It was the wombo combo heard ‘round the world.
Jeffrey “Trump” Shih brought his Control Warrior against Jeffrey “SjoW” Brusi’s Patron Warrior in the Archon Team League Championships. Both players worked their way through their entire decks, which meant Trump had armored up to a massive 49 health. For those keeping track, that’s 19 more health than you start the game with. The board was completely empty, but it didn’t matter. In one turn SjoW dropped his Warsong Commander, his Grim Patrons, his Frothing Berserkers, and popped off both Inner Rages and Whirlwinds to give himself a one-turn, 51 damage combo.
Fifty-one damage. In one turn. On an empty board. Well played.
Patron Warrior has been the best deck in Hearthstone since the release of Blackrock Mountain in April. The win condition is simple: stall out til the late game and take over the board with self-damaging spells and pesky, infinitely spawning minions called Grim Patrons. Combine these with the free charge from Warsong Commander and Frothing Berserker’s gaudy attack bonuses, and you can win a game very quickly. There hasn’t been anything in the history of Hearthstone that can win a game in one turn on an empty board against an opponent at 50 health. Throughout the game’s lifespan combo decks couldn’t even dream of that sort of efficiency. But now we’re here, and the future is murky.
Consider Freeze Mage. The potent blend of direct damage and stalling can occasionally blow an opponent down from 30ish health, but you’re relying on perfect draws and the spell-heavy decklist, which forces you to give up any board presence. Freeze Mage has stuck around without any meddling because it’s beatable in a very clear, concise way: put on pressure that out-tempos its Flamestrikes, Doomsayers, and Blizzards.
Now consider Miracle Rogue, one of the most dominant decks in Hearthstone history. There wasn’t much you could do once a Miracle Rogue dropped its Gadgetzan Auctioneer. You watched in horror as they pilfered through their entire deck, and then ate the Leeroy-Shadowstep-Leeroy-Shadowstep-Leeroy-Cold Blood-Cold Blood combo. This wasn’t very interactive. Either the Miracle Rogue drew the right cards or it didn’t. Hearthstone games shouldn’t come down to that sort of binary system. As such, both Gadgetzan and Leeroy got nerfed, and Miracle Rogue was ushered out the door.
But even at Miracle’s height, the deck had no chance in hell at bursting someone down from 50 on an empty board. Even with Preparations and Evicerates thrown in, you could only occasionally top 30 damage burst. Patron Warrior not only blows that out of the water, it also leaves behind a huge, scary board. It’s so ridiculously hard to make a comeback once Patron gets rolling. Blizzard’s decision to nerf Miracle Rogue was because the combo wasn’t fun to play against. It left opponents feeling powerless. By that definition, it seems like Patron’s days will be numbered.
But here’s the thing. Patron is exceptionally difficult to play. You have to make enormous, mind-bending calculations with enough to spare for all the animations to play out. Patron can be easily punished if played poorly, and there should be a place at the table for transcendent play. If you’re able to pilot unwieldy cards to incredible victory, why should that be taken away from you? It’s the one thing that makes Patron significantly different from Miracle Rogue. Trump recently spent a half-hour trying to figure out if he had lethal with a particularly stacked hand and a Sludge Belcher on the other side of the board. It never, ever took you that long to see lethal with your Leeroy combo.
It’s also difficult to know where you’d make a change. Increasing the cost of Grim Patron or Frothing Berserker probably wouldn’t move the needle too much, and something drastic like making Grim Patron a 3/2 would kill the archetype completely. That’s not to say that Blizzard is incapable of putting unhealthy decks down (RIP Undertaker, Starving Buzzard,) but it should be treated like a last resort.
I do think I know a solution, however. The combo that you saw in the Trump/SjoW game was only possible because Emperor Thaurissan discounted the Patrons, the Whirlwinds, and the Frothing Berserkers. Without Thaurissan’s effect, SjoW wouldn’t have been able to cast his Whirlwinds for free, which would’ve stopped him short of lethal. Thaurissan’s immediate discount effect has made things happen in Hearthstone that shouldn’t be possible, and as much as we respect the artistry of Patron Warrior, I think we can all agree that a reliable, one-turn 50ish damage combo plus total board control shouldn’t be possible. A Thaurissan nerf would have huge implications on the entire game—pretty much every control deck makes room for it—but it might stop the bleeding. Patron Warrior could still be strong, just not broken.
No matter what, that Trump/SjoW game has left a lasting impact on the community. The extreme, occasionally unstoppable power of Patron Warrior is on display, and it’s up to Blizzard to decide what kind of game Hearthstone is going to be. All of its balance changes to this point make it seem that an adjustment is inevitable. But maybe it won’t get nerfed. Maybe this is our new normal. Maybe we now live in a world where decks are allowed to burst their opponents from 50. Whether that’s a dystopia or a utopia depends on your perspective.
Image via Blizzard