Ever since Blizzard announced the new Standard Format a couple months back, we knew that there would be big changes coming to Hearthstone. Not only would cards that have become deck staples such as Loatheb, Sludge Belcher, and Dr. Boom, become unplayable, but some Basic and Classic cards would be receiving nerfs as well. Everyone had been waiting with bated breath to see what the nerfs would entail and Blizzard finally let the cat out of the bag last Wednesday when they detailed all of the upcoming nerfs.
I’ve broken up the nerfs into a few different categories in terms of how they will be affecting the meta once Whispers of the Old Gods goes live on Tuesday, April 26.
Druid hit hard
The bulk of the nerfs coming with this week’s expansion were directed towards the Druid class specifically. These changes will mean that the deckbuilding for this class will have to now be centered around a completely different win condition than what has been in place since the early days of Hearthstone.
The primary win condition for a Druid has been the powerful combo of Force of Nature and Savage Roar, which on an empty board did 14 points of damage in one turn. When played with a second Savage Roar paired with an Innervate, the combo did a minimum of 22 damage and could reach even higher depending on what minions were on that player's board. This combo allowed Druids to win games in which they were completely outmatched and outplayed just by drawing a few particular cards. Knowing that this combo was a bit too powerful, Blizzard has now completely removed it from the game.
While Force of Nature still exists, it does so in a vastly different state than before. Whereas it used to be a six mana card that summon three 2/2 treants with charge that died at the end of that turn, it is now a five mana card that just summons three 2/2 treants. While this card can still be paired with a Savage Roar, that will now only be possible if the treants survive the following turn. This change completely removes the burst potential of Druids who will now have to rely on other non-burst style means to win games. Look for this card to be used in the old Token Druid decks seen in the early days of the game.
Another big change coming to Druid comes in the form of an Ancient of Lore nerf. This card used to give you the option of drawing two cards or restoring five health, but will now only allow one card to be drawn from that particular option. While the card will still be a staple in most Druid decks, it just became a little weaker since it doesn't allow the Druid player to cycle through their deck.
Overall, the changes were certainly ones that were needed. Druid as a class had become extremely stale to play with and against. When you queued into a Druid opponent, you knew almost card-for-card what they were working with. With these changes, it will hopefully inject a bit of life into the class and allow for a more diverse range of decks to be played. Look for many players to gravitate towards decks using the brand new C’Thun card coming in the Whispers of the Old Gods expansion.
Minions will be harder to remove
Besides nerfing Druids as a whole, a common theme of the nerfs to the cards with this update was making it a bit harder to have your powerful minions removed from the board. The most notable of these nerfs came to Ironbeak Owl and Big Game Hunter.
Ironbeak Owl was a staple in a lot of decks since it allowed you to silence the effects of powerful minions for just two mana. The low mana cost often allowed you to pair it with other cards for very easy removal. The effect of the card is staying the same, but its mana cost is being raised to three. This change will now make players decide whether they want to stick with this card or move towards using Spellbreaker, which does cost one mana more but comes with better stats at 4/3.
Now for Big Game Hunter. The card was such a strong counter to big minions that it was actually lessening the hype for some minions in the new expansion. Whenever something with more than seven health was revealed, people would immediately discount the strength of the card since it would “just die to Big Game Hunter anyways.” When new cards are deemed unworthy to be played purely due to the fact that a certain card like Big Game Hunter exists, there’s a problem. Blizzard knew this and finally made a change.
While the card will still be hunting big game from now on, it will be a bit more costly to do so. The mana cost of Big Game Hunter will now be five as opposed to the three that it was before. This change will allow a bit more freedom when it comes to what minions can and cannot be played. Sure, the minions with seven or more attack can still be taken out with this card, but that was always going to be the case since there has to be some forms of outright removal in this game. This mana increase makes it so that you can’t kill a big minion and do something else in the same turn as often, which will make the decision of when to play this card much more strategic. Anything that involves making harder decisions is always a good change in my book.
The misplaced nerfs
Not all of the nerfs in this update were spot on, though. Some of them seemed to miss the mark a bit, and it starts with Blizzard’s problem with Charge as a game mechanic. While it is certainly an aspect that they want in the game, when it blossoms into something that becomes even in the least bit powerful, the nerf hammer is swung. It was first seen with the Leeroy Jenkins nerf, then again with the Warsong Commander nerf and came back to rear it's ugly head with the Force of Nature nerf from above. We have now seen it again with a nerf to Arcane Golem. The card has the same mana cost as before, but now has four health instead of two and has lost its charge ability. Losing the charge is what has basically killed this card. It was the only remaining cheap card to use in big combos after the nerf to Leeroy. This nerf will hit Warlocks the most since they combined this with two Power Overwhelmings and a Faceless Manipulator for a big, 24-damage combo.
The problem with the nerf comes from the fact that the use of Arcane Golem was not that large enough to warrant the nerf. All of the nerfs mentioned to charge minions above were done to decks that were played in the vast majority of Hearthstone games at the peak of their popularity. Not very many people play with Arcane Golem, so it doesn’t make a lot of sense why this nerf took place.
By far the biggest misplaced nerf, though, was the one to Knife Juggler. The main reason it was so misplaced is that the nerf basically did nothing to limit the widespread use and effectiveness of this card. The effect of the card stayed the same, with its attack decreased from three to two. The problem with the card wasn’t its attack, but from the effect itself. This nerf did nothing to change the fact that the knife juggles from this card can still completely change the outlook of a game on turn two.
The main problem here is that the change did not really do enough to stop this card from being used in almost every aggro deck out there. This card has decided some pretty high profile tournaments based on the juggles in early turns. When the outcomes of games turn purely on the RNG of a card like Knife Juggler, there is problem. The whole point of nerfs are usually to limit the overpowered use of some cards, and this nerf just did not do anything to do that.
All of the rest
Keeper of the Grove - Health dropped from four to two.
This is a nerf that was well placed since it was a staple in every Druid deck and was a very sticky minion despite its relatively low mana cost. It should still see play, but it will be much easier to deal with.
Hunter’s Mark - Mana cost increased from zero to one.
This was deserved since it gave the Hunter one of the best removals in the game since it could kill almost anything for zero mana. Sure, it needed to be paired with another spell or minion on the board, but that was no problem at all for a Hunter.
Blade Flurry - Mana cost increased to four and the effect only applies to enemy minions.
Rogue’s just lost some of their best burst potentials with this nerf. While the card will still give them one of the best board clears in the game, it will no longer allow them to burst down the opponent's health. The fact that the mana cost has been increased will likely see this card fall to the wayside. Since your weapon needs to have a Tinker’s Oil or Deadly Poison on it for it to be effective, the four mana is a bit hard to justify.
Molten Giant - Mana cost upped to 25 from 20.
This change now means that you have to let yourself get all the way down to five health to get a free Molten Giant. Since the mana cost was reduced for each point of health you lost, you could play it for no mana once you were at 10 health or below. It will now be much riskier to try and get one of these for free, which could make it less common in the decks that once used it.
Leper Gnome - Attack dropped from two to one.
This change limits the effectiveness of the card in aggros decks since it now will not trade with most two drops in game. It will still do the two damage to the opponent’s hero upon death, but it is not as powerful as before. It will still be played, but other cards can now be looked at in place of the Leper Gnome.
Master of Disguise - Only gives minions stealth until the end of your next turn.
The nerf for this card seemed like one that was made from a pure design standpoint. It was not a card that was played in any deck at all, but it was pretty powerful nonetheless. If you were able to give a powerful minion like Kel’Thuzad stealth, it could easily win you the game. It makes sense that Blizzard would want to eliminate the permanent nature of the stealth in order to broaden the type of cards they can make in the future.
Overall, most of these nerfs were good and necessary. Some did leave much to be desired, but on the whole they were all good. It will be extremely interesting to see what kind of decks will be put together once these nerfs go live this Tuesday. See you guys on the ladder!