So you want to talk about nerfs…

hearthstone 10 - So you want to talk about nerfs...

Hey all,
j alexander hs - So you want to talk about nerfs...

J_Alexander_HS back again today to look at the topic of nerfs. With the new Standard rotation, the meta has, without question, dramatically improved in terms of player experience. Nevertheless, people are talking about nerfs (because when aren't we?), specifically to the two top classes in the meta right now: Warrior and Rogue.

Warrior is pretty straight-forward case in terms of the ire directed at it, and with good reason: the card that is driving many of these complaints is Dr. Boom, one of the remaining hero cards in Standard. There are many layers to the metaphorical onion that are people's complaints with it, and a pretty solid case for a change:

  • It would still see play if it didn't gain armor (but it gains 7)…
  • It would still see play at 10 mana (but it costs 7)…
  • …Because any control deck that lacks access to a button-based hero card like it would get ground out by it. Even going to fatigue, there's no reason to play a control Priest when Control Warrior will beat you with that hero power button almost every time (or if you were a Warrior playing without Boom against a deck that did play it).
  • And we just got done with Deathknights. A fresh start would be appreciated, but we still have some lingering around.

Unless you want that single card defining the game and the space of control decks for the next year, then it's better to just pull the band-aid off and get rid of it somehow, whether through heavy-handed nerfs or full on rotation. Hagatha should join Boom as insurance. You don't want cards that can generate endless streams of resources to be around. We just learned that lesson after a painful year of Frozen Throne and Kobolds.

While Warrior has many powerful cards, Boom is the real standout target among them. It's OK for classes to have powerful tools, but we want to make sure those powerful tools aren't too strong and feel good to play against.

Which brings us nicely to Rogue…

Rogue is currently the best class in the game and, at the highest levels of competition, dominates the field along with Warrior. Over 50% of my games at legend are against one of those two classes. As there is a straightforward reason to deal with the remaining hero cards that aren't called Zul'jin, that means something would have to be done about Rogue as well, as Warrior is currently the only reliable counter to it. If Boom got effectively removed from the game and Warrior got weaker, it might take the breaks off the Rogue train.

Not that this would necessarily happen – maybe you could nerf Boom and it would be fine because Warrior will still be good – but there's good reason to suspect it wouldn't work out so hot.

So if you wanted to nerf Rogue, what do you target? Here the answer is less clear because, unlike Warrior, there isn't the big boogyman card. People have pointed fingers at least five or six different targets consistently that I've seen. I wanted to shed some light on what you should be upset about and how we can keep the game fun.

And I say this as someone with close to 12k Rogue wins and as the person who brought you the Myracle deck in the first place. I love the class, know it inside and out, and don't want to see it get murdered because people selected an incorrect target for a possible change.

Edwin, Preparation, Miscreant, Myra's, Raiding Party, and Rogue

Edwin is one of the most interesting cards in the game for me because, like many of the game's other interesting cards, it usually presents a puzzle to solve: how many of my resources do I invest now – perhaps even sub-optimally – to go in on this one threat? It's a calculated risk because, if the Edwin gets answered, you run the risk of gassing out. There have been huge moments with Edwin on both sides of the aisle, and it makes for a very interesting card with exciting stories.

To get that interesting feeling right, there are two factors that need to be considered, both of which fall of the "risk" side of the equation:

  • (1) How many resources do you risk being "out" if the Edwin fails?
  • (2) How many effective answers to that Edwin exist?

Right now, Edwin can feel like a broken card to some because of the interaction of those two points, but I don't think Edwin is the core of their frustrations. In fact, I think the game would be worse to lose him as a competitively-playable card. With a vocal minority of players out for his blood, this is a very real issue. So let's look into that a bit more.

On the first point, Rogue has recently gotten real good at generating resources. EVIL Miscreant is the new powerhouse on the block, but Raiding Party and – to a lesser extent – Myra's Unstable Element also joined the fun. When you go Prep/Raiding Party/Edwin, if the Edwin gets answered, you aren't actually down cards. You spent three cards, drew three cards (which have synergy with each other), and got a 6/6. This situation can make Edwin feel less interesting because it diminished the perceived risk of the play. The same can be said of using Lackeys as Edwin enablers: being handed a bag of cheap resources that were designed to be expended without much cost allows Rogues to translate them into a risk-free Edwin.

Myra's is a smaller factor in that particular resource war, because that card (while powerful) also comes with unique costs and benefits (not knowing what cards you'll get, whether you'll have enough resources to finish the game and entering fatigue immediately), and it's only a one-of. Nevertheless, it does contribute to the equation, providing a huge spike in resources which grows in proportion to how many you have already spent.


Those cards, to a large extent, help offset the very-real costs of playing cards like Preparation and Edwin. That ability to generate lots of resources consistently can make the interesting cards feel more busted and less interesting.

If cards like Myra's or Raiding Party were weakened to the point of being unplayable, Rogue would still be Rogue, as a class. The identity of the class would remain intact, and Edwin and Prep are large parts of that identity. Losing Prep and/or Edwin would very much make the class feel incomplete and butchered.

This is a lesson we should have learned around the time of Ultimate Infestation and mana ramp in Druid. Handing a player a virtually unlimited number of cards results in game play that can make decisions feel less weighty. Unfortunately Wild Growth and Nourish had to die for the sins of Ultimate Infestation, leaving Druid's identity as a ramping class in shambles and the Druid class/game of Hearthstone is worse for it. This is a mistake we don't want to make again (even if it could – and should – easily be undone).

Look to the resource generation cards and look at cards which aren't core to the identity of a class; not the immediate payout. The game wasn't better because it had Ultimate Infestation and Plague; it was better when it didn't have them, but still had good Druid ramp. Similarly, the game is better with cards like Prep and Edwin than it is with cards like Raiding Party and Evil Miscreant. If I had to choose, I would go after the Raiding Party.

Regarding the second point about answers, I want to consider what commonly-played answers existed to Edwin way back during Vanilla Hearthstone (just Classic and Basic). We had access to, Polymorph, Aldor Peacekeeper, Shadow Word: Death, Sap, Deadly Shot, Earth Shock, Equality (nerfed), Execute (nerfed), Hex (nerfed), Ironbeak Owl (nerfed), Keeper of the Grove (nerfed), Big Game Hunter (nerfed), Hunter's Mark (nerfed twice), Naturalize (rotated), and Frost Nova/Doomsayer in Freeze mage (Ice Block rotated, causing this to largely vanish), not counting other conditional options like Freezing Trap, Shield Slam, and Brawl.

Do you see a pattern in the above cards? The majority of commonly-played answers were weakened substantially, either directly or indirectly. As a result, many of them fell out of the meta, and all the sudden a card they tended to answer got more powerful. Playing a big Edwin was more of risk when lots of answers existed and could be expected. Now, with most of them no longer seeing play, the risk/reward calculations get thrown into disarray.

This brings me to a take-home point from this part: nerfs have unintended consequences.

China tried to kill off their Sparrows, as they were deemed pests for eating grain seeds, they quickly figured out that Sparrows also ate lots of insects. Left unchecked, the insects quickly became a problem that destroyed even more crops than the Sparrows had.

To adapt that example, as the balance team has increasingly tinkered with the Evergreen sets, they began introducing additional problems they hadn't intended, one of which being that Edwin is now substantially less likely to get answered than it used to be because a lot of old removal is weakened. That makes the card less interesting than it should be.

On that last point, I wanted to add as well, since I know this will come up: some people suggest we should be going after these Evergreen cards because, if we don't, Hearthstone will just be the same game from year to year. Classes will still do the same general things, and people get bored with that.

Allow me to add some counterpoint to that notion. First, the classic set has already been changed extensively. 14 cards have been moved to the Hall of Fame, while 12 Basic and about 24 Classic cards have been changed. These changes fell, disproportionately, on the best and most commonly-played cards. If, despite all those changes, things still aren't feeling fresh to you, chances are good you're just burnt out.

If you're burnt out on Hearthstone, no amount of Classic/Basic changes are going to help you, though they very well might drive away invested players who don't like seeing their favorite toys get broken because you're bored.

Second, good Classic/Basic sets keep classes afloat when new expansions or themes aren't kind to them. Think of it as a safety net, or insurance.

Third, it keeps the cost of the game down. F2P players benefit a lot from having a stable classic set. If you want to encourage new growth, hitting the classic set regularly won't help you. It just raises the barriers to entry and sets new players who have invested their limited budget back.


You want to nerf Warrior? That's easy; hit Dr. Boom. The play experience against it sucks and it defines what control decks will be viable (Warrior will be)

You want to nerf Rogue? Hit Raiding Party. It takes away from what makes some of their most interesting cards interesting

Leave Classic/Basic alone. They aren't the crux of your woes.

Leave important class-defining cards alone. Don't let them suffer for new cards that don't improve the game

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