Druids and Murlocs hit hard in biggest Hearthstone balance patch for years

Blizzard has just announced some extremely significant balance changes to several Hearthstone cards. The biggest changes come to the Druid class, which sees a nerf to both the classic card Innervate and the new problem child Spreading Plague, but popular power cards from the classic set like Warrior's Fiery War Axe and Shaman's Hex have been hit as well. Here's what's changing:

Innervate - Now reads: Gain 1 Mana Crystal this turn only. (Down from 2)

Fiery War Axe - Now costs 3 mana. (Up from 2)

Hex - Now costs 4 mana. (Up from 3)

Murloc Warleader - Now reads: Your other Murlocs have +2 Attack. (Down from +2 Attack, +1 Health)

Spreading Plague - Now costs 6 mana. (Up from 5)

"After careful consideration, we chose to make changes to three Basic class cards: Innervate, Fiery War Axe, and Hex," reads the developer's note. "While they can be regarded as staples in those classes’ card repertoires, too many Basic and Classic cards played in individual decks means less fun when new expansions are released."

Unlike previous balance updates, like when Warsong Commander was nerfed into the ground without any sense of what the other options were, Blizzard listed several options it considered for each of the cards hit. For Innervate, Blizzard thought about having the card refresh 2 Mana Crystals (instead of granting fresh ones), increasing the mana cost from 0 to 1, or making Innervate cost 4 mana but grant 6 Crystals, which would have the same effect in the late game but prevent Innervate from being used in the first few turns. 

"Since Innervate is a basic card, we need it to be clear and simple," Blizzard said. "Along with Wild Growth, these cards inform newer players that Druids create mana as a part of their class identity."

As for Spreading Plague, Blizzard says it considered bumping the mana cost all the way up to 7, but kept it at only plus 1 since Innervate is also changing. Curiously, the other Druid card many expected to be nerfed, Ultimate Infestation, received no changes. Despite the fact its power level is widely regarded as insane.

"Our team has discussed making a change to Ultimate Infestation since it feels bad to lose to. However, our data shows us how good each individual card performs in a deck relative to other cards in that deck. Spreading Plague ended up being the best performing card in Jade and Taunt Druid, Innervate was in the top three, and Ultimate Infestation was somewhere around the middle—but it felt much more powerful since it has a huge effect when played," Blizzard said. "We considered changing all mentions of the number 5 in Ultimate Infestation to 4, or removing one of the effects entirely. With the other changes we are making to Druid, ramping out Ultimate Infestation before turn 10 should happen less often, so we decided to leave it as is."

These changes should shake up the Hearthstone meta significantly—something that didn't happen too much with the changeover from Journey to Un'Goro to Knights of the Frozen Throne. Jade Druid and Murloc Paladin were both powerhouse decks both before and after the Frozen Throne expansion, and both are hit hard by these nerfs. Those two decks were also some of the main counters to the powerful Raza the Unchained/Shadowreaper Anduin deck, meaning Priest may soon be in an extremely dominant spot.

One additional change Blizzard mentioned is doing something with the Mage card Ice Block. There have been many discussions about moving Ice Block to the Hall of Fame (thus only playable in Wild, not Standard), but Blizzard said that cards will only move to Hall of Fame at the beginning of the Hearthstone Year, which will occur with the first expansion release in 2018. 

These balance changes will go live in an upcoming game update. Once the changes go live, players will be able to disenchant Murloc Warleader and Spreading Plague for their full Arcane Dust value for two weeks.