It's hard not to feel terrifying acid flashbacks when it comes to Dr Boom. Four and a half years ago we were wondering why Blizzard was taking so long to apply the nerf hammer to the grinning goblin. Today the same question applies to his successor. So when Hearthstone senior game designer Dean "Iksar" Ayala asked players what they've been enjoying most and least about Saviors of Uldum, the expansion that launched earlier this week, I wasn't surprised by the answers.
As the community sees it, there are two serious problems: Dr. Boom, Mad Genius the Warrior Hero card and the Conjurer’s Mage deck. I stopped counting replies after 35 of 38 mentioned one or both of those issues. And honestly, who can pretend to be surprised? We knew these things would be problematic going into the expansion. We expected their power to hurt people's enjoyment during the experimental deck-building phase. The real question is: Why haven't they been fixed?
What makes Dr. Boom, Mad Genius OP?
In case you need a refresher on what makes the card so brutally strong, let’s quickly cover the main points. First, Boom is a strict upgrade to Garrosh, the basic Warrior Hero—playing him does not in any way hinder the (average) ability of the Warrior to play defensively and gain armor. It simply condenses your armor turns while also giving you other, better options too.
Second, Boom turns all his mechs into value-trading nightmares thanks to the fact he gives them all Rush. This means not only does every mech act as immediate removal, but since the Warrior can pick the trades, they often use minions as 2-for-1 removals and threats. The result is that sticking any kind of board against Boom becomes nearly impossible.
Third, Boom condenses deck building. Instead of balancing removal cards against proactive threats, Boom provides Warrior decks with all the late-game they need in a single card. Free of the constraints of having to include late-game threats, Warrior decks are able to run nothing but removal or tech cards in their remaining 29 slots. Without Boom, Warrior would not be able to run nearly as much removal without risking gassing out in the late game.
To put all this in perspective, the latest stats from HSReplay show Dr. Boom sitting at a 69.3% overall mulligan win rate (how often you win the game when he’s in your opening hand) and a 68% drawn win rate (how often you win the game when he’s drawn at any point). Comparing him to Town Crier and Eternium Rover—two of the best 1-drops ever printed in Hearthstone—he's better by 2-3% in the opening hand.
That stat is even more notable once the comparative cost of the cards is considered. If two cards have the same win rate but one is more expensive, then the expensive card is generally better. A 7-drop will sit in your hand doing nothing for at least six turns, so if it’s winning more games than amazing 1-drops are, that tells you the power level of that expensive card is off the charts.
From an emotional perspective, losing to Boom feels about as bad as losing to the other Death Knights did—or at least the ones that provide infinite life and resources (like Jaina and Rexxar). The game becomes based around a passive ability and Hero Power you cannot interact with. Many players didn't realise just how bad Boom felt when the card was released because at the time all the classes had Death Knights, plus Baku and Genn were in the middle of their own reign of terror. All the button-based decks felt bad, so it was hard to single out Boom. After rotation, fewer classes had access to such broken tools, so Boom stands out in a big way.
What kind of degeneracy does Boom currently enable?
While it can be tempting to blame other cards in the Warrior tool kit—like Omega Assembly or Omega Devastator—those cards are so good because Boom exists. Three random mechs on turn 10 isn’t amazing if they don’t have Rush and the same can be said for Omega Devastator. Without Boom to back them up, these cards could even be too slow to run, especially if you also have to consider including actual late-game threats in your deck. Nerfing either of those cards would do little to stop the Mad Genius from staying, well, mad.
Incredibly, and to make matters worse, Savior of Uldum actually gave Warrior a new synergy in Tomb Warden. The card would be a solid option in a control deck, but the fact that it also has the Mech tribal tag (for no good reason) pushes it over the top. This addition makes Boom even more broken. As did the Rise of the Mechs patch, which added Sn1p-Sn4p and made improvements to two Mech cards which Warrior players regularly picked from the Delivery Drone Hero Power. It genuinely beggars belief that the balance team didn't seem to think this would exacerbate something which, by that point, was a well-documented issue.
Why hasn't it been hit by a balance change?
The card's undeniable power makes it baffling that Blizzard hasn't intervened. We can't know for sure what has kept the good doctor Teflon for so long, but I can float some suggestions as to what might be going on:
- Blizzard themed an entire expansion around him. The Boomsday project is based on Dr. Boom, thematically, and a change to the icon may have been deemed out of the question. This idea doesn’t work entirely, as Baku and Genn were Hall-of-Famed early for ruining the game—but they were neutrals, so perhaps the story is different.
- It's someone on the team's favorite card. Remember Patches the Pirate? Patches was unbelievably broken in an obvious way and it took close to a year before the card got nerfed. That might have been, in part, because the designers had spent years trying to get the Patches into the game. Perhaps something similar happened with Boom. Maybe Team 5 is worried that the players who enjoy having such an OP card will be angry if it changes. After all, Iksar recently suggested that the Wild players must really enjoy Barnes because they play him a lot.
- Misunderstanding their own data. Peter Whalen infamously said that Dr. Boom isn’t a huge balance outlier and doesn’t inherently feel bad to play against. While I can’t say how they arrived at either of those conclusions, it is possible the people making the decisions about balance have misinterpreted the data somehow. Designers are busy and not everyone is a trained statistician.
- Underestimating the card. When Rogue saw nerfs a month after the release of Rise of Shadows, the balance team said that Warrior had a variety of good and bad matches and, if the class began to dominate, there would be plenty of decks that could combat it. As it turns out, there are no cards to combat Dr. Boom, because you can't interact with him meaningfully. Now that Warrior decks also don't have to specifically tech for Rogues, they can focus on the rest of the field. The only decks that are really good against Warrior aren’t good against the pack, which seems likely to lead to a stagnant meta.
- The balance team is ahead in design. Blizzard knew Quests were returning in Uldum, and so wanted to wait and see if the power provided by them could combat the woes caused by by Boom. This 'wait-and-see' approach looks unlikely to bring balance (as has almost always been the case with previous expansions), and now we're sitting tight until the next patch, which tends to drop around a month after a new set launches.
- Fear of consequences. Many players dislike aggressive metas. It could be the team views Boom as the great wall keeping the game from becoming too fast if they fear other control tools aren’t good enough. That said, we'll never know for sure because right now if you're going to play a control deck, you're doing your win rate harm if it doesn't run Boom.
To wrap up, let's take a stab at some possible solutions. Increasing the mana cost alone makes him a little worse, but he could probably still cost 10 and be about as good. That leaves three options: (1) move him to the Hall of Fame early, like Baku and Genn, (2) address his passive rush mechanic, or (3) change the Hero Power options.
For my money, I’d prefer to see (2) and (3) considered. If you want to maintain the Rush passive on the card, Dr. Boom shouldn't gain armor when played or have armor gain as a button. This would mean playing Dr. Boom fundamentally changes how the Warrior deck operates, losing the ability to heal easily and making the card fit a more tempo-oriented deck.
On the other hand, if you want to keep the defensive/value ability of the card, then the Rush part must go (or be significantly reduced), perhaps only applying to the first minion played each turn, though that might not be enough of a nerf, truthfully. Removing the Rush aspect entirely would leave the card as a powerful value engine, but still allow opponents to stick a board and out-tempo the Warrior.
Whatever happens—and at this point it really does feel like something has to—Mad Genius can't be allowed to keep offering quite so much power. Not unless Blizzard wants to drive its own players mad.