I'm a mean person.
At least, when it comes to Magic the Gathering. The tears of rival planeswalkers are what I use to salt my steak. There are decks my friends have banned me from playing. In a draft, I once made an opponent toss his cards down in a rage and storm off. And while this might immediately scream blue to you, it's a color I've never enjoyed. The wispy, ethereal denizens of the hue and its sly counterspells just never jived with me.(It may or may not also have something to do with how a nine-year old me found blue's trickery utterly unfathomable.)
Fast forward several decades. I'm chortling shamelessly over this flat-out unpleasant Mage deck I've just made in Hearthstone. It's rife with Secrets - Ice Barriers to provide more armor, an Ice Block to cheat death, a summon-copier machine for good measure - and minions that either come with minions of their own or an entourage of buffs. Other spells abound too. Here, a Fireball (6 damage in your face!). There, a Flamestrike (4 damage in your creatures' faces!). Mirror images that taunt at the opponent (Two 0/1 creatures to re-direct incoming attacks). Arcane Explosion to wipe the deck clean of low-tier pests (1 damage to all enemy minions). The only person that is going to have fun with this deck is me and I know it.
"That sounds ... awfully blue."
"I'd have thought you would play a .. a warlock. Or a rogue."
I shrug, in spite of the fact the person I'm talking to is an ocean away. "The other two aren't sadistic enough, I guess?"
Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is Blizzard's latest entry into a market it has already done circuits in. Whether it's because Blizzard was discontent with having only one collectible card game in the wild or keen on capitalizing on the online market, we'll never know. One thing is for sure, though. Compared to its predecessors, both spiritual and not, Hearthstone is a speedier, more streamlined pursuit. There are no Mexican stand-offs here, only lonely duels between two of Azeroth's best. Sessions tend to be short; they go anywhere from ten to twenty minutes. Other nuances aside, the thing that best distinguishes Hearthstone from its competitors is probably its aversion to 'control' decks.
(For those unfamiliar with the concept, the term is most commonly used in association with Magic the Gathering decks that subsist on being an absolute pain. These are decks that wreck the opponent's resource pool, counter plans, ruin wombo-combos, bleed cards from the other's hand and transmogrify matches into wars of attrition. Great if you're commanding the more superior 'control' deck, terrible if you're playing anything else.)
Now, this isn't to say that it's impossible to design something of that nature in Hearthstone. You can. You just have to try that much harder to be a dick. It's clear that Blizzard had certain ideas while making this. You can only have two copies of any single card in a given deck unless it's a legendary in which case you can only have one. Your hit points may never exceed 30 points. Never will a Hearthstone player (unless Blizzard changes its mind later) be coerced to learn the frenzied interplay of instant spells or endure the soul-sucking attention of a resource disruption deck. Seen from the macro, it's an awesome change but one that leaves players like me in a pickle. In this desert built of good will and limited cheesiness, how do you rain on someone else's parade?
Short answer: Mages.
Though Priests and Warlocks can certainly hold their own in the 'control' department, Mages play this game better than anyone else. They're one of three classes (Paladins and Hunters are the other two) that currently have access to 'Secrets', cards that are played face-down until a specific condition is triggered. Unlike Hunters, who have more aggressive Secrets, and Paladins, who seem focused on retaliation-by-minion, the Mage's bag of tricks is noticeably more varied.
On top of the Ice Block and the Ice Barrier spells I've mentioned previously, Mages can counter spells, summon a copy of an opponent's minion (awesome in late game) and vaporize any cretin stupid enough to attack you (hilarious, when played in combination with Ice Block). Most notably, they're the only class with an entourage (putting the SecretKeeper aside from a second) that can capitalize on the presence of Secrets in one's deck. The Kirin Tor Mage will eliminate the cost of your next Secret while Ethereal Arcanist can serve as reasonably-priced muscle.
Still, mages would be a poor candidate for the 'most annoying class in Hearthstone' were Secrets the only Aces up their collective sleeves. Nukes of varying sizes, along with 'freeze' spells that can temporarily (but handily) cripple the enemy assault, come parceled with a side of polymorph (No, you're mistaken, sir. That's not Illidan Stormrage you have there. That's a pot roast waiting to happen) and creatures that thrive on making wizardry a breeze. As an added bonus, many of the neutral cards can easily be worked into a synergistic relationship with a Mage Deck.
Those of you who are familiar with Magic the Gathering are likely nodding in harmony by now. Mages in Hearthstone all but scream blue. Lacking as they may be in the 'discard your entire library' category, Mages excel at doing what blue does best and that is making the opposition wonder, making them doubt their every decision and turning seemingly hopeless situations into exultant jaunts back into victory's arms. It's a class that shines its brightest when the other side has been broken from being cajoled into too many mistakes and baited into many traps.
I don't think that the Mage deck will ever be able to replace to land destroy-shaped hole in my heart. But it's a start. Blizzard might have set off to make a game that will not make you want to terminate relationships but there are always, always ways to break the system. Hearthstone might only have 300 cards to play with right now but that will eventually change. You can't have a free-to-play collectible card game without a deluge of cards to gather, can you? When we have 3000 cards, the potential to do mischief is going to increase exponentially. And, frankly, I can't wait.
Until we get even more cards to work with, I'll deal with what little tools I have. Maybe, a Shadow Priest deck next. You can never go wrong with Mind Control...
What is the nastiest wombo-combo you've created in Hearthstone? Inquiring minds want to know. Leave us the juicy details in the comments!
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