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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Could Un’goro bring back Lifecoach?

 

Un’goro promises big fun dinosaurs, backed up by more interactive gameplay

In a recent vlog, pro player and streamer personality Adrian “Lifecoach” Koy announced that he’d be leaving the competitive scene. This was motivated primarily by his feelings about the game. His explanation is worth watching. Among the many points, the most salient was a feeling that skill in Hearthstone went unrewarded; that matchup and draw RNG decided the majority of games; and that it was fundamentally noncompetitive. He likens the Hearthstone experience to guiding a tossed coin mid-air, rather than making meaningful decisions.

That complaint might be somewhat ameliorated in the latest expansion announced for Hearthstone, Lost Secrets of Un’goro. Flavor-wise, Un’goro promises Dinosaurs, Elementals, and carnivorous plants. That’s exciting enough, but it’s the mechanics that could really shake up the way we play Hearthstone.

Double-edged Build-arounds

Hearthstone’s developers, Team 5, have been printing more and more “build-around” cards over the past few expansions. Starting with the much maligned Mysterious Challenger, developing with Reno Jackson, and culminating in the Old Gods, “Build-arounds” share common characteristics. They tend to generate value far exceeding their mana cost, but require a dependency on certain types of cards or deck-building strategies.

Reno decks do poorly without drawing him

The benefits of build-arounds to the game are clear; they incentivise combinations, playstyles and synergies that would otherwise not be viable. Reno and Kazakus encourage variety and a slower-paced playstyle with Highlander decks. Drakonid Operative almost single-handedly makes Dragon Priest competitive; N’zoth makes Deathrattles into a game-ending board.

The downside is that the deck’s inherent inconsistencies due to running sub-optimal synergy cards are only balanced when the overpowered build-around is drawn. Reno Jackson may be the most powerful heal in the game. But forcing aggro matchups to be almost entirely dependent on whether or not he is drawn in time is hardly healthy. Anybody can tell you about the frustration of having a key card on the bottom of your deck.

Adventures in Questing

Un’Goro seeks to build on build-arounds and improve them with the inclusion of “Quests”. Quests are Legendary, class-specific spells that cost one mana. Once played, they act as a secret. Once their condition is activated, you are granted a powerful card. It is promised to be “some of the most powerful cards in Hearthstone” in the announcement video. The example we are given is the Priest quest, which grants a five mana 8/8 that sets your hero’s health to 40. This is only if you can meet the difficult condition of summoning seven deathrattle minions.

Quests are guaranteed to be in your starting hand

So far, so standard. Where these Quests get interesting is that they are guaranteed to be a part of your initial mulligan. Though they can be mulliganed away in matchups where the Quest is undesirable, this grants them an unrivaled consistency in activation, if your deck is built to accommodate them.

This can massively help the feelings of card-draw RNG overly affecting matchups. Instead of auto-losing the matches where your build-arounds are in your last five cards, Quests can be reliably activated. Not only that, but their potentially game-ending effects can be planned for in advance, as you see your opponent’s Quest ticker get gradually higher.

Though further judgement must be withheld until the exact nature of the cards are revealed, this alone is a highly promising sign for reducing feelings of helplessness in the face of bad luck.

Midrange and Curvestone

Midrange has always had a problem in Hearthstone. The archetype is fundamentally reliant on curving out with efficiently-statted minions. Only occasionally do we see usage of reactive spells and off-curve plays. For much of Hearthstone’s history, Midrange has been lamented as simply taking obvious trades and dropping the biggest on-curve minion each turn. While professional players can eke out additional wins by optimizing some decisions, the majority of choices are very straightforward.

There are numerous downsides to rewarding this type of play experience. It sidelines skill, makes draw RNG more paramount, and makes games feel exceedingly similar. Attempts to spice things up, with mechanics like Inspire and Discover, have only partially succeeded. While recent Midrange tyrants like Shaman have managed to avoid this due to a reliance on hero-powering and spells, the problem remains endemic to almost all pro-active, non-aggro decks.

Adapting Micro-decisions

A core element of the Un’goro expansion is the “Adapt” keyword. Applied to minions, it allows cards to gain additional stats or effects when played or meeting a condition. Themed around the elemental influences of the crater, this can give your minion +3 attack, Divine Shield, Windfury, or other effects as chosen via a discover-like interface. By choosing the right adapt effect for the board state, you can tune your minions for the matchup and situation you’re presented with.

Adapt offers small but meaningful buffs

While spawning two extra 1/1s or gaining Taunt may not seem an incredibly exciting proposition, the impact on play may be huge. When every minion played results in a decision being made, play becomes fundamentally more engaging and skill-testing. Dropping big stuff on curve will still be important. But it’s possible that the best players can gain a huge edge by tuning their minions perfectly on the fly.

While we’ve only seen a few examples so far, the opportunity for Adapt to make a big impact should excite you if you’re someone who enjoys playing midrange decks and cares about reaching higher levels of play.

All images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment

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