Category Archives: Hearthstone

…And Then Blizzard Lost It

These are interesting times we live in. And ones that seem to, on occasion, move very quickly.

The context, for posterity’s sake, is Blizzard confiscating the prize money from a recent Hearthstone event winner and banning him for a year due to a pro-Hong Kong Live interview statement. No, really. Here’s a link to the official Blizzard blog post, for however long that stays up:

Upon further review we have found the action has violated the 2019 Hearthstone Grandmasters Official Competition Rules section 6.1 (o) and is individual behavior which does not represent Blizzard or Hearthstone Esports. 6.1 (o) is found below.

2019 HEARTHSTONE® GRANDMASTERS OFFICIAL COMPETITION RULES v1.4   p.12, Section 6.1 (o)

Engaging in any act that, in Blizzard’s sole discretion, brings you into public disrepute, offends a portion or group of the public, or otherwise damages Blizzard image will result in removal from Grandmasters and reduction of the player’s prize total to $0 USD, in addition to other remedies which may be provided for under the Handbook and Blizzard’s Website Terms. 

The Hearthstone and WoW subreddits have since erupted into a roiling boil.

HS_Boil

At least two prominent bloggers on my roll have said they will be canceling their subscriptions. If posts on Reddit can be believed, there are thousands of others doing likewise. Not a particularly good bit of PR right as patch 8.3 previews are making the rounds and Blizzcon is less than a month away.

Of course, none of it is likely to matter. Blizzard made a completely rational business decision.

Tencent owning a 5% stake in Activision Blizzard is almost wholly irrelevant in the broader truth that China is an insanely large market for games. Like $31 billion and growing to $41.5 billion in five years kind of big. By 2023 there will be more PC gamers in China than the entire population of the US. The latest news is that the US pulled ahead this year in terms of market size, but that is attributed to the fact that China freezed approval of new game licenses for almost a year and put restrictions on screen time for children. Even with zero investment from Tencent, losing access to that “second place” market would be a significant setback for any gaming company.

Don’t get me wrong, I consider China to be one of the most repressive, authoritarian regimes on the planet. But… up to this point, that didn’t seem to matter to anyone. It could be that this was just a particularly egregious example that shocked people into wakefulness, similar to certain phone calls to Ukraine. And that’s fine! Whatever it takes to get people to pay attention to the fact that corporations are not your friend, and that if it were profitable, these men and women board members would have a fiduciary obligation to their shareholders to destabilize the United States and/or any other country.

Canceling your subscription and deleting Blizzard games is one way to protest. I hope you don’t close Battle.net and boot up League of Legends (100% Tencent owned), anything on the Epic Games launcher (48.4% owned), PUBG (11.5%), Path of Exile (80%), Clash of Clans/Royale (84.3%), or any of the other games on the list though. Perhaps that is unfair, as I don’t think the Path of Exiles devs have banned pro-Hong Kong players for interviews. On the other hand, I don’t think these other companies were forced to let go of the tiger’s tail just yet. Nevermind any non-Tencent companies that would be willing to walk the same road for access to hundreds of millions of Chinese customers.

Incidentally, the makers of Gods Unchained (another digital card game) came out with this statement:

.@Blizzard_Ent just banned @blitzchungHS and stripped his Hearthstone winnings because they care about money more than freedom. We will pay for ALL his lost winnings and a ticket to our $500k tournament: no player should be punished for their beliefs.

Cool, huh? I suppose it’s a bit easier to stand up to China when you build your card game around one-time printings of cards, including Mythic-rarity ones of which only four are printed per year, one of which just sold for $62,000:

GU_62k

A bargain at twice the price!

Ultimately, I do hope that Blizzard reverses course. I hope that all the negative PR and boycotting is effective enough at providing change. I hope that American companies will stop bending over backwards to appeal to oppressive regimes.

I had also hoped in the last election that people who would have literally died without Preexisting Conditions protections would not have voted for politicians expressly running to remove said protections, but here we are. This is the world in which we inhabit… until it bursts into flames.

The Dalaran Heist

One of the most enjoyable things out of Hearthstone have been the roguelike deck-building modes (Dungeon Run) launched with each expansion since Kobolds and Catacombs. The exact formula has changed a bit each time, but the idea is that you start with a deck with only a few cards, and as you face off against increasingly tough bosses, you get to pick a “bucket” of three cards when you win, punctuated with the occasional passive effect or uber-powerful cards. This mode is something that could almost stand on its own, given how engaging it has been for me these past few weeks.

With the latest version though, Blizzard might have gone too far with the options.

The original Dungeon Run featured all nine classes to choose from, each with a simple starting deck. While it could be frustrating to lose over and over with the same class, knowing you would still have to deal with some subpar cards, the Treasures (passive abilities) and bosses you fought and the buckets of cards offered would quickly change how each run would go. Then came Monster Hunt, which featured four made-up classes with new Hero powers to play with. Then was a puzzle-mode interlude with the Boomsday Project. Then came Rastakhan’s Rumble, which featured “shrines” that did special things, but you otherwise used troll versions of the basic classes.

With Dalaran Heist, we are back to choosing one of the nine classes. However, you can also unlock two additional new Hero powers (per class!) by doing things like casting 25 elementals and other achievement-esque things. You can also unlock two additional starter decks (per class!) to shake up the early game. Finally, in addition to passive abilities and uber-cards, there are two sets of Tavern encounters which allow you to do a random assortment of things, like add new cards to your deck, increase your starting health, or even remove some cards.

In short, the whole thing is kinda nuts with the options.

One would think this would be a good thing. “Lots of replayability there!” But too much of a good thing is a problem. I finally cleared the Heist on Heroic mode and I am beyond done. Not because I only needed to beat it once, but because there is too much to contemplate. I beat Act 5 (Heroic) with Paladin, Boon of Light Hero power, and Old Hero starting deck. I could try and do the same with all the same settings but changing the starting deck to Adventure. Or Holy Flames. Or use the default Hero power and Old Hero starting deck. Or any of the five other permutations. Nine total combinations across nine classes on two separate difficulty levels.

[Fake Edit] I knew there was a Random Deck option too, but I thought that meant it would randomly pick between the three starter decks. I have just now read that it actually gives you a purely random set of cards as your starter deck. Not only does that add another three permutations, it arguably adds a quasi-infinite variety of starting positions.

Oh, and have I mentioned there are Anomalies you can activate too? Stuff like “After a player casts 3 spells in a turn, that player summons a 5/5 dragon.” I don’t know how many of those effects there are (Edit: Fifteen! 1-5!), but that would again layer on additional RNG and permutations.

Like, Jesus Christ, Blizzard. You guys crammed pretty much every possible idea on the whiteboard and put it into one game mode. I’m actively wondering if this might be the last Dungeon Run-esque version we get for a while. Where could they go from here?

HearthPwned

HearthPwn is closing down at the end of June.

While this came as somewhat of a shock, it was not due to any sort of issue with Hearthstone itself. Indeed, as Wilhelm points out, Hearthstone is the only Blizzard game still on the Top 10 PC revenue list (per SuperData). The issue appears to be a “strategic” change by the owners, e.g Curse / Fandom:

Fandom/Curse employee throwaway account here.

It’s a decision from higher ups/Perkins Miller (new CEO from Stubhub) to focus the company on the Wikis and D&D Beyond because money. They want the community to move to the gamepedia wiki, they’re the same sites in their head (source)

The spiritual successor site is… OutOf.Cards. As in, Out of dot Cards. Not wanting to be pigeonholed into just Hearthstone is fine, but… “dot Cards?” I guess…

There are probably much better Hearthstone content sites out in the world even before HearthPwn’s closure, but this sort of thing still brings me pause. We are constantly told that “the internet is forever,” but that’s not quite as true as it seems. Sites close all the time, for sometimes entirely random reasons, and while they might still technically exist like my first-ever Angelfire website created over 15 years ago, information often has an expiration date.

Watching it expire right in front of you though, is… uncomfortable.

caRNaGe

There is a lot to be said about the RNG inherent to Hearthstone. A lot of the games can be decided by coinflips, outrageous Discovery choices, and all sorts of random nonsense.

You know what’s infinitely worse IMO? Not drawing your cards.

Jesus Christ, I have had some insanely bad luck in the last four games I played. We’re talking getting to the last 7 cards in my deck, which consisted of four mana-ramping cards, the Malfurion DK Hero, Ultimate Infestation, and Jade Idol. As in, I somehow held on and dug through my deck that far, but not far enough for it to matter. If any of those had been closer to the top of the deck, I might have had a fighting chance. Switched decks to Spiteful Priest, then faced the mirror match wherein my opponent hit both his Spiteful Summoners on Turn 6 & 7, but mine were nowhere to be found.

Do I care that his summoned a 7/14 creature that I had no clean way to counter? Nope. RNG is RNG.

What I care about vastly more is how badly my deck(s) have bricked the last half dozen of games. Your opponent top-decking the exact answer they need, or having a God-Hand that kills you on turn 4 is not something you can really do anything about. Your own deck not giving you anything – literally against all odds – is something else entirely. Give me those 50/50 losses over an improbable streak of 10% failures that leave you with no options.

Except, it’s worse than 10%. Seriously though, look at this:

Hearthstone_RNG1

Sadly, the deck tracker is an overlay that wasn’t captured.

I ended up 14 cards deep into my deck before drawing my first dragon, when there is eight of them in there. According to this Hearthstone calculator, the odds that I should have had at least one in my hand by then is 99.5%. That doesn’t even account for the fact that I mulliganed two cards.

Statistically, 0.5% days happen. But when multiple of them happen in a row, when you only play ~20 games a week… yeah. Let me play against my opponents and lose due to a bad matchup or poor trades. Don’t let me lose to the equivalent of Mana Screw in Magic: the Gathering. That is way worse than losing coin flips, IMO.

Dungeon Run Strategy

I had a much longer article started on the various strategy considerations one needs to ponder in order to clear Hearthstone’s Dungeon Run game mode with all nine classes. Then I realized that perhaps a TL;DR version might be better. So here it is:

Passive Buff:

  • Captured Flag (+1/+1 to your minions)
  • Cloak of Invisibility (permanent Stealth)

Treasure:

  • Wax Rager (5/1 Deathrattle: resummon)
  • The Candle (4 damage to enemy minions, reshuffle into deck)

You can win without this combination of passives and treasures, and you can absolutely lose even if you get all of them. Dungeon Runs are the typical Hearthstone clown fiesta of RNG cranked to 11. But the short version is that giving all your minions +1/+1 allows you to counter a ton of boss gimmicks, permanent Stealth bypasses targeted removal and bad trades, and Wax Rager can usually win the game on the spot with infinite value.

As far as deck composition, you will want two things: creature-based tempo plays and an emergency value generator. Spells are incredibly discouraged in Dungeon Runs, as Boss health generally makes it impossible to kill them before getting overwhelmed yourself, and several Bosses actively punish spell use. At the same time, it’s possible to run out of gas if you’ve been trading all game, and bosses have more cards than you do. In those cases, having an Antonidas or Lyra can pull you from the brink. Those value cards just can’t be your win condition themselves, as they are much too slow versus the bosses that win on Turn 5.

And… that’s basically it.

If you’re looking for tips regarding specific classes, it can basically be summed up as:

  • Shaman/Druid/Rogue: Picks Jades.
  • Everyone Else: RNGesus will guide you home

Priest was by far the worst class for me, although Shaman cut it close. In both cases, the starting deck is just bad, so you have to lean hard on getting good Passives/Treasures and strong card picks after each boss. I had perfect picks in half a dozen of my Priest runs, and it still took a total of 15 attempts before I squeaked by. Even then, the winning run was due Lyra giving me a Power Word: Glory, which I was able to leverage into an incredibly unlikely win versus Waxmancer Sturmi as he repeatedly copied the enchanted Sylvanas.

 

Dungeon Runner

I have spoken about Hearthstone’s Dungeon Run mode before, but these last few weeks I have finally figured it out: Dungeon Run is the mobile version of Hearthstone.

That is, of course, a pretty silly thing to say considering a feature-complete version of Hearthstone is already an app. In fact, you can only access Dungeon Run from within the regular Hearthstone app. But having played it at work pretty regularly now, consider the following:

  • It requires no prior card collection
  • Randomized bosses/abilities for variety of experiences
  • No Rope, e.g. time limit on turns
  • Relatively fast games
  • No real penalty for losing (or winning)
  • Can stop and start at your leisure

The last point is a bit dubious, as I have had my Run prematurely canceled when I closed the app in the middle of a match and came back hours later. But aside from that, as long as you complete the current match, I have been able to come back and choose my set of cards for the next round.

In short, I have been having a lot of fun with Dungeon Runs on mobile that I was not having playing at home. And that is largely because I wouldn’t play regular Hearthstone at work, because I might have interruptions that would cost me a game (and ranking). Clash Royale has the same issue, honestly, but losing 2v2 is not a big deal, and each round takes a maximum of 4 minutes in any case. And on the flip side, playing Dungeon Run at home feels pointless because there aren’t any rewards or real “reason” to, comparatively.

Not that it would happen, but I honestly think Blizzard should just release Dungeon Run as a standalone app in the future. Hearthstone on mobile is incredible bloated – the latest balance patch was over 700 MB worth of downloads, and the overall install sits at 3.41 GB, which is absurd for an app. Then there are all the 3Dish animations for cards and minions that are not strictly necessary and could be simplified. So, size, CPU usage, patching… all of those things could be scaled back and optimized as a standalone package.

Or, I suppose, I could try finding a good CCG-ish app that already does those things.

Uh… any recommendations? Aside from Shadowverse, of course – I’m looking for more Ascension-esque than a competitive CCG. I’ve heard good things about Slay the Spire, but that’s Steam only.

[Hearthstone] Seriously, Blizzard?

The latest round of Hearthstone nerfs have been announced ahead of the set rotation, and they’re great… if it was 2016.

HS_Patches

The biggest news in there is the nerf to Patches, a card that was released in December 2016 and has been a meta-defining, chase Legendary ever since. Blizzard has acknowledged his power several times, but their explanation for the timing is… well…

As we move closer to the new Hearthstone Year, we had some concerns about allowing Patches to remain in his current state after moving out of Standard. Patches’ strength has caused almost every class to add some Pirates just to benefit from him, and his early game power forces control decks to include a good answer to him. This change should give Wild players more flexibility when building their decks.

What the literal shit, man? Can that be read any other way than “we are fine with Patches’ current state in Standard”? I mean, obviously they were fine with the card’s broken state up to this point as evidenced by a lack of any nerf for over a year. But to me, this just says that Blizzard genuinely believes that card set rotations should be the arbiter of balance in this game. And that’s fucking nuts.

Granted, Corridor Creeper is also getting deleted from the game nerfed in this upcoming patch. That does not particularly make me feel any better though, because A) how they nerfed it, and B) what they didn’t nerf. All Corridor Creeper needed was to only count your minions, rather than every minion. Hell, most of the pros that previewed the card felt like it was Epic trash because they read it that way to begin with. Instead, they turned it into literal garbage that you will be very disappointed to open in a pack after February. Meanwhile, no changes to Cubelock or Ultimate Infestation, etc etc.

Why does any of this matter given the clown fiesta that is Hearthstone’s RNG? Well, I still like playing the game occasionally. And really, the RNG does not particularly bother me – sometimes it’s in your favor, sometimes it’s not. The more fundamental problem is Blizzard’s current balance philosophy undermines any faith I have in the game’s long-term direction. Set rotations are not how you balance a goddamn game… unless the entire goal is pump & dump. Sell those packs to people chasing overpowered Legendaries/Epics and then nerf them later so the next set appears just as OP as the last. Otherwise known as the Supercell Gambit (Clash Royale says Hello).

It’s all cynical, unnecessary bullshit. These are supposed to be games, not vehicles for quarterly profits. I mean, they are that too, but I shouldn’t have to open the latest expense report to understand what the designers are smoking and where they are taking the game’s direction.

The Dungeon Runs

Hearthstone’s latest expansion, Kobolds & Catacombs, introduced a new single-player feature: Dungeon Runs. Designed to emulate roguelikes, it has you face off against a random assortment of bosses – eight in total per run – with each success resulting in selecting between three sets of three cards, which then get added to your current deck. Sometimes you get bonus cards, which can either just be overpowered cards, or passive effects like doubling your starting HP, or having your Battlecry effects trigger twice.

Dungeons Runs are the most entertaining addition to Hearthstone in years. And the least rewarding.

Just to be clear, there are NO rewards to Dungeon Runs. Well, unless you count a card back for clearing all the final boss with all nine classes. No daily wins, no quest credit, nothing. “Fun is its own reward!” For now, that is indeed holding my attention steady. However, considering I could be playing on ladder, or casual, or even in a Tavern Brawl (most days) and be getting rewarded while also having (less) fun, I am actively harming my collection progression. And let me tell you, Blizzard has the thumbscrews firmly in place this expansion, as usual – all the staple cards are Epic or Legendary. So, in effect, I am having fun at the expense of my future self.

Beyond that, Dungeons Runs can be extremely frustrating too. Yeah, Hearthstone is always random, sure. But this game mode is about sixteen different layers of RNG, starting from what cards you are offered, which bosses you encounter, what your random effects do, which cards you draw, what cards your boss draws, etc etc etc. Fights that should have been easy are instead lost from a single coin-flip. This isn’t like Binding of Isaac where your reflexes could theoretically save a bad run.

Also, can I just say that Azari is a complete bullshit last boss? I’ve gotten him like 80% of the time, and it essentially means I have to chew through 70 HP with just half my deck – he automatically destroys your top 2 cards each turn. And he starts with 2 mana crystals? And that hero power costs zero? Some of the bosses are unfair, but goddamn.

Perhaps I would be more upset if there was a defined prize at the end. So in that sense, Blizzard might be doing me a favor.

Regardless, I remain fairly surprised at how compelling the game mode can be, and how ingenious in a way. If you are a brand new player with a small collection, Dungeon Runs give you a peek at how powerful older cards could be, or new cards for that matter. In that sense, it can be a pretty good advertisement for buying a few packs and hoping to pull one for everyday play.

I do wonder what Blizzard intends to do in the next expansion. Will Dungeon Runs be supported? Will there be newer cards, newer bosses, or anything else? Most people are saying “No,” but a flood of posts on Reddit got Blizzard to change their mind with DK Rexxar, insofar as his hero power will incorporate newer beasts going forward. Which pretty much ensures that Blizzard won’t be doing that sort of ability ever again, but good on them changing their minds.

Love/Hate the Meta

Metas are interesting things.

In Hearthstone, the latest expansion (Knights of the Frozen Throne) just recently came out. New expansions and nerfs and such destabilize the meta in CCGs pretty well, and this expansion more than most. Whereas the previous Hearthstone meta was all about Pirate Warrior and aggro, the new one is more Control-oriented. Well, that and Jades. And Murlocs. So, basically, Druids and Paladins are 60% of the entire field until people get done experimenting and deck lists get more refined.

I so, so hate this transition period in Hearthstone. Because honestly? Hearthstone isn’t a CCG I especially like to experiment with. I like when the meta is stable, and I have a pretty good idea of which cards my opponent could be playing on any given turn. About to be Turn 7 against a Mage? Better watch out, because he’ll deal 4 damage to my creatures by playing Flamestrike (as a somewhat dated example). In other words, having some knowledge about common net decks allows you the ability to constructively play around cards. When people are throwing everything against the wall to see what sticks, you either have to play around cards they don’t have (and get wrecked), or not play around cards they do have (and get wrecked).

And, to be fair, some of my acrimony is based on the fact that I have so few of the new cards. Crafting Legendaries without a stable meta is extremely risky, as the value of any particular one is dependent on what rises to the top of the heap over time. Craft the “wrong” Legendary and it will take ages to get enough Dust to craft the actually useful one.

Thus, I like a well-seasoned Hearthstone meta over this period of chaos.

Meanwhile, the Clash Royale meta has been stale for almost half a year now, and it’s driving me nuts. Supercell had a balance patch in the last few weeks, and it has definitely caused some cards to go from Hot to Not pretty damn quick (e.g. Night Witch). Some of these changes have had noticeable ripple effects – nerfing Night Witch means that Executioner is less necessary as a hard counter, which then lets cards that were countered by Executioner to flourish, and so on.

…but ultimately the meta is still stale as shit. Win conditions are still Hog Rider, Royal Giant, Golem/Giant beatdown, LavaLoon, Splashyard, and Siege. About the most interesting development in the past few months has been the Bridge Spam strategy, 3 Musketeers + Heal, and maybe Miner + Poison. Now, perhaps nine different win conditions sounds like a lot, but the problem is that these strategies are so oppressive if one doesn’t actively “hate” against them, that you end up needing to use cookie-cutter counters for half (or more) of your deck.

For example, you’re going to need something to deal with Beatdown, which consists of stacking a bunch of glass cannons behind a slow-moving tank. Most people go with Inferno Tower, which can melt tanks after a charge-up period. Beatdown decks have counters to this, of course, which often reset the charging, if not blowing the tower up entirely (e.g. Lightning spell). So, you’ll probably need two strategies to counter… but that second strategy can’t be something like the Mini P.E.K.K.A, because Lightning blows him up too. Often, the strategy then becomes to ignore the tank and rush the opposite lane, hoping that the other player drops his glass cannons there instead of behind the tank.

So, in practice, there are really only three kind of decks, not 9+: Beatdown, Cycle, and Chip Damage. Personally, I have always enjoyed Chip Damage decks, as my favorite card in the game is Furnace, which spawns suiciding Fire Spirits every couple of seconds. It’s definitely out of meta, but that hasn’t bothered me too much, up until Beatdown/Cycle decks became refined enough to counter Chip Damage decks by accident.

“Just adapt.” Of course… except in the 4000+ bracket, if your cards aren’t at par (or over-leveled) with everyone else’s, you are at an incredible disadvantage. A level 9 Fireball (4-mana) will one-shot a level 8 Wizard (5-mana), and likely deal some tower damage at the same time; a level 9 Wizard will survive with a sliver of health. These sort of unit interactions are critically important in guiding your strategy, and will make or break games. Thus, I couldn’t change strategies if I tried – unless I wanted to drop down the ladder for months until I scrounged up enough gold to level other cards.

Hmm.

Originally, I thought there was a contradiction between how I felt about the Hearthstone and Clash Royale metas. In Hearthstone, I hated the fluidity of the early expansion meta, whereas in Clash Royale I hated the opposite. But thinking about it, the common denominator is how onerous it is to adapt to either meta. I can’t experiment in either game because I’m not willing to spend more cash. Without cash, my mobility is extremely limited. With low mobility, I cannot adapt to changing metas, which means I effectively get shunted off the playing board when my cards get hard-countered.

It sucks, man. The more you like these “F2P” games, the more punished you get.