Enraged and/or Damaged: How the Use of Keywords Makes Games Better (or Worse)

Earlier today, Blizzard announced that it would be removing the “Enrage” keyword from Hearthstone. The cards that currently include the keyword will function in the exact same way as before, but their text will now read, “while damaged,” instead of “Enrage.”


Hearthstone Game Designer Peter Whalen made a great post explaining the team’s reasoning for the change, but a lot of people online seemed not to fully understand the change, so I thought I might expand on the reasoning a bit more. Obviously, I’m not on Team 5, so I can’t say for sure what they were thinking, but this change is actually pretty in line with the classic game development tools I’ve spent a long time studying, so I think I can still provide a little insight.

I. The Benefits of Keywording

First, part of understanding why you would take away a keyword is understanding why you would make one in the first place. Some of this will recap Peter’s blog post, but here we go.

  • Keywords make learning cards easier by reducing mental load. Once you learn what mechanic the word stands for, the keyword becomes a shortcut for your brain to understand the comparably more complex mechanic. This also makes it easier for your brain to see that two cards act in the same way: instead of reading the whole first sentence you can look at it at a glance and see, “oh, it has Taunt, just like Taz’dingo.”
  • Keywords add flavor. A successful keyword will add resonance to the card and neatly merges flavor with the mechanics of the card, just like good names, art, voicelines, and flavor text do. We have seen that certain keywords are very closely tied to certain classes, and have even become part of the classes’ respective class identities (like how Freeze is pretty closely tied to Mage, Divine Shield is tied to Paladins, and Deathrattle was, for a while at least, part of Rogue’s class identity).
  • Keywords (in Hearthstone, at least) condense card text. This both increases readability generally and increases design space. The increased design space might not be readily apparent, but when keywords give you more physical and mental space that means they can add more words to the card (a.k.a., they have more Imagedesign space). The best, easiest example of this right now is looking at Charged Devilsaur versus Militia Commander. The new “Rush” keyword removes two whole lines of text from the card, for what is a similar effect. That’s why Militia Commander also has room for its Battlecry. An even more extreme example is the “Protection” keyword in Magic the Gathering, which actually combines several mechanics (basically, can’t be damaged, can’t be blocked, and can’t be targeted by whatever you have protection from). Imagine if you had to write out all the keywords on a card like Akroma. You literally couldn’t print the card in a legible font size were it not for the use of keywords.
  • Keywords give mechanical hooks. As Whalen points out, keywords make it easy to do things like “all taunt minions get +2/+2,” etc. It makes it much easier for cards to reference other cards when the reference point is concise, so keywords make it easier to create card synergies. (Side note: this is similar to why C’Thun is the only Old God without a fancy title after his name–to keep all the cards that referenced C’Thun much “cleaner”)
  • Keywords give players a shared vocabulary for common mechanics, which promotes easy communication about the game and, in turn, helps grow the community. As we have seen time and again, through the encouragement of fireside gatherings and the devs’ involvement personal in the community, Blizzard strongly believes that Hearthstone is a game that is at its best when it is very community-centric. Keywords help lubricate that community growth.

II. The Dangers of Keywording

Of course, as Whalen also points out, not every mechanic can–or should–be keyworded. To do so would be both ridiculous and pointless. There are definite downsides to having too many keywords:

  • If everything is a keyword, then nothing is. Most of the strengths of keywords rely on keywords differentiating certain core mechanics from others, so if there are too many keywords the benefits of them are minimized.
  • Similarly, keywords come with expectations. If you are not prepared to create a few cards with the keyword, and/or that interact with the keyword, then what’s the point? Why is this random word highlighted? When are we going to see more of this mechanic? Some portion of the player base will undoubtedly be upset when you do not meet those expectations, so you should not keyword a mechanic if you’re not prepared to meet the player expectations of a keyword.
  • Too many keywords make for a big barrier to entry. That is, too many keywords actually have the opposite-from-intended effect that they make the game harder to understand, instead of easier. Even though Hearthstone has reminder text when you mouse over a card, not all new players know that and, even if they do, it can still be intimidating to say “okay, if you want to pick up this game, you have to first memorize these 50 special keyword definitions just to know what all the cards do.” As stated above, even currently-active players can only bear so much mental load, and sometimes more keywords worsens that load instead of lightening it.
  • Too many mechanics (and keywords) can actually limit design space (at least, in the medium-term). Ben Brode has stated a few times, including just earlier today, that Hearthstone does not–at this time–plan to re-use most mechanics/keywords. They prefer, for now at least, to explore new design space with each set. That’s why for every Discover that becomes part of the game’s “core,” there’s several Joust, Inspire, or Grimy-Goons-Handbuff mechanics that are never seen again. I have no doubt that as Hearthstone grows older it will eventually decide to revisit some old mechanics, but for now this means that each time they create a new mechanic or keyword, they are planning to not use that mechanic or keyword for at least the next couple years. That means, to not “waste” design space, they should create a few new mechanics with each set, and explore them fully, instead of creating a bunch of mechanics and just scratching the surface with each. Ben Brode actually recently stated that they might have gone a “little overboard” with how many mechanics were introduced in Journey to Un’Goro. Keyword/mechanic preservation might be part of the reason that early indications are that The Witchwood will have much fewer new mechanics/keywords than did Un’goro–they’re saving some of that good stuff for the other two sets this year!
  • Keywords have lasting impacts on the game that can hurt the game in the long-run. One obvious way is that once a keyword is used, it cannot really be used in another way at a later time. That means you have to be really sure before you lock a keyword in. Mike Donais has actually stated that if they were to bring back Joust, he would like to make ties win. That’s great! It’s how I said the mechanic should have worked from the get-go. But then, what happens with all the original Joust cards? Do they just get retconned? I guess so, since we can’t really have a 2015 Joust and a 2020 Joust without making Wild just incredibly goofy. We’re a digital card game, so we can certainly do it, but it would mean that the team needs to re-consider the values of every single Joust card that’s already in Wild (cue, “yeah, right, Blizzard balancing Wild, lul” meme). On top of that, you know that no matter how many times they explain the change, people will still be confused about it.

So Hearthstone has to be careful about what mechanics they decide to keyword. This is especially true with keywords to mechanics in the evergreen sets, like Enrage mostly was, as those sets will never rotate out of standard (under the current plan, at least). While Magic can simply choose to stop printing (and even ban, in the case of keywords like “ante”) cards with old, out-of-date keywords, Hearthstone is stuck with the ones in the evergreen sets. That means that each keyword in an expansion adds onto the keywords that are already in standard, which exacerbates the first two of those downsides, listed above.

III. The Pros and Cons of Un-Keywording

Interestingly, “un-keywording” is pretty different from choosing to not keyword a mechanic in the first place. It means that the team at one point determined that the term was worth keywording, and that players got used to that keyword, but the team now thinks it is better for the overall health of the game to undo that decision.

A lot of people online have highlighted some of the downsides of choosing to “un-keyword” a term, mainly the player familiarity aspect. This is a term that players know and recognize, so now, for years, you’re going to have people calling this effect “Enrage,” even though that is now wrong–just like how a couple of my favorite podcasts still refer to this game as “Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft.”


It’s especially a bummer because “Enrage” is such a good, descriptive, concise keyword, and now we can never use that word as a keyword again for something similar (see the “Joust” point, above) or something entirely different (how weird would that be?).

Blizzard’s reasoning seems to be that Enrage was rarely used and did not really save much card text space, so it was unnecessary as a keyword. As it is unnecessary, it is (almost) all upside to remove the keyword and thereby lessen mental load for established players and lower the barrier to entry for new players. As explained above, removing unnecessary keywords, in theory, makes room for new and exciting ones.

I trust Blizzard’s decisionmaking here. They have a lot more data than we do, both about new players’ exit points and about what is in sets to come, and they must have decided that the information supports the decision to un-keyword Enrage. But I would like to add one more issue that I haven’t seen others mention yet. I am concerned that removing the keyword will add some confusion in differentiating “whenever this card survives/takes damage” and “while damaged.”

Of course, established players won’t have an issue with this, but I do think new players might. I’ve already seen plenty of newer players confuse Gurubashi’s mechanic with the mechanic formerly referred to as Enrage, and now there’s not even a bold keyword to help point them in the right direction. Still, this issue is pretty niche and I’m sure that Team 5 took it into consideration when making this decision.

All-in-all, I’m in favor of “rotating” keywords to make room for new ones in Standard. This awkward situation in which the keyword must be destroyed instead of rotated won’t come up often because there are only two sets that never rotate under the current system. So all of those who are enraged damaged by this decision need not worry–it probably won’t happen again for a long time, if at all.


A Simple Difference of Opinion

Yesterday, I was discussing the issues-or lack thereof-in the current Hearthstone metagame with some twitter friends. We were on opposite sides of a number of issues in the discussion and were each passionate about our positions. Other people joined and weighed in. Some good points were made all around; some minds were changed, some were not. When the debate reached a natural end point, we all dropped the subject and went about our respective days.

Then, to my surprise, a bunch of people commented about how civil the whole thing was and how they wished all internet went that way.

How immensely sad is it that we are in an age of unparalleled technological communication capabilities and yet a civil debate is nearly unheard of?

The Value of (Civil) Discourse

Let me start by saying that the tenets I talk about here do not apply to all topics. I am a lawyer, I know that not all arguments come from a neutral position of power and I know that we cannot always all hope for the same or even similar results. I also know that sometimes the positions and goals are so disjointed that civil discourse is not possible.

Still, these skills and techniques also extend beyond just Hearthstone twitter debates into life generally. Since I became conscious of these notions, I impressed my now-wife enough that she agreed to marry me, we have rarely fought, when we do fight it is quick, and we always end fights without resentment or ill feelings towards one another. I have to assume this is one of the keys to a healthy relationship.

Portrait Herm of
Socrates hated the Sophists who would argue any side of an issue for money. Now the people who do that are called lawyers, and people still hate us. for it

Civil discourse allows you to express and explore your opinion/position while at the same time maintaining healthy a relationship with the other person/people. I also find that it more frequently leads to a resolution, if there is one to be had. When all parties to a conversation are devoted to a genuine exchange of ideas, you might come to a solution to the problem or a compromise between you; but when all you care about is winning the argument, feelings might trump facts, and at least one person usually walks away from the discussion unhappy. The obsession with “winning arguments” instead of “engaging in discourse” means that a lot of good ideas are missed out on because they are harder to discover, clarify, or defend. For thousands of years, people who prefer to win arguments than search for the truth behind them have been the “bad guys.” Now, they are our leaders on twitter, or in politics, or both.

The Purpose of the Conversation

The first step in engaging in civil discourse is, I think, to determine what the purpose of the discourse is. Is it to solve a problem? To understand the other person’s feelings? To prove a point? Just to rile the other side up?

Right around when my now-wife and I started dating, I happened to read something in Cosmo or some other such magazine about how (some) women hate it when they come home to vent and all their partner does is try to fix it. This was foreign to me. I had never even considered that somebody would complain about something if they didn’t want to hear about how they could fix it, but I figured there was no harm to trying it out, so I gave it a shot.

The next time she came to me to complain (I remember it vividly–she was complaining about a law professor we both had at the time), I asked her how she wanted me to help: did she want me to help her vent or help her get a better grade on the next assignment?

I shit you not, her eyes widened. I could practically see her thinking, “holy shit, this guy’s the one.” This time, she told me, she wanted me to help her vent. So, I did. I listened to her complain, threw in my own “I hate it when they do that!” or “Yeah, she did the same thing to me!” when appropriate, and waited until she had let it all out before asking if she wanted to vent more, wanted me to help try to fix it, or wanted to go catch a movie and forget about it. It was wonderful.

If you can determine what the purpose of the communication is, and if all parties to the communication are on the same page as to that purpose, then the communication will be more successful for everyone. If my wife had wanted to vent and I would have come at her trying to tell her how to write a better paper next time, she probably would’ve thought I was not being sensitive to her feelings and wasn’t listening to her, and she probably would’ve been right. She might well have left feeling worse instead of better, which means I probably would have, too.

Going back to twitter discourse, if the person with whom you are conversing is just trying to troll you, there’s no point trying to reason with them. You might as well save your time. But if the person has a genuine issue understanding something, perhaps you can enlighten them. If they just want to express distaste for a deck, then you can help them complain about Raza on 5 and Anduin on 8. If they are trying to tell a developer why something feels unfun to them, maybe the best move is to acknowledge their experience and provide the developer with your own opinion, so the developer can make an informed decision about what changes, if any, need to be made. For any of those, if you respond incorrectly it will not further the conversation and, therefore, will not help solve the problem (if there is one) or better your relationship with the other person (one would hope it need not be said, but building relationships with people is another end in itself).

My favorite situation, however, is when you and the other person/people in the conversation genuinely want to figure out a problem (like our metagame debate), but you’re not in agreement as to how to do so.

How to Disagree without Arguing

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

It seems the art of disagreeing without arguing has been reduced, like so much else these days, to trite memes and sarcastic “isms.” Poor Voltaire has become a bit of a joke.

But it turns out that there is a lot of value in hearing other peoples’ ideas, even if you (initially) disagree with them. You can learn a lot from different viewpoints, and incorporate them into your own thinking. You might realize you no longer believe what you thought you believed. Either way, you’ve grown. Or, if not, perhaps your partner has.

The key to disagreeing without arguing is to respect the other person. Respect them because they are a friend, or a person with authority, or just because they are a fellow person and you’re trying not to be a dick.

When you respect the other person, you learn and seek to understand their position. Try to get to the bottom of it by asking them to explain or clarify points that are not obvious to you–not to trick or trap them, but for you to understand what they mean. Sometimes, your probing will help you realize you actually agree with them, or help them realize they actually agree with you. Sometimes, it will help them solidify their position, which is sometimes an end in itself. Other times, your partner solidifying their position is a means to an end. After all, if your goal is for the two of you to work out a solution to a problem, then you want them at their best. Indeed, it would be a logical fallacy (commonly known as a “strawman” argument) for you to debate anything less than their full and true position.

How to Argue without Fighting

Once you have determined the purpose of the discourse warrants it, and once you have fully understood your partner’s position, it may be appropriate to argue a contrary position.Fight_Promoter(49712)

At its core, “argument” means the presentation of a position, supported by (hopefully logical) reasons, and sometimes evidence. It is only the secondary meaning that is a synonym to “bicker” or “fight.” In fact, litigators (the types of lawyers who go to court, like I do) are essentially professional arguers, and all of our training is that if you resort to bickering or fighting, it only hurts your credibility and makes your argument look weaker.

Think of how many times your opponent has effectively conceded your point by switching from arguing the merits to making fun of your clothes.

Going back to that first point, when there is mutual respect (because respect invites respect in kind, and because you’ve both read this article) then civility comes naturally. This both fosters positive relationships within the community and keeps the argument on topic.

However, there are a few more things some of us need to keep in check if we want to argue properly. Logically fallacies are like “dirty tricks” that people use when they want to “win fights” instead of “make arguments.” I already talked about one above, the “strawman argument/fallacy.” We have been trained over the years that winning arguments is good, and these are some of the easier ways to win them, but when we want truly productive discourse, then we need to be mindful of the common logical fallacies and keep ourselves from falling into bad habits. These are some of the more common fallacies that should be avoided in proper arguments:

  • 85d21286“Strawman argument”: when you attack a weaker shell of the other person’s position instead of their actual position. The result is that you apparently “win,” but in reality have not addressed their argument at all (which, I guess, means you actually “lose,” but “don’t keep score” is part of my general rules for productive discourse, so don’t worry about that).
  • “Ad hominem attack”: when you attack the person instead of their argument. Common examples include when you discount a person’s position by pointing out they are a a low rank, calling someone a “Blizzard shill,” or pointing out a person’s hypocrisy. That last one gets people sometimes, because hypocrisy feels SO unfair and seems SO damning, but it is actually just an attack on the person instead of addressing their argument.
  • “Appeal to authority”: when instead of presenting reasons in support of an argument, you just point to a source of authority as support for the argument. This does not advance the discourse, but instead, at best, points the other person to a third-party with whom they might be able debate the points.
  • “Red herring”: when you bring up something that seems related to the argument, but is really just a distraction. This includes bringing up other unrelated examples, including past arguments. Bringing up past arguments just begs to take the discourse off topic, and is usually a waste of time because you go on to re-argue the previous points instead of arguing the points before you.

We’re going long, so I’ll end it there, but there are several more common logical fallacies we should all learn and study. Take a logic class, it’s fun!

But to wrap up on today: 1) understand the point of the discourse; 2) if the discourse begets argument, then argue fairly; and 3) always respect the person with whom you are having the discourse (which includes respecting their position(s)). If you follow those basic guidelines, you will have fewer fights, grow your relationships with the people around you, and reach solutions to your issues instead of creating more issues (like bad feelings, embarrassing twitter threads, etc.) NOW LET’S GET OUT THERE AND HAVE SOME CIVIL DISCOURSE!


Challenger Cup Write-Up #1

About ten days ago, I decided I would try my hand at a few Challenger Cups this year. As people who follow me know, I’m a moderately accomplished, “casual-competitive” Hearthstone player. I have now made Legend 3 times and I hit Rank 5 or better every month that I put a decent amount of time into the game, so I was fairly confident in my skills.

But I’d never really entered the tournament scene aside from a tournament-like Fireside Gathering and the 1600 Pauper Tournament, both of which were more casual in nature. This was a chance to win my way into the HCT Playoffs! Such an invitation would be a prize to me on so many levels: 1) the actual, literal prizes and accommodations; 2) the chance to meet so many people (pros, casters, etc.) I respect and love; 3) the amazing experience of playing at that level, and in that environment; and 4) the exposure and “brand” development that would come with it might help me in my greater goal of one day working for Blizzard.

The dream.

So, being the alpha male I am, I asked my wife if I could try out some Challenger Cups this year. She, being the (non-sarcastic) amazing wife she is, immediately said of course I could. I didn’t even finish explaining it before she agreed… I’m actually pretty sure she agreed just so that I would stop talking about it,* but that worked for me!

* Long-time readers will recall this is also how she agreed to let me go to both HCT Playoffs and Blizzcon last year. Hehehehe.

I. The Preparation

So, I started prepping for the tournament. Phase 1 was finding out how it worked and when it was. Unfortunately, I got caught up planning and writing a Blizzpro post on HCT and spent the first week or so of my planning thinking that the Challenger Cup was a “bring 4 decks, ban 1” (like HCT), instead of “bring 3 decks, ban 1.” Tournament regulars will tell you is a much bigger difference than “just don’t bring one of your decks,” so I was left with only 2 days planning my lineup for the correct format (note how I’m already making excuses for not doing as well as I hoped–this is a key part of competing in tournaments, kappa).

Although I spent most of my prep time prepping for the wrong format, it was not all wasted. I still learned a lot about popular tournament decks, matchups, etc. that would help me in crafting my lineup and tournament plan. Based on numerous sources, including the HCT lineups, I assumed most people would bring Priest and Warlock, and that Rogue would likely be the third most popular class (fast-forward for a second: this all proved to be correct, albeit either to a lesser agree than I anticipated or I just got some unlucky, weird pairings).

Knowing everyone would bring Priest and Warlock, I looked at what decks I had or could craft and started going about trying to craft my lineup, planning to ban one of those two most common classes. I first determined that with closed decklists, Priest might have more variance than Warlock in that both Cubelock and Cube-less control have similar matchups across the field, but all the Priest matchups vary a bit. So I decided to ban Priest.

I noticed that with Priest banned, Control Warlock’s only commonly-played weakness was Cubelock, so I figured I should run Warlock. Once I decided to bring Warlock, I figured I had to bring Priest, or else I was giving most opponents a very free and easy ban phase. I had all four major Priest archetypes available to me (Razakus, BIG, Spiteful Dragon, and Inner Fire Dragon), but I really only had experience with Razakus and Spiteful. I decided Spiteful was the better choice for me because I felt more comfortable with it and because I figured that anyone who left Priest up was likely specifically targeting Razakus Priest with something like Jade Druid, which Spiteful Priest is slightly favored against.

Then came my last deck. This was a tough one. I knew I wanted a deck to play against Warlocks because I expected they would ban Priest and that would leave me with my Warlock (and my third deck) versus their Warlock (and their third deck) and the Warlock v. Warlock matchup would likely be even (mirror match) or bad (Cubelock) for me. I started with a Tempo Rogue heavily teched against Warlock (with Spellbreaker and Sap/Eviscerate instead of Keleseth). However, that deck did not feel good in my testing and I had limited time to refine it, so I decided to try another route. I looked at the direct Warlock counters and found that, aside from Priest decks (which I expected would be banned), the best counter to both Cubelock and Control Warlock was Aggro Hunter!

I had already been playing a moderate amount of Hunter since KnC because it was one of only two classes I have not yet golden’d (along with Priest), so I refined the list a bit and played a couple practice games against Warlock to make sure I liked that matchup as much as the numbers said I should, and decided to lock it in.

So, I had decided on my lineup and general game plan: I’d bring Spiteful Priest, Control Warlock, and Aggro Hunter with the plan of banning Priest, beating their Warlock with my Hunter, and beating their third deck with my Warlock.

I knew Spiteful Priest well and expected not to play it a ton anyway, and I knew Aggro Hunter pretty well as well, so I spent most of my limited time testing and refining the decklist of my Control Warlock (up until about 10 minutes before the tournament started). I found some things that I liked, but there was A LOT left to be tested with the deck and it was definitely the deck I was least sure about or confident with. This was a bit disconcerting considering that my gameplan was basically “use Warlock to beat everything that isn’t Warlock,” but my time was up, so those lessons would have to wait for next Challenger Cup. I ended up with these three decks:





As you can see, the Warlock deck was intended to do everything. I actually like the addition of creepers to make the deck more aggressive and put some pressure back onto people, but “do everything” might have been one (or more) too many things. The other two lists were fairly standard, but with the Spiteful Priest deck slightly teched harder against aggro just in case they ban Warlock and it needs to fill the “beat everything” role and the Aggro Hunter running Highmanes over Leeroy because I don’t have Leeroy (again/still) didn’t have dust enough to craft Rin and Leeroy.

II. The Tournament

Round 1:

Opponent brought Priest, Warlock, and Druid. As per my plan, I banned Priest. I started with Hunter, which was a mistake because Hunter was specifically to beat Warlocks. Of course, he started with (Aggro) Druid instead. So I lost that one, stuck with the Hunter and beat the Warlock, and then lost the Warlock mirror because he was Cubelock. I was one turn off lethal when he Cubed a Voidlord I had silenced, to keep me out forever. Had I started with Warlock, I would have had a good chance to win the Druid match and win the Hunter v. Warlock like I was supposed to, so queue order basically cost me the match, but it was 50/50 either way so I didn’t really do it “wrong” except insofar as I should’ve guessed better.

In order to solidify my place as a tournament-going excuse-maker, I made a chart to show how I basically lost to a coinflip before the match even started:


Matches: 0-1, Games: 1-2

Round 2:

Opponent dropped instead of trying to fight through the losers’ bracket. Brackets aren’t re-done between each round, though, so the only way to drop is to not show up for the match, which counts as a win for the other person (albeit, presumably worse for tie breakers if/when those matter).

Matches: 1-1, Games: 1-2

Round 3:

Opponent brought Druid, Paladin, and Rogue and banned Warlock. I didn’t know which to ban out of those, but went with Paladin because it seemed like it was an aggro lineup and that would be the fastest. The first match was Spiteful Priest versus Tempo Rogue, which is a close matchup, but he drew a bit better than me so I lost. However, the Druid turned out to be Jade Druid, against which my Priest was favored and my Hunter was less unfavored than had it been Aggro. I was able to pull off the reverse sweep and keep my dreams alive.

Matches: 2-1, Games: 3-3

Round 4:

My opponent brought Priest, Warlock, and Mage, which was a lineup I was somewhat expecting. He banned Warlock and, per usual, I banned Priest. His first deck was a weird Elemental Quest Mage, which got a bunch of armor and then got an early Frost Lich Jaina to make sure Hunter could not keep up. However, his other deck was a suboptimal Cubelock, which meant my two favorable matchups beat up on it for an easy match win.

Matches: 3-1, Games: 5-4

Round 5: 

Opponent brought a slightly weird lineup of Druid, Mage, and Priest. I banned the Priest, as that was my normal ban strategy. He banned the Warlock, which made me think his Druid was Jade, but I never saw it to confirm. Instead, he tried his Tempo Mage twice and, unfortunately for him, both my Hunter and my Spiteful Priest were favored versus it, so I won that match quickly.

Matches: 4-1, Games: 7-4

Round 6:

Opponent brought Priest, Rogue, Druid. Surprisingly, he banned my Hunter, which should have tipped me off but did not. I played my first match (Warlock v. Rogue) as

Me when my opponent beat me with Mill Rogue and then Spiteful Summoner betrayed me and punted my game 3.

though it was Tempo Rogue until turn 3 when he hit me with a Coldlight Oracle into a turn 4 Shadowstep the Coldlight, replay it, and Vanish the Giant I had cast on 3. His deck was pretty bad, so I almost came back from that, but was not able to do so. I kept Warlock up because it beats all the Druid matchups I know, and luckily he brought a real deck as the second one (Jade Druid), so I won that match as I should. Unfortunately, I drew poorly and got a little unlucky for the favorable Jade Druid v. Spiteful Priest matchup (spiteful summoned a Yip instead of something good, which summoned a Wisp at the end of the turn, which made his Spreading Plague stall me one extra turn), so I was not able to take the match.Matches: 4-2, Games: 8-6

III. The Recap

Overall record/finish: Matches 4-2 (but 3-2 of those played), Games: 8-6. Finished 25th out of 128, which is almost respectable.

Overall individual deck game scores:
Priest: 3-2, Warlock: 1-2, Hunter: 4-2. This was surprising to me in a few ways including that I played more Priest than Warlock and that Hunter was my best performing deck (though, tiny sample size so it’s hard to really say).

Opponent’s Lineups:
Round 1: Priest, Warlock, and Druid
Round 2: n/a
Round 3: Druid, Paladin, and Rogue
Round 4: Priest, Warlock, and Mage
Round 5: Priest, Druid, and Mage
Round 6: Priest, Druid, and Rogue

This was about 50% what I expected. I thought, like HCT, just about everyone would be running both Priest and Warlock. It turns out almost everyone did bring Priest, but only 2 of the 5 brought Warlock. That made me very uncomfortable when one of my decks was basically designed to counter Warlock and was not the strongest generalist deck (even though, as mentioned above, that deck ended up doing just fine). Instead, Druid was tied with Priest as the most prevalent deck I faced.

Overall tournament stats:

Common classes
Pulled from the Battlefy tournament page. Note: the tournament included a long waitlist (257 people signed up for 128 slots) and these stats seem to include all of them or, at least, all the people who checked in come tournament time. I don’t know what the breakdown of the 128 who actually played are, as it keeps that stuff semi-secret.

As you can see, Priest, Warlock, and Rogue were most common, in that order, as I expected. That means that the high amount of Druid and low amount of Warlock I faced was not typical. There were also 0 Shaman decks, also as expected. Priest, Warlock, and Mage had the three highest winrates. Paladin had the lowest winrate.

Also courtesy of Battlefy. This is a cool part of the system.

In hindsight, I think my preparation for the tournament as a tournament “proper” might have hurt me a little. By that, I mean that this group of players (a mix of both middle-tier and high-tier, seasoned and newer) did not bring the “typical” or expected tournament lineups. The metagame was not the ladder metagame, but it was closer to it than a typical professional tournament might have been. I suspect some of that was more for the players’ inability to player certain decks than it was exactly metagame decisions. I also suspect that some players might not have prepped enough to have even known what the best tournament decks were. Additionally, the format of the tournament also might encourage generalized ladder decks over a targeted format: as I saw in my first match, if the plan is to target one deck, but there are only two decks, then you have a 50% chance of your targeting working. After that, you are left with a suboptimal deck that was supposed to be really good against a deck with which your opponent no-longer needs to win. With the “first to two wins” structure, and the more open playerbase, it might have been a better call to just bring individually powerful decks instead of targeting something in particular. It’s also often a better plan to play something you know and are comfortable with than something you just made 20 minutes before the tournament so, even though my testing time was artificially short this time for reasons somewhat out of my control, that’s definitely something to avoid, if possible, going forward.


Kobolds and Catacombs First Impressions

In this post, instead of doing a card-by-card analysis, as I have done in the past, I’m going to do an overview, highlighting specific cards as needed. If you want more specific ideas of my impressions of individual cards, you can check out the card ratings I did with OtakuMZ over at Blizzpro. Obviously, since it was a group project, it’s not the same as if it were just me, but it gives you a pretty good idea. If you want to see my thoughts on each card as it came out, you can get most of that from my daily reveal recaps. Finally, if you want to see some of my theorycrafting ideas, I made my own post about that.

But, you’re here for this post, not those posts, so without further ado, my initial general impressions of Kobolds and Catacombs:

I. Dungeon Run Mode!

I’m super excited for the Dungeon Run mode. It’s a really ambitious project that I think will take the role that the team wanted Arena mode to take: a fun, casual mode (but challenging) that allows players to use cards that are not in their collections. And, best of all, it’s free! Having played the first few rounds at Blizzcon, this mode is really fun (albeit, for those early rounds, really easy), and it seems to have a lot of replay value. I told my friend Michael about it and he just about jumped out of his seat in excitement. “A Hearthstone… rogue-like?!” It was weird being around him so aroused, but it’s nice to see an upcoming game mode bring a player back to the fold like this already has.

I expect this mode to be a source of a lot of content right after release, something players do as a filler/downtime between other content later on, and, perhaps most importantly, a great way to get former players to return to the game.


II. On Intra-set Design “Cycles”

As my regular readers know, I’m a student of game design and even an amateur game designer myself. To that end, I’ve been listening to Mark Rosewater’s Drive to Work podcast in which he discusses design theory and Magic: the Gathering/Wizards of the Coast history. In one episode a little while back, he discussed how “cycles” are central to any set design, and usually where he starts.

As used here, a “cycle” is a set of cards within a set that is strongly unified by some theme or mechanic. A strong cycle would be like, “each class get one 2 mana minion with a class-centric spin on the set’s new mechanic, and no other cards in the set have the mechanic, and all of the minions share a part of their name and have similar themes in their art work,” but looser cycles can and do exist as well.

The value of cycles is that they very efficiently push a set’s theme, flavor, and balance, all in just a few cards. However, for whatever reason, Hearthstone has shied away from tight cycles, so before now we were left with mostly loose cycles or no discernible cycles at all (major exceptions being recent sets in which we had the Quest cycle and the Hero Card cycle).

In reviewing this set overall, we have more tight cycles than we have in the past. As you can see from the unidentified objects, they have a shared name, shared art direction, and similar gameplay mechanics, but they don’t span over every class. That makes them a tight, but limited cycle.

The spellstones span every class, have a shared name, and have the same “upgrade” mechanic.

The “Legendary weapon” cycle is tied together basically just by the type of card they are, but it spans all the classes.

The result of all these design cycles is that we have a very clear design direction for this set. In fact, when they announced the set and described what it was about, they very much focused on these aspects of the expansion. I hope they continue this trend in set design going forward so that when we look back on Hearthstone’s sets we don’t just say, “this is the 8th set with a ‘death’ theme, so it had more Deathrattles.”

III. Specific Archetype: Control Hunter, Attempt X+1 (this time, with a “don’t play minions” twist!)

We’ve had a long history of control Hunter disappointing us, so when To My Side! came out, lots of people literally laughed, and then complained heavily. I actually thought it was a fake card at first. But, to be fair, Barnes-Y’Shaarj Hunter and Yogg-and-Load (two decks that ran exactly 2 minions each) were probably the closest we ever got to good “Control Hunter” decks so, upon further thought, I’ve come around. The question then becomes “how do we build this monstrosity, and can it be viable? This seems like a job for Disguised Toast!

Toast Big Hunter

Oh, there you go. Job’s done. In all seriousness, I think Kathrena and Wandering Monster look good enough to slot into stuff, whereas the other cards will need some finagling. I do like that Kathrena “misses” bad targets that aren’t beasts, so you get to run things like Stitched Tracker and still get free Highmanes, etc. I’ll definitely be trying something in the vein of this “Big Hunter” package but I think the package would work better in some sort of Midrange Hunter with highroll potential.

IV. Class Spotlight: Rogue Gets All the Love

Anybody who has played recently knows that Rogue is in a solid spot. Yet, in KnC, Rogue got a lot more good tools. I think their Legendary minion is one of the best cards in the set, and they got tools to buff all their major archetypes. But, most excitedly, they finally got secrets!

And about time, right? Secrets seem to fit thematically so well into Rogues, the “sneaky” class, that it never made sense for them to not have them. We got a little interesting backstory on that (from Peter Whalen, I believe): during initial designs, Rogue did have secrets and Paladin did not. However, Paladin did not have much to make it stand out as a class whereas Rogue had a lot (including the unique “Combo” mechanic and the almost-unique weapon buffing), so the secrets were moved from Rogue to Paladin. The interesting thing about this is that for most of the last three years, it has seemed like Paladin had everything (efficient minions, secrets, weapons, life gain, minion buffs, card draw, AoE, etc.) whereas Rogue seemed to struggle for an identity (at least, in my opinion).

Regardless, the secrets are back home where they belong (for now, Blizzard has said they are just testing the Rogue secrets in this set and won’t add any more in the near future–sorry for the lack of citations in this post, I’m running out of time before the set launches so you’ll just have to trust me). I’m excited to see how a new class uses a new type of card for them. I’m also interested to see how it both expands and contracts design space, and if the team will consider expanding other classes into secrets in future sets. What would Warlock secrets look like, for instance? Are Warriors clever enough to have secrets?

V. Power Level Over 9000

The last thing, and the first thing, and the middle thing several times over, that I mentioned about this set is that lots of cards in the set are smashing through old notions of appropriate power levels. For a while, it looked like we were returning to Naxxramus!

How is every card in this set OP? Was this intended? Does the rotation cycle allow for this? Maybe.

It would work because the first set comes with rotation, so it can have a lower power level and still be very impactful by just filling holes left by rotation and/or taking classes in entirely new directions. The second set is the “base” powerlevel, that builds on what the first is doing, but it necessarily must be a little more powerful than the first set or else the cards would not see play and the meta would grow stale. By the same token, the third must be the most powerful or it won’t see play. This is allowable, because it is in rotation significantly less time than the others (about 16 months as compared to about 24 months for the first set of the year, meaning it is in there for only 2/3 the time). It works especially well if the last set is OP because of interactions with cards that are rotating (like Dragons, with Drakonid Operative and, now, Duskbreaker) because that means that the time for OP-ness is super short (only about 4 months).

Hearthstone Celebrity Name Dropping Post 2: Blizzcon Boogaloo

If you follow me on Twitter, which I assume most of my readers do, you know that last weekend I participated in my first-ever Blizzcon. It was a surreal experience that I thought I could share a few words on.

Strap in guys, this is going to be a long one. This post is similar in style to the one I did a few weeks back for HCT Summer Champs, so hopefully you wanted more of that type of thing. If I met you and haven’t tagged you, I didn’t forget you and I hope you don’t take that as a slight. If I did mention/tag you and for whatever reason you’d rather I didn’t, then please let me know and I’ll fix it.

I came into my Blizzcon ticket long after the original public sale ended. Blizzard, unlike Comic-Con International (my primary prior con experience), does not discourage name-changes at the Con. That meant that when my buddy Joe (President of Vicious Syndicate) got approved for a media pass, he could sell me his personal one. The opportunity came up right after my amazing HCT Summer weekend, so I had to jump on the opportunity.

The Con Before the Storm

Before Blizzcon, there is a free, fan-made event called The Con Before the Storm. I had heard plenty about it through my podcast and twitter connections, many of whom would be in attendance, so I was glad to make the drive down after work. I arrived at the convention center, overpaid for parking ($16!), picked up my badge from Joe, and made my way to the Hilton. The long way. The wrong way. I would later learn that had I made a left instead of a right when I left the convention center I would have saved myself about 20 minutes of walking.

Still, I eventually made myself to the “World of Podcasts” Hearthstone panel. The panel included several of the top names in Hearthstone podcasts, including people from many shows that I listen to every week on my drives to and from work. The panel discussed podcasting, the state of Hearthstone, and their predictions for the Con, and can be heard in various places including on the Well Met! podcast feed. It was a great panel, but the highlight for me, the reason why I decided to drive for three hours just to hang out for two, was the opportunity to meet all the awesome friends and creators who I had, prior to that point, only known online.

I walked into the room and was immediately recognized and flagged down by the legendary Ridiculous Hat, a man who was just as small in stature as advertised, but with an even bigger heart than I had previously realized. After the panel was over, I was able to catch up with a bunch of the remaining Coin Concede crew, including Kenny, former host Appa (with friend of the show Taylor), and new addition Botticus, as well as other fans and friends. Kenny is one of the nicest guys who I’ve ever met and had previously taken a lot of time from his busy schedule to help me out with my own podcast, so it was nice to thank him in person. Appa gave me a huge hug like we were long lost friends. Then I got the movie-star treatment from the 1600 Dust guys. Chris and Spivey seemed not to realize that they were the famous ones and that it was I who was excited to meet them! We all took some pictures.

Misplay #2 (after the accidentally-walking-around-the-entire-convention-center-instead-of-hanging-a-Louie incident) was not making plans to stick around longer with these fine folks at the ensuing pre-Blizzcon party. Next time I come, I might make a week of it, and get a hotel in the area.

Day One

Misplay #3 was that I didn’t properly clear my schedule for the event. In my defense, I didn’t know I was coming until after I made the other plans (and doctor’s appointments), but I pretty much accidentally screwed myself out of a lot of content that I wanted to see at Blizzcon (on BOTH days). Luckily, almost everything is also available through the virtual ticket, so I’ve been catching up over the course of the last week. This is such a nice feature, because if I were more devoted to multiple games it would have been literally impossible to catch everything  wanted. As it stands, I still have several hours of videos left to watch.

Misplay #4–this is starting to turn into a real CoachTwisted blog post; sorry, that was mean–was that I didn’t go into Blizzcon with much of a plan. I wanted to meet people and see things, mostly Hearthstone things, but I didn’t really know how I would go about doing that. So when I walked into the convention center, I didn’t really know where I was going. It seemed like writing on the visitor wall was a good idea, though.


I wandered around with the vague plan of seeing it all and I do believe I succeeded. I saw an Overwatch match (and was barely able to comprehend what was going on), I met up with some friends from law school, hung out with Appa and Taylor, and saw a bunch of sick cosplay.

There are a few ways in which Blizzon is unlike San Diego Comic-Con, and I think most are for the better. One difference is chairs. SDCC likes to cram the absolute maximum amount of people it can into the space it has rented and, as a result, offers dedicated seats for panels and then only about a dozen chairs throughout the whole convention center. And doesn’t let you sit on the ground, lest you become a fire hazard. Blizzcon, by contrast, has several places to rest and recharge (body and phone) throughout the whole convention center. Another big difference, however, is the cosplay. It was everywhere and it was amazing.

^ A couple sights from my wanderings.

I went outside to meet up with my group for dinner and ran into Raven and Sottle grabbing a smoke break in between rounds of the Innvitational. I had a nice little chat with them before running off to the fountain at which I was supposed to meet my group. My group was itself a point of interest, as I had somehow stumbled my way into a supper with some serious Hearthstone competitors, including YAYtears. We discussed the state of the game, the commitment required in going pro, and all our respective efforts to break into that next level of the Hearthstone community.

After dinner, I caught a few panels, visited Blizzard careers, and had a quick chat with Che Chou, head of Hearthstone Esports, whom I had first met at HCT Summer Champs a few weeks prior. He’s a really nice guy and he actually remembered me from last time we met. He said that he loves the major in-person events because he gets to see familiar faces at them. He hoped I could make it to Amsterdam and, though I know it was a throw-away comment, I was taken aback that he referred to his attempts to cajole me into going as “peer pressure.” One thing I have loved about meeting all the Blizzard employees whom I have had the pleasure of meeting is that they are genuinely down-to-Earth, humble people, who actually see themselves as just part of the community, not somehow better than us fans because they work for the company.

Then, just like that, we were done for the day. At some point leading up to Blizzcon I had gotten myself an invitation to the Discord after-party, so after stopping in at the Hilton and seeing yet more friends, I made my way to a nearby bar/club that Discord had rented out. I made out like a bandit! The party was free and even then I got a free t-shirt and unlimited free drinks just for attending. Again, I wished  had gotten a hotel nearby so I could really take advantage. Still, the party was a fun time and, more importantly, I was able to reconnect with my friends Lashes and Shinobi who I had not seen (except for a random Ren Faire run-in) since I first started my quest to get hired by Blizzard in earnest. Lashes told me that she was actually on the clock, in her role as Heroes of the Storm Community Manager, which sounded like a sweet gig indeed. I also met pro Heroes player, SHOT, who was a really cool guy and who taught me about his game. He told me that he has a negative reputation in the community, which he feared was holding him back professionally, but I almost didn’t believe him. He was a super chill dude with whom I hope I can grab a beer again some time. Last, but certainly not least, I got to hang out with THE DisguisedToast for a little bit. The party was pretty light on Hearthstone people, so I actually got a lot of uninterrupted time to chat with him about his career, Blizzcon, and the game we both love.

Day Two

Because I didn’t have time to correct my mistakes from the day before, I showed up late to day two as well. By the time I arrived, I had missed almost all of the Hearthstone content! I showed up right at the end of the Tavern v. Tavern event (I think that was day two?) and got to briefly see a couple more Hearthstone pros who had come to cheer on their friends. BloodyHS, who I met in person at the HCT Summer Champs, gave me a big hug, and HotMEOWTH almost remembered me this time.

I then hung out for a bit and tried out the new Kobolds and Catacombs adventure-mode demo and MAN was it good. You have heard a bit about the new game mode, but I love how ambitious and fun it is. This post is already going to be pretty long, so I’ll cover my thoughts about the new content in a later post, but let me tell you that the only reason why I didn’t play it for the rest of the con was that I knew I would spend the entire month of December at it. I cannot wait for it to go live.

I then caught Family Feud-style game with various Hearthstone personalities (and two lucky audience members) answering the survey that Hearthstone sent out a while back. It was hosted by Ben Brode and was a really fun time. After it was done, I stuck around just in case the participants planned to meet fans afterward. Luckily, they did! I got to talk to the mayor of valuetown himself, Trump, and from that point forward things got turned up to 11.

Ben Brode came out and expertly handled the gaggle of people waiting to meet him. I’m honestly proud of all of us for waiting turns so civilly, and I’m happy that he (apparently) had nowhere to go after that event. I patiently waited as Ben turned from his left to his right, taking people from one side of the group then another, signing a four-foot-tall Primalfin Totem. Then, it was finally my turn. There was so much I wanted to say, but I knew there were still another 50 people waiting, so I kept it brief.

“Hey Ben, I go by DeckTech online. We’ve had a few interactions and I’m a big fan.”


*Swooning* “Yeah! That’s right.”

“Right on.”

“I don’t normally do this,” and it’s true, I really normally don’t, “but can I get a picture with you? I’d kick myself if I didn’t.”

“Yeah, of course!”

“Okay, but you’re significantly taller than me, so can you take it?”

Ben made a funny face, and I tried to as well, but I literally could not stop smiling.


After the picture, I handed him one of my cards, thanked him again, and told him that I hope to join him one day.

“Oh, dude, it’s the best job in the world.”

“You don’t have to convince me more, Ben!”

At that, we shared one last laugh, his booming, as it is, and I let him get back to his adoring fans.

DN2FHa3VQAUdncgAs I giddily tweeted about my Ben Brode experience, I saw that Hearthstone Game Designer, Dave Kosak, tweeted that he would be watching closing ceremonies from the Hearthstone Tavern. He invited anyone to join him and promised that he had a shaggy dog with him as well. I quickly made my way over to where he said he would be and was frankly surprised to see that there was not a huge crowd sitting with him. It turned out that the shaggy dog was not his own, but belonged to a couple who were training him to be a service dog. I said hello to everybody and plopped down next to Dave. After a little while, a friend and coworker of Dave’s named Sean joined us as well. The five of us had a grand old time discussing Blizzcon, Hearthstone, the new game mode (since I had missed the announcement, I did not realize at the time that Dave had played a major role in it–good thing I liked it!), potential options for tournament mode (I tried, fam), and the closing ceremonies taking place before us. It’s hard to top meeting Brode, but this might have been my favorite meeting at the con because we got to have a nice long chat, and that is its own type of amazing. A couple people came up to Dave to get his photo while I was there, so I figured I should again break my normal habits and ask for one as well.

As the con ended, and we said our farewells, I handed out my new card to everybody in our little viewing party. I hope the couple reaches out some time because, in addition to having a great time chatting with them, I still owe them a couple beers! To my surprise and joy, I got an email from Dave a few days later telling me that he had read some this very blawg, he liked my writing, and that he had a good time chatting during closing ceremonies. He also thanked me for my contributions to the community, which is always amazing to hear from somebody who works on the game that drives the community to which you’re contributing.

I made my way outside and, just as a cherry on top, Hearthstone Lead Game Producer Yong Woo had just wrapped up a signing! He was waiting for some friends, so I got to chat with him as well, mostly about the new adventure mode. After confirming that we (or at least I) were not invited to any after parties, we all made our goodbyes and I headed  back to my car. The Hilton was popping OFF, but it was late and that’s not really my scene, so I passed. Again, if I had a hotel locally I would have stuck around a bit longer but, alas, this would be the end of my first Blizzcon. As a one-game kind of guy, it’s hard to say if I preferred the HCT Summer Champs or Blizzcon, but I am so lucky to have been able to attend both. And man do I wish I could go to Amsterdam for the HCT Finals. That is bound to be an amazing time.


What do “Tiers” Mean?

This week’s Vicious Syndicate Data Reaper Report is quickly making waves by reporting that Razakus (aka “Highlander”) Priest is performing at Tier 3 Levels these days (it has actually been at that rating for a couple of weeks now, but it is starting to get some attention for it):

After all, Razakus Priest was just an integral part of the HCT Summer Championship tournament; it was brought by all 16 players and was the second-most banned deck (17% of the time). That is to say, just a couple weeks ago, 16 of the best players in the world were all convinced it was one of the top 4 decks in the format, and arguably the second-best deck in the game. Anticipating the outcry, Vicious Syndicate opened their report with a little explanation (which is longer than what I’m copying below, but I wanted to save some stuff to discuss after the picture):

VS what is a tier

So what exactly is going on here? Well, a few things.

One thing, which the report mentions, is that metagames shift. After the most recent round of nerfs, almost all of the top decks were hit. In fact, all of them were hit, except for Razakus Priest. This meant that Razakus Priest became public enemy number 1 as the new apparent “best deck” in the format (to be quickly usurped, I’d say, by Tempo Rogue, but se la vie). The result is that people started shifting their tech to target Razakus Priest; hence, all the Scalebanes and, to a lesser extent, Cairnes in the meta.

Another thing is that the ladder meta is less hospitable to Razakus Priest than it was expected to be (and actually was) during the HCT Summer Championship tournament. As we all know, tournaments are inherently different from ladder play. For one thing, they get a ban. During the HCT Summer Champs a whopping 63% of bans were used to ban Jade Druid. And Jade Druid, of course, is a bit of a bad matchup for Razakus Priest. If you know you won’t play against Jade Druid, your Razakus Priest is better. Similarly, if you know that everyone is playing Razakus Priest, you know that nobody is playing Dragon Priest, Silence Priest, or Big Priest, all of which are bad matchups for Razakus Priest and which, combined, make up a small, but noticeable (about 4.5%) amount of ladder matchups. If you look at the most common HCT Summer lineup (Jade Druid, Razakus Priest, Tempo Rogue, and Evolve Shaman), and you ban Jade Druid, Razakus Priest is roughly even, or favored, in all three of your matches. It literally has no bad matchups! That’s not true on the ladder.

Yet one more thing is that the average player–even the average Legend-rank player–is not as good as a professional player. Not by a lot. And Razakus Priest can actually be sneakily difficult to play. This harkens back to the old Tempo Storm versus Vicious Syndicate debate. Tempo Storm’s data was basically all anecdotal–they got some pros and high-level players together and asked how they thought the decks would do. In a lot of ways, for a lot of people, that made the data less valuable. However, in the situation where pros are playing other pros, the pros’ ideas on the decks and their respective power levels become a lot more relevant.

Still, there’s one more issue here, which is a bit more of a philosophical one than a data-driven one, literally an issue of semantics, and this is the issue that I find most interesting. The issue is thus:

What do “tiers” mean?

Back when I was serious into Magic: the Gathering, the internet was just blossoming as a source for data like matchups and such. There were no Data Reapers. We had to rely almost exclusively on anecdotal data, usually from other amateurs (because pro play was so infrequently documented or reported), about what the best decks were.

In that world, we generally defined deck “tiers” more by decks’ impact on the meta than on their objective power levels (with the assumption and hope that play overall play levels had at least a correlation to power levels). “Tier 1” was the decks that everyone–especially the pros, if there was a recent pro tour–played. These were the decks that shaped the meta. “Tier 2” was the decks that were designed to counter the Tier 1 decks. “Tier 3” was the off-meta deck you randomly won your local tournament with (that is, a deck that seemed to have potential but was yet unproven as Tier 1 or 2).

For example: Affinity was Tier 1 because it seemed broken and everyone was playing it, Tooth and Nail was Tier 2 because it was powerful and ran a lot of Affinity counters, and Memnarch came out of nowhere to ruin my chances at placing at regionals, because I wasn’t on the particular forum where the deck was being discussed as part of the meta. To this day, I have no idea which of these decks was actually best for and in that meta.

When we didn’t have access to the massive amount of data that we now have access to, this was really the only option we had. In fact, new players might not know this, but even Hearthstone used to be this way.

Back in 2014, when Firebat was competing for the World Championship that he would ultimately win, there was a lot ado about the fact that Firebat had spent hours creating spreadsheets of matchups. Can you imagine? He was manually tallying all his wins and losses to determine what decks were good, and that gave him an insurmountable advantage over his opponents. While the dev team surely always had internal statistics on things like matchup winrates we, the players, had no idea. It was definitely a simpler time.

But even in the “modern” era of Hearthstone, we have treated “tiers” as though they were defined not by a deck’s power level, but by the deck’s impact on the metagame. The Quest Rogue nerf is, in my opinion, one of the most interesting design decisions in Hearthstone history because the deck was not good on the ladder, at any level, by almost any measure. Yet, Blizzard thought it was so problematic that it decided to nerf the quest. I have talked a lot, both at that time and more recently, about how nerfs are a drastic step in Blizzard’s design philosophy, and how the team would much prefer, if it felt it was at all possible, to avoid them. So why did it need to get nerfed? There are, of course, a few theories about what was going on in Team 5’s collective mind at the time. But my theory is that this unperforming deck, that represented only a small portion of the metagame, was actually a Tier 1 deck.

Mind = blown.

At least, it was Tier 1 by the “old” definition that it was shaping the metagame. This was, after all, part of Blizzard’s claimed reasoning for the change–the deck was forcing slower decks out of the meta just by the threat of an auto-loss on turn 5 and by the fact that the best way to counter it was to play an even faster deck!

Vicious Syndicate’s tier system is based only on winrates within a set range of ranks (though, their report predicts trends and such, so check it out if you want to find out what the next “Meta Breaker” might be). 52% or higher is Tier 1, 50-51.99% is Tier 2, 47-49.99% is Tier 3, and anything lower than that is Tier 4. This system of categorization leads to idiosyncrasies like the “second best” deck being labeled Tier 3, or there existing a meta in which there are no Tier 1 decks. But whereas both of those results would be internally contradictory under our “old school” definitions of tiers, they are permissibly internally consistent based on Vicious Syndicate’s definitions of tiers. Some would say that the “ideal” meta would be 9+ decks, all at Vicious Syndicate’s “Tier 2” level.

So, as Vicious Syndicate has consistently said, Razakus Priest is not a bad deck. You can use their data to help you determine whether or not you should bring it to the ladder or your local tournament, but you certainly should not take this most recent Data Reaper Report to mean that you no longer need to consider Razakus Priest in the metagame. That would be ridiculous. Almost as ridiculous as sitting down to write 1400 words when I’m already so overworked that I’m planning to come in to the office this weekend. Again, se la vie.


Just About the Best Weekend Ever

Last weekend, I attended the Hearthstone Championship Tour Summer finals. Since then, we’ve had major patch updates, a lot of Fireside Gathering drama, twitchcon, Dreamhack Denver, and a “fake” first lady, so the news cycle seems to be moving on at an alarming pace, and this piece’s relevance with it. Still, I wanted to share some words–a lot more words than even I can cram into one blog post–about what was one of the best weekends of my life.

It all started a couple days before the event when I received an email informing me that the first 100 people holding 3-day passes would get on the list to attend the event’s Wrap Party the Sunday after the finals. I had chosen to treat the event as a networking one as much as anything else, working on my resume and getting custom business cards weeks before the event, so I had to get on that list.

This was to be–aside from pressers and maybe some secret internal events–only the second event at event at the new Blizzard Studio, and the first Hearthstone event, so I had no idea how quickly 100 spots might get snatched up. I decided to take a slight detour on my way in to work on Friday morning so that I could get there as soon as the doors opened and make sure I got on that list.

Day 1: First Impressions

When I arrived, a security guard patiently informed me (twice, once in my car and once after I had parked and walked back over, because I’m an idiot) that I was at the wrong entrance. As it turns out, there is a dedicated parking lot around the corner (long ways) from the main entrance which, for that event, charged $10 flat rate for each day. For my first day, I found some free street parking instead.


There were a few people parking near where I was and the street was already half-way filled up, so I got a little bit nervous. I fast-walked around the block toward the entrance of Blizzard Arena, afraid that I would turn the corner and see a line already 100+ people long. As it turns out, I did not. At 8:30 am on a random Friday, there were only about a dozen of us ambling around by the entrance. I ran into pro player HotMEOWTH there, but I remember from last time I saw him that he’s a bit of an awkward dude, so I thought it might be nicer to not be starstruck this time. I asked him if the line we were in was the line to get on the list, which it obviously was, thanked him, and then I let him continue talking to the person he was with. I got my name on the list, briefly chatted with the Blizzard employees checking people in, and made my way into the Arena.

When I stepped inside, I was awestruck. The front entrance leads directly into the gift shop, which was fairly small, but very clean looking. It had mostly Hearthstone and Overwatch merch, but I assume they switch it out based on the event they are hosting at the time. As I soaked it all in, a nice lady welcomed me to the Arena. She would do that every time I walked into the Arena over the course of the weekend. There were televisions located throughout the store area, so you don’t miss any action while buying your merch or waiting for the bathroom, which was also in that area.


I think the “Born to be Legendary” shirt is either new or an Arena exclusive, because I had not seen it before. Be forewarned: the merch store only accepted credit card while I was there.

One can leave the front store area by heading up the stairs or on that same level, to the right of the register. The lower level entrance leads below the stands and spits you out right near the stage, for a bit of a backstage feel. I actually didn’t use that entrance on the first day because I thought it was for staff only or something, but it’s actually where one can find the women’s restroom and the snack bar. The upper entrance walks visitors through a small “Hall of Fame” with trophies on display and pictures of various champions from all of Blizzard’s games, before spitting you out at the top of the stands. For this event, those top seats were reserved for Blizzard employees and members of the press. I would later learn there was also a press room and several other backstage “VIP” rooms, so I expect the seating restriction was not for the benefit of the press so much as to make the seats look full when the camera panned to the (lower portion) of the audience. Even from those top seats, however, I felt very much a part of the production.

Snapped immediately after stepping out of the Hall of Fame area.

Having scoped it all out, I sadly pulled myself away from the impending good time developing right before my eyes so as to get myself into work on time. As I made my way outside, I spotted notable pro Teebs going through security. “This place is so cool,” I thought, as I made my way back to my car.

Day 2: Fun and Interactions

I had planned to spend the entire weekend at the Arena, but, unfortunately, some real-life plans got in the way, so I was only able to carve out a couple hours for children’s card games on Saturday. I parked on the street again and passed by a couple other people, clearly heading towards the event. One chatty fellow from Long Beach recognized me as a fellow hearthstoner and walked with me to the Arena. He introduced himself as Lucieux, and he had chosen Pavel as his champion. I told him I had chosen OmegaZero, and explained myself for the first of many times in the days to come.

When we got into the Arena, he introduced me to the Innkeeper who, as it turned out, was my online friend Sam Benson. Sam is famous for putting on some of the best Fireside Gatherings and Blizzard had flown him out to Burbank to help with the Fireside at HCT.

After what seemed like even less time than I had designated to be there, I grabbed my stuff and started heading towards the exit. On my way out, I saw TJ Sanders sitting by the stage, probably preparing to go on. I decided to risk bothering him, and introduced myself. To my shock, he recognized me by my twitter handle when I told him I go by “DeckTech.” I did not want to be late to my next appointment, so I very awkwardly cut the conversation short and shoved a business card into my hand. It was not my finest moment, but he took it in stride.

That night, I was lucky enough to be invited back as a guest on one of my favorite Hearthstone podcasts, 1600 Dust. I always love hanging out with those guys, so I had a great time, and my appearance on the show definitely added to the already great weekend.

Day 3: The Best Spot in Town

By the time Sunday came around, I was ready for the deep dive into the HCT weekend. Blizzard had set up a table outside the Arena at which people could make signs. I made one with Valeera on it, which read, “Make Time for Games!”

Once inside, I met up with my friend Joe, from Vicious Syndicate, and we watched some good morning games. I signed up to play against a pro, or dev, under special Fireside Gathering rules. I chose to play against Ant, but while I waited for him to finish his game against the guy before me, I was able to meet a Blizzard employee anyway. A nice guy name Nick came up to me out of nowhere to ask where I was from and if I was enjoying the show. We got to chatting and he even looked over my resume and gave me some tips for trying to get into Blizzard. I don’t know if community engagement like that was part of his job at the Arena, but I was blown away.

When the time to play against Ant came, we each (independently, without seeing the other) spun a wheel that gave us a special set of deck construction rules to go into the match. My main rule was “Rafaam,” which meant that we had to switch devices. Despite him building his deck to win, and me building my deck to lose, he still won after the switch. Rank 20 gamer. Even with that L, I had a great time getting to meet him, and chat with him, while we played.

DMM2Ts2VwAAzbnHAfter our match, I was able to meet a couple other pros, take a picture with Brian Kibler and Shiro, and, of course, watch some amazing Hearthstone. I won’t highlight the actual gameplay here, because I’ve already written more than most people would care to read, and because the games themselves have been covered by many other sources, but I will say that the crazy Priest final was even crazier and more hyped in person.

After the games, they kicked us out of the Arena with about an hour to kill before the after party started. I watched as one group of pros and friends (including Th3Rat, Panthra, and Ostkaka–who is smaller than I expected) took a few pictures and then headed out in their posse. I went off with DrJ and his crew (meeting Bloody, KillinAllDay, and a few others) to a local ramen spot, passing Lucieux and Teebs on our way out. When we arrived, we found that Th3Rat/Ostkaka crew had actually had the same idea. Then, about five minutes after that, the Lucieux/Teebs crew walked through the door. It seems this ramen spot was the downtown Burbank equivalent to Korean BBQ or an escape room–something Hearthstone pros have to visit after a tournament.

I actually left the ramen spot early, without getting any food, because I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss any of the wrap party. I made my way over–it was actually just a few short blocks from the ramen–and that was when the whole weekend was turned up to 11. We got two free drink tickets and buffet-style heavy hors d’oeuvres (sliders, nachos, etc.) that validated my line of play at the ramen house. Raven and Pavel were playing ping-pong. Surrender and his crew took up a table on one end of the room while the Kiblers took up a seat closer to the entrance. Even Mike Morhaime showed up for a minute, though I didn’t get a chance to talk to him myself.

I grabbed a drink and started mingling. I was able to talk to a bunch of Blizzard employees, including some developers, and several of them were all kind enough to give me advice on my quest to join Blizzard. Sam Benson and Dillon Skiffington (of Hearthhead) sat down and gave me a bunch of advice on my application materials.

“Opinions presented as fact.” That is an accurate twitter bio.

I ran into Admirable at the bar and he, too, remembered some of our twitter interactions.  Admirable’s an intense guy with some really strong opinions about what is good and what still needs work in the game. He’s also a great storyteller, who had me vicariously living through an insane last-second ladder finish. Then I caught up with Frodan, who I could tell he was exhausted. Still, asked me what I did in the community and he went out of his way to make he feel appreciated.

All-in-all, I had an amazing time. I was able to meet tons of amazing people, and they were all kind enough to take some of my new business cards off my hands. The only member of the “core” casters who I didn’t get to at least say hello to was Sottle, who I hope to catch next time. Bottom line: if anyone ever gets a chance to go to a major event like this one, I highly recommend it. I cannot imagine a better way to spend a weekend.


ICYMI: My *Very* Brief TV Spot

A couple days ago (early Monday morning, my time), I was scheduled to appear on GinxTV’s esports news program, “The Daily Download.” I was to talk about the Patch 9.1 nerfs and their anticipated impact on the tournament meta. The show is live on London time, so I had beg my wife to allow me to disturb everyone’s sleep early on Monday morning to do the show. I got permission, wrote up my thoughts into show notes, and set my alarm to “sleep deprive” so that I would have time to get myself nice and awake by the time I was to be on camera.

Unfortunately, about 2 seconds into the spot, my NA internet gave me some trouble and they had to end the call. We tried again, but after another second or so, my internet completely crapped out on me and they gave up trying to make Skype work on a live show (with only so much time allocated to the subject). Of course, the pros over there made the show go on with my notes, if not my presence. In fact, I think Heather might have read my notes better than I would have spoken about them. Still, it’s a bummer that I wasn’t able to really make the appearance I had hoped and intended to.

I am, however, pretty proud that I could contribute as an “expert” of sorts, so you can check out the VoD, here (my section tries to start at 21:25) and you can check out my talking point notes here:

Nicholas “HSDeckTech” Weiss’s Thoughts on Patch 9.1


As most Hearthstone players know by now, five cards were changed (“nerfed”) with Patch 9.1 last week. Those cards, of course, are: Innervate, Fiery War Axe, Hex, Murloc Warleader, and Spreading Plague.

From a competitive Hearthstone standpoint, the nerfs appear to have been massively successful: the top decks lost enough power to shake things up, but not so much as to completely fall off the map. It’s still pretty early into the nerf cycle, but there are definitely some emerging trends to watch out for.

How the Nerfs Impacted the Top Decks

Immediately prior to the nerfs, the top decks were Jade Druid, Pirate Warrior, Murloc Paladin, and Highlander/Razakus Priest. Tournament goers bringing the “Level 1” (“best decks”) lineup usually bought those four decks (sometimes subbing in Shaman or Hunter for Pirate Warrior or Murloc Paladin).

You’ll notice that three of those top four decks were hit by the recent nerfs, while Razakus Priest was left untouched. That left Razakus Priest as the heir apparent to the throne.

The Innervate, Spreading Plague, and Fiery War Axe nerfs were more significant than the Murloc Warleader nerf, and the Hex nerf seemed far enough removed from current competitive play that it left a lot of players scratching their heads as to why it was done now.

The end result was that Razakus become comparatively stronger (of course), Murloc Paladin remained solid, and Jade Druid and Pirate Warrior took bigger hits.

That said, neither Jade Druid nor Pirate Warrior was killed by the nerfs, either. Jade Druid players are making due ok by just cutting Innervate and playing a slower Spreading Plague. Pirate Warrior players have had to make slightly bigger changes to adapt to the nerfs, but very quickly decided that they could just cut Bloodsail Raider and instead put in Prince Keleseth. The changes make the deck a tad slower, but still very solid. Therefore, those decks are still options for both ladder and tournament play.

What New Decks Have Risen to the Occasion

The story of the week, from the ladder perspective, has been Prince Keleseth Aggro/Tempo Rogue.

Other good gainers after the nerfs have been Midrange Hunter, Tempo Mage, and various Warlock decks. All of these decks have powerful midrange tools, but were kept at bay by the speedy Pirate Warrior and Aggro Druid decks. Now that those decks have slowed down a bit, these more midrange decks have a bit of room to breathe.

What it May Mean for the Upcoming HCT Summer Championships

The HCT Summer Playoffs saw historic stats, including the first- (and second-) ever 100% class representation. That is, everyone brought Druid. And most of everyone specifically brought Jade Druid.  This led to a tournament metagame in which every player was forced to either ban Druid or bring a “wacky” lineup designed to target slow decks (because both Jade Druid and Razakus Priest are generally slow). We saw this split most clearly in the HCT Americas Summer Playoffs, where a significant portion of players brought Quest Mage, Quest Rogue, and Big Priest or Silence Priest (with the plan to ban their opponent’s fastest deck and then beat all the slow decks). Unfortunately for those players, the bulk of them did not do particularly well, so had the nerfs not gone live, players probably would have continued to bring the same 4-6 “best” decks and essentially played 3 v. 3 with no ban.

The short of it is that the changes to the top decks, but especially Jade Druid, mean that the metagame will open back up significantly.

We don’t yet have a lot of public data points, but from what I’m seeing coming in to sites like HSReplay, it looks like the top decks are presently: Aggro Druid, Murloc Paladin, Pirate Warrior, Keleseth Rogue, Evolve Shaman, Jade Druid, and Midrange Hunter. Early data is showing that Razakus Priest is actually not doing the best on the ladder, with around just a 50% winrate, but tournament play is, of course, much different from ladder play.

As with most other healthy metagames, I expect some players to bring an “Aggro Lineup,” some to bring a “Control Lineup,” and some to just bring the four decks they think are best. With a new meta like this one, it is often harder to fine-tune Control decks, so I think those will be the least common lineups.

Of course, tournament lineups are built with a ban in mind, so even just the “best decks” lineup will likely not be just the four decks with the highest winrates—especially when those winrates are calculated based on ladder play.

As just noted, Aggro Druid, Pirate Warrior, and Keleseth Rogue are all doing well on the ladder currently, so a lineup with those three and Murloc Paladin or Hunter might be popular. Some players might even think the “Aggro Lineup” is the “Best Decks Lineup.”

However, all three of the best aggro decks run Patches, so I do not think the “Aggro Lineup” is the same as the “Best Decks Lineup,” and I expect to see a lot of Golakka Crawlers.

With the success of Hunter in the Americas Playoffs, the meta shift pointing to Razakus Priest as the top tournament deck, and the natural addition of Golakka Crawler, I expect to see Mindrange Hunter making a lot more lineups.

I think the “Best Decks Lineup” will probably be something like: Razakus Priest, Midrange Hunter, Jade Druid, and Murloc Paladin.

Big shoutout and thanks to Ginx for giving me the opportunity to contribute and for trying so hard behind the scenes to try to make it work out. Hopefully we will have better luck next time.

Two Weeks Later: It’s Time to Do Something About Druid

Two weeks ago, I wrote about how we needed more time to evaluate the metagame before committing to making changes. The time has come, and not just because Hearthstone Game Director and Amateur Travel Blogger, Ben Brode, implied as much over the long holiday weekend.

Brode Druid Nerf

As it turns out, there were several signs over the course of the past two weeks that had already lead me to come to the conclusion that a change needed to be made (I swear, ask WickedGood and Appa).

Here’s how, in my opinion, we got here.

Two weeks ago, we had a really scary looking metagame at Ranks 1-2. If you read my post then, you saw the screenshot that changed the world.

DHq4PruXcAAV4y2As you can see, 50% of people trying to break into legend were running Druid. Had I grabbed a fuller picture, though, you would have seen that the problem dropped significantly as one got lower down the ladder. To me, that meant that most of the top players knew Druid was the best class, but the vast majority of Hearthstone players either did not know or did not care enough to switch decks.

After these types of meta reports, one of two things tends to happen: 1) the meta trends highlighted in the report become reinforced; or, 2) something comes along to “counter” the established meta. The hope in giving the meta more time to settle was that the latter would occur; after all, the hope and expectation that problems in the meta might be solved by the player base has always been part of the reasoning in holding off on nerfs. Instead, the trends got reinforced.

1. The pervasive Druid meta got much more pervasive

As Iksar noted when initially responding the the angry Reddit mob, problems at rank 1 are not to be ignored, but they are also not cause for panic. After all, if a problem is limited to rank 1, it affects a very small percentage of players. As a pure numbers game, it might be acceptable to let the few suffer for a couple weeks, while a solution is either found organically or created by Team 5, if the many remained mostly unharmed.

Unfortunately, “the fish rots from the head.” That is to say, the Druid problem “trickled down” through the ranks. At the time of writing, Vicious Syndicate’s Data Reaper Live shows that all of ranks 1-8 have over 40% Druid usage,all of ranks Legend-13 have over 30%, and all ranks 18 and better are filled with over 20% Druids. We have officially “lost containment” on the Druid “outbreak,” which means both that the Druid problem is now affecting a significantly larger amount of people and I am already rapidly approaching my bad metaphor limit.


2. Druid is just too strong

Even before the set released, it was obvious that Druid would be in a good place, and that Skulking Geist would not be enough to stop it. By two weeks ago (a few weeks into the set), we had learned Druid was even stronger than initially anticipated because Ultimate Infestation was actually as good as it appeared to be, and other cards (Malfurion, Spreading Infestation, Druid of the Swarm, etc.) were better than most people expected.

But then we got the first Vicious Syndicate Data Reaper Report* of the Frozen Throne meta and, well, Aggro Druid had literally no bad matchups whereas Jade Druid only had three slightly negative matchups, two of which were the other Druid archetypes.

I have always thought that lumping distinct oppressive archetypes by class is an inelegant way to evaluate nerfs. If the decks play differently (as Aggro Druid and Jade Druid do), then complaints about the fact that they are within the same class is mostly a trick of the mind. Still, when a class is both pervasive and oppressive, we have pretty clearly stepped into nerf territories. And when the best counter to a problem is to play the problem yourself, and that’s another red flag (see, e.g., Undertaker and Small-Time Buccaneer).

* A couple weeks after that first report, Vicious Syndicate’s stats now show Aggro Duid and Jade Druid each picking up an additional bad matchup, but the decision to make a change could very well have been made when Blizzard saw this data, and the general point remains.

3. The Druid meta is “unfun”

There’s this crazy concept in gaming that games should, generally, be fun. As we saw with the Quest Rogue nerf, Blizzard is not afraid to step in to solve a problem even if the only problem* is that a meta is not fun.

When I was discussing the Druid meta issues with WickedGood, he pointed out that even DisguisedToast, the famous “wacky deck” streamer, was trapped by the Druid meta. Indeed, looking through his tweets, Toast found himself unable to play his trademark fun decks and then, shortly thereafter, found himself unable to play Hearthstone at all.

As we know, “fun” is/was not the only problem with the “Druidstone” meta. But when your top content producers no longer want to play your game, it makes his thousands of viewers not want to play the game, either. Losing top streamers is another strong indicator that changes need to be made. Losing Toast is a particularly rough hit because it further solidifies the point that some of the game’s most creative minds will not, or cannot, solve the problem organically, and that Blizzard has to step in if they want a change.

* I know this is debateable. The official reason included a lot of comments about how Quest Rogue stifled creativity by keeping out slower decks, but I don’t think that was really the case or, if it was, that is was not the main reason for the change. Quest Rogue was a bad ladder deck, and not even a frequent one at most ranks. It is difficult to see how a bad, seldom-seen deck could have stifled that much creativity.

4. Druid is ruining other formats, too

Anybody who has prepared for a tournament, or even paid attention while watching one, could tell you that the tournament meta and the ladder meta are two very different beasts. Tournaments allow players to create lineups to target or avoid a particular matchup, so some decks that are not viable on the ladder are very good in tournaments. Tournaments also serve different purposes than does ladder play, including, of course, driving viewer engagement. Therefore, when evaluating card nerfs, one must consider not just the effect on the ladder, but also the effect on tournaments. WELL, Druid ruined that, too:

Druid EU playoffs.png

So, with all that new information coming up in the last two weeks, I agree that it is time to make a change. Brode’s tweet, and a spoiler from Team Celestial, makes me believe a change will be announced very soon. I look forward to seeing what they do!

When is a Meta Too Early to Call?

Knights of the Frozen Throne came out just over a week ago and soon after the initial hype died down, the community was back to its usual ways of complaining about the metagame. You see, pretty early on it started to become clear that there was a bit of a Druid problem on the ladder. Eagle-eyed observers spotted it on the Vicious Syndicate Data Reaper Live…


Good lord! More than half the people playing at Rank 1 are using some form of Druid. As a reminder, Undertaker was nerfed because it saw play in 40% of decks. Though, this time the situation is a little different.

Edit: before going any further, Game Designer Iksar has since responded to a Reddit thread highlighting this “50%>40%” point. He noted that this is 50% Druids at one rank, over one day, whereas Undertaker was 40% across ALL ranks, for a protracted amount of time. 

Immediately prior to KFT, Druid was already in a pretty solid spot in the meta. Aggro/Token Druid remained a viable option throughout all of the Un’Goro meta, but the Quest Rogue nerf opened up a lot of space for Jade Druid to come back into prominence and for the meme machine, “EZ BIG EZ GG EZ” Druid, to carve out a slot in the meta. Then, KFT brought with it several strong tools for Druid and, all of a sudden, Druid had four different tier one archetypes: Aggro/Token, Midrange/Taunt (new!), Jade, and BIG–one for each playstyle and experience level. Meanwhile, Skulking Geist proved to be a woefully inadequate counter, under-performing against Jade Druid and having even less of an impact against the other three Druid archetypes.


So, less than a week into the new metagame, there were already calls for nerfs and/or Hall of Fame rotations to Druid’s key cards.

In this case, “rebalancing”/”nerfing” cards runs into a couple problems. First, we still don’t have information enough to determine whether the Druid decks are actually dominant or if they are just prevalent (Vicious Syndicate’s first Data Reaper Report is expected in a few days, though Hearthstone Replay users are telling me that Druid is, indeed, pretty strong). Even though they all feel strong, each of the Druid decks definitely has some solid counters. Though, that may not be the most relevant point, because the recent Quest Rogue nerf has shown that overall deck power is not necessary to warrant nerfs.

TempoStorm Tier S
They were mostly joking, guys.

The other problem is that the situation here does not appear to be with one or two easy-to-target cards, but with the class as a whole. The four different archetypes play in very different ways and abuse different cards. For instance, compare Aggro/Token Druid and BIG Druid lists and the only card you’ll find in both is Innervate, and sometimes Swipe. Though, the counterpoint to that is that Innervate has been in almost every Druid list ever, for the entirety of Hearthstone.

In that sense, moving Innervate to the Hall of Fame might be the “cleanest” move. But Blizzard’s current model, reaffirmed multiple times in recent months, is that Hall of Fame rotations only happen once a year, with the Blizzard new year. Therefore, that fix would require a changed model. On top of that, Innervate feels very Druid-y. That is to say, it is fairly core to Druid’s identity–second, probably, only to Wild Growth. There are real, lasting downsides to those types of changes.

And then, of course, there’s Blizzard’s other model: waiting several weeks before making changes to an oppressive metagame. Small-Time Buccaneer came out on December 1, 2016, and, like Druid now, was almost immediately identified as a problem. It was not nerfed until February 28, 2017. Mind you, that’s the updated, speedier nerf timeline. The old model was to first try to correct problematic cards imagesin the next card release and then, if that proved inadequate, go about nerfing the card. The most metagame-warping card ever created, Undertaker, took a whopping six months (July 22, 2014-January 27, 2015) to get corrected, and that was only after Lil’ Exorcist (from the next set, Goblins versus Gnomes) failed to get the job done.

In the unrest between the Mean-Streets release and the Small-Time Buccaneer nerf, Hearthstone Game Director and professional laugh coach, Ben Brode, talked a lot about what the team thinks about nerfing cards. One point that he consistently raised was that there are benefits to letting the metagame adapt on its own. Some players liked trying to “crack” the meta, others (especially those who relied on tournament performances for a living) preferred predictable metagames, and even apparently “solved” metagames can spawn creativity. Indeed, Finja was not “discovered” until very late in the Mean-Streets of Gadgetzan metagame. Indeed, some respected minds in the community have noted that if we had not been so quick to nerf Quest Rogue, we might not be in the Druid situation we are in now. In this case, we have not yet even seen a KFT Vicious Syndicate Meta Snapshot, and we know from experience that the meta almost always shifts in response to those.

So, despite Reddit’s pitchforks to the contrary, there is a balance to be struck when deciding how quickly corrections must be made to an apparently broken metagame.

First, it takes time to determine if there’s really a problem or if this is just passing histrionics. Given the benefits of letting the metagame settle and adapt over time, this is not as easy a question to answer as some people seem to think.

Then they need to look at the data to determine what type of problem you have. Is it optics (more or less the issue with Quest Rogue)? Is it quality of life (also, somewhat, Quest Rogue)? Or is it just that certain cards are too strong? Different problems beget different solutions. Even if the end-solution presented to the players is a nerf either way, the team will probably handle the problems differently (did anybody else notice that before they announced the Quest Rogue nerf they first had a bunch of interviews and forum/Reddit posts giving us stats showing that the card was not performing oppressively?–I assume that was their first attempt at fixing what they perceived to be primarily an issue of optics) and will definitely learn different things from them.

Finally, they need to figure out how they’ll actually fix the problem, which presents its own set of challenges, similar to those in designing a card the first time over. As mentioned above, this time it might be more difficult than any other prior time as the problem is not with one card, or even one deck, but one entire class, running all types of different decks using a wide range of different cards. On top of that, the stakes are raised: they definitely want to make sure that they get it right the first time, otherwise they have to go through the entire process over again. Moreover, each change erodes player confidence in the development team and hurts the important feeling that collections are meaningful and valuable.

Will this be the end of Hearthstone as we know it? We’ll find out in ~4-6 weeks.

In short, we may or may not be on the brink of a broken meta on the scale of “the year of ‘Shamanstone,'” or worse, but it is much too early to tell. There may yet be nerfs or other changes forthcoming, but that is probably a long ways off. In the meantime, most decks have not gotten nearly enough attention to be considered refined, and there is almost certainly more left to discover. It is unfortunate that these complaints about Druid have marred an otherwise incredibly interesting expansion launch. I, for one, will not let it ruin my launch experience. If the problem remains, I’ll worry about it in another 4-6 weeks, when Blizzard is more likely to start taking action on it.