Like any collectible game, Hearthstone is at its best when there are new decks and strategies for players to explore. However, unlike similar games like Magic, Hearthstone’s deckbuilding options are heavily restricted by the class system, meaning that the depth of exploration that is possible is more limited. A few weeks ago when I stopped by to watch and do some guests commentary at the ESL Legendary Series finals, I had a long conversation with Kripp after the event about what I felt Blizzard to do in order to keep players interested in Hearthstone. At the time, I suggested that the best thing that Hearthstone could do would be to implement a kind of weekly rotating format similar to the “Weekend Warriors” in SolForge, to give players new challenges to explore and to keep things fresh between content releases.
Within days, Blizzard announced the new “Tavern Brawl” format. Apparently, they agreed with me.
Tavern Brawl is a huge shift in the amount of stuff that’s available for players to do in Hearthstone. Every week’s brawl is a chance for players to look at existing cards in new ways. Whether it’s through alterations to the deckbuilding rules, similar to ChallengeStone, or by shifts in the game rules themselves, it provides completely new context for previously existing cards and lets players exercise their creativity.
I was actually somewhat disappointed in the first incarnation of Tavern Brawl. I didn’t really care about the perceived imbalance of Ragnaros vs Nefarian that some players experienced – I actually won more with Ragnaros than I did with Nef. My issue was that the experience felt flat, because it was fully contained in the games themselves. The aspect of collectible games that I most enjoy is the problem-solving challenge that most commonly manifests in deckbuilding, and I had hoped that Tavern Brawl would offer new challenges to explore each week rather than just the plug-and-play experience that Ragnaros vs Nefarian seemed to be.
I was much happier with this week’s brawl, because it was exactly the sort of thing that I was hoping for. The Banana Brawl takes the evaluations that players have of existing cards and totally turns them on their head, because now they exist in an entirely new ruleset. What kind of cards get better when you get a Banana every time one of your minions dies? What cards get worse?
One thing that I did not like about this brawl, which I imagine will continue with future brawls, is only having a single deck slot to use for my brawl decks. Because so much of the fun of these formats comes from experimenting with cards that may not otherwise see much use, it seems very strange to make trying out new decks particularly difficult. I ended up playing only a single class throughout my games simply because it was extremely tedious to have to completely delete my existing deck in order to build a new one. I hope to see the ability to save multiple brawl decks and select between them in the future.
In any case, back to Banana Brawl! The way I approached the challenge was twofold. I wanted to play with cards that enabled me to generate a lot of bananas quickly, and I wanted to play with cards that allowed me to leverage those bananas as well as I could. Furthermore, at the second level of strategy, I wanted to play with cards that were good against opponents who decided to take a similar direction.
As far as generating bananas, I felt like any cards that generated multiple minions for a single card was clearly very attractive. This meant anything like Haunted Creeper, Muster for Battle, Mirror Image, Nerubian Egg, Dragon Egg, or Echoing Ooze. I focused primarily on the cheap minions, because I felt like the format would include a lot of aggressive decks that were similarly trying to flood the board quickly. In a world where minions dying generates additional resources, it felt pretty difficult to actually play control.
Leveraging the bananas meant that I wanted cards that either got bonuses for or helped me play cheap spells. The most obvious one to me was Sorcerer’s Apprentice, since it would let me play as mana bananas as I could generate in a single turn. That meant playing Mage, which obviously also meant playing with Flamewaker – certainly very attractive in a world where decks full of small minions were the norm.
Perhaps the most best card to both leverage and generate bananas is Violet Teacher. Every creature that dies gives you a spell, and every spell you cast gives you a new minion – we’ve demonstrated a loop here. Violet Teacher allows you to generate a huge board of minions quickly, and without spending many actual resources, especially if you can pair it with Sorcerer’s Apprentice to keep playing bananas for free.
Other powerful cards for leveraging the bananas themselves are Questing Adventurer and Dragonkin Sorcerer. Each can represent a potentially lethal attacker on its own from an otherwise empty board state, since you can keep chaining additional bananas to trigger their abilities. Every banana on average represents multiple damage with either one, so you can burst your opponent down from even a very high life total, especially if you have multiples in play.
Echoing Ooze isn’t as explosive, but it’s more resilient than either of the big threats, and doubles as a banana generator. Buffing a single ooze with multiple bananas can build up two sizable threats, which helps play around any kind of removal your opponent might have. I ran into quite a few Big Game Hunters, and frequently decided to leave my big minions at six power before passing the turn rather than going as large as possible.
Rather than play my own BGHs as removal, I went with the more flexible Ironbeak Owl. With so many buffs floating around, the Owl’s silence effect is guaranteed to be useful. It can also remove an opposing taunt or neuter a Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Imp Gang Boss, or Haunted Creeper in a pinch, all of which frequently turn out to be quite useful.
Similarly, in a world full of cheap spells, Loatheb is king. With so many decks leaning heavily on the power of the bananas, Loatheb is often a virtual Time Walk, giving you free reign to go bananas while your opponent has to wait and peel his later.
Last, but certainly not least, is Archmage Antonidas. While not a major factor in many games because of how fast the format is, Antonidas offers a powerful late game tool that can close out any game that actually reaches that point. Much like with MechMage, you pretty much always have the fuel to geneate multiple Fireballs once the game gets to the point that you can actually play a seven drop minion. Unlike in normal constructed , though, you don’t have to really ration your bananas like spare parts – you’ll pretty much always be able to get more when the time comes. So even if you have Antonidas in your hand, you can still usually go pretty much nuts with your spells before that point. There’s always more bananas in the Banana Brawl!
My total record with it was 30-4, and I didn’t take my second loss until after my 22nd win. I haven’t explored other classes yet, mostly because of the inability to save more than a single deck, but I’m curious to try out Priest with Wild Pyromancer, Velen’s Chosen, and Mass Dispel. While Mage may be the strongest level one deck, it feels like Priest may be a great foil to it.
In any case, I’m really happy that the Hearthstone team created Tavern Brawl, and I’m looking forward to exploring the new ones in the future. I imagine I’ll probably do a similar write-up each week, at least for the deckbuilding-oriented Brawls, to talk about my approach to it and share my thoughts on the format. I’ll also likely spend my Wednesday streams playing each new Brawl, so be sure to tune in then to watch me sort through each new challenge live.