As you surely know, Blizzard has announced the full list of changes that will happen after HCT Playoffs. I was really surprised with the timing, but I don’t really mind it. The earlier we know, the better we can prepare. If you are fan of some of the decks getting nerfed, it might also be a good time to play them, because it’s always hard to determine the post-nerf meta. The decks might be perfectly playable, or they might no longer be viable.
I already did theorycrafting on the balance changes, and none of the nerfs really surprised me – this is good, because they didn’t really “shoot to kill” this time around, like they did a few times in the past, for example with Warsong Commander (the only card killed by the nerfs here is Naga Sea Witch, but later about that). Now, with all the information we have, instead of the theorycrafitng, I can finally analyze the changes and try to estimate how much impact they will have on the decks and meta in general.
Keep in mind that we still have roughly two weeks, maybe even more until the changes go live, since they haven’t specified the date, only mentioning that they will arrive some time after the HCT Playoffs are complete. Cards will be disenchanted for full Dust only AFTER the changes go live, so don’t go around your collection dusting stuff yet!
Let’s get through every of the nerfs first, and then look at their overall impact on the meta decks.
Naga Sea Witch – Laziest Of The Nerfs
This is basically the only nerf on the list I really don’t like. Or let me rephrase it – I’m glad that it happened, because Naga Sea Witch Giant decks were a plague on the Wild format. Maybe not THAT popular or THAT powerful, but absolutely unfun to play against. You either rushed them down, because they drew a bunch of Giants and no Naga, or they dropped a 5/5 and a few 8/8’s when you had no big board clear and won the game.
Changing the card’s mana cost to 8 basically killed the deck. Delaying the earliest possible Naga turn by THREE TURNS is massive – it gives Aggro decks more time to just kill the Warlock, and slow decks more time to find an answer to the board flood. On top of that, NSW doesn’t always make Giants 0 mana. Sometimes you had to wait until Turn 6 or 7 to actually drop a bunch of Giants, because e.g. opponent didn’t have enough cards to make Clockwork Giant cost 0, or maybe there weren’t enough minions on the field to make Sea Giant cost 0. So right now, the full combos might have to wait until Turn 9 or 10, when flooding the board with 8/8’s is actually pretty balanced for the Wild standards.
I’m glad that the deck got a massive hit, what I don’t like is the way they’ve handled this. The best option would be simply reverting the order changes to the card. I mean, NSW was a balanced and interesting card at 5 mana. I actually played it in Astral Communion Druid deck before the changes happened, roughly a year ago. The card’s purpose wasn’t to play it with 0 mana Giants – it was an extra “ramp” tool. If you dropped it on T5 and opponent had no answer, you could drop let’s say Ultimate Infestation next turn. Plus, on Turn 10, you could play it alongside a big threat, and then your opponent had to choose which one to kill. It was a niche card, but pretty fun to play in certain decks.
So here is my guess… The change to NSW didn’t seem intentional in the first place. They’ve played it like something they intended to do, but I always doubted that. It probably was a result of a general change to how mana discounts stack, and they either didn’t even notice the new possibilities of the card, or didn’t think that it will be good enough anyway. And now, in order to revert those changes back, they would either need to revert ALL of the ordering changes, or make NSW an exception and code it once again, which might be difficult, because the rumors are that HS code is pretty messy. This is just my guess, but it would explain why they didn’t go for the most obvious way to nerf it and decided to go for another route, destroying the card’s flavor.
Call To Arms – Good Direction, But Probably Not Enough
Call to Arms was definitely the main reason why Paladin is so broken right now. The card is just busted, and having it on the curve makes it so much easier to win the game. Call to Arms nerf to 5 mana targets Even Paladin most – since the card is not odd-costed, it can’t be played in the build (even though Even Paladin would still want the 5 mana version).
It can be played in Odd Paladin instead, but that’s not a big issue, since Odd Paladin can only pull 1-drops. Even the best case scenario of getting e.g. 2x Righteous Protector and some 2/1 for 5 mana is good, but not broken. And the fact that deck needs to run lots of 1-drops, such as Fire Fly etc. will make the “best case scenario” unlikely.
So, a big nerf to Even Paladin without buffing the Odd build… seems good, right? Yeah, CtA to 5 mana was one of the most obvious and best changes that could have been made to the card. However, some people are sleeping on another Paladin deck – Murloc Paladin. It’s already pretty much as powerful as Even Paladin, and the nerf won’t impact it that much. Yes, delaying CtA by a single turn will definitely decrease the win rate slightly, but there is no way that it would kill the deck.
Given that the Warlocks (Control and Cube), which are one of the deck’s worst matchups, got hit harder than Murloc Paladin, mrglrglrglrgl might echo through the ladder very soon. Control Priest might be there to stop it, but Murloc’s Paladin matchup vs Control Priest is not THAT bad, it’s about 45/55. Priest was better at countering the Even build, which has more 1 health minions. Murloc build is more durable – with lots of 3 health minions (out of the range of the easy Wild Pyromancer combos and Primordial Drake), 1-drop with Divine Shield and health buffs (Coldlight Seer, Gentle Megasaur if you roll the right Adapt).
Besides Murloc Paladin, people might just drop the Even idea and start building Paladin like it was built before – Aggro, Dude or even the classic Midrange approach. Those decks weren’t affected by the CtA nerf THAT much and will still want to run the card.
So my guess is that Paladin won’t be gone from the meta after all.
Warlock Nerfs – They Hurt, But Won’t Kill
And that’s exactly what the nerfs are supposed to do, so I really, really like that. They hurt, but they are definitely not enough to kill the deck completely.
Possessed Lackey‘s nerf to 6 mana was more severe of the two. It mostly targets the aggressive matchups by delaying the big Demon drop by one turn. Given that you often can’t drop Lackey by himself on curve (because Silence is an incredibly common tech and it will be even more punishing) and you want to pop it immediately, you will be able to do that only on Turn 7 (or Turn 6 with Coin). In slower matchups, it disrupts your curve a bit – you often wanted to play Mountain Giant on T4 and Lackey on T5. Alternatively, Umbra on T4 and Lackey on T5 – now neither of those is possible. Similarly, it delays Carnivorous Cube combos by one turn. You can’t drop Lackey on curve, pop it on your turn and then Cube + Pact it.
Skull of the Man'ari remains unchanged, but Skull is easier to counter. Since the demon drops at the start of the next turn, weapon removal is very punishing. Lackey, if popped immediately, can’t be punished at all.
Decreasing the healing from Dark Pact to 4 was the right move. The problem with this card was that sacrificing a minion was supposed to be a downside for a powerful effect – 8 healing for 1 mana. But instead of being a downside, it was often an UPSIDE – you could kill the minion you wanted to kill and heal at the same time. So decreasing the healing to 4 should be okay. The nerf is most punishing in matchups in which you wanted to have as much healing as possible – against burn-focused decks such as Tempo Mage or Control Priest. But it will hurt in every singel Aggro matchup. Just remember how many more games you would win if Warlock had 4 less health in the end.
All in all, those nerfs hurt Cube and Control Warlock equally, and should be enough to decrease those decks’ power considerably. I believe that they will still remain in the meta, because the powerful plays, mana cheating and combos are still there. But the decks will definitely drop in popularity, and that might alter the meta a lot.
Spiteful Summoner – Is One Turn Late Too Late?
Honestly, the answer might be yes. The nerf doesn’t seem too severe. You can play literally the same build with the same cards and it will work nearly exactly the same – except the fact that you won’t be able to drop Spiteful until Turn 7. And I’ll be honest – it’s big.
Unlike Call to Arms, in case of Spiteful Summoner, your whole deck is built around it. You sacrifice so much to be able to summon that 10-drop (or 8-drop, depending on the class) and you want to do it as soon as possible. Delaying the most important card in your deck by one turn hurts in basically every matchup. Against Aggro – you wanted to drop Spiteful quickly to have two big bodies to trade with efficiently, or just put them on the clock. If you’re behind, and you often are behind, Spiteful might have been your way to come back – now you have to stall for another turn. The situation is even worse in slow matchups – the earlier you dropped Spiteful, the higher the chance was that your opponent won’t be able to somehow counter it. One more card draw brings opponent closer to finding that answer / Taunt or whatever. Priest can also immediately deal with it by playing Psychic Scream, and it’s much closer to Shadowreaper Anduin (he might even be able to play it right away if you were going second and had no ramp).
Another issue is a 6 mana slot. Right now, Spiteful Druid plays only 2x Spiteful in that slot, so it will remain empty after the nerf. Given that the deck simply HAS to drop minions on the curve, and you don’t always have two 3-drops to play on T6, it will need to run some other 6 mana card instead. But what? To be honest, there aren’t many options. Druid has only spells – Spreading Plague and Starfire. Spreading Plague MIGHT be a tech in case the meta gets faster, but it would disrupt the Spiteful summons. When it comes to Neutral options, Argent Commander probably looks most appealing, but it’s not an amazing card. Alternatively, Cairne Bloodhoof, but that’s only one card and it’s pretty slow/clunky at times.
That’s why I believe that the Spiteful nerf will hurt more than it looks like. I don’t think that Spiteful decks will be completely dead, but I doubt that they will be a great meta option. Well, when talking about “them” I mostly mean Spiteful Druid. Other Spiteful builds are already off-meta, so the nerf will obviously hurt them too.
The Caverns Below – Finally Dead?
No, I won’t say that the deck is dead… I’ve said it once after the nerf in Un’Goro and see where we are now. But changing the minions to 4/4 is definitely a HUGE hit.
The change won’t really affect Aggro matchups, to be fair. If you finish the Quest quickly, it doesn’t matter whether your minions are 5/5 or 4/4 – you will still clear the board easily and turn the game around after one or two turns. No, the nerfs matter more in slower matchups.
4/4 minions mean two things – less pressure and less durable board. It will no longer be easy to OTK the opponent (I think it will still be possible, just not unlikely) and it will usually buy Control deck a turn or two longer. Less attack also makes Spreading Plague much better against Rogue, as it buys more time, since the minions can’t clear 1/5 Taunts in a single hit.
Less health, on the other hand, means that the boards will be easier to clear. For example, Tank Up + Reckless Flurry will now clear it. Flamestrike will now clear it. The minions also won’t be able to trade into Primordial Drake without dying. Funnily enough, it’s actually a buff vs Priest, as Shadowreaper Anduin was one of the best ways for the deck to come back. The matchup was still terrible, so it won’t matter that much, but that’s something interesting to bring up.
However, it just means that the slow matchups will be ever more draw-dependant. You CAN’T outvalue the Quest Rogue, because with Valeera the Hollow and Zola the Gorgon / Sonya Shadowdancer, the deck can basically go infinite, reflooding the board every turn. It doesn’t matter if they’re 4/4 or 5/5 – killing you will just take a turn longer once you run out of ways to deal with the board. So that’s the thing – it will make the games in which Rogue doesn’t draw too well (e.g. runs out of steam pretty quickly after finishing the Quest) manageable, but the deck will still be frustrating to play against as Control if it draws well.
So, the change itself will of course make it easier, but might not even kill the deck yet completely… I think it will still do its job of countering Control decks. However, I’m sure that the balance patch will be followed by a significant meta change, and we’ll have to see how well the deck fares in that meta.
Winners & Losers Of Balance Changes
So now that we’ve analyzed all of the nerfs, I want to talk a bit about the decks that might get weaker and stronger following the nerfs. Of course, don’t take it for granted – meta predictions are only that, predictions. A single unexpected deck might shake things up completely. But here are the decks I think will
- All of the nerfed decks (obviously) – I won’t discuss the Wild meta after NSW changes, because I’m not playing Wild enough to talk about it. But, in case of Standard, all of the nerfed decks will take a hit – I put them in order from the most affected to the least affected: Even Paladin, Control Warlock, Spiteful Druid (and other Spiteful decks), Cube Warlock, Quest Rogue, non-Even Paladin decks.
- Control / Mind Blast Priest – Control Priest is one of the best meta decks right now, and the main competition is getting nerfed… so why did I put it in the losers? Well, EXACTLY because its main competition is getting nerfed. The deck’s high win rate is mostly thanks to the fact that it has good matchups vs two most popular meta decks – Even Paladin and Cube/Control Warlock. I suspect that Even Paladin will get replaced by Murloc Paladin, which doesn’t lose to Priest that much, and Cube/Control decks will get less popular. The deck will most likely still be solid, but I don’t think that it will be a low Tier 1 / high Tier 2 build anymore.
- Tempo Mage – The deck was basically carried by the fact that Cube/Control Warlock was so popular, and it was a great matchup. Unless some slow and passive deck, such as Big Spell Mage, gets significantly more popular, I doubt that Tempo Mage will see lots of play.
- Even Shaman – What the hell is this guy talking about? Even Shaman? Yeah, exactly. After playtesting the deck a bit for my off-meta decks compilation, I’ve noticed that it’s reasonably strong and it’s heavily held back by the Warlock. The deck relies heavily on the board and has no way to reflood it thousand of times like Paladin + it has no reach to finish the game. So basically, Warlock’s AoE removals destroy it. Other than that, Control Priest was the only common bad matchup, and I believe that Control Priest’s popularity will also go down. The deck might be held back by some sort of Control Mage, but it has a lot of potential.
- Odd Rogue – There will definitely be an opening for the “#1 Aggro deck” spot and Odd Rogue might try to take that place. Control Warlock and Even Paladin were some of the Odd Rogue’s worst matchups, and with them getting nerfed, it will definitely be better. On top of that, it wins the matchup against Murloc Paladin, another very likely contender. Another contender might be Zoo Warlock, because right now it’s really held back by the slow Warlocks and Paladins, but I think that either Odd Rogue or Murloc Paladin have the highest chance of succeeding.
- Spell Hunter – Warlock and Paladin matchups are the main things that hold Spell Hunter back right now. Even though Barnes + Y'Shaarj, Rage Unbound combo is now Wild-only, the deck still has some massive swings, and update to the Deathstalker Rexxar‘s pool of Beast was a huge buff for the deck too. It might not suddenly jump to a high position, but it can be good.
- Control Warrior – Some sort of Control Warrior might get better after the nerfs. Control Warlock and Spiteful decks were the main things that held the Warrior back, but it was already a solid choice. The main question is – which Control Warrior deck? Because trust me, there are LOTS of them. Normal Control Warrior, Odd Control Warrior, normal Quest Warrior, Odd Quest Warrior, Recruit Warrior, Fatigue (Dead Man's Hand) Warrior… But I believe that at least one of those decks might get into a more mainstream meta. My bet would be on Odd Control Warrior or a regular Quest Warrior, but Fatigue build also looks kind of promising (I doubt that the deck will ever become popular, given how long the games are, but it might get better).
- New Archetype? – The thing about those meta predictions is that we can realistically only look at the builds we currently know and wonder how well they will fare in the new meta… But the truth is, there is a high chance that something completely new emerges. For example, it took a huge nerf wave in KFT for the Prince Keleseth decks to make their way into the meta, even though the card was considered very bad before. Something that’s completely off the radar right now might become much better thanks to the meta changes. Just a wild guess – Togwaggle Druid might actually be a reasonable deck after the nerfs.
Balance patches are always welcome. It’s not only about nerfing the most powerful cards, but also about shaking up the meta. Roughly two months into the expansion, when the meta has already been solved, the game gets much more boring. Every nerf patch is like a breath of fresh air – even though it doesn’t impact the meta as much as an entire expansion, it’s still a good way to bring some new decks into the spotlight.
I feel like they hit the right cards this time around. I only wish that there would be one or two more changes. For example, I think that missing Sunkeeper Tarim (or at least a preemptive nerf to Murloc Paladin, such as Rockpool Hunter nerf). I’m also worried that the Quest Rogue nerfs won’t impact the deck enough and it will still be viable. I know that it sounds horrible for Quest Rogue players, but the deck is unfun to play against at the core, and I think that the Quest should just be completely reworked instead of getting nerfed. But, we’ll have to wait and see. I’m pretty sure that the we will be somehow surprised by the meta, like we often were in the past.
We still don’t know when exactly the balance patch will hit, but be sure to follow our site when it happens. We will definitely share all of the new, promising deck lists, as well as update all of the older guides.
Thank you for reading. If you have any other meta predictions, be sure to share them in the comment section. Good luck on the ladder and until next time!