With Combo Priest dominating the meta and the Grandmasters competition, many in the community are looking for a way to kneecap the archetype. Northshire Cleric is a logical target for their wrath, a ubiquitous and powerful tool in the class’ otherwise weak evergreen arsenal. The recurring complaints about the Divine Spirit + Inner Fire setups also raise a wider question about the viability of the class as a whole in most metagames, but everyone’s (least) favorite card draw tool serves as an important reminder of how certain statlines all but guarantee playability, especially on cheap minions.
So, Is Someone Injured?
In case you haven’t noticed, Priest is pretty good right now, regularly smacking opponents in the face with 28/28 minions and pulling off other ridiculous nonsense all the time, both on ladder and in the Grandmasters League as well. This isn’t the first time Divine Spirit and Inner Fire propelled Priest to the top of the charts, but it’s by far the most ubiquitous the combo has been to date. For the first time since KoFT’s Razakus Priest, Anduin is the one to beat again, raising questions regarding just about every card in the deck, including the insane draw engine that is Northshire Cleric. While it is a very strong minion indeed, there’s little to suggest that it would be the target of Team 5’s ire if they were even looking to nerf the deck in the first place.
First of all, the statline itself makes the card great to begin with – just ask Dire Mole. It is especially so in the case of a class like Priest, which really needs a way to contest an early-game board against aggressive opponents, even if most 1 mana 2/1 minions were nerfed over time, changing the complexion of aggro decks in the game. Arguably, the bigger issue is that the class hasn’t had a viable non-combo gameplan since the LoE days, either trying to kill you by summoning undercosted mega-minions and/or eventually nuking you with juiced-up Holy Smites and Mind Blasts. With the latter moved to the Hall of Fame (likely in part due to Zephrys the Great), plus the never-ending resource generation options for control decks in the game, cards like Excavated Evil and Entomb and Mind Control are just not good enough to build an archetype around. Priest needs more, and unless a full-scale reimagining occurs, combo decks are the best they’ve got, be it Chef Nomi or Divine Spirit/Inner Fire shenanigans. The fact that they all require reliable draw tools and Northshire Cleric happens to be a great one at that doesn’t mean this card is the problem: it’s everything else around it.
Another way to look at this conundrum is to make the direct comparison with Mana Wyrm, Mage’s iconic 1/3 minion which didn’t quite manage to avoid the nerf bat: that card was a big enough threat in terms of damage output to single-handedly enable aggressive archetypes for the class and did directly limit Team 5’s ability to print cheap spells for it. The fact that Priest’s combo decks often remain dormant for multiple metagames – so much so that relying on a Divine Spirit/Inner Fire finisher actually used to be a sign of a Rank 20 player way back when – shows that the real issue is not with the class’ evergreen cards, at least not in the sense that they’re strong enough to bring along problematic recurring archetypes. Also, Mage always had other viable deckbuilding options beyond just riding a Mana Wyrm to victory with an aggro deck – the same simply can’t be said about Priest and its different combo builds over time.
A Brave New World?
Like so many other issues in Hearthstone, the origins of this one can also be traced back to the power imbalances in the evergreen set. Since all classes are equal but some are more equal than others, the first expansion or two of the year always amounts to a catch-up to those that are burdened with weaker Basic and Classic cards. It’s no wonder then that some of the tools given to them can end up being somewhat overtuned. The ubiquity of the Divine Spirit/Inner Fire combo has more to do with Priest’s complete lack of any other reliable gameplan in the evergreen set than anything else, and the brutal consistency and the power level of the current iteration is directly due to cards printed in Saviors of Uldum: Psychopomp and High Priest Amet on the class card side, Injured Tol'vir and Neferset Ritualist on the neutral side. You’ll note that no such deck existed in the Rise of Shadows meta, or prior to Journey to Un’goro’s introduction to Standard.
Since the announcement of the upcoming reintroduction of Wild cards to the format has pretty much confirmed that Priest won’t be directly nerfed. The developers likely expect the event and the following release of the last expansion of the year to solve this conundrum for themselves, at least in a temporary capacity. Iksar’s recent pronouncement on Twitter seems to indicate that there may be some “sweeping changes” on the horizon for 2020, which may or may not include removing Divine Spirit.
As such, the entirety of this discussion may turn out to be merely academic in nature. However, there’s a decent body of evidence to suggest that if a nerf were to take place, it’s target the evergreen cards which cause the problematic interaction to crop up over and over again, similarly to the infamous butchery of Warsong Commander instead of a more Grim Patron-specific solution like reducing Frothing Berserker’s Health to 3. Basically, for the purposes of this discussion, Cleric is likely not the problem card in Team 5’s eyes. It’s a strong minion, a premium tool for priest, one of the few in Anduin’s evergreen arsenal, ready to help out any time someone happens to be injured. Unlike Mana Wyrm, it’s no more a design limitation for early buffs than Dire Mole would be – and as such, it’s likely to stick around.