Major Balance Changes Coming to Hearthstone

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Blizzard have announced major balance changes to Hearthstone, including changes to Yogg-Saron, and Tuskarr Totemic.

Players have been complaining more than usual about the state of the randomness in Hearthstone for some time now, with Tuskarr Totemic and Yogg-Saron, Hope's End being the major targets. On top of that, Shaman has been getting more and more powerful, and difficult to deal with. Blizzard have taken the opportunity to adjust these cards, lower the power level of Shaman, and have tidied up a few other issues. I have outlined the changes with my views below, the official views can be found on Blizzard's blog.


Tuskarr Totemic allowed for huge swings based on the result of the random effect. The three non-basic Totems, Mana Tide TotemFlametongue Totem, and Totem Golem usually led to substantially better board states then the four basic Totems. The card will still be playable in Totem based decks, but it will no longer win anywhere near as many games just through a lucky roll.


One of the most controversial cards ever, Yogg-Saron, Hope's End, has been drastically reduced in power. Although the card text stays the same, the way it functions will be different. I'll let the design team's words speak for this one:

Blizzard LogoBlizzard

We didn't want to nerf it so much that it couldn't still be a fun card for players who currently love Yogg. Yogg-Saron will now stop casting spells if, during Yogg-Saron’s battlecry, it is destroyed, silenced, transformed, or returned to its owner’s hand.  We tried a bunch of things and we think this is a significant enough nerf that it could reduce the amount it gets seen (especially in tournaments), while still maintaining the dream for people who love the card.


Rockbiter Weapon is very powerful. Not only does it combine well with Doomhammer and Al'Akir the Windlord for huge closing damage, but it also allows Shaman to control the early game. Often this early control snowballs so much that there is very little the opponent can do. Stopping this will slow the Class down substantially, and should make Shaman builds a lot less frustrating to play against.


When I first saw the Preview for Call of the Wild, I speculated that Animal Companion was going to be nerfed. Usually a card in Hearthstone that does the job of two or more cards, costs the total of the casting costs, plus one extra for each addition card that it represents. In the case of Call of the Wild that means it should cost the three threes from Animal Companion, plus two more. Eleven. The way that the game actually flows should mean that a nerf to nine is fine, but I think many people will be glad that Hunter has lost the turn seven coin, Call of the Wild win condition now. Hunter will now have to find a way to bridge the gap from Savannah Highmane on turn six, until Call of the Wild.


Alongside Shaman, Warrior has also been incredibly powerful and versatile recently. Although this nerf is a surprise to me, I think it is a welcome one. A slower controlling deck should still be able to make good use of Execute, but aggressive decks won't have the luxury of turning their opponent's minions into speed bumps any more. I think this is a good change for the game.


Another surprising change, but another good one. People don't like losing to decks that they can't interact with, and this kills off One Turn Kill Raging Worgen as a deck. With all the problems that the keyword Charge has given the game over the time, I've mentioned to friends, a little frivolously, if we'll see the keyword change eventually, or if the cards will keep being nerfed one at a time.


Another surprising, but welcome, change to a card. Blizzard have stated they'd like to see a little less aggro, and that Abusive Sergeant is in nearly every aggressive deck at the moment. Although this seems like a small change, we saw the difference one Attack made to Knife Juggler, and I think we'll find that Abusive Sergeant not trading up the turn after it is played will mean it is far less powerful.

These changes should be in place for the Last Call Qualifiers in October, and it will be exciting to see what the players come up with for those very important tournaments.

Let us know your thoughts as to how these will impact the game!

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I don't like the Rockbiter WeaponExecuteCharge and Call of the Wild ones.

I think they were unnecessary.

Tuskarr Totemic should have been like this since his release

Yogg-Saron, Hope's End's change on the other hand is interesting, cause he can still be useful. Most of the times you want just a board clear and to draw some cards from him, nothing else.

Edit : Charge was completely unnecessary, Worgen OTK warrior decks were there to punish control decks in a control meta. Also they were quite difficult to play correctly and loose to most aggro decks. I can't get my head around this change.

Edited by CodeRazor

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I hate OTK decks and insane damage appearing out of thin air, so I have to say I LOVE these nerfs. 
I don't think Execute needed a nerf that bad, but it was annoying to see your 8-drop killed by 1-mana spell. 

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This is like the worst day of my life. I've never felt that ashamed and unprofessional. I'll quote myself from an hour ago :


If we are realistic, than there is no way such drastic changes like bans or reworks can happen in the middle of season. R&D is slow response, and this is good in a way - things are more stable. Blizzcon is also not really far away in time, and doing major shake-ups to the game wouldn't be a great idea.

Regarding coding Tuskarr Totemic, what I offered is a very simple half-measure solution that would weaken, not kill the card, which is generally where you'd want to be as a developer. Given the fact card is almost two years old already, and will rotate soon(tm), hardly a big thing as a mechanical rework of such level could happen.

This was before patch announcement was live.

I owe an apology to @klott100 and all you guys too. 

Do you actually want to hear my opinion on the actual changes? Because oh boy, I did screw up the last time.

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I like most of the changes.

The Charge change is pretty interesting. It will give rise to more interesting strategies with Sylvanas, Acolyte of Pain, Grim Patron , pyromancer. I wonder if it can be used in dragon warrior. Due to execute nerf maybe we can cut 1xExecute and add 1xCharge.

Charge synergies pretty well with the high health dragons like Guardian, Book Wyrm for an instant value trade. Heck even you can use it with Blackwing corruptor to remove something like a mana tide totem and a totem golem and leave a 5/1. Overall it synergies with most of the dragon warrior minions as most of them have high health.

Edit: Adding more gimmick interactions like with Magnataur Alpha (from reddit) and Boogeymonster :)

Edited by sc47

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Honestly. I think all of these changes are AMAZING.
Especially the Yogg one. He became too much of a no brainer once people learned how to use him. As long as you could survive he was almost certainly giving you a board while wrecking your opponent.
Tuskar has always been too valuable for his drop. Rockbitter is a surprising and wasn't on my radar as a problem card, but makes sense putting it more in line with other spells that deal 3 damage for the early game.

Call of the wild NEEDED a change, and 1 mana will actually make a huge difference by limiting the drop and additional combo with the 2 mana. 1 mana is way harder to use and gives an extra turn to build up the counter without making it out of reach. They cover the typical hearthstone math pretty well. 3+3+3=9...

Execute and abusive sergeant aren't crazy changes, but will slow the aggro just a bit while having both still be used (good example is knife juggler, stat change, still useful but not automatic for every deck).

Charge has always been an issue, and giving it the ice-howl treatment might make it unplayable, but I wouldn't be surprised if they move in this direction for every charge card. OTK Worgen was just stupid. if it made it past about turn 6, the warrior would stabilize and you had no hope (even as another warrior) if they got their combo.

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Call of the wild-I'm sort of on the fence about this one. While i definitely agree that the card itself is broken, it's also most of what hunter has going for it as a class(before standard hit, it was mad scientist), and by nerfing it they might be making the class terrible. We'll just have to wait and see how much this nerf will affect the class as a whole, although I expect it to be quite a lot.

Tuskarr-I'm glad they have finally come to their senses. Easily one of my most hated hearthstone cards.

Yogg-Not sure if the nerf will be enough to prevent yogg from being viable in a competitive deck, as the potential to clear the opponent's board and catch you up on games you have essentially lost already is still there, and is the reason most people put the card in their deck. Again we'll just have to wait and see how much of a difference the nerf makes on average, but I would have prefered to just ban it from ranks 5-legend and tournaments, or just from the standard set altogether.

Rockbiter-Obviously this will make the class less powerful, but there's a ton of other class cards that deserved the nerf more(trogg, totem golem, etc). Plus this will hurt the class even after the upcoming format change next year, and that might not be needed. I think blizzard should really start being more open minded with cards that are MEANT to be used as finishers, and focus more on the sheer power level.

Charge-While I can definitely see the argument for this nerf, I can't help but feel bad that we're losing one of the most fun decks in the game. I guess it did restrict a lot of cards being introduced into the game though, so understandable overall.

Abusive-again I can definitely see the argument for the nerf, as the card is easily one of the best one mana minions in the game since beta, and sees into most minion based aggro decks. But I personally also love the card and the feeling of trading into higher cost minions with it and will hate to see it gone, so I hope the nerf isn't enough to accomplish that, although I highly doubt people will stop running in zoo at the very least.

Edited by JooBatanete

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7 minutes ago, YourGod said:

Should have nerfed Power Overwhelming or another Zoo card

Zoo is anyway not that oppressive nowadays. Shamans with 3-4 AoEs and warriors already keep them in check.

Also abusive's nerf which doesn't impact zoo as much as hybrid hunter is still a downside as you need that 2 power to trade into your opponent's 3/2 or a 2/3 with direwolf.

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I can live with these changes. Kinda sad about Abusive Sergeant and Call of the Wild but I also understand at the same time. I'm laughing at Blizzard though when it comes to Shaman because they wanted Shaman to see more play, now they aren't happy because it sees too much play.  I do however think they need a few more people in the card creating department that actually play the game so we won't need as many nerfs in the future and so we don't end up with a 3 mana 9/9. 

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2 hours ago, YourGod said:

Should have nerfed Power Overwhelming or another Zoo card

Abusive Sergeant is the best card in Zoo arguably and has received the hammer, plus Zoo is barely a tier 2 deck at the moment. Abusive Sergeant is the fundamental definition of a Zoo card and has been in every list since the beginning of time. Cheap, efficient, good body, high tempo ability.

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I think the abusive sergeant nerf won't make much of a difference - look at knife juggler...the effect matters more than the body. But I can see where blizzard is coming from. 


Sottle, I agree with your statement. Perhaps to beat zoo I should simply play less Priest... 

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Still recovering from this huge failure of mine. Here is a wrap-up of my thoughts on the changes. For the sake of convenience and for those who (now have a reason to) don't trust me, I'll put them under spoilers.

The Good

Tuskarr Totemic: Yes, please!


This was clearly one of the most oppresive cards in the game and I'm glad to see it go. Now that I think of it, a half measure wouldn't be enough, and nerfing the hell out of Tuskarr is a good way to shake up things for Shaman. Low opportunity cost and high payoff had really reduced the diversity of Shaman decks, basically making them all Midrange variants of the same thing.

Rockbiter Weapon : The Unsung Hero.


Rockbiter change is a huge one, because it's here to transcend the Year of Kraken. It's a long term solution to Shaman Problems that Blizzard don't like : both critical mass of good interaction is suffering and burst potential from Doomhammer is really reduced. It was hell of a good card, and while Rockbiter is sort of the identity card for Shaman, increased cost means that you have to commit if you want to use it, which, once again, would increase the diversity of Shaman decks. Maybe they can finally print a WIndfury card for Shaman - also an identity thing for the class. Now it's easier to attack and counterplay Shaman early game, which should fix some current problems.

Yogg-Saron, Hope's End : Our prayers have been answered!


While there is no point in denying the fact Yogg was taken down a peg in pure power level, he still has a lot of potential, so case is not exactly closed as it is. I believe it was a good notion, but decks that have usually utilized it - namely Druid and Mage - have not been exactly reliant on him, he was a back-up plan Y. Plans A, B, C and all the way up to X are still the same - it's not like Druids are going to run less spells all of a sudden. Some decks, like the new Control Warrior, however, wouldn't be able to get away with small Yoggs now, and that's good news. We're going to see a decline in Yoggs, but not a complete absence. Don't dust your copies.

Call of the Wild : They did the math, finally.


The 3-for-1 nightmare of a spell was a horrible undercosted mashup of 3 already undercosted spells, and this is a recipe for disaster. Even though Hunter is not exactly the best class right now - average power, plus some popular good matchups - it enjoys huge popularity because it's pretty cheap and easy to play, A change to Call is welcome from my point of view, because it's really hard to normally interact with, especially on 7-8 mana mark. Now Hunter's opponents can have more options to even think of, for starters - like Deathwing, for example.

The Bad

Disclaimer : Next I'm going to voice something that can look like an unpopular opinion. Feel free to disagree. I'm a False Prophet after all.

Execute : Totally uncalled for.


I think that Execute is a brilliant card. It makes a ton of flavorful sense, and the biggest part of the fun is that it is balanced. What looks like a small mana investment is actually a huge trap, because Execute is card disadvantage. You have to commit something else in order to enable it. Perhaps it is another card, then you 1-for-2 yourself; perhaps it's a spare body or some spell that you don't mind paying for, like Blood To Ichor. But you have to get that other body or spell to pair with Execute, too! And that is in a class that has traditional problems with card advantage and card selection. Even if you can make it breaking even on cards, it still would be pretty awkward, because of that strategical "have two special cards against their one threat" thing, which is undesirable for Control Strategies. Compare it to clean answers like Hex and you'll see the difference and how Execute is worse here. But that's if we talk about Control Warrior.

Anything Warrior that did not plan to armor up in double digits and spend 30 minutes playing a single game utilizes Execute pretty efficiently, but I cannot see that as an issue. A lot of threats in the format are fast and tall, like a certain 4 mana 7\7, for example, and to keep such bad boys in check you have to have a good removal spell. And that's Execute police. A good catch-all answer actually produces diversity in a way, because less cards can cause problems, and the whole environment is more balanced. That's Execute police.

An explaination I can get behind is that Execute reduces design space, but not in removal department. A Control strategy needs not just means to answer a thread, but also means to find the right answer. If you give them 15 removal spells, a game will be over when opponent plays "draw 2" card. And Blizzard have been shoving healing down our throats, not actual card advantage or card selection. I think it's because it can create a dangerous consistency if you pair it with small deck size in Hearthstone. Draw 2 means much more for Warrior because you can't really brick and draw a land like in Magic with its 60-card decks. If removal options would be less efficient, like Druid has, for example, it would be much safer to print a draw spell and help Control that way.

Abusive Sergeant : The Good Guy of the format.


Sergeant is another classical staple that has been proven times and again to be good. Not great, not op, just where you'd want your good card to be. I like him a lot because what he does it helps policing a lot of stuff in the format, like 1\3 creatures, and he does it in a fair way - interacting through good old combat damage. When pumps are around, you can have more power level assigned to creatures and still feel fine about it, and it makes creatures-on-creatures matchups really interesting.

I would attribute the size nerf to the amount of Bloodfen Raptor in the meta, that Murloc Raider punishes so badly : Huge ToadKing's ElekkCult SorcererSorcerer's Apprentice. Raptors in their turn are formidable against popular 1\3s, and 1\3s are good against Murloc Raiders, so I'm not really sure what the fuss is all about because Rock-Paper-Sciccors is the most fair game ever.

As uncalled and not great I put it, the change would probably be more pros than cons. Probably.

The Ugly

Charge : Combo Tolerance Level : Zero.


As a combo enthusiast and a Johnny player, I'm taking this one personally, much like Warsong Commander and Force of Nature.

Why? Why can't Blizzard accept an idea of converting cards to damage directly without hypocrisy? 

Why do we still have Freeze Mage that violates everything Blizzard claim to hold dear in Hearthstone, why do we still have Miracle Rogue who can get out of hand as soon as turn 3, why Malygos is a normal thing, but it's Worgen who takes one for the team?

It was not a top performing deck. It killed things using damage coming out of some staples and then some weird fringe cards. It had a ridiculous skillcap. It made flashy plays worthy of E-Sports fame. It had free losses when you never saw your combo piece. You could counter it with a freaking Taunt.

Worgen OTK deck had nothing that you can find offensive and metagame health threatening, because it was not consistent enough to actually make wide impact. It's a reccuring problem that i come back to : Blizzard can't stand Combo because the game is "simple" and there is no way to interact with it properly. 

Change it. Add a Loatheb back or something. Bring Sciccors to the table. Because without Combo as a thing, there would be impossible to create balance - whether you position it to be a Control punisher or an Aggro punisher.

But of course, instead of solving the problem, you can change an enabler into a worthless piece much like you did to Warsong Commander, and cover it up with "restricts future cards". Invent a card that would be busted with the old Charge and is not Raging Worgen, then we can talk.

I apologize for the inconvenient explaination of my dissapointment with this change. I'm just feeling like a Raging Worgen right now.

How I believe these changes would affect the meta:

  • Druid is going to be the public enemy #1. He already is, it just feels less oppressive and weaker to aggro than Shaman. That would make a more powerlevel closer metagame, but Druid is going to be the best deck. He loses almost nothing, while his opposition does. Malfurion should be the next blip on Blizzard's radar.
  • Shaman would be dissolved further, and Aggro will finally part with Midrange. Ultimately it would come to whether Shamans want to commit to Doomhammer+Rockbiter, or be more focused on the remaning interaction in form of Spirit Claws and Maelstrom Portal. Second option feels like a weapon of choice, and it's reduced power level will make Shaman actually tolerable.
  • Hunter would become weaker, but remain popular because of its artificial features - simplicity and cost. Hybrid versions are taken down, and I think we can expect a shift towards more heavier approach.
  • Zoo Warlock and Warrior, specifically Dragon Warrior, look promising, even though they are nerfed in a way. Both archetypes are well positioned against Druid and are sort of soft to Shaman, who would decrease. Dragon Warrior would have a closer Hunter matchup which benefits it a lot, and Zoo would feel more confident going there, too.
  • Rogue already grows popular as a Druid counter in the tournament scene, and with more Druids, more Rogues would be around as well. It's the Control Punisher we deserve.
  • Control Paladin is also a thing that gets bumped in the matchups, but it's weak against Druid, so I'd call an expanded niche, not ladder dominance for it. Same goes for Priest, probably.



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6 hours ago, Paracel said:

This is like the worst day of my life. I've never felt that ashamed and unprofessional. I'll quote myself from an hour ago :

This was before patch announcement was live.

I owe an apology to @klott100 and all you guys too. 

Do you actually want to hear my opinion on the actual changes? Because oh boy, I did screw up the last time.

All good my man.  At least you admitted when you made a mistake if the whole world did that we'd be in an amazing place. :)


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@ParacelTo play win against OTK Raging Worgen, you would have to play the BEFORE he launches the combo, which is why they decided to nerf it (and Warsong Commander and Force of Nature). 
Freeze mage isn't a true OTK - it can't bash you from 30 to 0 in one single turn, unlike Raging Worgen or Patron Warrior. [Edit: Forgot double Frostbolt+Ice Lance, I could see Ice Lance nerfed to 3 dmg] That means you can [often] disrupt their combo by healing. If you heal back up after freeze mage drops Alexstrasza, you win almost every time. However, the issue with healing in standard is that there are just not enough good healing effects, apart from Reno Jackson, but he limits the deckbuilding options a lot. That's why I think we will see new heals in the upcoming expansion. (Defending freeze mage feels so disgusting)
Malygod is a problem, and I hope he sees a nerf. 26 damage after one turn of Emperor Thaurissan is an issue and should be resolved.

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38 minutes ago, positiv2 said:

Reno Jackson limits the deckbuilding options a lot.

And yet at the same time not enough. Reno decks are powerful and consistent enough, you just need a huge collection (or a lot of dust to burn) to create one.


(Defending freeze mage feels so disgusting)

Doubly so when you see the amount of them. Seriously...


Malygod is a problem, and I hope he sees a nerf. 26 damage after one turn of Emperor Thaurissan is an issue and should be resolved.

 Thaurissan will rotate out soon. A correctly timed Loatheb will throw a huge wrench in that well-oiled gears in Wild.

You'd still be able to Malygos + Moonfire + Moonfire for 12 damage on turn nine as a burst/finisher/emergency clear (Considering Living Roots will rotate out as well), but that's nothing a Mage can't do. With less cards and less mana, I might add.

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I think all the nerfs are good except maybe Charge, I never see worgon otk on the ladder. Tuskar could be 3/3 that summons a basic totem, lots of other 3/3 3mana minions with effect. Yogg should just be removed from the game, it is so random, it's bad for the game. I'm kind of sad for abusive, it will probably not see much play now like lepergnome. 

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Worgen had to go in my opinion. I'm not the biggest fan of OTK decks (and if I'm not mistaken neither is Blizzard) and I felt it was kinda cheap especially when you've been playing a good game and lose it in one fell swoop to something you cannot counter. In regards to Yogg, I like the change. It has balanced the risk vs reward (considering my Yoggs tend to kill themselves) but has left it viable.

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I guess I will throw in my 2 cents here.

Tuskarr totemic: Represented some of the very worst of RNG.  I hated losing to stuff like trogg > golem > coin tuskarr + golem/flame tongue.  Dealing with some 11/13 worth of stats by turn 4 is somewhat nightmarish, and getting flame tongue is even worse, you basically lose the game if you don't have an on point answer.


Yogg:  Little sad to see this, I personally love the wackiness it brings, but it needed to be done.  I also doubt it will be viable anymore.  After this nerf it will be much less consistent, which will pretty much mean it will only be played in like yogg-n-load decks.  Not much more to say about this.


Rockbiter: Eh, I honestly don't think this was the right card to nerf.  Yes it enables some pretty silly combos, but honestly, shaman has a really weak core set, and this was one of the best cards.  At 1 mana it was strong, at 2 mana, it will probably only see very marginal play.  Plus, this card really wasn't the problem with shaman (Or maybe a better way to say this is that shaman has 2 problems, cheap efficient removal and cheap efficient minions, neither of which are bad on there own but together become problematic), totem golem and thing from below are both much more problematic, and from the way things are shaping up, spirit claws should probably be on that list of incredibly broken shaman cards.  In general, shamans lack strong 2 drops aside from totem golem, so I would think thing from below should have been the card nerfed over rockbiter.  Although, there is something to be said for rockbiter limiting design space with things like windfury minions, but lets be honest, blizzard say things like "Blade flury is problematic and limits design space for good rogue weapons so we are nerfing it to the ground so we can print better rogue weapons".  Then only give rogues an over-costed fiery winaxe that is a death rattle from an over-costed bloodfen raptor.  So I really don't think that is a good reason to nerf things.


Call of the wild:  Well it really ins't that problematic right now, simply because hunter isn't that strong right now, but a good measure of a cards power is to consider how playable the card is at a 1 mana increase, and if the answer is still "this card will be an auto 2 of in almost every single deck", then something is the matter.  All and all, a good nerf, but a bit depressing considering the state of hunter in general.


Execute:  I actually really like this nerf.  It really doesn't hurt control warrior that much, but it makes execute much less viable in tempo based warrior decks.  Being able to do stuff like play a 4 drop on turn 5 and remove the damaged minion your opponent used to trade into your 3 or 4 drop was very strong, and is a lot of what made these sort of warrior builds incredibly strong.


Charge:  Eh I mean this nerf is what it is.  No one is surprised by this nerf, and while it probably wasn't necessary, very few people have the skill to really play the decks based around this card, and it often feels unfair to lose to them (even though it really isn't unfair).  While I am saddened to see combo decks go, I don't play the raging worgen deck, nor do I see many of them on ladder, so it barely effects me (or over 95% of the community for that matter).


Abusive sergeant:  I also really like this nerf. Abusive is by far the strongest neutral 1 drop in the game for aggressive decks, and the power level of 1 drops effects the power level of decks far more then people seem to realize (especially for aggressive decks).  I still think this card will be seen in zoo, but it might not be an auto include for almost every aggressive deck out there.  Most of the problem with this card lies in the current state of the game.  Tempo swings don't really happen as often anymore, The deck who gains tempo early tends to keep tempo and decks that keep tempo tend to win.  Cards like abusive sergeant help you snowball a small tempo lead into a large one by allowing you to trade up by 1-2 mana, the letting you play a minion that is off curve by 1, along with the 2/1 body.


Overall, I feel like this was a great set of nerfs, my only real problem with the nerfs themselves is with rockbiter (and the a lesser extent charge), but really it still helps.  However, from a macro prospective, shaman might have actually gotten stronger after these nerfs considering all the other strong decks (tempo mage, druid, and tempo/dragon warrior) all got nerfed harder then shaman did, making them less relevant comparatively.  Only time will tell if this is actually the case, however.

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59 minutes ago, PaasHaaS said:

And we're live!

FYI Mobile iOS is not yet. Still rocking my Shaman cheese!

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      The first two parts of this series taught a top-down approach for approaching decisions in Hearthstone. Mastering these broad and fundamental concepts of Hearthstone gave us the weapons to dominate any opponent attempting to fight us unarmed. Knowing your role at rank 20 is like bringing a knife to fist fight, and having a plan at rank 15 is like bringing a gun to knife fight.
      Understanding the big picture concepts which are relevant in nearly every game creates a huge degree of separation between ourselves and our opponents, but as we progress up the ladder and begin to learn about more and more narrow topics this margin begins to shrink. The massive advantage which comes from “having a plan” against an opponent who doesn’t is much smaller than the advantage you’ll gain from learning about “line up theory” in part three against an opponent who hasn’t learned this same concept.
      This is the nature of progress. The gap which separates us from our competition grows smaller and smaller as we get better and better. The margin for error shrinks. The difference between victory and defeat is no longer a misunderstanding of the matchup, it’s attacking the wrong minion on turn 7 or shipping away the wrong card in our mulligan. This is why it is critically important, now more than ever, that we internalize the broader lessons from parts one and two before moving on to the more specific concepts which I cover in parts three and four. You stand to gain a much bigger by mastering the broadest skills first.
      Section 1 - The Essence of Progress
      Making Smaller Circles
      As we gain experience and internalize concepts on a deeper and deeper level, questions which were once complex and demanded a significant portion of our thinking power start to be answered instinctively. The macro becomes second nature and our minds become free to begin worrying about the micro, then the old micro becomes our new macro and the process repeats itself. This is a process called “making smaller circles” in The Art of Learning, a book which I’ve recommended ad nauseum in this series.
      To turn the macro into the micro we should endeavor to learn depth, not breadth. Our goal isn't to collect new heuristics, it's to completely master the lessons we are still learning. By seeking to understand the finest details of every concept we will eventually be able to internalize them on a subconscious level, and this is what will ultimately enable us to answer difficult questions instinctually and automatically.
      As it applies to Hearthstone, the biggest advantage which will come from making smaller circles is the amount of thinking time it will buy us. By gaining the ability to quickly evaluate something which would have once taken us a long time we free our minds to focus on something new. We get to think more, and thinking more is often thinking is smarter.
      The higher up we climb the ladder the smaller our margin for error becomes. A great way to minimize on these errors is create more time for ourselves by making smaller circles. But there is another, much more simple way to buy ourselves more thinking time.
      Slow Down!
      As the margins between defeat and victory tighten the costs of making mistakes are greatly magnified. There’s a huge difference between a mistake due to a lack of understanding a making a mistake due to a lack of focus. Mistakes made from a lack of understanding can only be corrected with time and practice, while mistakes made from a lack of focus are entirely preventable.
      A turn in Hearthstone times out after 75 seconds, and with 20 seconds left the rope will appear across the middle of the screen. There is no penalty for taking each turn to rope and there are no bonus points for playing quickly. However, there is a massive penalty for playing too fast and making mistakes as a result. The most your opponent can do to complain about how long you are taking is emote “Hello”, so what do you have to lose by taking more time?
      I can’t teach you how to be smarter or have better focus, but I certainly share with you a framework for making the most out your time each of turn. More time means more thinking, more thinking means smarter decisions, and helping you make smarter decisions is the entire goal of the “Legend in the Making” series. Here are some steps you can take to ensure that you’re using time to your advantage:
      Decide what the plan is. If there is still time left in the turn before you must act (the rope hasn’t appeared yet), see if you come up with a different plan. If there is no other plan, use the rest of your time to plan out future turns and consider the outs for you and your opponent. If there is another plan, compare and contrast the advantages of both plans to decide which one is better. If there is still time left in the turn after you’ve compared the two plans, try to see if you can come up with another plan and repeat this process. There will probably be many turns where this process feels laborious and unnecessary. Your first instinct will often be the correct one and might feel as though you just wasted time and effort for no benefit. The beauty of this process is that it doesn’t truly matter if your decisions don’t change as a result of this extra time and focus, because to reflect and ask yourself questions is the fastest way to internalize the finer details of the game! This is how you make smaller circles.
      Think of the effort you’re spending now as effort you won’t need to spend again in the future if you encounter a similar situation. Taking the extra time to reflect on your decisions in the present not only decreases the likelihood that you make mistakes (which allows you to win more games), it encodes your patterns of thought into instincts which will free up additional thinking time in the future for you to do even more. This enables the cycle of learning and improvement to repeat itself. Self reflection is not only key to ensuring we don’t make mistakes, it the essence of progress and rapid improvement.
      Section 2 - Line Up Theory
      Hearthstone is a game of threats and answers, both of which can come in many forms. A threat might be a wide board of buffed-up Murlocs thanks to Murloc Warleader, and answer to this threat might be a single Dragonfire Potion. A 12/12 Edwin VanCleef is a threat which can be answered by 12 power worth of minions.
      A threat is anything a player can use to win the game if their opponent doesn't have an answer for it, and an answer is any way to remove a threat. The battle of aggro vs control is fundamentally a battle of threats against answers. It’s the aggro player’s job to present the threats their opponent is least likely to have an answer to, and it's the control player’s job to answer the threats presented by the aggro player in such a way that they will still have the ability to handle the next one.
      It is often the case that a specific answer lines up against a specific threat in such a way that one player comes out of the exchange at huge advantage. A classic example is the threat of Tirion Fordring and the answer of Polymorph. Casting Polymorph on Tirion cleanly answers his big body, his Divine Shield, and his Deathrattle trigger. Without a Polymorph, answering a Tirion might require a combination of your hero power, some spells, and minion attacks just to take down his 6/6 Taunt body, and when everything's said and done your opponent still gets a 5/3 weapon. Sounds like a disaster! Cards like Polymorph and Hex line up very well against Tirion while most other answers line up against him poorly. This is “line up theory”, a method for assigning specific answers to specific threats in an effort to create advantages and avoid disasters.
      Lining Up Decks
      We can use line up theory to help us understand the correct approach to most matchups. Through line up theory we can determine which matchups are “ask and answer”, or classic aggro vs control games where the lining up of threats and answers is determined most by the present, and we can also discover which matchups are dictated more by a deck vs deck approach to lining up threats and answers. Let’s see an example of a matchup where threats and answers are far more important than roles, and where the “plan” is to have the correct answers to line up against the correct threats.
      Giant Miracle Rogue is a deck with some very powerful threats and the ability to quickly cycle through its deck to consistently find them. It also runs a very limited number threats due to the density of its cheap spells. They typically look to set up a single turn where they clear their opponent’s board and play out a massive Edwin VanCleef and/or multiple Arcane Giants and overwhelm their opponent on tempo with the size of their creatures.
      Evolve Shaman is a deck which looks to control the board early with cost-effective creatures and board clear spells. By keeping their opponent’s board empty in the early game they seek to take over the mid to late game with a powerful Doppelgangster + Evolve play or to kill their opponent outright with Bloodlust and a wide board of minions and totems.
      It would be accurate to say that both of these decks are midrangey and have combo elements to the way they play. Depending on the way the cards line up on a game by game basis either deck could be the aggro deck or the control deck if you approach the matchup purely from the perspective of roles. However, due to the way that the threats from Miracle Rogue line up against the threats from Evolve Shaman, this matchup has the potential to be incredibly lopsided if the Evolve Shaman player understands line up theory.
      Let’s look at the threats that the Miracle Rogue is packing:
      Edwin VanCleef Sherazin, Corpse Flower Two Arcane Giants The rest of their minions in the deck aren’t there to end the game on their own but to facilitate the strategy of the deck. Though the deck could also manage to drudge up a threat with a Hallucination or Swashburglar, the likelihood that they find anything which threatens to end the game on its own from these cards is quite low.
      If we look at how the answers from Evolve Shaman up against these threats, we find that the Evolve Shaman is perfectly suited to answer these threats at a tremendous advantage. The Jade Lightnings line up well against the Gadgetzan Auctioneers, while the Lightning Storms, Maelstrom Portals, and Volcanos can easily clear up the other roleplayers. The two Hexes can handle Sherazin, Edwin, or an Arcane Giant at a mana advantage, the Devolve can handle the Edwin or Sherazin at a mana advantage, and a combination of minions and spells can add up to the 8 damage needed to finish off the final Arcane Giant.
      When you line up the two decks against each other the default strategy for the Evolve Shaman player should be clear. The Evolve Shaman just needs to be able to deploy each of their lined up answers against the Miracle Rogue’s lined up threats and they will eventually be able to run them out of gas. From the perspective of line up theory, any Shaman deck running two Hex and one Devolve should be favored against a Giant Miracle Rogue which is light on threats. Their answers are naturally advantaged against their opponent’s threats, and they will be heavily favored in any game where they can deploy these answers on time. Whenever you can identify a matchup where your threats line up favorably against your opponent’s answers or vice versa, your best bet is to approach the matchup from the perspective of line up theory and aim to win the game by abusing the natural advantages of your specific threats and answers against theirs.
      There will be the occasional game where one of the Shaman’s much needed answers is on the bottom of their deck or where the Miracle Rogue draws well and is able to play their threats too quickly, but the chances of losing a game to these circumstances are much lower than the chances of losing in a more traditional midrange vs midrange matchup. Generally speaking, decks which have more answers than their opponents have threats are favored in games which go long when playing with line up theory in mind. This implies that decks with fewer answers than their opponents have threats should try to find a way to end the game quickly before they get overwhelmed by their opponent’s threats.
      The Narrow Answer
      When lining up decks against one another you’ll often find that there are only one or two key cards in either deck which demand specific answers from their opponent. Polymorphs for a Tirion Fordring, or Volcanic Potions for a Living Mana, for example. It may not always make sense to mold your entire strategy from the perspective of line up theory, but the knowledge of how these threats and answers line up against each other still has an impact on the way you play out the game.
      When playing against an opponent who has a threat in their deck which demands a specific answer from your own, the goal is to hold onto your narrow answer for as long humanly possible. Patience is key, especially if your opponent also understands how line up theory works. Whoever bites first and plays their threat into a narrow answer or uses their narrow answer on the wrong threat will often lose as a result. Unless you’re under direct threat of dying, hold onto that narrow answer at all costs and find a different way to answer your opponent’s other threats.
      You might also find yourself in a situation where you have access to a threat which can completely take over the game if your opponent lacks the narrow answer. In an ideal world you would construct a situation where your opponent is forced to deploy their narrow answer on the wrong card, but you won’t always have this luxury. If time is not your side, it’s often correct to throw your threat out there and pray that they don’t have the answer in hand. If time is your ally, then it’s probably best to hold onto your threat until you’re sure the coast is clear.
      Section 3 - Mulligans
      Mulligans are among the most complex and important decisions in the entire game, yet they are often overlooked or taken for granted as deterministic.
      The majority of deck guides I’ve seen around the internet list cards which are considered “keeps”, but this completely fails to recognize the importance of matchups when it comes to mulligan decisions. More thorough deck guides will list the cards which are keeps in every matchup, and though this is certainly a step closer to the truth it still doesn’t tell the entire story.
      To be to fair to all the excellent deck guide writers out there, there are certain decks which will almost always want to keep certain cards. For example, I very rarely mulligan away Wild Growth while playing as Ramp Druid. It’s a card you can play early and is simultaneously critical for the deck’s gameplan, but is it always correct to keep two Wild Growths? Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. There are certain matchups where double Wild Growth is the stone cold nut, but there are other matchups where it might be more important to dig for something that impacts the board.
      In this section I’ll attempt to teach you all of the different factors I’ve discovered for informing mulligan decisions. Factors can vary wildly in importance from matchup to matchup, hand to hand, and deck to deck, so the real talent to mulligans is knowing when each of these factors takes precedence over the others.
      Mana Cost
      The level zero, most basic mulligan tip that everyone learns first is to mulligan away your expensive cards so that you can find cheap ones that you can play early. It makes sense why you’d want to do this as it’s very advantageous to curve out (use all of your mana on cards which cost as much mana as you have available that turn), and you can’t exactly curve out in the first few turns if you are sitting on a hand full of expensive cards.
      You can think of all the other factors I discuss in this section as reasons not to mulligan away more expensive cards for cheaper ones. If you were to enter into a completely unknown matchup then the mana cost of your cards would almost certainly be the most important factor, but at these ranks we are never entering into an unknown matchup.
      Line Up Theory
      The time you have to mulligan is the all the time you have to determine if your current matchup is "ask and answer" or is dictated by line up theory. Before sending away a single card you should have a decent idea of whether or not line up theory is the axis by which you’ll be attacking this game, as this will completely dictate your mulligan decisions.
      It should be fairly straightforward to understand how line up theory impacts your mulligans. If you’re in the position of the player who has more answers than your opponent has threats then you can’t afford to ship a single answer from your opening hand. You have inevitability on your side if you can assemble all of your answers before they can assemble all of their threats, so you shouldn’t be too concerned if your hand appears to be slow.
      If you’re in the position of the player who has fewer threats than your opponent has answers you likely can’t afford to ship a single threat. The way you win is by playing one more threat than they have an answer for, so you’re also in the market for any cards which might force your opponent to spend one of their precious answers on the wrong target.
      The Matchup
      Some cards have the ability to completely take over a game on their own in certain matchups. If you know exactly which deck you’re up against then keeping these cards in your opening hand is always the correct decision, regardless of whether they cost 10 mana or 1. If nine of the last ten Druids you faced were playing Jade, then you stand to gain much more by holding on to Skulking Geist in your opening hand than you do by mulliganing it away. Let’s explore why.
      In this example nine of the last ten Druids we faced were Jades, which extrapolates to a 90% chance that the current Druid you are currently facing is also a Jade. If you assume that keeping the Skulking Geist drops your win percentage from 50% to 0% against all other Druids (which it doesn’t), you’re still only giving up 5% win percentage over the course of 10 games (50 divided by 10). This means that keeping the Skulking Geist would still be the smarter decision if getting to play the card increased your overall match win percentage against Jade Druid by more than 5.6% (50 divided by 9), which I’m almost certain that it does. Though it might seem greedy to keep an expensive or narrow card in your opening hand without being certain what you’re up against, the numbers show that it’s often correct to do so.
      Try to resist the urge to mulligan away an expensive card in your hand before considering the odds that it could tilt the matchup in your favor. Consider the prevalence of each deck in your opponent’s class, as well as the impact an individual card has on the overall win percentage in each matchup. It’s far too complex to calculate exact numbers, but with time and practice you can start to get a sense for when and why you should keep certain narrow or expensive cards in your opening hand.
      Conversely, there are cards which are typically strong in opening hands but must be mulliganed away based on your opponent’s class or the expected matchup. These cards might line up poorly against the enemy’s Hero Power or common class cards. For example, minions with one Health are typically miserable against Mage, and early Deathrattle cards like Kindly Grandmother with 2 power or less can get blown out by Potion of Madness. The ability to recognize when it is correct to mulligan away cards that are typically strong is just as important as the ability to recognize when it is correct keep cards that are typically weak.
      50% Theory
      It is often correct to hold onto a card which might not be ideal but is just above the cut. In what I call “50% Theory”, I always try to stop and ask myself if there is a greater than 50% chance that the card I’m thinking about mulliganing away will turn into a worse one. I often find that my first instinct is to mulligan away a less than perfect card to try and find something better, but that when I apply 50% theory I realize that my odds of improving my hand actually decrease by shipping the card away.
      Curving Out
      Another reason to keep potentially expensive cards is because your hand can naturally curve into them. For example, let’s say you’re playing a deck which typically always mulligans away 4 drops in the dark. If the other two cards in your hand are a 2 drop and a 3 drop, then it could potentially be worth keeping the 4 drop so long as it is a natural follow-up to the other two cards.
      Checking the curve of our hand can also help us catch when we might have too much of a good thing. Many cards which are typically excellent in opening hands might not pair well with the other cards in our hand, or even with a second copy of itself. N'Zoth's First Mate is typically the best card for Pirate Warrior on turn one, but the second copy should almost always be shipped away. The same can often (though not always) be said for Innervate, depending on what the final card or cards in your opener are. If you’re on Aggro Druid and your opening hand is double Innervate + Bittertide Hydra, then you have a potentially game winning play on turn one. If your hand is double Innervate + Living Mana, then you’ll want to ship both the Living Mana and one of the Innervates to try and find yourself a better curve.
      The Checklist
      To recap, here are a list of questions you should ask yourself about each hand while mulliganing:
      Based on my opponent’s class and the local metagame, which decks could my opponent be playing? Is this a line up theory matchup? Are there any narrow answers or threats in my hand? Do I have any cards which are very powerful against one of these decks? Am I increasing my overall win percentage by keeping these cards? Do I have any cards which are very weak against one of these decks? Am I decreasing my overall win percentage by keeping these cards? Does this hand curve out? Does it have a game plan? Do I have any expensive cards which I should mulligan away for something less expensive? If so, is there a greater than 50% chance that getting rid of one of these cards will yield a worse result? It’s important to note that the de facto “most important factor” of mulligans, the mana cost of the cards, is the second to last question when working down this checklist. This isn’t to say that the mana cost of the cards in your opening hand isn’t important, it's just that there are many other things you should be thinking about as well.
      Another thing of note is that I never stop to ask if I have cards in my hand which should be automatically kept. I believe that you can get yourself into trouble by thinking about cards as “automatic keeps”, and should instead start off by viewing each card through the lens of the specific matchups you’re anticipating. Granted, to this day I have still never mulliganed away the first copy of Flametongue Totem, but I’d like to think that’s because I have yet to encounter a matchup where it isn’t good in my opening hand and not because the card is an "automatic keep".
      Line up theory can help us think about our boards, hands, and decks as distinct sets of limited tools. By lining up our tools against our opponent’s problems we can attempt to organize our game plan into the most effective and thorough plan possible. Some matchups are dictated entirely by line up theory, while in other matchups we can use the lessons we've learned from line up theory to gain small edges in efficiency.
      Mulligans are an often overlooked or misunderstood facet of the game, but they are sometimes the most important decision we make in the entire game. By taking the time to carefully consider all the reasons why we should or shouldn’t keep each card in our opener, we are adding one more edge to our game which will help propel us to the next stage of the ladder.
      For the fourth and final installment of Legend in the Making, I will discuss all of the subtle ways that game behavior can inform the exact content of player’s hands. By analyzing the ordering decisions and tiny mistakes our opponents make we can glean much more information about our their game plan than you might think. Please join me in part four as we make the final push towards our ultimate goal of reaching Legend.