With the Hearthstone metagame dominated by Shaman and Pirate Warrior for an extended period of time, balance changes were expected. Now, Blizzard has finally announced the upcoming changes, of which there are only two: changes to Spirit Claws and Small-Time Buccaneer. How will they affect the metagame?
Part of the One Night in Karazhan adventure, Spirit Claws was considered to be a highly powerful addition to an already powerful class right from the start. A 1/3 weapon that has an additional +2 attack whenever its owner controls a spell-damage minion, Spirit Claws has been a staple in practically all Shaman decks.
The weapon is devastating in the early game, where the Shaman player can play Spirit Claws on turn 1 followed by a hero power totem on turn 2 for a 25% chance to increase the weapon’s attack to 3 or even a Bloodmage Thalnos or a Kobold Geomancer on turn 2 to achieve the same.
At mere 1 mana, Spirit Claws is easy to combine with the hero power totem or a spell-damage minion in mid-game as well, such as the all-time Shaman favorite Azure Drake, but its power in dictating the entire game when played early on has been its main effect.
Now, Spirit Claws is being nerfed by increasing its mana cost to 2. This will outright kill the early game combos that the card was infamous for and make it a lot more difficult for the Shaman to snowball out of control right from the gate.
It is even questionable whether the card will still see play. Jade Claws is already a weapon at 2 mana, so if the Shaman deck does not run the pirate package and need a weapon to activate Small-Time Buccaneer, the additional investment in Spirit Claws might not be worth it.
Speaking of Small-Time Buccaneer and the pirate package, it is also targeted for a nerf. Upon its introduction, Small-Time Buccaneer was a 1/2 minion for 2 mana that has +2 attack while its owner has a weapon equipped.
The overall package has been incredibly strong: play a Small-Time Buccaneer on turn 1, have it pull your Patches from the deck, and follow that up with a weapon on turn 2, and you’re well on your way to domination. That 2 health has enabled Small-Time Buccaneer to survive many early game challenges, so it is now being targeted with a nerf down to 1 health.
That 1 health makes a big difference. Small-Time Buccaneer can now be killed by the Mage, Rogue, or Druid hero power, as well as an Argent Squire or Patches, for example. The viability of the entire pirate package is being affected, although it was dominant enough that it might find a way to survive this.
Winners and losers
The obvious losers are the decks directly affected by the nerfs: Aggro Shaman, Mid-Jade Shaman, and Pirate Warrior. They are just a little bit slower and weaker now, and that may open up opportunities for slower decks to re-enter or control the meta.
One of the biggest winners is Rogue. Rogue is so bad at dealing with all-out aggro, but it is very good at dealing with almost everything else. With its biggest counters weakened, Rogue looks to be in a good position. Even Jade Rogue might make an appearance alongside Miracle Rogue at some parts of the ladder, although Miracle seems to be clearly the stronger of the two.
Druid is another class that is happy to see the aggro decks weakened. Its problem is the potential increase in the numbers of Miracle Rogue, as Rogue is very good against Druid.
A dead class might also be revived, the Hunter! Aggro Shaman, Mid-Jade Shaman, and Pirate Warrior are the three worst matchups for Hunter, and with those decks weakened, Hunter might have a chance again. Cards such as Alleycat can now contest the early pirate package, something Hunter has not been able to use itself because its cheapest weapon costs 3 mana and does not curve out well with the Small-Time Buccaneer at 1. Secret Hunter can also contest Rogue, so things look promising for this forgotten class.
Warrior remains the most varied class in the game: Pirate Warrior, Dragon Warrior, and Control Warrior represent completely different archetypes, a feat unmatched by any other class. The weakening of Mid-Jade Shaman brings Dragon Warrior up to the forefront, but Control Warrior is again left to search its purpose: the current Control Warrior lists are heavily anti-aggro, and losing some of its better matchups and maybe even seeing more Druids is not something the old stalwart is looking forward to. However, Control Warrior has proven to be an extremely durable and flexible deck that has always found a niche for itself even when it is not top tier. The lists will change, but something at least semi-viable will be found.
Warlock finds itself in an interesting position as well. The overpowered aggro decks had out-smorced the good old Zoo, and with them weakened, Zoo might find room in the meta again. Renolock, on the other hand, is mostly neutral regarding the changes: it enjoys less aggro, but on the other hand it does not fancy seeing Rogues and Druids.
Overall, with such small changes to two cards, there will be some interesting times ahead for the metagame!