The newest Hearthstone expansion launched today, kicking off an entirely new metagame with a host of new cards and the Standard and Wild modes.
It's a big moment for Hearthstone. In retiring a large number of powerful cards, Blizzard is pretty much blowing up two years worth of established decks and strategies. It will still be possible to play with Dr. Boom and company in Wild mode, but the Standard mode will be totally different - no more Goblins vs. Gnomes or Curse of Naxxramas. The reset button has been hit.
In moments like these, when everyone is experimenting and chaos reigns, a few things tend to happen:
- A handful of popular teams or decks immediately emerge. Sometimes they herald a new archetype, and sometimes they're just a gimmick that will quickly go away. The trick is figuring out which concepts have staying power.
- A few of the most hyped cards end up becoming very popular or have their weaknesses exposed. Back when Pokemon Diamond first arrived, Rampardos was getting enough hype with its Mold Breaker ability that I decided to make the effort to train one. That was a mistake, though, as it was a glass cannon with no speed, and its best attack had wicked recoil. Beyond that, I didn't take into account the rise of revenge kill moves like Aqua Jet and Mach Punch, which were pretty much guaranteed to kill Ramparados even if I gave it a Choice Scarf. Needless to say, I kind of regretted the time and effort spent on Rampardos.
- The metagame starts to settle a bit as everyone figures out what works and what doesn't work, at which point I realize that I'm missing half the cards I need to build a viable deck in constructed play.
- The community comes to a concensus about overpowered and underpowered strategies and starts making a wishlist for the next expansion. Rinse and repeat.
In Hearthstone, meanwhile, cards will routinely be heralded as gamebreaking in the months and week leading up to release, then discarded when players collectively discover that they're too slow, require too much support, or that there are better alternatives. Anyone remember Troggzor the Earthinator?
Not surprisingly, the players who are most willing to go against the grain are the ones who tend to thrive in this sort of unsettled environment. They're the ones with the firmest grasp on the actual mechanics, and they're the ones who are the most willing to go outside the box and try out a card with no hype. Invariably, everyone else winds up following the lead of these players, which becomes the basis for the competitive metagame.
I wish I could say that I was one of those players. I wish I could say that I was the person who, say, had her name attached to a deck that she invented. Alas, I'm not. Instead, I make up for my lack of creativity by trolling Hearthpwn, Reddit, and various streams for deck ideas, like everyone else. I'm in my element when I'm effectively executing on established concepts, which is tough in the chaos of launch - one reason that the deck creators are champions and I'm not.
Does that make me a bad player? Maybe. The best thing that can probably be said for me is that I tend to avoid the really exploitive stuff in favor of strategies that I find legitimately fun and interesting. I almost never go hard rush or hard stall, and I tend to abhor gimmicks, preferring instead balanced strategies that let me play with a variety of characters. In waiting for everything to shake out, I'm mostly waiting to see what's viable so that I can implement it into my strategy. In the meantime, I'm mostly keeping my powder dry, waiting to see how things develop before I commit to any one deck.
Regardless, it's a fun moment for Hearthstone. No one likes when a competitive games gets stagnant, even copycats like me. Even now, the best players are churning through the new cards in Whispers of the Old Gods in search of a winning edge, and it won't be long before they start dominating the ladder. I look forward to seeing what they come up with.