"Everyone, get in here!"
If you've played Hearthstone at any point in the past six months, you've probably heard those words. They are the battlecry of the Grim Patron - a self-multiplying card that gave rise to one of the most dominant decks in the game's short history. Now that deck is gone, consigned to history alongside the Starving Buzzard and other formerly dominant Hearthstone strategies.
What prompted Blizzard to finally pull the trigger after being so reticent to pull out the nerfbat? What made the Grim Patron deck so powerful in the first place? And where does Hearthstone's competitive game stand after the rebalance? Here are a few answers.
How did the Grim Patron deck work?
The Grim Patron deck was based on a few elements. There was the Grim Patron itself - a card with three attack and three health that could be deployed for five mana. By itself it doesn't seem that amazing, but the Grim Patron has the ability to multiply everytime it survive damage, and the Warrior happens to have a card that allows him to deal damage to the whole field. Use a couple Whirlwinds and suddenly the whole field is swarming with Grim Patrons.
But that in itself wasn't what made Grim Patron so good. Grim Patron decks also had a card called the Warsong Commander, which allowed an card with three or less attack to strike immediately after being summoned. So a Warrior with a Grim Patron and Warsong Commander on the field could essentially create an army that could move in one turn. And as the cherry on top, a Frothing Berserker could buff itself for every minion damaged by Whirlwind. Yikes.
The standard strategy for a Grim Patron player was to effectively stall until the mid-game by using weapons like Death's Bite to clear the field. It could be overrun and defeated by a fast-paced deck, but if the Warrior survived the initial wave, the Grim Patron combo would probably win.
Because the deck was extremely reliable and had very few weaknesses, it became one of the most popular combos in the game. The Grim Patron deck owned LiquidHearth's power rankings for much of the year, and was quite popular in the upper echeleons of the ladder and in tournaments. It wasn't the easiest deck in the world to construct if you were strictly free-to-play - Warrior cards tend to be pretty expensive, and the Grim Patron is only available via the Blackrock Mountain adventure - but once you had it, you could beat pretty much anyone with it.
Blizzard opted to target one particular card, the Warsong Commander, by completely changing its ability text. Now, instead of giving a minion with three or less attack the Charge ability when it is summoned, it gives minions who already have Charge an additional point of attack. As one commenter points out, the new ability effectively makes the Warsong Commander into a Dire Wolf Alpha - a cheaper and thus easier to deploy card. It also means that the Warsong Commander no longer has any synergy with the Grim Patron.
With the removal of the Warsong Commander from the equation, Grim Patron Warriors can no longer setup and execute their combo in a single turn, removing its single greatest advantage. As a result, the deck can no longer be considered competitively viable. The same goes for the Warsong Commander, which is apt to fade into obscurity now that its primary function is gone.
Why nerf the Grim Patron?
Up until now Blizzard has been reluctant to make wholesale changes to cards after release. The popularity of the Grim Patron deck essentially forced their hand, though. Six months at the top of the ladder alongside of a handful of other powerful decks had made the metagame stale and predictable, and even the recent release of The Grand Tournament hadn't done a lot to shake things up. So Blizzard did what they had to do.
One of the problems with the Grim Patron deck was that it had the effect of overcentralizing the metagame. Its mere presence had the effect of eliminating certain decks because they didn't match up well to Grim Patron. Competitive Pokémon players can certainly relate to this problem in light of the dominance of monsters like Salamence over the years.
By effectively removing the Grim Patron deck from play, they are opening the way for players to begin experimenting with new combos and classes. Certain standbys like Midrange Hunter and Handlock and Midrange Hunter will no doubt remain popular, but the table has been set for the metagame to begin growing once again.
What does this mean for Hearthstone?
In the short-term, it means that Control Warriors are going to be the most popular Warrior variant. Already fairly popular, the only thing that kept it rising from the top of the heap was the sheer power of the Grim Patron combination. Of course, if you want to craft a Control Warrior for yourself, you're going to have to start saving up dust. Due its top-heavy nature, some variants of the deck require as many as eight legendary cards, all of which are very expensive and difficult to obtain.
The general metagame is still shaking out, but we'll have a better idea of where things are going at the forthcoming Hearthstone World Championship, which takes place at BlizzCon in early November. Top players will have to hurry, though. With the Grim Patron no longer viable, they'll have only a few short weeks to craft and test new decks for the competition. In the meantime, there's speculation that a new adventure will be coming soon, bringing with it even more new cards.
Blizzard, for its part, doesn't seem keen to bring out the nerfbat again anytime soon. "Going forward, we will continue to stand by our stance that we will only make adjustments to cards when we feel it is completely necessary and allow the injection of new cards into the game help our players define what the meta evolves into. In the case of Warsong Commander, we felt this change was necessary to help expand both future design space and to stand by our overarching game philosophy that battles between minions and fighting for board control is what makes Hearthstone fun and compelling," Blizzard community manager Zeriyah wrote on the official forums.
Among top Hearthstone players, the reaction to the nerf has been mostly positive, even if a few bemoan the missed opportunity to do something new and interesting with the Warsong Commander. Controversies remain, among them Blizzard's decision to double down on cards with random effects, putting players at the mercy of the all-mighty random number generator.
Ultimately, the Grim Patron controversy was a sympton of Hearthstone's rapid expansion since launch - a problem that every successful competitive game has had to deal with. There will be more, especially as Hearthstone continues to add cards. But for now, the Grim Patron's familiar cry appears to be a thing of the past.