Now that we’ve had the chance to see two different Tavern Brawls (Nefarion vs. Ragnaros, and Mukkla’s Banana Festival, or whatever they’re called), it’s time to reflect on what we’ve seen so far from the new mode. In case you haven’t tried it yet, Tavern Brawl is a mode that pits two players against each other with modified rules, custom decks, or even unique heroes (such as playing as Nefarian).
I’ve enjoyed the Tavern Brawl so far, but I don’t feel any desire to play it more than once or twice at a time. It’s a nice distraction to engage in, such as when you want to calm down after losing on ladder to RNG, or when you just feel like playing Hearthstone without the stress of a normal constructed mode. It’s not balanced, and its not really intended to be. In the first week’s brawl, it was clear Nefarian was simply better than Ragnaros, as I did not play a match in which Ragnaros claimed victory, regardless of who was playing him. But there are no rewards here, no bragging rights. You don’t get a card back for winning. No one cares. And that’s its function: it’s a true casual mode.
It’s hard to argue that it doesn’t help Hearthstone, at least in some way.More options are always nice, and for casual players, this is a great way to get your Hearthstone fix without any stress. Ladder is obviously anxiety inducing, filled with rewards and prestige for wins, and penalties for losses. While Play Mode’s “casual” option advertises a lack of stress, the truth is, it’s often simply a testing ground for high-level players’ deck ideas. For those with limited experience, or a small card collection, losing time after time to someone testing whether or not to run Grommash Hellscream in a Grim Patron Warrior deck isn’t fun.
Tavern Brawl eliminates even that latter possibility. A Banana Brawl is hardly the place to test if you should run Loatheb or Sylvanas Windrunner (or both) in your combo Druid. Instead, you need to build a deck that suits the particular rule-set. So it’s a fairly even playing field, though even the current Banana mode rewards players with full card collections. Because of this, I would rather see more of the Nefarian vs Ragnaros type, with custom Blizzard-created decks, than Brawls that ask you to build your own. This is so that the mode is both easier to get into – just click and play – but also balanced between seasoned pros and new players with few cards. Right now, a veteran will likely still blow even an excellent new player out of the water if their card collection is involved. Of course, I’d also like to see more balance between the heroes than was showcased with Nefarian vs Ragnaros, but that’s another issue entirely. Even having a mode where both players get decks full of Unstable Portal or Webspinner would be OK.
So Tavern Brawl is a nice little addition to the game. Unfortunately, however, it doesn’t add much for experienced players, and it certainly isn’t one of the modes most commonly being asked for. These commonly requested modes, like a tournament mode (utterly necessary for the long term health of the game online), limited drafts (which would differ from arena in that decks can be constructed knowing all of your drafted cards), or 2v2 (which would add a ton of depth), would be far greater shake-ups and allow for more play-styles and replayability. Even a Blitz mode, where turns are capped at fifteen seconds, would be a great addition for high-level players that hate the length of games. It would also be easy to implement.
While it’s likely that some of these modes are in the works or are planned (the Hearthstone team is hiring, after all), it’s disappointing to be teased with a new mode only to have one that does very little to increase gameplay variability. One of the great things about Magic: The Gathering, is that its format is so flexible, with formats including various constructed formats, commander, draft, sealed, individual group games, to two-headed giant, emperor, and many more. Some players simply never touch the core constructed formats and yet play frequently, including in tournaments. If Hearthstone has aspirations to match Magic’s longevity, it’s going to need to do more than throw some bananas onto the battlefield.
As for me, I might play a few more Mukkla games, but then its back to ladder.