It’s been a while since I’ve been excited about Hearthstone. The Grand Tournament, the last full expansion for Hearthstone, was a major dud that really left a sour taste in my mouth. Blizzard rested the success of the entire thing on the new Inspire and Joust mechanics and even after giving the expansion a full month, neither really took off. With the meta stagnant with not much more than Secret Paladin and a smattering of dragons to spruce things up over the next couple of months, my interest waned.
Thankfully, Blizzard had The League of Explorers, a new adventure mode, waiting in the wings and both the new cards and new content were genuinely refreshing. Since then we’ve seen decks centered around the adventure mode’s most unique cards, such as Elise Starseeker and Reno Jackson, and while these injected a bit of spice into the meta, it didn’t last too long for me.
Yesterday, Blizzard released Whispers of the Old Gods, the latest full expansion to Hearthstone, and at least on the surface level it appears to be the craziest expansion the game’s seen yet. I’m still slightly apprehensive, but I do think the sorts of cards we’re getting with this expansion are really going to shake things up. Similar to Reno Jackson lists, WotG features a new card called C’thun that players can build entire decks around. The C’thun card is a 10 mana 6/6 that deals its attack damage randomly split across all enemies when played. The idea here is to use the new C’thun based cards to build a deck that buffs your C’thun before it’s eventually played. The cards themselves are often interesting, but it’s the C’thun mechanic itself that changes the dynamic of any given match. It’s sort of like playing against the Hunter hero power. Your match is on a clock. If you drag things out too long, your opponent will be able to play his C’thun and likely end the game. At the same, there’s a lot of counter play, so at least for now it feels pretty honest.
I’ve already had some crazy games where I’ve lured my opponent into a sense of inevitability about the face ripping destruction he was soon to unleash with his C’thun, only to snatch it all away with a timely play of my own with the new legendary, N’zoth, the Corruptor. This card resurrects all of my deathrattle minions that have died over the course of the match. Just when my opponent has swung the board state in his favor, clearing things for his C’thun play on turn 10, I played N’zoth filling the board with a bunch of new targets for his C’thun to hit. Does he risk playing his C’thun and hoping it deals enough damage to my face and the board to finish things off? Or does he delay the play until he’s got the new board state under control?
My opponent chose to make the play, but after all was said and done, my board was left with enough power to push for exactly lethal the next turn. It’s a far less frustrating mechanic than having to deal with someone who just heals everything you’ve done away with a card like Reno Jackson. It feels like there are a ton of ways to play around an opponent relying on his C’thun for the win condition.
Oh and there’s also Yogg Saron, an absolutely crazy new card that will cast random spells at random targets based on how many spells you’ve played over the course of the match.
Of course, it’s still early. It’s only been a day and I’ve been here enough times before to have my excitement tempered. A month from now, how will things look? Will things have settled into some boring meta? It’s possible, but it’s a lot less likely to look similarly to previous metas for two major reasons: nerfs (?!) and Standard format.
That’s right. The typically nerf-averse Blizzard has finally relented and patched in some key nerfs with the Whispers of the Old Gods expansion. Chief among them are nerfs to silence with a mana cost increase for Ironbeak Owl, a mana cost increase for the gatekeeper of fun that is Big Game Hunter, and a huge nerf to the Druid ForceRoar combo with the removal of charge on the treants summoned by Force of Nature. The aforementioned nerfs as well as the nerfs not discussed here would have changed things up a good deal on their own, but combined with Hearthstone’s new Standard format, we’re really in some new territory.
The WotG patch has split the casual and ranked modes into two with the introduction of Standard and Wild formats. Wild is basically how things were before the patch, with all cards available for play. However, Standard format will only allow for Classic cards and cards in expansions and adventure modes released over the last two years. Dubbed the Year of the Kraken, 2016’s Standard format will include cards released as far back as the Blackrock Mountain adventure mode. This means cards released with Naxxramas and Goblins vs. Gnomes are out (see ya Shredder and Dr. 7!). It’s both new and old at the same time.
I’m already seeing cards I haven’t seen played regularly since beta and early release start appearing once again and it’s refreshing. Some cards introduced in Naxxramas and GvG, have really locked down the design space of Hearthstone for a while now and it feels great to not have to look at every four drop with the shadow of the impossibly efficient Piloted Shredder looming over it. There are countless other examples, ranging from Mad Scientist, to all the other sticky creatures introduced in Naxxramas, to the turn seven dominating Dr. Boom. They’re all gone. Will other equally problematic cards take their place? Possibly. But maybe Blizzard’s learned a couple of things over the years and we may be able to avoid ending up in the same situation.
Standard also allows Blizzard to go a bit crazier with card design when thinking long term. If each set has an expiration date in Standard, the team doesn’t need to account for every card in Hearthstone always being available when designing something new.
It’s the introduction of Standard format and the nerfs introduced with the patch that have me excited for Rogue all over again, too. Anyone familiar with my writing on Hearthstone will undoubtedly recall how much I’ve lamented the state of Rogue over the years. The class has been confined to an extremely narrow design space due to the limiting nature of some problematic cards in its set. For example, cards like Blade Flurry limited Blizzard from printing powerful new weapons for the class because they could be used to spike insane face damage. Blizzard’s opened up that space now with some maybe too strong nerfs to the card. The changes to Blade Flurry have been controversial amongst the Rogue community to say the least, but I’m actually quite optimistic for the class’ future. Anything that opens up Rogue for interesting new deck possibilities is a good thing for the class. I’m already playing a tempo Rogue style deathrattle deck with the aforementioned N’zoth, the Corruptor and it’s been fun so far. I don’t think I’ve enjoyed the class this much since the early days of Hearthstone and I’m hoping this sort of playstyle becomes a viable one for Rogue once the new Standard meta fully takes shape.
What’s your take on Whispers of the Old Gods so far? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!