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Hearthstone - Analyzing the Upcoming Update 11.2 Nerfs and Changes

With the HCT Summer Playoffs currently going down, Hearthstone players shouldn't expect to see the latest round of card balance changes for another week or so. But what exactly are these changes? Blizzard has at least answered that question for the upcoming Update 11.2 on the Hearthstone website, revealing the next batch of cards set to be balanced, following the adjustments made to the rhyming Shudderwock.

Shacknews is taking a look at the cards affected and is here to do a deeper dive analysis on what this means for Hearthstone going forward.

Naga Sea Witch

Class: Neutral
Will cost 8 mana. (Up from 5)
(Wild) Meta Impact: Moderate

Blizzard explanation: In update 9.1, we introduced a rule change to increase the consistency of Hearthstone game mechanics. The change affected precisely when Naga Sea Witch’s cost change was applied to cards. This allowed it to be combined with the cost reduction effects on giants, and as a result, it became fairly easy to reduce their mana cost to 0.

We think Hearthstone is better all around when interactions are consistent, and we like the fact that a Naga Sea Witch giants deck archetype exists. That said, we also understand that, with its current functionality, this deck can generate early board states that are unreasonable for most classes to deal with. By increasing the cost of Naga Sea Witch to 8 mana, the deck’s concept remains intact, but the combo is delayed until later in a match when more decks are likely to have the tools to handle the arrival of so many giants.

Shacknews analysis: Naga Sea Witch's interactions after Update 9.1 was the result of a happy accident. With interactions getting adjusted, it means that Naga Sea Witch would adjust all card costs to (5) before any further card discounts were accounted for. What that meant was a lot of free Giants on Turn 5.

And there are a lot of Giants in Wild. It's entirely possible to drop Mountain Giant, Sea Giant, Clockwork Giant, and Molten Giant all on Turn 5. Barring something crazy, like a Priest Lightbomb, such a play could end the game almost immediately.

Because that play has such game-swinging potential, a Naga Sea Witch nerf to 8 mana sounds perfectly fair. Creative decks might even be able to find other ways to make this work, like somehow getting Silver Vanguard in on the party. I'd expect Naga Sea Witch to see less play from those looking for a quick win, but the deck is still effective and should still see action.


Spiteful Summoner

Class: Neutral
Will cost 7 mana. (Up from 6)
Meta Impact: High

Blizzard explanation: After set rotation arrived with the Year of the Raven, Spiteful Summoner became more powerful and consistent when used in decks containing 10 mana cost spells. This is because the pool of 10 mana cost minions in Standard is smaller, so players could more reliably count on getting a powerful minion from Spiteful Summoner’s effect. Even considering the deckbuilding sacrifices that an effective Spiteful Summoner deck requires, we think that increasing the card’s mana cost to 7 is more in line with the powerful outcomes that are possible when it’s used alongside cards like Ultimate Infestation.

Shacknews analysis: The nerf to Spiteful Summoner comes specifically with Druid players in mind, as they've (further) exploited the insane power of Ultimate Infestation. The theory here appears to be that a Turn 7 Spiteful Summoner gives opposing players more of a chance to come up with answers, which is possible. Counters are plentiful with Equality, Vanish, and Psychic Scream among the spells seeing a lot of play in the current meta.

One side effect of this nerf to watch out for is that it will further encourage players to go all-or-nothing on their Spiteful decks. At 6 mana, even a lower-cost spell could offer up some decent value. At 7 mana, the cumulative value starts to feel a little diminished. So look for Spiteful players to double down on making the most out of their Spiteful Summoners. Some Priest players have already been dumping Free From Amber and just packing their decks solely with the 10-mana Mind Control. I'm expecting that number to increase.


Dark Pact

Class: Warlock
Will restore 4 Health. (Down from 8)
Meta Impact: Moderate

Blizzard explanation: There are two aspects of Dark Pact that make it powerful. At a cost of 1 mana, it’s easily used alongside cards like Carnivorous Cube, Possessed Lackey, and Spiritsinger Umbra for big combo turns. It also gives Warlocks enough healing potential so that aggressively using Lifetap and playing cards like Kobold Librarian and Hellfire feel less consequential. We left Dark Pact’s cost intact so it can still be used as part of interesting combos, but lessened the healing it provides so Warlocks will need to more carefully consider how much damage they take over the course of a match.

Shacknews analysis: Here's the thing about Dark Pact. While the health benefit is nice, a lot of Warlock players were playing it because of that. They were playing it because at a paltry 1 mana, they could use it on their Carnivorous Cube and flood the board with Doomguards. This does nothing to stop that.

The silver lining for Cubelock haters is that this makes Warlocks more susceptible to aggro decks. Odd and Even Paladins, Aggro Mages, Odd Rogues, and Odd Hunters have a slightly better chance against this deck. But a vast majority of the elements that make Cubelock work are still intact. This doesn't break the deck, so much as it slightly gilds the edge on one of the cards.

And speaking of gilded edges...


Possessed Lackey

Class: Warlock
Will cost 6 mana. (Up from 5)
Meta Impact: Moderate

Blizzard explanation: Some of the card combos involving Possessed Lackey present situations that are too difficult to deal with in the early-to-mid stages of the game. Increasing its mana cost to 6 delays some of those powerful card combos to turns that are easier for opposing decks to overcome.

Shacknews analysis: While that explanation from Blizzard seems sound on paper, again, it doesn't so much bring Cubelock down to earth, as much as it mildly inconveniences it. This simply opens the door on Turn 5 to just play Skull of the Man'ari and pull that Demon from hand, rather than deck. Possessed Lackey will still be a powerful tool, albeit one that will now be played later. After all, Turn 7 Possessed Lackey + Dark Pact is still a high value play if it Recruits a 9-cost Voidlord.

So if anyone was looking for this to be the patch that stops the Cubelock insanity... well... I'm sorry. Better luck next expansion.


Call to Arms

Class: Paladin
Will cost 5 mana. (Up from 4)
Meta Impact: High

Blizzard explanation: Currently, there are three popular Paladin decks: Even Paladin, Murloc Paladin, and Odd Paladin. Among the three decks, Even Paladin and Murloc Paladin have consistently been the most powerful two archetypes over the first few weeks since the release of The Witchwood. Call to Arms moving to 5 mana restricts it from being used in Even decks and reduces its power somewhat when used in Murloc and other Paladin decks.

We expect that players will experiment with Call to Arms at 5 mana in Odd Paladin decks, but we don't expect this card to have much of an impact. This is because Odd Paladin can't access 2 mana minions (meaning Call to Arms could only ever summon three 1 mana minions if played in that deck).

Shacknews analysis: This should stop the Even Paladin almost in its tracks, just because of how quickly Call to Arms can flood the board. But in the Even Paladin deck, using Call to Arms is about more than board presence. It's about upping the odds to draw killer spells that should end the game, like the Equality/Avenging Wrath combo. For Even Paladin players, having Call to Arms was the best way to make up for losing Divine Favor, in terms of reliable ways to dig through their deck.

So one would think that this would now benefit the Odd Paladin, right? Well... not quite. Three 1-mana minions for 5 mana isn't what I'd call grea, even if those minions wind up being Righteous Protector, Argent Squire, and Dire Mole. It might work as a combo play with Sword of Justice, but other than that, I can't see Call to Arms making a big splash in Odd Paladin decks.

Call to Arms is still an immensely useful card and can even set the table nicely for a Turn 6 Sunkeeper Tarim. But say goodbye to this one, Even Paladins. And Odd Paladins, you're welcome to use this at your own risk. Murloc Paladins? Hey, if you're still running a Murloc Paladin, Call to Arms should still serve you well.


The Caverns Below

Class: Rogue
The quest reward, Crystal Core, will read: For the rest of the game, your minions at 4/4. (Down from 5/5)
Meta Impact: High

Blizzard explanation: The Quest Rogue deck uses a strategy that’s strong against slow, control-heavy and fatigue decks, but struggles against most other deck archetypes. There's a fine line between being powerful against very slow decks and being powerful versus virtually all non-aggressive strategies. By changing the quest reward to make the resulting minions 4/4 instead of 5/5, Quest Rogue should still be a reasonable option versus slow, extreme late-game decks, but offer a less polarized matchup with more moderate control decks.

Shacknews explanation: There have been few, if any, counters for the Quest Rogue on the Ranked Ladder. Given the tools that the Quest Rogue lost in the Standard shift, it's mind-blowing to think this is the case. But sometime around the Standard change, somebody figured out that Sonya Shadowdancer in a Quest deck is borderline broken. She makes completing the Quest much easier. Beyond that, she makes it easy to trade 5/5 1-cost minions in and keep getting more and more of them for your deck.

So then does the quest reward change really impact the Quest Rogue that much? I will say that it should reduce the number of one-turn kills. Simple math dictates that it takes six 5/5 Southsea Deckhands/Stonetusk Boars to OTK a full 30-health hero, while it'll take eight 4/4 minions to OTK that same hero. So just the lessened number of one-turn kills makes this change feel a lot more fair.

Does it kill the Quest Rogue? Absolutely not. As mentioned, good Quest Rogue players who can manage their Sonya Shadowdancer effectively should still be able to rack up a high win rate on the ladder. Even if there are more counters to a board full of 4/4s, like Flamestrike and Auchenai Soulpriest/Circle of Healing, having access to those 4/4 Charge minions is still nothing to sneeze at. Quest Rogue should still a lot of play and a lot of success in the meta going forward.


What are your thoughts on these changes? Join the conversation and let us know how this upcoming patch is going to affect your decks moving forward. Look for Hearthstone's Update 11.2 to arrive sometime next week, following this weekend's HCT Asia-Pacific Summer Playoffs.

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