Understanding Threat Value in Hearthstone
Hi again everyone! I hope all of you are enjoying the second wing of Curse of Naxxramas, The Plague Quarter (or soon to!). In this article, I will discuss the significance of threat value, an important concept from Magic: The Gathering but applies in many ways to Hearthstone as well.
Threat value represents the amount of danger you might be in as a result of an individual or sequence of plays from your opponent. Though often related, this does not always equate to the most powerful/lethal play possible.
To illustrate, let's talk about one of the most consistent and powerful decks in the meta-game: Miracle Rogue (stock version included in the deck-list section for completeness). Everyone knows the familiar sight of seeing Leeroy Jenkins, Shadowstep, Shadowstep #2, and maybe some combination of Cold Bloodand/or Eviscerateto deal anywhere from 18 to 22 points of [lethal] damage.
Though this is usually the sequence of plays that wins the game, the real threat value of Miracle Rogue actually comes from a Gadgetzan Auctioneerfollowed by Concealon turn 5 or 6. Strictly speaking, you take no damage the turn your opponent conceals his/her auctioneer. However, the stealth auctioneer signals that you are in imminent danger of losing the game suddenly and therefore must find a way to get his Gadgetzan Auctioneer off the board immediately.
Combo Threat Value
Due to threat value being synonymous with danger, the most frequent applications of threat value generally lie in combo decks and burst finishes. Because Hearthstone is currently primarily composed of "aggro", "mid-range", and "control" decks, there lies fewer chances to see threat value in action. Miracle Rogue is actually the only tier 1 combo deck in the meta-game right now. Historically speaking, the old Warsong Commanderdecks (pre-nerf) could be considered combo as well. However, there are still plenty of opportunities to exercise threat value in many of the existing deck archetypes. Moreover, several players have already begun incorporating combo burst finishes in their decks in order to prevent opposing players from slowly getting back into the game or to steal games outright.
Some of the most popular burst finishes seen on the ladder include:
- Force of Nature+ Savage Roar
- Leeroy Jenkins + Power Overwhelming+ Faceless Manipulator
- Rockbiter Weapon+ Doomhammer/Al'Akir the Windlord
- Alexstrasza+ Gorehowl
- Prophet Velen+ Mind Blast
- and my personal favorite, Bloodlust+ 3-5 minions
With the exception of Doomhammer and Bloodlust, these combo finishes require at least 9 mana to pull off. However, one of the primary benefits of running these combos (besides large amounts of burst damage) is that it forces your opponent to play more conservatively. For example, your opponent will need to keep himself above 14 life at all times against your Druid deck because you can simply kill him out of nowhere on turn 9+. Similar logic and rationale can be applied for Power Overwhelming and the other plethora of combo finishes.
Aggro Threat Value
In addition to combo decks and burst finishes, aggressive tempo strategies can also display excellent threat value. For example, any deck leading with a Leper Gnomeon turn 1 is probably capable of killing you within the first 7 turns of the game (if all goes right for them). These decks include Face Hunter, Divine Paladin, ultra-aggressive Zoo-Lock builds, Aggro Mage, and Aggro Warrior.
Though Leper Gnome's deathrattle ability does not directly impact the board, its presence on turn 1 serves as an indicator that your opponent probably does not care much about card advantage/board control and will thus prioritize dealing as much damage to you as possible. As a result, you should not waste time with card advantage engines such as Acolyte of Pain, Mana Tide Totem, and even your hero ability unless you have no other plays available.
In addition to explosive starts, these "face" decks often have ways of finishing the game without needing board control. Face Hunter has its hero ability, Steady Shot, to continually drain you 2 points of damage per turn for additional reach. The other face decks often have direct damage spells (i.e. Soulfireand Fireball) as well in order to deal those last few points of damage.
Finally, these decks and similar variants usually have access to Leeroy Jenkins as a pseudo Fireball. All of this forces you to be much more liberal with your removal and sweeper spells as all that early damage adds up quickly to a loss.
Control Threat Value
Though control decks generally don't pressure your life total in the early turns of the game, they can utilize threat value as well. Unlike burst finishes and aggressive decks, the most dangerous play a control player can make is resetting the board with a devastating sweeper.
One of the most aggravating/dissatisfying feelings in Hearthstone occurs when your opponent just blindly plays out all of his minion cards and you haven't drawn your sweeper spell yet. However against opponents exercising more caution, even control decks can exhibit signs of threat value. Swipe, Explosive Trap, Flamestrike, Consecration, Holy Nova, Blade Flurry, Lightning Storm, Hellfire, and Brawlsignifies that each class has a least one relevant sweeper spell. The majority of them are played on turn 4 or later.
However, upon the control player reaching the critical amount of mana needed for his respective class sweeper spell (i.e. 4 for Swipe), the aggro player must seriously weigh the option of holding back minions in order to avoid over-extending. Failing to do so can easily result in getting blown out by Flamestrike or any of the aforementioned sweepers.
Countering Threat Value
In order to combat burst finishes and ultra-aggressive face decks, one must learn when to prioritize protecting his life total. Though there may be an initial urge to protect one's life total at all cost, this mentality should only come into effect after the first few turns of the match. Playing too defensively will allow your opponent to gain board control and give him plenty of time to find his combo and direct damage spells.
As the game progresses, this decision becomes easier as it is generally correct to play more conservatively and put your opponent out of burst damage reach. Some great ways to do this include playing taunt minions such as Defender of Argus(even if it forces you to "waste" mana) and gaining life through Earthen Ring Farseerand Guardian of Kings. Moreover, playing these cards early on even helps prevent you from being forced into sub-optimal plays during the latter stages of the game.
One of the most difficult things to do as an aggro player is to play around sweepers. In general, it is ill-advised to play out more than 2-3 minions on the board unless your opponent has already wasted his sweeper spell. Fortunately, there are some cards that are great at hedging against sweepers. These cards include enrage cards (i.e. Amani Berserker), Acolyte of Pain, and even the new addition from Curse of Naxxramas, Nerubian Egg, as all of these cards have a desirable effect when damaged.
Another great way to negate a sweeper's threat value is to trade your minions in a way that leaves your best minion out of sweeper range. For example, suppose you are playing Zoo and have a damaged (5/5) Doomguard, (3/2) Knife Juggler, (3/2) Shattered Sun Cleric, and (2/1) Abusive Sergeantout while your opponent is playing Control Paladin with a (3/2) Acidic Swamp Oozeout. While it may be tempting to have your Doomguard attack the Acidic Swamp Ooze, this leaves you vulnerable to Consecration. If both of you are top-decking at this point, I personally would have the Abusive Sergeant attack the Acidic Swamp Ooze. This is due to the fact that a lucky top-deck Consecration from him sweeps your entire board and ultimately causes you to lose the game. However, hedging against Consecration in this scenario forces him to find at least two more cards to deal with your remaining minions.
I hope this has been an informative read for all of you. Please leave comments and suggestions below for anything you may have questions on. I am generally good about responding to comments and look forward to what you have to say. Thanks for reading and enjoy the rest of the Curse of Naxxramas!