An Impassioned, Possibly Misguided Defense of Explore Un’goro

Exploring the possibilities

Hearthstone’s latest expansion, Journey to Un’goro, is out in early April. With its outlandish setting, the expansion promises mechanics and cards that already could have immense potential. But it’s a jokey, “meme” card that was given to Warrior that has caught my attention: Explore Un’goro.

For those who haven’t had a chance to watch the card reveal livestream, the second batch of Un’goro cards have been revealed. The first of them was a card called Explore Un’goro. The card is deceptively simple; a two mana Warrior spell that replaces every card remaining in your deck with a one mana spell that discovers a card.

Could this card revolutionize Control Warrior? (Probably not, but I’ll make the case regardless)

 

Evaluating Explorrior

Are comparisons to Renounce Darkness unfair?

Most impressions of the card have been that it’s a fun, jokey, but ultimately non competitive card. Obvious comparisons between it and Renounce Darkness were made, along with Elise Starseeker. Overall, the consensus is that it’s inferior to both. It was even introduced on-stream as being a non competitive card, designed to allow a particular kind of player to have fun.

Jeffrey “Trump” Shih, for instance, calls it worse than Renounce Darkness, and points to people not running one mana discover cards. Meanwhile, he cites the lack of transforming cards in your hand and absence of shuffling a card into your deck as evidence of being an inferior Elise.

Those analyses have some merit; but there’s still a strong argument that Explore Un’goro is fundamentally different. In fact, there’s a decent chance that it will define a whole new archetype.

Late-game, not end-game

Elise Starseeker’s Golden Monkey is a strong but slow win condition

The first and obvious distinction to make is that Explore Un’goro is not a fatigue win condition as with Elise. Or at least, it is not primarily a fatigue win condition like Elise. Elise’s effect is Fatigue-oriented by necessity. This is especially important in a world of Jade Idols and Kazakuses, where fatigue has almost entirely disappeared as a win condition. Discover Un’goro has the potential to pump out threats as soon as you play it and draw a card. Furthermore, it can be played as a two of, unlike the Legendary Elise.

Regardless, it’s still a late-game effect. The requirement to spend a mana before discovering each card makes for a necessarily slow effect. You’d play this card for its value generation potential. It would have the same effect as Elise (transitioning from a reactive game-plan to a pro-active one), but would be able to take effect much faster.

Explore Un’goro is also superior in many respects to the effect of the Golden Monkey due to not transforming cards in hand, only cards in the deck. You can save that Brawl, Execute, or Grommash for the opponent’s N’zoth, Ragnaros, or Jaraxxus while still applying pressure and generating value.

More than a meme

Renounce Darkness, or “Renounce Dankness” as it is affectionately known, is the easiest card to directly compare to Explore Un’goro. The comparison is fundamentally misleading though. For one, Renounce relies on having a high number of Warlock class cards. These tend to be weak when trying to execute the control-into-midrange strategy the card represents. The advantage of Renounce is the ability to keep your neutrals unaffected; but Neutral cards tend to be pro-active minions anyway, rendering the strategy pointless. Finally, Warlocks give up their most potent late-game advantage, the Life-tap hero power. In return, you’d get a load of discounted, potentially useless cards.

Explore Un’goro, by contrast, has no deckbuilding requirements. No matter what your deck contains, Explore Un’goro will replace it. What’s more, Warrior is already adept at executing the early-game control strategy. It only struggles when trying to out-value other decks in the late-game. This situation, only exacerbated by Elise and Justicar rotating out, will be a perfect role for Explore Un’goro to fill.

On a more general basis, the whole point of transforming your deck is to go from a reactive early game to a proactive late game. In this, the flexibility offered by Discover and Warrior’s early-game strength will be instrumental.

Don’t judge the card, judge the deck

A test decklist, sans Explore Un’goro of course

You can’t evaluate Explore Un’goro like most cards. Explore Un’goro will only be as good or as bad as the deck it defines. What would such a deck look like?

Of course, any theory-crafting now is largely irrelevant. Any meta calls are likely off by a wide margin. The Warrior Quest in particular could fundamentally change how the deck is built. Moreover, the new Un’goro meta would determine tech choices and overall viability. However, as a thought experiment, it’s worthwhile to see the kind of deck it might find a home in.

Explore Un’goro itself is a late-game tool, so early game should be the emphasis here. Going aggro and proactive is largely pointless, as such decks want burst finishers more than value discovers in the late-game. The deck should be a heavily early-game focused Control deck.

This already seems promising. Warrior has arguably the best early Control tools in Hearthstone. Fiery War Axe, Blood to Ichor, and Ravaging Ghoul are perfect for countering and controlling the early-game board development of aggro and midrange. Meanwhile, defensive taunts like Alley Armorsmith and Bloodhoof Brave lock down the mid-game. Furthermore, spot removals like Execute and Shield Slam can take out key threats. Brawl acts as an emergency clear when these aren’t enough.

The final ingredient should be draw, as we want to actually get to our Explore Un’goros. This is also a perfect excuse to include Gadgetzan Auctioneer; allowing us to draw multiple cards immediately after playing Explore Un’goro.

The gameplan

Warrior Epics can be hit or miss. Some completely flop…

This deck would strongly counter all early-game attacks with its bevy of early-game tools. After wiping out early minions with ease and dropping a few solid taunts, it draws consistently with Acolyte, Slam, and Shield Slam. The first few of the opponent’s big threats are swatted away with powerful hard removal. Just as it’s looking to run out of steam, Explore Un’goro is played, along with the last Taunt minion. The next turn, Gadgetzan Auctioneer hits the board, and four cards are instantly drawn with discover effects. The Warrior then drops threat after threat, answering specific cards with the limited resources remaining from its original hand.

Eventually, the opponent cannot hold back the constant pressure, taking a risky play. This could then be punished by the Warrior’s remaining or discovered answers. The following turn, they are beat down by the Warrior’s board of fat minions.

Good on paper?

…but some redefine what the class can do

Is such a deck good? It’s hard to tell. It would likely suffer from a lack of mid-game tools (particularly with Sylvanas rotating out). Any deck that could transform the tempo loss in between early-game answers and late-game Explore combos would likely be favored. But against many other types of decks, it’s hard to see too many flaws in the gameplan. The ability to swap almost all late-game for two Gadgetzan Auctioneers and two Explore Un’goros is potent indeed.

If one thing is certain, it’s that you can’t rule out Explore Un’goro too quickly. It’s notoriously common to mis-evaluate build-arounds (Mysterious Challenger anyone?), and this may just be another example of that. After all, another seemingly unplayable Warrior Epic in Blood Warriors created a new archetype that was even taken to Blizzcon (albeit unsuccessfully).

Whether it’s a Tentacles for Arms or a Blood Warriors, keep a close eye on this card. It just might be the new face of Warrior.

 

 

All images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment.

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Towards a Less Boring Control Warrior

Old King Control

Control warrior has a long and illustrious history. In its original incarnation, it was full of late-game bombs and threats. A typical control warrior would seem absurdly greedy when compared to modern incarnations; often running Cairne, Sylvanas, Grommash, Ragnaros, Alexstrasza, and Ysera. Typically, it relied solely on a few low cost minions. Cards like Acolyte, Armorsmith, and the omnipresent Fiery War Axe for early game presence.

Looking back, the deck played completely different to its later strategies. Instead of being an almost entirely reactive deck aimed at victory through fatigue, they were looking to overwhelm the opponent with high powered legendaries.

This strategy was simpler in some ways; it lent itself to more straightforward games based on tempo, even against other control decks. Fatigue was rare compared to the likelihood of snowballing out of control.

Answers for Everything

Control Warrior was reduced from “Remove minions, gain armor, play threats” to just “Remove minions, gain armor”

Recently, Control Warrior attracts a very specific kind of complaint. As soon as a Twitch streamer queues into one, chat is often filled with emotes and complaints of boredom in anticipation of the upcoming game. The perception is that games against Control Warrior are tedious and uneventful.

The reason for this is pretty straightforward. Late-game Warrior decks will very frequently no longer depend on threats. Even high cost cards like Grommash and Deathwing, (as seen in the latest of Fibonacci’s lists) function largely as removal; this often omits even ultra slow “win conditions” like Elise Starseeker altogether. Instead, over-focus on a fatigue gameplan has lead to games where the Warrior focuses completely on survival and removal.

One-way Interaction

This, understandably, can prove to be less than engaging to opponents and viewers. While the Control Warrior’s plethora of reactive spells and lifegain is highly interactive with the opponents cards, playing against it can feel like a game of solitaire. Control Warrior rarely, if ever, play anything pro-active. As a result, it can often leave the impression of dropping minions into inevitable removal, while armor stacks up higher and higher.

This has a twofold impact. Firstly, games last for much longer than otherwise, as once the Control Warrior player has all but won, it can take dozens of turns to actually end the game. Secondly, the feeling of interaction against an opponent is minimized; they are simply playing whack-a-mole with your minions at a leisurely pace. Meanwhile, certain archetypes like Jade Druid are so unfavored that the games aren’t even worth playing out.

Old Gods to the Rescue?

These issues previously improved somewhat during the Whispers of the Old Gods release. Instead of relying almost entirely on fatigue, removal, and the odd random legendary-based Elise finisher, Control Warrior proved a fruitful home for two Old Gods in particular: C’thun and N’zoth.

Infested Tauren gave N’zoth Warrior’s mid-game some much-needed meat

These 10 mana finishers provided the potency required for such a huge investment to be worthwhile. Suddenly, games could end on a single well-placed series of snowballing tempo plays in the late-game, instead of fizzling outs. This additionally incentivized the inclusion of more defensive, midrange minions. That allowed Control Warrior to build boards to close out games without needing their key game-ender.

However, this gameplay style proved to be short-lived. Although potent, the many counters and deck-building limitations imposed meant that the archetypes couldn’t compete with the significant growth in decks’ power levels after One Night in Karazhan and Mean Streets of Gadgetzan. The omnipresent Midrange shaman in particular, with the suppression power of Hex and requirement to find space for multiple board-clears, helped push Warrior back towards the Fatigue gameplan.

Even the threat of Jade decks hasn’t been enough to make Warrior try to compete with pro-active late-game strategies. Since Jade is so much more efficient than any pro-active play Warrior can make, the optimal solution has simply been to give up against Jade Druid. You want to run endless board clears to try and out-last Jade Shaman, playing reactive.

Gadgetzan’s Interactive Defenses

Alley Armorsmith is far more interactive than Warrior’s previous defensive tools

The Gadgetzan expansion hasn’t been all bad for Control Warrior. Alley Armorsmith is a perfect example of armor-gain for Warrior done right. Unlike the straightforward and not interactive Shieldmaiden or Justicar Trueheart, Alley Armorsmith is a pro-active defensive tool, that requires significant counterplay. As well as having chunky stats, the 2/7 taunt is far more effective in some situations than others. This makes it a perfect counter to low-attack minion or weapon based aggro decks, but still vulnerable to spells and high-attack minions.

Furthermore, Dirty Rat has rapidly grown into a class staple. Though it’s not possible to immediately interact with its battlecry, it is a card that is straightforward, yet deep to play around. It helps bridge the gap between Warrior and other late-game focused decks in a way that rewards skill and timing.

Hope in Un’goro

With Justicar Trueheart, Elise Starseeker, Bash, Revenge and other key components of the Fatigue strategy rotating out with the next expansion, the future looks bleak for Fatigue Warrior. If there is no suitable pro-active late-game raison d’etre for Warrior, then Control as an archetype may find it hard to find a niche in the new meta.

The introduction of “Quest” mechanics may still provide hope. Reliable, powerful, and available for every class, Quests may give Warrior the late-game win-condition it needs to compete. However, it depends on the card itself and whether the effect is one that is capable of giving Control Warrior the pressure needed to close out games.

Team 5 may print more Control-oriented Deathrattles. In that case, N’zoth Warrior may make a comeback as a potent counter to more midrange or controlling opponents.

The stars may even align, and Blizzard may try and succeed where Varian Wrynn failed. They could give Warrior an honest-to-goodness control-oriented class Legendary. We won’t hold our breath though. In the meantime, it can be fun to break open that Ysera, pack a deck full of Classic Legendaries with a few hard removals, and a Brawl or two. Or head out into Classic to relive the glory days of the oldest Control deck in the game.

All 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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