With a new expansion coming up, the debate around Hearthstone’s cost has come up again. The pre-order tempts some, but many more are having conflicted thoughts. Despite guaranteed and free legendaries, weekly brawl packs and free arena runs, the perceived cost of maintaining a competitive or semi-competitive collection is higher than ever. With users arguably receiving more handouts, the reasons behind this are often down to a fundamental dilemma in the design of Legendary minions.
Tempo Rogue, the new Wallet Warrior?
One reason why Hearthstone feels a lot more expensive is the rising dust cost of many decks. For example, let’s look at the latest meta tyrant; Tempo Rogue. Aggro/Midrange decks used to be the cheapest, but modern optimised Tempo Rogues run similar numbers of legendaries to old Control Warriors.
In Classic, Wallet Warrior’s legendary heavy lists included cards like Harrison, Cairne, Sylvanas, Ragnaros, Alexstrasza, Grommash, Baron Geddon and Ysera. Only the greediest lists would include all of these cards, with many eschewing one or more. If we expect typical Wallet Warrior to have five to seven legendaries, then lists like Ike’s Barnes Tempo Rogue begin to look similarly restrictive. With seven legendaries (with multiple more optional inclusions), the dust cost of this popular, competitive Aggro/Midrange deck is on par with the most expensive decks of old. And it’s not just Rogues. Even historically cheap decks like Zoo and Midrange Paladin require multiple legendaries and handfuls of Epics. Though budget lists are available, they often pale in comparison in power level.
How did this happen? Why are almost all competitive decks so dependent on legendaries and epics?
The rise of the early-game legendary
The problem can be summed up in two ways. Top-level legendaries became mandatory for non-control decks, especially Aggro. From Vanilla to Mean Streets of Gadgetzan, there were very few truly game-changing early legendaries for Aggro (arguably Sir Finley Mrrglton, though he was less vital for board presence). Sure, there was Bloodmage Thalnos and Edwin Vancleef, but these were combo tools more than Aggro. Leeroy was always an ever-present burst option, but only as a late-game finisher.
Legendaries were often necessary, of course, but they came down in more niche Control decks, at less vital stages of the game. Sure, getting that Doctor Boom down on seven was important for a lot of decks, but far less important than it is to draw Keleseth or to pull Patches. legendaries felt impactful, due to their high cost and impressive effects, whilst being less impactful in reality. This meant that low-budget players could still compete, while those with legendaries still felt awesome using them.
Pricey pirates and Princes
The problem of the Aggro, mandatory legendary is Patches. Patches is a huge stumbling block for any new or returning player due to the sheer number of decks that rely on him. Unlike other legendaries, he practically must be crafted, as no adequate substitute exists. And the decks he works best in are the decks that would otherwise be the cheapest! Patches effectively adds a 1600 dust hurdle to any new collection, and severely cuts into the amount of dust players have left over for fun experimentation.
This got worse with the introduction of Prince Keleseth. The surprisingly effective two-drop redefined Rogue and Zoo Warlock with its incredible power. But aside from making it unreliable, Keleseth’s Legendary status adds yet another 1600 dust barrier to those seeking to do well on ladder.
The problem with these uber-powerful early-game legendaries is that they make the decks that should be cheap as expensive as the ones that already cost a lot, squeezing out anyone who wants to do even moderately well on a budget.
There are two ways around this. One would be to accept that Aggro decks will continue to be expensive, and continue to price ladder success highly. This could be combined with printing fewer high-powered late-game Legendaries, making Control and Midrange cheaper. However, this would restrict the number of cool, powerful one-off effects that make those kinds of decks so interesting.
The best option might simply be to stop printing incredibly powerful early legendaries. Aggro and Midrange rely on these board-establishing minions to compete. Making them Legendary only increases both the barrier of entry and the variance to detrimental extents.
Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com. Title image courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment
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