Kobolds and Catacombs First Impressions

I 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).

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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.

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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.”

“HSDeckTech?”

*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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Admirable
“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

Intro

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.

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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:

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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…

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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.

apocalypse-733358
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.

Something New

Much longer ago than I would care to admit to myself, my friend and fellow Blizzard-enthusiast, recommended some of the Warcraft novels to me. She chose a trio that, she felt, would pair nicely with the Warcraft movie that I really enjoyed. I planned to read the novels during a family vacation.

The endeavor resulted in what was, objectively, my most successful tweet ever:

I was noticed by Senpai three times over (Blizz liked and replied) and got 29 replies, 18 retweets, and nearly 300 likes!

IMG_4653But, as amazing as that was, the goal of getting the books was not to fine my five minutes of “fame,” but to learn more about the World of Warcraft so as to make myself a better candidate for positions at Blizzard. So I read the books, hard, and with a quizzical eye towards possible Hearthstone characters and mechanics. I even designed a few cards of my own, with the plan of saving them for my next application that wanted something like that.

Unfortunately, reading–perhaps, “studying”–the books in this way takes a lot more time and energy than does just a casual reading. I only finished two of the books during vacation and, after I returned, life got in the way of finishing the third. Things had finally started to settle back down and allow me some time to pick it back up when Knights of the Frozen Throne was announced.

With Frozen Throne came a few things that made me want to share some of my card creations sooner, rather than later.

  1. Blizzard made a video about the Lich King being rejected for a game designer position (link). In the video, the Lich King–an actual character within the World of Warcraft–is rejected for the position because he does not have game design experience. I’m not an idiot, know the video is a joke, but I also know that most jokes are based on some kernel of truth that helps them land. The lesson: no amount of subject-matter knowledge can overcome a lack of game design experience.
  2. Just a few days after that, Ben Brode did an AMA on Reddit. You can check out my write-up for Blizzpro here, but what struck me most was something that did not make it into the Blizzpro article: Ben answered one question about how to get into game design with a link to a pair of blog posts he wrote about it a couple years ago. It was some of the same advice that I had been hearing for a while, but it was good to hear it again: play games, make games, and, in this case, make cards.
  3. Knights of the Frozen Throne is bringing with it the new Death Knight card type. That mechanic is very similar to something I had come up with when I was reading my books (though, mine was a quest reward). Had I put my card out there when I came up with it, I would have had something cool and innovative to point to as a game designer. Now I’ve lost that opportunity because I waited.

We have six more Death Knights to be spoiled, which means six more opportunities for me to lose the chance to make something innovative in this space, and I don’t want to wait any longer. So, even though I have never been one for fan-creations, today I’m going to start doing something new. Without further ado, I present to you the first(-ish) in my series of original Hearthstone cards:

DrekThar8

Drek’Thar played a prominent role in “Lord of the Clans” as one of the last orc shamans before Thrall comes around. He is very powerful, even though he’s old and blind. He becomes Thrall’s mentor and teaches Thrall how to speak to the elements.

My card’s hero power is: “Elemental Mastery.” It costs 3 mana and it reads, “Add a random Elemental Invocation to your hand.” You remember the elemental invocations from Kalimos’s battlecry? They each technically cost 0, so the hero power essentially prices them at 3–right around where they belong.

Although the randomness of Shaman has always frustrated some players, and can make balance difficult, it is core to the class’s identity and it is very flavorful. One very important lesson that Drek’Thar teaches Thrall during his development as a shaman is that the shamans do not command the elements, but request their aid. Sometimes the elements do not do exactly what the shamans want, but if the shaman believes he has power over the elements and tries to command them to do his bidding, they might abandon the shaman for his insolence. So, the invocations come as the elements–and RNGsus–allow.

I came to 8 casting cost because each totem is worth about 1 mana, the armor gain is worth about 1 mana more, and the value of combining three effects (including the hero power upgrade) in one card is worth about 1. That means that the upgrade itself is worth 2-3. By comparison, using similar math, the Rexxar Deathknight hero power upgrade only costs only 0-1. However, the additional cost here seems worth it because the invocations are free when they get into your hand, whereas the Zombeasts must still be played from hand.

The 8cc price-point puts him in direct contention with Kalimos, who casts his invocation right away and has a 7/7 body. However, the price seems appropriate to prevent the card advantage of getting an extra, powerful card invocation every turn from ending the game too quickly. The 8+3 costs also means the Shaman player usually can’t get the invocation on the same turn as s/he casts Drek’Thar, so this card gives lasting inevitability instead of a burst finish (which seems to be the direction Blizzard is going with the hero cards revealed thus far). Moreover, Drek’Thar has good synergy with other Shaman class cards and can go into any Shaman deck without requiring elemental synergy (Bloodlust makes even just the battlecry pretty dangerous in midrange decks).

That’s all I have for now. I’ll make more cards from time to time, so please let me know what you think. I have a few cards saved, but they are also based on the books I’ve read so they are mostly Orcs and Medivh-based cards, both of which there are already a lot of in Hearthstone, so I’m hoping to have time to read more of the novels in the weeks to come because, y’know, new set releases always come with a lot of free time…

 

Rules Gone Wild!: a Critical Look at the 2017 Hearthstone Wild Open Official Competition Rules

On April 28, Blizzard announced that there would be an official Wild-format tournament taking place in the near future and that the top 64 finishers on the Wild ladder during the month of May will be invited to participate. Yesterday, Blizzard finally provided all the official rules for the Wild tournament. Curious, I gave them a look and, well, I was a bit surprised by what I saw.

Disclaimer: this post will include some legal analysis type things, so it gets my standard warning. That is, the statements written here are not and should not be construed as legal advice. Nothing herein creates an attorney-client relationship. If you have questions about the issues raised here, please see an attorney about it. 

As an initial point, these Official Rules are a contract. They’re not called a “contract,” and they may not look like what most people consider a contract, but there are very few legal requirements on the form of contracts, and section 10.5(a) makes it pretty clear what this is. That section reads, “We both agree these Official Rules constitute a written agreement signed by both you and Blizzard under applicable law.” <– That’s basically the legal definition of a contract, using layman’s terms.

There are a few things to consider when reviewing contracts. First, and despite President Trump’s apparent efforts, words have meaning. Usually, when courts interpret contracts, they go with what is written in them. Second, contracts should be interpreted with the bad actor in mind. We see tons of cases in which people make agreements when times are good, only to get bitten by them when times are bad. I don’t think Blizzard will make moves like some of those that I highlight below–it would be disastrous for the continued viability of the game and maybe the company as a whole–but that does not change what the contract appears to say they can do. Third, not all the things that I’m going to talk about are legal issues with these rules–some are just weird things that I thought should be pointed out. Not everything needs to involve a lawyer. 😛 Finally, believe it or not, this is the short version with just the highlights–there are other sections that are a bit off or interesting as well. If you see something you’d like to talk or read about that I have not mentioned here, please let me know.

Side note before jumping in: there are a lot of technical issues with this agreement, such as: typos, redundancies, sections that don’t apply, and poor wording. Do you think I should redline a copy and send it to the general counsel? Think that might get me a job or just get thrown away? Or worse yet, have me flagged as an a-hole? I actually want to know y’all’s thoughts on that.

Anyway, without further ado, let’s look at some points of interest in this thing:

1. Section 2.1(a): You agree to the Official Rules if you sign them, accept a Player Participation Form, or if you enter and participate in any game or match that is part of the Competition. You don’t have to sign the contract for it to apply to you.

2. Sections 3.1, 3.2, and 4.2(d): Players who get in the top 64 on the May Wild Ladder will be invited to the Competition. A player may only be invited once, and his/her invitation will be based on his/her highest region finish. However, in order to participate in the Competition, the player must be a legal resident of a country that is in the region to which his or her Battle.net Account is registered, as of May 7, 2017. Players are also required to play all tournament matches from the region listed on their respective Battle.net Accounts, and must let Blizzard know in advance if they leave their country of residence (unless they are going to the finals) during the “Competition Period” (from May 1 until on or about June 12, 2017).

This is interesting because it means that you cannot get high legend on multiple servers in order to hedge your bets–in fact, you actually have to make sure you “tank” your rank outside of the top 64 in the other regions or you technically can’t go (because your invite would go to your highest rank, but that account would be ineligible to participate because it does not match the player’s residence).

It also furthers confusion as to whether or not “Battle.net” is gone (see also, recent Destiny announcement, which was a “special exception” to the alleged name change a few months back). I liked Battle.net, so I thought it was dumb to change it anyway, but now it’s just getting ridiculous.

Most interestingly, at least to a lawyer’s eyes, is the retroactive applicability of this contract. Out of concerns for fairness, retroactivity is pretty suspect in the law. However, that mainly applies to statutes (what most people think of as the law on the books), especially criminal law. Private parties are (generally) allowed to be as unfair as they want with their private agreements, and there’s no right to participate in a Blizzard tournament. That said, this is a bit bizarre on Blizzard’s part. The rules aren’t posted until the end of May, yet the rules apply as far back as May 1? You’re going to make people live in a specific country, but not tell them until two weeks after they were supposed to have moved? Also, if you went on any family vacations in the three weeks before this announcement, you are technically in violation of the rules and could be banned from participating (or worse). It’s all just very odd and one professional player who I spoke to said that it will screw (he used a different word) over a lot of players.


Side note: the details are a little fuzzy, but the “Competition Period” definition seems to say that either the qualifying portion or the entire tournament will be completed by June 12th. Since it is based on May finishes, that means a really fast turnaround, and they actually still haven’t told players where or when the Qualifier Tournaments will be held. Players will be emailed this information no less than a week prior to the event but, based on the dates in question, no more than 11 days prior to the event. (Section 5.3(d)). This will likely hurt many players who need to make last second accommodations, just as the late Spring Playoffs announcement did.

3. Section 3.2(b): Blizzard has to approve your BattleTag. Sorry, “Sloppybutt.”

4. Sections 5.1 (b): Once the match begins, if a player “leaves the game client for any reason, it is considered a match forfeiture and the opposing player will win the match.” As this reads, there will be absolutely no replays in the event of a client crash or a disconnect (in the law “will” or “shall” are generally mandatory whereas “may” or “can” are generally permissive). That seems harsh. I have seen arguments in favor of this type of rule–that certain players seem to “disconnect” at opportune moments and that not all site admins appropriately monitor for cheating, so reliance on a subjective rule is harmful to honest players who go to honest locations–but it seems like the better fix is to hire admins we trust and/or create some in-game protections. Imagine being an honest guy whose computer crashes in the biggest tournament of his life, and being forced to go home because of this draconian rule.

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Playful sprites OP, Blizz pls nerf.

5. Sections 5.2-5.4: This isn’t legal issues, just some info on how the tournament will IMG_4258work. The top 64 in each region (Americas, EU, Asia/Pacific, and China a.k.a. “special Asia”), including any players tied for 64th place, will participate in the Hearthstone Wild Open Online Qualifier Tournaments, a double-elimination tournament. The top 2 from each region will advance so that there are 8 players in the Hearthstone Wild Open Tournament (the “finals”). The finals will be single-elimination, best of five, Conquest, with one ban.

The total prize pool is $25,000: $8k for first, $5k for second, $3k each for third and fourth, and $1.5k each for fifth through eighth. It seemed a little low to me, as the title of this tournament implies this will be the only Wild Open of the year, but I’m getting mixed messages from pros. In addition to the mixed messages shown on the right. One of the pros I spoke to privately said the prizes were just a little below average while another pro told me the prizes were good enough that he wished he had tried to get in this month, but not good enough that he will start trying now.

6. Section 6.2(a) and 6.3(b): These sections are meant to ban bad behavior, but accidentally ban misplays (as misplays are not the player playing “to the best of their ability” and may subject the player to ridicule). Mistakes were made.

7. Section 6.6(b): Players cannot use drugs or alcohol, or be under the influence of either (save prescription medicine, used as prescribed), during “Competition Events” or on premises owned or leased by Blizzard or a tournament organizer. “Competition Events” include “all games, matches, media events, autograph signings, photo sessions, sponsor events[,] and other gatherings or events occurring with or as part of the Competition.”

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Photographic evidence of Hearthstone debauchery.

This section seems to disallow players from participating in after-parties or grabbing a drink with developers. I know that such events have happened in the past, including a good old time in the Bahamas, and will likely continue to happen. Hell, if the apparent Buffalo Wild Wings partnership continues to grow, these events may well be taking place in a sports bar. It would be pretty sketchy if any player were punished for participating in these types of events if they are either sponsored or encouraged by Blizzard or its employees.

8. Section 6.7: A non-disparagement clause is to be expected and is probably pretty normal. That said, this one is written very broadly. It actually says that “[p]layers may not at any time make… any… disparaging remarks… concerning Blizzard[.]” (emphasis added).  Has anybody ever made a disparaging remark about Blizzard or its games? Wow, okay, so pretty much every pro who has ever been on Twitter, Reddit, Twitch, etc., etc. is ineligible? Sorry guys.

9. Section 6.11(b): This is that bad-actor section that I was talking about and the reason why these little “but Blizzard would never do that” issues matter. This section says that if a player violates any of the Official Rules, Blizzard can: disqualify that player from any future Hearthstone events; revoke any or all prizes previously awarded to the player; terminate the player’s Battle.net Account(s); and/or revoke all licenses the player has for all Blizzard titles. I spoke with a few pros who told me that it usually takes 1-3 months to get winnings, so there is plenty of time for the “revocation” of prizes to really have teeth. As stated above, there are lots of practical reasons why Blizzard would not abuse these portions of the agreement, including the fact that it seems to be run by nice people who love the community, but still, they could if they wanted to, and that’s exactly the type of situation that eventually creates a lot of the issues lawyers see every day.

Side note: this is a reminder that you only have a license to play Blizzard games, you did not buy the games. Even the games you bought in the store, you actually just bought a license. That means you have no property right to our games or your account. As they state in section 7.3(a), they can modify or delete your account for any reason, at any time. There are good reasons for this, including the fact that nobody would make online games if it meant they had to maintain its servers forever (as they might be forced to if players had “rights” to their accounts). This is another subject that could very well be an entire post of its own.

10. Section 8: By participating, you let Blizzard use your face, likeness, voice, etc. for the event, for advertising, for products, forever. This probably isn’t surprising or even upsetting for most players, but it is a big license you are giving them, so some people might be interested in reading more about that. (Don’t worry, it’s a non-exclusive license, so players can still advertise for their teams or otherwise use their own likenesses to make money.)

11. Section 10.2(b) and 10.3(a) and (b): Blizzard can change the Official Rules at anymaxresdefault time. Remember, players agree to them just by participating in the event, so Blizzard could, in theory, change the prize amounts or conditions upon which players are disqualified from receiving prizes a minute before the finals begin! Such a switcheroo might be run afoul of a number of legal principles that I can’t really get into now, and it is more likely that changes would only be made to dates of the event or cards in the card pool (nerfs), but as stated above, it is worth noting what the contract says is allowed.

Well, that’s a lot of words and I’m now way behind on billable hours, so I’m going to get out of here. As stated above, this is nowhere near an exhaustive list at everything in the Official Rules, so make sure you read them if you plan on going. Let me know what you think of the rules and if you think I should re-write this thing for them and send it in! I’m really considering doing that.

A Poor Man’s Top Tournament Finish: 1600 Dust Pauper Tournament Report

This weekend I participated in the 1600 Dust Standard Pauper tournament. I ended up finishing in third place, but the journey was at least half the battle. As it turns out, some of what follows was proven incorrect come tournament time, but I think it’s instructive for me and maybe my readers to look at the process as it came. If you see any errors in my prep that you think might help me in preparing for future events, I would love some pointers.

INITIAL FORMAT ASSESSMENT

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Not all classes’ pauper pools are created equal.

I started by looking at the card pool, class by class. I quickly decided that Paladin, Priest, and Rogue appeared the weakest. Priest, as most players will remember, just has the weakest basic cards and hasn’t picked up enough at common to make up for that. Paladin and Rogue have some very powerful basic cards, but rely on combos that were unavailable to me (consecrate + equality; any of the powerful rogue spells + prep). So those three were immediately out of contention.

Shaman took a little bit longer, as it was almost there with a jade build, but ultimately joined the other three classes in the unplayable bracket.

That left me five viable classes that I needed to whittle down to three. I mentioned something about it on Twitter, and my friend/follower/fellow pauper tournament goer, Ellak Roach, offered to test with me. It was a small tournament, so I was a little hesitant about sharing my knowledge with someone who would likely be my competitor at some point, but the tournament was just for fun, so I took him up on his offer. We traded decklists and theorycrafted for a few days, then we spent one night trying out a few builds. With Ellak’s input, we decided there were more like nine decks we should be testing. Those were (I’m pretty proud of the decks we built, so I created and linked lists for each of them. Obviously, these were not our initial builds, but what we ended up with–save Mage, which I believe was my initial build. Egg Druid was also really close from initial to final, with just 2 cards changing.):

Zoolock (eventually brought this)
Discolock–sorry Spivey, but that’s just what it’s called
Demonlock (Ellak came up with an initial list we played a few times, but we quickly preferred zoo/discard so we didn’t pursue refining it)
Egg Druid
Ramp Druid
Tempo Warrior (brought this and it was undefeated; MVP of the lineup, possible best deck in the format)
Control Warrior
Midrange Hunter
Tempo Mage (also brought this)

PICKING THE STRONGEST DECK IN EACH CLASS

We had to move quickly because our respective schedules only really gave us one night to properly test (prior to that, I had been taking my pauper decks to Casual play). As is generally the case in Hearthstone tournaments, the first step was to narrow it down to one deck per class (as players were required to bring three decks from three different classes). To that end, we started by testing within the classes. Ellak leaned more towards the slower decks (Control Warrior and Ramp Druid) whereas I preferred the faster builds (Tempo Warrior and Egg Druid). We pretty quickly agreed that Demonlock was out of the running and that Zoo was very strong (though I was not 100% sold on discard versus non-discard, I was convinced enough to move forward).

THE FINAL CUT

So, we had each narrowed it down to five decks–though a different five. In order to narrow that down to three, I went with my perceived power deck power levels and my comfort with that style of deck (and I think he did the same). This was a tough decision that took me several days to make. In the end, the best-of-three format also made me favor decks with solid matchups across the board and very consistent draws–as I could only afford to draw poorly in one game per match. To me, that meant Hunter and Egg Druid were out.

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In hindsight, bringing Zoo over Hunter was probably a mistake.

Hunter had some great synergies and very powerful cards, but it played similarly to Warlock Zoo, and it seemed to require more specific card combinations for its strength (in our admittedly limited testing, the deck seemed very dependent on drawing and correctly playing Unleash the Hounds and Houndmaster), and it didn’t have lifetap–making it more susceptible to bad draws.

Egg Druid felt even more boom-or-bust. When it worked right, it was actually good enough to compete on the normal ranked ladder (at least in the teens, where I was), but it did not have the late-game threats that full-budget Egg Druid has, so if they handled my early game, I ran out of steam very quickly and almost always lost. Plus, I’m not really much of an aggro player–my strengths are much more aligned with midrange play–so I was not as comfortable with the deck and felt more likely to misplay with it.

REFINING OUR DECKS

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In our initial testing, Tar Creeper and Nesting Roc were just as OP as they initially appeared. Despite that, I think I only faced one Creeper and zero Rocs during the tournament.

When refining our builds, we looked to counter the expected meta where we could. The standard pauper meta was, as far as we could tell, pretty undocumented and unrefined–so everyone would likely be figuring this out on their own. We figured most people would not put as much thought into this as we would, so the metagame would most likely be mostly the most obvious decks. Looking at the card pool, we figured those would be Mage, Ramp Druid, Zoo, and Midrange Hunter. I also expected a lot of decks to be on the slower end (and, specifically, taunt-heavy) because of obviously powerful stall cards like Tar Creeper, Nesting Roc, and Bog Creeper.

Because of the expected taunt fatties, I made sure all my decks had spot removal. Unfortunately, that was about as far into refining my Zoo and Mage decks as I went. The decks seemed to build themselves, and played pretty well in our limited testing, so we mostly accepted them as they were. Ellak thought Mage might want to take advantage of the powerful secret synergies in recent sets, but I did not think the underlying secrets made it worth it.

Tempo Warrior was another story. This was a deck based on one that I knew very well (I loved Dragon Warrior and took it to rank 5 two or three seasons in a row, until I got my golden Warrior), but had not played or seen played since rotation, and had not played without dragons (as it would be now) since long before that. I knew I wanted to play the following “core” 24 cards:

2 N’Zoth’s First Mate a12829731b8ad3111f90360c070bac3610d351f6965650cf841a740eb16ce56d
2 Battle Rage
2 Execute
2 Fiery War Axe
2 Slam
2 Ravaging Ghoul
2 Violet Illusionist
2 Dread Corsair
2 Bloodhoof Brave
2 Grimy Gadgeteer
2 Kor’kron Elite
2 Fool’s Bane

As you can see from the core, there are a lot of strong individual cards in Warrior (Execute, Fiery War Axe, Ravaging Ghoul, Bloodhoof Brave, and Kor’kron Elite). There are also some solid synergies (like Dread Corsair’s reduced cost with weapons and Grimy Gadgeteer’s strong synergies with taunt and charge). I finished it up with the killer combo of Violet Ilusionist and Fool’s Bane, which gave the deck full-clear potential that only Mage could top. The Illusionist also, of course, worked with the other weapons in the deck and, in this format, was a solid 3-drop even naked.

For filling the last six slots, because this is a tempo deck, it was very important to have a very good curve and to be able to have strong plays on every turn. Ellak was the first to suggest I Know a Guy, which I had initially overlooked as too slow and not very impactful. I was swayed over because there were not a ton of 1-drops that worked well with Battle Rage or other deck synergies, because discover is strong in the pauper format, and because Gadgeteer loves both hiding behind and buffing up taunts.

Ellak also suggested Ironforge Portal. At first, I wanted something a little bit more aggressive (I had Arcanite Reaper) because I didn’t love the RNG of the forge, but I ultimately decided to go with it because it gave me something I always wanted to play on 5 and it gave me the ability to stay out of burn range against Mages, which I expected to be everywhere. It ended up fitting and playing amazingly.

The last six slots ended up being: 2 I Know a Guy, 1 Fairy Dragon (fills the curve, decent card on its own, great with Gadgeteer), 2 Ironforge Portal, and 1 Frost Elemental (very underrated card in the format). And, with that, it was time to play in the tournament.

THE TOURNAMENT ITSELF

We had to take screenshots of our victories, just in case there were any disputes. Of course, this was a casual tournament between friends so there were absolutely no disputes. Also of course, I only screen-grabbed my wins for this purpose, so I don’t have as much information about the games I dropped.

–Round 1: H8ersG0nn4h8 (2-0)–
He presented with Warrior, Mage, and Druid. I figured both my Warrior and my Mage were likely favored against Druid, but my Warrior was favored against Mage whereas I didn’t think the inverse was the case, so I started with Warrior.
Game 1: Druid v. Tempo Warrior (W )
His build had aspects of ramp and token, which did not jive very well in our game. My deck curved out well, topping out at a Violet Illusionist + Fool’s Bane combo to wipe his board and seal him away.
IMG_4157
Game 2: Warrior v. Tempo Mage (W )
I figured Zoo had a bad matchup versus Mage and probably against Warrior, too, so I went with my Mage. I met some early guys with weapon play  and drew both of my Water Elementals early. He Executed one, but the other was able to stick around and lock him out of the game. From that point, I used my spells to build the board while keeping his clear and eventually out-valued him until I got the win. Polymorph > giant taunt guy.

–Round 2: Blakarot (2-0)–
He brought an unexpected lineup with Mage, Shaman, and Rogue. Ellak played against him in the prior round and warned me that the Jade Shaman deck was powerful. I decided that Mage paired up best against Shaman and Rogue, and that I should have a decent shot if it happened to be a mirror match.
Game 1: Jade Shaman v. Tempo Mage (W )
I was a little concerned because even after mulliganing my entire hand I had a slow start. I was really on the edge of my seat when he Hex’d my first play (a Water Elemental) and he really seemed to have me on the ropes as he thereafter controlled the board with a Giant Wasp. Luckily, I was able to stall until Flamestrike to avoid Bloodlust and then fully commit to the board without fear of any of shaman’s more impactful AoE.
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Game 2: Mage v. Tempo Warrior (W )
I still had to assume Rogue was pretty weak, so I figured the most likely follow-up was Mage. As described above, I tuned my Warrior to have a solid matchup against Mage, so I felt good going into this. Things went pretty much according to plan and he didn’t draw Flamestrike, so he had no chance.

–Round 3: Shadow Dragon (2-0)–
He brought Paladin, Hunter, and Mage. I didn’t know what to expect from Paladin, but knowing the types of cards available to Paladin, I decided that Tempo Warrior was probably favored against all of his classes and a safe start.
Game 1: Mage v. Tempo Warrior (W )
I started a little slow against his perfect curve, but Ravaging Ghoul helped me catch up. After a few more back-and-forths, the game was essentially sealed when my Ironforge Portal gave me a Grimy Gadgeteer.
Game 2: Aggro Paladin v. Tempo Mage (W )
I knew that Zoo lost to hunter, so I decided to play Mage again. His Aggro Paladin used buffs and Murloc synergies for sustain and (through the murlocs) to gain access to cards outside of the card pool. It was much stronger than I gave it credit for in my initial assessment, and he was able to get me to 11 before I could Flamestrike (IIRC it could have been even lower, but he decided to make a few trades). Even after the Flamestrike, he had enough gas that it was scary. I got lucky with another portal–this time generating a taunt–and was thereby able to ensure that I won the race to lethal.
IMG_4163

–Round 4: LAHARS (1-2)–
He brought Warrior, Druid, and Hunter. Warrior was a bit of a mystery, but (as discussed above) I figured it was more likely some sort of taunt-based control warrior like what Ellak was bringing. So I yet again started with Tempo Warrior, which I knew to be favored against either 2/3 of or his entire lineup.
Game 1: Hunter v. Tempo Warrior (W )
He stood absolutely no chance. I don’t even have notes, just “it’s a highly favorable matchup, so I stomped him.” I think an early Ravaging Ghoul cleared his whole board and then my midgame taunts put it away.
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Game 2: Hunter v. Zoo (L)
I thought his Warrior might have given my Mage problems but would most likely be OK for my Zoo deck, and every other one of my opponents switched decks after the first game, so I thought I’d get tricky and play Zoo into a field wherein Hunter was still available. In hindsight, that was super dumb and perhaps the biggest mistake I made during tournament play. Of course, he stuck with his Hunter. He got me with a devastating turn 3 Unleash the Hounds that cleared my entire board, but I was able to fight back and make it close. Eventually, I had board position and a Blastcrystal Potion and a Soulfire in my hand, but he dropped a 5-mana 8/2 Stealth that I honestly had not even realize was in the card pool. Womp womp.
Game 3: Pirate Warrior v. Zoo (L)
Despite mulliganing 2 of my 3 cards (keeping a turn 3 play–thinking he was probably a slower warrior against which I could do that), I did not get any turn 1 or 2 plays. Meanwhile, he coined into Fiery War Axe on turn 1 and then played Bloodsail Raider on 2. I somehow managed to claw back a bit, but he had me down to 10 on turn 5. IIRC, on the last turn he was on topdeck mode and about 1/3 of my deck was potential outs (I had something like 1 Glacial Shard, 2 Voidwalker, 1 Ravasaur, and 2 Ravenous Double-Adapter left). I actually got the Double-Adapter, but neither adaptation offered Taunt, so he was able to topdeck the Arcanite Reaper and take game 3.

–Round 5: the Cinder Ascendant (of Coin Concede) (1-2)–
Spoiler alert, Cinder ended up winning the whole thing, so he posted his lineup on Twitter. He used Druid, Hunter, Mage. Of course, I did not know what his lists were at the time, I just knew that my tried-and-true Tempo Warrior deck had a favorable matchup against all three of those classes. My notes are a little light on this entire match. I think that was because we were playing pretty quickly and because I was more focused on playing the game than taking notes. If you’re reading this, Cinder, please don’t take my brevity (or, though I hope not) inaccuracies for a lack of interest or an excess of salt.
Game 1: Hunter v. Tempo Warrior (W )
My tempo warrior did what it was supposed to do and curved out with minions that his deck was not designed to handle, and he could not compete. I kept control of the board and eventually took the game pretty comfortably.
IMG_4165
Game 2: Egg Druid v. Tempo Mage (L)
I wasn’t about to make the same mistake two matches in a row, and my Zoo felt like a liability against his Mage anyway, so I risked the mirror match and queued my Mage into what I was hoping would be Ramp Druid. We had a little bit of back and forth in the early turns but I whiffed on 4 (with a hand full of 7 mana spells), which gave him a good Soul of the Forest that essentially ended the match.
Game 3: Hunter v. Tempo Mage (L)
I was almost certain he’d bring his Hunter back instead of slogging through the mirror, so I stuck with Mage. Unlike the full-budget versions of our decks, he did not have a ton of deathrattles to give me the most fits, so I felt ok going into it. The match started exactly how I wanted it to, and then exactly how I didn’t want it to. He went turn 1 Alley Cat so I went Turn 1 Wyrm, Coin, Missiles. Unfortunately, all 3 of my missiles missed (going face instead), and he was able to clear my Wyrm and keep the board advantage. It was all downhill from there as he was able to finish me off before I could cast Flamestrike on 7.

Looking at Cinder’s lists on Twitter, his Druid and Hunter look pretty similar to what I was testing, yet he clearly liked them better than I did. One notable difference is that he runs Tortollan Forager in his Druid, which is a great add that helps with the lack of finishers/running out of fuel that I didn’t like in the deck. His Mage runs the secret package where mine did not, but I never saw it played and I don’t know how well it worked for him.

THE TAKEAWAYS

I learned a few lessons from my “good-not-great” performance. Unfortunately, these were all lessons I should have learned a long time ago.

1. Don’t under-estimate your opponents: As I stated above, I figured that most of my opponents would not have spent as much time as I did testing for the meta and, as a result, my predictions about the meta turned out to be wrong. A lot of my opponents actually did spend less time prepping for this than I did, but even still, the meta was not as filled with “obvious” decks as I thought. It was stupid of me to expect that people would not bring fast decks just because the first cards they might have thought of off of the top of their heads were slower cards. There are filter and search functions in this game FFS!
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To give myself a little credit, I was pretty spot-on for the early rounds, but the top competitors were not as easy as all that. Had I given my opponents more credit, I probably would have made a few different card selections, especially in my mage deck, which ended up a bit slower than it should have been.

2. Don’t take any decks for granted: We almost immediately decided that my Mage and Zoo builds were solid, so we did not spend very much time testing or tweaking them. In fact, I thought Zoo might have been the strongest deck in the format. Conversely, Tempo Warrior felt like uncharted territory, so I spent a lot of time testing and refining that deck. As a result, Tempo Warrior ended up going undefeated while Mage dropped a couple games it perhaps should not have and Zoo got curb-stomped (though, as noted, Zoo’s results are a little unfair because it got queued into a bad matchup and got some really unlucky draws).

Conversely, the tournament showed me that I may have been too quick to dismiss certain classes. I face both Shaman and Paladin and they were both much more competitive than I thought they would be (Blakarot’s Jade Shaman was apparently a bit of the talk of the town in the 1600 Dust discord). I know my good friend GreenRanger brought his baby Valeera and was somewhat happy with the results as well. This goes to show how rich the format truly is, and that I shouldn’t have been so quick to dismiss decks without testing, just as I should not have been so quick to accept them.

3. Learn some matchups, and plan around them: As noted above, I decided to just bring the “best decks.” That was a mistake; I shouldn’t have brought Zoo. I really liked the build on paper/ in a vacuum, but I knew I would see a lot of Mage and Hunter and I knew it would be bad against them (Mage for Flamestrike, Hunter for Unleash the Hounds and Houndmaster). Especially in the no-bad format, that left me with A LOT of games in which I did not feel safe queuing up Zoo (any time either a Hunter or Mage remained which, since this was double elimination and a lot of people brought one or both, was almost never). As a result, I only played Zoo twice–and one time was a matchup coinflip I ended up losing. I essentially pigeonholed myself into bringing two decks when everyone else got to bring three. This was a really big disadvantage that I easily could have avoided had I spent a bit more time thinking about the meta and particular matchups within it while creating my line-up.

4. Learn other playstyles: The only other time I did anything similar to a tournament (a Fireside Gathering casual bracket), I had a similar experience in which one deck (at that time, Dragon Warrior) went undefeated and my other decks ended up falling flat. As primarily a ladder player, I tend to find one deck I like and that is viable in the meta and then mastering it, without really learning any other decks more than is necessary to beat them.

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An amateurish meme regarding my strengths and weaknesses in playing Hearthstone, regardless of the metagame.

In this tournament, Egg druid did very well for Cinder, who smashed me with it and went on to win the whole tournament. Had I been more comfortable with face-type archetypes, I might have felt comfortable enough to bring the deck and take advantage of that power as well. It was not at issue in this format, but I would have had similar issues feeling uncomfortable bringing decks like Freeze Mage or Miracle Rogue in other formats/metas. If I were to get serious about Hearthstone, I would be at a severe disadvantage if I didn’t branch out more.

All-in-all, I was a little disappointed I didn’t win the whole thing, but I had some great games and I’m pretty proud of that Tempo Warrior deck I built, which I’m pretty sure is the best deck in the format. Cinder definitely deserved the win, so I’m glad he took it since I couldn’t. It was lots of fun and I hope I can do it again soon. Big thanks to the 1600 Dust guys and to Fairestbiscuit for making it happen and to Ellak, again, for helping me theorycraft and test. Hopefully I’ll see you guys next time!