A couple days ago, someone posted on Hearthstone Reddit about brewmasters being good cards. Further in the comments, someone posted about these cards being good in the arena. I respectfully disagreed with the comment about the cards being good, especially in the arena, saying that I would rather draft Bloodfen Raptor and Lost Tallstrider over the brewmasters. This got me thinking about these cards in the arena, and which cards are actually superior.
For those unfamiliar, the brewmasters are Pandaren (yes pandas) introduced in the first Hearthstone card set. Youthful Brewmaster is a 2 mana 3/2, with a battlecry that forces you to return a minion on your board back to your hand. This activity is often known as “bouncing” in Hearthstone. Ancient Brewmaster is a 4 mana 5/4, with the same bouncing battlecry. The bouncing of a minion will only occur when you have at least 1 minion on the board. When you have more than 1 minion, you get to choose what to bounce. If just 1 minion, you will be forced to bounce that one minion. On an empty board, the battlecry does nothing.
Lorewise, the Pandaren specifically enjoy beer in Warcraft, and this is depicted in game with a little barrel or cask of beer. I guess when a minion gets bounced to the hand, they are supposedly drunk and can’t continue fighting.
Beasts are Better
My argument is that the vanilla minions, Bloodfen Raptor and Lost Tallstrider, respectively are better than the brewmasters. And I don’t really care about the fact that they have beast synergy with Druids and Hunters. I think that having a vanilla minion, with no effect, is better than the bounce effect.
The greatest benefit towards using a brewmaster is to cast a really good battlecry a second time. Some good neutral arena cards that come to mind include Bomb Lobber, North Sea Kraken, Dark Iron Dwarf, and Defender of Argus. Various discover minions like Ethereal Conjurer, Jeweled Scarab, Tomb Spider, and Gorillabot A-3 are also really good value.
Healing for Value
Another common use of brewmasters is to save an injured minion by returning it to the hand. You can trade with the minion on the board, and return it again, thereby “healing” it. Such a tactic can also be used with divine shield, to “create” a new shield.
Charge minions can be exploited with a double charge. Double charges could be useful for extra reach damage to the face, or for trading with minions on the board.
This is the easiest explanation as to why I believe the brewmasters are inferior to their vanilla beast counterparts. The bouncing of a minion is anti-tempo, meaning you will have less stuff on the board. This creates a lot of awkward situations, where you are forced to bounce a taunt protecting your face, or something that is superior to your Pandaren brewmaster. Tempo is pretty important in the arena, as fighting for the board is the how you win arena games. Subtracting tempo on any turn must be well-worth it. Usually it isn’t.
Brewmasters can get value from bouncing minions, but the entire process is just very slow. An entire chain of events must occur for this to work. A valuable minion is played, it survives, you play a panda, and you play said valuable minion again. With this said, Youthful Brewmaster is a bit better than Ancient Brewmaster. This is because you can only afford to bounce and play a 6-cost minion with the Ancient Brewmaster, while you can bounce and play anything 8-mana and below with the Youthful Brewmaster.
Tier List Score Comparison
Heartharena: Youthful Brewmaster (45), Ancient Brewmaster (47), Bloodfen Raptor (54), Lost Tallstrider (54)
Lightforge: Youthful Brewmaster (48), Ancient Brewmaster (48), Bloodfen Raptor (50), Lost Tallstrider (54)
Expert tier lists Heartharena and The Lightforge all have the vanilla beasts being a little better than the brewmasters. I would assume that the cost of anti-tempo is just a little worse than the pros of the brewmasters. It is also important to note that the brewmasters are likely a little better in classes with good battlecries compared to those that don’t. Warlock likely has a disadvantage, as Warlock battlecries are costly to summon a powerful minion. Paladin and Shaman minions are some that have high quality battlecries.
While expert arena players do agree that the neutral beasts are slightly better than brewmasters in the arena, the difference in tier scores is too small to take seriously. Really which card you draft depends on several variables:
- Deck synergy – If your deck has a couple battlecries worth brewing, than the pandas have an advantage. Brewing back a Stormpike Commando might be useful in a deck with few removal options. Returning a Novice Engineer could be great for late-game card advantage.
- Mana curve – Brewmasters only cost 2 and 4 respectively, but are slow cards. The late-game value afforded is pretty solid. So if you draft a faster-style deck, it might be better to go with the vanilla beast. Slower decks can afford to have Youthful Brewmaster serve as a 2-drop, or something for more value in the late game.
- Personal preference – While a lot of people listen to tier lists hook line and sinker, personal preference on cards is something everyone has. There are just card people like more than others, no matter what the tier lists say. I have such a preference with Addled Grizzly. So if you are comfortable drafting brewmasters, than go for it! I personally am not, given my experience with awkward bouncing situations, so that is why I spring for the vanilla beasts.
Overall, this is real minutiae thinking about minions in the arena. But hey, you need to think about all of these things when you’re drafting.