I Hate Hearthstone
I love Hearthstone. I’m saying that now for the record. It is an absolutely brilliant collectable card game (CCG) featuring gameplay that provides the perfect example of a game that is easy to learn, hard to master, but also incredibly fun and addicting. For details on the game itself, check out my “nearly a review” preview of Hearthstone that I posted during the Beta.
Alright… now that that’s out of the way, let’s get down to the real business of this article. Yes, I hate Hearthstone, just as much as I love it. It used to be such innocent fun when I was a newbie, playing casual matches against other new players and gleefully unlocking the free cards in the basic set. It got even better as I started to open packs of Expert cards, and the new deck building opportunities seemed endless as I got to know more and more interesting cards. It was also great to be able to step away from the comprehensive rules of Magic: The Gathering and enjoy a much simpler game that also had a respectable degree of strategy despite that simplicity.
But the more I played, the better I got, and the greater my understanding of the deeper mechanics and strategies became, the more the game started to infuriate me. I started encountering the same boring decks over and over again, my luck with drawing cards out of packs was horrible, and the crafting system was failing to make up for that. But has that stopped me from playing? No. On the contrary, I am practically playing Hearthstone religiously at this point. I’ve got to earn that gold, right?
A Legendary Problem
At first, it was just simple jealousy of people with better cards than me. As I started to get matched up against more difficult opponents, I started to frequently play against people with the best legendary and epic cards in the game. At that point, I had only one or two epics, and the one legendary I had was the golden Gelbin Mekkatorque that was awarded to players that spent money in the Beta (I spent all of $2.99, and I have yet to spend another dime), and that particular legendary is about as useful as flipping a coin, because it helps your opponent as often as it helps you. Needless to say, the first time I lost a game that I had been on track to win because Gelbin Mekkatorque turned out to be a traitorous backstabber, was the last time I ever included the double-crossing gnome in a deck.
So when I started to lose games that had been entirely fun and balanced because all of a sudden a legendary card appeared that I had no answer for, I started to get frustrated and a bit jealous. By that time I had already opened about 20 packs of Expert cards, and despite the 5% chance of getting a legendary in any given pack, the RNG gods were against me thus far, and I hadn’t found the luck I needed to draw a single one.
I went back to the drawing board, tinkering with my decks and trying to make the best out of the limited cards I had. I didn’t want to break down and invest a ton of money into the game just on the off chance of drawing a legendary, so I kept refining and refining until I had a few decks I was happy with. It didn’t help much. Just as before, enjoyable games turned completely one-sided as a single powerful legendary minion was summoned. I’d look at it, and then think of every single card in my deck, and realize that even if I drew every card at once, I wouldn’t be able to do anything about the situation.
Of course, there are ways to deal with nearly every legendary. There are the usual removal spells, silencing effects, and a variety of other countermeasures. But to a relatively new player with a limited library of cards, encountering these minions is like hitting a brick wall, or perhaps a wall of swords.
This is doubly true in situations where the legendary minion can serve its purpose before the opposing player has any chance to respond. Oh, look, it’s Leeroy Jenkins! He got summoned next to a Flametongue Totem and that Windspeaker just gave him Windfury… gg! Oh, hey, it’s Ysera, and as if a 4/12 minion weren’t bad enough, my opponent is probably going to use that Dream Card to summon a 7/6 Emerald Drake for only 4 crystals on the next turn. My Sen’jin Shieldmasta just ran back to his village. Then of course there’s Archmage Antonidas, which creates a copy of a Fireball spell every time the controlling player uses a spell, and wouldn’t you know it, this particularly crafty player just happens to have a couple of low cast spells and saved the coin, and will be blasting me with an endless supply of fireballs for the rest of this short-lived game.
And hey, there’s everyone’s favorite Legendary, Ragnaros the Firelord! The majority of friends I play with managed to pull Ragnaros out of a pack within a couple weeks of starting to play Hearthstone, and it seems to pop up in games more often than any other legendary. After opening another 20 packs, I finally did get a legendary of my own. Can you guess what it was? None other than the completely powerless Loremaster Cho, who, not unlike Gelbin Mekkatorque, can help my opponent as much as it can help me. At least in this situation a cleverly designed deck can make good use of Loremaster Cho, but as far as legendary minions go, he’s pretty lame.
I did get one other legendary minion in the months that followed. It was Bloodmage Thalnos, a 1/1 minion that improves spell power and which has a deathrattle effect that allows the controlling player to draw a card. It’s handy, that’s for sure, but it’s certainly no comfort when Deathwing and Malygos are breathing down your neck. Somehow I have two legendary minions with only 1 point of power between them both, and one of them is so weak that it can be defeated by a sheep; legendary, indeed.
A Crafty Situation
Obviously I’m a bit frustrated by my bad luck at opening packs and the growing frequency of my encounters with my opponent’s legendary cards. I imagine at this point you might be wondering why I don’t just craft a legendary of my own. Isn’t it obvious? I don’t have enough dust. I am a collector after all, so I don’t want to burn cards unless I have more of them than I can use, and even if I did, the amount of dust earned by disenchanting is pitiful.
This is one area of the game I think Blizzard should actually tweak. I can’t expect them to make legendary cards more common, nor do I think it reasonable to ask them to nerf existing cards to make them balance better against decks with fewer epic and legendary cards in them. After all, legendary cards should be appropriately powerful and rewarding to use. But I do think they can increase the amount of dust earned through disenchanting to make it a bit easier for players to craft a legendary of their own.
At this point you have to disenchant 8 commons to make a common, 5 rare cards to make a rare, 4 epics to make an epic and 4 legendary cards to make a legendary. But trying to make a legendary without disenchanting other legendary cards is absurdly costly. You’d have to disenchant 320 commons, 80 rare cards, or 16 epics to make a single legendary card. Is any card worth destroying so much of your collection?
Obviously this whole system is in place to encourage players to purchase more Expert packs, but I feel as though the current system is too punishing to casual players (and unlucky people like yours truly). You might argue that I need to learn to play, get better at Arena runs and earn more gold to open more packs, but that doesn’t change the fact that disenchanting cards is about as rewarding as betting five bucks in a slot machine and earning a dime. Blizzard can do better.
The Cookie Cutter
But the single most frustrating aspect of Hearthstone is repeatedly facing off against the same exact, highly publicized and copied decks. Players know these decks are proven and use them to get as many wins as possible. Meanwhile, players like myself that choose to build their own decks from scratch and to come up with creative card combinations end up either at a disadvantage or find themselves not having fun as their opponents decks become more and more predictable, but no less effective.
Though your mileage may vary, in my case, it is the Priest control deck that I am sick and tired of playing against. It is filled with removal cards that can prevent you from ever getting into a rhythm, large minions that can be kept alive indefinitely with the Priest’s ability to heal, and cards that actually steal your minions, bringing them under the control of the Priest and drastically turning the tide of the battle.
I’m not saying it’s impossible to win against such a deck—I have won on several occasions—but win or lose, playing against that deck is no fun whatsoever. It’s an extremely slow, methodical game where every decision is based on the cards you just know the priest has in their hand. You find yourself playing cards to draw out their removal instead of planning on actually doing any damage with them, and more often than not, you are exactly right about what cards the Priest is holding. And in the late game, you don’t even play your best cards because the Priest is so likely to Mind Control them before you even get any use out of them.
These decks usually also include a Thoughtsteal or two, which in my opinion, is one of the most overpowered cards in the game. For 3 crystals, a Priest can copy two cards from their opponent’s deck and put them into their hand. This has multiple advantages over other draw cards. The most obvious is that it gives the priest information about what cards are in their opponent’s deck. But it is the less obvious advantage that is the more significant. A deck of Hearthstone cards has exactly 30 cards in it; no more, no less. Filling a deck with draw cards has many advantages, but it can also lead to running out of cards sooner than your opponent. But with Thoughtsteal, the cards are copied from the opposing deck, and thus increase the number of cards the Priest can use to 32 or 34. This works synergistically with the Priest’s tendency to favor long, drawn out games.
When all is said and done, it is extremely difficult to gain either card advantage or board advantage when playing against a control Priest. The Priest’s opponent rarely gets to enjoy using their own cards, and there is no fun to be had in such a game, even if it is won. In my case, it’s gotten to the point where I debate whether or not I even want to participate in a game, just because my opponent happens to be a Priest. I always do in the end, but I rarely enjoy the game.
The worst part about the frequency of encountering this deck is how it affects deck creation. Instead of trying to come up with the exact deck that I want to play with, I have to instead build my deck knowing how often I am going to be playing against the Priest control deck. I know that the two cheap removal spells that Priests use (Shadow Word: Pain and Shadow Word: Death) both have one common weakness; they cannot target minions with 4 power. So now I find myself building decks full of either four power minions, or methods of changing the minions’ power to 4. This is no way to build a deck, but what choice do I have?
Now, I always acknowledge the possibility (or probability) that I’m just bad—which is fine. I don’t mind losing a hard fought game against a player that played well and used an interesting deck. But in those moments in which I am starting a new game after losing to the same Priest deck twice in a row and—wouldn’t you know it—my next opponent is yet another Priest, that is when I hate Hearthstone the most.
Of course, the Priest control deck is only one of a variety of cookie cutter builds. I have friends that rage whenever they face off against a Mage and others that can’t stand Hunters. But one thing’s for sure: Hearthstone is much more enjoyable when the decks you play against and varied and unique. I imagine as more cards are added to the game through expansions, this problem with be alleviated a bit, but for now, cookie cutter builds are sapping a lot of the fun out of Hearthstone.
Still, even with frustrating games against cookie cutters, my horrible luck with legendary cards and the extremely stringy crafting system, Hearthstone is still a lot of fun. For all those moments in which I want to shout, “I hate Hearthstone!” at the top of my lungs, there are just as many or more in which, “I love this game,” is much more appropriate, and I find myself introducing friends to the game at every chance I get.
Maybe it’s the fact that Hearthstone can be played and enjoyed completely for free that keeps me playing. With the daily quests providing a steady trickle of gold that can be spent on Expert packs, there are always more cards to look forward to adding to your collection, and that sustains the fun of building, refining and testing decks.
There’s also the simple matter of how short a game of Hearthstone is. Most games can be completed in only 10 to 15 minutes. They are quick and fun, and can be squeezed into a relatively busy schedule with ease. Whenever I find myself with an unexpected 15 minutes of free time, I almost always boot up Hearthstone without hesitation.
Then there is Arena, which in my opinion is the most compelling aspect of the game. It is the one way to play Hearthstone against unknown opponents in which you do not have to worry about playing against the same old cookie cutter builds over and over again. The random nature of deck construction in Arena forces you to use cards you might not normally use and your opponents’ decks will be equally unpredictable. I even encountered an Angry Chicken in one memorable arena matchup. If only I had my Bloodmage Thalnos, they could have had a legendary battle.
For all its frustrations and rage inducing moments, Hearthstone remains an incredible game. I hate Hearthstone, but I love it just as much. I’ll still rage from time to time when I play it, whether it’s from a crappy pull from an Expert pack, battling yet another control Priest in ranked mode, encountering Ragnaros for the umpteenth time, or just a simple losing streak. But for every moment like that there will be an Arena run against an Angry Chicken, a fun series of battles against a friend, a hard fought win in ranked mode, or a moment of clairvoyant deck design and the fun series of matches that follows. Love it or hate it, Hearthstone is here to stay.