Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Beauty of Legacy: my report from Grand Prix Columbus 2016

It's been a good long forever since I reported on Magic: the Gathering, and there's good reason for it. Even back when I summarized my second-ever Legacy format Grand Prix in 2012 and a couple other events, there were still two or three events a year which I would attend. Not so anymore!

Thanks to a streak of bad timing for local tournaments and being busy with the kids and the job (plus finding my competitive outlet in Hearthstone over the same time period), I actually went my longest break between tournaments before this past weekend. It did not help that the last couple Legacy Grand Prix tournaments were too far away in New Jersey and Seattle/Tacoma. I had not played a sanctioned game of Magic since late 2014! Who would have thought I would go an entire calendar year without even a single weekend of "official" Magic?*

* To be fair, there were a couple weekends of Commander/EDH with the guys mixed in during this gap, but no sanctioned Magic.

Needless to say, I was a bit rusty even in my beloved Legacy format.

But with a Grand Prix coming to old Columbus town, I had to jump back in. Just like my last report, I'm still on Elves, albeit a much more refined version four years later. This is a relatively similar list to the one I took to Day 2 of Grand Prix Washington DC in late 2013, the most recent Grand Prix I played in:

As a reminder, despite not being able to make any Day 2 of a Grand Prix back when I and my group of friends played regularly and competitively, my record in Grand Prix in Legacy is pretty solid. Would I be able to match this success and cash again like GP Columbus 2010?

  • 2010 GP Columbus - Played Belcher, finished 12-4 (35th)
  • 2012 GP Indianapolis - Played Elves, finished 4-4 (660th)
  • 2013 GP Washington DC - Played Elves, finished 9-6 after 9-2 start (185th)
  • 2016 GP Columbus - ???
I made some choices to prepare for what I believed to be the better decks in Legacy like U/W Miracles and attrition decks like Delver and Shardless Sultai. Although I did not choose to run Choke in the SB (seriously thought about it), the main deck Sylvan Library was in there to improve my matchup against these blue style decks. Plus even without my usual Karakas in the SB, I still ran Crop Rotation to help dig out Cavern of Souls if needed. 

Without spoiling the next few paragraphs, the wide variance you can see in tournaments with 2000 players would make those decisions totally irrelevant. But let's look in detail at the games, and a conclusion I came to on the day overall, which makes me love Legacy even more than before. 

Round 1 vs. Bryan (Elves)
So many players in a Grand Prix, and you bring a somewhat under-the-radar deck...and hello mirror match in the opening match. Go figure. Although Sylvan Library was not in the deck for the mirror, it definitely won Game 1 because after Bryan races out to a good start with Deathrite Shaman etc., I am able to take two extra cards on the turn before he is going to likely win and combo out myself for victory via Craterhoof. Game two, Bryan again has a much better start with DRS while I do not, and he runs me over easily. 

Game three, I again struggle without a DRS but I have enough to force a double Glimpse of Nature combo turn right before he will likely kill me. However, my draws were super awkward during the combo, not finding Nettle Sentinels or the other key cards to keep the combo going. I end up needing to stop about 50% through the deck with two Cabal Therapy casts to try and rip apart Bryan's five card hand. Obviously I name Natural Order first, but that comes up blank. His hand is two lands with one Gaea's Cradle, a Craterhoof, a Heritage Druid, and a Green Sun's Zenith. He had four creature already on board, so there was no stopping the mana to cast Hoof or GSZ, and I went into the tank to think it over for quite some time. I finally decided to make him spend one more mana for GSZ, although I appeared to still be dead on board because of the trample damage coming. Predictably, Bryan casts GSZ for 8 and goes through his deck...and then he goes through again with a confused look on his face...could it be? Indeed, he had sided out his second Craterhoof and had to put a Xantid Swarm in play instead. Best nine mana GSZ ever, right? So my opponent mis-sideboards and that allows me to luck into the correct Cabal Therapy play to win. Mistakes are punished in Legacy. 
(1-0) (2-1 games)

Round 2 vs. Anson (Eldrazi)
My opponent wins the die roll and goes Ancient Tomb, Chalice of the Void for 1. Considering I had 5 1-mana cards in my hand, that's pretty much all she wrote in that game. Anson did not have the same luck in game 2, and I won with a Natural Order Craterhoof turn a few turns into the game. Game 3 Anson is going first again and he of course has the Chalice for 1 on turn 1, followed by a creature and an Umezawa's Jitte on turn 2. Elves just can't beat that, going second (not drawing any Abrupt Decay was painful, but one would not have been enough). Although I was pretty unprepared for Eldrazi as a new contender in Legacy, this is similar to the type of auto-losses you could sometimes take to the MUD deck also. Moving on. 
(1-1) (3-3 games)

Round 3 vs. Greg (Belcher)
Greg goes on the double mulligan game 1, which probably puts him on combo. My suspicion was correct as he still comes out of the gate on the draw with a turn 1 combo out for 14 goblin tokens. That gives me until Turn 3 to win, and I'm able to do just that with a good Glimpse draw leading to a Natural Order finish. Game 2 he went off quickly and my disruption package did not show up. For Game 3, I decided to try for consistency and took out the Cabal Therapy package. Despite being an expert with both these decks, I still made this questionable decision. That was punished when I overextended one extra creature into his slow play of Burning Wish for Pyroclasm, and I did not have the backup of discard spells to decimate the rest of his hand. About 3 or 4 turns later, I was Belcher'd out on the turn before I was going to win with Natural Order. But had I held back one of the creatures which died to the Pyroclasm or kept the discard in, I probably win this game easily. I certainly should win any game where Elves goes first and Belcher can't go off until about turn 8. Once again, mistakes are punished in Legacy.
(1-2) (4-5 games)

Round 4 vs. Joshua (Burn)
At this point when I see a Blue-red fetch land on turn 1 of game 1, I figure this is finally when I get to play against a blue-base deck (which seems to make up 70%+ of the format, maybe even more, thanks to the power of Brainstorm and Force of Will). Nope. He searched out a basic mountain and brought out the Goblin Guide. I won the game at 16 life, so it clearly went well and quickly. In game 2, he was able to combine a Sulfuric Vortex and an Eidolon of the Great Revel to stack enough damage for me to come back from. However, game 3 was your typical tight affair where Elves goes first and has just enough to win the game at single digit life just before losing to the likes of Vortex and burn spells. This guy was very salty about how the final game went down, but he also was recovering from throat surgery and so it was a strange muted type of salty response. It was interesting to say the least, but back on the winning side is a good thing. 
(2-2) (6-6 games)

Round 5 vs. Vincent (Burn)
Apparently islands just aren't a thing in this format anymore, as I find yet another opponent not on the Brainstorm plan. That's just fine with me, as this pleasant fellow from Cincinnati would share the same fate as the previous burn opponent, albeit in a different way. Game 1 was just as easy as the previous round, with me winning on 11 life thanks to the usual combo powered by Natural Order. Game 2 was a great one, probably the best game since Round 1 as far as entertainment value. He comes in with a couple of burn spells, an Eidolon, a Sulfuric Vortex, and then a Pyrostatic Pillar as well. Overkill much?

When he played the Pillar, I had five creatures, most of which were tapped from attacking: Dryad Arbor, a Quirion Ranger, two other 1/1 creatures, and a Nettle Sentinel, and I sat on 5 life. He was at 6 life with the 2/2 Eidolon left untapped to play defense. Dropping to 3 life on the upkeep thanks to Vortex, I could not play any of my green creatures to untap the Nettle Sentinel because of Pillar/Eidolon, and I did not have a GSZ or Natural Order to get around the damage to finish the job. Thus, I am forced to swing in with the four 1/1 creatures, one of which gets blocked. Opponent drops to 3. I then use the Quirion Ranger to return Dryad arbor to the hand and replay it as a potential blocker. Vincent drops to 1 on his upkeep, he can't attack through my blocker, and his own Pillar and Eidolon stop him from casting the Lightning Bolt that could have won him the game. Essentially, he could have won if he had not played the Pillar (total of 4 saved damage, 2 from Pillar when Bolt is cast and 2 from Eidolon when Pillar was cast). The theme rings true, mistakes (even small ones) are punished heavily in Legacy. It was nice to not play game 3 as well for the first time all day.
(3-2) (8-6 games)

Round 6 vs. Neeraj (R/G Lands)
You'd think playing Legacy you'd run into a deck with Islands, and especially a deck chock full of all kinds of lands, but not so. Game 1 was relatively short as I combo'd him in quick fashion without a Glacial Chasm there to stop me. Likewise, Game 2 was a quick affair thanks to his combo finish, which is Thespian's Stage copying Dark Depths for an immediate 20/20 flying Merit Lage. I had sided in Scavenging Ooze to combat a slow grindy Loam game, but seeing this plus Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale in game 2 made me sideboard it out for something else in Game 3, trying to add consistency and speed to the deck when going first. That is a massive mistake, as Neeraj relied on Glacial Chasm game 3 to hold my lethal damage at bay while he abused Life from the Loam to eventually assemble the 20/20 Merit Lage on the turn before he would have to sacrifice Chasm. I did resolve a green Sun's Zenith in the middle of this process for 2, and instead of getting the Ooze which would have dealt with Life from the Loam, or at a minimum, gained sufficient life to survive one attack from Merit Lage (which was all I needed to do to win with Chasm off the board), I had to go get another creature with the Ooze in the sideboard. Yet another example of how small misplays even in sideboarding get punished in Legacy. This also was a nice capstone to mirror my benefit from another Elves player mis-sideboarding in Round 1.
(3-3) (9-8 games)

The primary lesson, if it was not clear, is that playing clean in Legacy is vital to doing well in tournaments like this. I still firmly believe that a good pilot of nearly any deck can do very well so long as they understand the match ups and play flawlessly. It is so easy to make mistakes, especially with cards like Brainstorm, and you can take advantage of the high amount of mistakes other people make with their own decks.

I could've continued playing and may have made Day 2 at 6-3, but I had no interest in continuing with my mediocre level of play based on what was obviously the lesson of the day. Plus, how often can you tell a story in Legacy where you played SIX ROUNDS and you literally see ZERO islands, Brainstorm, or Force of Will? Unbelievable.

Maybe I should've been on Belcher like the GP in Columbus 6 years ago. I did loan that same deck to a friend Mike and he finished up 2-3 with it, ironically losing to Belcher in round 3 at the same time that I did. The People's Cannon is dangerous, but still worthwhile to play as a good time. Plus we got to grab dinner at a local German pub and played a couple of games of 1-on-1 Commander, which was a good time. That, plus going home to sleep in your own bed, was more than worth whatever satisfaction I would have gotten from trying to grind to 6-3 and/or play Day 2.

My only other major takeaway from the weekend was that Elves had a poor weekend overall, placing exactly zero copies in the Top 32 of both GP Prague and GP Columbus. Miracles is all over the place, followed by Delver and Shardless Sultai variants, and a little Death and Taxes, Storm, etc. thrown in. Interestingly, even though Infect won the Columbus GP, it looks like it only placed 2 or 3 total copies in the Top 32's of both Grand Prix combined. I think Elves is on a similar level as Infect, and probably should have seen similar results.

Bottom Line - I remain faithful that a properly tech-ed Elves (such as with Sylvan Library in the main deck and Choke perhaps in the sideboard) can do well in this Legacy format. That being said, if I wanted to burn $1,500...collecting the rest of Miracles (cost would be mostly dual lands and Jaces) and/or the rest of R/G Lands (cost would be Tabernacle, mostly) would also be a fun time. But that's not happening anytime soon with how infrequently I go to tournaments, so GO GO ELVEN TRIBE.

Also, I wonder if Divining Top eventually gets banned. If Miracles continues to be a clear best deck in the format, the slow play caused by that card may end up getting it on the radar for the ban team. For now I suspect it is safe, but when you see 50% of a Top 8 and Top 32 be one deck in a format as wide and diverse as Legacy (evidence - see my list of unexpected matchups over 6 rounds), that could signal a problem moving forward.

Monday, May 16, 2016

TACO Spring 2016 Results

TACO Spring is now finished, and it was a good time. Congratulations go out to the winner Brewdon, who took down the title on Sunday evening in The Angry Chicken's live stream.

How did Three Gods and a Miracle finish, you ask? About as predicted.

Overall, the finish was 1-1 without any byes. There were about 100 players, so quite a few byes were out there. But my first round opponent was in above his head a little bit, so it made no difference in the end. Let's take a look at the specific results.

Round 1 vs. Deefoz (Shaman, Paladin, Mage, Priest)
  • He banned Hunter (wow), I banned Shaman
  • Game 1: my Miracle Rogue def. his Tempo Mage
  • Game 2: my N'Zoth Priest def. his Control Paladin
  • Game 3: my Reno/C'Thun Warlock def. his Tempo Mage
There were some significant misplays, especially in the Priest/Paladin game where those little errors add up over the long game. His Mage came out like a champ against Miracle Rogue but it just did not matter, which is testament to the strength of that Miracle deck. The other two games were always way in my control, as evidenced by the following screenshots.

You know what's fun? Getting to play both Ragnaros Lightlord and Uther in Priest. True story.

For style points, I decided to let C'Thun finish the job against Mage in game three, since I was not able to play Yogg or N'Zoth in the other games.

Round 2 vs. KEnODvT (Priest, Shaman, Paladin, Hunter)
  • He banned Rogue, I banned Shaman
  • Game 1: his Midrange Hunter def. my N'Zoth Priest
  • Game 2: his Control Priest def. my Reno/C'Thun Warlock
  • Game 3: my Yogg & Load Hunter def. his N'Zoth Paladin
  • Game 4: his N'Zoth Paladin def. my N'Zoth Priest
I should've taken some screenshots (opponent had mostly gold decks too), but these matches were so close and so long that I was too focused in the moment to provide those. All four games were competitive, but the last three were truly epic. Worth recapping as I have below:

Game 1 came down to him having Call of the Wild on Turn 8 and 10, which exhausted my resources just before I had turned the game around and put it under control. That's how Hunter vs. Priest goes sometimes.

Game 2 he played an early Justicar Trueheart, which was going to make it difficult for me to play the long game against him. So even though I was still in the mid-20's after drawing a few extra cards with the Hero Power, I went ahead and played Turn 9 Jaraxxus since I had two big taunt minions on board. One of these was a 4/6 Brann Bronzebeard, and I'd never seen Jaraxxus go off twice before (it was very weird).

On the next turn, my taunts were gone and I had to clear a Wild Pyromancer with my attack power, putting me at 12. Although the opponent had quite a few cards in hand, I was set to win with C'Thun the next turn...and despite having 16-17 cards left in his deck, he played Auchenai Soulpriest, double Flash Heal, Hero Power for 14 damage to my face. Cute, an unintentional combo Priest. That was frustrating as all hell, but I forced him to have a very specific set of cards as his only out and he had it.

Game 3 I though about holding Hunter back, but then decided, I'm here for fun and I'd hate to never get a chance to play the deck after it was banned Round 1. YOLO Yogg was in effect! I was able to apply some pressure to the N'Zoth Paladin and played through one fairly good Lock and Load turn as well. Eventually he built up a board that was going to be lethal soon, so I had to go all in on Yogg with about 12-14 spells played. It turned out beautifully, as I ended up with a 10/4 divine shield Yogg and a 4/2 divine shield Savannah Highmane (long story) with him on 14 life. He responded with a N'Zoth which pulled Sylvanas and Uther. I didn't have any burn left in hand, so I played tracking and had to rely on the fates of RNG with Deadly Shot. It cleared Uther (because of course it would) and I stomped to victory. Maybe not well-earned, but the opponent and I were laughing all the same.

Game 4 was your standard N'Zoth Priest vs. N'Zoth Paladin long grind fest. I pulled terribly on my Shades (Humility and Aldor Peacekeeper...ugh) and eventually had to go in on N'Zoth despite knowing he still likely had one board clear left. Golden Monkey followed that to try and win with legendaries over his board presence (double minion hero power nearly all game thanks to another early Justicar), but my pulls were less than ideal. I was not able to draw well with Shades, and my big removal spells did not come at the right times (most were buried deep in the deck).  He was able to Forbidden Healing out of range and I lost to fatigue damage and his continual board presence.

And, that's that. The opponent went on to lose the next round, breaking the streak of me losing to a Top 4 finisher in every TACO tournament. Oh well.

So another relatively early exit. But it was a lot of fun, and each of the decks got to win a game thanks to the YOLO Yogg game in the second round working out for me. That's satisfying, and I know but for a bit of bad luck these decks were way more solid than I initially gave them credit for.

They will be fun to continue to play on ladder as well, so I've posted screenshots below for those who want to join the fun.

Finally, let's check in on my predictions. Thanks to Battlefy, lots of statistics were available to us to see how my bigger-scale predictions panned out:
  • I will ban Shaman in every round - CORRECT (2 of 2 rounds) (Shaman was the most banned class in the tournament too)
  • Warlock will be the class banned most often by my opponents - WRONG (0 of 2 rounds)
  • Hunter will be least played, Shaman will be most played - CORRECT (Druid and Hunter were least played, Shaman was most followed by Warlock)
  • The tournament winner will have N'Zoth Paladin, Miracle Rogue, and Shaman as three of their decks - WRONG (Brewdon had Warlock, Priest, Shaman, Druid)
  • I will go 1-1, and a bad Yogg-Saron turn will be my undoing - MOSTLY CORRECT (My YOLO Yogg actually worked, but I still ended up 1-1)
Not too bad on the predictions front. On to the next one!  Enjoy the Whispers meta everyone.

Decklist Screenshots:

Friday, May 13, 2016

Preparing for TACO Spring 2016: Developing a Fun Themed Deck Line-up

It's been a ridiculously fun 2+ weeks in Arena and Constructed following the release of Whispers of the Old Gods in Hearthstone, as everyone explores crazy combinations of cards and new types of decks. That makes it a perfect time for the latest in the seasonal (quarterly) open tournaments hosted by The Angry Chicken podcast (also known as TACO).

Despite playing a lot of Hearthstone, these are the only tournaments I have played in thus far. They tend to be highly enjoyable because the community of podcast listeners fills up most of the slots in a 128-person single elimination bracket, and this particular community tends to be very nice to each other. While there's certainly competitive play, it's all done in the spirit of fun (and the stakes of a couple Battle.net gift cards and a custom engraved pint glass are not causing people to go all serious mode).

I've had the pleasure of playing in three of these tournaments so far, and I've tried to be competitive in all of these. The results have been mixed:
  • TACO Spring 2015 (0-1) (Control Warrior, Combo Druid, Handlock) - lost to a semifinal player
  • TACO Fall 2015 (1-1) (Patron Warrior, Dragon Priest, Mech Mage) - lost to the eventual champion
  • TACO Winter 2016 (4-1) (Freeze Mage, Aggro Shaman, and my brew Dragon Hunter) - lost to a semifinal player
Despite being knocked out early in two out of three, I have always been taken out by one of the Top 4 players in the tournament. Plus, playing in the Conquest format has provided the opportunity to play a lot of different decks as competitive, which is a fun challenge when you don't do it frequently.

So with the new expansion comes new rules for TACO: the Standard format will be used (of course), and now a ban is included each round so you must bring FOUR classes to the Conquest format. Just like with Heroes of the Storm, I believe bans make for more interesting strategy and variety in a tournament like this.

However, figuring out what Standard format decks to bring, let alone four of them, has proven to be an exceedingly difficult challenge. Hell, there's only been one or two "meta reports" on the major websites and the format is far from settled. Things like C'Thun Druid is all the rage one week, and then mostly done the next week. Competitive tournaments have seen a wide mix of decks and classes as well, as evidenced by Dreamhack Austin last week and the European Spring Preliminaries this week. Here's a table put together by GosuGamers for the spread of decks in the ESP:

Following my enjoyment of Arena and the 12-win Paladin run which came off the heels of my failed April Arena challenge (see previous posts), I buckled down this week to figure out which of the nine classes would become my four decks. I again figured let's play competitively because an experienced CCG player like me should be able to have a huge edge on a field full of players still brewing up decks rather than playing established "meta decks."

However, as the week wore on, I could not seem to identify decks which hit the sweet spot of (a) being fun to play, and (b) having a high winrate. I started the week set on a line-up of C'Thun Druid, Tempo Yogg Mage, Aggro or Midrange Shaman, and Zoo Warlock. But my luck with Mage and especially Druid quickly soured, and then the Dreamhack results and deck lists came out. All of a sudden, I'm experimenting with new decks like Tempo Warrior, N'Zoth Control Paladin, Miracle Rogue, and the like, all of which are being played a ton on ladder to go with Zoo and Shaman decks.

Having decided that I could not make a decision, I tried listing my best deck in each class in order and running a random number generator to pick 4 classes. I let the line-up it selected settle in my head for a day or so before coming to the realization I just was not going to be happy with it. Or really, with trying to be competitive in this unsettled format. Trying hard and failing would be exceptionally frustrating...so...what was I to do?

Then the light bulb went on.

Have fun.

Not just any fun, but epic fun.

Play a theme roster of decks which are fun to play and at least somewhat competitive, and see what happens. That was my attitude with my pet deck Dragon Hunter last time (albeit with much more time and refinement put in to that deck to be competitive in a well-established Wild Format), and it worked out fine. Worst case scenario, I go 0-1 and have fun playing these decks doing it. Seems like a great plan.

After some more thinking and brewing, I came up with a roster and then started refining it. The roster was formulated by wanting to play each of the three Old Gods which I have opened and brewed with (C'thun, Yogg-Saron, and N'Zoth) and one of the classes which I have not played in a TACO yet (Paladin or Rogue).

The latter decision was easy because N'Zoth Paladin, while very strong, is the only viable deck in Paladin right now and too predictable. I'll save that for trying hard on the ladder. Which left me with Rogue, a class I had single digit wins with in ranked until this week.

But then the theme for the "have fun" deck line-up became obvious thanks to the Rogue deck I've had the most luck with:

Three Gods and a Miracle
  • C'Thun Reno Warlock
  • Yogg & Load Hunter
  • N'Zoth Control Priest
  • Miracle Rogue
Picking fun decks a little off the well-beaten path, we have three decks centered on Old Gods and a fourth on "Miracles."  None of which I've played in a tournament before (that seems to be a trend, as I keep brining totally new decks every season as shown by the list above).

Playing off an old movie title, we have quite a little religious fun theme this time. Plus, many of these decks are not the type of things opponents will be very prepared for, considering the rise of Warrior decks, Shaman decks, Zoo Warlock, and N'Zoth Paladin. Who knows, maybe this fun combination will go farther than one or two rounds this weekend.

I'll share results and deck lists in my next post, as well as results of some fun predictions below, but a little over a day of testing and refining the four decks has lifted my ladder rank a couple rungs and has revealed some strengths and weaknesses. Of the most popular classes, I feel most confident against Warriors of all varieties and least confident against Shaman (followed closely by Zoo Warlock), AKA, the decks which build and maintain strong board presence better than all others right now.

Based on that, here's my predictions for the tournament, with a focus on both bans and results since I have not participated in a four deck Conquest format tournament with bans ever before.
  • I will ban Shaman every round that I play in TACO Spring 2016, because my line-up is super weak to that class and I expect almost everyone will bring it.
  • Warlock will be the class primarily banned by my opponents in the Three Gods and a Miracle line-up, as they will suspect Zoo (for similar reasons, if I play more than 2 rounds I'd expect a ban to be thrown at Rogue once or twice as well).
  • Hunter will be the least played class of TACO Spring 2016, while Shaman will be the most played class.
  • The tournament winner will have N'Zoth Paladin, Miracle Rogue, and Shaman as three of their decks.
  • I will go 1-1, and a bad Yogg-Saron turn will be my undoing (Pyroblast to the face, anyone?).
The prep is over.

Let's go have some epic fun! TACO hype!

Monday, May 9, 2016

April Arena Challenge Final Update (#4)

As mentioned at the end of March, I decided to take on an Arena challenge where you play 10 arena runs and try to achieve a certain number of wins (an overly optimistic 65 total, in my case). Let's check in on how this challenge is progressing.

After the first seven runs (Hunter, Paladin, Mage, Warlock, Shaman, Priest, Druid), we stand at 24 wins total.

For run #8, the choice was already one in which I had played all three decks before! So Warrior and Rogue will have to wait as I select between Druid, Hunter, and Warlock. While I would've been happier with a Mage or Paladin repeat, I will do a second Druid run in a row as I feel that my previous 3-3 run was not up to snuff for that class. Here's the deck:

Results for Run 8 (Druid)
L vs. Warrior (0-1)
W vs. Hunter (1-1)
W vs. Rogue (2-1)
W vs. Mage (3-1)
L vs. Mage (3-2)
L vs. Shaman (3-3)

Final Total after 8 Arena Runs - 27 wins

And go figure, a 3-3 run deserves another, apparently. Despite getting on a nice three-game winning streak early in this run, the deck just did not have what it took to do better than the other decks I have drafted in this challenge. On the down side, the nerfs hit during this run and that made Force of Nature not so good...but on the bright side, the new set Whispers dropped as well which means new cards to play with and hopefully better results!

For round 9, Rogue came up against Priest and Druid (yet again), so I finally needed to pick Valeera. Although the mechwarpers from the previous run disappeared, my assortment of two and three mana cards was much deeper. Would that finally be the ticket to a good run in this challenge? Here's the deck:

Results for Run 9 (Rogue)
W vs. Shaman (1-0)
W vs. Paladin (2-0)
L vs. Shaman (2-1)
L vs. Hunter (2-2)
W vs. Mage (3-2)
W vs. Paladin (4-2)
W vs. Rogue (5-2)
W vs. Rogue (6-2)
W vs. Mage (7-2)
W vs. Rogue (8-2)
L vs. Mage (8-3)

Final Total after 9 Arena Runs - 35 wins

Finally, an Arena run with some serious legs to it! Clearly people are adjusting to the new cards, which certainly helps, but this deck did some solid work with all the 2-drops. Corrupted Healbot was interesting, as the card was not as good as Zombie Chow but it still made for some interesting games and decisions out of opponents. It will be interesting to see where that particular card shakes out in the arena format. Also, apparently I just own opponents playing Rogue...don't know why but it just seems to happen.

For the final round 10, the choice did not contain Warrior, so I dodged that bullet for this challenge. However, Shaman was the pick over Priest and Rogue despite my recent success with Rogue because Shaman looks like one of the classes that will benefit most from having a heavy emphasis on WOG cards. I got a second pick Flamewreathed Faceless, which is awesome, but no more came down the pike to make the deck potentially ridiculous.

Results for Run 10 (Shaman)
L vs. Paladin (0-1)
W vs. Rogue (1-1)
W vs. Hunter (2-1)
L vs. Shaman (2-2)
L vs. Rogue (2-3)

Final Total after 10 Arena Runs - 37 wins

It figures that the end of the League of Explorers meta in Arena finishes with a true thud, as my failures to play the tempo game in this challenge led to a lot of mediocre results. Of course, May came and the first run ended up being a Paladin run at 12-2, which would've been helpful in trying to reach 65 wins! Oh well. Sometime we will revisit this challenge and hopefully with better luck than April.

Thanks for reading, and until next time, enjoy the new WOG metagame in Arena. Big creatures and end game matters once again, which appears to have helped my personal Arena game. More on this later, especially if I keep winning double digits after stopping the challenge.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

April Arena Challenge Update #3

As mentioned at the end of March, I decided to take on an Arena challenge where you play 10 arena runs and try to achieve a certain number of wins (an overly optimistic 65 total, in my case). Let's check in on how this challenge is progressing.

After the first four runs (Hunter, Paladin, Mage, Warlock), we stand at 15 wins total.

The fifth deck choice was Shaman, which was selected over Paladin, ineligible, and Warrior. Here's what Thrall had to offer:

Results for Run 5 (Shaman)
W vs. Druid (1-0)
L vs. Warlock (1-1)
W vs. Paladin (2-1)
L vs. Paladin (2-2)
W vs. Warrior (3-2)
W vs. Warrior (4-2)
L vs. Mage (4-3)

Total after 5 Arena Runs - 19 wins

Back on the winning side of the ledger with this deck, although some of the card choices offered (3 Bloodlust offered, the epic choice ending up in Mountain Giant was awful, etc.) were not optimal. This deck did have Mage levels of removal, which made for some potent board control and tempo-based victories. I don't know how the prospects look for my upcoming Warrior run given the continued dominance of my decks over that class, but we will cross that bridge when we come to it.

We are substantially averaging 4 wins a run at the halfway mark, which is OK for doing better than breaking even on arena entry fees, but not much more. Opening some final GvG packs awarded on a couple of these runs has been fun, at least!

For round 6 the next selection was between Mage, Shaman, and Priest. The only eligible option is Priest. Here's my sixth deck, which is easily the most late-game oriented of the decks drafted so far in this challenge:

Results for Run 6 (Priest)
W vs. Mage (1-0)
L vs. Hunter (1-1)
W vs. Rogue (2-1)
L vs. Mage (2-2)
L vs. Shaman (2-3)

Total after 6 Arena Runs - 21 wins

Yikes. The first losing record run of this challenge kicks off the second half, with the control-oriented Priest deck getting run over from good draws out of the Hunter and Shaman opponents. When putting together a deck of this strategy, it really needs to have more taunts. Sticky minions are great, but if you are constantly losing the tempo battle anyway, they can't win the game by themselves. Good lesson to learn near the end of the TGT/LOE Arena season.

For round 7 the next selection was between Druid and Rogue and one of the classes already played. I decided to run with the power of Malfurion following my first sub-.500 run in this challenge. Here's my seventh deck, which is easily the most late-game oriented of the decks drafted so far in this challenge:

Results for Run 7 (Druid)
L vs. Paladin (0-1)
W vs. Priest (1-1)
W vs. Warrior (2-1)
L vs. Rogue (2-2)
W vs. Mage (3-2)
L vs. Paladin (3-3)

Total after 7 Arena Runs - 24 wins

After being wrecked by discover cards in the previous run with Priest, I ended up with a metric ton of Scarabs and Spiders in this deck. Although the 3-3 record does not indicate it, this felt like a deck that could've gone above 7 wins with some better draws in the mulligan phase. The discover mechanic is brilliant, bringing even more play skill and decision making to places like Arena. Even with the mediocre result, this deck was a blast to play.

Three runs left to go and we only need 41 wins to reach the target. OK, so clearly that target was flawed. However, with Rogue and Warrior still potentially on the docket for the final runs, at this point just making a better finish will make me happy. We will certainly reset the goal a little lower for next time.

Also on the bright side, the new expansion is releasing in the middle of this challenge, so it will be crazy times seeing everyone adjust to the Old Gods Arena meta. Let's see how high we can reach on the win scale (preferably approaching 40, but I've sailed under the expectation bar pretty well so far).

Monday, April 25, 2016

Bidding Farewell to Naxxramas and GVG - The Effect on Decks

As of today, the patches for the new Hearthstone expansion (Whispers of the Old Gods) and the beginning of the Standard Format have gone live on many devices, which means we are but a few hours away from Naxxramas and Goblins vs. Gnomes rotating out of Standard Format on Tuesday. The Classic/Basic card nerfs are live (R.I.P. Combo Druid), and now we can begin focusing on the new competitive format.

As mentioned in my most recent post, I took a look at all of the 12 or 13 decks currently being played on my account, which also represent a good cross-section of the top ladder meta decks, to see which ones were losing the most from this rotation. Although my conclusion on the Classic/Basic card nerfs was that the impact would be minimal on these top decks, that is not the case with the powerful sets rotating out of Standard Format this week.

Plus this was a good excuse to take one final look at exactly what superstar cards will not be all over ladder games anymore (except in Wild Format).

Another goal is to see which decks stand as the most likely to continue in close to their present form in the new Standard Format. With a few weeks of experimentation and brewing coming on the ladder, it can be advantageous to play a reliable known deck at times to climb the ladder as well.

Let's take a look first at the numbers, ranked from least to most:
  • Aggressive Shaman - 0 cards from Naxx, 3 cards from GVG (3 total), most notable Crackle
  • Freeze Mage - 2 cards from Naxx, 2 cards from GVG (4 total), most notable Mad Scientist
  • Midrange Druid(*) - 1 cards from Naxx, 3 cards from GVG (4 total), most notable Piloted Shredder
  • Control Warrior - 4 cards from Naxx, 1 card from GVG (5 total), most notable Death's Bite
  • Dragon Hunter - 4 cards from Naxx, 2 cards from GVG (6 total), most notable Glaivezooka
  • Combo Priest - 5 cards from Naxx, 1 cards from GVG (6 total), most notable Deathlord and Zombie Chow
  • Patron Warrior - 5 cards from Naxx, 2 cards from GVG (7 total), most notable Death's Bite and Unstable Ghoul
  • Dragon Priest - 4 cards from Naxx, 3 cards from GVG (7 total), most notable Velen's Chosen and Piloted Shredder
  • Reno Warlock - 3 cards from Naxx, 5 cards from GVG (8 total), most notable Dr. Boom and Healbot
  • Zoo Warlock - 5 cards from Naxx, 4 cards from GVG (9 total), most notable Nerubian Egg and Imp-losion
  • Raptor Rogue - 6 cards from Naxx, 3 cards from GVG (9 total), most notable Nerubian Egg and Piloted Shredder
  • Secret Paladin - 5 cards from Naxx, 9 cards from GVG (14 total), most notable Shielded Minibot and Muster for Battle
  • Midrange Paladin - 4 cards from Naxx, 10 cards from GVG (14 total), most notable Muster for Battle and Sludge Belcher
(*) For Midrange Druid, this was the only deck decimated by the Classic/Basic card nerfs, as it ran 2 Ancient of Lore, 2 Force of Nature, and 2 Keeper of the Grove. This deck does not exist anymore in the Standard Format as it used to be, despite the low Naxx/GVG rotation totals.

There's certainly a wide range of effects, as the Paladin decks will be completely rebuilt from scratch and the Warlock decks will need to slot in new tools for their diverse strategies, while Aggressive Shaman and Freeze Mage basically go through unchanged.  What this means is that while some classes which have dominated ladder like Paladin and Druid will need to be far different to top the Standard Format, there's a baseline of (mostly Tier 2 currently) decks which will continue to be a solid base for the ladder meta.

I strongly recommend keeping Aggressive Shaman (and/or Face Hunter, not listed above) and Freeze Mage in your repertoire moving forward in view of the information above. You should also continue to expect plenty of Warlock decks and Warrior decks as well. Dragon-based decks are also largely unchanged and may actually get better thanks to the rotation and some new cards in Whispers.

At a minimum, we have a starting place for those who don't want to jump in and explore the totally new cards and decks available with Whispers. Although I find such deck brewing to be fun, it's not for everyone.

The other way to look at this information is based on the cards lost. Here's a list of the cards lost from each set that appeared in these decks, including the number of decks out of 13 they appeared in:

  • Sludge Belcher - 6 decks
  • Haunted Creeper - 4 decks
  • Zombie Chow - 4 decks
  • Loatheb - 3 decks
  • Nerubian Egg - 2 decks
  • Death's Bite - 2 decks
  • Deathlord - 1 deck
  • Avenge - 1 deck
  • Mad Scientist - 1 deck
  • Shade of Naxxramas - 1 deck
  • Dark Cultist - 1 deck
  • Unstable Ghoul - 1 deck
  • TOTAL - 12 cards
Goblins vs. Gnomes
  • Dr. Boom - 7 decks
  • Piloted Shredder - 7 decks
  • Antique Healbot - 3 decks
  • Shielded Minibot - 2 decks
  • Muster for Battle - 2 decks
  • Coghammer - 2 decks
  • Darkbomb - 2 decks
  • Imp-losion - 2 decks
  • Shieldmaiden - 1 deck
  • Crackle - 1 deck
  • Whirling Zap-O-Matic - 1 deck
  • Glaivezooka - 1 deck
  • Velen's Chosen - 1 deck
  • Lightbomb - 1 deck
  • Quartermaster - 1 deck
  • TOTAL - 15 cards
Obviously the power level of that first adventure Naxx was off the charts, with 12 out of 30 cards seeing regular play. The top tier of GVG was also pretty thick, although Dr. Boom and Piloted Shredder outpace the rest by a wide margin.

Adios to all these fun and powerful cards, except in Wild Format where everything lives on forever. I'm looking forward to finding admittedly lesser-powered replacements which hopefully promote good deck building skills and good play when trying to compete at the highest rungs of the ladder.

It's been a blast GVG and Naxx, but it's time for you to go. See you in Arena!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Hearthstone "Standard" Rebalancing Nerfs Announced: Checking in on the Predictions

In February, when Standard Format was announced by the Blizzard team that makes Hearthstone, the transition to the new format was also announced to involve a rebalancing of several Basic and Classic cards. Based on lead designer Ben Brode's public comments, I predicted 10-12 cards in these sets would end up adjusted in this first of what may be annual passes through the evergreen Standard Format sets.

This week, Blizzard announced one week before the Whispers of the Old Gods expansion release what those rebalancing nerfs would be. Let's check in on my predictions, and then give some brief thoughts about the actual changes and the effect it will have on my preferred decks.

The predictions

Here are links to the series of posts (part 1 here) (part 2 here) (part 3 here) (part 4 here) that discussed many of the Classic and Basic cards, including an analysis of likelihood to be changed and a proposed re-design for the cards most likely to be changed. The list below is the summary from the final article in the series, even though many other cards were discussed:

More Than 50% Likelihood, or Almost Certain

Savage Roar - Druid
Force of Nature - Druid
Divine Favor - Paladin
Doomhammer - Shaman
Battle Rage - Warrior
Leper Gnome - Neutral
Knife Juggler - Neutral
Alexstraza - Neutral

50/50 Likelihood

Sorcerer's Apprentice - Mage
Tirion Fordring - Paladin
Northshire Cleric - Priest
Big Game Hunter - Neutral
Baron Geddon - Neutral

The Actual Rebalancing Nerfs

Ancient of Lore - Option to draw 2 cards now just draws 1 card
Force of Nature - Cost reduced to 5 mana, the three 2/2 treants summoned no longer have charge
Keeper of the Grove - now a 2/2 minion instead of a 2/4
Ironbeak Owl - Cost increased to 3 mana
Big Game Hunter - Cost increased to 5 mana
Hunter's Mark - Cost increased to 1 mana
Blade Flurry - Cost increased to 4 mana, now only deals damage to enemy minions (not opponent)
Knife Juggler - now a 2/2 minion instead of a 3/2
Leper Gnome - now a 1/1 minion instead of a 2/1
Arcane Golem - now a 4/4 minion instead of a 4/2, but no longer has charge
Molten Giant - Cost increased to 25 mana
Master of Disguise - Battlecry changed to give a friendly minion stealth only until your next turn

Prediction Results and My Thoughts

I'll start with the good news: Blizzard adjusted 12 cards overall, which was right on the 10-12 prediction in my series of articles. From there, the results go a bit south.

Only 3 of the 8 cards I identified as high likelihood rebalancing targets actually showed up on the list, and then only 1 of the 5 cards listed as 50/50 chance.  That's 4 correct out of 12, which is not terribly great. So what went wrong?

Clearly one item which Blizzard felt needed adjusting and I did not consider in detail was the silence minions. It is totally understandable that if Ironbeak Owl needed to be changed, then so did one or more of the others (in this case, Keeper of the Grove). Honestly, the change to Keeper feels slightly heavy-handed when comparing that card to Spellbreaker, so maybe Spellbreaker should have also been adjusted upwardly in mana cost.

Another area where I missed the boat was cards which mainly only enable OTK game-ending combinations (other than Force-Roar, which we all knew was being adjusted).  The reasoning for adjusting cards like Arcane Golem and Blade Flurry make sense, but I didn't see either as a real problem since the use cases were pretty narrow in my experience.

That leaves the small outliers like Hunter's Mark and Master of Disguise (the latter had been rumored to be needing adjustment as well, even though it did not see any play currently), which are harder to predict, and two cards I considered but did not pull the trigger on, Ancient of Lore and Molten Giant. With all the potential focus on Druid, I thought if Blizzard would adjust any card drawing engine cards, it would more likely be from other classes (plus I think Battle Rage and Divine Favor are just better cards overall). I analyzed Sea Giant instead of Molten Giant, but the key difference there is that Blizzard does not like the ability to drop free Giants and swing a late game in somewhat of an OTK fashion, which Molten Giant did better than Sea Giant.  I'm not surprised a Giant was adjusted, but I was not willing to pull the trigger on Sea Giant, which turned out to be correct.

Other than the card drawing engines in my prediction list, the only real miss I see in the actual nerfs is some change to Freeze Mage, or mages in general. The Mage cards revealed for Whispers appear to be very strong, which means those decks (and Freeze Mage in particular) might become the new Patron Warrior or Secret Paladin. It makes me wonder if Sorcerer's Apprentice should not have also been reduced to a 2/2 or something similar, as that seems like a change consistent with the likes of other minions changed in this pass. Plus Alexstraza helps enable OTK combos often, so that card seems like a natural inclusion when knocking out items like Blade Flurry and Arcane Golem. There's always next year, but regardless, I will enjoy continuing to play these cards!

As for the changes themselves, I think Blizzard did a nice job of not nerfing most of these into totally unplayable cards (only a couple exceptions like Arcane Golem). Sure, it may be that many of them will end up not being selected in most decks, but they still are competitive with other cards in their mana slots and will deserve potential selection in future deck choices. Plus they are still useful in Arena as well. 

Those types of changes, unlike the ones we've seen to cards like Warsong Commander, are much better for the player base invested in these cards (while also achieving the goals of Blizzard.  So despite my poor prediction record and my penchant for more drastic changes in my prediction pieces, I applaud the changes in the manner they were actually made.

Plus, only a few more days until Standard Format and new cards...HYPE!

Don't forget to disenchant many of these cards when the patch drops next week, as you can always re-craft the ones you need to use for the same price later. For free-to-play players, this is a great opportunity for increased dust value at a critical time heading into a new expansion.

Effect on My Current Stable of Decks

With Standard Format on the horizon, I also took a look this week at the 12 decks in my rotation of constructed decks to see how many cards each would be losing (or having nerfed in the list above) next week.  I'll save the overall totals for the next post since this one is already very long, but I do want to share the total number of the nerfed cards I was using, to illustrate a quick point.

For reference, the decks I am using include: control warrior, secret paladin, freeze mage, agro shaman, dragon hunter, zoo warlock, midrange combo druid, dragon priest, patron warrior, Reno warlock, combo priest, and midrange paladin. Here's the summary:

Knife Juggler, Ironbeak Owl, and Big Game Hunter show up in 3 of these 12 decks.
Leper Gnome shows up in 2 of the 12 decks.
Arcane Golem is a 1-of in Reno Warlock.
Ancient of Lore, Force of Nature, and Keeper of the Grove are all in Midrange Combo Druid.

So while 8 of the 12 cards adjusted do show up somewhere, and 2 more are in Rogue which I don't currently play, the impact is fairly minimal across the board. The aggressive decks will adjust to the neutral minion changes, and the "tech" cards like Owl and BGH likely still will be run in the changed form.  In other words, other than Midrange Combo Druid, these rebalancing nerfs will not significantly alter the decks or play styles I currently choose to enjoy. So at the end of the day, there's no huge reason to complain about the changes!

Stay tuned for the next post, when I elaborate on this further and look at total numbers of cards lost in these archtypes, which represent many of the top decks on constructed ladder meta reports heading into Standard Format.