Let's start with the most current news: The Azerite Snake has been temporarily nerfed to 6 mana. You can read more details here. Read on for my thoughts on why this card needs a nerf, what that nerf should actually be, and how all of this will affect Excavate Warlock.
Snakes. Why Did it Have to be Snakes?
The Azerite Snake is a Legendary minion that can only be obtained by Warlocks after using 4 Excavate abilities. Warlocks can Excavate using these cards:
Decent Removal Solid Card Amazing Card Even this one sees play?
With Warlock's innate ability to draw cards quickly, it's not difficult to get that 4th Excavation, all while removing enemy minions and healing yourself. Once you have The Azerite Snake, you simply play it over and over until your opponent dies. Fun, right? Not for your opponent. Here are the issues with this, listed in order of most to least important:
- The Azerite Snake doesn't just deal damage to the enemy hero and heal your hero, it literally steals health, changing both players' max health in the process. Once you've played it, your opponent's max health is now 20, and they cannot restore any health above that mark. Play it again, they're down to 10. Once more, and you guessed it, they're dead. Armor will not stop this. Even if your opponent is running Prince Renathal, you just need to play it one extra time. And of course, in the process, you are boosting your own max health, allowing you to then heal up to 40, 50 or 60 health.
- You can play The Azerite Snake 7 times in one game, overcoming even the lofty health totals Triple Blood Rune Death Knight can achieve through Vampiric Blood and The Primus. This repetition is thanks to Youthful Brewmaster, Saloon Brewmaster, Zola the Gorgon, and the fact that you can just Excavate 4 more times to get another Snake. These bounce options are so cheap that you can often play The Azerite Snake twice in one turn to set up or clinch the kill.
- The cost. For only 4 mana, you deal 10 (permanently) and heal 10 ("permanently"). This, plus the low cost of your brewmasters, enables many Snakes in short order.
- It's too easy to get. Really powerful game-ending cards exist in Hearthstone, but you really have to fight to get there. Think about Purified Shard. It takes many turns and often sub-optimal plays to get that win condition. Warlock's Excavate cards are abundant enough to get the Snake quickly, and good enough to keep you in the game while you dig.
Nerf the Snek
Blizzard's temporary solution was to increase the mana cost to 6. This partly addresses my 2nd and 3rd bullets above, but doesn't touch my 1st bullet, which I consider to be the biggest issue with the card. Plus (and remember that this is an opinion piece), I like the fact that all 5 Legendary Azerite Beasts are 4 mana 5/5s. Changing one of them to 6 mana breaks the consistency. I know, not super important.
Blizzard has already stated that they are going to revert this nerf in the next balance patch, while enacting a better solution to the issue, but they haven't said what it will be. Therefore it is my honor to humbly suggest the following:
This keeps its basic effect intact, while giving your opponent the opportunity to heal back the lost health and preventing you from stacking up health totals Warlock should never have. Additionally, giving the card Lifesteal softens the nerf a little, since leaving it on the board can potentially net you more healing. Currently, leaving it on the board is not something anybody is doing.
Is This the End of Excavate Warlock?
Personally, I think not. As many of us predicted during the reveal season, Excavate is a powerful ability that can swing or win games even without reaching the Legendary treasures. Sometimes you're playing a non-Excavate class and you get one of their cards through copy or steal effects: it's still good. The treasures you get by Excavating are almost always playable, and sometimes totally game-changing. Warlock in particular has so many powerful tools, like Sargeras, the Destroyer, Symphony of Sins and Dar'Khan Drathir, they will still be a top-tier class using Excavate cards alongside their other staples. Plus, you can also run Tram Conductor Gerry for an additional reward for Excavating. And who knows, maybe if The Azerite Snake takes a hit in popularity, it will make room for SludgeLock to come out and play.
What are your predictions for the eventual nerf to The Azerite Snake? How do you think it will effect the archetype's viability? Let us know in the comments below.