So How Big Were The Nerfs?
Three cards were changed in a recent patch. One was a card that has been a staple of most Mage decks since Hearthstone’s release. One was a relic from Hearthstone’s second expansion, over three years ago in the summer of 2015, that rose again from near-total obscurity to the top of Wild ladder. One was brand new, extremely annoying and just straight-up broken.
Mana Wyrm, Aviana and Giggling Inventor have all been struck by the nerf hammer; the latter two were heavily anticipated and very welcome among the community.
But are the changes enough to really shake up the Standard metagame? It doesn’t look like it. The nerfs have corrected one major problem, Giggling Inventor, but may simply be perpetuating another: Druid. Let’s think about it.
I was very surprised to see Blizzard step on the Wyrm. It’s clear that ever since Aluneth came out in Kobolds and Catacombs, Tempo Mage has been a very popular and strong deck. This was not a bad thing by any means. It relied on early game dominance (as pretty much every major deck except Druid does these days) using Mana Wyrms, Sorcerer’s Apprentices and heavy burst to blast opponents out of the game before they could stabilize. That game plan is going to be much harder to pull off now.
Mana Wyrm is one of those few cards that forms a foundation for not only Tempo Mage, but any Mage deck that uses minions as part of its strategy. It’s absolutely core to the class; for new players and veterans alike. So the decision to increase its Mana cost by 100 percent is drastic and surely divided opinion among Hearthstone’s design team. Reading the dev team’s explanation, the victim of the nerf was not Mage but “powerful early-game 1-drops”.
We saw nerfs of this magnitude only before with Fiery War Axe and Execute, which were also bumped up in cost by 1. The change to War Axe in particular transformed Warrior – killing off virtually all Aggro decks that the class had to offer. It was a blunt tool designed to crush Pirate Warrior, and it ended up finishing off Garrosh’s aggressive arsenal.
I don’t believe that Mana Wyrm at 2 Mana will send Aggro Mage to the meta graveyard, to join the Pirates. The rest of the deck remains excellent. If other core cards, Fireball or Frostbolt for example, had gone up by 1 Mana it would have been a much heavier blow. But if we’re targeting super strong 1-drops, where is the Dire Mole nerf? Fire Fly? Priest is the last class that needs a nerf right now, but Northshire Cleric is godlike.
On the positive side, since Tempo Mage has been slowed down, I would love to see a midrange Mage deck spring up as a result. Boomsday gave the class some real minion-based combo potential. Imagine a value-churning Astromancer deck, with Astral Rift, tons of spell damage and Unexpected Results (no pun intended). Will Minion Mage become a thing?
There isn’t much to be said about this one. Aviana was nerfed to slow down, but thankfully not destroy, the Juicy Psychmelon-Kun-Aviana combos. Now Druids will need an Innervate or a couple activations of Emperor Thaurissan to pull off their crazy win conditions with Malygos/Star Aligner/Azalina/King Togwaggle.
It’s a great change for Wild players, a purely positive development. Druid in Standard, however, remains a monster. We don’t quite have the total dominance, Druidstone, that was predicted before Boomsday was released – but it’s close. Token Druid is a deck that plays itself all the way to Legend, and it’s very dull (in my opinion) and un-interactive. If Blizzard wants to take power away from the game’s earliest turns – something they have been trying to do for literally years – Druid should be more of a focus.
In mid-September, Blizzard told us that Giggling Inventor was one of their “cards to watch”. It was intended to be powerful because it’s part of their design philosophy that strong Taunts are good for the game. I agree - Sludge Belcher is without doubt one of Hearthstone’s all-time greatest cards.
Giggling Inventor, however, broke one of Hearthstone’s most sacred design rules. It fit into every deck, with “virtually no downside to including it”, even in Quest Rogue, which is pretty astounding. Team 5’s own rationale for nerfing Inventor is one of the most self-critical I’ve ever read. It’s a big U-turn from September, when they told us that yes, it is “hugely popular” and powerful, but no changes were required. Yet here we are, with a card that will not be seen outside the most niche of Evolve decks.
What’s interesting is that the devs seem to have taken on board the community’s opinion. Whether you call it capitulation or good listening, just over a month ago they told us “we’d like to know what you think”, and this huge nerf was the result. That’s a pretty quick turnaround by any game studio’s standards, especially considering that weeks ago they had thought Inventor was fine! This is a really good precedent, and I’m glad Team 5 is taking the game in a more flexible direction.