Fresh news everyone. Blizzard has finally pulled themselves together and decided to make balance changes to Arena-only. Something people have been asking about for 2 years already. It took them some time, but I’m not here to complain. I’m here to cherish this moment and hope that it’s just the first step, which means the better future for every Arena player.
I’ll be honest – I was playing A LOT of Arena back in the day. I was infinite Arena player (well, technically I still am, but right now I play about one run per week) with over 2.5k Arena wins (so about 3.5k Arena games in total). But for almost a year already, I’ve focused on Constructed, because Arena got boring. If you think that Mage domination is a new thing, you can’t be more wrong about it. Ever since I remember, Mage was always the in the top 3 and classes and probably the most popular Arena pick. Rogue and Paladin followed it quite closely, especially after GvG, sometimes exchanging the positions around.
For the last year or so, I was enjoying one or two runs per week. I’ve played Arena in TGT, I’ve played it in LoE, in WoG and now in Karazhan. And you know what? Nothing has changed. It was pretty much altering between facing more Rogues and more Mages. Again and again and again. And that’s exactly why balance changes to Arena are important. It’s not even about nerfing the best classes. It’s not about making everything the same, because it’s impossible, especially in a random mode like Arena. It’s about making every class playable. It’s about bringing themselves close together. Because it’s not like everyone plays Mage because they like playing Mage. Some of them would prefer to pick Hunter, Priest or Warlock. But Arena is a mode that can punish you heavily for doing so. You pay 150g to start a run and if you don’t perform well, you don’t get your investment back. If you end up 1-3, you lose a lot of gold and time. So in the end, it made the best classes even more popular then they should and weak classes pretty much nowhere to be seen.
The biggest reason to play Arena is diversity. In Constructed, you pretty much know what you’re going to face. There is a cookie-cutter meta where you will see only 10% of the cards available. And that’s fine, everyone wants to win. In Arena, however, you’re much more likely to encounter some crazy stuff. Play against Legendaries that you would never see in Constructed. Be countered by a card that you have never expected. Or outplay enemy with your niche, but calculated picks that no one plays around. That’s what it should be. But if you constantly face the same two classes over and over again, the diversity is completely lost. That’s why those changes were very necessary and I love to see them.
But, the most important question is – are those changes enough? And how will they affect each class? Before answering the first question, let me break down the changes, class by class, and analyze them a bit.
Arena Balance Changes
Blizzard decided to remove certain cards from Arena in order to balance it more. It means that the most solid, sometimes unnecessarily strong cards from the best classes will be removed from Arena. And on the other hand – weaker classes will lose the all inconsistent, bad picks that were often screwing up with their draft. Since the chance to get class card offered is much higher than a neutral card, every bad card removed from the draft should make the class more consistent and stronger.
Blizzard has already done it in the past. First of all, cards from the Promo (Gelbin Mekkatorque
One important note is that they don’t want to touch class iconic cards that pretty much define how you play around it in Arena. And so, Mage will still have Flamestrike
Let me go through them alphabetically. Next to each card, I’ll post the card’s score taken from the HearthArena Tier List. I believe that they’re bigger experts than I am when it comes to rating cards in Arena and have a lot of stats to back it up, unlike me. Not to mention that I generally agree with them, with only a few exceptions. I’ll also measure the average score of the removed cards in total + only removed Commons. This division is pretty important, because Common cards are what you see most in your Arena drafts, so they’re most important measurement of given Class’s strength. 50-60 is the average score according to the tier list, so if the average score of cards removed from certain class is below this threshold, it means that the class will very likely benefit from the changes (and vice versa).
|Soul of the Forest
|Mark of Nature
|Tree of Life
Average score of Druid’s removed cards: 24 total, 36 of Commons (3 removed)
Druid was doing pretty well in the Arena already. I’d say that he was probably a 4th best class for a while already. Still, the gap between top 3 and Druid was big enough that some changes were indeed necessary.
Druid will be losing a bunch of spells. Mostly things that are either situational or require you to build a deck around them. Astral Communion
The only okay card he’s losing is Mark of Nature
Soul of the Forest
Overall, Druid is getting boosted. Since it was already decent in Arena, I suspect that those changes might bump him very close to the top classes.
|Lock and Load
Average score of Hunter’s removed cards: 32 total, 36 of Commons (5 removed)
Hunter has got treatment similar to Druid. First of all – the Beast combo cards that REALLY require the Beast to work are gone. Starving Buzzard
Lock and Load
And last, we’re getting rid of 2 Secrets. Dart Trap
One thing worth noting about Secrets is that with less playable Secrets (Snipe was definitely playable, Dart Trap arguably too), it makes it much easier to play around Hunter Secrets now, as you get more options. Not having to play around Snipe or worrying whether you can Hero Power safely or not might make playing against Hunter slightly easier skill-wise.
Hunter was in a pretty weak spot in Arena. I’d say that it was second worst class besides Priest. While I don’t think that the changes will push it heavily, they will definitely increase the consistency of getting actually good class cards, especially commons like Animal Companion
Average score of Mage’s removed cards: 76 total, 76 of Commons (3 removed)
Mage was probably the biggest offender in Arena recently. The class was very strong both because of its Hero Power and the strength of Common cards. It became an ongoing trend that Blizzard releases yet another strong Mage common every expansion. It started with a solid, Flame Lance
But, when it comes to the changes, I’ve expected something more. Forgotten Torch
And most importantly – Faceless Summoner
Overall, no bad card was removed. One average, one strong and one insane card is getting out of Mage’s drafts. It should make a class slightly weaker, which in combination with making other classes stronger should bring everything close together.
Paladin gets no changes. Which surprised me a bit at first, but then I’ve realized why is that. Blizzard probably wants to balance other classes around Paladin. I’d say that it was a solid 3rd place behind Mage and Rogue. Not as strong as the top, but stronger than the rest. And I’d say that the class is in perfect spot right now. It has its fair share of strong cards, but it also has tons of average cards, which balances most of the drafts. Paladin didn’t really get anything insane in Karazhan, so its power should be similar to where it was before. It got one strong common – Silvermoon Portal
The only card that really triggers most of people playing against Paladin is Muster for Battle
|Power Word: Glory
Average score of Priest’s removed cards: 21 total, 13 of Commons (3 removed)
Priest is losing a bunch of bad cards. And I mean it – BAD CARDS. Priest had two biggest problems in Arena. First is the Hero Power – it’s amazing once you take the board control, but it doesn’t really help you with that. It’s still better than Warrior’s Hero Power, but it’s one of the worst in Arena. But you can’t really help that. The second issue was the lack of consistency. Generally I don’t like how Blizzard designs Priest cards. Most of them are very situational or require some synergies to work or are strictly combo cards. Oh, and throw a bunch of needlessly aggressive cards in there and you have the whole Priest design.
I feel like removing all of those cards is a step in right direction. They are all bad. Even the Shadowbomber
I’m really glad that Priest loses Mind Blast
Then, the healing cards. Lightwell
This is a great news for Priest. Right now Priest is most likely 9th class in Arena. On the very bottom. It used to be a Warrior’s spot for a long time, but Warrior has got a nice treatment lately. All the cards getting removed from Priest will definitely make Priest decks more consistent. Getting rid of 4 bad commons will make it much more likely to draft the good ones like Shadow Word: Death
Average score of Rogue’s removed cards: 84 in total, 84 of commons (2 removed)
Rogue’s main power in the Arena weren’t overpowered cards. Sure, there are some great ones like Backstab
Hero Power doesn’t change, but Rogue seems to lose two strong cards. Those are both 2-drops that have some mid game scaling. You can drop them as a vanilla 3/2 for 2, but then you can use them later to buff your weapon (Barber) or ping (Valiant). If Rogue got a long of similar minions, it could tempo out so heavily in the mid game thanks to the Hero Power, Combo cards and weapon buffs that enemy had no way to come back. And thus, all the face damage it took was pretty meaningless, since enemy couldn’t capitalize with no board. That’s the plan.
Removing two strong 2-drops, one of the best class Commons, will definitely make Rogue weaker. The class is still going to be strong, because like I’ve said, it’s main power lies in the Hero Power. But I’m honestly fine with that, because Rogue is a class that’s way harder to master in Arena than Mage or Paladin is and it’s main strength comes with inherent weakness (taking extra damage pretty much every turn). I think the changes were fair and justified.
Average score of Shaman’s removed cards: 26 in total, 25 of Commons (4 removed)
So, Shaman. Shaman wasn’t in the worst spot. Even though the new cards didn’t impact Arena as much as they did Constructed, all the strong, on-curve plays like Totem Golem
The changes were pretty interesting. While I agree with Vitality Totem
But the one I can’t really get is Ancestral Healing. I feel like it was rated too low on HearthArena. For example, on Lightforge Tier List it’s rated as high as 78. I think that one is a little too high, but Ancestral Healing was a very solid card. For 0 mana, healing your minion to full and giving it a Taunt was a good value. Especially if you managed to draft a Flamewreathed Faceless. Getting a great trade then healing it to full won me some games already. It was also one of the classic Shaman cards and it feels important when it comes to Shaman’s identity.
Then again, if you go by the score, which I can’t argue with (like I’ve said, I trust the stats), Shaman is getting a huge boost. Even the best of those cards (according to the score) – Windspeaker – was pretty situational and solid, on curve cards (like the few ones I’ve mentioned at the start) are definitely stronger in Arena. Since Shaman loses some weak commons, prepare to see 4 mana 7/7’s and Totem Golems more often.
|Curse of Rafaam
Average score of Warlock’s removed cards: 20 in total, 20 of Commons (4 removed)
Warlock was always in a weird spot in Arena. On the one hand, Warlock’s Hero Power is one of the strongest ones. But on the other, it only builds card advantage – it has negative tempo. And you can’t really use it if you’re under pressure. So from my experience, most of Warlock decks were pretty weak, it often felt like you’re playing with no Hero Power if you were playing from behind. But then, if you drafted a really heavy tempo, almost Zoo-like deck, you just owned your way to 12 wins. If you could get the early board control and keep up with the tempo through buffs, board floods etc. then the Hero Power was amazing. If you were under no pressure, drawing 2 cards per turn gave you win in nearly every situation.
While I again disagree with some of the choices, it seems that Warlock is getting a huge buff this time around. Anima Golem
Then the rares. Reliquary Seeker
Then, the commons. I definitely agree with getting rid of Sacrificial Pact
I feel like Warlock is getting a HUGE buff, possibly the biggest one out of all the classes. He doesn’t lose any good cards, even the best he loses are way below average. It will make drawing the consistent, strong early game minions that Warlock has access to much easier, thus making the early game much easier, thus making the class way stronger in general.
Average score of Warrior’s removed cards: 27 in total, 27 of Commons (6 removed)
Warrior used to be the worst class in Arena for a long time. But after a big #ArenaWarriorsMatter action started by ADWCTA, Blizzard seemed to listen and gave Warrior a bunch of good cards. LoE was a turning point with Fierce Monkey
And I think that the removed cards from Warrior might be the most controversial. Don’t get me wrong, I agree with them, but some seem to go against their philosophy of “leaving the class identity alone”. Especially the Charge
I definitely agree with removing Warsong Commander
And Ogre Warmaul
Overall, I think that Warrior changes are the ones I disagree with most. While technically they’re right and should boost Warrior’s performance, I’d much rather see something like Screwjank Clunker
Oh, and Warrior probably got the best treatment overall. While some other classes had lower quality of commons removed, Warrior had higher quantity of them removed – 6 in total.
Back to the initial questions. Will those changes address the Arena problems? Will they make it balanced? Will the classes be equal and The Old Guard will finally step down?
The answer is no. Arena has way more problems than that. The mode wasn’t really developed in ages. It needs a lot of attention. Easier ways to organize sealed tournaments (and more incentive to do that), changing the reward structure (for example, pack or dust rewards are really stupid for people who mainly play Arena and don’t care about Constructed and rewards are very inconsistent in general), maybe make the game play more diverse by adding some rules that rotate in and out (e.g. no mechs this week, dragons and dragon-related cards offering rate go up by 300% next week etc.)… Those are just some of the things that would make Arena more fun and rewarding.
Balance is important, obviously. If we want to have a fun and competitive mode, first and foremost each class must be pretty balanced. Facing 2 of them all the time isn’t good. But those changes seem like a band-aid, not a real solution. Sure, they might balance things a bit. But you can’t do that forever. The card pool is limited. Balancing cards by removing the extremes (overpowered and terrible ones) surely makes the classes closer to each other. But it also reduces the diversity. It’s nearly impossible that only those changes will make things balanced. They would need to remove some cards again and again and again. And every patch like that would make Arena more balanced, but more boring at the same time, because it would limit the number of cards people can play with.
The Arena will definitely be a better place now. But I don’t think that everything will be balanced now. Honestly, I suspect Mage, Rogue and Paladin to still be on the top. Rogue took a biggest hit, but I still think that it will manage to remain close to the top. But I feel like rest of them will be much closer now. I suspect that Priest will still be the weakest class in Arena. Even though the Commons they’ve removed from the class were absolutely, disgustingly bad, removing 4 bad commons won’t suddenly address every problem Priest has right now. It still has weak early game, it still has some situational/combo cards and it still has Hero Power for a class that plays from behind. But instead of being 5 tiers behind the top classes, I’d say that it will be 2-3 tiers behind right now.
I’m really glad that they start balancing Arena. And that’s a good beginning. But I really hope that they won’t pat themselves on the backs saying “good job, our work here is done” and then ignore Arena for the next 2 years. They need to capitalize on those changes, on the fact that Arena is getting more attention and take this opportunity to give this mode more love.
And while we’re at it, since you finally learned that being an ONLINE card game gives you a lot of opportunities to do things differently than the paper card games, maybe you’ll translate that knowledge to Constructed balance too… One could wish.