Wildcard potential nerf targets

Dean “Iksar” Ayala gave us a unique insight into the ongoing internal design balance discussion at blizzard. In a clarifying Reddit comment, he gave a hit-list of 10 cards that Team 5 are specifically looking at. Among them were many targets of community and competitive ire. It’s a fair assumption that several or even most of the cards highlighted will be touched (my money’s on Call to Arms, Dark Pact, Lackey, Spiteful and one or more key Quest Rogue tools). But there is a decent chance that cards not on this hit-list will be adjusted. Here are some contenders.

Mushroom power or mushroom overpowered?

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5 mana Kings and a 2/2 is pretty good value

There’s a precedent for Blizzard nerfing omnipresent neutral buff minions in Bonemare. Fungalmancer may fall under the nerfhammer for the same reasons. Outside of Tempo Mage, there is no deck that seeks to control the early board that doesn’t run this card. Despite not appearing on Iksar’s hit-list, Baku Rogue, Baku Paladin, Zoo and Spiteful Druid all run it, leading it to have a whopping 18% ladder representation according to HSReplay.net.

But a neutral minion being so omnipresent wouldn’t itself be grounds for a nerf; as otherwise we’d surely see Tar Creeper and Fire Fly changed. What makes Fungalmancer at risk might be merely the dynamics of deck strength. With Warlock and Even Paladin likely targets, Odd Paladin might escape relatively unscathed to dominate the meta. But a huge part of Odd Paladin’s strength comes from Fungalmancer. If changing Baku’s hero power becomes too difficult and costly, Fungalmancer could be a simple, easy proxy.

The wyrm has turned

Though it wasn’t the one cost minion on the hit-list, Mana Wyrm is one hell of an opening minion. It continues to propel aggressive mages to consistent ladder performances. Might the original Tunnel Trogg be at risk? There’s a decent chance to think it might. Tempo Mage would surely blossom in a meta where Paladin was unable to dominate, with few being able to match its scary combination of early game pressure and late-game burn.

As Blizzard seeks to continue on the path of having strength in 1 drops being defined by value in cards like Fire Fly, Kobold Librarian and Town Crier, snowbally minions like Mana Wyrm stick out. In order to rein in tempo mage and support their overall design philosophy, Mana Wyrm might need to see its health reduced to two.

How long this can go on

Saronite might need to take a nerf bullet for Shudderwock

Shudderwock may also be in the sights; though less for its power and more for the feelings of uninteractivity and polarisation it creates. Although it’s unlikely to see the card nerfed directly, some of its supporting cards might see a change, especially if they present design space or power level issues. Saronite Chain Gang might be a target; it enables the endless chain of 1 mana Shudderwocks, and also overperforms in decks like Even Val’anyr Paladin.

It potentially could see a change to its battlecry. If instead of summoning a copy of itself, it simply summoned specifically a second 2/3 taunt, it would be less powerful with Val’anyr and also make Shudderwock a bit less game-endingly uninteractive. However, Wild handbuff decks need not despair just yet, as Shudderwock’s poor winrate may lead it to evade attention for now.

Sucking out the fun?

While on the topic of Shudderwock synergy, it’s important to mention Lifedrinker. This deck is not only a vital Shaman combo piece, it also enables yet more burn in an efficient Neutral shell. This is one of the burn tools that pushed Tempo Mage over the edge, allowing for a truly obscene amount of direct damage in the deck.

It’s for this reason that I wouldn’t be surprised to see a minor reduction to the stats of this card, if only to prevent Mage or Hunter from reaching a critical mass of direct damage. Perhaps it could see its stats reduced to 2/2 or 2/3. However, it’s unlikely that this will be put into effect if the Mana Wyrm change goes through.

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warlock

How to outlast Warlock

Times are rough for Control decks. As well as having to contend with the likes of Quest Rogue and Spiteful Druid, any aspiring late-game deck must be able to deal with hordes of Warlock decks. But however daunting the task may be, there are strategies to deal with both Cube and Control Warlocks as slow decks. If you can exploit their weaknesses and play around strengths, you can turn impossible-feeling games into wins. With time, skill and experience, Warlocks of all stripes will crumble before your machinations. Well, more than they otherwise would, anyway.

Get the right tools

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Skull of the Man’ari makes for an excellent addition to any museum

Beating Warlock isn’t just done on the board, it’s done on the deckbuilder. A healthy dose of tech cards will massively improve your chances. A good all-round choice for beating Warlock is Silence effects. Rin, Cube, Voidlord and Umbra are all juicy Silence targets that can seriously impede their chances. Canny Warlocks will play around Silence though, so it’s not quite as good if your opponent anticipates it. Regardless, forcing them to wait to Dark Pact their Rin or Cube is still very advantageous.

Beyond Silence, weapon removal is an excellent inclusion. While Control Warlocks tend not to run it, Cube is heavily reliant on Skull of the Man’ari. An extremely potent card, yes, but exceptionally weak to weapon hate. Harrison Jones in particular not only nullifies their effect but also draws you vital cards. Without Skull, Cube can often be forced to simply play their Doomguards from hand, risking discarding vital combo pieces and spending precious mana that could otherwise be used to combo.

Outside of Silence and Weapon removal, consider playing more hard removals. Many lists run Mountain Giants, which can quickly snowball out of control if not dealt with. Not only that, but leaving up a Doomguard can often mean, well, doom. Voodoo Doll is a solid option to accomplish this in many decks, and some even run Tinkmaster to have the double-whammy of preventing the resummon from Gul’dan.

One more tech to consider would be shuffling effects. Rin is an ever-present threat. To help you stay alive if your deck gets prematurely nuked, you can wait and play cards that add more to your deck. Elise, Baleful Banker or class specific cards like Dead Man’s Hand, Archbishop Benedictus or Astral Tiger are all solid options.

Play around their power spikes

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The only thing worse than a Mountain Giant on 4 is two on turn 5, so make sure you kill the first

Warlocks have several key power spikes to play around. When playing against them, always consider these key cards that regularly come down on certain turns.

First off, there’s Mountain Giant. On their turn 4, you should try and have cards or a board state that capable of taking down an 8/8. If you leave it up, you run the risk of getting blown out by a Faceless. As such, it’s often a good idea to mulligan for hard removal or cards like Doomsayer or Acolyte than can stall until you can draw that Death or Polymorph.

Then there’s the turn 5 Skull or Lackey. There isn’t much you can do to interact with this other than hope you’ve drawn your weapon removal or silence, but that doesn’t mean you’re helpless. This is often a good cue to do something powerful and pro-active, like developing minions or drawing cards answers. Ideally, you can do stuff like drop a 6 or more health taunt to potentially stop multiple Doomguard charges. Remember, Warlock has trouble developing and removing on the same turn, so forcing them to play reactive is just as good as countering their play in many cases. Also, if they drop Lackey when you don’t have minions on board, it can be worth not playing anything with more than 2 attack; forcing them to destroy their own lackey prevents them from doing potent plays like trade into Cube and Dark Pact on the following turn.

The final power spike to watch for is the turn 10 Gul’dan. Beyond simply saving AOE, you need to try and watch out for charging Doomguards. As such, putting up taunts or gaining life beforehand is also advisable. Further, if you’re planning to clear with symmetrical AOE like Brawl, Dragon’s Fury or Psychic Scream, it’s worth saving your development for after their Guldan. There’s no point playing that big scary threat if they can just block it with Voidlords and force you to clear it along with their demons.

Deny their Cubes and Facelesses

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If you don’t let Doomguards stick, their copy effects are far less scary

Once you know your opponent is Cubelock rather than Control Warlock (key indicators are Doomguards, Skull and Mountain Giants) then it’s time to start playing around the deck’s duplication effects. Playing around Cube is straightforward; just try and keep the board clear of high-threat minions like Doomguards and Mountain Giants. Without their ability to copy high-attack minions, they’ll be forced to play tempo 4/6s or duplicate low impact minions, severely cutting into the potency of the deck.

Faceless can be trickier to play around, for a number of reasons. Unlike Cube, Faceless doesn’t require Dark Pact to play around Silence effects. The main way to play around faceless is to follow the rules for playing around Cube but to expand it to include Cubes that contain threatening minions. If they managed to copy a Cube with Faceless, that’s another two Mountain Giants or Doomguards to deal with. Another aspect to think about is the threat of the opponent using Faceless on your own minions. That Grommash may look juicy to drop and value trade, but two Facelesses can quickly give your opponent 20 burst.

Learn the weaknesses of Rin

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Even forcing them to spend a single mana prevents them from dropping Azari

Rin is the most threatening anti-Control card that’s found in both Control Warlock and some Cube Warlocks. Once she comes down, it’s important to figure out a gameplan to defeat Azari’s deck-crushing effect.

The first thing to remember is that Rin’s cards are extremely low-tempo and cost large-clunky amounts of mana. Dropping your threats may get them removed, but it will buy you more time. Azari itself is 10 mana, so putting down sufficient pressure will force your opponent to delay his arrival, giving you more cards and less fatigue damage in the long run.

Beyond pressure, a good way to defeat Rin is to save your shuffle effects until after they play Azari. If you hold that Elise, then you can delay fatigue and immediately draw a pack the following turn. If they’re also reaching fatigue, this can mean the difference between victory and defeat. To achieve this, focus heavily on drawing cards to maximise your resources once the fatigue war begins.

Finally, it’s a good idea to save some hard removal for that 10/10; if it’s not in your hand when he comes down, you’ll never get a chance to draw it!

Watch for their burst

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Gul’dan’s hero power can get you in range of their burst if you’re not careful

Finally, a Warlock on the ropes is still a dangerous foe. Even if you’ve outlasted all their threats, the three damage hero power adds up. Make sure you don’t get overconfident and die to their last flurry of burn.

If you’ve kept track of the opponent’s cards, either manually or with a deck tracker, you can accurately count the damage they can deal. Good break points to learn are 6 (Hellfire and hero power), 8 (Doomguard and hero power), 9 (Hellfire, Hellfire, hero power) and 10 (Doomguard and Faceless or Doomguard and Doomguard). If they’ve kept the coin all game, you can even potentially take 15 from Doomguard, Cube, coin, Dark Pact.

But outside of this, you should have finally outlasted your Warlock foe. Time to revel in that sweet victory, and to hope your next match isn’t against Quest Rogue.


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Why Quest’s Rogue’s back (and how not to nerf it)

While many (author included) were shuddering at the thought of jaws biting and claws catching the meta, Quest Rogue arose as the control-killing combo deck to fear. Defying its year-old nerf, the deck is at some of its highest winrates yet seen, especially near the top of legend. But how did Quest Rogue manage to return to high-tier status? And what, if anything, should be done to curb its rise?

There’s one more question that arises from Quest Rogue’s return; will it be nerfed? Team 5 seem wary of decks that lack interactivity and counterplay, especially ones that rely on huge burst combos. Will Quest’s Rogue end up suffering yet another balance change? And if so, what form will it take?

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Reactions to Quest Rogue’s return are mixed to say the least (Credit: twitter.com/FibonacciHS)

The Warlock killer

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Quest Rogue is one of the few good ways to counter Control Warlock

One principle reason for the rise in Quest Rogue’s popularity is the current dominance of Warlocks. With an exceedingly favourable matchup vs Control Warlock in particular, Quest Rogue excels at preying on anti-aggro decks that seek to counter Paladin. Collateral damage are also the newly resurgent Control Mage and Control Warrior archetypes. But this is minor compared to the impact of shutting down arguably the strongest Control deck ever in Standard.

So would worries about Quest Rogue be satisfied with a nerf to Warlock? Well, probably not. Although Warlock is strong, Quest Rogue doesn’t even have that favourable a matchup against the more popular and arguably more powerful variant in Cubelock. Warlocks encourage burn decks like Odd Hunter and Tempo Mage that also hard-counter Quest Rogue. Without Warlocks, the meta would likely revolve even more around Paladins and decks that counter Paladins. And while Paladins punish Quest Rogues, they don’t do so to the same extent as burn strategies that scoff at a prepped Vanish. And non-Warlock Paladin counters are even more vulnerable to Quest Rogues than Warlock.

New year, new tools

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Kobolds and Catacomb’s Elven Minstrel means running Rogue out of cards is now a tough proposition

Another huge factor in Quest Rogue’s new power is its shiny toolset from the last few sets. Sonya and Zola provide massive value generation. Elven Minstrel ensures you never run out of cards. And above all, Vicious Scalehide provides the deck with huge post-quest burst healing potential, which was previously a key deck weakness. All these combine to make a deck that is far more consistent than its original incarnation in the long game, though it lacks the same high-roll potential.

So should these cards be Blizzard’s target? I would argue no. All of these options are interesting in a variety of decks other than Quest Rogue. What’s more, they make the deck far less variance-dependent, increasing the consistency of the combo. Overall, this creates far less of a “highroll” gameplan, and a more cerebral experience. Nerfing a card like Vicious Scalehide would end up making the deck worse vs aggro while keeping Control decks feeling helpless. What’s more, this would set a dangerous precedent, of Team 5 being unable to print cheap powerful anti-aggro minions. The true problem lies elsewhere.

The perennial problem

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Charge has always been a problem. Should Stonetusk Rush instead?

The other reason for its return is that it never really left. Quest Rogue’s been hovering around the edges of viability for a while now, and the rotation has only just managed to push it to the fore. The deck still has core strengths, and an intrinsic problem when it comes to counterplay. And that problem is Charge.

Charge is the primary win condition of the deck in all slower matchups. Plenty of decks can continually remove 5/5s. But basically no deck can outlast the gigantic amounts of burst damage that post-Quest Rogues can put out. A good Quest Rogue that saves chargers and bounce effects can threaten 40 or more damage in a single turn, with more threatened on the follow-up. It’s this fundamental uninteractivity that makes Quest Rogue so difficult to counter by Control, and so frustrating to lose to.

Rushing to conclusions

If Quest Rogue is nerfed, the focus should be on Stonetusk Boar and Southsea Deckhand. With Rush instead of Charge, Quest would need to control the board to win. In return, more cheap minions with impactful battlecries could later be printed. Team 5’s aim should be to keep Quest Rogue as a strong anti-control deck, but allow it to become less polarising and uninteractive. The deck could bear more relation to early builds, with focus on building endless waves of 5/5 boards rather than charging in for lethal. There would be less of a feeling of helplessness in the face of a completed Quest, and more chance for the Quest Rogue to survive the Paladins and Tempo Mages.

Not to mention that it would allow Blizzard print more powerful, cheap, anti-aggro minions like Vicious Scalehide.

All in all, Quest Rogue is a fun deck that deserves a place in the meta; if only it could stop making players like Fibonacci so salty.

 

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Witchwood: A rock-paper-scissors meta?

Have you ever seen what deck your opponent is playing, realised you have no chance to win and had the urge to instantly concede? If so, you’re not alone. The meta has thrown up a number of extremely polarizing matchups that create extremely rock-paper-scissors style situations. If you try and counter Paladin with Control Warrior, you may as well concede against Quest Rogue or Taunt Warrior. If you punish Warlocks and Quest Rogues with Odd Face Hunter, you’ll be helpless against Paladins and Druids. And if you focus on Warlocks and Paladins with Priest, then Druids and Rogues will eat you for breakfast.

Of course, every healthy meta has unfavourable and favourable matchups; it’s how it self-corrects to prevent any one deck taking over. But the gameplay that results from extremely one-sided games thanks to matchup RNG is discouraging. So how did we get here?

The (re)rise of Quest Rogue

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Playing against Quest Rogue, you’re on a countdown before 6 of these hit you in the face

One of the biggest offenders for the extreme nature of matchups is Quest Rogue. Though it has scarcely been seen since the nerf, it has risen from the ashes to counter Warlocks. Its Vanishes and massive charge damage is the perfect counter to boards of Voidlords. With new tools like Sonya and Zola the Gorgon, it can almost be as scary as the pre-nerf version at times. So far, so interesting. The problem with Quest Rogue, however, is its massive weakness to early aggression. It’s punished hard by any kind of aggressive or even midrange decks, while it stomps on Control decks.

To make matters worse, previous tools for delaying Quest Rogue’s win condition no longer exist in Standard. Without Dirty Rat, it’s extremely hard for Control to prevent death by multiple volleys of 1 mana 5/5 charge minions. And many classes lost board clears that could otherwise sweep up those 5/5s. Priest lost its Dragonfire, and Warrior no longer has access to Sleep with the Fishes. Meanwhile, aggro has only got more refined. The end result is even more polarisation than last year.

Call to AOE

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Some classes can deal with Call to Arms far more easily than others

Call to Arms is a card that does essentially two things. Against decks without the right kind of reliable AOE effects, it’s borderline busted. You get 6 mana and 3 cards of board development in one card. But against decks that can run cards like Duskbreaker, Defile, Blood Razor or Dragon’s Fury, it’s a very different story. While still powerful, it rarely leads to the kinds of board swings you need to succeed in tight games. The stats reflect this; Paladin, especially Even Paladin, has incredible results versus all kinds of tempo decks. But many control decks have extremely favourable matchups against it. Call to Arms means that packing decks with enough efficient AOE will mean you’ll always do well against Paladin.

Unfortunately, this combines with the popularity of Quest Rogue to create a dilemma. You can beat Paladin by forgoing tempo minions to pack potent AOE, and lose to Quest Rogue; or add in early pressure and lose answers to Call to Arms.

Target Warlock, lose to everyone else?

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Odd Hunter can consistently kill Warlocks, but not much else

Another contributor to this polarizing meta is Warlock. To beat Warlock, you don’t just have to tech in a few silences. You have to actively change your entire gameplan to revolve around exploiting their few weaknesses. Voidlord, Doomguard and Gul’dan are such insurmountable threats that your deck has to be tailored to either burn them down, cheat out massive minions early, or combo them to death.

Even with almost every deck running Silence for Voidlords or Lackey and Weapon removal for Skull of the Man’ari, the deck has positive winrates across the board against anything that doesn’t exactly target its weaknesses. This not only creates polarising matchups where non-Warlock countering decks are heavily unfavoured, but those decks that do win against Warlock end up being quite bad against the rest of the meta, leading to a chain reaction of further unsatisfying games.

A lack of tech

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Sylvanas would be a potent tool for any midrange deck seeking to beat Warlocks, were she not Wild only

Ultimately, the problem is not that Quest Rogue is good against Control, nor that Control is good against Paladin. Every strategy should have some kind of counter-deck potential. The problem is there’s no way for Control decks to realistically tech against Quest Rogue or other anti-control lists. Many decks would happily give up a few percentage winrate against aggro to have less frustrating and one-sided matchups elsewhere, leading to an overall more interesting and skill rewarding meta. But the tools simply aren’t there.

The best solution here would be for Team 5 to reintroduce similar successful tech card concepts to deal with a wider variety of strategies. Cards like Dirty Rat, Deathlord, or Sylvanas can punish minion combos or cheating out big minions respectively. A Dirty Rat style effect could slow down Quest Rogue enough for Control to stand a chance. Sylvanas-esque cards could be a crushing shutdown to preempt Voidlords or Doomguards. And if tempo decks got more tools to deal with wide boards while adding pressure, Paladins could terrorize left.

In the meantime, the ever-present threat of nerfs hang on the horizon. Before then though, it might be worth learning the subtle art of the counter-queue.

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What Witchwood archetype could beat Cubelock?

Cubelock looks set to be the new deck to beat for the Year of the Raven meta. All of the current standard decks that have a consistent edge against it lose too many key cards to pose a threat. Hope must come from the new decks and archetypes that the Witchwood may bring. With 135 powerful cards introduced, it’s likely that a good number of powerful new strategies will emerge. But will any of them stand a chance against the endless tide of clears, healing, Voidlords and Doomguards?

Rush Warrior

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Rush Warrior’s got a lot fo support, but will it be enough?

Warrior’s Rush package is looking extremely solid. Combined with Warlock’s difficulty dealing with snowball minions, an aggressive Rush warrior could have the kind of “Tall” boards that Defile and Hellfire simply won’t break. If Rush Warrior can fulfill the same kind of aggressive promise as Pirate Warrior, then it may be able to beat down the Warlock with huge snowball minions. A solid early game, bolstered with Frothing Beserkers and the new Festerroot Hulk could punch through hard enough to end the game early.

Though the chances are better without Mistress, things still look tough for aggressive Warriors. The Rush package looks strong but is still not as potent as Charge. Rush will likely fall far below the dizzying heights of Pirate Warrior at its peak, and still, struggle to get through Voidlords.

Hand Druid

Giants may not be enough

Hand Druid is getting a huge amount of support this expansion. From a previously non-existent archetype, it received multiple support cards. Could early Mountain Giants, Twilight Drakes and full boards of 1/1s be enough?

It seems unlikely. Not only would hand Druid likely bad at establishing early board presence, Cubelock can cheat out Mountain Giants just as easily. And while Warlocks struggle at hard removal, Druid is far inferior. Outside of Jaspar Spellstones, Druid has no halfway good hard removal; and even that can’t take out a Doomguard cleanly. Meanwhile, Warlock simply laughs at Hand Druids other potential synergies. Creating full boards of 1/1s isn’t the best strategy against a class with so much AOE.

There are also fundamental questions to be answered. For instance, how does Druid seek to consistently maintain a large hand size if its best draw option does so in 5 card chunks? And without Jades, will the deck have enough beef to outlast Bloodreaver Gul’dan’s hero power, let alone its board?

Zoo Mage

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Minions won’t cut it against Warlock

Mage has received a plethora of tools that focus on atypical class strengths. The Mage identity is built around spells, but in Witchwood Team 5 are pushing another archetype; Zoo Mage. By incentivizing minions, the hope perhaps is to push a more midrange, less burn-focused archetype. This does look powerful, with Book of Spectres and Archmage Arugal looking like strong draw engines for an Elemental or simply efficient minion-based strategy.

However, this is likely to be catastrophic against Warlocks. Normally Mage’s strengths vs Warlock lies in going over the top of Voidlords with burn. With a more minion focused strategy, Warlock’s huge quantities of AOE are likely to pose a problem, as are Voidlords huge health walls.

Baku Face Hunter

Face hunter is not a new archetype, but Baku the Mooneater may give it new life. Whilst dropping the 2 drops cuts consistency, the additional damage on the hero power may quickly whittle down health. With most of Hunter’s power cards falling on 1, 3 and 5, cutting 2 drops doesn’t seem too bad.

By capitalizing on Warlock’s early weaknesses (especially without Mistress), Hunter could simply grind down Warlocks before they can find enough healing or the mana to play Gul’dan. And Voidlords do little to stop Ballista Shot, Arcane Shot and Kill Command. For the time being, this may be considered the meta’s last best hope to best Warlock.

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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warpath

Warpath: Warrior’s Defile?

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Warpath’s Echo makes it repeatable, at a cost

It’s hard to believe it was only a few short months ago when Warlock was the undisputed worst class in the game. Knights of the Frozen Throne changed all that, and a huge part of that was Defile. This 2 mana spell is aggressively under-costed, with a ridiculous amount of utility on the right board. Its ability to repeat 1 damage AOE makes Defile a feared anti-aggro clear.

Now Warrior looks to be in a similar spot to Warlock last year as among the worst classes. And like Warlock, Warrior is getting a 2 mana repeatable 1 damage AOE spell in the new Witchwood expansion. But will Warpath do to Warrior what Defile did to Warlock?

Efficiency versus reliability

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Defile is cheaper and stronger than Warpath in ideal circumstances, but is often dead

Defile and Warpath are essentially the same effect but with different requirements. Defile repeats its effect if a minion dies, meaning that a canny player can set up chains minions in ascending order of health. This is especially potent against aggro decks, with their plethora of low-health minions. In the right circumstances, Warlock can clear massive boards with high health minions for only 2 mana. However, this requires setup, and can potentially be played around.

Warpath, on the other hand, trades this supremely potent ceiling with a solid reliability that is more expensive. Additional triggers are always available, but only if the Warrior spends a further 2 mana each time. This can quickly add up. One trigger is simply a 2 mana Whirlwind, comparable with the very playable Revenge from Blackrock Mountain, and two triggers compares reasonably with Consecration.

However, three triggers for 6 mana looks poor compared to Hellfire, and 4 and 5 triggers look uninspiring compared to Flamestrike and Dragonfire potion respectively. In terms of pure board clear potential, Warpath will rarely be stellar; but will be far more reliable and harder to play around than Defile.

Synergies and support

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Multiple Whirlwind effects have more positive synergy in Warrior

One edge Warpath can have over Defile would be Warrior’s greater potential for minion synergies. Warlock typically runs very few minions that synergise with repeated on damage effects (unless you count Howlfiend), so Defile is typically used just to clear. Warrior, on the other hand, has numerous potential synergies. As well as Classic minions in Armorsmith, Frothing Beserker and Acolyte of Pain, there are also spells like Sudden Genesis or Battle Rage. In Wild, there will be huge potential to combo it with cards like Grim Patron, Sleep with the Fishes or Arcane Giants with Blood Warriors.

It’s also worth mentioning that Warrior lacks a lot of the support cards to make Defile so powerful. Defile clears often rely on dealing damage with trades and spells to set up clears. Warlock accomplishes this with cheap or sticky minions like Kobold Librarian and Voidlord, or with powerful damage spells like Amethyst Spellstone.

Warrior on the other hand has few efficient cheap or sticky minions, and its removal spells are usually hard removals in Shield Slam, Execute and Brawl. As such, setting up Defile-style clears would be much harder with the Warrior toolset.

What’s more, playing around Defile often plays into other Warlock clears like Hellfire or Twisting Nether; clears that Warrior doesn’t have access to. Defile would also be less necessary for Warrior than Defile is in Warlock; Warrior already has a great many ways of sweeping up wide boards of small-medium sized minions.

To each their own?

warpath

Lots of Defile’s strength comes from Warlock’s other cards supporting it

It’s unlikely that Warpath will be as strong as Defile is in Warlock. Its sheer efficiency and support from other Warlock cards makes it one of the best cards in the game.

But there’s a decent chance that Warpath will be stronger than Defile would be in Warrior.

Warrior would struggle to utilise the idiosyncratic set of requirements Defile requires, and doesn’t need it in the same way Warlock does. But Warpath’s reliability and and flexibility could be exactly what Warrior needs. This uncomplicated scaling clear can allow Warriors to slowly but surely wrest control of the game.

It’ll also make utilising the class’s many synergies far easier. All in all, Warpath should be a more than worthy replacement for existing Warrior staples like Sleep with the Fishes and Ravaging Ghoul. Here’s hoping the rest of the set will open up as many opportunities for the ailing class.

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

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The myriad possibilities of Mooneater and Greymane

 

Greymane

Baku offers power, while Greymane gives reliable tempo

I don’t know about you, but I’m incredibly excited for Baku, the Mooneater and Genn Greymane. These legendary Neutrals, among the first revealed from the upcoming Witchwood expansion, provide a unique twist on the classic build-around formula. Unlike Reno, the Princes and Recruit cards, these new build-around’s powerful effects apply immediately. What’s more, their interaction with hero powers makes their impact unique for each class. So how can Graymane and Mooneater give you a reliable edge?

The Dude Deluge

Greymane allows a consistent turn one play for Paladin

One of the first potential opportunities to be identified by the community was the potential for Genn Greymane to provide an alternative build of Midrange “Dude” Paladin. Currently, Paladins focus ongrabbing early game board control with cheap minions and weapons, before snowballing with Call to Arms. Then, they finish off their opponent with either Murloc or Silver Hand Recruits. But Greymane allows Paladin to guarantee a solid early curve without 1-drops. And while a 1/1 for 1 doesn’t seem too scary, the competitive viability of a Silver Hand Recruit that doesn’t cost a card has already been proven by Drygulch Jailor.

With Paladin’s power cards in Call to Arms, Sunkeeper Tarim, Truesilver, Tirion, Equality, Spikeridged Steed and Consecrate all falling on even numbers, there’s a valid argument to gutting the 1-drops from Midrange Paladin for more 2 drops and a beefier late-game. Not only does this allow you to go the distance while always having decent early plays, it also makes your Call to Arms even more powerful. If Paladin gets more even-costed tools, this archetype could definitely be a contender.

Baku the Tank

Greymane

Tank Up!’s return could revitalise Control Warriors of all stripes

Unlike Greymane, Baku doesn’t allow you to smooth out your curve quite so efficiently. In return however, the sheer strength of your hero power becomes tremendous. Ever since Justicar rotated out, Warriors have been mourning the loss of Tank Up. Quest Warrior’s Ragnaros hero power and Scourgelord Garrosh’s endless Whirlwind effects were somewhat of a consolation, but the comforting clang of gaining 4 armour per turn has been gone far too long.

Luckily for fans of fatigue calculations, Baku could return this strategy to the fore. While it would mean giving up Control Warrior staples like Execute, Blood Razor, Drywhisker Armourer and Grommash Hellscream, the power of reliable activators for armour-synergy cards and the sheer lifegain potential could be more than enough to make up for these losses. Warrior is expected to gain more powerful cards to make up for its current doldrums. If many of them are odd, then Druid may very well be unseated as new king of Armor.

Superior SMOrcing

Baku doesn’t just provide defensive capabilities. As theorised on Omnistone, It could also be a potent aggressive tool. Hunter has often been a class defined by an extremely aggressive hero power, but Baku allows this to be taken to the next level. With a Quick Shot to the face every turn, Face Hunter could return. There are plenty of potent 1 and 3 mana cards (with maybe a 5 drop like Leeroy) that could add up to an extremely aggressive and potent deck.

As heals and taunts have got stronger, classic Face Hunter faded into obscurity. But upping the core damage engine by 50% could be enough of a push to make it relevant in the meta again. With powerful Hunter 2 drops like Kindly Grandmother and Cat Trick rotating out, then the opportunity cost is yet lower.

Handlock, Greylock?

Not bad for 3 mana

Greymane reopens other old strategies too. One plan, could be a revitalisation of an old-school archetype in Handlock. Defile, Amethyst Spellstone, Twilight Drake and Mountain Giant could combine with a 1 mana Lifetap to create some spectacular strategies. Most notably, a 1 mana lifetap could see Mountain Giant come down on 3, and reliable 4/10 Twilight Drakes.

But other even-mana tools would likely need to be introduced in order to compete with the power of Cubelock, which looks to stay mostly intact. Without the staying power of Voidlords, the deck could crumble to aggression.

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

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Lessons for Legendary Quests

Legendary Quests were one of the standout features of Un’goro. After the rotation of the Blackrock Mountain, The Grand Tournament and League of Explorers, Quests helped to create unique decks and playstyles in the relatively limited card pool. Now almost a year after Un’goro, it might be time to look again at quests. What worked and what didn’t? And how lessons from Legendary Weapons and Death Knight Heroes help make Quests better?

What Quests got right

quests

Quests solved the consistency issues with powerful Legendaries

Quests brought a whole lot of innovation. One of the most interesting was the guaranteed mulligan. As quests naturally want to be played as soon as possible, having a singleton win condition would be frustratingly random. But by always having the option of the Quest in opening hand, this decision created consistency and minimized frustration. A similar effect might have been useful for Death Knight Heroes, as not drawing them can become frustrating when your win condition depends on it.

Quests also were also at their best when they rewarded unusual playstyles. Hearthstone often feels a bit one-dimensional; play big minion, hit face. But a few of the quests created some fascinating gameplay alternatives. Rogue’s Quest, while infamously oppressive, was both interesting to complete and to benefit from. Meanwhile Quest Mage created a unique twist on Freeze Mage. A few Legendary Weapons inherited these unique interactions, most notably for Kingsbane and Shadowreaper Anduin. This helped create idiosyncratic and hard-to-master combo decks to round out (and maybe terrorize) the meta.

The tempo problem

quests

Death Knights are late-game oriented but provide a tempo kick to get you there

One of the biggest downsides of Quests was that it ended up crippling your early tempo. Not only did you end up skipping your first turn, you would spend a card that often wouldn’t pay off for many turns. This lead to Quests naturally becoming anti-control tools, as the tempo loss from this will often make your deck inherently weak to early pressure.

Death Knight Heroes managed to circumvent this. Aside from a powerful hero power, Death Knight Heroes grant 5 armour and an immediate battlecry effect. This offset the inherently late-game orientation of the card, granting it a tempo bonus to stabilise from. Quests could perhaps benefit from a similar strategy. Obviously on turn one, the benefit would need to be orders of magnitude less. But maybe a 1/1, or some armour, or 1 damage, or a card generation would allow Quests to be more competitive early on.

Finding the flavour

Beyond balance, Quests also had a key issue with flavour. Some of them nominally made sense. Warriors went venturing into a volcano, Mages started warping time; but others seemed weak at best. What do Paladins have to do with Kaleidosaurs? Why would a non-Morgl Shaman ‘Unite the Murlocs’? Why would a Rogue venture down to the Crystal Core? Legendary Weapons and Death Knight heroes on the other hand, had compelling and interesting flavour. The voice lines and art of the Death Knights were a dark and compelling twist on the traditional hero archetypes, and Legendary Weapons fit their classes well whilst having some surprisingly well-implemented voice interactions.

If Quests ever return, more attention should be paid to unite their flavour and interactions with the core class identities they represent, and building the cool ideas off the classes and not stapling them on seemingly at random.

Playstyles, not minion types

quests

“Play X number of Y minions” was never especially fun

The most interesting Quests were the ones that rewarded playstyles rather than specific tribes and minion types. Taunt Warrior didn’t really play that innovatively; it still ended up plopping down minions. Deathrattle Priest and Murloc Shaman had the same problem. Any Quest that simply relied on playing a number of specific minion types ended up squeezing out the room in the deck for interesting class cards, making the archetype seem one-dimensional.

Future Quests should be more like the Rogue, Paladin or Warlock Quests, that pushed broader synergies than just “this one type of minion”. They allow more flexibility and creativity, while making classes feel more distinct. If Quests ever return, hopefully they will be even more fun the second time round.

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Auto-include class cards are fine, but they shouldn’t be Epic

Certain Epics are coming to define classes. Cards like Call to Arms, Ultimate Infestation and Primordial Glyph are all incredibly powerful tools. They have shaped class identity, revitalised otherwise struggling archetypes, and helped create a balanced and diverse meta (bar Warrior). But some would say they are too powerful, and their auto-include status threatens the game’s balance. And beyond that; are they too expensive?

The rise of the auto-include Epic

autoincludes

You’ll struggle to find a Mage deck without Glyphs

So what do we mean by a class auto-include? A perfect example of this is Primordial Glyph. Added in Un’goro, this 2 mana Mage Epic spell is supremely flexible and powerful. With its discount and the high typical value of mage spells, it can be burn, removal or AOE exactly when you need it. When combined with Sorceror’s Apprentice, the discounts can get even more ludicrous. With an Apprentice down, you can Glyph into Firelands for only 5 mana. Not only is this card strong and versatile enough to be in every single mage deck, it also reinforces Mage’s class identity of powerful spells, spell synergies and spell generation.

Another instance is Call to Arms. This obscenely undercosted 4 mana spell has made Paladins the supreme masters of mid-game board control. Even Control decks run it, using it to cheat out Loot Hoarders, Dirty Rats and Wild Pyromancers. It’s even propelled the previously meme-worthy Dude Paladin to Standard dominance.

Both of these cards demonstrate how auto-include class Epics reinforce identity with their supreme strength. But are they over-tuned?

Are OP cards ever acceptable?

autoincludes

Ultimate Infestation is a heck of a lot of value

Let’s get one thing straight. Call to Arms, Primordial Glyph and Ultimate Infestation are mathematically overpowered. Outside of Ultimate Infestation’s famous “19 mana worth of value”, let’s just look at Call to Arms. If we use the example of cards like Enchanted Raven and Mistress of Mixtures, we can say that a typical one-drop is about 2/2 worth of stats. This means that Call to Arms in the bad-case scenario of pulling three 1 drops is still a full mana cheaper than Druid’s Force of Nature for roughly the same effect. What’s more, it can pull far better minions in the form of 2 drops and thins the deck. If Call to Arms pulls two Loot Hoarders, it effectively cycles for 5 cards!

But is being overpowered a problem? There is an argument to say no. As long as it does not make a class overwhelmingly oppressive, overpowered cards can help forge an identity and give classes a raison d’etre. Call to arms has reinvigorated Paladin around its core ideals, while keeping it a powerful but not oppressive force in the meta. Druid was briefly a problem with Ultimate Infestation, but has settled into respectability after Spreading Plague and Innervate were nerfed. However, balance is one thing; cost is another.

Barrier to entry

autoincludes

Dust barriers are a bad thing to have in the way of properly experiencing a class

Call to Arms is currently a big fat 800 dust wall in the way of anyone who wants to do even moderately well with Paladin. The entire class must now be balanced around this single defining mechanic. But unlike other defining Paladin cards like Consecrate, Equality, Truesilver, or Blessing of Kings, Call to Arms isn’t free. As such, new players are basically locked out from the class until they stump up the gold, dust or cash. This is a big problem.

Hearthstone’s classes are meant to be freely and easily unlockable. New players shouldn’t be forced into playing Basic Mage forever; they should be able to explore the basics of every class without paying or grinding for weeks on end. By over-centralising Paladin around a single Epic, Blizzard is losing players that might otherwise get hooked on Paladin’s Build’n’buff playstyle. Similarly, playing non-aggro Druid without Ultimate Infestation is missing out on what has become a fundamental part of the Druid experience.

The next auto-includes

autoinclude

Rescuing a class needs to be accessible

Next expansion, it’s likely that Blizzard tries to rescue Warrior with a powerful Epic like they did Warlock with Voidlord or attempted to do with Shaman and Unstable Evolution. But this might not be the best idea in the long run. If classes have to be reinvigorated with a select few extremely undercosted or overstatted cards, then those cards should be freely available.

A Hearthstone where it’s incredibly prohibitive to even try out most classes in their most basic form is not a Hearthstone that is easy to have fun in.

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