Being a Hearthstone player for quite a while, I have been accustomed to everyone using a deck tracker, and the software is even allowed in online tournaments in the game. In LoR, Riot has an open API which allows everyone access to everybody’s match history in real time. The use of such companion is relatively new and currently the source of lots of discussion.
I have seen a lot of debate around the community about whether a deck tracker should be allowed on ladder, considering the help it grants to the player using it.
In this piece, I don’t want to talk about whether it should be allowed or not, as it is not me place to have a say in this. Instead, I would like to talk about the necessity of using a deck tracker and how it can impact a player’s overall performance.
To do so, I would like to explore different topics surrounding the use of the software or similar website:
- How did it become so popular and mainstream nowadays.
- What does it do for a player.
- How does it impact the performance of a veteran player.
- How does it impact the performance of a player still developing its game.
- The Legends of Runeterra specific debate around the tracker.
Through these five topics, I would like to toss the idea that the deck tracker, although a tool which helped card games develop and welcome more players, can also be a liability in some cases and slow down a player’s development towards becoming the best they can.
How did we get to using deck trackers?
Just like most things in the video game industry nowadays, streamers had a big impact on making the use of a deck tracker a mainstream thing.
The thing that is a little less obvious is why did streamers start using a deck tracker in the first place, an the answer is an improved comfort while streaming.
When broadcasting to an audience, a streamer needs to do much more than play to the best of their abilities. If you are familiar with popular streamer who also happen to be competitive, every one of them will tell you that their level of play is worse when streaming compared to when they don’t. Being an entertainer, a teacher, and a chat supervisor is obviously draining, taking away from the focus and the mental ability that requires playing at a high level.
The deck tracker is a lot of help in that regard, it provides the streamer with a ton of information in order to properly navigate a game. Most of that information they would miss as they have to focus on the distractions associated with streaming. Also, the deck tracker helps the audience with getting a lot of information and being more implicated in the game they are watching on stream.
Over time, as we were seeing these great, popular players use this new tool that allowed them to play more relaxed, more efficiently as well. We all assumed that a deck tracker would be the future of competitive card games, allowing a player to make better decision and simply become a more competitive player. And this is very likely the truth.
Nowadays, if I look at Hearthstone for example, most players openly say that they would be much worse at the game if without the online companion. In a way, the software has allowed the game to become more complex, to require more information to master, and thus more interesting to watch, simply because it improved the amount of information one could handle with during a game.
So even if the title of this article might seem like a negative one, I have nothing against deck trackers as a tool. I think it’s fantastic to have access to these online companions. I do consider them a big positive in the whole card game ecosystem, and a big reason why card games have made it to a mainstream status in the video game industry.
What is the deck tracker doing for you?
Basically, the reason one would use a deck tracker is to gather more information during a game, and have access to other information faster. Tracking cards, and the mathematical part of card games as a whole, has been considered one of the hardest skills to master at a pro level.
Being able to free our brain from this heavy duty that is remembering most events that happen in the game is a huge help. It alleviates the pressure we put on our brain, and allows us to focus on what is next in the game, planning our next turns and macro gameplan.
Talking about planning future turns, the deck tracker also has a lot to offer in that regard. Incoming draw percentages, what is left in your deck and even what should be in your opponent’s one, the software gives us a ton of information in order to plan ahead as well as possible.
Overall, a Deck Tracker does most of the heavy lifting in terms of calculus and information storing during a match. It transforms an unsure environment into a much more predictable one, and makes our decision making more precise and close to the expected reality. When presented this way sounds like something everyone would want when playing any card games.
But there is another way to look at it, and it exactly the theme of this article in reality: The deck tracker also is a software bombarding the player with a ton of information while said player already is thinking about the other aspects of the game.
And this perspective on what the deck tracker does can change a lot depending on which player is using the companion.
How is the tracker impacting veteran players?
The first time we are confronted with a deck tracker, it is usually while watching a stream or a video, and most of the time, a player with a good grasp of the game.
For a veteran player, who already knows all the fundamentals of the game and the various match ups, the macro information that the deck tracker can give is honestly quite irrelevant. Most players spending a decent amount of time know at least 35 of the 40 cards in every popular deck, and can make a reasonable guess at the remaining ones if needed.
As such, the added value of the tracker for those players is mostly micro information. They use the companion, so they don’t have to track the cards, they don’t have to focus on remembering most of what happened in the game. They can simply access that piece of information when it is relevant to a decision they need to make.
Basically, the tracker allow veteran players to stay focused on the big picture, making sure the general gameplan stays on the rails. When there is a very specific decision that needs to be taken, like playing around a certain card, or the potential burst the opponent could have access to, the player will look at the tracker to get the needed information.
Because the foundations are there, and a veteran player already knows most of what the tracker provides. They are capable of navigating all the information the tracker contains to find just the precise one they require for the specific decision they need to make.
For example, let’s imagine we are pushing for lethal, and we have 6 damage cards left in our deck when our opponent has 2 healing cards in theirs. Both decks are at 24 cards remaining. Instead of doing the actual math of 6/24 for myself and 2/24 for the opponent (25% for me and 8.3% for the opponent) and then crossing the chance of mine happening while the opponent draws a non-healing card (which would be 25% x 91.7% = 22.9%). I can just look at my tracker and get that information quickly. This allows me to spend the rest of my round asking myself what else can I do if I do not find the damage card and have to play a few more rounds to win the game.
In this case, the tracker allowed me to have a more complete reasoning on my various possibilities. Because I did not have to spend most of my time counting the chance of each player drawing a specific card, I could use this brain power to figure out what happens if I draw something else.
However, in order to reach that more complex, thorough reasoning, I need to be in a capacity of understanding everything else that came before that. Which is that I was pushing for lethal, with 6 cards in my deck helping me in that regard, and I needed to avoid my opponent finding healing, which they have 2 cards left in their deck with that effect.
If I do not have this information as a player, the deck tracker can do all the math for me, I would have no idea what to do with it, and it would just be a useless information then. And this could be true for any information contained in the deck tracker. If I have no idea how the current Elise Viego deck operates, what is the point of the deck tracker telling me I have 43% win rate in this match up? I have no idea what to do with that information.
The next example is exactly what players still learning the game are experiencing when using the deck tracker.
How is the tracker impacting beginner players?
Have you ever been in a class and the teacher is talking about things you know you heard about, and you probably should understand, but really have no idea what you are listening to right now?
Well, that’s a deck tracker for someone who doesn’t have strong fundamentals of the game most of the time.
When we play a game in LoR, we basically are required to do two things: Collect information and make decisions based on it. In this order, as most of the time, bad decisions happen because we couldn’t find the important information.
In that regard, the first thing any new player should do when picking up the game should be to train their capacity to collect and use information. Or, in the golden age of the internet, absorb as much as possible before entering a game so that we can anticipate what is likely to happen. Then, we can simply focus on using the information based on what is happening in the game.
For example, once I have the information that most Demacia decks are midrange lists, based on dominating the board and the combat phase to win the game. I can make the decision of fighting the board as a priority when I play against one, or when playing a Demacia deck myself. And from this point, I can move on to the more specialized information of separating every Demacia deck in the metagame and knowing what is a priority to remove or not in each deck.
This is information the tracker is never going to give me. I don’t expect my tracker to color the priority cards in red and the ones I can ignore in blue for example, because that is impossible for the software to know. It might tell me the exact 40 cards that are in the Demacia deck I am facing. If I see Illaoi Demacia, the tracker will likely tell me I should expect Spawn based cards, and I can also see my opponent plays 3 copies of Cataclysm, so I guess this is an important card. If I am facing Bard Galio, I should see that the opponent is playing a very big amount of challenger units, and not that many spells. So what ? What am I supposed to do with this information?
Unless you are experienced in card games already, or a very flexible thinker who could deduce those things. The 40 cards your deck tracker is showing as what is very likely in the opponent’s deck is a completely useless information. Even worse, it is making you project yourself into what the opponent might play when you already are struggling with what is happening in the current round.
A common example I see in my coaching is when facing Viego Elise. Students will be so scared of the opponent playing Viego on turn 5 or Invasive Hydravine on turn 7, they can completely miss the Elise played on turn 2 and threatening to level up if the opponent has a Vile Feast in hand.
Because you do not have the necessary experience to quickly create links in between all the information available without the tracker, the information the deck tracker is giving you only adds to the confusion rather than helps solving it.
It is kind of the same as driving a car that is already going too fast for you to be able to react appropriately, and then seeing a red button “Turbo” and thinking things will be fine if you press it.
In that regard, I do believe using a deck tracker can make you a worse player. Not because it is useless, but because you aren’t at this point in the game where the information provided actually matters in your decision making skills.
Legends of Runeterra specific deck tracker debate
In the context of the current debate around the use of deck tracker in LoR, the big part of the talking is revolving around getting access to the opponent’s decklist and all related information. Riot provides all match and player data freely via their API.
I will not elaborate on whether I believe that is a competitive breach or not, Riot already giving their official answer on that matter. You can find it here:
Instead, I would like to explain what playing with an open decklist does for a player and why it can be a good or a bad thing depending on who is using this information.
In the case of a player in the Masters rank, this information is incredibly precious (hence the not competitively fair debate) because it makes the game go from an environment with multiple layer of doubts, where the players needs to assess whether a card is both in the opponent’s 40 cards AND in its hand. With the new tracker, the layer of whether the opponent is playing a card or not disappears.
In the case of a beginner player, it might sound weird, but I would actually give them my decklist before a match rather than let them guess what is in my deck. The reason for that is that it is likely they will focus on what they fear I might do with my deck rather than how they can create a tough situation for me.
At the same time, because it takes a beginner player much more time to process an information, being busy looking at my decklist might make them run out of time during a round and skip an action entirely.
In the end, this competitive infraction relative to the deck tracker really only concern the top players in the game. For every other player, knowing the exact 40 cards in the opponent’s deck is a source of doubt and pushes making complicated decision they don’t fully comprehend.
I am not advocating for new or still developing players to not use a deck tracker. What I would like to see more of though, is people realising that it is a tool, and just like a hammer, it’s about what you can do with it that matters in the end.
In the internet era, we are used to seeing specialists all the time, because it is talent that is showcased more often than not on Twitch or YouTube. As such, when you see a player praising how nice it is to use a deck tracker, you should keep in mind that you are likely watching someone who could tell you the entire metagame by heart, and probably the most popular match ups too, and the key cards in those. You are watching a specialist of Legends of Runeterra, someone with over a thousand hours on the game.
Of course, because that person is close to its limits in terms of how much information they can store and use during a game, using a tool that can allow them to break this limit is invaluable. However, if you just picked up the game or are still struggling to understand how does a metagame operates. Then you should probably focus on more generic, widely usable information rather than the precise 40 cards in your opponent decklist or the percentages they have to draw a specific card. Because honestly, it doesn’t really matter at this point.
Good Game Everyone,