Review of Hearthstone balance changes for autumn 2016

2016_autumn_balance_yogg-saronIt is an exciting time to be a Hearthstone player. Yesterday, Blizzard announced a number of balance changes that will go live before the Last Call tournament, so we are looking forward to a new metagame in around one week!

The state of the game had become worrying. Yogg-Saron was a dominating force, especially in Druid, and the decks that could truly challenge it, Shaman (actually the most popular class) and Hunter, relied on ending the game before Yogg-Saron’s crippling effect. Warrior was the only truly competitive control deck, as it possessed an abundance of removal tools and the ability to gain a significant amount of armor on top of health, thus effectively having no health cap unlike other classes.

With the upcoming changes, however, hope has by and large been restored, and life looks better again. Let’s take a deeper look into the changes.

Rockbiter Weapon


The mana cost of Rockbiter Weapon is going to be increased from one to two. This will delay the game-ending burst of Aggro Shaman as well as limit the early removal options of Midrange Shaman, especially the variants that run Doomhammer or Al’Akir the Windlord as their finisher, as they want to run Rockbiter Weapon as a dual-purpose card either for removal or for reach.

However, it is worth noting that there are Midrange Shaman variants that do not run Rockbiter Weapon, but opt to go for Lightning Bolt instead for synergy with spell damage (which also benefits Spirit Claws) and as a minor benefit for the overload effect for buffing Tunnel Trogg. This list from Janos is the prime example of such a Shaman list.

Tuskarr Totemic


Tuskarr Totemic has been the main culprit of many early game snowballs that just keep rolling. Getting a Totem Golem from Tuskarr Totemic, and thus 6/6 worth of stats for three mana has been crippling, as has a timely Flametongue Totem or Mana Tide Totem.

Now, Tuskarr Totemic will instead summon a random basic totem, so a 0/2 or 1/1: the best one here often being the spell damage totem as many Shaman lists currently benefit a great deal from spell damage.

Assuming the Totemic will continue to function the same way it currently does, the timing of hero power becomes even more important: Tuskarr Totemic can summon a duplicate of a totem you already have, but the hero power cannot. So depending on whether you want multiples of a totem or try to ensure getting different totems, you will want to hero power before or after playing the Totemic.

Tuskarr Totemic has been so good that it has seen play in every Shaman deck. It is uncertain whether this will continue: there are still lots of totem synergy cards in Shaman, as well as spell damage synergy cards, so midrange lists may keep the card. More aggressive lists, however, are going to cut it now.

Call of the Wild


Perhaps the best card in the game? Animal Companion was already really good for three mana, and Call of the Wild summoned all three animal companions for eight mana, making it immensely valuable. Call of the Wild into Call of the Wild was often simply back-breaking for the opponent.

Now, Call of the Wild will cost one more mana at nine. This will give aggressive decks one more turn to finish the game before Hunter gains board control alongside a guaranteed taunt, and control decks will have one more turn to set up a stable situation before defending against the menace. Furthermore, Call of the Wild cannot be combined with hero power or a Quick Shot on turn 10, reducing the burst a Hunter is able to deliver.

It remains to be seen whether becoming a little slower will hurt the viability of Hunter. Even at nine mana though, Call of the Wild continues to be a playable card that offers nearly unparalleled power.



Warrior has stood as the king of cheap removal throughout the history of the game. Now Blizzard reins that in a little by increasing the mana cost of Execute from one mana to two, reducing the tempo advantage Warrior has been able to gain from the card – as well as making Ravaging Ghoul + Execute a little more difficult of an answer to a four mana 7/7.

Execute is still a premium piece of removal, and I don’t expect this to affect its popularity. Control decks still want all the premium removal options and more midrange Warrior decks do not have a viable alternative, as Shield Slam does not match their overall strategy.



To the ground! In a more classic vein of Blizzard nerfs, OTK Warrior is dead and buried. Whether you did it with Raging Worgen or Arcane Giant, it’s gone. Charge now costs only one mana, but no longer gives an attack bonus and prevents the charging minion from attacking the opposing hero on the turn it is given charge.

While many people have imagined situations where charge would be used in control decks for minion combat, perhaps with Sylvanas to steal stuff, I don’t see it being used like that. A card slot is simply too valuable to spend on such gimmicks that do not end the game.

The only viable use of Charge I can think of is with Grim Patron and Wild Pyromancer to more easily create a Patron board, especially if something like Zoo (low attack minions) gains popularity because of the nerfs.

Abusive Sergeant


The staple of aggressive decks is getting the Leper Gnome treatment: down from 2/1 stats to much less impressive 1/1. This means that it will no longer be able to trade into 2-drops, and is thus a huge nerf to the card. Even though the battlecry remains the same, there might be no decks that want to run an Abusive Sergeant anymore, not even Zoo.

Yogg-Saron, Hope’s End


Praise Yogg! Hopefully not much longer though, as soon enough Yogg-Saron will stop casting spells if it is destroyed, silenced, transformed, or returned to its owner’s hand.

This will most likely kill competitive use of Yogg-Saron in the decks in which it was the best, Token Druid and Tempo Mage, and definitely in all other decks where he was already of secondary importance.

In an old analysis of Yogg-Saron, it was concluded that with 15 spells cast, Yogg either kills, transforms, or returns itself to its owner’s hand 58% of the time. While Yogg obviously usually casts some spells before killing itself, this percentage is high enough to make Yogg unreliable. The high end is still there, so adventurous players may continue to frustrate others on the ladder, but less than half as often.

What does all of this mean for the meta?

Shaman will be weaker, but it is by no means out of the picture. Tunnel Trogg, Totem Golem, Flamewreathed Faceless, Thing from Below, and Doomhammer all remain unchanged. The absolute dominance Shaman has demonstrated on the ladder may come to an end, but the class remains strong.

Hunter becomes slightly weaker, but it also retains a good portion of its strength.

The same goes for Druid. Token Druid is a strong deck even without Yogg-Saron, and Beast Druid has been bubbling under, just slightly outperformed by the power of Yogg. Multiple varieties of Druid remain viable, they just don’t have a reset button anymore that forces you to beat them twice.

The class that benefits the most is Rogue. With aggressive decks nerfed and a big reset button in the form of Yogg weakened, Rogue is in a great spot to unleash its combo powers to wreak havoc. Secret Hunter could stand in its way, but as aggressive decks are nerfed and there is slightly more room to play control decks, Secret Hunter may not be as powerful as it used to be.

Priest, especially Dragon Priest, grows stronger. The high health of Dragon Priest’s minions is more difficult to deal with without early Rockbiter and Abusive Sergeant, making it possible for the Priest to get minions to stick and fight for the board. Yogg can also no longer steal games from Priest.

Warlock grows stronger again. Zoo has always been viable, but lately it was at the bottom of its power. With competitors getting nerfed, Zoo has a lot to gain. Renolock also becomes more viable as aggro decks become slower, giving it the time it needs to find answers, and as OTK Warrior is removed from the game, making 30 health matter more. However, it remains to be seen whether the nerf to Abusive Sergeant is enough to improve the Renolock vs Zoo matchup for the Renolock.

N’Zoth becomes the premium Old God once again. Early Standard saw many varieties of N’Zoth decks being played, and with Yogg-Saron pushed out and aggro weakened, N’Zoth decks have more room to maneuver. N’Zoth Paladin has a good chance to make a comeback, although Murloc Paladin might turn out to be the stronger variant of Control Paladin in the end.

Overall, the meta should become a lot more diverse as the biggest power spikes that pushed everything else out from the competition are weakened.

Five current non-meta decks to watch out for in the future:

  1. Miracle Rogue
  2. Control Paladin
  3. Beast Druid
  4. N’Zoth Renolock
  5. Dragon Priest


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