A System for Set Reviews
The days before a new set releases are some of the busiest times of year for influential members of the Hearthstone community. A new sets means it's time to make a new set review and set reviews take a ton of work to put together.
Part of what makes set reviews so interesting is how challenging it is to accurately evaluate new cards. Many of the most popular set reviews are often wildly wrong about cards they feel very strongly about, but that's okay. If new cards were easy to assess then the game probably wouldn't be very interesting. The community is largely understanding of the fact that set reviews aren't perfect and tend to give a pass to all but the most egregious of evaluations.
Most set reviews tend to be entirely spoken, while a few others use a star or letter-grade based rating system. Spoken set reviews are great if you’re looking for in depth analysis of cards but are time consuming to watch. This begs the question, why would be spend hours watching set reviews if they’re known to not be very accurate? Here are all the reasons I could come up with:
- For the entertainment value.
- To get ideas for how to use the new cards.
- To learn which cards are worth crafting on day one.
- To learn which cards are worth building a new deck around.
- To learn which cards slot into existing decks.
Numbers one, two, and five require words to properly communicate, but I believe that numbers three and four can be accomplished with an “at-a-glance” or number based rating system. For viewers who care most about learning which new cards will impact the meta and are safest to craft on day one, let’s try to construct a rating system which would allow this information to be quickly consumed.
The first and most obvious criteria for evaluating a card is its raw power level. All cards are not created equal and a set review should reflect that. However, the power level of a card is often far less important than the context in which the card exists. Cards which are powerful in a vacuum might end up being completely unplayed due to a hostile metagame, because a more powerful card exists which costs the same amount of mana, or because of the card lacks the right deck.
Take Clutchmother Zavas for example. If I were to evaluate this card on raw power level alone I would give it a 4 star rating. In any discard Warlock deck this card has got to be great, but there was never a competitive discard Warlock deck in the Un'Goro metagame. Meanwhile, I would have given Elise the Trailblazer a 3 star rating on raw power alone. In a rating system which only looks at raw power to rate its cards, someone might look at a 4 star rating on Clutchmother Zavas and choose to spend their hard earned dust on it over Elise the Trailblazer. This would have turned out to be a poor choice.
This tells us two things. Raw power alone is not a sufficient metric for evaluating cards and how playable a card is should factor into its rating.
Stonehill Defender is a card which somehow manages to see play in aggro decks (Evolve Shaman), midrange decks (Murloc Paladin), and control decks (Taunt Warrior) at the same time. It doesn’t rely other cards to be good, it’s just good on its own. It’s hard to imagine a metagame where Stonehill Defender won’t see play, as the card is flexible enough to be good against both aggro and control decks. The raw power of Stonehill Defender isn’t what makes the card so widely played, Stonehill Defender is great because of its remarkable consistency.
Certain cards are impacted far more by the cards surrounding them than others. Golakka Crawler’s stock is completely dependent on how many Pirate decks currently see play, whereas Swashburglar will see play in Rogue decks no matter how many Golakka Crawlers are scurrying about in the meta. Hydrologist stands on its own a solid card in both aggro and control decks, while Rockpool Hunter needs others Murlocs to be playable.
Cards which fit into only one kind of deck require the cards around them to be good to actually be playable. This is the problem with Clutchmother Zavas. It isn’t that she’s too weak, it’s that she needs a stronger supporting cast of discard effects to be playable. There is a clear relationship between how many kinds of decks a card fits into and how likely the card is to be worth your dust.
Every Quest from Un’Goro would receive a low consistency rating of 1 star. They each fit into just one deck and are completely dependent on the cards around them to be good. Despite the obviously high power level of the quests, only three out of nine (Mage, Warrior, and Rogue) turned out to be craft-worthy during Un’Goro standard. A consistency rating can help us catch cards which are powerful but could ultimately end up being a bad investment of dust.
Let’s take another look at Zavas and Elise, but this time with consistency ratings. Zavas is only playable in discard Warlock decks and is highly reliant on synergy, so she gets a consistency rating of 1 star. Elise the Trailblazer needs Shadow Visions to be good to be good in Priest decks, but she is sees play in a variety of decks which try to make the game go long. She gets a consistency rating of 4 stars. Here’s how the two cards stack up against each other now:
Elise the Trailblazer
These ratings paint a much more complete picture. Zavas is more powerful in a vacuum while Elise is more consistent. With these ratings it’s clear that Elise is the safer card to craft on day one but it also shows that Zavas has more potential if she can find the right home.
By rating a card’s power we communicate how much a card is worth building a deck around, and by rating it’s consistency we communicate how safe the card is to craft. If you remember the five reasons I could come up with for watching set reviews we’ve got down and three to go.
There’s no two ways about it, if we want to our review to be entertaining or contain any deeper insight about the new cards we’ll need to accompany our number ratings with some words. A paragraph or two after the power and consistency ratings should cover the potential synergies, play patterns, and nuances of the card. To help out with the “at a glance” approach to this set review system, we can list all the new and existing decks the card slots into on a single line below our ratings.
A good rating system should leave no room for ambiguity in its ratings. The terms “power” and “consistency” need to be clearly defined for each rating and accompanied by examples with cards from the previous set.
- Rating criteria: How big of an impact does this card have on the outcome game?
5 Stars: One of the most powerful cards in the set. Good in almost every scenario. Has the ability to single-handedly turn around a game you are losing or completely take over a game at parity. Frequently generates three or more cards worth of value.
Examples: Sunkeeper Tarim and Primordial Drake.
4 Stars: A card worth building a deck around. Has the potential to win a game on its own under the right circumstances. Frequently generates two or more cards worth of value.
Examples:Vilespine Slayer and Lyra the Sunshard.
3 Stars: The bread and butter of your deck. It might not win the game by itself but it plays an important role in getting you there.
Examples: Arcanologist and Tar Creeper.
2 Stars: Has the potential to play a role in the right deck, but is rarely strong enough to stand on its own.
Examples: Primalfin Lookout and Earthen Scales.
1 Star: Has an effect which is either worth less than one card of value or has far too small of an impact on the game for its mana cost. Not powerful enough to be played in most constructed.
Tortollan Primalist and Adaptation.
- Rating Criteria: How much does this card require other cards to be powerful? Cards which fit into a wide number of decks and strategies receive a higher grade for consistency. Cards with a high consistency rating are safer to craft than cards with a lower consistency rating.
5 Stars: Can be played in multiple archetypes (aggro, midrange, control). Its power level is completely agnostic of both the metagame and the other cards in your deck.
Examples: Hydrologist and Stonehill Defender
4 Stars: Sees play in more than one kind of deck. Does not rely on synergy on to be playable.
Examples: Hot Spring Guardian and Spikeridged Steed.
3 Stars: These cards are either good enough to see play in more than one deck but are reliant on synergy to effective, or are played in only one kind of deck but are not reliant on synergy to be powerful.
Examples: Blazecaller and Free from Amber
2 Stars: Reliant on synergy and drawing the rights cards to be effective. Could potentially see play in more than one kind of deck.
Examples: Stampede and Kalimos, Primal Lord
1 Star: Highly reliant on synergy or drawing the right cards to be effective. Can only be played in one kind of deck.
Examples: The Last Kaleidosaur and Clutchmother Zavas.
Now that I’ve (hopefully) covered all of my bases, here’s my first review of a card from Knights of the Frozen Throne using this system:
Fits into: Ramp Druid, Control Druid, Quest Druid
Ultimate Infestation is on the shortlist of most powerful cards ever printed. Five cards, five damage, five armor, and a 5/5 generate a whopping eight cards of value from a single card! This instantly slots into ramp decks as the defacto finisher of choice and even looks powerful enough to make control Druid a deck. Along with Crypt Lord, Spreading Plague, and Hadronox, Druids look like they may now have enough tools to survive with taunt minions until they can take over the game with Ultimate Infestation.
I don’t think Jade Druid is interested in slowing down its deck to bolster its already strong late game plan by throwing a 10 drop into the mix, but they could potentially be in the market for this card if the metagame ever tilts heavily towards control.
Please feel free to let me know in the comments what you would do to improve on this system for set reviews! I’m looking forward to reading your suggestions.