Journey to Un'Goro - Sunset Article
With Knights of the Frozen Throne set to release in mid August and the Frost Festival in full swing, it’s time to take a look back on what has been one of the most successful sets in the history of Hearthstone. In this “sunset” article I’ll be covering the story of Un’Goro standard, beginning with the biggest flops from the Un’Goro set reviews and leading all the way up to the state of the meta today. Inspired by the sunset shows on Limited Resources, I’ll wrap things up by handing out my awards for Journey to Un’Goro and casting my first ballot for the Hearthstone Hall of Fame. Let’s begin!
The Un’Goro Set Reviews: A Swing and a Miss
Set reviews are hard. It's perfectly normal for a set to have cards which are overlooked and overhyped by the entire community, and it’s all too easy to look back at set reviews with the benefit of hindsight to point out the glaring mistakes. With that in mind, let’s look back on set reviews with the benefit of hindsight to point out the glaring mistakes.
The Hearthstone community was down on quite a few cards which ended up being staples of the format. Lyra the Sunshard was widely regarded as a terrible card pre-launch, despite comments from the lead developer of Hearthstone which hinted that she may have “too good”. “Stonehill Defender is a one star card” has become a meme, and Primordial Glyph received several terrible ratings from the pro community only to become the 4th most played card in the game.
Regardless, one card stands above the rest as the most misevaluated of the set: The Caverns Below.
The only card to receive a nerf during Journey to Un’Goro standard, you were hard pressed to find a pro player who was taking The Caverns Below seriously in their set reviews. Though many thought the card was interesting the Quest was widely dismissed as being too difficult to complete. Major props to CoL.Noxious, who not only pointed out in his set review that he thought the card was busted, but noted that you could easily trigger the Quest with the Fire Fly + Igneous Elemental package.
The most hyped Quest of the entire set turned turned out to be a massive flop. The community was all but convinced that The Marsh Queen would be the best of the quests. Trump even gave the card 5 stars in his set review. Lifecoach claimed on his stream that he told Blizzard not to print the card because it was so powerful, and said there was a 50/50 chance the Quest would break the game. At this point I think it’s safe to say he lost that coin flip.
Note: I plan on doing my own set review for Knights of the Frozen Throne and will be making fun of my own terrible predictions in the next sunset article.
The Release of Un’Goro and the Early Metagame
The early explorers of Un’Goro returned with frightening tales. Reddit was flooded with complaints about duplicate cards in their pre-ordered packs (an issue which has since been addressed by Blizzard) and the first reports of the meta were that Quest Rogue was totally busted. After the dust had settled on the first week of Un’Goro a few things were immediately clear about the upcoming meta:
- Quest Rogue was going to shape the meta.
- Pirate Warrior was still really good.
- The majority of the Quests were unplayable.
To combat the prevalence of the early aggro decks, Quest Warrior became the deck du jour and for a short stretch the ladder was extremely toxic to aggro decks, allowing Murloc based Paladin decks to take over for a few weeks. Hungry Crab became the trendy new tech card, which opened the door for both Burn Mage and Secret Mage to dominate the ladder. Crabs were swapped for Eater of Secrets, and the aggro decks returned in full force (though in truth, they never really went away). In mid-May the Evolve Shaman decks began to emerge and has since grown into one of the most dominant and popular decks in the format.
Though the aggressive decks emerged as early favorites, the Un’Goro meta would eventually Adapt into one of the most diverse and healthy standard formats that Hearthstone has ever seen.
The Diversity of Un’Goro
Remarkably, only two classes (Warlock and Hunter) produced fewer than two competitively viable decks. Let’s take a look at the massive number of decks which were viable at one time or another in Un’Goro standard:
Team 5 deserves a lot of credit for creating such a stable and diverse standard environment. Though the statistics show that aggressive decks like Pirate Warrior, Aggro Token Druid, and Evolve Shaman have maintained the best overall winrates, most would argue that the Un’Goro meta has been healthy from the start.
Lessons from Un’Goro: The Failure of Quests
Coming into Un’Goro there was a massive amount of hype surrounding the nine quests. Only two of the Quests are now considered to be even remotely viable in standard (Fire Plume’s Heart and Open the Waygate), while the Rogue Quest ended up requiring a nerf and was a continual source of complaint from the Hearthstone community. This leaves us with two design “successes” out of the nine quests, six whiffs, and one complete failure.
My biggest problem with the Quests isn’t their lack of competitive viability. I don’t even mind that the Quests were designed in such a way which makes the decks they fit into comparatively straightforward to build. The thing which worries me most about the Quests is the way they restrict design space for Hearthstone going forward.
Team 5 needs to be really careful about printing cards in the near future which could make one of the Quests too powerful for standard. Since Quests always appear in your opening hand by design, it’s quite possible that some of the Quests are just a card or two away from being completely busted. There is a very small window between “unplayable” and “overpowered” when it comes to the Quest decks, and Team 5 needs to be wary of this as they add new cards to the game. How many quality one drops does The Marsh Queen need before it becomes too good? Two or three? And how many solid discard enablers does Lakkari Sacrifice need before it becomes too easy to activate? One or two? These are questions which must be asked before creating new cards due to the highly narrow way in which the Quests were designed. I hope Team 5 has learned that cards which are too easily accessible (eg: always in your opening hand) do more to constrict design space than they do to create compelling gameplay experiences.
Quick Fixes: Saving the WarlockOne of the most common complaints about the Un’Goro meta is the underperformance of Warlock decks. While it is possible a Unicorn Warlock deck exists, the three most obvious decks (Zoo, Handlock, and Quest Warlock) are all coming up short. After some early experimentation with Handlock and Humongous Razorleaf, Warlock has consistently maintained a class frequency of less than 2% since mid May.
In a perfect world the Warlock class would be able to support both an aggressive deck (Zoo) and a controlling deck (Handlock). Let’s explore what it would it take to make each of these decks a viable option.
Clutchmother Zavas, Malchezaar’s Imp, Doomguard, and Silverware Golem seem like a powerful core for a discard based Zoo deck. Even now the Disco Zoo deck is capable of some ridiculously powerful plays, but the deck is its own worst enemy and is held back by a lack of consistency. Every discard enabler in the deck reads “discard a card at random”, so the only way a Warlock can guarantee they are discarding the card of their choice is by keeping their hand empty. This is fundamentally at odds with their hero power, Life Tap, which draws them cards.
The pieces seem to already be in place for an aggressive, discard-based Warlock deck to have its time in the sun. Perhaps the only thing Disco Zoo needs is a new card in Knights of the Frozen Throne which allows the Warlock to selectively discard a card from their hand.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle in the way of the slower, more controlling Warlock decks is the prevalence of aggro in the current meta. A dip in the popularity of Pirate Warrior, Aggro Token Druid, and Evolve Shaman might be all that controlling Warlock decks need to return to the meta.These decks have also been badly missing a powerful healing effect since Reno Jackson rotated from standard. Without a way to quickly or repeatedly restore their life, Warlocks who aim to make the game go long are unable to Life Tap as often as they need. A neutral minion with a powerful healing effect might be able to restore Handlock to its former glory but it could also put Jade Druid over the top. With the upcoming addition of Lifesteal to the game, I hope that Warlock will get a late game class card which enables them to restore their health in meaningful chunks. There’s a chance that Blood-Queen Lana’thel could be the answer to my prayers.
My “Journey to Un’Goro Awards”
Best Design: Sherazin, Corpse FlowerAn all-star in midrange Rogue decks, Sherazin has a unique ability which is exemplary of both the Rogue and the Journey to Un’Goro theme. With a power level worthy of its Legendary status, The Corpse Flower feels neither underwhelming nor overpowered.
Worst Design: Jungle Giants // Barnabus the StomperJungle Giants stands out amongst a group of poorly designed Quests as the most baffling of the lot. Once you’ve had the time and mana to cast 5 minions with 5 or more attack, why would I be in the market for a cost reduction effect on minions I haven’t drawn yet? The earliest you can reasonably expect to complete the Quest is turn 7, at which point you aren’t exactly hurting for mana. Without a way to quickly draw through your deck the ability on ol’ Barney is largely useless, while a deck filled which is filled with card draw spells will have a hard time playing enough minions with 5 power to trigger the quest.
Most Improved: Medivh’s ValetNow an auto-include in every Mage deck, the printing of Arcanologist turned Medivh’s Valet and his fire-wielding monkey friend loose.
Most Potential: BloodbloomForgotten in the death of the Warlock, Bloodbloom offers an extremely powerful effect for just two mana. Playing cards a few turns ahead of schedule has the potential to be game breaking and Warlocks have historically had no problem sacrificing card advantage for tempo. If Warlock ever gets access to an effect which gains a substantial amount of life, expect Bloodbloom to take off.
Best Art: Fire Plume HarbingerThis was a tough choice because Un’Goro had tons of great art to choose from. I settled on Fire Plume Harbinger because it strikes an excellent balance between realism and the classic cartoon style of Hearthstone. This also wins the award for “Card Most Likely To Be Legendary Based On Its Art Alone, But Isn’t”.
Worst Art: Obsidian ShardYup, that’s an obsidian shard. Not much else to say here.
Best Arena Card: PyrosGood on turn 2, great on turn 6, and amazing on turn 10, Pyros demands an unreasonable amount of damage to completely remove from the game. If you’re unlucky enough to face a Pyros with a Polymorph effect, your only hope is to get so far ahead on tempo that your opponent never gets a chance to play the final 10/10.
Best Wild Card: Golakka CrawlerAs it turns out, Pirates are pretty good in Wild as well. Golakka Crawler appears in everything from Egg Druid to Aggro Shaman as a way to combat the Pirate menace.
Deck of the Format: Quest RogueFrom the first day of the format until the day it was nerfed, Quest Rogue completely shaped the format. Quest Rogue was the stopgap which prevented many decks which aimed to win in the game late from flourishing and was a constant target of complaint from the Hearthstone community until it was eventually nerfed. The runner-up for this award goes to Evolve Shaman, a deck which burst onto the scene after the metagame once the metagame had already started to settle down. Since then, Evolve Shaman has firmly cemented itself as a Tier 1 deck.
Card of the set: Fire FlyThe backbone of Elemental synergy and an essential addition to any aggressive deck, Fire Fly has been one of the most widely played cards since the launch of Un’Goro. Its design is clean, elegant, and perhaps most importantly, fair. Despite its widespread usage, few have raised complaints about the power level of the card since its release.
My Journey to Un’Goro “Hall of Fame Ballot”
The Hall of Fame was introduced to Hearthstone with the release of Un’Goro as a clean solution for problematic cards. As stated in the Hall of Fame announcement:
When cards show up too frequently in decks and are considered auto-includes, deck-building becomes more limited. Deck variety stagnates, potentially interesting build-around cards fall by the wayside, and the gameplay experience begins to feel less dynamic.
The Hall of Fame was created with the intention to be used sparingly but I believe that we’ve reached the point where a card has met all the criteria necessary to be added to the Hall of Fame. It shows up far too frequently in decks. It limits design space for potentially interesting future decks. It has a habit of being the least favorite card in both player’s decks. Drawing this card (or not drawing it) determines the outcome of the game far too often, and it’s the card which is the most responsible for the inflated success of aggressive decks in Journey to Un’Goro. Can you guess it’s name?
Patches has been far too ubiquitous for far too long. It's been the most played card by a wide margin since the release of Mean Streets of Gadgetzan, and is currently played in all of the most popular aggro decks. Patches is an auto-include in every Rogue build which runs Swashburglar (which is almost all of them) and has even started popping up in Midrange Paladin decks. Showing up too frequently? Check.
As a neutral card, Patches enables every class to create two minions for one mana with a single card, most often Bloodsail Corsair. Because of this, classes which are capable of boosting the power of more than one minion at a time with cards like Flametongue Totem and Mark of the Lotus are able leverage Patches to create massive early game advantages. The ability for all classes to create two minions for one mana has been a major reason that aggressive decks have been so successful during Journey to Un’Goro. The popularity and success of Patches based aggro decks has undoubtedly limited the variety of possible control decks in the meta, and has consequently allowed interesting build-around cards to fall by the wayside. Check and check.
Finally, Patches is a particularly frustrating card. Nobody enjoys staring down two pirates on turn one, and the card is even more frustrating when you end up drawing it from your deck. Drawing Patches in a mirror matchup is often enough to lose a game all by itself. Gameplay experiences becoming less dynamic? Check.
For the above reasons, I’m submitting my vote for Patches the Pirate to be elected to the Hall of Fame! Congrats, Patches. You earned it.
As the sun sets on Un’Goro I believe this set will be fondly remember the next time a metagame turns sour. Though Un’Goro was a tremendous success from a thematic design standpoint (who doesn’t like dinosaurs?), the marquee Quest cards were largely a disappointment and should be approached with caution going forward.
Knights of the Frozen Throne will be inheriting a predominantly satisfied player base, thanks to the health of the current standard format and the recent player-friendly addition of festivals. I believe there’s every reason to be optimistic about the future of Hearthstone and can’t wait to see what Blizzard brings us next.