Fatigue Warrior

Lately, I’ve been playing a lot of fatigue warrior. I found a list on LiquidHearth from a player called Eversiction that originally piqued my interest. Control Warrior is a deck I’ve always wanted to play but never could, due to my limited collection. The highlight of this deck is that it only requires two legendaries: Elise Starseeker and Justicar Trueheart.

This deck runs two win conditions. The first is playing Elise, turning your entire deck into legendaries, and slamming huge dudes every turn. The second is to remove every threat the opponent plays until they run out of cards and outlast them in fatigue by gaining 4 armor a turn. While the deck is extremely time inefficient, every game is full of very interesting decisions and mechanics. It’s also very computationally intense, as most games against other control decks come down to difficult fatigue math. This naturally results in the deck having a higher win percentage because other players are less likely to be familiar with the matchup.

Of course, I quickly realized that the math is too hard and decided to build a spreadsheet to calculate everything for me. I got a ton of use out of my original Patron Lethals spreadsheet which calculated damage from hand with varying numbers of Frothing Berserkers, Whirlwinds and Inner Rages. I figured I could try and reproduce a similar thing for fatigue.

Introducing the Fatigue Calculator. You can enter game state like health, healing, fatigue and damage on board for both you and your opponent. Then it displays your life totals at each turn until you eventually die. The purpose of this is to quickly calculate the result of the game if nobody does anything except hero power for the rest of the game. Why is this so important? In most games against aggro or midrange, if you survive long enough you automatically win, no math required. This spreadsheet becomes a lifesaver in heavy control matchups, such as Control Priest or the Control Warrior mirror.

Here’s a quick puzzle. You are playing this deck vs a control Priest. Both players have drawn their entire deck. You are holding the Golden Monkey and 5 other useless cards. The priest has 1-2 copies of Entomb and 4 other useless cards in hand. The priest has a 2/8 Deathlord in play. You have 24 armor and 21 health while the priest has 30 health. You just took 1 damage from fatigue and the priest has taken 0. What’s the correct play?

As the warrior, you have two choices: play Golden Monkey or do nothing. Playing Golden Monkey is tempting since transforming your dead hand into potentially powerful legendaries is great. However, you know it will definitely be Entombed, giving the Priest one less fatigue turn and the ability to also play the Golden Monkey. Every time I’ve done this I feel at a disadvantage and only win because I get better random legendaries. The correct play in this scenario is to actually do nothing. If both players do nothing but hero power for the rest of the game, the warrior will win.

Or, imagine this situation that occurred to me the other day.

It’s currently the beginning of my turn. I will take four fatigue damage on my next turn and my opponent is going to take five. During the game, I knew my opponent had Grom and I  incorrectly thought his last card was a worthless Shield Block (turned out to be Brawl). I have two choices: play Nozdormu followed by Golden Monkey or play Golden Monkey and hope I get a better or equal legendary from the effect. What’s the right play?

First of all, if neither of us does anything for the rest of the game, I am going to lose to fatigue first. This doesn’t even consider that he has an equipped Death’s Bite that can hit me for another 4-8 damage.

Now if I play Nozdormu, he will kill it with charge Grom + Death’s Bite. Then I play Monkey and he trades enraged 10/1 Grom into Monkey. He’s left with an Acolyte of Pain and a Death’s Bite with 1 charge. He can’t use the last charge of Death’s Bite since the deathrattle would cause him to fatigue more. The new scenario is the same as the last, except my opponent will take an extra 8 damage from face tanking Nozdormu. I still lose two turns early.

So the only way I can win is to play Golden Monkey and pray for a miracle. It just so happens I ripped a Deathwing off the top for the glorious win.

Lightning Helix anyone?

Limited Formats In Hearthstone

With Blizzard’s recent announcement of a standard format, I figured it would be interesting to bring up a completely unrelated subject that you’ll never see mentioned in pretty much any reddit post or youtube video: limited.

In my eyes, Hearthstone constructed is “good enough”. And by constructed I mean the thing you play on the ladder or in tournaments, where you make a deck from your collection. There is a lot of diversity in the decks you can choose to play at high levels and a lot of depth in the match ups. With the new standard format where you only allow newer cards, it will be even better. However, what I feel is a tremendously wasted opportunity for Blizzard and Hearthstone is how we treat Arena. And I don’t mean buffing Arena warrior.

Anything can happen in the arena.

If you’re not too familiar with Arena, it is Hearthstone’s take on Magic The Gathering’s sealed deck format. You are giving a set of random cards and you must choose a subset of those cards to make a deck. You are then pitted against other players who went through the same process but with a different set of random cards.

A limited format offers a few interesting aspects to the game that constructed formats cannot. First of all there is the deck building aspect. Since the pool of cards you choose from is random, you can’t just look up the most popular, optimized deck from the Tempostorm meta snapshot. You need to make complex decisions based on a limited set of resources. Most choices are based on intuition and practice, rather than playing a deck 100 times to finely tune whether to include one or two Fiery War Axe.

Since the pool of cards is limited, it makes a lot of “bad” cards playable and you will often see things that would never happen in constructed. Strange interactions between cards that have no business being in a deck together will crop up all the time and 7/7 minions are suddenly amazing since you don’t have to worry about Big Game Hunter being played in 100% of all decks.

I’ve got the beast in my sights. PEW!

There are a lot less pre-known choices in limited formats. In constructed, every deck list of every high tier deck is 100% known. In addition, every professional memorizes the “right” decisions to do in every combination of match ups. In Control Warrior vs Freeze Mage, I want to mulligan for these X cards and my plan is to hero power as often as possible and fatigue them. It’s incredibly skill based but also extremely tiresome to learn. It’s very similar to memorizing chess openings. The first 10-15+ moves of chess have been studied so thoroughly that the optimal choices are pretty well documented. Just memorize the thousands of possible outcomes and you can be a Grandmaster too! Limited formats are more like the mid game of chess. While a computer can in theory map out every possible outcome, it’s impossible for humans to do it. So you’re forced to think on your feet , improvise, and rely on intuition.

If you can’t instantly recognize which deck this matchup chart is for, you are not good at Hearthstone.

Finally, the most important reason this format is great is that the random cards are not based on your collection. Everyone who enters into an Arena is given the same number of random cards and is essentially on a “level” playing field. Sure, sometimes one guy will get better random cards than you but we still started from the same point. This even creates a nice “powerball” effect that encourages bad players to keep playing, since you can always hope to get lucky and open the pack with the bomb legendary.

Ultimately, constructed formats have a hefty “competitive” price tag. To expect to get anywhere, you need to pay the money or time to grind all the cards. You also need to spend hours practicing and studying the same match ups. It’s NOT pay to win (don’t get me started on people who wrongly think that), but constructed Heathstone does cost at least a few hundred dollars, which is obfuscated behind buying random card packs. Limited formats let you circumvent a lot of that cost.

A few years ago I was really into Magic Online, but since I didn’t have a collection, I played drafts (a limited format where players take turns picking cards from random packs). I got to play competitively with other people without having to spend thousands of dollars on a constructed deck running 4 copies of Jace The Mind Sculpter. When Hearthstone came out I immediately started playing Arena non stop. It gave me the same type of enjoyment of playing Magic drafts but didn’t cost $15 per run. It was like a dream come true!

I’m not sure if I’m looking at the price history of a Magic card or Bitcoin.

However, as time progressed, arena started to feel more and more repetitive and stale. And it wasn’t just because I played too much. I played a lot of Magic drafts but never felt the same way. Thinking more about it, I realized the problem wasn’t the format. I actually love the way Arena is designed and I could go into a whole rant about the positives of how it’s built. The problem was something outside the game.

In my opinion, the best thing that could happen to Hearthstone is to make limited part of Blizzard’s World Hearthstone Championships. The reason Arena is stale is because Blizzard doesn’t care about it and so players don’t care about it. In Magic, limited formats like draft and sealed are part of all their tournaments, including the World Championships and Pro Tours. As a result, professionals have to practice and care about Arena. It makes us plebeians get excited and drives more people into the format.

Arena should be more prominent in the game’s UI. Give us public Arena rankings, just like how constructed has the ladder. Make Arena wins count towards golden portraits. It’s important that we have goals to work towards while playing and the 12 win key isn’t enough.

Blizzard needs to design their new card sets more for Arena. For months, there was a ton of feedback from players and data showing how terrible Warriors were in arena. When the new card set came out, there were a bunch of great Arena cards for Warrior that were totally unplayable for constructed. For some reason though, Blizzard decided to make all these cards at higher rarities, meaning they almost never appear as choices for Arena. There was literally no reason not to make the high quality Arena cards more common, because nobody crafted a single one for constructed.

Finally, Blizzard needs to rotate card sets for Arena just like what they proposed for constructed. The reason Arena feels so stale is that if you want to win, you have to always pick Flamestrike, always pick Truesilver Champion and always pick Fire Elemental. If these cards were removed from the format and replaced with new, interesting mechanics, Arena would feel vibrant and alive again.

Although you already have 4 Flamestrikes, I still recommend you pick Flamestrike here because it has the most value.

Blizzard’s choice of rotating card sets is a great decision which will help to make constructed Hearthstone a much more interesting landscape. However, it still doesn’t address the high barrier of entry, in terms of both money and time. More emphasis on limited formats provide new players a way to experience a highly competitive form of the game without that upfront cost. In my opinion, Arenas can also act as a gateway drug to constructed, because as you play more Arena your rewards include cards usable only for constructed. It’s a win-win situation for both Blizzard and players.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed my little rant. I love constructed Hearthstone and I’ve played more than my fair share of it (three seasons of legend). But if you gave me a choice, I’d still rather play Arena in my spare time. If Blizzard would support Arena in the same way Wizards of the Coast supported draft or sealed, I believe it could be one of biggest and best improvements to the game.

The Martian by Andy Weir

Back when I was really bored at work at my last job I got into a personally productive phase, getting very motivated and excited working on personal projects and reading a lot of books. At one point I was structuring myself so that I would work on something specific each work day – it was something like Monday is technical project, Tuesday is crafts project, Wednesday is reading, Thursday is playing a game, Friday is hanging out with Jack… I can’t remember exactly what it was (I swear I wrote a post about it but I can’t find it and spent some time getting teary over this old post about Jokulhaups instead).

However work at this job is very fulfilling and fun, and when I come home I either want to work some more or just lay on the couch doing nothing until I go do some more work. It’s drastically reduced the number of console games I play too (though I get sucked into mobile games easily, which in my mind somehow fall under “do nothing”).

Since it’s holiday break and pretend-you’ll-fulfill-your-resolutions time, I decided to try something different. I’ve stopped really reading books for a long time so I want to get back into it. The last few books I read a while ago I still haven’t written about and probably never will because I procrastinated too long and don’t remember them that well. I also recently got this huge iPad Pro that I’ve mostly been using for games.

I’m going to try writing about the book I’m reading as I read it. So this will end up more of a log than a single post, I guess, that’s posted all at once. This way I’ll get down more of my impressions as I read and have less risk of not actually posting about the book. Writing this up on the iPad will also be interesting, as it’s proving to be rather difficult – I type very fast and this feels like less than half my normal speed, what with not being able to use normal keyboard hand positioning and all the strange auto-correcting I have to go back and fix. Maybe it will force me to think more before I write, as I tend to ramble a lot. Though it’s so big that I almost may as well have pulled out my laptop to write this up on.

Anyway, on to The Martian…

We watched The Martian in 3D with D-BOX seats. It was the first time we’d tried D-BOX seats. It was interesting, but not something I’d feel like I was missing out on if I didn’t have. The best part was that they are reserved seats though, so you can come in later with a guaranteed seat (though you may need to kick out the non-D-BOX people sitting in your seat that don’t realize it’s reserved).

I liked the movie itself. Obviously at that point I hadn’t read the book (what with just having bought it today and all). It was a while ago, and I’m extremely terrible at remembering details about books or movies past a few days, so really my only impression of the movie now is that I liked it at the time. The only other strong impression I have is (not sure if spoiler) “China would never have helped!”

This will be interesting, to see differences with the movie.

Saturday, December 26th

I just bought the book today and only got 7 pages in before deciding to do a reading log (I specifically got the version that did not have a movie-inspired cover because I didn’t want to carry Matt Damon’s face around), so so far right now my only comment is that I like the tone of the writing. It feels very realistic and like how I imagine I may record the happenings if I was in that situation.

So yeah. I’m fucked. (page 7)

Got further and had some thoughts.

There are some details in the book that better explain some things from the movie, but are still a bit incredulous. For instance, the fact that each of the astronauts have two specialties… and his two specialties just happen to be the exact two that will keep him alive? The fact that he had vegetables he could plant that weren’t freeze-dried (not sure how spoiler-y I am being, so this is a bit hard to phrase), but it was only because of some very specific timing of when he would be on Mars?

Also, do real normal people say “edge case”? Because he just said “edge case”. I guess maybe because he is a scientist it may make sense? “Edge case” feels like a very programmer type of thing to say. Do other disciplines use that phrase?

I wonder if the way this is written as his daily logs was meant to be as if they are video logs like the movie, or written? I think if I had read this first I would imagine them as written logs.

Really? It’s oh-so-lucky these two things just happen to use the same voltage. Oh, this thing has a valve and I have no idea why it has a valve but thank god it has a valve because I really needed this valve! A lot of this is starting to feel very contrived.

Sunday, December 27th

I haven’t felt as skeptical about the circumstances in the book since I kept reading yesterday, so I’m feeling a bit better about the book. Perhaps it’s because it’s starting to get much more into what’s happening in Earth and not just his logs.

One thing I noticed yesterday that I thought was interesting was the use of “Ziploc” and “Hefty” as size references. I’ve been fascinated with brand names used as object names since I read a book a long time ago that capitalized “Dumpster”. It confused me because it’s just a dumpster, right? I looked it up and it turns out dumpster is what is called a generic trademark. These are brand names that have been used so much they’ve turned into the generic commonly used name for objects. Some other fascinating examples are heroin, escalator, dry ice, frisbee (auto-correct actually capitalized that for me at first), and popsicle (more here).

As a result, I tend to take note of how brand names are used. However in this book I noticed that rather than using Ziploc or Hefty to mean “bag”, they were actually used together as more familiar size references to give the reader a better sense of what Mark was doing with the bag.

One thing I have in abundance here are bags. … Some are smaller than a Ziploc, while others are as big as a Hefty lawn and leaf bag. (page 31-32)

I cut up a few Hefty-sized bags and taped them together to make a sort of tent. (page 32)

I got a Ziploc-sized sample bag and waved it around a bit. (page 36)

I’m enjoying the humor in this book. Some things are still kind of incredulous (you sent a hack half a byte at a time and he just entered it in and it just worked?) but overall enjoyable.

A career software engineer, mornings were never her forte. (page 132)

That line could be my life story.

I looked at the back cover and it says Andy Weir is a programmer – I guess that explains “edge case”.

Ah ha! They used “Popsicle” (capitalized) as a generic term! I was excited so I figured I’d stop to write a thought down.

I passed the part where China decides to help – to be honest I was a bit surprised it was in the book; I would not have been surprised if it had been added just to the movie purely for some sort of marketing purpose. In fact when we first saw the movie that was our theory on why China was in the movie at all, to appeal to Chinese audiences. The book only spends 3.5 pages talking about the Chinese space people making the decision to help. It felt kind of shallow – I still don’t believe China would ever help of its own accord, especially if no one even knew they had the ability to help.

So far it seems like the movie had stuck very closely to the book, but the scene with the Chinese space people talking actually was two men, where in the movie they had a man and a woman. I wonder if that was a ploy to get female Chinese audiences.

Monday, December 28th

I’ve continued reading, and didn’t have too much of note other than him referencing that he was typing his logs, so that answers my question of written vs. video logs.

It’s amusing to imagine all his rock morse code messages to NASA just hanging out there forever along the path he drove.

Just finished it! It was pretty good. I’m surprised how closely the movie stuck to the book (at least what I remember of the movie). I do feel like one life-threatening situation (Rover tipping over) was replaced by another (more drama when rescuing him from his makeshift rocket) though.

One thing I wish it went into more detail in was all the arguments and discussions that went into deciding to spend the time and resources on saving him. NASA is  government-funded; there would have been many arguments about the costs and benefits. I could totally see many people arguing that one life is not possibly worth the time, resources, and lost work for future missions. I could imagine it boiling down to public opinion which swayed the decision, though I’m sure many many people would disagree no matter what they did. I just wish it went into more of those practical details; it’s always the negotiations and arguments that no one plans for, even in projects at work.

Overall, it started kind of unbelievable (as in way too many lucky coincidences) then got much better. Still feel that it’s too unrealistic that China volunteered to help.

We’re going to watch the movie again tomorrow so I can compare it!

Also, not quite sure about this format of writing a log while I read. I guess this was a good book to try it on since he writes in log format. Maybe it would be easier if I had my laptop open to type it on instead of using the iPad Pro. Perhaps I’ll try it at least once more.

Tuesday, December 29th

Never mind, Jack couldn’t find a good version of the movie to download, not watching it again today.

No One Is Actually Good At Candy Crush

I recently saw a fun little article entitled No one is actually good at Candy Crush. It makes the observations that the majority of successful mobile games are based around the “illusion of skill”. These are games where the progression and pacing is controlled by the developer, rather than by the player’s ability. The author states, “tell me how many hours you’ve played, how much money you have spent, and I should be able to tell you within a good degree of certainty how far you are in Candy Crush, what level your town hall is in Clash of Clans, how many times you’ve ascended in Tap Titans”.

Now the most amusing part of this article is reading the comments, where players accuse the author of being overly simplistic or elitist. According to them, there is in fact a large amount of skill involved in some of these games. They cite examples where a player can plan ahead to make better moves in Candy Crush. Strictly speaking, they are right. There are basic players who make the first move that is suggested to them by the automatic hints and elite players who look one, two or even five moves into the future to assemble enormous combinations. Like Chess or Go, we could go so far as to write programs to analyze the board and spit out the optimal match. In fact, I had a friend back in school who did that with Bejeweled and won a bunch of money in tournaments before his account got banned. This is clearly, a skill based game.

All of this would be great if it weren’t for a tiny detail that the author left out of his article. Every single major mobile puzzle game, whether it be Candy Crush or Juice Jam, dynamically controls how the game plays out while you are blissfully matching three. Behind the scenes, an algorithm more complex than you can possibly imagine is secretly adjusting the difficulty of every level, even going so far as to create lucky cascades to fall on to your board. The win percentages for every level is carefully monitored, as well as how many moves you have left when you win and how much of your goal is unfinished when you lose. Candy Crush knows everything about you and if you’re significantly above or below the tuning curve they have designed, then you can bet a $0.99 bundle pack that they are going to change the game to make you fall in line.

These games are essentially super powered slot machines. Everything about the experience is tuned to keep you playing for as long as possible and make you feel good about yourself. When new mechanics are introduced, players will frequently encounter a more “difficult” level with a very low win percentage. After days of perseverance, you finally conquer this challenge and it’s an amazing feeling! You’ve mastered this new obstacle, and the next few levels you fall before your new found skill. Of course, the levels after that “difficult” level are tuned to have very high win percentages, but let’s not mention that to our players.

Now there isn’t anything wrong with slot machines. I’ve dropped $100+ into the Willy Wonka slot machine in Vegas trying to get the Grandpa Joe bonus game (I’ve got a golden ticket!). However, when you play a game you should recognize it for what it is. If you play Candy Crush because it’s a fun way to pass the time on the train, you want a way to decompress and relax after work, or you just love that creepy guy with the mustache, more power to you. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you’ve mastered a game that is programmed to be impossible to master.

And for the rest of the people who still think Candy Crush is skill based, King would like to give you a $5.9 billion thank you hug.

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

I first heard of Brothers (they have a nice parallax site by the way) when I was searching for games for my new iPad Pro. With such a huuuuuge iPad I figured it would be a waste not to spend a bit on the nice graphically-impressive games. There was even a sale on it in the App Store recently, but Jack convinced me to buy it for the PS4 instead because the controls probably wouldn’t be as good on iPad – in the screenshots you can even see that they are on-screen “virtual joysticks” that end up blocking the game. The game’s been out a few years, but only came to PS4 and iOS this year.

The game is about two brothers going to get something that will somehow heal their sick dad, and each brother is controlled separately with L2/R2 and the two analog sticks. There are certain things only one brother can do – the older one is stronger, the younger one can fit through smaller spaces, etc.

I kind of had trouble getting the two brothers to walk together, but it may just be because I suck at controlling them. I kept forgetting which stick controlled which brother. In cases where they would fall off a cliff if I forgot which one was L2, I had to stop and think very carefully before I did anything. I ended up getting really tense and gripping the controller really tightly, trying to make sure I didn’t kill anyone.

They don’t speak a real language, just a gibberish language. To be honest, I had no idea what we were looking for throughout the majority of the game (actually until we got to it) – the older brother would show people a scroll of what he was looking for, but I never got to see the scroll. Maybe there was some visual clue near the beginning that I just totally missed.

It was pretty interesting, and I finished it in two plays – it was very short. The first play was relatively normal, just two boys on an adventure and a troll or two, but in the second play things started getting weird and sort of creepy – I don’t like creepy things!

I’ll use spoiler tags for this part just in case.

Spoilers here!

The second play, I started off where the wolves come after you and started seeing the dead bodies hanging from the trees. I was actually surprised that nothing jumped out at me in the graveyard. I really didn’t like the giant battlefield though – giant bloody dead… well… giants, everywhere with arrows sticking out of them. I hated pushing on the arrows stuck in their bodies to move them out of the way, especially when one of them dropped an arm holding an axe that just chopped the leg off the dead body. Why was that necessary? What does that add to the game??? Nothing even wakes up and attacks you like I kept expecting. Freaky spider lady grossed me out too.

There were parts that just made no sense to me – what was that where the younger brother was hallucinating about the giant woman? What exactly was going on there? It didn’t seem to matter to any of the storyline later.

I actually enjoyed the end, not enjoying that the older brother died but enjoying that a game allowed an ending that wasn’t an ideal happy ending. It was kind of intense and unexpected that they actually have you control the younger brother dragging the older brother into the grave he dug, and you actually go through the motions of pushing the dirt over him to bury him.

Unfortunately our experience was slightly ruined because there seemed to be some sort of bug – laying on the floor near the dead brother was the black shape of what looked like a dead bird. In fact it was right next to the grave, so it was strange to drag the brother through this random black shadow you can’t interact with.

When the younger brother reaches back home and needs to cross the water, I actually thought it was a bug that he wasn’t doing anything when I used his usual R2 button. It was a nice touch that you actually have to use the older brother’s button, like he’s there helping you in spirit – I thought there would be a ghost version of him like the ghost mother.

Overall it was a pretty good game, apart from the random creepy stuff that didn’t seem to add anything to the game.

RIP Patron Warrior

Your 80% win rate vs Secret Paladin will be missed.

Patron Warrior is such an amazing deck. Not because of it’s strength, but due to the incredible challenge required to pilot it correctly. This deck is a delicate balancing act between playing your minions, saving resources for the combo, and knowing when to pull the trigger. I spent a ton of time watching pros play Patron to learn the fundamentals. I made the best spreadsheet ever of damage from hand for all combinations of Frothings, Patrons, Whirlwinds, and Inner Rage. Despite all this I constantly misplayed, miscounted lethal, and utterly threw away won games. The first time I was at rank one, five stars I executed my combo wrong, wasted 1 point of damage and lost the game with my opponent at 1 health. After 250 games of Patron I’m still not 100% confidant of the best cards to mulligan for in all match ups.

It’s very depressing that Blizzard is removing such an intricate, complex deck from the game. It’s one of the first decks that truly felt heavily skill based and not just an RNG fest. There are so many other ways to lower the power level of the deck while keeping the core game play the same. Unfortunately, they took the lazy approach and just killed it in the name of “future design space”. It’s really too bad.


Need to stroke my e-peen.


My Learnings

  1. Dr. Boom is imbalanced. Whether you slam him on turn 7, innervate him on turn 5, or coin-innervate-innervate him on turn 2, he is always the correct play.
  2. Sludge Belcher is not that good anymore. A turn 4 Goblin Blastmage makes a turn 5 Sludge Belcher feel like shit. Since he wasn’t helping me in the aggro matchup and he’s pretty terrible in the control matchup, I just swapped him out for Azure Drakes.
  3. BGH is now mandatory in every deck because of #1.
  4. I won ~9 straight games from rank two to Legend. I now know how Firebat felt like in the World Championship finals. Wild Growth + Innervate in every opening hand is pretty good.