Sottle's Weekly Hearthstone Meta Analysis for Week of 08/11/14 - 15/11/14

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Sottle walks us through what's hot and what's not in the Hearthstone meta


Hearthstone Meta Analysis: Week of 08/11/14 - 15/11/14

Welcome to the first of a weekly series I hope to do where I discuss the state of the meta-game in Hearthstone. Which classes are strong? How should you be building your decks to counter them? Which is the best class to be playing right now to climb ladder? These are all questions that I hope to address in these articles. So let’s jump right in.


Common Decks and Cards.


The past week has seen the ladder continue to be dominated by aggressive decks such as Hunter and Zoo. The Hunter decks are varying enormously between standard Aggro decks that curve out all the way from Undertaker to Savannah Highmane, to new Facerush focused builds that run Arcane Shot, Wolfrider and Arcane Golem. Zoo has come back into popularity recently, since before it was easily countered by the extremely common Hunters running double Snake Trap. However, recently Hunters have started to move away from double Snake Trap to fit in a Freezing or Explosive Trap, which are much less destructive to Zoo.
Mixed in with these Aggro decks are Control decks teched out to deal with Aggro. Control Warrior and both Deathrattle and Control Priest are all very common choices right now. Although opinion varies on just how well these two classes do against Hunter and Zoo, it is almost universally agreed that they are the best two Control decks at dealing with the problems they present.
Another front runner at the moment is Miracle Rogue, which has a favourable winrate against Zoo as well as being perhaps the worst matchup in the game for Priest. However, they do run into issues against Warrior and aggressive Hunter builds depending on the exact build of Miracle Rogue you’re running. On the subject of different builds, there is currently a lot of diversity on ladder in terms of Miracle Rogue builds, because of this it is often difficult to know exactly what you’re playing against, lending an advantage to the Rogue player.
Handlock is a fairly rare occurrence on ladder, but can be an effective choice. It is heavily favoured against Zoo, and is believed by many (myself included) to have a reasonable matchup against Hunter if played correctly. It is also heavily favoured against all of the decks other people are playing to counter Hunter and Zoo, namely Rogue, Priest and Warrior. Unfortunately though, Handlock does get destroyed by the Facerush Hunter.
Harrison Jones and Acidic Swamp Ooze have featured prominently this week as a response to Hunter Weapon Aggro and the propensity of Shamans running double Doomhammer. Ironbeak Owl has also been making a comeback, particularly in Aggro due to the ever presence of Sludge Belcher and how annoying it is for these decks to remove, but also as a response from Control to early cards like Undertaker, Nerubian Egg, and Haunted Creeper.
Loatheb is also almost omnipresent on ladder, even Zoo has begun to adopt it as a must-include card. For perspective, 59 out of the 64 decklists submitted for the 16 players in the Blizzcon finals featured Loatheb. Although ladder and tournament meta is very different, this should give you a good indication of the perceived power level of this card.



Card Choices


So how should you build your decks to answer this meta? The simple answer is that you need to include a certain amount of early game or board clear focused cards in order to deal with the flood of Zoo and Hunter. Zombie Chow is an excellent tech card to help with this as it can help you get on the board early to fight through the early turns and since Control decks don’t really care about damage in the Hunter or Zoo matchups, the Deathrattle drawback is not a big issue.
Priests should be running additional early game cards such as Shadow Word Pain or Holy Smite. Warriors should be including additional removal cards such as Whirlwind, Slam, or Cleave and using Ironbeak Owl as their Silence card instead of Spellbreaker. Miracle Rogue should stray away from the greedier builds that involve things like Double Conceal and focus on including the maximum amount of removal cards and Double Earthen Ring Farseer. A second Blade Flurry is also not a bad idea.
The drawback of these cards is that they skew your matchups towards Aggro and make your deck weaker for when you run into other Control decks on the ladder. However, since the ladder is dominated by fast decks right now, increasing your winrate against these decks should be your number 1 priority.


Class Power Rankings


1. Warlock



In my opinion, Zoo is the strongest deck to ladder with currently. It has almost no terrible matchups against the currently played decks and is capable of beating anything when played well. Combine this with the fact that Handlock is also a great choice for those wanting to run a Control deck and there is little choice than to rank Warlock at #1 currently.

2. Hunter



Hunter, although not at its most dominant point in recent memory is still an extremely strong class. The sheer variety of viable builds make it hard to plan against, and the presence of Explosive, Freezing and Snake trap in the meta makes it extremely awkward to play around their traps in a BO1 situation. The more traditional Undertaker builds with a smooth curve are capable of beating anything on a good draw, whilst the all-out Facerush build has a strong matchup against Zoo, but can run into trouble when faced with Warriors or Priests.

3. Priest



Priest is included at #3 mainly for the strength of Deathrattle/Tempo Priest when it comes to dealing with Hunter and Zoo. A Deathrattle Priest that gets off to a reasonable start with Undertaker or Zombie Chow is immensely favoured in both of these matchups, however this build does suffer when up against Warrior. Any type of Priest you run will have trouble when faced with Miracle Rogue, this matchup will be borderline unwinnable, requiring you to draw perfectly and the Rogue to draw poorly for you to come out on top. In my opinion, there is little reason to run classic Control Priest over Deathrattle Priest currently. Doing so will weaken your matchup against the common aggro classes, whilst still leaving you unfavoured (although less so) against other Control Decks like Warrior and Handlock.

4. Rogue



Rogue is still in a good place due to being one of the strongest counters to Zoo and having a winnable matchup against Hunter. Also due to the sheer variety of possible Rogue builds that play relatively similarly in the early turns, you will usually have more information about your opponent's deck that they will about your's in a Best-Of-1 situation on ladder. Combine this with being a hard counter to Priest and Rogue has some solid matchups across the board. Unfortunately there is a non-zero amount of Handlock on ladder still, which is a terrible matchup for Rogue.

5. Warrior



Warrior comes in at a respectable 5th. It has a strong matchup against the Facerush Hunter, but can run in to trouble against more midrange focused lists with Double Houndmaster and Double Highmane. It has a tough, but winnable matchup against Zoo, which can be improved by using tech cards like Cleave/Whirlwind, and it is favoured against Priest, and most builds of Miracle Rogue.  However it is kept out of being a top 3 class because it has no hugely favoured matchups, it can still easily lose to any of the above matchups, and is unfavoured against Handlock.


6. Shaman



Shaman has taken a huge hit this week after a really strong showing in the week before. This is due in no small part to the inclusion of Acidic Swamp Ooze and/or Harrison Jones in many decks to answer the common Double Doomhammer build that was running rampant. With this build suffering against Aggro and their advantage in Control matchups lessened by Harrison, Shamans have had little choice to revert back to more traditional builds, which unfortunately don’t have too many exciting matchups. Still heavily favoured against Warrior, but for the most part sub-par against other common classes.

7. Mage




Mage is still struggling to find its identity, Aggro Mage is almost completely outclassed by Hunter, and offers no real reason to be played over the stronger option. Freeze Mage, while immensely powerful against the right matchups, is more a tournament deck due to how terrible its losing matchups are. This leaves Midrange Secrets Mage, which although powerful against classes like Warrior, suffers heavily to Hunter’s Flare and can be overrun by Zoo. Mage is also affected worse than most classes by the ever-present Loatheb.


8. Druid



Druid is in poor shape right now. Ramp Druid is too slow to fight through the flood of Hunter and Zoo, while Fast Druid, although capable of beating anything with the right draw can also suffer against these two important matchups. Although extremely strong against Warrior, this alone is not enough to carry it to being a powerful class. Druid players have experimented with revamping the old Watcher Druid archetype with extra silence effects such as Owl and Wailing Soul. This build has potential to fight against the common aggro decks, but it needs more work before it becomes a real force.

9. Paladin




Paladin is extremely weak right now. The time to play Paladin is in a Control heavy Meta, since Paladin is the go-to class for beating other Control Decks. In its current form Control Paladin is just overrun by Zoo and Hunter, and although playing Aggro or Midrange lists is possible, they are simply outclassed by other classes that do it better.

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Could you add a link to the types of decks/cards you are referring to during the breakdown?


I would make it more interactive and give folks a better idea of what you are referring to, especially new players.



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    • By Aleco

      These four mistakes come up way too often, and they can be easily avoided.
      These four mistakes Hearthstone mistakes come up all time on the ladder, but they can be easily avoided by adopting new some heuristics.
      Decision trees in Hearthstone grow very tall. Most of these decision trees grow far too tall for us to ever traverse them completely before our turn timer expires, especially if we find ourselves in a situation we've never been in before. For me, that happens just about every game. Practice can help reduce the number of situations we've never been in before, but at some point we'll need to adopt a few heuristics along the way to help us make decisions in a timely manner.
      In this guide, I'll walk through a number of very common mistakes I see on the competitive ladder, which to me are obvious examples of poor heuristics at work. My hope is that we can learn some newer, smarter heuristics by asking ourselves why these misplays are so common, and that we can use these new heuristics to avoid similar mistakes in the future. With that said, please keep in mind that it is sometimes correct to make these mistakes, because there are exceptions to every rule in Hearthstone. The goal of this article is to outline examples of bad Hearthstone heuristics so we can replace them with better ones, not to claim that the so-called mistakes I outline below are the wrong thing to do 100% of the time.
      With that out of the way, let's begin!
      Mistake #1 - Missing Hero Powers

      Example Situation
      It's my Aggro Secret Mage opponent's turn 8. I have control of the board and the only hope for my opponent is to burn me out. They cast a Firelands Portal to my face, play The Coin, and Frostbolt my face. On their turn nine they play an Arcanologist, the secret from it, and ping my face with Hero Power, stranding 2 Mana and 1 damage forever.
      Why It's A Misplay
      The reason to Fireblast over Frostbolt on turn 8 is obvious - you're never going to get that Fireblast back. The Frostbolt will always be there for you on a future turn (with certain exceptions, such as Counterspell), but a Hero Power unused is a Hero Power lost. If you're reasonably sure that the Mana will be there for Frostbolt on a future turn, then playing Frostbolt instead of using your Hero Power is permanently stranding one point damage in a game where every point counts.
      This mistake can also come up whenever a player passes on their Hero Power for a 2 or 3 Mana spell which doesn't effect the board, such as a Mimic Pod or a Shield Block, so long as they would have had the Mana to cast that spell next turn anyways. The Frostbolt over Fireblast play just happens to be the most common of these mistakes, as Aggro Mage is a relatively popular deck in the current ladder environment.
      Why do players make this mistake?
      My best guess is that it comes down to a misunderstanding of the Hero Power as resource. Just like Mana, cards, and your life total, your Hero Power is a finite resource. The number of times your Hero Power can be used in a given game (excepting cards like Auctionmaster Beardo) is equal to the number of turns you get in that game (minus turn one, I suppose). Each turn your Hero Power goes unused is a tick of that resource you'll never get back.
      This view of the Hero Power as a finite resource will do you about as much good as a screen door on a submarine if you're getting beaten down by an aggro deck, where the only thing that matters is playing for board. However, there are a number of decks and matchups where this heuristic is a useful one. A Fatigue Warrior stalling things out in the late game or a top-decking Face Hunter in need of those last few points of damage could be in a position where they need to use their Hero Power every single turn in order to win. Though you probably won't miss out on more than one or two Hero Powers per game due to mistakes like the one I outlined above, those one or two Hero Powers can often prove to be the difference between victory and defeat.
      Mistake #2 - Playing 1 Drops To Die

      Example Situation
      I'm on Cubelock and I'm going first. I play Kobold Librarian on turn one and pass. My Warlock opponent plays Mistress of Mixtures and passes back.
      Why It's A Misplay
      Assuming both me and my opponent will Life Tap on turn 2 (which we did), I will end up one card and 4 life ahead of my opponent on this exchange. The Deathrattle trigger on the Mistress of Mixtures will heal me for 4 (2 damage from the Kobold Librarian and the 2 damage from Life Tap) while my opponent is still at 30 life. Meanwhile, the Kobold Librarian drew me a card with its Battlecry. Now we start a new game of Hearthstone on turn 3 where I'm at 30 life, my opponent is at 28, and we have an even number of cards in our hands despite the fact that I went first. Advantage? Me!
      Playing the Mistress into the Librarian on a future turn won't yield us better results. For example, if you play the Mistress on turn three you would just end up healing back the 4 points of damage you took from the Librarian's 2 extra attacks, and you'd still be down that card. Playing it later than that would result in an even greater net loss of damage. The move here is to pass the turn.
      Another misplay cut from the same cloth as this one would be to play a Grimscale Chum into a Northshire Cleric, a Mage/Rogue/Druid Hero Power, or a Vilefin Inquisitor. In all of these scenarios, what you are signing up for is a situation where an on-board play from your opponent will put you in an unfavorable position. Wouldn't it be better to hold on to the Grimscale Chum until it can be played alongside a Gentle Megasaur, Coldlight Seer, or Rockpool Hunter? It will probably generate more damage over the course of the game if played in combination with those cards.
      To be fair, there are a number of games where playing Mistress of Mixtures into Kobold Librarian is the correct move. For example, you might be playing against a Zoolock and be in the unfortunate position of having nothing in your opening hand which can interact with the board until turn 5. In the Cubelock vs. Zoolock matchup, card advantage is far less important than extra damage from the Librarian. We should be able to find a way to win the game eventually so long as we can survive to the part of the game where we play a million Voidlords, so we should make plays that preserve our life total as much as possible. On the ladder you often won't know if your opponent is on Zoolock or Control Warlock if all they've done is play a Kobold Librarian, but the numbers will tell you that its safer to assume Cube or Control than Zoo.
      Why do players make this mistake?
      Your role in the matchup is key to understanding whether or not you should play to the board (and sometimes into less-than-favorable trades), or to hold onto your minions and play for card advantage. In the Cubelock vs. Cubelock matchup, the game is way more likely to come down to card advantage than chip damage. The Mistress of Mixtures might not seem like an important resource, but it has value as a 2 health minion for Defile clears and is an extra card in hand to cheapen the cost of Mountain Giant. This is to say nothing of how rewarded you get for holding on to that Mistress if you topdeck a Mortal Coil for the Librarian in the next few turns. That said, I don't think the reason I see this misplay so often is because my opponent's don't understand their roles in matchups. I think they happen because players go on auto pilot use bad early game heuristics. Having made this mistake on numerous occasions, I know from firsthand experience how easy it is to fall into the trap of thinking "it's good to play to the board early" or "I should be using all of my Mana", and plop down a 1 drop on turn one without hesitation.
      A better way to think about the early game would be to weigh every option available to you. In early game situations such as this one, we are dealing with a very limited number of alternative decisions to playing that Mistress of Mixtures. If we took the time to ask ourselves "what alternatives do I have to playing this minion right now, and are any of them better?",  I think we'd find that the only alternative we have is to not play the Mistress of Mixtures, and that it is in fact the smarter play. 
      Mistake #3 - Not Respecting Combos

      Example Situation
      I'm playing Combo Dragon Priest, and my empty-handed Dude Paladin opponent draws a Vinecleaver for turn. He has 2 Silver Hand Recruits and a Righteous Protector on board right now, and he can make 3 more Silver Hand Recruits this turn between the Vinecleaver attack and his Hero Power. He has lethal set up next turn if he can draw something like Sunkeeper Tarim, but I have a 4/6 Twilight Drake in play. He attacks my face with everything (the Vinecleaver, Righteous Protector, and 2 Silver Hand Recruits), puts me down to 10, and passes the turn. I proceed to draw a Potion of Madness, play it on the Righteous Protector, heal the Twilight Drake up to 8 health, and cast double Divine Spirit into Inner Fire for the 32 damage OTK.
      Why It's A Misplay
      If I was the player in the Murloc Paladin's seat, that Potion of Madness topdeck would make think about throwing my laptop out the window. In reality, this was a situation where my opponent was able to play around all but the most ridiculous of combos by attacking the Twilight Drake instead of my face. My 6 health minion was able to become a 32/32 with my Hero Power, two Divine Spirits, and in Inner Fire, but it would have taken me a lot more effort than that to pull off an OTK if my Drake was at 2 health after a Vinecleaver attack. Assuming my opponent was at 30 life, I would have needed to find 4 more points of health for my Twilight Drake through some combination of Power Word: Shields and Kabal Talonpriests to be able to OTK with a 2 health minion. 
      I'll let you in on a little secret, Combo Priests always have the combo. Well, not always. But in a number of situations (especially when you're ahead) its a good idea to play as though your opponent's hand and draws are the perfect combination of cards to kill you. If you have a significant lead on board, you're ahead in life, and the only way for your opponent to kill you is with their combo, see if there isn't a way to take away the combo from them if it doesn't change your clock significantly. Many aggro players do a good job of combining their cards in a way which maximizes damage output, but they don't know when to pivot their role in the matchup and become the "control" player, or how to play things safe with a lead.
      In the situation I described above, the opportunity cost for my opponent to attack my Twilight Drake was practically nothing. If my opponent attacks my Drake down to 2 health and topdecks a Sunkeeper Tarim, a Level Up, or a Lightfused Stegodon into +3 attack, I'm just as dead from 10 life as I am from 14. The attack to the face doesn't set up any kills with Dire Wolf Alpha or Dark Conviction, so there's practically no downside to attacking my Twilight Drake with Vinecleaver to substantially limit the number of  OTKs I have. There's also an argument for sending a couple of minion attacks at the Twilight Drake to finish it off, as this line would do a much better job of playing around Duskbreaker.
      Why do players make this mistake?
      Combo Priest OTKs have both won and lost me many, many ladder games. From my experience on the Combo Priest side of the table, I often find myself thinking: "Please don't attack my minion, I have the kill next turn if that minion keeps all of his health!". When I play against Combo Priests, my inner monologue goes a little more like this: "If he has the combo I should clear board and not attack face. Does he have the combo? Nah, I'll attack face. He had it?! What a luck-sack!". Sound familiar to you?
      One of the most useful heuristics for navigating combo decks from both sides of the table is the concept of playing to outs. I discuss this concept at length in my Legend in the Making series, but I'll do my best to summarize it here.
      In the example game described above, the cards my opponent failed to account for in their decision-making process were the combo pieces I need to kill him (Potion of Madness, 2 Divine Spirit, and an Inner Fire) and the cards he needed to kill me (Sunkeeper Tarim, Level Up, and Lightfused Stegodon). The cards I can kill my opponent with are my outs, and the cards my opponent can kill me with are my opponent's outs.
      When it comes down to scenarios where the game is likely to end in the next few turns, try to identify which cards can win the game for you outright if drawn off the top of your deck (your outs), and which cards  would win the game for your opponent between their hand and draws (your opponent's outs). Try to construct a sequence of events out of your opponent which leads to you losing the game, then see what can be done to prevent that happening. Next, try to construct a winning sequence for yourself and see what can be done to maximize the chances it occurs (this is generally much easier and less time consuming than seeing things from your opponent's perspective).
      In this particular example, there were a couple of plays my opponent could have made which would have both prevented lethal and set up lethal of their own. These plays are ideal, but there won't always be a perfect intersection between winning and not losing. When considering outs for both you and your opponent, you'll often need to make a judgement call as to whether you should attempt to maximize your own chances of setting up lethal, minimize your opponent's chances of setting up lethal, or go for something in the middle of both to play around a specific card.
      Mistake #4 - Setting Up Board Clears

      The Situation
      It's turn 4 and I'm on Murloc Paladin against an unknown Warlock. I have a Vilefin Inquisitor and a Hydrologist in play, both with full health, and my hand is looking juicy. I have a Grimscale Chum, a Murloc Warleader, and a Gentle Megasaur. I play Chum into Warleader to set up the huge Megasaur turn, attack everything to face, and pass.
      Why It's A Misplay
      Playing the Grimscale Chum gave my opponent the 1 Health minion they needed to set up the full clear with Defile. They would have needed Hellfire to clear my board if I hadn't played the Chum, which means that giving them 1 Health minion effectively doubled their chances of being able to clear my board.
      Defile is one of the trickiest cards to use in Hearthstone - we shouldn't make it any easier on our opponents than it needs to be. Sure, sometimes they won't have the Defile or the Hellfire and you'll just win with Gentle Megasaur on turn 4, but in this particular scenario, why not hedge your bets and wait on the Chum? They'll still get blown out by Megasaur next turn if they don't have a Hellfire, and if you play into Defile you give your opponent a clean 4 for 1.
      Why do players make this mistake?
      I tend to make mistakes like this one when I get tunnel-visioned on making value plays and lose sight of the big picture. It just doesn't "feel" right to play our Murloc Warleader before our Grimscale Chum, it leaves value on the table. However, that doesn't mean it's the wrong move. We're very likely to win this game if we don't get our board cleared, and the reward of the Grimscale Chum's Battlecry is far outweighed by the risk of playing it.
      I think most players have a natural bias towards big, flashy plays that set up kills as quickly as possible if everything goes right, but that they don't slow down to think about what happens if things go wrong. A heuristic which can help remind us to slow down and consider our options in these scenarios might sound something like this:
      The strongest play is not always the best one.
      The "best" play for any given situation probably starts and ends by considering the unknown variables - the cards left in your deck, the cards your opponent is likely to play, etc. It's tempting to see the explosive potential in a play that's right in front of you and just go for it, to say "let's see what happens" and accept the consequences if things don't work out. I'd by lying if I said I never played straight into board wipes just to see if I could set up a turn 4 kill, but in a few of this situations it was actually the right move!
      There are a number of times where, as an aggro player, the correct move is to just go for it and accept the consequences if your opponent has the board wipe. However, there's a big difference between those situations and the one I outlined above. You won't always be presented with a choice between "going for the win" and "GOING FOR THE WIN!". Whenever you have to opportunity to assemble a board that is capable of winning the game, what do you really stand to gain by putting even more minions on it? Do you get to win more? Last I checked, "big wins" didn't count for extra stars on the ladder.
      The Hero Power is a finite resource. Use it or lose it forever. Its almost always better to Hero Power than it is to play a 2 or 3 Mana spell if you could just play that spell next turn (or the turn after). The first few turns of the game are really important - don't auto pilot them and throw away cards for free. There are very few options available to you in the early game, so take your time to carefully consider all of them. Playing your minions is not always the best option available to you. When you have a lead as an aggressive deck, it's often a better idea to protect that lead and to become the "control" player than it is to push damage to face. Try to think about late-game situations in terms of specific outs from both you and your opponent, and use those outs to guide where your damage should go. Winning is good enough! Committing more resources to the board than you need to win can set yourself up to get blown out by board wipes.
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