Why the Warsong Commander nerf is actually bad for Hearthstone

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Simon 'Sottle' Welch

Photo from H2K Gaming.
Simon ‘Sottle’ Welch is a multi-Legend rank player, tournament winner, and caster who regularly streams on Twitch. He also writes guides for Icy Veins, all while finding time to be a national Yo-Yo champion.

The big news in Hearthstone is a huge imminent nerf to Warsong Commander. Despite the fact much of the community agrees that the Grim Patron deck—in which Warsong Commander is a key card—is too powerful, there has been a backlash arguing that the nerf is too strong. So we asked our resident high legend player Simon ‘Sottle’ Welch for his thoughts...

Let’s get the formalities out of the way. I’m a Patron player. It’s my favourite deck, and while my 1000+ wins with the deck may pale in comparison to the achievements of some top specialists who have clocked multiple thousand, it’s a deck i’m very attached to. Naturally with this comes a certain amount of bias in the words you’re about to read, but my goal here is to convince you, as objectively as possible, that the destruction of Warsong Commander is going to be a bad thing for the game.

Patron was a healthy deck for the game

Ok, I’ve probably lost some of you already, but let me explain. Grim Patron Warrior was too powerful, I won’t dispute that. However, it represents exactly the kind of thing that Hearthstone needs more of. It’s a deck with an incredibly high skill ceiling. The very best Patron players—those who have clocked thousands of games with it—will admit that they still haven’t mastered every nuance completely. The high skill cap, in a game which is often accused of being reliant on luck, potentially provides a great feeling for competitive Hearthstone players.

The feeling that you've actually outplayed your opponent when you win, or that you've learned something when you lose, is amazing—and lacking from many Hearthstone decks. It’s also the least random deck in the game. There are no cards in Patron Warrior that have random effects. No Knife Juggler, no Animal Companion, no Imp-losion. Every card does the same thing each time you play it, and that allows you to be strategic, consistent, and confident that the outcome of a game will have more to do with your decisions than RNG rolls. The only random element in the deck is card draw, and even that’s mitigated by the amount of cards you can cycle through. In most games you will see the majority of your deck, so losing because you’ve only drawn bricks rarely happens.

Taken as a whole, Grim Patron Warrior gave serious Hearthstone players a deck that felt like it rewarded them proportionally to the work they put in.

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Patron was a natural aggro stopper

Before Patrons became the target of vitriol from the average ladder player and Twitch stream viewer, Face Hunter, Zoo and other aggressive decks were the main point of complaint. What stopped these decks from dominating the meta if not the rise of Patron Warrior? Maybe we should be taking a minute to thank the Patron players for farming those pesky aggro players out of existence.

An argument that’s been made in favour of the Warsong nerf is that it will diversify the meta, but is that true? It will change, sure, but it’s entirely possible that we now see a return to the relentless aggro dominance of a few months ago. In turn, this will force out other decks that have been able to flourish because of the lack of Wolfriders flying at their face. The decks you will see in the coming weeks will be different, but more diverse? I’m not convinced. The meta will stabilise quickly as the best three or four decks are found. Ask yourself this: do you really want to return to the reign of Face Hunter?

Then there’s the other elephant in the room. The Secret Paladin deck has terrorised the ladder since The Grand Tournament was released, and in my opinion represents a much larger problem for Hearthstone. Secret Paladin can be played with minimal practice, and often only needs a half-decent draw to blow out the opponent. One of the decks that was keeping this monster in check was, guess what? Patron Warrior. Patrons were the best natural counter to this menace, and with them gone the door is open for Secret Pally to take its place as the dominant deck. From where I stand, replacing an incredibly difficult and complex deck with one that is extremely simple is not a step forward.

Patron Warrior as an archetype has effectively been deleted from Hearthstone

“Well yeah,” I hear you say, “that’s the idea”, but hold on for a second because this actually the first time this has happened in Hearthstone. When Miracle Rogue was nerfed via the changes made to Gadgetzan Auctioneer and Leeroy Jenkins, the deck still existed. This is important because if you’re a player who was attached to the deck, you could still go back and use it if you were craving the feeling you got from it. Sure, it was weaker and no longer competitive at the top level, but if you wanted to play it purely for your own amusement, you could. This is not the case with Patron Warrior. Players, like me, who had an attachment to the deck, whose sense of enjoyment from Hearthstone was in a small way connected to the particular archetype, are now out in the cold. Playing Patron Warrior is no longer an option, it’s an impossibility.

The nerf is far too severe

Senior game designer Ben Brode recently posted a video where he explained that the primary motivation behind the Warsong Commander nerf was to free up design space for future cards. What he means is that having an effect as powerful as granting Charge affects the cards you can print in the future, since every cool creature has the potential of being overpowered when played in conjunction with Warsong Commander. I accept this argument completely and think it’s an excellent point. However, he also claims they tried out over 30 different revisions before they arrived at the upcoming version of the card, which is essentially a poor man’s Raid Leader. I find this hard to believe.

Turning the card into something unplayable, and essentially deleting it from the game, is the lazy option. It achieves their goal of opening up the design space in the future, but I can’t help but feel that there were other solutions that allowed Warsong Commander to remain an interesting card with potential applications. The weak form that Warsong Commander will now exist in is inexcusable, and has further implications beyond constructed play. In Arena, where the Warrior class is already bottom tier, it now has to deal with another useless class card.

I also want to add that all top level Patron players were expecting some sort of nerf, and were ready to take up the challenge of keeping the deck viable in response. This overreaction from Blizzard has precedent, though, with Starving Buzzard previously forced out the game by a heavy handed nerf. Again, it just seems lazy, with the designers opting to sweep the problem under the rug rather than finding a reasonable solution.

Hearthstone world championships

The timing is ridiculous

For those unaware, a BlizzCon “season” has been underway for the past several months, culminating in the finale in November where 16 players will fight it out for the title of Hearthstone World Champion. All season long, players have fought for ladder finishes, tournament placings, and seeding points in order to secure their entry to the big one. Now, with less than two weeks notice, the goalposts have been moved. The meta that everyone has fought through in Last Chance qualifiers and Regional finals is now completely changed.

You can argue that this isn’t a problem since it represents a level playing field for all involved, but that's actually not the case. Imagine one player who has correctly identified that Patron Warrior was going to evolve into the best deck in the game. In response they have spent six months grinding games with the deck and their hard work was rewarded with qualification for BlizzCon. Now imagine another player, who for reasons unknown, chose not to learn the deck. Maybe they just didn’t like it. Maybe they didn’t identify quickly enough how good it was. Or maybe it was just too hard for them to bother with. They invest their six months practice into learning other decks, decks that are still strong, and that they are still allowed to play at BlizzCon. Which of these players do you think has an advantage?

Final thoughts

No one will dispute that some sort of adjustment to the Grim Patron deck was necessary, but of all the options thrown around, no one came close to predicting this complete and utter annihilation of a unique, fun to play, and rewarding Hearthstone deck. Hopefully the points I've raised go some way to convincing you that the path taken by Blizzard was an overreaction. But ideally I’m wrong. I would love nothing more than for Hearthstone to move forward to a bigger and better place and for the Hearthstone World Championship to be a resounding success, filled with exciting games and a wide range of different and exciting decks. For now though, consider me unconvinced.

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