Aleco

Legend in the Making - An Advanced Guide to Competitive Hearthstone: Part 4

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The decisions we make outside of games are often just as impactful as the ones me make inside them. In the final installment of "Legend in the Making", we cover the meta-skills you'll need to conquer the most difficult stretch of the ladder.

Legend in the Making: Part 4

Ranks 5 to Legend - Tools for the Climb and the Art of the Read

I’d like to start off the fourth and final installment of “Legend in the Making” by letting you know that I most certainly have not saved the best for last. In fact, I’ve done quite the opposite. The concepts I’ll discuss in part four aren’t necessary for reaching Legend at all, I know this to be true from of all the comments and messages I've received from readers who were able to reach Legend for the first time after reading just the first three parts of this series. Part four doesn’t set out to reinvent anyone’s approach to the game of Hearthstone, if you’re capable of reaching rank five then I believe you already have the knowledge you need to reach Legend.

The first section of this article aims to help players who are struggling with the final push to Legend get the most out of their laddering sessions. Sometimes the biggest challenge isn’t knowing the right thing to do, but having the ability to keep your composure and put together the things you already know while maintaining a winning mindset.

We’ll wrap up this series by covering “reads”, or the art of analyzing the human element of Hearthstone. Once we have a thorough grasp on the fundamentals we can look beyond the X’s and O’s and begin analyze the subtle things our opponent’s do which reveal their true intentions.

Let's get started.

Section 1 - Tools for Optimizing Your Climb

It’s obvious that the decisions we make throughout the course each game are important, but have you ever thought about the impact of the decisions you make outside of them? In-game decisions affect the outcome of the game they’re made in, while the decisions we make outside of games have the ability to affect the outcome of an entire ladder session. Let’s take a look at the things we can do between games to avoid losing streaks and to prepare ourselves for tough decisions.

Avoiding Tilt

Quote

Tilt

A term usually applied to video games, tilt is an emotional state which can occur after a repeated process produces repeated negative results. Tilt is an emotional breakdown caused by hard work not resulting in success which is deeply craved. When you or someone you know is tilted, the best thing to do is take a break from that activity.

- Edited from Urban Dictionary

I’ll be honest you, I struggle with tilt.

I nearly always get a bit angry after losing a game which was completely out of my control. I can happily accept a loss which came as the result of a mistake I made, but I absolutely hate it when I lose a match where there was nothing I could do and there were no lessons to learned. Card games can be uniquely frustrating as they are one of the few competitive outlets where it is possible to do everything right and still lose.

The worst thing about tilt is that it is self-perpetuating. Tilting causes mistakes, mistakes cause losses, and losses cause more tilt. Playing on tilt can dramatically drop your win percentage and lead to a string of losses which put you even further away from your goal of reaching Legend. It could very well be that your win percentage while you maintain composure is more than enough to carry you to Legend, but that the losses you accumulate while on tilt are dragging your overall win percentage down low enough to keep you from the promised land.

So what can you do to prevent tilt? The solution is incredibly simple, and I’m almost embarrassed that it took me so long to do it myself:

Stop playing!

That’s really all there is to it. Whenever you find yourself on tilt, the best thing you can do is take a break, even if it’s just for a short time. What works best for me is to fully close the program and take a break until I’ve fully calmed down. If that’s simply not an option, the absolute minimum you should do is stand up to stretch your legs, get some water or going to the bathroom, take a few deep breaths, and consider changing decks before jumping back on the ladder. Slamming the “play” button as fast as you possibly can is a recipe for disaster.

For some, the trickiest part will be convincing yourself that it’s the right idea to stop playing. How could not playing Hearthstone be the best way to rank up? If you ever feel this way while on tilt, try to remind yourself that every loss puts you one step further away from your goal, and that stopping yourself before an impending stretch of losses is functionally identical to going on a win streak.

For others (and I include myself in this category), the tricky part isn’t stopping but recognizing when tilt is starting to become a problem. How can you know when to stop if you don’t even recognize that you’re angry? Self-awareness is the best tool you can have for avoiding to tilt, but it's also one of the most difficult meta-skills to cultivate in life, let alone in Hearthstone.

The trick I’ve taught myself for catching tilt before it becomes a problem is “three loss” rule. Every time I lose three consecutive games I ask myself if I am starting to go on tilt before hitting the play button again. I found it to be a bit excessive and self-patronizing to check myself after every single loss, and that I was almost always starting to go on tilt after losing three consecutive games. If you find a better trigger for yourself to check if you're going on tilt then I encourage you to use it, the three loss rule is just something which worked for me.

I’m far from an expert at dealing with tilt, so I would highly recommend that you seek alternative resources for dealing with tilt if it’s a problem you deeply struggle with. Tilt isn’t unique to Hearthstone, it’s a problem which is shared by nearly all competitive online games. There are thousands of articles and videos on the internet which are written by people far more qualified than myself to give advice on the topic, so if you need help (and you know who you are!) I encourage you to go out and find these resources before proceeding any further in your quest for Legend. Your biggest obstacle for reaching Legend may not be your ability, but your mindset.

Local Metagames

One of the very first things I discussed in part one of this series was the importance of deck selection, where I encouraged readers to ditch their homebrews and play popular decks for a variety of reasons. One of biggest reasons to play a popular deck is the vast amount of data which you’ll gain access to about your matchups. Thousands of matches between top tier decks are logged by deck trackers and uploaded to various Hearthstone sites for statistical analysis on a daily basis, providing us with a powerful tool we can use to avoid unfavored matchups. Now that we’ve reached the stretch of our climb to Legend where the tiniest margins make the biggest differences, we should be very interested in any tool which could potentially increase our win percentage by multiple points over the span of multiple matches.

One peculiar phenomena of the Hearthstone ladder is the “local metagame”. If we use the term “metagame” to refer to all of the decks which are popular at a given time, the term “local metagame” refers to a group of decks which are likely to be encountered at a specific rank. Especially between ranks 5 and Legend, I’ve found that it is quite common to play a stretch of games against the same two or three decks for the span of an entire rank. I won’t pretend to understand why this phenomenon occurs, but I’ve encountered it more than enough to be confident that it exists.

Let’s take a look at a recent screenshot from my deck tracker:

screen1.jpg

This nice run of wins began in the middle of rank 3, where almost every deck I encountered on ladder was either Jade Druid or Kazakus Priest. Playing as Pirate Warrior, a deck which is favored against both, I was able to go 7-1 and climb all the way up to the the top of rank two! Not bad, eh?

Let’s see what happens next:

screen2.jpg

Same deck, new local meta, and I’m right back where I started. Four of the five Druid games you see above were against Aggro Druid, a deck which is massively favored against Pirate Warrior but was nowhere to be found in rank 3. After losing to two Aggro Druids in three games, what I should have done was switch to a deck which wasn’t so unfavored against it. Switching decks at this point could have prevented two future losses, which is absolutely massive!

The best tool I’ve found for battling local metagames is the Data Reaper Live Report. To use the report, scroll down to the bottom of the screen and select “Top Archetype Matchups”. This will reveal a chart with matchup winrates for all of the most popular decks in the format, which should allow you to select the best deck from your collection for conquering whichever local metagame you are up against. I understand that most of you won’t have the cards you need to play every deck on that list (I certainly don’t), but you probably have the cards to play at least two or three of them. Even if you don’t have access to the best deck for your local meta, you can still use the report to select the best from the ones you have access to.

Are you facing 90% Jade Druids? Play one of the three aggressive decks which have favorable matchups against it. Are you seeing only Murloc Paladin and Aggro Druids? Token Shaman would be a solid choice for this local meta.

The same tool I use for preventing tilt, the “three loss” rule, is the very same tool I use for detecting local metas. Any time I lose three games in a row I check to see if my deck choice may be a part of that reason (in addition to checking if I’m starting to tilt). If I ever find that I lost the same unfavorable matchup more than once during a stretch of three games I’ll probably change decks to something more favored against the local meta.

I’m sure there are some experts out there who will vehemently disagree with my suggestion to regularly switch decks. The counterargument for why you should stick with one deck through thick and thin is that by frequently changing decks you will never master a deck well to the point where you can play it at a high level. This is a fair point, but I wholeheartedly disagree with it.

From a competitive perspective, I believe that you stand to improve more as a player by playing multiple decks. Having a thorough understanding of a deck certainly provides you with an advantage when you play with or against it, but this advantage is predicated entirely on the effectiveness of that specific deck being effective in the meta. If you only ever play Pirate Warrior, will your advanced deck knowledge be able to make up for the massive disadvantage you’ll have in each game against a local meta of Aggro Druids and Golakka Crawlers? I find it highly unlikely that you’ll be able to string together wins from your advanced deck knowledge alone if the metagame becomes toxic towards the deck you've planted your flag in.

The other reason I advocate for switching decks is that it’s more fun! After an hour or so with the same deck I frequently find myself wanting to play something else, local meta be damned. I enjoy winning as much as the next guy, but even I will get bored of winning if it means that I have to play the same matchup over and over. I enjoy Hearthstone the most when I’m able to play a wide variety of decks and strategies, something I’ll never be able to do if I only play one deck on my climb to Legend.

The Winning Formula

The number of variables which can factor into a single decision in Hearthstone is staggering. Even if you only take into account the tools I’ve discussed in series, you’ll still need to evaluate up to five highly nuanced and loosely related concepts to reach a single conclusion:

  1. “Who’s the beatdown?” and knowing your role.
  2. Data from the past, present, and future of the current game.
  3. Having a plan.
  4. Playing to outs.
  5. Line-up theory.

Collectively mastering each of these concepts should be more than enough to carry you to Legend, but it’s no easy feat to keep track of them in the middle of a game. Even if you understand each concept individually, finding the thinking time to thoroughly evaluate and weigh them against each other before each decision is no easy feat.

I discussed the topic of “making smaller circles” from The Art of Learning in part three, which is the process of internalizing complex topics on an instinctual level. Through this process it is possible to greatly reduce the amount of mental throughput it takes to evaluate each of the concepts I’ve discussed, but even this doesn’t account for the varying importance of each concept in different matchups.

Knowing your role might be the most important concept by far in one matchup but the least important another. Certain decisions might require you to weigh all five against each other at once, while other matchups might demand to be approached from another angle entirely. Attempting to factor each concept into our decision making process at all times is a fool’s errand, as it is neither the most effective use our limited thinking time nor the most efficient way to arrive at smart conclusions.

Instead of trying to balance the importance of everything we’ve learned at all times, we can frontload this entire process into something I like to call “the winning formula”. Within the context of a specific matchup but outside the context of a specific game, we have all the time in the world to weigh the factors and data against each other to determine what the keys to victory are. Let’s explore an example from my own past where I was able to overcome my instincts to determine the winning formula for a specific matchup.

When I first played Midrange Murloc Paladin my approach to the deck was the same as most other midrange decks. Against Control decks I played aggressively and flooded the board with early murlocs, and against Aggro decks I attempted to control the board early so I could stall out the game until my heavy hitters could take over. Unfortunately, the mirror matchup completely baffled me.

“Knowing your role” told me that Midrange mirrors tended to be won by outvaluing the opponent and trading two-for-one as often as possible, so I originally approached the matchup by keeping cards like Finja, the Flying Star and Stonehill Defender in my mulligans. These cards have “value” written all over them, and they fit perfectly into my initial plan of accruing card advantage over the course of a long game.

This sounded like a nice idea in theory, but in practice it got completely destroyed. It took me four or five losses in the mirror match before I realized that the matchup wasn’t about value at all, but tempo. I noticed that the player who got control of the board first was frequently able to snowball their early lead into a massive tempo advantage. The vast majority of Midrange Murloc Paladin decks simply lacked the tools to catch up from behind once they were already behind on board. Even Sunkeeper Tarim, an all-star against other aggressively slanted decks, was often too little too late.

When it comes to formulating a gameplan in the Midrange Murloc Paladin mirror, locking on to concepts like “who’s the beatdown?” was actually doing me more harm than good. Understanding “who’s the beatdown?” still helped me out on a decision by decision basis, but the big picture formula for victory was dictated by something else entirely. Regardless of the past, present, and future, mulliganing aggressively for one and two drops and playing to establish early control over the board is the plan. In this matchup, the “winning formula” is to grab control over the board early and never let go of it.

The goal with a winning formula is to be able to be able to enter each matchup with a solid understanding of the specific factors which contribute most towards victory and defeat. By front-loading this thinking before we ever enter into a game we free our minds to ignore unimportant concepts and allow ourselves to hone in on the most critical pieces of information. Here are some examples of what a winning formula might look  like for a variety of matchups:

  • As an aggressive deck, kill the opponent before they are able to play their board wipe. If this is not possible, don’t over-commit to the board and attempt play around the board wipe as much as possible while applying pressure.
    • Example: As Evolve Shaman against Kazakus Priest, Dragonfire Potion is the single card which is capable of causing you the most problems. Plan A (obviously) is to kill the Priest before they get the chance to play the card on turn 6, but this isn't always possible. Barring an early kill off Bloodlust, apply pressure while not over-commiting to the board until they use their Dragonfire Potion.
  • Avoid getting beat by a specific card. Conversely, set up a scenario where a specific card dominates the game.
    • Example: As Evolve Shaman against Aggro Druid, Devolve is the most important card in your entire deck. Devolving a board of Mana Treants is often game winning, while Devolving a board of cheap minions which are buffed up by Mark of the Lotus or Power of the Wild can buy you enough time to take over the late game with your superior cards. Understanding that you are the control deck in this matchup is important, but perhaps not quite as important as understanding the value of Devolve.
  • A singular concept from this article series, such as “who’s the beatdown?” or line up theory.
    • Example: In the Pirate Warrior vs Jade Druid matchup there are really no mysteries about the correct plan for either player is. Kill ‘em dead, and don’t get killed.
    • Example: As discussed in part 3, Shaman decks with double Hex and double Devolve can attempt approach threat-light decks such as Miracle Rogue from the perspective of line up theory.

Finding a winning formula takes equal parts out-of-game preparation and in-game experimentation. The winning formula might be immediately obvious from the first time you play a matchup, or it might some thought or trial and error to put together. Regardless, if we spend some time outside of the game thinking about the factors, concepts, and circumstances which contribute most to winning or losing a specific matchup, we are able to spend far less time in the middle each game worrying about concepts which might not even matter. The goal isn’t to be able to remember every single concept I’ve discussed in this series at all times, it’s to understand which factors supersede these concepts and which concepts don’t deserve to be considered at all.

Section 2 - The Read

By paying close attention to the behavioral quirks of our opponents we can occasionally catch a glimpse of their working mind. We have already trained ourselves to consider what our opponent is doing, but there is much to be learned from how our opponent goes about doing those things. By carefully watching the cards our opponents almost play and the moments they choose to pause, we can often use the information we already know about their deck to determine the exact cards in their hand.

In this section I will briefly cover a variety of situations where we can take advantage of the mistakes our opponent’s make in sequencing to gain information about the contents of their hand. This list of reads is not intended to be exhaustive. Reads are much more of an art than a skill, and this section is meant to make you aware of the kind of minutia you are free to shift your attention towards once you have hard coded the fundamentals into your play.

It bears repeating that being able to read your opponent is a completely unnecessary skill for reaching Legend. It provides you with a small advantage at best, and can even get you into trouble if it takes away focus from more important matters. With that said, once you’ve reached a point in the ladder where both players are able to maintain their focus and have a total understanding of the fundamentals, the information which can be gained from reads is a way to create separation between you and an otherwise evenly matched opponent.

Read #1 - The Awkward Pause

You should always try to formulate a complete plan before making attacks or playing cards, yet in practice this doesn’t always happen. The reason it’s important to make all of your decisions before taking any actions is because of the information you accidentally reveal when pausing in the middle of a turn.

If you start the turn with ten mana, spend six of it to play a minion, then spend the next thirty seconds paused at four mana before making your next play, this unintentionally reveals to your opponent that you had choices to make about how you will spend your final four mana. Pausing with four mana for this long implies that you had at least one cards in your hand which costs four or less. By paying close attention to the amount of mana your opponent pauses at, the cards which your opponent has already played, and what your opponent accomplished with the play they eventually ended up going with, it should often be possible to determine the exact card that your opponent was considering playing.

A particularly obvious giveaway is a long pause at 0 mana while the player has The Coin in hand. Especially if you can see your opponent hovering over the coin several times, this should be a pretty clear signal that they have a 1 drop in their hand which they are thinking about playing. The same can be said for Druids who take a long pause at 0 mana with a potential Innervate in their hand.

Players at the highest ranks aren’t stupid. If your opponent paused for a long time to eventually make what seems like a totally obvious play it probably isn’t because it took them a long time figure out something obvious. They were most likely considering multiple choices, implying there may have been another play in their hand which costs the same amount of mana and at least deserved some consideration.

Read #2 - The Unplayed Card

A card is only capable of being dragged out over the battlefield if it is able to be played. Any time a player drags a card out onto the battlefield but doesn’t play it, this guarantees that the card costs equal to or less than the amount of mana they have access to, and implies that the card was being considered as a potential play.

On turn 10 it might not reveal a lot of information to you if your opponent accidentally drags a card out onto the battlefield without playing it, but in the earlier turns and at lower amounts of mana it is often just as good as if they revealed the card to you. By taking a look at the situation and using process of elimination, it is frequently possible to deduce the exact card which your opponent elected not to play.

Even more damning than a minion or spell which goes unplayed is a targeted minion or spell which goes unplayed. An arrow appears on screen for any spell or minion which requires a target to play, and there are many circumstances where it’s trivially easy to narrow down which card the opponent was considering playing based on their deck.

Read #3 - The Hovered Card

I try not to read heavily into cards which are merely hovered over but not actually dragged out over the battlefield. It is often just as likely that they are considering playing this card on future turns as they are considering playing it now. They could have simply left their cursor over the card for no particular reason, or could be merely checking out the art. You can sometimes notice behavior which suggests that they are heavily considering a card which is being hovered over (such as when an opponent hovers back and forth between two cards), but I found that I got into trouble a little too often by reading into hovered cards and choose to ignore this read more often than I choose to consider it.

Read #4 - Cards in Hand

There is a lot information to be gained from paying close attention to how long your opponent holds onto cards in their hand, starting at the beginning of the game with the mulligan. It’s safe to assume that cards which were kept in your opponent’s opening hand but are not played in the first few turns are key cards in their deck or in the matchup. If your opponent kept a card but it still hasn’t been played by the end of the midgame, you should adjust your plans accordingly to expect a heavy hitter. You can also expect that cards which were not kept during the mulligan and remain in the opening hand for a long period of time are likely to have expensive mana costs.

The longer a card sits in a player’s hand the more information you can glean as to what it may be. There are a limited number of cards in each player’s deck which are worth holding onto for a long period of time, and as more and more situations arise where these cards could be potentially played you should be able to systematically eliminate cards from contention until you are positive as to which card they are holding.

Read #5 - The Card Off the Top

Players at rank 5 and above are likely to consider cards which they would be happy to draw the following turn, but sometimes they are a little too eager to play those cards when they are actually drawn. Cards which are drawn and immediately played are likely to be cards which your opponent was quite happy to see. By slamming down a board wipe off the top deck, your opponent signals that they likely don’t have another board wipe in hand, and that coast is clear to dump your hand into play the following turn.

Reversing the Reads

Using this knowledge to your advantage, it is sometimes possible to construct a scenario where you can send a false signal to your opponent about the content of your own hand. Though this might sound tempting, the advantages you gain by attempting to trick your opponent with intentionally misleading behavior are so small that they are rarely worth pursuing. The majority of opponent’s might not notice your misleading actions as at all, and the thinking power which is required to construct these false reads is likely better spent elsewhere.

I suggest that you use your knowledge of reads not to mislead your opponent's but to avoid giving away information. Try to always formulate your plans completely before taking any game actions so that you can avoid pauses mid-turn. This will hopefully also prevent you from dragging cards out onto the battlefield which you won’t actually play. Lastly, be aware that slamming cards down immediately after they are drawn is a signal to your opponent that you were happy to draw the card, so try to exercise some patience before playing lucky topdecks.

Conclusion

For those of you who have stuck with me through all four parts of “Legend in the Making”, it is my sincerest hope that I have imparted you everything you’ll need to reach Legend. The fundamental card gaming concepts which I discuss in this series are hardly rocket science - the true challenge of the climb to Legend is overcoming the frustrations and setbacks of the competitive Hearthstone ladder.

This too is far from an impossible obstacle to overcome, and the formula for battling adversity in a competitive environment is to embrace your mistakes and adopting the mindset of a constant learner, but you don't have to take my word for it. These are ideas from Josh Waitzkin's wonderful book The Art of Learning, which I've recommended throughout this series to anyone who is interested in the learning methodologies of a world champion competitor.

If you were able to reach Legend after reading this series, you have my sincerest congratulations. Reaching Legend is a tremendous accomplishment which you deserve to be proud of. Not many people can claim they’re in the top .25% in the world at something which millions of people of do on a daily basis, but you can!

Enjoy the climb,

Aleco

 

Part 1 - Ranks 25 to 15 - Knowing your Role and Embracing Mistakes

Part 2 - Ranks 15 to 10 - Having a Plan and Playing to Outs

Part 3 - Ranks 10 to 5 - Line Up Theory and Mulligans

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I read your guides but didn't reach Legend, so your guides must clearly be wrong!

 

Just kidding of course, thank you for the effort you put into thinking up and writing these guides, I am sure that at least some parts of it will be helpful to me (and others, ARGH!) in future games.

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Thank you for these great articles. Combined with The Art of Learning it has helped me reach new heights on the ladder. I have taken a slower approach to reach legend, setting goals for each season. 2 seasons ago it was rank 15, last season was 10. I finished last season as rank 9 and this season I'm already at 14 with a goal of 5. I am sure I will hit legend within a few months!

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Thanks for the great series of articles.

I initially went down the road of playing one deck only. I started playing a bit over a year ago; a few months before Karazhan. After watching Trump's FTP quest to legend with pirate-dragon warrior I picked that as my first attempt at Legend as it was cheap to craft. Eventually I ditched the dragons and played a more 'standard' pirate warrior (they were very rare in those pre-patches days, something like 1% of matchups - which meant your opponent never mulliganed for aggro). After a ridiculously long grind over the final weekend I scraped it to Legend on the last day. I played it pretty much exclusively until MSG, partly because I wanted to master the deck and partly because I felt I was playing it much better than anything else I played. I did start to tech the deck based on the meta I was in though. I remember playing the black knight quite a lot in a season that I was losing a lot to big Druid taunts (he wasn't bad against the popular midrange Shaman decks too). One season I almost gave up due to struggling against both secret hunter and tempo Mage that were popular; I found I was often narrowly losing out in race situations. I eventually made it after I tried sticking in two violet illusionists which helped conserve a bit of health and acted as soft taunts too (I didn't consider bash which might have been a good choice too).

I feel learning how to play one deck very well was beneficial, but I also think you benefit more in the long run from playing a variety of decks. It's much easier to find the right plays against a deck if you have previously played that deck. I think realistically for a low or moderate spending new player, you're likely stuck to one optimised high tier deck for a few seasons and I don't think that's a bad thing, but I do think you should be aiming to branch out as soon as you can after you feel like you're playing that deck very well.

Been playing midrange Murloc Paladin a bit recently btw. I absolutely hate the mirror matchup, agree with your comments about it but seems to me it's the most coin dominated matchup in the game (in that you really really don't want the coin).

Edited by Bozonik

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Thank you for the conclusion of a very fine serie of Guides. While the advice in the first three where easier to implement directly I find this last one just as full good of ideas as the others.

I normaly reach around rank 5 - 4. Basically doing what you described in your first 3 Guides. And I am battling finding time for 300 games a month.  To less time in the last part of the month frequently translates into loss streaks due to Tilt. I totally agree that the only thing that helps is a pause. But with limited time pausing awey good game time is frustrating.

And thanks for the advice of not wasting time on misleading. I do believe I once or twice have convinced a player to commit the wrong card by doing 30s hovering back and forth between 2 completely unplayable cards. But the energy used for something like that could be used better.   

.......

Now I am taking a Tilt pause after a 5 loss streak. I just checked Data Reaper. And guess what - My pirate warrior win stats have dropped considerable against more than 50% of the played decks. Murloc Paladin still looks good. I try that before anyone reads this.

best rgds

PanPan 

           

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On 9/4/2017 at 4:16 PM, PanPan said:

I normaly reach around rank 5 - 4. Basically doing what you described in your first 3 Guides. And I am battling finding time for 300 games a month.  To less time in the last part of the month frequently translates into loss streaks due to Tilt. I totally agree that the only thing that helps is a pause. But with limited time pausing awey good game time is frustrating.

I always find that, in the months where I don't have as much time to push, those loss streaks just feel so much worse. They lead to more losses, more misplays and it's just such a horrible, slippery slope. It's also so tempting to jump between decks and finding yourself losing because of the constant swapping and yeah. It's not good :p

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      The Hearthstone World Championships were full of incredible plays, sticky situations, and valuable lessons to be learned from the best players on the planet. There were far too many great plays to analyze in a single video, so for the next few episodes of "What's the Move?" I'll be breaking down all of my favorite plays from the World Championship weekend.
      To kick things off we have a pair of Tempo Rogue vs. Highlander Priest matchups featuring Kolento and ShtanUdachi. Both players drew nearly identical opening hands, but did they did make same decisions?
      If you managed to spot a particularly tricky or interesting play from the recent World Championships, please feel free to link it in the comment section below! I'd love to break down as many viewer-submitted topics as I can in the coming weeks and months, and I have little doubt that I may have missed some of the most fascinating plays from the tournament during my initial viewing.
      Wishing you all the best of luck in the post-nerf meta!
      - Aleco
    • By Zadina

      Welcome to the post-Corridor Creeper meta.
      Hearthstone Update 10.2 is now live worldwide and it's a big one!
      The first change it brings are the nerfs to four cards that have terrorised dominated the meta up until now. Bonemare now costs 8 mana, Patches the Pirate no longer has Charge, Raza the Chained makes the Hero Power cost (1) instead of (0) and Corridor Creeper has been butchered down to 2 attack. You can read Aleco's interesting opinion piece on Blizzard's nerf policy here.
      The second big addition of this patch is the Ranked Play update, which will take effect on March 2018. Players will now drop only 4 ranks with each monthly reset, all ranks will have 5 stars and you will only need to win 5 Ranked games to earn the monthly card back.
      The Year of the Mammoth Bundle is also finally available on the Shop. For $19.99 or 19.99 EUR, you can get 30 packs - 10 for each of the Year of the Mammoth expansions (Un'Goro, KFT, K&C). Don't forget that the Quest for Packs event is still ongoing and an addition has been made to the grand prize winner reward: $1.200 (read here for more info)!
      Lastly, the patch introduces the Wildfest event. From February 19 to March 11, Hearthstone is going Wild! Initially, you will be able to draft cards in Arena mode that are exclusive to Wild. Second, even though Tavern Brawl is usually on Wild format, there will be two special Wild Brawls. The first one is called "Venture Into the Wild" and it will just contain premade Wild decks for each class. The second one, "The Wild Brawlisseum", is basically a Wild Heroic Tavern Brawl, but with a major improvement: the first run will be free for everyone. You can read more about Wildfest here.
      Below you can read the patch notes, which describe all the updates as well as various bug fixes. A massive change is that the timer for the first two turns will now be shorter!
      Daxxarri
      The tavern is buzzing with all the stuff that’s packed into this Hearthstone update! There’s a Ranked Play update, a Wild party, card changes, and a chance to save on packs with a new Mammoth Card Bundle! We managed to squeeze in some card backs and bug fixes too!
       
      Whew! Read on for details!
       
      Ranked Play Update – This Hearthstone update brings changes to Ranked Play, starting March 1st. Read the Ranked Play Updates blog for details! Your reset will not be based on the stars you earned over the season. Instead, you’ll reset to four ranks below the highest rank you achieved during the season. Players at Legend reset to rank 4, 0 stars. All ranks will have 5 stars. Starting in March, you will no longer earn the monthly card back by reaching Rank 20. Instead, you can earn each season’s card back by winning 5 games in Ranked Standard or Wild at any rank. Card Changes – Please read the Upcoming Balance Changes blog on the official Hearthstone site for full details regarding the reasons and philosophy behind these changes. Corridor Creeper – Now has 2 attack, down from 5.
      Patches the Pirate – No longer has Charge.
      Raza the Chained – Now reduces your Hero Power cost to 1 instead of 0.
      Bonemare – Now costs 8 mana, up from 7.
      Wildfest! From February 19th through March 11th join us for a Wild party! Read the Wildfest blogfor details! Wild cards return to the Arena for the duration of Wildfest. Venture into the Wild – A Tavern Brawl celebrating Wild with pre-built decks. The Wild Brawliseum – A special Tavern Brawl where you’ll build and lock-in a Wild deck, and then see if you can take it to twelve wins versus other players! Three losses and your run comes to an end. Your first Brawliseum run is free! Additional runs are available for the same price as Arena tickets. Also like the Arena, prizes are based on number of wins, and follow the Arena reward structure.
      Year of the Mammoth Bundle For a limited time, purchase 10 packs each of Journey to Un’goro, Knights of the Frozen Throne, and Kobolds & Catacombs—a total of 30 packs!—for a special price.
       
      Added the following card backs: Sparkles - Acquired from achieving Rank 20 in Ranked Play, February 2018.
      Year of the Mammoth – Acquired from winning five games in Ranked Play, March 2018.
      Bug Fixes & Updates Gameplay
      The turn timer for the first two turns of a match are now shorter, though they should still be significantly longer than most players take on those turns. Switching from Valeera the Hollow to Deathstalker Rexxar will now correctly allow Rexxar’s Battlecry to destroy minions buffed to 2 health by Stormwind Champion or similar effects. Nemsy Necrofizzle’s Hero frame is now golden if you have unlocked the golden Warlock Hero. Removed rarity gems from several summoned minions. Playing multiple copies of Temporus in a row will now queue up sequences of two turns for your opponent and two turns for you. Fixed a bug where the Divine Shield provided by Elixir of Purity could not be silenced. Spectators now see green highlights on playable cards for both players. Fixed an issue that could cause Hearthstone to freeze when a spectated player disconnects and their opponent concedes. Tooltips for Hero Cards now appear correctly when spectating. Resolved a crash that could occur when drawing a Darkness Candle spell after The Darkness is no longer dormant. Grand Archivist can now correctly cast the Darkness Candle spell if it is present in a player’s deck. Resolved a crash that could occur when certain cost reducing cards were played. Resolved an unintended interaction that could occur with Anomalus, Taunt minions, and Commanding Shout. Added missing Collection Manager tooltips to several cards. Resolved an issue that could cause a player to become stuck when reconnecting before the first turn. Resolved an issue that would prevent the progress notification for more than one Daily Quest from being shown after a match is complete. Ice Breaker now correctly destroys Rotface without activating his effect if he is Frozen. Resolved interface issues that could arise when retiring an Arena game. Resolved an issue that would allow the Friends menu to remain active while a Friendly Challenge is active. Fixed various minor visual and text issues. Dungeon Run & Adventures
      The cards that appear in several loot categories have been adjusted slightly. Cards stolen by Gloves of Mugging now appear in history tile when played by an opponent. Resolved a visual issue with Candlebeard’s charge enchantment banner. [Adventures] Atramedes now correctly uses his Hero Power whenever he should. Mobile
      Resolved an issue with the Collection Manager that could allow the set filter to be interacted with behind the “Done” button. Scrolling through an Arena deck on a mobile device will no longer generate unnecessary prompts. The “Back” button will now function correctly after an Arena run is complete. History tiles that were queueing up while viewing a history event now populate correctly. Resolved an issue that could cause crafted cards to remain visible over the Collection Manager. Corrected a visual issue with the search bar in the Collection Manager. [Android] Resolved an issue with the download progress indicator. [iOS] Compatibility now requires iOS 8.0 or later. [iOS] The client will no longer sometimes freeze when a spectated player wins a match.   (source)
    • By Zadina

      According to the Principal Game Designer, Cubelock isn't as powerful as it seems.
      Cubelock won't be touched in the upcoming balance changes which, for many people, is a sign that the deck will completely dominate the meta after said changes become active.
      The deck is already prominent enough that people have started making false claims about it. A Reddit user claimed that he faced 17 Cubelocks in a row! However, Mike Donais put the matter into place by saying that there was no such streak in Blizzard's internal data and that Cubelock is currently the 12th best deck.
      He subsequently explained that he expects the deck to rise after the nerfs, but he's not too worried because it's a challenging (and expensive, I would add) deck to master. If the team feels that Cubelock is too powerful, though, they will evaluate it.
      mdonais
      I just checked the data, and no one played 17 cubelocks in a row today.
      If you are indeed having trouble with Cubelock there are several decks that beat it consistently right now. It is currently the 12th best deck.
      I did enjoy the title of your post though. (source)
       
       
      A couple people asked why the stats I mentioned don't metch VS power ranking so I looked up VS 79 and across all rankings Control Warlock is the 10th best deck. I assume they mix control and cube warlock in their stats. We have decks broken out a bit more but 10th gives you the general idea.
      Obviously after the nurfs it will be stronger since none of the cards in cubelock are being nurfed and that concerns me but it is a pretty challenging deck with a lot of opportunities to show off player skill. People will eventually get better at playing it, but people will also put in more weapon destruction or silence cards if it gets more popular.
      I am excited to see what people figure out after the patch. If Warlock is a big problem after people have some time to adjust and tune the new decks then we will look into it. I have said many times before that win rate is not the most important factor in our nurf decisions. How people feel matters more, so we will listen to players and make decisions based on that, just like we did in the past with Quest Rogue and Patron Warrior. (source)
    • By Aleco

      The latest balance patch to Hearthstone raises some questions about Blizzard's policy on nerfs.
      Is it better to fix problematic cards in a vacuum, or to use nerfs as a tool for crafting a specific meta?
      Four of Hearthstone's most problematic cards will be on the receiving end of some serious nerfs in a future balance patch; a massive move by Blizzard which is just as exciting as it is confusing.
      On one hand, each of the four cards receiving nerfs were individually problematic. If nerfing a problematic card is the same thing as "fixing a problem", then the upcoming balance patch is fixing four major problems and should ultimately prove to be a positive change for the game.
      On the other hand, the most dominant class in the meta (Warlock) was left untouched, while one of its strongest competitors (Priest) took a serious a hit with the nerf to Raza the Chained. It stands to reason that nerfing classes other than Warlock should widen the gap between it and its closest competitors, which could lead to a potentially toxic ladder environment dominated by a single class (not unlike the early days of the Frozen Throne meta which were ruled by Druid).
      Furthermore, the timing of the nerfs to Patches the Pirate and Raza the Chained feel a bit... late. Both cards will rotate from Standard when the first set of 2018 drops (likely in April), and neither of these cards became suddenly problematic in Kobolds & Catacombs. Patches has been one of the most toxic and dominant cards in the game since it was released in 2016, and Raza has been the linchpin of the most dominant deck since the last balance patch. Blizzard is obviously acknowledging that these cards are problematic, but why wait until now to do so?
      Regardless of whether or not you expect the upcoming changes to be positive or negative, these nerfs call into question the strategy that Blizzard and Team 5 employ when balancing Hearthstone. Let's attempt to decode the message that Blizzard sent its player base with this balance patch, and see if we can make sense of it all.
      Blizzard Balances For The Present, Not The Future

      Not touching Warlock in the upcoming patch is consistent with Blizzard's recent strategy of balancing Hearthstone. When Jade Druid decks were too powerful in the early days of the Knights of the Frozen Throne meta, Blizzard successfully lowered the power level of the deck without completely killing it by nerfing both Innervate and Spreading Plague. However, they didn't touch the clear-cut second best deck in the meta, Highlander Priest, and the pro Hearthstone community was quite vocal about their concerns with Highlander Priest becoming the next overly-dominant deck. It's fair to say that things went exactly as the pros predicted, and here we are five months later nerfing Raza the Chained. What gives?
      Despite the predicted era of Highlander Priest dominance which followed the Jade Druid nerfs, Blizzard's policy to only fix the problems of the present is a fair one. Metagames on the whole are fickle and largely unpredictable, and attempting to fix all of the future problems which may or may not occur after a balance patch is a slippery slope. If Blizzard were to have pushed the nerf to Raza to the KFT balance patch, they would have merely created another "next best deck" in the process. Should they have also nerfed that deck? And the next one?
      Though Highlander Priest was a particularly obvious deck to be concerned about in a post-Jade Druid world, setting the precedent of preemptively nerfing healthy decks is a dangerous one. If Blizzard had nerfed Raza in the previous patch, they would have put themselves in a position where they would be forced to address the most powerful deck in the meta each time they want to make changes to problematic cards. Just because a deck is the "best deck in the meta" doesn't necessarily mean that the deck is unhealthy, and signaling to your player base that you don't want a clear best deck to exist coming out of every balance patch opens the door to constant scrutiny.
      Blizzard Is Inconsistent With Its Timing


      You'll be hard pressed to find a single Hearthstone pro who isn't happy to see Patches the Pirate and Corridor Creeper get hit by the nerf hammer. Both of these cards were seeing far too much play in the current meta and were responsible for determining the outcome of an outrageous number of games. Aggro mirrors far too often came down to who did or didn't draw these cards in the early game, and something needed to be done about that.
      When it comes to Corridor Creeper, Blizzard was incredibly swift in addressing the card's endemic playrates. This balance patch was announced mere days after the World Championships had concluded, which for all intents and purposes is the earliest possible time they could have announced it. In other words, they identified that Corridor Creeper was problematic and nerfed it as soon as possible, which is why I'm confused about how long it took for them to nerf Patches.
      Patches has always been a toxic card. For more than a year and half he's been in charge of the Hearthstone metagame, and Blizzard's justification for nerfing the card now (to keep him from ruining the Wild metagame for years to come) feels too little too late. Despite the fact that Corridor Creeper is currently seeing higher play rates than Patches, it's difficult for me imagine why Creeper demanded an immediate nerf while Patches was allowed to reign supreme for as long as he did. Now that Blizzard has set the precedent of nerfing widely-played cards like Corridor Creeper immediately, I'd like to at least see them be consistent with this trend in the future.
      Blizzard Undervalues The Human Element

      I imagine the reason why Corridor Creeper was nerfed immediately yet Patches the Pirate was allowed to stay in his current form for as long as he was has something to do with Blizzard's internal stat tracking. I have little doubt that Corridor Creeper will raise more statistical red flags than Patches due to the fact that it's rarely (if ever) a bad card to draw in aggro decks, whereas Patches is arguably the worst card to draw in the entire game. When you average out the games that Patches both single-handedly wins and loses, he likely tests as a "worse" card than Corridor Creeper does statisically, which could be used as justification for why he was left untouched for as long as he was.
      Though the actual stats surrounding a cards win rates should be a major factor when it comes to balance updates, I believe that Blizzard should put a little more weight on the "human element" of cards. Whereas Creeper may be the stronger card, it doesn't feel nearly as bad as Patches does. Regardless of whether or not the stats said that the card needed a nerf, Hearthstone would have almost certainly been a better game if Patches was nerfed at the same time as Small-Time Buccaneer. The same can probably be said for Ultimate Infestation when it comes to the previous balance patch. Though Blizzard's internal stats told them that Spreading Plague was more responsible for Jade Druid's dominance in the early KFT meta, it doesn't feel nearly as bad to lose to as Ultimate Infestation does. And that's important.
      At the end of the day, I believe that stats shouldn't be the only thing which dictates whether or not a card deserves to be nerfed. Cards like Patches and Ultimate Infestation have caused far more headaches and groans than smiles and cheers, regardless of what the statistics say. Hearthstone is a video game, video games are supposed to fun, and cards that have drawn hate for as long as Patches and Ultimate Infestation have seriously get in the way of that.
      On the whole, I'm quite happy with the nerfs that will be coming in the next balance patch and am excited for the future of Hearthstone. Despite the concerns surrounding Warlock, I'm happy to see that Blizzard isn't the business of preemptively handling problems which may or may ever exist. I'd much rather endure a few months of Warlock dominance (especially after how bad the class was in Journey to Un'Goro) than live in a world where every "best deck in the meta" has a constant target on its back for Blizzard's nerf gun.