In this article:
- Take a trip down memory lane with some of the most memorable Hearthstone nerfs in the game’s history.
- Understand the mechanics behind what made these cards broken.
- Learn about the popular Hearthstone deck archetypes that dominated the meta before game-breaking cards were nerfed.
- A look at how meta decks were adjusted to nerfs and what deck archetypes took over after the loss of key cards.
Most CCG players can agree that one of the most heartbreaking things that can happen to you in a game is to wake up one day and find that your deck has been nerfed.
Nerfing, for the non-gamers out there, is a term used to describe adjustments to in-game items and abilities that are meant to “balance” the game by weakening dominant playstyles. Game developers implement nerfs for a number of reasons, but the most common one is to keep the game interesting by allowing other playstyles to be viable.
While a good nerf usually allows an item or ability to stay useable, Hearthstone nerfs have a reputation for either nerfing a card to oblivion or being ineffective because it doesn’t address the true reason why a card is problematic. This typically has something to do with Hearthstone‘s design philosophy and/or the inherent strengths and weaknesses of a class.
1. Patches the Pirate Was Nerfed After a Year of Terrorizing the Meta
Hearthstone has a lot of competition these days thanks to the entry of CDProjekt Red’s Gwent and Riot’s Legends of Runeterra into the CCG scene.
Though 75% of the Hearthstone player base has been playing for more than four years, a good chunk of that was shaved off a few weeks following the release of the Mean Streets of Gadgetzan expansion on December 1, 2016. Gadgetzan brought 132 new cards into the game, one of which would enable one of the most oppressive aggro decks in Hearthstone history: Pirate Warrior.
Pirate Warrior was a Warrior class deck that capitalizes on the synergy of “Pirate” tagged cards, and its bread and butter was Patches the Pirate. Patches allowed you to attack your opponent on your first turn without having to spend mana or draw a card. Unlike other decks that required you to start first to gain advantage, Pirate Warrior favored going second.
Among the best scenarios would be to go second and have Fiery War Axe, Dread Corsair, and Small-Time Buccaneer in your hand. With The Coin, you could immediately play Fiery War Axe on turn 1 for 2 mana. This enabled you to play Buccaneer and Corsair for 1 mana each on turn 2. Since you have at least one “Pirate” on the board, Patches the Pirate appeared and allowed you to hit your opponent on the same turn.
Because of this, most Pirate Warrior decks were able to kill their opponents by turn 5.
Understandably, many Hearthstone players were furious since the deck effectively prevented them from playing their decks, but it was only in 2018 when Patches finally got nerfed. This was after an ineffective Hearthstone nerf of Fiery War Axe a.k.a “Fiery Win Axe,” as many players nicknamed it.
2. Shudderwock’s Nerf Wasn’t Even a Nerf
2018 wasn’t the end of meta-wrecking cards in Hearthstone. Unlike many of the other cards on this list, it didn’t take more than one brain cell to figure out how easy Shudderwock was to exploit. The card repeated all Battlecry effects from the cards you’ve played earlier in the game, and this was happening in a game packed with powerful Battlecries.
Prior to Shudderwock’s release in The Witchwood expansion, Hearthstone had already drawn flak for its increasingly randomized gameplay that made competitive matches less about skill and more about who could get the luckiest.
But what really made the Hearthstone community pick up their pitchforks was that Shudderwock forced them to sit through several minutes’ worth of animations before they could start their turn. Picture this: You already know you’re losing the moment a Shudderwock gets played, but instead of being able to end the game on your turn as soon as possible, you have to wait for the card’s effects to resolve.
What makes it even worse is that Blizzard already knew about the broken interaction that Shudderwock had with another card, Saronite Chain Gang.
Ben Brode, then director for Hearthstone, told Kotaku, “I watched a guy play Shudderwock, summon an exact copy, and then there’s another card called Grumble, who returns all of the minions to your hand, and now they cost one. And so that battlecry went off, and that second copy went back to his hand with a cost of one. And there’s 20 other battlecries. So this thing went on for a minute—and then he plays the second Shudderwock.”
The Hearthstone team’s reaction to the controversy following Shudderwock’s release was to cap the Battlecries and change Saronite Chain Gang to specifically summon another Saronite Chain Gang instead of “itself.”
Though it didn’t completely kill Shudderwock, the nerf allowed the rest of the deck to eventually evolve into a Control Shaman archetype.
3. Wild Growth and Innervate Nerfs Hampered Druid’s Ability to Ramp
Hearthstone‘s Druid class is known for its ability to “ramp” which means that the class can generate mana faster than other classes, allowing it to play high-value cards earlier in the game. This somewhat allowed Druid to compensate for having fewer sources of damage and crowd control.
Ramping made it possible for Druid to pull off combos such as Aviana + Kun earlier in the game, but what it’s most memorable for is its role in the Jade Druid deck that rose to meta dominance after the weakening of Pirate Warrior.
Jade Druid made use of the synergy of the Jade cards from Mean Streets of Gadgetzan and its most important part was Jade Idol. However, as part of Druid’s class defining cards, Wild Growth and Innervate supported multiple variants of the deck.
This was especially true before the nerfs on Pirate Warrior because Jade Druid’s slower playstyle made it essential for you to get a Jade Behemoth on the board before you faced Pirate Warrior’s turn 5 kill. When Jade Druid got its day in the sun, though, its class’ two key cards took a hit.
4. Less Chicken for Players After Leeroy Jenkins’ Nerf
Leeroy Jenkins is a legendary Hearthstone card with an equally legendary history. The card’s name is a reference to an old World of Warcraft meme about a player who charged mindlessly into a dungeon, getting themselves and their team killed in the process. At the end of the incident, the Leeroy Jenkins guy basically shrugs it off by saying, “At least I have chicken.”
Since then, Leeroy Jenkins has been a piece of gaming history that’s remembered in everything from South Park to Family Guy. Considering it originated in WoW, it was only natural to immortalize Leeroy in Hearthstone as one of the first One Turn Kill (OTK) combo cards in the game.
The card was later bumped up in cost from 4 to 5 mana, but Leeroy Jenkins still sees some play in a few Hearthstone formats because of the card’s inherent value. By giving you 6 instant damage for 5 mana plus a 6/2 body, Leeroy has more going for him than just chicken.
5. Gadgetzan Auctioneer Was Nerfed, but Miracle Rogue Lives On
Similar to Leeroy Jenkins, Gadgetzan Auctioneer is another versatile card that has been part of the game since its beginning. Non-CCG players who encounter Auctioneer for the first time might not see what’s so important about a 4/4 for 5 mana card until they realize how important card advantage is in a CCG.
In card games, the only way to interact with another player and their board is to use your own cards. The more cards you have, the more options you have for responding to your opponent’s plays. This is why it’s so easy to lose in a CCG if you have no means to draw additional cards.
Though you might think Auctioneer is best suited to the Mage class, it was Rogue that fully unlocked its potential. The Rogue class has access to multiple cheap spell cards that can trigger Auctioneer and the discovery of how deeply this interaction can be exploited gave birth to the Miracle Rogue deck.
Even with the one cost nerf and format restrictions on Auctioneer, Miracle Rogue lives on because of the deck’s ability to generate insane amounts of value pretty much for free.
6. Midrange Hunter’s Cornerstone Starving Buzzard Becomes Carrion
How many nerfs does it take to kill a card? A lot, apparently, and in Starving Buzzard‘s case, it took three separate nerfs to slow it down.
Starving Buzzard was to Hunter what Gadgetzan Auctioneer was to Rogue. The card featured in many Midrange Hunter decks and kept them from running out of steam by enabling a massive amount of card draw with just a single combo.
As with every secretly broken card, you need to read closely into what Starving Buzzard’s text is really saying. In Hearthstone, Summon is different from Play. Though all minions played from your hand are summoned, not all summoned minions need to be played.
There are a ton of cards in Hearthstone that summon minions directly to the board and if they happen to summon cards tagged as “Beast,” they would trigger Starving Buzzard’s effect.
Since Starving Buzzard costs 2 mana and midrange decks start picking up pace in the middle of the game, the card was optimally paired with Unleash the Hounds, a 4 mana card that summoned a 1/1 Hound with that could storm down your opponent.
Together, the combo essentially gave you several free Patches the Pirates and a full hand of cards. As you can expect, Unleash the Hounds also underwent several nerfs all in an attempt to fix the strong innate synergies of the Hunter class’ Beasts.
7. No More Fishing for Nat Pagle
RIP to Nat Pagle. The seemingly small change that made him draw a card at the end of your turn to the start of your turn made him unplayable.
Hearthstone‘s devs likely underestimated Nat Pagle’s value when they first released him. After all, there seems to be little to fear from a card that only had a 50% chance of drawing another card.
But the fact that he started fishing at the end of your turn meant you could at least count on the chance of getting one card out of him even if the opponent used their next turn to remove him from your board.
With the nerf, however, Nat Pagle turned from a free card into a sitting duck. Not only did he have just the chance to draw a card, but the effect being changed to the start of your turn guaranteed that he would get removed before you could get anything out of him.
8. The Hearthstone Nerf That Actually Crippled Rogue (For a Hot Minute)
Edwin VanCleef was a legendary Rogue card that was part of the Classic set. It was one of the “big” cards of its time, right up there with Ragnaros the Firelord and Ysera.
Remember what we said about Rogue having a ton of cheap spells in the section about Gadgetzan Auctioneer? Rogue is the class best equipped to take advantage of the Combo effect which triggers as long as the card bearing the text isn’t the first card played during your turn.
As long as you didn’t have a terrible hand, your Edwin could drop on the board by turn 3 with enough buffs to ensure that it would be hard to remove since stronger removal cards were only available at later points of the game due to their higher mana cost.