Appreciating Tier Lists

Whether you are a Hearthstone, Magic or Eternal player, one thing is clear – deck building game communities love to divide their competitive decks into tiers. Decks are placed into arbitrary categories based on their representation at tournaments and how well they perform. These tiers help players understand what to expect when entering the competitive field and how to adjust their strategy to account for the most prevalent deck archetypes. Sometimes these interpretations are taken as the final word when they are just a representation of what the writer thinks. Tier lists don’t have as much bearing on individual experiences as we might think.

So how do Tier Lists work?

In the context of this article, I will mostly be speaking of the Eternal tier lists, published by RNGEternal and Seek Power Gaming. Both of these groups post their own tier lists at least once a month, aiming to capture a snapshot of how the meta looks at that time. For the most part, these lists are greeted with praise and appreciation from the community, and they help developing players get a better understanding of things. However, I believe that there is some disconnect; these lists are subjective and meant to be used as tools.

How do tier lists affect tournament preparation?

The publication of tier lists tends to lead to lively discussion and debate, with players voicing their perspectives and experiences in trying to build more refined lists. This is where I think the misinterpretation of the intent of these lists occur: they are a very subjective perspective of how things look through the lens of advanced players, most of which exist in the higher ranks. For the average Bronze or Silver player, these lists probably wont adequately capture the riff raff you encounter on a fairly regular basis. Tier 3 decks might appear more often, so the player would think “There is no way that deck should be Tier 3, its easily Tier 2!” While this might be somewhat true based on their experience, it is likely not true for other players, especially ones playing at higher ranks.

What’s a meta? How can I benefit from this information?

The term “meta” refers to the decks that are the most prevalent, generally the best and most refined. A meta usually consists of decks you expect to see a good deal of while laddering. An acronym I once heard for meta that I really liked is: Most Effective Tool(s) Available. Generally, decks will have “tech” slots that are flexible and used to combat what they expect to see a lot of. “Metagaming” can also refer to the act of choosing to play certain cards or a strategy to get an edge on what you expect to see.

Somebody on Twitter said my deck is Tier X but I really think it is Tier Y. What should I do?

The lower ranks are generally where players with developing collections, budget versions of optimized strategies, and more fringe strategies tend to dwell. For these players, its either not important or currently obtainable to climb higher on ladder. This can be said for most rank brackets along the way to masters. I do not have the exact stats, but I would venture to say that most competitive players with the drive to hit masters as fast as possible will have done so by the middle of the month. After that, the ranks are filled with people who are working on their skill level, their deck, or on playing a strategy they enjoy.

The first deck that really got me interested in the game was Owl Ramp. This deck has completely vanished, and has been replaced by more efficient ramp strategies. By the time I had picked the deck up, it was already well on it’s way out, but I loved the way the deck played so much, I continued to jam it. Eventually, like many other strategies of yesterday, it finally started to feel truly unplayable, and was out classed by where the meta was headed. Thankfully, I was able to find a home with another Combrei combo deck that brought me almost as much joy.

In an effort to maximize the benefits of the tier list as a meta snapshot, realize that it may look much different from your experience, and that they are intended to help players analyze what the higher rank players are doing, and hopefully to benefit from that. Most of the decks listed at Tier 1 or 2 are the best versions of their archetypes and are very consistent at performing their functions. While Tier 3 decks are somewhat functional, they are usually not optimal and are decks you should play only if you really like that strategy. Tier 4 and below are for people who are passionate about what it is they do, win or lose, and can keep a positive attitude (which may lead to a positive win

A deck’s representation will affect a community’s perception of that deck. Just because everyone shows up to a Rock Paper Scissors tournament with Tier 1 Scissor decks doesn’t mean Tier 3 Rock decks aren’t good. Don’t look at a tier lists and think “Well this is it, this is what is right” or “I disagree with this, let me find these people on Twitter and tell them so.” Realize that they did the best they could, with the information provided, to give the player base a tool to grow. Part of the fun is to see that Tier 1 deck(s) you want to either become or destroy, and work hard at achieving that goal.


1 Comment » for Appreciating Tier Lists
  1. Aaron Zelder says:

    Nice article!

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