Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, the best collectible card game we have ever played, is approaching its two-year anniversary and Blizzard is preparing to implement huge Hearthstone changes in celebration of the milestone.
Last week, Polygon sat down with Blizzard to talk about the upcoming Hearthstone changes, which include new formats and the launch of the game’s first expansion of 2016.
Later this year, Hearthstone will introduce two formats: wild and standard.
The wild format is the traditional format that players have used for nearly two years, where every card from all expansions and adventures are in play. The new standard format, however, will only allow cards from the Basic and Classic sets as well as any expansion or adventure from the last two calendar years. That meanscards from the Curse of Naxxramas and Goblins vs. Gnomes sets will not be allowed in the standard format. All other expansion/adventure cards should be playable in the standard format. Each format will have separate ranked and casual game modes.
“The volume of feedback that we’ve been hearing is, ‘Hey, it’s getting more and more difficult to get my friends to play Hearthstone,'” lead designer Ben Brode told Polygon in an interview last week. “We really want each new thing that we release to really shake up the meta-game. It’s one of those things that very slowly, over time, it gets harder and harder to do that.”
Blizzard is calling 2016 “The Year of the Kraken” as “a thematic way to refer to the first year of standard format year.” As card sets are rotated out of standard with each year’s first expansion, Blizzard will give each year a new name. Once a set has been rotated out of the standard format, it can no longer be bought with either real money or in-game gold. Instead, Blizzard says players will have to craft any non-standard cards they want to use in wild format using the game’s arcane dust crafting system. This includes cards from adventures, which were previously uncraftable.
Adventures will also no longer be purchasable at any given time. Once the Hearthstone changes are implemented, you’ll need to buy them before they are rotated out of standard mode. Blizzard may consider making non-standard adventures purchasable again in the future, but the developer wants to avoid confusing new players with options that aren’t as useful to them.
Arena will remain in the wild format, as will most of the weekly Tavern Brawls. Still, the standard format will be the main focus for Hearthstone tournaments and eSports matches. It will also be the place Blizzard will push new players for an experience that requires less catching up, hopefully eliminating a huge deterrent to playing the game.
“Most of Hearthstone isn’t changing,” Ben Brode said. “You can still play Tavern Brawls with all your cards and solo adventures and challenge your friends and play in wild mode. We’re basically just adding a new way to play if you want a meta-game that changes more frequently or don’t have all the cards and want to get into a mode where you don’t feel like you have to go get every card ever made. That’s really what standard is for.”
Aside from the format changes, Blizzard is also taking this opportunity to introduce other Hearthstone changes, notably players will finally get a long-requested boost to the number of deck slots available. Players will soon be able to create and save 18 total deck slots, twice as much as the nine that are currently allowed.
The Hearthstone team will also use the deck rotation each year as an opportunity to review and tweak cards from the Basic and Classic sets, which will remain part of standard format forever.
“We have a list of cards that we’re looking at,” Brode said. “This will be the biggest balance change that we’ve ever made to Hearthstone. It’s not going to be a massive percentage of the set or anything like that. We have to hit a lot of cards, though. It’s definitely going to be significantly less than 20 cards. It’s not going to be even close to that number. It’ll be more than two. We’re still trying to get that final list and still tweaking things.”
Brode pointed to classes like the druid as a key example of what the team hopes to change.
“Some classes have too many cards that are just too high power level,” he said. “It makes it very hard to make new cards for classes like druid, because they have so many really good cards in Basic and Classic. We have to do some nerfs to make sure we can still see a different druid deck as a new set comes out.”
Standard and wild formats will be introduced to Hearthstone when the first set of new cards for 2016 launches. Blizzard isn’t yet ready to talk about when or what that will be, but Brode mentioned that the company is targeting a spring release. An FAQ for the changes said the expansion will be “really really cool.”