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[Hearthstone] Seriously, Blizzard?

The latest round of Hearthstone nerfs have been announced ahead of the set rotation, and they’re great… if it was 2016.

HS_Patches

The biggest news in there is the nerf to Patches, a card that was released in December 2016 and has been a meta-defining, chase Legendary ever since. Blizzard has acknowledged his power several times, but their explanation for the timing is… well…

As we move closer to the new Hearthstone Year, we had some concerns about allowing Patches to remain in his current state after moving out of Standard. Patches’ strength has caused almost every class to add some Pirates just to benefit from him, and his early game power forces control decks to include a good answer to him. This change should give Wild players more flexibility when building their decks.

What the literal shit, man? Can that be read any other way than “we are fine with Patches’ current state in Standard”? I mean, obviously they were fine with the card’s broken state up to this point as evidenced by a lack of any nerf for over a year. But to me, this just says that Blizzard genuinely believes that card set rotations should be the arbiter of balance in this game. And that’s fucking nuts.

Granted, Corridor Creeper is also getting deleted from the game nerfed in this upcoming patch. That does not particularly make me feel any better though, because A) how they nerfed it, and B) what they didn’t nerf. All Corridor Creeper needed was to only count your minions, rather than every minion. Hell, most of the pros that previewed the card felt like it was Epic trash because they read it that way to begin with. Instead, they turned it into literal garbage that you will be very disappointed to open in a pack after February. Meanwhile, no changes to Cubelock or Ultimate Infestation, etc etc.

Why does any of this matter given the clown fiesta that is Hearthstone’s RNG? Well, I still like playing the game occasionally. And really, the RNG does not particularly bother me – sometimes it’s in your favor, sometimes it’s not. The more fundamental problem is Blizzard’s current balance philosophy undermines any faith I have in the game’s long-term direction. Set rotations are not how you balance a goddamn game… unless the entire goal is pump & dump. Sell those packs to people chasing overpowered Legendaries/Epics and then nerf them later so the next set appears just as OP as the last. Otherwise known as the Supercell Gambit (Clash Royale says Hello).

It’s all cynical, unnecessary bullshit. These are supposed to be games, not vehicles for quarterly profits. I mean, they are that too, but I shouldn’t have to open the latest expense report to understand what the designers are smoking and where they are taking the game’s direction.

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Nerf Forward

Blizzard did it. They really did it. Warsong Commander nerfed hardcore.

#NeverForget

#NeverForgetToChargeForward

Specifically, the card was nerfed to simply say “Your charge minions have +1 Attack.”

There are a couple of things you have to say right off the bat. The first is “Thank Christ, Patron is dead.” I talked about the ridiculousness of Patron Warrior back in August, and it never really stopped being ridiculous. How long has it been a Tier 1, metagaming warping deck? Four months? Six?

Which is actually the second thing: err… why now? Oh wait, we’re heading into Blizzcon and the World Championship. This isn’t even the first time a high-profile card was nerfed specifically in weeks heading into said tournament. If I weren’t more cynical… ah, fuck it, I am exactly that cynical. As much as various commenters get their knickers in a wad over legitimately exciting randomness, nobody really wants to see 50+ damage delivered from an empty board.

Unless it’s double-combo Druid. Then it’s okay.

Then there’s the third thing, which is: “huh… this was the nerf they went with?” In the scheme of things, it is probably the best long-term one. As this Extra Credits mentions, you can’t just focus on making exciting cards today, you also have to give thought to what said exciting cards do to future design. The example in the video is Tuskarr Totemic, which is a Shaman 2-mana creature that summons ANY random totem. It’s a nice creature (assuming Shaman ever becomes playable again), but it’s mere existence means Blizzard can’t really create 8-mana totems or otherwise ones that would completely break the game by being summoned by a 2-mana card.

In a very similar way, an unnerfed Warsong Commander forces Blizzard to put every future 3-attack (or less) Warrior/Neutral creature under a microscope lest they repeat Grim Patron mistakes. Which is amusing in a way, considering I’m pretty sure Blizzard expressly considered the Grim Patron + Warsong Commander combo potential when they “fixed” Warsong Commander to also affect summoned (rather than simply played) minions.

The final thing I have to say is that I continue to be baffled by Blizzard’s balance philosophy here. How long does a clearly broken card or card interaction need to exist before it is addressed? The only real criteria seems to be “if it would embarrass us at Blizzcon.” Which is bonkers considering Hearthstone is perhaps the most perfect CCG to experience balance changes. There is no direct trading of cards in Hearthstone, no secondary market, so nerfing a card doesn’t actually destroy any value; every nerf is accompanied by getting full dust value of disenchanting the nerfed card, so you can spend that elsewhere. Compare that to Magic: the Gathering where a card getting banned in the Standard format can wipe out tens of thousands of dollars of value across the world.

In fact, do look at Magic. Back in January, Wizards of the Coast outright banned three cards and basically upended the Modern metagame thereby. Magic has a long history with errata as well, which is basically Wizards changing the text on printed, physical cards into something else. If you were just some high schoolers playing Magic on the weekends, you would just be left with some ridiculously powerful cards and no inkling that your combo wouldn’t actually work down at the comic shop or anywhere with an official judge. As far as I can tell, Wizards has really toned down the errata since the Urza’s expansions (which were the best), but the point is that they did it. And Blizzard doesn’t, when it would be incredibly easy to do so.

I know, I get it. If Blizzard changed things every time the metagame took an unhealthy turn, that in itself might make the metagame even worse. People might lose confidence in “investing” in Hearthstone, or may just throw their hands up and wait for nerfs to the best decks. Sometimes though, man, it makes it you think: if it’s unhealthy enough today to nerf, how long have we been unhealthy for what amounts to appearance’s sake?

Hearthstone Balance

[Blaugust Day 10]

One of the most dominating decks out there in Hearthstone in the current metagame is Patron Warrior. This is a wombo-combo deck that can pull off such insane, come-from-behind wins that even Magic: the Gathering veterans of Extended would feel at home. In a game that is derided for being decided by coin flips, the deck itself doesn’t really feature any RNG beyond the standard that comes with drawing cards. Almost everything about the deck is mechanically perfect and efficient.

And it needs to die.

The question of the hour is how to do it. Or whether to nerf it at all. This Reddit thread got 1300+ comments in 8 hours and the opinions run the gamut. But before I get to that, let me briefly explain the cards and mechanics involved. Here is the lineup:

The usual suspects.

The usual suspects.

The strength of Patron Warrior are the sort of dual win conditions. The name of the deck comes from Grim Patron, there in the upper-right, and the sort of shenanigans that occur when you summon one with a Warsong Commander on the board. If you play both, you basically get a 3/X minion for every minion your opponent controls that has less than 3 attack – your first Grim Patron Charges into, say, a 2/2, summons a new 3/3 Grim Patron who gets Charge from the Warsong Commander and then attacks into another creature, etc etc etc.

You do not technically need your opponent to have creatures for things to get out of control, of course, as your deck is also filled with effects like Whirlwind that end up dealing 1 damage to all creatures. One Grim Patron becomes two, two becomes four, and so on (there is a 7-creature limit thankfully).

The win condition everyone hates though is that of Frothing Berserker. Warsong Commander will give Frothing Berserker Charge when it comes into play, and even if your opponent has zero creatures, a Frothing can balloon up to an 8/1 with three Whirlwind effects (since itself and the Commander are creatures taking damage). If your opponent has a single creature out with at least three health though? Now it’s an 11/1. Add in Grim Patron shenanigans and suddenly you start seeing OTK (one turn kill) screenshots like this one:

From empty board to overkill 2x.

From empty board to overkill 2x.

If you want a more in-depth guide from a Top-10 player, here you go.

It isn’t difficult to nerf Patron Warrior. In fact, it’s incredibly easy to do so in all sorts of ways. The design trick here is to do so in such a way that either A) reduces the effectiveness of the deck without killing it entirely, or if that’s not possible or wanted, then B) killing the deck with as little collateral damage as possible.

For example, Warsong Commander could be changed to read “Your other minions with 3 or less attack have Charge.” The idea being that while you can still have crazy powerful Frothing Berserkers, they would lose Charge the moment their attack got above 3. It’s not even all that intuitive that the summoned creatures retain the Charge ability granted from the Commander after their attack goes up in the first place, but that’s what happens. And in case you didn’t know, Warsong Commander has a history of enabling OTK combos, especially back in the day when it simply gave all your minions charge no matter their attack power. Hell, it was even changed again fairly recently to allow the Charge to apply to summoned minions, e.g. Grim Patrons, instead of just affecting creatures played from the hand.

Is nerfing Warsong Commander the right choice though?

Consider some alternatives. For example, a lot of the OTK shenanigans are only enabled from the use of Emperor Thaurissan permanently reducing card costs. Getting one trigger from Thaurissan can grant you the ability to play Warsong Commander, Grim Patron, and Frothing Berserker all on the same turn, possibly even turn 8. And if you had a Whirlwind in hand during the Thaurissan trigger? Suddenly you’re dealing with 11 Charge damage to the face. Or 21 Charge damage if you have a 2nd Whirlwind-like effect. Or even more depending on what your opponent’s board looks like. So another nerf avenue would be to tweak Thaurissan’s effect to, say, be unable to reduce card costs below 1. Or only reduce spells, or something.

Or perhaps we should zero-in on the OTK culprit himself: Frothing Berserker. One way is to change the trigger to key off only friendly minions taking damage. Or only enemy minions. Or even the nuclear option of “+1 attack for each damaged minion,” with the attack bonus going up and down as minions are killed or healed to full.

Some people in the Reddit thread think it’d be better to nerf the sort of card draw engine that Patron Warrior has access to. This isn’t a particularly viable avenue in my opinion, as the only real Warrior-specific draw card they could nerf is Battle Rage, which was already nerfed twice from before (it used to trigger off of all damaged minions, then all damaged characters with a cost of 3). How would you nerf it anyway? Make it a 50% chance to draw a card? It is absolutely true that Patron Warrior includes a lot of card draw to assemble its combo pieces, but a similar amount of drawing is available to most other decks.

My personal opinion is to change Frothing Berserker. Some have suggested a different approach to the nerf, such as changing its health to 3 so there are less opportunities for it to balloon out of control with Whirlwind effects. I’m not so sure that that is A) enough, or B) worth breaking the symmetry. Not all classes have a class-specific 2/4 for 3 with an ability yet, but that is clearly a theme:

Paladin card is from the new set.

Paladin card is from the new set.

I’m not saying they’re all equally powerful or useful – Flamewaker in particular can make for some huge tempo plays – but Frothing Berserker in particular seems to scale wildly higher than the others and is more open-ended. I know that I hate, hate, hate seeing that card on turn 2 in Arena because it basically means I must kill it immediately or simply be crushed under the weight of value.

So there it is. I am not entirely sure that the dev team actually are going to nerf any part of Patron Warrior, especially this close to the next expansion release (by the end of August). On the other hand, expansions are pretty much perfect times to nerf things, and we’ve seen them nerf cards at these times before. That being said… I’m not sure I want to see the metagame come The Grand Tournament if it spawns a deck that can destroy Patron Warrior without nerfs. It’s like swimming with something that consistently eats Great White Sharks.

Huge Wildstar Elder Content Nerf

Welp, time to pack it in, cupcake. Wildstar had a good run, a solid 24 days of hardcoreness before it was nerfed to the ground:

Based on the feedback we’ve been getting both from you and our own internal testing, we are planning on making revisions to the way Superb-quality loot is awarded in dungeons and adventures. Simply put, we currently place too much value on completing gold runs for veteran level content. By placing Superb-quality rewards behind a gate of near-perfect PUG performance, we have fostered a “Gold runs or bust” mentality that is negatively affecting our group play experience. We’d much rather people engage with the content and complete the runs they start.

Therefore, we will soon be implementing the following changes:

  • The existing gold medal rewards are being removed from gold medal completion.
    • These rewards will instead drop off the final bosses or encounters for dungeons and adventures.
    • The table from which this loot drops has a chance to be selected and is granted in addition to that bosses regular loot.
  • Any medals earned instead will instead give the group bonus rolls on an instance-wide loot list, at the end of the instance, on top of extra coin and experience rewards.
    • By way of example, completing a bronze medal would provide one bonus reward roll on top of the regular boss kill and completion reward, while a silver medal would provide two bonus rolls and a gold medal would provide three bonus rolls.
    • The items on these rolls are randomly selected from all equipment rewards that could drop from any boss or encounter inside that instance.
    • Each of these bonus rolls has a smaller, flat chance to select from the list of superb rewards.

We want groups to complete full runs of the dungeons and adventures, regardless of the medal earned. Instead of needing to disband immediately when a gold run fails, the Superb-quality rewards are available by working together to get through the instance.

Simply put: if your group runs Veteran Sanctuary of the Swordmaiden, all you need to do to earn a shot at Superb-quality loot is defeat Spiritmother Selene. No more medal requirements!

If you have any more feedback for us, please post it. The devs are listening!

See? TO THE GROUND.

I, of course, am kidding. A large number of people in the same forum are not:

So much for this game being harder. Give everyone easy loot and the degree of difficulty goes way down.

i considder this a HUGEE Nerf. might aswell remove medals als you deleted the purpose of them completly by doing this. i thought loot needed to be earned not handed out the easy way.

not even 1 month and you are already giving in to the lesser player? i guess you guys aren’t as hardcore as you promised.

keep this up and considder yourself 1 player less who will play this *still awesome game* for now.. lets see what you guys start nerfing next.. pitty realy.

Is this a joke? Already giving in to people whining about not getting faceroll epics? I thought this game was going to be rewarding if you did something extraordinary. You just killed the purpose of the medal system.. Why would you run for gold now? Even though people dont care to admit it, an important aspect of any mmorpg is the e-peen. If you cant show of your shiny nice epic that you working really hard for, only to see some careless nab with too much time, having the same item only with better sockets.. Come on Carbine, really? Im dissapointed.

The system was fine. Learn not to give in to spoiled players who doesnt wanna work hard to be equally well rewarded.

Pugs and challenging content are just not compatible.  I remember a 100 page thread on WSC back when Carbine first announced the LFD tool where everyone complained that the tool would lead to easy content.  Carbine assured us that they would not nerf content to appease whiners.

Now here we are less than a month into the game and Carbine has already folded.  Watching this whole dungeon fiasco unfold I thought there were 2 possible options:

1. Give us a new grouping tool to make same-server groups and elimate all the horrible behavior that the anonyminity of LFD provides
2. Nerf content

They took the easy way out, and I have zero doubt that as l2p said, this is only the beginning of turning this game into another braindead MMO that requires zero thought or skill.

One thing I will agree with the last quote above, is that PUGs and challenging content are not compatible. Or more specifically, LFD systems and challenge are not compatible. It is not about catering to casuals per se – you can desire as hard a game as possible – it is about the immutable fact that if the LFD system does not result in a successful run more than half the time at a minimum, the LFD system itself will fail. Kinda weird to think about it now, but there were some of us there at the start of the LFD revolution, and watched this truism develop in real-time.

Has it really only been three years? Indeed it has.

I will be honest in saying that I am rather surprised by Carbine’s… generosity in this regard. Until 20 minutes ago, I believed the simplest, most likely solution would have been to disable the Medal system when using the LFD tool. Because let’s face it, the real problem here were toxic morons who believed that they were entitled to skilled strangers pulled randomly from a dozen servers. That’s right, I said it. “Casuals” are entitled to the same thing every gamer is entitled to: content tailored to their skill level. Gold medal runs are not it… but Bronze runs? Yeah, those could work. And yet here we were, the “hardcore” babies throwing a tantrum, dropping groups or kicking noobs because they couldn’t get what they wanted. I don’t blame the hardcore crowd for rationally determining that a non-Gold run isn’t worth their time. I blame them for going into the LFD queue expecting anything more than a completed run.

As I said, Carbine is being generous here. And subtle. The “bonus rolls” were a nice touch insofar as it provides a glimmer of hope to those whom were looking for a specific item a given boss failed to drop. I think most of us have experienced dungeon runs in WoW where the tank or healer drops immediately after not getting the loot they hoped for. Indeed, I would advise Blizzard to implement this selfsame thing for WoW immediately. I shouldn’t have to, given that WoW already does this in LFR, but you know how it goes.

In any case, this is excellent news whether you are on the train, or looking at the tracks from afar with anticipation. Hey, don’t look at me like that. It isn’t schadenfreude, it’s science. A testing of a hypothesis. That’s the thing about reinventing the wheel though: it almost always ends up having the same rounded corners.

No Better Time to Buy

If you happen to be in the Hearthstone beta, there is perhaps no better time to purchase packs for real money than right now. See, Blizzard changed the following cards in their most recent patch:

  • Unleash the Hounds
  • Sylvanas Windrunner
  • Blood Imp
  • Defender of Argus
  • Pyroblast
  • Dark Iron Dwarf
  • Abusive Sergeant
  • Warsong Commander
  • Charge
  • Novice Engineer

While most of the changes were nerfs (aside from Unleash the Hounds), the salient point is that Blizzard compensates those who might have spent Dust crafting these cards by making the disenchant Dust amount the same as the crafting cost. In other words, I could craft Sylvanas for 1600 Dust and disenchant her for 1600 Dust instead of the normal 400 Dust.

“Whatever,” right? Wrong.

What is not immediately obvious is that you have the ability to craft Golden versions of every card in the game, which are the digital equivalent of foil cards in paper CCGs. These Golden version of cards typically cost four times as much Dust to craft than normal. Do you know what this means?

Dust. Dust everywhere.

Dust. Dust everywhere.

As far as I know, every person who signed up for the Hearthstone beta has gotten a key by this point, so technically anyone who cares about this game has the opportunity right now to take advantage of this scenario. Those two cards above gave me 1200 Dust by themselves, which is 400 Dust away from any Legendary I care to craft. I went ahead and disenchanted both my Pyroblasts as well for 400 Dust apiece, as I never really felt inclined to use them all that much in the first place. Given how this “bonus” Dust window only stays open for about two weeks total, you might want to make your decision sooner rather than later.

This scenario was about the only thing that would have gotten me to pay real money for Hearthstone. And I did. As I have mentioned previously, my prior lack of interest in paying is not an indication of some deficiency in the game, but rather the strength of being able to play for free with few impediments… provided Hearthstone isn’t your sole source of entertainment. If you’re capable of only playing once every 2-3 days to knock out dailies and then go into the Arenas, you can do quite well for yourself over time. But if you want to dip a toe into Constructed, you’ll do much better with the various Legendaries.

Just be warned that sometimes bullshit like this happens when opening packs:

Really, Bliz? Really?

Really, Bliz? Really?

Regression to the Mean

Tobold and others are fundamentally correct about Hearthstone’s metagame essentially being reduced to a small set of cards. The speed at which the metagame changes in response to pro-player feedback also approaches the speed of light; Argent Squire went from being something I never saw in the last three months to something I now see every game. In fact, if you want to win damn near every game you play, all you need to use are these cards:

  • 2x Novice Engineer
  • 2x Loot Hoarder
  • 2x Gnomish Inventor
  • 2x Shattered Sun Cleric
  • 2x Acidic Swamp Ooze
  • 2x Faerie Dragon
  • 2x Dark Iron Dwarf
  • 2x Chillwind Yeti
  • 2x Defender of Argus
  • 2x Argent Commander

I cannot begin to tell you how many games I have lost due to Defender of Argus. Some of these cards will be nerfed soon, but not all of them (including Defender of Argus), and I’m not even convinced the nerfs will hurt their inclusion in nearly every deck.

The funny thing though, is how simply using these cards does not necessarily mean you win automatically. They are strongest possible cards for their cost, no doubt, but what they do not do is tell you is who’s the beatdown. They do not tell you whether you should play the Faerie Dragon or the Loot Hoarder on turn 2. They do not tell you which class to play, which class cards to choose for the rest of the deck, and whether to spend mana on removal this turn or send everything to your opponent’s face. In short, they don’t tell you what to do in this scenario:

So many possibilities...

So many possibilities…

As I have said before and will undoubtedly say again, sometimes Hearthstone can be played by a monkey. Sometimes you only have one rational move, and sometimes you will win no matter what you play because your opponent got screwed by RNG. And vice versa. But none of this should suggest there is not room for skill, acumen, and calculated risks. It’s not about seeing the same pieces day in and day out, it’s how those pieces interact with one another.

Hearthstone has its issues – Blizzard can’t pretend that Mage isn’t OP for too much longer – but a metagame revolving around X number of cards isn’t one of them. It would be better if more cards were viable, sure, but there is plenty of meat and marrow on these bones.