Review of Hearthstone Basic and Classic card changes for 2016


When Blizzard announced that they would introduce rotating formats to Hearthstone, they also remarked that Basic and Classic cards would remain playable in the upcoming Standard format that otherwise rotates card sets out on annual basis. In order to achieve this, there would be changes – in practice, nerfs.

Now, we finally know all the nerfs that are coming to Basic and Classic cards for the year of the Kraken, the first Standard rotation. So, let’s dive right in and look what the changes are and what they might mean.

Ancient of Lore


A mainstay in practically all Druid decks, the Ancient of Lore will lose some of its card draw power, as it will only draw one card in the future. This will affect Druid’s ability to cycle through his deck a fair bit, and it remains to be seen what card draw mechanics Druid will use in the future.

Azure Drake definitely looks more appealing now, with -1/-1 stats at two less mana compared to the Ancient of Lore, but many Druid decks were already running two copies of it, so it might not be an actual replacement as such.

The flexibility of Ancient of Lore may be just enough for it to continue to see play, because it can also heal for five, and Druid does not have that many ways to heal right now. The healing effect has mostly seen play in the Freeze Mage matchup and against aggro decks, but it is occasionally useful in all matchups. When used for healing, Ancient of Lore is a worse version of the Paladin class card Guardian of Kings, which hardly sees play, but Paladin has many other healing options at his disposal unlike Druid.

Alternatively, Druid decks may just cope with less card draw, and go for something like Dark Arakkoa, a 5/7 taunt for six mana (with C’Thun synergy, but strong enough to potentially see play even outside C’Thun decks) to help carry them through.

Force of Nature


Druid combo had become a prevalent source of frustration in Hearthstone, and it was inevitable that it would be nerfed. Force of Nature + Savage Roar was a combo that dealt 14 damage for 9 mana from an empty board, and way more if Druid had any minions already. Coupled with discounts from Emperor Thaurissan – a turn six Thaurissan could be followed up by a turn seven combo for 21 if Thaurissan still lived – the combo led to a number of short and uninteractive games.

Blizzard has decided to keep Savage Roar intact, so Druid still has that Shaman Bloodlust-like potential to burst if it can build and maintain a board, but Force of Nature will be hit with the nerf bat: its mana cost will be lowered to 5, and the summoned Treants will become permanent, but they will no longer have charge.

This is a great change for the game, as it allows players to play around Druid’s burst potential much better. Yet, Force of Nature is not that bad with this change. Getting three bodies on the board may still find a home in some kind of Token Druid or Egg Druid setup where the minions will be buffed with Power of the Wild or Soul of the Forest. Force of Nature is now similar to Silver Hand Knight (4/4 and 2/2 for 5 mana) that admittedly sees no play right now, but with three bodies from Force of Nature, it can support a token-based approach better.

Keeper of the Grove


As part of Blizzard’s agenda to make silence effects more costly, Keeper of the Grove is going to take a hit: its health will be reduced from four to two. This is understandable, as Druid was the only class to run two silence effects in practically every deck.

Druid players now have a tough choice to make: Spellbreaker is a superior silence minion, delivering a 4/3 body instead of a 2/2 body at the same cost, but if you switch to that one you lose the flexibility. Keeper of the Grove served two roles: it was a silence effect, sure, but it was also a premium anti-aggro tool, killing off a minion and often challenging two others with its 2/4 body. It can still kill off one minion and challenge another as a 2/2, so it is even possible that because of its flexibility, Keeper of the Grove can still see play.

If Druid players choose to ditch silence, the new Mire Keeper looks like an interesting option for the four mana slot: either a 3/3 body with a ramp effect (an empty mana crystal) or a 3/3 body together with a 2/2 body to help contest the board. I can see all options (Keeper of the Grove, Spellbreaker, Mire Keeper) being tried out in the early days of the new Standard.

Ironbeak Owl


Another silence change, Ironbeak Owl will become a bit more expensive, from two mana to three mana. It is notable that Spellbreaker is not changed, it remains a 4/3 body with silence effect for four mana.

In practice, silence effects are becoming more costly when used as part of finishers: Face Hunter really enjoyed using the Ironbeak Owl to silence a minion and at the same time activate the greater damage output from Kill Command. Zoo was also running Ironbeak Owl to great effect.

This coincides well with some of the card rotations, as early silence was often important to fight the Nerubian Eggs, Haunted Creepers, and Mad Scientists employed by aggressive decks. With these early silence targets on their way out, control decks will be more comfortable spending that four mana on a silence effect, and in return will receive a bit better body to go with it.

It is also noticeable that Shaman is unaffected: Earth Shock remains the premium silence effect at just one mana, so aggressive Shaman decks now enjoy a competitive advantage when it comes to combining a silence effect with other cards when going for lethal.

Big Game Hunter


One of the most expected nerfs, Big Game Hunter will take a hit, although perhaps not a fatal one. The effect will remain the same, but the mana cost will go up to five.

Many decks will still want to run this bane of big minions, as it remains a powerful piece of hard removal. Especially Druid is so lacking in this department that Big Game Hunter looks likely to continue to see play there.

However, it will require more consideration whether to use the card or not: a 4/2 body for three mana was still a viable play even without the effect, so when facing decks such as Aggro Shaman, you could play the Big Game Hunter on turn three if you really needed to. A 4/2 body for five mana is terrible, so now players will need to pay more attention to the prevalent meta and not run Big Game Hunter just in case. Class removal spells also compare more favorably to Big Game Hunter now than before: I could see Equality replacing Big Game Hunter in some Paladin decks, for example.

Hunter’s Mark


The change to Hunter’s Mark, increasing its mana cost from zero to one, may come as a surprise to many. However, it is perfectly logical in connection with the change to Ironbeak Owl, as it will keep the choice between Owl and Mark relevant for Hunter: with Owl nerfed, Hunter would have almost certainly turned to Hunter’s Mark as an alternative, but now the choice is not as clear cut.

There is something more that can be read into this change: the meta may not be slowing down at all. There has been a prevalent expectation that Standard will slow down the metagame and bring about the age of control: after all, with many sticky minions on their way out, board clears will become more powerful, and that can benefit control decks. However, when you look at what decks are using sticky minions at the moment, the answer is midrange decks. The end of sticky minions is a nerf on midrange decks, not on aggro decks.

Face Shaman and Face Hunter do not care about losing sticky minions, they have hardly any anyway. Instead, they rejoice at the departure of Sludge Belcher, Deathlord, and Antique Healbot. With the nerfs to Ironbeak Owl and Hunter’s Mark, Blizzard is pre-emptively reacting to the very real chance that Face Hunter may become too good. Face Shaman, on the other hand, seems to escape relatively unscathed.

Blade Flurry


Blizzard had revealed that they intend to nerf some Rogue Basic cards. They ended up nerfing a Classic card instead, and they really hit it hard this time: Blade Flurry loses its damage to face and becomes more expensive at four mana. This is a huge nerf to Rogue!

It will be interesting to see how they compensate for this nerf, as the reasoning behind it was that Blade Flurry was potentially so good that it was the reason Rogue could not have nice things. Hopefully some nice things are on the horizon, as the changes to Blade Flurry make it look really bad right now.

Basically, Blade Flurry has been turned into Shadowflame that sacrifices your weapon instead of a minion. The problem here is that weapons are generally more rare and more valuable than minions, so the sacrifice is a large one indeed.

The high cost of the new Blade Flurry makes it much harder for Rogue to clear boards: Fan of Knives can still clear some of that, but if you only run two such effects in your deck instead of four, it will be more difficult to find it when you need it. With so many sticky minions rotating out, perhaps the Rogue’s ability to clear boards at the moment was too good, but it took a fair number of cards to achieve any good clears as a Rogue anyway (weapon buff, possibly Bloodmage Thalnos, Blade Flurry) so the class’s ability to clear boards in Standard seems quite weak.

Knife Juggler


The king of aggro decks will be hit with a nerf… Or will it, really? Knife Juggler will have its attack reduced from three to two, but the effect remains the same. Therefore, it will trade a little worse, and if a lot of 2/3 and 3/3 minions see play, the nerf may have an effect. If the common two-drops are with a 3/2 statline and common three-drops come in at 2/4 or 3/4, the change is almost meaningless. Right now it is hard to see decks that want to run Knife Juggler dropping it just because of this change.

What may affect Knife Juggler more in Standard is the availability of tokens. With Muster for Battle, Haunted Creeper, and Imp-losion gone, the ability to create tokens for knife spam will be reduced, and that may have an effect on which decks Knife Juggler finds a place in.

This is good news for Hunter, because the only good comeback mechanism most Hunter decks have is Knife Juggler + Unleash the Hounds combo, and that will continue to work as before. Knife Juggler also retains its synergy with Snake Trap, so it will have a solid spot in most Hunter decks at the very least.

Leper Gnome


In another expected nerf to aggro decks, Leper Gnome will lose some of its attack power, going down from two to one. This is good, because in its previous iteration Leper Gnome was an automatically included one-drop in all aggro decks. It was simply the perfect aggro minion for one mana, and there was no way to design a better one without significant power creep.

Now it trades a lot worse – the days of Tunnel Trogg and Leper Gnome opener where the Leper Gnome trades away the opposing two-drop are over – but it may still find a place in some decks. Essentially, in the spectrum of decks from full face to full fatigue, the range that will continue to use Leper Gnome sits firmly in the face section.

Arcane Golem


Rest in peace, dear friend, we had some good times. Blizzard decided to kill Arcane Golem altogether. As a three mana 4/4 that gives your opponent a free mana crystal, there is no reason for anyone to ever play this card again. The price is so high, and even if you wait until turn nine or ten so that the drawback is eliminated, the benefit gained for a three-drop is so miniscule that it is simply not worth it.

That aside, why did this happen? No one really expected Arcane Golem to be hit.

I take this as another sign that Blizzard is really concerned of face decks ruling the new meta. For example, Face Shaman is going to lose Crackle and that’s it. What was the most likely card to replace Crackle if no new Shaman damage spells are introduced? Arcane Golem! That was definitely the card I had my eye on. By taking away Arcane Golem as a charge option, Blizzard makes Leeroy Jenkins the premium charge minion, and the upsides of that from a meta viewpoint are that Leeroy costs more, so it comes down later in the game, and that Leeroy is a legendary card, so there can only be one copy of it in a deck, thus reducing the chances of drawing it.

I can only assume that Blizzard’s internal playtesting has revealed the considerable strength of face decks, and these nerfs are pre-emptively targeted at face decks to keep them from reigning dominant in the new way to play.

Molten Giant


The mana cost of Molten Giant will be increased from 20 to 25. This means that free Molten Giants can be played only from the very low five health, and the card cannot be played at all until the player has dropped to 15 health. It also means that if you turn yourself into a Jaraxxus, you cannot play Molten Giant at all, because it will still cost 11 at one health as Jaraxxus!

It was somewhat expected that something may need to happen to the Giants if Big Game Hunter is nerfed, because Giants are the main source of early 8/8 minions that are difficult to remove without the help of a dwarf with a gun.

It will be interesting to see what this means for Handlock: with Healbot gone, going to such low health in order to play Molten Giants may no longer feel attractive, even as a turn four Mountain Giant is now better than ever which is good news for Handlock. It may even turn out that Frost Giant can replace Mountain Giant, as with even just three taps, it will cost seven, which is the same as the new Molten Giant at 12 health.

I realize that Handlock was not played that much lately anyway, but it remained a powerful deck all this time, and was set to make a big comeback if burst damage was reduced, for example with a nerf to Combo Druid. With this Molten Giant nerf at the same time, it is less clear whether Handlock can actually mount a challenge to Renolock.

Master of Disguise


An expected and well-published nerf to a card no one ever plays anyway. This is a good change. The unique ability of Master of Disguise to give a minion permanent stealth was just waiting for the right card to be created to break the game, and changing the ability to a one-turn stealth means that the design team is free to create powerful passive effects for Rogue or for neutral cards.


The nerfs are definitely interesting, and most of them seem fairly well balanced. Blizzard is clearly keeping a close eye on face decks and how good they may become in the new meta and this is welcome news for everyone who has wanted the meta to slow down: I’m still skeptical as to whether it will actually slow down, but at least face decks have had their power reduced a little to prevent them from being too good.

Two of the nerfs feel overdone from my perspective: Arcane Golem was obviously simply killed as a card, similar to the treatment Warsong Commander went through when it was nerfed. That never feels good. The other card that took a really big hit is Blade Flurry: with both a higher cost and removal of face damage, it is a serious consideration for all Rogue players whether to even include Blade Flurry in the deck anymore. The full effects of this change will need some playtesting once Standard is out.

Overall, it is a great time to be playing Hearthstone with a new expansion and new format right around the corner. There are some exciting times to come!



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