With a new Arena season and a re-jigged card pool in Hearthstone’s limited format, it’s time for us to discuss and figure out the brand new metagame. This is going to be a learning process both for the playerbase and the developers, at least based on how long it took for the Rise of Shadows meta to reach a decent equilibrium – and if you want to do well in the Arena nowadays, you must develop a good understanding of the systems Team 5 employs behind the scenes to manipulate the offering odds, because they’ve become so important over the last year that they can single-handedly make or break a class in the format.
Here’s a list of the expansions that are available in the current Arena season:
- Goblins vs. Gnomes
- The Grand Tournament
- One Night in Karazhan
- The Boomsday Project
- Rise of Shadows
With both GvG and Boomsday, there’s a heavy focus on the Mech cards (which fits the current event’s theme).
What are buckets and why do they matter so much?
Since March 2018, the drafting system in Arena is no longer based on the rarity gem of the different cards, and the offerings are instead organized based on “buckets” with cards of similar strength offered alongside one another. These buckets partially overlap with each other and are set by the developers, occasionally updated based on new data or a change in the Arena card pool. Cards from the best and worst bucket have an offering rate penalty added upon them. Any class-specific micro-adjustments made are applied atop this bucket system.
The issue with this setup is that egregious errors in card strength assessment can have a massive, cascading effect on the Arena metagame. If a card is underestimated by Team 5, it will be offered alongside vastly inferior alternatives, which means that everyone will be obligated to pick it, leading to same-y decks at the higher wins where the players have a good understanding of this setup. Logically, this also means that “misbucketed” class cards also railroad you into specific archetypes – if a card is so much better than the ones it’s offered alongside, you will always pick it, and if it’s one that encourages a control strategy, you’ll be obligated to draft control decks for that particular class.
The strengths and weaknesses of this system is heavily debated in the hardcore Arena community, but for our purposes, all we need to know is which cards are offered way below the strength level it should realistically be. These are the ones you almost always have to choose when drafting and be mindful of at all times when trying to figure out your opponent’s plays. Team 5’s policy about providing this information has been inconsistent, and they’ve opted against revealing the buckets this time around. The community’s data-collecting endeavors usually result in a good enough estimate to work with, and the more egregious bucketing errors are very easy to identify either way.
Key neutral cards of The Rise of Mechs Arena meta
Fel Reaver – This card is a 5 mana 8/8 first and a discard machine second, and the former makes it a powerhouse in the format. The discard effect doesn’t come into play at all until it actually skips a draw for you (otherwise its effect is identical to placing the cards to the bottom of your deck, which is functionally irrelevant), therefore there’s no reason to be scared of this downside. The tempo benefits and the early finisher potential are insane on this card, and unless you’re running a dedicated control deck (which you will rarely be doing in this meta), it’s an auto-pick. The fact that many opponents will misunderstand its use and try to burn your deck with weird low-tempo plays and therefore letting you hit them in the face repeatedly is just a bonus.
Piloted Shredder, Piloted Sky Golem and Eccentric Scribe – It’s become quite clear by now that Eccentric Scribe is basically a neutral Savannah Highmane, but it nevertheless remains in a low enough bucket that it’s pretty much an auto-pick in anything but the most ultra-aggressive builds. Piloted Shredder, that old omnipresent card, is somehow not as high in the buckets as it should be either. The reintroduction of the old sets and their many strong 2-drops already facilitate a much more tempo-heavy meta (more on that in the next section), but these are the cards that cap it off for you: if you have a tempo lead when playing these bad boys, you’ve pretty much guaranteed yourself the victory. Shoutout to Mechanical Whelp for the exact same reason: a slightly delayed 6 mana 8/8 is just fine if you’re ahead, making it a fairly viable draft, especially in its current bucket. (These cards and the Magnetic buffs make Spellbreaker an excellent tech choice!)
Hench-Clan Hogsteed and Dalaran Crusader – Apart from Eccentric Scribe, these are the two other powerhouses of the Rise of Shadows set in the Arena, with the former providing invaluable initiative from hand with a small (and incredibly adorable) board presence left behind after the fact, while Dalaran Crusader is a value-trading monster whenever you’re ahead in the game. They remained just as important as they used to be after the latest Arena shakeup, and you should count on your opponents having them at basically all times.
The viable strategies of The Rise of Mechs Arena meta
In general, the reintroduction of old sets and their somewhat unbalanced cards will always push the Arena towards a more aggressive metagame. With so many strong 1- and 2-drops around, you can reliably construct a deck that will curve out in the early turns and leverage that board lead to push damage for the rest of the game. This was the good old “Curvestone” experience where falling behind on tempo early on pretty much lost you the match on the spot – it was widely derided by most players and was the catalyst behind many of the changes Team 5 made to the drafting system over the years. Basically, you can’t draft a consistent-enough control deck with most classes to stem this kind of an onslaught, therefore you need to engage in the early-game board battles and go in hard. As a somewhat extreme example, take a look at my 10-0 match against a Priest where coining out a 1/1 on the first turn was the difference between winning and losing the game.
That said, Mech decks are a trap: since Mechwarper was pushed into a prohibitively high bucket (though that was probably a good decision), going for the dedicated tribal build without further considerations will make you lose out on a lot of value and card quality. That’s not saying there aren’t excellent Mech decks in the format, it’s just that you shouldn’t force the matter unless you already happened to have picked top-tier cards that just happened to have the tag. You can almost always construct a stronger “general” tempo deck than the Mech-specific counterparts; for what it’s worth, this is a good thing for the Arena gameplay experience.
Paladin (53.3% winrate per HSReplay) – It makes sense that Paladin’s back atop the charts with so many of their premium cards also returning to the fold. Shielded Minibot and Muster for Battle will forever remain monsters of the early game, which, coupled with effective buffs like Seal of Champions, allows the class to get ahead in the first few turns and stay there for the rest of the game. They’re also perhaps the most effective when it comes to Mech builds thanks to the aforementioned 2-drop and Annoy-o-Module.
Mage (52.3% winrate per HSReplay) – Jaina maintained all the crazy options available to her from the previous Arena meta, and the hyper-swingy nature of Conjurer's Calling (a card which is still underbucketed considering its potential) will keep it viable for a while going forward. The value-generation of Messenger Raven and the two-in-one capabilities of Firelands Portal allows Mages to play somewhat slower than most other classes in this meta, but it’s nevertheless their brutal spell-based tempo plays which keep them so high on the charts.
Rogue (52.0% winrate per HSReplay) – Coin-dagger is back! With the return of Goblin Auto-Barber alongside Valeera’s plethora of cheap removal options, the class remains very well-equipped for the requirements of this metagame. However, the feast-or-famine nature of the tempo fight means that falling behind will be even more painful than usual for a class that leverages its health whenever it tries to gain value from its excellent hero power.
Druid (50.6% winrate per HSReplay) – With Eccentric Scribe as a top neutral and The Forest's Aid having an offering rate bonus alongside Blessing of the Ancients, Druids will always have a strong token-based approach to work with. Basically everything else is a trap, and the “vanilla” nature of the class means that its global winrate is almost always lower than its true potential.
Warlock (48.9% winrate per HSReplay) – Somewhat similar to Rogue but with less of an ability to gain initiative on the board from hand, Zoo-esque builds of Warlock remain the best bet but they’re often outclassed by the opposition. Keep in mind that Omega Agent remains a one-card solution for many late-game scenarios.
Hunter (48.4% winrate per HSReplay) – The return of Glaivezooka wasn’t quite enough in the end to unleash a renaissance of SMORc in the Arena, especially because Marked Shot and Unleash the Beast still have their offering bonuses and can conceivably push players towards a slower style. It’s quite possible to draft any sort of a Hunter from hyper-aggressive to pure control, and perhaps the biggest drafting challenge is to remain consistent in your approach throughout.
Shaman (47.1% winrate per HSReplay) – Yet another class that’s technically capable of going fast (with tokens) or very slow (hurray for Walking Fountain!) but is simply too slow to get on the board in many scenarios to maintain a stronger winrate. Unless you have a strong preference for Shaman, it’s a good idea to choose something else.
Priest (45.1% winrate per HSReplay) – The struggles of the bottom three on this list clearly show the difficulties of pulling off a control-based strategy. The buff to Extra Arms gave the class a modular (and therefore stronger) Blessing of Kings to play with alongside the return of Velen's Chosen, which does at least give you the option to try for a more aggressive draft. However, picking Priest is simply not a winning strategy.
Warrior (38.7% winrate per HSReplay) – Just don’t touch the class. Its abysmal winrate shows how ill-equipped it is for this tempo-heavy meta, and it will remain that way unless heavy micro-adjustments are made in its favor by the developers.