Hello everyone! Time sure flies. When I first started playing the game in 2013, I didn’t expect it to be as big as it is today. Last year was very grateful for the Hearthstone. Lots of tournaments (both official and fan-made), new content (including 3 new expansions), mobile releases, bug fixes and hope. Hope that Blizzard actually listens to players; maybe they react to slowly, maybe they don’t do everything right, but the game isn’t going to meet the fate of tons of different ones that died, because devs didn’t listen to any feedback. Even though I’m usually a critical person, after looking at the last year I’m positive that the game will be going in the right direction.
But, judging the devs is not the point of this article. 2015 is over and it’s time to look back and think – what were the best moments of the year? Which decks/cards were the most impactful? Maybe talk a bit about the best matches of the year? Yeah. I’d like to give out my own awards in a few categories. And mind you, even though I’m trying to be as objective as I can, they’re still my own choices, thus a lot of people might not agree with them.
[toc]Category: Best Deck of the Year[/toc]
3. Midrange Druid
[cardinsert card=”shapeshift” float=”left”]
This was the hardest choice in the category. Other two decks are quite obvious – but the third one? I’ve decided to give bronze medal to Midrange Druid for an overall performance. If I had to pick the deck that was never completely out of meta in 2015, I’d pick this one. While there were times when the meta wasn’t favorable, I’d say that it’s the deck that was most consistently staying in top 5.
The ability to ramp up and play ahead of the curve. Strong, proactive minions that put pressure on every opponent. Insane burst potential thanks to the [card]Force of Nature[/card] + [card]Savage Roar[/card] combo (14 damage from empty board). It’s one of those decks that can win the games that would otherwise be unwinnable. It’s also one of those decks that are unstoppable with perfect opening hand. It’s also probably the only deck in the meta right now where you can say “I’m at full health and he has a single minion on the board, I can actually die this turn”. A very strong deck that most certainly deserves AT LEAST the third spot.
2. Secret Paladin
[cardinsert card=”reinforce” float=”left”]
Since the [card]Mysterious Challenger[/card] release in TGT, it is the most popular deck on the ladder. That’s over 4 months of Paladin being the most seen class and probably also the most hated one. The deck has gone through tons of changes – first started as an Aggro deck with tons of small drops, up to 10 Secrets and double [card]Divine Favor[/card]. Deck in that form had potential for insane snowball, but it had high change to draw dead (drawing Secret on turn 4-5 isn’t really that good) and it just NEEDED the Divine Favor to win some games. Then people have started taking more and more Midrange approach, adding more big minions, removing some of the Secrets. The current version of Secret Paladin is nowhere close to an Aggro deck, it has very Midrange, board-centric approach and wins most of the games by keeping the board control in the early game and winning with huge swings on turns 6, 7 and 8.
It’s one of the most hated decks, but not for being so strong – players hate it for being so easy at the same time. The decision making is really limited, with the perfect hand the deck’s user can just play on the curve and completely ignore what the opponent does, not adapt to the game, but play the strongest card every turn, hit opponent’s face and still win easily. While a lot of players overreact a bit, because playing the deck at the highest level requires some decision making, it’s true that the Secret Paladin is most likely the easiest competitively viable deck right now. And that’s one of the reasons why it’s all over the ladder – it’s both strong and easy to play.
It can’t be denied that Secret Paladin is a force to reckon with. Most of the players are still waiting for the [card]Mysterious Challenger[/card] nerf. Will it happen? We don’t know, because Blizzard doesn’t really share their plans with us and their nerfs can be really unexpected…
1. Patron Warrior
[cardinsert card=”armor-up” float=”left”]
Everyone who played the game for longer than 2-3 months won’t be really surprised with my choice here. Patron Warrior has DOMINATED the meta ever since the deck’s creation after BRM release (April 2015) until the [card]Warsong Commander[/card]’s nerf a few weeks before Blizzcon (October 2015). It might have been dethroned for a few weeks by Secret Paladin’s hype, but once the meta stabilized after TGT, it took the #1 spot again and kept it until the nerf.
Patron Warrior was a combo deck with two main win conditions – board flood win condition with [card]Grim Patron[/card] and insane burst win condition with [card]Warsong Commander[/card] + [card]Frothing Berserker[/card]. First win condition was really good against faster decks or those flooding the board with small minions in general – like Paladin (every kind of Paladin, really) or Zoo Warlock. You couldn’t play 1 or 2 attack minions when enemy had Patrons on the board, because he just killed them for free and cloned more 3/3’s. And if you couldn’t clear his Patron boards, he just played another Whirlwind effect and cloned them by himself, most likely putting you on 2 or 3 turns clock. The second win condition was probably even more broken. With just a single [card]Emperor Thaurissan[/card] discount on the right cards (or even [card]Death’s Bite[/card] set-up), Patron Warrior could play Warsong Commander + 2x Frothing Berserker, follow it with 2 or 3 Whirlwind effects, possibly some Inner Rages etc. and just kill enemy from full health. That’s right. 30 -> 0 was very common when playing against Patron Warrior. I’ve seen Control Warrior vs Patron Warrior games, where Control player was sitting at over 60 health and the Patron still killed him. Both win conditions meant that enemy just couldn’t play a lot of minions. Each small minion fed the Patrons, each minion (in general) fed the Frothings. But on the other hand, if he didn’t play any minions, good Patron player would just cycle through the whole deck, get Emperor’s discount on the right cards and kill the enemy from the empty board. The deck was incredibly hard to counter and punished most of the play styles. If you have two great win conditions, add crazy draw mechanic ([card]Battle Rage[/card]), cheap removals (Weapons and [card]Execute[/card]), a way to gain health and survive against Aggro and/or burst (Hero Power, [card]Armorsmith[/card], [card]Shield Block[/card]), well, that’s a material for an insane deck.
Funnily enough, the deck wasn’t as popular on the ladder as Secret Paladin is, even though it was much cheaper. The reason for that is that it was much harder to play – it took me about hundred of Patron Warrior games to even get a grasp of the deck, best Patron players have spent months learning it and they still made some mistakes. The truth is, however, that the deck was very strong even in the hands of average player. The whole meta (especially tournament meta) was dictated by the Patron Warrior. Some decks, like Zoo Warlock, weren’t seen at all, because Patron was so strong against them.
Even after the nerf, Patron Warrior is still a viable deck. It’s a nice counter to board flood decks and it’s a common sight in tournaments. You can meet Patrons from time to time on the ladder too. But it’s nowhere near to the domination of Patron Warrior from before the nerf. The deck might have been the strongest one in (not so long) Hearthstone history and that’s why I think it really deserves the #1 spot.
[toc]Category: Best Card Released in 2015[/toc]
3. Emperor Thaurissan (Blackrock Mountain)
[cardinsert card=”emperor-thaurissan” float=”left”]
With his cute summoning line referencing He-Man and incredibly strong effect, [card]Emperor Thaurissan[/card] got 3rd place. If you lost to some crazy combo that you didn’t expect, like: Old Patron Warrior OTKing you from the empty board. Malygos Warlock bursting you for 25 damage. Midrange Druid playing the 2x [card]Force of Nature[/card] + [card]Savage Roar[/card] combo (which is “only” 26 damage). Mage playing [card]Archmage Antonidas[/card], freezing your board with [card]Frost Nova[/card], using 2x [card]Frostbolt[/card] and 2x [card]Ice Lance[/card] on your face (dealing 14 damage) and casually getting 5 [card]Fireball[/card]s at the same time… Emperor Thaurissan was most likely the reason those could have happened.
Reducing the cost of each card in your hand, even by a single mana point, is very strong effect in every combo deck. It allows combinations that wouldn’t have been possible due to mana restrictions. Like, if you’re playing 5 cards 15 mana combo, yeah, it’s obvious that you can’t do that. But if you just play Thaurissan when you have those cards in the hand, sure, no problem.
The main strength of the card is that enemy can’t even counter the mana discount. First one happens at the end of your turn – so even if enemy kills it right away, all the cards are already discounted. Not to mention it’s one of those cards you REALLY don’t want to leave on the board for more than one turn. Otherwise you aren’t likely to keep up with the tempo (and Emperor punching you for 5 damage too, obviously) and just lose the game.
Another cool thing is that 6-drop slot was kinda bare. The only neutral 6-drop commonly played in a lot of decks was [card]Sylvanas Windrunner[/card]. Now Emperor Thaurissan is the second go-to 6-drop, even in non-combo decks.
2. Mysterious Challenger (The Grand Tournament)
[cardinsert card=”mysterious-challenger” float=”left”]
It was a hard choice between [card]Mysterious Challenger[/card] and the [card]Grim Patron[/card]. I decided to include MC, because it’s individually much stronger card. Mysterious Challenger is the sole reason why Secret Paladin is so strong and why Secrets are used in Paladin at all, while Grim Patron was just one of the many reasons for the Patron Warrior’s strength. I don’t really need to introduce this card to anyone. If you play the ladder, you’ve most likely stumbled upon a lot of them. Secret Paladins were about 20% of my opponents last season, it really shows how popular and dominating the deck is.
The card itself is also insane. It has nearly vanilla stats (6/6, compared to 6/7 of the [card]Boulderfist Ogre[/card]), it draws up to 5 cards from your deck and instantly plays them. Even though those cards are 1 mana each, that’s still A LOT of tempo. It’s almost impossible to 1 for 1 the card, so it’s not only the incredible tempo, but also high value card. Thinning your deck and removing the small cards, which are useful in the first turns, but not really in the late game is another reason why it’s so good. Let’s be honest – the card is broken. It’s only balanced by the fact that Paladin’s Secrets are individually pretty weak, so if you don’t draw them out of Mysterious Challenger, you might suffer from bad top decks (like getting 1 mana spells with nothing else to play on turns 8, 9 and 10). That’s a small price to pay for the incredibly strong effect, though, as we can see on the ladder and in the tournaments.
1. Reno Jackson (League of Explorers)
[cardinsert card=”reno-jackson” float=”left”]
Yes, I think that [card]Reno Jackson[/card] is the strongest card released this year. I think it’s much stronger than Mysterious Challenger, Emperor Thaurissan or any other card. If I had to pick the strongest card in the game, it would probably also be Reno Jackson. Why?
It might not be the strongest card RIGHT NOW, but it has potential to get better with time. A lot of the cards are getting worse, because of the power creep, because new, stronger drops are released and take the same spot. But the reasons why other cards are getting weaker is the same reason why Reno Jackson is getting stronger. Let’s first talk about the effect. Healing to full is ALWAYS going to be good. I doubt that the meta will ever go full control and the games will be decided only by value, not by the health total. Aggro decks are popular right now and will likely always be popular. So healing to full will never be bad.
The big downside of Reno is that you need to create a Highlander type of deck. So besides Reno, you (most likely) want to put 29 different cards. This forces players to make subpar choices, playing the cards that you wouldn’t normally play in the deck. The strength of the card is balanced by the fact that you run lot of cards you wouldn’t run otherwise. But what will happen when new, competitive choices will rise? Like right now, Piloted Shredder is probably the strongest neutral 4-drop. If you play Paladin, you want to play two of them. But you can’t if you play the Reno deck. However, I’m pretty sure that eventually a new 4-drop that competes with [card]Piloted Shredder[/card] will become viable. So now, instead of playing 2x Shredder or 2x the new 4-drop, you can play one of each and the Reno effect will still be there. Same goes for every other deck and slot – making a good Reno deck let’s say a year ago would be much harder than it is now, and it will be only easier year or two years from now. Reno Jackson will be really broken once you’ll be able to sub the duplicates not with worse/situational versions, but with alternate cards of the same strength. And this is bound to happen, eventually. That’s why, looking in the future, I think that Reno Jackson might be the strongest card in the game.
[toc]Category: Most Important Update of the Year[/toc]
3. Patch 220.127.116.1128 – Undertaker Nerf
So, I had a slight dillema here. I was wondering – which nerf this year was more important? [card]Grim Patron[/card] or [card]Undertaker[/card] one? After thinking for a while, I’ve decided to put the Undertaker one here.
It happened almost a year ago, so a lot of current players don’t even remember it. The old [card]Undertraker[/card]. What’s the big deal? Undertaker doesn’t gain health any more. That small change changed one of the most broken cards in Hearthstone history and balanced it.
Undertaker was everywhere. While most common in Aggro Hunter, it was also played in other decks like Zoo Warlock, Aggro Paladin or even… Priest. Yeah, a Midrange Priest deck that revolved around Deathrattles was really strong at the time. It was actually one of my favorite decks.
Undertaker was incredibly strong card, because it forced an early answer or else you’ve lost the game (pretty much). You think that current decks snowball hard? You haven’t seen Undertaker decks. Enemy opening with Undertaker + Coin + Undertaker, followed by two [card]Leper Gnome[/card]s resulted in 2x 3/4 and 2x 2/1 on turn 2. While it’s the best case scenario and it didn’t happen that often, playing against good Undertaker opening was a nightmare. There were tons of games where enemy had 5/6 or 6/7 Undertaker by turn 4-5. Basically if you didn’t have an early answer or Silence, it grew until it could be killed with [card]Big Game Hunter[/card] or more likely it has killed you.
Just like always, it took quite a long time to nerf the card. Undertaker was dominating the meta for about 6 months and trust me, current meta is really fun compared to the Undertaker one.
2. Patch 18.104.22.16816 – Mobile Release
Yes, it was possible to play Hearthstone on a lot of mobile devices before that patch. Yes, the release for Android tablets was couple of months before that. But this is really the date when Hearthstone has became available to pretty much every Android/iOS user. While it has some minimal requirements, you can play it on the most of the phones. I was playing it on an old Xperia – it lagged a bit, loading was long, it crashed sometimes, but well, I could play it. Now about half of my games are played on mobile. It’s really convenient and I enjoy the fact that I can play Hearthstone pretty much everywhere.
It was also a big move for the game itself. Mobile release means that Blizzard now gets a whole new player base – people who play on their phones/tablets, but don’t do that on PC. I know quite a lot of people like that. Yes, that part of player base is mostly casual, a lot of them will just play a few games and stop etc. – but it still resulted in a huge player base increase.
It doesn’t happen often that you can play your favorite PC game on your phone, so mobile release was one of the most important updates last year.
1. Patch 22.214.171.12466 – Tavern Brawl
And here is, in my opinion, the most important update of the last year. Adding a completely new game mode – Tavern Brawl. Tavern Brawl is a fun, “casual” mode. It opens on Wednesday and closes on Sunday each week, having different set of rules. While they repeat sometimes, we had 21 different Brawls already. Playing as dungeon bosses or Hearthstone minions? Having custom Hero Powers? Starting the games with 10 mana? Discovering your cards each turn instead of drawing them? Playing decks full of [card]Webspinner[/card]s or [card]Unstable Portal[/card]s? Yeah, all of those (and more) have happened.
While I don’t like Tavern Brawls that much (I prefer to play Constructed or Arena), some of them are really fun. I know players who play hundreds of Brawl games each week and that’s the main mode they care about. What’s really cool about Tavern Brawls is that some cards that never see any Constructed play might be actually really good there. This way a lot of the underplayed cards finally found their place – even if you don’t see them in Constructed, you can play them in certain Brawls where the niche, situational effects might be great. on the other hand, new or casual players really like Tavern Brawls with premade decks. They might play the cards they don’t own, be in the crazy situations they’d never see in Constructed and well, they don’t have to spend a dime to experience that.
Another cool thing is that the first win in Brawl each week awards players with a Classic Card Pack. If you were playing each Brawl, that’s about 30 packs you’ve got for free. That’s a really cool thing to do – not only new players get a fun mode they can play without the cards, but they also gain more cards while doing that. I really hope to see more fun and unique Brawls, even though it will be harder and harder to come up with “new set of crazy rules each week”.
The patch also added custom Hero portraits (Medivh, Magni and Alleria) and a completely new tab for Card Backs, where you can assign a different card back for each one of your decks, but those are cosmetic changes, so don’t matter that much. Where are rest of the alternative portraits, though? It’s been over 6 months since those 3 were released and we still haven’t heard about the rest. Whether people like the portraits or not, I think it’s pretty unfair to leave rest of the classes without alternative ones.
[toc]Category: Best Competitive Moment of the Year[/toc]
3. Firebat’s Turn 3 Lethal – PGL Tavern Tales
I know, I know. It wasn’t the best game ever. It wasn’t even hard – I mean, the plays from both sides were obvious. Why I decided to put in here, because it’s really memorable. I’m watching A LOT of competitive games, I follow every big tournament (at least the finals) and that was the fastest game I’ve ever seen. 2 minutes. A turn 3 kill. It really shows how crazy the Mech Shaman deck was (and still is, actually, because it hasn’t been changed) with the right draws. If stancifka got a [card]Darkbomb[/card] to counter the [card]Whirling Zap-o-Matic[/card], the game would have probably gone completely different – with [card]Hellfire[/card], [card]Molten Giant[/card], [card]Defender of Argus[/card] and [card]Antique Healbot[/card] with his hand, he had perfect anti-Aggro mid game. But well, sometimes crazy stuff like that happens.
2. Reynad’s Patron lethal – Hearthstone World Championship Americas
If someone didn’t experience the strength of pre-nerf Patron Warrior, here it is. Enemy is at 27 health? He has 2 Armorsmiths on the board (which is going to be full in a moment)? No problem. And the funny thing is that Reynad did a lot of misplays this turn. He could have killed enemy more cleanly. I won’t even calculate the exact overkill he could have, but one obvious misplay is not killing the Armorsmiths and the second one is not using his weapon (that would be 4 damage more over using 2nd Whirlwind even if he has gone face). I’m not sure whether that’s the best possible play, but he could have ran his Armorsmith and Ghoul into a 1/3, then attack 1/4 with the weapon, resulting in “only” 14 Armor gain, as opposed to 32 Armor Hyped has gained.
But nonetheless, the way Reynad has played it made it more fun and showcased the real strength of pre-nerf Patron Warrior. The turn has lasted for 1.5 minutes more after the rope has burned, dozens of Grim Patron, Armorsmith and Frothing Berserker procs were happening and no one really knew whether that was lethal or not. But as it turned out, merely a 59 points of health wasn’t enough against double Frothing Berserker charging for 36 damage each. Yeah, enemy was at 59 health and that was still 13 damage overkill, even though Reynad misplayed the turn.
I, for one, am pretty glad that the deck was nerfed. Because let’s be honest – no one wants to be on the receiving end of such a burst and it happened more often than it should have. Without Warsong Commander it’s still a strong deck, but let’s just say that not as crazy as it was before.
1. Ostkaka vs Thijs Freeze Mage mirror – Hearthstone World Championship
(The game starts at 1:24:40 if the timestamp doesn’t work)
It’s not really a moment, it’s a whole game, but I just had to put it here. Two great players playing one of the hardest matchups in Hearthstone – Freeze Mage mirror. I know that it’s not as explosive as the last two clips, a lot of you will probably even find it boring. But as a person that really enjoys long, grindy games that go to Fatigue – I watched it like 5 times already and I still think that it’s awesome.
What’s really cool (eheheh…) about the game is that for the most part I thought that Ostkaka is in a big lead. He got a better Thaurissan, a better Antonidas, less useless cards in the early/mid game etc. But as it turned out, Fatigue is a real deal in Freeze Mage matchup. Thijs identified it in the right moment, forcing Ostkaka to draw 3 cards from the [card]Acolyte of Pain[/card] he has played in the late game. Another reason for Ostkaka’s downfall was the fact that he didn’t really have a good opportunity to use [card]Alexstrasza[/card]. He decided to keep it for self-heal, but then in the fatigue scenario Thijs put him in the check-mate scenario where healing didn’t matter and [card]Ice Block[/card] was useless.
The highlight of the match is Ostkaka pinging his own face in fatigue game. It might seem weird on the first glance, because why? He just dies faster that way. But that really saved him. Ostkaka knew that Thijs didn’t ping him, because he had 9 damage in his hand ([card]Fireball[/card] + [card]Frostbolt[/card]). In that scenario Ostkaka dies the next turn, because he takes 1 fatigue damage that bypasses the Ice Block. But if he was at 9 health instead, Thijs had no cards combination that could kill him. Playing Fireball + Frostbolt would proc Ice Block at 3 health, then Ostkaka would heal up with Alex back to 15. Knowing both hands we know that it wouldn’t matter, because Ostkaka was completely out of burn and Thijs still had 15 damage in his hand. It would just prolong the game by a few turns, but that’s still an awesome play.
If you like watching Mage casting [card]Flamestrike[/card] on a 1/1 instead of pinging it and the second Mage responding with [card]Blizzard[/card] on an empty board, you should definitely check this game out.
That’s it folks. I’ve decided to not talk about the best player/team of the year, because there are tons of articles like that already. Since they are based on results I can’t really disagree with them – there is no point in writing that Thijs was the best player of 2015 yet again 🙂 I’ve decided to pick slightly different categories where I could actually share my opinions more than the facts.
Do you have your own picks in those categories? Do you agree/disagree with me? Or maybe you’d like to see some different categories too? Feel free to leave any suggestions and comments in the section below!