Looking forward to 2016: A comprehensive wish list for the classes of Hearthstone
The holidays are behind us and 2015 has been a great year for Hearthstone, both in releases and in esports. Now as the new year kicks in we can look back. It is a time for awards and time to wish for an even greater year in 2016.
But when it comes to releases what exactly should we wish for our class? What would they be wishing for 2016? Where is their arsenal lacking and where is the undeveloped potential? Obviously the answer would vary highly depending on who you would ask but at the start of this year I would like give out my answer.
“Dear Blizzard. Please never change Blizzcon from Conquest”
Druids are in a mixed spot right now, not really doing too good, but not too bad either. Their ramp styles have always been potent but over the year Hearthstone have seen ever increasing options to deal with single big minions. This have forced Druids to focus more on finishing the enemy hero off quickly rather than building a solid board with their mana advantage.
As a class, Druids have the least amount of strategy diversity with basically all of their deck styles at this point centering around using the Force of Nature - Savage Roar combo to finish off after having dealt 16 damage to the hero. That can be either through ramping up big minions or through the recently popularized aggro strategies. Because the strategy is so one-dimensional, its success is decaying rapidly with increased options for counters like Reno Jackson, aswell as decks that are just better at building tempo like Secret paladin. What Druids should wish for is more variation, and some of it may already be here.
In the Grand Tournament we saw a massively innovative card for Druid, Astral Communion which I personally believe could be one key to reinvigorating the ramping part of Druid and put focus on overwhelming your opponent on the board with high cost monsters before they get enough mana to answer them. So far it has made zero impact but with additional support that could help diversity their strategy and improve their matchups.
There have been a lot of pros who have said that the concept behind Astral Communion is too absolute and will always either suck or be completely imbalanced. But considering the current number of druid deck variations, I would be ready to see more of the imbalanced part of this card.
“Dear Blizzard. Please no more coal. I have been good and only gone full face some of the time. I promise I won't need to be nerfed again….. probably”
Two words can best describe the issues with Hunter coming into 2016: Design space. Hunters don't seem to have any of it left. This can easily be seen on the cards released. With the exception of Quick Shot, no card that was released to Hunters in 2015 made any impact at all. There simply is no room in the class for additional functional elements because the existing skeleton is so volatile and close to being downright degenerate. There is a reason Hunter is the most nerfed class in the history of Hearthstone.
This is not a unique issue. One of the earliest changes to Druids in the beta was to change a lot of their spells to target minions only as it was already apparent back then that their massive access to spell-based hero damage would not make for long-term sustainable design. For Hunters, though, that just seemed to be part of their intended design so it was never changed… and so here we are. Three expansions of filler cards that basically have added nothing to the class whatsoever.
Hunters cannot get any serious draw power. We all remember the days of pre-nerf Starving Buzzard and that was before Quick Shot. Nothing they get can be allowed to be much more potent than Unleash the hounds + Cult Master and that one doesn't see any use. Which is why all their added “draw power” is mostly based on drawing random cards that cannot be used to form any serious synergy like Ball of Spiders or Lock and Load. It is ultimately a design meant to fail because any succeeding strategy would break the class.
They cannot get any more direct damage, they are relentlessly saturated already. They cannot get a minion much more aggressive than those they already have. Nor can they become much more resilient because they cannot be allowed the opportunity to deal additional hero damage. It can be observed that the class has not seen a new minion with 5 health or above all year.
It seems inevitable that Hunters will be receiving mostly junk going forward unless something is nerfed to unlock more room for actual functional design. Should this be something Blizzard decides to do, then the best Hunters can wish for is that these fixes will be restricted mostly to the neutral pool of their arsenal. Personally I think there is a certain juggler and a certain hooting bird who have outstayed their welcome in the meta enough to be a target of this.
“Dear Blizzard. My biggest wish is for you to keep this pace”
Mage is arguably the class with highest release success rate as every single expansion has brought a relevant improvement to their arsenal and most of it has seen competitive use. Naxxramas brought Mad Scientist and Duplicate to make their secrets relevant, Goblins vs Gnomes gave birth to Mech Mage and Echo Mage. Blackrock Mountain and The Grand Tournament gave an immense boost to the Tempo Mage style while also reviving the Freeze Mage and now we have the League of Explorers which too has boosted the arsenal with decks such as Renomage.
The large amount of success also means that there are almost too many suggestions that could be made for further progress. There have been many so many successful decks and many that are almost there. They got mechs but lacks slightly on the late game, they got control variations but their removal is not quite there for lots of minions and they even got secret support but they always seem to run out of secrets before they run out of the secret support.
For my suggestions, I have chosen to focus on the latter two but really, Blizzard have a ton of roads they can go with Mage and they have been really good at designing various styles with robust support. So while mages may not be the most present class in the meta right now, all they should wish for is for the next big expansion to arrive soon.
“Dear Blizzard. For this year I wish for a really cool Hero Skin”
That is practically the only thing left that Paladins can wish for. They are in a really good position and shouldn't be asking for anything more. Long gone are the days of 2014 where Paladin was a joke class with almost no significant cards besides Tirion. The obscene amount of focus on the overall mid-range strategy with tons of silver hand recruits has paid off. Their lack of any easily integrable burst combos have left Blizzard with all the design space in the world without fear of things going too crazy, and it shows. Insane draw power for Aggro decks? Got Divine favor for that. Board clears? Equality for everyone. Burst combo finish? Truly Anyfin can happen… .
My biggest screw-up is and will hopefully forever remain to be the time when I declared them a semi-loser of The grand Tournament. Sure the majority of their class cards were useless and never saw play, but like everyone else I underestimated Mysterious Challenger. And while I knew that Justicar Trueheart would give the biggest boost for paladins, I never foresaw the extent.
No cards Blizzard can release for this year can change the fact that Paladin has been lifted to glory and will probably remain in a good spot for 2016 even if no relevant card is released all year. Thus there is really no point in me bringing any card suggestions.
“Dear Blizzard. Could I get a new gimmick? All this card stealing is really ruining my image.”
Priest is a class where it is easy to conclude what kind of cards they want to get but much harder to determine what kind of cards they should be getting.
Looking at their overall rankings and their history it would be easy to conclude that they just need some serious strong cards to push them up to the level of other classes and everything should be fine right? Wrong.
The reason for this is that Priests are hyper specialized in anti-control. Between Entomb, Lightbomb and even Mind Control on a good day, Priest are simply too powerful in the control matchup. Their access to elements following the law of inverse effort is absurd. And this leads to a situation where there is a restriction on how powerful their anti-tempo can get, even when anti-tempo seems to be all that is relevant for the meta.
In some regard, Priests are as design restricted due to their end game power as Hunters are due to their aggression. They have to lose to aggressive decks because that is all they can lose to. And it shows. Holy Nova were for the longest time referred to as “Overpriced Consecration” and now we have Excavated Evil which can be refereed to as “Overpriced Hellfire”. This is the way it has to be.
A lot of their other cards have an extreme power that would be ludicrous in any other context with Northshire Cleric being a great example. A "1 mana 1/3 Inspire: Draw a card" minion would break ANY other class in Hearthstone. Why has this worked for Priest so far? Mostly because not much else has been working for the class but it is starting to change and that is why extreme caution must be exerted.
All that said, things should not really be as dire as the quality of some of the released Priest cards like Convert would suggest. There should still be room to expand on other elements of Priests, namely their healing, a play style that still remains woefully underdeveloped.
“Dear Blizzard. For this year I wish for my cards to get proper QA testing.”
Rogues are in a very peculiar position right now. They were left mostly in the dirt during The Grand Tournament and the general strategy with Tinker's Sharpsword Oil has gotten increasingly less potent for much of the same reasons why Druids have fallen off. The number of counters have gotten too high for such a one dimensional strategy.
Blizzard's idea for the class seems mixed. They seem content on giving Rogue a minion-based strategy, yet they haven’t actually given Rogue any of the tools normally required for such builds. While the latest expansion handed over some of the most potent midrange class minions to Rogue, it seems the overall favor still lies on the non-interactive and burst-ridden spell decks.
Tomb Pillager, a card that seemed to be intended to more easily deal with high cost combo cards and to give Rogues a way to have a ramp style now seems to have given rebirth to the old playstyle of the Miracle Rogue, a deckstyle so uninteractive Blizzard spent the better part of a year trying to end its ladder dominance during 2014, before they eventually took off the gloves with the nerfbat… twice!
The jury is still out on whether this old relic of a deckstyle can hold a candle in the modern environment without Leeroy Jenkins and with Gadgetzan Auctioneer at 6 mana but Tomb pillager certainly seems to have given the style a significant boost. And we are back at the whole issue of the non-minion based strategy.
When it comes to 2-drop minions, rogues have been shafted. Strong 2 drops are essential in order to be able to establish board control in the current meta but all of Rogue's ones only got 2 life and none of their effects are strong enough to make for this inferior stat line. The sad part is Rogues did have a 3 health 2 mana minion, Defias Ringleader. It was nerfed in beta but since then there has been a massive power creep of 2 mana minions, true power creep I might add. It would not be an issue today. What Rogues should wish for is to get the 3 health Ringleader back or get a new 2 drop with same level of board presence. One that can hold up to current demands of the meta.
“Dear Blizzard. Could you settle on few bigger themes? All of these smaller theme packages are useless...”
Shaman is a class in a really tough spot going into 2016 and most of it can be attributed to a single thing: Severe lack of focus. Blizzard seems to want to go into several different directions with the class. They have been getting Totems, Overload, Murlocs, Mechs and hey here is some Battlecry stuff all of a sudden. All these themes seems to be receiving support simultaneously while other classes get to have one single strategy in the focus. It is a clear case of Blizzard having too many ideas for the class and not fleshing out any of them enough.
Recently, Tunnel Trogg has allowed for a very successful Aggro Shaman, but this remains an extremely volatile theme that usually can't be expanded that much (see also: Hunter). It is also the kind of strategy that, while always effective to a certain level, tends to find itself countered eventually as the meta gets more optimized to it. It also doesn't bode well that with each new release Blizzards has released some cards that are very effective at dealing with this sort of strategy, like Reno Jackson. Overall Shaman is still going to need something more.
What needs to happen is quite simple. Blizzard needs to settle down on a few existing themes and dedicate the vast majority of forthcoming Shaman class spots to them. So far it seems Shamans just gets a brief taste of whatever is the theme of each expansion without getting any sufficient upgrades to their kit. Paladins, in contrast, got serious support for spawn recruit strategy in both Goblin vs Gnomes and The Grand Tournament and this has made their midrange strategy one of the most potent in the meta. The same level of focus is what Shamans should wish for most of all.
“Dear Blizzard. I have rights in Arena too!! #20OctoberNeverForget”
It would be a lie to say that Warriors did not have a good time in 2015. Grim Patron gave life to the old Warrior engine which we had known for quite a while was rather nuts when coupled with a suitable win condition. The vaporization of Warsong Commander seems to have brought the deck down to a balanced level, though, and when we look at the cards that were actually released under the tag “Warrior class card” things have been very lackluster in 2015.
Blizzard has been trying a lot of stuff though. Everything from taunt to minion self-damage to weird cards like Magnataur Alpha. Most of this has just served to make the class even more laughable in Arena than what was already the case. Lots of ideas and too little built on top. It is the Shaman issue except Warriors got functional late-game.
What Warriors should wish for in 2016 is that Blizzard keeps the focus on support for these ideas and don't deviate too much as it's been the case for Shaman. The Taunt focus seems interesting and full of potential but more is needed.
“Dear Blizzard, I will claim your soul. Also could I have less demons this year?”
Warlocks have always been a very polarizing class. Their access to card draw through their Hero power has made them very versatile, able to harness several different deckstyles. Furthermore, since draw power is less of a concern, they also got much more access to various tech cards. This means that their class cards must also be designed to be slightly inferior to those of other classes to maintain balance.
In The Grand Tournament we saw that Warlocks got completely shafted. Their class cards were arguably “too balanced” and they had way too much randomness to be part of a viable strategy. It seems that the discard mechanic was simply dead on arrival.
Their hero power does not make Warlocks as design restricted as Hunters, though, as clearly shown in The League of Explorers, but their incredible powerful draw power coupled with huge potential for burst combos demands caution. Curse of Rafaam is an example of this caution.
To define what the class wants most of all at this point is probably just something new, something different that doesn't act completely off the back of the skeletons set forth by the old Zoo or Handlock. Obviously there is a lesser ton of options but as an example I will present support to a mechstyle that focused more on the mid to late game mechs.