Monday, February 22, 2016

Predicting the Hearthstone "Standard" Rebalancing Nerfs - Paladin, Priest and Rogue

As was announced earlier this month, Hearthstone will be adding formats to the constructed part of the game.  Hearthstone has a growing card pool that now requires multiple formats to ensure freshness of competitive formats and accessibility for new players. This will also involve a rebalancing of several Basic and Classic cards.

As a reminder, this series of posts (part 1 here) will focus on predicting what cards will be changed, and for the ones most likely to change, what the predicted change will be. 

In today's prediction of the Standard Format rebalancing, I cover three more classes in Hearthstone: Paladin, Priest and Rogue. 

In the discussion below, I look at several potential problematic or more powerful cards in each of these classes, with a consideration of the current metagame and strong decks that will remain Standard Format legal when the first rotation happens this spring.  I have endeavored to be conservative in picking cards for discussion, including more cards than not to try and identify all possible rebalancing angles.

(All card images herein contain copyrighted and other material owned by Blizzard Entertainment)



Overview - Long time Hearthstone players will recall that Paladin was one of the classes that struggled to find any consistent success on ladder before some course corrections were made in Goblins vs. Gnomes and Naxxramas. Unfortunately, with those cards leaving Standard Format (and most of the Secret Paladin deck with it), what is left may not be a solid base for future Standard decks. Indeed, outside the one legendary card available, almost everything else in Basic and Classic is pretty average and, in most cases, below par.

As a result, I will discuss only three cards here.  The second one was picked over Consecration, but it shows that the class as a whole is pretty underpowered in these initial sets.

Divine Favor - Classic

Shout out to a law school friend Mike for pointing out my omission of this card in my first draft of this article.  I had overlooked this card partially because it has proven to be a swing card that often does nothing, as much as it does great things, particularly outside of truly aggressive Paladin decks. This card was nerfed once already from 2 mana to 3, which lowers the likelihood it needs rebalanced again. On average, this probably nets 2 cards, which is in line with Arcane Intellect, the standard card draw engine of Mage. I think cards like this need to exist to balance out control strategies (which can still play around this card, for what it's worth), and given how weak Paladin is across the rest of Basic/Classic, the potential big swings of Divine Favor may not be too powerful. However, the fact that an aggressive Paladin deck can net 3 or more cards in one fell swoop with little downside does have the potential of making it difficult to encourage other types of Paladin strategies to be effective. If I've learned anything from other card games like Magic, it is that broken or potentially broken card draw engines tend to be the most disruptive and most likely to be banned/rebalanced.  Thus, this card has to be on the short list for Blizzard, in all likelihood.

Likelihood of Rebalancing - Very likely, higher than 50%.

How to Rebalance - The only real option is to make the mana cost be prohibitive, preventing aggressive strategies from being able to reload and drop more threats on a single turn. Whether that means 5 mana or more, this card should find a significant bump in requirements (but the general concept of card draw based on the opponent is inventive, and should still remain until it proves broken at a higher mana cost, in my opinion).

Truesilver Champion - Basic

The better weapon given to Paladins as part of the Basic cards earned during leveling remains one of the best weapons for this class, outside the Ashbringer that comes out of Tirion Fordring. It is slightly more powerful than the basic Warrior weapons as far as benefit for cost, and more in line with Death's Bite, the most played Warrior weapon. However, this has not stifled interesting alternative weapon designs, including Sword of Justice and Coghammer, from also seeing play in competitive decks. In view of this, and the greater depth of weapons overall for Warrior, I do not see any reason that this card will see rebalancing.

Likelihood of Rebalancing - Slim to None.

Tirion Fordring - Classic

Much like with the only Legendary rarity card discussed in the first article of this series (Archmage Antonidas), Tirion has always been the best Paladin legendary card by a long shot. If an opponent does not save a silence for this minion, he likely will remove at least two creatures while then leaving a 5/3 Ashbringer weapon for the Paladin to do some serious damage with. The fact that all of these abilities can be largely nullified with a silence does help his cause for avoiding the rebalancing process, but it has become clear that it is difficult to make another Paladin creature be anywhere near as good. That could be a limit on design, albeit a very small one. If Paladin looks like it will remain a top deck in Standard in internal testing as it is right now with Secret Paladin, I expect this to be the sole Paladin card which will merit a slight reduction in power.

Likelihood of Rebalancing - 50/50.

How to Rebalance - Although we have yet to come to Big Game Hunter, if that is going to remain a thing in Standard, then maybe making Tirion a 7/5 would be a small enough change to make him vulnerable to yet another commonly-played foil or tech card. Alternatively, the Ashbringer could be modified to something a little weaker, like a 4/3 or a 6/2, to bring him closer in line with the strength of other good legendaries. I think the latter change is more likely, as the Ashbringer is really what puts this card over the top in my opinion, and that's only if the team wants to change this card.



Overview - Perhaps the only class consistently worse in constructed Hearthstone than Paladin over the first few months of the game was Priest. It was so bad that some pro players and streamers made a reputation out of figuring out how to win with this very underpowered set of class cards. That tends to indicate that there won't be anything to look at for rebalancing, especially using the assumption that no cards will be improved or "buff"-ed in this process. Until dragons became more powerful in more recent expansions that will remain Standard Format legal, Priest was not really a good place to be playing constructed.

However, just like for Paladin and Hunter before this, I have identified a few of the strongest cards that still find consistent play for discussion here. Really the only other card which merited any attention whatsoever was Mind Control, which was already nerfed a couple years ago from an 8-mana card to 10-mana, thereby leaving no actual room for further adjustment.

Northshire Cleric - Basic

Any card that has the potential of drawing multiple cards at a single time has the potential to be broken. One analogous card to Northshire Cleric in a much different setting was Starving Buzzard before it went from 2 mana to 5 mana over a year ago. Cleric tends to be a big enabler in Control Priest strategies, and until a 2/3 dragon for 1 was provided (for Dragon-based decks), this card saw no competition for the 1-drop spot of Priest decks except maybe for Zombie Chow. If Blizzard is rebalancing cards to try and force players to alter the sets of cards used in Standard Format, the ubiquitous nature of this card in Priest decks may mean it is time for a redesign to avoid having a low-cost creature be so game-altering in many match ups.

Likelihood of Rebalancing - 50/50.

How to Rebalance - If this card were to be included on a rebalancing, I would suspect a dramatic change like Starving Buzzard. The reason for this would be to open up the 1-mana slot for alternative Priest minion designs while also avoiding making the Cleric useless (which reducing the toughness statistic from 3 would likely do). Thus, a 3 mana 1/4 version of this creature would bring the power level down while maintaining the spirit of the card for a future generation, and it would also fill a gap left in the 3 mana slot that took forever to fix until Dark Cultist and Deathlord showed up, but botho f these are rotating back out of Standard.

Shadow Word: Death - Basic

This card is kind of a "feels bad man" card when the opponent spends a bunch of mana to put out a big creature only to have it nullified for three mana. But unlike the cries about Big Game Hunter, which does largely the same thing with a 4/2 body attached, this spell leaves no minion on board. That fact alone, and the fact that it is limited to a class all about control, means this card makes sense to keep alongside its counterpart Shadow Word: Pain, which kills small minions.

Likelihood of Rebalancing - Slim to None.

Cabal Shadow Priest - Classic

I'm not one for having to have gold cards, but just look at the nifty different art appearance on Cabal Shadow Priest. Anyway, this is yet another Priest card which nullifies or takes things away from the opponent. Combined with Shrinkmeister, this is an 8-mana Mind Control for any creature with 4 power or less, with a combined 7/7 of stats to boot across the other two creatures. But Shrinkmeister is gone in the new Standard as it is in Goblins vs. Gnomes, which may be the saving grace for this Priest epic. When limited to only creatures with less than 2 power, it is still a powerful card but not overwhelmingly so. Indeed, it is kind of like a smaller cousin to legendary Sylvanas Windrunner, and that's probably still OK even though it can be terribly annoying to play against with an aggressive deck.

Likelihood of Rebalancing - Not very likely, less than 50%.



Overview - Unlike the other two classes discussed in this article, Rogue was one of the most successful and hated decks back when Classic and Basic made up a majority of the card pool for Hearthstone. Miracle Rogue was a dominant strategy in the hands of a great Rogue player, and it is one of the reasons cards like Loatheb became reality in Naxxramas. However, several cards enabling the combo finish of Miracle Rouge and the strong lead up to that have been nerfed already, including Gadgetzan Auctioneer and Leeroy Jenkins, among others.

That led Rogue to become much more reliant on tempo plays with the "combo" ability and finishing with different cards like Tinker's Sharpsword Oil, which, by the way, is gone in this rotation as well when the Standard Format begins. Thus, despite what may have been expected based on the history of the game to be a target class for rebalancing cards, there's not really a ton of problems here at the current juncture.

Backstab - Basic

One of the defining features of a Rogue other than weapon buffing is the Combo mechanic, and perhaps the biggest useful enabler of such tactics is this removal spell. While Druid and Priest have similar spells and have to pay 1 mana for a similar effect, Rogue gets it for free, but with the caveat that the 2 damage can only target minions, and undamaged minions at that. That and the investment of a card makes this spell pretty much in line with the power level of those other class removal options. Furthermore, Rogue would not be the same without some decent Combo enablers, so I suspect that will keep Backstab as a staple of this class for years to come without making any problems.

Likelihood of Rebalancing - Slim to None.

Preparation - Classic

The more interesting of the zero-mana Rogue cards to discuss is the epic rarity card Preparation, which also enables Combo as well as cheap big spells like Vanish and Sprint. Much like Backstab, this has become a staple support card for what Rogue is, and it is in line with other fast mana for a card spells like Innervate. While that is a high power level, it does not seem completely unreasonable when limited to spells which can largely only come from class cards currently. It is notable that this card escaped the hammer when other staples of Miracle Rogue did not in previous nerfs, so while I do think there's a non-zero chance this gets changed slightly, it is probably safe so long as we aren't overlooking a good Standard Format Rogue deck that has not been figured out beyond the existence of Oil Rogue right now.

Likelihood of Rebalancing - Not very likely, less than 50%.

Sprint - Basic

Again, a recurring theme of rebalancing is identifying cards which appear in almost every deck of a class, and also identifying types of cards (including drawing multiple cards at once) that tend to create the most problems in a card game. Sprint has the most raw power of card drawing in the game, but it also comes at a very steep cost. However, with the existence of Preparation in this class, the potential combination of these cards could prove to be slightly too powerful, at which point it would be likely to see this come down to 3 cards or go up in mana cost. For now, it's probably fine based on requiring two cards to be broken, but it is likely on a watch list for future rebalancing.

Likelihood of Rebalancing - Not very likely, less than 50%.


All told, these second three classes have resulted in another three cards which I identify as at least 50/50 candidates for rebalancing, bringing the total up to 6 overall.  It will be interesting to see if I overlooked any cards such as in Rogue, as the class was strong back when Classic and Basic made up a higher percentage of the card pool available.

Stay tuned for the next article in this series, where the final three classes will be discussed (and then later a look at neutral minions)! Please share your own thoughts on Paladin, Priest, and Rogue rebalancing in the comments below, as I'd love to hear feedback and differing opinions.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Predicting the Hearthstone "Standard" Rebalancing Nerfs - Druid, Hunter and Mage

As was announced earlier this month, Hearthstone will be adding formats to the constructed part of the game.  Hearthstone has a growing card pool that now requires multiple formats to ensure freshness of competitive formats and accessibility for new players.

Thus, Standard Format will be born when the first large expansion of 2016 is released, presumably in the next couple months.  At that point, all non-Classic and non-Basic cards (those are staying in Standard) from before the previous calendar year will rotate out of Standard.  In short, the adventure cards from Naxxramas and the Goblins vs. Gnomes expansion will no longer be legal in this new Standard Format.

The game as it currently stands, with everything legal, will continue as the Wild Format.  This will be the Eternal (Vintage/Legacy) type format, for those with Magic the Gathering backgrounds. 

Because the decision was made to leave Basic (cards earned by leveling heroes) and Classic (original set of Hearthstone) cards legal in Standard, the development team at Blizzard has indicated that several of these older cards will need to be adjusted/rebalanced to keep the format and classes lively and fresh.  In other words, any overpowered cards that would tend to make it hard to design new and interesting ways to play a class will likely face imminent "nerfs," e.g., adjustments to make them weaker and more in line with the design goals of the Standard Format. 

More specifically, Ben Brode was quoted in an interview as saying "more than two but less than 20 cards" will receive nerf treatment, and "buffs" or improvements to cards will not be occurring at this time.  That line is setting expectations, so let's assume for the sake of argument 8 to 12 cards will be receiving some adjustments.

This series of posts will focus on predicting what cards will be changed, and for the ones most likely to change, what the predicted change will be.  I envision that this will be a fun thought experiment for anyone who both plays Hearthstone (or card games) and anyone who likes to design or balance games. 

Without further ado, let's get started.


In today's prediction of the Standard Format rebalancing, I cover the first three classes in Hearthstone: Druid, Hunter, and Mage. 

In the discussion below, I look at several potential problematic or more powerful cards in each of these classes, with a consideration of the current metagame and strong decks that will remain Standard Format legal when the first rotation happens this spring.  I have endeavored to be conservative in picking cards for discussion, including more cards than not to try and identify all possible rebalancing angles.

(All card images herein contain copyrighted and other material owned by Blizzard Entertainment)



Overview - There has long been one very standard build of druid decks that find success on constructed ladder play, and that is a midrange druid with mana ramp cards that eventually lead into the Savage Roar-Force of Nature combo (9 mana for 14 damage from an empty board state, much more damage if any pre-existing creatures are on board already). It's clear that other concepts like Beast Druid have suffered from how good this midrange build is, and many of the cards for that midrange deck are in Basic and Standard. 

This is the only class that is absolutely guaranteed to see major changes, as Ben Brode has mentioned these cards in Druid multiple times when the rebalancing topic comes up. Let's look at the potential culprits.

Savage Roar - Basic

One half of the omnipresent Druid combo is this card, which takes any board full of creatures (thanks to Force of Nature or not) and makes it an instant death for the opponent. That has led to some interesting token-style builds as well, which may be worth encouraging. However, Druid has plenty of other buff spells and this does not fit in as an overpowered/under-costed version of Bloodlust for this class. Thus, this card is likely headed for a serious nerf.

Likelihood of Rebalancing - Almost Certain

How to Redesign - There's two simple options here: increase the mana cost to 4 (5 would be too much because of Bloodlust) or reduce the effect. One potential reduced effect would be to remove the hero from the bonus, and another would be to reduce the benefit to +1 attack. But that would be worse than Power of the Wild, which seems like a poor re-design. If this card is to be effectively killed, that would do it. However, to keep it interesting I will say an increase to 4 mana and the exclusion of the hero from the benefit.

Druid of the Claw - Classic

Another card that seems to be in every Druid deck is this one, as both options are solid creatures for the cost of 5 mana. However, the different forms or choice is something Druid does well as a theme, and this card is actually less powerful than Sludge Belcher as far as overall minion stats go. While Sludge Belcher is more of a problem because it is available to all classes, big taunt minions seems alright for Druid. It can be and has been designed around, as with Sludge Belcher.

Likelihood of Rebalancing - Slim to None

Force of Nature - Classic

The other half of the Druid combo, this card is just like many other epic rarity cards because it seems quirky and could find some different uses. With the relatively minor change in functionality I propose will happen to Savage Roar, this card will also need to be changed to avoid any hint of the combo knocking out other interesting design spaces for the class. Hearthstone is all about creature combat and removal, and I think this could be made an interesting alternative tool to Starfall and Swipe.

Likelihood of Rebalance - More likely than not, over 50%

How to Redesign - The most interesting option I have seen is cutting this card in half, making it cost three mana and summon three 1/1 trees with charge. However, there's plenty of small token generators and that is a bit too much like Muster for Battle. I think the simple change is to increase the mana cost to 7 (which likely reduces the combo likelihood to nil), or keep the mana cost lower and make the Treants not capable of attacking heroes.  That converts this to an interesting piece of removal rather than a combo piece, right where an epic should be.

Ancient of Lore - Classic

Much like Druid of the Claw, this epic rarity card for Druid sees play in almost every Druid deck currently.  Of course, that is partially a result of the two modes of this battlecry-type effect being right in line with the normal strategy of Druid with the combo cards included from above: that being, the need to draw both pieces of the combo and the need to stay alive long enough to play the combo. The health side of this is on par with comparable options in Paladin and neutral minions, but there's not a lot of minions which enable card draw, let alone multiple cards. That side of this card may prove to be a touch too powerful, and if so, then I would expect a minor change to the mana cost (8, for example) would be warranted. All cards that draw multiple cards will be subject to high scrutiny in this review and future Standard rebalancing reviews, as that tends to be the most broken type of card in cards games.  However, this seems more like a "wait and see" if it's a problem card in 2016 before action is taken now, particularly in view of the bigger problems noted above in this class.

Likelihood of Rebalancing - Not very likely, less than 50%.



Overview - Despite supporting a strong aggressive Face Hunter strategy as well as a midrange beast-style strategy since the game's inception, the Hunter class has been brought into check by other classes becoming more powerful over time. While there's a risk that Hunter could rise again when a rotation occurs, a review of the Basic and Classic class cards for Hunter reveals that there's not a ton which could be considered overpowered.

Thus, the examples below are taken more from the context of cards which have consistently seen play in most Hunter decks over the past two years, rather than truly problematic cards which have stifled more recent Hunter cards in expansions that will remain Standard Format legal.

Explosive Trap/Freezing Trap - Classic/Classic

Let's begin with the two most used secrets for the Hunter class. The reason these have seen more play than others like Misdirection and Snake Trap is because they fully support the typical aggressive or tempo roles that Hunter plays well. There's zero option to change the mana cost on these, as Hunter secrets are forever set at two mana. Furthermore, any revision (other than maybe altering the penalty on freezing trap to be less mana-intensive) would render these cards pretty unplayable. Secrets like this can be played around by smart players, and there's enough other secrets like Bear Trap which see play that make these not really problematic.

Likelihood of Rebalancing - Slim to None

Animal Companion - Basic

Another card that sees play in almost every style of Hunter deck is Animal Companion, which gives a  random one of three beasts: a 4/4 taunt bear, a 4/2 has boar, or a 2/4 buff lion which gives all other minions +1 attack. In some cases this can be huge value, as other similar analogues (Ogre Brute as a 4/4 for 3 mana, Arcane Golem as a 4/2 haste for 3 mana, etc.) are weaker or have drawbacks. But the random nature and unpredictability of what comes out of this spell makes it largely fair and balanced, as it could easily provide what the Hunter does not want or need. A solid card, not overpowered, and the beast theme will always be welcome in Hunter.

Likelihood of Rebalancing - Slim to None.

The only other card that even came on the radar for discussion was Savannah Highmane, but the fact that it can be silenced and it's original body is weaker than the terrible Boulderfist Ogre makes this nothing too far out of the ordinary, much like the rest of the Hunter Classic and Basic cards. There's just not much to see here.



Overview - With Mage, the class appears mostly healthy in view of multiple major decks finding success in recent months.  These decks include Mech Mage, an aggressive style; Tempo Mage, a midrange deck that tries to out-value the opponent over the course of the game; and Freeze Mage, a control/combo style deck. It's a good sign when a class can support all types of decks reliably, and that may protect the Basic and Classic cards from significant rebalancing.

Much like Hunter and beasts, there's no doubt Mage will continue to synergize with spells and have some of the best spells in the game. That's fine because every class has to have an identity and Mage has one that has not proven to be overpowered or dominating the meta at any time. So while there's a lot of cards here that could/should merit some consideration, there's nothing that stands out as an immediate problem like in Druid.

Sorcerer's Apprentice - Classic

The first card on this list going by mana cost may end up being the most controversial #take in this first article. I suspect this card will be overlooked by most thanks to the proliferation of 2/3 and 3/2 creatures which have some sort of benefit attached (Knife Juggler, etc.). However, considering that Mage has been and always will be about spells, this particular benefit of reduction of spell cost runs a significant risk of powering up combos and getting out of control in a tempo game (if the Apprentice is not dealt with). Putting such an ability on a 3/2 for 2, which already has favorable stats for the mana cost, seems like a bit too much to reliably design other 2-drops around. In view of all these factors, I believe this is the card most likely in Mage to get a surprising minor adjustment.

Likelihood of Rebalancing - 50/50.

How to Redesign: As mentioned above, this does not have to be drastic. One option would be to increase the mana cost by 1, but I actually think the more inventive way to deal with this is to make the creature smaller (I think the potential should still exist for a combo when a player has 10 mana, even if it is hard to pull off). At 3/1 or perhaps 2/1, the card would be more in line with those small creatures having large ancillary benefits, which will likely remain the same following the Standard Format Rebalancing (Bloodmage Thalanos, for example).

Ice Block - Classic

Just like with the Hunter secrets, there's obviously no room for Mage secrets to receive an adjustment in mana cost. These are generally more powerful thanks to the higher mana cost compared to the Paladin and Hunter counterparts, and that is fine. However, this is the most quirky (surprise,'s epic rarity where all those cards seem to be) of the Mage secrets and it may single-handedly enable Freeze Mage control strategies to continue running rampant in the Standard Format. This is also perhaps the quintessential "feels bad man" card when losing a game to a Mage because of the card being played. Thus, I bet this gets a pretty close look, and stays on a watch list for future balancing changes, even though I do not believe it needs an adjustment at this time. Moreover, it will be hard to figure out how to rebalance this card without rendering it useless, which I doubt the development team wants to do.

Likelihood of Rebalancing - Not very likely, less than 50%.

Flamestrike - Basic

This card comes up because it remains one of the best mass removal spells in the entire game, and it overlaps a bit with Blizzard, which is also in the Basic/Classic sets. If nothing else, I hope Flamestrike and some other Basic cards receive rarities (even if not on the face of the card with colored gems) so that it doesn't keep showing up at common in Arena draft while other mass removal is much more rare for other classes. However, that's not really a nerf or balancing change within the confines of this article series. The mana cost is very high for this and that makes it commensurate with the other similar spells in the game, significantly reducing a rebalancing.

Likelihood of Rebalancing: Slim to None.

Archmage Antonidas - Classic

The final card seriously considered in Mage is the first legendary rarity card, as Hunter and Druid do not present anything that sees heavy play. On the other hand, Antonidas is a staple of many Mage decks as a finisher. This particular legendary has proven much more effective than later ones, although Flame Leviathan was pretty much a joke on arrival. That being said, the fact that Fireball costs 4 mana and can't be case more than twice a turn makes Antonidas (in the absence of other enablers like Sorcerer's Apprentice) not terribly unbalanced. A strong finisher, for sure, but the opponent usually has a chance to respond before anything goes crazy. On that basis alone, and the fact that any tweaks would likely be minor/insignificant, this likely escapes rebalancing.

Likelihood of Rebalancing: Not very likely, less than 50%.


All told, these first three classes have resulted in only three cards which I identify as at least 50/50 candidates for rebalancing.  That may seem like a lot and on pace for much more than 10 overall, but I suspect when deep dives are taken into other classes, not many have the problems like Druid currently does for Standard Format moving forward.

Stay tuned for the next article in this series, where three more classes will be discussed! Please share your own thoughts on Druid, Hunter, and Mage rebalancing in the comments below, as I'd love to hear feedback and differing opinions.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Character Insight - New Home!

As a part of archiving all of my segments online (independent from the This Week in Trek show, for those who want just the segments or need to refer back to one), I moved all of my script posts to a new blog.  Please give a follow to the blog below if interested.  Thanks!

Also, the audio for newer segments is on under my username BuckeyeFitzy. Eventually, the older Character Insight will also be archived and moved, so stay tuned. Enjoy!

All new posts will show up on that blog, and this blog will remain for gaming focused posts.