Monday, September 19, 2016

The September Shot at Legend, as the Karazhan meta settles

It's been a little while since we did an article series on Hearthstone, and this month I have decided to take on a new challenge. Instead of an Arena challenge (which ironically went well below expectations, right before the Whispers of the Old Gods arena metagame hit, which turned out to be a boon for my play style with a number of 10-12 win arena runs), this time we will focus on the ladder. After all, one of the few card backs I'd like to have but don't is the legend card back.

While I used to regularly finish seasons at Ranks 4-6, when the climb was admittedly far easier, now I usually clock in somewhere between Ranks 7 and 10. However, I have not taken a serious climb towards legend since Standard format dropped with the WOTOG expansion. Hence the lower results.

Part of this decision was not wanting to grind against a format full of different flavors of Warrior decks. According to the Vicious Syndicate meta reports, Warrior reached amazing levels of 25-30% plus on the ladder during the WOTOG meta, so it seemed like you were always playing against the class.  But now, with the Karazhan expansion having been released in August/September, there are a bunch of new cards people are brewing with and a few new archetypes of decks running wild on the ladder. I may share my thoughts on some of these as we go, but for now, let's keep focused on the climb to legend.

That development of new decks has also led to the de-throning of Warrior as the dominant constructed play class, at least for now. Hunter has taken over, followed by Shaman and Druid and Mage. Hell, even variants of Priest and Rogue are seeing some play with the new Karazhan cards. This makes for an exciting time to play on ladder, as is always the case following an adventure.  Particularly if you are playing a deck like Aggro Shaman (which was really only weak to Warrior) and Zoo Warlock, both of which thrive against the new top tier of classes, the ladder is ripe for climbing.

Add to that the fact that this season does not count for HCT world championship points, and the door should be open to making the climb to legend a bit easier in September. All that being said as the reasoning for making September a challenge month, this series of articles will focus on recapping my deck decisions as I go and how the results are actually playing out. 

Tracking results and making adjustments accordingly has been the most consistent advice I have seen from others like Dils (of the angry Chicken podcast) who have made the climb.  Plus just playing a sufficient number of games, with the target being around 10-15 a day. So let's dive into the first week plus of results:


The primary classes played were an aggressive/midrange (hybrid) Shaman and a Zoo Warlock with the discard package from Karazhan (Darkshire Librarian, Melchazar's Imp, Silverware Golem, etc.).  As you can see, the initial climb from about rank 16-17 went well at first with Shaman but then leveled off around rank 14.  At this point, I audibled to Zoo, and won the first 12 or 13 games in a row as shown on September 7-8.

That was good enough to rocket right up to about rank 8 or rank 7, at which point it's been a slow and arduous back-and-forth grind again. I have gone on some 4-5 game winning streaks with these decks (the Shaman has transformed into more midrange), Yogg Token Druid, and Dragon Warrior. Unfortunately I got lazy and stopped tracking results after the 9th, so I will have to pick it back up for the final climb from rank 5 to legend, to see if that can be done in the final 2 weeks of the month.  While I feel confident with all 4 of these decks, it's a matter of feeling what the opponents are playing and then eventually going with the right counter deck.

For now, I'm back on Midrange Shaman, and the deck has rocketed me back over the weekend from a poor streak (down to Rank 6 with 1 star) back up into Rank 5 with 3-4 stars. We will pick up from here next time and see how it goes.

Am I confident I will hit legend? Not really, but I'm certainly playing the right decks to get there it seems, based on all my competition on the ladder.

Also, there's a new TACO tournament next weekend, so it's probably not a bad thing that I'm getting really good with 4 decks. The only question will be whether to swap one or two of these ladder staples out for more tournament-oriented decks. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

GenCon 2016 - Playing the New Shinies, and thoughts on House Rules

It's been a short while since I wrote to the gaming blog, but we are going to take a short break from Hearthstone (don't worry, I have plenty of new decks and thoughts to share soon thanks to Disco Karazhan). and talk about board games, one of my other passions! It's long overdue for some attention on this blog. We are coming off the high of the summer board game conventions in the Midwest, with Origins Game Fair in Columbus a couple months ago and GenCon in Indianapolis in early August.

I attend both of these shows for business purposes, as I represent some of the companies for trademark and contract-type work. I also give presentations for new and indie game designers on IP law with one of my co-workers who also may be found at the local board game bar from time to time. Not to mention the tons of networking with podcasters and other folks.  That being said, obviously we have some fun attending these shows because that's what it's all about!

However, GenCon marks the major release for most board game products in the U.S., and I become a consumer at that show most years as well. Let's take a look at this year's haul, which is much larger than normal:



That's 20 games or expansions total. Wow! Even comparing that to Origins (picture below, only missing Karuba which I had shipped to me post-show), it's a lot:



To say we have some "new shinies" and "SEALWRAP!" to enjoy in the Fitzgerald household and with our gaming groups is an understatement. However, it's been fun diving into all of these new (or new to us) titles.

Many of these games are intended for play with the three daughters, but our oldest is turning 8 this week and she is honestly able to pick up and play even many of the games we bought intending for adults to play. That being said, the various HABA games you see have been a big hit, particularly simple stuff like Unicorn Glitterluck for the two younger daughters (5.5 and 2.5), who are way into princesses and pink and unicorns and My Little Pony and on and on.

For lighter gamers, we have had an absolute blast with all of the Spiel award nominees for 2016 (most prestigious game of the year award in the industry): Imhotep, Karuba, and Codenames. The new Codenames Pictures adds a very interesting element to the game when comparing it to the normal version with words, but both are fun. Hell, with that innovative design, you could play with Cards Against Humanity cards and still have a good time. There is a black box adult version of Codenames available now from Czech Games as well, FWIW.

I've more than doubled my Star Trek theme game collection thanks to the GenCon acquisitions, with many new titles being released on or around the 50th anniversary in 2016. The best of these for capturing the essence of Star Trek is definitely Ascendancy, but I should save my detailed thoughts on that for a future entry. It's been an absolute blast playing Star Trek Risk and other co-op games with Paige, our oldest. She is just as much into Star Trek as I am, and risk is a game you just have to pass down from generation to generation, even though it's not the best game design. For more of my thoughts on Star Trek games, check out my Character Insight segments from August which played on the This Week in Trek podcast:


HOUSE RULES

The other topic I want to briefly discuss today is the importance of using House Rules. Certainly game designers try their best to make games as good as possible, but there are times when the rules just are not ideal, or not ideal for certain player counts. I've run into this issue a few times while playing the new games from the summer conventions.

For example, simplifying games for use with kids can make for a game that hits the table far more frequently than it would otherwise. The missing rules can be added back in as the children grow more comfortable with the game and more adept as gamers.

Star Trek Risk has a basic rule set without the event cards and quests and crew member abilities which basically turns it into generic Risk. The difference between that and the full game with all of those features was a jump too high for Paige. Thus, I have experimented with adding one or two of these advanced rules at a time, and the result has been a fun and varied experience. We are getting different experiences from a single game, AKA more bang for the buck as we go. Legacy Games aren't the only games that can provide this!

Another game in this line is Potion Explosion, which has a very simple but fun tactile mechanic of pulling marbles from a box containing multiple rows of marbles to complete recipes for potions. Depending on the type of potion, they all give a special one-time use effect after you complete them. By simply removing this rule as an introductory version via House Rules for kids or teaching the game, the game is playable by even our middle child. It's still very fun as well!  I encourage those with kids to experiment with House Rules or removing rules to bring complexity levels down so you can play some of your favorite tabletop games for many more years as your kids grow up and hopefully become game enthusiasts themselves. I can't think of many better ways to spend quality time with the littles.

The final example I will give for today is Quartz (I have House Rules for Star Trek Ascendancy working as well but again, that's a discussion for its own post), which is identified as a press-your-luck type of game with "take that" player interactions with cards you can play against your other players. The basic game play is pulling gem stones out of a bag, which is again a fun tactile experience, and hoping to collect valuable colors of gems rather than black gems called Obsidian. In the rules as written in the rule book, you play 5 rounds of this and you "bust out" and get no points if you ever pull or get given (via the cards) a second Obsidian.

In my view, this leads to games which tend to be a bit too long for the type of experience being offered, and it also leads to player elimination feeling really bad when your first two gems are Obsidian and then you get to watch everyone else play, sometimes for a long time before you get back in during the next round. The game tries to temper this problem by giving you a token when you bust out for one-time use on a future day where you can remove an Obsidian instantly, such as when you would get a second, to save you that round. That does not seem like enough to solve this problem.

Thus, I developed House Rules for Quartz where you play 4 rounds instead of 5, and you bust out only when you get a third Obsidian. At least for 2 and 3 player games (2 player is not anticipated by the game but we've found it to work with another optional rule allowing the last player in the mine for the day to mine up to 4 more crystals), this has been brilliant because it actually captures the feel of other press-your-luck type games while slightly diminishing the mean aspects of the game where the "take that" cards can repeatedly bust someone out quickly in consecutive rounds. While this may not work as well for 4 and 5 players due to a limited number of Obsidian being in the gem bag (I'd still recommend 4 rounds as that's enough to have a full game experience), the change has totally revamped Quartz into a game that will see the table a lot in our family.

UPDATE: Have played with 4 with these house rules, and the only change I would recommend is to remove the tokens you get for busting out.  Those tend to be too powerful and make rounds go too long when you are not busting out at 2 Obsidian.  This may also be correct in the 2 or 3 player version of the house rule game as well.

Put simply, don't be afraid to experiment with House Rules. Sure, you have to sometimes be creative like a game designer, but it can make your game collection far more versatile and enjoyable. Until next time, happy gaming.

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:

Naxxramas
  • 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.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

April Arena Challenge Update #2

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 (65 total, in my case). Let's check in on how this challenge is progressing.

After the first two runs (Hunter, Paladin), we stand at 8 wins total.

The third deck choice turns out to be Mage, which was selected over Warlock and Rogue. Trying to get this challenge back closer to on track, and this is the deck offered up in the draft:



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

Total after 3 Arena Runs - 12 wins

Maybe we should've set the bar at 40 or 50 wins! Regardless, at least the early struggles give me a high bar to try and hurdle over as we continue. Two of the three losses with this Mage deck were aggressive rundowns where it would've been difficult to come back even with a good draw, and those losses (while frustrating) are somewhat understandable. Just unusual for me to pick up two of those type of losses before reaching 6 or 7 wins. On the bright side, this deck felt like it was approaching the groove once again, as it's clear my rust from playing so much constructed is showing off.


For round 4 the next selection was between Shaman, Hunter, and Warlock. Having already run hunter, the choice was simple...go with Warlock and hope for the best. Here's my fourth deck, which turned out to be well on the aggressive side:




Results for Run 4 (Warlock)
W vs. Hunter (1-0)
L vs. Druid (1-1)
L vs. Paladin (1-2)
W vs. Shaman (2-2)
W vs. Druid (3-2)
L vs. Rogue (3-3)

Total after 4 Arena Runs - 15 wins

The first two losses with this deck were agonizing close losses, particularly against the Druid where my taunt minions stabilized my health at 1 life for about 10 turns before the Druid finished the job (both decks largely in topdeck mode, and Warlock with only one card a turn is at a disadvantage generally). Another 3-3 record shows that the road to 65 is going to take some serious climbing, and perhaps the goal for the next challenge should be adjusted. However, we will continue on with this experiment and see whether we have any more luck with more late-game oriented Arena drafts.  Aggressive decks are fun but not always that consistent, as was the case here.

Four runs in and we've got some serious work left on the agenda.  It's not mathematically impossible to reach the 65 win goal, but we will see what happens with some lesser used classes like Priest and Warrior, which are bound to come up soon.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

A Hearthstone Brain-Bender (and why I enjoy the puzzle that is Aggro Shaman)

One of the strengths of Hearthstone and other top card games is the depth of strategy one can find in different major archtypes of constructed decks.  Although I personally enjoy making a combo deck work or using control decks, there's also beauty in some of the aggressive decks in the current "Wild" format.

Plus, it just feels terribly powerful to always be dictating the pace by making the questions and threats which all need to be answered for a slower deck to survive and possibly defeat you. Zoo is a shining example of this phenomenon performing well on the Hearthstone ladder, and aggressive Paladin strategies also do well.

But the deck I find to be really fun to pilot is aggressive Shaman, thanks in large part to the puzzle-like quality that comes from playing cards with the overload mechanic. Unlike many turns with a deck like Face Hunter (which also has decisions, don't get me wrong), a good Shaman player must look ahead and plan for the unknown when dealing with the high power and big drawback of overload spells and minions.

I finally came across a perfect example of the fun complexities at the end of a thrilling game I played today with aggro Shaman against a Paladin.

Fair warning, this is a bit of a brain bender with math involved, but I think we all can learn from analyzing such situations. We all must yearn to play better if we want to be successful, after all, and that takes hard math and metrics sometimes.

SCENARIO

The situation plays out like this: the opposing Paladin uses his board of minions to clear three minions from my board on his 8th turn and then swings with a Truesilver to go to 14 life, and he clearly has lethal damage for his next turn. None of these minions have taunt.

So the goal will be to deal 14 damage.

I only have a Doomhammer with some charges left in play. My hand going into the 8th turn is Crackle, Lava Burst, Earth Shock (which would've been handy if a taunt was played). I have 6 total mana available because two overload applies from the previous turn. I start the turn by drawing a second Crackle.

What do you do?

Seriously, look over that situation and figure out how you would spend the six mana available. There's certainly going to be some RNG randomness determining whether you can win from this position, but the second Crackle opens up a series of potential lines of play, each having a different Estimated Value (EV) of winning. Can you, in 70 seconds, evaluate what maximizes the EV here and then execute the play before time runs out?

It's precisely the type of challenge, whether in a single turn or over multiple turns, that I love about aggro Shaman and other more puzzle-style decks like Patron Warrior. Because we have the benefit of more than 70 seconds now, let's figure out what the correct line of play would have been.

We can simplify the circumstance a bit by swinging for 4 damage with two hits of the Doomhammer, leaving the Paladin at 10 life. With 6 mana, the likely options with that hand boil down to:
  • Play Lava Burst, Crackle (this would've been the only play if Earth Shock were needed to clear a path for the Doomhammer hits, but I digress)
  • Play double Crackle with a potential Shaman Totem hero power summon as well
So what do you do first? Play Lava Burst, a first Crackle, or do the hero power? Each ends up with a different potential EV of winning!

Option 1 - Lead with Lava Burst

Let's start with the simple. If you lead with Lava Burst, it will bring the Paladin to 5 life. But the 3 mana left will allow for only one normal Crackle. With a 25% chance on each outcome (3/4/5/6 damage), that means the chances of winning are exactly 50% (EV=50%).

Not bad, but can we do better?

Option 2 - Lead with Hero Power

Let's instead say you lead with the hero power, which will leave you with 4 mana and commit you to the double Crackle plan. You might be very tempted to do this because the swing in potential win percentage is obviously dramatic when a spellpower totem is rolled from the hero power.

More specifically, the math plays out like this. There are 16 potential results from playing two normal Crackles (3/4/5/6 and 3/4/5/6, paired together have 16 total outcomes ranging from 6 damage to 12 damage). Of those 16, only 6 deal 10+ damage. That means a 37.5% win chance if the two Crackles are not powered up. This will happen 75% of the time using the Shaman hero power, but let's come back to that number in a moment.

However, in the 25% chance a spellpower boosting totem is the result of the Shaman hero power, the expected chances of winning jump all the way up to an astounding 81.25%! That is because when firing off the 16 possible outcomes of double powered-up Crackle (4/5/6/7 plus 4/5/6/7), 13 of the 16 potential outcomes will lead to 10+ damage. Winning over 80% of the time sounds like a great bet, if the fates favor you in the hero power.

So adding it all together, there's a 75% chance of a 37.5% EV and a 25% chance of increasing that to a 81.25% EV based on the result of the Shaman hero power. Doing the math...the total win percentage chance of using hero power first comes out to (.75*37.5% + .25*81.25%) = 48.4% (EV=48.4%).

So despite the allure of maybe getting lucky on that hero power and having an 80+% chance to claim the victory, the actual EV of such a line of play is LESS than that of just leading with Lava Burst. Surprised?

A quick side note: the math would obviously change if there were already another totem left on the board by the opponent. Indeed, just having one other totem increases the chance of getting the spellpower totem to 33% instead of 25%, and that scenario would raise the EV of this line of play to about 52%...so the details matter, a lot!

Option 3 - Lead with the Crackle

This turns out to be another math-intensive of the options thanks to the RNG associated with the first Crackle (3/4/5/6). There are really three different outcomes of note after the first Crackle to consider.

First, if the Crackle hits for 5 or 6 (50% chance of this), Shaman will win automatically by playing the Lava Burst to finish off the remaining 4 or 5 health on the Paladin. In other words, in 50% of the Crackle outcome, the Shaman wins 100% of those games.

Second, if the Crackle hits for 3 (25% chance of this), there's going to be 7 life left on the Paladin. There's only one way to have that happen, which is use two of the four remaining mana to hero power, hoping for the spellpower totem, and then the final two mana on the other Crackle (hoping to hit for 7 damage as buffed up). There's a 25% chance of the spellpower totem, multiplied by a 25% chance the second Crackle then maximizes damage at 7 on the (4/5/6/7) choice. In other words, for this 25% of the time, the Shaman will only win (.25*.25) = 6.25% of the time.

Third, if the Crackle hits for 4 (25% chance of this), the Paladin will be at 6 health which is out of range for Lava Burst. The best available option is to then hero power to try and buff up the chances that the second Crackle using the final two mana will provide 6 or more damage. There's a 25% chance the spellpower totem arrives, which would result in a 50% chance of the second Crackle hitting for 6 or 7 to win the game...and in the 75% chance of another totem, the Shaman still might RNG 6 damage from a normal Crackle for a 25% win chance. Totaling this math: (.25*50% + .75*25%) = 31.25% chance of winning in this circumstance, which again happens 25% of the time based on the first Crackle result.

Once again, we have to sum the probabilities. That math for the three scenarios calculated above results in (.50*100% + .25*6.25% + .25*31.25%) = 59.37% chance of winning (EV=59.37%).

Conclusion

Thus, the best option by far is to lead with the first Crackle. Could you figure this out by approximation in the few seconds you have to make a decision? 

For that matter, did I?

That latter answer is NO! I ended up greedy and rolled the hero power first, which actually had the least chance of success (48.4%), a staggering 11% worse than the best line of play. While my luck was poor on the hero power with no spellpower totem, the luck turned around on both Crackles as I rolled a 6 and then a 5 to finish the Paladin off with 15 total damage on the turn (adding the 4 from the Doomhammer).

However, the play was nuanced enough that I wanted to know if I made the right decision, regardless of the positive outcome. And as it turns out, I could not have been more wrong in the line of play.

Lesson to learn: you can always find better lines of play somewhere in a game or deck, especially with complex puzzles like those presented by decks like aggro Shaman.

Furthermore, when faced with a closed world problem like this one, the correct way to think it through quickly would have been to realize that Lava Burst, then Crackle obviously provides 50% chance to win (the simple scenario above), but if you lead with the Crackle you have that same 50% chance plus whatever other small additional chance to win is provided by the second line of play available with 4 mana left (hero power then second Crackle instead of Lava Burst). That inherently is going to be better than 50%, which means you could quickly determine this line of play at least was not the WORST option (AKA, what I ended up on).

I don't know that a regular person could think through the "hero power first" math (which is not as clear on its face) and leave enough time to then implement the plays of the turn before the timer runs out. So while it was enticing to me and could have been better, the normal player facing this scenario for the first time likely should've gone with the sure bet of Crackle first, which as it turns out, is a way better EV to win anyway.

Hopefully you enjoyed this hypothetical brain-bender and even if you dislike playing decks like aggro Shaman, you might be able to respect the complexity and depth of this archtype and the Hearthstone game as a whole in view of this example.

Until next time, keep finding those better lines of play and never just rely on luck.

Monday, April 11, 2016

April Arena Challenge Update #1

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 (65 total, in my case). Let's check in on how this challenge is progressing.

My first deck choice was between Warlock, Hunter, and Warrior. Nothing like starting off with that type of choice. Regardless, we move on with Alleria leading this challenge and the following deck:



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

Total after 1 Arena Run - 3 wins

Not exactly the start you would hope for when shooting for 65 wins in 10 arena runs. Two of the three Paladin decks that I lost to were very high quality, and this particular Hunter deck was really weak in the midgame. Plus, when Chromaggus is the best legendary offered as a first pick, it's not exactly a great set of cards overall. Moving on...

For round 2, the next selection was between Shaman, Paladin, and Warlock. If you can't beat them as in the last run, join them! Paladin it is. Here's deck 2 (cries at no Truesilver or Murloc Knight):



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

Total after 2 Arena Runs - 8 wins

Certainly an improvement from the first run, but still not a perfect result when shooting for a 6.5 win average, as Paladin is one of the better options in Arena if not THE best, at the moment. As noted above, there were some notable Paladin staples missing, but the deck still worked well enough. The late-game cards did not pack quite enough punch to finish off the opponents I lost to, as most games did play out with the opponent dropping below 10 health before the game was over.

But regardless, we must move on. Next up will be a Mage run, which is probably more my favorite Arena class than even Paladin. Check back next time to see if we can get this challenge back on track.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Hearthstone: The First Failure of Driving to Legend, and Arena April Challenge

Figured we are at the end of March, so a good time for a Hearthstone update. Unlike the last few entries which have been heavy analysis and predictions (which still haven't been announced), this will focus more on my current game play in Hearthstone.

I decided to try for Legend this month as March is a low time in my other hobbies like sports writing. Climbing the ladder up to Rank 5 was done mostly on the back of my pet deck Dragon Hunter and Warlock Zoo. Because Zoo felt like it was optimally placed in the current metagame, I stuck with that and beat my head against the "lack of win streak" zone for over a week.

The only truly failed departure from this approach was a trip to Druid to do a couple dailies. Lesson learned...if you aren't pro with a deck, do your dailies in any other mode but ladder.

I would normally say put dailies aside if grinding for legend, but the reality is that sometimes you need to step away from ladder for a game or two to get things right. Just like in any other game, there's no reason to be on tilt when playing serious games (and all games are serious competition at rank 5 and above, in my view).

Although I never dipped back down to rank 6 over the course of a week, my games (mostly with Zoo and a little Secret Paladin, because Lady Liadrin hype) pretty much leveled off near 50% and thus I was stuck between a couple stars in rank 5 and full stars at rank 4. Indeed, I played against more rank 2 players while at rank 4 than rank 3 players (must have been odd times of day for matchmaking).

This week came with four days left in the season, and me back at rank 5. I'd decided to give up and just have some fun with Shaman to do a couple dailies. Then, what do you know, aggro shaman went and won like 10 out of 11 games, pushing me to rank 3 (tied for a personal best). When Shaman leveled off, as I expected, it was back to Zoo and Secret Paladin. And alas, it put me back to rank 4.

So no legend for me in this first serious try. I'm curious to see if the Legend card back reward stays the same or becomes two separate rewards for Wild and Standard, which will be a change we see at some point in April. I'm tempted to try hard again sometime soon, especially now that I've gotten a taste of true competition at the top ranks of the ladder. But April is probably not a great choice with a truly unsettled ladder coming thanks to the release of Whispers of the Old Gods.

The struggle and my challenge for now is to figure out when to stay with a deck and when to audible. I will end the March season about 8-12 games about .500 since reaching Rank 5...and you need 25+ over .500 for Legend. It's definitely doable, just a lot of games and tight play required.

---

Looking ahead to April, it may be time to rekindle my Arena game, to build up packs and dust. Indeed, the challenge going around for Arena streamers has been "100 in 10" which means trying to net 100 total wins in 10 consecutive Arena runs, while always picking a new class if available and not picked during the 10 run stretch. Only one player/streamer has been reported to achieve this, thus far.

Let's modify this for April (and because like setting goals with a FitBit, you need to tailor goals to what may actually be achievable first). I feel like I average 5-6 wins per Arena run, so let's set the bar low with the new cards coming in and the format changing before "raising the bar."

My challenge: 65 wins in 10 arena runs.

Stay tuned for updates, and if you want to join in, let me know how it goes on Twitter!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Predicting the Hearthstone "Standard" Rebalancing Nerfs - Neutral Minions


As was announced earlier last month, Hearthstone will be adding formats to the constructed part of the game. Hearthstone has a growing card pool that now requires multiple formats to ensure freshness of competitive formats and accessibility for new players. This will also involve a rebalancing of several Basic and Classic cards.

As a reminder, this series of posts (part 1 here) (part 2 here) (part 3 here) will focus on predicting what cards will be changed, and for the ones most likely to change, what the predicted change will be.

In today's prediction of the Standard Format rebalancing, I cover the neutral minions.

In the discussion below, I look at several potential problematic or more powerful cards in each of these classes, with a consideration of the current metagame and strong decks that will remain Standard Format legal when the first rotation happens this spring. I have endeavored to be conservative in picking cards for discussion, including more cards than not to try and identify all possible rebalancing angles.

(All card images herein contain copyrighted and other material owned by Blizzard Entertainment)

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BASIC SET NEUTRALS

Overview - Unlike several of the class cards, the neutral minions in the Basic Set are really underwhelming for the most part. That has led to a situation where not many of the cards are regularly used, at least outside the lower ranks and by beginning players working up a collection. Given that these cards are automatically unlocked by leveling heroes, that seems to be an appropriate place for this set.

However, it does not provide much in the way of opportunities to discuss potential nerfs. If Blizzard intended to possibly buff some cards, then this set of neutral minions would have some candidates, but that is not the case. So I have picked the best and that's all to discuss.



Acidic Swamp Ooze


The Swamp Ooze is one of the best utility creatures in the game, offering a 3/2 body for 2 mana while also destroying an opponent's weapon. Against weapon classes, especially when those classes are at the top of the ladder, this card is a relatively under-costed bomb. Of course, the card is just a decent vanilla creature when playing against a non-weapon class. That makes this one of those skill-testing deck building options (called "tech" cards by regular card game players), and those should always be a viable option in a game like this. Unless another weapon-breaking card is to be designed, this likely should stay as a good option like other similar tech cards.

Likelihood of Rebalancing - Slim to none.


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CLASSIC SET NEUTRALS


Overview - The original set of packs that a player could buy in Hearthstone definitely set the tone for this game, including having cards of wildly different power levels and plenty of random effects. While this is a nice baseline for the game to build a future upon, the new goal for Blizzard is to let new set designs shine and change the competitive format we play in the game, keeping everything fresh. Thus, some of the cards which are the most powerful in Classic will need to be tuned back down in power level so as to let future design space open up for cards that will rotate in and out of Standard Format instead of being constant. There's really a ton that could be discussed, after the dearth of options for rebalancing in the Basic Set, so let's jump right in and see what needs changed.



Abusive Sergeant


Starting at the bottom of the mana scale in the Classic Set, one of the most regular inclusions in aggressive decks has been this card. The Sergeant is not a terribly effective turn 1 play, but later in the game it can help aggressive decks be quite explosive in working towards the finish of the game. This card appears a little better on average than Dark Iron Dwarf with the same Battlecry, which is a little strange to see a duplicate of in the Classic Set. Nevertheless, the weak body on this card and the poor value as a turn 1 play keeps this in check compared to the next card on this list.

Likelihood of Rebalancing - Not very likely, less than 50%.



Leper Gnome


The best neutral one-mana card in the game is Leper Gnome, and it is not particularly close. This card has broken into some non-aggressive decks just based on power level alone. Unlike Abusive Sergeant, the Leper Gnome is one of the best plays that can be made in the game on turn 1. Furthermore, the card guarantees two damage and usually causes much more. That has made it difficult to design one-mana cards which can reliably compete for spots in aggressive decks. In other words, this is precisely the type of card which Blizzard wants to change to force innovation in the Standard Format, particularly in aggressive decks.

Likelihood of Rebalancing - Very likely, more than 50%.

How to Rebalance - It seems right that this card should still exist, but the power level needs to be adjusted down a slight bit. In view of that, the best change is likely to adjust the Deathrattle. It should cause only a loss of 1 life, or perhaps instead cause 1 damage to a random enemy rather than always to the opposing hero. Those would keep this card in some play, but allow for better alternative cheap minions to have a legitimate chance in new set designs.



Secretkeeper


The final one-mana creature which may deserve some attention is this one, which has only seen significant play in Secret Paladin builds. Of course, those decks will lose a ton of powerful cards when the rotation occurs, which means this will be one of only a few cards left (along with Mysterious Challenger) which will potentially maintain the core of this deck. In most cases, this is not anywhere near the degenerate power level that Undertaker was with Deathrattle cards (which were minions rather than relatively weak secrets), which should keep this card safe. But it must make the radar for a small amount of consideration based on the strength of Secret Paladin, particularly if there is any risk that decks continues to be on the top of competitive play.

Likelihood of Rebalancing - Slim to none.



Bloodmage Thalnos


The first legendary-rarity card to make the list is Thalnos, which provides a lot of bang for the buck at only two mana. Thanks to the cheap cost, this card and the spell power boost is provides can help decks that combo out with spells (Miracle Rogue, when it existed, and more recently, Freeze Mage) become more reliable in the late game. However, it can also cycle with the "draw a card" Deathrattle when needed in the early game, making it a combination of other two mana cards like Loot Hoarder, Novice Engineer, and Kobold Geomancer. However, that combination comes with weaker stats at 1/1 and it can only have one copy in any deck, limiting its impact. This looks like just a card to watch for future potential abuse more so than an immediate problem.

Likelihood of Rebalancing - Not very likely, less than 50%.



Knife Juggler


The only card even more locked into almost every aggressive and aggressive-midrange deck than Leper Gnome is this one, Knife Juggler. The ability to throw a knife for every single creature summoned or cast form the hand can be devastating when combined with cards like Imp-losion, Muster for Battle, and Unleash the Hounds. Of course, some of those cards are rotating out of Standard, but others will likely continue to be added in future sets. That, plus the natural overuse of this ability in aggressive decks following the Juggler up with a ton of small creatures makes this simply too good to design around. It will change, if for no other reason than to open design whiteboard space for future aggressive two mana cards like Flame Juggler.

Likelihood of Rebalancing - Almost certain. 

How to Rebalance - One potential option would be to lower the stats on this card from its current 3/2 for 2 mana state, but the creature is already fairly easy to kill and still remains a problem. Thus, the answer is likely to change the effect of the knife juggling ability, regardless of whether the statistics change. Assuming Flame Juggler is an example of what the development team wants to see play now, I expect Knife Juggler to drop to a 2/2 or 1/2 and the knife throwing to be limited to a one-time per turn ability (the first time a creature is played, throw a 1 damage knife).

A one-time battlecry would also be OK, but that would overlap too much with Flame Juggler and so that re-design has been left off the table.



Arcane Golem


Another fairly common card used in aggressive decks is this Golem, who smashes in for 4 damage at the low cost of 3 mana. However, this card has a huge downside if played before the end of the game, which means it usually is held back until well after turn 3. This gives the card just enough nuance to make "face" decks play with some decision-making, a good thing in a game like Hearthstone. If this gets rebalanced, it will be because the haste creature is too much like Leeroy Jenkins, which was too good as a 6/2 for 4 mana (similar to a 4/2 for 3 mana), especially when two can be played in the same deck. However, I think aggressive decks will take enough of a hit with the cards above to keep the Golem around for another year in its current form.

Likelihood of Rebalancing - Not very likely, less than 50%.



Big Game Hunter


Another strange card at the epic rarity, Big Game Hunter has stood out as perhaps the best and most often-used "tech" card. The ability to make any big creature with more than 7 power immediately disappear is great at 3 mana (just ask any Priest player about Shadow Word: Death), but the fact that a 4/2 minion remains is salt in the wound for the opponent who likely just spent a lot of mana on that threat. This is simply too good a body on a minion with that type of spell effect, and it has dampened the development and play of big minions which are the most fun to play in a minion-oriented card game (except the truly degenerate ones like Dr. Boom). If this effect is to remain, it likely needs to have some adjustment to the minion body to make it more in line with other tech cards. My only hesitation at this point is whether other "problem" cards will outshine this one for the first round of Standard Format rebalancing.

Likelihood of Rebalancing - 50/50.

How to Rebalance - This feels like an effect that should cost one more mana, so as to not make it exactly as cheap as the Priest spell counterpart. In addition, the body on the minion should be reduced in some small manner also. If Big Game Hunter were a 2/3 minion for 4 mana, that would be more palatable, should this one be rebalanced now.



Azure Drake


One card that is a staple in the middle of most Dragon decks is Azure Drake, thanks to the reasonable 4/4 body for 5 mana plus the "draw a card" Battlecry. The fact that this can also help spells be more powerful makes this a potential finisher as well. The main reason this would potentially be changed is if the power level of dragon decks is too high in the testing of the new Standard Format. Removing or changing this card would force play of weaker small dragons or less efficient big Dragons, both of which are easier to play around. However, I suspect Dragon decks will not become a problem but just a regular part of the Standard Format metagame for the next year while Blackrock Mountain remains legal. Thus, this one likely escapes any rebalancing (and possibly for the long term as well).

Likelihood of Rebalancing - Not very likely, less than 50%.



Leeroy Jenkins


Now we turn to two cards which were previously adjusted with nerfs, in this case a 4-mana card that now costs 5 mana. Leroy Jenkins is still used as a finisher in some aggressive decks as well as Rogue decks which abuse Shadowstep for a big damage turn. However, this is a legendary card so that combo can be difficult to reliably set up. Plus, a 6/2 with a downside for 5 mana is really not so good as to be something that can't be designed around. Indeed, it's basically like a bigger version of Arcane Golem, which tends to see much more play as a 4/2 for 3 mana. That was not deemed problematic above, and likewise, I suspect this card is settled in fine at 5 mana when combined with being legendary and thus limited to one copy per deck.

Likelihood of Rebalancing - Slim to none.



Gadgetzan Auctioneer


Another card which increased in mana thanks to spell-abusing decks like Miracle Rogue is this one, as Auctioneer used to be the staple card draw engine at 5 mana. Although Auctioneer can still be played in those decks and protected with support cards like Conceal, placing that at 7 total mana before the turn where any degenerate plays can happen has proven to keep the spell-based Rogues in line. This stays on the radar because any card that potentially draws a bunch of cards at once or during a single turn will remain a serious threat for combo enabling and broken decks which are disfavored in the main competition format. Like Leeroy Jenkins, the previous adjustment should keep this card from current rebalancing.

Likelihood of Rebalancing - Not very likely, less than 50%.



Sylvanas Windrunner

Now we come to a series of some of the best legendary-rarity cards in Hearthstone, many of these being staples of early decks and continuing to some extent today. Sylvanas originally competed with the likes of Cairne Bloodhoof, but when better and more efficient (non-legendary) Deathrattle cards became available in Naxxramas and Goblins vs. Gnomes, this was the only 6-mana legendary that continued to see some play. The Deathrattle does have the word random in it, which makes it less controlled than the spell with the same effect (Mind Control at a whopping 10 mana). In addition, this effect can be silenced and played around by a good opponent. As a result, the effect tends to play fair in most circumstances. I think this therefore stays on the watch list for future rebalancing, but it does not limit the design space for new cards (especially powerful legendaries) too much for the upcoming Standard Format.

Likelihood of Rebalancing - Not very likely, less than 50%.



Baron Geddon


Another card that saw a ton of play in control decks before Naxxramas (and even after the first expansion set or two, at least until Dr. Boom supplanted all 7 mana cards forever) was this one, as the ability to control a board of small creatures each turn was devastating for early aggressive decks. With some of the cards making those aggressive decks good enough to overwhelm Baron Geddon rotating out, and others likely seeing rebalancing as set forth above, this primary weapon of control decks could once again become highly relevant and powerful. There is likely nothing wrong with the board sweeping effect at the mana cost, especially with it being applied to both sides of the board, but the minion body itself may be a little too much when added with this ability.

Likelihood of Rebalancing - 50/50.

How to Rebalance - If this card is deemed slightly too powerful in its current form, the easy fix is to bring some of the minion stats down. Perhaps a 6/4 or a 5/5 for the same 7 mana cost would be more in line with other cards intended to be the baseline that the Standard Format builds upon. However, there may be no need to nerf this card unless internal testing shows it to be too good with the weakening that is likely coming for aggressive decks.



Ragnaros the Firelord

Another card which felt the effects of Dr. Boom becoming so prevalent was Ragnaros, a staple control card and finisher for many different types of decks in the early days of Hearthstone. There are many factors which keep this card in check, including the all-important "Can't Attack" line. The random nature of the effect can lead to big swings depending on whether the fates are in your favor that game, and I personally think that is the kind of fun and (somewhat controllable) unpredictability that the Hearthstone developers continue to want in their game. For now, this card remains likely OK but don't expect it to avoid close scrutiny in the future.

Likelihood of Rebalancing - Not very likely, less than 50%.



Alexstraza

Everyone's favorite control/combo dragon leads off in the 9 mana slot, and Alexstraza has provided the firepower for decks like Freeze Mage and Control Warrior to efficiently finish off opponents after locking down a game for many turns. In certain circumstances, this utility knife of a dragon can be used to heal from a precariously low life total against aggressive decks, although it is less effective than Reno Jackson at that. While I personally like playing this dragon, it does feel like a bit of an auto-include in many control/combo strategies, and those are the types of cards which seem more likely to be rebalanced for Standard Format. Plus, if Blizzard wants the other major dragons to shine and have "a day in the sun." it is time for this card to be brought more in line on the same power level as those other dragons.

Likelihood of Rebalancing - Very likely, more than 50%.

How to Rebalance - This will prove to be one of the harder cards to "fix," as the dragons bring unique flavor which should remain in this game. As a first step, it would be fun to see most of the dragons have similar stats and be very hard to kill, so I think a change to 4/12 could be in order for this minion. As far as changing the Battlecry, it could go to something completely different (or become a Deathrattle), but I think a simple change that keeps the same flavor would be to make it set a hero's remaining health to 20.  That limits the combo potential of this card, while making it a dragon that should still see play as an alternative or complement to Reno Jackson strategies. Of course, the existence of a "fixed" version of a healing card in Reno Jackson may signal that a bigger change is coming to this card. But for now, I will say this becomes a 4/12 that sets one hero's health to 20.



Ysera

The other dragon that sees some play in multiple decks is Ysera, whether that be as a top-end threat for tempo dragon-based strategies or as another weapon in a control player's arsenal. The Dream Cards are very powerful, but not necessarily game-breaking unless Ysera is allowed to sit there without opposition for a few turns. The 4/12 dragon body really works with this ability, as the player wants to get more than one Dream Card out of playing this dragon. The only thing that makes me wonder if this will be dropped slightly in power is if Blizzard wants to encourage more experimentation in Standard Format with other dragons like Onyxia and Malygos. If so, then this may be weakened (and the easy way to do this would be to modify some of the Dream Cards to be slightly more costly or weaker in effect).

Likelihood of Rebalancing - Not very likely, less than 50%.



Sea Giant


To end the discussion of Classic Set, let's take a look at one of the Giants. Each of the Giants requires some type of board state to make the minion cheaper, and Molten Giant and Mountain Giant tend to be harder to race out because losing life below 20 life and having a bunch of cards in hand is not always possible. However, in a game that encourages and sometimes demands minion-based strategies and interactions, Sea Giant can be "cheated" into play at very low cost in some circumstances. That has led to this becoming a staple once again in so-called "Zoo" decks which tend to play powerful and cheap minions on every turn. If this card needs to be changed to let other Giant designs shine in the future sets, then perhaps a small adjustment in the base mana cost will be the answer. However, for now, I think the epic-rarity original Giants stay safe from the rebalancing hammer.

Likelihood of Rebalancing - Not very likely, less than 50%.

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FINAL LIST FOR REBALANCING (summarizing the 4 article series)

Here's my conclusions on which cards will be announced to be rebalanced or changed for the upcoming first year of the Standard Format. My specific conclusions and recommendations for redesign can be found in the appropriate articles linked above. As you can see, I have identified 8 cards which seem destined for some chopping blocks, and another 5 which are potential options should Blizzard's Team 5 end up reworking 10-12 cards as originally posited (based on Ben Brode's quote that 2 to 20 cards are in the mix for rebalancing).

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

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Did I miss any big cards which you believe will definitely get the rebalancing axe? Let me know in the comments or on the Reddit posts where I link this.  There's certainly room for differing opinion when it comes to game design, but the changes summarized above should leave plenty of design space for powerful new cards to come into Standard Format and actually shake up the meta of what decks people play on competitive Ladder.

Thanks for reading this and the other articles in this series. Most of the comments have come on Reddit, and I appreciate the feedback and discussion that has helped make this interesting for more readers.

Until next time, come quickly Standard Format...please come quickly.