Predicting the Next Round of Nerfs

It’s been a busy couple weeks since my last post: Monster Hunt launched, our beloved Ben Brode left us, we had EU playoffs, and Iksar has guided the community in naming the best card ever (the community voted Dr. Boom, much to my chagrin). But the bit of recent news that got me to sit down and write this post was the recent nerf announcement announcement.

As with any nerf announcement announcement, the prospect of balance changes has the whole community buzzing. Either because the devs have specifically asked for our input, or because we’re just an opinionated bunch, or (probably) both, everyone seems to have an idea about how the cards should be changed. I disagree with a lot of those suggestions, and I fancy myself a bit of a student of game design (especially Hearthstone game design), so I figured I’d give my input as well.

Refresher on Some General Hearthstone Nerf “Policies”

We’ve never gotten any sort of official list of how Team 5 makes their nerf decisions, nor would I ever expect them to, as it seems like a very case-by-case decision, but we have gotten a lot of designer insights on specific nerfs and on nerfs generally. I see a lot of people suggesting or calling for nerfs that don’t fit our established norms, so I thought I’d start by reminding people of some of the established trends/policies/unofficial rules (whatever you want to call them) of Hearthstone nerfing. Of course, Team 5 could always choose to change their policies, but I still think that we should keep in mind in assessing likely nerfs and/or appealing to Team 5 for nerfs we might want. These aren’t all such “policies,” but they are some of the more germane ones. (I’m doing these from memory, but I started collecting designer insights a little while back if you want to try to look through my list for some specific citations.)

  • The most important thing is fun. It tends to be unfun if one archetype dominates the metagame, but we also have seen changes to under-performing, uncommon decks simply because the decks felt bad to play against (like Quest Rogue). Conversely, however, it is dangerous and upsetting (see the next point) to nerf cards simply to “shake things up.” In terms of the types of “unfun,” it seems like it is more the job of rotations, new expansions, and events to fix “boredom” whereas it is more the job of nerfs to fix “feelsbadman” decks and moments.
  • You want to have as few changes as possible. Blizzard has loosened up a bit on this recently, but there are a few reasons why Blizzard favors less frequent and less drastic card changes, including: new player confusion, maintaining a sense of value in player purchases, maintaining player confidence in the game designers, and just giving players who want to do so, a chance to “break” the meta.
  • Only Classic cards, and a few select promo cards that already went in with the first Hall of Fame class, get moved to the Hall of Fame (Expansion cards are nerfed or allowed to rotate naturally, because they can be. Basic cards are likewise nerfed instead of rotated, but that’s because rotating them would mess up the starting game progression.) Additionally, Hall of Fame rotations only happen once per year, when the first set of the year comes out. All of that is to say that, this time around, it would be against established policies to move anything to the HoF.
  • The preferred order of card changes is: mana cost -> attack or health -> rules text. To cut down on new player confusion, and to retain as much of the “soul” of nerfed cards as possible, they like to make changes as “obvious” as possible. To that end, even more obvious text changes would be preferred over nuanced ones (I doubt we’d see a “whenever” changed to an “after,” for instance). Of course, there are famous exceptions, but really those are just examples of times they decided the better impact on the game warranted the less obvious change.

The List

This is the first time we’ve ever had a pretty limited pool of potential balance changes to choose from in that Iksar specifically named all the cards they are looking at possibly changing (at least, he made it seem like he named all the cards). Those cards are:

  • Naga Sea Witch
  • Sunkeeper Tarim
  • Call to Arms
  • Baku (and/or Justicar) Paladin Hero Power
  • Spiteful Summoner
  • Possessed Lackey
  • Bloodreaver Gul’dan
  • Dark Pact
  • Kobold Librarian
  • Quest Rogue
  • Doomguard

This is my second time typing out that list and it has only just occurred to me that Voidlord is not on it. That certainly throws a wrench into things. But I went back to check his posts and it isn’t named anywhere, so I’ll work under the assumption that this is the complete list.

Naga Sea Witch (Nerf)

This is the one card on the list that is all but guaranteed. Iksar initially tweeted that the card allows “one of those strategies that is pretty cool to see once in a while[,] but when it’s a core part of the meta it gets really un-fun to play against… [and a]t this point it feels like it’s going to be higher than we would like [its] population [to be] unless a change happens[.]” He then clarified/corrected himself on Reddit, saying, “[w]hat I intended to say is that it takes time to understand whether a strategy is a flavor of the week, but in the case of NSW decks, that time has passed. We’ve been discussing a variety of changes for either just the cost or design.”

Post Nerf NagaSo, to me, this one’s basically a given to (finally) see some change. As Iksar said initially, I think the card is interesting and cool to see every once in a while, but a problem when it is seen too frequently, so for this one I would rather they just up the cost. An extra turn or two is just enough that the incredibly powerful Wild metagame will have no problem at all reacting to it, and/or it will force a big shift in the deck from a combo-like strategy to more of a control one. It also makes it impossible for you to play any non-giants on the same turn as the NSW, which is also sometimes relevant.

Spiteful Summoner (Leave)

I understand that the novelty has passed, that it limits design space, and that it is powerful enough that it often wins games very soon after it is played, but, to me, Spiteful Summoner does not seem like nearly as big of a problem card as most of the others on the list. There is currently only one viable Spiteful Summoner list, and it’s teetering on the edge between Tier 1 and Tier 2. Also, unlike some of the other cards on this list, it is pretty easily countered by other powerful cards in the metagame (Voodoo Doll, MCT, Equality, Vilespine Slayer, Vanish, SW:Death/Polymorph if they don’t roll Tyrantus, your own Spiteful, just playing taunts, rolling “poisonous” on an Adapt, etc.). Spiteful Summoner is also (usually) not a win condition in its own right, but a punctuation on a game. That is, if you are ahead it can slam the door on your opponent, but if you are already behind then your opponent may be able to easily deal with your 12/12, or just ignore it. This feels like the type of card that the metagame can correct, and that can be more easily indirectly nerfed by the addition of future sets, so I would leave it alone.

Edit: Right after I finished up this article, Peter Whalen made an appearance on The Angry Chicken podcast in which he talked a little bit about the nerf discussions. Of course, he couldn’t talk specifics, but he did say that, generally speaking, the biggest problem appeared to be mana-cheating, where powerful effects were happening a little too early. Spiteful Summoner appeared to be in the forefront of his mind as part of that discussion, so it seems that at least Peter might be leaning towards nerfing it and I might be wrong about what the team as a whole will end up doing with this card. 

Warlock (Nerf)

Slow Warlocks (Cube and Control) got the best deathknight in KFT and then a heaping spoonful of goodies to pair it with in KnC. It lost very little with rotation and got a few solid cards to fill the gaps in any event. It has been one of the three best classes in the game at all points since KnC, and that’s in spite of the fact that almost every other deck in the format is currently running four or more hate cards against it (2 weapon hates and 2 silences). When a class can remain that powerful for that long, despite the fact that the entire metagame is reacting to it, you have a pretty good indicator that the class is overpowered.

Iksar said they are looking at changing one or more of the following five cards, all of which see play in Cubelock and most other Warlock decks: Kobold Librarian, Dark Pact, Possessed Lackey, Doomguard, and Bloodreaver Gul’dan.

This is a tricky puzzle to figure out. Looking at the cards individually, they are each over-powered. However, looking at the list as a whole, it appears the big offender is burst from hand without counterplay. Aside from Kobold Librarian, all the cards in question are part of Cubelock’s big, burst-kill potential. Skull is another obvious piece of the burst, but it is the one piece that allows for significant, obvious counterplay, so it makes sense that it does not make the list. Umbra, Cube, and Faceless are also big-burst offenders, but they seem more like catalysts than the underlying problematic agents. All of that is to say that it looks like they are primarily targeting Cubelock, it makes sense to target Cubelock, and these seem to be good cards to look at for doing so.

Back when nothing in Cubelock got nerfed in the Raza/Patches/Corridor Creeper nerfset, I figured that was because Doomguard was scheduled to be added to the most recent Hall of Fame. That would have killed Cubelock and severely hampered Zoolock, making it much easier to target Warlock Control and possibly making this call for nerfs unnecessary. But, of course, I was wrong about that and it’s too late now.

What I would like them to do is change both Doomguard and Voidlord. These changes would make all the other cards significantly weaker by making cheating out the targets (what most of the rest of the deck is designed to do) significantly less effective. The Voidlord change does probably make Gul’dan a little bit better, but I think on balance it makes Control Warlock a little worse, because it makes it easier to get through the wall of taunts with one AoE/Mass Dispel/whatever, so it is okay. It also prevents Deathrattle synergy with Umbra and (in Wild) N’Zoth. I upped the cost 1 as well, because traditionally Battlecry is costed as more valuable than Deathrattle and it seems weird to “nerf” a card by buffing it, but it might actually not need that change. I’d, of course, test the card both ways and see if it still felt too good at 9 or if the hindrance to cheating it out was sufficient to overcome the additional value upon initial play.

But, again, the premise of this post is that they are only looking at changing the listed cards, and Voidlord is not on the list, so let’s look at other options.

The next best remaining option, in my mind, is to fix Lackey and/or Dark Pact, as it is the combination of the two that allows for the problematic effects. While Librarian and Gul’dan are both incredibly powerful, I don’t think either one warps the game in the way that the cheating out cards with Lackey + Pact does. I like powerful cards and I don’t think that it’s a problem that if Warlock gets to 10 mana it gets to play a card that usually wins it the game.

As far as I see it, there are two main options to fix Lackey/Pact: 1) we could limit the Lackey targets; or, 2) we could make either or both cards harder to play or slower.

I don’t think limiting Lackey’s pool works on its own, because any reasonable nerf (something like “Recruit a Demon that costs (8) or less”) would still include Doomguard as a potential target. So you’d have to pair it with the above Doomguard change. That change would allow you to keep slow Warlocks, but limit the amount they can cheat the mana curve, while still stopping the offending burst damage from hand.

However, I prefer the flavor of Lackey summoning the most badass Demons possible, and I think that raising the cost of Lackey + Pact just as effectively meets the underlying goal of preventing excessive mana cheating. Plus, as we mentioned above, more obvious changes (and mana cost is the most obvious change) are generally favored over less obvious changes, so I think the best fix, given the pool of cards we are looking at, is to just up the cost of Lackey and Pact by 1 each. That gives you a slightly better chance to counterplay a tempo Lackey (by giving you one more turn to find a silence or ignore it and get lethal) and makes it much slower for them to combine the two into a play you can’t interact with.

If you make these changes, I don’t think you need to touch any of the other Warlock cards in The List. These changes might be better than the ones I originally had planned as they actually let the archetype continue to exist, just in a less abusive form, whereas the above-proposed Doomguard change would likely kill the archetype completely.

Paladin (Nerf)

I’m choosing to look at the options grouped like this because, even though they’re not all in the same deck like the Warlock ones are, in the age of Genn and Baku, they need to be treated as though they could be. Paladin is in an interesting spot where it (again) is dominating the ladder meta, but is not nearly as prevalent or powerful in tournament play. Still, where Paladin makes up 75% of the tier 1 ladder decks, and over 20% of the Rank 4-1 population (according to HS Replay and Vicious Syndicate), it makes sense that the class is being looked at. We want to make changes that weaken all Paladin decks a little bit, to bring them in line with the rest of the metagame, especially in light of the fact that we are nerfing Warlock, one of Paladin’s natural predators.

Iksar said that three cards/effects are being looked at for potential changes: Call to Arms, Sunkeeper Tarim, and the upgraded Paladin hero power.

First, I don’t love changing the upgraded Paladin hero power. Even though it is one of the best upgraded hero powers in the game, Baku has already lost a decent amount of value in Standard compared to the initial Witchwood meta (because Baku Hunter and Warrior are a lot less common now) and Paladin is basically the only deck that uses Baku in Wild. It would feel bad to so limit one of the banner legendaries of the set–especially when it is widely considered one of the few “safe crafts.” As a side note: if there were to be a change, I would hope that they would change both Baku and Justicar, because it makes no sense to me that Paladin would have two different upgraded hero powers where all the other classes only have one (and where all the cards seem to be written with only one upgraded hero power per class in mind).

Second, I think Tarim is one of the best cards the game has ever printed–it is aggressive and defensive, and there are many games that are won or lost by whether it is drawn. That said, it feels OP in a fair way. Both players are always aware of it, so they can plan around it, and it encourages fighting for the board, which is Hearthstone at its core. I also like that it is even and it has taunt, because that means Even Paladin (in which it is weaker) plays it naturally, but Odd Paladin still has access to it for those crazy “oh my god, RNGsus smiled upon him with Stonehill Defender and won him the game” moments. I understand why it is on this list of cards they’re watching, but I hope they leave it how it is.

Finally, Call to Arms. Like Tarim, Call to Arms is one of the best cards ever printed. It’s even better now that Priests no longer have access to Duskbreaker to counter it, and feels like it’s the most important card in almost all Paladin decks that aren’t Odd Paladin. Unlike Tarim, though, it has a lot of RNG, has no real counterplays, and tends to make turns 1-3 (traditionally, the most important turns for most games) significantly less meaningful. The card is also overtly undercosted (by a massive amount, to boot) and definitely has significant room for change.

Like Lackey, there seems to be two main ways to change Call to Arms: 1) increase its cost; or 2) limit what it recruits. Considering that the card already uses pretty small numbers, there is limited room to reduce what it recruits. You could either reduce the number of targets to 1 or 2 (but, really, you could only reduce it to 2), and/or you could reduce the converted mana cost of them to 0 or 1 (but, really, you could only reduce it to 1). I don’t love reducing the number of minions pulled, because that hurts the flavor and makes the card a lot less exciting and feels like a much bigger nerf than it might initially appear to be.

Making it only pull minions that cost 1 or less is an interesting suggestion that I’ve seen get a bit of traction online. The thinking is that if you do that, you make the card unusable by either Baku (not allowed) or Genn (not worth it) Paladins, and you bring the card in line for Murloc and/or Aggro Paladin. I, however, am not in love with this proposal, either. Although it would be priced appropriately at that point (it seems about right in between Muster for Battle and Small-Time Recruits), it just feels a lot less exciting. Considering that there are so few viable 1-drops, it would probably just about ensure that either the card saw no play or everybody ran the same 6-8 one-drops. I like that the current version is a bit more opened up, as allowing for 2-drops more than doubles the number of viable targets.

Call to Arms nerfTherefore, I again prefer just the basic fix: raise the cost by 1. This still keeps the card wide open and powerful, but not broken. It can now only be played too late for it to make the early game obsolete. It also accomplishes the twin goals of removing it from both Odd and Even Paladin because Odd would likely not bother playing it just to pull out 1-drops when that slot competes with Level Up!, Fungalmancer, Scalebane, Leeroy, etc. This, all around, seems like a more interesting card than limiting what the card could pull (more deckbuilding options, yay!), but it seems to accomplish the same goals. Again, of course, this fix also seems to best match the Hearthstone nerf policies, so I think this is the best option.

Quest Rogue (Leave–for now)

Quest Rogue is designed to be a niche deck that punishes decks for getting too greedy. However, we already saw it nerfed once because it was not fun to play against. For about a week in the early Witchwood metagame, it appeared that Quest Rogue was too good against the entire field, but it seems that the metagame has corrected itself and the Quest Rogue numbers are drastically lower once again. It does not appear (at least, outside of Legend, where I spend almost all of my time playing) that Quest Rogue is really seeing much play at all. Although the deck still has those feelsbadman non-games, where certain matchups are basically won or lost as soon as the game is queued up, I do not think those are frequent enough (at this point) to warrant a nerf. It does make sense to keep this deck on the watch list, but I expect that as new sets come out the metagame’s power level will increase and Quest Rogue will, generally, become less and less viable, so I think this particular problem has and will continue to fix itself.

TL;DR

Incredibly long post turned short, here are the card changes I would like to see Blizzard make (though, admittedly, I can’t run simulations or test like they can, so a tiny bit of fudging might be needed).

I don’t think any of the other cards on The List need changes. In some ways, I prefer changing Doomguard+Voidlord, but I think changing Lackey+Dark Pact is a good option as well. Thanks for reading!

 

Advertisements

New Year, New Challenger Cup

This morning, I put up a couple new shelves in our condo, made myself a peppermint mocha, and I entered into my first Challenger Cup of the new season. The program has changed a bit since last time I took a few tries at it and those changes were pretty interesting.

Whereas before the tournament required at least 64 players before it could run, it can now go with only 32. Conversely, the tournament now only awards one spot in the HCT finals. This seems like a good change because it encourages smaller tournaments on average, which makes tournaments (again, on average and in theory) run more quickly. It also means that the finals actually matter and will actually be played out (before, players would frequently not play out the finals because there was no difference between 1st and 2nd and because they usually had been playing for around 8-9 hours by then).

The last big change is that the tournaments are now OPEN DECKLISTS. That is, open decklists are allowed. It seems that the Jarstoneros and Black Claw events are open decklists, whereas the Kyoto Esports events are closed decklists, but if that’s important to you, you should confirm that event’s rules before you sign up.

It being a new meta, I thought it would be a little tough to predict exactly what people would bring and, therefore, a bit tough to target something. Besides, I hadn’t had time to test all the matchups, so some “targets” would be more theoretical or emotional than data driven. Instead, I decided to start with the premise of bringing the best decks and go from there.

I ended up with these:

1st CCup

I figured the best deck was Cubelock and that another really solid deck (possibly a top-three deck) was Odd Paladin. I figured that if I’m bringing Paladin, then I’m banning Warlock. I then figured a decent amount of people would think the exact same thing, so I picked the best deck that countered Paladin and was decent against the rest of the non-Warlock field. Dragonslayer was because the Spiteful Priest matchup is rough and I expected it to be pretty popular.

I ended up going 3-2 in matches, which obviously did not take home the Cup. My Warlock was banned every single round, except against the one opponent who tried to target Warlock (with which he had only middling success, as the deck still ended up going 1-1). The Tempo Rush Warrior felt pretty solid, going 3-1. The Odds Paladin did fine (3-2), but was more easily and frequently countered than I realized, as I ended up facing a good amount of Warrior and Priest. Priest was the third most common class in the tournament but, to my surprise, I only faced a couple Mind Blast dragon priests, and no Spiteful decks of any kind.

My stats are slightly different from the tournament as a whole*, however, because Paladin had the highest overall winrate (57%) of any class and the most played games (72). Warlock was the most brought class, but it was banned so frequently that it was only the fourth most played class. The dreaded Shudderwock only won one of the only four games it played.

*The tournament still has the final match left to play at the time of writing, so these numbers may shift a little bit, but not too much.

Per usual, it was a great experience that I hope more players try out. I’m looking forward to trying a few more as the meta begins to stabilize.

Big Fish Casino: Another Post About In-Game Currency and Gambling

This is a more law-based post so, per usual, a little disclaimer:

I am an attorney, but not your attorney. This post is intended to provide information and (hopefully) entertainment, but not legal advice. If you think this case applies to your facts, or planned game development, I suggest you talk to an attorney about it.

With that said, is everyone pumped up to learn some LAW?!

Last week, this decision came down from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. It pretty quickly made its way through the new media law crowd and salacious headlines penned it as the biggest news in video game/gambling law in some time. Even I got wrapped up in the initial frenzy.

My tweet

But then I actually read the opinion and settled down a bit. I’m still seeing a lot of incredibly hot takes on this ruling, most of which I think are a bit off, so I figured I could explain it a bit for people who might not be as well-versed in the law.

I.  Procedural Background

Laypeople often don’t realize that the procedural aspects of the law are very important. In fact, sometimes, the procedural posture is the most important aspect of a decision. In this case, the Ninth Circuit’s decision is based on an appeal of a trial court’s dismissal of a purported class action. That means a few things in terms of understanding this decision, but the one point I want to highlight is that the court has to assume that all the allegations in the plaintiffs’ complaint are true. The parties will get an opportunity to prove or disprove the facts of the case at a later time but, for now, the question is just “if everything you say is true, do you have a case?” This is relevant because I’m not sure I believe all the facts, and the defendants explicitly deny some of them, but, as the appellate court recognized, this appeal was not the proper time to raise those arguments.

II.  Alleged Facts

This is a proposed class action case. But “proposed” means the class has not yet been certified, so right now there is only one plaintiff. Her name is Cheryl Kater. Kater alleges that the defendants’ game, Big Fish Casino, operated as follows: people can download the app free of charge; the app comes with a set of free “chips,” which are used to play casino-simulation games (like blackjack, poker, and slots); players can win additional chips in those casino-simulation games, but once they run out, the only way to keep playing is to buy more; there is no in-game way to “cash out” chips for money, or any sort of real-world goods/services; it is against the game’s Terms of Use to sell your account, but the game does allow players to transfer chips between users, and collects a transfer fee for the privilege of doing so*; a “black market” formed as a result of that ability to transfer chips; and Ms. Kater lost over $1000 playing the game.

BigFishCasino
Call it a Whale or a Big Fish, every mobile game is searching for players who are willing to spend over $1000 on the game’s in-game purchases!

There is no statement about how this system would prevent people from simply uninstalling and re-downloading or creating a new account if they want a “refresh” on the free chips (though there may well be one), and Big Fish Casino specifically denied the claim that the only ways to get new chips were through winning or buying more (claiming that players also got free coins throughout–like login bonuses, etc.). I personally don’t believe all of Ms. Kater’s allegations, but remember, at this stage of the litigation the court has to assume the facts alleged in the complaint are true.

* As a brief aside, even though it did not end up being relevant for this stage of the litigation, this transfer fee seems like a really bad idea. It immediately raises a big red flag for all kinds of legal issues and definitely belies the claim that the game doesn’t want players to sell their accounts.

III.  Applicable Laws

Washington State law–yes, we are applying Washington law in federal court; the explanation for why is robust enough for its own blog post, some other time time, but the short answer is because she lived in Washington, so that’s where the alleged gambling occurred–defines gambling as:

“[1] [S]taking or risking something of value [2] upon the outcome of a contest of chance or a future contingent event not under person’s control or influence, [3] upon agreement or understanding that the person or someone else will receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome.” (Wash. Rev. Code § 9.46.0237).

Okay, so that’s pretty standard and straightforward. To count as “gambling,” you have to 1) put something of value at risk, 2) at a game of chance, 3) for a chance that you might win something of value if the game of chance comes out a certain way. Sometimes there’s an issue about whether the game in question fits that second element, but that was not the case here where the game was just a simulated casino. Instead, this issue was about what constituted “something of value.”

Crucially, Washington law defines a “thing of value” as:

“[A]ny money or property, any token, object, or article exchangeable for money or property, or any form of credit or promise, directly or indirectly, contemplating transfer of money or property or of any interest therein, or involving extension of a service, entertainment or a privilege of playing at a game or scheme without charge.”

You might think, if you can make your way through all the various qualifiers and subordinate clauses, that this definition is very broad. You’d be right! My lawyer-friend, and expert in the field, Marc Whipple, says Washington’s definition is one of the broadest in the country.** The court in this case seemed to implicitly agree with that assertion when it rejected authority from other jurisdictions and repeatedly stated that it must apply Washington law to this case.

** Additional brief aside: As you can see, and will be explained more below, this definition includes “credits for free plays.” You might be thinking, as I was, “sure, I guess that has value, but why would we care so much about that to make a law against awarding free plays?” Usually, that type of question is a lawyer no-no called “arguing with the facts,” but I Marc actually explained why in this case and I thought it was interesting. Apparently, it’s a vestige of a time when people would rack up a bunch of “free plays” and then “cash out” for the value of the plays with the operator (after all, you can’t just sit there and play forever, and it’s not fair to just throw your plays away, is it?).

knowing

IV.  Analysis

Remember those contested facts that we’re not sure we believe but are required to follow at this stage in the litigation anyway? Well, when those facts are applied to this law, the court pretty easily found that the complaint alleged an illegal gambling game. The analysis can be summarized as follows:

  1. The game takes virtual chips to play.
  2. You can win virtual chips based on the outcomes of the minigames you play.
  3. A “thing of value” includes a “form of credit… involving extension of entertainment or a privilege playing [the game] without charge.”

Therefore, players were wagering and winning things that, to paraphrase the statute, “extended the privilege of playing.” This made the whole system fall pretty squarely into Washington state’s gambling law.

V.  What it Means

What it means for this specific case is that the case goes back down to the trial court to continue with the litigation. The parties will engage in discovery, probably settle, have the court rule whether the case is appropriate for a class action, revisit settlement, probably argue a motion for summary judgment (essentially, “given the undisputed facts of the case, there is no reason to go to trial”), revisit settlement again, and, if none of that gets rid of the case, go to trial.

What it means for the games industry as a whole is that developers need to be more careful of how they structure their payment and payout systems. Unless you plan to block Washington state from accessing your game (which would be odd and imperfect), or lobbying them to change their statute (which would take years and is opposite their recent trends), you need to keep in mind Washington’s broad interpretation of “thing of value.”

But we also shouldn’t over-sell what this opinion means. First, it is an interpretation of one of the broadest statutory schemes in the country, so this should not be touted so much as the “new standard,” but instead be considered one end of the possible spectrum.

Second, this statutory scheme was not interpreted to count “anything people will pay for” as “a thing of value,” but instead hinged on the fact that these chips were the only means of continuing the privilege of playing. That means that companies can avoid some issues by sticking to vanity-based monetization schemes (like “skins”) or other systems that reward things that do not continue the privilege of playing. Even if the system does reward things that continue the privilege of playing, this opinion might not be read to extend to cover those prize-schemes if there were other, free means of getting those same prizes (though, one should note that Big Fish Casino alleges this was the case for them, and it still did nothing to get the case dismissed without more expensive legal work).

Third, we should note that courts still give a lot of deference to Terms of Service. Even though this case alleged some facts that looked pretty bad in terms of encouraging value be assigned to in-game items based on the fact that they were being purchased on the “black market,” the court explicitly decided not to go that route. Practically speaking, the court might have just decided to go with the easiest argument, but one could very well look at this case and walk away with the conclusion that prizes are not “things of value,” even if people indisputably place value on them through outside sales, if such sales are prohibited by the Terms of Service. This could actually be a “win” for developers.

Finally, since this is a law-and-Hearthstone blawg, I should quickly note that I don’t think this decision affects Hearthstone. The aspect of Hearthstone that people most compare to gambling is the pack openings and packs, clearly, do nothing to extend gameplay time. The only aspect of Hearthstone that even conceivably comes into consideration under this decision is Arena (which costs gold and awards gold, kind of like Big Fish Casino’s “chips”), but Arena is definitely more a game of skill than of chance, and such a fact is supported by the relative consistency in the monthly Arena leaderboards. It’s also completely possible to play Hearthstone without spending gold (and to get more gold through that play), so the analogy between gold and chips is not a strong one. All of that is to say that I think Hearthstone is pretty safe as it is; it’s not time to completely overhaul its monetization strategy (yet).

 

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

Edit: about a week after this post went live, Blizzard spoiled the card Redband Wasp from The Witchwood. The card would have had “Enrage” were it not for this change. That kind of belies the “we don’t use Enrage” argument put forward by Blizzard at the time of this change, but it definitely bolsters the “we wanted to reduce the number of keywords in the set to make it less of a mental load” argument I make herein, so I’m okay with it.

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

HN97K00BU6M31520898544593

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

I. The Benefits of Keywording

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

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

II. The Dangers of Keywording

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

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

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

III. The Pros and Cons of Un-Keywording

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

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

HearthstoneGeneric-Feature-nosubtitle.png

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

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

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

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

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

A Simple Difference of Opinion

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

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

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

The Value of (Civil) Discourse

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

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

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

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

The Purpose of the Conversation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Disagree without Arguing

voltaire08
“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

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

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

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

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

How to Argue without Fighting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Challenger Cup Write-Up #1

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

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

MeFirebat
The dream.

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

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

I. The Preparation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

decklists

Hunter:
AAECAR8EkbwCr8IC5MIC3dICDagCtQOoBdQF8gXrB+0J/gzquwKOwwL70wLh4wKL5QIA

Priest:
AAECAa0GBIoB8gWNCJG8Ag0IqAXyDIK1Arq7AvC7AsrDApnIAsrLAqbOAvvTAsvmAtfrAgA=

Warlock:
AAECAf0GDvIF2wbhB8QIzAjgrAKbwgKgzgKmzgL40AKX0wLq5gLY5wKX6AIItgfexALnywLy0AKI0gL70wL85QLo5wIA

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

II. The Tournament

Round 1:

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

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

Chart

Matches: 0-1, Games: 1-2

Round 2:

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

Matches: 1-1, Games: 1-2

Round 3:

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

Matches: 2-1, Games: 3-3

Round 4:

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

Matches: 3-1, Games: 5-4

Round 5: 

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

Matches: 4-1, Games: 7-4

Round 6:

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

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

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

III. The Recap

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

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

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

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

Overall tournament stats:

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

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

Presentation1
Also courtesy of Battlefy. This is a cool part of the system.

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

 

Kobolds and Catacombs First Impressions

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

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

I. Dungeon Run Mode!

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

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

 

II. On Intra-set Design “Cycles”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toast Big Hunter

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

IV. Class Spotlight: Rogue Gets All the Love

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

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

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

V. Power Level Over 9000

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

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

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

Hearthstone Celebrity Name Dropping Post 2: Blizzcon Boogaloo

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

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

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

The Con Before the Storm

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

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

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

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

Day One

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

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

DNvNcOfVQAASF3V

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.

DN1QKJiUIAIwpUX

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.

download
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.

images

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.

DMByEMDVwAIkEad

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.

DMBzBreUIAATCY_DMBzBrdUIAEQVfODMBzBreVQAI99Ia

DMBzBrfVQAE4dap
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.

DMBziWNUQAAQqrI
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.