Well, after months of waiting and praying and hoping, Blizzard has finally unveiled the much-anticipated nerfs. Ever since Standard first was announced many (myself included) have been patiently waiting to know how the changes to Classic and Basic cards are going to impact standard. Now that we know, it is time to look at how the new versions of cards are going to impact them meta and the decks (or classes) that typically run them. When evaluating standard it is important to look at each aspect of the format to understand what cards and decks are going to be good, and looking at these changes is going to be the first step.
There are some things in the following list that I am really happy about and some changes I really do not like. However, this list isn’t about that. Here, we are just looking at the cards from a pure constructed standpoint to analyze what’s getting changed.
Note: I am not discussing the Master of Disguise nerf because I believe that card was made for a future design reason much more than a current constructed reason.
Ancient of Lore/Keeper of the Grove
Well, it looks like Druid’s reign or terror is finally over. Not only did Blizzard do away with the combo (which will be discussed below) but they also just obliterated the two cards that made Druid playable. While both of these nerfs are impactful, Ancient of Lore may have been the final nail in the coffin. The reason is that, now that Force of Nature/Savage Roar has gone down the river, Midrange Druid is pretty much dead. So, the question becomes, what’s next for the once-great class? Both Ramp and Astral Communion Druid seem obvious answers, but both of those decks need solid card draw that isn’t just running Nourish (which you’re going to use to get mana crystals a lot of the time anyway. As such, I think heavy Druid is no longer playable without the ancient being able to draw them into threats.
On the other hand, I think Keeper of the Grove could still see play if token or beast Druid manages to hang around. Those two options still have a lot of strong pieces, and they are still going to want the four drop (sorry Mire Keeper). While losing two health is absolutely massive, the versatility of removal, damage and silence still makes this a much better choice that something like Spellbreaker. The body on Keeper of the Grove was only really relevant against aggro, and that does make this card much worse. However, against decks like Control Warrior or Priest the two health loss is not that big of a difference. It is still going to take out taunts, get rid of buffs and help you get in some finishing damage in a pinch.
Force of Nature
As obvious (and necessary) as this was, losing the combo really puts Druid in a tough spot. Not only did they lose their best card draw, but now they have almost no ways to close out the game. While Savage Roar still exists, I am not sure if it is worth a Bloodlust-like slot without the trees being able to give you that extra combo burst. That means heavier Druid lists have almost no way to close things out against Priest or Renolock. As a result, I think this nerf more than anything pushes Druid towards the aggro style, since you just simply don’t have the tools to support the bigger decks like you once did. Of course, this doesn’t really affect heavy Ramp, but I think those decks are going to largely disappear as well. Losing Force of Nature is a big deal for most Druid archetypes, and the only ones that are going to be left are the ones that can still rely on Savage Roar to end the game. To do that, you need a lower curve.
Ironbeak Owl is a very odd nerf that is very hard to evaluate. The reason is the age old question of, how much difference does one mana make? In some cases it can be huge, as in the case of removal spells, but in others like Gadgetzan Auctioneer and Unleash the Hounds, it really doesn’t do all that much. In this case, I believe Owl will be fine, and the biggest reason is because it is a tech card. While there were some decks that wanted two (more on that in a minute) the card’s main role is in decks like Renolock or Control Paladin to make sure you don’t auto-lose to Sylvanas Windrunner or Tirion Fordring. As a result, the control decks that ran this before, are most likely going to keep running it. While it is not an early drop like it once was, many of the small minions you wanted to silence (Haunted Creeper, Mad Scientist, Nerubian Egg) are rotating out of the game, making the extra mana not as big of a deal as it would have been.
I think the only decks that will be really feel the impact of this are Face Hunter and Handlock. Handlock is most likely going to make a comeback in the coming months, and the extra mana on Owl is probably going to take it out of that deck. Not only is the mana really tight in Handlock, but you can no longer combo this with Ancient Watcher, which is a really big deal. It could be a one of, but this is probably the one deck that wants to play Spellbreaker over the Owl.
While many of the nerfs seem to hit Face Hunter hard, the deck will be completely fine as long as Kill Command and Steady Shot exist. Now, that being said, I am not sure if Hunter will run two of these, but with Sludge Belcher gone, it may not have to anyway. Besides, it is still a beast, which is very important for Rexxar.
Big Game Hunter
This is by far my favorite nerf. Not because I thought Big Game Hunter should have been nerfed, but because, while this card is no longer going to be an auto-include, it is still going to see play in the classes that need it. At five mana Big Game Hunter is not the tempo swing that it once was, but it still remains a very solid niche card in the same vein of Harrison Jones or The Black Knight. That is especially true in decks that have no other solid removal options for big minions. Most heavy control archetypes (Paladin, Warrior) are still going to run this card since most of the time they are using it with ten mana anyway, and I assume if there is some version of Midrange or Ramp Druid (doubtful) they will still team up with this card since their other options are just not that good. However, a big change here is that fringe decks that used to run this aren’t going to want it anymore since there are most likely going to look for more mana-efficient options.
It is also worth talking about one of the biggest myths in Hearthstone, which is that losing BGH is going to make bigger minions more playable. This is simply not going to happen. While many people have used BGH as a scapegoat for why they can’t play their Illidan Stormrage, the truth is most big cards are simply not that good. While that may not be true for a very few select legendaries like Ragnaros the Firelord, most of the big minions are just too slow to see any real play. It is an unfortunate reality, but it is something to keep in mind during the next week of deckbuilding. Plus, at the end of the day the beasts are still going to be in this card’s sights most often than you might think.
While this did come out of nowhere, I think is a very important nerf for the new meta. Midrange Hunter is a class that is getting some very (very, very, very) powerful tools, and being able to clear out the board for free while also playing down your Savannah Highmane or Princess Huhuran is just too strong. While one mana is not as big of a deal on minions (most of the ones nerfed by one mana still see play) it is a much bigger deal with removal. Especially when that one mana takes a card from free to one. This card no longer allows you to get rid of a three drop on turn three with Dreadscale, and really hurts your curve, which is very important in a deck that just wants a strong minion each turn.
Now, all of that being said, I could still see this card being run in Midrange Hunter, especially as it evolves in the coming weeks. The biggest reason is that, even at one mana, this is still probably the best removal spell in the game short of Shield Slam. Versatility is extremely powerful in Hearthstone, and having the option to just kill any random, from a 3/3 that’s beating you down to a 10/10 monster, can help you win a lot of games that you would normally lose. While it is not anywhere close to how good it used to be, this is the type of card that just gets really strong in a new format. The reason is that it is very hard to predict what your opponent is going to have or play, so you just want to be able to take down whatever you see.
…Ok, this is a nerf. I mean, Blizzard didn’t just take Blade Flurry to the woodshed, they dragged it to the forest and put two bullets into the back of its skull. Not being able to do damage to face basically crushed the card, and the two extra mana is just piling on. This card got nerfed so hard it is pretty much out of the game. There is no longer a deck that wants to run this, because even with things like Preparation, sacrificing your dagger to only clear out the board is just much too slow. Some people may think about this as AOE in something like Control Rogue, but honesty, Vanish may just be better because it is one card that requires no extra set up to work.
The biggest question you always have to ask when looking at nerfs moving into a new format is, “how will this affect x deck?”. The deck in question here is Miracle Rogue, which is the only real consideration for the AOE now that Tinker's Sharpsword Oil is rotating out. I think that Miracle Rogue is still going to find a way, but it is going to be much worse against aggro (which it already struggles against). I note this because I think that Miracle is going to be very strong in Standard. Even without this card, they are just going to run things like Southsea Deckhand and Cold Blood, which is going to put their opponent to zero anyway. However, without solid AOE they are probably going to have to shift to more healing or heavy removal spells to get to their combo.
This is by far the lowest-impact nerf Blizzard made. Everyone who plays hearthstone knows that the attack power on Knife Juggler was mostly smoke and mirrors to hide just how incredibly strong its ability is. Not only that, but this card was rarely put down on turn two. In fact, I cut it from my legend Face Hunter deck two months ago simply because I started mulliganing it away early on because it simply wasn’t a two drop. While it is easy to see this as an aggro card, Knife Juggler is more of a small combo card than anything. And I honestly don’t think that it is going anywhere anytime soon in the decks that want it. Zoo will still play this to get extra value from deathrattle minions, Aggro Paladin is still going to love this for its hordes of small minions, and Hunter is going to run it with Unleash the Hounds any chance they can.
Most likely the biggest implication for the change is that the knife-throwing gnome is no longer going to be able to take down 1/3’s effectively in the early game. In the rare cases where you do want this card early it is going to be to challenge things like Sir Finley Mrrgglton, Voidwalker or Northshire Cleric. Now that it has two attack, this card no longer responds to those plays, which is going to matter. Not in the sense that it makes aggro decks that much worse, but in that there are a lot of games where you are no longer going to keep this in mulligans. I would see this as much more a tool for aggro decks now than a solid two drop, but is still going to be played everywhere.
As a seasoned aggro player, I don’t think this nerf makes that big of a difference on the whole. Yes, not being able to trade your Leper Gnome into a 3/2 does hurt, but most of the time this card isn’t going to live a turn anyway. You don’t play Leper Gnome for the body, you play it for the deathrattle, which is one of the strongest effects in the game. So much so that I am not sure losing one attack is going to make it that much worse. While it does bring up a very interesting conundrum when choosing your one drop for an aggro deck (you can now go with the gnome’s direct damage or for better board control), this is still most likely going to be the go-to option for hyper aggressive decks because of how it can get through a taunt and provides extra reach.
That being said, if the meta is hyper aggressive I could see Leper Gnome phasing out. Almost every aggro vs. aggro battle is decided by early board control, and if your one drop can no longer attack into a 3/2 you can quite easily fall behind. Because of that, I think this nerf will keep decks like Zoo (and maybe even Aggro Shaman) from playing the gnome. However, in something like Face Hunter, or perhaps Aggro Paladin, getting in three or four damage with your one drop is a great deal, especially with Antique Healbot and Sludge Belcher out of the meta. This card is going to make the game a little bit tougher for aggro, but on the whole the decks that play this are still going to want it.
While some people may be happy about this nerf, I think the change to Arcane Golem is going to have the least amount of impact out of everything on this list. In fact, I am going to go ahead and say this nerf does so little I think Blizzard may have gotten their calendar’s switched and thought they were back in 2013. It is true that Arcane Golem was once one of the strongest aggro cards in the game. However, it has barely been run over the past year. Even hyper-aggro decks like Face Hunter and Aggro Shaman do not team up with the three drop since giving your Control Warrior, Zoo or Control Priest opponent a mana crystal is too much of a set back, and a lot of times you want things that can provide some type of board presence on turn three.
The biggest impact this nerf is going to have is stopping it from being a finisher in things like Combolock or Miracle Rogue. While that may seem relevant, those decks still have access to plenty of other charges, most notably Leeroy Jenkins. As a result, if they need ways to put together damage they can. While their combo may not do as much damage with those others cards, when you’re hitting for twenty an extra two life rarely matters. Mostly, it just seems that this is a nerf from a bygone era. An alteration that came a year too late and really seems out of nowhere. Maybe Blizzard was concerned about the future card design and thought that this was just too good of a tool for aggro players. But as it stands there are other, better options available if you want to hit face.
When discussing the Molten Giant nerf, there are two things that you need to look at. One, the actual change to the card, and two, the implications for both Renolock and Handlock. In terms of its mana cost, making this card cost an extra five is a very big deal. While ten damage is a comfortable life to be at for most slow Warlock decks, five is always one well-timed burst spell away from dying. As a result, it is very unlikely that this card gets played for free. Rather, it is most often going to be a three or four (or five) mana 8/8. I am not sure if that is going to be good enough, but if it is this card will still see the same play it always has.
The biggest questions is, will this card still be good enough to play in slow Warlock decks? Now that many powerful cards are phasing out and both Big Game Hunter and Ironbeak Owl got nerfed, it seems that Handlock is going to rapidly rise to the top of the meta. However, that deck may no longer want Molten Giant since they no longer have access to Antique Healbot to immediately heal back up. Handlock is a deck that lives dangerously, but five health is just a little too dangerous without the automatic heal. In addition, Renolock is also not going anywhere, and Molten should still see inclusion into that list as at least of one. This is because, since they have the full heal, they have many more opportunities to fall below that five life threshold.
Well, them there’s the nerfs. Not too much else to say on the matter, and I think Blizzard (mostly) got it right here. These changes really altered a lot of popular cards, and they are going to have a huge impact on the Standard. Things are changing, and it is important to understand and think about those changes to best prepare yourself for the new format. Hope you guys enjoyed!