Malfurion is king. According to HSReplay.net, the Druid class overall boasts a massive 54% winrate. Many archetypes such as Jade Druid have seen yet higher winrates, propelled by their ability to farm Control. In an early, unstable and greedy meta, this is invaluable. Naturally, the community is already beginning to complain. Jade Druid was never a popular archetype in the first place. Despite Skulking Geist, Jade after Jade still crushes new unrefined Control decks. Complaints now centre around the new Druid Epic Spell, Ultimate Infestation.
The power of Ultimate Infestation is even more staggering than its 10 mana cost. Aside from dealing a respectable five damage on top of summoning a 5/5 and granting five armor, the true power of the card lies in its draw. Five cards is a huge amount, and gives the Druid gas without having to rely on difficult and inconsistent Auctioneer combos. Copypastas, reddit posts and the like involving quoting Blizzard’s rationale of changing Ancient of Lore.
But for all the salt, is Ultimate Infestation actually overpowered?
One approach is to look at how the raw value of the card stacks up. Ultimate Infestation is, from one perspective, three cards in one. Sprint (which draws four cards), Shield Block (which draws one card and gains five armor) and Firelands Portal (which deals five damage and summons a five drop). Simply summing up the total mana cost of these three cards would give you 17 mana. Purely on paper, Ultimate Infestation is running at a significant discount.
Arguably, the card is even stronger than this analysis would suggest. Playing those three cards costs three cards, whereas Ultimate Infestation is only one. The ability to go from one card to five means that spending your cards to cheat mana also becomes stronger. Druids can feel safer Nourish-ing for mana or spending Wild Growths liberally. Should they run low on gas, Ultimate Infestation is always there to provide backup. Even when rushed out with Innervate, the net card advantage is huge. From this angle, the card definitely looks overpowered.
There’s one thing that is misunderstood, however. 10 mana is not equal to a three mana card plus seven mana card. These cards are fundamentally hampered by their massive cost.
The biggest number
10 mana is huge for a number of reasons in Hearthstone. As 10 is the mana cap, it’s impossible, or at least very hard, to play anything alongside them. Not only that, but they have a chance of clogging up your hand for multiple turns. While it’s definitely frustrating to get hit by them, the times where it silently lets you snatch a turn nine lethal goes unnoticed. As such, the most important aspect of a high cost card is its immediate impact.
Cards like Tyrantus or Deathwing Dragonlord see almost no play, despite their power. This is because when you play a 10 cost card, you are likely doing so from behind. A 10 mana card needs to have some means of stabilisation or board impact built into it. Otherwise, your opponent can simply ignore it and snowball tempo or kill you.
For all its massive value, Ultimate infestation doesn’t affect the board all that much. Only half of the card has immediate effect on your opponent’s minions or lethal calculation. Five damage and five armor is potent, but is essentially just a Holy Fire. In many situations, that’s simply not enough to save you. Especially for Druid, the class that has the most issues with removing big boards of big minions. Often, your card advantage is for naught. The opponent can use their next turn to fill up the board while you’ve only removed one mid-size threat and played a 5/5.
Equal among peers
The best way to evaluate Ultimate Infestation is to compare it to other 10 mana cards that saw competitive play. The most obvious example is Yogg-Saron, but the extreme variance makes it hard to judge.
Take instead a card like Warrior’s former Varian Wrynn. This card saw fringe play in Tempo and Control Warriors. While he draws fewer cards than Ultimate Infestation and provided no Armor, the King of Stormwind has massive, immediate board impact. By summoning up to three minions straight to the board, he could instantly generate huge value. Decks that used him could throw up Taunts, summon Charging minions like Grommash or pull damage effects like Ragnaros. This is arguably a far stronger effect, and came with a 7/7 instead of a 5/5.
Or look at Doom, the Warlock spell from Whispers of the Old Gods. Not only does it immediately impact the board by utterly obliterating everything on it, it also draws cards; easily far more cards than Ultimate Infestation. While no board presence or Armor is gained, it’s far superior against a board that’s out of control. Doom can even be cheated out with cards like Bloodbloom. With competition like this, it’s easier to see why Ultimate Infestation does so much for the cost.
The reason Ultimate Infestation feels so strong is down to the class it’s in. While N’zoth, Bloodreaver Gul’dan or a well-timed Deathwing can be far superior, Ultimate Infestation is powerful because it synergises so well with Druid as a whole. Druid’s ability to cheat mana by ramping or with Innervate boils down to trading cards for mana. Ultimate Infestation allows them to reap dividends on that investment. It lets them regain the cards they lost ramping.
It also doesn’t help that powerful 10 mana cards like Ultimate Infestation are particularly nightmarish for Control decks to deal with. In a meta dominated by unrefined greed, it’s natural that this card would win games.
The downside is that Druid has a harder time recovering from the tempo loss of spending 10 mana. Aggro and Midrange decks can often use this opportunity to set up or find lethal.
Sometimes, overpowered is OK
Ultimate Infestation is overpowered. Compared to the rules of linearly scaling power and cheaper cards, it is extremely strong for the mana cost.
However, Hearthstone has proven over and over again that 10 mana cards have to be ridiculous to see play. If Ultimate Infestation was any less strong, it would likely fall into the territory of Tyrantus and Deathwing Dragonlord.
If you’re frustrated by Ultimate Infestation, take comfort in the fact it may not last in the meta. Aggressive midrange decks may rise to put more pressure on Druids. Their meta dominance will fall and players will cast fewer and fewer of these spectacular spells. And when the next tempo abomination rises to smash your face in on turn six, you may feel nostalgia for this huge, clunky spell.
Artwork courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com.