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Iksar on the February 5 Card Nerfs

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The recently announced February 5 balance update is the talk of the town in the Hearthstone community and Dean "Iksar" Ayala responded to some questions on Reddit and Twitter.

Hunter, the most powerful class in Standard at the moment, is having two of its cards nerfed. Some people believe Midrange Hunter is still going to be prevalent. The Lead Balance Designer explained that the team didn't want to completely eradicate Hunter, but merely target its most powerful archetype: Secret Hunter. Deathstalker Rexxar won't be nerfed, since he will rotate out of Standard soon enough and he's not an issue in Wild.

Blizzard LogoIksarHS

Hunter is still going to be prevalent

I hope so, the goal wasn't to completely invalidate Hunter archetypes, or really any of the cards we changed. When we make a balance change it's less about looking at the current environment and more about trying to understand what Hearthstone is like after we make changes. Statistically, Secret Hunter was the most powerful deck in the game and close to the most popular. We felt like there wasn't a huge long-term downside to changing the secret build-around card that is likely to get more powerful over time in Wild while we can protect against Secret Hunter separating itself from the pack even more than it already was in Standard. (source)



I actually like Rexxar a lot, it's many people's favorite card. That said, I'm glad it's rotating and it's unlikely we'll make cards like it in Hunter anytime in the near future. It's easy to fall into the trap of making cards that are exciting because they do a thing that class doesn't usually do. It is exciting, but it hurts when classes start to lose their identity. Access to a bunch of healing and late-game value generally isn't what Hunter is about, and Rexxar changed that. There are no hard rules in design, the ultimate goal is for people to have the most fun playing the game. When you start drawing lines in the sand it's easy to make changes that are less fun for the sake of falling in line with a rule you made in the past. In this case, I think it was probably correct to put more value on the identity of our classes, but at the time we made the decision to go forward with the card because I think we underestimated how well it was going to be a control-hunter-all-in-one-card. Also, it was crazy fun in playtesting. There are some design lessons to be learned with Rexxar, but I don't think that lesson is never create cards like Rexxar. (source)

Equality is getting hit very hard, having its mana cost increased to 4 from 2. According to Iksar, the card still felt too powerful at 3 mana when it was playtested internally and this doesn't have anything to do with Baku the Mooneater. Ayala thinks that Even and Control Paladin can survive this nerf.

Blizzard LogoIksarHS

I tried to touch on this a few places, but Odd Paladin and Equality not being three are unrelated. Classic and Basic cards that are so powerful they are in every archetype in every expansion is something that is very harmful to the goal of expansion metas feeling fresh and new. Equality at (3) mana in our playtesting didn't really solve this. The change to (4) was actually very jarring to us, but we wanted to try playtesting it in current and future environments anyway. After all those games, we felt like it was a reasonable option at (4) in control archetypes (now in in the future) but less reasonable in aggressive decks. That ideally where we'd like most cards to be, so (4) ended up being where we landed. If we thought (3) removed it from being in all paladin archetypes for the foreseeable future but Odd Paladin would get better in the short term, we would have just done that. (source)



The goal was to make a change that helps the game in the long-term, while also doing something that was good or neutral for the short-term of the game. From a balance perspective, I don't think there is a problem with any of the Paladin archetypes currently. Even and Control Paladin are powerful enough in the current environment I think they can withstand a power level hit and still be interesting decks to play. Odd Paladin is still great, too. Not so much that it's a problem, though. (source)

Iksar explained once again the philosophy of nerfing cards from the Basic and Classic sets. In short, since the cards from these sets will stick around forever, they want them to represent their class fantasy well without being too powerful and outshining cards from new sets.

Blizzard LogoIksarHS

Cards from classic and basic that get nerfed are cards (usually) we think are healthy designs that fit with the flavor and mechanics of a particular class.... they are just too powerful and limit the amount of space you can explore when new expansions release. They get rotated to the hall of fame when the violate what that class should be about. For example, Wild Growth is a great communicator for what Druid is about. We'd rather keep it around at a lower power level. On the flip side, if say a card like Healing Rain was in Hunter's basic set, we'd rather rotate that than nerf it. Hunters shouldn't be about big healing spells. I'd expect any classic and basic changes that might happen in the future to follow these general guidelines. (source)



The long-term plan for both of these sets is to be forever cards that do a great job of representing their individual class identities, while also having powerful cards that make having cards from this set feel worthwhile. Each individual classes cards should be comparable in power level and not have too many extreme power cards that go in every deck forever.

Some of this will require rotating cards that don't fit with the class themes, some of this will require the rebalance of cards that are either so powerful they are included in every deck, or by designing new cards to replace the ones that have rotated out. (source)

Ayala also had an interesting discussion with Brian Kibler on Twitter about the issues that arise from nerfing Basic and Classic cards. He more or less repeated the same points about Equality going up to 4 mana and the design philosophy behind these nerfs. You can find the entire discussion thread here and below you can find the most interesting points.

Blizzard LogoAugust Dean Ayala

Totally true. One of the most painful moments both anecdotally and statistically for players is when they have a deck they are playing that breaks. Literally breaks by the game saying the cards they have it in are no longer valid. (source)

We try to come up with solutions that don't violate that when they can, but it's not always possible. Set rotation hits a large number of players but also misses a huge pool of players that are using 'forever' sets and don't have rotated cards. (source)


Our goal isn't to make all good cards bad, it's to make cards that go in nearly 100% of archetypes and make them go in archetypes that make sense for them. There are plenty of powerful cards in basic and classic set we'd rather not change. These weren't on that list. (source)
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