On the 5th of February five cards are undergoing “balance changes.” Before you get excited, no, Frost-Lich Jaina and Deathstalker Rexxar are not on the list. Instead they are reducing the power-level of all classes as a whole, which leads me to believe they are trying to make balance changes easier in the future.
The past year of Hearthstone has been difficult, as the meta hasn’t really changed much with each expansion bringing only a few playable cards. This phenomenon is clearly because of power-creep, an effect that every trading card game suffers from eventually. Power-creep in a nutshell means that as time goes on, more and more powerful cards are printed, and in order to compete with each other, more extremely powerful cards must be printed. This makes for extremely polarizing matchups, and games that seem very draw dependent. These changes will ruffle the meta, but not put it through a huge overhaul. They are a glimpse of a brighter tomorrow.
Cold Blood is a card providing Rogue the much needed burst for their class. While this nerf looks innocuous enough, let’s compare it to another card from the classic set, Eviscerate. Eviscerate is a 2 mana spell that reads “Deal 2 damage. Combo: Deal 4 damage. This nerf makes Cold Blood a worse Eviscerate, as the Eviscerate does not require you to have a minion on board.
With the new mechanic, Rush, that the design team seems to be pushing to overtake the mechanic Charge, Rogue is left once again looking fairly anemic, and is running out of options. Rogue’s identity prevents it from gaining any significant amount of armor or health, Rogue relies on cheap spells to help cycle their deck and finish the opponent off in a tempo oriented game. The biggest problem is other classes DO have a lot of healing and armor! This means any Tempo or Aggro deck must finish the game quicker than the Combo deck can get its draw and armor engines online.
The current meta is dictated by Combo Priest, Combo Paladin, and Aggressive Hunter. When Paladin plays Call to Arms, the game is over. When Priest plays Mass Hysteria, the game is over. When Aggro Hunter plays Spellstone, the game is over. Rogue does not have any catch-up mechanics, by design, which means in order to win they must finish their opponent over the top. (Over the top is a term that means burst without needing to go through the enemy minions e.g. Eviscerate, Fireball.) My personal biggest issue with this nerf, is that the biggest counter to clone priest was Odd Rogue. What now? What deck will punish all the decks that do nothing for the first 5 turns of the game? Odd Rogue will still be a very strong deck, likely turning into a beast variant using Bittertide Hydra and Untamed Beastmaster, but this nerf essentially makes Cold Blood unplayable in the current meta. Spending 2 mana for a conditional 4 damage? Nah, I’ll take a Sinister Strike, thanks.
Every time I see a Shaman nerf I start praying that it’s because they are about to print new sweet Shaman cards. This is clearly not the case with this nerf. This nerf is clearly directed at the wild meta. At one point this past season Even Shaman had an OVER 60% WINRATE ON WILD LADDER while, at that time, being the second-most played deck. Take a second and let that last fact sink in. When an archetype is that powerful something needs to happen.
Flametongue Totem was a good target for a nerf if they intend to print more Shaman cards that would benefit from a token strategy. Don’t say Odd Shaman. Please don’t say Odd Shaman.
Equality is not a card anyone had complained about in the current meta. Maybe it’s because Paladin is just now re-emerging, maybe it’s because Team 5 deemed Paladin too strong in the coming expansion. Either way, I’m in love with this nerf. At 2 mana, any Aggro deck can and should run an equality to deal with the walls of taunts that can be generated through cards like Rexxar, Carnivorous Cube, Gul’dan, or Zuljin. Aggro decks should pay a price for running such greedy cards, (e.g. Divine Favor requires you to dump your hand faster than your opponent, or Scavenging Hyena comes into play understatted for its cost).
The aforementioned cards are conditionally good, which is perfect for greedy cards. Simultaneously, this does not affect the control aspect to Equality, as Control decks are built to be greedy. This is a perfect nerf.
Hunter’s Mark is the scariest of the nerfs, as it is a huge tell for the future. It’s true with the rise in popularity of Hunter, Hunter’s Mark’s use is on the rise, but this is not a card that has ever been on my radar. As I ponder the changes, this one makes sense as well.
For 6 mana and 2 cards (Hunter’s Mark + Baited Arrow) a Hunter can kill any minion and play a 5/5. For comparison, Vilespine Slayer, a Rogue card, takes a minimum of 6 mana and 2 cards to play a 3/4 and kill a minion. The problem isn’t Hunter’s Mark in this scenario, it’s Hunter’s Mark’s interaction with Baited Arrow. It seems that Blizzard intends to keep Spell Hunter as an archetype even after the rotation of Rhok’delar, perhaps we will see more tempo-oriented Hunter cards. The Even Hunter dream is still alive!
Raise your hand if you are tired of Wandering Monster, Wandering Monster, coin Greater Emerald Spellstone. Okay, you can put your hand down now. The only response in standard to this sort of debauchery is Hellfire, Mass Hysteria, or the much less common, Cheaty Anklebiter + Defile. The thing I like most about this nerf is you can’t curve Spellstone into Deathstalker Rexxar anymore. That should make this card feel slightly less frustrating to play against, while still maintaining it as a strong option for Hunter.
These nerfs will have a larger effect on the meta than most people are predicting. Odd Rogue took a hit by losing Cold Blood, but that can easily be replaced by a Wolf Rider, Sinister Strike, or Nightblade. In reality Odd Rogue will still be a very strong deck. It is a deck that will undergo a large overhaul immediately post-nerf likely turning into a beast variant using Bittertide Hydra and Untamed Beastmaster. The nerf of Flametongue Totem completely kills Even Shaman in standard, while having no effect on wild.
Equality being 4 mana will make Combo Paladin less frustrating to play against, but heavily handicaps Even Paladin, which has problems finishing. This makes Equality + Avenging Wrath a 10 mana combo, Equality + Consecration 8 mana, and Equality + Wild Pyromancer 6 mana. These costs are way too high for a deck with limited draw potential. Hunter is still the strongest class. The only Hunter deck taking any considerable loss with these nerfs is Spell Hunter.
What do I play now?
Hunter catching a slight nerf will take a downturn in play, opening the door for Paladin and Mage to make a comeback. When Paladin is good, Warlock is good. Priest didn’t directly get nerfed, but with Hunter slowing down, Odd Rogue can come back and prevent them from dominating the Ladder. What this means, is play Mage. Tempo Mage (either with Baku or without) is going to be the strongest archetype post nerf, as it is already on the border of being a top tier deck. Tempo Mage will be the counter to the second most powerful deck, Even Lock. Control Priest is definitely the sleeper deck. Look out for a Miracle Priest in the coming months as well. The best decks for the upcoming meta are:
- Tempo Mage
- Even Warlock
- Midrange Hunter
- Odd Rogue
- OTK Paladin
The nerfs in total will have a positive effect on the game of Hearthstone. Tempo and Aggro decks will beat Combo decks, as they should. The problem with this is that the current meta is dominated by Combo decks, meaning Aggro decks are going to immediately be the most powerful. Eventually, as the meta settles, control decks will rise, balancing the forces once more. Blizzard once again takes a gentle hand on few cards in order to push the game in a more balanced direction. It seems that they learned their lesson from the Death Knights, having extremely overpowered cards in the game make for a stale meta. I have faith though. Blizzard is taking the slow and steady approach to make the next expansion great by dealing with the power creep that Kobolds & Catacombs, and Knights of the Frozen Throne, brought to Hearthstone.
What decks do you think will come out on top? How will these nerfs affect the meta and what do they mean for the future of Hearthstone? Comment below or chat with me about it on my stream!
ExilesRhythm is a Hearthstone streamer with a reputation for deck building and deck optimization. He is continuously testing the best strategies for ladder and tournament play while playing at a high level. With multiple top 1000 finishes, and a passion for coaching, ExilesRhythm is the perfect streamer to watch for those desiring to improve their gameplay. ExilesRhythm also offers individualized coaching. Contact him directly for further information. ExilesRhythm goes live Monday-Saturday at 10:00 A.M. Pacific.