Hearthstone: A Breakup Letter


I know we haven’t talked in a while, almost three weeks now when the zillionth season started, and I found myself in the same spot I’ve been for years: working a ladder I don’t like to live a rank that I never wanted.

Where have I been? Well, the truth is I just stopped.

Not cold turkey mind you. I could never just quit you, not after almost five years of devotion. No, I went along like nothing was wrong, but I had stopped caring. If I didn’t complete a quest, I barely noticed. I had a challenge a friend quest sit in the log for over a week. That was when I knew this wasn’t going to get better.

A long time ago I think we wanted the same things. Good, relatively simple games without the overwhelming amount of maneuvering that most games have today. An Arena system that didn’t have so many cards in so many buckets. A ladder not so full of binary archetypes. Sets without so many legendaries, and set design that wasn’t so heavy-handed, where the vast majority of good decks were known quantities from the moment the set was released.

You’ve changed, and maybe it’s for the best, because now more people like you, even if I like you less.

That’s not the end of it though. There’s someone else. We haven’t been together long, but they remind me of how I used to enjoy exploring a format. Also, they don’t ask nearly as much of me. If I play, they shower me with cards and gold at more than a reasonable pace, and there are so many formats to choose from!

Then again, we haven’t been together long, and this day was coming regardless.

So that’s it then. I’ve said my piece, for better or worse. I know you don’t care with all your adoring fans, and I’ve been f2p for weeks anyway, so things probably won’t be different for you. This letter is just to sort out my thoughts.


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Starting From Scratch, Again

Every so often I’m reminded that the written word isn’t dead, and that the medium can convey in a timeless fashion when others fall short or don’t seem appropriate. Every time I’m semi-inspired to pick up this blog, a project I thought I would maintain regularly throughout my life.

This time, it was actually two pieces that made me miss writing. One, Tim Aten’s GP Minnesota Non-report, where he goes over basically everything that happened away from the tables at GP Minnesota. And two, Matthew Berry’s final Love/Hate piece for ESPN, where I read maybe 5,000 words of storytelling before sorta just skimming the football analysis.

In both works above, the thing that really tugged at me was how they both sought to be informative(though Tim’s was decidedly NOT a strategy article), but incorporated events from their own life that were secondary or even just barely related to create a narrative that accompanied the meat and potatoes.

Even though not everything I’ve written was informative, all my best stuff were heavily inspired by actual events, if not straight re-tellings.

So here I am, trying to get the rust off, and deciding what to even write about. I guess this can just be a catch up post. A lot has happened since I was a regular writer.

I suppose the ‘real life’ stuff should come first.

I got married, bought a house, had a kid, got divorced, sold the house, still have the kiddo half the time. During that time I worked a job that demanded all of my effort, and was too tired when I got home to do any real content creation. Since the rest of my life fell apart, I figured I never liked that job much anyway, and so I quit. I have basically time-traveled back about six years. I work part time at a game store, and I live in the same apartment complex I did then.

Coincidentally, six years ago was my last Pro Tour, which outside a short descriptive essay about the hooker hotel I stayed in, I did not write about because I was sick and went winless, going back my crummy room long before I was out of contention. After that, I 0-3’d a Grand Prix after having won a GPT, and that was basically the end of my Magic career. I did get to shake David Williams’ hand though. It was incredibly soft for those wondering.

My life has been mostly downhill since. As stated above, I decided to really commit to some non-gaming projects, and save one they all ended in disaster. The last thing to go was my job, and I’ve spent the summer draining anything I had socked away in an effort to recalibrate my life, but I think I’m looking at things the wrong way. I keep looking for some magical event that will fix everything.

See, I’ve been unhappy for a long time. It’s just who I am, and the depth of that is a topic for another time, maybe never. But being a competitive gamer helped cope with it because of the highs and lows involved. When I got a positive outcome at an event, even a local one, I was able to feel pretty good about myself for a while. The magnitude of the win correlated with how long I felt alright. When I lost, sure I felt bad, but not too much worse than my neutral state. This went on for maybe a dozen years, until I left competitive gaming, and tried to play just for enjoyment.

It didn’t work.

In six years, I’ve developed some bad habits trying to get away from my neutral state. I’ve spent many nights drinking and playing meaningless games against faceless opponents to try and recapture how I used to feel, but it’s unhealthy, and a waste of time really. I never woke up the next day feeling any better about anything.

That’s sort of where I am mentally. Yeah, it seems worse when it’s all written out like that.

I have a few embers burning that might end up being something though, something to pour myself into, something I can believe in.

I have a Hearthstone podcast called Brewmasters. We’ve been going strong for a while now, and it’s a decent listen.

I have a Twitch channel that I could maybe make into something.

The store I work at is awesome, and is great for me especially.

I love my son more than anything in the world. He IS my world, and speaking of that, my world wants to go to the pool.

See you around.

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Avengers: Infinity War Review (Super Small Spoilers)

First, I’m going to try to write this short review without spoiling too much, in case someone stumbles across this piece accidentally, and to cater to that small crowd who enjoys reading a review before seeing the movie.

It’s that small crowd who likes knowing a little bit about the future I want to focus on to start. Really, in some ways, we are ALL part of that crowd in a meta sort of way. We all know that there’s going to be a second movie in the Infinity War series, and we all know a few things about the plot structure of a multi-part movie series. Thanos won’t be beaten in the first half, and there needs to be a problem that either remains or appears to drive the plot from one movie to the next.

For example, in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, the movie ends with Harry and company resuming their efforts to find the remaining horcruxes(an existing problem), while Voldemort acquires the Elder Wand(a new problem). The link between HP and Infinity War is that while in both cases we know generally speaking what will happen, it’s the ride to arrive at that point that’s enjoyable.

I’m happy to report that while it wasn’t altogether unexpected how Infinity War ends, I became willfully ignorant of the pending ending of the movie in a pleasant way, and was able to sit back and enjoy the ride. Most characters had sweet new abilities to show off, there were many moments where applause and even cheering erupted from the audience, and for the latter two-thirds, the plot advanced smoothly despite the huge cast of characters all interacting in new ways and being split up into multiple groups. Characters are killed when you expect them to live. In particular, Thanos’ motivations and personality were explored quite well. Movies with irrationally evil bad guys don’t really work anymore, and Marvel is pretty good at showing just enough of the mind of the antagonist to make him interesting.

That said, the movie is far from perfect. The first third was rocky as characters reunited or met each other for the first time, and Thanos’ lackeys, despite having lines and being in many scenes, are nameless baddies, and I only learned most of their names as the credits rolled. The humor falls mostly flat in the face of such a serious plot. The groups align against Thanos almost too quickly, and despite his massive perceived power, they have a high level of success in combat with him, though I’m tempted to give that a pass since Guardians of the Galaxy, the movie that established that even a single Infinity Stone can level a planet with ease, was quite some time ago. Some key events are trite or even nonsensical, and while they are easy to get past in the face of such great action scenes, they linger in the mind after the fighting is done.

I don’t really rate movies, as a rating system feels so rigid. I CAN say if you enjoy Marvel movies this is worth a watch. I mean, you’ve already invested dozens of hours, it only makes sense to see it through. I feel very similarly to how I felt about Star Wars TFA, the movie had a lot of character/prior movie red tape to go through to get to the good parts, and so it gets a pass in MANY areas, including that first third. The difference between A:IW and TFA is that I actually liked Infinity War, and want to see it again, and will 100% buy it when it comes to Amazon Video.

I’ll probably still watch Thor:Ragnarok more often though. It’s the most complete movie Marvel has ever made, from action to humor to soundtrack, and remains the benchmark for greatness.

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Hearthstone – Witchwood Sleepers

In the days leading up to the release of The Witchwood, everyone has been submitting their reviews hoping to either be the guy who called Grim Patron, or the guy who gave Corridor Creeper one star. It’s true, I’m going to talk about some cards today, but these are the long shots, the cards that many are dismissing out of hand in favor of more obvious all-stars.

So basically I’m trying really hard to call the next Grim Patron. I’m not saying that will happen, but if nothing else these cards need a little more attention, as they appear playable in the coming powered-down Standard.


ratcatcherRush is a mechanic we can’t fully understand yet. Arena experts claim its completely overpowered, and makes the game extremely swingy from turn to turn. Constructed players are a little more reserved, and they should be. Most of the rush minions aren’t very well statted, and Ratcatcher is no exception.

However, Ratcatcher could have some very favorable outcomes. Zoolock has very few options for retaking tempo outside Saronite Chain Gang, which is really just hoping your opponent can’t break through. If you’re losing the board, any trade you can make that leaves a man in play enables Ratcatcher to gain value, and it doesn’t take much to get there. Even gaining a measly +1/+1 can turn a board state back in your favor, and that’s the bare minimum. Having the ability to attack with a bunch of power essentially twice in a turn during a key turn can decide games.

There’s another way to leverage Ratcatcher for value. Eating minions with deathrattle like Devilsaur Egg can create a decent board pretty quickly. Combined with Sanguine Reveler there’s potential for a new style of Zoolock in Standard. Consider this shell:

  • 2 Flame Imp
  • 2 Witchwood Imp
  • 2 Sangiune Reveler
  • 2 Swamp Dragon Egg
  • 2 Dire Wolf Alpha
  • 2 Devilsaur Egg
  • 2 Ratcatcher

I’m sure more cards could be added to this core, but these few cards showcase the potential power of Ratcatcher. Note how easy it is to double up on Dire Wolf Alpha bonuses, or create a 3/5 on turn one with coin using Reveler and the new Imp.

EDIT: Forgot to mention that this card is just bonkers with Power Overwhelming in Wild. Like PO wasn’t good enough already.

Mad Hatter

MadHatterMy argument for Mad Hatter is very similar to Ratcatcher. If you ever have the only guy or guys on the board, Mad Hatter is four mana for 6/5 worth of stats, though it may be even better than that depending on where the ‘hats’ land. Extracting value from this minion doesn’t seem tough, but I admit that it’s unplayable from behind. Still, most cards are bad when played from behind, so perhaps it ‘s not an issue. I could see this minion being played in any aggressive deck that seeks to never lose the board.

Hench-Clan Thug

Thug.PNGI’m surprised the buzz for this card was low. A neutral minion that is basically a 4/4 for three mana that grows +1/+1 most turns is reminiscent of Undertaker before being nerfed. The weapons in this new Standard line up so that there aren’t many very good turn two plays outside Woodcutter’s Axe from Warrior, but Rogue will get plenty from this minion. Thug could also see play in the right Hunter deck because of Candleshot and Hunter’s ability to quickly apply pressure after taking a board.

Spectral Cutlass

CutlassFinally, we come to Spectral Cutlass, the longest shot of all those mentioned. During the reveal stream I was impressed at how long the Rogue could keep Spectral Cutlass alive, albeit having to make some tough choices. That may not translate to Standard, especially with the random nature of the Burgle mechanic, but with a little help and a lack of Oozes the Cutlass could become as important as top tier payoff cards like Murloc Warleader or Gentle Megasaur. Don’t sleep on just how much weapon support Rogue has right now. Between Doomerang, Rummaging Kobold, Cavern Shinyfinder, Deadly Poison, Cutthroat Buccaneer and others, there are the makings in the near future of a very powerful new archetype!

That’s all the time I have today, and with the set releasing tomorrow I’ll be diving into the new cards with gusto. This isn’t an article about archetypes, but if you’re wondering, besides the obvious I’ll be trying Weapon/Burgle Rogue, Rush Warrior, Odd/Quest Warrior, Zoolock, and Odd Mage. Note how all of these decks are either naturally aggressive or have a very specific plan in mind to win(except Odd Mage, which will probably durdle pretty hard). If you want to quickly climb after release, pick something with a plan and go hard!

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Hearthstone – Competing Hegemonies

This will be a quick one even though there are plenty of reasons why Standard (and ladder in general) is shitty. I could talk about long-term problems like how Hearthstone is the ONLY game I can think of where the professional format isn’t a default format in the game (Conquest), or how Wild is going to be REALLY shitty for a while before it develops into what hopefully feels like Vintage Magic(broken, but still fun), or even how the pro scene is completely unsustainable because the money just isn’t there, and there’s no way a third party a la SCG could step in to create a semi-pro league because there’s nothing to sell, and sponsors only go so far.

No, I’m going to expand on a small rant I had on stream this week. Normally this rant would have appeared on Brewmasters, the Hearthstone podcast I’m on, but we said fuck it it’s the end of the month lets just stream instead.

In said rant I talked about why Standard is unfun, and I want to repeat it here with more clarity because I’m sure some listeners will misinterpret my unhappiness with the meta as unhappiness with the game in general. I LOVE Hearthstone. It’s replaced Magic, a game I played for two decades, as my primary source of competitive fun, and I want the game to continue to grow and improve, not just make $400 million a year for a few years then close up shop.

The primary reason we are all sick of Standard(and if you’re NOT sick of Standard, you’re not included. Christ, just let me generalize a little for rhetoric’s sake) despite having so many viable decks is because two polar opposite hegemonies are in a bitter, endless war with each other.

On one side, you have weapon-based aggro decks, mostly featuring Patches, the Shithead. Most of these decks don’t have many options against an opponent with any semblance of late-game, and this are forced to play as aggressively as possible.

The reason the Patches decks are so aggressive is because of their mortal enemy and competing ideology, the Reno decks. Many aggro vs. Reno games are decided on whether Reno Jackson or Kazakus are drawn in a timely manner, and other that those variables what actually happens during the game is somewhat moot.

And the dynamics that exist between these matchups are the problem at hand. As stated, aggro vs. control isn’t fun because a large chunk of games are literally decided by whether a single card is drawn in a singelton deck. Control vs. Control isn’t terribly fun because while you’re having interesting games, they have a tendency to revolve around Kazakus potions. The games also take forever, and so unless you sport an amazing win rate, you feel like you’re losing ground against aggro decks because they climb the shitty ladder system so much faster.

That leaves us with the aggro matchups. Sure, some of them are shit, like the Pirate Warrior mirror, but most of the Shaman mirrors are interesting, to a point, and especially so the Jade versions. There is a huge skill factor that weighs heavily on the outcome, and sadly is probably the high point of strategy in Hearthstone that doesn’t take 30 minutes to play out.

So if the meta sucks and the only interesting matchup is the Shaman mirror, isn’t the answer just for EVERYONE to play Shaman?

Well, yes, and that’s why Standard sucks. The end, see you in March or whatever.

P.S. I am aware I’m leaving out Miracle Rogue, Dragon Priest, and Jade Druid. None of these decks have better than even matchups against either Pirate Warrior or Aggro Shaman according to the Vs Reaper Report on 1/26. Maybe you think you’re a high-end player who can get more out of Miracle, but the data shows that once you hit legend, your matchups against PWarrior and AShaman get worse, not better!

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Hearthstone: How Heroic Brawl Makes Conquest Look Good!

Well, we all got to try our luck at Heroic Brawl finally. According to this Reddit post, people were actually getting to 12 wins, so the dream of all those packs, gold, dust, legendaries, and bitches raining from the sky was real for a small segment of the population. I personally played it once, and while I didn’t do great, I came away with some powerful insights about why tournaments in Hearthstone are conquest format.

Nice Top Deck, Brah

Maybe it was obvious to some, but I never realized how much the Conquest format shields players from RNG, both in terms of in-game single event randomness and other, not-actually-random-but-feels-like-it like tech choices by players in deck building.

In Heroic Brawl, every single game is important, and affects your record. Some Tempo Mage top-keks you, game over. You rip that Brawl off the top after your opponent casts N’Zoth, hey you get to win! In Conquest, the same amount of luck is involved, but the impact it has on your tournament chances doesn’t change. Let’s say you get sucked out on in two games to start a match. That sucks, but if you win the next three, what’s your record after the match?

1-0. Not 3-2, 1-0. Those times your opponent got lucky are erased.

You’re Playing That? REALLY?

The other way conquest helps prevent ‘random’ events from determining matches is that if your opponent is playing a strange card, say, Eater of Secrets, that surprises you when you think you’re safe with Ice Block in play, it isn’t the end of the world unless they are crazy enough to play Eater in ALL their decks.

If you’re playing Freeze Mage in Heroic Brawl, and you happen upon someone packing Eater of Secrets, and they draw it, you’re almost certainly going to lose the game, and there’s no way to play against that. You take your loss and move on, but just as before, in Conquest, that single outcome may not affect your actual tournament record.

Other Thoughts on Heroic Brawl

I assumed the incredibly lopsided event structure wouldn’t matter too much, that I would just enjoy playing against solid competition (which I certainly did). However, it turns out that when everyone just plays the same 25 or so cards in their Shaman deck it actually wasn’t that fun. It was interesting to notice that at points, I couldn’t tell if they were just lucky, or if small things like proper mulligans or whatever really improved the sometimes clunky openings of midrange Shaman. I’m leaning towards my opponents just being very skilled at piloting the deck, always thinking about stuff like Thing From Below’s current cost and overload penalties multiple turns down the road. While I said earlier I did not meet my own expectations, I had a few friends tell me they did quite well, including one guy who I don’t think plays all that often who started 6-0 with midrange Shaman. I’m fairly sure his run is still in progress, so good luck to him!

I don’t think I would play in another Heroic Brawl unless it was a completely unknown format. It wasn’t terribly fun playing against the same cards I’ve been seeing for some time now. That said, it would be very interesting to see who would pony up 1000 gold just after a new set release when everyone’s gold is almost certainly depleted. Now THAT’S how Blizzard could squeeze the community $10 at a time.

Some friends and I have been talking about starting up a Hearthstone podcast where we could talk about topics like this one, do set reviews, and share our experiences, so be on the lookout on all my social media outlets, especially my Facebook page, for announcements, news, and my random thoughts on the game.

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The Hearthstone Tavern Brawl RNG Scale

This is probably going to devolve into a rant with no actual point(hint: it did not), but damn if I’m not tired of every Tavern Brawl being “Hey, let’s make the game so random you can’t plan for anything, and there’s basically no strategy whatsoever! HAHA TURN ONE RAGNAROS, THAT’S SO FUN!” We don’t need that level of randomness. For fudge’s sake we’re playing a card game, there’s enough RNG burned into the core gameplay already.

Don’t worry, I found a point to make, now I just need to get there, and it’s not going to be “Every Brawl should be Top 2 so there’s a serious metagame and many different levels of thinking.” I admit I liked that one, but really I liked reading about the meta and how it shifted more than actually playing it.

Why do we play Hearthstone?

Answering this simple question is the secret to good design in both set construction and Tavern Brawls. Unfortunately, this question has few simple answers, and I say few because it’s a little different for everyone. For example, I play Hearthstone for two main reasons. One, I enjoy the Warcraft universe, and especially enjoy the way Hearthstone manages to both incorporate elements from that universe and place its own whimsical spin on them. I think the phrase “keeping with the fantasy” has been thrown around alot when talking about the Legion class changes, and that also applies to Hearthstone. My other reason for playing is to satisfy my need for competition. I played Magic: The Gathering for about 20 years, and used to do a fair amount of traveling to play in big events. My life now doesn’t really have room for that sort of stuff, and Magic Online is a money pit, so I play Hearthstone.

The point is, no one’s answer to our simple query will be simple at all, at least not if they thought about it for more than a few moments. But our collective answers all share something in common, even if we don’t include it in our answers. I didn’t even include it in my own, because its not how we consciously think about how we enjoy games, but that reason to play is there. It’s the same reason why people watch television, or read books, or gamble- the idea that we are watching something awesome unfold and we don’t have the full story, there are just enough hints to make it interesting.

Is It That Simple?

Um, yeah, pretty much. We may curse RNGesus for how stupid the Firelord can be, or how Arcane Missiles might as well read “Deal all the damage exactly where your opponent needs it,” but the reality is that if we didn’t want randomness in our games, we would all be playing chess.

But how much is too much before we begin to lose agency over the ability to actually win the game? There’s a very fuzzy line that we don’t want to cross, and it so happens that it’s the least fuzzy when you examine the various Tavern Brawls.

If one were to quantify the amount of randomness in every Tavern Brawl and list them in order, one could accurately determine where their Goldilocks area is, where it’s not too much, not too little, but just right.

And hey! Look at that, a list from least to most depicting my own quantification of the RNG in Tavern Brawls, summarized because many Brawls are similar in nature. It’s almost like I’m trying to make a point here.

  1. Top 2
  2. Premade games (Showdown at BRM, Boombot v. Annoy-o-Tron)
  3. Base Game Rule Changes (It’s Raining Mana, Heart of the Sunwell)
  4. Decks Assemble
  5. Game Actions Trigger RNG (Idols of Azeroth, The Masked Ball)
  6. No, Really, They Trigger RNG (Who’s the Boss Now?)
  7. The RNG Swingset (Yogg Tryouts, Too Many Portals)
  8. Might As Well Flip Coins (Shiftcon, Randomonium)

The Brawls that stand alone, like Decks Assemble, are unique enough in terms of the RNG they generate that they warrant their own spot on the scale. Sitting at one end, the least RNG possible since you only have two cards in your deck and a hero power, and at the other end, the Brawls where you just play the best stuff you have each turn with minimal planning.

Personally, I sit somewhere between three and five. I want a little more than just a game rule change, but less than not knowing what five minions my opponent Unstable Portaled for. The occasional six or seven is fine if done right. The Servant of Yogg-Saron Tryouts was actually amazing, and I would play that Brawl a bunch again because the games didn’t feel super slow like Portals/Idols and I never felt like the game was over until it was, but really the fun behind that Brawl is an entirely different article.

Where do you sit on the RNG scale? Are you too serious for The Masked Ball, or are you not happy until you’re watching Shifter Zerus do his thing? Do you think my scale is accurate, and if not do you have your own? Let me know in the comments!


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