Are cheap Taunts just Aggro tools?

Hearthstone is a game that fundamentally rewards aggression and early board control. Throughout metas, the top dog is almost always an aggro deck. This can sometimes present design problems. How do you print strong cheap Taunts that are able to hold the board against Aggro without them being stronger in Aggro itself?

For many, the answer is obvious. Strong, cheap Taunt minions slow aggro and allow Midrange and Control to stabilise. Their defensive stats inherently prevent Aggro from utilising them effectively. However, the theory often doesn’t pan out in practice.

Protecting the face

Early on, total life matters a lot less than board control

Ostensibly, Taunts stop face damage. Aggro decks seek to dominate the early game and win through face damage. That the solution to this is early game taunts appears obvious. But things aren’t so simple. Stopping face damage on the first few turns is handy, sure; but an inefficient Taunt minion will often be far less effective than an early removal spell.

Aggro decks tend to be great at trading efficiently into minions early. After all, it’s this efficiency of gaining the board that allows them to adopt an aggressive playstyle in the first place. And soaking up face damage is all well and good; but on the first few turns, face damage is far less important than board control. There’s a reason why pre-nerf Fiery War Axe was one of the best anti-aggro tools out there. The face damage was irrelevant compared to the efficiency of removing early threats.

Safeguarding the snowball

taunt

It’s not easy to kill a Vicious Fledgling through one of these

On the flip side, early taunts are superb at helping an Aggro board survive. Old-school Aggro Shaman found great use in Feral Spirits to protect and buff a Tunnel Trogg, as well as providing good targets for Flametongue. Aggro Druid ran Tar Creeper and later Crypt Lord and Druid of the Swarm as both sticky buff targets and to make boards hard to get to. Murloc Paladin uses Righteous Protector to safeguard its Murlocs and as a target for Blessing of Kings. Dread Corsair is Pirate Warrior’s cheap or free board refill and protection for its high-attack Pirates.

There are recurring themes here; making it harder to kill high-priority minions, and buffs. The protection of high-priority minions is down to Taunt’s dual nature; apart from defending the face, it also protects the board. And when weapons or minions can’t kill your Frothing Beserker or Vicious Fledgling, they can have a crucial extra turn to grow out of control.

Beefy buffs

Flametongue had perfect aggressive synergy with taunts like Feral Spirits

Defensive Taunts are also deceptively powerful with buffs. Taunts tend to be best when defensively statted; this higher-health stat-line often scales up great. If you give +4/+4 to a 3/2, you’re left with a strong but relatively easily removed 7/6. But that same +4/+4 on a 1/4 makes for a far more sticky 5/8.

Similarly, defensive Taunt minions’ low attack means they can get great value from attack buffs from cards like Flametongue Totem or Direwolf Alpha. Often they can use it to value trade while staying alive and threatening. Or worse, simply go face and know the opponent still has a balanced-statted minion to get through that also protects the rest of your threatening board from minion damage.

Are downsides key?

taunt

Deathlord was the gold standard for early game anti-aggro Taunts.

Clearly, from a stat-for-stat perspective, simply making high health cheap Taunts won’t stop Aggro. So what can make a Taunt a Control tool?

The answer might lie in downsides. Deathlord may be a prime example of this. The risk of pulling a massive minion means that the only decks to risk running it would be ones with hard removal. Similarly, Dirty Rat can help stop certain decks early on but is so anti-tempo in many cases that Aggro would never consider running it.

However, the full answer may just lie in abandoning early Taunts altogether as anti-Aggro. Instead, more AOE and removal are card types that are proven to be effective anti-aggro tools that don’t threaten to make Aggro overbearing. The best recent example lies in cards like Defile and Sleep with the Fishes; strong, conditional, symmetrical early removal that fits perfectly into Control.

Aggro is inherently healthy for Hearthstone, but like all archetypes, should have its counters. Team 5 should recognise that cheap, efficient early Taunts is not that counter.


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

mill

The thrill of Mill Warrior

The upcoming Fiery War Axe nerf may be a blessing in disguise for Warrior. The increase in mana cost to three is likely to be a major setback for almost all warrior archetypes. But in doing so, it may have inspired streamer David “Dog” Caero to create a fascinating and powerful new deck.

Mill or Fatigue Warrior is not just a strong performer for top players. It’s also uniquely flexible, aggressively difficult to play and unlike any deck we’ve seen yet. But most importantly, it can be an utter joy to play.

Breaking the rules

mill

Cards previously thought to be worthless now define a new Warrior archetype

Combo Warriors long struggled for win conditions. Dead Man’s Hand offered a way for Warriors to benefit from their obscene draw potential with (theoretically) infinite value. Early experiments showed promise, but were ultimately unreliable. Expensive, flashy finishers like Rotface and Arcane Giant simply proved too clunky.

Where Dog’s refined version innovated was in stripping out all late-game win conditions in favour of Coldlight Oracle. To take matters even further, it threw out “auto-includes” like Fiery War Axe and Ravaging Ghoul in favour of cards like Bring it On! which provided the burst healing to tie the deck together.

The final result was a deck that plays like nothing else. At times reactive and proactive, its hallmarks are incredible draw, literally infinite removal and healing, as well as burst fatigue damage with Coldlights. But most striking of all was the fantastic complexity and difficulty of the deck.

Difficult to learn, impossible to master

Dead Man’s Hand is arguably the hardest card in Hearthstone to use correctly

Hearthstone prides itself on its accessibility. Once someone learns the basics of minion trading and value, it’s pretty easy to drop minions on curve and do OK. Even relatively complicated Control decks become manageable once you understand their basic principles.

Not so for Mill Warrior. While aspects of other strategies remain, the deck operates on a totally different paradigm. To begin with, it almost plays like a traditional Control or Combo deck; trying to survive, clear and draw. But certain cards must be saved, depending on the match up. Once the deck is nearly empty, the deck must be winnowed of chaff, with cards discarded. Eventually, a core of a few vital cards are collected and shuffled repeatedly into the deck.

Reaching, designing and duplicating this core of cards is the hardest part of playing the deck, and even the best players make numerous misplays per game. Simply using a Garrosh hero power instead of preemptively equipping and swinging with a Blood Razor can lead to ruin. Not playing a Brawl in time can lead it to fatally clog your hand, growing exponentially until you mill a vital combo piece. Use both copies of a vital card too early and you can see yourself without a tool to survive the repeated chains of shuffles.

And that’s just the basics. Advanced mastery of the deck requires precision Bring it On! timings, deadly Dirty Rat assassinations of key minions, long term fatigue damage pre-planning and constant balancing of the need to draw and the risks of overdrawing. It’s likely that to play the deck close to optimally would require superhuman levels of on-the-fly calculations and psychology.

Worth the effort

Warrior will need to be inventive to survive without two cost Axe

Despite the steep and high-ceiling’d learning curve, Mill Warrior is well worth it.

The first is its huge competitive potential. When played well, the deck can beat any late-game deck that comes up against it. Kazakus Priest will usually lose unless they’re able to get Raza and Anduin within the first 10 turns. Even Taunt Warrior can’t out-damage the infinite heal and will soon succumb to fatigue.

The deck is also favoured against a variety of Aggro and Midrange decks; that’s before they’re nerfed too. While Pirate Warrior and Murloc Paladin are tough, any deck that goes wide is easily swept aside by the endless mass removals. The deck even performs decently against the meta tyrant, Jade Druid. With enough removal, heal, draw and a Skulking Geist, Mill Warrior can feasibly defeat all but the most high-tempo of starts. Dog proved the decks worthiness by taking it all the way to top two legend NA.

The other reason is that the deck’s unique and challenging playstyle makes every game far more involved than a typical Hearthstone game. Instead of going to autopilot and dropping minions on curve and rehashing the same old challenges of when and how to trade, you’re pursuing entirely new goals. How to empty your hand for a shuffle, determining whether you can win without infinite Executes vs Big Priest, timing Bring it On! so as to dodge Velen, and risking an on curve Coldlight Oracle against Murloc Paladin, shuffling a single Coldlight into your deck to set up fatigue lethal; these are the kind of plays that no deck has had to make before.

It is also refreshing to have lost games be your own fault; reviewing and uncovering your own mistakes can be satisfying as you refine your play further and further. To top it all off, the deck is far from perfected, and with every single card normally making an appearance in the games you win, every slot counts. There’s plenty for aspiring deckbuilders to hone into a truly devastating deck.

Mill Warrior can defeat almost any deck in the late game

The Warrior we need?

With old War Axe rusting away, Mill Warrior may be the archetype Warrior needs. Control, Tempo and Pirate are likely to struggle in the new meta without trusty Win Axe to carry them to turn two tempo glory. However, the deck is likely to retain one fatal flaw; incredibly long games. When stars per hour is what you’re after, 12 minute average mentally exhausting games may not be the best choice. So don’t disenchant that golden Patches for two Dead Man’s Hands just yet if laddering is your goal.

But if you’re looking for intense, long games with challenging gameplay and brutal complexity, then there’s no better choice than Mill Warrior.

With a low non-pro winrate and achingly slow games, Mill Warrior is unlikely to dominate the ladder (source: HSReplay.net)

 

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

scourgelord

The surprising power of Scourgelord Garrosh

Of all the Death Knights released with Knights of the Frozen Throne, Scourgelord Garrosh possibly generated the least hype. Crazily powerful hero powers defined the other classes’ options. But whilst others had massive value generation potential, a disappointing Whirlwind effect was all that was available to Warrior. Even the relatively dull Malfurion the Pestilent’s three attack or three armor seemed far superior. The weapon, while strong, didn’t seem the sacrifice.

Despite this, Warrior’s Death Knight hero looks to be among the strongest. Besides the raw, reliable Malfurion the Pestilent and the deck-defining machine-gun power of Shadowreaper Anduin, Scourgelord Garrosh looks to be a near mandatory inclusion in all manner of Control, Combo and Tempo Warriors. So how did the Scourgelord go from the trash heap of “probably good in tempo” to non-Pirate staple?

Shadowmourne’s stats

scourgelord

Shadowmourne is arguably worth 7-8 mana by itself

Above all, the overwhelming bulk of the Scourgelord’s power is expressed in his weapon, Shadowmourne. A 4/3 weapon is decent enough; but Shadowmourne holds the brutal ability to cleave through up to two adjacent minions.

In terms of raw ability to clear, this can be far more powerful than Gorehowl, while being far more versatile. Whilst Gorehowl maintains superiority at smacking down minions one at a time, Shadowmourne has both a higher ceiling and lower floor of impact.

On the typical multi-leveled boards of mid-game minions opponents are likely to field in the late-game, Gorehowl’s seven attack is often overkill. Meanwhile, Shadowmourne can clear multiple minions at a time, while leaving others damaged and vulnerable to board clears, trading or Executes. The cleaving ability also throws up nice edge cases. Damaging a high attack minion by hitting its low attack neighbour can save vital health. Alternatively, killing a vital threat through Taunt can save games.

Rounding out weaknesses

Not only is Shadowmourne strong in a vacuum, it gels perfectly with Warrior. Warrior has no Fireballs, Swipes or Shadow Strikes. It’s always had a weakness of dealing with mid-sized boards of mid-sized minions. There were few options available to deal with an awkward board of two 4/4’s without spending multiple cards or premium removal.

Decks like Midrange Shaman or Priest could slowly grind down a Control Warrior by playing out 2-3 threats a turn. The Warrior would be forced to waste Executes or Brawls just to clear the board, leaving him vulnerable to later bombs or just more spaced-out threats.

Shadowmourne perfectly counters this weakness. By acting as incredibly efficient removal for up to three of the kinds of boards that Warrior traditionally struggles with, it generates huge value while throwing a cog in the traditional anti-Control Warrior gameplan. Even high-powered Midrange decks like Jade Druid can be simply wiped of value. A well-timed Scourgelord combined with Skulking Geist will crush their hopes, assuming you can wrest back tempo.

But Shadowmourne isn’t the only thing Scourgelord has to offer.

Infinite activators

scourgelord

Sleep with the Fishes is even more backbreaking when it synergises with your hero power

One of the keys to successfully navigating any Control, Tempo or Combo Warrior is spacing out damage activators. Use all your Whirlwinds, Ghouls and Slams too early? Your Executes, Acolytes or Battle Rages are now useless. Part of the reason cards like Death’s Bite are so powerful is due to their additional efficient Whirlwind effects.

In the late-game, Warriors would often run out of steam as they ran low on activators. Especially token generation decks like Paladin or Shaman could simply hero power their way to starving the Warrior of crucial removal and card draw activators.

While Scourgelord Garrosh’s Bladestorm hero power (which does one damage to all minions) may seem weak in isolation, it shines in the Warrior class. Not only does it provide activators for cards like Sleep with the Fishes and Execute in the late game, it also allows for existing Whirlwind effects to be readily spent for tempo instead of saved for future effects. This can prove especially powerful late in the game, where it turns an otherwise useless Acolyte of Pain or Battle Rage top-deck into crucial gas.

The price of power

scourgelord

What Scourgelord Garrosh gains in board control, you lose in lifegain

All this value does come at a cost, however. Replacing Armor Up is dangerous. While additional board control is all well and good, sometimes you simply run out of life. Against certain decks, losing two Armor a turn is a suicidal proposition.

Luckily, the current meta makes this less of an issue. New Armorgain cards like Bring it on! and Mountainfire Armor can help mitigate the loss of the hero power. What’s more, the current meta focuses heavily on the board. Even Pirate Warrior is embracing less burn and more minions, and Burn Mages have largely left the meta (or moved to infinite-damage versions).

With these developments, the additional clear of Bladestorm often saves more life than Armor Up. And of course, the five instantaneous Armor from merely equipping Scourgelord goes a long way to ensuring you’ll live for the next few turns at least.

The wrath of Hellscream

Beyond that, Garrosh Scourgelord has excellent flavour and voice lines. Despite sounding like an undead potato, the Scourgelord’s emotes are brooding and threatening. They lack some of the “it’s not a phase, mom!” edginess of Shadowreaper Anduin’s “Shadowy thoughts” while still sounding ominous. It’s suitably Warrior-y to tell your opponents that they will be the first to kneel.

And of course, the “Failure” emote is surely top tier BM material.

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!

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

 

 

Dr. Bone

From Dr. Boom to Dr. Bone: The new king of seven

Bonemare is new, Neutral, and nightmarishly tricky to deal with

Knights of the Frozen Throne released only a few days ago, but the meta is beginning to crystallise and settle. Druid, Paladin and Shaman are strong early contenders for Aggro and Midrange decks, whereas Priest and Warlock dominate Control. Most of the impactful new inclusions have been class cards. Spreading Plague, Righteous Protector and Shadowreaper Anduin have propelled their respective classes to meta dominance.

However, a few powerful Knights of the Frozen Throne neutrals may yet shape the meta. Perhaps the strongest of these is the new Dr. 7: Bonemare. Or as I like to call it, Dr. Bone.

Board-in-a-box

Like Dr. Boom, Dr. Bone presents 9/9 of efficient stats with upside spread across multiple bodies

Bonemare isn’t especially exciting, concept-wise. Minions that buff other minions are as old as Hearthstone. New players can immediately use the concept with the Basic Shattered Sun Cleric. What makes Dr. Bone isn’t so much a novel concept as the raw numbers and its defensive power.

In terms of raw stats, Bonemare is beastly (although unlike Bone Drake, it has no tribal tag). Its 5/5 body for seven mana is pretty bad, but combine it with the +4/+4 buff it gives, and it’s an impressive 9/9 worth of stats for seven. Not only that, but the +4/+4 it gives essentially has charge. In essence, it’s a four mana Blessing of Kings plus a three mana 5/5 in one card; an efficient package indeed.

To complicate things further for the opponent, these stats are not put into one target ripe for hard removal á la Swamp King Dread, Hearthstone’s other seven mana 9/9. Bonemare spreads out over two beefy bodies, both of which demand removal.

Supreme versatility

Bonemare is great for locking down a board against Aggro, or for value vs Control

Another huge component of Bonemare’s strength comes from its versatility. As long as you have a minion on board, it can be used to fulfil almost any strategy. The fact that the buffed minion gains Taunt opens huge tactical options. Against Control you can go face of course, but it’s also handy to dodge a Pirate Warrior’s Arcanite reaper to the face. It’s a perfect tool for trading as well, as you can selectively apply the buff to get the best value. The ability to grant Taunt also means that it’s often safe to push face damage with the buff target, as the opponent will likely be forced to trade with it anyway.

While Paladin and Shaman can make best use of buff synergies with their hero powers and minions, Warriors and Druids have also found good use for it. The card’s sheer power and lack of efficient answers means that it’s likely to remain a popular curve topper for some time to come.

A Midrange Messiah

There are downsides of course. It requires a minion target to be effective, and is otherwise almost useless. However, most decks that would consider running Bonemare can easily flood the board. What’s more, if worst comes to worse it can still be played with a one drop or hero power for a quick dump of stats. Though the opportunity for trading is lost, throwing down two mid-sized minions, one of which has taunt, can often be enough to save or close out the game.

This balance between aggression and defensiveness makes it perfect for Midrange decks of all stripes, from aggressive to those leaning to Control. Being incredibly powerful whether you’re the “beatdown” or not is a rare trait in a card, but Bonemare manages it. As long as a deck is Midrange, it is likely to want this card.

Identity theft?

Will Bonemare’s success come at the cost of class flavour?

New, experimental versions of Aggro Paladin have even been considering dropping cards like Tirion for Bonemare! Coming down one turn earlier, it fulfills a similar purpose of a value bomb that also protects the face and pushes damage. Here we come to a slightly troubling nature of the card. Due to being a powerful Neutral minion, it may erode class identity by squeezing out classic Class minions. If Warriors cut Grommash, if Paladins cut Tirion, and if Warlocks cut Doomguard for this, then games start to feel stale and similar.

Blizzard has wisely shied away from these kinds of omnipresent Neutrals in the past. Midrange decks make up a huge proportion of the Meta, and if Bonemare finds its way into all of them, it could lead to a troubling blandness between classes.

Countering Dr. Bone

Dr. Bone

When the best counter to a 5/5 is a 4/5, things may go badly for you

Worryingly, Bonemare doesn’t have many direct counters. The Black Knight deals with the buffed minion, but trades poorly with Bonemare itself. Spellbreaker reduces the power of the buffed minion; but often the toughness will remain untouched if it has already traded. Dirty Rat can bring the body down early, but is still a risky and anti-tempo counter.

By far, the best counter to Dr. Bone is simply to clear the opponent’s board prior to it coming down. While this isn’t always possible, it’s worth considering if you’re holding onto the Brawl or Dragonfire Potion. Otherwise, consider playing a deck such as Freeze Mage that’s effective against Midrange strategies.

Or you could even run a Bonemare of your own, and leave others to make these tough decisions on how to clear your board…

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!

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

 

 

dead man's hand

Why Dead Man’s Hand is impossible to evaluate

Dead man's hand

Unique and potentially powerful, Dead Man’s Hand has divided opinion

Dead Man’s Hand is a card that does nothing. The 2 mana Warrior Epic spell is soon to be released as part of Hearthstone’s Knights of the Frozen throne, and has already generated hype, debate and wildly differing predictions.

But in terms of practical, immediate impact to a board state, the effect is zero. It draws no cards, deals no damage and summons no minions. In many situations its analagous to simply throwing a card away.

However, Dead Man’s Hand makes up for this by being quite simply the most powerful deck manipulation tool ever devised for Hearthstone. The ability to shuffle your entire hand into your deck would be fascinating enough on a singleton card; on a cheap spell that can have 2 copies per deck, it’s potentially gamebreakingly powerful.

A Brief History of Deck Manipulation

Dead man's hand

Forgotten Torch was a powerful tool for burn mages

Deck manipulation crept into Hearthstone slowly. Completely absent in Classic and Basic, the ability to shuffle additional value to your deck beyond the traditional 30 cards began with GvG’s Druid Legendary, Malorne. This eternally recurring stag didn’t fit into the combo-focused Druids of the time however. In Blackrock Mountain, Gang Up spurred the Mill Rogue archetype to new highs of near-competitiveness.

Deck manipulation effects weren’t to grow to meta prominence until League of Explorers. Then, cards like Forgotten Torch and Elise Starseeker proved that shuffling valuable cards into your deck could swing games. Old Gods’ C’thun Warrior crushed Control with Doomcaller’s ability to shuffle up to 2 additional C’thuns per game.

Then, in Mean Streets of Gadgetzan, Jade Idol provided a death knell to fatigue archetypes with its infinite threat generation. Un’goro furthered the list of competitive deck manipulation cards with Direhorn Hatchling and Elise Trailblazer, both of which saw extensive competitive play.

Infinite value, zero tempo

It’s hard to justify spending 2 mana to do nothing. Is Dead Man’s Hand the next Explore Un’goro?

Against this rich history of successful deck manipulation cards, why has Dead Man’s Hand received such negative competitive evaluations from pros? Part of the reason behind players like Kolento’s near-instant dismissal as “100 dust” lies in the nature of the card. Other deck manipulation tools that saw competitive play have a body or effect attached. Forgotten Torch has 3 damage, both Elises are sturdy 5 health minions, and even Jade Idol has the option to create a massive minion rather than shuffle.

In contrast, Dead Man’s hand has no such effect. It would be a truly dead card in every matchup that does not go to fatigue. Lots of pro players then, quite reasonably, performed a quick mental calculation. They thought about the deck it might fit into (Control Warrior) and estimated the number of games that would likely be affected by fatigue (a very small percentage). From this perspective, it’s easy to see why many pros deem the card trash.

Bad card, good deck?

The fundamental flaw with this assessment is that it presumes that the card would most likely work in a deck that looked something like modern Control Warrior. But Control Warrior was built from the ground up around an assumption of limited deck value. Control Warrior sacrifices flexibility to maximize the total value of the deck. Incredibly powerful cards like Battle Rage are excluded in favour of solid lategame minions that can trade positively on a card-for-card basis.

While Dead Man’s Hand might be a nigh-unplayable bad card in Aggro matchups, it carries a hidden benefit. By guaranteeing potentially infinite late-game value, it allows every other card in the deck to be cheaper, leaner and more draw-focused. This allows Aggro matchups to improve while (in theory) remaining incredibly strong vs Control.

Not only that, but Dead Man’s Hand is unique in its abilities. This is the first time infinite duplication of any card has been available from hand. Minions have been able to be bounced once or twice, and Jade Idols can last forever, but until now it’s never been possible to play any specific minion or spell infinitely (at least without Lorewalker Cho shenanigans). This has the potential for some disgustingly powerful series of plays.

Thinking Combo

dead man's hand

Warrior has no problem drawing through their entire deck

Although I’ve been overoptimistic on 2 mana Warrior Epics before, it’s worth considering what a deck that was built around Dead Man’s Hand would look like. The deck would likely look less like traditional Control Warriors of old, and more like Combo Warrior.

There have been a variety of Warrior decks that have utilized the class’s powerful draw engine and cheap, efficient spells. Patron, Worgen OTK and Arcane Warriors all got massive value from drawing through their entire deck with Battle rage. Unfortunately, they’ve all lacked reliable win conditions vs Control since Warsong Commander and Charge prevented Frothing or Worgen OTKs. Arcane Giants Warrior, the only surviving Standard deck, is currently unplayable due to the ease of which most classes clear or outvalue the 2-3 boards of Giants.

This all could change with Dead Man’s Hand. The gameplan would be simple; cycle to fatigue, then play overpowered cards over and over again until you win. But what cards? How could the deck be nimble enough to beat aggro, but weighty enough to beat Jade?

Building a Jade breaker

Infinite N’zoths are a scary prospect

Assuming the deck would follow this gameplan, it would want strong end-game threats to play repeatedly concentrated into as few as possible card slots. The most promising tools likely include cards like N’zoth. A N’zoth win condition revolving around Loot Hoarders, Direhorn Hatchlings and perhaps the new Mountainfire Armor would be a strong, repeatable threat that would provide board presence, Taunts, lifegain and card-draw to sustain the infinite combo.

Other strategies would be Arcane Giants and Battle Rages, repeatedly clearing with King Mosh, or endless Grommashes to face. Coldlights Oracles could provide a fatigue win condition, but would be unable to deal with the infinite Jades. Testers could also try C’thun, but the Old God would likely require too many deckslots.

Unpredictable

Regardless of how the final deck may look, it’s clear that we cannot evaluate the card in a traditional context. If the card works or not, it will be on the basis of whether or not its deck is strong, not down to the nature of the card itself. Its performance will be decided by meta and support tools rather than whether or not it’s mana efficient or a powerful effect.

While pros are free to guess at the power of the card, it’s important to remember that more often than not, cards like this are simply impossible to predict. Which may be annoying, but it makes that initial experience of experimentation and refinement all the more exciting. And hey, even if the card doesn’t turn out to be competitive, it will surely create some fantastic opportunity for meme decks.


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!

 

Frustrating card design ideas not to revive

Coming out of the unprecedented well-balanced and fair meta of Un’goro, it’s easy to reflect on the successes of card design. However, as the new expansion “Knights of the Frozen Throne” rapidly approaches, it’s important to remember the cautionary tales. Hearthstone has had its fair share of frustrating, problematic or downright overpowered card designs in the past. Reflecting on these can help avoid similar mistakes in the future.

The sticky, snowballing early minion

frustrating

Northshire Cleric is a great example of a strong early minion that doesn’t snowball out of control and kill you by turn five (usually)

I’ve talked about this before, but it bears repeating.

Cards that snowball out of control can be fun and engaging to play against. They can help turn a razor thin tempo advantage leveraged at the perfect moment into a win.

Unfortunately, snowball cards that are dropped on turn one more often than not decide games based on draw RNG. This is even worse when said cards are both hard to remove and gain attack quickly. An unchecked Mana Wrym doing 10+ damage by turn four because you couldn’t find your Wrath is hardly engaging.

If snowbally mechanics are added, they should remain at a mana cost where the opponent has time to prepare for and react to them.

Random early-game pings

frustrating

It’s hard to control random pings on turn one

In a video for the game design and theory channel “Extra Credits”, Flame Juggler is used as an example of how having low-impact RNG can be exciting but not frustrating. Unfortunately, the video (which was worked on by a team that includes current Hearthstone designer Dan Emmons), misses two important points.

The initial thrust of the video, that RNG is better when it’s not game-deciding all on its own, is sound. However, the writers underestimate the extent to which even one damage in the early game can have a huge impact. What’s more, they gloss over the fatigue that sets in when you see this happen every game.

Cards like Flame Juggler or Fiery Bat are frustrating because an early game ping is almost always near-useless going face, and almost always very good when hitting a minion. Trading into a Mana Wrym or Northshire Cleric is amazing, whereas leaving it alive while dealing only one damage to face is catastrophic.

If early-game RNG is to be introduced, it should not have constant 50/50 dice rolls between one obviously amazing and one consistently useless outcome. Instead, focusing on a narrower range of outcomes can help keep fun high and frustration low.

Cheap Charge minions (that can go face)

Charge minions have had a rough history. A majority of Classic cards that involve charge have been changed in one way or another, with only a few going un-touched by balance changes.

The core of the problem is how Charge allows Buffs to be turned into burn. Classes that shouldn’t have massive damage from an empty board can gain access to it through a combination of Charge minions and buffs. As Quest Rogue and Combo Warrior proved, this allowed certain classes to have access to obnoxious levels of damage from hand.

Charge limits design space on buffs, and risks adding oppressive combos. Future charge cards should be designed more like Grommash Hellscream and less like Leeroy Jenkins to open up design space for powerful buffs without risking frustrating OTKs. Combo decks deserve better and more interactive finishers.

As Quest Rogue proved, even seemingly innocuous Charge minions can be crushingly powerful with buffs

Uber-efficient cheap Weapons

It’s dangerous when a class can’t be out-tempo’d. Pre-nerf spirit claws led to a meta where Midrange Shaman couldn’t be countered

Early game board control is arguably the most important factor in the majority of Hearthstone games. The first few turns more often than not completely shape the remaining game.

It’s unsurprising then, that the most powerful tools for achieving early board control would be some of the most powerful cards in the game. Warrior has become kind of early tempo almost entirely through Fiery War Axe. Cheap weapons that contain a package of both minions and a weapon have proven especially strong, as Jade Claws and N’zoth’s First Mate demonstrate.

This is all well and good, but a proliferation of early weapons can end up being restrictive on classes without access to them. Instead of giving every class in the game a super-powerful early weapon, it may be best to restrict it to a very few cards in a very few classes. N’zoth’s First Mate and Fiery War Axe in the same deck may simply be too strong, as were pre-nerf Spirit Claws and Jade Claws being too consistent.

Instead, new weapons should be powerful but at least somewhat expensive, so that counters like Acidic Swamp Ooze and Harrison Jones can come into play.

High-Variance card generation

Discover and random card generation tends to work well in a fun, non-frustrating way when it is limited in the kind of outcomes it can produce. Stonehill Defender in non-Paladin classes is always going to give a pretty predictable outcome, as will Hydrologist. These kinds of limited-pool discovers offer more counterplay than cards like Swashburglar or Babbling Book, where the potential efficiency and value of the generated card can vary massively.

The problem with this wide variance is not only more frustration when outcomes fall far above or below expectations, but also reduces counterplay. In the future, card generation should fall within a narrower or more predictable range, especially when attached to very cheap minions.

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!

Will Quest Rogue Survive its Nerf?

In a recent statement, Blizzard announced that the Rogue Quest will be receiving a significant balance tweak. From its initial requirement of playing four minions with the same name, after an upcoming update it will need five.

What will this substantial nerf mean for Quest Rogue, and the meta as a whole? Will the deck survive?

Crystal Core is Core

One thing is instantly clear; Quest Rogue isn’t cutting The Caverns Below. Unlike Pirate Warrior with Small-Time Buccaneer, or Aggro Shaman with Spirit Claws, Quest Rogue can’t find similar replacements. The card is what the entire deck is built around.

The real question is, will this nerf mean that the deck will have to change drastically? Or simply disappear altogether?

Shadow Strike or Assassinate don’t quite work as replacements

What’s One More Bounce?

At first, the nerf might not seem too dramatic. Quest Rogue runs six ‘bounces’ or return to hand effects (eight counting vanish), and multiple cards that generate duplicates. Most draws can easily complete the quest on turns 5-7. Surely increasing the requirement by one won’t destroy the deck?

Unfortunately for Quest Rogue, the reality is trickier. Looking at the latest Vicious Syndicate Meta Report, the deck’s current overall winrate is roughly 50%, with a 7% representation on ladder. Here we see that the deck is competitive in high-level play, if not Tier One.

Things look bleaker if you analyse Winrate by turn of Quest completion. HSReplay.net shows a drastic fall in overall winrate the later the Quest is completed. This could show a catastrophic reduction in competitive viability, to the point of non-viability, at least with current lists. Each extra turn spent digging for that extra bounce or duplicate is another turn Aggro gets to kill you, or Control gets to draw into a clear.

A Slower Solution?

With a harsher requirement, future Quest Rogues might need more draw

Looking at the current strengths and weaknesses of the deck, it’s looking like there’s little opportunity for the deck to survive. But what if drastic changes were made? Could it adapt to the nerf?

A slower quest completion means fewer cards that are only strong with the quest should be run. Cards like Glacial Shard, Bilefin Tidehunter and Wisp could be cut in favour of a more reactive set of survival tools and draw to get to the more limited number of combo pieces. The deck would look more like Miracle Rogue, with a 5/5 charge focused win condition, but otherwise more conventional Rogue staples. Though likely less reliable than current Quest Rogue lists, it might be able to survive in typical Rogue fashion rather than relying on super-fast Quest Completion.

However, this looks unlikely, as standard Miracle rogue would likely fill this niche better. For now, it’s probably best to assume the deck will meet its demise competitively.

A Meta-Changing Nerf

Expect plenty more Jade Druid

According to Blizzard, the rationale behind changing the card was that it was pushing out “slower, controlling decks”. These were Quest Rogue’s strongest matchups.

Taunt or Control Warriors, Priest variants, and slower versions of Paladin and Shaman will likely rise up the tier list, as they will have lost their most powerful counters. Conversely, Aggro decks like Aggro Druid and Pirate Warrior will lose their edge somewhat as a dominating matchup is lost.

However, those celebrating the incoming Control meta might find their joy premature. One of Quest Rogue’s best matchups is the Anti-Control Jade Druid. With less Aggro around and more Control to prey on, it’s fair to assume this deck archetype is due to see a meteoric rise. Considering its increasing resilience to aggression with Tar Creepers, Primordial Drakes and Earthen Scales, along with its natural anti-Control powers, it’s likely to become Tier One.

As far as losers from the fallout of the nerf, one stands out above all others. Dirty Rat no longer makes sense as a tech choice without the ability to disrupt the Rogue Quest. The unfortunate and unhygienic rodent is likely to remain stuck in the collection; at least until Exodia Mage rejoins the ladder.

Artwork courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com. Title art by Konstantin Turovec.

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!

The Snowball Problem

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

Demanding Answers

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

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

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

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

Exacerbating RNG

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

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

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

Class Warfare

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

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

 

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

Arena Woes

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

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

The Snowball Solution

Does Mana Wyrm really need to be evergreen?

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

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

 

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

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!

What Ever Happened to Combo Warrior?


The Warrior Class is nothing if not flexible. From its early Control roots, to its current Aggro and Taunt incarnations, Warrior has excelled in every Hearthstone Archetype. We’ve seen Controlling Control Warriors, Midrange Dragon and Tempo Warriors, Aggro Pirate Warriors and Combo Patron and Worgen Warriors. However, while certain Warrior archetypes have grown and evolved, others have dropped off. Combo Warrior in particular used to dominate, but has now almost completely disappeared from the ladder. What happened?

Early Roots

Combo Warriors have been around as long as Hearthstone. Charge is a key exploitable keyword that combo decks have used to deliver huge One Turn Kills (OTKs). In Hearthstone’s Beta, Warrior benefited from the initial versions of Charge and Warsong Commander, which granted potentials for absurd OTKs or Two Turn Kills with Alexstrasza, Gorehowl and Molten Giants.

These interactions quickly forced a change to both of these cards, reducing the impact of Charge to one minion and giving the Warsong Commander Charge effect a three attack maximum threshold.

Glory Days

Warsong Commander was potent, pre nerf

The heyday of Combo Warriors was undoubtedly the rule of Patron. Grim Patron was an initially underrated Neutral minion from the Blackrock Mountain. Its incredible synergy with sources of one damage made it a natural fit for Warrior. It was natural counter to classes without AOE and low attack minions. In addition to its anti-aggro potential, it could launch massively buffed Frothing Berserkers at the opponent’s face in Control matchups. This, combined with an incredible draw engine giving unparalleled consistency, made it one of the strongest decks of all time in the hands of a sufficiently skilled player.

Unfortunately for fans of Combo Warrior, this was not to last. A sledgehammer of a nerf to Warsong Commander limited the deck’s potential, forcing it down an aggressive Midrange route incorporating cards like Dr. Boom and Grommash. Though the deck survived, it was never the same intricate web of combo synergies that allowed it to dominate with brutal, refined efficiency.

Revenge of the Worgen

While Patron Warrior was forced down a more Midrange route, Control players who thought they were safe from huge Warrior OTKs were in for a rude surprise as Raging Worgen Warrior briefly terrorized the ladder. In a rare case of genuine Hearthstone innovation, Worgen Warrior came out of nowhere in a previously-deemed stale period of the meta. Utilising the previously unnoticed Wild Pyromancer-Commanding Shout synergy, the deck cycled towards playing Charge on a Raging Worgen and copying it with a Faceless Manipulator for potentially 50+ face damage.

Despite its single-minded gameplan, the deck was remarkably consistent, only really being halted by pure face strategies or multiple Taunts. It was never especially oppressive, but Team 5 were understandably apprehensive about the negative feeling of losing to a nigh-unstoppable 50 damage burst combo. The card Charge was changed, leading to it not allowing face to be targeted.

On the Shoulders of Giants

Blood Warriors allowed Combo Warriors to survive (barely) by copying Arcane Giants

After this change, there was a lull in Combo Warrior’s activity before the introduction of Arcane Giant in the One Night in Karazhan. It finally gave Warriors another Combo win condition. Combined with Blood Warriors, a sufficiently spell heavy Warrior could create massive boards of zero mana 8/8s. Incorporating the Worgen Warrior’s Wild Pyromancer shell, this deck saw limited success, including an abortive attempt to bring it to Blizzcon by pro player Edwin “HotMeowth” Cook.

However, Arcane Giants and Blood Warriors are an inconsistent, meta dependent tool for Warriors to use. It requires an all-in strategy, massive player skill, and huge deckbuilding sacrifices. Meanwhile, the reward is simply underwhelming. While full boards of 8/8s are impressive, it’s nowhere near as consistent as an OTK gameplan. It’s easily thwarted by hard removal, board clears or just early pressure to force tempo plays.

As a result, the deck has fallen to the wayside completely, leaving lovers of Combo Warrior no competitive ladder option. New additions like Sudden Genesis, Sleep with the Fishes and Iron Hide have failed to address the inherent lack of a strong win condition.

A Lyra for Warriors?

It would take someone with more skill than me to balance a card like this, but it could be done (Via Hearthcards.net)

The problems Combo Warrior faces can only be addressed with new cards. Like Priest, Warrior deserves new “tricky” cards that reinforce its combo history and huge amount of inherent potential. While the skeleton of combo tools remain, it lacks a consistent goal to strive for. Of course, this does not mean that we should return to the days of 50+ damage OTK combos; but providing an interesting, interactive, board based, potent combo piece that fits in with the flavour and mechanics of Warrior would be a brilliant and well appreciated piece of game design. Some kind of Legendary or high-cost minion with interactions around taking damage that generated hand value to challenge Control Decks. Perhaps something half-way between Ysera, Lyra and Hogger, Doom of Elwyn.

Whatever it looks like, Combo Warriors deserve something like it to expand the realm of those “fun, tricky” plays beyond just Priest and Rogue, to a class that has been using them for just as long, if not longer.

 

Title image by Alex Horley Orlandelli. Via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com, courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment

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!

 

The Fall and Rise of AOE

The concept of mass damage or AOE is core to Hearthstone’s conceptual identity. The ability to deal damage to multiple minions simultaneously allows for immense counterplay possibilities. Currently, AOE is at the core of a huge number of decks, providing a key counter to new, powerful flood decks. But it wasn’t always this way; once, AOE was almost universally underwhelming, and restricted only to the most extreme examples in the most controlling decks.

Taking a look back to an early Tempostorm Meta Snapshot, the only AOE being used by the top 10 decks are a single Brawl, two Whirlwinds, and a Baron Geddon in a Control Warrior, one Lightning Storm in Mech Shaman, Blade Flurry in Oil Rogue (arguably more of a face damage tool) and Consecrates in Midrange Paladin. Now, AOE is nearly omnipresent in all kinds of midrange as well as control decks. Not only are there more decks with AOE, but those decks use it more. What changed?

A Sticky Situation

It’s tough to clear a board of Shredders and Nerubian Eggs

Between Naxxramas and GvG, a worrying trend emerged amongst the most powerful minions, especially neutral minions. Cards like Haunted Creeper, Sludge Belcher, and Piloted Shredder were all incredibly potent minions that were the result of fundamental and systematic undervaluing of a Deathrattle effect that summoned smaller minions. Meanwhile, class minions like Shielded Minibot and Imp Gang boss had effects that left behind minions even after they were initially damaged.

This lead to a fast ramping up of the levels of “Stickiness” of minions and boards. “Stickiness” is a loose term that roughly describes how difficult it is to completely remove a minion. AOE becomes significantly worse in the face of these “sticky” boards, as dealing with only part of the board and leaving large numbers of minions behind is often not worth the mana and card cost of playing the AOE, let alone including it in your deck.

Standardised Deathrattles

The Post-standard world still has its fair share of sticky deathrattle minions. However, a combination of the existence of N’zoth and a greater balance understanding of the value of Deathrattles has reduced their omnipresence. Hunter still has deathrattles above the power curve, but as part of the class identity that’s to be expected. Other decks, especially flood decks, rely more on continually refilling the board rather than being highly resilient to clears. This rewards AOE, rather than punishing it.

The dynamic that this creates is that AOE now is a valid and potent meta choice outside of the traditional class auto-includes. Mages can take additional Volcanic Potions, Shamans can mix and match Volcanos, Maelstrom Portals and Lightning Storms to suit their needs, and Warriors can utilise Sleep with the Fishes, Whirlwinds and Ravaging Ghouls alongside the traditional Brawl. In the end, more diversity, counterplay and skill-testing.

Bursting the Bubble

One problem with over-investing in AOE in the past has been the presence of burst and burn in the meta. While clearing, say, an old-school Aggro Shaman might buy you a turn or two, you’ll still die to Lava Bursts, Doomhammers, Leeroys and the like. Even board centric decks like Midrange Druid and Patron Warrior could simply bide their time and unleash huge damage combos with little counterplay available. With limited deckslots available, it was simply more efficient to invest in lifegain rather than additional clear opportunity. With strong Neutral heals like Antique Healbot readily available, this wasn’t limited by class either.

Board-Based Burn

Still a scary card – but no longer charges you down from 30

Consistent balance efforts and rotations have significantly reduced the threat of burst and burn. While Pirate Warrior and Mage still rely on burn, their ability to deal huge amounts is more limited. In this way, board clears become more relevant by increasing the ability to stabilise faster.

Meanwhile, against the new aggressive decks like Druid or Shaman, AOE is less mandatory if you’re not following an aggro strategy yourself. But if you’re able to repeatedly clear the board, it’s possible to stabilise even at extremely small life total. This is because their huge burst potential is entirely focused around interacting with the board. Bloodlust and Savage Roar are scary, but not if you can deny your opponent’s big boards and halt their development in advance.

Efficiency is Key

Finally, board clears have simply gotten better. Be it attaching solid minions to the effect or just making competitively costed spells, AOE is more competitively statted than ever. Primordial Drake sets the new bar for Neutral AOE, while class cards like Dragonfire Potion and Sleep with the Fishes are both flavourful and superbly powerful for their effect.

Team 5 has recognised the inherently risky, situational nature of AOE, and as a result has been costing cards far more aggressively, to great success. With balance decisions like these, we can hope to see a healthy balance of AOE in the meta for a long time to come.

 

Title art by Mike Sass, 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!

 

Page 1 of 3123