Spreading goodwill in Hearthstone with the ultimate giving deck


In keeping with its World of Warcraft source material, Hearthstone has been celebrating the Feast of Winter Veil in December. That has meant boards bedecked in snow and presents, and a new festive ‘greetings’ emote for each class. For example, Uther, the Paladin hero says: “Happy Feast of Winterveil, Champion!” On the surface it seemed like a nice non-denominational gesture on Blizzard’s part. In fact, it has led to the biggest example of mass trolling the game has seen.

It took the Hearthstone community less than a day to work out that the cheeriness of the emotes was directly proportional to the amount of salt they triggered in your opponent. Got Tirion from your Unstable Portal? “Happy Feast of Winterveil!” Your Piloted Shredder just spat out a Millhouse? “Happy Feast of Winterveil!” Some heroes’ delivery is more annoying than others. Jaina, who’s insufferably smug cow at the best of times, is the absolute pits. As this Reddit thread notes, Winter Veil has completely changed the BM game. Against this backdrop of humbuggery, we decided to be the change we wanted to see in the Hearthstone world, by creating a deck that gave back...

These are cards that can straight up lose games single-handed.

the christmas deck

The monstrosity in all its glory. Probably the worst card here is Tree of Life, which completely heals both players, and everything on board, prolonging another game you're still bound to lose.

Well, specifically, Tyler did. “Why don’t you do something nice for once,” he asked in our weekly editorial meeting. “Couldn’t you make a deck which only gave presents to the other player?” Well, yeah, I guess I cou… “Great, it’s decided. I’ll put the deadline on the calendar.”

And so I trudged off to the Collection Manager to design a Christmassy atrocity. The rule Tyler set me was that every card had to give the other player something good. I began by searching for the words “give”, “card”, “crystal” and “opponent”. I swiftly settled on Druid as the correct class, because its suite of removal spells includes hot garbage like Naturalize and Mulch which gift the other player cards.

In terms of minions, stuff like Arcane Golem, Deathlord and Zombie Chow were easy picks, because they’re decent cards in the right deck, despite giving the other guy free stuff. Next I picked a bunch of cards with symmetric effects—i.e. ones that do the same thing for both players—including Refreshment Vendor, Mechanical Yeti and Coldlight Oracle. Rounding out my dumpster fire of a deck were half a dozen of the worst Legendaries in the game, including The Beast, Lorewalker Cho and, perhaps the greatest liability in all of Hearthstone, Millhouse Manastorm. These are cards that can straight up lose games single-handed. I shivered as I moused over them.

With the deck ‘complete’, I queued up on ladder, where the badlands of rank 12 awaited. Initially I felt a mixture of eagerness and trepidation. A secret part of me hoped that despite all the free gifts for my opponents, the deck might turn out to not be terrible somehow. Our first opponent was a Face Hunter.

Ah, another classic turn one Millhouse. I lost this game.

Ah, another classic turn one Millhouse. I lost this game.

The game went like this: He passes turn one. Having kept Millhouse on the mulligan, I coin him out and wait to see what happens. The Hunter plays Mad Scientist and then, thanks to the free spells effect from Millhouse, also plays an Animal Companion which, to my amazement, rolls Leokk rather than Huffer. I trade into Leokk with Millhouse, then play a Zombie Chow. The Hunter then plays another Animal Companion, gets Leokk again, and concedes. Holy shit! He concedes! We won! I stand up, shout “MERRY CHRISTMAS, EVERYONE!” and then hug Tom, who helped design the deck. The non-games people in the office look at me funny.

Have I invented the new Patron Warrior?

I forget who we played in the next match, but we won again. Okay, it was to a disconnect, but on the ladder they all count. Plus we were looking OK anyway with a Deathlord on the board. Could the deck actually be... good? I started imagining my glorious meta-defining post on the elite Competitive Hearthstone subreddit, detailing the Christmas deck’s positive matchups and high win rate. Maybe all these cards, despite having massive drawbacks, are so high tempo that putting them together actually works? Have I somehow invented the new Patron Warrior?

The answer soon becomes emphatically clear: Nope.

Not a bad hand actually. I still lost.

Not a bad hand actually. I still lost. Feels bad man.

Over the next dozen games I didn't win a single time. I took terrible beatings from, well, everyone. Control, midrange, and aggro were all seemingly equally good against the Christmas deck. Of course, the point wasn’t to win, it was to give out presents. But hoo boy there wasn't much gratitude for the gifts I came bearing. I began each game with a genuine “Happy Feast of Winterveil!” in a bid to reclaim the emote from the players who’ve twisted its true meaning. But as I handed my opponents free mana crystals, multiple cards, and bonus health, all I got in return were sarcastic “mistakes were made” and “I’m sorry” emotes. Followed, inevitably, by a “Happy Feast of Winterveil!” as they caved Malfurion’s generous face in.

To make matters worse, even though I was literally gifting them wins, because my cards were weird the other players mostly took ages over their turns, as if they were Lifecoach engaged in unraveling some particularly vexing play. The greatest problem with the Christmas deck, and it's an obvious one, was that it had no way to actually win. Cards like Grove Tender and Dancing Swords give your opponent cards, which makes it a bit like a “Mill” deck, only without the board wipes needed for that strategy. The early game is almost okay, but after turn four it just runs out of gas. Your one hope is somehow grinding them into range of Leeroy, who I was able to include on the basis that he gives the opponent two 1/1 whelps. But against any half-decent constructed deck, constantly losing this hard felt brutal.

This priest stole both my Deathlords and is now feeding them bananas. Puck Friests.

This priest stole both my Deathlords and is now feeding them bananas. Puck Friests. This was a particularly slow loss.

I’d like to say the thought that I was making the other players happy warmed my soul, but if anything it only made me more angry. What hurt was that no-one added me as a friend after any of the games to ask why I was playing such an obviously noncompetitive deck. I guess that—and I can’t really fault the logic here—they thought I was some kind of moron. Or, worse, that I was the kind of deluded Kolento wannabe who thinks they can throw some wacky cards together and have it work. What they didn’t realise is that, sat sadly prodding at my mouse as I handed out the freebies, I was the true spirit of Winter Veil.

The moral of the story is this: If you want to spread happiness at this time of year, start with yourself. The greatest pleasure I had from this debacle was hovering over the little delete button as the Christmas deck was consigned to the fires. Happy Feast of Winter Veil. I guess.

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Tim Clark

With over two decades covering videogames, Tim has been there from the beginning. In his case, that meant playing Elite in 'co-op' on a BBC Micro (one player uses the movement keys, the other shoots) until his parents finally caved and bought an Amstrad CPC 6128. These days, when not steering the good ship PC Gamer, Tim spends his time complaining that all Priest mains in Hearthstone are degenerates and raiding in Destiny 2. He's almost certainly doing one of these right now.