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Meta

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"The metagame is the mix of different decks that players bring onto the ladder, that you can expect to see. If you know what decks players are bringing, your deck can be especially good against 'the meta'." - Ben Brode[1]

The metagame or meta describes the trends of deck and class choices currently seen in Hearthstone.

The meta is primarily of interest to players seeking to anticipate the choices of their opponents. Since the opponent's class is not revealed until the match has started, and the contents of their deck usually does not become clear until some way into the match, being able to predict the opponent's choices offers a strong tactical advantage. Additionally, certain decks are considered "hard counters" to other decks, with the current meta often having an element of "rock-paper-scissors", and some matchups estimated to offer as little as a 10% chance of victory to the less fortunate side. Knowledge of the meta thus allows for superior strategy within a match, during the mulligan, and when choosing which deck to play with.

Each game format and game mode has its own meta, due to the differing rules and population. Similarly, different regions tend to have different metas, likely due both to separate player pools, and overall cultural differences, often influenced by larger gaming trends in those regions. When used without context or qualifiers, the term meta is usually used to refer to that of Standard format Ranked Play.

The meta is a subject of constant discussion in Hearthstone media, with changes regularly charted, and the emergence of new deck types documented.

Discussion[edit | edit source]

Choosing a deck that is strong in the current meta is commonly considered mandatory when attempting serious progression, such as attempting to reach Legend in Ranked Play; decks with low winrates against decks popular in the current meta have little chance of "beating the meta" and finding success. Another way the meta is used outside of matches is when customising decks, such as in the inclusion of tech cards, cards specifically added to counter key elements of other decks. Tech cards, and many other deck choices, are frequently changed to match the current meta, or even simply the player's estimation of the meta based on their last few matches.

Within matches, knowledge of the meta often allows an experienced player to predict with great accuracy the precise contents of the opponent's deck, thus gaining a strong advantage. Ironically, this is due to the extreme convergence of players seeking the optimal deck with which to beat the current meta, and thus playing almost identical decks; the effort to beat the meta in itself becomes part of the meta, thus enabling others to home in on how to thwart those very efforts.

To a significant degree, the meta is self-creating and self-defeating. Popularity of a certain deck often leads to an upswing in the popularity of another deck which effectively counters that deck; this may result in the popularity of the original deck declining, and thus the counter deck in turn becoming unsuccessful in the resulting meta; or the popularity of the counter deck may itself inspire players to use decks that work well to counter that deck, leading to the rise of yet another counter-deck, and so on. However, while individual decks can influence the meta strongly, the variety of decks seen usually results in more complex shifts, with a range of counters and checks in place. Overall, the meta functions much like a bacterial culture - the population shifts constantly, responding to any changes in its environment, engaged in an ongoing power struggle between its various counter-balanced elements.

The meta shifts most strongly in response to the release of new content, due to the variety of new decks and strategies made possible. Over time changes slowly become smaller and less frequent, as deck innovations become less common, the design and capabilities of the new content more polished and explored, and the strengths of each archetype against the others better established. Toward the end of an expansion or adventure's initial reign, the meta often becomes "stale", with little change or innovation, the balance of power having become well established and the prevailing meta leaving little room for new deck types to make a place for themselves.

The largest changes to the Standard format meta come at the start of each Standard year, when any card sets released in the calendar year before last are removed from the pool of cards eligible for Standard play. While new cards are added multiple times a year, this is the only time each year that cards are removed from the meta, and the combined effect has a far larger impact. Standard format is expected to see larger and more frequent shifts than Wild format, due to the removal of cards and the smaller pool of cards overall, making the addition of new cards more significant. This was a specific goal for the introduction of game formats, with the aim of creating a more dynamic and shifting meta.

A healthy meta[edit | edit source]

"For example, a class might have a very high win rate, relative to others. That's not balanced. When that happens, more people tend to flock to that class, increasing the play rate. Eventually, that class will become played more than other classes. That's also not balanced, and it's the more worrying imbalance." - Ben Brode[2]

Designer Dean Ayala explains that the main thing the developers look at in terms of a healthy meta is diversity, and the variety of decks seen in the populations at the different ranks and in the different game modes.[3] While successful decks are often considered to have excessively high win rates, in practice this tends be problematic primarily because of a tendency for the deck's reputation to increase population size for that deck: players hear of the deck's power and rush to "jump on that train" and play the deck.[3] In theory players can respond to this by choosing a deck that boasts a high win rate when matched against the new popular deck, thus gaining a higher win rate than those playing the supposedly powerful deck, but in practice this is limited by several facts: such decks may be few, or hard to discover; they may be hard to play; or the current selection of cards simply may not include enough of the right options to provide a strong counter.[3]

High population size is a problem because the deck is seen in too large a percentage of matches, resulting in player frustration and boredom. In contrast, despite being highly effective, decks with high win rates but low population sizes never threaten the balance of the meta or the fun of players, consequently tending not to become the subject of complaints. The impression of excessive population size can also result from several separate but similar decks (often revolving around a single key card), or even roughly similar decks of the same class, all being popular at the same time, producing a monotonous experience.

According to Ben Brode, the worst point of imbalance in the game's history as of January 2017 was Undertaker Hunter, where Hunter was played by 35% of all players across all ranks.[2] Individual cards or combinations are more commonly ubiquitous: in January 2017 a pre-nerf Small-Time Buccaneer and Patches the Pirate were seen in 50% of all decks at rank 5 and above.[2]

Balancing the meta[edit | edit source]

Q: If the wolf population is keeping the rabbit population in check and you weaken wolves, that will probably increase the frequency of rabbits?
"This isn't too far off. The hard part is determining how many rabbit-eating-animal decks will appear as a result of the increase of rabbit frequency, and if the introduction of said-animal-rabbit-eater introduces a new animal we've never heard of." - Dean Ayala[4]

Ayala explains the team's approach to maintaining a healthy meta:

We look at a ton of different metrics. A lot of it is feel. We play, everyone [on the team] plays a ton of Hearthstone, we're playing hundreds and hundreds of games a month, basically everybody. So getting a good gauge for what's going on from the community, what we feel personally, what we feel when we're talking to each other. ... We use a ton of metrics as well. ... In the history of Hearthstone there have been very, very few decks that have ever eclipsed a win rate that ... I would consider dangerous ... something over 55% even. That's happened very, very rarely. But what does happen sometimes is the population index increases to ... 20, 25%, and that's really counter to a lot of our goals.
A lot of times we're looking at populations at different ranks, like we have the ability to look at what's going at Legend, what's going at ranks 1-5, what's going on at rank 20, when I queue into those experiences am I experiencing something different ... When things are getting to too high of a population, I think that that's when consider that like 'hmm, there's something wrong here, maybe we could step in.'
I think [population size of a given deck] is really the biggest thing we look at in terms of healthy meta; are there a lot of decks being played, does it feel different when I'm playing games.[3]

Ayala also states that population size is not in itself a problem, unless it becomes a long-term situation; new decks frequently trend for a short period of time before quickly falling in popularity or being predated by a strong counter deck.[3]

Brode explains the developers also take into account deck win rates, and the circular nature of the meta, when considering changing cards:

When evaluating balance, we look at the win rate of decks and classes, compare them to the impossible ideal (50%), and to the worst case (60%). Knowing that 50% is impossible, we just want it to be "close". This isn't a science, but for us, that has traditionally been between 53% and 56%. This isn't the most important metric, though. If a deck has a 70% win rate, but only a handful of players are playing it, that's great. It doesn't cause the issues of non-variant gameplay... yet. Traditionally when a deck has a very high win rate, people begin to copy it, and it becomes a larger and larger part of the meta. Another important consideration for us at that point is 'Counters'.
When a deck loses to specific cards or other decks, players can be rewarded for playing those counters as that deck rises in popularity. If a deck ever became 60% of the meta, but there was a deck that handily beat it, then you could have a 60% win rate by playing that deck, and it would become the new best deck in the meta. This phenomenon causes metas to change over time. We've seen that so far since the release of Gadgetzan – Pirate Warrior hit peaks of 30%, but shrank to as low as 10% over time. There were also a few days in which Reno Warlock was the dominant deck and which Rogue was the dominant deck at very high skill levels. When the meta is still changing, we don't like to make changes to cards.[2]

Overall the developers have consistently stated a desire for players to use the tools available to shape and develop the meta themselves, without outside intervention from the designers.[3]However, an unhealthy meta is the main reason the developers do occasionally make card changes and nerfs.

When the meta is still changing, we don't like to make changes to cards. ... We believe that it's important to let good players recognize shifts in the meta, and capitalize on their knowledge before the meta shifts and the 'solution' changes. This is one of biggest reasons why we don't nerf cards very frequently. When metas stagnate for too long; When there are no good counters; When the best decks aren't fun to play or lose to; these are all reasons we have made balance adjustments in the past. If a deck is popular for a few weeks, that isn't a reason to make a nerf on its own. We'd have to be concerned about the fun, not be seeing any emerging counter-strategies, or be far enough away from a new content release to be worried about stagnation for a long time.[2]

Metagaming[edit | edit source]

"The Meta is short for the 'metagame'. The game is what happens once you tap 'Play' and see the spinner. The metagame is what happens outside of the game." - Ben Brode[2]

The Ancient Greek word meta means beyond/within itself. For example, metaphilosophy is philosophy about philosophy, or 'the investigation of the nature of philosophy.' In a similar fashion, metagame refers to the investigation of the nature of the game population.

Metagaming is any strategy, action or method used in a game which transcends a prescribed ruleset, uses external factors to affect the game, or goes beyond the supposed limits or environment set by the game. Another definition refers to the game universe outside of the game itself. Metagaming differs from strategy in that metagaming is making decisions based upon out of game knowledge, whereas strategies are decisions made based upon in-game actions and knowledge. In simple terms, it is the use of out-of-game information or resources to affect one's in-game decisions.

Example: In the last month, Jack observed that 50% of his opponents on the ladder are hunters, most of which are of the aggro variety. Jack concludes that in order to climb the ladder faster, he should use a deck that has a favorable hunter matchup.

In this example, the metagame (behavior of player population as a whole) is that Face Hunters are very popular. This knowledge is an external fact that exists outside of the game rules of Hearthstone. By using this knowledge, Jack can improve his win rate by using a deck that beats Face Hunters since he is statistically more likely to queue into them on the ladder more than any other deck; the use of this strategy is called metagaming. Jack is 'gaming the game'.

Since metagaming in itself will affect the metagame over time (Face Hunters will win less often, and thus fewer people will play Face Hunters), new 'flavor of the month' decks evolve and the metagame is said to have changed. In Hearthstone, the metagame is always evolving as the popularity of various decks come and go. It changes very quickly whenever new cards are introduced and slows down after players have been given sufficient time to refine their decks. When the metagame barely changes from week to week, the metagame is said to have stabilized, or grown stale.

Traditionally in any card game after the metagame has stabilized, the metagame slowly evolves between the 3 major deck archetypes of Aggro, Control and Combo due to the "scissors paper stone" nature of the deck archetypes.

Metagaming can also be player-specific. In the Kinguin Pro League Hearthstone tournament, Brian Kibler brought multiple decks that contained 2 copies of Kezan Mystic because he observed that Firebat had played Secret-heavy decks over the prior few months in other tournaments. However, Kibler's metagaming was thwarted when Firebat played with decks that contained no Secrets.[5]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]