Naxxramas’ Arachnid Quarter: What it does for Hearthstone’s meta
Now several months into its post-beta life, Hearthstone has finally received its first expansion -- oddly a single-player and adventure-focused affair -- but brandishing new cards all the same. Curse of Naxxramas is poised to be an all too necessary shot in the arm for the stagnant meta game of Blizzard’s latest card game, adding 30 cards to its approximately 400 vanilla. Indeed, the hope of all constructed players is that the cookie-cutter reign of Handlock, Miracle Rogue, Freeze Mage, and various flavors of aggro and control will no longer dominate the competitive ladder, or at the very least they will do so differently. But does Naxxramas bring enough new to do away with the stillness?
All 30 of the new cards were revealed on the game’s official Facebook page just recently, but only a fraction have been added in (at the time of this writing). The introductory wing of the Acropolis, the Arachnid Quarter, is the first of five pieces of and therefore contains six new cards—four neutral and two class-specific (Druid and Rogue)—most with an appropriately eight-legged theme. So while players wait for the four remaining wings to become available over the next few weeks—many undoubtedly grinding their pants off in order to take the free-to-play option rather than drop $25 on them—they’re sure to become very familiar with these spidery additions.
Interestingly, much of the Arachnid Quarter’s arsenal favors aggressive decks. Given the popularity of aggro before Naxxramas hit, some may call this a disappointment. It’s no grand secret that both Haunted Creeper and Nerubian Egg are right at home in Zoolock, Shockadin, and Backspace Rogue nor is there any question as to whether Tempo Rogue is enjoying Anub’ar Ambusher. The remaining three newcomers—Poison Seeds, pseudo-AoE for Druids; Nerub’ar Weblord, an intriguing tech option; and Maexxna herself—carry far less weight and are generally outshined by their vanilla counterparts.
Blizzard is well aware that the Hearthstone player base is clamoring for new cards to upset the meta; they’d have to be hiding under a rock on a moon in a different galaxy to not be. Why, then, would they begin their DLC excursion by furthering the dominance of familiar decks? They’re now far more likely to induce arachnophobic fits, but at the end of the day Zoo is Zoo and Shockadin is Shockadin.
The cynical answer is simple, and not terribly hard to buy into: Naxxramas’ 30 cards won’t put a dent in the meta structure, if anything further compounding the superiority of certain builds. Adding 30 to 400 doesn’t exactly flip proportions on their head, after all. However, that’s a notion rivaling even Zoolock in the contest of linear thinking.
The fact that Nerubian Egg and Haunted Creeper are rapidly becoming staples of aggressive play has affected the way those decks are combated. Paladins may want to hold their Truesilver Champion for a hatched Nerubian rather than chuck it at a Knife Juggler, and wiping boards becomes a trickier affair with so much Deathrattle running around. The basic playstyle hasn’t changed, and likely never will, but aggro now has a new edge to it, which means, to however small an extent, counterplay has changed and the meta has evolved.
Prediction: This card will win games when it's released
The hope is that the remaining four wings of Naxxramas will continue to breed new combos and mechanics, adding up to enough fresh decks to make the top of the ladder (rank 10 or lower) less recognizable.
This idea of cumulative change and slow learning is present even in the single player content of the add-on. The three bosses of the Arachnid quarter all take a different angle. The cards they have access to are somewhat random, but Anub’Rekhan plays control, Grand Widow Faerlina is aggro and Maexxna is sitting somewhere in the middle. Playing against the three, particularly on Heroic difficulty, forces players to play around and adapt to new cards (although many of these boss’ cards are unobtainable … thankfully). This mirrors the presumed intent of gradually introducing new ideas into the competitive ladder.
This method of teaching is never more prominent than in Naxxramas’ class-specific challenges. In the Arachnid quarter, Rogue and Druid take the stage with prebuilt decks and square off against two of the three main bosses. The Druid deck demonstrates how cards like Mark of the Wild and Mark of Nature can be used to great effect with cards like Echoing Ooze and Stoneskin Gargoyle (the latter being an incredibly bad, if novel, idea). Rogue follows suit by showing how bouncing Echoing Ooze, perhaps with the aid of a few Pandarians or Shadow Step, can build an army of cheap minions rather quickly, which is to say nothing of its love of Cold Blood.
Cards that have yet to be added to the competitive scene are already available for play, and have undoubtedly been tossed around theories from the moment they were revealed. This suggests that Blizzard is playing the slow game with Naxxramas for reasons beyond allowing time to develop the wings. If true, then we can expect—or at the very least hope beyond hope because damn—the meta to change as the DLC progresses. Step by step the differences may be subtle, but comparing the first to final products will likely be night to day.
As it stands, though, if you’re on ladder, prepare to swim in aggro. I recommend a defensive Paladin and a snorkel.