Downsizing Hearthstone: Balance Updates and the Wild Format!
Welcome back guys to another Wild Hearthstone Article. Today, we are going to be reviewing the recent balance changes, announced on the 31st of January and due to go live on the 5th of February 2019, while also determining their impact on the wild format. In terms of the nerfs specifically, we won’t be looking at them as stand-alone cards, but rather in conjunction with certain decks. This is my recommended approach since unlike Standard, these cards are mostly utilised in very specific archetypes. However, I am going to take this opportunity to advance the discussion further and address some alarming trends in our favourite card game. Let’s get into it.
Flametongue Totem | Even Shaman
It should come as no surprise that Even Shaman would be the first deck to spring to mind when talking about this particular change. In the grand scheme of things, if we are looking towards balancing a particular deck, then this would be a good place to start. While few have dismissed the card nerf and are already suggesting replacing it with Dire Wolf Alpha, one should truly not underestimate the relevance of this card. It is listed as having the highest played winrate in addition to the second highest mulligan winrate, just behind Murkspark Eel (source).
However, winrate aside the reasons it is so prevalent are three fold: a) it is a totem (reducing the cost of Thing from Below), b) it increases attack by 2 points and c) it has 3 health. The latter two points are enormously important considering the 2-health relevance threshold of minions in wild. Suddenly, a card like Dire Wolf Alpha does not seem like an impressive replacement considering how it can just die to Jade Claws, Murkspark Eel, Volcanic Potion, SI:7 Agent and the Baku Rogue Hero Power to name but a few. Lastly, it also provides a fair bit of reach to the archetype by offering an extra 4 damage for 2 mana, assuming you have minions in play. It might not seem like much but as traditional lists (without Al'Akir the Windlord) run a limited amount of burst and no charge minions, the additional damage is often necessary.
I submit that the deck will not stop seeing heavy play, considering all the other powerful cards it has access to. Yet, we should all be wary, for it really only took the nerfing of one card i.e. Fiery War Axe & Mana Wyrm to truly reduce the effectiveness of Pirate Warrior and aggressive Mage decks.
Cold Blood | Odd Rogue
Of course there are other decks like Miracle Rogue that utilise Cold Blood, yet in terms of competitive prowess the card is mostly relevant in Odd Rogue. Similar to the above, the card is greatly supported by statistics and whether it is drawn, kept in the mulligan or played, the winrate of the card consistently remains over 60% (source). With it now gone, the deck loses a significant amount of burst and cards like Argent Squire and Argent Horserider become a lot less scary. In essence, the ability for an explosive start or finish with any one drop or charge minion is removed. An enormous tactical blow, the relevance of which people that play an abundant amount of Inner Fire priest should be all to familiar with.
Lesser Emerald Spellstone | Hunter's Mark | Even Hunter
There isn’t much to discuss here, as these changes are not really designed to impact the wild metagame. While hunter does have some strong and viable wild archetypes, such as Spell Hunter, Recruit Hunter and Mech Hunter, none of them live or die by these changes. The main impact will be on Secret Hunter, which is as to be expected. I suspect it won’t make too much of a difference considering that even at level one, with two wolves, you break even in terms of value. However, playtesting will be necessary.
A lot of players seem to be fascinated by the notion of Even Secret Hunter. While I must admit that, as a deckbuilder, I find the premise quite intriguing it’s a project that will probably fall flat. The one mana hero power offers little to no benefit to the secret strategy (especially on turn 1) and in addition you’re barred from running some of the stronger hunter staples such as Cloaked Huntress, Masked Contender, Eaglehorn Bow, Subject 9 and Tracking.
Equality | Control & Combo Paladins
This nerf is particularly jarring to look at. This sentiment was echoed by IksarHS himself (source). The principle reason as to why it is a problem, is because the card itself is not a board clear, it affects your own board and requires an additional card to be relevant in a control archetype i.e. Wild Pyromancer or Consecration. Essentially, it mirrored the Frost Nova and Doomsayer combo commonly used by OTK and Control Mage decks.
Furthermore, the card was increased to 4 mana. We’ll look at the reasoning given for that in the following segment but essentially, what they have done is just add another card to one of the most heavily contested mana slots for the class, which plummets the future usefulness of the spell even further. In addition, the class went from having a viable combo board clear on turns 4, 6, 7 and 9 to 6, 7, 8 and 9 which is a tremendous jump in mana cost, especially considering it’s a two card combo that is heavily countered by deathrattle and divine shield effects. Also let’s not forget that High Priest Thekal and Molten Giant is a highroll combo in Wild, that can come out as early as turn 2 in the format.
With this nerf, Paladin will now compete with Priest in the category of worst board-clear from the classic set. What do I mean by this? Well in reality, from the core set, Priest only ever had access to Holy Nova. As a result, for the class to continue to retain the ability to support relevant control decks, Activision Blizzard had to repeatedly print more and more powerful board-clears. Prime examples are Lightbomb, Psychic Scream, Dragonfire Potion, Duskbreaker to name but a few. Without these over several expansions, the class would not have been able to survive. Paladin never needed all this “support” because it had access to some of the best combo board clears in the game. Now that this will no longer be the case and based on what IksarHS himself said
“We like Control Paladin, I expect it to do just fine in the future. We’ve been playtesting a lot of the first set of this year with Equality at (4) and there are still powerful Control Paladin archetypes” (source),
we should expect a powerful board clear to come the class’s way. Otherwise, they are just empty words relying on what little good faith remains in the playerbase, especially considering that decks like Nagalock, Cubelock and Astral Druid were all very recent occurrences, with “playtested” interactions.
Genn and Baku | Downsizing of Hearthstone
Kings in wild have come and gone. From Freeze Mage and Secret Paladin to Pirate Warrior and Malygos Druid no archetype was untouchable. This may still be true for both Genn Greymane and Baku the Mooneater. However, that is quite unlikely. They have an immediate and consistent impact on the game before either player even gets to play a card. Additionally, as these legendaries feed off of manacost, a core aspect of the game, they restrict design space since when designing cards the developer will be forced to navigate a minefield of options in their design, in order not to push an already highly consistent strategy over the edge. As such with each passing expansion they are liable to get stronger.
Now looking at the cards that were nerfed, it is obvious that the changes implemented were because of the two controversial legendary cards. The development team will of course deny and state that
We’re changing these particular cards because each one has been highly prevalent, regardless of what strategies have been popular or what other cards have existed around them. (source)
While that might very well be true in theory, let’s look at other cards that have been changed because of the benefit they provided specifically to Odd and Even decks in recent memory: Call to Arms, Level Up!, Giggling Inventor. Of course, it is circumstantial at best but with two of the three cards being related to popular Odd and Even pre-nerf Paladin decks, it is extremely difficult to accept the statement provided that
I tried to touch on this a few places, but Odd Paladin and Equality not being three are unrelated. Classic and Basic cards that are so powerful they are in every archetype in every expansion is something that is very harmful to the goal of expansion metas feeling fresh and new. Equality at (3) mana in our playtesting didn’t really solve this. The change to (4) was actually very jarring to us, but we wanted to try playtesting it in current and future environments anyway. After all those games, we felt like it was a reasonable option at (4) in control archetypes (now in in the future) but less reasonable in aggressive decks. That ideally where we’d like most cards to be, so (4) ended up being where we landed. If we thought (3) removed it from being in all paladin archetypes for the foreseeable future but Odd Paladin would get better in the short term, we would have just done that. (source)
What we’re essentially witnessing, is the downsizing of a product. The classic and basic sets of Hearthstone cards, which admittedly are not without their problems, are meant to denote the flavour of the class and provide a sense a familiarity to new and returning players. Yet, little by little, all the good cards are being turned into husks of their former glory, thus devaluing the classic set. In turn, players will be forced to rely more and more on cards from the newest expansions, further increasing the need of acquiring additional packs to obtain the cards they want or need.
To the question, “would you rather they just have Hall of Famed a card like Equality?” my answer would have been yes. But if they had done that, I genuinely don’t believe anything would change for Standard. If we’re being realistic, it is the only mode that Activision Blizzard genuinely has its sights set upon, since it nets them the most profits. Even with the Hall of Fame, new board clears would still have to be printed for Paladin, that is unless they want to relegate the class to aggressive and midrange strategies only moving forward. Considering the cards they printed to replace Conceal, Ice Lance and Power Overwhelming I am not to keen to give them slots to fill with additional unplayable random card generation.
When all is said and done, this is just my opinion. Granted I tried to stay as objective as possible but it is increasingly hard to do so when based on past experiences it doesn’t feel as though the developers are being genuine in their responses. Anyway, I pass the question back to you. What are your thoughts on the matter? Did you enjoy wild in the last season and if you did, how likely are you to stay despite a continuing Odd and Even metagame?