Fiery War Axe and its Impact on the Metagame
Warrior has long established itself as the most dominant class in the current Standard format Metagame. It boasts multiple viable archetypes, comprises around 25% of ladder opponents (according to our vS Data Reaper Reports) and it is ever present in the tournament scene. The class and its strengths have been under much discussion, and the vS Data Reaper team was interested in evaluating the reasons that make Warrior so dominant.
Based on initial, tentative observation, we’ve found Fiery War Axe to be the most compelling card to analyze, as it is a core card used by every Warrior archetype and its strengths in the current Metagame are easy to understand. With cards such as Haunted Creeper, Nerubian Egg and Shielded Mini-bot rotating out (thankfully, in our opinion), playing Fiery War Axe is even more effective at fending off early game aggression. A question remains, to what extent is it effective? How good is a Warrior deck without it? That could change depending on the Warrior archetype and its opponent, and it is a question we will try and answer in this piece. The results posted are based off the past six weeks, comprising of over 100,000 Warrior games.
First, we look at the frequency in which Warrior pulls out its Fiery War Axe on turn 2 (or turn 1 with the coin) against common archetypes in the current Metagame.
We can see that Fiery War Axe is most often used in the early game against aggressive decks. This is, of course, not surprising. An aggressive Mulligan for Fiery War Axe would result in having it in your hand around 50% of the time on turn 2 with the coin, or slightly over 40% without it, so the results also fall in line with the theoretical chance of having Fiery War Axe. The actual drop rates are lower than the theoretical probability of having Fiery War Axe in hand, because, in practice, you don’t always throw every card away to get it, and sometimes the opponent doesn’t provide you with a comfortable War Axe turn by playing around it.
In addition, the most interesting thing we observe in this table is how prevalent the archetypes at the top of the table are. The top 7 decks comprise over 50% of the Metagame! All of these decks’ main strategy is to get on the board early and try to snowball a lead, which makes Fiery War Axe a crucial and punishing card against them. Tempo Mage is the only deck that can behave differently at times, since it is more spell-centric in nature.
So our next question is: What is the impact of playing Fiery War Axe in the early game against these decks? We’ve picked the 4 most common Warrior archetypes in the current Metagame (C’Thun, Control, Dragon and Tempo) for our next analysis. In the following table, we’ve calculated their win rates against these top 7 decks in the scenario in which Fiery War Axe was played or not played on turn 2 (or turn 1 with coin).
All the differences in the table between the win rates with and without Fiery War Axe are statistically significant except Tempo Warrior vs. Pirate Warrior, and Dragon Warrior vs. Tempo Mage.
The average difference across all seven archetypes is 9.7%. We also looked at all other archetypes. The average win rate differential there is 3.5% and they are mostly insignificant. There, we conclude, Fiery War Axe’s impact is far more modest.
We find the results to be quite dramatic. Playing Fiery War Axe has a significant impact on these matchups and since these matchups make up over 50% of the current Metagame, we can safely say that Fiery War has an enormous impact on the power level of Warrior decks in general. In a world without Fiery War Axe, the Warrior class would likely drop enough in its average win rate against the field to turn from the best class in the game into one of the worst ones.
Of course, we can’t take the win rates without War Axe in a vacuum and assume they will transpire in practice without the card, since there are many other variables to consider in that scenario. Another card would take its place which could compensate for the loss to some degree, but there are also other possible negative effects to consider: the presence of Fiery War Axe itself affects the way decks play against Warriors in the early game, and the benefit of the card later in the game can also not be underestimated. Remember, we calculated the impact of a single event that involves the card. We did not calculate its potential beneficial impact against these decks beyond turn 2.
Based on these results, the one archetype that we believe could do well enough without War Axe to be somewhat viable is Dragon Warrior, as it has another early game option that often functions as effectively as Fiery War Axe against these decks, which is Alexstrasza’s Champion. This is also one of the reasons why Dragon Warrior is statistically one of two best decks in our weekly “vS Power Rankings”: it’s very effective at bullying other tempo decks off the board, and it has multiple viable tools to do so.
On the other hand, we note that C’Thun Warrior’s relies heavily on Fiery War Axe. Playing the Axe turns six out of the seven matchups from unfavorable to favorable. With no Fiery War Axe, C’Thun Warrior would likely turn from one of the strongest decks into one with Priest levels of playability!
In conclusion, what should be done with Fiery War Axe? Is it overpowered? Should it be rotated out? Our opinion is, absolutely not. The problem is not Fiery War Axe; the problem is that there aren’t more cards like Fiery War Axe. The reason why the card is so powerful right now is that it efficiently trades two early game minions for one card, not only being an effective removal tool, but being one that wins you back tempo and punishes decks that flood the board with minions in the early game.
This strategy dominates the current Metagame and the best way to answer it is often playing it yourself and “racing” the opponent off the board, or playing a class that can counter the strategy, which takes one back to Warrior, possessing the best tool for it. A world without Fiery War Axe would probably create an even more one dimensional Metagame, in which every game is about who gets on the board faster, mirroring the current state of Arena.
When we look at the weakest classes at the moment, they have a few things in common. Priest and Paladin don’t have efficient tools to fight off early game aggression. Shadow Word: Pain for example, is a 1-for-1 trade at best. The Paladin weapons are either too expensive (Truesilver, Rallying Blade) or cannot kill the three health early drops that dominate the field (Light’s Justice, Argent Lance).
Paladins and Priests also don’t have strong early game minions that can challenge the board themselves, and their board clears are situational, and often require a combination of cards to execute (Auchenai/Circle, Pyro/Equality). It is also a design challenge to provide a class with better early game minions without further feeding into the fast-paced strategies (Minibot/Muster/Trogg/Golem are good examples).
We hope that the Hearthstone design team comes up with more class cards that perform a similar role to Fiery War Axe, so that more classes have the option to counter the most dominant strategy in the current Metagame, which would create a healthier, more strategically diverse game for everyone.
Our Data Reaper Project, including the Data Reaper Live (Beta) now has over 1200 contributors. Without them, analysis such as this would not be possible, so we’d like to thank all of our contributors for helping us on this project. If you have not done so already, you can sign up with your Track-O-Bot information here:
This article was put together by: