Current State of Competitive Hearthstone Sector One

Intro

Some of you may already know me from my Miracle Rogue guides, other articles or just from seeing me in a tournament and/or on streams. For those who wouldn’t know who I am, I’m a semi-pro Belgian Hearthstone player currently playing for Sector One competitively and from time to time I write some guides or give my opinion on certain changes in the meta.

This article will be my point of view, or rather rant, about the current meta and the direction Blizzard seems to be pushing the game. Especially from a competitive perspective.

First of all I want to start by saying that I’m completely aware that in every cardgame there is a certain ‘Luck’-factor that is unavoidable: Carddraws, matchup’s, plain RNG, etc… So I’m going to try not to complain about that too much.

What I am going to complain about is the fact that skill doesn’t have as much impact on the game than it should have.
If we put an extremely good player against a player who just plays casually on ladder every month and they both play tier 1 or 2 decks, the really good player is still only going to have a 70-75% winrate, maybe even less.
If we put an extremely good player against the average legend player then the winrate will easily drop down to 60%. While this seems ‘fair’ in a way, the good player has a decent edge, it only applies to ladder, where winning 3 out of 5 games is enough to rank you up.

If we are going to look at tournaments, providing your lineup doesn’t matter, winning the whole tournament against average players with a 60-70% winrate is just not going to happen, or at least it’s very unlikely and i’m being fairly generous with the percentages here.
You will eventually fall into that 30% a few times which will result in you being dropped out of the tournament.

But why are these percentages so low? Why is it not possible to win every bo5, or at least most of them? Because at the moment everything in the meta just pushes the ‘Skill’-factor away. Here are my number of reasons:

Tempo

The meta at the moment demands you to have a good mana curve starting from turn 1, having a 1-drop into a 2-drop and a 3-drop will put you on the board early and secure the tempo. Why is that bad? It makes it so that if one of the players misses a card one of these turns, he will be behind already, before he was even able to make a choice.
If there was a meta where you’d almost always skip turn 1 and 2 mana cards didn’t have too much impact (*cough* Totem Golem *cough*) then the chances of someone being ahead early purely due to card draw are already a lot smaller.

Not only because you drew 2 extra cards by turn 3 but also because you’d have more mana to actually make a choice about which cards you want to play.

Decktypes

As stated above, the strongest decks at the moment are the ones that curve out nicely and have an advantage on the board early.

The thing is, that wouldn’t have so much impact if the game allowed more ‘swing turns’. What I mean with that is that when you are behind on tempo but it is possible to play a card to regain tempo back or slow your opponent down. Freeze mage is a really good example of this. You try to stall your opponent, you draw as many cards as possible and then you finish your opponent off over 1 or 2 turns.

This is an example of a combo deck but there are other decks that were able to do that: E.g. Handlock. If your opponent wasn’t thinking ahead he could put you on a life total that allowed you to play Molten Giants for free (when they were still 20 mana), resulting in a shadowflame on the giant to clear the opponent’s board and/or taunt them up to make a defensive wall, low mana cost but a lot of result.

In order to do this, thinking ahead is extremely important, you have to actually make your opponent put you low enough without dying, these decks involve a lot of skill to play perfectly, it is near impossible.

Blizzard has been nerfing decks like Miracle Rogue, Handlock, Patron Warrior, Midrange Druid, Freeze Mage (Ice Lance rotating to wild) etc.. While these are the most skilled decks the game has ever seen. While I don’t disagree with all the nerfs and I understand that it is not ‘fun and interactive’ and really hard to balance, I simply do not understand why do it with every single combo deck.

Handlock and Freeze mage were never ‘overpowered’, a nerf was completely unnecessary. Patron Warrior felt extremely strong, but guess what: The overall winrate of patron warrior was slightly above 50%. Why would that be?
Maybe because people who won tournaments with it were actually really good with the deck and they deserved to win? And people who just tried playing the deck cause they heard it was strong kept losing. A deck that actually scales with skill? Outrageous, better nerf it!

Tournament format ‘Conquest’

I’ve talked with a lot of players that play Hearthstone for a living and most of them simply go to random.org to choose the deck they are going to start with it in a bo5.
While I don’t think that’s the correct thing to do, I’d rather have a choice, I still understand it, it’s a format where every single matchup is essentially a blind pick, you never know for sure what the matchup is going to be unless you are 0-2 behind. Why is this the most popular format? Easy for the viewers, no need to explain anything?

A tournament format that actually allowed the involvement of skill even before the game starts would be not only better for the competitive scene but also for Hearthstone as an eSport. So what is a good format? Last Hero Standing does involve skill but it has its flaws as well, if there are 2 decks in the meta that are really strong then you will be forced to ban one of them and hope you win against the other one. So you have to make a lineup that can win against this one particular deck, it’s hard to cover all the angles.

So then there’s our 3rd choice: The Strike Format, invented by Rdu, I’m not going to go too much into detail but it basically involves banning certain matchups. This allows you to play a certain lineup with decks that might not seem strong but can be really good if you can prevent their hardest counters. This picture should explain it:

Current State of Competitive Hearthstone Strike Banning System Sector One

I know that it might be a hassle to explain to the viewers on Twitch how it works but let’s be honest, most of them simply don’t care and just watch to see the gameplay and the people who do care will understand it eventually. Besides, if Blizzard would implement a tournament mode into the client then that ‘problem’ is off the chart.

So my conclusion is: Blizzard needs to allow decks that might not be so fun and interactive but that actually give you the possibility to make a comeback in a game, that make you think a few turns ahead because it is absolutely necessary for the current state of competitive Hearthstone. There should be a really clear difference between a pro player playing a deck and a player that is significantly worse.

Their most used argument is that it might confuse newer players or that they don’t like it but why would you focus on a smaller group of people? Skillful decks won’t be played on rank 20, they will be played in an environment with players that have been playing for years. Blizzard needs to stop making everyone think they can be the next World Champion just by being lucky.

Thank you for reading, feel free to comment and I’ll try to react to everything.

PS: I realised while writing the article that Lifecoach recently pointed out his problems with the scene. My opinions are similar to his but they are my own. I’m glad to see we agree though.