Big changes are about to be introduced as soon as the HCT Playoffs are over. The nerfs hit both Standard and Wild.
Six cards are going to be reduced in power in some way, as means to combat the unhealthy state of the Witchwood metagame. The news came from the developers themselves, alongside some explanations about the choices they made. Here’s the list of amendments:
Naga Sea Witch – Will cost 8 mana. (Up from 5)
In update 9.1, we introduced a rule change to increase the consistency of Hearthstone game mechanics. The change affected precisely when Naga Sea Witch’s cost change was applied to cards. This allowed it to be combined with the cost reduction effects on giants, and as a result, it became fairly easy to reduce their mana cost to 0.
We think Hearthstone is better all around when interactions are consistent, and we like the fact that a Naga Sea Witch giants deck archetype exists. That said, we also understand that, with its current functionality, this deck can generate early board states that are unreasonable for most classes to deal with. By increasing the cost of Naga Sea Witch to 8 mana, the deck’s concept remains intact, but the combo is delayed until later in a match when more decks are likely to have the tools to handle the arrival of so many giants.
This update strictly affects the Wild environment. And frankly, it’s a good sign that Blizzard cares about the healthy metagame in their eternal format, and not only Standard. If the Naga archetype suffers for it, then so be it. Though the Giant Naga archetype is not the Wild’s biggest problem at the moment.
Spiteful Summoner – Will cost 7 mana. (Up from 6)
After set rotation arrived with the Year of the Raven, Spiteful Summoner became more powerful and consistent when used in decks containing 10 mana cost spells. This is because the pool of 10 mana cost minions in Standard is smaller, so players could more reliably count on getting a powerful minion from Spiteful Summoner’s effect. Even considering the deckbuilding sacrifices that an effective Spiteful Summoner deck requires, we think that increasing the card’s mana cost to 7 is more in line with the powerful outcomes that are possible when it’s used alongside cards like Ultimate Infestation.
The Spiteful archetype was definitely problematic, with many players feeling cheated when it consistently draws a 10/10 (or stronger) minion. Will the bump to seven mana be enough to stop it? Probably not. But it will slow it down a bit and give the opponent some more time to react and play around it, which is fine.
Dark Pact – Will restore 4 Health. (Down from 8)
There are two aspects of Dark Pact that make it powerful. At a cost of 1 mana, it’s easily used alongside cards like Carnivorous Cube, Possessed Lackey, and Spiritsinger Umbra for big combo turns. It also gives Warlocks enough healing potential so that aggressively using Lifetap and playing cards like Kobold Librarian and Hellfire feel less consequential. We left Dark Pact’s cost intact so it can still be used as part of interesting combos, but lessened the healing it provides so Warlocks will need to more carefully consider how much damage they take over the course of a match.
Honestly, this nerf is probably not enough. The main purpose of Dark Pact is to trigger the Cube right now, and the healing effect is just an added bonus. Blizzard’s explanation makes sense, but making the deck slightly more susceptible to Aggro strategies is not really solving the current problem, while at the same time introducing a new problem – more Face decks in the meta. Again.
Possessed Lackey – Will cost 6 mana. (Up from 5)
Some of the card combos involving Possessed Lackey present situations that are too difficult to deal with in the early-to-mid stages of the game. Increasing its mana cost to 6 delays some of those powerful card combos to turns that are easier for opposing decks to overcome.
This is playing to the tune of the previous nerf and we have the same remarks about it.
Call to Arms – Will cost 5 mana. (Up from 4)
Currently, there are three popular Paladin decks: Even Paladin, Murloc Paladin, and Odd Paladin. Among the three decks, Even Paladin and Murloc Paladin have consistently been the most powerful two archetypes over the first few weeks since the release of The Witchwood. Call to Arms moving to 5 mana restricts it from being used in Even decks and reduces its power somewhat when used in Murloc and other Paladin decks.
We expect that players will experiment with Call to Arms at 5 mana in Odd Paladin decks, but we don’t expect this card to have much of an impact. This is because Odd Paladin can’t access 2 mana minions (meaning Call to Arms could only ever summon three 1 mana minions if played in that deck).
Note: As a result of this change, we are adjusting the “Greymane’s Alliance” deck recipe. It will now have two copies of Saronite Chain Gang in place of Call to Arms.
This is the big one. It deals with the Even Paladin that’s been anchored in the top Tier 1 position pretty much since the beginning of the season, without completely destroying it. What Blizzard expect from the Odd build is sound and probably completely true. We will see if now Uther will take a step back, after dominating the meta for so long.
The Caverns Below – The quest reward, Crystal Core, will read: For the rest of the game, your minions are 4/4. (Down from 5/5)
The Quest Rogue deck uses a strategy that’s strong against slow, control-heavy and fatigue decks, but struggles against most other deck archetypes. There’s a fine line between being powerful against very slow decks and being powerful versus virtually all non-aggressive strategies. By changing the quest reward to make the resulting minions 4/4 instead of 5/5, Quest Rogue should still be a reasonable option versus slow, extreme late-game decks, but offer a less polarized matchup with more moderate control decks.
Right after we asked for something to be done, Blizzard delivers. The Quest Rogue needed a solid nerf, or straight up removal from the game. What the developer offers is a nice improvement, but probably not enough. Sure, we can start putting Pyroblasts in our decks and they will actually achieve something, but this does not mean the deck is going away. Maybe our stance on the topic is a bit extreme, but we firmly believe that the Quest Rogue-type decks are single-player coin-toss by nature, which goes against the spirit of Hearthstone. Oh well, at least they crippled it.
It is good that these changes are being issued. It is telling that Blizzard is indeed taking the feedback from the community and doing something with it. The fact that they are waiting for the HCT Playoffs to be over is also significant, as disrupting the competitive scene is the last thing we need right now. Just look what happened in Overwatch.
Will the worst decks be destroyed? No, they are here to stay. But they will take a hit, and hopefully a dip in their win rate. Will new decks emerge from the ashes? We hope so. More diversity in the metagame means more choices, more fun and healthier game for everybody.
It will be interesting to follow the developments, and we will do exactly that.