Gaming

Hearthstone nerfs Dr. Boom, Conjurer’s Calling, Luna’s Pocket Galaxy, Extra Arms … and Barnes

“One, two, Hearthstone’s coming for you” — that’s the song I’m singing to Barnes and Dr. Boom, Mad Genius right now. After drawing ire from legions of players (and in Barnes’ case, for years now), two of the most polarizing cards from Blizzard Entertainment’s digital card game are getting changes.

In a blog post today, Blizzard’s Hearthstone team said that five cards are getting changes on August 26 to make them more expensive to play. These either revert recent buffs from the Rise of the Mechs event or are first-time nerfs. The cards are:

  • Conjurer’s Calling (going from 3 mana to 4 mana)
  • Luna’s Pocket Galaxy (going from 5 mana back to 7 mana)
  • Dr. Boom, Mad Genius (going from 7 mana to 9 mana)
  • Extra Arms (going from 2 mana back to 3 mana)
  • Barnes (going from 4 mana to 5 mana)

The changes address a number of problems that have come with the Saviors of Uldum expansion … or have been in Hearthstone’s Standard and Wild metagames for some time. Keeping players happy and addressing their concerns is important in free-to-play games like Hearthstone, which depend on selling packs of cards and other cosmetics. Unhappy players don’t spend as much, and some uninstall the game and never return if they feel they’re not being listened to. Blizzard reported its market-leading card game had more players last quarter, coming on the heels of the Rise of the Mechs and the buffs that came with that event (the team has been slow to makes changes in the past). So it’s vital that the dev team keeps up that momentum.

I also asked Blizzard if adjusting cards it recently buffed would make them more gunshy in the future, but I didn’t get an answer back before press time.

Let’s examine the changes more in-depth.

Mage: Conjurer’s Calling and Luna’s Pocket Galaxy

As of publication, Hearthstone tracking site HSReplay has three Tier 2 Mage decks that use both Conjurer’s Calling and Luna’s Pocket Galaxy in the current Standard format meta. These also happen to be the only Mage decks at this level.

Conjurer’s Calling has been a target of much player ire. For 3 mana, it destroys one minion and creates two more of the same cost in its place. Mage decks have been packaging it with either Sea Giants or Mountain Giants — cards that cost 10 and 12 mana, but whose cost decreases based on how many minions are on the board or how many cards you have in your hand. Once the giant comes down on an early turn — say, turn 5 or turn 6 — they’d then cast Conjurer’s Calling once or even twice on the same turn to flood the board with powerful creatures without paying their mana costs. Most decks might be able to deal with this once, even twice, but when it happens three or more times (especially early to midgame), you just can’t recover from it.

Luna’s Pocket Galaxy can create a similar situation. Once cast, this spell reduces the cost of all your minions to 1 mana, meaning that many powerful, late-game minions can hit the board as of turn 6, especially since Mage has some good options for drawing more than one card a turn.

Both these changes should reduce Mage’s capability to cheat out big minions early and give players an extra turn to gather resources to deal with Conjurer’s Calling shenanigans.

Warrior: Dr. Boom, Mad Genius

Dr. Boom, Mad Genius costs 7 mana and replaces your hero and hero power with two that are better. With Dr. Boom, all mechs that you play have Rush (which means they can attack the opponent’s minions in the same turn they’re played). Your Hero Power changes to Big Red Button, with gives you a random effect that turn for 2 mana:

  • Blast Shield: Gain 7 armor
  • Delivery Drone: Discover a mech
  • KABOOM! Deals 1 damage to all enemies
  • Micro-Squad: Summon three 1/1 Microbots (which have rush)
  • Zap Cannon: Deal 3 damage

One mechanic that makes Dr. Boom so polarizing is how it gives all mechs rush. A number of mechs have strong stat lines, and worse, two can remove opposing minions when they hit the board: Omega Devastator and Dyn-o-matic. Couple this with the already potent removal Warrior has (Brawl, Warpath, Execute, etc.) and Omega Assembly (a 1 mana spell that gives the caster 3 mechs if they cast it with 10 mana), and Warriors running Dr. Boom have great advantages over other classes. I asked Blizzard about this but didn’t get an answer before press time.

Right now, Control Warrior is a Tier 1 deck on HSReplay, along with Bomb Warrior (a more mech-focused version), and it was Tier 1 (and dominant) during the previous meta. It wasn’t a problem when other Hero cards like Rexxar’s deathknight were in Standard, but when those decks left, Dr. Boom, Mad Genius thrived.

But will a 9-mana bump contain the mech maniac?

Priest: Extra Arms

Extra Arms wasn’t a problem until the Rise of the Mechs event, which gave it a buff by reducing its cost from 3 mana to 2 mana. But even then, it wasn’t an issue. Then Saviors of Uldum barged in with a bevy of strong early minions like Injured Tol’vir, and lo, Extra Arms has become worrisome. Combo Priest is now a Tier 1 deck on HSReplay, and Extra Arms helps it stay alive long enough to dig out its combo pieces. It’s also a helpful card in Quest Priest, which is appearing in Tier 4.

Neutral: Barnes

The Big Priest archetype is an example of how Blizzard approaches balance. Right now, it’s a Tier 2 deck (according to TempoStorm’s Wild meta snapshot), so it’s by no means the strongest deck in Wild. So it’s understandable that the dev team hasn’t nerfed Barnes, one of its key cards.

Yet Barnes has been an issue for years, both in Standard and in Wild. Priest has a number of cards and spells that can bring back dead minions. Barnes costs 4 mana, but what makes him strong is that he summons a 1/1 copy of a minion from your deck. So Big Priest would jam a bunch of strong late-game minions into the deck, find a way for a 1/1 copy to die early, and then resurrect it in the midgame. I asked Blizzard about this but didn’t get an answer before press time.

Blizzard thinks changing the cost of Barnes to 5 mana will help the problem, and I asked if it would be better for Barnes to draw a minion from your deck to your hand instead. Getting an 8/8 Ragnaros or 8/8 Lich King out on Turn 6 instead of turn 5 still feels like a problem to me.

During Rise of Shadows, Hearthstone’s dev team released a raft of nerfs to tamp down the power of Rogue and Warrior decks a couple of weeks into that meta. It’s good to see Blizzard doing the same with Saviors of Uldum, and it gives players hope that the dev team will remain responsive going forward.

The questions now are: Will the nerfs work? And will we see an event that buffs little-used cards once again … and create future problems when the next set debuts?

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