Design, Hearthstone

Nerf Guns Ablazing! – A Review of Hearthstone Changes

On April 20th, Blizzard reviewed nerfs to several cards from the Basic and Classic Set with the intention to keep Hearthstone fresh. They implemented the nerfs on the 24th, two day before the new expansion, Whispers of the Old God is released. Now having spent the short time playing with the newly changed cards, lets go over the changes, why they were done and what it means for the game.

Ancient of Lore
Reason: Too prevalent


Ancient of Lore was too frequently used in all sorts of Druids decks, ranging from Midrange, Combo, and Ramp. The power to draw cards is universally good. Blizzard wanted more cards to be able to compete with Ancient of Lore and thus dropped the card drawn from 2 to 1.

The result is that Ancient of Lore is pretty de-powered now. It never had the impact or stats that other 7 drops had but it used to be okay because of its overwhelming value. Now its lack of stats has been made more apparent. I would not run two of these anymore and hesitant to run even one unless there is a meta that requires I make more use of the healing. Much more interest in running Ancient of War now.

Force of Nature
Reason: Too prevalent; combo too powerful


What made Force of Nature and Savage Roar too powerful was that it was a two card combo for 9 mana that dealt 14 damage if your opponent doesn’t have Taunt. As a baseline, we could look at double Fireball, 8 mana for 12 damage. But you can have 2 copies each of FON +SR, making the chance of getting this combo even better. The another finisher combo is Grommash and Cruel Taskmaster, 10 mana for 12 damage. What makes FON+SR worst is thanks to the mana ramping of Druid. The FON+SR combo could come earlier, making it that much harder for your opponent to defend against it.

The nerf was necessary to keep every Druid from relying on such an easy finisher, especially when both combo pieces are in the Basic and Classic set. It is important to note that FON was the card changed, because it is really the Charge minions that kept the combo from being interactive. Savage Roar can always be dealt with if you interacted with your opponent’s minions and stop them from having filling the board.

And the resulting card isn’t weak. This is 5 mana for 6/6 worth of stats spread out into 3 minions. Now it has a specific place in a token decks that can take advantage of the new Addled Grizzly in Whispers of the Old Gods. Muster for Nature!

Keeper of the Grove
Reason: Too prevalent; silence inflation


The stats and the flexibility of both effects made Keeper of the Grove a strong card with no drawbacks. There was no downsides of putting it into your deck and in addition, the effects were both very meaningful. Keeper of the Grove was the card you want in your starting hand when you faced Warlock, no matter the matchup. If it was Zoo, you had the 2 damage to kill Flame Imps or Silence Haunted Creepers and the 2/4 body was great against the small minions of the deck. If you were fighting Handlock, you can silence Twilight Drakes. As you can see the card had a wide range of situations where it could be very good.

While nerfing Keeper was the right decision to make the 4 slot more varied in Druid, many people cry out that the stats were nerfed too much. This is due to the inflation or re-evaluation of how much Silence is cost. We will go more into that with the next minion.

Overall, I don’t think I will run Keeper of the Grove anymore (well until Living Roots rotate out). Most Druid decks can compromise the two damage with copies of Living Roots. As for the silence option, you can turn to Spellbreaker for your needs. Overall this lowered the number of silence effects in the meta.

Iron Beak Owl
Reason: Silence Inflation


So why is silence so good? Because no matter what crazy effect Blizzard puts on a minion, as long as it is not a Battlecry, it can be stopped with Silence. It is good to have certain cards in place to act as a stop-gap to keep other effects from getting too out of hand (such as Harrison Jones and/or Blood Knight). But the problem with silence becoming too prevalent, is that it becomes the answer to everything. It can lower enjoyment as it lowers the amount of cool things a player can do. In addition, silence can make games more noninteractive. For example in aggro decks, silence is used to remove Taunt, and lessen the trading between minions.

Iron Beak Owl has the issue that it was too cheap for a neutral silence card that every class has access to. This nerf cuts back on the tempo swings that Owl can bring with it. When compared to Spellbreaker, Iron Beak Owl seems like a terrible deal. For one mana, you can get 4 more stats in Spellbreaker. While Owl could have used one more health, it doesn’t really matter. Owl will see play. Silence is just too good, especially when you don’t have a class-exclusive option. During gameplay, there are times when all you want is to silence that Tirion or Sylvanas immediately and you will want that silence to be as cheap as possible.

Big Game Hunter
Reason: Too prevalent; Limited Design Space


Big Game Hunter is pretty important in controlling the meta in the past when Handlock was a tier one deck and Big Game Hunter was everyone’s answer to the Giants. He is still needed to keep big creatures from running around rampant but in some way, Big Game Hunter also limited the types of high cost cards that could make competitive play. High cost minions now had to not have 7 attack or had an immediate battlecry or deathrattle to see play.

This nerf made it so that there was more of cost in running Big Game Hunter. There are harder decision to be made when your options cost more. You can’t gain as much tempo any more on the turn you play Big Game Hunter. This will probably lead to less Big Game Hunter being played, which means players would play bigger minions, and then more people will run Big Game Hunters in response, which then decreases the number of big minions played. And it becomes one vicious cycle. Druid, which has no hard removal, would no choice but to play Big Game Hunter to deal with big things. But the other classes should rely on their other choices.

Hunter’s Mark
Reason: Too powerful


In common situations, it was 0 mana, deal 4 or 9 damage to a minion (ref: Sludge Belcher and Ancient of War). Zero mana cards are very easy to be broken, so adding a mana cost to it is the right thing to do.

Blade Flurry
Reason: Limited Design Space


Objectively speaking Blade Flurry was a powerful card. There is some setup cost in having a high attack weapon, but that wasn’t something out of the way from Rogue’s normal gameplay. What Blizzard means when it limited design space was that they can’t create a good high attack weapon when Blade Flurry at two mana. With how cheap the card was, it would create a devastating two card burst and board wipe combo with any high attack weapon. Keep in mind, you had the added advantage of playing the weapon first and holding it for many turns until you drew into Blade Flurry. Many decks don’t run a way to deal with a buffed weapon, if Rogue just chose to sit on it.

The outrage with this nerf was that there isn’t anything to replace this card or any Rogue weapons in the new set. Oil Rogue was a very popular combo rogue variant and nerfing this card removed the win condition of that deck. There isn’t a card released in Whispers of Old Gods that has the burst to replace what Blade Flurry brought. Now Oil Rogue is essentially a lost deck, sort of like Miracle Rogue is. Time for players to turn Malygos Rogue or some new crazy brew with Shadowcaster.

From a game design perspective, this also re-designed Blade Flurry from a burst and/or controlling card into just a controlling card (since it only deals damage to minions now) .

Would we still play Blade Flurry now? Sadly there are no better board clear alternatives.

Knife Juggler
Reason: Too powerful


Indeed, he was. He was a fine two drop and had an amazing board changing effect, especially with all the new token creating cards that had been released (ref: Muster of Battle, Implosion). He has been changed significant from being a good 2 drop and/or combo piece to just being a combo piece. Knife Juggler is still going to see play, but most likely just as a one of. Losing that one attack is significant when you expect to trade with 2/3 in the early game.

Leper Gnome
Reason: Too prevalent, too powerful


When I did the review of the new 1 drop 2/1’s in Whispers of the Gods, I admit I would have never play them if the old Leper Gnome existed. Old Leper Gnome just did all that an aggressive deck wanted to do. Losing one attack means Leper Gnome isn’t going to be seen in the new meta. It will have to wait until some aggro based class exclusive 1 drops rotate out and don’t get replaced.

Arcane Golem
Reason: Too powerful; design needed reversion


The design of the card defeated the purpose of its downside. The downside didn’t mean anything when you combined it with Charge. Arcane Golem could make huge one turn finishers possible because of its cheap cost, combined with buffs and then duplicated with Faceless Manipulator.

Overall, Charge has proven to be a troublesome mechanic in Hearthstone because of how noninteractive it can be given the fact you can’t play cards on your opponent’s turn. This is just another card that had to be redone due to the game design. Now Arcane Golem is no longer competitive. You essentially gave your opponent a mana crystal for one more stat.

Molten Giant
Reason: Too powerful?


I didn’t expect this nerf at all. I thought people were okay with the power level of the card. I like that I had to play around the level of damage I did to my opponent’s health. You could still do that but now you have even more leeway against the Molten Giant player. Once again the problem is the fact that you can easily get a card that cost zero mana. In a game of fixed resources, free is king. Now you more often have to pay a significant amount of mana for your Giant. This nerf keeps Molten Giant into more niche decks that requires you to have Ice Block or Reno Jackson to offset the added danger.

Also I feel like Reno Jackson has an influence of causing this nerf. Perhaps he is someone we should keep an eye on as well…

But most importantly, lets not forget… Holy Wrath buff!

Master of Disguise
Reason: Limited design space


When Blizzard first made Animated Armor, they wondered if it could be a neutral card but they couldn’t make it so, because Master of Disguise + Animated Armor could meant that the opponent could be stuck only able to deal 1 damage at a time to you for the rest of the game. As you can see, permanent stealth can be easily abused.

Some people wonder why Blizzard don’t take that opportunity to buff Master of Disguise to a 5/4 or 4/5 so it might see some play. Well not all cards have to be playable and I suspect Blizzard is preemptively making sure that Stealth, another noninteractive element of the game, doesn’t get a chance to get out of hand.

Keep in mind that these nerfs are on cards that meant to be in a permanent set that will always be present in Standard. Changes are especially need on the base set to keep up the variety of cards seen competitively in Standard. I would expect more changes to other Classic or Basic cards as Blizzard realize those cards have too much of an effect on shaping the metagame.


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