Pocket Tactics Analysis: Hearthstone's Endgame11 Jan 2018 1
Kobolds and Catacombs might be the most transformative expansion for Hearthstone yet. It's got all the usual suspects like a new keyword and new card type across classes. But there's also the promise of a rebalance to the card economy. Previous expansions have switched between new card packs and solo runs where you could earn guaranteed cards. The change to all-packs left players poorer. This new set sought to get things back on track, along with more of the solitaire content some players craved.
In terms of value, the catacomb treasure makes things better, but it's still not quite there. Blizzard helped a lot by giving new players a free legendary from the set, and the guarantee of another in the first 10 packs they opened. But against that, this set seems to have increased the importance of epics, the second rarest cards. A whole slew of them have found their way into the current meta, such as non-class cards Carnivorous Cube and Spiteful Summoner.
The biggest culprit though is Corridor Creeper. This is a 7-cost 5/5 epic minion which sounds bad value until you see that the cost drops by 1 each time a minion dies. That means you can potentially slap down this powerful pest on turn 3. It also works very well with the Rogue combo keyword and any card, like Bonemare, that requires a minion on the board, since the Creeper can cost zero. It's in almost every popular deck right now and is thus the antithesis of the varied builds Blizzard have said they want to see. While not overpowered, expect a nerf soon.
Enough carping, though. Value niggles aside, Kobolds and Catacombs so far is turning out to be great fun. One of the most striking things about how it changed the meta is how it didn't change the meta. Several solid archetypes that were competing well before launch are still competitive now, with a varied card line-up. This is unheard of from an expansion. Normally, while archetypes persist the actual decks change significantly with each expansion and once powerful decks get humbled. But here's Tempo Rogue, Zoolock, Big Priest and others still doing well, and still with the same core of cards.
This is great for the game. It means established players get to use the cards and practice the strategies for their favourite decks for longer. It means newer players have less to learn in terms of countering those threats. It means that those crafting cards can aim at the same goals, and have more time to build the collections they need.
But while keeping the old, the new expansion hasn't short-changed on innovation either. All classes now have a weapon, although that hasn't been as transformative as expected. Only the Mage and Paladin legendary weapons are seeing regular play. The expected proliferation of anti-weapon cards hasn't materialised.
What's proved rather more popular is the recruit keyword. This is a fresh take on an old idea, in which cards or minions summon other minions. What's changed with recruit is that they're summoned from your deck, and there's often a cost or effect modifier. This makes it much more reliable and easy to build combos. Recruit hasn't derailed the game, but it's proved a powerful tool in the hands of experienced deck-builders.
Between them, these new effects and cards have boosted the competitiveness of a bunch of lesser-known deck styles. They range in speed from the rarely-lamented quick fire Face Hunter to the slow ramp of Control Warlock, with many in between. There are even a couple of brand new archetypes like Spiteful Priest and Silver Hand Paladin. Right now, the meta is vibrant and varied and the decks you face will keep you guessing. It will settle with time, and a small issue is that the top-tier decks like Highlander Priest haven't changed much, but the initial signs are great.
Perhaps the crowning glory of Kobolds and Catacombs, though, are the catacombs themselves. I'd long believed that Hearthstone would never find an effective way to play solo. It's too varied and complex to develop a challenging AI. So, all credit to the designer Peter Whalen for finding a different route to get it working, and make it work with such brilliance.
To begin a run you pick a class, get a default deck and fight a battle against a weak opponent. Then you get to choose a bundle of new cards to add to your deck. You also get to pick a treasure which gives your deck a permanent passive boost. Many of these are absurdly powerful: +1/+1 to all minions, a low-cost upgraded hero power or instant stealth that lasts forever. Therein lies the three tricks that make this so enticing. First, you're challenged to build the deck as you go, working hard to find combos from the selections you're offered. Second, you're given toys that would never work in the main mode. Third is the constant promise of more and more powerful loot.
The result is a dream-like drug that pushes you through a series of ever more challenging boss battles. The palette of opponents you can face is very varied and they become very tough toward the end. This wholesome soup loot, strategy and guesswork is fun and addictive and quite brilliant. It's good enough to make players who tire of the constant gold grind of ranked play give the game another look. And in the unlikely event that what's shaping up to be fine expansion falls flat on its face, Dungeon Run is a keeper.