April is an exciting time for Hearthstone fans each year, as it’s when the game changes the most. Not only is a new expansion released, but it marks the beginning of a new Hearthstone year; when a full year’s worth of cards leave the Standard format. Suddenly hundreds of staple cards – some of which the community has been playing with for up to two years – are gone, and the game is turned on its head.
This year’s set rotation will see us say goodbye to the Year of the Mammoth (and with it the cards from Whispers of the Old Gods, One Night in Karazhan and Mean Streets of Gadgetzan) and say hello to the Year of the Raven. What the first expansion will be, we don’t know yet (but you can take a guess based on the teaser image below), but we do know that there are some important changes coming.
First and foremost, Blizzard today announced that in-game tournaments are coming to Hearthstone, allowing players to create their own custom tournament and invite friends to play, all from within the game client. This has been one of the most requested features since Hearthstone’s inception and a notable absence as the game has grown as an esport. In-game tournament support will be launched as a beta “around the middle of the year” and by the sound of things will be relatively bare bones to begin with, handling matchmaking and locking down decklists. The plan, however, is “to add new features and functionality over time.”
In-game tournaments are coming to Hearthstone, allowing players to create their own custom tournament and invite friends to play, all from within the game client.
IGN will have more information on the specifics in the next couple of days, but for now, it’s worth saying that implementing this in any form is a big step forward for the game. This should make community tournaments much more straightforward to organise and supervise, and it will also give the player base a taste of a completely different side of Hearthstone, and perhaps encourage more people to take part in larger tournaments.
Another huge piece of news today is the announcement of the cards that will be moving into Hearthstone’s Hall of Fame when the set rotation happens. For those unfamiliar with the way Hearthstone works, the Standard format has an evergreen set of cards comprised of Hearthstone’s Basic cards (free cards that can be unlocked for each class) and Classic cards (the cards available from the game’s original card packs). These cards have been around since the very beginning of the game, and so, at the start of each new cycle, Team 5 typically move a handful of them to the Hall of Fame – which means they can no longer be played in Standard, but CAN be played in the Wild format – in order to try and shake up overly familiar deck archetypes or class identities and promote new strategies.
This year we have three cards going into the Hall of Fame – one we all saw coming, one that’s pretty much out of left-field and one that we hoped for, but didn’t actually think would happen.
First up is the Mage secret, Ice Block, which prevents lethal damage being dealt when active, thus buying Mages additional time to draw into the cards they need to finish their opponent. It’s been a staple of Mage decks since the beginning, and while a cool card, has allowed for some very un-interactive strategies.
Next is Coldlight Oracle, a neutral minion with a Battlecry that makes both players draw two cards. The rationale from Team 5 for this one is: “Coldlight Oracle is becoming exclusive to Wild for several reasons: It offers unusually strong neutral card draw which can be detrimental to class identity, its ‘downside’ can destroy opponent’s cards and prevent opponents from playing the deck they built—which in turn limits some designs related to Battlecry and effects that return a minion to hand. Taken individually, any one of these reasons might not be enough to prompt a promotion to the Hall of Fame, but when viewed as a whole, we feel that it’s time for Coldlight Oracle to leave Standard play.”
And the last card – and for many players the most exciting – is Molten Giant, which will not only be going into the Wild format, but will be reverting back to its original mana cost (20 instead of 25). Yes, the staple of old school Handlock decks is being un-nerfed, which means that the iconic Warlock giants-filled archetype may once again have a home. This is going to be a hugely popular decision, as it takes a much-loved card that was nerfed out of every subsequent meta and gives it back to the community to have some fun with. It’s also a reflection of just how wild Wild actually is – Molten Giant isn’t anywhere near as powerful in that format as it was in regular Hearthstone back in the day.
And best of all, even if you don’t play Wild, you can keep these cards because Blizzard will give players the full dust value for each (up to the maximum number you can put in a deck) as if they were disenchanted.
Crazily enough, that’s not even all the news. The Druid class will be getting a new hero to play as – Lunara. She’s the first daughter of Cenarius, and “has protected the forests of Azeroth for millennia.” She’ll be available with rotation and can be earned simply by winning 10 games in the updated Standard format!
These announcements cap off a very busy start of the year for Hearthstone, which has seen a hugely exciting World Championship, card nerfs, and more recently, Wildfest. If you missed it, you may want to check out my analysis of five next level plays at Worlds, my interview with Che Chou on Hearthstone esports in 2018 and – we are entering the Year of the Raven, after all – my chat with popular Hearthstone caster, Raven.
Cam Shea is senior editor in IGN’s Sydney office and covers CCGs a lot. He’s on Twitter.