Two weeks ago, I wrote about how we needed more time to evaluate the metagame before committing to making changes. The time has come, and not just because Hearthstone Game Director and Amateur Travel Blogger, Ben Brode, implied as much over the long holiday weekend.
Here’s how, in my opinion, we got here.
Two weeks ago, we had a really scary looking metagame at Ranks 1-2. If you read my post then, you saw the screenshot that changed the world.
As you can see, 50% of people trying to break into legend were running Druid. Had I grabbed a fuller picture, though, you would have seen that the problem dropped significantly as one got lower down the ladder. To me, that meant that most of the top players knew Druid was the best class, but the vast majority of Hearthstone players either did not know or did not care enough to switch decks.
After these types of meta reports, one of two things tends to happen: 1) the meta trends highlighted in the report become reinforced; or, 2) something comes along to “counter” the established meta. The hope in giving the meta more time to settle was that the latter would occur; after all, the hope and expectation that problems in the meta might be solved by the player base has always been part of the reasoning in holding off on nerfs. Instead, the trends got reinforced.
1. The pervasive Druid meta got much more pervasive
As Iksar noted when initially responding the the angry Reddit mob, problems at rank 1 are not to be ignored, but they are also not cause for panic. After all, if a problem is limited to rank 1, it affects a very small percentage of players. As a pure numbers game, it might be acceptable to let the few suffer for a couple weeks, while a solution is either found organically or created by Team 5, if the many remained mostly unharmed.
Unfortunately, “the fish rots from the head.” That is to say, the Druid problem “trickled down” through the ranks. At the time of writing, Vicious Syndicate’s Data Reaper Live shows that all of ranks 1-8 have over 40% Druid usage,all of ranks Legend-13 have over 30%, and all ranks 18 and better are filled with over 20% Druids. We have officially “lost containment” on the Druid “outbreak,” which means both that the Druid problem is now affecting a significantly larger amount of people and I am already rapidly approaching my bad metaphor limit.
2. Druid is just too strong
Even before the set released, it was obvious that Druid would be in a good place, and that Skulking Geist would not be enough to stop it. By two weeks ago (a few weeks into the set), we had learned Druid was even stronger than initially anticipated because Ultimate Infestation was actually as good as it appeared to be, and other cards (Malfurion, Spreading Infestation, Druid of the Swarm, etc.) were better than most people expected.
But then we got the first Vicious Syndicate Data Reaper Report* of the Frozen Throne meta and, well, Aggro Druid had literally no bad matchups whereas Jade Druid only had three slightly negative matchups, two of which were the other Druid archetypes.
I have always thought that lumping distinct oppressive archetypes by class is an inelegant way to evaluate nerfs. If the decks play differently (as Aggro Druid and Jade Druid do), then complaints about the fact that they are within the same class is mostly a trick of the mind. Still, when a class is both pervasive and oppressive, we have pretty clearly stepped into nerf territories. And when the best counter to a problem is to play the problem yourself, and that’s another red flag (see, e.g., Undertaker and Small-Time Buccaneer).
* A couple weeks after that first report, Vicious Syndicate’s stats now show Aggro Duid and Jade Druid each picking up an additional bad matchup, but the decision to make a change could very well have been made when Blizzard saw this data, and the general point remains.
3. The Druid meta is “unfun”
There’s this crazy concept in gaming that games should, generally, be fun. As we saw with the Quest Rogue nerf, Blizzard is not afraid to step in to solve a problem even if the only problem* is that a meta is not fun.
When I was discussing the Druid meta issues with WickedGood, he pointed out that even DisguisedToast, the famous “wacky deck” streamer, was trapped by the Druid meta. Indeed, looking through his tweets, Toast found himself unable to play his trademark fun decks and then, shortly thereafter, found himself unable to play Hearthstone at all.
As we know, “fun” is/was not the only problem with the “Druidstone” meta. But when your top content producers no longer want to play your game, it makes his thousands of viewers not want to play the game, either. Losing top streamers is another strong indicator that changes need to be made. Losing Toast is a particularly rough hit because it further solidifies the point that some of the game’s most creative minds will not, or cannot, solve the problem organically, and that Blizzard has to step in if they want a change.
* I know this is debateable. The official reason included a lot of comments about how Quest Rogue stifled creativity by keeping out slower decks, but I don’t think that was really the case or, if it was, that is was not the main reason for the change. Quest Rogue was a bad ladder deck, and not even a frequent one at most ranks. It is difficult to see how a bad, seldom-seen deck could have stifled that much creativity.
4. Druid is ruining other formats, too
Anybody who has prepared for a tournament, or even paid attention while watching one, could tell you that the tournament meta and the ladder meta are two very different beasts. Tournaments allow players to create lineups to target or avoid a particular matchup, so some decks that are not viable on the ladder are very good in tournaments. Tournaments also serve different purposes than does ladder play, including, of course, driving viewer engagement. Therefore, when evaluating card nerfs, one must consider not just the effect on the ladder, but also the effect on tournaments. WELL, Druid ruined that, too:
So, with all that new information coming up in the last two weeks, I agree that it is time to make a change. Brode’s tweet, and a spoiler from Team Celestial, makes me believe a change will be announced very soon. I look forward to seeing what they do!