As part of the recent introduction of Hearthstone's new Core set, Blizzard decided to re-work all of the original Dragon Aspect (opens in new tab) cards to make them viable in the modern game. The likes of Ysera and Alexstraza have seen plenty of play down the years, and the redux versions look likely to be staples—especially for new players—for a long time to come. But the most interesting makeover was the new Nozdormu, which has the potential to spawn a whole new way of playing: Speed Hearthstone.
The old version of Noz had an aura effect that set both players' turn timer to 15 seconds, complete with a panic-inducing sands of time on-screen effect. However, as a 9-Mana 8/8, most opponents would simply recover their composure and kill Noz, promptly returning the game to its normal state. Consequently, nobody ran the card in serious decks.
The only reason it saw some use was because the timer interaction seemed to be perpetually bugged (opens in new tab), which meant griefers could force their opponents to skip a whole turn by playing Noz right after a bunch of animation-heavy cards. The most notable time the card had competitive relevance was in one gloriously misplayed Razakus Priest mirror match (opens in new tab) in 2017, in which we saw CoachTwisted throw away a practically guaranteed win due to several Noz and Lyra-related mishaps.
Now that all the cards in the new Core Set (opens in new tab) are free for everyone, Noz has another chance to shine. The new version is called Nozdormu the Eternal and its text reads: "Start of Game: If this is in BOTH players' decks, turns are only 15 seconds long."
The cool thing is how the effect requires mutual consent. If both players begin the game with Noz in their decks, it's time for some Slam Hearthstone. It's good news for those of us who are sick of being roped by opponents who take an entire turn to decide that, yes, actually they will play a 2-drop on turn two. In fact, games fly by so fast that you don't even have time to worry about whether having a 7-Mana 8/8 in your deck is good. (Spoiler: It's not.)
Slow down, buckaroo
Here’s where I'd like to tell you how much fun it is to meet and play fellow Noz fans on the ladder. Unfortunately, no one else was willing to wreck their deck for my entertainment: I have encountered precisely zero Noz mirror matches, and others seem to share the same disappointing experience (opens in new tab). I guess no one wants to gimp their deck on the off-chance of running into likeminded pioneers.
If your opponent doesn't have Noz in their deck, nothing happens—you've just hurt your chances of winning by running a slightly worse build. According to HSReplay's stats, only 0.3 percent of decks run Noz (opens in new tab) in Standard Ranked matches, and those decks have a pretty pathetic win rate of 42 percent. That puts them somewhere between Priest and Warrior on the garbage heap of the current meta.
The popularity of speed chess and modes like Dota Turbo suggests there should be an audience for quickfire games of Hearthstone. Preventing your opponent from spending every second of every turn planning their grand strategy is also an interesting skill test. Still, it's clear that Noz's home is not going to be found in Ranked, so to get my fix I had to look for friendly matches and community events.
Which is how I came across 'The NozTourmu', a brilliantly-named community event in which every deck had to feature the new card. Obviously I signed up in under 15 seconds.
Just in time
In retrospect, bringing a Pen Flinger deck to this event was a really stupid idea due to the incessant animations. Still, I made it past the first round after a hilarious sequence of events which should serve as a warning to fellow Noz players: my opponent was brave enough to enter the event while playing on their phone. After quickly realizing the error of their ways, they conceded the best-of-five series having been destroyed in the opening match.
Later on I tried this for myself and immediately understood why they couldn’t be bothered to play out the rest of the games. Though the turns are smoother than they used to be with the original Nozdormu, the animations still pose a severe limitation—even on PC. By the time Yogg-Saron spins its wheel, your turn is pretty much over, and let’s not even get into the myriad ways Pen Flinger butchered my turn sequencing.
I bowed out in the second round, but at least that enabled me to study the rest of the field. It turns out my “bring three budget aggro decks” approach was not necessary. Archetypes ranging from Aggro Shaman to Control Mage could all competently execute their turns, and the important decisions had more to do with specific card choices rather than running a deck especially suited to Speed Hearthstone.
RcklessRogue (opens in new tab), the organizer, believes there’s a real skill-testing element to playing with Nozdormu. “Even when making a deck around Noz, it’s important to remember cards like Secret Passage have a longer animation time than other cards, and while it’s powerful on the ladder, in a fast-paced event like this, it can be harder to pull off than usual”, he told me.
There is a real deckbuilding aspect to this kind of competition: animation-heavy cards have a major downside regardless of their power level, and some of the Discover cards are almost unplayable due to time constraints. That’s all before you decide which card to cut from a normal deck to toss in a 7-Mana 8/8.
The NozTourmu was good fun, but to me, the entire experience was just a taste of what I want from the full Noz experience. Team 5 would have to put in a lot more work to create a legitimately competitive speed Hearthstone experience. However, when it comes to friendly games, or small community tournaments, Nozdormu the Eternal is a pretty awesome addition to the game.
Perhaps one day we’ll see a fully fleshed-out version of Speed Hearthstone, with bankable turn times, smooth animations, and more. Maybe we'll even get more cards which require “mutual consent” to trigger— it's a unique design space in its own right. In time, all things are possible.