The last time a meta this diverse was almost exactly a year ago. After the first set of balance changes after Journey to Un’goro was released, almost every class had multiple strong decks, and there seemed to be no dominant strategy. Of course, this wasn’t perfect. Pirate Warrior was overly oppressive, and Warlock was almost non-existent due to over-relying on Discard synergies. This meta, however, seems to be even more healthy. Why has the Witchwood and accompanying balance changes lead to such a broad, balanced ladder environment? Let’s talk about it.
The Fall of Aggro
Aggro strategies, by their nature, tend to be exclusionary. There’s only so many ways to set up an early board, and the best one tends to win out every time. For extremely broad parts of Hearthstone history, the best aggressive deck (be it Aggro Shaman, Pirate Warrior, or Undertaker Hunter) has dominated for months at a time.
But now, a proliferation of potent anti-aggro tools, along with a general weakening of early minion statlines, has meant that there are only a couple of mid-tier aggressive decks on Ladder. Only Odd Rogue, Odd Paladin and Tempo Mage keep the aggro flag flying, but are by no means dominant nor oppressive. By keeping aggro decks as a necessary but limited part of the meta, far more strategies are allowed to thrive.
Of course, this isn’t the first time aggro has been far from top-tier. However, this is the first time we’ve seen it be suppressed by a plurality of decks. In the glory days of Midrange Shaman, Jade Druid and more recently with pre-nerf Warlock and Even Paladin, one or two decks were simply vastly more efficient at pursuing a mid-range strategy. Very few decks could compete with these strategies when trying to develop midrange minions. Instead, competing strategies were forced into alternative win conditions, typically Control or Combo based.
But now there is no single dominant midrange strategy. Multiple archetypes are all competing against one another on a seemingly even footing. Even Warlocks, Token Druids, Even Shamans, Spell Hunters and Taunt Druids all pursue wildly different strategies for mid-game success, but not one of them is eminently superior. We appear to have reached an equilibrium of midrange diversity.
One of the most remarkable accomplishments of this meta is the completeness of the diversity. Unlike in Un’goro, every class has multiple viable decks and archetypes, with no one optimum pick dominating all. Not only that, but there is a healthy representation and balance between combo, control, midrange and aggro.
But is it as good as it can be? Well, maybe not.
There’s definitely a risk of multiple similar decks coming to dominate (most notably Druid’s 20-odd card shell of ramp, Spreading Plague, Armor, Draw and Ultimate Infestation). And perhaps Even Shaman will hit upon a list that suppresses the ladder like Even Paladin once did.
But until then, it’s worth congratulating the dev team on an extremely successful balance change. Although, given the Tess Greymane drama, it seems the community may have other issues to consider…
Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com.