Out of the nine classes in Hearthstone, Priest seems to get the most hate. Maybe it’s because decks like Undertaker Priest or Raza Priest were so dominant that it got old quick. Maybe it’s because out of the good decks it has, they have very little counterplay. Or maybe it’s because players hate Anduin. Whatever the reason for hating the class may be, there’s no debate that the current Combo Priest deck is one of the best decks in the game. Nearly everyone seems to be calling for a nerf so let’s start with that!
Extra Arms was recently nerfed from 2 mana to 3 mana. At the time, the nerf seemed odd since Mage, Hunter, and Warrior also had extremely powerful decks. Sure, Extra Arms was oppressive when played on curve, but it wasn’t a vital piece to the deck. With Mage out of the way and Dr. Boom, Mad Genius nerfed to 9, Combo Priest didn’t have too many bad matchups left and rose to the top despite the Extra Arms nerf. The question now is, does the deck need another nerf?
Who needs arms when your puzzle has already been solved?
There’s a good argument for nerfing Combo Priest as it is one of the best decks right now. This past week of Grandmasters saw Combo Priest in nearly every lineup with only one player opting not to bring the deck. Tournament-wise, Combo Priest is popular as it doesn’t lose to the other tournament decks like Quest Druid, Quest Shaman, and even Control Warrior. The only bad matchup for the deck is the mirror which can often boil down to whoever can stick a Northshire Cleric first. On ladder, Combo Priest may suffer a bit more due to Murloc decks running around, but even with those counters, Combo Priest is a solid Tier 1 deck.
Having good decks in the meta isn’t a bad thing, but it’s important that those decks have a viable counter and right now, Combo Priest doesn’t have any good, consistent counter decks. So, if Blizzard were to nerf Priest, which card(s) should get hit?
Our Nerf Candidates
Northshire Cleric is by far the most popular card when it comes to discussing nerfs and it’s no surprise. When played alongside Circle of Healing and Wild Pyromancer, Northshire Cleric allows you to draw up to a full hand most of the time. This allows combo style decks to find the payoff cards quicker and can create frustrating situations for the opponent. Since Combo Priest wins by having a minion sticking on the board, one of the ways to win against it is to run the Priest out of resources. However, when the deck runs such a cheap, powerful draw engine, that strategy isn’t always viable.
A full hand of fun with Northshire Cleric!
If Northshire Cleric is nerfed to 2 mana will that be enough? It would certainly slow the deck down and give Priest no good turn 1 play. But, Combo Priest would most likely still be a good deck. Even with Northshire Cleric costing 2 mana, players still have the draw combo with Wild Pyromancer and Circle of Healing to refill their hand. But, not having a good turn 1 play will hurt the deck.
Circle of Healing
Perhaps it’s time Circle of Healing got the Hunter’s Mark treatment and moved away from costing 0 mana. Even at 1 mana, it would slow the deck down as you could no longer play a turn 2 Injured Tol'vir and heal it to full. The same goes for a turn 3 Injured Blademaster. Both are very good tempo plays as your opponent will have trouble dealing with a turn 2 2/6 body with the threat of Divine Spirit as backup. If the goal in nerfing Priest is to weaken the combo deck, then increasing the mana cost of Circle of Healing instead of Northshire Cleric could hurt the deck more. Cleric isn’t as oppressive of a 1 drop as Mana Wyrm was and it only really shines alongside Circle of Healing.
Imagine not having to deal with one of these at full Health on curve.
If the goal is to get rid of Combo Priest completely, then nerfing (or Hall of Faming) Divine Spirit would be the way to go. At 3 mana Divine Spirit may still be playable, but if you want to never see the card again then nerf it to 4 mana. Divine Spirit has long been the backbone of Priest decks, especially after rotation. Priest has very few win conditions and since half of its cards in the basic and classic sets revolve around healing and stealing cards, Divine Spirit has always been a go-to win condition.
The oldest trick in the book.
The issue of nerfing Divine Spirit is you remove Priest’s last win condition from the Basic and Classic sets. This is fine, but it will require the Hearthstone team to print new cards in each set that provides a viable win condition. This could run into the same issue we have now with Priest board clear cards where it creates an almost too good of a win-con card in every set.
So, we have our 3 possible cards to nerf. While there may be other good candidates, Northshire Cleric, Circle of Healing, and Divine Spirit are the 3 problem cards. Now, as stated before, the Basic and Classic set cards for Priest tend to be on the weaker side with a few cards standing out. Besides the 3 mentioned for possible nerfs, we have Power Word: Shield, Shadow Word: Pain, Shadow Word: Death, Inner Fire, Silence, Cabal Shadow Priest, and Mass Dispel. The other Basic and Classic cards are either not competitively viable or fringe. The issue with nerfing Divine Spirit or Northshire Cleric is you leave Priest with a poor core set of cards. This could lead to Priest getting more oppressive cards down the road to push a competitive deck.
Like it or not, the Basic and Classic sets in Hearthstone is an integral part of the game. It gives each class a core set of cards to work with and cards in future sets are designed around these core cards. Up until now, the changes to the Basic and Classic cards have worked out. Most of the cards changed were overpowered, to begin with and the classes still had other good cards to fall back on. The fact that the class has a weak core set of cards may be the reason it gets hated on so much. Since the core cards are weak, new cards tend to either fall flat or create an oppressive meta deck. To solve this issue, the class as a whole may need a bit of an overhaul.
In an AMA a while back, Dean Ayala stated that they are unsure of what to do with Priest and it shows. Its core cards are a mix of healing, buff, damage spells, minion removal, and deck/hand stealing cards. The healing cards are generally weak, the buff cards are ok, the damage spells are decent, the minion removal is good, and the deck/hand stealing cards are bad. If the Hearthstone team plans on keeping the Basic and Classic sets around, then the Priest class needs a more cohesive design.
Some ways to change the Basic and Classic cards could start with the steal archetype. While the Thoughtsteal type cards may be fun to play with, they have never been competitive and either all need to go or have some replaced with other cards. Another change could be to replace Holy Smite and Radiance with some better cards. Perhaps this could be a 4 mana buff type card or a 3 mana damage spell. One final change would be to change the mana cost of Holy Nova from 5 to 4. This would give Priest a reliable board clear and make Holy Nova usable. It could result in it being too good, but it might be worth it to experiment a little.
So, does Priest need a nerf or overhaul? Right now, there’s a good argument for both. A nerf to the combo deck is a good short-term solution. Long-term, the class might need some reworking to stop nearly every meta Priest deck from being too oppressive.
Comment below with your ideas for nerfs and why you dislike or like Priest!