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Hearthstone: Card nerfs expected before the end of February

Ben Brode outlines the state of the metagame, and confirms an upcoming balancing patch.

Posted in News Tagged with Druid, Hunter, Mage, Priest, Rogue, Shaman, Warlock, Warrior By John Bedford Published

Hearthstone's game director Ben Brode took to the official forums yesterday to outline the team's thoughts on the current state of the metagame, outline some important stats about deck and card usage, and provide a hint that a card rebalance is coming at the end of this month.

After a lengthy exposition on the nature of what the Hearthstone metagame actually is, and how the team defines balance, Brode explained a few key stats about the current metagame.

  • 30% of players are piloting Shaman at Legend
  • 17% of players are using Shaman across all ranks
  • The predominant decks are Aggro, Midrange, Control and Jade Shaman
  • Compare the above stats to the worst percentage dominance in Hearthstone's history: 35% for “Undertaker Hunter”
  • Above Rank 5, the Small-Time Buccaneer and Patches the Pirate package is played in around 50% of all matches.
  • The best deck in the current meta has a win-rate of 52%, compared to the 60% win rate of Undertaker Hunter.

From here, Brode went into greater detail about the team's philosophy for managing these numbers. It's harder to summarise this section than the points made above, so here's the complete text:

“When evaluating balance, we look at the win rate of decks and classes, compare them to the impossible ideal (50%), and to the worst case (60%). Knowing that 50% is impossible, we just want it to be "close".

“This isn't a science, but for us, that has traditionally been between 53% and 56%. This isn't the most important metric, though. If a deck has a 70% win rate, but only a handful of players are playing it, that's great. It doesn't cause the issues of non-variant gameplay... yet. Traditionally when a deck has a very high win rate, people begin to copy it, and it becomes a larger and larger part of the meta. Another important consideration for us at that point is Counters.

”When a deck loses to specific cards or other decks, players can be rewarded for playing those counters as that deck rises in popularity. If a deck ever became 60% of the meta, but there was a deck that handily beat it, then you could have a 60% win rate by playing that deck, and it would become the new best deck in the meta.

”This phenomenon causes metas to change over time. We've seen that so far since the release of Gadgetzan - Pirate Warrior hit peaks of 30%, but shrank to as low as 10% over time. There were also a few days in which Reno Warlock was the dominant deck and which Rogue was the dominant deck at very high skill levels. When the meta is still changing, we don't like to make changes to cards.

”Right now, Aggro Shaman is one of our highest win-rate deck, but has a 35% win rate vs Control Warrior decks that are tuned to beat them. Reno Mage is also a bad match up for them. Does this mean that it has become 'correct' to play Control Warrior? It depends on the other decks in the meta, and whether Aggro Shaman continues to become more popular. Fibonacci recently took advantage of the predictable meta and built a Control Warrior deck that did very well against Aggro Shaman.

”We believe that it's important to let good players recognize shifts in the meta, and capitalize on their knowledge before the meta shifts and the 'solution' changes. This is one of biggest reasons why we don't nerf cards very frequently. When metas stagnate for too long; When there are no good counters; When the best decks aren't fun to play or lose to; these are all reasons we have made balance adjustments in the past. If a deck is popular for a few weeks, that isn't a reason to make a nerf on its own. We'd have to be concerned about the fun, not be seeing any emerging counter-strategies, or be far enough away from a new content release to be worried about stagnation for a long time.

It's at the very end of this post that Brode makes a very vague comment on how the team intends to make the changes that it does deem are necessary. While no cards are mentioned in this post, the team have previous pointed to Small-time Buccaneer as a problematic card, rather than Patches the Pirate. The balancing patch will arrive at the end of this month, with an announcement outlining the changes coming a week or so earlier.

So that brings us to today. Another consideration for making a balance adjustment is planning around a client patch for each of our platforms.We are working on the ability to stream balance adjustments (and other content) directly to players' devices, but until we have that ability, we need to release a client patch to make a change to a card.

Our next patch is planned for around the end of this month. You can expect an announcement from us regarding balance changes either way in the week or so leading up to that date.

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