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Well, its been long enough, I think.
I was originally going to post this after a couple of weeks, but ended up getting distracted and ultimately just fell behind in what I wanted to write about. Although, given how “United in Stormwind” panned out as a set, including its overall affect on the pace of the game, I am kind of glad that I waited, because oh boy is there a lot to talk about. With that being said, let us jump right in.
I think it is fair to say that a pretty big chunk of the community, even before this set, were not the biggest fans of combo, myself included. With how bad hearthstone’s balance can get, combo decks of the past often felt completely degenerate and unfun to play against because they had basically every tool to succeed. The last significant combo archetype to rear its head before this most recent set was “OTK Demon Hunter,” a deck that, while admittedly fairly difficult to pilot well, as I demonstrated in my video hear, became one of the best decks of the format.
However, “United in Stormwind” turned the dial up to eleven, so to speak, as it introduced multiple new combo archetypes, including the now nerfed “D6 Quest Warlock,” “Quest Mage,” various versions of “Garrote Rogue,” and two different variants of “Quest Demon Hunter.” These decks not only have greater efficiency that the previous versions of “OTK Demon Hunter,” but also have the tools required to compete for and control the board. The pace of the meta shifted so rapidly that control decks, which were highly represented in tournament, have become little more than a tech against specific archetypes. The prevalence of these spell heavy combo decks has also forced other decks to make room for cards like “Cult Neophyte,” and to a lesser extent “Robes of Protection,” as a way of slowing them down by a couple turns.
Still, I don’t want to give off the impression that I hate combo decks universally. On the contrary, a meta which is fully based around control archetypes can get stale to play and is certainly not as interesting to watch. While the pace of the game is significantly faster, it also means that early game decisions matter a lot more, and players will get rewarded for matchup familiarity and playing around key turns from there opponent. Suffice it to say, there are good and bad things about the new suite of combo.
Were the Nerfs Enough?
This might end up being non-point, because, as of writing this post there has been a new patch announced with various changes, but it does still seem like some changes need to be made.
While the absolute monsters that were “D6” and “Quest Mage” with two mana Enchanter’s Flow are now things of the past, the pace shift in the meta is worth reiterating. An average game involving one or more combo decks usually lasts until around turn seven or eight, depending how fast it sets up. “Garrote Rogue” has been known to set up on average around that time, and the current iterations of “Handlock” which also plays the quest can have a board of threats down as early as turn six. Going from relatively more tempo focused meta which usually went 10 turns plus to the current meta has certainly caused a bit of whiplash.
How much more heavily the game should be changed is up for the debate. Clearly the dev teams seems to agree that there is a problem, as according to the tweet making a total of 14 changes. It feels pretty obvious to anyone whose been playing the game at higher ranks that Warlock, in particular, is indeed a problem. “Garrote Rogue” as well has emerged as a strong contender, but considering the relative difficulty of the deck, including the fact that even pro players mess up the combo pretty often, it feels unlikely to be affected.
One card that many have despised since its release is Mindrender Illucia. This is because the cards swaps you and your opponents decks and hands. Most recently, the card has been used in “Aggro Shadow Priest” as a way of protecting your tempo swing from potential removal. Even though the card was nerfed early on from two mana, many have a problem with the design itself, saying it should be banned or removed from the game. I will not pretend like I have a particularly strong opinion on it, but I will say that the few times I have been Illucia’ed have made me feel pretty helpless.
While the competitive gamer in me can’t help but care about the current meta, the card game nerd in me also has to admit that the concept for the set was absolutely brilliant. My knowledge of World of Warcraft is fairly limited, considering I have only ever watched a few videos about the game, but there is a lot to appreciate about this set in terms of its design.
First, the return of a few mechanics. Obviously quest is the one most people got excited about initially, no surprise there. However, seeing new cards for the handbuff archetypes of Hunter and Paladin was fairly refreshing. In regards to hunter specifically, seeing the Elwin Boar along with the reference to south park in Sword of a Thousand Truths was pretty funny, if nothing else. While the quest does make it feel overbearing at times, mage getting some new tools for the spell mage deck is a fun inclusion.
On top of that, It feels like people rarely take the time to appreciate the card art in particular sets. It takes a lot of work to have as thematically cohesive an art design across 100 plus cards for one booster set, nevermind as often as the artists seem to do. “United in Stormwind” as a set focused on the city of Stormwind and the various characters associated with it. There is are a lot of royal designs, including a lot of knights and mages. However, the card art also makes it feel cohesive while giving the cards of each class a unique flair.
While I cannot say that “United in Stormwind” is my favorite set competitively, and in a lot of ways has made me significantly less interested in playing constructed, I would be remiss to not highlight the amazing work the art and design team did in creating it.
Do you play “Hearthstone” at all? How do you feel about “United in Stormwind?” Let me know in the comments.
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