DMF Cannes is in the books, and I’d like to give a big shout-out to Stuart Wright, winner and all-around cool dude. My defining memory of Stu Wright as a Limited player was Worlds 2007, when a poor Day 2 showing upended a run at the Top 8, followed up by him accidentally rolling all of his dice on the floor trying to complete Mission: The Abyssal Shelf during the Bounty Tournament. So, on a personal level, I was very happy to see Stu take home the title.
On a professional level, I was happy with the outcome as well. Stu has a long history of success in competitive TCG play, and it’s good to see the cream rise to the top at our big events. The last couple of major tournaments have had familiar names take home the trophy; Dan Clark, Hans Hoeh, and Brad Watson claimed the three previous titles. DMF Cannes re-affirms that the WoW TCG is very challenging and skill-testing, in spite of having random elements.
Despite these results, parts of the community feel the game has become (or always has been) too luck-dependent, too die-roll oriented, or too variance-heavy in general. As is usually the case, it’s a mixture of truth (when you’re drawing off a random deck, random things will happen) and misrepresentation/rationalization (it’s easier to blame the random elements than your shortcomings when you aren’t posting the results you want, and one just has to look at the tournament results to see this stuff is a very small factor in performance). Harmonize is the most recent victim of criticism from this segment of the community, for the following reasons:
- The common Harmonize allies are very powerful, and can facilitate draws that are difficult to beat.
- Harmonize, as a keyword, is high variance.
- Harmonize favors the person going first, who is already favored.
As is usually the case, there is some amount of truth to these statements, but the implications are inaccurate. WoW TCG Limited has suffered dramatically in the past from having “themes” but not having any of the themes actually matter in Limited. Scyrer and Aldor had keywords but it’s not like anyone was building Sabotage or Inspire decks in Limited. Some of the racial keywords in Drums block had limited utility, but again, it’s not like it led to people actually building decks around them, and some of them did very close to nothing. Scourgewar block had Assault and Mend (again, utility, but not really draft-arounds), and Shadow Damage (which manifested itself with a hilarious/depressing number of Shadow Resistance allies). Only starting with Worldbreaker block could it reasonably be argued that the themes of the block led to people drafting around them, rather than just with them incidentally.
Because of this, in previous blocks, the best commons were often just the random allies with the best numbers—maybe the one 7 drop a faction had, or some 4 cost Protector with good stats. Besides not being an especially fun or dynamic experience, this does nothing to highlight the new mechanics of a set. Sealed or Draft is often the first place where players are exposed to what the new set has to offer, and many players get inspiration for constructed decks by seeing the way cards interact in Limited. Therefore, it’s important to have the new stuff actually matter and be powerful. If you think that, , and are among the better cards at common in Throne Limited, I assure you this wasn’t a mistake.
It is true that some of the draws Harmonize can facilitate can lead to an overwhelming advantage. The same thing is true of Murlocs, a powerful striking weapon, or just a good curve of unconnected allies and a removal spell along the way. I think the draws Harmonize can enable are more dramatic, which can lend itself a feeling of power, but Harmonize isn’t necessarily facilitating draws that are better or more consistent than other stuff you can be doing.
Harmonize is also a high variance keyword. I like that a lot, actually. Some games you curve out really well and overwhelm your opponent, some games you draw a bunch of Harmonize allies and nothing to do with them, sometimes you get a hand of all expensive allies and get run over, and (most games) some mixture of those things is happening. It leads to the games being different and adds a lot of replayability. A huge part of the fun of games is getting a different experience each time, and Harmonize does a lot to enable that.
One of the most significant variance reducers in WoW TCG is the resource system. The absolute worst a card can be is a face-down resource, which gives a pretty significant incentive to play with high-variance cards. If a card is sweet, play it, if not, row it. I believe this phenomenon causes people to overrate certain high variance cards, and the Harmonize allies potentially fall into this camp. Your opponent is only playing it when the circumstances are there for it to be powerful—they feel confident they’ll get to ready, and they have a curve of expensive allies to take advantage of the Harmonize text. What you aren’t seeing are the games where the card is bad, because your opponent isn’t putting it into play, they’re burying it face-down into their resource row. It is easy to draw the conclusion that “When my opponent plays a Harmonize ally it’s going to be really powerful.” Well, yeah, of course that’s true, because if it wasn’t going to, your opponent would be doing something else with their resources. I believe that a lot of players who are currently annoyed by Harmonize allies would feel differently if their opponent had to reveal them when they were getting rowed, but obviously that’s not the world we live in.
As far as Harmonize being a “going first” mechanic, that’s not even true. You can playgoing second, and assuming your opponent doesn’t kill it on their third turn (not the easiest thing in the world to do), you’ll get to play a four drop on turn 3. Yes, the same thing is true of going first, but that puts Harmonize into a category much more similar to Ferocity (good going first and going second but in different ways) than into a “dramatically better going first” camp like Sabotage.
Beyond that, so many things in WoW are “going first” that it’s impossible to list them all. Evenis more powerful going first than going second; it gets to attack more often and is more likely to trade instead of getting eaten. It’s easier to complete when you have some breathing room, which you are more likely to have going first. Should we not make these cards? Obviously, we need to make our share of back-heavy protectors and abilities that allow people to break serve (and we do), but to damn a mechanic because it has the potential to be better going first would leave us with precious little design space. Furthermore, I’m glad that we have some random elements players can point to as a reason they lost, accurately or otherwise. Yes, some amount of the time the random elements (including who went first) have a meaningful impact on the outcomes of a game, but our tournament results show that this is such a small factor in determining results over time that it’s almost crazy to me to regularly have these conversations.
So, big congrats are in order for Stuart Wright. He’s come a long way from the player I verbally accosted on the streets of San Diego for his poor draft performance. If, for whatever reason, you are ever in doubt about the “luck or skill?” breakdown for the WoW TCG, hopefully his performance and the performance of his peers can do something to alleviate your concerns. Until next time.