The Witchwood: A Review in Brief
Hearthstone is going through a very interesting time period. Ben Brode has left Blizzard, after over a decade working diligently for them. This is a pretty huge bombshell, landing barely before the excitement of the first expansion of 2018 has faded. The Hearthstone community will miss him like we miss Reno Jackson (i.e. a lot).
The Witchwood is the last expansion that Mr. Brode will introduce us to – but because every expansion is prepared many months in advance, his influence on the game will last throughout most of of this year. So then, now that we’re a few weeks deep, how has The Witchwood been so far? We’re going to take a quick look over how the meta has developed, what decks have come to the fore, and which cards have sunk to the bottom of the ladder.
Let me issue a minor disclaimer: I’m not a professional player, and I make no pretense of being anything like a good player. I can only relate my personal experiences, which are numerous, anecdotal, and sadly focused outside of Legend. Your opinions matter as much as mine – tell us what you think in the comment section below!
Let’s start off with a bit of disappointment, shall we? The failure of the Shaman class to get anywhere near viability, for possibly the third expansion in a row, has been one of the biggest letdowns of The Witchwood. I wrote an article a few months ago complaining (something I often seem to do) about how awful Shaman is, as a class. Little has changed since then.
There are few good cards for Shaman in The Witchwood. The obvious outlier is Shudderwock, which has caused a lot of smoke but no fire. Shudderwock seemed to many, including a lot of YouTubers, like a potentially meta-defining card. The next Yogg-Saron – Yogg without the insane randomness, one you could set up with predictable results.
Unfortunately, Shudderwock Shaman is not only a very weak deck, with an abysmal 42% winrate, but is also immensely frustrating for everyone involved with it.
Luckily, as of April 25th, it has been announced that the Shudderwock animation time is going to be cut in half, and the number of Battlecries it can repeat is capped at 20. Why do we need to rely on Disguised Toast to ‘break the game’, for the umpteenth time, before a fix is made?
We’re long past the experimental part of the expansion, where people are trying any and every card that looks even remotely interesting. Experimentation has given way to tempo decks, and at the forefront of these is Paladin. According to the Tempo Storm meta snapshot, three of the five top-tier decks are Paladin: Even, Murloc, and Odd. Is this a good thing? That’s up to you to decide, but we can say that Aggro Paladin has been on top for a while now, and some diversity wouldn’t hurt.
It’s perhaps the first time Paladin has been undisputed king since the days of Secret Paladin, back in 2015. That deck, with mana curves better than Kim Kardashian, was certainly much more unpleasant to battle than the current Aggro incarnations. The Murloc reoccurrence is also a throwback – since Anyfin can Happen rotated out they haven’t been viable until now. Today’s Murloc Paladin isn’t as oppressive as it once was.
I don’t think the fact that Aggro Paladin is forced into using either odd or even cards helps the fact that it’s really, really, strong. Whether you are being beaten down by Call to Arms-Tarim or Vinecleaver-Level Up!, the play pattern is similar and oppressive.
When it comes to Paladin, the Odd/Even archetypes just aren't diverse enough. Traditionally, hero power buffs have lent themselves to control decks, as using your hero power is inherently slow. In The Witchwood, Baku and Genn have simply given Aggro Paladin, with the same core cards, more ways to swamp the board and beat the face down.
You might say that Aggro decks are inevitable in every metagame. I would counter that if that’s the case even after the introduction of totally new deck archetypes, as with Genn/Baku, it’s a real and clearly intractable problem in terms of deck diversity.
The Best of the Rest
Cubelock is still a very powerful deck – yet another thing that’s been virtually unchanged since Kobolds. Moving on from that tired complaint, though, we have some cool new additions. Rogue is a surprise contender. I’ve seen Quest Rogue for the first time since the nerf in June 2017. After nearly a full year, I (and surely a few others) actually regret disenchanting it. Props to Team 5 for resurrecting a nerfed card. That doesn’t happen often!
Odd Rogue is an interesting take on a traditional SMOrc deck. The boosted dagger combined with Henchclan Thug encourages players to be very aggressive with their hero. This allows for counterplay, as taking risky face damage is part of the deck’s success. Paladin has no such weaknesses. It’s a little reminiscent of Oil Rogue back in the day, and that was a great deck.
Mage and Hunter are largely off the map. Elemental Mage received quite a lot of hype before release, but it petered out faster than Quest Hunter in 2017. Personally, I have no issue with Mage and Hunter being weak. Besides the fact that in previous expansions they’ve been among the most tenaciously strong classes, the off-the-charts randomness that Mage has is something I don’t miss.
The popularity of Druid is pleasant. Spiteful, Hand, Taunt, the new hero(ine): Druid is a success story of The Witchwood. They aren’t top tier, but these decks are certainly great fun, and each feels very different from one another. Compared to the Jade-induced dullness of the last two years, Druid is finally feeling fresh.
I don’t have space to go into detail on the other classes, but overall it seems like that doesn’t matter much – on the whole, Priest and Warrior are lurking in the shadows right now. So far, The Witchwood has introduced some interesting new ideas, but the best decks of Kobolds have remained the best. Maybe in the next expansion Baku and Genn will produce some different archetypes.