Stonekeep’s Best of 2016 Awards
Another year has passed. Hearthstone is still one of the most popular games, new content is still being released, things are changing (in a slow pace, but they are), the game is still fun to play. Usually, I’m a pretty critical person, but New Year is a great time to be positive. So instead of focusing on what could be improved (I’ll talk about it soon anyway!), let’s think about all the good things that happened last year.
Just like last year, I will look at the best things of the passing year. Best moment, best card, best patch etc. And I will select first three places for each of those categories. And just in case you didn’t read the title – the picks will – obviously – be rather subjective. However, if you disagree with some of my picks, feel free to discuss it in the comments. Let’s start!
Best Deck Of 2016
3. Midrange/Secret Hunter
Right now, Hunter is completely out of the meta. I have met maybe 2 or 3 Hunters since Gadgetzan and I’ve played HUNDREDS of games. But a lot of people seem to forget that it was one of the most dominating decks for 2 expansions straight. It wasn’t always the strongest one, but it was all over the ladder and one of the most popular meta choices ever since WoG. WoG introduced one big card that made the archetype so good – Call of the Wild. It was one card army and if Hunter survived until turn 8, he could win most of the games on the back of this card. Sure, cards like Fiery Bat or Infested Wolf also helped, but Call of the Wild was really busted. Then, the card was nerfed, but it didn’t stop the Hunter…
Because Karazhan had even more tools for Hunter to play with. Not only it introduced a very strong 2-drop – Kindly Grandmother, but a completely new archetype – Secret Hunter. I’m still lumping those two together, because most popular versions of Secret Hunters were just “new versions” of Midrange Hunter. So, Cloaked Huntress and a new Secret – Cat Trick – have created a new archetype. I have to say that Barnes has also helped, because it was probably most impactful in Hunter.
And so, for the long months, Hunter was ~20% of the meta. This expansion isn’t good for the Hunter, but hey, stuff happens, maybe someone will discover a new Hunter deck that no one has seen before. Or maybe we’ll have to wait until next Standard rotation…
2. Dragon Warrior
Second place is Dragon Warrior. It’s a WoG deck that was discovered quite late, actually. Right at the start, most popular Warrior archetype was “Tempo Warrior”, often called Midrange Warrior. The deck had pretty similar play style to the Dragon Warrior, but it just… didn’t use the Dragon package. Looking back, it’s pretty silly that no one has figured how strong it was until about 2 months into the expansion. But after people have discovered and refined it, it has completely pushed out the Tempo Warrior and became – most likely – #1 Warrior archetype.
The deck was popular for the months to come and while it was #1 deck only for a brief period of time, it was always somewhere around tier 2. And unlike Hunter, it’s still a decently popular and strong deck – right now it’s mixed with the Pirate package a bit, but it’s still the good old Dragon Warrior we know.
The deck might completely vanish after the next Standard rotation, because a lot of key Dragon cards are disappearing, but you still have at least 3 months to play it!
1. Midrange Shaman
And what other deck could I put on #1. Midrange Shaman is most likely the deck that dominated meta for the longest amount of time EVER. It might be close to Secret Paladin, but it has one thing going its way and I’ll talk about it soon.
The history of Midrange Shaman is quite simple. In 2015, Shaman was a joke class. Something like a Paladin right now – played only by the most devoted fans of the class, ignored by the most. Then, around TGT, Blizzard has started pushing strong cards for the Shaman. For 4 expansions straight, Shaman has got insanely powerful cards. Things like Totem Golem and in TGT (also Tuskarr Totemic, which was one of the most busted cards pre-nerf), Tunnel Trogg in LoE, Thing From Below and Flamewreathed Faceless in WoG and more recently, Spirit Claws and Maelstrom Portal in Karazhan. Each of those cards were so powerful and has worked so well with the Shaman’s kit that the class power was rising and rising.
After WoG, it was already one of the strongest decks. And then, Karazhan came and gave two more cards for Shaman. Now the class was completely busted. It was #1 deck for pretty much whole Karazhan, being 20-30% of the whole meta by itself.
And while one could say that the Shaman’s reign has ended, it’s not necessarily true. Even though Midrange Shaman was pushed out by the Aggro Shaman recently, the Midrange Jade Shaman is getting more and more popular in the high ranks. According to the latest stats, it’s getting more and more popular/powerful and while I don’t want to bring the bad news, we might have a meta dominated by Midrange Shaman again, quite soon. This time the Jade version.
Since there were more decks that were really close for the 3rd spot, I’ll add Honorable Mentions section to this award:
- Malygos Druid – Also called Spell Druid, Yogg Druid, Miracle Druid etc. depending on the time and the exact version. It was one of the most impactful decks of the Karazhan (the one that could utilize a powerful Arcane Giant best) and one of my personal favorites. I’ve played hundreds of games with the deck, because it was strong and fun at the same time. However, a few months of popularity is not enough to call the deck one of the best decks of the year.
- Tempo Mage – Similarly to Malygos Druid, the deck had a surge of popularity after Karazhan. That said, it was also semi-popular after WoG, but it was nowhere near close to being either strongest or most impactful deck. It catered mostly to the fans of RNG mixed with burned faces and I have to say that I’ve played my fair share of the deck too. It was pretty close to getting into top 3.
- RenoLock – You see, the thing about RenoLock is that it was always in the meta, but it lingered around Tier 3 for a nearly whole year. Very early in the year, before Standard even hit, there was a brief period of time when RenoLock was Tier 1. But it was only for a few weeks. Standard came, RenoLock’s power has dropped significantly, then it was one of the least played meta decks for the rest of the year just until recently. Gadgetzan gave RenoLock new life and made it a much better contender, pushing out the Zoo, which was the #1 Warlock archetype for nearly the rest of the year. It’s enough for a honorable mention, but not enough for top 3.
- Pirate Warrior – If I had to call the most impactful decks of the last month, Pirate Warrior would definitely be on the top. But it’s not the case if we look at the whole year. Pirate Warrior, often called Aggro Warrior, always had some representation, but it rarely was more than a few % of meta until Gadgetzan. And it’s not enough to call it best just based on that.
- Zoo Warlock – Zoo Warlock was the closest one to get 3rd place, but I feel like Midrange Hunter was just a little more impactful. First, it got really strong in WoG because it didn’t lose too many cards in rotation and got some new tools like Darkshire Councilman, Possessed Villager or Forbidden Ritual. Then, Karazhan introduced a Discard version of the deck and it remained one of the most popular/strongest decks for a while too. Funnily enough, the deck is very similar to the Midrange Hunter – both got boosted heavily by the two first expansions of this year and both completely faded with Gadgetzan.
Best Card Released In 2016
3. N’Zoth, the Corruptor (Whispers of the Old Gods)
I open this category with one of the Old Gods. I have to say that Old Gods were probably the most impactful high cost Legendaries EVER. Only Y'Shaarj, Rage Unbound wasn’t commonly seen on the ladder, but it also had its moments. However, I think that N’Zoth is the one that deserves the 3rd place.
The card has got into so many decks that it’s hard to imagine. While not each one of them was popular or very successful, we had things like N’Zoth Control Warrior, N’Zoth Control Paladin, N’Zoth Rogue, N’Zoth RenoLock or N’Zoth Control Priest. Some people played N’Zoth even with just 2-3 strong Deathrattles in their decks – I’ve seen Ramp Druids playing the card just to get back Sylvanas Windrunner and Cairne Bloodhoof. It’s definitely one of the most powerful finishers in the slow games.
This one card holds just so much value – not only it refloods the board by itself, it does it with Deathrattle minions, which often have extra value. And so, some spawn extra minions, some give extra cards etc. meaning that even after a board clear, the N’Zoth player still got both the tempo and the card advantage.
The card is rarely used right now, because of how the Gadgetzan meta got, but it might make a comeback in the future – after all, it’s still over a year until it cycles out.
2. Patches the Pirate (Mean Streets of Gadgetzan)
This card might be #1 in terms of potential, but I couldn’t put it on #1 just after a month. But I have to admit that even if it’s only a month, the card has completely shaken up the meta. This + Small-time Buccaneer made the Pirates way, way better. So much better that even the decks that didn’t normally run Pirates now wanted to put some early Pirate package in.
After all, starting with an extra 1/1 with Charge nearly every game is a big advantage. Thinning your deck by a single card is also an advantage in certain decks – while it’s not that impactful in Aggro, it’s really good in Miracle Rogue. Heck, LifeCoach has played RenoLock with Patches in one of the tournaments. Sure, it was just an experiment, but it shows the scale of a whole thing.
Right now Patches is played in 3 or 4 meta decks. It’s really a lot considering that it’s a 1 mana Legendary that requires you to play PIRATES in order for it to work. If Pirates get more support next year, this might remain one of the most impactful cards.
1. Yogg-Saron, Hope’s End (Whispers of the Old Gods)
Okay, I just have to put this card up there. Before it was released, it was considered trash. Right after it was released, it was considered one of the most fun cards ever. After all, it’s just some harmless RNG, right? It started being problematic when it was put in high tier decks, competitive decks, and it has started to decide the outcome of big tournaments.
I mean, the card is one of the worst designed cards ever. And if you combine worst design with card being so powerful, the results were rage-inducing. The card was mostly played in the slow decks, which rarely had board advantage, as a comeback mechanic. So the decks that either are slow/control (Malygos Druid, Control Warrior) or that would usually run out of steam before they could play it (Tempo Mage). So the results were mostly positive – on average, Yogg would clear a better part of the board and gave some minor advantages like playing a Secret or drawing some cards. Which was fine, honestly. The average result wasn’t the problem.
The problem was that no one could predict the result and it had SO MUCH variance. You couldn’t play around it, because you never knew what it would do. Player that dropped Yogg could kill himself right away or he could clear the whole board, spawn 5 extra minions, play 3 Secrets, draw a few cards and deal 10 damage to the opponent. All of that in 1 turn, with a single card.
Even though card games will always have RNG (draws themselves are RNG), it was just too much and it was nerfed after a while. But one can only guess how much it has messed in the competitive scene – how many high ladder or tournament games were won not because the player was playing better, but because he had insane Yogg luck. I was on both ends of this phenomenon and it was terrible to watch – some games I was outplaying my opponent whole time, I set up lethal next turn and then Yogg turned everything around. Other games I made some silly mistakes and I was losing, just to get carried by Yogg into Shadowstep into playing Yogg against next turn and getting lucky one more time.
Right now the card is almost unplayable, because it stops after killing itself. And Yogg killing itself is a very common occurrence – it didn’t matter before, but right now it often stops right after the first spell. And while it gives the card even more variance, it has nearly disappeared from the competitive scene, making it a very good change overall.
Best Highlight Of 2016
3. Very Dirty Rat
Okay, so this is a pretty recent highlight but the one I like most from the whole Gadgetzan expansion so far. Everything is perfect about it. Using a very underplayed card (it was like 2nd or 3rd day of the expansion and Dirty Rat wasn’t popular back then), getting insane result, great RNG outcome, and then the Savjz’s laugh accompanied by Mage emoting like there was no tomorrow.
And quite frankly, I’m not surprised – I would be mad as hell too. Dirty Rat is one of my favorite cards of the expansion, but it has its dark side – it’s RNG and it’s almost impossible to play around.
I’ve played around with the card a lot, I guess everyone did at this point, but this is simply THE BEST outcome I’ve seen so far. Which makes it a good watch for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet.
2. Yogg-Saron, Face’s End
This one is older, but it showcases what I’ve been talking about when it comes to Yogg-Saron. With the right amount of luck (in this case, INSANE) the card could win you the game. But when I’ve said that, I meant win the game as in turn it around, get you advantage, not… kill your opponent immediately.
Imagine that you’re a Warrior, playing against Yogg Hunter and sitting at the safe 25 health. You have Hero Power upgraded by Justicar Trueheart, possibly even more life gain in your hand, weapon equipped, Ragnaros the Firelord on the board, Hunter has almost no cards in the hand, even if Yogg draws cards and spawns stuff, you most likely have Brawl to answer them…. Easy win, right? Not when Yogg-Saron, Hope's End has something to say.
After casting just 8 spells, which is only a fraction of what Yogg can cast in this matchup, it has dealt 26 damage to the opponent. A single card deal 26 damage and it might have not stop there – he might deal MORE if he went on.
I could make a hours long highlight vide of the Yogg RNG, but I think that this one should be enough.
1. Paveling Book
You say Paveling Book and most of people instantly know what you’re talking about. It has became a HS meme at this point. But if you aren’t familiar with the situation, it happened during Blizzcon. World Championship Quarterfinals. Pavel was playing with Amnesiac and losing 0-3, but then the tides have turned and he started coming back. However, when playing Tempo Mage, was losing very hard. Amnesiac has dropped Malygos for which Pavel had no answer at all. He couldn’t draw it, the only thing he could do is drop a Babbling Book. And he did – getting the perfect answer in a form of Polymorph.
Then, the turn after, he was losing on the board against and topdecked another Babbling Book. This time it gave him a perfect answer for the Amnesiac’s Emperor Thaurissan – Firelands Portal. Two perfect RNG outcomes back to back.
And you know, it wouldn’t be that amazing if not for the money and title that was on the line. Getting to Quarterfinals was $50,000 but getting to Semifinals was $100,000. I’m pretty sure that Pavel had no other way to win that game – he was so behind and with Malygos on the board and Emperor Thaurissan to follow, Amnesiac would establish a complete board dominance. So in this game alone, that Babbling Book outcome was worth $50,000.
But there is more. Pavel ended up winning the whole Championship, getting the title AND $250,000 for himself. So looking at the bigger picture, that Babbling Book was worth $200,000 for the Pavel, because he wouldn’t get a shot at the Champion title if he didn’t win that game. Pretty crazy if you think about it, right?
Best Update Of 2016
3. Patch 188.8.131.5251 – Deck Slots!
9 deck slots has been one of the longest running jokes among Hearthstone community. Vaguely based on the official Blizzard response and then repeated thousands of times, we apparently didn’t have more than 9 deck slots, because it would be “too confusing for new players” (the real word was that new players might be “overwhelmed” not “confused”, but still, similar thing).
More than 9 deck slots was probably a feature that was asked most for. I mean, 9 slots might have been enough for the majority of casual player base, but for more hardcore players or aspiring deck builders, it was severely limiting.
And so, early this year, Blizzard has decided to double that number – from 9 to 18. While 18 deck slots is still not that much, it’s definitely way better. From my own experience, I often had to delete decks to make space for new ones when I was at 9. At 18, I usually just clean them up every month or so, because there are never even 18 decks I play at the same time.
Besides the deck slots, patch also introduced Deck Recipes. It’s a tool useful to new players who struggle with deck building – it helps them to build their first decks made of only Classic cards and then guides them in 2 other directions they can take the class into. And honestly, while the recipes aren’t perfect, most of the “advanced” ones are quite playable and I wouldn’t be surprised if you could even hit Legend with some of them.
Now, the new joke in Hearthstone community is that every time someone does something incredibly stupid, people joke that he shouldn’t post that, because Blizzard will take away out deck slots. Well, I guess the meme will stay on forever.
2. Patch 184.108.40.20630 – Yogg Nerf
At this point making a balance patch a month before World Championship at Blizzcon can become a tradition. And I’m not against that – if something’s unbalanced, we want to make it as good as possible before the most important tournament. We (as a community) would like to see balance patches even more often, but that’s another story.
I say that it’s a Yogg nerf patch, because that was the most important change and let’s start with it. Even though the card’s text didn’t change (probably to not make it confusing for new players, right?) the effect did change. Before, Yogg would go through his whole Battlecry no matter what. Well, at least until one of the players died. Right now, he stops as soon as he gets out of the board. So, it doesn’t matter if he kills himself with a single target spell (e.g. Fireball), plays AoE clear like Twisting Nether or even bounces himself back to the hand with Shadowstep, his effect stops. This is supposed to make a card more balanced by giving it a higher risk factor – you can’t just play the card to get AHEAD on the board, it’s only solid when you play it as a comeback card and you get pretty lucky. I mean, even casting a Twisting Nether right away is a good outcome when your goal was to clear the board, but now it won’t flood the board and cast 5 Secrets on top of that.
Besides change to Yogg, there were some more that affected the competitive play. Call of the Wild got increased from 8 to 9 mana, which made it disappear from most of Hunter lists. Execute was nerfed to 2 mana, making it less of a tempo card in Midrange Warrior decks, but still a good hard removal in Control Warrior. Charge got reworked, basically making the Raging Worgen combo deck dead. Tuskarr Totemic could only spawn Basic Totems. And a few more or less significant changes.
In the end, decks that were strong still remained strong and two biggest changes were Yogg nerf and death of Combo Warrior.
1. Patch 220.127.116.1174 – Standard Format
I think that it’s the most important patch up to date. Everyone knew it’s going to happen sooner or later – introduction of new formats. After all, the more expansions we got, the bigger card pool becomes. It basically means that each new expansion has less and less impact overall AND that at some point, there will be so many broken strategies that each game would end before turn 3. That’s what happens in Vintage format in MTG after 20+ years – most of the games are decided on first turn. And that’s what would probably happen to Hearthstone after a while too.
Anyone who plays Wild can already see that the power level of the decks is higher there. For example, imagine Pirate Warrior in Standard having the access to Ship's Cannon. And that’s only a single card, there will be more Pirate synergies in the future, and at some point Pirate will have so insane turn 1, 2, 3 etc. plays that it will be able to win the game in a few turns quite easily. The game would become boring at this point, that’s why Standard format is necessary. It’s fun to play something so crazy once in a while (that’s why we still have Wild format), but it would get pretty dull after a while.
In Standard, you can only play cards from the last up to 2 years worth of expansions. So after the first expansion of 2017 is released, all the expansions of 2015 will rotate out. So at any given point, besides the “evergreen” Classic set, we will have between 4 and 6 extra expansions (right now we’re at 6). And so, if you play Standard, you should see a big refresh of decks and strategies each expansion, but most importantly on the first expansion of each year.
As important as the Standard is, this patch also introduced a big set of nerfs to the existing cards. Probably the most important change is the death of Midrange/Combo Druid. Force of Nature was completely reworked – the Treants it summons are permanent and cost 1 less mana, but… they don’t have charge. So it’s impossible to immediately combo it with Savage Roar for the 14 damage burst from the hand. Besides that, changes to Ironbeak Owl, Big Game Hunter, Molten Giant, Blade Flurry, Arcane Golem etc. completely removed more cards from the meta. I think that Knife Juggler is the only card that remained pretty popular even after the nerf.
On top of that, there were some changes to the UI, “Sorry” emote was removed and “Wow” was added in its place etc. Mostly minor things without as much impact as the previous ones.
Best Card Art of 2016
It’s a filler category, but I still wanted to do it! Back in the day, nearly 100% of the Hearthstone’s card arts were recycled from WoW TCG. It’s only natural – they had a lot of art to use and they didn’t even know whether the game will get popular, so they’ve just recycled it. This year, however, most of the art is original and unique to Hearthstone. And we’ve got a lot of really good artworks. So, I would like to share my favorite artwork from each expansion. They were hard to pick, because I honestly think that each of them featured tons of great art, but I’ve decided to stick to 3 per expansion. And so, here are my favorite artworks of 2016:
Whispers of the Old Gods:
1st – Cult Apothecary
2nd – C’Thun
3rd – Silver Hand Murloc
One Night In Karazhan:
1st – Babbling Book
2nd – Priest of the Feast
3rd – Wicked Witchdoctor
Mean Streets of Gadgetzan:
1st – Kabal Crystal Runner
2nd – Raza the Chained
3rd – Alley Armorsmith
That’s all folks. As a reminder, once again, those are mostly subjective – I share my own feelings about the decks, cards etc. and some of you might disagree. Of course, if you do, I’d love to hear your choices. And I hope that this year will be even better than the last one – I’m looking forward to seeing what the dev team will do with Hearthstone in 2017. Let’s hope that a year from now, I will be able to write only good things about the game!
If you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comment section below. And if you want to be up to date with my articles, you can follow me on Twitter.
Good luck on the ladder and until next time!