Tom Marks, Assistant Editor
Tom Marks thinks that no one card should have all that power
Tim Clark, Global editor-in-chief
Tim Clark thinks Doc Boom should be allowed to keep shaking the room.
In Face Off, PC Gamer writers go head to head over an issue affecting PC gaming. Today, Tim and Tom argue whether or not the insanely popular Hearthstone card Dr. Boom should be nerfed.
Tom Marks: YES. If a card can be put every deck, something is wrong with it.
Just to be clear, I am not a fan of the nerf bat being swung around all willy-nilly and am fully in favor of Blizzard balancing current cards by introducing new ones, but the good Doctor is a downright oppressive presence in the meta right now. It is in literally every deck, and what’s more, it works in every deck. Dr. Boom gives you a huge amount of board presence for a bafflingly low cost, but more importantly it’s a single card that is almost impossible to respond to without at least two of your own. It has single-handedly pushed Big Game Hunter into most decks, and BGH still leaves you with two Boom Bots to deal with. Even in a world where you are, for some reason, running Twisting Nether, the Boom Bot deathrattles hit you in the face for 2-8 damage. What other card demands that kind of attention on turn 7?
Tim Clark: NO. People are being babies. As usual.
Okay, I’m willing to make an early concession here (before delivering my own rapier-like counterthrust). Firstly, when high-level players are nick-naming your card Dr. Balanced and, erm, Dr. Cancer, then I suppose that indicates there might be an issue with its perception. But here’s the thing: High-level players are a lot like mid- and low-level players—aside from the being good at Hearthstone bit—insofar as they absolutely love to complain about cards. Here’s my prediction: even if Hearthstone lasts until the heat death of the universe, and Blizzard brings in a team of elite tightrope stilt-walkers to advise on balance, there will still be people complaining that whatever card is the ubiquitous pick du jour is OP and should be nerfed plz. You ask what card demands a response like Boom does. Well, for only one Mana more Rag has already done 8 damage to something before you even get a chance to respond. Admittedly BGH is less of a hard counter to Boom, but people are too obsessed with being able to answer every threat perfectly. Also, BGH only costs three mana. You’ll have another five to spend on sorting out those pesky IEDs. I actually think it’s to Boom’s credit that it promotes messy board states.
Tom: Oh boy, this might not be the best way to kick off an argument, but I completely agree that people like to complain. There will always be an “OP” card that everyone hates and should be printed on paper solely so we can actually burn it. This is a fact for most online games. That fact, however, does not mean Dr. Boom isn’t actually overpowered. It’s one thing when the masses cry foul, but it’s another when (as you said) pro players are casually referring to the card as imbalanced. A card to encourage messy board states isn't inherently unhealthy, but you can drop Dr. Boom with nearly any board state and it is almost never a bad play—a luxury Ragnaros does not have. While everyone loves a good YOLO-Rag, the requirements for playing Ragnaros beneficially are usually more nuanced. The requirements for playing Dr. Boom beneficially are that it’s after turn 6.
Tim: Well played, Tom. Very pithy. But you’ve fallen into my carefully-laid trap. The fact that Boom is good on almost any board is exactly what makes it such an important, but not necessarily overpowered, card. I submit to you, sir, that Hearthstone’s real balance problem is that it drastically lacks cards which can be played when you’re behind on board. As a Druid main, I lack effective board clear spells beyond Swipe and the risible 10-mana Poison Seeds/Starfall combo. So once I’m behind I pretty much know I’m cooked, barring Innervate shenanigans, and it’s an oppressive feeling. Boom gives players a way back into games that otherwise look lost, and I think that’s desperately needed. After all, how many of your favourite Hearthstone stories are about incredible comebacks? It’s not like just dropping Boom equals an insta-win, either. If you have two or three decent minions down, and I play the good doctor, you can still load up on more creatures and go face. You’re not obliged to trade. There are other cards which are pretty much always good to play too. Ancient of Lore and Fire Elemental, to name two, although they’re class specific. A more reasonable comparison would be with another neutral legendary: Sylvanas. She’s good when played while you're ahead, but even better when you’re behind. She’s an excellent card. It’s okay for there to be excellent cards.
Tom: Yes, and we can plainly see how desperately unplayed Druid is because of its lack of “play from behind” cards... Oh wait, it’s been the most consistently successful class since the game’s release. Your unhealthy obsession with Druid’s lack of hard removal aside, I will admit that come-from-behind plays make Hearthstone less of a snowball game and much more exciting to watch, but Dr. Boom gives you that benefit in a single, 7-mana card. The other examples you gave can definitely turn a game in your favor, but they still don’t represent anywhere near as large of a board impact as Boom makes. Sylvanas is an excellent card, but she isn’t always good. If you play Boom while I have minions, my options are trade my board and probably another card to clear him (and the boom bots still deal damage) or ignore him and go face at which point you will get a minimum of 11 damage from one 7 mana card. Sylvanas is peaches and cream compared to dealing with that. It’s definitely good to have excellent cards, but there needs to be a time when those cards aren’t so excellent.
Tim: I guess my point, as far as I still have one, is that I just don’t feel like Boom is having a deleterious effect on my enjoyment of Hearthstone. (I’m also hoping you’ll be dazzled by the word deleterious and let me win.) I mean, yes, there’s a case for saying Boom is, in a vaccum, the best value card in the game right now. But there will always be a best value card. You cannot have light without shade and all that jazz. But does it feel like it’s warping the majority of games I play in? No, not really. And that is probably due to its ubiquity. If the other guy plays Boom, oh well here comes mine too I guess. I just feel fine with it. And what I feel is what really matters here, as I think we’ve established now. But here’s another point: Leeroy wasn’t nerfed because he was necessarily the most powerful card in the game. He was nerfed because the style of play he enabled—specifically the ludicrous combo finishes played from hand—was super enraging for your opponent. Likewise with Undertaker. It was just joyless to face. I don’t think that’s the case with Boom quite yet. Boom is love. Boom is life. (Actually Boom is mainly death, but you see where I’m driving with this.)
Tom: That’s a fair point, but a point spoken by someone who owns Dr. Boom. This was not the case for me until very recently, and I imagine it’s not the case for a large portion of players. Boom might not have a deleterious effect (did I use that right?) on the quality of each match, but it is affecting the deck building portion of Hearthstone. Currently, if you want to make a deck as good as it can be, you only have 29 cards to work with. Dr. Boom’s inclusion is necessitated or you risk being unable to go Boom for Boom with your opponent. Maybe I’m being a stick in the mud, but I find Dr. Boom’s concept is more fun on paper than when I see him in game, on either side of the board. He doesn’t need to be nerfed into oblivion, but his concept needs to be expressed better.
Tim: Express the concept better? Dr Boom isn’t an obscure piece of early Hungarian existentialism. And anyway, he’s not in every deck. I don’t use him in my Zoo build. And there’s that Kolento ramp Druid which doesn’t run any creatures with more than 6 attack, and… I mean, alright, okay, he’s in almost every deck, yes, that’s true. But the real problem here is the lack of good neutral 7-drops. What are you meant to put in there on curve? Baron Geddon maybe, if you’re running a heavy control deck, I guess. Troggzor hasn’t really taken off. Ravenholdt bloody Assassin? I don’t think so. The danger is that the whining is going to lead to one of the most interesting cards in the game being hamstrung and turned into the new Illidan Stormrage. Not on my watch, Tom. Not on my watch.
Tom: Brushing over the fact that decks with no minions over 6 attack exist because of BGH’s popularity, which is only the case because of Dr. Boom’s popularity… you are right about neutral 7 mana cards. It is a sad and desolate mana slot, which is ironic because it is home to some of the better class cards like Ancient of Lore and Archmage Antonidas. I believe a world exists where Dr. Boom is nerfed appropriately without changing his cost. It might be a hopeful world, but I have faith in Blizzard’s balance team. They’ve shown they can make card changes with a delicate touch in the past… except for Starving Buzzard. RIP in peace, my feathery prince.
Tim: In this fanciful ‘balanced Dr Boom’ world Neptulon becomes king and we all end up playing midrange Shaman. I hope you’ll be happy with your new fish overlord, Tom. I really do.
Tom: So, I won then?
For more analysis on Hearthstone cards, read our list of the best legendaries (opens in new tab).