition. Against some classes, like Druid, Warrior, or Warlock, they’re a potent proposition. However, classes with powerful transform or stealing effects like Mage, Shaman, and Priest can laugh off their impact.

In order to prevent their impact from being too polarizing, some kind of counter-card could even things out. If an emergency stop-valve is present, Team 5 can print more powerful mass-resurrect effects without worrying that they will define the meta for years to come.

Corpse Desecrator would be a clunky and hyper-specific counter; but the power of its effect would make it worth running in some situations. It could also lead to some interesting mind-games as to the most efficient time to drop it.

 

Underpowered? Definitely. Useful? Unlikely. Better safe than sorry? Probably

 

Managing Mill

Mill and fatigue have never been overwhelming archetypes. But Team 5 need to look into preventing alternative strategies from having zero counterplay beyond killing the opponent, in the way that certain mill strategies can. While cards like “Proto-Wisp” on the left are ludicrously underpowered, their existence can help prevent broken situations from occurring. It’s easy for game designers to underestimate the creativity of their audience; an overlooked, powerful mill strategy could be gamebreaking (especially given the infrequency of balance changes and content releases).

Given that Mill decks rarely force the opponent to draw far more than they themselves do, a five card fatigue advantage would turn any Coldlight Oracle shenanigans into at best, a suicide pact. A solution to a very unlikely problem, granted; but giving players unique and interesting counterplay tools is hardly a disaster in itself.

 

Game designers are only human, they make mistakes. In a game that is as committed to the fantasy of physicality in card collections as Hearthstone is, imbalances can take a while to fix. Meaningful tech cards can help make the time between balance change or new content release that bit more bearable, and the meta that bit more diverse.

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Page 1 of 212