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Travis Morrow

Travis Morrow is a writer, game designer, and world builder who spends his free time playing with dice, reading screenplays, and arguing with his cats. His personal blog and website is www.travisem.com. He's currently working out of Orange County, CA.

Winning Isn’t Enough?

There’s a topic in the Hearthstone subreddit that really irks me – Should the players that win the maximum number of times in the Arena get some sort of additional reward because they did so?

The suggested reward is tame enough to merit discussion as the absence of gold cards in the Arena seems like an oversight or planned purchasable option later but the origin of the suggestion is entirely offensive. Since when is winning not enough? 12 wins already awards the most gold, has the highest chance for an additional card pack or golden card, and gives the least dust. Is winning the highest possible number of matches already so pedestrian that another reward is needed?

Again, the idea of getting gold cards from an Arena run isn’t a bad idea. I’d still prefer that golden cards in the Arena simply stem from your collection – if you have a golden version of the card you drafted, you can use it. Maybe a checkbox or an icon that toggles available golden cards for the Arena deck or on an individual basis would work. If selecting a card from the Arena deck is way the wind wants to blow, however, let everyone who drafts make such a selection after the deck has been made, or maybe as it’s being drafted. Other than the experience and knowledge, previous Arena runs don’t matter in the system. There’s no rank structure, no identifier of merit or proficiency aside from forum fame and stream success. Keep it that way.

Speaking of the Arena, there’s another Arena tier list for drafting out. Made by reddit user AntiGrav1ty, the list ranks class cards as well as commons, and is organized around the classes themselves. It’s fairly comprehensive and definitely worth a gander. However, it is just a list and doesn’t have the commentary something like Trump’s card ranking does. Regardless, the tiers are useful. Maybe with some bugging and general encouragement the author(s) can provide some insight onto why some cards are ranked the way they are.

Patches, Delays, and Legends

Another Hearthstone patch hit a few days ago, guided by development lasers focused entirely on Jaina and her delay tactics. The changes are simple, a delay on the delay – Cone of Cold, Frost Nova, and Blizzard all had their costs increased by 1. A bit more room to maneuver against the inevitable Pyroblast.

And Open Beta is delayed until January 2014. Everyone who opted in the closed before December 16th should be playing and complaining about decks with six legendaries stuffed inside. The closed beta opt ins close January 7th, open beta should follow soon after. The major delays have come from the nitty gritty stuff – server infrastructure and hardware. Settling up the servers, databases and hardware takes time and planning. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it does happen. Be patient and Hearthstone will be out sooner than you expect.

More top ranked players, too. There’s been some fluctuation and rank swapping with the new round. A few of them have streams, too, so watching and learning from the best is a possible path to success. They lack the sheer numbers of Trump, Kripp, Hafu, and the other big name players so they’re more able to answer questions and interact with the audiences. No disrespect intended to the celebrities but the reward of fame is also its price. Consider spreading the Twitch.tv love around. I’m considering starting a channel for myself and give you fellow card slingers another way to waste time.

I also got my first 9 win arena streak the day before the 12 win cap was released. As much as I dislike Garrosh, the warrior and I seem to speak the same language. Rushes, injuries, weapons, sacrifices. Thrall and I don’t, despite my desperate attempts to make it work. Maybe I’m more Warsong than Frostwolf. Regardless, I know I hate Anduin.

See you in game!

Upcoming Patch

Another patch coming for Hearthstone, another round of card changes and adjustments.

As we move further into the closed beta, we’re continuing to closely monitor card balance as more and more Hearthstone games are played. We also want to ensure that cards acquired in Hearthstone are done fairly through our various game modes.

The amount of gold gained by winning games in Play mode per day will be capped at 100 in the upcoming patch. This cap does not affect gold gained through Quests, Arena, or Achievements. There will be an indication within the game when this gold cap is reached. This cap is intended to combat certain methods of gold acquisition that violate our Terms of Service. The spirit of fair play is extremely important to us, and we will continue to monitor gold acquisition activity closely to ensure a fun and enjoyable game environment for everyone.

In regards to card balance, there are a few cards we’ve noticed that have sprung up that warrant some tuning, and we’ll be making these changes in the next patch. Our goal is to change as few cards as possible over the course of time, but we felt the need to address these six cards in particular. The cards are:Shattered Sun Cleric, Flame Imp and Argent Commander. These cards will be adjusted along with the other cards we mentioned at BlizzCon: Mind Control, Starving Buzzard and Unleash the Hounds.

Shattered Sun Cleric is now a 3/2 (was a 3/3)

Argent Commander is now a 4/2 (was a 4/3)

  • These cards are quite good for their cost, and they currently feel to be slightly above the curve in power compared to cards of a similar cost and type. Players end up choosing these cards for their deck much more often than other cards at the same mana cost. We want to increase the variety of cards being played at 3 and 6 mana.

Flame Imp’s Battlecry now deals 3 damage (up from 2)

  • Warlocks have a very strong early game, and this small change to Flame Imp should help a small amount. There are other cards that help the Warlock maintain early board advantage, and we’re keeping a close eye on those as time goes on.

Mind Control’s mana cost is now 10 (up from 8)

  • Mind Control has some pretty accurate flavor text … perhaps a little too accurate. Raising the mana cost will allow players to have a couple more turns to play with their big minions.

Starving Buzzard is now a 2/1 (was a 2/2)

  • At some ranks, Hunter was a bit strong versus Druids, Mages and Rogues. This change to Starving Buzzard will help even the playing field against those classes in particular.

Unleash the Hounds has been reworked and now reads: “(4) For each enemy minion, summon a 1/1 Hound with Charge”.

  • The old version of Unleash the Hounds was allowing for Hunters to win in a single turn, starting with no minions on the board. The new version adds some fun, new card combos to Hunters and helps with their ability to AoE.

We hope these changes will increase your versatility and creativity in making card choices for your decks, and helps to make Hearthstone a more fun game for all to enjoy.

 

The main changes I’m concerned with are the hits to SSC and AC. SSC is powerful for a 3 cost minion, even for a 4 cost minion. As sad as I am about it, dropping her health by 1 is probably the best move. Likewise for the Commander. He’s still almost a guaranteed 2 for 1 trade, the opponent just has more options to trade with him. I don’t Gul’dan much, or against him often, so the change to Flame Imp is one I’m more curious about than wary of. I feel sorry for Starving Buzzard – another target for Jaina to plink away. Unleash the Hounds might be more balanced, it might also be useless. I’d rather it summon a set number of hounds every time than a number that may or may not be useful depending on my opponent’s board size. A bunch of 1/1s with charge probably won’t save me if I get to summon them.

I celebrate the MC change. MC should be a dramatic game changer but it’s often so deflating, morale wise, that continuing past that point feels more fruitless than it might be. Flamestrike can wipe your entire board but it doesn’t hurt as much as MC.

As far as the gold cap, I don’t play 30+ games a day. Those that do are probably machines or machine like. You can still earn full gold from quests, achievements, and whatever so no worries there.

And no wipe! Grommash Hellscream stays in my library!

A Mildly Triumphant Return

I took a break from Hearthstone after BlizzCon. The announcements were announced, a bit of the next patch was discussed, but I mostly came away with an anticipatory feeling. My curiosity about the game’s future was stoked, my enthusiasm for its current form was still waning. So, a break. It ended up being much longer than I intended – the flu will do that – but after sometime languishing in bed and stuffing myself full of dense Thanksgiving goodies, I returned to the kinetic world of Hearthstone anew.

With no patch during my leave, little has changed mechanically about the game. There have been a few fun streams to watch, some good discussions to be had, but Hearthstone is Hearthstone. That makes sense – the game is still in beta, it’s still a growing community, and it has only one card set.

That’s the main thing to follow: one card set. The mechanics of Hearthstone aren’t as complex as, say, Dota 2. Valve kept that game in beta for years because each hero is so intricate and tweaking each hero’s abilities gives new metagame potential, team fight strategies, and lane tactics. Adding new heroes is akin to reshuffling the entire game.

Hearthstone is reaching a stable point. A basic metagame has formed for both Arena and Play and there are specific cards everyone uses, almost regardless of deck style. This isn’t a bad thing. Quite the contrary, it’s a good thing. The more stable the game becomes, the closer it will be to an official release. The Hearthstone team has some idea of what they want Hearthstone to look like when it launches and, given all the data they collect, they must have a good idea how to get there.

So my return to Hearthstone wasn’t a resigned one. Not much has changed, sure, but it’s a solid game I still enjoy. It’s a bit steadier, a bit more predictable (aside from those infuriating top decks), and rewarding skilled play with more regularity. Decks are easier to design and anticipate. My first arena run back in the saddle went 7-3 and I was feverish and exhausted with the flu. Maybe I’m getting better, or maybe the game is reaching a point I understand more. Is there a difference?

As it stabilizes, expect the designers to throw curve balls to keep the game fresh. The first is a patch followed by the open beta. A retooling of a few cards and a swarm of new players will boost activity in the game. After that, I imagine the first card expansion will be along shortly. I hope the card expansions come a little quicker than the other Blizzard IP expansions – 2 years is a long time to wait.

A MOBA by any Other Name

Dota 2 is complicated. It doesn’t have a learning curve so much as a learning wall. The volume of information to memorize and master is immense and intimidating: the multitude of hero builds, items, crafting, ward locations, creep respawn timers, rune types and timers, the hundreds of hero powers and status effects that can change them. Factor in team fight tactics, lane strategies, and meta game organization and the game has moved from complex to daunting, even unwieldy. That’s just the knowledge required to play, not the mechanical skill required from the player like last hitting, hero ability timing, and map awareness. I’ve put more 500 hours into Dota 2, and about as many in the original, and I’m passable with a few heroes.

I wasn’t sure what to expect with Heroes of the Storm so in my first game at BlizzCon I dropped my expectations. Whatever I played was whatever I was going to judge the game on. I’ve read the briefs from Blizzard, watched the videos, but I wanted to go in as open as possible. I did, I think. Over the course of the two day Blizzard celebration I spent about 4 hours with Heroes of the Storm and played 6 games with different heroes each time. My time certainly wasn’t wasted. Heroes is fun, but that’s almost unnecessary to say as a fan of MOBAs. It’s got the standard trappings – lanes, heroes, pushing, and frantic team fighting – but Heroes does a few things differently.

First, there are no items (and no gold!). None. At all. No health potions, no tangos, no town portal scrolls. Your hero has a town portal ability that recharges. I don’t miss the items. They serve a purpose in other MOBAs but items usually come with the baggage of being boring most of the time. They improve stats or damage, rarely adding powers or altering the ones a hero has. It’s easy to be crippled by missing an item or two because you’re not attacking as fast as you should be. The lack of items means the hero powers improve significantly on their own or via talents. It’s a simple system that leaves more cognitive power for fighting and less for GPM and shopping.

heroes-of-the-storm-logo-685x200

No last hitting. This isn’t unique to Heroes, *cough*League of Legends*cough*, but it’s not common either. Last hitting is usually the sign of a precise, skilled player in Dota. It’s how you earn most of your gold. With no gold to gather, last hitting has gone out the window. I don’t mind it in Dota but I didn’t miss it here.

Shared XP. Not reduced XP when another hero is close by, but even, shared XP for all heroes. Everyone levels at the same time. Your carries won’t be 22 while your support are struggling at 10. The even power curve makes everyone solid in a team fight – no Crystal Maiden syndrome.

Mounts! What’s a Blizzard game without animals you can sit on? Mounts do exactly what you’d expect – they help the heroes move faster. Easier grouping, more team fights. Everyone wins, except those that die.

The differences Heroes has from the other MOBAs reflect the game’s thesis: it’s about the hero punching, plain and simple. There are creep waves and towers and forts but Heroes wants you and your friends to square off against 5 opponents and beat each other silly. It succeeds on that goal – no one I spoke with didn’t enjoy their time with Heroes and want more.

So who were the heroes I played?

Falstad and Nova from the Assassins, Sonya from the Warriors, Malfurion and Uther from Support, and Abathur from the Specialists type. The highlights:

  • I enjoyed Malfurion the most but that’s because I’m biased – I love playing support and looking like a weirdo. He heals well, roots, and silences.
  • Uther heals well, gives his buddies invulnerability through Divine Shield, and can stun. Like any paladin, he’s sort of a frustration to counter but rewarding to play.
  • Nova is a sniper. Chances are that if she shot you, you’re not going to live very long. She hits hard, summons an annoying clone, and can call a nuclear strike. It’s as great as it sounds.
  • Abathur is…different. He’s interesting. He’s a mix of Lifestealer and Wisp which makes him absolutely terrible to fight against. He’s rated “Very Hard” to play and it shows.
  • It’s not that Falstad isn’t fun, it’s that the others were much more fun. I really liked flying over the jungle and descending on enemies as a hammer throwing alcoholic.
  • Sonya didn’t feel particularly special. Her abilities are simple and straight forward, as one would expect a barbarian would be. Maybe for the carries out there that like fighting and fighting and fighting (any Alchemist fans?) but she was the lull in my hero selection.

Heroes is a fun game so far. I want to play more. Boy do I want to play more. Hint hint, community reps. It’s got some room to grow and I look forward to watching (and hopefully playing) as it does so.

Arena Math and You: Statistics!

The Hearthstone forums is a treasure trove of arguments and interesting discussions. They aren’t always productive or poignant but the forums can be a good way to see other minds at work and breaking down bits of the game. A diligent Hearthstone player, Values, has broken down how Arena wins and losses work, where wins come from, where losses go, and a simple (and possibly accidental) introduction to economics.

Values describes how only a small number of players will ever break even in the Arena (that is, recoup their entry fee). According to most, it takes approximately 7 wins to earn enough gold to reenter the Arena. 6 or fewer wins means that you’ll have to earn gold from quests, wins, or buy into the Arena with real money. Values continues and states that because Hearthstone wins and losses in the Arena come against players, someone is always winning a game and someone is always losing. There are a finite number of players in Hearthstone, even if that size is growing, and every win a player earns comes at the expense of another player.

Let that sink in. It’s an obvious statement but the implications are immense. It’s explained eloquently here, by another player by the name of Kithros.

What does this all mean? Don’t be too hard on yourself if you go 0-3, 1-3, or any unsuccessful run of games. It’s very difficult to get to 9-X, the odds aren’t in your favor on a level field and the draft hardly makes the field level. Enjoy the Arena for what it is – a random draft for fun and prizes.

hearthstone-beta-logo-patch-3749

The Problem of Over Correcting

Anduin is in a powerful place. Before the Big One, the priest’s options for fighting were weak and clumsy. Velen had few uses, Fade was mostly useless, Greater Heal was entirely useless. But some redesign and new cards swooped in to bolster Azeroth’s priestly princeling into a powerful Hero.

hearthstone-anduin

But there might be a bit of a problem with him now. The priest has, perhaps, the best removals in the game. Holy Nova doesn’t hit as hard as Flamestike but it does heal your minions. Shadow Words Pain and Death are leagues better than Corruption or Naturalize. There are a host of powerful 4 attack minions, Ysera and the Auctioneer for example, but those can still be countered by silences or even a +1 buff from your end. That leaves the priest with Mind Control. Yes, the controlled minion has summoning sickness. Yes, it costs 8 mana, putting it behind Flamestrike by 1 turn and it’s twice the cost of Polymorph. Despite the high cost and delay in its effect, Mind Control is devastating. It’s at minimum a 2 card counter: you steal a card from a player, and force them to deal with the threat.

The Masters of Hearthstone’s mechanics aren’t unaware of Mind Control’s potency and the priest’s recent empowerment. In a post by Takralus, the community rep said:

We are talking about the issue here and looking at the power of Mind Control at different skill levels and in different modes so we can make any adjustments that may be needed. We’re still deliberating the right course of action, but we have heard you guys and we understand your concerns.

 

I’ve got some ideas for how to bring Mind Control under control.

  • Make the cost 10. A longer delay that allows you to rush the priest a little faster.  This is the least elegant option, I think.
  • Limit the targets. Maybe only 6 attack, or undamaged units.
  • The Mind Controlled target is weakened – a penalty to attack and health or is automatically silenced, since Anduin seems to enjoy that mechanic anyway.
  • The Mind Control effect can be silenced and the creature returns to its original owner.

Obviously, Mind Control is being examined by Blizzard’s team and they’re testing and watching it closely. Keep submitting suggestions to them and posting comments on the Hearthstone forums. The priest may have been over corrected but that’s how design works: a tweak this way, a twist that way, and eventually things are balanced out.

Not Garrosh. Anyone but Garrosh.

I don’t like Garrosh Hellscream very much. Not many people do. The raid on Orgrimmar was met by nearly frothing fans, anxious to break into the city and cut down the wayward Warchief. The Warcraft community wasn’t divided over wanting to see Garrosh dead, it was divided over who should get to kill him. He had a few moments of courage and honor, ably leading the Warsong Offensive into Northrend and teaching players what it means To Be Horde. his legacy, however, is marred by his arrogance, racism, and stubbornness. His orders resulted in the destruction of Theramore and war, his lack of respect of the other Horde races resulted in a rebellion, and his defeat didn’t come with honor: Garrosh is alive, shackled, and imprisoned. An orc’s life should end on his feet, fighting, not as a prisoner in a distant jail. For all of his mistakes, Garrosh’s father Grom had a good heart and redeemed himself in a single, noble act of sacrifice. If Garrosh was ever capable of such an act, the time has long passed.

His personality, legacy, and reputation make it odd for him to be the Warrior hero in Hearthstone. He’s a villain. “But so is Gul’dan!” you cry. Not necessarily. Gul’dan may have consorted with demons and darkness but he’s also the de facto founder of the Horde. Gul’dan invaded Azeroth, razed Stormwind, and essentially ushered in Orgrim Doomhammer. His legacy is complicated, and ultimately terrible, but it had profound effects on everyone, both good and bad.

But who could replace Garrosh?

Durotan.

He’s dead, but so are Uther and Gul’dan. He’s Thrall’s dad, a skilled warrior, a former Chieftan of the Frostwolves, he refused to drink Mannoroth’s Blood, and attempted to free the orcs from the demonic blood. He’s a hero, honorable, courageous, and known throughout the Horde as a champion. It’s too late to make the swap but I’d rather have Durotan as my Hero than the condescending Garrosh.

Which brings up another Hero I’d like to see jettisoned: Anduin.

Why is Anduin here? He’s becoming a talented priest but he’s hardly an earth shaker like the giants around him. Is he really representative of the priests of Azeroth? He’s had some effect in Mists of Pandaria with the Bell but he’s still young and has much to do to prove himself. Given his accomplishments, most player priests have the same exalted status of Anduin, or higher.

And replacing him seems obvious to me: Tyrande. It’s strange she’s not a Hero, or even in the game. She was the box art for World of Warcraft’s launch, an important figure in Warcraft III, she’s connected to both Illidan and Malfurion, and she’s a priestess of Elune. Anduin could have easily been a neutral legendary, what with his desire for diplomacy and pacifist nature, while Tyrande used the power of Elune to defeat her enemies. Her presence would have also upped the count of female Heroes by 50%, something I don’t think anyone would complain about.

But it’s too late for this. Maybe they’ll make appearances as in a Hero pack expansion or as legendaries? For now, though, I have to feel a little churlish whenever Garrosh says “Heh, Greetings.”

My Tantrum Deck

Since the wipe I’ve been trying to create a strong Constructed deck to complete quests and generally just muck about in Hearthstone’s often surprising Constructed mode. When I acquired my gold I decided not to invest in the Arena but instead purchase packs and bolster my meager card collection. I knew that any legendaries I received would dictate the decks I constructed, at least at first. Before the wipe I had The Black Knight and Cenarius. My Malfurion deck was fairly strong but slow and built around ramping quickly in the early game. I was sad to lose the Black Knight; he’s limited but the Battlecry can be devastating against Ironbark Protectors, Sunwalkers, and the heavy taunts that slow down an onslaught.

So I opened my new packs and got two legendaries to replace the two I lost: Edwin VanCleef and Grommash Hellscream. No general legendaries but two of the better ones. I assembled a warrior deck as quick as I could and started playing. After a handful of games getting crushed I reworked it into a theme around Battle Rage and Enrage effects.

It’s not the most novel deck but it works well – I’m 14-2 with it, and the losses were close. It’s quick but the real power rests in its blitz potential. A few charge minions, Cruel Taskmasters, and Inner Rages and suddenly the creatures aren’t only charging, they’re devastating. Combined with the warrior’s weapons, control is somewhat maintained. Establishing an army of minions isn’t the focus – drop one or two creatures, let them be ignored, then punish the following turn.

Here’s the card list:
Inner Rage x2
Execute x2
Whirlwind x2
Fiery War Axe x2
Battle Rage x2
Cleave x2
Slam x2
Amani Berserker x2
Cruel Taskmaster x2
Raging Worgen x2
Warsong Commander x2
Arathi Weaponsmith
Kor’kron Elite x2
Arcanite Reaper x2
Gurubashi Berserker x2
Grommash Hellscream

My sideboard is simple. If I’m concerned the deck is weak or feeling anxious about the late game I use Frothing Berserker and Spiteful Smith is great for bumping up the weapons equipped. If you don’t have a Grom, swapping in either of those or an extra Arathi Weaponsmith would be good moves. Combined with Spiteful Smith and an Arcanite Reaper, Bloodsail Raider is another sneaky power play. Warsong Commander lets her hit right out of the gate, too.

It’s a fun deck and it allows for ample card draw. Give it a whirl and tell me what you think.

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