The new Hearthstone expansion, Knights of the Frozen Throne, has added a ton of new cards, and shaken up competitive play immensely.
Normally, new cards change Arena play quite a bit as well, but with this expansion, things are a bit different. Blizzard has added some new ‘features’ to Arena, a few bugs, and one massive change. Without spoiling too much, the adjustments to Arena aren’t great.
New Arena “Features”
With the launch of the new expansion, Blizzard added something to Arena. Something that wasn’t in the patch notes. Something no one talked about. Something no one asked for, and absolutely no one wanted. See, synergy is an important part of Hearthstone. You can play Elemental based decks, or Demon based, or any number of other types. Synergy can be as simple as small minions and buffs. Having synergies is often what makes a great Arena deck, as any Arena player could tell you. And Blizzard have now added their very own way to ‘help’ you with these synergies.
Now, the first two picks of every Arena draft will have cards that have heavy synergistic potential. This includes cards like Devilsaur Egg or Servant of Kalimos that are extremely strong if you get the synergy, but very weak if you don’t. If you’re lucky enough to get a legendary on your first pick, there’s a high chance it will be Kazakus. The full list of cards that can be picked (with Knights of the Frozen Throne cards added recently) can be found here. Makes sense so far, right? They want to push synergistic decks into Arena a bit more. Whether you agree with that push or not, what they’ve done there makes sense.
But here’s where it stops making sense.
Your first pick doesn’t affect any of your other picks. This means the other 28 cards of your Arena draft will be exactly like old Arena, weighted completely normally. If you pick an Elemental, you might not see another Elemental your entire draft. With so many cards in the Arena pool, this situation is more likely than what you might think. The chances that you’ll be able to make a decent Elemental deck are slim to none. They didn’t weight the other cards to reflect your synergistic choice, so a lot of the time it will just end up being a dead card.
ADWCTA and Merps, two of the best Arena players and host of the Lightforge podcast have talked about the changes on Reddit and in their most recent podcast. They are also the creators of the Lightforge tier list, and used to run Heartharena’s tier list. In their post, they discuss the fact that there are only a hanful of cards from each rarity to choose from for these synergistic picks. They also comment that the cards offered are, in general, bad, with an average score of 80 on their tier list. Most decent to good cards will be weighted between 110 and 130. Extremely good cards can even break 150, with the current best Neutral card being The Lich King with a score of 186. That should put into perspective just how bad a score of 80 is.
The synergistic picks just don’t make sense if the rest of the draft isn’t weighted. However, nearly everyone agrees that we don’t want weighted drafts either. If the drafts were weighted, Arena would essentially turn into a Tavern Brawl where each player gets a different ‘type’ of deck. Elementals versus buffs versus singleton, etcetera. Not enjoyable, and certainly not the skill-based place that Arena should be. Most players agree that the synergy picks should just be taken out altogether. I’m in the same boat. If we’re going to be playing a game mode that relies on randomization, we should be on a level playing field.
Weighted Bonus Missing
I’ve been talking about a lack of a weighting bonus for synergies, but currently the Arena doesn’t have a weighting bonus for anything, outside of the first two picks. Typically, when a new expansion launches, Blizzard weights those cards much higher for Arena for a while. It allows players to make use of the new cards more often, and shakes up the Arena meta. This time, it’s simply gone, and this makes the new expansion’s presence in Arena rather lackluster.
Right now there are over 800 cards to choose from in Arena, and only 135 cards from Knights of the Frozen Throne, which means you have a pretty small chance of seeing the new cards at all. Since many of the new cards are aimed towards competitive play more than Arena, there’s a decent chance you won’t pick any of them. This makes the Arena feel like the exact same Arena as from before the expansion. Even though there are new cards in play, nothing was shaken up, the old strong classes are the new strong classes.
The weighting is an important way for Arena to change over time. It’s been clear to Hearthstone players for a while now that Blizzard “balances” based around competitive play, not Arena. That’s fine, but it means that without weighting balances, the Arena is going to end up stuck in the same meta for a very long time. When cards like Spikeridged Steed are showing up at the same frequency as every other rare, it’s hard to justify not just playing Paladin. If Knights of the Frozen Throne cards showed up more frequently, maybe other classes would get a turn. For example, Warlock’s two highest rated cards at the moment are both from KotFT. But on average, Warlock’s cards are much worse than other classes. By increasing the likelihood of the new Warlock cards showing up in Arena, Warlock gets a chance to competitive for a season. Without a change along these lines, nothing changes.
Lastly, this expansion brought with it a bug where a handful of cards never appear in Arena. I hesitate to talk about this at all, because it’s clearly a bug. However, with everything else happening wrong in Arena, it’s hard not to notice every bit of it. That being said, Blizzard have confirmed that they are aware of the the bug and are fixing it.
What this does, however, is shed some light into the inner workings of the Blizzard client. They have a simple checkbox beside every card for whether or not they are ‘draftable’ in Arena. That’s how they’ve removed some cards from Arena in the past. Interesting, then, that they decided to lower Vicious Fledgling’s appearance rate, rather than remove it entirely, and it’s rather surprising that any cards from the newest expansion weren’t included.
As this is being fixed shortly, there’s not too much complaining to be going on here. Mostly it’s just interesting to see behind the curtain. Now we know they can easily remove any card they want, as well as manipulate specific and widespread appearance rates in Arena. Blizzard has a fairly simple job on their hands: remove the synergy picks, make the new cards a little more common in Arena, and all will be right once again in the world of Hearthstone.