Patches the pirate from Hearthstone - artwork

If you haven't been paying attention to Hearthstone the past few months, pretty much all you need to know is that the balance is currently out of whack. The most popular and powerful decks right now are either running the aggressive pirate package, or the extremely powerful combination of Reno Jackson and Kazzakus. So even though there are numerous viable classes and decks the vast majority of them play in almost exactly the same way, with the same few powerful cards dictating the overall strategy.

And since you can only play against the same thing a certain number of times before slowly losing your sanity, the Hearthstone community has been in a rather constant state of uproar ever since the latest Mean Streets of Gadgetzan expansion. Thankfully, there appears to be a light on the horizon as Hearthstone's Game Director Ben Brode has just come out to discuss the meta, balance, and the state of Shaman. If you're interested in all of the details you'll find Brode's post on the official forums, but if you're just looking for the short version allow me to share with you a few choice quotes:

"I should start by saying that we truly appreciate all of your feedback. I think Hearthstone is at its best when the development team and the community discuss and share ideas back and forth. These are real issues, and hearing about your experiences has been helpful for us in determining next steps.

I wanted to go through some stats about the current meta, and talk about how we analyze them. Over the last two weeks, 30% of players are piloting Shaman at Legend. If you include all ranks, 17% of players are playing Shaman. This includes several decks: Aggro Shaman, Midrange Shaman, Control Shaman and Jade Shaman. The worst point of imbalance in our history was Undertaker Hunter, where Hunter was played by 35% of players across all ranks. The Pirate 'package' of Small-Time Buccaneer and Patches the Pirate is played in about 50% of all decks at rank 5 and above.

Right now, Aggro Shaman is one of our highest win-rate deck, but has a 35% win rate vs Control Warrior decks that are tuned to beat them. Reno Mage is also a bad match up for them. Does this mean that it has become 'correct' to play Control Warrior? It depends on the other decks in the meta, and whether Aggro Shaman continues to become more popular. Fibonacci recently took advantage of the predictable meta and built a Control Warrior deck that did very well against Aggro Shaman.

We believe that it's important to let good players recognize shifts in the meta, and capitalize on their knowledge before the meta shifts and the 'solution' changes. This is one of biggest reasons why we don't nerf cards very frequently. When metas stagnate for too long; When there are no good counters; When the best decks aren't fun to play or lose to; these are all reasons we have made balance adjustments in the past. If a deck is popular for a few weeks, that isn't a reason to make a nerf on its own. We'd have to be concerned about the fun, not be seeing any emerging counter-strategies, or be far enough away from a new content release to be worried about stagnation for a long time.

So that brings us to today. Another consideration for making a balance adjustment is planning around a client patch for each of our platforms. We are working on the ability to stream balance adjustments (and other content) directly to players' devices, but until we have that ability, we need to release a client patch to make a change to a card. Our next patch is planned for around the end of this month. You can expect an announcement from us regarding balance changes either way in the week or so leading up to that date."

What I find really interesting is that Brode just confirmed 50% of all 'serious' decks run the aggressive pirate package, which means that 50% of the current decks have almost exactly the same opener! No wonder Hearthstone is starting to look a bit stale, that number is downright ridiculous!

On the positive side, it appears we're only going to have to endure this for another month as Brode has also announced a balance patch set for late February. There are no details right now, but I hope its going to tone down both pirates and Shaman, while also making Hunter and Paladin into actual classes you can play on the ladder without being at a massive, massive disadvantage. As for the Reno decks, I don't think we need to worry about them as the upcoming rotation will most likely bring them down into line given that Reno himself will be taking a Wild vacation.