The Data Reaper Breaks Down the Balance Changes

The announcement of balance changes caught us just as we were finishing work on Data Reaper Report #115, which was scheduled to come out tomorrow, December 20th. With such monumental changes that will likely shatter the meta into pieces, we felt that discussing the pre-patch meta would be uninformative to the community.

Therefore, we are canceling the report scheduled for tomorrow, and will do our best to produce a report next week that will discuss the post-patch meta. We hope that we will be able to collect enough data to publish the report on Thursday but judging by the current pace of games we are receiving, it’s not a certainty: it’s entirely dependent on the community’s contribution. To help us collect enough data and make it to our deadline, sign up and contribute! We collect data through either Track-o-Bot or Hearthstone Decktracker.

In this article, we’re going to look at the balance changes and give our thoughts regarding the impact of this patch on each class and its archetypes. You can join the conversation on our Discord channel

The Balance Changes

  1. Wild Growth, the most iconic Druid card in the game and the symbol of the class’ identity as a ramping class, is nerfed. This change turns it from one of the strongest cards in the game into a card that we doubt will see play. Every single Druid deck in the current meta is heavily affected by this change.
  2. Nourish, another core card in every ramping Druid deck, is nerfed. At 6 mana, it becomes a pretty terrible source of card draw and ramp, and it’s even less likely to see play compared to a 3 mana Wild Growth.
  3. Level Up! is the most important pay-off card for Odd Paladin in the standard format, and the nerf takes it away from the deck. At 6 mana, it becomes very mediocre and we don’t think it’s a worthy build-around card for Even Paladin or any Midrange Paladin deck.
  4. The change to Saronite Chain Gang has multiple implications. It becomes a worse card in any Keleseth deck or any other deck that looks to buff it in hand (Val’anyr/Soul Infusion) since the buffs will no longer apply to the copy. However, the biggest implication is that Shaman can no longer chain infinite Shudderwocks through the interaction between Chain Gang and Grumble. Shudderwock Shaman as an infinite damage combo deck is pretty much dead.
  5. Leeching Poison is a core card in Kingsbane Rogue and gives the deck an incredible recovery mechanic against aggressive decks, while making it extremely resilient against slower decks that have a difficulty killing it without a significant amount of burst damage. Without Leeching Poison offering a constant source of healing, Kingsbane Rogue as a late-game strategy is far weaker and likely unplayable.
  6. This patch is drastic and might be the most impactful set of balance changes we’ve ever seen. Every class will be affected by these changes, whether directly, or indirectly.

Data Reaper Report - Hunter

Rexxar pops the champagne

Hunter has a good reason to celebrate. Its biggest counter, Odd Paladin, has been severely weakened if not destroyed. This matchup was a struggle for all Hunter archetypes, and now that it might be gone, there’s a good reason to believe that Hunter will quickly establish itself as the most popular class in the game (which is not too different from its current state!).

If you’re looking for a safe choice to climb ladder on the first couple of days of the patch, Hunter is clearly one of the best choices. Cube, Spell and Secret Hunter are all very powerful decks right now and they are completely untouched by the balance changes. The disappearance of several archetypes may help new decks emerge to challenge Hunter but refining them should still take a few days at the very least, and there’s no guarantee that they will show up to tone down the class. Rexxar will be on the hunt on day 1, we guarantee it.

Standard Cube Hunter

Zalae’s Spell Hunter

Cantelope’s Secret Hunter

Data Reaper Report - Rogue

Valeera’s still got plenty of daggers to stab you with

Rogue is certain to be significantly shaken up by the balance changes, for better and for worse. Kingsbane Rogue lost one of its most important tools that make it such a powerful late game strategy. We don’t think that it’s capable of effectively surviving without its current ability to infinitely heal.

However, we don’t think this will be the end of Rogue as a powerful late game combo class. We think Vanish is one of the strongest tools in the game at dealing with all the currently successful Hunter archetypes. The fall of multiple control counters (Shudderwock, Togwaggle) could also give rise to more attrition-based control decks, and the likely demise of Odd Paladin could give rise to more midrange decks that currently are unable to deal with the swarms of silver hand recruits.

Taking all that into consideration, it’s not crazy to suspect that Quest Rogue has a chance of making yet another comeback into the game. A last hurrah before The Caverns Below retires to Wild.

On the aggressive end of the spectrum, we think Rogue benefits a lot from the balance changes. Odd Rogue was already a pretty strong deck, but it struggled against both Odd Paladin and Druids. Now, there’s nothing stopping it from becoming the premier aggressive deck of the format, a title it may earn in the new meta.

But it doesn’t stop there for Rogue. One of our findings from the last week is a spike in the win rate of Tempo Rogue thanks to the incredible potential of builds incorporating Captain Hooktusk. While we talked about this Tempo Rogue variant last week, it has looked so good recently that it was in the running for tomorrow’s Meta Breaker section. Much like Odd Rogue, the deck also hates facing Odd Paladins, so it may receive another boost in its power with the new patch. We’re featuring a build that drops Chain Gang for a Corpsetaker package.

Quest Rogue

Standard Odd Rogue

Corpsetusk Tempo Rogue

Data Reaper Report - Paladin

Uther turns his curse into his strength

Here’s an interesting tidbit. Had no balance changes been announced, and a Data Report was published tomorrow, it would have had some interesting news. Even Paladin has surpassed Odd Paladin to become the best deck in the game. Already.

Considering the massive change to Odd Paladin, which may weaken it to the point of disappearing from the meta, it’s easy to predict that Paladin will fully transition to the top performing Genn deck. Even Paladin hasn’t been significantly hurt by the balance changes, save for the interaction between Val’anyr and Saronite Chain Gang, which may cause players to look for alternatives to these cards (though they are probably still worth including). While Even Paladin is not a crippling counter to Hunter, it’s comfortable in these matchups and should thrive in the early patch meta.

There are obviously many unknowns when it comes to predicting the upcoming meta, but if we had to make a prediction, it would be that Even Paladin will top the vS Power Ranking table in the next Data Reaper Report.

Late game combo decks being nerfed? Good news for a late-game combo deck that hasn’t been nerfed. Exodia Paladin’s stock could rise as a result of the balance changes, and its success in the long run is entirely dependent on which win conditions take over. If Quest Rogue re-emerges, it’s bad news, but if Odd Warrior becomes dominant, then Paladin should have a good time.

Vala’nyr Even Paladin

Caravaggio’s Exodia Paladin

Data Reaper Report - Warlock

Gul’dan going about his business as usual?

Warlock is a tough class to predict, perhaps because it doesn’t seem to be significantly affected by the balance changes on the surface. It will be the indirect changes to the meta that determine how successful Warlock decks can be.

Zoo Warlock might consider dropping the Soul Infusion package with the Chain Gang nerf, but that’s the least of its worries. The prospect of Odd Rogue rising alongside Spellstone abusing Hunters, makes us pessimistic about Zoo Warlock’s chances of becoming a stronger deck after the patch. It was relatively comfortable dealing with Druids, and may now have to face other defensive decks instead.

Even Warlock will probably stick around since it’s so well-rounded and doesn’t have terrible matchups, which means it’s not particularly vulnerable to drastic meta changes as long as it’s able to execute its game plan. We expect to see fewer tech cards at the 6-mana slot and more good all-around cards, at least initially.

With several late-game strategies weakening, more space is available for Warlock strategies to shine. Cube Warlock is still a Tier 1 deck and there’s no reason to think it wouldn’t be strong after the patch, while Control Warlock should benefit from some of its late-game counters being heavily nerfed. The Corpsetaker build from Meati already looked like a promising direction for the archetype over the last week.

Doomguard Zoo Warlock

Standard Even Warlock

Standard Cube Warlock

Corpsetaker Control Warlock

Data Reaper Report - Druid

Malfurion’s been shot and is bleeding all over the ground

Things look very bad for Druid. The change to Wild Growth and Nourish cannot be underestimated. This will likely kill any Druid deck that looks to ramp, which means that the balance changes could kill any Druid deck that currently sees play. You could argue that the entire Druid kit is balanced around a 2 mana Wild Growth and making it a full turn slower is crippling. The change is very comparable, and might be more severe, than the nerf to Fiery War Axe and the Warrior class. Garrosh is still feeling that nerf till today.

So what Druid decks are we going to play? The next best thing after Wild Growth is Keleseth, and Spiteful Druid was the only remotely playable Druid archetype that did not play Wild Growth throughout Year of the Raven. It’s safe to say that players will be experimenting with this archetype once the balance changes go live. The nerf to Odd Paladin, a massive counter, should help, but we’re still not sure the deck will be any good.

Spiteful Druid

Data Reaper Report - Priest

Anduin was seen playing Starcraft to hone his APM skills

It’s going to be very challenging for Priest to find a way to screw this up and not be relevant in the new meta. There are so many ways in which Priest can establish itself as a serious meta contender after these balance changes. We’ll mention three of them.

Firstly, multiple late-game strategies are about to die, which opens opportunities for Priest’s currently outclassed win conditions to emerge. We’re specifically looking at Resurrect Priest to become a more relevant player after the patch because of its good matchups against the Hunter class as a whole. Much like Vanish, Psychic Scream is a terrific tool against sticky deathrattle boards and wolves summoned by Spellstone.

Druid’s upcoming death means that the most powerful armor stacking class in the game should cease to exist. Malfurion has been a huge pain in the neck for Shadowreaper Anduin, which means Control Priest spamming Mind Blasts might become a very powerful strategy. The archetype is flexible enough to deal with whatever aggressive decks emerge in the new meta, and has the ultimate tech card to beat Odd Warrior if it ever comes down to that (Archbishop Benedictus).

Finally, and for a similar reason why we think Resurrect Priest could see more play, APM Priest might receive the boost in power needed to become a more serious threat on ladder. The deck is still flawed in its core due to requiring so many combo pieces in hand to execute its win condition, but if the other strategies that emerge cannot pressure it effectively enough, it may have enough time to consistently get there.

Standard Resurrect Priest

Mind Blast Control Priest

Pyro APM Priest

Data Reaper Report - Shaman

My jaws don’t bite. My claws don’t catch. Anymore.

Shaman just had its primary deck nuked into oblivion, and that must hurt for Thrall, who’s left with pretty much one deck to play with until April. A midrange Shudderwock Shaman could pop up as an alternative to the combo deck, but we wouldn’t hold our breath. We don’t have high hopes when it comes to new Shaman archetypes emerging since experiments with them looked so weak during the first two weeks of the expansion.

The good news for the class is that the one deck that’s here to stay, is very strong and might be getting stronger after the patch. Even Shaman has good matchups against the Hunter class, and it’s also a pretty hard counter to Even Paladin, a deck we tip to become dominant. The fact Spreading Plague could disappear is another good reason to be optimistic about Even Shaman’s chances of becoming a more prominent force in the meta, if only because of the psychological aspect. With the early game opening up after Odd Paladin’s fall, players will look for alternatives, and you’d be hard pressed to find a more consistent early game deck than Even Shaman.

Corpsetaker Even Shaman

Jaina is given a second chance after nearly losing all hope 

Things looked bad for Mage as this week’s data trickled in. Odd Mage was a dying deck that continued to get worse and worse over time, while Aluneth Mage struggled to make an impact. Big-Spell Mage is a decent enough deck but one that not many players cared enough to play. The balance changes should give the class a spark of life, at least initially.

We have evaluated many Odd Mage builds and we do think that the archetype should go in an aggressive direction. Without a dominant Odd Paladin deck, an upgraded Mage hero power should become a more valued asset for early game board control. Our suggested build is theory-crafted based on our thorough analysis of the archetype over the last week. Cards such as Arcane Missiles and Shooting Star may lose value if Odd Paladin is gone, but we still think they’re important against most other aggressive decks out there.

Aggro Odd Mage

Data Reaper Report - Warrior

Garrosh is ready to tank up and rank up once again

Garrosh must be fist-pumping hard. Warrior was sinking into irrelevance before these balance changes lit up a spark that may turn the tides on the class’ bleak prospects. So many late-game decks with inevitability have been destroyed that you must be optimistic about Odd Warrior’s chances of growing stronger. Shudderwock, Togwaggle and Kingsbane were a massive pain in the neck for Odd Warrior. A potential rise of Odd Rogue is also very good news, and we could see other aggressive decks that were held back by Odd Paladin rise before crashing into Garrosh’s suit of armor.

How good Odd Warrior becomes is entirely dependent on whether other “infinite” win conditions successfully emerge. Warrior fans will be praying for decks such as Quest Rogue, APM Priest and Exodia Paladin to crash and burn. Should the late game meta center on finite value and damage, look for Odd Warrior to potentially take over the game and bring aggressive decks to their knees. Considering that 2% in win rate could be the difference between Odd Warrior warping the meta and Odd Warrior staying on as a niche deck, we’ll be fools to claim that we have a perfect model to predict the outcome here.

While Odd Warrior might be the most interesting question regarding the class’ prospects in the new meta, we have to mention that not all of Warrior’s eggs are in the Baku basket. We’ve been talking about Rush Warrior, and we’ve been monitoring the deck closely for the past week. We have reasons to believe it could become a legitimately competitive deck after the patch, if only because players will be more receptive to trying it out. And yes, after this patch, we like Corpsetaker in everything.

Odd Dragon Warrior

Corpsetaker Rush Warrior

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