To Pay, or Not to Pay (for Hearthstone)
I have been flirting with the idea of dropping $49.99 on Hearthstone to purchase 40 boosters. That is, strictly speaking, directly against the advice I have and will continue to espouse. It is absolutely unnecessary in order to advance in Ranked Play – a good player can navigate the Basic Mage deck to Masters level with little apparent trouble. (Watch this video, especially the 2nd game.) In fact, that thought led me to an interesting question: exactly what cards am I missing?
The surprising answer? “Not much.”
Heading into Crafting Mode allows you to see ghost images of all the cards missing in your collection. When looked at from this angle, the amount seems daunting. Yes, you can legitimately play for free. Yes, I have been actually gaining gold from playing Arena lately. But 3-11 games games per Arena entry is starting to grate on me a bit when you get stuck with a sub-par selection of cards. Like when you pick warrior and can’t pick up any weapons. Or a Warlock without demons (I actually went 5-3, but I had 3 Hellfires so…). As I have mentioned in the past, my favorite part of Magic: the Gathering was building decks. So each time I go do a daily and end up using the same generic cards I’ve been using for the last two months, I die a little on the inside.
But then I found the weird thing: not all the Epics were good. In fact, a lot of them were outright bad. There are basically 3 Epics per class and 10 Neutral ones, compared to Rares with 5/class + 36 Neutral. And when you really just sit down and look at the card selection, it becomes pretty clear that the Rare cards (and Commons!) are the backbone of most of the classes.
You know, Rares, the card guaranteed to be in every booster pack.
There are a few notable exceptions in Epics being better than Rares, of course. Brawl for Warriors, for example. Hunters pretty much have to use Bestial Wrath in every deck, and Snake Trap combos well with the rest of the kit. But when I look at some of these others, I just start scratching my head. It looks like Blizzard was including some “metagame” cards to perhaps hedge their bets against every possible deck contingency. But, honestly, you can (and will) beat someone’s face in with relentless vanilla cards all day long. Chillwind Yeti is a bitch to deal with no matter what Rares/Epics you are packing, and it costs 4 mana while easily slotting into every deck.
So… now I’m not sure about buying boosters any more. If I’m honest, my primary impetus towards doing so was efficiency: if I spend some of my 600 Dust crafting a given card, I’d hate to then open up duplicates of said card later. Plus, which class would I focus on, at the expense of the others? Besides, I’m already 1/3rd of the way to straight-up crafting a Legendary. In large part due to, by the way, cracking open and immediately Disenchanting the legendary Millhouse Manastorm. Because clearly Blizzard feels it necessary to follow in the M:tG tradition of printing junk cards in the highest rarities. But, hey, 400 Dust from a single card ain’t bad.
By the way, according to this write-up, I may have made a huge error in Disenchanting him. And I realize now that, either way, I certainly lost a ton of comedy potential in putting him in every deck and simply seeing the mayhem.
Anyway, the fact that I am even going through this thought process at all is a clear win for Blizzard. I have said before that Hearthstone can be played legitimately for free as long as it is not your primary, go-to game. The best method, as explained indirectly by Wilhelm in a brilliant post this summer, is to treat it as you would Candy Crush Saga: something you play until you “run out of lives,” and then come back to tomorrow. Becoming more invested in the game leads to, well, investment. Of the monetary kind. Which is… bad. Because it’s free. Or something.
Have I mentioned that I hate F2P due to how it warps my mind? Yes, I believe I have.
I am probably nearing the end of my focused Hearthstone play. Why? Two words: beta wipes. All progress, cards, gold, etc, will be wiped at least once in the upcoming weeks, and possibly more than once. If you happened to purchase something for real money, you will get the equivalent amount of gold once Hearthstone goes Live.
All of this is known information, so why am I bringing it up? That’s actually an interesting question, as I examined my roiling emotions after a string of recent Arena losses. Scrubbing out at 1-3 or – god help you – 0-3 sucks. Hard. Each Arena buy-in requires $1.99 or 150g, with the latter amount requiring roughly three days of dailies plus 30 wins in Ranked/Unranked play (i.e. against other people) to collect. Or just complete four dailies. Going that route actually works out pretty good as long as you keep Hearthstone as your sort of “side game” that you play for 30-45 minutes each day before playing your main game; as long as you keep yourself from getting too into things, you can legitimately play (Arena) for free pretty easily.
Alternatively, if you win at least 7 Arena matches in the buy-in, you get enough gold to play again.
As you can see, I received 310g for having gone 9-2 with the Rogue (nine wins is the maximum). An earlier 8-3 record resulted in 215g. Needless to say, I was feeling pretty pleased with myself, especially given the Arena portion of the game is significantly more interesting to me – playing against Constructed decks feels pretty rote in comparison. Plus, where else would I get to screw around with Legendaries in what feels like a guaranteed draw for each Arena match? You aren’t likely to see those and other high-powered cards from packs you open, but seeing epics and such is pretty common across 30 random draws.
But then the RNG floor fell out. I felt I was getting a good handle on which Heroes were best in Arena – things are much different than in Constructed where you can build around combos – but I suddenly realized how exceptional my winning decks truly were. My 8-3 Druid deck had eight removal cards, including AoE removal. The 9-2 Rogue deck had two Saps, a bunch of Silence creatures with multiple ways of returning them to my hand, a fistful of removal, and two Defias Ringleaders that make going second a complete joke when you drop a 2/3 and 2/1 on your first turn.
Here was the deck:
You don’t need to know anything about the Hearthstone other than that this deck was unfair. Three Fan of Knives, two Blade Flurry, two Sap, two Patient Assassins, Betrayal… Jesus, it was sublime. Hearthstone Arena is entirely about tempo, and let’s just say most games involved me playing dubstep to their John Cage 4’33”.
Needless to say, I have spent the past three days falling back down the Bell Curve face-first. A string of awful Hero choices plus awful card choices plus opponents who all but win by round four (having demolished my early game). It is entirely possible this all has been by design, via hidden MMR rankings. One of the biggest Hearthstone innovations amongst the pile of others has been the fact that Arena games are unmoored from any particular tournament. If you play a Booster Draft in Magic Online, you’re playing either for 15 minutes or two hours depending on your record, against whomever happened to stroll into your tournament with you. In Hearthstone, you can play one Arena game and then come back a week later if you want. This is fantastic… provided you don’t rely on being a big fish in a small pond for your wins.
All this losing made me realize that I don’t like it. Losing, that is. A fair ranking system is based around ensuring you lose 50% of the time, but it seems to me that losing feels much worse than the positive winning emotions, especially when losing results in opportunity costs and/or costs you real money. Presumably the delta between winning and losing is compensated by the fun you have actually playing the game. But I am coming to the realization that it isn’t enough. I need a tangible sense of progression too. Knowing that the pity packs are full of cards going away in X number of months means losses are simply time consigned to the abyss.
The obvious counter-points are A) new gear tiers in MMOs result in obsolescence of progression, B) time spent gaming is technically “wasted” by default, and C) how in god’s name did you play Counter-Strike for four years then?
The answer to the first is pretty simple: properly-formatted achieved goals can’t be taken away. My goal in WoW was never “have BiS gear in every slot” – that is just a recipe for disappointment. Instead, my goals were more general, like “be better off than I was yesterday.” Grinding Valor, getting raid drops, capping Conquest… all of these things resulted in a feeling of sustained progression that persisted even when new tiers came out. In fact, my “investment” in gearing up paid off in getting the new gear quicker or more easily.
Obviously I quit playing WoW, but I still don’t see that time as wasted; leisure activities being a waste of time presupposes an (nonexistent) objective purpose in life, which answers point B.
As for C), well… that’s the pickle. I feel games like Counter-Strike allow you to experience meaningful fun even as you ultimately lose a round/match, probably because winning/losing doesn’t matter in the first place. As long as I pulled off some kind of crazy kill before dying, I could walk away satisfied even if our team was otherwise destroyed. Which is leading me to believe that the existence of progression in a game sets up its own failure, given that losing progression (either directly or via opportunity cost) makes me feel worse than gaining progression. At the same time, I tend to gravitate towards games with “investment” opportunities over games where I am “just” killing time. All games kill time, but killing time + progression makes it feel more meaningful on top of whatever arbitrary goal-achievement neurochemistry is going on.
All of which is an extremely roundabout way of saying that I lost a bunch of Hearthstone Arena matches this weekend and am sad as a result. Going from being more than self-sustaining to practically in-the-hole playing is bad, and there not being any sense of long-term progression (in the beta) makes it worse. Also, trying to unlock Shaman cards in Constructed play feels terrible; seriously, Blizz, why did you put all the juicy Shaman cards in the packs? Chain Lightning is practically required to get anywhere.
Wait a minute, why am I in-game again? Might as well knock out this daily…
Posted by Azuriel
Is it just me, or does the word “followup” just look weird after a while?
…anyway. Here are some relevant Q&A straight from the forums regarding the now-funded Hex:
Q: Any chance this might be headed to IOS as well?
A: Our immediate launch plans are PC and Mac, but the tech has built from the ground up for mobile.
Q: I would also like to know about the card rotation plan. Will there be standard and unlimited formats, or will all cards be legal to play forever?
A: Right now we’re planned for a 2 block format, as well as an everything format. That is the current plan. We might revisit it after 2 years of data.
Q: The estimated delivery sep 2013 is that for the full game or the beta stages ?
A: September is the estimated delivery for the beta, which will have all of the PvP content and some of the PvE content.
Q: Will the game require a big internet connection? I’m currently working 6 month a year in a inuit village with Satellite internet connection and wireless modems and I get a 5000 ping in online games like Path of Exile here. Wondering if the game will be playable in those condition (Drop out, Lags, ect).
A: The internet overhead of the game is very, very low. The amount of data that goes back and forth to the server is minimal, and we have a 3 minute reconnect timer, that if you lose connection during a game, you have 3 minutes to log back in and you will be automatically rejoined to that game. Any single player experience just uses save states, so you can actually rejoin almost any time after disconnecting.
Okay… hold up a sec. “Working 6 months a year in a inuit village”? You know what, nevermind.
Q: Weird question i know, but any plans of a post beta wipe, getting packs and such back?
A: We will not do a post-beta wipe. Once we give you something, we won’t take it away in even the most seemingly kind way (eg, by refunding packs.) If you open a super rare awesome card it’s yours until you decide to trade it.
Q: So there is currently no other way to get cards for PVP except through initial pledge and buying $2 each?
A: The only way to get PvP packs is through the KS rewards, at $2 each, or as rewards for playing in drafts/constructed tournaments. We will also have an auction house, and I’d expect that PvP commons can be easily picked up off there at budget prices.
So it’s official: you cannot earn booster packs in PvE content. In other words, the only way anyone is playing Limited/Draft formats is for them to have bought, traded for, or won boosters themselves. Based on other questions, it appears the first set is 350 PvP cards that only come from boosters, and 300 PvE cards that are only earned in PvE and cannot be used in normal PvP games (but there might be “anything goes” formats for fun). Now, it is likely you will be able to sell a particularly nice rare you got in a Draft (that you otherwise lost) to help purchase boosters to try your luck again, but otherwise these games are going to cost you $6 a pop for less than an hour of play.
By the way, the stretch goal for $540,000?
“Yo dawg, I heard you like gamble boxes. So we put gamble boxes in your gamble boxes […]”
If it sounds like I am being unduly harsh, it’s simply because I know the effect these sort of games have on me. Drafting is addicting: you get to see 24 boosters being opened, passed around, and picked apart, plus the 30 minutes of frantic deck-building, plus the very-real pressure of best-out-of-three duels with the prize being enough boosters to join another draft for free. That’s a sex, drugs, and rock & roll combo of endorphins right there.
But you’re going to pay. A lot. Unless you’re good, I suppose, in which case the poor players will be subsidizing your gameplay.
Just screwing around in 1v1 Standard duels is fun and all, but you won’t be getting any new cards; there is no progression without pay. Then again, I suppose that is what the whole PvE side of the game will be about. Will it be enough? You cannot use your PvE cards in PvP. Then again, PvE cards do not “expire” and yet there will be additional PvE sets in the future, presumably along with additional monsters/dungeons/raids, so… yeah. Maybe Cryptozoic will be able to shore up the one weakness Magic Online has.
I suppose we’ll see in September, once the Beta is released.
Posted in Commentary
Tags: Boosters, Deck Building, Draft, Duel, F2P, Gamble Boxes, Hex, Limited, MMOTCG, P2W, PvE, Standard, TCG