Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Predicting the Hearthstone "Standard" Rebalancing Nerfs - Shaman, Warlock and Warrior

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) (part 2 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: Shaman, Warlock and Warrior.

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 - Shaman is an interesting class overall because the design has been somewhat constrained by the existence of the Overload mechanic. A Shaman has cards which are more powerful than the usual curve on the turn played, but the mana locking on the next turn ends up making Shaman decks pay more over the long run. The short term tempo advantage is not enough to make up for the long term opportunity and mana loss of these cards, and that has tended to make Shaman a little worse than the average class. Plus Shaman has the highest percentage of playable random effect cards as well, which can worsen the tempo loss potential overall.

That makes a review for rebalancing interesting because Overload costs are hard to evaluate when comparing power level of cards to others in Standard and in other classes. There are a couple of common staples which will merit some review, but it's hard to tell if there's much of a target on this class's back.

Hex - Basic

One of the only analogues to this card is Polymorph from Mage, but that card costs one more mana and arguably has slightly more downside as a 1/1 is usually slightly better than a 0/1 taunt in most situations. That means Hex may very likely be the best hard removal spell in the game, potentially a little higher on the power scale than desired long-term. Ironically, this is one of the few Shaman staples without Overload, and adding something like Overload 1 may put this card back in line (again, assuming it ever is considered too strong). With Shaman being a little weak on the control side, I expect this will escape any rebalancing for now.

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

Lightning Storm - Classic

This is the perfect Overload card design example, as well as the maddening RNG for Shaman players and opponents of the class. Lightning Storm can be wildly better than Consecration, which costs 4 mana, but in the long term this ends up costing 5 mana nearly equally split over 2 turns. As alluded to when Consecration/Paladin was discussed, this card has enough upside/downside and randomness to be reasonable even in the Standard Format. Indeed, while it is frustrating to play against like most board clearing cards, if Shaman is login to remain a viable contender in some form other than pure aggro decks, then cards like this need to continue to exist.

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

Doomhammer - Classic

Finally, we come to the iconic Shaman weapon, which is definitely unique enough to fit in the epic rarity slot. Plus this is not the type of card you want to see running rampant in only one class of Arena play. Relative to Standard Format, the Shaman deck which has been doing well on ladder is left mostly intact even with the rotation of Goblins vs. Gnomes and Naxxramas. A huge part of this deck's success is Doomhammer, and that may be the easiest target for rebalancing. Given the strong lore and history of this weapon in Warcraft, it seems more likely that a small adjustment would be made if this ends up on the chopping block in its current form, and it certainly seems to be the most likely of the Shaman cards currently in Basic and Classic.

Likelihood of Rebalancing - Very likely, over 50%.

How to Rebalance - If the primary concern with this card is enabling aggressive strategies too much, a simple adjustment to be 6 mana with 1 or 2 Overload may be enough of a change to keep the weapon from being a reliable finisher at too low a cost for those style of decks. The Windfury is an untouchable unique aspect of this weapon, so I would not expect changes there. If the weapon needs to be weakened further than I give it credit for, dropping the total charges to something like 6 would also be possible. But for now, I predict 6 mana and 1 overload instead of the current 5 and 2 setup.



Overview - Just like Shaman, Warlock is limited in development by a major feature of the class, which is the ability to draw extra cards with the hero power, in this case. That has led Warlock to have some slightly overpowered cards (much like Shaman) but with huge drawbacks in life loss and/or discard. What stands out when looking at Basic and Classic for this class is that there's really not much which is a problem. Blizzard has clearly been really careful with the design of this class thanks to the hero power, and that could mean much less chance of rebalancing now or in the future.

What would be interesting is if the hero power itself ever comes up for rebalancing. That still seems unlikely because Warlock has not totally dominated the ladder metagame, but it's a great design question and food for thought for game designers. For now, let's turn to the cards.

Power Overwhelming - Classic

There's not much different about this card compared to Soulfire, but I kept this one in the discussion because Zoo type creature strategies have been more prevalent over the past two years. Plus this downside is more controllable than a random discard. Losing some of the great Deathrattle cards will make this card worse, as there was nothing better than to Power Overwhelming a Nerubian Egg, turning a 4/6 attacker immediately into a 4/4 permanently. The only potential problem with this card is it helps encourage a big one-turn-kill type finish in an overwhelming tempo/aggro deck. Those will be disfavored in the new Standard likely even more than when decks like Miracle Rogue and Patron Warrior were nerfed, but for now, this is not completely crazy even though it can come out of a Dark Peddler.

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

Doomgaurd - Classic

Another aggressive card seeing a lot of play in different types of Warlock decks is Doomguard, which is not ridiculously undercosted considering the brutal drawback when cards are in hand, as they often are with Warlock's hero power. Aggressive decks will always have potential options for a finisher, and there's no real problem with this card when comparing it to other options or even Power Overwhelming. Unless another Voidcaller (rotating out) is made to cheat Demons into play, the risk of this being degenerate will remain slim. This card only has no downside in one particular type of deck or at a very deep stage in the game, and those types of cards don't tend to warp future card development or a format.

Likelihood of Rebalancing - Slim to none.

Lord Jaraxxus - Classic

One of the more interesting test cases for rebalancing is this one, as Jaraxxus was perhaps the only regularly-played legendary that ended up overshadowed with the strength of Mal'Ganis when Goblins vs. Gnomes was printed. Most decks that can wait around to play either of these ended up playing both, along with Voidcaller to cheat them into play (of course Jaraxxus is merely a regular 3/15 in that case). This card is definitely a bit on the strong side thanks to the 15 life reset, even compared to the other class legendaries, but it is far from unbeatable at 9 mana. Plus when Mal'Ganis is gone again, there's no reason why this card can't be allowed to shine once again. It's also unique enough to not limit any further card designs in any significant manner. It only reaches above "Slim to none" in the likelihood below because it's a bit complicated for new players to understand and deal with for a Classic card.

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



Overview - Unlike the other two classes covered today, Warrior does not have any huge limits in the way of special mechanics or strong hero powers. That has enabled somewhat of a diversity of decks to shine in this class, including the long-standing Control Warrior as well as aggressive weapon and charge based strategies, and midrange Patron Warrior varieties. With none of these running away with the mantle of top deck in the format following the change to Warsong Commander a few months ago, Warrior appears by default to be in a very healthy place heading into Standard.

Of course, that does NOT mean there are no cards to discuss. If anything, Warrior almost merits more than 4 cards to be discussed, as other powerful options like Shield Slam can be ridiculous in view of the hero power and other cards which create armor in the class to synergze with this. But that card and a couple others were outshine by potential better options for rebalancing in my opinion, so keep Shield Slam on the watch list for now and let's look at the more likely options for immediate rebalancing.

Execute- Basic

The predecessor to Shield Slam, Execute has found a regular home as the cheap effective removal for Warriors (particularly the slower or control variety). With so many ways to get a stray single damage on a creature in the Warrior set of cards, this often turns into a 1-mana Power Word: Death for this class. Indeed, it kind of makes Shield Slam feel duplicative and like more of a fixed version of this card, if it is believed to be too powerful. If this card gets the axe, it will likely be because Blizzard needs to cut down on the 1-mana removal options in the class and force Warriors to use different types of cards for that effect. For now, I think this card likely remains as-is until (and if) Warrior proves to be a problem in the Standard Format. Plus there are better options for slowing down Warrior right now.

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

Battle Rage - Classic

Here we have another swingy card that could draw 3 or more cards at once, solely for the low cost of 2 mana. That puts it in line with cards like Divine Favor and Northshire Cleric, which have received very close scrutiny in this series of articles in view of the ridiculous power level of drawing so many cards at once. To be fair, I'm mildly surprised this escaped the rebalancing when Patron Warrior needed to be removed from the top spot in the format, e.g., when Warsong Commander became irrelevant forever. This is really the engine that drove the combo power of that deck, and it remains just as powerful today. That seems to be an easy target for an immediate adjustment.

Likelihood of Rebalancing - Very likely, over 50%.

How to Rebalance - Although this card requires some setup, that setup is easy to do with the natural tools available to Warrior decks. Thus, while one option would be to change it to say draw one card for each damaged minion (excluding the hero), it seems more likely to receive a bump in mana cost to avoid the one-turn-kill potential. I think it settles out at 4 mana, or 5 mana is Blizzard is feeling particularly bad about card draw engines like this one.

Fiery War Axe - Basic

An icon of how beginning players learn Warrior is with the weapons widely available more in this class than any others. But one potential problem arrives when one of the original two weapons is still considered the best in the class (and possibly the game). That also makes it hard to design reliable alternative options at 2 mana which Warrior players will actually consider. Most two mana weapons have been 2/2 with a potential upside, which is worse usually than plain old 3/2. This is just objectively better in many cases, and that may require a small nerf to avoid the class all about weapons being stuck in a rut. I think Blizzard will try another couple small cost weapons in the class before making a drastic change, though.

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

Grommash Hellscream - Classic

Another class, another legendary from Classic to discuss. Garrosh's father comes in with fury, at least if he is enraged. That will be less automatic with Death's Bite rotating out of the format, thereby hitting the value in this as a reliable finisher card. While this is certainly strong, Blizzard has found interesting design space for completely different styles of legendary cards in this class (Varian Wrynn, for example). Plus, when comparing this to Tirion or Antonidas, Grommash falls far short of being the best card in the Classic set. That, plus a high mana cost, means this card will likely avoid rebalancing.

Likelihood of Rebalancing - Slim to none.


In summary, these final three classes being discussed result in only two more total cards being added to the likely (at least 50%) rebalanced list. That's 8 candidates overall before we even reach neutral minions, and you know there will be good discussion points there as well. The more you look at these cards, the more it looks like the "between 2 and 20 cards" estimation was pretty accurate, if my own predictions are to be believed in any form. If I missed any obvious potential cards for rebalancing, let me know in the comments below.

Stay tuned for the next article in this series, where the neutral minions will be discussed! Please share your own thoughts on Shaman, Warlock and Warrior rebalancing, as well as the other classes already addressed.

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