Visualizing the Hearthstone Arena Synergy Picks

Visualizing the Hearthstone Arena Synergy Picks

The Hearthstone Arena is in a weird place now. Untouched for practically 3 years of the game’s existence, the format is now seeing changes here and there. One of the more recent changes, introduced around the time Knights of the Frozen Throne was released, are the synergy picks. Your first 2 picks out of 30 in the Arena all come from a much smaller pool of cards, the synergy pool.

Most people who play Hearthstone don’t care about the new synergies, or don’t know it exists. People seemingly only care about Ranked and even Tavern Brawl, more than Arena. In the minority of Arena players that do care, some people like the new synergy, and others don’t.

It won’t take a gun to my head to have me tell you that I don’t like the new synergy system. I don’t like being forced to pick a mediocre or subpar card, for the chance of a fringe synergy. My game is about tempo, and synergy is just extra. But that didn’t stop me from thinking about these picks, given how pervasive they are in the Arena now. How good are these synergy picks, and across classes?

Methodology

  • I tried to determine how good each synergy pick is, in respect to the class-rarity pool. I used HSReplay.net to find where a card ranked in “Deck winrate,” out of all cards for that class, in that rarity. Deck winrate varies greatly among classes, so I decided to look ranks within class. Rank analysis is used in nonparametric study design, and is not outlandish.
  • I pulled the source of synergy picks from Heartharena. I’m not sure if this list is complete, but from a visual check, it seems correct.
  • I made 3 tables for Synergy Commons, Synergy Rares, and Synergy Epics.
  • Each card received a percentage. This percentage stands for percentile in the class-rarity pool. e.g. The #10 deck winrate card out of 100 will be 10%.
  • I added a color scale on the spreadsheet for visualization. Green is good, yellow is meh, and red is bad.

Assumptions

Misinterpreting or having misleading data is worse than having no data, so let’s make some assumptions before the results:

  • HSReplay data is not representative of everyone – People who track all their games, and have decktracking lists are probably better than the average Hearthstone player. While this doesn’t include very good players who play on their phones, I would assume more casual players don’t use the technology that exists for computers.
  • Deck winrate is not perfect – Far from a perfect metric, but the best we have to evaluate card performance. Bad cards in 12-win drafts and good cards in 0-win drafts get muddled in the metric. This goes into the fact that high-performing decks typically have better cards. But individual player skill, outside of the draft isn’t really taken into account.
  • Intervals between ranks are not uniform – Cards next to each other on the rank aren’t separated equally. Typically, the worst card is really bad, and a few percent worse than the penultimate. You may even have cards with the same exact winrate, but placed arbitrarily on the rank order.
  • Data is dynamic – HSReplay data constantly refreshes, and the free version looks at the last 14 days. To avoid changing data in the dataset for analysis, I did not refresh the page I looked at, to make sure I had a static snapshot for all data used.
  • Statistical power is equal – Power is basically the bigger a sample size, the more reliable the results. In the ranks, I included every card not considered sparse. So the rank of a card played 100,000 times is on the same level as a card played 2,000 times. The card played 2,000 times probably needs more reps to see it’s “true deck winrate.”

Limitations

Also some limitations of this analysis/visualization:

  • No legendaries – Legendary picks make up a good portion of the synergy picks actually. But when looking at the data, there wasn’t enough power to have a definitive denominator for each class. For example, The Voraxx, a synergy legendary, was only picked 360 times in 2 weeks by Hunters. Everyone knows it is horrible by now, and avoids it. With that, I scrapped evaluation of legendaries. Know that Medivh, Kazakus and the DK Heroes are all very good.
  • No sparse data – HSReplay automatically filters out cards that haven’t been played much. This is done primarily to weed out old drafts that include Wild or banned cards. However, picks perceived as bad by the public (and subsequently undrafted) sometimes don’t show up. An example would be Am’gam Rager, which is very seldom drafted by Mages, or Blood of the Ancient One for Druids. While it feels bad to leave out currently draftable cards from the ranks, their lack of statistical power had to be considered. Ultimately, only a few cards were left out for each class, which won’t significantly affect the rankings for the synergy picks .

Synergy pick commons

synergy_chart_common

  • Rockpool Hunter shows up consistently as a high-ranking deck winrate card, primarily because it serves as 2-drop stability.
  • Primalfin Lookout is the worst neutral common synergy pick, likely because very few Murlocs were found after picking it.
  • Netherspite Historian is actually in the top third of Priest commons, given Dragon synergy.
  • Warlock got some great expansion cards, but the solid synergy pick commons help too. Same for Druid.

Synergy pick rares

synergy_chart_rare.PNG

  • Tol’vir Stoneshaper is everywhere, as the 4-mana 3/5 is not backbreaking, being off 1 point. Much better than picking Gadgetzan Auctioneer or Coldlight Seer.
  • Devilsaur Egg performs much better in Warlock, possibly due to Unwilling Sacrifice.
  • Book Wyrm confirms Priest Dragon synergy.
  • Warrior has relatively better ranks in the synergy rares, which could mean their overall card pool is worse compared to the synergy picks.

Synergy pick epics

synergy_chart_epic.PNG

  • There are a few relatively safe epic synergy picks in Murloc Warleader, Blazecaller, and Southsea Captain.
  • Blubber Baron is as bad as advertised. Don’t try to make that “synergy” work.
  • The Paladin epic class synergy picks are mostly horrendous.
  • Corpsetaker is predictably best in Paladin, thanks to Divine Shield, but is just the 50th percentile.
  • Warrior has relatively better ranks again in the epic synergy picks. Horrible card pool overall confirmed.
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“500th” Arena Run: SMOrc-fest 2016

“500th” Arena Run: SMOrc-fest 2016

Last night, I played my “500th” Arena run in Hearthstone. While I have officially played more than 500 runs, it was my 500th recorded run, where I have the stats recorded on a website. Prior to stat tracking, I had 2 12-win runs, along with a number of likely really bad runs. So now, I have my 500th recorded run in the books. For the sake of nostalgia, let’s take a look at what happened in this run.

Draft – Hunter

  1. Emperor Cobra, Coldlight Oracle, Injured Kvaldir – Clear pick.
  2. Illuminator, Defender of Argus, Sunfury Protector – Early in the draft, going with value pick.
  3. Razorfen Hunter, Pantry Spider, Salty Dog – These are equally bad, but liked the beast synergy and stickness of Pantry Spider.
  4. Cult Master, Unleash the Hounds, Cloaked Huntress – All good, Unleash is just on another level, used offensively and defensively.
  5. Murloc Raider, Cult Master, Blackwing Technician – Clear pick, not punished by taking Cult Master before.
  6. Tinkertown Technician, Spellbreaker, Puddlestomper – Felt I needed a 2-drop, Spellbreaker not good enough to change my mind.
  7. Frost Elemental, Polluted Hoarder, Blackwing Corruptor – Wanted to go faster as a Hunter.
  8. Multi-Shot, Arcane Shot, Faerie Dragon – Situational, but one of the best removals.
  9. Ironforge Rifleman, Desert Camel, Fiery Bat – Solid 1-drop that works great with Hunter.
  10. Imp Master, Questing Adventurer, Arcane Nullifier X-21 – Questing Adventurer gets out of hand, but taking the sure thing with Imp Master. My plan was to be aggressive and swarm the board.
  11. Voodoo Doctor, Volcanic Drake, Annoy-o-Tron – Fills lack of 2-drops.  
  12. Gnomeregan Infantry, Abusive Sergeant, Kvaldir Raider – Just the value pick. Didn’t have any card above 4-mana at this point.
  13. Tinkertown Technician, Violet Illusionist, Grotesque Dragonhawk – Best pick.
  14. Jungle Panther, Kill Command, Squirming Tentacle – Another easy pick as Kill Command is great for face and killing a 5-health minion.
  15. Evolved Kobold, Mechanical Yeti, Blackwing Technician – Clear pick.
  16. Acidic Swamp Ooze, Carrion Grub, Explosive Sheep – Carrion Grub has more value, but severely lacked 2-drops.
  17. Tracking, King’s Elekk, Tundra Rhino – 2-drop beast and draw upside. Can’t get better than that.
  18. Elven Archer, Mechwarper, Dragonhawk Rider – Another 2-drop. Helps 2 other Mechs.
  19. Armored Warhorse, Eater of Secrets, Questing Adventurer – Skipped on Questing again for an aggressive pick that worked well with deck.
  20. Forlorn Stalker, Nerubian Egg, Infest – Good for replenishing the hand, and the other choices were not convincing enough.
  21. Kindly Grandmother, Brave Archer, Houndmaster – Tough choice, but I took a chance to pass on the 2-drop for a great card in Houndmaster.
  22. Stormpike Commando, Spider Tank, Twisted Worgen – Not a great 2-drop, given things like Twilight Flamecaller, but needed a 2-drop.
  23. Kindly Grandmother, Lord of the Arena, Arcane Shot – I’m a broken record, but 2-drop.
  24. Bear Trap, Arcane Anomaly, Arcanosmith – At this point, Bear Trap had the most upside to put a 3-drop beat on Turn 2.
  25. Core Hound, Cloaked Huntress, Archmage – At this point, I had nothing big. Core Hound has poor value, but beast works okay.
  26. Arcanosmith, Frostwolf Grunt, Cult Apothecary – I figured Arcanosmith has upside, as the shield will protect my minions, while they go face.
  27. Zoobot, Tracking, Southsea Deckhand – I felt fine with my draws to pick Zoobot to buff my beasts.
  28. Boneguard Lieutenant, Jungle Panther, King’s Elekk – Best of these early drops.
  29. Misdirection, Bloodsail Corsair, Jeeves – All horrible, but Misdirection provides the most upside and keeps the enemy guessing.
  30. Argent Commander, Arcane Nullifier X-21, Abomination – Clear pick.

Hearthstone Screenshot 11-09-16 22.14.56.png

Gameplan

  • As evidenced by the draft, I had 1 each of 5-6-7 drops, and nothing but 2’s, 3’s, and 4’s. With this draft composition, I had a clear path to play my fast tempo game. The low cost minions also allows me to hero power a good deal as well.
  • I drafted a lot of beasts, which allows me to use cards like Houndmaster, Kill Command, and Zoobot for max value.
  • With cards like Cult Master, Infest, and King’s Elekk, I had the card advantage game down pat. Given I am hardwired to play tempo, I often topdeck in the arena.
  • Taunts in the deck also allow me to go face and trade less.

Game Replays

Thanks to the folks at HearthSim, all of my games under Deck Tracker are now uploaded to the Internet. You can see all my questionable gameplay below.

Upshot

  • Despite not having weapons or Freezing Trap or Savannah Highmane, this deck did a ton of work to make my 500th arena a good outcome.
  • Cult Master and Infest won me card advantage as expected, and the small minions were great for that. Infest in particularly gave me stupid-good value minions.
  • Arcanosmith did a ton of work. The 0/5 Shield was often on the board while I went face.
  • Mechwarper did work getting the 3-drop Yeti.
  • Misdirection, being the “unknown secret,” worked 2 times in this run. It was played around otherwise.
  • Overall, a very solid run, and one that was very fun to play. Given my tempo mentality, this was right in my wheelhouse. On to the next one!

Screenshots

54 Tierscore Kappa

54 Tierscore Kappa

A lot Hearthstone players who don’t typically play Arena ask for advice on one of the main junctions of the web, Reddit. And one piece of advice that always comes up is “use HearthArena.” For those unfamiliar, HearthArena is a drafting tool that assigns tierscores to cards given during the Arena draft. While cards are assigned an inherent neutral score, certain covariates like class type, deck synergy, mana curve, etc would cause tierscores to move up or down during the draft. HearthArena has a deal with Overwolf, where a digital overlay would automatically appear during your arena draft. Former HearthArena employees ADWCTA and Merps also have their own tierscores on The Lightforge.

Back in the day, I used these drafting tools for every arena run. Nowadays, I just consult the tier lists when I am really unsure about something, and want professional verification. While tierscores still have tremendous utility for those unfamiliar with the arena drafting process, or those who play horrible arenas, after a while, they don’t help too much. I’m at the point where I have developed my own drafting style, and using the tierscore lists wouldn’t help me too much.

This brings me to back to Reddit. HearthArena is so entrenched with good arena drafting, that for some people, it is all that they know. Smart users of the tool would know to deviate from the tierscores maybe 1-5 times in a draft. Algorithms aren’t perfect, and it is evident, when you do deviate from the tierscores to fill a need. But a lot of people live and die with the tierscore. It doesn’t matter if the only possible source of card draw is just 0.5 points below a high value card, they will pick the highest score possible. Posters of Reddit are also using their aggregate draft tierscores as a way of bragging (e.g. look at my 77 tierscore deck!).

While tierscores as a whole will lead you towards the right path (winning), the blind devotion to a single tierscore is harmful. And this is definitely the case for the card Moat Lurker.

Only a 54

HearthArena and The Lightforge both list Moat Lurker as a 54. On HearthArena, this is a firmly mid-average card, while in The Lightforge, a 54 is on the cusp of being above average. Here is a partial of other neutral cards assigned a 54 in HearthArena:

  • Bloodfen Raptor
  • Dragonkin Sorcerer
  • Lost Tallstrider
  • Puddlestomper
  • Questing Adventurer

ADWCTA and Merps compared Moat Lurker to a Frost Elemental in their podcast. Frost Elemental has a 62 Lightforge Tierscore.

Moat Lurker’s evident flaws

  1. Low stats – 3/3 for 6 mana is in godawful territory. That is 7 points below the 13 point standard.
  2. Minion comes back – In the arena, Moat Lurker is going to be used to remove enemies most of the time. If you destroy Moat Lurker, said enemy comes back.
  3. Situational – Against faster-style decks, Moat Lurker won’t have much value in removing little guys. He could be in your hand for a while.

Moat Lurker’s value

  1. Neutral hard removal – While every class has some form of hard removal, this is the first neutral hard removal (err, occasionally Deathwing). Corrupted Seer, an Old Gods arena highlight, was a similar first neutral AoE. This increases the chances a deck can have more than 1 hard removal, or provide the only hard removal for a deck.
  2. Greedy deathrattle – A more constructed mechanic, Moat Lurker can be used to eat your own minions, and spit them out again. If you manage to have a Sylvanas out, that’s great. Besides eat a card like 1/1 Twilight Summoner or Anubisath Sentinel, doing this to your own minions is a bit of an anti-tempo move.
  3. Eats up buffs/debuffs – Arena Paladins are fairly strong because of buff mechanics like Blessing of Kings or Seal of Champions. Using Moat Lurker to eat something will effectively remove the buff. Further, you can use this on your own minions to remove a debuff, like Blessing of Wisdom, Aldor Peacekeeper, Keeper of Uldaman, Corruption, etc.

But wait, there’s more!

Back to the hard removal point. This card, like Kidnapper, removes the minions with it’s minion ability, rather than via a spell. This prevents the card from being countered by Counterspell or Loatheb. Further, this card can remove cards covered by the yellow, untargetable haze. You know, Spectral Knight, Faerie Dragon, Arcane Nullifier, and even Soggoth the Slitherer!

50-fuckin-4

I hate to pick on HearthArena again, but yeah. I looked up all the hard removals of all classes. These are the only cards that have a lower tier score than Moat Lurker:

  • Naturalize (50)
  • Polymorph: Boar (50)
  • Humility (51)
  • Corruption (35)

These cards above are all not ideal removals. Here are some tierscores for similar good removal cards:

  • Mulch (71)
  • Assassinate (78)
  • SW: Death (95)
  • Crush (76)
  • Siphon Soul (91)
  • Flame Lance (72)

These are the most similar to Moat Lurker, targeting and destroying a minion, without silencing a deathrattle. 54 is much lower than the scores of the cards above.

No way it’s a 54

It’s not easy to assign a single tierscore for such a complicated card. Moat Lurker’s inherent value comes from the number of hard removals in your deck, possible deathrattle synergies in your deck, and a condition of at least winning the board. So it is a situational, win-more, hard removal in a 3/3 minion. No way this card is the same value as Bloodfen Raptor or Lost Tallstrider.

A possibility that the card is given such a low score is because the tierscore reviewers don’t know what to do with it. Moat Lurker has so much good and so much bad, that they settled on the most average tierscore.

I think as time goes by, people are going to realize that Moat Lurker is better than a 54. Given the dilution of hard removal with the increased card pool and ongoing faster/face arena meta, the need to clear a big thing or taunt is high priority.

It’s time to look past a single tierscore. Moat Lurker is better than 54. It is at least in the low 60s.

Hearthstone Screenshot 08-23-16 23.11.10
Arena Soggoth. What an entree!
Hearthstone Screenshot 08-23-16 23.22.48
Gotta eat your vegetables.

Kripp Partners with HearthArena

According to a headlining post on Hearthstone Reddit, Kripp has officially partnered with Hearthstone Arena Drafting site HearthArena. While this speculation was teased out a while back, it is official now. What impacts does this have on the overall status of the arena?

  1. More people will play Arena – Kripp has over 800k subscribers on YouTube, and his videos get hundreds of thousands of views. While he isn’t the best arena player with measured win rates, he is considered the most notable face of the arena. His recent success in the Old Gods meta has bolstered that claim. A guy with so much reach in the gaming community can only draw more people into the arena.
  2. More people will use HearthArena – I’m not sure what kind of agreement the two parties have in place, but Kripp will likely have to advertise HearthArena to some extent through his channels. Arena-main players already expect that most people use a drafting tool. Expect it all the time. This likely means less “really bad decks” and a more monolithic style, as more people are drafting with the same app.
  3. Slightly easier competition – Let’s say this partnership is a huge success, lots of people are playing Arena and using HearthArena. Well if this happens, the arena is getting a lot easier. I’d say that there will be moderate success. Some people try arena, think it’s too hard and don’t come back. Some people will keep sticking to it. The hardcores will remain in the arena no matter. I think a few Ranked/Brawl main people would move over to the arena, and this makes things slightly easier. Of course, you won’t expect to see these people when you’re fighting an 11-win final boss.
  4. Changes to the internal algorithm – Early indications are that Kripp will not work on tweaking any of the tier scores of the cards. Apparently, he will fill a branding role and show his face when displaying picks. Right now, that role is filled by the League of Explorers. I don’t know though. Something is amiss when you have one of the best arena players in your stable, and don’t pick his brain for improving your tier lists. The HearthArena algorithm is considered a trade secret of sorts, likely composed by data from the HearthArena users, plus tweaks from their arena experts. Kripp is a much bigger name than anyone else on the team, so he would likely have some sway in making decisions.
  5. Nothing happens – Let’s face it, Kripp and HearthArena are already well-known quantities. Almost everyone who plays Hearthstone watches or knows of Kripp. When people ask for arena help online, they are immediately turned to drafting assistance at HearthArena. So when you have two known quantities partnering, it’s possible nothing happens or changes to the arena.

The Curse of Cuteness: The Tinyfin Saga

DISCLAIMER: I am being completely facetious here. Or whatever the opposite scenario is.

To show that they “care” about the Arena, the official Twitter of Hearthstone (@PlayHearthstone) occasionally tweets out a random arena draft pick, asking the viewing audience what card to pick. They seem to have expanded things to other Twitter users asking around. I do enjoy these tweets as I can use it gauge what the “average Joe” Hearthstone player thinks.

Some assumptions can be made about the average person replying to this tweet:

  1. They play Hearthstone to some extent.
  2. They probably don’t play Arena, or play it once in a blue moon.
  3. They want to showcase their knowledge of the game.
  4. They actually know what is the right pick and want to help out and/or show off.
  5. They are trolling or posting a dank meme.

Anyways, it’s fun to see what people are saying. This draft screen was retweeted by @PlayHearthstone today from user Canberk Kaya.

As you can see, 27 picks in, the deck itself is decent some premium picks in the weapons, Arathi Weaponsmith, Piloted Shredder and N’Zoth’s First Mate. This draft pick here kinda hurts though. You are faced with 3 of the worst cards to pick. Without a question, I think Am’gam Rager is the clear pick, but other users on responding had other strong opinions:

 

twitter_tinyfin.PNG

This string of tweets was not representative of the entire chain, some vouched for the clear Am’gam Rager pick and even the Wisp, but this consecutive chain of Murloc Tinyfin proponents is here to drive my point: people are needlessly obsessed with cute cards.

Pros and cons of each pick

Wisp

Pros

  • Free 1/1 tempo play

Cons

  • No synergy with deck, dies when Death’s Bite is broken
  • Dilutes the deck quality consistency

Murloc Tinyfin

Pros

  • Free 1/1 tempo play
  • Gets boosts from enemy Murlocs like Coldlight Seer, Murloc Warleader, and Grimscale Oracle
  • Survives Corrupted Seer AoE

Cons

  • No synergy with deck, dies when Death’s Bite is broken
  • Dilutes the deck quality consistency
  • Susceptible to Hungry Crab

Am’gam Rager

Pros

  • 1/5 body is likely able to survive any blows on turn 3
  • Has enough health to proc Rampage
  • Can be boosted by Cruel Taskmaster to make it a respectable 3/4
  • Trades with small minions, can ping off divine shield

Cons

  • 6 points of stats for 3 mana is not good, most minions with 6 points of stats and 3 mana usually have an effect (Ironfur Grizzly)
  • 1/5 distribution is not very useful, as it can’t kill any 2-health minion
  • Dilutes the deck quality consistency

So there. I do think Am’gam Rager is the clear pick, and Murloc Tinyfin is actually the 2nd choice, given the pros over Wisp.

Murloc Tinyfin would be a defensible pick over Am’gam Rager over certain scenarios though:

  • Playing Rogue and need a combo activator.
  • Playing Warlock and need something to boost Darkshire Councilman. Also a free Mortal Coil “soul to suffer” and draw a card.
  • Playing Paladin and have Steward of Darkshire.
  • Have Questing Adventurer, Hobgoblin, Sea Giant in the deck.
  • Have some kind of Murloc synergy going on.

Further the argument against Murloc Tinyfin is amplified since the player is a Warrior. Warrior cards work when cards are hurt, and the 1/1 cards just don’t cut it, as they die right away.

All in all, this pick likely has very little effect on the Arena run, as they all suck. I just wanted to point out how blinded many are by Murloc Tinyfin.