A balance update has been announced for Hearthstone, which will be released on August 26 following the conclusion of the first competitive event of the second season of Grandmasters competition. In total, five nerfs are being made that target Control Warrior, Highlander Mage, and surprisingly, Combo Priest in Standard and Big Priest in Wild.
These changes are sure to bump down the efficiency of Warrior and Mage in competitive events and give rise to other decks. Players should keep in mind that all changes are only additional mana costs, which is in line with Blizzard’s most recent philosophy of attempting to preserve the spirit of each card.
Dr. Boom, Mad Genius Is Now 9 Mana, Up From 7
This change has been a long time coming, and the increased cost of two mana feels appropriate. Players can no longer use this on turn seven against aggressive decks and receive the benefit of additional armor. This also means that players cannot play both Dr. Boom, Mad Genius on later turns and use their hero power. At best, the card can now be played on turn ten and only combined with a Shield Slam for removal, but barring that, it takes its spot among other awkward nine mana cards that require more strategy.
In the long run, Control Warrior will not suffer much compared to other decks that are also built around the long haul. However, this provides midrange decks with a few more turns to close out a match. Highlander Hunter and Tempo Rogue can now be able to defeat Control Warriors, and we may be seeing them function as a hard counter with the arrival of the new modified Conquest mode at tournaments.
Luna’s Pocket Galaxy Is Now 7 Mana, Up From 5
No one should be surprised to see this buff, which brought down the cost of Luna’s Pocket Galaxy from seven mana to five, reverting it to its original iteration. Although it has been frustrating to see the card played on a curve with outstanding value gained in subsequent turns, it has also been good to see that Blizzard is taking a chance by buffing an interesting card and then reverting back once its performance was simply too great.
Conjurer’s Calling Is Now 4 Mana, Up from 3
Creating overly powerful board states early in the game has always been problematic, and now it will be more difficult to do. More specifically, it will not be more difficult to cast both of the Twinspell versions of the spell in a single turn until later in the game, which in turn might allow opponents to be in a better position or have more resources available to counteract the effect. In addition, the change in cost also removes Conjuror’s Calling from the pool of cards that can be obtained from Magic Trick, which only provides cards that are up to three mana in cost.
Time will tell if Highlander Mage is still viable at the highest levels of competitive play. More importantly, it may allow for Cyclone Mage to become an equally viable option in other situations, providing some variety to the class despite the increase from three to four mana for the spell.
Similar to Control Warrior, Highlander Mage will now be far more susceptible to decks that move to end the game quickly.
Extra Arms Now Costs 3 Mana, Up From 2
The nerf to Extra Arms is certainly an example of Blizzard working to tackle a problem before it can get out of hand. Combo Priest has certainly been doing well, and playing Northshire Cleric on turn one and Extra Arms on turn two has often led to the snowballing of the match, but few have felt the problems of such a deck compared to how Warrior and Mage can make one feel.
Still, the nerf to Extra Arms feels off, targeting the single viable Priest deck in the competitive scene, especially because such a version that relies upon Inner Fire and Divine Spirit has been around since the Alpha of the game. Also, as long as those cards remain a core part of the set, you will always see them play in a similar fashion.
A Wild Surprise: Barnes Now Costs 5 Mana, Up From 4
Surprising everyone, Wild mode has received some attention after players complained about Barnes, who has predominantly held a spot in most Big Priest decks, for years. The numbers have been clear on both Blizzard’s end and from sites like HS replay, as the deck itself is not unbeatable. Every so often we see a strong, well-performing variation that does not even include Barnes. However, much like Naga Sea Witch before its nerf, the use of Barnes on turn three with a coin or turn four was often more than enough to make players feel terrible.
Every so often, the deck provides a crushing victory that does not feel like we were playing a game of Hearthstone against an opponent, but instead as though our opponent is playing solitaire by themselves. Try as we might, it is no easy thing to counter a turn three Barnes with a coin, which then creates a 1/1 copy of Y’Sharrj, Rage Unbound, which in turn would pull The Lich King, Ragnaros the Firelord, Obsidian Statue, or something else onto the field. All of this could be easily and cheaply resurrected the following turn if somehow the opponent had removal in hand.
By delaying the action by a full turn, games may not feel as doomed when Priests can create a devastating board as early. Then again, the exclusion of Barnes from certain Big Priest decks in general point towards a different issue - the Priest class has been given too many powerful resurrection mechanic cards in the past.
For now, we can only watch and see what happens in the future. The Grandmasters season two, which begins August 23-25, will no doubt be filled with Control Warriors and Highlander Mages. However, we will need to wait a while until the next competitive event to see how the meta has shifted.