If I asked you to describe what a metagame is to a friend of yours who had no background in playing card games, where would you begin your explanation? In a literal sense, you might explain that the metagame is composed of decks that one can play at a competitive level. At a higher level, you might discuss how the metagame is the dominant strategy by which players try to win games. Regardless of your capacity to explain a metagame, as Hearthstone players, we interact with the metagame, this nebulous and at times abstract concept, in every space in which we consume Hearthstone.
What is the metagame?
Returning to the original question I posed at the beginning of this article, I would define a metagame as the predominant strategy by which most players win a game. Those players that can utilize the metagame strategy successfully should, therefore, be privy to the highest level of gameplay in that particular format. We can surmise this type of outcome in thinking of the root origin of the term metagame that bears the meta prefix, which indicates a comprehensive or transcendent way of thinking about the game.
At this point, you may be saying to yourself, Cowtipper, I only took the introductory class at Scholomance Academy, so I did not need to understand the minute particulars of what a metagame is, never mind the Greek origin of the term itself. How can we take this high-level understanding of what a metagame is and translate that into actionable results in my Hearthstone experience?
The Metagame and You
Most players’ initial foray into the metagame can be found on their first climb from Bronze 10 to Legend, whether in the Wild or Standard format. As you play more and more games, you begin to see patterns in the frequency of decks played on the ladder. If you think back to your first ladder climb, you may remember that the diversity of decks you face decreases the higher you climb on the ranked ladder. We can rationalize this observation in terms of the metagame by saying that as you play against more competitive players, the dominant strategies solidify, which provides little space for flexibility in deck archetype. For those players who have experience in both the Wild and Standard metagames may notice the Wild format pronounces this effect more clearly. The reason for this is that the player base has had much more time to optimize for competitive winning strategies as compared to Standard, where the card pool changes dramatically every two years. Furthermore, Standard sets are typically more affected by the inclusion of new card sets than the Wild format is.
This way of thinking about the metagame, as the whole scope of competitive strategies at a particular level of play, also helps explain why as you move from lower tiers to higher tiers of competitive play, you will almost always observe a decrease in the number of decks featured. Take a glance at any meta report (Vicious Syndicate, Tempostorm), and you will see this phenomenon playing out in real-time. A further reason for this archetype contraction is that fundamentally all card games revolve around three competitive strategies: aggressive, combination, and control decks.
The Holy Trinity
For any card game that is properly balanced, the three archetypes, as mentioned earlier, will arise as predominant strategies in competitive play. A rock-paper-scissors arrangement entangles each of the three archetypes. In this arrangement, the strength of one strategy targets the weakness of another strategy. In the Wild metagame, Pirate Warrior’s weakness to board clears is the strength of Raza Priest. Similarly, Raza Priest’s weakness to non-interactive game strategies makes it easy prey for Quest Mage. To complete the circle, Quest Mage’s weakness to early aggression is the strength of Pirate Warrior.
Standard readers of this article may take offense because I posit that an adequately balanced format invokes three dominant competitive strategies. The metagames in which two competitive archetypes dominate have resulted in the many nerfs to the Demon Hunter class. At its core, the standard format when solved devolved into aggressive Demon Hunter strategies, which stood opposed to more controlling Enrage Warrior strategies. You can see, though, that nerfing the Demon Hunter class did nothing to disrupt the fundamental problem. A format that lacks combo decks because the metagame shifted to a format that contrasts the inherent value of Highlander Hunter against rampantly aggressive strategies that were previously suppressed by Demon Hunter’s aggression, namely Murloc Paladin and the recent resurgence in Zoo Warlock.
Utilizing the Metagame to Guide Deck Construction
My interest in understanding the metagame evolved from my monthly series in which I detail a new ladder climb to legend on my free to play account. Each month, I use the rewards from the previous month’s daily quests, card pack openings, and ladder rewards to craft a new deck. Because I am handicapping myself by not investing money into the account, I must be diligent in the decks I choose to craft. At the time of the most recent nerfs, I was three cards away from completing the stock Odd Demon Hunter list missing only Loatheb, Metamorphosis, and Baku.
In response to these nerfs, I incorrectly started to craft Raza Priest – my logic at the time was that Raza Priest would become even stronger since its already powerful aggressive matchup would become even more favorable. I say that this decision is incorrect because, in reality, the Demon Hunter nerfs strengthened the playability of Quest Mage, which in turn reduced the playability of Raza Priest. In misunderstanding the metagame, I started to craft a deck that would be worse after the nerfs, not better.
Since taking the time to reflect on the metagame, I have since been working towards building Even Shaman as the nerf to Warglaives of Azzinoth improved Even Shaman’s poor matchup against Odd Demon Hunter to easily winnable. Similarly, against the other board-centric aggressive strategies, Even Shaman’s ability to capitalize on Devolve allows it to bulldoze Cube Warlock, which is typically an archetype with a good matchup against other aggressive strategies. Even Shaman is not immune to Raza Priest, but the boon in Quest Mage decreases the likelihood that Raza Priest sees play considering how one-sided that matchup is for the Quest Mage player.
Meta Crafting in Preparation for Scholomance Academy
With Scholomance Academy on the rise, there is reason to argue that two weeks before an expansion is not the best time to begin crafting cards. While I would agree with this sentiment for the Standard format, Wild is a separate ballgame entirely. Many of the existing archetypes in the Wild format will be slightly or completely unchanged in response to the new set. The reason for the lack of change is because the decks in the format use their 30-card slots so efficiently, that variation is typically only observed in response to nerfs or novel synergistic cards that expansions introduce to the archetype. Considering that Even Shaman has been a refined archetype for years now (the latest inclusion being The Lurker Below), it stands to reason that this deck will be a reasonable craft irrespective of a new format. It is easy to be swayed by the flashy effects of Lightning Bloom, but remember that to add a card to a decklist, you must first remove a card. In many of the Wild decklists, all 30 cards are good. So, removing an existing card for a newly untested card may compromise percentage points against a previously favorable matchup.
How are you preparing for the release of Scholomance Academy? Where do you think the metagame is heading? Will we be doomed to play Quest Mage mirror games until Blizzard nerfs the quest? I’ll be staying tuned on all of these questions, and I would love to hear your answers in the comments below. Happy Hearthstone-ing!!
For more Hearthstone strategy content by Cowtipper, be sure to read his latest guide to Pirate Warrior in the Wild format. Want to stay up to date with the latest content on AceGameGuides? Be sure to follow us on twitter and be notified when a new post is up on the website!