Prompted by a recent discussion, I want to discuss the overload mechanic in all its glory. Given we're 7 years into the game, and shaman is the current target of 'the class is weak' memes, it's high time I actually understood the mechanic beyond silent intuition.
Most discussion I've seen on the topic has tried to argue that the mechanic is weak, but I'm going to quickly shut down that idea. No mechanic is weak or strong, they are simply over- or under-valued on a card by card basis. Take inspire for example: if you were to only look at TGT, then you'd probably call it weak. However, if you look at Phase Stalker and Dragonbane (which have the inspire mechanic if not the keyword), then you'd call it strong.
You can look at all mechanics in the same way, and usually find both strong and weak examples, determined entirely by how much mana the devs attributed to the effect on each card. Such a viewpoint is especially convenient for overload, since it is entirely a matter of mana cost.
So having cast aside the notions of strong and weak mechanics, my interest is on assessing its pros and cons to determine whether overload is interesting enough to deserve a permanent spot in shaman's toolkit. I won't try to quantify how much overload is right for a given effect, simply because that would take too long. Maybe that can come later though.
I find the most useful way to view overload is as spending next turn's mana now. There are several benefits to doing this:
These benefits are all quite general, and make overload fill an impressively diverse range of roles. It can be used to the benefit of aggro, control and combo.
A weird sort of pro is that overload has a subtle synergy with itself, since you don't need the full number of mana crystals to have a good turn if you use an overload card. So chaining overload cards can stop you from really suffering from the cost of overload as you effectively kick the problem to later and later turns. Now I think about it, this is probably why overload has mostly worked in full overload synergy decks with lots of them in the deck.
I don't really count 'having less mana next turn' as a con in its own right, because the basis of the mechanic is that you shouldn't need all the mana if you can leverage the mana savings of the previous turn. As a result, I prefer to address what happens when you aren't able to capitalise on the pros above.
1. It is an absolute truth that the opponent will have a harder time dealing with minions played ahead of the curve: the opponent will have drawn fewer cards and therefore have fewer options; the opponent will have had less mana with which to build a board to combat yours; and the opponent has less mana to spend on removal. However, the last of those reasons is not as big a deal as it first seems because removal is usually cheaper than the minions it is designed to remove, meaning it is often available on the same turn overloaded minions come down.
The consequences of this are serious in an aggro/tempo shaman vs control match-up where you need minions to stick, and where a low tempo turn due to overloaded mana crystals can give the opponent enough of a respite to stabilise with. However, it is worth noting that this downside is much less severe when the opponent is using minions - rather than spells - to contest the board because value trading with the overloaded minion can be so efficient.
2. While overload lets you respond more quickly with removal, it reduces your ability to respond on consecutive turns. You are often torn between removal now OR removal next turn where another class might be able to do both. This is especially common because it is rare to need overloaded removal on curve, so it often gets in the way of a swing turn that is needed to in order to actually win.
It is not all doom and gloom though. As per pro 4, overloaded removal being cheap can also facilitate swing turns that most other classes couldn't put together. It ends up a matter of timing: overload can be either friend or foe depending on whether you can afford to wait a turn.
3 & 4. Heavily overloaded finisher and swing turns are great when they work, but you don't always have that luxury. Using these cards early and incurring the overload cost can cripple you much more than doing the equivalent thing in another class.
Personally I like this aspect. It lets the devs use overload as a way to make a finisher card without constraining it to only hit heroes, thereby allowing players to demonstrate skill by knowing when they have to use it inefficiently for something else.
Having looked at the keyword in some detail, I actually like it even more than I used to. For such a simple mechanic there is a lot of nuance that makes decision making in shaman unique, and does so for all of aggro, control and combo in different ways. That is a distinct advantage over some other mechanics that balance pros and cons, like outcast and discard, which have a much stronger preference for certain archetypes.
Overload is certainly not without its weaknesses, and where they exist they are more severe than other class keywords like combo or choose one, which probably accounts for why it is the target of more claims that it is weak. Part of this is that the effectiveness of overload depends on what the opponent does. This is especially obvious for overstatted minions: when they are dealt with efficiently it can easily feel like you didn't get any benefit for the overload you still have to pay.
However, HS players are salty creatures that more readily remember the bad than the good, and I suspect that is wrongly tilting the balance of opinion against overload. This is perhaps not helped by the way it is presented on the card is as a negative. What you see is how much less mana you have next turn, not how much you save this turn.
Phew, I'll stop there. I'm sure I've missed a bunch of stuff, and would be keen to see how the community feels about overload. It is all too easy to hear the vocal minority and think it represents everyone...
Alright, so now that there's a proper thread opened up for discussion, I'm keen on putting down some thoughts on the overload mechanic. Let's start by addressing the issue which I have unfortunately exaggerated for effect by mistake previously.
I agree with your sentiment that no mechanic is inherently weak (or bad) because like most other things in hearthstone, team5 can push any card or keyword towards any direction as they see fit, and metas are constantly changing so what is accepted then or now can easily be reversed with the release of new cards.
Your list more or less mirrors my own, so I'll just add the one con which is not in it;
- On a design standpoint, overload cards have the unique burden of the need to be inherently good for its cost. You'd ideally want the card to be stronger than the rest, but not so strong that it wins the game outright. That fine balance is then further complicated with the amount of overload to be attached. In effect, its double-layering a process that, let's be honest here, team5 have not always been successful with. For example, Totem Goliath is a strong card but is a 5/5 deathrattle spawn 4 basic totem really worth 5 mana with 2 overload? Evidently not, since its been buffed to only overload for 1 now. Let's assume another buff: that it now only cost 4 mana, and suddenly the card seems too strong even with 2 overload on it.
How do you design an overload card that's supposed to be stronger than other cards of the same mana cost but not broken? The question can also easily be: do we need to design around overload at all? Team5 answers this in the affirmative because they have, from time to time, created cards that synergizes with overload, but that adds yet another unnecessary layer to properly balance all these cards. Hence why, I suspect, that we don't see cards like Lava Shock or Snowfury Giant added into the core set, or why we rarely ever see any new cards of these sort at all.
Also, the poor public opinion on the overload mechanic can partly be attributed to this bizarre 'need' to tack overload onto cards just because. It certainly doesn't help in comparison with cards other classes have. A few common examples would be cards like Neptulon (a joke of a card back then as it still is now, the overload for 3 certainly didn't help), Voltaic Burst (Wound Prey does the same with no drawback), Storm's Wrath (a genuinely good card on its own. Too bad Mark of the Lotus has the same exact words printed on it without the drawback) or Finders Keepers (which is basically the studies card with a reverse drawback). Obviously there are good overload cards that makes sense like Jinyu Waterspeaker and Flamewreathed Faceless who actually give more than they take, but these are in the tiny minority, and I do mean tiny. Like the smallest shrimp in a troupe.
So in conclusion, for me: overload is not inherently bad or weak. But like the inspire mechanic, there's no reason to crack your head just to create more of it. Many of shaman's best cards aren't even overload cards, and at its very best is usually as a finisher anyway when overload is a mere afterthought.
But if we really want to do it, then do it right. Like flamewreathed faceless and jinyu waterspeaker. Not so much like the recent card Mistrunner, for example. You can remove the overload from this card and it'll still be just decent.
I have to agree that overload cards are constrained to a fine line between weak and broken, entirely because cheating things out early always makes them much more powerful even if you have to pay more for them overall (turn 1 Yeti comes to mind). On the flip side, overload does have a built-in limit on how early you can play a card. From a gameplay standpoint I feel that makes it a better alternative to druid's mana ramp, especially the quick stuff like old Innervate*, which too often creates one-sided games where the opponent just never had any chance, and the devs can't really do anything to change that because it isn't localised to individual cards.
* For the sake of separating the two mechanics, let's pretend Lightning Bloom doesn't exist.
I suppose it is also worth mentioning that overload isn't the only thing that requires special care when being balanced. The Caravans are a current example of where there is no 'fair' design space: 1 stat point makes the difference between too weak and too strong. So yes, overload is more tricky to balance than some other keywords, but it is not a uniquely difficult challenge.
For overloaded minions especially (and pseudo-minions like Feral Spirit), it is probably best for the overload to give you an effect rather than just stats. E.g. more like Jinyu Waterspeaker than Flamewreathed Faceless. That way it feels better for both players: the shaman knows they will get value out of the overload, and the opponent won't auto-lose games just because their class has no good way of dealing with a 4 mana 7/7. It is still going to be a narrow balancing act, but if the effect is situational (as most are) then it gives the devs a bit more freedom.
Regarding your examples of bad overload card, I can defend most of them quite easily.
There is some merit to asking whether we would benefit from removing overload entirely (at least from Standard). I would lean towards no because I think the mechanic is useful in keeping shaman feeling unique and I don't believe it is actually shaman's problem, despite what some people argue. Maybe I'll revisit that stance when shaman has card draw and win conditions yet still goes nowhere. For now though, I think the mechanic is good for the class to have, and if anything I'd like more synergy for it so our human brains can (re-)learn to not just treat it like a nuisance.
Overload is unique in a way that I don't think a lot of people notice. Most keywords becomes stronger the more of them you have in your deck. Your strategy is more consistent, and you can get multiple payoffs with just one trigger. Overload is the opposite, the more overload cards you have in your deck, the weaker it will be.
There is also the issue that some decks are simply better off avoiding the keyword whenever possible. You said that the keyword was dynamic and could be used by combo, control, or aggro. I disagree. On paper, you aren't losing mana since you are playing a card this turn for 1 less, and then paying 1 extra mana next turn, so it balances out. But I don't want to get a discount on my removal this turn, if it means I don't get to play Shudderwock next turn. You are committing yourself to spending mana next turn on an effect this turn, but you don't know what your opponent will do between those turns, making it difficult to plan properly.
I do agree that overload should be used on effects, not stats. An effect like a spell or battlecry will do one thing right now, making it reliable. Extra stats can be powerful, or useless depending on how long that minion gets to stay on the board.
I like overload on paper, but in practice it's just frustrating. The extra push you are getting this turn never feels as big as the setback you have to suffer later. Shaman is my favorite class, and I wish there was cooler stuff that used overload, but I as it is now I don't think the keyword is good. It might have the potential to be when done well, but compared to other class specific evergreen keywords like Combo, Choose One, or Outcast, Overload simply isn't as useful.
Carrion, my wayward grub.
I agree with others that Overload isn't the problem in and of itself. The problem is Overload within the Shaman class, whose true issue lies in its class identity. Overload right now can be useful in 2 ways:
Paladin and Shaman are the worst designed classes of Hearthstone*. If you look at HS history, those two classes are most often found at the extreme of a meta. Either completely OP or unplayable, but rarely just balanced. Right now, Paladin is on top and Shaman sucks, however back in MSoG in 2016 it was the other way around. The core set revamp could have fixed both classes, but it didn't. That's because the problem lies in the two classes fundamental mechanics.
Focusing on Shaman specifically to stay on topic, its main issue is its reliance on snowballing and permanent board control to win. If shaman loses board control, it loses. It has no comeback mechanics.
Its second main issue is the weakness of totems, which is linked to the first one because totems have powerful ongoing effects but do nothing on their own. Basic totems in particular are an issue. Not only is shaman HP badly designed from a new player POV ("what's a basic totem? Why are all other hero powers explicit but this one isn't? Why are the totems so complex?") but its fundamental randomness makes it useless. I'm in favor of changing it so you can choose which totem you summon (and making the upgraded version summon 2 totems). I'm also in favor of simplifying by removing one totem, preferably one of the two "complicated" ones (Healing Totem or Strength of Earth TotemBADCARDNAME).
Apart from that, well, I don't know what devs can do to make the shaman class more viable and stable. Perhaps the new spell schools will bring something to the table? Shaman has synergies with 3 spells schools (fire, frost, nature) so perhaps there is something there.
* Also Warlock, however Guldan's issues are of a different nature so I won't focus on them here.
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