The question on every Hearthstone player's mind over the last year or so has been how will the game maintain its skyrocketing popularity as it grows in complexity and size? It's already no longer the hop-in-and-play game it was in early days due to the large number of cards required to make a competitive deck. Now we have our answer: what Magic: The Gathering did 20 years ago. Formats are coming to Blizzard's card game, meaning there will be two ways to play and two seperate queues for Ranked - Wild, which allows for every card ever printed, and Standard, which will only include the Basic and Classic sets, as well as the last two years worth of expansions.
Well, we'll be needing to update the best Hearthstone decks a lot more often then.
The announcement came via a combined blog post and design insights video from Ben Brode. He explains how the format will change with the first expansion of each new year and runs through the basics of how it works.
It's pretty much the best option, as tried and tested by the MTG community over the last couple of decades. For the majority of players it doesn't have the problem of invalidating half their cards - unless you're playing for the biggest prizes you don't have to say current, Wild is just as relevant a format on the ladder as Standard is. For pros, folks who like a metagame that evolves more significantly and noobies though, Standard will be the new normal. Here's what will be included once the format goes live with the release of the game's next expansion before the end of Spring:
- Blackrock Mountain
- The Grand Tournament
- The League of Explorers
- The Spring 2016 Expansion
That means Goblins vs. Gnomes and Naxxramas are out. Off the top of my head that's no Dr. Boom, no Loatheb and a whole load of other cards down the drain. It will be an entirely new thing, not least because Blizzard also say they're going to do a balancing pass on the Classic and Basic sets as part of this move. Were I a betting man, and I always have been, I'd say you'll be seeing the power level of a lot of Classic cards brought down so they're less auto-includes - particularly some of the hard to get Legendaries.
It this a good move? Inevitably, it's the only way to keep the game accessible to new players so they won't always be playing catch-up. New cards now have a lifespan of two years before the Wild format gobbles them up and they likely aren't as competitive any more compared to older options, but an evolving metagame in this way is great for the competitive side of the game not becoming stale. Two years is, in fact, quite a long time, and they may one day shorten it to 18 months or less, as Wizards of the Coast most recently have for Magic.
The only issue is how long this took, along with the introduction of new deckslots, which the Hearthstone Twitter has clarified will be coming sooner than the next expansion. It's important to make the right decisions for a game like Hearthstone, and no-one is as methodical as Blizzard, but goodness me - 6-12 months to come up with what your biggest competitor has always done, and your community has been suggesting for ages? It's this sort of slow reaction that people have been ragging on Blizzard for since the dawn of time (in the World of Warcraft, anyway). It does mean they rarely have to backtrack in the way Valve have made a habit of doing, but damn if I wouldn't love faster action every so often.
Much more in the blog post including a lengthy FAQ which answers most questions.