Hearthstone 2016: Year in Review
With everyone in the festive mood and a lot to look forward to in the coming year, our beloved ‘children’s card game’ Hearthstone had quite the year in 2016 and it’s the perfect time to take a look back at the things that came to us this year. Thanks for sticking with us throughout at Hearthstone Players and we hope to see you again next year as well as we bring you new content for you to enjoy!
With League of Explorers having launched towards the middle of December in 2015, the wings were still coming out in January of this year and we got to experience pretty much the most enjoyable adventure till date and we hope Blizzard brings us an amazing adventure that can take the throne next year! There was nothing more surprising and funny to see than Rafaam stealing our decks while the adventure was about to come to an end and Reno Jackson stole the spotlight from the other members of the League of Explorers by branching new styles of decks that were never seen before.
Elise Starseeker was deemed by many to be a gimmick card and people were not completely sure about how she would pan out in decks but she replaced endgame legendaries like Ysera and made room for more efficient and removal-heavy deckbuilding for Priest and Warrior and there seemed to be quite a shift in the way control decks were built. Previously it was all about removals and end game legendaries and Control Warrior was notorious for running greedy lists but it all changed with Elise in the picture. Our dear friend Sir Finley went into a lot of aggressive decks and Aggro Shaman welcomed him with open arms. Brann Bronzebeard has been one of the legendaries that aren’t that cool on their own but when you pick up a Battlecry effect or two with him, his value has been very consistent in a lot of decks and he is definitely my favorite Explorer from the set. He’s made an impact even in Zoo for quite some time due to the various synergies the deck has in terms of Battlecry effects.
Arrival of the Standard Format
We were taken aback when all of a sudden out came a video and a blog post telling us that a lot of our cards would be phasing out to a new ‘Wild’ format and to play competitive Hearthstone you will be allowed to use only the Classic set and adventures/expansions that are in the current Standard timeframe. As Blizzard puts it “Standard is a new format in Play mode that allows players to go head-to-head using only the most recently released Hearthstone cards. You’ll play Standard using a deck built solely from a pool of cards that were released in the current and previous calendar year, along with a core foundation of the Basic and Classic card sets (which will always be valid for Standard). You’ll be matched against other players who are also using Standard decks.”
It was a move that a lot of people saw coming based on how other card games evolved over time and maintained a ‘current’ set for competitive play or simply chose to go with ban lists to remove specific over powered cards or synergies. Blizzard chose to stick with the former option to ensure new players do not feel overwhelmed by the card pool and anyone who joins Hearthstone in the future will not have to collect a massive amount of released cards to be a relevant player in the player base. While the move was welcomed by most people and I understand why they did it, it did feel bad to lose so many of my favorite cards in the rotation at first but over time the Wild meta seems to have stabilized in recent releases this year and it’s a mode that you should definitely try out if you have cards that have moved out or if your favorite cards are moving out during the next rotation. With exclusive ladder systems for both it has been a fun-filled affair.
Old Gods Patch
Whispers of the Old Gods was the very first Standard release and it was a whole new world once the expansion went live. But before the card releases it was announced that there would be some nerfs to make the new Standard year feel a lot more balanced. Combo Druid, silence effects, Handlock/Echo Mage and Oil Rogue got significant nerfs with some key cards being nerfed. One of the fun things about the expansion was even though Druid was scheduled to never be able to play Combo Druid ever again, which was pretty much the signature finisher of the class and they had some significant nerfs to the class as a whole, Druid has been one of the best spots it has ever been in since the release of the game.
Priest’s popularity sunk a lot and the class began to struggle while Blizzard has been completely lost when it comes to setting the class direction for Rogue and the Rogue class as a whole has been in a sketchy spot up until the very recent past. Miracle Rogue made a comeback into the meta but it wasn’t enough to solidify itself in the higher tiers of the meta.
The highlight of the expansion was of course the four old Gods and while Y’shaarj did not quite make it into the meta, the other 3 gods definitely had quite a bit of impact and it was fun to see so many new decks come out in the expansion. C'Thun is the first legendary card that Blizzard gave out for free to everyone and it’s a great starter legendary to play with for anyone new to the game (You need to open a Whispers of the Old Gods pack to obtain him).
The Rise and Fall of Yogg-Saron
Yogg-Saron, Hope's End is one of the craziest cards that Blizzard has ever printed and his ability to swing the game in your favor made it a core card in spell heavy decks. Token Druid and Malygos Druid have been two decks to make the most out of the legendary and despite the heavy randomness the results delivered by Yogg used to be largely positive and the fact that even if Yogg killed, transformed or removed himself the battlecry would finish making him all the more powerful. While there has been a lot of debate surrounding the card and eventually he got nerfed, it has more to do with game balancing in general and not the problem of Yogg himself.
Most of the decks that ran Yogg did not have proper catch-up mechanisms and Druid is one of the prime examples of a class that does not have good removals while other classes like Warrior, Mage and Shaman have extremely efficient methods of dealing with things. It made Yogg a lot more appealing to run in such decks and the randomness deciding games did not go well with the competitive side of Hearthstone while a big part of the player base found the card to be a lot of fun. Eventually he had to be nerfed down the line and now his battlecry does not trigger if he is removed or transformed in any way.
One Night in Karazhan
It was one of the expansions that failed to bring anything of novelty and it was mostly a lot of the existing viable decks that got pushed further. The PvE side of things was actually pretty good and it was an enjoyable adventure but the cards failed to change what seemed to be becoming a stale meta.
Unlike League of Explorers the legendaries do not see much play aside from Barnes in specific decks and overall it was the weakest content update for the year. Even though a lot of people might argue that there just isn’t enough room for the meta to change through adventures since they have a very small card pool, it isn’t true when you look at releases like Curse of Naxxramas and League of Explorers.
Mean Streets of Gadgetzan
It was an underwhelming launch and it wasn’t as flashy as the Old Gods release but it has been extremely impactful to the metagame in terms of bringing up some fresh decks and playstyle changes for some classes. Renolock coming back to the front after a long time has been a pleasant change and a lot of control Warlock Players happen to be happy with the deck’s current state in the meta right now.
Pirates have long been an under-represented tribe and the arrival of Grimy Goons, Jade Lotus and the Kabal also brought forward a fourth family – The Pirates. A lot of the decks like Aggro Shaman, Dragon Warrior and Miracle Rogue are running cards like Small-time Buccaneer and Patches the Pirate right now along with a handful of other pirates in the deck due to how efficient and powerful they are and can swing the game in your favor. Even though the expansion has the least RNG ever in any set release till date, there seems to be a very high amount of stress on how you draw your cards and not being able to draw and sequence your cards in the game can be very punishing at the moment.
With the 3 factions in action, classes got grouped up and each group got its own mechanics or unique cards. Tri-Class cards being added was a really good move and I hope there are more multi-class cards in the future to keep this theme going.
Year of the Shamans
With the meta settling down, Shaman – the class that people joked about just got better and better and with some neat new tools that they got, Shaman became the powerhouse of the expansion. Even before the Old Gods patch, Aggro Shaman was considered to be a tier 1 deck and Mid Range Shaman also jumped into the party. Statistically only Undertaker Hunter was a more dominant deck in the meta according to Dean Ayala of the Hearthstone team but that might have been surpassed at one point of time after he provided us with the numbers in a reddit post.
Blizzard added some powerhouse cards to the class throughout the year and it has kept them going. Even with a patch that nerfed Shamans a bit, it did not do much except solidify the position of Mid Range Shaman. With the latest expansion Mean Streets of Gadgetzan, the class has gotten even better with the pirate package making it into Aggro Shaman lists and it seems like it’ll be a long while until a class dethrones Shaman as the top end class that can be the master of both early and lategame battles.
The eSports side of things has been flourishing at least when it comes to official events and we had a great year at Blizzcon with some very entertaining games. One of the best things about the eSports side of the game is that anyone at all can make it big through the system that Blizzard currently has and there has been some basic restructuring for gaining competitive points to play in qualifiers for Blizzcon for 2017 and the prize pool seems to be getting bigger and bigger. Pavel won the 2016 World Championship after closely missing out on competing last year due to a misplay, and his redemption story has been nothing short of spectacular. There have been new players breaking into the competitive scene and a lot of pro players are also getting into content creation and streaming, which allows for the community to get more involved and pushes towards sustained success of the game.
A lot of you might be playing Hearthstone for a long time and if you feel you are better than most of your peers then you should definitely get into tournaments, there are plenty of open tourneys that are held and they’re fun to play in too. If you want an overview of what’s in store for competitive Hearthstone in 2017 then you should head to: http://us.battle.net/hearthstone/en/esports/ for checking out your standings and the full list of events that you can play in.
Other Notable Events
The Heroic Tavern Brawl was a fresh take on the normal brawls that we have each week and it had a bit of mixed response from the community but it was fun playing it and seeing others play in it as well with the people who managed to clinch a high number of wins getting rewarded heavily. The high-risk high-reward format might be something that makes it into the game sometime in the future maybe in a more toned down format.
Arena got some restructuring too and there is now an invisible ban list that avoids underperforming cards to be included in the arena drafting stage. You also get access to packs from the latest expansion at all times and increased odds of getting a second pack (from a random Standard set).
There’s a lot that people want from the devs in the coming content updates and class identity happens to be one of them. Classes like Rogue definitely need to get their class identity sorted instead of being experimented with archetypes that just won’t work no matter how hard the designers try due to the core Basic and Classic set being a major contributor to providing classes with their identity and giving them a core to make their decks around.
More mechanics and unique cards are definitely welcome and legendaries could definitely do with a bit more flavor as we had them in the past instead of ones that are neither competitive nor fun. We hope to see more cards that cater to either spectrum instead of just being fillers.
I hope you enjoyed reading the year in review and I’ll be back with more deck guides and analysis in the coming weeks. With about 4 or 5 months to go from the next rotation, there’s a lot to look forward in the coming year. Until next time!