A (Jungle) Giant-Sized Mistake

I love Hearthstone, but it seems like if there’s one thing that the team can never get quite right, it’s Patches and Patch notes. Two days ago, Patch 11.2 was announced and also went live. We got some pretty in-depth notes about some cool upcoming events, promotions, and bug fixes. If you haven’t already checked it out, you can find both my summary and the full notes at my Blizzpro post about it.

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Watch out! Secret nerfs ahead!

Unfortunately, hidden within the “bug fixes” section were mechanical changes to Tess Greymane and Lynessa Sunsorrow. Lynessa’s changes arguably mostly fell into the “bug fix” category, where her battlecry can now include “Choose One” cards and is now random, as it was originally advertised to be (the “mostly” is because her Battlecry was also limited to 30 cards, a la Shudderwock; this seems technically more like a “nerf” than a “bug fix,” but, like Shudderwock, it doesn’t really matter in practice).

 

Tess Greymane, on the other hand, was pretty obviously nerfed in that she got the full Yogg treatment (that is, she not only got the Shudderwock cap of 30 activations, but also got the limitation that her battlecry ends if she gets transformed, bounced, or killed in the process. Now, with Tess you know exactly what she will replay (albeit, not the order in which they will come), so this is not as harsh of a nerf as Yogg-Saron’s was, but Yogg-Saron was warping the tournament metagame at the time whereas Tess is… not even really played.

The community, ever one to press for a hand-out, immediately began demanding that they be provided dust refunds. After a day of outrage, Blizzard announced yesterday that it would look into how they should re-assess the situation.

Then, things got worse.

In what I believe to be a well-intended, 9-times-out-of-10 innocuous, attempt to clean up game rules, the Patch also brought some timing updates to “Summon,” “Play,” “Whenever,” and “After” triggers. I actually really like the changes in terms of the overall ordering of the game to make it more intuitive and consistent overall.

The changes happened to negatively affect the current Quest (aka “Jungle Giants”) Druid builds, because they made it so that Faceless Manipulator no longer triggers the quest by copying a 5+ attack minion on the board. Of course, this also resulted in some cries for dust refunds, and they may well also come after Blizzard reassess things, but I doubt it; we don’t normally get dust refunds for general rule changes that make certain cards slightly stronger or weaker, and doing so would be difficult and inconsistent in any event Do we get Jungle Giants or Faceless Manipulator refunds? What about Malygos? Charged Devilsaur? Decks that existed in the meta specifically to target Jungle Giants decks? Bleh, no thanks.

The bigger problem is that Jungle Giants Druid was actually a decent deck in the meta immediately prior to the rule changes. Indeed, it was “decent” enough that at least a few pros submitted it as part of their HCT Seoul lineups. Because decklists are not yet public, we don’t know exactly how many players brought the deck, or how badly it hurts their respective builds, but we know it’s at least a few high profile players (including, it appears, 2nd place HCT Worlds finisher, Fr0zen), and based on standard builds of the deck, we can assume that it severely weakens the deck. As the tournament is in the Conquest format (where each un-banned deck must win a game), this means that those players will have a significantly harder time winning any matches at all! These players were, justifiably, concerned about what they could do about this.

As it turns out, tournament organizers told them that they could do nothing:

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Posted by Xixo on his twitter (@XixoHS). Sorry for the size of the picture, WordPress only lets me choose between “massive” and “tiny.”

 

Players and fans alike were not happy about this decision. It seems manifestly unfair that a player should enter a tournament with one deck and, essentially, be forced to play another.

Brian Kibler, one of few people with experience both playing in high-level tournaments and running them, went off.

Kibler Off

As Brian says, there’s an issue of competitive integrity here and, combined with the less impactful Tess and Lynessa changes, a major PR issue as well.

As to Tess and Lynessa, their changes are being treated as though these are new general rules of the game (much like how the word “random” is implied unless stated otherwise for many effects). They should have been announced as such, in that same “game mechanics changing” section that was already going into the Patch Notes in any event. The game seems to already be heading in that way, and people would appreciate the heads-up as to future cards. I would then throw in some stats about how this will not materially affect gameplay, as it only would have affected 1% (or whatever it is) of games played with the cards. This would preempt some of the whining about dust refunds for nerfs.* As for Lynessa, I would keep the “they now go randomly” portion in the bug fixes, but remind players that this was actually how the card was intended to work in the first place.

As for Jungle Giants, the solution in this case is very simple: just let players resubmit decks. It clears up the bad PR, encourages good will with the top players in the community, and maintains competitive integrity. There is minimal downside at this point, because decklists haven’t even been revealed! Insofar as Brian is right that it messes up “media assets” or adds other costs to running the tournament, I think those are the normal costs of doing business and that it would be shortsighted to put those up-front costs over the fact that you will be alienating the playerbase going forward. This seems like an easy call to me, and I hope they correct it in time for the event.

* Tangentially, we as a community need to stop whining about free dust, free packs, etc. whenever anything mildly annoying happens. It’s embarrassing and it discourages them from fixing their game. The point of the general practice of dust refunds for nerfed cards (it was never promised, btw, as some people seem to think) is to encourage people to craft cards without fear of losing value. It is not just to make you happy about the fact that cards are changing. Even though there is always disagreement on how cards should be changed, the card changes are supposed to be make people happy themselves, not the bit of dust you get after them. That is why minuscule changes that don’t actually affect gameplay in the vast majority of cases do not get you full dust refunds–you would have crafted Tess anyway for her cool effect, and never would have crafted her to be competitive any way. To me, it seems like most of the people complaining about not getting full dust refunds are using faux outrage to try to get a free buck at Blizzard’s expense, and I don’t appreciate or condone that conduct.

Update: a few hours after this post went live, Blizzard did decide to let the players who brought Quest Druid to HCT Seoul resubmit their decks. Blizzard also subsequently backed off on the Tess Greymane nerf and clarified that Lynessa had not been working as intended or advertised, pretty much just as I had suggested. I doubt I had any part in their deciding to do so, but it’s nice to be on the same wavelength with the team, especially when the response that I suggested and they implemented was generally positively received.

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