Sep 25 2016 - 4:00 pm

In defence of Yogg-Saron, Hearthstone's most hated card

For purists, Yogg represents a reviled new wrinkle that’s been infecting Blizzard’s game design
Luke Winkie
Dot Esports

For purists, Yogg represents a reviled new wrinkle that’s been infecting Blizzard’s game design. Hearthstone’s classic set had nothing even slightly resembling the variance introduced by Yogg. Instead you had cards that were right in line with the mechanics of your average tabletop game. It wasn’t until recently that Team Five started considering the unlimited possibilities of a digital canvas.

It really is a shame that Yogg-Saron is as powerful as he is. If his effect was just a little less good he’d be—essentially—a late-game comeback mechanism for control decks. That’s great! We all regard a slow, complicated control meta as the platonic ideal for Hearthstone, and a card that fits that utility would absolutely come in handy. Seriously, imagine if all Yogg did was provide an effective 10-mana shutdown to aggro. People would be totally fine with that right? In some ways I think we’ve been waiting for Blizzard to print a card like that since beta.

Unfortunately that hasn’t been the case. Yogg-Saron is without a doubt the most powerful card released in the Whispers of the Old Gods set, and it does far more than just squash meta. At it’s most egregious, Yogg can semi-reliably win games all by itself. Yes, there’s always the chance you triple-Pyroblast yourself in the face, but it’s far more likely to shake up the board state, draw you a few cards, and maybe put some secrets in play. There are also the occasions where you get double Call of the Wild and force your opponent to immediately concede, uninstall, and maybe give up video games forever.

It started small (how about a beast that draws you a random beast?) but now we’re at the point where we’re literally dealing with completely unpredictable, unavoidable random effects. I was watching Andrey “Reynad” Yanyuk’s stream the other day, and after losing to a particularly unfair Yogg combo, he alt-F4’d and booted up the classic kids adventure game Spy Fox. His reasoning? “This wasn’t the game I started playing.”

And I totally feel that sentiment! James “Firebat” Kostesich recently put together his own custom tournament called Batstone that banned some of Hearthstone’s worst offenders like Tuskarr Totemic, Yogg, and Barnes. If you take this game seriously, and are trying to reliably win tournaments to make money, losing to a completely aimless Fireball might make you pretty mad. However, as a viewer, I can’t help but love it when Yogg hits the table.

To me, Yogg-Saron is like being short stacked in poker. You bide your time with the few big blinds left until you get a decent hand to go all in on. “Okay, king/nine, let’s go.” You cross your fingers and hope the flop is good enough to double-up against whoever calls you. That’s probably the most exciting part of poker. You’re relying on dumb black-and-white odds to try and get you back in the game. That’s basically what happens when you’re hoping one of Yogg’s 20-or-so spells turns the tide.

Unfortunately unlike poker, Yogg lacks a clean circumvention. You can’t just not call it or something. In that sense I can comprehend why it’s so infuriating for pro players, it just also isn’t shocking to me that Blizzard hasn’t taken measures to ban it from tournaments. Obviously part of that is just sluggish corporate policy and “not wanting to set a precedent” (remember, this was the same company that printed Eater of Secrets after Secret Paladin became obsolete). But I also think they know what makes Hearthstone a fun spectator esport. Octavian “Kripparrian” Morosan recently said in a video that if we just didn’t take the game’s esports scene so seriously, we’d probably have a lot more fun. And that’s true! I don’t get frustrated a player I like loses at poker because… well, that’s poker. Right now, losing to a bad Yogg is just Hearthstone. That’s not exactly a new thing.

Yogg-Saron is a fun card, and Blizzard has reminded us over and over again that that’s the only thing that truly matters to them. This is a casual card game that strips out the more complex decision making you might find in Netrunner or Doomtown. You totally have the right to be dissatisfied with Hearthstone’s philosophy. But you shouldn’t be all that surprised. 

Jan 20 2017 - 9:38 pm

Blizzard designer says Hearthstone Shamans "don’t win too often"

The deck is still stifling the meta game, however.
Callum Leslie
Weekend Editor, Dot Esports.
Image via Blizzard Entertainment

Shaman continues to dominate the Hearthstone ladder, and at this point players are resigned to it. They are just hoping that in a few months' time the new set rotation will shake things up and dislodge it from its position at the top of the tree.

Blizzard game designer Max McCall addressed the power of the class on the official forums recently—but according to him, the class doesn't have an overwhelming success rate.

"All of those [Shaman] decks are strong," McCall said. "but they are all weak against Dragon decks (like Priest and Warrior) and Reno decks. If you’re tired of losing to Shamans, play Reno Warlock. In some ways, that is fine: Shamans are popular, but there are strategies that are good against them."

"Playing Shaman isn’t a dominant strategy – again, they lose to plenty of decks – but it is still boring to play against the same class over and over again," he continues.

These comments puzzled and angered some players, who pointed to their own experience and other sources of data like the Vicious Syndicate meta report that suggested these matchups were much closer than McCall suggested. And the other matchups were much more one-sided for the Shaman. Indeed, in a second forum post McCall that Reno Warlock was only favored by half a percentage point.

Others took issue with McCall's characterization of the state of Shaman deckbuilding. According to McCall, there are aggressive decks which run pirates, and midrange decks that run pirates and jade cards. But by virtue of running pirates, the inclusion of jade cards doesn't stop a deck from being aggressive in style (something we have highlighted before).

Jade Claws and Jade Lightning, which are often the only jade cards run in the faster lists, lend themselves very well to an aggressive style. Jade Claws takes the spot of Spirit Claws, as early game weapons continue to drive aggressive Shaman decks with value and early pressure.

However, McCall did rightly admit that Shaman is a problem on ladder because of how frequently it appears. According to his data, Shaman currently makes up about 25 percent of games on ladder. This can make games feel repetitive and a grind, especially if you aren't playing one of the limited counters.

At the end of the day, Blizzard is watching Shaman closely. And if it doesn't decrease in popularity, it is prepared to make changes. But that won't help those players who feel demoralized by the ladder right now.

Jan 20 2017 - 5:37 pm

CompLexity and Luminosity win 11-game thrillers in Trinity Series debuts

The teams took each other to the limit on day two.
Callum Leslie
Weekend Editor, Dot Esports.
Photo via DreamHack

CompLexity Gaming and Luminosity Gaming came out on top during the second matchday of the ESL Trinity Series Hearthstone league—but both teams were taken to the limit.

Luminosity Gaming, with Keaton "Chakki" Gill and Frank "Fr0zen" Zhang playing from China, claimed a 6-5 win over Team Liquid.

After Liquid left the Shaman of Luminosity unbanned, the only team to do so in the four matches of week one, Luminosity fancied their chances. But that Shaman was ineffectual, knocked out by the Druid of Team Liquid as David "Dog" Caero and his teammates piloted the Druid to three straight game wins.

That left Liquid at 5-3 and match point, but Luminosity were able to win a crucial Druid mirror and go on their own streak to take the comeback win.

In the second match of the day the experienced Cloud9 lineup of James "Firebat" Kostesich, Cong "StrifeCro" Shu, and Andrew "TidesofTime" Biessener nearly pulled off a similar comeback.

Cloud9 and CompLexity Gaming traded games back and forth until CompLexity's Reno Mage, driven by Jan "SuperJJ" Janssen, took three straight wins to put them in the same position at 5-3. TidesofTime attempted to reverse the tide with Reno Warlock and fought back to 5-5, but Cloud9 were forced to use their combo pieces early and CompLexity won the match with a Reno Warlock of their own.

After beating Alliance 6-0 in the first match of the tournament, G2 Esports sit atop the table after the first week of games.

Week two will see Alliance take on CompLexity, Luminosity against Tempo Storm, G2 versus Virtus Pro, and Cloud9 will play Team Liquid.