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]

History[edit | edit source]

See also: Common deck types

The meta of Hearthstone has changed with every balance patch and expansion, but also changes spontaneously as new decks are refined, discovered or popularized or as they rise against the existing meta. The most notable decks and characteristics of each era are listed below.

[TODO]

Basic & Classic (March 11, 2014)[edit | edit source]

Overview: The Basic and Classic era had the fewest tools, and so had few well-defined decks compared to today's standards. Most decks focused on the strengths of each class's Basic cards. One powerful strategy was using a pre-nerf Force of Nature, where the Treants had Charge, with Savage Roar for a sudden 14 damage from hand.

Curse of Naxxramas (July 22, 2014)[edit | edit source]

Overview: As a small set of only 30 total cards, many Classic decks got little changes. However, the power of Undertaker led to a very aggressive variant of Deathrattle Hunter which dominated the meta well into the next expansion.

Goblins vs Gnomes (December 8, 2014)[edit | edit source]

Overview: With Goblins vs Gnomes, many neutral cards such as Mechwarper, Piloted Shredder and Dr. Boom were criticized as being overtuned and found homes in many decks. Many Tempo oriented decks arose as a consequence of this strong neutral set.

Blackrock Mountain (April 2, 2015)[edit | edit source]

Overview: Blackrock Mountain is remembered as the time of Patron Warrior, a deck notorious for its lack of counters and its ability to pull off insane Burst from hand. Emperor Thaurissan enabled many similar OTK decks, such as Exodia Mage. This expansion also saw the beginnings of Dragon Priest.

The Grand Tournament (August 24, 2015)[edit | edit source]

Overview: The Grand Tournament's central themes of Inspire and Joust failed to take off as archetypes of their own, but value-oriented cards such as Justicar Trueheart and Nexus-Champion Saraad found use in Control decks. . However, Wyrmrest Agent and Twilight Guardian pushed Dragon Priest into legitimacy. After the nerf to Warsong Commander brought down Patron Warrior, Mysterious Challenger almost single-handedly carried Secret Paladin to the top.

The League of Explorers (November 12, 2015)[edit | edit source]

Overview: Reno Jackson created a slew of powerful Control decks with a variety of options, and Elise Starseeker helped push this as well, giving additional late-game value. Tunnel Trogg filled out the early game of Aggro Shaman, which would proceed to dominate the next few expansions. Anyfin Can Happen gave rise to Murloc Paladin decks.

Whispers of the Old Gods (April 26, 2016)[edit | edit source]

Overview: The release of the Old Gods began the rotation of Standard format, kicking out Naxx and GvG. C'Thun and the cultists forcibly created an archetype on their own. This set saw the beginnings of Evolve Shaman, but this was lost in favor of the infamous Flamewreathed Faceless, which rounded out Aggro Shaman as a powerful deck. Y'Shaarj planted the idea of Big Priest, N'Zoth was another finisher in many Control decks, and Yogg-Saron was well-known for its absurdity and (literal) madness.

One Night in Karazhan (August 11, 2016)[edit | edit source]

Overview: Karazhan is remembered for the loved and hated card Barnes, which would find many decks with Y'Shaarj and no other minions. Both Secret Hunter and Secret Mage would find popularity with Cloaked Huntress and Medivh's Valet. Discardlock also was created through Malchezaar's Imp and Silverware Golem.

Mean Streets of Gadgetzan (December 1, 2016)[edit | edit source]

Overview: Gadgetzan is remembered for the rise of the Pirate all across the meta, to the point where Bloodsail Corsair was a legitimate card for Druid decks for Patches the Pirate. While the Grimy Goons archetype only found much success in Paladin, Jade Golems began to see play, most notably in Druid, and Kazakus breathed new life into Reno Jackson decks. Aviana and Kun the Forgotten King proved to be a devastating late-game finisher for Druids.

Journey to Un'Goro (April 6, 2017)[edit | edit source]

Overview: Un'goro is most known for the new Quest mechanic, which, while not successful for every class, proved extraordinarily powerful in the ones that worked. In particular, Open the Waygate turned Archmage Antonidas and four Sorcerer's Apprentices from a rare joke to a legitimate win condition, while the much-maligned The Caverns Below pushed the boundaries on design hard enough to warrant two nerfs. Priest was able to finally make use of Purify, if only for a fleeting moment, thanks to a slower meta and some excellent spell support.

Knights of the Frozen Throne (August 10, 2017)[edit | edit source]

Overview: The introduction of Hero cards once again pushed the power level, slowing the metagame even further as decks worked to play these expensive powerhouses. In particular, Shadowreaper Anduin took the game by storm, combining the original version of Raza the Chained for massive damage. The usual aggro gap was filled by Tempo decks, which utilized Prince Keleseth and the heart of the cards for a major power boost throughout the game.

Kobolds & Catacombs (December 7, 2017)[edit | edit source]

The Witchwood (April 12, 2018)[edit | edit source]

Overview: This expansion marked the start of the Year of the Raven]. The Witchwood is best remembered for introducing Genn Greymane and Baku the Mooneater, a pair of build-arounds so impactful they had to be rotated a year early. Odd Paladin and Even Paladin were the best decks as soon as the expansion released, with Even Paladin even surpassing Cube Warlock. Both decks were very powerful to the point that Odd Paladin's Level Up! and Even Paladin's Call to Arms were both nerfed. Odd Rogue, Odd Warrior, Even Shaman, and Even Warlock also became popular decks both in standard and in wild, however, Cube Warlock was still favored and widely played throughout the Witchwood. Odd Hunter also became competitively viable specifically due to its favorable matchups against Cube Warlock, as the Warlock struggles to summon any threats before the Hunter inevitably achieves an early victory. Murloc Paladin also emerged as one of the top decks with Even and Odd Paladin, as the Murloc synergy cards in Journey to Un'goro such as Gentle Megasaur and Murloc Scout proved to be very oppressive under the meta after the rotation.

The release of Shudderwock brought Shudderwock Shaman into play, featuring Lifedrinker, Grumble, Worldshaker and Saronite Chain Gang. Decks which aimed to kill the opponent in one turn often used Murmuring Elemental and Fire Plume Harbinger in conjunction with Shudderwock. Although Shudderwock was very powerful and seen in many competitive tournaments, its power level was not its main concern, the long lasting animation times were. Witching Hour finally made Taunt Druid a competitive deck, utilizing Hadronox, Master Oakheart, Dragonhatcher, and plenty of taunts such as Primordial Drake and Sleepy Dragon, Taunt Druid proved to be effective against almost every deck archetype, contesting the board against aggro decks through Ironwood Golem and Oaken Summons, having plenty of removal such as Lesser Jasper Spellstone and Naturalize against midrange decks, outvaluing the control decks through Carnivorous Cube and The Lich King, and pressuring the Combo Decks with Master Oakheart and Malfurion the Pestilent

With the Year of the Raven rotation, many powerful decks were no longer playable in Standard format, such as Highlander Priest and Pirate Warrior, most of which were very favorable against Quest Rogue. Following the rotation, Quest Rogue, with the introduction of Vicious Scalehide, became popular once again. Quest Warrior also gained popularity now being the win condition of Control Warrior. With the rotation of many dragon synergy cards such as Drakonid Operative and Netherspite Historian, Spiteful Priest fell out of favor. Spiteful Druid took its place and became incredibly powerful, featuring two copies of Ultimate Infestation, Spiteful Summoner, Grand Archivist, but remaining to be aggressive with many neutral minions such as Glacial Shard and Cobalt Scalebane.

In wild, Even Shaman quickly became one of the best decks in Hearthstone's history, having access to Totem Golem and Flamewreathed Faceless, compared to Aggro Shaman, wild Even Shaman trades away Tunnel Trogg, Feral Spirit, and Bloodlust in return for a 1-mana hero power and thus synergy with Thing from Below and Draenei Totemcarver. Compared to Standard Even Shaman, Wild Even Shaman is more aggressive and trades the more expensive finishers such as Hagatha the Witch, The Lich King, and Bonemare for a more aggressive Jade package, with Jade Lightning, Jade Claws, and Aya Blackpaw. Even Shaman became the aggressive deck of choice in wild despite being mediocre in standard. Odd Paladin in Wild becomes more synergy focused on Silver Hand Recruits, with Warhorse Trainer, Quartermaster, and Muster for Battle. Odd Rogue gains a pirate package with Swashburglar and Patches the Pirate similar to rogues in the Year of the Mammoth.

Giant Hunter with Naga Sea Witch remains the midrange deck of choice, usually being able to win by turn 7, and control decks such as Reno Warlock and Highlander Priest generally stay the same with the only addition being Rotten Applebaum.

Patch 11.1.1.24589 nerfed Spiteful Summoner, Naga Sea Witch, Possessed Lackey, Call to Arms, Dark Pact, and Crystal Core. The effected decks included Cube Warlock, Spiteful Druid, Quest Rogue, Giant Hunter, Even Paladin, and Murloc Paladin. As a result of the nerfs, Spiteful Druid stopped seeing play altogether, with Taunt Druid being the only competitively viable Druid deck until the release of The Boomsday Project. Giant Hunter was also completely abandoned. All other nerfed decks kept seeing play, albeit with less power. Even Paladin abandoned its Silver Hand Recruit package in favor for a Corpsetaker package, featuring Corpsetaker, Windfury Harpy, and sometimes Tirion Fordring. Control Warlock contested Cube Warlock's position in the meta and sometimes saw play.

Following the patch, Tempo Rogue, Token Druid, and Murloc Mage emerged to fill in gaps in the meta, but Odd Paladin, not yet nerfed, was without doubt the best deck in the meta at the time. Wild's power level decreased, and allowed for some new decks to show their true strength. Kingsbane Rogue, as a result of the nerfs, started seeing more play in both formats, taking advantage of Leeching Poison and various weapon buffs to exploit slower decks.

The Boomsday Project (August 7, 2018)[edit | edit source]

Overview: The Boomsday Project saw the release of many powerful neutral cards, such as Giggling Inventor, and Zilliax, which remains a staple in most Control decks. Giggling Inventor was one of the most played cards in the Year of the Raven, being a good stand-alone card whole also having mech synergies. Giggling Inventor also had great synergy with the Rogue quest, The Caverns Below, paired with Lab Recruiter to prevent fatigue and generate infinite value, Quest Rogue becomes competitive again after two nerfs. Giggling Inventor also single handedly made Mossy Horror and Blood Knight viable tech cards during the first 2 months of the expansion. The introduction of Mecha'thun also brought many new combo decks into the meta. A notably steady rise in the popularity of Druid was also observed in the first weeks of the expansion, the addition of Biology Project and Floop's Glorious Gloop also spawning a Miracle Druid build making previous combo decks much faster, and Dreampetal Florist made the Twig of the World Tree no longer necessary. Odd Paladin stays on top of the meta being the most powerful deck overall, with Odd Rogue contesting its dominance. Rush Warrior, albeit gaining little new cards in this expansion, gained popularity due to the shifts in the meta bringing more favorable matchups into play.

In wild, the release of Star Aligner also brought Druid to the top of the wild meta. Using Star Aligner, Aviana, Kun the Forgotten King, and any 8 mana and 7 health minion, the full combo could be drawn with one Juicy Psychmelon. Accompanied with Brann Bronzebeard and Flobbidinous Floop, Star Aligner Druid can deal up to 64 damage in one turn. Star Aligner Druid dominated the entire meta until the balance patch in October, and had the highest win rates in the history of Hearthstone.

Patch 12.2.0.27358 nerfed Giggling Inventor, Aviana, and Mana Wyrm. The nerf to Giggling Inventor was a very big change to the meta, which made Mossy Horror and Blood Knight fall out of favor. The nerf to Aviana was significant as an additional Innervate will be required to achieve any of the previous combos, and one Juicy Psychmelon would no longer draw all combo pieces, the nerf to Druid made wild Mech Hunter much more popular. The nerf to Mana Wyrm made Tempo Mage no longer a competitive deck in standard, but it was not as impactful as the other nerfs, as Tempo Mage was not nearly as powerful and popular as any of the popular Druid decks.

Rastakhan's Rumble (December 4, 2018)[edit | edit source]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]