Hearthstone’s Death Knight Problem: The Balance Changes Festival of Legends Needs to Rock

The Festival of Legends meta has started to stabilize. Now is a perfect time to ask whether this is a good meta. Has the expansion accomplished its goals? If it has not, what should be done about it?

The first observation about the current meta is that it is not very diverse. Death Knight sees far more play than any other class. Blood Death Knight alone is played more than any other class. Frost Death Knight alone – that’s the second-most popular Death Knight deck – is played more than any other class apart from Paladin. Popularity-wise, Death Knight is followed by Paladin, Druid, Priest, and Demon Hunter. The other classes are few and far between.

When it comes to performance, the situation is less catastrophic. It is still bleak though.  Warrior and Warlock are struggling. Hunter has a couple of barely viable decks. Shaman has one playable deck, Totem Shaman. Druid exists only because it is reasonably good against Blood Death Knight and Relic Demon Hunter, and there are meta pockets where those two fight for dominance.

If we look at the new Festival of Legends cards and the archetypes promoted by the new expansion, the majority of them are unplayable.

Overall, Festival of Legends has fallen short of its goals. That said, I had the pleasure to play in the Festival pre-release event, and I think many of the new cards were a lot of fun there. Compared to previous expansions, I think Festival of Legends is possibly the most fun of the expansions currently in Standard format. Fun is obviously subjective, but Festival’s problem is rather that its themes do not get a chance to shine rather than that the expansion itself would be boring or dull. This is a good problem to have because it implies that balance changes could drastically change the course of the meta!

Let’s take a deeper look into what could be done to correct the course of the expansion.

The Death Knight Problem

Death Knight was introduced to the game in March of the Lich King, so everything about the class is brand new. It had to be competitive against other classes that had six expansions worth of cards with cards from one expansion alone. Consequently, Death Knight did not lose anything in the Standard rotation even though other classes lost half of their cards.

I actually thought that Blizzard might rein in Death Knight by changing their Core set because many extremely powerful Death Knight cards are from Core. To my surprise, Blizzard opted to wait and see what happens, this was briefly mentioned in the Core set reveal materials. In hindsight, this may have been an error, although there are plenty of options for Blizzard to bring Death Knight better in line with the other classes.

The problem with Death Knight culminates in its low number of cards and high density of powerful cards. This makes all Discover effects extremely potent in the class. Many Discover effects are Neutral, and nerfing the cards would then make them even weaker in other classes. School Teacher and Nerubian Vizier are the prime Discover cards that see play in a wide variety of decks, but most notably in all Death Knight archetypes. I don’t see how Death Knight’s Discover effects could be brought in line with the other classes until the class has been in the game for a year or more. Therefore, given the relative strength of these two cards in all Death Knight archetypes, I would nerf them as part of the overall Death Knight balance package. For example, the Health of each could be reduced to three and Vizier’s discount effect could be reduced from two to one. This would hurt some other decks too, but it would hurt Death Knight more.

It is unlikely that some Neutral changes are enough to balance things out. Some of the most powerful cards from all Death Knight archetypes could also see minor adjustments. For Unholy Death Knight, for example, reverting the buff to Battlefield Necromancer and making the Skeletons 1/2 minions again could be warranted. For Blood, a small nerf to Vampiric Blood to +4 Health could give aggressive decks some more play against the deck. And for Frost, making Overseer Frigidara more vulnerable by lowering her Health to four could help reduce the sheer overpowering strength of the deck. Such nerfs should keep Death Knight viable and not even change the deck lists, but they would reduce the win rates just a bit to create a more balanced meta.

However, Death Knight’s strength is not the only issue. Some of the other classes are simply too weak to fight back effectively and that can only be fixed by buffing those classes.

Demon Hunter is Mostly Fine?

Demon Hunter is a rare example of a new Festival of Legends deck actually succeeding in the meta. Outcast Demon Hunter was overwhelming on day one, but since then, multiple ways to contest the deck have been found. Relic Demon Hunter has also found new life after the first days as one of the main counters to Blood Death Knight.

If I were to adjust Demon Hunter in some way, I would reduce the Health of Lady S'theno from four to three. This would not prevent any of the game-ending burst turns, but it would give more counterplay in situations where S’theno clears the board but does not reach lethal damage or where S’theno is played on an empty board. At four Health, S’theno is difficult to remove from an otherwise empty board, but at three Health, it would be much more manageable. This should not affect the viability of Demon Hunter decks, but it would remove some feel-bad moments when facing the class.

We Need Buffs Too

I don’t think we need more nerfs than that. Death Knight is the clear top class in the game. Demon Hunter and Paladin are the other popular classes, and they do not need much work. I don’t think I would change anything for Paladin. The Purator and The Countess are their top cards, but neither is particularly oppressive. Purator is just good value and while Countess can produce some surprising swing turns, it comes in quite late in the game and does not end the game immediately. There is plenty of counterplay against each.

The rest of the classes are either fine as they are or they need some buffs to become contenders.

Starting from the bottom, Warrior still sucks. Blizzard promised they have a year-long plan to fix Warrior, but that plan is not off to a good start. As it happens, the best Warrior deck is Enrage Warrior which uses one new card, Instrument Tech. People have also experimented with adding the Blackrock 'n' Roll package to Enrage Warrior, but that looks disappointing and simply unnecessary. Menagerie Warrior is also somewhat playable, and Control Warrior looks unsalvageable for this expansion.

What I want to see for Warrior is major improvements to the Riff package. Right now, no Warrior deck plays the Riffs. Verse RiffChorus Riff, and Bridge Riff are simply not strong enough. Not only is the first Riff really weak as it has no Finale effect to activate, but Riffs in general do too little for their mana cost. I would just make them all one mana cheaper. One-mana Verse Riff, two-mana Chorus Riff, and five-mana Bridge Riff would be strong enough to see play. They could be incorporated into all Warrior archetypes and maybe even give Control Warrior some hope again, even if success for that archetype remains unlikely.

Warlock has a similar problem: hardly any decks choose to run the new Fatigue package. I would add one extra damage to Crescendo to make the package more attractive. As a slightly bigger board clear, Crescendo could help both defensive and aggressive decks and work better even as the first Fatigue card. Likewise, Symphony of Sins has failed to impress. The movements are strong, but there are seven of them, so you get a specific one immediately less than half the time. I would remove Movement of Greed from the game. This would increase the probability to find a specific Movement and remove the option that is least likely to be useful. If necessary, Symphony of Sins could also be made one mana cheaper to make it easier to weave into your turns. The main theme here is to find ways to salvage the new Festival of Legends cards and improve them at least to parity with existing cards so that they become viable options to include in your decks.

Druid as a class is not doing great, but they have a niche with Tony Druid. If Blizzard wanted to expand Druid beyond that, the main new card to change would be Drum Circle. Bringing Drum Circle down to six or even five mana (at which point it would no longer work with Summer Flowerchild, but I do not consider that to be an issue), possibly with some stat changes to correspond with the lower cost, could enable Drum Circle to act as a finisher in a more aggressive Druid deck.

Lightshow Mage and Manastorm Mage failed, but there are viable ways to play Mage with either Burn Mage or Mech Mage. Mage’s poor performance overall is largely explained by people trying to make some of the newer Mage archetypes work. I don’t think I would touch Mage at the moment. It has two playable archetypes, and trying to buff something like Lightshow Mage could end up just strengthening Burn Mage instead.

Hunter, Priest, and Rogue are in a similar position as Mage. They have some viable decks, and the nerfs should help them enough. It is also difficult to see how the new cards should be improved for these classes. For Hunter, many of the new cards are already doing a good job in the decks. Likewise for Rogue, where Pirate Rogue genuinely enjoys having Harmonic Hip Hop and Mic Drop, and buffs to the Combo package would more likely be used to further improve Miracle Rogue rather than bring in a brand new archetype. Even in Control Priest, cards like Fan ClubPower Chord: Synchronize, and Harmonic Pop are already doing well.

That leaves Shaman. Shaman has one playable deck, Totem Shaman. Festival of Legends tried to push an Overload theme, but it has failed rather miserably, as Overload Shaman decks cannot even reach a 40% win rate. I have tried to come up with a plan to save the archetype, but I am beginning to think that it just has too far to go and a balance patch cannot set it right.

Festival of Legends Can Still Succeed

Looking deeper into the performance of all archetypes, Festival of Legends starts to look like it is actually quite close to succeeding. Death Knight is the main reason this expansion has not had a proper launch. Nerf Death Knight, and suddenly there is a lot more space in the meta. The other main classes in the meta, Demon Hunter and Paladin, only require small adjustments if even that. Some of the weakest classes and archetypes will still need buffs as well. Warrior and Warlock need some work as classes, and Blizzard could also target some individual archetypes for buffs like a more aggressive Druid and Overload Shaman.

I am optimistic that Blizzard can handle this challenge. The recent expansions have often been released with some balance issues that have then been fixed after launch. The narrow meta of early Festival of Legends is no different, and this time many of the answers should be fairly straightforward. I expect a balance patch shortly after the ongoing Masters Tour, and a new meta to rise from that.

Old Guardian

Ville "Old Guardian" Kilkku is a writer and video creator focused on analytic, educational Hearthstone, and building innovative Standard format decks. Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/c/OldGuardian Twitch: https://www.twitch.tv/old_guardian

Check out Old Guardian on Twitter or on their Website!

Leave a Reply


  1. Strangiii
    April 25, 2023 at 3:02 am

    Overall I think what we need are buffs right now and not necessarily too many nerfs.
    If nerfs are done to DK they can just look at former buffs and revert them fully or partially.
    Also curious if they make some core set changes for DK by removing some of the overperforming cards and put them back a bit later.

  2. JoyDivision
    April 25, 2023 at 12:53 am

    Regarding Symphony: Just let choose between all 7 spells. Yeah I know, lots and lots of programming … if there’s a will, I’m pretty sure they’ll get it done.

    • Strangiii
      April 25, 2023 at 2:59 am

      They could just let us discover two options, or make rather unimpactful ones less likely to appear during discover.

  3. Vincent
    April 24, 2023 at 4:24 am

    Nerfing Blood DK would make Frost DK even better and it’s already the best deck atm. They’all have to target both decks.

  4. PitLord
    April 24, 2023 at 1:16 am

    Ironically was the worst DK deck before the expansion, the problem is not that it has gotten stronger (sure the 2 new card help), it is the other classes that have become weaker. No more big spell mage, no more curse warlock, and especially no more hero cards. And yes, they have to stop to print discover card, especially neutral it’s bad for costructed and it’s bad for arena.

  5. Nightfall
    April 23, 2023 at 4:10 am

    I do think Paladin needs some nerfs, as it is busting mostly anything besides Death Knight and Demon Hunter, which are bound to get nerfs. If their worst matchups get hit, they’ll only get a higher winrate.

    I doubt they’ll change Symphony of Sins, because I think they’ll want to keep the flavour of it having 7 sins, with the number 6 appearing in its cost and symphonies, as it is the devil’s number.
    I also don’t think it’s Symphony of Sins that’s the issue here. To me it seems it’s the class’ overall performance that’s holding the spell down, not the other way around.
    If they were to change anything to it however, I would like to be able to choose from 4 symphonies initially, instead of 3.

    Drum Circle is not the kind of card I would like to see as a finisher for aggressive druid decks. You were talking about how it’s feelbad when you can’t remove Lady S’theno from the board, but how about an entire board with taunts and major health gains? Even if you’re not dead straight away, that’s very tough to remove.
    That is not to say the card shouldn’t get a buff. I just don’t think it should get a buff for the reason given here.

    Ultimately, it’s gonna be rough to see which one will reign above all others after the balance patch. Blood DK is bound to get hit, and it seems like it’s one of the few decks that runs favourably in some potentially very oppressive decks. If the buffs and nerfs are not considered carefully, we might just be looking at a meta full of Totem Shaman, Pure Paladins and Outcast Demon Hunters. I’d rather have the current meta over that any day.