Thoughts on "Specialist" format.
The New Format
Blizzard has just announced a whole new competitive format, which will be played throughout “Hearthstone Masters” series of tournaments (it seems that it will replace HCT – Hearthstone Championship Tour). The format is called “Specialist”. The format will be the main competitive format going forward.
How It Works
Players will pick three decks from the same class. They will assign one deck as “Primary”, while the other two will be “Secondary” and “Tertiary”. The Primary deck will have no restrictions, however, the other two will have to share 25 cards with the Primary. It means that they can only have up to 5 different cards in the non-primary decks. Matches are also best-of-three and every series starts with both players primary deck.
I believe this format will result in inconsistent results from top players, with extreme dependence on matchups, and that 5 cards on a sideboard are not enough to make lineup-prep feel useful.
The reasoning for this is because the amount of control of the player is reduced in this format. Previously, players would bring 120 cards each (4 decks) with the ability to tailor their strategy around a ban which gives the player increased options. However, in the Specialist format, a player only brings a total of 30-40 cards (30 in the main deck, 10 between the other two). I believe it takes less skill to build a 30-40 card lineup than it does to build a 120 card lineup that is tailored around a ban. I also believe it is more difficult to pilot 4 unique decks than it is to learn 1.3 decks. Many personalities disagree with me and claim that the Specialist format is a proven system because it is simply sideboarding.
Sideboarding is not a new concept and is used in other cards games to raise the skill ceiling and allow unique strategies, but this implementation of it will not. In Magic the Gathering the sideboard gives the player the ability to swap any card in his deck for one of any of their 15. So in Magic, this would allow for you to swap in 1-to-15 cards depending on the situation, and you do not need to swap them all in so you have many, many more options to choose from. A player could swap in any 1 card (15 options) or any 2 cards (105 options) or any 3 cards (455 options) or so on up to 15. This leaves the player with 32,767 combinations to choose from for the match. In Hearthstone, there are 3 different options of the sideboard. You cannot bring 3 options that will allow you to feel like you have a legitimate chance to win against every opponent.
The size of the sideboard in Hearthstone’s Specialist format is very small. It is not a 10 card sideboard. It is two separate 5 card sideboards, therefore the original deck cannot be changed very much. About 16% of the deck will be changed. On the surface, this is comparable to Magic’s sideboard, because Magic uses a 60 card deck and Hearthstone uses a 30 card deck. Magic changes 15 cards of 60 it is 25% different which is comparable to Hearthstones 16%. However, in Magic, there are 20-25 cards which are simply designated to the mana system for the game because you do not get a mana crystal every turn like in Hearthstone. So the real size of the deck is closer to 35-40 cards allowing the sideboard to change the deck to closer to 40%. Changing 16% of cards is not enough and it is not comparable to the amount of change experienced in other card games that sideboard. While only changing such a small portion of the deck it will be difficult to counter unfavorable matchups or even class pairings. And this becomes increasingly more evident when you realize that in most Hearthstone games only around half the deck is drawn.
The new “Specialist” format is a lower skill format than previous Hearthstone tournament formats because it gives the competitor fewer options, adds increased matchup dependance, and is less rewarding to lineup prep. And will be boring to watch as players have only an option to change 16%, they may just keep 100% the same cards, and if they happen to change we will only see half the 5 changed cards.
Increasing the size of the sideboard so that there is more of a chance to combat bad matchups and at least give a little more diversity to the games. More importantly, an in-client system for sideboarding so players have more options and are not simply locked into 3 pre-selected options for an entire tournament. Tournaments should be best-of-five at least I am baffled that they announced this system will be best-of-three. People seem interested in a sideboard format why give them this watered down version instead of introducing it properly into the game?