See the happy chap above? He haunts my nightmares. Screaming “GET IN HERE” and multiplying himself before hurling at my face to deal 3, 6, 9, 12, 24, 48 damage. He’s Hearthstone’s biggest villain, despite being a fairly innocuous looking 3/3 for 5 who has to take damage to do anything special. Here’s exactly why Grim Patron should be nerfed.
Grim Patron is a Hearthstone card released in the Blackrock Mountain adventure mode. Here’s what he looks like:
So, if you deal him one damage, he’ll spawn a copy. Another and there will be three patrons on board, two at full health and the original with a single hit point left. If he takes any further damage, he’ll die without incident - but his two friends are ready to keep multiplying. With smart attacks, some AoE spells and other effects, you can build up a nice little army of three-power fellas.
That doesn’t sound that bad to me. Are you sure you aren’t just a huge whining baby chuffster?
Alright smart-ass, it’s not just the card itself, it’s the combinations it’s used in that create unbalanced and game-ruining situations. Specifically, these two cards:
These can lead to massive attacks in single turns from almost any board state, including completely empty. The Warsong Commander means that each copy of a Grim Patron can attack the same turn it comes into play. This makes clearing out an opponent’s board very easy if they have just a couple of 1-2 power minions. Equally it means any new Patrons can go to the face instead.
The Berserker’s interaction is that with more Grim Patron bodies it gets more triggers on its ability and can very quickly build into the double figures. When you play this card along with the Commander, the additional power doesn’t stop the charge having already been applied.
Cards that hit all minions for low amounts of damage cheaply can therefore build a Frothing Berserker up to 15 damage quickly, along with giving you (say) five patrons. 5 by 3 plus 15 = 30, the starting life total of a player in Hearthstone. Of course, that involves building the perfect hand and being able to cast it all.
Alright, so it’s a strong strategy. There are lots of those in this, a strategy game.
Right, but usually there’s counter-play. A way to go under or over a strategy - either beat it before it gets going or play an even more powerful set of cards to annihilate its plans.
To kick off, you can’t go over Grim Patron Warrior decks. The damage output is too high, the removal options too strong. A single massive taunter will be easily executed or killed off by excess damage. Sets of small ones are useless against charging Patrons and the AoE damage used to multiply them.
Board clearing effects are all well and good but none of them can actually interrupt the combo and good players will very, very rarely be in a position where they give you the turn to cast them. The only class that perhaps has the survivability tools to take a full Patron Shotgun to the face and come out smiling? Warrior - who will probably be playing the deck themselves.
So go under it? Face Hunter, Aggro Paladin - they’re pretty strong decks.
See what I was just saying about Warrior survivability? That also makes it a naturally incredibly strong class against faster strategies. The hero power is an obvious boon, being more powerful than Priest since it can increase total life to more than 30. Two cards particularly spring to mind too, Armorsmith and Shield Block:
Think of these cards both in terms of how much ‘life’ you are gaining from playing them. Shield Block is five, with a card drawn to replace it, digging you ever deeper to either more survivability or a quicker kill. Armorsmith is five minimum, with a much higher top end, though slightly more esoterically and with more ways for it to be played around.
If you don’t kill an Armorsmith immediately, it will begin to generate tonnes of value for your warrior opponent. In this way it is like a taunt creature - it must be targeted first and removed. Taunts are effectively life-gain spells against dedicated aggressive strategies, because every time damage is used to kill a taunt minion, it’s damage that wasn’t used on the life total. You deal four damage to an armorsmith, the warrior gets one armour, you move on.
When you consider that you may need to deal more than one instance of damage to the armorsmith, or it could come down with a Whirlwind or the deathrattle of a Death’s Bite, gaining even more armor before you’ve even touched it. Take it from someone with many a Steady Shot activated in his playtime, turn two Armorsmith, turn three Shield Block may as well be game over.
Alright, so you’ve had a problem with it. I’m sure the pros are doing fine, or there’d be more noise.
Well, they’re all playing it, if that’s what you mean. One of Patron’s saving graces is it is a pain in the ass to play properly, punishes mistakes with quick losses and requires a lot of patience. but if you’re willing to wait and have the time to spend perfecting a digital card game, it’s reaping massive rewards on the pro circuit.
Remember how we talked about Warrior being the most survivable? In this VOD from a pro clanwar, Patron manages to do 49 damage from a completely empty board at start of turn.
As the commentator’s discuss, there’s possible ways this could have gone differently. If Trump plays Dr. Boom, the first whirlwind from Sjow will pop the two bots and possibly stunt his attacks. Equally, Sjow could have played slightly more optimally for some more damage or dodged the boom bots with differing plays - that’s not really the point.
Blizzard have nerfed decks like this in the past. Miracle Rogue was abusive in a similar way, either by replaying Leeroy Jenkins several times in one turn for multiple doses of 6 damage or making one massive-power Edwin Van Cleef. It won on a similar turn to Patron with a good draw, though Patron can do horrible things as early as turn 7 thanks to Emperor Thaurissan.
This guy might be the real evil of the piece. He’s not only a vital part of this deck, but many mid-range and combo decks are playing it as well. Emperor is a wheelhouse for any strategy that’s interested in playing a bunch of cards in one turn and his ability is, fundamentally, quite broken.
So maybe it isn’t just a case of nerf Patron, but any one of the cards in the deck as a whole?
Sure, but Patron is definitely ‘the problem’. Without it there’s still an interesting mid-range Warrior deck there that is focused on damaging its own minions for some gain. It would require a long period of redevelopment by the community to find the optimal build and likely would no longer be top-tier, but there would be play to it, counter-strategies, varied outcomes and interesting lines of thought - not the current situation.
There is precedent for nerfs too. Redditor TwinkleTwinkleBaby put it as well as anyone:
“At this point it's just a matter of when (and how). Patron Warrior has two big grievances against it. The deck can be brutally uninteractive, which is why they nerfed Miracle. And it can punish you for playing your minions for board control, which is why they nerfed Buzzard/Unleash. There are explicit quotes from Blizzard about those two nerfs, both of which can be applied directly to GPW. I just hope they nerf it with the upcoming TGT patch, instead of waiting to see if the new cards ‘fix’ the deck.”
Blizzard have recently spoken about not wanting to nerf cards and are clearly, as predicted, waiting to see if TGT fixes the problem. I can’t see any cards that could, as the aim of the expansion seems to be to deal with an overabundance of aggro decks. That’s fine, but could leave us in a world even further dominated by Patron as they either ignore the now-non-existent aggro threat or play even more efficient answers against them.
A world without Patron, meanwhile, opens up more decks playing smaller creatures. Maybe that only increases the power of aggro, but it also allows smaller taunt cards to be useful again. Deathlord becomes more useful when it no longer has to worry about being a completely dead draw against a significant portion of the field. More variety would come out of a Patron nerf and if it causes further problems, those can be dealt with in a similar manner.
What about you folks? What would you happily rid from your Hearthstone experience, and how?