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February 16, 2017

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Struck Down: A look at the Coming Nerfs (and What They Mean for Standard)


Neerrrfs. While this wasn’t something I expected Blizzard to do (especially with a new set coming in a month or two), it is most definitely something I am interested in. Over the past two months Pirate decks (both Shaman and Warrior) have dominated the post-Mean Streets meta. They are fast, reliable, and very hard for a lot of classes to deal with. Not only that, but and Patches the Pirate have crept over into other classes as well. For all of those reasons, Blizz decided to step in and swing the ol’ ban hammer around. Only two cards are getting hit, but they are getting hit quite hard (as almost all nerfed cards do). So, the big question here is, how are these two changes going to affect the meta? Well, that’s what we’re here to discuss.


Before we get into the actual nerfs, I want to discuss another big change that is coming: floors. For those that don’t know, once the new update goes into effect (likely at the end of the month) players will no longer be able to fall below ranks 5, 10 and 15 during the course of a season. Though you will still have to start at one of the lower ranks (something I am also waiting to change), this means that if you pass one of those benchmarks you can only go down so much. If you’re at rank 10 and lose a thousand games in a row you will still be at rank 10. The same goes for the other 5 and 15 as well.

This is a very big shift that I think is going to have a major impact on competitive play. Right now, many people will avoid playing the game because of “ladder anxiety” where they do not want to lose stars. Now that you can only fall so far it should encourage people to try some crazier things. This change is also really good for dedicated grinders who don’t always want to play top tier decks. You can now play that Murloc Hunter at rank five with no worries.

However, that being said, I do think this change is going to cause a lot more net decking. Why? Because there is now a set goal that many people can race to before experimenting. For example, in the past you would have people with crazy decks who just stayed at the low ranks because they figured they were going to lose stars anyway. This new shift makes it so those people can now try their decks against better players at rank 10 or 5 with no risk. I like this change overall, but I am wary that the first half of the season is going to be even more competitive than usual as people just try to quickly hit a benchmark so they can relax. This could also lead to a spike in aggro for the first half of the month.

The Nerfs

Small-Time Buccaneer

Out of the two impending nerfs, this one is going to have the biggest impact. Small-time Buccaneer has dominated the meta since it has been around. It is in the three most popular classes and a key part of all the best decks. However, moving it to a 1/1 instead of a 1/2 is going to kill it dead. That may not seem like a big shift, but this card helped aggro counter greedy decks and push to finish off Reno builds before turn six. Now, it just dies to hero powers and Mortal Coil. Losing your 3 attack one drop to a Mage ping or Rogue weapon on turn two feels horrible and will almost always be a quick loss. One drops need to actually do something useful to be included into a build, and a 3/1 for 1 is simply not good enough for any deck. Even if it summons a Stonetusk Boar with it.

This change could also be the final nail in the coffin for Pirate Warrior. While the deck has many strong plays outside of Buccaneer (Patches, Southsea Deckhand and N'Zoth's First Mate all still exist) losing this really lowers their consistency. SMT was of the cards that really made Pirate Warrior unfair, and now everything they open with just gets killed on turn two. That is a huge deal because it makes their openings very slow against the classes they need to push against (Mage might now be close to unbeatable). It is also worth noting that Shaman should still prevail despite losing the 1/2. While Aggro may get hurt (see below) the Jade decks don’t need the Pirate package to be good. This really only hits Pirate Warrior, and it hits it very hard.

One more big note here is that many decks will no longer have to play Small-time Buccaneer and Patches the Pirate once SMT is gone. Builds like Miracle Rogue and Midrange Shaman largely ran those cards because everyone else did. However, if Pirate Warrior disappears and Aggro Shaman drops in popularity it will open the door for those decks to raise their curve and play more midrange threats. This could in turn force control to have more answers and subtly shift things towards the later game. It also may cause a sudden rise in Reno decks and allow things like Aggro Paladin to shine.

Spirit Claws

Yes. Oh my God, yes. I have long talked about the RNG of Spirit Claws (“come ooon spell power totem!) and how bad it is for the game. Now, the one mana axe gets what it deserves. The difference between one and two health is a very big jump, but the difference between one and two mana is much, much bigger. The change now makes Spirit Claws into a much more fair card, but fair doesn’t help you win games in Hearthstone.

As with , I think Thrall will cut this card rather quickly once it gets nerfed. While there is still a chance this card could see play, Shaman is a class that makes a living on stretching out its mana. As such, taking up a turn to play a 1/3 weapon is not worth the investment. A 3/3 Fiery War Axe is strong, but this can no longer be played on turn one with another minion. That is a huge deal when fighting for board. It also takes up your entire turn two and directly competes with Jade Claws, which is just a better play since it also adds to the board and helps buff your other minions.

The most important note about this card is that, while it could really hurt Aggro Shaman when combined with the SMT nerf, it probably won’t effect Midrange. The Devolve style of Shaman is very good right now, and I expect Jade Golems to get even better once more control decks start being played more. Aggro Shaman still has potential, but those lists will likely go back to playing Doomhammer to keep up. They are also going to come out of the gates slower, and that could be their death. As with the last batch of nerfs, expect Midrange Shaman to remain consistently strong. I could even see the list reverting to the pre-Mean Streets build with things like and Fire Elemental to help fight against Reno that will likely rise in weeks following the nerf.


Well, I can’t say I’m surprised by these nerfs. Both Spirit Claws and Small-time Buccaneer were problematic in their own way and they each needed to go down. Stagnation is the only real thing that can kill a card game, and Pirates have just taken over for the past two months. Control should briefly rise directly after the changes, and I am looking forward to see what other decks can rise to fill in the gaps. Nerfs like this are good for the game and I hope Blizzard finally comes around to doing them more often.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    You made a mistake under spirit claws
    “… one and two health…” when it should be one and two mana.

  2. Gargosch says:

    Whats SMT?