February 4, 2016
Table of Contents
Standard and Wild – A look at the new format system, Vanilla Class Ranking and possible nerfs
Hello everyone! Today’s article will be about the upcoming changes to Hearthstone. To combat power creep and dauntingness for new players Blizzard will be introducing a format system. In this article I don’t want to summarize the changes, instead I will go with a more analytical approach and write about what a format system means for the future of Hearthstone and what you can expect from the Standard and Wild format in the foreseeable future. I will also give you my personal Tier List of the nine classes within the Vanilla set (Basic and Classic cards). In case you are not aware of the upcoming changes, you should check out the blog and FAQ on the mothership before reading this article: here.
Also make sure to check out Nuba’s article.I think it’s very good to have different opinions.
I think that tinkering with any potential new decks, and taking the card losses of certain decks into account is nothing more than a waste of time. Before the release of the new format system Blizzard will not only change some cards in the Vanilla set, they will also introduce a brand new expansion. So although something like Secret Paladin might seem like a dead deck, due to the loss of cards like Shielded Minibot, Muster for Battle and Piloted Shredder, the deck’s viability will in the end highly depend on the release of new early game minions for Paladin.
This new format will only feature the most recent sets, but always the vanilla cards (basic and classic cards), which are some sort of building blocks. Not only does the Vanilla set give each class its own identity, it also has very powerful cards that will be the foundation of a lot of decks. The majority of competitive scene will also focus on this format, because it will be Blizzard’s premier format. Not only will new card sets have a far bigger impact on Standard than on Wild, you can also expect more deck innovations in this format because the majority of the professional scene will be focusing their time on Standard.
The entire Dragon tribal introduced in Blackrock Mountain would also have seen way more play if Naxxramas and Goblins vs. Gnomes simply never existed. Therefore Standard will not only be the premier format for competitive players, but also for players who want to experience more often a fresh and new play environment. Because of the smaller card pool a new set will have a far bigger impact than in a format with a bigger card pool, which then result in not only more deckbuilding possibilities, but also more frequent opportunities to leverage your deckbuilding skills on the ladder or in a tournament. So identifying new good cards, realizing which strategies work and do not work in theory is going to be a very important skill set in a faster changing metagame environment.
The drawback of Standard is obviously that every non- Vanilla card will sooner or later phase out, resulting in the loss of decks you enjoy playing a lot. But that is simply a sacrifice which has to be made to have a more faster changing and diverse format.
Although Wild will be overshadowed by Standard it will still play a vital role for Hearthstone and will see balance changes when necessary but also a proper tournament support in the future. When you play with particular cards for several months, people will get attached to them, resulting in the desire to play with them again in the future. So letting Wild fade into obscurity would be a very bad move from Blizzard, and a move I highly doubt will ever happen.
I also think that Wild will see some tournament support from Blizzard and it could possibly even be one day in the future the format of the World Championship. In Magic of the Gathering formats like Wild also see support at the highest level of play, although less frequent than Standard.
Wild will be the prefered format for a multitude of different players, ranging from people who want to simply play with every card ever made to people who just love a particular decks and people who just like a slow changing metagame and also want to make sure that their beloved deck is still highly competitive when they come back months later.
The big drawback of Wild is that you can play with every card ever made, which maybe in five years could result into something ridiculous like a new set release without a single card for the Wild format.
The Foundation of Standard
A very important skill set in the upcoming Standard format is going to be a proper evaluation of the basic and classic cards. Knowing the power level of certain classes in the basic and classic set will not only be important in this year’s Standard, but also in the upcoming Standard sets, because they will be part of every new Standard year.
I already thought about this topic in the past, so I want to give you my personal Tier list of the classes in the vanilla card pool. Note that I don’t evaluate the power level of decks that might survive the rotation of GvG and Naxxramas, I will only focus on the power level of each class within the vanilla card pool (classic and basic cards).
If we take a look at the currently popular Druid decklists, you will find one thing out. It is full of cards from the Vanilla set, which will remain in upcoming Standard formats. Innervate is currently the best card in the game, while other powerful cards like Savage Roar, Ancient of Lore and Keeper of the Grove are staples in the arguably most powerful deck currently in the game: Combo Druid. So overall the Vanilla cards of Druid are very powerful and are a good foundation for every Druid deck to come.
Vanilla Druid pool supports the following archetypes:
- Midrange Druid
- Control/ Ramp Druid
Vanilla Druid pool lacks support for the following archetypes:
- Aggro Druid
Druid is highly dependant on Aggro class cards from expansions to make an Aggro Druid deck viable, the vanilla set does not have enough support.
The next class is also rather easy. The most popular Rogue deck that is currently also highly competitive has a lot of cards from the vanilla card pool. Druid’s class card are merely just good and powerful, while Rogue’s class card put a big emphasis on tempo, but are also very good. From all the classes in the game Rogue has the biggest emphasis on tempo with many crazy powerful cards like Backstab and Preparation.
Vanilla Rogue pool supports the following archetypes:
- Tempo Rogue (current Oil Rogue where you just replace some cards)
- Combo Rogue (Malygos with Sinister Strike)
- Aggro Rogue
Vanilla Rogue pool lacks support for the following archetypes:
- Control Rogue
Rogue is highly dependant on good Control class cards from expansions to make a Control Rogue deck viable, the vanilla set does not have enough support. The lack of sustainability in the form of heals and good permanent single target removal like Execute makes building a Control Rogue without severe support from expansions unrealistic.
The vanilla card pool offers almost everything a Control deck could ask for: Fiery War Axe is the best early game removal, while Execute and Shield Slam is currently the best single target removal in the game. And if things get too crazy Warrior will still always have access to Brawl.
In addition to the Control Warrior archetype, the classic pool also offers good support for more Midrange focused Warrior decks with Frothing Berserker, a very powerful three drop and the most powerful draw spell in the game: Battle Rage.
Vanilla Warrior pool supports the following archetypes:
- Control Warrior
- Midrange Warrior
Vanilla Warrior pool lacks support for the following archetypes:
- Aggro Warrior
Aggro Warrior or Face Warrior is a deck that has been around forever, but that does not mean it is a good deck. It lacks any kind of reliable and good card draw, while the hero power does almost nothing in an aggressive deck. So for Aggro Warrior to see play Blizzard needs to give them good cards in upcoming expansions.
Oh baby. Within the vanilla card pool Shaman is actually a very good class.
Feral Spirit, Lightning Storm, Hex and Fire Elemental are Top Tier cards in the vanilla set vacuum. But there is one big problem with Shaman in the vanilla card pool, it only supports Midrange strategies. The Vanilla set does not have enough support for Aggro Shaman or Control Shaman, because of the lack of good aggressive minions (hi Tunnel Trogg), good card draw and lifegain.
Vanilla Shaman pool supports the following archetypes:
- Midrange Shaman
Vanilla Shaman pool lacks support for the following archetypes:
- Aggro Shaman
- Control Shaman
To make these two archetypes viable, Blizzard needs to give Shamans enough good tools with new expansions.
First of all, Freeze Mage is the only Top Tier deck that loses almost nothing with rotations. Yes it will lose Mad Scientist and Emperor Thaurissan in the future, but the foundation of the deck and what makes the deck very strong is purely based around the Vanilla set. The defensive cards and stall will pass the test of time, new minions will get introduced with some sweet card text. Their card text won’t matter the majority of time, they will get frozen and then in the late game a Freeze Mage will end the game with their burst. So what can we take from this insight? The Vanilla set offers Mage very good support for upcoming combo and control strategies with cards like Ice Barrier, Blizzard and Flamestrike. On the other side Mage lacks good support for Tempo and Aggro builds in the basic set. So whenever Blizzard does not give them enough support with new expansions, you can expect them to be irrelevant in a competitive environment.
Vanilla Mage pool supports the following archetypes:
- Freeze Mage
- Control Mage
Vanilla Mage pool lacks support for the following archetypes:
- Aggro Mage*
- Tempo Mage*
*When it comes to a tempo deck, do not think it is just a different word for an Aggro deck. An aggressive deck’s game plan is to rush the opponent down as quickly as possible and although it may get early tempo initiative and may even maintain it throughout the game, tempo is not the main objective of an aggro deck. A Control deck like Priest Control may also get very early tempo initiative, but that is merely by accident, it was never the decks main game plan. A tempo deck wants to maintain the tempo initiative during the entire game, it can even have it on Turn 12.
Warlock is rather hard to rank properly. The class cards are the worst in the game, while the hero power is blatantly overpowered and broken (and rightfully to make up for the worst class cards).
So if I would look at class card power level alone Warlock would deserve to be in the bottom Tier, but due to the nature of Life Tap Warlock will always be at least decent.
Vanilla Warlock pool supports the following archetypes:
.) Every archetype is playable within the Warlock class, because of how good Life Tap is. If Warlock is Top Tier or Middle Tier (it can never be Bottom Tier, unless Hunter is 60 % of the metagame) depends on the release of good heal cards like Antique Healbot or good cheap minions like Haunted Creeper in future expansions.
Once upon a time Hunter was a glorious class in the Vanilla set. It had the best card draw in the game with Starving Buzzard which in return made Hunter's Mark and Unleash the Hounds extremely potent and powerful. Nowadays Starving Buzzard is not starving anymore, he is a dead Buzzard. Hunter has definitely some very good class cards with Animal Companion, Unleash the Hounds, Savannah Highmane and Kill Command, but when compared to the previous classes Hunter is just a lot weaker. With the vanilla card set alone I fully believe you can make a more powerful Aggro Rogue than Aggro/ Face Hunter.
Vanilla Hunter pool supports the following archetypes:
- Midrange Hunter
- Face Hunter
Vanilla Hunter pool lacks support for the following archetypes:
- Control Hunter
No sustainability, no card draw within the Vanilla card pool. So Blizzard needs to give Hunter some very good controlish cards in expansions to make it viable in Standard, because the Vanilla set offers almost zero support for slower Hunter archetypes.
Priest within the Vanilla card set is just very bad. Blizzard needs to supply a constant stream of good Priest cards in expansion, otherwise it will be in a very bad spot, because of how little support the Vanilla card pool gives to Priest decks. Of course Priest has some very good cards in the Vanilla set, like Northshire Cleric and Auchenai Soulpriest but without good support from expansions that is not enough.
Vanilla Priest pool supports only:
- Control Priest
Until Goblins vs. Gnomes came around Paladin was the worst class in a game and for a good reason. It lacked meaningful plays prior to Turn 4 and that is a huge problem when your hero power is focused around board presence and does very little in a Control or Aggro deck.
Like Priest, Paladin has some very good class cards, but that alone is not enough. The class needs good early game and whenever new expansions fail to deliver those, Paladin will be in a tough spot.
Vanilla Paladin pool supports the following archetypes:
- Control Paladin
- Aggro Paladin (only because of how broken Divine Favor is)
Vanilla Paladin pool lacks support for the following archetypes:
- Midrange Paladin
Five cards that might get nerfed
Blizzard not only announced new formats, they also stated that they will take a look at the Vanilla set and make some adjustments to cards that might cause problems in the future or are simply too powerful.
So in the last part of this article will be about five cards where it is very reasonable to expect a nerf.Savage Roar
The reason why Druid is so exceptionally powerful in the current card pool is one big design flaw. First of all Druid not only has some very good Midrange minions with Druid of the Claw and Ancient of Lore, it also has access to good removal with Keeper of the Grove, Swipe and Wrath.
In addition to that it also has the best card in the game: Innervate. A card that allows you to cheat on the mana crystal system and play minions earlier. But with powerful Ramp and good midgame minions the story does not end. Druid only needs four card slots to incorporate a very powerful combo: Force of Nature and Savage Roar. Other combo decks like Freeze Mage need to build their entire deck around the combo, while Druid can just slam four cards in an already very good Midrange Ramp deck. Things get even more crazy when you consider that other combo cards like Sinister Strike (in a Malygos deck) cannot impact the board. Well both Savage Roar and Force of Nature can act as some sort of minion removal if you want to.
So Druid will definitely get some cards nerfed with Savage Roar being the most likely canditate.Innervate
As already mentioned Innervate is the most powerful card in the game. Cheating on mana is incredibly powerful, so I think adjustments are reasonable. On the other hand if Savage Roar gets the Warsong Commander– treatment aka will be rendered unplayable, thus removing any potential combo shenanigans from the Druid class, Innervate might stick around in it’s current form. Playing cards early is powerful, but it is not format warping when it is not coupled with a combo kill.
Alexstrasza’s Battlecry is extremely powerful. She deals up to 15 points of damage, as long as you haven’t done any damage to the opponent beforehand. It’s no surprise that she is the centerpiece of a lot of Combo and Control decks. With Alexstrasza in your deck, you don’t really care about getting early damage in, because she will anyways set the life total to 15. So before you play Alexstrasza you can instead focus your game plan on surviving and stalling.
Blizzard has stated multiple times in the past that they are not very happy with certain combo decks and Freeze Mage is the premier Combo deck that uses Alexstrasza. So unless Blizzard wants Freeze Mage to stick around forever or always make a Kezan Mystic– type of card, I think Alexstrasza is a very likely nerf to weaken Freeze Mage.Ice Block
Maybe Blizzard does not want to nerf Freeze Mage, maybe they want to kill it. Nerfing Alexstrasza will not kill Freeze Mage, because the very potent card draw, stall and burn is still there. Freeze Mage only gets notably weaker and slower with an Alexstrasza nerf. Ice Block on the other hand is the ultimate center piece of Freeze Mage. Getting one more turn to kill your opponent with burn is very often crucial to the deck.
So if Blizzard wants to remove Freeze Mage from Standard play the only reasonable way to do so is to give Ice Block the Warsong Commander treatment (At the start of your turn give your Ice minions +1 attack, the soul of the card is still there :p ).Knife Juggler
Knife Juggler is currently the best two drop and will continue to be so, if no changes happen. Especially cards that spawn small tokens like Muster for Battle get extremely crazy with Knife Juggler on the battlefield, so I think a slight nerf is very reasonable to expect.
I hope you liked my article. If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments!
With the introduction of the Standard format, I’m also thinking about making a compendium about every card in the Vanilla set, so let me know what you think about the following, and also if you are interested in such a thing. Personally I think such a tool would be great not only for deckbuilders, but also players who want to get some ideas what they can do with certain cards. Very, very few cards in the Vanilla set are utterly useless.
Power level of the card: 3/10
Potentially playable in: Control Rogue
Headcrack is very similar to the Hunter’s Hero Power Steady Shot. It does not interact with the board, but can put constant pressure on the opponent. The downside of Headcrack is that you have to put it in your deck, so you are not only sacrificing a card slot, you are also giving up on card advantage, because Headcrack does not interact with your opponent’s cards, it only attacks their life total. The best home for Headcrack is a slow Control Rogue, with lots of card draw, good heal and many defensive cards. You can focus a big chunk of your deck on staying alive and put Headcrack in as some sort of win condition. Given enough time, casting Headcrack multiple times will inevitably win you the game against every non- Warrior and Priest deck.
In Combo Rogue, so a deck that is focused around some sort of big combo finish like Malygos coupled with Sinister Strike and Eviscerate, Headcrack is too slow. Although Combo decks do not close out the game very quickly, they also don’t want a game to last too long. Headcrack is a very slow win condition and is therefore not good in a Combo Rogue deck.
Keep in mind that Rogue has very few defensive tools in the Vanilla set, so for Headcrack to see play, Rogue needs enough good defensive cards in expansions. If Blizzard delivers those, Headcrack becomes a good card to put in your Rogue Control deck.