(The opinions in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the entire cast of HeroPower)
From DreamHack Winter meta disaster to Mean Streets of Gadgetzan scatter, the meta has changed so quickly and violently that you may be experiencing Hearthstone’s own version of whiplash. I don’t know about how everyone else feels, but I love it. I feel like I can play just about any class, or any style of play, and have a chance to win. So, does that mean that the folks at Blizzard finally found the secret mixture to put out a balanced expansion? Only time will tell, but for now at least, it’s looking good so far.
I was working on an article after watching the DreamHack Winter tournament a couple of weekends ago in which Zoolock DOMINATED the virtually every game. It was “Last Hero Standing” format and most players were banning out Shaman, mostly out of not wanting to play against the widely popular midrange version of the class. The premise of the article was something to the effect of “Is Midrange Shaman the Gatekeeper”, and the article focused on the lack of early game answers to the aggro meta. Now everyone knows that I am not a fan of the current state of aggro because I feel like the current ladder system heavily favors amount of games played over the quality of games played. This makes the average player lean more towards aggressive decks because they require less decision making ability, they tend to not punish players as harshly for mistakes, and you have a better chance of reaching Legend rank because the games are faster and allow the players to get more games in per season. With most classes not having true viable early game answers to the speed in which most aggro decks could flood the board, aggro decks had a distinct tactical advantage from the start. With the board clearing power of Lightning Storm, Maelstrom Portal, and Elemental Destruction, along with the beefy stats of Totem Golem and the versitility of the 1 mana cost Spirit Claws, Shaman had answers early and could stall the early game pressure of aggressive decks. In fact, I believe that the entire reason the deck became popular and performed so well is that it played the majority of it’s games against aggressive decks. I am certain that not everyone would agree with me, but I know in my ladder grinds (because I refuse to call anything that required me to play against the same tired decks over and over again anything but grinds), I mostly played against Zoolock, Aggro Warrior, Tempo Mage, Murloc Paladin, Aggro Hunter, or the mirror Midrange Shaman. Of those, the VAST majority of my games came against Zoolock and Murloc Paladin. Most of the games I saw while watching streamers seemed to be showing the same basic statistics. As the meta firmed, Midrange Shaman became the most popular because it answered the various aggro decks well, and could out value Tempo Mage and Murloc Paladins if it drew well. Now that has all changed.
Enter Mean Streets and it’s like someone took the gameboard and just tossed all the pieces into the air. You can play so many different ways right now and a lot of them feel viable. This is a big deal. Now there is a new cancer aggro deck, Pirate Warrior. It requires little in the way of skill (I played 5 games where I literally just played whichever card I could cast that was furthest to the right every turn and won 4 out of the 5 games) and really doesn’t require much in the way of dust to create a viable version. There are several other Pirate aggro classes going around, then people are using Pirates for really fun and effective Tempo decks and having great success with several midrange decks as well. There are great buff midrange decks in Paladin and Warrior, and plenty of jade shenanigans. With all that being said, the best story so far is the impact that Kazakus, Inkmaster Solia, Raza the Chained, and Krul the Unshackled has had on the Reno Jackson themed sub-meta. While this may be short lived, once the Standard year ends and we move into the next cycle, when Reno Jackson leaves along with the rest of the cards in League of Explorers.
To me, the variety speaks of balance, and I don’t recall a time in Hearthstone since I have been playing where I felt like there were so many viable decks. In fact, ranking up on the ladder might actually be fun for the first time in a long time. So I ask the questions again. Did Blizzard find the magic formula? Did they finally manage to balance a game that had been unbalanced since Goblins vs. Gnomes wrecked the meta so long ago? For now, it seems that way to me, and I hope we get to experience a balance meta for more than just the first few weeks of this expansion. Regardless, get out there and try some new things while everything is pretty good. Normally a Control Player? Take one of the new Pirate aggro or Tempo decks for a spin, and you might find a change of pace that you like. Normally an aggro player? Reno Priest with Kazakus is crazy fun and addictive, and Druid control is a blast too. Above all else, enjoy this time of mix up and have fun whatever you are doing in Hearthstone.