Just six days from one of the biggest days in Hearthstone history, Blizzard has announced it's nerfing 12 classic cards.
The details, revealed earlier today, come less than a week before the launch of a new game mode and the release of its latest expansion, Whispers of the Old Gods.
There's a lot to take in. Druid is taking the brunt of the changes, as most fans expected, but Hunter and Rogue also received somewhat unexpected hits. Meanwhile, neutral minions are also on the chopping block, with powerful effects and aggressive staples in the firing line.
To help make sense of the dozen changes, we've graded them and broken them down one-by-one.
Your panel is staff writer Callum Leslie, regular Hearthstone contributor Luke Winkie, and semi-pro fighting game player, host of Best of Three, and Hearthstone obsessive Mike "Danke" Schiller.
Ancient of Lore
Callum: It's definitely true that Lore is a staple of the class and very powerful. But for just one card, it's two mana more than Azure Drake. The heal will still be useful in a post-Healbot world, but I don't thinkthis will stay in every Druid deck. The nerf was needed, but don't know if it keeps the card playable. C
Danke: Midrange druid, specifically the version including the Savage Roar/Force of Nature combo was the obvious and necessary target of several nerfs. What was perhaps less thought about was how these would affect other, more fair archetypes, like Ramp or Astral Druid. With a 5/5 body valued about five mana, and single card draw at somewhere between one and two, I’m not sure if this former powerhouse of a card will see play anymore. Druid’s draw could become cripplingly weak after this. A nerf was fair, but I would have rather seen it to the body. C+
Luke: I feel like this will still see some play. The versatility of the heal and the card draw is strong enough to stick around in control decks, but obviously it won’t be quite as ubiquitous as it was in its original incarnation. Then again, the only reason anyone included Ancient of Lore in the lofty seven-spot was the chance to refill, and when you’re only drawing one card why not run Azure Drake, or Polluted Hoarder, or, hell, Nourish instead? We’ll see, but I don’t think this thing was obliterated like Warsong Commander was. C
Force of Nature
Callum: This was the nerf everyone was waiting for. Goodbye, combo! This is probably the fairest way to nerf the card. Charge is always going to be a problem. B+
Danke: Kills the combo while still possibly creating a new niche in token druid decks. Notably, this card is more stat efficient than the wisp cards, albeit without their versatility. This needed to happen, and was shockingly elegant compared to some of the nerfs we’ve seen before. B+
Luke: Like Callum said, we all saw this one coming. The burst potential of giving a class the dependable chance to summon three 2/2s with charge was too much, so now you get to fill your board at a slightly discounted mana cost instead. It obviously won’t be as devastating as Force/Savage, but this certainly isn’t a bad card now. Maybe Soul of the Forest Druid will finally become a thing! B
Keeper of the Grove
Callum: I'm torn here. Again, it was a staple of the class. But it was also such an important tool against aggro. With just a 2/2 body, I don't know if it will be that good. It might still be played if the two damage is relevant. D+
Danke: Losing two health really hurts the versatility of this card. Where before Keeper could ping-kill a juggler and then take out two more to go three for one, the card is now more of an overcosted owl. The 2-damage ping is nice, but given that owl is cheaper and a beast, and spellbreaker has a much better body, it may not be quite the keeper it once was. C-
Luke: I’m not going to say this card is dead now, but paying four mana for a 2/2 body really, really hurts the value here. I’m surprised Blizzard opted to cut Keeper of the Grove down to size this way instead of, say, removing the silence effect, which always seemed to be the main issue anyways. I’m not sure this thing survives. D
Callum: Silence was always a top candidate for a nerf, and the two mana just fit two perfectly into the curve of most aggressive or tempo based decks. Owl now has two more turns where it will cost more than half your mana, which is pretty significant for early game tempo. It will still be played but will swing the tempo of a game far less. B+
Danke: Cheap silence and removal have been pegged as being less for players due to their ability to lock big cards out of play. As the neutral champion of silence, Ironbeak Owl seemed fit for a nerf, and frankly, this one makes sense. Because silences value can vary so extremely, from killing the second body of Cairne to letting your Ragnaros attack, I think the mana increase makes the card harder to fit into curve, and thus more thought provoking to play. Notably, the competition with Spellbreaker just got a lot closer. This card will still make it’s way into decks, but Doomsayer is getting his way turn two. B+
Luke: I’m not convinced the issue with Ironbeak Owl was the body. Silence is a really hard mechanic to balance, which is why Blizzard hasn’t introduced a comparable card since the base set. People are still totally going to play Ironbeak, right? It’s still going to suck, it’ll just eat up more of their curve. Will this really move the needle? I’m not convinced. C+
Big Game Hunter
Callum: This one has been coming for a long time. The ridiculous value of three mana being able to kill something that cost seven or above has ruled the game since the beginning. This will still be played but it brings it into line with other class-specific removal options like Assassinate. A
Danke: This is a major nerf that frankly had to happen. Playing a 3-mana card to remove a 7-attack monster while leaving a body was a no brainer decision, and frankly, playing a 5-mana card to remove a 7-attack monster while leaving a body is a no brainer as well. BGH wasn’t bad enough on curve, and was simply too strong as a neutral choice to oppose large threats. This change will allow class-specific answers to big creatures to shine, and perhaps more importantly, let big creatures see play at all. This card might still see play in a couple classes that have limited removal, but frankly could just as easily become 400 beautiful dust. A-
Luke: This is so much more fair now. Anyone advocating for the thorough obliteration of Big Game Hunter was fooling themselves. You need to have cards that punish decks for running a bunch of big minions, because otherwise this game wouldn’t be fun. However nobody should lose a Ragnaros to three mana, and this nerf puts Big Game Hunter in line with, like, Assassinate (as Callum mentioned,) which isn’t nearly as much of a one-sided swing. I think Blizzard nailed this one. A
Callum: This feels like a preemptive nerf given the prospect of Face Hunter being quite strong in the initial Standard meta. It's not game breaking right now, but maybe it would have been in the future. C
Danke: I see why someone would be scared of this card being too good, however given that it hasn’t been in all the time it has existed, I’m a bit confused as to why this is being nerfed now. While midrange hunter has strong cards coming soon with WoG, I personally don’t think this needed to happen since owl is also getting nerfed. This card will see at best limited play. C-
Luke: I remember when I first started playing Hearthstone and I queued into a Hunter who immediately gave my biggest minion one health for exactly zero mana. It seemed critically unfair, and now, years later, Hunter’s Mark is getting a nerf. I guess that’s fine? This card doesn’t see a ton of play but it’s definitely a disproportionately powerful effect. So, yeah, whatever, I’m sure the upped mana cost will do more good than harm. C
Callum: This is a very old-school change, harkening back to when Savagery was changed in a very similar way back during Hearthstone's beta. Blade Flurry is an incredibly powerful card, but with Tinker's Sharpsword Oil disappearing, I don't know how much of a problem this was going to be. The double whammy of the mana increase and the power decrease feels heavy handed. D
Danke: This is way too big of a change. Blade Flurry was an extremely defining card for rogue, allowing them to build their hand while still maintaining the potential to clear the board and push for the kill. This method of play was frankly frustrating for a lot of players, but given the loss of Tinker’s Sharpsword Oil, I don’t really think anyone was calling for this. What makes this nerf so crazy is that either the mana increase or the targeting change would have been huge. Doing all of this to a card in an archetype that currently isn’t shining seems very questionable. This card will see zero play competitively. D-, see me after class.
Luke: This Blade Flurry change pretty much destroys Oil Rogue, which really was the only viable archetype in the entire class. So Rogue is going to have some issues once Whispers of the Old Gods drops. Not having the added burst potential with a big weapon is just devastating. I’m not against upping the mana cost—that seems reasonable—but the fact that this thing can’t hit face makes it a lot worse. It’ll probably still get play as a board clear, but Valeera’s future is looking particularly murky right now. C-
Callum: This card had to go. The impact of the card when it hits the board is too strong with cards like Snake Trap and Unleash the Hounds, and combined with its ability to trade up it was just too strong. Now it will still be powerful and have the ability to change a game, while not punishing you for playing stronger minions. A-
Danke: Takes a card with one of the best effects in the game and gives it more fitting stats while leaving what made it fun. The decks that currently run juggler will continue to, just now it won't kill Northshire Clerics and Mana Wyrms. Priests will have fun stealing this with Cabal. Perfect. A
Luke: I hate Knife Juggler. There are too many ways to develop a bunch of tokens in Hearthstone, which added so much early-game RNG to every aggro matchup. At 2/2 it’ll still get play, and that’s fine. As long as you have to take some sort of tempo hit to get it on the board, that’s all I’m asking. A
Callum: Again, this addresses the problem of powerful aggressive cards that can still trade up. It's probably still at least three damage for one mana and that's more than enough to get your deck going. A-
Danke: Leper Gnome is a card that felt a lot less powerful to play than it really was mathematically. Considering the card tended to do at least four damage for one mana, it was simply too obvious to include in any aggro deck. This nerf to attack leaves the card within the range of viability while making it less mindless. A-
Luke: I didn’t realize Leper Gnome was such a problem, but apparently it is! You’re still getting a guaranteed two damage to face, but the inability to trade up with 3/2s is pretty damaging. It’ll probably still get play in ultra-aggressive face decks, but I’m not sure if this is the go-to aggro one drop anymore. B
Callum: The combination of the potential strength of aggro and the power of the Warlock combination meant this card was in the crosshairs, and I can sort of understand it. I'm not sure it really needed it and I would have taken some other cards first, but I won't be sad to see this charger go. C-
Danke: I understand why Blizzard nerfed this card. With more attack than mana cost, Arcane Golem was the most efficient, restrictionless charge minion in the game, and thus a consistent inclusion in the combo and even face decks that people often complain about. What I don’t understand is what they were going for in its redesign. A vanilla three-mana 4/4 would struggle to compete for a deck slot, let alone with this awful of a drawback. Leeroy it is I guess. C-
Luke: I wonder when Blizzard will just throw out the charge mechanic entirely. Between Leeroy, Warsong, and now Arcane Golem it feels like every powerful one-turn-to-face combo is getting plucked. Nobody is going to play a tempo 4/4 that puts your opponent ahead on mana for the rest of the game, so, bye bye Arcane Golem, and maybe bye bye to any archetype that relies on a charge combo ever again. C
Callum: This is a really significant change, and very needed given the nerfing of some of the answers to it. Will this kill Handlock? Maybe, though perhaps a version without Molten Giants could still see play. It's going to be pretty difficult to get a very cheap Molten and still mount a comeback now. B-
Danke: Given that BGH and silence were nerfed, this was all but a necessity. A zero-mana 8/8 is obviously almost infinitely efficient, especially given how easily it can be taunted, and how difficult it now will be to remove. By making this card playable only below 15 health, and free below five, the risk required for the reward seems more apt. I imagine this will still see play in some variants of Renolock. B
Luke: So now you have to get down to five health in order to activate free Molten Giants. That’s a pretty big deal, even if Handlock has fallen out of favor lately. Don’t get it twisted, this Molten Giant change specifically removes a win condition, so I’m not convinced it has a place in the meta right now. B-
Master of Disguise
Callum: Stealth is basically delayed charge, meaning its relative power is in the same ballpark. Obviously this isn't a card than anyone is playing, but it's a card Blizzard has repeatedly pointed out as having an effect that limited design. So sure, why not. C
Danke: This change is one we just have to take Blizzard’s word for. While Master of Disguise currently doesn’t see any competitive play, a large part of that is because Blizzard consistently designs around how powerful stealth is. Changing the stealth to last only a single turn greatly lowers the risk of broken combos, and thus lets them create more interesting cards. I’m ok with that. B+
Luke: I don’t think Master of Disguise has seen play in any competitive deck ever. But, I can certainly understand why it’s difficult to design around a card that offers permanent stealth to any other minion in the game. There was always the chance of a combo that could get completely out of control. If cutting down Master of Disguise means Blizzard can design more exotic cards, then I’m all for it. B
Anything Blizzard missed?
Callum: Was Druid overnerfed? Maybe, but double Innervate on a five- drop on turn one is still going to be a thing forever. That's maybe a little sad. Elsewhere, cards like Doomhammer made it through unscathed, and that will lead many to assume that Aggro Shaman could be a dominant deck in the Standard meta. That aside, Midrange Shaman has gained some impressive tools in the new expansion as well. There is every chance Blizzard will need to take another look at Shaman once the meta settles.
Danke: Druid nerfs are an obvious major topic, and to be honest I think they were perhaps a bit harsh. Keeper saw play in literally every druid deck, and Lore in most, and frankly I feel pushed a bit hard to play beast druid. That said, with BGH nerfed the class is much more free to ramp into insanity, and I for one am excited to unroot some Ancients.
Aggro shaman seeing only the minor leper gnome nerf is a bit concerning, especially when Doomhammer is an obvious target that wouldn’t have affected the Midrange variant they are pushing with Whispers.
As for a few smaller nitpicks, While I see why both aren’t nerfed, Abusive Sergeant is perhaps as deserving as Leper gnome of a nerf, with greater versatility after turn one. Divine favor certainly isn’t broken, but it’s a bit unrivaled cost-wise as far as draw mechanics go. Finally, Alexstrasza seems really scary with healbot gone, but I think that is one they can solve with the addition of cards rather than a nerf. Overall, I’m happy with the relatively conservative approach they took.
Luke: The main issue I have is Blizzard’s continued refusal to buff anything. There are so many dead cards in the classic set—Savagery, Totemic Might, or hell, even Warsong Commander—that don’t have any place in the game. If Blizzard wants there to be a foundational group of cards in Hearthstone, I don’t understand the logic in letting some of them be useless. Justice for Dalaran Mage!