Sunday, March 9, 2014

FifthStitch Plays: Hearthstone - A newbie's tier list of hero powers part 1

So recently, I've been playing a lot of Hearthstone. It's a fun addicting card game by Blizzard (makers of other great and equally addicting games like the RTS game Starcraft and the MMORPG World of Warcraft) and it really caters to the mad strategist in me. I thoroughly enjoy my card games - I have at one point played Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and, obviously, Magic the Gathering, and had a lot of fun playing all of them - and Hearthstone is no exception.

B-but I like sleep... Sleep is good...

Hearthstone is unique in that you get to pick one of nine Heroes, each with their own class-specific cards and strategies. There are even some game mechanics that are unique to each individual hero, and knowing these is key to winning; it's not like the Heroes are only there to add flavor to the game. And, in my opinion, the epitome of this class-based system is the Hero Power.

Hero Powers are 2 mana (think if this as energy or resource, you get only a specific amount per turn, starting at 1 and increments by 1 every turn) effects that Heroes can use once per turn. Each Hero have their own Hero Power which shapes the way decks are built for certain classes. Since you can reliably use your Hero Power every turn, and are only gated by mana, using and abusing these Hero Powers will go a really long way into winning Hearthstone games.

These Hero Powers are more or less balanced in the grand scheme of things, and while some Hero Powers counter another (more on this later), none is (relatively) broken enough to swing the balance to a particular class or strategy. Roughly. I say so because, despite how wonderfully balanced these Hero Powers are, some, to me, are a bit more powerful than others. Here is part 1 of my tier list of Hero Powers, and why I think some are more "broken" than others. Take my opinions with a huge grain of salt, however, maybe even a dash or two of the stuff. I am only a beginner to the game, but I think I have played quite enough Arena and Casual games to form a good, if not decent opinion on the power levels of these Hero Powers.

Also, bear in mind that this was written during the Hearthstone Beta. Changes might happen before the full release of the game, but I have a feeling (and do hope) that the Hero Powers are going to remain as they are. Still, you'd never know; the game is in Beta in the first place for the purposes of testing and revision.

So, without further ado, let's begin with what I think is currently the most powerful of all of them. Say hello the "Mage"stic Jaina Proudmoore's Fireblast (hehe... hehe... see what I did there? "Mage"stic? Never mind...).

1. Fireblast: Deal 1 damage.

I think this would not come as a surprise to many.

Before I begin, let me talk a little about how I judge these Hero Powers. While it's all pretty abstract, I generally considered three criteria when I was ranking these Hero Powers. The first is Efficiency. It's basically a measure of how powerful the effect is considering the 2 mana cost. This is probably the most fickle of all the criteria, as this is dictated by the power level of all the other cards in the game, but to make it a bit simple, I basically considered what other comparable effects you can get in the game at 2. In this regard, Fireblast is decent to borderline powerful. There are a few 2 mana (and less) removal spells in the game, and some are more efficient than Fireblast, but none can top Fireblast's consistency. It's an unrestricted 1 damage spell that you can play every turn and that can target anything; if there's anything that screams consistency, it's that.

My next criteria is Flexibility: how versatile is the Hero Power, and in what situations does the Hero Power excel at. And again, in this criteria, Fireblast is king (or queen). Fireblast is more or less an unconditional one damage to anything; anything that has 1 health remaining will die to this Hero Power, and while that sounds rather underwhelming, think of all the cards that are just trumped by this effect. You can never play any 1 Health minion without fear of them being taken out rather handily by Fireblast. Hunters are especially prone to this, as a lot of their early plays revolve around Starving Buzzard and Timber Wolf, both of which have 1 Health. It's also especially satisfying to take out early game cards with Windfury like Dust Devil and Young Dragonhawk, or to pop Divine shield.

You know what they say, if you can't take the heat...

You can also use Fireblast to deal damage to your own minions. Why would you do that you say? Why, for Enrage effects of course! Fireblast is probably the safest and most effective means of triggering Enrage, as it deals only one damage. This could lead to multiple activations of Enrage, leading to huge unexpected bursts of damage.

The effect isn't half bad too in the late game, when partnered with the other Mage cards. Polymorph becomes a 6 mana kill anything spell. You can also use it to augment Flamestrike and Arcane Explosion, killing minions that you normally cannot kill with the individual cards alone. It can even make Arcane Missiles a little more consistent!

"When I grow up I want to be..." - Fireblast

And if these benefits weren't enough, on top of all these, if you've got 2 mana lying around, it doesn't hurt to ping down your enemy for one extra damage.

My final criteria is Impact; how powerfully can the effect swing the game in your favor. Fireblast is more or less decent to borderline powerful in this regard, again due to most of the benefits discussed above. Need that one extra point of damage to off a key minion? Fireblast. Not quite enough damage from Flamestrike or Arcane Explosion to take out a whole army of minions? Fireblast. Divine Shield? Fireblast. I know I'm beginning to sound like a broken record, but this is all a testament to the power of Fireblast. It probably wouldn't be swinging games in your favor all on its own though, which is why Fireblast is only decent to borderline powerful in terms of Impact, but it has a very strong potential to eventually win you games in the long run.

Which really sums up the Hero Power. It's a Hero Power that can and will win you games. Sure, it'd take you 31 or so turns, but it will get you there more or less unconditionally.

2. Reinforce: Summon a 1/1 Silver Hand Recruit

Second in my list is probably the most annoying of all the Hero Powers in the game. The Paladin has some of the most brutally consistent and straightforward cards and effects in the game, and this is reflected well in the Paladin's Hero Power.

Efficiency wise, a vanilla 1/1 isn't something to write home about. It's when you consider the frightening consistency of Reinforce that things get a bit more out of hand. No good minion or spell to play on turn two or three? You can't go wrong with a 1/1 Silver Hand Recruit that will either sponge up 1 damage that could have gone to you or be a persistent pain if left unchecked. Then you get to do it again next turn. And next turn. And next turn. So similar to Fireblast before it, Reinforce gets a decent to borderline powerful rating in terms of Efficiency for me.

In terms of Flexibility, well, Reinforce is a whole different animal from Fireblast, but it doesn't mean it's less flexible. If Fireblast is an Octopus that can basically change form at will and do a lot of things, Reinforce is a snake; while it's Flexibility isn't on par with that of a jellyfish, it can be quite as deadly. I've already mentioned how a 1/1 Silver Hand Recruit could act as a damage sponge for early game plays, but in itself, it can also serve as removal, being able to trade with the same creatures Fireblast can. Sure, it wouldn't be doing the trading on the turn it's played, but that's the beauty of Reinforce. It screws with combat math. You are going to get hit by that 3/1 Wolfrider or 2/1 Bluegill Warrior, but if your opponent does not do anything, the same creatures would be offed by a lowly 1/1 that did not even cost you a card. The threat alone could deter aggression, at least for a while.

Taken out by a recruit. What a shame.

Like Fireblast, Reinforce is also a source of persistent damage. However, unlike Fireblast, this damage can be contained, but could also grow if not. If a Silver Hand Recruit manages to survive for a turn, it can be followed up by a myriad of pump effects, and Paladin's have no shortage of them. Raid Leader curves well with the Recruit at 3 mana, allowing it to hit for 2. Blessing of Might, while being a riskier play, provides more burst, allowing your lowly recruit to hit for 4. And, if all else fails, summoning another Silver Hand Recruit means you could be attacking for 2 next turn, then for 3 the following turn, and so forth and so on. Of course, over committing Silver Hand Recruits this way could open you up to mass removal, but this is another situation where Reinforce also shines; it helps you recover much more easily after a board sweep. A Paladin is never out of minions because of Reinforce, and with that, is never out of potential sources for damage.

Lowly recruit no more! 

Finally, in terms of Impact, this is where this Hero Power is more or less lacking. There is very little a 1/1 can do on it's own, and definitely no on the turn you play it. Unless you can somehow give your Silver Hand Recruit Taunt, or Charge, it wouldn't be making much of an impact the turn you play it. Do not get me wrong, a body on the field is a body nonetheless, but it wouldn't be doing much to stop that 6/7 Boulderfist Ogre threatening to barrel into you the following turn.

When I was thinking up this tier list, this spot would have been taken up by the one that comes after it, but after much thought, the sheer consistency of this Hero Power won me over. Minor as the effect might seem, you get what is advertised, which is sometimes a lot more important than the Hero Power's overall Impact. Sure, a powerful random effect is more swingy, but in a game of accruing advantages, knowing exactly what you would get and planning with it and around it can be much more rewarding.

After all, I'd rather have a trusty sword than an unstable canon that might backfire at an inopportune time.

3. Totemic Call: Summon a random Totem

Truth be told, I have not played with the Shaman class a lot, but I have been in the receiving end of a nasty combination of Totems to say that this effect deserves the third spot in my newbie tier list.

Similar to Reinforce, Totemic Call creates board presence for the player. This also means a Shaman is really never without a minion option. However, unlike Reinforce, Totemic Call can sometimes bring with that minion a more powerful or more relevant effect. Sometimes. Due to the random nature of Totemic Call, you'd never really know until you hit that Hero Power button. And due to this random nature, it isn't quite easy to gauge the Efficiency of this effect in terms of consistency (which from now on I would bundle together as one criteria, as they are somewhat related in my convoluted little brain. Deal with it.). At 2 mana, you can end up summoning either a 0/2 Healing Totem that heals all damaged friendly minions by 1 at the end of your turn, a 0/2 Stoneclaw Totem with Taunt (my favorite of the bunch, squirm as I random out a 0/2 that will break your combat plans, wahahahaha), a 0/2 Wrath of Air Totem that gives your spells an additional Spell Power, or a 1/1 Searing Totem that, for all intents and purposes is almost exactly the same as a Silver Hand Recruit.

While not a choice for Totemic Call, I head that summoning these two together 
also summons the legendary I-Hate-You-With-All-My-Hearthstone-Might Totem...

You'd probably argue, this is definitely better than Reinforce, so why is it below Reinforce in the list?!? Well, first, it's my list so I make the rules, and second, yes, I know, and I am torn between the two as well as you are. But as Flexible as the effect may seem, it's random, and you are forced to deal with the effect after it has been played, as opposed to planning before playing it. What if you needed that defensive Taunt option, but you are given a Searing Totem instead? Or what if you wanted that extra Spell Power, but out comes a useless (at the moment) Healing Totem. Flexibility isn't always about having more possibilities, sometimes its about dictating which of those possibilities you'd rather have at any point in the game. Reliability is, after all, Flexibility's often unsung brother-in-arms.

That said, the options you get from Totemic Call would indeed give you a lot of possibilities, which makes Totemic Call excellent in a lot of scenarios. Need a bit of help in minion resiliency? Hope for a Healing Totem! Need one bit more damage to take out that pesky Taunt minion? Hope for a Wrath of Air Totem! Need one more point of damage next turn to take out your opponent? Searing Totem! Need to stymie an offensive from that cheap ass Lightspawn with 30 attack and 30 health? I sure hope the RNG is in your favor today, as that Stoneclaw Totem would come in handy right about now.

Alas, and I cannot stress this enough, due to it's randomness, the only thing you can rely on regarding these Totems is that they are, similar to Silver Hand Recruits, bodies that can absorb damage and, sometimes, deal damage as well. Will they win you the game? Well, probably not directly, unless you roll out a bunch of Searing Totems, but they'd help you get to that point, especially with the Shaman's other cards. Flametongue Totem costs 1 less than Raid Leader for a more or less comparable effect, and Bloodlust is Blessing of Might, but for ALL your minions instead.

For the days when Coffee just isn't enough

In terms of Impact, this is where Totemic Call far outshines Reinforce. The random Totems this Hero Power can produce will more or less have much more impact than a Silver Hand Recruit individually, unless you get a Searing Totem. I've been saved quite a number of times by a steady stream of Stoneclaw Totems, and have been screwed over by Healing Totems from opposing Shamans. Combat math is thrown out the window when facing Totemic Call, which is where Totem Call ultimately draws it's strength.

Sure, when you're the one using it, a trusty sword is far more useful, but if you're the one against it, I bet you would be more afraid of the unstable canon that might blow your face off in case it fires the way it should.

So there you have it! My newbie top three tier list of Hero Powers for Hearthstone. Tune in next time (whenever that may be) when I list down my top four to six. Until then, may your Fireblasts grow up to become Flamestrikes and may your Totemic Calls yield exactly what you need!

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