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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.

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Shadowverse Gameplay

I have talked around Shadowverse quite a bit over the past month or two. The reason is that I haven’t bothered really playing the competitive aspects of the game; I have instead been clearing the “story” mode against the AI. Oh, and logging in every day, because of the rather generous log-in rewards.

Actually, let’s get that out of the way first: one of the biggest draws of Shadowverse is its generosity in the reward department. New accounts receive the same bonus card packs that were awarded to people when new expansions are released, which means you can expect to crack open 30+ packs right after signing in for the first time. On top of that, there are the aforementioned log-in rewards, which ends up being two free packs, a free Arena run, and increasing amounts of gold on 15-day basis. Maintenance at 3am? Have some more card packs. Then there are also Achievements that reward gold/dust. Oh, and three daily quests a day.

In short, there are a LOT of freebies. Especially compared to the misery Hearthstone.

For the most part though, the freebies are kinda required. Decks in Shadowverse are 40 cards, compared to Hearthstone’s 30. Additionally, instead of there being a 1 Legendary limit, Shadowverse lets you stuff three of the same kind of Legendary into a deck. And just as in Hearthstone, getting a Legendary to a class (or Craft, in this case) that you don’t care about is effectively wasted (you can still dust it though). This is why it is important to reroll, as I talked about before.

In terms of gameplay itself, things are remarkably similar to Hearthstone. Players gain 1 mana crystal per turn. There is no interaction on your opponent’s turn, and they can choose to attack you or your minions. There are 5 slots on the board for creatures/amulets (instead of 7). Creatures can have Taunt (Ward), Deathrattles (Last Word), Battlecry (Fanfare), and so on. One interesting wrinkle is Charge, which Shadowverse splits into Rush vs Storm. Rush allows a creature to attack other creatures (not players) as soon as its played, whereas Storm has no restrictions. Given how many issues Hearthstone has had over the years with OTK (one-turn kill) combos via Charge, I feel like Shadowverse’s dual take it superior.

A lot has been said online about how Shadowverse is a deeper game already than Hearthstone. In some ways this is accurate. Amulets are a type of card that can stick around on the game board (taking up a creature slot), having constant or triggered effects. We really haven’t see that design space explored in Hearthstone beyond Tavern Brawls. And while there are some random effects, there certainly aren’t nearly a fraction of the kind in Hearthstone.

Oh look, even the computer drops 8/8s on Turn 3.

One of the bigger deals in every Shadowverse match is Evolve. Starting around Turn 5/6, players can spend 1 Evolve point per turn to beef up a minion on the board and possibly trigger extra effects. The default bonus is giving the minion +2/+2 stats and Rush. Sometimes it’s those stats plus something else. Sometimes the minion doesn’t get buffed at all, and instead a powerful effect occurs. Regardless, knowing when you must Evolve and when to hold it is a tremendously important part of every game. And given that you can Evolve any creature, the dilemma comes up in each match.

Beyond that though… I’m not actually certain how much deeper Shadowverse’s gameplay actually is in practice. There are certainly way more mechanics than Hearthstone already, including ones that would be “too confusing” for people unable to handle more than 9 deck slots. But when you look at the top meta decks in Shadowverse as of 3rd week of March

  • Daria Tempo Rune 9.54%
  • Midrange Sword 9.15%
  • D-Shift Rune 7.37%
  • Face/Aggro Sword 6.45%
  • Aggro Blood 6.28%

Runecraft decks account for nearly 17% of the meta, with Swordcraft bringing up 15.6% (technically 20% in top 10). In other words, nearly a third of the meta consists of two classes, just looking at the top 5 decks. Looking at the top 10, nearly 30% of the meta is made up as aggro/tempo. Is that worse than Hearthstone’s current Pirate meta? Nope. But when you look at these top decks, it is not as though there are particularly deep interactions going on with convoluted cards. Even with D-Shift Rune, you are basically stalling the game long enough to drop a 7/7 and a few “take another turn after this one” spells. The average Renolock in Hearthstone has more turn-to-turn decisions to make.

What you can give credit to the Shadowverse devs for is their dedication to relative balance. Three weeks ago, Daria Tempo Rune was a whopping 19.31% of the entire meta by itself. Roach Tempo Forest was 10.59% by itself. Key cards in those decks were nerfed, and the meta shifted over the past few weeks to its current situation. Compare that to Hearthstone, where Ben Brode and company sit on their asses in the hope that the problem goes away on its own, or that the next expansion (months from now) fixes it. Because… reasons.

In any case, we’ll see how things go. Shadowverse is apparently the #2 digital CCG on the market out there, although it is facing competition from Gwent, the Elder Scrolls one, and other such games. I haven’t played those others, but I will say that at a minimum, Shadowverse is about 1000x times better than Hearthstone on mobile. Which makes sense, as Shadowverse was originally a mobile game that was brought to PC, whereas Hearthstone is the opposite. If you’re just looking for a CCG to play on PC though…

…well, let’s see where Journey to Un’goro goes. If the meta is still pirates/Jade, we’ll have issues.