Hearthstone nerfs confirmed: Small-Time Buccaneer and Spirit Claws hit

Hearthstone game Director Ben Brode promised a balance patch was on its way weeks ago, and today Blizzard announced the details of that update. Nerfs to two of the game's most notorious cards, Spirit Claws and Small-Time Buccaneer, have been confirmed, and the Ranked Play ladder is also being changed with the introduction of 'Floors', which will prevent players from dropping ranks after hitting certain milestones.

The nerfs first: Spirit Claws will have its Mana cost increased to 2, up from 1. In my eyes, it's a welcome change and will help to reduce Shaman's early-game board control power without completely ruining the card. With Spellpower on the board, it's still better than a Fiery War Axe, but at least now you can't play Spirit Claws on turn 1 and Hero Power for that 25% chance at a Wrath of Air totem on turn 2 as your opponent fills to the brim with salt. 

As for the those pesky Pirates, Small-Time Buccaneer will have its health decreased to 1, down from 2. This is a massive nerf, as it opens up the minion to a wide new range of answers. Shaman's Maelstrom Portal or Warlock's Mortal Coil can now quickly trade with it and come out ahead, but more importantly Mage's hero power can now simply ping it off. This prevents pirate decks from being able to play Buccaneer on turn 1 against Mages without it being immediately killed, and leaves me wondering if it could end up being cut from aggro lists altogether.

Meta problems

(Image credit: Jamie Marciano)

Wonder why the Hearthstone meta always gets so stale, or what Blizzard could do to break the pattern? Our expert has some thoughts on how Blizzard could take a more active approach to balance.

Blizzard has been keeping an eye on pirate decks since early January when it said they might have to step in if they continued to see so much play. Brode also told us in an interview last month that "Small-Time Buccaneer is the problem, if we changed anything it would be Small-Time Buccaneer." So this nerf shouldn't come as a huge surprise, and will probably knock Patches the Pirate lower down our list of the best Hearthstone legendaries

Ranked Play is also getting a small change by adding Floors to the ladder. This means that once a player reaches ranks 15, 10, or 5, they won't be able to drop back below that rank during the season no matter how much they lose—exactly how it already is when reaching rank 20 or Legend. It's a system we've seen used in other Digital CCG's like The Elder Scrolls: Legends and Duelyst, and helps to reduce ladder anxiety and, ideally, increase deck experimentation without fear of falling all the way back to 20 by using something untested.

There's no exact date on when these changes will be implemented, but Blizzard has said they'll arrive with an update near the end of the month. Given that, my guess would be next Tuesday. It seems likely this will be the last patch before the Standard set rotates with the arrival of Hearthstone's next expansion, which is rumored to be called Lost Secrets of Un'Goro.

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 Twitch.tv/pcgamer to see Tom host The PC Gamer Show.