Gnimsh: "The current metagame is healthy and leaves a lot of room for innovation"

Hearthstone Radoslav “Nydra” Kolev


NAME: Marcin "Gnimsh" ​Filipowicz
COUNTRY: Poland Poland
HEARTHSTONE ACHIEVEMENTS: 

1st MLG NA 7
1st MLG EU CH 2
1st MLG EU CH 5
1st ESL Illidan's Revenge Cup

Marcin "Gnimsh" Filipowicz is by no means a stranger to TCGs. Originally coming from a Magic: The Gathering background and transitioning to WoW TCG after finishing college, Gnimsh grew to become one of the most accomplished Europeans of Blizzard's card game.

With the discontinuation of WoW TCG in August last year Gnimsh made the only logical transition: Hearthstone, Blizzard digital card game inspired by its tabletop counterpart and transferred online to Battle.net. 

Through his competitive TCG experience, Marcin becomes one of the leading players and analysts of the game, known for his involvement with the Turn 2 and Value Town podcasts, his regular "Deck Check" video column and the Mage specialist for team DogeHouse. As we grab him for a chat, we also find out he's an excellent interviewee as we go in-depth about the most recent Hearthstone patch, balance discussions and the future of HS eSports.


The interview was conducted by Radoslav Kolev.

Find Gnimsh at:    
 


So, let’s skip all those “who is Gnimsh and what does he do" questions (people will read it in the introduction anyway) and move straight to Hearthstone. Patch 1/13 arrived a week ago and it got a lot of people talking. How necessary was the patch overall? Was the meta getting too stale?

I believe the patch was in fact necessary. It’s not that the metagame was too stale, but some of the cards were warping the metagame and limiting the deck building choices. The best “nerf” was probably to Pyroblast, a card that had the most impact on the metagame for a long time making a lot of decks unplayable on the highest level. I also very much agree on the Blood Imp change, which was super annoying to play against and was often the card that swung games. Overall, I think that Blizzard made great decisions there and the current metagame is a lot more healthy than before.  

The only buff was UtH’s decreased mana cost. When the patch launched, you said the card might be too cheap now and it has certainly helped Hunters a lot. What’re your thoughts on it several days later? Is it in fact too strong?

It might seem like that, but I don’t think it’s too strong. UtH is super easy to counter with certain decks. Cards like Sen’jin Shieldmasta, or Armorsmith work like a charm vs UtH decks. Also you can just limit the number of minions on board, which counters the card very nicely. The UtH deck is fun to play and a cheap alternative for new players to get into the high-end metagame. I think that it’s weaker than the older Warlock aggro, but still a competitor. 

Let’s hop to the other hot topic - the Mages and the Pyroblast nerf. While the nerf was approved by the majority of the community, it kind of swung the class in the opposite extreme and they’re hardly ever seen now. Players like Ek0p even said that there’re no reasons to play Mage anymore…

It’s definitely a hit to a Mage class, but I don’t believe it’s totally dead. Mage still shows in certain metagames and even though it’s not the Tier 1 class right now we can still see some Mage action from time to time. Mage has the right cards and is still very flexible, so I hope that people can come up with new competitive builds in the future.

We argued in a recent article how although it is the Pyroblast that deals the last points of damage, it was cards like Ice Block that made the finish possible, as well as the Mage arsenal of spells which allowed them to win the tempo war in the mid game. Thoughts on that?

Yeah, I definitely agree. Mage was good overall, because the whole class strategy supported the Pyroblast finish. A lot of top player hated Ice Block more than the actual Pyroblast. That’s why I think that Mage still has a chance to come back at some point.

Moving on the “questionable decision #3” - the Novice Engineer. Are Loot Hoarders really the better option now or is the instant cantrip of the Novice still more valuable?

Loot Hoarder is better. 2 attack makes a big difference and people will rarely silence the funny gnome. Novice may still see play as a “combo” enabler, or just a card that filters your deck. Probably being used alongside Loot Hoarder.

Not sure how much ladder experience you managed to get in the days after the patch since you were travelling but there’s this feeling that the patch initiated a shift in the mana curve. I’m seeing Shieldmastas and Chillwind Yetis on the 4-drop and Azure Drakes on the 5-drop where Sylvanas used to be. Is this a real trend or is it me just stumbling upon random stuff?

That’s definitely the current metagame. Shieldmasta’s there to counter the Hunter UtH builds. Yeti become a strong mid game creature that Druids run, which is possible because the metagame become much slower with all the anti Hunter control decks. Azure Drake is probably the best neutral minion to use in the 5 mana slot. It was good before, but now with Sylvanas moving to 6-drop it’s even more efficient.

Do you think Priests will be able to make a return now that the meta has slowed down a bit (except the extra aggressive Hunters that is)? I mean, we saw Zoombuh’s Priest doing well in the Chat Lethal Invitational, maybe there’s hope for the class now?

I think with Druid being the best class right now it will be very hard for Priests to come back in full force. There is a lot of 4 attack minions being played like Yeti, Cairne and Azure Drake. Priest can come on top from time to time, but it’s a Tier 2-3 deck. It might work, but it’s not consistent enough to win a lot.

Another discussion that the patch sparked was Blizzard’s design philosophy - namely “kill everything that’s not fun”. Do you feel they are right to do so, or decks like the OTKs and freeze Mages should nevertheless be allowed to live for sheer deck diversity?

It’s certainly a good business decision that makes the game more friendly for casual players. I’m afraid that in the long term it might make the gameplay a bit dull where we only fight minion on minion battles. Right now Hearthstone is not meant for the pro play at its core, so it’s probably fine. I’m sure that Blizzard will introduce more diversity in the future that will keep the game interesting and if they maintain the “kill everything that’s not fun” philosophy while doing so we will have a perfect product.

Although Blizzard are trying hard to go by their idea of minions fighting for board control with spells supporting them, the Hearthstone players seem to always find new ways to “cheat” around that. The new Hunter decks barely interact with the enemy board unless there’s a taunter to be removed and I’ve seen a couple of new-school zerg rushing Warriors already, too. Is there a design flaw in the game itself that’s working against the development team or is there something else?

This is a very interesting question. I personally think it’s a fantastic dialogue between players and developers. It’s not a design flaw, but more like the game itself gives the players some freedom and room for innovation. This means that Blizzard can’t foresee everything and players will always try to go around certain mechanics. If we would have a 100% controlled environment a lot of people would get bored quickly. So from Blizzard perspective they will always try to reach the design idea with minions vs minions, but it’s up to players how they actually shape the metagame and what they choose to play.  


With Athene (center) and team-mate Ek0p (left) at Blizzard HQ. Source: Facebook

What problems do you feel were left unaddressed with 1/13? And what new problems did it create?

I’m really happy with the last patch. I feel like the current metagame is very healthy and leaves a lot of room for innovation. I’ve played a King of the Hill tournament on Sunday and I’ve picked 3 totally different classes than a semi finalist I’ve faced. This means that there is a plethora of available decks and builds. I’m impressed on how balanced the current core set is. The only class that we might have a closer look at is Druid.

I want to transition away from the patch talks for a while and talk about Hearthstone as ESPORTS. I’ve been talking to tournament organizers a lot in the last couple of days and one topic that they often bring up is Hearthstone being too random. This, in turn, forces them to make matches Bo5+ or have double elimination brackets. Do you see the amount of RNG in HS as hindrance towards it becoming a big ESPORT?

I don’t think there is much more RNG in the game compared to other TCGs/CCGs. Card games always have a certain amount of RNG to increase excitement and to level the field of players. Having Bo5 or double elimination is a good idea to balance that even more for a tournament organizer. In my eyes HS tournaments are similar to Poker tournaments. You fight variance with volumes and you can’t always win, but top players will find their way and win more than an average person. You can limit the RNG with practice, experience, skill and deck choices.

To be honest, I was actually surprised at how many cards with random effect there are in the game, especially when you know that leading ESPORTS like StarCraft 2 completely eliminated every chance effect from the gameplay. Magic the Gathering players also avoid using chance cards to reduce the volatility in the decks. In Hearthstone, though, almost every high-tier deck uses a RNG card, be it Rag, or Ysera, or Knife Juggler. Your comment on that?

It adds to the fun factor and forces you to manipulate RNG in your favour, which again gives more room for a skillful player to play around RNG. If we compare Hearthstone to Magic the Gathering there is a huge difference. In MTG RNG is generated by the resource system, which enables the designers to cut it out from the actual cards. In Hearthstone there is no RNG in the mana crystals as you will always get one each turn. As mentioned before, card games need RNG for tournament play to introduce a bit of randomness and give chance to every player. It doesn’t mean that all matches are now 50-50. It means that instead of having a 100% win rate the best player in the world will settle around 70%+. Which is a sick win rate if you ask me.

Although young, the HS ESPORTS scene already has a good mix of tournaments, from showmatches, to KOTHs, to weekly cups. What more would you like to see in terms of events?

I just love live events. I’d love to see HS invading DreamHack, IEM, etc. Online qualifiers and then Live finals would help to grow the tournament scene even more. Personally I’m more into top tier tournament play, rather than weird fun formats.

What should be the next step in Hearthstone’s ESPORTS evolution?

Blizzard recognizing Hearthstone as an eSport and organizing a HS related eSports site with tournament schedules and World Champs. I really hope that we will have Hearthstone World Champs this year!

You’re a member of team DogeHouse, one of the first pro-player houses in the game. Is that the future of competitive Hearthstone, people gathering together in team houses and practicing as it is common for SC2, LoL, Dota, etc?

Definitely! There is no room for a solo player in this pond. You need friends to test with. Every player has different skills and ideas. Some of us are great deck builders, other are great pilots or can just refine the deck. Some players are great with aggro decks, others with control. You want to have a group of people that can communicate and improve together.

OK, we’re almost done, five quickfire questions to end the interview on high pace:

= What do you want to see in the next patch?

Dancing minions fix.

= Death Knight or Monk as 10th class and why?

DK. I liked DK in the WoW TCG: Dark theme and a lot of good removal cards!

= Aggro or Control?

Aggro forever!

= Most underrated legendary?

Al’Akir the Windlord, which is fortunately seeing a lot of play right now.

= The common/rare card with most potential?

Earth Shock. Counters soooo many things.