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After a week of silence, Valve have dropped the hammer. Alongside a sizable patch that introduced a leveling and skill rating systems, the developers also addressed a number of the strongest and most problematic cards in the game. But how will this affect the metagame overall? Let’s take a look at the nerfs and buffs and do a quick patch analysis.



Axe

  • Base stats changed from 7/2/11 to 6/2/10

Previously, Axe was by far the strongest red hero, potentially the best in the game too. At 7/2/11, he was hard, downright impossible to kill and challenge multiple heroes 1v1. With his numbers tweaked now, he’s losing a lot of firepower, especially in his ability to one-shot certain heroes.

Blue benefits a lot for the change, as many of their heroes can now survive the initial blow from Axe. This includes Earthshaker, Ogre Magi, Zeus and the now buffed Outworld Devourer. Other high tier heroes like Bounty Hunter and Drow Ranger are also save on the initial hit. Overall, there are a total of 8 more heroes Axe can’t outright melt from 100 to 0.

Additionally, Keefe and Centaur Warrunner join Tidehunter as the heroes that can withstand more than two blows from Axe, though it’s unlikely this will cause a surge in their popularity.

Verdict: I expect Axe to remain the top red hero alongside Legion Commander. Even with his stats tweaked, Berserker’s Call is too much to pass on, being red’s only reliable AoE removal. What I expect to happen, however, is blue (and mono blue in particular) becoming much better. Ogre Magi and Zeus have been staple blue heroes since day 1, and some players have called Earthshaker as the best fifth hero of the color. All of them now get to live an extra round against Axe.



Bloodseeker

  • Base stats changed from 7/6 to 7/7.
  • Blood Rage (signature spell) mana cost changed from 5 to 4.

I’ve always liked Bloodseeker and the idea of a perpetually healing hero. However, you can’t perpetually heal when you’re perpetually dead. At 6 health, there were too many heroes in the game that could one-shot BS. And even at 4 mana, Blood Rage remains a bad card for constructed, because other black hero options are still just better.

Verdict: Yet, even at 7 health, I don’t see how Bloodseeker will reliably survive to do what he wants to do. Yes, he survives an Axe hit now, but Legion Commander and the assassin-type black heroes still kill him. Where I expect the hero to be much better is in Draft, where you’ll see a lot more Keefes, Mazzies, Lions and the like, against which BS now performs better. Blood Rage is better in draft too, serving as a “mini finisher” on an unblocked creep or as an unexpected hero killer.



Cheating Death

  • Mana cost changed from 5 to 4.
  • Old Text: “If there is an allied green hero in this lane, allies have a 50% chance of surviving with 1 Health when they would die.”
  • New Text: “Active (Cooldown 1): Give a unit a Death Shield this round. May only be used if there is an allied green hero in this lane.”

Cheating Death’s problem was never that its effect was too strong. It was that it was unreliable and unpredictable. You could lose everything and see full 5 mana wasted. Or save everything and win the game on the spot. Cheating Death was the type of RNG mechanic that players despise and will always call “toxic”.

I like where Cheating Death is now. It has an active component, which means the player will have to make a conscious decision where and how to use it, instead of just leaning on a die’s roll. It affects only a single unit and still needs a green hero to function, meaning you can’t have an immortal Axe all by himself in a lane all the time.

Verdict: Something tells me we won’t see much of Cheating Death post nerf, even though its effect is much cooler now and its cost is cheaper. Even with the previous effect, Joel “Heffaklumpen” Larsson argued the card could too big of an investment. While it’s reliable now, it doesn’t save your board from an on-initiative Annihilation. At the same time, it still costs 4 mana (on par with Selemene’s Favor and more expensive still than Mist of Avernus) and there could be more viable improvement options for green decks now.

Where Cheating Death could shine more is in midrange decks, where protecting a single, high-value unit (like Emissary of the Quorum or Drow Ranger) is actually viable.



Drow Ranger

  • Gust (signature spell) Old Text: “Silence enemy heroes this round.”
  • Gust (signature spell) New Text: “Silence an enemy hero and its allied neighbors this round.”

Gust needed to change. A lane-wide, no-objections silence effect for 4 mana was just too powerful. It had no counter play when cast on initiative and was a crucial part of the engine for UG combo decks.

As it stands now, a careful positioning can mitigate the effects of Gust. The card is still strong on initiative but it won’t lock you out of play, unless you clump your heroes together. Gust now works much like Primal Roar, affecting a single target and its allies. It was a much needed change and glad it has happened.

Verdict: That said, like Axe, Drow isn’t going anywhere. Yes, Gust is weaker now, but her global +1 attack aura is unchanged. Go-wide strategies, including UG combo, will still want to use her. The downside (well, upside really) is that they won’t get free post-Gust turns now, resulting into solitaire-like experience. At the same time, midrange decks might decide to trial green heroes more aligned with their playstyle like Abaddon, Magnus and Omniknight.



Jasper Daggers

  • Gold cost changed from 7 to 5.
  • Old Text: “Equipped hero has +2 Attack and Pierce.”
  • New Text: “Equipped hero has +2 Attack and Pierce. Equip Effect: Purge your opponent’s effects from equipped hero.”

Nobody ever played Jasper Daggers. The item cost too much and offered too little. Now, it’s become among the best middle class items you can get.

Not only do Jasper Daggers cost 5 gold now, but they come with an on-equip purge effect. Were you Gust’d and can’t play your spells now? Dagger up. Negative armor from Viscous Nasal Goo stacking? Dagger up. Are you being Tracked? Stunned? Disarmed? Dagger up!

Verdict: This is an amazing change that will weaken a lot of powerful effects in the game. Revtel Signet Ring was previously the mid-cost item of choice, but it’s possible it makes way for at least one Jasper Daggers in item decks, especially in heavy crowd control metagames.



Lion

  • Finger of Death (active ability) Old Text: “Deal 8 piercing damage to a unit.”
  • Finger of Death (active ability) New Text: “Deal 8 piercing damage to a unit. Quicken.” (Quicken means “reduce cooldown by 1, but not below 1”.)

The Lion changes come with a buff to its active ability Finger of Death in the form of a new keyword: Quicken. Upon activation, a quickened ability has its cooldown reduced by 1. Rinse and repeat until it reaches the minimum of 1. No changes to Lion’s stats or its Mana Drain card, however.

Verdict: Lion is still weak in most black decks, in my opinion. That’s because black still wants to grow aggro and Lion is anything but. His body is weak and his initial FoD cooldown of 4 turns is too long. Even if he spawns on the river, FoD will be on a 2-turn cooldown, during which time he’ll 100% die.

However, Lion’s changes make him better for when blue/black controls enter the meta. The new Finger of Death favors drawn out games. If it reaches a 1-turn cooldown, it will be game over most certainly, since very few units survive an 8-damage blast. If the meta remains quick, Lion will have to sit on the bench of a bit.



Outworld Devourer

  • Base stats changed from 4/6 to 4/7.

Verdict: Good try, Valve, but OD is still among the worst heroes in the game.



Timbersaw

  • Reactive Armor (passive) Old Text: “Timbersaw has +1 Armor for each of its attackers.”
  • Reactive Armor (passive) New Text: “Timbersaw has +1 Armor for each of its attackers. Each of Timbersaw’s attackers have -1 Armor.”

With the changes, Timbersaw has become a lot better at what he is supposed to do: tank multiple heroes at once. Reactive Armor now not only makes Timbersaw durable, but give him some actual firepower now. And at only 4 attack, he did need it desperately.

The new Reactive Armor now opens interesting AoE combat possibilities for Timbersaw. Combinations of Pick a Fight and Whirling Death can be cheap, do-it-yourself Berserker’s Call options for the early game. When fighting 3 opponents at once, Timbersaw will now be a 5/3/11 hero. It doesn’t seem much, but 5 attack is already enough to kill some heroes in the game, like Crystal Maiden, Debbi, Lion and Tinker. The armor debuff also means Timbersaw can now kill the likes of Mercenary Exiles, single-buff Stonehall Elite, and single-buff Savage Wolf.

Verdict: If two-color decks remain the norm, Timbersaw will likely won’t make the cut. Axe and Legion Commander are still the strongest red heroes, and Bristleback, Beastmaster and Tidehunter all make better case for being the best third. However, if mono red decks become a thing, I see Timbersaw in the starting roster to counter go-wide, aggro strategies.


General meta thoughts

It’s difficult to perfectly predict how a metagame will turn out based on some changes but already I can see a few things happening.

  • RG Ramp gets demoted to Tier 2 deck. The list was already in the verge between tier 1 and tier 2 and now it has two of its core heroes (Axe and Drow) nerfed. RG ramp will be even more in the uncomfortable position of being too slow to kill UG combo and UR control and too vulnerable to BR aggro.
  • UG Combo loses the “best deck” title. Gust was huge part of how UG Combo did all these obscene things with you. Now, there is no longer the possibility of playing by yourself, with Gust nerfed and Jasper Daggers being a thing. It’s possible that UG Combo also goes completely out of the meta, too!
  • UR and mono blue rise up. Blue has always struggled with keeping its heroes alive. With Axe nerfed, there’s one less hero to worry about, as all of Ogre Magi, Zeus and Earthshaker can now live against the cookie cutter red hero. Cheating Death is also gone, enabling more reliable Annihilations and At Any Costs. At the same time, none of the blue heroes were nerfed: Kanna is still strong, and so are Zeus, Luna, Ogre and Venomancer.
  • Claszureme Hourglass becomes even more essential. If the Constructed meta slows down to the point where blue is king, Claszureme Hourglass will become an even more important item. denying all card draw for a turn is the bane of control decks, who are all about card advantage in the first place.
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