Vicious Syndicate is arguably the most respected and trusted Hearthstone data aggregator out there. So when a recent report highlighted a massive increase in meta polarity, it drew a ton of attention. The evidence presented seemed to show a massive climb in the frequency of one-sided matchups across the meta. But is this really that much of a problem? And what can be done to solve it?
Skill makes things worse?
One striking feature of the report is that it focuses exclusively on the Legend rank. Now, this choice was almost certainly made to highlight the change over time, and might be a sign of VS trying to state their case as strongly as possible. As such, there is a worry that the trends shown may not be representative of ladder as a whole.
But apart from these worries, it shows a striking problem. If the polarization problem was confined to lower ranks, it might be deemed the result of inappropriate tech choices, misplays and misunderstanding the matchup. However, this isn’t the case. If this polarization issue is the most drastic when skill, knowledge and meta-gaming is at its peak, then it means the problem lies deeper.
To infinity and beyond
Vicious Syndicate lays a lot of the blame at so-called “infinite value”. The power of Baku, Quests and other potentially infinite resources leads to such polarization, so we’re told. But infinity itself is not an unstoppable force. After all, Dead Man’s Hand Warrior isn’t taking over the meta. And plenty of the most polarizing decks currently are nowhere near infinite. In fact, decks like Odd Rogue and Tempo Mage can run out of steam extremely quickly. Meanwhile, decks with far more “infinite” value, like Deathrattle Hunter with Rexxar, are less polarizing.
Infinity is only an issue for true fatigue decks, and very few of those exist. Almost every deck has some kind of pro-active win condition. Perhaps the true issue is an inability to react to the more powerful win conditions, and a need to commit to easily countered strategies.
Counterplay and flexibility
Beyond infinity, one main problem that seems to contribute to polarization is a lack of interactivity. If you take a look at some of the most polarizing decks, some of the worst offenders are decks with win conditions that are either impossible or incredibly difficult to counter. Shudderwock, Toggwaggle and Quest Rogue being standout examples. Compare this to the less-polarizing Malygos Druid, which has a number of counterplay options.
Meanwhile, the rest of the decks that populate the higher levels of polarization are more often than not the prey for these decks: slow reactive control decks. If the Hearthstone devs want to be serious about polarization, they need to either reduce the power level of some of the more popular and uninteractive decks, or to give more potent tech options to disrupt some of these strategies. Or if that is impossible, give Control decks more early pro-active tools with which to snowball a tempo advantage.
Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via hearthstone.gamepedia.com.