Artist: Zoltan Boros

Jade Druid isn’t bad for Hearthstone – It’s bad for Druid

One month into Hearthstone’s Journey to Un’goro expansion and few people would have predicted the current meta. New decks have, despite some underestimations and overestimations, lead to a diverse and interesting spread of decks. However, one gloomy pre-Un’goro prophecy seems to be at least partially correct: Jade Druid is still a defining facet of the meta.

Despite unfavourable matchups against Quest Rogue, the ramp-focused anti-control deck benefited massively from new Un’goro cards like Earthen Scales and Primordial Drake, as well as a general weakening of the field due to the Year of the Mammoth Standard rotation. Even while losing Azure Drake and Living Roots in Standard, it’s become a tier 2, or arguably tier 1 deck. Especially strong are its impressive tournament performances due to the ability to hard-counter Taunt Warrior.

But is its continued existence holding back its class from new, exciting possibilities?

Unpopular, Not Oppressive

Jade Druid has strong counter-decks that aren’t traditional aggro

Jade Druid was especially controversial initially due to how it invalidated Fatigue decks with its infinite threats and deck size. However, this issue has become less polarizing. Since Control decks have far more reasonable options for ending games available, the infinite nature of Jade’s threats is no longer forcing completely impossible matchups. Instead, most decks have the ability to at least occasionally out-tempo and finish off Druid before they can access their infinite value engines.

What’s more, its chronic weakness to face decks is now represented as a weakness to board-centric early game and combos, as represented by its poor matchups against Token Druid, Silence Priest and Murloc Paladin. Rather than incentivising pure aggro strategies, it’s mainly rewarding decks that play minion instead of burn. The two most common complaints against Jade Druid, that it’s oppressive against Control and overly rewards aggro, simply no longer hold true.

Jade Forever

Jade Druid’s incredibly late-game strength requires very little sacrifice. The slight tempo downside of playing multiple Jade cards is not so much as an issue as the tempo downside of playing a late-game oriented Druid. Any other late-game Druid would have the exact same issues, only would have much less payoff in return for the lack of flexibility. Ramp, Combo or even Control archetypes are all out-tempo’d by Jade, while retaining worse late-game win-conditions.

Jade is holding back the Druid class simply by being better than anything else that fits its gameplan of ramping into winning, which is pretty much the only reason to play any late-game Druid deck. And for a game that wants to constantly keep things, the 12 mandatory Standard Druid cards and the nine mandatory Jade cards do not make for a particularly exciting experience. Recent experiments with five mana-minion based quest-oriented Ramp cards added in Un’goro seem to confirm this.

When Ramp Isn’t Fun

Deathwing is far more interesting and flavourful than a 12/12 Jade Golem

Put Jade druid aside for a minute and cast your mind back to the classic Ramp Druid, maybe Astral Communion variants or older pre-Naxxramas builds. What was fun about that deck? For many people, myself included, Ramp Druid was fun because it allowed you to play big, silly minions that otherwise never saw use. Deathwing, Ysera, Soggoth the Slitherer and Y’shaarj are fantastic, interesting, unique minions that feel awesome to play and even better to win with. However, it’s not anywhere near as competitive as playing Jade; and that’s a problem.

Jade benefits from Ramp, arguably doubly so as each minion essentially acts as a Ramp mechanic itself. Not only do you accelerate out mana, you accelerate out ever-larger minions. However, Jade Druid, while unmistakably a Ramp deck, suck out much of the fun from that playstyle; namely the payoff. Instead of a legendary recognizable dragon with an epic voice line, you get a generic green soldier who arrives with a dull whoosh and unenthusiastic grunt.

Design Space and Hitting Face

It’s hard to add Neutral anti-aggro when Druid can add it to the Jade package

Currently, there are two competitive Druid decks: Jade and Token. Perhaps more diversity could happen with different stripes of Aggro or even Midrange Druids, but as long as the Jade package exists in standard, there will be no late-game Druid decks better than Jade; at least not without significant power creep. Here then, Team 5 has painted themselves into a corner. Any new Druid archetype that doesn’t live and die on the first four turns will have to be incredibly potent to be stronger than the late-game potential of Jade. Either Druid is stuck with Jade and Aggro until the next Standard rotation, or Control decks will have an even harder time finding a reason to be played against the further massive spike in late-game Druid power.

That’s not the only design-space-limiting factor. Team 5 will have to be wary about any anti-aggro or early-game board control they print for Druid or in the Neutral category, as each could potentially make Jade Druid completely unstoppable. Druid may just have to be stuck with lackluster early game removal, and Neutral may have to stop seeing cool new anti-aggro techs like Tar Creeper or Primordial Drake.

An Unfixable Problem?

Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to solve this. Since Jade decks are so dependent on reaching a critical mass of Jade activators and nerf or rotation to Hall of Fame of any one card could quickly invalidate the whole card, leaving players who like the archetype without their favourite deck and Druid potentially without any slower options that are competitive. Meanwhile, leaving it in simply raises too many problems. Adding counters like a “Jade Crab” doesn’t solve the core issue, as if the counter is too powerful it will soon suppress Jade Druid and then stop seeing play, allowing Jade (and not other Druids) to return once it’s cut again. In addition, since other Jade archetypes are infrequent at best, the hyperspecific counter would struggle to merit an inclusion.

However, the cruel realities of Hearthstone may leave us with Jade Druid for the time being, and creative Druid deckbuilders may have to wait until the end of the Year of the Mammoth to flex their creative muscles.


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Artwork: Dany Orizio

Ruthless Deckbuilding – How to Cut Cards

We’ve all been there. You have exactly the cards you want in your latest deck; but suddenly someone comes along with a cool tech or genius inclusion that would work perfectly. The problem is, you only have 30 card slots. How do you make the painful decision of what card to cut?

The answer is rarely easy. Telling what cards are under-performing and what cards aren’t is a subtle challenge. Following these steps can help you figure out what can’t quite make it in.

Step One – Play the Deck (A lot)

Don’t try and improve a complicated deck like Miracle Rogue without understanding it first

Understanding how to tweak decks is largely dependent on understanding the deck itself. A fundamental knowledge of the structure and gameplan of the deck’s strategies is necessary to know how to optimize them. If you’re going to add cards, you need to know what cards will work with the strategy. It’s a common error to jump straight into a netdeck and try and make changes after a loss or two without experience with similar archetypes.

For instance, if you’re losing a lot as Taunt Warrior to Freeze Mage, a player who’s less experienced with the deck might assume that the best tech card would be the addition of an Eater of Secrets to punch through Ice Block; but someone who’s more experienced would recognize the superior power of an Armorsmith or two to generate burn-breaking armor. Similarly, a player who was unused to the gameplan of Midrange Hunter might consider adding a N’zoth for the sweet Savannah Highmane Synergy, unaware of the intense tempo focus of the deck.

Step Two – Differentiate Between “Core” and “Flex” Cards

Fiery War Axe should never be cut (unless you happen to be playing pre-nerf Patron Warrior)

Most decks have cards that are “core” to their strategies, cards that are instrumental to the implementation of their gameplan. Examples of this include N’zoth’s First Mate in Pirate Warrior, Kill Command in Midrange Hunter, Shadowstep in Crystal/Quest Rogue, and Ice Block in Freeze Mage. Cards like this aren’t simply strong, they define what makes the deck worth playing in the first place.

Flex cards can be harder to pin down. They are most easily defined as “Cards that are sometimes cut.” History can be your guide here; if you look back through previous incarnations of the archetype, see if the card was included. If at any point, without being replaced by a card with a similar function that no longer exists, it was voluntarily excluded from successful competitive lists, it would likely be considered a flex card. Examples of this can include meta-dependent tech cards like Acidic Swamp Ooze or Hungry Crab, but can easily include clunky, semi-synergistic choices. Think a second Gadgetzan in Jade Druid, Arcane Giants in Miracle Rogue, or Stampeding Kodo in Midrange Paladin. These are the cards that should be on your proverbial chopping block. (Note that the second copy of a card can be a flex spot while the first remains core; many Control Warriors would cut a single Brawl or Acolyte of Pain at certain points in the meta, but none would cut both copies).

Step Three – Watch your Matchups

Cards are rarely objectively superior to one another. Many cards could conceivably find a place in very many lists. The complications arise in when they are superior. A classic example is whether to play low cost or high cost cards. Low cost cards are usually superior in fast-paced board-centric matchups, as they can be played in vital early turns. Meanwhile, higher-cost cards allow you more late-game pressure and value to beat out heavier lists in long games. Through these sorts of trade-offs, you can precision-engineer the type of matchups you want to gain an edge in.

But what matchups should you focus, and how? Making the decision of what matchups to sacrifice and what to improve on can be tricky. As a rule of thumb, it’s generally best to try and improve your most common near-evenly favoured opponent. Since the games tend to be close, small edges can make a difference. When as a Taunt Warrior, it will take a lot to even occasionally win your matches against Jade Druid; however, a few key changes like a second Sleep with the Fishes can massively improve your winrate against a close matchup like Murloc Paladin.

Step Four – Notice the Boring

Just because Rockpool Hunter doesn’t feature in many Trolden videos, doesn’t make it worth cutting for an Equality

Sometimes our human perceptions and biases can hinder us. Take the instance of Kindly Grandmother and Deadly Shot in Midrange Hunter. Kindly Grandmother is rarely spectacular. It’s a slightly above-average two drop that enables certain beast synergies. Your opponent will not be defeated by Kindly Grandmother alone.

Meanwhile, Deadly Shot is almost always interesting and makes an impact. At three mana, it can snipe that vital minion or clear a taunt for lethal. Often you will pray to topdeck it, and it will obviously win you games. However, despite all this, Kindly Grandmother is almost always a better inclusion. Kindly Grandmother provides low key, reliable, non-situational tempo and a strong beast synergy activator. This is incredibly paramount in a deck reliant on curving out game after game. While Deadly Shot is far more flashy, the times when it sits in your hand or just hits a 1/1 can be hard to remember.

As such, it’s vital to try and think about your cards and review your games to determine when cards were “boring” but good, and “boring” and bad. Remembering only the flashy, unlikely, or impactful games will lead you to warped conclusions.

Step Five – Experiment

So you’ve got to know the deck, identified your flex slots, targeted a matchup or two you want to improve, and figured out that card that seems clunky or redundant to replace. Of course, you may be completely wrong! It’s important to test your lists thoroughly every time you make a change, and record your results. Don’t give up after just a few games and swap back either, as sample size is key. Keep playing until you’re sure how the change affects your winrates. With any luck, you’ve just made a good deck that little bit better; at least until the meta shifts again!

 

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Artist: Jesper Ejsing. Courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment

Back from the Junkheap! How Unused Cards Become Great

Un’goro brought a lot of changes. The whole landscape of the meta changed, with the new cards and standard rotation forging new archetypes and casting others aside. But it’s not just newly introduced cards replacing old ones. More and more older cards that went unused are making huge comebacks. But how do cards that have already seemingly proved their unworthiness make their way back into meta domination?

New Tribals – The Curator

The Menagerie may be for guests only, but Uther and Garrosh seem to have made the list

Sometimes all you need to see play is the right cast of supporting characters. Take the Karazhan Legendary, The Curator. Whilst The Curator saw some fringe applications, it went largely unused in the Mean Streets of Gadgetzan Meta. Simply put, there weren’t enough quality Murlocs and Beasts that justified the midrange-style deck it would naturally fit in. Journey to Un’goro brought in a bevy of new Murlocs, Beasts, and Dragons, many of which fit perfectly with the decks that want to draw two or three cards for seven mana.

Most successful has been Taunt Warrior, where it consistently draws a Primordial Drake and a Direhorn Hatchling or Matriarch. But the card has also seen play in Paladin, where it can often draw a Murloc such as Hydrologist, a beast like Gentle Megasaur or Stampeding Kodo, and a Primordial Drake for dragon. This is one of the reasons why it’s important not to immediately dismiss cards with strong potential synergies just due to gaps in the current card-pool.

Rotation of Superior Alternatives – Whirlwind

Revenge was stronger than Whirlwind, but Warrior will survive without it

Whirlwind is one of the defining cards of the Warrior class (and is the colloquial namesake of all one damage AOE effects in Hearthstone), yet for a while it saw almost zero play, going unused since Patron Warrior lost favour. The reason was simple; the initially panned Revenge proved to be far superior for most Control archetypes. With Revenge rotating out, Whirlwind has regained its rightful place as the Acolyte-cycler, aggro-stemming, execute-activating, spell of choice for controlling Warrior builds.

While this may be seen as unfortunate by some, Revenge was an interesting and powerful Control tool that enabled significant potential for high level play and counterplay. It could also be seen as a victory for the Standard rotation system. Warrior can be given interesting new angles on existing spells, but still return to the original class-defining vision once those rotate out.

Tutoring – Purify

Shadow Visions enables a huge number of Priest strategies and archetypes

Who would have envisioned a world where Purify sees play in a high-level competitive Standard deck? It seemed destined to remain unused. The card that provoked Reddit outrage and prompted an explanation video from Ben Brode himself is now a core component of the formidable Silence Priest. The secret to its viability lies in Shadow Visions, the incredible new Priest spell that allows you to discover copies of specific cards from your deck.

The truth is, Purify was never horrible in the best case scenario; many decks love the opportunity to silence a friendly minion and draw a card in the right circumstances. Its problem was how situational it was. Shadow Visions helps solve that by making sure you can almost always have access to a silence when you need it, making the deck an order of magnitude more competitive, and allowing Purify to find a home. Radiant Elemental reducing the cost of Priest spells doesn’t hurt either.

Enabling a Potent Curve – Murloc Tidecaller

The power of Rockpool Hunter with Murloc Tidecaller caught some people’s attention prior to release. Most notably, the combo took off with Paladin, where Vilefin Inquisitor and Grimscale Chum offered other potent 1-2 curves that could provide incredibly efficient stats. Murloc Tidecaller isn’t too impressive on its own, but its capacity to be a 3/3 on turn two makes it truly indispensable in even Midrange paladin lists. Sometimes Team 5 releases cards so strong that it brings out even sub-optimal cards purely to allow it to shine. With Murloc Paladin looking to be increasingly dominant, it’s worth being thankful that Hungry Crab still exists.

A Change to the Gameplan – Armorsmith

With Warriors playing more minions, especially Taunts, Armorsmith becomes very potent

Warrior was always going to have an existential crisis with the rotation of Justicar Trueheart. Without being able to gain four armor per turn to activate shield slams and outlast any deck without “Jade” in the title, Warrior needed a radical new late-game win-condition. Luckily, two such conditions arrived. One in the form of Fire Plume’s Heart, and a new Deathrattle minion for N’zoth in Direhorn Hatchling. However, both N’zoth and Taunt Warrior need armor, and ended up turning to a long-forgotten ally; Armorsmith.

Armorsmith went unused as Control Warriors became more removal-oriented. Without other minions on board, Armorsmith’s underwhelming stats simply weren’t worth it. That all changed with the rotation, however. Warriors now fight vigorously for board with a variety of minions, most of which have taunt. In these cases, Armorsmith can stack up huge amounts of free armor for a tiny initial investment. An end to the early-game dominance of three and four health Totem Golems and Tunnel Troggs in favour of pingable N’zoth First Mates and Southsea Deckhands also gives the Armorsmith far more utility as an early game board contesting minion.

New Archetypes – Stonetusk Boar

Quest Rogue took nearly everyone by surprise. Nonetheless, it’s here, and it’s potent, especially after its period of refinement. Its weakness to aggro and burn means that it has to close out games as fast as possible once the quest is completed; none exemplify this more than Stonetusk.

The humble hog seemed only to exist as a lesson to newbies in the value of a single point of damage (hint – it’s less than one mana). But once buffed to quintuple its original strength, it becomes a force to be reckoned with. It’s capable of dishing out incredible burst damage with a distinctive squeal and multiple bounce effects. It’s a reminder of the fundamental power of the Charge mechanic, and how any card that does anything the cheapest is likely to be abused in some way at some point.

 

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The Evergreen Problem – Is it Time to Rethink Classic?

A Perennial Problem

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

Eternal Strength

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

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

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

Class Struggle

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

The Danger of Continual Correction

Having to print a new Lightbomb every expansion comes with risks

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

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

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

Lessons Not Yet Learned

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

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

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

The Solution; a Revamped Classic Set

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

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

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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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