It's always a risky business trying to predict the meta, especially prior to the release of a new set. With so many factors at play, and a meta that will be in constant flux for at least a month after release, accurate predictions about the impact of The Grand Tournament are going to be extremely hard to make, and trying to do so is an easy way to get egg on my face.
Regardless, though, the development of the metagame is a subject that interests me far too much for me to suppress my urge to speculate. While I’m absolutely prepared to be proved wrong (and I’m sure I will be) after the set drops, I still want to take a stab at predicting the directions deckbuilding will go.
So, with all the cards revealed, here are my first two predictions for the meta after The Grand Tournament
“Inspire” Will Be Uninspiring:
Let’s be clear; from the off it was always going to take some seriously impressive synergy to make Inspire playable as an archetype. Inspire always had a massive hurdle to overcome in that it was going to take a massive upside to make it worthwhile for players to use their hero power instead of playing cards. This mechanic fundamentally disrupts the 1-2-3 curve paradigm that many decks are built around, so to make it worth committing to there would either have to be serious payoffs for players who make this sacrifice.
For Inspire to be good, there need to be mechanics in place that make it less crippling to use your hero power rather than playing cards. This is because Inspire cards are almost universally mediocre in a vacuum. Cards like Kodorider and Confessor Paletress at first glance look like they could be extremely abusable, but demand strong supporting cards to facilitate their powerful effects. Kodorider looks powerful, but in actuality even triggering the effect once is likely to be a struggle, and playing the card on turn 8 alongside a hero power isn't particularly stellar value. Confessor Paletress suffers from a similar problem - flashy effect, but in practice very difficult to trigger.
As Blizzard released all these slightly cumbersome but undoubtedly powerful Inspire cards, I anticipated they would reveal a Mechwarper style card for Inspire - one hugely powerful cost reduction mechanic to push the archetype over the edge. After all - cards like the two above are begging for a mechanic that lets you trigger inspire multiple times for a reasonable cost. But such a card never really came.
What we got instead were extremely conservatively costed support cards with uncompetitive stats. Fencing Coach is probably the closest thing to an “Inspirewarper”, carrying a Battlecry that allows you to hero power along with an on-curve Inspire minion, but a 2/2 body for 3 mana would be hopelessly outclassed in even the current constructed environment. Maiden of the Lake is similarly disappointing, paying an unreasonable price in stats for a fairly modest cost-reduction mechanic. Even Justicar Trueheart, a card that was released to great fanfare, pays 4 stat points (compared to Boulderfist Ogre, which isn’t even played) for its effect, and therefore carries with it a tempo loss that you would have to hero power an awful lot of times to regain.
The problem with Inspire is simple: the cards with the keyword all demand a supporting cast to be effective, but the cards Blizzard has provided to fulfil that role are simply underpowered. It’s a shame, because the mechanic held a lot of promise, but I would be extremely surprised if Inspire becomes a viable competitive archetype.
Midrange Shaman Will Return:
It’s no secret that Shaman has fallen by the wayside in recent times. The class has suffered from a lack of cards that generate any real early-game tempo. Its competitors - Hunter, Druid and Paladin - respectively have cards like Mad Scientist, Wild Growth and Innervate and Shielded Minibot and Muster for Battle to fulfil this role. Shaman in its current state is outclassed in this department, and has to limp towards its Fire Elemental turn in the hope that will bring recovery.
It seems Blizzard has taken note of this problem, and with TGT has provided Shaman with some new early game tools that should make it far more competitive with the midrange archetypes that currently dominate. Totem Golem will help Shaman massively in establishing the early board control it needs to play to its strengths, and Draenai Totemcarver should be a 5/5 or better extremely often.
One card in particular threatens to up Shaman’s early game presence significantly, and that card is Tuskarr Totemic - a 3 mana 3/2 that summons a random totem for the player. I should clarify here that this card can summon not only Hero Power totems, but any collectable Totem minion. So Flametongue Totem, Mana Tide Totem, Vitality Totem and Totem Golem can all be summoned by the Tuskarr. Since there are 4 Hero Power Totems, this means you get a 50/50 shot at summoning one of these higher value minions instead of just a Hero Power Totem (which is far from a terrible worst case, by the way). The value Tuskarr Totemic offers for the mana is extremely high, and Shaman players should be very excited by its potential.
And of course, I haven’t forgotten Shaman’s new legendary: The Mistcaller. Here we have an absolute bomb that perfectly complements Shaman’s play-style. The effect of this card is comparable to that of Emperor Thaurissan, as +1/+1 in stats is generally worth around 1 mana. Unlike Emperor, though, this effect is granted to every minion in your deck. This card will work wonderfully as part of the slow, grindy play-style that Midrange Shaman is known for, allowing you to squeeze the life out of your opponent with your hero power as well as your buffed-up minions.
Healing Wave and Elemental Destruction are interesting new options for slower Shaman lists. Whether Healing Wave can compete with Antique Healbot, and whether Elemental Destruction can interact effectively with Lava Shock, remain to be seen, but these new spells certainly hold promise.
TGT seems to have addressed the areas in which Midrange Shaman was struggling, and should give the class a much needed boost back to playability. I’ll admit that I have a soft-spot for the attritional play-style of old fashioned Midrange Shaman decks, so I’ll certainly be hoping Thrall’s new toys will prove as powerful as they look.
Modernleper is a competitive Hearthstone player formerly of Razor's Edge Gaming, but currently teamless. His achievements include multiple Top 100 Legend Finishes, qualification for the ESL Legendary Series and winning two consecutive DingIt Invitationals.
His final 3 predictions will be published Friday next week.
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