Iksar on Naga Sea Witch & Standard Balance

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Hearthstone’s Senior Game Designer made some comments on both Standard and Wild balance.

The issue of Naga Sea Witch has been a prominent one ever since the card was changed and all the Giant decks started popping up in Wild. Even though Mike Donais and Ben Brode have stated that they wouldn’t be surprised at an upcoming nerf of the card, nothing has been done so far. Even though NSW Giant decks don’t feature as high winrates, they are extremely unfun to play against. The most latest community reaction on this matter is a paid ad on Hearthstone’s subreddit by u/JamieFTW, which has received a lot of praise.

When asked on Twitter about both Naga Sea Witch and the state of Standard, Dean “Iksar” Ayala responded that the team is looking for the best way to address NSW, while it’s probably to early to make balance changes to Standard cards.

Blizzard LogoAugust Dean Ayala

For NSW it’s one of those strategies that is pretty cool to see once in awhile but when it’s a core part of the meta it gets really in-fun to play against. Just like anything else, it takes some time to evaluate whether or not it’s going to be a flavor of the week….. (source)

Or more long-term. At this point it feels like it’s going to be a higher than we would like population unless a change happens, so we’ve been discussing how best to go forward with that if it becomes necessary. (source)

As far as standard goes, every day we are playing on the ladder and evaluating player data. Every expansion we prep balance changes for high population or unfun community decks/cards, but I think it’s still too early to make an informed enough decision on a balance patch. (source)

The developer clarified these tweets with a big post on Reddit. He mentioned that the team has discussed the following cards and decks for potential changes: Sunkeeper Tarim, Call to Arms, Baku Paladin Hero Power, Spiteful Summoner, Possessed Lackey, Bloodreaver Gul’dan, Dark Pact, Kobold Librarian, Quest Rogue, and Doomguard.

Blizzard LogoIksarHS

This was a tweet reply to someone asking, but I’ll try to give more context here.

When we say we’re evaluating and playtesting every day, it’s actually happening. Not every time we speak on reddit or twitter (almost never, actually) is going to be an announcement of some grand change we’ve made. What we can do is be open about what our current thoughts are and the kinds of things we’ve been thinking about changing. When a decision does get made, community and dev will work together on drafting an official message, localization will translate that message into many different languages, then we’ll simultaneously release that message to every region.

So, what have we been thinking about? For NSW, I think the original tweet was taken out of context, but that’s probably my fault for splitting the message up. What I intended to say is that it takes time to understand whether a strategy is a flavor of the week, but in the case of NSW decks, that time has passed. We’ve been discussing a variety of changes for either just the cost or design. We haven’t 100% landed on one yet, but will continue this discussion when we do.

For Standard, what we generally do is look at all the high population, high win-rate, or potentially unfun cards and discuss changes to them so we’re ready when the time comes. We would not change all of these cards, but these are the cards we’ve discussed. Sunkeeper, Call to Arms, Baku Paladin Hero Power, Spiteful, Lackey, Gul’dan, Dark Pact, Librarian, Quest Rogue, and Doomguard. Again, we wouldn’t change every single one of those, but in the spirit of being open about what card changes we’ve been discussing/playtesting, those are it. I know a lot of you want to know the exact timeline for when a decision will be made, but reddit/twitter isn’t going to be the place where that is discussed, at least from individual developers. We’ll continue having these discussions at work this week and the next time you hear more about a potential balance/design patch will likely be from an official channel.

Iksar went on to answer the community’s questions. When asked about the fact the two most powerful classes (Warlock and Paladin) have mostly unchanged decks, even with the release of The Witchwood, he responded that personally he didn’t expect Even Paladin to be so successful and that it’s natural that Cubelock is still dominant to counter all the Paladin decks.

Blizzard LogoIksarHS

We knew they were risks going in. Rather than do a balance patch on launch when so much was changing we opted to wait and see how the first few weeks went. I think the biggest unexpected deck for me personally was even-paladin. It performed so well that it drove the population of paladin up and warped the meta in such a way that cubelock was a really strong deck to play even if there were enough metagame counters for it. I actually think the dynamic of even/odd paladin is different enough that it’s cool to see even if a lot of the cards in the decks are the same as pre-rotation, it’s just that the cube population gets a lot higher because of it and the meta starts to feel similar to pre-witchwood. These are all the things you have to learn over the first few weeks in order to make a good decision on how to move forward. (source)

For the Hearthstone team, Quest Rogue should be a niche deck meant to counter fatigue/extremely greedy decks. How to deal with The Caverns Below is one of the most debated topics internally.

Blizzard LogoIksarHS

When you say “Quest Rogue” you mean the Rogue quest card itself right? Just asking for clarity.

Probably the card itself, yes. Quest Rogue matchups are so polarizing that they can leave you feeling like the outcome of the match is decided before the game begins rather than what happened during the game. It’s fine if Quest Rogue is a niche metagame counter for fatigue decks, but it become an issue if it becomes a metagame counter for a huge variety of control decks. I would say this is the most debated one internally, because it’s unclear if we’re actually facing a current of future ‘meta of the quest rogue’ problem. Part of the reason to list all the things we’re discussing is to gauge what you are the most important issues to address, or if there is anything unlisted that you think is worth talking about. (source)



I know that sometimes “stuff happens” with these kinds of things, but perhaps I could just put forth this question: If you guys didn’t really want to see a control-stomper in the meta, why did you print Sonya after gutting quest rogue the first time around?

Well, like I said we think it’s okay if it’s a niche deck to play against extremely greedy archetypes. I also don’t think the entire identity of Sonya is quest rogue. We knew the card would help quest rogue going in, but not to the degree that it would make the deck dominant. I think this has been true so far. (source)

Someone complained about Hunter being too powerful, but the team has no changed planned for Rexxar.

Blizzard LogoIksarHS

We don’t currently have any changes in testing or planned for current Hunter cards. People are playing Spell-hunter, Mid-Range Hunter, and Odd-Hunter on ladder right now and they all feel like they are in a good place to us. (source)

According to Ayala, if they change Baku the Mooneater to upgrade Hero Powers differently, then they would also change Justicar Truehart. People thought this is a lazy solution, especially since Justicar was never a problematic card, but it’s also a matter of consistency. The most obvious change to Odd Paladin’s Hero Power is to make a single 2/2 dude.

Blizzard LogoIksarHS

If you did end up changing baku paladin’s hero power would said change also apply to justicar trueheart since they both use the same upgraded hero powers?

Probably both. We haven’t discussed that with all the people that would need to have an opinion, but currently I think both is the direction we’d lean if we felt odd paladin was becoming oppressive to other decks. Lately popularity seems to have shifted to Murloc and Even Paladin decks, though. (source)



that’s such a lazy approach. nobody has ever complained about justicar’s paladin hero power

Yeah, we’re aware of that. It’s mostly a question of how important is it to keep Baku and Justicar’s hero powers consistent vs how important it is to keep Justicar’s hero power exactly the same. Neither strike me as a ‘we MUST do this’ but we still have to make a decision. Also, I should repeat that we were discussing hypothetical changes to the hero power if we end up needing to address odd-paladin, not ones we’re actually doing. If you have an opinion on what we should do, that is the whole intention of discussing it publicly. (source)



The most obvious one (at least to me) is to make the minion a 2/2. I think some people would argue that’s even better, but I think the minion swarm nature of the deck and how you can buff multiple targets is where most of the power lies. If odd paladin truly was a problem and that wasn’t enough, we would probably make either the 2/2 minion not a silver hand recruit to get buffed by recruit cards, or change the 1/1 minions to new minions for the same reason. Those are the three changes we’d been considering if we needed to change it in some way. (source)

Lastly, as far as Wild balance is concerned, Barnes is also considered a problematic card, from the time it was still in Standard. The team was considering changing this card, but they’ve removed it from their list for the time being.

Blizzard LogoIksarHS

We talked about Barnes for awhile but ultimately removed it from the list of cards we were considering changing, at least for the time being. Most Wild decks have some way to deal with Barnes, and he creates some interesting archetypes that are fun for people to play. I would agree it can be frustrating to lose to a T4 Barnes, but in the end we have to weigh all the positives and negatives of a card and make a judgment call. For now, we think there are enough answers out there for Barnes strategies that it doesn’t warrant making a change. (source)

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