Splitting the Hearthstone Baby

Breaking news: Blizzard finally did it. They really did it.


God damn you all to… nah, it’s cool.

In traditional Hearthstone fashion, the news of Blizzard splitting the Play format baby into Standard and “Wild” seemed to randomly come out of nowhere. In the scheme of things though, such a move is all but inevitable in CCGs, as it is the only legitimate tool to combat power creep. Magic: the Gathering has had different play formats for decades now, and has survived and thrived since then.

But I must admit it still feels a bit different here.

That could very well be because Blizzard is doing it differently. You can read the rundown on Hearthpwn, but the big takeaway for me was how they are up and removing Adventures and expansions from the store when they cycle out of Standard. As pointed out in one of the million Reddit threads streaming through /r/Hearthstone at the moment, this could very well doom the Wild format before it even begins. If you’re a veteran who already has Boom & co crafted? Go compete in Wild. If you’re a new player? You have zero recourse in breaking into this legacy format other than squeezing thousands of Dust from Standard packs.

…hmm. That’s actually not all that different than how Legacy goes in MtG currently. And considering Hearthstone’s Dust system allows you to craft any card you want, you aren’t actually limited to spending $500+ for a single card; technically the Dust can be accumulated over time from wherever.


How will I predict the Paladin curve now?!

Regardless, the actual earth-shattering effect of the format split are all the cards cycling out of Standard. Dr Boom has been such an iconic representation of all the idiocy in how the devs balance Hearthstone, but this almost feels… too abrupt. Paladin loses Shielded Minibot and Muster for Battle and Piloted Shredder. Belcher? Gone. Zombie Chow? Gone. Everything? Gone. This is more than metagame shifting, this is game-game shifting.

And let me just say how brilliant this move is from a business perspective too. Blizzard just wiped out half of everyone’s collection, and most of the people still playing won’t actually mind all that much. “You can just play Wild.” Yeah, until you realize that a year or two from now it will be a cesspit of broken synergies which will make you pine for the halcyon days of Secret Paladin. To compete in Standard, you’ll have to have the latest sets, which means purchasing more packs and Adventures on the regular, when your old staples like Belcher and crew sufficed as stopgap measures up till now.

To be clear, I’m excited about these changes. For one thing, it’s an re-dedication to actually balancing their game. Before, Blizzard’s “policy” was hoping that broken cards were replaced by newer, more broken cards in the next set. Or that a particular deck would just naturally fall out of favor. But now? As noted in their announcement:

The arrival of Standard format will also be an excellent time for us to take stock of Hearthstone. While normally we’re quite conservative about making balance changes to Hearthstone cards (and we’ll continue to be in the future), we’re planning to take the new Hearthstone year as a golden opportunity to re-evaluate a number of cards in the Basic and Classic card sets, including class cards, and make some long-considered adjustments.

Everyone is pretty much taking this to mean a nerf to Druid combo. Indeed, PCGamer said as much:

On the subject of balancing, Blizzard will be addressing some of the more problematic basic and classic cards to ensure they don’t have a negative impact on the Standard metagame. Again, there are no details on which cards are being looked at, but I was told that less than 20 will be nerfed and none will be buffed. Perhaps we’re about to see the end of the Druid combo after all.

Point being: Standard is going to have to be balanced. It probably won’t be, but there’s going to be no excuse for it not to be under this paradigm. Calling it now, though: there will be a series of months in which Wild will be more balanced in the aggregate than Standard. And that will be both hilarious and sad.

In any case, I’m looking forward to seeing how all this plays out.

Posted on February 3, 2016, in Hearthstone and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. Priests will be demolished in standard. Cards being removed that are very much playable in a lot of decks today: Deathlord, Velen’s Chosen, Lightbomb, Dark Cultist.

    Have they really thought this through? Removing 2 expansions will severely cut down on the card variety, and it’s not as if there are thousands of them (like when MtG started using a standard format for tournaments).


    • There will be a huge shakeup all around. Priest does lose a lot – Lightbomb in particular hurts – but it still has Entomb and similar cards from more recent sets. The real question mark is going to be what gets included in the Spring expansion. It’s possible that a lot of the “holes” in current decks just immediately gets filled with new things.

      I’m less concerned with card variety, as that really isn’t much of a concern currently; we have been using Belcher, Boom, Shredder, and so on in every deck for years now. Meanwhile, how many TGT cards actually see play in top decks? A dozen?

      I will agree though, that this format deal came a lot earlier than I thought it would.


  2. “we have been using Belcher, Boom, Shredder, and so on in every deck for years now.”

    Well, one year to be exact.

    I don’t really like that they are just sticking with classic/basic and getting rid of all others. The classic set has a lot of holes, like say a 2 drop for paladin. Even now after 2 expansions and 3 adventures minibot is the only one. So every cycle now they have to invent a new 2 drop for paladins. Better would have been to define a new classic set that filled some of these holes in.


    • Naxx = July 22, 2014
      GvG = December 8th 2014

      …huh. Naxx has been around for a year and half now, but yeah, you’re right about GvG. I just know the current general metagame has been around long enough that I honestly don’t remember how vanilla Hearthstone even played.


      • I don’t either, but I think it was a lot of Azure Drakeing. We will still have BRM, TGT, and LOE, plus the new set. I especially expect a striking reappraisal of the goodness of TGT cards, but it would be hilarious if they were still never played.

        At least no one will complain about secret paladin anymore.


  3. “..I was told that less than 20 will be nerfed and none will be buffed..”

    I know Blizzard haven’t actually buffed any cards since release, but I was really hoping that if basic and classic cards are going to be part of Standard forever, they’d at least take a look at a few cards that have literally NEVER been played in a serious deck. Like Kidnapper.


  4. FYI Kibler has a video up sharing some concerns about classic cards being in the standard rotation forever. If you’ve never heard of him, he’s a pro MtG player who also streams Hearthstone, and has also a background in TCG design.


  5. One, I love how the ‘big’ shakeup from Blizzard is something as basic as deck formats. That’s just perfectly New Blizzard in how lazy and minimal it is.

    Second, you have to love Blizzard, much like they have done with WoW and retention now, just throwing in the towel for HS balance and hoping (praying) that outright removing a ton of cards on a regular basis makes the game more balanced rather than less.

    This is going to be an interesting disaster to watch unfold.


    • Well, they are rebalancing aka nerfing “less than 20” cards from the core sets along with this change. Between that and the fact that most (all?) CCGs have formats, it is not as though Blizzard is deviating from the norm here.

      The legit criticisms would be lack of balance up to this point, lack of forewarning about the eventual existence of formats, and outright removing Adventures. Hell, depending on what’s in the pipeline for the Spring expansion, they might even swerve towards less random effects, especially now that Shredder is cycling out. Still Discover and such, but Standard is going to look a lot different.


    • *a wild Syncaine appears*

      If by “interesting disaster” you mean creating a format that (by your own admission) is a standard for TCGs, then yeah it’ll be really interesting for the competitive scene. It’s interesting, since by your standards MtG must be the hugest failure of all, since some cards are so broken they are downright banned in all formats. I just wish I could replicate this failure as well for all my projects.

      It’s funny how you try to turn even the positives about HS into “failures”. Damned if they do, damned if they don’t. We know that (for some reason) you’re bitter that HS is actually a commercial success (steady top 3 in Google Play, shoots to #1 when an expansion is launched), but this is getting embarrassing.


      • It’s top 3 in Google play for revenue? Odd, since its not in the top 20 in the app store on either format.

        That aside, MtG does ban cards. HS does not. MtG attempts balance, HS does not. This isn’t a case of damned if they do/don’t, its a case of Blizzard not balancing HS at all. Now removing a lot of cards from an already shallow card pool and an even shallower meta in terms of decks, rather than actually balancing, ISN’T balancing by MtG standards. How are you not able to follow along?

        But hey, if some people view this as big news and a big step forward for the game, Blizzard has at least succeeded in some circles it seems.


      • The primary purpose of formats isn’t to balance, but to regain design space and force meta changes. They’re useful enough for rotating out strong cards that aren’t OP–many argue Dr Boom is an example–but wouldn’t be enough for say Undertaker or Warsong Commander which were de-facto eliminated from the scene (“banned”).

        After all, it’s not exactly a crowning achievement of balancing if you constantly have to ban broken cards that should never have been released.


  6. If anything, it’s a signal that Blizzard intends to keep Hearthstone around for years to come.

    Not all F2P spinoffs based on MMORPGs are this lucky:



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