Since the launch of the Knights of the Frozen Throne expansion, competitive Hearthstone play has been in a bit of a turbulent state, mostly thanks to the overwhelming (and often rage-inducing) dominance of the game's Druid class.
Well, Blizzard has heard the community's complaints, and Druid nerfs are finally on their way. But they will come with a few other balance tweaks that have some players scratching their heads.
In response to criticism from high-profile players including Andrey "Reynad" Yanyuk, Blizzard is adjusting the effect of the class-defining Druid card Innervate. Instead of giving a player two free mana crystals for a turn, now it will only give one.
The change will make the reigning Jade and Ramp Druid decks less flexible in the early game, and it will make early game-oriented Aggro Druids a bit slower to get rolling.
Another Druid card that's gotten the nerf hammer is Spreading Plague, which spawns 1-attack, 5-health scarabs to slow down the onslaught of midrange and aggro decks. The card was one of Druid's most successful cards, and has been changed to cost six mana instead of five, meaning that Jade Druids will have to sacrifice a bit more tempo to stave off aggressive opponents.
Longtime Druid critics might notice that there hasn't been a nerf to the infamous Ultimate Infestation, which provides a near-unprecedented late-game boost.
According to Blizzard, the card didn't get the axe because the other card changes effectively decrease its power level by way of a domino effect. It's true that Druid decks of all types will lose a bit of their potency, seeing as Innervate has always been one of the most powerful cards in the game, but some top-level players like Thijs "Thijs" Molendijk still think Ultimate Infestation is too strong.
To an extent, these Druid changes were expected, with Ben Brode hinting at them a few days ago on Twitter.
What wasn't expected, though, was the dramatic change to cards outside of Druid.
On the Warrior side, Blizzard announced that the class-defining Fiery War Axe, which has been around since Hearthstone's launch and was lovingly dubbed the "Fiery Win Axe" for its efficiency in swinging the early game, will now cost 3 mana instead of 2.
This isn't just a nerf — it changes the identity of the Warrior class and makes Fiery War Axe outright weaker than weapons in other classes, like the Hunter's Eaglehorn Bow and the Paladin's Rallying Blade.
While Blizzard's logic that the already-stellar Fiery War Axe makes Pirate Warrior decks too strong, some feel that the change is too harsh, and was implemented without sufficient rationale.
One of Blizzard's explanations for the nerf, that "changing the mana cost of a card is less disruptive [than changing its attack value], because you can always see the mana cost of cards in your hand," came across as insultingly opaque to some players including the high-level Warrior player Fibonacci, among others:
nerfing war axe around aggro deck that rotates out in 8 month but crippling all other archetypes forever. also reasoning is just insulting
— Fibonacci (@FibonacciHS) September 5, 2017
Another unexpected change is set to hit the Shaman class, and again, it's a nerf to a class-defining card that's been around for about as long as the game itself: the highly-efficient single target removal spell Hex will now cost 4 mana instead of 3.
Like the Fiery War Axe change, this one seems suspect in part because the card has always been important for defining the class, and since Shaman's most viable decks are early game-oriented token decks that don't even typically run Hex, it seems like more of a setup for future expansions than anything else.
Finally, the 3-mana Murloc Warleader is getting a little weaker with the upcoming patch, and will only give Murlocs +2 attack, instead of +2 attack and +1 health. This is a pretty big setback for Murloc-oriented decks across all classes, which depended on Warleaders to quickly buff their boards for reach and survivability.
While the change will decrease the potency of some Murloc archetypes, though, it should give Blizzard more flexibility to design more dynamic Murloc decks in the future.
It's always tough to tell what'll happen after a set of balance changes, but with so many aggro tools on the nerf list here, it seems that the Hearthstone metagame might slow down even more than we'd initially expected.
Even if Jade Druids aren't rendered completely useless after the nerfs (something tells me they will still be around), we may see other classes rise up to bring a little more variety to ranked play.