Hearthstone's Ben Brode promises balance changes coming this month

Hearthstone game director Ben Brode has been giving hints that balance changes are on the way for a while now, not least in our lengthy interview a couple of weeks back in which he all but confirmed that the dread pirate Small-Time Buccaneer is problem. At the time Brode noted that Team 5 doesn’t like to announce changes too far ahead of them going live, because that leads to games in the interim feeling false. Today, however, he gave a clearer sense of when we can expect a new wave of nerfs and buffs. I’m kidding, it’s always nerfs!

In a substantial post on the official forum titled “The Meta, Balance, and Shaman”, Brode revealed:

“Our next patch is planned for around the end of this month. You can expect an announcement from us regarding balance changes either way in the week or so leading up to that date.”

That’s very much the juicy conclusion that will delight many players who’ve grown frustrated with the dominance of Pirate decks and the Shaman class generally. But to get a sense of precisely what’s likely to be changed, you should read the rest of his post. Addressing Shaman specifically, Brode acknowledges that 30% of players at Legend are playing a Shaman decks at Legend rank, though this drops to 17% if you include all players. By comparison, Undertaker Hunter—which was empirically the most successful Hearthstone deck in the game’s history, with a 60% win rate—was played by 35% of all people at its height.

The Pirate 'package' of Small-Time Buccaneer and Patches the Pirate is played in about 50% of all decks at rank 5 and above.

—Ben Brode, game director

Brode also notes that Aggro Shaman, which is the strongest version of the class currently according to Blizzard’s numbers, has a winrate of 53% across all ranks. Which actually puts its slightly below some of the previous best decks. He also points out that the deck can be hard countered by Control Warrior and Renolock, though this will perhaps come as cold comfort to those of us who go into a fetal ball of sobbing PTSD shock each time Tunnel Trogg curves perfectly into Totem Golem.

At this point you may be wondering if Brode’s post is little more than an interesting apologia for why Blizzard hasn’t done anything to stop the Shaman onslaught thus far, given that the class has been dominant for three expansions now. But to be fair, they did nerf Tuskarr Totemic and Rockbiter Weapon in the last big balance patch. Factor in also that problem cards like the oppressive Totem Golem are due to rotate out when Standard refreshes with the first new card set of 2017 in spring, and it feels likely that Blizzard hoped it could ride out the unrest, much as it chose to do when Secret Paladin was everywhere.

So, I’m not sure we can expect big changes to Shaman. But it does sound like the Pirates are finally going to be cut down to size. According to Brode, “The Pirate 'package' of Small-Time Buccaneer and Patches the Pirate is played in about 50% of all decks at rank 5 and above.” That’s a crazy amount, and when cards become so ubiquitous  that’s usually when the developer intercedes, with Undertaker being the obvious previous example.

There’s a ton of other interesting stuff in there, so do give it a read. My anticipation is that Buccaneer won’t get the Warsong Commander treatment and be nerfed from orbit into unplayability. When we spoke, Brode said he’d had a change of heart about making that sort of change, so now preferred stat or cost tweaks. At the same time, we can also expect this patch to come with the proposed changes to some Basic and Classic cards that Brode has also been hinting at with a view to keeping Standard fresh in 2017. 

No doubt those will be greeted with the calm and decorum we’ve become accustomed to, but personally anything that freshens the game up is okay by me. So long as they don’t touch Drakonid Operative, which is clearly a fine and honest card.

Tim Clark

With over two decades covering videogames, Tim has been there from the beginning. In his case, that meant playing Elite in 'co-op' on a BBC Micro (one player uses the movement keys, the other shoots) until his parents finally caved and bought an Amstrad CPC 6128. These days, when not steering the good ship PC Gamer, Tim spends his time complaining that all Priest mains in Hearthstone are degenerates and raiding in Destiny 2. He's almost certainly doing one of these right now.