Yesterday, Blizzard announced another upcoming round of balance changes, expected to be implemented pretty soon (check out the announcement here). As you can see from the announcement, only 7 cards are being changed this time. Nonetheless, the Hearthstone community is, as far as I can tell, pretty pumped.
Unlike prior balance changes, these ones are almost universally accepted as positive for the game (Reynad doesnt like the changes, but he doesn’t like anything). In fact, nearly half the nerfed cards were already selected for nerfs/bans by the community in the recent Batstone tournament!
But, since (near) universal concurrence makes for a fairly boring and mostly pointless article, I thought I’d go into my thoughts about what these changes mean for Hearthstone going forward.
1. Rockbiter Weapon
Rockbiter Weapon being changed from 1 to 2 is, of course, a significant change, percentage-wise. That being said, the reasoning is solid: Rockbiter has always been a staple in most Shaman decks. It has value in all parts of the game, especially (and it seems most problematically to Team 5) when combined with Doomhammer to close out games. Now that Shaman has been king of the meta for a little while, people are ready to see some action taken against it.
Moreover, as two “evergreen” cards, this combo would always be a problem, thereby “limiting design space” for future good shaman cards. In sum: a change probably needed to be made at some point, and now seemed like just about the best time to do it. I predict that this change will mean that Rockbiter won’t get much play in the foreseeable future (while Shaman still has all the goodies, like Trogg, Spirit Claws, plus all the other stuff later in the game), but might make a comeback later, since Doomhammer and Al’Akir appear slated to be around for a long time.
2. Tuskarr Totemic
Besides perhaps Yogg, Tuskarr Totemic was the most wished-for nerf of the bunch (though, I think the Yogg hate was largely just memes and white noise). This is because, with the higher percentage of “high rolls” in standard (by adding Totem Golem and removing Vitality Totem, with the new standard format), Tuskarr decided a lot of games, by a coinflip, on turn 2 or 3. Also, as noted in the nerf announcement, Tuskarr’s value was largely based on his random battlecry (his body has a value of about 1.5, and he could roll a totem worth anywhere from about .5 to 3). As also noted in the announcement, this is the “unfun” kind of randomness that can’t really be controlled or accounted for. Of interesting note, this nerf makes Tuskarr the worst he has ever been–including, notably, when Shaman was the worst class in the game.
Therein is the interesting part: on the one hand, Shaman now has more totem synergy than it has ever before had, so Tuskarr might still see play in those decks; but, at the same time, Shaman also has the most other goodies it has ever had, so maybe there’s no reason to run a subpar card like Tuskarr! I’ll be interested to see how much play this gets for the next few months before rotation. For now, it’s not going into my lists, and I can only imagine it gets less (possibly “no”) play after rotation.
3. Call of the Wild
You might recall that I was pretty confused when Call of the Wild was announced at 8 mana. As I said then, Animal Companion is universally used at 3. Call, then, was roughly “draw two animal companions, play all 3, AND play a coin.” That decision, I think, made more sense in the time between Old Gods and Kara because the Standard nerfs made hunter an otherwise pretty weak class. Remember when people were running Doomsayer in hunter? It was in a weird place. In that environment, hunter needed an OP late-game card to help it “catch up.” With Kara, though, hunter got A LOT of new tools: in addition to Kindly Grandmother and Cloaked Huntress, Barnes is a great fit, and some people even fit Curator in. So, now, Call is an OP finisher to a deck that has good cards at almost every spot on the curve. It makes sense that Blizzard would put Call of the Wild at something closer to its “true” value. I think Call still sees play, even as a 2-of, in almost every hunter deck. You still get 5+ immediate damage, you just can’t also hero power that turn anymore. Honestly, I think this just means you play Ragnaros on 8, Call on 9, and second Call on 10. Some people think that one turn makes a big difference–it makes it a lot more likely that your opponent makes it to 10 mana for their C’Thun, N’Zoth, Yogg (maybe), or Everyfin–but I think the one lost turn does not significantly change hunter’s place in the power rankings, which was “tier 2” to begin with.
Like Hat said (see pic attached to Call of the Wild blurb), the card is still really good, and the nerf was basically necessary. One point of note, however, is that Blizzard says the change is to put Execute in line with existing and upcoming removal. To me, that sounds like Blizzard is telling control warriors that there are more toys incoming. The problem with that is that this nerf hurts tempo warrior a lot more than control warrior, because it is a lot easier to curve-out and play consistent value on the board while squeezing in one mana than 2. Control warrior, on the other hand, often has turns where it could afford to pay one more mana for the execute. As a reactive deck, if you don’t have enough threats, it doesn’t need to use all its mana to clear them! The biggest hit, possibly for all warriors, is that you no longer have the ability to Ravaging Ghoul + execute on 4 in response to a Flamewreath Faceless. Although Faceless saw a dip in usage when Kara came out, it seems like there is a good chance it will come back once those other shaman cards take a hit. Now warriors answers, in what has traditionally been one of its strongest matchups, are more limited. With both the nerfs to shaman and warrior, it seems likely that tempo/dragon warrior will see less play after the nerfs than it does now (which, even now, is less than it was just about a month ago).
This change is, in my opinion, the most interesting of the bunch. While the nerf is not out of character (Team 5 has been campaigning against charge, and especially giving charge to other minions for some time now), people were still surprised to see a non-abused and not-presently-apparently-OP card getting nerfed. It could be that we are very close to finding an OP “Charge” combo deck/build; maybe Worgen and/or Arcane Giant combo decks are dominant based on secret stats we’re not yet aware of and they’re trying to get in before we ruin the meta again. However, it is just as likely that this is one of those “design space” nerfs, intended to allow for more exciting cards in the future that couldn’t reasonably exist with Charge running around. One would have thought plans for Arcane Giant would have triggered this nerf with the big balance change wave before Old Gods, but perhaps they did not yet have Arcane Giant fully fleshed out at that point. All-in-all, though a little unexpected at this exact moment, a change of some sort makes sense. The question, then, is whether the new charge will see any play. Some people are predicting that it can go into Patron Warrior as a Patron-generator, but the lists I last saw didn’t even run Whirlwind, so I’m not 100% sold on that. Perhaps the extra 2 damage compared to Whirldwind, and the fact you can rely on Wild Pyro+Commanding Shout for Whirlwind effects will prove me wrong, but I’m still in the “the card is dead” camp.
6. Abusive Sergeant
Team 5 has said numerous times that Hearthstone is (or, perhaps, “should be”) primarily about minion battles. That’s one of the reasons I hate “face” decks and loved the Leper Gnome nerf. Although I get why Abusive Sergeant was next on the list (he’s a 2-of in almost all aggressive decks), this one’s a little bittersweet to me. Unlike Leper Gnome, the Abusive Sergeant was frequently used to encourage minion battles. Speaking of Leper Gnome, we saw that a small change to early minions can mean a big result. 1/1s trade very poorly, and this nerf means you essentially can’t play him on turn 1 any more. The result, I think, is that we will see fewer “face” decks and more “aggro” decks that trade for the board (like zoo and possibly new builds of shaman). I’m not sure those decks will run the new version of this guy, but I do not think they will.
7. Yogg-Saron, Hope’s End
And finally, the big one! This nerf is, in my opinion, beautiful. It makes a lot of sense thematically and rules-wise (especially keeping in mind the “Sylvanas” effect on Yogg) and it nerfs the card enough to make people question whether it is worth the play, without destroying the card. I don’t have a simulator, or any math skills, to determine exactly how much of a nerf it is, but it feels right. I haven’t been a huge fan of Yogg myself, so I’ll be getting rid of mine. Just remember not to disenchant your copies until the nerf goes live!
In conclusion, I think the nerfs do a good job of making slight changes instead of completely re-making the format. Shaman will still likely be tops, but not as aggressively so. Yogg keeps its spirit, but will see less tournament play. Druid, Warrior, and Hunter all remain decent ladder options if you don’t feel like playing Shaman. Less common decks like Zoo and Miracle Rogue probably make a little comeback (Zoo’s comeback might actually be a big one, as the new best aggro deck?). And decks we haven’t seen in a while like Patron or Freeze Mage (to counter the Zoo decks) might see a blip with the more patient and talented players on the ladder, but probably just a blip. Looking forward to the patch some time next week or so! Thanks for reading.