So I got to Legend level in Hearthstone. Yay. I'm ... kind of proud of this achievement? I'm a little sad that I had to use pirate warrior again, pretty much without any Un'Goro cards (the latest expansion). But honestly there's only a few options for real laddering at the moment and I was already familiar with pirate warrior. Additionally I just really like the way pirate warrior plays, being fast and furious.
Climb to legend
Due to the, in my opinion, silly way of how the rotation happens a week after the new ladder started, I decided it would probably be a good idea to climb to the "safe" rank 5 before the new rotation would set in. While even that climb took me some trouble, I did manage to do so and that turned out to be a good decision because I was immediately able to care free play around with the new cards.
The new rotation completely smashed the meta. I was surprised at how much trouble that gave me, being unable to put my opponent on its hand. I clearly saw the change of meta. From taunt warrior to quest mage to quest rogue and plant rogue to mid range hunter to aggro druid to mid range and murloc pally. In fact, the first time I nearly got to Legend rank I was on three stars rank 1 when instead of rogues I started seeing a lot of paladins. I tumbled all the way down to rank 3 zero stars before climbing back up, ultimately reaching Legend (after about 6 gate keepers...). That was pretty incredible.
For the record, looking at the decktracker stats I got 126:98 on all pirate warrior versions combined in my climb from rank 5 to Legend. This excludes about 10 matches on mobile, which I stopped adding to the tracker after kind of giving up on getting there and just playing for fun. In total, between rank 5 and Legend, I played 276:398 (675) matches with any deck, though in my defense many of those were on rank 5 in "don't care just testing" mode. If we only look at rank 4 - rank 1 it's 117:99 for any deck I played in this month. Again, this excludes some matches on mobile and it looks like it's nearly exclusively as pirate warrior.
It took me a long time to find my way in the new meta. I tried many new decks with the new cards but none of them really popped for me. For a while I wasn't sure whether I could even get anywhere beyond rank 5 until somebody convinced me that pirate warrior was in fact still viable. And so I went with it.
The Un'Goro meta
I wasn't planning to but while writing this blog post I ended up describing most of the decks I've seen while playing between rank 5 - 1 and my own experience with them. So here we go.
So as far as my Un'Goro collection goes; I got five quests, all the commons and rares, most of the epics, and many of the legendaries. Not all legendaries, for example I have five of the nine quests (hunter, warrior, rogue, mage, shaman), but I think most of the important ones. I think I've opened about 200 Un'Goro packs for this? And some of the quests were crafted.
I played a lot of the new deck arche types but I'm sad to report that I couldn't really find a stable way of laddering with the new decks.
Taunt warrior was okay but it gets really boring because the aggro games feel like a coin toss, kind of. And the other matches really just last to or near fatigue. It was refreshing to play the other side of warrior, though. But the trading phase often took long and I actually find them quite boring. Playing 15 minutes of trading just to get to the meat of the match feels like a waste of time when you could finish the match within 5 minutes with pirate warrior all the same.
When I played taunt warrior for a while the quest mage was hot in the meta and there's really no way to beat it with a slow deck. As a pirate I did beat quite some taunt warriors but most of them beat me by nature. The taunt warrior might be more viable now that quest mage is out and jade druid is rare.
I really like quest rogue. The quest is well doable to get quickly and the reward is satisfying. The problem is of course that it's either not very reliable or you leave yourself very open to aggro (and reliability still leaves something to be desired). The aggro problem remains regardless because you are super focused on completing that quest and not so much on board control. So by the time you complete the quest you may already too far behind. And even if you do get the quest, you may have wasted too many pieces and are left with a hand without minions to make use of the quest.
While I did initially use "dog's list" as well, I eventually ended up with the more quest-aggressive version that has vanish. Vanish actually works well against aggro, but only if you manage to get a prep fast enough.
This kind of replaced miracle rogue. Instead of questing and vanish you have a Sherazin minion with the unique revive ability, and a vilespine slayer which outright destroys a minion when combo'd. That's a super strong battlecry.
To me it plays a lot like miracle rogue. I think the plants "revive" mechanic is a little misleading but such is life. I think it should keep its buffs and what not when dead. Now it's actually a "replace" more than a "revive". (I know it syncs with how dead creatures in MtG lose all their enchantments, but that's different and also "regenerated" creatures do keep their enchantments but of course are not "revived" but "regenerated", if there's a real difference anyways.)
I played quite a bit with plant rogue (even tried a malygos variation but that's experiment ended quickly). It was the first one that got me to rank 4 in the meta. But I quickly got dropped back to rank 5 zero stars. That's when I traded it in for pirate. Fun deck but I couldn't reliably win on the ladder. This might be my favorite deck, though.
This was the first quest I tried and ... well it was lovely but it's too slow. It's too slow to finish the quest (takes about 5 or 6 turns of playing 1-drops) and it's too slow to actually reap the rewards. The main piece is an 8/8 without taunt or charge. It's spawn (15 3/2 raptors with "draw a card" battle cry) has no charge so it's just sitting on your board waiting to be picked off by the opponent. Sure, it may not have an answer. But turn 7 or 8 that's unusual. And your draw is not consistent as you have about a 50% chance to draw into a raptor and that train often stops before you fill the board. So I like the quest but it's mostly for fun. I believe the community agrees with that.
In the middle of the Un'Goro meta the appearance of the mid-range hunter suddenly spiked. I should say reappearance because I hardly saw any hunters in the previous three months. That showed because initially I had no idea how to handle them. Worse yet, I had no idea to play them. So there was a conundrum; a deck I could neither defeat nor play. Even though it was supposedly a super simple deck.
By now I've learned to do both. They play on curve and synergies. You defeat them by very aggressive board control. The power comes from combo's with other minions. 1-drop into hyena into razormaw into houndmaster. If you don't break that chain you'll have a very hard time regaining the board. Very similar to pirates, I guess, just slightly slower as there's almost no (early) charge involved. I still don't like playing mid-range hunter.
As everyone knows Shaman got a big kick in the teeth. The previous archetypes are all (I think?) dead now. There are (at least) two new shamans, one of them is elemental. It relies on the new "elemental" type and synergizes by having many cards that trigger an additional effect "if you played an elemental in your previous turn".
I think it's actually a lovely deck. I got the central legendary, Kalimos, only midway through the meta from a random pack. And I don't have any Blazecallers and did not want to waste the dust on them, seeing how the deck is considered to be sup-par. So instead I ran with some other big elementals. The deck is nice, for sure, and triggering the combo requires some thinking ahead. That's a little unusual since most combo's rely on what you do in your current turn.
I actually need more practice with this deck. It may need more removals or something to stop the early game bleed.
Note that this is the only class and deck that can actually synergize around the elemental type (not counting that one mage card).
The quest for shaman is summoning (not playing, like rogue quest) 10 murloc creatures. There are a ton of cards available to do this, but three big activators are "call in the finishers" (spell that summons 4 murlocs), a totem that summons one murloc every turn, and the legendary finja which summons 2 murlocs when it kills a minion. Well and a bunch of cheap single murlocs, of course. The reward is a murloc that, when cast, will fill your hand with (very) random murloc cards.
It's not that difficult to pull off the quest. And since most of those murloc cards are cheap, you have plenty of stuff to fill the board. The problem is that you'll still be struggling with a fairly weak board once you get the quest mid game. The reward is an 8/8, but that minion is often removed fairly quickly (and beware of the dirty rat... yikes). And your hand will be filled with random 1 to 3 drops. Most will be fairly weak, some may buff each other. But even at 10 mana, you can only summon so much. And of course only one murloc actually has charge so it's all slow as well.
I like playing the quest but I find it difficult to pull off a win due to the weak nature of the murlocs. That probably means I'm playing it very wrong. Maybe you need some additional setup, which makes it sound like "win more". I'm not sure if this quest is viable to me.
I can be quick about this; zoolock lost some pieces and gained some new pieces.
I don't have the new discard legendary. Was tempted to craft it but I'm not convinced it's worth the effort for now. Zoolock doesn't seem to be very viable.
I only tried zoolock briefly and it didn't feel great. This was early in the meta, though, so perhaps it deserves a second chance now that the dust has settled a bit. But without the legendary it'll always feel a little like pirate warrior without the patches.
This plays around the Giant Anaconda which summons a random 5+ drop from your hand when it dies. I played around a bit with this deck, also with the new deathrattle legendary (Spiritsinger Umbra) that triggers a deathrattle when you summon a deathrattle minion, and Y'Shaarj which summons a random minion from your deck into the battlefield but perhaps I tried too hard. The anaconda is relatively slow, luck based, and even then. The deck needs some tuning for sure and with all the aggro I'm not convinced it's very viable right now.
But when you can pull off the combo it's great :)
I can't seem to really play this one. You need to build a board to win. So against control you've got a problem. I may have had some bad luck with my draws though. You need early minions and you need the buffs. As with all aggro's, you need an opponent that doesn't control the board too hard or you won't have any minions left to buff.
The new living mana spell can be a pivotal play, usually played at T5 or T6. Against aggro with weak board it's almost an instawin. Pirate, for example, has no way to deal with a full board of 2/2s. However, it can backfire as an instaloss against silence priest or vanish rogue. The mass silence is not common but oh boy if it hits your living mana. Vanish rogue happens more frequently. Obviously pirate warrior is far more frequently so it's probably still worth it.
Kind of surprisingly, the more classic jade druid is still doable. I played it for a while and its game hasn't changed much from before. You have a slightly harder time against aggro since you've lost living roots, which was a good second class 1-drop. But most of the cards are still there. Additionally there's Earthen Scales which gives you +1 armor per attack of a minion. So late game golumns of 10+ attack pretty much means a 10+ heal for 1 mana.
When I was playing this the non-quest mage was popular and these matches almost always ended in fatigue or concede because the mage can't kill you when you fully armor up late game (30 hp + 2x8 + 2x10+ = 68hp or more). Mages simply don't have the burst to deal with that and your jades deal with the board. And against taunt warrior, the other popular deck at the time, it's very similar except it depends a little on how well you can rebuild the board late game.
Jade druid, when it survives past mid-game, almost always seems to go into fatigue though. And this can lead to a bit of a boring game to me.
I never played dragon priest pre-ungoro because I didn't own the key pieces. I have most of the pieces now and didn't really enjoy playing it. I've read people that still think it's viable, though, so it's very likely I just don't know how to play this properly :)
I always thought the inner fire combo is just a fun thing ("meme deck"). But silence priest is a thing. I've played it for a bit and I like it. But it works much better with a surprise factor. And at this point everybody that sees a "statue" ("can't attack") from a priest will just kill it anyways AND immediately know what deck you're playing. Silence priest is fun but can still be hard to pull off since you need a few key pieces.
I do actually have Lyra, the new masterpiece legendary for priest, but it's super random. If it can stay on the board then great and it'll be fun. It did lead me to mill myself a few times but that doesn't happen too often. Most often than not it's like a Brann for me; use it immediately and expect it to die fast. It might as well be taunt.
The class that got really popular near the end of the month was paladin. I think this was in part caused by some community posts predicting this, it kind of feels like a self fulfilling prophecy.
There are two basically two kinds of paladin; an aggro one that opens with murlocs and goes into megasaur and finja. The other one is more about control, also starts with murlocs but then goes into wickerflame, sunkeeper, and runs away with healing ragnaros. I've seen one or two quest paladins but their quest reward, a 5/5 that adapts 5x, is still just a single target to remove so too vulnerable to many classes. And otherwise you have to waste an adapt on "non-targetable" and another one on "stealth". And even then, it's still too rngy.
Anyways, I played a bit of the aggro version but didn't stick with it. I can't play the more popular mid range version because I don't have a Wickerflame nor a Ragnaros Lightlord. Since I think those pieces are important for deck consistency, I just can't play it.
One of the popular quests early on was quest mage. There are two versions; "otk exodia mage" and the one with arcane giants whose canonical name I don't know.
The exodia mage is a cutesy play where you use two sorcerer's apprentices (spells cost 1 less) and copy them with a molten reflection (copy a friendly minion). This makes all 4-drop spells free. Then you cast the quest for 1 mana and pass the turn (or whatever) to get another one. In your second turn you cast Archmage Antonidas who gives you a fireball whenever you cast a spell. Fireballs deal 6 dmg for 4 mana, so they are free to cast. As you probably know by now, this means you can cast an infinite number of fireballs only limited by your turn time. Since fireballs are not blocked by anything but ice block, it's pretty much a guaranteed win condition once you have the pieces. Since there's still a time limit a warrior with too much armor may still be able to outlive the rope. And of course an ice block can be a problem.
The arcane giant version simply relies on casting enough spells such that arcane giants are free. Then pop the quest, put the giants down, and skip to next turn so they don't have summoning sickness. I've tried to run with a similar list that also has molten giants (free after you've received 25+ dmg).
The problem I saw is that you often need to run near fatigue before getting enough pieces. This is probably true for exodia as well. While doing so you need to juggle those many combo pieces, essentially dead cards until the end. It's a nice feat if you can it pull off but against aggro you'll be running for your life.
I don't have hemet but saw this deck on reddit. The idea is that you have a deck with almost exclusively 3-drops or cheaper and the only cards more expensive are burn spells. Then once you pop hemet, it removes all the cheap cards and you'll reliably pull all your burn cards. Provided you haven't already pulled them.
The problem seems to be that on the one hand you might mill yourself and the fatigue damage could kill you if your ice block was popped by your opponent. The other problem is same as burn mage; certain opponents just heal/armor so hard that they outrun you.
I like the concept but I don't think it's super reliable.
I'm going to lump these together. They are all very similar to me. They pivot around the ice block secret, which is a near guaranteed safety net for mages. Apart from secrets-destroying-cards, which is an uncommon tech choice, you are guaranteed to get a turn once your opponent deals lethal damage to you ("pops the ice block"). Since you can run two ice blocks in a deck and possibly get another one or two by discover cards, it's a decent way of guaranteeing yourself a care free two or three turns, once you can set it up.
Freeze mage focuses around mass freeze effects while trying to chip the opponent. Control mage wants to clear the board. Secret mage obfuscates the opponent. Burn mage wants to finish with high damage spells (fireball/fireland portal/pyroblast).
The weakness to all of these mages seem to be taunt warrior and jade druid. They can armor up and run beyond the reach of a mage. Jade druid can easily force mages to deal with 60+ "hp", not even counting the board. Taunt warriors can do something similar. The big burn spells from a mage generally sum up to 2x6 + 2x5 + 2x10 = 42 dmg. There's minion damage and other damage like frost bolt (3 dmg and freeze) and medivh's valet (3 dmg if you control a secret) have been the finishers for me occasionally. But given the chance, an opponent can "simply" walk out of your damage range and there'll be little you can do to prevent it.
For a while I've had trouble taking on these mages as pirate warrior. Nowadays I try to control their board less and smorc them more. That pressure play seems to have helped my odds against this class.
I've always had a fond of playing mage and like the freeze and burn mage. However, while laddering I can't get reliable wins out of them. I probably play too aggressive so perhaps I just need to learn to play mage better.
And last but not least; the pirate warrior. This is still the only deck that I can get consistent wins with on the ladder. To make matters worse, in the final deck composition (2x ooze/ms/naga, leeroy) I used uses zero Un'Goro cards. That's a little sad but such is life.
The new rotation made the pirate life easier on the one hand and harder on the other hand.
Out with the shaman decks, dragon priest (mostly), and control warriors. Those were probably the biggest pirate enemies near the end of last month. Additionally the new decks include many aggro decks that are still slower than pirates (hunter, druid, pally) and of course for a while the rogues. And did I mention that none of the key cards for pirate warrior rotated out? It was the only deck in my list that remained "standard" after rotation, heh.
Obviously the bad news is that there are new archenemies. The biggest one is taunt warrior because it only runs taunts and lots of removals, additionally it's just a popular deck unlike control warrior which I saw infrequently. Mid-range paladin can be trouble, just like mages. Of course shamans are still trouble when you get them because they run a lot of removals. Hunters can be a problem if you can't deal with them fast enough.
The other problem is the new pirate killer card; Golakka Crawler. It's a 2-drop beast that kills an arbitrary pirate. And with many pirate warriors on the ladder as well the inclusion of pirate cards in rogue and druid I've seen this card played a lot. To me it's always a moment of despair. Early game it's a 3/4 that takes up some trades to get rid of AND lowers your own board pressure. Late game it can destroy an expensive pirate in a whim.
Oh another downside is the popularity of the fire fly, which is a 1/2 1-drop that gives another 1/2 1-drop. For pirates these are much harder to deal with early game without trading. Many decks seem to run this deck and in particular druids become a problem with them.
Overall the pirate is still super strong, regardless of your tech choices. I've ran with the hydra list for (quite) a while. They are still too slow so I ultimately ran a more classic list instead.
In a nutshell; Un'Goro introduced quests, a lot of murloc cards, elemental cards, and the adapt mechanic.
The quests are mostly a bust. That's a little unfortunate for a mechanic that should have a much larger impact. However I think many quests rewards are just not worth the early game limping that's required for them. Especially in an aggro heavy meta early game limping just means death for most classes.
The murloc cards feel gimicky for the biggest part. They're fun but fairly weak and difficult to get consistent wins with. In the end it might still be the "old" finja package that will do it.
I think the elemental type was a big thing but in the end I don't think they're that great? Sure, elemental shaman is a fair deck. I'm not sure there's really a place for elemental synergy beyond that. I think that's a little sad. Another major mechanic in this rotation that seems to be pretty niche.
And finally the adept mechanic. It's probably the one that fits best into the game. It's good that it doesn't reliably give you super buffs. But in many cases there's something to it. It's applicable to many decks and classes, or could be, and the mechanic feels fairly evergreen.
I'm actually looking forward to how the meta will change and what new gems will appear next month. My guess is that pirate is still going to reign.
On the one hand I like it, on the other I'm a little disappointed.
I like how they completely shook the meta. Except for pirate warrior (and I guess they tried..), most archetypes have either been forced to adapt or simply eliminated from the standard meta. I think that's good. It refreshes the game. I like how the adapt mechanic works, I think that's good.
For the meh part, I like the concept of quests but feel they need some work to be viable-yet-not-overpowered. Make the reward a little more sticky, like rogue/warrior/priest's quests. And a bit better balanced towards aggro. Perhaps certain quests should be free? To balance out the fact that you're already limping from a worse opening hand. Elements should also get worked a little more into all classes, not just shaman/neutral. (Note: I'm aware of Steam Surger, the mage card that combos with elementals, but I think the card is meh at best.)
The bad part is that the game is too much black-or-white rock-paper-scissors. Many archetype matchups are decided before the first card is played. For example, the taunt warrior wins against most mages on account of armor generation. Quest rogue probably beats taunt warrior. Freeze mage probably beats quest rogue. You're super depending on third-party sites like metastats.net to figure out what's currently popular. And even those sites are often not useful for the right-now. I've had a six win streak (ending at rank 1!) immediately followed by a six loss streak. I went up to rank 1 with 3 stars and fairly quickly dropped down to rank 3 with 0 stars. That really hurts! I think the game ought to be a little more consistent at these high levels. The matchup roll is too fluctuating.
And then there's the rng. The game was already rng-heavy and the introduction of adapt only exacerbated that situation. Add it to the list of top-decking, random opponent card, and discovery. It makes me wonder what the long term goal of the developers of the game is.
Life after Legend
I kinda see reaching Legend as the main achievement for this game for me. I already feel that playing at legend level feels irrelevant to me. Which is kind of nice, don't get me wrong. I feel no urge to ladder. It's really just a better version of casual play now.
I don't expect to ever break through the top 200 of Legend. Not saying I couldn't, just that I don't want to spend the necessary time and effort on getting there and still maybe not getting it. In fact, having reached Legend now, I I may never get here again simply because it's not worth the required time investment for it. You need to keep up to date with the meta, learn to fight new decks, and of course actually get enough wins to get there. It may not take me 200 fights between rank 4 and 1 for the next two months. Then again, perhaps it will. And I have other stuff to attend to :)
You know what, that's actually a pretty good lesson here. It's just a game. There's a ton of them, why stick in this one. I made Legend, achievement unlocked, what goal is there left other than attain a pro stat?
Okay that was an expensive lesson.