Thursday, October 29, 2015


In Heroes By Trade there are eight classes, each of which has themes associated with it both in terms of mechanics and flavour text.  Of course the most successful games are ones where the mechanics effectively reinforce the flavour, so I am trying to make that happen.  One thing I want to be careful of though is making classes too narrow in scope.  I remember what it was like in old DnD, where if you had a ton of enemies about you had to have a wizard because fighters could put out decent single target damage but were completely hopeless against groups.  I want to have themes, but I think it is good if people don't specifically have to rely on a particular class to fill a particular role.

AOE effects are the biggest thing here - in both DnD and HBT they iconically belong to the wizard.  My wizards use fire, ice, and lightning to blast huge areas and blow up tons of enemies at once.  That is their shtick!  However, I don't want them to feel like they are pointless when there is a single enemy to fight, nor do I want everyone else to check out when there are swarms of dorks.

My solution thus far has been to give everyone access to multiple target attacks, but to give most classes only a couple of options, and often to make those options fairly niche in application.  The Champion *can* AOE, but they can only do so while standing in the middle of a pile of enemies, and usually only by Grabbing all the enemies in the process.  They are meant to be tanks, so that is how their AOE effects play out.  Wizards on the other hand have a dozen different ways to AOE and can tailor their AOE to the situation at hand.  They will generally have exactly the sort of AOE the situation calls for which tends to make them the best at it.

The trouble I was having is that I wanted every class to be able to defend itself, AOE, have some mobility, deal extra damage, and more.  Also Powers are divided into ranks and if a class only has a single AOE ability that is found at Rank 13 that isn't any use to someone starting off who can only use Rank 6 Powers!  Balancing the need for individual flexibility with the structure of the Ranks was possible, but I ended up losing out on flavour.  There were just too many boxes to tick and I ended up with a bit too much homogeneity.

The structure I had was two Powers at each Rank from 5 to 13 for a total of 18 Powers per class.  By covering all the bases I generally only had 7 or so really thematic Powers per class, and 11 more generic ones.  My new plan is to keep all the Powers I had already built but add in 4 new ones to each class within the existing Ranks.  As long as all 4 new Powers fit the class theme really tightly I will raise my 'on theme' rate to 50%, which should be enough to make classes feel really different.

It is really tricky to walk the line between having classes be too narrow and forcing people into strict roles, and having classes be too flexible so that everyone is similar.  I think I am getting closer to the right spot in the middle, but it is a tricky thing to do.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

One dozen

I am all growed up as an Arena player in Hearthstone - today I finally got to 12 wins, which is the maximum possible.  I was so close to the perfect run, sitting at 11-0 with a super strong deck, but against my twelfth opponent I drew badly and missed my turn 2 drop.  That set me back hard on tempo and it took seven turns for me to struggle back.  I thought I had finally stabilized when my opponent dropped Avenging Wrath, clearing my board and dropping me to 3 health.  No problem, I thought - I can just drop a couple minions into play and then never take damage again!

I'll be fine!

Then my dastardly foe windmill slammed Tirion fucking Fordring into play.  (I can't see my opponent in Hearthstone, but I know they were windmill slamming it, interface be damned.)

I was not fine.

That guy is just not fair!  At least I can console myself with the fact that whether I played that game perfectly or not is absolutely irrelevant.  All my opponent had to do was trade well, put some pressure on, and perform said windmill slam.  Good game!  However, I can't be too sad.  At least I got beat by the greatest paladin of all time, and I do like me my paladins.

The next game got me my twelfth win without much issue though, as I managed to leverage my own completely unfair cards.  Turns out that Flamewaker x 2 plus 11 spells to trigger them leads to some pretty lopsided games.

I find comparing my deck's power score on the Hearth Arena system to my performance pretty interesting.  My score was 64.9, which is pretty average if you draft the way the site recommends, or just draft well on your own.  That score doesn't take into account your deck's synergies though and this deck certainly felt like by far the strongest I had ever drafted.  I had everything covered - great board clears, big removal, and a solid cast of dudes with a reasonable curve.  I didn't have any absurd legendaries but honestly Flamestrike fills the role of 'big cost card that just wins the game' pretty well.  Especially when you have +2 Spellpower and a Flamewaker in play!  PEWPEW

The thing that really put it over the top is that in addition to all the great removal and Flamewaker goodness I even had a lot of small stuff going for me.  I had dragon and mech synergies that both came home a lot, a Mad Scientist / Secret combo, and three mech sources of Spare Parts to fuel Flamewaker damage spewing.  It wasn't just a stack of good cards, but rather had all kinds of small things working together, and that package was *so* much more deadly than the individual card scores indicate.

Now I am back at it, hunting for yet another brutal set of cards that can let me ascend to the sky on a stairway made of shattered dreams and ragequits.

My decklist:

Zombie Chow
Clockwork Gnome

Amani Berserker
Loot Hoarder
Mad Scientist
Sorcerer's Apprentice
Haunted Creeper
Boneguard Lieutenant
Flamecannon x 2

Harvest Golem
Jungle Panther
Tinkertown Technician
Soot Spewer
Flamewaker x 2

Mechanical Yeti
Twilight Guardian
Dalaran Aspirant

Silver Hand Knight
Spectral Knight
Kvaldir Raider
Flame Lance

Drakonid Crusher

Flamestrike x 2

Force Tank Max

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Adding it all up

I have been thinking a lot lately about the way Blizzard costs cards in Hearthstone.  I have been looking to figure out my own formula and use it to describe why cards are powerful and get a grip on what a particular change to a particular card would do to its overall power level and its chance of getting played.  The really obvious card that makes this analysis interesting is Piloted Shredder, the ubiquitous 4 drop that is used in every kind of deck.

People love to hate the Shredder because for good or for ill it has nearly ended the use of all other 4 cost neutral minions.  The question is, how much better is it exactly than comparable other options, and what could be done to reduce the Shredder to similar strength to all of its compatriots like Chillwind Yeti, Sen'Jin Shieldmasta, and others?

My idea is this:  Cards should be evaluated based on what usually gets played.  For example, a 3 drop 3/4 is bad and isn't played - there needs to be something else.  Dark Cultist has a useful deathrattle, Spellslinger has a useful battlecry, Totem Golem comes out a turn earlier, Animal Companion has more stats, and Spider Tank can leverge its Mech type.  All of these cards I will assign value 3, as they are strong 3 drops that are regularly used.  A vanilla 3/4 isn't good enough to be played, so it has a value of 2.5.  It would be a crazy 2 drop, or a terrible 3 drop.  A 2 drop looks like King's Elekk, Knife Juggler, or Armoursmith.  5 stats and a good special I assign value 2.

So, given these benchmarks lets look at some cards.  We have vanilla minions that draw 1 card (1/1 for 2, or 2/4 for 4) and they don't see much play.  A 1/1 costs -0.5, and adding a card draw is worth 1.5 mana for a total value of 1 mana.  A 2/4 costs 2 and with that same value for the card is worth 3.5 mana.  In both cases they are weak for their cost, and as expected they see little play.  On the other hand we have Azure Drake, who is actually good.  4/4 is worth 3, spellpower is .5, and the card draw is 1.5 so Azure Drake is worth 5, and in fact it does see quite a lot of playtime as a result.

Now let's look at the family of minions that gives you an extra minion when they die.  Haunted Creeper is first up.  Those 2 1/1s are worth .5 mana, and a 1/2 is worth 0 mana.  However, you don't have to spend 2 cards to get those things, so we credit the Creeper with 1.5 mana worth of cards drawn.  This leaves us with a total value of 2, which as you would expect means that the Creeper is a solid 2 drop.

Harvest Golem gives a value of 1.5 for the basic 2/3 body and 0 for the 2/1 that follows.  Add in the 1.5 for the extra card we are getting and the Golem clocks in at 3, which is exactly its cost.  This suggests that the Golem is a strong 3 drop, and although it doesn't see a huge amount of play it is definitely worth including.  I think that is accurate, though perhaps a slight overstatement.

Now for Piloted Shredder!  A 4/3 is a bad 3 drop, so we value it at 2.5.  A random 2 drop is a lot worse than the sort of 2 drop people normally play, so it is only worth 1.5 mana.  However, because we are getting two cards out of it we again add 1.5 for the card and arrive at a beastly 5.5 total.  I personally feel like that is too charitable and that we should subtract another .5 from the total because the random 2 drop can actually be a huge detriment or just plain awful, and 4/3 is a really bad stat spread.  Even then, Piloted Shredder is a 4 drop minion with 5 mana worth of value baked in, which definitely makes all the fuss seem justified.

So, given that Piloted Shredder is clearly over the top compared to other 4 drops both by popular play numbers and by my 'scientific' analysis, what could we do if we wanted to make Shredder more in line with other cards?  My thought is that it should become a 4/2.  That preserves the Shredder as the go to choice for aggro decks as they want to bash hard or mech decks because of the mech type, but it suddenly becomes a lot more vulnerable to 1 and 2 drops and AOE effects killing the main body.  At that point it looks pretty mediocre for a control deck, and even midrange decks would have to consider if they actually want it over a Chillwind Yeti.  I suspect they still go for Shredder because of the strength against direct removal and board sweepers but it is a close call at that point, which is exactly what I was aiming for.

I should note that I don't think that the Shredder is a huge problem.  It is in a lot of decks but nowhere near all of them.  However, it is definitely the top of the heap and any new neutral 4 drop is going to have to be absolutely insane to compete.  You gotta know that a Mech statted for beatdown that appears in non Mech control decks has something sketchy going on there!  If I were in charge I would probably tinker with it because of that limitation.  However, I don't think that nerfing Shredder is necessary as Blizzard does want to have a light touch that way.

Dr. Boom though, that guy needs the nerfbat in the worst way.  (Boom bots should do 1-2 damage instead.  Still great, but less ludicrous in the extreme cases.)

Note that my formula just doesn't work when you get up to really high cost minions.  It seems to generate good results in the lower costs, but I think Blizzard really just eyeballs it when things cost 6 or more.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Mountains of trash

I decided that it was time to push my constructed ranking in Hearthstone.  I am kind of limited in this regard because my collection isn't best described as having some holes... more appropriately it would be described as a lot of holes that have a few cards.

However, even though this means that I can't really push for top rankings it won't stop me from trying to crush some dreams.  I can't win through most normal means because I don't have strong top end legendaries so my late game is wretched - control decks just don't work.  I lack a lot of the core aggressive cards too, but I am a lot closer to building a solid aggro deck than I am a control deck.  In any case it just isn't plausible for me to really accomplish much either way.  Everyone knows how to respond to face hunter rushes and if I play face hunter without the proper cards I won't have much success.

The only solution, it would seem, is to go rogue.  (Not rogue like using daggers, but rogue like doing something wacky.)

It brings me back to my Magic days, where I would look at all the core decks and get disgusted with rock paper scissors, leading me to build something crazy.  The crazy wasn't usually particularly good in and of itself, but it had the advantage that nobody knew what was going on and I could often lock in wins because my opponents would mulligan wrong or play into my traps because they didn't know what I was doing.

In that vein, I decided to defeat my opponents with mountains of trash.  I took a bunch of cards that leverage having a ton of dorks in play and combined them with a collection of cards that put a ton of dorks in play.  Specifically I am using Bloodlust, Frostwolf Warlord, Knife Juggler, Dire Wolf Alpha, and Flametongue Totem.

Since I am using all of these cards that leverage having a lot of minions in play, it was definitely prudent to make swarms of minions!  There are some genuinely good ways to make extra minions like Piloted Shredder and Haunted Creeper but I am also using questionable minions like Razorfen Hunter, Nerubian Egg, and Echoing Ooze.

Thing is, both of those cards have uses.  It isn't as though they are completely worthless, they just don't make the cut in real decks.  However, in a deck like mine they are pure gold.  The trick is that my opponents surely underestimate me when they see bad cards like those drop onto the battlefield but they end up being plenty effective when I manage to apply all of my force multipliers.

The way games inevitably play out is that I pile my load of trash onto the board and my opponents struggle to deal with it all, taking a bit of damage but slowly working their way towards the late game and their really powerful cards.  Then suddenly POW they are facing an army of buffed idiots and they fold like a gambler who missed a gutshot straight.

I tried lots of decks to get out of the Rank 15 doldrums from Mech Mage to Control Priest to Mech Warrior and nothing was able to win games consistently.  My Mountains of Trash Shaman deck though, that thing is tearing through people.

At some point I am going to start running up against people with enough skill and quality decks that this silly strategy isn't going to fly anymore.  I haven't hit that wall yet though, so I am going to keep on crushing dreams as long as the crushing is good.  Winning feels good in general, but seriously, winning with garbage cards like these somehow is even better.


2x Abusive Sergeant
1x Earthbiter Weapon
2x Zombie Chow

2x Haunted Creeper
2x Echoing Ooze
2x Knife Juggler
2x Flametongue Totem
2x Nerubian Egg
2x Direwolf Alpha

2x Hex
2x Razorfen Hunter
1x Tuskarr Totemic

2x Piloted Shredder

2x Bloodlust
2x Frostwolf Warlord

2x Fire Elemental

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Rolling dice

I have been playing Hearthstone drafts as often as gold will allow (since I am not yet good enough to go infinite) and it has been interesting to see both how my wins work and how it works for other people.  I see a lot of claims from people talking about Hearthstone drafting online that they expect to go 7-3 all the time and that doing so is standard for them.  I found these claims dubious - there cannot be enough people out there drafting for so many people to get to 7-3 in every match... after all, half of the 6-2 decks lose to another 6-2 deck at that point!

To be honest, it blows my mind how many people must be going 1-3 to support all of the really top notch players, to say nothing of people like me who generally get 5.5 wins per arena.

However, something I read about suddenly made these claims of constant 7-3 drafts make sense.  There was a thread talking about the Retire button that allows you to quit a draft partway through instead of playing it out to get all your losses, and a lot of people were talking about how they keep good decks and play them and just retire bad decks right away.  It strikes me that it is much easier to constantly go 7-3 when you retire all of your poor decks and only run the ones where the draft went perfectly!  I would never do that because I am gold limited, but someone who has a job and just pays cash for Arena runs has no particular incentive to play out crappy decks - it is just 2 bucks to start up a new one.

The simpler explanation is of course that people on the internet are just full of it, but I wanted to find something a little more complicated than that.

Not to say that there is nobody who can manage a 7-3 standard, but no way no how are all the people claiming that telling the truth.

My last two drafts were both with mage and they felt similar.  Each one had 3 removal spells, a couple of good lategame bombs, and a bunch of solid midgame cards with a couple of duds that I wasn't happy playing.  Deck 1 had better quality removal and a more reliable curve because Deck 2 had way too much in the four slot and not nearly enough in the two slot.  Hearth Arena ranked Deck 1 higher, and I certainly felt that way both after the draft and upon later inspection.  It wasn't a huge difference, but Deck 1 was a better deck.

So I went 1-3 with Deck 1, and 8-3 with Deck 2.  Maybe you can say that I am just a bad player and I don't know how good a deck is, but given that 90% of my picks agreed with the Hearth Arena picks I can't be *that* far off.  Basically what happened is good proof that there is an awful lot of randomness in Arena.  As much as anecdotal evidence can prove anything, at any rate.

I know that there is a lot of skill in drafting.  I am getting better at a tremendous rate and soon I won't need a website to help me make strong picks.  But what is clear is that very often in Hearthstone draft you just play things on curve and end up hoping that your opponent doesn't have Consecration because you can't avoid it.  Do they have it?  Lose!  Not have it?  Win!  You can play around things to some extent, but you are often left looking at the board facing either passing the turn or throwing down a minion that will just blow up to Consecrate and you get blown out if you guess wrong.  Of course you can substitute Flamestrike, Holy Nova, etc. for Consecration and get the same result.

It is fun as hell in the same way that Magic drafts were always fun, and I am feeling that familiar feeling of deep seated addiction setting in.  Must draft MOAR!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

To the ground, Commander

In the Hearthstone metagame there is a deck called Patron Warrior that has been a real fixture for some time now.  It focuses around (surprise!) a card called Grim Patron that is a 3/3 which makes a new copy of itself if it survives damage.  This effect is potentially really powerful and interacts well with all of the ways that warrior decks have to AOE the board for 1 damage or ping their own creatures.  The deck can just play for value and use its synergy to try to beat the opponent down, but usually they just sit around waiting for their big combo and kill the opponent in 1 turn. (OTK)

Nobody really has a problem with the interactive Patron play that focuses on getting good value.  It requires thought and strategy on both sides.  However, people really don't like having full health, a few minions in play, their opponent with nothing, and then dying to a OTK combo.  Players really object to having no idea what the game state is and then suddenly blowing up.

This is something that Magic dealt with back in the day when Counterspell decks, land destruction, and discard were all strong at various points.  People, new players especially, absolutely hate playing against hard control where they don't get to do anything.  They may not win against a superior player who just plays better creatures but at least they feel like they were playing the game.

Blizzard decided that the OTK aspect of Patron Warrior had to go and I think they were absolutely right in that regard.  The trick is to figure out what part of the combo needs to die.  Patron himself is iconic, has plenty of interesting tricks going on, and can be used in cool ways that aren't OTK so he isn't a good target for a nerf.  What Blizzard went with instead is Warsong Commander.  Right now she gives all minions that enter play with 3 or less Attack value the Charge ability so they can attack right away.  This is extremely powerful when played in a combo that hopes to generate a half dozen minions in a turn, and is the engine behind the OTK.  In a non combo situation like a draft she is playable, sometimes quite good, but never overpowered.

The new version of Warsong Commander loses her current ability and gains "All your Charge minions gain +1 Attack."  This isn't just a complete change of her function, it also reduces her from having a good ability to having a extremely weak one.  She is utterly finished in constructed play, worthless beyond belief, and in fact is so bad that she will crash to unplayable garbage status in draft too.  Was this nerf on the right card, and to the right degree?

My feeling is that the answer is yes to the first question, no to the second.  WC is a problem.  Any new minion is going to have to be designed with the idea in mind that it may have haste from WC.  If minions spawn more minions, everything has haste and keeps on beating.  If anything is fragile to make up for its incredible power, it can go right away and ignore that fragility on the first turn.  WC's current effect is a huge design constraint because Charge has consistently been a massive balance issue.  It always will be, I suspect, and WC is a serious problem in generating OTK decks or other more general balance issues.

So what is the answer?  To my mind the key thing is to make sure that WC is a powerful card in draft but not let it be a combo generator.  If Blizzard wants to keep the bonus to Charge minions Attack value then WC has to have better stats - Charge isn't a common ability.  If WC's cost was dropped to 2, she would be a 2/3 for 2 which is a totally reasonable pick in draft.  Similarly if her stats were bumped to 3/4 and cost kept at 3, she would again be a okay draft pick even without a bonus ability.  However, Warriors are absolute garbage in draft right now so I lean towards making her absolutely superb in draft to try to give them another powerful common card to use.

I would make WC a 3/4 for 3 with the ability "Your Charge minions have +2 Attack."  She would be a fine body to slam down in any case, reasonably survivable, and if you have a few Charge minions she would be fantastic at making them butcher the enemy.  In constructed my version of WC could end up becoming a staple in some kind of aggressive warrior deck, would be a great draft pick, and wouldn't cause any combo problems.

Blizzard is making a reasonable choice in nerfing WC to try to stop the current OTK frustration and to prevent it in future.  However, when considering the rest of the game I think it is clear they should take this opportunity to change Warsong Commander into something that will shore up one of the glaring weaknesses of Hearthstone at the moment - Warrior performance in draft.  Should they go forward with their stated intention WC will end up in the heap of worthless cards that nobody ever plays, and that would be a waste.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Enter the Arena!

Having acquired all of the Hearthstone adventures I am now investing all my spare gold into drafting.  Doing so introduces the question of whether or not I should be using automated deck builders to make my choices.  I am signed up on Hearth Arena where I can input each of my card choices and it tells me which of the three cards to pick.  It isn't just going off of a single rank - it actually figures out synergies between cards, tries to build a good curve, and works on building a strategy.  It isn't perfect obviously but I am actually really impressed with just how good it is.

Thing is, it feels like cheating.  I am not picking my own cards, but rather I am asking a computer to pick them for me based on a pro's theories.  I do overrule the site's suggestions, but not that often.  Once I get to the games I am on my own but while drafting I am a proxy for a robot in some ways.

Certainly I look forward to abandoning my cybernetic drafting crutch.  It will feel good to toss it aside once I am better than the algorithm, but at this point I am not.  I am focusing on using it to teach myself though so I figure out my pick before asking it for its opinions and then adjust my sense of the game based on what comes up.  Sometimes I end up being surprised at how wrong I am - I thought Ironbeak Owls were pretty good, and the computer does not! - but I pick the correct card about 90% of the time according to Hearth Arena.

I would like to test it thoroughly, to check its results in actual play when cards come up, but that is a tough thing to do.  After making a tricky pick I change my drafting in response so I can't just imagine that my Azure Drake is a Knife Juggler when I draw it because the fact that they cost 5 and 2 mean that I draft later cards differently after making that choice.  Sometimes I really do get smacked in the face with why a card is good though.  Today I used Mind Vision based on the advice of the site even though it looked totally janky to me... but I saw a Mind Control Tech in my opponent's hand and seeing that changed my game completely and let me play around his card.

My learning is progressing nicely.  Since I started recording drafts my win rate is 65.91%, which seems pretty great for only having ten drafts under my belt in total.  I am certainly not at the point where I go infinite yet and I will have to improve substantially to achieve that but I am definitely on my way.

Mostly I figure I shouldn't feel guilty for using external resources to draft.  I am learning quickly, enjoying myself, and using a resource that everyone has access to.  Add onto that the fact that the algorithm is fall from infallible and it is hard to see it as The Dark Side Of Gaming.

Someday I am going to be someone who can say "Pah, people who use bots to draft for them are noobs."  I look forward to my opportunity to be an elitist asshole.  Someday!

I must say though that I am so happy with the format of Hearthstone drafts compared to all the Magic drafts I did back in the old days.  I don't have to haul myself across the city to draft, it doesn't take tons of setup, and I can commit to it in fifteen minute chunks if I am so inclined.  I remember needing to devote several hours and ten bucks to a Magic draft and the fact that I can have that same experience spread out over several days for no money (or, I suppose, I could pay $2 for it) is just ... magic.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Fired up, Inner style

I finally decided to give Blizzard some money.  I haven't done so in WOW for some time now as I can easily fund my play with tokens bought via in game gold but now they have collected money from me for Hearthstone.  They are going to get me one way or another, it seems.  Hearthstone's payment scheme is set up such that it is far more efficient to spend money on adventures that come with both cards and a bunch of single player challenges and then spend in game gold on drafting and buying packs.  I really wanted to get going with drafting as well as having all of the cards from adventures, so $25 got shipped off to Blizzard to purchase Blackrock Mountain.

Now that I have access to all the Blackrock Mountain bosses I have been grinding away at heroic modes.  In theory these are wildly variable puzzles that usually require figuring out which cards can beat a particularly challenging layout and then getting enough luck to win.  For many of the challenges that theory holds... but unfortunately a lot of the really challenging heroic modes are all solved the same way.  There is a two card combo that beats most of the hard stuff, and it looks like this:

So you get a minion with high health, double its health a couple times, then turn your 2/48 minion into a 48/48 minion and win the game.  Smash.  This technique bypasses all kinds of difficult situations and lets you ignore multi stage fights by simply killing the boss in one turn instead of letting them go through their stages based on how much health they have left.  This wouldn't be frustrating except that there are an awful lot of fights that depend on this single combo to beat them, so instead of a really tricky puzzle it just consists of using the combo deck over and over again because the AI doesn't have appropriate spells to deal with it and doesn't understand what is happening anyway.

The silly thing is that these spells are common but I don't own any of them so the encounters are nearly unwinnable for me.  Eventually I will get them, but for the moment is isn't really a matter of strategy but simply a matter of finding these particular cards and then blowing the enemies out.

Many times I have tried a heroic boss a number of different ways and come up short, having no idea what I could do to beat them with the cards I have.  Eventually I look up other people's ideas online and lo and behold, they are using cards I don't have to smash the encounter.  The cards I don't have are usually the common ones oddly enough and while most of the time it is Inner Fire I also could really use a Crazed Alchemist or two to beat heroic Thaurissan.  (Crazed Alchemist is also completely nuts vs. Razorgore, but I just beat that one without it.)

Overall the variety in the puzzles looks pretty big at first glance, but they do have the issue that most classes are completely hopeless at the puzzles.  The main thing is that the bosses start with a ton of health and usually have some crazy aggressive start so you simply cannot rush them down.  Doing 60 damage to an enemy with an aggressive deck isn't possible when you have 30 health and they are rushing you back and have some massive bonus stacked on top.  The only way to beat most of the heroic modes is to stabilize, clear their threats, and eventually find a way to win, and it is almost universally priest or mage that is ideal for doing that.  Mage for the fights where you aren't allowed to have minions, which is a common theme, and priest for everything else.

I don't know how feasible it would be to make a control oriented heroic mode that rewards rushing instead of controlling on the player's part.  Vaelestrasz is the closest to that model because he tries to blow you up by running you out of deck but he just wasn't that hard.  I put together a random deck with all the cheap junk I could click on and smashed him, so clearly it wasn't as hard as all that.  I certainly didn't need to reload over and over like I did on some bosses to get the perfect draw to keep myself alive against their starting brutality like Loatheb!

There is a lot of fun to be had working your way through heroic modes.  The general experience is good and I like it... but I do wish it wasn't quite so clear that there is one best way to beat a lot of the hardest encounters, particularly when those encounters are the endbosses and they have such interesting staged abilities.  I hope the next adventure contains a lot more fights like Baron Geddon and Vaelestrasz because I felt like I had to do some really cool stuff to deal with their abilities that wasn't just limited to a formula I had already figured out.

Friday, October 2, 2015

What is normal?

Blizzard recently nerfed a bunch of things in normal mode Hellfire Citadel, the last raid of the current  WOW xpac.  The previous model had been that Raid Finder mode was ridiculously easy and had many mechanics removed, normal and heroic mode were identical except for the numbers, and mythic mode was much more difficult both in terms of numbers and mechanics.  This xpac I never took part in mythic difficulty so I can't speak authoritatively on that point, but from everything I have read the mythic raiders were very impressed.

Throughout the xpac it felt weird to do normal and then heroic with no changes in strategy.  Aside from 'have better gear' and 'play tighter' there wasn't anything else to add.  It always felt a bit strange to have nothing more to learn, and honestly made heroic feel like a bit of a letdown.  I was always a lot less interested in heroic modes in Highmaul and Foundry and after seeing Hellfire Citadel through on normal I just had no interest left in pursuing heroic.

No however Blizzard has removed a bunch of mechanics, especially on the harder encounters, and I am sure people stuck on those encounters will rush through them now.  They defended the decision to remove mechanics entirely instead of simply nerfing damage by saying that it was silly to list mechanics that did so little there was no reason to pay attention to them.  Focus on a few things, make those things actually dangerous, and pull the rest out entirely.  I agree with that strategy completely.

I suspect I would have enjoyed raiding more this xpac if the entire thing had been done this way.  We would have proceeded more rapidly through normal mode for sure and the heroic modes would have felt interesting as new things would need to be incorporated into our strategy.  The fights always felt like a huge amount of information was incoming at the beginning and then to have nothing new arrive the second time around felt - off.  Certainly the numbers still have to go up, and the general tuning can be tougher, but adding a completely new thing to deal with would keep me interested I think, moreso than the old design.

In general going through the same content over and over again is going to have limited appeal.  Running the raid on Raid Finder, then normal, then heroic is a chore and burns it out quickly.  however, I really do think that ratcheting up both the complexity and the tuning for every difficulty setting is the right way to go.

Here's hoping they do this for the next xpac, whenever that is.