Once again, changes are afoot in the world of Hearthstone. In a post on the Hearthstone subreddit and Blizzard Forums, Team 5 announced two incoming balance changes. In addition to the introduction of “floors” that prevent falling below certain ladder milestones, Small-Time Buccaneer and Spirit Claws are in for a rebalance. This has profound implications on what decks and strategies are likely to be dominant in tomorrow’s meta.
Small-Time Buccaneer is to have its health reduced to one from two, making it far more susceptible to pings and low-cost AOE. Ironically, it also renders it vulnerable to Patches the Pirate. Meanwhile, arguably the most powerful weapon in the game is no longer the apex of terrifying efficiency. Moving it from one mana to two renders it far less potent at shutting down early-game minions. In particular, it can no longer be followed up with a Bloodmage Thalnos or Wrath of Air totem.
So what does this mean for the meta? Well, for a start, the overwhelming monopoly Pirate decks have on the aggressive early game is likely to be loosened. Meanwhile, Shaman will be far less effective at early-game board control. It’s time to look back at some passed over decks that fight for the board early and push for aggression later one that were otherwise crowded out by Shaman and pirates. While these changes might seem small at first, the fact that more than half the decks on ladder run two copies of one or both of these cards makes this a huge opportunities for new decks to arise.
Tempo mage has been around ever since someone had the bright idea to stick Mana Wyrm, Fireball, Frostbolt and Arcane Intellect in the same deck. An aggressive, midrangey deck, it seeks to grab board control with explosive starts built around high-tempo spell combos, using ample card draw to reload and finishing the game with flexible burn. After a golden age propelled by the power of cards like Flamewaker, Tempo Mage has been suffocated by the power of aggressive pirate decks. With no answer to Small-time Bucccaneer in particular, it was overtaken by its more reactive Reno cousin.
But with Buccaneer and Spirit Claws altered, those pressures no longer keep it in line. Now that Arcane Missiles, Mana Wyrm and Flamewaker pings all deal nicely with those annoying sea-raiders, it looks set to make a spectacular comeback. Tempo mage can also punish the greedier Jade lists that might pop up in the power vacuum left by aggressive Shaman and Warrior decks becoming weaker. Meanwhile, it can be tinkered with to become heavy enough to blast through Reno opponents with consistent burn damage and constant minion pressure. Perhaps it’s for the best that Flamewaker is rotating out soon?
Druid is currently relegated purely to the anti-control Jade Druid build, as its other builds have been hampered by aggression on the low-curving end and greed on the high. Druid can take a lot of forms; from pure board flood token archetypes, to Beast-focused tribal decks, to the more exotic Menagerie versions with Finja and the Curator. But all of them have the same weakness to being out-tempo’d early on, making them inconsistent at best in today’s meta.
However, the old order will soon no longer apply. Druid will be able to compete with the explosive openers of pirates more readily, and its own unique flavour of board-focused aggressive midrange style will soon become a genuine threat on ladder. As an flexible class, its aggression can be focused on hunter-style curving out with minions, or on spreading wide and pushing with Savage Roar or Soul of the Forest. Whatever happens, it’s likely that seeing a druid will no longer mean auto-mulliganning to beat Jade.
When caster, streamer and Blizzcon Champion James “Firebat” Kostesich published this video on the enduring strength of Zoolock, he can’t have imagined the dark days to come for the archetype. While playing low-cost minions backed up by lifetap has been strong for almost all of Hearthstone’s history. The release of Maelstrom Portal and Spirit Claws, and the ensuing Shaman dominance after One Night in Karazahn forced the deck into a corner. Relying on explosive discard synergies, it was unable to adapt to the incredible early pressure of pirates.
Now with both Spirit Claws and Small-time Buccaneer no longer the counters they were, Zoo looks set to return to the limelight. It will likely take a while for the meta to settle enough for there to be a suitable population of midrange or AOE-lacking decks for it to prey on. But when that day comes, Zoo may yet make an impressive return to form.
Few classes have fallen from favour so precipitously as Hunter. From the dizzying heights of near tier-one status, Hunter has become the least-played and least-successful class in the game. As a class whose survival depends on seizing early board control, it has been utterly obliterated by the power of pirates (and Small-time Buccaneer in particular). Despite numerous strong cards, its early game is simply too weak to compete. Spirit claws is also a powerful hinderance, as almost all of its early game minions are exceptionally vulnerable to it.
With Small-time Buccaneer less of a problem, expect the class to re-emerge as the premier foe of Jade and greedy Reno decks. Hunter’s ability to apply constant and consistent minion pressure is unmatched; and when it can no longer be out-tempo’d by hordes of more aggressive foes, it may yet find a niche. Don’t expect too much though; it remains hampered by the general failure of the Grimy Goons’ handbuff mechanic to provide any powerful new strategies.
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