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HearthstoneDec 27, 2022 2:00 pm CT

Prince Renathal has been nerfed: A postmortem for one of the most important cards in the history of Hearthstone

Hearthstone patch 25.0.4 brought about the end of an era (and we’re not overselling it): Prince Renathal has been nerfed. Moving forward, the card still increases your deck size to 40, but it only increases your starting Health to 35 rather than 40. That might not seem like much, but it’s a huge deal. Renathal will still be a powerful card, but that five health reduction cuts the power just enough to prevent it from overshadowing the new expansion’s meta.

The developers had this to say about the Renathal changes:

Renathal had its run. He’s the most played card in the game and the meta has warped around him for a long time, so we are making this change to open the meta back up. At the same time, we know he’s one of the most popular cards we’ve ever made, so we wanted to preserve his core effect as an option for his fans.

This card was given for free to all players a few days before Murder at Castle Nathria was released, and since every player had a copy, it found its way into a lot of decks. The developers surely knew how much this card would impact the game, and how much fun people would have building decks around it. But at first, the community wasn’t entirely sure how to use Renathal — or how powerful the card would be.

Renathal didn’t seem to fit the was meant to fit, while slotting neatly into deck archetypes that were probably weren’t intended, like Quest Hunter. But Quest Hunter was just one of the first Renathal decks to find success: soon, others emerged, and a whole new archetype of decks (often called “XL decks”) emerged, encompassing decks that could use the extra health and wouldn’t suffer too much from all the extra cards — or, perhaps, could even benefit from them, despite the drawbacks that are inherent to having a large deck on any card game.

Renathal was arguably the third time that Hearthstone added a card that was meant to launch entirely new types of gameplay. These cards not only enabled new deck designs, but changed how players approached deckbuilding itself. Before Renathal, there was Reno Jackson, a card that started the “highlander” deck archetype with decks that only contained one copy of each card in exchange for an extremely powerful healing effect. Later, we also saw the duo of Genn Greymane and Baku the Mooneater, cards that pushed deck designs that only included even or odd cards, respectively, in order to start the game with either a cheaper or an upgraded Hero Power.

All of those cards made it so that you’d look at other cards differently. You might see an interesting spell and think to yourself: this wouldn’t work on a regular deck, but it would definitely work well on a Renathal deck.

The simple fact that these cards enable those new avenues of thinking is extremely good for the game. The whole metagame revolves around them for months and months, and they affect all levels of play. You’ll face Reno decks or Odd/Even decks or Renathal decks in ladder from Bronze to Legend, and you’ll also see your favorite streamers playing them, as well as pro players taking them to tournaments.

Cards like this are meant to redefine the game with their effects.

But there’s definitely the risk of fatigue after a while. A game like Hearthstone needs to operate in cycles, not only with cards, but whole mechanics and archetypes rotating in and out, lest it becomes predictable and boring. So, as much as Reno, Genn, Baku, and Renathal are incredibly fun in how they’ve reshaped the very idea of building decks, they do need to be swapped out after a while. Their presence enables certain decks, but it also hinders other types of decks.

And the meta is the lifeblood of an online digital card game: it can’t be allowed to go stagnant. If the meta is too fast for now, it needs to slow down soon enough; if combos are running rampant, anti-combo measures need to be taken, etc. The meta needs to be shaken up regularly, and that means occasionally removing game-defining cards like Renathal.

We can only hope that after Renathal rotates out of Standard, he’ll be unnerfed back to his original form so that the XL archetype can live on in Wild Mode, at least.

Good night, sweet prince.

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