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HearthstoneJul 9, 2024 10:00 am CT

Hearthstone temporarily bans Splish-Splash Whelp from Standard to combat “overwhelming Druid presence”

In a somewhat surprising decision, the Hearthstone team has decided to temporarily ban a card from Standard via a hotfix: Splish-Splash Whelp. The hotfix is now live, removing the card from the game until the next planned balance pass, which should come after the release of the upcoming Perils in Paradise expansion, as Blizzard evaluates the card and considers changes for it.

Splish-Splash Whelp is a 2 mana 1/1 rare Dragon from the Druid class which reads:

  • Battlecry: If you’re holding a Dragon, gain an empty Mana Crystal.

It’s what one calls a “ramp” card: a card that gives you extra resources, so that you’ll be able to reach a higher resource total earlier in the game than your opponent, and thus play powerful cards long before you’re “supposed” to. It’s a concept that’s super common in card games in general, and in Hearthstone it’s always been one of the main strategies for the Druid class, in particular.

But Druid has always had several ramp cards, and Splish-Splash Whelp doesn’t seem particularly more powerful than most of those. Why, then, is it being banned now? The answer might not lie in the Whelp itself, but rather, on a different card: Doomkin.

Doomkin is a dual-class Druid/Warlock rare card that costs 6 mana, has 3/4 stats, and reads:

  • Battlecry: Take one of your opponent’s empty Mana Crystals.

That’s a very powerful effect, but it’s well-balanced by virtue of the minion having low stats and costing six mana, meaning that you can’t usually play Doomkin too early in the game, thus lessening its ability to hinder your opponent’s mana as well.

…except that’s exactly what’s happening: Druid players are using other ramp cards — such as Splish-Splash Whelp! — to consistently play Doomkin much earlier than they’re supposed to. And Doomkin’s ability to actually steal a Mana Crystal from your opponent — which not only ramps you, but greatly cripples them as well — is too much of a power swing to happen before turn six. When your opponent only has three or four mana crystals in those early stages of the game, losing one is considerably more impactful.

Why is Splish-Splash Whelp paying for Doomkin’s sins?

So why don’t they ban Doomkin instead of Splish-Splash Whelp, then? Your guess is as good as mine, but a few possible reasons for that are:

  • Doomkin is more instrumental to the success of Druid than Whelp is, so getting to lose Doomkin would be a much bigger blow to the class than merely losing one of its earlier ramp options.
  • Doomkin is also a Warlock card, so perhaps the developers are avoiding having to also indirectly nerf Warlock due to a Druid problem — even if most Warlock decks aren’t running the card right now, they lose the ability to use it in the future.

Another question would be: why outright ban this card, even if temporarily, right before a new expansion comes out, with a balance patch already scheduled? The justification given by Blizzard is that they’re seeing “overwhelming Druid presence.” This implies that Druid is being played much more than what would be healthy for the game, and it is true that when a class or deck becomes ever-present, the whole game suffers as a result. A more varied meta, with a diverse spectrum of classes and strategies popping up, is certainly more fun for the majority of players. So perhaps the developers have a certain threshold they maintain of how popular a class or deck can be — and when a certain class or deck crosses that particular threshold, it’s time to take emergency action against it.

It’s certainly rare to see outright card bans in Hearthstone, so the current Ramp Druid issue is definitely a big one from whatever analytics the Hearthstone team uses to evaluate the balance state of the game. Whatever the truth is, Splish-Splash Whelp is out for the time being, and we should see a trend towards fewer people playing Druid over these next few weeks. The Whelp will eventually return — but it might be in a modified form that doesn’t allow it to contribute as much to Druid’s ramp potential.

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