I’ve been thinking of starting a weekly Hearthstone (Free) column for some time now, and I suppose this is as good a time as any to get it going. There are many reasons why I thought such a column would be an good addition to TouchArcade’s content, probably top among them the immense popularity of the game with many of our readers. But there are also other, and perhaps better, reasons for such a column. While many don’t realize this, Hearthstone‘s existence on iOS is a great argument against those who accuse the mobile gaming space of being “too casual." This is a complex, demanding game with numerous professional tournaments built around it and a burgeoning esports scene that, I believe, will continue to grow.
What many also forget, and that includes those who play the game, is the game’s PC provenance; Hearthstone might feel like it naturally belongs on a touchscreen, and yet it’s probably the biggest multiplatform game in the world right now (not a game developed on multiple platforms but a game played simultaneously on multiple platforms). Those of us who play Hearthstone make up one of the sturdiest bridges in the gaming world that connects PC, Mac, Android, and iOS seamlessly. So, this game isn’t just a popular game, it’s one of the threads connecting gamers both in terms of geography and in terms of platform of choice.
As a consequence of the game’s immense popularity and spread, there’s been an explosion in people talking, writing, and thinking about Hearthstone, so much so that keeping up with all that’s going on in the world of Hearthstone is becoming increasingly challenging. Currently there are four to five tournaments a day, new Hearthstone competitive teams forming at least once a week, an increasing number of Twitch streamers that gather hundreds, and often thousands, of viewers, more and more websites popping up that deal with current news, strategies, popular cards and so on, and even quite a few podcasts. What I’m trying to say is that Hearthstone is exploding in popularity at the moment, aided by its recent mobile release, and there’s no better time for gamers to jump onboard the card train or, if you are already one of those playing the game, to get deeper into it.
The aim of this column, then, is to bring you weekly Hearthstone news on topics such as which cards are becoming more popular and why, what decks are being played at the moment, interesting tournament news (that I’ll be using as a meta barometer), news about upcoming changes or expansions, interesting videos, and so on. This column will not, of course, be exhaustive in any way, and we’ll continue to bring you big Hearthstone news during the week to keep you up to date. Still, my hope is that this can be a one-stop shop for most of your Hearthstone needs. Most news I’ll be writing about will be from the week before, but with so much news coming out of the world of Hearthstone, there’ll also be topics and discussions that I probably missed from previous weeks. The design and content of the column might change as we go along while I try to refine it to suit your needs, so do let me know if you have any suggestions for any additional content you’d like to see. As there are all kinds of gamers that play Hearthstone who have various levels of engagement with and dedication to the game, not all topics in this column will appeal to everyone. And a disclaimer: as with every CCG, there is never a consensus on card value, deck value, etc, so feel free to disagree with my ideas and opinions.
Hearthstone Developers’ Interviews
There’ve been two very interesting interviews with Hearthstone developers recently, Team 5’s Senior Producer, Yong Woo, Senior Game Designer, Mike Donais, and Director Eric Dodds, which have shone light on the current state of the game as well as its possible future. First of all, the devs said they’ve been constantly trying to improve the lag that has plagued the game in recent months (which is why Blizzard recently gave EU players two free packs to apologize), and they’ve stated that all known issues have been taken care of. However, as there was more downtime for EU players last week, I’m not convinced that Blizzard’s infrastructure is up to par at the moment. Personally, I’m continuing to have some issues on the US server and from what I hear, many other players are still experiencing issues too; still, I’m pretty sure it’s only a matter of time before Blizzard irons any issues that popped up after the game’s recent mobile release.
The devs also gave us a post-mortem of sorts of Blackrock Mountain Adventure and its effects on the meta. They, rightfully so, claimed that the difference in the impact of the GVG and BRM is partly because of the difference in number of cards that each expansion/adventure added. For example, the devs said it’s too early to judge the effect of the Dragon cards on the meta because there’s always a period of experimentation after each release and the dust hasn’t settled yet. They also discussed the current state of Shaman decks, which aren’t viable even with cards like Lava Shock coming out of BRM, and while they didn’t specifically reveal anything, reading between the lines, I believe they are planning to release more Overload-related cards in the future to make cards like Lava Shock matter. Judging from the interview, the devs seem to really be into the Overload theme when it comes to Shaman decks, and I can’t but wonder whether this “fixation" has limited the Shaman’s card pool and viability.
In what will be interesting news for most, the devs discussed the current Ladder issues, addressing many players’ complaints that there’s nothing to gain between Ranks 20 and Legend and that the month-long season is too short. The devs appear to be aware of how the end-of-season Rank reset seems to be hurting players but insisted that it also helps player activity in the early stages of the season as players aim to quickly rise through the ranks. I’m hoping they rethink the Ladder system because its relative brevity is pushing many to play Aggro decks to quickly go to a higher rank, and playing Hunter deck after Hunter deck gets old fast.
They also got into more specifics about the impact of cards such as the Grim Patron (which I’ll talk about later in the column) on the game. Interestingly, the devs see Grim Patron as evidence of the game’s depth (they seemed a bit too keen on emphasizing that the game is a deep one) because it adds much needed “craziness" and variance in deck-design. And in case you were wondering, I’m pretty sure that, judging by the way they were talking about this card, there’s no nerf coming his way (also, Dr. Boom isn’t getting nerfed either because they like that there’s a viable 7-drop card in rush decks).
Finally, the interviews revealed a very interesting hint about Hearthstone‘s future as the devs confessed that they can’t simply add new cards forever (although Magic seems to be doing just that). While for most of us more expansions and adventures seems to be the way to go, Blizzard is thinking internally how to “maintain the long term health of the game" without a constant influx of new cards. I thought this confession was incredibly interesting for what the future holds. I wonder if the devs don’t want to bear the constant development cost associated with card design or whether there’s another reason that is forcing them to go a different route than most CCGs. Won’t the game go stale without new “toys" to play with? Or, perhaps, they are thinking of adding new heroes into the mix to simply change archetypes while retaining the same cards? The future will be interesting, I hope.
Tournaments, Ladder, and the Current Meta
The HTC Invitational ended this weekend with Sebastian “Forsen" Fors claiming victory after prevailining over some major names, including current #1 GosuRanked player, Kolento. Forsen’s winning decks were Mech Shaman, Mech Mage, and Zoo, three Aggro decks that managed to tame Tides’ Murlocs (yes, Murlocs), Dragon Hunter, and Dragon Control. It’s not often you see an all-Aggro lineup sweep a tournament, but I think the current Meta shake-up prompted by BRM’s cards has made Aggro decks a “boring" but battle-tested option that will continue to prevail while the rest of the field is trying to make Dragon cards and Patron Warrior decks work optimally. The field was filled with Patron Warriors, Midrange Decks (Druid, Warrior, Paladin), and some Handlocks. Unsurprisingly, not many Shamans and barely any Rogue decks.
Viagame House Cup #3 (May 29-31) venue and the eight invited players have been announced, and the venue will be Bran Castle in Romania, more famously known as “Dracula’s Castle." Now, the venue alone makes the tournament stream interesting, and I’m curious about the shenanigans we’ll be seeing from the organizers this time around. The eight invited players were, as expected, some of the top Hearthstone Players at the moment: Hoej, Roger, Firebat, StrifeCro, Lifecoach, Orange, Thijs, and Amaz.
Challengestone #1 has also concluded and the winner was Brian Kibler, who got to show his deck-building skills. For those who aren’t familiar with the format, Challengestone is organized by underflowR, Kripparrian, and Tempo Storm, and forces players to build decks that comply with a given challenge. The challenge this time around was “Creatures must have odd-number attack. Spells must have even-number mana cost." As you can imagine, there were some crazy decks and some awesome matches, with Kibler beating Trump 4-3 in the final. If you enjoy deck-building, I suggest you go read Kibler’s article on his victory and his deck-building philosophy; it’s a great read. Also, Krip is asking for ideas for Challengestone #2, so if you have any good ones, go message him on Twitter.
Finally, Season 1 of the Kinguin Pro League 2015 has concluded, and Kolento has taken the crown, continuing his recent dominance. Kolento used Control Priest, Midrange Demon Zoo, Midrange Druid, and Patron Warrior to win the finals. Overall, Warlock and Warrior saw the most play, followed by Mage, Druid, and Hunter. Poor Shaman saw no play at all. Interestingly, not one BRM Dragon was seen in any of the Playoff Decks, and the only BRM cards that actually made an impact in the tournament were Grim Patron, Imp Gang Boss, and Emperor Thaurissan. Dr. Boom continues his explosive reign as the most popular card in the decks, closely followed though by the Emperor. Surprisingly, Big Game Hunter dropped massively in popularity, showing up in only 25% of the decks.
Patron Warrior showed its dominance and was brought by all but one of the players, demonstrating the deck’s current dominance in the meta. When Grim Patron was revealed during BRM spoilers, many saw the card as an interesting novelty that might be fun to play around with. Almost no one realized that it would be the one card from BRM that would almost take over the meta and take it places it’s never been before. As Tempo Storm’s team talked about in their snapshot of the meta, Grim Patron Warrior has evolved from an experiment to one of the most played and most successful decks on ladder. This combo deck uses Grim Patron and 1 Damage activator to both clear out the opponent’s board and spawn more Patrons. It, of course, requires a strong draw machine to make the combos more possible, and it’s strong against most other decks except Handlock (the deck’s strong AOE spells kill the baby Patrons and disrupt Patron Warrior’s tempo constantly). Players have started introducing Brawl into the deck to deal with aggro, handlocks, and mirror matches. The rest of the decks that are still very powerful in the meta are Hybrid Hunter, Handlock, and Oil Rogue.
If you want to watch some good tournaments this week, there’s ESL Wednesday Wars #39 (13 EDT), Strivewire WCS Qualifier #35 EU on Friday (13 EDT), and the NVIDIA PRO/AM Tournament Glocal Playoffs Day 1 and 2 on Saturday/Sunday (All Day). These are of course just a few of the tournaments going on, and if you haven’t been watching any tournaments, I suggest you start because it’s an easy and fun way to get better at Hearthstone by watching people make great and also really bad decisions as they play.
Videos Worth Watching
Some of the videos I include here were chosen because they are fun to watch while others chosen because they are “educational."
TouchArcade Hearthstone Resources
We have some good resources on the site for you, so if you are new in the game or want to get better at playing, check them out.
That’s all for today, so thank you for reading. I hope you’ve found this column helpful and do let me know what other content you’d like to see so this column can evolve into your one-stop Hearthstone resource. See you here next week.