Patches Is Out, Warlock Stays In? Upcoming Balance Changes and Their Potential Effect on the Wild Format
After almost two months of waiting, Blizzard has finally announced new balance changes for the game. And as with any sort of change, some are pleased, and some are not. There is an equal mix of excitement and dread. At first glance these seem like some massive changes, hitting two of the strongest pillars of the format as we know it. The changes are as follows:
- Bonemare – Now costs 8 mana. (Up from 7)
- Corridor Creeper – Now has 2 Attack. (Down from 5)
- Patches the Pirate – No longer has Charge.
- Raza the Chained – Now reads: “Battlecry: If your deck has no duplicates, your Hero Power costs (1) this game.”
This is a very interesting patch, since it is the second time Blizzard claims to be making changes for the sake of the health of the Wild format. The first time was all the way back with the release of Knights of the Frozen Throne, when they nerfed Dreadsteed to prevent potential balance issues with Defile, eliminating what would essentially be a full clear on turn 6. Seeing just how powerful Defile turned out to be as a standalone card, I’d say it was the right call.
In this article I’ll discuss each of the balance changes and give my opinion on each of them (for all that’s worth). Let’s get started!
Bonemare – Now costs 8 mana. (Up from 7)
At first glance this seems like a change mostly aimed at improving Arena and Standard, where Bonemare was massively impacting the way both formats played out.
As Zalae explained in an episode of Omnistone, the presence of both Bonemare and Shadowreaper Anduin in the Standard format created a lot of tension around turns 7 and 8. If the Bonemare player was going second, they could Coin out the Bonemare on turn 6 and almost guarantee that it would stick on the board for a turn before Shaduin could hit the board. This meant the Priest player was suddenly facing a lot more pressure as they were forced to take at least one hit from both minions. Whereas in the opposite case, the Priest player had the potential for a turn 7 Shadowreaper Anduin with the Coin, which put the Bonemare player in an awkward spot in terms of whether or not they should play Bonemare. And while Zalae was advocating for the opposite nerf (bumping the cost of Shaduin up by 1), the effect is somewhat similar; if the Bonemare player is going second, they have an extra turn to check for Shaduin before committing to the play.
In terms of the Wild format though, the card was much less prevalent. According to HSReplay stats, Bonemare was played in 8.4% of decks in the format, barely cracking the Top 30. More interestingly though, it had a 56.6% win rate when played; within 0.2% of cards like Kazakus, Loatheb, and Sylvanas Windrunner, which is kind of insane when you think about it.
Bonemare did have some impact in the Wild format in terms of speeding up both the overall pace of the game, and the overall power curve of the format. At 7 mana, Bonemare outclassed cards like Tirion Fordring and Dr. Boom. Are you starting to see the pattern here? It’s almost as if this Common card was comparable in power level to a Legendary card, and in some cases was outclassing some of these cards.
This change brings the card more in-line with the power level of other Common cards, which is a boon or a curse depending on what type of player you are. After this patch, I don’t expect Bonemare to see much play outside of Arena and budget decks, as the Wild format has no lack of powerful finishers just waiting in line for a chance to replace it.
Corridor Creeper – Now has 2 Attack. (Down from 5)
This change was one that everyone and their mother saw coming. Corridor Creeper went unnoticed by the majority of the community (including myself) during reveal season, but as soon as it hit play it had people questioning the abilities of Blizzard’s balance team. The presence of Patches the Pirate in just about any deck that was fighting for board control meant that it was very easy to get massive discounts on Corridor Creeper early in the game, sometimes hitting play for 0 mana as early as turn 3. And even outside of decks that fought for board control traditionally, Corridor Creeper could still be played for a massive discount. It turns out that a lot of minions die during your average game of Hearthstone.
According to HSReplay stats, Corridor Creeper was on average the 5th most played neutral card in the entire format, sometimes even peaking at #1, with 22.4% of decks running it. Needless to say, this shows just how powerful the card truly was. What is doesn’t quite show is the negative effect Corridor Creeper had on the overall gameplay experience, particularly when it came to matches between decks that cared about board control. A lot of the skill involved in these matchups was completely gutted with the card’s release. It reduced these matchups to the luck of the draw; whoever had more copies of Corridor Creeper in their opening hand was at a massive advantage.
With this change, the format should definitely slow down quite a bit, as the amount of pressure in the early game is decreased significantly when decks can’t summon free 5/5 bodies in the first four turns of the game. I think Corridor Creeper still has potential to see a small amount of play in Hunter decks that run Houndmaster, and is a decent option for Evolve Shaman, but I don’t expect it to be nearly as powerful as it currently is.
Patches the Pirate – No longer has Charge.
This is probably one of the more controversial changes, if anything because there were arguably bigger problems to address in the current Wild meta. Still, it is undeniable that Patches has had a somewhat unhealthy effect in the meta as a whole, speeding it up considerably and making board control in the early turns a real struggle for decks not equipped with the card. According to HSReplay stats, Patches is on average the #1 most played neutral card in the entire format, appearing in 21.9% of decks. However, in the eyes of many, Patches was the hero aggro decks needed to stay relevant in the format, allowing you to start pressuring them as early as possible. With a large portion of control decks in the format utilizing Reno Jackson, aggressive players have come to expect their opponents to heal to 30 by turn 6, and try to fight back accordingly.
My first reaction was the same as many others; aggressive decks are done, as they will be unable to compete with the tools that slower decks possess in the format. However, after giving it more time I think aggressive decks will be fine, thanks to another powerful card exclusive to the format; an honorary Pirate, if you will.
I’m talking of course about Ship's Cannon. Some would argue that Ship's Cannon is the real powerhouse behind aggressive Pirate decks in Wild. With a few exceptions, I think the success of aggressive decks going forward will largely depend on their ability to maximize the use of this card. This means that decks like Pirate Warrior and Aggro Paladin are strong candidates to survive, as both decks can take the Cannon to its maximum potential; Pirate Warrior through the sheer volume of Pirates it runs, and Aggro Paladin thanks to Call to Arms.
Rogue and Shaman are among the classes that suffer the most from this change, as they both relied on the Charge ability to be able to utilize Patches effectively even when drawn. Without Charge, there’s no possibility for any “surprise damage” shenanigans with Cold Blood and Flametongue Totem. And while this is also somewhat true for Aggro Druid (no more surprise lethals with Savage Roar), I think they will still run the card. Patches still functions as a third copy of Living Roots; less good for board control purposes, but board control in general will be easier to attain as a result of this change. Aggro Mage also remains a viable option, as that deck has been fairly successful and never ran Patches to begin with.
It will certainly take some time to adjust, as it’s been a very long time since we lived in a world where Patches wasn’t charging out of decks in the first few turns of the game. Mike Donais even confirmed that they’re replacing his voiceline to no longer reference the Charge aspect of the card. While this change to Patches may seem misguided to some, I’m hopeful that the net effect on the format will be positive.
Raza the Chained – Now reads “Battlecry: If your deck has no duplicates, your Hero Power costs (1) this game”.
This is probably the change I was most happy to see. Everyone expected Razakus Priest to be changed; the real question was how it was going to change. There were a lot of potential candidates, like Spawn of Shadows, Psychic Scream, or Prophet Velen, but the two biggest targets were the pillars of the deck; Shadowreaper Anduin and Raza the Chained.
Unlike many people, I never saw Shadowreaper Anduin as a problematic card; in fact he seemed surprisingly balanced. The fact that you are limited to a maximum of 10 Mana Crystals per turn meant that spending a fifth of your mana for each Hero Power made it very inefficient as a damage-dealing tool. It also meant that you had to make a choice between playing multiple cheap cards to get multiple pings, or playing your expensive, likely more impactful cards and getting less pings. Outside of double Mind Blast, or double ping along with Dragonfire Potion, there really wasn’t anything impressive you could do with the Hero Power.
The problem was the interaction it had with Raza the Chained, which essentially removed the one thing that made the Voidform Hero Power balanced. This allowed you to deal non-stop damage for no mana investment, so long as you had cards in your hand. The fact that you could easily curve one into the other only helped push the deck even further ahead of the rest of the field, causing other combo decks that could have possibly competed with it to fall behind.
I’m really happy that Blizzard decided on a change that not only addresses what I saw as the real problem card, but does so in a way that doesn’t completely destroy the deck. The deck will simply struggle more to stay alive before it can assemble its combo since they can’t heal and play removal cards on curve.
I tend to agree with Awedragon’s recent comments on the change; the Prophet Velen versions of the deck will die off, and the Spawn of Shadows versions will become the only viable option, as it is the now only version that is able to OTK. The deck will also now be more in-line with other combo decks in the format, as much like many of them it will be forced to utilize Emperor Thaurissan ticks if it wants to achieve said OTK combos. Otherwise it gets very hard to get enough Voidform pings for the kill. Alternatively we could see an increase of 0 mana cards added to the deck to facilitate the amount of pings, with cards like Gilded Gargoyle and Burgly Bully. Overall a fantastic change, I look forward to see how the meta will change now that the weight of this deck has been somewhat lifted.
…Are We Missing Something Here?
This is the question that a lot of Wild players are sure asking themselves. There are a lot of cards that weren’t addressed in this patch that have been seen as problematic by a large portion of the Wild player base. For the uninitiated, here’s a few of the more popular examples:
- Control Warlock: It’s hard to pinpoint one particular card, as the archetype as a whole received a lot of support from new cards in both Knights of the Frozen Throne and Kobolds & Catacombs. Whether it’s newer cards like Bloodreaver Gul'dan, Voidlord, and Defile, or much older cards like Mal'Ganis and Voidcaller, there are a lot of cards that could’ve been addressed to bring down the ridiculous power level the class has achieved in recent months. Instead we got… nothing. Needless to say this has a lot of people worried about the future of the format, especially as one of its biggest counters, Razakus Priest, was hit hard.
- Barnes: This card has become the poster boy of the much abhorred Resurrect Priest archetype, enabling shenanigans comparable to those Control Warlock decks tend to pull off with great consistency. Seeing Y'Shaarj, Rage Unbound or Ragnaros the Firelord hit the board is supposed to be an exciting moment, but not so much when you see them every other game, sometimes as early as turn 4. Other potential cards to look at would be Eternal Servitude and Shadow Essence, which helped increase the deck’s ability to both find and resurrect its big bombs turn after turn. As the ability of most aggro decks to rush down opponents is seemingly hindered by the changes to Patches, many worry about a metagame where Big Priest dominates.
- Naga Sea Witch: The unexpected changes to the mechanics surrounding this card were generally ill-recieved when introduced back in September, and that sentiment never really went away. As time goes on, we see more and more decks that find way to abuse the interaction by combining this card with cards like Mountain Giant and Clockwork Giant, allowing pretty much any class the ability to cheat out upwards of 35 power on turn 5. So far Warlock, Druid, and Hunter have all found success using some form of the Naga-Giants shell, and many fear for the format’s health as there maybe more decks like this in the horizon.
- Call to Arms: A card so powerful that it has warped practically all Paladin decks around itself, this card combines both tempo and card advantage in a way that has never been seen before. Whether you are an Aggro Paladin using it to flood the board, an Anyfin Paladin using it to speed up your combo set up, or a Control Paladin just looking to “draw” some cards, they all are doing it with this card. Many worry about the future of the Paladin class as a whole as it will continue to revolve almost entirely around cheating 2-drops into play.
So what does the future of the Wild format look like? From these changes, I expect the metagame will slow down significantly in the early turns. Corridor Creeper will no longer be lurking around every corner, leading to less pressure being applied early. The changes to Patches the Pirate also contribute to slowing down the early game. This will lead to a very different feel from the one we’ve been so used to over the past year. Board control battles won’t be as cutthroat as they have been, which may open up the metagame to other early game decks.
Expect a big rise in decks like Resurrect Priest and Control Warlock, who now look to be the unchallenged masters of the format. However, with both top decks relying on very similar strategies, as opposed to the current two top decks with vastly different strategies, I expect the meta game will have an easier time adapting and finding answers to these decks.
I also expect a rise in the amount and variety of Combo decks, now that Razakus isn’t outclassing all of them; decks like Malygos Druid and Exodia Mage now have a bit more room to breathe as the meta looks to be more favourable for them. Expect decks like Reno Mage and Control Warrior to flounder now that their best matchups are reduced significantly, while decks like Mill Rogue may become more viable with the influx of slower decks.
I hope you enjoyed this small glimpse on what the possible future of the Wild format may look like. Should we trust the judgement of Blizzard’s developers this time around? Were these the right changes to bring a more balanced metagame, or have they inadvertently doomed the format? I guess we’ll find out soon enough, but either way let us know your thoughts in the comments. Thank you for reading, and stay tuned for more Wild Hearthstone!