The Next Round of Nerfs: Gazing into the Crystal Ball

The Hearthstone development team, Team 5, rigorously playtests their cards before the release of an expansion to check card interactions and power levels.  But all their play testing can’t come close to the thoroughness of tens of millions of Hearthstone players across the globe searching for broken interactions.

These broken interactions have led to fun-killing or unfair gameplay and have forced Blizzard to nerf (reduce the value) of several cards over the years.  Warsong Commander originally allowed cards that were summoned with three or less attack to have Charge.  In the Patron Warrior deck this allowed a board of Grim Patrons or a huge Frothing Berserker to attack face for a one-turn kill (OTK).  Blizzard nerfed it to, “Your charge minions have +1 attack.” This effectively ended its reign as a competitively viable card.  Blizzard has been moving away from the Charge mechanic in an effort to promote games with more interaction and counter play.

Another example is Undertaker.  It originally read, “Whenever you summon a minion with Deathrattle, gain +1/+1.  As you can imagine, if you filled your deck with small Deathrattle minions this steamrolled out of hand quickly.  Undertaker Hunter became the premier deck of the meta, and according to Hearthstone senior game designer, Dean Ayala, it was 25% of all decks played.  Clearly, to balance the game a nerf was necessary.  Undertaker was nerfed to only gain +1 attack, thereby allowing it to be more easily dealt with in the early game.

It has been over a month since the release of The Boomsday Project.  This is typically when legitimate nerf talk begins, once the meta has settled down.  There is often premature clamoring early after an expansion because a deck can take over the ladder for a period of time before the meta learns how to counter it.  Each expansion generally has a card or handful of cards that need tweaking.  It can take weeks or months for Team 5 to respond and correct these offending cards.  Often a round of nerfs can include cards from past expansions that have become problematic due to interactions with new cards (Warsong Commander) or ones that they see creating future design limitations (Dreadsteed).  Looking at this criteria and past examples we can ponder which cards might be next on the chopping block.

Juicy Psychmelonjuicy-psychmelon

This card has taken over the Wild meta and helped accelerate the win conditions of Togwaggle and Star Aligner Druid.  This card allows all the combo pieces to be drawn, which combined with Druid’s excellent ability to ramp makes it not unheard of for the decks to pull of their combo in turns five through ten.  This can feel very oppressive, as if you haven’t had a chance to develop your game.  Blizzard has nerfed cards in the past if they limit interactivity as no one enjoys playing a game when they are dead before turn ten.

Although the Hearthstone team said that it wants Wild to be a place of crazy decks, it showed in the Naga Sea Witch nerf that it is willing to help out Wild if a deck becomes problematic.  Juicy Psychmelon is in 17% of Wild decks at Rank 5 and above, according to hsreplay.net.  This is a large yet not overwhelming number; but what really stands out is that 13 of the 15 top cards by percentage played are all Druid cards.  The two non-Druid cards are Dirty Rat, which is the main disruptor of the Combo-Druid style decks and Doomsayer, an early game board clear.  The fact that there are other Druid cards above it such as Nourish and Wild Growth points to people playing Jade Druid as well.

Juicy Psychmelon should probably be given the Naga Sea Witch treatment and have its mana increased to anywhere from 8-10 mana.  This allows the combo to be drawn, but at a more honest place in the game.  Aggro decks are currently the only deck type that can beat it by punching Malfurion or Lunara to submission before the combo can be completed.  Currently, any mid-range or control deck must run Dirty Rat to counter it to stand a chance.  If the mana cost of Juicy Psychmelon is raised it will allow slower decks to win more organically without having to tech to play against one deck.

Barnes200px-Barnes(42021)

Hearthstone’s favorite emcee, Barnes, dodged the nerf bullet back in May to the surprise of many.  His ability to unfairly curve out Y’Sharrj, Rage Unbound can instantly win games, but the resurrected 3/4 body can be a liability with Priest’s resurrect cards.  Because of that, Barnesless Big Priest became a more consistent version of the deck, proving that Barnes was only the problem with the deck when it high-rolled him on turns three or four.

The bad feeling of losing to a high-roll could be enough on its own to warrant a nerf, but the true danger of Barnes could be future design limitations.  Any card that has an end of turn effect could be cheated out early by him.  If cheating Y’Sharrj is bad enough, what else could he be limiting us from doing?  Perhaps nerfing him to create a 1/1 copy the following turn, allowing the opponent a chance to kill Barnes before the effect goes off, would be better for both gameplay and design.

Aviana22325

There has been some discussion in the Wild community that the Aviana/Kun combo overall is a problem and one way to make it more fair would be to raise Aviana’s mana to ten.  The combo would still be able to be pulled off, the player would just need a coin or Innervate to get the one extra mana to play Kun.

This would really alter the combo decklists to force players to squeeze in the Innervates.  Most likely taking out some of the removal cards, swapping out Lesser Jasper Spellstone or a Biology Project.

The Aviana/Kun combo is a deck that helps define Wild and certain caution should be taken when altering key cards in this type of deck.  Without Juicy Psychmelon, this type of deck plays out fairly, as it is susceptible to aggro and combo disruption.  Currently, the Star Aligner and Togwaggle versions arguably are considered Tier S, far above other top decks.  It just needs a small nerf nudge to push it back to Tier 1.

Brann Bronzebeard200px-Brann_Bronzebeard(27214)

The youngest of the Bronzebeard clan has never seemed to be a card that needed a nerf.  Currently due to his synergy with Star Aligner and its opposition Dirty Rat, Brann is being played in 25% of decks from Rank 5 to Legend.  If Team 5 chooses not to nerf Juicy Psychmelon, Brann could be another option, as he enables the double damage of the Star Aligner combo.  Changing his cost does nothing with the combo though as his mana cost drops to one when played with Aviana.  Sadly because of this, nerfing him to unplayable degrees might be the only option.

If Brann is changed, having him give double battlecry to any minion that is played on the next turn if he is still on the board could be an option.  Perhaps since this is such a drastic change you could increase his health to six to give him a fighting chance to survive.  It still lets him be dealt with by a myriad of spells, such as a full Jasper Spellstone or Fireball.  What it does though is if you want to pull off a double-damage Star Aligner combo you would have to play him out and hope or just cut him from the combo and design the deck with more brewmasters or to get your opponent down to 14 health instead.

Giggling Inventor200px-Giggling_Inventor(89838)

While this card is mostly an issue in Standard, that can’t be ignored just because it is only a solid card in Wild.  Giggling inventor is being played in an astonishing 43% of decks in high play Standard.  There is a good chance that it will be nerfed due to this, which will effect the card’s use in Wild.  Its mana cost could be increased to six or it could be moved to the Hall of Fame after rotation in the spring.

Giggling Inventor’s play rate is similar to that of the Hall of Famed Azure Drake, which became an auto include in all decks just based on value alone.  Players’ ability to couple Giggling Inventor with Blood Knight (who eats both divine shields from the Annoy-O-Trons to buff itself to a 9/9 minion) makes it a gross play on turn eight.  Granted, your opponent can play a Blood Knight as well to counter a Giggling Inventor and establish their own monster minion.  This card was compared to Sludge Belcher based on value when it first came out, but the Blood Knight combo marks it as a card that needs to be reworked.

Yogg-Saron, Hope’s End33168

What?  Hasn’t Yogg been nerfed to unplayable degrees already?  Yes, and that’s the problem.  Yogg is no longer played in Wild.  He went from being a Hail Mary answer to an RNG joke that often kills himself within a few spells, rendering him useless and more importantly not fun.  The idea to un-nerf Yogg has gained some traction among Wild players.

Yogg was nerfed to stop players in tournaments from losing unfairly to RNG.  This worked, making his miracle play even less reliable than it already was.  When the Whispers of the Old Gods expansion rotated to Wild, it took Yogg with it, away from tournament play.  Wild has its annual Wild Open tournament, but not much else as far as Blizzard sanctioned tournament play.  This makes Yogg a non-factor when it comes to swinging big money victories.

Un-nerfing Yogg in Wild would give the chance for more casual players in Wild to have some fun with him again.  He would also cause some insanity in Druid decks again, although it’s debatable whether he would find a use in highly streamlined combo decks.

Making it Fun

A Yogg un-nerf, or the goal of any of these suggested nerfs, would be to make the Wild ladder more fun again, as Druidstone in Wild has made several top Wild players switch to the Standard ladder for the time being.  Whether you are a competitive player or not, your experience should be fun. As evidenced in the past, nerfs have the simple goal of making the game more enjoyable.  Hopefully any changes that Hearthstone makes will improve the fun factor of the gameplay.

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