Why Blizzard Ended the Unholy Union of Grim Patron-Warsong Commander


hearthstone warrior axeI awoke to good news this morning: the Hearthstone Warrior card, “Warsong Commander,” had finally ended its reign of terror. The professional reaction is here, but I’ve got some points to add to the discussion on the immediate fallout.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I’m a very casual Hearthstone player, and I almost never play Warrior class, so this only affects me indirectly. However, I am so glad that the Grim Patron Warriors are going to thin out. Seriously, every time I was matched up with a Warrior, I knew exactly what the deck would contain, and it didn’t seem worth playing unless I could end the game in the first few turns.

Perhaps I’m just a bit miffed that my control decks were no match for this setup, but there was something else to this nerf that gives me pause—and excites me. Blizzard is saying no to a possible pay-to-win exploit within their game, and that speaks volumes about their company ethics.

Let’s back up a moment. There is no pay-to-win problem with the Warsong Commander card itself. It’s a basic card that everyone gets if they play through the first few levels with the Warrior class. But the other piece of this puzzle, Grim Patron, comes from the Blackrock Mountain expansion. Unless you’re willing to throw down a significant amount of cash—or save up an insane amount of gold from winning hundreds of matches and lock it all up for a few new cards, something few people actually do—this card is inaccessible. We could argue about this inaccessibility all we want, but the point is, it would take an awful long time to get this card without just spending some money.

So, not only was there a potentially overpowered game exploit—Warriors are able to trigger the Grim Patron duplication quite easily with a number of spells, leading to an entire side of Grim Patrons next to a Warsong Commander, all able to attack in one turn, after just being played—but it was an exploit only available to those who paid for it—either with their credit cards or with a vast amount of time and energy.

But, even worse, was that as a result of this exploit, every single Warrior deck began to look identical. Every game against a Warrior was the same exact ramp up, trying to kill the enemy off before he could summon an army of unkillable, unstoppable Grim Patrons. There was no point in playing these games unless your deck was optimized against this single build.

But today, the world changed: Blizzard said no. No to pay-to-exploit, no to tedious gameplay, and no to uninteresting, unchallenging deck-building. And today I am proud of Blizzard.

Had they left Warsong Commander’s Charge ability out in the wild, they would have been tacitly stating that pay-to-win is all right in their world, something that Hearthstone has avoided throughout nearly its entire history. Through patience and innovation, you can win at this game without resorting to spending cash in it—and that’s the definition of what a free-to-play game ought to be.

And for the first time in months, I’m looking forward to my next game against a Warrior; for the first time in a long while, it will be something new.