Thursday, 19 May 2016

Whispers of the Old Gods: One Month Retrospective

Whispers of the Old Gods

One Month Retrospective

It's been close to a month since the release of the Whispers of the Old Gods expansion in Hearthstone.

I'd like to take a few minutes to look at how the expansion, and the format change, has affected the game, to the extent that I am able.

I think there are three things we can say, a month in:
  1. The most important shift in the Standard format meta was the removal of the Goblins vs. Gnomes and Curse of Naxxramas cards, and the nerfs to Classic cards.
  2. The addition of Whispers of the Old Gods has had a noticeable, but not as significant, effect on the metagame.
  3. Apropos of my previous reviews of the Whispers cards, several cards turned out better, or worse, than I anticipated.

I'm referring to the metagame review site Tempostorm and its weekly meta snapshot in the below.

Whispers of the Old Cards

Perhaps the most important change in the way the game has been played is the removal of older sets from Standard format, and the modifications to several cards from the "evergreen" set.

Some of the most overpowered cards in the game were found in Goblins vs. Gnomes and Curse of Naxxramas, from Dr Boom, Shielded Minibot, and Piloted Shredder, to Mad Scientist, Lightbomb, and Sludge Belcher. The removal of these cards from Standard has had an extraordinary effect on the meta.

Most notably, it has slowed the metagame down considerably. Where before, an aggressive metagame dominated, topped by decks which either strongly countered aggro (such as Patron Warrior), perfected its form (such as Zoolock or Aggro Shaman), or were just plain strong (Midrange Druid, courtesy of the pre-nerf Force of Nature/Savage Roar combo).

Aggressive decks are no longer as dominant as they used to be. The only top-notch aggro deck is Aggro Shaman. Otherwise, control and combo decks clog most of the top of the meta. Perhaps most notable is the return of Miracle Rogue, a combo deck that was once out of favour after its signature card, Gadgetzan Auctioneer, was nerfed early on in the history of the game. (The nerf consisted of an increase in its Mana cost.)

The nerfs to existing cards has also contributed considerably to slowing down the meta: in particular, the mana cost increase to Big Game Hunter and Ironbeak Owl has made control decks more viable as there is less cheap removal around to efficiently counter their big minions. The Midrange Druid deck, which relied on all three of the nerfed Druid cards, has vanished (and Druids have been suffering in the meta with the nerf to Ancient of Lore).

Expansion Cards

While Whispers of the Old Gods added a lot of interesting new features to the game, the expansion has not had as significant effect on the metagame as the removal of the older card sets did. By way of comparison, almost every single deck in the game that wasn't a combo deck ran Dr Boom. Almost every single deck that wasn't aggro ran Sludge Belcher and Piloted Shredder. Almost every single deck that used Secrets (and wasn't Secret Paladin) ran Mad Scientist.

Looking at some of the top tier decks in Tempostorm's meta snapshot:
  • Aggro Shaman runs Flamewreathed Faceless. It's a solid addition, but isn't critical to the deck's operation. If you don't have any you could probably still play this deck and win.
  • Miracle Rogue runs Shadow Strike
  • . It's a great addition to the deck, but again, I don't see it being absolutely vital (especially because you can usually only use it once on the enemy Hero).
  • N'Zoth Paladin runs four Whispers cards out of thirty, most notably N'Zoth and Forbidden Healing. In this deck, the Whispers cards could be said to be crucial to its execution.
  • Tempo Warrior has a high proportion of Whispers cards, running seven cards. Here again, in this particular deck the Whispers cards form a key part of the deck's strategy (except, I would argue, for Malkorok).
  • Midrange Shaman has five out of thirty cards, including Flamewreathed Faceless and Thing from Below.

Other decks appear to be more heavily affected by the withdrawal of cards from Standard than the addition of the new expansion. Zoolock, for example, is no longer prominent, because losing Nerubian Egg and Haunted Creeper was a bigger loss than gaining Darkshire Councilman was a benefit. (Parenthetically, Zoolock seems quite strong in Wild, because it gets to have all its Nice Things.)

Looking Back at My Reviews

I'd now like to look back and see in what ways I missed the mark in my card reviews. I won't try and reassess every card; rather, I should like to see where I was obviously in error in rating a card.

I won't link to a post if I don't see any obvious error in how I rated a card.

At a higher level, it looks like I overrated most Rogue cards: Rogue is pretty absent in the meta except for Miracle Rogue.

Review Part 1
Here, it looks like I overrated Skeram Cultist, Blood Warriors, and N'Zoth's First Mate. (I still think Blood Warriors is a decent card, but it's just not seeing play, suggesting it can't fit into tight decklists.)

Review Part 2
Most significantly, I under-rated Yogg-Saron, at least as an option for Mage. Yogg-Saron is probably still a bad pick for most other classes, but it can fit into some mage decks as a "Hail Mary pass" option.

I feel pretty comfortable with my card ratings here. I still think Xaril's a good card, but it appears there wasn't a good deck for him to appear in.

Review Part 3
I'm comfortable with the ratings in this post, although based on play experience, the Rogue cards were overrated.

Review Part 4
Thing from Below has probably surpassed my expectations.

Review Part 5
It looks like I overrated Cho'Gall, although that may just be because I've not seen much of warlock on the Standard ladder. (Then again, I'm playing zoolock in Wild, and I'm not running Cho'gall, so there you have it.)

Review Part 6
I think I gave Cult Sorcerer an appropriate (Fair) rating, but was too harsh on it in my commentary; I've seen it used in decks without C'Thun to decent effect, given that it's a straight-up upgrade over Kobold Sorcerer, for the same Mana cost. I underrated Darkshire Alchemist. Since Shadow Strike is one of the few Whispers Rogue cards I've seen in use, I definitely underrated it. I also underrated Blood to Ichor: it probably merited a Fair rating.

Review Part 7
Disciple of C'Thun was probably one of my most significant cards in terms of being underrated: it's been much more useful than I gave it credit for. Twin Emperor Vek'lor is not far behind.

You could argue that I overrated more cards on average on account of the relative lack of Old Gods cards in top-tier decks in the meta. I would point out that it's not so much that those cards are overrated: rather, most of the best cards (that is, cards with Excellent ratings) are still Classic cards, even with many of the most overpowered cards now cycled out of Standard.

So here we are, one month in. It's been fun, although I haven't been working to stay higher on the ladder compared to previous months. I hope you, dear reader, have enjoyed the new meta as well.

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