The Hearthstone Nerfs That Hit the Bullseye

It’s safe to say that Team 5 has a fairly patchy record when it comes to nerfs in Hearthstone: many of the adjusted cards were purposefully nuked to oblivion in the name of “design space”, variety or by simply misjudging the impact of the changes. Still, there are quite a few interesting exceptions to the rule where the re-worked spells and minions remained viable in the game – so much so that some of them even went through a second round of fixes later down the line!

Old Dogs, New Tricks

While there were a myriad of interesting card changes in the beta as well, we’re going to mainly focus on the post-launch nerfs, which the developers clearly want to use sparingly, making it even more important for them to get the details right. We’ll treat Unleash the Hounds as an exception as the card has seen the most adjustments made to an individual spell past the alpha stage of the game, making it a very interesting case. Initially, it gave all of your friendly Beasts +1 Attack and Charge, making it an incredibly potent finisher for Hunter. Its complete rework turned it into what we know it as today, initially costed as 4 mana, which rendered it useless, which led to its eventual buff to 2 mana that made it simply overpowered, essentially in combination with the two-cost version of Starving Buzzard that was around at the time. It eventually found the sweet spot at three mana, sticking around to this day as a viable option for the class.

That’s more of an exception rather than the norm as cards with Charge are completely butchered on purpose by most nerfs. Apart from Unleash the Hounds, Leeroy Jenkins also survived the seemingly back-breaking increase in its cost, so much so that by now it’s crazy to imagine that it used to only cost four mana at one point. Dubbed the “neutral Fireball” by many, the card was clearly intended as a joke, but players quickly found the SMOrc-ing effectiveness of such a tool. The real target of the price hike was the original iteration of Miracle Rogue which was capable of dealing 26 damage from hand with two Shadowsteps and two Cold Bloods using ten mana – back in the day, that was considered to be too much, leading to the birth of the “fun and interactive” meme. Oh, how times change! Leeroy remained a viable burn option for most ultra-aggressive decks and still has a home in most Miracle Rogue builds, picking up chicken left, right and center whenever that archetype finds a place in the metagame.

Astonishingly, the deck also survived nerfs to its primary card engine in Gadgetzan Auctioneer in the next patch two months later – back in those days, changes were still arriving fairly fast –, increasing its cost from five to six mana. As it turns out, the ability to use Conceal on the card was still good enough, and as we see today, its interaction with Rogue’s plethora of 0-cost spells makes it effective even without the ability to hide in the shadows for a turn. 

Speaking of 0-cost spells, Soulfire used to be free initially to compensate for the discarded card, but its presence in the original iteration of Zoo, which was very effective at emptying its hand, essentially circumventing the intended downside on a regular basis – not to mention the fact that having such a free removal spell was incredibly swingy in the mirror matches as well. The card remained viable, though Power Overwhelming was generally favored in its place in Zoo decks until that spell was removed from Standard, but it played a major part in a combo deck revolving around Malygos and cheap spells later down the line.

Indictments Everywhere

The Hall of Fame was a real game-changer when it came to the nerfs as from that point on, problematic Classic cards could simply be rotated out instead of effectively removing them from the game with an overbearing nerf. Sylvanas Windrunner somehow made it there after already picking up a nerf previously: originally costing five mana in the beta period, it was an incredibly potent card in combination with Brawl in a Control Warrior’s arsenal. It remained viable in mid-range and control decks even at an increased price, to such an extent that it was eventually removed from Standard to ensure greater variety.

Ironbeak Owl is also one of those cards that used to be everywhere, at least when it used to cost 2 mana – the importance of the cheap Silence seemed to be simultaneously recognized by all the participants of the 2014 World Championship, and the hooting continued non-stop until April 2016 when it got hit by a 50% increase in its cost to “make Silence effects more costly”. Interestingly enough, this marked the rise of Spellbreaker, which is now the new source of nearly omnipresent Silence effects on the ladder as the playerbase once again seems to recognize its utility and importance, even at a more prohibitive cost.

When You’re Too Good for Your Own Good

Just like Silence, cheap hard removal options also got hit over time to make them less viable in tempo decks, but none of them became unplayable due to the change. Execute’s mana increase was mainly directed at the very popular Dragon Warrior archetype while also trying to future-proof the idea that it’s prohibitive to include in other aggressive decks – the strategy seemed to work quite well as most Pirate Warrior lists omitted the card in favor of more tools that could hit the face. Hunter's Mark got a low-key adjustment from 0 mana to 1, which is in line with the previous example and, like Soulfire, only had a negligible impact on the card’s playability.

A similar nerf happened to Hex last September, much to the surprise of the community. The patch note explicitly states that “we’re not making the change to Hex due to a current power-level problem”, adding that “Shaman is a class that currently has a lot of flexibility, but is lacking in both class identity and identifiable weaknesses” – a fairly interesting statement considering how the class only had one semi-viable deck at the time in the form of Evolve Shaman, and nothing of note ever since! It remains to be seen how the worsened nature of the class’ primary hard removal option helps with its identity – one has to wonder whether the change was perhaps made with Even Shaman’s eventual arrival in mind.

A quick note on Murlocs: their adjustments seemed to have very little to do with balance reasons and more with the spaghetti code. Removing their ability to buff the opponent’s creatures as well got rid of a unique trait of the tribe, and Murloc Warleader’s eventual nerf meant that it wasn’t providing extra health anymore, which seemed to stem just as much from the mechanic’s unintuitive nature in Hearthstone than a power level concern. Still, the card obviously remains a pillar of any deck that likes to mrgl.

The same patch brought us two other well-executed nerfs (no pun intended), even if Fiery War Axe’s change remains controversial to this day. It is now guaranteed to be only a part of control decks, but it is still viable there, even if only as a shadow of its former self. Spreading Plague also remained perfectly playable at six mana: the card, much like Sylvanas of old, will likely remain omnipresent in the slower Druid archetypes until its eventual rotation.

Oh, and there was also a change to The Caverns Below – well, we all know how that turned out…

If you’re wondering where the other 11.1 nerfs fall on the scale from “nuke” to “prod”, it’s likely still early to tell. Most of the Classic card changes were due to their enduring and evergreen nature in the past – no longer an issue with the Hall of Fame, and the expansion-specific cards are usually handled with kid gloves in comparison, trying to solve a meta conundrum at a given moment. Their long-term viability will only be known to us once the next set rolls around, but so far, Cubelock remains a very strong option on the ladder, if slightly less oppressive than before while Quest Rogue and Spiteful Druid still have a niche presence as well. They may not all be bullseyes, but they might be good enough for a double 20.

Yellorambo

Luci Kelemen is an avid strategy gamer and writer who has been following Hearthstone ever since its inception. His content has previously appeared on HearthstonePlayers and Tempo/Storm's site.

Check out Yellorambo on Twitter!

9 Comments

  1. Vociferous
    June 17, 2018 at 1:09 pm

    Shudderwock is the worst card ever without close competition.

    Not that that’s the point of this article. I’m just fantasizing the day it gets nerf-slaughtered or Hall of Famed. Good riddance…

    Reply
  2. DestinyXXX
    June 15, 2018 at 6:45 am

    The TRUTH is that they nerfed the only deck with a very high skillcap. Nowadays the meta is full of shit and it is very difficult to have a very high wr (> 65%). Even pally, cubelock and spiteful druid were very good decks both to play and to play against; they shaped the meta in a good way and they represented well the different kinds of deck (aggro, midrange, combo). The only deck that truly needed a nerf was quest rogue, not because it was too strong, but because it was so oppressive to control decks such as big spell mage and odd warrior.

    Current decks are simply a big pile of shit; I cannot take it after months of playing jade druid, fatigue dmh warrior, raza, cubelock, control lock, etc. 2 months ago I was playing fatigue DMH warrior vs cubelock / control lock in ladder, now I’m playing just shit vs shit… Someone can explain me why? How in the world that’s a good thing?

    Ironically the rotation wasn’t what caused the problem, but a brainless nerf after that. The meta would have been very good with unnerfed Cubelock + unnerfed Spiteful Druid + unnerfed Even Paladin + Mind Blast Priest + Odd Warrior + Big Spell Mage etc (quest rogue was the only thing that IMO needed a nerf).

    Reply
    • EyB0ss
      June 18, 2018 at 3:28 pm

      No, just no. Quest rogue can be won by just some tempo early game. Even paladin had to go, the decklist took all the strongest class cards and put them in a overwhelming deck which most of the time couldnt be even countered and all those knifejuggers that kill half of your board it was so hard to play against. Almost unwinnable if you’re not rogue or shaman

      Reply
      • EyB0ss
        June 18, 2018 at 3:38 pm

        Plus alot of cards have been nerfed for other decks not just those and how do you think spiteful summoner was ballanced? Summon a 10 cost minion that cant be hit by radnom assasinate abilities like deadly shot and spellstone( and get a 4 4 extra body obviously) would be op even if it was ten mana because druid has ramp. That is just too menacing not every class has a vilespine slayer type card in their card list. And none of those decks is for me interactive or fun to play just because there is one turn tempo swing you cant easily manage without luck

        Reply
  3. jason
    June 12, 2018 at 10:45 am

    my jaws that bite.
    my GOOOD it plz stop

    Reply
  4. GlosuuLang
    June 12, 2018 at 8:05 am

    I still think some of these nerfs were a bit too much. Ironbeak Owl should be a 3-mana 2/2. After its nerf it vanished, and has only seen play once Baku hit the game, and people needed to tech Silence to battle Cubelock. Now that Cubelock is not omni-present, many Baku decks have cut the owl because it’s simply a very weak card, sitting in your hand until you can get some value out of it. Spellbreaker at least has some decent stats even if you have to play him without a decent Silence target. Fiery War Axe was a necessary nerf, but it could have been changed to a 3/3 weapon. It’s ridiculous that the class most specialised in weapons would end up with an outclassed weapon. Current FWA is obviously worse than Rexxar’s Bow, Rallying Blade and Shadowblade, for example. I think the extra durability would have been fair (it would not make aggro Warrior decks OP, since by turn 5 you would want to equip Arcanite Reaper, and with 3 durability you would still have one durability left with FWA – so now you either sacrifice that durability or wait an extra turn. And waiting extra turns in Aggro is killer).

    Reply
    • Stonekeep
      June 12, 2018 at 10:01 am

      “but it could have been changed to a 3/3 weapon”

      That would be almost as broken as the 2 mana 3/2. Seriously. Just see how good is Eaglehorn Bow after gaining +1 Charge. As a Pirate Warrior, you don’t always want to equip Arcanite Reaper on T5, and 9 damage for 3 mana is nuts.

      There were some ways to nerf it better. For example, they could make it 2 mana 2/2 weapon with “Has +1 Attack when targeting minions” or something like that. But since it’s a part of the Basic set, they didn’t want to make it too complicated.

      Yes, right now it’s a worse version of Eaglehorn Bow (which is sometimes played even without Secrets in the deck, by the way), Rallying Blade etc. But is that really a problem? A lot of the Basic cards are basically worse versions of other cards. They aren’t all meant to be playable, they are meant to give new players some base and teach them how to play the game.

      Reply
  5. Crapcrack
    June 12, 2018 at 7:39 am

    Never forget old Undertaker XD

    Reply

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