Predicting the Standard: The top 10 cards Blizzard needs to address with the 2017 rotation
About 2 weeks ago Ben Brode announced that we would see a patch at the end of this month. Assuming Blizzard sticks to its schedule, we are about one week away from knowing which cards will be nerfed.
As is tradition, a lot of players have already gone and brought their feedback and I myself would also like to take this time to bring my thoughts on which cards need to be nerfed or sent off to wild.
I have deliberately focused mainly on evergreen cards, as those have the most potential to become a problem and stay a problem. So don’t be too surprised by the fact that the pirate package isn’t here. I would still not be surprised to see it nerfed, but those cards are not a priority for me. I am more concerned about select evergreen cards making a huge impact again and again.
There will be a lot of people not understanding this one. I don’t blame anyone who finds this choice weird or wrong. But let me explain.
Doomsayer has always been one of the designs that terrified me the most. For 2 mana it applies an 8 mana effect and in order to stop it, your opponent must deal 7 damage to it. That's more than twice of an ordinary 2 mana minions health. It is an extremely polarizing card from its design. The opponent can deal with it, in which case it does nothing. They can develop something else, like a Weapon or Wild Growth, and keep playing the game. Or they can do nothing, and most likely lose. If we look at the classes currently suffering in the meta, Paladin and Hunter, it is those with neither the speed nor the utility to work around Doomsayer that are currently lowest ranked.
Any other evergreen card with such extensive effects on the meta would be top of the nerflists every time a rotation was incoming. This is not the case for Doomsayer because to a lot of people Doomsayer is the savior of the current meta. It has been one of the few means to counter the aggro style.
But the “savior” should not be an evergreen card that has also been a massive tool for non-interactive decks like Freeze Mage. When a single card has held so many different roles and had such wide use, it is problem regardless of the state of the rest of the meta. What is also worth nothing that until 2016 its use was kept in check pretty effectively by another suppressive card, Ironbeak Owl. I think Doomsayer should probably have been dismantled around the same time Ironbeak Owl was.
The replacements of sort should be new 2-mana minions that provide solid, varied and balanced options against aggression. It is worth an entirely different article on how Blizzard seemingly “forgot” how to make 2 mana minions, but right now it must be said, that this should still be the solution to look for. We can't keep relying on the answers of yesterday for tomorrow's meta or it will just end up being the exact same meta as yesterday.
9. Power Overwhelming
For my first class card on the list I look at this staple from Warlock. Warlocks' use of classic cards is slightly higher than what I would personally find healthy and this is part of the reason why I have chosen their best class card, Power Overwhelming.
PO has always been good. You could never print an unconditional +4 attack buff, even as a class card, yet this is essentially what it is. In ages past this might have been a balanced card, specifically when having a body on the board meant something. But as zoo transitioned into a token-based style with large number of 1/1 tokens of various kinds, PO has just been a spell that says deal 4 damage for 1 mana that is always available. It has been key in any control Warlock, too. Over time there has also been too much combo potential with this card. From shadowflame to faceless shambler to the new Sergeant Sally.
Of course, the seemingly endless utility would be more of a feature and less of an issue, were it not for the fact that PO has also always been a key ingredient in a series of degenerate combos and in the best card drawing class in the game. This is unsustainable in the long run.
If its manacost was balanced around all its utility and wasn't such a good card just on its own, it would probably be a rather interesting design. For this reason I would recommend keeping it at a higher cost for next season, though Blizzard has shown their primary intent is just to send cards of to wild.
8. Gadgetzan Auctioneer
Gadgetzan Auctioneer is a card I have described in the past as having no future insurance. Card draw in TCGs is like life. It finds a way. It is also for this reason that draw power is one of the elements best left to the individual class identity, because once draw power goes over the top, every class that can make use of this comes on top. From Miracle Rogue to Jade Druid, there is simply too much potential in this minion.
To those insisting that Rogue is fine, may I remind you that Rogue is the only class that has been present in the lineup of all 3 world champions. Just because Miracle Rogue is fun to watch doesn't mean we should accept to see it every year, over and over again. If this was Yu-Gi-Oh, Rogue as a class would be globally banned by now.
Likewise, Jade druid is one of those decks that makes this card extremely dangerous due to its massive value from the cheap Jade idols. With most of its competing decks predicted to get a nerf or losing cards to the standard rotation, Jade Druid has a good chance to come out on top, and I don't see this as a positive outcome for Hearthstone. Its monotonous playstyle leaves very little variation and it is not a deck likely to iterate much with new cards.
Best way of avoiding that would be handling Gadgetzan Auctioneer by sending him off to wild. In an ideal world, Rogue would be given a class-exclusive replacement that would allow Miracle to survive, a toned down version that would be more sustainable in the meta. But the current version has been around for too long and done too much. What happens in Gagdetzan should in stay in Gadgetzan. We need to move on.
6. and 7. Sap and Hex.
I am outting these two cards together because they share the same problems. Sap and Hex are both unconditional removal tools, that are very cheap and yet will deal with any minion regardless of health and even ignore deathrattles. They are also cards that see use in even the most aggressive of metas (i.e. this one). it is a clear sign that these cards are a massive problem.
Hex was always balanced on a rather fringe case. Polymorph had the same manacost at one point, but had to be upped because Mage had a too easy time dealing the one damage with their hero power. Hex might have been better balanced when the 1 health frog was an actual deterrent for Shamans, but in the age of Spirit Claws and Maelstrom portal, this is not even close to being the case any more.
Sap has also always been a core part of every Rogue arsenal. No taunt or tempo minion is too big. Indeed, the bigger the better. The current tempo focus also means that there will rarely come a time when the opponent get time to play the minion back on the board, and when they do it is often of the merits of other cards or poor draws from the Rogue.
The best way to know an overpowered deck is often to look at its removal. Dragon Warrior was making a huge push when Execute was at 1 mana, because it was impossible to establish one big minion and trying to fight the tempo game was impossible too. In the same way these two cards are way too reliable for their mana costs and their drawbacks are rarely relevant in today's meta.
Hex and Sap are both Basic cards so sending them off to wild is complicated but adjusting their mana costs to be better aligned with their impact would go a long way. Sap at 3 mana would still cost 0 with Preparation so the tempo combos would still be available for use but using it alone as a means to suppress midrange and control minions would cost more tempo.
With Hex I would show no mercy. Assassinate set the bar for how expensive it should be to kill any minion, and hex makes a mockery of that balance. I believe it holds a far bigger role in Shaman's dominance than most people realize and since its drawback over Assassinate is pretty much insignificant these days, I would at the very least bring it to the same cost. Removal needs to be a choice, something that stopped being the case with Hex a while back.
5. Leeroy Jenkins
Enough is enough would be my most accurate reasoning for putting this card here.
Few cards have had the impact on the game that Leeroy Jenkins has. NO card has caused the level of rage-inducement that Leeroy has. Still to this day he remains as one of biggest driving forces behind degenerate combos that seek to eliminate the opponent's hero in one strike.
Some will say that it's OK to have a “neutral fireball” but I disagree. Truth be told, I am not even sure I would want Mage to have fireball. If Mage decks were a bigger problem, it would be one of the first cards to look at.
But the problem at hand right now, is that charge with drawback has always been the biggest design fallacy in Hearthstone. No drawback matters if the added attack wins you the game. As such the only way a drawback matters is if said drawback is a deterrent to winning the game with the attack, like Icehowl. Leeroy Jeenkins is the opposite of that.
Even at 5 mana, his 6 attack is above what could ever be printed on an ordinary 5 mana charge minion. And yet his drawback is completely insignificant most of the time. This has lasted long enough. There have been too many times where this minion has been the win condition of a deck. We need that role to be held by new cards. It is time.
4. Tunnel Trogg (And any other active 1 mana 1/3s!)
Putting an the entire category down, because I don't feel like repeating myself a bunch.
For quite a while the biggest issue in Hearthstone has been that early game minions take too much effort to kill. In the Naxx-GvG era it was typically the 2-mana minions that were effectively immortal. But right now it is seen much more on 1-mana minions, and none more than the 1-mana minions with a body of 1 attack and 3 health.
1 mana for a 1/3 body has always been ludicrously generous. It is the same statline for mana as Ysera and Malygos…. if said cards cost 4 mana. These minions trades favorably with any normally statted 1-drop, that being a 1/2 or a 2/1, and even those giving two 1/1 minions. This is almost unheard of and it means that for most classes there are no means of developing against these minions early on.
Of course that wouldn't be that big of an issue if one could just wait it out and let these minions die to the superior card value of later game minions. But that option has frequently not been available. Often times these minions have to be dealt with or massive damage will be inflicted to the hero as a result. This is not just the case with the infamous Tunnel trogg, but has also been seen with Mana wyrm growing massive in tempo mage and Voidwalker acting as a way too cheap shield for aggressive treats like Dire wolf alpha or Darkshire Councilman. All of these minions have reasons why you need to deal with them as soon as possible.
This is bad because as we have seen with Tunnel Trogg, there aren't really enough tools available against these minions for them to not be a problem. You can't print new effective tools of dealing with them either, because 3 health is the same as most 2 mana minions and even some 3 mana ones. If we resort to power creeping removal for the sake of handling this issue, then it will trickle up, demanding tougher 2 drops and 3 drops. Ultimately this solution won't bring any good with it.
Instead we need to acknowledge that we can't have 1 mana minions with 1 attack and 3 health that demands a response, as there cannot be means to effectively deal with them. One of the last ones, rockbiter weapon, was nerfed in September. And it was needed. And if I had it my way, there would be one less effective option after this rotation as well, but now I am getting ahead of myself. For this reason I would also nerf Tunnel Trogg even as it is leaving for wild soon. It has done too much for overload just as Undertaker did too much for deathrattles. I would probably also nerf Mana Wyrm and Voidwalker too and maybe even Northshire cleric.
All this is not to say that 1 mana 1/3 can't exist as a statline. No one cares for Finley or Vilefin inquisitor. Doubt anyone even remembers Warbot. It can be balanced, rather easily in fact. However, it absolutely cannot demand interaction from the opponent. It cannot be allowed to be a treat, or a means to snowball because the means of interaction isn't there.
3. Sylvanas Windrunner
Two weeks ago I described why Ragnaros the firelord is not on this list. He respects other minions power too much to be a permanent problem. He respect their health, their divine shields and their deathrattles as well as a wide range of other powers.
Sylvanas is the exact opposite of that. She respects nothing, and can literally deal with anything. And while it sounds hardcore, it is actually amazingly poor card design, especially when she is still so much cheaper than other powerful legendaries. How are new cards ever supposed to replace her?
On a more than frequent occurrence, I see players saying it is good to have “skillful removal”, in the sense of how you often have to play around her. While that may be true, that is still terrible if there is no actual skill in choosing whether a certain deck should have Sylvanas, especially since she is neutral and available to all. And while traditional control decks are down in the garbage bin right now, she has always held a spot in almost every single variant of those ever. We are only a Shaman and a Pirate nerf away from seeing this again.
It should be no secret that I have never been a fan of the design of Sylvanas. This year I have more hope though, as the recent expansion released two cards that seemed tailored to deal with Sylvanas: Bomb squad and the much less subtle Defias Cleaner. Looking at the general patterns this is usually stage one for an incoming nerf, as soon as Blizzard realizes that the counter cards doesn't work as they never do. With any hope this will be the time.
2. Fiery War Axe
Might be hammered for this one, or axed, but this is without a doubt the class card that needs a change the most. The recent months should have made this more than clear, with the onslaught of Pirate Warrior.
A lot of people might think I am picking the wrong target here and should focus on a card like small-time buccaneer. The truth is, the Pirate package changed nothing. FWA hse had this spot on my list for months, before anyone had even heard of the mean streets of Gadgetzan. The pirates only cemented it.
FWA remains to this day one of the most game-defining cards in Hearthstone. The use of any early minion is directly related to how well it fairs against the “win axe”. They can have intriguing effects but it means nothing if said effect does nothing in the face of the 3 damage from the “win axe”.
It should be stated than the same can be said for the slew of 2 mana spells dealing 3 damage, but FWA dealing 3 damage twice for the cost makes it by far the worst of them. As an example of how stretching the game-defining element of FWA is, I would like to play a game of “Count the spider tanks”. That is counting all the 3 drops that got the statline of 3 attack and 4 health. There are 13 of them currently in the game.
This stat line didn't exist at the incarnation of Hearthstone. It has become mainstream through power creep and it is power creep by necessity, because you need at least 3 attack just to deal with even the 1 drops these days and you can't have just 3 health because you get punished too hard by early 3 damage removal. Of which Fiery war axe is by far the biggest offender.
The most damning argument against FWA comes from Batstone #1 where FWA was banned by the community, The pros who played Warrior simply replaced it with King's defender. Not that they ran more taunts than usual for its effect, they just wanted the 3/2 weapon. And this really signals what the manacost for Fiery War Axe should be. King's defender is rotating to wild during this rotation. This should be the time where FWA inherits its manacost.
1. Azure Drake
Do I really need to explain this?
Many claim that this is an example of a well designed card because it feels alright to play against. But this is a complete illusion and Azure Drake is easily one of the most broken cards in the game right now and its design was never that good. But its design conceals this degeneracy well because a lot of people don't evaluate card value well. This is what fools a lot of people.
Just as it is the case that a card and deck can be relatively balanced and feel like garbage to play against (like pre-nerf patron warrior at 46% winrate), so is it the case that a card can feel alright to play against and in fact be absurdly imbalanced. At this point, this fact should be more than apparent, simply through the sheer usage of Azure Drake. The problem is not “every other 5 drop”. It is with Azure Drake, and that has been the case for a while now.
Azure Drake not only provides an alright 4/4 body with spellpower, it also gives a card. A good card too, that is, one you have chosen to play in your deck. This is unconditional and happens instantly. Most cards of this type printed later only have 3 health for a reason, even when they trigger discover and have a chance to give pure junk.
It is like an inspire minion, only you can choose when you want to pay the extra mana to get the effect. Azure Drake doesn't have to live for this to happen. This alone always guaranteed that Azure Drake would be superior to any inspire minion that was reasonably balanced. It is a minion with 8-9 mana card value that you can play on turn 5 without falling much behind on tempo. How do you ever run out of resources with a card like that?
We have already seen this phenomenon take place in the past. Back when Novice Engineer was still a 1/2, it was played in almost every deck because on turn 2 it was better than using hero power and yet on every subsequent turn it was better than topdecking any other lone 2 drop. Azure Drake is the same. Its body and effect makes it a good enough play on turn 5 and the best play on turn 8-9. There is no lone 8 drop that is better than playing Azure Drake and then using the card draw to take out a high level drop. And yet those plays have the same manacosts and card values. Only time high cost minions matter is in the fatigue war which is not how it should be.
In all honesty I think if traditional nerfs were to be applied I would actually think it could be let go with just losing 1 health. The drop between 4 and 3 health is one of the most massive in the game and it would seriously weaken the play of turn 5 azure drake. But if we talk about moving cards to wild, then Azure Drake is, absolutely and without a doubt, the minion that needs to be banished there the most. As soon as possible.