tech

Tech to beat the new expansion meta

Knights of the Frozen Throne is mere hours from NA release at the time of writing. Theorycrafting is in full swing, and players are eager to unleash their shiny new cards and decks upon the ladder. Others are greedily seizing upon the opportunity to climb with last meta’s most efficient decks. It’s a perfect time for deck tech to shine.

This can be a tricky meta to navigate. A combination of crazily greedy decks featuring flashy new legendaries like the Lich King can be a struggle for reactive decks to deal with. Meanwhile, those sticking to old-fashioned aggro provide a challenge to those seeking to innovate. So how do you navigate this oddly polarised ladder experience?

Frostmourne belongs in a Museum

Eat their Death Knight dreams with a gloopy spit

One recurring theme of the expansion has been a number of incredibly powerful weapons. Warrior’s new Deaths-bite-alike Blood Razor threatens uber-efficient removal. Rogue’s Shadowblade and supporting Doomerang offer weapon damage without hurting Valeera herself. Both the Warrior and Paladin Death Knight Hero come with hugely powerful weapons attached that represent huge tempo and value swings. Not to mention the Lich King himself (and Arfas) can fetch the terrifying Frostmourne, a weapon that threatens to resurrect all minions it kills.

The answer to all this massive weapon value? Well, luckily Hearthstone has a built-in pressure valve for strong weapons. Weapon hate like Harrison Jones, Acidic Swamp Ooze and Gluttonous Ooze can quickly put an end to the value fiesta. What’s more, this kind of weapon hate is perfect to survive and turn the clock against the hyper-aggressive Pirate Warrior. Punishing this hyper-aggressive deck is a great strategy to stop those seeking to sneak out a quick legend amidst bumbling homebrews.

The tempo treatment

The solution to wacky combos and crazy legendaries is good old-fashioned mana efficiency

Tech doesn’t always mean playing specific cards. Often it’s as much a matter of playstyle and deck choice. In a highly varied, experimental meta, it’s often hard to play reactive decks. Playing as Control is dependent on knowing what you’re up against. You can’t be prepared for the kind of mad, greedy combos that will be thrown at you.

Instead, decks that push a specific gameplan with powerful tempo plays are likely to be even further rewarded than usual. Aggressive Midrange or Combo like Miracle Rogue or Midrange Hunter decks are likely to see a lot of success. Their brand of snowballing mid-game board presence is especially difficult to deal with by unrefined Control. While Aggro can be shut down by new lifesteal and taunt minions, aggressive Midrange can provide the beefy late game to bring games to a close despite Taunts, Heal and whatever else Control throws at you. Doing more for your mana than they can is a sure-fire way to victory.

The downside is a limited ability to react to the opponent’s gameplan before you can execute yours. This is where tech cards can come in most handy; as they allow you to push your gameplan of mid-game minions while severely hampering your opponent’s strategies.

Let none pass

 

The Lich King’s popularity could be his undoing

The Lich King is one of the flashiest and most impressive legendaries of Knights of the Frozen Throne. The souped-up Ironbark Protector is likely to see considerable play. His less flashy cousin, Bonemare, also has generated significant praise. Both promise big late-game taunts that could be a nightmare for many classes to deal with. Both Aggro and Control struggle to deal with these kinds of big, valuable bodies that prevent you going face or killing threatening minions.

 

If your deck lacks removal for these kinds of threats, then consider adding some way to destroy or avoid it. The Black Knight is a Classic taunt counter and can provide huge tempo swings. Particularly against the Lich King, he’s a devastating late-game board swing. For decks like Midrange Hunter that otherwise lacks removal, he could be an invaluable combination of beefy body and powerful effect.

Shush

“Lot of stats, but weak to silence” covers a lot of new minions

If you can’t  quite stomach the 6 mana for a 4/5, consider running a Silence. Spellbreaker can provide a fantastic tempo swing, especially against the buffed bodies of Bonemare. With a myriad of new, interesting and powerful effects for players to test, silence is unlikely to go without targets. Deathrattles and buffs are a recurring theme of knights of the Frozen Throne, and Silence counters both.

While Silencing the Lich King isn’t quite as powerful as destroying him, it often is all you need to push for lethal. In return, you get a cheaper, more flexible minion that works on a number of targets. It also notably counters Lifesteal minions that otherwise could continually generate huge healing for the opponent.

Feeling crabby

Pirate Warrior is likely to try and prey on weak, unrefined decks: be ready

Crabs like Golakka Crawler are also a solid choice. If you get to a glut of Pirate Warriors, Golakka can provide the win rate edge you need without running the slew of reactive tools that can compromise your effectiveness against the hordes of experimental midrange and control.

Depending on how players choose to experiment, Hungry Crab might also be a sensible inclusion. A Divine Aggro Murloc Paladin featuring the new Righteous Protector could rise to early prominence. In which case, Hungry Crab will severely cut those explosive Murloc starts down to size.

If Divine Paladin truly takes off, then Blood Knight could be a fantastic, if specific, tech to tear through those Divine shields and generate absurd amounts of stats.

Don’t fear the tweaker

It’s survival of the fittest out there: adapt to survive! Though you still probably shouldn’t play Adaptation

Above all, the key to succeeding in the early expansion meta is adaptability. With so many cards and archetypes to test, the meta will change by the day, if not by the hour. Feel free to swap in techs, decks and new cards. Think about what works and what doesn’t and refine your deck further with each win or loss. Finding the optimal choice for both fun and wins is one of the best parts of a new expansion.

So get out there and give those other theory-crafted decks the testing of a lifetime!


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

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Knights of the Frozen Throne is Hearthstone’s boldest expansion yet

Knights of the Frozen Throne is less than a week from its August 10th release. With the majority of the cards released, Death Knight heroes are getting the lion’s share of attention and hype. But beyond these new undead heroes, Knights of the Frozen Throne is quietly pushing at the limits of Hearthstone’s core design philosophy in the boldest way yet.

Whether or not it will work out is still up in the air. Regardless, it’s hard not to admire the risks and brave steps the designers are taking with these exciting new cards.

Discarding from the opponent’s deck

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Skulking Geist doesn’t care where your one mana spell is. Hand or deck, friend or foe, it’s getting destroyed

Tech cards traditionally interact with the board. Be it Hungry Crab or Harrison Jones, almost all specific counters deal with something in play. Dirty Rat pushed the envelope; it countered strong battlecries by threatening minions in the opponent’s hand. However, this type of tech card is insufficient in providing a counter to that enemy of Control: Jade Druid. You can’t interrupt the infinite shuffling of Jade Idols by any traditional mechanic.

But Skulking Geist is not traditional. Not only does the upcoming minion discard cards of a specific type for the opponent, it discards them from their deck. This is arguably the boldest tech or disruption card yet printed. Cards in your deck, providing you had the hand space to draw them, used to be sacrosanct. They were untouchable. However, Skulking Geist cares little for past convention, and will rip Jade Idols, Shield Slams and Inner Fires out of decks without mercy. It cannot be played around, and completely disrupts Jade Druid’s draw-till-they-drop gameplan.

How this will feel is yet to be seen. The level of community worry over the underwhelming Gnomeferatu’s deck discard effect indicates that players may react more negatively than expected. But considering the level of frustration and vitriol thrown at Jade idol, this may be a small price to pay.

Complex cards

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Corpsetaker is wordy without being difficult to understand

Imp-losion was one of the swingiest cards of Goblins Vs Gnomes. Its outcome ranged form terrible (2 damage and 2 Imps) to crushingly powerful (4 damage and 4 Imps). Many publicly wondered why it didn’t follow a more balanced range of outcomes. For instance, the number of imps could vary inversely with the amount of damage (2 imps for 4 damage, or vice versa). However, it would break one of the implicit rules of Hearthstone: If a mechanic can’t be expressed incredibly simply, it can’t be on a card.

Knights of the Frozen Throne challenges this. Not only are there cards that involve complicated concepts like “If {condition}, cast this again”, there are cards with more text than seen yet. The boldest is Corpsetaker, which has a staggering 16 words spread across two sentences.

Longer descriptions and more complicated game mechanics can be taxing to learn. But it’s refreshing to see cards unafraid to flirt with wordiness. Too many good card ideas would be gimped by overly-conservative simplifications. In a game as complex as Hearthstone, it’s far more important that cards will do what they say they do.

Unprecedented deck manipulation

As Tavern Brawls have proven, creating a deck with many copies of a few super-powerful cards can be brokenly powerful

The amount of value in your deck used to be fixed and absolute. Fatigue was both a threat and a gameplan. However, Jade Idol broke those rules by allowing the shuffling of infinite value. Beyond Jade Idol, Knights of the Frozen Throne allows deck manipulation on an unprecedented scale. As I discussed in Why Dead Man’s Hand is impossible to evaluate, cards like Dead Man’s Hand and Archbishop Benedictus are the first time that players have had control of what cards they’re able to add to their deck on a massive scale.

With the Fatigue win condition irrelevant for a while now, this new mass deck manipulation allows alternate paths to victory. The potential of marrying Priest and, say, Mage, cards on a massive scale is a daunting one indeed. As is the potential of infinite N’zoths or endless streams of Arcane Giants. Still, this bold approach to solving the late-game value conundrum facing many control decks has huge potential.

A new Exodia

Could this be the face of the end of the world?

While combo deck’s “win conditions” have been apart of Hearthstone ever since the first one turn kills were established, they all had a hidden asterisk. Winning in Hearthstone has always been down to dealing damage; and that’s left it counters. Armor or cards like Ice Block interferes with them, making it so that there were counters to any conceivable combo. Even Un’goro’s Quest “Exodia” mage is undone by a well timed Dirty Rat, Ice Block, Counterspell or Eye for an Eye.

Knights of the Frozen Throne adds the first (non-Jaraxxus) way to kill your opponent that revolves not around damage, but simple destruction. Summoning all four “Horsemen of the Apocalypse” from Paladin’s Death Knight Hero Power will simply win the game immediately. This combo, combined with bounce effects, or hero-power refresh abilities, could potentially kill opponents even through defenses. Ice Block, insurmountable Armor totals, or even an Eye for an Eye while at one health would do nothing.

While still counterable by a clutch Dirty Rat, Coin denial (in Thaurissan-less standard), secrets like Potion of Polymorph or simply racing your opponent down, destroying your opponent without dealing down is one of the boldest combo introductions. This is simply because it’s not dependent on what every other combo has relied on: damage.

Tutoring for early removal

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All your early-game needs in one handy package

Forge of Souls is freshly revealed at the time of writing, and is already looking like a strong inclusion in Control Warrior decks. Drawing two cards for two mana is almost always great value. Where Forge Souls breaks new, brave ground is in what it tutors. Tutoring is not new to Hearthstone, but the ability to tutor for early-game board control tools in the early game is.

If Forge Souls turns out to be a staple, it will completely upend Warrior’s consistency. The fabled guaranteed starting War Axe will look a lot more like reality, and the nightmare of a post-mulligan hand stuffed with unplayable spells and nine drops will become far less frequent. Forge Souls, together with War Axe and the New Blood Razor, is an early game in a box. Potentially, it could rescue even the clunkiest of starts.

This kind of massively improved early consistency will allow Warrior decks to more readily break deck-building rules. More importantly, Warrior will be at the mercy of early-game RNG far less frequency. This kind of added reliability to early game could not only reduce frustrations but also go a long way to making Hearthstone more competitive and skill-based. Or, at least restrict RNG to the entertaining Yogg-Saron variety rather than the perfect curve vs zero removal kind.

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

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Hearthstone’s design is evolving for the better

Hearthstone’s come a long way since its 2014 release. In that time, the design team has changed and expanded; and with it so has its philosophies. The dev team have developed their strategies on designing cards significantly. With a focus on interactivity, diversity and balance, the meta is healthier than ever. But how have Team 5’s design strategies evolved? And what does that mean for the cards of the future?

Neutrals are less ubiquitous and generic

Ragnaros, while unique, was too ubiquitously powerful

Medivh’s strengths lie in unique synergies and interactions

Gone are the days of Doctor Boom and Piloted Shredder. Very few Neutral cards are in a great number of different competitive decks. Those that are are chosen due to interesting synergies, not raw stats. In the past, decks (especially aggressive ones) have seemed very similar. With everyone running Knife Jugglers, Shredders, and Haunted Creepers, it was hard for decks to feel distinct.

This has been remedied with rotations, select nerfs and conservative stats on new early-game neutrals. While there are a number of Neutrals run in specific decks, they are chosen for a specific purpose instead of just being “good”. Fire Fly is popular for its token synergies, Acolytes for its synergistic card draw, and Medivh for its spell-focused late game power. Decks have a huge number of unique cards, and even decks with similar strategies feel different. Playing against a Token Shaman is very different to fighting Token Druid!

Lifegain is more class-appropriate and interactive

Lifegain is an important part of Hearthstone to counter Aggro and Burn. However, non-interactive lifegain focused around a few ultra-powerful cards can make games feel frustrating . Team 5 have shied away from super-powerful single-card healing available to all classes like Reno and Antique Healbot. After all, it’s pretty frustrating to have games decided by whether or not someone draws one single uber-important card!

Instead, Team 5 have restricted lifegain. While this led to some classes becoming unfortunately weak (RIP Warlock), heal has become far less frustrating. Lifegain that remains often focuses on synergy, spells and board interaction. Cards like Alley Armorsmith, Hallazeal, Earthen Scales or Priest of the Feast require more thought, deckbuilding and smart play than simple burst heal. This increases counterplay and skill-testing. Meanwhile, the lifegain being restricted to classes with it as part of their core identity has furthered sense of class identity. It is, however, pretty unfortunate that it comes at the expense of Warlock’s viability.

Late-game cards are more pro-active, synergistic and powerful

DIE INSECT is RNG dependent, but more pro-active and exciting

Tank Up was great for Warriors, but boring

That fatigue was a viable win condition for so much of Hearthstone’s history is telling. Early on, there were simply no options to put value into your deck to outlast Control without becoming supremely clunky versus other decks. Cards like Ysera were strong of course, but with removal powerful and ubiquitous, it was far easier to remove than threaten with minions in the late game. This came to a head with the addition of cards like Entomb, Elise and Justicar Trueheart. Control decks almost stopped running threats altogether in favour of the Golden Monkey (and even then, only after the opponent had first been forced to play theirs).

While this had the effect of fascinating, complex gameplay, it lacked excitement. Hearthstone rarely shines when both players are pursuing a strategy of doing nothing. To encourage more pro-active late-game play, numerous potent high-value cards were introduced. C’thun decks, Quests such as Fire Plume’s Heart and yes, even the controversial Jade Idol, pushed action into the late game. Instead of not drawing cards, now players compete to activate their own powerful win conditions. Though some disparity in their availability is still present, new powerful end-game tools will help bridge this gap.

Limited burst damage from hand

Of all the nerf targets for Hearthstone’s balance changes, none are more consistently targeted than burst damage. Dying from max HP is frustrating and has limited counterplay for classes without Armor or Ice Block. The potential downside of this is to limit Combo decks. But Team 5 has ensured that Combo decks still exist, albeit in a more value-oriented gameplan.

Modern Combo decks like Miracle Priest, Miracle Rogue and Burn Mage no longer seek to burst down the enemy in one turn. Instead, they seek to utilise powerful synergies to deal damage over multiple turns or create massive value swings. This allows more opportunity for counterplay, as well as being less salt-inducing.

AOE is more efficient

Powerful AOE increases the options for Control decks to flourish

AOE has gotten better. For a variety of reasons, it’s now far better to include Classic AOE cards like Brawl and Blizzard. Not only that, but Team 5 are becoming committed to giving most classes both early and late-game AOE removal. These new cards are often powerful and efficient, allowing for for more reactions to board flooding and giving Midrange and Control more breathing room.

Not only does this improve archetype diversity, it also increases class diversity and counterplay. Playing differently against a Priest than against a Mage due to their different arsenal of AOE removal options is skill-testing and interactive, as is choosing the right moment to nuke the board.

The future

Though it’s too early to call much for the new Knights of the Frozen Throne Expansion, there are promising signs. Complexity is going up, with new mechanics pushing the envelope of what’s possible. The designers’ continual commitment to meta diversity, counter-play and balance has created some of the best metas of Hearthstone history. Here’s hoping the next one lives up to that high standard.

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

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Frustrating card design ideas not to revive

Coming out of the unprecedented well-balanced and fair meta of Un’goro, it’s easy to reflect on the successes of card design. However, as the new expansion “Knights of the Frozen Throne” rapidly approaches, it’s important to remember the cautionary tales. Hearthstone has had its fair share of frustrating, problematic or downright overpowered card designs in the past. Reflecting on these can help avoid similar mistakes in the future.

The sticky, snowballing early minion

frustrating

Northshire Cleric is a great example of a strong early minion that doesn’t snowball out of control and kill you by turn five (usually)

I’ve talked about this before, but it bears repeating.

Cards that snowball out of control can be fun and engaging to play against. They can help turn a razor thin tempo advantage leveraged at the perfect moment into a win.

Unfortunately, snowball cards that are dropped on turn one more often than not decide games based on draw RNG. This is even worse when said cards are both hard to remove and gain attack quickly. An unchecked Mana Wrym doing 10+ damage by turn four because you couldn’t find your Wrath is hardly engaging.

If snowbally mechanics are added, they should remain at a mana cost where the opponent has time to prepare for and react to them.

Random early-game pings

frustrating

It’s hard to control random pings on turn one

In a video for the game design and theory channel “Extra Credits”, Flame Juggler is used as an example of how having low-impact RNG can be exciting but not frustrating. Unfortunately, the video (which was worked on by a team that includes current Hearthstone designer Dan Emmons), misses two important points.

The initial thrust of the video, that RNG is better when it’s not game-deciding all on its own, is sound. However, the writers underestimate the extent to which even one damage in the early game can have a huge impact. What’s more, they gloss over the fatigue that sets in when you see this happen every game.

Cards like Flame Juggler or Fiery Bat are frustrating because an early game ping is almost always near-useless going face, and almost always very good when hitting a minion. Trading into a Mana Wrym or Northshire Cleric is amazing, whereas leaving it alive while dealing only one damage to face is catastrophic.

If early-game RNG is to be introduced, it should not have constant 50/50 dice rolls between one obviously amazing and one consistently useless outcome. Instead, focusing on a narrower range of outcomes can help keep fun high and frustration low.

Cheap Charge minions (that can go face)

Charge minions have had a rough history. A majority of Classic cards that involve charge have been changed in one way or another, with only a few going un-touched by balance changes.

The core of the problem is how Charge allows Buffs to be turned into burn. Classes that shouldn’t have massive damage from an empty board can gain access to it through a combination of Charge minions and buffs. As Quest Rogue and Combo Warrior proved, this allowed certain classes to have access to obnoxious levels of damage from hand.

Charge limits design space on buffs, and risks adding oppressive combos. Future charge cards should be designed more like Grommash Hellscream and less like Leeroy Jenkins to open up design space for powerful buffs without risking frustrating OTKs. Combo decks deserve better and more interactive finishers.

As Quest Rogue proved, even seemingly innocuous Charge minions can be crushingly powerful with buffs

Uber-efficient cheap Weapons

It’s dangerous when a class can’t be out-tempo’d. Pre-nerf spirit claws led to a meta where Midrange Shaman couldn’t be countered

Early game board control is arguably the most important factor in the majority of Hearthstone games. The first few turns more often than not completely shape the remaining game.

It’s unsurprising then, that the most powerful tools for achieving early board control would be some of the most powerful cards in the game. Warrior has become kind of early tempo almost entirely through Fiery War Axe. Cheap weapons that contain a package of both minions and a weapon have proven especially strong, as Jade Claws and N’zoth’s First Mate demonstrate.

This is all well and good, but a proliferation of early weapons can end up being restrictive on classes without access to them. Instead of giving every class in the game a super-powerful early weapon, it may be best to restrict it to a very few cards in a very few classes. N’zoth’s First Mate and Fiery War Axe in the same deck may simply be too strong, as were pre-nerf Spirit Claws and Jade Claws being too consistent.

Instead, new weapons should be powerful but at least somewhat expensive, so that counters like Acidic Swamp Ooze and Harrison Jones can come into play.

High-Variance card generation

Discover and random card generation tends to work well in a fun, non-frustrating way when it is limited in the kind of outcomes it can produce. Stonehill Defender in non-Paladin classes is always going to give a pretty predictable outcome, as will Hydrologist. These kinds of limited-pool discovers offer more counterplay than cards like Swashburglar or Babbling Book, where the potential efficiency and value of the generated card can vary massively.

The problem with this wide variance is not only more frustration when outcomes fall far above or below expectations, but also reduces counterplay. In the future, card generation should fall within a narrower or more predictable range, especially when attached to very cheap minions.

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

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Death Knight Heroes and the Justicar problem

The upcoming “Knights of the Frozen Throne” expansion for Hearthstone promises death, life-leeching powers and re-imagined versions of the nine classes we know and love. But by granting new, exciting hero powers, could Team 5 revive not only monstrous Death Knights but a longstanding issue with hero power upgrades? Will the Justicar problem sour the experience of Death Knight Heroes?

Welcome to the RNG Tournament, Champion

Death Knight Heroes and the Justicar problem

Getting twice the Armor per turn early is a massive advantage

The old days of Control Warrior mirrors had a dark secret. On the one hand, the matchup was full of tense and high-stakes gameplay; precision resource management, risky Sylvanases, fatigue maths and Gorehowl/Harrison brinkmanship. Golden Monkey timing alone is deserving of a strategy guide in itself.

But despite all this high-level skill testing gameplay, there was one aspect that decided game after game, and it came down to pure luck.

The player who drew Justicar Trueheart first had a massively improved chance to win. In a matchup where the Hero Power would be used roughly every turn for the entire game, drawing a card that made it twice as effective 10 cards sooner than the opponent translated into 20 additional armour. This naturally lead to significant frustration and circumvented interesting, skill-based gameplay.

 

Knight of the Living Dead

Death Knight Heroes and the Justicar problem

Deathstalker Rexxar may redefine Hunter (with the right support)

The titular “Knights” of “Knights of the Frozen Throne” are Warcraft’s Death Knights. Raised and bound with sentience and power intact, these powerful beings will appear in Hearthstone as alternate versions of Heroes. Similar to Jarraxxus, they will replace the art and emotes of your Hero, and grant a powerful new Hero Power. Unlike Jaraxxus, they grant Armour instead of resetting Health, and have an immediate board impact.

The only example released so far is the “Deathstalker Rexxar” Hunter Death Knight Hero. Six mana and granting five armour as well as a two damage board wipe, the true power comes in the form of swapping the Steady Shot Hero Power. Instead of the familiar two damage a turn, you get to stitch together a “Zombeast” from two discovered Beasts. This massive value engine offers to grant Hunters a form of infinite gas in lieu of SMOrcing ability.

In an interview with streamer and pro player Tang “Eloise” Haiyun, Lead Mission Designer Dave Kosak dropped hints as to other classes. Other Heroes are likely to be similarly value-oriented (though there was an indication that at least one would be more aggressive). With so much value on the line, could we see the return of the Justicar problem, where whoever draws their super-powerful new Hero first gets a massive advantage in a Control mirror?

A Forgotten Problem?

It’s easy to see how this problem may have flown under the radar. Other super-powerful late-game cards like Jaraxxus, Old Gods or Quests rarely decide games purely on being drawn early or late. However, these examples have some obvious balancing features that would not apply to Hero cards. Jaraxxus opens you up to vulnerability to burst. Old Gods can be removed or Dirty Rat’d out. Quests start in your starting hand regardless, so tend to be completed symmetrically.

Hero cards, on the other hand, cannot be interacted with. They do not make your Hero more vulnerable; in fact they grant additional armour. Hero Powers cannot be drawn out by Dirty Rat, interfered with, or removed (except in Wild, where they can be stolen by Sideshow Spelleater). Worst of all, they have no special card draw mechanics, meaning drawing it early is entirely down to draw RNG.

Because of this, the unique confluence of issues could allow this old, niche Justicar problem to return from the dead on a massive scale.

Tutoring to the Rescue

Death Knight Heroes and the Justicar problem

An Arcanologist style card for Death Knight Heroes instead of Secrets could improve consistency and prevent salt

The biggest problem with focusing such late-game power into single Legendary cards is that they are just that: single. Drawing one particular card from your deck is much more RNG dependent than drawing multiple. This is why Reno decks only really took off with the introduction of Kazakus; adding just one additional super-powerful build-around massively improved the decks’ consistency. It’s also the main reason drawing Justicar or not was so wide in variance and decisive.

There is a way around this: “tutoring”. Borrowed from Magic: The Gathering, tutoring is the ability to draw specific cards or card types from your deck. A card that drew Hero cards from your deck would massively reduce the variance in getting your Hero Power out roughly at the same time as your opponent. Similarly, an ability to copy Hero Powers in Standard would allow for tech card based counterplay.

While there would still be an element of RNG, the games where your Hero card is in the bottom three cards of your deck would suddenly become far less frustrating.

Control Mirrors Matter

This may seem like an unnecessary focus on a relatively rare event, but Control Mirrors shouldn’t be dismissed. While infrequent, they are the source of some of the most skillful and compelling gameplay in Hearthstone. They are literally the reason many people play the game at all. Over-emphasis on RNG can ruin this experience, and draw RNG is no exception.

If Team 5 want Death Knight Heroes to succeed, they should consider this carefully when designing the cards that define entire archetypes.

Artwork courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com. Deathstalker Rexxar image courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthpwn.com 

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In praise of Medivh

It’s not easy to design high cost cards that are fun, powerful and interesting. For every Ysera or Y’shaarj, there’s a Gruul or Boogeymonster. Or, even worse, a boring yet overpowered card like Dr. Boom. One of the recent triumphs in high-cost neutral legendary designs came in the form of the final Karazhan Legendary: Medivh, The Guardian. This 8 cost neutral Legendary represents a wide variety of positive factors that make him a powerful, flexible, but not obnoxious bomb with which to swing games.

Synergies that make you think

Atiesh is powerful, but only within the right deck

Medivh and his Atiesh battlecry is a unique, powerful effect that works best with high-cost spells. This has a number of impacts.

Firstly, the requirement of synergies to be effective, especially of cards that are otherwise clunky and reactive limits hit use in a positive way. Unlike Dr. Boom, Ragnaros or Tirion, he cannot simply be jammed in any aggressive midrange as a finisher. Only Control-oriented decks would consider running the kind of cards that make Medivh viable. By reducing his ubiquity, the card becomes more niche and interesting.

Secondly, the synergies open up new deckbuilding options and innovations. Otherwise overlooked cards like Free From Amber or Pyroblast gain new leases of life as part of a high-powered package. Medivh introduces new variety by incentivising these deckbuilding decisions and makes lesser seen, flavourful spells more relevant. Class defining classics like Mind Control can even return due to their newfound ability to provide huge tempo swings.

Banking Tempo for Massive Value

Medivh is an interesting contradiction. Whilst initially a low-tempo option that does not impact the board (unless you are forced to swing with the 1 damage Atiesh), the effect of the weapon allows for massive swings later on. It helps with the traditionally underwhelming impact of big spells that provide value but not board control. Take for instance Twisting Nether. While a powerful effect, it takes up your entire turn in most cases, and still leaves the opponent an empty board to develop onto. Medivh, however, turns that into a full board swing, leaving you a beefy 8 drop uncontested. This is perfect for the kind of late-game board swings desired by Control.

The versatility of Atiesh is also a great test of skill. Players can hold onto cheap spells and use all 3 charges on high-cost spells in some cases, or spend those Frostbolts and Shadow Words tactically to provide added power and tempo on key turns. By providing multiple alternative paths, it opens up more choices and opportunity to take interesting lines.

Never Ubiquitous

Too many Atieshes in your metagame? There’s plenty of museums dying to take them off your hands with the help of a wily adventurer

Unlike Dr. Boom or Ragnaros, there is no danger of Medivh ever getting out of control. This is down to two factors. One is that his effect is inherently counterable. The majority of his value comes from Atiesh, making him vulnerable to Weapon removal like Acidic Swamp Ooze. Harrison Jones, in particular, is a brutal counter. This means that should Medivh ever become too popular, there’s a natural counter for slower decks seeking to curb his impact.

The other aspect is how Atiesh only synergises with certain classes and strategies. Paladin and Warrior may run slow decks, but can’t include the high-cost spells necessary to squeeze out enough value from him. Even if Medivh becomes increasingly powerful in Priest or Mage, he’s unlikely to spread much further simply due to the paucity of effective high-cost spells with suitable effects.

Too Random?

While Medivh has a number of positive features, there are some aspects of his abilities that make him potentially troublesome. Most obvious is the inherent RNG of Atiesh. The difference between getting Tirion or Anomalus can be game-losing. Though it makes for interesting gameplay variation, the wide spread in power level of especially high-cost minions is troublesome. It also necessitates the balancing of certain mana slots with sub-statted minions (see Tortollan Primalist).

However, all this can be overlooked. The flavourful, powerful and interesting design of Medivh is a great blueprint for other high-cost Neutral Legendaries to come.


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

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The Fall and Rise of AOE

The concept of mass damage or AOE is core to Hearthstone’s conceptual identity. The ability to deal damage to multiple minions simultaneously allows for immense counterplay possibilities. Currently, AOE is at the core of a huge number of decks, providing a key counter to new, powerful flood decks. But it wasn’t always this way; once, AOE was almost universally underwhelming, and restricted only to the most extreme examples in the most controlling decks.

Taking a look back to an early Tempostorm Meta Snapshot, the only AOE being used by the top 10 decks are a single Brawl, two Whirlwinds, and a Baron Geddon in a Control Warrior, one Lightning Storm in Mech Shaman, Blade Flurry in Oil Rogue (arguably more of a face damage tool) and Consecrates in Midrange Paladin. Now, AOE is nearly omnipresent in all kinds of midrange as well as control decks. Not only are there more decks with AOE, but those decks use it more. What changed?

A Sticky Situation

It’s tough to clear a board of Shredders and Nerubian Eggs

Between Naxxramas and GvG, a worrying trend emerged amongst the most powerful minions, especially neutral minions. Cards like Haunted Creeper, Sludge Belcher, and Piloted Shredder were all incredibly potent minions that were the result of fundamental and systematic undervaluing of a Deathrattle effect that summoned smaller minions. Meanwhile, class minions like Shielded Minibot and Imp Gang boss had effects that left behind minions even after they were initially damaged.

This lead to a fast ramping up of the levels of “Stickiness” of minions and boards. “Stickiness” is a loose term that roughly describes how difficult it is to completely remove a minion. AOE becomes significantly worse in the face of these “sticky” boards, as dealing with only part of the board and leaving large numbers of minions behind is often not worth the mana and card cost of playing the AOE, let alone including it in your deck.

Standardised Deathrattles

The Post-standard world still has its fair share of sticky deathrattle minions. However, a combination of the existence of N’zoth and a greater balance understanding of the value of Deathrattles has reduced their omnipresence. Hunter still has deathrattles above the power curve, but as part of the class identity that’s to be expected. Other decks, especially flood decks, rely more on continually refilling the board rather than being highly resilient to clears. This rewards AOE, rather than punishing it.

The dynamic that this creates is that AOE now is a valid and potent meta choice outside of the traditional class auto-includes. Mages can take additional Volcanic Potions, Shamans can mix and match Volcanos, Maelstrom Portals and Lightning Storms to suit their needs, and Warriors can utilise Sleep with the Fishes, Whirlwinds and Ravaging Ghouls alongside the traditional Brawl. In the end, more diversity, counterplay and skill-testing.

Bursting the Bubble

One problem with over-investing in AOE in the past has been the presence of burst and burn in the meta. While clearing, say, an old-school Aggro Shaman might buy you a turn or two, you’ll still die to Lava Bursts, Doomhammers, Leeroys and the like. Even board centric decks like Midrange Druid and Patron Warrior could simply bide their time and unleash huge damage combos with little counterplay available. With limited deckslots available, it was simply more efficient to invest in lifegain rather than additional clear opportunity. With strong Neutral heals like Antique Healbot readily available, this wasn’t limited by class either.

Board-Based Burn

Still a scary card – but no longer charges you down from 30

Consistent balance efforts and rotations have significantly reduced the threat of burst and burn. While Pirate Warrior and Mage still rely on burn, their ability to deal huge amounts is more limited. In this way, board clears become more relevant by increasing the ability to stabilise faster.

Meanwhile, against the new aggressive decks like Druid or Shaman, AOE is less mandatory if you’re not following an aggro strategy yourself. But if you’re able to repeatedly clear the board, it’s possible to stabilise even at extremely small life total. This is because their huge burst potential is entirely focused around interacting with the board. Bloodlust and Savage Roar are scary, but not if you can deny your opponent’s big boards and halt their development in advance.

Efficiency is Key

Finally, board clears have simply gotten better. Be it attaching solid minions to the effect or just making competitively costed spells, AOE is more competitively statted than ever. Primordial Drake sets the new bar for Neutral AOE, while class cards like Dragonfire Potion and Sleep with the Fishes are both flavourful and superbly powerful for their effect.

Team 5 has recognised the inherently risky, situational nature of AOE, and as a result has been costing cards far more aggressively, to great success. With balance decisions like these, we can hope to see a healthy balance of AOE in the meta for a long time to come.

 

Title art by Mike Sass, courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com

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Primordial Glyph Isn’t That Strong. Right?

With dozens of highlight reels showing off the perfect timing of Primordial Glyph, we often think that it’s an overpowered card. But is it as good as it’s made out to be? Here’s why drawing this card is always a game changer:

Other Discover Cards

Let’s first compare Primordial Glyph card to some other class specific discover cards in Hearthstone.

Hydrologist

The drawback here is that your card pool size is very small, and paladin secrets, while very useful, are usually never game changing and can be easily played around.

Shadow Visions

This is the closest in comparison because it allows you to discover spell cards from your class. However, Shadow Visions can only find cards that are left in your deck, and it does not give you the discount in price afterwards.

Hallucination

This card lets you discover a card from your opponent’s class. The problem is that you never know what class your opponent will be playing, so you discover a massive variance of cards.

When looking at other class cards that have similar effects, I can’t help but think, “I would rather just have Primordial Glyph.”

No Risk, All Reward

When you play Primordial Glyph, the worst thing that can happen is you don’t get the exact card you wanted, so you have to settle with a lesser option from a pool of almost always useful spells. This alone wouldn’t be too powerful, but what really pushes this card over the top is the fact that you get a discount. You effectively never lose your mana curve and sometimes can play cards earlier than intended, like a Flamestrike on turn five.

CARD POOL

The pool of cards Primordial Glyph can discover is amazing because many cards will be able to deliver the same answer you’re looking for. Need an AOE? There are six great cards for you. Do you need to stall the board a few more turns? There are five cards that can freeze the board. Did you have a specific card in mind that wins you the game right now? That’s great because there is a 10 percent chance you’ll find it, not to mention the fact that you may be able to spin the wheel of randomness one more time to find that Pyroblast to close out the game and keep me from ranking up. #neverlucky

 

Does this card need a nerf?

The card fits into every Mage deck and you’ll never wish you didn’t have it in your hand. I think even if Primordial Glyph cost three mana instead of two, we would still see it played, but not nearly as popular. This change would still allow players to benefit from the card, but not allow them to keep cycling through for the exact card they are looking for. That all being said, I do not think this card needs to be or will be nerfed. It’s a strong card that will shape the meta, but it certainly will never control it.

 

Title art by Matthew O’Connor.

Courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Hearthstone Habits That Prevent Improvement

You tut angrily as your opponent emotes “Well Played” and punches face for lethal. He got lucky, you think. There’s nothing you could have done. You played perfectly. Meanwhile, your opponent played terribly and still won. Why is life so unfair?

If you’re anything like me, this internal thought process goes through your mind every few games of Hearthstone. We consider ourselves to be good, if not great players, held back by circumstance and bad luck. Unfortunately, we’re likely not as good as we think. It’s thought processes like this that hold us back and stop us from reaching our full potential.

We Shift Blame

It’s important to focus on what you did, not the RNG

The first step to improving your play is to recognise your areas of improvement. However, doing so is often uncomfortable; and not obvious. The infamous Dunning-Kruger effect means that our very lack of ability in certain areas makes it hard to understand what it is we need to get better at. Instead, we blame outside factors; usually RNG, “overpowered” cards or the opponent’s deck.

That’s not to say the outcome of Hearthstone isn’t sometimes out of your control. But even when it is, it doesn’t help to draw focus away from what you could have done better. Numerous pros have stated that the best way to improve your own play is to watch your own play in detail, and to review it dispassionately; both in our errors and our successes. By doing so, we can figure out how to do better next time. But while doing so, it’s important not to fall prey to the next bad habit.

We Focus on Outcomes, not Probabilities

This Hearthstone habit is well documented. Let’s say you’re playing Pirate Warrior against Taunt Warrior, a tough matchup. After wresting control of the board, you choose to go wide on turn 5, praying he doesn’t have Brawl. Unfortunately, he has it, and you lose the board and the game.

You might make a mental note to avoid making such a play in the future; but you’d be making a classic error. Instead of improving your play based on the probabilities of winning, you’d be adjusting based on a specific outcome. This is a huge roadblock to getting to a higher standard of play. By focusing only on the clear, easily identified outcomes, you ignore the subtler probabilities. On turn 5, the likelihood of the opponent having a specific card they wouldn’t keep in their mulligan is pretty low, even if it’s a two of. However, the odds of you failing to deal enough damage before they stabilise behind an impenetrable Taunt wall is rather high.

By playing the odds rather than being beholden to painful memories, you can make a strong improvement in your ability to adjust your play.

We Stay in our Comfort Zone

Playing an unfamiliar archetype like Aggro or Combo can help you build skills

Hearthstone is a game with numerous distinct playstyles. Aggro, Control, Midrange and Combo decks of every flavour exist, all with their own unique quirks and tricks. However, many of us restrict ourselves to only a few decks. The reasons for this can be many, and for some players insurmountable. Cost is a big factor. But if we have the means, often we’ll end up sticking to the same decks out of pure familiarity, habit and not wanting to lose winrate.

While sticking with one deck can help you achieve better winrates in the short term, it doesn’t help you develop as a player as efficiently as trying out new decks. By seeing the game through the eyes of an alternate playstyle, you can develop new skills, better understand your adversaries and broaden your repertoire in case of any tournament or meta shifts. This allows you to improve your versatility, flexibility and skill.

We Value Flashiness Over Consistency

“Big”, flashy, explosive plays are often the focus of twitch highlights, YouTube compilations and overviews of competitive games. As such, there’s an easy perception to pick up that skill is dependent on the ability to make impressive, counter-intuitive plays. Stuff like pinging your own minions to draw, silencing frozen minions to attack or planning the perfect Wild Pyromancer turn. However, as well as these complex, micro-intensive decisions, there are also important decisions to make every single turn. Just a simple choice of whether to trade or go face can win or lose matches.

A consistent tendency to be overly defensive or overly aggressive is both hard to recognise and a hard habit to break. Let other players spectate your games, and seriously watch pro streamers, and figure out where you diverge. That way, you can map out a pathway to improvement.

We Play on Autopilot

Improvement relies on concerted effort. Thinking through our plays, making sure that we are playing optimally, and reflecting on every victory and defeat. Too often, Hearthstone is played as a background distraction, only commanding half of our attention while we browse the internet, watch streams or stream ourselves.

If you pay full attention, taking more time with your turn, and think over more options, you may just play better and learn more while doing it.

 

Title art by Sean O’Daniels. Courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com

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This article was partially inspired by Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa’s “8 Biases That Are Making You Worse at Magic”

 

Where Have All the Warlocks Gone in Hearthstone?

The Hearthstone Spring Playoffs have come and gone and we make our way into summer. When we take a look back at the Spring Playoffs for a moment, we notice there was one very glaring problem. Not one single player played a Warlock deck in Asia, Europe or North America. What has changed from last year where we saw so many Warlock decks dominating? Today we are going to take a look at a few reasons why the mighty have fallen.

 

Warlock legendary’s

Warlock right now is at an all time low for effective legendary’s. In most situations there is either a better version of the card or you will never find a yourself in a situation where having the legendary is useful.

Lord Jaraxxus: This card allows you to out value any class in the end game. The only problem is Warlock has the hardest time making it to the endgame, which leads us to our next problem of why Warlock can’t seem to get to its win condition.

Lakkari Sacrifice: The Warlock quest finds itself at a distinct disadvantage because it is just as difficult to complete as the other class quests. However, the payoff is less rewarding. Playing Nether Portal just isn’t a big enough power spike for the investment it takes to reach.

Clutchmother Zavas: This card is simply put a less reliable Edwin VanCleef. It adds +2/+2 each time you manage to discard it. Instead of only having to play as many cards as possible, you constantly run the risk of discarding cards you absolutely needed. Now you don’t get the bonus and you’re missing an effective tool to help win the game. It is too high of a risk with too little reward.

Cho’gall: This is an expensive card and has a special effect that only works in unique situations. Most of the time this card makes you fall behind more than it helps you get ahead. The better version of this card is Inkmaster Solia.

Krul the Unshackled: In order to take advantage of this legendary you need to have a specific type of minion and no duplicates in your deck. This card is similar to Deathwing, Dragonlord but at an even bigger disadvantage because you have to sacrifice deck consistency.  

 

No major healing in current meta

Hearthstone has always had very limited healing possibilities. With the tragic loss of Reno Jackson, Warlock players around the world are feeling the struggle of having to play a class that relies on using its own life as a primary resource to get ahead without a way to gain back that life. Most cards that do heal your hero are less powerful minions that only return one to four health. There currently are only 10 cards that can regain health for a Warlock (and that’s including Lord Jaraxxus and Alexstrasza). This highly limits a Warlock’s ability to capitalize on its hero power and powerful board-swinging tools. Without a reliable health gain mechanic in the game, Warlocks are stuck with not having good enough aggro or control strategies. 

 

 

 

 

 

Its so crazy it just might work

While it’s unlikely, a problem may be that people don’t think Warlock decks are possible to consistently win with because professionals are not playing them. They simply don’t try to figure out what would make it work. This quality could actually work to a player’s advantage because people may forget about how to play against Warlocks properly. I don’t think Warlock will ever be an unstoppable juggernaut in the current Hearthstone meta, but you might be able to sneak in a quirky unexpected deck that takes down the meta for a brief moment.

 

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