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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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Is Taunt Warrior Too Frustrating for Tournaments?

On the 28th of September, 2016, Blizzard announced it was changing a number of cards. Normally, the few but impactful balance changes Hearthstone receives are based on a card’s power level, ubiquity, or limitation to design space. However, the change to the Old God Yogg-Saron, Hopes End, took a unique rationale. Team 5 stated that “We felt like seeing Yogg in tournaments was not where we originally hoped it would end up.” They explained that while the card was not necessarily overpowered, they wanted to reduce the amount it was then seen in tournaments. Implicit was the idea that too much RNG in a competitive tournament setting leads to frustrated pros, fewer recognisable faces, and a worse competitive scene.

Now, a similar row seems to be emerging over the new Tournament dominance of a new archetype; Taunt Warrior. Are the levels of RNG too high for competitive?

8 Damage Rage

Powerful, but frustratingly unreliable

The most obvious element of randomness is the Quest reward itself; Sulfuras’ 8 damage Hero Power. Targeting a random enemy, it has driven pros like Frank “Fr0zen” Zhang to tweet their frustration at “winning coin flips” being the seemingly deciding element of many matches. While only relevant in certain matchups, the RNG of whether or not the Ragnaros shot hits face or that crucial minion decides games. This is especially prevalent in the mirror (as we’ll cover later).

However, the randomness looks worse than it is. Because the Rag shot typically is the method of lethal, it is often erroneously attributed to be the crucial moment that decided the outcome. However, less obvious plays and misplays on the preceding turns can often be far more important. The spectacle of a flashy 8 damage lethal can often be distracting to the real ebb and flow of a match. The randomness is often far more egregious and impactful in the few turns after Sulfuras is played, where killing that crucial minion for “free” has a far more lasting and game-swinging impact.

O Brawling Love, O Loving Hate

Without Shield Slam, Taunt Warrior often can’t clear up after a Brawl – making the outcome vital

Brawl is a controversial card. While some love its capacity to give late-game Warriors access to some of the most efficient mass-removal in the game, others despise its high-variance outcome. The fact that Brawl leaves exactly one minion alive is both a genius piece of game design and a maddening flaw. In Taunt Warrior, which typically cuts single target removal in the form of Shield Slam, this randomness can have a massive impact on the game. If a big card survives a Brawl, then the Warrior may not have the resources to deal with it.

Dirty Rat adds to the problem, as many of those on the receiving end of Dirty Rat into Brawl can attest. The Rat wins the Brawl with maddening, if not statistical regularity. This leads to a massive board swing, value lost from board and hand, as well as potentially scuppering any future plans. Worse, both the Rat and the Brawl are both highly random and high-variance, leading to outcomes that vary from scuppering a gameplan to flat-out losing on the spot.

Polarised Performances

Warrior’s abundance of boardclears makes some matchups massively favoured

The randomness in Taunt Warrior can also come before the game even starts. The archetype is extreme in its strengths and weaknesses, leading to a number of matchups that are complete walkovers, and others that are nigh-impossible. Due to the deck’s huge amounts of clears, the deck is nearly an auto-win against the most popular “flood” decks in Aggro Druid and Token Shaman. Short of severe resource mismanagement or Innervate Vicious Fledgling shenanigans, the deck is almost guaranteed to win as clearing and permanently stabilising behind a huge taunt is incredibly easy. Meanwhile, the deck falters hard against Jade Druids and Quest Rogues, as beating the huge value and mid/late game power of both is simply too much for the deck to handle.

As a result, the deck becomes both vital in tournaments to counter specific lineups, and an inherently risky inclusion due to Jade and Quest Rogue’s popularity at the tournament scene. This can be jarring for both pros and viewers; both want relatively even matchups where skills are vital and the result is rarely a foregone conclusion.

A Miserable Mirror

The Taunt Warrior mirror is tactical, skill-intensive, and tricky to navigate. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most frustrating experiences in Hearthstone, not least due to how the outcome is often decided by random outcome after random outcome. Every RNG aspect to Taunt Warrior is effectively doubled. To make matters worse, games are often decided purely on draw order and who had the highest deck-Taunt density. The player that manages to draw their Stonehills in particular will gain a huge advantage due to being able to complete the Quest far faster. The over-representation of high-health sticky minions makes both players run out of removal quickly, resulting in Brawl outcomes being far more game-changing.

To top it off, the game invariably comes down to Ragnaros Hero Powers, and the inevitable slew of games won and lost on 50/50s. With both players relying on it to win the game, the potential for frustration is apparent even without a high stakes tournament.

Warrior’s Future

It’s unlikely that Blizzard will change the Warrior Quest. The deck is popular, not overpowered, and occupies a vital role in keeping flood decks in check. However, there are definitely lessons to be learned from the Taunt Warrior experience. For starters, a positive lesson is that giving Warriors good late-game options won’t break the game. On the other hand, the combined degrees of randomness can lead people to immense frustration, especially in a tournament setting. Perhaps cards like Brawl could be rotated out next expansion in favour of less variable clear options. Or maybe simply give Warriors a late-game win-condition that isn’t quite so RNG-reliant. Whatever the outcome, it’s clear we are going to see a lot of frustrating, if exciting, tournament games; at least until the next expansion.

 

Title art courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com. Artist: James Ryman

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Un’goro is a Tough Act to Follow – What Should the Next Expansion Bring?

By many accounts, Un’goro has been arguably the most successful expansion as far as meta healthiness goes. Every class but Warlock has multiple competitive archetypes. In a recent Meta Snapshot Vicious Syndicate declared for the first time ever that at Legend ranks there are no Tier 1 decks (More than 52% winrate). There are a wide variety of Combo, Midrange, Aggro and Control decks, with many different flavours and variations on each. Card diversity is up too, with virtually no multi-class omnipresent auto-include. Long gone are the days where almost every deck had Patches, Aya or Kazakus. In short, aside from a lamentable blemish in the decline in Warlock.

But no success will last forever, and soon even this ultra-diverse meta will begin to grate and feel stale. More importantly for Team 5, Blizzard’s accountants are surely eagerly awaiting a new expansion for the next deluge of pack-purchasing frenzies. But how should Team 5 introduce new cards and concepts to improve upon the high quality of Un’goro? Here are my highly subjective suggestions.

Make Warlock Competitive With New Synergies

I’ve written before on the sad state of Warlock. Simply put, the class has bad cards; to the extent that its hero power isn’t enough to save it. On the board-centric aggressive end, the class needs fewer janky Discard mechanics and more solid minions that speak to the initially unimpressive, mathematical joy and tactical precision of Zoo. More Dire-Wolf Alpha and Defender of Argus style cards that rely heavily on board maintenance, prediction and positioning would be perfect.

Meanwhile, Controlling or Handlock-esque versions of Warlock suffer simply from lack of survivability. The class should, thematically, not get too many healing tools; Reno proved that giving it such options could make it dangerously powerful. Instead, other survivability-based synergies should be introduced to improve that class’s ability to withstand Aggro and Burn.

Give Shaman Reactive Early-Game Tools

Shaman is probably the second-weakest class currently. Though it retains relevancy (barely) with Bloodlust-centric flood builds, Elemental decks, and some Control experimentation off the back of Volcano. However, the class has become over-reliant on its AOE spells, and its non-Aggro decks are falling to low Tier 3. Without additional help, the class could fall to irrelevancy if other classes continue to have stronger early game.

Though the lesson of giving Shaman stellar early minions has surely been learned, a few more reactive early game tools wouldn’t go amiss. A weapon would probably be a strong option, though the incredible potential power of early game weapons makes this a tricky one to balance properly. A few more Lightning Bolt style spot removal options, maybe with some adjacency damage tacked on, might allow the efficiency needed to put together a decent non-AOE early game reactive package.

Paladin has a number of ways to make recruits – but few buff mechanics to make them worthwhile compared to Murlocs

Let Paladins Buff Their Dudes

Paladin appears to be in a good spot, with multiple archetypes, high competitive viability and a focus on a “fair”, value-based Midrange package that perfectly fits the class. The one thing missing is flavour; the current lists seem to be a mismatch of holy warriors, rampaging murlocs, ancient dragons, turtles and even a mechanical zookeeper. The iconic Silver Hand Recruits of Paladin are being sidelined.

Paladin should get more options to create, synergise and buff their “Dudes” (silver hand recruits) and build decks based less around murlocs and more around inspiring their ordinary men to acts of great valor through the power of the Light. Lightfused Stegadon and Sunkeeper Tarim were steps in the right direction, but more interesting single-target and mass buffs are needed to make the Dudes truly shine.

Push Warrior Towards Combo

Warrior has been in an amazing position in the meta for some time now, with numerous Control and Aggro archetypes. The all-conquering Pirate Warrior needs no introduction, and Taunt Warrior is proving a solid choice also. Such strong decks needing little support, especially as any decent Neutral two drop or strong taunt will likely be incorporated into either deck.

Instead of over-supporting these archetypes, Team 5 should focus on gently opening avenues for Warriors to experiment with interesting combo decks, exemplified by old Patron Warrior, Worgen Warrior and Arcane Giants Blood Warrior. Maybe a class-specific improved version of Wild Pyromancer, or more Patron-style end-game combo activators. With such potential in the classic set, it’s likely that there could be an interesting, balanced and potent combo deck to hunt aggro and provide a compelling gameplay experience. And hey, it might just reduce the number of Pirate Warriors on the ladder.

Find a Late-Game Druid Mechanic That Beats Jade

I wrote recently about the danger Jade poses to the Druid class. While Druid is in a good space now with two solid archetypes, it’s hard to envision a different future.

The easiest way forward would probably be to rotate out the Jade package early, but that seems unlikely. More realistically, a different late-game package with different strengths and more cerebral interactions than repeatedly summoning over-statted minions is introduced that is more competitive than attempts such as the unsuccessful Druid Quest.

Be Conservative with Mage

Mage got a number of objectively powerful cards in Un’goro. Arcanologist and Primordial Glyph (along with, to a lesser extent, Meteor), have propelled the class to new heights. Secret Mage may even be Tier 1. The class feels as if it is teetering on the edge of being oppressive. One powerful Secret could swing the Secret package and Mage as a whole into dangerously overpowered territory.

As such, it’s probably best to keep new Mage cards on the underwhelming side, especially if they’re Secrets.

Keep Hunter Cheap

The biggest Un’goro additions for Hunter were a strong, beast synergistic two drop in Crackling Razormaw, and additional one drops. This propelled Hunter into a decent position, though it lacks class diversity.

The current strategy of giving Hunter efficient beasts and synergies seems to be working. While giving them an incentive to curve higher might be a valid idea, the current trajectory of Hunter seems to be balanced, flavourful and lore-appropriate. The most important aspect would be to limit the number of powerful auto-include Epics and Rares, and ideally give Hunter no new necessary Legendaries so that it remains one of the few low-dust potent beginner decks.

Big, flashy legendaries are all well and good – but make them too integral and beginners will lack a good starter deck to aim for

Give Priest More Consistent Value

Priest is in a great state compared to its historical irrelevance, with multiple Silence, Combo and Control decks burning up the ladder with Holy Fire. However, it remains at risk of puttering out in many matchups.

Free from Amber was a step in the right direction for Priest, but the class still seems to lack a consistent late-game punch. Outside of snowballing with Divine Spirit or Lyra shenanigans, the class is forced to rely on inconsistent Elise packs, and vulnerable Medivh minions. Giving the class at least one potent, value-tastic late-game card seems like the best course of action. Bonus points if it’s not entirely RNG dependent.

Give Rogues More Card Engines

Rogue’s Quest archetype has taken off in a big way, both for tournaments and ladder. Refined versions of Quest Rogue have left Miracle by the wayside, leaving some who prefer the Miracle gameplay somewhat lacking.

Outside of aggro or Quests, Rogues need huge amounts of draw to make their efficient but low-value spells worth playing. An over-reliance on Gadgetzan has pigeonholed Rogue towards a certain type of list and playstyle. Giving Rogue some other draw engine that’s not balanced around other classes (that have, say, Innervate and Wild Growth), might allow them to retain relevancy without the Quest in a world of ever-stronger aggro.


Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via hearthstone.gamepedia.com

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Artwork: Dany Orizio

Ruthless Deckbuilding – How to Cut Cards

We’ve all been there. You have exactly the cards you want in your latest deck; but suddenly someone comes along with a cool tech or genius inclusion that would work perfectly. The problem is, you only have 30 card slots. How do you make the painful decision of what card to cut?

The answer is rarely easy. Telling what cards are under-performing and what cards aren’t is a subtle challenge. Following these steps can help you figure out what can’t quite make it in.

Step One – Play the Deck (A lot)

Don’t try and improve a complicated deck like Miracle Rogue without understanding it first

Understanding how to tweak decks is largely dependent on understanding the deck itself. A fundamental knowledge of the structure and gameplan of the deck’s strategies is necessary to know how to optimize them. If you’re going to add cards, you need to know what cards will work with the strategy. It’s a common error to jump straight into a netdeck and try and make changes after a loss or two without experience with similar archetypes.

For instance, if you’re losing a lot as Taunt Warrior to Freeze Mage, a player who’s less experienced with the deck might assume that the best tech card would be the addition of an Eater of Secrets to punch through Ice Block; but someone who’s more experienced would recognize the superior power of an Armorsmith or two to generate burn-breaking armor. Similarly, a player who was unused to the gameplan of Midrange Hunter might consider adding a N’zoth for the sweet Savannah Highmane Synergy, unaware of the intense tempo focus of the deck.

Step Two – Differentiate Between “Core” and “Flex” Cards

Fiery War Axe should never be cut (unless you happen to be playing pre-nerf Patron Warrior)

Most decks have cards that are “core” to their strategies, cards that are instrumental to the implementation of their gameplan. Examples of this include N’zoth’s First Mate in Pirate Warrior, Kill Command in Midrange Hunter, Shadowstep in Crystal/Quest Rogue, and Ice Block in Freeze Mage. Cards like this aren’t simply strong, they define what makes the deck worth playing in the first place.

Flex cards can be harder to pin down. They are most easily defined as “Cards that are sometimes cut.” History can be your guide here; if you look back through previous incarnations of the archetype, see if the card was included. If at any point, without being replaced by a card with a similar function that no longer exists, it was voluntarily excluded from successful competitive lists, it would likely be considered a flex card. Examples of this can include meta-dependent tech cards like Acidic Swamp Ooze or Hungry Crab, but can easily include clunky, semi-synergistic choices. Think a second Gadgetzan in Jade Druid, Arcane Giants in Miracle Rogue, or Stampeding Kodo in Midrange Paladin. These are the cards that should be on your proverbial chopping block. (Note that the second copy of a card can be a flex spot while the first remains core; many Control Warriors would cut a single Brawl or Acolyte of Pain at certain points in the meta, but none would cut both copies).

Step Three – Watch your Matchups

Cards are rarely objectively superior to one another. Many cards could conceivably find a place in very many lists. The complications arise in when they are superior. A classic example is whether to play low cost or high cost cards. Low cost cards are usually superior in fast-paced board-centric matchups, as they can be played in vital early turns. Meanwhile, higher-cost cards allow you more late-game pressure and value to beat out heavier lists in long games. Through these sorts of trade-offs, you can precision-engineer the type of matchups you want to gain an edge in.

But what matchups should you focus, and how? Making the decision of what matchups to sacrifice and what to improve on can be tricky. As a rule of thumb, it’s generally best to try and improve your most common near-evenly favoured opponent. Since the games tend to be close, small edges can make a difference. When as a Taunt Warrior, it will take a lot to even occasionally win your matches against Jade Druid; however, a few key changes like a second Sleep with the Fishes can massively improve your winrate against a close matchup like Murloc Paladin.

Step Four – Notice the Boring

Just because Rockpool Hunter doesn’t feature in many Trolden videos, doesn’t make it worth cutting for an Equality

Sometimes our human perceptions and biases can hinder us. Take the instance of Kindly Grandmother and Deadly Shot in Midrange Hunter. Kindly Grandmother is rarely spectacular. It’s a slightly above-average two drop that enables certain beast synergies. Your opponent will not be defeated by Kindly Grandmother alone.

Meanwhile, Deadly Shot is almost always interesting and makes an impact. At three mana, it can snipe that vital minion or clear a taunt for lethal. Often you will pray to topdeck it, and it will obviously win you games. However, despite all this, Kindly Grandmother is almost always a better inclusion. Kindly Grandmother provides low key, reliable, non-situational tempo and a strong beast synergy activator. This is incredibly paramount in a deck reliant on curving out game after game. While Deadly Shot is far more flashy, the times when it sits in your hand or just hits a 1/1 can be hard to remember.

As such, it’s vital to try and think about your cards and review your games to determine when cards were “boring” but good, and “boring” and bad. Remembering only the flashy, unlikely, or impactful games will lead you to warped conclusions.

Step Five – Experiment

So you’ve got to know the deck, identified your flex slots, targeted a matchup or two you want to improve, and figured out that card that seems clunky or redundant to replace. Of course, you may be completely wrong! It’s important to test your lists thoroughly every time you make a change, and record your results. Don’t give up after just a few games and swap back either, as sample size is key. Keep playing until you’re sure how the change affects your winrates. With any luck, you’ve just made a good deck that little bit better; at least until the meta shifts again!

 

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