Feb 20 2015 - 8:14 pm

Why a Dr. Boom nerf would be more important than you think

It’s a well-known fact that an easy way to evaluate Hearthstone cards is to add their attack and defense together and divide it by two
Dot Esports

It’s a well-known fact that an easy way to evaluate Hearthstone cards is to add their attack and defense together and divide it by two. If the sum you get is the same as its mana cost, then you’re probably looking at something that will never, ever be exciting.

Consider the War Golem. A vanilla, basic 7/7 for seven mana. It’s a middling pick in arena, and not used outside of the most basic of bush leagues in Hearthstone. It’s the epitome of mediocrity, the definition of filler.

Dr. Boom is the first time Blizzard has introduced a legendary that is head and shoulders above the chaff.

Now consider Dr. Boom, a legendary released in the Goblins vs. Gnomes expansion, and currently an auto-include in, well, everything except for Hunter decks. That’s a 7/7 for seven mana, but that also spawns two 1/1s that deal 1-4 damage to a random enemy minion when they die. If you’re keeping track that’s a combined 9/9 stats and 2-8 bonus damage, all for the cost of seven mana. This ain’t your grandaddy’s War Golem.

“I wouldn’t expect to see much of Dr. Boom in constructed,” Jeffrey “Trump” Shih said, in his pre-release appraisal of all the new Goblins vs. Gnomes cards. “I see this as a slightly improved War Golem,” mocked Jan “Ek0p” Parlys in a podcast.

I guess you could say Dr. Boom snuck up on us.

Casually derided until we had it in our hands, today it might be the best legendary in the game, providing perhaps the most value any single card can offer. It’s like clockwork now. Turn seven? Dr. Boom. Turn seven? Dr. Boom. Turn seven? Dr. Boom.

Like most popular cards in Hearthstone, pretty soon we were calling for the good Doctor’s head. It’s not hard to see why. Dr. Boom is elementarily superior to everything else in the seven-mana echelon. I’ll give you an example. Sylvanas costs six mana, and she comes packed with an incredible death rattle that lets you take control of an enemy minion. It’s a great, great card that shores up board control in almost every situation. However, it also comes hamstrung with subpar 5/5 stats for its cost. You’d never say a Boulderfist Ogre is better than the dark banshee, but that Ogre does have a heavy 6/7 body, and there are some cases where it’d be better. Sylvanas is more vital and valuable, but it’s not totally clean-cut.

On the other hand, there’s no abstraction that Dr. Boom is best of its range. Again, it’s essentially a 9/9 with awesome perks for seven mana crystals. Its peers? Stormwind Champion, Core Hound, Ravenholdt Assassin, War Golem. Those are all demonstrably inferior cards. Dr. Boom is the first time Blizzard has introduced a legendary that is head and shoulders above the chaff.

I guess you could say Dr. Boom snuck up on us.

This is an interesting predicament. We are talking about a legendary after all. Is it okay for the rarer cards to be significant, un-obfuscated upgrades? Well, maybe, but it sets a difficult precedent. There’s a thing in other card games called “power creep,” where over a game’s lifespan, the cards in the expansions get progressively more powerful until the base set is rendered completely obsolete. We’re a ways away from that happening in Hearthstone, but Dr. Boom could be the first of many.

That’s why Blizzard’s decision on whether to nerf Boom or not is so important. If they don’t, it’s an admission that rarer, newer, more expensive cards are allowed to be better. What we know for sure is that Dr. Boom is a mainstay in every deck under the sun, which may have been the plan all along.

Illustration by Jason Reed

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