Thursday, April 21, 2016

Hearthstone "Standard" Rebalancing Nerfs Announced: Checking in on the Predictions

In February, when Standard Format was announced by the Blizzard team that makes Hearthstone, the transition to the new format was also announced to involve a rebalancing of several Basic and Classic cards. Based on lead designer Ben Brode's public comments, I predicted 10-12 cards in these sets would end up adjusted in this first of what may be annual passes through the evergreen Standard Format sets.

This week, Blizzard announced one week before the Whispers of the Old Gods expansion release what those rebalancing nerfs would be. Let's check in on my predictions, and then give some brief thoughts about the actual changes and the effect it will have on my preferred decks.

The predictions

Here are links to the series of posts (part 1 here) (part 2 here) (part 3 here) (part 4 here) that discussed many of the Classic and Basic cards, including an analysis of likelihood to be changed and a proposed re-design for the cards most likely to be changed. The list below is the summary from the final article in the series, even though many other cards were discussed:

More Than 50% Likelihood, or Almost Certain

Savage Roar - Druid
Force of Nature - Druid
Divine Favor - Paladin
Doomhammer - Shaman
Battle Rage - Warrior
Leper Gnome - Neutral
Knife Juggler - Neutral
Alexstraza - Neutral

50/50 Likelihood

Sorcerer's Apprentice - Mage
Tirion Fordring - Paladin
Northshire Cleric - Priest
Big Game Hunter - Neutral
Baron Geddon - Neutral

The Actual Rebalancing Nerfs

Ancient of Lore - Option to draw 2 cards now just draws 1 card
Force of Nature - Cost reduced to 5 mana, the three 2/2 treants summoned no longer have charge
Keeper of the Grove - now a 2/2 minion instead of a 2/4
Ironbeak Owl - Cost increased to 3 mana
Big Game Hunter - Cost increased to 5 mana
Hunter's Mark - Cost increased to 1 mana
Blade Flurry - Cost increased to 4 mana, now only deals damage to enemy minions (not opponent)
Knife Juggler - now a 2/2 minion instead of a 3/2
Leper Gnome - now a 1/1 minion instead of a 2/1
Arcane Golem - now a 4/4 minion instead of a 4/2, but no longer has charge
Molten Giant - Cost increased to 25 mana
Master of Disguise - Battlecry changed to give a friendly minion stealth only until your next turn

Prediction Results and My Thoughts

I'll start with the good news: Blizzard adjusted 12 cards overall, which was right on the 10-12 prediction in my series of articles. From there, the results go a bit south.

Only 3 of the 8 cards I identified as high likelihood rebalancing targets actually showed up on the list, and then only 1 of the 5 cards listed as 50/50 chance.  That's 4 correct out of 12, which is not terribly great. So what went wrong?

Clearly one item which Blizzard felt needed adjusting and I did not consider in detail was the silence minions. It is totally understandable that if Ironbeak Owl needed to be changed, then so did one or more of the others (in this case, Keeper of the Grove). Honestly, the change to Keeper feels slightly heavy-handed when comparing that card to Spellbreaker, so maybe Spellbreaker should have also been adjusted upwardly in mana cost.

Another area where I missed the boat was cards which mainly only enable OTK game-ending combinations (other than Force-Roar, which we all knew was being adjusted).  The reasoning for adjusting cards like Arcane Golem and Blade Flurry make sense, but I didn't see either as a real problem since the use cases were pretty narrow in my experience.

That leaves the small outliers like Hunter's Mark and Master of Disguise (the latter had been rumored to be needing adjustment as well, even though it did not see any play currently), which are harder to predict, and two cards I considered but did not pull the trigger on, Ancient of Lore and Molten Giant. With all the potential focus on Druid, I thought if Blizzard would adjust any card drawing engine cards, it would more likely be from other classes (plus I think Battle Rage and Divine Favor are just better cards overall). I analyzed Sea Giant instead of Molten Giant, but the key difference there is that Blizzard does not like the ability to drop free Giants and swing a late game in somewhat of an OTK fashion, which Molten Giant did better than Sea Giant.  I'm not surprised a Giant was adjusted, but I was not willing to pull the trigger on Sea Giant, which turned out to be correct.

Other than the card drawing engines in my prediction list, the only real miss I see in the actual nerfs is some change to Freeze Mage, or mages in general. The Mage cards revealed for Whispers appear to be very strong, which means those decks (and Freeze Mage in particular) might become the new Patron Warrior or Secret Paladin. It makes me wonder if Sorcerer's Apprentice should not have also been reduced to a 2/2 or something similar, as that seems like a change consistent with the likes of other minions changed in this pass. Plus Alexstraza helps enable OTK combos often, so that card seems like a natural inclusion when knocking out items like Blade Flurry and Arcane Golem. There's always next year, but regardless, I will enjoy continuing to play these cards!

As for the changes themselves, I think Blizzard did a nice job of not nerfing most of these into totally unplayable cards (only a couple exceptions like Arcane Golem). Sure, it may be that many of them will end up not being selected in most decks, but they still are competitive with other cards in their mana slots and will deserve potential selection in future deck choices. Plus they are still useful in Arena as well. 

Those types of changes, unlike the ones we've seen to cards like Warsong Commander, are much better for the player base invested in these cards (while also achieving the goals of Blizzard.  So despite my poor prediction record and my penchant for more drastic changes in my prediction pieces, I applaud the changes in the manner they were actually made.

Plus, only a few more days until Standard Format and new cards...HYPE!

Don't forget to disenchant many of these cards when the patch drops next week, as you can always re-craft the ones you need to use for the same price later. For free-to-play players, this is a great opportunity for increased dust value at a critical time heading into a new expansion.

Effect on My Current Stable of Decks

With Standard Format on the horizon, I also took a look this week at the 12 decks in my rotation of constructed decks to see how many cards each would be losing (or having nerfed in the list above) next week.  I'll save the overall totals for the next post since this one is already very long, but I do want to share the total number of the nerfed cards I was using, to illustrate a quick point.

For reference, the decks I am using include: control warrior, secret paladin, freeze mage, agro shaman, dragon hunter, zoo warlock, midrange combo druid, dragon priest, patron warrior, Reno warlock, combo priest, and midrange paladin. Here's the summary:

Knife Juggler, Ironbeak Owl, and Big Game Hunter show up in 3 of these 12 decks.
Leper Gnome shows up in 2 of the 12 decks.
Arcane Golem is a 1-of in Reno Warlock.
Ancient of Lore, Force of Nature, and Keeper of the Grove are all in Midrange Combo Druid.

So while 8 of the 12 cards adjusted do show up somewhere, and 2 more are in Rogue which I don't currently play, the impact is fairly minimal across the board. The aggressive decks will adjust to the neutral minion changes, and the "tech" cards like Owl and BGH likely still will be run in the changed form.  In other words, other than Midrange Combo Druid, these rebalancing nerfs will not significantly alter the decks or play styles I currently choose to enjoy. So at the end of the day, there's no huge reason to complain about the changes!

Stay tuned for the next post, when I elaborate on this further and look at total numbers of cards lost in these archtypes, which represent many of the top decks on constructed ladder meta reports heading into Standard Format.

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