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Hearthstone patch analysis for 1.0.0.4217

Hearthstone is quickly evolving. The recent patch dealt with balancing cards--let's see how Blizzard did at their first pass at making Hearthstone more competitive.

During BlizzCon 2013 last month, Hearthstone's panel shed some light on the future of the game--promising more content and some important changes to cards like Mind Control. This week's recent patch delivered a part of the package, seeking to balance some particularly annoying cards that are overplayed at both casual and competitive levels.

But was it successful? Let's break down the changes to these cards, how they will affect the evolving metagame, and Hearthstone's progress as a fledgling entry to the esports scene.

Unleash the Hounds

Unleash the Hounds was a gimmick card that was used a lot in ranked play. This patch, the card was reworked entirely, removing its powerful attack modifier. It now spawns a 1/1 beast for each enemy minion already on the field and costs three more mana; arguably an underwhelming affair for a card that used to be so strong.

We asked TrumpSC for his thoughts on this change and he summed it up succinctly: "Unleash the Hounds is now absolutely worthless." Still, something had to be done--gimmicks are detrimental to gameplay at any level. Before the rework, players could be annihilated from full health to zero in a single turn thanks to double Unleash the Hounds paired with several one and two drop beast cards such as Young Dragonhawk.

Argent Commander

Argent Commander has been a popular card for both competitive and casual Hearthstone players alike. While an expensive card at six mana, the Divine Shield and Charge effect on a 4/3 more than made up for it. At the very worst, it was still incredibly good as a two for one card. More often than not, however, thanks to buff cards like Dark Iron Dwarf, it was amazing removal that packed a huge punch and stayed on the board after as a huge threat.

A deceptively tiny adjustment, Blizzard putting it at 4/2 actually does change the card's power immensely. It becomes in range for Blizzard, Holy Nova, and other removals; it also can't pick off things after its Divine Shield is down as easily. Argent Commander is now a lot less durable. Still, the card remains very strong and the fact that it's four attack with immunity was the entire reason why it was such great removal.

Ultimately, it may still need adjustments in the future if it remains as popular as it was prepatch.

Shattered Sun Cleric

This card is good--really good, actually. For such a low cost, being able to play it on turn three and buff up a one or two drop card is strong. It also combos well with stronger drops due to its innate low cost.

There's virtually no surprise it was used in almost every constructed deck during the recent tournament. Cleric can buff cards out of Flamestrike range, make early game cards like Argent Squire an annoying threat, and just generally has so much potential to make game winning plays at every single stage of the game.

Making it a 3/2 hits it pretty hard. Two seems to be the magic amount of health in Hearthstone where a card is extremely vulnerable; much like I wrote about Argent Commander, two enables different removal to take care of it such as cards like Holy Smite. With Cleric taking a power hit, it will be interesting to see if Defender of Argus or other cards that buff stats will eventually receive adjustments as well; in the case of Defender, two of them were in nearly every deck during the tournament.

Mind Control

Mind Control has been a frustrating card since the game's inception. Priests have a lot of removal including Shadow Word: Pain and Shadow Word: Death in their arsenal; giving them the ability to remove a card from their opponent and then permanently keep it it is downright broken.

In this patch, Mind Control went from an 8 mana cost to 10. While there's no way to tell if that's enough of a change, it's a good start. In the NA vs China tournament last weekend, a Paladin was winning against a Priest fairly convincingly. When turn eight came around, however, they were unable to play either Tirion Fordring or Ragnaros for fear of MC. They played around it as best they could, but realizing they faced a loss without making any plays, they were eventually backed into a corner. Of course, once they played the cards, the Priest swept up both cards with a MC each turn and won the game from it.

If Mind Control had been a ten mana cost, though, the Paladin would have won the game. Those two extra turns would have let them play a card instead of stall, which in turn would have killed the opposing Priest.

Even despite the recent patch, Mind Control remains a poorly conceived card that gives so much without any punishment. There's so little an opponent can do against it and it completely alters the tempo of a game when players are forced to play around it. In other cards games like MtG, cards that take control of enemy minions are usually enchantments, auras, or spells cast by another creature--destroying the source of the control returns the card to the previous owner or at least eliminates it from the battlefield. Along that line of thought, wouldn't it just be a lot better if Mind Control were able to be silenced? Or what if cards like Sap returned the creature to its rightful owner's hand?

In short, we probably haven't seen the last of Mind Control balancing. At least it's a little weaker now, however.

Starving Buzzard

This was explained well in Blizzard's patch notes and doesn't need much more elaboration. By making Starving Buzzard a 2/1 instead of a 2/2, it opens up counterplay for the Rogue, Mage, and Druid classes who struggled with Hunters at times--especially for those lower in the ladder. The card was simply too strong for the masses, especially when it could be played for such a low cost.

Flame Imp

Aggressive decks from Warlocks are a little too good and Flame Imp is one of their bread and butter cards. Blizzard made the one drop powerhouse cost one more life to use. It's a slight fix, nothing huge or gamebreaking. It just punishes the Warlock a little more if they play the card and lose it instantly which is completely fine.

Conclusion

For a first round of heavy adjustments to the game, this patch was extremely solid. Blizzard proved they watch all pedigrees of players for inspirations on cards to alter; from mild adjustments to cards seen especially in lower tiers of play like Starving Buzzard to tweaks to the professionally adored Shattered Sun Cleric, there were a lot of changes that came from all levels of play and experience.

Blizzard also demonstrated that they're more than happy to let the community set the tone of their game. The players want this game to be competitive while still managing to be casual friendly--and this patch's new ranked system in particular helps evolve the game into a slightly more competitive experience. Rankings feel more tangible now and mean much more, encouraging players to take the game more seriously.

It's exciting to watch Hearthstone in its infancy stages. With attentive developers and a natural ability to engage people as a spectator sport, it's definitely on track to go far as an esport and video game.

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