I don’t know anything about Mercenaries and neither do you– let’s get to work! By the end of this article, we will have become wiser together.
There's a beloved quality about card games, RPGs, Rogue-likes: the hidden, lurking, "Possibility of Greatness." The promise that, buried deep beneath titanic piles of dirt and detail, glittering jewels of discovery glow; gems that coat the inside of the most ordinary-looking rocks, geode-like. What could be in store for us in Hearthstone Mercenaries? If only we had knowledge and wisdom to draw from.
Too bad we're just a bunch of babies rolling in the dirt and drooling on rocks right now.
I don't know anything about Hearthstone Mercenaries. Okay, I know a little bit-- only about as much as you do! Let's face it, we're basically babies at this point. Oblivious but curious. But by the end of this article we will both have become Smarter Babies together. From one baby to another-- we've got this. Spit out your rocks and share in my excitement for some extremely early Hearthstone Mercenaries theorycrafting!
*Remember: all of these numbers aren't necessarily guaranteed and are subject to change!*
Where the heck should we start?
*deep breath in*
- How long is the average Combat Phase going to last?
- Will we get one and a half rotations on average before our party is dead, or ten and a half?
- How often is a “broken opener” going to be important?
- Is the first salvo only 10% of the fight or 50%? 100%?
- Are comps going to be built with the idea that you actually throw away your first two Mercenaries for Deathrattles, soaking Burst openers, and gambits?
- Are we truly thinking there are going to be "sideboard cards" for PvP matches?
There is literally too much to ask, think about, and predict right now for Hearthstone Mercenaries. But the coolest part is that it looks like there is so much opportunity to ask these questions every single day.
I went through the list of currently-revealed Mercenaries and currently-known abilities (open and bookmark this Google Sheet, by the way) and did some preliminary Hearthstone Mercenaries theorycraft scouting. Here are three Fighters, Protectors, and Casters that I think have some opportunity to see competitive play and why.
Theorycrafting: Three Possibly Broken Fighters
Tyrande: "Elune's Grace" -- Your party's next Arcane ability casts twice and is permanently (X) Speed faster.
- Doubling is always filled with broken potential-- Arcane spells also classically start doing more and more when you stack them.
- Tyrande gets to become a "copy" of your best Arcane Caster for a good chunk of combat. In this way Tyrande becomes a Merc that purely scales based on how sick the Best Possible Arcane guy is, so keeping an eye out for synergies like this will be important.
Valeera: "Fan of Knives" -- Deal X damage to all enemies. Your other Mercs are (Y) Speed faster next turn.
- Your whole team getting juiced up is crazy. Mercenaries theorycrafting seems hugely dependent on having playable Speeds on your abilities and I can't imagine that PvP isn't focused around weaving in your 4s after you Soul Read that they're going for 5s so you get to kill first.
- Valeera saying "your next turn is going to be Sick" is the definition of what certain Combo comps will rely on. Though it only buffs two Mercenaries, this ability seems incredibly valuable when you get to theorycraft who else she goes with.
Diablo: "Apocalypse" -- Deal X damage to an enemy. It takes Critical Damage from all Roles this turn.
- This ability screams "the next Mercenary you want to be dead is now dead." Maybe Crits aren't just automatically GG in the later levels, but giving your team a double-damage Bloodlust-style effect is not to be ignored.
- This also critically means that you can use Diablo to do things like hard-spec your comp to be good against one type (Fighter/Caster/Protector). Your matchup against them is now great while Diablo lets you still have a plan against comps that have none of that type at all!
Three Possibly Broken Protectors:
Lich King: "Frost Shield" -- Gain Taunt this turn. After an enemy Attacks this Merc, Freeze them until the end of the next turn.
- Freezing Mercenaries for an entire turn sounds insane to me. The notion of a unit just completely losing their entire next action, as long as that's what Frozen is, seems debilitating.
- This will only work on Attacks and not Spells, which narrows what this is good against, but it seems like a really cool counter that always gives your opponent a headache.
- Later on in this article, imagine if someone was Frozen and how tilting that would be.
Cairne: "Endurance Aura" -- Gain Taunt this turn. Your party is (X) Speed faster this turn.
- Aha! Another Valeera-style effect of juicing everyone's Speed up for a turn. (Is there a Turbo Speed comp with Cairne + Valeera + some goofy 9 Speed 3 Cooldown "Everything Dies" somewhere?)
- But Cairne also has another ability, "War Stomp"-- Deal X Damage to all enemies. They are (Y) Speed slower next turn. Cairne is secretly a sweet switch-up Merc! Having to play around "are they going to go faster or am I going to go slower?" sounds like the foundation of a 6Head PvP playground.
Cornelius Roame: "Blessing of Sacrifice" -- Restore X Health to another friendly Merc. Whenever it takes damage this turn, this Merc takes it instead.
- Selective immunity, like Bubbles in WoW, are always loaded with the possibility of being broken. Divine Shields in Hearthstone are so different because they simply pop with a single ping of damage-- incredibly easy to do. Hard Shields like "Blessing of Sacrifice" last entire turns and are far closer to Ice Blocks. That card never caused any issues, right?
Three Possibly Broken Casters:
Millhouse Manastorm: "Arcane Bolt" -- Deal X damage. Gain +Y Arcane Damage.
- Millhouse is here because he shows us a number of interesting details-- that there are precedents for stacking damage, Spell Types that already start to combo with Tyrande, and an option for what could cleanly be the "Single Highest Solo Target DPS" ability.
- "Deal X and Also More" is weirdly all you need to try to count to the highest number the fastest, especially when Doubling is in Arcane's field of study. Since Millhouse is one of the free Mercs, he might actually be worth spending some points on.
Bru’Kan: "Muddy Footing" -- Deal X damage to a character. Its next ability its (Y) Speed slower.
- A Caster with a targeted Slow is neat, giving some insight towards these weird Triple Slow comps that could come to light. Maybe you can just grind people out by messing up their Combo Speed timings and healing while they durdle.
- Will there be a Caster with a Silence? Is Bru'Kan that Mercenary at a fully-leveled "Muddy Footing"? Time will tell!
Tamsin Roame: "Veil of Shadows" -- Gain +X Shadow Damage. Enemies can't heal this turn.
- "No Healing" is a borderline Must-Buy in a lot of competitive settings. When the potential for super healing is in a game there's always a Best Healing Spell that ruins people if they can't counter it.
- This is the one Merc that makes me think that competitive competitive with "sideboard cards" like in Magic could be a reality. With "main" lineups of three or four Mercs and then two or three "tech Mercs" to beat niche things, the game just got even crazier.
Hearthstone Mercenaries: A Now-Smarter Baby's First Comp
This is the list of "beginning" Mercenaries that are given for free at the end of the Hearthstone Mercenaries tutorial:
- Cariel Roame
- Cornelius Roame
- Grommash Hellscream
- Millhouse Manastorm
- Blademaster Samuro
- Tyrande Whisperwind
Which of these makes the best 3-piece lineup? Well, of the ones we included in our "Maybe Broken" list we'd have Cornelius, Millhouse, Tyrande, and Samuro.
Cornelius + Millhouse + Tyrande is the first "face up" combo I see-- double Arcane synergies for DPS, and a tank that prepares to block enemy power turns as well as heal. Are their speeds okay and bullets reasonable?
"Elune's Grace", the combos-with-Millhouse spell, is a 6/1 ability. (Can we start a new naming convention? Why not. "6" Speed, Cooldown of "1" turn.) This means her "good" ability starts on Turn 2 and is medium slow. She'll have to start with "Arcane Shot" to help get one target low before our combo.
In a perfect world we'd rip a Powerful Arcane Spell the action immediately after "Elune's Grace." Can Millhouse efficiently come after her on turn 2?"
"Greater Arcane Missiles" is what you'd want to Double and Speed Up-- but it's a 9/2. You'd have to get to Turn 3 to get this one off-- that means a lot of gap-filling until then. And on top of that we'd miss out on Tyrande permanently speeding the spell up for another shot, unless the fight goes another three turns. With such low health totals on our Mercs at first, that seems hard to imagine.
This probably means we're priced into using "Arcane Bolt" to get copied instead, which still probably kills almost anything. Turn 1 Bolt hits for 4, then the Turn 2 double-Bolt hits for 5 and 6. That feels like pretty high DPS! I don't think I've seen a Mercenary do anything like 7 damage on one fast / no Cooldown ability yet, or even anything close.
(Speaking of DPS: I imagine you'll start to be able to figure out and rank every Merc based on things like DPS and Heals-per-Second soon. This game seems really viable to build simulators for! And with such small and interactive numbers on most things we've seen I wouldn't be surprised if calculating individual Merc DPS is not only possible, but critical to the competitive scene.)
Okay, we've got a plan.
But can Cornelius get us through these turns alive?
We've got some slow abilities here, and our hands are almost tied-- "Hold the Front" is our fastest, but it's on a Cooldown at 4/1. That means his opener is always slow: "Martial Mastery" is an 8/0, but we don't mind. This ability essentially says "Heal for 15% of my health and deal 6 damage" (attack + double damage to Fighters). That seems fine. I wouldn't be surprised if there's a cool breakpoint with this comp where against low level Fighters you always kill with Cornelius punch + Millhouse Bolt + Tyrande Shot.
His second turn is really cool because he seems to have two viable options that counter different things:
- "Hold the Front" (4/1) Taunts for two turns and heals for 8, which also feels like a lot. If we hope to end the game on Turn 3 against Attacking (not Spellcasting) units you can Hold, heal whatever Turn 1 damage was taken, and make sure Millhouse and Tyrande survive until their Turn 2 rotation.
- If you expect Millhouse to die on the slower abilities of Turn 2 even through a heal, "Blessing of Sacrifice" comes in at 6/1. The thing is: Millhouse and Tyrande both combo off at 6 Speed on Turn 2. Blessing of Sacrifice would only (seemingly) save Millhouse from abilities slower than his combo. Do we care if Millhouse dies after he gets to do 15 damage in two turns? Probably not.
Baby's First Turn Sequence In The Dark
Alright! We've got our comp, we've figured out our buttons-- finally, what does our game look like?
- Millhouse's (6/0) "Arcane Bolt" on their squishy target-- this also pumps his AoE for next turn by +1 which gets spread 3x, so it leaves us with a good option for Turn 2 if we want it.
- Tyrande's (7/0) "Arcane Shot" to finish burning one target-- we don't need AoE just yet, we need as few scary guys alive as possible to get to our combo turn.
- Cornelius's (8/0) "Martial Mastery" is his only option and wants to beat up on Fighters. This could give us a good focus target, looking back-- Fighters will burn Millhouse fastest, and keeping him alive is a priority.
[At the end of the Turn 1 we've now dealt 6 Damage to Fighters, Bolted for 4, and Shot for 4. This could take out almost any Fighter in one rotation, it seems! Is the meta going to revolve around one-shotting things? Once we get higher levels, health and gear, probably not.]
- Cornelius's (4/1) "Hold the Front" to full heal Tyrande and Millhouse, letting them survive any 5 Speed abilities. (What are the odds that Millhouse just always dies at the end of Turn 1? Who knows!)
- Tyrande's (6/1) "Elune's Grace" to double our next Millhouse Bolt. (How do matched-Speed abilities go on the stack? Will there be internal tiebreakers or is it random, selected?)
- Millhouse's (6/0) "Arcane Bolt" to blast for 5 and 6.
[If everything goes as planned, Turn 2 adds up to 11 damage.]
One might notice that this is lower DPS than our "basic" rotation in Turn 1-- but when we start taking into consideration things like Mercenaries dying before their second ability or, again, any different numbers for Health, this still might be optimal.
Also note that, if things work the way they seem, this turn is strictly faster and more DPS than "Arcane Bolt" into "Arcane Shot" on 7. You're always going to double the 5 damage spell instead of waiting to use a 4 damage one.
In particular the thing that this sequence seems to do well against is specifically 4 and 5 Speed attacks that would kill Millhouse or Tyrande before they fire on 6. Especially if we tried to burn down the only enemy Fighter on Turn 1, Cornelius healing could let Millhouse live at 1 to enable an 11 damage burst instead of Corny Boy just hitting for 3.
This is likely the end of combat, having seen 25 damage spread across your enemies and left with both sides in shambles. Supposedly dead Mercenaries will get filled in with ones from your bench, but we can only go so deep in one article.
And with that:
*deep breath out*
I wish the announcement video wasn't so weirdly received by The People because I think everyone is going to be wildly surprised by how sick this mode is. If you can't tell, I'm ready to go.
I hope you'll feed off of my excitement and join me in crossing my fingers that Hearthstone Mercenaries theorycrafting is even half as funky and complex as it looks. If it is, this one could be a game changer.
Good luck, and let's have some fun!