So what actually went wrong with Druid?
The ramapage of druid continues on and Sumadins tries to explain how it got this far.
Unless you have been living under a very heavy rock you will know that Hearthstone have a druid issue.
My colleague Zech has already talked about this issue in spades.
Let me start off by saying it should be no surprise that the meta is not in an ideal spot. We are in uncharted territory. The number of cards available in this standard rotation is greater than ever before. This is a number that will keep growing till it peaks at the last expansion next year, with a total of 6 expansions in one rotation. Standard was introduced when Hearthstone only had 5 expansions, half of them adventures with only 45 cards.
There will be issues that slips past testing, and this will be recurring. With more options comes more options for degenerate imbalance. Rough times are natural for any CCG.
Now at the moment it is druid that is the issue. And the Community has long since settled on one specific scapegoat.
Innervate, the problem?
Alot of the community has come out against Innervate. True enough it has always been a powerful tool for druids.
There are 2 changes that are prevelant in the community.
First one is to make Innervate replenish mana instead of giving 2 on top of your current maximum.
Second one is to just move Innervate to the hall of fame.
I don’t see either as a good solution. Number 1 is what I call a “Nonchanging” change that still permits a lot of the plays we see today. It is insufficient. Number 2 would be a heavy hit but not a good solution for wild and so far we have not seen any cards been sent to the Hall of fame out of schedule with the standard rotation.
I am going to be very upfront and say I don’t see nerfing/removing Innervate as a good change. It is a core mechanic of Druid that have set its identity for the entire history of Hearthstone.
If the community had their way there would be no unique differentiating mechanics left between classes because every one of them gets called out whenever their class reaches Tier 1.
You could set your watch based on when people start demanding certain classic cards adjusted. Once freeze Mage is on top, then Ice Block is called out. With Rogue, it was conceal. With Druid it is of course Innervate. And here we are again.
The claim is usually the same. That said card will never be balanced, even though it has been, for much of the history of the game. In truth, there is VERY little things that can’t be balanced. Innervate especially, since its strength is entirely dependant on the cards available to Druid.
This is why I am hesitant to call out Innervate as a problem card. It also doesn't have a lot of isolated problem cases. Neutral cards that make for problem comboes with Innervate also tend to be a problem of their own. Cards like Bonemare are so powerful they see use in many classes beyond druid to the point where it reduces diversity between classes. Vicious Fledgling, while only seeing constructed play in aggro druid, also causes havoc for the arena balance, due to its self-escalation.
This is not so much a design restriction of Innervate, as just a general call to not release overly powerful neutral cards. Something that have been apparent for a while but nevertheless needs repeating. Dr Boom was pretty nuts with innervate as well, but not many people would attribute that problem to innervate.
Instead having neutral cards that provide greater value than class cards tends to reduce class flavor and makes games more monotonous because everyone uses the same cards.
I wanna talk about Life tap, another “eternally broken” mechanic. Besides Ice Block no other mechanic has matched innervate in the level of “this will never be balanced” complaints over the years. Just like with Innervate the strength of Life tap is very much dependant on the cards Warlock has avaliable. And yet no one would bother calling out Life tap at present time, even though that was widespread during the handlock and Zoolock eras.
Part of this is due to the miserably failed discard theme that has filled warlock card spots for many expansions now but part of it is also heavy focus on the necessary restrictions due to the hero power. The class pays for having such a powerhouse of a hero power, by having strictly worse cards like Unwilling Sacrifice that is just a worse deadly shot.
This is why life tap currently is not showing as a problem, despite being completely imbalanced on paper. But where careful card releases for Warlock has kept the imbalance in check, that can most certainly NOT be said for druid.
Reckless releases over 2 years
Druid for the last couple of years have seen some of the most powerful cards in its history. Cards whose efficiency dwarfs that of similar cards from other classes.
Lets start off with Mark of the lotus. It is far and away the most powerful one mana buff spell in the game. On 2 minions it gives 4 points of stats, already surpassing cards like Divine Strength or Bleesing of Might. Mind you, that is the low ceiling of the spell, giving up to 14 points of fast stats for just one mana. Its mana cost is ludicrously generous.
Fandral Staghelm remains one of the most potent cards in standard. His ability is to apply both effect of choose one effects, effectivly doubling the potencity of spells they got no upfront body. He also saw a recent buff applying the effect on the druid hero card aswell, while also making it so that spells like Wrath gains double spell damage, something that was not previously the case.
It is almost like if Druid had Prophet Velen as a 4 mana card. The low manacost of Fandral makes he comboable with so many cards, many of whom cost the same or more than fandral. Thus this doubling of spell effects almost completely pays for the manacost of Fandral, even though he is also quite solidly stated at 4 mana. From his first release, he has been an auto-include in almost every druid deck.
The Jade package has also proven to be one of the most potent tools in the game. From the very reveal of Jade Idol, it was clear this mechanic would leave its mark.
Anti-control decks has always proven to be an issue. They are the only thing gathering more hate than aggressive decks. From Mind control priest, to Quest Roque, people do not want to be forced to play aggressive decks. They are also notoriously hard to balance.
Finally there is Ultimate infestation, a card that seemingly had thematic overtake balance during its development. The 4 times 5 effect makes most people wonder why Ancient of Lore had to be nerfed in the first place. Its power eclipses that of a 10 mana Kazakus potion, a card which requires you to play a highlander deck.
I have said in the past, that people have lost perspective on how much should be expected from high cost cards. It has frequently been the case with purely tempo-based cards like Call of the Wild, that were ultimately nerfed to insignificance. But with Ultimate infestation there can be no doubt. It’s sheer amount of card value and tempo generation dwarfs even some of the best Yogg-Sauron rolls. It is everything you want in the late game, espicially since Jade druid can never die to fatique. It is just too much.
All of these power cards leaves druid with way too many options in regard to deck styles. Every type of druid has access to cards, way too generously costed and Innervate puts on a solid base. It leaves it impossible to target druids on ladder as you never know which druid you are facing. And even when you do know, it is almost impossible to counter.
All bases covered.
Despite the outcry of many pros, ramping is hardly a flawless mechanic and there have been quite a few weaknesses bound to innervate and general ramping throughout the history of Hearthstone. Biggest issue right now is that expansion cards got all of them covered.
First one is consistency.
There was quite a few dead draws in classic ramp druid. Innervate on an empty hand, Wild growth at 7 or 8 mana, high cost cards early with no ramping tools.
The biggest offender in covering this is Jade Blossom, a card that doesn’t see a lot of mention, but deserves more.
It adds redundancy to the general ramping and unlike wild growth, it is a fine play on 6 to 9 mana as part of the jade ladder. It is a card that, while not overly impact in most moments, always has use in almost any phase of the game. The kind of card all decks wishes they could have.
It is also fairly generously costed. Mire Keeper gives a mana crystal with a 3/3 body which Jade blossom surpasses a lot of the time, despite costing one less.
Next one is speed
Ramp druid have traditionally had a tough time keeping up with aggressive decks. But the new card, *CARD "Spreading Plaque" NOT FOUND* punishes those strategies hard.
The 1/5 taunt body has been one of the themes for druid in this expansion, and it doesn’t help that this kind of minion is the kind that gains the most from a the buff from Mark of the lotus, a card already undercosted and has now found its way into a lot midrange druid decks. It is power cards synergising with other power cards and together they go way over the top. A classic recipe for disaster.
Next is card draw. Druids have very high card usage due to ramping. In the past this lead to them being extremely reliant on Ancient of Lore, a card so powerful it was nerfed as part of the nerf wave that struck when standard was implemented. Since then they have resorted to the somewhat mediocre card, Nourish.
All of this seems moot in the face of Ultimate Infestation, a card whose power I have already touched upon.
Finally it comes down to general deck value. If druids fails to win through the tempo they would usually be at a disadvantage vs full on control decks because so much of their deck is either ramping or card draw to replenish from the ramping. Cards that add no “deck value” which is a tough concept to explain but essentially comes down to how much minion stats your deck can place on the board.
The entire jade package of course covers this like a champ and makes it a fools errand to fight the fatigue battle vs druid. It offers progressing value and it is impossible to ever beat the deck through starvation.
Frequent in game design, in order to preserve diversity, it is better to emphasize intended weakness than toning down strengths. This has frequently been the method in Heroes of the storm, where for example it was common for mages to lose survival talents over losing the burst damage that defined their role.
I would prefer the same line of thought for druid. Because temporary issues should not be fixed with permanent solutions. Half the weaknesses I mentioned will be reinstated when the next standard rotation comes around in April. Overnerfing druids core set now could leave the class in shambles for years to come.
We saw the same thing happen with Hunter back in 2014. Once their core set was balanced down, through the severe nerf of Starving Buzzard, then Naxx and GvG level cards set the baseline required to make Hunter playable. These were amazing cards. Haunted creeper offered a powerful beast that gave nearly guarenteed board control that would be followed up with glaivezooka or a Knife Juggler. Quick Shot offered fast reactionary plays and extra card draw. Hunter have not seen the likes of these cards since. Nor have Hunter seen any relevance.
This is why messing with Class identity and the core set holds great risk for as long as there is no intention of going back and restoring the damage by instating some new cards in the core sets. So far we have not seen this happen.
If Druids coreset were nerfed to the point of being balanced at present time then that would embed the powerlevel of cards required for druids to remain playable. The Jade package only got about half a year left in standard. As has mark of the lotus. If druid’s core is downscaled then once these cards leave, new cards of equal potency would have to be introduced.
The solution I would like instead should be to look at nerfs to the expansion cards. Make it risky to ramp again. For the future of druid, aswell as the balance in wild, where Jade druid also runs rampart.
There are options. It is just a matter of confronting them.
Blizzard has already announced that they got news coming about potential fixes. Shouldn't really come as a surprise either. Blizzard has without fail had a balance patch late September/early October for the last 3 years. They seem reluctant to note this as a standard routine but at the same time it seems clear that they want the game to be in a balanced state during Blizzcon. Last week of September would be after all the preliminaries but still give enough time for pros to adjust for the summer championship in the middle of October. This is the time frame.
For a final word, I will also say I am hesitant to think that a fix for druid alone will be enough to fix the meta.
Druid is the most prominent deck right now but right below the surface lies Quest mage. A deck that in my opinion, is way more cancerous because its wincondition acts completely outside of minion play, as opposed to Jade druid that are just way too good at minion play. With recent support it has been known to go off with its infinite damage combo as soon as turn 8. Far before you could expect to break even a single Ice Block.
This could leave the meta in just as bad a state as Quest mage shares many of the same problems as ramp druid. It forces people to go on the aggressive and is very punishing to control decks. Something that would leave us back to square one for the summer championships.