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Ben Brode on the Fiery War Axe Nerf

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Members of the community were upset at how the Fiery War Axe nerf was phrased and explained in the official blog post. Ben Brode wanted to clarify that "they don't think players are stupid" and tried to justify why a 2-mana 2/2 Fiery War Axe isn't a good change.

After the announcement of the upcoming balance changes, the community has been vividly discussing about them. Ben Brode already gave some explanations on Reddit this week and earlier today he returned to provide some answers on the hot topic of the Fiery War Axe nerf.

People felt their intelligence was insulted from the phrasing of the developers' notes on the Fiery War Axe change. The phrase that seems to have caused the outrage is the following:

Blizzard LogoBlizzard Entertainment

The other option we considered for Fiery War Axe was to lower its attack to 2, but that change didn’t feel intuitive enough. Generally, changing the mana cost of a card is less disruptive, because you can always see the mana cost of cards in your hand. (source)

Ben Brode gave a comment to VentureBeat clarifying that all of the affected cards were nerfed for power level reasons. The team doesn't think Hearthstone players are stupid; in fact, they are perfectly capable of memorising the entire set of cards. A change to mana cost is less disruptive simply because of the fact that it's not castable or highlighted green anymore. Here is his full statement:

Blizzard LogoBen Brode

+ Show

I always love to read discussion about Hearthstone, and there’s been a lot of healthy back and forth about the pros and cons of this particular change and the timing of it.
 
However, some of what I read in the community response seems to be a core misunderstanding that we are nerfing cards because we think players are confused by them (and therefore we think players are stupid). I want to be super-clear — these cards are being nerfed for power level reasons, or because we are curating the set of evergreen cards to help Standard feel fresh and more fun with our yearly standard rotation. The language about certain changes being more disruptive than others was related to why we decided to make one change over another, once we’d already decided to make a change.

We absolutely don’t think players are stupid.

I, like a lot of players, have memorized every Hearthstone card. If I show you a picture of Arcanite Reaper, I bet you don’t have to read the card to know that it’s a 5/2 weapon. Art becomes a shortcut to game mechanics.  When we change the underlying game mechanics without changing the art, players who don’t read their cards every time they play a game won’t notice that one of the words on the cards has changed.

I want to make this clear — we don’t think players are too stupid to read their cards. We think players have the capacity to memorize thousands of cards’ text and recognize them by art alone. Nobody double-checks Arcanite Reaper to make sure it’s still a 5/2 weapon each time they cast it. That’s nuts. That’s why it’s less disruptive to change mana cost than Attack, Health, or card text. The card is literally not castable or highlighted green any more, and that makes it obvious that a change has been made to players who have every card memorized.

The discussion continued onto Reddit, where the Game Director repeated more or less the same arguments. A mana cost nerf to a card is just easier, simpler and less disruptive. Even if you have memorised the previous version of the card, the green highlight (or its absence) is the indicating factor of when you can play that card.

Blizzard Logobbrode

I think he's effectively saying "all other things equal, it's preferential to change mana costs rather than anything else". If there are two changes proposed to a card that have near-identical consequences on gameplay, change the mana cost.

That is the case. Sometimes we don't have choices that are very equal, but if you have a couple options that would all be reasonable changes, we tend to prefer to change the mana cost, for players that have memorized the card already. (Source)

 


 

I'm going to be pulling my hair out when I (having memorized all of the cards) try to play my 2 mana 3/2 Fiery War Axe on turn 2. Certainly my 2 mana 3/2 Fiery War Axe will be playable on turn 2 after the next patch, that's how the card is. If they change anything about it, how will I know? I will only ever remember a 2 mana 3/2 Fiery War Axe when I look at the art.

The green highlight makes this less of an issue.

Keep in mind, this is just a minor upside when comparing two potential changes to Fiery War Axe. (Source)

Someone mentioned the Warsong Commander card text change/nerf as an example of inconsistency from Blizzard. Ben admitted that the team learns over time and they adapt accordingly.

Blizzard Logobbrode

Why was Warsong Commander's nerf defended by saying her mana cost was intimately tied to the 'soul of the card'? Blizzard; consistently inconsistent.

Or we learn over time. Is it better to be consistent if you're wrong? (Source)

This led to the topic of whether cards (and card changes) should be intuitive or not and how useful is for a player to learn from his or her mistakes. Blizzard wants to keep things intuitive, but their main concern is balance and they will make unintuitive changes if they have to.

Blizzard Logobbrode

I don't mind if players make mistakes and learn from them.

Making things intuitive is part of good design, though. We could make things very unintuitive so that every thing you do fails on it's first try - there's actual games built around that, but it's generally better to make things intuitive when possible. The game is fun when you're learning about the strategy options and learning from them, not necessarily being surprised by things working differently than you previously memorized. (Source)

 


 

[...]even though I think it's nice if things are intuitive when we change a card, the major concern is ongoing balance. We obviously have made unintuitive changes to cards and will continue to do so if it's the right change for the game. The 'intuitve' remark was a minor point when deciding between a couple reasonable options, not the reason for the change. I posted a bit more about it here. (Source)

Lastly, as to why the team didn't choose to change the weapon to a 2-mana 2/2, they thought that this kind of nerf would have the same impact as the increased mana cost. Therefore - going back to Ben's previous statements on keeping things intuitive - the mana cost change was preferred. The aim was to reduce the power level of the card without making a complicated change, even if a lot of people found the change unimaginative. Ben thinks the card wasn't killed completely since 3-mana 3/2 weapons have been seeing play.

Blizzard Logobbrode

If we thought 2/2 weapon was a better change we would have done it. We thought (3) 3/2 and (2) 2/2 were about the same at reaching our goal of nerfing the weapon, and in that world, it's slightly better to not annoy players who memorized the card. (Source)

 


 

That message [the one showing card changes at the start screen] goes away after one patch, but also, sometimes players don't play the cards after we nerf them. They never get a chance to re-memorize something that became automatic from them after hundreds or thousands of times seeing the art and automatically knowing the functionality. I personally got Arcane Golem in a Tavern Brawl and just played the card and tried to attack with it right away. I hadn't played the card in a year, since we nerfed it. I hadn't even thought about the card anymore. Playing the card and attack was muscle-memory to me.

This isn't a phenomenon everyone experiences, but it definitely happens to players who play enough to develop muscle memory.

It also doesn't matter very much either way.

Just going to reiterate - this is still a minor thing. If we felt like (2) 2/2 was going to be more successful at reaching our goals, we would have done it. But in a world where we have several reasonable options, you have to make a decision, and this is a minor point in favor of a change that doesn't mess as much with players who have memorized their cards to that degree.

In some ways, I regret mentioning it the way we did, because it was such a minor decision point when considering those two options. It had nothing to do with why we changed the card in the first place. (Source)

 


 

I don't think everyone believes all of those things, and that was what I was trying to clear up here.

I do think that specific feedback is reasonable. I don't think we completely killed the card, though. People have played (3) 3/2 weapons in decks where the upside goes totally unused, and I suspect that might be true of Fiery War Axe as well.

If you had changed the text on FWA (can only attack minions, for example) and made the card MORE complicated and MORE disruptive, THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN BETTER.

There is a difference between complexity and strategic depth. Complexity is the homework you must do before you understand something. Depth is fun. Depth is choices and strategy and out-thinking your opponent. You can get more depth by adding complexity, sometimes. But what matters is the ratio of complexity to depth.

It is more important that you keep cards playable than to keep cards simple.

Those are not mutually exclusive, but in this case the goal was to reduce the power level of the card. Too many basic and classic cards are showing up in decks right now to allow Standard to change enough each year. (Source)

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A lot of blah blah damn how can someone talk so much and say nothing or just the same again and again ? :D

I still think a good solution would have been to give the Axe a small bonus in return for the increased mana cost like a Battlecry with a small but for warrior useful effect. I have no idea why they did not consider that.

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One of the developers stomping a meme that mocks them out of spite is absolutely glorious. More devs need to stomp out the bull like that.

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In arguing that the change was only because Blizz assumes players to be stupid, a remarkable number of players proved themselves to be just so. 

It's a shame that War Axe is the worst of the 3-mana 3/2 weapons, but too many people are being hung up on the mana-cost versus weapon-attack decision, simply because of one sentence that Brode obviously only communicated in an effort to make reasons for the nerf more clear. I'm sure there are a number of other reasons for making War Axe a 3 mana 3/2 instead of a 2 mana 2/2, but the more drama-guzzling among the community (i.e., basically fucking everyone) tend to jump on things and assume the worst. 

Whatever. 

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I did not assume the worst. I just wished they had a better way to change it (as I said add something for the increased mana cost) ... Yea yea he said they don't want to change the functionality of a card because players get used to the pictures but if he truly believes player will not see the big in-game popup that shows card changes or not being able to notice during a game "oh this card changed" then he thinks the worst of the players (us). What about the players looking at the picture playing an Innervate and then say "oh damn I didn't know it gives only 1 mana". this and murloc warleader have their functionality changed and it seems ok.

I still agree that they had to nerf the Axe, there is no deck without it and it's always (or most of the time) helping the warrior extremely well. But a dull increase in mana, making it worse than similar weapons is just a way to remove another basic card from standard decks and hide it behind a ton of words.

Edited by Caldyrvan

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I still think that "can't attack enemy hero" would have been a better nerf. I'm a wild player, so for me FWA have ceased to exists because there is a warrior weapon better then vanilla (3) 3/2; and I don't like this type of nerf. Warrior is a warrior, should have a cheap weapon, cheaper then similar weapon in other classes.

The only think I hope is that they don't make an epic 2 mana weapon in next set... If they do it in other rarities it would be nice.

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20 minutes ago, Synesthesy said:

The only think I hope is that they don't make an epic 2 mana weapon in next set... If they do it in other rarities it would be nice.

 

I am curious if they'll do such a thing.

Remove a standard card and replace it with an expensive one. I wouldn't put it beyond Blizzard to do exactly that (I get a feeling in the last month that Blizzard actually tries to make decks more expensive. That "making it more expensive" is part of the design and the thoughtprocess. Just a feeling, I don't claim it to be true, it is just a little nagging in the back of my head.) But I still don't think they will do that. That would be too much, too greedy.

Time will tell - sooner or later, time will tell. (Quiz: Which game is this quote from?)

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I don't really get why it'd be so bad for a few players not to notice the change and attack once thinking it's a 3/2 rather than 2/2. It might even not lose them that game, and it'd only be one game because after all, players are not stupid.

I think the 2/2 change would've been better. From a wild perspective, at least then there'd be a reason to play it over Defender. From a pirate warrior perspective, the deck doesn't want another three drop and wants an early weapon so 2/2 for 2 is vastly superior to 3/2 for 3. Not sure which control warrior would prefer, probably meta dependent.

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The weapon was fine for 4 years. It wasn't OP, just a very good card.

Now, instead of nerfing pirates, they decided to nerf another classic card into the ground.

Has anyone ever used King's Defender? Well, Fiery War Axe is now much worse.

I also find it pretty funny that rogue now has a more versatile 3 mana 3/2 weapon (hero ability + Deadly Poison). On the same note, rogue now also has a more versatile innervate (Counterfeit Coin) since the class, unlike druid, has combo synergy.

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Has anyone ever used King's Defender? Well, Fiery War Axe is now much worse.

They're not the same because FWA is a basic card.  King's Defender is a non-standard rare.  So, they're available in different realms to different players.  Brode made the point that (cards like) Eaglehorn Bow see play even in decks without Secrets.  So, a vanilla 3/2 weapon for 3 mana is not necessarily useless.

 

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rogue ..., unlike druid, has combo synergy.

Uhm ... Druid has combo synergy, though.  Malygos Druid has been around for a while.

 

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all what I got, it's that we players are stupid

Forgive me but logically you really are stupid if that's all you got from what he said.  He said that he recognized that players can memorize 1189 different cards.  How does that equate to saying that you're stupid?

 

Quote

a good solution would have been to give the Axe a small bonus in return for the increased mana cost like a Battlecry with a small but for warrior useful effect. I have no idea why they did not consider that.

Why they didn't consider something you haven't properly defined?  Sorry, but a "small but for warrior useful effect" isn't something worth considering, because it's not an idea.  It's just asking for magical thinking.  I think they should replace the game with a game that's the same but better because it's got better things in it.  Why don't they consider that?  Why, Ben, why?

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13 minutes ago, mimech said:

They're not the same because FWA is a basic card.  King's Defender is a non-standard rare.  So, they're available in different realms to different players.  Brode made the point that (cards like) Eaglehorn Bow see play even in decks without Secrets.  So, a vanilla 3/2 weapon for 3 mana is not necessarily useless.

 

Uhm ... Druid has combo synergy, though.  Malygos Druid has been around for a while.

 

Forgive me but logically you really are stupid if that's all you got from what he said.  He said that he recognized that players can memorize 1189 different cards.  How does that equate to saying that you're stupid?

 

Why they didn't consider something you haven't properly defined?  Sorry, but a "small but for warrior useful effect" isn't something worth considering, because it's not an idea.  It's just asking for magical thinking.  I think they should replace the game with a game that's the same but better because it's got better things in it.  Why don't they consider that?  Why, Ben, why?

This entire post is quite a toxic response... Eaglehorn sees play because rushing 6 damage is all you care about in several hunter decks. That doesn't mean it is working as intended just because it gets used without secrets, it also is used in completely different archetypes because it is a different class.

Druid's combo synergy was reliant on creating new mana crystals or reducing cost, something that innervate nerf will impact greatly. It means you can't do this method outside of wild without new cards.

Also, it's not our job to consider the additional power factors, but it is ours as players to evaluate the changes they make, and this change ruins a card. 

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28 minutes ago, mimech said:

Why they didn't consider something you haven't properly defined?  Sorry, but a "small but for warrior useful effect" isn't something worth considering, because it's not an idea.  It's just asking for magical thinking.  I think they should replace the game with a game that's the same but better because it's got better things in it.  Why don't they consider that?  Why, Ben, why?

That's a lot of sarcasm, why?

I don't need to define something properly, I am not a dev and not even someone talking to them. I just wanted to say there are better options (in my opinion). There is no need to kill my brain to come up with an idea blizz will near hear or care about.

Edited by Caldyrvan

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19 minutes ago, mimech said:

They're not the same because FWA is a basic card.  King's Defender is a non-standard rare.  So, they're available in different realms to different players.  Brode made the point that (cards like) Eaglehorn Bow see play even in decks without Secrets.  So, a vanilla 3/2 weapon for 3 mana is not necessarily useless.

Look at the state of hunter in the last few expansions though. Hunter would definitely play better cards, if he had any.

20 minutes ago, mimech said:

Uhm ... Druid has combo synergy, though.  Malygos Druid has been around for a while.

I believe they were referring to the Combo effect, as can be seen on cards like SI:7 Agent or Perdition's Blade.

23 minutes ago, mimech said:

Forgive me but logically you really are stupid if that's all you got from what he said.  He said that he recognized that players can memorize 1189 different cards.  How does that equate to saying that you're stupid?

But at the same time, he is implying that players are too stupid to relearn a single card change.

26 minutes ago, mimech said:

Why they didn't consider something you haven't properly defined?  Sorry, but a "small but for warrior useful effect" isn't something worth considering, because it's not an idea.  It's just asking for magical thinking.  I think they should replace the game with a game that's the same but better because it's got better things in it.  Why don't they consider that?  Why, Ben, why?

I don't see anything wrong with that. Just because they did not provide an example doesn't make it a bad idea by default. No need to be so hostile. What about "Battlecry: Gain 1 Armor." Happy now? 

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2 minutes ago, positiv2 said:

What about "Battlecry: Gain 1 Armor." Happy now? 

In another post I made exactly this example just with 2 Armor, or deal 1 damage. :D 

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What about "Battlecry: Gain 1 Armor." Happy now? 

Yes - much happier!  I didn't think his idea was bad - because he didn't actually present an idea.  You did: so at least we can discuss it's merits.  I can't discuss the merits of "something better" or "something", because it's meaningless.  I don't consider my pointing out a meaningless suggestion to be hostile.  It's just logical.

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But at the same time, he is implying that players are too stupid to relearn a single card change.

No, he said that re-learning cards is more difficult than noticing a mana change.  He presented the mana change as the lesser of two evils.  That's very different than implying stupidity.

Edited by mimech

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1 minute ago, mimech said:

No, he said that re-learning cards is more difficult than noticing a mana change.  He presented the mana change as the lesser of two evils.  That's very different than implying stupidity.

He keeps talking about complexity being a bad thing, even though we are talking about Pot-of-Greed level of complexity. Also, just because it is more difficult, it doesn't necessarily mean it's hard. Both relearning the card from the text/stats point of view, and relearning it from curve point of view (curvestone, after all) should be fairly easy for everyone. But hey, if the card is dead, no one has to relearn anything. 

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37 minutes ago, mimech said:

No, he said that re-learning cards is more difficult than noticing a mana change.  He presented the mana change as the lesser of two evils.  That's very different than implying stupidity.

I am sorry, but if the thinks that it is very difficult for me to remember that my weapon has now 2/2 instead of 3/2 then he can't think I am very bright, can he?

And strangly the same line of thought doesn't seem to be true for Murloc Warleader or the nerf on several cards later on. Knife Juggler e.g. has been nerfed from 3/2 to 2/2.

The claim: "That would be too difficult for players" is a complete joke and in fact it is quite insulting.

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The claim: "That would be too difficult for players" is a complete joke and in fact it is quite insulting.

I searched for the phrase "That would be too difficult for players" on this page and it isn't here.  If you got it from somewhere else, please provide a link.  If it's just your words, then it's only you that's saying it.

Nobody else said it would be "very difficult ... to remember [the] weapon has now 2/2 instead of 3/2".  That was just you again.  The game designer said that given a choice between a mana cost change and a card text change, the mana cost change was easier because it's apparent without doing any reading at all.  That's not the same as saying you can't remember new information.

The same logic wasn't used on Murloc Warleader because they judge each case on its merits, rather than having a one rule fits all situations approach.  

Really, if you'd read what the game designer said, you'd know all that.

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Hi @mimech . It's good to see you again.

It doesn't take someone to have studied language (like I have done, for example) to understand that they could have communicated the change better. I will repeat the quote from their explanation in their official announcement:

Quote

The other option we considered for Fiery War Axe was to lower its attack to 2, but that change didn’t feel intuitive enough. Generally, changing the mana cost of a card is less disruptive, because you can always see the mana cost of cards in your hand.

Now, they aren't saying that they think players are stupid. However, it's preposterous that they have included these two lines as their main reasoning in their official announcement. That's why Ben had to go through all this trouble on Reddit to fix the PR disaster that these phrases caused.

Sure, the community blew these words away out of proportion, but the fact remains that they still chose these slightly unfortunate lines in their official statement. It's like me owning a lingerie store and putting the grandma undergarments in the front row of my shop window.

They could have said numerous things that would have made a better impression. They could have written what Brode said about keeping things simple and intuitive. They could have even said "look, we were bored and couldn't be bothered thinking of something better" and people would have appreciated the honesty. 

The issue in this discussion isn't so much whether the Fiery War Axe makes sense.* It's how Blizzard tried to make sense of it and explain it to the plaeyrs.

PS/Asterisk: I do, however, find Ben Brode's lack of real answer to the Redditor, who challenged him by saying "a more complicated more disruptive change to FWA would have been better", troubling.

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Small picture: These kinds of changes to classic cards are painful to me.

Big Picture: I suppose there is good and bad from moving away from Classic.

Classic cards provide identity for classes, continuity for players who return after a break.  They should be "safe cards" for a new player to collect (they won't get phased out.. at least that is what we all thought),  but if "too many" classic cards are in the meta, that probably means the new expansion wasn't very exciting or fun.

So the big question I guess is: IDEALLY what percentage of our decks should be classic?

And the follow up questions might be: Where are we right now? And is Bliz going the right direction?

Just "going with my gut" I don't think we need fewer classic cards in play.  And I think Bliz is maybe pushing a bit too hard on the variety thing.  A lack of variety is bad, but variety can only go so far.  Increasing the number of choices you have, and the number of things you might be facing is interesting at first, but at some point you mentally just go "well I can be facing anything, so nothing really matters".   Just because a card is played in every deck for a class, isn't automatically bad either, but that is another (long) topic.

Edited by HugeHoss
typo

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7 hours ago, HugeHoss said:

So the big question I guess is: IDEALLY what percentage of our decks should be classic?

Another question with this is, can decks maintain variety and not feel the same with more than a certain percentage of classic cards in them? Does have 40% classics in every deck just make them feel the same?

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      Two new card backs have been added: Mark of Hakkar and Kul Tiras (the March 2019 Ranked Play Season card back). There's a dedicated blog post about the Mark of Hakkar card back, which can be acquired if you play against another player who has it. Αnd how do you originally get it? Well, it seems some players have been randomly selected and already have it in their collection and it's their job to spread the madness...
      You can check out the card backs in the patch notes below:
      Blizzard Entertainment
      This Hearthstone update kicks off Lunar New Year with a bang and sets the stage for the upcoming Season of Rastakhan Tavern Brawl event. We also made some mobile optimizations and fixed some bugs.
      Read on for details!
      Events
      Lunar New Year
      Celebrate Lunar New Year 2019 from February 5 through February 12!

      Log in during the event to get a free Rare Golden Fireworks Tech card! Complete celebratory Quests that award both Gold and Arcane Dust! Share spectacular New Year emotes! The Lunar New Year Bundle – Get 30 card packs (10 each from The Witchwood, The Boomsday Project, and Rastakhan’s Rumble) for a special price. Available through February 12.
       
      Season of Rastakhan

      February 13 through March 3 earn glory for the Loa—and card packs!—over three weeks of Tavern Brawls during the Brawl of Champions.
      The Brawl of Champions – A series of three special Tavern Brawls. Choose a rumble Champion and harness the power of each Loa’s Shrine to prove which Loa is the mightiest! Each Champion will have a new deck and Shrine each week! New repeatable Quest: For the Glory of Rastakhan – Play a Tavern Brawl 3 times to earn a Rastakhan’s Rumble card pack. Available each Wednesday when the Tavern Brawl starts. Earn up to three Rastakhan’s Rumble card packs over the course of the Season of Rastakhan!
      Card Changes
      Be sure to read the Upcoming Balance Update – February 2019 blog for details
      Cold Blood – Now costs 2 Mana. (Up from 1)
      Flametongue Totem – Now costs 3 mana. (Up from 2)
      Equality – Now costs 4 mana. (Up from 2)
      Hunter’s Mark – Now costs 2 mana. (Up from 1)
      Emerald Spellstone – Now costs 6 mana. (Up from 5)
      Non-Basic cards can be disenchanted for their full Arcane Dust value for two weeks.
       
      Card Backs
      Mark of Hakkar Kul Tiras Game Improvements
      Fixed an issue that could cause cards that copy and set minion Health to a specific value to incorrectly activate “while damaged” effects. Fixed an issue that would cause Augmented Elekk to shuffle a copy of a card drawn by Tracking into the deck. Corrupted Blood no longer benefits from Spell Damage. Spellbender can no longer attack itself when activated by The Beast Within. Corrupting Mist and Reckless Experimenter can no longer incorrectly cause Immortal Prelate to be removed from the hand or deck. Fixed an instability issue that could occur when Book of Spectres drew multiple copies of Corrupted Blood. Fixed an instability issue that could occur when attempting to view an enemy minion as it’s being returned to an opponent’s hand. Gral, the Shark now works properly when executing its battlecry more times than there are minions left in your deck. Mecha’thun that has been transformed will no longer incorrectly play its original effects when destroyed. Astral Raptor Overkill animations will no longer play multiple times. Copied Zombeasts now correctly keep their Zombeast visual aura. The enchantments from Clutchmother Zavas now collapse into a single enchantment banner. [Rumble Run] Fixed a bug where damage from healing due to Bwonsamdi's Covenant was not properly being credited to the source of the damage. [Rumble Run] Fireslinger now stops casting Fireballs if there are no valid targets. [Rumble Run] Fixed an issue with Tribute from the Tides not granting extra battlecries if it was damaged while buffed. [Rumble Run] Casting an Overload spell while affected by Electra Stormsurge now triggers Overcharged Totem once for each cast. [Rumble Run] Fixed an instability issue that could occur when playing Bouncing Blade while the Pirate’s Mark Shrine is in play. [Mobile] To reduce the initial size of the Hearthstone mobile app, some sound files are now an optional download. [Mobile] Hand and mana are now moved aside when Choose One cards are displayed. [Android] Background downloads are now displayed as a notification. (source)