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Working the Core

Big news this week! In case you have not already read the new patch notesk you should check those out here: https://www.hextcg.com/core-system-changes-in-hex/

In today’s article I want to talk about these changes and predict how I expect them to impact Hex. These are some fundamental changes that are going to affect every phase of the game—Limited, Constructed, and PVE. Until this point we have made some assumptions that are going to change going forward.

Graveyard is now Crypt

This should have no impact on gameplay so I will not address it other than saying this: I wish Ethereal Caller and Crypt Shrieker would swap names. Clearly a card with Crypt in its name should care about the Crypt!

Champions now vary in health

This change on the other hand has some large implications. Previously all champions started with 20 health every game. Now the developers have a way to balance the champions by giving more health to champions with weak powers and less health to champions with strong powers. Health is a resource that we use in every game. I often say “it’s only the last point of health that matters” and in a fair number of games the winner has 5 health or less at the end of the match. The original announcement does not specify the starting health totals so I have compiled them here for your reference:

NameHealth Total
Zared16
Cressida17
Urgnock17
Poca, the Conflagrator18
Prairie Meadow18
Bunoshi18
Ozin18
Bertram Cragraven19
Webweaver Thox19
Anana19
Dimmid19
Winter Moon21
Mightsinger Alyndra21
Boris Blastforge21
Wyatt the Sapper21
Sir Giles Rowan21
Gozzog21
Kranok21
Roshi Manabu22
Running Deer22
Warmaster Fuzzuko22
Zorzym22
Feather Drifting22
Bryson Maplewood22
Tetzot, son of Omoc22
Knightsbane Ovo22
Concubunny Yuka22
Monika’Shin23
Polonius23
Benvolio23
Fahrny23
Lionel Flynn23
Savvas23
Lady Elizabeth23
Rutherford Banks23
Kishimoto24
Sagebrush24
Nin the Shadow24
Palamedes24
Carrac24
Dreaming Fox25
One Eye Open25
Sister Anastasia25
Bun’Jitsu25
Daughter of Stars26
Blood Average20.6
Diamond Average22
Ruby Average20.9
Sapphire Average22
Wild Average21.9
Overall Average21.6

In the chart above I sorted from lowest to highest based on the PVP champions currently in game. As you can see Zared is now the champion with the least health and Daughter of Stars is now the highest health total. Let’s say you are playing a Blood/Sapphire Zared control deck against someone with a Blood Sapphire Daughter of Stars control deck. You start with only 16 health while the opponent gets 26. That’s a 10 point difference! You are starting at a huge deficit just because of the champion choices for each player. If every other card in your respective decks are the same it is easy to see how a 10 point health difference is going to be an advantage for the Daughter of Stars player. With a Pact of Pain in play for both players that equals to an additional 5 cards for the Daughter of Stars player which is a huge advantage in the control mirror.

In the chart I also calculated the average health totals for each shard. As you can see, the average actually increased overall from 20 to about 21.6. Blood and Ruby are below average now (someone has to be) while the other shards are slightly above average. Matches just got a little harder for the aggro decks and some of the combo decks in the game where the amount of damage they can do before the opponent’s defenses come online is an important factor of whether they can win. The starting health totals are a little less important for control mirrors where card advantage or card quality matter more; however, even in those matches health can be used as a resource. Even if you do not have a way to directly turn health into card advantage you might force someone into a bad chump block scenario if their health total is significantly lower than yours.

The developers say that they have thoroughly tested the champions and are happy with the results. This does not mean that every single champion is suddenly playable nor does it mean that each champion is roughly the same power level. What I do hope is that the changes will encourage a bit more diversity though because every format gets stale if everyone keeps playing the same champions all of the time. I do not expect that these changes will magically make every champion playable—I just want to see some additional options. I do think some previously “bad” champions become better, but we’ll get to that after we look at what they did to the current metagame.

 

With all of this in mind let’s take a minute to focus on the set 3 champions for limited. Before the change to champion health totals I would have probably said that Urgnock, Anana, and Cressida were the best champions in set 3 limited. When I am playing sealed decks it feels like those champions are the ones that tend to do the best. Fortunately we also have Hexmeta to corroborate my gut feeling with some data. Here are the top decks in IQ tournaments with 7 or 8 wins respectively in the swiss rounds:

http://hexmeta.com/decks?tournament.start=2015-10-06+-+2015-12-08&tournament.type[]=IQ2015-limited-main&match_wins[]=7&match_wins[]=8

Urgnock is the clear leader of the pack while Cressida and Anana do just fine. Knightsbane Ovo and Zorzym are also in the conversation. With the new patch, Urgnock and Cressida got big debuffs and Anana had a small decrease. Ovo and Zorzym both received a buff in this update.

From looking at the health total changes it seems pretty clear that Urgnock and Cressida needed to become a bit weaker; they can have fast starts that overpower people before they get going. The interesting thing about Urgnock is that all of the winning decks are actually Ruby/Diamond so it seems safe to guess that some of those players would consider Bryson Maplewood with 22 health going forward. It is harder to say if the Cressida decks will continue succeeding in limited. Alyndra is an option, but Alyndra has not been very successful and I think most people choose Cressida because they lack resource acceleration. It is also possible that some of these decks start looking at other options such as Sagebrush, Benvolio, or Savvas for the 5+ health boost. Sorry Roshi—it still isn’t your time to shine yet.

 

Now let’s take a look at the constructed champions. Before the change I expected R/W Cressida, R/S Tetzot, mono-Blood Kranok, and Blood/Diamond Kranok to be the top decks. The data for constructed is a lot easier to review because everyone plays the same deck in top 8 that they played in the swiss. Here are the top-performing IQ decks:

http://hexmeta.com/decks?tournament.start=2015-10-06+-+2015-12-08&tournament.type[]=IQ2015-const-top8

The data matches up with my expectations and we can also see Zorzym, Bunoshi, Urgnock, Benvolio and Winter Moon making appearances in the top 8. Cressida went down in health, but Tetzot and Kranok got a buff. Bunoshi and Urgnock dropped while Zorzym, Benvolio and Winter Moon got a buff.

Cressida dropping is no surprise given her dominance in constructed. The ability is still very powerful, but if you are in the mirror match and an opponent plays T1 Brave T2 Puck you might just be dead to a T3 Arborean Rootfather. What is surprising is that Zared got a big debuff dropping to 16 while Kranok actually got a small buff to 21. Kranok has been more successful than Zared in constructed and neither of them are relevant to the current limited format. Zorzym is a champion that has had some success in both formats and with the health buff might get a little better now. Tetzot is already one of the most successful decks in constructed and also received a buff. Overall it seems like this change should shake up at least the RW decks while the other top decks remain as good as they already were.

So where does constructed go from here? I expect the Blood-based control decks to continue performing well and mostly to stick with Kranok. I think some people are going to get scared away from Cressida and try out some of their other options. Most of the Cressida deck is Wild so Running Deer seems like an option. Sagebrush might even see some love because the deck plays Balthasar and Eye of Creation to dig deeper into the deck. What is even more interesting to me though is One Eye Open. If you look at the standard RW build, the main deck is mostly Wild—so it is possible to change the deck a bit to use One Eye Open, accelerating with your Howling Braves and Puck, Dream Bringers with a significantly higher starting health total. One Eye Open also has synergy with Droo’s Colossal Walker which is usually played in the deck as well. Poca’s nerf likely means Gore Feast of Kog’Tepetl remains mostly unplayed for now (which I think most of us are happy to hear). I also think that weaker aggro and ramp means that Sapphire control decks get better than they were. Daughter of Stars or Dreaming Fox might finally crack a top 8 with their high health totals and relevant late game powers. Rutherford Banks is another champion that has had a little success in old formats and might make a comeback in a field of Kranok decks. Benvolio and Savvas are interesting champions as well, but I don’t think they will be successful right away. Most of the Benvolio and Savvas decks I have seen prey on the aggro and/or ramp decks and are weaker to the Blood decks that should continue to do well.

 

Booster packs give more cards!

There is only one change here to constructed: uncommons and commons become a little cheaper to buy on the Auction House. There are a couple pricey ones, but overall the impact is minimal.

 

The real story here is in limited. With an extra uncommon in each pack you will see an extra 3 uncommons / commons in draft and 6 uncommons / commons in sealed. Drafts become a little longer with these extra picks. This is absolutely going to increase the power level of most decks because the uncommons in set 3 are very strong. Imagine removing the 22nd/23rd cards of your current decks (something like Stinkhorn Soup) and replacing them with a powerful uncommon or common (something like Smash to the Ground). This change is going to manifest itself in several ways.

In sealed I think most of your pools are now going to be determined by which uncommons you open. 6 extra uncommons is a lot and them replacing your worst commons, I think it will have a large impact on the viability of a particular shard. Here is a sample pool with *3* Sandstone Rumblers that I feel pushes you strongly into RW:

Sample set 3 Sealed Pool with 17 card packs

Sample set 3 Sealed Pool with 17 card packs

I think the increase in pool size is going to help the Wild/Sapphire and Blood/Sapphire decks the most in sealed. I still don’t think they are going to overtake aggro or ramp for dominance, but we should see a few more of them that make it to the top of the standings thanks to extra Incubation Webs, Cyclone Shaman, Hatchery Cultivator, Rot Cast, and Dreamsmoke Mystic in the sealed pools.

In draft the fringe strategies should become a little easier to pull off. Suppose you open Blessing of Unicorns as your rare in a pack. The card is certainly powerful, but it is sometimes hard to get enough Diamond troops to play the card. Now with 6 extra cards you have a better chance to make it work out and a card that is sometimes a bomb can become the centerpiece of your draft. Alternatively you might try an unusual shard pairing such as Ruby/Sapphire to take advantage of the Sandstone Rumblers and Cyclone Shamans you open. What I don’t think you can do is blindly force strategies and marry your first pick in draft. An extra 6 cards probably won’t save your draft if you are fighting multiple people for the same deck.

Cards that care about drafting a specific card (usually in multiples) get better. I’m looking at you, Briar Legion.

Another exciting thing about draft is that more cards will wheel out of a pack. You might decide to first pick a Periwinkle and be happy to see a lot of other Ruby and Wild cards in the pack confident that you will probably get something good to wheel around to you.

Lastly I want to talk about print runs. We’ve known for a long time that print runs are a thing in Hex. I am interested to see how the print runs work now with the larger packs and I am especially interested to see if we can figure out uncommon print runs. In a lot of packs the best card(s) are uncommon and if you can figure out which uncommon was taken that is a huge step forward to making sure you avoid the shard(s) that your neighbor is taking and getting a lot of playables passed to you in draft.

 

Spectral Lotus is now Spectral Oak

The Spectral Lotus Garden and Spectral Lotuses are just artwork and text changes. They are functionally the same as before and still awesome cards for PVE. What has changed here is we now have Dream Squirrel instead of Black Tiger.

The average PVE deck is going to be worse off with this change. The Tiger has better base stats and also draws a card from your deck. The Squirrel provides the same card advantage in theory by giving you a random rare/legend. However, this is exactly the problem: random. In most decks you are building for synergy and getting a random card from your synergistic deck is going to be better than a random rare/legendary; there are a lot of rares that require a specific deck to perform well. Even if you generate a good card it might be too expensive for you to play for multiple turns.

The best scenario where I think the squirrel might be better is if I was playing a ramp deck. If I know that I will have enough resources to play anything I create with the squirrel and I am out of gas then an average rare/legend is probably going to be better than the average card in my deck. Why? Because in a ramp deck you typically devote a much larger percentage of your deck to resource generation which is not useful once you already have ramped up.

 

“Murder” changed to “Kill”

It has the same rules text and cost/threshold, so no difference for gameplay here.

 

Whew! That’s a lot of words for what appeared to be a small patch. Make no mistake though that this patch will have huge changes to all areas of Hex. Hopefully some of my predictions will help you sort through some of these changes and if you have any questions I will be checking the comments and responding to them as well.

Hex Kickstarter backer. Contributor to 2 Turns Ahead Podcast. Invitational Qualifier. Shoutcaster for the Cup of Fate tournament series. Player formerly known as JuzamJedi.

1 Comment on Working the Core

  1. In terms of PvE, I think it’s worth noting that some cards are boosted by the lower health champions – fang of the mountain god with equipment, holy ascension etc.

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