Taunt Warriors: Please, Please, Mulligan your Quest (Sometimes)

As the Un’goro meta settles down, only two Quests are seeing serious competitive play: Rogue and Warrior. Whilst Rogue is completely dependent on the Quest for victories even against the most aggressive decks, Taunt Warrior has a far more flexible range of win conditions. As such, some of your most important decision-making comes before the game even begins. Should you keep the Quest?

Playing it safe

For many players, the answer is simple. The Quest is one of the strongest cards in the deck, around which the entire game plan is built. It’s a turn one play in a deck that typically will do nothing on turn one. If you mulligan it, you may never get to activate it if you draw it without having seven taunts left to play. This was particularly prevalent immediately after the expansion. With so much variation in the meta, you always have to be prepared for a Control matchup. I even recall seasoned veteran and far superior player Brian Kibler defending keeping the Quest against Hunter. His reasoning was that you needed the hero power to deal with Savannah Highmane.

An epidemic of greed

When playing versus Aggro, you don’t need the Quest to win

This outlook is understandable, but fundamentally flawed. As most players who have spent time with the deck and reached legend agree, keeping the Quest in every matchup is a disastrous policy. The hero power typically comes online only after turns 10-14 (assuming a typical 12 Taunt decklist). By this point, many games should already be decided. Not only that, but against Aggressive or Combo decks, you may not even want to play Sulfuras, as doing so prevents you form utilizing your potentially life-saving Armor Up. Meanwhile, being down a card the entire game is a potentially huge disadvantage, especially when you’re only a Ravaging Ghoul, Execute, or Brawl away from victory or defeat.

Throwing away your win condition

However, that’s not to say that the Quest should always be tossed. Not having the Quest when you need it is far worse than an unnecessary keep. Taunt Warrior cuts all the traditional game ending cards of Control Warrior, like Grommash and N’zoth. Even Fatigue is rarely an option without the insane armor gain potential of Justicar Trueheart. As such, Sulfuras is absolutely necessary in certain matchups. But how do you balance these two competing demands? Both can lead to disaster.

Class by class

DIE, INSECT is often necessary to beat late-game value powerhouses like Tirion

The answer is heavily dependent on what class, and thus what suspected archetype, your opponent is running. A typical rule of thumb would be to always mulligan it against Aggro, Combo, or aggressive Midrange, and keep it against Control or slow Midrange decks. However, the best option will change depending on specific matchups and meta-dependent archetype distribution.

  • Warrior: Keep

Warrior is one of the painful matchups when deciding to mulligan the Quest or not. Versus the hyper-aggressive Pirate Warrior, the Quest is worse than useless. However, in the Taunt Warrior mirror, it’s borderline suicide to toss it. Unfortunately, this means that keeping it is currently the best option. Though your Pirate Warrior win rate will suffer, it is still definitely winnable; whereas Taunt Warrior will crush you without a Quest.

  • Shaman: Keep

Shaman no longer has the explosive starts it used to. Even Murloc Shaman is relatively sedate. Elemental Shaman can easily drag you to fatigue, so getting the Ragnaros hero power online ASAP is often the difference between victory and defeat. Thus, keeping it is almost always the best option.

  • Rogue: Toss

It’s very tempting to keep the Quest against Rogue. However, it should be resisted whenever possible. Both Miracle Rogue and Quest Rogue’s key turns occur well before Sulfuras comes online. Fishing for key removal, board clears, or Dirty Rat is almost always superior. Even getting a turn three Acolyte of Pain down is far more important than getting the Quest completed, as card resources are so vital.

  • Paladin: Keep

While aggressive versions of Paladin are beginning to gain traction, the most popular archetype by far is still Midrange. You certainly need eight random damage as soon as you can to counter Paladin’s unceasing value train in the late game, and to allow you to end the game. While this may lead you to being rushed down by Murlocs, overall your win rate will likely improve.

  • Hunter: Toss

Hunter is a matchup where tossing the Quest will absolutely be the correct play. Their continual application of early and mid-game pressure requires the maximum possible amount of resources to defeat. Once you’ve stabilized behind a Primordial Drake or two, you can easily end the game by exploiting their lack of card draw. No eight damage hero power required.

  • Druid: Toss (Mostly)

The most dominant archetype of Druid being Aggro, tossing the Quest is usually a safe bet. However, there are a few Jade and Ramp Druids prowling about, so if you have a strong starting hand, consider keeping the Quest. Due to Warrior’s plethora of removal and AOE options, Aggro/Token Druid favors the Warrior, even with the Quest. Watch this space and see how the meta develops.

Against Freeze Mage, Armor can be more important than value

  • Warlock: Toss

There are few Warlocks out there, and it is widely regarded as the weakest class. Those that remain are largely running Zoo variants, against which the Quest is unnecessary. Tossing it should be an easy decision

  • Mage: List Dependent

Mage is a tough one. Since Freeze Mage and its variants are the most popular, keeping the Quest or not is often dependent on your own deck. Against Freeze, you typically have two strategies; grind them out with sheer life gain, or rush them down with minions and the Quest. If you’re running the double Shield Block package, it’s usually superior to go for the former option and toss the Quest; if not, you should apply the second strategy and keep the Quest.

  • Priest: Keep

Though this may change depending on how combo oriented the Combo Priest gets, usually you want to keep the Quest against Priest. Their late game can be formidable, especially if they Shadow Visions multiple Un’goro Packs from Elise Trailblazer. You need to put pressure on them fast. Ragnaros hero power is as much of a counter to Priest as Jaraxxus used to be, and you should play accordingly.

 

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Outlasting Crystal Core – How to Survive Quest Rogue as Control

Quest Rogue was a widely underestimated deck. Though some recognized that it may have some potential, the vast majority thought it would see little or no competitive play. While pros’ assessments that it was too slow and gimmicky may turn out to be true in the long run (the deck has abysmal win-rates vs aggro), in the meantime the deck floods a large proportion of ladder. Whilst the strategy to beat it is straightforward as an Aggressive or Midrange deck, slow Control decks have a harder time.

Rogue’s game plan involves “bouncing” the same minion back to their hand 2-3 times. After they have played the same minion four times, they activate the quest, turning all minions and tokens on their side of the board into 5/5s. From there, they seek to close out the game with an endless stream of 5/5s that draw, generate value, or simply charge through for lethal. Some builds even include token generation, like Violet Teacher or Moroes, to create huge boards.

It’s a tough proposition for any slower deck to deal with. Without a way to support the Rogue’s weak turns 1-4, they have little option but to weather the storm of the Crystal Core. To do so, you should follow this multi-step plan. This is not the only way to deal with Quest Rogue, but is the most viable if you are unable to apply enough early pressure to kill them on turns 5-7.

Turns 1-3: Develop Minions

Acolyte of Pain can almost always get huge value early

Quest Rogue can’t do much on its initial few turns. You can take advantage of this by using the opportunity to develop your early-game minions. Toss those reactive spells from your mulligan and look for cards you can play to turn up the heat or generate value early on.

Acolyte of Pain or Northshire Cleric is a prime example of a perfect card to develop into a Rogue. Due to their lack of easy three damage removal or minions, they will have no choice but to let you draw large numbers of cards. Any minion that can keep their limited early development under control is vital, so feel free to drop 1/4s just to take care of the few low-health minions they do play.

The aim of this stage is threefold. First, you want to generate resources by drawing or discovering cards. The mid-game gets incredibly tough, and you need all answers you can get. Second, you want to remove every token and minion they play, as any left up on a quest turn will turn into yet another 5/5 for you to deal with. Developing minions lets you do this far more easily. Finally, it allows you to put pressure on the Rogue’s life-total, meaning they have to aggressively switch up their quest-completion or be out-tempo’d.

Turns 3-5: Disrupt the Quest

Dirty Rat can win games all by itself

These turns are the most vital. Depending on how lucky your Rogue opponent has been in getting suitable minions, and whether or not they draw Preparation, the Quest will usually be activated around turns 4-6. This means that you have to do your utmost to delay it as long as possible and mitigate its immediate impact.

Removal of any and all of their minions is paramount here. Any tiny token will likely become a 5/5 on the following turn, so use your spells, minions, and weapons accordingly. The aim is to have the board completely clear prior to their quest turn.

Dirty Rat is also a key tech card that can help you delay the quest significantly. If you can pull down the minion they would have completed the quest with, it can delay them by several turns or more. Even just pulling down a Youthful Brewmaster or Gadgetzan Ferryman can fatally disrupt their game plan, allowing you to take control of the game away form them when they need it most.

Immediate Post-Quest Turns: Survive, Remove, Deny Value

When the Rogue plays the quest, and immediately after, they’ll often follow it up with a number of chargers, perhaps with more bounce effects. For this, you’ll likely want Taunts, ideally with 6+ health. Watch your life total; play around damage in increments of five. If you’re a Warrior, consider choosing cards like Ornery Direhorn or Tar Lord in your Discover picks from Stonehill defenders to minimize their value trades. Rogues run out of removal fast, and will be forced to do things like trade two 5/5s into a single 5/8 often.

They may also drop value generators like Moroes and Violet Teacher. These should be your priority removal targets, as each can quickly snowball the board out of control. It’s important not to over-rely on AOE in these stages, as they can stagger their threats to overwhelm you. Instead, focus on using your hard and spot removal to minimize their impact. With any luck, you’ll survive and severely cut into their ability to flood the board over future turns. You may lose board control; this is almost inevitable while you are playing minions that cost several times as much as their minions. However, you can work on a strategy to regain it in the following turns.

Late-Game: Bleed Them Dry

It’s easy to see why Dragonfire is good

Once the Rogue’s initial onslaught is over, you should seek to retake the board using mass AOE. Equality-Consecrate, Dragonfire Potion, Brawl, or Shadowflame are ideal. If you’ve played right, they’ll run out of cards far before you and will be unable to retake the board. If they manage to, focus your resources in delaying them until you can draw more AOE and removal. You should then seek to take the perfect balance of value trades and face damage as you retake the board. Pressuring their life total in this stage can be very effective, so long as you are not at risk of dying yourself. Their hero power is one of their only ways of dealing damage in multiples of less than five, so making them too low on health to use it is a very handy strategy.

Once you reach this stage, you are likely favoured. Watch out for bounces and burst damage from chargers, as this is one of the ways you will lose once they run out of resources; if they keep cards in hand for multiple turns, watch out as it’s likely a Shadowstep waiting for a Stonetusk Boar or similar charger. Other than that, simply deny them value until they crumble under the pressure.

Then congratulate yourself; Quest Rogue is an exceedingly difficult deck to win against with certain strategies due to their highly polarizing matchups, and doing so takes a significant amount of skill. Or, as it’s Hearthstone, getting exceedingly lucky.

All images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment.

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A Guide to the Clutch Adapt

With Un’goro’s release merely hours away at the time of writing, it’s a good time to gain a better understanding of one of its key mechanics: Adapt. Adapt is a new keyword that gives your minions a chance to discover a choice between three of ten potential positive buffs. To refresh your memory, they are:

  • +3 Attack
  • +3 Health
  • +1/+1
  • Divine Shield
  • Windfury
  • Deathrattle: Summon two 1/1s
  • Stealth until your next turn
  • Can’t be targeted by spells or hero powers
  • Taunt
  • Poisonous

The scale and variety of options, each with a differing level of board impact, threat, value, and survivability, can make it hard to evaluate. Not to mention the discover mechanic can make it hard to visualize probabilities. To help out, I’ve put together four common strategies you want to fulfill with adapt, and how likely you are to pull it off (note: probabilities are rounded to nearest 5% for ease of remembrance).

Toughness for minion trading

Best outcomes (50% chance):
  • +3 Health
  • Divine Shield
Decent outcomes (30% chance):
  • +1/+1
  • Deathrattle: Summon 2 1/1s
All other outcomes (20% chance)

Ornery Direhorn is usually best with added defensive stats

This is probably the most likely situation to occur. You’re playing a larger minion into your opponent’s board, or dropping a minion and want to get pure value out of it, rather than ending the game. It’s not vital to dodge removal, you just want to make it as annoying as possible to kill.

The dream is usually +3 health or Divine Shield; these can add massively to the cards’ overall value, making it generally very tough for the opponent to remove. Combined, these two outcomes have a 50% chance at coming up as one of your three Adapt picks. +1/+1 or Deathrattle: summon 2 1/1s will sometimes be present when the “decent” aren’t (30% of the time to be exact). The remaining 20% of the time, you’ll be stuck with the relatively useless Stealth, Windfury, Poisonous, etc. However, these can still be useful in certain situations.

This is most likely to come up with cards like Ornery Direhorn, Thunder Lizard, and Verdant Longneck.

Power for immediate trading up

Best outcomes (50% Chance):
  • +3 attack
  • Poisonous
Decent Outcomes (20% chance):
  • +1/+1
All other outcomes (30% chance)

If you’re playing against a Hunter, there’s a good chance you’ll need to play around this card.

Best used for actively adapting a minion already in play, sometimes you want to trade up or threaten to trade up. The best outcomes are usually Poisonous or +3 attack, as each allows you to trade up amazingly efficiently; however +1/+1 can be good enough too. The first two options have a combined probability of 50%, but if you only need one damage, another 20% of the time +1/+1 will show up. The remaining 30% of the time you’ll be stuck with Divine Shield or Deathrattle: summon 2 1/1s as a consolation for the minion you were unable to kill.

This type of adapt is incredibly useful. As a a result, cards like Crackling Razormaw or the Paladin spell Adapt can swing early-game board control massively. For instance, you can turn your Alley Cat into a lethal removal tool, allowing you to gain huge value. It’s worth playing around this by not over-committing to high health Taunts that could be obliterated by a single Poisonous beast or Silver Hand Recruit.

Dodging removal

Best outcomes (50% chance):
  • Stealth until your next turn
  • Can’t be targeted by spells or hero powers
Decent outcomes (30% chance):
  • +3 health
  • Divine Shield
All other outcomes (20% chance)

Sometimes you just need to have something stick to end a game, but you know your opponent has that Hex, Execute, or Fireball. The best way to dodge these effects are with Stealth and Can’t be targeted, but these will occur only 50% of the time. In the meantime, you can take +3 health or Divine Shield for the 30% to decrease the odds of spot removal taking out your minion (though it won’t save you from hard removal!).

May be useful for any adapt minion.

Going for lethal

Best outcome (30% chance):
  • Windfury
Good outcome* (20% chance):
  • +3 attack

*May be better than Windfury on boards of low-attack minions.

Decent outcome (20% chance):
  •  +1/+1
All other outcomes (30% chance)

Not so gentle when a Murloc deck gets a four mana Bloodlust

Sometimes it’s best to just kill your opponent. Giving Windfury to a minion, all minions, or all murlocs, is a dream come true for pushing face damage. This has a 30% chance of occurring. Meanwhile, +3 attack also has a 30% chance (20% when Windfury is not an option). Finally, +1/+1 is less impressive, but still may be enough to end the game. Considering that these effects have a combined likelihood of 70%, it’s well worth playing around.

It is incredibly potent with Gentle Megasaur or Evolving Spores. It can also be useful with the Paladin card Adapt (though make sure you don’t give your Volcanosaur “can’t be targeted by spells or hero powers”).

Preventing lethal

Only relevant outcome (30% chance):
  • Taunt
All other outcomes (70% chance)

It’s probably not a good idea to rely on Adapt to gain a taunt. If you adapt once, you have only a 30% chance of being offered it. No other adapts offer immediate board impact to stop your opponent gaining lethal. Even with Volcanosaur’s or Ravenous Pterrodax’s two adapts, you only have a 50% chance to gain it. Still, it may save your skin in a clutch situation.

Just remember that it’s not necessary to double-taunt your Ornery Direhorn, though the BM value is impressive.

 

All images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment, via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com

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The Scariest Combos of Un’goro

For as long as card games have existed, players have combined cards in broken, degenerate ways. The imaginations and drives of a dedicated player-base will always exceed that of the developers, and as such new and exciting combos have the potential to break the game. Each new bout of cards offers new opportunities for exploitable shenanigans.
Hearthstone’s Journey to Un’goro expansion is no exception. More than perhaps any other expansion, there are a number of absurdly powerful combinations to create absurd situations, generate huge value, or simply kill your opponent.

Murloc Tidecaller and Rockpool Hunter

Murloc decks haven’t been too scary for a long time now. While the Finja package is in certain archetypes, full on tribal synergistic board-flood murlocs simply haven’t kept up with the growth of early game power. However, with the rotation out of Tunnel Trogg and Totem Golem, they may be able to reestablish their place as the terror of the opening turns. Helping them is Rockpool Hunter, an incredibly strong card. Representing 3/4 of stats split across two bodies for two mana, it could snowball a one drop into a near insurmountable board advantage.

The most egregious of these on-curve plays would be Murloc Tidecaller into Rockpool Hunter. This creates a 3/3 and a 2/3 on turn two, which is perhaps better than Tunnel Trogg into Totem Golem, only with no overload in exchange for one less health. This could then be followed up with the nightmare of Murloc Warleader for a 3/3, a 6/3, and a 4/4 on turn three.

The ability of Murloc decks to generate huge early tempo and value with Rockpool Hunter might make them a very tempting option for certain classes, most notably Warlock and Shaman. The ability to buff the attack and health of high priority targets in the early and mid game shouldn’t be underestimated.

Jade Idol, Gadgetzan Auctioneer, and Earthen Scales

Jade Druid is a deck that has been dominating the hearts and minds, if not the statistics, of the Hearthstone world. Despite its overall poor showing, its ability to hard-counter certain types of control decks means it’s controversial to say the least. One of the counterplay mechanics against this deck, especially against Control and Midrange, is to simply rush them down or out-tempo them.

What Earthen Scales offers is an opportunity to turn the huge Jade Golems generated as part of a Gadgetzan Auctioneer turn, into a huge health advantage. With Auctioneer on Board, you even gain tempo with +1/+1 and draw a card. Meanwhile, you’ve forced your opponent to deal with your minions rather than your face. Earthen Scales is an extremely powerful combo tool that shores up Jade Druid’s weakness in a way that makes it potentially meta-dominating.

The Caverns Below, Fire Fly, and Igneous Elemental

 

Rogue’s new Quest seems hard to complete at first. The requirement of playing four minions with the same name seems to require a lot of effort to get to everything becoming a 5/5. However, things get a lot easier when you consider the new Elemental minions, Fire Fly and Igneous Elemental. These give you 1 and 2 1/2 Elementals respectively. This means that you simply need to draw two Igneous Elementals or one Igneous Elemental and two Fire Flys in order to activate the quest. Alternatively, you can just draw one Igneous Elemental, one Fire Fly, and a Shadowstep.

This makes it absurdly easy to activate the quest, leading to a turn four swing turn when you suddenly summon four 5/5s. This also means you can get other advantages, like not playing the quest on turn one, devoting the rest of your deck to more solid aggressive minions and spells instead of combo activators, and having more flexible activators for your end-game. A deck with Rogue’s almost uncompromised early game aggro, followed up by a Jaraxxus-like endless stream of 5/5s, after a huge early swing turn, could be potent indeed.

Time Warp, Arcane Giant, and Alexstrasza

Time Warp is one of those cards that stretches the limit of what’s possible. Its power is perhaps unrivaled by any card. It will likely break many cards and mechanics. One of the simplest of these involves playing two Arcane Giants, Time Warp, and then following up with Alexstrasza. This is one of the easiest one turn (or two turn, depending on how you look at it) kills in the game, requiring only four cards. Moreover, it promises to be exceedingly flexible, as Alexstrasza can be replaced with Fireballs if need be depending on the opponent’s life total.

Potentially more powerful kills exist, such as using Sorcerer’s Apprentices, Molten Reflections, and Archmage Antonidas to create infinite zero mana fireballs. However, this kill’s use of only four cards (one of which is guaranteed from the quest) makes it supremely reliable and consistent. It still can be countered though, most notably by taunt minions, Armor, and Dirty Rat.

Giving Mages a way to kill their opponent from nowhere is supremely powerful, as freeze mage has proven. Their arsenal of stall and board control tools makes them the ideal combo class for bursting the enemy down from 30 to zero over a turn or two.

Sulfuras and Auctionmaster Beardo

The ability for Auctionmaster Beardo to refresh the hero power on playing a spell is usually too low impact to be worth considering. However, that could all change if instead of gaining health, you’re tossing fireballs. With Warrior’s ability to have all of the upside of becoming Ragnaros without any of the armor-shredding or health-losing downsides, the option to cycle small spells and burst down the opponent seems very tempting.

Warrior has a slew of impactful low mana spells, even zero mana ones, leading to up to three hero powers with Beardo on the board. If Beardo manages to stick, they can almost certainly finish off any opponent.

Of course, getting to this position may be tricky. it may be more reliable simply to run additional taunt minions in order to activate the hero power a turn earlier than what would otherwise occur.

Carnassa’s Brood and Tundra Rhino

The Hunter Quest turned quite a few heads on its release. A five mana 8/8 is one thing, but filling your deck with one mana cycling 3/2s is potent indeed. Even more potent could be potential combos with Tundra Rhino.

By giving your Beasts Charge, Tundra Rhino could help turn the ever-cycling raptors into cannonballs to launch at the enemy face. You can easily generate massive damage and value if Rhino sticks, or as part of a combo turn. With a Stampede spell thrown in the mix, you can generate huge value in addition to killing the opponent.

The other route to go down is even more interesting. If you can play Hemet and Jungle Hunter prior to the quest reward, you could make your deck almost entirely raptors. This makes the combo far more consistent, as well as allowing you to easily draw through to your potent high-mana minions.

All images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via hearthstone.gamepedia.com

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An in-depth analysis of Molten Blade

Another Warrior card from the Journey to Un’goro expansion has been released. Like its Discover-based counterpart, it looks like a “fun”, uncompetitive card. Molten Blade is a 1 mana 1/1 weapon, with the effect “each turn this is in your hand, transform it into a new weapon”. Similar to the legendary minion Shifter Zerus, Molten Blade trades consistency for flexibility. Not limited by class, it can become any weapon in the game. But is the massive variance in outcome worth the potential upside?

The card in all its RNG glory

Why Molten Blade?

King of the early game, Fiery War Axe is less good later on

Many people would look at Molten Blade and think, why would I ever play this? Warrior has access to some of the best weapons in the game, including Fiery War Axe and Gorehowl, the best early and late-game weapons respectively. Why would you run this over these more reliable options?

Well, one answer can come in the form of its constantly varying mana cost. Fiery War Axe is amazing in certain situations, namely, on turn two when the opponent has played a minion. Meanwhile, Gorehowl is perfect for winning late-game grindfests but is completely useless until then. The potential advantage in cards like Molten Blade could come from flexibility. It has a chance to be a powerful early-game weapon on turns 1-5. However, should no opportunity arise, waiting long enough will guarantee that it’ll turn into a late-game powerhouse.

However, the obvious downside is that you’re losing a lot of consistency. If RNG isn’t in your favour, you’ll find it hard to even play this weapon. So, how does the math stack up?

Playing the odds

In order to properly evaluate Molten Blade, we need to look at the chances that two crucial things occur.

The first is that it will be relevant as an early game weapon. The second is the chance to transform into crucial late-game value. In the meantime, the odds that it becomes a mid-game option are worth looking into as well.

The chance of the early game weapon appearing is crucial because it’s what makes the card potentially worth playing over a Gorehowl or Arcanite Reaper. The potential of becoming an early game option in the early game, even a sub-par card, would make this incredibly powerful. In the best case scenario, the Warrior could have additional Fiery War Axes and Truesilver Champions at perfect times, allowing an easy tempo snowball to victory.

Meanwhile, the odds of acquiring a late-game weapon is vital. If the card will simply sit in your hand turn after turn before becoming something truly valuable, there would be no point playing this over reliable early or mid-game options.

Early-game Outcomes

Stormforged Axe isn’t amazing on turn two; but it’s far better than Gorehowl is

Luckily, the pool of weapons is very small, making analysis easy. As of the Un’goro expansion’s release (barring any additional yet-to-be-announced weapon releases), there will be 21 collectible weapons in the game, including Molten Blade itself. Ten of them cost between 1 and 3 mana. This already seems promising; a 50% chance to get an early game weapon and a 50% chance of a high mana option gives a good likelihood of it being worthwhile after being kept in the opening mulligan.

However, things aren’t as rosy as they seem. Whilst weapons are more consistent value-wise than minions, there are still some highly synergy dependent or otherwise underwhelming cards, particularly for the early game. While the worst offender, Cursed Blade, is rotating out, there are still cards like Light’s Justice, Spirit Claws and Molten Blade itself that are highly unlikely to be worth playing. Overall, there are six early game weapons that are undeniably decent. This is Jade Claws, Fiery War Axe, Stormforged Axe (marginal), Rallying Blade, Eaglehown Bow and Perdition’s blade. If you keep Molten Blade in the mulligan, you have a 15% chance of a decent 2 mana weapon on turn 2, and a 30% chance of a decent 2 or 3 mana weapon on turn 3. Overall, this means that you have a roughly 40% chance of Molten Blade giving you a good-enough early game option.

Mid-game Metrics

Any Warrior deck would love to get access to Truesilver Champion

The mid-game clue to Molten Blade is harder to compute. Due to weapons’ situational usefulness, ability to store charges, and function as removal, it’s hard to compute exactly when certain types of weapon are most useful. As the mid-game is usually dictated by tempo, cheap but good options are usually worthwhile, as they can be woven in with other cheap spells and minions. Overall, the odds here look good. There are a number of high value mid and low-cost options. Getting a Hammer of Twilight or Fool’s bane on curve can help snowball tempo, or push face damage if need be.

The odds of a 4-5 mana weapon are pretty high, with 8 of the 21 weapons falling into this category. Of these, there are few bad value options, apart from the relatively slow Pirahna Launcher, awful Tentacles-for-arms, and deck-dependent Brass Knuckles. This means there’s a very good chance that Molten Blade gives you a potent or even game winning option in the mid-game.

Value Statistics

Pirate Warrior getting Doomhammer is the dream, but the odds are pretty low

In terms of late-game value, where the idea is to push face damage ASAP or to gain huge value, there are a couple of options. Doomhammer may count among these, as it has an “effective” mana cost of 7 with its huge overload. Gorehowl is obviously the king of late-game value, though Gladiator’s Longbow may be pretty decent outside of the early-game oriented Hunter. Either way, these three weapons provide a 15% chance each turn of getting a late-game value option.

This sounds OK at first, but may, in fact, be far too low. 15% means that on average, you’d have to keep this in hand for 6-7 turns before getting a truly powerful weapon. What’s worse, Molten Blade is a terrible topdeck card, as the transformation happens the turn after you draw it. Late game options for this card look slim indeed, especially once you consider that it requires perfect timing to set up a super expensive weapon like Gorehowl in a world of Acidic Swamp Oozes and Harrison Joneses.

Molten Madness

So then, this looks like a card that will fill its intended purpose: Trolden fodder and RNG moments. It’s unlikely that the competitive world will be rocked by this card. Nonetheless, it may be worth keeping an eye on. Pirate Warrior sometimes ran the inefficient King’s Defender purely as a third, costly Fiery War Axe. It’s not inconceivable they’d want more early game options for weaponry. What’s more, the small pool of weapons could mean only a few additions of efficient weaponry could make this card incredibly potent. You never know, you may just curse the day when Pirate Warrior is able to beat you with an 8 attack doomhammer.

All images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment

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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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Learning From Failed Synergies


Deckbuilding-by-numbers:

Designing a card game isn’t easy. Just look at the inspired, but often horribly imbalanced, suggestions posted daily on the Custom Hearthstone subreddit. Every card added can have butterfly effects on the meta. Even something as simple as a streamer playing a deck can make an impact. As such, synergies have been one of the hardest parts of Hearthstone to properly balance.

With that in mind, it’s easy to see why the developers have wanted to push certain pre-ordained archetypes into play. When the user base is playing with pre-determined synergies, it’s easier to see what’s balanced and what’s fun. Similarly, it’s understandable why their efforts are sometimes less than successful.

Currently, archetypes brute-forced into existence take up more of the meta than ever. Obvious, designer-mandated synergies like Pirate Warrior, Dragon Priest, and Jade Druid/Shaman are ubiquitous. In this era of forced archetypes, it can be helpful to look back at how previous attempts haven’t gone so well.

Taunt Warrior

How it was meant to work:

Taunt decks sacrifice a lot of stats for little benefit

“Taunt” and Warrior weren’t associated until relatively recently. The class has always had a somewhat split personality. Divided between the aggressive Weapon and Charge themed synergies, the combo-oriented Whirlwind synergies, and the defensive, tanky Armor mechanic, it’s been hard to give a Warrior a unifying philosophy. Taunt was meant to be that philosophy; combining the pro-active plays of the Aggressive strategy with defensive minions, while linking the two together with synergistic combos.

On paper, the Taunt strategy seems solid. A Midrange deck that uses weapons for Board control (as Warrior is likely to do) is weak to a face-rush. Taunts prevent this, while advancing the Midrange gameplan. Cards like Bolster, King’s Defender, and Sparring Partner initially pushed Taunt. Later reinforcement came from Taunt minions such as Fierce Monkey, Obsidian Destroyer, and Bloodhoof Brave. In addition, Taunt generators and synergies were added continuously in the Hand-buff mechanic and with Protect the King.

Why it failed:

While the taunt-synergy strategy works on paper, it was much less potent in practice. For starters, the actual taunt buffs were situational and not overly impressive. Bolster was supposedly the linchpin of the archetype. But it required multiple taunt minions on the board to be worth casting, let alone building a deck around. What’s worse, a general scarcity of decently-statted Taunt minions made it very hard to build a viable deck.

The key problem, however, is that building a deck around Taunt is fundamentally anti-synergistic. Taunt is helpful for protecting face, yes; but it is arguably more vital for protecting key minions. Consider how Aggro Shaman runs Feral Spirits because they can guard its powerful, squishy Flametongue Totems and Tunnel Troggs. When you build a deck with all or almost all Taunt minions, you’re suffering stat penalties and overvaluing on all of your minions for very little benefit.

Lesson to learn:

A deck built around understatted minions needs extremely powerful synergies to work.

Shadow Priest

How it was meant to work:

Shadow Priest’s direct damage potential was more impressive than its minions

Priest is one of the few classes that has never had a truly viable aggressive deck. A defensive hero-power and a lack of early-game minions meant that it was impossible for priests to snowball the tempo necessary for an aggro victory. However, it has a number of powerful burst cards, most notably Mind Blast. In addition, Auchenai Soulpriest could turn healing into potentially game-ending burst; Shadowform turns a defensive hero-power into a game-ending one too.

The Shadow Priest philosophy then, would be heavily burn focused; push for face damage and never look back. The idea was to have symmetrical damage effects and powerful healing synergies. The Priest would use their own life as a resource, healing up to burst down the opponent. They would also convert those same heal cards to burn to close out games.

Shadowbomber and Spawn of Shadows were added to give a huge amount of damage to the opponent, while also hitting yourself. Meanwhile, Light of the Naaru, Flash Heal, and Embrace the Shadow provid more ability to turn healing into burst.

Why it failed:

Shadow Priest experiments failed to address Priest’s initial problem; a lack of early-game tempo. While burst damage is memorable and occasionally terrifying, it’s far out-paced in efficiency by repeated minion damage from an unanswered curve. Without reliable card-draw to keep up pressure, the low-efficiency cards simply can’t keep up. Furthermore, sacrificing tempo and damaging yourself in an aggro mirror turns out to be a pretty bad strategy.

Lesson to learn:

Aggro decks depend on early-game minions, not burst.

Totem Shaman

How it was meant to work:

Thing from Below is strongest in decks without many totem synergies

Before the unveiling of Standard, Shaman was undoubtedly the worst class in the game. Without its current arsenal of efficient early-game weapons, it struggled to utilize its board-clears in a world of efficient Deathrattle minions.

In order to help them out of their quandary, Shaman was given a number of potent synergistic cards revolving around Totems. Cards like Thunder Bluff Valiant, Draenei Totemcarver, Thing from Below, and Primal Fusion would reward totem-filled boards. Meanwhile, Totem Golem, Tuskarr Totemic, and Wicked Witch-doctor would generate them.

Why it failed:

Totem Shaman was a victim of its own success. While all the cards were playable, some were so strong that the others became unnecessary. Totem Golem is an insane standalone minion, pre-nerf Tuskarr Totemic’s RNG tempo swings won games regardless of synergy, and Thing from Below becomes great even with only a few hero powers and Totem minions. Aggro Shaman ran all of these cards and no other synergies, and benefited greatly. Midrange added Thunder Bluff Valiant, but otherwise was similarly independent of Totem synergies, relying mainly on the card’s individual strengths.

While highly synergistic Totem decks such as Xixo’s variant saw play to a lesser extent, they ultimately proved inferior to the ones that only took the very best standalone cards.

Lesson to learn:

Don’t make synergistic cards too powerful without their synergies.

Handbuff Hunter

How it was meant to work:

Handbuff: Hardly a Tempo apocalypse

The Handbuff mechanic was meant to be the ultimate in Midrange value. By sacrificing a small amount of tempo, small threats could easily be buffed into massive ones, leading to a game-ending cascade of massive minions. Furthermore, synergies would allow these minions to be even more potent. As a class that focused heavily on Midrange, Hunter would be an ideal home for these cards.

This was supported via the handbuff cards themselves, like Trogg Beastrager, Shakey Zipgunner, and Hidden Cache. Synergies like that of Rat Pack and Dispatch Kodo would allow these buffs to become more potent.

Why it failed:

The failure of handbuff is well documented. Essentially, the tempo sacrifice is too great, and the mechanic is too inconsistent. Hunter is by far the least successful, despite strong handbuff synergies. The lack of consistent card draw means that for Hunters, running out of cards is a virtual inevitability. In these cases, top-decking a card that either buffs cards you no longer have, or relies on handbuffs that you haven’t given it, is backbreaking.

Lesson to learn:

Inconsistent mechanics may seem a lot more powerful than they are in reality.

 

All images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment. Title image via hearthstone.gamepedia.com

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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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Image courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment

Class Cards That Deserve Replacements

Time is relentless in its passing, and as we emerge, bleary eyed into 2017, we must remember how much is temporary. Friends, relationships, treasured possessions; all are fleeting.

But perhaps none is more heart-wrenching than when a treasured class card rotates out of Standard. Once steadfast, seemingly eternal classics like Death’s Bite or Muster for Battle melt away to frolic in the Elysium of Wild. Now might be a good time to reflect on the well-designed, flavorful, and fun cards that’ll be culled this coming rotation. The rotating sets are Blackrock Mountain (BRM), The Grand Tournament (TGT) and League of Explorers (LOE).

Warrior: Revenge (BRM)

Once ridiculed as “two mana Whirlwind”, Revenge has seen a huge amount of play

Revenge seems underwhelming for a card that has seen a home in almost all Control Warrior decks (and many other variants beside). Key to its success is its insane ability to punish aggressive decks. The double whammy of being stronger when your hero is below 13 health and clearing out almost all Aggro minions has meant its an invaluable tool; not to mention its powerful synergies with Acolyte of Pain, Execute, and more. It was key to Warrior’s power as a counter-deck in the Karazahn midrange shaman meta, and still sees use to clear out pirates and tokens. Hopefully warrior sees more flexible, cheap AOE to complement its repertoire and allow it to stave off the Aggro hordes.

 

Shaman: Healing Wave (TGT)

The most powerful heal in the game outside of Reno; when it wins the joust

Healing wave is pretty much the benchmark for how strong, flexible, and mana efficient lifegain should be. One of the only worthwhile Joust-based cards, it (along with its buddy Elemental Destruction) breathed new life into the then-struggling shaman class. The synergy with high-cost minions helped push the “Bogchamp” or “Crusher” archetype in certain metas, making the entire Shaman class more flexible and interesting in a way far different to its current SMOrcey outlook. Jinyu Waterspeaker seems like an adequate replacement for now, but true control archetypes could benefit from more of this level of power-heal.

 

Rogue: Tomb Pillager (LOE)

It’s hard to imagine Rogue without this card

Tomb Pillager is, to me, one of the best designed Rogue cards ever released. While its power level is high, it was perfect for a then-ailing class. It’s flavourful, synergistic and class-appropriate, and almost single-handedly lead to the revitalization of the Miracle archetype. The coins it spawns can smooth out curves, of course; but more importantly can combo perfectly with Gadgetzan Auctioneer, Questing Adventurer and Edwin Van Cleef. It even revives in the little-played N’zoth Rogue. Hopefully Counterfeit Coin and Burgly Bully will be able to at least partially fill the hole this powerhouse leaves.

 

Paladin: Anyfin Can Happen (LOE)

One of the few 10 mana cards worth the cost

Paladin always struggled for ways to finish games. With limited hard removal and board-clears, sheer value with cards like Tirion often wasn’t enough to last into the late-game. This somewhat pushed it towards a midrange strategy, with an inevitable tendency to run out of steam. Anyfin changed all that, and is arguably one of the most powerful single cards outside of the Old Gods. With a lethal complement of Bluegills and Warleaders, Anyfin will deal huge damage with the right setup and can OTK almost any deck. It’s so powerful, it spawned an entire deck focused around surviving to play these game-ending murlocs (and is the only semi-viable Paladin deck currently). Here’s hoping the class gets a similarly potent game-ending ability in the future.

 

Hunter: Quick Shot (BRM)

About as strong as it could be without being obnoxious, Quick Shot slowed Hunter’s demise

Hunter suffers from two main flaws: inflexibility, and card draw. Quick Shot managed to partially address both while remaining true to the class’s identity. By being a strong removal or face damage tool while rewarding an all-in strategy, Quick Shot allowed Hunter much-needed reach as well as board control. Above pure power, it provided interesting strategy as to when to hold it to cycle, when to push face damage, and when to remove key minions. Many more cards like this will need to be printed if Hunter is to do well in a meta that has grown far more powerful than its outdated tools can handle.

 

Druid: Living Roots (TGT)

Living Roots is one of the most adaptable early game cards

With few comeback mechanics, Druid desperately needs to prevent snowballing. Living Roots slots into that perfectly. While each of the effects on their own are nothing to write home about, the option of each makes this card an auto-include in virtually all Druid decks. It has synergy with Spellpower, mass-buffs, and Fandral Staghelm, as well as fitting nicely into class identity. Plus, the saplings are cute as heck. Hopefully Druid receives similarly flexible early options to help it to survive the explosive starts of Aggro.

 

Warlock: Dreadsteed (TGT)

Who hasn’t loved messing around with this immortal pony?

Dreadsteed is one of those cards that you hate to see leave, but that inevitably must. Its infinitely regenerating effect is so close to being broken, its very existence prevents the printing of a lot of interesting cards. Too slow to see play outside of gimmicky synergy decks, it created so many interesting scenarios and combos. It is hard to see this card go. Still, this is a card that the Wild format was essentially invented for. In the future, Team 5 could do well by remembering the fun to be had by giving classes weak cards with potentially crazy synergy.

Mage: Forgotten Torch (LOE)

Turns out a three mana Fireball more than makes up for a three mana Frostbolt

Forgotten Torch is one of those rare cards that looks like it’s too slow to see play, but is in fact just in the sweet spot of good early-game vs. good late-game. Three damage for three mana is nothing to write home about, but it a valuable tool for clearing up early-game threats. But it’s the three mana six damage “Roaring Torch” that truly makes this card great, and interesting. It was a principle motivator behind keeping Freeze Mage alive, allowing them to control the board early while helping assemble a final burn-based combo. Lately its been a vital early game weapon in the Reno Mage arsenal, improving win-rates vs. aggro and control alike. As a class based on powerful spells, Mage deserves more cards like Forgotten Torch.

 

Priest: Entomb (LOE)

Entomb, while frustrating to play against, nonetheless… nah, just kidding, everyone hates this card

Priest: Flash Heal (TGT)

Flexible, cheap and strong, Flash Heal almost saved Priest from tier 4. Almost.

While the ability of Priest to heal any target was inherently limited by the ability of Auchenai Soulpriest to send the damage facewards, Flash Heal was about as strong as it could have been. While normally reserved to combo with the aforementioned 4 mana minion to use as a five damage combo piece, it was powerful as a clutch lifegain or minion-healing tool; not to mention its niche but spectacular finisher as part of some kind of Prophet Velen-based combo. Cheap, flexible spells are key to any reactive, combo-oriented class like Priest, and the class needs more simple but deep examples of this.

 

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The End of Control?

At first, the idea that the control archetype could soon go extinct seems ludicrous. We are playing through an era that could be described as a Golden Age for slow, controlling decks. Reno and Kazakus have pushed Highlander archetypes to the dizzying heights of Tier Two for Warlock, Mage, and Priest. Control Warrior’s ability to punish hyper-aggressive Patches decks along with Miracle Rogue has seen it have solid, if inconsistent, win-rates. Even Anyfin Paladin sees a degree of high-level play. However, great changes are coming to the delicate ecosystem that is Hearthstone’s meta; and Control decks could be affected catastrophically.

The definition of a Control deck may differ, but most understandings of the archetype centre around one key concept; the idea of outlasting and outvaluing the opponent with a variety of flexible removal, especially hard removal, board clears, lifegain, and a few key late-game threats or other “win-condition” cards. While some may include pro-active cards and strategies, the overwhelming idea holding the deck together is to be fundamentally reactive. Combos and threats are either painstakingly slow to assemble (like Paladin’s Anyfin can Happen/Bluegill/Warleader strategy, or Reno Mage’s Antonidas/Alexstrasza strategy) or require the opponent to be out of resources or low on life to be effective (Control Warrior’s Grommash, or Renolock’s Jaraxxus). So what changes are coming that endanger these decks?

Let’s look at the Control decks currently competitive in Hearthstone’s post-Mean Streets metagame; Anyfin Paladin, Control Warrior, Control Shaman, Reno Mage, Reno Priest, and Renolock

No Reno, no way?

You can start to see a problem with the upcoming standard rotation by simply looking at the name of half decks. Reno Jackson is not just a powerful card; it’s a card that so utterly negates certain class’s long-game weaknesses that it created and is currently sustaining decks that simply wouldn’t make sense without it.

We see this in Warlock and Mage especially, with their incredible synergy with Lifetap and Ice Block respectively (alongside a lack of class healing). Reno Priest may potter along thanks to its great class heal options; but when Reno rotates out, what will happen to decks that can’t counter the incredible early-game damage capabilities of modern Aggro decks?

Perhaps more class or neutral healing will be released for these classes, but I’m not too hopeful. Class identity is a key part of hearthstone, and Team 5 have clarified their desire for certain classes like Mage and Warlock not to have access to the same level of efficient healing as others. Omni-present single-purpose neutrals seem to be going out of fashion as well, with no replacements for Antique Healbot on the horizon to shore up these class’s anti-aggro abilities in the long game.

So are classes like Mage and Warlock going to be pigeonholed into fast decks purely from lack of access to healing? Well, perhaps. A way to avoid this is to give thematic, interesting survivability tools that do not involve healing. Maybe a Molten-Giant-esque replacement to reinvigorate Handlock-style strategies, or more defensive Mage secrets á la Ice Barrier. Outlandish ideas like giving your Hero “Can’t be targeted by spells or hero powers” might help those classes survive burst. Whatever the solution, it’s clear that defense against reach and burn is key to the survival of controlling variations of these archetypes.

This also ties into the problem with Jade decks; as the Combo-based counters to these mid-range, continually ramping minions are largely restricted to these two classes.

Warlock’s healing options aren’t exactly stellar

The Rise of the Golems

The other huge challenge arising for Control from the upcoming rotation is the incredible power of Jade Decks against slower opponents. The long term power of these constantly-ramping and in many cases infinite threats can lead to absurd situations. For example, forcing Control Warrior to play an aggro gameplan, or Aggro Shaman out-valuing Renolock card-for-card well into the late stages of the game. Even in a meta overwhelmingly dominated by hyper-aggressive Patches decks, Jade cards are seeing a huge amount of play. There are two things that could lead to Jades becoming even more ubiquitous and even more dangerous to Control.

The first includes hints of an upcoming balance change to the early-game pirate package. In interviews and streams, both Ben Brode (Hearthstone’s Game Director) and Mike Donais (Principle Game Designer) have expressed concern for Small-Time Buccaneer in particular. This might not be a huge deal immediately, as aggressive non-pirate decks like Tempo Mage, Dragon Warrior, and Midrange Hunter could arrive to fill the piratical power vacuum. Things might change, however, once the year of the Kraken is over. Mainstays of these decks, cards like Flamewaker, Quick Shot, and Sir Finley Mrrglton (not to mention the entire Dragon package!) will leave; their replacements will struggle to be fast enough to catch up to the rapidly-growing Jades.

A Jade meta would be more forgiving on Mage and Warlock due to their plethora of game-ending combo options. But the matchup would remain unfavoured, other decks would likely be even worse off.

An Idol threat

This could have dire consequences for Paladin, Priest, and Warrior’s hopes of retaining late-game relevance. With the loss of Anyfin can happen, Paladin is left only with N’zoth as a way to convincingly end games. Paladin’s N’zoth package may be somewhat effective against Jade Druid occasionally. But it is unlikely to be fast enough to matter once Druid can drop consistent mid-game threats that Paladins struggle to remove. Meanwhile, Mid-Jade Shaman’s Hexes and Devolves ruin any chance of late-game success for Paladin. They could easily see themselves consistently out-valued in the early game, mid game, and late game!

Warrior, on the other hand, is losing almost all of its late-game options. Elise Starseeker and Justicar Trueheart were previously all Warrior needed to out-value almost any deck by simply removing all enemies and tanking up to a Golden Monkey finish. With the loss of those two key cards, Control Warrior will struggle against almost any deck in the late-game. Even now, Warrior struggles against any deck that isn’t pure aggro due to a lack of late-game options. Old mainstays like Ysera and Ragnaros sufficed in the old days, and can still sometimes steal games versus poorly opening Druids. However, against Shaman’s plethora of removals and constant board pressure, there seems no way that Control Warrior can do anything but lose incredibly slowly.

Control Shaman may survive, but with the loss of Elemental Destruction, Healing Wave, and Lava Shock, it seems unlikely that any future build will be distinguishable or superior from standard Midrange jade options. Priest will be in a similar rough spot to warrior, with simply no cards that can force a switch to a proactive strategy.

The key issue is that these classes have no late-game options that are powerful enough to out-tempo a ramped-up Jade Druid while not being countered by Hex and Devolve from the Shamans. Control Warrior, Priest and Paladin’s late game are in dire need of support if they are not to be forced into obscurity.

It’s hard to find late game strategies that aren’t countered by Shaman’s cheap Transform effects

Designing solutions

In order to prevent a steep decline in control’s viability, the next set of cards will need to ameliorate some of the weaknesses of existing control decks post-rotation; namely survivability for Mage and Warlock, and late-game power for Warrior, Paladin and Priest. They do not need to be so powerful as to make the decks perfect all-rounders, but they do need to be strong enough to give them a fighting chance against multiple archetypes (and particularly the power of Jade Golems).

Maybe hold off on giving great cards to Shaman for a few seasons though. Not to say a viable Control Shaman isn’t desirable, but in recent times they seem to be controlling the opponent’s face more than anything.

Title Image courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment and hearthstone.gamepedia.com

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