The current Hearthstone dev team certainly isn't shy when it comes to wielding the nerfhammer. When the Ashes of Outland expansion launched in April, they took less than 24 hours (opens in new tab) to announce a swathe of changes. To be fair, those were mainly due to the overtuned new Demon Hunter class, which was still getting hit right up until last month (opens in new tab).
So far, the new Scholomance Academy cards haven't been touched, but give Blizzard a chance—the expansion only came out last Thursday. For those of you who are dust poor (ie. all of us except Kripp (opens in new tab)), deciding whether or not a card is likely to get nerfed is key when it comes to disenchanting. That's because you receive the full dust value for cards that are altered, meaning stockpiling spares—especially golden ones—is a good stonk investment.
With that in mind, I scientifically surveyed the Hearthstone community (i.e. asked some friendly pros and content creators on Twitter) which cards they thought were most likely to taste Ol' Uncle Nerfy's sweet kiss. Thanks to Ike, Kibler, Darroch Brown, Raven, J Alexander and many others for their answers. We start—as many will have guessed—with Druid.
The ramp package in Druid
Given that Wild Growth, Nourish, and Innervate have all been nerfed, it's kinda wild that Blizzard keeps printing new Mana ramp cards for the class and expects things to be fine. Of the Scholomance set, Lightning Bloom is the main offender, and was the first pick from Lorinda, who does stats for Hearthstone Esports these days, so knows his stuff. Lightning Bloom costs 0 (a problem we'll return to) and enables you to cheat out two extra Mana on the turn you play it. The penalty for doing so is Overloading for two on the next turn (it's a Dual-Class card shared with Shaman), but that's a small price for playing game-ending cards early.
The best idea for how to change the card came from HSReplay.net (opens in new tab)'s Tiago Taparelli (opens in new tab), who suggests it should only refresh 2 crystals on the turn you play it, not add them. That would probably kill the card, but I wouldn't mourn the loss.
Alternatively, Blizzard could change one of the older ramp cards. Overgrowth from Ashes of Outland also adds 2 Mana crystals, but this time permanently. It costs 4 now, and could probably be pushed to 5, which feels in line with Nourish, now costing 6. Darroch Brown (opens in new tab) notes: "Ramp is the problem right now rather than the payoff." As things stand, with access to Breath of Dreams, Innervate, Overgrowth, Lightning Bloom and Wild Growth, the Ramp package is so consistent that Druid is almost always able to accelerate to 7 Mana. Which is a problem because of our next card...
The Guardian Animals combo
One of the biggest payoffs for all that Mana-ramping is dropping this bomb. Just about everyone worked out that by only rigging your deck with strong 5-Mana Beasts, you could pretty much guarantee the pull. So far the animals of choice have been Lake Thresher (a 4/6 with 'cleave' to help clear the board), Teacher's Pet (a 4/5 Taunt and the additional benefit of a Deathrattle for extra stickiness), and most problematically Twilight Runner, a 5/4 which draws two cards whenever it attacks. That's especially good because you need to refill your hand after playing all those Ramp cards.
If you compare Guardian Animals to pre-nerf Call of the Wild, it's pretty clear why there's a problem. Guardian Animals can't do face damage, or buff your existing board, but as a value generator and board control tool it's much better. Right now it's one of the strongest comeback mechanics the game has ever seen. So what should change? Moving Guardian Animals to 8-Mana is an obvious solution to slow Druid's power spike down. Though it's worth noting that this is another Dual-Class card, and in Hunter it isn't even especially strong. Raven (opens in new tab), who it should be noted loves Rexxar like his own hairy brother, would rather see Twilight Runner cost 6. I'm more persuaded by DeckTech (opens in new tab), who pointed out that Guardian Animals giving the Beasts rush is the real issue, and should be removed.
Kael'thas Sunstrider is the other big reward for hitting 7 Mana. Last week I went on a minor rant (opens in new tab) about how printing this card was a huge mistake, and nothing I've seen since has changed my mind. (Certainly not this turn one kill combo (opens in new tab).) The fact that Kael enables you to play any spell for 0 is going to be a problem in perpetuity for the balance team, particularly in Druid which now has an abundance of cheap spells—Moonfire, Bogbeam, Ironbark, Innervate etc.—to juice Kael's effect. The issue is exacerbated by Druid also having a bunch of expensive spells, like Overflow and Survival of the Fittest, which each have bonkers effects.
The most common suggestion for changing Kael is to make his discount only apply once per turn. I'd love to go further and see it become a one-time Spellburst effect, which would be very flavourful with the Scholomance set—though I don't know exactly how you'd word it. Probably the best idea for calming the card down is to make the discounted third spell cost 1 Mana.
Something in Paladin
There's a case for saying Druid isn't even the problem, particularly as it can be hard-countered. And I should also add that several respondents felt things were fine generally. Ike (opens in new tab) told me: "I've been playing tons of decks with success which doesn't lead me to want any immediate nerfs," but when pushed he did cite Paladin's First Day of School as a strong candidate for rebalancing. That card single-handedly shores up Paladin's early game, helping to provide candidates to buff on turn 2 using Hand of Adal, without breaking the 'pure' (ie. Paladin-only) restriction that enables you to run Lightforged Zealot and Crusader.
Several respondents felt First Day of School was just too good, but there was less consensus on how to change it. Old Guardian (opens in new tab) was the most creative, advocating that the cost of the card should change to 1 and the text should read: "Add a random 0-cost minion and a random 1-cost minion to your hand." That would dial the tempo and value down substantially.
As we speak, Paladin comfortably tops HSReplay (opens in new tab)'s win rate chart at 55.5%. ZachO (opens in new tab) from the Vicious Syndicate (opens in new tab) data project told me it's nowhere near as good as Demon Hunter was at release, but: "It's definitely overtuned. It's bizarre that most are talking about nerfing Druid (which is justified) without nerfing Paladin." He suggested that the easiest thing to do would be to revert Aldor Attendant back to a 2-Mana 2/3.
The other card that came up a couple of times was Argent Braggart. Though somewhat situational (I've even seen lists that are cutting it), the potential upside of playing a 2-Mana card that copies the stats of the biggest minions on board are obvious. It's particularly back-breaking when played after almost any of Paladin's big buff cards. This would be more about changing a card because it feels awful to lose to, rather than because of its power in a vacuum.
Let's round things out with a few more leftfield suggestions. Mindrender Illucia is a controversial Priest legendary that lets you swap hands (and decks) with your opponent for a turn. It's probably the most powerful disruption card Blizzard has ever created, enabling you to dismantle whatever combo your opponent has been painstakingly building. It's also oddly cheap at 2-Mana, meaning if played late you're usually going to be able to do some serious damage.
Admirable (opens in new tab) complained that Mindrender "has created more non-games for me than any other card so far. I hate the mechanic in a turn based game." Overall he's happy with the set though: "So far, it feels like you could get away with no changes. I’m playing against a lot of different decks right now, and a change would likely be more aimed at game experience than balance, I think. Almost every class has something powerful to do." Kibler feels much the same way:
I haven’t felt like anything seems so oppressive that it needs nerfed. I’m actually really happy with the amount of counterplay options that exist in Standard right now for a wide variety of strategies.August 10, 2020
Not annoying as initially feared?
One card that people expected to be broken but perhaps isn't is Voracious Reader. Before release the assumption was that she'd slot into every aggro and midrange deck due to her ability to refill empty hands. Though the card is seeing plenty of play, I think timing her use is a little trickier than some predicted, so I'm not sure I'm on board with the suggestion that she could cost 3 Mana.
A final card that cropped up is Secret Passage in Rogue, which got raving reviews pre-release and sure enough has turned out to be an absolute powerhouse. Feedback included changing the card to only draw 4 rather than 5, and not enabling you to keep cards that were generated by those cards. Honestly though, I agree with Rogue main J Alexander (opens in new tab): "No. It’s just ok. Was totally overrated. Spread the word. No nerf needed." I dunno, it's almost like he has a vested interest.
Let me know what you think about the suggested changes in the comments and thanks again to everyone who replied. In particular, hat tip to Ridiculous Hat (opens in new tab), who wrote an actual essay (opens in new tab). Check it out if more balance chat is your jam. And don't forget, keep all these cards until at least the first balance patch drops!