We’re about a week into the brave new world of Hearthstone’s updated metagame, after a surprise round of balance changes made big modifications to popular cards.
Team 5 – and Blizzard in general – have long been chastised for supposedly being slow and reluctant to make changes, but credit needs to be given here for what is an unprecedented round of nerfs.
Not only is the number of cards changed (five) on the high side, it’s also come very early in the current expansion cycle – barely two months after the preceding changes.
So, are the changes any good? The short answer is yes.
Not only do the changes strike body blows to two of the most powerful classes right now, they also show remarkable vision by preemptively nerfing a deck archetype many feared would take over the game if the top tier decks got nerfed.
You can check out the official blog post to get the full rundown, but we’ll run through the changes briefly here.
The big one is the nerf to Level Up!, which now costs six mana – up from five.
Simply put, this is a huge blow to Odd Paladin which, to be fair, had been the most consistently dominant deck type this year.
Will that deck type still survive? Probably. The upgraded Paladin hero power is still immensely powerful and there are plenty of other mass buffs available to the class to keep the deck competitive.
Odd Paladin players will just need to be smarter with how they trade going forward.
The two other strict nerfs were to two staple Druid cards; Wild Growth and Nourish, which now cost three and six respectively.
Officially, the explanation is that by upping the cost of the cards, they’ll no longer be viable in every single Druid deck – meaning we’ll see a greater variety of cards used in that class.
That’s certainly true, but not enough is being made of how much thought now needs to go into deciding when to play these cards – especially Wild Growth.
At its original cost, Wild Growth was almost a no-brainer for any Druid deck. Now the amount of mana and tempo you’re sacrificing to, in essence, skip a turn is massive.
Especially against aggressive decks, you’ll need to think twice about dropping it on curve.
The other changes include Saronite Chain Gang’s Battlecry now strictly summoning another Saronite Chain Gang – not just ‘another minion’.
While this nerf is aimed squarely at Shudderwock decks – which now have no guaranteed means of getting Shudderwock back in their hand that turn – it will also somewhat derail Keleseth or handbuff decks which, in the context of this card’s intended purpose, seems fair.
Leeching Poison has also received a rework, now only granting Lifesteal for one turn but costing half as much. This is probably my favourite change of the whole lot, as matches against Kingsbane Rogue will no longer be a mind-numbing experience.
So, do these balance changes remove all of my frustrations from the game? Almost, but not quite.
There is still one unbelievably powerful card that, in all honesty, I can’t fathom a reason it wasn’t changed.
That card is Hunter’s Lesser Emerald Spellstone.
At the risk of sounding ranty – where do you begin with this card?
Compared to all the other class spellstones from Kobolds & Catacombs; it’s by far the easiest to upgrade, has one of the most powerful effects once fully upgraded and – unlike other powerful spellstones – can be played at almost any point in the game without risk of being wasted.
Only needing to play one secret to upgrade the card is an outrageously simple task for Hunters. Compared to some of the hoops other classes to jump through – such as Rogue needing to play three Deathrattle cards – it’s not a decision that takes any thought to make.
Where Shaman players, for example, have to decide when the best time to overload is, as well as wait for the right minion to be on the board to copy, Hunter players can just fully upgrade their spellstone on curve without any loss of tempo or deviation from their standard gameplan.
While I’ve always maintained this card has felt cheap to play against, the community consensus on this card’s problematic status didn’t really tick over until Zul’jin was introduced in the latest expansion – Rastakhan’s Rumble.
With Hunters now having the opportunity to re-cast all the spells they’ve played that game, even the surefire counters like Hellfire, Duskbreaker and the like are no longer necessarily enough.
Given Zul’jin already costs 10 mana – and will be significantly weakened by next year’s set rotation – nerfing the new hero card is out of the question.
So, what’s the best way to tackle this issue?
The ‘standard’ nerf, an increased mana cost, could be an option – although I’m not convinced that’s the way to go.
An increase to six or seven mana would force Hunter to commit a larger part of their turn to the card, and would also probably create late-game decisions between playing the spellstone or the death knight.
But is four 3/3 minions still fair at those costs?
Shaman has to spend six to get three 2/4s (albeit, with Taunt) on the board – and they also overload three in the process.
Combined with the possibility of Zul’jin re-playing the card, this probably doesn’t resolve the core frustration.
By the same token, I don’t think reducing the number of wolves summoned – or changing their stats – does the trick either.
Changing their stats creates inconsistency within the set (specifically with Flanking Strike), while summoning three wolves instead of four doesn’t exactly open up a whole new avenue of countermeasures.
It’d still be three 3/3 bodies to deal with and, given your opponent has either played secrets or has secrets active, your ability to get the board back in your favour without a boardclear will likely be heavily compromised.
So what is the answer? There are two suggestions I’ve got; one that’s been floated in the community and another that, while I can’t definitely claim credit for, haven’t seen suggested as much.
The community suggestion is to up the upgrade requirement to two secrets and, to me, that makes a lot of sense.
Not only would it virtually eliminate the potential for a fully upgraded Emerald Spellstone to get played on curve, it’d make the card a less appealing option across all Hunter deck types.
In its current state, you can afford to include it in just about any Hunter deck. If you needed to play four secrets to get the most out of it, it suddenly becomes too much to commit to unless you’re playing a specifically spell-oriented deck.
My suggestion, similarly, changes the upgrade requirement to needing a friendly secret to be revealed, not just played.
This would mean Hunter players would have to use their secrets are lot more intelligently while, crucially, rewarding their opponent if they can smartly play around them.
It would also mean secret tech cards – like Chief Inspector – would actually have a meaningful impact.
Almost all of the other spellstones require some degree of thought from the player as to when’s the best time to upgrade it. Tweaking the requirement in this circumstance would finally add that element to the Emerald variety.
This mechanic already exists with Eaglehorn Bow, so it’s not as if it’d be too confusing for players or too difficult to code in.
In any case, with a bevy of Hunter deck types proving more than viable at a competitive level, there doesn’t seem to be any reason for Blizzard not to step in and finally give this card the nerf it needs.
Please, Team 5, make it happen.