With first expansion of each Hearthstone New Year due in April, the Year of the Raven is only halfway through. This means that the power cards of Kobolds and Catacombs will be with for another six months. But among these potent meta-definers, one in particular is causing distress. While Druid isn’t necessarily ending the world, can Hearthstone handle another six months of Spreading Plague? How long can this go on?
Warping the meta
Part of the problem of Spreading Plague is its impact on the meta. This is as much psychological as mathematical, but cannot be denied. It massively skews Druid’s favourability against all kinds of aggro decks. Meanwhile, the fact that it can be a dead card in all sorts of slower matchups encourages slower combos. In a meta groaning under the weight of anti-control and anti-druid lists, keeping a tool that gives a slow ramping class that traditionally struggles against wide boards incredible staying power versus said boards may not be the best idea.
There’s also the issue of homogenity. While Druid isn’t the most popular class at all ranks, its decks are far more similar than the marginally more prevalent Warlock. While Warlock is split between Control, Cube, Even and Zoo, with massively different card pools, Druid’s many archetypes are very similar. The vast majority have the same “ramp, remove ‘n’ draw” spell core. At the heart of this strategy is Spreading Plague, allowing you to effortlessly regain lost tempo you spent ramping. Nerfing Spreading Plague may not bring more diversity to the meta, but it has a good shot at bringing more diversity to Druid, as harsher tradeoffs have to be made between ramp, combo pieces and survival tools.
The counters aren’t working
Spreading Plague does, thankfully, have some counters, even in decks that go wide. Unfortunately, these counters aren’t doing nearly enough to reduce Spreading Plague’s dominance. Mossy Horror spiked massively in popularity, not only for Spreading Plague but also to counter Giggling Inventor. Void Ripper also is a popular anti-Plague counter.
But despite the massive prevalence of both Mossy and Ripper (20% and 7%, respectively, at 5-Legend, according to HSReplay.net), Spreading Plague is still more popular than all but one of the non-Druid class cards. The massive prevalence of multiple counters and that card’s continued presence in the meta are sure signs that something’s wrong. If the meta’s already adapting significantly to a card and it remains dominant, the problem may lie in the card.
Thinking of the future
One compelling reason to nerf Plague is to allow Druid more powerful options in the future. Some of Druid’s most defining cards are due to rotate with Plague, and will need replacing to keep the class as we know it afloat. Without Jasper Spellstone, Branching Paths, and the infamous Ultimate Infestation, Druid will need more tools to augment its weakened post-nerf classic set.
By nerfing Spreading Plague now, Blizzard gives themselves room to space out new powerful Druid cards between now and rotation, letting the class into its new identity rather than having a sudden, devastating break with its old form.
Alternatively, they could simply let Druid not be top-tier for one of the first times in Hearthstone history…
Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com and PlayHearthstone on Twitch