Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Netting the decks

I have been wondering how much the collectible aspect of Hearthstone affects the prevalence of netdecking.  Especially since it is possible to play Hearthstone F2P, and a lot of people do, there are a ton of people out there trying to play the game without a full collection available.

I have seen a bunch of people complaining that the new expansion has only been out a few weeks and still everyone is using whatever decks they see go up on their favourite Hearthstone website instead of making their own.  That is undeniably true, but a lot of people attribute it to laziness and greed while I think it might be more reasonably attributed to poverty.

Hearthstone poverty, at any rate.  Thing is, if you aren't putting real money into the game your resources aren't going to be substantial.  The dust required to craft a legendary could easily take a month of grinding to get at 60 minutes a day, even if you are quite successful at arena.  If you try out something fun that requires a legendary and a few epics and discover that your experiment really sucks, that hour of trying could easily cost you all the dust you earn in two months.  People really don't want to get stuck with cards they regret crafting, especially when getting those cards takes so long.

So obviously they netdeck.  Which doesn't mean they copy the entire decklist necessarily, but they check to make sure that top players are using the cards they intend to craft, and then they make a deck very similar to one that they know is successful.  This at least guarantees that they have something solid to pilot while they grind up dust for their next purchase.

Sure, you could insist that everyone should just be creative and play their own designs, but that is easy to say when you have a full collection and being creative has no cost aside from the time spent playing.  It is a lot harder when you are spending a finite resource each time you want to try something new out.

It makes me wonder how the metagame would shift if Hearthstone were a subscription service.  If everyone was playing with a full collection it would be trivial to build the exact same deck as the pros, but it would also be easy to make whatever tweaks you want.  I suspect this would lead to most players being more willing to experiment and try out wild ideas, but there are pressures both ways.

For example, I want to build a N'Zoth paladin.  The list I found uses Eadric the Pure.  He is not often used and I don't have confidence that crafting him is a good use of my resources, so I will find something else to fit in that spot.  However, I will definitely craft the Forbidden Healing cards that the deck uses because they seem irreplaceable.  I won't be running the same list that anyone else is (except by accident!) but I will definitely be using some of the ideas I have found online, and I will be checking to make sure that if I am crafting something it is something somebody else tried and found useful.

I know back when I was playing Magic a lot I ran rogue decks all the time.  I really enjoyed finding metagame choices that crushed the popular decks but which were unexpected and often terrible against the things that I didn't expect.  I would love to do the same in Hearthstone, but I can't just experiment all the time with wild ideas without just running out of resources and being stuck.

I understand why people netdeck.  I do it, sort of, and it is a natural result of the resource system and financial model of Hearthstone.  While I think going to a subscription model would help with this, that obviously won't ever happen so we can't test.  Unfortunate, that, because I love to learn about whether or not my guesses about social dynamics pan out.


  1. Also, Hearthstone just isn't Magic. The number of different things a deck can do is a much smaller space. The set just came out so a lot of people are going to be playing C'Thun and N'Zoth decks. How many different ways are there to build those decks? How is someone going to tell my custom-made C'Thun Druid from a netdeck C'Thun Druid or, for that matter, the in-game C'Thun Druid you can click on when you hit the make a new deck button. I'm not exactly a genius for realizing that Brann Bronzebeard goes well in a deck where half the minions have battlecry, or for deciding to use that hard-earned dust to craft Twin Emperors.

    And what about my aggro warlock? If I play a Flame Imp into Abusive Sergeant am I netdecking? Does it even matter if I am? Who wouldn't put these cards in their deck?

    I think people need to stop calling it netdecking when it's just building a really obvious deck. Other than miracle rogue, I can't think of a single hearthstone deck that really felt all that original.

  2. A subscription model would make the pressure to netdeck worse. I think in a subscription model, a casual player would face pro decks regularly. Mediocre cards would see less or no play and so the variety of decks will be much smaller.

    As a casual player, I don't have the cards to make an identical deck as the pros, so I there is a need to experiment with which cards could fill the holes. Hearthstone poverty as you describe leads to different card choices for most players. This leads to some mid-range cards being the best choice; since the best cards are not be available. I feel the evolving choices as I open packs has made the deck building options have continual appeal.