Meta-Physics
If you have been playing any sort of game for a while, you are likely to have come across the word “meta”. You might have heard various definitions for the word “meta” in regards to a game, but the one I like using is “the set of strategies and assets that are superior to all others at the present time.” Keep that in mind as you proceed onward.

What is a meta?




Simply put, the meta is strategy. As long as the game is balanced, the meta will always be in flux. This is very easily seen in Chess. Chess is a zero-sum game in terms of how matches are played out. There are a finite number of possible moves and outcomes in the game, ergo, the only thing that can change are the strategies that are used, the meta. As new strategies are innovated and become popular, people adapt in one of three ways:

  1. They develop counter-strategies to the innovated strategies.

  2. They continue using the current strategies.

  3. Old, out of favor strategies are brought back to counter the newly innovated strategies, or the counters that arise to those strategies.



This leads to an always changing meta-state, as the reasons behind all three methodologies, while different, all aim to secure victory by taking a different path.

  1. Anticipation of the popularity of the new strategies and that the current popular strategies will be less used, so to preempt victory by directly countering them.

  2. The current popular or “meta” strategies are tried and true, as such, these players decide to remain reserved and stick with what is known to be effective.

  3. The fluctuations caused by new entrances into the meta are taken advantage of these players to attempt to resuscitate forgotten strategies that their opponents are probably not prepared for. These strategies may also naturally counter the new strategies or the counters that arise in response.



The meta in Hearthstone




Hearthstone, and other card games, are what I consider to be non-zero sum games. While the amount of cards in decks are finite, and there are a finite number of released cards, cards are continually released over time, and there is no way to know what deck your opponent is using before playing against them. As such, analogous to the strategies of other games, archetypes of decks evolve, each with their pros and cons. The archetypes in Hearthstone are as follows, organized by average deck speed:

  • Hyperaggressive – decks such as face hunter or Tiddler mage who aim everything at face and very rarely deal with the opponent's board.

  • Zoo – aggressive decks that win through early board control and insane pressure, often closing out games with large burst from hand, mech mage and zoolock are examples of this.

  • Midrange – a hybrid of both control and aggressive decks that offer a lot of flexibility to play style, allowing them to control the early and mid game with ease, but be aggressive when need be. Mid-range hunter and demonlock are prime examples of this archetype

  • Control – the bread and butter of this archetype is lots of removal spells and board clears to prevent your opponent from laying threats, and then later on in the game to drop down your own unanswerable win conditions. Control warrior, freeze mage, and handlock are the mascots of this archetype.

  • Grinder – also known as “value” decks, these decks are fairly slow but have an absurd amount of value packed into their lists. As the possibility for these decks only recently developed due to the necessary tools only being released in GvG onward, these types of decks have not been experimented with. These decks are similar to control decks but simply have more resources than control decks have removal due to effects that bring cards in from outside of the game. Various decks include echo mage (giants and value mage), gang up value rogue, majordomo mage, and also I would classify Kel'Thuzad ramp druid as part of this archetype also.

  • Fatigue – also known as “attrition” decks, these decks are designed to go through all 30 cards that the opponent has, and to kill them with fatigue damage. These decks incorporate a lot of removal, and a lot of board clears. They use deathlords, and other tools, to thin out the opponent's deck before theirs so that their opponent reaches fatigue first. Common anger-inducing lists include fatigue rogue, fatigue mage, fatigue druid, and using the legendary Iron Juggernaut from GvG, fatigue warrior.

  • Combo – last but not least, these decks often rely on a 2-4 card (or possibly even more because of the release of Emperor Thaurissan) combo to deal a lot of damage to their opponent from the hand. I chose to classify this archetype last because the speed of the lists that make up this archetype varies, from the aggressive patron warrior, to the slower midrange druid, to the grindy combo-lock, these decks include 2+ card combos in order to burst the opponent down from high health in a single turn.


  • Now while each archetype may be favored versus other archetypes, that's not even including the differences that class restricted cards and hero powers bring to the matchups. And over time, dominant archetypes change hands. When GvG was released, control warrior reigned supreme for awhile, then it was druid, then it was mech-mage, and so on and so forth. There is also a huge influence on the constructed meta by big name streamers and pro-players. As this is a primer article, I won't be going in depth on each matchup and who is favored, but will be making generalizations. When control becomes strong, value, combo, and fatigue decks enter the meta to take advantage of these slow decks. Aggressive and hyper-aggressive decks then come in to destroy those decks that prey on control decks, and lastly midrange then becomes popular as it defeats both the slower aggressive decks and control decks. The current meta is a very tempo based meta with Patron warrior, hybrid hunter, and tempo mage being extremely popular.

    How to take advantage of the meta – or meta-gaming




    Knowing what the meta doesn't win you games on its own, you need to react to it. This is called meta-gaming. In Hearthstone meta-gaming takes one of two paths, you can either incorporate cards into your deck to strengthen matchups versus other decks, a technique called “teching cards,” or you can simply use a different archetype of deck that fares better versus meta decks. There are benefits and downsides to both strategies, however. In Hearthstone, most tech cards are very narrow in the scope of effects that they have, excepting Mind Control Tech, Big Game Hunter, and silence effects. As such, incorporating these tech cards such as Kezan Mystic and Harrison Jones often hurts your chances when you face classes that these cards are ineffective towards. There is also the biggest issue that you actually have to draw these cards to use them. The biggest issue with tech cards is that there is no way to put them into your hand when you need them, your opponent can go through both Truesilver Champions and Ashbringer before you even draw Harrison, for example. At that point he is simply a sub-par 5/4 minion for 5 mana. These are the main risks to tech cards in Hearthstone, and why I feel that specific tech cards are useless unless the meta is made of a large amount of decks those cards can target.

    The second strategy is straight out switching your deck for a different one in order to counter the dominant decks. While on paper, it seems like a decent idea, in practice there is a lot more than meets the eye. Firstly, you must have the cards in order to make the decks that counter meta decks, while this may be simple for cheaper decks such as zoo and face hunter, handlock and control warrior are exceptionally expensive in comparison. Secondly, the matchmaking system is random, you are not guaranteed to face against matchups that are excellent for you, in fact, after switching your deck, you might queue into your counter! There is also the issue of not having much practice with your deck so you are not as proficient with it as your normal deck. With the lack of reliable counter options in Hearthstone, what happens is that decks that are the most consistent and powerful become meta, as they can win versus many decks, and they almost never have matchups with less than 40 percent in their favor, except for certain decks, such as freeze mage.

    Conclusion


    Meta-gaming is a powerful strategy, but way more potent in the tournament scene than in the ladder due to the randomness of the matchmaking system. Also tech cards are too dependent on being drawn, but getting their full effect off can win games in certain matchups, for example, stealing an ice block off of freeze mage. But more important for wins than switching out decks or including in cards to help matchups is understanding the current landscape of the meta, and being proficient enough with your deck so that you can adapt your play to the meta, as opponents come and go, but you still remain as a player.

    Written By Blitzcrank BotV2
    Follow him on Twitter
NachtkindFX, Thursday, 28/05/15 11:59
 
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