Yesterday and today, ever reliable Hearthstone Data Scientist Tian Ding has thrown some new juicy PvP information our way: showing the best performing team compositions and individual mercenaries within the top 5% of players as ranked by their MMR. We will be taking a closer look at all of that (and its potential implications) below.
Naturally, this drew a good deal of attention from the growing Hearthstone Mercenaries community. Even this early on in this newest game mode's lifespan, there are hundreds of dedicated people competing for their leaderboard slots: constantly testing fresh strategies to gain an upper hand and coming up with next level counters to combat existing counters. And you might've seen numerous streamers embracing the art of creating various Mercenaries tier lists to propagate through their social media.
If there is one thing that is evident for the time being, it's that the PvP metagame is capable of shifting very dynamically, even on a day-to-day basis. If you think you already know all there is, you probably don't. We could be looking at a somewhat different beast again after the weekend.
Top Mercenaries Parties
While there are many ways to compose your PvP teams (which will naturally be heavily dependent on which mercenaries you own and how far they have progressed with their ability/equipment upgrades), a handful of favorites have certainly moved to the forefront as of late:
Top Win-Rate PvP Parties (Source).
Take note that the above excludes any games that were being played against AI instead of other players, in case that was ever in doubt. As for what currently constitutes "top 5% MMR":
What's top 5% MMR? 6500+?
If we compare it to the previous post from Tian on the PvP ratings from the launch week that we shared just a few days ago, the gradual increase is evident here (top 5% was beginning at 5600 back then).
And so, you might've noticed that a certain wannabe Lord of Terror "import" has been proving very popular, along with his old Tauren Chieftain pal - Diablo and Cairne Bloodhoof make for quite a powerful duo. Varden Dawngrasp is holding a strong position as well.
Sadly, equipment choices weren't shared, as important as they can be in shaping the flow of combat and affecting the usage of abilities. Although in many cases we either know what's considered the best, or can take an educated guess (there are characters where more than one piece of equipment is desirable to achieve a given effect).
There is a little more variety when it comes to the rest of the field, although you can still spot a few notable performers who repeat their starring roles across certain builds - just like that one Lich King guy. At some point, King Krush and King Mukla will have to join him and duke it out for the title of the "One True King".
If you've been following the metagame from the very start, you might remember the early powerhouse that was the so called "BTX" - Blademaster Samuro, Thrall, Xyrella. There were already voices at the time calling the comp overpowered and requesting nerfs, yet the odds have "slightly" shifted since then. Alas, poor Thrall. Nowadays it's more likely to be "BVX", with Varden Dawngrasp taking that middle spot.
What didn't quite make the cut there between all the Fire or Holy synergies are various Nature builds - think Malfurion Stormrage, Guff Runetotem, Bru'kan, and friends. Still very likely to run into some variations of such near the top. Or even at the very very top: here is one from Martim, currently ranked #1 EU.
And if for a moment you let yourself believe that nothing could possibly put a stop to Diablo's rampage, it quickly turned out that a potential counter was already known in the APAC region - which we have more widely learned about through Zflow and then Pasca spreading the word:
Speed, Combat Order, and Equipment
Anyone who has tried their hand at Mercenaries PvP (even if only against AI at lower ratings) understands it takes a peculiar mix of vast knowledge, picking right synergies, correct predicting, and a pinch of mind games. Not unlike our typical Constructed formats where certain decks might have serious advantage over others, certain parties and heroes are very good at countering particular strategies (as shown above). And just like you can't exactly tell which cards are in your opponent's hand, you won't know which abilities were queued or which characters targeted in a given turn of Mercenaries combat.
And then there is the whole rock-paper-scissors with critical damage vulnerabilities going on between Protector, Caster, and Fighter types. It doesn't help that the base UI leaves much to be desired, as is often the case with Hearthstone - since we cannot even get a mouse-over refresher of all the abilities enemy heroes have during actual combat, it unfortunately forces one to rely on their own fallible memory or, more likely, a deck tracker.
You also always have your reads to count on. Abilities have their own cooldowns and speeds, after all. Since many of them are not available during the very first turn, that narrows the so called "openers". This is in part why (along with the game showing us how many Mercenaries types there are on the opposing team) the specific parties work in their special ways. Knowing all the potential ins and outs becomes crucial when it comes to winning - besides praying to the RNG gods to make any Speed ties turn out in your favor, that is.
For example, the popularity of Diablo relies on him stepping into the field from "the bench" (that is, entering combat in a later turn, once one of your mercs has been killed off), at which point the enemy team will be presumably slowed (Flurry 1, Earth Stomp 1) and Fire Stomp 1 is off cooldown. Then it proceeds to nuking all opponents.
This is where Gruul and his equipment (abilities, not so much) came in with Dragon's Skull 1 - fire resistance for all characters notably lowers any stomping shenanigans from Diablo. For a different example, we would usually see Varden Dawngrasp with Potion of Ice 1 enabling more hurt, before players figured out that Chilling Amulet 1 is actually a pretty potent option once their Caster gets KO'ed, with temporarily making one opponent skip a turn.
Tavish Stormpike, on the other hand, became a solid answer to Caster teams relying on AoE damage. As a "green" Fighter type, he deals double damage to "blues". Initially using High Power Rounds 1 was handy for extra sniping potential (Aimed Shot 1 packs a punch), but then people discovered that Explosive Trap 1 can actually stack (Bear Trap 1 cannot). Just imagine the final damage possible with Rigged Wiring 1 as a result of this.
Obtaining said equipment can be somewhat painful, as we all know. There are mercenaries where completing Task 7 is deemed to be absolutely crucial for that one game-changing piece (hence the early determined grinds for Doomhammer 1), and others where it's just enough to settle for Task 2 or level 30. Which is much more comfortable, no doubt. Depending on your willingness and ability to work towards that, certain builds might be off the table for the time being; even if you own the mercenary in question.
The MVP Mercenaries Tier List
Tian Ding was also kind enough to share with us the tier list to put an end to all other tier lists (okay, maybe not quite). Here is how it looks like:
Some very interesting observations could be made based on this. Just keep in mind - in case we haven't mentioned it enough times yet - things are likely to shift again before long. Better yet, listen to the source:
Mercenaries PvP tier list ranked purely by today's win-rate data. Note meta is evolving so it's for current reference only.
You may also want to listen to all the smart people pointing out that individual mercenary's win rate isn't a very reliable stat to use when determining their overall strength. So many of them rely on combos (both literal and otherwise), with only specific synergies enabling their true power. Having said that, the tier list still works as a reference for popularity of these heroes at the top 5%, showing which groups of mercs tend to belong together. It also corresponds fairly well with the party compositions and personal choices we've been talking about above.
If you've been following along closely, it's easy to tell why Tavish Stormpike is all the way up there. It seems that the recent hotfix has helped Jaina Proudmoore get further ahead. Perhaps not as surprising, some players really love their Blink Fox mascot.
At a later point, Tian actually followed up with another graph just to demonstrate how that evolution of the meta looks like in practice:
While also clarifying a thing or two:
Today's Mercenaries PvP win-rate power ranking…we see Jaina gets the crown. (Small note: we have *large* data volume for *each* Mercenary even after the top 5% MMR filter so no need to worry about statistical significance)
< 50% win-rate Mercs are not shown here.
Good on Jaina Proudmoore. It's very informative to observe how individual mercenaries might go up and down in relevance even over the course of a single day; the context here being different parties and synergies people choose to slot them in for, or certain characters just working as sole counters to popular strategies.
See You Up There?
Chances are that many of us won't even be ready to seriously try to compete in PvP this month. I know I won't be, with no desire or time to grind any tasks en masse. And that's just fine, there is no need to rush. It's actually still worth it to go for 5k-6k rating chests even with underdeveloped characters - often enough you will be paired against AI with mirrored stats/levels, making it more than fair.
Otherwise, it should take many more weeks for the majority to be able to find or craft all the mercenaries they want. Not to mention developing them as much as possible (there is that small stat bonus for maxing out your abilities + equips, after all).
With everyone gradually moving closer and closer to an even playing field (at least until the next major content update for the mode brings more characters to play with, presumably), we should be expecting further developments. Even Tian Ding sharing all that data might've nudged the metagame in particular directions - with some players trying to replicate the proven success; others yet already tinkering with new counters in their secret workshops. Potential chain reactions set off. So perhaps don't go out of your way throwing all your time and resources into getting that one hero maxed out - who knows where they are going to be at in terms of relative power this time next week.
Still... it's a bit of a climb.
In case you are afraid to try your luck at higher rankings (or at all) because your trusted Mercenaries bunch is very far from being maxed, just listen to Cairne Bloodhoof and take heart - players like TeamAmerica demonstrated it's possible to compete for the top spots even without having everything there is.
As a parting curiosity, here is one unintended interaction in which Sylvanas Windrunner's Banshee Bolt 1 purposefully being left at a lower rank (and thus lower speed) acts as a peculiar defense against Diablo's Apocalypse 1. We have got some developer's insight from Tabayrak within that same Twitter thread, so don't expect this to last. But it's a cool little moment, possibly reminding anyone who has played vanilla World of Warcraft back in the day about the ability to choose which rank of a spell they wanted to use at any point. We will have to see what's the final verdict on that when it comes to the freshly minted Mercenaries mode.
Have you dared to enter the PvP realm yet and attempt some climbing? Learned anything new lately, special compositions, insights, or strategies to share? Give us your best takes (alright, any takes), aspiring Mercenaries!