The Case Against A Priest Nerf
As a long-term Rank 20 player who hit Legend immediately after crafting Prophet Velen and Zerek’s Cloning Gallery, I feel that I am in an ideal position to explain why there is absolutely no good reason for a Priest nerf. In this essay I will…
Ahem. Jokes aside, the furor that has erupted around the state of today’s metagame is something unusual when it comes to the Priest class. Anduin is the darling of streamers, pro players and much of the ladder at the moment, with two main decks at the forefront. As of today, the “big” decks - Wall Priest and Clone - stand at 53.3% and 50.2% win-rate respectively. The US-Mexico wall may be on hold, but Anduin’s own efforts are starting to resemble that Chinese one.
Let’s look at why there are calls to nerf Priest in the first place. Clone Priest is said to have an instant-win button in the form of Zerek’s Cloning Gallery, which aims to summon copies of each of the deck’s combo pieces (Radiant Elemental, Prophet Velen, Malygos) thereby allowing the player to Smite and Mind Blast the opponent for numbers upward of 40.
The Priest survives until turn 9 by generating board clears via Shadow Visions. Psychic Scream, Mass Hysteria and Spirit Lash prevent aggro decks from wreaking too much havoc before the combo is ready. Big minions such as the Lich King can be resurrected repeatedly.
The recipe for opponent frustration is as clear as day. The Priest cannot be SMOrced into oblivion – especially against the Wall version – nor can he or she be out-controlled and out-valued by slower decks like Odd Warrior. Any key minion that the opponent wastes removal on will be brought back sooner or later.
Because of the relentless playstyle of Wall and Clone, the opponent feels like they’re in a Sisyphean effort to stop wave after wave of threats, only to take 50 damage to the face in a single turn. It’s difficult and definitely frustrating, but is there such a lack of interactivity so as to warrant a nerf?
Team 5 has always held the position that dealing large amounts of damage from hand with little board presence is problematic. Blade Flurry, Leeroy Jenkins, Ice Lance and many more iconic cards have been changed because of this longstanding design principle.
These Priest decks are different, however. Unlike with old-school Miracle Rogue, the quintessential burst combo deck, counterplay is pretty straightforward.
To take down Clone Priest, there are a variety of cards you can use to throw a spanner in their resurrection works. Cornered Sentry will give them useless 1/1 tokens to bring back, as will Leeroy Jenkins himself. Saronite Taskmaster donates a 0/3 Taunt. Thanks to the added reliability of Shadow Visions, card draw RNG plays less of a role in Priest’s combos, but RNG does factor a lot in what resurrections they’re given by Eternal Servitude and the Spellstone. You can ruin Anduin’s day by filling their death pile with trash.
What’s more, if you happen to be playing the vastly more powerful Paladin (with no less than three different decks currently sitting on a 55%-plus winrate) you can run a Rebuke or two. This card may even be a rarer sight than Murloc Warlock, yet it can utterly destroy both Wall and Clone in their most crucial turns; these usually turn 7, with Diamond Spellstone/Psychic Scream and turn 9 with Cloning Gallery. If you’re thinking about your pension plan, you may also remember Loatheb. Now imagine having two of him: it’s a combo’s nightmare.
Speaking of Paladin, a comparison of the two classes shows how the current Priest zeitgeist is really just the result of a power vacuum, and an illusory one at that. Successive nerfs to meta leaders Paladin and Hunter, at an unprecedented pace of patches, have beaten down aggro decks to the point where they are in fact still very strong – hence the winrates mentioned earlier – but players don’t consciously regard them as such. The Paladin problem has been “dealt with”, so to speak.
Priest has only emerged as a ladder heavyweight because other, more traditionally reliable decks have been forced out by Blizzard. The statistics show that Paladin is still an issue, and it’s clear that Genn and Baku are the root of this evil. Priest today is very much a case of “be careful what you wish for”. After at least a year of aggro dominance post-Witchwood, we have a powerful Taunt-based deck that is slow and deliberate. Isn’t that what we wanted?
Not only is aggro no longer hogging the meta spotlight, Wall Priest actually uses some new cards! I’m not the only commentator who’d have crafted a golden Gonk, the Raptor before I predicted Mosh’Ogg Enforcer in a top-tier deck. It’s a breath of fresh air.
Today’s metagame is truly in a state of flux. We’ve had more balance patches in a shorter time period than ever before in Hearthstone’s post-beta history, and the Year of the Raven is due to end in a few short weeks. Many of Priest’s more obnoxious cards are due to rotate, notably Shadow Visions, the source of so much sustain and reliability. The devs have indicated that they will tone down card generation going forwards. Everything will change soon enough, and aggro just might make a comeback!
Until very recently, Priest as a whole was in a bad way for a long time. They’ve not had a top-tier deck since Mean Streets of Gadgetzan’s Shadowreaper Anduin/Raza the Chained machine-gun hero power deck. That got nerfed early last year, and there was very little to replace it. Priest mains deserve some time in the limelight before rotation. Let’s give poor Anduin a break, shall we?