Hello and welcome back to TheBoxer’s Corner! Today I am going to give my opinion on how the Torch nerf has felt so far. If you interacted with me on the day of the Torch nerf I would have given you the answer that this is an unequivocally bad decision. After a couple weeks I have warmed up to the nerf but I’m still not sure Torch was the best card to nerf.
I believe that Eternal should have a large amount of interaction. My favorite games are long grindy midrange mirrors. Having a threat snowball out of control is not fun. I hated the Palace meta. I want putting all your eggs in one basket to be a high risk high reward play and not something commonplace. Stinger is a horrible card to have playable. It leads to games determined by RNG. Nerfing Torch gives Stinger a shot at playability again. I don’t think answers need to always be under-costed compared to threats. Look at Expedition. Devouring Shadow is a well-balanced removal spell for the format. But in Throne the threats you’re worried about aren’t Varret and Intrepid Longhorn which usually take multiple turns on board to take control of the game. In Throne you have Teacher, Dusk Raider, Hojan, etc. These are cards that can lead to games which are very one-sided. Has this happened yet in Throne? No, not yet. This is why I am starting to warm up to the nerf. However in set 8 (I feel old, I started in set 2) I hope they tone down the power creep on 2 cost Units. I don’t want to see more Units that snowball the game out of control. Nerfing Torch significantly lowers the power level at which you can print low cost Units. Expect more Units on the power level of Pony Snatcher than on the level of Blackhall Warleader. Okay maybe not that bad, but you get my point.
Powerful cards deserve answers. No format should have unanswerable cards. Sure there may be cards that are situationally hard to kill like pre-buff Black Sky which dodged Torch, Vanquish, and Annihilate. If it got out of hand people had answers. Mirror Image shenanigans can be fun, but Mirror Image should be punishable. The upside is high enough on the synergy that there should be a bit of a gamble in place. Torch helped with that. Annihilate and Equivocate sort of do, but keeping up 2 is a lot more than keeping up 1. Pre- and even post-nerf Palace are great examples of this. It runs away with the game if you don’t have an answer on the exact right turn. You can print this kind of card, but you also have to have cheap answers around to keep it in check.
Powerful and well-balanced are not mutually exclusive. Ubiquity and balance are not mutually exclusive. The Winchest and Jennev meta is the best meta of all time despite the fact that two decks rose above the rest. The meta need not be hyper-diverse to be fun or skill-intensive. Incarnus mirrors in Expedition are also incredibly skill-intensive and long games despite every tier 1 deck playing 4 Incarnus, 4 Tasbu, 4 Karvet, and Market Vara.
One point that often gets lost in the discussion is that Torch is a highly situational card that is only good in a few matchups. It is the counterpart to Vanquish. It is one of the first cards I market away when I am not against aggro. If cards like Teacher and Champion of Fury were not around, Torch would not be as common in midrange decks. For a while Grenadin didn’t even play Torch. It just didn’t care about District Infantry, Oni Ronin, and the ilk. Hyper-efficient must-answer threats are what made Torch so ubiquitous. The prevalence of Torch was born out of an arms race and Teacher of Humility is the Xenan Aggro Crisis.
When I started writing this, Endra had not even been spoiled, but I figure I should touch upon it. There are obviously more things going on to why Endra is so good than the Torch nerf, but it is a non-trivial factor contributing to why the deck is so good. Mirror Image and Clutchmate would be significantly worse and the deck would be closer in power level to Haunted Highway during its prime.
The main reason to nerf Torch was the power of decks such as FTJ. I, however, believe the Heart of the Vault nerf did more to hurt this deck than the Torch nerf. It made the late game of this deck significantly worse and made it harder to stabilize. Heart is often the turning point for midrange against aggro. Spellcrag is another offender. Torch allowed it to consistently get to its absurd late game. Prodigious Sorcery is the offender here. The late game cards have grown increasingly more powerful over the years. Mystic Ascendant is no longer king. The game revolves more and more around uninteractive late games such as Martyr’s Chains.
So far I haven’t felt as though things have gotten out of hand with slow Torch in place of fast Torch. I think the pre-Endra meta has been fairly well balanced. However there is one strange effect of this nerf. I see people playing less copies of Torch. Which is a mistake. If you would have played Torch before, you should still play it. I cannot think of a single deck that would play it before but not now. I’m not saying you should play decks no longer viable because of the nerf. I’m just saying that playing less than 4 Torch in a Fire deck that is not some kind of combo deck is a mistake. I know how tempting it is to take Kylo Ren’s advice and “let the past die, kill it if you have to” but doing so with Torch isn’t going to serve you well. Torch still has a job to do. It just got worse at its job. However, there are few if any competitors for its job. Suffocate and Defiance are nowhere near as powerful of tools. You should cut Torch from a deck because of the nerf less often that you would cut Xo from a deck because of that nerf. The frequency that was a correct choice was zero, so if I’m correct the only non-negative number less than or equal to zero is zero.
As a competitive player I like change and appreciate the change that came with this round of nerfs. However I believe that nerfing the top end of some of these decks would be a better choice in the long run. As I said above, nerfing Torch is a limit on design and will likely lead to a number of low cost Units being nerfed in the future. Interaction is a part of Eternal. Removal is a part of Eternal. Removal is never going to be fundamentally broken because it is fundamentally reactive. It may enable broken things but it is never the source of the problem. Harsh Rule is a bad card. Except it is playable when there is powerful enough stuff to play such a clunky card. Torch is obviously a better card than Harsh rule, but is in a similar way rarely the root of the problem. This last paragraph should not be taken as me endorsing the nerf be immediately reverted, but rather as a commentary on what has happened and what may happen in the future. My next article will be about Power bases in Expedition and I will take a look at a few recent decks from tournaments and see if they pass my standards. Tusen takk for at du leser (thousand thanks for reading)!
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