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Control’s polarization problem

There are many decks in Hearthstone that lead to polarized outcomes, but some are far more egregious than others. While they’re weak against huge swathes of the meta, it makes up for it by massively punishing strategies that can’t handle its power. Even with an average draw against a good player, these decks will massively punish those that dare to pursue a gameplan that it is tooled to beat.

Now, that passage could easily be directed at Quest Rogue or Shudderwock Shaman. But it could also just as easily refer to Control Warrior or Big Spell Mage. The unfortunate fact is that by heavily punishing Aggro and losing hard to Combo, Control decks also contribute to meta polarization.

More tools, less flexibility

More reactive tools means more polarization

It wasn’t always this way. Old-school Control decks like Handlock, Control Warrior or Control Paladin were far more pro-active. With fewer and less reliable survival tools, games ended with threats and value rather than stalling out indefinitely.

But as more and more reactive tools became available, things began to change. Minions were cut for spells to more reliably take down aggressive boards. Lifegain replaced end-game threats as a better way to finish off Aggro’s chances. Little by little, Control became more one-dimensional.

Focused on fatigue

While this helped to check Aggro’s meta dominance, it made things a lot more polarized. Just compare pro-active plays for an old Control Warrior with a modern anti-aggro optimized Odd Warrior versus a deck like Quest Rogue. Old fashioned Warriors, were they still around, could tempo out with Armorsmiths, Cruel Taskmasters, and Acolytes, build the board with threatening mid-range minions like Sen’jin, Sylvanas and Cairne before trying to end the game with Ragnaros or Grommash.

Now look at a modern Odd Warrior. Early drops are nearly non-existent, and they are forced to rely on inefficient 3 mana 3/3s at best. Mid-range options exist but are usually far too defensive to make an impact. And game-ending threats that come come down on turns 7-9 are almost completely absent (bat the laughable tempo Baku). No wonder its matchups are so polarized.

Making minions

Do Control decks need to have their tools in minion form?

The key to reversing this worrying trend is to give control more flexibility in pro-active gameplans. This will limit the effectiveness of zeroing in on one archetype to destroy. Control decks don’t want to go all-in on countering aggro, but it’s simply the most effective way to build the deck in most ladder situations. The problem is, deviating from that strategy punishes you greatly against the tempo decks while barely improving your chances elsewhere.

What Control needs is more minions, particularly early and mid-game minions, that provide Control utility while remaining a versatile threat to tempo out. A perfect example of this was Shieldmaiden, a flexible armour tool that’s a decent mid-game body. Or Tirion, which provides defensive might and removal options with Ashbringer but can also aggressively push damage. Or Wild Pyromancer, which is decent tempo as well as a potential board clear.

By giving Control the flexibility to retain anti-aggro strength along with decent tempo plays to sneak in wins against combo, Hearthstone might become slightly less of a matchup-based coin flip and more like the surprising and engaging game of skill it can be at its best.

Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com and PlayHearthstone on Twitch

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