Getting to Know Sir Finley Mrrgglton
Ever since its release back in November of 2015, League of Explorers has been one of the most influential expansions in the history of Hearthstone. With amazingly flavourful missions, a once-beloved new mechanic, and multiple powerful cards, this set was once the shining example of what great set design in Hearthstone should strive for. Two years later, some of these opinions may have shifted, but all it takes is one look at the Wild format to realize just how much influence this set has had in the game’s direction.
While pretty much all the League’s members have had their time in the sun, today we take a deep look at the one I feel is most overlooked; our favourite monocle-bearing Murloc, Sir Finley Mrrgglton. Originally this was meant to be an additional section to my guide on Getting Started with Aggro Shaman, until I realized that the guide was already long and I felt that Sir Finley was worthy of an entire piece to his name. As such, this article will discuss the use of Sir Finley within the context of aggressive decks, who have optimized his use the most. We will discuss all his qualities as well as how to best take advantage of his incredibly unique abilities.
Before moving on, I’d like to thank the community for pointing out a myriad of mistakes and misconceptions that were present in the original article. In particular, I’d like to thank DannyDonuts, co-host of the Well Met! podcast and writer for both the TempoStorm and ViciousSyndicate Meta Snapshots, for taking the time to read through and contributing to such an extent that you can consider him a co-author of this piece. Hopefully with the help of everyone, this article is now a much more accurate and valuable resource. With that said, let’s get started.
Aside from his fantastic artwork, the first thing that should stand out when looking at Sir Finley are his stats. While there have been minions like Zombie Chow and Emerald Hive Queen, these minions have some sort of downside attached to them. An unconditional 1/3 for 1 mana was unheard off for a Neutral card at the time, and even after two years Sir Finley remains as the only Neutral example. The 1/3 for 1 statline is a very rare one, most of the time reserved for class cards, as seen by the very few examples present in the whole game: Mana Wyrm, Northshire Cleric, Voidwalker, [Malchezaar’s Imp], Tunnel Trogg, Warbot, and most recently Animated Berserker.
1/3 is a very good statline for cheap minions, as the 3-Health is quite the magical number. For starters, 3 Health makes these minions already naturally resilient in combat. 3-Health usually requires a 2-Mana removal spell or higher, allowing this type of statline to inherently generate tempo for the player who plays them. The main downside is the 1 Attack, which while good when facing most other 1-Cost minions, doesn’t help when trading against minions of higher value. This makes the 1/3 statline one that is naturally very powerful with any sort off buff effects, as going from a 1/3 to a 2/4 feels almost like earning 2 mana’s worth of value.
The next thing that is noteworthy, albeit a somewhat minor detail, is the tribal synergy. Murlocs are known for their synergies, which can be so powerful that we’ve recently seen some of them toned down. Between Murloc Warleader, Coldlight Seer, Rockpool Hunter, and Gentle Megasaur, building a powerful board of Murlocs is not as hard as it once was. As noted before, 1/3 are inherently a powerful statline when combined with buffs, making Sir Finley fit right in with his brethren. So how come you don’t see Sir Finley in Murloc decks more often? Well, mostly due to another key Murloc that I haven’t mentioned, who also happens to be a 1/3 for 1 who replaces your Hero Power; Vilefin Inquisitor. As Murloc decks are some of the most synergy reliant decks in the game, being able to pump out 1/1 Murlocs for free is incredibly powerful as well. While Sir Finley’s ability is overall a positive, the Inquisitor happens to work best in decks that are looking to go all-in on Murlocs.
Understanding the Power
Speaking of which, Sir Finley’s ability is one of the most unique in the entire game, unlike anything we had seen before or since. It can be an upside or a downside depending on the circumstances, and using it optimally can be more skill testing than it may seem at first glance.
Hero Powers are one of the game’s most defining mechanics on multiple levels, and tie in to the game’s designed mana management system. Hero Powers are what is known in other card games as a mana sink; an ability that lets you make use of any excess mana you may have floating around. These abilities are usually overcosted due to being a repeatable effect, allowing you to generate more than a card’s worth of value given enough time and resources. In a game like Hearthstone, where mana is granted automatically at the beginning of the turn, mana sinks become even more important than normal.
As you accumulate more and more mana, you can play more cards in one turn. However, cards are a finite resource when compared to mana crystals, as while all your crystals refresh at the start of your turn, you are only drawing one card a turn. Eventually you will reach a point where both players are relying on topdecks, and the games progress stagnates considerably. By providing players with something to use all their excess mana on, the game can continue to move forward towards a satisfying conclusion at a more even pace.
Interestingly, instead of designing cards with mana sinks, the game designers of Hearthstone opted to give both players a built-in mana sink ability in the form of their Hero Power. The exact reasoning behind of this decision is one that I am not sure off, but one of its effects is very evident; reinforcing class identity through distinct Hero Powers. Class identity is another very large topic that one could dive into, but in short, each Hero Power being completely unique to their class is one of the most basic ways of reinforcing class identity through gameplay, as having access to a certain repeatable effect throughout the whole game influences everything from playstyle, to card choices, to card design for the class.
Breaking the Status Quo
Now that we’ve established the core importance of Hero Powers, we can better understand how uniquely powerful Sir Finley is. Being able to Discover a completely new Hero Power allows any deck to break away from class restrictions and gain access to abilities it was never meant to have. While Life Tap may have been somewhat balanced as a whole due to the overall lower quality of Warlock cards, allowing decks like Pirate Warrior to use it can be extremely broken. This is balanced by the inherent randomness of the Discover mechanic, making it so Sir Finley won’t always provide a strict upgrade, and you may sometimes be forced to pick a Hero Power that is worst that what you previously had. As such, it becomes even more important to understand the usefulness of all Hero Powers so as to always be able to make the best choice, even when provided with less-than-ideal options.
Making the Right Choice
But going even further from the raw power and uniqueness of Sir Finley’s ability, the combination of both the Discover mechanic and being a 1-Cost card provides players with an insane amount of flexibility, both in terms of timing as well as options. While Life Tap may be objectively the most powerful option, it won’t always be available to choose, and even if it is available, still it may not be the right choice depending on the situation.
Ranking the Hero Powers
The value of hero powers changes a lot based on your deck as well as how far the game has progressed, with some Hero Powers earning greater value in the later stages of the game. Here is how I would rank an early (first 2-3 turns) Hero Power for any aggro deck that is not Aggro Druid:
- Tier S: Life Tap
I cannot stress this enough; Life Tap is almost always the best choice in any matchup. As mentioned before, most matches come to a point where both players have run out of resources and are in topdeck mode. This is even more true of aggressive mirrors. At this point, having the ability to play 2 cards on a turn is much better than any other Hero Power that is available. This is because in Aggro vs Aggro games you typically don’t start using your Hero Power until turn 5/6, after you’ve ran out of resources in your hand, as cards tend to be much more powerful than the Hero Powers. Back in the early days of Hearthstone (Naxx/GvG/BRM), this is why Zoolock was such a dominant presence; because they could produce multiple threats per turn after “running out of steam”.
While on the surface not as efficient as Steady Shot, each of these offer minor upsides in comparison to make up for the relative lack of efficiency. Even more importantly, having the ability to impact the board with a damage ability that can target minions is much more valuable than hitting your opponent in the face for 2 since it allows you protect and build-up your own board. Maintaining board control lets you beat your opponent down with minion hits, which typically add up to more damage over time than with a Steady Shot.
There are big misconceptions surrounding the value of Steady Shot, with most people giving it way more value than it ought to have in the early game. As previously mentioned, board control is king during the early turns, so any of the other Hero Powers that provide targetable damage take priority. It is worth noting that the value of Steady Shot is directly tied to your opponent’s life total, making it much more valuable later in the game, when you’re opponent is likely to be low on life. Dealing 2 damage to a 30 Health opponent is removing ~7% of his life total. At 10 Health that 2 damage becomes 20% of their life total, and at 4 Health it becomes 50%. The other two options both provide board presence of varying quality. Reinforce provides a steady stream of 1/1 minions, which can slowly translate to additional damage given enough time. Totemic Call also provides some board presence, but does so much less reliably, in addition to 0/2 with minor upsides being a lot less impactful than guaranteed 1/1s.
And finally, we have the two Hero Powers that do not deal any damage at all, making them in general the least desirable in an aggressive deck. At the very least, Lesser Heal provides some flexibility in its use, allowing you to target minions in order to keep them alive for longer, whereas Armor Up! is just plain useless.
Now you may have noticed that I said that the rankings above were for decks beside Aggro druid. And that is because you should think about playing Sir Finley in Aggro Druid significantly differently than you would in Pirate Warrior or Aggro Shaman. Aggro Druid deals the bulk of its damage through board buffs (Savage Roar, Power of the Wild, Mark of the Lotus), not spells or weapons. Due to this, having minions on the board is of critical importance to an Aggro Druid player, which is why in this particular deck the Tiers A and B are almost completely swapped:
- Tier A (for Aggro Druid): Reinforce, Totemic Call
- Tier B (for Aggro Druid): Fireblast, Dagger Mastery, Steady Shot
And just like that, the rankings have switched dramatically. Note how Shapeshift is missing in these specific rankings, as you can’t pick your current Hero Power off of Sir Finley’s ability.
Putting Knowledge to the Test
Now, let’s set up a very basic example: You’re an Aggro Druid vs. Pirate Warrior, and you’re going second. You draw Sir Finley as you’re only 1-drop (unlikely, but it happens sometimes), so you decide to play it and are offered the choice of Steady Shot, Totemic Call, and Fireblast. Which one would you think is the right choice? Go ahead, I’ll give you some time to think it through.
Done? Alright, so obviously this decision is situational based on cards in hand, but in my opinion the best pick in this situation is Totemic Call. As we said before, Aggro Druid lives and dies by its ability to generate board presence, so being able to create minions out of thin air without spending cards is very valuable. Those 0/2s aren’t so bad when you can use them to deal 8+ damage for 3 mana with Savage Roar. You could also pick Fireblast, though I feel the pick is 70/30 in favour of Totemic Call. We are completely ignoring Steady Shot as an option all together, since as previously face damage is meaningless without board control to back it up.
Another example: You’re an Aggro Shaman vs. Pirate Warrior. It’s turn 5 and things aren’t looking too good; you’re feeling low on life and you’re Overloaded for 2 from playing a Flamewreathed Faceless on your previous turn, who is currently you’re only minion on board. You play Sir Finley and have the choice of Life Tap, Steady Shot, and Lesser Heal. Which one would you think is the right choice? Take some time, think it through, and move to the next paragraph when you think you’re ready.
I’m going to guess your first thought was most likely to ignore Lesser Heal and go straight for Steady Shot. I would say that is wrong, and that the correct pick was Lesser Heal. How come? Well, you must understand the context of the specific matchup you are playing. Aggro Shaman can struggle to race against Pirate Warrior even when drawing a good opener. As such, even though you are an aggressive deck, you have to play defense against the Pirate Warrior, who has the tempo advantage of going first as well as being both inherently faster and more efficient at dealing damage than you due to the nature of weapons and multiple Upgrade! effects that they possess.
While there is an argument for Life Tap getting you closer to key cards like Feral Spirit and Maelstrom Portal, it also may lead to you dying faster in a matchup where card advantage is meaningless. Steady Shot is not efficient enough when it gets naturally countered by the Warrior’s Armor Up!. Lesser Heal not only helps you stem the flow of face damage throughout the game, but due to the nature of Aggro Shaman’s minions can also help you fight better for the board. Just between Tunnel Trogg, Totem Golem, Flamewreathed Faceless, and the two Taunt minions from Feral Spirit, there’s plenty of valuable high-health targets that Lesser Heal helps you keep alive so that they can continue to help fight for board. This is just one of many examples where the most “obvious” choice is not necessarily the right one.
Committing to the Play
Sir Finley design is inherently polarizing in terms of what point of the game he should be played. On one end you have the raw 1-Cost 1/3; a cheap minion with one of the best early game statlines available. On the other end, you have a Battlecry ability that affects you’re Hero Power, something that in an aggressive deck you aren’t really looking to use until turn 5 or 6 when you are low on cards and need something to do with your mana. More importantly, the game mechanics do not allow you to cancel a Discover ability, meaning that once Sir Finley is out of your hand you cannot take him back. So the question then becomes, is it always correct to play Sir Finley on turn 1? Even further, is it ever correct to keep Sir Finley in your mulligan?
When Sir Finley is you’re only 1-Cost minion in your opening hand, then the choice of playing him becomes very easy. But in a matchup like Aggro Druid vs. Pirate Warrior, the choice becomes much more complicated. For one, Aggro Druid has plenty of 1-mana plays available to them; Bloodsail Corsair pulling Patches the Pirate, Enchanted Raven, Fire Fly, and Living Roots are all viable turn 1 plays. However, none of those minions line up as well with Pirate Warrior’s opener of multiple 1/1s as Sir Finley. His high health makes him likely to kill two or even three minions, especially now that turn 2 Fiery War Axe is much less likely punish than before. Additionally, that 1/3 statline benefits a lot from the myriad of buffs that Aggro Druid packs, setting you up for a fantastic early start. In this specific scenario, there seems to be a lot of incentive to play Sir Finley on turn 1, and maybe even keep it in the mulligan.
But let’s look at the other possibility; what if it isn’t Pirate Warrior? This is Wild after all, and there’s plenty of strange and unexpected brews floating around the ranked ladder. If you play Sir Finley thinking you are facing Pirate Warrior, only to realize a few turns later that he is playing C’thun, you could be in a worse situation than if you had waited. Not only are Sir Finley’s advantages as a board control tool greatly diminished against decks that don’t fight for the board, but the use of his ability becomes less optimal. The types of Hero Powers that you’d choose when facing a controlling Warrior deck are very different from the one’s you’d pick against Pirate Warrior; it’s once again the difference between picking a Life Tap vs. Lesser Heal.
In the end, as with any other card, when you play Sir Finley ends up being very dependent on context. Before and while committing to playing Sir Finley, ask yourself these questions:
- Am I going first or second?
- How far along are we in the game (Turn 1 vs. Turn 5+)?
- Who is the aggressor in this game?
- What are the weaknesses of my hand currently (no early turns plays, lack minions, lack of value against a slower deck, etc.)?
- What’s my opponent’s gameplan?
- How does the speed of my game plane match against my opponent’s?
- Do I have to adapt my gameplan as a result of picking a certain Hero Power?
And with that I thank you all for reading this in-depth analysis on our sharp-eyed friend Sir Finley Mrrgglton. As always, feel free to leave any comments or suggestions as to what you liked, what could be improved, and whether you’d like to see more articles like this one. Until then, stay tuned and see you next time!