It’s 12:30pm here in East Coast, USA, and big news is coming shortly in the world of Hearthstone.
To those unaware, or not currently playing Hearthstone, there has been a big Druid problem (and Jade Druid, and Aggro Druid). This probably refers to what Ben Brode teased recently:
The news will break some time in the next few hours, and something will be announced. Something regarding Druid, and perhaps more. Let’s state some things are mostly true:
Druid is busted in it’s current state, for many different reasons.
There are other problems in Hearthstone, with other classes.
The Arena synergy draft system is a disaster.
There’s no denying Druid is a problem in Ranked, and other problems exist. Let’s get to point 2, I think Ice Block is an example of a card that has existed far too long, as it reneges on the “fun and interactive” promise of the game. Some Arena players don’t think 3 is much of an issue, but most are on the train that it sucks. Nobody has to draft Blubber Baron. There’s no reason Frost Lich Jaina appears in 10% of Arenas.
Let me state some other things that are mostly true:
Hearthstone is an amazing game that has kept a lot of players playing it for years.
Hearthstone hype is hyped very well.
Here’s my thought, one that may not be all that original:
Hype should not be invested on things that shouldn’t have been broken to begin with.
I’m really excited about these upcoming announcements today (or announcements of announcements). Even if I have no interest in playing Ranked right now, the news excites me as a Hearthstone player. I want lots of change in a game mode I don’t really play.
But these things shouldn’t be hyped about it. These Druid cards shouldn’t have been allowed to hit the factory floor like they are now. The Arena synergy system shouldn’t have been put in live in it’s current state, without more thought or testing.
I don’t want to be excited about these changes. But there is, for a lack of a better phrase, a hypnotic attraction that Hearthstone has on me that built the hype automatically.
Hype in this game should be spent on announcing new things and content. If this announcement bundles Druid patch changes with a new Ranked laddering system, I take some of it back.
I’m not happy that I will be routinely checking Twitter and Reddit to get on the news today. But I will!
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first, Team 5 doesn’t like nerfing cards. They wait a very long time (compared to other games) to make a change. Like it or hate it, that is a core philosophy reciprocated by the devs. With the current KFT Druid continually breaking records, the calls for Druid cards to get the axe grow more vociferous by the day.
In order to get a sense of when (if) Druid will get a nerf, I decided to look at all the cards that have been nerfed, since the game was officially released post-beta, on March 13, 2014. Wow, I’ve almost played this game 4 years.
It is not a complete science, as older cards get nerfed later on to open up design space, or due to unforseen interactions with newer ones. We can also try to pick out why certain cards were nerfed for what reason.
Unleash the Hounds – 56 days (Release to nerf); 112 days (counting Closed Beta)
Unleash has been iterated numerous times in it’s existence, and is honestly a tough one to balance. The 8 weeks to nerf this card from launch is likely one of the fastest nerfs, though the version existed prior in Closed Beta. It was changed to it’s broken form when I started the game.
Curse of Naxxramas
Eaglehorn Bow – 131 days
It wouldn’t surprise me if a lot of people played Mage around this time. The Eaglehorn Bow worked Secrets against the Mage to a weapon buff effect, an ability seen much later in Pirate Warriors.
Leeroy Jenkins – 193 days
Culprit of the “fun and interactive” meme, I’m surprised this one took this long. The main target was Shadowstep Rogue, which didn’t use any tools from Naxx, except Loatheb. Also possible the streamers of yore didn’t make decks as fast young kids these days.
Starving Buzzard – 193 days (Release to nerf); 286 (counting Closed Beta)
The third Hunter nerf out of four cards nerfed. It makes sense to get rid of the Hunter draw engine, but it is possible removing all of their tools at once would’ve been too much. We’ll never know.
Goblins vs Gnomes
Flare – 266 days
Seemingly more help for Mages against the Hunter onslaught. Frankly in retrospect, 1-mana for card draw plus ability is way too cheap. It took 3/4 of a calendar year for this one, and might have to do with nerfing all Hunter toys at once.
Gadgetzan Auctioneer – 266 days
This card gets a lot of hate, but it was nerfed in GvG, which put away Miracle Rogue for a while. Leeroy was already out of the equation at this point, and may have been targeting MalyRogue, if it was big then.
Soulfire – 266 days
Obviously, this was nerfed because Zoolock was too good. At it’s 1-mana cost, it still sees play (wherever the Warlocks are).
Undertaker – 191 days
The first expansion card to get nerfed. And it took over half a calendar year to happen. GvG was one of the most aggressive sets overall, and it took Undertaker over the edge.
The Grand Tournament
Warsong Commander – 586 days (since Release); 201 days (since Grim Patron)
This one was big, as it put an end to the most oppressive form of Patron Warrior. It did take 201 days, since Grim Patron came out, but I’m sure the deck didn’t perfect itself overnight.
The League of Explorers
Whispers of the Old Gods – All Classic cards (773 days from Release to nerf)
Ancient of Lore
Force of Nature
Keeper of the Grove
The original Druidstone kappa. Ancient of Lore and Keeper of the Grove were cited for auto-inclusion, while Force of Nature was the piece of ForceRoar that took the nerf. Obviously, this long wait was because Druid was never amazing like Hunter, from the beginning.
Big Game Hunter
These cards all brought cheap hard removal, making big controlly minions still not be a thing in Hearthstone. Obviously, Hunter did not run Ironbeak Owl back in the day, and it was likely precipitated by all the prior Hunter nerfs. The long wait was definitely a meta call.
The classic “design space” meme, which was likely brought on by MalyRogue being at it’s peak prior to Old Gods. Blade Flurry was always great against Aggro, and this nerf was likely allowed since Aggro was weakened. It got the double-whammy and remains unplayed.
Two “Aggro announcers” and a charge-piece. Knife Juggler is the only one that still sees any play at all now, and this was all done to fight Aggro. Good calls all around here, precipitated by meta shifts.
Handlock was once a thing. The patch notes state that this was allowed due to the nerfs to charge cards. Not sure about this one, as Molten Giant remains MIA.
Master of Disguise
This one could’ve happened whenever, but was cited for the reason Animated Armor wasn’t neutral. That card never saw play anyways, and this one didn’t either. Oh well, design space.
One Night in Karazhan
Call of the Wild – 160 days
This could be the Blizzard Paragon for nerf to broken card “not that long” after expansion. 160 days is not nothing, but is the quickest nerf in some time.
Execute – 935 days
Control Warrior in my eyes, was always super boring to play against. Nerfs don’t come for that specific reason, but this one took a really long time to materialize. It still sees play now, so this wasn’t that big a deal.
Rockbiter Weapon – 935 days
Tuskarr Totemic – 406 days; 252 days (since Old Gods)
Shamanstone was around since Old Gods, so this was the first response. Tuskarr Totemic didn’t see play until Old Gods, so this year plus wait is misleading.
Abusive Sergeant – 935 days
A dying breed! Another Aggro-announcer meets it’s end, cited for being in too many Aggro decks. Abusive Sergeant still exists here and there though.
Charge – 935 days
Pirate Warrior sprouted from Old Gods, and this was done to keep that deck in check. It is still alive and well, never really going away to a significant extent.
Yogg-Saron – 160 days
Another nerf that was done in fairly short time. It was a bit of a turning point, as random outcomes were never really denounced by Team 5. They were always a positive. The competitive community finally got a win in this battle.
Mean Streets of Gadgetzan
Small-Time Buccaneer – 91 days
Hey look, a rare card to be nerfed within it’s release era. Pretty much a staple for Warrior, Rogue, Shaman, anyone who can hold a weapon. Interesting that the card existed, given the nerfs to all the early Aggro cards. But a fairly timely response here.
Spirit Claws – 203 days
A bit overdue. Shamanstone finally ended with this nerf, but it was a long wait.
Journey to Un’Goro
The Caverns Below – 97 days
The controversial nerf that everyone was okay with in the end. I don’t think many at all, Rogue mains included, liked playing Quest Rogue. The source of contention, for me at least, is the explanation behind it. If cards that are not fun to play against get nerfed, a whole lot of Mage cards should fit the bill.
Best case scenario?
Recently, Small-Time Buccaneer and The Caverns Below were nerfed within their expansion windows, 91 and 97 days after, respectively. Call of the Wild and Yogg-Saron saw nerfs 160 days after release. Overperformers like Ultimate Infestation, Spreading Plague, and Crypt Lord are the targets here. It is useless to do this exercise for Innervate, as it would have the longest gap between nerfs ever, if it were to see a change. Unleash saw the shortest gap ever at 56 days, but it being the first nerf ever, we can’t rely on that timeline.
And just for those who have made it this far, Knights of the Frozen Throne has only been out 21 days. Unless this current Druidstone is so spectacular! that it causes a nerf never before seen.
Owing to the busyness of life changes, I haven’t paid as much attention to Hearthstone news as I did in the past. I am making time to play the game, squeezing in regular Arenas (which are now more fun) and occasional Ranked games. When I want to get serious, I will play Deathseer Thrall Evolve Shaman. When I play for fun, I am playing random Rogue decks with new cards, including a Burgle Rogue and C’Thun Rogue. Hence, my winrate has been terrible this season, and I am still Rank 15.
I’ve been hearing that Druid has been a big problem since the Knights of the Frozen Throne expansion release, and whenever I log onto to Twitter, I hear a call for nerfs. I haven’t played at high enough level in Ranked to experience this scourge, so I do not have any opinions on the matter. But such an early call for nerfing a class reminded me exactly of what happened in Shadowverse, following the Wonderland Dreams expansion. Let’s take a look at the problem in both games, and see what can be done.
The latest expansion for Shadowverse, Wonderland Dreams, was released on June 22, 2017 in America. For those unaware, this expansion had a theme for Neutral cards with strong Neutral synergy cards or craft-specific cards that have strong Neutral synergy. I’m not sure how much work was put into play-testing for balance, but messing around with Neutrals is complicated, as all the classes are affected in different ways. This manifested in the Bloodcraft class becoming too good.
Shadowverse writes really detailed patch notes, so here they are, if you want to gander.
Based on a sample of high ranking players, they determined the Neutral Bloodcraft decks were present in 38.1% of the ladder, with a 56% win rate. 56% is a manageable win rate, but the 38% is obviously glaringly high. It might be okay in a game with 4 deck building choices, but not in one with so many like Shadowverse. The company decided to put nerfs in July 30, 2017.
Neutral Blood Nerf
As stated, the goal of nerfing these 4 cards was to: 1) lower rate of Neutral Blood decks, and 2) reduce the gap between going first and second with these decks.
Tove – minus 1 attack, minus 1 defense.
Baphomet – opening effect became more random, cost reduction gone.
Spawn of the Abyss – effect damage reduced by 2.
Goblin Leader – +1 cost, +1 attack, +1 defense.
Ramp Dragon Nerf
As is common with Shadowverse, they typically nerf something else to go along with the highly-desired nerf. They targeted Ramp Dragon decks, in fear they would be too strong with the Neutral Blood nerf.
Grimnir, War Cyclone – no longer hits enemy hero for 4, just 4 damage AoE to minions.
Ouroboros – heal +3 ability to hero gone.
Finally, it was mentioned that the second highest deck, Haven Aegis (7.6%!) needs to be kept in check with a nerf.
Princess Snow White – minus 1 defense.
The patch notes wrap up by saying they may make monthly changes at the end of the month, if data shows anomalies.
Druids are apparently out of control right now in Hearthstone. From what I can tell, there are currently two main Druid decks in the meta now: 1) Big Druid (with other ridiculous stylizations), and 2) Jade Druid.
I went on HSReplay.net to filter decks with new cards, by win rate.
6 out of 10 of the new decks are Druid, with the other 4 being Paladin. These are fairly high win rates, with the most common deck being a Jade Druid deck with 57k replays. To those wondering, if you just filter top decks including old decks, it is still all Druid and Paladin.
Let’s look at top 10 new decks in terms of overall usage.
The people want Warlock bad! Desperately! Druid is quite common here as well, with the 57k, high win rate Druid likely to keep climbing. 100k games were played with a Taunt-based Druid, which was likely shared as “ground-breaking” before a better version was found.
Let’s take a look at the common, KFT Jade Druid.
The by-class matchups are telling, with the deck only not doing great against the mirror. Every other class matchup is above average or exceptional.
Remember Shamanstone? Yeah, I scrubbed it from my memory as well. Let’s take a look at some Vicious Syndicate data tracking the highs of Shamanstone.
Shaman as it is now, is a solid deck and 4th highest class today. Most decks are running the Evolve Shaman, so we can expect the deck to be around 10% of the Ranked meta. At the peak of Shamanstone, the class represented over 30% of all decks.
Here’s a look before Shaman hit 30%, which includes the release of One Night in Karazhan and Mean Streets of Gadgetzan. Of course, these expansions were known for not doing much at all the Shaman. Karazhan notably gave Shaman more tools in Maelstrom Portal and Spirit Claws. Pirate Warrior brought down Shaman for about 2 weeks, before it started climbing to the rate over 30%.
The listed 10/3/16 balance changes notably did this to Shaman:
Rockbiter Weapon – costs 2.
Tuskarr Totemic – summon random basic totem.
This didn’t do much. A 2/28/17 patch did this to Shaman:
Small-Time Buccaneer – 1 health.
Spirit Claws – costs 2.
Shamanstone was finally over. I think Small-Time Buccaneer represents a card that was the closest to being a new card being nerfed in it’s expansion timeframe. It was released on 11/29/16 and nerfed on 2/28/17, about 3 months.
Shadowverse and Hearthstone are similar games, but very different when devs come to making changes. It is fairly entrenched in Hearthstone philosophy to be super conservative when cards are changed. And typically, cards are made worse. Shadowverse changes cards all of the time, and doesn’t seem to be afraid of pulling the trigger on newly released cards. I am not knowledgeable enough in card games to say which is better, so I don’t know.
But even if Druid is a problem, I don’t expect changes to be made for a while. Knights of the Frozen Throne is a fairly new expansion, and new cards are likely left the way they are for a few months. Would old Druid cards get nerfed? Also, Skulking Geist is the infamous Jade Druid hate card that came along in this expansion. How long of a leash does that card get as being the savior against Druid? Would running 2 minions with bad stats ameliorate the situation?