Blizzard just announced the latest nerf since the Rogue Quest was gutted early last July and it’s a meta-defining shift. Included in the nerfs were some of the strongest basic cards that have defined class archetypes since Hearthstone was first released. There hasn’t ever been a Warrior deck that didn’t include Fiery War Axe, ditto for Druid and Innervate. Shaman took a hit as arguably the best single target removal spell – Hex – increased in cost.
The final two nerfs fell upon Murloc Warleader, a strong neutral card that was a safe bet in any murloc deck, and Spreading Plague, Druid’s new anti-aggro card and a key factor in Druid’s dominance since Knights of the Frozen Throne. It’s time to break down each of these nerfs individually and to get into what Blizzard may have been considering.
This nerf has been a point of contention in the community, largely because Blizzard’s reasoning. From the 9.1 Patch Notes: “The other option we considered for Fiery War Axe was to lower its attack to 2, but that change didn’t feel intuitive enough. Generally, changing the mana cost of a card is less disruptive, because you can always see the mana cost of cards in your hand.”
The second sentence is what players take issue with. Blizzard seems to be focusing on the casual player who doesn’t take time to look at updates or really put much thought into the game at all. Hearthstone has a fine-tuned Meta and to give reasoning like that insults the players who spend days theory crafting decks and competing in tournaments.
The thing is, this point could have been a non-issue.
Blizzard easily could have nerfed War Axe just on the strength of the card alone. Just use the percentage of decks it is played in to justify that. In fact, I take no issue with the nerf itself, back when Firebat ran his first tournament ‘Batstone,’ he asked the community to pick cards to ban. The top three cards they chose were pre-nerf Yogg-Saron, pre-nerf Tuskarr Totemic (remember that card?) and War Axe.
Unfortunately, this is the nature of nerfs. War Axe has been in every Warrior deck since beta and, unless crazy power creep started happening, would have stayed in every deck in its current iteration. The point of the standard format was to keep things fresh and so long as every warrior hard mulligans in search of War Axe, there won’t be much room for growth.
Speaking of growth, Druid was the other class to lose a card everyone hard mulligans for; Innervate has been reduced to 0 mana gain 1 mana crystal this turn, down from 2. Innervate was, quite simply, broken. From turn one Vicious Fledgling to turn four Ultimate Infestation; Innervate is a game-winner. While focus falls on UI and its powerhouse effect, Innervate is the card that makes it possible.
For ten mana it actually has a reasonable effect, compare UI with cards like Doom! or Deathwing that completely clear the board and give you an advantage in the process.
The problem is a Druid player can play all their ramp cards in a blitz to reach ten mana and refill their hand. Druid’s ramp used to stop at Innervate, Wild Growth and Nourish. With the additions of Jade Blossom and Mire Keeper it’s never been so easy for a Druid to blast to turn ten. Anyone remember when Nourish used to be used for card draw around 80% of the time? There’s not a lot of reason to draw three, when the alternative is getting two turns closer to drawing five, removing a minion and adding a body.
Now the question is, is Innervate still played if it only adds one mana? My guess is no, it just doesn’t offer enough value to take up a deck slot, and it loses the thing that made it so good: versatility. Just about any situation was great to have innervate, even if it was just used to get an extra hero power. Innervate was nerfed for the same reason War Axe was; it’s been in every druid deck since inception and would continue to be without a change.
One of the reasons this nerf has received such community backlash is that players are really attached to these cards. This isn’t Quest Rogue being annoying for a month or Yogg turning tournaments into RNG festivals. These are some of the earliest cards players were introduced to.
This is also true for Hex, one of the most valuable single-target removal spells in the game. Just about every Midrange or Control Shaman has made a friend out of the card reverses fairytales and turns Tirions into frogs.
Previously 3 mana, Hex is a single target removal and a silence wrapped up in a neat little bundle of value. This was a good nerf in my eyes because changing this cards cost to 4 isn’t going to make it unplayable. If you use polymorph as a comparison, this change just brings Hex to a power level more on par with the other classes.
Plus, removal spells are not played on curve nearly as often, which means that one mana isn’t as impactful as it is for War Axe or Call of the Wild. Take a look at Execute and you can see a nerf done right. The focus is on balance, not destruction of the card and all its hopes and dreams.
(Rest in peace Warsong)
Spreading Plague is another example of a card that was nerfed with the Druid problem in mind. This card was broken at five mana. It might still be broken at six. It also shares the benefit of not typically being played on curve and, because it rewards you for your opponent’s board, taking an extra turn may become a benefit.
This card is a problem because it thrives in a place where Druid struggles. The 1/5’s may not kill minions on their own but they allow the druid player to line up a Swipe with a lot more consistency. Spreading Plague is the only card out of these five that isn’t from the classic or basic set and, for good reason, hasn’t seen nearly the same level of public backlash.
The final nerf came to Murloc Warleader. Instead of giving +2 attack/+1 health, it is now just +2 attack. It may not look like much but that one health is crazy important. The murloc tribe does two things well: flood board, go face. They rely on buffing each other to avoid board clears and Warleader was the king of all the buffs. In many games the one health from Warleader was the only thing that kept your board from being decimated by Lightning Storm or Consecration. And say goodbye to sacrificing your Finja just for it to pull a Warleader and stay on the board.
The final nail in Warleader’s coffin was the introduction of well-statted murlocs. The added health didn’t matter much when it was buffing Murloc Tidehunters and Grimscale Oracle. With the addition of Rockpool Hunter and Vilefin Inquisitor, Murlocs are being given good abilities and good base stats. This makes Warleader a problem if Blizzard intends to continue with this line of strong murlocs.
These nerfs have yet to go into effect but the community has already made its thoughts heard. Personally, I’m excited to see what Warrior looks like without War Axe and Druid without Innervate. I just wish Blizzard could have kept them from becoming completely unplayable, and refrained from insulting their player base in the process.