Winners and Losers of Patch 9.1
The announcement of patch 9.1 was initially met with some dubious criticism by the Hearthstone community at large. Many believed that the changes to Innervate and Spreading Plague wouldn’t be enough to unseat Druid as the top class in Standard, while others felt that the changes to Fiery War Axe and Hex were trying to solve problems that didn’t exist.
After a few weeks with the patch we’ve had plenty of time to process and analyze the changes that the nerfs have brought to the game, and I don’t think I’m alone in saying that the nerfs have had some surprising effects on the standard metagame. Several classes have risen from the depths of irrelevance to dominate the ladder, while several others have fallen from the top of the mountain and landed in the bottom of the barrel. I’ll break down all the winners and losers of patch 9.1 in this article to help catch you up to speed on the latest trends in the meta.
1. Hearthstone Fans
Jade Druid still hasn’t disappeared, but the nerfs were successful in hamstringing the deck enough to create a vastly more diverse and compelling standard environment than what we were stuck with before. The nerfs to Innervate and Spreading Plague were enough to open the door for a wide variety of other strategies to succeed on ladder without rendering Jade Druid unplayable. Both lovers and haters of the highly polarizing deck should be quite satisfied with the solution that Blizzard was able to offer for Jade Druid.
Few would have predicted the meteoric rise of Hunter following patch 9.1, but the former “worst class in the game” has now firmly cemented itself as a beast in Standard. Aggressively-slanted midrange Hunter decks are among the top performing decks across all levels of the ladder, thanks in no small part to the fact that the majority of the previously dominant aggressive decks were hit hard by the nerfs. Midrange Hunter munches on bigger control decks with its respectable speed and resilient threats but has historically struggled against decks which are able to go under it. Thanks to the nerfs to Aggro Druid, Pirate Warrior, and Murloc Paladin, the stars have finally aligned for Hunters to have their time in the sun. The jury is still out as to whether or not Deathstalker Rexxar deserves a spot in the optimal Midrange Hunter lists, but for the time being it seems as though Zombeasts are making a comeback.
3. Tempo Rogue
The current king of Standard is another deck which many players may not have expected to see such a tremendous rise following the nerfs. Tempo Rogue is the lone deck to boast a winrate above 52% according to the Reaper Live Report and is deck which responsible for the fact that Rogue is the most played class at ranks 5 and above. The deck was already rising in popularity before the nerfs hit and was poised for an inevitable uptick, but it’s extremely favorable matchups against aggro decks are what currently makes Tempo Rogue the deck to beat. SI:7 Agent, Vilespine Slayer, and Blazecaller give it the tools to effectively play the control role against decks which attempt to go under it, while aggressively-minded cards such as Cold Blood and Cobalt Scalebane give it the speed to consistently outpace many of the control decks in the format. Only two decks, Highlander Priest and Aggro Druid, currently have plus matchups against Tempo Rogue. Though it’s far too early to cry “nerf!”, the current winrates for the deck are steadily approaching pre-patch Jade Druid levels.
4. Zoo Warlock
While the other aggressive decks were all busy getting nerfed, Zoo Warlock quietly assumed the role of “best dedicated aggro deck” in the format. The deck hasn’t changed very much from its pre-nerf versions, so the fact that it is currently tied with Murloc Paladin for the second highest winrate in the format can likely be attributed to the fact that the best aggro deck in any given format will always find success. Something has to keep the greedy decks honest, and it seems that Bloodreaver Gul’dan and his motley crew of demons are currently up to the task.
5. Evolve Shaman
Though Evolve Shaman was never in as bad a spot as Zoo Warlock or Midrange Hunter were pre-nerf, this deck still has to go down as one of the big winners of the nerf. It’s ability to either go wide and win with Bloodlust or go big and win with Thrall and Evolve give it great game against the majority of aggressive and midrange decks. Seeing as the most popular decks currently slant more towards aggro than control, players who understand how to properly pilot Evolve Shaman decks are an in an excellent position to outplay their opponents on the ladder. The deck has historically struggled against dedicated control strategies, which means that a return to a slower standard environment would likely correspond with a major drop in Evolve Shaman’s effectiveness.
The nerf to Fiery War Axe proved to be just as devastating to Warrior as the doomsayers had feared. Pirate Warrior had been one of the most widely played and successful decks on ladder for ages, but the nerf has been successful in dropping both its play and win rates to very modest levels. I view this an overwhelmingly positive change to the ladder environment and believe that Blizzard deserves some praise for decreasing the number of Pirate Warriors on ladder without making the deck totally unplayable.
Unfortunately for fans of Control Warrior, some very promising Warrior decks (such as the Dead Man’s Hand decks which were rising in popularity before the nerf) have become far less effective in the post-patch metagame. I think it’s reasonable to conclude that there were less drastic solutions to the Pirate Warrior problem than a nerf to “Free Win Axe”, but it’s hard to argue that the ladder isn’t a happier and healthier place with fewer Pirate Warriors running around.
2. Aggro Druids
Most would have expected Jade Druid to be the deck most affected by the nerf to Innervate, but Jade Druid is still a solid choice on the ladder while the win rates for Aggro Druid have plummeted. Without the threat of toxic Innervate turns, Token Druid strategies simply get outclassed by the likes of Token Shaman, Zoo Warlock, and Murloc Paladin in head to head matchups. I assumed that a large portion of the deck’s power came from cards such as Mark of the Lotus, Power of the Wild, and Savage Roar, but it turns out that these cards aren’t nearly as effective without the additional mana provided by Innervate to flood the board early. With that said, the ladder is a much friendlier place without the constant threat of Aggro Druid lurking around every corner, and I doubt that many Hearthstone players will be sad about the fact that they no longer have to worry about facing down Vicious Fledglings on turn one.
3. Quest Mages
A metagame full of Jade Druids and Highlander Priests was a happy place for Quest Mage fans, but a major hit to the popularity of Jade Druid has corresponded with an even greater hit to the effectiveness of Quest Mage. The nerfs to Jade Druid, Aggro Druid, and Pirate Warrior created space for all four of the decks I mentioned in the “winners” section of this article to find success on ladder, and all four of those decks are massive favorites against Quest Mage. With terrible matchups against the majority of the current field, it’s difficult to justify playing Quest Mage on the ladder until the metagame slows down dramatically.
4. Miracle Rogue
Times have never been tougher for honest, hard-working Miracle Rogues. The deck with the worst winrate on the Reaper Live report, Miracle Rogue currently has exactly one positive matchup against the other 15 decks on the report. Ouch! Much like Quest Mage, the rise in popularity of a wide variety of aggressively-slanted decks has created a hostile environment for Miracle Rogues. A personal favorite deck of many Hearthstone players, Miracle Rogue joins Mill Warrior as a deck which is dearly paying for the sins another.
Patch 9.1 was successfully able to decrease the popularity and effectiveness of five of the game’s most widely disliked decks: Pirate Warrior, Aggro Druid, Jade Druid, Quest Mage, and Miracle Rogue, while simultaneously elevating the playability of three of the least successful classes: Hunter, Rogue, and Warlock. Though it’s unfortunate that a few promising decks wound up as unintended casualties of these nerfs, there’s little debate as to whether or not the ladder is a healthier place after the patch.