WoW! Thoughts! — On What it Means to be Good at World of Warcraft

Thoughts on how playing Hearthstone highlights just what it means to be a good WoW player.


Hearthstone has been annoying me lately. I can’t stop playing it, but it’s been driving me nuts.  Even before the recent patches, Hearthstone was disappointing me because the path to success lay in researching what decks the top players were using and then constructing those same decks (or something similar based on available cards.)  One of the fun aspects of any card collecting game is to build your decks from the ground up, and it was frustrating to realize that the community that had coalesced around Hearthstone had destroyed that.  This process is not unique to Hearthstone.  Communities have arisen around games like World of Warcraft and minimized the construction aspects of those games as well.

In lieu of deck construction, World of Warcraft features character construction. In prior incarnations, players were tasked with allotting talent points to develop a character build. As I was levelling my hunter back in Burning Crusade, I was haphazardly choosing skills along the Beastmaster and Marksman trees.  People would ask me what spec I was, and I would respond with some sort of hybrid, and they would laugh and tell me how terrible my character was.  I ignored them because when playing through mid-level zones like Feralas, proper talent choices had little impact.  To reach endgame, where those sorts of decisions would matter immensely, would take me until Cataclysm, and by then the talent trees had been reworked to prevent players from making my mistake of spreading their talent points out amongst the trees.  Even within the trees themselves, players were still given freedom in building their characters, though, and that freedom resulted in a margin for error.

Just as Hearthstone players can research and find the best decks to play for each class, it is not hard to research the best talent builds and rotations to use for your character in World of Warcraft.  As much as talents were intended to give players an ability to customize their character based on how they play, dedicated theorycrafters determined the way to play each character to maximize damage and published the template for everyone to copy.  What was intended to be a system that allowed players freedom to customize their character became a system by which all the characters were the same (and those that failed to comply were punished with inferior performance).  Blizzard acknowledged this in reworking the talent system in Mists of Pandaria to feature a sequence of choices amongst similar abilities, while baking any “mandatory” talents directly into our characters.

Even with the best rotations and builds public knowledge, what separates the proverbial men from the boys is execution.  A player may know the order of their rotation, but it’s a completely different challenge to actually perform that rotation perfectly in a live raid environment when dodging void zones and switching targets.  Blizzard has been working to reduce the amount of preparation it takes both talent-wise (and soon gear-wise in Warlords) to have your character ready to play at the top tier, but one thing Blizzard cannot remove is the requirement for practice and skill.  They even added the Proving Grounds as a way to help players practice in a solo environment, since training dummies make poor combat simulations.

I was frustrated with Hearthstone because I had forgotten to account for this human element.  Then I found this write-up of some matches from the Innkeeper’s Invitational Hearthstone tournament at Blizzcon.  Here, players (playing with top-tier decks) were evaluated for their decisions made at the time.  When matches were lost, the result hinged not on deck construction, but on the decisions made on each turn.    This inspired me, because it meant that just because I followed a template and built a “good” deck, it did not mean that I was cheating and removing all aspects of challenge and responsibility from myself.  I still have to make the right decisions at any given time, based on what is available, to give myself the best chance to win.  Also, it means that copying deck strategies is not cheating.  It is important to understand how the deck works and why each card was selected for that deck.  And most importantly, the biggest challenge is understanding that the cards are drawn randomly, and being able to work around that obstacle.  A poor draw can be problematic, but with skill, it does not have to mean defeat.  These are the fires to not stand in and the fight mechanics to obey of Hearthstone.

There is still room in Hearthstone to innovate and look for unique card combinations that can yield surprising and powerful results, just as there is room in World of Warcraft to look for ways to improve a rotation.  What is most important is making sure that I execute both to the best of my ability.  I lost sight of that in Hearthstone, and grew frustrated as a result.  But now I’m better.

Or at least, I would be better if Unleash the Hounds wasn’t so useless now.

WoW! Blurbs!

The Feast of Winter Veil is here.  All I want from Greatfather Winter is a Warlords beta key!

Connected Realms update!  The realms are so connected, but are they even friends?

Russian players can now be matched against European players in battlegrounds.  What does kek look like in cyrillic?

Wowhead can now track player collections, like mounts, pets, achievements, recipes, and titles.  But what about my stamps???

Paragons is a book featuring the Cataclysm leader short stories and some additional content and will be released on March 31.  Relive all the pre-Mists tensions in the Horde!

Heroic max-level dungeons are making a comeback!  Get your cc ready.

Clancy Brown has joined the Warcraft movie cast!  HOW HAS HE NOT DONE VOICE WORK FOR WOW ALREADY???

Nick Zielenkievicz
Nick Zielenkievicz
Nick Zielenkievicz

Senior Producer

Host of WoW! Talk! and The Tauren & The Goblin. Sometimes known as the Video Games Public Defender. Wants to play more Destiny and Marvel Heroes but WoW is all-consuming. Decent F2P Hearthstone player. Sad that he lost the Wii that had Wrecking Crew on it. Would be happy if the only game ever made was M.U.L.E. Gragtharr on Skywall-US. Garresque on Ravencrest-US.

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