Making Hearthstone Great Again

BY Andrew Miesner / October 1, 2016

By Simon “Sottle” Welch

In my fairly extensive time being involved in the Hearthstone scene, I have never quite seen a time where the vocal minority of the Pro and Semi-Pro scene was quite as upset about the state of the game and the balance of the classes in Hearthstone. Thankfully, Team 5 has heard our pleas and has seen fit to take it upon themselves to usher us into a new fabulous world of Hearthstone. I know for many the default stance when reading anything I write is to assume sarcasm, so just to clarify: I’m serious. These changes are GREAT!

Some general themes first. Firstly, the targeting of the nerfs seems to indicate that Blizzard is going to continue to look at the Classic set on an ongoing basis, which is a great sign for the future. The danger of leaving the Classic set intact in Standard is that discrepancies in power level of those core cards—designed in a world where really nobody, developers included, really understood how Hearthstone was going to be played at a high level—would forever bleed through and dictate the power level of classes as a whole. Cards in more recent expansions, like Totem Golem, that have become a problem can be seen to take care of themselves when they rotate out, but Rockbiter and Abusive Sergeant were going to continue hanging around forever, like a drunk party guest refusing to leave at 5am while urinating into your flowerpots.

Secondly, they listen guys! And specifically, they care about the competitive scene. The esports scene is not a big money vehicle for Blizzard right now so the nerf to Yogg, which is clearly and explicitly stated to be a nerf, with the competitive scene in mind is a clear nod to the fact that they care about the experience of high level players. Sure they react a little slowly sometimes and their communication leaves a lot to be desired, but in the end, they do care.

Alright, enough preamble, let’s dig in.

Rockbiter Weapon

We start with a Shaman card. Are you surprised? I’m surprised. Rockbiter Weapon is simply one of the most efficient cards in the game and operates way above the established power curve. There is no other card in the game that offers damage at a three-to-one damage/Mana ratio and on top of that it has additional upside in terms of Windfury synergy. That is just too good.

But let’s be clear on where this nerf is targeted. It is not a huge nerf to the burst damage combos with Doomhammer. Rarely are kill combos involving Rockbiter Mana restrictive with the notable exception of Lava Burst + Rockbiter on an Overloaded turn six following a Doomhammer on 5. More often this nerf is going to target the early game turns, which is in fact much, much more important.

Shamans are a snowball class. This is a big reason why they’re so powerful in the game right now, because snowballing early board states is the strongest thing you can do in Hearthstone due to the way initiative is rewarded while catch-up mechanisms like AoE spells are generally underpowered. Because of this, once they reach critical mass in terms of being able to grab the board early, all of their snowball tools become way too strong and they are able to consistently run away with games.

By nerfing Rockbiter, Shaman’s early-game package is now more in line with other classes in terms of early-game board dominance and they will therefore find it more difficult to consistently grab the board in the early turns, which means less of a platform for Flametongue, Primal Fusion, Thunder Bluff, Bloodlust, or whatever your snowball mechanics are. That’s a big deal. The nerf goes as far to as to nerf the power of one of the most openings in the game: Coin Totem Golem, since Shaman now less consistently has access to a 1 Mana follow up.

Tuskarr Totemic

The card that more or less gave birth to the term “highroll” in the common Hearthstone lexicon, neck and neck with Yogg in the imaginary poll that i’ve just made up entitled “most tilting card to lose to.” I present to you: Tuskarr Totemic.

Early-game match defining RNG is one of the most unpleasant things in the game. Knife Juggler, Flame Juggler, Fiery Bat, Huge Toad, Animal Companion, all of these things CAN define a winner as early as turn three, but none of them do it with the devastating consistency that Tuskarr did. A Mana Tide or Totem Golem outcome (two out of seven options) from this card on turn three is usually just the end of the game and that is the very definition of “non-interactive gameplay”. So it is no great surprise to see that the card has received an adjustment, but just how good is it in its new form?

First off, if you are one of those people that i’ve seen saying they should have made it a 3/3: stop that immediately you bizarre, crazy, twisted person. Tuskarr is still a stronger card in its weaker form. The potential synergy it presents with Spell Damage effects (Spirit Claws, Maelstrom Portal, Lightning Storm), Totem Synergy (Wicked Witchdoctor, Thing from Below, Thunder Bluff Valiant, Primal Fusion), and general Shaman strategy (Flametongue Totem, Bloodlust) should be more than enough to make up for the slight weakness it has in terms of raw value. It does come into more direct competition now with Unbound Elemental in an Overload heavy deck, but overall this is a benchmark for a sensible nerf. A problematic card has been addressed but remains very playable.

Call of the Wild

Let’s take a trip back to the pre-release of Whispers of the Old Gods. If you don’t remember the hype strategy, Blizzard release card art and said that certain community members would get to reveal the card details in periodic intervals. The image for Call of the Wild was revealed and people started to guess that the card would summon all three Companions. I immediately fired back and said that there was no way that could happen because even at 10 Mana, it was still arguably above the power curve.

Let me explain: When you combine effects into a single card in Hearthstone, you pay a Mana cost for that combined effect. For example: Fireball deals six damage for 4 Mana, but when you scale that to Pyroblast, a card that should deal twelve damage if you take it in its original 8 Mana form, only deals ten because in comparison to two Fireballs you are only paying one card.

So in Call of the Wild’s case, you are getting three 3 Mana minions which are all individually overpowered for 3-drops and then removing the drawback that balances them (you don’t know which one you’ll get). So you take the original 3 Mana cost, you triple it, you factor in the removal of the only drawback of Animal Companion, and then you add the established extra cost for combining multiple cards into one. I don’t know you about you guys, but my calculator does not output “8” as the answer to that equation.

This discrepancy between the power level of Call of the Wild and the power of every other card in their deck is so high that the class just simply became way too linear. Nearly every game is decided by whether or not they draw Call of the Wild, and cards like Tracking were introduced more commonly to ensure that one crucial card was drawn more often, that is just not a good design for a class and I hope to see Hunter becoming more well-rounded in future.

Even at 9 Mana this card remains—by the strict and literal definition of the word—overpowered. It is still above the established Hearthstone power curve as outline above. However, it does remove your ability to ever Hero Power in the same turn as playing it, which is a big deal (See: King Krush vs Leeroy). Overall though, this badboy is still seeing play.

Execute

Another card that reached critical mass due to ongoing additions to the game. The ability to kill a minion for 1 Mana seems like a ridiculous tool and begs the question why it was able to last this long without being addressed. The reason really, is that in the past Execute could never really be used effectively as a Tempo tool. Firstly because Warrior didn’t really have too many Tempo focused archetypes, but secondly because it didn’t have any Tempo-focused activators. Previously if you wanted to Execute a minion you needed to spend Mana on a slow card like Taskmaster or Slam to activate it. However, starting with Death’s Bite, a dangerous slope started to form where Warriors had access to too many strong Tempo positive ways to activate the card. Recently even more tools like Blood to Ichor and Ravaging Ghoul have hit the scene and created even more methods to use Execute to leverage the board.

These are the decks that this nerf is targeted at. Dragon Warrior, Patron Warrior and other Tempo focused tools are going to suffer from the increased Mana cost, whereas Control based strategies will take this one on the chin since Control Warrior is famously able to float huge amounts of Mana on each turn by simply Tanking Up and laughing at your puny damage output. A sensible change again and one that will limit the diversity of the most diverse class in the game.

Charge

Not much to say on this one. It looks a little strange at face value, as Worgen OTK and other Warrior OTK strategies have not really reached the level of dominance to justify being ripped out of the game like this. Therefore I can only assume that we will see something in an upcoming expansion that will make this make more sense.

Blizzard have constantly being terrorised by the presence of Charge effects in the game. Dreadsteed was originally slated to be a neutral card in the Naxxramas set but was quickly ruled out because it was way too broken with Warsong Commander. I expect this nerf to be along the same lines and would expect something to be revealed in the near future that gives us our moment of clarity.

Look out for Magnataur Alpha + Charge coming to a meme streamer near you very soon!

Abusive Sergeant

This one is long overdue in my mind. Going all the way back to the original nerfs to Class set cards as we led into Standard, everyone knew that some Aggro tools were going to need to be targeted, and this bad boy was top of my list. Leper Gnome got a bad rep as the frontman of the 

SMOrc band, but behind the scenes, Abusive Sergeant was the under-appreciated drummer, keeping perfect Tempo and driving the engine of the rest of the deck forward.

Perhaps the very definition of a “Zoo card”, Abusive is cheap, efficient, high tempo, and reasonably statted in isolation. This combination meant that it was a no brainer to include in decks that cared about fighting for early board Control and it introduced very linear deckbuilding to the game. With Abusive nerfed, it is now a much more difficult consideration as to whether you want it in you deck.

I don’t expect Abusive to melt away as Leper Gnome did, it’s probably still good enough to see play in Zoo at least, but the Squire/Abusive package will no longer be the automatic go to solution to early board control that it has been for the longest time.

Yogg-Saron, Hopes End

Praise Jesus! Praise Allah, Vishnu, Buddah, Krishna, and literally everyone else. Just don’t praise Yogg.

While my personal selfish nerf to Yogg would have been to target a large nuclear device at it and blow it into orbit, I can understand that the card needed a more delicate touch for the greater picture. Casual players and Brian Kibler need to be able to make “sweet” decks that do cool things and create entertaining games of Hearthstone. In its adapted form, Yogg still does Yogg things, and if your goal is just to goof around on the ladder and make nutty things happen, Yogg is still the card for you. However, the reduced power will probably stop it from having too much of an impact on competitive play and that is a very, very good thing.

I, on this very site, was one of the first people to raise alarm bells about Yogg’s long term impact on the competitive scene and over the last few weeks and months we have seen the clear and obvious damage that it has caused reaching critical mass. The big problem is one of perception more so than actual game impact. Even as a staunch critic of the card, I think its impact on games of Hearthstone in terms of winrate is probably overstated. The problem however, is that it is such an overtly random card that the perception of what is in fact an extremely skill based game is reduced to the point of ridicule. This became very clear after America Summer Championships where in the Grand Final two Yoggs were played that had zero impact on the outcome of the game, but were still being maligned on Twitter and Reddit, even by extremely smart and knowledgeable players like Thijs.

Much experimentation will need to done as to exactly how good Yogg is now as although Yogg regularly removes itself from play, if it does so on average after seven or eight spells, it may still be strong enough to see some play. Personally, I hope not, and I’ll be happy if I never have to cast a game of Hearthstone involving Yogg-Saron ever again.


About the Author

Sottle is no stranger to the competitive environment. The compLexity Hearthstone player comes from an unorthodox background of being a Yoyo Champion in Great Britain, as well as virtually beating people up as a competitive fighting game player. Nerve-damage in his hand forced him to exchange the button mashing for the virtual card game Hearthstone. As a pro player he made his mark in the scene, as a caster he is a rising force, now the next step for him is to build up his name as a personality in the scene as well. Follow the Brit cast tournaments, play games, interact with his stream and have fun in Arena, the ladder or just Q&A sessions – Sottle is always the perfect mix between entertainment and education.

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