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Hearthstone boots Ragnaros from Standard play

Year of the Mammoth

I am here to talk to you about Hearthstone [official site] changing over to a new year and which cards have thus been retired from Standard play (Azure Drake, Sylvanas and Ragnaros are all being put out to pasture). But first a confession/complaint.

I had entirely forgotten that Blizzard were trying to make their own animal-based year calendar a Thing and thus missed out on an entire twelve months of banter. We could have spoken of the Fiscal Year of the Kraken! The Academic Year of the Kraken! Kraken Q1! Whether sales were up or down compared with the Fiscal Year of Luigi! I wanted Blizzard employees to be issued with diaries running from August, Kraken to July, Mammoth. SO MANY JOKES JUST LOST TO TIME! I solemnly swear to make up for it as we begin this: the Year of the Mammoth.

Right. Let’s rewind a bit.

The Year of the Kraken began when Blizzard announced it was going to split Hearthstone into Wild and Standard variants. In Wild you can use anything you have at your disposal when you’re forming decks while in Standard the cards from particular expansions and adventures are eventually cycled out of play as the years of the Blizzard zodiac pass. The idea was the keep the competitive scene relatively fresh and force players to use cards from the basic and classic sets everyone has access to alongside only the most recent expansions.

Obviously cards could get buffed or nerfed in that time so if an expansion or adventure card was over or underpowered it wasn’t just a case of waiting a couple of years for it to vamoose. It was more about keeping the deckbuilding from becoming stale by forcing Standard players to switch up their card pools every now and again. There’s also the related financial advantage where it pushes people towards investing in the newer cards, but I think the potential for staleness and seeing the same cards over and over as people clone strong decks is a real problem in card games so it feels logical to look for ways to keep that at bay.

Fast-forward to the beginning of the Year of the Mammoth (which will be ushered in with the first expansion of 2017) and that means Blackrock Mountain, The Grand Tournament and League of Explorers cards will all be put out to pasture and thus confined to the Wild game variants. Standard will be nearly all of the basic and classic cards, Whispers of the Old Gods, One Night In Karazhan, Mean Streets of Gadgetzan and everything that comes out in 2017.

Year of the Mammoth

One major difference in the Year of the Mammoth, though is that some classic cards are being booted out of Standard play too because of their ubiquity. The thinking here is that some cards from the classic set are too strong not to use if you have them available and so they’re considered must-have additions to decks. According to Blizz, they feel like this imposes limitations on new players who might not have those cards yet as well as contributing to that staleness where you see the same decks and the same cards a squillion times in an evening.

When cards show up too frequently in decks and are considered auto-includes, deck-building becomes more limited. Deck variety stagnates, potentially interesting build-around cards fall by the wayside, and the gameplay experience begins to feel less dynamic. Most cards should feel like situational additions to a deck, depending on the deck archetype the player is trying to build.

To help meet our goals, certain cards from the Classic set will become exclusive to the Wild format. These cards will be added to the new Hall of Fame set, which will also include cards that are currently in the Reward set.

This is a lot of talk of different sets and, as someone who abandoned Hearthstone and headed off into the wider world at some point prior to the Year of the Kraken, I’m starting to get twitchy. I’m just going to pop the dev explanations for the classic removals and then ask what you think if you’re someone who still plays. Do you like the changes? Is this the right way to solve the problem? Is it even a problem? WHAT ARE YOUR HOPES FOR THE YEAR OF THE MAMMOTH?

AZURE DRAKE – Azure Drake is a strong Neutral card that ended up being a bit too versatile, and thus became one of the most played cards in the game. There should be more five drop options for players, rather than considering Azure Drake an auto-include.

SYLVANAS WINDRUNNER – Similar to Azure Drake, it’s hard to see a card at the six mana cost out-value Sylvanas. In addition, Sylvanas has the most powerful Deathrattle effect in the game—as a comparison, the Priest card Mind Control costs 10 mana. We have exciting Deathrattle build-arounds coming soon, and in combination with Sylvanas, they would be too powerful for Standard.

RAGNAROS THE FIRELORD – Ragnaros is heavily played in both control and mid-range decks and even shows up as a finisher in certain types of aggro decks. His high immediate value and strength at the eight mana cost made the decision during deck-building, “Is this eight mana minion better than Ragnaros?” rather than, “Is this eight mana minion the best choice for my deck type?” Dozens of cards in the seven to nine mana range never saw play because Ragnaros was always the easy choice in that range, and some decks only want to run one high cost card.

Also destined for the Wild prison are Power Overwhelming (a really cheap Warlock damage spike you can apply to friendly minions). Ice Lance (a key component of Freeze Mage decks which have been around since, I dunno, the Year of the Primordial Sludge) and Conceal (a pain-in-the-bum stealth blanket for Rogues.

Given players might suddenly want to create new cards in place of these Hall-of-Fame-ers Blizz will be awarding you the full dust value of any you have in your collection up to the maximum you could squish into a deck (meaning you get the value and don’t actually need to disenchant anything you might want to still use in Wild). Dust is the destruction/construction side of the game, where you can get rid of things you don’t want in exchange for (usually) a portion of the value it would cost to create it.

The last big thing I want to mention here is that in this, the Year of the Mammoth, players can expect three expansions which are around 130 cards each instead of the expansion/adventure cycle.

Year of the Mammoth

From the description it sounds like the stuff adventures did (so the storytelling single-player side) isn’t being canned, but they’re trying to figure out how to weave it around these bigger card drops to tell stories and encourage experimentation.

LASTLY (because my tea is getting cold and I haven’t touched my afternoon apple yet) there will also be a new Rogue hero in the form of Maiev Shadowsong:

Maiev Shadowsong

The new Rogue Hero, Maiev Shadowsong, has emerged from the shadows, eager to become a part of your Hearthstone collection after 10,000 years of tolerating bad “You are not prepared” jokes from Illidan. Legion beware: Adding this vengeful Night Elf to your collection will be easier than teaching an old felhound new tricks. Just win 10 games of Hearthstone in Standard Ranked or Casual mode after the next expansion officially launches to acquire her.

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Philippa Warr

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