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Is there a good way to nerf Druid?

Picture a scene. It’s a few months from now. Assume Druid, specifically Jade Druid, still dominates the meta, with few counters. Mike Donais, Ben Brode, Dean Ayala and the rest of Hearthstone’s design team sit around a table. They’re throwing around ideas and discussions behind Druid’s past, present and future. The howls of dismay from their user-base at Druid’s dominance demands action; and they have decided not to wait until a new expansion to shake things up.

They would have a delicate problem on their hands. Druid’s power hinges on a number of key cards. Worse, many of those cards are integral to the class’s entire identity. Sure, you could eliminate Jade Druid from the meta by nerfing Wild Growth, Innervate and Swipe. But without these cards, Druid would likely just feel like a reskinned Hunter.

Meanwhile, nerfing other cards without touching the core Druid package could lead to yet more oppressive Druid decks in the future. So what cards could be on the chopping block for Druid?

Innervate

Innervate is undeniably powerful – but may be ingrained in Druid’s identity

For some, Innervate is at the crux of issues with Druid. A staple of basically every Druid deck ever, Innervate is about as powerful a tempo tool as you can get. Two mana for one card is incredibly strong, especially early on. When it’s pushing out a snowbally minion, landing a crucial buff, drawing cards with Auctioneer, or finding lethal with Malygos, even more so.

Some, (like Reynad) argue that Innervate is fundamentally not fun and overpowered as a card. As a counterargument, Innervate could be seen as a strong but defining card for Druid, as mana ramp and manipulation is their hallmark. Changing or rotating Innervate would free up design space, but at a cost of Druids power level being reduced on a permanent basis.

Pros of a nerf:

  • Frees up design space
  • Reduces disparity between best and mediocre early game
  • Makes cards like Vicious Fledgling less difficult

Cons of a nerf:

  • Hits all Druid archetypes, not just problematic ones
  • Permanent reduction of Druid power
  • Erodes class identity

Jade Idol

Jade Idol has been at the forefront of many players’ ire. Its unique infinite threat generation is no longer unstoppable, thanks to Skulking Geist. However, it’s still at the core of one of the most potent anti-Control archetypes in the game, and the current most popular deck on Standard Ladder.

A reduction in the ability of Idol to generate infinite threats would be the only nerf that would make sense. It would reduce Jade’s winrate versus Control, while leaving other new Druid archetypes alone. However, this would only have a limited impact on the deck’s overall winrate. It would also make little sense immediately after the printing of Skulking Geist.

Pros:

  • Hits only Jade Druid
  • Makes Jade less polarizing vs Control
  • Maintains class identity

Cons:

  • Low impact on overall winrate
  • Skulking Geist already exists
  • Will rotate out soon anyway

Ultimate Infestation

Ultimate Infestation draws complaints, but may not be the root of the problem

This card is one of the newer additions to Druid’s arsenal. It’s also one of the most controversial. I’ve discussed it before at some length. While it is arguably not especially powerful compared to many other 10 mana cards, the comparison has some flaws. It synergises incredibly well with Druid’s ample ramp tools, and it requires no synergies to be played to great effect.

The debate over whether or not this card is overpowered may change depending on how the meta reacts to Druid’s current dominance. If it speeds you considerably in response, the card may not even see too much play. What’s more, it’s a tricky card to change. As a 10 mana card, its cost cannot be increased. And as its flavour relies on the number five, changing all aspects to four would probably be overly heavy-handed.

What’s more, Druids that wanted additional card draw could easily swap back to running Gadgetzan Auctioneer. However, it would undeniably cut into Jade Druid’s oppressiveness. Overly powerful card draw like Ancient of Lore have proven to be worthy of changing in the past.

Pros:

  • Reduces power level of other ramp cards
  • Doesn’t affect Druid’s Classic toolset
  • Card draw has historically been overly powerful in Druid

Cons:

  • Many card-draw alternatives
  • Hurts non-Jade Ramp Druid
  • Not overpowered compared to other 10 mana options

Spreading Plague

Spreading Plague shores up a key Druid weakness to big boards

This card has been behind much of the class’s rise to prominence. Its ability to recover massive amounts of tempo while throwing up huge Taunt walls against aggro massively improves Aggro matchups. Pirate Warrior, once deemed a soft counter to Jade Druid, now has an unfavourable matchup against the deck. Spreading Plague means that the traditional Aggro strategy against Druid (namely, going wide) no longer is as effective.

Instead, Decks need to focus on building compact, “tall” boards. Murloc Paladin is perfect for this, but even so, struggles against the card. A reduction in spreading plague would reduce Druids consistency against Aggro and allow it to naturally become less greedy. Unfortunately, reinforcing the popularity of Aggro in this way may just strengthen another type of Druid in Aggro Druid. Jade Druid would likely become yet more polarising against Control too.

Pros:

  • Big impact
  • Allows meta to self-correct
  • Reinforces Class Identity of Druids having few tools to deal with wide boards

Cons:

  • Makes Jade more polarising
  • Encourages Aggro Druid
  • Pushes meta towards Aggro in general

 Honourable mentions

A number of non-class cards are also problematic. Cards like Aya Blackpaw, Gadgetzan Auctioneer and Jade Spirit could also come under scrutiny. However, due to the collateral damage of other classes being impacted, they are unlikely to see a change; at least until the next standard rotation.

Artwork courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com.

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