So we're arrived at the end of Season 4, a season heavily characterised by the modifiers used in it. Dragon Towers and First Strike had major impact on tilting the meta towards defensive strategies, and that's what we see in the data: s4 meta graph clean

Note that this time we're setting base of the y-axis at 3000, to better illustrate the difference between leaders (since 3000 of the rating is 'free' anyway).

Tier List

S Tier

Baron Rivendare

A Tier

Jaina Proudmoore
Maiev Shadowsong
Charlga Razorflank

B Tier

Emperor Thaurissan

C Tier

Rend Blackhand
Old Murk-eye
Grommash Hellscream

D Tier

Tirion Fordring
General Drakkisath

F Tier

Sylvanas Windrunner
Bloodmage Thalnos
Cairne Bloodhoof

So we see the return of S tier, a bad sign in itself. What went wrong, and what does it say about the state of the game that the most overwhelmingly powerful thing a player can do at right now is spawn a Skeleton Mage every 20 seconds on a tower?

Both Dragon Towers and First Strike made defensive strategies incredibly powerful. SAFE Pilot came back and is dealing more damage than ever, thanks to the First Strike modifier applying both on the crash and the burn (if Coming In Hot is taken). The same applies to Explosive Whelp Eggs, which can kill a huge number of minis for 3g.

Dragon Towers, while not doing extra damage from First Strike, still shred up tanks fairly quickly and allow towers to be defended cheaply. Strategies formed around building deathballs or investing into expensive minis suffered enormously, as we see even Rend (a usual staple of the meta) fall from grace. In contrast, Jaina, Baron, and Maiev felt pretty comfortable in this environment. The extra value gained from Jaina's and Baron's passives worked extremely well, and Maiev was already inclined to play (and benefit from) the minis that worked best with First Strike.

Everything else performed at a mediocre level. Hogger retained some rating from the last gasps of Hero's Resolve, and that's about it. Charlga appears high, but was inflated by a bugged Arcane Blast at the start of First Strike, so it's suspect how much of her performance here was real. Murk-Eye could just not significantly recover from his low performance in Season 3, finding the incredibly hostile environment of Jaina and Maiev with super-SAFE and Eggs.

To be frank, I think this was a major, major failure of a meta. It doesn't bring me joy to say that at a time when the developers are making so many positive strides on other fronts, but the fact remains that this did not work out well. Unlike other warping modifiers which propped up the performance-poor, the rich got richer as we saw the perennial top-dogs simply become more dominant. The minis that benefited the most were of the cheap, immediate-impact variety that we've seen again and again since Season 1. More damningly, it seems to favor the higher-leveled opponent, since the defensive, attrition style leaves little room for error and therefore little room for the lower-leveled player to capitalize on said mistakes. It's also just not that fun to win and lose games in this fashion.

In this attrition meta, most games are just a slow grind revolving around tightly contesting resource nodes, seeking to trade minis as efficiently as possible. But to what end? The extra gold cannot be used for a bold push, crushing the opponent - they're used to funnel more gold into spells and gain incremental damage on the base, preparing for overtime. Maps like Hillsbrad Foothills are particularly miserable, as Deep Breath effortlessly clears entire lanes and chips the base.

But is this entirely the fault of First Strike? The fair assessment has to take into account that neither Baron nor Jaina have overperformed in PvE, and that Baron and Jaina have performed well for almost the entire lifetime of Rumble PvP - what we saw this season was an exaggeration, rather than a new creation. Even Hero's Resolve popularized slow, ramping strategies of cycling into larger and larger men. Aggressive strategies underperforming is not the exception but the rule of Rumble, as we see season after season favor facing opponents on the resource, rather than initiative axis of competition. A game of chess without a checkmate.

We had a brief window into a different kind of Rumble this season. When First Strike rolled in, Sappers were benefitting from the effect on their explosion, causing equal-level sappers to nearly destroy a Barracks in a single hit (and would do so when buffed by Emperor Thaurissan). While this produced extremely negative experiences for some (fairly so, I might add), I found the constraints created by the threat added a new and exciting dimension to PvP. Saving resources to respond to sappers (or being able to cycle into them) while also contesting the map added a classic tension-and-release found in other strategy games. Finding ways to recreate this experience, i.e. threats that are scary beyond the gold cost of responding to them, is crucial for generating new, exciting metas going forward.

Some good news in Season 4 that the Witch Doctor was impactful, or at least found a role to play. He was a potent whelp-clearer in Onyxia and the ward talent proved useful in protecting minis in PvP combat. What's next for Rumble in Season 5? For one, the meta will change much faster, since each modifier lasts only 3 weeks rather than 6, leading to something changing each week. But we'll also see Gold Rush, which massively increases passive gold generation, and Adrenaline Rush, which does the same, but relative to your Barracks health. We'll also see the first Vanilla PvP experience in a while, for a brief week before the season ends, where all modifiers recreate an unmodified rumble experience. Faerie Dragon also has the possibility of opening the meta up, since adding resistant to key minis will make them more resilient to removal. Things can only go up from here.