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Ben Brode on The Meta, Balance, and Shaman

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Ben Brode has made a lengthy post on the battle.net forums explaining his thoughts on the state of the metagame.

Many players have been complaining about the amount of Shaman on ladder in recent days, as well as the large number of decks using Patches the Pirate. Brode addresses those concerns, and throws in some statistics to show that the problem may not be as bad as it seems.

Blizzard LogoBen Brode

The average win rate of the best deck in the meta is 53%. Historically, there has never been a 'best deck' with a lower win-rate. Put another way, this is the worst 'best deck' in Hearthstone's history. The win rate is consistent across all ranks, though individual players have wildly variant individual experiences. We don't include mirror matches in our calculations. (source)

The post describes a lot of the design thought process, and anyone serious about Hearthstone would do well to take their time to read it all. Although he seems to defend Shaman's win rate to some degree, he does mention that Patches is in around 50% of decks. This seems to be more of an issue for him than Shaman as a whole. He concludes the post with some encouraging signs to those who are wanting a change.

Blizzard LogoBen Brode

Our next patch is planned for around the end of this month. You can expect an announcement from us regarding balance changes either way in the week or so leading up to that date.

It seems from the in-depth discussion that we can expect changes to Pirates, and to Shaman. My guess is that Small-Time Buccaneer will be the main target in the Pirate decks. Shaman is a trickier issue to fix. There are so many good cards in the class that Blizzard will have to look very closely at cause and effect. I would be interested to see what you think in the comments below, but one of my guesses would be that Flametongue Totem will be hit. Spirit Claws would be an obvious choice, but I think Blizzard are a lot less comfortable nerfing cards from adventures, and so it might get a pass.

 

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Flametounge is a good guess because you could look at it as a 4/3 minion for 2 mana without overload, but I also think thing from below, lightning storm (potential 18 DMG averaged for 3mana, flamestrike is 7 for 28), or feral spirit could see some tinkering.

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29 minutes ago, JohnnyZ said:

Flametounge is a good guess because you could look at it as a 4/3 minion for 2 mana without overload, but I also think thing from below, lightning storm (potential 18 DMG averaged for 3mana, flamestrike is 7 for 28), or feral spirit could see some tinkering.

I doubt feral spirit will get nerfed, it is a pretty mediocre card without flametounge tbh. 

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26 minutes ago, JohnnyZ said:

Flametounge is a good guess because you could look at it as a 4/3 minion for 2 mana without overload, but I also think thing from below, lightning storm (potential 18 DMG averaged for 3mana, flamestrike is 7 for 28), or feral spirit could see some tinkering.

Flametongue has been in the game for 3+ years. And now it's suddenly a problem, not the new op cards. Flametongue totem wasn't even the problem when Shamans used to play a ton of windfury cards!

Nerfing Lighting Storm which counters aggro cancer decks is also a bad design decision.

The real problem is obvious and has been pointed out a while ago: 1 drops are too strong and make aggro decks very powerful . Does Blizz fix this? Nope, they add Tunnel Trogg (a new Undertaker, essentially) and Small Time Buccaneer (basically 3/2 creature which summons 1/1 with charge and this for 1 mana only!). I am not even talking about 7/7 for 4 mana or 3/4 for 2 mana.

Another issue is that aggro decks actually benefit from going second. Trogg + Coin + Trogg (turn 1), Totem Golem (turn 2), Totem Golem (turn 3), Flamewreathed Faceless (turn 4) wins you the game. The same goes for pirate warrior (two pirates turn 1, fiery win axe turn 2).

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1 hour ago, Keizoku said:

A bunch of Shaman's powerhouse cards like Tunnel TroggTotem Golem and Thunder Bluff Valiant will rotate out of standard in a few months, there's no real need for a big nerf.

My money is on Small-Time Buccaneer, either downgraded to base 1/1; or staying at 1/2 but only getting +1 attack if you have a weapon equipped.

How about making it a 2 cost, that would also reduce the agro type start you can make by pulling your patches on turn 1 and equipping a weapon on the same turn if you have the coin...

 

3 hours ago, Esmer said:

Another issue is that aggro decks actually benefit from going second. Trogg + Coin + Trogg (turn 1), Totem Golem (turn 2), Totem Golem (turn 3), Flamewreathed Faceless (turn 4) wins you the game. The same goes for pirate warrior (two pirates turn 1, fiery win axe turn 2).

Shaman sequence can't do totem golem turn 3 and then follow up with faceless if you already spent your coin.

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3 hours ago, Esmer said:

The real problem is obvious and has been pointed out a while ago: 1 drops are too strong and make aggro decks very powerful . Does Blizz fix this? Nope, they add Tunnel Trogg

Back at the time when Tunnel Trogg was added, powerful 1-drops weren't an issue - Tunnel Trogg was where it all started.

4 minutes ago, Tectonn said:

How about making it a 2 cost, that would also reduce the agro type start you can make by pulling your patches on turn 1 and equipping a weapon on the same turn if you have the coin...

Increasing it's cost to 2 would actually make it a worse Bloodfen Raptor, stomping the card into the ground, which is not healthy for the game either.

4 hours ago, Esmer said:

Flametongue totem wasn't even the problem when Shamans used to play a ton of windfury cards!

That was during the GvG meta with Whirling Zap-o-matic + Rockbiter Weapon OTK Shaman, which was actually countered by quite a lot of decks, especially those running Sludge BelcherAnnoy-o-Tron or 3-dmg effects, such as Darkbomb or Wrath, resulting in the OTK shaman being basically a meme deck.

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1 hour ago, positiv2 said:

Back at the time when Tunnel Trogg was added, powerful 1-drops weren't an issue - Tunnel Trogg was where it all started.

Powerful 1 drops were too strong since Naxxramas. Don't you remember Undertaker decks?

But Trogg might indeed not be an issue: Mana Wyrm has the same effect, but with spells. However, many spells are simply removal (thus reactive plays), while overload cards improve your position on the board while simultaneously buffing Trogg.

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Hope they don't nerf aggro too much. Jade Druid mirror matchups will get dull fast...

Sure it's frustrating to lose with Reno in hand to a Turn 5 lethal, but if aggro's best starts weren't sick then it wouldn't be viable as an average start wouldn't be good enough.

Personally quite like this meta, there's a good mix of aggro, control and midrange that are all viable. Agree there's a bit too much pirate and Shaman, although the latter is partly because there's a lot of viable shaman archetypes right now.

Buccaneer: Make it not a pirate. (Making attack boost +1 makes it worse than other 1-mana 2/2s except for patches anyway)

Shaman: Reduce burst potential by making Lava Burst 4mana 1overload.

Edited by Bozonik
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3 hours ago, Esmer said:

Powerful 1 drops were too strong since Naxxramas. Don't you remember Undertaker decks?

Undertaker was indeed an issue, but got nerfed and powerful 1-drops didn't pop up until LoE came out.

1 hour ago, Bozonik said:

Buccaneer: Make it not a pirate.

That actually sounds like a great idea. This would reduce the consistency of pirate decks while not killing the card. The meta would get slightly tilted towards control, but not too much.

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16 hours ago, positiv2 said:

Undertaker was indeed an issue, but got nerfed and powerful 1-drops didn't pop up until LoE came out.

That actually sounds like a great idea. This would reduce the consistency of pirate decks while not killing the card. The meta would get slightly tilted towards control, but not too much.

Powerful 1 drops have always existed.  Look at zoo, flame imp and abusive sergeant were both INCREDIBLY strong and in the base set, mana wyrm (and flamewaker) make tempo mage a deck,  leper gnome MADE face decks work in GVG and before.  Clockwork gnome was a powerful card in mech mage (admitedly not nearly as broken or essential to the deck as the previously mentioned one drops though).  As for not making it a pirate, that would barely be a nerf to pirate warrior but a huge nerf to pirate shaman and pirate miracle rogue, not to mention would basically kill the flavor of the card while leaving a large amount of its power intact.  1-drops tend to come in two flavors, broken or useless.  There is very few ways to actually change a 1 drop and keep it still playable.  This is because 1-drops are incredibly stat efficient (the lower the mana cost the more stat efficient it is).  Take Red Mana Wyrm, a card that has seen very fringe play in some miracle rogue decks (I do mean very fringe but the larger point I am making is that it is ALMOST good enough to be viable), and it has twice the stats in the exact same distribution with double the effect of mana wyrm for five times the cost.  The make or break point for a 1 drop is how useful it is.  If it has 1 health it is too weak to hero powers and the rampant amount of wirlwind and random plink effects in the meta, and if it has only 1 attack, MOST of the time it doesn't trade up well enough.  Which leads to an interesting paradox.  If a 1 mana cost card is useful, it is almost without exception broken strong because of the ridiculous amount of mana efficiency you get, but if it isn't useful, then its mana efficiency is irrelevant and the card is simply bad.

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4 hours ago, VaraTreledees said:

 As for not making it a pirate, that would barely be a nerf to pirate warrior but a huge nerf to pirate shaman and pirate miracle rogue

The 1/1 body with charge is often what wins the game. A 1 mana 3/2 is still an issue, but way smaller than with the extra 1/1 body. Since Small-Time Buccaneer is unlikely to be the only aggro card nerfed, then few changes add up and the tribal synergy removal is sufficient. 

4 hours ago, VaraTreledees said:

1-drops tend to come in two flavors, broken or useless.

If I look at, for example, Abusive Sergeant or Northshire Cleric, I can't say they are either useless or broken. They are in the middle ground, where they are useful, but not to the point of so many decks running it, or to the point where they win games. 

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5 hours ago, VaraTreledees said:

As for not making it a pirate, that would barely be a nerf to pirate warrior but a huge nerf to pirate shaman and pirate miracle rogue, not to mention would basically kill the flavor of the card while leaving a large amount of its power intact.

Agree it'd make the card lose some flavour, and the name wouldn't make much sense. But personally don't see Aggro Shaman taking a hit as a bad thing, it'd still be Tier 1 imo. I don't think Pirate Warrior would play it without it being a pirate, it's too weak a top deck after the early turns without being an activator for cultist. As an aficionado of pirate warrior pre-Gadgetzan I wouldn't mind seeing it fade away somewhat, I like it more as a niche deck; it's pretty easily dealt with as a meta deck. I've never played Miracle Rogue but seems to me non-pirate buccaneer would still be playable albeit less of a given.

Ultimately I really like Patches as a boost to pirate warrior, less keen on buccaneer though which has unnecessarily boosted previously non-pirate archetypes with extra early game.

Edited by Bozonik
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20 hours ago, positiv2 said:

The 1/1 body with charge is often what wins the game. A 1 mana 3/2 is still an issue, but way smaller than with the extra 1/1 body. Since Small-Time Buccaneer is unlikely to be the only aggro card nerfed, then few changes add up and the tribal synergy removal is sufficient. 

If I look at, for example, Abusive Sergeant or Northshire Cleric, I can't say they are either useless or broken. They are in the middle ground, where they are useful, but not to the point of so many decks running it, or to the point where they win games. 

Tend to be, as in not a universal truth, and northshire is incredibly strong, it is not seen in every deck, but that is because it is far less useful in every deck, northshire can absolutely win games by itself in dragon priest.  The sheer amount of card advantage that thing provides is insane, on top of baiting out premium removal half the time, which is absolutely crazy in a board centric deck.  Plus the thing is still seen in some control decks, like how often do you see a 1 drop in a control deck?  I mean sure there is mistress and zombie chow, but those are strong anti aggro tech cards (Mistress is also a pretty fair one drop, honestly it is so fair it probably wouldn't even see play if it wasn't for the rampant prevalence of aggro decks and even then, a lot of reno decks don't even run a copy anymore).  Also The fact that abusive sergeant lost an attack and is STILL played tells you how strong it used to be, post nerf it is far more fair then it used to be.

As for the first point, one of the reasons that small time buccaneer is so unhealthy, in my opinion, is that even with a rusty hook, that means 1 charge from a free weapon and a 1 mana minion can trade up into azure drake, the most ubiquitous five drop in the game.  A large reason that mid range decks, like paladin, zoo and hunter are being forced out is just how efficiently a 1 mana 3/2 trades up, especially with a weapon involved.  How can board centric mid range decks even gain a foot hold when aggro decks have a 1 drop that regularly trades up into three drops?  Again not a universal truth but the general sentiment is pretty spot on.

Edited by VaraTreledees

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I don't care about shaman or pirates. I want jade idol nerfed... by far the worst card design in hearthstone, with the exception of Undertaker. It is literally impossible to win the late game when playing a deck like control priest... which they intended to be strong. It is absurdly OP. 

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On 5. 2. 2017 at 2:26 PM, VaraTreledees said:

Also The fact that abusive sergeant lost an attack and is STILL played tells you how strong it used to be, post nerf it is far more fair then it used to be.

As for the first point, one of the reasons that small time buccaneer is so unhealthy, in my opinion, is that even with a rusty hook, that means 1 charge from a free weapon and a 1 mana minion can trade up into azure drake, the most ubiquitous five drop in the game.

Does Abusive Sergeant still see play though? I can't think of a ladder game in which I've seen it played in recent months.

And Azure Drake may cost 5 mana but it's not a 5-drop and rarely should be played on turn 5. A 4 HP body can be killed cheaply in all manner in of ways. And it's not like buccaneer sneaks up on you... if azure drake is your best Turn 5 play against an opponent with his 'free weapon' and buccaneer on board you've either drawn badly or your game plan is wrong. 

 

On 5. 2. 2017 at 5:42 PM, YourGod said:

I don't care about shaman or pirates. I want jade idol nerfed... by far the worst card design in hearthstone, with the exception of Undertaker. It is literally impossible to win the late game when playing a deck like control priest... which they intended to be strong. It is absurdly OP. 

Thankfully aggro is around to make sure you don't see it much ;)

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34 minutes ago, Bozonik said:

Does Abusive Sergeant still see play though? I can't think of a ladder game in which I've seen it played in recent months.

It is played in zoo only, and zoo is pretty much dead deck as it gets outpaced by meta aggro decks and outlasted by reno decks. Part of the reason for the latter is the nerf of Abusive Sergeant.

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On 2/10/2017 at 10:55 AM, Bozonik said:

Does Abusive Sergeant still see play though? I can't think of a ladder game in which I've seen it played in recent months.

And Azure Drake may cost 5 mana but it's not a 5-drop and rarely should be played on turn 5. A 4 HP body can be killed cheaply in all manner in of ways. And it's not like buccaneer sneaks up on you... if azure drake is your best Turn 5 play against an opponent with his 'free weapon' and buccaneer on board you've either drawn badly or your game plan is wrong. 

Abusive still sees play in zoo, and before mean streets zoo was still a dominate force in wild, and most decks still ran 2 copies of abusive.  Also, you see azure drake on turn five more then basically any other turn five play, against a pirate deck though, no you would probably not play it on turn 5.  My larger point is that buccaneer trades up super efficiently (especially with the rusty hook).  So many strong mid-rangy style of minions have 4 health and having a 1 drop that will routinely trade up into 3 drops and 4 drops means it is really hard to actually hold board against pirate decks, which is one of the reasons why you don't see many board centric mid range decks, they are just punished pirate decks.

On 2/10/2017 at 11:36 AM, positiv2 said:

It is played in zoo only, and zoo is pretty much dead deck as it gets outpaced by meta aggro decks and outlasted by reno decks. Part of the reason for the latter is the nerf of Abusive Sergeant.

Eh.  The reason for the latter has more to do with control decks getting all kinds of fun new tools and zoo getting nothing in the new expansion.  Just look at the wild meta, it is dominated by the same stuff we see in standard and zoo, which has been a traditionally strong deck in wild, has been largely pushed out for the same reasons it's weak in standard right now.  I mean the abusive sergeant nerf didn't help against control, but so many control decks have so many small efficient AoE's or just ways to deal 1 damage that the nerf really wasn't that impactful in the control match up.  It is honestly more impactful in the aggro and mid range match ups where abusive doesn't trade up nearly as well.

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Ah, yeah, don't remember when I last saw zoo! I don't play wild though.

And true, the 3/2 helps pirates hold the board... but the way they win is holding board so it has to be tough. If they lose the board before they get in burst range there's rarely any way back (not including Miracle Rogue, the pirates are just there to keep pace with aggro).

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