In May this year, just before the Standard format and Whispers of the Old Gods launched, several cards received the nerf-hammer. One of the cards changed was our beloved Big Game Hunter. He had become a staple in many decks due to his overwhelming ability. Being able to take out a 7+ attack minion and create a 4/2 body for a mere three mana gave him a spot as one of the most dreaded cards in Hearthstone. But in another way, he was one of the most beloved, and one that I find myself missing most.
The job that Big Game Hunter did was a simple one. He stopped decks from getting wildly out of control in the early game. When your opponent managed to Innervate out his Dr. Boom on turn three, or Avenge turned a Piloted Shredder into a 7/5, Big Game Hunter was there. When Frothing Berserker was helped by a few Whirlwinds to become the biggest kid on the block, Big Game Hunter was there.
Unfortunately, BGH didn’t know when to quit. Unlike the other cards who did their jobs and left, BGH stuck around. It wasn’t enough for him to slay giants, he felt that his presence was required afterwards. Perhaps if he had stuck to his giant-slaying roots he would have been spared, but he angered the powers that be. They reached down and smashed BGH, angered that he thought he could have both a powerful effect and a strong body. They allowed him to keep both, but nearly doubled his cost, making neither effect nor body nearly as useful. It turns out pride does come before a fall.
The Real Talk
Okay, the stories are cute, but the truth of the matter is, BGH served a real purpose in Hearthstone. He provided a way to stop decks that became too imbalanced to deal with. He certainly needed a nerf, but I believe that the nerf happened in the wrong way. His body and effect truly were far too powerful in combination. It wasn’t a one for one when you played him, it was far closer to a two for one. Rather than countering cards, BGH swung the entire game in favour of the player who played him. This level of countering was beyond acceptable, and his nerf was a surprise to no one. However, by increasing his cost the way they did, Blizzard removed the core identity of BGH.
Now, rather than actually countering early plays, BGH watches until the problem is dealt with before actually helping. The most notable issue is everyone’s favourite card: Flamewreathed Faceless. Before BGH got nerfed, this card’s broken power level would guarantee everyone running BGH, and many games would be decided based on a countering standpoint. Now, Flamewreathed simply runs free, coming out one to two turns before his natural counter can even consider being played.
We find ourselves in a situation where BGH was overpowered and Blizzard was right to nerf him, but then the meta changed and early game cards with 7+ attack became plentiful. Suddenly many of the players clamouring for BGH’s nerf began to ask for him back. So what could be changed in the future?
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BHG’s power level was too high, particularly going into a meta where the idea is playing massive minions. Blizzard was entirely right to tone him down. But they took a fundamental part of what he did – controlling early game – and took it away entirely. This caused the card to very quickly fade into oblivion, as class centric removal remained far more consistent and cheap. So what did Blizzard do wrong?
For a company that put a lot of emphasis on the ‘soul of the card,’ when they remade BGH they clearly didn’t get the soul right. The soul of BGH resided entirely within the effect that the card had, and what time it was available to play. By increasing its cost the card’s soul was destroyed. What I and many others had suggested instead was that BGH’s cost and ability remain the same, but the body it leaves behind was neutered. If BGH were to be a 1/1 rather than what he was, it may have been enough to see play without being too strong. Better yet, have Big Game Hunter be the game’s first neutral spell. The design for such a thing would be elegant, as it still lost to most class specific removal, but represented a niche card that could be spliced in if needed for the meta, or ignored if not.
Big Game Hunter went from being one of the most played cards in the game to almost unseen with the nerf. While I do believe it was overpowered, what they did to BGH was extreme and uncalled for. Destroying the purpose of the card defeats any merit it may have. Many more elegant solutions have been put forward since, but unfortunately it looks like Big Game Hunter may stay where he is currently, as Blizzard is heavily against retouching cards. Hopefully this experience has at least clued Blizzard in that a card’s soul is its purpose, not its stats. The soul of the card should be maintained, but it isn’t what Blizzard said it was. Big Game Hunter is dead, but others will come, to be the bane of Flamewreathed Facelesses everywhere.