Category Archives: Hearthstone

Hearthstone RNG and the Future

While he was not exactly a pillar of the Hearthstone streaming community, Lifecoach has effectively “quit” Hearthstone and moved to Gwent. The reason? RNG, of course. Here is a partial transcript:

Because you usually don’t lose that many games that you played perfectly, which is by the pretty much impossible. So, what I’m saying is the games you lose are the games where you blunder, where you did mistakes, which can definitely not be said about any game of Hearthstone. In Hearthstone, just today I have a direct comparison, you play really well, extremely well, and you can lose a lot of games, or you play very crappy and you win a lot of games.

In Gwent, you have nearly 90% that’s nearly unloseable, if you do the same in Hearthstone – 60%. But, the funny thing is, if you play extremely well, you might have 65%, and you if really, really play bad Hearthstone that day, it doesn’t matter, you still have 50-55%. I’m not even kidding here, yeah?

You can play like crap and you can still have 50%, it doesn’t even matter, it’s not even that important how you, it’s like coin flipping with a little bit of strategy. So, maybe how you rotate the coin so that it flies through the air at a specific angle so that you can have a 10% higher chance of having this head outcome or tail outcome.

While I cannot speak for Gwent, what he is saying about Hearthstone is 100% true. And I believe it’s pretty clear at this point that this is not a bug, but a feature.

As I pointed out in 2014 and 2015, the complaint Lifecoach is leveling here is the precise reason RNG exists. Without RNG, games become deterministic – the better player wins. On the face of it, that sounds exactly how things should go. And yet here we all are, not playing Chess 24/7.

Randomness is frustrating, but it can also be exciting, both for the players and also for the audience. Randomness can also lessen the sting from defeat, even if said defeat was inevitable. Especially when the defeat was inevitable, e.g. when facing a better opponent. Because that is really the second edge of the sword when it comes to games like Gwent (presumably) or other 90% skill games: nobody likes inevitable defeats.

Which is a problem if you are trying to cast a wide net and capture a big F2P audience.

For the record, I am not trying to disparage skill-based competitive games. I enjoy some of them, some of the time. Typically, they simply produce more anxiety than I feel like experiencing in my downtime; an anxiety that I do not feel when playing skill-based single-player games. I can lose in embarrassing ways in a roguelike all day, no problem. Losing against a human opponent though, triggers all sorts of monkey brain routines.

Incidentally, this is why I prefer games like the Battlefield series to, say, Counter-Strike. Skill matters a bit in the various Battlefield games, but you aren’t going to be single-handedly responsible for your team losing a match. Tank rolls by and blasts you. Oh well. Terrorist pops out and AWPs you. Rage.

Now, in regards to Hearthstone, I will admit that it is in its worst shape since the Goblins vs Gnomes expansion. As Lifecoach points out later on, Team 5 has gone on record as stating that they don’t like combo decks and are trying to tone down direct damage as well. The goal is to force more interaction with minions on the board, rather than One-Turn-Killing someone from your hand. But this is the same design team that thought Small-Time Buccaneer was balanced, and otherwise created an environment where dying on turn 5 is pretty much assured.

The real problem, IMO, is more fundamental: Team 5 is way too laissez-faire when it comes to balancing a digital card game. If there are cards and decks out there that are straight-up broken, Team 5 will wait to see if things balance themselves out. And if that doesn’t work out, they will wait until the next Adventure/Expansion to see if some new cards shift the metagame enough that the original problem goes away on its own. Only when the problem has been festering for months and turned into full-blown sepsis will they deign to nerf an absurdly powerful card. It’s maddening.

I get it. Sorta. Supercell has monthly balance patches for Clash Royale, in which they pick winners and losers based on usage and win rates. This works, but sometimes feels heavy-handed, as usually a buff means that particular unit becomes Flavor of the Month. Not that Team 5 would ever buff a card, because it’s way better to just create (and sell!) a new card instead. But we can imagine a scenario in which Pirates are too strong (they are), Team 5 nerfs a few pirates a month later, then has to nerf the ascendant Jade Druid a month after that, and so on.

At the same time, three months is too long. Especially since Blizzard doesn’t have to worry about errata, or reprinting physical cards, or anything of the sort. There are already proven mechanisms of reimbursement – full Arcane Dust for disenchanting – that can be further juiced if necessary. There is no good reason to wait so long, and every reason to act.

Because it doesn’t take all that long to ruin a good thing. Especially if it’s already borderline.

P2Setup

Although I did not mention it beforehand, I spent all of last week vacationing in Florida.

While I was gone, Hearthstone released its third expansion, Whispers of the Old Gods. As with the expansions prior, Blizzard ran a “sale” in which $50 bought you 50 packs instead of the usual $1.25/pack price. I had decided to not take advantage of this deal before the vacation, as at that time there still wasn’t a full spoiler. So I passed on the deal, which ended before I returned.

As it turns out, I really didn’t need it:

Hearthstone_Whispers.jpg

That’s a lot of eyeballs.

I ended up purchasing around 55 packs with gold alone (100g apiece), and received another 13 packs via the quests everyone gets for playing during the expansion release. And this reminded me that I had also purchased the League of Explorers expansion last November solely with gold too, for around 2800g, I believe. In fact, given my (casual) playing habits, there’s a good chance I never have to spend real dollars on Hearthstone ever again.

What playing habits? Hearthstone gives you one daily quest each day, and you can bank up to three. Most reward 40g, but the average payout is actually closer to 50g. I typically play twice a week or so, usually in Tavern Brawl mode (which also gives you a free pack once a week), for 1-2 hours each time to complete quests. If you do that consistently, as I have, that means you are banking 1200g-1400g a month just for dicking around.

You can grind more gold via wins (+100g each day) or Arena (+infinite/skill), but I like my method.

Thus, even if Blizzard releases two expansions and an Adventure each year as they plan to, I can afford to purchase the Adventure and 58 packs of each expansion via in-game gold playing just twice a week and completing 6 quests. Will that give me all the uber-cards necessary to be competitive in the Standard format? Well… depends on the deck. If you aren’t above playing Aggro, it’s entirely possible to hit Legend on a budget, just as it’s always been. Wallet Warrior? Not so much.

Having said all that, I’ve both been playing Hearthstone for a while and dropped some cash for packs early on. I have all the staple Legendary cards from the base set, at least for the classes that I routinely play. There are some clever catch-up mechanisms in place (Tavern Brawl pack, end of month rewards), but I don’t want to give the impression that Hearthstone is a pleasant experience for the die-hard F2P player. In fact, I imagine it sucks, perhaps more than ever.

However. Now that I’m all set up? I’m good to go. And even if there were some chase Legendary that I really felt I needed – there doesn’t seem to be an obvious Doctor Boom this time around – I accumulate a minimum (e.g. worst-case) of ~300 dust a month from free packs/rewards, or 540 dust each month on average, meaning I can craft whatever Legendary I wanted every 3 months. That’s a long time, granted. But sometimes you pull the cards you need, and it doesn’t count dusting unused cards from your collection.

So, really, I consider Hearthstone to be a P2Setup game these days rather than straight-up P2W. If you’re considering playing for the first time today though… well, good luck. If you enjoy the overall gameplay, it does get better over time. It will just be you or your wallet that endures the hazing.

Splitting the Hearthstone Baby

Breaking news: Blizzard finally did it. They really did it.

Hearthstone_Format

God damn you all to… nah, it’s cool.

In traditional Hearthstone fashion, the news of Blizzard splitting the Play format baby into Standard and “Wild” seemed to randomly come out of nowhere. In the scheme of things though, such a move is all but inevitable in CCGs, as it is the only legitimate tool to combat power creep. Magic: the Gathering has had different play formats for decades now, and has survived and thrived since then.

But I must admit it still feels a bit different here.

That could very well be because Blizzard is doing it differently. You can read the rundown on Hearthpwn, but the big takeaway for me was how they are up and removing Adventures and expansions from the store when they cycle out of Standard. As pointed out in one of the million Reddit threads streaming through /r/Hearthstone at the moment, this could very well doom the Wild format before it even begins. If you’re a veteran who already has Boom & co crafted? Go compete in Wild. If you’re a new player? You have zero recourse in breaking into this legacy format other than squeezing thousands of Dust from Standard packs.

…hmm. That’s actually not all that different than how Legacy goes in MtG currently. And considering Hearthstone’s Dust system allows you to craft any card you want, you aren’t actually limited to spending $500+ for a single card; technically the Dust can be accumulated over time from wherever.

Hearthstone_PaladinNerf

How will I predict the Paladin curve now?!

Regardless, the actual earth-shattering effect of the format split are all the cards cycling out of Standard. Dr Boom has been such an iconic representation of all the idiocy in how the devs balance Hearthstone, but this almost feels… too abrupt. Paladin loses Shielded Minibot and Muster for Battle and Piloted Shredder. Belcher? Gone. Zombie Chow? Gone. Everything? Gone. This is more than metagame shifting, this is game-game shifting.

And let me just say how brilliant this move is from a business perspective too. Blizzard just wiped out half of everyone’s collection, and most of the people still playing won’t actually mind all that much. “You can just play Wild.” Yeah, until you realize that a year or two from now it will be a cesspit of broken synergies which will make you pine for the halcyon days of Secret Paladin. To compete in Standard, you’ll have to have the latest sets, which means purchasing more packs and Adventures on the regular, when your old staples like Belcher and crew sufficed as stopgap measures up till now.

To be clear, I’m excited about these changes. For one thing, it’s an re-dedication to actually balancing their game. Before, Blizzard’s “policy” was hoping that broken cards were replaced by newer, more broken cards in the next set. Or that a particular deck would just naturally fall out of favor. But now? As noted in their announcement:

The arrival of Standard format will also be an excellent time for us to take stock of Hearthstone. While normally we’re quite conservative about making balance changes to Hearthstone cards (and we’ll continue to be in the future), we’re planning to take the new Hearthstone year as a golden opportunity to re-evaluate a number of cards in the Basic and Classic card sets, including class cards, and make some long-considered adjustments.

Everyone is pretty much taking this to mean a nerf to Druid combo. Indeed, PCGamer said as much:

On the subject of balancing, Blizzard will be addressing some of the more problematic basic and classic cards to ensure they don’t have a negative impact on the Standard metagame. Again, there are no details on which cards are being looked at, but I was told that less than 20 will be nerfed and none will be buffed. Perhaps we’re about to see the end of the Druid combo after all.

Point being: Standard is going to have to be balanced. It probably won’t be, but there’s going to be no excuse for it not to be under this paradigm. Calling it now, though: there will be a series of months in which Wild will be more balanced in the aggregate than Standard. And that will be both hilarious and sad.

In any case, I’m looking forward to seeing how all this plays out.

Nerf Forward

Blizzard did it. They really did it. Warsong Commander nerfed hardcore.

#NeverForget

#NeverForgetToChargeForward

Specifically, the card was nerfed to simply say “Your charge minions have +1 Attack.”

There are a couple of things you have to say right off the bat. The first is “Thank Christ, Patron is dead.” I talked about the ridiculousness of Patron Warrior back in August, and it never really stopped being ridiculous. How long has it been a Tier 1, metagaming warping deck? Four months? Six?

Which is actually the second thing: err… why now? Oh wait, we’re heading into Blizzcon and the World Championship. This isn’t even the first time a high-profile card was nerfed specifically in weeks heading into said tournament. If I weren’t more cynical… ah, fuck it, I am exactly that cynical. As much as various commenters get their knickers in a wad over legitimately exciting randomness, nobody really wants to see 50+ damage delivered from an empty board.

Unless it’s double-combo Druid. Then it’s okay.

Then there’s the third thing, which is: “huh… this was the nerf they went with?” In the scheme of things, it is probably the best long-term one. As this Extra Credits mentions, you can’t just focus on making exciting cards today, you also have to give thought to what said exciting cards do to future design. The example in the video is Tuskarr Totemic, which is a Shaman 2-mana creature that summons ANY random totem. It’s a nice creature (assuming Shaman ever becomes playable again), but it’s mere existence means Blizzard can’t really create 8-mana totems or otherwise ones that would completely break the game by being summoned by a 2-mana card.

In a very similar way, an unnerfed Warsong Commander forces Blizzard to put every future 3-attack (or less) Warrior/Neutral creature under a microscope lest they repeat Grim Patron mistakes. Which is amusing in a way, considering I’m pretty sure Blizzard expressly considered the Grim Patron + Warsong Commander combo potential when they “fixed” Warsong Commander to also affect summoned (rather than simply played) minions.

The final thing I have to say is that I continue to be baffled by Blizzard’s balance philosophy here. How long does a clearly broken card or card interaction need to exist before it is addressed? The only real criteria seems to be “if it would embarrass us at Blizzcon.” Which is bonkers considering Hearthstone is perhaps the most perfect CCG to experience balance changes. There is no direct trading of cards in Hearthstone, no secondary market, so nerfing a card doesn’t actually destroy any value; every nerf is accompanied by getting full dust value of disenchanting the nerfed card, so you can spend that elsewhere. Compare that to Magic: the Gathering where a card getting banned in the Standard format can wipe out tens of thousands of dollars of value across the world.

In fact, do look at Magic. Back in January, Wizards of the Coast outright banned three cards and basically upended the Modern metagame thereby. Magic has a long history with errata as well, which is basically Wizards changing the text on printed, physical cards into something else. If you were just some high schoolers playing Magic on the weekends, you would just be left with some ridiculously powerful cards and no inkling that your combo wouldn’t actually work down at the comic shop or anywhere with an official judge. As far as I can tell, Wizards has really toned down the errata since the Urza’s expansions (which were the best), but the point is that they did it. And Blizzard doesn’t, when it would be incredibly easy to do so.

I know, I get it. If Blizzard changed things every time the metagame took an unhealthy turn, that in itself might make the metagame even worse. People might lose confidence in “investing” in Hearthstone, or may just throw their hands up and wait for nerfs to the best decks. Sometimes though, man, it makes it you think: if it’s unhealthy enough today to nerf, how long have we been unhealthy for what amounts to appearance’s sake?

That JAB vs Trump Hearthstone Game

The Hearthstone Americas Champion tournament aired this past weekend, and one particular game stood out: JAB vs Trump, Game 5. Or more specifically, this game-deciding bit of RNG at the final moments:

Now, the first thing I’m going to say is this: listen to that crowd. They’re loving it. I was watching the stream live and even I was going “OoooOOOoooh!” For all the derogatory “coin-flipping” and RNG flak Hearthstone gets, I think it’s pretty clear that watching these games can still be pretty exciting. Certainly more exciting than watching a perfectly mechanical, zero RNG game in which the outcome is known by turn four.

But as someone who watched the entire match-up, what gets me is how everyone always boils the RNG down to the final sequence… but seemingly ignore everything that lead up to it. This the final match in its entirety:

There is a ton of RNG at the beginning of the match, including a lot of amazing top-decks that changed the tone of the game. If Trump didn’t draw that Big Game Hunter to answer Dr. Boom, if the Shredder outcomes were different, if some other combination of cards were drawn… and so on. It reminds me of sports like football or baseball when mistakes are made with the final field goal or bottom-of-the-ninth plays. Everyone always remembers that last failure, and not all the other equally critical failures that lead up to it.

That thought then brought me to the Reddit thread in which someone wrote this:

You missed the whole pont, people say Hearthstone can’t be an esport because RNG isn’t affected by skill (mostly), so it’s more like playing bingo than a real sport in which there is 0% luck like soccer, or an esport like StarCraft 2.

There is no question that there is a lot of RNG in Hearthstone. But it is also beyond absurd to not recognize how much random bullshit occurs in meatspace sports as well. It is like suggesting all these soccer goals were 100% intentional, including the one where the guy tries to headbutt the ball, misses, and it bounces off his hip into the goal. Is the fact that a literal random number generator is not involve somehow make those “1cm to the right and it’d have bounced off the pole” scores less random?

Point being: randomness is involved in every asymmetric game, up to and especially including real-life sports. Are soccer games determined by coin-flips? Not ones we can see, anyway. But how else would you describe a penalty kick-off in soccer? That goalie has to arbitrarily decide to jump left or right, pretty much instinctually and before they see where the ball is heading. Or going back to card games like Poker – which a lot of people take very seriously – the most skillful aspect of the game is… bluffing. But what is that? If you read someone perfectly, all that really tells you is “they like/don’t their hand.” It doesn’t tell you what cards they have, or if yours could beat theirs.

I dunno. I don’t play Hearthstone as much as I used to, but I still enjoy watching it quite a bit. To suggest it can’t be an esport due to it having RNG moments though, is just ridiculously wrong. The randomness in other games is just more well-hidden. Perhaps we can say Hearthstone has too much of some arbitrary amount of RNG to be successful in an esports sense, but… is that really the criteria? Or is it “this is fun and exciting to watch?”

The Grand Tournament

[Blaugust Day 25]

Technically the latest Hearthstone expansion should have came out before this post will go Live, but I’m finding it difficult to get too excited. New cards and the possibility of new metagames are good. The actual cards being released though? I’m looking at the complete spoiler right now and feeling rather underwhelmed.

Here are the cards I am actually interested in:

It's a short list.

It’s a short list.

That is 12 cards out of 132, or about 9%. While that more or less follows Sturgeon’s Law, I can’t help but wonder if this is indicative of the state of Hearthstone overall, the weakness of this particular set design, or some combination thereof. I’m not even saying that the cards listed above are the best ones of the set, or the strongest ones. Maybe someone will find a way to break Astral Communion straight away… although that’s a card I suspect will find a better niche a few expansions from now. No, I’m simply stating that the above cards are the only ones that excite me in any way.

We’ll see, I suppose. I’m not a metagame master by any stretch of the imagination. Maybe Lock and Load will completely change the metagame (doubtful); or Aviana will be stronger than combo druid (no way); or Rhonin will be a surprise break-through Mage success (not really). My suspicions are that we will see the same sort of Aggro-or-Bust decks on the ladder, supplemented by mid-range and Control decks running the above cards.

And maybe Shaman will be more of a thing.

[Fake Edit:] Bought 31 packs with accumulated gold. Golden Eadric and regular Fjola Lightbane were the Legendaries I pulled. The latter is not quite Eydis, but it’s difficult to complain about anything after a golden Legendary. After disenchanting a golden Epic I received, I have enough dust to craft a Legendary of my choosing. But, honestly, not sure I’m going to. At least, not a Legendary from this new set.

Hearthstone Dilemmas

[Blaugust Day 24]

For all the the derision Hearthstone might get for being coin-flips and “dumbed down” and such, sometimes you end up facing a straight-up agonizing dilemma. For example, this game from the other day:

Embarrassment of choices.

Embarrassment of choices.

My choices were the following:

  • Coin + Harrison Jones. This was my first instinct, as it was cute and probably the only value I would have time to enjoy against Eboladin (e.g. Aggro Paladin). The play drops a 5/4 creature on my board, destroys my opponent’s weapon, and draws me three cards.
  • Mind-Control Tech. This will cause me to randomly gain one of my opponent’s minions. There’s a 25% chance of nabbing the 2/2 with Divine Shield, and leaves me with a 3/3, which is a huge swing. It unfortunately wastes 1 mana unless I Coin into Hero Power, and has a 75% of just nabbing a 1/1.
  • Mind-Control Tech + Coin + Wrath/Hero Power. As the above, but spending the Coin will allow me to cast Wrath (choosing the “Deal 1 damage + draw a card” option) or Hero Power, to pop the Divine Shield on the 2/2 in case I didn’t steal it.
  • Coin + Sludge Belcher. Drops a 3/5 creatures with Taunt on the field, which summons a 1/2 creature with Taunt when it dies. Theoretically, my opponent would need to run all his creatures and his weapon into the Belcher to kill it. Of course, my opponent would also have 4 mana in which to respond to the Belcher as well.
  • Swipe face. It’s a YOLO sort of play that deals 4 damage to my opponent and 1 damage to all his creatures. Meaning it will kill his three 1/1 creatures and pop the other’s Divine Shield. My opponent would still have his 1-damage weapon, a 2/2, four mana to spend, and me with an empty board.

So, which one would you do? If my deck matters, it’s Ramp (Ysera) Druid without combo.

…did you pick a course of action yet?

…okay. Like I mentioned, I went with Coin + Harrison Jones. On the opponent’s turn, he cast Blessing of Might on the 2/2, turning it into a 5/2, summoned another 1/1 dude with Hero Power, and went face with everything. On my turn, I committed such an egregiously bad misplay that I’m legitimately embarrassed to type it out. What should have occurred was my Swiping the opponent’s face, destroying all his 1/1 dudes plus popping the Divine Shield, followed by trading my Harrison into the 5/2. Instead, I did that backwards. So, really, it was so bad that it was two misplays, as I could have recovered by Swiping the 5/2 directly at least. But nope.

Needless to say, I lost that game.

And actually, I probably would have lost the game regardless. The remaining sequence of the game was him casting Charge creatures and going face every time – the extra 5 damage taken unnecessarily would not have made much of a difference when you’re sitting at 5 HP to his 30. The only healing in my deck are two Ancient of Lores, and drawing those before getting Arcane Golem’d or Consecrated and such would itself be a coin-toss.

The funny thing to me is how, even in Magic: the Gathering, the best play is the one that gives you a chance to win. If you just play based on the cards in your hand and the ones on the board, you can lose sight of the Window of Victory as it slowly slides shut. If your best chance to win is to commit to a costly attack and top-deck a burn spell the next turn… then do that. If you draw something else, oh well, you were going to lose at that point anyway.

My best play for the above game would have been MC Tech and hope I get the 25% chance to nab the 2/2. Perhaps my opponent would have played different cards the following turn, but I’d have two decent minions and Swipe for the next. Or Belcher. Or Harrison. Or, at that point, dropping a 5/10 Taunt creature on turn 7, sealing the game until and unless my opponent draws into an Equality (assuming Eboladin even runs that). In this scenario, I was not avoiding the risky play that could backfire, I was making the same risky play and choosing the 0% chance to win option.

There are probably deeper games out there than Hearthstone. Games in which you can encounter these scenarios without the coin-flips being so naked obvious. But just because there are coin-flips, doesn’t mean there is nothing one can do to maximize their chances at success.

TL;DR: when in doubt, MC Tech.

Good Guy Amazon

[Blaugust Day 18]

Amazon’s Appstore is atrocious garbage. And it thereby saved me from giving them (and Blizzard) another $50 for Hearthstone.

See, there is a deal going on right now for Hearthstone’s upcoming expansion: 50 packs for $50. The current store offering is 40 packs for $50 or 60 packs for $70. Basically, with this deal you can get packs at $1 apiece instead of $1.17. Alternatively, if you download Hearthstone from the Amazon Appstore, then you can pay for packs and such using Amazon Coins. Which at one point were on sale for 5000 for $40 (20% off). And then if you waited until Amazon ran their other Coin promotion, you could get 10% Coins back, which then could be used to immediately purchase additional packs. The “example” Amazon uses is how $90 buys 87 packs versus 70 packs from Google Play.

Let’s take a moment to reflect on the state of our lives when we start considering how good a deal it is to spend $90 on a technically “F2P” game.

The bottom line is that Hearthstone will not install from the Amazon Appstore for me, and I need that version because you can’t spend Amazon Coins for packs otherwise. It will download the 660 MB file, start the install, and then hang (progress bar just cycles) until the install fails. I’ve followed all the incredibly helpful troubleshooting like “clear the cache” and “restart the phone,” up to and including both emailing Amazon for assistance and chatting with their representatives in Chhindwara or wherever, to no avail. I deleted my Google Play version of Hearthstone already – which, incidentally, works – so I know there is no conflict there. Hearthstone is not labeled as an option on the Amazon Appstore on my tablet. I even tried one of those Android emulators a few weeks ago when they were offering free packs to Samsung owners, but apparently my PC is one of those which needs a BIOS edit to mimic some setting or whatever.

So… fuck it. Nobody gets my money.

…in this particular instance. I’ll still buy Hearthstone Adventures as they release, and if Amazon delivered groceries to my area I might not ever step outside. But when it comes to this specific scenario, I… bite my thumb at you, Amazon Appstore.

Seat of Pants Design

[Blaugust Day 12]

During the past few days of combing the internet for Hearthstone tidbits, I came across and interview from back in May which illuminates the… bold way Blizzard is approaching Hearthstone design. Basically, flying by the seat of their pants:

[…] We always try to add a little bit of craziness to the game and let people discover it. When we put Grim Patron in we didn’t know exactly how good it was going to be. We had a good idea, because we played it a lot. We knew there was going to be some variance once people figured out what the best version was, and what the meta was going to be. I think we’re going to keep making some crazy cards in every set that are dangerous and hopefully going to work out.

This was not the only time they said something like this. Here is an interview from last Saturday:

Several high-level players were recruited to join the team. What effect has this had on your game design?

The balance team makes sure cards are clear, well-designed, and well-balanced. We recently hired people from the tournament circuit to make sure things are more balanced, but we also try to make risky cards that push the limits and scare us. Lock and Load is a good example of a card that is risky and could be unbalanced.

There is something to be said about not being too conservative in these sort of endeavors. All the really cool cards in most CCGs – the ones that set your mind on fire about the possibilities – are typically the least balanced ones. “If I just had this one card, I would turn the game around.” You just never get that sense with cards that, you know, aren’t capable of turning around games by themselves.

Should I play Dr Boom? Is it turn 7? Then yes.

“Should I play Dr Boom?” Is it turn 7? Then yes.

On the other hand, I feel like Blizzard is having their cake and eating it too. Dr. Balanced, aka Dr. Boom, is a joke precisely because of how long it has survived unscathed from a tuning pass. Is Dr Boom warping the metagame? Not necessary. Is Dr Boom far and away one of the most absurdly powerful cards in the game to the point he’s in ~37% of all decks? Yes.

Many point out that that’s only because the other 7-drop creatures are so bad. Well, okay. Now imagine how much stronger the card that replaces (or even just matches) him is going to have to be.

Of course, the cynical part of me realizes that deliberately creating “chase rares” in a CCG is nothing new. Like most everything in this genre, Magic: the Gathering invented it. Chase rares sell packs, which in turn creates every incentive for designers to create more. “This new card is probably completely broken and going to push a million packs.” Yeah, totally scary. Especially when you can ignore the problem and watch players fall all over themselves stuffing their decks with Epic/Legendary cards to counter the shit you just left steaming on the table.

…I might be a little bit bitter.

That aside, it kinda makes me wonder whether Hearthstone is the only place this design philosophy rules. Certainly when I look at some of the WoW design changes in Warlords, I see a team of devs running riot past everything that was remotely successful about all their previous expansions. Look at the raids, and see how it’s all a perfectly linear evolution of what came before. Then look at flying, reputations, crafting, Garrisons, resource gathering, gear rewards, PvP balance, class design. I’m not even sure if those devs were flying with pants on.

Nevertheless, I kinda get it. Being bold is how Blizzard (or anyone for that matter) got anywhere in the first place. Even if that boldness is straight-up stealing all the good shit from everyone around you. Like I said earlier, the craziness is what gets the juices flowing.

So… I’m conflicted.

Or maybe things are a lot simpler than I’m making it out to be. Flying by the seat of your pants is exciting and better than the alternative… provided you stick the landing at the end.

Hearthstone Balance

[Blaugust Day 10]

One of the most dominating decks out there in Hearthstone in the current metagame is Patron Warrior. This is a wombo-combo deck that can pull off such insane, come-from-behind wins that even Magic: the Gathering veterans of Extended would feel at home. In a game that is derided for being decided by coin flips, the deck itself doesn’t really feature any RNG beyond the standard that comes with drawing cards. Almost everything about the deck is mechanically perfect and efficient.

And it needs to die.

The question of the hour is how to do it. Or whether to nerf it at all. This Reddit thread got 1300+ comments in 8 hours and the opinions run the gamut. But before I get to that, let me briefly explain the cards and mechanics involved. Here is the lineup:

The usual suspects.

The usual suspects.

The strength of Patron Warrior are the sort of dual win conditions. The name of the deck comes from Grim Patron, there in the upper-right, and the sort of shenanigans that occur when you summon one with a Warsong Commander on the board. If you play both, you basically get a 3/X minion for every minion your opponent controls that has less than 3 attack – your first Grim Patron Charges into, say, a 2/2, summons a new 3/3 Grim Patron who gets Charge from the Warsong Commander and then attacks into another creature, etc etc etc.

You do not technically need your opponent to have creatures for things to get out of control, of course, as your deck is also filled with effects like Whirlwind that end up dealing 1 damage to all creatures. One Grim Patron becomes two, two becomes four, and so on (there is a 7-creature limit thankfully).

The win condition everyone hates though is that of Frothing Berserker. Warsong Commander will give Frothing Berserker Charge when it comes into play, and even if your opponent has zero creatures, a Frothing can balloon up to an 8/1 with three Whirlwind effects (since itself and the Commander are creatures taking damage). If your opponent has a single creature out with at least three health though? Now it’s an 11/1. Add in Grim Patron shenanigans and suddenly you start seeing OTK (one turn kill) screenshots like this one:

From empty board to overkill 2x.

From empty board to overkill 2x.

If you want a more in-depth guide from a Top-10 player, here you go.

It isn’t difficult to nerf Patron Warrior. In fact, it’s incredibly easy to do so in all sorts of ways. The design trick here is to do so in such a way that either A) reduces the effectiveness of the deck without killing it entirely, or if that’s not possible or wanted, then B) killing the deck with as little collateral damage as possible.

For example, Warsong Commander could be changed to read “Your other minions with 3 or less attack have Charge.” The idea being that while you can still have crazy powerful Frothing Berserkers, they would lose Charge the moment their attack got above 3. It’s not even all that intuitive that the summoned creatures retain the Charge ability granted from the Commander after their attack goes up in the first place, but that’s what happens. And in case you didn’t know, Warsong Commander has a history of enabling OTK combos, especially back in the day when it simply gave all your minions charge no matter their attack power. Hell, it was even changed again fairly recently to allow the Charge to apply to summoned minions, e.g. Grim Patrons, instead of just affecting creatures played from the hand.

Is nerfing Warsong Commander the right choice though?

Consider some alternatives. For example, a lot of the OTK shenanigans are only enabled from the use of Emperor Thaurissan permanently reducing card costs. Getting one trigger from Thaurissan can grant you the ability to play Warsong Commander, Grim Patron, and Frothing Berserker all on the same turn, possibly even turn 8. And if you had a Whirlwind in hand during the Thaurissan trigger? Suddenly you’re dealing with 11 Charge damage to the face. Or 21 Charge damage if you have a 2nd Whirlwind-like effect. Or even more depending on what your opponent’s board looks like. So another nerf avenue would be to tweak Thaurissan’s effect to, say, be unable to reduce card costs below 1. Or only reduce spells, or something.

Or perhaps we should zero-in on the OTK culprit himself: Frothing Berserker. One way is to change the trigger to key off only friendly minions taking damage. Or only enemy minions. Or even the nuclear option of “+1 attack for each damaged minion,” with the attack bonus going up and down as minions are killed or healed to full.

Some people in the Reddit thread think it’d be better to nerf the sort of card draw engine that Patron Warrior has access to. This isn’t a particularly viable avenue in my opinion, as the only real Warrior-specific draw card they could nerf is Battle Rage, which was already nerfed twice from before (it used to trigger off of all damaged minions, then all damaged characters with a cost of 3). How would you nerf it anyway? Make it a 50% chance to draw a card? It is absolutely true that Patron Warrior includes a lot of card draw to assemble its combo pieces, but a similar amount of drawing is available to most other decks.

My personal opinion is to change Frothing Berserker. Some have suggested a different approach to the nerf, such as changing its health to 3 so there are less opportunities for it to balloon out of control with Whirlwind effects. I’m not so sure that that is A) enough, or B) worth breaking the symmetry. Not all classes have a class-specific 2/4 for 3 with an ability yet, but that is clearly a theme:

Paladin card is from the new set.

Paladin card is from the new set.

I’m not saying they’re all equally powerful or useful – Flamewaker in particular can make for some huge tempo plays – but Frothing Berserker in particular seems to scale wildly higher than the others and is more open-ended. I know that I hate, hate, hate seeing that card on turn 2 in Arena because it basically means I must kill it immediately or simply be crushed under the weight of value.

So there it is. I am not entirely sure that the dev team actually are going to nerf any part of Patron Warrior, especially this close to the next expansion release (by the end of August). On the other hand, expansions are pretty much perfect times to nerf things, and we’ve seen them nerf cards at these times before. That being said… I’m not sure I want to see the metagame come The Grand Tournament if it spawns a deck that can destroy Patron Warrior without nerfs. It’s like swimming with something that consistently eats Great White Sharks.