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Impressions: Blackrock Mountain

That was a fun 20 minutes. See you next week, I guess!

I think I actually cackled.

I think I actually cackled.

Yep, beat even all three bosses on Heroic. Or should I say “beat them on Gimmick?”

In the above screenshot, I went with Freeze mage against the 2nd heroic encounter and won on the back of a single card. Literally, the same card, as it got traded back and forth every turn by the AI’s Lorewalker Cho. The plan was to wait to kill the AI via Fatigue damage, but I got bored halfway through and decided I had enough removal plus Mirror Entity up. I clear the opponent’s board with some Explosive Sheep and watch it play Deathwing. Oh lordy. I get a copy of the 12/12 creature, the opposing Deathwing gets BGH’d, I drop another Mirror Entity in the off-chance of some top-deck shenanigans, then sail home to victory.

I enjoy this sort of content, but I feel there’s not really a good way to go about it in card games. The adventures in Hearthstone are one-and-done content, for example. Hex has at least part of its PvE content up and running, and yet that is more focused on grinding low drop-rate rewards, from what I hear. I suppose in the latter case there is at least a reason to continue reusing the AI content.

Hmm. Yeah, it’s a tough design to crack. Even if you faced a sort of “random enemy” opponent that didn’t have a gimmick to play around (e.g. just a bot), what’s stopping you from just playing your tournament netdeck every game and likely wiping the floor with them? Random decklists for players too could be fun – the Mage class challenge in Blackrock Mountain was amazing – although it might be tough to stay motivated if you keep losing because the deck you were assigned was garbage.

Lasting card game content may just be other players only.

Blackrock Mountain Cards

First off, April Fools day is one of the dumbest “holidays” ever conceived, and I think less of anyone who participates. Remember when pinching people not wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day was a thing? Think you could get away with that kind of shit today? My earnest hope is that sometime in the future April 1st will no longer be Dead News Day, or a celebration of deception and trolling. The self-deprecating Blizzard was okay last year, but most everyone else misses the mark.

Anyway, the 31 new cards of the Blackrock Mountain Adventure for Hearthstone were revealed on Monday:

For the most part, the internet seems to be fawning over Emperor Thaurissan and Chromaggus the most, with a dash of “Fireguard Destroyer makes Shaman viable!” All of those are very good cards, mind you, and sure to see some play upon release. The problem is that none of them really do anything to stop Face Hunter¹, as pointed out in this reddit comment or this one. Face Hunter doesn’t care about your board position or how cheap your spells get, assuming you are even still alive by turn six to play those cards – taunts or healing or GG.

In a sense, it’s a bit unfair to dismiss all the enthusiastic theorycrafting with a Reductio ad Aggro as not every match is Face Hunter. However, it is an unfortunate reality that net decking requires you to entertain the possibility that you will face a much better-tuned engine of destruction. When I look at the revealed cards, the first ones I gravitate towards are the “meat & potatoes” cards like Imp Gang Boss and Hungry Dragon and even Axe Flinger. As fancy and clever as some decks can get, I find the more unassuming albeit blunt instruments like even the vanilla 4/5 Chillwind Yeti to be the most comforting. They might not win games by themselves (although they sometimes can), but forcing your opponent to spend two cards taking out your one usually puts you on the path to victory.

Speaking of Axe Flinger, am I the only one (still) excited about this 12-damage wombo-combo?

Never see it coming. Well, they'll see part of it coming.

Never see it coming. Well, they’ll see part of it coming.

Play Axe Flinger. Next turn, attack for 2, then play Bouncing Blade, which should trigger Axe Flinger 5 times. This combo requires a lot – no enemy minions on turn 5 (or turn 4 with coin), no damage to Axe Flinger – but it would get massive style points from me. In fact, I’m incredibly tempted to try it myself, as I always thought Bouncing Blade was an underrated card considering it automatically kills any minion if it is alone on the board.

But, alas. The powergamer in me can’t help but ask which cards from the currently successful decks can be cut to make room for the fun ones, and if I’m not running a net deck myself, then how do I expect to win against those that are packing tournament-worthy deck-lists? Metas naturally ebb and flow – witness the meteoric rise of Demonlock and Oil Rogue – but the end result is efficient, predictable wins. In this regard, Hearthstone is exactly like Magic: the Gathering, and why I am sometimes loathe to boot up the game even to do dailies. Arena bypassed the blues for a while, but the introduction of the GvG expansion feels like it diluted the card base too much with crappy commons.

Still, I have been surprised by Hearthstone and the meta-bending deck wizards on more than one occasion. Here’s hoping I eventually find a deck or archetype to call home.

¹ Face Hunter is an aggressive Hunter deck which basically ignores everything the opponent does (with a few exceptions) and simply attacks face every turn. It is depressingly effective.

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.)