The outcry began moments after Hearthstone released its Journey to Un'Goro expansion. "The Rogue Quest is broken!" cried out many of the game's players. While Shacknews was ahead of the curve on the potential havoc that The Caverns Below quest and the accompanying Crystal Core spell could wreak, many of Hearthstone's players were caught off-guard. The card appeared weak to them, but having seen it on the playing field, they were soon demanding a nerf.
But overreaction isn't Blizzard's game. The developer wants to wait for the meta to stabilize before making any hasty decisions. So with the new meta (and the new Standard season) a full month old, let's revisit The Caverns Below and Crystal Core and analyze a few key questions to see if action is worth asking for.
Is the Quest itself broken?
Now that the initial outrage has died down, this is an easy "no." The Rogue has many tools at its disposal, but it's easy to forget about the tools that were lost in the change to the new Standard season. The Miracle Rogue decks took a massive beating with the Stealth-issuing Conceal moving to Wild, so that left room for a new Rogue deck strategy.
The Rogue quest has found a place in the ladder and in the pro meta because of the unlikely tools that it rides to success. Stonetusk Boar? Youthful Brewmaster? Who would have ever expected to see this in any kind of viable deck? The trouble with this is, as many Rank 20-10 players will attest, the deck is more likely to crap out than it is to succeed. Unless the Rogue draws enough cards with Return effects, the deck's minions are far too vulnerable to get wiped out before the quest conditions can be filled. This leaves the Rogue at the mercy of aggro decks, like the popular Pirate Warrior and the rising Beast Druid.
Of course, when the quest hits, it hits hard and it's easy to feel like it's just plan broken. After all, what else can you say when an opponent is playing Crystal Core on Turn 3?
So then that leads to the next question.
What other cards make the Rogue Quest feel broken?
This is another easy answer. It's Shadowstep and Preparation, two of the Rogue's long-standing staples. Since Crystal Core is technically a spell, Preparation discounts it to 2 mana, while Shadowstep can keep bringing minions back again and again for no cost. This is particularly brutal with Charge minions like that Stonetusk Boar or Southsea Deckhand.
Here's where things turn complex. The overreaction to scenarios like repeated Boar rushes to the face is to nerf Shadowstep or Preparation by adjusting their mana cost. But given their functions, that doesn't make any sense. The spells wouldn't be viable anymore.
The alternative is to adjust their text to something along the lines of returned minions or discounted spells could only be played on the next turn. However, that wouldn't work either, given how many other Rogue decks rely on these spells. Why should Miracle Rogue be punished because a Quest Rogue keeps throwing a Boar at your face?
So nerfing the quest cards themselves and nerfing Shadowstep and Preparation are out of the question. And don't even bring up nerfing the 1 mana 1/1 Boar, because that's just silly. So then what isn't silly?
Should the Return minions be nerfed?
This is getting closer. The Rogue quest works as well as it does because of the low cost of its "return to hand" minions. Youthful Brewmaster would have been more than enough to make the quest viable, but Gadgetzan Ferryman from the Mean Streets of Gadgetzan set is another 2 mana option that's too good to pass up.
This is where frustration can set in and where some of those "nerf" cries can stem from: Once a minion is safely back in the Rogue's hand, the player knows what's coming next and there's no effective way to stop it. Outside of the Mage's Counterspell (which can easily be baited out by any of the Rogue's low-cost spells), there's no way to stop that quest train. One good option to slow it down by upping the cost of some of these return minions.
Other than that, many of the suggested fixes would just break the Rogue class and cause collateral damage. And it would all be to fix a deck type that falls on its face as much as it succeeds. It's likely Blizzard will eventually take action, but the Quest Rogue situation is not as dire as it looks. Because of that lack of urgency, Blizzard will be extra careful about deliberating any potential patch changes.
Shouldn't the quest just get nerfed anyway?
That's not an unreasonable question, because let's think about it in these terms. Even if the Quest Rogue's winrate isn't the best, losing to the thing just feels cheap. I mean, look at this!
That's the kind of thing that sends players reaching for the "Concede" button. More than that, the feeling that losing comes out of "cheap" plays that are neither fun, nor interactive has been the basis for nerfs in the past. Look at Leeroy Jenkins or Unleash the Hounds. So asking for a nerf isn't entirely unreasonable, even if that question can come across as whiny.
But more than any situation before it, this will not be a simple fix, just because of the number of ingredients involved: the quest itself, the 0-mana spells, the Charge minions, the Return minions, etc. It only takes one overboard fix to break the game in a different way or make something completely unviable, so don't expect a fix to come tomorrow. This will take a lot of thought on Blizzard's part.
Alright, but what about in the meantime?
In the meantime, Blizzard has already offered up the best solution: go aggro.
The Pirate Warrior will eat the Quest Rogue for breakfast, much to the chagrin of anyone that was already tired of this deck in the last expansion. Taunt Warrior can also ward off Rogue attacks until Brawl or Sleep with the Fishes can ruin their day. Aggro Druids making liberal use of Mark of the Lotus and Power of the Wild in combination with low-cost minions can potentially end the game before Turn 5 if they have Savage Roar at the ready. The aggro Hunter can strike quickly with Alleycat, the resurgent Scavenging Hyena, and boost them with the Hunter's new best friend: Crackling Razormaw.
The key takeaway: strike fast and strike in numbers.
It's possible for tempo decks to survive against a Quest Rogue. Freeze Mages can fend off Rogues with freeze spells and the life-saving Ice Block. But for the most part, tempo decks face an uphill battle, as they have for the past several expansions. That's because the Hearthstone meta continues to move faster and faster and favor more and more aggro decks.
But that's a conversation for another day.
Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, Hearthstone's Rogue Quest One Month Later
I haven't played the deck, but my guess would be giving up your turn 1 to play the quest would be a huge tempo lost. It's really important to have a one drop with that deck.
And while the cards around the discard mechanic are strong by the time you finish the quest the two free minions every turn are probably not going to make a difference. Zoolock isn't trying to play a value game. Their goal is to win on board early and then push for damage.