Congratulations everyone, we did it. unleash-the-hounds finally got nerfed, and Hunters have all but disappeared from the ladder. It was a communal effort, and really shows that the people in this community do have a voice. However, every story must have a villain, and now with Hunters gone other decks have managed to rear their ugly heads, most notably Miracle Rogue and Handlock.
Today’s article, while not a direct tie in, will be a follow up to my “Art of the Brew” article I posted last month. This time around I want to address something that is often looked over in the community and something that I believe is extremely important when figuring out how to not only move up the ladder but also how to improve yourself as an player overall: adapting to the metagame.
At first glance, “adapting to the metagame” may seem like a very obvious way to say “play the best deck”. However, it is not quite that simple. We are not here to just look at specific deck choices, but also to look at different styles of play and individual cards within popular builds. Take Zoo for example. If you asked an assortment of random ladder grinders what the best version of Zoo was, almost every single person would give you a different answer.
While it is true that everyone would have the same core cards (voidwalker, knife-juggler, shattered-sun-cleric etc.) there are many small choices that create a variety within the decks. Some people favor cards such as amani-breserkers and Argent Commander, while I cut both for faerie-dragon and dark-iron-dwarf.
Some people like cards like king-mukla and pit-lord while others want later game threats (I have even seen siphon-soul). The point is, each version of Zoo has its own tweaks, all of which are in place as a way to battle what’s going on in the ladder.
This point may seem very obvious, but the truth is I find that many people are very hesitant to change their lists, which leads me to my next point (and possibly the core idea of this article) adapting to the ladder amidst a world of netdecking.
Fear of Adaptation
Hearthstone, being such a young game, has a very limited card pool. That’s a fact that all of the players and deck builders have to deal with. As such, innovation is both few and far between. Not because there aren’t people out there building new and exciting decks (there are) but because most of the archetypes have been pretty fleshed out.
However, that does not mean that originality is dead. A lot of people ask me why they can’t seem to climb higher in the ladder, and truthfully a lot of that stems from a resistance to change. Netdecking is a great tool, it enables players to get into the competitive scene and gives more people a chance to reach the higher ranks, but it also creates a certain “this is the best deck” mentality that people are afraid to move away from.
Don’t be afraid to change your list and take chances. If you’re playing with a list that Trump hit legend with and it’s not working, change the cards. Bend it to fit your playstyle or add in cards that help a certain troublesome matchup. For instance, a good friend of mine recently cut his Wild Growth from his Ramp Druid deck. Why? Because after playing many games with the deck he realized that the growths were mostly dead cards when drawn later, and they also really hurt his game against Zoo (which he was seeing a ton of). It is small moves like this that can really swing you into a win streak and bring you up in ranked.
Netdecking is one of the best ways to be successful at a card game, and while that is fine (everybody netdecks from time to time) it also leads to many people coming up short because they are afraid to adapt. Changing cards out of a popular deck is something many people do not want to do, and that resistance can lead to losses.
Usually, when I talk to players who are having problems gaining ranks and I suggest card changes I am usually met with “but x person made it to legend with this exact list!”. So that begs the question, is it you? Truthfully, sometimes it is. However, a lot of the time it is also because Hearthstone popularity changes on an hourly basis. In a recent stream video Trump said that his warrior face deck would be “a bad deck to play the following day”. And while this may seem like a joke, the truth is that’s how fast the metagame shifts.
If you want to keep up, always be aware of what decks you’re playing, and try to find cards that help against you worst matchups. Perhaps the most important part of adapting to the popular decks is knowing what decks your good against and what decks you aren’t. The stance “oh I just lose to that deck” might be fine for a few wins, but it can really hurt you when you reach a rank or time of day where there is nothing but that deck on the ladder.
Public Enemy Number One: The Ladder
If you spend anytime on the Hearthstone sub Reddit then you know how many unorthodox decks seem to have been hitting legend lately (Face Warrior, Aggro Paladin, Control Paladin and Miracle Warlock).
This is important for two reasons. One, it shows there is still plenty of room to build in this meta and just because your deck didn’t work doesn’t mean you should give up just yet. Two, it reveals the importance of adaptation. All of the above decks are takes on previously popular decks and ideas that were tweaked in order to fight the ladder. And that’s really what climbing to legend is all about, fighting the ladder. That is something you should never forget, your number one opponent isn’t the players you’re playing, but the ladder itself. The ladder has a mind of its own, its swings are unpredictable and you never know what is going to be the most popular deck at any time.
However, when you do find out what’s out there, lurking in the shadows, hit it and hit it hard. Now, I am not saying go all in on beating one deck, but it never hurts to change your deck in a way that makes a popular matchup swing in your favor. This can be done by changing the cards you are using, or by changing your entire deck.
Adapting Through the Use of Multiple Decks
Something I want to address is that I am strongly against the stance that you should only use one deck to climb the ladder. I have played enough constructed to know that popular decks change from rank to rank and time of day. Some mornings you are grinding against endless waves of Ramp Druids and that night it’s all Zoo. Always be aware of what you’re playing and shift your deck to fight what you keep seeing.
In other words, adapt.
When climbing the ladder I always have three decks that I can use at any given time based on what I am seeing a lot of. This strategy might seem odd to some, but it has given me, as well as some of my friends, great success. One of my friends hit legend using five different decks during his climb from rank 10 to legend! Why? Well, after bouncing between different ranks he realized what types of decks were more popular at what rank and simply switched decks to meet those. This is one extreme example, but having multiple decks on hand is a really good way to keep moving toward the elusive legend club so many of us want to achieve.
The Process of Adaptation
I believe that adapting is a two part process that stems from the deck choices to the individual cards. As stated, I start with my three decks (in this example Token Druid, Aggro Paladin and Face Warrior) and choose them based on the matchups that I am seeing a lot of, or based on the rank I am at. At rank four and three I was encountering a lot of Zoo so I almost exclusively used my Token Druid deck at those ranks.
However, Rank Two and Rank Five both had a good amount of Miracle Rogue, which I used Face Warrior to fight. When I am saw a wide variety of decks, I used Aggro Paladin as it has a good matchup against the widest variety of builds. This is how you adapt your deck choices to fight the ladder, which will then enable you to win the most amount of games.
Nobody, no matter how good they are is going to climb the higher ranks without losing a large amount of games, but getting to legend doesn’t require a perfect pedigree. Rather, it just requires a winning percentage. This strategy of adaptation is not foolproof (sometimes you will just always play the worst matchup) but this is the way I have found the most success when climbing up ranks and advancing my play.
Now, in addition to just switching between decks, you should always be thinking of new cards to slip into those decks that will help with the bad matchups. Token Druid is very strong against Zoo but it has a terrible matchup against Handlock. My solution was to add in a Big Game Hunter into the deck.
This move helped at the ranks I was playing Token Druid at because it still served as a creature to put down against Zoo, but also enabled me a way to deal with turn four or late game taunted Giants. Another example of this is with the Face Warrior deck that Trump recently hit legend with. The deck is very strong against decks such as Control Warrior and Miracle Rogue, but unfortunately struggles greatly against Zoo. Zoo, while more prevalent at some ranks than others is something you are bound to encounter no matter what stage of the ladder you’re at.
As a result, I added in an Arathi Weaponsmith and a second Dread Corsair, which are both great tools against Zoo that don’t weaken your other matchups. This is the type of mentality you should have when looking at cards. Adapting is not about finding brand new innovations, but merely changing the way you play the game in order to better fight against a known enemy, whether that is through a new deck or specific cards.
Adapting is a very important of climbing the ladder, and you should always be aware of what decks give you trouble and which ones you are seeing a lot of. Now, that is not to say that Hearthstone is adapt or die, the king decks are king for a reason, but if you see a problem, or are having a problem, fix it. In my discussion of brewing I stated that you want to think “why is this card good right now, and what happens if it does nothing?”.
With adapting, you want to think “I have a problem, and this is going to fix it”. More than anything adaptation is all about problem solving, and fixing the gaps in your game. One card may not be the solution to all of your games, but even if it only increases your win rate by a mere five percent you are moving in the right direction. Keep different decks on hand, always keep updated on the metagame and adapt whenever you can.
I wish you the best of luck in your ladder grinding, and with the season coming to a close now is the time to make the final push. Until next time, when I talk about a Rogue Aggro deck I have been working on, may you always play against your best matchup and avoid your worst.