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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Romain Bigeard, manager of Unicorns of Love

Mascots in the LCS

As the world of esports grows, analysts, fans, and sponsors will be looking towards examples from traditional sports for inspiration. They will draw comparisons between the two to figure out where exactly esports are heading. Franchising in the LCS, for example, is one such move towards traditional sports, away from the relegation model League of Legends has become accustomed to.

A somewhat less important, yet interesting topic, is that of mascots. Do teams need mascots? Do mascots belong in the LCS? Will this be part of the scene in the near future? What would their purpose be?

Mascots in Traditional Sports

Philadelphia Phillies mascot, Phillie Phanatic

Philadelphia Phillies mascot, Phillie Phanatic

Mascots are generally symbolic representations of the teams they tout. From the Phillie Phanatic to Benny the Bull to Big Red, most sports teams have a mascot. These mascots are a physical representation of the team’s name or logo. They are responsible for hyping up the crowd throughout a competition, during slow times, scores, or wins.

It is commonplace for baseball, basketball, football, soccer, and hockey teams to have mascots. They are out in the crowd. Part of the live audience experience usually includes getting a hug from or pictures with the team mascot. They sign autographs, and they provide immense brand recognition.

Merchandising around mascots is prominent. Slapping the mascot’s picture or logo onto items makes them collectibles. For example, many NBA fans can recognize Boston Celtics merchandise if it features “Boston” in green letters, shamrocks, Lucky the Leprechaun, or some combination of the three.

Mascots in LCS

The closest example of a mascot in the LCS is Unicorns of Love’s manager, Romain Bigeard. He generally wears a unicorn costume and dyes his hair and beard bright pink to support the team as they compete. Romain is an iconic member of the Unicorns’ team and brand, instantly recognizable.

Romain Bigeard, manager of Unicorns of Love

courtesy of Riot esports

There are plenty of opportunities for other teams to create mascots. Between North America and Europe, there are Phoenixes (Phoenix1), Immortals, Foxes, Aliens (Dignitas), Horses (Team Liquid), Ninjas (G2), Rabbits, Cats (Roccat), Giants, and Snakes (Splyce). The other teams’ mascots would be less straightforward, but something like “TSM Titans,” or “Fnatic Falcons” could be a cool way to expand their brand. The mascot can also be incorporated into creating new logos, jerseys, champion skins, and collectible merchandise.

Mascots could also help solidify a team’s fanbase. Many LCS fans get attached to players, rather than the organizations they play for. And since so many players switch teams in between splits and in between seasons, organizations have a hard time keeping a consistent base. For example, Immortals probably gained some fans when they signed their most recent jungler, Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett, and probably lost some fans when Kim “Reignover” Ui-jin left. Introducing a mascot onto the scene may be a small way to retain a fanbase by providing a consistent symbol to rally behind, rather than just a simple logo.

What Could Go Wrong?

Individuals who do not closely follow specific sports or teams may find mascots to be cheesy. It may seem immature to grow an attachment to some guy in a costume who peps people up at sporting events, like a Disney World character. Does esports really want to go there?

G2 esports fan with ninja logo mask

courtesy of Riot esports

Another consideration is the fact that League of Legends is a game packed with fantasy characters anyway. Would it make sense to introduce a G2 Samurai mascot onto the scene when similar characters already exist in the game? This could create some awkwardness or show that it is unnecessary for the LCS scene.

Cosplay, where fans dress in elaborate costumes of their favorite characters, is already a huge part of the competitive League of Legends experience. Bringing in mascots could be confusing or over-doing it. Cosplayers already act as League of Legends mascots, in a way.

cosplayers at EU LCS

courtesy of Riot esports

These mascots could also need to span over several esports. For example, Cloud9 has teams in League of Legends, Counter Strike, Hearthstone, Overwatch, Call of Duty, DOTA 2, and a few others. How can they create a mascot that makes sense in all of those venues? What if the organization has competitions for different games at the same time? Traditional sports do not run into this issue. Los Angeles is home to several sports teams, but they all have different mascots.

Conclusion

Mascots may not help a team win, and introducing them to the LCS scene may present some complications. But, overall, it could be an interesting experiment. Romain and the Unicorns of Love have proven that it can be done. Other LCS teams have straightforward opportunities to bring on their respective hype men.

A mascot could greatly help organizations solidify their brands by opening up new merchandising opportunities and retaining fans that may otherwise leave the team with a traded or lost player. Possibly the greatest gain from a mascot, though, is pure fun. Imagine the broadcast cutting to a video of a fox mascot hyping up the Echo Fox fans after Matthew “Akaadian” Higginbotham secures a First Blood. That could be pretty cool.


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Taunt Warriors: Please, Please, Mulligan your Quest (Sometimes)

As the Un’goro meta settles down, only two Quests are seeing serious competitive play: Rogue and Warrior. Whilst Rogue is completely dependent on the Quest for victories even against the most aggressive decks, Taunt Warrior has a far more flexible range of win conditions. As such, some of your most important decision-making comes before the game even begins. Should you keep the Quest?

Playing it safe

For many players, the answer is simple. The Quest is one of the strongest cards in the deck, around which the entire game plan is built. It’s a turn one play in a deck that typically will do nothing on turn one. If you mulligan it, you may never get to activate it if you draw it without having seven taunts left to play. This was particularly prevalent immediately after the expansion. With so much variation in the meta, you always have to be prepared for a Control matchup. I even recall seasoned veteran and far superior player Brian Kibler defending keeping the Quest against Hunter. His reasoning was that you needed the hero power to deal with Savannah Highmane.

An epidemic of greed

When playing versus Aggro, you don’t need the Quest to win

This outlook is understandable, but fundamentally flawed. As most players who have spent time with the deck and reached legend agree, keeping the Quest in every matchup is a disastrous policy. The hero power typically comes online only after turns 10-14 (assuming a typical 12 Taunt decklist). By this point, many games should already be decided. Not only that, but against Aggressive or Combo decks, you may not even want to play Sulfuras, as doing so prevents you form utilizing your potentially life-saving Armor Up. Meanwhile, being down a card the entire game is a potentially huge disadvantage, especially when you’re only a Ravaging Ghoul, Execute, or Brawl away from victory or defeat.

Throwing away your win condition

However, that’s not to say that the Quest should always be tossed. Not having the Quest when you need it is far worse than an unnecessary keep. Taunt Warrior cuts all the traditional game ending cards of Control Warrior, like Grommash and N’zoth. Even Fatigue is rarely an option without the insane armor gain potential of Justicar Trueheart. As such, Sulfuras is absolutely necessary in certain matchups. But how do you balance these two competing demands? Both can lead to disaster.

Class by class

DIE, INSECT is often necessary to beat late-game value powerhouses like Tirion

The answer is heavily dependent on what class, and thus what suspected archetype, your opponent is running. A typical rule of thumb would be to always mulligan it against Aggro, Combo, or aggressive Midrange, and keep it against Control or slow Midrange decks. However, the best option will change depending on specific matchups and meta-dependent archetype distribution.

  • Warrior: Keep

Warrior is one of the painful matchups when deciding to mulligan the Quest or not. Versus the hyper-aggressive Pirate Warrior, the Quest is worse than useless. However, in the Taunt Warrior mirror, it’s borderline suicide to toss it. Unfortunately, this means that keeping it is currently the best option. Though your Pirate Warrior win rate will suffer, it is still definitely winnable; whereas Taunt Warrior will crush you without a Quest.

  • Shaman: Keep

Shaman no longer has the explosive starts it used to. Even Murloc Shaman is relatively sedate. Elemental Shaman can easily drag you to fatigue, so getting the Ragnaros hero power online ASAP is often the difference between victory and defeat. Thus, keeping it is almost always the best option.

  • Rogue: Toss

It’s very tempting to keep the Quest against Rogue. However, it should be resisted whenever possible. Both Miracle Rogue and Quest Rogue’s key turns occur well before Sulfuras comes online. Fishing for key removal, board clears, or Dirty Rat is almost always superior. Even getting a turn three Acolyte of Pain down is far more important than getting the Quest completed, as card resources are so vital.

  • Paladin: Keep

While aggressive versions of Paladin are beginning to gain traction, the most popular archetype by far is still Midrange. You certainly need eight random damage as soon as you can to counter Paladin’s unceasing value train in the late game, and to allow you to end the game. While this may lead you to being rushed down by Murlocs, overall your win rate will likely improve.

  • Hunter: Toss

Hunter is a matchup where tossing the Quest will absolutely be the correct play. Their continual application of early and mid-game pressure requires the maximum possible amount of resources to defeat. Once you’ve stabilized behind a Primordial Drake or two, you can easily end the game by exploiting their lack of card draw. No eight damage hero power required.

  • Druid: Toss (Mostly)

The most dominant archetype of Druid being Aggro, tossing the Quest is usually a safe bet. However, there are a few Jade and Ramp Druids prowling about, so if you have a strong starting hand, consider keeping the Quest. Due to Warrior’s plethora of removal and AOE options, Aggro/Token Druid favors the Warrior, even with the Quest. Watch this space and see how the meta develops.

Against Freeze Mage, Armor can be more important than value

  • Warlock: Toss

There are few Warlocks out there, and it is widely regarded as the weakest class. Those that remain are largely running Zoo variants, against which the Quest is unnecessary. Tossing it should be an easy decision

  • Mage: List Dependent

Mage is a tough one. Since Freeze Mage and its variants are the most popular, keeping the Quest or not is often dependent on your own deck. Against Freeze, you typically have two strategies; grind them out with sheer life gain, or rush them down with minions and the Quest. If you’re running the double Shield Block package, it’s usually superior to go for the former option and toss the Quest; if not, you should apply the second strategy and keep the Quest.

  • Priest: Keep

Though this may change depending on how combo oriented the Combo Priest gets, usually you want to keep the Quest against Priest. Their late game can be formidable, especially if they Shadow Visions multiple Un’goro Packs from Elise Trailblazer. You need to put pressure on them fast. Ragnaros hero power is as much of a counter to Priest as Jaraxxus used to be, and you should play accordingly.

 

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The Return of Paladin – How to Buff a Class

The Dark Ages of Paladin

Anyfin allowed Paladin to avoid total irrelevance; barely.

Very few classes have been as consistently poor for such an extended period as Paladin. While others have admittedly been worse, notably Priest during Karazhan and Hunter during MSoG, none have had the continual drizzle of under-performing mediocrity drench them quite as completely as Paladin. From the moment Shielded Minibot, Muster for Battle, and Avenge rotated out to the release of Un’goro, Paladin has found itself without the tools necessary to survive in a cut-throat meta.

In Whispers of the Old Gods, an initially promising showing with N’zoth synergies was thwarted by a lack of early game tools. Then Karazhan’s rise of Midrange Shaman and a slower meta still suppressed Paladin due to their lack of board-clears and a fundamental weakness to Hex. MSoG hand buff experiments failed utterly, leaving the class bereft of resources in a meta defined by the early game power of pirates and the late-game dominance of Jades.

Out of the Dumpster

Things have improved massively in Un’goro. No longer cast to the wayside, Paladin holds its own with a variety of archetypes. Most promising of all is an old-school classic mid-range variant that looks to be gaining traction; using the early game springboard of Murlocs to carry it towards a formidable late-game powered by some of the most value-tastic 8 drops in the game.

Old-style mid-range Paladin is widely regarded as one of the “fairest” decks in the game. With respectable performance in all stages of the game, a small number of potent board clears, and a number of strong healing effects, mid-range Paladin is a jack-of-all-trades that doesn’t rest on one completely broken synergy or card but accrues value and tempo over a mid-lengthed game. One can imagine that if Hearthstone were ever given a “Yu-Gi-Oh” style TV series, mid-range Paladin would be the deck of the protagonist.

It’s hard to point to exactly what made Paladin go from nigh-unplayable to a solid choice in just one expansion. Unlike Dragon Priest before it, it got no single overpowered build-around. What made it its current state in such a balanced fashion?

Murlocs to the rescue

Rockpool Hunter is a key part of paladin’s new early-game package

Lore-wise Paladins are noble guardians of justice, with impressive shoulder-pads and an inextinguishable self-righteousness. As such, it’s a bit odd to see them dependent on the help of a group of terrorizing humanoid amphibians. But in terms of Hearthstone, they synergize perfectly. Murlocs theme of buffing tokens and one another is similar to the core class mechanics of Paladin. Not only that, but the new Un’goro set contained a number of cards that provide an unprecedented, but not overwhelmingly snowbally, boost to the Paladin early game toolkit.

Rockpool Hunter, Hydrologist, and Gentle Megasaur allow Paladin to have a solid start to almost every game. The minions aren’t too sticky and start out as non-threatening, but with the right combination of buffs and synergies can generate massive value. However, they’ll rarely end games on their own in the manner of an unanswered Tunnel Trogg. This forces other classes to interact with the Paladin’s early boards, making for a more consistent lead into the mid-game powerhouses of Truesilver Champion and Consecrate.

Shields Up!

Sunkeeper Tarim is a flexible and powerful tool that is often discovered off Stonehill Defender.

It isn’t just Murlocian early game power that’s fueling mid-range Paladin’s rise. Powerful mid/late game taunts have provided the beef to provide value and staying power throughout the later stages of the game. While traditional Paladin staple Tirion Fordring is as omnipresent as ever, Un’goro offers many new taunt options.

Stonehill Defender is now a staple, with its decent body that grants card advantage and stalls. But more importantly, Stonehill has an exceptional chance of offering a Paladin Class Legendary in Wickerflame Burnbristle, Tirion, or the new Sunkeeper Tarim. All of these are exceptional cards, especially to have duplicates of.

Sunkeeper Tarim himself has proven to be a nigh indispensable and ludicrously versatile tool. Beneficial on almost any board state, he can buff your tokens and neutralise your opponents threats, all while all but guaranteeing favourable trades with his 3/7 body. Meanwhile, Spike-ridged Steed is the buff Paladins didn’t know they needed. With 4/12 of taunted stats split across 2 bodies, Spikeridged can end the game vs aggressive decks and provides a nigh-insurmountable wall of HP to break through.

Troggs Tunnel no longer

But perhaps the most important positive impact for Paladin is a lack of the ubiquitous Tunnel Trogg and Totem Golems of Shaman. Tunnel Trogg is arguably the most powerful 1 drop ever printed – its strength and synergy demanding answering ASAP.

Paladin, as one of the classes without any kind of clean answer for this card, had to rely on the Unreliable Doomsayers or adopt a strategy built around mass-heals and end-game combos. This was a fatally flawed strategy in a meta filled with Hexes and mass board flood that Paladin couldn’t handle due to its lack of spot removal outside of Equality.

The absence of these cards gives Paladin the breathing room to adopt a more pro-active strategy without being bowled over in the first few turns. More than anything, this emphasizes how a class can be buffed by what cards don’t exist, as much as by cards that do.


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Why was the Hunter Quest so Overrated?

The aftermath of the Un’goro expansion is a flurry of ideas and exploration. Even Purify Priest and neoHandlock are fighting for their spot in the new meta. However, one much-vaunted card is seeing almost no play, even after intense initial testing: The Marsh Queen, AKA the Hunter Quest.

A few weeks ago, this would have been almost unthinkable. The Marsh Queen was hyped up as the new face of aggro. Propelled by optimistic public opinion, multiple glowing reviews from pro-players, like Trump and Lifecoach, players gleefully crafted Quest Hunter decks on day one of the expansion in droves. In retrospect, this seems ridiculously over-optimistic.

The tempo loss of running the quest, the inefficiencies of running an overload of one drops, and the underwhelming nature of shuffling 15 cycling 3/2s into your deck made for an overall disappointing experience. Replay data has the Hunter Quest at an abysmal 40% played winrate. The vastly superior, tried and tested Midrange Hunter ended up better in almost every way. But why did the pros and public get it so wrong?

The Quest looked easy to complete…

The Quest looked tempting with Hunter’s new one-drops

The Marsh Queen only requires that seven one-drop minions are played. This seems like an incredibly easy, almost trivial condition to satisfy. Most aggressive decks play a multitude of one-drops, and Hunter is often pushed towards this due to their aggressive hero power. Upping that slightly would fit neatly in the aggressive, board-floody gameplan of such a deck. Compared to the Quest for Rogue or Shaman, this seemed like completion would require little sacrifice on the deck-building side and not take too long. Right?

…but the time required and deck sacrifices were too steep

It’s true that the Hunter quest is an incredibly easy and fast one to complete. However, both “easy” and “fast” are relative concepts. First, let’s look at “easy.” Sure, stuffing a deck with one-drops can be a viable strategy. However, Hunter, without the reliable card draw of other classes, struggles to maintain the Zoo-style archetype. While Zoo can easily run a vast number of one-drops safe in the knowledge that lifetap can back them up later on, Hunter has had to rely on a higher curve or high density of direct damage to offset its cheap minions; neither of which allow the quest to be completed in a timely manner.

To make matters worse, the time restraint on a hyper-aggressive one-drop filled deck is far tighter for quest completion. While decks like Quest Warrior can leisurely complete their quest long past turn 10 and still stay in the game, a deck filled with one-drops will almost certainly be long doomed or already victorious by this point. Quest Hunter will run out of steam so fast that it’s almost a necessity the Quest be completed by turns 5-7. However, this requires a huge investment in one drop density that makes the rest of the deck decidedly weak and one-dimensional.

Carnassa’s Brood looked potent…

Looking back on the stream where The Marsh Queen was announced, it’s hard not to be impressed. The video shows the quest reward, Queen Carnassa, thrown down. On the immediate turn after, Tundra Rhino and no less than five Caranassa’s Brood following up. This looked spectacular and effective, and clearly captured the hearts and minds of the Hearthstone community. Carnassa’s Brood looked to have insane synergy with cards like Tundra Rhino, as well as working towards cycling through the low-cost deck of a Quest Hunter. On top of all that, plopping down a five mana 8/8 beast in Hunter is an extreme play.

…but the advantages were overstated

Tundra Rhino couldn’t make the Quest worth it

Carnassa’s Brood is a strong thing to have 15 of in your deck, for sure. While the card is individually strong, en masse it proved to be significantly underwhelming. For starters, the dream of chaining 3/2 into 3/2 rarely, if ever, came about. Shuffling 15 into your deck usually only gave you a sub-50% chance of drawing a Carnassa’s Brood. Typically, it meant that you were playing two one-drops a turn. While that is better than only playing one a turn, it’s nowhere near powerful enough to build around.

Quest’s tempo loss was seen as trivial…

Turn one is often a turn when nothing happens. With Tunnel Trogg rotating out, it was typically filled by patches and his piratical buddies, if at all. With the plethora of anti-pirate hate, like Tar Creeper and Golakka Crawler, printed for Un’goro, surely turn one would become less relevant? Or so the thinking went. The reality turned out very different.

…but it ended up being a massive setback

One-drops tend to be powerful cards. An initial tempo advantage gained by a good, impactful one-drop can be the difference between victory and defeat for almost all Aggro decks. However, the power level of one-drops falls precipitously after the initial turn. As such, filling your decks with one-drops, then giving up the most crucial turn they could be played, is inherently, and disastrously, anti-synergistic. Unfortunately for Quest Hunter, this proved too much for the deck as a whole. More than anything else, it made it far less effective than it was hyped up to be.

Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment

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A Guide to the Clutch Adapt

With Un’goro’s release merely hours away at the time of writing, it’s a good time to gain a better understanding of one of its key mechanics: Adapt. Adapt is a new keyword that gives your minions a chance to discover a choice between three of ten potential positive buffs. To refresh your memory, they are:

  • +3 Attack
  • +3 Health
  • +1/+1
  • Divine Shield
  • Windfury
  • Deathrattle: Summon two 1/1s
  • Stealth until your next turn
  • Can’t be targeted by spells or hero powers
  • Taunt
  • Poisonous

The scale and variety of options, each with a differing level of board impact, threat, value, and survivability, can make it hard to evaluate. Not to mention the discover mechanic can make it hard to visualize probabilities. To help out, I’ve put together four common strategies you want to fulfill with adapt, and how likely you are to pull it off (note: probabilities are rounded to nearest 5% for ease of remembrance).

Toughness for minion trading

Best outcomes (50% chance):
  • +3 Health
  • Divine Shield
Decent outcomes (30% chance):
  • +1/+1
  • Deathrattle: Summon 2 1/1s
All other outcomes (20% chance)

Ornery Direhorn is usually best with added defensive stats

This is probably the most likely situation to occur. You’re playing a larger minion into your opponent’s board, or dropping a minion and want to get pure value out of it, rather than ending the game. It’s not vital to dodge removal, you just want to make it as annoying as possible to kill.

The dream is usually +3 health or Divine Shield; these can add massively to the cards’ overall value, making it generally very tough for the opponent to remove. Combined, these two outcomes have a 50% chance at coming up as one of your three Adapt picks. +1/+1 or Deathrattle: summon 2 1/1s will sometimes be present when the “decent” aren’t (30% of the time to be exact). The remaining 20% of the time, you’ll be stuck with the relatively useless Stealth, Windfury, Poisonous, etc. However, these can still be useful in certain situations.

This is most likely to come up with cards like Ornery Direhorn, Thunder Lizard, and Verdant Longneck.

Power for immediate trading up

Best outcomes (50% Chance):
  • +3 attack
  • Poisonous
Decent Outcomes (20% chance):
  • +1/+1
All other outcomes (30% chance)

If you’re playing against a Hunter, there’s a good chance you’ll need to play around this card.

Best used for actively adapting a minion already in play, sometimes you want to trade up or threaten to trade up. The best outcomes are usually Poisonous or +3 attack, as each allows you to trade up amazingly efficiently; however +1/+1 can be good enough too. The first two options have a combined probability of 50%, but if you only need one damage, another 20% of the time +1/+1 will show up. The remaining 30% of the time you’ll be stuck with Divine Shield or Deathrattle: summon 2 1/1s as a consolation for the minion you were unable to kill.

This type of adapt is incredibly useful. As a a result, cards like Crackling Razormaw or the Paladin spell Adapt can swing early-game board control massively. For instance, you can turn your Alley Cat into a lethal removal tool, allowing you to gain huge value. It’s worth playing around this by not over-committing to high health Taunts that could be obliterated by a single Poisonous beast or Silver Hand Recruit.

Dodging removal

Best outcomes (50% chance):
  • Stealth until your next turn
  • Can’t be targeted by spells or hero powers
Decent outcomes (30% chance):
  • +3 health
  • Divine Shield
All other outcomes (20% chance)

Sometimes you just need to have something stick to end a game, but you know your opponent has that Hex, Execute, or Fireball. The best way to dodge these effects are with Stealth and Can’t be targeted, but these will occur only 50% of the time. In the meantime, you can take +3 health or Divine Shield for the 30% to decrease the odds of spot removal taking out your minion (though it won’t save you from hard removal!).

May be useful for any adapt minion.

Going for lethal

Best outcome (30% chance):
  • Windfury
Good outcome* (20% chance):
  • +3 attack

*May be better than Windfury on boards of low-attack minions.

Decent outcome (20% chance):
  •  +1/+1
All other outcomes (30% chance)

Not so gentle when a Murloc deck gets a four mana Bloodlust

Sometimes it’s best to just kill your opponent. Giving Windfury to a minion, all minions, or all murlocs, is a dream come true for pushing face damage. This has a 30% chance of occurring. Meanwhile, +3 attack also has a 30% chance (20% when Windfury is not an option). Finally, +1/+1 is less impressive, but still may be enough to end the game. Considering that these effects have a combined likelihood of 70%, it’s well worth playing around.

It is incredibly potent with Gentle Megasaur or Evolving Spores. It can also be useful with the Paladin card Adapt (though make sure you don’t give your Volcanosaur “can’t be targeted by spells or hero powers”).

Preventing lethal

Only relevant outcome (30% chance):
  • Taunt
All other outcomes (70% chance)

It’s probably not a good idea to rely on Adapt to gain a taunt. If you adapt once, you have only a 30% chance of being offered it. No other adapts offer immediate board impact to stop your opponent gaining lethal. Even with Volcanosaur’s or Ravenous Pterrodax’s two adapts, you only have a 50% chance to gain it. Still, it may save your skin in a clutch situation.

Just remember that it’s not necessary to double-taunt your Ornery Direhorn, though the BM value is impressive.

 

All images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment, via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com

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Razer Renews Sponsorship with Team Liquid: What Makes a Great Esports Partnership?

Team Liquid has announced an extension of partnership with Razer, one of it’s long standing sponsors.

7 Years of Partnership

Courtesy: TeamLiquid.Net

Team Liquid is a pioneer of esports, having been around since Starcraft 2’s competitive days back in 2001. This year will mark seven years of partnership for the two organizations. Razer and Team Liquid have both thrived in their partnership as they watched the esports world grow.

Nobody would have predicted just how big esports would become seven years ago, a time in which most players were playing for the competition alone. But Team Liquid has stayed the course and is active in just about every major esport, including League of Legends, Overwatch, CS:GO, and more.

“I’m very proud that Razer is our longest standing partner. It feels like an eternity since we signed our first sponsorship with Razer. In an industry that moves at a million miles an hour, we’ve been on the journey together and it’s incredible that our two brands have come so far,” said Victor Goossens, co-CEO of Team Liquid.

What Makes a great Sponsor relationship

Game Haus had the chance to interview Team Liquid’s Director of Operations, Mike Milanov, who had much praise for the relationship they’ve been able to build with Razer. He highlighted that Team Liquid is considered a “premium brand”, having been involved in esports longer than almost anyone. This was a major factor in Razer’s initial partnership with the organization in 2011.

When asked about how Razer differs from other sponsors, Milanov said, “Razer was one of the first brands to get involved with Starcraft back in the early esports era. They were one of the first brands to really ramp up with team sponsorship and take relationships seriously. They value partners that work with them on the things they find most important…We’ve always been treated like a tier one organization by Razer.”

Another ideal he praised Razer for was their ability to adapt to other esports organizations and grow together with one another.

They understand that it’s not in templated approach with every organization. Razer adapts to different organizations very well in the esports scene,” he said.

Milanov also brought up how growing together was one of the biggest priorities in the partnership.

He noted, “We had many offers to potentially go elsewhere for a little more money, but that’s not what it’s all about. It’s about growing together. As Team Liquid grows, Razer grows.”

 

Looking Ahead

Razer recently came out with Team Liquid DeathAdder mouse bundles, which sold out ahead of schedule during the holiday season. Announcing another year of partnership could mean more opportunities for additional Team Liquid gear.

Milanov commented that this may only be the beginning of a new line of Team Liquid Razer infused products, due to the success that they found with the holiday bundles.

“Just the fact that they trust us enough to make a Razer DeathAdder with Team Liquid theme says enough about what we’re going to be doing with them in the future,” he said.

Courtesy: Team Liquid Pro

Team Liquid underscores what Razer’s ‘unfair advantage’ is all about,” said Min-Liang Tan, Razer co-founder and CEO. “We have enjoyed working with this incredible team on dozens of products over the years. We look forward to continuing the collaboration to ensure our products are the best in the world at the highest level of competition.

With the announcement of another year of partnership, both organizations will enjoy another year of esports growth side by side.

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Elemental Synergies: Curvestone or Counterplay?

There are three main themes to the upcoming Journey to Un’goro expansion. Quests, Adapting dinosaurs, and Elementals all involve never before seen mechanics that may introduce new and exciting gameplay.

Unlike the more intricate Quests and unreliable Adapts, Elementals and their dependents have relatively straightforward activators. It is different than Murloc synergies, which require Murlocs on the board, or Dragon synergies, which revolve around keeping Dragons in the hand. Elemental synergies will be dependent on whether or not you’ve played an Elemental on the previous turn.

Powerful but slow?

Stoneshaper is powerful, but it can mess up Elemental sequencing. Perhaps promoting off-curve play?

The immediate impact of Elemental decks’ synergy requirements is a lack of explosive early game. Unlike Dragon Decks, which can get off a powerful overstated minion like Alexstrasza’s Champion, Twilight Whelp, or Wrymrest Agent simply by having a card in hand, Elemental decks require an Elemental played first. Furthermore, no powerful one or two mana Elemental synergy cards have been revealed yet. This means no overpowered minions coming down on turn one or two.

This means that Elemental decks may find it hard to commit to the aggressive strategies often favoured by Dragon variants, especially Dragon Warrior. While the synergies are minion-dependent, it revolves around using them in a steady stream that slowly ramps up in power; not by rushing them out as fast as possible.

Sequencing and skill

Elementals also offer a chance for players to test their strategic and tactical talents. Because each Elemental effect is completely dependent on what happens on the previous turn, inter-turn sequencing and managing resources is paramount.

Due to the power of Elemental-dependent minions that are not necessarily Elementals themselves, it will often be necessary to plan out turns well in advance. The strong but situational swings of Ozruk or Kalimos will require a careful manipulation of the board state for maximum benefit. All while having to commit in advance by playing Elemental resources.

Elemental counterplay

This also provides a massive opportunity for counterplay. Not playing an Elemental broadcasts a temporary inability to invoke the powerful synergistic effects. This allows both a hand read and a temporary freedom from being blown out by certain effects.

Players could even bait out tempting Elemental plays in advance, starving the opponent of resources with which to activate the synergies. All this provides more opportunity for interaction and counterplay by canny opponents.

Furthermore, the classes where Elementals are being pushed hardest are the ones with powerful spells. Shamans and Mages can make more decisions, and might focus harder on a few high quality Elemental minions. They could do this by weaving more spells into their gameplan. This would naturally synergize with the limited number of Elementals.

Same old Curvestone?

Draw RNG can make the impact of Blazecaller varied, and make wins more snowbally

Of course, this might just be over-optimistic theorycrafting. The realities of the brutal tempo-based gameplay of Hearthstone means that holding back combos for optimal use may not be viable. While it’s nice to imagine that the most skilled players will hold onto their most powerful Elementals for the perfect synergies, getting bodies on board and hoping you topdeck an enabler in the meantime might end up being the superior strategy.

This is compounded by the likely midrange style encouraged by the Elemental’s theme of anti-aggro, beefy minions. Follow that up with minion centered tempo swings. Such decks want to play their minions out as big and as fast as possible. This rarely leaves much room for card-draw; and less card-draw means less decision-making, as on any given turn fewer options will be available.

As such, any impact on the gameplan outside of traditional midrange decks will have to be taken with a grain of salt. Hearthstone will likely be very similar to how it’s always been for the decks that best utilize Elemental synergies.

A meta impact

Tar Creeper may be the bane of Pirate Warrior

One potential upside to Elemental decks may come outside of their playstyle. Many of the Elemental and Elemental synergistic cards are powerful anti-aggro taunt minions. This could cause problems for current meta tyrant, Pirate Warrior. A Tar Creeper or Tol’vir Stoneshaper is a tricky obstacle for Pirate Warrior to overcome at any stage of the game (to say nothing of Kalimos’ insane healing ability). Meanwhile, the ability to use cards like Blazecaller to play threats while removing enemy midrange minions might mean the deck would have the mid-game beef to take on Jade Druid.

However, as always, the true impact of Elemental decks is yet to be seen. Without any play-testing, it’s impossible to tell whether Elemental decks will even see any play. Whatever happens, it’s likely Shaman has received tools to survive, even in a world without Tunnel Trogg and Totem Golem.

 

All images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment

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An in-depth analysis of Molten Blade

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

The card in all its RNG glory

Why Molten Blade?

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

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

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

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

Playing the odds

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

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

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

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

Early-game Outcomes

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

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

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

Mid-game Metrics

Any Warrior deck would love to get access to Truesilver Champion

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

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

Value Statistics

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

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

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

Molten Madness

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

All images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment

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The League’s Explorers: A Retrospective

It’s hard not to look back on the League of Explorers expansion with rose-tinted spectacles. It came after the relatively non impactful Grand Tournament expansion that seemed to do little but introduce the much-maligned Secret Paladin, and following on the heels of a controversial Warsong Commander nerf. It provided a well-needed injection of variety and levity. Though the expansion added a number of exciting, archetype defining cards, it’s best remembered for its four eponymous Explorers. These oft-hatted adventurers weren’t just the thematic heart of the expansion; they each provided a powerful and lasting impact on Hearthstone’s history.

 

Sir Finley Mrrglton

This gentleman’s refined demeanor belied his aggro inclinations

Sir Finley heralded the rise of a whole new breed of aggro decks. Previously, many archetypes had been lumbered with an inherently defensive hero power. Classes like Warrior or Shaman could sometimes match Hunters with their quality of cards,; but the consistent pressure granted by the Steady Shot Hero Power made it the premier aggro class. Sir Finley Mrrglton single-handedly smashed that paradigm. He provided a decent body early-game, but mainly allowed a game plan synergistic hero power to replace an otherwise near-useless defensive one. Along with his one mana, 1/3 buddy Tunnel Trogg, he was a vital part in the rise of Aggro Shaman.

Steady Shot and Lifetap were of course the most coveted, but even Fireblast or Druid’s Transform were viable alternatives to the otherwise near-useless Armor Up and Totem powers. Whether or not this impact was healthy in the long run is a matter of perspective. In the short run, though, it contributed massively to an increase in the variety of Aggro. With Hunter on the ropes as a class, perhaps it’s best that Steady shot becomes unique to them once more…

What can we learn after Mrrglton’s Rotation? Well, for one, changing to another class’s hero power might dilute class flavor a bit much. Especially in the days when Small Time Buccaneer and Patches were ubiquitous, opening into the same few cards and the same few hero powers began to get monotonous. On the plus side, his voice acting and entry sequence were truly top-notch. On the other hand, allowing more variety in hero powers can help more viable decks flourish.

Brann Bronzebeard

Brann’s wild combos might be best suited to the Wild format

Brann Bronzebeard was an obvious addition ever since the likes of Baron Rivendare’s Deathrattle-doubling effect was introduced. His battlecry duplication ability with only minor stat costs made him a versatile inclusion in a wide variety of decks. From Dragon, to C’thun, to Jade, there were very few archetypes that couldn’t at least partially justify his inclusion.

While his incremental value was impressive, he could also inspire some truly broken combos. While Brann-Kazakus is the most popular now, few can forget the game-ending might of Brann into a Thaurrisan discounted Doomcaller. Barely any decks could withstand the onslaught of three C’thuns.

However, perhaps it’s for the best that he’s rotating out. As Kazakus has shown, he severely limited the design space for potent battlecry minions, or otherwise making certain archetypes and strategies far more potent than they had any right to be (see Jade Shaman). In that regard, Brann is a perfect advertisement for the merits of the Standard rotation system. While his potentially gamebreakingly powerful interactions will still exist to inspire and provoke wonder in Wild, they won’t pollute the carefully tuned balance of Standard.

Elise Starseeker

This card defined Control before Jade and Kazakus

Elise Starseeker was never meant to be anything other than a fun diversion. When she completely redefined Control decks, it was almost by accident. Together with Justicar Trueheart, she marked the temporary transition of Control decks from having heavy threats like Ysera in their deck to largely relying on her late-game value generation after reaching fatigue. The ability to swap out useless card draw and low-impact spells and minions for a cascade of huge bombs led to the evolution of Warrior and Priest decks. They could afford to go as anti-aggro as possible while still having a fighting chance in the control mirror.

The Golden Monkey itself provoked wonder, counter-play, and frustration in equal measure. While Legendary RNG decided many matchups, the variance was welcomed by adding unpredictability to the otherwise mathematically tedious calculations of Fatigue; and whilst she was powerful, there were numerous counterplay options. Most notably saving tempo tools like removal or Sylvanas for after the monkey hard replaced all comeback mechanics with clunky minions.

That said, the promotion of 20-minute plus games was perhaps an unhealthy one. Many players found it tedious and time-consuming facing decks that stalled out for dozens of turns before doing anything proactive. Still, Elise proved a powerful point; the promotion of potent proactive late-game strategies for control decks that don’t rely on replacing significant proportions of the deck with slow bombs could shake up otherwise stale interactions between late-game decks, while keeping their viability against aggro and midrange.

Reno Jackson

The fact that “Reno decks” are a concept tells of this card’s power

Few cards have been as impactful as Reno. This dapper member of the Explorers inspired multiple breeds of decks. Even the name Reno became a byword for singleton decks. His unique ability to provide incredible burst healing to classes that otherwise struggle with survivability, like Warlock or Mage, resulted in a new style of potent control decks. With the near-extinction of Handlock and struggle of Control Mage to find a raison d’etre after Echo of Medivh rotated out and Molten Giant’s mana was raised, the card provided a safe haven for those who wanted to play late-game oriented versions of those classes.

Kazakus provided a boost for singleton decks, making them the only option for Control after Mean Streets of Gadgetzan. This rise provided an additional spotlight on the less pleasant aspects of the class. By concentrating huge amounts of the decks’ power into a few key cards, decks tended to be exceptionally powerful, but horribly inconsistent, especially versus aggro. This made it especially frustrating when draw RNG was in favor of one player, as games often felt like a coin-flip.

Perhaps the best lesson to learn from Reno Jackson is to spread out the power cards for any given archetype over a decent number of deckslots. This will make games not as overly dependent on one draw-specific answers. The other, more positive lesson is already one that Team 5 has learned from; giving players reward for creative deckbuilding challenges pays off in terms of gameplay variety.

 

All images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment.

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