Hearthstone players are creatures of habit. So much so, that you can often predict which non-class specific cards you’ll be facing in addition to the class specific ones. When you queue up against a Warrior, for example, you can predict that they’ll be playing Acolyte of Pain and Sludge Belcher. When you queue up against a Rogue, you’d be usually correct in assuming that they have Azure Drake and Bloodmage Thalnos in their deck. I can’t recall the last Priest I played against that didn’t run Injured Blademaster. Mage Scientist is nearly ubiquitous in both Hunter and Mage, and running the Scientist also means you’re likely up against some number of a short list of secrets. The list goes on.
On top of that, there are some class specific cards that are so good they go in nearly every deck for that class. Druid has Swipe, Shaman has Rockbiter Weapon, Paladin has Truesilver Champion, etc.
These near constants mean that you can predict a lot of what you’re going to face, and in what order they’ll cast those cards. “I’m playing against a Warlock and they’ve played nothing in the first few turns, only using their hero power to draw cards. Heading into their turn four, I can expect a Mountain Giant or Twilight Drake. In spite of never having seen those cards as of yet, context clues suggest that’s what I’m going to be staring down.”
But what happens when the metagame shifts in such a way so as to warrant a paradigm shift? In the above example, we’re up against Handlock… but Handlock had fallen off in popularity in recent weeks in favor of Demonlock. So you might expect a Voidcaller more than a Giant. How might that effect your decision making process?
Turn sequencing is one of the most important aspects of becoming a good Hearthstone player. Finding the missing pieces to established strategies is a talent that makes players like Kolento and Sjow great. Last week I discussed a few of the metagame scalpels that are at least common enough to be able to see coming. Today I’ll discuss the best cards you’re unlikely to see, but maybe should be seeing more of, and the reasons for their absence from the ladder.
In today’s article, I’ll give you one card per class that might be able to grant you an edge, plus I’ll include a tenth bonus card at the bottom that is the most recent addition to the metagame scalpels list.
Power of the Wild is a victim of the current metagame. Power of the Wild was a key piece of the Token Druid deck that was popular when Zoo was public enemy number one. But the fact that today’s most popular aggro decks have incredible closing speed (think Fireball in Mech Mage or Kill Command in Hunter) mean that Druid needs to close games out quickly as well. This means using the full amount of combo cards Force of Nature and Savage Roar, and ways to support that plan like Shade of Naxxramas.
But silence effects are at a near all-time low, so maybe it’s time for a comeback. The new Quartermaster engine in Paladin has proven that a few little creatures becoming suddenly much bigger can be a potent threat, and Druid can do it with the best of them thanks to Power of the Wild.
Deadly Shot is not the victim of the metagame. It’s a victim of being in the wrong kind of class. The words “Hunter” and “Control” don’t really go together, and Deadly Shot would be the lynchpin of a Hunter Control deck. Being able to take out a solitary large threat is something that Deadly Shot would love to do, but most decks are more interested in playing a few creatures than one big guy. The decks that used to do that, like Handlock and Control Warrior, are much less popular.
Plus, minions are so sticky these days! Haunted Creepers and Nerubian Eggs and Piloted Shredders and Sludge Belchers aren’t exactly what you want to be hitting with Deadly Shot. The biggest threat these days is Dr. Boom, which can’t be answered by just one Shot as well. If more Molten Giants, Yseras, and class legends like Neptulon start coming out to play then maybe Deadly Shot can make its presence felt.
Lucky Strike Means Arena Concessions, but the bane of all Arena players really sees very little play in constructed outside of Freeze Mage. The purpose for this is similar to Deadly Shot: casting it does not mean the board is empty. Flamestrike has the additional problem of being cost prohibitive, needing your entire turn seven, and also fails the Sludge Belcher test.
But Flamestrike does see sparse play here and there. It’s quite potent to follow up an aggressive start with a Flamestrike and keep applying pressure rather than using Flamestrike as a way to try to catch back up. In fact, if there wasn’t already a high quality 7-drop in Mech Mage I bet it would play a copy of Skillstrike. But somebody called The Doctor, so Flamestrike stays on the bench.
Paladin was the most maligned class pre-GvG. It was the rarest class on ladder by a wide margin, and the chief reason for this was the lack of early game. The prayers of Paladins fans everywhere were answered by a slew of new minions and spells, and Seal of Light was one of them.
Sadly, Seal did not fly like an eagle into the metagame. The absence of popular 2-toughness minions is a major culprit for the lack of Seal’s necessity. Should more 3/2s start seeing play, I’d expect a major uptick in Seal of Light’s popularity.
I’ll admit it: I’m in love with Shadowboxer. Not only is it a 2/3 in a class that values toughness above all else, it have incremental value attached. While random, the ability to occasionally get additional value off of your hero power or Light of the Naaru to allow an early minion to trade with a mid- to late-game minion is huge. In addition, Shadowboxer is a Mech! It can work alongside your other Mech synergies, plus can pick up an Upgrade from a Repair Bot you have on hand.
Sadly, Mech Priest is not a popular strategy. Priest has issues with 4-power minions, and Piloted Shredder is the most played card in the game right now. But it’s not for power level reasons that Shadowboxer isn’t seeing play.
You may be noticing a trend in why some powerful cards aren’t seeing play these days. Maybe it matches up poorly against Sludge Belcher or Piloted Shredder, or there aren’t enough 2-toughness minions around, or it just fits in the class wrong. Perdition’s Blade hits all of these points: It tangles poorly with both Shredder and Belcher, there aren’t many 3/2s around to necessitate it, and it’s a much more aggro-slanted weapon than most Rogue decks are looking for. Plus, you know, Rogues get a weapon as a hero power, so it’s tough to break through as a weapon in Rogue unless you’re pretty spectacular.
Don’t feel too bad for Perdition’s Blade. It’s been a roleplayer before, and it will be again.
Lava Burst is the Yeti-killer. Thing is, there aren’t any Chillwind Yetis around these days. Even Mechanical Yeti isn’t popular because of just how all over the place Piloted Shredder is. The rate of damage-to-cost on Lava Burst just can’t be beat, but the metagame isn’t there to necessitate Lava Burst.
Assuming more 5-toughness creatures come out and Lava Burst can help gain the edge by trading up in mana, I’d expect Lava Burst to rebound in popularity.
I tell you what, I’ve been high on Felguard for as long as I’ve been playing Hearthstone. A cheaper Sen’jin Shieldmasta? Sign me up! It matches up well versus Piloted Shredder and Sludge Belcher, and it’s in a class that can use the taunt. So what’s the problem?
Well, it’s an issue of tempo. For exactly the reason that Wild Growth is good, Felguard is bad. While your opponent would be able to play spells that cost 5 on turn 5, you’d be a turn behind. For the rest of the game. That’s just too big of a cost.
But in an aggressive shell, I actually think Felguard can have a role.
Frothing Berserker was a key part of the One Turn Kill Warrior decks that have been a fringe part of the competitive metagame since Hearthstone’s beginnings. It’s been a solid roleplayer as a way to bridge the early- to mid-game in Control Warrior. Being able to trade off your 3-drop Berserker for a higher cost minion or spell is exactly what Control Warrior wants.
Decks like Druid or Mech Mage that look to maintain a board advantage with a few taunts while using stick-and-move tactics to remove bigger threats have a problem with the inherent tempo of Frothing Berzeker. An early investment can turn into a giant monster capable of taking down Sen’jin Shieldmastas and Druid of the Claws in short order.
So why aren’t there a million Frothing Berserkers on the ladder? Well, the first reason is that Control Warrior isn’t incredibly popular at the moment. But the low number of silence effects seeing play in addition to the high number of Mechwarpers and other aggressive but high toughness minions means that it might be time for a Frothing comeback.
Bonus Metagame Scalpel: Madder Bomber
The Goblins and Gnomes expansion breathed new life into Paladin, giving them both Muster for Battle and Shielded Minibot for the early game. It is quite easy for a slow control deck like Warrior to fall behind the early pressure, and the fact that both of the new Paladin class cards match up well against Warrior’s best early defenses (Fiery War Axe and Cruel Taskmaster) and you have a real problem as an aspiring control player.
That’s where Madder Bomber comes in. Being able to pick off pesky Silver Handed Knights and also poke a Shielded Minibot to remove its divine shield, Madder Bomber is exactly the card you would want to play into a quick Paladin start. Add to this the fact that Hunters run a plethora of fragile minions that are easy to kill with a bomb or two, plus the inherent synergies alongside Armorsmith and Acolyte of Pain, and you got a stew goin’!
It’s tough to tell whether Madder Bomber, or even its smaller version Mad Bomber, will become a real player. But it’s the kind of surprise you don’t want to sneak up on you if you can avoid it.
That’s it for today, Hearthstone players! See you on the Ladder.