Blizzard Entertainment’s massively successful digital card game Hearthstone is full of exciting decks and new strategies after last month’s expansion Journey into Un’Goro. Despite the fairly fluid meta and some exciting off-meta possibilities, there are a few cards that deeply concern me from a long term balance perspective. The most frightening of these in my mind is the new Mage class-exclusive spell Primordial Glyph. This seemingly innocuous spell has entrenched itself as an auto-include in nearly every constructed Mage deck outside of the less viable aggressive builds, where it can still often be found. Tempo Storm’s popular Hearthstone Standard Meta Snapshot, a bi-weekly series which evaluates the most popular decks being played and their win-rates, lists not one, but two different Mage Decks in the top tier of competitive decklists and a third variant just below them. Each of these very different builds runs two copies of Primordial Glyph, a spell that seems to not just compliment these decks, but enable them.
With thirty-two mage spells to possibly be discovered, I initially looked at Primordial Glyph and wrote it off as fodder for the Mage quest card. I had been punished by RNG too many times to put my faith in this gimmicky new card. I suppose I was too excited by the new Hunter class toys to remember just how powerful nearly all of the Mage spells are. Fourteen of the thirty-two spells can immediately deal damage to enemy minions. Three more can immediately freeze a minion or turn it into a useless (though adorable) sheep. Judging by the popularity of the card Babbling Book, pulling just one random Mage spell is valuable enough to merit play. With Primordial Glyph, a player is able to get three different chances to find a spell that’s right for the job. When over 50% of mage spells can immediately impact the board, it is no surprise Primordial Glyph is a go-to choice for competitive players.
The deck-building implications of this card are perhaps the most prominent issue. Before Primordial Glyph, one of the hardest decisions a Mage player had to face was choosing which of the thirty-two spells to include in the mere thirty card deck… oh, and a few minions have to fit in there too. In the past, mage builds had been forced to rely on single copies of high-cost spells such as Flamestrike or Firelands Portal in order to support the early game removal needed to survive. Now, with the ability to discover stall cards in the case of an aggressive opponent, or additional burn spells in the case of a control opponent, Mage decks are able to focus their lists on cementing the late game win with more confidence than ever before. And now that its possible to see more copies of a card than the maximum two permitted in your deck, Freeze Mage decks have been known to freeze their opponents entire board for upwards of six turns in a row.
One would think that with the potential to play four Frost Novas in one game, the card would have a steep cost, but Primordial Glyph is more than just effectively free, its better than free. At first glance, a lot of players think about it as a 0 cost spell that discovers another spell, and while they aren’t wrong, its actually more powerful than that. See, the card has a chance of discovering one of Mage’s numerous high cost spells. Mages often struggle until the late game when their strong board clears and massive direct damage spells such as Flamestrike or Pyroblast are playable. Now with the right offerings from Primordial Glyph, its possible to completely take over the tempo of the game by accessing these game changing spells much earlier. The value potential Primordial Glyph creates at such an early stage of the game can be absolutely oppressive, and even if a high mana spell isn’t found, it still lets the player grab the best of three random spells… at no cost. And then there’s this.
In my many years as a CCG player, there have been times when I’ve looked at overpowered cards or combos, often stronger than Primordial Glyph, and thought about what I would change. Off the top of my head I can think of three or more different erratas to Primordial Glyph that would adjust the various problems discussed above. Despite this I have to acknowledge the difficulty that changing a card this unique has on the developers, so I won’t elaborate on those ideas. In the past Blizzard has suffered from nerfing cards into un-playability, which is never what a fan of the game wants to see. Cards once considered staples in the meta such as Leper Gnome, Blade Flurry, and Call of the Wild immediately disappeared after over-reactive and poorly tested erratas. Perhaps the answer lies in the next set, which will dilute the pool of Mage spells even further, reducing one’s chances at finding a specific card. As of right now Primordial Glyph will continue leading Mage decks up the ladder although I expect to see an adjustment with the inevitable next round of nerfs… looking at you Stonehill Defender. In the meantime though, you might want to add an Eater of Secrets to deal with all the Ice Blocks floating around.