Image via Blizzard (CC-BY)
The history of Hearthstone balance changes paints a very specific picture—any deck that aims to destroy an opponent in one turn is not healthy for the game.
Leeroy Jenkins got nerfed because a pair of Shadowsteps could burst down a hapless opponent from 18 health. Warsong Commander got nerfed because administering a free charge effect on an army of endlessly spawning Grim Patrons meant that no board state was ever safe. Force of Nature was nerfed because the quick, easy Savage Roar tandem dominated Druid decks since the dawn of Hearthstone. Whether intentional or not, developer Blizzard has laid down a precedent. If the deck wins too much, it will be challenged. With that in mind, it’s time to talk about Worgen Warrior.
Worgen Warrior, like those other archetypes I mentioned, is a combo deck. You rely on Inner Rage, Faceless Manipulator, underutilized Warrior spells like Rampage and Charge, and a clutch Emperor Thaurissan discount to build a big, beefy, Windfury-activated Raging Worgen. It’s base effect (Inner Rage + Charge + Raging Worgen) will give you 16 damage. Add in a Rampage and you’re looking at 22 damage. Throw in Thaurissan’s blessing on a Faceless Manipulator and two of the combo pieces? Now you’re talking an obscene 44 damage in one turn.
Worgen Warrior works because Warrior’s survivability is so good right now. You’d think a big, unwieldy combo deck like this takes too long to set up and can be countered by faster metas, but the list is currently performing exceptionally well against Zoolock and Midrange Shaman. That success has launched the deck all the way at number 11 on Tempo Storm’s hallowed meta snapshot. It’s reliable, and it’s powerful! Just like all those other charge combo decks that no longer exist in the game.
There’s nothing wrong with a good combo in Hearthstone. Plenty of decks rely on robust synergies. Something like Freeze Mage has existed since the game’s release, and that’s a strategy based around getting a hand full of high-damage spells and pointing them at your opponent’s face. However, Freeze Mage hasn’t been hit with a major nerf since beta because the combo is difficult to pull off, and there’s natural counters like Control Warrior. The decks that have been cut down were all fixtures at the top of tier lists. When you compare Freeze Mage to, say, Patron Warrior—which in its heyday lacked a single unfavorable matchup—it seems pretty fair. Worgen Warrior is in a similar place. It has bad matchups against other armor-stacking Warrior archetypes, as well as Doomhammer-wielding Face Shamans. But that being said, I still think there are some reasons for concern.
The thing I like to keep in mind when I consider something like Worgen Warrior is how well the deck melds with overarching ethos of Hearthstone. This is a win condition that requires working around 11 or 13 mana combinations, which already feels kinda obtuse and on the fringes of what should be possible. Is it cool to fuse those pieces together and claim a victory? Absolutely, but it’s also not fun to play against. That’s the thing that makes Blizzard’s job difficult. Let’s say Worgen Warrior takes off and constitutes maybe eight percent of what you’re facing on ladder, does that mean something needs to be changed? Even if it’s counterable? If eight percent of players are using Worgen Warrior that means that eight percent of Hearthstone games won’t be particularly interactive. When Standard rotated earlier this year, Blizzard removed the charge from the mostly innocent Arcane Golem, but isn’t the Raging Worgen combo more toxic?
At this point it’s clear that the charge cards in Hearthstone’s base set weren’t balanced all that well. So far we’ve seen Arcane Golem, Leeroy Jenkins, Warsong Commander, and Force of Nature either be scaled back or gutted completely. Every time Blizzard has taken away a tool, the community has found a replacement to build a new combo deck. It’ll be interesting to see if Blizzard lets Worgen Warrior survive.