Tag Archives: hearthstone

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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The Virtues of a Routine

Alexander (The Final Boss) 

I’m starting up a new series on this blog that I hope will help meld my old life of playing games and my new life of being a father to an awesome son named Alexander. You can see him chuckling at his good fortune to be born into our home on the right.

Don’t worry, this was primarily a video game blog, and so it shall remain, for now. I’ll have to see if I can muster the will to produce articles of substance during the early years of fatherhood.
This first entry is about the idea of a daily routine, and how routines in general apply to the gaming world. I often used to think that routines were boring, that doing roughly the same things at roughly the same time of day held no virtue. Only a few days into leave with Alexander, and I can see that stance was woefully ignorant.
Daily routines provide an anchor by which to subconsciously measure time, and to free your mind up to do more useful tasks. You never have to think, for example, about what time of day or even what DAY it was when you’re in the middle of a routine. You know exactly where you are and when you are because you’ve done it so many times! Daily routines help organize day to day life in neat little chunks that are easily digestible by your mind. If you get up every day at 7 am, eat a bowl of cereal, take a shower, then groom yourself and get dressed, during that hour or so of time your mind is free to consider future events, like what’s happening at work that day, or how you’re going to improve your score on your favorite golf course in the afternoon.
I had a pretty normal routine before Alex was born. A simplified version of my routine was that I would get up, do a few chores, shower, go to work, come home, play games, and go to sleep. About half of that time I could focus my mind on thinking about stuff like article ideas, mentally building Hearthstone decks, thinking about what class to play in Legion, or really anything I wished.
Now, with Alex running the show (and believe me, he does run it), nothing happens at the same time of day anymore, and generally not the same way even, making even the most menial mental tasks something you cannot auto-pilot. Every diaper is different, every feeding is as well, and his sleeping is chaotic and sporadic (so is mine now). I have practically no time to think about anything but the moment, and that often creates problems that would not exist with any level of foresight at all.
Now take all this Daddy stuff about thinking ahead and knowing what to do without thinking too much and apply it to a game like Hearthstone. Hearthstone is incredibly grindy, and while games almost never play out in exactly the same fashion, many times the mulligan and opening turns are remarkably similar. When facing a Shaman on the play on turn one, do you want to have to think about whether to cast Living Roots to start the offensive when you have a Wrath in hand? Of course, the context of your remaining cards does matter somewhat, but the point is that generally, openings do not change. There is a right way and a wrong way to play them based on all the possible outcomes, and after a hundred or so games with a deck, you’ll probably know what the right choice is. You’ll probably know how most games play out up to turn four or so, and don’t have to grind the math on most lines of play from you or your opponent. This lets you think beyond those opening moves, and consider how best to use your more powerful cards later on.
Ragnaros_Firelands (1)Routines appear in other games as well. In World of Warcraft, often a raid team will wipe on an encounter many times before defeating it, and once they do so they usually have far fewer problems, which indicates it wasn’t just blind luck that led them to victory. As a seasoned-but-certainly-retired raider of everything from Molten Core to the Dragon Soul(I am SO 2011), I’ve seen it happen countless times. Suddenly, everyone moves out of the fire, the DPS switch targets instantly, the tanks juggle aggro like they’ve been doing it for years, and the healers know exactly when that burst is coming. It wasn’t luck, it was all 10-40 players getting into the routine of the encounter’s mechanics at roughly the same pace. Coincidentally, this is probably the biggest unspoken reason why people actually switch guilds. It sucks when a few people catch on at a different pace than the rest of the raid. If you’re still somehow grinding away at HFC and you’re not happy, maybe it’s time to consider your guild’s learning curve and whether its right for you.

Well, that’s about it for my first try at this sort of post. I don’t think I’ve really said all that much of use, but frankly, it was nice to take a little time to get some thoughts down and talk about something that applies to both fatherhood and gaming. For you guys out there that are not yet dads, know that the lack of a routine has been the most disruptive part of my life right now during this first wild week. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just another mechanic to overcome in life, like going to school or getting a job. Eventually, raid boss Alexander’s pooping mechanics will become second nature to me and when that happens I can think about other things during that phase, like quickly switching to adds that may appear aka, quickly covering him up when he decides to pee during a change.
Wish me luck, and be sure to comment with how routines in gaming have impacted your ability to play like a champ!

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Hearthstone – Standouts in Old Gods

So we’ve all had about a week to play around with Whispers of the Old Gods, and for most of us the release of this new set along with the rotation of Standard has turned Constructed straight on its ear. I know that some people have used this brewing opportunity to play tried and true methods to shoot up the ladder, and according to many this was especially true in the very high-but-not-quite-legend ranks, so maybe not everything has changed, but for the vast majority, the game is hardly recognizable. Instead of a building board superiority early in the game that slowly crushes opponents, many games are decided by wild swings in the late game. Cards like C’Thun and Yogg-Saron, Hope’s End have dramatic and often game ending battlecries, and even the support cards like the Twin Emperors are powerful enough that almost anything that happened early in the game just doesn’t matter.

But I’m not here to completely break down Standard. Actually, I would love to be able to do that, but it’s very hard to filter out the RNG noise of a deck like Evolve-C’Thun or Mage Yogg-Saron to determine if it’s more than just blind luck that decides games. Only time can tell us if those decks are here to stay, or if their luck will peter out.

Instead, I’m going to break down just a few cards that are either exceeding expectations or just feel powerful in the new format.

Cabalist’s Tome

tomeWhen Old Gods was released, Twitch was flooded with countless streamers all trying to do one thing – cast Yogg-Saron, Hope’s End and make it into a Trolden video. Most players chose a spell-heavy control deck to achieve this end, and just kept the board clear until they could unleash a 20+ spell Yogg-Saron. The decks often didn’t win because Yogg blew up in their faces, but everything they were doing leading up to playing Yogg seemed very good, and the reason they could even come close to controlling the board that long was Cabalist’s Tome.

As it turns out, spending a turn drawing three potentially powerful spells isn’t that bad anymore. Many decks durdle around for a long time while setting up a haymaker, and you can often follow up a Tome with a board clear to wipe the tempo slate clean.

Cabalist’s Tome is the most powerful card draw spell in Standard because the vast majority of Mage cards can deal with minions, while casting something like Sprint might yield nothing but air or dorky minions. Sprint also moves you that much closer to fatigue, while the Tome acts much closer to what many people wish Thistle Tea was like – a value generator that doesn’t draw cards from your deck. Also, getting a Cabalist’s Tome from a Cabalist’s Tome is the sauce.

I expect that once Standard quiets down a little and some established decks are made known, Cabalist’s Tome will make its way into many Mage decks that just want to grind value, and could easily end up as the most powerful card in the set.

Selfless Hero

hero

Selfless Hero, like the deck it thrives in, is really fucking annoying. I mentioned in my last post that not nerfing Divine Favor means that whenever the right minions are in Standard, Aggro Paladin will be crushing people like its 2014, and it appears that now is the right time. In a world where no one does anything on turn one, a 2/1 is awesome, and a reasonably costed minion with a powerful deathrattle is even better. Aggro Paladin is the only deck I’ve found that retains the old feeling of a quickly emerging and slowly crushing feeling of being out tempo-ed, mostly because of this card and Steward of Darkshire. Be warned about playing your Y’Shaarj Astral Communion deck in Standard, because you’re just going to get stomped by this lady and her pals.

Forbidden Healing

healingHealing is at a huge premium now. It never felt like enough because of the tempo-driven meta, but Antique Healbot was actually awesome. Now, with all the haymakers flying around in the late game, often a player is just left with too few health points after clearing a C’Thun to really be able to fight back, even though it has the late game in mind. Priests and Warriors naturally can recover through their hero power, but Control Paladin sometimes wants still MORE beyond Lay on Hands and Ragnaros, Lightlord since of all the control classes, it shines best in the late game through consistently applying pressure through an endless stream of 1/1s. Recall that just like skipping a turn to Cabalist’s Tome isn’t nearly as bad as it used to be, skipping a turn to heal for 20 can also be useful, as Paladin has excellent tools for retaking the board through Equality and its various debuffing minions. I’ve only seen this card a handful of times in Constructed so far, but it has surprised me with how well it helps to grind out games. Sometimes you can exhaust a deck of reasonable threats entirely by simply outlasting them.

Shadowcaster

shadowI admit that I haven’t really seen many people using this card. Most of my impression of this card comes from me jamming it into a C’Thun deck, where I had awesome moments with Disciple of C’Thun, Brann Bronzebeard, and even another Shadowcaster. Still, this card provides an extremely powerful effect, though it may be in the wrong class to fully leverage it. It combines very well with Shadowstep on two fronts. Shadowstepping the Shadowcaster is good value, but I’m pretty sure that since the Caster’s battlecry is a buff, you can SS the 1/1 copy and get a full attack and health version. You have to pay t he normal cost minus two, but it’s still awesome with the right minions.

What cards from Old Gods have impressed you? Comment below, or start a discussion on my Facebook page, The Olentangy Plays!

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Hearthstone – Persisting Archetypes In Standard

If you’re wondering when my review of Whispers of the Old Gods will be, I did say I was waiting until half the set was revealed (which we just hit in the last few days), but the nerfs to several Classic/Basic staples warrants immediate attention.

Today, Hearthstone posted this article detailing long-awaited changes to many of the powerhouses of the Classic set. Some nerfs were for power level reasons (Knife Juggler), others because they enabled combos that would otherwise remain in Standard forever (Force of Nature), and still others because they restricted design space (Master of Disguise, though I’m sure no one saw that one coming).

I don’t want the tone of this article to be too negative, so let me quickly say that I am happy with the overall direction the nerfs are taking Standard. Team 5 have practically said outright that Silence was a mechanic they wish they never introduced, and I’m glad that, even for class cards, you pay a hefty price to shut another card up (or off, in some cases). Every other nerf was because the card just gave too much for it’s cost, and most of the nerfed cards still seem viable in the right decks, rather than just being auto includes in every deck that can utilize it.I’m glad they decided to nerf Force of Nature rather than Savage Roar, mostly because almost ANY change to Roar would render the card unplayable, while the change to Force of Nature is crippling, but does not damn the card to the Casual Room.

The only card I’m unhappy with is Arcane Golem. I really hated it pre-nerf, but I’m pretty sure the card is just plain shit now. If you want a 4/4 for three with a drawback I can point you to Ogre Brute and Dancing Swords, both of which saw absolutely no Constructed play outside mill decks, which as we all know aren’t real decks anyway.

But what cards were overlooked in this wave of changes? Team 5 had an amazing chance to make Classic and Basic cards the infrastructure of Standard by making changes to cards to ensure that particular archetypes will not persist year after year in a supposedly always fresh format, but a few decks appear to be poised to forever be Standard contenders.

Freeze Mage

The first deck that jumps out at me is Freeze Mage. Maybe this is what the developers want to be the Mage’s identity; a reactive hero that has excellent options for board control, sustainability, and burst. None of Freeze Mage’s primary cards were changed at all, so you can expect to face the same combination of Ice Block/Barrier, Frost Nova/Doomsayer, and a flurry of burn (and maybe an Alexstraza) to the face to end the game. Yes, Mad Scientist is leaving, but I don’t think it will change much with how much Standard appears to be slowing down since the Scientist’s best use was against aggro decks, where he just bought time. Emperor Thaurussian will eventually leave as well, but he is just a luxury, not a requirement. It remains to be seen whether decks that play for the extreme late game, like C’Thun decks, will serve to keep Freeze Mage in check, but I have my doubts.

You might ask how Freeze Mage is any different from a deck like Control Warrior, and that many of Control Warrior’s cards are also going to always be in Standard. The difference is that Freeze Mage operates on a very specific axis, while Control Warrior, as evidenced over the last two years, has undergone several different iterations. Sure, the goal is always to stabilize and then win somehow, but the cards they use to get there have changed over time, and so have their win conditions. Did you know that you can build a 26-card all Classic Freeze Mage deck? Sure, maybe you don’t want Acolyte of Pain or Azure Drake in some metas, but holy shit more than two-thirds of the deck is NEVER going to change unless flat better options come about? I hope you all like getting Fireballed a bunch of times, forever.

Ramp Druid

By this time we all know that a big part of Druid’s identity is mana ramping. They will probably have access to many ramp spells/minions in Standard, probably a great deal of them during the Fall when Standard grows to it’s maximum size.

It’s really just one card in the archetype that really bothers me – Innervate. I’ve never liked Innervate as a card because I usually don’t like cards that are many orders of magnitude more powerful in the early game than the late game. Facing down a large threat far earlier in the game than you can handle is one of the most frustrating ways to lose a game, and clearly it’s worth playing despite the risk of drawing it late since almost every Druid deck since ever plays two.

Hearthstone is a different game than Magic: The Gathering by a wide margin, but it’s hard not to think about how free mana affected Magic in its early years. Now, Magic has purged it’s professional formats of almost all fast mana, not only because it isn’t fun, but it also restricts design space. In almost every resource-driven card game ever made, the very core of gameplay revolves around slowly building resources that allows for play and counter-play, but Innervate breaks down that dynamic. Sure, Innervate costs a card, and occasionally Innervating out a card means not playing anything meaningful on the next turn, but in Hearthstone it almost doesn’t matter. If you play a fat minion early, all most opponents can do is decide which minions they want to throw away to yours, simultaneously praying to RNGesus that you don’t have any follow up because it’s those games where a Druid plays a Druid of the Claw on turn three and a Shredder on turn four that are practically unwinnable for the opponent. You simply fall too far behind too quickly while the Druid gets to make all the trading decisions every turn.

Divine Favor

Yes, Aggro Paladin had many of it’s early minions nerfed, and so not changing Divine Favor may not have any impact at all for some time, but we have to adopt a long view here since Divine Favor will ALWAYS be a part of Standard, and frankly, might be the most powerful card in all of Hearthstone behind Innervate because it circumvents one of Hearthstone’s basic tenets – players draw one card per turn.

Sure, there are many cards that draw cards out there. Acolyte of Pain, Arcane Intellect, Shield Block, the list goes on and on. But Divine Favor can  draw four OR MORE cards for three mana, and the mechanic by which it determines how many cards you draw is practically toxic because it encourages a player to dump their hand regardless of whether it’s a ‘good idea.’ Who cares if everything you played that turn got wiped out on good trades from an opponent when you refilled your entire hand and can just keep mindlessly vomiting out minions?

The very idea that a card exists that encourages players to ignore strategy and simply play as many things as possible is terrible for Hearthstone, and it may not be a problem right now, but I remember when Cancer Paladin was a thing, and I’m not taking about Secrets.

No Buffs?

For some time I expected many cards to be buffed in this wave of changes. There are plenty of crappy cards out there that have never seen serious play, but I came to see that buffs to cards will probably be very rare going forward. Any time a card is buffed, especially a Classic or Basic card, there is less of an incentive to buy more cards because that suddenly powerful card will take the place in decks of something from a newer set. If the developers have a cool new idea for a card, they can simply release it in the next set instead of buffing one of the many useless cards that already exist.

In addition to business model issues with buffs, there’s also the chance that buffing Classic cards will just create more of what almost all the nerfs were designed to remove -ubiquitous staples that would just eventually have to be nerfed. Sorry Totemic Might, maybe your destiny is somewhere down the road, but it’s going to be as the same shitty spell you are right now.

That about wraps it up for now. I’ll be back with my thoughts, and maybe a full review of every card (a big maybe) in Whispers of the Old Gods shortly before it’s release on April 26th! If you think I missed any cards you feel should be nerfed, be sure to let me know either in the comments below, on my Facebook page The Olentangy Plays, or tweet at me @NigelTheLondon

Until then, may all your Crackles be for lethal!

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Hearthstone – Standard is THE Standard

The creepy cardback for preordering WotOG

The creepy cardback for preordering WotOG

I don’t get people who are angry over Team 5’s decision to introduce the Standard format. Literally every complaint has a gaping hole in it. Let’s crush a few, for fun!

“I bought these cards, and now I can’t use them!”

This argument makes no sense. Go play Wild. Those of us who enjoy Standard (everyone but you) will play Standard.

“I want to be a pro Secret Paladin player forever!”

If you want to be a professional Hearthstone player, you have to spend money to keep up. That’s the fucking business model. And at least you have it easy. If you’re any good, you don’t really have to spend that much money when a set comes out; you should have a bunch of gold and dust stockpiled. You don’t even have to get off your ass for the most part. Do you have any idea how much time and money it takes to try to become a professional Magic player? You’re spending hundreds of dollars a month on cards, and travelling hundreds of miles a WEEK to follow around the various tournament circuits, just hoping you post enough good finishes to at least break even.

“Wild will eventually be a dead format!”

Yep. That’s why they made Standard, so players don’t feel like they are on a slowly sinking ship with no where else to go.

Do you know WHY Wild, without extreme policing from the Hearthstone developers, will eventually die out? There are three main reasons. Let me hit you over the head with them.

#1 – Power Creep

Let’s say Team 5 is designing a new Hearthstone set. Every set needs some vanilla-ish creatures, to fill in the gaps, for flavor and feel reasons, and because not every card can be super complicated.

BB: “Let’s see, we need a four mana guy that has a solid body.”

YW: “Well, we made Chillwind Yeti, then in GvG we made Mechanical Yeti. What’s next?”

BB: “We really want people to want to buy packs of this new set so we keep our jobs, so we need to make this minion playable in Constructed.”

YW: “I know, let’s make it a 5/5! It will be awesome!

::NEXT YEAR::

BB: “5/5 Yeti was a hit, even if it did create confusion about what having a “yeti” means, but we have another set coming, and people need to stay excited!”

YW: “Hey, let’s make it a Dragon too!”

::NEXT YEAR::

BB: “If we don’t give it a Battlecry, people will just use the old one!”

::NEXT YEAR::

YW: “6/6!”

I think you get where this is going. Power creep stops a developer’s ability to design cards that are balanced for the game. You need to sell these cards you design, and so you always have to make the next one better than the last.

#2 – Growing the player base

Believe it or not, not everyone in the entire world plays Hearthstone, but Team 5 would really like to continue growing the player base, and really, players should want that too (but that’s another topic)!

Let’s say it’s four years in the future. There are now like a dozen expansions for Hearthstone and nine adventures. Let’s assume Team 5 somehow managed to avoid power creep from ruining the game yet, and so the meta is full of cards from all products. A new player hears about Hearthstone from his friends, and creates an account. He completes the tutorial and gets all his classes to ten. He eventually creates his own deck and ventures into Constructed, where predictably he gets his ass whooped. Undeterred, he decides that because he really likes this game, he wants to buy in and build decks like the decks he sees on ladder. He clicks on the shop, frowns, does a little math, logs off, and never comes back.

What happened? Our prospective new player realized that the chances of him getting the cards he wants in packs are incredibly low, and since he only needs a few cards from each set, most of what he gets would be dusted, but only getting 1/8th value on the VAST majority of cards would mean he needs to spend about $1000 to build the deck he wants.

#4 – Design Space

This point sorta ties into power creep in a way, but it’s more about complexity and similarities between cards, and even less tangible things like Hearthstone’s flavor and feel.

Hearthstone has a very simple layout. Hand, deck, and board. Stuff goes from deck, to hand, to board, and then eventually it goes away. This is the essence of Hearthstone, and its simplicity in game play is one of the reasons why its OK to add animations of the cards crashing into each other with voice overs. You wouldn’t want the game to be too busy. Think about what MTGO would be like if every time you tapped a mana, your lands did things, like animated or played noises. Magic already has many physically moving parts (even in the digital realm since MTGO is played using a virtual board), and so having all that extra stuff would just be distracting, confusing, and probably annoying.

Now think about the new cultist cards in Whispers of the Old Gods. Whenever you buff your C’Thun(wherever it is), a little portal opens up on the side of the board and you briefly see him getting buffed. It’s a cool little effect, but it also serves a game-related purpose because it reminds the players of how big Captain Eyeball is, so you need to have it.

From a developer standpoint, that ‘space’, where you summon something and this little portal opens up to show what happened, is taken. In order to retain Hearthstone’s essence of simplicity in game state representation, they now cannot continue to design things of that nature, even if they were completely unrelated to each other, because you can’t summon a minion and have like nine things happen. You would lose the essence of Hearthstone.

The other side of design space is much simpler. Often times, when developing a set, there is a central synergistic mechanic, like GvG’s mechs or The Grand Tournament’s inspire. Sometimes developers like to return to an existing space because they still have great ideas using it. Now, without Standard, any new cards designed all have to be balanced against the existing cards, and without a doubt often times when exploring a design space cards are designed that, for balance reasons, cannot exist together. With a rotating format, there is no worry about those old cards. A perfect Hearthstone example for this is Goblins vs. Gnomes. I guarantee you that at some point Team 5 will want to try again at a mech-themed set, and they won’t have to balance everything around the existence of Mechwarper.

Wrap-Up

There are plenty of reasons to look forward to Standard. New decks, new cards,and a new format. To those of you who still don’t get why it wouldn’t be fun to play against Mad Scientist (a perfect example of a card that restricts design space) forever, I promise you that this is the right long-term decision for everyone. I was there when Magic created Standard, then Extended, then Legacy, then they axed Extended for Modern. Some of these formats were not well received, but now they provide a rich variety of metas, some quickly shifting and some not, that allow for players of all tastes to find a format they enjoy.

See you at the inn!

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