TL;DR: You should be excited about this game. Let’s do crowdsourced crafting tips in the comments.
Like many players, I have dust from HoF rotation. I have a significant number of the cards from the Rise of Shadows expansion as well as Year of the Raven cards. This is the first time I've been in such a position for a Standard Rotation (ie. as a paying player).
To determine which classes and archetypes I most enjoy in a shifting meta, I've been playing a lot of Whizbang the Wonderful on the 5-Legend ladder. I've been getting a feel for what mechanics are working currently while also noticing game elements that could have a great deal of potential in competitive play.
But I can't shake the feeling that this year just feels different from the last time I played through a rotation.
Last year, the meta was dominated by the powerhouses of the Death Knight cards and KnC weapons, most notably Kingsbane and Skull of the Man'ari. The few remaining hero cards pale in comparison with the infinite value of their predecessors, and while the game at this point last year was exclusively a battle between control archetypes, the loss of Year of the Mammoth's cards has already brought us a meta with Aggressive, Control, Tempo/Value, and OTK decks are all present and viable on ladder.
And… in spite of the complaining about Bomb Hunter and Token Druid, the most contentious issue among players right now is the clickbait used by a meme streamer. Comparing that to what I've seen in the past, that's an incredibly rare thing to see.
So I wrote down my thoughts, for players new and old (and for myself), because I want to look at some of the reasons why I am optimistic about the coming year. And maybe some insights
Effectively, I think it is safe to assume that Blizzard is interested in making Hearthstone as healthy as possible.
- Blizzard's primary concern is with the long-term viability of profiting from its intellectual property;
- That the best means of ensuring long-term viability is maintaining a player base that is both engaged and satisfied with their engagement;
- That the best strategy for achieving this is the development of a healthy meta comprised of a diverse suite of competitive decks.
- Blizzard's secondary concern is with the short-term profits it can garnish from its intellectual property;
- That outside of eSports, the best means of soliciting short-term profits from players is to maximize the number of desirable cards for players to purchase;
- That the strategy seemingly most employed by Blizzard is by keeping the "most desirable cards" shifting and diverse.
Furthermore, the future direction of the game can be inferred based on the adoption of the Specialist Format for tournaments, the expanded Arena rotation schedule, the reintroduction of solo adventures, and the addition of year-long story-related elements and themes. None of these changes is insignificant on its own, and taken together, they spell out a transition in the way Team 5 is handling Hearthstone. Namely, they are giving players the game elements that reward them.
- Constructed players are receiving a tournament format that actively rewards skilled deck construction choices and skill/familiarity with that deck.
- Arena players have received changes that actively encourages and rewards players for adaptive strategy.
- Solo adventures give casual and F2P players more than just packs for their trouble – and the reward for it is the free Golden Whizbang-esque character that is a perfect reward for players on a budget.
- And the story? That's icing on the cake, bringing us thematic continuity and familiarity for the year.
What about the meta?
Any good meta is comprised of a tentative balance between various decks' abilities to threaten, neutralize, and trap their opponents.
- Purely threatening decks try to win before their opponent can respond (aggro).
- Purely neutralizing decks stall their opponent until they run out of cards (fatigue).
- Decks that lean toward threatening (tempo) or neutralizing (control) strategies seek to overwhelm their opponents in value over a number of turns.
- Meanwhile, decks that focus on trapping opponents (combo) will heavily punish the control- and fatigue-oriented decks.
The equilibrium should be constantly shifting as players circle this elaborate dance of rock-paper-scissors. And a meta is especially healthy when it has contenders able to capitalize on the equilibrium at many different places.
Why "Rise of Shadows" is a good expansion
The cards released with this set have been given every class a viable ladder deck to play. But more importantly, the decks that are being played occupy every point along the Aggro-Fatigue continuum. The stamina of Control Warrior destroys Zoolock, but it stands no chance against the regenerating boards of Token Druid. And there are neutral cards that make many archetypes viable where they weren't before – cards like Archivist Elysiana, allowing unparalleled fatigue resilience, while OTK decks and powerhouse finishers like the neutral Chef Nomi stand a solid chance of beating her.
There will be nerfs, of course, as the meta begins to balance out, but even as the pre-nerf meta settles, there will not be a class locked out of competing.
The reason I say all of this (Deck Analysis and Predictions)
By understanding all of this picture, it becomes very easy to see what will likely be in store with the next expansion. Keeping in mind that Blizzard wants to make the game accessible to as many people as they can, and that they need a meta in which as many players as possible can find decks they enjoy, we can start to piece together a picture of what the current cards we have will be worth by the end of the year.
- With a number of disparate tools currently under its belt, Druid is in a strange state. Token, Gonk, and Heal/Wall Druid appear to be the main directions the class is going.
- Token Druid will unquestionably get more support in the next set, even if it's just a solid 1-drop minion that increases the consistency of the deck.
- If Heal Druid receives more support, it will be a very strong archetype. Since the next set follows the story arc we've set up with the League of Evil, I imagine we'll be getting at least a few "Restore" cards before the year is out.
- The new year brings a new approach to this class, and I think new Hunter archetypes will be as good as, if not better than, the Midrange build we all know and love.
- The current standout, Mech Hunter, has a lot more potential for outliving its Paladin sibling, and that's because of the deathrattle/mech package we've gotten with Fireworks Tech, Ursatron, and Oblivitron. It is absolutely an anti-control build for the ages, and I can't see it getting much worse, since Hunter tends to get better tools with each expansion.
- Spell Damage Hunter will be a force to be reckoned with, but I doubt it'll happen this year. The Vereesa/Rapid Fire synergies will be the bane of the post-Raven world.
- This is a class reborn.
- Conjurer Mage is wonderful and refreshing. But I can definitely see Blizzard doing a "non-nerf" nerf by releasing understatted minions in the next expansion that dilute the pool Conjurers currently work with.
- Other mages are just less interesting. But spell damage support means we will likely see some awful Spell Damage mage by the end of the year.
- Just watch out for Paladin.
- Mech Paladin is certainly a good deck at this moment, but it's largely due to the lack of tools available to players with this expansion. For all the reasons it wasn't viable before rotation, it will become inviable again.
- That said, Dragon Paladin is a couple of cards away from being insane in terms of value. If we get more support for the dragon package at any time in the next five expansions, the cards from this set could make this archetype a top-tier deck given the right conditions.
- If it's happened to anyone, Priest has been a little short-changed in this expansion, getting a lot of useful tools that haven't really coalesced into a definitive meta archetype yet.
- As always happens throughout the year, Resurrect Priest will get so much better as we get more selection for our resurrect pools.
- It's been a while since Shadow Priest and Mind Priest have been a force to be reckoned with. I don't think it's beyond Team 5 to revive one of these with the next expansion.
- The aggressive rogue that we're coming to see dominating the meta is refreshing, but it becomes significantly more powerful the less it is played. Anytime this year, when people stop running weapon removal, start playing Rogue.
- Rogue is now the best anti-fatigue class in the game. With the likelihood that the meta will slow down as more control options are added with successive expansions, Rogue cards might be incredibly useful.
- Thief Rogue will always be fun, but they keep trying to make it viable. If Rogue ever gets good control tools, it'll be my favourite deck in the game. (crosses fingers)
- Control Shaman is going to be the best
controldeck in the game at least some point this year. It's already dominating control matchups and it's currently just a mishmash of good cards. With more support, it will absolutely dominate. I have very few Shaman legendaries, and I'm inclined to craft all of them to start learning how to use them.
- Murlock Shaman will suffer over the next few expansions, as board wipes and more common synergies proliferate in the card pool. Compared to other aggressive decks, this one is the least likely to keep up.
- I need to clear the air: Plot Twist is something entirely new. It could pay off big time. It could also be another Lakkari Sacrifice, not getting support until FAR too late. But Plot Twist + Augmented Elekk means that Warlock is now (hypothetically) fatigue-proof.
- Zoolock will get better with more card and mechanic options. Handlock will get better with more card and mechanic options.
- We seem to be seeing a lot of "effect-on-draw" support, and I don't know if that will pay off. I'm not crafting, but I'm not dusting them either.
- I have no idea what's going to happen with Warrior. Could get nerfed, could get more control tools and bombs.
- A year ago, there were literally posts detailing how Warrior would never be a good class again after the FWA nerf. What could it ever do against except gain armour? Well heck.
That's my more-than-two cents. I've been thinking about this for a week, after all. I'd love to know what others will be crafting, since I'm indecisive.
That said, I will definitely be crafting Archivist Elysiana. She stands out as the single best card of the set, enabling such excellent fatigue potential.
Thanks for the read; I hope people can add to this, and I’ll be editing to add commentary from others that I’ve missed!
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© Post "On Optimism and Meta-Meta Analysis" for game HearthStone.
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