Hearthstone Patch 9.1 - Nerfs in Review

After the release of Knights of the Frozen Throne, many Hearthstone fans started complaining that the scales of balance had tipped heavily in the Druid’s favor. That coupled with the continued threat of everyone’s most hated deck, Pirate Warrior, prompted Blizzard to change the game in some pretty drastic ways.

Five cards have been nerfed: three basic, one classic, and one from the most recent expansion. They are cards that, up until this point, have been meta defining. What does this mean for the Hearthstone meta and how will it change the game?

Let’s take a look.

Change #1 – Innervate only grants one mana instead of two

Until this change, Innervate was in practically every single Druid deck. Its ability to spend a card to rocket two mana turns ahead was core to the class’s identity. Many Hearthstone games have been decided by a first turn Innervate, Coin, four-drop play. Reducing Innervate’s power level makes it no better than Rogue’s Counterfeit Coin, which isn’t played all that often outside of Miracle Rogue.

While this certainly weakens Druid in a significant way, Druid still has a gigantic amount of mana ramp to play with. With cards like Ultimate Infestation remaining untouched, this likely means that Jade Druid will become the only viable Druid deck in the current meta. This change nerfs the future of Druid more than the present. It makes Druid matches far less swingy and prevents wins from one good draw. Once Jade rotates out next year, expect Druid to fall into the lower tier quick, unless the next cycle has some incredible mana acceleration to make up for it.

Change #2 – Fiery War Axe costs three mana, up from two

This change completely rewrites Warrior’s identity. Since they were known as the “weapon class,” it was natural that they were going to have the best three strength weapon in the game. This was Fiery War Axe, which was so good because it only cost two mana. Now that it costs three mana, it has become the worst three strength weapon in the game. The Hunter’s Eaglehorn Bow, the Paladin’s Rallying Blade, and the Rogue’s Shadowblade are both three mana, three strength weapons with useful abilities. Fiery War Axe has none.

This turns Warrior from the best weapon class into the worst weapon class with one single change.

Warrior will now focus on control archetypes including C’Thun Warrior, Quest Warrior, and Fatigue Warrior. Pirate Warrior, Tempo Warrior, and any other aggressive Warrior variants will be impossible to play without support in upcoming expansions. The entire Warrior curve is screwed up now, and without any powerful two-drops to speak of outside of the stupendously slow Armorsmith, hitting the button is the only thing they can fall back on. It looks like the days of fearing Pirate Warrior’s turn four wins are over.

Change #3 – Hex costs four mana, up from three

Transformation removal is some of the best removal the game has to offer. The Mage’s Polymorph spell costs four mana, and turns any major threat into a 1/1. It also disables their abilities, and ruins graveyard synergies. Hex does the exact same thing, except it turns the threat into a 0/1 with Taunt, and costed a cheaper three mana. The difference between a 0/1 taunt and a 1/1 was certainly not enough to warrant a one mana reduction, so increasing Hex’s cost just seems right, making it fall in line with similar effects.

Will this heavily affect Shaman? In the current meta, likely not. Most Shaman decks are evolved token decks, and they rarely run Hex. If Shaman slows down, we might see some outcome, but a slow Shaman deck will happily pay the extra mana cost.

As Blizzard said, this isn’t really a power-level problem. Rather, it gives Shaman more of an identity. Shaman kind of does everything now, from weapons to freezing, silencing to transforming, direct damage to heavy minions. Nerfing hex will make them a bit worse at silence and spot removal, which makes them a bit better defined.

Change #4 – Murloc Warleader no longer increases Murloc health

Murloc Paladin has been a force to be reckoned with in the current meta. It can take the board early and use cards like Murloc Warleader and Gentle Megasaur to bust out heavy damage. Its major weakness is board clears. However, Murloc Warleader’s health buff put most Murlocs well outside the range of simple board clears, which usually max out at two damage to the board. Higher damage board clears usually cost somewhere around 7 mana, and at that point the Murlocs will have already won.

Removing Murloc Warleader’s health buff keeps most Murlocs in the realm of a small board clear without removing the burst damage that makes Warleader so useful. It also produces a secondary effect of making Equality + Wild Pyromancer clear the board against Murlocs, which it previously didn’t do because of the way health buffs work. It’s a good change that will likely see Murloc Paladin drop a couple slots in the ranking yet still be a meta relevant deck.

Change #5 – Spreading Plague costs 6 mana up from five

Spreading Plague gave Druid the ultimate in anti-aggro insurance. Spreading Plague doesn’t do a lot of damage to the opponent’s board, but it does stop them from killing you, and with Druid able to push value with group buffs and jade golems, a turn to stabilize is usually all they need. In what is perhaps the quickest nerf ever, Spreading Plague has gotten a one mana cost increase making it playable only after aggro decks have done most of their damage.

Will it remain playable? It’s uncertain. Spreading Plague was more powerful than a lot of pros thought it would be to begin with, but that’s largely because weenie decks like Token Druid, Pirate Warrior, and Murloc Paladin have become so prevalent. In a slower meta, Spreading Plague isn’t as useful, and if these changes are doing anything, it’s slowing down the meta. We will have to see how this nerf turns out.

What do you think? Will these changes drastically change the way we play Hearthstone? Are any of your decks still viable? Let us know in the comments.