Reasons to fear Cubelock

It’s no secret that Cubelock is a dominating force in the meta. But the Witchwood expansion, combined with the Year of the Raven rotation, may propel it to even more oppressive levels. Losing competitors, powerful new cards, and meta shifts all look favourable for Cubelock. If Team 5 are watching Cubelock as closely as they say, these factors are worth keeping an eye on.

Old decks lose a lot

cubelock

Dragons can’t challenge Warlock as well in the new set

Currently, a number of decks soft-counter Control and Cube Warlocks. By capitalising on Warlock’s few weaknesses, decks like Secret Mage, Spiteful Priest, Combo Priest and a few Aggro decks eke out a favourable winrate. But unfortunately for meta balance, these strategies are hit hard by rotation. Mage loses its integral Secret package, Priests will no longer have those vital Dragons, and core Pirates and Murlocs rotate. Meanwhile, decks that seek to simply curve out and high-roll with massive minions like Big Priest and Spell Hunter lose the integral Barnes.

It seems unlikely that any previously existing archetype will be able to stand up to the might of Cubelock; any challenge to Warlock hegemony will need to draw heavily on new tools. But new tools may benefit Warlock far more than they challenge it.

Cubelock loses little

cubelock

Mistress is relatively easy to replace

There are only three card slots in current Cubelock lists that rotate out; N’zoth, and two Mistress of Mixtures. These cards are powerful, yes, but not core to the deck’s strengths. Losing the lifegain and early presence from Mistress hurts, but it’s easy to replace with a Plated Beetle or Shroom Brewer. Alternatively, one of the powerful new Witchwood tools might suffice.

N’zoth is more problematic, as its ability to revive a huge wall of Voidlords was a great way to close out games. But closing out games was never really Cubelock’s weakness. There are plenty of late-game options or combos that Warlock to include to fill the role left by N’zoth. If worst comes to worst, jamming a Lich King in there couldn’t hurt.

Lord Godfrey

cubelock

Godfrey is Abyssal Enforcer on steroids

Warlock’s new legendary is incredibly potent. Many already know the power of extra spell damage combined with Defile (as those on the receiving end of Tainted Zealot into Defile can attest). This will clear almost any board, and leave behind a 4/4 to contest. This is often just game over versus Aggro, even without Voidlords coming down later to back it up.

To make matters worse, Lord Godfrey fits perfectly into Cubelock’s curve. The deck runs no seven drops, and was occasionally running one more clear card on top of two defiles and two hellfires. It seems to slot so well into the strategy and mana curve of Warlock that it’s hard to see how it would not be a defining auto-include.

Voodoo Doll

One of Cubelock’s few weaknesses is a lack of efficient hard removal. But the new Neutral epic Voodoo Doll may change all that. This 3 mana 1/1 is a cheap hard removal for any deck, but must be combo’d with another effect to be better than Corruption. Luckily for Warlock, there are a plethora of ways to activate it. Defile, Dark Pact, Mortal Coil and Hellfire spring to mind. Even Carnivorous Cube is useful in a pinch.

This could erase what was previously a key Warlock weakness. Being able to easily remove big threats early (without losing a Mana crystal) is huge for a deck with as much late-game potential as Cubelock. If future decks seek to cheat out massive minions (as they are likely to do), this could be yet another tool to cement Warlock’s dominance.

Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com.

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Giants are currently tied for second in the 2018 EU LCS

Giants Gaming: EU LCS contenders or pretenders?

Going into week five of the 2018 EU LCS Spring Split, Giants Gaming sits tied for second place. Their 5-3 record puts them level with G2 and Fnatic, and above other perennial favorites, such as Misfits and H2K. Fans of the Spanish esports organization may be getting their hopes up for finally having Giants towards the top, but this hope may be misguided.

Giants Gaming has rarely found itself in this position in the past. Despite originally qualifying for the EU LCS five years ago, Giants has only qualified for LCS playoffs twice. The organization has been sent to the Promotion Tournament five times, and relegated out of the LCS twice. Anyone who follows Giants most likely subconsciously considers them a bottom-tier team. An overview of organization’s LCS history easily contextualizes this view.

From Spain to the Main Stage

Giants Gaming entered the EU LCS in 2013

Babeta, Exterminare, Morden, Samux and Motroco

In 2012, Giants Gaming created their first League of Legends team. The roster, consisting of Babeta, Exterminare, Morden, Samux, and Motroco, competed in Dreamhack Valencia and ESL’s Go4LoL. Motroco left in October, but was replaced by JimBownz, who competed with the team at The Siege. Giants finished top four at each event, and went on to Dreamhack Winter, but finished 0-3 in their group.

Due to their relative success, Riot Games invited Giants Gaming to compete for a slot in the premier season of EU LCS in 2013. Along with Fnatic, Copenhagen Wolves, Against All Authority, and Dragonborns, Giants finished in the top five. They instantly qualified for the LCS, making the organization one of the first teams to ever participate in the European league.

Once there, Giants’ momentum subsided. The Spaniards took their first week 1-1 to start in fourth place. They continued to have losing streaks over the 10-week split, finishing seventh place with eight wins and 20 losses. Giants was forced into the first ever Summer Promotion Tournament to defend its place in the league.

The First Worst Loss

Alternate Attax relegated Giants Gaming from the EU LCS in 2013

Kerp, Araneae, ForellenLord, Creaton and Jree

The format of the Promotion Tournament was different in 2013. Teams from three different qualifier tournaments faced off against the bottom four LCS teams in one best-of-five, with the winner earning the LCS slot. Giants Gaming was set to battle Alternate Attax, a German esports organization made up of Kerp, Araneae, ForellenLord, Creaton, and Jree. By winning 3-2, Attax relegated Giants from the EU LCS for the first time.

The Challenger Series had not been developed yet, which meant Giants Gaming was back in the amateur scene. They entered Gfinity London, finishing third-fourth behind Copenhagen Wolves and Eternity Gaming. Gfinity London was the only contest in which they competed for the rest of the year.

Getting Back on the Horse

Throughout 2014, Giants Gaming continued to prove that it was worthy of competition. By April the organization put together an all-new roster, consisting of Reven, Naruterador, Pepiinero, Zigurath and Dave. These five competed in Gamegune in Spain, taking home fourth place.

Giants must not have been happy with that performance, because three months later they brought on Werlyb, Fr3deric, Adryh and Rydle. This was Giants’ second roster overhaul of 2014. This definitely worked out, as they rounded out the

Giants Gaming played in the amateur scene during 2014

Paris Games Week 2014

amateur scene with two gold medals. At Paris Games Week, they took down seven teams including Gamers2, a team Giants lost to at Gamegune. They also won the Liga de Videojuegos Professional, the Spanish regional league.

By becoming so competitive, Giants Gaming was able to move up the European solo queue ranked ladder. And since they were in the top five at the end of 2014, Riot Games once more invited Giants to fight to earn their spot in the EU LCS. They introduced an expansion tournament, which included competitors from the Promotion Tournament, the Challenger Series, and the five-versus-five ranked ladder. Through two stages of gameplay, Giants Gaming took down Reason Gaming to qualify for the 2015 Spring Split with H2K.

Deja Vu

In similar fashion to their first LCS split, Giants Gaming started 2015 with a bang. Pepii and crew had a 2-0 week one, placing them at the top of the standings. H2K and Unicorns of Love took Giants down a peg in week two, dropping the team to fourth. Another 0-2 in week three put Giants into a free fall, slipping down to seventh. Fast forward seven more weeks, and Giants Gaming finished the split with a 5-13 record, tying MeetYourMakers for last place. Luckily, Adryh’s late-game Sivir pick was able to come online and win Giants the game, saving them from auto-relegation.

Another Spring Split and Giants faced another Promotion Tournament. Coincidentally, they met Reason Gaming in a best-of-five to defend their slot. Just as they had in the expansion tournament, Giants took down Reason 3-1 and reclaimed their LCS spot. This qualification marked three times in three years.

A Glimmer of Hope

G0DFRED joined Giants Gaming in 2015

G0DFRED joined Giants Gaming in 2015

Leading into Summer Split marked the first off-season where Giants’ roster remained mostly intact. G0DFRED joined as a rookie support, but everyone else stayed. Together they were able to get through the regular season 8-10, tied for fifth. ROCCAT won the tie-breaker, but Giants still made it into playoffs for the first time since its inception.

H2K skunked Giants in the quarterfinals of the Summer Playoffs. They took the series 3-0, and the longest game was 30:19. Giants garnered enough Championship Points to qualify into the Regional World Qualifiers. ROCCAT shut them down 3-0 in the first round, as well. Nonetheless, Giants had a somewhat successful first split back. They avoided the Promotion Tournament and made it into their first playoffs ever. They even had a slim chance to go to Worlds. It seemed like a great place to start Giants’ new time in the LCS.

Another Spring, Another Let-down

Spring Split 2016 rolled around, and Giants Gaming looked a little bit different. Werlyb and Fr3deric changed teams, and Giants brought in Atom and K0u as replacements. After starting the season 0-4, K0u was benched in favor of BetongJocke, H2K’s substitute jungler. They followed up with another 0-4 streak for weeks three and four, before finally getting their first win in week five versus ROCCAT.

Giants floundered their way through the rest of the split. Smittyj, Wisdom and S0NSTAR moved onto the starting roster in week eight, and Hustlin came on in week nine. Despite all of these changes, Giants finished the 2016 Spring Split in dead last with a 3-15 record. They had to enter their third Promotion Tournament.

As fate would have it, Giants had to face two Challenger teams with former roster members: K0u on Copenhagen Wolves and Werlyb on Huma. After a 3-2 and a 3-1, Giants Gaming re-qualified for the EU LCS. This was their fourth time re-entering.

Giants’ Best Split to Date

Giants Gaming in the 2016 EU LCS

Before coming back into the LCS for Summer Split, Giants took a long look in the mirror. The final member of the original cast, Pepii, left, and NighT, a Korean player from Ever8 Winners, joined. They also brought on a rookie jungler, Maxlore, to replace Wisdom. Smittyj remained in the top lane, S0NSTAR and Hustlin composed the bottom lane.

Giants started the split 0-3, leading many to write them off yet again. But a couple of wins in weeks two and three kept them competitive. A 2-0 win over Fnatic in week five, and a 2-0 over H2K in week six elevated Giants to a new level. Through the 10 weeks, Giants compiled an 8-3-7 scoreline, placing them third overall.

For the first time in its history, Giants Gaming entered the Summer Playoffs quarterfinals as favorites. They also kept the same roster throughout the whole split, which was new for them. Unicorns of Love eliminated Giants from the playoffs by winning 3-1, putting Giants in a fifth-sixth finish for the season. Like the year before, they had enough Championship Points to try the Regional Qualifiers. However, they met Unicorns of Love, yet again, who took the 3-0 win to move on and knock Giants out.

Fool Me Twice, Fool Me Thrice, Fool Me Four Times

Flaxxish and Memento played for Giants Gaming last year

Flaxxish and Memento played for Giants Gaming last year

Despite their Summer Split success, Giants entered the 2017 Spring Split with three more new players. HeaQ and Flaxxish were rookies, while Maxlore traded to ROCCAT with Memento to Giants. NighT and Hustlin stayed as starters, and S0NSTAR moved to a coaching role.

Riot introduced the group system to the EU LCS in 2017, which turned out to be a death knell for Giants. They found themselves in Group A with G2, Misfits, Fnatic, and ROCCAT. Giants began with a pair of 2-1 losses to G2 and Misfits, then followed with a 2-1 win over ROCCAT. They would not get another series win until week seven versus Origen, heading into week eight 2-7, and finishing the regular season 2-11.

For the fourth time in four spring seasons, Giants faced relegation in the Summer Promotion tournament. Origen was the only team that split with a lower win rate, so Giants easily took that match-up 3-0. However, a hungry Fnatic Academy swept them back with a 3-0 of their own. And for the second time in history, Giants Gaming was knocked out of the EU LCS.

The Recent Past

Giants spent the 2017 Summer Season in the EU Challenger Series, playing against Origen, Schalke 04, Paris Saint-Germain, Red Bulls, and Wind and Rain. In the mid-season they decided to scrap their entire roster and rebuild. Jiizuke, Gilius, Minitroupax, Jactroll and Ruin joined the team with LCS ambitions.

Over five weeks, Giants won four of five games and lost once to Schalke. Their 4-0-1 record placed them first in the standings–Giants’ first first place since 2014. This new line-up looked poised to go into promotions, and they did. Giants took down WAR 3-0, which entered them into the 2018 Spring Promotion tournament with Schalke, Ninjas in Pyjamas, and Mysterious Monkeys. By taking a 3-1 over NiP and a 3-2 over Schalke, Giants re-qualified into the LCS. The cycle of qualification-promotion-relegation came full circle for the second time.

In the Present

Giants Gaming is tied for second in the 2018 EU LCS

Giants Gaming is tied for second in the 2018 EU LCS

All of Giants’ members, except Ruin, moved to Team Vitality for the 2018 Spring Split. Giants brought on Djoko and Steeelback from Vitality, Betsy from ROCCAT, and Targamas, a rookie. Preseason predictions put Giants towards the bottom of the field, yet they currently find themselves tied for second. The first four weeks have been a success.

Right now there are analysts and audience members who may want to believe in Giants Gaming. They may think this is their year–that Giants can do better than ever before. But remember to keep this long history in mind. Giants have finished bottom seven every Spring Split in which they have ever competed. Two of those four splits resulted in relegation out of the LCS.

But twice they have come back and reclaimed their spot. Giants has successfully defended its spot two times, as well. This split could be the split to change minds. Giants will need to overcome its past shortcomings, and win the hearts of EU LCS fans by making it into playoffs and making a deep push in this split.

credits

Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

Other Images: LoL Esports Flickr, GosuGamers, Leaguepedia, Millenium.org, WindandRain.org

Historical Data: Leaguepedia

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KnC Banner

Kobolds and Catacombs Day 1 Deck Theorycrafting

The next Hearthstone expansion, Kobolds and Catacombs, has finally been released. In the reveal season, we saw many powerful and fun cards that are coming out with the set. But, which of these cards fit into existing decks? What new decks are coming into the meta?

The Meta

Dragon Priest

KnC Dragon Priest

Dragon Priest Decklist

In past expansions, Dragon Priest has been an archetype that many people have toyed around with and played on ladder. In this expansion, we may see the rise of a Dragon-oriented Priest build similar to the Dragon Priest deck that was viable during the Mean Streets of Gadgetzan expansion last year. The iteration I have theory-crafted includes a much more value-orientated game plan by including cards such as Lyra the Sunshard, Drakonid Operative, and the new Priest weapon, Dragon Soul. The deck can also be built to take on a more minion heavy route by taking out cards like Dragon Soul, Lyra the Sunshard, and Shadow Word: Death and replacing them with Cabal Shadow Priest, which synergises with Twilight Acolyte, and Twilight Drake.

 

The inclusion of Duskbreaker in this expansion really helps Dragon Priest’s historically bad matchup versus aggressive decks, which makes the new iteration of Dragon Priest that much scarier. On ladder, this deck seems like a solid choice for climbing at a high pace. In tournaments, players may elect to bring Highlander Priest instead because of its favorable win-rates versus slower decks.

 

 Zoo Warlock

KnC Zoo Warlock

Zoolock Decklist

In the Knights of the Frozen Throne expansion, we once again saw the rise of an old friend: Zoo Warlock. The early game minion package combined with Prince Keleseth proved to be the kick this deck needed to get back into the meta, and topping off with Bonemare and Bloodreaver Gul’Dan made Zoo Warlock scary in the late-game as well. This time around, Blizzard has given Zoo Warlock even better tools for taking the board early game and keeping it. The addition of Kobold Librarian helps keep your hand full, which is extremely important when having so many low mana cost minions in your deck. The main difference with this Zoo Warlock compared to the previous deck is that it cuts Prince Keleseth for the new 2-drop, Vulgar Homunculus.

 

With this iteration of the deck, I decided to add the Demon synergy package in the form of Demonfire, Bloodfury potion, and Crystalweaver. We have seen quite a lot of play with Bloodfury Potion and Crystalweaver in the past Zoo Warlock decks, but the addition of the Vulgar Homunculus makes these cards coming down on curve extremely threatening. Hooked Reaver also makes an appearance in this deck because of how solid its stats are when the Battlecry goes off, as well as its ability to synergise with the rest of the demon synergy in the deck.

 

The addition of higher-health minions and buff cards will help Zoo Warlock in the next meta mainly because of the predicted prevalence of Duskbreaker on the ranked ladder. In tournament play, this deck will likely be chosen for inclusion in aggressive lineups.

Big Druid

KnC Big Druid

Big Druid Decklist

The ‘Big’ archetype saw large amounts of play during the Knights of the Frozen Throne expansion as a whole, especially during the later half of the set’s meta. Kobolds and Catacombs has not given Big Druid many other tools, but the core of the deck is strong enough to still see play. The only change I have made to the current Big Druid list is taking out Innervate and adding Arcane Tyrants. Innervate, once a staple in most Druid decks, took a huge hit from the nerfs that occured in the middle of the last expansion. It was included in Big Druid, but it was arguably one of the weaker cards within the deck. Two different cards were shown from the new expansion that could find a home in Big Druid: Greedy Sprite and Arcane Tyrant. I chose to include Arcane Tyrant instead of the Sprite because it is very similar to Kun the Forgotten King in the way that it makes your power turns even more powerful. A common way Kun has been used during the meta was playing it as a big free body to pair with Ultimate Infestation. Arcane Tyrant acts in a similar way when paired with Nourish, Spreading Plague, and Ultimate Infestation as well. Greedy Sprite could be included instead of the Tyrant, but the ramp effect is rather slow and your opponent can choose to ignore it. Although this is the case, ramp is powerful enough that Greedy Sprite might see play over Arcane Tyrant.

 

Big Druid seems to be the new go-to Druid deck. In the past, Jade Druid has held this spot, but Big Druid is able to make bigger minions faster and still keep aggression at bay, which may see the ‘Big’ archetype overtaking the Jade mechanic this expansion. Because of this, it is a solid choice for both ranked ladder and tournament play.

 

Tempo Rogue

KnC Tempo Rogue

Tempo Rogue Decklist

Tempo Rogue swept the meta in dominant fashion when it was first discovered to be a powerhouse of a deck. With Kobolds and Catacombs, this deck gets even stronger with the inclusion of some slower yet highly valuable cards. One of these cards is the Rogue Legendary of the set, Sonya Shadowdancer. Sonya replaces the rather weak card of Shaku, the Collector as a card generation engine. Most of the minions in Tempo Rogue have such good effects or Battlecries that Shadowcaster saw a decent amount of experimentation and success during the expansion. Sonya is much cheaper than Shadowcaster, which makes its effect easier to pull off. The second card I have added to the deck is Fal’dorei Strider. Admittingly, a 4 mana 4/4 is rather weak as a tempo play. But, the potential for that minion to pull one, two, or even three additional 4/4 bodies is so powerful that it is worth the initial tempo loss. Even if only 1 additional body is pulled, paying 4 mana for 8/8 worth of stats is crazy powerful. There is also the potential to high-roll by creating a 4/4 on turn 7 to be able to play Bonemare onto after your opponent cleared your board the previous turn.

 

Fal’dorei Strider takes the place of Saronite Chain Gang, mainly because of Chain Gang’s vulnerability to an on-curve Duskbreaker. Overall, Tempo Rogue looks to still be a powerhouse deck next expansion, and I expect to see it played both on the ranked ladder and in tournaments.

 

Highlander Priest

KnC Highlander Priest

Highlander Priest Decklist

Highlander Priest has been at the top of the meta throughout Knights of the Frozen Throne, and it seems to still remain at the top during Kobolds and Catacombs. The Priest list I have selected to showcase only adds one card: Psychic Scream. In order to include the new Priest board clear, I chose to cut Mass Dispel from the deck. Mass Dispel is often times weak, so it made sense to take it out for one of the best cards of the upcoming expansion. This decision shows how good of a deck Highlander Priest already is. Another take on Highlander Priest is to go for a more minion-focused route by including a Dragon package with Duskbreaker. While this seems like a good idea, I feel the current version of the deck is much better. In the past, more value-oriented decks were tested. These decks included cards such as Elise the Trailblazer and Free from Amber. It was ultimately found that the faster and more burst-oriented Priest build was better. Therefore, I feel it is appropriate to stick with the tried-and-true burst style.

 

Once again, Highlander Priest seems to be at the top of the meta. Expect to see a large amount on ladder and as a staple deck in many tournament lineups.

 

The Non-Meta

Combo Hunter

KnC Combo Hunter

Combo Hunter Decklist

For the past few expansions, Hunter has been struggling as a class. Blizzard keeps pushing control tools and weird cards for the Hunter arsenal, which leaves the class in an awkward position in terms of deck building because of how weak each of the archetypes are. With the new Hunter legendary minion, Kathrena Winterwisp, I thought it would be really interesting to build a combo-oriented deck using Kathrena, Charged Devilsaur, and King Krush. It is often not a combo that will instantly kill your opponent, but the amount of stats that the combo provides are truly ridiculous. This deck runs the Secret package to help fend off aggro, the Candleshot and Hunter’s Mark combo to deal with large threats, and Deathstalker Rexxar to create even more value in a late game scenario.

 

While the deck might not be top-tier, it seems extremely fun to play. Personally, I will be testing this deck in tournament play in a lineup that is attempting to target control decks. On ranked ladder, Combo hunter still seems weak to aggro decks and Highlander Priest, which makes it not extremely viable in the upcoming meta.

Conclusion

Overall, Kobolds and Catacombs sees both powerful and fun cards added to the game. While it may not be the best expansion of the year in terms of player attitude and hype, it will likely lead to a diverse and healthy meta both in terms of ranked ladder and tournament play.

 

Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com.

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One year on, we’re still in Gadgetzan

Mean Streets of Gadgetzan came out over a year ago, but we’re still in its grip. The defining Gadgetzan tools of Jade, Highlander and Pirates dominate the meta. Four legendaries tell the story of how the expansion dominates every facet of Standard. Indeed, almost 50 percent of decks on ladder have at least one of Aya, Patches or Kazakus.

Han’cho, the failure

gadgetzan

The failure of Han’cho’s Handbuffs had lasting impacts

Gadgetzan isn’t only defined by its successes. One of the sets most long-lasting implications was the utter failure of the Handbuff mechanic. This is epitomised in Don Han’cho and his Grimy Goons. This two-headed mobster is notable for how he represents the complete mediocrity of Handbuff. Though some Paladin decks with limited Handbuff mechanics have bordered on viability, the overwhelming impact was that one of the most potent expansions contained very little viable class cards for Hunter, Warrior and Paladin.

The impact of this is surprising; while other classes got powerful Kabal spells and Jade synergies, Warrior, Paladin and Hunter were left to pick up what Neutral synergy they could. While this worked for a time, these classes have consistently struggled for much of the past year. Outside of Pirates, Warrior has wallowed in mediocrity or outright unplayability; Hunters are easy prey for more refined Aggro, while Paladin struggles to make any archetype other than Murloc work. They currently make up three of the four least played classes. Their combined representation makes up only 16 percent of the ladder, less than Priest, Rogue or Druid do individually.

Aya, the mid-game queen

Gadgetzan

Aya is arguably better than a tri-class Savannah Highmane

Much has been said about the remarkable mid/late-game tempo power of Jades. What’s remarkable is how much of that comes down to a single card. Not only does Aya provide an aggressive 5/3 body and a Jade Golem for six, her deathrattle also gives you yet another golem. With three bodies of beefy minions in an AOE resistant package, Aya has swung countless games. Even if you survive the onslaught, her double Jade ramp means the turns after are even tougher.

Aya has seen play in every Jade deck out there apart from perhaps Big Druid with its two Jade Blossoms and nothing else. Even Aggro and Evolve Shaman, running nothing but Jade Claws and Jade Lightnings, benefit hugely from her. She represents everything that made Jade so dominant; sticky, aggressive, ramping stats on the cheap. While Jade never took off in Rogue, it has had a massive influence on Druid and Shaman for the past 12 months, leading Control decks everywhere to despairingly wonder “How long can this go on?”

Kazakus, the spellmaster

gadgetzan

Kazakus bolstered multiple Highlander archetypes

Despite the departure of his best buddy Reno Jackson, Kazakus is still a huge part of the meta. Of course, the reigning Highlander deck relies far less on him than on Raza and Shadowreaper, but Kazakus and the Kabal represents the flavour and style of the deck. Inconsistent but immensely powerful, Highlander decks rely on a few potent abilities and synergies to survive their otherwise mediocre decklists. Once that came from Reno; now it comes from Shadowreaper and Raza. But Kazakus remains, providing massive swing turns with his custom spells.

The power of Highlander brought both fun and frustration. Fun, for the flexibility of the highlander decklists, and the big, strong cards they play. Frustrating due to their inherent alternation between weakness and overbearing strength, depending on draw consistency. But such power spikes are necessary to fight off the might of Jades and Patches.

Patches, forever in charge

Gadgetzan

Bar Undertaker, no other card has defined the early game so much

There’s a decent case to suggest that Patches the Pirate is the most powerful minion ever printed. At zero cost apart from running pirates and the risk of drawing him, he redefined the early game. Almost every Pirate became great overnight (sorry Cap’n Crag) and the early game micro-meta was massively upended. Cards like Fire Fly and Voidwalker are good largely because they trade favourably with Patches. Golakka Crawler has done little to halt his rise.

Patches has provided a 1/1 charge boost to almost every aggro or tempo deck. He has single-handedly created a world where Aggro can win the board with intense prejudice. It will be fascinating to see how aggro and tempo can survive without him. Patches deck’s sub-50 percent winrate when drawing him could be an indication of things to come.

Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com.

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Volcanosaur and mid-expansion boredom

For a game of near-infinite possibility, Hearthstone can get stale fast. A focus on infrequent high-content, high-quality expansions keeps Hearthstone excellent, but leave long stretches of little change. How can Hearthstone beat the mid-expansion blues that sets in between releases?

Content Doldrums

expansion

Aside from more decks with this guy, the meta doesn’t seem to have changed drastically

While Adventures used to spread card releases over four weeks, the new all-expansion model has no such spacing. After the initial period of post-expansion experimentation and novelty, the meta settles quickly. The instant communication of vast amounts of info online leads to the most powerful decks spreading uncontrollably. Within days the dominant archetypes are close to refinement. While exceptions occur, especially with more complex combo or control decks, the fact remains that the Ladder experience becomes monotone fast.

Balance changes can help with this, but often don’t go far enough. After the 9.1 balance patch, there was little innovation. While Keleseth Rogue and Midrange Hunter grew in popularity, the main effect was a shuffling round of archetype distribution. Players looking for the total displacement of consistently dominant archetypes like Jade Druid, Pirate Warrior and Murloc Paladin were disappointed.

Too many months

expansion

Adventures spaced out content more effectively than Expansions

But even if the balance patch had completely upended the meta, the Hearthstone gameplay experience would still settle down into staleness once more. The simple facts are that there are only three content releases a year, with three major balance patches in between if we’re lucky. That leaves, on average, about two months between any change to Hearthstone’s card base, and four months between major changes. These stretches of no mechanical additions to Hearthstone may not sound like much at first.

But the ratio of established vs experimental metas is extremely lopsided. Let’s be charitable and assume that each major expansion release has a period of experimentation and flexible deckbuilding of 1-2 weeks. Even if you add one week of experimentation for each balance patch, that only leaves 6-9 weeks of experimental meta in the 52 weeks of the year. And that’s not the end of the world; but it’s certainly not ideal for promoting diverse play.

Volcanosaur to the rescue?

The answer could lie in the days prior to the release of the Journey to Un’goro expansion. Volcanosaur was given out to all as a free pre-expansion bonus. Interestingly, it was playable despite no other Un’goro cards being available. It was a small change, but the experimentation it opened up introduced a freshness that made the build-up to the release that bit more exciting.

This could be the secret to spicing up ladder. Spacing out small parts of content releases to allow pockets of card releases could allow experimentation and disruption. Blizzard could pre-designate a subset of, say 10 neutral cards. Then, without needing to patch, they could set in advance a time when these cards would become craftable and obtainable from packs. Two at a time, once a week would allow a month of weekly excitement as previously unseen cards would be dropped, allowing for experimentation and disruption.

Events could be more than Emotes

expansion

What if events came with new cards as well as rewards?

Outside of specific card releases, there could also be more variety possible via the holiday-themed events in Hearthstone. Arena is practically begging for temporary rule or drafting changes. Rule changes that are not drastic enough to be worth a Tavern Brawl, but nonetheless open up new and interesting possibilities.

For instance, a “Dragon week”, where Dragons have a huge offering bonus, could create a temporary unique experience (perhaps only after Drakonid Operative rotated out). Or heroes could start with five armor; or perhaps one more card was offered in the mulligan.

Whatever these potential rule changes or card additions were, they would not necessarily need to be perfect or even good ideas. When mid-expansion boredom sets in, any change is better than the same old meta for four months straight.


 

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The Freeze Shaman dilemma

Sometimes the set designers’ plans don’t come to fruition. Balancing Hearthstone is hard, and often cards that are foreseen as viable mainstays end up disappointing. Worse, sometimes whole planned archetypes fail.

This is the case with Knights of the Frozen Throne’s Freeze Shaman. Shaman lacked the necessary tools to consistently freeze minions in an advantageous way, and the synergy cards had mediocre payoff. This leaves a difficult choice for Blizzard. Continue to support an archetype with little competitive core? Or abandon it completely?

Commitment and payoff

freeze

Evolve took several expansions of support and a set rotation to shine

Sometimes, commitment to an archetype can pay dividends. Evolve Shaman got core cards like Evolve in Whispers of the Old Gods, but only reached competitive viability in later expansions as cards like Fire Fly, Primalfin Totem, Devolve and Doppelgangster were added. Despite taking a long time to flourish, the archetype grew into a deck that was both viable, fun and occupied a vital spot in the meta-game.

Blizzard has continued to add to Evolve, with cards like Deathseer Thrall in Knights of the Frozen Throne becoming mainstays and continuing on the core mechanic. By refusing to abandon an archetype that didn’t immediately pan out, Team 5 ended up giving Shaman perhaps its only recent viable deck, and one with huge popular appeal.

Over-investment

freeze

Discard held Warlock back

However, sometimes over-commitment to an archetype doesn’t work out so well. Warlock’s discard mechanic has technically been in the game since Vanilla. Later expansions attempted to experiment, with tentative but ultimately unsuccessful cards like Tiny Knight of Evil and Fist of Jarraxxus. Discard only really began to be “pushed” in One Night in Karazhan, with cards like Silverware Golem and Malchezaar’s Imp driving a discard deck that was explosive, if inconsistent. Though Discard Zoo saw considerable play, it was suppressed heavily by Midrange Shaman.

Intermittent support for discard didn’t help the deck in later expansions. While Mean Streets saw few Discard effects as the Kabal’s highlander effects were prioritised, in Un’goro, Discard was ramped up. The eventually culminated in the nigh-unplayable Warlock Quest, with discard and Warlock as a whole seeing terrible performance and representation on Ladder.

The over-commitment to an unsuccessful and arguably boring archetype not only was a poor use of design resources, it also drove Warlock towards the lowest win-rates and play-rates it had ever seen.

Is Freeze worth following up on?

Freeze Shaman is then faced with two prospects. Either continued support in future expansions to hopefully ignite an interesting, potent and niche-filling archetype; or leave it behind for fresher ideas. There are strong arguments either way.

On the one hand, it’s argued that the utter failure of Freeze to make it into any competitive Shaman means that adding additional tools would be throwing good cards after bad. Freeze is a niche mechanic, best suited to stalling combo decks. While some Combo Shamans have existed in the past, without mana manipulation it’s unlikely that Malygos Shaman or something similar would return.

This would suggest that Freeze Synergy cards are not the answer. While Freeze effects may still be valuable, they currently seem far too scarce, at least in Shaman, to be built around. But adding another set filled with both Freeze and Freeze Synergies would threaten Shaman’s viability if the archetype continued to underwhelm.

Soft support

freeze

Cards like Voodoo Hexer enable Freeze synergies, without being dependent on them

On the other hand, there are strong and interesting cards that could easily be viable with just a little more support. Voodoo Hexer has Alley Armorsmith levels of anti-aggro power, limited only by a lack of Controlling Shamans to put it in. Avalanche is situational but powerful. Ice Breaker could be premium removal if more freeze tools were added.

The answer might lie in soft support. Rather than going down the discard route of going all-in on the failing mechanic, Team 5 could instead add cards that synergise more subtly. Like how Un’goro gave Shaman token options to work with Evolve, without huge minions that were utterly dependent on Evolve.

Freeze Shaman could get support in more incidental Freeze effects on otherwise generally strong cards. This would not “force” Freeze, but leave it as an interesting choice and option for deck-builders. Freeze could be added wholly or partly, depending on how strong the cards turned out. What’s more, this could help push a more controlling, board-clear based Shaman as opposed to the more aggressive token lists currently available.


 

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tech

Tech to beat the new expansion meta

Knights of the Frozen Throne is mere hours from NA release at the time of writing. Theorycrafting is in full swing, and players are eager to unleash their shiny new cards and decks upon the ladder. Others are greedily seizing upon the opportunity to climb with last meta’s most efficient decks. It’s a perfect time for deck tech to shine.

This can be a tricky meta to navigate. A combination of crazily greedy decks featuring flashy new legendaries like the Lich King can be a struggle for reactive decks to deal with. Meanwhile, those sticking to old-fashioned aggro provide a challenge to those seeking to innovate. So how do you navigate this oddly polarised ladder experience?

Frostmourne belongs in a Museum

Eat their Death Knight dreams with a gloopy spit

One recurring theme of the expansion has been a number of incredibly powerful weapons. Warrior’s new Deaths-bite-alike Blood Razor threatens uber-efficient removal. Rogue’s Shadowblade and supporting Doomerang offer weapon damage without hurting Valeera herself. Both the Warrior and Paladin Death Knight Hero come with hugely powerful weapons attached that represent huge tempo and value swings. Not to mention the Lich King himself (and Arfas) can fetch the terrifying Frostmourne, a weapon that threatens to resurrect all minions it kills.

The answer to all this massive weapon value? Well, luckily Hearthstone has a built-in pressure valve for strong weapons. Weapon hate like Harrison Jones, Acidic Swamp Ooze and Gluttonous Ooze can quickly put an end to the value fiesta. What’s more, this kind of weapon hate is perfect to survive and turn the clock against the hyper-aggressive Pirate Warrior. Punishing this hyper-aggressive deck is a great strategy to stop those seeking to sneak out a quick legend amidst bumbling homebrews.

The tempo treatment

The solution to wacky combos and crazy legendaries is good old-fashioned mana efficiency

Tech doesn’t always mean playing specific cards. Often it’s as much a matter of playstyle and deck choice. In a highly varied, experimental meta, it’s often hard to play reactive decks. Playing as Control is dependent on knowing what you’re up against. You can’t be prepared for the kind of mad, greedy combos that will be thrown at you.

Instead, decks that push a specific gameplan with powerful tempo plays are likely to be even further rewarded than usual. Aggressive Midrange or Combo like Miracle Rogue or Midrange Hunter decks are likely to see a lot of success. Their brand of snowballing mid-game board presence is especially difficult to deal with by unrefined Control. While Aggro can be shut down by new lifesteal and taunt minions, aggressive Midrange can provide the beefy late game to bring games to a close despite Taunts, Heal and whatever else Control throws at you. Doing more for your mana than they can is a sure-fire way to victory.

The downside is a limited ability to react to the opponent’s gameplan before you can execute yours. This is where tech cards can come in most handy; as they allow you to push your gameplan of mid-game minions while severely hampering your opponent’s strategies.

Let none pass

 

The Lich King’s popularity could be his undoing

The Lich King is one of the flashiest and most impressive legendaries of Knights of the Frozen Throne. The souped-up Ironbark Protector is likely to see considerable play. His less flashy cousin, Bonemare, also has generated significant praise. Both promise big late-game taunts that could be a nightmare for many classes to deal with. Both Aggro and Control struggle to deal with these kinds of big, valuable bodies that prevent you going face or killing threatening minions.

 

If your deck lacks removal for these kinds of threats, then consider adding some way to destroy or avoid it. The Black Knight is a Classic taunt counter and can provide huge tempo swings. Particularly against the Lich King, he’s a devastating late-game board swing. For decks like Midrange Hunter that otherwise lacks removal, he could be an invaluable combination of beefy body and powerful effect.

Shush

“Lot of stats, but weak to silence” covers a lot of new minions

If you can’t  quite stomach the 6 mana for a 4/5, consider running a Silence. Spellbreaker can provide a fantastic tempo swing, especially against the buffed bodies of Bonemare. With a myriad of new, interesting and powerful effects for players to test, silence is unlikely to go without targets. Deathrattles and buffs are a recurring theme of knights of the Frozen Throne, and Silence counters both.

While Silencing the Lich King isn’t quite as powerful as destroying him, it often is all you need to push for lethal. In return, you get a cheaper, more flexible minion that works on a number of targets. It also notably counters Lifesteal minions that otherwise could continually generate huge healing for the opponent.

Feeling crabby

Pirate Warrior is likely to try and prey on weak, unrefined decks: be ready

Crabs like Golakka Crawler are also a solid choice. If you get to a glut of Pirate Warriors, Golakka can provide the win rate edge you need without running the slew of reactive tools that can compromise your effectiveness against the hordes of experimental midrange and control.

Depending on how players choose to experiment, Hungry Crab might also be a sensible inclusion. A Divine Aggro Murloc Paladin featuring the new Righteous Protector could rise to early prominence. In which case, Hungry Crab will severely cut those explosive Murloc starts down to size.

If Divine Paladin truly takes off, then Blood Knight could be a fantastic, if specific, tech to tear through those Divine shields and generate absurd amounts of stats.

Don’t fear the tweaker

It’s survival of the fittest out there: adapt to survive! Though you still probably shouldn’t play Adaptation

Above all, the key to succeeding in the early expansion meta is adaptability. With so many cards and archetypes to test, the meta will change by the day, if not by the hour. Feel free to swap in techs, decks and new cards. Think about what works and what doesn’t and refine your deck further with each win or loss. Finding the optimal choice for both fun and wins is one of the best parts of a new expansion.

So get out there and give those other theory-crafted decks the testing of a lifetime!


Artwork courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com.

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Frozen Throne and the danger of sticky minions

It’s been a while since the days of overly sticky minions in Hearthstone’s Standard. Once-ubiquitous Deathrattles like Piloted Shredder, Haunted Creeper and Nerubian Egg have long since rotated out.

However, the upcoming Knights of the Frozen Throne expansion promises to bring with it an undead host of new Deathrattle minions. Have the Hearthstone Developers at Team 5 learned their lesson? Or will sticky Deathrattles return to dominate the meta?

What is stickiness?

sticky

To understand stickiness, think the opposite of Magma Rager

“Stickiness” is a term in Hearthstone that expresses how difficult a card is to remove proportional to its mana cost. For a classic example, compare Magma Rager to Harvest Golem. Both cost three mana. However, Magma Rager can be completely removed with only one instance of one damage, whereas Harvest Golem requires three damage and then one damage to clear completely. The idea that more health equals more stickiness may seem obvious, but stickiness means more than just health.

Look at Piloted Shredder and compare it to Chillwind Yeti. Piloted Shredder is considered stickier because despite having less health than the yeti, it overall tends to have equal or more health (its two health Deathrattle drop is usually a 3/2, 2/2 or 2/3). But most importantly, killing a Shredder requires two sources of damage rather than just one. A single Fireball or Savannah Highmane attack kills a Yeti, but leaves a Shredder Deathrattle on the field.

Undercosted survivability

sticky

Early sticky minions were extremely competitively costed

Hearthstone’s history is full of certain card attributes being over or under-valued. Just take a look at healing in Classic. Holy Light, Guardian of Kings, Priestess of Elune and Healing Touch remain significantly overcosted.

Meanwhile, aggressive abilities and attributes like attack and windfury were also repeatedly overcosted, while survivability (especially in the form of Deathrattles) has been continually undercosted. Look at the scores of unused underpowered Windfury minions, or high attack Taunts, that have gone almost entirely unused outside of arena.

Then compare it to the scores of powerful Deathrattle minions from early in Hearthstone’s development. Harvest Golem, Cairne and Savannah Highmane are the only Classic minions that summon friendly minions on death, and all have seen massive competitive play. Alongside Naxxramas and GvG’s cohort of ubiquitous Neutral Deathrattles, the necessity of an adjustment quickly became clear.

Killing everything twice

sticky

Hunter’s strength is in its sticky minions; but you wouldn’t want, say, Druid, to have access to the same power

The problem with such sticky minions is that it begins to undermine the value of removal. There’s little point in Flamestrike if every minion has low health but summons something on death. When AOE doesn’t clear, then slower decks suffer. Stickiness also leads to distortions in the meta; with so much more on the board at any given moment, buffs and adjacency bonuses get an additional kick in value. Cards like Bloodlust and Savage Roar become even scarier. The potential punishes for going face decreases, as minions end up being too hard to kill efficiently.

The overall effect is that it leads to a more aggressive, more snowbally game, with fewer interesting comebacks and less tactical decision-making. Which is fine for some decks (it’s part of the identity of hunter), but when applied to the entire meta it quickly becomes overly punishing.

Learning from the past

Luckily, Hearthstone’s developers appear to be learning from past misjudgments. The most recent slew of Deathrattle minions that summon minions have a far more conservative cost. The only minions to summon minions unconditionally in Un’goro are Eggnapper (relatively weak but saw some play in Druid), Devilsaur Egg (a more expensive Nerubian that has seen very moderate experimental play) and Sated Threshadon (an unequivocally Arena-only card that sees play only in the greediest of N’zoth decks).

While Aya Blackpaw was an egregious outlier, she’s the exception that proves the rule. Almost all Deathrattle minions that summon minions printed since Whispers of the old Gods are either Hunter-only, synergy-specific or relatively under-statted for their cost. Because of this, we’re now in a meta where AOE is more prevalent and removal is more useful. It has become easier to explore interesting synergies and control decks. But if the devs shy away from powerful, sticky Deathrattles, what will Frozen Throne bring to Hearthstone?

Deathrattles without stickiness

sticky

The most interesting Deathrattles often don’t summon minions

The answer, of course, is that Deathrattles need not summon friendly minions. Some of the most interesting and powerful Deathrattles have been on cards with new and unique effects. Take Deathlord, an anti-aggro staple that fit into a wide variety of unique decks. Or for a newer example, Un’goro’s Direhorn Hatchling, a boon to N’zoth and Taunt Warrior alike without a powerful board impact. Or even the now Hall of Fame dwelling Sylvanas, that actively countered sticky minions by stealing them or their output wholesale.

The only Frozen Throne Deathrattle released so far is the Shallow Gravedigger. This grants a Deathrattle minion, providing card advantage instead of board presence. Here’s hoping that other Frozen Throne minions follow a similar philosophy. We don’t want to end up with a Piloted Zombie Shredder instead.


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Bad cards are fine – Boring cards aren’t

A new expansion is likely to be announced over the next few months. In that time, we’ll likely be shown an announcement event where a select few exciting new cards will be unveiled. New mechanics, keywords and synergies will be introduced, and fascinating new concepts will be hyped up. However, that’s not going to be the topic of this article. Instead I want to focus on the cards that will be revealed with little fanfare, likely on Facebook. They’ll be dismissed by the pros, and instantly relegated to arena (if that). I’m talking of course, about filler. Boring, bland or just plain bad cards added to simply fill out content in the set.

Padding Out Packs

The purpose of filler is simple; easy, cheap, hassle free content. Cards like Worgen Greaser or Eldritch Horror are never going to set the world on fire. There’s cheaper, more efficient and more effective options available for the very limited niche they try to fill. However, their very badness is appealing to Team 5: it ensures they won’t cause problems. If cards get cut or concepts abandoned, there needs to be standbys to ensure the card quota is hit.

However, it’s one thing to make cards that are deliberately bad. It could be argued that making cards that are bad in a boring, restrictive, un-inventive way is a massive wasted opportunity and reflects poorly on Blizzard’s attitude towards their customers. Bad cards that provide opportunities to tease and experiment with interesting mechanics or even just shake up the board state in an unexpected way are far superior, and should be used whenever possible.

Enough Yetis

We don’t need another Worgen Greaser every expansion

So what does a boring, bad card look like? Typically, it’s vanilla statted, with either a straightforward or no effect at all. Cards like Ultrasaur can be an exception, simply because they go to extremes (Ultrasaur has the highest health of any collectible card, for instance). Slapping Taunt or Windfury doesn’t count, unless it’s in a unique or interesting combination. Bog Creeper was the first big, neutral, competitively statted taunt, which made it interesting. But cards like Giant Mastodon don’t serve to explore any new territory that players haven’t seen dozens of times before.

These vanilla or otherwise straightforward minions take up precious space, making packs feel less impactful, and reducing opportunities for testing and experimentation of new ideas. Not only will these cards not impact the competitive meta, they’ll also not see play outside of Arena runs that would be far more interesting with other options.

Majorly Bad, Majorly Fun

Becoming Ragnaros is a bad move, but enticingly rewarding in some cases

Majordomo Executus is the perfect example of bad cards done right. The card is immediately, obviously, spectacularly terrible. It loses games in orders of magnitude more than it wins them. It is however, fascinating, potent and holds the allure of massive power. Furthermore, it has engaging synergies with Sylvanas, N’zoth, Deathlord, Alexstrasza, Forbidden Shaping and the Priest Quest Reward Amara. It’s made countless YouTube highlights and inspired countless inventive deckbuilds to try and make it work.

The key factor of Majordomo is that despite it being bad, it’s impactful, and does something no other card really does. It also paved the way for other cards like the Warrior quest, which rely on similar mechanics. By being inventive and exploring possibilities, Majordomo Executus is a bad card made interesting.

Testbeds for the Future

Instead of an over-costed Windfury minion every expansion, why not try out that crazy idea the new guy had?

New, exciting ideas in card designs can have far ranging and unpredictable impacts. Especially when it comes to the bleeding edge of competitively viable cards, or in discovering which mechanics players enjoy. In order to get a more accurate assessment, internal testing often isn’t enough. One of the best ways to explore these ideas is to introduce them to the wider ladder in a safe format; in bad cards where they won’t take over the meta.

Especially with the phasing-out of Hearthstone’s Adventures as a potential, this’ll be increasingly important to make sure we’re not left with overpowered or non fun implementations of new ideas. With Hearthstone’s profits exceeding millions of dollars and a constantly growing team, there’s no excuse for bland vanilla minions filling up our new packs.

Title art courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com. Art by Mike Sass

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Un’goro is a Tough Act to Follow – What Should the Next Expansion Bring?

By many accounts, Un’goro has been arguably the most successful expansion as far as meta healthiness goes. Every class but Warlock has multiple competitive archetypes. In a recent Meta Snapshot Vicious Syndicate declared for the first time ever that at Legend ranks there are no Tier 1 decks (More than 52% winrate). There are a wide variety of Combo, Midrange, Aggro and Control decks, with many different flavours and variations on each. Card diversity is up too, with virtually no multi-class omnipresent auto-include. Long gone are the days where almost every deck had Patches, Aya or Kazakus. In short, aside from a lamentable blemish in the decline in Warlock.

But no success will last forever, and soon even this ultra-diverse meta will begin to grate and feel stale. More importantly for Team 5, Blizzard’s accountants are surely eagerly awaiting a new expansion for the next deluge of pack-purchasing frenzies. But how should Team 5 introduce new cards and concepts to improve upon the high quality of Un’goro? Here are my highly subjective suggestions.

Make Warlock Competitive With New Synergies

I’ve written before on the sad state of Warlock. Simply put, the class has bad cards; to the extent that its hero power isn’t enough to save it. On the board-centric aggressive end, the class needs fewer janky Discard mechanics and more solid minions that speak to the initially unimpressive, mathematical joy and tactical precision of Zoo. More Dire-Wolf Alpha and Defender of Argus style cards that rely heavily on board maintenance, prediction and positioning would be perfect.

Meanwhile, Controlling or Handlock-esque versions of Warlock suffer simply from lack of survivability. The class should, thematically, not get too many healing tools; Reno proved that giving it such options could make it dangerously powerful. Instead, other survivability-based synergies should be introduced to improve that class’s ability to withstand Aggro and Burn.

Give Shaman Reactive Early-Game Tools

Shaman is probably the second-weakest class currently. Though it retains relevancy (barely) with Bloodlust-centric flood builds, Elemental decks, and some Control experimentation off the back of Volcano. However, the class has become over-reliant on its AOE spells, and its non-Aggro decks are falling to low Tier 3. Without additional help, the class could fall to irrelevancy if other classes continue to have stronger early game.

Though the lesson of giving Shaman stellar early minions has surely been learned, a few more reactive early game tools wouldn’t go amiss. A weapon would probably be a strong option, though the incredible potential power of early game weapons makes this a tricky one to balance properly. A few more Lightning Bolt style spot removal options, maybe with some adjacency damage tacked on, might allow the efficiency needed to put together a decent non-AOE early game reactive package.

Paladin has a number of ways to make recruits – but few buff mechanics to make them worthwhile compared to Murlocs

Let Paladins Buff Their Dudes

Paladin appears to be in a good spot, with multiple archetypes, high competitive viability and a focus on a “fair”, value-based Midrange package that perfectly fits the class. The one thing missing is flavour; the current lists seem to be a mismatch of holy warriors, rampaging murlocs, ancient dragons, turtles and even a mechanical zookeeper. The iconic Silver Hand Recruits of Paladin are being sidelined.

Paladin should get more options to create, synergise and buff their “Dudes” (silver hand recruits) and build decks based less around murlocs and more around inspiring their ordinary men to acts of great valor through the power of the Light. Lightfused Stegadon and Sunkeeper Tarim were steps in the right direction, but more interesting single-target and mass buffs are needed to make the Dudes truly shine.

Push Warrior Towards Combo

Warrior has been in an amazing position in the meta for some time now, with numerous Control and Aggro archetypes. The all-conquering Pirate Warrior needs no introduction, and Taunt Warrior is proving a solid choice also. Such strong decks needing little support, especially as any decent Neutral two drop or strong taunt will likely be incorporated into either deck.

Instead of over-supporting these archetypes, Team 5 should focus on gently opening avenues for Warriors to experiment with interesting combo decks, exemplified by old Patron Warrior, Worgen Warrior and Arcane Giants Blood Warrior. Maybe a class-specific improved version of Wild Pyromancer, or more Patron-style end-game combo activators. With such potential in the classic set, it’s likely that there could be an interesting, balanced and potent combo deck to hunt aggro and provide a compelling gameplay experience. And hey, it might just reduce the number of Pirate Warriors on the ladder.

Find a Late-Game Druid Mechanic That Beats Jade

I wrote recently about the danger Jade poses to the Druid class. While Druid is in a good space now with two solid archetypes, it’s hard to envision a different future.

The easiest way forward would probably be to rotate out the Jade package early, but that seems unlikely. More realistically, a different late-game package with different strengths and more cerebral interactions than repeatedly summoning over-statted minions is introduced that is more competitive than attempts such as the unsuccessful Druid Quest.

Be Conservative with Mage

Mage got a number of objectively powerful cards in Un’goro. Arcanologist and Primordial Glyph (along with, to a lesser extent, Meteor), have propelled the class to new heights. Secret Mage may even be Tier 1. The class feels as if it is teetering on the edge of being oppressive. One powerful Secret could swing the Secret package and Mage as a whole into dangerously overpowered territory.

As such, it’s probably best to keep new Mage cards on the underwhelming side, especially if they’re Secrets.

Keep Hunter Cheap

The biggest Un’goro additions for Hunter were a strong, beast synergistic two drop in Crackling Razormaw, and additional one drops. This propelled Hunter into a decent position, though it lacks class diversity.

The current strategy of giving Hunter efficient beasts and synergies seems to be working. While giving them an incentive to curve higher might be a valid idea, the current trajectory of Hunter seems to be balanced, flavourful and lore-appropriate. The most important aspect would be to limit the number of powerful auto-include Epics and Rares, and ideally give Hunter no new necessary Legendaries so that it remains one of the few low-dust potent beginner decks.

Big, flashy legendaries are all well and good – but make them too integral and beginners will lack a good starter deck to aim for

Give Priest More Consistent Value

Priest is in a great state compared to its historical irrelevance, with multiple Silence, Combo and Control decks burning up the ladder with Holy Fire. However, it remains at risk of puttering out in many matchups.

Free from Amber was a step in the right direction for Priest, but the class still seems to lack a consistent late-game punch. Outside of snowballing with Divine Spirit or Lyra shenanigans, the class is forced to rely on inconsistent Elise packs, and vulnerable Medivh minions. Giving the class at least one potent, value-tastic late-game card seems like the best course of action. Bonus points if it’s not entirely RNG dependent.

Give Rogues More Card Engines

Rogue’s Quest archetype has taken off in a big way, both for tournaments and ladder. Refined versions of Quest Rogue have left Miracle by the wayside, leaving some who prefer the Miracle gameplay somewhat lacking.

Outside of aggro or Quests, Rogues need huge amounts of draw to make their efficient but low-value spells worth playing. An over-reliance on Gadgetzan has pigeonholed Rogue towards a certain type of list and playstyle. Giving Rogue some other draw engine that’s not balanced around other classes (that have, say, Innervate and Wild Growth), might allow them to retain relevancy without the Quest in a world of ever-stronger aggro.


Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via hearthstone.gamepedia.com

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