Format Drive: Hearthstone
What’s that sound? The clouds have parted and the skies have cracked open. Horns are sounding, and a brilliant fanfare has sounded to herald the arrival of our savior. The seas are parting and miracles are happening. That’s right, formats are finally coming to Hearthstone.
…What, did you think I was going to say Thrall? I’m not Richard A. Knaak.
Early on February 2nd, 2016, Blizzard announced the introduction of two formats for Hearthstone: Standard and Wild. If you’re at all familiar with Magic: the Gathering, you’ll continue to see the obvious parallels in the formats and their intentions. It should probably come as no surprise that Blizzard harkens to the most popular competitive trading card game in the world. As a matter of fact, Blizzard even considers having one a Magic: the Gathering competitive level event such as a Grand Prix or Pro Tour to be a huge bonus when applying for openings on the Hearthstone team.
A Standard deck in Hearthstone can only be constructed of cards released in the current and previous calendar year. When the formats go live this Spring, that will include every set at the time except for Curse of Naxxramas and Goblins vs Gnomes, which already offers some exciting shake ups compared to Hearthstone as it is now. Standard works very similar to how Magic: the Gathering’s most popular format works, where sets are currently released in “blocks” of two sets, and an entire block is rotated out at a time. This leaves no more than four expansion sets in Standard at a time, frequently refreshing the format and forbidding it from being “solved” for too long (that is, the pro players have figured out the best possible decks using the cards available).
On the other hand we have Wild, which is Hearthstone as you know it now, easily drawing parallels to Magic’s Legacy format that allows you to use cards from every expansion; but that’s where the likeness ends. Wild will inevitably live up to it’s name, while also seeing Hearthstone decks do what they do now: push entire swaths of cards out of viable competitive play as certain cards give you so much value for their cost, that you’re hard pressed to play another card. And that’s why the introduction of Standard is so important to Hearthstone. As more and more cards are added to the pool of available choices, more and more cards aren’t seeing play.
Players have heavily debated the fairness of cards like Dr. Boom that are not inherently imbalanced, but so good that it’s almost silly to not play him if you have him. The same can be said about Piloted Shredder, which gives players an extreme amount of value for 4 mana (or less if you’re running certain other Mechs). Piloted Shredder gives players such an advantage, that it’s extremely hard to justify filling the 4 mana slot with anything else, resulting in an illusion of choice that pushes all other potentials to the side. To design a card better than Piloted Shredder would be an absurd escalation of power, while banning it would be uncalled for given that it’s not oppressive, but simply hard to justify excluding (much like Dr. Boom and Loatheb). That is where Standard comes to the rescue, however, wherein stale meta-games in which you can expect to inevitably see Dr. Boom, Loatheb, Piloted Shredder and several other predictable staples hit the table will become less frequent. If you’re like me and tired of hearing Annoyo-tron hit the table and seeing the same “good stuff” Mech shell applied to all too many decks in ranked, it’ll be a refreshing change.
Development will become more interesting with the introduction of formats, and promised are the biggest swatch of changes, yet. The Basic and Classic sets will always be valid for Hearthstone’s Standard, and to that end Blizzard have stated that a reevaluation will be in order for several cards in those sets. No specific examples have been stated so far and we won’t hear much more until closer to the introduction of the Standard format this Spring, but given the prevalence of Basic cards in many Classes, it should come as no surprise that balance changes will be coming to those cards. Since the Basic and Classic sets are going to be part of every Standard format regardless of other sets rotating out over time, Blizzard also has to make an effort to make sure the core cards won’t create the stale formats that Standard will try to avoid.
With separate ranked play for both formats, several more deck slots, and a new expansion that will probably arrive with the introduction of Standard, it’s shaping up to be a very exciting 2nd Quarter for Hearthstone fans. If the combined sound of Goblin cackling and gears triggers PTSD, or you’re tired of hearing “HELLO, HELLO, HELLOOOOOO”, then the promised updates coming this Spring may be the breath of fresh air you’ve been waiting for.
Until next time!