The Knights of the Frozen Throne expansion for Hearthstone has only been out for 15 days but there’s already a balance problem on the horizon. In this /r/hearthstone post Blizzard Game Designer August Dean “Iksar” Ayala discusses the sudden rise to dominance that the Druid class is having right now. Iksar’s post is a solid read and he does make a number of good points. Before we discuss Druid at the moment I think it’s important to look back on some of Blizzard’s other social media moments.
A Brief History of Blizzard, Hearthstone, and Social Media
Said "a good priest deck might exist" and ppl think I meant I have a secret list. Not what I meant, but it's fun to see folks experimenting!
— Ben Brode (@bdbrode) July 18, 2016
That tweet was the first of many responses Blizzard (and Ben Brode) had to a now infamous post on the /r/hearthstone subreddit where Ben Brode wrote;
It’s also possible there are quality priest decks that players haven’t discovered yet.
— Ben Brode (/u/bbrode)
This comment blew up amongst the Hearthstone community as a whole from the moment players read or heard about it. Everyone from casual players to competitive players to streamers and professional players had an opinion. At the time of that comment Priest was one of the worst classes to play and had the least viable archetypes to play online. A lot of people even took Ben Brode at his word and demanded to know what this ‘unicorn priest’ deck was. While Ben Brode later clafied he was not referring to an actual deck but the idea that maybe players had just overlooked some Priest cards, the damage was done. Players were infuriated that Blizzard had underestimated their ability to create Hearthstone decks and that they weren’t taking legitimate concerns seriously. Eventually Priest received a large umber of quality cards and has gone on to become a very competitive (and fun) class to play.
For a long time Hearthstone only had 9 deck slots for players to use. Players had never understood why this cap was in place and once Hearthstone moved from Beta into the full launch calls immediately came for Blizzard to expand the limit. About one year ago one Community Manager took to /r/hearthstone to address the issue. In this post CM_Aratil (who still posts on /r/hearthstone) wrote;
a few items in your list are definitely not requested by the majority of Hearthstone players: deck slots(crazy, but true)
Players never really understood Blizzard’s position on the issue. Every time a Blizzard employee would address the problem it always boiled down to them claiming “you don’t need them” and they always figured saying that was enough. These comments only infuriated the community at large; just like the Unicorn Priest comment would later do. Eventually Blizzard announced they were increasing the maximum number of deck slots from 9 to 18; but only because they were introducing the Wild & Standard formats. The fact that it took Blizzard so long to add deck slots still remains a mystery and I (and the rest of the community) have yet to see a legitimate reason for the delay.
Come Back in Six Months
For longtime players that’s about the length of time it takes for Blizzard to identify a problem and patch in a nerf to compensate. The exception to this trend was the Rogue Quest card The Caverns Below. That card was nerfed three months after Journey to Ungoro was released. The blog post about the nerf does provide adequate reasoning. The Caverns Below warped the meta around itself, slow decks found themselves overwhelmed while faster decks easily killed their opponents before the quest finished. After surviving Undertaker, Warsong Commander and Small Time Buccaneer it’s frankly surprising to see Blizzard to cut their timetable for a nerf in half. I imagine that nerf was expedited because of their plan for the Knights of the Frozen Throne meta.
Malfurion Sends His Regards
This brings us back to Druid. Knights of the Frozen Throne has been out for 15 days and as of right now there seems to be a problem. I have to say seems to be because Blizzard has and will continue to dispute any statistics players can create or find themselves with internal statistics. Anyone who’s played Hearthstone recently can probably tell you of at least one or two crushing defeats to a Druid player where they felt helpless. On the ranked ladder there are a few decks that are quietly making a comeback based on their ability to defeat Druid and Jade Druid in particular. All of this things would indicate that there is a worrisome trend beginning and players have been down this road before.
While it’s easy to assume that Ultimate Infestation is the sole reason for the problem it’s only one part of what I perceive to be the issue. I must concede that Ultimate Infestation does give Druid players something to sink their mana into once they’ve ramped up to 10 mana and have an empty hand. I believe that it’s a culmination of that card plus Spreading Plague and Malfurion the Pestilent. While a lot of other Death Knight Legendary cards haven’t found their place in their respective class (or have found a place but are inconsistent, like Shaman) Druid does not have that problem. Malfurion’s effect upon entering the board good in nearly any situation and he only costs 7. Couple that with giving Druid players the ability to be aggressive or heal through armor (which is strictly better than health alone) and Malfurion is currently the best Death Knight in the game.
It’s not clear right now if Druid will be a problem six months from now. The Hearthstone Global Games are the first competitive event to play with the Knights of the Frozen Throne expansion and it’s clear Druid has had an effect on all the teams involved. I understand that while it’s an unnecessary curveball for esports, Blizzard was right for not issuing a hotfix or banning Druid entirely. That would be an overreaction but I also believe that Blizzard has a terrible track record when it comes to communicating with their audience. It’s high time they looked to improved upon that.