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An obituary for Hearthstone’s overpowered Patches the Pirate

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He was taken too soon

Patches the Pirate is a blue creature with many eye patches Blizzard Entertainment

One of Hearthstone’s most notorious characters, Patches the Pirate, will walk the plank when the game gets its next patch this month. Blizzard is dealing it a major nerf after more than a year of it being one of the most dominant cards in the game, just ahead of its retirement from Hearthstone’s standard competitive format.

This is an obituary for Patches the Pirate. He wasn’t exactly beloved, but he was certainly memorable.

I’m in chaarrrrge now!

Patches the Pirate launched as a 1/1 minion, which means he has 1 attack power and 1 health point. He costs 1 mana to play and has the charge ability, which means he can attack on the same turn he comes into play. Since he can only deal one point of damage per attack and he dies to anything that deals him one point of damage, Patches might not seem intimidating to novice players at first glance. He has the same statline as a basic Stonetusk Boar. But Patches’ special ability is that he plays himself out of your deck and onto the battlefield as soon as you summon any other pirate.

This sets up some of the most aggressive early plays in Hearthstone. A Warrior playing a pirate deck can play N’zoth’s First Mate on the first turn. This 1/1 pirate equips a 1/3 Rusty Hook weapon to the player and also summons Patches.

That means the Warrior can hit the opponent in the face for 2 damage and establish a board presence before his opponent even gets to take a turn. Follow that with cards like Southsea Deckhand and Southsea Captain, and that deck is capable of ending the game by the fourth turn.

It made sense to throw in a pair of Southsea Captains and Patches, even in decks that weren’t structured around pirate-related synergies, because playing a Captain on the third turn and summoning a free Patches (buffed to 2/2 by the Captain’s ability) is significantly more powerful than anything else you can do with 3 mana in Hearthstone.

Patches will lose his charge ability after this update, which means he will no longer be able to attack on the turn he comes into play. This will significantly dull his impact; pirate decks are the most aggressive of the aggro archetypes. They run out of gas if they don’t win early. Slowing down Patches slows down the deck, and this nerf is likely to sink the whole pirate archetype.

The developers used to love this guy

Blizzard’s Hearthstone team seemed to be extremely excited about Patches when he was first released in 2016. The developers had been trying to create a card like this for a long time before Patches eventually launched with the Mean Streets of Gadgetzan expansion.

Originally, a piece of artwork depicting a pirate riding a giant parrot was supposed to fit with the Patches mechanic. But Blizzard cut that card shortly before launch, because the team was concerned about degenerate interactions with some powerful pirate-themed Goblins vs. Gnomes cards. The artwork, which had already been revealed to players in a video promoting the expansion, was used for a forgettable pack-filler legendary called Skycap’n Kragg.

The deck was cleared for Patches, however, once Blizzard launched Hearthstone’s standard format and retired those older cards. The developers’ excitement over this card was undisguised when Gadgetzan launched. Hearthstone game director Ben Brode went on Reddit to talk about Patches’ development history, saying, “I can’t wait to experiment with some crazy pirate decks come December!” Game designer Matt Place gave an entire interview about Patches with PC Gamer.

While most recent legendary Hearthstone cards have unique animations that play when they’re summoned, Patches has perhaps the most elaborate intro of any card in the game. When you play a pirate, a cannon telescopes out of your deck and launches him onto the board as his musical fanfare plays and he bellows his iconic, and soon-to-be-changed, catchphrase: “I’m in chaarrrrge now!”

But as the post-Gadgetzan metagame was becoming overrun with extremely aggressive pirate decks, the community grew less enthusiastic about the card and the archetype it enabled. Up until the release of Knights of the Frozen Throne, which pushed the metagame decidedly in favor of control decks, pirate decks were common enough on the ladder that many players ran Golakka Crawler — a specialized card that kills pirates — in all their decks, all the time.

The current Kobolds and Catacombs expansion favors control decks, and the pirates are no longer the best aggressive archetype, but Patches is still included in basically every Rogue deck. And his nerf isn’t really about his role in the Kobolds standard metagame, anyway. It’s about wild.

An end of an era for Patches; a new beginning for wild

Every year, all the Hearthstone sets except those released in the previous 12 months are removed from the standard game format and retired to wild, where all previous cards are legal.

The format has historically been a graveyard, although wild has its own ladder and players can earn rewards on it. Pro events and tournaments use standard format, and so most competitive players focus on the standard ladder. There is less serious analysis and discussion of wild; those decks don’t get honed and refined by the community the same way top standard decks do.

The Goblins vs Gnomes cards whose broken synergies prevented Blizzard from including Patches in the Grand Tournament expansion are still legal in wild mode, and have been the whole time Patches has been available.

And it’s those interactions, as well as possible interactions with future cards, that Blizzard is concerned about here. A year of Patches in standard was fine, but the developers don’t want that archetype to be dominant forever in wild. It would be too challenging to design cards around him.

In April 2018, when Blizzard launches the next Hearthstone expansion, the Whispers of the Old Gods, Mean Streets of Gadgetzan and One Night in Karazhan card sets will all be removed from the standard format. That’s nearly 400 cards. Hearthstone started retiring cards to its anything-goes wild format two years ago, but this will be the first time two full expansions have been removed from standard at once. Blizzard retired one expansion each in 2016 and 2017, along with the cards from the much smaller (and cheaper) adventure sets.

There are currently two full sets that are only legal in wild, and five that are legal in standard. But by April, there will be as many sets exclusive to wild as there are in standard. In 2019, for the first time, most Hearthstone cards will not be playable in the standard format.

Retiring older cards from the standard format makes it easier for new players to get on board with the game, because they don’t have to worry about collecting old sets. But with the retirement of this set, many lower-spending and free-to-play players are likely to find huge chunks of their collections gone from the main format, and many of their decks rendered inoperable due to the loss of those cards. Retired cards represent hundreds of dollars of investment in the game for heavy spenders.

Blizzard may be anticipating that this will be the year that a sizable portion of the player base will follow their cards to the wild format; this is the first time the developers have re-balanced cards for wild.

Or maybe Blizzard is just worried that Patches and his pirate crew are so busted that they’ll break that format forever if left unchecked.

We lose a pirate, but we get his treasure

When Blizzard changes a card, it allow players to disenchant that card for its full crafting cost. So if you’ve got Patches (or Raza the Chained, who is also getting nerfed), you can get a legendary of your choice when the update goes live. It’s a good idea to take Blizzard up on this offer. If you keep this card around, it will only be for sentimental value, even if you’re a wild player.

If you had a pirate deck or any kind of rogue deck in the last year, you probably had some good times with Patches the Pirate, and if you’ve played on the ladder at all, you’ve probably had some bad times playing against him.

But the nerf absolutely guts the card. His synergies with the Goblins vs Gnomes cards aren’t enough to compensate for his loss of charge. And if you decide you want Patches back for some reason, you can always craft him again.