Hearthstone: Big Changes And Bonus Deck Slots

Hearthstone [official site] is getting some major changes thanks to a new format which restricts the cards you can use in your deck. The idea is the make for a more varied and interesting metagame as well as making competitive play more approachable for newcomers. More on that after the jump but one of the side-effects is you’ll also be able to unlock double the number of deck slots so you can have up to 18 pre-made decks on hand for battle.

Okay, so. Hearthstone is getting split into two formats when the 2016 spring expansion arrives. One is called Standard. In Standard you can use any card released in the current and previous year as well as any basic or classic cards. When the first new expansion is released each year every set of cards that wasn’t released that year or the year before will be removed from Standard play.

This first cycle of Standard format (which Blizzard are referring to as the Year of the Kraken) will thus not use any cards from Curse of Naxxramas or Goblins vs Gnomes as they’re both from 2014.

The other format is Wild where you can use any of your cards. Wild is what Hearthstone has been up until this point.

The change has come about because the more cards get added to Hearthstone the harder it is for those cards to have an impact on how the game is played. At a certain point you get this “solved problem” situation where most people just end up playing particular cards and particular deck variants because they’re stronger and it doesn’t make sense to play anything else. The whole thing stagnates.

The sheer volume of cards you can play with or come up against can also be offputting to new players. As lead designer Ben Brode puts it, “It’s getting more and more daunting for new players to jump into the game. Also the cards we design have to compete with more and more cards making it harder for us to really shake up the metagame when we release new content.”

With Standard format the idea is that you have this core of basic and classic cards which form the foundation of Hearthstone and then other cards are added via new expansions or adventures then removed after two years. Keeping the number of cards smaller and having that impermanent element means being better able to alter or disrupt the current metagame of Hearthstone.

Standard format will only be available in casual and ranked play in Play mode, Friendly Challenges and maybe some Tavern Brawl stuff in the future because the rules for the latter change from week to week. For everything else – Arena, Solo, Adventures… it’s all Wild by default. You can use any cards.

The naming is interesting here. “Standard format” makes it clear that this is the version of the game Blizzard want as the default form of competitive play. They’ve also made it the form that will be used in official esports tournaments run by Blizzard like the Hearthstone Championship Tour and the Hearthstone World Championship in 2016.

Wild is so-called because “Eventually there will be tons of cards and it’s going to get at little bit crazy”. I’m inclined to disagree with Brode on this point. It will have a lot more cards but I simply don’t see it being wild in any way, it’ll just be that solved problem with dominant decks that don’t really ever go away and a number of best cards/deck variants it doesn’t make sense to stray from.

I’m interested in the change because the last few times I’ve written or commissioned articles about Hearthstone it’s seemed to have a relatively stagnant meta. Maybe an expansion would arrive and upset a few things but after a week or so the decks would get figured out and it would be business as usual. Prioritising Standard mode will perhaps see more variation, particularly in terms of pro play.

To make room for extra dedicated Standard decks there are more deck slots. If you’ve unlocked all nine characters you’ll now get nine more deck slots – 18 in total. You can divide them however you like between Wild and Standard.

There’s a whole heap more information over on the Hearthstone blog which answers most logistical questions.

33 Comments

  1. Xan says:

    You have missed a very important point: Blizzard is also planning to remove non-Standard adventures from sale entirely, blocking new players from ever seeing that content (though making the cards craftable).

    Which is something the crowd disagrees with.

    It also affects older card packs, but that’s a lesser problem.

    • Thankmar says:

      The question is, do really new players care about the actual adventures, or just the cards? Maybe they are a little overrated right now, but just locking content away for no obvious good reason is never a wise choice.

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        Philippa Warr says:

        I didn’t include that info in the article because I was focusing on why this was happening and that is the more interesting thing for me as someone who keeps bouncing off Hearthstone. Basically adventures retired from standard can no longer be purchased (although if you’re part way through you can get the remaining bits via in-game gold). That doesn’t exactly block off the cards – as I understand the FAQ you’ll be able to craft or disenchant cards from those older adventures. I haven’t played the adventure in question so I’m not sure how I’d prioritise the experience versus the cards or what I’d lose in not having access to it.

        • Tinotoin says:

          One semi-advantage longer term players have is, if they’ve bought the expansions which will soon be unavailable, is that they can now disenchant the many guaranteed legendaries from the expansions.

        • Thankmar says:

          Well, the adventures toy with the rules and turn the fight against “bosses” into puzzles. You have to build a deck which plays around the sometimes very strong unique abilities of them. This might be interesting and rewarding, but if you just blast through with your standard ranking deck or just can’t beat a specific boss because you don’t have a specific card mechanic available, it just feels you are gated from the real content, the rewarded cards (RPS had an article about the downside of adventures, I think it was about Blackrock Mountain).

          Those two year old puzzles might be not be interesting for new players, but why are they making them completely unavailable instead of discount them when the cards are getting craftable?

    • Cockie says:

      Well, you can still get them if you have at least the first wing. It’s not that hard to save up 700 gold to get it before it cycles out.
      I do wonder if they’ll discount them somewhat – crafting all those cards is quite expensive in dust. And the price in gold could use a discount too, for an adventure that’s only usable in Wild.

  2. Thankmar says:

    As a freeloading casual, I have no idea how this is gonna affect me. I’m cautiously curious.

    The stagnant meta does not affect me at all, since down in the ranks the decks are much more varied and you can play more experimental decks and win anyway. Plus, when you are not spending money and play just a match or two here and there, there will always be cards you don’t have and look forward to. Every pack matters!

    But I can see that for more dedicated players the meta might be stale, not to speak of pro tournaments.

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      Zamn10210 says:

      It’s unquestionably good news for disgusting freeloaders such as yourself because it restricts the size of the card pool and thus makes it more feasible to be competitive without spending any money.

      It’s also good news because for everyone who likes a varied and unstable metagame. It’s bad news only if you prefer to be left alone to grind with the same Zoo deck for all eternity.

    • Jokerme says:

      It will not affect you at all. In theory nothing about the game changes. All the existing modes still exist. They are just adding a new mode.

      Only real difference is Blizzard will be pushing the new mode for tourneys (doesn’t affect you) and won’t be trying too hard to balance the Wild Mode which will affect you if you want to play with all the cards you have. If you just go for Standard and don’t mind not being able to use some old cards, again nothing to worry about.

  3. Kitsunin says:

    I…guess…this is good. I tend to go long stretches without playing, and when I do get into Hearthstone I get really into it for maybe a monh, then burn out. Which bites serious ass considering their method for earning gold. So I have to say it feels like geez, I’ll never ever have a good deck if every other time I dive in, half my crap is unusable.

    On the other hand, it means a more manageable pool of things to “need” so I guess it’s a net positive as a mostly f2per (I usually swing for the adventures because they’re legitimately decent value for money).

    • Catchcart says:

      My thoughts exactly. At least in the current state of affairs I knew I had my (hard-earned) Naxx cards to rely on even if I had been away for a month. I guess the net result is that it’s easier to get in for new players but you’re penalised for taking extended breaks. Which seems reasonable if you’re looking at it from Blizzard’s perspective, I guess.

      • Nasarius says:

        But now you’ll be able to dust all your cards from adventures. Naxx has six legendaries and a couple epics, which should be way more dust value than you would usually get from $25 of packs.

        As long term casual players, I think our main advantage is a slowly growing collection of Classic cards, which aren’t being phased out.

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          Zamn10210 says:

          Indeed. Focusing on classic cards will make sense for casual players, and once you have that set filled out you can be confident you have a solid base pretty much forever rather than those cards being power-creeped out of the game.

  4. Tinotoin says:

    New deck slots are finally here – hoorah! – but I don’t quite know what to make of the segmentation of decks/play modes.

    It almost seems like a knee jerk reaction to getting Dr. Boom the fuck outta the meta heheh.

  5. lowprices says:

    I’d drifted away from Hearthstone, but this actually makes me interested enough to dive back in. Part of the problem I was having was, from the perspective of a casual player, the number of cards I needed to comb through to build a handful of reasonable decks was getting overwhelming. Having a restricted number of cards changing semi-frequently might solve that for me.

  6. Zankman says:

    This actually makes sense to me; The Standard systems sounds very useful for Hearthstone E-Sports.

    Two things tho:

    * I’d call it “Seasonal” or something, since it changes every year.

    * I would actually just remove “Wild”; As pointed out, if Wild is the old system, then Wild won’t really be wild but will continue to suffer from the old problems…

    Why even keep it around, then?

    Thus, Standard doesn’t even need a name – it should just be the only game type available.

    • Tinotoin says:

      I think it’s still quite pertinent to have the (admittedly poorly named) Wild mode still exist – as it would no doubt alienate a load of long time players, potentially myself included – who aren’t really fussed about the shifting meta and rarely rise above Rk 12.

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      Zamn10210 says:

      Wild is just a sop to the inevitable “loyal players are being punished” brigade. As if they would rather their ‘loyalty’ is rewarded than the game be good.

      Reading between the lines, it’s pretty clear Blizzard aren’t going to make any effort to balance Wild. Initially there will be parallel Standard/Wild metas but over time I imagine all but the most determined Zoolock grinders will migrate to Standard.

  7. Dolphan says:

    I’d imagine the ‘Standard’ name has a lot to do with familiarity for Magic players, since it’s the same thing (other than it being a year and a half in Magic). Very necessary change if they want to make new cards relevant without constant power creep.

  8. Aquablad says:

    I’m really excited for these changes. I’ve been a professional Hearthstone commentator for 6 months (although I’ve been a caster for over a year) and I’m glad we are shaking things up. I was worried Midrange Druid in its current form was going to be around forever!

    I’ve had long discussions with other Hearthstone professionals about how Blizzard can keep the game fresh and help new players.

    I didn’t expect this type of change to happen but was pleasantly surprised and I’m excited to see how the deck building adapts.

    With the Hearthstone Championship Tour and the new Standard format it’s going to be an exciting year for Hearthstone!

    • yusefsmith says:

      Can’t believe I have to tell a professional Hearthstoner (?) this, but Druid very nearly unaffected by this change. Unless combo is also nerfed, all they’ve lost is shade. I can’t think of a single important card they lost.

      • Aquablad says:

        They’ll be balancing existing cards in the Classic and Basic sets. I’m certain Druid will be tweaked a lot as the core of Midrange Druid is from those two sets.

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      Carra says:

      I agree, playing vs a druid is frustrating. With an empty board they can do 14 dmg. And it completely gets out of hand if they have one or a few minions.

    • Ksempac says:

      I am surprised you neither expected such a change nor any pro player suggested it to you.

      Hearthstone has always been following on the footsteps of Magic the Gathering. (note: i’m not saying the game are similar, just saying MTG was an obvious trailbrazer for most card games).
      MTG was on the decline around 2000-2005 for that exact same reason of too many cards and increasing entry cost. Then they introduced their own Standard format, and made a huge comeback. Now for the past 5 years it’s been back in full force, selling like crazy again, thanks to that format change.

      So Hearthstone following on this path, after having followed so many of MTG steps before, is hardly surprising.

      • Unruly says:

        Standard format in MtG has been around since at least 1998, and was the top constructed deck format then. A lot of older players referred to Standard as Type 2 originally, with Vintage being Type 1 and Legacy being called Extended. I didn’t hear it regularly being called Standard until the mid-2000’s, so maybe that’s why you think it came into existence around then. I’m pretty sure it’s actually been around longer, but that was right around the time I had started to play.

        But anyway, the big reason why MtG started to falter was because of power creep that wasn’t being corrected. Spells became more powerful while creatures and enchantments stagnated. The mid 2000’s was when they started to buff creatures up to match the level of spells, and it increased variety in play styles. Personally, I didn’t like that they buffed creatures and would have preferred that spells see a bit of a nerf instead. But I was running into disagreements with general rules and lore changes by then(hate the new Legend rule, hate the removal of mana burn, can’t stand the Neo-Walkers, etc) and bailed on the game for those reasons more than I did over balance issues.

  9. Okcel says:

    I think Wild will be a ghost town for three reasons:

    1. Wild becomes much more expensive for new players because they are unable to purchase adventures or card packs. Crafting enough wild cards to make the mode interesting would be exorbitant, and I wouldn’t recommend even trying for anyone who started the game in earnest after this coming spring.

    2. Wild will be unbalanced because the primary goal is to balance standard

    3. All of the competitive players will be playing standard since that’s the tournament format

    I think they could counter-act the first by making the crafting cost for Wild cards significantly cheaper and/or allowing wild cards to still be obtained with gold through packs.

    They could also support the mode by having gimmick or mini-tournaments with wild decks surrounding the main event.

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      Zamn10210 says:

      Wild will, by design, by a lot less popular than Standard. And it will get less popular over time as the two formats become increasingly divergent.

      I don’t think you need to worry about it being a ghost town though – Hearthstone’s playerbase is so large that even 10% of playing Wild should be enough to guarantee you’ll always quickly find a game at someone your rank.

    • Ksempac says:

      Wild is MTG’s Legacy. I can assure you there are plenty of people playing that format (or actually theses formats since they are several), even if it’s unbalanced.

      First because veteran like to play with their old decks/cards. They have them, they may or may not want to buy the new stuff, but they definitely want to play with what they have.

      Second, because it allows for some very powerful decks, which is always fun to play. Also some mechanics in the game are added with new sets, and some fade away, so playing old stuff allow you to play theses old systems.

      Third, because it’s actually not a fully unregulated wild land: there are ban/restriction lists in place to remove the utterly broken cards. I know Hearthstone hasn’t created a banlist yet, prefering to make use of the digital format to tweak the bad apples. However, I’m guessing some of the arguments against banlists in Hearthstone just go away once we’re talking about the non-Standard play, and so Blizzard might agree to curate the Wild format through banlist if people are enjoying the format and wants some tweaks.

      • Unruly says:

        Wild would be Vintage, not Legacy. Legacy has a fairly big banned cards list, while Vintage doesn’t flat ban anything unless it requires a rule that is no longer official, like Ante or the card drop mechanic of Chaos Orb. Unlike Legacy it allows for the most powerful combo that MtG has ever seen, the Power Nine, to still be played, though it does restrict each card in the combo to 1 per deck.

        If it was like Legacy, you’d probably see cards like Dr. Boom being banned even in Wild, much like the Moxen are in MtG.

  10. Immobile Piper says:

    But can I purchase a full set of Shaman cards at a reasonable price? Ditto for Warlock? Random card drops were what drove me off the game. I had a bunch of rogue and warrior epics, pity I didn’t have any interest in playing the sodding classes.

    Crafting with dust didn’t really appeal since I’d have to disenchant a ton of cards to be able to craft a very few cards. The whole thing just felt horribly anti-consumer.

    • malkav11 says:

      No, nor will you ever be able to. Random boosters are a license to print money if you can get people to buy them, and Blizzard’s clearly got that covered.

  11. Parrilla says:

    Do many people still play this? I thought it was an amusing diversion for a month or so when it came out but a bit dull really.

  12. Flavour Beans says:

    “The change has come about because the more cards get added to Hearthstone the harder it is for those cards to have an impact on how the game is played. At a certain point you get this “solved problem” situation where most people just end up playing particular cards and particular deck variants because they’re stronger and it doesn’t make sense to play anything else. The whole thing stagnates.”

    Oh, hey, glad to see they’re addressing the complaint I’ve had about the game since… well, soon after it first launched. I might have to give it another spin.