At first glance, going second seems like an unfair advantage. You get “The Coin” AND an extra card – great! But is that really true? Is the first turn advantage (FTA) really overcompensated? There were and there still are a lot of discussions going on about this topic. Lately, The Coin has gotten talked about even more with an increasing number of third party statistics available.
It is and was common knowledge, that there is a small advantage. Blizzard themselves stated in 2013 at Blizzon, that the difference is at around 3% in favor of playing before your opponent. For more history on the development of the FTA balancing you can check out this article on the TempoStorm site.
Following, I will give you a short summary about the newest statistics surrounding FTA. Importantly, we have to distinguish between Arena and Standard play modes when looking at the topic. After the summary I will draw a conclusion and will muse a little on how the problem may be solved, which may be totally subjective.
Uncommon for myself, I will dig into Arena stuff. I am not a big Arena player myself, but I enjoy it from time to time and I get consistently around 7 wins, sometimes higher. Anyhow, I found the data, especially on the Arena side, very shocking as you might notice for yourself in the next paragraph.
Heartharena provided excellent statistics on win rates of each class. Kripparian presented the numbers recently and made a great video interpreting their statistics of over 4.8 million (!) games. The key points are:
- Since the release of Hearthstone, with WotOG FTA is at an all time high
- Going first in Arena actually gives a mean +8.9% higher chance to win (1st -54.44% vs 2nd 45.54%)
- Playing first, Warlock is the most favored (+11.7%)
- Warrior has the least advantage without The Coin (5.0%)
- The highest increase in FTA came with TGT, from 4.9% to 8.1%
- This is speculated to be the result of of the Inspire mechanic which tends to snowball in Arena, when not answered immediately
- WotOG and LoE increased the gap further owing less removal in these sets
Here are the percentages each class is favored to win when playing first in Arena:
- Aggregated: +8.9%
- Warlock: +11.7%
- Paladin: +10.1%
- Shaman: +9.9%
- Druid: +9.3%
- Rogue: +9.3%
- Hunter: +8.7%
- Mage: +8.1%
- Priest: +6.8%
- Warrior: +5.0%
The following numbers show the developement of the aggregated FTA with each new content released:
- Classic Hearthstone: +4.6%
- Curse of Naxxramas: +4.4%
- Goblins vs Gnomes: +3.7%
- Blackrock Mountain: +4.9%
- The Grand Tournament: +8.1%
- League of Explorers: +8.6%
- Whispers of the Old Gods: +8.9%
Numbers were reproduced (shortened) from Kripp’s video which you can see below:
Vicious Syndicate (VS) released their first insight into their statistics regarding The Coin. The numbers were generated from over 200.000 games collected over the past five weeks. They evaluated the win percentages of different meta decks going first or second. Here are the details:
- Since BlizzCon 2013, constructed is FTA is almost stable
- Going first gives you an overall 3.3% advantage -(1st 51.65% vs 2nd 48.35%)
- Overall curve depended decks, mostly aggro and midrange decks, have a bigger advantage going first (2.51 to 7.26%) while control decks are almost balanced (-1.88 to +2.51%)
- The Exception is Pirate Warrior with a negative FTA (-3.81%)
- Midrange Hunter is the most favored meta deck (+7.26%)
- Surprisingly, Patron Warrior (-3.54%), Tempo Mage (+0.40%) and Miracle Rogue (+1.29%) do not capitalize on The Coin as expected.
For all the numbers and an interactive table, I highly recommend visiting the VS site. They also release their weekly data reaper report which is highly recommended. You should also consider joining the steadily increasing players who share their data. Everything on how that works is found on the VS site under the tab “data reaper report”.
FTA is a common problem in turn based games. Classic competitive games like chess have an estimated 5% advantage for the white player who starts the game. Other TCGs struggle with the same problem and have different ways to balance. So Hearthstone is not the only game that has to struggle with this problem and find a solution for it. Back to the question I asked in the headline: the answer is yes and no.
Yes for Standard: Hearthstone gets the job done well in Constructed (Standard). The FTA is stable over the last 3 years and at an acceptable roughly 3 percent.
No for Arena: In Arena though, you get an unfair advantage playing first. Additionally there is a huge variation throughout the different classes, but overall it is significantly higher. This is most probably a result of Hearthstone being balanced around Standard.
For the sake of all arena players, I hope Blizzard addresses this issue. How? I have no perfect solution, but maybe The Coin could be replaced, in Arena only, by something like this:
To wrap thing up I can only comfort you by the fact that in the end, after many games, being on The Coin or not is perfectly balanced. 🙂
Have fun, despite the occasionally disadvantage of being second!