Predicting where the nerfbat will fall...
What may be the biggest change in the history of Hearthstone is coming soon—the advent of the Standard and Wild formats. With the Classic set being evergreen in the Standard format, Blizzard plans to take a fresh look at its most powerful cards to rebalance them. My name is Andrey Yanyuk, better known as Reynad of Tempo Storm, and I’m here to give some insight on the cards most likely to be changed, and how I think Blizzard should alter them.
In many cases the cards that I expect to see changed are not necessarily the most “overpowered”, but rather the cards that create oppressive strategies that would push certain types of decks out of the Standard metagame. Be sure to keep an eye out for the upcoming Standard and Wild Meta Snapshots to be up-to-date with the best decks to play, and come say hi over at Twitter, Twitch, YouTube, or Facebook!
Now let’s get into it...
Big Game Hunter
Big Game Hunter, or “BGH” has been a topic of discussion in the Hearthstone community for a long time. Having pretty reasonable stats for 3 mana, there is little risk in including the card in your decks. The potential upside, on the other hand, is massive. Not only do you get a two-for-one exchange in terms of card advantage, but you’re spending 3 mana to destroy a 7+ mana minion of the opponent’s while developing your board. It is such a massive swing that including any 7+ attack minions in your deck at all has a lot of risk involved.
Ubiquitous cards such as Dr. Boom would actually be even better if they had their attack stat reduced to 6, simply to avoid BGH. This pushes a lot of potentially fun and exciting cards such as Deathwing, Arch-Thief Rafaam, or Inner Fire out of the meta. BGH also provides classes like Druid, who would otherwise be weak to large minions because of their lack of hard removal, with an effect they should otherwise not have. When every class has access to Big Game Hunter, cards like Polymorph or Assassinate become much more lackluster.
I would take this balance patch as an opportunity to tone down the strength of BGH significantly, so that we see more large and exciting minions being played. I recommend changing the card to only destroy Dragons, but leaving the stats and cost the same. This would also introduce a counter-measure to an archetype that does not otherwise have one.
0-mana 8/8s will always find a way into the top-tier decks. Molten Giant is an extremely powerful card that has previously led to nerfs of cards such as Warsong Commander. This card punishes midrange strategies that do not have access to 10+ points of burst damage by enabling a player to completely flip the state of the board with a timely Molten Giant. Whether combined with a taunt effect like Sunfury Protector, or healing in Antique Healbot, or more unique effects such as Shadowflame and Echo of Medivh, the Molten Giant enables degenerate strategies. I would increase the cost of the card to 23.
Together with Molten Giant, Mountain Giant enables the Warlock archetype known as “Handlock” to exist in all future Standard formats. While this is one of my favorite decks to play in the game, I must say that it is inherently oppressive to midrange strategies that try to play a balanced game of jockeying for board position. Playing an 8/8 on turn four every game punishes any deck that has not flooded the board by that point, which in itself would leave a player vulnerable to Hellfire or Molten Giant.
If we want Hearthstone to be a game of meaningful decision making and fighting for small advantages, strategies like Handlock have to go. With my proposed changed to Big Game Hunter as well, the Giants would be left with little to no counterplay. I propose simply increasing the cost of Mountain Giant by 1. This would eliminate the possibility of a turn four Mountain Giant by simply using the Warlock hero power twice, and weaken the Handlock archetype significantly.
Druid Combo—Force of Nature + Savage Roar
The Druid combo has been consistently ending the game from turn eight since the inception of Hearthstone, and enough is enough. Having a 14-damage burst available from an empty board allows Malfurion to completely ignore fighting for the board throughout the midgame and just push to bring the opponent down to that magic health threshold. Not only has this combination kept Druid within the top tier of competitive decks for two years, but it limits new ways to build Druid decks. It’s hard to justify playing large, slow minions like Ancient of War and Cenarius when you can just finish every game with the combo.
Force of Nature has already been nerfed once to 6 mana, and in isolation is not a very strong card. Because of this, I would recommend changing Savage Roar to a 5-mana card that gives your characters +3 attack. This makes it a strictly better version of Bloodlust, but I enjoy the option to play the card on its own in Druid Token archetypes. I don’t like the idea of simply increasing the cost of Savage Roar to 4 because it runs the risk of still making Druid combo-oriented.
Where to begin with Knife Juggler? I’ve certainly had my qualms about it. Knife Juggler has been ubiquitous in aggro decks for the past two years, and simply provides too much value for 2 mana. You get passable stats for the price, and if it happens to live you get to obliterate the opponent’s board (maybe). The key issue with Knife Juggler is its inconsistency. From a very early stage of the game, the state of the board is left up to chance. A coin flip can decide whether your overpowered 3/2 survives, or whether the pesky 2/1 on the opponent’s side of the board will live to trade with it. Like the Druid combo, Knife Juggler limits variety in deck building by being present in most aggressive decks in the game, whether that’s Secret Paladin or Zoo or Hunter. I would change the card to a 3 mana 3/3 to keep its power level in-line with other minions.
Alexstrasza has been a core part of combo-oriented decks throughout the history of Hearthstone. Setting your opponent from full life to 15 with a single card allows for strategies that completely ignore the state of the board during most of the game before finishing the opponent off with a flurry of burn spells or charge minions. Like Handlock, this is inherently strong against midrange decks that try to interact with their opponent in the traditional sense of trading creatures and card advantage.
If setting up for a one-turn-kill wasn’t enough, Alexstrasza gives its controller the option to restore up to 14 life when in a losing position. Overall, it's a dangerous effect to leave in the game long-term. Like some other cards on this list, it’s hard to just alter some stats on the card and make it feel “fixed”. In a lot of cases I think the best changes are ones that rework the entire card, rather than simply changing numbers to push it into the realm of unplayability (Starving Buzzard, for example). I propose Alexstraza keep the same cost and stats, but have the text changed to “Battlecry: Summon the last friendly minion that died.” Hopefully this is in line with Alexstrasza’s Life-Binder lore, but I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not an expert on Warcraft canon.
The entire Face Hunter archetype is possible to build using the classic set alone. This means that every single expansion from here on out will be obligated to provide the tools to deal with it. Cards like Zombie Chow, Antique Healbot, and Refreshment Vendor are necessary to give decks the tools to compete with this type of strategy. This starts a slippery slope of making sets have “prerequisite” cards, which leads to less room for new designs. It is not Leper Gnome in particular that pushes strategies such as Face Hunter over the top. The card isn't what I would call “broken”. The issue is that collectively, there are too many cards for this type of strategy in the classic set, Abusive Sergeant being another obvious offender. Leper Gnome is simply the common denominator in all of them due to the lack of suitable aggressive 1-drops. If this concentration of aggressive direct damage minions remains in the game, it limits Blizzard’s ability to print new cards along the lines of Quick Shot or Divine Favor. I propose simply reducing Leper Gnome’s stat line to 1/1. This halves the card’s impact when left on the board to attack for a turn or two.
Like Big Game Hunter, Ironbeak Owl hates fun. Ironbeak was incorporated into the game as a way to give decks countermeasures against a myriad of strategies including minion buffs, walls of Taunt, and Deathrattle effects. At the end of the day, the card’s flexibility and low opportunity cost to include has made it opress strategies like Inner Fire Priest and Ramp Druid. It is ubiquitous in aggressive and control decks alike, having seen play in most major archetypes at one point or another. While I believe that slower silence effects such as Spellbreaker are fine for the game, Ironbeak Owl remains just a bit too efficient and flexible at what it does. I propose limiting the card to only being able to silence a minion with Taunt.
Freeze Mage and its variants have long been a staple of competitive Hearthstone play. The archetype tends to have a slew of lopsided matchups, whether in the Mage’s favor or not. When playing against the deck, players often feels like they have little control over the outcome of the game and almost no ways to interact. The deck is built in such a way that traditional removal spells such as Wrath are nearly useless against it.
Freeze Mage is yet another strategy focused on bypassing the traditional modes of interaction in the game, such as trading and killing minions. While I love unique archetypes like this, I'm also worried that having Freeze Mage (or Molten Giant Mage, etc) in Standard until the end of time is far from healthy. The very decks it preys on are the decks that play the most interactive games of Hearthstone. I believe that Ice Block is one of the most crucial, frustrating, and uninteractive aspects of these Mage decks. A fine change would be to have Ice Block read “Secret: Until your next turn, if your hero takes fatal damage, prevent it and become Immune this turn.”
This might be the strongest card in all of Hearthstone. Innervate creates some of the most disgusting opening plays imaginable. Not only does it limit deck choices in every Druid list to 28 cards, but it creates one of the most draw-dependent strategies in the game. I believe that effects like Wild Growth or Darnassus Aspirant are healthy, but Innervate allows for too many plays that are simply too strong and difficult to account for. “Do I play out my 3/2 minion on turn 2, or play around the off-chance that the Druid has Innervate + Keeper of the Grove in his opening hand?”
With Druid, it's difficult to say whether it’s Innervate, Ancient of Lore, or Keeper of the Grove that should be changed for the sake of deck variety, but Innervate is certainly the most powerful of the three. It’s also worth noting that playing a huge minion on turn one is a very rare, and exciting moment for new and veteran players alike. Eliminating that from the game entirely has its drawbacks. If a nerf to Druid combo happens, it may put Druid in a precarious spot as well. Weakening Innervate runs the risk of hurting the class a little too much. Despite that, I believe that toning down Innervate slightly will help keep Druid's balance more in-line with other classes. I would slightly weaken the card by limiting its mana ramp effect to be only used on minions.