For the longest time now, certain Hearthstone cards have been practically auto-included in a vast majority of decks. Starting next week, with the launch of Whispers of the Old Gods, that’s gonna change. The nerf bat commeth.
All in all, twelve cards are being whacked with the nerf bat, from Big Game Hunter to Force of Nature. Some are perhaps seeing a bit of an overnerf, and some perhaps aren’t being nerfed enough. One of the goals with the split between Standard and Wild is to allow Blizzard more freedom in both card design and balance. It’s pretty evident from these nerfs that they want people to actually have to choose to include a card, not to auto-include it because it’s one of the best cards in the game.
Druid staples Force of Nature, Ancient of Lore, and Keeper of the Grove are all seeing nerfs, and all three were auto-included in virtually all druid decks.
When you played Ancient of Lore, you could previously choose between drawing 2 cards, or restoring 5 health. Now, instead, Ancient of Lore only draws you 1 card in addition to the 5 health. The draw 2 cards effect was so powerful that restoring five health was almost never chosen. Unless, of course, the druid was near death. In which case, that 5 health probably wouldn’t help you as much as potentially drawing an out. So this nerf is pretty huge. Since the five health is virtually useless, the only real point of Ancient of Lore is to draw a card, and there’s already a card that does that, Azure Drake for 5 mana. If Blizzard ever adds ancient synergies, perhaps Ancient of Lore will find itself back in druid decks, but for the moment, I imagine many druid players will replace it with Azure Drake.
Then we have Keeper of the Grove. Oh Lord. The card’s going from a 2/4 – choose between silencing a target, or dealing 2 damage to a target – to a 2/2 card with the same effect. Unlike Ancient of Lore, both of Keepers’ effects are viable, and good. Silences are a commodity in Hearthstone, and this card was also in virtually all Druid decks. They’re also nerfing Ironbeak Owl, another silence staple that happens to be neutral. It’s now 3 mana instead of 2. The nerf to Keeper of the Grove seems in line. Previously, it was a decent body with two great effects, now it’s a frail body with two great effects. If you’re playing a Druid deck that needs a silence, or wants a silence, it’s probably better than Ironbeak Owl, but there’s another silence card out there that’s not seeing a nerf: Spellbreaker. That’s a 4 mana 4/3. The increased stats probably make up for the fact that it can’t, unlike Keeper, hit a target for 2 damage. I don’t think the nerf to Keeper is as drastic as the Ancient of Lore nerf, and I can still see the card seeing play, but there’s also the a good chance Spellbreaker might replace it entirely.
Lastly, in terms of Druid specific nerfs. The long-hated Force of Nature. Instead of summoning 3 2/2 treants with charge that die at the end of your turn, now it just summons 3 2/2 treants for 5 mana. Of course Force of Nature wouldn’t be the ridiculous card that it has been without Savage Roar, and that’s not being nerfed, but without being able to combo these cards together, it’s hard to see Savage Roar making it into any but the most aggressive of Druid decks. The new Force of Nature probably won’t see play, either. 5 mana for a 6/6 worth of stats isn’t bad. It’s basically Silverhand Knight in a different form. That card is a 5 mana and gives you a 4/4 and a 2/2. Virtually, they’re the same stats, but that card doesn’t really see play, either. Traditionally, for cards to see play in constructed Hearthstone, they have to be really good value for the mana cost, and that has usually meant a card that has some sort of effect, battlecry, or deathrattle. Vanilla bodies just don’t normally cut it anymore. So Force of Nature is probably out, at least in constructed. In arena, the card is about as good as Silverhand Knight, which is one of the top 5 mana-cost minions to draft.
That about does it for Druid staples. Decks will no longer be able to to buy time until they instantly win with the Force of Nature and Savage Roar combo. That’s been some such a staple of Druids since the game came out, it’s hard to imagine decks existing without the cards, but they’re going to have to.
The next class card to see the nerf bat is Master of Disguise. Nobody really plays it now, and chances are nobody will play it once the nerf is out. Previously, it would give a card indefinite stealth, but now the effect will only last until your next turn begins. Why nerf a card that nobody played in the first place? Well, as a preventative measure. Being able to give a card stealth until the moment you wanted to play it would really limit some of Blizzard’s card ideas. For instance, one of the card being added with the expansion, Scaled Nightmare, would have ridiculous synergy with Master of Disguise. Without nerfing that card, this one would likely not exist. Chances are Scaled Nightmare won’t be played, either, but at least it can exist. Maybe if it was a 3/8 and not a 2/8.
Another Rogue class card seeing a nerf is, surprisingly, Blade Flurry. Previously it would destroy a rogue’s weapon and and deal that damage to all enemies, minions as well as heroes. Now it deals damage only to minions and will cost 4 mana instead of 2. Why? Well, according to Blizzard, the card’s hampering their ability to create powerful rogue cards. I guess what that means is that there may be some Rogue cards left to reveal in Whispers of the Old Gods that might make the nerf sting a bit less. Cards that don’t seem like they would exist if Blade Flurry remained as it was. Otherwise, it’s just a Rogue board clear, similar to Warlock’s Shadow Flame, which is a 4 mana spell that destroys a friendly minion and deals its attack damage to all enemy minions. It might still see some play – maybe, but not in the same role as it has now of ridiculous burst.
The Hunter’s card Hunter’s Mark is also seeing a slight nerf, going from a 0 mana cost to a 1 mana cost. I guess they felt like 0 mana made the card a bit too versatile, since you could use it any turn no matter what. There’s not much to say about this nerf. It’ll probably still see play because it’s one of Hunter’s best removal spells. They’re just going to have a slightly harder time slipping it into plays.
Onto the Neutral minions seeing nerfs. We touched on the Ironbeak Owl nerf earlier, which is getting a mana cost increase of 1, becoming a 3 mana 2/1. It’s a nerf all right, but if you need a silence in your deck, hello face Hunters, then it’s still the cheapest one available, it’ll just cost you more.
Knife Juggler, one of the best 2 mana-cost cards in the game is going from having 3/2 stats to 2/2. At first glance, this nerf doesn’t seem too big, but it’s just what the Knife Juggler needed. It’s still powerful, but now many cards can trade into it without dying. It’ll probably still be popular due to its effect, but it’ll be much much easier to counter.
Leper Gnome is also being nerfed, going from a 2/1 minion to a 1/1 minion. This change feels similar to the change to Knife Juggler. The effect is still powerful, but it’s much easier to counter, since now basically any card can trade into it for free, and in order for Leper Gnome to kill most minions, it’ll require at a buff from minions like Abusive Sergeant, which temporarily gives a minion 2 attack.
Arcane Golem, long used as a finisher for many decks, no longer has charge. In lieu of that, it gains 2 health. This makes it strikingly similar to other 3 mana cost 4/4 cards that have some sort of drawback. Dancing Swords has a deathrattle of drawing your opponent a card, and Ogre Brute has a 50% chance to attack a different target than the one you chose. Both of those cards are being phased out of competitive play, not that they saw any competitive play to begin with. Ogre Brute was a powerful arena pick, though. Is Arcane Golem the new Ogre Brute in arena? Nope. Well, hell no to be more specific. Giving your opponent a mana crystal on turn 3 is way too powerful. The card is basicaly only playable after turn 10, and by that point you’re both topdecking and a 4/4 just won’t cut it out. Sure there are cards worse than this that you might be forced to draft in arena, and if you’re stuck in that position, at least you can take solace in the fact that it’s a 3 mana 4/4.
Unexpectedly, perhaps, Molten Giant, which reduces its mana cost based upon your life total, is seeing its mana cost increased from 20 to 25. Meaning that in order to play this card for free, you’ll have to be at 5 life instead of 10. Blizzard rationalizes this change by saying it’s to make the card more risky to try and play for free, and honestly it still seems perfectly viable. Hand Locks will just have to be slightly lower before they drop two of them down for free and taunt them up, and since Antique Healbot is also being removed from constructed, it’ll be harder to heal, and 5 health is a really dangerous position to be in.
Last but certainly not least: Big Game Hunter. People have been anticipating its nerf for weeks now. Most were expecting it to be rendered completely unusable. That’s not the case. It was nerfed, yeah, but not in the way people were expecting. Big Game Hunter now costs 5 mana instead of 3. Its effect remains the same: destroy a minion with 7 or more attack. 5 mana is a lot, and the blow to tempo you’ll have to endure in order to play it will be sizable. On a turn that a 7-attack minion would be played, BGH and a hero power might be all you can do. So you’ll be able to kill off that big minion, have a body left in your wake, but it won’t have the opportunity to be as big of a shift in board control as it once once. Still, though, it’s a neutral hard removal that leaves behind a body, so Big Game Hunter most likely won’t be a dead card once the patch hits. It just won’t be as ridiculously powerful as it was, especially since so many Whispers of the Old Gods cards have 6 attack instead of 7.
Them’s the card nerfs. People have been anticipating them since the Wild/Standard split was announced a few months back. For the most part, I think they’re basically what we expected. Some cards were unexpectedly nerfed (Blade Flurry & Molten Giant), other cards were perhaps not nerfed as much as people were expecting (Big Game Hunter), and other cards were nerfed more than anticipated (Keeper of the Grove).
Overall, I feel like these changes, as the blog post says, will keep Hearthstone fresh. A lot of these cards won’t see as much play, or won’t have as much of an impact as they previous had. A lot of them are still powerful, and will probably still have a place in the meta. Some will be retired, and surely Whispers of the Old Gods has cards hidden away that will be discovered to be as powerful as these cards once were, and they themselves will be nerfed during the next round of beatings with the nerf bat.
As a side note, once the patch next week goes live, all of these cards can be disenchanted for their full crafting cost. You should do that. Even if you think you may want to have them in your collection later, you can always craft them again, but if some of the changes render the cards useless, you’ll probably be glad you got rid of them.
Still, though, Whispers of the Old Gods, and the ensuing format changes, are shaking up Hearthstone in such a way that has me more excited to play than I have been since the game came out, and we only have a week left before it all unfurls.