Rotation, schmotation: Hearthstone needs balance changes now

We’re not even a month beyond the Kobolds and Catacombs release and already the meta is closed to settled. While the eventual top dog is as-of-yet unknown, a small cluster of decks have stuck close to the top. Lists are solidifying, and it’s getting harder and harder to experiment. The effectiveness of certain cards and decks eclipse all but a few other high-powered strategy. Normally, a few months after a major Hearthstone release, we would expect a balance change. But Rotation changes all that.

With a Standard rotation coming soon, Team 5 may simply wait rather than alter problem cards that are due to leave soon. But this is an overly cautious strategy that risks alienating Hearthstone’s playerbase and leading to a stale meta-game.

How long can this go on?

rotation

A lot of familiar faces (via vicioussyndicate.com)

The last set of balance changes were announced in September 2017. It’s likely we’ll now get no new balance changes until the next set after Kobolds and Catacombs releases, roughly three months from now. This means we’ll have six or more months with no substantive balance changes to Hearthstone beyond adding new cards. This sets a terrible precedent.

Six months is a long time, and only having one content release to shake up the meta in that time makes Hearthstone’s meta even more frustrating and stale. Frustratingly powerful decks like Keleseth Rogue or Razakus Priest are one thing; it’s quite another to have the same few decks dominate with little hope of respite.

It doesn’t help that the same decks that dominated in September 2017 are still mostly intact. Murloc Paladin, Jade Druid, Tempo Rogue and Razakus Priest were all very powerful by this stage. The only real alteration to the meta has been the addition of Warlock variants to the meta and the swapping around of a few Corridor Creepers and Psychic Screams. If nothing else, there’s a strong case for a balance patch just to shake things up.

Wild is not your dumping ground

rotation

Wild Reno Priest has the potential to be extremely oppressive

Of course, there’s another argument against simply letting Patches, Raza et al retire to Wild; Wild doesn’t want them either! Using Wild as a dumping ground for problematic cards is not a good long term strategy. Wild is supposed to be maintained as a parallel competitive environment, not a place to forget design mistakes.

Leaving Raza as is would lead to Reno Priest becoming even more dominant in Wild as time goes by. While currently not completely oppressive, it definitely has the potential to be as Priest inevitably gets more consistent early tools. And need any more be said on the impact of Patches on Wild’s early game? Even in a world of Haunted Creepers, Zombie Chows and Shielded Minibots, a free 1/1 charge is not to be sniffed at. Patches is the sort of card that could permanently warp Wild’s early game for the worse.

Part of what makes Standard work is players not simply feeling they’ve lost their cards after they rotate. Not caring about the competitive integrity of Wild will eventually make players feel worse about Standard as a whole. It wouldn’t even work from a financial standpoint, as Blizzard doesn’t exactly want players to dust their rotated cards due to them no longer caring about a format overrun with overpowered cards and synergies that were never balanced.

Greed is not a good look

rotation

Blizzard probably aren’t acting out of greed: but it sure looks like it

The cynic in me wants to suggest that Blizzard and Team 5 are putting off balance changes for short-term financial purposes. After all, giving thousands of dust to millions of customers will have a direct impact on pack sales. Of course, this is unlikely to be anything other than a tangential issue.

The Hearthstone team have a well-documented aversion to making changes where changes are arguably unnecessary. Buffs are unheard of, and only the most egregious offenders (and Hex) have the nerfhammer called down on them. Waiting for rotation is just an extension of this strategy.

Unfortunately, that’s not how it looks. A growing number of players are dissatisfied with a number of recent changes to Hearthstone’s cost, most notably the swap from Adventures to Expansions. Delaying balance changes simply reinforces the idea that Blizzard only cares about Hearthstone’s short-term profits and simply doesn’t want to reimburse players for Patches, Razakus, Aya Blackpaw or similar.

A matter of principle

Hearthstone will probably be fine without urgent balance changes. A few extra months of Razakus, Patches and Corridor Creeper dominating the meta will be bearable (just). But if we can only expect two balance patches a year instead of three because of the latter’s proximity to rotation, we are condemning Hearthstone to spend a good third of its existence is its worst state of stale metas and overpowered cards.

We can and should forgive designer’s mistakes. But we should not stand for laziness when it comes to balance changes. It’ll be a long three months before Standard rotation, and in the meantime we deserve a more balanced game.

 

You can like The Game Haus on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles from great TGH writers!

 

KnC Banner

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.

You can like The Game Haus on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles from other great TGH writers along with Scott!

To continue enjoying great content from your favorite writers, please contribute to our Patreon account! Every little bit counts. We greatly appreciate all of your amazing support! #TGHPatreon

One year on, we’re still in Gadgetzan

Mean Streets of Gadgetzan came out over a year ago, but we’re still in its grip. The defining Gadgetzan tools of Jade, Highlander and Pirates dominate the meta. Four legendaries tell the story of how the expansion dominates every facet of Standard. Indeed, almost 50 percent of decks on ladder have at least one of Aya, Patches or Kazakus.

Han’cho, the failure

gadgetzan

The failure of Han’cho’s Handbuffs had lasting impacts

Gadgetzan isn’t only defined by its successes. One of the sets most long-lasting implications was the utter failure of the Handbuff mechanic. This is epitomised in Don Han’cho and his Grimy Goons. This two-headed mobster is notable for how he represents the complete mediocrity of Handbuff. Though some Paladin decks with limited Handbuff mechanics have bordered on viability, the overwhelming impact was that one of the most potent expansions contained very little viable class cards for Hunter, Warrior and Paladin.

The impact of this is surprising; while other classes got powerful Kabal spells and Jade synergies, Warrior, Paladin and Hunter were left to pick up what Neutral synergy they could. While this worked for a time, these classes have consistently struggled for much of the past year. Outside of Pirates, Warrior has wallowed in mediocrity or outright unplayability; Hunters are easy prey for more refined Aggro, while Paladin struggles to make any archetype other than Murloc work. They currently make up three of the four least played classes. Their combined representation makes up only 16 percent of the ladder, less than Priest, Rogue or Druid do individually.

Aya, the mid-game queen

Gadgetzan

Aya is arguably better than a tri-class Savannah Highmane

Much has been said about the remarkable mid/late-game tempo power of Jades. What’s remarkable is how much of that comes down to a single card. Not only does Aya provide an aggressive 5/3 body and a Jade Golem for six, her deathrattle also gives you yet another golem. With three bodies of beefy minions in an AOE resistant package, Aya has swung countless games. Even if you survive the onslaught, her double Jade ramp means the turns after are even tougher.

Aya has seen play in every Jade deck out there apart from perhaps Big Druid with its two Jade Blossoms and nothing else. Even Aggro and Evolve Shaman, running nothing but Jade Claws and Jade Lightnings, benefit hugely from her. She represents everything that made Jade so dominant; sticky, aggressive, ramping stats on the cheap. While Jade never took off in Rogue, it has had a massive influence on Druid and Shaman for the past 12 months, leading Control decks everywhere to despairingly wonder “How long can this go on?”

Kazakus, the spellmaster

gadgetzan

Kazakus bolstered multiple Highlander archetypes

Despite the departure of his best buddy Reno Jackson, Kazakus is still a huge part of the meta. Of course, the reigning Highlander deck relies far less on him than on Raza and Shadowreaper, but Kazakus and the Kabal represents the flavour and style of the deck. Inconsistent but immensely powerful, Highlander decks rely on a few potent abilities and synergies to survive their otherwise mediocre decklists. Once that came from Reno; now it comes from Shadowreaper and Raza. But Kazakus remains, providing massive swing turns with his custom spells.

The power of Highlander brought both fun and frustration. Fun, for the flexibility of the highlander decklists, and the big, strong cards they play. Frustrating due to their inherent alternation between weakness and overbearing strength, depending on draw consistency. But such power spikes are necessary to fight off the might of Jades and Patches.

Patches, forever in charge

Gadgetzan

Bar Undertaker, no other card has defined the early game so much

There’s a decent case to suggest that Patches the Pirate is the most powerful minion ever printed. At zero cost apart from running pirates and the risk of drawing him, he redefined the early game. Almost every Pirate became great overnight (sorry Cap’n Crag) and the early game micro-meta was massively upended. Cards like Fire Fly and Voidwalker are good largely because they trade favourably with Patches. Golakka Crawler has done little to halt his rise.

Patches has provided a 1/1 charge boost to almost every aggro or tempo deck. He has single-handedly created a world where Aggro can win the board with intense prejudice. It will be fascinating to see how aggro and tempo can survive without him. Patches deck’s sub-50 percent winrate when drawing him could be an indication of things to come.

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

You can like The Game Haus on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles from other great TGH writers along with Alex!

To continue enjoying great content from your favorite writers, please contribute to our Patreon account! Every little bit counts. We greatly appreciate all of your amazing support! #TGHPatreon

Nerf dodgers

Not every controversial card gets the nerf hammer. Sometimes, the community’s least-favourite meta-defining additions simply go on existing in their original state. Be it due to techs, rotations, meta shifts or the developers having bigger fish to fry. Meanwhile others are changed harshly, even if considered far less overpowered. What cards have consistently avoided changes despite outrage? And how did they avoid the wrath of the balance change?

Tunnel Trogg and Totem Golem

nerf

The terror of turn two, Totem Golem was never nerfed

From the moment it was introduced, Tunnel Trogg was making decks. Shortly after its release as part of LOE, there were already preliminary versions of the Aggro Shaman that would dominate the ladder for years to come. Strong one-cost minions always have the potential to be meta-defining, and Tunnel Trogg was no exception. With premium, sticky stats along with a terrifying snowball effect, it allowed for explosive Aggro openers.

Totem Golem, released earlier in the year with League of Explorers, was the perfect synergy. Tunnel Trogg into Totem Golem was a near-unbeatable one-two punch of early-game pressure. While several supporting Aggro cards were nerfed such as Tuskarr Totemic and Rockbiter Weapon, this core team was never touched. As a result, Aggro Shaman remained highly competitive and frequently tier one for almost two years.

So how did they escape changes? Part of the reason lies in how weak Shaman was prior to Tunnel Trogg. No doubt the developers didn’t want to spoil its time in the sun. By the time it was clear that Aggro Shaman was dangerously dominant, it was to be temporarily suppressed by Midrange Shaman, confusing the issue despite relying on similar cards. After Aggro Shaman found a resurgence in Mean Streets of Gadgetzan thanks to some other cards on this list, the developers considered it too close to the Standard rotation to alter Totem Golem or Tunnel Trogg. As such, this dominating pair made it into wild after almost two years of domination without any balance changes at all.

Ice Block

Ice Block is controversial, but never quite impactful enough on the meta to justify a nerf

This one is intensely divisive. Some see it as the savior of Control in a world of Aggro and Midrange. Others consider it to be antithetical to good game design, an inherently frustrating and unfair card. Whatever your opinion of it, the card’s huge power is undeniable. It defined old Freeze Mage, once the only consistently effective burst-based combo deck. Now it props up a variety of Control, Combo and even Tempo Mages. The main source of divisiveness comes not from its pure power level, but the way it renders entire boards of damage useless. You’re helpless to interact with their hero as they burst you down over multiple turns.

RNG card generation has made things even more frustrating. With the potential of four or more of these defensive secrets per game through cards like Primordial Glyph, Babbling Book and Cabalist’s Tome, some games can feel completely lacking in interactivity. But despite these frustrations, it has never seen a balance change.

Part of the reason is its relatively limited impact on the meta. Freeze Mage and its contemporaries never truly dominated to the extent that decks like Midrange Shaman or Pirate Warrior did. A high skill cap, limited flexibility against Aggro and hard counters like Secret removal or Control Warrior kept it relatively constrained.

Now Ice Block seems to be on the dev’s hit-list, but its success now may work in its favour. As an iconic Classic card, Team 5 say they will likely consider moving it to Wild instead of changing it. This lets it live on in perpetuity, as well as granting it another season of Standard before the end-of-year rotations.

Patches the Pirate

nerf

It’s hard to think of a nerf for Patches that makes sense

Patches may be the single most impactful Hearthstone card of all time. Currently, around 30% of the decks on Ladder run it according to hsreplay.net. In the past, this has been even higher. Patches’ power is hard to properly calculate. He typically costs zero mana and zero cards (as well as thinning your deck). His only downside is the requirement to run Pirates, and the possibility of drawing him. The massive disparity between Patches the free minion and Patches the Stonetusk Boar is represented in deck winrates. Typically, the winrate nosedives below 50% when he’s drawn and shoots up when he’s pulled from the deck.

As incredibly powerful, virtually mandatory, meta shaping aggro card, it’s hard to see why Patches was never changed. But things become clearer when you consider the nature of the card. Patches is a 1/1, meaning that the stats could not be reduced without utterly destroying the card. The mana cost is almost always irrelevant, and when it isn’t, Patches is not an issue. If anything, increasing the mana cost would simply be a buff to Evolve Shaman. The only other sensible option would be to remove his Charge, but considering his voice lines, concept and art all imply charge, that would be an unsatisfactory solution.

As it is, it’s likely we’ll not see any changes to Patches until he fires off to take charge of Wild with the next Standard rotation.

Jades

nerf

Some jade cards are significantly undercosted; but changing them would be delicate

There are a number of Jade cards that are powerful. Beyond the oft-griped about Jade Idol, there are the incredibly efficient Jade Claws and Jade Lightning in Shaman, and the ubiquitous Aya Blackpaw. While the former is credited with near single-handedly killing off Control decks, Claws and Lightning’s incredible tempo made them strong in almost every Shaman deck. Aya on the other hand is arguably better than a tri-class Savannah Highmane, offering huge stats split across three awkward bodies.

There are two main reasons why these controversial and powerful cards haven’t seen significant balance changes. Firstly, they were largely propping up otherwise mediocre classes. For a long time, Druid had little to offer other than Jade. Meanwhile, Shaman is only just competitive with its single Evolve archetype. Despite being incredibly strong cards, when they were part of overpowered decks, other cards took the heat instead as designers were slow to nerf flagship new mechanics like Jade.

The second reason is down to Jade’s ‘parasitic’ nature. As each Jade card’s power is heavily dependent on the density of other Jade cards, nerfing one can have massive consequences. Even making a single one slightly too slow or over-costed is enough to prevent Jade from working. Just look at Jade Rogue; simply the lack of a third class Jade option meant that despite efficient Jade tools, it never took off. Even Shaman’s slightly over-costed Jade Chieftain led to Jade Shaman being far less successful than Jade Druid.

For these reasons, the developers seem to be more keen on printing counters to Jade and hitting adjacent cards than altering itself. That philosophy recently saw Spreading Plague, Hex and Innervate hit instead of the core Jade options. If that mindset persists, it’s unlikely we’ll see any future changes until they rotate out next year.

 

Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com. Title image courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment. Deck stats via hsreplay.net.

You can like The Game Haus on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles from other great TGH writers along with Alex!

To continue enjoying great content from your favorite writers, please contribute to our Patreon account! Every little bit counts. We greatly appreciate all of your amazing support! #TGHPatreon

The defining neutral cards of the Frozen Throne

Strong neutrals can define metas, and Knights of the Frozen Throne was no exception. From headline eight drops to snowballing dragons, the expansion’s most powerful neutral cards have all shaped the expansion’s most impactful decks. While Death Knights and Jades stole the show, these cards have been quietly working in the background to warp the meta around them.

The Lich King

A go-to for late-game value, the Lich has gotten a bit slow for today’s meta

One of the expansion’s first neutral hits, Arthas, could conceivably be included in almost any deck. With beefy stats, a defensive Taunt and powerful card-advantage grating ability, he was near ubiquitous early on. This was especially true during the reign of Jade Druid. Thanks to Druid’s limited removal, he could be a handy curve topper for Midrange and Control alike. His massive popularity even helped create a mini-meta where the Black Knight was commonly run.

The late-expansion meta treats him less kindly, however. As decks become more refined, big blobs of late-game value are harder and harder to justify. Especially when other late-game powerhouses like others on this list had more immediate board impact for less mana.

Bonemare

Making Don Hancho cry since 2017

King of seven in Arena and Constructed alike, Dr. Bone is still as popular as ever. Initial experiments with synergy cards like Skelemancer proved its value. Even without the synergy, its huge package of impactful stats justified its continued inclusion. Originally finding a home in Midrange Paladin, it has migrated over to the more popular Tempo Rogue.

Not only content to be a powerful inclusion in a number of board-centric Constructed decks, as a super-powerful Common it also has a huge Arena impact. The sheer stat efficiency of this card, coupled with the huge board swing, will likely mean that it will be a strong inclusion in any Midrange deck as long as it’s in Standard. Luckily, it has soft counters; Shadowreaper Anduin, turn six board clears and Silence effects can heavily limit its power.

Skulking Geist

When a six mana 4/6 that doesn’t impact the board was heavily played, you know that Jade was too powerful

Skulking Geist is arguably the worst card on this list, but it saw huge amounts of play regardless. When pre-nerf Jade Druid dominated ladder, Geist was one of the only ways Control could hope to survive at all. By discarding the infinite Idol win condition, Geist gave a faint hope of outlasting. However, the raw power of old Jade often overwhelmed its opponent regardless.

Despite all this, Geist saw large amounts of play across Control of all stripes. It created interesting side-effects too; catching other one mana spells in the wake of its scattershot approach to destroying Idols. Even now, if you’re facing off against a Control deck, it’s often wise to liberally spend your one mana spells before they get gobbled up by the greedy ghoul. Less popular now as Jade has become marginally less meta-defining, it’s still a must have for any decks that want to fatigue out their opponents.

Prince Keleseth

Like other buildarounds, Keleseth increases diversity at the cost of draw RNG

Keleseth was never meant to be this good. Reviews and expectations panned it, initially with good reason. Before the Fiery War Axe and Innervate nerfs, it seemed unlikely that any aggressive deck could compete with Pirate Warrior and Aggro Druid without two-drops. But as these dominating early strategies fell away, Keleseth deck’s slower approach was given room to breathe.

The card is polarising; incredibly potent when drawn and crippling when not, but decks like Tempo Rogue and some Zoolocks are able to forgo this downside and do okay enough without it to justify its inclusion. Keleseth can easily win the early board single handedly, making every one of your subsequent plays outclass the opponent’s. Combined with Shadowstep and Patches, it can look almost reminiscent of Quest Rogue with the right hand.

Cobalt Scalebane

Far better than that other five mana tribal card with Cobalt in its name

Cobalt Scalebane almost screams arena card. Its mediocre stats and slow, win-more effect is strong in Arena, yes; but it also has been surprisingly effective in Constructed. It provides a solid five-drop for any deck that wants it, and is decent even without board control.

Perhaps the biggest contributor to its success has been the rise of Priest. Priest has almost no good ways to deal with this. Surviving Dragonfire and all other Priest AOE, only Shadowreaper or Shadow Word Death are effective counters. And when this card comes down on five, it puts you on a terrifyingly short clock. While it may lose out if Priest falls in popularity or more immediately impactful five-drops come along, it’ll likely be turning 1/1’s into 4/1’s for some time.

 

Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com. Custom cards via Hearthcards.net.

You can like The Game Haus on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles from other great TGH writers along with Alex!

To continue enjoying great content from your favorite writers, please contribute to our Patreon account! Every little bit counts. We greatly appreciate all of your amazing support! #TGHPatreon

The Freeze Shaman dilemma

Sometimes the set designers’ plans don’t come to fruition. Balancing Hearthstone is hard, and often cards that are foreseen as viable mainstays end up disappointing. Worse, sometimes whole planned archetypes fail.

This is the case with Knights of the Frozen Throne’s Freeze Shaman. Shaman lacked the necessary tools to consistently freeze minions in an advantageous way, and the synergy cards had mediocre payoff. This leaves a difficult choice for Blizzard. Continue to support an archetype with little competitive core? Or abandon it completely?

Commitment and payoff

freeze

Evolve took several expansions of support and a set rotation to shine

Sometimes, commitment to an archetype can pay dividends. Evolve Shaman got core cards like Evolve in Whispers of the Old Gods, but only reached competitive viability in later expansions as cards like Fire Fly, Primalfin Totem, Devolve and Doppelgangster were added. Despite taking a long time to flourish, the archetype grew into a deck that was both viable, fun and occupied a vital spot in the meta-game.

Blizzard has continued to add to Evolve, with cards like Deathseer Thrall in Knights of the Frozen Throne becoming mainstays and continuing on the core mechanic. By refusing to abandon an archetype that didn’t immediately pan out, Team 5 ended up giving Shaman perhaps its only recent viable deck, and one with huge popular appeal.

Over-investment

freeze

Discard held Warlock back

However, sometimes over-commitment to an archetype doesn’t work out so well. Warlock’s discard mechanic has technically been in the game since Vanilla. Later expansions attempted to experiment, with tentative but ultimately unsuccessful cards like Tiny Knight of Evil and Fist of Jarraxxus. Discard only really began to be “pushed” in One Night in Karazhan, with cards like Silverware Golem and Malchezaar’s Imp driving a discard deck that was explosive, if inconsistent. Though Discard Zoo saw considerable play, it was suppressed heavily by Midrange Shaman.

Intermittent support for discard didn’t help the deck in later expansions. While Mean Streets saw few Discard effects as the Kabal’s highlander effects were prioritised, in Un’goro, Discard was ramped up. The eventually culminated in the nigh-unplayable Warlock Quest, with discard and Warlock as a whole seeing terrible performance and representation on Ladder.

The over-commitment to an unsuccessful and arguably boring archetype not only was a poor use of design resources, it also drove Warlock towards the lowest win-rates and play-rates it had ever seen.

Is Freeze worth following up on?

Freeze Shaman is then faced with two prospects. Either continued support in future expansions to hopefully ignite an interesting, potent and niche-filling archetype; or leave it behind for fresher ideas. There are strong arguments either way.

On the one hand, it’s argued that the utter failure of Freeze to make it into any competitive Shaman means that adding additional tools would be throwing good cards after bad. Freeze is a niche mechanic, best suited to stalling combo decks. While some Combo Shamans have existed in the past, without mana manipulation it’s unlikely that Malygos Shaman or something similar would return.

This would suggest that Freeze Synergy cards are not the answer. While Freeze effects may still be valuable, they currently seem far too scarce, at least in Shaman, to be built around. But adding another set filled with both Freeze and Freeze Synergies would threaten Shaman’s viability if the archetype continued to underwhelm.

Soft support

freeze

Cards like Voodoo Hexer enable Freeze synergies, without being dependent on them

On the other hand, there are strong and interesting cards that could easily be viable with just a little more support. Voodoo Hexer has Alley Armorsmith levels of anti-aggro power, limited only by a lack of Controlling Shamans to put it in. Avalanche is situational but powerful. Ice Breaker could be premium removal if more freeze tools were added.

The answer might lie in soft support. Rather than going down the discard route of going all-in on the failing mechanic, Team 5 could instead add cards that synergise more subtly. Like how Un’goro gave Shaman token options to work with Evolve, without huge minions that were utterly dependent on Evolve.

Freeze Shaman could get support in more incidental Freeze effects on otherwise generally strong cards. This would not “force” Freeze, but leave it as an interesting choice and option for deck-builders. Freeze could be added wholly or partly, depending on how strong the cards turned out. What’s more, this could help push a more controlling, board-clear based Shaman as opposed to the more aggressive token lists currently available.


 

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

You can like The Game Haus on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles from other great TGH writers along with Alex!

To continue enjoying great content from your favorite writers, please contribute to our Patreon account! Every little bit counts. We greatly appreciate all of your amazing support! #TGHPatreon

basic

It’s time to decide the purpose of Basic

The balance changes in 9.1 targeted one set above all others. The Basic Innervate, Hex and Fiery War Axe make up three of the five changed cards. These three changes also attracted the lion’s share of controversy. Hot debate sprang up about class identity, viability and diversity. At the core of this controversy was a fundamental lack of agreement and communication. What is the purpose of the Basic set?

The Tutorial

Teaching tools just need to be simple

One possible interpretation for the purpose of Basic is simply that of teaching new players. The Basic set often includes very simple cards that express the most straightforward of concepts. Cards like Magma Rager teaching the value of Health; Hand of Protection introducing Divine Shield, and Healing Touch showing healing.

If Basic were to follow this philosophy, simplicity would be key. Regardless of viability (beyond being obviously terrible even for new players), the cards would need to be easy to understand. This was partly the explanation behind the changes to Innervate and Fiery War Axe. Adding additional text to bring FWA in line with Eaglehorn Bow or to distinguish Innervate from Coin would add too much complexity.

The downside of this approach is that overly simple cards can often be detrimental to balance. Nuance is often necessary, particularly for cheap cards. You can’t just set a minion’s attack to 2.5 to be able to keep its text straightforward while keeping it viable! And balance is very important for class defining cards that could be around forever.

The Skeleton

Certain cards will define classes for as long as they’re in Standard

Another philosophy for Basic is that of a “Skeleton” for a deck; key cards that remain constant and ensure archetypes and classes remain viable. This has been the practical outcome of Basic. Class cards like Swipe, Fireball, Animal Companion, Backstab and Flametongue are incredibly efficient. Their continued inclusion in Standard helps maintain the same archetypes season after season. It means that favourite classes are less likely to disappear. Decks stick around longer, and certain play styles remain constant.

This appeals to many players. For one thing, it’s a lot cheaper. If a third or even half of decks never change, then that’s fewer card packs that need to be purchased in order to have ladder-worthy decks. What’s more, if you love a particular deck, it stays viable in standard for a long, long time.

This naturally comes at a cost. Blizzard loses out on revenue. Metas can feel stale, and certain archetypes can block others from ever being viable. It’s often boring to play with and against the same cards as a significant proportional of the same decks forever.

The Fallback

basic

Even mediocre cards can be valuable in some metas

Finally, it’s possible that Basic could exist as a kind of fail-safe for what certain classes can do. The cards would not be top tier, but would be strong enough to warrant inclusion if the meta or deck demanded it. Druids won’t always have efficient responses to wide boards, but they will have Starfall. Priest won’t always have the most effective early removal, but they will have Holy Smite and Shadow Word Pain. Hunter will have Hunter’s Mark to fall back on if they really need removal. Strong, but not auto-include cards can give classes leeway regardless of the latest cards in the set, without forcing the designers to print the umpteenth Priest AOE or Mage draw.

This allows classes a limited amount of flexibility regardless of metas. For instance, a meta where zoo-style flood decks with wide boards won’t necessarily mean some classes become completely nonviable. It also provides a decent launching point for newer players to build their collection, whilst retaining freshness across expansions without keeping all half-decent cards behind a paywall.

Of course, downsides still exist. For one, balancing cards perfectly on the cusp between viability and uselessness is even more difficult than usual card design; especially if they’ll be around forever. And to shore up certain unintentional recurring class weaknesses, then either new cards would need to be introduced to Basic or old ones buffed. What’s more, additional flexibility can come at the cost of class identity in many cases.

Communication

Above all, Blizzard needs to adequately communicate what they want from Basic. Their current strategy of explaining individual card nerfs but without fully elucidating their overarching strategy only fuels criticism. Until they can provide a coherent explanation as to why Swipe is an acceptable eternal auto-include but not Fiery War Axe, then conspiracy theories will flourish. Already, players are accusing Blizzard of simply going for a cash grab by making “free” basic cards nonviable.

By making clear their strategy for Basic, Blizzard can both take control of the narrative and allow players to direct their feedback more helpfully. Not only that, but by focusing their internal philosophy, they can help make their own efforts clearer to themselves.

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

You can like The Game Haus on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles from other great TGH writers along with Alex!

To continue enjoying great content from your favorite writers, please contribute to our Patreon account! Every little bit counts. We greatly appreciate all of your amazing support! #TGHPatreon

 

ultimate infestation

Is Ultimate Infestation overpowered?

ultimate infestation

Ultimate Infestation is part of Druid’s dominance

Malfurion is king. According to HSReplay.net, the Druid class overall boasts a massive 54% winrate. Many archetypes such as Jade Druid have seen yet higher winrates, propelled by their ability to farm Control. In an early, unstable and greedy meta, this is invaluable. Naturally, the community is already beginning to complain. Jade Druid was never a popular archetype in the first place. Despite Skulking Geist, Jade after Jade still crushes new unrefined Control decks. Complaints now centre around the new Druid Epic Spell, Ultimate Infestation.

The power of Ultimate Infestation is even more staggering than its 10 mana cost. Aside from dealing a respectable five damage on top of summoning a 5/5 and granting five armor, the true power of the card lies in its draw. Five cards is a huge amount, and gives the Druid gas without having to rely on difficult and inconsistent Auctioneer combos. Copypastas, reddit posts and the like involving quoting Blizzard’s rationale of changing Ancient of Lore.

But for all the salt, is Ultimate Infestation actually overpowered?

Simple addition

When compared to cards like Sprint, Ultimate Infestation looks very strong indeed

One approach is to look at how the raw value of the card stacks up. Ultimate Infestation is, from one perspective, three cards in one. Sprint (which draws four cards), Shield Block (which draws one card and gains five armor) and Firelands Portal (which deals five damage and summons a five drop). Simply summing up the total mana cost of these three cards would give you 17 mana. Purely on paper, Ultimate Infestation is running at a significant discount.

Arguably, the card is even stronger than this analysis would suggest. Playing those three cards costs three cards, whereas Ultimate Infestation is only one. The ability to go from one card to five means that spending your cards to cheat mana also becomes stronger. Druids can feel safer Nourish-ing for mana or spending Wild Growths liberally. Should they run low on gas, Ultimate Infestation is always there to provide backup. Even when rushed out with Innervate, the net card advantage is huge. From this angle, the card definitely looks overpowered.

There’s one thing that is misunderstood, however. 10 mana is not equal to a three mana card plus seven mana card. These cards are fundamentally hampered by their massive cost.

The biggest number

Bombs like Deathwing Dragonlord look strong, but good luck reliably getting the effect off

10 mana is huge for a number of reasons in Hearthstone. As 10 is the mana cap, it’s impossible, or at least very hard, to play anything alongside them. Not only that, but they have a chance of clogging up your hand for multiple turns. While it’s definitely frustrating to get hit by them, the times where it silently lets you snatch a turn nine lethal goes unnoticed. As such, the most important aspect of a high cost card is its immediate impact.

Cards like Tyrantus or Deathwing Dragonlord see almost no play, despite their power. This is because when you play a 10 cost card, you are likely doing so from behind. A 10 mana card needs to have some means of stabilisation or board impact built into it. Otherwise, your opponent can simply ignore it and snowball tempo or kill you.

For all its massive value, Ultimate infestation doesn’t affect the board all that much. Only half of the card has immediate effect on your opponent’s minions or lethal calculation. Five damage and five armor is potent, but is essentially just a Holy Fire. In many situations, that’s simply not enough to save you. Especially for Druid, the class that has the most issues with removing big boards of big minions. Often, your card advantage is for naught. The opponent can use their next turn to fill up the board while you’ve only removed one mid-size threat and played a 5/5.

Equal among peers

Ultimate Infestation

Ultimate Infestation is arguably just a worse Varian Wrynn

The best way to evaluate Ultimate Infestation is to compare it to other 10 mana cards that saw competitive play. The most obvious example is Yogg-Saron, but the extreme variance makes it hard to judge.

Take instead a card like Warrior’s former Varian Wrynn. This card saw fringe play in Tempo and Control Warriors. While he draws fewer cards than Ultimate Infestation and provided no Armor, the King of Stormwind has massive, immediate board impact. By summoning up to three minions straight to the board, he could instantly generate huge value. Decks that used him could throw up Taunts, summon Charging minions like Grommash or pull damage effects like Ragnaros. This is arguably a far stronger effect, and came with a 7/7 instead of a 5/5.

Or look at Doom, the Warlock spell from Whispers of the Old Gods. Not only does it immediately impact the board by utterly obliterating everything on it, it also draws cards; easily far more cards than Ultimate Infestation. While no board presence or Armor is gained, it’s far superior against a board that’s out of control. Doom can even be cheated out with cards like Bloodbloom. With competition like this, it’s easier to see why Ultimate Infestation does so much for the cost.

Outclassed

Ultimate Infestation

Ramp allows Druid to make more use of big effects, especially ones that draw cards

The reason Ultimate Infestation feels so strong is down to the class it’s in. While N’zoth, Bloodreaver Gul’dan or a well-timed Deathwing can be far superior, Ultimate Infestation is powerful because it synergises so well with Druid as a whole. Druid’s ability to cheat mana by ramping or with Innervate boils down to trading cards for mana. Ultimate Infestation allows them to reap dividends on that investment. It lets them regain the cards they lost ramping.

It also doesn’t help that powerful 10 mana cards like Ultimate Infestation are particularly nightmarish for Control decks to deal with. In a meta dominated by unrefined greed, it’s natural that this card would win games.

The downside is that Druid has a harder time recovering from the tempo loss of spending 10 mana. Aggro and Midrange decks can often use this opportunity to set up or find lethal.

Sometimes, overpowered is OK

Ultimate Infestation is overpowered. Compared to the rules of linearly scaling power and cheaper cards, it is extremely strong for the mana cost.

However, Hearthstone has proven over and over again that 10 mana cards have to be ridiculous to see play. If Ultimate Infestation was any less strong, it would likely fall into the territory of Tyrantus and Deathwing Dragonlord.

If you’re frustrated by Ultimate Infestation, take comfort in the fact it may not last in the meta. Aggressive midrange decks may rise to put more pressure on Druids. Their meta dominance will fall and players will cast fewer and fewer of these spectacular spells. And when the next tempo abomination rises to smash your face in on turn six, you may feel nostalgia for this huge, clunky spell.


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

You can like The Game Haus on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles from other great TGH writers along with Alex!

tech

Tech to beat the new expansion meta

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

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

Frostmourne belongs in a Museum

Eat their Death Knight dreams with a gloopy spit

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

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

The tempo treatment

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

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

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

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

Let none pass

 

The Lich King’s popularity could be his undoing

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

 

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

Shush

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

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

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

Feeling crabby

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

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

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

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

Don’t fear the tweaker

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

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

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


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

You can like The Game Haus on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles from other great TGH writers along with Alex!

 

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

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

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

Discarding from the opponent’s deck

boldest

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

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

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

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

Complex cards

boldest

Corpsetaker is wordy without being difficult to understand

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

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

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

Unprecedented deck manipulation

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

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

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

A new Exodia

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

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

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

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

Tutoring for early removal

boldest

All your early-game needs in one handy package

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

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

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

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

You can like The Game Haus on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles from other great TGH writers along with Alex!