Surprise Hearthstone balance update nerfs 'prevalent' Basic and Classic cards

In a surprise move, given that the last round of nerfs only happened a month ago, Blizzard is changing another batch of problematic cards. The next Hearthstone balance update will focus almost exclusively on the Basic and Classic sets, with changes intended to make some of the most prevalent "auto-includes" into more strategically-selective choices. 

"We think Hearthstone is most fun when strategies are consistently evolving. When new cards are released, we’d like for older expansion decks to get a few interesting new pieces while also allowing you to experiment with the totally new archetypes that emerge," Blizzard explained

"When Basic and Classic cards become so broadly effective—no matter what you’re facing—that they drive what deck styles are considered viable every expansion, then it makes that goal difficult to achieve." 

Each of the cards being changed has been "highly prevalent" in matches, regardless of strategy or other cards in play, which Blizzard said constrains deck-building options and ultimately reduces the "diversity of decks." The update  is "intended to shift these cards from general-purpose 'auto-includes' into options that are more likely to be chosen for decks that are focused on strategies that capitalize on what these cards have to offer," Blizzard said. 

The list of changes: 

Cold Blood: Will cost 2 Mana (up from 1) 

Flametongue Totem: Will cost 3 Mana (up from 2)

Equality: Will cost 4 Mana (up from 2)

Hunter's Mark: Will cost 2 Mana (up from 1)

Emerald Spellstone: Will cost 6 Mana (up from 5)

Emerald Spellstone is the only card to be changed that isn't part of the Basic or Classic sets. (It's from Kobolds and Catacombs, which is actually due to rotate out of Standard in April.) Blizzard said its Mana cost is being increased in order to encourage its use as an "efficient mid- and late-game threat," rather than as an aggressive early-game option. 

Not everyone is happy with the changes. Hearthstone streamer Brian Kibler said on Twitter that the changes failed to address what he sees as the biggest problems in Hearthstone right now, "which are OTK and Genn/Baku decks making games play out super similarly every time." Lead balance designer August Dean Ayala responded by saying that Blizzard doesn't "make short-term quick fixes that are damaging to the long-term," and that it's important to avoid breaking the game for all levels of players. It's a bit dense with jargon, but makes for an interesting conversation about the perils of balancing a game like Hearthstone. 

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The update is scheduled to roll out on February 5.

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.