Hearthstone's 17.6 update (opens in new tab) has taken Demon Hunters down a peg once again, while very loosely acknowledging Control Warrior's growing prevalence on the ranked ladder. In the same patch, Blizzard has also targeted cards with effects that lower the cost of other cards to zero mana. This has seen our dearest Dragonqueen Alexstrasza and Rogue's Galakrond variant each take a nasty knock, raising the cost of the cards they discover and draw up to one mana.
In keeping with this new trend, Mage's Dragoncaster has also suffered an adjustment, although not quite in the same fashion. Blizzard has instead increased the cost of playing Dragoncaster rather than targeting your next spell, upping its cost from six to seven mana. While it aligns with the other adjustments in the update, I can't help but feel that this is an unnecessary nerf for Highlander Mages.
Highlander Mage has maintained its position as a Tier 2 deck for a while now, with the Ashes of Outland expansion only having made a few tweaks to its core structure. In comparison to Demon Hunter's aggressive entrance in April, and Galakrond Warlock and Rogue's temporary stint in the limelight, Highlander Mage hasn't felt like an oppressive deck for months. While it has a strong late-game and room for match-swinging RNG plays, I've come to accept that I'll take an early beating from tempo builds.
Pushing Dragoncaster up to seven mana shifts the deck even further into the late-game, which delays Mages from being proactive for yet another turn. In the early rounds, my game plan revolves around playing small minions and taunts to try to avoid taking damage. Surviving past turn six previously held promises of big spells to help me stabilise but waiting an additional turn makes the deck feel noticeably weaker.
Maybe my judgement is clouded by my bias as a Mage player, but Dragoncaster felt fair at six mana. Holding onto a dragon in order to play Deep Freeze or Power of Creation a couple of turns early didn't feel particularly game-breaking. Current top tier decks are capable of handling wide boards by crushing my minions with their own, or targeting my face long before I can build a threat. Dragoncaster's ability was also mild in comparison to Dragonqueen Alexstrasza and Galakrond—it's only a rare card after all. While the other cards' effects reduce the cost of multiple cards, Dragoncaster only affects one. I suppose playing my eight-cost spells a turn early is still better than nothing, but I almost feel as if I'm behind in some matchups now.
Blizzard's decision to nerf Dragoncaster and Dragonqueen Alexstrasza in the same breath feels as though it's hitting Highlander Mage too hard. Dragonqueen Alexstrasza was admittedly busted, but at least it was a neutral card that everyone running singles decks could abuse. While I still stand a fighting chance versus popular decks like Highlander Hunter, and can just about scrape past Totem Shaman builds, I maintain that Mage builds didn't feel overpowered enough to warrant these changes.
There's a chance this could be a pre-emptive move from Blizzard, with the Scholomance Academy expansion now scheduled to release in August. While Dragoncaster didn't pose a significant threat to other classes in the current meta, it may well be a different story when Mage teams up with Rogue and Shaman for its new dual-class set. As cards are revealed over the next few weeks it'll be easier to judge whether this is the case. I remain hopeful for what Blizzard has in store for Mage in the upcoming expansion, but for the next few weeks, I'll continue to feel salty about the 17.6 patch.