Stuck Inside With is a new series in which, since we're all stuck inside, we venture off the beaten path to explore other parts of the gaming world. This week, we're looking at Hearthstone Battlegrounds.
Aw, crap. Shudderwock. Not again.
Shudderwock is the thirst trap of this game. So appealing, tantalizing ... a double battlecry is one of the most satisfying feelings in Hearthstone Battlegrounds. But then you pick it and play with it and more often than not, you fizzle out quickly. High risk, high reward.
And there is no hero I choose more and win with less than Shudderwock.
These are the kinds of conundrums I battle when playing Hearthstone Battlegrounds.
This Hearthstone game mode was first introduced at BlizzCon 2019. I was there covering it all for ESPN Esports, and by then, I was a lapsed Hearthstone fan. I dabbled here and there in the past, but got bored while other games replaced it. By this time, auto battlers were becoming the rage: DotA Overlords and Teamfight Tactics were dominating the scene. Now, here came Battlegrounds and it peaked my interest. I went to the media area and tried it.
I hated it.
It felt weird, not intuitive, clunky even. I left soon after, vowing never to try it again.
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Then, I got invited to a closed beta. I tried it again, and something clicked ... my paradigm shifted. This was awesome! The heroes, the cards, the strats -- I was winning! Winning is great! I want to win more! I played for hours. It was a blast, and I was hooked.
Around the same time, we started streaming a little more on the ESPN Esports Twitch account. Battlegrounds became the perfect chill stream game for me: play a turn, interact with chat, back and forth like a game of table tennis. I loved streaming that game. I felt like that was a great start to a budding community, many of whom still jump into chat for our various shows today. That fills my heart with joy.
I poured hundreds of hours into the game and then hit a wall -- maybe it was the matchmaking, maybe it was the changing heroes and the meta shifting, maybe it was my dear Nightmare Amalgam being removed from the game ... but I fell out of it, again.
Then, the global pandemic happened. Now we're at home. One thing you should know about me is that I'm a creature of habit. I love establishing routines, especially ones in the morning. For some reason, my past routines never stuck. I tried once to get 100 pushups in before breakfast as a jump-start to my day -- I couldn't get past 10. Then, I tried to meditate for five minutes. That worked for a couple of weeks, then I just fell off. I needed something to stimulate me to get my brain going, but not too much so as I don't get annoyed.
That's where I rediscovered Battlegrounds.
My morning routine now consists of putting my baby daughter, Ayla, in her bouncy seat right next to me (usually after a feeding ... babies eat a lot!), making a coffee (always black) and firing up one game of Hearthstone: Battlegrounds. Each game takes about 15-20 minutes, so it's the perfect amount of time to wake up to something fun. It's my form of video game meditation, except the meditation has ridiculous RNG and sometimes I hate it (but I actually love it).
Blizzard does a great job of refreshing the game just as it starts to feel a little stale with new cards and heroes. The introductions of changes are usually fair, at least from my point of view as someone who has played the game now for 420+ hours. Recently, a whole new class, Dragons, was added to the game, with several new heroes and multiple minions. There have been some invitational tournaments, as well, the highest-profile one being the Battlegrounds Brawl with high level Hearthstone content creators and streamers such as Brian Kibler, Christoffer "Asmodai" Stub, James "Firebat" Kostesich, Rumay "Hafu" Wang, Jeremy "Disguised Toast" Wang, Janet "xChocoBars" Rose and Regis "RegisKillbin" (which has to be a top five all-time gamer tag). Here's hoping there are more, because I'm still waiting for a Battlegrounds Pro-Am invitation.
Anyway, back to Shudderwock. Things are moving along, I'm getting a bunch of Murlocs, so I guess I'm going Murlocs for this run. I play a few early Rockpool Hunters so I can buff my Tidecaller, an early triple of Murloc Scout using a double battlecry on one of the two Tidehunters (nice early trick for an early triple), then the new Felfin Navigator at Tier 3 to give all my Murlocs +2/+2 and, of course, the most important Murloc card to cycle, the Coldlight Seer, giving +4 to each Murloc with a double battlecry. With Murlocs, especially when you get them poisonous, health is way more important than attack, because the poisonous does the work for you.
Well, as you can see from my warband, I couldn't find any Toxfins (F in the chat) and didn't get far enough to find a Gentle Megasaur, which is the best possible card for a Murloc run with Shudderwock ... you get to adapt your murlocs with Megasaur, and a double battlecry does it twice. If you land poisonous and divine shield as your consecutive options, then see you later. Lights out. GGs. Adios. Boom goes the dynamite. Catch that dub and hand out those L's. By far the best upgrade card in the game.
That didn't happen for me this game, as this time around I come in third. I still get points (fourth place and above is considered a "win," and you get positive points according to your placement), so I'm happy with it and can now go through with my day.
Since I do this every day, I decided to journal how my games went for one work week. Shudderwock was Day 1. Here's the rest:
Tuesday: Reno Jackson
Ah, Reno. One of the newer heroes introduced to Battlegrounds. Decisions have to be made with ol' Reno. You can only use his hero power once, but it's a good one -- you can make a minion golden. What if I get Wrath Weaver (which gains +2/+2 every time you play a demon at the expense of 1 health) early, do I make that golden and rock Demons? Or do I wait until Tier 5 and hope to land Brann Bronzebeard (Battlecry cards trigger twice) or Baron Rivendare (Deathrattles trigger twice)? So many decisions. Many times I've played Reno and never been able to use the hero power when I've wanted to, because I was rolling the dice and hoping for Baron/Brann. This time, I get Wrath Weaver early and decide to run it. I cycle demons, find Soul Jugglers at Tier 3 and think I'm hot stuff ... until I get to the late game. I'm too weak. A 62/62 Wrath Weaver isn't enough, and I sucked my health too dry. One loss and I'm out. That's the danger of demons -- you run the risk of having one bad round. It is RNG after all!
Wednesday: Dancin' Deryl
For skilled players, Dancin Deryl can be the most OP hero in the game. When you sell a minion, you give +2/+2 to two random minions in the tavern. Well, imagine a scenario in which there is only one minion in the tavern and you keep selling ... and selling ... and selling ... and all of a sudden you have a 30/32 Cave Hydra (which starts at 2/4, by the way). The Hydra hits a minion for 30, and both adjacent minions also get hit for 30. That's 90 damage on the board! Deryl can accomplish this for you if you plan it and time it right. As you can see from my board, I did the exact opposite -- I decided to play Deryl while my baby cried next to me. So, I missed a couple of turns and came back to a dumpster fire of an attempted Dragon build and for some reason an Iron Sensei that will not help my dragons at all. In the end, it was a seventh place well deserved.
Thursday: Edwin Van Cleef
LET'S GO! Edwin rocks. Like Deryl, it's a terrific way to build up your stronger cards, but much easier -- you buy minions, and then apply +1/+1 for each minion bought that turn to one card. I usually start with the Tier 1 Righteous Protector (Divine Shield/Taunt) and buff it until about Tier 4, until I can get a Hydra or a Security Rover or a strong card like that, depending on what I'm building. This game, I get early Murlocs, so I buff my Warleader (which gives my other Murlocs +2 attack) until I find a stronger card. Rat Pack is another thirst trap in this game until you find Pack Leader (which gives each Beast played +3 attack). I fall for it and buff the Rat Pack, jumping to Tier 3 and lingering for a while, hoping to roll Pack Leader ... and roll ... and roll ... and roll ... and nothing. FeelsBadMan.jpg. But finally, it came! And then the snowball ... Cave Hydra, Great Wolf, triple Pack Leader ... triple Baron ... Mama Bear! Now I'm cruising. I became unstoppable. GGs, y'all caught this heat! Winner winner chicken dinner defeated all the saints and sinners.
The latest major update to Battlegrounds added a bunch of Dragon heroes to the game. You got Galakrond, which replaces a minion in the tavern with a higher minion, Deathwing, where all minions have +2 attack (it used to be +3 attack but that was just ridiculous ... basically play Deathrattle minion cards and win, baby! Actually, let's be real, it's still pretty overpowered), and Ysera, where every turn adds a Dragon minion to the available minions for purchase in the tavern.
Playing Ysera practically begs you to go Dragon build. So I do, and get a super quick triple Dragonspawn Lieutenant. I should have waited a turn though, so I could upgrade a tier then benefit from getting an even higher-tier free card for the triple, but hey, mistakes were made. The one little thing I hope that gets changed is that when you play with Ysera, when a third Dragon card comes up for you in the tier, give us the white smoky arrow on that card, because some players may not be paying attention and realize it. It happens for every other triple possibility, except in this specific instance with Ysera. Side note: I hate Bronze Wardens on the other side of the battlefield. I hate anything reborn. I also hate not getting great dragon cards, having to switch to Beasts and getting wrecked (read: REKT).
I play Mario Kart with my friends, Mario Maker and Breath of the Wild with my wife, and every game I cover with my co-workers and industry peers, but Hearthstone Battlegrounds really is the only game these days that I play for myself. On top of the morning routine, sometimes I unwind at night with a glass of ... water ... and get a couple of rounds. This game is oddly therapeutic, in a "I hate RNG and I hate people's dumb strategies in this game and why did I hold on to two cards and keep rerolling for a triple and it never came and I wasted all those coins and now I'm down to three health and the dead player eliminates me that's so embarrassing, and on top of that, why do my tempo cards get sniped so early in the rounds this game is rigged against me, I'm cursed, and Shifter Zerus can shove it for morphing into Tier 1 minions for eight straight turns" kind of way.