When new cards are introduced, if they are playable, they will impact the metagame in different ways. The most obvious example was the infamous Dr Boom, the reason why nearly every deck played Big Game Hunter for more than a year. In this article I decided to consider a unique designed card which I think is given less credit that it is owed for the success of decks like Dragon Warrior and Agro Shaman: Sir Finley Mrrgglton.
The Math on Finley
In order to make my case I have to start by considering the probabilities of finding any number of Hero-powers.
Any 1 Hero Power: 37.5%
One of 2 Hero Powers: 64.2%
One of 3 Hero Powers: 82.1%
One of 4 Hero Powers: 92.8%
One of 5 Hero Powers: 98.2%
One of 6 Hero Powers: 100%
It can be seen that when searching for at least 2 Hero powers there is a 64% chance of getting at least one, this means nearly 2 every 3 games you will get the desired results; for a game like Hearthstone this is very good odds. Even if you are looking for only 1 hero-power the chances you have are not the worst in the world, even if 37.5% cannot be considered consistent it is still pretty solid. It must be emphasized that if there is only one positive outcome it is probably better to not run the card (as I have argued in my N’Zoth Reno Rogue article).
This though doesn’t conclude the math. Ideally Finley needs to be played in the first 3 turns in order for the player to gain full benefit from it during a game. Assuming that you mulligan for Finley, the probability of having Finley in the opening hand is 23% going first and 29.5% going second. It is fine to draw Finley in the first 3 turns if you want to get full value from the hero power, so the actual value is 32% going first and 38% going second. Now this means that in any game the probability of getting the hero powers you want in the first 3 turns of a game are:
Any 1 Hero Power: going first: 12% going second: 14.3%
One of 2 Hero Powers: going first: 20.5% going second: 24.4%
One of 3 Hero Powers: going first: 26.3% going second: 31.2%
One of 4 Hero Powers: going first: 29.7% going second: 35.3%
One of 5 Hero Powers: going first: 31.4% going second: 37.3%
One of 6 Hero Powers: going first: 32% going second: 38%
If a deck is searching for 3 Hero powers the player can expect to have that hero power in the first three turns of the game 26.3% or 31.2% of the time, not bad! Obviously we have to also keep in mind that usually decks which run Sir Finley don’t mulligan just for Finley, they usually have other 1-drops. In general though any deck which runs Finley will be searching for at least 2 different Hero Powers in order to maximize the efficiency of the card, meaning that around 20.5% or 24.4% of the time you will start with a better hero power and a 1 drop into play in the first 3 turns of a game.
Before Finley was introduced the primary aggressive classes were Warlock and Hunter, because their hero powers were the only ones which permitted and supported an aggressive game-plan. Whilst it is true that Paladin and Warrior had some aggressive builds, none of them were ever tier 1 or 2. With the advent of League of Explorer’s a new aggressive class emerged, Shaman. This has been mostly attributed to Tunnel Trogg and the early game synergy it provides with the deck, but I think Finley also has some merit in the success of the deck. The Hero Powers which on average are better for Agro Shaman are: Warlock, Hunter and Druid. The situational ones are Paladin, Mage and Priest, with only Rogue and Warrior being a downgrade from Totemic Call. What this means is that whenever Finley is played as a Shaman you have 82.1% to increase the value of your hero power and 100% to at least go even. Additionally at the start of any game you have 26.3% or 31.2% to actually gain a better hero power in the first three turns and 32% or 38% to at least go even. Overall this is pretty damn high odds when including only one card. One thing to emphasize is that the second statistic is slightly wrong as it assumes you mulligan for Finley, which in an Agro Shaman deck you don’t.
Some might argue that aggressive Shaman builds can win even without drawing Finley, and I think this is entirely true. The question you have to ask is how much does it improve your match-ups against different classes. I know that when I play Rogue, if I am against an Agro Shaman and he gets the Hunter Hero Power on turn 1 this is one of the most soul crushing things which can happen, as the clock just got a lot faster. Additionally as Agro Shaman if you want to beat Zoolock changing your hero power to either Druid, Warlock or Hunter is nearly mandatory, if not the Zoo will just out value you with their hero power and good trades. It would be interesting to see the Vicious Syndicate report on how much different match-up’s improves if you play Finley in the first 3 turns of a game against different classes (I tried looking for the statistic but couldn’t find it).
Until now I only argued what was known, Finley is pretty good in Agro Shaman. My case for it being meta defining is a little more elaborate and the first class to consider is Warrior. The Warrior Hero Power is the most passive in the game, it can never impact the board unless you play Shield Slam in your deck. What this means is that in order to play towards the correct game plan any aggressive or mid-range deck would rather have any other hero power rather than the Warrior one. Thus Finley has 100% chance of giving you a better Hero Power if you are playing the class. If one looks at mid-range and aggressive Warrior lists, one will notice many cards already existed before League of Explorers came out. I think Finley gave the class a push as now it can play different styles without worrying of not being able to close out games because of the passive Hero Power. I think it can be said Finley is part of the reason Warrior has so many different archetypes as of now (I do acknowledge the very strong Classic set also plays a role).
Any deck-builder has to consider Finley when building an aggressive deck, as there are always at least two options which are good: Warlock and Hunter. I have seen the card played both in aggressive Beast Druids and in Aggressive Paladin builds, even if when I tried it in the latter archetype the card heavily under-performed (tokens are too important for Paladin builds). Overall though even in Paladin getting a different Hero Power can often help you deal with certain match-ups. The card is good in any aggressive deck since aggressive decks tend to be flexible with how they use Hero Powers, nearly any hero power can be put to good use. Additionally aggressive decks tend to prefer playing a lot of minions in the first few turns using the Hero Power later in the game, meaning that all Hero Powers can be used to some extent.
On the other hand it can also be seen why Finley cannot be played reliably in control decks, with maybe the exception of Hunter. Control decks usually tend to use their hero power a lot, it is an important tool when trying to grind out games; you overspend mana in order to gain value. Control Warrior wants to stall out the game, thus Armour Up is the best Hero Power for the archetype. Renolocks are built around the idea of drawing a lot of cards, thus even here Finley is unplayable. Priest synergises well with healing, one of the main strengths of Priest is out valuing opponents with good trades. Mage hero power is versatile and good for extracting value, additionally Control Mage mainly focuses on extracting value whilst preserving health. Paladin really needs the tokens as it is hard for the class to get on the board since it is very reactive. Control Shaman really relies on the totems in order to benefit off the different effects. The last possible control archetype would be Hunter, which honestly would be happy with any other Hero Power as the Hunter one doesn’t help the control game-plan. I didn’t mention control Rogue or Druid as the classes are hardly built for this archetype since they lack removal and survivability, with both sets of cards focused on being able to cheat the mana curve and out-tempoing the opponent.
Now it can be seen why Finley is truly meta defining. The card existing means that more of the available decks will be aggressive, Finley opens more possibility for different classes to adopt this play-style. For now control decks are less prevalent also because they have less tools to be built on meaning that any class can capitalize on this weakness by trying to go for an aggressive build.
Overall I think Sir Finley is a very well designed card and people under-estimate how much effect it had on the post League of Explorers metagame. Its effect has been especially relevant after Whispers of the Old Gods came into play as very powerful cards such as Shredder and Avenge rotating out of Standard meant new deck archetypes could finally become top tier. Overall I believe that when Sir Finley will rotate out the aggressive decks which will be viable will become less. Warrior will have to go back to just armouring up and decks like Shaman will become less consistent. If any other aggressive deck will be created whilst League of Explorers will still be available in Standard I think I can bet my socks that part of the merit is Finley’s.
Mulligan spreadsheet: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1kMuhDdRw3bVVY2h5EcGFdx12JaJU0LGx1gh7sLfSIbQ/edit#gid=1108841593
Finley initial probabilities: https://www.reddit.com/r/hearthstone/comments/3sbap4/sir_finley_mrrgglton_hero_power_probabilities/
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