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Developer Diaries


PvP State of the Meta

Hello Wizards!

Ben "Ratbeard" Durbin
Lead Designer
Since our last major update (Lemuria, Fall ’21) we devs have been gathering feedback about the current PvP meta – influenced heavily, as we expected, by the introduction of the Rhoshambo spells. In order to put those feedback channels to the test, I recently conducted a little experiment via my daily Twitch stream.

Before the stream, I wrote down all of the things we’d been hearing from players; and then during the stream I asked viewers to call out in chat any PvP issues they have. I figured I’d award points to any player who could name an issue that was both (a) not on our list and (b) not already part of work in progress. And then I thought it might be fun to engage with the chat and “stack rank” those issues in order of priority (to the players, at least).

Before I get into the stack rank, let me briefly mention that our efforts towards 5th Age – at least with respect to the amount of Art, Programming, and Design resources currently dedicated to the effort – are at the highest point they have ever been in pursuit of our 5th Age launch. Players don’t see even the tip of the iceberg with respect to those efforts. While our efforts are aligned around meeting specific milestones, players don’t see updates as frequently as they might like – and so they assume that we aren’t aware of problems and/or aren’t working on solutions for them.

Now let’s get into the stack rank. What follows is the list of PvP issues – in roughly the order that players felt they should be prioritized – along with our thoughts on each issue.

If you’d like to check out this highlight from the stream, here’s the link.



We use the term ‘jading’ here loosely. It doesn’t just apply to players who equip ‘Jade’ gear; in fact, most builds don’t require Jade gear (so “just nerf Jade gear” isn’t actually a solution). When we refer to a ‘jading’ player, we are specifically talking about a player who builds their gear and deck in such a way as to win by simply outlasting their opponent. In this context, outlasting the opponent could mean taking the match to timer and trying for a timer win; it can also mean making the match so unappealing to play that the jade’s opponent simply quits in frustration. Key to this strategy is the lack of any proactive plan to win the match by reducing the opponent to 0 health.

We’re taking two approaches to solving this issue. First, we will be taking a look at when and how healing outpaces damage. Because I expect these Dev notes to be lengthy as is, I won’t go into too much detail in regards to how we determine how much healing is the right amount. I will reiterate that we consider healing to be a legitimate damage mitigation strategy (just like shields or weaknesses) and that healing is essential to a proper functioning Rhoshambo and core to the Life school identity.

In regard to this effort, we are specifically looking at the incoming healing stat, and we have long term plans to phase this stat out in favor of more interesting stats. In the short term, we expect League functionality to allow us to disable or severely curtail the incoming healing stat. Our ideal endgame is that healing is usable without being abusable.

Our second approach to tackling Jades is to look at how they use the Timer as a win condition. We will discuss that below under Timer Stalling.

“PvE” Strats (Blade/Trap Stacking)

As I mentioned in the Twitch stream, we disagree with the use of the term “PvE strats” as a pejorative, used to describe players who are making use of the tools provided by the Rhoshambo to engage in simple, straightforward strategies to achieve win conditions. This was part of our intended design. The gambits in Rhoshambo are built around “stacks” of hanging effects, so it should not come as a surprise that newer or more casual players who approach PvP at the most basic level are finding success with stacking strats.

But the Rhoshambo also introduces multiple counter spells to every possible stack of hanging effects. More experienced players of the Rhoshambo meta are expecting to see entry level opponents building stacks of hanging effects, and so these players will be looking to convert stacks of hanging effects into things they can themselves use to “ramp” to victory conditions. These experienced players are anticipating their opponents converting their effects into their own effects and so they come prepared to convert them yet again, and so on. Experienced “next level” thinking, designed to anticipate your opponent’s ramps and gambits, is part of the Rhoshambo gameplay.

Of course, this all hinges on whether or not the gambits have relative parity (in terms of setup, pace, and damage) and whether the ramps have relative parity. One player observation was that while it is straightforward to use Righting the Scales to counter a trapstack strategy, Eye of Vigilance did not seem as effective in holding off bladestackers. We have taken this feedback into consideration and made a subtle but effective change in Eye of Vigilance so that the pips generated from the removal of offensive effects (blades) are returned to the defender.


“Drain” Meta

One of the most interesting and perplexing complaints to come up recently is that “Wraith is overpowered.” Wraith was released with Wizard101 and has not changed in over a decade. Any suggestion that Wraith is over-powered without explicitly acknowledging that the meta has changed around Wraith is suspect. Wraith is good for a couple of reasons, chiefly because the meta has changed such that all drains are now good. It also occupies a unique niche as a 6-pip spell, meaning that it gets maximum value from Solar Surge while still being cheap enough to be spammable.

It's undoubtedly true that drains are better than ever simply because PvP has become more of a “chip” meta than ever before. For several updates, we have been making changes to slow down the pace of PvP, moving steadily away from “big hits on command” (removing pre-enchants and the ability to enchant shadow hits, for example). It was with a vision of this pace that we resisted calls to, “Stop giving Death drains and just give them some big hits! Drains are horrible. They can’t compete!” (It really was just a few months ago that we were inundated with comments like this.)

In the short term, rather than focus on specific spells, we will continue to fine tune the pace of PvP so that Drains find their niche as a useful and thematic tool for Death. In the long term, you should expect to see us explore other ways to counter Drains by introducing new spells designed for that purpose.

Timer Stalling

Simply put, we are removing the timer as a Win condition in 5th Age. Any match that goes to timer (regardless of which player’s clock ends first) will be considered a Draw. In a Draw result, both players will lose rank.

Furthermore, we have adapted the Infraction System from Beastmoon, identifying a Draw as an infraction. If you accumulate too many Infractions within too short a timeframe, you will receive a “cooldown” suspension from the PvP queue.

If you are a typical player, and you experience Draw results with typical frequency, then the Infraction system will not trigger a cooldown period for you. But we expect players who are Jading to experience an inordinate number of Draw results, as this is central to their current strategy in every match; thus, the Infraction System will be tuned to penalize Jades without penalizing the typical player (to include players on defensive schools in ‘mirror matches.’) This system will also penalize players who frequently attempt to switch to a “stall” strategy in order force a Draw result and a mutual loss of rank.

It is essential that players provide good feedback on the frequency of “legit Draws” that they experience in a typical play session, so that we can tune the Infraction System to catch bad actors without infringing on the typical player.

When all of the necessary framework is in place to prevent stalling, we will reassess all of the parameters of the Match Timer, including the total amount of time per player and the “timer floor” (currently set at 5s per turn per player, but likely to change).

Blade Conditionals (Storm Scion, Death Jinn, Life Oni)

Currently, the three gambits that trigger via a “blade conditional” allow the player to use a blade both to “count” towards the 4+ blade requirement as well as to “pop” those blades to buff the spells themselves. We intend to revise the functionality of these conditionals so that they act more in accordance with player expectations and game balance needs. Although all of our resources are currently dedicated to other 5th Age initiatives, we expect to complete all necessary revisions before the launch of 5th Age.

However: In the short term, until we have the new functionality, we will temporarily disable these gambits to provide some relief to players.

New Rewards/Incentives

We’re pleasantly surprised to see “Rewards” so close to the top of the list, especially since of course we plan to provide incentives to 5th Age players. We plan to tease some of these rewards soon, but we’ll drop a small hint here to say that some of the coolest new rewards we have planned don’t just require new art, they require entirely new programming.

Steal Ward

You knew Steal Ward would make the list – right? If you’ve not had an opportunity to hear our musings on Steal Ward, we’ll recap here. First, Steal Ward is good only because Tower Shield is good. Tower Shield is great, in fact; it’s the perfect play to swing tempo back to yourself and build pips at the same time.

When we were designing the Rhoshambo meta, the prevalence of both set shields and Tower Shields inevitably came up. We knew that players had an over-reliance on set shields (eg Volcanic Shield, Spirit Shield) and that the various shield counter-ramps would penalize players for generating unused shields via the set shields. We anticipated that players would respond to that danger by relying even more heavily on Tower Shield, and we anticipated that Steal Ward would provide important counter-pressure to that play. (We also anticipated that Storm would be able to power hit through Tower Shields, and that players would be encouraged to pack single Storm shields—but this adaptation has been rare and far too long in coming.)

If Steal Ward is frustrating your attempts to use Tower Shield, then it is working as designed. Rather than banning or nerfing Steal Ward as some players have suggested, our inclination is to add spells that will be similarly frustrating for players who pack Steal Ward.

Deck Fails/Pre-Enchants

Deck Fails are usually presented in the context of a plea to bring back pre-enchants, which of course is an implicit complaint about the pacing of matches. So, while we have not closed the door on pre-enchants, we would still prefer to address pacing issues in other ways first.

Queue Sniping/Setting

We are looking into the various ways that players attempt to queue snipe and integrating them into the Infraction System. Without providing details (as those details can sometimes be used to evade infractions), we already have some Infractions ready for 5th Age that should curb this behavior. As additional actions are required, we can add them. Players must understand that we cannot police actions that take place outside our game, and that enforcement inside our game needs to be impartial, data-driven, and largely automated.

Toxicity & Exploits

We are committed to reducing toxicity in PvP and punishing exploits. We have (and will continue) to suspend accounts that engage in toxic behavior or exploits, and we have (and will continue) to close code loopholes that allow exploits in the first place.


While we are not ready to share details at this time, it is our intention that the best 5th Age PvP gear stats are always available by investing time, if you so choose. We will be addressing this through our gear audit as well as our new loot model for Spellements, and by greatly expanding access to both.

Grow the Player Base


Since we’re closing in on quite a dev diary now, we will mention the last few items on the list only in passing (Solar Surge access, Pet ward talents, low-level PvP, Cloak), so that we can spend the last few lines addressing this point: Grow the Player Base. Of course! Of course we want to grow the PvP player base – it is the reason for all of the work we have put into the system over the past couple of years and especially over the last few months. This work has been difficult for us, but also for our dedicated players, who have stuck it out through all of our changes so far. We are very, very grateful for your loyalty and especially for your feedback. We are confident that we are moving in the right direction, not just with respect to the moment-to-moment PvP gameplay, but also with respect to how we communicate with you, how we gather feedback, how we support and grow this game mode. It is our hope and our expectation that 5th Age will be not just a new beginning for PvP, but a foundation for lots of exciting PvP gameplay for years to come.

Please let us know what you think of this update in the Forums!


Ben "Ratbeard" Durbin
Lead Designer

Dated: March 16, 2022

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