Jan 122014

I was super excited after my 12-2 Paladin run (and a subsequent 9-3 Mage run) last weekend. I told myself “This is it! I’ve turned the corner! I’m really good at this game now!”

Then came this week…and splat. I didn’t do badly, in an objective sense: 19-12 over 4 runs is still a 60% win rate, and 3 of those were with classes I’m not as familiar with. Yet, I couldn’t shake the feeling that things were just getting more generally difficult. Eager to find someone else then myself to blame for failures, I decided to go digging for some stats, and voila: Arena Mastery. (Excellent, excellent site. Please submit stats to them or Hearthstats if you don’t already!)

My theory is simple: due to the holidays, the rate of new beta keys going out dwindled rapidly, which has thinned the new player pool considerably. With fewer of those newer players setting forth with their free entries/initial achievement gold (and getting crushed), all the better arena players are playing each other more often, which kills win rates for everybody. Now, Arena Mastery only started logging stats on 10 December, but it does give me some options for splits. Let’s see what the average # of wins is for more recent splits: If it’s falling, my theory may be correct. Remember, these are stats for Arena Mastery users, who presumably are more invested in the game (and improving) then the average player.

  • Since 10 December: 4.96 average wins (27272 games logged)
  • Since 18 December: 4.93 average wins (22708 games logged)
  • Since 04 January: 4.77 average wins (6811 games logged)
  • Since 09 January: 4.70 average wins (2874 games logged)
  • Since 10 January: 4.63 average wins (1060 games logged)

Even though I’d be wary of the last few splits due to sample size, the trend is pretty clear. Some quick math shows that from 10 December to 04 January, the average win # was 5.02; it’s dropped a quarter-win since then.  Whether it’s keys or another reason, people are getting better at Arena, and going “infinite” (meaning averaging 7 wins per run, or 70% winrate) is harder than ever. Thankfully, this should smooth out soon once things hit open beta and an influx of new players shows up, but if you’re getting frustrated with your performance right now, this might be a good time to take a break. Now that Test Season 2 has started, I’m considering playing some ladder games and just saving gold for a bit. We’ll see – I’ve still got that Steam backlog to work through as well.

 Posted by at 12:35 am
Jan 092014

In my last post, I went through the decklist of my 12-win paladin; today, I’m doing a  game-by-game review, to see if there was anywhere my play could’ve improved. We’ll be doing this using Hearthlog, the excellent tool created by Chip Bradford (check it out if you haven’t already). Unfortunately, I forgot to log the first game, so we’ll start at 1-0 with Game 2.

Game 2: Paladin vs. Mage. I go 2nd, my initial draw is the perfect curve you love to see when 2nd, the 2-2-3-4. On top of that, I have an Argent Protector and a Truesilver Champion. Argent Protector is one of those cards that’s great early or late; if it’s your only 2-drop, it’s okay to drop alone, or if you have another 2-drop, you can usually get a free 2-for-1. Using AP and the Silver, I quickly get board control, and when his only drop on Turn 6 is an Ironbeak Owl, it’s game over. For some reason, I didn’t play my Ogre on Turn 6; perhaps I was afraid of a Polymorph? Not sure, but that let the game drag on a little longer then it had to. 2-0.

Game 3: Paladin vs. Mage. Made a terrible play this game. He coins out an Amani Berserker Turn 1, and I decide to drop an Argent Squire for some reason. He obviously takes the free enrage, and smacks me for 10 before he bounces it back to his hand. Luckily, the bounce costs him board control, and he never gets it back. I win on Turn 8. 3-0.

Game 4: Paladin vs. Shaman. Not a great draw this time around; I go first, and after mulligan, I end up with a Worgen/Dingo/Silver. No luck on the draw, so my Turn 2 is a heropower 1/1, which he promptly counters with a Stormforged Axe.. I get a Sword of Justice, though, and pump out a scary 4/4 Raging Worgen and 3/2 Infiltrator Turn 4 to face his 3/3 Worgen. He burns his Hex on the Worgen, and then has no Turn 5 play, which pretty much ends the game. 4-0.

Game 5: Paladin vs. Paladin. First mirror match. 2/3/4 draw, always good. He chooses to trade his Wolfrider for my 3/2 to protect his Pint-Sized Summoner; not sure I’d have made that trade, especially after his Turn 3 is a 3-drop. We both Silver up and do some minion killing. Turn 6, he drops a Boulderfist Ogre, which puts me in a bad spot. I can Blessing of Kings my 1/1, but that’s not enough to kill the Ogre. Oh well, I take the bad trade (4 damage + Kings + 1/1) for his Ogre and keep going.  Turn 7, same situation, except this time it’s a Core Hound and I don’t have a Kings. I do the same thing (Silver + Recruit) to take out the Ogre, but that puts me down to 13 life. Luckily, he dumps his hand on Turn 9 to try to finish me; all low cards, and I have a Consecrate + Kodo. I wipe his board, but am down to 8 life. I have board control, but on Turn 11,  he pulls his 2nd Truesilver Champion. Incredibly, he doesn’t go for me, instead killing a minion; if he had swung at me on 11 and 12, he wins as he’s still at 30 life. He doesn’t, and I finish him off on Turn 14. 5-0.

Game 6: Paladin vs. Paladin. Not an exceptionally interesting game; he didn’t have a Turn 2 play, I had lots of small cards, and was able to ooze half his Truesilver. He conceded Turn 7. 6-0.

Game 7:  Paladin vs. Mage. Mirror Images – good if you have something behind it to do damage, not so good by itself. Also, this and this  (and especially this) is a textbook example of how not to get good value from your AoE spells. Sure, Flamestrike my Novice Engineer and Recruit! :) He got a little more value out of Flamestrike #3, but not much. 7-0.

Game 8: Paladin vs. Mage. Probably should not have dropped the Engineer on Turn 2 with a 3/2 out there (debatable). Example 4 of not getting value from Flamestrike, but may have had no choice since I was about to get an enraged Raging Worgen. His second Flamestrike was better, though, and he got enough out of a Warlord + Tiger + Argus to finish me with a Fireball + Pyroblast. 7-1.

Game 9: Paladin vs. Paladin. No good options on this turn. That said, I wiped out 4 with a Consecration next turn, and he just couldn’t keep up with Sword of Justice-buffed minions. This was also the game where I had 4 Truesilvers in hand. :) He did get his Molten Giant out near the end; had enough low minions to finish him off, however. 8-1.

Game 10: Paladin vs. Mage. Standard play through Turn 5. I misplay a bit here and think that my hero ability will trigger a Mirror Entity secret; it doesn’t, so I drop a Wolfrider which does. Oops. Not the end of the world (I could’ve dropped my Smith instead). Turn 6 is an interesting choice, as he has a 2/1, 3/1, and 1/1 on board. Fearing Polymorph and not having a Consecrate, I drop a Sen’jin + Recruit. He trades his whole board for it (after he drops his 7/7), so likely a good play. Rest of the game is fairly uninteresting; standard board play, which I win when I bait out a Fireball on a Kings’d 1/1 and drop my 6/7 Ogre next turn. She  gets me to 9 life but never draws a finisher, and I win when she runs out of cards. 9-1.

Game 11: Paladin vs. Shaman. Shaman have great board-clears; luckily, I get my Sword of Justice and coin it out Turn 2. Like most games where a Sword doesn’t get oozed, it’s pretty 1-sided. He has pretty good minions so it takes a little longer, but he dies turn 10. 10-1.

Game 12: Paladin vs Shaman. Good draw, won early board control, cleared his mid-board with a Geomancer + Consecrate, and won easy on Turn 8. 11-1.

Game 13:  Paladin vs. Rogue. It’s the championship match! Of course, I freeze up and misplay. I get an Ooze/Argent Protector, decide to save the Ooze so trade the Protector and drop nothing on Turn 3. He curves out well and I never regain enough board control. 11-2.

Game 14: Paladin vs. Paladin. I’m ready for a tough final match…so this one turns out to be completely anticlimactic.  I get a Sword of Justice out early, then use the board control + Argent Commander to rush him down and win Turn 8. 12-2!

Some nice rewards, and the pack was money too. :)



 Posted by at 6:15 pm
Jan 062014

Lock_War_Pala ArenaGood evening, everyone! If you’ve followed my Twitter feed, you saw that I pulled off a 12-win arena with Paladin over the weekend. In the first installment of what will hopefully be a weekly feature, I’m going to take you through my thinking during the draft, and in my next post, give you some play-by-play from the games themselves. We’re working from an embarrasment of riches here; this deck is the most powerful I’ve seen in recent memory. Note that the star rankings I use here are from a custom ranking system I’ve built, which I will be publishing Soon(TM).

The Draft

Hero: Paladin beats Warrior and Warlock. Paladin is a solid choice, second only to Mage. Warlock and Warrior aren’t the worst, but I consider them both below-average.

  1. Stampeding Kodo / Gadgetzan Auctioneer / Arcane Golem. Two 5-star choices right off the bat. I prefer the Kodo, though; you very frequently get a free kill with him, and Auctioneer’s card draw isn’t so hot for Paladin. Golem is situationally useful, but not recommended at all against these picks.
  2. Novice Engineer /  Stormwind Knight / Bloodfen Raptor. Engineer and Knight are close; in a more aggro deck, I prefer the Knight here, but this early in the draft you pick for value. I rate Engineer a 4-star and Knight a 3.5-star, so Engineer is the pick. Raptor is a serviceable 2-drop but inferior to the other choices.
  3. Reckless Rocketeer / Redemption / Blessing of Might. Ugh…none of these cards are great. Blessing of Might is just straight-up bad; if you don’t have cards on board, it doesn’t help you much. Redemption is similar, though it plays pretty well when used offensively, especially with Charge/Divine Shield minions. I’ll take the straight-up damage of the Rocketeer.
  4. Hammer of Wrath / River Crocolisk / Ironfur Grizzly. Easy choice. Hammer kills something AND cycles a new card in, making it a 4.5-star card. The others are much worse.
  5. Truesilver Champion / Hand of Protection / Priestess of Elune. Truesilver Champion, like Consecration, is one of Paladin’s top cards and an autopick. Not only do you typically get to kill 2 creatures with it, the healing it does means the main disadvantage of weapon attacks is mostly negated.
  6. Stormwind Champion / Argent Squire / Priestess of Elune. Stormwind Champion is a solid 4.5 star choice by itself and gets even better with Paladin/Shaman due to the hero power.
  7. Acidic Swamp Ooze / Blessing of Wisdom / Frostwolf Warlord. Ooze is my #2 ranked overall neutral minion; it’s a solid 2-drop that can absolutely swing a game if you catch a premium weapon from Rogue/Warrior/Shaman (occasionally Paladin/Hunter). Frostwolf Warlord is a good 4-star choice that plays above it’s ranking in Paladin, but it can’t touch the Ooze for utility. Wisdom is decent, not great.
  8. Silvermoon Guardian / Silverback Patriarch / Light’s Justice. The stats for mana cost on the Guardian aren’t great, but the Divine Shield usually means it can 2-for-1. I rate it 3.5 stars. Light’s Justice is -okay-, but not great, and I’ve already got a Truesilver. Patriarch’s 1 attack is pretty bad.
  9. Truesilver Champion / Youthful Brewmaster / Mogu’shan Warden. Again, truesilver autopick.
  10. Argent Commander / Azure Drake / Gadgetzan Auctioneer. Tough choice here! Both the Argent Commander and the Drake are 5-star rares. I ended up going with Commander since I already had a couple 5’s, but it’s a tough call.

    Mana curve after 10 cards. Slightly concerned about the lack of 3-drops, but nothing to panic about yet.

    Cards 0 2 0 4 2 2
    Mana 1 2 3 4 5 6+

  11. Truesilver Champion / Bloodsail Raider / Repentance. A third Truesilver! Awesome!
  12. Spiteful Smith / Lord of the Arena / Light’s Justice. Spiteful Smith is a solid 3.5-star card and will combo well with the 3 Truesilvers I have. Lord of the Arena is okay but needs more health.
  13. Sen’jin Shieldmasta / Bloodfen Raptor / War Golem. Sen’jin is a 5-star pick, the others are just average.
  14. Worgen Infiltrator / Repentance / Frostwolf Grunt. Infiltrator is the only decent 1-drop, since it can hide until it can trade up (or get buffed). Grunt’s taunt is far too flimsy.
  15. Consecration / Novice Engineer / Blessing of Wisdom. Another paladin autopick card.
  16. Argent Squire / Holy Light / Leper Gnome. All of these cards are terrible in arena. I picked the Squire here, but the Leper is just as good (bad). Holy Light looks nice, but usually just prolongs the inevitable.
  17. Wolfrider / Silver Hand Knight / Lord of the Arena. This was a mana-curve choice; at the time, I felt like I had too many big cards. In retrospect, Wolfrider is bad enough is comparison to SHK that this is probably a bad choice.
  18. Truesilver Champion / Chillwind Yeti / Humility. Okay, this draft has now entered ridiculous territory. What the hell, Truesilver #4.
  19. Consecration / Eye for an Eye / Silverback Patriarch. I would have been open to not picking Consecration here for curve reasons, but the other choices are awful.
  20. Wild Pyromancer / Ancient Watcher / Divine Favor. Ancient Watcher is just bad unless you have a ton of silences/Defender of Argus/Sunfury Protector. Divine Favor can be good if you ended up with a hand full of low-cost minions for some reason, but that’s pretty rare in Paladin and especially not in this draft. I’ll take the Pyromancer, which is a average card that can be awesome if I manage to pull an Equality.

    Mana curve after 20 cards. I have a TON of 4-drops; need to shore up the 2’s and 3’s. Can take at most one more big card.

    Cards 2 3 1 9 3 2
    Mana 1 2 3 4 5 6+

  21. Abusive Sergeant / Young Dragonhawk / Stormwind Champion. Mana curve pick, and it hurt to make it. Already got 1 Champion, though. Dragonhawk isn’t worth a card.
  22. Raging Worgen / Silvermoon Guardian / Stonetusk Boar. Yay! We needed 3-drops, and we got one of the best. You don’t get to enrage him much, but when you can, it can swing a game, especially if you can tag him with a buff. Something like…
  23. Blessing of Kings / Lord of the Arena / Nightblade. Well, there you go. Kings is the best spell you can get for Paladin, even if it pushes me to 10 4-drops; the alternatives are bad enough that I’ll take the mana curve hit.
  24. Kobold Geomancer / Blessing of Kings / Holy Light. Can’t justify 11 4-drops and need 2-drops, so sadly taking the Geomancer. Decent card for this deck, since I can power up a Consecrate or Hammer.
  25. Razorfen Hunter / Blessing of Wisdom / Humility. Also need 3-drops, would pick Wisdom in a vacuum.
  26. Earthen Ring Farseer / Truesilver Champion / Blessing of Wisdom. 5 Truesilvers!? I agonized over this pick, but I can’t.  Farseer’s a solid 4-star minion and I need 3-drops.
  27. Argent Protector / Bluegill Warrior / Eye for an Eye. Woot, a 5-star 2-drop card that fits a hole in the mana curve. Argent Protector almost always 2-for-1’s if you can get it out with another minion onboard.
  28. Hammer of Wrath / Leper Gnome / Stormwind Champion. I don’t want to take this Hammer, but the Leper is terrible. I’d have taken a decent 2/3-drop over the Hammer, but not a 7.
  29. Boulderfist Ogre / Mogu’shan Warden / Grimscale Oracle Don’t want the 7-drop, but neither of the other cards even reaches decent status.
  30. Sword of Justice / Sea Giant / Lay on Hands And with this, the deck reaches Epic status. Sword of Justice is a huge game winner for Paladin, but with already having 4 weapons, I mulled one of the other choices for a long time before deciding to grab Sword anyway.

Final mana curve and comments:

Great curve. A few less 4’s and more 2’s/3’s would be good, but not a dealbreaker since all the 2/3 drops are minions (excepting the SoJ).

Cards 3 5 5 11 3 3
Mana 1 2 3 4 5 6+

12-Win Paladin Decklist

This should be an amazing deck. My curve is good (I’d prefer 1-2 more 2’s and 3’s and less 4’s, but this is okay), my creatures are premium, and the extra Truesilvers mean I can just use them to hit the opponent directly if I need to. I don’t have any big late-game creatures, though, so I’m hoping to snowball out wins around Turns 9-10 before any big legendaries come out to play. I’ve already spoiled the outcome, but check back in a few days to see some of the brutal replays. :)

EDIT: Part 2 is here.


 Posted by at 10:47 pm
Jan 022014

Hearthstone_Screenshot_1.2.2014.21.01.44It’s time.

You heard about this cool Warcraft-themed collectible card game called Hearthstone, and you figured you’d give it a shot. The first steps were easy; you got the beta key, installed the game client, and completed the sweet tutorial. Great! …Now what? Some more practice? Jump right into Play mode? Start an Arena draft?  Don’t worry – I’m here with some tips that’ll help speed your progress from beginner to pro, or at least not-quite-so-terrible beginner.

Step 1 – Practice
“We’re talking about…practice?”

Yes, we’re talking about practice. Even if you’re a card-game expert, Hearthstone’s classes have an unlock and XP system. In order to use a class, you have to beat it once to unlock it. Once a class is unlocked, you can play as it to earn XP for that class;  every 2 levels up to level 10, you’ll earn a basic card for your deck.

Those basic cards aren’t enough for anything but entry-level play, though; to compete at the higher ranks, you’ll want lots more cards, which come only from card packs. Card packs can be purchased directly via in-game gold or real money, or earned indirectly through Arena play, which costs gold/money to enter. (If you’ve got the cash to spend on cards/Arena, more power to you, but I’m going to focus on gold-only options for this guide.)

So, you need XP and gold. Luckily, the game’s practice-mode AI is terrible, so that’s where you’re going to start. The default decks each class starts with are pretty bad, but the AI plays worse, so you should have no problem beating it once you’re used to the mechanics of the game. You start with Mage unlocked, so I’d recommend playing practice games with it until you reach level 10. (If you have your heart set on another class, feel free to play it once to unlock it and switch to that one.) Before leaving Practice mode, your goal is to beat every basic and expert AI hero once. In the current beta, there’s no visual indication that you’ve beaten an AI, so I’d recommend going in order. Doing so will net you three achievements (Ready To Go, Level Up, and Crushed Them All!) which gives you 200g and a free card pack. If you want some additional practice before facing live competition, you can level every class to 10, which will net you an additional achievement (Got the Basics!) and another 100g.

Step 2 – We Can Build It; We Have the Technology

Remember how I said the basic decks suck? Now that you’ve leveled a class to 10, you can do better. I’ll be posting a Basic-only deck list for all classes, but to start, here’s one for Mage with some tips:


Arcane Missiles x2 -This randomly chooses any enemy minon or the opposing minion to hit for 1 damage three times. Only use to kill minions, do not use on enemy hero unless it’s the last bit of damage to get a kill.
Frostbolt x2. See above. Don’t be afraid to freeze something nasty.
Acidic Swamp Ooze x2 – Basic 2-mana minion. Battlecry is a nice bonus but difficult to land.
Bloodfen Raptor x2 – Basic 2-mana minion.
Shattered Sun Cleric x2 – Try to use the buff to allow a minion to survive a trade with an enemy minion. Don’t be afraid to waste the buff, though, if you only have 3 mana and he’s the only 3-mana cost creature you have.
Razorfen Hunter x2 – Basic 3-mana minion.
Chillwind Yeti x2 – Basic 4-mana minion (deceptively strong for the cost).
Fireball x2 – One of the best spells in the game. This with your hero ability can kill just about any minion, or just finish the enemy off.
Gnomish Inventor x2 – Weak stats for the cost, but great around turn 4 since it draws you an additional card. Trades well with opposing 2-mana 3/2’s.
Polymorph x2 – Save for nasty creatures; anything 6+ mana, or something with a buff.
Sen’jin Shieldmasta x2 – Best defensive creature in the game for the cost.
Water Elemental x2 – Freeze is great for slowing enemies down so you can finish them off with direct-damage spells.
Gurubashi Berserker x2 – Deceptively strong – use your own hero ability on it to make it a nasty 5/6 with the chance to grow more.
Boulderfist Ogre x2 – Basic 6-mana minion.
Flamestrike x2 – Your game-winning spell. Many mage games are won by surviving until Turn 6/7, then dropping a Flamestrike to wipe the enemy’s board of creatures. Don’t ever use to kill a single enemy unless desperate.

This deck isn’t going to get you to Rank 1, but it’s solid enough to win 60-70% of your games against other new players, and has a good shot against players with more expensive decks. As you earn some cards, you can start swapping out; first candidates to drop are the Raptors and Hunters for something like a Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Harvest Golem, or Raging Worgen.

Step 3 – Play (and win, hopefully)

It’s time to play some live competition in Play mode! You have two options here. First is “ranked,” aka “ladder.” In this mode, you start at Rank 25, and attempt to reach higher ranks (and eventually, Legend) by winning matches against opponents trying to do the same. This mode can be somewhat difficult to start off with, so I’d recommend starting in “casual” mode. These games are unranked, so you’re much more likely to see a less competitive array of players here. Once you get a few games under your belt, you’ll unlock another two achievements very quickly (First Blood and The Duelist) and score another free 100g and card pack.

This mode is also where you’ll first start earning gold for your play (not counting achievements). While you earn a small amount of gold by simply playing and winning, you can earn much more via that day’s daily quest.  Daily quests are given to you once per day (even if you don’t login that day), and you can have up to 3. These quests typically reward between 40-60 gold and take 3-5 wins to complete, with a couple having different requirements. (Hearthhead has a complete list here.)  Note that you can “reroll” a daily quest once per day by clicking the X in the quest box, which randomly chooses another quest; I’ll typically reroll a 40g quest to attempt to get a 60g one.

Ready to spend some of this gold? Before you go crazy and start buying packs, see the next section.

Step 4 – Enter the Arena

Lots of bloody backs coming.

Lots of bloody backs coming.

The Arena is Hearthstone’s version of Magic’s “sealed” or “draft” format. Unlike Play mode, where you can select cards for your deck from the entire card pool, the Arena has you draft your deck via a series of 30 “best-of-3” choices. (For example: Water Elemental, Fireball, or Chillwind Yeti? The one you select goes into your deck; the others are discarded.) Once your deck is created, you challenge other decks created via the same means to see how many wins you can achieve. Once you hit 3 losses (or 12 wins), your run is complete and you receive a reward, which is always 1 free card pack and some additional gold, crafting dust, or cards.

I will have many many more things to say about Arena in the coming weeks, as this currently is my favorite mode of play. Your first run is free, but after that they cost 150g; you’ll want to do well to earn as much gold as possible for future runs.  It can be pretty overwhelming to get started, though.  Until I get a guide written, check out Trump, vivafringe, and freethnkr’s guides for some tips on drafting cards, and focus on solid play over tricks and traps.

Step 5 – Spend!

The part that everyone likes. Currently, the math works out pretty simply. You can either buy a pack for 100g, or buy a Arena run for 150g that comes with a free pack when you finish. Overall, if you can maintain a 4-win average on your runs, you’ll earn more than 50g per run, making Arena more cost effective than just buying packs; if you can keep a 7-win average (much more difficult), you can earn more than 150g per Arena, essentially making your packs “free.” Personally, I think Arena is a better place to spend gold, but that’s because I prefer the format. (I’m nowhere close to an average 7-win player, though I’m over 4.) If you try Arena and don’t like it, feel free to just play the regular mode, and buy a pack with daily quest winnings every few days.

That’s wraps this guide up – you’ve earned several achievements, racked up a few hundred gold and some free packs of cards. You’re well on your way to a successful Hearthstone career. Whether you choose to scale the ladder to being a Legend ranked player, or just try for that dream 12-win arena run – it’s up to you. Have fun!

(If you’re new to this blog, please subscribe via RSS or follow me on Twitter at @alarondruid; I’ll be posting new articles 2-3 times a week!)

 Posted by at 11:39 pm
Jan 022014

Hearthstone logo
EDIT: I’m republishing this post from September, as it still serves as a good intro. I’ve gone through and made a few edits. I’ll have an original post going up on Friday with some analysis on how to get started with Hearthstone.

So, I’ve been absolutely slammed with work at my new job – this last weekend was the first time that I could sit down and say “hey, I have an hour or two to just PLAY something.” Lo and behold, what do I get but a Hearthstone beta invite! Having checked it out when it was announced (and then promptly having forgot about it again), I really didn’t have any expectations except that it looked kinda fun. (For the record, I’m familiar with the rules of Magic: The Gathering, and spent a good bit of time playing a flash CCG called Elements, but wouldn’t consider myself “advanced” at all.) Here’s what I think.

Initial Impressions

Increasingly, games have to pass the “first 5 minutes” test with me. As I reach a stage of my life where time has replaced money as my primary limiting resource, I don’t want to deal with any non-fun crap right off the bat. Hearthstone easily passes this test As soon as you start the game for the first time, you get thrown into a series of tutorial battles against prominent WoW villains, which gradually teach you the elements of the game. Even if you’ve never played Magic or another CCG in your life, by the time you finish this tutorial series, you’ll be ready to battle other players (or continue to battle the AI, if you choose).

The big thing that sucks you in, though, is how well they evoke WoW in the card game itself. All of the creature and spell cards are patterned after their in-game equivalents, in both art and (most crucially) sound. Put down a murloc, and get the classic gurgle. Cast a fireball, and you get the whoosh-crack and glowy effect. Even the non-WoW sounds are done well; a small hit rewards a small “thunk” sound, while a large hit rewards a large “crack,” complete with applause, rubble, and screen shake. If you get bored during your opponent’s turn, all the game boards are fully interactable and have the classic Warcraft trope of doing something funny when clicked repeatedly.


Win or lose, your selected class will get XP. Yes, there are classes in a card game; if you’re familiar with MTG, then think of the nine classes as analogous to MTG’s colors, as they represent a pool of cards to choose your deck from. Unlike MTG, however, you only get one class choice; your deck is built from a combination of class-specific cards and a pool of neutral cards that are available to all classes.

Mechanics-wise, things are simple: many complex mechanics present in other CCG’s have been removed. There are only two major types of cards: spells and creatures (minions). There’s a few subtypes – some creatures are “weapons,” which cannot typically be attacked, and some spells are “secrets,” which are hidden when cast and execute automatically when their condition is met. There’s no lands, no artifacts, no differentiation in spell speeds, etc. While this lack of complexity may prove a detriment to the long-term health of the game, it greatly helps the casual player. The one new mechanic is called “hero power,” where each class (hero) can pay 2 mana once per turn to activate a special ability unique to that class. These abilities are fairly weak, but they’re always available, and knowing when to use them is critical to Hearthstone success.

Deckbuilding is also relatively painless. It’s pretty hard to make a truly “bad” deck unless you’re trying to, and if you’re completely lost, an ingenious “Suggest a Card” feature will recommend one of the current cards you own, based on your current deck’s current composition.

Game modes are pretty sparse at the moment – the only options are “Practice” (vs. AI, you pick the class and basic/advanced deck), “Play” (single game against random human opponent, ranked and casual modes) and “Arena,” which is the most compelling mode. In the Arena, everyone starts from scratch – you get to pick one of three randomly-determined classes, then pick one of three randomly-determined cards 30 times. You then take that fresh deck and match it against other fresh decks. Once you lose 3 times or win 12, you “finish” your Arena streak and get rewarded according to your number of wins…which leads us to the less savory bits of Hearthstone.

Hearthstone druid deck

Free-2-Play…or Lose

Hearthstone is free-to-play, but the amount of cards you get to start is very low. Off the bat, you get the “Basic Set,” which is 43 neutral cards, plus 45 class-specific cards, 5 for each class. Leveling a class to level 10 (relatively painless, since you gain a level when you win, and half that when you lose) will reward an additional 5 cards. That’s…it. The other ~400 neutral + class-specific cards are rewarded in packs – 5 cards in a pack. (Note: the Basic Set gives you card 2-packs, but cards earned from packs/crafting are singletons.)

Now, you get a couple one-time packs and some starter gold, but after that, the only realistic way to make gold is by a once-per-day quest, which rewards 40-100 gold. Winning a  match against another player  rewards a measly ~3 gold. (10 per 3 wins.)  You can also make gold from success in the Arena, the other Hearthstone play mode which features randomized card drafting.  It costs 150 gold to enter the Arena, but you receive a free pack when you finish, so the actual cost is about 50 gold…and if you can consistently go at least 4-3, you’ll make back that 50.

If you can’t, though, you’ll quickly find yourself gold-poor. At this point, you have two options. You can either pay real money ($3 for 2 card packs with quantity discounts for buying more, or $2 for 1 Arena entry + 1 card pack). Failing that, you can also do the single daily quest for 40-60 gold, grind out some play-mode wins, and slowly pick up new packs. It’s a pretty fair model, I find, and much less expensive then other online CCG’s.

Choose your hero

Thoughts on Classes

Druid – Focused on high-cost cards; minor themes include mana acceleration and “choose one” cards, where you can pick between one of two choices. Arguably best late-game class.

Hunter – Focused on beasts and traps (aka secrets). Very much a rush-type deck; currently underpowered due to some overzealous nerfs.

Mage – Focused on direct-damage cards and spells. Strongest all-round class in the game.

Paladin – Focused on buffs and pumping up creatures minions, with a little bit of healing and direct damage. Very solid class.

Priest – Focused on healing, obviously. Was once very strong, but has fallen back significantly after the nerf to Mind Control.

Rogue – Focused on using LOTS of low-damage minions and abilities, with card abilities called “combos” that trigger if another card is played before it.

Shaman – Focused on “overload” cycles; cards that are overpowered for their cost, but hit the mana pool over 2 successive turns.

Warlock – Focused on an odd niche – cards and abilities with both benefits and drawbacks. Very strong rush deck at the moment due to Warlock’s hero ability, which draws a card for 2 mana/2 health.

Warrior – Focused on weapons and minions that charge (activate immediately without requiring a turn), not terribly subtle class.

Overall, I’d say Rogue/Mage/Hunter seem to be the strongest at the moment, though it’s beta so who the hell knows what’ll happen tomorrow. Fun game, and I’ll likely be getting in a few matches a day.



 Posted by at 1:40 am
Dec 312013

15732588-happy-new-year-2014-message-over-black-backgroundI already talked about the personal stuff in the last post. So, what did I play this year?

Winter (is coming…yeah, it’s old now)

I was still very into WoW at this point. I rejoined a raid team for Throne of Thunder (a decision that, in retrospect, was probably foolish) and did quite a bit of soloing old raid content (25m Naxx for green Druid T7, which is the best looking armor you can still get). I also really enjoyed Isle of Thunder, which is my favorite zone of the expansion. The gating was well done, the introduction of random rares for VP was great, and dat Saurok jump.

Outside of WoW, I played Dishonored, but quit it early on. I need to give it another try – the game itself was fascinating, but I 1. don’t like stealth games very much and 2. always feel compelled to play the “good” side for morality-choice games, which quickly led to frustration. The world-building was excellent, though. I also played some Secret World, which was entertaining, but the hotbar combat felt too close to what I was already doing at the time. That’s on my list for another look.


WoW in this season was more ToT raiding  (polished off Lei Shen around June/July) and getting into pet battling. I got REALLY into pet battles for about a month, but once I had a good selection of pets at level 25 and had finished the quests, I was basically done. I mean, I get the concept of horizontal progression, but once you get more than ~50 pets, I felt I was fighting the UI more then actually having fun battling.

Other games included Borderlands 2, which was stellar, and Bioshock Infinite, which was less so. BI was visually spectacular, but the gameplay was meh and the storyline took a few too many leaps. BL2, meanwhile, hit the perfect combination of number geekery and action. I also got my son into Skylanders, which was a great time. (Though the Skylanders rubber-band system of co-op was incredibly frustrating, especially with no jumping.)


I essentially retired from WoW after ToT was over; I hadn’t planned on it that way, but my wife and I a big fight over continuing to raid. She had a valid point – being as she’s wheelchair-bound, asking her to keep an eye on our son while I raid is stressful. I made a few quick sojourns later to Timeless Isle (decent, but no IoT) and Proving Grounds, but that basically finished off my WoW playing.

Otherwise, this was BL2 and Indie season. Played some Gunpoint, Rogue Legacy, and Dust; also spent a few mindless days embroiled in idlegames (Cookie Clicker, Candy Box, Anti-Idle, etc) and flash games on Kongregate.


Birthday time! Since I was feely overly depressed, I threw my usual financial caution to the winds and dropped about $1000 on a new desktop PC and monitor. Of course, I then got into the Hearthstone beta and have been mainly playing that nonstop, which definitely required that power. :) This month, I picked up Skyrim for $6 and Tomb Raider for $5 during the Steam sales, so I finally have something pretty to play on my new 1440p screen. Don’t really like Skyrim (blasphemy, I know) but I’ve been enjoying Tomb Raider so far. Apparently, I need a runny jumpy shooty stabby game at least once a year. (I had the Assassin’s Creed games on my short list of games to pay full price for, but ACIII ended that trend.)

Looking ahead to 2014

Blizzard-wise, I’m eagerly anticipating the Hearthstone open beta and then release, to bring more players into the game and hopefully some non-PvP content (which I would happily pay for). This may be the first year I don’t pick up a WoW expansion pack on relea….*snort* yeah, I’ll still buy it Day 1, even if I’m not raiding anything. I’m very hopeful for more of a difficulty range for 1-player content that isn’t just a one-off gimmick (Brawler’s Guild, hey). Otherwise, I’ve felt zero compulsion to go back to Diablo 3 since abandoning a character in Act 2 of Inferno a few weeks after release; I’ll probably put some time in with the new gameplay systems there and see if I feel Reaper of Souls is worth a purchase. Still don’t own any Starcraft games. :)

I don’t get excited about upcoming games anymore, really (odds are I’m waiting for a sale anyway), but if I had to pick a quick list, I’d say Transistor, Watch Dogs, Child of Light, and the further progression of Star Citizen, though I don’t expect a release there until 2015.

I hope everyone has a Happy New Year!



 Posted by at 10:54 pm
Dec 272013

Hearthstone LogoHi, all! For today’s post, I’d…
Hey yourself, brain. I was talking to my readers…
Readers? Pfft. You’re still alive?
Yes, little voice, I’m still alive.
Are you sure?
Yes! No. Maybe? That’s way more metaphysical than I was aiming for with this little intro.
Sorry. Maybe you should explain where you’ve been for the past three months?
Sigh. Fine, little voice, I’ll do that.

The spiral of sadness

Over the past year, my wife’s condition has deteriorated markedly. (I’ll spare you the details; let’s just say I wasn’t prepared to deal with wheelchairs and daily nurse visits at 30.)  In retrospect, I went through the classic stages of grief, starting a year ago with denial. Intellectually, I could see how things were getting bad, but I just pretended they weren’t happening. I signed up for raids all the time, was working on collecting every pet, alted it up. Then, boom. After a few ugly fights, I realized my wife’s condition wasn’t going to get better, and I had to start adjusting to the new reality. I did…but I got mad about it. It wasn’t “fair” that I had to stop raiding, it wasn’t “fair” that I had to take over all the household chores, etc.

Then I started my new job, with a much more…direct…boss. Stress level went to 11 and available free time went to 0. I skipped the bargaining stage and went straight to depression. Depression manifests differently in different people, but to me, it was totally withdrawing from interactions. I retreated to my Steam library of single-player games and stopped posting, stopped Tweeting, hell, even stopped talking to real-life friends. Sleep–Work-Eat-Sleep-Repeat. I stopped playing WoW entirely; I never even finished Siege of Orgrimmar on any difficulty. I considered coming back to write things at some point, maybe some post-Blizzcon thoughts…but what was the point, really? Everyone writes better than I do, so why bother? The more depressed I got, the worse I felt my writing was, which depressed me more, and CYCLE.

So ends the year.

Thankfully, there’s a new one coming up. I’ll save the walls of exposition and just say that I’ve gotten through most of the black clouds, accepted the situation as it is, and am ready to get back to participating in my Internet-life again. :)

Moving on

I likely won’t be writing about WoW for a while. Let’s be honest – if you don’t have an active guild/community to participate in, the parts of WoW that are left are not all that entertaining. Questing is far too easy, crafting is pointless, and gearing up is irrelevant. About the only reason for me to keep pushing was Brawler’s Guild, and I got frustrated with the wait times for those. I’m staying openminded about the new expansion, but from what I’ve seen so far, it’ll be more of the same. Of course, the forums will stay open, so the people who really know what they’re doing can chat, and I’ll update the beginner guides for WoD when that comes out.  

I have, however, been bitten by the Hearthstone bug. (Makes sense; the game is basically lots and lots of numbers in a Warcraft-candy shell.) After the first of the year, I’ll be writing Hearthstone guides and posts primarily, as the game gets closer to open beta. (Sadly, I have no beta keys to give out, though they’re apparently much easier to come by now; also, the open beta will likely occur within the month.) I’ll also be making some updates to the website and forums to support the change, as well as some general maintenance.  As always, feel free to PM me on the forums or send me an email if you’re looking for a personal response. I’m also actively looking for people to chat with in HS, so feel free to send me a friend request at Alaron#1198, and I’ll see you at the tables/realms!


 Posted by at 9:07 pm
Sep 102013

It’s normally a tradition of mine to do a “what you need to know” post and a “gear list” post for each major patch that comes out…but real life is still kicking my ass, so you get this abbreviated list of mostly links to better resources.

    • For a general list of things that’ve changed, my 5.4 changes posts on WoW Insider from a couple months ago are still relevant. (part 1, part 2)
    • DoC vs. HOTW vs NV: After spending most of the PTR being inferior to HOTW, a late buff pushed DoC back on top and NV into spitting distance of HOTW. Same guidance from 5.2 applies – Take DoC if you can manage the additional rotational complexity (either via player skill or an easy fight), take HOTW if you don’t want to risk the DoC rotation or you have a use for the HOTW cooldown. I personally run HOTW. Nature’s Vigil is now decent if you use it on cooldown. More discussion here.
    • SotF vs Inc vs FoN: Incarnation still sucks (and it actually is worse now than it was in 5.2). FoN and SotF are now roughly comparable – FoN pulls ahead slightly (2-3%) if  you have Rune of Reorigination and drop all the treants during a Rune proc. More testing is needed to see if it’s superior for all gear configurations.
    • Nature’s Swiftness is gone and is replaced with a passive slow HoT, Ysera’s Gift. The optimal choice will be based on encounter. For steady incoming damage, use YG; for frequent bursts of damage, use CW; for infrequent heavy bursts, use Renewal.
    • Trinkets: VERY complicated topic, but a rough stab at an order would be Rune, Ticking Ebon Detonator, Haromm’s, Assurance of Consequence, H Renataki’s, H Juju, Thok’s, Discipline of Xuen. Raffy has a list of pairs here, which is a better way to sort these things. Catus has also been updated to v15 with 5.4 support. Really, you need to do a trinket priority list for each encounter – I suspect AoC will be more broadly useful than Haromm’s even if Haromm’s is slightly better in the sims.
    • Also from that thread, Raffy’s rough guess at a BiS list is below. There’s lots more gear discussion in this thread. Enjoy!

Head: [574] Headpiece of the Shattered Vale
Neck: [580] Immerseus' Crystalline Eye
Shoulder: [574] Spaulders of the Shattered Vale
Back: [608] Fen-Yu, Fury of Xuen
Chest: [574] Raiment of the Shattered Vale
Wrist: [580] Bomber's Blackened Wristwatch
Hands: [574] Grips of the Shattered Vale
Waist: [580] Cord of Black Dreams
Legs: [580] Riou's Vigilant Leggings
Feet: [580] Pandaren Roofsprinters
Finger 1: [580] Kil'ruk's Band of Ascendancy
Finger 2: [580] Ring of Restless Energy
Trinket 1: [549] Rune of Re-Origination
Trinket 2: [580] Haromm's Talisman
Main Hand: [582] Hellscream's Pig Sticker

 Posted by at 1:34 pm
Aug 112013

A quick personal note: I am no longer going on my unit’s deployment. Instead, I’ve been kicked up the ladder and am doing the same job I was doing at a higher-level organization. (I hesitate to call it a “promotion” because even though it’s a job with increased duties and responsibilities, the concept of promotion has a specific meaning in the military.) Between untangling all of the new work issues I get to deal with, preparing  for a move to a (hopefully) handicapped-accessible house, and getting my son ready to start school, I’ve been so slammed that I haven’t even touched WoW for weeks, let alone raid. As always, the forum is staying active, so keep on keeping on and I’ll rejoin the discussion at some point in the future. Hopefully.

I am planning on updating the guides on the site for 5.4 in the near future, but I’d like feedback on the gear list. That’s typically the thing that takes the longest amount of time to do, and I’d appreciate any input (of course, if you don’t use it and prefer wowhead or AMR, that’s also relevant input. :)) Updates to non-feral material will depend on time/motivation, neither of which I have in abundance at the moment.

 Posted by at 8:16 am
Jul 262013

As 5.4 looms, the Isle of Thunder is yesterday’s news. Been there, done that, got the Saurok shirt, right? Well, that lack of popularity means the old Isle is the new spot for farming up some quick VP, with no muss, fuss, or group members to get in your way. Sure, forming a solid group to knock over heroic scenarios or challenge-mode 5-mans is faster, but not everyone can schedule those kinds of events. Don’t sigh and run dailies for the 100th time (ugh) or queue for LFR AGAIN (double ugh) — go knock out some rares and go home.



Okay, so if there previous paragraph and my mad MS Paint skills haven’t convinced you, here’s why you should give this a try.

  1. Pretty much, every other method of earning VP requires contributions from other players, either willingly (the groups mentioned above) or self-interestedly (LFR, scenarios, 5-mans). Your success or failure on these minibosses is totally up to you. Kill Ramuk extra-fast because you ran the Bloodlust buff to him? You. Go splat into the ground after you get punted off the mountain by Progenitus? Also you. 
  2. Your speed of completion (and thus, VP earn rate) scales directly with your skill and gear. Get a weapon upgrade, and you can roll through the run a minute or two faster. This feels awesome. LFR, OTOH, is going to take about an hour to finish regardless if your ilevel is 450 or 550, just because so much relies on other players who have little incentive to do their best. This sucks.
  3. (While gear scaling also applies to dailies, you can feel the difference a lot more here since so much more of the time is combat, compared to dailies where so much is simply travel/clicking times.)
  4. Each boss drops 2 Lesser Charms, on average. While Battlefield: Barrens is arguably a faster source, that’s going away next patch, making this likely to be the most reliable method.
  5. Some of the bosses drop other cool stuff. Ra’sha, in particular, drops a very handy suicide dagger, as well as a 30% chance of dropping a supply bag, while the Construct has a 20% chance to drop a pet.
  6. My estimates are that the VP gain rate from this is equal or slightly higher than the rate received from a scenario or heroic…but only for the first time you do that scen/heroic. After that, the IoT rares pull way ahead. (Heroic scenarios, even multiple, are the best option…but it can be hard to find a good group to knock them out.)


  • You need decent gear. It doesn’t have to be full heroic TF-bling, but realize that many of the bosses have some kind of stacking buff or periodic damage mechanic that’ll serve as a soft enrage of sorts. You need to be able to pull about 50k DPS solo, so if you’re not at that level yet, keep working.
  • If you haven’t completed all the introductory scenarios for the Isle of Thunder, you’ll have to do that too. It doesn’t take long (especially if you have the gear from the last point), just go knock it out. If you have stealth, you can skip a lot of stuff and just go pull the mob you need to kill.
  • Rather obvious, but you need a low-pop server, or just an off-peak time. The rares do spawn quickly (45-60 minute respawn timer), but this strategy loses a lot of value if you’re chasing respawns.
  • Not mandatory but helpful: Have completed the Saurok quest to unlock your Saurok disguise; exalted with KT/SR and completed the final KT/SR quest for a 15% damage buff; something to increase your water speed.


Isle of Thunder Rare Spawn Map

thanks to wowrarespawns.blogspot.com

There’s not really that much strategy involved: you’re just exploiting the fact that nobody comes here anymore, so you’ve got an island full of rare spawns that have HP values tuned for characters in 5.2 gear. Plan a route and go, killing every boss you come to.
Still, since it wouldn’t be much of a guide without it, here’s the route I use as Alliance, along with tips for each boss; Horde will likely run it the same, just in reverse order.
  1. Start at your faction hub. Buff up, repair, make sure you have some inventory slots free, etc.
  2. On the way out, run by Jaina to get the 30m Thunder’s Boon 15% damage buff. Horde will run by the Anima Golem for Blessing of the Animus. If you haven’t reached exalted with KTO/Sunreavers and finished their final quest,  never mind this; you can’t get it yet. Continue.
  3. Run down the stairs, make a right, and stop. You see those little orbs scattered out with a couple NPC’s nearby? Clicking one of those will give you a 30% haste buff for 1 minute. Grab the buff, and run north up the coast and through the ruined wall to Ramuk. He’s quite easy, just interrupt his Crouch when he starts channeling it, and avoid the Pound.
  4. Mount up, run through the door Ramuk is guarding, and make a hard left to climb the slope here. Once you get to the top, make a U-turn and run along the top of the wall to find Molthor. He has an interruptable fear (Twisted Visage) and a cone attack (Thunder Crash) that hits decently hard. Oh, and some annoying but irrelevant adds. Occasionally, Molthor spawns at the back of the Swollen Vault instead of in the tower; I don’t bother with him if that’s the case.
  5. Do another U-turn, run back along the wall the way you came, and make a left at the long stairway leading up to Nalak and the entrance to ToT. Go down the stairs and look to your left; in the large hollowed-out tree will be Goda, the giant turtle.  All he does is a Shell Spin, which knocks you back; you can stun him out of it for extra DPS time. Probably the most annoying boss, just because he has the largest health pool of all of them.
  6. Run back up the stairs, and make a left at the place you came in out. Pass by Fleshcrafter Hoku and head for the forge on the far wall, where Lu-Ban will be waiting.  He periodically activates Skyforged Hammers; stun him and/or pop defensive cooldowns during this phase, as he hits pretty hard while it’s active.
  7. Run down the stairs, bypass Mono-han and run into the Lightning Vein Mine. Go straight, follow the S-shaped curve around, and head for the back entrance, where Backbreaker Uru is patrolling. (Until you get a hang of this area, take it slow and kill your way through instead of running, as these mobs are ranged and have stealth detection.) Uru will periodically cast Break Spine, which roots you, and then Massive Stomp, which does roughly 50% HP damage if you don’t jump to avoid it. Either use one of your class abilities to block/escape the root and jump the Stomp, or use defensive CD’s, your choice.
  8. From Uru, mount up and take a running jump off the back of his platform, aiming for the rocky plateau. If you make the jumps, you can ride the short distance to Al’tabim; if not, just drop into the water and swim around. Either way, once you get there, the only ability you have to worry about it Meteor Shower. These fall randomly so aren’t much of a threat, but pay attention as they do hit hard and 2-3 hits will kill you.  This ends the northern leg of the trip.
  9. Now, you have two choices; you can either beacon back to the start and start with Progenitus, or keep going and start with Mumta. I’ll assume you’re continuing where you left off. Mount up and heard toward the Court of Bones. (Incidentally, if you have any Incantations in your bags, here’s where you can use them.) Run up the stairs of the largest crypt and engage Mumta on the roof. He summons a Wailing Spirit add that moves slow but hits hard (so kite away from it) and channels a nasty damaging spell that either be interrupted or LOS’ed around one of the pillars in the area.
  10. Once Mumta is down, climb down from the roof of the crypt and head south, through the troll areas, to the beach. (If you’re an awesome engineer like me, pop your Glider and fly most of the way there.) You’ll find Ku’lai and his Tamed Pterrorwing walking around here; kill the Pterrorwing first, then Ku’lai, stunning him out of his whirlwind.
  11. Run east along the beach, then take a quick swim around the rocks to get to the cave where Ra’sha lives, guarded by two nasty elites. Bypass them however you see fit, and then kill Ra’sha (who’s a pushover).
  12. From Ra’sha, run north and into the Ihgaluk Crag area. After a few seconds, you’ll transform into a Saurok. Leap through the area heading east, and keep an eye out for the ramp heading up to Progenitus. The big threat here is Unleash Blood, which is an AoE that powerfully knocks back anything within 10 yards. Since you’re fighting on top of a mountain, this likely kills you. Keep an eye our for the red circle, and run out when it shows up.
  13.  Last but not least, head south to face the Haywire Construct, who patrols the beach area of Ihgaluk Crag. His main ability, also called Haywire, is uninterruptable and does a lot of damage over 20 seconds; just use survivability cooldowns, and heal up when it’s over. Also, be careful of adds. Probably the hardest rare to kill, so if you’re undergeared, don’t feel bad about skipping him for a bit.

That’s it! 11 bosses, 165 Valor Points. I find it entertaining to push myself to see how fast I can complete the entire run; my record (starting from Jaina and ending with the 11th boss kill) is 21 minutes. I’ll throw out the challenge: Can anyone pull a sub-20 Isle rare run?

 Posted by at 10:00 am