Hi all, J_Alexander_HS back again to talk about the Rogue’s secret package. Specifically, I wanted to outline why I’m not optimistic about it seeing play in the upcoming meta (much as I’d happily be wrong and see it work out).
Put simply: secrets generally represent a tempo loss that’s difficult to recoup, while the payoff cards can be difficult to take full advantage of because of the sheer number of secrets they want you to play. But there’s a lot more depth to this analysis, so let’s dive into the core.
Why are Secrets Usually Bad?
To understand the drawbacks to playing secrets readily, we can look at an example for this same set.
If there was a 2-mana 3/5 minion with Rush available in the neutral slot, every deck in Hearthstone would play it and it would sit among the strongest cards ever made in the game (if not the strongest). Well, we happen to have that card right now: Imprisoned Vilefiend. It comes with a stipulation, however: it’s dormant for two turns, slowing its impact. The dormant clause is one that turns what would be among the best cards in the game in every deck to one that might not even be good enough to play in any deck.
Secrets are basically dormant spells, but your opponent is in charge of when they trigger, instead of the turn counter. Sometimes your secrets will be dormant for a single turn; sometimes for many; sometimes for the whole game. So, while a 2-mana “Draw 2” spell would be absurdly powerful, a card like Dirty Tricks needs to be scaled by the number of turns until they have their impact. In Hearthstone, tempo (and effects) now are good; tempo in the future is less important (especially if that future doesn’t end up existing because you fell too behind on board and lost).
This is the reason that, historically, secrets tended to not see lots of play on their own (in addition to some effects not being worth the mana cost). It’s only when decks can draw and/or play those secrets for very good rates (Mad Scientist, Arcanologist, Mysterious Challenger, Phase Stalker) or when the payoffs for playing secrets are very good (Emerald Spellstone, Kabal Crystal Runner) that secrets get put into decks. The price tag for your spells being dormant is hefty (especially when your opponent has potential to play around them), and large payoffs are required to overcome that cost.
It’s debatable whether these Rogue secrets are good enough to play on their own. While you can imagine the dream curve (I play Secret Keeper on 1, then a Bamboozle on 2, which my opponent tries to clear through attacking but fails because my evolve is good, and then I just snowball a win off tempo), it’s easier to imagine a failure of that outcome, especially early in the game when you’ve seen the fewest cards (You miss your 1-drop, your minion gets removed with spell before/after the secret, you draw the wrong secret, the evolved minion low rolls, your opponent goes face aggressively instead of trading, etc) . Remember, these are dormant, conditional spells: mana spent on them is mana not spent developing your board, answering your opponent’s plan, or anything else. On their own, secrets aren’t threats or answers. They provide your opponent with counterplay options, and the last thing I usually want is my opponent to have ways of getting around my deck’s main plan. Playing many such cards in your deck can actively get in the way of doing something powerful yourself, which in turn doesn’t allow you to use the power of the secrets to your advantage.
Time will tell whether these effects offered to Rogue are good enough but, if history is any guide, the secrets won’t end up making large waves on their own.
How good are my payoffs?
So what are the payoffs to these secrets? Their strength might tell us about what the designers think. For instance, if the payoffs look insane, that might be because the designers think the secrets are weak and won’t see play without a lot of help (unless, of course, they’re trying to push a mechanic, as they did with Galakronds).
Rogue has two such payoffs: Hanar and Blackjack Stunner. Both of these cards are bad on their own if their effect doesn’t trigger (1 mana 1/2s are too low impact and 2 mana 1/5s are called Upgradeable Framebot and never saw any play in Rogue). As such, in order to play these cards effectively, you need to play enough secrets that you’re usually going to have one in your hand. Hanar needs you to play a secret, and so that much is obvious. Less obvious is the Stunner, but since most Rogue secrets are easily triggered by an opponent (accidentally or intentionally), without a secret in the hand you will be unable to guarantee your powerful sap effect works. The last thing you want is to play your secret, have it get disarmed in a fairly-safe way by the opponent, and be left with a useless 1/2 in your hand.
Now since Rogue has no way to draw/secrets the way other classes have in the past (like Scientist, Arcanologist, and Stalker), to get your payoffs to work consistently, you will need to play many of them in your deck and sometimes be forced into holding secrets in your hand (well, that or play them and just hope things work out for the best).
This is dangerous when it comes to winning games. Secrets are dormant spells, to reiterate, but spells you haven’t even played yet don’t functionally exist, as far as the game is concerned. If you’re holding one or more cards for the perfect turn, those are cards you aren’t using to get ahead on the board and further your own game plan. If you don’t develop on turns 1 and 2, then your turn 3 secret + stunner combo is going to be less impactful. Yes, you set your opponent back, but you weren’t ahead enough to turn that into a win.
The payoffs for Secret Rogue are nothing like Spellstone or Challenger: if you aren’t ahead on board at the end of the turn when you use them, they won’t provide you much momentum. By contrast, other payoffs were massively proactive to the point they could recover lost board states or, if you were even to ahead, straight up win games on their own. They didn’t usually require secrets still be in play for Hunter or Paladin, and Mage usually had ways of drawing and playing those secrets for no cost while they developed minions. Rogues do neither.
While you need to be ahead to get good use of your payoff cards, getting ahead with lots of dormant spells is hard. Getting ahead with dormant spells that have been sitting in your hand not furthering your game plan up to that point is harder still. Yes, a targeted Freeze Trap on a 1/2 body is basically going to “kill” many minions you point it at. The question remains as to how you have capitalized on that tempo push both before and after it, especially if you’ve been playing “down” some cards since the beginning of the game because they were inactive secrets or synergy cards without activation.
Also, while the Freezing Trap is good at pushing tempo, Hanar really isn’t a tempo tool. He’s a value engine, which is fine, but spending an entire turn playing secrets that aren’t minions may not end up pushing as much tempo as you hoped it would. Holding him and a secret in your hand until 7 mana when you “go off” and play a 1/5 and about 2-3 secrets doesn’t sound like a play that reliably wins games.
What does my deck look like?
The full secret deck looks like a hard sell. Six secrets takes up a good chunk of your deck, and thinking about what you aren’t playing instead can make that opportunity cost really pop. Those six cards give you a total of 3 payoff cards, two of which provide good tempo. That might be good enough, but I have my doubts. (I also have my doubts because the designers said they wanted to support the Rogue secret archetype more over the year. This likely means they don’t want it to be insane at the moment, as a powerful package they fluff up further could become oppressive. It’s another hint at what they think the Secret Rogue power level will be now)
Maybe you just want to play these as a package in a Highlander Rogue, then. Maybe you will, as those decks tend to play a lot of different junk. But since both Stunner and Hanar require secrets to be reliably drawn to be any good and the secrets might not be good on their own and you’ve now cut the number of activators in half (you could play a total of six secrets, but Highlander only plays 3), this makes for some really rough math. How many turns do you want either a secret, Hanar, or Stunner to be sitting dead in your hand when they could be other cards that are better at winning the game on their own?
And, speaking of Highlander decks, the cherry on top of this secret sundae is Zephyrs. When a certain percentage of the meta is playing an accidental Flare or SI:7 Infiltrator in their deck, you’re setting yourself up for some bad moments. Not that Zephyrs doesn’t just counter everything in the game anyway, but it’s just that extra bit of mess in the equation.
Secrets are like dormant effects that provide opponents options for counterplay. This tends to mitigate their power, however good their effects look in theory. As such, they require powerful payoffs to see play. While the payoff cards in Rogue look good, they aren’t game-winning good on their own (like Challenger or Spellstone) and they usually require I have secrets in my hand to ensure their activation. That, in turn, requires that I play a lot of secrets in my deck but not necessarily put them on the board. Playing lots of cards of questionable power in your deck impedes your ability to develop your own game plan. Not developing your own plan impedes your ability to take advantage of the payoff cards in the first place.
Plus, since the designers said they want to support the Secret archetype in Rogue over the year, it seems they also believe this initial round of cards may end up on the weaker side.
While I’d happily be wrong about this – because that would give me another archetype to build around and enjoy – I’m not finding myself interested in them yet (not to say I won’t test them; just that I’m not optimistic). When Rogue gets a card like Phase Stalker or Arcanologist that helps me develop a board while also incidentally finding my secrets, I’ll be a lot more interested in playing a secret package.
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