Tracing back all the way to the 7.1 patch, the changes made in Arena are definitely due to the complaints of the playerbase rather than a confirmed case of metagame-warping cards. While “feeling bad” about losing to something is certainly an aspect of gameplay that the developers should keep in mind, it’s not easy to strike a balance between removing cards that the community finds problematic and outright neutering specific ones just because they are powerful – and this is a discussion worth having again now that the Death Knights are getting removed from Arena.
One of the long-running issues with the game’s draft-based format is that the developers eventually shied away from actively curating the card pool, even though they had a successful attempt at it in September 2016, removing 45 cards – some good, some bad – in order to make the classes closer to each other. Simple, understandable, logical, easy to adjust and change: it’s a shame they ditched this method and opted to adjust offering rates both based on card type and individual cards, with the rates of the latter micro-adjustments not even being available to the playerbase unless they collect their own data via sites like HSReplay and ArenaDrafts.
The problem with this, of course, is that if losing to a card “feels bad”, knowing that it’s rarely going to show up in the draft makes it even worse when they actually are dropped on you, especially because it becomes an incorrect strategy to play around them due to their rarity. It also led to an interesting development where the officially noted changes are almost exclusively centered around the community’s complaints: the offering rates of Abyssal Enforcer and Flamestrike have been slashed to half forever, no matter how the arena metagame might change with new releases and adjustments, while certain cards like Vicious Fledgling – and now the Death Knights – that did not have obscenely high winrates but were “bad to lose against” have been completely banned.
Here’s the main issue: where do you draw the line? If you’re going to eventually ban or neuter most of the powerful cards in the format, all you’ll accomplish is that previously less annoying cards will take their place as the villains. This isn’t a sustainable nor a necessarily productive way to balance a draft-based format: directly curating the pool, with sets or specific cards occasionally rotating in and out would be a much more interesting and effective approach. The new, Arena-specific cards also seem like a good way to go, making such extreme decisions as these outright bans even more excessive in the process.
Keep in mind that most of these concerns are validated by the developers’ previous work: these decisions are final in their mind. We’ve never seen a reverted nerf in either of the large formats, and that’s probably not a good thing.
A brief history of Constructed nerfs
If you look beyond the beta period of the game, Hearthstone’s long and checkered history with card adjustments is a sad sight to behold with each changes coming long after a particular card or deck has warped the metagame, with the developers eventually turning them into unplayable junk. Warsong Commander, twice. Starving Buzzard. Undertaker. Big Game Hunter. The list could go on – and this doesn’t even account for the head-scratchers like the changes to Molten Giant, Blade Flurry or Hex. In general, these changes have rendered the cards completely useless and crippled the archetypes they were involved in.
The usual explanation by the developers is that they can only change so many stats and just a single added mana or one reduced health is a large increase in percentage. I would argue that this isn’t really an adequate reason why Blade Flurry’s cost had to double while also losing a critical part of its effect. With regards to our current discussion: if these changes weren’t final, if Team 5 was open to re-evaluating them and changing the cards once more at some point, an overkill like this would not be a problem. As things currently stand, if the community complains long and hard enough, the developers will actively butcher an archetype forever, no matter its winrate. I guess it’s a sign that they are paying more attention to Arena that they are displaying the same attitude over there as well. The main takeaway from all this? Be careful what you wish for…
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