Blizzard teased the upcoming nerfs and buffs yesterday, and it is a huge package. Seven cards will be nerfed and a whopping 18 cards will receive buffs!
While we do not have the exact nerfs and buffs yet, a lot can be inferred from the list of nerf and buff targets. In this article, I take a closer look at how Blizzard might change the cards, and, more importantly, their grand project for changing the meta.
Seven Nerfs to Burst Damage
Blizzard’s big target with the nerfs is burst damage. Every deck with a major burst damage component is getting hit in the patch.
Quest Demon Hunter is potentially the biggest loser. It can handle a nerf to Sinful Brand, probably either a cost increase or damage decrease, but the nerf to Final Showdown will strike at the heart of the deck. Predicting the nerf to the Questline is difficult. Blizzard cannot change the mana cost, so it will definitely still cost one mana after the patch. Therefore, they will either make the reward smaller or the condition more difficult, or both. Currently, you need to draw four, five, and five cards for the Questline, and the first two stages discount all the cards drawn by one. The deck does not really need the final reward, the discounts on the drawn cards are enough. Unless Blizzard wants to redesign some of the intermediate rewards, the discounts cannot go below one, so there is no room to tweak those. I expect that Quest Demon Hunter will need to draw more cards in the future to achieve its questline conditions, and this could very well kill the entire deck.
Shockspitter Hunter is another deck that could just roll over and die. Shockspitter was already nerfed once to three mana, and I guess it’s going up to four mana. That’s going to get really tricky to weave into big burst turns. I expected them to try to find another way to nerf the deck – there’s this Brann Bronzebeard just waiting to be hit – but as we now have confirmation that Shockspitter is the affected card, I think the deck might just cease to exist.
Things look less dire for the other nerf targets.
Frost Death Knight is not super strong even now, so getting a bit weaker might hurt the deck, but Glacial Advance getting hit, probably the discount part of it, should not threaten the entire archetype. It might be too weak to run in the upcoming meta even with a small nerf, so I am surprised that it is getting hit at all, but any hit to it just tweaks the numbers a little and does not invalidate the entire concept.
Miracle Rogue does not look set to receive particularly harsh treatment, either, even though it might deserve one. Wildpaw Gnoll is changed once again, and who can even keep track of what its current stats and mana cost are? It always has enough attack to kill stuff, and it costs zero anyway. Perhaps the third time is the charm and they have come up with something to make it not cost zero. In that case, Rogue becomes vulnerable to aggro again. Rogue still has its Potion Belt rolls to swing games at any point though, Blizzard clearly did not want to touch the new Concoctions in this patch.
Sinstone Graveyard already had its mana cost increased to three. I guess the main tool Blizzard has left is to remove Stealth from the Ghosts. That is by far the most requested change, and would let many more decks handle the big Ghosts before they get to attack.
Astalor Bloodsworn will be the most interesting nerf. How lethal will they let Astalor remain? Can it still be played in every archetype from aggro to control? Will Druid still be able to play multiple copies easily with Brann Bronzebeard? The last question may become relevant if Druid manages to find any room in the meta, but I expect there to be enough aggression to keep Druid a niche deck still. I expect mana cost increases and maybe a damage reduction for the final form.
What I really like about the nerfs is that they present a clear story. Blizzard is coming after the biggest burn and swing turns. You can still win fast, but you have to work multiple turns for that win. The details may not be clear, but the overall goal is obvious, and it is lovely to see game design with a clear direction.
Eighteen Buffs to Decks Doomed to Die?
It is much harder to see what the story with the buffs is. The common theme is buffing new archetypes by buffing new cards. With the exception of Warrior, who is buried so deep that there is no light to be found, all the buffs are for new cards. Warrior gets some old cards buffed too, in a last-ditch effort to dig the class out of the rubble. Warrior and Priest get the most buffs, and as those two are the weakest classes at the moment, that makes perfect sense.
Warrior receives five buffs:
- Asvedon, the Grandshield
- Disruptive Spellbreaker
- Last Stand
- Remornia, Living Blade
- Nellie, the Great Thresher
The Warrior buffs seem targeted at making Control Warrior playable in some form. Asvedon and Disruptive Spellbreaker add more disruption capabilities to the class, whereas Last Stand and Nellie, the Great Thresher may add some win conditions. I am not sure what the plan is for Remornia, Living Blade, but it could be a win condition too. It might also be a removal tool. The card has an incredibly fun, unique design, but it has always been too weak to actually use. Guessing what the buffs could be like, I would wager that Asvedon and Disruptive Spellbreaker get some extra Health to make them stickier, Last Stand will have its mana cost cut, and Nellie will get more discounts for the Pirates. Remornia is the trickiest. Cheaper? More Health? It has always lost its Health too quickly in its minion form to have a meaningful impact.
The real question is whether even these changes make Control Warrior playable again. Blizzard has not wanted decks like Fatigue Warrior in the game anymore. Buffing Warrior’s disruption might lead Warrior down that path again. On the other hand, they are also trying to provide Control Warrior with some proactive win conditions. I definitely get the impression that they want Last Stand into Silverfury Stalwart to be a thing. We saw Silverfury Stalwart briefly in this expansion in high-Legend meta to counter Sinful Brand, but that is the only good use the card has had. There’s also Mor'shan Elite, I guess. It is a little hard to see how exactly the Warrior buffs can bring the class back.
Priest receives three buffs:
These buffs are clearly directed at improving Undead Priest. The way Undead Priest works right now is that it plays only the best three-cost Undead minions, and resurrects them with Animate Dead, Bonecaller, and High Cultist Basaleph. Blizzard clearly wants to add Haunting Nightmare – currently a useless card – to the pool. We know that Haunting Nightmare‘s Deathrattle used to be a recursive effect early in Blizzard’s internal testing: it summoned copies of itself over and over again. Maybe we are returning back to those days?
Undead Priest is an archetype that can definitely become competitive with the right buffs, so I expect to see more of them in the future.
And this is where things start to get weird with the buffs. Warrior and Priest are such clear targets, they are underperforming by a lot. But the attempt to save some of the weaker archetypes of other classes? I am not convinced many of these buffed cards will become part of the meta.
There are three Death Knight buffs:
Unholy Frenzy is currently a useless card, but it could find a place in Unholy Death Knight if it cost one mana. Maybe even at two mana?
Battlefield Necromancer and Boneguard Commander are a strange pair. I think I have an explanation, though. They are the only cards that summon Risen Footmen, so my best guess is that the Footmen will be changed. Reddit speculation on the matter is fairly evenly split between 2/2 and 1/3 statlines. I’m not sure how this really helps Boneguard Commander, as Blood is not generating a lot of corpses. You also still do not want to build a Blood/Unholy deck either because the triple-Unholy cards are too good to leave out.
Battlefield Necromancer is already a playable card, and improvements to it will make it even better. Together with the Unholy Frenzy buff, there is a bit of something for Unholy Death Knight here. However, the big thing is still missing. The main thing the deck would need is another playable Undead one-drop. A buff to Banshee or one of the other useless one-cost Undead minions would do far more for Unholy Death Knight and for multiple other decks than these changes. I am not confident about Unholy Death Knight with these buff targets.
The same applies to the Druid buff, Wither. No matter how you change Wither – unless you make it buff all of your minions, and not just Undead – it just does not help. It just cannot help Undead Aggro Druid, unless there is another playable early-game Undead minion.
The attempts to save other non-existent new archetypes seem equally far-fetched. Vengeful Walloper needs to do a lot of heavy lifting to make Outcast Demon Hunter a thing. It has never worked before, despite multiple attempts by Blizzard. I expect a mana-cost reduction because Outcast cards are not that easy to play, but it is hard to see how it all works out regardless. Vast Wisdom and Energy Shaper will not bring Casino Mage to the meta, even though Vast Wisdom might find a place in some other archetype. Timewarden is unlikely to save Dragon Paladin, either. Maybe, if it was cheap enough and you could flood the board with it early. Maybe. Some kind of Midrange Dragon Paladin could be possible.
The cards that have me puzzled the most are the Warlock buffs. Infantry Reanimator and Dar'Khan Drathir may have potential. Resurrecting Dar’Khan over and over again is a scary concept, but finding your Dar’Khan to get started is still a challenge. A cheap Infantry Reanimator could enable some Undead Zoo deck, but once again, there are no good Undead one-drops. Maybe something else is used instead and Undead minions come in a bit later to be reanimated? I can see opportunities for Warlock, but I am skeptical whether the buffs will be significant enough to truly enable those opportunities.
What Will the Meta Look Like?
I am fairly skeptical of the impact the buffs will have. On the other hand, I believe the nerfs will have a major impact. So much burst damage and so many swing turns are being removed or delayed that aggro and midrange decks look set to have a new life ahead of them. Decks like Beast Hunter and Imp Warlock! Oh, wait, those are old decks. Well, decks like Pure Paladin and Evolve Shaman, then! Those four look set to be some of the winners of the balance patch.
It will also be interesting to see how slower decks will perform in the new meta. It is not easy to beat a Blood Death Knight with all that burst damage gone. Then again, Blood Death Knight does lose to Ramp Druid, and that will probably still be the case after the Astalor nerf. Control Paladin loses some of its better matchups, but it is strong against Evolve Shaman and Imps as well, so it is not completely out of the picture. Big Spell Mage is also still a contender. There is a good chance that the meta will open up with new opportunities to play somewhat slower decks.
One deck that I am particularly interested in is Secret Mage. The ping version of the deck that runs Magister Dawngrasp is quite a threat to all the slower decks, and by no means a trivial opponent to midrange decks either. It just crumbles to sudden burst damage. And, oh my, much of that burst damage is going away.
When it comes to the buffed decks, Undead Priest looks like the most straightforward candidate. We already know how it works, it is just too weak. It gets multiple buffs that may make it strong enough. I keep trying to figure out Outcast Demon Hunter. I have played a little with Felerin, the Forgotten, and it is fun and more powerful than it usually gets credit for. I just have a hard time finding enough Outcast cards to build a great deck focused on that theme. Warrior and Warlock look like the classes that have the most to experiment with. I doubt either will succeed, but there should be some interesting times ahead trying to make them work.
The meta is definitely going to change, and it will be an interesting time to play some Hearthstone!