Warrior’s next good 2 drop

For the first time in the class’ history, Warrior is well and truly in the dumpster. With historically low play and win rates on ladder, the War Axe nerf’s impact has been staggering. Clearly, the class will need additional early game tools in order to remain relevant in future expansions. But what should warrior’s replacement 2 drops look like?

Looking back

Warrior has a number of other viable turn 2 options. Unfortunately, none of them are on par with other classes’ options, or can be a viable successor to the “Win Axe”.

Armorsmith is a decent anti-aggro option, but can’t generate board control against anything with more than one attack. Cruel Taskmaster is similarly weak, with the added caveat of being more niche. Heroic Strike could, theoretically, be used as a removal as well as a burst tool, though that has never turned out well in anything other than aggro decks. And Slam can almost never get a card draw and lead to a  minion being killed on 2.

The common theme of these cards is not that they aren’t useful, it’s just that they lack efficiency and value. Warrior could afford to run niche cards thanks to the supreme early efficiency of War Axe; without it, they’re left with nothing that can efficiently fight for board without expending too many resources. In order to fix this, Blizzard could look to a number of other classes for inspiration.

Synergistic Draw

Is card advantage the key to 2 drops? If so, we might see an “Armor-ologist”

One of the most impactful 2 drops in recent memory has been Mage’s Arcanologist. With a powerful synergistic battlecry, it paved the way for a variety of Control, Tempo and Freeze Mages. It’s battlecry meant that despite being a relatively unimpactful two-drop, it generated card advantage while fighting for the board.

Obviously, Warrior can’t just copy Arcanologist; the class has no secrets. And an Arcanologist for Weapons would likely be both slightly too strong and too aggressive. A better option might be s 2 cost minion that draws an Armor-gain or Armor-synergy card from your deck; rewarding more controlling warrior, and ones that play around with lifegain.

Utility Generation

Cheap spell generation can be great in certain decks

Another impactful 2 drop to copy from could be Razorpetal Lasher. This unassuming 2/2 can generate surprising value from the 1 mana 1 damage spell it adds to your hand. With Warrior’s surplus of low-impact spells, there’s plenty of inspiration to give Warrior’s a similar effect. Perhaps a 2 mana 2/2 that added a 1 mana version of “Inner Rage” to your hand. Alternatively, something that added “Charge”.

Even better, Warrior could take an idea from Warlock’s Dark Peddler and Paladin’s Hydrologist. Discover mechanics on cheap cards can be potent without feeling unfair. Warrior’s low impact 1 mana spells could see a lot more play if discovered off some cheap minion. What’s more, most of these low-impact spells are reactive and situational, making for more interesting gameplay situations and skill tests.

Toned-down weapons

Of course, Team 5 nerfed Fiery War Axe for a reason. They can’t now print an Epic 2 mana 3/2 weapon (we hope). But we may see cards along the lines of Jade Claws; strong weapons that while not quite at the same power level, still fight for early board well. The danger of re-creating pirate warrior might prevent this until after Patches rotate out, or maybe earlier if Team 5 can find a way to make cheap weapons good without being unstoppable in aggro.

There could be multiple ways of achieving a 2 mana weapon that would be less useless than a Stormforged Axe while not being on the power-level of pre-nerf axe. One recurring idea is that of a weapon with ‘Enrage’. This would introduce counterplay whereby not having a damaged hero would reduce the power of your weaponry.

Delayed reaction

Don’t expect Warrior to get super-powered 2 drops straight away, however. Hearthstone plans its releases far in advance; and Team 5 likely weren’t anticipating the War Axe nerf to have such a huge immediate impact. They likely don’t have a whole trove of saved 2 mana powerhouses for such an occasion.

In the meantime, Warrior will still cling to relevance. Pirate is still passable and Fatigue Warrior experiments are still ongoing. But die hard fans of the class can still hope that, maybe one day, there’ll be a 2 drop worthy of stepping into the shoes of the mighty War Axe.

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

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scourgelord

The surprising power of Scourgelord Garrosh

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

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

Shadowmourne’s stats

scourgelord

Shadowmourne is arguably worth 7-8 mana by itself

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

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

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

Rounding out weaknesses

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

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

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

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

Infinite activators

scourgelord

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

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

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

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

The price of power

scourgelord

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

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

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

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

The wrath of Hellscream

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

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

Artwork courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com.

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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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In praise of Medivh

It’s not easy to design high cost cards that are fun, powerful and interesting. For every Ysera or Y’shaarj, there’s a Gruul or Boogeymonster. Or, even worse, a boring yet overpowered card like Dr. Boom. One of the recent triumphs in high-cost neutral legendary designs came in the form of the final Karazhan Legendary: Medivh, The Guardian. This 8 cost neutral Legendary represents a wide variety of positive factors that make him a powerful, flexible, but not obnoxious bomb with which to swing games.

Synergies that make you think

Atiesh is powerful, but only within the right deck

Medivh and his Atiesh battlecry is a unique, powerful effect that works best with high-cost spells. This has a number of impacts.

Firstly, the requirement of synergies to be effective, especially of cards that are otherwise clunky and reactive limits hit use in a positive way. Unlike Dr. Boom, Ragnaros or Tirion, he cannot simply be jammed in any aggressive midrange as a finisher. Only Control-oriented decks would consider running the kind of cards that make Medivh viable. By reducing his ubiquity, the card becomes more niche and interesting.

Secondly, the synergies open up new deckbuilding options and innovations. Otherwise overlooked cards like Free From Amber or Pyroblast gain new leases of life as part of a high-powered package. Medivh introduces new variety by incentivising these deckbuilding decisions and makes lesser seen, flavourful spells more relevant. Class defining classics like Mind Control can even return due to their newfound ability to provide huge tempo swings.

Banking Tempo for Massive Value

Medivh is an interesting contradiction. Whilst initially a low-tempo option that does not impact the board (unless you are forced to swing with the 1 damage Atiesh), the effect of the weapon allows for massive swings later on. It helps with the traditionally underwhelming impact of big spells that provide value but not board control. Take for instance Twisting Nether. While a powerful effect, it takes up your entire turn in most cases, and still leaves the opponent an empty board to develop onto. Medivh, however, turns that into a full board swing, leaving you a beefy 8 drop uncontested. This is perfect for the kind of late-game board swings desired by Control.

The versatility of Atiesh is also a great test of skill. Players can hold onto cheap spells and use all 3 charges on high-cost spells in some cases, or spend those Frostbolts and Shadow Words tactically to provide added power and tempo on key turns. By providing multiple alternative paths, it opens up more choices and opportunity to take interesting lines.

Never Ubiquitous

Too many Atieshes in your metagame? There’s plenty of museums dying to take them off your hands with the help of a wily adventurer

Unlike Dr. Boom or Ragnaros, there is no danger of Medivh ever getting out of control. This is down to two factors. One is that his effect is inherently counterable. The majority of his value comes from Atiesh, making him vulnerable to Weapon removal like Acidic Swamp Ooze. Harrison Jones, in particular, is a brutal counter. This means that should Medivh ever become too popular, there’s a natural counter for slower decks seeking to curb his impact.

The other aspect is how Atiesh only synergises with certain classes and strategies. Paladin and Warrior may run slow decks, but can’t include the high-cost spells necessary to squeeze out enough value from him. Even if Medivh becomes increasingly powerful in Priest or Mage, he’s unlikely to spread much further simply due to the paucity of effective high-cost spells with suitable effects.

Too Random?

While Medivh has a number of positive features, there are some aspects of his abilities that make him potentially troublesome. Most obvious is the inherent RNG of Atiesh. The difference between getting Tirion or Anomalus can be game-losing. Though it makes for interesting gameplay variation, the wide spread in power level of especially high-cost minions is troublesome. It also necessitates the balancing of certain mana slots with sub-statted minions (see Tortollan Primalist).

However, all this can be overlooked. The flavourful, powerful and interesting design of Medivh is a great blueprint for other high-cost Neutral Legendaries to come.


Artwork 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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