The Hearthstone development team isn’t a fan of changing things up too often. Core to the Hearthstone experience, in their eyes, is that of “physicality”; the idea that your cards are your own, and permanent in a way similar to “real” physical cards. Understandably, this means that any balance patches are few and far between. Too many liberal alterations would undermine any sense of ownership and consistency. No one feels good about purchasing packs of what feel completely ephemeral.
As part of this philosophy, balance changes tend to be especially heavy handed. Team 5 often take the “Nuke it from orbit” approach to problematic cards. Former staples like Warsong Commander and Ancient of Lore have gone from core, even build-around backbones of decks, to trash overnight. While over-reacting reduces the effective card pool and means that players’ favorite cards can no longer be used, few would argue that it’s not better than the alternative.
An alternative to nerfing?
However, the introduction of the Standard format has resulted in a new balancing strategy; one that preserves the integrity and “soul” of the cards in question while not allowing it to upset the delicate Standard balance. Instead of altering the card, it can simply be relegated to Wild. This currently is planned for six classic cards, most notably Azure Drake, Sylvanas, and Ragnaros.
This raises an exciting new possibility for cards that have seen heavy-handed or over-the-top balance changes in the past. Instead of continuing on in their current, unplayable form, they could be returned to their old glory, but only on rotation to Wild or as part of the “Hall of Fame”. This idea has had community popularity, with suggestion posts and a poll gaining traction on the Hearthstone Subreddit.
So what cards could see being returned to their old power, to fight eternal in the Elysium of Wild?
Warsong Commander has been balanced twice now. Its original incarnation gave all cards Charge, meaning devastating OTK combos could be easily achieved. Early in development, it was altered to only give Charge. This temporarily quelled its potency, but with the rise of Grim Patron decks after the release of Blackrock Mountain, it gained power once more. Combo’d with Grim Patrons, it could machine-gun down boards of small minions while filling it up with 3/3s. More worryingly, it could cause more OTKs with Frothing Bezerkers.
The final balance change was backbreaking. Instead of granting minions Charge, it gave minions with Charge +1 attack. This made it go from niche combo piece to flat-out unplayable. No competitive deck has ever used it since. As a classic card, it makes little sense to have it clogging up the roster of the evergreen set, accomplishing nothing. Wild is not the same beast that Grim Patron conquered several expansions ago. Game-ending N’zoth boards are the norm, Dirty Rat can disrupt combos, AOE is far more widespread, more potent taunts are available, and aggro decks can refill faster. A restored Warsong could thrive without being oppressive in the Wild meta.
Yogg-Saron, Hope’s End
“Praise Yogg!” was up until recently an oft-heard refrain on Ladder. Yogg Saron’s unique position as a high-cost, synergistic, reactive, value generation tool made it vital to countering the huge boards of Shaman. While RNG-based, it could reasonably reliably clear the board and draw a few cards to boot. However, its wildly varying outcomes made it frustrating both for ladder and Tournament play.
While Yogg’s Wild rotation is a ways off (not until early next year), being returned to its old strength is a risky endeavor, depending on the strength of the new synergies introduced. If enough powerful spells make their way into Wild, then games lasting until turn 10 before being decided by Yogg RNG could be a realistic and frustrating likelihood. However, as more and more cards get added, the strength of synergies and minion aggression will increase. Games making it to turn 10 will become increasingly unlikely, and cards like Yogg will need to be more powerful to compensate.
The Molten Giant nerf still stings for many Handlock players. Not many saw it as a problem card. Easy to play around and a potent anti-aggro tool for a class that was vulnerable to it in the days before Reno, Molten Giant was hit with an unexpected five mana nerf. Five mana is the most impactful balance change of any card based on cost alone. It took the card from staple in Handlock and Echo Mage (in Wild) to one that was almost impossible to even play. Becoming worthwhile only when your hero is down to around 12 health, it’s become impractical against control, midrange, and aggro.
Team 5 are wary of cheap or free massive minions with easy-to-activate conditions; especially in the evergreen set. However, considering that Arcane Giant will remain in Wild for all eternity, it would surely not do too much damage to the format to have the old Molten Giant back in Wild only. With the wider variety of direct damage and burst combos available, it should be easier to play around than in Standard.
Ancient of Lore
Ancient of Lore was key to the old Midrange Druid. An Arcane Intellect attached to a 5/5 body was nothing to sniff at, and provided vital cycle and board presence in decks that relied on both. The healing option was a nice option to have in clutch situations. Considering the proportion of Classic Druid cards that made up decks of the time, and the sheer strength of the card, a balance change was hardly surprising.
Now, a single cycle effect is hardly worth a seven mana investment, even with a body attached. Such a card in its old state would surely make late-game oriented Druids in Wild more viable. The downside is that, unlike the other cards on the list, it’s hardly the kind of exciting card that would inspire people to try wild.
Blade Flurry was another of the “Design Space” balance changes that was never truly capitalized on. In its original incarnation, the card was a flexible and powerful face damage and board control tool (with the right synergies). However, the balance change that doubled the mana cost from two to four and eliminated the game-ending face damage combo potential killed the card’s viability. Compounding the problem, no powerful Rogue weapon has been released, and Tinker’s Sharpsword Oil’s weapon buff has had no replacement.
An old Blade Flurry would be a potent, but not overwhelming, tool in Wild. Given the omnipresence of sticky minions, its boardclear aspect would be less potent. While its face damage potential would be arguably dangerous, Rogue needs help to survive Wild’s Uber-refined aggro and control decks, given the class’s lack of reactive tools.
An argument against the change is that Blade Flurry may yet be a potent card, given the right tools. Moving it to wild would squander Rogue’s best chance of an AOE other than Fan of Knives in Standard.
Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via http://us.battle.net/hearthstone/en/blog
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