Hearthstone’s Starving Buzzard Nerf Could Be Bad News for the Game

A few weeks ago Hearthstone had a problem. With the release of new cards in curse of Naxxramas, the Hunter class had gone from being ignored by most players to making up 70% of the ranked ladder. Mad Scientist made the class’s powerful secrets viable, Haunted Creeper’s beast tag gave the powerful card amazing synergy with key Hunter cards, and Loatheb helped the once-fragile rush deck to stabilize its board presence. To make matters worse, many of the only cards that could counter these strengths were hunter-exclusive. The deck was inarguably overpowered and in need of a nerf, but Blizzard may have taken things too far with their response.

On September 22, Blizzard rolled out a patch for Hearthstone that changed two key cards. Leeroy Jenkins, a powerful charger who was used in many 20+ damage finishers, had his mana cost raised from four to five, effectively making those deadly combos impossible. This was, on the whole, a positive change – it helped to slow down Hearthstone‘s burst-heavy meta to something more control-oriented, and while it made Leeroy weaker, it hasn’t made him unusable. A six attack charge for five mana is still strong and fast enough to work in rushdown decks, so the card’s original design has been preserved while eliminating the factor that made him so exploitable with cards like Shadowstep.

Hunter’s main draw engine, Starving Buzzard, was also nerfed – though “crippled” might be a better word to describe it. The card was changed from two mana 2/1 to a whopping five mana 3/2, giving it effectively the worst stats in the game. Buzzard’s effect is undeniably powerful – drawing a card every time you summon a beast can create massive advantages, especially in conjunction with the field-spamming Unleash the Hounds – but it’s not quite powerful enough to warrant that cost and stat line. For the same price Gadgetzen Auctioneer is a 4/4 and lets you draw every time you cast a spell, while for one mana less Cult Master has one more attack and can proc draws off of every minion on your board – not just beasts. Instead of redesigning Buzzard to be less broken and more fun, Blizzard chose to render the card useless.

The reasons for this are clear – Blizzcon is right around the corner, and they needed to make a quick change that pro players could get used to in order to prevent a string of boring Hunter mirror matches. They’ve effectively banned Buzzard from play by making it unplayable, and I’m afraid that might set a dangerous precedent. One of the things I like about Hearthstone is that it can be redesigned on the fly for the sake of balance. Bad cards can be made good through alteration, which means that nothing has to be out-and-out banned. The more cards in a CCG are viable, the more interesting the game is for everyone. Of course this change was made in the spirit of that philosophy – it’s boring when Hunter is the only viable deck – but their only solution was to take a card out of the game entirely, which is disappointing to say the least.

Hopefully Blizzard will revisit this nerf after Blizzcon is over and revamp the card to make it usable again. The change hasn’t completely destroyed the hunter deck, but without its draw engine it’s far and away the least consistent class in the game. It would be nice to be able to use the card – even if I have to use it in a substantially different way – rather than simply see it take up space in my collection.