Every meta has decks you will love and hate. For many, these feelings will arise on the basis of something as simple as power level: the broken decks are the ones most treasured or despised, depending on whether you enjoy playing it. However, there are reasons to feel positively or negatively about decks or cards for reasons that have little to do with their average power levels. Sometimes there are things more fundamental to the way they are designed that can give rise to these emotions, even if they are underperforming.
That’s not to say that power levels don’t matter, just that you don’t need to tether every feeling you have about things to whether or not they’re Tier-1-levels of broken. With that said, let’s dive into some of the highs and lows I have seen rise from the Uldum meta.
Why Not Both?
Kicking things off, the Druid Quest Untapped Potential feels awful from a design perspective because it doesn’t feel like a quest at all. It doesn’t require that decks be built in any particular way to the point that even non-Druid decks could complete the Quest as easily as Druids (even if the reward isn’t as useful). It doesn’t even require that the Druids do anything to complete it, as you complete by not doing things. Putting it bluntly, this “quest” – if we’re even going to call it that – can be completed by an AFK player with any class. Further, when the quest is completed, the reward is completely passive, requiring no input of mana from the Druid, unlike every other quest reward in the set.
So it’s not a quest as much as timer, and when that timer goes off almost every card in the Druid’s arsenal becomes insanely powerful. The sheer consistency that comes with the quest feels silly when I consider how I’ve played Quest Rogue lists with half the deck devoted to completing the Quest and often only finish doing so after my Druid opponents.
This is topped off with the fact that it removes everything about the “Choose One” cards that is interesting: the part where you, well, choose one effect. Choosing one provides flexibility at the cost of options that might not be optimal. Being able to choose both, always, at zero extra cost, just leaves you with cards that are more powerful than they should be.
This isn’t to say the deck is unbeatable or overbearing on the meta, but rather to simply say the design is horrible. It requires zero player input to build a deck that could complete it, to actually complete it in a match, or to use it after completion, all while making previously-interesting choices about card usage irrelevant.
Death Will Rise From The Tide
Another low-point, design-wise has been the Murloc Paladin deck. This deck leverages the interaction between Prismatic Lens, Tip the Scales, and having no other spells in the deck. The typical outcome of having Prismatic Lens before turns 3 or 4 (depending on if you’re on the coin) then, is a card that reads “Draw and Play 7 minions from your deck (with synergy that may also draw other cards when they die)” for approximately 1-3 mana. While some decks are capable of dealing with that, a lot of the time it will just result in a win on the spot, akin to what Barnes used to be for Big Priest, but you get to play two copies of it. For perspective, the average win rate of the deck when it has a Lens in the mulligan is approximately 67%.
The absurd nature of that interaction get even weirder when you fully account for the impact this had on deck building in Paladin. If you remember from the Divine Favor Hall-of-Faming announcement, the Hearthstone team indicated that they didn’t want card draw to be one of the Paladin’s strengths. It would be odd, then, for an aggressive Paladin deck to play cards like Zephrys the Great (with many duplicates in their list) and Chef Nomi because the player can be relatively assured it will cycle through most or all of their deck if it draws Prismatic Lens, yet here we are.
Again, while this deck is not unbeatable, this type of play pattern is fundamentally bad for the game experience. When a player doesn’t have an answer to “my opponent drew lens,” by turn 4 they might as well just find the concede button. It’s very similar to why players had been clamoring for a nerf to Barnes for several years before finally getting it.
Bright Parts of the Uldum
Things aren’t all doom and gloom from a design perspective, though. A bright beacon of solid design in Uldum has been how the Aggro/Tempo Warrior lists have been shaping up. These decks represent some of the best fundamentals that Hearthstone has to offer: fighting for board in the early game, making pushes for the face in the later stages, and all throughout the experience is one that doesn’t feel like something unusually unfair is happening. While the deck does offer some potential for massive blow-outs in the early game when it draws the precise unanswered threats and combo pieces, this is generally not how the deck operates.
It manages to maintain a healthy win rate without causing people the same grief that aggressive decks of the past (like Pirate Warrior) tended to and without packing unhealthy amounts of non-interactive burst tools.
Ever since the reversion of the Extra Arms buff, the Combo Priest decks have also been posting good results and doing powerful things without breaking the foundations of the game play experience. While I understand that to some decks like Warrior and Priest might feel a little boring or linear, they represent the core of what makes Hearthstone a great game. They are decks which contain 30 cards placed in that deck intentionally, creating consistent game plans that both players are capable of planning for. While this isn’t to deny that “Created By” cards can generate exciting moments throughout the game, there’s something to be said for how much fun those moments are in relation to their rarity. When those moments happen all the time, they might cease to be fun and interesting and instead become tedious and frustrating.
Created By Meta
And make no mistake: these “Created By” cards are becoming an increasingly-large share of designed and shipped sets, sometimes reaching peaks close to every third card in a set by my estimates. Whether they create a single extra resource that shouldn’t be able to be included in a deck or many, they are rapidly becoming the normal state of affairs.
As a great case-in-point, one final aspect of the meta that I’m a bit ambivalent about is Quest Rogue. As a lifetime member and president of Valeera’s fan club, I do love Bazaar Burglary. Playing with the powerful tempo tools provided by the Quest and burgle synergies is a lot of fun and all the cards in the deck that create other cards from outside the game ensure that games are seldom the same. Figuring out what resources I will get and how to use them can be exciting and the deck is a blast for me to play.
Yet I can’t help but wonder whether my opponents have as much fun against the deck as I have piloting it. From their perspective, they don’t know what cards I’m generating and so their ability to plan and play around things is, in many respects, minimized. When they get slammed by a board clear I shouldn’t have access to in my deck, do they feel like they had fun or that they got cheated? If I burgle nothing useful do they feel their win was well deserved and satisfying? Is this the type of experience that should be fostered in Hearthstone and, if so, to what extent? Again, if the rules get broken all the time then those breaks cease to be novel and may instead erode something very core about what makes Hearthstone the game it is. Just ask anyone who has been through a Control Warrior mirror match and had it determined by who drew Dr. Boom, Mad Genius first or who got the better Archivist Elysiana.
This is why I highlighted the tempo-based Warrior and Priest decks as excellent parts of the meta. They represent some essential components of what makes Hearthstone great and help plant our feet to the ground so we can better appreciate those times things get shaken up.
In a similar vein, I know Zephyrs has been a polarizing card as well with respect to enjoyment. Some people love Highlander decks because they think they are hard to build, bring diversity to the meta, and make games feel different. Others hate these same decks, retorting that they aren’t any harder to refine than decks with duplicates, don’t usually make too many new and exciting cards see meta play, and can largely reduce matches to the question of, “Did my opponent draw their large power spike that I couldn’t realistically play around?” instead of whether a deck executed its overall strategy.
For my money, I fall into the latter group. Getting beaten by my opponent drawing their power spike card has felt bad from Prince Keleseth to the original Reno Jackson. The experience of losing to one of those cards gets old almost immediately. I was not pleased to see the Highlander mechanic return, much less seeing it played even in decks that contain plenty of duplicates because they intend to cycle their deck as quickly as possible (which we saw previously in Murloc Paladin). In that respect, if Highlander cards must exist, I would prefer their design at least speak to the original content of a deck. That is, their effect could begin: “If you deck began with no duplicates…” before giving the payoff. While I’d rather they not exist at all, if they must I’d like least like a design that specifically encourages one type of deck so as to reduce their ubiquity.