Unleash the Hounds
New Take on Balancing
Shattered Sun Cleric
Blizzard posted the specifics of their recent balance changes, and it's important to consider how these changes impact our take on the game. I think what these changes have promise, but I consider one of the changes a misstep and would have prefered a different approach. Let's look through each change to better understand what's going on with Hearthstone, and what the future holds.
Blizzard is changing Mind Control to ten mana from eight. They are doing this because Mind Control is not a fun card to lose to, and because a lot of people whined about it. If the whining was the main reason -- I don't agree -- but if it being an unfun card was the main reason, then I have no problem with the nerf. Mind Control is not too powerful currently, but I absolutely see that it can be unfun to lose your legendary cards too easily.
Priest is, however, one of the weaker classes and they are here significantly nerfing one of Priest's better cards. That's a problem! The change to Mind Control is fine by itself if they don't like this card, but Blizzard also needs to look at Priest as a whole. In return for this nerf, Blizzard should buff several of Priest's other weaker cards.
would recommend that Circle of Healing be changed, for example, to also heal both players . I think that would improve the card overall , without making it too strong. Not only would this help against Burn Mages, it would also provide an interesting interaction with Auchenai Soulpriest in aggro match ups.
I don't think that is enough to make up for the Mind Control nerf. Another possible buff would be making Temple Enforcer a 5/5 for five mana with the same +3 health Battlecry. I think that would make it a better card, and help Priest's midgame, without being too strong. With just a nerf and no buffs, Priest is going to remain a weak hero for competitive constructed play.
Unleash The Hounds
Unleash the Hounds is being changed into a different card that doesn't look very good. The problem again wasn't that Unleash the Hounds was too good, but rather that it wasn't fun because it wasn't interactive enough. I think changing it for that reason is fine.
Against the old Unleash the Hounds, you never got a chance to respond to the Hunter's creatures. I understand how that isn't fun and isn't what Blizzard has in mind for this game. Blizzard wants the game to be interactive, which means that usually you have a turn to react to something before it gets to have a big effect. I agree with that.
Hunter was already one of the worst heroes and Unleash the Hounds was its best deck, and that deck will be completely gone after this change. So what is Hunter going to do now? Hunter needs some large buffs to make up for this change; instead, Hunter is getting a second nerf!
Blizzard announced that Starving Buzzard will be changed from two health to one. Why? Because Hunter was beating Mage, Rogue, and Druid in copper to platinum level play. That is a bad reason to mess up one of Hunter's cards that already wasn’t the best. At the top levels of play, Starving Buzzard is fine and doesn't need any change: changing it will be bad for tournament play.
It is possible to make changes at the lower levels of play and not affect those at the top. This change isn't using that approach. This move ignores the impact for tournament level play, which is going to cause problems when Hunter sees even less use in tournaments.
When the heroes are not balanced at lower level play, I suggest that Blizzard should adjust the rarity of cards instead of changing what cards do. This will have zero effect on the top level of play because the best players will get all the cards they need. Adjusting rarity will, however, dramatically affect the experience for newer players, and will give Blizzard a tool to balance the lower leagues.
A New Take on Balancing
A big part of the reason Mind Control caught so much hate is that it's a free card. New players run into Mind Control all the time before they have some of the more expensive cards that could help them make decks that better deal with it. If Mind Control were an epic card, there'd be a lot fewer complaints. The same is true with Starving Buzzard. If it was an epic card -- or even a rare -- it wouldn't be nearly causing problems it is now.
Overall, the rarity of cards is not currently balanced well in Hearthstone. Priest and Mage have the best free card only decks, and those classes get the most complaints. Meanwhile Warlock's free card only deck is very weak, and it hasn't been complained about very much even though Warlock is stronger than Priest when the card pool increases.
Blizzard can improve the balance of Hearthstone for new players by adjusting which cards are free so that the free card decks are all equally good. Secondly, Blizzard could get all the heroes balanced using only cards up to common. Then do it again up to rare and so on. A side effect of getting all the card rarities right would improve the balance of arena, since card rarity is a big factor in how many of each card you get for arena decks.
Since Starving Buzzard is too good in games between new players, make it rare. It's that simple. That will fix the balance in copper league without affecting balance in master league. The problem is not the card, it's the card's rarity.
I think Blizzard is making a large mistake by changing cards for copper league in ways which negatively impact tournament level play. Changing cards that aren't fun is fine, but that wasn't the problem with Starving Buzzard. Fix the cards that aren't fun, then balance copper league using card rarity, and balance what cards do based on the best possible decks.
Argent Commander is dropping from three health to two. I think this is a great change. Argent Commander is too popular, and after this change it's still a good card. When there's room to nerf a card while leaving it a strong card, then nerfing it is a great idea.
I'm glad Blizzard didn't overreact. This is a small change in the right direction with basically zero risk that it's a mistake. A bigger nerf might have gone too far. While this may not look like a big change, it does make Argent Commander vulnerable to a lot more cards once the Divine Shield is gone. I'm happy to see Blizzard being willing to make small changes even in cases where some people thought a big change was called for. Often, a small change will turn out to be significant enough.
Flame Imp will deal three damage to you instead of two. I think this is a good change. Flame Imp was pretty clearly overpowered and this is a reasonably small change that won't ruin Flame Imp. Same as with Argent Commander, some people are still going to use it. This felt a little less mandatory, but will make Warlock a little bit easier to play against. Again, I'm glad to see Blizzard making a subtle change without overreacting. I think this adjustment will be good for the game even if the impact isn't huge.
There is a negative side of this change which some of my friends have emphasized. It won't make a very big difference in any common matchup except against Mage: Mage is already the best counter to Warlock. From a short term perspective, helping Mages against Warlocks -- while not impacting other matchups -- isn't a good thing. I think that if you ignore the current metagame, Flame Imp is an overpowered card and I'm glad to see it toned down a little bit. Once Mages get better balanced, I expect most people to agree the Flame Imp nerf was a subtle change in a good direction, not a mistake.
Shattered Sun Cleric
The previous two popular cards got small nerfs and will still see plenty of use. Shattered Sun Cleric is receiving a large nerf from three health to two. This may look similar to the Argent Commander change, but because of the way the card is used, it's actually a much larger nerf on the Sun Cleric. This nerf to the Sun Cleric is important because it is an early game creature so having it stick around is very important.
This is a big nerf because two damage board clear spells are common: see Consecrate and Holy Nova. It also means that Sun Cleric will die to two power creatures like Loot Hoarder, Harvest Golem, and Feral Spirit. Sun Cleric will now also die to two damage spells like Backstab and Holy Smite. All of these are significant issues for an early game creature.
Sun Cleric was an extremely popular card that was hard to nerf in any smaller way, so I understand why Blizzard made this change. This change is big enough that Sun Cleric is going to be dropped from some decks. Warlocks and Rogues will probably continue to use it, but some other heroes might give up on it.
Overall, I wish Sun Cleric could have gotten a more subtle nerf, but I it's hard to think of a better way to change it. One possibility worth mentioning would have been to only allow it to buff undamaged creatures; that would have been a reasonable alternative change that I might have liked better. In any case, it's a pretty good change.
Three of Blizzard's changes are good ideas which will improve tournament competition. Two are changing cards that weren't fun, and that's fine too. The change to Starving Buzzard, however, was meant to improve the casual experience at the expense of competitive play, and I think that's a big mistake.
The best way to balance casual level play, as well as arena, is to adjust the rarity of cards. Taking into account card rarity, the heroes are not balanced all that well. I think Blizzard could make some large improvements to game balance for casual players, new players, poor players, and arena players by adjusting the rarity of some cards. This would have no downside for constructed tournament players, so I really want to emphasize how strongly I recommend this approach.
Finally, we should consider what wasn't changed. Mage topped the Teamliquid December power ranks, but received no nerf, plus the nerfs to Unleash the Hounds, Shattered Sun Cleric, and Flame Imp will benefit Mages. Priest, Hunter, and Warrior were the bottom three on the December power ranks, but received no buff, and actually got three combined nerfs. This is cause for some concern as I foresee Mage doing very well until a future balance patch. I hope to see further balance changes in the future to help balance out the classes more.
Apart from the Starving Buzzard change, I think Blizzard is doing a good job. I think it's good if Blizzard takes their time with any changes to avoid mistakes. So yes we'll have to wait a bit for everything to be perfected, but I think Hearthstone has a bright future.