On Randomness, Again

A little over a year ago, I talked about randomness in Hearthstone. Since that time, the amount of RNG cards has only increased. In fact, the Goblin vs Gnomes expansion added a full 24 cards with the word “random” on it, some of which have gone on to be staple cards in many decks:

The one of the left is an auto-include in every deck.

The one of the left is an auto-include in every deck.

At the time of the article, I mentioned that Blizzard’s stance on RNG was possibly at a turning point given how Hearthstone’s nascent e-Sports scene was starting to take off, much to the surprise of Blizzard itself. As we well know today however, Blizzard has stuck with their RNGuns and doubled-down on wild board swings.

And… I think I can appreciate what they’re doing.

The downsides to randomness are rather apparent to most people, insofar as you can go from winning to losing by virtue of a coin-flip. Watching Pro Players losing tournaments on the back of a 1% chance (or even less) of bad luck makes the game look like amateur hour sometimes.

On the flip side (har har), an element of randomness allows one to stage surprising comebacks. Top-decking just the right card to win a game has always been a staple of even the highest levels of the Magic: the Gathering professional scene. Since Hearthstone has less than half as many cards as Magic (and no land cards to gum up the works), Hearthstone arguably needs the extra randomness just to be less deterministic. Nobody likes playing unwinnable matches.

The real upside to Hearthstone’s randomness though? The stories.

If you were the other guy playing this match, you would probably be justifiably upset about how utterly screwed you got from that Piloted Shredder outcome. Or would you be justified? As I mentioned before, randomness is just another consideration that skilled players need to account for in their strategies. Getting Lorewalker Cho out of a Piloted Shredder as Oil Rogue is bad, but there was always a 1.5% chance of it happening in every game; if you don’t want to sometimes lose to the randomness of your own card, take it out of your deck. About 70% of the time, Piloted Shredder summons a better-than-expected minion, which is why so many people run it.

But as I was saying, that match went from “just another video demonstrating a deck” to “high-class entertainment” in my eyes. You can see the gears whirling in the streamer’s head as soon as Cho hit the board; it was unexpected, and the unexpected is much more fun for the viewers at home. Even if I were playing that game though, I think I’d be alright with it. Nobody really cares that you won yet another game as Oil Rogue or whatever is Flavor of the Week. Winning in spite of Cho? That would be epic. And even though the other rogue loss due to Cho, he/she now has the option to mentally blame bad luck instead of being outplayed. That attitude can prevent new players from improving of course, but it can also prevent new players from simply giving up in the face of veterans.

The next Hearthstone Adventure set, Blackrock Mountain, is due to be released sometimes in April. We haven’t seen nearly all the cards yet, but we already know about a reverse-Shredder card called Hungry Dragon, which summons a random 1-mana minion for your opponent. So at this point, I believe it safe to say that randomness is here to stay. Time will tell if Hearthstone in general does the same.

(I give it a 92% chance.)

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Posted on March 25, 2015, in Hearthstone and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. I own Sneed, and yea, dice decide basically every game he is in. At least with the Shredder its generally just a power swing one or the other and not win/lose.

    Also you can’t avoid randomness by not playing those cards. Ignore the fact that you will play against them, any mage deck without Portal is gimped, even if Portal is 100% dice, because 95% of the time the dice are in your favor, it just comes down to how heavily. Same goes for Shredder and lots of other cards.

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    • You are correct that people are still affected by randomness, but in this instance I said:

      […] if you don’t want to sometimes lose to the randomness of your own card, take it out of your deck.

      The Oil Rogue lost the game in which he was ahead by virtue of his own Shredder outcome, which generally feels worse than an opponent randomly winning with their own cards. If the streamer in the video clip got the Cho, we could possibly start a discussion on when it’s correct to play dudes and set your opponent up to pop their own Shredder. It’s a small distinction in the scheme of things – random is random sometimes – but I think it’s an important one. Like if Oil Rogue knows their own Shredders screw them 1.5% of the time, maybe they play a different 4-drop just to lessen the odds. Or they accept it and roll the dice.

      As for Unstable Portal, there are Mage decks without Portal, and they generally don’t feel gimped. Many top decks still run it, of course.

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  2. The most popular current mage deck doesn’t use portal. Though after reading this I stuck them into my mech mage for the fun of it. In 5 games I used it twice, once for a Dalaran Mage and once for a Mountain Giant. Ah, rng. The dalaran mage actually ate a hunter’s mark, to my delighted surprise.

    Though I could accept unstable portal as an example of “bad rng”. Good rng is like shredder, because it is bounded. It will never be worse than a captain’s parrot, and never better than a milhouse. Compare with Sneed’s, which can grab the useless lorewalker cho or deathwing himself. Of course it’s generally accepted that if an opponent’s Sneed deathrattle actually goes off, you probably just lost.

    Unbounded value is kind of a problem in general, even with non-random cards. Take Harrison Jones. He can either destroy a weapon and draw a card, or destroy a doomhammer/jaraxxus weapon and win the game. Black Knight is another example. Black knighting a taz’dingo is a setback, but black knight someone’s Ironbark Protector and they may as well just concede. And then you had gadgetzan and buzzard (rip).

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  3. Here’s a possible view to consider from someone who does not play Hearthstone: the Shredder may in fact be a reduction of randomness, not an increase.

    Its effect functions as a card drawn and played from your deck, correct? How does this differ from drawing a card from the top of your deck and playing it? The difference is that the effect has a limited number of possible outcomes: 2 cost minions. Whereas a card drawn has as many possible outcomes as your deck contains.

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    • Unfortunately, Shredder does actually pull a completely random 2-drop when it dies, up to and including class-specific cards. As more 2-drops get released into the game, the variability of the Shredder will only increase.

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  4. I’ve played Hearthstone for a few hrs. Does Blizzard adding cards dilute the deck and reduce the odds of randomness to decide a match? There are definately a few games that have been decided by me drawing nothing but 2/1 trash mobs. The randomness that I do like is that card that does 3 damage to 2 random enemy cards. Sometimes it just chooses not to hit the 1 health card on your board, so the outcome is random for both players. So the card itself not OP, but the outcome can change the board drastically and neither player really feels cheated. Its like in an RPG where damage can be from 10-20 depending on a dice roll. Random damage but the potential is known to everyone.

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