Is Ice Faction Over-priced?

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Is Ice Faction Over-priced?

Quintivarium
This post was updated on .
Is Ice Overpriced?

While playing ice faction vs. the AI, one of the first things I noticed was how slowly my strategies seemed to develop.  Some of that is obviously the defensive nature of the ice faction, but some seems to be the cost of playing many of the ice cards.  I present the following analysis primarily for discussion; not out of strong conviction – I do not yet have anywhere near the experience with ice to assert that I am not overlooking important mitigating factors.

Let me start with some basic statistics:  
Faction            % of minions             average minion     average
                        costing 5 or more      cost                     card cost
                        power to deploy
Ice                    23.5%                       3.24                   2.425*
Jungle               15.8%                       3.21                   2.45
Air                    15.0%                       2.70                   2.075
Swamp                5.3%                       2.41                   2.35
Underworld        15.8%                       2.47                   2.325
Ocean               21.7%                       3.04                   2.525
Forest               14.3%                       2.76                   2.125
Fire                  16.7%                       3.00                   2.575
     *I haven’t unlocked the multi-player card.  Based upon position in the deck, I assume it is a cost 5 aura.

While raw cost statistics can be deceiving – they don’t show the power of cards – they do give an overall impression.  I maintain the average cost of minions is particularly significant as it is a measure of how quickly key forces can be deployed.  With minions that are significantly higher priced than most other factions, it makes sense that ice seems slow to develop.

I think it is also helpful to examine specific cards.  While not all ice cards are costly, I observe a large percentage are either expensive or require preparation to be fully effective.  Let me take some specific instances.

Blizzard giant (ice common, 3/5 stats, cost 5): Compared to lava giant (fire uncommon, 3/3, cost 4) and undead giant (swamp uncommon, 3/5, cost 4), the blizzard giant is more expensive.  My first impression is that its special power is actually the least useful of the giants by a significant margin, although I believe that evaluation could change with more experience.

Cryohydra (ice rare, 3/3 stats, cost 5): Cryohydra stats are similar to pyrohydra (fire rare, 3/3, cost 3) and sky hydra (air rare, 2/3, cost 5).  Despite differences in special powers, the creatures play similar roles in a deck – all have very powerful and dangerous special powers and can be potentially game dominating.  But while the cryohydra’s power is more easily triggered than the others, the high cost (5 power) is often prohibitive especially when there are still many open lanes needing forces.  With a well-designed deck, both pyrohydra and sky hydra powers are easily triggered as well and at 0 cost.  Moreover, compared to other means of reducing strength, cryohydras seem inefficient – rarely will one actually benefit from hitting three creatures with strength reduction, and even then a cost of 5/3 power per point of strength drained is rather high.

Frost dragon (ice rare, 3/4, cost 5): I think frost dragons are likely to play the role of heavy hitting minion – much like ruby dragon (fire rare, 4/3, cost 5), forest dragon (forest rare, 4/4, cost 5), sea dragon (ocean rare, 4/3, cost 5), dragonfish (ocean rare, 5/3, cost 5), shadow dragon (underworld rare, 3/4, cost 5), underdark worm (underworld common, 4/4, cost 5), bone dragon (swamp rare, 4/4, cost 5), cloud dragon (air rare, 3/3, cost 5),  and jungle dragon (jungle rare, 4/3, cost 5).  But the difference between strength 3 and strength 4 in this capacity is huge.  Especially early in the game, while I am racing to deploy units in every lane, it is important to have a minion able to hold its own without invoking an expensive special power.  The special powers tend to be nice only after the board is developed.  Because of their strength, bone dragons and ruby dragons can wait several rounds to use a special power – frost dragons lack that luxury.  Even the other strength 3 “dragons” (shadow and cloud) have better durability due to elusive trait of the shadow dragon and the magic immunity / free special ability (which avoids attacks against stronger opponents) of the cloud dragon.

Northern vampire (ice rare, 3/3, cost 5): The northern vampire triggers a special power under the same circumstances as the vampire consort (swamp rare, 3/4, cost 4).  The higher cost for lower health can only be justified if the difference in special powers off-sets the price.  And, in this comparison, I think it does.  I believe the ability to gain strength will more often be game changing than the ability to restore health.  But there are a couple of other comparisons that ought to be made.  The deepsea thing (ocean uncommon, 3/4, cost 5) can also gain strength.  At the same price, not only does it have higher health, I believe its special ability is easier to trigger.  It is easier to remove or displace a blocking unit from in front of a deepsea thing than it is to prevent an opponent from simply moving or replacing an endangered unit from in front of a northern vampire.  Finally, the ant swarm (forest common, 2/2, cost 2) can also gain strength – and health – by destroying an opposing unit.  Although its greater strength and elusive trait make the vampire a better hunter, ants ability to gain health, and the ability to feed off of barriers is decent compensation.  At cost 5, I consider a northern vampire as a major investment; at cost 2, an ant swarm is an opportunistic afterthought.

Aura weaver (ice uncommon, 2/3, cost 4) has very little combat value for its cost.  I lack the experience to know how useful its aura duplication may prove, but given this power requires a turn’s action from the weaver, an empty spot behind the weaver, and an existing aura to duplicate, I expect that aura weavers will also prove to be very slow.

Glacier elemental (ice common, 4/2, cost 4) and aura elemental (ice unlock, 0/2, cost 3) are both potential strength 4 (or higher minions).  They might seem like bargains as most strength 4 minions cost 5 power.  But because both require existing auras to achieve their potential, neither can really serve as quick, low-cost muscle.  And really, cost 4 is not much better than cost 5

Frostling (ice common, 2/1, cost 3) compares slightly unfavorabley to cinderling (fire rare, 2/1, cost 3).  Despite the parallels in the units, it is easier to replace a damaged friendly unit that to remove an enhanced enemy unit.  Thus, I generally prefer cinderlings.

Primal ice (ice rare, 1/3, cost 3) seems a bit expensive as well.  As a blocker, it is expensive compared to other barriers.  As a strength reducer, at best it removes three strength (one or 2 would be more typical) over 4 turns (one to deploy the barrier and 3 more draining strength).  This is more expensive, less flexible, and/or slower than other methods of removing strength.

Flash freeze (ice common, spell, cost 3) is both more expensive and generally less useful than the very similar nobbling trickster (forest uncommon, 1/1, cost 2).

Hypothermia (ice uncommon, aura, cost 3).  Not necessarily too expensive, but this card is only useful early in the game – and must be drawn and deployed in a time frame when deploying minions is top priority.

Brain freeze (ice rare, aura, cost 2).  To repay the investment, the opponent must draw at least 3 cards over a 4 turn period.  I don’t think this will happen often.

Winter’s edge (ice rare, item, cost 3).  If this item is used 3 times in the game, it costs and average of 3 power for each point of damage.  Even if used 5 times, it costs 2.6 power per damage inflicted.  This is far higher than any other method of inflicting damage that I can think of.  Compare this to the triton aquamancer (ocean rare, 1/1, cost 2) which costs nothing to steal one health from any minion (not just those with only 1 health).  Of course, the aquamancer is horrendously underpriced.

I have listed 13 cards that feel over-priced, at least 6 seem significantly overpriced: cryohydra, frost dragon, aura weaver, flash freeze, brain freeze, winters edge.  But one might ask whether there are any bargains, and I think there are several.

Frost fey (ice common, 1/1, cost 3).  This is not a quick card – it is most useful after a timed aura has expired, but the ability to bring an expired aura back into play along with an admittedly weak minion can easily be worth the cost.

Snow mole (ice rare, 1/1, cost 2).  Snow moles are not a quick card – they want a lot of blizzard giants or junk auras in play.  And they will always be vulnerable.  But with a potential to gain huge amounts of strength extremely quickly, they could be an immediate game changer.  Not very many cost two cards can claim that.

Tundra wolf (ice common, 2/3, cost 3).  Definitely not a game winner, but with the elusive ability, tundra wolves are a decent sacrificial defensive unit.  And they survive long enough that wolf pack tactics actually become feasible – at least as a secondary threat.

Essence egg (ice uncommon, 0/1 barrier, cost 2).  With an ability to block one turn and then potentially bring in a strong aura (like strangle vines or gravity well) into play, cost 2 is a good deal.  But this unit does require care in deck design to insure the aura called is useful.

Ice spike (ice common, spell, cost 1).  Reducing strength of a selected unit for cost 1 is itself a bargain.  The ability to remove elusive (and quick) traits is an excellent bonus.

Creeping cold (ice uncommon, aura, cost 2).  Not really a bargain, but creeping cold is often a useful card – and would still be useful at a much higher price.  Because of its defensive, strength sapping tendency, I find (at least vs. the AI), that deck depletion is not uncommon with certain ice decks.  Creeping cold often tips such situations in one’s favor.  And it need not be played early when power is critical – it can wait until clogged lanes leave free power.

Thin ice (ice uncommon, trap, cost 0).  The most common way to remove a trap is to simply trigger it with something cheap.  Thin ice will persist, protecting a lane until the opponent sacrifices a good unit.  Any card that must be addressed (many situations exist where thin ice must be handled) and that costs more to neutralize than to play is a good deal.

It may seem that these “cheap cards” negate my argument that ice seems expensive.  But I would argue that almost none of the bargain cards facilitate quick development, and very few have major influence in the game.  It is the expensive, over-priced cards that are the backbone of most ice strategies.

Time will tell whether these impressions hold up in actual play.  What do you think?
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Re: Is Ice Faction Over-priced?

SteveGoblin
Excellent analysis, as always.

A very brief response to balance concerns:

— Ice is one of the more synergistic factions, something that will I hope will be uncovered through play, and something that is hard to quantify.

— We considered 'Strength reduction' (one of Ice's themes) as far more dangerous than 'Health reduction', since a reduced-strength minion can then be repeatedly damaged by a stronger enemy, whereas a health loss happens once. I know that's an oversimplification but I am sure you see what I mean.

— It may well be that a few cards need slight adjustment as time goes by, especially in light of information from trusted contributors such as yourself.

Happy holidays

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Re: Is Ice Faction Over-priced?

.Confused.
This post was updated on .
In reply to this post by Quintivarium
Hi Quint,

Thanks for that.
I'm very surprised that you have not mentioned Aura Storm which, in my opinion, is the strongest card of Ice (a bit like the prism in Fire). It can do major damage and since ice is all about auras, i'll pay its 5 cost every time. Also, it is not limiting it's strenght to the Ice faction, but will also consider other faction's auras as well. Which brings me to my next point:
I've had more problem mixing Ice with other factions than any previous ones, maybe for the reason Steve hints at: Ice has synergy (i add: within its own faction). Many times i tried a combo; only to realize that "oh crap, my glacier elemental is in front of an Air aura!" or something of the sort. The lack of recent pvp play makes me poor in experiencing the different combos people came up with, but i find Ice very hard to mix and very slow by itself (as you experienced yourself). Even creating a "fun deck" is not so easy, since Ice wants to stick to Ice and quickly becomes redundant.
There is also a serious lack of Kobos, with the drawing for Frostling just being a cruel tease! Why is the Grelk Herd not rebranded a Kobo Berserker; it would make a potent Ice/Underground Kobo deck! I'll write to Santa on this one, but won't hold my breath...

I think that either experience will give me a lot more insight into what to develop with at least 24 Ice cards in a deck, or Ice should be allowed a bit less constraints in tying to other factions.

Anyhow, hope to play pvp soon!

.C.
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Re: Is Ice Faction Over-priced?

SteveGoblin
I think Ice is more for experienced players, which is why it wasn't one of the first factions. But I am confident it is balanced overall. Maybe some minor tweaks, but we shall see.

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Re: Is Ice Faction Over-priced?

Quintivarium
In reply to this post by .Confused.
Confused,

It's great to hear your voice again (electronically anyway)!  And its wonderful to actually have topics to discuss.  

You commented on aura storm -- and I agree that it is a major card.  I did not mention it because I did not feel I had the experience yet to assess its impact -- whether positive or negative.  Unlike fire prism, which to me raises all kinds of balance red flags (although I am not aware of any that have manifested so far), aura storm has some bounds.  First, all damage applies to a single unit.  Where a single fire prism can (and occasionally does) destroy an entire board of tough units, a single aura storm destroys at most 1.  Second, timing aura storms is a bit problematic.  Essence eggs will not call them.  Without other auras, aura storm are not very effective, but other auras in the deck cause kobo shaman to not draw the aura storm.  So one is faced with relying upon draws of aura storm and/or blizzard giants.  And once an aura storm is drawn, there is still the issue of affording a full turn to play it.  At the very least, it appears to me that aura storm decks will be slow.  Of course, I could easily be overlooking a nice combo.  I know the one deck I put together to use aura storm worked rather poorly -- the only time I actually got an effective aura storm in play, the AI opponent had a bunch of 20+ health units on the board (it had been able to play 3 or 4 living essences I could not remove for a long time).  I think I won the game through deck exhaustion rather than because of the aura storms.  But this was one of the first ice decks I built, and I am certain it can be substantially improved.

Finding and exploiting card combinations really requires experience I don't yet have with the faction.  I agree that ice does not blend with other factions anywhere near as easily as ocean (where virtually every card works well with virtually any other card).  I think finding the right combinations will take time (and possibly more pvp exposure than is currently available).  I have had some luck working with jungle (accelerating the draw of strangle vines is nice) and forest (many ice units really benefit from health boosts, and wolves become excellent secondary threats).  I think if one avoids glacier elementals, ice cards do not badly conflict with other factions.

Turning grelk into kobos would be an interesting piece of wizardry -- keep working on it and let us know if you make any progress:)  Seriously, you have a good point.  Grelk herds are an interesting card, but except in AI decks (where more than four copies can be taken), grelk are presently pretty useless.  More "grelk" cards (and a re-wording of the power to apply to grelk cards in play rather than grelk herds in play) could make grelk herds viable.

As for kobos, don't underestimate the kobo shaman.  I think we will be seeing a lot of them; they might become the biggest reason for ice as secondary faction.

In this holiday season, let me sign off by wishing you a white Spellcraft.

Quint