Yesterday, Blizzard dropped a Hearthstone balance update that could easily qualify as the most significant set of nerfs the game has ever seen. The Druid class, which from Hearthstone’s launch has been defined by the ability to “ramp” up its Mana pool and play more expensive cards at a faster rate than the opponent, will see changes to two of the most important tools in its arsenal. Along with changes to a few deck-defining Rogue, Paladin, and Shaman cards, these updates are flipping the metagame on its head, especially considering that prior to the changes, Druid was one of the strongest and most consistent classes in the game.
According to Blizzard, the nerfs will focus on “improving the long-term health” of the game by decreasing the power of cards that have been considered “must-include” in certain classes from the game’s launch.
The timing of these changes is also worth noting, as Blizzard usually telegraphs upcoming balance changes by at least a week. They dropped the patch notes for these changes at 11pm the night before they went live. Here they are in their entirety, so you know what to expect:
Wild Growth – Will cost 3 mana. (Up from 2)
Nourish – Will cost 6 mana. (Up from 5)
These are, by a longshot, the most significant nerfs to launch with this patch. Since the release of Hearthstone, Wild Growth has been Druid’s most defining card. By playing it on turn 2 and pairing it with an early Nourish, players could quickly fill up their Mana pools and leave opponents struggling to catch up. Paired with expensive and powerful spells like Ultimate Infestation, which lets a player draw 5 cards when played, Druids didn’t even need to sacrifice the amount of cards in their hand to gain that mana advantage.
Now, Blizzard has finally decided that these cards are too strong. In the patch notes’ words, “When cards from the Basic and Classic set are too powerful, they can have negative long-term effects on the game. Continuously playing against these cards can start to feel repetitive, and they can feel so mandatory that they stifle creative deckbuilding decisions.”
Level Up! – Will cost 6 mana. (Up from 5)
One of the stronger decks in Hearthstone is “Odd Paladin,” a deck that can flood the board with cheap minions and then buff their power with other cards in order to aggressively damage the opponent. Chief among those cards was “Level Up,” a 5-mana card that turned all of your 1-attack 1-health “Silver Hand Recruit” minions into 3/3s. The card allowed for massive unexpected burst damage combos, and according to Blizzard, nerfing the card will give Odd Paladin decks “more consistent damage output that should be easier to play around.”
Saronite Chain Gang – Now reads: Taunt. Battlecry: Summon another Saronite Chain Gang.
Since its introduction in the Knights of the Frozen Throne sert, Saronite Chain Gang has been one of the strongest cards in Hearthstone. Not only did the card’s combined 4/6 stat line with Taunt make it automatically better than most other 4-cost minions, its ability to copy itself made it a great synergy card. If you buffed it while it was in your hand or deck, that buff effect would essentially double when you played the card. Worse still was the card’s synergy with Shudderwock - a game-winning card that repeats all of the previous Battlecry effects you’ve played in the game. Shudderwock decks would use the Saronite Chain Gang effect to create copies of their Shudderwocks, then replay them ad infinitum until the opponent died. It’s been a terror of ranked play for quite some time now, and Blizzard has finally acknowledged that with this nerf.
For those looking for extra clarification, the second Chain Gang is a straight-up 2/3 that doesn’t get any of the buffs from the first - so be sure to take that into account if you still plan on running the card.
Leeching Poison – Will cost 1 mana. (Down from 2). Now reads: Give your weapon Lifesteal this turn.
“Kingsbane Rogue” is a deck that relies on a Legendary weapon called Kingsbane. When you use the weapon up, it gets shuffled back into your deck and keeps all the buffs you’ve given it, leaving players with an extremely powerful endgame weapon that can kill the opponent on its own. The worst part of this weapon was that it could be buffed with a Lifesteal effect when paired with a card called Leeching Poison - meaning that every time you attacked with the weapon, it’d heal your hero for the same amount you’d attacked with. As an unparalleled defensive tool in a deck that was supposed to be offensive, it was one of the most annoying things to play against in the game, and Blizzard finally gave it the axe with this change: “We love the fantasy of building a powerful weapon over the course of a game with Kingsbane, but granting it a permanent Lifesteal effect with Leeching Poison resulted in an endgame with few weaknesses, as well as conflicting with our philosophy that Rogues should not have persistent self-healing effects.”
Alongside these huge nerfs, Blizzard also announced some changes to the game’s Arena mode, which go live today. Essentially, they’re adjusting some of the card options during the draft stage of Arena, bringing back some old cards that they’d removed from the mode due to their previously-difficult-to-use synergies, and getting rid of some other cards that are now considered too powerful for the mode. Chief among those is Mind Control Tech, a 3-mana 3/3 minion that takes control of a random enemy minion if your opponent has four minions on the board or more. It’s been an issue in the mode for a long time, and its removal is one of the most exciting Arena changes we’ve seen in a while. See the full list of Arena changes here.