Predicting the Standard: Top cards Blizzard should address for 2018
The year of the Mammoth is coming to an end. The World Championship is settled, congrats to Tom.
With the end of the year comes the time for the annual balance reshuffle that always happens with the arrival of a new standard year. Here is my list for the cards I think needs to be fixed. This includes both evergreen classic cards I would see rotated as well as expansion cards that will need nerfs, starting off with a card that I think will be on literally every list (Including Blizzard's own).
The freebie: Ice Block
I don’t agree with this one, but it is going to happen so might as well list it. Complaints from pros have gotten too fervant and the statement from Blizzard seems to indicate it is only a matter of time.
When I don’t agree with it, then it is because I don’t see ice block as the biggest problem card in mage (that prize goes to Fireball). But fundamentally it is also the wrong way to balance combo decks.
The biggest problem with Exodia Mage is not its defense, it is it’s limitless offense that deals infinte damage, thus ignoring any and all health gain, as well as most other counters. Armor Druid/Warrior?, Doesn’t matter. Amana setting health to 40? Might as well be zero.
There was a time when Freeze Mage just had to call quits immediately when facing a control warrior, showing that there was all the design space in the world to counter it. But Blizzard removed that completely when they allowed an infinite damage combo to be consistent.
It is not that I don’t think Ice Block is sketchy design. It is just not the first card I would fix in Freeze Mage. Not even top five.
These however are the cards I would address in Hearthstone for 2018:
10. All the 2016 Nerfs
Knife Juggler, Leper Gnome, All of the Druid Class, Molten Giant.
This is just a small list of the cards that was completely disassembled during 2016, the first year of standard. To the part where most of them were never meant to see play again.
When Hall of Fame was announced in 2017, Blizzard did make statements suggesting that they would consider going back and restoring these cards to full power while sending them to the Hall of Fame set. Well, here we are, and the time is now.
This act would severely shake up the wild meta, restoring decks like Handlock and Combo Druid to their past glory and letting wild be a true picture of the yesteryear of Hearthstone. If nothing else it would at least show how much stronger today's decks are.
When I also highlight Knife Juggler in this respect, it is because of all of those card that this one needs to go to wild the most.
While cards like Wild Pyromancer were mechanically altered to work better with recruit (read: by not working with it), Knife juggler instead became more random than what was already the case. Call to Arms turn Knife Jugglers effect into a double dice-roll, both dependant on his order of arrival and his normal random targeting. I don’t complain as much about RNG as a lot of pros, but this is still over my threshold. We are playing Hearthstone, not Yahtzee. This coupled with the extensive historic use of Knife Juggler should be all that is needed to send him off to wild at last.
“Silence needs to be a choice”. It was with these words I declared Ironbeak Owl a problem card in 2016 and recommended a harsh nerf to it. Blizzard nerfed it even more harshly a month later.
And now in 2018, I can’t help but feel that we are getting to the same point with Spellbreaker. It is seeing use in many decks, from aggro to control. All for its immense utility.
Now, let it be said, Spellbreaker is fair. A LOT fairer than Ironbeak Owl was at two mana, but Owl ended up being completely auto-include in basically any deck.
The question that must be asked is whether neutral silence is getting too good to be on a fair card. As deathrattles and taunts become ever more potent, to better match the growing speed of battlecry minions, so has it become more potent to simply negate their effect rather than addressing them head on.
It is all about reliance. When Kobolds was revealed to have a weapon focused theme, there was a fear that weapon removal would go overboard but it turned out that silence remained so much more reliable.
It is much more reliable to have a spellbreaker to pass through the voidlord a Warlock will inevitably summon than taking out his one singular Skull of The Mandari. It is possible to remove the Vala’nyr buff completely with silence where as Weapon removal is completely ineffective.
This kind of reliability is often what determines whether an evergreen card becomes problematic: when there is no longer any skill involved in choosing whether any deck should use the card, only whether you should use one or two.
8. N'Zoth, the Corruptor
I imagine people will react to this choice like “Yo Sumadin, check the calendar, this card is already headed to wild”. But that is exactly the point. That is why this card must die, now and forever.
N’zoth turned any number of Deathrattle minions to gamewinners. With his arrival, there was a significant downtoning of late game Deathrattles impact. Sludge Belcher, Sneed's Old Shredder, Anub'arak all left standard. Powerful Deathrattles, the likes of which have not really been printed since N’zoth was added to the game.
Now that he is leaving we need Deathrattles to be game winners on their own again, even for classes that can’t necessarily summon them more than once. We will only get there if there are no concerns at all that N’zoth would break the wild meta when coupled together with these new deathrattles.
That is why I think Wild is insufficient for N’zoth. He needs to be nerfed as he rotates to ensure the design space for future deathrattles.
It is either that or have the game turn into Battlecry-stone. Have everything become a bonemare with instant effects and no need to worry about the opponents ability to answer. Slow Deathrattles will just be something you toy around with in Wild.
So already back when I was writing my article about design space, I suspected Shadowstep was a sleeper problem card. That was right after the rogue quest nerf. Then came Prince Keleseth, and I am no longer just suspecting.
It has always been absurdly powerful with Coldlight Oracle in Mill Rogue, and as battlecries have gotten more common, so have the utility of this card. Vilespin slayer, Bonemare. All cards where this cards strength has shown, even as its design caters more to cheaper minions.
A recent interview with Blizzard would also suggest that it is a severe limitation on design space. Shadowstep is mentioned twice as the reason why Moat Lurker had to be priced high and why King Togwaggle’s effect ended up how it is.
Look at Brann Bronzebeard, or Murmuring Elemental. This is the “fair” price for doubling battlecries. But Shadowstep does exactly this for Keleseth and so much more. It allows doubled battlecries to have multiple targets. It boosts Edwin Vancleef. It can recycle charge minions. It made the “unplayable” rogue quest way too good. On a whim it can simply work to restore a minion to full health.
All for the grand sum of 0 mana. I don’t think it can stay this way.
In recent years, we have seen nerfs of the removal cards that allowed absolute removal for way too generous a cost. Everyone should remember the three mana Big Game Hunter. Execute and Hex have also both seen nerfs since their launch version as well. While this is good progress for the health of the game, not much has been done against the cards that offers absolute removal in multiples. Most of those come in manacosts of seven or above, where almost everything is balancable. But Brawl is a very clear exception to this and it has come to the point of being a massive issue.
The deck in question where this is highlighted the best is Dead Man's warrior. A deck that exist purely to remove any and all enemy minions till the opponent runs out of cards and/or falls asleep. The greediest N’zoth decks could not hope to maintain a board vs this style. It just never runs out of removal.
It was so bad, that HCT even had to change the rules regarding ties to accommodate for this deck having no win condition in the mirror and running into the turn limit.
Overall this playstyle makes for a terrible game and viewing experience altogether and with Brawl being one of its biggest enablers, it needs to go.
5. Corridor Creeper
It was this card or Bonemare for the choice of “which expansion card won’t last till next rotation without nerfs.” It ended up being this, because while Bonemare certainly invokes memories of Dr Boom, they are still memories that occurred mostly on turn seven, ss opposed to, say, turn three with Corridor Creeper, which has been happening in recent times.
We have seen the mechanic of death-discount before with Volcanic Drake. This time it is buffed significantly by having the discount persist between turns and, perhaps even more significantly, Creeper has one more health, putting it outside of a lot of the removal tools like Flamestrike or Truesilver Champion.
Arcane Tyrant is another comparrison, and I would say Corridor Creeper currently has no right having a higher statline than Tyrant.
With Tyrant, the owner is the only one contributing to the discount and it is assured that the user at the very least had five mana to spend on a spell (which could still be as early as turn three, you never know with druids).
Both Tyrant and Drake were designs that rewarded stuff you, the player did. You were the ones that had to make a bunch of minions die on your turn; you are the one casting a high cost spell that probably wasn’t worth it. Corridor Creeper just casually falls to zero mana from normal gameplay, gathering from the actions of both you and your opponent. On top of this it still has a much better statline than both of those minions and as a result of this it is currently seeing play everywhere. This design will not last till April 2019.
4. The 1/3 trio. (Mana Wyrm/Northshire Cleric/Voidwalker)
A returning “category” from last year. Most of what I said last year stills holds true, though since we have had a year of Priest among the top tier I will also include Northshire Cleric.
The most important quality of low cost minions is that they die to an appropiate amount of removal. These three cards have never lived up to that. 300% the manacost in health total is insane at any mana cost, but for one-drops it is almost seen as natural. Not only that but for these three, their card text forces interaction from the opponent, as leaving them for more than one turn tends to cause catastrophic escalation.
Even Vilefin inquisitor managed to be a huge nuisance this year, ultimately causing the nerf of Murloc Warleader. Dire Mole has also managed to see use in Druid and Hunter decks, purely off beast support cards, which makes it all the more insane that these three cards have active text of their own.
As predicted, Blizzard ended up nerfing Fiery War Axe in 2017, even if they took their sweet time. This removed one of the last effective answers to this group of minions that are already lacking in answers.
In Scorp-o-matic, Blizzard seems to be trying to print new answers, but such specific tech cards have never worked for anything.
Mana Wyrm has from day one caused wins which were settled turn four - an apsect which has brought nerfs to plenty of cards in the past. Mana Wyrm has eluded this, even as the growing number of two mana spells has made its self-escalation ever stronger. At times it has even seen plays in mage decks that otherwise would be considered control decks.
Northshire Cleric remains a complete default include in any and all priest decks, seizing the board early and generating card draw with an over the top statline. A testimony to the fact that Blizzard doesn’t care to balance priest so much as to just give them a few select monster cards to make up for the disfunctionality of the rest of the class.
Voidwalker is not in the same class as Mana Wyrm or Cleric, but I refuse to not mention it. From the launch of Hearthstone, throughout its three years, voidwalker has taken up spots in all kinds of Warlocks decks, being a stable pick in Zoo and even acting as an early stabilizer in various demon Control Warlocks builds before Kobolds.
Voidlord has certainly increased the times where people get to see this card, without making voidwalker played. Make no mistake though. Voidwalker has proven more than enough on its own why it should be considered for adjustments. Zoo always returns eventually.
Blizzard needs to find a way to make strong tempo classes without having to give them an imbalanced 1/3 1 mana minion (Or Patches). A start to that would be to deal with those that are already permanently in the game.
If Fiery War Axe was the class card that needed to be adjusted the most in 2017, then Fireball is without a doupt the card that needs to be addressed for 2018. It is time.
Removal, finisher, Combo pierce all at once, fireball is just the definition of an all-around card. Jack of all trades, but also master of all.
It’s damage output for mana is some of the highest in the game, allowing it to be removal for any minion of its cost, and most minions costed above that. Fireball used to cost five in the early alpha of Hearthstone and that is probably where it should go back to.
And then there is Archmage Antonidas, who would be directly effected by any direct nerf to this card aswell (though not if this card simply went to the Hall of Fame). He has been the win condition for so many decks over the years, all aiming to kill the hero without ever having to care about the board.
Since Un’Goro arrived, the main focus for control mage has been the combo of Antonidas + four Sorcerer's Apprentice. A niche combo seen in the past with Echo of Medivh, but now enabled consistently with Open the Waygate and Molten Reflection.
People call it Exodia Mage, but tend to forget that the Exodia has lead to more card bans in Yu-Gi-Oh than any other card. Strategies bypassing the core gameplay of a CCG tends to be nerfed. And minion play is very much the core gameplay of Hearthstone.
Fixing the mana cost of fireball would ease a little on the mage dominance in arena, it would heavily nerf one of the largest sources of infinite damage and it might make some room in a lot of mage lists where fireball has been a completely default include among other classic mage cards.
Overall there are so many upsides to fixing fireball that it baffles me why people bother going after ice block. This would bring so much more to the health of the game.
To this day Doomsayer remains one of the most polarizing card designs in Hearthstone. Games are won and lost based on whether an opponent can clear its seven health. But i will say this: Hearthstone doesn’t need doomsayer any more. Not that I ever thought it did.
As removal for low-cost minions have gotten progressively more effective in the shape of Defile and Duskbreaker, this cards anti-aggro/tempo utility has gotten redundant and its only purpose has turned into clearing large boards combined with freeze while denying entire turns for the opponent. This is far more impact than it has any right to at its mana cost.
Besides Freeze Mage, Doomsayer is only seeing use in insanely greedy control or combo decks like Exodia Paladin. Basically, in decks expecting to reach turn 25+. Oftentimes it is enough for doomsayer to be a two mana “heal seven” so that they can just get that one extra turn to stabilize with the rest of their healing.
The days where doomsayer simply kept Hearthstone honest is gone. Now it is just keeping Hearthstone dumb. And to people claiming you should alter your decks to be able to answer Doomsayer, I will also just ask: with what?
At the launch of Hearthstone, Ironbeak owl was a versalite answer at the same mana cost, and its massive use meant it was almost impossible to rely on doomsayer. There also existed more ways to directly take out the doomsayer.
Shamans could answer the Doomsayer with Hex. Tempo warrior could answer the doomsayer-frostnova combo by equiping a Fiery war axe and following up with a Kor'kron elite.
Notice that these plays either required you going first or having the coin. And all of these plays are impossible on curve today because the cards in question have all been nerfed.
All that is left is very specific tech options like Crazed Alchemist. Something that should never be the case against an evergreen neutral card.
What I am saying with all of this is that you are not supposed to have an effective way of dealing seven damage against a two mana minion. Be it silence, damage or hard removal, one by one, all of these options have been nerfed, as they themselves makes for pretty poor card design, which is why Doomsayer should follow in their footsteps.
1. Gadgetzan Auctioneer
Neutral card draw almost always finds a way to be a problem, be it Novice engineer during the beta, or last year with Azure drake. That is why card draw is an element that is always best confined within the class cards. This works better to establish class identity, and doesn’t end up restricting design space as much. Auctioneer goes against all of that, with a simple promise. If you got cheap spells, he's got the best deals anywhere. This is basically how Miracle rogue won three world championships in a row from 2014 to 2016.
The historic use by Rogue is more than enough to prove why this card needs to go, but auctioneer being neutral means we got more material for the case.
Auctioneer was a complete staple in Jade druid, in the time before Ultimate infestation. Drawing three cards from a Wild Growth was a draw engine matched by almost nothing and it even sees occasional use to this day. Highlander Priest has also made use of Auctioneer, most recently seen by Frozen in last week's world championship finals.
Rogue have moved on, at last, as tempo currently offers a much more consistent win condition. Now would be the best time to force the issue and make sure the meta can’t recess back to Miracle.
What happens in Gadgetzan should stay in Gadgetzan. As it stands, the rest of Gadgetzan is leaving for wild. The best time for Auctioneer to join them is now, while no class takes a major hit from his departure. He has done his duty and made his impact.