Deck of Lunacy “post-mortem” and how to evaluate similar future cards

Back when DoL was revealed, I wrote up a big post about why it was very good and might be broken. While it wasn't that great then and didn't end up getting nerfed in that meta, it ultimately did end up warping the meta around itself (to an extent) and seeing a nerf. So I wanted to talk about why it ended up getting nerfed now, and didn't then, and give us some tools about how we can evaluate similar cards in the future.

It's the card quality, stupid

Can't skip this one. Yes, the card quality with the shift to a core set is much higher. That's definitely part; after all, you're not going to pull a Blessed Champion, for example. But I actually don't think the core set is the main reason. Go in and filter your collection down to Classic and see what's there (yes, I know there's not a 100% overlap). You can see that most of the bad spells that were eliminated were cheap spells, not expensive ones. A lot of the good expensive spells were eliminated as well; on average, for every Bloodlust you don't hit, you also don't hit a Blizzard. But the high end (4+ mana) spells in the core set didn't actually change that much.

What did change was the elimination of a whole year's worth of spells from the three 2019 expansions. And it's not necessarily that those spells' quality were lower, but they flooded the pool of available cards. For example, if you draw a 3 mana card after playing DoL now, you're going to get a card that draws you at least three cards 4 out of 7 times. Which leads us to the next point.

Consistency matters

At the lower costs, what you get widely varies. It's hard to predict what you're going to get if you draw a 1 or 2 mana card from your deck. But a 3 mana card has a better than 50% chance to be card draw. 4 mana cards almost entirely get you board clears or board presence. 5 mana cards are mostly bad (for what your deck does), which is why C'Thun is not included in most of the decks. 6 mana cards will become Libram of Hope 100% of the time, which is why if you're playing against aggro, you want to play Incanter's Flow before DoL, so your Flamestrikes and Mask of C'Thuns can become survival tools. And on 10, it's either Survival of the Fittest or Nagrand Slam.

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Knowing what you're going to draw on all of your big cards is huge. Compare that to the spreadsheet from Madness at the Darkmoon Faire (link in my previous post) and it was all over the place. It was mostly really high value stuff, but it was hard to predict what you'd get. On a related note, the fact that Deck of Lunacy can now add Deck of Lunacy to your deck is a small but important part of the nerf.

** Draw, pardner! **

So much draw. Draw before you play it, draw after you play it, draw that discounts your mana, draw that synergizes with minions you generate. A huge part of the success of the deck is how much draw the deck both natively has and how much it generates.

** Good before, better after **

The deck isn't 100% dependent on Deck of Lunacy. If it's at the bottom of your deck, you still have a fighting chance to win. There's enough burn and minion generation to get you there against a lot of decks, and enough draw to get you through the whole deck.

Low burst meta

One thing that the core set DID do was to remove a bunch of burst tools from the pool. Yes, some of them got replaced elsewhere, but the decks that can burst mage down are pretty far and few between now and are mostly kept in check by paladin, which those decks largely can't burst down consistently. In a meta where face decks are kept in check, mage's inherent lack of survivability (6 mana Librams notwithstanding) becomes a much smaller issue. And as paladin keeps those in check for mages, mages symbiotically keep in check…

Low value meta

…classic control, board-based tempo, and similar decks, which can (sometimes) be a problem for paladin. But mage just cuts through these like butter, since they don't have burst tools to finish off mage and can't easily maintain a board to threaten them. At the same time, with very few minions generated by the mage (Font of Power, Arcane Studies, and whatever generated minions from DoL'd spells), the control decks end up with dead hands, and any generation they can do often doesn't help them. How are you going to effectively generate spells with Sethekk if half of what you're generating is removal and there's nothing on the other side of the board, and they're murdering you with burn and/or removing your few minions with undercosted removal?

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So how can we use this going forward?

When evaluating a card like this again (assuming Blizzard isn't already generating a checklist like this and we simply don't ever see a Deck of Lunacy-style card at this power level because of it), how should we evaluate it? I think we can use a few rules of thumb.

  1. How well bounded is its RNG? Deck of Lunacy was only spells and always +3 mana, while something like Renounce Darkness was "all class cards." If Deck of Lunacy had been "change your minions," I not sure it would have been as good, either, because the minion pool is so much larger and more varied. And, lastly, how big is the overall pool due to the time of the year, i.e., is it in the first, middle, or last expansion?
  2. How much of a discount? There's a reason one of the things people suggested for a Deck of Lunacy nerf was reducing its discount; at 1 mana, it almost certainly would not have been played at all. At 2, it might have seen play. And at 1-4, it would have killed the boundedness of its RNG, so see point 1
  3. Is there a deck or decks positioned to be extremely powerful in the meta that might enable symbiosis with the deck that would slot the card OR one that would warp the meta to kill the deck? This is one of the hardest to call. It's almost impossible to call the meta ahead of time. But we all knew going in that paladin hadn't really lost its tools, and we knew what it was already good against.
  4. Is there other support available? If it's an awesome card that has no support for its archetype, it's not an awesome card. If you can't draw your card consistently, or your deck only works because of this card, or you have no way to consistently draw your generated value, etc., then it's not useful. Renounce Darkness and Explore Un'Goro, as examples, didn't really have any way to support them, because, you know, they replaced your deck. It's possible that something like those two could work, however, if they were part of a larger plan that included fatiguing the opponent and they had instead read "double the size of your deck and replace it with…"
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I'm really glad they tried Deck of Lunacy as an experiment. I'm glad that it had its moment to shine. but I'm also glad to see it nerfed, and I hope both they and the community have had a wakeup call to how powerful such effects can be. If you think I've missed anything, or if I'm way off base, I'd like to hear.


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