On the 28th of September, 2016, Blizzard announced it was changing a number of cards. Normally, the few but impactful balance changes Hearthstone receives are based on a card’s power level, ubiquity, or limitation to design space. However, the change to the Old God Yogg-Saron, Hopes End, took a unique rationale. Team 5 stated that “We felt like seeing Yogg in tournaments was not where we originally hoped it would end up.” They explained that while the card was not necessarily overpowered, they wanted to reduce the amount it was then seen in tournaments. Implicit was the idea that too much RNG in a competitive tournament setting leads to frustrated pros, fewer recognisable faces, and a worse competitive scene.
Now, a similar row seems to be emerging over the new Tournament dominance of a new archetype; Taunt Warrior. Are the levels of RNG too high for competitive?
8 Damage Rage
The most obvious element of randomness is the Quest reward itself; Sulfuras’ 8 damage Hero Power. Targeting a random enemy, it has driven pros like Frank “Fr0zen” Zhang to tweet their frustration at “winning coin flips” being the seemingly deciding element of many matches. While only relevant in certain matchups, the RNG of whether or not the Ragnaros shot hits face or that crucial minion decides games. This is especially prevalent in the mirror (as we’ll cover later).
However, the randomness looks worse than it is. Because the Rag shot typically is the method of lethal, it is often erroneously attributed to be the crucial moment that decided the outcome. However, less obvious plays and misplays on the preceding turns can often be far more important. The spectacle of a flashy 8 damage lethal can often be distracting to the real ebb and flow of a match. The randomness is often far more egregious and impactful in the few turns after Sulfuras is played, where killing that crucial minion for “free” has a far more lasting and game-swinging impact.
O Brawling Love, O Loving Hate
Brawl is a controversial card. While some love its capacity to give late-game Warriors access to some of the most efficient mass-removal in the game, others despise its high-variance outcome. The fact that Brawl leaves exactly one minion alive is both a genius piece of game design and a maddening flaw. In Taunt Warrior, which typically cuts single target removal in the form of Shield Slam, this randomness can have a massive impact on the game. If a big card survives a Brawl, then the Warrior may not have the resources to deal with it.
Dirty Rat adds to the problem, as many of those on the receiving end of Dirty Rat into Brawl can attest. The Rat wins the Brawl with maddening, if not statistical regularity. This leads to a massive board swing, value lost from board and hand, as well as potentially scuppering any future plans. Worse, both the Rat and the Brawl are both highly random and high-variance, leading to outcomes that vary from scuppering a gameplan to flat-out losing on the spot.
The randomness in Taunt Warrior can also come before the game even starts. The archetype is extreme in its strengths and weaknesses, leading to a number of matchups that are complete walkovers, and others that are nigh-impossible. Due to the deck’s huge amounts of clears, the deck is nearly an auto-win against the most popular “flood” decks in Aggro Druid and Token Shaman. Short of severe resource mismanagement or Innervate Vicious Fledgling shenanigans, the deck is almost guaranteed to win as clearing and permanently stabilising behind a huge taunt is incredibly easy. Meanwhile, the deck falters hard against Jade Druids and Quest Rogues, as beating the huge value and mid/late game power of both is simply too much for the deck to handle.
As a result, the deck becomes both vital in tournaments to counter specific lineups, and an inherently risky inclusion due to Jade and Quest Rogue’s popularity at the tournament scene. This can be jarring for both pros and viewers; both want relatively even matchups where skills are vital and the result is rarely a foregone conclusion.
A Miserable Mirror
The Taunt Warrior mirror is tactical, skill-intensive, and tricky to navigate. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most frustrating experiences in Hearthstone, not least due to how the outcome is often decided by random outcome after random outcome. Every RNG aspect to Taunt Warrior is effectively doubled. To make matters worse, games are often decided purely on draw order and who had the highest deck-Taunt density. The player that manages to draw their Stonehills in particular will gain a huge advantage due to being able to complete the Quest far faster. The over-representation of high-health sticky minions makes both players run out of removal quickly, resulting in Brawl outcomes being far more game-changing.
To top it off, the game invariably comes down to Ragnaros Hero Powers, and the inevitable slew of games won and lost on 50/50s. With both players relying on it to win the game, the potential for frustration is apparent even without a high stakes tournament.
It’s unlikely that Blizzard will change the Warrior Quest. The deck is popular, not overpowered, and occupies a vital role in keeping flood decks in check. However, there are definitely lessons to be learned from the Taunt Warrior experience. For starters, a positive lesson is that giving Warriors good late-game options won’t break the game. On the other hand, the combined degrees of randomness can lead people to immense frustration, especially in a tournament setting. Perhaps cards like Brawl could be rotated out next expansion in favour of less variable clear options. Or maybe simply give Warriors a late-game win-condition that isn’t quite so RNG-reliant. Whatever the outcome, it’s clear we are going to see a lot of frustrating, if exciting, tournament games; at least until the next expansion.
Title art courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com. Artist: James Ryman
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