Hi everyone! DWD is definitely one to keep us on our toes. Just when I thought the format has settled down (and released the updated tier list), DWD goes, NOPE, here’s more changes for you to contend with! Well, not that I’m complaining, especially since I am pretty happy about a fair few of these changes (for both constructed and draft). Also, for those who were looking forward to my article on skill vs variance, looks like you guys have to wait another week! Sorry =(.
The Difficulty of Balancing Draft
Now, before I start my review of the new set, I first want to acknowledge that draft is definitely ridiculously hard to balance. Not only do they have to cater to different skill levels and RNG aspects of pack opening, they also have to cater to the fact that different players want different things out of draft. For example, some players really enjoy the gameplay aspect of draft, and the actual drafting aspect is just a hoop to jump through, while others feel the opposite. DWD has to cater to both groups, without letting either one down, which is a tremedous ask in my opinion.
That said, I have definitely been feeling less enthusiastic about draft in the recent month. I still really enjoy the drafting aspect of draft, when to hedge on a faction and when to jump all-in into a tribal are decisions that I really enjoy making. However, the gameplay aspect has definitely felt much more stale to me because of the lack of interactivity options being available to me. This feels like a result of very few, but very powerful, removal spells and fast spells, and so games often involve very few critical decisions and more of did I draw my removal/fliers compared to my opponent. This leaves very little room for impactful gameplay or outmaneuvering the opponent.
Now, I know this is a huge contrast to what seems to be a common viewpoint on reddit (aptly summarized here by NorthernPolarity, who despite finishing below me for every season of draft, is still a decent drafter xP). I would also recommend reading the post if you haven’t already, because despite disagreeing with some of his issues, I do think Northern has a deep understanding of the format and I strongly agree with his suggestions to fix the format. The main point, that I’m trying to make here, is that to tailor to all types of players is a high ask, and while I am critical of some of the changes, I do so only because I have really enjoyed draft so far and want it to be better.
Individual Card Changes
Once again, I will only delve into changes that I expect to impact the meta, and irrelevant changes (either because of rarity or insufficient impact) will be glossed over.
Entrapment (Slight nerf, still 3.0)
Now 4J, was 3J
This is definitely not a card that I expected DWD to touch, given how removal light the format already is. Entrapment is probably still going to be very playable in Justice, so while it’s a nerf, I don’t think it’s significant enough to drop me a tier. However, this nerf does worry me that DWD is not aware of the fact that a removal light format gets stale very fast because play lines are very straight-forward.
Spiritblade Stalker (Slight nerf, still 3.0)
Now 6-cost ultimate, was 5-cost
Now, this is a card that I am extremely happy to see get the nerfhammer. While flier based strategies are powerful, one of the ways that they were kept in check was by aggressively racing them on the ground. Spiritblade Stalker puts an end to the racing nonsense when you draw him by giving your flier lifesteal. I think this is actually one of the more problematic cards that contributed to non-interactive “answer my flier or lose” games. This card was pushing the top of 3.0 for me, while Isomorphic and Drifter both gave it a 3.5, and I expect all of us to view it as a middling 3.0 card now.
Roosting Owl (Big nerf, 2.5, was 3.0)
Now 2/3, was 2/4
One additional health rarely matters (see Snowfort), until it does. 4 health on a flier was huge given that most fliers had 3 attack (Valkyrie Arcanist, Valkyrie Denouncer, Tandem Watchwing, Surveying Mantasaur, etc). Now, as a 2/3, Roosting Owl is unable to bounce any of these units and often don’t even trade with them. Roosting Owl has definitely become much stronger in Set 3 as the draft meta has slowed down, thus making it’s Mentor ability much more relevant. This is another nerf that I approve of, because it reduces the incentive and ability for players to stall the game out and just hope that the Roosting Owl hits a good unit.
Into the Furnace (Huge buff, 3.5, was 3.0)
Now Fast Spell, was Slow
This is YUGE! With any grenadin in the void, this card is essentially Mortar, for half the cost and half the influence! This is definitely my favorite buff of the set as it greatly increases interactivity and fixes one of my main issues with the format (combat math being way too bland and straight-forward). I also think that this is probably a buff that will make fire decks much more stronger. A lot of the reason why Set 1 Fire was so powerful was off the back of Torch at common, and while not as busted as Torch, I can see Into the Furnace pushing Fire decks wayyy up in power level.
Reliquary Raider (Reworked, 2.0)
Now 3TT, 1/3, You gain 3 health when she blocks
Disclaimer: The notes weren’t clear as to whether it still retains the Draw a card when she attacks ability. This rating was given assuming that she no longer has that line of text.
This is an interesting change, but it definitely feels worse than the old Reliquary Raider. Now, it finds an interesting niche in time decks to try and stall out aggro decks. The problem though, is that Time decks rarely have issues stalling out the ground, it’s fliers that kill Time decks. Reliquary Raider does nothing to fix that, so I don’t really value it that highly. That said, if she retains the draw a card when she attacks, I can see this card becoming much more valuable since it replaces itself at worst.
Seasoned Spelunker (Big buff, 3.5, was 3.0)
Now +2/+2 when you have a relic, was +1/+1
Seasoned Spelunker was always a decent card, but a 3/3, that read pay 5 to get +2/+2 is pretty great and even more so when you get to activate your other relic synergies. Moreover, you can sometimes activate Spelunker without even triggering his ultimate from your other relics, or even relic weapons. I do like this buff quite a bit and it does address one of Time’s biggest issues, having enough big dudes to punch through the ground.
Amethyst Monument (Big buff, 3.0, was 2.0)
Now makes a 4/4 Puma, was a 3/3
This buff is somewhat out of the blue for me, but it seems as though DWD is trying to push lifeforce somewhat (see Reliquary Raider/Cabal Slasher). A 4/4 lifesteal for 5 is already a decent rate, and the fact that it fixes for power screw is just cherry atop the cake. Now, whether these buffs are big enough to catapult lifeforce decks into playability is another question. I’m quite hesitant because the payoffs just doesn’t seem to be there unless you crack multiple good lifeforce units in Pack 2.
Cabal Slasher (Huge buff, 2.0, was 1.0)
Now 2S, was 3S
Previously just a meme card that you hope to highroll with, buffing Cabal Slasher to 2 cost has pushed it into playable without any synergy territory. This card is now a 1/3 for 2 that you’ll happily play, and sometimes, if you are lucky, the card becomes a huge threat that trades for multiple units or a huge unit on your opponent’s side. I still don’t think it’s amazing once activated, but buffing the base case is huge.
Iceberg Warchief (Buff, now 3.5, was 3.0)
Now 5/3 that gives your Yetis +2/+0 and +2 spell damage, was 5/4 that gives +1/+0 and +1 spell damage
This is a very interesting rework, and definitely in line with DWD’s policy of buffing payoffs. Iceberg Warchief was always pretty good, but right now, it’s pushing the top of 3.5 with its huge buff to yetis and spells. You are basically doubling your clock with Yeti Windflyers and your ground yetis can often end up trading favorably. While it becomes more lacklustre with too few yetis, I feel that the pool of yetis is often deep enough that you are able to pick up enough yetis if it’s open.
Overall thoughts on the Patch
I honestly think that DWD might have bitten off slightly more than what they can chew with this 3 set draft format. It is hard to draft, but while some players (such as myself) find it really rewarding to navigate the pitfalls and traps to try and end up with a functional deck, there is a good chunk of players that strongly dislike it. The need to balance power levels between factions, sets and tribes is definitely, while still ensuring that both draft and gameplay are fun and enjoyable across all skill levels is ridiculously complex.
I do like a lot of the Justice nerfs, but I worry that it might have been slightly too heavy handed and Justice might be teetering on the edge of being too weak now. Fire also got a fair few buffs, and being already one of the above average factions, I could foresee it becoming the new “Justice”. Tribal synergies still remain solid for yetis, gunslingers, sentinels, valkyries and occasionally, grenadins, but the weaker tribals (curses, unseen, etc) definitely still remain near unplayable.
DWD also seems to like to take the approach of buffing payoffs (Iceberg Warchief, Into the Furnace, Cabal Slasher) rather than enablers. While I do like this “indirect” approach of nudging people to commit to a tribal, it is also making it much more likely that decks can end up with too much payoff and too little enablers which is a common complaint by players that dislike draft.
The direction that I would love DWD to take is to buff enablers by making them more fringe playables without synergy. For example, they could buff Bisma to a 4/4 for 4 so that even without any other Unseen, the card is still reasonable. A increase the amount of fast spells and removal (possibly pushing tribal synergy at that) would also benefit the format. For example, the rare tribal cycle would be amazing for pushing tribal if they were dropped to uncommon rarity (Snow Pelting, Deadly Confrontation, Curfew Enforcement).
The Dusk Road draft has been a really contentious one, but it has definitely also been an interesting experience. I also want to give a huge shoutout to DWD for being big enough to own up to their mistakes of the previous patch and I think it sets a really good precedent moving forward. My faith in DWD, which waivered slightly, has now be renewed =P. What about you? Let me know your thoughts on the reddit thread! See ya around draft!
All hail our new Fire Draft overloads!