Blizzard says Hearthstone's pirates will be nerfed if so many people keep playing them

In a livestreamed Q&A today, Hearthstone game designer Dean Ayala said that the number of pirate decks being played was currently "a little higher than we're comfortable with." He added that "if it continues to be that way, I'd expect us to do something about that." The clear implication being that if you blaggards keep picking pirates, then nerfs will be forthcoming. 

Ayala noted that Team 5 rarely nerfs a deck because of its raw power level, it's the frequency at which the most popular decks are played which is the bigger concern. According to Blizzard's own internal stats, the highest winrate for any deck right now is only 52%, while the 11th best deck on the list is at 49%, implying that players have a diverse range of viable decks. However, as anyone who's ventured on the ladder recently will be able to attest, decks that run the "Pirates package" which include Small-Time Buccaneer and Patches are over-represented.  

Ayala said it's extremely rare for a deck to achieve a winrate of 55% or above, but as soon as they start seeing a deck reach 25% of the total population, the team gets concerned. For example, when Undertaker was nerfed, Ayala said a whopping 40% of games being played involved the card. "While [Undertaker] decks were powerful, the bigger problem was population size."

If the pirate package continues to stay the way it is in terms of population, I think we would step in and do something about it.

Dean Ayala

Ayala also admitted that Pirate decks "tend to feel the same" to play against, which makes for a stale ladder experience. "Even if there's 10 or 12 cards different, I still feel like I'm losing to the same deck." Given that there's currently no real reason for players to stop playing pirates, it's reasonable to expect changes will be forthcoming. When exactly that may be is another matter entirely, but a reasonable guess would be alongside the balance patch that's likely to precede the next Standard rotation.

When asked if any cards from the Mean Streets of Gadgetzan were unexpectedly weak or strong compared to how they performed in testing, Ayala turned to the pirates again. He said the strength of pirates wasn't a surprise, but the fact that they could work in Warrior, Rogue, and Shaman was unexpected. (Feel free to do your own spit take about the Shaman part.)

Game director Ben Brode also took part in the Q&A, which is archived at the top of this page, and revealed that Blizzard is currently looking at making changes to the ranked ladder, which he says can suffer from "grindiness." Nothing has been decided yet, but ideas being kicked around include increasing the number of bonus stars players receive at the end of a season, setting up "breakpoints" at certain ranks that you wouldn't be able to drop below, or extending winstreak bonus stars past rank five. 

Possible improvements are also being considered for Arena. Brode and Ayala mentioned potentially switching to the Standard format and tweaking the drafting mechanics to reduce how many common cards or neutral basic minions are offered each draft. Additionally, in an effort to make Arena feel like it matters more, starting next month Blizzard will be releasing the top 100 rankings for all Arena players who have completed more than 30 runs that season. 

Another interesting tidbit from Brode is that the Standard format is only about twice as popular as the Wild format, somewhat shocking given how few people it feels like are playing it. You can check out what we want from Hearthstone in 2017 here, and find out all about how the dread pirate Patches was made, and, ahem, balanced. 

Tom Marks
Tom is PC Gamer’s Associate Editor. He enjoys platformers, puzzles and puzzle-platformers. He also enjoys talking about PC games, which he now no longer does alone. Tune in every Wednesday at 1pm Pacific on to see Tom host The PC Gamer Show.