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Hearthstone's Wild competitive ladder faces a pretty big problem.


Hearthstone: Wild format and its giant Naga Sea Witch problem

Hearthstone’s Wild competitive ladder faces a pretty big problem.

Hearthstone‘s 10.2 patch might’ve given the Ranked Standard ladder a much needed shot in the arm by nerfing its most notoriously imbalanced cards — but let’s not forget the Wild format, whose Ranked meta has been facing big problems of its own for months now.

Namely, Naga Sea Witch. And her gang of nigh-unstoppable giants.

Hearthstone's Wild competitive ladder faces a pretty big problem.
“This card enables some pretty weird stuff.” – Hearthstone game developer Ben Brode

Before we get to the Sea Witch, a quick description of giants: They’re 8/8 epic minions representing ancient, hulking protectors created by World of Warcraft‘s pantheon of gods; just like they are in the source game, giants are big deals on the Hearthstone battlefield, both literally and figuratively. Their great power however, comes with a catch — their mana-cost starts off deliberately high (Molten Giant starts at 25 mana, Arcane, Clockwork and Mountain Giant at 12, and so on). These costs are altered by the Giants’ in-hand effects (“Costs (1) less for each other card in your hand,” or “Costs (1) less for each other minion on the battlefield” for instance), which require planning and strategy on the user’s part, as well as a fair amount of actual gameplay taking place.

Hearthstone's Wild competitive ladder faces a pretty big problem.

Hearthstone's Wild competitive ladder faces a pretty big problem.
The giants of Hearthstone.

That’s where Naga Sea Witch enters the equation. A 5-cost, 5/5 epic neutral card, NSW sets the cost of all the cards in one’s hand to 5, which allows her to cheat out a giant or several as early as turn 5 (or 4 with a coin); with good enough RNG, a player can set a Naga Sea Witch on the board followed by as many as 6 giants.

“The combination of these cards can result in an extremely powerful play,” Reddit user TheTimeLord725 explains. “Having a board of 5 8/8 minions and a 5/5 on turn 4 or 5 is completely unfun to play or to play against. This often results on whoever plays these winning 1 or 2 turns after.”

Naga Sea Witch hasn’t always slithered on the shoulders of giants, however. (Or should that be the other way around?) Back in August 2017, before the undocumented patch change took effect, NSW’s card effect set the mana cost of cards to 5 after their play-specific discounts; even if a giant’s mana cost was brought all the way down to 0, NSW would set it to a uniform 5. A pretty good discount, though nothing compared to what we’re seeing now.

“Turn 4 30/30 stats being dropped. Bli$$ard is essentially giving wild mode a middle finger with naga sea witch change,” says forum poster, Yusufarzz.

He’s referring to NSW’s current card effect, which takes place before play-specific discounts. For instance, now if the 25-cost, 8/8 Molten Giant is in a player’s hand, NSW sets its cost to 5 — and then each point of damage the player has taken is factored into Molten Giant’s cost discount as well.

Hearthstone's Wild competitive ladder faces a pretty big problem.
Big on big.

Blizzard has made it clear that the change was intentional, per Hearthstone producer Tim Erskine:

And game director himself, Ben Brode, who said that if the NSW/Giants combo becomes too much of a problem, they won’t revert the change but rather nerf Naga Sea Witch:

We made the change because we think these rules are easier to understand because they’re more consistent with other parts of the game, not because we wanted to buff Naga Sea Witch. We were worried about it’s power level and have been watching the play/win reports in Wild. Right now it’s not one of the best decks, but it could grow in winrate as players get more practice. If it does become a big problem, we’d probably nerf Naga Sea Witch, rather than reverting the rules change.

5-Legend Wild player depressedpineapple1 has played the deck and admits that despite the NSW/Giants combo not being as imbalanced as it looks on paper, it still deserves to be nerfed because it’s “simply very awful design and saps interaction from the game”:

The game does NOT need more instances of coinflippy “win the game on the spot if you draw this on curve” cards, ESPECIALLY cards that come down on turns 3-5. S--t like Naga Hunter, Big Priest, Cubelock etc all cheapen the game and completely destroy decision making.

If you or your opponent draw the curve bomb play, you just play it without consideration of board state and gain what is typically an insurmountable advantage very early on in the game. These decks take the amazingly unfun and polarizing experience of playing against Secret Pally (back when it was good) and take it way to the extreme.

There are also very few ways to counter the combination once it hits the battlefield:

“Aside from freeze effects, there is ONLY 1 card that can deal with this combo the turn after it is played,” TheTimeLord725 says. “Lightbomb. Because a player has built a large board of large minions so early in the game, most board clears in this mana range will have no effect on your the giants board. Lightbomb is the only exception because each minion takes damage equal to their attack, but aside from Lightbomb, there are no other board clears of 6 or less mana that can deal with this.”

TheTimeLord is forgetting the Paladin’s Equality/Consecration combo — but if you’re not playing a Paladin, tough luck. There’s also one other way to combat the giants in the form of Druid spell Poison Seeds, which destroys all minions and replaces them with 2/2 Treants — even then, Poison Seeds is more of a deterrent than a counter — there’s still 14 damage to deal with after the fact.

As much as we dislike Naga Sea Witch, it’s not the card itself that deserves to be nerfed — the effect is what should be reverted, plain and simple. But with the next balance change nearly 4 months from now and the possibility of changes to the combination far from guaranteed, Wild is looking like the home to Giants for a year counting and beyond.

That’s why we here at AiPT! came up with our very own proposed giant deterrent. Behold, Hearthstone‘s Giant Slayer ye mighty, and tremble: Wander Jumbolumper.

Hearthstone's Wild competitive ladder faces a pretty big problem.

Seriously though, Blizzard. If you’re not going to revert Naga Sea Witch’s card effect, do us a solid and give us Wander. He’s the Wild hero we deserve right now.

Should Team 5 modify Naga Sea Witch’s card effect once again? Is the NSW/Giant combo actually unfair or is it overdramatized by salty opponents on the receiving end? Sound off in the comments.


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