Very quickly, for the uninitiated: “nerf” is a (somewhat derogatory) term for what the developers call “balance changes.” Some games make routine balance changes, whereas others either rarely or never make such changes. Usually the changes are made to features that make some character/card/etc. overpowered (“OP”), but Hearthstone developers have indicated that they would (and have, including in this most recent round) make changes based on cards that “limit design space” (that is, which either might become a problem as cards are added, thereby limiting what future cards can be created) .
This post is in response to this announcement from
this yesterday morning: link. All comments/ratings are made from the standpoint of the incoming standard constructed format, unless indicated otherwise.
1. Ancient of Lore
Ancient of Lore now only draws one card. The stated reasoning behind this is: 1) drawing cards in hearthstone is very powerful (by design, as the decks are so small, and “fatigue” is comparatively weak as a penalty for drawing too much); and 2) this card is essentially ubiquitous in druid–everyone runs two. While I agree with those premises, however, I do not like this nerf. For one, druid is getting hit hard with other nerfs (addressed below), so taken in combination, druid as we know it is done for. But, more importantly, the nerf makes “AoL”–an epic, class card–pretty “ok” for its cost. Compared to Azure Drake–a rare neutral–AoL will usually cost 2 more for +1/+1 stats, and no spellpower. Granted, the option to gain 5 life is valuable, and the better choice in some matchups, but I do not think it is worth ~2 mana. Moreover, as a class card of a higher rarity, AoL should have remained superior to Azure Drake.
2. Force of Nature
Everybody saw this nerf coming, kind of. I fell into the camp of people who thought the Savage Roar half of the druid combo would be nerfed (for both gameplay and monetary reasons), but I had some good company.
In terms of “rating” the nerf, I’m slightly unhappy. I think Savage Roar was the more overtly powerful of the two pieces–especially when compared to Shaman’s bloodlust. Speaking of cost, I can’t see the new FoN beating out Druid of the Claw for the 5 drop slot very often. I also dislike that Blizzard completely killed the combo, instead of simply making it more difficult to cast/slower.Blizzard’s campaign against charge is a little ham-fisted. However, I do like that I get some extra dust, and that token-type druid will get to keep a strong roar; and I have to admit that the charging treants were a little odd, story/flavor wise.
3. Keeper of the Grove
On this nerf, I am conflicted. On the one hand, I agree with Blizzard’s notion that Silence is an unfun and too-aggressively-priced mechanic; but on the other hand, I saw keeper more as a bulwark against abusive cards than one of the abusers. As a 4cc 2/4, he was priced and built to help you win back the turn you lose against aggro when you turn 2 Wild Growth. Keeper is now almost guaranteed not to 3-for-1 against aggro any more, but I thought the 3-for-1 was fair, given that you are skipping the first two turns (and losing a card from hand) to get that 3-for-1 potential. Additionally, I still subscribe to the notion that class cards are supposed to be slightly better, as a general rule, than neutral cards. Bottom line: I think this nerf went too far.
4. Ironbeak Owl
Totally agree with this nerf, and called it over a month ago (admittedly, one of the few I got right). I fully support this nerf, unlike the Keeper one, because cheap silence is the real problem. This is because cheap silence allows pseudo-removal with comparatively less loss of tempo. In hearthstone, 2 mana is kind of where the game “starts” for a lot of decks, whereas 4 mana is a key point, tempo-wise, in most matches. Additionally, whereas both Keeper and Owl’s bodies are one mana below curve, a 2/1 can still trade with most other 1- and 2-drops, and even some 3 drops, whereas a 2/4 can’t trade with very many 4- or 5-drops at all. In sum, I think Owl was much more a problem than Keeper, so I am glad Owl is being nerf.
5. Big Game Hunter
This is another card that pretty much everyone knew would be nerfed. At first, I was opposed to nerfing it, but I have decided that it was a good move overall. The card saw very limited play until everybody started running Dr. Boom, at which point and in direct response, everybody began running BGH. I thought, “Everybody agrees that Dr. Boom was overpowered, so once that influence is gone, BGH might not need a nerf.” But upon further consideration, this nerf is warranted for the “limiting design space” reason. If all that it takes for BGH to see play is for everyone to run one or more BGH targets, then that means that good 7+ attack minions need to be very sparingly made. And it just so happens that we are introducing a new set specifically intended to encourage players to play 7+ minions. BGH was already getting calls for a nerf in the pre-Old Gods era; he would certainly need a nerf once the Gods come out to play. The new price is fine because universal removal costs 5, so contingent removal that comes with a half-decent body can fairly cost that much, as well.
6. Hunter’s Mark
This nerf was necessary because otherwise all the hunters’ Ironbeak Owls would just be replaced with Hunter’s Marks, and the Owl nerf would be significantly weakened. In hunter, the two cards are mostly to avoid taunts (owl being favored in most builds for a few reasons, including the beast tag). Given the ease with which one can do one damage, Hunter’s Mark was simply too efficient as removal, and would have seen a huge surge in popularity as the Old Gods come and the Owls leave.
7. Blade Flurry
Blade Flurry is one of the hardest nerfed cards, doubling the cost and weakening the effect. My hearthstone buddy @GreenRanger_HS plays a lot more rogue than I do, and reviewed the card here. Although I trust his opinion more than my own on matters of rogue and arena, I actually disagree with him. I think Blade Flurry is still playable for one reason: they didn’t touch Preparation. I believe Preparation required them to make the card 4cc instead of 3cc, otherwise it would be functionally the same cost in a lot of circumstances. Given the previously-“wasted” value of Prep->Flurry, this is similar to increasing the “true cost” of the card by only one. Also, I like that Flurry no longer goes face, because it was too powerful to allow rogue to deal 2x attack damage on one turn. Removing this burst potential is similar to nerfing all the charge effects Blizzard has nerfed, and given rogue’s history with burst, it is good to be cautious. Reasonable minds may differ:
8. Knife Juggler
This was another card that pretty much everyone agreed was over-powered. However, there is a noticeable split of opinion, apparently, as to what the problem was. Blizzard apparently thought his overall power level was too high, and decided to simply lower his attack by one. Some people think this was sufficient to turn him from a mainstay in aggro decks to a “fringe card.” Aside from the obvious implication of one less attack making the juggler less harmful to the opponent’s face, a 2/2 does not trade up as well as a 3/2 does. Others, including myself and the very vocal Reynad, thought the nerf missed the mark. We think that the part of the card that made it overpowered was the static ability (the “juggles” or “knives”), which has remained unchanged. As created, and even after nerfs, Juggler throws a knife whenever a minion joins your board–including tokens created by spells or hero powers, and deathrattle minions (“non-summon minions”). When Juggler was first created, the number of non-summon minions was much lower than it is now in the game, and most of those non-summon minions were slower than the current crop. The result was that Juggler was very good in aggro, but not oppressive. Now, however, spells and deathrattles that generate minions are prevalent, making Juggler’s knives too easily triggered. Some argue that the problem was that too many non-summon minions were introduced to the game, and that the standard rotation will fix the problem. My response to that is twofold: 1) false, there are still going to be crazy Juggler + Unleash the Hounds plays forever; and 2) if the critical mass of non-summon minions is three token-generating cards (Haunted Creeper, Muster for Battle, and Imp-losion, in this past format), then we clearly have a “design space” problem with the juggles. I think the much better solution would have been to make Knife Juggler’s ability trigger only when a minion is “played,” as opposed to “summoned.” This would make Knife Juggler more predictable and less abusive, but still keep him as one of the best 2-drops in the game. As nerfed, I think he will still see a lot of play in aggro decks and, more importantly, the issues with the card are not resolved.
9. Leper Gnome
The Hearthstone team, including lead Ben Brode, have said on numerous occasions that hearthstone is about “minion battles.” My take on this is that face decks are “cheating” what Hearthstone is about, and (as a result) are not fun to play against. Given the stated emphasis on minion battles, the purpose of face decks is only to balance the meta by preventing players from getting too “greedy” about big effects; that is, to make sure control decks are not too powerful, and force some would-be control players back to the midrange where they belong. With the rotation of Sludge Belcher (Curse of Naxxramus) and Ancient Healbot (Goblins versus Gnomes), it was widely acknowledged that changes needed to be made to prevent aggro decks from running rampant. Brode acknowledged the concern over too much aggro in his hilariously make-shift Old Gods press conference a month or two ago. Leper Gnome was one card that was far too efficient for face decks. It (in most cases) guaranteed 2 damage to the opponent and it leaves the player with a 2/1 body to continue to add pressure, for one mana. The second player has to respond to the gnome or continue to take 2 more damage every turn (face decks rarely trade minions, and almost always attack the player’s “face”). That means that the second player has to either hero power (paying 2 mana, and sometimes paying life to attack into it), play a spell, or trade a minion into the gnome. This means that the Leper Gnome gives the face player at least 2 damage, disrupts tempo, and sometimes takes another minion down with it. By comparison, a spell that costs 1 does only 3 damage to the opponent or 2 to a minion. The nerf to Leper Gnome severely limits his power and makes him much more in line with the power of 1cc spells and other 1cc minions. He can no longer trade up, and can now be allowed to live for a few turns without costing you the game against face decks. I wanted a complete overhaul to play off the “leper” flavor, but I am happy with this change as well.
10. Arcane Golem
As former-world-champion Firebat noted, arcane golem might have been hit the hardest by the nerfs. The 3cc minion-slot is in a weird place, with a lot of decks kind of skipping it (Druid, often, literally skipping it), and a lot of decks running non-curve cards (BGH, Brann, and Mind Control Tech, for example) in the slot. In that slot, it is established that a 4/4 comes with a decent drawback, but as the vanilla value of a 3cc minion is slightly more than 3/4 (Spider Tank being a “mech”), it is unclear why the penalty for 1 extra attack needs to be so high. And Arcane Golem’s penalty is very high. It gives your opponent a free, 2cc spell, played immediately, and also that spell is one that many people hoped would be nerfed. Building in the free Wild Growth, you are paying the equivalent of more than 5cc (they don’t lose the card advantage a druid does when it actually has to cast Wild Growth, like a sucker), for a 4/4. That is a terrible deal. Previously, the mana crystal was not much of a downside because you would frequently play this card as part of a combo to close out the game. Accordingly, this card was nerfed as part of Blizzard’s continuing battle against the “charge” mechanic, which, to an extent, I understand–the game is more interactive when there is less “burst” damage, and a cheap, high-attack charge minions are just asking to be abused. I just wish they hadn’t made him unplayable.
11. Molten Giant
As anybody who follows me on twitter (self-plug: @hsdecktech) knows, I love molten giant. I love that he allows me to set up for a huge swing turn wherein I drop two or more massive minions to completely win back the game. I love that it requires me to take a calculated risk with my life total, and that I get to use my life total as a resource–even as a non-warlock, non-attacking class, like mage. I even love his molten little face and the fact that he reminds me of the titans in Disney’s Hercules (a great movie). But now my love has gone away. This change is not wholly unexpected: Blizzard has nerfed a lot of burst damage by getting rid of the druid combo and arcane golem, so it might be too easy for decks to maintain low life totals without penalty. Moreover, “Handlock” was a dominant warlock archetype from the beginning of the game until fairly recently, when “RenoLock” took over in its stead. There was likely a concern that Handlock would always be a viable option to fall back on, given the synergy between the warlock hero power and molten and mountain giants. And finally, Blizzard has shown a dislike for “free” cards, and molten giant was a little too easy to play for free. Whereas mountain and clockwork giants can never be free without help from other cards, and frost giant takes significant effort to get down to 0, molten just required you to get down to 1/3 of your life total–something that happens to at least one player in almost every game. With the nerf, they are making it so that molten is more frequently priced like the other giants and requires a significant risk to get down for free. I accept it as reasonable, but I don’t like it.
12. Master of Disguise
And finally, the nerf that made some people go “what?” Master of Disguise is the epitome of a “design space” nerf. It does not see any play right now, but even still, those who were paying attention new that it would get nerfed as soon as Scaled Nightmare was announced. Combined, the two cards would make for a situation that the opponent had almost no way of dealing with, and which would (eventually) result in a massive dragon ending the game in one attack. That particular scenario, though potentially annoying, however, was not really the concern: a two-card, 10-mana combo that ends the game a couple turns later is not the biggest of concerns. The bigger concern is that card like Scaled Nightmare (that have static abilities) have to be carefully created so as not be be abusive if they go untouched. Imagine if Mal’Ganis had been available to rogue? The forever-stealth was too potentially abusive, and limiting to the design team, so I think this is a good nerf for the game as a whole. Bonus points to Blizzard, because they won’t have to give away much dust on this one. I would have liked if they gave her one more health (the yeti statline) to make up for her lost stealthiness, or made her cost less and smaller (which seems to make sense as far as stealth goes), so that she would actually see play, but I guess that is not in the cards.
I had planned to write about cards and deck archetypes that were surprisingly not nerfed, but this article has gone a little long already, and I’m late for work. Thanks for reading!