The 2020 Hearthstone Hall Of Fame: Goodbye to Aggro? Not Quite.

by Contriiver

Introduction

Hello there! I’m Contriiver or The4mana77. I’m an avid Hearthstone player with ~5.3k wins since the launch of Old Gods who’s consistently hit rank 3 every month for the past year, peaking at one win away from Legend and currently at Diamond 4 after acquiring a 10x star multiplier for the new season. I’m a data and analytics fanatic and absolutely love all things statistics, including analyzing the meta and countermeta, conquest and specialist lineup creation, Battlegrounds strategies, and tech choices. You can contact me at any time on Discord at Contriiver#1963, Battle.net at The4mana77#1858, or Twitter @Contriiver if you ever want to talk Hearthstone, have questions, or want to practice in some matches. 

This article aims to analyze and juxtapose the general state of the meta, both on micro and macro scales, from before and after the balance changes. All data I reference has been published from HSReplay.net and ViciousSyndicate.com.

Before the Crash

Prior to the Hall of Fame changes this year, the meta was seemingly one of the most balanced yet diverse we’ve seen in a while. With a trio of decks from different classes at the top, there was no singular meta-breaker and each of the decks had its own counter. Perhaps the best part of the meta was its unlimited arsenal of powerful yet balanced decks, with anywhere from 5 to 12 combined decks being competitive in tiers 2 and 3 while also fluctuating over time. However, each of the top tier decks did have an “unfun” variable in it: Dragon Hunter felt like an onslaught from the start, Galakrond Rogue always had an answer, and Galakrond Warrior was an inevitable behemoth of armor and chip damage. Furthermore, there was a lot of blandness when deckbuilding: to be competitive, a deck needed to include either the Galakrond or Highlander package, or sometimes even both. If a deck didn’t include either package and was a good deck, it utilized some other uninteractive or unfun mechanic (see: Embiggen Druid, Mech Paladin). If this wasn’t cookie-cutter enough, there were too many neutral staples carrying every deck. Zilliax and SN1P-SN4P were (and still are) used in 40-50% of all decks, any deck needing aggressive fodder would use the highly effective “tech” cards of Boompistol Bully and/or Bad Luck Albatross, and nearly all aggressive decks would be >50% neutral cards by abusing Blazing Battlemage, Faerie Dragon, Injured Tol’vir, Scalerider, Frenzied Felwing, Evasive Feywing, and Big Ol’ Whelp. Finally, on the macro scale of things, ladder felt bland despite the variety. Across all ranks and over the course of late February up until the balance changes, Rogue and Hunter both maintained a steady 20% of the field in play rate. Meanwhile in Legend, only 6 decks held over a 5% play despite the bottom four classes (Priest, Warlock, Shaman, and Paladin) never eclipsing a coalesced ~16% of the field. Overall, it was a plain meta with superficial diversity, a high power standard, and controversial meta giants. 

Hall of Fame

On March 26th, the changes hit and disrupted the solved meta. Mage was dealt a soft blow by the loss of Acolyte of Pain, while Priest’s Combo deck was gone in the blink of an eye. Every aggro deck out there, as well as Rogue, mourned the loss of the beloved Leeroy Jenkins. However, the most impactful change was caused by two losses: Galakrond Warrior lost both it’s most powerful draw engine in Acolyte of Pain as well as it’s biggest burst enabler, Leeroy. Although still strong now, the deck was viewed as a crippled husk of its former self, leading to a power vacuum. This led to many decks previously held back largely by Warrior to gain in play rate and win rate. Both variants of Galakrond Warlock skyrocketed in winrate despite their playrate staying put, while Highlander Mage and Mech Paladin rose slightly in both rates. The biggest winner of the changes was Highlander Rogue; it only lost the non-essential and even clunky Leeroy while the field became much less hostile. It’s arguably a tier one deck right now and has filled the shoes of Warrior. 

Reverted Nerfs

When it comes to reverted nerfs, there were 3 “new” decks that arose. The most prominent one, in tournaments at least, would easily be Control Warrior. It’s tough to simply use that term due to the large variety of Warrior decks including Dr. Boom, Mad Genius, but they all accomplish the same general role of being an obnoxiously value and removal filled control deck. It’s showing early signs of success in tournaments due to its lack of a plethora of counters, and is somewhat present on ladder. Another deck that has been revitalized is the infamous Raiding Party Rogue. I can’t speak to its strength right now; it has too low of a playrate and too scattered of winrates to draw any conclusions to its power level. However, perhaps the clearest yet most unsuspecting winner of the bunch would be Aggro Shaman. I may be biased in this due to my 66% winrate with it over 71 games, but various sources both speak on and provide evidence for this deck’s power level. It’s only hard counters are Control/Highlander Warrior and Control Warlock, it boasts competitive win rates against Druid, Rogue, Hunter, and Priest, while it slaughters Mages and Paladins. This deck is especially strong in tournament format, where Warrior is bannable and Warlocks are few and far between. Aggro Shaman is a complete sleeper which I expect to quietly rule over the meta in small clusters until Ashes of Outland arrives.

False Hope

Prior to the arrival of the changes and after they had been announced, many players began telling of a new era, one of slow matchups and devoid of aggro. These doomsayers spoke of an apocalyptic world, one in which only pros, tryhards, and sadists would thrive due to the lengthy control and combo matches to come. However, when the changes arrived, predictions were shattered: there was no control revolution. Aggro players, tentative at first to attempt playing after losing their King Jenkins, slowly realized that not much had changed. Control Warrior players rejoiced in the juciy aggro prey ready to be gobbled up and holding a pillow, ready for the occasional control mirror during which they could get a long night’s rest. All the poor souls aching and itching to play Malygos Druid shed a few tears before sitting up straight and embracing Quest Druid yet again. The meta was the same, save for a few more sleepers, a couple less Combo Priests, and the quiet dethroning of Galakrond Warrior. All in all, the balance changes haven’t exactly brought about a brooding control meta or a controversial combo meta. Players were given a change of pace; a brief taste of the new metas they’re all addicted to, but only enough to satisfy them through the ranked changes and until the much anticipated Ashes of Outland release. And so the Hearthstone world returns to its default state pre-expansion in a new year: ominous, meta, and ever-aggressive.

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