That did not go quite as planned.
Well, the developers were aware of Demon Hunter potentially becoming a problem, but this is beyond anything we’ve seen in Hearthstone before. There are more Demon Hunters now than there were in pre-nerfs Ashes of Outland. There are more Demon Hunter now than there were Shamans during Shamanstone. I could not find ladder stats from the Jade Druid era, so you could argue that the dominance of Jade Druid may have been even greater, but I doubt it.
Notable omissions from this list – Demon Hunter changes. We’ll be keeping a close eye on the post patch metagame to see how aggressive DH lists fare once slower decks are given a better chance. 8/9
— Gallon (@GallonHS) April 22, 2022
Aggro Demon Hunter is approaching 40% of the meta in Diamond. Add 20% Control Warriors and 12% Quest Hunters, and that’s three-quarters of the entire field from just three decks. Control Warrior is the only reliable counter to Aggro Demon Hunter, and Quest Hunter is mostly just surviving. Handbuff Paladin is sort of rising, it is good against Control Warrior and does not lose too badly against Aggro Demon Hunter, but that’s about it.
Mage (Naga) and Druid (Anacondra) have some hope of surviving but may turn out to be too weak to stay in the meta. Shaman is praying that Cookie the Cook can single-handedly save the class.
Priest is dead. Rogue is dead. Warlock is dead.
How can we get out of this mess?
The Drek’Thar in the Room
By far the strongest card in Aggro Demon Hunter is Drek'Thar. It is also by far the strongest card in Quest Hunter. Drek'Thar is just strong. It carries Silence Priest, well, as far as Silence Priest can be carried, which is not a lot. There are even Mech Mage decks that opt to cut Ini Stormcoil, Mothership, and Gaia, the Techtonic just to be able to run Drek'Thar – and they are some of the better lists of the archetype.
In an ironic pay-to-win twist, Blizzard recently sold the Diamond version of Drek'Thar for real money (or gold). However, this does not appear to prevent balance changes based on Iksar’s latest Twitter AMA.
Perhaps Blizzard would look for other ways to balance Aggro Demon Hunter than Drek'Thar, but it is hard to see what those could be. Drek'Thar is the best card in the deck in every matchup! Kurtrus, Demon-Render and Multi-Strike are clear #2 and #3, and their performance changes a bit more depending on the matchup, but they are tricky to change in a meaningful way.
Not sure, sounds like a hard problem for our commercial team!
— August Dean Ayala ???? (@IksarHS) April 30, 2022
Kurtrus, Demon-Render could be rendered slightly less effective by changing the Hero Power to give only +1 Attack instead of the current +2 Attack. This would limit Demon Hunter’s burst damage in the late game. Likewise, Multi-Strike could be prevented from hitting a minion and then hitting face or it could be reduced to +1 Attack instead of +2 Attack. Either card could also be targeted by a mana-cost increase, which is usually Blizard’s preferred method of bringing balance to the game.
The problem with any effect-based changes for Kurtrus or Multi-Strike is that those would mainly affect slow matchups, like Control Warrior, where Demon Hunter is already unfavored. They would help other control decks, like Control Paladin, become more favored in the matchup, but this is unlikely to be the goal. If there are no aggro or midrange decks that can contest Aggro Demon Hunter, making it weaker to control will not help the meta, it will only make it more polarized.
Mana-cost increases to both Kurtrus, Demon-Render and Multi-Strike could be enough to give other aggressive decks a chance. Two-mana Multi-Strike and seven- or even eight-mana Kurtrus, Demon-Render, maybe?
This could be combined with a Drek'Thar nerf. But how do you even nerf it? Make it cost five so that it comes down later but gets four-cost cards added to the pool? Make it summon only one minion? That’s probably not the best idea. If anything, it could be “nerfed” the other way around – maybe make it cost three so that while it is played earlier, it does not bring any three-drops with it? Whatever the way, a Drek'Thar nerf also hitting Quest Hunter would be a welcome sight in the current meta. Quest Hunter would survive any nerf because it can just go back to Multicaster builds, but they are weaker than the current Drek'Thar builds.
Resurrecting Dead Classes
Removing some of the power of Aggro Demon Hunter is only the first step. It is unlikely that the weakest classes can find playable decks even if the main tyrant is hit. This would be an excellent time for some well-targeted buffs to bring the dead classes back into the game.
First, there’s Warlock. What kind of Warlock decks can be built from the current card pool? There’s Murloc Warlock, which is a very linear archetype and therefore not ideal to promote. There’s Curse Warlock, which cannot co-exist with Quest Hunter, the matchup is one of the most abysmal ones in the history of the game. There’s probably not much that can be done about that one. Then there’s the combo archetype, the old OwlTK Warlock that is nowadays mostly a Mine Warlock. Combo decks are very hard to balance in Hearthstone and easily become oppressive. Then there’s Quest Warlock, which we already saw a lot of for many months.
It’s hard to salvage Warlock, but I have some ideas. For example, reduce the cost of Dark Alley Pact to three mana to promote Handlock. Reduce the cost of Shady Bartender to four mana to promote Zoolock. Buff or even redesign Bloodscent Vilefin, the weakest card in Murloc Warlock. Perhaps even make it draw the Murloc? Warlock does not have a lot of playable-looking decks right now, but some changes could help it with multiple archetypes.
Second, there’s Priest. Boar Priest is by far the most popular Priest deck, and some pro players claim that it is really good. Its win rate does go up as pilots gain experience, but so far it shows no signs of being strong even in the hands of an experienced player. Perhaps this will change as people become even more proficient with the deck. Aggro is its main weakness, so nerfs to Aggro Demon Hunter could already help the deck. I would be hesitant to buff it too soon.
But what else does Priest have? Shellfish Priest and Quest Priest are similar to Boar Priest, just worse. If anything, Quest Priest could use a new two-drop after the Pandaren Importer nerf made that mana slot extremely awkward for the archetype. Maybe Devouring Plague could be changed to cost two mana? I’m a little scared it would be too strong against aggro and also go into Boar Priest and make it stronger, but there’s not much else that could be added to that two-mana slot for Priest.
On the aggressive side, Silence Priest is dependent on Drek'Thar and will be hit by any nerf to the card, and Shadow Priest just died in the rotation. Helmet Hermit just is not strong enough, it would need a stat buff, maybe together with a mana-cost increase, to give Silence Priest more options. I can’t think of a simple way to buff Shadow Priest to relevance: the deck needs a relevant Shadow spell and maybe some aggressive minions so it most likely needs some new cards and not just buffs.
Third, there’s Rogue. Pirate Rogue and Thief Rogue are the only archetypes that see play right now, and neither is very good. Quest Rogue is almost playable too, but just a little too weak for this meta. Deathrattle Rogue is probably intended to be a meme deck. Given that Pirate Rogue is just destroyed by Aggro Demon Hunter, a nerf to the king might be enough to make it viable. If there’s something that could be done for Thief Rogue, I’d focus on Tooth of Nefarian. Right now, the card is unplayable. Make it cheaper, maybe lower the damage, and make it always Discover a spell instead of only with Honorable Kill, and we could have an activator for Burgle synergies. I guess removing the expansion’s core keyword would be a big step, but at least it is not from the most recent expansion!
Mage and Druid are currently crushed by Demon Hunter, so the nerfs might be enough to give them some new life.
There Is Hope!
Overall, looking at the current meta, Aggro Demon Hunter is the big issue. It does not look like that issue can be solved through meta development. If the oppressor is nerfed, multiple classes have an opportunity to break free and find success in the new meta. Except for Warlock. Warlock looks really bad. I would like to see some Warlock buffs, and hopefully also some Priest and Rogue buffs, and we might still have a meta with all classes present during Voyage to the Sunken City!