Feb 23 2015 - 4:39 pm

Stop hating on aggro

There’s a healthy amount of antagonism in Hearthstone when it comes to aggro decks—you know, that type of deck where you try to kill your opponents quickly and efficiently with low-cost, high-damage minions
Dot Esports

There’s a healthy amount of antagonism in Hearthstone when it comes to aggro decks—you know, that type of deck where you try to kill your opponents quickly and efficiently with low-cost, high-damage minions. Remember hating Zoolock back in the middle of 2014? It’s pretty similar to hating Face Hunter, or most recently, Mech Mage. “Ugh those decks are so cancerous!” scream the Hearthstone elite. “It doesn’t take any skill!”

They’re not necessarily wrong, and I’m not going to pretend the Mechwarper Coin Mechwarper Annoy-o-tron line hasn’t made me self-immolate before. There’s never anything good about a one-dimensional metagame. But the community often finds itself united against whichever aggro archtype is in style.

Remember Undertaker? It was that 1/2 for one mana powerhouse that rewrote the meta a couple months ago. Put it in the right deck, and you could ramp it into an unstoppable 4/5 by turn three. It was a minion that was particularly noxious to the player base, and that earned it a sufficient nerf. But it took approximately seven seconds after that nerf for people to start complaining about the next thing. In this case it was Mech Mage—the other popular aggro deck. People barely had time to savor Taker’s demise before the witch hunt was on. 

If that sounds familiar, it’s because that’s how the cycle has worked. People hate aggro deck archetype, archetype gets nerfed, another archetype gets popular, the hate is renewed. It was enough to get Leeroy, Soulfire, Starving Buzzard, Unleash the Hounds, and now Undertaker nerfed.

I understand the anger, and Blizzard certainly knows better than anyone about what cards need balance changes. But I also think it’s a little unfair. There’s a serious, multifaceted hatred for aggro decks and the people who play them, and it often misses the point. Aggro decks are very important to the Hearthstone universe, both in terms of the meta and the pure economics. Without them, this game would be radically broken. Here's why.

It’s good for new players!

Here’s what doesn’t work.

“Hey man! You should start playing Hearthstone! It’s a digital card game from Blizzard, and it has a surprisingly robust pro scene.”

“Great! I love Blizzard and card games. Wow it’s free to play too! Hmm, I keep losing though, these basic cards are kinda crappy, how do I build something more competitive?”

“Sure! Control Warrior is always a good choice. Um… it does require about five different legendaries though. So I guess start saving dust?”

Replace “Control Warrior” with “Ramp Druid,” or “Control Paladin,” or “Handlock,” you’ll reach the same conclusion. If you’re new to Hearthstone, it’s hard to have the resources to put together one of the heavy, competitive control decks and still win in a meaningful way.

A deck like Mech Mage, or especially Zoolock, is much cheaper to assemble, and can be just as competitive as anything else on ladder. That’s the interesting thing about these aggro debates: It’s a weird casual versus hardcore debate. I cover Hearthstone as a job, so obviously I have the dust lying around to build whatever I want. If I wasn’t in that situation? I’d totally be playing Hunter, all day every day.

So next time you lose on turn six, remember that some people in this world can’t no-life their way to glory, and they deserve to have fun too.

It helps even out the meta game

Here’s something you probably don’t want to hear. If aggro decks weren’t viable, Hearthstone would become a horrendously boring game. Why? Because we’ve seen what Control Warrior/Control Warrior mirror matches look like.

Aggro decks try to win the game early specifically because late-game monstrosities like Ragnaros or Dr. Boom are hard to deal with. That’s the fundamental game plan, kill your opponent before he musters enough breathing room to play his big guys.

Imagine if it wasn’t possible to kill a Paladin quickly, and that no matter what you were going to see his Tirion every game. Furthermore, that Paladin would no longer need to run his Zombie Chows or Consecrations, because he’s no longer worried about early game pressure. Instead he fills those gaps with other massive cards to make his victory more or less inevitable.

That would suck! Luckily, we live in a world where, in certain contexts, a one-mana Leper Gnome can be just as powerful as a nine-mana Ysera. That’s called balance, whether you like it or not.

They’re easy to play—but remember, this is a card game!

There are some nights where I want to knife through ladder with the ingenuity of my Fatigue Druid or the nimble trading of my Oil Rogue, but there are also some nights I want to steamroll through with something that kills quickly and hilariously. There might not be the same “skill” as something like Freeze Mage, but people grossly over-value how much of a gap there actually is.

Does it take skill to fill a board with Mechwarpers, Clockwork Gnomes, and Tinkertown Techs? Not necessarily, but it’s probably the same amount of skill to Flamestrike that same board on turn seven.

It’s also not invincible. Draw the wrong things and miss your opening momentum? Your aggro deck is already far behind. Sure we remember all the times Mech Mage has succeeded, but we forget all the awkward turn-three Mechwarpers or opening-hand Dr. Booms.

This is a card game. Good draws happen, and when they do, the game becomes pretty easy. An aggro deck could end up with a perfect opening hand, just like how a control deck could draw exactly what he needs to counter that opener. And seriously, anyone who pretends that aggro players don’t deal with tough decisions either don’t have enough experience, or are simply salty after losing to Hunter too many times in a row.

They’re fun

Remember that? Fun? That’s the reason most of you play this game, right?

You know what fun is? It’s double Rockbitering a Whirling Zap-o-Matic that’s already getting buffed from a Flametongue, and swinging in to your opponent’s face for a combined 22 damage. I’ve seen it happen, and it’s incredible.

Yes, playing Sludge Belchers can also be fun. But there’s a certain exhilaration that comes when you're rolling with something loud, fast, and unstable. That’s the beauty of aggro decks—sure you’re doing savage early damage, but you’re really only a board clear away from being hopelessly behind on tempo and out of the game. If that tension doesn’t get you excited, then I don’t know why you’re playing Hearthstone.