Hi everyone! Well we just got hit by one of the BIGGEST balance patch for draft ever! Funnily enough, I was just saying the other day that while draft is in a good place, I wouldn’t mind some changes to shake things up. And boy, are these some changes indeed! We have a lot of ground to cover, so I’m just going to cut the introduction short and jump straight into it! (The changes are sorted by faction and followed by a short summary on each faction).
A common theme that is going to be repeated time and again in this article is that hitting XX on 2 is not going to be at all reliable unless you are running 10+ sources. So before everyone jumps on me and tells me that I’m wrong about that, here’s some numbers to back it up. Assuming a standard 18 power deck, the odds of being able to play a XX card on 2 are:
As you can see, even if you have a perfect 50/50 split of power, you only have a slightly better than 50% chance of casting an XX card on 2. Anything less than that, you are really just pushing your luck.
Flamefang Charmer - Now 2FF 2/2 (instead of 3FF 2/3)
Inconsequential buff (1.0->1.0)
Straight away we get an example of an XX card. While I do think that a 2 power 2/2 is better than a 3 power 2/3, the inability to reliably cast it on 2 in most decks is a huge strike against it. This card is now basically Flamebelcher, with a more relevant infiltrate text, but without Overwhelm.
Rusty Grenamotive - Now 2/4 (instead of 1/4)
BIG BUFF (2.5->3.5)
Firstly, to clarify, while both Rusty Grenamotive and Gravemarker has made the jump from 2.5 to 3.5, the Rusty Grenamotive step is not as huge because it was a better card pre-patch, and a worse card post-patch. Rusty Grenamotive barely makes the transition to 3.5, and is probably one of the lowest 3.5s on my list. However, it is still a great card. Doubling it’s attack is pretty impactful because it raises the floor for Rusty Grenamotive and also makes it a decent blocker. The ceiling on this card does not change much though because that involves suiting Rusty Grenamotive up with weapons, and going from 4 attack to 5 attack is much less impactful than going from 1 attack to 2.
Warpainter - Now 1/4 (instead of 0/4)
BIG BUFF (1.5->2.5)
Previously, Warpainter has felt pretty average in most decks. An 0/4 body on turn 3 is only passable and while +1 attack is definitely relevant, it takes a while for Warpainter to generate value. A 1/4 makes it a much better blocker than a 0/4 since it can now threaten to eat X/1s on blocks. The closest comparison now is that of Wild Rider, except it gets to sit back and generate value, rather than needing to connect with the opponent’s face.
Gravemarker Oni - Now 4F (instead of 5F)
HUge Buff (2.5->3.5)
I LOVE this buff. Gravemarker Oni has felt pretty decent in the decks that I’ve played him in, and a straight up cost reduction is HUGE. Imagine a 4 cost 4/2 that draws you a card. Pretty decent right? Now, imagine a 4 cost 4/2 that draws you one of the BEST cards in your deck (Welding Torch/Changeestik). *Insert mind-blown gif*
Of course, Tribute is an additional hoop to jump through, but Fire generally isn’t lacking for ways to enable tribute given how aggressive the faction is. Chaining Gravemarker Onis is also a real thing, since 4/2 will often trade in combat since players can rarely afford to take 4 damage to the face every turn. Given that 2 out of the 3 best Fire commons are weapons, a lack of weapons to fetch is rarely going to be an issue for Gravemarker Oni.
Fire got some much needed loving in this set, and boy, am I happy about it. These buffs will definitely push the power level of Fire up, and coupled with the nerfs to other factions, I feel like Fire’s power level is likely to match that of other factions. The surge in XX cost 2 drops also means that more decks are likely to miss their 2 drop. That, coupled with the most feared common 2 drop for aggro decks (Miner’s Canary) receiving the axe, Fire aggro decks look to be in a good shape moving forward.
Living Example - Now 2TT 2/2 (instead of 2T 2/1)
I think that DWD recognized that the 2 drop inspire units are too powerful and took steps to remedy that. However, I really dislike this attempt to balance it. Being XX definitely makes the card worse, but it also has the bad side-effect makes the format more prone to high-rolling. Despite the difficulty to cast, Living Example is still good enough for me to play it in any Time deck, even if it’s low on T sources. This means that the difference between me drawing 2 T sources by turn 2 or not can easily decide the outcome of the game since I might not be able to cast Living Example until multiple turns later, by which point I would’ve lost an insane amount of value.
Auralian Merchant - Now 0/4 (was 1/4)
slight nerf (3.5->3.5)
While Auralian Merchant received a slight nerf, it merely fell from one of the best 3.5s to a middling 3.5. The body has become significantly worse, but ultimately, what makes the card great remains present. +1 power is pretty deece allowing you to outscale your enemy while the Time market is probably the best market in draft. This is because Time has a lot of narrow, situational cards that really shine in the market (Belching Behemoth, Disjunction, Pack Hunt, Talir’s Intervention, to name a few).
Spiteful Lumen - Now 3T (instead of 4T)
Huge buff (2.0->3.0)
As with all the other cards, cost reduction is HUGE. Now a 3T for 3/3, Spiteful Lumen has a good stat-line and can easily be played in a deck with 0 wisps. That doesn’t mean the additional text is irrelevant though! There are a LOT of 2 drop wisps in Time and Xenan, so you can often get a lot of value out of it. Giving Illumination Wisp deadly will make most aggro players cry while deadly Dark Wisp puts you way ahead on card advantage.
Stinging Wind - Now 3/3 (instead of 3/4)
Huge Nerf (3.0->2.0)
As we’ve seen with the old Spiteful Lumen, 3/3 for 4 is a not a good rate. The ability to block fliers on defense is nice, but sadly, 3 is a LOT less than 4 because the biggest common fliers in this format are Silverwing Purgeleader and Skysnapper. While previously able to bounce/eat those units, Stinging Wind can now do nothing in the face of Purgeleader and can only trade with Skysnapper.
Mistress of Light - Now 5TT (instead of 6TT)
BIG Buff (1.5->2.5)
This is probably the rating that I am most unsure of. Pre-patch, Wisps rarely come together, so Mistress of Light is rarely better than a Crownwatch Recruiter. However, between this and the Spiteful Lumen buff, I think that Wisps is now a legit draft archetype. With just 2 or 3 wisps on board, Mistress of Light is a lot of stats for 5-cost (and even more so if you tribute it). The question, however, becomes how often can you pick up enough wisps to make Mistress of Light good? I think you would generally want at least 5+ Wisps or Wisp sources to justify running Mistress of Light and whether that is going to be a common occurrence is anyone’s guess. Picking up Mistress of Light early does have it’s advantages though, since you can take subsequent Wisps more highly.
Pensive Lumen - Now 5/3 (instead of 5/4)
BIG Nerf (3.5->3.0)
Untributed, the loss of 1 health from 4 to 3 is HUGE. This means that it is extremely easy for your opponent to trade up with a 2 or 3 drop. Tributed, I think that 6 isn’t that much more than 5. Of course, it is weaker since it is easier to double block, Gun Down now kills it and so on, but ultimately, it isn’t that impactful. As such, I think that it has become more important to tribute Pensive Lumens and their viability in decks will also depend heavily on whether said deck is good at enabling tribute.
Wurmic Chanter - Now also has Deadly
HUGE Buff (1.5->3.0)
One of the biggest issue with Wurmic Chanter previously was that tapping out for a measly 1/1 on turn 5 just felt really bad, and potentially game losing if you are behind. This 1/1 does not impact the board at all so you are effectively paying 10 power for a 7/7 (and ~5 health if you chump with the 1/1), which is really not a great rate. Giving the 1/1 deadly is a really huge buff because it now trades with your opponent’s best attacker, making it acceptable even if you are behind. Moreover, deadly when attacking with a 5/5 is also somewhat relevant, allowing you to punch through Campfire Watchman/Dune Phantom and prevent your opponent from trading up by blocking with 2 3/3s.
Vital Arcana - Now gains 2 health (instead of 4)
Everyone knows that Vital Arcana is a critical part of the Time control decks in draft and I really wouldn’t try to build a Time control deck without multiple copies of Vital Arcana. In fact, maybe it’s a good idea to just play this archetype in constructed? Who knows? It could even become a T1 deck? Maybe not after the nerf though…..
In standard Time draft decks though, I think that the difference between gaining 2 health vs 4 health is very minor and it’s rating remains unchanged as a bad filler in most decks.
Predatory Carnosaur - Now 7TTT for a 7/7 (was 6TTT for a 6/6)
This might come as a surprise, since I’ve always harped on how X+1 power is A LOTTTTTTT more than X power. However, hitting TTT on 6 power is no easy feat, and as such it is not uncommon to only be able to cast Predatory Carnosaur at 7 or 8 power. In those decks, costing 7TTT for 7/7 would be mostly just a buff. However, there are decks that are heavy Time, and in those decks, the ability to come down 1 turn sooner as a 6/6 is more important than +1/+1. As such, in balance, I think that the net effect on Predatory Carnosaur is that it’s rating remains unchanged.
To quote DWD, “we wanted to … highlight some of the other aspects of the format that would be fun to explore”. The buffs are definitely aimed at pushing the Wisp tribal aspect of Time/Xenan. I really like this direction that DWD is going because Wisps has definitely felt like a fun archetype to draft, and pushing more interesting/fun synergies would remove some of the staleness that arises from a format where you simply draft good-stuff piles. As a knock-on effect, all the Time wisps (and Shadow Wisps if you are Xenan) have become significantly higher picks with these changes.
All in all, this is an interesting change of direction for Time. While there is a net loss of generic good cards, the buffs to the wisp archetype introduces added complexity to the drafting stage and is definitely a refreshing change. I, for one, am looking forward to doing crazy stuff like t1 Entrancer, t2 Illumination Wisp, t3 Spiteful Lumen, t4 Gathering Lights into t5 Mistress of Light.
Master-At-Arms - Now 2JJ (instead of 3J)
Slight nerf (3.5->3.5)
This is actually a pretty unique balance change. Being JJ means you are going to be casting Master on 3 much more infrequently, but being 1 cheaper means that it becomes much easier to double spell alongside him. While this is a slight downgrade, I think a more important thing to notice is that DWD is trying to shift Master’s role. Rather than be the 3-drop in the nuts Oathkeeper->Hotblood Barbarian->Master-at-Arms curve-out, it seems as though DWD wants Master to be a utility 2-drop that you play later on, alongside fast spells or other units. I think that this is an interesting direction to take this card, and definitely look forward to seeing how this card would affect the nature of Justice decks moving forward.
Miner's Canary - Now 3J (instead of 2J)
SHot, burnt, stabbed, strangled and Dismembered (2.5->1.0)
Well, if the descriptor above wasn’t enough to paint how upset I am about the change, I AM UPSET ABOUT THIS NERF. Miner’s Canary was a very decent 2-drop. It was able to bounce most 2/3 drops to halt opposing aggression, and was a great target for Master-at-Arms and Granite Acolyte. Sure, it wasn’t as good as Illumination wisp, but not every card can be a top 10 common. Post nerf, this card is basically a worse Dune Phantom and I would really be scavenging for playables before I actually include it in my deck.
I suspect that there were 2 factors that contributed to this nerf. Firstly, Justice looked to be one of the two strongest factions, so as a Justice card, Miner’s Canary could not avoid the cross-hairs. Secondly, being a secretly good card that looks unappealing on first glance, it tends to end up being played significantly more by better players. In turn, this led to Miner’s Canary having an artificially inflated winrate, and thus catching DWD’s nerfhammer on behalf of Justice’s sins. (Of course, this is purely speculation, and for all I know, DWD simply lined up all the Justice cards and threw darts to decide which ones get nerfed.)
Graceful Calligrapher - Now 2/4 (instead of 3/4)
Big Nerf (3.0->2.0)
There really isn’t much to say about Graceful Calligrapher’s nerf. going from 3 attack to 2 is extremely painful. Previously, this was able to eat most 3-drops, but now, it merely bounces most of them. Moreover, this lost point in attack greatly weakens Graceful Calligrapher’s clock and also makes double blocking with it worse. I guess the only thing to be thankful for is that DWD didn’t nerf it to the grave like they did with Miner’s Canary, RIP Canary.
Rampart Arbalest - Now 1/5 (instead of 1/6)
Inconsequential NERF (2.5->2.5)
Rampart Arbalest functions mostly like a Justice’s version of Fiery Fissure. You can occasionally get value off killing 1 or 2 extra x/1s in subsequent turns, but most of the time it is just used to remove 1 big unit on the opposing side and gain a few points of health. As such, the change from 6 to 5 health is almost always going to be inconsequential.
It seems pretty clear that DWD thought Justice to be one of the strongest factions, and slapped it with a total of 4 nerfs to pull it back in line with the other factions. While I do think that the Justice pool in Set 4 felt pretty deep, this seems like a bit of an over-correction to me. Time will tell whether it is though, since all these meta shakeups could easily mean that Justice still remains good enough despite losing Canary. RIP Canary.
Snowfort Trumpeter - Now 2PP +2/+2 (instead of 2P +1/+1)
Snowfort Trumpeter has somewhat lost it’s charm as a 2-drop, but instead has become a very scary turn 3 or turn 4 play. A 2-cost 4/4 is the stuff of nightmares and even something like a turn 1 Yeti Spy becomes scary to trade with. PP is a real cost, but a 4/4 on turn 4 is still scary, making the PP cost much less of a drawback. I think that this is a pretty significant buff to the card and would not be surprised to see it being played a lot more. It is important to note that you shouldn’t really count this as a 2 drop in most decks unless you are running 10+ P sources since it is no longer reliable to cast on 2. Moreover, you don’t really want to cast this on 2 if possible since you can double it’s stats with tribute!
Entangling Vines - Now 2P (instead of 3P)
bIG bUFF (1.5->2.5)
This is another card that I have low certainty on. I tend to view Entangling Vines as more of a finisher, where you cast it to set up a 2-turn lethal or edge ahead in a tight race. In such situations, the cost reduction from 3 to 2 is pretty irrelevant since you will often have power to spare then. However, there is the contrasting argument that cost reduction is HUGE on warp cards. Going from 3 to 2 cost means you can warp Entangling Vines more often, and potentially do things such as warp Vines and cast a 2-drop on turn 4. However, it is important to note that Entangling Vines is much more situational than other warp cards, so there could be turns where you CAN warp it, but you DON’T want to warp it because it is very little value (e.g. you dont have good attacks anyway, opponent has endurance units, opponent has no targets, etc, etc). Ultimately, whether this card is a high 2.0, low 2.5 or even high 2.5 will boil down to the question of how often will you be able to warp it for acceptable value? The more often it is, the higher the rating is going to be.
But really, if DWD wanted to buff Entangling Vines, they didn’t need to jump through so many hoops. All they needed to do was make it fast, and it’ll easily become the best card in the format =P.
Cliffside Caretaker - Now 5P (instead of 6P)
Big buff (1.0->2.0)
The thing about Inspire units is that it becomes insanely better for every turn it stays on board. Coming down a turn earlier means an extra turn for you to draw a unit. And 5 being a lot less than 6 means that it can come down multiple turns earlier. Now, you might actually be able to draw and play units buffed by Cliffside Caretaker’s Inspire before the game ends, thus pushing the card from a very bad filler to being a bad playable. A 2/4 body is still terrible at 5 cost, but at least now if you are able to stabilize the board for a few turns, Cliffside Caretaker could potentially put in some work.
Speardiver - Now 6P (instead of 5P)
What took Isomorphic weeks to do (convince me Speardiver is great), was undone by DWD in a matter of minutes. While a 5-cost Speardiver was great, a 6-cost Speardiver is pretty much just a slightly worse Silverwing Purgeleader now. 4 vs 5 health is not much of a difference, but 2 damage a turn is much much MUCH less than 3 damage a turn. Berserk does help it slightly, but not by much. As such, Speardiver pretty much gets a slightly worse rating than Silverwing Purgeleader.
Channel the Tempest - Now 9PPPP (was 8PPPP)
Guess what I’m going to say? 9 is a LOTTTTTTTTT more than 8. The extra few turns it takes to get from 8 to 9 power could easily mean the difference between winning or losing the game. Moreover, you would generally only have 1 or 2 cards in hand at that point, making Channel the Tempest a very inefficient removal spell.
Primal received some buffs in the format, though the Speardiver nerf left me scratching my head. Primal definitely felt like one of the weaker factions to me, so nerfing one of it’s best uncommons is definitely a head-scratcher for me. One important thing to note though, is that with the increase in XX 2-drops, I believe splashing will become rarer, and in turn, Primal decks might end up with more copies of their best common (Changeestik). Perhaps that will be all Primal needs to climb it’s way back up?
Feral Spiteling - Now 1S (instead of 2S)
big buff (0.5->1.5)
A 1/1 for 1 is not great, but again, I’m a believer in the Wisp tribal deck now. Moreover, with each attack, this card is able to buff all the Radiants on the field, a pretty scary prospect indeed. This also makes it a great tribute enabler since your opponent can’t afford to let it keep attacking. In the late game, with multiple units in the void, you can even simply just suicide this card to give all your radiants +X attack! This card is definitely a lot more promising now as 1-drop that you can weave into your plays and get value out of later. It also benefits a lot from the Spiteful Lumen buff since giving it deadly ensures that you at least get a trade out of it’s attack.
Lock Horns - Now 1S (instead of 2S)
Big buff (0.5->1.5)
This is a card that I really like post buff and I do think it has gotten quite a bit better. It is an extremely versatile card that does a number of things decently well. Firstly, it can act as a Snowball on opposing X/1s. Secondly, it is extremely powerful on Quickdraw units since the -1 health is much less relevant there. Lastly, given the amount of Tribute in the format, it is often in a player’s interest to simply bounce units rather than straight up trading (of course this varies a lot depending on board state). Lock Horns is very apt at punishing those blocks since you can often simply eat the bouncing unit with Lock Horns. Of course, this is still a situational trick, and therefore much lower rated that the top tier tricks (Finest Hour, Rapid Shot, etc), but I definitely think this card has potential.
Afterimage - Now 2S (instead of 3S)
slight buff (0.5->1.0)
This is a really inconsequential buff, and perhaps the biggest impact is that this makes Kerrendon Merchant slightly better since Afterimage is now a better market card. Being able to go Merchant into Afterimage on 5 is definitely appealing, but outside of that, I would rarely put Afterimage in my draft decks.
Lethrai Target Caller - Now 2SS 3/2 (instead of 2S 2/2)
Slight nerf (3.0->3.0)
Repeat after me: XX on 2 is HARD. This is definitely a net nerf on Lethrai Target Caller because it has gotten much harder to cast. While 3 attack is a lot more than 2, it is going to be rarely relevant on Lethrai Target Caller unless your opponent misses his 2-drop or plays a 1/3. In all other cases, you would much rather sit back with the Lethrai Target Caller to extract maximum value out of his Inspire ability and only offer to trade him away nearing the end of the game when his Inspire ability becomes much less relevant.
Betray the Cause - Now 4SSS (instead of 5SS)
Slight buff (0.5->0.5)
This card is bad. A influence cost increase, but a power cost decrease is an interesting decision and I do think that it is a buff. If you were running Betray the Cause in your deck unironically, that generally means you have combo cards that go with it (Devour/Combust/Heirloom Blade). As such, while SSS is steep, it’s not a huge deal since you are casting Betray the Cause on 6+ power anyway. The cost reduction is definitely significant though, since it helps you to play your combo a turn earlier, or even enable more greedy combinations such as Betray the Cause+Ravenous Thornbeast or Betray the Cause+Sanguine Sword. Ultimately though, you should probably have stopped reading at the first sentence.
While Shadow has received two big buffs and a few small changes, I don’t expect the faction power level to change much. The two big buffs pushed two previously near unplayables to bad filler, which unfortunately, does not change the complexion of Shadow in the format since those cards will only see play in a small amount of decks. Perhaps the biggest change would be the rise in Wisp decks since that is a Xenan Archetype and that might have interesting knock-on effects for Shadow as a faction. I do think Shadow is pretty much at the middle of the pack in terms of power level, so it does make sense that DWD did not want to mess with it much.
I’m a fan of most of the changes that DWD implemented. I feel that they have rightfully identified that draft is in a pretty good spot right now, and most of the changes are simply meant to shake things up rather than balance reasons. The overall buffs to Fire cards and nerfs to Time/Justice cards is also in line with my impression of the format where Time and Justice felt like the two best factions and Fire one of the worst.
Primal was another faction that I felt needed help, and while it did not get a lot of direct buffs in this patch, it definitely got indirectly buffed. With the steeper influence cost on multiple good cards, splashing now comes with a much higher cost. Post-patch, I expect Changeestik to revert back to more of a Primal card, rather than the best splash in the format. On top of less splashing, I think that steeper influence costs on the 2-drops might push some draft decks towards a 1f+splash build, rather than a straight up 2f deck. This is an example of what I mean by 1f+splash deck where it’s essentially mono Time splashing for a few Fire cards.
My key disagreement with this patch lies in the handling of the 2-drop Inspire units. While I do agree that Lethrai Target Caller and Living Example are extremely powerful cards, I was not a fan of nerfing them by increasing their influence cost. This change would make for more swingy games where one guy hits SS for Lethrai Target Caller on 2, while the other guy misses his 2 drop because he mulls into a S sigil and a T sigil with both Living Example and Lethrai Target Caller in hand. If I were to nerf the cards, I would’ve simply made Living Example a 1/1 for 2T and Lethrai Target Caller a 1/2 for 2S. While this doesn’t directly impact their power level in the early game, this would nerf their potential as a late-game top-deck where Inspire is less relevant. Similarly, lowering their attack makes it harder to get value off the body in the late game, thus, still lowering their power level overall.
Another important change in the format is the loss of 4 good/great 2-drops that you can reliably cast on 2 (Living Example, Lethrai Target Caller, Miner’s Canary, Snowfort Trumpeter). As such, I think in future drafts, it would be pertinent to take the cast-able two drops slightly higher to avoid getting run over by aggressive openings.
Finally, I just want to highlight that there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding these updated ratings. While I was mostly certain of previous balance patch rating changes, this patch is much MUCH larger than any previous patch, and will greatly shake up the meta and have multiple layers of knock-on effects. As such, it is hard to say with absolute certainty how the post-patch meta is going to shape up and whether certain cards would be as good post-patch as it would’ve been pre-patch is a question that only the Draft Gods can answer.
So without further ado, go forth and explore this brave new draft world! And let me know your thoughts on the Reddit thread!