Struck Down (Again): A Look at the Impact of the Coming Nerfs

It happened! Oh my God, it finally happened! Not only did Blizzard step up and show the community that they are invested in Hearthstone, but they also managed to nerf two of my least favorite cards of all time. This is great news and something that has been a long time coming. Often, Team 5 […]

Introduction

It happened! Oh my God, it finally happened! Not only did Blizzard step up and show the community that they are invested in Hearthstone, but they also managed to nerf two of my least favorite cards of all time. This is great news and something that has been a long time coming. Often, Team 5 gets criticized for not doing, well…anything about the game. Too often we sit here and hope for balance changes that never come (Dr. Boom never did get nerfed) and too long we hope for healthy shifts that will never happen. This time around, Blizzard showed they are committed to helping Standard grow. This is great news, not just for the health of the game, but for the trend of the format as a whole. Blizz has shown they are willing to nerf cards before, but none have been as key or as important as these.

In this article I am going to study the different nerfs from two perspectives. One, I want to look at the nerfs themselves and see how they will effect how the cards are going to be played. Two, and much more importantly, I also want to break down the decks the cards are going to affect. The meta is pretty settled right now. There are a lot of strong classes at the top, and a couple of less powerful ones taking up the middle. All of these cards are going to have impacts on the top decks, which could lead to a generally shift across the whole meta. While I do not think these decks are going to disappear completely, I do think some are going to be significantly weaker. And that’s not a bad thing.

Rockbiter Weapon

While all of these nerfs are going to have a big impact in one way or another, I think this could be one of the most important. While ticking Rockbiter Weapon up a mana may not seem like a huge deal at first glance, there are two things to think about here. First, this card is apart of the Classic Set which means (for now at least) it is going to be around forever. Shaman thrives on having early options, and being able to do things like play Tunnel Trogg/coin/kill your one drop is just too strong. While it is easy to get caught up in their big minions, those are the plays that swing a game. Add in the fact that they already have Lightning Bolt and they just have two many ways to control the early board. Taking this away makes many Shaman lists less consistent and forces them to play a more fair game. It is also going to have a huge impact on Doomhammer. While I believe the pair will still be around, having to wait one more turn to do ten out of hand is a big deal.

So, the big question here is, will Rockbiter still see play? My gut instinct is to say yes, but only because of the way Shaman operates. They have a ton of strong cards right now, and even without some of their tools the class is still going to be around. This card can now be compared to Frostbolt or Darkbomb in that it does three damage for two mana. While it is worse than those examples (you need to have a minion or take damage), it still serves as a way to pace the early game and can be used to help your minions trade up. I think Aggro Shaman will likely return (for a short while at least) and they are still going to want rockbiter to team up with their precious Doomhammer. There is a good chance that Lightning Bolt takes priority due to its flexibility, but the overload could make some of the slower midrange lists use this instead.

Execute

Another fantastic nerf, Execute gets the ol’ “one more mana” treatment we see above. This nerf is very interesting (and very well done) because it is going to have a huge impact across some Warrior builds and do nothing to others. More aggressive builds (such as Pirate) and slower control are not going to care about this at all. Most aggressive decks don’t play Execute in favor of packing in more minions and damage, while the control lists will happily pay two mana for a removal spell. This is by far one of the strongest kill cards ever printed, and having it at one or two mana is not going to be that big of a deal. Yes, Control Warrior will no longer be able to keep this in the early game, but they have so many other options at their disposal that it likely won’t matter. This card commonly sees play during the middle to late game anyway, which is when they have mana to spare. This could cause them to lose a hero power when they normally wouldn’t, but the card’s ability is still so strong you have to play it.

That being said, Execute costing two mana is a big blow to Dragon Warrior, Tempo Warrior, and Patron. While Rockbiter Weapon could still see play because of how Shaman can be a little looser with their mana (they spend a lot of turns simply hero powering anyway) almost all midrange Warriors have a very tight curve. So tight that having to spend two mana on this card may not be worth it. While I think they will still try and still fit it in for the raw power, it just isn’t going to be the same. You can no longer play this turn four alongside Ravaging Ghoul, nor can you develop a minion and then use this plus Blood to Ichor with your remaining two mana. The extra cost is a lot in today’s game, especially in decks that care so much about their curve. Now, instead of playing your Twilight Guardian and removing a minion on turn five you have to choose between killing something or advancing your board. That is a big deal and could really gut the deck.

Abusive-Sergeant

While I am happy about the nerfs, this one makes me sad. I know there are many (many, many, many) people who do not like cards like Abusive Sergeant, but I think it was very well designed card. Aggro has to exist in one form or another, and for that to happen you need to have strong aggro cards. Getting rid of them all doesn’t feel like a solution as much as it feels like an overreaction. Sigh. Anyway, this is a nerf that is most likely going to have a much bigger impact on the future game than on the current. Very few decks play Abusive right now, with Zoo being the only exception. Losing this card is definitely going to set the deck back, but it may not be as big of a hit as many believe. In fact, I think Zoo will still play this card even as a 1/1. Though they are touted as aggro, the aggressive Warlock has always only ever cared about tempo. This card provides more than enough of that and losing one health only matters in terms of trading (which they do well anyway). While the list doesn’t want to give up pressure, I find it hard to believe a deck that only cares about trading up would voluntarily lose this ability.

Beyond Zoo, I do not think this card will see play. Though my initial inclination is to say that it will not hit the sergeant too hard, I have to think back to Leper Gnome when evaluating this nerf. I once thought the little icky was going to be fine even despite going down to one attack. Yes, it lacked the aggressive capability that it once had, but its deathrattle was still intact and it could still be played on curve. However, I was dead wrong. Abusive Sergeant looks like it is in the exact same boat. The ability is still strong and everything points to it sticking around despite the lack of damage. However, we have already seen how much losing one attack can effect a minion. While I imagine this is still going to be in Zoo for years to come, I do not think it will continue on in any of the aggro decks that try to make use of it.

Charge

This is a really cool nerf that may actually help this card see more action. Charge is a spell that typically has just not been good enough for constructed play. While it has made some very interesting combos shine (most recently OTK Worgen) it usually just is too niche and too expensive to fit into any real deck. However, I see this change largely as a double-edged sword. On one hand, the card now does not do what it is intended to do, which is kill your opponent. In that same vein, it also no longer buffs the attack of the minion. Yet, it also now only costs one mana. It is always important to look at one mana options, and that drop in cost makes the spell much more flexible (and much more useful) than it once was.

What interests me most here is Charge‘s potential in slower decks. Though people will no doubt experiment with this in some odd midrange lists, I think this could be a very good one-of in Control Warrior. The reason is that control has enough ways to stay alive and mitigate damage that it can afford to play tech cards like this. There is a lot of potential to use this card with deathrattle minions like Cairne Bloodhoof or Sylvanas Windrunner to rapidly swing the board in your favor. It also gives you ways to play larger threats that are commonly too slow because you now have a way to trade with them. For example, there are many games where you need to hold off playing Ysera because you cannot afford the tempo loss of not gaining life or killing a minion. However, if you can play Ysera and then use her to trade into an opposing Azure Drake or Flametongue Totem, that can be a huge deal. The same goes with cards like Alexstrasza as well. I am very excited to test this one.

Tuskarr Totemic

Yes. A thousand times yes. This is one of the biggest nerfs in the entire set and it has been a loooong time coming. While Shaman still has access to both Tunnel Trogg and Totem Golem, not being able to pull Flametongue Totem, Totem Golem or Mana Tide Totem from Tuskarr Totemic is a big, big deal. Almost every strong deck in the game can fight or challenge Shaman’s one-two punch opening, but they usually falter when the 3/2 brings out a tempo swing. Now that random “I win” moment is gone, allowing many decks to have more of a chance against the class. Shaman is still going to be powerful, but this (along with the Rockbiter nerf) just eats away at the consistency and takes away the OP power shifts that really pushed the class over the top. Bravo on this one.

Something I want to point out is that I don’t think this card (or Shaman) is going anywhere. While the fish-lover is undoubtedly weaker than it once was, most current Shaman lists win games just fine without Tuskarr rolling high. Having two bodies for the price of three mana is exactly what most classes wants, and being able to discount Thing from Below without spending a turn hero powering is also a huge bonus. There are other options to run instead of Tuskarr (notably Feral Spirit) but I would just as soon have the 3/2 without needing to worry about overload. Totems matter a lot for the current midrange lists, and this gives you more chances to roll your spell damage totem. Though, I do think this getting weaker will lead to more people playing Aggro in the coming weeks.

Call of the Wild

I have often asked the question, “how much of a difference does one mana make?” and the way Call of the Wild plays out will help answer that. This is by far the hardest nerf to evaluate because nine mana is significantly more than eight. So much so that I think this card is only going to see play in spell-based decks that have the removal and secrets they need to get to that extra turn. I have played all sorts of Hunter decks since Whispers, and turn eight has been crucial for almost all of them. There are many games where you barely struggle into the end game and then win by the skin of your teeth because of call. Having to wait one more turn to play this card is just not worth it for the midrange decks that depend on having a strong swing each turn. Though you could run more high-cost cards to help smooth things out, I do not think that something like Ragnaros the Firelord is worth losing your early game consistency.

If this card does dip in play I imagine Hunter is going to go through a shift. The core curve is still strong and can lead to some insane swings. As a result, I think the deck is just going to plug in more low cost minions and try to be more aggressive. That is not to say this will herald the return of Face Hunter, but simply that more hybrid lists will pop up in the next few weeks. The nerfs have hit a lot of top classes, but they don’t make aggro Hunter that much better. You still want to have the strong midrange plays that help you compete with other go-big decks, which means the class is going to split. One half is going to play the low-curve midrange without the top end they once had, while the other is going to just go much more all-in with spells. Secret Hunters are likely going to go up in popularity, and I imagine we will see many more Cloaked Huntresses following the changes.

Yogg-Saron, Hope’s End

And finally, we end with the biggest nerf around. I have talked on and on and on and on and on and on about the problems with Yogg-Saron, Hope’s End, and I could not be happier with this card getting cut down. In fact, this may be the best Hearthstone news we’ve had since they first announced Standard. While I do not want to keep talking about my disdain for the Old God, this desperately needed to happen to keep the integrity of the game intact.

Though this nerf may not seem like a big deal, it is going to drive Yogg into the ground. The Old God does lose some games when played, but much more often it nets a positive result. That was a large problem because it led to playing this as a tempo card much more than a last resort. For instance, if your opponent had two threats on board and you had two or three cards in hand you could just drop Yogg to clear and draw. There have been many games where I even played him on an empty board to refill my hand. Those type of plays are now over because paying ten mana to randomly have your Yogg die and lose your turn is never worth it. Yogg kills himself a lot, and the threat of paying ten mana to do nothing is always going to outweigh the chances of winning.

The biggest part of this nerf is its impact on Druid. I do not want to say the class is dead, but it is definitely in the ICU. Every popular version of the class relies on Yogg to fill in many gaps. No longer having that crutch makes Druid much weakest because it takes away card draw, board clears and spot removal in one fell blow. Malfurion can win games without a strong Yogg, but the overall winrate is going to plummet. The class just doesn’t have the tools to keep up with many decks in the game (notably Hunter and Shaman) and it is going to show. This should also destroy Malygos Druid completely and force people to shift back to Token.

Conclusion

Now these are some great changes. Absolutely great. There has not been a lot of love for Blizzard lately, but this more than makes up for it. I (along with many other big players in this community) have complained about many of the cards in this list, and rightly so. I love when a company can admit its mistakes, and this really shows some maturity we have not seen in the past. Though I welcome the nerfs and cannot wait to play with them, I hope more are not needed in the future. Thanks for reading!