When it Rains, it Pours: Another Roundup on Hearthstone News

As appears to be Hearthstone’s modus operandi, Hearthstone had several big moments and announcements over the past week. Why they don’t stretch these things out more and allow us to stew in our hype a bit between announcements is beyond me. Anyway, as my readers are primarily Twitter folks who know the breaking news as soon as I do, and as my co-workers at Blizzpro already covered most of the news here, I’ll be giving just a quick rundown of the news itself and spend most of this post on my thoughts thereon.

I. Nerf Announcement! (cite)

Briefly: Small-Time Buccaneer will lose one health and Spirit Claws will cost one more.

If you follow me on twitter, you know I was initially a little bummed about this announcement–not for its content, but because it came out I was ~1800 words into a post about my nerf predictions and general nerf theory (-__-). For what it’s worth, I predicted the Small-Time Buccaneer nerf in that way, but I thought they would (mistakenly) fail to address Claws and/or Maelstrom Portal and, instead, just rely on the rotation and what is now called the “Hall of Fame” (discussed below) to fix the Shaman problem.

Regarding the individual nerfs, I think the Small-Time Buccaneer nerf makes sense, but was not optimal. To take from my earlier 1800 words, there are a few competing design principals here including, at least: 1) simplicity; 2) obviousness of changes; 3) soul/feel; and 4) utility/playability.

The nerf that was made: 1) left the card simple; 2) was obvious (in that one of the “big numbers” was changed); and 3) retained almost all of the soul and feel of the card, but appears to have rendered the card all but unplayable which, in my mind, is a failure of the fourth design principal. It left the card nigh unplayable because 1 health is incredibly easy to deal with at any stage in the game. While there is no debating that there is value in printing bad cards, I am generally opposed to nerfing a card into oblivion because when a card starts great and becomes terrible, all the players who fell in love with the card feel extra bad. By contrast, very few people get sad when bad cards stay bad. I’m also opposed to making Small-Time Buccaneer terrible because–and you may not have known this, because it was so minor–pirates were intended to be a subtheme for the flavor of Mean Streets. Illegal activity on/near the water screams pirates! For a few months we had a pirate meta and a lot of people hated it, so it was fine to nerf that a bit, but now an entire set “subtheme” is just one card: Patches.

The nerf I would have preferred: 1cc 1/1 with “This card has +1/+1 while you have a weapon equipped.” My text would have kept him easy to kill on turn 1, but would have made him decent when a weapon was equipped. A situational 1cc 2/2 is on-curve (Mistress of Mixtures, Enchanted Raven–slightly better because it is a class card), and the card would still be good with the other pirate synergy. The result would be that pirates would still have a place in the Gadgetzan meta, but they would not rule it. Admittedly, my nerf is a little less obvious than the one chosen (because it changes the smaller text on the card as well), but I think it would have been a good trade-off.

The Spirit Claws nerf is a little harder to assess, but it seems “OK.” I didn’t write 1800 words on the Spirit Claws nerf, so bear with me. It is not terribly surprising that Spirit Claws was nerfed. The card has gotten the ire of the community because it is cheap, game defining, and fairly reliant on RNG (with some games being largely decided by whether your turn two totem is the 25% chance spell damage). The Hearthstone team has publicly stated that they were disappointed with Spirit Claws, because they had hoped it would have encouraged a new archetype instead of just making Aggro and Midrange stronger.

That said, I expected Spirit Claws to have been indirectly nerfed by moving Bloodmage Thalnos and Azure Drake to wild (50% right) at or around the same time as Tunnel Trogg, Totem Golem, Brann, et. al. naturally rotated to wild. I thought this, in part, because a recent Vicious Syndicate report showed Bloodmage Thalnos was the 12th most used card in the Gadgetzan meta (which is particularly telling when keeping in mind that people can only run one copy of it in any given deck). As I’ll discuss more below, instead they indirectly nerfed Thalnos by nerfing Spirit Claws, Miracle Rogue, and Freeze Mage.

Anyway, what they did do was double the cost of the card. This was the single most impactful stat change they could have made, by a long shot. Granted there are a good number situations in any given game in which the cost change will/would not matter, but there is one very important way in which it will matter: one can no longer claws on 1 into hero power (spell damage totem) on 2. Another important change is that now Shaman has a glut of weapons at 2, and so it will remain that way the entire time Spirit Claws is in standard. It currently seems like Jade Claws will win that spot almost every time. And with the Small-Time Buccaneer nerf, there’s no big incentive to overload on weapons, so Spirit Claws may just drop off the meta landscape. As with Small-Time Buccaneer, I would have preferred a nerf that kept the card playable.

II. Format Changes (same cite)

Going forward, there will be ranked “floors” at 15, 10, and 5, just like those that are currently at 20 and Legend. That is, once you attain that rank, you cannot drop below it. Some people see this as a major change, but it doesn’t seem like it would affect me much; I very rarely de-rank to any significant extent. I think the bigger impact will be that now people can take ladder “breaks” within the ladder, at no risk. It will also likely make that one rank a little bit easier, as some of you opponents will be on their break/meme decks. Both changes would alleviate a small amount of the ladder “grind,” and anxiety therefrom, so that’s nice.

III. “Hall of Fame” Cards: Too Good for Standard

A. This Year’s Hall of Fame Class (cite)

As you surely know by now, six Classic-set cards are being rotated to Wild: Azure Drake; Sylvanas Windrunner; Ragnaros the Firelord; Power Overwhelming; Ice Lance; and Conceal. Each card had a little blurb explaining why it would be sent to Wild. The first three cards had a shared blurb explaining that they are neutral cards that show up in many decks and reduce the chance of future cards having an impact.

Azure Drake should be of no surprise to anyone. As far as I recall, it was the card that basically started this round of rotation talks, and it has popped up a lot since then as well. It is extremely versatile and, therefore, extremely popular in this metagame–as it has been for the entire year of the Kraken. Some people (including myself) don’t think Azure Drake is really overpowered so much as there are not many good alternatives in the five casting-cost slot. Azure Drake was not overused when Sludge Belcher and Loatheb were available in the slot. Nor did it appear disproportionately powerful before Ancient of Lore was nerfed and Spirit Claws was printed. In conclusion, Azure Drake is a solid card that has fallen victim to poor balancing (especially at the 5-slot )throughout this past year. It is a little sad that it is being sent to Wild where it will quickly, if not immediately, become irrelevant. I would have preferred if we just got more cool 5-drops coming out next year.

Sylvanas Windrunner was selected for two reasons: 1) “[s]imilar to Azure Drake, it’s hard to see a card at six mana cost out-value Sylvanas”; and 2) because her Deathrattle is super strong and more Deathrattle synergy is incoming. I’m not sure I buy the first reason because, even though it is true in a vacuum, Sylvanas does not even see too much play in our metagame, and has not dominated the game at any point in recent memory (if you say N’Zoth anything “dominated” the meta, then you are wrong). Many Reno decks cut her because she was too slow and had too little of an impact on the board when she came out; midrange and aggro decks never ran her, for the exact same reason. We are in the midst of a metagame that offers Savannah Highmane, Mysterious Challenger (which only stopped seeing play because Avenge rotated), Aya Blackpaw, Emperor Thaurissan, Justicar Trueheart, Gadgetzan Auctioneer, and Thing from Below (kind of) as 6-drops that openly challenge the value of Sylvanas. All the evidence I see refutes the claim that it is too hard to create 6-drops that contest her slot in any given deck and/or meta. The second reason, however, excites me: more Deathrattle synergy incoming! Hopefully it actually happens, and we don’t get Blade Flurry’d again, because N’Zoth is one of my favorite cards that currently sees no play.

Ragnaros the Firelord is an interesting choice because it is kind of the “face” of Hearthstone: it calls to an iconic World of Warcraft character/event, it is all over their website and promos, it has had multiple Tavern Brawls centered around it, it has a bit of that RNG that differentiates Hearthstone from most physical CCGs, and it is both the epitome of a legendary card and a lot of players’ first legendary. It, like Sylvanas, has had a lot of metagames (starting with once Naxx was released) wherein it was not a dominant force, including the GvG and the Mean Streets metas, in which is was all but absent from the game.

That said, losing to “Rag snipe” has been a complaint in the competitive scene since the scene’s inception. Also, the Hearthstone team is certainly not wrong that Ragnaros has seen play across most archetypes, and has prevented a slew of cards in the 7-9 mana slot from being played. In all, surprising as losing Ragnaros is from a game identity/marketing sense, it is probably a good move from a gameplay perspective. Hopefully, the fan-art won’t suffer too much for it.

Power Overwhelming is an interesting choice because, although it does see play in almost any Warlock deck (which is a red flag), the only Warlock deck that currently sees play is Renolock. And man does this feel like a shot at Renolock: no combo burst finisher, weaker Shadowflames, weaker Faceless Shamblers, no Sylvanas steals (that one’s double killed), and that’s just what a non-Renolock player can think of off the top of his head. Not to mention, Renolock is about to lose its namesake and main recovery engine, Reno Jackson!  This, combined with the other Hall of Fame decisions, seems to show that Blizzard is trying to hurt control decks (or perhaps, clear the way for new and exciting control cards). With control losing so much to rotations, and already in a naturally bad position due to the jade mechanic, I hope it’s the latter.

Ice Lance and Conceal are interesting because in the past the design team has stated that they were okay with Freeze Mage and Miracle Rogue being around “forever” because neither deck is dominant on the ladder and both decks reward high level play. Now, Freeze Mage loses Emperor, Forgotten Torch, and Ice Lance, which neuters A LOT of its burst potential. Miracle Rogue loses Small-Time Buccaneer, Tomb Pillager, Emperor (some builds), and Conceal, which hurts EVERY stage of Miracle’s game. In short, both archetypes are in serious trouble unless they find something in the next expansion. That said, both nerfs make sense from the “we don’t like one-turn kills” standpoint that Blizzard has taken time and again, so I’m not all that surprised. It also continues the documented trends of weakening Freeze (looking back to beta) and Stealth, and the trend this time around of weakening control decks or, more precisely: “decks that do not win primarily from minion-based combat.” I don’t think these changes were necessary, but if they had to be made, I’m just glad they chose Conceal over Auctioneer, because Auctioneer is one of the most fun cards in the game.

          B. Hall of Fame Dust FO FREE (same cite)

Instead of offering full dust refunds for cards moving into the Hall of Fame, and thereby encouraging us to dust cards that won’t see play in standard, Blizzard is giving us dust for our copies of rotating cards that we own, up to one playset of each (even if we own regular and golden playsets–you get the value of the golden set). I think this is both SUPER cool of them, and also super smart, as it is the first step towards making Wild a relevant format (a topic specifically addressed in this announcement).There was a lot of discussion as to whether we should therefore craft golden versions of the cards and the short answer is:

“Don’t bother, unless you really want to min-max your dust, in which case only the commons give you a net win. If you don’t have a card, and contemplate maybe playing Wild, now is your chance to get it for free. If you want to “upgrade” your existing cards to goldens, you can now do so at a discount.”

All in all, very cool. Great move by Blizzard. I’m looking forward to their plans to expand Wild format’s reach (including plans for a Wild Mode Heroic Tavern Brawl–hype!).

          C. “Un-nerf” and Send Molten Giant to the Hall of Fame?

Somewhere on Reddit (apologies for not saving the link; you’ll have to trust me), Ben Brode mentioned that they were considering un-nerfing Molten Giant and, instead, putting it in the Hall of Fame. Such a change would happen, at the earliest, in 2018. Such a change would be freaking awesome! HandLock is exactly the type of deck that deserves to be in the Hearthstone Hall of Fame, as it is iconic of an era. I love Molten Giant, and its nerf cut me deep, so I hope this happens eventually.

V. New Release Schedules (kind of) (same cite).

Finally (that is, the last thing that I selected to cover out of the 100 cover-able things that happened in the last couple weeks after a couple months of just about nothing), Blizzard announced that it intends to print 3 expansions during the Year of the Mammoth–at the start, middle, and end of the year–of about 130 cards each. There will be no stand-alone adventures, but optional single-player “missions” will come with each expansion.

I will wait to play the missions before passing judgment on this plan, but at first glance, I am not happy about this change. Adventures were always my favorite part of the game. They had a fun little story, they introduced us to interesting characters, they allowed us new ways to play, and they guaranteed us all the best cards for a set price. The announced plan allows the story and fun characters, and perhaps gives us some fun new ways to play (as does Tavern Brawl), but it does away with the guaranteed cards! The never lucky, such as myself, are now forced to go through the unpredictable pack opening process, and the inefficient crafting system, to get the cards that we want.

The plan also fails to address the issue of the speed with which a metagame grows stale. Four months between releases is a very long time for a meta to get solved. I definitely would have preferred smaller adventures release 2-3 times more frequently. But that was always a pipe dream anyway, as adventures are expensive to create and the current plan is intended to have metagames culminate in the seasonal finals. I hope the missions are compelling, the tavern brawls are interesting, and my packs are good, but experience has shown me that two of those three can’t be relied upon.

And on that :/ note, I’ll leave you! And since this post didn’t have any poorly-done memes or Twitter screenshots, I’ll leave you with this sick Ragnaros pumpkin. RIP, Firelord, you will be missed:
credit: http://www.deviantart.com/art/Pumpkin-ragnaros-266386485


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