Aleco

Decoding Blizzard's Policy On Nerfs

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Is it better to fix problematic cards in a vacuum, or to use nerfs as a tool for crafting a specific meta?

Four of Hearthstone's most problematic cards will be on the receiving end of some serious nerfs in a future balance patch; a massive move by Blizzard which is just as exciting as it is confusing.

On one hand, each of the four cards receiving nerfs were individually problematic. If nerfing a problematic card is the same thing as "fixing a problem", then the upcoming balance patch is fixing four major problems and should ultimately prove to be a positive change for the game.

On the other hand, the most dominant class in the meta (Warlock) was left untouched, while one of its strongest competitors (Priest) took a serious a hit with the nerf to Raza the Chained. It stands to reason that nerfing classes other than Warlock should widen the gap between it and its closest competitors, which could lead to a potentially toxic ladder environment dominated by a single class (not unlike the early days of the Frozen Throne meta which were ruled by Druid).

Furthermore, the timing of the nerfs to Patches the Pirate and Raza the Chained feel a bit... late. Both cards will rotate from Standard when the first set of 2018 drops (likely in April), and neither of these cards became suddenly problematic in Kobolds & Catacombs. Patches has been one of the most toxic and dominant cards in the game since it was released in 2016, and Raza has been the linchpin of the most dominant deck since the last balance patch. Blizzard is obviously acknowledging that these cards are problematic, but why wait until now to do so?

Regardless of whether or not you expect the upcoming changes to be positive or negative, these nerfs call into question the strategy that Blizzard and Team 5 employ when balancing Hearthstone. Let's attempt to decode the message that Blizzard sent its player base with this balance patch, and see if we can make sense of it all.

Blizzard Balances For The Present, Not The Future

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Not touching Warlock in the upcoming patch is consistent with Blizzard's recent strategy of balancing Hearthstone. When Jade Druid decks were too powerful in the early days of the Knights of the Frozen Throne meta, Blizzard successfully lowered the power level of the deck without completely killing it by nerfing both Innervate and Spreading Plague. However, they didn't touch the clear-cut second best deck in the meta, Highlander Priest, and the pro Hearthstone community was quite vocal about their concerns with Highlander Priest becoming the next overly-dominant deck. It's fair to say that things went exactly as the pros predicted, and here we are five months later nerfing Raza the Chained. What gives?

Despite the predicted era of Highlander Priest dominance which followed the Jade Druid nerfs, Blizzard's policy to only fix the problems of the present is a fair one. Metagames on the whole are fickle and largely unpredictable, and attempting to fix all of the future problems which may or may not occur after a balance patch is a slippery slope. If Blizzard were to have pushed the nerf to Raza to the KFT balance patch, they would have merely created another "next best deck" in the process. Should they have also nerfed that deck? And the next one?

Though Highlander Priest was a particularly obvious deck to be concerned about in a post-Jade Druid world, setting the precedent of preemptively nerfing healthy decks is a dangerous one. If Blizzard had nerfed Raza in the previous patch, they would have put themselves in a position where they would be forced to address the most powerful deck in the meta each time they want to make changes to problematic cards. Just because a deck is the "best deck in the meta" doesn't necessarily mean that the deck is unhealthy, and signaling to your player base that you don't want a clear best deck to exist coming out of every balance patch opens the door to constant scrutiny.

Blizzard Is Inconsistent With Its Timing

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You'll be hard pressed to find a single Hearthstone pro who isn't happy to see Patches the Pirate and Corridor Creeper get hit by the nerf hammer. Both of these cards were seeing far too much play in the current meta and were responsible for determining the outcome of an outrageous number of games. Aggro mirrors far too often came down to who did or didn't draw these cards in the early game, and something needed to be done about that.

When it comes to Corridor Creeper, Blizzard was incredibly swift in addressing the card's endemic playrates. This balance patch was announced mere days after the World Championships had concluded, which for all intents and purposes is the earliest possible time they could have announced it. In other words, they identified that Corridor Creeper was problematic and nerfed it as soon as possible, which is why I'm confused about how long it took for them to nerf Patches.

Patches has always been a toxic card. For more than a year and half he's been in charge of the Hearthstone metagame, and Blizzard's justification for nerfing the card now (to keep him from ruining the Wild metagame for years to come) feels too little too late. Despite the fact that Corridor Creeper is currently seeing higher play rates than Patches, it's difficult for me imagine why Creeper demanded an immediate nerf while Patches was allowed to reign supreme for as long as he did. Now that Blizzard has set the precedent of nerfing widely-played cards like Corridor Creeper immediately, I'd like to at least see them be consistent with this trend in the future.

Blizzard Undervalues The Human Element

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I imagine the reason why Corridor Creeper was nerfed immediately yet Patches the Pirate was allowed to stay in his current form for as long as he was has something to do with Blizzard's internal stat tracking. I have little doubt that Corridor Creeper will raise more statistical red flags than Patches due to the fact that it's rarely (if ever) a bad card to draw in aggro decks, whereas Patches is arguably the worst card to draw in the entire game. When you average out the games that Patches both single-handedly wins and loses, he likely tests as a "worse" card than Corridor Creeper does statisically, which could be used as justification for why he was left untouched for as long as he was.

Though the actual stats surrounding a cards win rates should be a major factor when it comes to balance updates, I believe that Blizzard should put a little more weight on the "human element" of cards. Whereas Creeper may be the stronger card, it doesn't feel nearly as bad as Patches does. Regardless of whether or not the stats said that the card needed a nerf, Hearthstone would have almost certainly been a better game if Patches was nerfed at the same time as Small-Time Buccaneer. The same can probably be said for Ultimate Infestation when it comes to the previous balance patch. Though Blizzard's internal stats told them that Spreading Plague was more responsible for Jade Druid's dominance in the early KFT meta, it doesn't feel nearly as bad to lose to as Ultimate Infestation does. And that's important.

At the end of the day, I believe that stats shouldn't be the only thing which dictates whether or not a card deserves to be nerfed. Cards like Patches and Ultimate Infestation have caused far more headaches and groans than smiles and cheers, regardless of what the statistics say. Hearthstone is a video game, video games are supposed to fun, and cards that have drawn hate for as long as Patches and Ultimate Infestation have seriously get in the way of that.

On the whole, I'm quite happy with the nerfs that will be coming in the next balance patch and am excited for the future of Hearthstone. Despite the concerns surrounding Warlock, I'm happy to see that Blizzard isn't the business of preemptively handling problems which may or may ever exist. I'd much rather endure a few months of Warlock dominance (especially after how bad the class was in Journey to Un'Goro) than live in a world where every "best deck in the meta" has a constant target on its back for Blizzard's nerf gun.

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31 minutes ago, Aleco said:

I'd much rather endure a few months of Warlock dominance (especially after how bad the class was in Journey to Un'Goro) than live in a world where every "best deck in the meta" has a constant target on its back for Blizzard's nerf gun.

Oh sure, let's pay for lots and lots of packs to get enough dust for the next cancerous deck to (censored) ladder. Sure. 

 

Goddammit, where's the Whispers of the Old Gods meta where you could reasonably climb ladder with a Zoolock or Tempo Rogue deck that included neither epic nor legendary card whatsoever?

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7 minutes ago, Keizoku said:

Oh sure, let's pay for lots and lots of packs to get enough dust for the next cancerous deck to (censored) ladder. Sure. 

 

Goddammit, where's the Whispers of the Old Gods meta where you could reasonably climb ladder with a Zoolock or Tempo Rogue deck that included neither epic nor legendary card whatsoever?

That meta is also super unhealthy from a power perspective too, though. I want a deck with a legendary or two and 3-4 epic. They feel fun to play and they should be powerful and exciting to get.

Also it takes almost 0 investment. Once you have that deck, you dust the nerfs and then have the dust to craft that next OP deck, rinse and repeat each expansion.

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18 minutes ago, Laragon said:

That meta is also super unhealthy from a power perspective too, though. I want a deck with a legendary or two and 3-4 epic. They feel fun to play and they should be powerful and exciting to get.

No it isn't. It actually allows beginners and casuals to participate. And don't you worry, WotOG had its 11k+ dust abortions like N'Zoth Paladin as well. Amazingly it had room for BOTH type of plays!

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Calling Warlock "the most dominant class in the meta" is disingenuous.  There is a case to be made, but it's hardly clear cut.  Control Warlock is the most played deck according to yesterday's VS report*, yet it has the 9th highest win rate sitting at barely above 50% and the bottom of tier 2.  While it is not effected by the nerfs, it does have unfavorable match-ups against Big Priest and Secret Mage, both of which are also untouched by the upcoming nerfs.  Zoo currently boasts the highest win rate, but nowhere near the play rates of its bigger Warlock brother, Raza Priest, or Tempo Rogue.  Priest is still the most played class with both the Raza and Spiteful variants boasting a better win percentage than Control Warlock and more play than Zoo.  I think its fair to say that together both Priest and Warlock dominate the current meta, but individually no singular deck or class is dominant right now.  It is also patently false to say that Warlock is "left untouched".  Zoo plays 3 of the 4 nerfed cards: Patches, Corridor Creeper, and Bonemare.  While Patches isn't a huge deal, Creeper and Bonemare both play right into the deck's core strategy of controlling the board.

 

I certainly agree that Control Warlock looks very strong in the post-nerf meta, but I don't see the Doomsday Scenario that you've predicted.  First off, Spellbreaker is an efficient, neutral answer to Lackeys and Voidlords, and I expect the Doomguard/Cube variants to be less popular since there will be no more Raza Priests to dictate what late game decks can and cannot do.  Second, Secret Mage stands to gain possibly the most from these changes in terms of expected opponents and is already favored.  Likewise Miracle Rogue and other combo decks benefit from weaker aggressive decks and are typically quite good at killing durdley control decks.

*Going by Rank 1-5 data since that is typically the most "try-hard" bracket.

Edited by Dawnblade
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You said it's important "how it feels", too. That's true and that's why I often hate nerfs.

Don't get me wrong, I totally agree with these nerfes but it also adds more useless/much weaker cards to our collections. They really should consider buffing cards in return. I know they never did and they will not, I guess. But there are a lot of cards which see no play but have a concept that looks fun/good to players (e.g. The Runespear) but are unplayable in their current version.

If they would do it carefully and not suddenly buffing a card too much imagine how happy a lot of players would be.

When "Balancing" things means only nerfing cards it becomes very one sided and even though most of the nerfs are good, they often lead to frustration.

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6 hours ago, Aleco said:

Though the actual stats surrounding a cards win rates should be a major factor when it comes to balance updates, I believe that Blizzard should put a little more weight on the "human element" of cards. Whereas Creeper may be the stronger card, it doesn't feel nearly as bad as Patches does. Regardless of whether or not the stats said that the card needed a nerf, Hearthstone would have almost certainly been a better game if Patches was nerfed at the same time as Small-Time Buccaneer.

They did nerf quest rogue on the human element basis. But anyway, would it though? What would have been keeping jade druid in check without patches around?

Not unhappy to see him get hit with the nerf finally, but I think as soon as Jade Druid appeared there had to be a boost to aggro power levels too. As someone who likes playing control decks, without patches around there’d have been a lot of decks I’ve played over the last year or so that would have been completely unplayable in a jade druid meta.

Perhaps would’ve made sense for him to be a warrior class card though, or a grimy goons card - cutting him out of aggro shaman, aggro druid, zoo and tempo/miracle rogue would’ve cut his presence quite a bit.

Anyway, seems like a lot of these nerfs are with wild in mind. I spent Jan season playing wild (pirate warrior up to rank 5, cubelock for a while, combo-maly druid for the final push). Oddly I find raza priest less troublesome in wild than standard even though on paper it should be stronger, but happy to see that nerf anyway. But if they really want to fix wild, seems ridiculous to me they haven’t fixed naga sea witch. And Barnes is a huge issue too. Big Priest has more big minions to choose from in wild and is just too strong for a deck which is so ridiculously rng rather than skill dependent. 

Edited by Bozonik
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Its all about the money, it never, never , never has anything to do with the cards unless a "HUGE" outcry happens about a certain card and then when they do change it , its at the very end. If blizz isn't nerfing a certain class its because there sales numbers haven't peaked yet. Believe it.

 

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I want to believe there are still some brains among them who are interested in improving game to be good and enjoyable, but I guess it's a product made to make money and most changes are made to increase profit. No idea if we should blame them for it or not but it's definitely too much focus on money imo.

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On 2/2/2018 at 12:47 PM, Aleco said:

Hearthstone is a video game, video games are supposed to fun

“You're not supposed to have fun with Hearthstone" ---- Disguised Toast

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