Hello everybody, and welcome to my theoretical patch notes for a completely fake set of card changes!
I decided to write this quick article as a result of the community’s reaction to not only the lack of recent balance changes, but also the low power level of Return to Clockwork City. The Core Set is obviously full of staples, Madhouse Collection gave us Market, Altar, Gardener, and Stoneshard, Dark Brotherhood gave us Unstoppable Rage and many staples across various archetypes like Brotherhood Slayer, Dark Guardian, The Black Dragon, and more, and Heroes of Skyrim gave us the infamous Soul Tear/Drain Vitality combo, Archer’s Gambit, Crusader’s Assault, and more cards that needed quick nerfs – which lead to the last set of real balance changes. So far, nothing close to the cards I mentioned has made itself apparent in Return to Clockwork City.
What has instead occurred is a continuation of the meta where Aggro Crusader, Rage Archer, and Ramp Scout are still widely considered the three best decks. Others can compete, like Token strategies, Control Mage, and various Midrange decks, but the issue isn’t so much that there aren’t enough decks that can compete (as virtually any of them can get you to high legend), the issue is that very little among them has changed. Yes, the meta is, for all intents and purposes, still “diverse,” but after five months of the same basic spread of decks, many players were looking for an expansion that at least switched up the power levels among those decks and breathed serious new life into a couple others.
While Excavate and The Mechanical Heart might serve to help Support Control Mage and Grappling Hook might boost Ramp/Control Warrior somewhat, many of these players expected more – and if we’re being perfectly honest, so did I.
I always hesitated calling metagames “stale” in the past, but with five full months between expansions, no concrete date for the next one as of yet, and the apparent power level of Return to Clockwork City, I think this one qualifies. It’s with this in mind that I will propose a few theoretical changes with the purpose not so much to make a more balanced meta, but to shake things up. Balance is something we have. Excitement and the feeling of novelty coming from new decks looking to perform highly, not so much.
Changing The Big Three Decks
The first thing to consider is that if we are to shake things up without power creeping the current card pool, the issue of Ramp Scout/Rage Archer/Aggro Crusader needs to be addressed. These decks aren’t more powerful than I would expect the top three decks to be in any card game per se, but I was expecting tools released to make other decks seem comparable. At the moment, the raw power level of these decks is higher than just about anything else.
- Level 1 and Level 2 now read, “Draw a non-Unique creature from your discard pile.”
- Level 2 still gives +2/+2, level 3 slightly nerfed to +4/+4
- Text added to the end of the effect at all levels: “When that creature dies, banish it.”
These changes are to address some of the big issues that make the card upsetting to play against. For starters, the nerf I applied to the level three buff is small, but the new benefit of level three according to my changes is the ability to recycle Unique Legendary creatures such as Tazkad and Red Bramman – something that is currently available at all three levels. We’ve all heard horror stories of someone ramping into a very early Tazkad or Paarthurnax and then looping them two or three more times, allowing too much flexibility in a deck that has the easiest time bringing out unique legendaries in the first place.
The Banish text seems like a no-brainer to me. A card like Memory Wraith would need to be played at the exact right time to remove the correct target, and the Soul Tear player can just wait for a different powerful target to loop a lot of the time. However, now that banishment exists in this game thanks to the Wraith, it seems reasonable that it would be applied to Soul Tear as well. This means that even if the Soul Tear player has leveled up the Shout to 3 by the time the first one is played to loop the unique Paarthurnax or Tazkad, there is an additional safety measure in place to prevent such a thing. It also prevents cycling the same copy of Giant Bat multiple times in the same turn for massive life gain if that were the only copy played until that point of the game. To me, it also fits the “lore” of the card; the action is called Soul Tear – is that really something that can happen to the same creature more than once?
- Magicka cost increased from 3 to 4
I wanted to include another small nerf to Ramp Scout, but it was hard to pinpoint exactly the right card. Hist Grove is a decent choice, I feel, because of a few things:
- It is simultaneously one of the main win conditions and the means with which to achieve that win condition
- Tree Minder exists on turn three already, so bumping up Hist Grove’s cost doesn’t immediately end Ramp’s ability to start ramping on turns 2/3
- It is a monthly reward card from September 2016 – over 14 months ago from the time I’m writing this. There has been no way to receive this card besides soul summoning (crafting) it for over a year, and this does slightly raise the barrier to entry to new players when an unobtainable card has been so staple for so long
Gaining max magicka repeatedly and then playing giant things is not particularly interesting or interactive. As Scout, you look for ramp and then you look for the big things. Against Scout, you hope to kill them before the ramp reaches a peak or hope they simply don’t draw enough of it. In Hearthstone, the win rate of Midrange Druid in my time (and the feeling of playing against it) changed dramatically depending on whether or not Wild Growth was drawn to be played in the first couple turns.
In this game, we have tons of Wild Growths – way more than I would have expected. Tree Minder and Hist Grove on three, Thorn Histmage’s ridiculous value on five, and Spine of Eldersblood on six, although many Ramp Scouts are content to “only” play nine effective Wild Growths. (Other options such as Archein Venomtongue exist, but come with appropriate drawbacks and only see play in other archetypes.) As such, it’s not simply one Wild Growth and then hoping your opponent can’t capitalize on playing everything one turn sooner with a perfect curve, it’s often three or four turns in a row of this type of ramp attached to reasonable bodies like Thorn Histmage, causing games where one player has almost double the magicka of the opponent by turn six or seven to not be infrequent.
The perfect Ramp Start of a turn three Wild Growth effect into a Thorn Histmage is very hard to beat. Moving Hist Grove to four makes it occur half as often, with only Tree Minder. I also caution against printing more simple Wild Growth + upside cards, and would prefer they have drawbacks or encourage specific deck-building like Archein Venomtongue. Although Tree Minder has more value on the board on turn three than Hist Grove, the trade-off is that Hist Grove has way more value in the late game, so it’s a more appropriate nerf in my opinion as it doubles as a win condition. This has the upside of leaving Scout with a reasonable three-magicka play to begin ramping.
With this proposed change, I believe Hist Grove would remain part of the win condition of Scout, just at a more appropriate power level to allow new win conditions to be released and thrive, something to consider if we want new expansions to be successful for Ramp and other archetypes.
- Text changed from “When an enemy rune is destroyed” to “After an enemy rune is destroyed”
- Stats reduced from 3/4 to 3/3
Dawnstar Healer. Relentless Raider.
Both of the cards I just mentioned have seen the exact same text change I’m proposing to Ulfric’s Housecarl, and it’s actually a little insane to me that Housecarl hasn’t received the same treatment yet. Clearly, Dawnstar and Raider both see a copious amount of play in their current forms, and while they were actually nerfed to prevent various one-turn-kills from being unstoppable by Prophecies (Ring of Namira with double Dawnstar, and Wispmother summoning 5 Relentless Raiders), the nerfs also served to make the games feel more fair in everyday use, as the vast majority of decks using the two cards were not aiming to win with one-turn-kills.
Ulfric’s Housecarl has no such one-turn-kill strategy associated with it, but the value it generates is absolutely immense for an Aggro strategy and this would allow some counter-play with the Prophecy mechanic. Getting a Lightning Bolt after the opponent had played an Ulfric’s Housecarl and started going for runes would give you the choice of actually denying the Housecarl’s card draw entirely, as opposed to them still getting the first card draw at least. This would give the reactive player more decent choices depending on the board state.
The stat nerf, as with the nerf to the Soul Tear buffs I proposed, would have less of an impact in my opinion. Although much of Ulfric’s Housecarl’s value occurs on the turn it is summoned, I do think allowing for easier trades into it and making it susceptible to common removal like Crushing Blow and Ice Storm is relevant.
- Magicka cost increased from 3 to 4
This is a simple one. I don’t find Crusader’s Assault oppressive, and I very much like the options it gives to Crusader decks, but it fills a “jack-of-all-trades” role in Aggro in particular. It offers easier trades into problematic Guards while also helping to not lose card advantage at a very low cost. It can also be used with cards like Relentless Raider and Reive, Blademaster for huge potential value since those effects damage the opponent (sometimes multiple times in the case of Raider) and count as pilfering for the sake of the Assault. I think increasing the cost to four would make it less of an automatic three-of in Aggro Crusader while retaining its utility in the deck and others.
Notably, this card would still be able to be played with Unstoppable Rage in the same turn, but Ravenous Hunger > Crusader’s Assault > Unstoppable Rage would no longer be possible at 12 magicka from hand.
- Magicka cost increased from 7 to 8
- At the end of the effect, now states, “Any Breakthrough damage dealt in this way is halved (rounded up).”
I like this card a lot. There, I said it. I think it’s one of the few cards that breaks the monotony that Hearthstone falls under so much of the time which also occasionally plagues Legends, and that is the power of simply playing on curve as an Aggro or Midrange deck, or reacting on curve as a Control deck. I think Rage promotes unique deck-building, allows decks with Strength to function in the Control role, and also actually gives players something to attempt to play around that involves thinking about the relative power level of different creatures on the board when combined with Rage, and how punishing each situation would be. So no, I do not want to kill the card – apologies to some of you out there.
In that vein, I think increasing this card to eight magicka hardly kills the card. In fact, I think it’s a pretty reasonable cost since many of the from-hand combos are still possible: Fighters Guild, Sanctuary Pet, Ravenous Hunger, Falkreath Defiler, Moonlight Werebat, etc. can all still be played the same turn as Rage. In addition, Warrior can use Magicka Ramp to play the more powerful cards in one turn despite them costing more than 12 total magicka, and Archer can generate Completed Contracts to bypass this restriction.
Halving the Breakthrough damage is the questionable potential nerf, and this kills a lot of the one-turn-kill potential of the card. I still want Breakthrough to deal some amount of damage, and I definitely still think it needs to work on Lethal and Drain in full to support a viable Control deck using Strength, which is otherwise very hard to justify. However, reducing the chance of the Rage completely destroying your life total makes it feel a little less terrible to lose to in those circumstances. The Child of Hircine combo is still totally possible, yet a little more out of the way with Rage’s increased cost, and most Control Rage decks don’t play Child in the first place. This also affects curving from Night Shadow into Unstoppable Rage immediately, and removes Breakthrough lethals from that equation somewhat, still allowing it to generate life gain.
With this change, even though Breakthrough becomes less of a game-ender, Unstoppable Rage can still adequately perform its main function – punishing the stacking of a single lane – at a more appropriate cost. Games immediately end less of the time, Rage+Drain/Lethal is still possible from hand at a slightly higher cost and still need to be played around, and the edge of the card would be taken off while keeping it as one of the most powerful options in Strength, in my opinion.
Thieves Guild Recruit
- Text changed to “Summon: Draw a card. If it costs 7 or more, reduce its cost by 1.”
This card might seem a little out of place on this list, but I believe this is one of the most pushed cards in Legends and I’m shocked very few people talk about its random ability to just outright win games in a way that’s near impossible to play around – something it has been doing for the 15 months I’ve been playing Legends. In addition, I think this theoretical patch would be a good time to nerf the card since it is an immediate 3-of in two of the three decks we want to reign in the power level of: Ramp Scout and Rage Archer.
A seemingly innocuous card like Thieves Guild Recuit is actually one of the main reasons you see so many Ramp Scout decks, but not so many Ramp decks in other classes, as well as so many Rage Archer decks, but not so many Rage decks in other classes. Besides being reasonable card draw (Hearthstone’s Novice Engineer with +1 Health), it often comes attached with a free 2-magicka bonus in those decks by reducing a powerful play for later. It does so as randomly as the cards are arranged on top of your deck and enables some of the least interactive games imaginable, as the opponent will have no idea if it even reduced something in the first place, or what it could be.
Seven-magicka Tazkads, 10-magicka Odahviings and Paarthurnaxes, and of course, the absolute insanity that can happen when an Unstoppable Rage is reduced by two – with my changes, a 5-cost Rage is not possble with those two cards, and instead of the new base cost of Rage would be potentially decreased down to seven if drawn off of the “new” Thieves Guild Recruit. This drastically cuts down on the crazy from-hand combo potential in Rage decks and the speed at which they can start occurring. In Ramp decks, it stops the already solid magicka ramp from capping out at a card that is not only coming out a couple turns early, but also vastly undercosted for what it does. Turn one ring into Thieves Guild, turn two ring into Tree Minder, turn three Ring into Thorn Histmage, and turn four 7-cost Tazkad or Red Bramman should not happen, yet it has happened – with current Soul Tear allowing for the immediate level 1 reuse of those cards to boot.
The main problem even outside those best-case scenarios is the issue with playing around a card before it would otherwise be legally playable, something that would still be possible with my change but less drastic. A free two magicka reduction can be compared to Hearthstone’s pre-nerf Innervate, when it used to gain two mana crystals instead of one. Pre-nerf Innervate showed how absurd getting that kind of effective reduction was, and with Thieves Guild Recruit, the ability to capitalize on that reduction is usually not immediate but has quite the impact and doesn’t even lose you any card advantage like the investment of an Innervate would.
I have heard some notable players call Thieves Guild Recruit one of the worst card designs in Legends, yet it often gets a pass because on the surface, it’s not a huge effect. However, I believe in its current form, it has been pushing decks into very specific classes through the occasional benefit of massively cheating the magicka curve and has overstayed its welcome.
With these nerfs, I believe Soul Tear, Hist Grove, Ulfric’s Housecarl, and Unstoppable Rage would feel much fairer while powerful support cards like Thieves Guild Recruit and Crusader’s Assault would be reigned in somewhat. The goal here isn’t to make any of these unplayable, but make room for future cards to seem more enticing. I believe should this theoretical patch become a reality, all the cards mentioned would continue to see play with Ramp Scout, Rage Archer, and Aggro Crusader forming parts of the meta, yet with many of the worst parts of each reigned in somewhat. Other Aggro and Token decks would be that much closer in power level to those of Crusader, Unstoppable Rage would deal less one-turn-kills and there would be more of a reason to experiment with it in Crusader and Warrior as opposed to simply Archer, and Ramp Scout would keep the core that made it a strong deck with a bit more room for other, faster Midrange decks to compete with it through decreased consistency in ramp and Soul Tear usage.
None of this magically makes Return to Clockwork City more powerful than it is, but I believe if this patch were enacted, it would serve to change ladder trends more than the last three days with Clockwork City have. In reality, that would be my goal, and something I think the developers should focus on: making things feel different more often. I’m sure “best” decks would appear yet again, and maybe even a couple potentially overpowered once with future releases, but as long as the cycle continues and strategies continue to evolve, that’s the fun of card games.
Hopefully you all enjoyed the read, and until next time, here’s hoping for a vibrant and changing meta as we move into 2018!