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Kobolds and Catacombs Day 1 Deck Theorycrafting

The next Hearthstone expansion, Kobolds and Catacombs, has finally been released. In the reveal season, we saw many powerful and fun cards that are coming out with the set. But, which of these cards fit into existing decks? What new decks are coming into the meta?

The Meta

Dragon Priest

KnC Dragon Priest

Dragon Priest Decklist

In past expansions, Dragon Priest has been an archetype that many people have toyed around with and played on ladder. In this expansion, we may see the rise of a Dragon-oriented Priest build similar to the Dragon Priest deck that was viable during the Mean Streets of Gadgetzan expansion last year. The iteration I have theory-crafted includes a much more value-orientated game plan by including cards such as Lyra the Sunshard, Drakonid Operative, and the new Priest weapon, Dragon Soul. The deck can also be built to take on a more minion heavy route by taking out cards like Dragon Soul, Lyra the Sunshard, and Shadow Word: Death and replacing them with Cabal Shadow Priest, which synergises with Twilight Acolyte, and Twilight Drake.

 

The inclusion of Duskbreaker in this expansion really helps Dragon Priest’s historically bad matchup versus aggressive decks, which makes the new iteration of Dragon Priest that much scarier. On ladder, this deck seems like a solid choice for climbing at a high pace. In tournaments, players may elect to bring Highlander Priest instead because of its favorable win-rates versus slower decks.

 

 Zoo Warlock

KnC Zoo Warlock

Zoolock Decklist

In the Knights of the Frozen Throne expansion, we once again saw the rise of an old friend: Zoo Warlock. The early game minion package combined with Prince Keleseth proved to be the kick this deck needed to get back into the meta, and topping off with Bonemare and Bloodreaver Gul’Dan made Zoo Warlock scary in the late-game as well. This time around, Blizzard has given Zoo Warlock even better tools for taking the board early game and keeping it. The addition of Kobold Librarian helps keep your hand full, which is extremely important when having so many low mana cost minions in your deck. The main difference with this Zoo Warlock compared to the previous deck is that it cuts Prince Keleseth for the new 2-drop, Vulgar Homunculus.

 

With this iteration of the deck, I decided to add the Demon synergy package in the form of Demonfire, Bloodfury potion, and Crystalweaver. We have seen quite a lot of play with Bloodfury Potion and Crystalweaver in the past Zoo Warlock decks, but the addition of the Vulgar Homunculus makes these cards coming down on curve extremely threatening. Hooked Reaver also makes an appearance in this deck because of how solid its stats are when the Battlecry goes off, as well as its ability to synergise with the rest of the demon synergy in the deck.

 

The addition of higher-health minions and buff cards will help Zoo Warlock in the next meta mainly because of the predicted prevalence of Duskbreaker on the ranked ladder. In tournament play, this deck will likely be chosen for inclusion in aggressive lineups.

Big Druid

KnC Big Druid

Big Druid Decklist

The ‘Big’ archetype saw large amounts of play during the Knights of the Frozen Throne expansion as a whole, especially during the later half of the set’s meta. Kobolds and Catacombs has not given Big Druid many other tools, but the core of the deck is strong enough to still see play. The only change I have made to the current Big Druid list is taking out Innervate and adding Arcane Tyrants. Innervate, once a staple in most Druid decks, took a huge hit from the nerfs that occured in the middle of the last expansion. It was included in Big Druid, but it was arguably one of the weaker cards within the deck. Two different cards were shown from the new expansion that could find a home in Big Druid: Greedy Sprite and Arcane Tyrant. I chose to include Arcane Tyrant instead of the Sprite because it is very similar to Kun the Forgotten King in the way that it makes your power turns even more powerful. A common way Kun has been used during the meta was playing it as a big free body to pair with Ultimate Infestation. Arcane Tyrant acts in a similar way when paired with Nourish, Spreading Plague, and Ultimate Infestation as well. Greedy Sprite could be included instead of the Tyrant, but the ramp effect is rather slow and your opponent can choose to ignore it. Although this is the case, ramp is powerful enough that Greedy Sprite might see play over Arcane Tyrant.

 

Big Druid seems to be the new go-to Druid deck. In the past, Jade Druid has held this spot, but Big Druid is able to make bigger minions faster and still keep aggression at bay, which may see the ‘Big’ archetype overtaking the Jade mechanic this expansion. Because of this, it is a solid choice for both ranked ladder and tournament play.

 

Tempo Rogue

KnC Tempo Rogue

Tempo Rogue Decklist

Tempo Rogue swept the meta in dominant fashion when it was first discovered to be a powerhouse of a deck. With Kobolds and Catacombs, this deck gets even stronger with the inclusion of some slower yet highly valuable cards. One of these cards is the Rogue Legendary of the set, Sonya Shadowdancer. Sonya replaces the rather weak card of Shaku, the Collector as a card generation engine. Most of the minions in Tempo Rogue have such good effects or Battlecries that Shadowcaster saw a decent amount of experimentation and success during the expansion. Sonya is much cheaper than Shadowcaster, which makes its effect easier to pull off. The second card I have added to the deck is Fal’dorei Strider. Admittingly, a 4 mana 4/4 is rather weak as a tempo play. But, the potential for that minion to pull one, two, or even three additional 4/4 bodies is so powerful that it is worth the initial tempo loss. Even if only 1 additional body is pulled, paying 4 mana for 8/8 worth of stats is crazy powerful. There is also the potential to high-roll by creating a 4/4 on turn 7 to be able to play Bonemare onto after your opponent cleared your board the previous turn.

 

Fal’dorei Strider takes the place of Saronite Chain Gang, mainly because of Chain Gang’s vulnerability to an on-curve Duskbreaker. Overall, Tempo Rogue looks to still be a powerhouse deck next expansion, and I expect to see it played both on the ranked ladder and in tournaments.

 

Highlander Priest

KnC Highlander Priest

Highlander Priest Decklist

Highlander Priest has been at the top of the meta throughout Knights of the Frozen Throne, and it seems to still remain at the top during Kobolds and Catacombs. The Priest list I have selected to showcase only adds one card: Psychic Scream. In order to include the new Priest board clear, I chose to cut Mass Dispel from the deck. Mass Dispel is often times weak, so it made sense to take it out for one of the best cards of the upcoming expansion. This decision shows how good of a deck Highlander Priest already is. Another take on Highlander Priest is to go for a more minion-focused route by including a Dragon package with Duskbreaker. While this seems like a good idea, I feel the current version of the deck is much better. In the past, more value-oriented decks were tested. These decks included cards such as Elise the Trailblazer and Free from Amber. It was ultimately found that the faster and more burst-oriented Priest build was better. Therefore, I feel it is appropriate to stick with the tried-and-true burst style.

 

Once again, Highlander Priest seems to be at the top of the meta. Expect to see a large amount on ladder and as a staple deck in many tournament lineups.

 

The Non-Meta

Combo Hunter

KnC Combo Hunter

Combo Hunter Decklist

For the past few expansions, Hunter has been struggling as a class. Blizzard keeps pushing control tools and weird cards for the Hunter arsenal, which leaves the class in an awkward position in terms of deck building because of how weak each of the archetypes are. With the new Hunter legendary minion, Kathrena Winterwisp, I thought it would be really interesting to build a combo-oriented deck using Kathrena, Charged Devilsaur, and King Krush. It is often not a combo that will instantly kill your opponent, but the amount of stats that the combo provides are truly ridiculous. This deck runs the Secret package to help fend off aggro, the Candleshot and Hunter’s Mark combo to deal with large threats, and Deathstalker Rexxar to create even more value in a late game scenario.

 

While the deck might not be top-tier, it seems extremely fun to play. Personally, I will be testing this deck in tournament play in a lineup that is attempting to target control decks. On ranked ladder, Combo hunter still seems weak to aggro decks and Highlander Priest, which makes it not extremely viable in the upcoming meta.

Conclusion

Overall, Kobolds and Catacombs sees both powerful and fun cards added to the game. While it may not be the best expansion of the year in terms of player attitude and hype, it will likely lead to a diverse and healthy meta both in terms of ranked ladder and tournament play.

 

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

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Will Kobolds and Catacombs’ Legendary weapons belong in a museum?

Kobolds and Catacombs, Hearthstone’s upcoming expansion, is all about treasure. Among the fantastical trophies are new Legendary weapons. With one per class, it will give even non-weapon classes powerful options.

But these unique cards have an Achilles’ heel. There are a very limited number of incredibly potent Weapon removal cards in Hearthstone. With tech so few but so impactful, will this make the new weapons dead on arrival?

Echoes of a hunter

Every class will have new legendary weapons, but will they be too easily countered?

To understand the danger of overly powerful tech, we need to go back in time. Big Game Hunter in its original three mana state was the epitome of the overly impactful tech card. The 4/2 terror was a good enough tempo play to include in almost any deck. Even those with multiple efficient hard removal options like Control Warrior could run it.

The sheer crushing efficiency of a well-timed BGH shut out a huge number of 7+ attack minions from the meta. Even the mighty Ragnaros could often find itself squeezed out.

The problem with BGH was that although it was never “OP” (as the meta could react to its presence), it still had a hugely disproportionate warping effect. Numerous big and fun minions never got a chance to shine. When it was nerfed to five mana, it opened up many new opportunities for both deckbuilding and card design. But what has this got to do with weapons?

More than playability

weapons

BGH was powerful, but its impact was far greater than just its winrate

When we consider a card’s “power”, we often think about how good it is in a given deck or game situation. But “power” can be more than that; it can also be a measure of how much it impacts the meta. A deck’s 52% winrate is one thing if it’s a rising star and another if it’s two months into the expansion and every other deck is specifically targeting it.

Similarly, a card can be powerful even if it has a mediocre winrate when played if it has a disproportionate impact on what other cards, classes or archetypes are viable.

Big Game Hunter wasn’t the most overpowered card in its three mana state. But as a near-universal option with very little downside, it shut off so many cards that it was eventually nerfed. Similarly, weapon removal cards could be an overly impactful option if every class gets expensive, powerful weapons.

Scaling up

The current weapon removals we have make sense in a world of cheap weapons. Since cards like War Axe, Jade Claws and the Rogue hero power cost very little, the cards to counter them have to be cheap and efficient to matter. It’s fine to have a weapon destruction effect on a two mana 3/2 or a three mana 3/3 when you’re countering the cheap cards of aggressive decks.

The problem is that these cards are designed to efficiently beat cheap weapons, but they’re far more effective at defeating expensive options. Spending two mana to kill a 3/1 War Axe is one thing, it’s quite another to shut down a Gorehowl.

If Kobolds and Catacombs adds loads of powerful, expensive weaponry, then weapon removal simply becomes too crushing to pass up on. This not only limits the impact of cool new cards, it has knock on effects for classes that typically run weapons like Warrior and Hunter. With everyone running more weapons and weapon removal, there’s little reason to choose classes whose strengths are weapons.

All or nothing

So what’s the solution? Unfortunately, the problem is knotty, and not as simple as changing a single card. Most effective weapon removal is all or nothing, destroying them outright. This makes it equally effective at taking out cheap weapons as expensive ones. What’s more, these cards can’t just be nerfed; cheap weapons still need a counter, and there are few ways to interact with them otherwise. In order to fix this, Blizzard needs to adopt a multi-pronged strategy.

First, there needs to be more cards that counter cheap weapons or soft-counter weapons in general. More freeze minions and effects, more ways of reducing attack and durability rather than killing weapons outright, and other innovative strategies to deal with weapons in ways that don’t scale disproportionately.

Oozes and adventurers

weapons

Ooze doesn’t care if you have a Doomhammer or a Light’s Justice; they all get slimed

Then there needs to be changes to existing weapon techs. Acidic Swamp Ooze and its Gluttonous counterpart look to be the biggest targets. As a neutral two mana basic with an aggressive statline, Ironbeak Owl was a similar card that saw a nerf. Gluttonous Ooze is a bit more niche, expensive and defensive but still could shut down expensive weapons too harshly. They could either be rotated out or changed to interact with weapons in a less all-or-nothing fashion. They, for instance, could reduce a weapons attack by three, or reduce durability by two. Harrison Jones may also be problematic, but as a five mana investment it could remain a necessary, more dedicated counter to expensive weaponry.

As it is, the results will not be completely disastrous. The meta will adapt as ever, and a few of the best weapons will likely find a place in it, checked by tech. But if you run the risk of running the cool new Legendary weapon you unpacked, just be prepared to give your opponent a healthy museum collection.

 

 

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

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Filling the post-nerf power vacuum

Hearthstone’s upcoming 9.1 balance changes are a shotgun blast into the top tiers of ladder. Besides Priest, the changes will impact every tier one deck. Pirate Warrior, Jade Druid, Aggro Druid and Murloc Paladin all suffer substantial nerfs to core, deck-defining cards. With the top dogs all cowed, who will rise to take their place?

Rise of Razakus

nerf

Priest’s repeatedly refreshing heropower is devastating when it’s zero mana

Priest may be the first on people’s minds. Raza/Kazakus has proven to be a scarily potent deck on both ladder and in tournaments. While the deck suffers from consistency issues, it is truly terrifying when all the pieces slot together. Shadowreaper Anduin’s “machine-gun” effect of zero mana Raza hero powers ends games fast vs control, and that frees the deck up to run a decent anti-aggro base.

Razakus’ achilles heel has been succumbing to the twin threats of the uber-aggressive burn of Pirate Warrior and the ever-ramping late-game threats of Jade. With the Fiery War Axe and Innervate nerfs, the deck will gain some breathing room to dominate.

Don’t count on a Priest-only meta though. Exodia Mage exists as a strong counter, and a singleton deck like Priest can only run one dirty rat as counterplay. What’s more, aggressive Midrange decks like Hunter may also arise to give Priest trouble with sticky minions and continuous pressure.

Mage’s Secret deck

With less powerful Aggro, Mage may be free to become more aggressive

Secret Mage has been operating under the radar lately. While it’s one of the few decks that maintains a decent winrate against Jade Druid, its other matchups suffer. Most notably, the three most popular Aggro decks all rip it to shreds most games. Mage simply can’t compete with Aggro Druid, Murloc Paladin and Pirate Warrior’s early game consistently enough. And with few comeback mechanisms, it struggles to come back from early disadvantages.

Luckily for fans of Fireballing face, all three of those decks are affected by the nerfs. With fewer counters, Secret Mage could prey on the control decks that timidly emerge into the new meta.

Still, it’s unlikely to be defining. Jade Druid will likely continue to be a better counter to Control, while maintaining decent winrates vs aggro; even with a six mana Spreading plague and weakened Innervate.

A new kind of Warrior

nerf

Worse Innervate means more time to play Geist

Though it’s very much an underground hit currently, Fatigue/Mill Warrior is turning heads. Ever since Dog’s refined list exploded the deck into the popular Hearthstone consciousness, it’s been showing significant potential. With an infinite win condition and serious anti-aggro credentials, the deck is held back largely by a high skill ceiling and slow games.

Unlike almost every Warrior deck ever, Mill/Fatigue Warrior does not run Fiery War Axe. As such, it will get through the balance changes unscathed. Moreover, Warleader’s nerf weakens a key unfavourable matchup in Murloc Paladin. With a less competitive field, the deck could become much more viable.

However, there are some caveats. Midrange decks may emerge and challenge the deck’s limited mid-game board control options. Moreover, the deck is far too slow and difficult to have an overwhelming ladder presence.

Rexxar’s return

Good old Midrange Hunter looks to make a comeback. The aggro-flavoured beast synergy deck has a long and storied history. However, since Mean Streets of Gadgetzan, competitive early game minions such as Patches have limited its utility.

But with Aggro Druid, Pirate Warrior and Murloc Paladin all taking serious hits to core cards, it may thrive in the post-nerf world. A decline in Pirate Warrior especially could give the deck new lease of life, as the near-mandatory double Golakka Crawlers can finally be cut if Pirates fall below a critical threshold.

Still, with no eight mana Call of the Wild as a tempo finisher, Hunters will be unlikely to truly take first place. Deathstalker Rexxar and Savannah Highmane are simply not enough to finish games against Control a lot of the time. And with aggro decks still out-competing Hunter’s first few turns, a Rexxar meta seems unlikely.

The Eternal Jade

Without Innervate, Aya is still potent

Unfortunately, many signs still point to a meta still dominated by Jade. As with the nerfs to Midrange Shaman preceding unprecedented Midrange Shaman dominance, Druid’s main counters are being hit hard too. While an Innervate nerf will curtail Druid’s power greatly, the power of cards like Malfurion the Pestilent, Aya, Jade Idol and Ultimate Infestation will remain. Along with the traditional Druid core of Swipes and Wild Growths, a slightly more anti-aggro Jade Druid could still dominate all slower matchups while retaining anti-aggro consistency.

However, only time will tell. Perhaps the Innervate nerf will be more impactful than many realise. Or perhaps Zoo will come out of nowhere to become a tier one deck. The only way to make sure is to test these decks out in the merciless proving ground of ladder.

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

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Frozen Throne and the danger of sticky minions

It’s been a while since the days of overly sticky minions in Hearthstone’s Standard. Once-ubiquitous Deathrattles like Piloted Shredder, Haunted Creeper and Nerubian Egg have long since rotated out.

However, the upcoming Knights of the Frozen Throne expansion promises to bring with it an undead host of new Deathrattle minions. Have the Hearthstone Developers at Team 5 learned their lesson? Or will sticky Deathrattles return to dominate the meta?

What is stickiness?

sticky

To understand stickiness, think the opposite of Magma Rager

“Stickiness” is a term in Hearthstone that expresses how difficult a card is to remove proportional to its mana cost. For a classic example, compare Magma Rager to Harvest Golem. Both cost three mana. However, Magma Rager can be completely removed with only one instance of one damage, whereas Harvest Golem requires three damage and then one damage to clear completely. The idea that more health equals more stickiness may seem obvious, but stickiness means more than just health.

Look at Piloted Shredder and compare it to Chillwind Yeti. Piloted Shredder is considered stickier because despite having less health than the yeti, it overall tends to have equal or more health (its two health Deathrattle drop is usually a 3/2, 2/2 or 2/3). But most importantly, killing a Shredder requires two sources of damage rather than just one. A single Fireball or Savannah Highmane attack kills a Yeti, but leaves a Shredder Deathrattle on the field.

Undercosted survivability

sticky

Early sticky minions were extremely competitively costed

Hearthstone’s history is full of certain card attributes being over or under-valued. Just take a look at healing in Classic. Holy Light, Guardian of Kings, Priestess of Elune and Healing Touch remain significantly overcosted.

Meanwhile, aggressive abilities and attributes like attack and windfury were also repeatedly overcosted, while survivability (especially in the form of Deathrattles) has been continually undercosted. Look at the scores of unused underpowered Windfury minions, or high attack Taunts, that have gone almost entirely unused outside of arena.

Then compare it to the scores of powerful Deathrattle minions from early in Hearthstone’s development. Harvest Golem, Cairne and Savannah Highmane are the only Classic minions that summon friendly minions on death, and all have seen massive competitive play. Alongside Naxxramas and GvG’s cohort of ubiquitous Neutral Deathrattles, the necessity of an adjustment quickly became clear.

Killing everything twice

sticky

Hunter’s strength is in its sticky minions; but you wouldn’t want, say, Druid, to have access to the same power

The problem with such sticky minions is that it begins to undermine the value of removal. There’s little point in Flamestrike if every minion has low health but summons something on death. When AOE doesn’t clear, then slower decks suffer. Stickiness also leads to distortions in the meta; with so much more on the board at any given moment, buffs and adjacency bonuses get an additional kick in value. Cards like Bloodlust and Savage Roar become even scarier. The potential punishes for going face decreases, as minions end up being too hard to kill efficiently.

The overall effect is that it leads to a more aggressive, more snowbally game, with fewer interesting comebacks and less tactical decision-making. Which is fine for some decks (it’s part of the identity of hunter), but when applied to the entire meta it quickly becomes overly punishing.

Learning from the past

Luckily, Hearthstone’s developers appear to be learning from past misjudgments. The most recent slew of Deathrattle minions that summon minions have a far more conservative cost. The only minions to summon minions unconditionally in Un’goro are Eggnapper (relatively weak but saw some play in Druid), Devilsaur Egg (a more expensive Nerubian that has seen very moderate experimental play) and Sated Threshadon (an unequivocally Arena-only card that sees play only in the greediest of N’zoth decks).

While Aya Blackpaw was an egregious outlier, she’s the exception that proves the rule. Almost all Deathrattle minions that summon minions printed since Whispers of the old Gods are either Hunter-only, synergy-specific or relatively under-statted for their cost. Because of this, we’re now in a meta where AOE is more prevalent and removal is more useful. It has become easier to explore interesting synergies and control decks. But if the devs shy away from powerful, sticky Deathrattles, what will Frozen Throne bring to Hearthstone?

Deathrattles without stickiness

sticky

The most interesting Deathrattles often don’t summon minions

The answer, of course, is that Deathrattles need not summon friendly minions. Some of the most interesting and powerful Deathrattles have been on cards with new and unique effects. Take Deathlord, an anti-aggro staple that fit into a wide variety of unique decks. Or for a newer example, Un’goro’s Direhorn Hatchling, a boon to N’zoth and Taunt Warrior alike without a powerful board impact. Or even the now Hall of Fame dwelling Sylvanas, that actively countered sticky minions by stealing them or their output wholesale.

The only Frozen Throne Deathrattle released so far is the Shallow Gravedigger. This grants a Deathrattle minion, providing card advantage instead of board presence. Here’s hoping that other Frozen Throne minions follow a similar philosophy. We don’t want to end up with a Piloted Zombie Shredder instead.


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

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The Snowball Problem

“Troggs Rule!” is not an especially fearsome battlecry, and yet it evokes dread and terrifying memories in the minds of many. The same can be said for the growl of a Mana Wrym, or Frothing Beserker expressing his weapon’s need for a drink. With Un’goro, we have a new sound to etch into our collective memories to be filed under “Trauma”: The hoarse shriek of that neon-pink “flappy bird”, Vicious Fledgling.

Demanding Answers

Two copies of early answers are rarely enough to reliably counter Snowball minions

What makes all these cards so problematic and easy to despise is twofold. First is their relatively high health for the point in the game they are likely to be played. 3 health on turn one or 4 health on turns 2-3 is incredibly hard to deal with, and almost impossible to do in a timely, efficient fashion.

But remove them fast you must, because the other trait these cards have is easy-to-activate, unlimited, permanent attack buffs. Vicious Fledgling also gains health, divine shields and “Cannot be Targeted” effects depending on adapt RNG. The effect of this huge scaling of threat level is to very quickly deal massive amounts of damage and force the opponent’s entire gameplan to absolutely revolve around first dealing with that 1-3 drop.

The combination of scaling attack and initial survivability is brutal. A hard to remove card that is also incredibly threatening has proven over and over to be the most effective Aggro minion, and these cards combine those aspects perfectly. Cards like these can quickly “Snowball” the game out of control.

Exacerbating RNG

Now, there’s nothing wrong with cards that end games if left unchecked. Beefy finishers like Ysera or Deathwing are great because they quickly turn the tides against resource-starved opponents, forcing games that otherwise would drag on indefinitely to draw to a close. However, by the time your N’zoth or Alexstrasza comes down to finish things off, your opponent has drawn through enough of their deck to have drawn an answer or two that they conceivably could have saved. Even a card like Bloodlust comes down late enough that the odds are an opponent with enough AOE in their deck would have a very good chance of drawing at least one copy to preemptively counter it.

But on the crucial turns 1-3, you will on average have seen only a tiny sliver of your deck. Even if you run numerous copies of early answers and hard-mulligan for them, there is a decent chance you don’t even have the ability to draw them. That’s normally fine, and midrange or control decks normally run a number of comeback mechanisms to make up for slow starts or answers too deep in your deck. However, the sheer power of these Snowball minions makes these factors simply too little too late in most cases.

This leads to games being vastly decided primarily on the draw/mulligan phase, with little to no interaction on behalf of players. Luck is a huge and important part of Hearthstone, but the level to which early draw RNG decides games due to Snowball minions is patently undesirable.

Class Warfare

Some classes simply can’t deal with early Snowball minions without board control

Early Snowball minions demand one of two things; consistent early-game answers combined with backup comeback mechanisms, or a similarly potent pro-active gameplan of one’s own. When classes cannot do either of those two things, no manner of mid-game beef will help them. One of the primary reasons behind Paladin and Hunters’s recent Mean Streets period of unpopularity was its inability to deal with Tunnel Trogg outside of Doomsayer. They were only saved from the current onslaught of Fledglings, Pirates and Mana Wyrms through their own pro-active gameplans. Now Warlock is facing many of the same problems as these classes had in the past, due in part to their inability to tempo out an early board advantage, answer early minions or heal.

 

As long as Snowball minions exist, they will place considerable extra pressure on those classes without Evergreen tools for dealing with or contesting them. This weakens class diversity and can force otherwise promising decks into obscurity.

Arena Woes

Arena was, for a long time, relatively free of early-game Snowball dominance. While pre-Standard arena had its fair share of cards that accrued value (especially via Inspire), these generally came later in the game. Meanwhile, other Snowball minions could not reliably draw on their synergies due to the nature of Arena. However, Vicious Fledgling is proving exceptionally destructive to this balance. Due to the paucity of early removal in the format, it frequently decides games all by itself.

While not overly impressive cards performance-wise, the way it runs away with games if left unanswered even for a single turn is intensely frustrating for a 3-drop. Add to that the inherent RNG of Adapt and the problems of an immediate Windfury grab and you’re left with a card that rewards circumstance far more than interactions.

The Snowball Solution

Does Mana Wyrm really need to be evergreen?

The solution to Snowball minions is simple; lower their survivability or move them to Wild. Potent early minions are necessary for the survival of certain classes, but there is no need to over-centralize them into one or two cards per class that outperform all others. Aggressive classes should have a number of potent options rather than a single overpowered steamroller. Like with Deathrattles, Blizzard should learn the lesson that permanent, easy-to-activate attack buffs on a survivable early body is simply too strong.

We need more early minions that express versatility, power and flair in the manner of Radiant Elemental, Razorpetal Lasher, Malcheezar’s Imp and Hydrologist. Team 5 are good enough at designing cards that we no longer need endless variations of Tunnel Trogg.

 

Title art by Arthur Bozonnet. Courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com

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Hearthstone’s Cost Problem

Journey to Un’goro may be the most balanced, diverse and flavourful Hearthstone expansions ever released. It’s lead to well-spread, interesting meta, every class has its counters, and no Tier 1 deck ruins everyone’s day. However, the launch of Un’goro was marked by unprecedented frustration over cost.

Across the Hearthstone Subreddit and official forums, users complained about disappointing packs and underwhelming options with their new opened cards. The decks they wanted to theorycraft seemed to be hidden behind huge dust or cash investments. Conspiracy theories spread about Blizzard cooking the books to reduce the number of usable legendaries or increase duplicates. While these were quickly rebuked (and corroborated by community data), the fact that the openings felt so disappointing should speak volumes.

And while the issues with launch pack opening disappointments trailed off (largely as most Quests turned out to be less than competitive), core concerns and frustrations about the overall cost of Hearthstone remains. Here are the key reasons Hearthstone’s felt a lot more expensive lately.

Hunter Or Nothing

There are almost no decent budget decks like old Zoo

It’s definitely possible to succeed with budget lists. Popular streamer and meme master Disguised Toast recently managed to achieve Legend rank on a free-to-play account started soon after the launch of Un’goro, without the usual Arena grinding that hallmarked other free-to-play efforts. However, his efforts represent the experience of many new players; he was railroaded towards Hunter. Midrange Hunter represents the only option for semi-competitive decks that doesn’t require Epics or Legendaries. This is fine for those who enjoy the Aggressive Midrange playstyle; but for those who are enthralled by the other archetypes, it’s hardly a good advertisement for the game to have this as the only low-cost option.

Worse, with its reliance on class cards and without any other Hunter archetype available, the easiest avenue into semi-competitive play also represents a dead end, with no other decks to springboard onto.

The Progression Gap

If we chart the trajectory of a player as they explore a new deck, class, or the game as a whole, we can see it in terms of three phases. First, the initial learning and discovering phase where they try out with their initial cards as best they can. Then, the collection and refinement of cards and skills, with incrementally improving decks. Finally, the adoption of highly refined decks and strategies, with later exploration into other less familiar archetypes as the cycle begins anew. While the first and particularly the last phases of the game remain as strong as ever in Un’goro, with interesting mechanics, synergies and balanced high-level play rewarding player’s skill and ingenuity with fun and success, the second phase is looking shaky.

Simply put, there’s little viability in “budget” versions of existing decks. Every single non-hunter competitive deck not only contains multiple expensive Epics and Legendaries, they demand them. While you can try Murloc Paladin without Vilefin Inquisitor, Tirion, Sunkeeper Tarim, Murloc Warleader, Gentle Megasaur, or Finja, you won’t see much reward for your perseverance. Quest decks are self-explanatory in their cost. Priests simply have to include two Shadow Visions and likely Lyra, even outside of Dragon’s Potions, Silence’s Shamblers and Karazhan Purifys. Even historically cheap aggressive decks like Pirate Warrior and Aggro Druid are questionable at best without cards like Patches, Southsea Captain or Living Mana. Perhaps the closest to a non-Hunter budget deck to build on, Secret Mage, rests heavily on the Epic Primordial Glyph, Karazhan’s Babbling Book and Medivh’s Valet.

Compared to old metas, which largely had numerous cheap decks or decks that could be remade in a far more budget-friendly fashion by curving lower with cheaper, smaller minions, we are seeing a situation where playing a new deck without losing a huge amount of competitive viability is simply too expensive in terms of dust for many players.

No All-powerful Neutrals

Dr. Boom was expensive, but he could go into almost every deck

Say what you like about Doctor Boom, he was an equal opportunity giggling goblin. Equally at home in an Aggro Paladin as a Control Warrior, he was a staple not only for his power but also for his versatility across uncounted numbers of decks. Similarly for pre-nerf Knife Juggler, Piloted Shredder, Ragnaros, BGH, Sylvanas and Azure Drake; the defining feature of pre-Standard Hearthstone was arguably a huge number of immensely powerful Neutrals. While these auto-includes hurt the game in many respects by reducing diversity and making for a more homogeneous experience, they did nonetheless make one’s collection far more versatile. Often, when trying a new deck, you could rely on having a decent core already in your collection simply by having a few key neutrals.

Un’goro’s coinciding with many of these cards rotating (building on the impact caused by the previous set of Standard rotations, Hall of Fame inclusions and nerfs) added fuel to the cost issues. No longer would it be possible to build the skeletons of multiple decks out of a limited pool of high-powered neutrals. Instead, decks would now have fewer and fewer cards in common; leading to a diverse and interesting meta, but higher barriers of entry for players looking to branch out.

Harsh Transitions

With every expansion, Team 5 is given the difficult task of creating balanced, interesting, flavourful cards that players will want to use lots of. This last part is key; the designers must push the envelope of power on each expansion if the cards they so lovingly added will ever get used. This is nothing new; but the addition of Standard rotation can lead to huge changes in the classes and cards that are competitive.

The best example of this is the transition from Mean Streets of Gadgetzan to Un’goro. Numerous entire archetypes were rendered obsolete by the rotation of Reno, leading to large amounts of transitional problems for players seeking a new main, as their Jarraxi, Inkmaster Solias and Razas became less than useful. Standard rotations, while necessary, can massively increase the cost burdens on players in this manner.

Feeling Expensive vs Being Expensive

No one would disagree that Hearthstone needs to attract paying customers if the game is to survive, grow and receive high-quality development resources. However, attracting and incentivising people to pay up to get that cool new Epic or Legendary isn’t helped by a progression system that feels stop-start and punishing. High-paying “Whales” are already strongly incentivised to pay for large numbers of packs to access the latest decks, niche legendaries or golden cards. More attention needs to be paid to the players who treat Hearthstone spending splurges as an occasional treat without pushing them over the cost threshold where they’d rather not play at all.

This doesn’t need to necessarily involve reducing costs or giving away free stuff. Instead, ensuring a strong, meaningful and fluid progression system rewards players who slowly improve a deck over time without having to splash out in one huge purchase would greatly encourage a long-term paying customer-base and more satisfied and entertained players. More meaningful stepping-stone decks and cards is key to this, allowing players to experiment and remain competitive without dipping into their life savings. After all, progression is the true heart of any CCG, and making that experience as fun and rewarding as possible is just as important as inculcating a healthy meta or compelling gameplay.

 

Title art courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via hearthstone.gamepedia.com. Art by Joe Wilson

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Un’goro is a Tough Act to Follow – What Should the Next Expansion Bring?

By many accounts, Un’goro has been arguably the most successful expansion as far as meta healthiness goes. Every class but Warlock has multiple competitive archetypes. In a recent Meta Snapshot Vicious Syndicate declared for the first time ever that at Legend ranks there are no Tier 1 decks (More than 52% winrate). There are a wide variety of Combo, Midrange, Aggro and Control decks, with many different flavours and variations on each. Card diversity is up too, with virtually no multi-class omnipresent auto-include. Long gone are the days where almost every deck had Patches, Aya or Kazakus. In short, aside from a lamentable blemish in the decline in Warlock.

But no success will last forever, and soon even this ultra-diverse meta will begin to grate and feel stale. More importantly for Team 5, Blizzard’s accountants are surely eagerly awaiting a new expansion for the next deluge of pack-purchasing frenzies. But how should Team 5 introduce new cards and concepts to improve upon the high quality of Un’goro? Here are my highly subjective suggestions.

Make Warlock Competitive With New Synergies

I’ve written before on the sad state of Warlock. Simply put, the class has bad cards; to the extent that its hero power isn’t enough to save it. On the board-centric aggressive end, the class needs fewer janky Discard mechanics and more solid minions that speak to the initially unimpressive, mathematical joy and tactical precision of Zoo. More Dire-Wolf Alpha and Defender of Argus style cards that rely heavily on board maintenance, prediction and positioning would be perfect.

Meanwhile, Controlling or Handlock-esque versions of Warlock suffer simply from lack of survivability. The class should, thematically, not get too many healing tools; Reno proved that giving it such options could make it dangerously powerful. Instead, other survivability-based synergies should be introduced to improve that class’s ability to withstand Aggro and Burn.

Give Shaman Reactive Early-Game Tools

Shaman is probably the second-weakest class currently. Though it retains relevancy (barely) with Bloodlust-centric flood builds, Elemental decks, and some Control experimentation off the back of Volcano. However, the class has become over-reliant on its AOE spells, and its non-Aggro decks are falling to low Tier 3. Without additional help, the class could fall to irrelevancy if other classes continue to have stronger early game.

Though the lesson of giving Shaman stellar early minions has surely been learned, a few more reactive early game tools wouldn’t go amiss. A weapon would probably be a strong option, though the incredible potential power of early game weapons makes this a tricky one to balance properly. A few more Lightning Bolt style spot removal options, maybe with some adjacency damage tacked on, might allow the efficiency needed to put together a decent non-AOE early game reactive package.

Paladin has a number of ways to make recruits – but few buff mechanics to make them worthwhile compared to Murlocs

Let Paladins Buff Their Dudes

Paladin appears to be in a good spot, with multiple archetypes, high competitive viability and a focus on a “fair”, value-based Midrange package that perfectly fits the class. The one thing missing is flavour; the current lists seem to be a mismatch of holy warriors, rampaging murlocs, ancient dragons, turtles and even a mechanical zookeeper. The iconic Silver Hand Recruits of Paladin are being sidelined.

Paladin should get more options to create, synergise and buff their “Dudes” (silver hand recruits) and build decks based less around murlocs and more around inspiring their ordinary men to acts of great valor through the power of the Light. Lightfused Stegadon and Sunkeeper Tarim were steps in the right direction, but more interesting single-target and mass buffs are needed to make the Dudes truly shine.

Push Warrior Towards Combo

Warrior has been in an amazing position in the meta for some time now, with numerous Control and Aggro archetypes. The all-conquering Pirate Warrior needs no introduction, and Taunt Warrior is proving a solid choice also. Such strong decks needing little support, especially as any decent Neutral two drop or strong taunt will likely be incorporated into either deck.

Instead of over-supporting these archetypes, Team 5 should focus on gently opening avenues for Warriors to experiment with interesting combo decks, exemplified by old Patron Warrior, Worgen Warrior and Arcane Giants Blood Warrior. Maybe a class-specific improved version of Wild Pyromancer, or more Patron-style end-game combo activators. With such potential in the classic set, it’s likely that there could be an interesting, balanced and potent combo deck to hunt aggro and provide a compelling gameplay experience. And hey, it might just reduce the number of Pirate Warriors on the ladder.

Find a Late-Game Druid Mechanic That Beats Jade

I wrote recently about the danger Jade poses to the Druid class. While Druid is in a good space now with two solid archetypes, it’s hard to envision a different future.

The easiest way forward would probably be to rotate out the Jade package early, but that seems unlikely. More realistically, a different late-game package with different strengths and more cerebral interactions than repeatedly summoning over-statted minions is introduced that is more competitive than attempts such as the unsuccessful Druid Quest.

Be Conservative with Mage

Mage got a number of objectively powerful cards in Un’goro. Arcanologist and Primordial Glyph (along with, to a lesser extent, Meteor), have propelled the class to new heights. Secret Mage may even be Tier 1. The class feels as if it is teetering on the edge of being oppressive. One powerful Secret could swing the Secret package and Mage as a whole into dangerously overpowered territory.

As such, it’s probably best to keep new Mage cards on the underwhelming side, especially if they’re Secrets.

Keep Hunter Cheap

The biggest Un’goro additions for Hunter were a strong, beast synergistic two drop in Crackling Razormaw, and additional one drops. This propelled Hunter into a decent position, though it lacks class diversity.

The current strategy of giving Hunter efficient beasts and synergies seems to be working. While giving them an incentive to curve higher might be a valid idea, the current trajectory of Hunter seems to be balanced, flavourful and lore-appropriate. The most important aspect would be to limit the number of powerful auto-include Epics and Rares, and ideally give Hunter no new necessary Legendaries so that it remains one of the few low-dust potent beginner decks.

Big, flashy legendaries are all well and good – but make them too integral and beginners will lack a good starter deck to aim for

Give Priest More Consistent Value

Priest is in a great state compared to its historical irrelevance, with multiple Silence, Combo and Control decks burning up the ladder with Holy Fire. However, it remains at risk of puttering out in many matchups.

Free from Amber was a step in the right direction for Priest, but the class still seems to lack a consistent late-game punch. Outside of snowballing with Divine Spirit or Lyra shenanigans, the class is forced to rely on inconsistent Elise packs, and vulnerable Medivh minions. Giving the class at least one potent, value-tastic late-game card seems like the best course of action. Bonus points if it’s not entirely RNG dependent.

Give Rogues More Card Engines

Rogue’s Quest archetype has taken off in a big way, both for tournaments and ladder. Refined versions of Quest Rogue have left Miracle by the wayside, leaving some who prefer the Miracle gameplay somewhat lacking.

Outside of aggro or Quests, Rogues need huge amounts of draw to make their efficient but low-value spells worth playing. An over-reliance on Gadgetzan has pigeonholed Rogue towards a certain type of list and playstyle. Giving Rogue some other draw engine that’s not balanced around other classes (that have, say, Innervate and Wild Growth), might allow them to retain relevancy without the Quest in a world of ever-stronger aggro.


Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via hearthstone.gamepedia.com

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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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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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