CWL Over-reactions

The Optic Dynasty will Fall.

With boots on the ground back, the reign of OpTic was more than assumed to continue into WWII. The early 2000 Series showed this would be the case but everything changed at LAN. OpTic ended there CWL Dallas event getting 3-0’d by TK and Splyce, marking the first time for this roster to go out in that fashion. It hasn’t gotten better either. After recent rostermania, teams filling the top 8 have improved and look to knock OpTic further down the standings. OpTic, a roster formed around 4 of the 10 best players of all time will always have results but their recent drop in form is due surprisingly to player performance. Matthew “FormaL” Piper and the resurgent Ian “Crimsix” Porter gives hope but the recent “LAN struggles” of Damon “Karma” Barlow, and downturn in form from Seth “Scump” Abner should kick start some worry for the Greenwall. In the end, OpTic’s greatest strength is their roster, and a stronger roster may never be formed. Although Father Time is undefeated and OpTic will eventually fall. We may be looking at the year it does.

Swanny is Actually a God.

With Rhys “Rated” Price unable to compete in the most recent 2k, Red looked to the European legend in Callum “Swanny” Swan to replace him for the time being. The first tournament the team would compete in was the online 2000 Series, in which they would win by 3-0’ing Splyce. Swanny himself has not competed since the end of Black Ops 3, playing on the European god squad of Milenium. The roster of Swanny, Tom “Tommey” Trewen , Dylan “MadCat” Daly, and Jordan “Jurd” Crowley dominated the European scene all year, and now minus Swanny make up ¾ of the current Splyce roster. No one is surprised that Swanny still has it, but to take down a top 3 team in the world with less than one week is nothing short of a miracle, bar aside online play. The only reasonable response is that Swanny is truly a god. The question really becomes if he will find himself on a roster full time this year.

 

Classic is a Jetpacker?

The brand new Austin “SlasheR” Liddicoat handpicked EnVyUs roster had the most anticipation of any roster headed into the WWII season. The squad of “Slasher”,Nicholas “Classic” DiCostanzo, Donovan “Temp” Laroda, and Cuyler “Huke” Garlandhave the talent to rival any roster in the world but early days have shown the roster fall flat. Slasher has shown himself to be one of, if not the best player in WWII, so where does the blame fall? Temp and Huke both have showed potential but their comeback is still early, since turning 18 and being able to compete again. The player left on alone on island is Classic, a veteran, and arguably the backbone of the Rise and LG rosters from the last two years. Before the jet pack era Classsic was a known player but nowhere near rated as high as he is now. Unfortunately, we are back to boots though, and it may be too simple just to call Classic a jetpacker, but movement mechanics do play a role in player performance and it very well may be the cause of a notable decline with Classic.

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basic

It’s time to decide the purpose of Basic

The balance changes in 9.1 targeted one set above all others. The Basic Innervate, Hex and Fiery War Axe make up three of the five changed cards. These three changes also attracted the lion’s share of controversy. Hot debate sprang up about class identity, viability and diversity. At the core of this controversy was a fundamental lack of agreement and communication. What is the purpose of the Basic set?

The Tutorial

Teaching tools just need to be simple

One possible interpretation for the purpose of Basic is simply that of teaching new players. The Basic set often includes very simple cards that express the most straightforward of concepts. Cards like Magma Rager teaching the value of Health; Hand of Protection introducing Divine Shield, and Healing Touch showing healing.

If Basic were to follow this philosophy, simplicity would be key. Regardless of viability (beyond being obviously terrible even for new players), the cards would need to be easy to understand. This was partly the explanation behind the changes to Innervate and Fiery War Axe. Adding additional text to bring FWA in line with Eaglehorn Bow or to distinguish Innervate from Coin would add too much complexity.

The downside of this approach is that overly simple cards can often be detrimental to balance. Nuance is often necessary, particularly for cheap cards. You can’t just set a minion’s attack to 2.5 to be able to keep its text straightforward while keeping it viable! And balance is very important for class defining cards that could be around forever.

The Skeleton

Certain cards will define classes for as long as they’re in Standard

Another philosophy for Basic is that of a “Skeleton” for a deck; key cards that remain constant and ensure archetypes and classes remain viable. This has been the practical outcome of Basic. Class cards like Swipe, Fireball, Animal Companion, Backstab and Flametongue are incredibly efficient. Their continued inclusion in Standard helps maintain the same archetypes season after season. It means that favourite classes are less likely to disappear. Decks stick around longer, and certain play styles remain constant.

This appeals to many players. For one thing, it’s a lot cheaper. If a third or even half of decks never change, then that’s fewer card packs that need to be purchased in order to have ladder-worthy decks. What’s more, if you love a particular deck, it stays viable in standard for a long, long time.

This naturally comes at a cost. Blizzard loses out on revenue. Metas can feel stale, and certain archetypes can block others from ever being viable. It’s often boring to play with and against the same cards as a significant proportional of the same decks forever.

The Fallback

basic

Even mediocre cards can be valuable in some metas

Finally, it’s possible that Basic could exist as a kind of fail-safe for what certain classes can do. The cards would not be top tier, but would be strong enough to warrant inclusion if the meta or deck demanded it. Druids won’t always have efficient responses to wide boards, but they will have Starfall. Priest won’t always have the most effective early removal, but they will have Holy Smite and Shadow Word Pain. Hunter will have Hunter’s Mark to fall back on if they really need removal. Strong, but not auto-include cards can give classes leeway regardless of the latest cards in the set, without forcing the designers to print the umpteenth Priest AOE or Mage draw.

This allows classes a limited amount of flexibility regardless of metas. For instance, a meta where zoo-style flood decks with wide boards won’t necessarily mean some classes become completely nonviable. It also provides a decent launching point for newer players to build their collection, whilst retaining freshness across expansions without keeping all half-decent cards behind a paywall.

Of course, downsides still exist. For one, balancing cards perfectly on the cusp between viability and uselessness is even more difficult than usual card design; especially if they’ll be around forever. And to shore up certain unintentional recurring class weaknesses, then either new cards would need to be introduced to Basic or old ones buffed. What’s more, additional flexibility can come at the cost of class identity in many cases.

Communication

Above all, Blizzard needs to adequately communicate what they want from Basic. Their current strategy of explaining individual card nerfs but without fully elucidating their overarching strategy only fuels criticism. Until they can provide a coherent explanation as to why Swipe is an acceptable eternal auto-include but not Fiery War Axe, then conspiracy theories will flourish. Already, players are accusing Blizzard of simply going for a cash grab by making “free” basic cards nonviable.

By making clear their strategy for Basic, Blizzard can both take control of the narrative and allow players to direct their feedback more helpfully. Not only that, but by focusing their internal philosophy, they can help make their own efforts clearer to themselves.

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

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Overwatch World Cup Sydney: Up All Night

Enjoy the shows

There’s a lot of dead bodies to be buried this weekend. Counter Strike killed half its audience with a heart attack. No doubt thanks to things not going as planned. The Overwatch community however is just heartbroken and overjoyed. Set the relationship status to it’s complicated. While on one hand, crowd favorites were obviously the home team of Australia, sleepers like Japan and Spain not only gave great performances, they won over the crowds. Sweden shocked no one in their performance. The biggest came from Taimou as he came to life, shunting Finland through a couple of matches with a very realized smile. The dive meta wasn’t natural law for a 72 hour period and that gave him free reign to poor bullets from a certain beloved Cowboy.

Screenshot of Group C, sydney, world, cup, overwatch

Screencap of from Overwatch World Cup’s website

Screenshot of Group D, sydney, world, cup, overwatch

Screenshot from Overwatch World Cup’s Website

Production for this seems well matched for their set up and the groups once again make their return. This tournament feels markedly different from Contenders. The matches thus far are easy to watch, casted at the same high rate and most of all, the teams themselves seem taken to experiment.

The complaints of dive comp and stale meta sat still for only a few moments. Teams are innovating once again because players are all from different squads, forced to mesh together. This is prime ground for throwing out new ideas and losing very little for being wrong. It heightened everything from the excitement of a live crowd to the players themselves.

Day 1: Don’t Belittle Italy and Spanish Rice

Australia made a bold statement immediately as the opening game of the tournament. They blanked Italy immediately. Only one match went to overtime and despite itself, the games were always interesting. Sweden was nearly shocked by Portugal however, as Mowzassa, kiler4fun and horthic (pronounced Orthic) proved to be just as ready to face off against Misfits Sweden. Cwoosh did not have a strong weekend overall but his team rallied regardless. TviQ proved to be a stronger Tracer while Chipshajen, Manneten and Reinforce anchored the impressive line. Zebbosai’s calls also proved to be a difference maker as Sweden’s play looked more refined than Portugal. That having been said, they stilled tied and put Australia in the Driver seat for their respective group.

Finland, and a rather excited Taimou, beat Vietnam with a whiffle-ball bat. Vietnam fielded an entire gaming squad against Finland and yet looked hapless against them. Not to discount Vietnam but it shows the levels between these teams as a whole and it was still a good showing, albeit brief.

This piece cannot leave out Japan however. Japan is an insulated scene, with very little play from the outside world. This has given Japan a write off in the internationally thus far. The world has not only been put on notice but given a wake up punch to the face. Japan beat Spain in an ‘upset’ to close out the night. HarryHook and neptuNo initially doubted who they were dealing with as Japan’s absurd aggression took everyone by surprise. They were serial killers and they committed to everything as a team.

The shocked Spanish squad was on their back heels for Kings Row battling fruitlessly against players like Ta1yo and AKTM. Both Japanese DPS seemed tailor made for wild strategies, rolling characters like McCree on payload maps, wildly head shoting and stunning at will. It was the stuff of nightmares for a very traditional squad from Spain who looked outmatched. (Believe me when I say this, WATCH THE VOD, it does not disappoint.) Japan’s 3 to one final score won over a load of support as suddenly the groups fate no longer looked decided before committee.

Day 2: Fo, Fo, Fo, Fo

Taking a page out of the NBA, the fo, fo, fo, fo is a joke of winning every best of seven in four games. In this case, Japan, Sweden, Australia and Spain blanked the competition. Liam Neeson would’ve been proud as they terrified their opponents with quality play from everyone. Japan continued to highlight an unorthodox aggressive approach against Vietnam. Spain and Finland started incredibly strong with Taimou’s resurgence but Finland lost out in the end. Australia nearly lost matches against Portugal but won in spite to a delirious home crowd. Sweden’s games mirrored that of Japan with back breaking fights that left Italy reeling.

Day two seems like a wash but the difference in this versus Contenders is that no team was ever truly ‘rolled’. Some maps spun wildly out of control but it seemed less scripted than before. The whole idea of a stale game suddenly went away as teams began doing unexpected strategies. Zarya, Reaper, McCree, Widowmaker, all showed their faces. It was an echo of a year gone by with the games beginning to feel fresh and new. While Dive meta remains the same in consistency, the wave may be beginning to crest and recede. If the trend continues, it could theoretically begin developing cracks that grow wider as fights get wilder.

Day 3: Set the table and blow out the candles

The night started with Sweden finally taking the reins from Australia. The hometown favorites from Sydney were toppled in a three to one exchange that could’ve easily spilled into a tie. The initial two games looked hopeless for Australia until Volskaya where the squad came to life. Battling hard despite ceding the high ground constantly to Sweden’s DPS, Australia choked the win right out of Sweden. Route 66 proved to be the heart breaker however after a blown support ultimate on defense cost Australia the top spot and seed. (Sidenote: Italy and Portugal duked it out for nothing but by box score had a hell of set by the looks of it.)

Eyes turned to Japan as Finland sharpened their knives. If Japan lost, they would take second in group standings and be forced to fight Sweden. Refusing this notion, what essentially was the match of the whole weekend took place. Japan lost a close match on Hollywood before putting its foot down on Lijang Tower and Horizon. In the driver’s seat, they lost control of Dorado against Taimou and company and finished two to two tied. It left the crowd and casters breathless. (Sidenote: Spain cruised over Vietnam and secured the second spot based on maps won/lost.)

Finals: Don’t get up!

Sweden versus Spain ultimately went to Sweden. HarryHook and neptuNo provided ample performances but Sweden’s roster was too stacked. Cwoosh was cold all weekend until he put the button in the final match on Horizon Lunar Colony. The game became an instant classic despite it going Sweden’s way.

Swedish Flag, sydney, world, cup, overwatch

Image courtesy of Liquipedia

Australian Flag, sydney, world, cup, overwatch

Image Courtesy of Liquipedia

The true match of the tournament was Japan and Australia. They went tit for tat against one another. Each match becoming a back and forth between great plays made by great players. Ta1yo would struggle only to be saved by AKTM. Ieatuup and Aetar would match aggression with aggression. No team wanted to go home it seemed. The crowd cheered for every kill Australia got, every point captured, yet never seemed spiteful to Japan’s perfomance. There was a magic in the air and the match exploded finally onto Oasis. Australia closed out a gassed Japanese team who ultimately fell. Japan played their hearts out to win but Australia’s home crowd nearly fainted in the process.

Overall, this weekend pulled in massive viewership, a live crowd of 2000 people and a slew of great games. This games audience is at least dedicated. Overwatch league may be getting laughed at behind closed doors, however the audience clearly exists. It may not fill stadiums but it does fill spaces. Grand ideas will have detractors and detractors. The proof of concept however was shown in Sydney. This may actually work, even if no one wants to be the first to admit it.

Okay, admit it, it was a hell of a series at the very least.


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“From our Haus to yours”

Luminosity Gaming wins CWL Anaheim

Luminosity destroyed European hopes of back to back championships in a nail-biting Grand Final at CWL Anaheim.

Call of Duty’s most historic event saw a repeat of the Stage One finals between Luminosity and Splyce. However, this time the roles were reversed. Luminosity reached the Grand Final through the winners’ bracket, while, Splyce had a strenuous Sunday after dropping to the losers’ bracket following an early loss to fellow countrymen Epsilon.

After narrowly beating OpTic Gaming in the first round of the bracket, Luminosity would go on to sweep Evil Geniuses and Epsilon to cement their spot in the Grand Final.

Grand Final

As many know, Anaheim is illustrious for creating epic games and this one was no different despite the 3-1 score line.

The Grand Final series opened up with Scorch Hardpoint, where LG jumped out to a lead. Splyce would crawl back into the game on the second rotation of hills. It looked like Sam “Octane” Larew had put the nail in the coffin after going on an insane streak of kills in the hangar Hardpoint. However, with LG needing only one point to win, Splyce contested the hill for around 30 seconds, eventually closing the deficit and snatching the win 250-249. To see the exciting end just watch this clip.

Game two was Search and Destroy on Crusher. The teams traded rounds, although Luminosity was much more consistent throughout the game and looked experts at holding and retaking bomb sites. The scoreline looks close but Luminosity looked in control throughout the map and won it.

Map three was Throwback Uplink, which started out relatively slow with the first half ending at just 5-3. LG was on the attack for the majority of that half but didn’t convert many chances that were until the second half. All of the NA team went on a tear in the second half ending the game 11-5 after rallying the drone multiple times. Throwback was a pleasure to watch with both Octane and Trei “Zer0” Morris showing off their superb accuracy, gunning people down from range with the NV4.

The final map in the series was Retaliation Hardpoint which again went down to the wire. Similarly to game one, Luminosity jumped out to the lead with MVP Octane going on a seven kill streak and earning his bombardment. However, Splyce came back after Octane wasted his streaks allowing Jordan “Jurd” Crowley to get some of his own. The game came down to the bridge hill with all the players piling in like a game of Advanced Warfare. This time Renato “Saints” Forza secured key kills to win the championship for his squad.

Closing Thoughts

Octane earned the MVP award for the event. [Source CWL]

As they did in Counter-Strike, the Luminosity organization has seemingly plucked out another rising team that has won them a championship. Casters, analysts and players have been tipping the team to reach the top for a while now and they have finally succeeded in doing so. Octane earned the MVP award but it was Saints’ revitalisation that truly gave them the power to win.

Although Splyce did not win the Grand Final, they too deserve huge credit. Reaching the final has further merited their win at Stage One after defeating a string of teams in the losers’ bracket and still showing up in the Grand Final. Bance was crazy with the ERAD this event, scoring multi-kill after multi-kill, while Zer0 made a case for being the best player in the world.

This year Anaheim has gifted us a new rivalry and I fully expect to see a rematch between these two titans in Stage Two playoffs of the World League.


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The Evergreen Problem – Is it Time to Rethink Classic?

A Perennial Problem

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

Eternal Strength

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

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

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

Class Struggle

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

The Danger of Continual Correction

Having to print a new Lightbomb every expansion comes with risks

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

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

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

Lessons Not Yet Learned

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

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

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

The Solution; a Revamped Classic Set

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

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

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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

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Recall

StarCraft Weekly Recall

Welcome to my first ever Weekly Recall. A recap of the major events in StarCraft in the past week.

GSL Round of 16 – Group A

 

Players: Jun “TY” Tae Yang, Kim “Stats” Dae Yeob, Han “Byul” Ji Won, Han “Alive” Li Seok

 

Advancing Players: TY, Stats

 

TY: Fresh off his first premier tournament victory at WESG, TY continues to make a strong case for why he’s a tournament favorite. Advancing 4-1, TY cruised his way through Group A. While he did drop a game to Stats in the Winner’s Match, the games he did win were stomps. TY is as close to his peak form as he’s ever been. And based on performances across the board last week, he could be the best player in the world at the moment.

Stats: Stats’ games against Byul were as close to a Code-S level guidebook on defending early Zerg aggression as we’re ever going to get; he made short work of Byuls repeated attempts at early rushes with increasing effectiveness throughout the day. The few games that went into the late-game never showed Stats threatened in any real way. All-round, Stats’ PvZ at the moment is currently near pristine.

Against TY however, Stats looked simply outmatched. If Stats hopes to make it to the semi-finals he’ll need to step up his PvT to at least the level he showed against Byun and Ryung in the Round of 32. The good news for Stats is, if he can make it past his next round, he will have essentially booked his spot in the finals.

Byul vs. Alive: While Byul and Alive would fail to advance, their head-to-head would deliver the most climatic game of the week. Byul vs. Alive on Newkirk Precinct was a 35 minute deadlock. While Byul expanded more aggressively early, Alive’s MULEs would compensate hard. This was especially relevant as ultimately the deadlock would only be broken as Alive’s economy bled out just that much faster.

Recall

The kinds of games that remind you of why you watch StarCraft

GSL Round of 16 – Group B

 

Players: Lee “Innovation” Shin Hyung, Park “Dark” Ryung Woo, Eo “SoO” Yoon Soo, Kim “Classic” Doh Woo

 

Advancing Players: Innovation, SoO

 

Innovation: Innovation would advance 4-1 following a hard fought series against Classic in the Winner’s Match. Inno’s TvZ looked as clean as one would expect from the favorite coming into GSL, moving past SoO 2-0. Classic however was able to reveal cracks in his armor. His TvP was no longer looking as flawless as it did against Stats in IEM Gyeonggi. With a rematch against Stats coming up in the quarter-finals, Stats is without question going to be looking for revenge for Gyeonggi.

SoO: SoO put on an interesting show in Group B, seeming to get better as the day progressed. While he lost 2-0 against Innovation in the second match of the day, he won a clean 2-0 against Dark in the Loser’s Match. SoO would drop a game against Classic in the Final Match, but for the most part, SoO was never in any real danger of losing the series. The last game in particular saw the Protoss struggling to respond to SoO’s aggression, closing out the series against Classic far more cleanly than Innovation.

Classic: It says everything about Group B that Classic, one of the most decorated Protoss in StarCraft II, came in as the underdog. Yet in a Group stacked with monsters, it was Classic that turned out as the unexpected entertainer of the day. Opening Group B with an unusual early Immortal, Classic came out the gate putting on a show. After 2-0ing Dark, Classic went on to put on a spectacular display against Innovation. At the conclusion to a close 2-1, Classic at one point looked as if he were minutes away from punching his ticket into the quarterfinals. However, Classic overextended an advantageous situation, losing his main army as a result, and was wiped out in the counter-attack.

At the very least, Classic got his revenge on Dark for picking him into the group of death. A rare feat as any in Legacy of the Void.

Dark: Dark, the unrivaled King of WCS Korea in 2016. Dark came into the Round of 16 looking in top form, advancing 4-0 from his group. One round later, he exits GSL 0-4. While it would be easy to write Dark off based on this performance, StarCraft II isn’t that type of game. In StarCraft II, anyone can show up having a bad day. It actually says more about the competition at the highest level of StarCraft that even the best Zerg in the world will get destroyed on a bad day. In StarCraft, Gods will inevitably bleed.

But make no mistake, Dark is still a God. And his performance here will be remembered as nothing but an outlier in a legacy of greatness. If remembered at all.

Now I’m not going to pretend to know what Classic was thinking here but I’d imagine “F*** your extractor” is a reasonable guess.

Balance Team Community Feedback

 

Widow Mine
Reaction to the Widow Mine nerf has been positive. However, the balance team will be paying attention to concerns that, coupled with the Liberator nerf, may prove that it was an over-correction. The changes discussed are listed below for reference.

Widow Mine: Splash damage +shield bonus reduced from +40 to +25 (Currently Testing)

Liberator: Concord Cannon damage changed from 85 to 75 (Live)

 

Carrier
The balance team will be exploring buffs to the Corruptor rather than nerfs to the Carrier, based on feedback that the proposed changes have been ineffectual.

Carrier: Interceptor cost increased from 10 to 15

 

Hydralisk
Hydralisk buff will remain in testing due to lack of feedback. Hardly surprising and most likely as a result of community concerns being heavily fixated on the proposed Widow Mine buff.

Hydralisk: Health increased from 80 to 90.

 

 

Balance Team Community Feedback post.

Featured images courtesy AfreecaTV and Blizzard Entertainment.

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The King Falls Early – An Explosive Ro32

The first GSL Code S of 2017 is underway, and already we’ve seen some excellent games and huge upsets. The most notable story from the Round of 32 was the shocking elimination of defending GSL and Blizzcon champion Hyun “Byun” Woo.

Byun

 

Considered widely to be the best in the world, Byun lost a close series with top-tier Protoss Kim “Stats” Dae Yeob after crushing an the unknown Zerg, Lee “DRGLing” Won Ju. Byun rushed to Liberator range in a back-and-forth Game 3, but found himself out-positioned by the high mobility of Stats’s Stalker/Colossus composition. Stats closed it out by faking an attack on Byun’s third base, luring out the inferior Terran army, and blanketing it with Psionic Storms.

 

Next, he would face the Terran-vs-Terran expert Kim “Ryung” Dong Won for a chance to move on to the Round of 16. Game 1 was a very convincing win for Byun, utilizing doom drops and multi-pronged attacks to out position his opponent. In Game 2, Byun went for an odd two-base tank push that Ryung easily repelled with a mirror build, prompting a swift counter with double the siege tanks to choke out Byun’s natural base and win.

Then there was Game 3… Game 3 will surely haunt Byun for years to come, and cost him both a chance at a second consecutive GSL championship, and the title of best in the world. After taking some heavy worker losses from an early Cyclone attack, Byun attempted a doom drop in Ryung’s main base with four full Medivacs. To the horror of Tastless, Artosis, and Byun fans everywhere, he flew over a missile turret, decided NOT to drop after all, and flew back over that same turret without a Medivac boost. 20 supply and two siege tanks exploded out of the sky in a matter of seconds.

“This was the most indecisive thing I’ve ever seen Byun do… This is the worst move that Byun has done that I can remember.” – Artosis

Less than three minutes later, Byun typed out “gg” and buried his head in his hands.

 

 

Scarlett

 

Second only to the fall of the King was Canadian Zerg Sasha “Scarlett” Hostyn’s remarkable run in Code S – a very rare occurrence for a non-Korean. After smashing the Protoss Kim “Myungsik” Myung-Sik 2-0, she went on to face Kim “Classic” Doh Woo. Game 1 was very short, as Classic masterfully countered her proxy hatch all-in.

 

 

Game 2 we saw Classic go for the very popular archon drop, but Scarlett was able to push away his mid-game Immortal-Sentry push while defending her main from charge Zealots and a pair of Archons.

 

 

Scarlett immediately launched a Roach/Ravager counter attack on Classic’s third base with a 180 degree surround, wiping his Sentry-heavy army and winning the game.

 Game 3 was one of the best games of group stage. Classic’s first two adepts managed to get a devastating seven drone kills. His follow up with glaives killed another six. Behind massively in economy against a Protoss starting up double-stargate Phoenix production, Scarlett attempted a full force Baneling bust that failed to do game-ending damage.

 

 

He would use that lead to roll over Scarlett’s Hydralisk force with a high-tech Protoss army of Immortals, Archons, Void Rays, and High templar a few minutes later.

 

Another fantastic series and the one that would deny “the foreign hope” passage to the Round of 16 (last time this happened was 2013) was Scarlett vs. Han “aLive” Lee Seok. Scarlett was able to come back from a huge deficit in Game 1 with some fantastic burrowed Infestor play and Zergling counter attacks.

 

She almost took Game 2 with a Roach/Ravager timing, and almost won it again later on with a very low economy Brood Lord play. Before the Brood Lords could arrive at the Terran’s base, Scarlett made a questionable choice in attacking into Alive’s tanks with just her ground army, leaving the Brood Lords exposed to his small Viking force and fully upgraded marines.

 

 

 

Game 3 was very close as well, but Scarlett’s burrowed Infestors and Muta/Zergling/Baneling were not enough to handle Alive’s impressive macro and bio control.

Other great games to watch from the Round of 32 were Solar vs. Trap Game 3, sOs vs Curious Game 2, and Ryung vs Stats Game 3.  All VoD’s can be found organized and in high quality at SC2Links.com. The Round of 16 Groups Selections will be held on February 1.

All photos courtesy of AfreecaTV

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