Implications of Hearthstone Arena 10.4

Implications of Hearthstone Arena 10.4

In a blindsiding fashion, perhaps the biggest change to the Arena was announced not long ago, due for update 10.4 of the game. This change will do away with the rarity draft system, which has been in place since the beginning, and move towards a power level draft system. For the first time, one can potentially pick from 3 cards of different rarities (common, rare, epic) for a draft slot. Also added in the post are the upcoming new Arena-exclusives, for a limited time, but the removal of the rarity draft system warrants much more discussion on it’s own.

Let’s run through some potential implications this has on Arena.

Different drafting

By taking away the power level quantity to compare three cards with, the focus becomes other useful factors. Most Arena picks have a clear-cut “good card,” which results in an auto-pick. If the new system works as defined in the video, every pick should warrant some critical thinking, in regards to deck construction. The demoed example of Fireball vs Leyline Manipulator vs Primordial Drake isn’t easy. Fireball is usually automatic for being one of the best Mage spells. Primordial Drake is probably the best neutral epic minion though. Leyline Manipulator is an Elemental Yeti with plus side for RNG decks. Tough choice.

The test would be prioritizing mana curve, synergies, win condition, minion/spell balance, etc. In a way, this accomplishes what the dreaded Synergy Pick era never did in testing synergies. Synergies are explosive and powerful when they hit, but are they worth all the other factors. Skillful drafting is definitely reinforced, when you take away sheer power level.

In a way, this drafting system works better for individuals who drafted without using a tierlist. When you have used tierlists for years, you become inured to cards having a certain value attached to that. With the new system, this becomes much more fuzzy, and there is more wiggle room.

target dummy.png
Things only 2015 Arena players will get

 

Definition of power level

This brings the question, how does Blizzard define power level? As the entire draft system will now be based on power level, it would be important to find out what that quantity is. My first guess is it would be the “deck winrate” value, which usually demarcates good cards from average cards from bad cards. “Played winrate” is more of a swingy value I don’t like so much, but is an option as well. Blizz probably has more internal stats that will make the basis of what power level is.

Power level buckets

Once power level is defined (whenever that is), how many buckets are there? As this is the key basis for how the drafting system works, it would be important to know. We definitely will have at least three, with good, average, and bad. The Lightforge Tierlist has 7 buckets for their valuations. I have a feeling there won’t be that many in the Arena update, but there should be enough to make the draft pick between three “same power level cards” seem similar. I personally believe there may be 5 power level buckets, which goes neatly in a 1-5 scale, and divides into 30.

lftiers.PNG
Tiers of The Lightforge Tierlist

Valuation of neutral cards in classes

Thanks to class cards, hero power, and class identity, neutral cards have different values in different classes. An example is Violet Illusionist in Rogue, which is just a 3-mana 4/3 in another class. Taunts for Warlock are also great. The valuation of neutral cards should take class into consideration.

More epics

Epics are no longer bound by generally low appearance rates and should show up more in the new Arena. They usually have a reputation of being either really good or really bad. It is possible we may never see the really bad epics anymore, unless they were drafted for a specific deck synergy.

epic cards.PNG
Some Warrior Epics = Literally unplayable

Normalization of usage

If you look at class cards drafted by class, some cards appear in just short of 50% of decks. By grouping cards through power level, it is likely that the highest cards will fall in usage, and the lower cards will rise in usage. There should be a normalization of some sorts, just because cards of equal power level are pitted against one another, and you are bound to 30 picks.

shaman class.PNG
Crushing Hand vs Fire Elemental shouldn’t be this far apart.

Variability of power level

The biggest question regarding this change is how different each draft would be from another, in terms of power level offerings. And this probably will be determinant on how many power level buckets there are. If there are fewer buckets, like 3, you can easily say there will be 10 bad picks, 10 average picks, and 10 good picks. If you have 7 power level buckets, things get more complicated.

In the current rarity draft system, you typically don’t have crazy variability in terms of card rarity. Yes, you do see 3-4 legendary decks sometimes, but usually you will have 0 or 1. Power level is much more important than rarity though. Many legendary picks aren’t even all that good. Premium cards are often common cards.

A bad scenario would be a highly variable system, as the number of premium picks afforded in a draft determines your fate. Hopefully this distribution of power level per draft is fairly consistent.

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Adapting in the Arena feat. Verdant Longneck

A week ago, the upcoming Hearthstone expansion, Journey to Un’Goro, was officially announced, with a few of the new cards. The official card leak cycle is set to begin on March 17th, so the hype will be intensifying as that date comes closer. Oh yeah, and here’s the infamous Ben Brode rap, which put him on the front page of the Internet. What a marketing win for Blizz.

Anyways, I’m here to talk about the new Adapt mechanic, and how to pick the right one in the arena. Quests are a new exciting card type, but as they are relatively irrelevant in the arena for being: 1) legendary rarity; 2) draft-dependent, they will be a topic for another day. Thanks to the card Verdant Longneck, we can look at the Adapt choices, and see what are the best choices in the arena.

Crackling_Shield(52590)
Spoilers!

Adapt

While a bolded keyword, Adapt is being bundled into the Battlecry mechanic. Basically, you play a minion, and the Battlecry becomes a Discover, allowing a pick of 3 abilities for the minion to gain. There are 10 Adapt mechanics overall. Some notable cards that interact with Battlecry will notably be gone from the arena by the time this mechanic is introduced.

  • Nerub’ar Weblord has been rotated out, would have increased the cost of Adapt minion by 2.
  • Crowd Favorite will be rotated out, would get a buff for each friendly Adapt minion.
  • Brann Bronzebeard will be rotated out, would allow a minion to get 2 Adapts.

We won’t know what cards come out of the next set, but any Battlecry-affecting cards would have a big impact on whether or not you should draft an Adapt card.

Verdant Longneck Adapting

Verdant_Longneck(52583)
New card!

Verdant Longneck at it’s base is a 5-mana 5/4 Druid Beast card. Simple analysis says Verdan Longneck is under-stated by 3 points. A 5-mana card should have 11 points, so that’s 2. Being a Druid-class card will also have leeway for 1 point bonus, so that’s 3 points off what it should be. Is Adapt worth those 3 points? Let’s look at the table below to see what the Verdant Longneck becomes with each Adapt.

Adapt Result Close Analog
Crackling Shield 5/4 Divine Shield None
Flaming Claws 8/4 > Salty Dog
Living Spores 5/4, Deathrattle of 2 1/1’s None
Lightning Speed 5/4 Windfury > Dunemaul Shaman
Liquid Membrane 5/4 Elusive < Spectral Knight
Massive 5/4 Taunt ~ Booty Bay Bodyguard
Volcanic Might 6/5 ~ Twilight Darkmender
Rocky Carapace 5/7 ~ Dark Arrakoa
Shrouding Mist 5/4, 1 turn Stealth < Stranglehorn Tiger
Poison Spit 5/4 Poisonous None

We can do a little analysis with the cards that the Verdant Longneck becomes.

  • Flaming Claws – Better than Salty Dog, but not saying much, so possibly average.
  • Lightning Speed – Dunemaul Shaman was pretty bad, so not much more than that.
  • Liquid Membrane – Spectral Knight was average, and this is a full 2 health off.
  • Massive – Booty Bay Bodyguard is as unflattering a pick as it gets.
  • Volcanic Might – Purely average, can get traded down by 4-drop, but can trade up a little.
  • Rocky Carapce – Dark Arrakoa has taunt and is a 6-drop, so this isn’t a bad choice at all.
  • Shrouding Mist – A full point off the Tiger, and non-permanent stealth.

Other adapt choices

  • Crackling Shield – I think for Verdant Longneck, this is obviously the best pick for Adapt. Divine Shield is an ability that scales up with attack, so having a 5/4 Divine Shield is tremendous. Essentially the minion is doing 10 damage. Also, Divine Shield is very handy in causing 2-for-1 trades, or forcing the enemy to Hero Power.
  • Living Spores – Harder to evaluate at the moment, but I think that any Deathrattle + Summon ability is solid. While this will be a weaker version of Piloted Sky Golem, leaving stuff on the board will protect against board clears, and help contend with the board.
  • Poison Spit – Poisonous is definitely something that is better with higher-health minions (Maexxna), as the attack is moot. 5/4 with Poisonous is essentially a mimic of the Flaming Claws ability, as 8 attack will kill almost anything. Not a very good adapt for Verdant Longneck.

When to pick

I think it will be obvious that none of the remaining Adapt creatures in this set will be 5-mana 5/4’s. They will come in a variety of costs and stats, possibly with other abilities. Let’s look at each Adapt outcome, and see when or when not to pick them.

457px-Shrouding_Mist(52598)
Very situational!

 

Crackling Shield (+Divine Shield)

  • Pros: Works great with high attack minions. Good for forcing trades or mana usage. Can push lethal with it.
  • Cons: Not effective with very low attack minions (1 attack). Can be ignored if opponent has bigger stuff on the board. Blood Knight is offered more as an Epic.
  • Overall: Great, I would pick it most situations, as it will result in your minion getting multiple trades.

Flaming Claws (+3 Attack)

  • Pros: Works fine in an aggressive deck, or on an empty board. Good for pushing lethal and damage. Allows trading up. Good against Priest if minion has 1 attack.
  • Cons: Doesn’t work great with aggressively-stated minions, as low health will allow a much smaller minion to trade up. Spells can destroy minion easily.
  • Overall: Average, will need to evaluate the situation.

Living Spores (+Deathrattle, 2 1/1’s)

  • Pros: Provides 4 stat points to your minion’s stats. Helps compete with the board. 1/1’s can be boosted to trade up. Protects your board from AoE. Deathrattle synergy with Unearthed Raptor.
  • Cons: Not particularly useful in the late game. Enemy MCT or Second-Rate Bruisers can take advantage.
  • Overall: Pretty good for all purposes, while fighting for the board, or early game.

Lightning Speed (+Windfury)

  • Pros: Can push lethal. Good in the early game.
  • Cons: Bad with minions that don’t have great health. Bad with minions that don’t have great attack in the mid-late game.
  • Overall: Bad, unless it is on a 2-drop with decent stats (3/2 or 2/3), like Whirling Zap. Cards like Grotesque Dragonhawk, Windfury Harpy, and Grook Fu Master are all pretty bad.

Liquid Membrane (+Elusive)

  • Pros: Encourages trading, so softens the board. More spells in the arena, so can’t be targeted. Can’t be hit by Mages. Can provide a fulcrum against Betrayal, positioning cards.
  • Cons: Minion will likely be under-stated, and doesn’t gain a useful ability. Doesn’t work on minion effects.
  • Overall: Pretty bad. You can’t see the cards in your opponent’s hand, so you won’t know exactly if a spell is selects targets. Possibly useful for softening a board before a weak AoE.

Massive (+Taunt)

  • Pros: Taunt forces trades, protects hero health, protects lethal damage board.
  • Cons: Minion with low stats doesn’t gain anything for being a taunt. Not great with aggressively-stated minions.
  • Overall: Situational, better in the late game for all picks. The Verdant Longneck isn’t good as a Booty Bay Bodyguard, but it can save you in a game, or protect your better minions.

Volcanic Might (+1/1)

  • Pros: Great with any early game minion. Works great with a defensively-stated minions, to allow an on-curve vanilla play, or something better. Can allow you to compete with something weaker on the board. Good against Priest on a 3 attack.
  • Cons: Not very sexy. Doesn’t do anything if you are behind, or doesn’t do enough to be threatening.
  • Overall: Good, but possibly broken if stuck on a 2/3 2-drop. Great for playing the board, making sure your minions have more stats. Look for better options if the game isn’t in your favor.

Rocky Carapace (+3 Health)

  • Pros: Good for ensuring a sticky minion to compete for the board. Allows you to play around AoEs.
  • Cons: Probably not great for minions with already low attack. Doesn’t do much in the late game.
  • Overall: Good. Very versatile in the early game, or when competing for the board. Look for better options if the game isn’t in your favor.

Shrouding Mist (+Stealth, 1 turn)

  • Pros: Can setup lethal. Allows spell buffing the next turn. Synergy with Shadow Sensei. Can provide a fulcrum against Betrayal, positioning cards.
  • Cons: Minion doesn’t gain stats, so will likely be under-stated. Doesn’t get pass taunts. Can still get killed by AoE, or random effects. Encourages opponent to go face.
  • Overall: Bad. Best situation to pick is when setting up lethal, so look for better options at every other phase of the game.

Poison Spit (+Poisonous)

  • Pros: Can allow any minion to trade up on something bigger. Works great with high health minions, as the poison could be used on numerous targets. Fine on an empty board, to discourage enemy tempo.
  • Cons: Doesn’t work well with low health minions. Minions with high stats shouldn’t have Poisonous, as their attack is wasted.
  • Overall: Situational. Best with low attack, high health distributions. Possibly good against high-value targets.
Ungoro
Pick the Stealth, guys!

Will it work?

So far with Verdant Longneck, Adapt definitely doesn’t appear to be overpowered, which is the danger when introducing a new mechanic. Also, Adapt brings about the type of “good RNG”, which combines limited probability elements with some strategy. I for one, will be excited to see what other cards exist in this set, and if they combine Adapt with other keywords. Only a week and half left!

 

Positioning as the New Hearthstone Mechanic

Hearthstone‘s Tavern Brawl this week is called “Yellow-Brick Brawl,” and features the Dorothee character, who last appeared in the One Night in Karazhan Adventure Mode. Dorothee is a minion that puts an emphasis on minion board placement (aka positioning), granting different abilities to respective minions to her left and right.

Interestingly, two other Karazhan Adventure Mode fights, the Chess Event and Netherspite, also tapped into minion placement a great deal. The timing of this Tavern Brawl two days before BlizzCon makes me wonder whether positioning will be the new focus of the next Hearthstone expansion. Let’s take a look at minion positioning in Hearthstone currently, and where there is room for improvement.

Basic Board Rules

  • A Hearthstone board can have up to 7 minions on each side.

  • When you play a minion, you can place it anywhere on the board. If other minions are present, you can play the new minion to the left or right.

  • Summoned minions (tokens) immediately appear on the right of the played minion. Shaman totems appear to the immediate right of everything.

Current Minion Placement Considerations

I will preface this by saying that positioning is much more relevant in the Arena than Constructed play right now. There are literally 2 cards now that do the same thing that are relevant in Constructed play. In the Arena, you have to look out for more threats, and minion placement becomes more of a skill.

  • Dire Wolf Alpha / Flametongue Totem – These are the Constructed-relevant cards that involve positioning. Both cards provide minion attack buffs to the cards on the immediate left and right. When playing the aggressor on the board, you would want to sandwich the Dire Wolf and Flametongue between two attacking minions, to pump out more damage. When playing defense and trading with your opponent, you would want to employ a so-called “assembly line” and place the buff minion to the right of your minions on board. Token-producing minions, like Imp Master, Imp Gang Boss, and Moroes, should always be on the left of the buff minion, so the tokens can get the bonus attack and trade up.

  • Rogue – Betrayal – This is the high upside, decent Arena card that punishes incorrect positioning. An opponent who stacks the board with strong creatures without correct minion placement, could lose two big threats right away. The way to play around Betrayal is to simply put your strongest guys on opposite ends, and with weaker minions in the middle. Of course, considerations are made with Poison ability minions, and other factors.

  • Mage – Cone of Cold – This spell can freeze up to 3 minions on the board. Like with Betrayal, you would want to separate your high power minions on the board with weaker ones. Cone of Cold is more of a stall tactic, so hedge your damage on the edges.

  • Hunter – Powershot, Explosive Shot – These cards do the same thing as Cone of Cold, but deal significantly more damage. Explosive Shot adds a layer of complexity, as the 5-damage is applied to the center minion. In these cases, playing your strong threats on the edges should work fine, as you want the Explosive Shot wasted on 2 minions rather than 3.

  • Ethereal / Stealth minions – Ethereal and Stealth minions cannot be targeted by the spells mentioned above, though they can be hit as an adjacent minion. It is useful to use Ethereal and Stealth minions as “fulcrums” between 2 powerful minions. This will prevent Betrayal outright, and will also limit the damage to 2 minions with Cone of Cold, Powershot, and Explosive Shot.

Failed Attempts at Relevance

I can think of two other cards that took a shot in the dark with minion placement, and failed to make an impact on Constructed (due to overshadowing) or Arena play (due to rarity).

  • Wee Spellstopper – Best known for looking like an out-of-place Anime character in Hearthstone, this card makes adjacent minions Ethereal. This has some appeal in immediately protecting two minions from spells. However, this card was likely done in by it’s slowness, dependence on having a board, and existing during the aggressive Goblins vs Gnomes meta. Further, making minions Ethereal didn’t protect them from AoE board clears or Lightbombs.

  • Magnataur Alpha / Foe Reaper 4000 – These two cards have the same effect, of applying damage to the minions to the left and right of the target minion. So they are high impact “board clears” on three targets. Foe Reaper 4000 looked like a flashy card when revealed, but just became a big/greedy/useless minion in Constructed play. Magnataur Alpha came out in The Grand Tournament, and is not a great play for being a 3-health minion on 4-mana.

Challenges in Future Design

  • Card Balance – The biggest challenge in incorporating more cards that utilize the skill of positioning is card balance. Will the card be fair? The current version of Dorothee likely won’t ever be a card, as it grants minions Charge, which has been a thorn on Hearthstone’s history for hampering board interaction. On the downside, making a card that is grossly over-costed or under-stated would guarantee it never seeing play.

  • Limited Effects – Compared to Magic the Gathering, Hearthstone doesn’t have a whole lot of “keywords.” So, there’s only so much you could do with a card that grants a limited set of abilities. Further, the number of abilities are limited by balance. Charge and Divine Shield are abilities that scale in value with card attack, unlike Taunt. There’s a reason that a 6-mana 4/2 Argent Commander is an elite Arena card, as the Charge and Divine Shield scale up. So positioning cards that just grant Taunt and Spell Power could be quite boring.

  • Difficulty – Positioning is likely something that new players don’t think about at all. It takes some trial and error to get used to, and a source for misplays now and then. A higher emphasis on an intermediate skill like positioning could be too confusing for players, and ultimately drive people away from a set.

What I Would Like

If positioning cards are to be pushed out in this set, I would like to see positioning cards that have dual effects, negative and positive. I believe this would be the best way to work around the issue of card balance, as the card ability will automatically balance itself. Let’s say there a minion that grants adjacent minions a one-time Divine Shield, but automatically sets their Health to 1. The net pros and cons should equal out with the card stats and cost of the minion as well, to create some ambivalent balance, that is not obviously over- or under-powered. Of course, having these dual effects can be confusing to new players.

It is entirely possible that I am making too much out of the Tavern Brawl and expecting something more complex than what is planned by Blizzard. Would you like to see Hearthstone use board positioning more? What would you like to see from the new expansion?