Hearthstone players will soon be bringing out less of their dead, as Blizzard today confirmed plans to nerf Undertaker, one of the game's most hated minions. A forthcoming patch will alter the minion’s card text from “Whenever you summon a minion with Deathrattle gain +1/+1” to “Whenever you summon a minion with Deathrattle, gain +1 Attack”.
To non-‘stoners that might sound a minor change, but the fact its health won’t continue to swell as additional Deathrattle cards get played will have a huge impact. Undertaker had become an oppressive staple in aggressive Deathrattle-based decks, forcing every opponent to have some way of answering a perfect Undertaker opening or risk being blown away after a few turns.
Here’s Blizzard community manager Zeriyah explaining why they felt the need to make the change:
“Undertaker was frustrating to play against. It often gained both Attack and Health stats significantly above those of other inexpensive minions very early in the game. With this change, we expect Undertaker will still be better than other 1-Mana minions when played in a deck with a Deathrattle theme, but more likely to die in combat against other minions.”
In truth the news is no surprise. Undertaker decks were brutally dominant before the December release of the Goblins vs Gnomes expansion, and although new cards like Lil’ Exorcist were designed to operate as a direct countermeasure, Undertaker remained pretty much exactly as strong.
In our interview with senior games designer Ben Brode after the release of the new cards it was clear Undertaker was already at the top of Blizzard’s balance watchlist. Now, with the metagame failing to come up with an adequate response, the developer has intervened.
As my colleague and fellow Hearthstone devotee Tom Marks noted when we discussed the change this morning, there’s likely a deeper motivation for the nerf. Undertaker’s powerful synergy with Deathrattle cards meant that any new ones created would also increase Undertaker’s potential value exponentially. It’s much the same situation Starving Buzzard found itself in. Then, Blizzard couldn’t make new cheap beasts without buffing the Buzzard’s already overpowered ability into the bargain. In the end both cards felt the force of the nerfhammer.
In terms of whether or not it’s a fair change, I think it feels about right. A 2-health Undertaker is manageable for all classes, but if buffed the card will still get work done in terms of trading up with higher value minions. It just won’t be an auto-win card when you get the dream start. Certainly, this was exactly the change many high profile players have been calling for. I asked Hearthstone streamer and Magic: The Gathering hall of famer Brian Kibler for his thoughts: “I've felt like Undertaker was a problem card for a long time, since it snowballs games so hard starting on turn one,” he told me. “I’m glad it's gone.”
It might not be gone entirely, but it is probably just a glorified Cogmaster now. Note that because Undertaker was acquired via the Curse of Naxxramas adventure it’s classed as ‘soulbound’, meaning you won’t be able to disenchant it for bonus dust. However, if you have a golden version, you'll be able to disenchant that for full value—400 dust. Perhaps you could put it towards a new legendary? We’ve got a list of the 20 best, as picked by pros, here.
As for what’ll be nerfed next, I imagine Dr Boom is laughing a little more nervously now.