Opinion: Purify Is Not The Worst Card Ever (It's Just Not Great)13 Aug 2016 7
Up till now, the Hearthstone fan community have largely been a stable and satisfied bunch, eagerly awaiting the next round of cards from Blizzard. Not today though (or even, for the past week or two) – today they're angry, and it's just one card from the latest expansion, One Night in Karazhan, that's got them riled up. That card is Purify.
(Headline image courtesy of VentureBeat)
As Joe touched upon on Tuesday, Purify is a pretty terrible card taken at face value. It can only be played by the Priest class, and for the cost of 2 mana points it lets the player draw another card and remove all the special powers from one of their own minions. This effect is called 'Silence' in Hearthstone and it's almost exclusively used to de-buff enemy cards. Why on earth, the theory goes, would you pay mana to Silence one of your own?
Seasoned Hearthstone players will already know there are times where you want to Silence a friendly minion, as not all of them have beneficial effects. The classic example is 'Ancient Watcher' a minion that's both cheap and beefy but can't attack. By silencing him, however, you remove the restriction and get a powerful early game creature. Hearthstone streamer Kripparrian briefly explored this combo in a video decrying Purify. He still concluded it was the worst card in the game, partly due to its mana cost.
There's a similar card from another class which the video doesn't explore, however, and it's important to highlight because the idea that Purify is the “worst card in the game” is a little bit hyberbolic. Flare is a card from the Hunter-class: it gives a minor boon, removing enemy secrets, and then draws a card. Granted, removing secrets is a bit more useful than silencing your own minions, but they're both highly situational effects. The two cards have the same cost of two mana and Flare does see occasional competitive play. Blizzard may have hoped Purify would be similar.
Another thing that Kripparrian doesn't take in to account is just how useful card draw or cycling is in Hearthstone. To get the card synergies that make your deck work you need to get the cards together in your hand first. That makes card draw a big deal, more so because cards are often the first in-game resource you run out of. The reason Flare sees play is primarily because it allows faster deck cycling. That power alone makes Purify worth one mana, compared with the zero cost Silence card Priests already have access to.
Plus, silencing negative effects on your own minions isn't the only useful way to play Purify. Priests also have access to 'Mind Control' effects that can steal other player's cards. One of their spells, Shadow Madness, gives them temporary control of an enemy minion. That sets up an obvious combo with Purify: steal the minion, attack with it, then remove any special powers with Purify before returning it to its owner.
Really, Purify isn't a useless card, but it is very situational. Why the enormous outrage though? This has been covered quite extensively already, but the answer lies in the balance between classes. Not all of them are equal, and as new cards get released and players figure out all the strategies, the balance can shift – very common in multi-faction or multi-faceted card games. In Hearthstone, however, there is currently one big loser who hasn't been competitive for a long time. No prizes for guessing which class that is.
The fact is, everyone was expecting Priest to get a boost in this expansion: maybe not making them 'Tier 1', but giving them a boost at least. Instead what they get is, at best, a very ordinary card in Purify. This isn't so much a problem of card design, but one of timing and perception. Purify could have been easily forgiven in a larger expansion with more cards, but as one of only three for a class that's under-powered, it stands out a little.
Blizzard have already said that Priest is getting a leg-up, mainly because there are a bunch of new cross-class cards that synergize with the class. This isn't immediately obvious, though so we'll have to see how that works out. They've also pointed out that Hearthstone is already full of sub-optimal cards because not everyone wants to optimise. Some players like to challenge themselves or play silly decks, like one stuffed with Mad Bombers, for the fun of it. And we've already explored how Purify might work in a deck like that.
What is especially telling about this whole “storm in a teacup” situation is the comparative win rates between the classes. Senior designer Mike Donais has already revealed that the win difference between the current worst class, Priest, and the current best class, Warrior, is only about five percent. If that's true there's little reason not to run a Priest deck if you want to, unless you're playing at the very highest level. And if you are? Well, there are another eight, maybe seven, competitive classes right now, and if you're that competitive you won't be tied down to any specific class – only what works.
The one area where the bitterness was justified is in Hearthstone's card-drafting mode, the Arena. Hero powers and class cards are more important which, in turn, means different classes work better in the Arena than in constructed. Priest, however, is still bottom of both rankings. Purify is particularly bad in Arena because it's reliant on synergies which are hard to build, let alone pull off, in the draft game. To add insult to injury it's common, meaning it'll often show up as a potential pick. As was covered the other day though, this has already been fixed.
Personally, I've always felt that the solo expansions were the weakest aspect of Hearthstone. What everyone really wants are the new cards. Why make players jump through weak AI hoops to get them? Now that I've had the chance to play the initial wing of Karazhan, though, I'm hoping it might shape up better. So far it seems more characterful, more fun than its predecessors. If that pace is maintained over the coming weeks it'd be a shame to spoil it all with an unnecessary attempt to purify Purify.
Are you playing the new expansion? Have you tried using Purify in a deck? Let us know how you're getting on in the comments!