The Inspire mechanic may be the real star of Hearthstone‘s next expansion, The Grand Tournament, but Joust is an interesting addition as well. Unlike Inspire, Joust doesn’t get its own keyword. Instead, it’s (usually) a Battlecry effect that causes each player to reveal a random minion from their decks and compare mana costs. If the active player’s minion has a higher cost, the effect triggers. We’ve only seen six Joust cards so far, and all of them have benefits for winning the Joust.
Like Inspire, Joust appears to be designed to encourage alternate play styles. Where Inspire encourages use of the hero power, Joust was likely introduced to encourage the use of larger minions and a slower game in a meta largely defined by aggression and one-turn-kill combos with relatively low-cost minions. If your deck is full of big minions, chances are you win the Joust, and therefore get the benefit.
But are the Joust effect enough to reasonably encourage large minion decks? Let’s take a look.
The Joust Cards
We start with one of the more straightforward examples. A neutral six cost minion that gives you a 5/6 body, which is pretty terrible on its own. It’s a full 1/1 less than Boulderfist Ogre at the same cost. However, if you win the Joust, it gains Taunt and Divine Shield, which more than makes up for the stat loss. After all, this is 1/1 better than Sunwalker, which is otherwise the same.
Master Jouster demonstrates the general design of these Joust cards: if you lose, you end up with something a bit worse than other cards at the same cost, but if you win, you get something a little better. Master Jouster will likely be experimented with, but my early guess will be that gaining a slightly better Sunwalker isn’t going to be worth the potential variance in winning the Joust, and Sunwalker doesn’t see constructed play to begin with.
As we’re going to see, Master Jouster is also a good exemplar of the mechanic because it shows the problem with the design of many Joust cards. Having a small downside for losing a Joust and a small upside for winning is not enough to make the cards worthwhile. The upside needs to be much bigger. In my view, this card should get +1/+1 in addition to Taunt and Divine Shield for winning. Only then does it make it worth the inherent risk of Joust and the cost of playing a deck with larger minions. It’s fine if its base stats are also reduced, say to 5/5. Really, it could be 1/1. It doesn’t matter. These cards need to be powerful includes when you are reasonably certain to win the Joust. Including only a small upside over guaranteed effects of other cards (say Sunwalker in this case] can’t be sufficient.
A very straightforward card, and in my view, a very mediocre one. Gadgetzan Jouster is a one-drop that can be a 2/3 if you win the Joust. In other words, a Zombie Chow without the potentially detrimental Deathrattle. It’s clear that it’s designed to give decks with mostly large creatures a way of getting something on board early to challenge aggression. However, while it’s certainly not a bad card, any deck that needs a one-drop 2/3 might as well run Zombie Chow, as it’s unlikely the Deathrattle heal for the opponent will be meaningful, since the deck’s strategy will almost certainly be to win in the late game. And since Gadgetzan Jouster has at least a small chance of being a mere 1/2 (especially if you’re running two of them), it’s likely not going to make its way into large creature decks over the guaranteed value of Zombie Chow.
Another neutral minion, but one that offers a bit more power for winning. At a mana cost of four, this is a 5/3, which has overall fairly poor stats, and most certainly trades down against many two-drop minions. However, winning the Joust, this suddenly becomes a charge minion, with a front end of 5 damage. This is certainly fairly good, being best compared with Reckless Rocketeer, which both costs two more mana and has one less health. That said, Reckless Rocketeer is widely seen as a pretty terrible card, so it may not be a perfect comparison. One could also compare it to the Warrior card Kor'kron Elite, and find that even when compared with a class-specific card, Armored Warhorse is strictly better if it wins the Joust.
Obviously, this can be a fairly powerful card, but again, it relies on winning a Joust. As a four-mana card itself, there’s a chance if you’re playing this that you aren’t going to win. I therefore doubt this card will see much play in big minion decks, both because of the inherent risk and because it’s unlikely to fit into a big-minion game plan. Why do you need to charge for 5 damage in a big-minion deck? Any deck that needs a charging body as a finisher is likely better served by the guaranteed effect of Arcane Golem anyways. If not used as a finisher, this card may trade up against some five-cost or six-cost minions, but its lack of reliability makes it a hard include.
It stands to reason that Paladin would be the jousting class, and indeed, the only class cards revealed so far with Joust belong to Paladin. Tuskarr Jouster is the first of these, and the first one that may seriously warrant play. Five mana for a 5/5 isn’t terrible to begin with, so its not much of a loss to drop this without getting its Joust effect. But if you get the effect, you nearly get the Battlecry of an Antique Healbot on top, which is very powerful. After all Antique Healbot comes in at the same cost, but with 2/2 less stats, a very big difference.
Because of this, we may see Tuskarr Jousters replacing all other healing options seen in Paladin decks. Who needs a seven-cost Guardian of Kings when you have this? Who needs to sacrifice tempo for healing with Antique Healbot? This, in a control Paladin deck, can both put pressure on the board and heal in one turn, making it much harder for aggro to take control Paladins down before they can stabilize. For that reason, this is a fairly good use of Joust: one that provides a sufficiently large upside to warrant taking the risk of losing, and to encourage running higher cost minions in a deck.
Argent Lance is a fairly middling addition to Paladin, especially in decks that run higher curves. Being able to get out a 2/2 weapon is fine in its own right, being able to kill off most one and two drop creatures from the opponent in the first couple turns while getting ready to drop one’s larger minions. The Joust effect is almost secondary here; getting one extra durability is nice, but it’s value increases only slightly. The fact that it does only two damage means you can’t use it to remove pesky Acolyte of Pains, nor 2/3s in the way that Warrior’s Fiery War Axe can, meaning that one extra durability might not matter by the time you get to use it.
I would argue that it’s still worse than Fiery War Axe even if the Joust goes off. But Fiery War Axe is one of the best cards in Warrior’s arsenal, so it’s a hard comparison to make. Argent Lance will see play, irrespective of the Joust effect, simply because control Paladin needs early game removal, and currently doesn’t have any.
The Skeleton Knight
The first Jousting legendary, and an exception to the rule. Here, the Joust isn’t a Battlecry, but rather a Deathrattle. The Skeleton Knight’s Joust triggers when it dies, and if it wins, it goes back to your hand. This is one card that, like Malorne, might just keep coming back. Unlike Malorne, however, it goes back to your hand, allowing you to just play it again. Of course, it’s inherent value isn’t great, being worse than Salty Dog if you lose the joust. And Salty Dog is already considered a bad card.
In fact, it’s inherent value is so bad that even winning the Joust over and over again likely doesn’t make this card worthwhile. Who cares if you’re playing a six-cost Salty Dog every turn? It’s only meaningful if you’re not drawing better things to play, which you should be if you’re playing a deck with high enough cost minions to warrant banking on winning Jousts. A legendary card like this should say that if you win the Joust, it returns to the battlefield. Only then might it be worthwhile. Right now, I’m hard pressed to think of any reason you’d want to run a card that trades with so many four-drops, and some three-drops, and is very vulnerable to weapons and other removal options. Again, the card design of Joust here is disappointing, especially since this might not see play even if the Joust aspect was removed, and it just had a Deathrattle that caused it to return to your hand.
To Joust or Not to Joust?
With the singular exception of Tuskarr Jouster, the Joust mechanic is very poorly implemented so far. The design team needs to understand that Joust effects need to be very powerful given the inherent variance in the mechanic and the fact that it’s trying to encourage a slower, heavier-minion play style. I hope we see some game-changing Joust options in the future, but right now, it’s hard to argue that any of them are worthwhile. Joust should be strong enough that opponents running aggressive decks with small minions are actually worried that they lose. Either more powerful Joust effects need to be introduced, or Joust needs to do something itself. An interesting effect of Joust might be that the revealed minion that loses the Joust gets removed from the game.
We need Joust cards that give you a mana crystal, or kill an enemy minion, or even wipe the board. Those will make Joust worthwhile, while still not being overpowered, since there are so many inherent drawbacks to trying to run a large-minion, Joust-focused deck. Otherwise, these cards will simply be relegated to the dustiest corners of your collection.
I hope to see more Joust options in the future, but for now, I won’t be planning a Joust deck.
My thoughts are also in video form, below: